Close to Home:
Twice a week, now, I throw four children, a blanket, cleats, and two small gloves in our mini-van and drive a couple of miles to Dogwood Park for a ninety-minute T-ball game. In April, this seemed like a great idea. Six-year-old Priscilla and five-year-old Benjamin could play on the same team together. The warming weather with all of its out of doors potential was practically begging to host bike rides, long leisurely strolls, and sporting events. But a “next month” adventure seems a whole lot more feasible without the reality of today’s logistics to exhaust you and make you ultimately second-guess a seemingly super decision. Thus is my thinking every Wednesday and Friday afternoon while I am single-handedly rallying my troops to get out of the house in a timely manner, while searching desperately through clothes hampers and cluttered closets for a missing green tube sock, or while trying to pep talk my two-year-old into whining a little bit less once we get to the field and lay out our gear for an hour-and-half of confinement. And that’s nothing compared to the nerve fraying aspects of the six-inning, non-score keeping, showdown between our team and the their team, itself.
“Stand–up Ben!” I yell again and again and again, “Keep your glove on, buddy!” But he does neither, choosing rather to make “dirt angels” by lying flat on his back in the outfield while flapping all four of his limbs simultaneously. His coach is exceedingly patient, lifting him gently by the shoulders and then placing him in the proper fielding position – legs bent, hands on knees, eyes on the batter. For less than a minute Ben stays focused before playfully nudging his younger teammate who in turn nudges him back until both of them are laughing and then full-on wrestling while the ball passes by unnoticed and I burn with embarrassment. The two other moms I sit with are sweet and empathetic, “He’s adorable,” they assure me as the three of us watch their own sons strike the fiercest of batting stances and not pick up gravel to sprinkle over their heads, which is the activity Benjamin has moved onto since I pulled him aside to firmly remind him about keeping his hands to himself.
Priscilla, in the meantime, is soaking up praises for being a surprisingly sufficient ball handler. “Way to hustle Prissy!” yells coach and she beams. “That a girl!” I echo, “Good catch!” I don’t mean to wish that only she was representing our family on the Fox Photography Little League team but ashamedly that is exactly what I pine for as time drags on unmercifully and Ben becomes ever more sidetracked by his instinctively silly impulses. I assume by now he cares little about this game or the opinions of anyone watching it and so I turn my attention to his sister who cares obviously a great deal about both. After the final inning’s conclusion, Priscilla makes a beeline toward my lap; she’d like to hear in more detail about how proud I am to be the mother of such a t-ball aficionado. It is then I notice Benjamin and the telltale quivering of his lower lip. “What happened?” I ask alarmed. “Are you hurt?” And I find out then that he is, that he is heart-broken by my silence. Because I had nothing, not one single positive thing to say about his own outlandish performance my distinctively vibrant wildflower was wilting. Assumptions, I discovered, can be deceiving.
I found the following quote by Philo of Alexandria on Father Stephen Freeman’s excellent and thought provoking Glory to God For All Things blogsite: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. Meaning, of course, that your curt and surly neighbor may be suffering through a divorce, an illness, or a stubborn wave of depression. We all have hidden baggage that can weigh down the best of intentions – we all disappoint at one time or another. And yet my memory is often shortsighted when it comes to the raising of children who lose their tempers, their manners, their library books. How quickly I forget my own deficiencies. “Be still!” I demand of a wired little boy whose veins pump electricity through his sparkly squirmy body. “You are kidding me!” I mutter disdainfully within earshot of his daydreaming older brother who has misplaced the pair of sandals I intended for him to wear all through the summer, which is spiteful of me, really, since I was much less hard on myself when I broke my cell phone, then replaced it, only to promptly leave the new one somewhere secret and mysterious. “Where do you think it is?” asks my obviously confused husband. “I’ll come across it,” I assure him unconvincingly.
She doesn’t want to wear that big old puffy coat because later in the day, she’ll get all sweaty but this morning it seems chilly and I insist she put it on; I don’t budge because …well, heck, I couldn’t even tell you. There are hordes of other sweatshirts and jackets available but the problem is I usually speak first and think later. The word “no” has set up its permanent and unyielding residence on the tip of my tongue. After my daughter leaves our house in a huff of tears and anger, I step outside forlornly to stare at an empty bus stop where things could have started differently had I put myself in her shoes for a moment. “It starts here,” I pray silently, “doesn’t it? In this home with these precious sons and daughters I am to cherish and honor and try my best to not take for granted. Please forgive me; I’ve been awfully self-absorbed.” Then wouldn’t you know it, the clouds turn sparse and gauzy allowing sunlight to penetrate an overcast beginning. “She’s right,” I concede as I remove my outer layer, a black down vest too thick and constrictive for springtime, “it’s not that cold out after all.”
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