When I was a kid, 6th grade to be precise, my mom and dad were friends with a couple who had two sons: Tyler and Tucker. I didn’t know the boys well because they were in high school, but I was intrigued when they were around as any kid wondering about the great land of Teenagedom and all it held would be.
Tucker was the younger of the two boys. He babysat my brother and me a few times, and, while I rarely heard him speak in a large crowd, I remember that, with Geoff and me, he was funny and fun. He’d order pizza for us, and we’d play games on our computer—a Commodore 64.
I’ve always been quiet, but, inside, I’ve felt loud. Back then I remember thinking that under the right circumstances, I could be lively and funny, so I liked when Tucker babysat Geoff and me because he was proof that quiet people are interesting too.
Tyler was a senior when I was in 6th grade, and in my 12 year-old-opinion, seniors in high school were the coolest of the cool. He was a baseball star, too, and I could be lying, but I remember that Tyler’s senior year on the baseball field wasn’t a very successful one. I don’t know this because I went to the games, but I remember hearing bits and pieces at the various barbeques we’d go to. “Not hitting well.” Or maybe it was, “In a funk.” One thing I remember well is my mom coming home after Tyler’s last baseball game of his high school career. She was in the kitchen pulling food out from the fridge for dinner, and she told me about the game. She said she sat next to his mom. She told me how nervous everyone was when Tyler got up to bat. She said Tyler’s mom sort of whispered a prayer for him; that for this last time, he’d make contact with the ball.
At this point in the story, you want to know if Tyler hit the ball, but I don’t remember what happened. I could find out in about five seconds. I know my mom remembers. I could look up Tyler on Facebook and send him what would surely be a really awkward message about a 1988 baseball game.
But my memory ends with my mom sitting next to Tyler’s mom on the bleachers; my mom helping keep watch while her friend anxiously watches her boy stand at home plate, his bat in the air, waiting for what comes.
I do not understand why I remember the things I do, but this memory has kept me company as I stand on the soccer field sidelines and watch my girl Hadley play goalie. I do not know if Hadley is any good. I do not know if she has potential. What I do know is she wants to play goalie, so my husband, Jesse, and I take her to practices, buy the equipment she needs, and we stand on the sidelines and watch her.
I don’t know if Jesse gets these comments, but when people find out Hadley’s playing goalie, they’ll often look at me and grimace. It’s similar to the look I get when I tell people I’m a middle school teacher.
“Yikes,” they’ll say, “that’s so much pressure.”
The worse comment, the one that makes me fantasize about throwing punches, is this: “She can’t make any mistakes.”
I imagine my mom sitting next to her friend at Tyler’s baseball game when I hear people tell me that my daughter isn’t allowed to make mistakes. I don’t know what my mom said to her friend, or if she said anything that day, but I’ve been her daughter for almost 40 years now, and I don’t believe she said, “Boy, it’s really gonna suck if Tyler doesn’t get a hit. I mean, this is his last game! Is he even going to play in college? No? So this is it. Man, this must be so hard for you to sit here and watch.”
First, she’d never use the word “suck,” and if she’s reading this she’s not going to be happy I’ve given that word for her to say in this story. Second, I think my mom probably hollered out, “Go, Tyler!” as he walked to the plate. She’d probably take a nervous breath or two, maybe elbow his mom in the side and say, “You, ready? Here we go!” She’d say it loud, because my mom is loud, and something about her volume makes people brave.
Tyler’s mom, who I think is more quiet, like her younger son Tucker, would nod, not taking her eyes of her son. This would be my mom’s cue to look with her. No matter how nervous, no matter how afraid, no matter what mistakes he would make, they’d watch.
I think the reason I don’t remember what came next is because it makes no difference to me. What matters is he gave it a shot, just like Hadley is giving it a shot. What matters is a mama and her friend kept watch, just as I am doing for Hadley. What matters is my mom told me about it later, standing in her kitchen while she prepped ingredients for something magnificent she would surely cook for dinner.
I snatched that memory, stowed it away, and pulled it out when I needed it. I need it now while I stand as close to the goal as I can get without breaking a rule, watching my girl standing with her hands out, her fingers splayed apart, her knees slightly bent, waiting for what comes.
“I love you, Hadley!” I want to scream. “Make mistakes!”