Mickey Fuertes thinks raising kids is a lot like fielding a baseball. In fact, exactly like fielding a baseball.
One of my favorite aspects of fatherhood has been coaching my son’s little league baseball team. I get to teach the rules of the sport I love to my son and his group of 6-year-old teammates. I instruct them on the proper form when batting, how to “Crow Hop” ground balls and how to remain “baseball ready” when on the field.
Since they are 6-years-old (and are easily distracted by sunlight, dandelions, ladybugs, their own shoe laces, etc.) remaining “baseball ready” whenever they are on defense is one of the most important drills we practice. Being “baseball ready” means having your mind focused on the game while simultaneously keeping your body loose and ready to react when the ball is hit; you face forward and watch the batter’s movements, keeping your legs slightly bent and your glove and throwing hand positioned comfortably on your left and right knees.
Whenever I run my guys through the “baseball ready” drill at our first practice, I like to re-count one of my own experiences from my days of playing little league that highlights the importance of being “baseball ready”. My anecdote begins on a bright Saturday morning in July of 1993. The sun was shining proudly, promising a gloriously hot afternoon, and the sky was the clear blue of Caribbean waters. The sweet smell of freshly-cut grass perfumed the air and the day held the kind of magic that only childhood memories can retain. Coach Pascarelli called me out of our dugout and told me that I would start the game at third base. I ran to the base and, in my pre-pubescent hubris, envisioned all of the ways that I would win the game with my spectacular defensive plays.
With 2 outs in the top of the 1st inning, the opposing team’s catcher (a Greek god named Danny) came up to bat. My friends would later swear to me that he was just 12-years-old like the rest of us, but (in my mind’s eye) I remember him as a Minotaur, gold-ring through his nostrils, hateful steam boiling forth from his ears.
Danny attacked the first pitch and sent a grounder screaming directly towards me at third-base. I was “baseball ready”. My instincts kicked into gear and I moved forward to scoop the ball with my glove. What I was not prepared for, however, was the small rock the ball hit, which altered its trajectory and sent the baseball directly into my groin.
The ball hit my protective cup with such force, such unbridled violence, that it split the cup in half. I was knocked off of my feet, all of my competitive will and athletic focus floating hazily above me, while someone shouted “He ain’t getting up from that one!”
I found myself thinking of this story recently. My first post for The Good Men Project (A Memo to Future Parents) sparked an engaging conversation in the comments section as to whether or not we are ever “ready” for the challenges of parenthood. To me, the answer to the question is a definitive “no”.
Children, like groundballs in baseball, are little chaos theories in motion. Our job as parents is to prepare the best that we can for them, to always be “baseball ready”, trying to proactively anticipate their needs, their wants, and their desires. My son was born when my wife and I were 21 and 25-years-old respectively. She had one year left to earn her Bachelor’s Degree and I was working in a non-profit. Were we “ready” to be parents? Did we have 6-months-worth of earnings in a savings account? Did we have a 401K plan? Did we even have a two bedroom apartment? No, we did not. And, in spite of all of these initial hurdles and all of the hurdles that would follow, we persevered. Our son is happy and healthy and we even managed to add a daughter to our little family tree.
We are living in an incredibly powerful moment in parenthood. For the first time in the history of our species, we have access to terabytes upon terabytes of parenting “tips and tricks”, all of which are just an internet search away. If you prefer physical books to digital pages, your local bookstore’s “Parenting” section will be stocked with multiple aisles worth of advice and instructions for parents as well.
However, similar to Danny the Minotaur’s groundball, our children will sometimes throw our best laid plans and months of preparation completely out the window. This does not minimize our effort nor does it nullify our preparation. Parenting is equal parts science and art; we can read all of the books, do all of the research, watch all of the YouTube videos on how to properly swaddle a newborn only to learn that our precious first child absolutely detests being swaddled.
What those books and research and YouTube videos fail to take into consideration is the primary inconstant in the parenting equation: your child is a variable. They are a unique and special little person, born with their own set of traits and personal preferences. As in my painful experience with the errant groundball, what matters is not that we are not prepared, that we are not “ready”; what matters most is that, regardless of what happens, we dust ourselves off, get up and get back in the game.
On that summer day in 1993, I got up, caught my wind and finished the game. This is the true lesson I teach my guys about remaining “baseball ready”. And it is the same lesson I hope to leave with you today about parenting. We, as parents, need to embrace our imperfections, our fallibility, and the fact that we are never “ready” to be parents. At the end of the day, no matter what trials and tribulations come our way, we need to remember to dust ourselves off, get up and get back in the game.
Please feel free to share your own personal moments of “dusting yourself off and getting back in the game” in the comments section below. I look forward to reading about your “failures” and sharing in your successes.
photo: Edwin Martinez1 / flickr