“And it was simple. For my son, his love of t-ball wasn’t about the performance or the competition. It wasn’t even about playing with friends. It was about simply spending time with his father.”
Ever since we heard the words, “It’s a boy,” my husband has had a dream. It’s a dream most fathers share, I think. I imagine that just as we mothers envision one day helping our daughters choose a wedding dress, fathers envision themselves on the field, coaching their son’s sports team. At least, that seems to be the going dream in my household.
We started to realize this dream as the long-awaited spring weather began to reveal itself. Baseball gradually filled our television screen and thoughts of summer plans began to fill the mouths of the moms at my son’s preschool. “Are you putting your child in anything this summer?” they questioned as we waited for our kids to come to the narthex at the end of the school morning. “Are we signing him up for anything this spring?” my husband asked me as he pondered the launch of our four-year-old’s athletic career.
To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to these kinds of plans. My plans included enjoying the warm weather in lighter clothes and imagining our family road trip down South in a few months. Signing up our son for organized activities wasn’t a thought that had crossed my mind. That part of his life, I imagined, would come when he was old enough to share with us his desire to participate in some activity.
So, the idea that we, his parents, would enroll him in something he had not asked for was a foreign one. Given how often I ran into this conversation, though, I began to believe that by neglecting to put my son in an organized sport, I was neglecting some significant aspect of the stage of life he’s in. I began to buy into the idea that my husband and I had to sign him up for something.
“Honey, do you want to play t-ball with other kids on a team?” I asked our son one day. Considering his love of playing t-ball in the backyard with his dad, I was actually surprised when he wailed, “Nooo, I don’t want to!”
Soon, though, I began to see images on Facebook of friends’ preschoolers happily donning their own baseball and soccer uniforms, or friends’ daughters proudly showing off their dance recital costumes and gymnastics leotards, and I panicked. My husband and I really were holding our son back from his full potential! Why had we waited so long to join the activity bandwagon?
So, ignoring my son’s voice (and a voice inside me that knew better), I registered him for t-ball. My husband and I took him to our local Little League’s outing to a nearby minor league baseball game, and we all had a great time. My husband took him out back for extra t-ball time in the yard, and they both had a blast.
We took him to his first t-ball practice, and it was a disaster.
Our son refused to walk onto the field. He cried. He begged us to go home. Ultimately, he found me in the bleachers, clung to my lap and wouldn’t budge from it. My husband and I argued over me coddling him too much, and we went home frustrated, while my son, once we left, went home relieved.
My sister, I realized, has dealt with similar issues with her eldest daughter. A similar personality to my son, my eight-year-old niece has long been more of an introvert. She’s been content to hang back as other kids run forward.
Recently, however, that seemed like it might change. My niece fell in love with Irish step-dancing, and my sister signed her up for weekly classes. Soon enough, my niece was hopping all over the house, any house, eager to show her family and relatives the latest moves she’d learned. She seemed to have turned a corner in her shyness. It appeared that she’d finally broken out of her shell.
And then, with the onset of spring, came recital season. My niece’s costumes came in, and my sister took her daughter to her first performance at a nearby nursing home.
And her daughter refused to dance.
It was baffling. My niece had become a constant step-dancer these days. We joked that she danced from place to place more than she walked. So, why the sudden refusal? Hadn’t she spent months getting ready for these performances, especially the big recital, which she also, ultimately, decided not to do?
My sister and her husband found themselves in a discussion similar to the one my husband and I were having. Should we force our children onto the stage or the field? Are we inhibiting them by allowing them to choose not to participate?
As I pondered these questions, my son enlightened me one day as we drove form one errand to another.
“I thought you love to play t-ball,” I said to him.
“I do,” he answered.
“So, why don’t you want to play on a team?” I continued.
“I don’t like a team,” he responded. “I don’t like people watching me.”
“But…”I cut in, and my son cut me off with an explanation that quieted my words and got me thinking.
“Mommy, I just like to play in the yard with Daddy,” he said simply.
And it was simple. For my son, his love of t-ball wasn’t about the performance or the competition. It wasn’t even about playing with friends. It was about simply spending time with his father.
I realized something, too, about my niece. For her, dancing wasn’t about the recital or the stage. It wasn’t about an audience. Her love of step-dancing was simply about the dance.
While most of us engage in activities with an end goal in mind (a competition, a recital, a game), my son and my niece wanted to engage in something for the sheer love of doing it.
After that realization, I began to look at this rush to put our kids in organized activities in a whole new light. I wondered if, perhaps, we as parents might do our children a disservice by taking them out of the yard and putting them on the field too soon. Or by placing them in organized activities where they interact with peers and other adults instead of nurturing their love for an activity with us, their parents, the people they really want to share their love with the most.
But, I think the greatest lesson God wants me to take from this is a reminder that our children are individuals. Indeed, as Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” As individual personalities. As unique human beings. He doesn’t view us as a collective whole but as distinct and very separate souls from one another.
Likewise, our children shouldn’t be treated as carbon copies of each other. Some of our children can’t wait to get on stage or be a part of a team. Others will never want an audience and are content to play just because it’s fun, or to dance just because they can.
So, as I watch my son play t-ball in the backyard with his father and hear his laughter as he runs imaginary bases, I’m glad I’m not sitting on bleachers, his laughter drowned out by other voices. I’m content to just sit here, right now, watching my son play with his dad.