This summer Young Son started expressing an interest in baseball, so I signed him up for a beginner camp through our park district. I figured it would ease him into the basics and that if he did really like it, I’d sign him up for a league. I’ve learned my lesson on this front — inevitably if I would have signed him up for an 8-week league with practices twice a week for an hour and half or more, he would immediately have decided that he loathed it. Then both of us would have been miserable, because I’d have to drag his whiney, complaining butt to practice each time. He’d be all surly in the outfield and I’d sullenly watch from the scalding hot bleachers. He’d want to quit, but of course I wouldn’t let him, even though deep down I really wouldn’t mind.
But lo and behold, Young Son has really been liking baseball. This week they had an actual “game” rather than just drills and practice. Each player got a turn at bat while all the boys scattered in the outfield, baseball gloves dangling at their side, waiting for a ball to come to them. Inevitably whenever a ball would actually come hobbling their way, they would just stand there and wait for it to arrive at their feet or watch it go rolling by until this one scrappy little kid would finally run up, field it and chase the batter around the bases trying to tag him. There was no throwing to second or tagging the man out at third base. No, that would have caused even more pandemonium.
It was finally time for Young Son’s turn at bat. He tried to look all serious and cool, and I was just waiting for him to shoulder his bat and point at the fences. But he didn’t and hunkered down in his lefty batting position. On the first pitch, it was a swing about three seconds late. As he got ready for the second pitch, I yelled, “Grip it and rip it, pal!” And guess what?! He got a decent hit!
“Way to go Young Son!” I hollered. But instead of running for first base, he just stood there.
“RUN!” all of the moms yelled. He looked startled (probably still in shock), set his bat down and trotted towards first. “RUN FASTER!!!” I called. Finally another kid got the ball and started chasing after him with it in his outstretched hand. But then as Young Son was coming up on third, that scrappy little kid snatched away the ball and sprinted after Young Son. Alas, there was no hope and he tagged him out. Oh well.
This week was the last session of his camp and fifteen minutes before they were to wrap things up, the coach said, “Okay kids! Now we’re going to have a game with the parents!”
Wait. What? “Did he just say there’s going to be a game with the parents?!”
“He sure did,” said another mom who was as thrilled as I was.
“Goddamnit! I did not sign up for this crap!” I moaned as we all slunk off to the outfield, muttering profanities under our breath while plastering fake smiles of enthusiasm on our faces for our Babe Ruth wannabes.
“So Nurse Ratched, what’s the big deal? It’s just a kid’s game,” you say.
Well, all the excruciating memories of my miserable time in gym class during middle school came flooding back. I wanted to cry. I could practically feel the hinder binder coming on that those nasty shorts we had to wear always gave me. The humiliation and anxiety the bi-annual bent arm hang testing gave me nearly put me in the hospital each year. I know it may come as a shock to some of you, but I’m not exactly athletically gifted. Sports have never been my thing. The thought of letting other team members down due to my lack of skill mortifies me. Basically my goal was just to fly under the radar and hope that no one noticed my existence.
Where was I? Oh. Young Son’s baseball game. I stood there sweating in the outfield as the sun blazed down and my anxiety ratcheted up. “Please don’t hit the ball my way, please don’t hit the ball my way,” I chanted in my head. I did not want to have to chase after a rogue grounder in my flip flops and then have to chase a kid. Gina Davis I was not.
So of course the first punk hits one right toward me! Crap! I went trotting after it and had to make the choice: do I go running after the kid and tag him out and be that asshole parent, or do I pretend to be even more pathetic than I already am and fumble the ball or pull a hammy or something? Either way I was going to look like an idiot. I ended up meeting him at second and let him take the base, and then I managed to throw the ball back to the coach and it actually reached him. (whew!)
Eventually it was the parents’ turn to bat. We all shuffled over to the dug out and rock/paper/scissored who would have to bat first. The coach actually got the tee out for us. I’m still not sure how to take that. Was he being kind and trying to save us an ounce of humiliation, or did he really think we were really that pathetic? Clearly the boys thought we were total losers, because one jerk snarkily shouted, “Okay guys. Let’s take it easy on them. We gotta respect our elders.” I flipped him off (in my head) and had visions of me hitting a pop fly that would bop him right on his smart-mouthed nugget.
While all the miserable moms were lined up, sullenly sweltering in the dugout, the token dad of the group was standing off to the side in the shade of a tree. Oh hell no. “Hey! No fair! If we have to suffer, so do you!” I called.
He laughed and said, “Nah. I’m just waiting here to go last so I can clean up after ya’ll.” All the moms groaned, rolled our eyes and mentally flipped him off too. That just answered which kid was his.
The spunky grandma among us was up at bat, and she sent the tee flying instead of the ball with her enthusiasm. Of course this sent all the prepubescent boys into gales of laughter. The coach scolded them, “Seriously guys? Everyone here is learning. Knock it off!” Luckily with her next try she had a good hit and that shut them up.
I was up next. Deep breaths. “Please don’t let me whiff it…please don’t let me whiff it…” I stepped up to the tee, kept my eye on the ball and got a hit, sending it bouncing between first and second! I ran for first and I must have surprised them more than I surprised myself. They were fumbling around for the ball and running into one another like a bunch of miniature Keystone Cops, so I safely made it to first base.
The next mom hit one right to the smart-ass kid who happened to be standing right where I needed to run. He managed to pick up the ball. Our eyes locked. I gave him one of my fiercest mom glares and made a run for it, dodged around him and made it to second base. HA! In my hubris, I thought it would be good to make a run for third. He was hot on my tail and I kept waiting for him to nail me in the back with the ball. I ran for my life screaming, “I…DO…NOT…FEEL…PRETTY!!!!” I made it to third! I’d learned my lesson and stayed.
Douchey Dad was up and of course he nailed one right to the fences. As obnoxious as it was, I was relieved that the game was finally over. I high tailed it off the field and looked for Warrior Princess. I looked over and there she and her new found friend were doing a LeBron James style chalk toss with the dirt. Excellent. This was going to make bath time even more fun. (Did you like that sports reference I made there? Okay, so it’s the wrong sport, but still.)
The coach handed out medals to each of the boys for participating. Hell. Where were the medals for the moms? I would have gladly accepted a Starbucks gift card instead though. But the look of joy and excitement on Young Son’s face made up for it. He came running over, “Mom! That was so much fun!” He was beaming with pride.
Next week he’ll be spending a few days with his cousins, who are basically baseball prodigies. He is beyond excited to absorb some of their talent and learn from the masters while he’s there. I’m sure by the time he comes home, he’ll be ready for the big leagues.
This experience has reminded me that as a parent, I cannot let my anxieties become my children’s too. It’s my job to let them experience life, to try new things, to fail, to succeed and to hopefully become the best versions of themselves. Maybe they can teach me to let go of some of my anxiety in the process. I just hope that doesn’t involve me having to play organized sports anymore.