It's baseball season again! The house is littered with aluminum bats, muddy cleats, white and gray polyester pants in three sizes, and long navy blue socks. I've spent hours entering five teams worth of practice and game times into my calendar. I'm team parent for two of those teams so I am also creating and updating rosters, assigning snack shack shifts, and communicating game and team photo times. So much work, and yet, it just feels right. Seven months without baseball was way too long.
Abe had practices and scrimmages almost every day last week and a tournament this past weekend. He tapes the rosters and schedules for his three teams to the kitchen door and marks his games on the family calendar. Ruby's first t-ball practice was Saturday morning and she showed up at breakfast in full uniform. Her pants, which are supposed to be knee length, reach her ankles and I had to cut a full foot off the bottom of her navy and white baseball t-shirt so that it didn't bunch once tucked in. She's especially excited about her new pink bat with the words Girls Rule emblazoned on the side.
The manager of Oscar's team is a close friend and Abe's travel team manager, as well as the manager of yet another team. D is awesome -- and I mean that in the full sense of the word. I am fully in awe of his ability to manage three baseball teams so thoughtfully and skillfully and still spend time considering how to coach Oscar and every other kid (while also managing his business and raising four kids of his own with his equally wonderful and busy wife). He requested that Oscar be on his team, and the commissioners who also know us happily honored that request. We were thrilled, because D is such a fantastic coach, because Oscar thinks the world of D, and because his daughter L, also on the team, has an energy and enthusiasm that just lights Oscar up.
We got double lucky (or is it triple?) in that Oscar's classmate and good friend Ben's little brother is also on the team and their dad, is also awesome. He helps out at practices too, as does Ben, who anticipates and quells Oscar's anxiety better than most of us.
With all these supports I guess it's not too big of a surprise that the practices actually went pretty well. Oscar still takes forever to find his grip on the ball before he throws it. He argues over the right height of the tee and how to follow through on his swing, but he's paying attention and trying. He makes contact when pitched to, he's more "in the group" than he was last year, and I even saw him move his body towards a ground ball. Whenever he gets stuck or seems resistant to an activity I put on my serious face and talk about how Major League Baseball players do these exact same drills, including hitting off a tee. He was skeptical, and I definitely saw tears brimming at the base of his dark lashes, but he proceeded to hit balls off that tee without a meltdown.
Even though we know a few of the other kids and families on this team, I decided to send an email last week about Oscar, to explain. I didn't do this last year, or the year before when Oscar played t-ball. I'm not sure why, though I am sure it has something to do with vulnerability and commitment and protection.
Here's the email:
Hi Mariner's Families!
I wanted to send out a quick email letting you know a little more about Oscar. As some of you may have noticed I've been shadowing Oscar at practice, and it is obviously not my baseball skills that drive me to do so. Oscar was born with a rare genetic disorder, Prader-Willi syndrome. PWS is a complicated disorder -- the hallmark of which is insatiable appetite. I know it's hard to believe since Oscar is rather thin, but his diet has been painstakingly managed since birth. On the field you'll notice Oscar's reactions and processing are quite a bit slower than a typical kid. It just takes him longer to do everything. He also stutters, perseverates and has some anxiety. I'd feel remiss if I didn't also add my (clearly unbiased) opinion that he is also an endearing and awesome kiddo that works so hard at everything he does. Baseball is challenging for him but HE LOVES IT. This is his second year in single A and he is so proud to be a Mariner.
Paul (my husband) or I will be with Oscar at practices and games just to make sure that his extra needs don't get in the way of other kids getting the coaching and play they come out for. Coach D (L's dad) and D (F's dad) have also both known Oscar for years.
We are happy to answer any questions you or your child may have about Oscar. We talk about PWS a lot and are very comfortable with anything that comes up. We also feel like kids are so understanding when difference is acknowledged. If your child has questions, here are a few things we often say with younger children -- Oscar was born with very weak muscles and he's worked hard to get stronger. Also, sometimes it takes longer for words to get from Oscar's ears to his brain and then back to his muscles (slow processing and reaction times). Oscar's brain gets stuck on an idea and it's hard for him to stop thinking about it (perseverating). And regarding food, Oscar's body doesn't know when he's full so his parents always give him the right amount of food to keep him healthy and strong. (insatiable appetite)
The only thing we really ask, for Oscar's safety, is that he never be offered or given food. We'll always be around too, of course.
Ok, in the end, not a quick email... Anyway, we're really excited about this team and look forward to a fun season!
Mary (and Paul, Abe, Oscar, Ruby)
My email set off a flurry of other emails. One from coach D to the team saying wonderful things about our family and Oscar, and Oscar's love of the game. I was really touched, and had that feeling I get sometimes that we have a whole army of supporters. I got several other emails, including one from another dad who coached Oscar as a t-baller. He said that he remembers Oscar's determination and success with hitting and that he was such a pleasure to coach. (I remember only my sleepy kid on the bench waiting for his turn to bat and my spacey kid sitting in the dirt at 2nd base watching balls go by...). The other Mariners' coach emailed to say what a great kid Oscar is and how glad he is that Oscar is out there doing what he so clearly loves. And finally, I got an email from a mom saying she's so happy her son is on Oscar's team, "literally and figuratively". Talk about getting it.
The point of this post, if I can finally get to it after so much rambling, is that I truly believe in giving people the information they need to interact with your kid with special needs. Over and over again, at school, at camp, and now at baseball, I am often initially hesitant to share but when I do I am stunned at the compassionate and thoughtful responses, first from the adults and then from the kids as they get to know Oscar and are supported by their parents, teachers, and coaches in understanding O's struggles.
It is hard to put myself "out there" in an email to people I've never met. Not because I am a particularly private person -- if you know me you know I am not -- but because it is hard to turn all of the attention onto our family. I feel bad clogging up strangers' inboxes. I question whether people want the full story. Perhaps I don't want to bias people against Oscar before they've actually met him. And yet, when I do share, the attention we get is the perfect kind. People in our community seem to be genuinely glad we are here and that Oscar is out in the world insisting on doing what he loves (baseball, clay class, Los Mapaches, zoo camp). And they genuinely like having the information so that they can help Oscar be successful too.
And so begins baseball season. Three very happy children and one grateful and busy mama.
Go Raptors! Go Mariners! Go Braves! Go Thunder! Go Cobras!