Imaginary baseball and other ways we don’t quite fit in.
When my son was two or three, some of the games that he played were easier to make sense of — like imaginary baseball.
We go to a park where a little league plays, and he’s always been intrigued though a bit aloof. At first he just ran around like any toddler, and was much more interested in doing his own thing than actually watching any games.
When the big kids were done, he would run out onto the diamond and pretend to throw a ball around and circle the bases. I thought he was practicing, going through the motions he might use for real if he joined the league some day.
Anything is possible, I guess, but this year he’s nearly six — old enough to try out, but the routine is pretty much the same: steer clear of the game until it’s over, then run out onto the dirt and pull out an imaginary ball.
He’s wary of meeting new kids, but it seems like more than just shyness. Sometimes he chases the uniformed boys around, making zombie noises or, on a good day, trying to to think of ways to engage them in conversation. “What’s your name? How old are you?” Maybe, “Do you want to play tag with me?”
Usually this doesn’t work for reasons I can’t quite fathom from the sidelines, and it’s always a little heartbreaking.
His desire to be one of the kids doing kid stuff together is palpable. Most of the time, he has no idea why it isn’t working out, and to be honest, neither do I.
I’ve always been kind of weird myself.
When I mention this to people, they tend to say either Me too or What do you mean, weird? Weird is hard to explain if it’s not something you can’t stop feeling, and I always worry that I’m being dramatic when I try. One thing I can say is that I probably have Asperger’s syndrome, or maybe a bunch of related traits that might or might not be easy to describe if I had any idea what the right labels were.
I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I had kids, though. Somehow in my twenties I had managed to become at least slightly socially competent and met a bunch of other odd folks, which made me feel a lot more normal myself.
Anyway, you can get away with a lot when you’re an artist. I thought maybe everyone was right, and I’d just come out on the other side of an unusually long awkward phase.
Then I met my son, who just now keeps playing imaginary baseball until the summer night party music starts playing.
Then he claps his hands over his ears and wanders off to start drawing birds in the baseball diamond dust. A couple of minutes later, when I’ve turned my back, I realize he’s moved on to rubbing his head in the dirt.
I knew that autism spectrum traits were heritable, and generally a lot of other label-bearing conditions are, too. My son and I aren’t visibly autistic, though, at least to the average observer. We talk and make eye contact (unless we’re in unusually bad moods). We’re just… weird, I guess you could say.
Sometimes he asks me how to start conversations, and I tell him all the things people have been telling me for years. For example, you try to think of something to say that the other person might be interested in. How? I’m sorry, I wish I could help you with that.
Eventually my little guy gets bored with the dusty diamond and wanders over to the playground. I’m distracted, years of confusion stirred up again and bouncing around in my head.
I barely notice when a little girl around his own age wanders over. I do notice, though, that she introduces herself, and that she’s sweet-faced and chubby and maybe just a little too loud.
She does point out that he could use a haircut, but seems to accept the explanation that he likes it long. Minutes later, they’re both running around the playground, laughing and holding hands. What?
For a second I’m not sure if this is my kid, the one who usually only likes hugs if they’re more like running tackles. They play for a solid ten minutes before his new friend has to head home. I’ve seen this girl around, and I’m sure we’ll run into each other again.
I hope so, because she seems like the sort of kid who might be into imaginary baseball.
Before we head home, I have a sudden intense urge to get down and roll around in the dust, myself. Why this? Why me? Why now? There’s no way I can explain this that makes any sense, but actually, it’s very, very grounding.
Laura Gyre is a writer and visual artist who often feels like she has no idea what she’s doing, but tries not to let that feeling get in the way of doing it awesomely. She’s extremely interested in the intersections of daily life, art, spirituality and radical politics, which she blogs about sometimes here. You can see her drawings here.