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Lessons in Parenting, Baseball, and Optometry

Lessons in Parenting, Baseball, and Optometry

I am the mother of two boys. Their father, a high school athlete, was ecstatic about the prospect of sharing his love of sports with his son, as his father had with him. We decorated the nursery in a sports motif. As fate would have it, our older son has zero interest in sports- and an aptitude to match. He played a few seasons of bitty league baseball, but only until he was old enough to realize he had a choice.

My younger son is a little more interested and just finished his second year of baseball. He was even on the post-season “all star” team. This is mostly because the league needed my husband to help coach, however, as my little boy was not an all-star level player. I cringed from my camp chair on the sidelines, as he swung and missed approximately 19 out of 20 pitches, or missed catching a ball by a good two feet. But he had fun playing, and when he hit the ball in his last at-bat of the season, I was that obnoxiously loud-cheering baseball mom.

As parents, we project. When I felt sad for my son, who was obviously having fun despite his struggles, I was thinking of my own youth. A stereotypically unathletic bookworm, I was always chosen last for teams in gym. It would come down to me and the class “fat kid”, and since that kid was a boy, he usually made the cut first. And it was deserved; I was not only uncoordinated but also uninterested, oblivious in the outfield, scanning for shapes in the clouds or drawing pictures in the dirt with the toe of my shoe. But it seemed somehow worse that my son was failing at something he appeared to enjoy.

Little did I know, my baby couldn’t see the ball.

He had been prescribed glasses a year ago for mild nearsightedness, approximately equivalent to 20/75 vision. Because it was “mild”, and because glasses are fragile and expensive, he did not wear them during games. Then I took him to the optometrist for his annual exam last week. After the exam, the optometrist got the “concerned doctor” look on his face: my son’s vision has significantly worsened over the last thirteen months, to a degree beyond that which would be expected and normal. It is now more like 20/225. He needs further examination by a specialist.

I am not in a panic, yet. My husband had a similar pattern in his childhood. He had thicker and thicker glasses every year until he was put in contacts at age ten (he was the youngest patient his doctor ever fitted for lenses, in hopes it would slow the progression of his myopia). While it is not a good thing, it is not necessarily indicative of a serious degenerative problem, given that hereditary situation.

But I started thinking of the disappointment I felt for my son in his inability to excel at baseball. I had simply concluded that he lacked talent, and that was that. Of course, I would cheer him on and encourage him as long as he was interested, but, I assumed, the writing was on the wall. I pigeonholed him as “not an athlete”, just like me. Knowing now that it is quite likely that his vision was at least partially to blame for his trouble is a humbling reminder: our kids are not just small versions of ourselves.

I now wonder in what other ways I have projected my own characteristics and shortcomings onto them. One that comes to mind is math. I hated it, and I struggled with it. My children both get their lowest grades in math. Rather than consider whether a different teaching method or other intervention could help them succeed, I have internally thrown up my hands and decided math is going to be a struggle for them. In math, and in baseball, I have unwittingly conceded my children’s defeat.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. I fancy myself the type of parent always on the alert for my children’s areas of interest and talent. When I see it I find ways to help foster and develop them. Both are talented artists, particularly the younger one, and I encourage them and provide supplies.  My older son is teaching himself to code, and has already made a few simple video games. I take him to kid’s coding classes and I got him on the school robotics team. My assumption that my son is, like me, “just not a ballplayer”, without considering other things that might be impeding his progress, is definitely a parent fail.

I am not saying that once we get his glasses (and a pair of sports goggles, for fall ball), he will suddenly become the star of the team. But at least I will know that it is not me and my preconceived notions holding him back.


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Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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12 thoughts on “Lessons in Parenting, Baseball, and Optometry

  1. We get our kids’ glasses through BJs. We pay a modest fee for a warranty, under which replacements for broken glasses are $15. We have made good use of this warranty. We also worry much less about glasses being worn while playing sports.

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  2. My father gave up playing catch with me when I was quite young because I couldn’t catch the damn ball. Some years later, we were having a Coke at a local store and he noticed me squinting. He turned his head and saw a sign. “What does that sign say?” he asked. “What sign?” I replied. “That sign over there.” “There’s a sign over there?”
    The next day, I went to the optometrist, who said I was basically blind as a bat (currently about 20/400). We used to get eye tests in school, so how come nobody noticed before? Because of the alphabet, I was always seated near enough to the blackboard to make out the teachers’ large writing. What about the eye tests? Before the first one, I had to visit the school nurse on another matter. I sat beneath the eye chart, bored out of my mind. I spent the next several minutes looking at it and making up nonsense words from the chart. When I came in later that year, the nurse asked me to tell her what was on the chart. Nobody mentioned that it was a vision test and I assumed she wanted to know what was on the chart for some damn-fool reason and couldn’t be bothered to check for herself. Although I couldn’t see it worth a damn, I knew the nonsense words I had created and, being a polite and helpful kid, informed the nurse what the chart said. So no one ever knew I couldn’t see.
    Every so often, my father would get maudlin about the whole business, probably believing that he had blighted my young life by giving up on playing catch when I couldn’t see.
    I still can’t catch.

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    • Glad to know it isn’t only me who didn’t realize that they wanted to know if I could *see* the letters, not guess at them based on other context.

      In my case, I went through years of vision improvement (including needed surgery), and multiple eye professionals including at the regional children’s hospital, but never actually experienced 20/20 vision until my regular optometrist retired and the new young guy *told me* not to guess if I wasn’t sure. I was thirteen.

      He also got me into contacts which allowed me to understand what regular people experienced with peripheral vision. (I’d be legally blind were I not correctable, so my non-contacts peripheral vision is very limited.)

      Revelatory. I went around for weeks exclaiming at the improved resolution of the world.

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      • One of my crackpot theories is that, given enough time, everyone with glasses will eventually try on everyone else’s glasses. A law school classmate set her glasses down beside me at an outdoor concert and I tried them on. She was nearly as nearsighted as I was. I knew she didn’t wear contacts, but most of the time she didn’t wear glasses, either. I could never comprehend how she could wander around so seriously nearsighted most of the time when she didn’t have to.

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  3. Bug is not one for team sports, largely because he is a huge fan of Calvinball without knowing what that is exactly. I don’t push it much. I wasn’t much for team sports either, but that was because I didn’t have the natural talent others did. It took me a lot longer to learn how to catch and throw than my peers and coaches were not that patient.

    I did much better with individual sports, where I could take my time (slow is smooth, smooth is fast). Especially when it came to martial arts, where I had a strong motivation to get good at it (to make the bullies seriously weigh the pros and cons of trying to get physical with me again).

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  4. Way back when school tests did not pick up my near sightedness. My parents detected it when we went to NYC to pick up my grandparents from a cruise and I could not see the letters (first letters of last names where folks congregated) So it was to the eye doctor right away, but of course this was 6th grade so I had by then given up on sports.

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  5. It is difficult sometimes to know something isn’t right with eyesight when the kid in question doesn’t know there is something wrong.

    I had a lazy eye as a small kid. Eye patch for a while and two years of corrective glasses at which point the doctor thought that it was sufficiently treated that it would go away of itself.

    Which it didn’t. But I never noticed there was something wrong because it was my normal and it wasn’t really visible from the outside so my parents didn’t notice either. I only found out there was such a thing as double vision and it wasn’t normal when I had a eye test for my driver’s license and couldn’t pass.

    For which I will still blame my parents every time I have to sit three hours on public transport to visit them.

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  6. Somehow I missed this post when it first was posted, but it’s quite good and insightful. Thanks for writing it.

    On mostly a tangent, I played little league for two years and hated it. There were a lot of reasons, but one reason was that I could never hit the ball. I got a few foul balls and maybe one or two air balls that were quickly caught, but never one bona fide hit that got me on base. The reason wasn’t my eyesight, or even that I was afraid of the ball (even though I was afraid of it). It was, I now believe, that even though I write left-handed, I can’t bat left-handed. The (very few) times I’ve played just-for-fun games, and chose to bat right-handed, I had a much better chance at hitting the bat. For some reason, my coaches never thought to suggest I change hands. That would probably not have made me like the sport any more, and I still would have been afraid of the ball, but I wouldn’t have been the “easy out unless you hit him or get four balls” person.

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