Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about “bucket time.”
Don’t worry, I’m not feeling morbid. I don’t mean “kick the bucket” time…although the global pandemic has cast the long shadow of mortality across all our thoughts.
And I don’t mean time to a make “bucket list,” even though travel restrictions and limited gatherings have inspired future fantasies of post-pandemic summer trips and try-it-once activities while we still have our health and a less-than-empty nest.
No, by bucket time I mean something familiar to parents of kids who play baseball or softball. I’m sure there’s an equivalent for Hockey Moms or Dance Dads, for families of children with a passion for marimba or mountain-biking, lacrosse or Lego robotics. It’s that extra time we spend with our kids to support their hobbies, outside of scheduled practices, performances or games.
For baseball and softball parents, it means hours with our butts on a bucket—ideally one with a padded lid—tossing balls for young players to bat into a net or a fence, or catching their pitches in a driveway or diamond.
To be honest, bucket time isn’t that exciting for either party. The extra reps hone new skills but can’t match the thrill of an actual game. And playing catch with a parent isn’t as fun as trading gossip during warm-up with a teammate.
Despite its monotony, bucket time is a chance for parents and kids to reconnect, to chat about the day, to gauge each other’s emotional equilibrium, or just be in the moment together. (Try catching a fastball while checking your iPhone—it’s a mistake you’ll only make once.)
The relentless tides of the COVID crisis have made bucket-time activities feel even more vital. With team practices and games curtailed or cancelled, tossing—or kicking or volleying or racqueting—a ball with mom or dad has become a lifeline to the physical health, emotional growth and mental focus that sports can provide.
Over the last year, I’ve valued these hours on the bucket, even if my aching back hasn’t, because I know they’re coming to an end. Our daughter plays softball at a higher level than I can coach, but she’s still happy to share a little bucket time between real practices. Our high-school-age son is easing out of baseball as he focuses on summer jobs and school work and other interests. But when his spring team needed a coach, I came out of retirement for what might be his last season—and mine.
Bucket time, I’ve discovered, is about storing away memories we don’t yet realize are important. These aren’t the highlight-reel moments or bloopers preserved on Facebook and retold around the dinner table. They’re not about our kids’ big joys (like winning the city championships) or teary-eyed lows (like losing a heartbreaker at Provincials) or even oddities (like really, really needing to go to the bathroom in the middle of a clutch at-bat).
Bucket-time memories are not the pristine foul ball your daughter caught at a HarbourCats game or the autographed major-league souvenir your son keeps on his dresser. No, they’re like the weathered practice balls at the bottom of a bucket stored between seasons in a musty corner of the garage.
You can still reach in, though, and feel the familiar scuffed leather and fraying seams. The broken-in ball sits perfectly in your hand. And as you toss it one more time to your kid, now no longer a kid, it all comes back. Not just a single moment but a deep-seated muscle memory of the hours, the days, the seasons you spent together.
That’s the time we fill our buckets with. May they never be empty.