Just as school is drawing to a close, and parents are relishing the thought of a three-month reprieve from educational duties - no band concerts to attend, no homework to check, no spelling words to memorize - sports season rushes in to fill the void.
For my daughters, the sport is softball. On the evening of the first practice, we rush out the door: "Is your homework done? Have you practiced your clarinet? Hurry up, we don't want to be late."
I sit back and watch the practice. The girls tentatively talk with one another as they toss the ball back and forth. They exchange names, ages, schools. Off the field, their parents are doing the same - sharing morsels of their lives, a little at a time, like good chocolate that you can't eat all at once.
And then, suddenly, it's game day. Everything is new: clean uniforms, freshly mown grass. Neat chalk lines clearly mark foul territory. Summer is a promise in the air. Parents sit on metal bleachers, eating hot dogs and cheering for their kids.
The first game is a disappointment. The second is worse: Emily gets hit in the leg with the ball. Sarah strikes out - twice - and cries all the way home. Despite urgent coaching from the parents - "Throw it to first! To first!" - and wild gesticulations, the girls can't quite get it together. The parents sit resigned, wincing at yet another strike-out.
We go home. Dusty uniforms; grit between my teeth, in our shoes, in the house.
My husband writes a little "L" next to the game on the schedule on the fridge.
But at the third game, the team comes together. Adrienne hits two line drives. She barrels to first, and only after she's called safe does she meet her father's eyes and grin. Megan gets the ball from third to first in record time. Angela makes a play at second.
Suddenly this group of strangers has become a team. Suddenly, I remember why I love softball season.
I love the crack of the bat against the ball. I love the roar of the parents and the little tears that gather in their eyes as they watch their daughters make their first hit. Best of all, I love the confident smile on a young girl's face as she makes it home.
Like spring flowers, these girls blossom before our eyes, a little at a time, bending their necks up to reach their full height, turning their faces toward the sun.
I watch the girls as the game draws to a close. They march down the field, shaking hands with the other team. The picture is precious: unadorned faces, bright smiles, tanned noses, and skinned knees. Also chewed nails, tousled hair, and complete confidence in themselves.
We head home, the girls chattering a mile a minute in the back seat. My husband writes another little "L" on the schedule on the fridge.
But in my heart, I change it to a "W."