Since he first learned to walk, Ben has been passionate about any any activity that involves a ball and running around. He loves playing, watching, and talking about baseball, basketball, football (both kinds, but especially the one we used to call soccer), and, more recently, cricket and rugby. Bill shares many of these interests, and for the most part, I am happy to leave them to it.
It's not just that I didn't come loaded with the sports microchip. I have an active aversion to spectator sports. The rest of my family of origin were baseball and football fanatics, and I was dragged against my will to more professional games than I care to recall.
Baseball I could handle — I was bored, but the field was pretty, the weather was usually nice, and at least the grosser aspects of the game were possible to follow.
Football, on the other hand, was torture. I am nearsighted, though this wasn't identified until I was an adult, and I could barely make out who had the ball at any given time. The action started and stopped for mysterious reasons, and I didn't begin to understand the scoring system. And it was always freezing at Shea Stadium in the fall.
My parents had no patience for my ignorant questions, and I wasn't allowed to read, so I basically sat, shivering, and made up stories in my head until the blessed final touchdown, at which point I would be reprimanded for my lack of team spirit. Even now, the sight of a green and white jersey nauseates me.
So, although I white-knuckled my way through Ben's various games, I have otherwise avoided setting foot in a sports stadium, with one annual exception: on our birthdays, each of us gets to pick how we want to celebrate. There are limits — I haven't inflicted ballet on them, and Ben hasn't made us go to a metal concert (and even if his birthday were in the fall, I don't think he would suggest an American football game)—but Ben's celebrations usually involve baseball, and I manage.
This year, his favorite team was playing in the World Football (soccer) Challenge on his eighteenth birthday, at a stadium near us. I had never been to a professional soccer game before, and I got that familiar tightening in my stomach as we boarded the train. Bill and Ben reassured me that they would not be offended if I gave up and read a book; the important thing was that we were all together on Ben's birthday. The knot loosened a bit.
As it turned out, I wasn't even tempted to pull out my paperback. The international crowd was fascinating in itself. I sat between Bill and Ben, and during warm-ups they shared interesting tidbits about the players we watched, to cement them in my mind. Then, during the game, they answered my questions and spontaneously offered explanations of possibly confusing calls and strategies.
And I enjoyed it. I didn't just appreciate their generous consideration, though of course that was part of it; I actually got into the game. I followed our team's ball and groaned along with everyone else at near-misses, and cheered when we scored. I missed a lot if the finer points, of course, and on the way home I plied them with questions.
"Wow, Mom," Ben said. "Maybe you'll even start watching the games on TV with us!"
Maybe I will. Chronologically, cognitively and emotionally, Ben is fast approaching full adulthood. But I am also maturing, thanks to my amazing family.