I’m not sure when it started. The hand signals. It was probably the first night I turned out the light, when Jake was still awake in his crib. As I got to the door, he popped up. Jake wobbled like a Bowery wino for a minute. He extended his hand into a “grasping wave.” The motion is like using one of those hand gripper devices from gym class but exaggerated. That became Hang Signal #1 “Grasping Wave.”
Signaling always starts after lights out. We progressed to #2 the “Heart Throw.” The “Heart Throw” is usually initiated by me. It is done at the doorway. I pretend to pull out my beating heart from my chest and throw it to Jake. In full Willie Mays form, at the wall, just behind the bed, Jake reaches back and snags the imaginary heart in mid air. #2 turned an extended version #3 “Reverse Heart Throw.” That is simply me snagging Jake’s “Heart Throw” like fly ball out close to the third base line.
After doing this every night for years we developed #4 “Zipper Heart Throw,” this is all the above but with a full Tim Burton pantomime. This includes unzipping the chest, pulling out the heart and throwing it. The receiver must always catch the heart, then unzip and throw his heart to the other.
The additional variations after the “Heart Throw” include #5 “The Lock” (zip, close a lock) to #6 “Four Locks” (zip, close, 2 small locks, 2 big locks with KEYS) #7 is the “Heart Throw + Reverse of the Four Locks.”
As Jake advanced from toddlerhood we began the swan dive to a grand finish with the miming of #8 “i L.O.V.E you.” Yes, this was all done in silence with hand signals. The “i” is made with a fist and a finger to dot the i. Next a heart is made with two hands, punctuated by “you” which is me pointing to Jake. Then of course the “Reverse of #8” Jake throws his “i L.O.V.E you” to me.
When Jake hit ten we would do the whole lineup with a twist — #9 a “Blowing Kiss.” This became my favorite. I could just see Jake faced illuminated from the bathroom light. He appreciated the language we had developed. By the the end of #9 he always broke out in a big toothy grin that I could see in the dark.
Now, the hand signals look like they are close to retirement. The daily rush through homework, good books, late emails have pushed our sweet ritual of hand signs to the side. A pure fact of modern life.
I did get a surprise tonight. Just like the spirit of Piniella managing for the last time, I got a #1, “Grasping Wave” from Jake. My heart could sing. Maybe there is just one more season left. A Father can hope.