Hoop Dreams

One of the best characteristics of the small town and school that I grew up in was that it was small, so small that it required most all of us to play every sport and still be in the band and work at the concession stands, take tickets for plays and games, build sets for drama productions and do our part in creating the yearbooks…and show up for class every day.

Because of that experience, I did things that, looking back, I don’t think I would have done otherwise.  At the top of that list was basketball.  I was never very good at it, but I could dribble the ball to our side of the court and pass it when someone better than me needed it. However, shooting that ball into the basket was fraught with all kinds of good and bad possibilities that culminated in my adolescent mind into one foreboding question, “What if you miss?”

Last night, my 9-year old nephew and I decided to shoot hoops until it became too dark to see what we were doing.  We each chose a basketball and took turns shooting and talking.  It was a really good time to reconnect and hear what he’s thinking about, but what really mesmerized me was his desire to just “shoot the ball.”

He never seemed to care at all whether he made a basket or not.  He was more interested in seeing how far he could launch it from someplace around the court.  At one point, he was nearly two courts away and on the other side of my Jeep and looked at me with this grin that said, “Let’s see what happens.”  Though he didn’t even come close to hitting the backboard, much less putting it into the net, on that particular long shot, he was unwavering and did it until he finally tipped the hoop just enough to make it rattle and shake.  There was no one to say, “Don’t do it.  You’ll never make it.  Come back to the court.  Take an easy shot.”

Don’t get me wrong.  He was happy when that ball often hit its mark and would swish through the net with that sweet sound that only a basketball meeting a hoop can make.  But he seemed even happier to just play the game, to see what might happen next.

When the sun finally set and we put everything away and walked home, I couldn’t help but think that I had just learned a lesson…and that 9-year old teachers are nice to have around.


Try and Try Again


One of the greatest joys of the holiday season that especially starts in November with our Thanksgiving celebration is that we get to spend some extra time with our nieces and nephews, as well as our daughters.  We come together for a number of meals and outings when they all visit during these last two months of the year, when school is out and the days are more relaxed and carefree.

Because this allows all of us the opportunity to be among children more, we are privileged to hear more about their perspectives and interests and funny ideas.  We celebrate their musical talents and read with them and play with toys and are sometimes even invited to follow them on their grand outdoor adventures.  Their perspectives on nearly everything are worth at least a moment of an adult’s time.

Perspective-taking is a wonderful tool for an adult as it helps us see the big picture or maybe just a clearer picture of where we are and what we are thinking and what needs to change…or just stay the same.  And I guess because perspective-taking has been on my mind, it is what I noticed most among the children in our family as they conversed with each other and us grown-ups throughout the final weeks of 2013.  Here are just a couple of examples:

One night, our nine-year old nephew Zachary remembers that when he was 7, his tae-kwon-do instructor would say, “Zachary, you can try by yourself or I can help you until you get it right, which would you like to do?”  Zachary said, “I would always choose to try it by myself and, one time, I actually did it on the first try!”

On another night, our oldest daughter Emily and her handful of piano students, all under the age of 8, were presenting their annual Christmas recital, a time that it surprisingly full of this “I think I can” spirit, this optimism.  These kids were so proud and so happy and so sure of their abilities.  Though not one of them is a prodigy at the piano, and all of them had their share of mistakes and pauses, but nothing, and I mean nothing, could deter their smiles nor their belief that they are pianists.  It was amazing.  There was one little girl who played nearly every note so slowly that you could barely tell what the melody was supposed to be, but when she finally finished she turned and smiled this picture-perfect smile and bowed as though she were winding down her first concert appearance at Carnegie Hall.

There is such optimism among these children, such a “can do” attitude. We see it all the time as they try and try again without a moment’s thought that failure is even possible. And even more interesting is that they haven’t yet learned that they might be failing.

Instead, they see failure in an entirely different light. They see failure as simply a way to find out what didn’t work. What a novel approach to life in general.

Try and try again. Who knows what you might even get right.