America may stand for motherhood and apple pie, but I've long felt that despite my mothering, despite my apple pie baking, I was denied the ultimate American experience. Until a few months ago. That's when it all changed.
That's when I began to share knowing looks of joy and pain with other parents. That's when all those "Tide" commercials of my childhood took on new relevance.
That's when my son joined little league.
True, my son's team is composed of other observant Jews from his class. True, they're out there on the field with kipas on and tzitzis fringes flying. But it's little league nonetheless.
How do I know it's really little league? Because going out to the games, I have now witnessed some of the horrors I'd previously only read about, behaviors I thought were outside my purview.
I've seen the frustrations of the coaches and the tears of the boys. I've seen the ambition in the parent's eyes and heard it in their voices. And I've seen that look of vulnerability and pain unique to children who know they've let their parents down. And it breaks my heart.
So what am I doing there? And more importantly, what is my son doing there? Can I tell you the truth? Will you believe me?
My son's team is different. It really is.
A MODEL TEAM
My son's team has a coach committed to the boys, not the victories. My son's team has a coach who encourages a wonderful sense of unity and support for each of the members. I have outside confirmation of this perspective. Last week, I heard the umpire tell the losing team that they could learn from the togetherness and caring he witnessed on my son's team, that they'd be more successful if they offered each other the encouragement like their opponents.
And so I loyally shlep out every Sunday, sunscreen and water in hand (sometimes with peanuts too, just for atmosphere) to sit on the grass on the edge of the field and cheer our team on.
I'm a human being. It's painful if my child strikes out. It's painful if he misses a play.
I'm a human being. It's painful if my child strikes out. It's painful if he misses a play. Not because I'm invested in his little league success but because I know success would give him pleasure and failure brings him pain.
But I think the lessons he's learning about good sportsmanship are invaluable. If he keeps his head up no matter how the play goes, then it's a success. I'm pleased and proud that whenever one of his teammates does well he's the first one out there to congratulate him, alternately jumping and pounding on his head!
And it's been a unifying family experience. Many of his sisters (and his lone little brother) come to the game. We all take turns every night pitching and catching with him. I'm particularly proud of my own accomplishment –- I've learned to throw with my whole arm, not "like a girl."
And I'm particularly proud of the coach and players for the way they've been able to rise above what is as American as apple pie –- competition –- and focus on the team (okay, the fact that they haven't lost a game yet hasn't hurt!) And that even though there are some stars on the team (two brothers who shall remain nameless but you know who you are!) everyone feels appreciated, everyone has a good time.
We could all learn from this one special team. When it works like this, little league is a good starting point for worthwhile lessons. The memories and values will be lasting. They have the plaques and awards to reinforce them. Awards? Did I hear awards? Everyone on the team got an award because everyone made an important and unique contribution (now if I could only apply these ideas around our dinner table every night!)
It may sound unrealistic, but it's true. It may not sound American but I do know that it sounds Jewish, that it's a reflection of the Torah values of the coach and team. And that given the behaviors we see in little leagues and in bigger leagues today, those "Giants" are truly an inspiration.