When my baseball-playing youngest son was 11 years-old his father was out of town when it came time to outfit the kids for spring sports. The job of purchasing pants, sliding shorts, glove, cleats and bat fell on my shoulders. My feminine ignorance showed like a zit between my eyes. His father never would have insisted on buying black baseball pants.
Men are fascinated with dressing boys in white pants then yelling at them to “Slide!” in red dirt. I explained to the kid that the only reason his coach wanted him to have white pants is because the coach doesn’t have to wash them. If the man collected the players’ pants at the end of the game and took them home to work on those stains himself, he would be telling the mamas to buy black.
“But he said get white pants,” my child moaned, fearful that I would speak my mind within earshot of his esteemed coach, fearful that the other kids would make fun of black pants, fearful most of all that I would ruin the specialness of baseball. Unlike Easter, when protecting the white pants is paramount to eating, drinking, socializing and sitting, baseball is about getting white pants dirty. A red smudge of clay down the side of one leg is a status symbol in the dugout. Coaches demand that kids start games in crisp white britches and that they finish in britches that force mothers to make deals with the devil or open their pocketbooks to purchase a new pair.
I relented and draped two pairs of white pants over my arm. The boy tried on cleats, for which he then needed special socks and a stretchy designated baseball belt to match. The price of the bat plus that of a glove designed specifically for his field position ensured diamond earrings were not in my future. When I was a kid, we played baseball in a pasture with our bare hands and a beat up wooden bat. If we couldn’t find the bat where we threw it down after the last game, we used a big stick or a board. As I relayed this to my son, he relayed terms like “pop” and “drop.”
The clerk, seeing that my son was a far better salesman than him, offered to relieve me of my mounting burden. He carried the selections to the register. “That’s everything,” I announced.
My young boy looked at me. His eyes pleaded something I didn’t understand.
I looked at him. “Let’s go.”
“There’s something else Coach says we have to get,” he spoke.
“I think we have enough,” I replied. “I got you the white pants. Coach will have to be satisfied with that.”
In all my fantasies about parenting, I never dreamed I’d have a candid conversation with my then 11 year-old about his cup size. My disbelief caused him to protest, “That’s what I wear, a youth extra large.”
I suggested that the salesman should take measurements to ensure a proper fit. The child cringed. He said he could tell if a cup would fit him by holding it, which spurred me to try to dispel the hand-size myth while he was still young. “Jackson wears pro,” the lad said, dismissing me. “The red cup.”
“I don’t think you’re pro size,” I answered.
He tested a few possibilities in his hand and picked one without soliciting any further help from me.
On the ride home, he thanked me for taking him to get the baseball gear and for caving on the white pants. And he asked if his dad would be home to shop with him next time.