08 July 2009

Bases and Fences

Sports is something that I rarely write about here, which is odd, since they taught me most of the lessons that I've learned kept in mind throughout my life. They were also a connection to the first public introduction of me as an author.

We had been asked in a writing class in college to write a paper about the greatest betrayal that we'd encountered. Two weeks later, in front of a class of 300 of my peers, the professor said that many of the papers were very good, but that there was one paper in particular that in all his years teaching, stood out, because it didn't deal with human betrayal as one would assume.

It was at that moment that my face began burning and I murmured to myself, "please, no". He picked up my paper and began to read aloud the words that I had written.

I had recounted the last basketball game that I played on my home court as a senior. We needed a three pointer to go into overtime. Our coach called time-out and said to in-bounds the ball to me; I would make my shot and we'd go on.

It went according to plan, and as I launched to ball into the air, it felt right. I began stepping backwards, out of habit, to head back down the court, not inwards to rebound a shot that I knew that wasn't going in. I dropped to my knees as the ball spun around the rim and ultimately fell out while the buzzer rang.

Still, after all those years, I dream about that shot. Not that it would have catapulted us to greatness, not that it meant anything more than a different end to a game that mattered not at all. But that I was so certain it was going in.

I had made that shot so many times throughout my life: in the gym and in our backyard, the beam of the large yard light stretching across our cement court, in my grandparents barn, the moon peeking through the slats in the barn walls. 

The one time that more than ever I wanted it to dance through the net with a quiet swish, it landed differently, and I had to get up off my knees and start something new after that. There were no time-outs or practices left. I had practiced for that moment, and I had failed. Life went on, and I needed to go shake the hand of my opponents and move on.

Last month, Big A had a ball tournament. It was hot that day, and I was sitting in the shade with some other moms there. Big A got up to bat and connected, hard, with the ball. I clapped as it landed in the outfield across from where I was sitting by third base.

She began running around the bases, and as I saw her looking at her coach on her way to third base, I expected her to slow down and hold up; I expected her coach to tell her to stop, to do the safe thing.

He didn't. "Go for it, kid!" he exclaimed, and Big A, her eyes wide, began to round third base.

I jumped up from my chair and ran to the fence so that I could run alongside her. I forgot about my arm and that I wasn't supposed to move quickly, and about the people watching, but I didn't forget about the fence between us--it was at that point in time merely a physical reminder of my limits.

I saw the throw coming in from the second baseman and thought, "She won't make it." There was nothing that I could do, but watch her inevitable fall. She fell with gusto. She slid and banged herself up and was tossed out at the plate. She arose with tears in her eyes, clutching her elbow and when she got back to the dugout I told her, "There's no crying in baseball. You were awesome." It was her pride injured, mostly, I think, not her arm.

Later on that night, I thought about that fence; about that moment. About what it meant to be a mother and the other fences that I will surely encounter along the way. I thought about what kind of mother I ultimately wanted to be.

Did I want to be the mother that stopped her child, congratulated her on a triple and tapped her on the helmet as she shook off her ball pants, or would I be the mother that, arms waving, shouted, "Go for it kid!" and turned to watch either a moment of greatness or a moment of temporary great defeat?

And in my heart, I knew the answer. And for the first time, I was grateful for fences.

And I reminded myself that I must heal my arm.

You cannot properly wave your child home if both of them aren't working.

Run, Big A, Run.


Jennifer said...

This gave me goosebumps.

flutter said...

I love this. LOVE this.

Mama Goose said...

I want to be that mother too...

Trenches of Mommyhood said...

Lovely, Jenn. Lovely.

Amanda said...

Dude, you sure are making me cry a lot lately.

Meg said...

tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. such beautiful writing. thank you, jenn.

luckyzmom said...

You made my eyes leak as you so often do. Beautiful.