Lara Lillibridge does not like team sports. Or at least she didn’t think she did, until her baseball-loving son taught her a thing or two.
I somehow always knew I’d have boys, and I was happy when I had my two. Because I assumed they would be male versions of me or maybe my brother, I was prepared to build forts, play with Transformers, and read J.R.R. Tolkien at bedtime. These were all things I liked, too. But apparently their father’s genes, or his influence, or both are stronger, because in spite of everything I have tried to do, my elder son is not the king of Legos, or chess, or swimming, or art. My child is the baseball savant.
I try to be supportive. But I was hoping for a swimmer, or a karate kid, or a Rubik’s cube whiz. I would be fine building robot cats or launching a Lego toy into outer space, but I also told myself that I wouldn’t push my own agenda on my kids, and would expose them to many interests and let them choose their own favorites. I just never expected baseball to be it for my older son.
He reads baseball statistics like other kids read comic books. When his Little League coach speaks, he listens raptly. Everyday we devote several hours to throwing and catching and hitting and running outside, and then he throws a spongy ball into the delineated strike zone in his bedroom for another hour before bed. The kid eats, sleeps, and breathes baseball.
I’m not saying my kid is an outstanding athlete. He’s all elbows and knees. He can’t ride a two-wheeler bike or even swing on a swing without me pushing him, and he’s almost eight years old. Baseball is just what he does all day, every day. He plays hard and cries a little when he gets out because he cares so much.
I’m glad he has passion about something, but baseball? Of all the interesting things in the world, must he pick the one thing I don’t like? As I inundated both boys with art and music and science, I believed that I could shape my kids to be more like me than their sports-enthusiast father. Apparently, I was wrong about that.
Or was I? If I go back in time, I have to admit that there was a point when I too loved baseball. Back before hairspray and blue eyeshadow, back when I reigned supreme over the kickball field, when I was always one of the first picked in gym class and often team captain. When I’d chase down boys that were being stupid and hit them instead of trying to kiss them. Back when I rode my bike all day and was sweaty and didn’t brush my hair. Back then, I collected baseball cards and dreamed different dreams, not caring about being proper or pretty. How did I lose that part of me along the way?
It was the last week of school my 6th grade year, and the first time I played softball in gym class. The teacher decided to make it one pitch per batter in order to cycle through as many kids as possible; there were no balls, no strikes, no fouls. You hit it well or you were out.
I was up to bat. The teacher pitched. It was coming straight down the plate. I could visualize my bat striking that ball with a resounding THWACK! I was pretty good in gym, probably in the top 25% of the girls. I had nothing to fear.
I swung the bat. Not only did I miss the ball, but I comically swung around in a circle and everyone laughed. Worse still, I was the final out for my team. I was mortified, and I never recovered my gym class mojo again. By the next year I had firmly established my place as one of the last picked, where I would remain for all of junior high. I never liked team sports again.
And yet here I am, playing baseball regularly with my two boys now. After getting stung by a few fastballs, I bought myself a used mitt that I actually really like. It smells beautifully of leather and childhood. Occasionally, I am even able to catch with it, which fills me with childlike glee and a sense of accomplishment way out of proportion to what it should be. Let me tell you, in the under-eight-years-old baseball standings, I am an all-star, even though I often refuse to run for the ball.
Last week my older son and I discovered the best and biggest baseball diamond we had ever seen just a few blocks from our house, tucked away behind a church. Maybe it was the sight of the empty bleachers, or the perfectly groomed infield, but something about that place combined with the feel of the ball landing solidly in my mitt woke up a part of me that had been long dormant. I really had fun.
And I realized that mothering a baseball player has helped me regain skills that I forgot that I cared about. I brought it up with my son as we threw the ball back and forth, both of us running for grounders and pop flies.
“I think playing with you has raised my skill level to the point that I could actually play with grownups if I wanted to,” I said as I threw the ball.
“Mama, that would be so cool. And I could give you tips and help you learn to bat if you had problems. I could totally help you get better,” he said as he threw the ball back.
Kids can change you into a person you don’t necessarily want to become, and that can be a good thing. Sometimes you lead, and sometimes you follow, but the more I step back and see where my boys are going, the more amazed I am by the journey I am taking beside them. Legos, chess, and baseball are only vehicles for talking, for healing, for teaching and for learning, and it doesn’t much matter which vehicle they choose. It’s the ride that matters.
But that does not mean I’ll be signing up for baseball.