“Nice shot Claire!” yelled the man sitting next to me.
I barely knew him, but he was a parent of another girl on the basketball team. The shot had actually bounced off the rim of the basketball hoop, but this random father was still yelling encouragement to Claire. She looked in our direction. I gave her a thumbs-up.
As I’ve written about before, sports are not my thing. I don’t know the first thing about whether my kid is off-sides or needs to go back and tag first base before running to second. I don’t watch sports and apart from a brief stint as a cheerleader, I don’t play them either. I tried desperately to get the kids into running, as that’s the one thing that I can do. But my kids want to play team sports, and so every season, I find myself signing them up for baseball, basketball, soccer or some other crazy activity that I can’t even begin to understand.
They like sports, Austin especially. In fact, Austin’s sports life has become somewhat consuming for me. He’s had a Saturday game basically every week since early September. I never went to these games before Shawn died (that was his job) and I didn’t make many of them last spring. But this fall I decided that I was going to try and go to ALL of them.
I missed a couple, because it’s just impossible to do everything sometimes, but I made it to a lot of them. And over the weeks this fall, I started talking to the other parents on the sidelines of his baseball games. At first, it felt a little bit awkward. Aside from a few people I knew well, the other parents were mostly people who knew me as the woman who’d lost her husband. I’m not saying they said anything like that to me (they have manners!) but I didn’t really know them otherwise. Maybe they didn’t think about my widowed status when they saw me, but here’s the key: I thought about it. And it made me feel awkward.
Still, I tried to chat with a few new people. It wasn’t always as bad as I had imagined and slowly, it became easier. Maybe that was because the games were TWO HOURS long. (I mean, what kind of sadist decided that second-graders should play two-hour long games in both scorching and freezing weather? Who knows!) But what I do know is this – if you are forced to watch second-grade baseball for two hours, you’ll start talking to everyone.
We all got to know each other, and I noticed that a number of the parents cheered just as loudly for Austin as they did for their own children. I loved that. We also got bored enough that we talked about life, and I found out that friendship can really come from sharing the mundane details of your life, week after week.
Friendship can also come because you need help. And I always did. This fall and winter, Saturdays became one big disaster – one kid needed to get to a birthday party and another kid needed to get to practice and the last kid also had a game at the same time that overlapped with both of the first two kids’ events. (That was just one Saturday I picked at random.) I wanted to be self-sufficient, and do everything on my own. But I could not. And if I refused to ask for help, the people who would suffer would be my kids. So I swallowed my pride and I asked for assistance. “Can you take Austin to practice/Claire to her game/Tommy to the party?”
Everyone I ask for help is always gracious, even though they know I’ll never be able to pay them back. For a long time, I felt guilty about all of this help.
But then I started to realize that these times – the ones that my kids spent with other families – were times when other adults in my community really got to know my kids. I had made friends with these other adults over the 2-hour baseball games, but they gotten to know my kids when they were listening to them rattle on in the backseat or making sure that they’d remembered all their gear for the game.
Slowly, I started to realize something. My kids weren’t just mine anymore. They were everyone’s.
And that meant that when one of them was trying to hit the baseball or shoot a basket, there were a lot of people in the stands cheering for them just a little bit harder.
At the last girls’ basketball game I attended, I watched Claire sink a great shot. Everyone around me went nuts. “I actually jumped up and cheered for her!” one parent said to me later, laughing a bit at his excitement. After Claire’s game, I hurried to catch the end of Austin’s game, and arrived just in time to see them win. I went over to Austin. He was standing near his coach who said to me, “Did Austin tell you about what a great game he had?”
Austin was beaming. So was his coach. He ruffled Austin’s hair a bit, and reminded him to keep practicing.
“I made three shots!” Austin said.
“That’s great baby,” I said. “I’m sorry I missed them. I was at Claire’s game.”
“It’s okay,” he said, “everyone here cheered for me.”