Several weeks ago in the Kroger checkout line, a beautiful, muscled-up specimen of a man winked at me. He smiled. I was tempted to turn around and look behind me, but Instead I mustered up all the courage I had and returned a smile.
“Awesome!” I thought to myself. “I’ve still got it.”
But as I wheeled past the sliding glass doors, I caught a glimpse of my reflection. There past the hem of my Sunday dress, halfway down my calf, was my two-toned ball mom tan line. I had obviously been wearing my workout pants and flip flops one too many Saturdays. The meathead had noticed. I wheeled my buggy to the car cloaked in the reality that the “it” that I now have is a grocery cart full of responsibility.
Self awareness has never been my strong suit. Many moons ago, I wasn’t vulnerable. My mother raised me with a healthy overdose of self confidence. I didn’t waste time worrying about whether others liked me or approved of my choices. It just never occurred to me to care. Then I became a mother and the cloud of vulnerability descended upon me. It was steady for a while. Once my boys started playing ball, I learned a whole new level of giveadamn.
I’ll never forget our first opening day at Dixie Ballfield when in an attempt to hurriedly get my youngest to the bathroom I ate it in front of the concession stand. I had been toting Cam on my back while wearing 4-inch wedges. We went down in a twisting motion just as the crowd was singing the national anthem. I landed on my back with Cam sitting upright on my stomach. He was laughing. Several men ran over to help. I curled up in my shell and died. So much for fitting in.
News of my spill emanated throughout the mom groups. One mom’s heart softened as she listened, and she reached out to me.
“Honey, you can’t wear those shoes out here. You’re gonna break your neck,” she warned. “I tell you what. I’m having t-shirts made for some of the moms to wear to games. Would you like me to get you one?”
Concerned for my child’s emotional health, I agreed. How bad could it be? I could do this ball mom thing. I really did need to make an effort to fit in, so I started taking notes. Which fashion trends could I adopt? Which would make me stick out the least?
I’m not a big jewelry fan, so the items made from unraveled baseballs didn’t appeal to my taste. Glittered team-colored nail polish? Nope. Too much maintenance. Snarky “you’re killing me smalls” t-shirts? Nope. That would require me to purchase a shirt, decide on a design and colors, and then find someone to make it. Too much effort. I needed something easy. Something simple, and not over done. Plus, Pat and I had been making fun of ridiculous sport parent attire since we married. “We will never,” we had said. Converse! Red converse! I could do that. I had worn converse in middle school. The shoes were speaking my language. Jackpot.
So I scored the converse and wore them to the next game with a pair of yoga Capri pants and an understated t-shirt. We arrived early for warm up. Pat would join us later as he was coming from work. As I began to claim my spot in the bleachers, my compassionate friend excitedly motioned for me to come over. She handed me my t-shirt and pushed me toward the bathroom. “Go put it on,” she insisted.
Pat arrived late to the game. Although I could see him in my peripheral vision, I kept looking straight ahead. He got closer, but his gaze was not on the game. It was on me. I continued to ignore his attempts to make eye contact. I had intentionally positioned myself among the crowd because I knew. I just knew.
Moments later, Dylan spotted Pat and began tapping me. “Mommy, there’s daddy. Daddy’s here!” I could no longer avoid. Our eyes met. He pointed at the words on my chest, “the real rowdy moms of baseball.” Shaking his head, he walked behind the bleachers to say hello to Cam in the dugout. That’s when he saw the letters of our last name printed on the back of my shirt. Pat released an obnoxiously loud burst of laughter. I was toast, and we both knew it.
In the days since then, we have gone all in. We have a rolling beach cart that accompanies us to each game. We bring ice chests and chairs and a tent and towels. Every tournament weekend we make the mistake of waiting the entire first day in the concession line. We bring our own snacks on the second. We have baseball-themed blankets for the beginning of the season and screen-printed tank tops for the end. There’s a really good chance that someone is going to end up a diabetic from an overdose of ring pops and sour straws and snow cones, but that’s baseball, ya know?
I’ve made the classic ball mom mistakes such as clapping when an opposing player strikes out in coach pitch and yelling “run” to the player on first after ball four in live arm. I’ve forgotten the hats before a game and had to trust sissy to escort the boys into the ballfield while I floored it back to the house. I’ve left the water bottles on the kitchen counter and had to spend the kid’s college tuition on 7 waters. I dropped one of those Mr. T tournament rings on the top of my foot. There is no pain that compares.
I’ve prayed that God would let my kid get a hit, catch the ball, feel the glory. I’ve replayed each play of the game on the car ride home. I “encouraged” my youngest to keep playing even when I knew that he no longer enjoyed it. And then Cam broke his arm. Badly. I guess sometimes God has a way of intervening when our parenting techniques need a time out.
We’ve discovered that baseball, while incredibly fun, is just a game. That was a jagged pill to swallow, especially when we had fallen in love with a group we called our “ball family.” This same group who encouraged me to chunk the ridiculous shoes also accepted and loved us. They sat next to me when I would accidentally release the evil laugh at inappropriate times. They paid our admission when all I had was a checkbook. But most importantly, they believed in and loved my boys. These parents and coaches cheered at their victories and encouraged them to push past their failures. The irony of that relationship is that we were literally playing with the Joneses – two sets of them. In reality, it was never about keeping up but all about joining in.
In the same season that Cam broke his arm, Dakota aged out of being able to play with the team. And while my youngest baby hung up his jersey up for good, the other adopted different colors and new teammates. Now we cheer for the Aces from a different set of bleachers. But I’m pretty certain we left our mark on our Aces family and their fearless leader, Coach Jones.
Known for his fiery temper and tall stature, Coach Jones smokes like a chimney. But as we exited that season, he kicked the habit for good because the scrappy centerfielder who he taught to catch a fly ball reminded him that “cigarettes are, in fact, a drug.”
This same man, with his big voice and animated arm motions, has a love for the game and his players that is rare. He believes that if you want something bad enough and are willing to work for it, victory can be yours. I’ve seen him get kicked out of a game and tear up over a big play — both in the same tournament. He takes time to understand how each kid ticks so that he can speak their language to result in improvement. His players’ personal victories and failures are his. That’s the kind of Joneses I want to keep up with.
During a tournament recently, we had a break between games. Mom and I walked over to the tee ball fields to kill some time. We came upon a group of 4- and 5-year-olds. They were precious. The same characters were in the bleachers. We were watching intently, when from out of nowhere a huge dad voice yelled, “Get your head in the game, son!” Out in left field, a tiny player was turning circles. Mom and I burst out laughing. I guess some dads have a dose of ball mom in them. Maybe I should loan him my monogrammed tote. Or maybe I should remind him to get a grip because, while our kids will all go “pro” in something, it’s most likely not in baseball. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the game.