My 6-year-old daughter decided that she wanted to play softball this year and so I signed her up at our local parks department without a second thought. Turns out, softball is a whole thing. I have not been in such a committed relationship since I said my wedding vows. I’m pretty sure that we’re at the point where I can just start leaving my toothbrush in the restroom behind the concession stands.
Since it is her first season on a team we’re both learning the ropes. She’s learning how to field a ball and how to run the bases in the right direction and the words to all of the rhyming cheers little girls chant in the dugout. I’m learning how to do intricate French braids “like the other girls” and how much OxiClean it takes to keep a uniform clean and what constitutes acceptable post-practice snacks.
(Apparently some people have very strong feelings about the snack schedule.)
I’m also learning how to let go.
Six years ago this spring she made her entrance into the world unexpectedly, a whole fifteen and half weeks early and in critical condition.
When your brand new baby tips the scales at just one pound, eight ounces and fits fully in the palms of your hands all of your expectations shift. Your new center of gravity becomes this tiny baby, tethered by the constant heartbeat of a prayer that she will live and not die.
Saving her becomes instinctual, habitual.
I sat on the bleachers a few weeks ago and watched her run out onto the field, trailing behind her teammates in size and ability but miles ahead in enthusiasm. She struck out every single time she was up to bat but she turned and gave me a thumbs-up anyhow. I was feeling so proud of her positive attitude despite her underdeveloped skill set when I overhead another parent make a disparaging comment about how the little girl in pink would hold the team back this season.
I politely, if not somewhat pointedly, informed them that the little girl in pink was mine and that it was her first time ever playing on a (ahem) children'ssoftball team.
(That was not what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was spin on a heel and let all my southern right out but I am practicing this new thing called restraint.)
The hardest part for me back then, during the almost 6 months in the NICU and the years of therapy and medical interventions that followed, were all the things we had to do to protect her.
There were the feeding tubes and the monitors and the intricate occupational therapy exercises.
She had all these special needs and it became the status quo to shield her, to always be out in front of her delays.
The hardest part for me now is not shackling her to them.
What I want to do is to overexplain to the other parents crowded onto these not-just-metaphorically uncomfortable bleachers exactly how far she has come.
That it’s hard for her to throw the ball because of her frozen wrists, that she only just this year learned how to drink without a sippy cup, but look at her with her glove in the air.
That it took two years of physical therapy to strengthen her muscles and her core is still so weak but look at her swinging the bat.
That sure, she’s getting lapped around the bases but they told me she might never walk and look at her now, running.
And all the ways I shielded her before, the way I explained away her delays in advance in an attempt to provide an upfront cushion, she doesn’t want me to do that anymore.
I want to honor that. I want to let her forge her own way. And I don’t want to lower their expectations before she has a chance to smash through them.
She’s ready to set her own bar.
So I don’t tell them.
She strikes out again and again and they just see the stats on a scoreboard but I hear the echoes of statistics in a hospital room, those low numbers that they paired with the words “odds of survival” and all I can feel is the way that prayer turned to praise because look at her, living.
She might just be crossing a pitcher’s mound on her way to right field, where a rogue ball rarely reaches, but with every step she is moving mountains.
And in the first game of the year she stepped up to the plate, swung hard, and hit the ball for the very first time, straight out to center field.
Then she threw her hands in the air in celebration and ran herself straight back the dugout.
I have never cheered so loudly.