Recently I have been playing basketball with some women from my church. My family has been tagging along to give me some much needed moral support. Back in the day when I was in good shape and injury free they probably would have had much less concern, but these days they like to watch over me and make sure that I get back home in one piece. I really enjoy having them come along. Especially when I hear my little man's voice yelling, "Come on Marv!" Yes, it's true. He calls me Marv instead of mom during the games. I could choose to get upset by this, but I have chosen instead to take it as a compliment. He is so intent on me hearing his positive encouragement that he has decided to call me by my name so that all of the other 9 women on the court who also happen to be moms don't turn their heads too. His cheering is meant solely for me, and that makes my heart sing.
Last week, the hooligans all gathered on the court before the game, during the breaks, and immediately following the final buzzer to practice shooting hoops. By the time we left the gym on that evening my favorite little boy was in tears. When we piled into the car he quickly told me in a very sad voice that, "The basket is too tall, and I am way too short. I'm too little for everything, and I'm never going to be able to make a basket!" He was emotional and serious, and this was made evident by the conviction I heard in his voice. Our short drive home turned into the perfect opportunity to have a mom and son talk. I had two points that I wanted him to not only hear, but understand.
First and foremost, I wanted him to stop wishing away what he was right now. I explained to him that whether he believes it or not, we were all his size once very long ago and none of us could make baskets then either. I reminded him that over time he will definitely grow. He will most likely be taller than his own parents, which means that he will definitely be making baskets, and possibly slam dunking them. I talked with him about the fact that if he were taller now, he wouldn't be able to hide in all of the very best places in the house when we play cops and robbers. He also wouldn't be able to play in the backyard pool at Grandma Rue's anymore because playing in it with three quarters of your body sticking out of the water just isn't fun. Trust me. I know this from experience. He also wouldn't be able to enjoy the playground nearly as much with his legs dragging on the ground while crossing the monkey bars. I reminded him that being little is an amazing gift, and that it only happens once so he shouldn't wish it away or hope that it goes by faster. He will be big and tall soon enough.
Our talk continued on with my second point. I felt that this one was equally important for him to understand. I talked with him about the fact that sometimes it just doesn't matter how tall or short we are, but that sometimes it's simply the size of our heart that matters most. I relayed to him the importance of never giving up. I discussed with him the fact that he should never stop trying because one of these days he is going to throw that ball in the air and it's going to go right through the net with the sweetest swooshing sound he's ever heard. I let him know that continuing to try even after we fail is really a big part of defining who we are. I also tried to help him understand that shooting and missing is important. Each time we throw the ball in the air and miss, we learn a little more about the next shot we want to take. We learn that we need to put a little more arch on the ball, or that we need to use the backboard, or maybe that we need to use our legs a little more to get more power behind the ball. Shooting and missing is an important lesson, and if we quit we will never savor the success of the ball making it through the hoop. I finished our talk with a few words of encouragement. I wanted him to know that if he continued to put forth his very best effort and if he continued to try that he would definitely make a basket and it would be soon. He listened intently throughout our talk, and he resolved to try again the next day after school.
The next day when school let out we drove together to Grandma Rue's to use her hoop. He was determined to give it his best shot, and he was excited about making a basket. As soon as we arrived he quickly retrieved the ball and tugged on my hand to get me outside with him. I watched him run outside with a smile on his face as he stepped in front of the hoop. He threw the ball with all of his strength and it bounced off of the rim and fell back to the ground. His eyes lit up with excitement as he watched the ball come so close to his goal. He quickly threw the ball back into the air again and again. The ball had still not found its way through the hoop, and at this point he decided to take a break and rest his arms. He ran inside for a quick drink and returned to the court with the ball in his hands. He began trying his very best one more time throwing the ball upward toward the hoop over and over. Slowly but surely I watched as discouragement snuck up behind him and quietly tapped him on the shoulder. When it did his demeanor began to change. Before long I watched as the enemy wrapped its greedy hands around my boy's heart and began to squeeze until tears were hanging on his thick beautiful eyelashes. I recognized this ugly unwanted guest and decided it was time for an intervention. I called him off of the court for a big hug. We took a short walk and I distracted him by talking about school and other things. I noticed that as we walked he never put the basketball down. He just wasn't ready to give up yet. When we returned from our walk we sat in the grass for a few minutes making funny faces and getting rid of the discouragement that had sneakily done its best to ruin his efforts. After several minutes he returned to the court, but he didn't return alone. This time I joined him. I wanted to be there to support him the way he had supported me earlier in the week.
We started the game. I was on his team of course, but I also took on the role of announcer. I yelled out the play by play action, and we laughed as we passed the ball back and forth taking shots. At one point in our game after many hysterics and the fans chanting his name, my little man heaved the ball into the air and it fell effortlessly through the hoop. He turned around with wide eyes, hand in the air, mouth gaping open, and he ran into my arms for a victory hug. The crowd went wild! He did it! He made a basket in the same short little body that he was so certain could never accomplish this task the night before. Perhaps it was because he just got lucky. Perhaps it was because the wind caught the ball just right and helped it into the basket, or perhaps it went through the hoop because he was courageous enough to battle discouragement and self-doubt and focus on his original goal. I'm pretty certain that this was the case. I know this because I saw it happen. On this afternoon I saw the size of my boy's heart. I saw how badly he wanted to make that basket, and I saw him proudly run inside to get the phone and call his dad to tell him all about what had just taken place. I saw it all and I'm so glad I did. I hope he remembers it forever. I hope that most importantly he remembers the lessons he learned from shooting hoops with me this year. I'm grateful that I could re-learn these things through his eyes. I will definitely be remembering them next week when I step on the court again.
One more thing. Becoming one with the ball can never hurt anything either. At least that is what Doop says anyway.