My Son, Ferdinand the Bull

One Saturday morning about five years ago, I took all my boys to the baseball field to sign my then-5-year-old firstborn up for spring baseball. While I struggled to decide what size hat and tiny baseball pants he would need so I could complete the forms, a few of the coaches who were pacing around the crowd approached me.

“Hey, how old is that guy?” one coach asked, pointing to my second son, Charlie. “Does he play?” I looked up at them over the head of my newborn, asleep on my chest in his Ergo. “Uh, he’s three,” I answered slowly and incredulously. “No, he doesn’t play… anything.” Except Star Wars, I added in my head. And superheroes.

“Wow,” said one of the coaches, nodding his head with approval. “Listen, which high school are you zoned for? I coach football over at the local school. Let me know if he’s heading my way.” I stared at him, smiled because I didn’t know how else to respond to such a request, and silently steered my children toward another corner of the fray, away from the crazy coaches who wanted to recruit my preschooler for high school football eleven years early.

Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.

My now-8-year-old Charlie has been asking for the same bedtime book every night lately: The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf. Every night, I read it to him and his little brother — the boy who was once that baby in an Ergo — and they end my sentences for me.

All the other little bulls he lived with would run and jump and butt their heads together, but not Ferdinand.

When he was four, we signed Charlie up for soccer. It seemed like a good beginner sport, and some of his preschool classmates were playing too. He was excited to wear the jersey and to have a team, and his coaches were excited because he was at least a head taller than anyone else on the field; he looked like an athlete.

But every Saturday, we would trek out to the soccer fields, and Charlie would walk — not run — onto the field reluctantly. Instead of going for the ball, he would lag behind the pack. His coaches would yell, “Go after the ball! Get to the ball! Run, Charlie!” and he would instead search the sidelines for me and jog over to where I was sitting. “Is it snack time yet?” he would ask me with desperate hope in his eyes. His coaches’ shoulders sagged. He never even kicked the ball one time that season. He did, however, greatly enjoy the cupcake he received after the last game.

Sometimes, his mother, who was a cow, would worry about him.

At six, we thought we had found Charlie’s sport. My son loves to swim. His father swam in high school and college, and it seemed to make sense that our children might follow suit. We signed the boys up for the year-round swim team and we attended practices three days a week for months on end. But while the other kids learned their strokes carefully and whipped their arms through the water like curved swords, racing ambitiously toward the wall, my son had a tendency to… well, dip. And cruise. And dive to the bottom now and then, like a dolphin. His young, boyish coach’s voice would ring out across the pool lanes: “Hey Charlie, what’re you doing? Charlie? Hey Charlie, how about freestyle?” But Charlie rarely heard him, because he kept his head underwater. He was swimming to the beat of his own (slow, perhaps reggae?) drum.

Allison Slater Tate
Allison Slater Tate
Allison Slater Tate is a mom of four, a proud member of Generation X, and a freelance writer and editor based in Florida. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her writing on Facebook ( and

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