That First Step
“Let’s just not go today!” exclaims my eldest for the tenth time in the past hour. He’s referring to what’s supposed to be his first ever baseball practice. He made it through a late mid-season registration and uniform collection relatively smoothly the previous week. Today he is seriously reconsidering the idea. This is not unexpected. He never ever wants to do something new —or meet new people— when it’s time to actually go and do it.
I feel for him, I do. That horrible anxiety crawling through your body. It surfaces whenever you’re about to push past your comfort zone and into unknown territory. Of course he doesn’t want to actually go ahead with it now that it’s about to become a reality. I have the same feelings holding me back in these situations. However I also know that without a push he’ll never take that first step himself. He’ll procrastinate and avoid and never know how much he missed out on. I calmly state once more that we are going, and we will watch the practice, but he can choose whether or not to actually play. It’s not an unreasonable proposition.
“You’re the meanest Mommy in the world!”
He’s on a roll now.
“This is the WORST day of my life EVER!”
I say I’m surprised to hear this. What about the day he fell and fractured his arm last year? “This is the SECOND WORST day of my life!” he amends, then continues ranting in a similar vein.
A few hours later and there we are, standing at the edge of a baseball pitch with little kids running about getting ready to play. Or at least there I stand, the youngest sitting in his stroller beside me. The novice baseball player is hiding behind a tree at the edge of the park and refusing to come any closer. I have at least managed to outfit him in his shirt, super skinny pants and baseball cap. Getting him any closer to the action requires physically carrying him over, clinging to me and hiding his face. Someone’s grandmother sitting on the bleachers smiles sympathetically as I pass.
On the pitch the game is commencing and I think I’ve identified the coach from amongst the other parents who are herding their children into position. The moment has passed for introductions. My child is still firmly attached to me as the first swing of the bat connects with air instead of the ball. I eventually prise him off me and he hides behind the bench instead, peeking out occasionally before eventually letting himself be convinced it’s safe to actually sit on it. No one on the pitch is paying him any heed.
Half an hour of watching the fun and he claims that he’s interested in playing. I remind him we were supposed to find the coach before the game and now we can’t interrupt play. Instead we move to the section of fence behind home base and observe as the next hitter is positioned and advised before he attempts to hit the ball off the tiny perch in front of him. The coach is giving advice in French while I try and translate. This age group don’t play baseball, they play T-ball. There’s no pitcher hurling the ball, just a little stand that holds the ball steady for them to aim at.
The kid eventually manages to bump the ball off the stand and takes off for first base. The large and somewhat intimidating coach turns to us and gives the universal gesture for “Well?”. We’re both taken aback at his sudden notice. “Um. Can he play?” I stammer, not entirely sure if this is an invitation or a dismissal. The coach gestures towards the equipment bag and I hurriedly instruct my child to go run inside the fence, grab a bat and take a turn.
Just like that, he takes his first step onto a baseball pitch and stands at home base with a bat in his hands. The coach thankfully switches to English. He moves legs around and adjusts the grip on the bat. Then it’s down to my anxious five year old, holding the unfamiliar stance and concentrating hard. He follows instructions to keep his eye on the ball and take his first hit. He carefully sweeps his arms in an arc and the bat connects with the ball on the first try. It’s nowhere near to scoring a home run, but not a bad effort compared to what we’ve seen from many of the players.
He looks up at the man towering above him to see what the response is. “Run!” he’s told. So he drops the bat and runs. Luckily in the right direction. And that’s it. He’s playing baseball. A grin spreads across his face as he bounces up and down at first base waiting for the next play. The enthusiasm lasts as he switches to field and back to bat again over the next twenty minutes.
He’s one of the biggest in the group. A number of the kids have difficulty remembering the basics of what way to run. They fight their own team mates to get the ball. If they manage to pick up the ball they freeze looking at it until their parent reminds them to throw it to first base. The hit ratio of the batters is extremely low. It’s the perfect level of ‘not a serious game’. Parents shadow their children around the pitch and chuckle at their antics.
All too soon the game is over. Through the remaining weeks of the season we’ll show up. The oldest happy and itching to play. The youngest ready to terrorise me by running onto the field, jumping off the tops of bleachers, or generally throwing epic toddler tantrums at not being allowed participate. For now though, we walk home with that combination of weariness and relief that follows a highly anticipated event. We talk about the rules of the game that we’ve been learning as we go along, and I promise to get a left-handers glove (which confusingly is worn on the right hand).
My son hops and skips along, delighted at himself for having hit the ball every time. Unprompted, he turns to me and says, “Actually… you’re the best Mommy in the world.” A brief but sweet hug accompanies the declaration, then he bounds off down the path.