The young girl started whimpering during the rehearsal in the tunnel under Busch Stadium.
She was scared to walk out on the field with her fifth-grade classmates.
They were expected to sing "God Bless America" before game time on the clear night when the St. Louis Cardinals would clinch the National League Central Division title by beating the Cubs once more.
My daughter was in this group of 30 or so classmates, but she didn't seem to be suffering any preperformance jitters. In fact, she was keen on avoiding extended eye contact with me. I had talked my way into accompanying the music teacher and principal onto the field in the hopes of getting a video of the moment.
So it was another student who tugged at the purse on my shoulder and pointed at the girl on the brink of tears. A maternal instinct kicked in, and I bent down to give the girl a hug and reassure her that she was going to do great.
"If you really don't want to, you don't have to sing," I said. She looked grim and nodded.
I had already been handed one student's backpack and another one's cap to safeguard while they performed. Given all the mothering required, albeit to children unrelated to me, I could overlook how dispensable I seemed to be to my own offspring.
For my daughter, it wasn't just her big night to perform with her friends. It was her big night to hang out with them at a reasonable distance from us, her family, who are ever on the perilous brink of morbidly embarrassing her.
My friends and I remember the places we walked by ourselves as children on the cusp of adolescence -- the local grocery store, the swimming pool, perhaps a nearby pizza or ice cream place.
Whether you hung out at the mall or the movies, the most coveted places became those away from direct parental supervision, in a place bigger than a familiar street, park or friend's house.
My husband recalls the first time he was allowed to go from his home in Long Island to New York City on the subway with just his friends. He was 13. It was New Year's Eve, and they had tickets to see the Rangers play. None of them realized it was a night game. One of his buddies used a pay phone to make a collect call to his parents, who must have informed the other parents about the time change. The four friends had the entire day in the city to themselves.
He remembers walking from the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center. They stopped to eat at a deli.
They were several years older than writer Lenore Skenazy's child, who navigated the city's subways at age 9. Skenazy launched a "free-range child" movement in response to the helicopter parents who seemed to handicap their children with constant hovering and supervision. But regardless of where a parent falls on the free-range to helicopter spectrum, there comes a time when children take their first steps toward burgeoning independence.
For our 10-year-old it was at the ballpark, which is really as close to freedom as she was going to get at this age. She sat a section away from us with a group of girls, at least a row away from anyone's parent. They went to the concessions area to buy their own Dippin' Dots and pretzels. She said one of the best parts was that she didn't have to listen to her little brother cheer or chant during the plays.
"We clapped, we yelled, we cheered, we laughed and we talked," she said, about the night.
The beauty of baseball is that it allows you to talk about everything other than baseball until it forces you to talk about nothing but baseball.
Letting go. Holding on. This is the bittersweet balance for much of life.
I was glad I had served a purpose by joining her classmates as they walked out on what felt like hallowed ground to so many of them.
I was just as glad when we found my daughter in the ninth inning and watched a memorable season draw to a close, together.