I had looked forward to the day after Christmas for a couple of reasons. First, the 26th of December loomed as the first day of a much needed rest. It meant the shedding of several great weights: I’d be finished with a lengthy academic book edit and the writing of that book’s study guide (the deadline of which coincided with Christmas Eve). I’d be finished with the transcription of another book. I’d have set my needle and thread aside, because the three sheep costumes I had offered to make would be not only finished, but already-worn and already-packed away. That meant the Christmas play would be behind me, and Christmas Eve, and the wrapping of waiting packages, and the bustle of a Christmas morning church service.
I couldn’t wait for the 26th of December.
It wasn’t all about putting that busy week behind me, though. I also couldn’t wait for that day because an amazing thing had happened. Through an unbelievably swift turn of events in early November, we decided to pull our son from the private school he’d attended for four years and enroll him in public school (we’d made the same choice for our daughter at the beginning of the year). I won’t go into the detail of why. I hinted at some of those reasons in a post last June that started a flurry of back-and-forth discussion. Suffice it to say, we held out as long as we could and in the end, we’re certain we’ve made the right choice.
Zac, who set aside his interest in basketball not long after the events I wrote about Thursday and didn’t pick them up again until 8th grade, worried about his eligibility on this new team. But within one week’s time, we’d withdrawn him from the old school, registered him in the new, and watched as he tried out and made the high school j.v. team. And that team, along with the varsity boys, had been invited to play a near-town rival on the 26th of December … in Key Arena, the home of the Sonics.
We couldn’t wait. The morning of the 26th, I drove him down early to meet the team bus, stopping first to load him up with bananas, Gatorade and protein bars. After seeing him off, and checking on Tera (who got to spend the day with Aunt Tarri, Uncle Todd and the boys), Dave and I headed down to Seattle. We didn’t take the direct route, though. First we stopped at Dick’s.
If you live in the Seattle area, you know how mandatory a trip to Dick’s is. (Think of it as our version of In-and-Out Burger — another fine and addictive eating establishment). I’ve yet to take in a Mariner’s game or transport or fetch someone from the airport without exiting at 45th street in the U District (U being the University of Washington) and pulling into the parking lot of that happy orange drive-in. It doesn’t matter if there’s one line of six people or four lines of twelve people, you scoot yourself to the nearest and wait your turn. And if you’re a good Seattle-ite, you don’t hem and haw when you get to the window. You know your order. Ours is “three deluxe, three fries, five tarter, one chocolate and one vanilla shake.” Dave eats two of the deluxes and we split the fries, but the tarter is all mine.
We bought. We ate. We moseyed down the freeway a bit and found a spot for our car near Key Arena (at only $5 for ten hours … not a bad deal). Lugging a backpack full of water, homemade licorice caramels I’d made for Dave, and Tarri’s famous, you-get-it-every-year-for-Christmas caramel corn, we walked toward the arena. We’d gotten through the green and red madness of the week before, and now we were free, with a whole day of enjoyment staring us in the face.
It’s not a far walk to the arena. Maybe five minutes. And it takes you past the embarrasingly ugly Experience Music Project (the one blight on Seattle’s landscape, if you ask me. Whenever I see it, I imagine that the designer procrastinated until the night before his drawings were due, threw a bunch of clashing colored globs on the page, and pretended he’d meant all along for it to turn out that way), past a few grassy areas, past the entrance to the Fun Forest (an arcade and carnival-ish area), and past the fountain.
It was when the fountain came in view that I switched roles. The free bird gave way to teary mom, and suddenly, this day wasn’t so much about my catching a needed breath as it was about watching my son reach a milestone.
We’d sat together at the edge of that very fountain on a long-ago summer day, back when Zac was two-ish and curly-haired. The sun stroked our back and music, from a hidden CD player connected somewhere to a giant set of speakers, filled our ears. Zac watched the water in absolute silence, something that didn’t happen often. I’d wondered at the time if he was just winding down from a full day of walking and nibbling, and that accounted for his stillness. But when the first piece of classical music drifted to an end, I discovered the real reason for his pensiveness. He’d been listening … and enjoying.
Those tiny hands came together in applause, and he opened his mouth. “Good job!” he yelled. Tears had filled my eyes then, too.
His voice still echoes in my memories, but that boy with the long curly hair is now a tall man-child, who relishes his ability to tower over his mother and pretend to not be scared when I order my edicts. He still calls me Mama, but now he chops firewood for me, fills my gas tank and instructs me on everything from how I should parallel park to what’s making a particular noise under the hood.
And on this day, December 26th, I was about to watch that child run the same courts that Ray Allen, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neil and Michael Jordan have run.