When my husband was diagnosed with a very rare form of bone cancer, we wanted to try to keep our kids’ lives as normal as possible. That’s why we decided that I would stay with them at our overseas post while my husband traveled back to America for his treatment. That way the kids could start Pre-K and Nursery school as we had planned. We’d talked it up all summer and we all felt they were ready for it. Plus, for me, as their primary source of stimulation, entertainment, and interaction on most days, this Mommy Show was getting a bit old. So, we explained that Daddy was sick and was going on an airplane to go to a doctor who would fix him. And then he would come back to us on the day that we had marked and decorated on our big wall calendar. And thus began my 8 weeks as a solo mom.* Maybe the hardest 8 weeks of my life.
(* I purposefully did not say a single mom because I am not single. I grew up an only child of a single mom so I readily acknowledge that I had it way easier than the moms who do not have a child-rearing partner to call and get emotional and mental support from. Even though I was alone in a foreign country and solely responsible for my kids’ care, at least I knew there was someone out there who cared about them as much as I do and who would talk to me about them at anytime of the day or night.)
But this isn’t a story about me. This is a story about t-ball.
Arriving alone with a toddler on my hip and a four year-old at “family events” was sometimes awkward. I couldn’t really socialize with the other parents because I had to have eyes on two kids rapidly going in opposite directions or practicing superhero kicking each other until one of them was wailing. But I was determined to integrate us into the school community, and so I attended all the events I could.
When the first day of t-ball arrived, there I was, juggling a diaper bag packed with two hours of entertainment for my daughter, a purse full of snacks and waters, and a sports bag. I was too frantic to even look up to see how other people received us as we trundled up the hill to the ball fields, with the 2-year-old whining that she wanted to go to the park instead and the 4 year-old lagging behind as always. I thought I could handle t-ball registration and the first practice of the year with no problem. My daughter and I would play with the toys I’d packed for her while we cheered for my son from the sidelines. It was going to be like a picnic. Has anyone ever been so naïve?
Experienced moms can probably guess that the only t-ball knowledge I had was from the blooper compilations I’d scrolled past on Facebook. I soon realized that this was really a parent and child event and that the (mostly) dads were required at almost every step of the practice to help and facilitate, to catch and throw, to adjust gloves and stances, and basically to try to herd cats so nobody wandered off or got knocked out. Panic and embarrassment bloomed in my stomach. Panic that my partner-less son would be left out and would feel the already painful absence of his dad even more. And embarrassment that I couldn’t do both jobs at one time. I had failed. And I had set my son up for failure, because I couldn’t help him while simultaneously watching my daughter.
But while I was trying to decide where to set her up so that she would be a safe enough distance away to not get hit by a ball, but not so far that she was out of my ability to run to save her from an abductor, a miracle happened. I looked up and a father was taking turns playing catch with his son and my son. And they were all smiling. And when it was time for them to all line up, he kindly herded both boys into their places and helped them both throughout the stretches and drills. I literally wanted to hug him. I wanted to apologize. I wanted to justify and explain that we weren’t usually burdens. But then I realized that nobody was making us feel like a burden.
No one asked questions, no one acted put-upon or resentful that he had to practice playing catch with not just his own son but also with a little boy he’d never seen before. Dad after dad leaned down to give help and practice tips to my boy. Dad after dad ruffled my son’s hair and encouraged him while sharing turns between his own little boy and mine. When I had to run out onto the field to help my son with something, I looked back and another mom was holding my daughter on her hip and pointing to me as if to say, don’t worry, your mom is right there.
At the end, I went to thank one of the dads who had spent a lot of time with my son when his own child was sidelined. I was stunned to find out that we didn’t even speak the same language. And yet he was giving his time and attention and support to my son. It didn’t matter that he was coaching in Spanish and my son speaks English. The message was clear. The language was love. The language was inclusion. The language was community. And I thought to myself, maybe we’ll just get through this.