Volume 3, Issue 16: You and I

"I think we can take it, all the good with the bad. Make something that no one else has."

It was my son’s sixth birthday on Friday. What’s the age when we start dreading birthdays rather than looking forward to them? Whatever it is, it certainly is not “six.” Wynn spends the entire year talking about this birthday; any mention of the three months before or after June will spur a “that’s almost my birthday!” One time I was telling his brother that we would have lunch at noon, and Wynn came bounding into the room. “Did you say June? That’s the month of my birthday.” The kid likes his birthday. Kids always want something that’s only theirs. I suppose we all do.

Anyway, Wynn had a good one this year. He got a new bike, a Wild Kratts “creature power suit” vest and a big cake he immediately plunged his face into. I also got him a starter magic kit that he and I spent much of the day working up tricks for the party. He pulled a rabbit out of his hat, he made a playing card disappear, he guessed what number you were thinking of. He even had a costume and a wand. It was very cute.

This birthday party also brought something we hadn’t had at our house for a few months: A guest. Three weeks before the party, my wife reached out to the parents of Wynn’s best friend, saying Wynn was turning six in three weeks and asking, if we could keep each other abreast of each other’s movements over the coming weeks, whether or not his friend could come. The parent, whose son hadn’t seen any of his friends for months either, happily agreed, so Friday, Wynn got to see his best friend for the first time since they hugged goodbye at school in March and promised to see each other after spring break. They were awkward at first, as if they were bewildered to learn the other one still existed, and then they spent the whole afternoon attached at the hip. Kids are so resilient through all this that sometimes you forget all they’re losing, all they’ve missed. When his friend’s mom arrived to pick up him after a few hours, they both started crying. Kids need their friends.

As they played and played and played all day, though, I noticed something else: I noticed Wynn’s older brother, off to the side, sulking to himself as Wynn and his buddy laughed and ran and screamed. I asked William if he was sad that he didn’t have his best friend there too. His shoulders slumped. “I guess,” he said. “But I really just want to play with them.” I realized he wasn’t sad that his best friend wasn’t there. He was sad that his best friend was playing with someone else.

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It might not seem like it now, but this will all eventually end someday. That doesn’t mean it’s all going to return to “normal,” or that we won’t all be dealing with ramifications of this pandemic, and all that has come with it, for years, decades, to come. But there will be a time when we are able to look back at this from some distance. If we survive it, we will tell stories of 2020. If we survive it.

We’ll talk about the pandemic, and the lockdowns, and Black Lives Matter, and the angry people storming the state houses, and the Boogaloo Boys, and the people who wouldn’t wear masks, and schools being closed, and quarantine, and making sourdough at home, and Sarah Cooper, and our favorite old restaurant that never opened again, and Tiger King, and The Last Dance, and how sports went away, and how baseball couldn’t get its shit together, and the election, oh yes the election, we will talk about the election, unless the election doesn’t go well, in which case one worries whether or not we’ll get to talk about any of this at all. These will all become part of the lore of 2020, the cavalcade of fogged memories that we’ll pass down, even if many of them will be memories we will want to forget.

But what will last? What are we never going to shake? This is a subject of considerable study right now, from worlds of economics and politics and culture and entertainment and everything that makes up the fabric of a world that seems to be unraveling. Will we be wearing masks for years to come? Will we never eat out at restaurants again? Will movie theaters cease to exist? Many of these strike me as academic questions, meant to comment more on our current world than to predict what’s going to happen in the next one; people are always going to find ways to gather, and entertain, and hug. Society is too diffuse, with everyone’s realities too disparate and blinkered, to cast any sort of wide net over any of it. All that business will settle out.

I’m more interested in what’s happening now on an individual level, human by human, family by family, community by community. The strains on all of us are global, but before they are that, they are personal. I can’t deal with what’s going on in the world until I deal with what’s going on in my own home. The pandemic has shed light on societal inequities and fault lines that existed before COVID-19, but it has also shed light on our daily lives and our individual dynamics. We’re all learning a little bit about ourselves during this. We’ve all changed a little since this started, discovered parts of us we might not have known were there. How we cope. What we value. Who our true friends are. What we’re doing with our lives. What matters to us. Every day brings a series of little reevaluations. Our world is going to come out different when this is over. But each of us, individually, are going to come out different as well.

In many ways, we already have, whether we’ve noticed it or not. My Saturdays, before this, were whirlwinds of activity: Gotta get the kids to the Little League Park, then rush to lunch, then back to the park, then there’s a birthday party, then there’s a fundraiser for the school, or maybe a cocktail party, and I gotta finish all that up before I fly to New York on Sunday and cram in all that work before I fly home on Thursday, and go go go go. Now? Now I’m writing this newsletter and then I’m going to go for a leisurely run and then the family’s gonna go ride bikes together and maybe go for a hike and then perhaps I’ll play my sons in a video game before we all have dinner on paper plates in the backyard while Wynn does some more magic tricks. You can’t help but slow down and notice your world a little more.

It is not all bad.

And I do see it most in my sons. Before this, my eight-year-old and my now-six-year-old were, well, roommates. They got along just fine, but they’re different personalities, and they each had their own separate friends and their own separate activities. They had lunch hours at school at roughly the same time, but they never sat together, and, judging from the times I’d come in to have lunch with one of them, they barely even talked. They are two years apart in school, but in sensibility, they weren’t unusually close. They liked each other: They’re brothers, after all. But they sort of did their own thing.

Now, though? Now they have become inseparable. They have been together, essentially, 24 hours a day for three months, and that has forged a bond that’s sure to last the rest of their lives. It is remarkable how much they’ve grown to rely on each other in this time. They watch the same shows, they play the same games, they do everything just to try to impress the other one; I came downstairs the other morning and they had already planned an intricate, extremely complicated dance routine together they couldn’t wait to show off—before breakfast. They keep making up jokes that exist solely to make the other one laugh. I’ve noticed how often they physically touch each other: They constantly wrestle, and tickle, and sit on each other’s heads. Even their fights are now intimate, like old married couples; the other night William stormed off because Wynn had something that upset him so much that “I’ll never sleep in that room with him again!” (He was back 10 minutes later.) They have become each other’s best friends. They have, truly, become brothers.

It all happened from this, during this time. They would have been close had the pandemic never hit and locked them together for so long: They are brothers, after all, and they are both good little boys. But it wouldn’t have been like this. This experience has forged a bond between them that’s never going to be broken: They are going to come first for each other forever now. They will protect each other. They will cover for each other when one of them is in trouble with their parents. They will grouse about us together. They will have a language only they understand. They will be each other’s best men at their weddings. They will be loyal, wacky uncles to each other’s children. They will come together when one of us falls ill. They will never, ever not have each other.

And it will all hark back to 2020, that awful time, that year when you worried that the world might be breaking apart, that year when we lost so many people, that year that seemed to last several decades. It is something wonderful that has grown out of this. It wouldn’t have happened had it not been for this. When we all look back at this time, we will remember all the horrors. We will mourn for those we have lost. But this family, and I suspect many others, will also look back at it as a time of clarity, a time when time slowed down, when precious moments we’ll never be able to get back was spent with those closest to us. Someday, I’m gonna watch one of these boys toast the other one at their wedding, with all the in-jokes just they understand, with the warmth and depth of feeling that only siblings can have, and I’m going to remember 2020, when those boys went from brothers to brothers. It won’t be all I remember from 2020. But it’ll be the memory I cherish the most. It’ll be the one that matters.

I bet many of you have experienced something similar. It’s what we have to hold on to. This has been so hard. It will be so hard. But something lasting is growing out of it. Someday we’ll all be grateful it did. Someday, out of this, something wonderful will bloom. Maybe it already has.

A NOTE ON JUNETEENTH

My son turned six on Friday, June 19, Juneteenth. Six years ago, when he was born, we did not know that he was being born on a day of any sort of national importance. (I mostly remember that it was my parents anniversary and that it’s the day England choked in the World Cup.) If I’m being entirely honest, I had no idea it was a holiday at all. The word “Juneteenth” meant nothing to me.

This is my own fault, obviously, as well as a public school system developed by white people and thus riddled with historical failings—systematic, accidental, or both. I also did not know about the Tulsa Massacre until three years ago either. I am ashamed that I knew nothing of these things, both as a student and as an adult. It is reminder of just how little I know, how little I understand. It’s reminder that I need to keep shutting up and keep learning. If I didn’t know about Juneteenth and the Tulsa Massacre, the number of other things I don’t about steers toward the infinite.

It is now clear, though, that my son’s birthday will forever be connected to this date: It seems inevitable (and appropriate) that Juneteenth is about to become a national holiday we’ll be celebrating the rest of our lives. (Though hopefully not through Snapchat filters.) I like that my son will now know what Juneteenth means, will actively grapple with it every birthday, in a way that I never could have. One of the many revelations of growing up is realizing how many gaps there were in my knowledge, how much I was never taught, or even exposed to. The best I can hope for is that my kids can experience, and learn, more than I did. I am pleased that they are well on their way.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Baseball’s Disastrous Spring Is an Existential Crisis, New York. This was much more personal and emotional of a piece than I am used to. It was actually sort of weird to have it as the lead story on NYmag.com overnight.

  2. Better Know a Player: Julio Franco, MLB.com. Oh, yes, Julio Franco is just the best.

  3. Baseball Year in Review: 1996, MLB.com. I know this year is thought of as the start of the Yankees dynasty, but it’ll always be the first year of the LaRussa era for me. I watched Game Four of the NLCS that year on my 21st birthday.

  4. What to Watch Instead: Pixar’s Soul, Vulture. After Onward, they’ve got plenty of room for improvement.

  5. Judd Apatow Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. With the add of The King of Staten Island.

  6. The Thirty: Best Seasons By Guys Over 40, MLB.com. Jamie Moyer, Bartolo Colon and Julio Franco, unite!

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, a very fun show that almost felt normal, with three exciting (and good) new movies: Da 5 Bloods, The King of Staten Island and You Don’t Nomi.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“Inside Maya Moore’s Incredible Quest for Justice,” ESPN. I don’t know if you can possibly talk about Maya Moore enough: This is an athlete, in her absolute prime, walking away from her sport in pursuit of justice. It blows me away more every time I think about it. Katie Barnes is a writer who I discovered when he called out something that I had written last year—something she was absolutely right to call out—and reading her work since then has made me feel even more stupid for missing out on her before. Just a remarkable confluence of writer and subject.

Also: Always read David Wallace-Wells on the pandemic.

VEEP PREFERENCE RANKINGS!

Oh, why not? I won’t make a habit of this, it’s just a one-time deal. But just as a throwback to the old Presidential preference rankings, going off these Crystal Ball rankings, let’s give it a shot:

  1. Kamala Harris

  2. Keisha Lance Bottoms

  3. Val Demings

  4. Elizabeth Warren

  5. Stacey Abrams

  6. Michelle Lujan Grisham

  7. Gretchen Whitmer

  8. Gina Raimondo

  9. Tammy Duckworth

  10. Susan Rice

Again: I promise this will be the only one of these that I do.

PRESENTED WITHOUT COMMENT

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Send 'em:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

No movie has ever made me wish I were Irish more. (Or really anything.) I saw these two in concert together a decade ago and it absolutely wiped me out.

The new bike really was very exciting.

Have a great weekend, all. Like a lot of you, I’m pretty nervous about what’s going down in Tulsa tonight. No one flails more than the one who is drowning. Please, be safe, everyone.

Best,
Will