What if it had been me?

My family was just settling into a pre-dinner swim at Nana and Pa-G’s neighborhood pool. I’d spent the last few hours toiling like Adam in the back yard, and sat on a submerged bench with Caedmon in my lap. A group of Oak trees stood sentinel, protecting us from the blazing wrath of the setting sun. Jeni was enjoying the water’s assistance supporting our newest baby. Jack and Andrew were fully immersed, literally and figuratively, in their pool games while Toby’s swimmie-clad arms were tossing toys into the water.

I noticed four boys walking on the pool deck, about to pass behind us. They looked to be about ten years old. Each was wearing knee-length board shorts, but no shirt. Their hair was coarsed out from a day of chlorine and sunshine. Their eyes shocked from underwater explorations. Water splashed as their bare feet slapped the wet concrete, they were headed to a grass field just outside the pool’s gate. Some sort of ball game was in their future and I was struck with nostalgia. I spent hundreds of summer days just like these boys.

We were fortunate to live in a neighborhood with a nice swimming pool. Almost every weekday of the summer, early in the morning, I would walk barefooted to the end of Oakmont Court and turn left onto Pebble Beach Drive. About a hundred yards up the road was the crest of “the hill,” which led to our summer hangout. Most days a golf-cart would speed past carrying my friend and his younger sisters, whose hair would morph from snowy blonde to lichen green due to daily hours of chlorine.

All six of the Sprague kids spent summers on the West Lake Dolphin Swim Team, partly because we were able to get in the pool before its 11:00 AM public opening. My friends and I spent long days at the pool, catching footballs off the diving board, having my sister, Angie, remind us to put on sunscreen, being yelled at by lifeguards to stop running, playing Marco-Polo, Sharks and Minnows, and Dibble-Dabble, charging junk food on my parents account, playing all kinds of barefoot sports on the pool’s surrounding lawns, and having the occasional water melon war in the deep end. We were just like the boys from “The Sandlot,” and just like the boys I saw today. But what if I hadn’t been like them? What if I had been born with Cerebral Palsy? This thought T-Boned my nostalgic memories and I’m still feeling sore inside.

Prior to 1981 because Daniel’s not there. The Toby-clone in the middle is me.

Each of my siblings made bunches of friends around the neighborhood, and almost none of us were forced to share. Some did, especially me and my brother, but we all had a unique group we spent our time with. If one of us were totally dependent on the others how different would it have been? Would I have just associated with all Gina’s friends (Of my four older sisters, she is the closest to me in age)? Would I ever have developed an identity of my own? Would I have gone to swim practice even if just to watch? What will growing up and making friends be like for my boys? I guess we’re going to find out.

Outside of my neighborhood friends, who were and are my closest childhood pals, I met new kids playing sports. In the summers, I swam and played a gorilla’s version of basketball. In the fall I was on the pitch, throwing my body in the way of my opponents shots. (I could play some goal keeper, and I would be in the net for Team USA right now if I hadn’t been such a prodigy on the football field. Okay, maybe I’m reaching a little.) I played baseball in the spring. When city sports were dormant, I was playing roller hockey, tennis, “Flaggy,” wall ball, or golf. Eventually I found my way onto a football field, but you know that story. But what if my body hadn’t let my enjoy and succeed in the athletic arenas? I spent insane hours chomping on gummi bears, saving Princess Toadstool and Princess Zelda, and tearing it up on Blades of Steel, Goal!, and Tecmo Bowl, but gelatinous sugar and video games don’t lead to many deep friendships (that’s a freebie for all you Skyrim nerds out there). Would my siblings have accepted me as a constant tag-along who depended on them to eat, communicate, and use the bathroom? Knowing how often they came to my aid, in spite of my existence as rotten child, I’m convinced my big sisters would have unconditionally had my back. But, how would they have approached their hobbies? Where is the line between chasing your dream and including your dependent little brother?

Would my mom have ever opened “Uniquely Yours” in the mall? How many people would have gone without picnic baskets adorned with Uga? Would she have been involved with politics? I wonder who would be in office today if my mom hadn’t been moving and shaking for all those years. How does a mom get involved when she’s busy with her involved child? Would I have felt guilty? Would I have realized the sacrifices being made for me? Would they have even considered them sacrifices?

I loved my childhood. I could reminisce for days about Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, the 1994 World Cup and the 1996 Olympics, watching the Braves at their worst and in first, how the golf course was my Middle Earth, and the Goonie Trail was my great adventure. I hope my kids have as rich a childhood as I was afforded, but I know their’s will be different. Long gone are the days when parents simply let their kids run free from daybreak to twilight all summer. Beyond that, our boys are living a ‘lean on me’ existence. Jackson, Andrew, and Toby love Caedmon beyond my ability to articulate. Toby calls his oldest brother his best friend. He is one of them and they are his, it’s beautiful. But the time is beginning to dawn when they will develop personal interests. If I’d been born with C.P. I would absolutely have wanted to be included, but I don’t think I would have liked being the reason anyone of my siblings didn’t pursue a goal. At the same time, I might have struggled with jealousy as they accomplished physically what I inwardly longed for. Caedmon has the same interest in sports I had as a kid, but our experience with them is different. I can only imagine how the me I was then would have felt in his shoes, and braces. But I cannot imagine what he feels just being him.

We let the boys watch Otis Nixon’s Spider Man catch and Sid Bream’s game winning slide on the computer today. When we finished, I told them my recollection of watching Bream’s game winning run with my family. It was Caedmon’s reaction that reminded me of that moment, because he was nearly as excited watching the replay for the first time. He totally gets it. He loves without inhibition. He longs for relationships. But he’s also a little boy who wants to find adventure and run free. When those boys nonchalantly walked from the pool to the park, Caedmon was being supported and restrained by me. He wanted to swim, but was dependent on his tired, me-hearted dad who preferred sitting in the shade. He was the proudest one in the pool when Jackson retrieved a toy from the pool’s bottom for the first time; that’s who Caedmon is. But does he wonder what it’s like to explore under the surface? Would I have had those thoughts if his childhood had been mine?

I know this, I’m proud of all four of my sons. Had I been born with Cerebral Palsy, I like to think I would have glowed like Caedmon, but I doubt it. Were one of my siblings in greater need of their little brother, I like to think I would have brotherly-loved like Jackie, Drewsie, and Tobes, but I doubt it. I was a selfish child and sadly, I’ve yet to out grow it. My boys have childlike selfishness too, but they’re different. They know nothing of totally myopic living. Maybe that’s a better way to grow up. But moments like the one today cause me to wonder.

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2 comments

  1. You know this blog has to be a book when you’re done. There is too much here that will be missed by readers if they only get daily pieces. A book–it sits on your bedside table, always reminding you to finish.

  2. Thanks Ryan, for sharing, not only your thoughts and memories, but the moments. We all experience those moments when a deep thought catches us,but so many times we put it aside for the right second to complete the thought at a later time. Then, sadly, we struggle to recapture the feeling, the thought, the moment. You are gifted in the “going there”. I am thankful to call you friend. Thank you for sharing your family with me. Thanks for the moments with your memories, hopes and dreams. Your kids will be just GREAT, all of them, how could they not!!! I second the book! Go for it!

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