June 19, 2007 at 5:12 pm (Uncategorized)

If you ever need a refresher course in high school physics and the concept of entropy, I would highly recommend attending a pre-school T-ball game. You’ll lose any doubt you might have harbored that the natural order of the universe is indeed to disorder and chaos – especially when you watch the infielders discard their gloves in favor of digging in the dirt, the outfielders twirl in circles until they want to puke, and the batter (my son) refuse to relinquish the bat and then chase after the ball he just hit instead of running to first base. Halfway through the game most of the 3-5 year old set had left the field altogether in favor of the playground fifteen feet away.Last night we attended our second-ever practice of Andrew’s T-Ball team – the Mariners. What was almost as interesting as watching the festival of aimlessness on the field was gauging my internal reactions to it. Totally unbidden sentiments came to my mind (and almost to my mouth). I found myself thinking things my parents used to say to me at swimming meets (when I’d try an experimental version of the breast stroke mid-race) or at bicycle races (when I’d pull my foot out of the toe clip at the start of a sixty-mile race and decide I just didn’t feel like finishing). I always vowed that I would be a different sort of parent at sporting events, but, then, I found myself telling Jay, “I didn’t spend $55 for Andrew to dig in the dirt in the middle of practice,” and calmly, but very icily, informing my son that we would leave immediately if he didn’t stop spinning around and not paying attention. Worst of all, when Andrew was insisting on flinging his $20 glove off and starting on a digging project about three feet from third base, I told him, “Babies dig in the dirt instead of playing T-ball. If you want to dig in the dirt, we’ll have to transfer you to the Baby T-ball League.” Excuse me? Who is this mad sporting Mom and how can I get rid of her?

I am a very competitive person. I always have been. Being this way has its advantages, particularly in athletic endeavors. I don’t think I would have ended up a national-class cyclist if I didn’t have the drive to win. Competitiveness becomes ugly, however, when it turns to proxies. There’s nothing worse than a parent fulfilling her own ambitions through a child. And I caught myself doing this last night at the Little League field. One of Andrew’s teammates is a little boy named Jackson, who, although he is only four, is a highly skilled T-ball player. That kid can throw, field a ball, and run the bases. He even had cleats on, for God’s sake. And for a few moments, I hated him for no other reason than he was better than my son. Talk about ugly.

Eventually Andrew figured out what was unfolding on the field – sort of. He stopped pursuing his own ball when he was batting. He started to like whacking the ball off the t-stand. His last time at bat, he even grasped the concept of running from base to base, instead of stopping in random places and admiring the clouds. I’m fairly certain that most of these kids are too young for a game as complex as baseball. Plus, truthfully, it’s a boring activity, what with all that waiting around in the middle of a field for a ball to maybe come flying your way. Andrew didn’t try to hide his boredom. “Why do I have to wear this glove?” “Why can’t I stand over there?” “Why do I have to throw the ball there?” were questions I heard over and over again. Mostly, he was adamant that he would have a lot more fun if we would just let him sit in the infield and play with imaginary trucks in the abundant dirt.

Sometime near the end of the practice, I began to wonder why I was upset he preferred to ponder the clouds and dig a trench instead of fixate on some other three-year old’s hapless efforts to hit the ball. All too soon, he’s going to start school, and then he’ll spend far too much time worrying about what the other kids are thinking and doing. In one of those rare but necessary epiphanies of parenting, it dawned on me that in a couple of years, he won’t want me to hold his hand in the outfield and find shapes in the sky with him; instead he’ll scowl at me and demonstrate how utterly embarrassing his mother is to him. Rather than spend his T-ball practice worrying about why my beautiful son isn’t as attuned to the game as Jackson the T-ball Star, shouldn’t I should appreciate Andrew’s capacity to have fun in his own way?

The scenario reminded me of how Jay and I used to obsess about Andrew’s sleeping habits. We worried and stressed about him crawling into bed with us in the middle of the night and cuddling between us until morning. But, after hearing about my friends letting their kids “cry it out” in their rooms all night long, I knew I couldn’t go down that path, and that perhaps the only “problem” in our situation was my perpetual fretting about what other people thought about Andrew’s habits. The sleep solution we had settled on – the first half of the night in his room, the rest in ours – works for him and it works for us. Who cares what the experts say? After all, he’ll sleep through the night in his own bed sometime soon. And when he does, I’ll miss waking up to his golden head tucked into the pillow next to me and the smell of him that is part strawberry shampoo, part dirt, and part boyish sweetness.

The other piece of my “a-ha” moment was the realization that my coming to terms with (or adamantly not coming to terms with) Andrew’s on-field attitude won’t make a whit of difference. No matter how many lectures I deliver, he will be the T-ball player he’ll be. I can encourage him; I can try to motivate him; I can cheer when he remembers to drop the bat and run to a base, but I can’t make him into someone else. If I try too hard, I’ll just make him fear and resent me.

I feel like I’ve been learning this same lesson over and over during the past three years, ever since I became a mother a scant three months before I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. Being sick and raising a child are usually on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. With the rare exception of a T-ball game now and then, and a few mornings ago when Andrew told me he didn’t love me anymore, I’d count my moments with my son as the best in my life. My time in hospitals and worrying about my life have been some of the worst. But kids and life in chronic town share one underlying theme: they make me realize exactly how little control I have of how and when things occur. For a dogged control freak like me, I’ve had quite the bludgeoning in the lesson of letting go of expectations – when it comes to my health or to my child. I can plan all I want, but my body does what it wants. It doesn’t matter if we have airline tickets or a reservation at a restaurant, because when I’m sick, I’m sick. So, too with my boy. I thought he would be a T-ball star because he’s athletic and spunky and smart. Instead he’s pretty much acted like he has autism or else an invisible construction business in the infield. And there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.

My new and revised goals for Andrew’s first official T-ball “game” on Wednesday are to confine my negative thoughts about his teammate Jackson to the fact that he has a better name for a dog than a boy. (I’ll also console myself with the knowledge that Jackson has two older Little League brothers. I’m going to assume he’s inherited that wicked arm.) More importantly, I’ll be there to support my son. Really support him, instead of expecting him to act life a small version of myself. I’ll encourage him to leave the digging for the sandbox, but I’ll keep my snarky comments to myself. And I’ll remember to feel honored when he wants to look at clouds with me. Clouds are chaotic too.

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