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I could see it in her eyes—the fear and anxiety. She did not want to go in the worst way. I was honestly afraid she would have a nervous breakdown.

It was at that moment I wondered if we had made the right decision in signing her up. Was she ready for this? Did she even want to play at all?

My daughter, Julia, had just started third grade. She knew the deal. By summer’s end, I had made my point crystal clear. She would be participating in at least one extra-curricular activity per semester.

Her good friend was an avid softball player and asked Julia to join. To our surprise, Julia said yes.

Julia had never been the athletic type. In fact, there was a time when my husband and I didn’t even think she would walk. She was born with a condition called hypotonia (low muscle tone). Because of the diagnosis, all of her milestones were late. When it came to physical activities, she was generally the slowest of the pack. She was also not the biggest risk-taker and was terrified of getting hurt.

I was perfectly fine with this. She was happy and healthy and that was all that mattered. From a young age, she leaned towards drawing and painting. She loved to create.

Due to these obvious reasons, I was positive she would choose something artsy. Not this time. She wanted to play softball—just like her friend.

As we arrived to the field for the first time, I couldn’t help to feel my daughter’s anxiety. It just so happened that many of her team mates were older and more experienced. Instead of completely freaking out, I repeated the same mantra that I used on my daughter:

“We all have to start somewhere.”

During practice, she appeared both terrified and lost. It didn’t help that she also witnessed a team mate being hit in the chest with a ball. I was hoping for the best, but not expecting any miracles. I wondered how long she would want to stay in.

Amazingly, she lasted the whole game. More amazingly? She ended the game with a smile on her face.

“Do you want to come back next week?” I asked

“Yes, “she answered.

As the season continued, the routine pretty much stayed the same. She wasn’t hitting, but she was learning. Most of all, she was trying.

We were proud.

One day, an older teammate approached my husband by the dugout. She told him how Julia reminded her of the struggles that she faced as a newbie and that it does get easier with practice. The beauty of the words of such an empathetic little person brought tears to my eyes.

My husband and I felt blessed. Not only did we have a kid that wasn’t quitting, but she had at least one teammate behind her that understood.

The whole experience got me thinking. As parents, we all have a decent grasp on our children’s strengths and weaknesses. Our social media pages are bombarded with kids showing off trophies and various accomplishments.

Which begs the question: is it okay to mix it up every once in awhile? Is it acceptable to take our children out of an activity in which they excel, only to have them try something they have no experience in? Is it okay to take them away from solid friendships?

As parents, we tend to be hard-core. We love watching from the sidelines and seeing our children. We get a high from them doing well. We are their biggest fans.

Because of this, we hesitate. Why ruin a good thing?

On the flip side, in trying something different, they will learn a new skill. They will develop other strengths. They may even discover a talent that no one knew they had. They will make friends—new friends they would have never made otherwise.

Most of all, they may have some fun too.

For my experience, I am grateful. Julia may have learned a lot, but so did we. She is welcome to do anything she chooses.

It is a little early to see where this goes. Will Julia end up going pro? Doubtful. But, she had an experience—one that will only get better in time. She learned to walk out of that comfort zone and continue to be a great kid. Her self-esteem grew. Mostly, she just had fun and learned a lot.

And so did we.

Kathleen Sullivan

I am a freelance writer and full-time mom. My work has appeared on: The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Brain, Child Magazine, Mamalode xoJane, Parentco., Mommyish and Your Tango. I can also be found blogging at: http://www.threekidsonehusbandandabottleofwine.com/

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