What I Wish I Told the Mom Who Stood Near Me at Our Sons’ T-Ball Practice
A few weeks ago, I was able to go solo to my oldest son’s second T-ball practice. I was elated. He was happy, excited and so ready to play. He talked freely and openly to all of the other kids on his team. I could tell he was already making friends, and I wasn’t a bit surprised. I spoke with the other moms and we talked about kindergarten, elementary schools and neighborhoods. We all laughed as we watched our kids run to the wrong bases and the coach quickly averting crises by redirecting wayward swings. I was so caught up that I almost missed the little boy who should’ve been playing but was hiding behind his mother’s leg, crying.
Even though they were standing right next to all of us other parents, there was a wall between us. His mother was not enjoying the moment; she flashed us a forced smile, but she was stressed and embarrassed.
My husband had told me that at the first practice, there was a quiet little boy who seemed terrified to play or talk to the other kids. My oldest had talked to him and tried to convince him to come out on the field with the others, but he was immovable. Sometimes hiding behind his mother. Sometimes dropping to the ground and crying in protest. We had talked to our oldest about it and explained that he should keep being nice and keep trying to include that little boy. Maybe he was new to sports, maybe he had never been around other kids or maybe there was something else going on.
The coach had made an attempt at the first practice to encourage him to come out onto the field; no such attempt was made at the second practice. One of the other mothers asked him why he wasn’t playing on the playground with the other siblings. He averted his eyes and his mother explained he was actually on the team. As construction noise buzzed from behind the field, her son covered his ears, plopped on the ground and drew his knees to his chest. It looked familiar.
The anxious look on her face was all too familiar, too. That worry in her eyes that at any moment her little boy was going to lose it and mortify her. I tried to separate from the moms chattering about PTA and picnics. I reassured her that our oldest was scared his first time playing a sport and that I was sure her son just needed time to get used to the idea. She was grateful for the conversation, but she wasn’t convinced.
That wasn’t what I wanted to say to her, though. I wanted to reach over and give her a hug to calm her frazzled nerves. I wanted to tell her that although I was at the practice beaming over my social butterfly, I had another little boy at home with his daddy who couldn’t have handled the noise. I wanted to tell her about the time we tried gymnastics, and our youngest son completely lost it in the middle of the gym. How I had to stay right with him for every transition while the other preschoolers walked in line from one room to the next without issue. We didn’t return to gymnastics.
I wanted to tell her how alone I felt at the work picnic when my youngest son wouldn’t play on the playground with the other kids. And how embarrassed I was as I chased after him, and how he would fall to the ground and scream every time I tried to turn him around.
I wanted to tell her it gets better, and that even if T-ball is not in the cards for her son, they will find other things he enjoys beyond measure. I wanted to tell her even if her son couldn’t handle such a big group, that with lots of planning and preparing, successful smaller group activities could be in their future.
The fear that I was overstepping kept me from saying all of that, but maybe I should have. The fear that my observations would offend kept me from being open. I reached out and my son reached out to hers again and asked if he wanted to stand next to him and wait to bat. He resisted again, but I could tell it meant the world to his mom that we were trying. She insisted they would keep coming, even if he sat on the sidelines and just watched the other kids.
They never came back. Nobody asked where they were or what happened. And even though we knew and we tried harder than most, it wasn’t enough, and we could have done more. When did we become a society in which reaching out to someone struggling is out of the norm? How do we preach inclusion to our kids and yet rarely practice it ourselves?
I fear we are all so preoccupied keeping up the facade of normalcy that we are unable to see the beauty of difference.
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