Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Doing (or Tried)

Awhile back I engaged in little hand-wringing over The Boy's reluctance to try. I wrote it shortly after he refused to casually hit some over-sized tennis balls at a local street festival, seeing in that episode a larger trend of failing to believe in himself and of failing to take risks even when he's likely to succeed. Turns out that my worry was the thing truly over-sized.

And all it took for me to see this was a weekend outing to the largest tennis grounds around on one of its busiest days.

Basically each year since The Boy was born we've taken him to Arthur Ashe Kids' Day at the U.S. Open. Until now he's been too young to do much more than marvel at the guys on stilts and overeat the criminally delicious and over-priced waffle fries.

This year, though, he prefers Federer over Nadal, which is to say that he knows who they are. (He also lights up whenever he sees Sharapova playing or otherwise on TV, but my guess is that reflects the dawning of a deeper kind of knowledge, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.) He's also big enough to hit some balls himself on the outer courts.

We head first to the obstacle course right when we arrive because it's sponsored by Hess, and they always give out the best prizes. By the time our spot in the snaking line reaches the court, they've run out of free rackets, but after running and jumping and hitting a ball at a target, The Boy and Q still each walk away with a deep plastic bag carrying a light-up police car, binoculars, and a small hand-sized fan that makes fancy patterns with just a few LEDs. A total hit, in other words.

It's what we do after that, though, that reminds me just to let myself believe in him. The grounds run thick with kids, many of them tweens or teens. It's hot, too, probably around 100 degrees. My lovely wife accompanied The Boy and Q through the obstacle course, but for The Boy to participate in the USPTA Little Tennis hit around on Court 16, he'll have to go by himself.

He does, of course, without pausing even a bit. He takes the racket they give him and hits a series of balls dangling from ropes. When he misses one completely, he stops it and himself and connects, sending a few up and around the larger rope they all hang from. Then he goes where they point him to rows of balls sitting up on curved sticks. He thumps each of them with appreciable form and has a noticeably swell time doing so. He sweats. A lot. Someone snaps his picture (and it's not just his mother this time, if you can believe it). He has a little trouble returning the balls they toss to him over the net — he is, after all, just four years old — so they usher him on to the tall woman holding a ball at the end of what looks like a fishing pole. He hits it off on the first try. Then it's off to get some help returning the over-sized Wilson tennis ball with a novelty-sized racket. He's pretty tired when it's all over, but I can see that it's a good tired, the kind he expresses these days after the soccer and basketball programs he's been enjoying over the summer. He'll walk onto just about any court or into any room these days without any push from us at all. He has moved past trying into simply, well, doing.

Right before we leave (after a lunch of hot dogs priced liked gold bars and a cup of waffle fries), we take a look into Louis Armstrong stadium, hoping to recognize the players hitting around for the kids. Armstrong isn't small, but it's no Arthur Ashe stadium, and you can get close. We find seats just a few rows off the court. In the full heat of the August afternoon, The Boy points to the player on our end in the black shirt effortlessly sending back all the balls that arc and spin over the net to him. "That's Roger Federer," he says. And it is.

Admittedly, seeing Federer glide and flow about thirty feet in front of us was pretty cool. But I was more impressed with and humbled by The Boy in the red shirt sitting next to me.

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