Tonight I watched you cry, gasping air, utterly heartbroken.
Instinctively I reached for you, shocked myself at what the tears meant. Looking at you, forever my little Jakey, I was at a loss for words. Nothing I said in that moment would ease the pain of your cracked soul.
We got home and you said you’d like to be alone for a bit and sat on the driveway, tears rolling down your cheeks, dampening the fresh clay stains speckling your white pants. One day you’ll understand how powerless a parent feels when their child is hurting. There was absolutely nothing in the world I could do in that moment to ease your pain. I gave you a hug, said okay, and walked away.
Walking away, as you will one day learn, is one of the hardest life choices anyone, parent or not, will make.
While you sat in the driveway, I retreated to my room and cried, thinking petty thoughts, questioning the coach’s motives. Questioning why you, of all kids, was cut from the team. You are not the best player on any of the teams you are currently rostered but you sure as hell are not close to being the worst. Parental bias aside, facts are facts. You are a good baseball player, no matter what you may be feeling now.
After giving you space, I sat down beside you on the driveway. You were spinning a football between your legs, shoulders slumped, and head down. Your face was dirty with streaks of tear stained clay. At that moment you looked similar to the little boy you once were.
We sat like that for a few minutes, silent. You never looking up, football continuing to spin. Me, holding my head up, hoping this small detail would one day be remembered by you.
What you don’t know is just a few hours earlier I received my own soul-cracking news. News which sent tears down my cheeks, filling me with a bruising punch, fracturing my self-worth. I, too, sat with my head down, tears continuing to flow, questioning myself as one does when facing a heartbreaking reality. My pain no longer mattered the moment you got into the car and I watched as the first tear escaped from your eye. Know what we had in common during this moment was an unspoken understanding.
You will face many tough moments in your life. You never get used to the utterly hopeless feeling which consumes one when something traumatic occurs. You’ll learn to cope. You’ll learn how to take a step back and find the positive, which can always found if one chooses to see it. Today, my emotional state was raw too and I had nothing but sympathy for the rawness of the pain you were feeling.
I’m embarrassed mom, you said, fresh tears running down your face. I’m embarrassed and confused and mad and… You didn’t finish the sentence. You became angry, upset with yourself for again crying. I told you it was okay to cry, it was normal to feel all you were feeling. And I reminded you of the advice given five months earlier, on the third day of school, when a teacher questioned why you were in their advanced math class:
Walk into that classroom each day with your head high, homework completed, and prepared for quizzes and tests. Show the a**hole why you, in fact, have earned the seat in their damn class.
You were then told to never use the language I did in any fashion toward any teacher. If you wanted their respect, you better show them nothing but the same. Those were lost words on you because you are a respectable kid, sometimes to a fault.
Since the day you were born I have always said you are an old soul, a kid born in the wrong generation. A nurse once attributed this to the fact you were born en caul. Whatever the reason, don’t let my description of you go to your head. You’re still a teenager who does dumb, teenage crap. While never disrespectful and never involved in really stupid teenage antics, you are still a kid who, at times, ticks me the heck off.
Eventually your tears stopped flowing and your head no longer hung as low. We talked, a mom pep talk on my end, you silently listening. Like you, I was silently listening to the words I spoke, knowing they were ones we both needed to hear. Do not let this moment define you, I said. Don’t let one person or event dictate your self-worth. Do not stop believing in yourself, your abilities. Don’t stop doing what you love just because you have been knocked down.
What I didn’t say — which I regret and will so whenever I think of this day — was how proud of you I am. You have heard those words a million times from me, yet I forgot to say them when I think they would have resonated with you most. I am so proud of you, kid. Truly, proud and honored that me, of all the people in the world, gets to be your mom.
Being a parent is hard and most days one feels as though they screw up more than they inspire. You know my running joke — as long as I only give you one issue a day to dissect years from now on a shrink’s couch, I did good. I seriously parent around this philosophy. Hopefully I have raised you and your siblings to never give up when someone says you aren’t good enough, smart enough. I hope I’ve allowed you all the room and support to grow into whomever it is you strive to be. I hope you’ve been given all the building blocks needed to rise when the wind has been knocked from your soul, your self-confidence shattered on the floor.
The high school coach believes you are not good enough to play on the team and has cut you. In his eyes you are not good enough for a spot on the roster. You were the dispensable player among those who tried out. I know it stings to read these words, especially since they are coming from your mother. It hurts me to write them. But those words are your reality. And because I have always taught you to never let another’s opinion define you, you my son, have a choice to make. A choice which is the first of many more in life which will inevitably follow. You have a choice, one which I have not allowed you to make this evening when emotions are high and the wound so raw.
You can ignore my advice and allow today to ferment, to consume your mind until you believe the poisonous thoughts. Or you can take this moment by the balls and learn a valuable life lesson. One positive thing to emerge when one hits rock bottom — you can’t fall any further.
Your ego has been bruised. You are a ballplayer who has been dealt the lowest blow any player can face. Now, the choice is yours to make. Choose to stay on the ground, wallowing in self-doubt — or grow, using this moment as a positive tool to do better, be better, proving to the coach you are in fact, good enough.
Baseball is, and will always be, more than just a game to you. The baseball field is where your confidence flourishes, where your sense of self-worth stems from. The outfield is your playground, the plate, your sometimes nemesis. The field, the camaraderie of being part of a team, and all the life lessons so far learned are your safe zone, where you feel most yourself.
Today, that same game, a game which you are so passionate about and love so dearly, has bruised your ego. It has crushed your self-worth and sucked the air of confidence from your soul. But I promise you, the heaviness and rawness you now feel will pass. One day, soon or far off, another life moment of soul-crushing news will again test your willingness to hold your head up high against the doubt of not enough. How you choose to handle today will be a test for all the other moments you will surely face. Cower to this and you will forever cower to future obstacles. Learn from today and you will forever know that no matter what obstacle is thrown your way, you can and will, rise above, accept, and overcome.
Remember when I said walking away is one of the hardest choices to make? Now is not your time to hang up the uniform. Now is the time to be the ballplayer you know you are, we all know you are. Now is the time to accept today’s heartbreak, acknowledge and take ownership of your shortcomings, and try your hardest to overcome one person’s opinion that you are not enough.
Now is the time to get up off the floor. Wipe the tears from your face, hold your head up high, and prove to yourself just how strong you are, on and off the field.
The choice is yours and yours alone to make.