My life as a softball mom

When Katie turned three, and everyone else was starting up with soccer, I devoutly stayed away from all things organized sports.  She’s three, I’m thinking, and I’m silently laughing at all of my friends shuttling kids here, there and everywhere at zero dark thirty on a Saturday morning, or sweltering in 95 degree July heat at 9am, while I’m home reading the paper and drinking coffee (you didn’t really think I was sleeping in, did you?  God made the perfect alarm clock in the form of a small child.)  I didn’t really see the point … she’s three.  How much coaching can you give a kid who will still pick junk up from the floor, and covered in hair or not, promptly pop it into her mouth, no matter how loudly and insistently you yell NONONO!!!?  The same 3YO who resolutely, absolutely, stubbornly refused to potty train?  Yeah, great idea – add in the fact that a baseball bat is just another weapon and sign me up, Jack!

At five, though, I finally relented … in part because the teachers at Katie’s daycare kept telling us she’s athletic (the jock gene apparently skips a generation … or two, maybe) and because some neighborhood moms strongly encouraged me to get Katie involved in a variety of different activities, with different girls – that way, when the Mean Girls come out and Katie’s on the outside with one group, she still has other friends she can run with.

So off to Plano Sports Authority, aka PSA to the Plano luxury SUV-drivin’, wine-drinkin momma set (not drinking AND driving – oh no … definitely not at the same time – that’d be gauche).   Katie had just finished Kindergarten, so T-Ball it is – I go online, pick up co-ed T-Ball, sign Katie up, punch in my Visa number and anxiously await her team assignment.  Since we hadn’t done this before, and since there wasn’t a group of neighborhood moms with a team already going, I knew PSA would place her onto a team that needed another player, or that she’d end up with the rest of the kids whose moms were slackers  just now signing their kids up without benefit of a preformed “team”.

Finally, I got the email from Coach Ian – she’s a Dodger!  So I look at the roster … Xander, Soren, Brent, Josh, Jack … hmmm.  No girl Dodgers.  I check every other team in the league … no girls.  Not.One.

Craaaaapppp … I’m new to this, did I screw up and sign her up for the wrong thing?  Checked PSA and nope – definitely co-ed … so, where are all of the girls?  I asked a friend if her daughter was playing T-Ball – and the answer was no, Eva’s playing softball.  DOH!

But Katie, my abhor-everything-pink and anything girlie girl, the girl who loves Darth Vader and video games – she LOVED being a Dodger.  She loved the uniforms, she loved practices, she loved the games, she loved her coaches, she loved her teammates.  Katie once famously said, as she confidently strutted onto the practice field: “I’m gonna show these boys how it’s done” – but other than that, she never really noticed that she was the only girl.  And, to be honest … she played better than a good number of the boys on the field.

Last fall, back to PSA I go with my used and abused Visa card, and now my only option is softball:  boys have baseball, girls softball.  And, being the fall league, there were very few girls and teams that signed up (softball being more of a spring sport) so we were ‘placed’ onto the Rangers, an established team centralized mostly around an elementary school other than Katie’s.  The Rangers managed to finish first both in the regular season and the fall tournament (OK, there were three whole teams, but still – FIRST PLACE BABY!)  And we were invited to join the Rangers again this spring.

So now the regular spring season is over, just when I’ve finally gotten to the point where not every girl with a ponytail looks the same, and I’m not saying “Good hit Ava!” and then going oh crud, that was Catherine (or vice-versa, I did that a LOT … but in my defense, it’s hard to tell them apart when they look like big bobbleheads with their batting helmets on).  Competition is a great bonding agent with the other moms and dads (as a nail-biting first tourney game tonight has proven), and it’s easy to see how any parent can become THAT parent in the heat of the moment, forgetting that the players are all but six and seven years old.    And yes, we have had our share of “those parents” (none wear Ranger pink, of course).

And other than being with all girls, softball hasn’t been much different for Katie than T-Ball.  “Ranger ready” means the same thing as “Dodger ready” which is coach code for “Quit playing in the dirt already!”  OK, so there’s maybe more crying in softball … Tom Hanks was wrong, there IS crying in 7YO softball; lots of it, for every possible reason from skinned knees to hurt feelings to somebody looked at me funny.

Katie still loves practice, her coaches, her team.  My abhor-all-things-pink girl never makes a fuss about her pink uniform shirt, and even asked if she should buy pink sunglasses for game days.  And she insisted on sugar cookies, shaped like softballs – and frosted pink – when it was our turn for team snacks.

As for me, the reluctant softball mom?  I love the chatter of the parents in the stands.  I love watching Katie in left center or at short stop, hustling after the ball, making plays.  I even love Katie in left center or at short stop, doing karate moves, playing in the dirt, or doing armpit farts (OK, maybe not the armpit farts so much).  I love the clink of the ball on the metal bat, the dirt that’s permanently embedded in her cleats and her glove, the chocolate-smeared, post game snack sticky fingers.  I love how all of the coaches are teaching the girls the fundamentals of fielding, defense, batting and throwing with kind words and instruction.  I love how Coach Kevan ends every game by asking the girls “Did you have fun?” and not being satisfied until people in the next county can hear 15 grimy, sweaty softball players all screaming “YEEEEESSSS!” at a pitch that only a gaggle of 7YO girls can seem to muster.

I love life as a softball mom.

Father’s Day 2014

Last year I posted a Facebook note on Father’s Day in memory of Grandpa Jack.  So I’m making it ‘official’ now by moving it to the REAL BLOG – with a couple of additions/corrections.

The additions I didn’t include originally because they’re not my memories, but my Uncle Dave’s.  Uncle Dave and Grandpa  took several fishing trips to Canada with their church; trips they always enjoyed a great deal.  The church had a group of deaf members, which was nice for Grandpa – he had “peers” he could hang with.

Well, Uncle Dave tells a story of Grandpa and one of these other deaf men on one of these many fishing trips, in the boat in the middle of a lake, belting out “You are my Sunshine”.  VERY loudly and VERY off key – but if my memory of Dave’s story holds true, they managed to sing together, go figure.   But why they decided to sing that song, in the middle of that lake, at that time, remains a mystery.

Uncle Dave also recalls several “heated” discussions with Grandpa when Uncle Dave was a teenager … but when Grandpa had had enough of the debate, he’d just raise the newspaper up in front of his face and say (in that loud voice of his) “I can’t hear you!”  Conversation over!

And a correction – it wasn’t Grandma who was competitive and got bent out of shape in the Great Monopoly game, but Grandpa … and I wouldn’t have guessed that.

So this year, for Father’s Day, some recommendations from me via Grandpa:

  • Greet everyone with a big “HI” and an even bigger bear hug.
  • Play some monopoly – and play to WIN, dang it!
  • Go to church; pray.
  • Spend a Sunday afternoon barbecuing with your entire family in the backyard.
  • Work in your garden; get your hands dirty and your shirt sweaty.
  • Eat some fried chicken (really, in the spirit of Grandpa, you should eat a lot of chicken … like, two entire KFC buckets).  Follow up the chicken with a big ol’ bowl of homemade ice cream for dessert (ice cream must be consumed on a back porch, preferably on a hot afternoon).
  • Sing “You are my Sunshine” even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket … and do it loudly.


Father’s Day 2013

It’s Father’s Day weekend, so friends are posting recollections and pictures of their dads on Facebook, and the paper is full  of columns and stories about different dads. It got me to thinking about the dads in my life – Skip (I couldn’t ask for anyone better to be Katie’s dad), my own dad (who gave me my sense of humor, and now relishes the role of “G-Pa”) and my own grandpa, Jack, who I miss more than I thought I would.

Grandpa Jack was an incredible eater – the family legend is that he once ate two entire chickens in a sitting (I think it was at a restaurant somewhere in the Ozarks that served “broasted” chicken, whatever that is).  I lived with my grandparents for a few months after college – my parents had moved to Colorado Springs, abandoning me in Omaha – and I recall one evening at the dinner table with meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, and homemade bread.  And this was SERIOUS homemade bread; made with wheat and other whole grains and probably some honey; it was the sort of bread that was heavy in your hand but it melted in your mouth.  I think Grandpa polished off half of the meatloaf, a small volcano of potatoes (I’m certain they were served with gravy), several slices of bread (buttered, natch) and two or three ears of corn.  Mind you, Grandpa Jack wasn’t a big man – he stood 5’ 8” at best before age began to rob him of his height – but he was SOLID.

Grandpa Jack might’ve liked to eat, but he loved people.  He greeted everyone with a huge smile, a big emphatic “HI!” and a hug. Total strangers would come up to him and start conversations; he just looked like one of those people you should approach and start a conversation with.  Now, this was always interesting to watch; Grandpa Jack was completely deaf and had been since about the age of twelve.  He would usually smile and nod as the stranger carried on what ended up being a mostly one-sided conversation.

And Grandpa’s conversations with Grandma remain fascinating to me. When most people think of sign language, they think of the big, sweeping hand movements and finger spelling that you see when there is a sign interpreter at some large, public event. Grandma was also deaf, and she and Grandpa had this odd, shorthand sign language they developed in their 60+ years together.  Grandma would be in her recliner and Grandpa in his, side by side, with Grandma making (what looked to me) ever so slight movements with her left hand and Grandpa making similar signs with his right.  They carried on entire, lengthy conversations this way.  And oh yes, they would fight – my brother remembers one highly contested Monopoly game (Grandma did NOT like to lose).  Jason says, “You should’ve seen those fingers FLY.”

Grandpa Jack adored his family; I am the second of seven grandkids spread out over more than a dozen years, so I got to watch Grandpa interact with the youngest of my cousins. I have lots of memories of Grandpa playing with all of us kids – chasing us through that big back yard behind the tiny house on Spaulding Street under the shade of the huge maple trees – and of course LOTS of hugs.  And ginormous bowls of homemade ice cream on sultry, humid Omaha Sunday afternoons on the back porch.  Grandpa Jack spoiled all of us, although part of me suspects he was looking for a cohort when all of the Oreos were suddenly gone.  🙂  But you could always count on Grandpa Jack to be around to help – sometimes with mixed results (asking Grandpa to help move large objects or to assist with home improvement projects was a somewhat iffy proposition – he always gave it 150%, but ‘grace’ and ‘precision’ weren’t always his friends).

Grandpa was also a man of faith – a simple faith, but a strong one.  I remember a picture of Jesus on the wall of their house and a small wooden cross on a bookshelf with the words “Jesus Saves”.  When Skip and I were “church shopping” in Des Moines, Grandpa’s two criteria were 1) Do they teach from the Bible? and 2) Does the pastor wear a robe?  #1 had to be “yes” and #2 “no” and that was all Grandpa needed.  Grandpa would probably be tickled to know these are the criteria Skip applies to churches we attend today.  Grandpa gave me one of his Bibles and it’s one of my most treasured possessions.

Grandpa Jack usually smelled of sweat and hard work – he was forever doing something around the house or in the yard, particularly in his garden, although I think his adventures on the roof gave my mother more than a few scares.  Christmas Eve meant Grandpa going to bed right after the presents were opened, so he could be to work at the Peter Pan Bread company bright and early the next day.  For all my grandparents accomplished –raising four kids, working outside the home – with a disability in the days long before the Americans with Disabilities Act – I am constantly amazed and in awe.  But a lot of that speaks to Grandpa Jack’s work ethic, his love of family, and his faith.

Grandpa Jack is now just memories – the glasses held onto his head with the elastic band that went from ear to ear, with the ever so stylish ‘flip up’ sunglasses that clipped over the lenses.  Grandpa’s tendency to pronounce words exactly like they looked – and always in an extremely loud voice, due to his deafness.  There was one Mother’s Day in Omaha when he and my mother were discussing the use of “niger seed” in a bird feeder.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to how exactly that sounded.

While he wasn’t part of my life every day, he’s in my blood and in my history.  I hope on this Father’s Day that my brother and cousins will stop and remember Grandpa Jack and his influence in our lives.  And maybe see a little of Grandpa Jack in themselves, or looking back at them from their own children – I know I see Grandpa Jack’s smile in Katie every time she meets a new friend.

Happy Father’s Day.