There was a moment at National's Park when I took a second to celebrate getting at least one aspect of mothering right.
Esme walked into the bullpen with five baseballs and a clear goal of pitching the ball over the plate. She watched a number of people throw before her - adult men who pushed the speed clock close to 70 mph and young boys who pitched runaway balls over the protective nets and into the crowds. She saw weak throwers pitch from the grassy midway point and the strong-armed wind up from some 60 feet back on the sandy mound.
With few exceptions, the older women and girls threw from the grass, while the men and boys strode up to the sand to pitch.
Esme took her balls from the volunteer, walked to the grass and set them down by her feet. She turned around, eyed home plate and threw. The first ball covered the distance easily but strayed far right of the plate. The second edged a little closer and the third seemed perfect to my non-baseball-knowing eyes. She picked up the other two balls and walked back to the sand, doubling the distance required for her pitch to reach the plate.
A noise rose up from the crowd of onlookers, a murmur of acknowledgment that this, this walking to the sand, was a gutsy move by such a small girl.
"Whoa!" the man in charge of the event said. "Right on," I thought to myself.
She threw the last two balls: one of them managed the distance, the other fell short. But none of that mattered. Not really. What mattered is that she's confidant in her own strength, believes in the athleticism of her body and is courageous enough to test it. She's not cowed by gender norms or limited by fear or even inexperience.
We're not a baseball family. We don't watch it on TV, play on any teams or even throw a ball around in the yard for fun. When someone hit the ball from home plate while we were waiting for our own crack at bat, Desmond shouted "Goal!" Clearly, we were out of our league. But even that didn't stop Esme, Josephine and the others from testing themselves at bat and in the bullpen of a major league park.
The kids stood next to a North Carolina lake this past weekend and watched Kent and I swim an open-water race. A former collegiate swimmer, Kent did the 2.4-mile swim while I competed in the 1.2-mile distance. The kids know their father relishes this kind of swim; they also know I'm terrified of these races despite having completed a number of them.
"I hope you don't have any anxiety," Tobias told me as I walked back from my umpteenth trip to the bathroom before the race. The anxiety… it wreaks havoc on my belly.
I like to think they see this. See us challenging ourselves - our minds and bodies and mortal fears - and it inspires them to swim, bike, run, stretch, jump, climb, sweat, fall down and get up again. To keep moving, moving, always moving.
The kids crowded into a dressing room at a local triathlon store while I tried on racing suits for the upcoming Half Ironman. When I pulled on the first suit and stepped back to look at myself in the mirror, Josephine nearly gasped. "Mommy, you look STRONG!"
"I AM strong," I told her.
A friend recently shared a story by a woman Cross Fitter that had some take on "Strong is the New Skinny" in the title. It's not a new concept, right? I mean, I've heard it before and it's always kind of irked me because it strikes me still as a way of fixating on how our bodies appear to other people rather than what our bodies can do for us.
I'm all for being strong, I'm just not caught up with whether you think I look it. It's terribly complicated, really, because, I do like looking fit. I just like being fit even more.
I care if I can swim an open-water race, brave the strong currents, laugh at the waves and thank god as I pass one buoy, then the next, for the strength of my arms and legs and lungs. Ever mindful, always grateful.
I care if I can balance on my head, ride through the countryside powered by my own legs and beat the shit out of a would-be attacker.
I just don't much care whether my body pleases you or not.
I care whether it can hit a pitch in a ballpark in front of my kids - it can! - and whether that inspires them to challenge their own bodies. It does.