Did you have a security blanket when you were a kid? I did. A literal security blanket called blanky, homemade and possessing of one perfect blue broadcloth square that I could find in the dark, with my eyes closed, by running my fingers along the blanket's hem until they lit on the threadbare area I liked to work between my thumb and forefinger. I always assumed this was a universal thing, the security blanket. Not necessarily a blanket, but some soft, snuggly object dear to each child. Before George was born, I bought a few different things I anticipated might become his blanky -- a Kathe Kruse sheep head with a floppy flannel body, a little "taggy", a beautiful upcycled monkey -- and I made some quilts but none of them took hold of his little heart. For awhile, I actually worried that George's lack of attachment to an object was abnormal. It turns out, however, that often securely attached children don't need a security object (go figure). So, eventually I gave up on finding him a blanky of his own.
Fast forward to the opening of Christmas stockings, 2010, when George received not one but two small, vinyl soccer balls. The ramp-up to complete ardour was gradual enough that I didn't notice it happening until Soccer Ball's (and, for that matter, Number Three's, as he dubbed the other one) accompaniment was necessary for leaving the house. This coincided with the beginning of a very unexpected body-and-soul obsession with sports.
We are not "sports people." Nathan has a passing interest in baseball; we go to one Mariners game a year, on Fathers' Day, and he watches the World Series when he can, as we don't have cable. We don't get invited to Super Bowl parties; we don't follow basketball; I am confused by soccer and despite several promises to attend, I've never made it to any of my friends' hockey games. I actively avoid buying clothes for George that have sports themes, because they're usually so tackily gendered and come emblazoned with stupid sayings like Daddy's Little Super Slugger All Star Champion. And yet.
My son -- the one for whom I bought ballet slippers and baby dolls -- began not just running, but "running the bases." He started talking about "baseball guys," "football guys" and "basketball guys." He perfected his slide into home by practicing it over and over on the living room rug, and would gleefully demonstrate it for you regardless of the venue and how appropriate it may or may not be to lie on the floor there. When he outgrew his cool old Adidas, he picked out some new sneakers, declaring them "baseball shoes" and begged in specific terms for a red baseball shirt unlike a toddler whose whims are forgotten in a matter of seconds, but daily, randomly, like someone who was legitimately pining for a freaking red baseball shirt.
All of this without owning books about sports, without watching television shows or movies about sports, without any friends or family who are particularly enthusiastic about sports.
Before I had kids, I argued vehemently that, in the nature vs. nurture debate, children's interests are nearly 100% nurture. That we feed our girls pink princesses and our boys blue trucks and thereby they learn to be docile or aggressive, caretakers or just-plain-takers. I really, really believed this to be true until having my own kid who has flatly rejected so many of my attempts at piquing his interest in things he just doesn't care about. It pains me on two fronts: 1) I feel like a Feminist sell-out, because this implies that male and female humans may actually be wired differently, to play and process things differently, and 2) because I HAVE A SPORTS-OBSESSED SON.
Real talk: When I found out George was a boy, I consoled myself (I always imagined myself with only girl children) with my steadfast knowledge that I could make him the good kind of boy. A pint-sized feminist from the get-go, who was equally happy in dress up dresses and mud puddles. A kid essentially without a gender identity, until THE MAN weaseled his way into my radical son's little brain somewhere around school age. The funny thing about that, aside from...you know...its fundamental absurdity, is that I never considered that I would fall so madly in love with my kid that his interests wouldn't matter. I didn't have a fantastic model for this, myself, so who can blame me for my misconceptions?
I still shake my head in amazement over George's full-bore love affair with sports. I'm consistently baffled by the details he knows, and where he could've picked them up. But, I'm pretty proud to say that we found him a red baseball shirt on one of two excursions specifically for that purpose. Pre-George me would've said hell no; no child of mine will wear a Super Slugger Baseball Game Day t-shirt. But? Mine does. I never thought you'd hear me yelling, "go, go, go, run the bases!" or telling my child that baseball players do, in fact, wear rainbow striped pajamas similar to the ones he didn't want to put on after his bath. But I yell that multiple times a day; I have used that line not only for jammies but food, socks and boring errands. The most surprising thing of all is that I think it's really cute. All of it. The clumsy slide, the devastation over being too little for the bat he keeps eyeing at Target, the rapt attention to Ken Burns' Baseball documentary, the requests to see "basketball kids" whenever we drive past the high school where Nathan took him to see a game once, and the undying love for his now well-worn, filthy soccer balls that appear in nearly every un-cropped photo of him.
He is most assuredly not the child I envisioned myself having, but what I've learned is that I appreciate other qualities more than the superficial things I pictured, and those traits I truly value are not mutually exclusive with sports fandom. I'm raising an empathetic kid who gives hugs freely, who frets over pictures of sad cartoon animals, who loves being read to, who loves music. He's trusting and confident and communicative. And he has interests that he's cultivated all on his own, which assures me that he's not too easily influenced. I'm still hopeful that he'll be amenable to the idea of dance class, but I also can't wait to see how cute he looks in his tee ball uniform. I hope he always feels supported in his interests, no matter how misaligned they are with mine.