My son’s baseball season started recently. So, for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been going out back and throwing the ball around almost every day. Just me and him. His sister is playing softball but she doesn’t have the same interest in it and her skill level is not as high. She’s younger. He’s almost 12.

He’s decided that this year, he really wants to take pitching seriously, really wants to make the effort. And he’s willing to put the time in by practicing. I’m his catcher. We take the bases out back, measure off the distance and start throwing. And he’s doing great. I think he really has potential. But it’s not easy for me to get in the catching position. I am 43 years old and a little out of shape. But at least I still have my arm. So he and I go and we throw the baseball. Really throw hard. And we laugh. A lot. About really silly things, like how the way I crouch down to catch his pitches makes my butt stick out.

My son started playing baseball when he was 5, in T-ball. For those first few years, he would stand in the outfield looking at the clouds and the butterflies. But I couldn’t wait for the day to come when he and I could play catch together, really play catch. It happened two years ago. I was still using my old softball glove from high school. (I am proud to say that I was Co-Captain of my high school varsity softball team.) The leather in the glove was a little thin and I sprained my finger when I caught a ball in the wrong spot. I had to get a new glove. That was how hard he started throwing two years ago, at the age of 10.

There’s a parenting metaphor in here somewhere between his changing skill level in baseball and his changing need for his mom. In the beginning, in T-ball, he needed a lot of teaching and patience. He couldn’t do it on his own because he was just starting out, didn’t know how to throw or hit. At home, he also had a very physical need for me, making his dinner, helping him get ready for bed, lots of time spent reading together.

Now, he’s on the cusp of surpassing me with his skills and his physical strength and, of course, his height. In baseball, we’ve become even in many ways. We can both throw the ball hard and accurate. But I can’t pitch. He still needs me on a daily basis but in a different, less physical, way. He needs my guidance, my encouragement and some urging (get your homework done, clean your room, hang your towel up). He wants me to hug and kiss him, but not when I pick him up at school. He can make his own dinner and when he showers and gets ready for bed, he locks the door. Though I still kiss him goodnight and tuck him in when he’s done.

In another year or two, as his skill increases and he goes to high school, I imagine he’ll need me less. He’ll be stronger than me and a better ball player. Hopefully, he’ll still want to play catch with me. He may even teach me a thing or two. I hope he cleans his room and hangs up his towel without me asking him to. And, by then, I’ll have taught him how to do his own laundry. He’ll still need his mom but in a more cerebral and emotional way. And that’s okay with me. As long as he still lets me hug and kiss him. Giving my children their independence is probably one of the best things I can do for them.

So, for now, I’ll play catch with him whenever he wants me to. And when he throws the ball so hard that my hand stings, I’ll grin and bear it. And I’ll be happy to be sore in order to spend this kind of time with him. Just the two of us. He thinks it’s cool. So do I. He says he doesn’t know any other 43 year old mom with an arm like mine. This time we spend together is better than any words that I can say to him about growing up and becoming a teenager. And it is in these moments that I experience pure joy. A feeling I wish I had more of in my life. But pure joy is hard to come by that often, not with the trials and tribulations of everyday life: viruses, broken wrists, bad days at work, mean girls in 4th grade, economic depressions.

I love playing baseball with my son.