It's Spring! For my family, that means baseball. I love the game, even if it does take over my life and turn me into a crazy person. I thought I'd share the experience of managing three kids and a Little League game on a school night, for those of you unfamiliar with it.
5:45 pm: Arrive at ball field and of course, there's no parking. Off-load children and gear and folding chairs and circle the lot like a bird of prey, hoping someone is leaving to get Chick-fil-A. Spot opens up but it's a dreaded foul ball/smashed windshield spot. Sigh and keep circling. See a T-ball mom pull into it... she'll learn soon enough.
6:30 pm: PLAY BALL!
6:33 pm: Who is that child who just ran to first base? DEAR GOD. He is seven feet tall. Does he have a mustache? Are we in the right game? How old is that kid?
6:40 pm: Fears confirmed. This other team is next level good. And huge. And they all have those fancy orange bats. This is going to be interesting.
6:50 pm: My kid is batting next and I feel the butterflies that presage a state of being known as "The Puke Zone." You may find yourself there if your child is pitching, batting, or in the outfield with his glove up and the ball heading straight towards him. It's the moment where you simultaneously realize "it's all up to him" and "there is nothing I can do to alter the outcome of what's about to happen." Normal parents tend to get over this after a season or two of playing ball. I am not a normal parent.
6:52 pm: Full count. Don't strike out don't strike out don't strike out. Ball four. He hustles to first base, a smile on his face. Everyone claps and yells "good eye!" The Puke Zone recedes.
6:59 pm: A tiny dude on our team comes up to bat. He is literally half the size of the kid playing first base. He stands there, looking terrified, and doesn't swing. The good news is that his strike zone resembles the size of a postage stamp, so he pulls a walk after four pitches. When he gets to first base, the huge kid with the mustache gives him a big smile and a fist bump and the little guy on our team grins and grows three inches. Mustache kid is great.
7:02 pm: Smallest daughter runs over to me, damp and sweaty and covered with a light dusting of red clay dirt. She looks like a filthy Oompa Loompa. She grabs my water (she has her own, by the way) and proceeds to drink all of it.
7:10 pm: My children begin to repeatedly pester me for hot dogs and chips from the snack bar, notwithstanding the fact that they've already eaten a full dinner. I say yes only because I want a hot dog, too. Little League hot dogs are delicious and taste like America.
7:15 pm: All of a sudden our team is playing really well. It occurs to me that we're far enough into the season that I finally know everyone's name and have stopped yelling things like "Good job, number 8!"
7:17 pm: OH GOD. He's up to bat again. Time stops moving at its normal pace and I feel like my dog looks right before we take him to the vet. Crap. He struck out. Curse myself for participating in a game that is literally defined by statistical failure. Where else do even the best performers in a sport fail 70 percent of the time? This game is dumb.
7:19 pm: Another kid strikes out and his father hisses "Jesus Christ" and kicks the fence. The Puke Zone is a dark place, man.
7:23 pm: The fence-kicker's kid walks off the field with his head hanging. I watch in the dugout as his teammates pat him on the back. Head still down, he sits on the bench next to my son, who whispers something to him. They both start grinning like weasels.
7:30 pm: Moment of panic. I realize I have no idea where my youngest child is and have not seen or heard her in the past 10 minutes. She then runs past our chairs with her buddies, squealing loudly. Husband finally shows up and she jumps into his arms, smearing his work clothes with dirt, kisses, and ketchup.
7:35 pm: Kid out in right field is bored and doing the Whip/Nae Nae, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we can see him.
7:41 pm: Older daughter has taken a group of little kids to the playground and is watching them so that parents can focus on the game. I walk over to check on them and see another game in progress. I watch as a vaguely familiar small person in a uniform races across the field and makes a spectacular catch. It occurs to me that last year, the same little guy was playing with my youngest, filling up his shoes with dirt and rocks and building stuff under the bleachers to pass the time. I see his mom and ask, "How did he get so big?" She shrugs and points at my oldest, who now looks like an alarmingly pretty teenager. "I was about to ask you the same thing," she replies.
7:55 pm: Walk back to our game. Apparently my kid made a tremendous play at first base while I was gone. Of course he did.
7:58 pm: We're batting. My friend's son is on the other team and I can see from across the field that he's pitching and she is fully in the Puke Zone. We make eye contact and I feign gagging into my hand and then give her a thumbs up. She nods, her face a grayish-green color.
8:02 pm: Our team's best player is up. He strikes out, which is unusual for him. His mom is smiling serenely and seems not the least bit affected. I ask her, "Do you ever get that pukey feeling when he's batting? It's so nerve-wracking." She smiles and says: "Honestly, I've sat through so many games that one more doesn't really matter to me." She pats me on the arm, "Just relax, sweetie. It's supposed to be fun, right?"
8:04 pm: It's my kid's turn to bat again. I will be like that lady and serenely not care and just try to have fun. But he strikes out again. This time with the bases loaded and his buddy pitching to him. The inning ends and I can tell he's pretty torn up. But he's playing shortstop, so he shakes off his disappointment and pulls it together.
8:05 pm: Occurs to me that a game that's defined by statistical failure is probably the best way for a kid to learn how to pull it together, shake off disappointment, and get on with the next thing. This game is not dumb.
8:14 pm: CRACK! His buddy on the other team (who just struck him out) hits a whopper that cleared the back fence. I look at my son and can't read what he's thinking. Is he feeling bad? Actually... No. He's going "WOOOO HOOOOOOO!!!" like a goofball and giving his friend a high five as he runs between second and third.
8:21 pm: Wait. What's the score? We're down by two?! How can that be? They're so big and so much better than us and they all have the fancy bats!
8:25 pm: He's up again. Be serene. It's just a game. He's having fun and learning important life lessons and he succeeds or fails on his own and who am I kidding? Please let him get a hit or at least make contact, anything except striking out, because he'll get upset and I'll want to hug him and call him schmoopy and that's not helpful and for the love of God get control of yourself, woman.
8:27 pm: He hits it to the outfield! The left fielder chases it down as it rolls to the fence. It's a double! He tries to stretch it to a triple and gets tagged out at third. He jogs back to the dugout, his face a dark cloud. His coach takes him by the shoulders and looks him right in the eye. You drove in a run, kid. You did good.
8:31 pm: We need a big hit. Two outs. Our slugger is up. He's due for a hit tonight. Team is going nuts in the dugout with their caps on inside out. Strike. Ball. Ball. DOUBLE!! Two runs scored! Everyone is screaming and the kids are celebrating like they've just beaten the Yankees.
8:35 pm: The goodgamegoodgamegoodgame means it's time to go home. My youngest is filthy and exhausted and no longer fit to be in public. My oldest is starting to stress over homework she hasn't done yet. My husband is helping the boy pack up his stuff. Unprompted, my son walks over to each of his coaches, shakes their hands, and thanks them. They pat him on the head and smile.
8:55 pm: On the drive home, we're all quiet and tired. The kids have asked me repeatedly what's for dinner. I consider reminding them of the full meal I made for them at 5:00 pm, plus all the hot dogs they devoured during the game, but just sigh and wearily point the car towards the closest drive-through. The boy looks at me and says, "Mom, can I ask you something?" I nod. "How soon 'til the next game?"
Julianna W. Miner has three kids and teaches Public Health at a college she couldn't have gotten into because she made bad choices in high school. She writes the award-winning humor blog Rants from Mommyland, where this post originally appeared.