A Game Ball

“Oh yeah, Mom. EVERYONE wants to be good at school,” Nate said to me the other day.

He was being sarcastic, as that is the language of the 6th grader. Nate was unloading the dishwasher and telling me how hard it is to be him. “I wish I could just be good at sports.”

Nate is our first-born. He was a 10 pound baby, born right on time, and slept through the night on his first night home. He was a happy baby–a pure delight, actually. He learned to talk at 7 months old. At his 9-month doctor’s appointment, we showed the staff how he could clap along at the right places to “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” At his first birthday, his vocabulary was at least a dozen words, including the word “toon-tight” which was his version of “gezhundteit.” By Christmas that year–15 months old–he was speaking in sentences.

However, he didn’t know how to walk.

In fact, a lot of physical stuff didn’t come easily for him. He lost his balance on his Little Tykes slide, as well as his rocking horse. Every time. And he cried any time any part of his body touched grass. When he finally did learn to walk at 16 months old, it was almost like he resented knowing how. And he wasn’t that good at it, but he did it. A month later, he was in glasses full time, and if you’ve ever seen a little kid toddle around wearing glasses, you know just how adorable that is.

But I digress.

I am not the most coordinated person by any stretch of the imagination. There was a period of time during my childhood where I had a frequent visitor punch card at the local Emergency Room. I tripped constantly, bruised myself, broke bones, fell up stairs, and walked into things. Years ago, Nate was walking backwards at the grocery store and knocked down a display of yellow mustard bottles. It was something right out of his mother’s playbook.

Earlier this spring, he told us he wanted to play baseball. We ignored it. (Because we’re good parents like that.) He told us again. I nodded and didn’t do anything about it. After the pleading and begging became unbearable, I signed him up for Little League. This is a kid that hasn’t played a sport since kindergarten soccer. This is the kid who begged to join swim team, only to be actually rescued by a lifeguard at his first (and last) practice. I knew how this story would end. Or at least I thought I did.

He went to practices and came home frustrated. This was something he was not good at. As a mom, it’s a double-edged sword: I want him to be happy, but I also want him to learn life’s important lessons for himself. Little League was a checkmark in that second category. Everything this boy touches turns to gold. It’s true. If Nate is doing something, somehow he is the best at it; whether it’s spelling or piano or rainbow loom bracelets. I don’t know how he does it. School comes easily to him, so much so that the other kids in his class hate competing against him. But athletics are something that does not come as easily. And he gets upset by that. His comment at the beginning of this post was after he was complaining about not being good at sports, and I said he had lots of other talents.

His baseball game was last night. I had to miss it because of an emergency with his little brother. Jesse was a lawyer-thing. I went to pick him up when it was over and found his whole team taking a knee around the coach. That’s when I heard the coach award the game to Nate. And there were cheers.

When he was done, he came up to me, happier than I’ve ever seen him, and told me what happened. He got on base, made it to 2nd and 3rd, and then scored the winning run. I was so happy for him, but so sad that I missed it all.

Now, before we turn this into a Disney movie or after-school special about perseverance, let me say that he got on base by walking. But the last game he didn’t get on base at all, so we consider this a success.

It reminded me of when he first started piano lessons. He was good at playing one hand at a time, but not both. I happened to be in the room the day he got both hands to do what they were supposed to do. And it was magic. I could see the cliched lightbulb go off for him. After that confidence builder, there was nothing he couldn’t play.

We have a long way to go with Little League, and this will likely be his only year. But last night, my boy gained confidence at something he thought he’d never succeed. It’s something I could never teach him myself.


Nate and the game ball. I haven’t seen him smile this big since he won the spelling bee.

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