Have I ever mentioned that I hate sports? And it’s not even just athletic competition – I really don’t like games of any kind. Family board game commercials give me hives. Gambling in Vegas? No thank you. I would rather spend the afternoon at the dentist office than sit through an hour of poker.
This tends to put people off. How can I not like FUN? But you have to realize that from my perspective, fun rarely involves a my team-your team smack down. I can usually get away with my aversion to gambling since many people prefer not to trust Lady Luck with their wallet. And I’m certainly not the first person to have little attention span for rolling dice and moving game pieces. But sports! What could be more wholesome and character building than sports? Running down a field with your opponent hot on your heels pumps your body full of endorphins and makes you feel young again. It’s not normal to dislike sports. It’s unhealthy. It’s UNAmerican.
But I really just don’t. And I’m totally okay with this. I lived through years of school P.E. classes and feel perfectly confident in my preference to sit on the sidelines with a book. Don’t bother inviting me to join your weekend kickball team. I understand that it’s just fun and no one cares how bad you are. At this point, it’s beyond me not being good at sports. They just bore me to tears. I exercise for my health and leave competition out of it.
So you may find it surprising to hear that I actually did join a sports team recently. I just had my first practice on Tuesday and tomorrow will be our first game. I have to admit that I’m a little nervous. There will be people watching and I dread all of that time standing around in the sun, but I just try to focus on the ice cream that Coach Keys promised we’d get after the game.
Oh yeah – did I mention that I’m playing tee ball?
Actually – it’s “Blast Ball,” which is kind of pre tee ball. I wasn’t quite sure we were ready for tee ball yet. And I say “we” because both Oliver and I are Rattlers. That’s our team name – we’re The Rattlers.
Initially, only Oliver was going to play. I thought it might help prepare him for Kindergarten P.E. next year if he got some exposure to team sports. This would be the first year he’d be old enough for tee ball, but I was thrilled to hear that a new team for four year olds was being introduced to the league. Blast Ball is similar to tee ball but even less complicated. The idea of an “easy” game accompanied by the bonus of younger children who might be a bit more on Oliver’s wave length seemed perfect for him.
Unfortunately, Oliver gets nervous about new situations, and I experienced my own fair share of anxiety over this foray into the world of little league. But Chris LOVED team sports and has ALWAYS wanted to be a little league coach for his kids. So he was very enthusiastic about the idea. Like me, he had little concern for Oliver’s performance, but looked forward to sharing this great personal joy with his son. Awesome. I could sit on the sidelines. Maybe not with a book…can’t do that with my kids… But at least I could close my eyes and la la la in my happy place when things got tense.
Then, Chris tried to build a new deck.
More specifically, he and his friend were unloading lumber for the new deck, and tragedy struck. His foot to be exact. As they were opening the truck gate the wood came shooting out and landed on Chris’ left foot. It also took out his right arm and left leg in the process, but the serious injury was the big hole in his foot that would require eleven stitches and two weeks on crutches.
So the first practice day did not find me making dinner and entertaining the twins while wondering how things were going at Blast Ball. Instead it found me calling encouragement to a terrified five year old who has trouble understanding what people say to him and responding in full sentences. Even the simple directions being explained to the six other team members (ranging from age three and a half to four and a half) went completely over his head.
My heart broke with each pleading look threw in my direction. And toward the end of practice, when the sun was in everyone’s eyes and he was dying of thirst because his stupid mother forgot to bring a bottle of water (I remembered to bring the coach’s cell phone number – just in case – but obvious necessities like water and a baseball hat? Not so much…), I saw that he had a few tears running down his cheeks.
He was exhausted. Not from the physical exertion though. He was working so hard to understand what was expected of him and he was so worried that I would suddenly disappear, that he had finally reached a breaking point.
The kind coach, who had no idea what was going on with Oliver did know that something needed to be done. So he suggested that maybe Mommy could play too! Maybe that would be more fun.
Neither Oliver nor I had much hope of achieving “fun” at this juncture, but I would be damned if we didn’t get through that practice. Oliver just needs to know what is going to happen next. After a few practices and games, he would understand the itinerary and feel much more secure. Would he love it? Who knows. Would he at least have a little fun? I certainly hoped so. But the first step was to survive that first time. I knew that going in, and I was ready to do pretty much anything to make it happen.
So with 15 minutes left in the practice, I ran with Oliver to the base and back. I stood with him in the “outfield” and dragged him toward the ball with the other kids. And just as it looked like we might be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, Coach Keys announced that we were going to finish up with a drill.
I don’t know if he actually said “drill” – he might have called it a game – but I spent enough time in P.E. class to recognize a drill when I saw one. And of course this one involved my two favorite things: running and competition.
We had to line up and then on the word go, run after the ball that the coach threw for us. The distance was long enough to provide time for scrappers to gain the lead from the back, but not so long that anyone would drop off to examine an interesting bug or pick dandelions. Whoever got to the ball first would then sit down while the rest lined up for another run.
Oliver had little understanding of what we were doing at first, and sort of trotted aimlessly behind the rest. But I ran with him and yelled, “come on – let’s get the ball – go go go!” And other horrifying cheerleader-like encouragement of that nature.
Suddenly, I had a flashback of being six years old and running a relay race at one of my cousins’ backyard birthday parties. My Uncle Dick ran alongside me as I tried to keep my egg on a spoon while keeping one eye on the finish line. He yelled, “come on, Kate! You can do it! Just keep your arm straight – hold it steady…you’re almost there!” I doubt a six year old could actually identify feelings like humiliation or despair, but my 38 year old brain conjured up the self loathing that I know continued to rise as I saw the other party dress sashes moving further and further ahead of me and my slow egg balancing progress.
I knew exactly how Oliver felt at that moment. Maybe he was more physically able to win than I ever was, but he couldn’t understand why the boys were running so fast to try to get the ball. Where I couldn’t keep up, he purposely lagged behind. But we both watched others pass us by. And we could both feel the failure in that.
As we lined up for one of three more throws (and at this point, I was actually saying to Oliver, “just three more times, and then we can sit down.“), I heard one of the boys who were watching say, “I wonder who will be last.” It was innocent and artless, without a hint of derision – but still made me want to sag with defeat.
Then something amazing happened. With fewer kids around him, Oliver started to try. Maybe it was fewer people and less confusion. Or maybe it was just having four other practice runs. But he actually tried to get the ball. Not hard…but at least he was looking at the ball and moved in that direction. And he smiled.
So when I got back into line with my son and that one other boy, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Oliver smiled and he understood. And when the coach yelled “go!” Oliver actually ran. AND he caught the ball. He wasn’t last. And I jumped up and down, clapping my hands like I just won an all expense paid trip to Europe. Because when you’re a mother, that’s exactly how exciting your child’s happiness is to you.
At the end of practice, we huddled up for a quick pep talk and put our hand in for a “go Rattlers!” Then Oliver and I ran for the car. I’m generally one to stay a bit too long at the party, but at that moment I wanted to get while the gettin’ was good. And Oliver was holding me to my many promises of ice cream at Dairy Queen.
We made one other stop first. We had a tee ball set at our house from Summers past, but the bat and ball disappeared a while ago. I suggested that we stop by Target to purchase new ones, and I held my breath as we approached the sports equipment aisle. I was worried that when he saw the bats he’d run screaming out of the store. But instead, he enthusiastically selected a red one.
So we survived our very first sports team experience. And again, I say “we” because this is my first official team too. I’m sure that my apathy for competition has roots in my early performance anxiety and feelings of failure – but don’t diagnose me just yet. I don’t worry about losing anymore. I feel no pressure to be any good at games. I’m an almost 40 year old woman with three children and more every day responsibilities than I can count. Whether I cross the finish line last is the least of my concerns. But I do intend to finish the Blast Ball season with Oliver no matter what level of participation he needs from me. Tedious or not, I’ll be an assistant coach and run next to him during drills and wear shorts outside of the gym. I’ll do everything I hate to make sure he has fun.
As much as I’d rather be sitting on the sidelines of games, I’ll never forfeit my responsibility to Oliver. I’ll wear my Rattlers hat with pride (I’d better get one…) And really – it’s just a couple of months. If I was able to handle those grueling years of working mom commutes and divided priorities, I think can withstand a little humiliation at Blast Ball. And truth be told, I just may be the best one on the team!