That Championship Season

Some balls just get away. They fly over the center fielder’s head, past the white fence, or drop two feet to the left, lost in the sun. Some games get away like that, too.

Never mind that a little brother has dressed like an Oriole, an honorary mascot that the team has allowed in the dugout all season, today decked out in orange face paint, orange and black feathers, and a beak that was painted the perfect shade of orange.

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Everything thought of and arranged and planned for. Everything, that is, but the other team’s bat, their incessant homeruns and ground rule doubles, again and again, unanswered. Sigh.

No matter the few great plays and big hits our team had, no matter the spirit and high hopes they brought to the field; trepidation and fear walked into the dugout, too. Their opponents had come off a week of wins, fighting just to get into this game. Our kids had a week off, too much rest from battle. No taste of vanquished teams on their tongues.

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There will be one more chance. One final championship game.

The team told the little mascot not to dress that way next time: no makeup, no feathers, no beak. It’s simple baseball superstition; whatever was different about this loss is banished, along with it the taint of loss. I hope he doesn’t take it to heart, doesn’t feel he is to blame. My heart’s instinct is to jump out and stand in front of the words fired at him like bullets. He’s too much of a scientist to think his outfit caused the mighty Tigers to hit perfect grounders down the third base line. My protection would draw attention to the attack.

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The mascot runs off the field to the park bathroom and emerges with a remarkably clean face, cleaner than it’s been in days, a pale outline of orange above his ears and eyebrows. He shakes it off. There’s one more chance, he says.

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Little Guy, Big Ideas

I took Emmett out of school a little early last week. We were heading to a major orthodontist appointment: At long last, he was getting an expander. “It breaks your jaw,” his father explained to him last week, smiling wickedly. I blanched and gave him an “are you insane?” look, but Emmett’s into gruesome-ness, so he was okay with that.

Have you seen these contraptions? They attach with rings around a top molar on each side of the mouth, with a metal brace kissing the roof of the mouth. We have to crank it wider, about a millimeter or two, twice a day, so that our baby’s jaw will spread out and make more room for his huge teeth, also courtesy of my husband. Meals and snacktime are now accompanied by repeated “chaack!” sounds from Emmett’s throat as he tries to clear food out of its tangled wires.

This expander has felt like It’s been a long time coming. His older brother Aaron had one in the third grade, three years ago, and since then Emmett knew his day would come. He mostly looked forward to the day or two of pudding and smoothies and jello that would accompany it.

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Now the day was here. We crossed the empty schoolyard, Emmett’s pace slowed. He was nervous. He spoke then, so quietly that I had to lean down and cup my ear to hear him.

“It feels like it came so fast. And it’s going to be so fast until I’m off.”
“What do you mean, ‘off’?” I asked. “Until the expander is off?”

He answered without looking at me, looking straight ahead into his future.

“Off to college.”

I don’t tell you this because it’s cute or charming or precocious, but because my gut sank so deeply when I realized, he was dead right. I took his hand and walked through the school door, on our way to the next thing.