No I’m not.
This time though I’m not talking football. No…my Ben decided this year he wants to try baseball.
We’ve had an interesting go of organized sports with Ben. Two years ago he showed quite a bit of interest in playing football like his big brother. As a kindergartener, it meant he would be playing no-contact flag football. This was of course before we had a diagnosis for Ben, other than ADHD. I recall his first few practices, with his uber-serious grumpy old man face, watching him aimlessly meander around the field, cutting in line in between drills without realizing he was pissing off his teammates, seemingly more interested in the overgrown dandelions than the coaches or plays. Was this really the right choice? I recall how the older two handled soccer when they were only slightly younger than Ben, and his behavior didn’t seem too far-fetched. It was a struggle to get him through the season. He didn’t appear to enjoy the practice or the games. He didn’t make friends with teammates. The coaches were frustrated. I remember the day I tried having the conversation with the coach that Ben was a little…different. And as I was attempting to explain some of the struggles Ben has experienced I glanced across the field to find Ben not throwing the football with his friends or playing chase with the others…rather, he was several yards away already climbing halfway up the 20-foot baseball fence. By himself. Naturally.
He gave flag football a shot again last summer and to my surprise…he enjoyed it! He smiled. He participated. Enthusiastically, I might add. He was good too…aggressive, fast, cooperative. It was so much fun to watch. Of course he had his moments…his days…when everyone and everything pissed him off and he wanted nothing to do with any of it. Thankfully those moments were few and far between. Being a football player has given him common ground with his big brother, who he admires so very much. While I think Ben has really cherished having that connection with Timmy, he is starting to feel the need to branch out and try something that just might be HIS thing. So when the baseball flyer went out to the kids at school, guess who was at my desk with a pen and a stoic face and my checkbook. Yep. I couldn’t say “no”.
So we signed him up. And before we knew it, it was time for new player evaluations. Time to stand in line and wait to test his throwing, catching, fielding and batting. How will he compare? We are by no means a baseball family. If there aren’t any shoulder pads involved, I got nothin’. We got to the baseball center and found our place in line. We watched little peanuts no bigger than a Chihuahua out there catching and throwing like pros. We saw bigger boys with ‘staches that I swear will be asked to produce a birth certificate at some point this season. Ben quietly monitored their every move. He didn’t say much at all until it was his turn. As they called his name he turned to me and asked “but Mommy…what if I don’t do good?” Ugh. This kid. I smiled, patted his back and told him he would do just fine. And he did. He’s not a natural by any means. He throws like he has pigskin in his hands. And he’s a lefty which I think feels a little awkward. But he’s not bad either, particularly considering he’s never picked up a mitt, bat or baseball in his life. I’ll take it!
They had the player draft last weekend and I received the call from his coach on Sunday that we would have a parent meeting this week to get schedules and talk about the upcoming season. He explained we wouldn’t have practice due to cold temperature (given the weather trend this year, I’m assuming this season will pretty much be postponed until June…ya know, when the temps skyrocket from 30 to 90 overnight).
We arrived at the gym in a school on the other side of our town, saw his teammates scattered about the gym floor laughing and playing catch. The parents were migrating toward the bleachers so I too made my way toward a seat…with Ben still glued to my side. At no point did he tug on my jacket and ask if he could join the boys, rather he watched pensively and didn’t lose physical contact with me. After the coach summarized what to expect this season and let’s not forget the fundraising (thank God for the buyout option), I nudged Ben to “go see what those boys are doing.”
I could hear the adults around me asking their questions, “so where is this diamond?”, “if it’s too cold, when will the practices be rescheduled?”…it all sounded like chatter a million miles away as I watched Ben hesitantly scope out the boys on the floor. He traced the perimeter of the gym, with his studious face, taking it all in and by the looks of it, becoming more intimidated and less interested by the minute. Not once did he jump in to say “hi” or wait in line to throw with the others. Not one kid looked up at him and asked him to play. Not one kid asked him his name or even seemed to notice he was there. So grew the lump in my throat. God I can’t take rejection myself much less for my sweet guy. He finally made his way back around to me as the parents’ voices suddenly came back to full volume.
Buddy, I thought you were going to go see what the boys were doing?
I DID see. <sigh complete with eye roll>
Yep, okay, buddy…I get it. But what I meant to say was you should go PLAY with the boys, not just see them.
I watched again as he reluctantly headed back out along the baseline of the gym. Just about that time, the coach called all of the boys into the middle of the room. I glanced up to see Ben holding his ground under the free throw line. I motioned him to join the others, and in true Ben fashion, his hands went into his pockets and he slowly swaggered his way to the group, Tommy-Lee-Jones-face and all. They introduced themselves chatted for a moment then the coach turned and dismissed us all from the meeting. As I headed down the bleachers to get Ben I could see him watching some of the boys returning to the balls to play more catch. I leaned down and asked:
Buddy, are you ready to go?
Uh…I um…I don’t…
Do you want to stay and play for a few minutes?
Well, I uh…um…yeah, but…
What’s the matter, buddy?
With this horrendously hesitant and frightened face he looked up at me and said:
But what if my new friends don’t like me?
(this is when that aforementioned lump turned into a volleyball, prohibiting me from speaking.)
My eyes shot straight to the ceiling, hoping the tears would roll back into my head…I’m surrounded by strangers for Christ’s sake. THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL. I got it together after a few seconds, knelt down next to Ben and told him:
THAT is impossible, Ben…how could they NOT like you?? You are funny. You are nice. You are a good person. They will like you. You just need to help them get to know you.
And with that he headed over to one of the coaches who was throwing to another child and began playing catch. Of course he made zero attempt to throw with the other child, only the adult. This I expected. But dammit he jumped IN.
I spent the drive home praising his bravery and asking what he thought of the coach who was throwing with him. He seemed pleased with himself and with the people he met. My heart was full. And scared all at the same damn time. As it usually is. I worry what practices will bring…what games will be like for him. I wonder if baseball is a good sport for him considering what he struggles with. I hope that I’m making the right choices for him, to push him a little, to build his confidence. I’d say it’s worth feeling a little fear in my heart for him to experience success. We’ll see what this season brings…and I’ll try to keep the crying at bay.