Liv has had a sore shoulder off and on all summer. We figured it was that she was so athletic. She had been on the swim team and then practiced her pitching for hours at a time so that she would be ready for freshman tryouts.
I don't know about where you are, but here...softball is played in the Autumn in high school. Odd, I know, but Liv saw it as a plus. She could play for her high school in the Fall and her summer league too.
I knew that her shoulder was hurting. She kept saying it was no big deal, but she favored it, was gentle with it, cringed if you hugged her on the left (she's a left handed softball pitcher) side.
I finally sat down with her and made her come clean. She said that yes, it hurt, a lot. But, she'd just made the team and her coach was impressed with her pitching, told her that he planned to have her be the main pitcher for the jv team. She felt that if she just kept icing it, it would be fine.
I disagreed, took her to our family doctor. He said that it felt inflamed to him and prescribed prednisone for a week. It seemed to work. As long as she was on the prednisone. As soon as she stopped taking it, it started hurting again. Liv suggested to me that she just take the medication during softball season. I told her that this was not going to happen and took her to see a sports medicine specialist.
He took an MRI and I was shocked when I saw it. The growth plate in her left shoulder had not even attached yet, was still growing and it had several tiny fissures in it. I'm not a specialist, but it was obvious that this was not normal and I told him so. He educated me. Most children's growth plates grow together by the time they are fourteen, but Liv's was "a little tardy," Her growth plate looked more like a twelve year old one although this was not unusual. Children grow at their own rates. But, she had stressed it so much that that the cartilage in between it was almost constantly inflamed and the growth plate would warp and not fuse properly if she kept straining it.
Liv shrugged. "So, I just need to do some special exercises or something, right?" she asked, hopefully.
He and I looked at each other over her head. Soberly.
"No, Liv," he told her, gently. "It means that you must rest this shoulder for several months. Completely. And then we will re-visit the situation. Once your growth plate is back to normal, you will do some physical therapy and then, and only then, will you be able to play sports again."
Liv's olive face went pale. "But," she sputtered. "But, I HAVE to play softball. I'm the PITCHER! I LOVE softball! How many months will this take?"
He told us that it varies. Some healings take place in just a few months, others up to a year...."
Liv looked first incredulous and then furious.
"A YEAR?! Skip sports for a YEAR?" she said, tears starting in her eyes.
He nodded. She went completely mute, looking at the floor, fighting hard not to cry. I talked with the doctor for a few more minutes and then we arranged to come back in three months for another look at her shoulder. In between, she was to rest it completely.
She said nothing on the way home but I prattled on enough for both of us. I told her that some doors close to let others open. I felt sort of like an asshole spouting these platitudes, but couldn't think of any other way to handle it. I told her that maybe now she could look into drama or debate, two activities she enjoyed, but would have not really had the time for with softball. Finally, as we pulled into the driveway at home, she spoke.
"Should I call Coach or do you want to do that?"
I told her that I would do it.
I called him right away. She WAS the pitcher and he would need to get another one set up.
I was appalled at this man. When I told him about Liv's problem and that she would not be able to be on the team, he laughed at me.
"Kids have these problems all the time. They just work through the pain. It all works out in the end," he said. "Liv's a tough girl, she has true moxie. She'll be fine, just make sure she ices her shoulder after every game and practice."
I told him (and had to fight to keep my voice from turning to ice) that I had no intention of allowing Liv to play softball this year. That she would sit out the season.
He told me (and didn't bother to keep the ice out of his voice) that if she sat out, he couldn't promise that she would make the team next year.
"I have lots of girls who want on that team," he told me. "You saw those try outs. I had to turn away 2/3 of the girls who tried out. I want committed, dedicated players, not wimps. If Liv wants to try out next year, that's fine, but I won't guarantee anything. I don't think you understand just how talented she is. A left handed fast pitcher? Those are rare, Ms. Lastname. I think it's sad for you to waste her talent over little league shoulder."
I could hardly believe my ears and since Liv was standing near me and I didn't want to upset her, I just said that she would try out next year and if she was as good as he said she was, she might just make the team again. And then, in my head, I flipped him off with both hands. And hung up.
Liv sat at the supper table that evening, barely able to eat. She played with her food. Pushed it all around her plate. I had filled Bing in on the details and she asked Liv if she'd like to go get ice cream since it was the night before school. Sort of a family tradition. Liv shook her head no, didn't speak. I know her like the back of my hand. She was fighting so hard not to cry, trying to wait until she was alone in the bathtub or shower. She and I cleared the table and started cleaning up after dinner. She still wasn't talking except to politely answer questions. Finally, I just hugged her and didn't let her go when she stopped hugging. Her arms dropped and went limp and then, slowly, slowly, reached back around to hug me around the waist. We stood at the kitchen sink with her head dipped on to my shoulder. I gently rubbed her back. Asked her if she needed ice for her shoulder. She said no. I asked her if she felt like talking about it. She said maybe later, ok?
I let her go. She took Socks out for his evening walk and they were gone much longer than usual. I knew she was mulling her life over, reaching up to touch those sore feelings over and over again like you do with a sore tooth.
I told Bing about my conversation with her coach and she was, understandably, furious.
"What a colossal ass wipe!" she exclaimed. "So, our daughter is supposed to DEFORM her shoulder for SOFTBALL? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? God, I want to call him and give him a piece of my mind!"
I told her that we must both refrain from doing just that in case Liv was able to try out next year. It would do no good to have this coach more angry at us. But, this was good information to know about him. If Liv ever made the team again, we would have to watch him carefully to make sure that he didn't overplay her. She sighed and agreed.
Finally, it was bedtime. Liv beat both of us to bed, tucked herself and Socks in with her book. When I came in to say good night, she wasn't reading, just holding Socks and stroking him as he lay next to her, comforting her in the way that only he can. I came and sat on the edge of the bed. Rubbed her back. Stroked her hair. Said, "Liv, honey. Please talk to me. I'm worried about you."
She turned around and looked up at me, flat on her back. And then the tears came.
She sat up and buried her head in my shoulder, crying hard. She kept trying to talk and failing, so I waited, holding her, cooing. She gave a few shuddering gasps and then seemed to level off.
"I'm just scared and mad at myself. Maybe if I hadn't insisted on being on the swim team this Summer, I might not have hurt it so badly. I don't know how to explain this without sounding like a big baby, but being the pitcher on this team was my niche, you know? It was a way for me to fit in! I was on a team! I had teammates and was making so many friends. And now? Well, where will I fit? What if I don't fit anywhere else? And it isn't just that...I LOVE playing softball! I love it so much, Mama! It makes me so happy to be out on the pitcher's mound, slapping my glove, playing catch until the game starts and then...the GAME. I LOVE THE GAME! And now, well...it's all gone. And maybe I won't ever heal enough to play again. I just feel so bad inside! What if it's like that first boy/girl dance I went to where no one asked me to dance? What if I don't make any friends?"
I told her exactly what I thought. That she would fit in well. That she was a good person and softball hardly defined her. That she would be a good friend and others would see that. That she was smart and clever and wonderful and it would all work out somehow. That maybe life really just had other plans for her that didn't include 9th grade softball.
Socks, ever loyal and loving, crawled on top of her and sprawled and we briefly took a break from our seriousness to smile at him. What a guy!
Softly, she said in a voice that was barely a whisper, "Will you braid my hair tomorrow?" I swallowed hard. She hadn't asked me to braid her hair in years. Yes, I told her. I would even french braid it if she wished. She smiled because she knows that I DETEST french braiding.
"Do you want me to sleep with you tonight?" I asked her, certain that she would say no.
But she surprised me by nodding yes. She let go of me long enough for me to go take a shower, inform Bing that I would be in Liv's room tonight and get my pjs on. And then, we cuddled up close in her bed and kept the light on, both of us reading, toes touching now and then, Socks laying on her feet.
Bing came in to kiss us goodnight. She sat down and drew Liv up close into her arms.
"Baby love, if I could take this away from you, I would," she said.
Liv teared up again, but just briefly. "Oh, well," she said. "It's not like it's something horrid like cancer or someone dying," she went on. "I'll live."
Bing smiled at her. "But it's a hard knock nevertheless," she said. Liv nodded and then opened up the sheet on the other side of her and asked her if she wanted to get in.
Bing looked surprised. And then Liv said, "I just want my family tonight, is that okay?"
I saw Bing swallow and then she went to go get her pillow and came back with it and her book about Steve Jobs. We all lay together, close as sardines, reading. Socks was in dog heaven, stepping gently back and forth between us, giving dog love.
Our eyes were getting tired. At Liv's urging, Bing leaned over and snapped off the lamp on the bedside table. We all settled in together. Bing and I lay smiling at each other in the moonlight coming in the window as we did what we used to do when Liv needed some love. We call it making a Livvy sandwich. We both surrounded her, arms around her, reaching each other. Socks lay in the middle of our legs, pushing us around to make room.
It was far too crowded for comfortable sleeping, but none of us moved. We would stay like that all night.
Socks dreamed of chasing squirrels in the yard, especially that pesky black squirrel who taunted him mercilessly. His legs rustled around occasionally as he sighed in his sleep.
Bing dreamed of computers. Big computers with lots of complicated numbers. She struggled to remember codes and wrote out diagrams.
I dreamed of losing Liv in a mall. The kind of dreams that I always have when she is hurting and I can't really help. I kept seeing her yellow tee shirt and following it around corners only to find myself at candy and shoe shops and cafes selling coffee.
And Liv? She dreamed of softball. The perfect softball nestled in her glove as she leaned towards the earth and scooped up a little dirt to hold in her hand, letting it sift between her fingers. She cocked her head twice and seeing the hitter reach the plate, she caressed the ball in her hand just a little bit, loving the feel of its roundness and solidity and then she pulled her arm back in a perfect arch and set that ball flying hard and fast at that bat, so fast that the hitter swung and missed, shocked that she hadn't even made contact. Liv smiled in her sleep, feeling the joy of standing in the sun at the end of the day, surrounded by shouts of "Atta girl!" and "Now, that's what I'm talking about!" And she looked up at the blue sky of Autumn and smiled.
Tomorrow would be another day and we were together and there would be hard knocks but we had what we needed to get through: each other.