Hope vs. Defeat
Note: I wrote this post last June during the Little League All-Star season. Since baseball season is beginning to gear back up, I thought it would be a good time to share with y’all…
Tommy made the baseball 9-year old All-Star team. Upon hearing the news, I literally felt my heart swell with pride. Surely this meant that I was killing it as a mother.
Baseball is Tommy’s “thing.” And he’s pretty good! Some games, he plays like a rock star but other games, the big games, the high-pressure games, my son’s anxiety strikes like a lightning bolt. And it’s enough to send me into a full-on parenting shame spiral.
See, Tommy hasn’t had a normal childhood. I wasn’t present for the first year of his life because I was in the hospital trying to win my own battle with the cancer that wouldn’t leave me alone. My little boy was too young to understand what was happening but, on some deep level, the huge fear of losing his mommy imprinted firmly onto his tiny heart.
Tommy’s baseball coach called us yesterday morning and asked Tommy how he felt about being the starting pitcher in last night’s game. His coach wanted to make sure Tommy was up for the challenge. The pressure was on because the team had already lost once and another loss would be their last. So, Tommy’s team had to win. And we all knew it.
As the day progressed, so did Tommy’s anxiety. By game time, he could hardly breathe. The umpire bellowed, “play ball!” through his protective face mask. The opposing team’s player stepped into the batter’s box. My heart pounded through my chest. My hand shook as I raised my red wine filled Yeti to my trembling lips. Please Lord, please be with my little man…
Tommy threw a wild pitch. Then another. Then another. He walked the first batter. Then the second. Then the third. I felt the disappointment of the coaches weighing on my shoulders and the sighs of the other parents ringing in my ears.
After 7 batters and 31 terrible pitches, the coaches finally pulled Tommy off the mound. I saw his face as he took his new position on 3rd base. I pulled my hat down lower to try to hide the tears that had pooled in my eyes. I scolded myself as I tried to remember that it’s just a silly game and- for God’s sake- he’s only NINE. So why the hell did I feel like I needed an emergency session with my therapist?
This morning, in the clearness of a new day, I think I know why. See, I’m deeply aware that it’s just a game and that there are things in life that are WAY more important. But here’s what got me- I know my son and I know what he’s been through and I know that his pitching last night was not just about pitching. It was about his anxiety. And my cancer played a major role in creating it.
In my weaker moments, it can feel like Tommy’s anxiety is my doing. I wasn’t there when my son needed me in the critically important child development years when his secure attachment was being formed or, in our case, not being formed.
I’m immensely proud of my kids and feel we’ve overcome insurmountable odds but it’s not without our scars. And last night, Tommy’s deepest wound was exposed on the All-Stars pitchers mound for the large crowd to see. And the guilt almost sunk me.
Tommy’s team won the game. In the post-game huddle, the coach told Tommy that he recognized it wasn’t his night and asked if he’d be okay pitching again in the next game. I wanted to run over and shake the coach while screaming, “what the hell is wrong with you?!?!?! Didn’t you just watch him fail miserably?? Why would you put him through that again???” But I restrained.
On the way home from the game, I asked Tommy if he’d be okay pitching again the following evening. He said no. He told me he does NOT want to pitch again and he’s scared what will happen if his coach asks him to take the mound. I couldn’t find any words of reassurance. The truth was, my son could fail or he could hold his own. Or, maybe, he would even be the hero who strikes out the batter who was about to hit a walk-off home run. I just didn’t know.
But one thing I do know today is this: I will show up. And Tommy will show up. And the coaches are going to show up. And Tommy’s teammates are going to show up. By all accounts, the team we’re playing is freaking amazing so we’ll most likely get crushed. One may interpret this as setting my son up to fail. I actually might agree but we’re still all going to show up. And you know why? One word. Hope.
The parents and coaches and team members will suit up, gear up, sufficiently red wine up because we are hopeful. Odds are high that we will fail. Tommy may fail. The coaches may fail. The team may fail. But…maybe not.
At the end of the day, it comes down to hope. It adds up to hope. And everything in between is fueled by hope.
If we didn’t have hope, what would be the point? Why go through the effort? Why subject ourselves to a certain defeat?
We do it because defeat is never certain. Certain defeat would be a hopeless situation and I don’t believe there are ever situations that don’t contain hope.
Just as I clung to hope as a lifeline in the depths of my cancer battle, my son and his team will cling to hope tonight under the bright lights on the Little League All-Star field. True, the stakes aren’t as high for him but thankfully one cannot compare the different levels of hope.
Because hope is hope.
And, no matter the score, hope ALWAYS wins.
In love and hope,