I have some pretty vivid memories of playing kickball in elementary school. I loved the satisfying POONT noise that those red kickballs made when you sank the toe of your shoe into them or hurled them against the brick playing dodgeball. And I can still clearly see the piece of prairie grass in my hand that I'm dissecting with my thumbnails while I sit in the outfield, facing away from the diamond, toward the row of houses behind our rural southwestern Wisconsin school. I was not a team player. I didn't want to play at all. I sucked.
Fast forward 30-odd years to me sitting on the short stack of metal bleachers at a park in south suburban Denver, where the Littleton Thunder's number 7 is headed, in his batting helmet, towards home plate. My son is smaller than most boys his age due to a health condition, and worse, he's cursed by not one, but two, athletically inept parents. After watching me repeatedly spurn kickball, my elementary school gym teacher suggested ballet to improve my less-than-satisfactory gross motor skills, and my husband ran cross country in high school until his doctor told him that he'd either need knee surgery or to quit running. (He's never had his knee fixed.)
It's our son's first year in the competitive youth league. He played last summer in a parks and rec league, and did fantastically well in a coach-pitch environment, but the kid pitchers seem to psych him out. He walks up to home plate for his second at-bat, and I can see him going through the checklist: tap the plate, set your feet, and get your eye on the ball.
Then, I hear a kid from the opposing pen yell, "Come on pitcher, easy out!"
I start to cry.
Thankfully, I have huge sunglasses on, and thankfully, as he trots away from home plate after striking out, the rest of the team parents clap and a couple of them call, "Good effort, Jack!" and "Those were some good swings, buddy!" I can tell he's upset as his teammates run past him to take the outfield, though. Tears are sticking to the corners of his eyes because he's perfectly aware that his strikeout ended the inning.
I remember how much it hurt to suck at sports, how the other kids were relentlessly mean if you weren't as good. Even in ballet (and tap, jazz, modern, etc.) which I stuck with for years, I was the gangly tall girl in the back. With the exception of a few close friends, I kept to myself and didn't do any of the troupe or competition stuff, and I felt left out of the cliques that naturally formed around these activities, just as they do around the sporting activities that set the social structure in high school.
David and I have talked multiple times in the last few weeks about pulling him out of the program, but he seems unphased by catcalls and picking on and loves being part of this team. It's a huge time commitment-two practices a week, and two or three games on weekends, including Friday nights-and we shelled out about $300.00 in fees and uniform costs. But here's the thing, and why I just can't bring myself to pull him: I don't want him to think that WE don't believe in him, even if he's in over his head with this league.
I dry my eyes with the cuff on my sweatshirt, and watch as the most talented kid on the team, who's not called to play defense, takes Jack behind the pen and works on batting with him, offering him pointers and advice with a kindness I'm not sure I've ever seen in a boy that age.
All of this seems to indicate that this is MY problem. I just remember how much it hurts, and watching your kid suffer through the same thing--because he's like you--hurts even worse.