Last Saturday, I attended my sixth Redwood Empire Little League Softball Jamboree and my fifth RELL baseball Jamboree. To be precise, I attended the baseball one, figuring Nick needed me more (Bobby had to work, so I was in the tough spot of choosing one over the other).

I shivered in the drizzle, happy I had the foresight to wear shoes other than my sandals, but sad I forgot to pile blankets in the car – you’d think I’d have this routine down by now. As usual, the foray back into Cutten jars a bit after several months off. At the baseball field, the men are all in the Man role and the women are all in the Wife role and ne’er the twain shall meet. Gas might be $3.35 per gallon, but the parking lot remains dominated by SUVs and trucks. Big trucks.

It’s all very Not Arcata.

And I don’t care. Even the lame version of the national anthem didn’t bug me. I’m happy to see all the people I only see during these months, to catch up with them, be amazed at how much bigger all the younger siblings are. I love watching the games – agonizing as witnessing the kid of the moment strike out or pop fly or miss the steal might be. The thrill of a good play – the pride I have in my kids for being so much braver than I ever was as a child – makes up for all the anxiety.

I love the familiarity of the fields, the ritual of the introductions, of picking up the uniforms, of angling for the “right” number. I get a kick out of the goofiness of the kids, the brisk efficiency of the moms, the way some of the dads get all puffed up on behalf of their kids but try to control it, not be too emotional. Sure, as the season goes on, the parents will start to complain about the umpires and criticize every decision the coach makes if our team should fall behind, but right now, with the lousy weather and the jovial greetings, it feels like Spring As It Should Be in Cutten.

Missing Kaylee’s introduction wasn’t a big deal – but missing her grand slam was. Her team played a full game, which departed from tradition; normally on Opening Day, they simply bat around the batting order. I had to take Nick to Big Five before his “game” – which was just a bat-around – so I ducked out for part of K’s game. During that time, she hit a triple with the bases loaded, the player on the other team missed the throw, allowing Kaylee to make it home! (Yes, technically not a grand slam, but at this point, the difference is only a technicality and one we can live with.)

Over a Nick’s game, I watched huge kid after huge kid saunter up to the plate. These are all 11- and 12-year-olds, but most of them outweighed Nick by 40 lbs. and most of them stood a head taller – at least from my point of view. Nick just moved up to the majors this year. When his skinny little self (and I’m speaking from a mother’s point of view, obviously) went up to bat, terror filled my heart. What if he struck out? What if he had a weak hit? He cares so much about this – I couldn’t stand it if his first at-bat disappointed or embarrassed him. First pitch – and did I mention, the other kids looked like giants? – Nick hits a huge foul. I was impressed with the height the ball reached, which reassured me for a moment. Until – second pitch! And a strike. Oh no oh no oh no… And then, on the third pitch, Nick smacked the ball past second base and made it safely to first. Hallelujah.

Finally, Chelsea delivered a perfect bunt in her game, allowing the runner on third to score and beating the throw to first. Being fast is her specialty. I wished a big hit for her, but it didn’t happen this game. She did get to field, though – a relief, since last season, for some reason, the number of balls hit to centerfield was near zilch. I’m so glad she’s playing. Since she’s 17, this is her last year (and she’s only allowed to play this year because they changed the cutoff date). Although she complains about practice and the time the games take from whatever else she has going on, I know a part of her loves this, needs this. She’s in her sixth year of softball, fifth year on the same team. Being there is tradition, family, community.

Watching them play engages me completely: pride, love, thrill, anxiety, relief, encouragement, confidence. The lessons they’ve taken from playing matter.

Yes, chauffering the kids to practices and games is a pain and horribly impractical – the time this all takes up interferes with work, surfing, shopping, everything. And yet, I love it.

I will love it even more when I remember to bring blankets.