Sunday, August 28, 2016

Keeping Score

This summer, one of Alex’s favorite pastimes has been watching baseball. Fortunately, his favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, has put together an amazingly successful season that has made them fun to watch. Every day, Alex checks to see what time the Cubs are playing and what television station is broadcasting their game. As much as he enjoys watching the games, he has also shown remarkable flexibility. For example, if he has someplace to go or something else to do, he doesn’t get upset about missing the game. If the game runs too late in the evening, he will go to bed contentedly, knowing that Ed will tell him the final score of the game the next day. Alex even handles losses (which are thankfully less common than usual this season) pragmatically, repeating a quote Ed has taught him: “Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose.” The only thing better than watching the Cubs win so many games this season has been watching Alex’s enthusiasm for baseball and his favorite team.

Earlier in the summer, we took him to a vintage baseball game at nearby county park. Wearing old-fashioned uniforms and playing by 1858 rules, the players entertained the spectators as they made barehanded catches on what was once an old farm field. Not only was the weather perfect, but Alex’s behavior was also perfect as he followed the game intently and enjoyed himself thoroughly. Once again, he showed the progress he has made by being able to sit calmly and focus on an activity with many people around him. While most people would take this kind of an outing for granted, we savor these family times, grateful for the opportunity to do something fun without worrying that Alex will become overwhelmed by the experience.

In fact, Alex had such a good time that we decided to take him to another vintage baseball game a few weeks ago. This game was played at another park in a neighboring county, the site of a former grist mill. As with the previous game, Alex was engaged in watching not only the baseball game but also casually observing the other people attending the game, listening to the variety of their voices. With the snacks I had brought along for him––an orange Gatorade in one hand and a bag of Fritos corn chips in the other––he was the picture of contentment. We didn’t think things could get any better than that.

After a couple of innings, we took him out to the old-fashioned scoreboard, where my dad, who has kept the scoreboard for a few years, was sitting. Of course, Alex was pleased to see Grandpa, but he was also fascinated by the big box of wooden blocks with numbers painted on them to keep score. Shortly after we arrived at the scoreboard, one of the players scored a run. Instead of putting up the new score himself, my dad handed Alex a wooden block with a number and asked him to place it on the scoreboard. Before I could give reasons why Alex couldn’t do that seemingly simple task, he had proven my unspoken doubts wrong and already put the new score on the board. Moreover, he was pretty pleased about being the interim scorekeeper.

As Alex’s mom, one of the mistakes I often make is enabling him and being too quick to do things for him, knowing his various limitations. Partly because I always want to help him and make his life easier and partly because I don’t want him to get too frustrated (and truthfully partly because it’s faster and easier to do things myself), I often jump in and take over when I should at least let him try to do things on his own. I would have never thought to let him put the number on the scoreboard, fearing that he might drop the number and get upset, thinking that his hand tremor would make lining up the hole of the wooden score block on the small peg impossible, and deciding that walking out on the narrow raised deck might make him nervous. Fortunately, fathers don’t overanalyze situations as much as mothers do, and grandfathers even less so. Without any worries, Grandpa gave Alex a chance, and his confidence gave Alex the courage to try and to be successful.

In an interesting twist, this game was one of the highest scoring games ever, which meant that Alex had to keep changing the score numbers. Following Grandpa’s directions, Alex took the old scores off the board, handed them to Grandpa and took the new score block and hung it on the scoreboard. Although he needed to be reminded which team earned the run so that he placed the number in the right spot, Alex never faltered as he lined up the wooden number blocks on the scoreboard pegs. While that simple task may seem nothing major to most people, because I know how much Alex has struggled with the simplest of fine motor tasks, I was amazed that he did so well.

Moreover, Alex was pleased to have a chance to participate in the game by keeping the scoreboard. After all, numbers are one of his favorite things in the world and combining them with baseball made it perfect for him. As the three of us praised him for what a good job he was doing, Alex beamed with pride. He had learned how to do something new, and I learned something, as well. Instead of thinking about his limitations so much, I need to be willing to allow him to try new things more often. Although he may not always succeed at first, he might surprise us and take to the new task as easily as he did with keeping the scoreboard. To deny him the chance to try is to deny him the chance for joy in knowing that he can do something himself.

Before the summer ends, we’re planning to take him to another vintage baseball game. I don’t know whether he’ll want to help Grandpa keep the scoreboard again or not, but at least I know that if he shows interest in trying, we will certainly encourage him. As Alex has learned, life is more than winning and losing or succeeding and failing; the important thing is being willing to try. Unless we allow him to attempt things that may be difficult for him, Alex will never know the satisfaction that comes with being able to succeed.

“You will succeed in whatever you do, and light will shine on the road ahead of you.” Job 22:28

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