Paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen (pater•kinder´schlagen•angst•ent´spannen) ¹ (noun) The feeling of dread a parent has watching their child batting in little league and the subsequent feeling of relief when they get a hit. ex: Josh was filled with paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen as the Wolvog swang the bat and hit the ball sharply past the third baseman’s outstretched mitt.
It came to me while I was watching the Wolvog at-bat. I needed a word. A word for that feeling a parent gets when watching their child bat during little league, particularly those early years of little league when they’ve taken the ball off the tee and are hurling it via a machine through the air for the kids to hit. And you can strike out. Ok, so perhaps we’re talking about a league where you get more than three strikes before you sit-down, so the training wheels aren’t all the way off, but still. It’s time to start learning that you’re going to fail sometimes. Some days you’re going to fail a lot. Just as tricky: parents have to learn that they’re going to have to sit there and watch their child fail sometimes.
Here’s something I’ve learned: that doesn’t get easier. This is the second year of baseball for the Wolvog and I die on the inside a little bit every time it’s his turn at the plate. I hope he gets a hit. I hope if he hits it right at a player from the other team, that the fielder drops the ball, or mis-fields it, or blows the throw to first base. Worse than that, I hope that if there’s other runners on-base that they tag that kid out rather than my kid. But I hope above everything else that he doesn’t strike out.
This particular fear of the strike out runs counter to current practice in major league baseball where striking out has reached all-time highs. Perhaps earning an average of $3.2 million takes some of the sting out of walking back to the dugout after whiffing. Perhaps reaching the highest level of professional sports gives them the confidence not to care very much more if they strikeout rather than pop or ground-out. An out’s an out after all. Get ’em next time.
But for some of us (and our children) who have not achieved those heights, the strikeout is synonymous with utter failure. You even look a little foolish, swinging your bat through the air, a little off-balance, while the ball sails by unmolested. You end up looking and feeling unbalanced, awkward, exposed and impotent. That moment when you swing the bat and don’t make contact with the ball can feel like everyone at the ballpark is pointing and laughing at you in slow motion. It’s embarrassing. The greatest choreographer couldn’t come up with a movement more filled with futility, frustration and raw failure than the feeling of swinging and missing that third strike. (Sexist linguistics aside, there’s a reason a guy unsuccessfully hitting on a girl at a bar is said to have “struck out.” Failure + a dose of humiliation = struck out.)
But of course, you have to keep all of that on the inside. You need to tell your child the exact opposite. Everyone strikes out – Babe Ruth struck out all the time. You’ll get ’em next time. Choke up on the bat. Shorten your swing. Remember to step toward the plate, not away. Keep your eye on the ball. No tears. Keep your confidence up, half of hitting is mental. There’s no crying in baseball. Which is bullshit. But in any case, learn to keep your shit together even though you’re dying on the inside. It’s an important life lesson and there’s no easy way to learn it. Sorry kid. You think this hurts, wait ’til you fall in-love.
But. If he hits the ball, it can feel like disaster averted. A call from the governor. The sun bursts through the clouds and the angels sing the Hallelujah chorus. Your child will be filled with confidence. And even-tempered, well-adjusted and sociable. They’ll say later in life that they were blessed with a happy childhood and not hate their father for making them play baseball!
There’s no word for that, so I turned to the Germans who have a word for everything, but unfortunately do not play baseball. Or at least don’t play it very well. While I was sitting and watching the Wolvog’s team in the field I cobbled together a new German word — because if they can have words like Verschlimmbesserung (a supposed improvement that actually makes things worse) and Fingerspitzengefühl (the ability to think clearly about many individual complex events and treat them as a whole) then why not a word that contains all the emotions detailed above.
Thankfully Google Translate made the task fairly easy and thus I came up with Paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen. Pater (father) kinder (children) schlagen (hitting) angst (fear) entspannen (relax). Please send a nickle every time you use it from here forward.