Swinging for the Fences: April 2011

With all three of my children having now been featured, this week’s missive from “the vault” returns to Emily. The thirty minutes highlighted below took place on a spring afternoon nine years ago (almost to the day). For the record, Emily’s baseball career was over before it started, but I’d like to think that lessons learned extended to her other pursuits. In any case, I’m sure we’ve all experienced “ruts” since being confined to our homes.

On days when the weather has permitted outdoor play, we have fallen into a familiar pre-dinner routine at the Norry household. I ‘take the mound’ in our driveway, pitching batting practice to each of our three kids. Every ten minutes or so, a ball rolls down our steep hill, never to be seen again, but living on Landon’s campus has provided us with a seemingly limitless supply of tennis balls.

Yesterday, Will (age 9) had his best showing to date, belting the majority of the 18 balls across the street and into the neighbor’s yard (defined as a “home run” in our game). We refilled the bucket, and then Kate (age 5) stepped to the plate. After swinging through (and, frankly, not coming close to) the first 15 pitches, she then hit two in a row. I still don’t know how it happened, but she was ecstatic.

Emily (age 7) then took her turn. Given her place in the batting order, and the fact that I forced her to change out of her ballet shoes, she began in a foul mood. Her disposition didn’t improve after the first bucket: 0 for 18. Buckets two, three, and four yielded the same results – not even a foul tip, just 72 swings and misses. In our household, Emily is known for her perseverance, and this was certainly on display yesterday afternoon.

For my part, ever the helpful and supportive dad (and overlooking the fact that my career batting average in high school was less than .200), I offered a new piece of advice or instruction after every pitch. “Swing level.” “Extend your arms.” “Take a shorter step with your front foot.” “Watch the ball hit the bat.” (This one must have been particularly perplexing to Emily, since the ball was, in fact, definitely not hitting the bat). Needless to say, none of it worked.

Five balls into bucket #5, I changed my tactic. I told her to smile. She refused. I made a funny face and she giggled. I sensed that some of the tension had evaporated.

She hit the next pitch. 77 misses, followed by a bouncing ball that would have been fielded easily by a second baseman. It was enough. She swung through the rest of the bucket, but it didn’t matter. She had done it. It was now permissible for us to break for dinner.

Perhaps Emily’s success at this exact moment was a coincidence. To be sure, it does not constitute a statistically significant sample. Still, her hit forced me to consider that my advice was not nearly as helpful as I might have thought. Emily performed when she felt relaxed, happy, and loved.

All of us, including our children, find ourselves in ruts from time to time. Many of you have contacted me at various points, frustrated that your child is not embracing your words of wisdom. The next time your son or daughter is in a rut, consider an unconventional approach. Get them to smile. Make them laugh. Maybe they’ll hit a home run.

Doug Norry
Head of School