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We Don’t Have to Be Superhuman: A Big Lesson From My Daughter’s Little League

6 minute read
Heather Lanier is the author of the memoir, Raising a Rare Girl, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice now out in paperback.

Here’s a portrait of a miracle: My very small 10-year-old Fiona stands at first base. Bright red, plastic orthotics poke out from the tops of her sparkly silver sneakers. She’s laughing. She’s waiting for a batter. A volunteer is by her side. My hands are not the ones helping her tiny fingers fit into a glove. My voice is not the one explaining that in baseball, you throw the ball, not kick it. For the next 45 minutes, she’s in someone else’s care, enjoying a new community. And I get to watch from afar.

The fact that this is a miracle is a testament to how much we’ve endured this past year. Most states agree that people like us need support. Fiona has developmental disabilities. But like so many families, we became islands unto ourselves, going it alone for as long as we needed. After a year of at-home ABC worksheets and speech therapy Zoom links and very long nights of work, here I am at last, vaccinated and at baseball for kids with disabilities: our first social outing in months. I could weep right beside the chain link fencing.

My younger daughter and I sit on the grass, six feet from a woman in a lawn chair who basically becomes my best friend because she’s the first person I’ve met in a year. One of her kids toddles up to bat, and we chant his name. He axes the tee like a log, watches the ball roll a few inches, then scurries to first base. We roar in victory. Her second child swings, propels the ball several feet, and then hustles directly for third. We laugh and cheer.

“Oh my God,” my new best friend says. “This is the best.”

There’s no aggressive defense here. Volunteers help field, so nobody swipes a fast ball toward first base to out the charging toddler. And each kid has their own style around the bases. One skips. Another pushes his walker. Fiona jogs, her face beaming at the spectators as we clap and chant and cheer. This league was formed to support every athlete’s flourishing. At home plate, the coach offers each kid whatever they need to succeed: a big plastic bat or a metal one, a tee or a gentle pitch or a fast ball.

Everyone gets what they need to succeed. That sentence is the antithesis of the past year.

Heather Lanier and her daughter, Fiona.
Heather Lanier and her daughter.Courtesy of Heather Lanier.

As a mother, I needed help. My husband and I needed breaks, ones that didn’t have to involve more work. I’m grateful that our isolation kept us safe, but to truly flourish, we needed respite. This only comes from community—from the ability to lean on others.

We live in a culture that likes to believe in the Superhuman, in the almighty powers of the individual. We encourage mothers to make superbabies when they’re pregnant: pipe Mozart into their bellies, eat vitamin-rich organic foods. We hear hour-long podcasts on how we can “hack” our way to an optimized life, squeezing more activity into less time. We applaud self-proclaimed “workaholics” and employees who never take a sick day.

Parenting my daughter, Fiona, has made me wary of our culture’s worshipping of speed and productivity. She was born with a genetic code for a slower developing pace. She’s taught me that the pursuit of becoming Superhuman is not a virtue. It’s a trap. It asks us to deny our humanness—our vulnerability and our tenderness, our mortality and our need for naps.

The pandemic taught us this, too. We had to live more intimately with the reality that life is filled with uncertainty. None of us is immune to being human. We can, without notice, be brought to our knees. The fact that we often aren’t is itself another miracle.

When we live intimately with this reality, I call it being “ultrahuman.” It means being honest about our vulnerability, and letting that honesty soften us. It’s where I found myself in the first months of my daughter’s diagnosis, holding a tiny baby with so many questions about her future.

Read more: There’s No End in Sight for COVID-19. What Do We Tell Our Kids Now?

It’s where I find myself again at the baseball league, cheering on each athlete. When I clap and hoot for every player, I’m celebrating our shared humanity, for how right it feels to need each other. The athletes need the volunteers to play, and I need the volunteers to take a moment of rest, and Fiona’s volunteer later tells me he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else today. He needs this too—he used to play in this league as a kid. I’ve found myself in a circle of connection. It’s an experience I’ve missed so much my body almost aches to receive it again.

When we worship the powers of the individual, we not only exclude people who simply can’t go it alone—people who need helpers in the field and accommodations at home plate. We also rob ourselves of the opportunity to belong to each other. And for true flourishing, we do in fact need each other.

As we sneak out of what was likely the hardest year of this pandemic, can we take a cue from my kid and her baseball league? Can we quit trying to optimize our lives? Can we remember that we were never meant to be Superhuman? We were meant to be ultrahuman, reveling in the miracles of ourselves as we are: able to swing at a ball and sometimes hit it. Able to run—or skip, or wheel—around the bases no matter the direction. And building communities that help all of us flourish. I’d like to celebrate more of that. The simple miracle of our ultrahuman lives, together.

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