Throwing like a girl

At the dog park with my daughter Johanna and Lexee, my border collie mix, I raise my arm to toss a worn tennis ball. Lexee races ahead, and I release the ball. It drops and rolls along the walking path like a bunt going nowhere.

"Mom, you throw like a girl," Johanna says.

Lexee picks up the ball and trots toward us, panting as well as she can with the ball in a death grip between her teeth. She sits in front of me.

"Drop it," I say, trying to pull the ball out of her mouth.

She refuses to let go.

"Let me throw it for her." Johanna says, bending toward the dog. "Drop it." Lexee drops the ball, and my student athlete, who has played softball, basketball, and even powder puff football, heaves the ball toward the next state. Lexee bounds across the former cow pasture full of clover, black-eyed Susans, and thistles. She returns and drops the ball at Johanna's feet.

"Will you teach me how to throw right?" I ask.

Johanna shakes her head and laughs.

That night - jealous of my own child - I ask my husband, Ken, "Will you teach me how to throw?"

On Sunday, Ken and I head to the dog park with Lexee. We stake out a corner of the park away from other dogs on their weekend outings.

"First, you need to know how to catch," he says, holding the ball so I can see it. I hear the echo of his dad teaching him as a youngster in the backyard.

"I don't want to learn how to catch," I say. "I only want to learn how to throw."

"OK." He sighs the same way he does when he's almost at the edge of patience with our daughter.

He shows me how to grip the ball. Thumb underneath. Two fingers gripping the top like a peace sign from the 1960s. He demonstrates proper form and stands back about 30 feet. "OK. Throw."

I let the ball go. He tries to catch it, but it swings wide and falls short. Lexee fetches it and lies down in the shade of a tall spruce with the ball between her front legs.

"Where were you aiming?" Ken asks.

"Nowhere," I say.

"You have to aim."

"Why? Lexee will go get it wherever it goes."

Ken stands behind me and works my arm into position. "See that bush over there?"

I nod.

"Try to hit it."

"It's too far."

"That's OK. Just throw toward it."

I get the ball from the dog and aim at the bush. I throw, and the ball bounces off a nearby oak. Lexee has fallen asleep under the spruce.

Ken gets the ball and tosses it toward me.

My voice reveals my irritation. "I told you, I don't need to learn how to catch." I follow the ball until it rolls to a stop.

Ken coaches me some more. How to stand. Where to look. How to follow through. As he talks, I realize that he is describing the motion I've seen baseball pitchers use on the mound.

"Are you teaching me how to pitch?" I ask. "I just want to learn how to throw."

Ken puts his hands on his hips. "Pitching and throwing are the same thing."

The next week, Ken and I take the dog back to the park. I concentrate on my throws. Elbow high. Let the ball roll off my fingers. I even try to aim. We take turns throwing the ball for the dog. She chases every throw, but she always drops the ball in front of Ken.

"I'm doing better," I say. "But I need more practice."

The look on Ken's face tells me he's already done his duty - as both a dog owner and a husband.

The next week, I take Lexee to the park by myself.

"OK, Lexee," I say. "It's just you and me."

I aim toward a bush and throw the ball. It goes short and wide.

Lexee chases the ball, brings it back and sits in front of me, still holding it in her mouth. I offer her a dog treat, and she drops the ball. I pick it up and throw it in a different direction.

I was right. She chases the ball wherever it goes. And I can tell she's having fun. Between throws, her long, pink tongue hangs out the side of her mouth, and she looks as if she's smiling.

I'm sure I still throw like a girl. But that's OK.

I am a girl.

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