Yesterday, our church family held its semiannual picnic at one of the big parks nearby. This is always one of our family's favorite events: good food shared with our favorite friends in beautiful surroundings. The kids always look forward to the softball game afterwards in which everyone is invited to play, from the youngest child who can barely hold a bat up to the oldest grandpa who needs someone to run the bases for him.
For some reason, I was just exhausted yesterday afternoon, so I went on home when the game started, leaving John at the park with the kids. After the game, John spent some time hitting tennis balls with John Mark and his buddies while the little guys ran around. When John finally went to claim Nathanael, he found him still at the ball field. Our preacher and two other men were his pitcher, catcher and outfielder, and Nathanael (6) was just nailing one ball after another- whatever they pitched, he hit. "That's really unusual for a child his age!" they told John.
Nathanael came running into the house to find me: "Mom, mom, can I play baseball?" I told him football was about all we could handle this year. Then John had to explain to Nathanael why our family generally doesn't do sports: sports really are not "family-friendly" activities.
We made this decision several years back. When John Mark was about Nathanael's age, we signed him up for T-ball for two seasons, and then he played Upward basketball for one season. T-ball was definitely the more time consuming of the two, with a practice every week plus at least two nights of games plus tournaments on weekends, and this was just for T-ball: little kids who could barely hit a ball on a stick and who barely understood that they were supposed to run around the bases! We realized that there was no way we could do sports for all of our children. They would all be playing on different teams due to their different ages, and we would be away from home every night of the week and weekends taking them to practices and games. We also observed that there were a number of families at church who were unable to commit to leadership, teaching or service responsibilities because they spent their weekends traveling across the region for games. John and I decided that it just wasn't worth it. We made the decision to pursue activities that multiple children could participate in together, so our children do 4-H, AWANAS, Children's Chorus, and things like that instead. Even John Mark's Boy Scout troop is family-friendly, because they are all homeschooling families. The rest of the family is often invited to come along on their outings.
In all fairness, we did realize an upside to the sports experience: John found that if you really want to make connections within a community, coach a kids' ball team! We met many people this way, and John still has parents come up to him and tell him what a positive experience their kids had as part of his T-ball or basketball team. Even so, we had to put the needs of our family first, and we got out of sports.
This decision definitely makes us oddballs within our sports-centered culture. "What do you mean you don't do sports?" people ask. They worry that we are not allowing our children to develop their full potential. Our doctor wonders if our kids are getting enough exercise. "Take away their gameboys and it's amazing what kids will do with all that free time" I tell the doctor. My kids don't have a gameboy or a PS3 either. We are definitely oddballs.
We made an exception to our "no sports" policy this fall when we found at that the church at the end of the street would be hosting all the Upward Football practices and games and the season would only last for 8 weeks. That sounded do-able, since the kids could walk there by themselves- plus we really like the Upward program. I will breathe a sigh of relief, however, when the season is over in two more weeks. After spending every weekday homeschooling the kids, I need my Saturdays back!
So, I don't worry too much about Nathanael and the possibility that he has some great talent that we are not developing. If God needs Nathanael to play ball, then God will make it happen without asking us to sacrifice the rest of our family in the process. Besides, as the youngest, it may be that down the road, Nathanael has opportunities that his older siblings did not receive. That's the way it is with the youngest child; I suppose it is a delayed reward for enduring years of hand-me-downs, the bottom bunk, and having to sit quietly during older siblings' concerts, speeches, and award ceremonies. One day they get it all back, plus some. God will take care of it.