One of the good things about time is that it makes kids grow up.
Okay, sure; babies and toddlers are very cute; indeed, its probably that very cuteness that saves dozens of them from being drowned in sacks like excess puppies.
But they...well...let's just say that if they were a dive, or a gymnastic routine, or a video game, they wouldn't rate high for difficulty.
It's not that they're easy easy. They're fairly to insanely high-maintenance and burn through your waking time as well as depriving you of a hell of a lot of your non-waking time, at least when small. You're always doing something to or for them when they're little.
But they don't really actively engage your brain. Most small-child-rearing can be done pretty much on mental cruise-control. Love. Hug. Babble at. Feed. Change clothes/diapers. Play simple games with. Read brain-killingly-simple stories to. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Day after day after day...
I know, I've said this before but it's worth repeating; all this bizarre love and respect that a big chunk of American society lavishes on parents for how haaaaard they work, how much they sacrifice, how good and wonderful they are?
Not that parents - a lot of parents, anyway - don't work hard, forego pleasures, and are good people in general and towards their offspring in particular.
But parenting as a job beats the hell out of mining coal or butchering hogs. It sucks way less than cleaning toilets.
Clearing mines under artillery fire? Harder and sucks waaaayyyy more than parenting.
It may often be thankless and at times the hours are bad. But its not like wrestling with psychotic mental patients (and if it is you probably need to have the kid seen to by a specialist...).
The actual worst part about it is the fucking boredom.
Let's be honest with each other; to an adult with a functioning cerebrum a 4-year-old is like a labrador with less bowel control. Just like the pooch will happily play fetch for hours past the moment your mind implodes from the utter sameness the toddler is generally limited to doing things that are about as interesting and engaging as staring at paint chips and to an adult about as enjoyable as eating them.
Doesn't mean that parenting that 4-year-old isn't important, or that doing it well and throughly isn't worth the doing.
But it's kinda hard to get excited about it.
So. Time is great. It turns these little labradors into little people.
Sometimes perverse, infuriating people. Sometimes people who seem determined to piss you the hell off.
But, as often as not, funny, clever, inventive, curious, engaging people who are interesting to be around and to do things with.
The Boy and I spend most of Saturday together because his soccer team, the NoPo "Cheetahs", is playing their hated rivals the "Aftershox" over at Flavel Park in northeast Portland.
After a grab-ass half hour assembling everything we needed (and if you have a kid, or if you've ever run a crew of 10-level workers you know about the grab-ass; "Where's your (fill in the blank)?" "Did you shut your room light off?" "Do you have water in your water bottle?" "Where's your PYSO card?" Yeah, it's like that.) we jump in the Honda and roll out for Parkrose.
On the way we talk tanks, mostly.
The Boy has some inventive notions of building the ultimate tank and how he'd fight it. Given that he has no actual idea of the nature of war, for which I thank the Gods of Blood and Iron every waking moment, and an eleven-year-old notion of how machines, physics, ballistics, and human nature actually work he actually has some intriguing notions.
I try not to shoot down too many, though I may mention the ones that have already been tried and failed (Multiple turrets? Usually not a good idea...) but I have to say I'm slightly impressed at the encyclopedia of knowledge of WW2-and-early-postwar armor he's built up from his beloved World of Tanks game.
We also chat about the soccer game.
He's already a little depressed; in two season the Cheetahs have never beaten the Aftershox. Worse, the typical Cheetah-Shox derby ends with a burst of Aftershox scoring that boots the Cheetahs off the pitch in disarray. It's not a simple fix; the Aftershox have just been all-around better in all things soccer.
We get to the park, already noisy and busy with kid soccer and the bathtub-ring of parents, siblings, pets, various required impedimentia (the average kid soccer team comes to play with more tote-able crap than Hannibal's Army including the elephants. Just sayin') and rations. After all, life does not consist of Sport alone.
Afterwards, there must be Snacks.
The Boy and I traipse over to the north field where his game is scheduled and begin the process of assembling him as Goalkeeper Kid when we discover that in the grab-ass half hour young Peter Shilton has forgotten his shinguards.
Fortunately Coach once played recreational soccer as an impoverished college student and knows the trick of slicing up a cardboard box and slipping the bits inside the knee-socks.
They provide no protection - I caution the Boy that his days of going in hard with his studs flying should be considered over for the day (he snorts derisively) - but will produce an appropriate thump when the referee raps his shins.
The Cheetahs take their warm-ups as seriously as any other group of eleven-year-olds take a mundane and humdrum chore, which is to say not at all. There is lots of silliness and chatter and horseplay.
But as the team huddles up after I look over to see the Boy standing alone, quietly surveying the pitch and swinging his gloves from shoulder to shoulder.
There is a moment before every match when a goalkeeper, if he or she is worth anything, realizes that its their work that day to keep the ball out of their goal.
That while there may be ten or a dozen or a hundred different excuses or reasons or rationalizations for failing to do that in the end it comes down to their speed and strength and skill.
If sport has any value at all it is in that. You are matched against an unyielding standard and you stand or fall. There is no middle ground, no equivocating, no penumbra of doubt. You either give all or you don't, you either rise to the standard or not.
The Boy is learning that hard lesson on the lumpy ground and untamed grass of northeast Portland.
I don't think that's a bad thing at all.
Our usual linesman is missing so I volunteer to run the touchline, limping, attempting to appear neutral and unbiased whilst muttering tactical advice to a group of grade-school children.
At least I manage to avoid using the phrase "utter rubbish!" which I've been told is my standard curse at professional games.
The first twenty minutes or so are fraught. The teams trade goals. There are moments of lovely precision amid the usual schoolboy booting and fumbling. The Boy lets a dangerous bounding cross go right between his hands but luckily for him and the Cheetahs there are no Aftershox on the far post.
The halftime whistle blows with Cheetahs up 3-2.
After a sip and a quick talk the boys run out for the second half. On the sidelines the parents gossip and laugh, happy with the progress of the game, the sunshine, and the Spring all around us.
One of the moms has rushed outdoors - undoubtedly having waited until the last moment for the grab-ass half hour! - in a light dress on a breezy cool day and has had to dig around in the family car to find something warm to wear over it. What she's found is a sort of knee-length light woolen coat that would not have looked out of place on this field fifty years ago.
One of the Boy's defenders' sister stands slim in the shade of a park maple, her long pale hair caught up in an elaborate braid studded with small white daisies the color of the cords and earbuds of her iPod. She gazes into the middle distance, listening to music no one else can hear, little concerned with the doings of smaller brothers.
Suddenly, shockingly, the Cheetahs take control of the match. One of the Boy's teammates is a skilled attacker, but he is usually isolated and suppressed by his singularity. Today the Cheetahs have no less than three players running free, and their interplay slices through the Aftershox defense.
The red-shirted rivals, on the other hand, appear to be missing several of the players that provided them with their most dangerous threats. Their attack is not quite working, their last pass intercepted or wide. When they do fire off a shot the Boy is there to slap the ball away or field it.
Now time is an enemy, seeming to slow to a crawl. Up 6-3 the boys in NoPo blue want the final whistle that doesn't blow. Another Aftershox attack goes out for a goal kick. Cheetahs midfield plays smart, pushing the ball out to the touchline, into the corner, forcing their rivals to chase.
Regaining possession the tall kid with the light-blue shorts plays a good long ball through towards my touchline. One of his teammates on the far side is goal-side of the last Cheetahs defender and my arm goes up as the Aftershox attacker turns with the ball but is met and tackled neatly away. The referee looks at me inquisitively and I explain; she shakes her head, either dismissing the infraction or doubting my impartiality.
The long throw goes up the sideline.
Finally, finally, the long whistle, and the Cheetahs collapse into a huddle like a neutron star of satisfaction. There is the obligatory cheer-and-handslap for the defeated, but both sides know that the underdog has won this year's Superclasico, that the perennial champion has been dethroned. The Boy throws me his gloves and sprints back to the sack of granola bars and juice bags, grabs his share, and is munching and sipping contentedly as we walk back to the little Honda.
"You stood in against some tough shots, little man." He smiles around his juice-pouch straw, satisfied with his play.
The Boy is not built anything like me. Where I am squat and thick with short legs he is gracile, slender and tall, his shoulders narrow as mine are heavy and sloping.
I think of that as I touch his back, feeling the light bones of his shoulderblades like the wings of birds beneath my hand.