Mistakes

At the ball field near our house, my children run as only kids do—they airplane, zoom, skitter and stalk, pretending to be T Rex or just plain Rex.

To them, it’s simply another place to play.

Then one morning I went for a walk, stepping onto the same diamond—alone. Suddenly, I was seven.

In a quiet moment, touch your toes to the patina dusting home plate. If you played baseball or softball, you will remember:

The sense of wielding a bat too heavy—brushed aluminum muted by rubber.

Squinting at the spinning blur of a ball.

Thump. Crack. Pop or Thud.

I yearned to play shortstop. It seemed romantic, that dancing between bases, never tied to any one spot. I was, instead, out in left field—praying the softballs wouldn’t come my way. Inevitably, the specks would drop from the sky like stitched leather bombs. And I had reason to be afraid. My brother once hurled a baseball that grazed the top of my glove and smashed my lower lip.

Still, in the fourth grade, all my friends were on softball teams. I can picture the photo: Orange jerseys, sunburned faces, me in the first row—peeking from under my cap. My mother stood beside the team, looking so young, brushing back wisps of hair.

I didn’t step onto a field again until I was in my mid-20s—at a company softball game. It was the early days of a doomed relationship. As I stood next to the New Boyfriend—a former ballplayer for the University of Miami Hurricanes—I heard a Thwack. The ball arced over to left field.

Up, Up, Up, and then Down, Down, Down.

I closed my eyes, turned my head, and tried to catch it. With the wrong hand. The bomb landed squarely on top of my naked right thumb. One smashed joint, and, a few days later, a surgical drill and three metal pins. Yet on that Sunday afternoon, on that ballfield in Fort Lauderdale, I didn’t make a sound.

I wasn’t brave. I was embarrassed.

I called my brother. “You never could catch a ball,” he said.

It seems I was less afraid of the ball than I was of making a mistake, any mistake. Today, I look at the three-inch scar on my hand. Will my kids forgive their own imperfections as they grow up? Unlikely.

Because children understand truth in a way only children can: Even though everyone says it’s all just a game—that you’re out there to have fun—everyone really will be disappointed if you mess up.

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