It was opening ceremonies at the ball fields this weekend in our little seaside town. Having grown up playing softball and watching the Dodgers with my dad for the better part of my youth, it was sort of surreal and strange to JUST now experience this with my own kids. And sure, you are probably thinking, well of course you were there, you have a boy old enough for T-Ball! And while that’s true, my oldest, at nearly 11 years old has decided to give softball a try this year.
Anyone who knows my sweet Anna Jane has to be more than a little bit surprised by this. She has always been outspoken about her aversion to running, balls and dirt. In the past we have had to resort to bribery for participation in school fun runs, camp tennis and most any other physical activity apart from dance. We actually had to borrow shoes for the first game because she didn’t even own any proper sneakers!
When her best friend’s mom first asked me about the possibility of having her play this spring, my first reaction was no way. She will never agree to it and even if she did, she will just not be able to take something like this on in fifth grade. But she told me that our town has a very friendly league that is not at all competitive and is very affirming and supportive to girls of all skills. Surprisingly, when I asked Anna Jane and she heard that the invite was specifically from Ella, she immediately agreed to give it a try.
To say that I was shocked is an understatement. And I definitely headed into the process more than a little nervous for her. We had a bit of a rocky start at softball evaluation night. Imagine heading into a room full of girls who have likely played softball for years, zipping the ball back and forth. Meanwhile, you’ve never worn a glove, thrown a ball or even held a bat! Girls who have been keeping up with big brother, or have been hanging with dads who love the game and have at least experienced a day at the ball park. Nope, she went in totally blind and it was tough. We left in tears (me too though I hid mine better) that night and I wondered what had we gotten ourselves into.
A few weeks later, as we drove to her first practice, she teared up and told me she was scared. I wanted to say, me too!!! Let’s quit and go get a pedicure. As her mom, there was a part of me feeling like I was setting her up for failure. But I knew she desperately wanted to do this for Ella so I asked her, “Anna Jane, are you afraid you’ll will get hurt, you won’t know what to do or you just won’t like it?” She said, “All of that. And I feel like a baby for crying about it.” So we sat in the parking lot and talked about all of the things I loved about playing softball when I was her age. I told her how fun it is to be on a team, with girls your age all supporting each other with a common goal. That practices and games give you more opportunities to be with your friends. That there will be lots of trips to the snack shack for treats after the game, and the likelihood of a celebration or party of some sort at the end of the year. I asked her to think about this whole sport as an opportunity for fun rather than something to fear.
And I reminded her that to start a sport like this at almost 11 years old was pretty much the opposite of being a baby. I spoke absolute truth to her. In setting aside her own fears, largely out of loyalty to her best friend, she was being both kind and brave and I was beyond proud of her. And I have to say, she came out of that practice beaming. Everyone on her team made her feel a part of the group and fully supported her as she attempted to learn the game.
And speaking of games, they had their first on Friday afternoon. I met her at the ball fields after her brief playdate with Ella. Because uniforms were being passed out at the fields, I wasn’t sure where her team was and was having trouble finding her. It seemed like everyone was warming up on the fields but she was nowhere to be found. When I came around the dugout I saw her taking photos with her friend and posing for the camera! She exclaimed “Mom, look how sporty I am!”
It was completely precious. I think in that moment she was about as happy as I’ve seen her in years. Completely oblivious to the warm up behind her, she was just enjoying being with her friend, “dressing up” and experiencing something new.
I so love this sweet, still innocent girl. She came down Saturday morning and said “I’m so excited about opening ceremonies today!” When I asked why she said, “Well, you get to wear the uniform, be with all of your friends, have a celebration and of course I’ll get to see Ella. It’s just all of the best parts of softball without having to play the game!”
And speaking of Ella, I just adore how loyal she has been to my daughter. The fact is, she didn’t care that Anna Jane is not sporty. She just wanted to share something with her friend and asked her to be a part of something she loves. No judgement, just love. What a sweet friendship and a lesson for all of us.
And I’m learning some big lessons in this process too. We want to protect our children, raise them to be kind and teach them as much as we can. Let’s remember to learn from them too. She’s showing me how to be brave, be loyal, be willing to try things that scare me. I’m so inspired and encouraged by my girl.
As for softball, our goals are different from most this year. My daughter’s goals are too have fun and eat as much candy from the snack shack as possible. And while I’m hoping that she makes contact with the ball at least one time while at bat this season, I mostly just want her to embrace all of that is good and wonderful about team sports and good old fun. Isn’t that what it’s all about?