I don’t know about you, but I often reflect on my parenting ability and decisions quite regularly. When I do, I sometimes get down on myself for a decision I made, a kid I yelled at, or simply just not making the time I should have made. I know I’m too hard on myself and that nobody is perfect, but nonetheless, I still find myself in regret during those periods of reflection. Over the years, I’ve definitely worked on it, and while I advocate a lot that parents shouldn’t be obsessed with perfection, we all know we can be our own worst critic despite the attempts to cut ourselves some slack.
One of my biggest faults (and I own it) is when my expectations for certain situations are too high. I imagine how things will go in my mind, and when they don’t work out the way I want them to, I am let down. Sometimes a holiday falls short, a meticulously planned vacation is canceled because of the stomach flu, a dream of making it to the major leagues is cut down by reality and a somewhat uncoordinated kid, or whatever other grand schemes we parents create in our heads. This has been a primary focus of improvement for me. In anticipation of Teddy’s upcoming basketball season, I thought now would be a perfect time to discuss the idea of parental reflection and expectations, especially when it comes to sports. I’ve already talked about our kids’ expectations (Click here for that: Galactic Let Down), but a lot of the times parents have expectations that need to line up with reality as well.
While I am not a complete sports fanatic, they no doubt played a large role in my life growing up. Baseball and basketball were cornerstones of my childhood, and my family and I spent a lot of time together at baseball fields and basketball gyms. I myself was never an all-star at either sport; however, I had just enough talent to make whatever I was playing fun and competitive. Baseball and basketball taught me valuable life skills such as dedication, hard work, teamwork, and all the other cliches that go along with these extracurriculars, and for that reason, I am adamant about my sons playing sports. As a young father, I once held a newborn baby in my hands and envisioned home runs, pitching no-hitters, three-point buzzer beaters, and all the other glorious events attached to sports. These fatherly fantasies played out perfectly on the movie screen stretched across my imagination, and in doing so, I set myself and my kids up for lofty expectations. Never did I imagine that one of my kids would be clumsy and prone to falling over for no apparent reason. Today, for example, I got home from the gym, and Teddy came running full force with arms open and ready to give me a hug. I’ve learned to remain still and not make any sudden movements when he’s in motion, yet this still was not enough to prevent an accident. He lost his footing on the tile, slipped, and barreled his way right into me. I caught him, but not before his head made contact with my left elbow.
Ouch! It is who he is though, and I’ve learned to accept it.
Like any parent, I want my sons to be successful in anything they try, and if it happens to be that they’re great at the things I enjoy, even better! That being said, this is not realistic. I’ll never forget when I was coaching one of Teddy’s baseball teams. He so badly wanted to be the catcher for a few games. Prior to this, I had come to the realization that he wasn’t exactly the most natural baseball player, and at first, it frustrated me. I wasn’t let down because I thought my son would really sign a multi-million dollar contract someday, but I was frustrated because I wanted him to be good enough to really enjoy the game and have fun with it. I reasoned that if he wasn’t at least decent at the sport, he might not enjoy it and want to stick with it. This scared me because with his early retirement would vanish all those dad sports dreams I once had. This, of course, was obviously flawed logic. I have two other sons and therefore more chances.
All joking aside, I see now that I was wrong about Teddy largely because of this catching story.
“Dad, I want to play catcher,” Teddy asked at the start of the game. I was reluctant to suggest it to the other coach not because I wanted to win the game and feared he would lose it for us, but mostly because I was worried about his safety. I knew who was pitching for us that game, and all three of those kids could throw a pretty fast pitch at such a young age. Teddy can catch a ball most of the time, but he is not skilled enough yet to catch it at that speed. The last thing I wanted was for him to get pelted by the ball, hit by a bat, or run over at the plate. Again, I didn’t want him to hate the game.
This was selfish of me.
I tried to let him down easy whenever he asked, but each time he was persistent about giving it a try. Finally, I decided I was probably doing more mental damage by not letting him try something he was interested in. Maybe depriving him of that opportunity would be far worse than any physical damage I was worried about. The next inning, I strapped the leg gear on tight around his tiny legs, I fastened down the chest protector snug around his bony ribs, and I smashed the catcher’s helmet down over his big ol’ head.
I looked at him and said, “Are you ready?”
“Yep! This is awesome, Dad,” he said as he grabbed the catcher’s mitt.
“Okay, remember what I said.”
“I know. I know. Listen to the umpire. Don’t turn my head. The mask will protect my face.” I winced remembering a time I used to catch for my brother when we were younger in my parents’ backyard. He threw a nasty curveball, and I once caught a bouncer off the neck because I turned my head in fear.
“Yes, and don’t get too close to the batter. Follow the ball into your mitt and pretend the batter isn’t even there.” The umpire asked if we were ready. “Okay, Teddy. Get out there.” I did a sign of the cross and watched him hobble out there with his oversized baseball pants flapping in the wind behind him.
The first pitch sailed right by him, and honestly, I don’t even know that he saw it. He kind of just sat there for a bit until I told him to go and get the ball. No worries. He hopped right up and tracked that ball down. He threw it back to the pitcher. Next pitch he was able to get some leather on it, but it deflected off to the side. Again, with impressive determination, he jumped right up and tracked it down yet again. Okay, we were making progress. Not bad. Third pitch…
Right off the top of his catcher’s helmet! It was a pretty loud thud, and I thought this would be the defining moment he would hate baseball because he got his brains rattled by a fastball. He fell on his butt from the crouch and rolled onto his back. I held my breath and then lowered my head. I feared this was the end as I had anticipated. It’s so easy for kids to become afraid of the ball, and he was already showing some signs of it. At that moment, I was sure that this season of baseball would be his last.
Then, to my surprise, I heard him give a little chuckle.
“Teddy, are you okay?” I asked hesitantly from behind the fence.
“Ha. Ha. Yeah, good thing I had this helmet on.” Again, he popped up off the dirt, spun around in circles trying to find the ball, finally located it, and then he threw it back once more. He walked back to the line the umpire had drawn for him not to cross, and he assumed the crouch. I let out a sigh of relief I think even my wife heard from the stands.
He caught for two more innings, and I love him, but it wasn’t pretty. He got pelted a few more times, got a little too close and had his mitt interfere with the bat, and wow did he roll around in that dirt a lot from falling over one too many times. However, he had moments of greatness- a few crisp catches and a ton of accurate throws back to his pitcher. Most importantly, he had a lot of fun. Here was something I was so worried about and it turned out to be nothing. Teddy proved me wrong that day. He might not be the best athlete ever, but he’s still having fun with the sports he plays. In the beginning, I was frustrated not because I wanted my kid to be the best, but again, because I was worried he wouldn’t be interested in sports anymore. Because of that, I feared he wouldn’t have the same beneficial experiences sports provided me when I was a kid. If you read my last post, you know we’re trying to get better at eliminating activities the boys aren’t interested in, and I’m hoping Teddy keeps a passion for at least one sport.
Basketball is starting up today, and I need to remember the time Teddy first caught. I need to remember to encourage him to try new things even if they’re uncomfortable. I need to remember that he can still have fun even if he’s not the best. I need to remember to relax and not let my expectations run wild. Most importantly, for the safety of my son, I must remember to properly secure helmets and double-check that shoelaces are securely knotted. If an accident on the field/court is going to find a kid, there’s a good chance it’ll be mine!