Last Saturday's baseball practice did not go well. Paul called me from the field about 45 minutes in and I think his exact words were "This is a DISASTER". Oscar was having a terrible time catching the ball, among other things. Honestly, I don't think his fingers are strong enough to close a mitt (slight problem). The coaches gave him a tennis ball to work with (great idea!) but then Paul accidentally bonked Oscar on the chin with it. As in, Paul lightly tossed the ball and Oscar didn't try to catch it or protect himself. When Paul called me, Oscar had retreated to behind the backstop and was having a "private conversation".
Oscar has a lot of private conversations. Generally, I think they are a good thing. He gets really upset and stomps off to a quiet space to argue his point about why we are all wrong and he is right. I've spied on him a few times and I see lots of hand gestures and overhear "See!?" and "I'm right!" and "You don't know!" In his private conversations he gets to create an alternate reality and he wins the argument. When he returns, he is often tired, but calm and resolved. Most private conversations happen in his bed and we usually just go about our day not paying too much attention.
It's a little trickier when the private conversation happens in public. It's just not exactly "private". If we try to talk him down the situation just escalates - more stomping, yelling and pulling away. If we ignore him...well, it can be a little uncomfortable that your kid is freaking out, yelling at an imaginary person while you stand by trying to look bored. I'm ok with it. But I completely understand why Paul called me in that moment. Shame, exasperation, desperation.
The coaches noticed of course and inquired. I'd sent them a big email about Oscar before the first practice, ending it with a cheerful "but don't worry, one of us will always be there...".
Oscar rallied eventually. Paul had been thinking of just putting him the car and heading home, but I disagreed. "Remind him how much he wants to be on this team. Remind him of his promise to work hard and not give up". It worked, but both Paul and Oscar looked exhausted when they got home.
I couldn't believe there was practice again on Monday. Paul had planned to be there at the start but got stuck in a meeting so I was down at the field with a super cranky Ruby waiting for him to show. Ruby didn't want to get out of the car, so I backed the car into the space so that we could look directly onto the field. I could keep an eye on Oscar while staying with Ruby in the car. Practice started off ok with running laps. Oscar was slow, and kids were passing him, but he was trying hard and looking happy. A few minutes later Oscar was warming up with one of the three incredibly patient coaches. She would toss a ball to him and he would try to catch it. And then he would take no less than a full minute to position the ball in his hand (gotta line up those stitches just right!) before he would throw it back. I never saw her flinch. She just stood there waiting. If it had been me, I would have been frustrated and trying all of my tricks to get him to move through it faster. A game perhaps -- pretend the ball is made of fire and you have to get it out of your hands quickly. But from my front row seat in the car there was no way to communicate. I could only watch. And I was so grateful for her patience.
As the minutes slowly ticked by, and Paul still hadn't arrived, I really tried not to watch anymore. The kids had moved into the field for fly ball practice. One coach popped balls up from home plate while the kids tried to catch them. They placed Oscar in the pitcher position, but he kept turning around, looking away from home plate. He was looking at the other kids to see what they were doing, but also at me, in the car. I think it was really really hard for him and he needed someone to tell him what to do. I turned around, toward the back of the car and Ruby, hoping that he would go back to concentrating on practice. But he didn't. He just kept looking towards the other kids, towards the car, towards me, lost. It was painful, but I was stuck...no way to get on the field with Ruby in tow. I really needed Paul.
Paul arrived what seemed like an eternity later, but he was only 1/2 hour late. He sat on the bleachers for a minute assessing the situation, but it was clear almost immediately that he needed, in his words, to "get in the game". Oscar needs the 1:1 support of someone telling him what to do out there, and still it is a huge challenge. We probably shouldn't have let him talk us into this. It is just too hard.
Today is opening day. The Blue Jays play the Mariners at 3pm. Oscar is anxious - we know because he's collecting all the pieces of his uniform and every few minutes he'll ask a question or offer a concern. He's lost the pre-season excitement he had just a week ago. His eyes reflect his own uncertainty, or maybe he's mirroring mine. I'm not worried about him bobbling the ball or striking out (that's bound to happen), but I am worried about him feeling defeated and lost. I'm worried that if we have to withdraw him, for his safety and sanity, that it will be a bigger blow than if we hadn't tried at all.
Maybe it will rain.