“Do you mean to tell me that your parents came to every single one of your baseball games?”
My then-boyfriend looked at me like I had two heads.
“Of course,” he said.
I was still trying to wrap my brain around what Max was telling me. His childhood in rural Michigan was so different than my own. I moved to France when I was seven and bounced around between Europe and the occasional visit to California until it was time for college.
We were in our sophomore year at a university in Michigan when we started dating, and our differences in upbringing gave us plenty to talk about. For one, I didn’t know a thing about youth sports culture.
“Every single weekend?” I pressed.
“Well, yeah. Sometimes weeknights, too.”
This seemed extreme, that parents would just drop everything for several hours to watch a game. My own mom and dad loved me dearly, but somehow I couldn’t picture them doing the same.
Fast forward fifteen years and this same Michigan farm boy and I have two kids of our own. Both boys have inherited their father’s love of baseball. And so it was that three years ago, I got my first taste of youth sports culture. I have come to cheer them on at every single game (and stuck around during practices too!) and it seems to me the most normal thing in the world. And I’ve learned some things about parenthood along the way:
1. Community is key.
I discovered early on that making friends with the other parents on the sidelines was paramount to having fun at the games and crucial to staving off boredom during practices. I made an effort to get to know the other moms, and I’m still friends with most of them to this day.
Creating this baseball community proved valuable later on when one of our kids needed a ride, a snack, an extra glove. Forging this fellowship on the sidelines was life-saving, not just for the times I needed to rely on others, but for the fun it offered.
Even as an introvert, I can acknowledge that we are better together.
2. I can’t do everything for my kids.
I’d never felt nervous on behalf of my kids before they started playing baseball. Now that my oldest has graduated to the level beyond T-ball, the stakes have become higher. They keep score now, they count “outs.” Suddenly when my son steps up to bat, I have butterflies in my stomach. I hold my breath when he makes contact with the ball, pray he makes it to first base. When he’s fielding, my whole body tenses in anticipation as the ball comes his way. I want him to succeed but I have no control over his performance. It’s nerve-wracking.
I believe this is what parenting is like. The older our kids get, the more they interact with the world around them without us. I won’t be able to take his tests for him, get rejected for him, feel his heartbreak for him, or take away any of the hard circumstances he’ll meet along the way. Being a baseball mom has made it clear to me that my job is to equip him to handle big feelings and hard things because I’m powerless to shield him from them. He’s going to lose games, strikeout, drop the ball. My role is to keep cheering him on from the sidelines and to encourage him to be resilient so that he can fight his own battles.
3. The Art of Selflessness
It goes like this: you move out of your parents’ house and live your life how you want to. Aside from your obligations to your job and/or college education, your time is yours to spend as you please. You can go and do and spend money on whatever you want.
Then you fall in love with someone and you find yourself living in the same house and sharing life with this person. Suddenly, your needs and wants aren’t the only ones to consider. You learn to put your partner’s needs and wants above your own. In a great relationship, each partner is doing this.
Right when you get the hang of it, a baby comes along and your needs and wants to go plummeting to the bottom of the priority list. A tiny human is depending on you for survival. For a time you give up your sleep, your hygiene, your social life, your entire sense of self to this child. It’s hard, but you make it through those early years.
When you send that baby to kindergarten, you think to yourself: “I’ve made it! I’m standing in the light at the end of the tunnel!” But then you sign the kids up for baseball, and along with the check you hand over your calendar. That white space on the weekend? Gone. Eating at home on weeknights? Some of that is gone, too. For the sake of your child, you are selflessly giving up your time. You shiver on the sidelines at an 8 AM game. You pack a sandwich dinner to eat at the field. You make little sacrifices because that’s what parents do.
And you are rewarded when your child skips to first base at his T-ball game. You smile when your son waves to you from second. You jump up and cheer when your child hits a line drive and makes it to first. You can’t get over how impossibly cute they look in their baseball uniforms, their batting helmets framing their little faces.
So I was right all those years ago when my husband and I were dating. Youth sports are extreme: extremely time-consuming, extremely fun, and an extreme form of love.
Just like parenting.
* This article originally appeared on Medium.com, where I like to write occasionally!
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