The plastic seat sticks to my bare legs. I’d move if I thought I’d find a spot where the sun wasn’t beating down, but there’s no escaping it. Besides, it’s hard for me to negotiate the steps of the Little League stands with nothing to hold onto but the back of other people’s chairs.
Having a physical disability, I’m accustomed to feeling out of place at sporting events. Worse, here everyone sits in pairs. My friend Carla, Sam’s mom, is late if she’s coming at all. Meanwhile, I’m in a Noah’s Ark of intact families feeling like the unicorn, odd and alone.
The game starts just as I swallow my last drop of iced tea. Ethan is subbing. While his teammates take their positions on the field, he and one other boy stay in the dugout. It looks like a cage.
Three boys are walked but, with bases loaded, they don’t score any runs. Our team does better when, with two outs, Sam steals his way home. Between innings, a speaker screeches on, and I wonder what music they’ll play for the warm-up.
To my delight, I hear the opening chords of what Ethan and I have come to think of as our song.
This past Christmas, Dan bought Ethan the video game, Guitar Hero II. Ethan read me the song titles — mostly hard rock numbers I didn’t know. But when he got to Sweet Child of Mine by Guns ‘N Roses I said, “I love that song. Play that.”
“I have to unlock it first,” he explained. From what I could decipher, this entailed beating certain songs by scoring points based on his accuracy and timing. It took several weeks but he gave me frequent updates.
“I’m close to getting your song,” he’d promise.
I could tell from the way he referred to it as my song that he expected it to be slow and schmaltzy, something a mother would like. After all, the title could easily belong to a lullaby.
One afternoon, Ethan greeted me at the door wearing his Guitar Hero controller.
“I unlocked Sweet Child of Mine and it’s really good. I didn’t know it was a rock song.”
As I watched him play, I kicked off my boots and rested my feet on the coffee table, enjoying my brief status as a mom with surprisingly cool taste.
A few days later, it was my turn to be surprised when Ethan, who’s usually subdued and unemotional in front of his friends, told me he made the opening riff to Sweet Child of Mine my personal ring tone on his phone.
Now as it plays overhead, my son, who barely nodded to me when I arrived, comes to the entrance of the dugout wearing a big grin.
“Listen!” he mouths. I give him a thumbs up. With our favorite song filling the air, I feel freshly connected to Ethan. I also feel less alone. But then, music has always done that for me.
Though I’m not an only child, I was essentially raised as one. My much older half-siblings resided across the country and my other sister began running away when she was twelve and I was six, never to live with us full-time again.
My favorite singers became as important to me as family members. Mary Travers replaced my sister as the person I wanted to grow up to become. The Monkees were the jostling brothers I never had, while The Beatles were my more sophisticated cousins. At Ethan’s age, I turned to Carly Simon for worldly advice. Her songs were honest and thoughtful. While my sister was away living fast and hard, and never calling home, Carly told me her secrets the moment I placed the needle down.
Years later, after I’d created my own small family, I still turned to music to fill our quiet rooms. Even before our divorce, Richard was rarely home for dinner. He’d started graduate school when Ethan was two and had classes most evenings. In addition to my own favorites, I played a lot of children’s folk CDs. Ethan loved one particular Pete Seeger album. For a while, if I tried to listen to anything else, it was to the accompaniment of Ethan’s distraught cries of “Pete! Pete!” I understood that he made a wonderful father figure with his soothing voice and the time he took to tell stories between songs or invite listeners to sing along.
The last outing the three of us went on as a family was to The Clearwater Music Festival where Ethan could hear his hero sing in person. Before his performance, Pete Seeger let us take his picture. In it, he’s holding Ethan on his knee and pointing at the camera to get him to look in that direction. Ethan is squirming and disinterested, having spotted a nearby set of swings. To him, Pete-the-man was merely a stranger. It was the music that had gotten into his blood.
Now, fanning myself with the baseball schedule, I think how Sweet Child of Mine thrums through my son and me, setting our hearts to the same rhythm.
Quietly, I sing along. Now and then when I see her face/ She takes me away to that special place…
Carla slips into the seat beside me.
“Great song,” she says, handing me a bottle of cold water.
I take a much needed drink. “The best.”