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Best o’ the Bitch, Parenting

Parental Misguidance

Have you seen the one about the type-A, helicopter parent who realizes that despite her best intentions, things are not always perfect for her kids? And worse, sometimes the life that she’s so carefully curated for her beloved offspring isn’t what they want?

While this may sound like the plot of the recent holiday hit, Parental Guidance, and if I were to cast myself in a film, Marisa Tomei would be my top choice, it’s actually a scene from real life.

The other night my son dropped a bombshell on us: he was done playing baseball.

Considering that he is in the nether region of too old for Little League, too young for high school ball, this shouldn’t seem so earth-shattering. Sure, we had recently signed him up for a travel team coached by a former MLB player, and yes, the practices were grueling and intense, and of course most weekends would be dedicated to driving to far-flung places for tournaments where the boys routinely would play 4-6 games in a row… but what’s wrong with that?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that: on the night of the bombshell dropping, when asked whether or not he likes baseball, my son tearfully answered, I don’t know.

The place from where his confusion sprang is what got me. While this may seem exaggerated, it is 100% true that the day I gave birth to my son, my husband started muttering about Little League. My boy’s earliest toys were plush baseballs and whiffle bats. We were first in line to sign him up for tee ball, my husband coached his Little League teams for years, and my ass was practically bench-shaped as I watched him play his way from Farm teams through Majors. This past summer, my son made the odyssey to Cooperstown with three generations of male family members in tow to watch him play in a week-long tournament there. And at the cusp of manhood — his Bar Mitzvah — an elaborate “World Simcha” baseball themed party was given in his honor. The remnants of this coming-of-age throw down — a wall-sized Fenway Park Fathead poster and a gigantic Instagrammed Babe Ruth-esque image of the mighty boy at bat — covers his room and is all he sees each day, when he lies down and when he rises up. Framed of course by shelves of baseball trophies, both earned and for simply playing the game (don’t get me started….)

So had my son answered, no, when we asked whether he truly enjoyed his birthright sport, it would’ve perhaps been easier to take. But I don’t know felt terrible, like somehow we’d robbed him of tapping into a well of desire by smothering him with our own need to have him excel at a chosen sport.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had misgivings along the way. My conscious, otherwise known as my mother, has an uncanny ability to hone in on my nagging suspicions that my parenting choices are often for shit.

It’s hot as hell out, aren’t you worried he’s going to have heat stroke?

It’s freezing cold, he’s going to get sick. And it’s dark, how can he even see the ball?

Three games in six hours? Isn’t that a little much?

Does he have to go to practice? He’s tired — it’s been a long day.

To all of this I have been trained to say to myself and to my conscious, It’ll be fine. That’s what we all do. He has to compete, and to be competitive, this is what it takes.

This is the Kool-Aid many of us drink out here in suburbia. I suppose when private colleges are $70K a year and climbing, we all dream of ways our kids can score scholarships. Emphasis on DREAM.

My husband handled my son quitting baseball remarkably well. He immediately went to the practice our son was about to miss to tell the coach what had gone down. Of course Mr. Baseball was sympathetic; his own son had rejected his favored sport and instead played football. No worries, he told my husband, When boys become teens they start smelling their own piss, and things change. But when my husband returned home, he proceeded to beat himself up, questioning everything he’s done for the past thirteen years. I of course reassured him it was all with the best intentions.

Then again, one of my favorite quotes is, The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Later, in the shower, I had a moment alone where I could stop telling my son it was all good and my husband that he’d done nothing wrong. There, as the hot water beat down on my back, something fully unexpected happened: I totally freaking broke down and sobbed.

Not because I regretted letting all that had gone down in our world of baseball. But for the loss of the simple pleasure of seeing my son play ball. While he’s not the best or the most naturally gifted, (oh yeah, I just went there bitches — our kids are awesome but they are not perfect!) there is something inspiring and poetic watching him. Amidst strikeouts, missed plays, and passed balls, every once in a while the kid pulls off something awesome: a walk-off home run, a monster play at the plate, an unlikely fly ball catch.  And then, there’s the incredible joy in winning, made especially sweet when it’s against all odds — and well worth playing for.

These are lessons learned that I am grateful that baseball has afforded my son. And me, too, who honestly has just been along for the ride. Not viewing it from hovering above, but right there from the cheap seats. I don’t pretend that it’s perfect or even sane, but it’s part of our life. Our history.

Footnote: By morning my son had reconsidered his decision, and decided to play in a more laid back spring league that starts in a couple of months. I’m happy that he’s made that call, not because I want or need him to play baseball, but more than anything I want him to be in touch with what he genuinely wants to pursue…  and then do it at the level that works best for him. All hobbies don’t need to be careers — they just need to something that you know you enjoy doing.

So if you see me fumbling with knitting needles this coming season, just know that I’m figuring out what to do with myself when my son inevitably moves on to the next thing. Plus who doesn’t need a homemade drink cozy at a baseball game?

Now enjoy watching the utter insanity that washes over me — perhaps you can relate?

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