Encouragement for life -- from a woman surrounded by it. These excerpts are from Simply Living, a privately syndicated weekly column, dedicated to preserving the joy – and the sanity – of modern family life. If you are interested in publishing Simply Living, please contact Caroline Schermerhorn at: scherm@ee.net.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Just a Game

“It’s just a game, Honey.”Unbeknownst to me, I’d just uttered nearly fatal words. Though I didn’t know it, our relationship, our future marriage, and the creation of our children hung in the balance at that moment.We’d just spent the evening playing cards with some friends. It wasn’t even cards… it was UNO, for goodness’ sake. Had I realized my sense of teamwork was being put to the test, I probably wouldn’t have giggled when I dropped multiple “Draw Four” cards on my own beloved team mate and future spouse. Had I known I was being scrutinized for my strategic ability to shake a fifty point loss, I don’t think I would have asked for another beer. And if I’d had any notion that I was being weighed for my ability to someday raise sons who recognize a game as opportunity to excel in life, then I most certainly would not have patted him on the cheek and said, “It’s just a game, honey.”Fortunately, whether it was by my youth, my coy femininity, or my kitchen skills, he married me, despite a brutally weak rating in the “competitive” category.Fast forward eighteen years. I’m spending Memorial Day weekend in the bleachers at the North Newark Little League Memorial Tournament. The season is half over, and it’s been a rough one.Ours is a brand new team, one year out of farm league. With only ten guys in the dugout, coach doesn’t have a lot of room for strategic benching or creative field management. Every guy, every swing, every catch – and every mistake - counts. Sometimes too much, I think. For goodness’ sake, they’re only 10 or 11 years old. Why must so much ride on a game? I shrink when an inning is wrapping up, and my boy steps up at home. Two outs, bases loaded. He’s waited what seems like hours to get this turn at bat. The success of this inning weighs heavily on his ability to get a good piece of the ball and speed to first base. He wants like crazy to please his teammates, his coach, his friends… and with Dad in the stands, there’s naturally electric undercurrent of wanting to please the old man. The boy is, quite literally, “stepping up to the plate”.Another kid stands on the mound. Equally young. Equally aware of his chance to become an evening’s hero.The stands momentarily hush as he takes the ball, works into his wind up, and releases it into the batter’s box. The bat is swung, the ball’s in the air, and everyone scrambles to the next base. Our boy dashes safely to first, grinning all the way. But a cloud of dust reigns out over second, and the ump makes what turns out to be a controversial call.“Out!”The stands release the pent up emotion of the moment, as a bunch of parents rise up in the stands and declare the boy “safe”. Wasn’t the ump watching? Didn’t he see what happened? How dare he miss this call – it’s too important!I don’t envy this ump: a seventeen year old boy who has come up through twelve years of Little League. He’s grown up on this Field of Honor. Twelve years of play have taught him the rules and developed within him a fine sense of impartiality. He does his best to call a fair game. He saw what he saw. He knows the value of authority. And he’s not backing down. This kid stands on the other side of the fence, faces off against a group of parents, strong in their united outburst, and makes his decision like a young officer in battle. The call stands.Wow. That’s when it dawns on me: It’s not just a game.