When I was thirteen, Dad beaned me in the groin with a softball.
It wasn’t on purpose. If it had been, I would be writing this from a foster home (no way would I have put up with clearly an example of abuse and lack of coordination). But there’s a point to this story, and it begins with my earliest recollections of trying organized sports.
I was a chubby child, although not because I was sedentary. I swam every day of summer and played sports all through the winter, and I’m pretty sure with all of the time I spent outside in the sun I am due for a big bag of basal cell carcinoma any day now. But after all of that time basking in the glory of Apollo, I would dive into a burger with French fries soaked in ketchup, and then have a gelato. I showed no mercy, and in return, the carbs thanked me by making me a chubby kid with glasses. I wasn’t the only one with this issue in my family. My sister and brother fell prey to the same victims. I think they’ll kill me for saying that. But this is my blog, I can say whatever I want.
But there was also another issue with me: not only was I a bit of a chubster to the point where I was inclined to steal pieces of cinnamon twist bread and hide it in my bedroom drawers (i’m not kidding), I was also a musical theatre nerd. And when I say nerd, I mean total freak. I would sing showtunes in the bathroom, in the shower, in bed, in the kitchen, in the basement, everywhere. It got to the point where I would be halfway through an impassioned rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream”, Susan Boyle style, only to be interrupted by Jenna’s howls of “WILL YOU PLEASE JUST SHUT THE HELL UP?!?”
Obviously, this kind of alternative lifestyle usually doesn’t mesh with ‘national championship-winning and soon-to-be Olympic coach of a basketball team’. So I played sports. Badly. I tried hard. But I was awful. In soccer, I would run and kick the ball, but when I came out in a substitution I would flop down on the grass in Kennedy Field and look up at the burgeoning stars, trying to find constellations. I would run into the woods and play with spectator’s dogs. In basketball, I ran like a fat kid running for the ice cream truck (read: slowly) and my idea of a defensive stance was limpidly putting my hand out as the other, faster girl sped right by me.
The first time I played organized sport was basketball. I was 8 years old and I was the only girl on my club team at our local YMCA. I shot with two hands. The only basket I made the entire year was a free throw in our final game. I resolved from then on that if I sucked at everything else involving basketball, I would be a great shooter. Like Pete Maravich, but without every other good skill that the Pistol possessed. I watched videotape of him and Oscar Robertson obsessively. I spent hours in the backyard trying to perfect my shot. When I finally got the hang of it, I turned into a scoring machine. I would get playing time simply because I knew how to shoot the ball. In my rec league I was voted MVP twice. The middle school team that hadn’t taken me in sixth grade now wanted me as backup point guard. Life was good. Even the snide comments about me only making the team due to my last name didn’t faze me (after bursting into tears in the bathroom, naturally).
Eighth grade was my banner year for sports. I averaged around 5 points a game, and in one of my prouder athletic moments I hit three three-pointers in a row during a highly attended game near the end of the season. Unfortunately, Dad wasn’t there to see it. Recruiting’s a bummer sometimes. He’s made up for it by attending nearly all of my plays and musicals, even the ones that I expressly tell him not to come see because, in my words, “It sucks and you’ll hate it.”
But I had a point in here somewhere. The story of the softball.
As I said, I loved my eighth grade year athletically. I played basketball and loved it, but I wanted something more challenging, something I wasn’t used to. So I tried out for softball, and to my utter shock, I made the team after a tryout that had me attempting my best Kit Keller impression from A League Of Their Own. My brother played baseball for travel teams, and he and Dad would have a catch every day outside during the spring. I decided this was a good time to get some practice in, so I asked Dad if he could alternate a softball and baseball.
For the first twenty minutes, everything went well. My dad would throw the baseball to my Mike, then the softball to me, and we’d take turns throwing the ball back, with only three instances of us accidentally throwing at the same time, causing Dad to duck and cover like there was an impending air raid. Then, my brother stopped paying attention, lost control of his glove, and got whacked in the leg. He burst into tears. My dad began laughing. “Oh, calm down! It wasn’t that bad! Suck it up!” I giggled too, because I was a horrible child.
God must have heard those giggles, because ten minutes later, I get socked in the left leg, just below groin area. Immediately (after making sure I would still be able to have children), I remembered what happened to my brother, and I sucked wind, let out a groan of pain, picked up the ball and threw it back to my delighted dad. He pointed to me. “See? See, Mike? That’s how you deal with something.”
I’ve never forgotten that. Ever since then, when life gives me something horrible, I give it a moment of grief, and then I deal with it. My father, if he hasn’t taught me anything, has given me the gift of grit, gab, and stubbornness to a fault. He taught me to push through hard times and live confidently, even if I didn’t always feel confident.
My brother’s response wasn’t as revelatory. After Dad ripped him and and praised my courage and fortitude during the aforementioned epic softball-hitting incident, Mike walked over to me, ripped his baseball glove off, and smacked me upside the head with it.
Dad shook his head, Mike ran into the house gesticulating wildly to the grass, trees, and dandelion weeds about how he had been done a grievous wrong, and I grabbed at my head and finally started crying.
I still tell this story to my parent’s friends. And every single time, Dad loses his mind with laughter.
I guess the sight of your children inflicting bodily harm on each other as a result of your lessons about self-reliance can be regarded as amusing…
Oh hell, I think it’s hilarious too. But like I said, I’m weird.