A Paw Patrol jet plane, a pirate ship, a faded yellow tennis bag, a Publix bag containing a green Tupperware container of goldfish crackers and two thermos cups of water, one brown blankie, one gray blankie, and a giant toy boat.
These were the items I carried with me as we walked from the parking lot to the tennis courts at our local park on a cloudy Sunday morning. My boys, ages six and three, trotted in front of me, eager to get the day’s activities started.
I was playing tennis with my regular hitting partner: we’ve hit a few times a month since we met a few years ago. He has a daughter the same age as my middle child and my two oldest kids love to play with her while we are playing tennis. Our tennis sessions tend to be rather piecemeal, as you might expect when there are two preschoolers and a kindergartner present, but we typically get on just fine. We have to stop periodically for a random hug or to put out a fire or to escort a child to the bathroom for the third time in twenty minutes, as dads do, but unless one of the children is unusually out of sorts, they keep each other distracted enough that we can whack the ball around and get a little exercise.
This isn’t to suggest that we aren’t still serious about our tennis, because we are. We still get after it. Sprinting from sideline to sideline to chase down sharp-angled groundstrokes, putting extra grunts behind forehand winners, cracking overheads, and toweling off regularly when the summer humidity starts to wreck our bodies. My conditioning is not where it used to be, but I can still hit okay until my legs and lungs start to burn. But, as you might have heard, parenting does change you.
Now, when I’m playing tennis I’m usually thinking more about what my kids are doing than what my forehand looks like. Come to think of it, when I’m doing most anything these days, it seems like I’m half doing that thing and half thinking about or tending to my kids. That’s just the way it is when you’re a parent, isn’t it?
And that’s more than okay with me. Because, one day the toys, crayons, and water cups will be stored away and my hands will be empty again. My arms will be empty, too. There won’t be a tired or whiny child to carry back to the car. Instead of a little boy or girl clinging to my shoulder, there will only be a tennis bag hanging there, lifelessly. And, if I’m being completely honest, I think that is going to feel really weird.