On Wednesday night, for the first time in his life, I went to sleep in my house and Thing 1 wasn’t there. We’ve been away together and I’ve been away without him.
But if I’ve gone to bed in our house, wherever that’s been, he’s been there.
It was a strange feeling and left me feeling like a huge line had been crossed.
The US influence
When we moved here nearly 4 years ago, Thing 1 was just 3 years old. Surrounded by mostly US families in the compound I smiled as I would hear him say things in an American way but with his little British accent.
As the years passed we adopted some of the traditions that our neighbours from across the pond celebrated. Halloween became a celebration on a whole new scale. We went to Super Bowl parties and have been to Thanksgiving festivities. The Things have learned to make s’mores round a campfire (in the desert) and I’ve returned to baking in imperial measures through recipe they’ve shared with me. Words like candy and trash and sidewalk are interchangeable with their British counterparts even though we live in neither country.
And the Things play baseball
At first it was T-Ball for Thing 1. I’m pretty sure it was mostly the snacks at the end that kept him coming back, but come back he did. We sat on the sidelines and watched our friends coach him through his first season. I remember being impressed that they could turn the disorganisation of a bunch of 4 and 5 year olds into something that vaguely resembled a game.
The following year we returned.
Friday mornings were no longer a day to lie in – we rushed out of the house to get him there on time. Thing 2, at the grand old age of 3, was furious that she was still too small to play so Mr Wanderlust bought her a glove and would practice with her on the sidelines when he wasn’t helping with the coaching.
This year Thing 1 was 6 at the beginning of the season. With the luxury of 2 seasons of T-Ball behind us, we had the choice to return to T-Ball or to “play up” to the next league.
It was a big decision. He would be playing with much bigger kids, no longer a big fish in a small pond. I saw the schedule and realised Friday mornings would get earlier and Monday evenings would get later. It would be a commitment from us all.
Once again, Thing 2 was infuriated
She discovered that, although she was now big enough to play, her idolised older brother wouldn’t be playing on her team. She spent the winter following in his footsteps, swinging at a ball on a tee.
On her first day one kids threw a ball at her and she put her glove out and caught it. I’m not entirely sure she even meant to catch the thing. It’s entirely possible, knowing my daughter, that she had simply decided to pretend to be a butterfly at that exact, serendipitous moment. Nonetheless, the field erupted (even I gave a shout), she looked around surprised and parents rushed over to congratulate me on having such a talented child.
I hastened to point out that I was pretty sure it was a fluke but I’m not sure who believed me. Needless to say she proceeded not to make a catch for several weeks and I felt vindicated, if slightly disappointed, with my assessment.
The other parents and I sat on the sidelines of the soccer fields where they played, watching these tiny people attempt some semblance of a game. We stifled laughter as the group of Things stood in the outfield, staring at the sky while a ball rolled past their feet. Sometimes a Thing would just get bored, sit down and start picking the grass while play continued around them.
We all exchanged glances while at least 7 Things all rushed towards the ball when it was hit. Several times a game they would crack heads and so some degree of parental first aid would have to be administered. And we all fell about laughing when Thing 2 ran to first base only to discover one of the kids from our street on it. They ended up having a long chat and the kid forgot to tag Thing 2. Thing 2, in turn, had to be reminded to run on to second base when the next ball was hit.
But for all the chaos, once again I found myself impressed at the progress that they made in just a few short months.
Back to Thing 1
Thing 1 thoroughly enjoyed the season despite the fact that the hallowed snacks had made a mysterious disappearance.
From a personal perspective, I had been a little taken aback by the change. Gone was the laid back, joking atmosphere. Gone was the tee and gone were the snacks. Here, apparently to stay, was batting practice, running drills and games on the real baseball diamond. The kids wore proper uniforms, helmets and cleats (football boots for the uninitiated).
As shocked as I was, he loved it even more.
Towards the end of the season, an e-mail arrived and I’ll admit that I all but ignored it. Asking for interest in something called travel ball, the message explained that the Things needed to register their interest in going to Kuwait to play in a tournament there.
Knowing that Thing 1 is the youngest in the league, I wasn’t sure there was much point in applying. While I didn’t deliberately not talk to him about it, I closed the email and promptly forgot all about it.
Until the coaches brought it up at practice one evening. I wasn’t usually at practice, since Mr Wanderlust had even been sucked into the whole thing and was now coaching both Things’ teams.
But he was travelling and my heart sank as I heard them mention the tournament realising I’d forgotten to talk to Thing 1 about it. After the practice he asked me what they were talking about so I, the complete baseball novice, started to talk about travel ball.
What’s travel ball mummy?
Apart from explaining about what it was and what it would involve (which is hilarious now I think about it – I had NO idea what it would involve), I laid it on – possibly a bit thick – about Thing 1’s age. “You’re very young for this team,” I explained. “You’ll have to try out and lots of these kids are really good. It’s very possible that you won’t get picked.”
He still wanted to try.
Knowing all about his chances to not making the team, my Thing, who hates failing at even the tiniest of things, wanted to try.
We chatted to the coaches. Explained his interest and that we were managing his expectations.
As it happened there were enough places for the Things who wanted to go.
And that’s how my Texan born, British nationality, third culture kid ended up going to Kuwait to represent Qatar in a baseball tournament.
A baseball “mom”
I had no idea what we had got ourselves into.
A schedule for the 2 weeks between the end of the season and the tournament was circulated. We were jumping to 3 or 4 practices a week. Before the regular season even ended, there were suddenly extra Thursday night practices.
I watched them hitting ball after ball in the batting cages. We sat for hours as they did catching practice or played long, 2 hour games. They spent time discussing tactics and strategies.
We all felt the pressure of time – preparing them for a tournament we weren’t sure they would be ready for.
I wondered how this had happened. Last year I had a kid in T-Ball. Now I was standing around talking to other parents while we watched practice under the lights on the field. I arranged carpooling with other families to take the pressure off and had snacks and meals ready at random times of the afternoon and evening to sustain my little Thing.
I had had no idea what we were getting into but suddenly I was a baseball mom. This was a whole new level of being an expat mum!
Away from home
He went with Mr Wanderlust, high on the excitement of a boys’ weekend away. “We’re going to eat breakfast, AND lunch, AND dinner. All together. As a team.” he told me excitedly, parroting the way the coaches had told them about the plans.
Pictures came through from the airport. The Things and their dads standing in front of the yellow teddy bear clutching the Qatari flag. Selfies from the plane. Then a video, already after his bedtime, telling me all about the hotel and where they were going for dinner.
For all that my control freak tendencies threatened to overwhelm my worry of how an overtired Thing 1 would handle the weekend, I couldn’t ignore his beaming smile that came through on every picture.
Reports came through from Mr Wanderlust and on the WhatsApp group and from fellow parents who had stayed behind.
2 matches were lost, 1 badly but they were still in good spirits. Then a good game – a win! Videos of my little Thing hitting the ball and running off to a distant first base. Then a low – a bad game and some yelling. My little Thing was getting a lesson in hard coaching.
I knew he must be exhausted.
I waited for updates on the last game on the last day. He struck out and was crying. So worried about striking out he was scared to even swing the bat. He’d lost his nerve.
I could feel his disappointment through the messages. I knew he’d hate to be letting his team down.
And then the message came through. “He just got a hit and the relief is incredible.”
I watched the video and could hear all the other parents willing him on, calling words of encouragement and then screaming with joy as he got the hit and ran off to first base.
So where am I going with this? How is this relevant on a travel and expat blog?
Well… When we knew they were going to Kuwait I had mixed feelings. When we were kids we were lucky to travel to the next town to play sports. (Who am I kidding? I didn’t do sports!) And that was at secondary school!
These kids were 6, 7 and 8 and travelling for 3 nights to play against other countries. They were travelling to Kuwait because it was the only place they could play against each other given there’s a political blockade that’s still ongoing nearly 2 years later.
It highlighted the difference between our Things’ childhoods and our own. Between our Things’ childhoods and those of our friends’ Things.
But wow, wow, wow. What an experience. I have no idea what he will remember about that tournament but I know I’ll remember it for the rest of my life and I wasn’t even there.
A different kid
When he got back, late last night, I crept downstairs to welcome them back and his little face lit up. He met me halfway and gave me a bear hug. As I took his hand and led him up the rest of the stairs it felt different. I’ll measure him later but he feels bigger.
Whether or not he has grown in the last 4 days is irrelevant.
He arrived back walking taller and full of confidence. He’s been hanging out with older kids all weekend. He’s had some incredible highs and a few lows. He’s learnt an enormous amount in a short amount of time. He’s made progress with his baseball skills and learnt what it is, what it really is, to be part of a team. We’ve all discovered what it is to be on the receiving end of dedicated parents who will take the time to coach our kids to be the best they can be.
I know I go on about this a lot but it is so easy for us to spend time worrying about what this expat experience is doing to damage our kids. Well, this was an incredible experience that he wouldn’t have got living anywhere else on the planet.
I wouldn’t change it for the world but there’s no denying that a huge line was crossed this weekend and it’s a strange feeling.