There are some boys who come out of the womb wearing a sports jersey and holding a beer mug. These boys love sports – watching them, playing them, talking about them, thinking about them.
By the time they’re five or six, they wake up at the crack of dawn on game day, get themselves dressed in their uniforms, and stand by the foot of their parents’ bed asking if it’s time to go to the field yet. Beginning in kindergarten, these boys know every player on every major league team of every sport, they watch Sports Center religiously, and they’d rather play catch than do just about anything else.
My son is not one of these boys.
When my son was three, he wore a sparkly blue dress everywhere he went, and he would entertain himself by spinning around and seeing how twirly it could get. By four, he’d discovered the fantasy worlds of Power Rangers and Star Wars. By six, he was obsessed with Bakugon. By seven, it was Pokemon.
His passion for collecting these things was unparalleled. Our house was filled with every action figure, card and horribly written book available to the general public, and even some rare ones that we bought on eBay. As we suffered through trying to learn the characters of each new obsession, not to mention watching impossibly bad TV shows and reading books that seemed to be written in a different language, we kept wondering if it would ever end, or if he’d be one of those teenagers playing Dungeons and Dragons (or whatever the 2020 equivalent of it might be) in some pimply-faced kid’s basement.
My husband, who played baseball in college and still thinks that he’s good enough to play in the majors, has dealt with it pretty well. Of course, it’s been disappointing to him that he and my son haven’t been able to bond over sports, but he’s not one of those dads who forces the issue. My son is who he is, and we both know that trying to make him like something will only drive him away from it further. But about a month ago, something happened. As I was putting my son to bed, he began to sob. I asked him what was wrong, and he buried his face in his hands as he cried. I think I don’t like Pokemon anymore, he told me. I knew this wasn’t just dramatics. He had loved Pokemon – had memorized every character, every battle type, every region – and he’d been famous for it at school. It was his identity, in a way, and now it wouldn’t be. I could tell that he felt as if he’d lost his best friend. I tried to console him, but on the inside, I was downright giddy with joy.
Almost immediately, he began looking for a Pokemon replacement. A second wife, if you will. Only this one, I hoped, would be more interesting and relatable than his first one. But there was nothing for him. His friends were playing Skylanders and Moshi Monsters, but he’d graduated from those months before. Minecraft lasted for a few days, but without the collecting element, there was nothing for him to get excited about. And so it was that suddenly, we knew exactly where to direct him.
My husband, a lifelong baseball card collector, has been buying sets for my son every year since he was born, on the hope that one day, he might become interested. It was, we realized, precisely the right time to break out the cards. And we were right. My son was taken with them immediately. The different teams, the different brands of cards, the enticement of the rare ones…it couldn’t have been more up his alley. He put his cards into books, organizing them in millions of different ways, just as he had done with his Pokemon cards and his Power Ranger guys. As we flipped through his books together and he showed me his favorite cards, I almost cried. At last, here were names I recognized! Here was a game that I understood, with statistics that made sense, involving cities that actually existed! It was, I have to say, one of the best parenting moments I’ve had in a while.
Of course, my son is never going to be that beer-mug-holding, sports-jersey-wearing kid. He likes the cards because they’re fun to collect, not because he has any dreams of becoming a professional ball player. He still won’t sit on the couch and watch a game, and I still have to wake him up on his Little League game days. But that’s okay. I’m just happy that he’s found something he can get excited about again. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s something that I like, too.