“But, Mama, why didn’t they let me get on first base?”
This was the question my sweet boy asked me after he was thrown out on first in his very first baseball game of the spring baseball season. He had been practicing for nearly 5 weeks, 2-3 times a week. Finally, we were playing in a real game and he never made it to the base. He had hit the ball and run with his head looking over and behind to make sure I was watching. The other team easily tossed the ball and got him out before he was even close to stepping on the bag. We were new to this town and to this sport and all he wanted was to run the bases, all while making sure I was watching him. He was smiling when he hit the ball and then immediately confused, looking around to find me, super sad realizing he was “OUT” (man, they yell it including the thumb pointing backwards). It was even worse when they tapped his shoulder to head back to the dugout, his head hung to his chin. “Well, buddy, that’s not the way it works,” I had to say. He looked at me, tears already streaming down his face from shame and embarrassment, “But isn’t it more fun when everyone gets on base? I want everyone to get on base.” This was one of those moments I knew that would live inside my head for a long time and imprint on my heart like a Sharpie stain on the couch.
My soft-hearted boy was going to suffer a lot this baseball season. Not only was he not going to get on base most of the time but even when his team was winning, he never felt very good about himself after games. While he improved over the season, learning about being a team player and had some fun, overall, the competitive spirit of the league we had joined was incredibly intense. That intensity was magnified by parents who cannot control their shouting (even me), coaches who were aggressive (not ours, thankfully) during games and a playoff season that left a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, I said playoffs, for coach-pitch tee-ball. Where the weather reigns supreme, nearly every sport can be played year-round, and while that might sound awesome to some, I am physically not capable of spending my entire year at the baseball field. They go from spring ball, which kicks off in January, to all-stars (luckily my little guy is not “good enough” for that(, fall ball and back again. It’s exhausting, not to mention, expensive. But, honestly, this is more about how I have had to make another change in my parenting thought process, going from what I thought was important to discovering what really is important.
I always thought I would be a “sports mom”. Truly. As soon as I found out we were having a boy, I immediately began dreaming of all the sports I was sure he would play and how talented he must be with his athletic parents. After all, Erich was a state football runner up and I broke records in diving at my high school year over year. Between us, we played no less than 10 organized sports growing up and we bonded over the NFL during our early dating days. We run 5Ks together, have been to Pro Bowl and hate to lose a card game. Competitive spirit inhabits our bodies and we consider 2nd place the first loser (oh yes, I know how bad this sounds). We immediately considered ourselves a “sports family” the minute the doctor told us, “It’s a boy!” His room was decorated with golf memorabilia, his first birthday was celebrated with footballs and “you’re #1” signs and the belief we had a future professional sportsman on our hands permeated through our fingers and toes in the early years.
I was excited to see how talented my kid was so when Max was three, I enrolled him in a basketball program. If you’re from Indiana, “Hoosiers” is THE epitome of true sports movie and embodies the amazing under-dog triumph of a small town basketball team winning the state championship against all odds. We all watched and dreamed about how that could be us one day swooshing the last basket during the biggest game of our lives. It made you feel like anything was possible. All the kids I knew had a hoop in their driveway and as an 11 year old, I spent endless hours dribbling up and down Meadowlark Lane well after dark.
As soon as Max became old enough, I spent $50 for 8 weeks of practice with no games. It felt like a great way for him to learn the sport but no competition. It was for 2-4 year old kids, so it made sense that he would be OK. As it turns out, he had absolutely no interest in joining a basketball team and spent his first week screaming, clawing and crying at me on the sideline while I attempted — in vain — to push him towards the coaches and other children, hoping he would want to join the fun. Every other kid was standing in line, doing what was asked but not my kid. Instead, he refused and almost hyperventilated from crying so hard. We left and as I exited, other parents didn’t make eye contact and avoided me, rolling their eyes. Embarrassed and frustrated, I shared my experience on social media. Much of the comments were supportive but many also included statements like “Don’t let him quit,” and “If that was my kid, I would make him go sit on the side every week and watch the other kids play.” Three. He was three years old. I was overall appalled by the societal viewing of a crying three year old as a failure, especially when it came to sports. We do NOT quit. I did ask my dad to come down and take him one more time, thinking, maybe the over-dramatic reaction had something to do with me being there. Maybe I was the reason he didn’t want to participate? But he wasn’t having it with Pappy Bee either. Guess what? WE quit.
Here’s why. I had a moment of clarity (actually, two moments). One: that he was definitely too young and not ready (thanks, Dad, for pointing it out and helping me see it). Two: maybe my son was not what I envisioned. Maybe Max knew something I didn’t know, even at age 3 – sports may be overrated.
There I said it.
I never thought I would, but if parenting has taught me nothing else at all it has taught me that “never say never” is the absolute truth. From “I will never give my baby a pacifier” to “I will never let my kids sleep in my bed” to “My kid will never join Cub Scouts.” Yep. As it turns out, my son loves Cub Scouts, camping and selling popcorn — all things I never envisioned for him. He’s also been asking about playing a musical instrument. I have never really considered music, not because I don’t like it, but because I don’t consider us a “musical” family. But I should know better by now that “never” means “probably” and it serves us all better when I explore their wants and strengths without questioning them too much. Allowing them to push me outside my parenting comfort zone is what makes us all better, especially when it’s not MY choice.
As I navigate yet another chapter in the world of “never” parenting, the feelings I have about sports have shifted, just as many things I once believed, have shifted. I see sports (and many other extracurricular activities) as a great add on to our lives IF our children want to play or do those things. We are so blessed to have the opportunity to explore the many options available but we do NOT have to be DOING all. the. time. And, as my kids force us to grow through what we “know,” they teach us (again) that they will surely let us know what is best if we are willing to listen. For some, that is competitive year round baseball. For others, it is art, music, computers or just playing outside and it does NOT matter what anyone else thinks.
But as I slow down and watch my two kiddos, I know success comes when my son places his hand on my daughter’s back at a birthday party and shifts her away from a boy that has made her cry, offering her an opportunity to play with him outside instead. Success comes when they care about someone other than themselves, when they worry about the death of a baby frog in the garage or when they are concerned, because they aren’t sure someone had enough for lunch. Successful parenting for me does not come with a trophy or blue ribbon. It comes with knowing my children have compassion and thoughtfulness and a sweet spirit of REALLY wanting everyone to get on base.