A couple of weeks ago, our phone rang right after dinner. On the other end was a voice belonging to a 7-year-old boy we know.
"I was wondering if you could come to my baseball game this Friday?" he asked.
He'd recently started practicing with our town's Little League baseball team, the Middlebury Meteors. That Friday they'd be playing their first game, against the Cornwall Cougars.
When a 7-year-old asks you to attend his first baseball game, you go to the game.
And this was a smart boy, too; he knew that by inviting our family, he'd be stacking the bleachers with four pint-sized cheerleaders. Four for the price of one phone call -- not a bad deal.
My daughters were enthusiastic. It's not hard to get them excited about things, especially if I promise that they'll get to sit in their portable folding chairs (one of the best Christmas gifts we've ever received -- seriously). As it turned out, game day was also a no-school day, so they spent "nap time" up in their room, making signs that read: "Go! MiTull Berrye Meteers!"and the like. I packed the signs, some pom-poms we had left over from a Middlebury College hockey game, snacks, and the aforementioned folding chairs into our van. Thus equipped, my cheering squad set off for Cornwall and the baseball field behind Bingham Elementary School.
It was a grey, blustery afternoon, and the stands weren't exactly packed -- just a handful of players' family members. In fact, as the visiting team, we didn't have stands at all, so we set up our folding chairs (best Christmas gift ever!) on a narrow strip of grass behind the team's bench. This allowed my daughters to heckle the players they knew throughout the game, which was an added bonus.
And how was the game itself? Well, I'm not entirely sure; I was mostly busy fetching snacks, resolving disputes over who got to hold the pom-poms, and keeping an eye on the baby. But what I saw was impressive. After just a handful of practices, players on both teams could hit the ball (it looked like they were given five chances to hit it from the pitch, after which they could hit it off of a tee), run the bases, and catch the ball. In other words, it resembled a baseball game.
What interested me almost as much as the game was my daughters' enthusiasm for cheering. This was their first baseball game, so even with my occasional explanations they had very little idea of what was actually happening on the field. What they did understand was that we were there to support friends. And since making noise is a talent that all my daughters share, they supported their friends very loudly -- by name, whenever possible.
I think the teams played four or five innings, and there was no final score, so I can't tell you who won. Nobody seemed to care; winning wasn't the point.
Back at home, reflecting upon the game, it occurred to me that cheering is an often overlooked but deeply important life skill. I'd even argue that the ability to cheer -- to show up for other people and root for them, without agenda or jealousy -- is probably tied to happier lives and healthier relationships.
Yet it's a skill I frequently forget to nurture in my own children. I tend to focus instead on which activities to enroll them in, the better to identify and develop their individual talents. That's certainly an important role we parents can take in our children's lives, but if we do so at the expense of teaching them to step out of the spotlight and cheer for others, then we're creating a society of self-centered performers. A culture in which all the world's the stage and nobody's in the audience sounds pretty lonely to me.
This is something that the Middlebury Meteors' coach, JP Rees, already understands; at the end of the game, he gathered his players together and led them in a cheer for the Cornwall Cougars.
All of which is to say: If you know somebody who's going to be performing or playing or reading or exhibiting -- especially if it's a 7-year-old in Little League -- show up and cheer.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.