I subbed at the high school today and the students were pretty well-behaved. I love teaching, even as a substitute teacher, but my favorite part of the day is seeing my family after working all day. After I greeted my daughters with a hug, I asked my son M the same question I always ask: HOW WAS SCHOOL?
M said, “I told everyone that I had to finish last night’s work for full credit but really I snuck my homework out and finished it.” He ran off to play with his sisters.
“I knew you’d be fine!” I yelled after him. It didn’t matter if he heard me or not. He knew he’d be fine too.
It was hot and humid and that combination makes for a cranky me. Still, I agreed to practice on the basketball court. It was an air-conditioned court in a nice gym but we wanted to make sure M knew we were listening and we were going to do something.
I tried to get him to tell me who these were. I begged to know who had the audacity to treat another person like they were garbage. Don’t even get me started that this person is not any person.
This person is my son.
A son who’s mom would think of a million ways to kick your ass but she won’t.
“You can tell me,” I said. “I’m not going to tell your teacher.” I wouldn’t and I wouldn’t chew her out anyway. I just wanted to picture this kid and his mom getting a good beat down from me.
“I can’t tell you, Mommy! They’re my friends!”
I gave him a Look.
Seriously? These are your friends who treat you this way?
M looked on the internet for drills and skills to practice probably quite obsessively during the hour between his school dismissal and my foot in the door of our home.
My husband R and I got into a heated discussion. No objects flew through the air, no insults. That’s not our style.
“It makes me so mad that kids treated him that way,” he said. “I fucking hate sports!” It’s no secret that he despises them with a passion.
I, on the other hand, never played sports in high school or college but I enjoyed watching the Oakland A’s and the Chicago Bulls play on tv (not against each other) with my dad. He was a man of few words so I considered sitting awkwardly in the living room, staring at an 18″ wood panel television to be quality time. Even now, I would take the kids to see more professional sports teams play if it weren’t so expensive. I knew how to play a lot of sports. Not enough to be a star player but enough to join any game.
I knew enough.
Despite many similarities in our upbringing such as growing up in the 80s and no cable, one striking difference between R and I is the way our gender played a role in how we were treated and how we had to behave.
Where R grew up, he got into fights almost daily. In PE he was always picked last to be on a team and was frequently bullied. When he first revealed the fighting part, I couldn’t believe it! He still can’t believe that he’s met so many coworkers who had never been in a fight.
There were no organized sports when I was a kid. Maybe there were but most kids in my neighborhood couldn’t afford them. I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area where if you asked to join a game with kids you didn’t know, they always said yes. Even when I admitted my non-athleticism, the leaders of the packs never made me feel bad, I got the “catcher” position or random ball retriever. I wanted in and they let me.
The point is even though there weren’t adults around we got along, we made up our own rules, and we had fun. I can’t tell you the names of the kids I played with a hundred times let alone the names of those I played with only once. It warmed my heart when my then 4-year old would count how many friends she had in her whole life and would include the little girl she met at the Chick-Fil-A playland at lunch earlier that day. Did I get the little girl’s name or arrange a play date? No.
And that’s okay.
I found a ton of articles on how organized sports have changed childhood and free play, a concept I thought was another buzzword for the helicopter-parent generation. I found articles on how to coach your kid to play basketball. Most importantly, I found an article on what makes a good player.
This article found that there are three factors that make a great basketball player (though one could venture to say that these factors could make any athlete excel). Through karate, he’s got athleticism (strength, agility) and mentality (focus, motivation)
All he needs are the skills.
Suddenly I had a great idea.
My son admitted he hates school. He finally mustered up the courage to try a new sport at recess. Soccer, he decided.
“Come on,” yelled a kid to the kid with the ball. “Let’s start playing!”
The kid with the ball shook his head. “No,” he said. “That kid” (the kid pointed at my son) “is following us.”