Yesterday I experienced the joy of acting as guardian for a kid 5yr and 2mo for a couple hours at a softball game where his daddy was playing. This is a child I learned to love just by knowing him. Landon is Justin's boy by an Xgirlfriend. Child support and every other weekend visitation, vibes with pointed edges between daddy and Landon's mama for reasons of their own. I've known Landon for a few years, concerned that the kid didn't have a life at all. He just sat on the couch and watched tv. Told what to do, he'd do it, and back to the couch. He zoned out all the time he was there. I did what I could to see him smile or make him laugh. It took determination. One night when he was four and it was night-night time, we hugged and he said, "I love you." I was stunned into silence and then he went on. Ever since then I've regretted I did not say, I love you, in return. Over time, we advanced unto him showing me his toys, his new soccer ball, his spider-man hat. I've been waiting for the moment to tell him I'm here for his support and it arrived Sunday after our drive in the afternoon, I hugged him when I left to go home and said, "I love you Landon." He said, "I love you." Over the last few weeks, Landon has changed dramatically. He has come out of his daze, is wide awake, misses nothing and has a clever mind for a kid his age. I've seen a Landon I've never seen before who has a quick and very clever mind.
I sat on the beer cooler at the edge of the baseball diamond in Wilkes, next to the Yadkin river in the industrial part of town, nice and flat because a runway for planes used to be there. Now it is grass and several baseball diamonds and soccer fields. It has a convenience building for toilets. At the baseball diamond next to the one Justin was playing, a game was going on among pre-school kids. Little things. They all wore orange tshirts. Both boys and girls. It was funny to see them run; they looked like miniature adults from a distance, and even further away for being so small. They kept the corner of my eye entertained. I didn't watch the game, but a collective screech would rise from the area and I'd look to see what caused it, like a kid hitting a ball hard enough to get himself on first base, half a mile away for short legs. Part of what got him there was the ball rolled past two kids before the ball stopped in the grass and the third one could pick it up and start the relay of the ball from kid to kid on the way to first base---too late. It was funny because of the proportions, a softball in a little tiny hand. It was like playing baseball with a basketball. The little legs would go like a buzz-saw and merely move along, kids hollering excited, all of them engaged. One adult was with them. He acted as umpire and helped the kids when they needed help. I thought, what a gift for him to work with that many kids, at least 20, by himself and them be playing ball in the time of a kid's life when throwing a ball where you want it to go is a challenge. These are the people communities overlook when it comes to praising for community service, naming bridges and highways after.
Landon and I threw the softball back and forth quite a lot. It was a matter of tossing the ball into his hands. He is getting better at catching a ball. I saw Justin has been working with him. He can throw a ball where he wants it to go, not necessarily as far as he wants it to go. He wanted to go over and play ball with the kids. I explained we can watch, but it's their game. Around ten kids were with mothers in the shade of a couple trees. Landon wanted to play with some kids. Alas, the kids were either too old or too young. He asked a boy a few years older to play catch with him. The kid was reluctant, but played for a little while and stopped, bored by a kid too young. The other kids were too little for Landon to play with. I was interested in their exchange because the older boy looked like a classic Our Gang bully. He was very generous with Landon and I found the kid what you'd call a really good kid, not good like perfect Sunday school attendance and never gets in trouble, but good-hearted. His daddy was the biggest man there, a gentle giant. I let Landon introduce himself to the other kids and interact with them as kids do. I saw right away he was respectful with the other kids, didn't provoke anybody, was gentle and simply wanted to play. Unfortunately, none of the kids were his age, so he wallered grandpa, jumping onto my back like he's a monster getting me.
We played invisible a lot. I'd look at him and say, Where are you, Landon? I can't see you. You're invisible. No I'm not. You can see me. I'm right in front of you. No I can't see you, you're invisible. No I'm not, I'm right here. Then he'd play at me like I was invisible and he couldn't see me. It came to we both went invisible sometimes and visible sometimes, at will. In what I call our word games and mind games, mimicking a tv commercial he said, Pizza hut, piece'a hat, piece'a pillow, and we threw back and forth to near exhaustion of his vocabulary taking turns playing fill in the blank after piece'a. Much laughter. These are the kinds of games I like to play with kids. Not many adults can play a repetitive game like that with a kid for very long. I can do it for hours, well past the time the parents tell us to stop because it's getting on their last nerve. I sat on the cooler under a light pole and Landon stood in front of me or wallered on my shoulders and back, or sat on my knee, we talked invisible talk. "Where'd you go? I don't see you anymore?" "I'm invisible." The one that really got me conceptually was in the truck riding back to the house, it was getting dark. I said to Justin, "I think Landon fell out the window. I don't see him." Landon said, "You can't see me because it's dark. I'm visible." I think of them as verbal catch games like with a ball, but with words and their conceptual meanings. Like when I said, piece'a table, I could see that one threw him, a hard concept to get his mind around. I don't know why, but it did. The ball he didn't catch. I feel like it stretches a kid's conceptual possibilities in the time their minds are so in need of exercise.
I let Landon wander about where the other kids were, and look at the kids his size playing a baseball game. Sometimes adults would look at me, wondering if I was watching the kid, because I never corrected him. I saw he was in his own flow. He never bothered anybody. He eventually introduced himself to all the kids, looked at the babies with curiosity. I saw no reason to stop him from seeing the people around us and talking to them. He was open-hearted, without defensiveness and was respectful everywhere he went. I kept my eye on him without watching him. I let him go with his own flow. We bought him a bottle of "bug juice" on the way there. He drank it all and wanted more. I told him there's no way to get more until the game was over. "I'm thirsty." I asked if water would do. Yes, water will do. I told him to take his empty bug juice bottle to the men's room and fill it at the sink. "NO. GROSS!!!" I said, "Then you're not thirsty," and dropped the subject. Inside a minute he was ready. I walked over with him, didn't want him going that far alone. Kidnapping was in the front of my mind more than anything else. I wanted him to be self-sufficient in that he was safe in my sight but I didn't need to be standing over him. He took care of filling the bottle himself and was happy to have the water. It was something of an adventure to find he could use that water for something besides hand washing. I assured him it was not toilet water, but water like in the sink at home. Driving back in the car, when asked by daddy how he was, I told Justin so Landon could hear, I never corrected him the first time. That meant he'd been a good kid and was appreciated for it. I wanted him to know. I carried my camera but was so engaged in the moment I forgot the camera altogether.