Lunch at their favorite hamburger joint down the street from my apartment; an hour in the dog run to let Cindy and Chandler chase each other and a potluck assortment of neighborhood dogs; a stroll to the local record shop to check out the used CD’s. These were the kinds of outings I envisioned when Dan and I first talked about Ethan and him spending some time together without me.
As it turns out, simple and low-key isn’t their style. They’ve yet to go to a local movie alone, but this morning, I watched these two people I love — a twelve-year-old boy and a blind man from Pennsylvania — climb down into the bowels of the New York City subway and head to the Bronx for a Yankee game on their own.
“What stop are you getting off at?” I quizzed Ethan beforehand.
I stared at him. We’d made a trial run earlier in the week, riding a rickety B train up to One Hundred and Sixty-first Street, and locating the big new stadium across the street.
“Okay. Now don’t forget, follow the signs that say downtown when you head home.”
“And remember, Dan’s in charge even though you’re guiding.”
“We’ll be fine,” Dan assured me.
“I know,” I said, and for the most part, I did. They’re both smart and resourceful. Still, this trip was definitely a stretch. They only had one cell phone between them and Dan was totally unfamiliar with the Bronx. They’d both be in trouble if they got separated.
“Take good care of each other,” I said, hugging them goodbye.
I lingered on my side of the turnstile and watched as, after a moment of negotiation, Ethan took Dan’s hand and placed it on his own surprisingly broad shoulder. His shaggy head came up to the base of Dan’s neck. As he led the way down the stairs, I thought about how much trust Dan has to put in the people who guide him. Today he chose to trust my child, just as I chose to trust that child to his care.
When Dan and I talked in the days before the game, he sounded as revved for the adventure as Ethan was.
“The tickets arrived. My reader told me we’ve got good seats.”
“Ask Ethan if he has an extra Yankees cap.”
“I guess I’ll bring my radio so I don’t have to ask Ethan to do a play by play.”
But as the date drew closer, he sounded more tentative.
“I should probably go with him to the concession stand to get our lunch.”
“What if one of us has to go to the bathroom? Should we both go?”
“I hadn’t realized there’d be so much to think about.”
I remembered the feeling. When Ethan was small, I often felt overwhelmed by all that was involved in taking him places. Because of my cerebral palsy, almost as soon as he could walk, Ethan was faster than I was. I had to be very strict with him about holding my hand and staying by me. When I took him to New York I stuck to areas I knew really well and rarely ventured onto the subway with him.
These days, Ethan’s a great traveler, but he’s used to following along as I lead him from place to place. He often plays games on his iPod on trains, trusting me to tell him when we’ve reached our stop.
With this trip came a new level of responsibility for both Dan — who had never been a parent — and Ethan. It occurred to me that maybe this was a gift. Guys bond watching games together, but how deep does it go? Dan and Ethan were more like the team members than the other spectators. They had to strategize and confer and really depend on each other.
I shared my insight with Dan but he knew all this already. “I can never claim that I took Ethan to a Yankee game,” he said. “I’ll say we went together.”
During the game, I had lunch with a friend then spent some time writing. I felt calm about the guys and connected to them even before they called to assure me that they were safely in their seats. They phoned again to tell me the game had gone into extra innings, and finally to say that it was over and I should head into the city to meet them for dinner.
We met in front of a bookstore in Greenwich Village. When I got there, Ethan was swinging a souvenir bat. “This is just the right size,” he told Dan.
I paused, taking in this sight of my two loves, back from being out in the big world together.
“So?” I said, announcing myself.
In an instant, they were talking over each other, describing how both teams pitched no-hitters most of the afternoon and how the Yankees then pulled off a surprise win in the tenth inning. It happened to be bat day, the one time a year when they give out free bats to kids.
“How was the traveling?”
“Easy,” Ethan said just as Dan said, “No problem.”
I loved seeing them like this. Flushed and excited and lit with pride. I felt proud myself, having brought this winning team together.
We walked down Bleeker Street, Dan and I arm-in-arm, Ethan bouncing along beside us. It really felt like we were a family, and in that moment I saw the poetry in Dan’s choice for their first solo outing. Baseball, the one sport where the ultimate goal is getting to home.