That Parent

The stories about the overly competitive sports parents are true. I’ve seen them in the stands yelling at their kids, yelling at the coaches, and yelling at the umpires. They’re the parents trying to make their kid the next Micky Mantel, or Jackie Robinson, or Randy Johnson. Or they’re the parents that felt robbed of a chance to be the star and are reliving their glory days through their children.

I never wanted to be that parent. When my son started playing hockey, it was because he wanted to. When he moved on to baseball, it was because he wanted. He loved it. I thought my great advantage was that I never played organized sports as a child so I had no delusions of fame and fortune for myself or him. He could play a sport because he wanted to without fear of it being a proxy for my unfulfilled dreams or the pressure of making it his career.

But at a recent game, I caught myself yelling at my son about his mechanics. Get your elbow up! Keep your eye on the ball! I yelled to get his attention when he wasn’t in the right position or was playing with his hat. What are you doing? Pay attention!

During one of his at-bats, I was louder than his coaches. I could see that he was anxious and overwhelmed by all the other voices coming in at him. I knew he was also nervous because he was in a hitting slump. I wanted to be louder so that he would focus on my voice because I thought that would settle him down. When he struck out, I got mad at everyone else for yelling at him and distracting him. When my wife tried to talk to me, I snapped at her. Then, it hit me.

I had become “that parent”.

I tried to convince myself that it was different. I wasn’t trying to live through him on the field or get him a contract. I thought he would be happier playing baseball if he did better and I knew he could do better. I was trying to help him stay on task and remember his steps so that he would be able to draw some enjoyment from something in his life. It was for him, not for me.

But from his perspective, his dad is yelling at him because he is doing something wrong. My son walks around apologizing for everything, anyway. I can’t help but think those things are related. Am I snapping at every little thing and making him feel in a constant state of disappointment where he feels the need to apologize all the time?

I know that that’s like. I grew up with an unhealthy expectation of perfection. I’m still struggling with it today, and I see how it limits me. I wasn’t placing expectations on my son to become a professional baseball player. I wasn’t trying to relive my youth. But I still risked ruining the game that he loves by transferring my baggage to him and, worse, watching it seep into the rest of his life, too. I desperately want to learn those lessons before it’s too late because I don’t want him to turn away from something he loves because of me. I don’t want to be “that parent” who takes the joy out of the game. Because I can’t get out of the way.

Baseball has been very good for my son. It continues to teach him how to be a part of a team. It gives him opportunities to believe in himself and work through difficult situations. It teaches him how to be a gracious winner and loser. And it shows him that he can get better at something through practice because he can see how he is better at the end of the season than he was at the beginning.

Baseball has been good for me, too. It gives me opportunities to see my son in different situations where he can fail and succeed. It shows me that he can do so much more than I think he can, and it shows me when he can’t. And it’s causing me to look inward at my issues with perfection so that I don’t make them his.

I want to do better. I think I am doing better. I hope I am doing better. Because at the end of the season, I want to see how much better I am than I was at the beginning.

Part Of The Team

Spring is here, which means it’s time to hang up the skates and grab the bat and glove. This year, my son moved up from teeball, which I coached last year, to baseball. Since I’m not coaching this year, it meant having another conversation about epilepsy.

I still get nervous introducing people to my son’s condition. I try to strike the right balance between “he has a serious medical condition” and “everything is going to be fine.” It’s hard. Too much information can overwhelm even the most altruistic volunteer. But I’m not doing my job unless I am honest about all the potential challenges.

There are times when I wish that I could not say anything. I could hope for the best and let my son take part in an activity without a caveat. After all, he’s not likely to seize. And there are plenty of kids on the team that have a hard time listening or focusing. He could blend in.

That would be easier. The coaches wouldn’t have to be scared. I wouldn’t have to worry about him being treated differently. I wouldn’t have to face the reality of our situation. I wouldn’t have to make epilepsy a part of everything that we do.

But, the fact is, it is a part of everything we do. And it’s my job as a parent to do what is best for my son. I want to keep him safe but I also want him to enjoy the experience. The only way to do that is to have an open communication channel with the people in his life. We were told early on that we, the doctors, nurses, teachers, aides, babysitters…we are all a part of my son’s team. And like any good team, everyone needs to be informed so they can play their part.

When we talked to his coaches, they thanked us for telling them, then they asked what they could do to help. That night, they reached out to us again to let us know that they were happy he was on the team. To the father of a child with epilepsy, the best way to show that they were part of our team was to make him a part of theirs. They had done that with one phone call, and they continue to do it at every practice.

As anxious as I get about doing it, the more we have the conversation, the better we get at it. The better we get at it, the better people respond to it. And the better people respond to it, the less anxious I will hopefully be the next time. Which is good. Because it’s a conversation that isn’t going away.

Playing Teeball Again For The First Time

Last year, we signed our son up for teeball. He was only out of the hospital for a few months and was still having seizures and suffering from severe ataxia and behavioral issues from the seizures and medicine, but we wanted to give him a bit of “normal”.

There were times when he would be in the field, in the “ready position”, wobbly and shaking from the ataxia, and he would have a seizure…the audible cue, his body glove slumping down and his body sagging. These seizures were short, he would spring right back up, back in position and waiting for the ball. If we tried to get him to leave, he would say no so we would monitor him and he was usually able to finish the game.

When the game was over, though, he would be so exhausted, and the exhaustion was sometimes followed by episodes of his extreme, angry behavior. We’d put him in the stroller to take him home, and he would be saying mean, hurtful things, or spitting, or hitting. We’d get him in to the house and hold him until the storm passed and he was able to calm down and take a nap.

There were good moments, too. Towards the end of the season, the coaches used a pitching machine instead the tee. Most of the kids would go up and strike out since it was obviously their first time trying to hit a moving target. But I’ve been pitching to my son for years…the tee we had was too big so we just pitched it to him and he would hit it. So he would step up to the plate, ataxic and off-balance, like a drunk stumbling down the street. He would go through the motions to get his feet set, his hands around the bat that he would lift up to his shoulder, and sway back and forth waiting for the pitch to come. When it did, his soft, fluid motion would bring the bat in perfect contact with the ball and he would crush it, and the look on his face made every other thought disappear.

It was a balancing act…trying to give him an opportunity to do something fun with other kids but managing his seizures and minimizing the behavioral issues. There was no right answer. I felt like I was a terrible parent for putting him in the situation, and I felt equally terrible on those days where we’d skip the games and he would sit inside, isolated, lonely, and just as angry and having just as many seizures.

We’ve come a long way in the last year. My son is again playing teeball. His ataxia is better but still visible, but his behavior is much more under control. He’s cheering on the other batters and saying “Batter up!” and “Good job!” as the other team crossed the plate. There have not been any on-field seizures and, after our last game, he played at the park with his friends because we didn’t need to rush home because of seizures or to brace for the oncoming fatigue-induced anger.

teeball epilepsy ataxia

My son doesn’t remember much about his first year of teeball, one of many holes that was caused by the seizures and the medicine. There are times when I wish I could forget last year, as well. But even though he doesn’t remember, I saw moments of joy and a sense of accomplishment as he hit the ball or ran to a base, and those are the memories that I choose to think of when I look back. If any memories from that time do come back to him, I hope that is what he remembers, too.

But if he never remembers last year, and if he only remembers his experiences this year, I’m grateful that we have this opportunity for him to play teeball again…for the first time.