Yesterday's softball game started like any other we've had so far this season. Julianna practiced with her team before the game. She went up to bat the first time, was able to hit the ball off her coach's pitch, run to first. It was pretty typical, and I was still very proud of her for getting out there and participating with a real team. But then things changed the second time she went up to bat...no runners on any bases, other team up by 10 runs...
She was able to hit the first pitch, but the ball flew up near her face, which scared her and she began to cry. Her coaches came to her aid, and Joel and I encouraged her to try again from the bleachers. As this was going on, the other coach ran out to huddle with his team. I just assumed he was getting a few minutes in with his team while Julianna was being helped. So, once Julianna was ready, she hit the ball again, after a few pitches. And suddenly, the pitcher, who had played well the whole game, seemed to have trouble getting the ball, and Julianna was safe. We were proud! It's not been uncommon for players to do this because they want Julianna to get to first, and I'm totally fine with that. But then she overthrew the ball, so Julianna ran to second base with her assistant coach at her side. We were even more excited! This doesn't happen often! And then suddenly, all the girls on the team were having trouble getting the ball to the bases. So Julianna ran to third, and by this time, my excitement instantly changed to sadness. Joel looked at me and asked what was going on. I told him, "They're doing it on purpose!" And instantly after I said this, I put my head down and began to cry, covering my face with my hands. I could feel the other parents staring at me. Joel began to show some irritation toward the umpire, who apparently thought this little home run was not a good idea, and she smirked and rolled her eyes at the other team's parents. I never saw Julianna run over home plate because I could not stop crying. All around me, I could hear some cheering, but also a lot of confusion, like people weren't sure what just happened, or why. I couldn't control the tears, and had to step down from the bleachers and walk away to regain my composure. I'm sure most people thought these were happy tears. But they were not happy tears...
So why would I feel this way after just witnessing my daughter with special needs get her first home run? Simply put: she didn't earn it. It was given to her, like a gift of charity from the other team who wanted to do a good deed. No doubt the coach wanted to teach his girls to show kindness to someone who is different. And I know that that is a very noble thing to do. It might make him feel like he's created one of those movie moments, where everyone in the crowd is touched by this kind act of selflessness. And I am certain some were. But you know what? Not every kid gets a home run, special needs or not. And if they do, they earned it, fair and square. That's when the real magic happens.
Julianna has earned every single skill she's accomplished thus far in her life, and most have been through tears, tantrums, and screaming. She's learned things that I thought she would never learn. Riding a bike is a perfect example. Joel taught her to ride about 2 1/2 years ago, during the winter break after Nathan was born. At the time, we both thought we were crazy for even trying. She clearly lacked motor skills and coordination. But Joel didn't give up on her, and neither did I. She did it, it wasn't handed to her. We didn't give in and buy some special bike that attaches to an adult one because we assumed she would never learn, and believe me, I had already looked into this option. We simply believed in her. And she did it, and it was a breakthrough.
I guess people don't see my child this way. They don't see that she has amazing potential. That coach has no idea how much progress she's made during this season. He only saw that she was a little shy and uncomfortable and needed help playing. But the fact that she is playing at all is so huge for our family. And that she's hitting the ball by herself, real hits. That's what we celebrate. That's what brings me joy. What she does, not what is given to her. We want to teach her to fish, not just give her one. We want her to be treated like the other girls on the team. What this little home run did was only accentuate her differences, while some might not have even noticed any before. Her teammates might not look at her the same now. Even her teammates have never gotten a home run! Not one single girl this entire season on any team has scored a home run! So why did this coach think he needed to do it for Julianna?
I acknowledge that one of the purposes of special children is to help others learn to show charity. In fact, that's exactly what this coach did. He taught his players how to be selfless and show kindness to a child that might not always fit in with the other girls. I completely respect that. However, because Joel and I had no idea it was going to happen, and neither did anyone but the girls on the team, it created a strange feeling in the crowd. It was like we wanted to cheer, but it was only half-hearted. At least that's what it felt like to me. How can you cheer when you know it's not real? Maybe if Julianna functioned clearly at a much lower level, and we all knew that this moment was meant to bring her joy and excitement, but Julianna is very high functioning. She has been playing just fine, hitting the ball on her own. However, don't get me wrong, I do feel grateful for the kindness of this coach. I would have appreciated him letting our team's coach know and then he could get our approval before doing something like this. Then at least we could have been prepared.
After I gained some composure, I went to talk to Julianna's coach, and he said, "Some home run, huh?" as he rolled his eyes. I could tell he was not happy they did this. And my tears began to flow again. The other coach disagreed, and said it showed good sportsmanship, and will help her try harder because now she's experienced a little bit of success. I told them that I didn't want anyone making things easy for her, and that I just wanted her to be treated like the other girls. I didn't want her to be singled out, or babied. I wanted her to earn everything she gets, and that the other coach should have approved this with them, and her parents first. The head coach agreed, and I had to walk away in tears again.
While crying behind a tree, one of the moms from our team and also a member of my ward at church came over to see if I was okay. She told me we were amazing parents for having the courage to put Julianna on a regular softball team, and that other people are learning so much from this experience. She told me not to worry about that mean umpire, but focus on how this home run might have made Julianna feel. Until this point, I had only really considered how it made Joel and I feel. But once I thought about Julianna's feelings, I realized she was right. Does how I feel, or Joel feels, really matter at all? Yes, I think to a degree. But what matters more is how Julianna felt in that moment, because this moment was mostly created for her. So once I regained my composure again, I was able to ask Julianna how she felt when she got a home run. She said she liked it, and didn't say much more than that. Not the answer I was looking for, but this is typical Julianna. She's just going through the motions of the game. I think she knows she got a home run, but really, it wasn't that life changing for her.
At the end of the game, Joel told me our coach didn't make a big deal about Julianna's home run when talking to the team and parents. This made me very happy to hear. He knows that she didn't earn it, and the other families from our team know that, too. One of the moms from the other team came over after the game and said she took a video of the whole thing, and asked if she could send it to me. I agreed, and thanked her. I haven't watched it yet.
I guess what I've learned from this experience is that I still have lots of hope and faith in what Julianna can do. That's why I wasn't happy that this home run was fabricated for her. It would be different if I knew she would not progress more than a certain level, but I know she will continue to progress. And I also learned that when she is singled out like that for being different, it really hurts me, deeply. I know she is different, and has challenges, and I guess seeing her being singled out only reminded me again of how people perceive her. I know people will not always understand her, and will do charitable things, and that is fine. But as her parent, I have a completely different view. I know she is capable of doing and learning many things, and I have pride and joy in seeing her accomplish them. I will try my hardest to help her learn everything she possibly can. And when she does, these will be the movie moments for me, because they will be genuine. And as for her, maybe she had her own movie moment while running those bases. But I will never truly know, because she often cannot communicate her feelings.
Regardless, Julianna doesn't need to get a home run for us to be proud. All we care about is that she does her very best. What she has done during this softball season has been inspiring to us. Only two more games left...we can do this!