This year, the Johnsons reluctantly accepted membership into that crazy club: parents with children in extracurricular activities. Oh sure, most parents accepted membership into the club when their child(ren) turned two, beginning with story times or tumbling classes which morphed into karate or dance classes, which morphed into soccer, hockey, and swimming.
All while we sat, idly, by. At home. Ruining any chance our child(ren) had at getting into Harvard or becoming MacArthur Fellows or (notreallyatall) getting to the outer reaches of some sport’s minor, minor league.
But this year, with the Gort in grade 4, I concluded it was time for him to do something. To try out a sport. (Besides May and June’s outdoor soccer.)
Taking into account the boy’s lack of interest, the professor’s concern with head injuries, the various sports’ time commitments and my unwillingness to watch most sports, I settled on basketball. It seemed a good sport for refining gross motor skills, getting some exercise and encouraging social interaction with peers. (Though, I suppose, all sports fit that particular bill.) Also it’s pretty much the only sport I will watch.
So the Gort joined a local basketball club.
The season began with four sessions of evaluations for all grade 4-6 players. The professor took him to one of the sessions and observed the gym full of mostly 9 and 10 year olds. ‘The Indiana part of me just died,’ he sighed when he got home that night. Having attended the first two sessions, I knew exactly what he meant – walking into an elementary basketball gym in Canada is akin to walking into a hockey rink in Indiana (assuming you could find one): you’re watching fish out of water, basically.
The double dribbling. The travelling. The shooting. Oh my.
Evaluations gave way to weekly team practices which paved the way for Saturday games. At the first game, I chuckled as I watched boys, surrounded by eager defendants, try to escape the crowd by walking backwards with the ball in their hands.
Other highlights included a kid dribbling intently towards the opposition’s goal while both coaches and referees yelled at him to ‘go the other way’ and balls passed at either the wrong team or, in many cases, to ‘the team mate who wasn’t there’. And the best one: child cowering with arms covering his head when the ball bounced back unexpectedly from the backboard.
Technical difficulties aside, I found myself turning into that parent within three minutes of the first game. You know, the parent who shouts (‘encourages, loudly’) continuously from the sidelines, like it’s the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, despite the fact that no one else around me was doing anything more than clapping. Politely.
A few weeks after the Gort started playing basketball, a friend invited me to play basketball with some other women.
Basketball and I……have a bit of a history.
I’d spent my early years playing netball (which seems only to be played in the sunny southern hemisphere). I landed in an American gym class in junior high and learned we’d be playing basketball that day. I saw the ‘net’ and the ball and thought: ‘I got this.’ Until some girl named JennyJankovic aggressively ripped the ball out of my hands. My first thought was: Violation! My second thought was: apparently basketball and netball are different.
I never played again, my desire for personal space and order far exceeding my desire to dribble or shoot.
So, twentysome years later, when someone casually invited me to play basketball, my immediate reaction was to say ‘I don’t play basketball.’ But then…. I thought about the Gort and how I expect him to try stuff even if he doesn’t think he’ll be good at it….so I went.
I tried to warn my fellow players about my ridiculous ‘personal space bubble’ and how they weren’t allowed to invade it and they were all ‘you realize this is basketball’ and I was all ‘yes, that’s precisely why I don’t play the game.’
One woman (not on my team) who I’d never seen before, kept standing right by me and shoving me out of the way whenever the ball headed her way. I kept trying to figure out what I’d done to annoy her, because why else was she shoving (unsuspecting) me out of her way? Turns out that’s ‘part of the game.’ ‘She’s trying to bounce off you,’ someone explained. As if I was a trampoline.
At the end of the night, when I expressed my doubts about returning to the group, someone else said ‘you have to try it at least twice.’ So I did. I showed up for a second night which, as luck would have it, had half as many players. Which meant I spent less time freaking out about my personal space bubble and could try and play the game. Even if I kept missing baskets and failed to grasp offensive strategy.
I did discover that people got excited when you rebounded the ball so I tried to compensate for my lack of skill by trying to get the ball back whenever (remotely) possible. A little too enthusiastically, it seems, because – at the end of the game – I looked down at my left hand and noticed my pinkie finger had ballooned to twice its normal size.
And was turning blue.
I’m not really a roll-with-the-punches, shrug off an injury type of girl; which is probably another reason for avoiding contact sports all these years. I showed my very considerable, career-ending injury to another player. ‘Oh you jammed your finger,’ she nodded her head; having probably endured many a jammed finger in her life. I told another player about my balloon-finger. ‘Oh, you’ll just have to tape it next time you play,’ she suggested.
Tape? Next time?