28 May T-Ball, Yelling All Day, and Nostalgia
Henry’s in T-ball and we are experiencing Glens Falls Little League for the first time ever. I’ve lived in this city for something like ten years now and I had no idea that this big underground party was going on without us.
Did you know that all of the school age kids are hanging out at East Field every Saturday in May and June? That there are four fields there and a fully stocked concession stand with soft pretzels, hot dogs, ice cream and candy? I had no clue. It’s a whole thing.
Cory said it would be cute to try Little League (even though Henry screamed through swim class at the Y and Little Players at the Dome). So we signed up and paid our $40. I thought of a photo my friend Katie shared on Facebook a couple of years ago, where her kid was at bat and the photographer caught her looking at her phone in the background. I figured that would be me. Sports are Not My Thing.
I joked with other parents that I hoped sports weren’t Henry’s thing either, because I didn’t want to go to his games. I’ve seen the dedication it takes to be a sports parent (my cousin Mackenzie St. Onge is kind of a big deal, and her brother Austin is a crackerjack player as well) and I didn’t think I really had it in me.
I’d rather have a theater kid or a singing kid. (Though the one time Henry was in a play, he missed the performance completely because he had to potty right when the thing started).
So we show up to Big Cross field, not knowing what to expect. Coach Martha told us not to expect much — she repeated, “It’s JUST T-ball.”
I actually cried, the first few practices. The sun setting, the kids throwing baseballs and running after them when their partners inevitably don’t catch them, all in their oversized T-shirts and baseball caps, the excitement Henry had when they ran bases for the first time or hit off the tee for the first time…
It’s so AMERICA… So Americana, so charming. Like Fourth of July parades, and backyard barbecues. It’s like you can see your future nostalgia happening right in front of your eyes, just as beautiful as can be.
It could be any era, the 1950’s, whenever. It’s a heartwarming Hometown USA thing. I know this maybe happens everywhere, but I never played Little League. It’s the stuff of 80’s movies and black-and-white photos to me. And to see it there, in real life, America’s favorite pasttime — I fell in love with baseball, and with Glens Falls. It’s so romantic. I love this city. I love Little League.
On a few occasions, Coach Tim has helped with practice and games. He gets right in the dirt with the kids and teaches them, “step-squish-swing.” He’s a seasoned coach and it’s great to see the kids improve when he focuses on them. He’s singled Henry out a few times with extra attention because Henry tends to zone out during practice.
Little League is a true community. We bought a secondhand helmet from Cindy Corey, and Kelly Stevens (a LL board member) gave Henry cleats. Coach Tim gave him baseball pants and let him borrow a bat. He’s all outfitted, thanks to these guys.
My husband Cory pitches in with practices and games. I think his presence makes Henry less likely to do what he’s supposed to do, but Cory feels like he’s helping.
One time Henry did win the game ball, which means he actually paid attention.
The first time they tried pitching, he actually hit the ball — and it was a great hit! I was so proud.
Henry’s teammates are a mixed bag. There’s one boy who can really hit, but slides every time he runs, despite the urging of his mother who has to clean his uniform. Most of the kids haven’t yet mastered the step-and-throw and do little skips before throwing, getting tied up with what their feet are doing instead of the throw itself. One girl who often plays first base is so alert and on top of it, playing with focus. Lots of the other kids play in the dirt or watch what’s going on elsewhere in the park instead of what’s happening in practice. Coach Martha’s own daughter plays on the playground half of every practice. I’ve seen Coach start to get exasperated, then consciously let it go.
I’m NOT so talented.
Most of the time, during games, Henry plays in the dirt. He lays down in the dirt and sticks his helmet in the dirt. He jumps up and down on the base. He twirls. He stares into space. He turns away from the batter when he’s in the outfield. He kicks the dirt. He takes handfuls of dirt. He has filled up his baseball hat with dirt on occasion.
And, oh, last week. Last week, Henry’s grandparents were there to see him, along with one of his favorite babysitters (and private art lesson instructor) Carol Barrett. Henry played in the dirt. He got his arm stuck in his helmet. Another coach helped him get it out. Then he stuck his other arm in his helmet. Come on, kid! He played in the dirt almost constantly, not paying attention to the game at all, despite all of the coaches’ guidance, and me shouting at him from the sideline.
The kid is going to get beaned with the ball. Some of these kids can really hit.
Coach Martha’s words ring in my ears, “It’s just T-ball. Kids are kids. They’re young. There are no expectations here.” But Henry gets in trouble at Pre-K for not listening. At home, we’ve tried all different approaches to get him to respect and obey us, from the super touchy-feely huggy-talky to the predictable-rules to the ultra-disciplinarian. Nothing seems to work.
So while we know T-ball isn’t the make or break, we know that, big picture, he needs to learn how to mind what adults say. He’s a negotiator, always trying to get out of things. He spaces out. He laughs when he’s being disciplined.
And if the kid can’t settle down and fit into a school environment, it’s all over. That starts you on a path of interventions, therapy, alternative programs… I know that’s all well-intentioned, but I don’t want it for Henry. I never thought I’d say this, but I do wish so hard for him to fit into the mainstream — to get through school with teachers thinking he’s a good kid and star student and not the kid who is always going to be in trouble, no matter what. I know that if you are perceived as a problem kid, you’re under more of a microscope, and nothing is let to slide as a “kids being kids;” it’s all problem after problem. I do NOT want a mark on his forehead as a bad kid. When that’s how people see you, that’s what you become. I have a friend whose son has been locked in a padded room at a Glens Falls school, and had to have X-rays because of how a teacher grabbed him, for seemingly minor infractions of not listening. Another friend was fighting her child’s father about whether the boy needed medication, because he’s incredibly smart and bored in class. This is absolutely not what I want for my child. But he seems incapable of flying under the radar.
The final straw at last week’s game was when he threw dirt at his dad. Cory pulled him from the game, despite who was there to see him. Took him home. That was it. We had a talk about listening to adults. He doesn’t have to be good at baseball. He doesn’t have to excel at it. But he has to pay attention. He has to try. And most of all, he has to listen.
Danny, our youngest, has had a series of ear infections and gets tubes in his ears Tuesday. But Cory and I have had a few months of sleep deprivation and we’re on edge. There’s a lot to do around the house, a lot to do for work, and we snap easily. Yesterday was no exception. We started with a trip to the Farmer’s Market, then to look at cars in Warrensburgh, then to a client’s book launch in Schroon Lake, and Dan cried the entire hour home in the car. Then to T-ball. We were all snapping at each other.
Yesterday’s game was better than last week’s, but only marginally, and likely only because we let it go. Henry skipped from base to base. Twirled. Ran after the ball but wouldn’t let go of the rock in his hand. Ran backwards from base to base, or zigzagged.
Henry’s in a phase where he makes fire alarm noises All. The. Time. He watches YouTube videos of fire alarms. It fascinates him and scares him. And he’s actually pretty talented at making the different sounds of different alarms. But I am fed up with hearing fire alarms constantly.
So, long story short, Henry doesn’t pay attention in T-ball, and he makes terrible noises all the time, we were in the car a long time, with Henry making fire alarm sounds and Danny crying and I spent ALL day yesterday yelling at Henry just for living.
He asked for a movie night, and we curled up with popcorn and tea to watch the new Pete’s Dragon. I cried the entire way through. (Disney, you jerks. Why do you always kill the parents?) And Henry fell asleep on me while I cried about family love.
And Henry hasn’t been asleep in my arms that way in a long while. I felt his special Henry energy, that feeling I have when I touch him, that I know is special to him. His spirit, that I can sense. I bet I could close my eyes and touch the hand of 20 kids and know which one is Henry.
That Henry energy that I felt for the first time when he was born and they laid him in my arms, when I was so scared I was going to drop him. The magic of something that is a part of you, and at the same time it’s somebody new and separate. The feeling of oneness between mother and child when you’re in each other’s arms.
And I remembered the anticipation I had during my pregnancy with him — What will he be like? What will his voice sound like? What kind of personality will he have? Who will he look like? — and now I know the answers to all those questions.
And I yell at him for being who he is. For being that person I couldn’t wait to meet.
I had a good sob last night. And a revelation.
I saw Dan Hall at the Glens Falls Downtown Revitalization Initiative announcement last Thursday at the Glens Falls Civic Center. He said he saw a video I had posted of the Little League fields, and it took him back. I launched into all the terrible things Henry did, throwing dirt, not paying attention, getting his arm stuck in his helmet. Dan laughed, stared off wistfully for a brief moment, and said something like, “Those were the days. I miss them.”
I’m getting choked up thinking about that again.
In the moment, I thought to myself, “I don’t miss them, I can’t wait for them to be over! Henry never listens, he makes terrible sounds, he’s always dirty, he is annoying and rotten and he’s driving me crazy and I hate being the person who sucks all the fun out of everything and I wish he would just pay attention!”
But last night, holding my first baby, my Henry that I couldn’t wait to meet, that baby I nursed, and held, and read to. The baby with the softest hair in the world, and the toddler with the giant far-apart eyes, and whose boo-boos I’ve kissed and whose tears I’ve dried countless times. He has become this wild boy who makes fire alarm sounds and plays in the dirt, and that’s who he is at nearly-five.
I realized this is only a moment in his life; how young he is, still. Looking at photos to share in this post, I see how little he is and how crazy of me it is to have rigid expectations of a child who is still figuring out how life works. He’s little still, and he’s my sweet darling baby the way he always has been, and he’s at an age where he’s figuring all of this out. I need to guide him, but I don’t need to be mad at him.
And I realized —
I am going to miss these days too.