“Mom. I’ve decided that I want to play baseball in college. It’s my dream.”
This came out of my rising senior son’s mouth, early this summer, after his first few games with his new Legion baseball team. This was not the plan.
I am a planner ahead-er. Especially when it comes to my children. So throughout my son’s high school career, I’ve gently teased out ideas of what college might look like for him. What his dream would be. The long and short of it was this: A big school with great sports teams, near a city, with a lot of diversity and opportunity, and a strong Business School. We knew he wasn’t D1 baseball material, and so playing ball at a large university wasn’t really on the map, even though I know how much he’s loved the game, all the way back to T-ball, buck teeth, and a scrappy little mop of blonde hair.
It was time for him to spread his wings and see what else there was out there to love. Plus, he’s been raised in a small mountain community in NW Montana, unlike the Chicago of my youth, and the New York city of his father’s. We were excited for him to start playing the field of life, not just the field of and around the baseball diamond.
“Just think—you’ll have a regular spring, for once. You’ll have extra time to be able to expand academically into new terrain, and enjoy what college life has to offer.” He seemed copacetic. Relieved almost. And frankly, it was a relief for me too– I’ve logged a lot of hours on those baseball bleachers, and he’s logged a lot of hours on that diamond and in those dug-outs. It would be a good step for us all. Because how could I pass up being in those bleachers as much as possible, even if it meant a long road trip. Heck, in Montana, we’re used to those—all for the love of ball. I was privately happy to put it in the rearview mirror.
And then that day in June… “Mom, I love this sport. I love the kids who play this sport. I’m good at it. I want to play in college. I don’t care if I don’t have as much of a social life. My team will be my social life. I don’t care if it’s not some big university near a city. I’ll play D3. I just want to play baseball.” Out of the mouths of not-so-babes.
I’m a mother. Far be it from me to stand in the way of my child’s dreams. And what he said was all true. He’s a talented leftie pitcher, and a great first-baseman, and a spirited team member. He never ever complains about any of it. He takes it as the Hero’s Journey that baseball is: The call to leave home, go out in the world, and come back, more the wise, despite some scrapes and losses along the way. As of this June, he just wants “to play baseball.” I remembered a seventeen-year old girl who just wanted “to be an artist.” So I Googled D3 baseball colleges: Small. Liberal Arts. No Business major. Mostly rural. And very…very expensive. Plus, they don’t offer athletic scholarships. Huh.
I quickly learned that on top of it all, the kids who get recruited for D3 sports, have been going to recruitment camps for years. They’re on the coaches’ radars. They know all about scholarships and are in touch with Financial Aid departments. They have their lists in place and have toured campuses. They’ve met with Admissions people. Just when, I’m not sure. Surely not in the summer. They’re the Boys of Summer– they’re playing baseball every second of every day—eighty-eight games! And if they play other sports, not then either. AND, the cherry on top of the top: it all has to be done Early Decision or Early Action…by…drum roll: November 1st! That’s in a matter of months! And the cherry atop the cherry on top: my son is the quarterback of the football team. Just when are we supposed to visit campuses? If he misses a practice, he misses the Friday game. How does one fly from Montana to Pennsylvania, and upstate New York, and Ohio, and Minnesota, and Oregon, have a proper visit during the school week, and make everybody happy? Never mind pay for it all?
We were late to the party. Very late.
This is not my style. Usually…I’m throwing the dang party. How could this have happened? How could I not have at least seen the potential of this coming our way and had a back-up plan in place? How could I make my son proud, and make it through this without guilt, shame, the feeling of less-than, the feeling of failing him? I hadn’t been able to save the marriage from ending, or keep his father from moving thousands of miles away, or his friends from moving, or his sister from taking an internship far from home this summer. I hadn’t been able to provide a house full of action and fun like it used to be. In fact, in the last five years, I’ve been working all the time. Leaving him home alone. Leaving him to cook his meals and fend for himself– the opposite of what I would ever have opted for as the mother to my son. I was not going to fail him this time. No way.
And so it began. The baptism-by-fire SAT sign up and tutoring, the college essay boot camp, the virtual college advisor meetings, the recruitment videos and the camps in Long Island and Oregon, the Common Application. I’ll save you the stress of it all, and me the blood-pressure spike, but suffice it to say that on top of my full-time job leading writing retreats in Montana, and a book deadline for a novel I’ve been working on for a few years, as a single mother, I was now scrambling to put together a schedule that would be do-able. For all of us. Not perfect. But possible. And all before November 1st. Deep breath.
But the breathing is shallow at best.
I am smack dab in the throes of it right now. And here’s what I’ve learned: You can’t be perfect. Even with the best of intentions, as a mother…you’re just going to fall short sometimes. Even with your heart and soul and mind as sharp and on it as possible, there are times as a mother of a college-bound child when you are going to look around and say, How did I get here? I didn’t mean for this to happen. I was trying so hard. I was doing my best. And my best…well, it just isn’t good enough. And you’ll look around at the other mothers, and somehow, they are at the party that you didn’t even know existed. They are seasoned party-goers, with gracious hostess gifts, and the perfect, in this case, little red-white-and-blue jersey, and ball cap, with the proverbial stadium seat sporting their son’s soon-to-be alma mater’s mascot.
And you’ll feel small, or wrong, or just plain bad. And you’ll find yourself crying in bed in the early hours, or lying in the dark with heart palpitations, and the feeling of true hopelessness, desperation even. You were the one that dropped him off on his first day at Montessori with a backpack full of black-eyed Susans for his teacher, with a loving note. You were the one who lay in bed with him every night reading him Ferdinand, and Mike Mulligan, and Dr. Seuss, who sang him Lullaby, and played This Little Piggy, and taught him how to make homemade ice cream. You were the one who drove over mountain passes for any number of baseball and football games—and that one time when he missed the bus, and you drove six hours to drop him off at camp, and turned around and drove six hours back. You were that mother, yes you were. You promised him you’d give him the very best of you. And here you are failing him in his, to date, biggest opportunity, his biggest dream. Because…what if he doesn’t get that scholarship money, and what if you can’t swing it to get him to more than three of those schools so he doesn’t even know where he wants to apply early, and what if what if what if…well, what if his “dream” doesn’t come true?
I know the answer. He’ll be okay. We will all be okay. First world problems. But still…this is one of the last things we can do for our kids—shepherd them into their next chapter, and the first one far from home. We’ll see what happens in November. We’ll see if he’ll get that golden ticket, and he’ll open that letter and smile, and nod, and fold into my arms in happiness and relief. We’ll see if we get that moment of, “We did this. This dream is going to come true!” But even if we don’t, I have to believe that regrets are never really teaching tools. We will always fall short somehow. We’re mothers. There is no A+. There is only the very best we can do. Even if we are late to the party. Especially…if we are late to the party. Because here’s the bottom line: There is no party. It’s really, in the end, just the Hero’s Journey, after all.