From the time we moved to Albuquerque in September, Ethan has not wanted to do any extracurriculars at all. He even said no to after school Lego class. HE EVEN SAID NO TO AFTER SCHOOL LEGO CLASS! I would suggest things and accept each of his predictable declines. I took it to mean that he is still adjusting and feeling “new” in a new activity is not something he felt up for understandably. However, he was indifferent without a definitive rejection when I suggested baseball so of course I signed the boys up.
Baseball is great on many levels. It gets them active and physically moving. It provides socialization with peers and all the teaching values that come with team sports. It is something we can all enjoy together (tell that to my husband who froze at a chilly 7AM game). Ethan played soccer, baseball and tennis in the past, too. While he is no star athlete, he has enjoyed each to some extent and seemed to complain the least about baseball (complaint count is how we non-athletes choose our sports).
Connor is psyched about his first T-ball experience. Ethan is now in the Rookie division. For me, they should have called it the Facing Manhood or Loss of Childhood or most appropriately Mom Agony division. One thing is for sure, this ain’t no T-ball anymore.
In T-ball, the outliers are the truly gifted kids who throw across the T-ball field to first base like they came out of the womb with that powerful overhanded arc. In Rookies, the outliers are the poor kids like Ethan whose batting form ends in the beautiful twirl of a ballerina. Throughout the initial month of practices, I told myself repeatedly that it is all about having fun. I even found a thought floating in my head that having Ethan on their team will be good for the other kids to learn humble sportsmanship.
When one of the coaches suggested we work with our kids at home (I could have sworn through his sunglasses that he was staring at me the whole time he said that), I took it to heart. I never played any kind of baseball or softball. Never. Last week was the VERY first time in my entire life that I held a baseball in my hand and attempted to throw it and catch it. Motherly love drives you to do crazy things. I ironically coached him to keep his eye on the ball, move towards it, and be fierce like a tiger. Then when he would throw the missed ball back to me, I would look away, lean back and stifle screams of fear. Do as Mommy says, not as Mommy does.
The absolute worst part of that brief practice session was when he had a meltdown complete with throwing his glove, kicking rocks and screaming through tears. I had made the unforgivable mistake of laughing at one of his sad attempts to catch. It happened so naturally that I did not even realize what I had done until he pointed at me and cried, “Mommy’s mean!” You other moms have done something equally evil before, too, right? Right? (Sybil’s mom is shaking her schizophrenic head at me.) I apologized profusely while cradling the almost 60-pound boy on my undersized lap, wiping tears with heavy doses of guilt and feeling the flames of hell at my heels. He later whimpered that he just wanted to catch one measly ball. I switched to a light underhanded toss, and he managed to land the ball in his glove successfully. Did we win the lottery? Did we bring about world peace? You might have thought so with our reaction. We high-fived maybe 20 times.
Friday night was opening night for the league. Towards the end, I was with my boys and two brothers on Ethan’s team. Their dad had gone to look for his wife while Mike had gone to the bathroom. I asked for their names and told them ours. The older brother repeated Ethan’s name and casually said that he gets him confused with “the other handicapped kid” on the team. I was speechless while my heart shattered into a million and one little pieces. It dawned on me that it was not only obvious to me and other parents, but of course it was also clear to the kids…including Ethan. He has to know that his lack of skill makes this kid think something is physically wrong with him. It might explain why his feelings about their first game was “nervous” and not the “good” that his excited little brother had.
He feels shy with his team. Ethan has a great affinity to his peers. This is nice in that he makes friends fairly easily and loves spending time with them. It is not so great when he feels the need to be liked and approved by them. In past mom speeches about doing the right thing, he admitted the difficulty of standing up to meanness because it puts him out there. His insecurities do not always allow for his good conscience to make itself known. This is also disastrous when plenty of peers are around to witness his areas of weakness.
Yes, it is all about having fun, but how fun is it when the basics are a struggle and you are the notable team handicap? Did I set him up for heartache? Mine has already been broken, and the (long, painful) season just started. Was this all a mistake? Maybe I should have looked to sign him up for something that I already knew he was good at doing. Where is the league for inquisitive minds where asking a thousand questions gives you a solid win? He could be MVP for the “Mama-can-you-Google-it?” tournament. I should have been able to predict that he would get his pants dirty on opening night not because he was diving for a catch but because he was very busy looking for four-leaf clovers in the field. If only reading levels or math questions got you home runs…
Thoughts like these had been plaguing my mind all week to the point that I found myself praying for Ethan and baseball on my morning jog. Please, dear God, protect his fragile self-esteem. Please let him survive the season and have some fun. Please fortify his little sense of self throughout the torture of baseball. And if it be Your good and perfect will, let him catch and hit the ball a few times! Yes, I could have been using those 10 minutes to pray for much more meaningful things like the cure for cancer or the end of gang violence, but I could not stop myself from pleading about baseball.
Saturday morning was his very first game. I helped him get ready. I told him to have fun, do his best, and keep moving to stay warm (even in Albuquerque, 7AM is cold). After he and Mike left, I crawled into Connor’s bed feeling like I had just sent a helpless sheep to cruel slaughter. Even comforting snuggle-buggles from my affectionate younger son could not keep the ache and worry away. So of course I started this therapy session. Before I could finish, Mike texts me that the game got canceled. After two innings of play, the strong winds made the chilly morning unbearable so that some of the kids were even crying. When they came home, I nervously asked Ethan how it went. He told me that he did not get a chance to bat so he said, “I was glad.” He also told me that he did have fun and likes baseball, just not cold games at 7AM. Thank you, Jesus, for answering my silly prayers for this short 2-inning game.
Mike and I are at the beginning of season 2 watching Friday Night Lights. The nerdy Landry is on the football team as a bench-warmer. The last episode we watched has him getting pummeled by players in his inability to block them. He gets thrown to the ground endlessly. After that gruesome practice, his dad tells him that he is proud of him. In disbelief, Landry asks if his dad was even watching. His dad assures him that he was and repeats his fatherly pride. Real life is not TV. Ethan will not get a hot girl to like him because somehow she can see the quality of his character over his awkward lack of game. In real life, he may get hurt emotionally more than physically with his unnatural attempts to play baseball. But in real life, his father and I will repeat to him how proud we are, how much we love him and how his value goes beyond his ability to catch or hit. Mean Mommy may have signed him up for a long and painful season, but she will be there to cheer him on with as much pride as possible each and every time.
His little league season goes until mid-June. That sounds like a massive amount of
therapy blog posts. At least Connor is still in the glory days of innocent and adorable T-ball. At his game, Ethan asked me, “Why do you keep saying, ‘So cute!’?” When the 3rd base coach told Connor to run to home and be sure to touch the plate, Connor dutifully ran down the line, bent over, and slapped that plate with his hand. SO CUTE!
Cute or not, we will all get through this season, even in the Mom Agony division. It may take many silly jogging prayers, super long blog posts, and spiked beverages, but somehow I (think I) am ready to say, “PLAY BALL!” In the areas of excelling and especially in the areas of struggle, I will always cheer my beloved boys on throughout their lives. They will forever be my little MVP’s.