Thursday, May 29, 2008

Children and Memories

Over the course of my life I have often paid attention to things that are interesting and odd. But, now that I am a father to two children, ages seven and three, I notice things a little different. Sure, the odd things stand out to me, but now, the things about their childhoods and my childhood and the comparisons stand out even more.

For the record, this article is not about horror or writing or promoting anything or anyone. It is just a dad watching his kids grow up and remembering his childhood in the process.

My dad taught me how to do a lot of things. How to be tough through rough times; how to laugh and joke around; how to play sports; how to work hard. With those lessons came some hard knocks. My dad, after all, is from the mountains of North Carolina and, though the boy may leave the mountain, the mountain doesn’t leave the boy. One of the things Dad taught me was how to play basketball and be a good sport.

First the lesson in basketball. I learned how to dribble by bouncing a ball against the wall and stepping back further and further until I could not catch the ball with one hand or it hit the ground. It was good for teaching me how to pass as well. But, that's not what this is about. It is about that my dad instilled in me not to be arrogant and to always respect your opponent.

The first time I picked up a basketball I was near 10 years old and my dad showed me how to shoot. After a few days of just shooting the ball and dribbling, Dad taught me the actual game.

“Okay, son, I want you to dribble this ball and try to get by me. If you get by me, shoot the ball into the hoop.”

“Man, that’s easy, OLD MAN.”

Yeah, that’s right—I called my dad an old man.

I dribbled the ball and continued to talk trash and then I tried to go around him. He elbowed me with his thick elbow. I hit the ground. He picked up the ball, shot it, scored.

“Two points for me. Try again.”

I dusted myself up, picked up the ball and still talked smack to my dad.

“You got lucky, OLD MAN.”

Then I tried to go around him. Elbow met shoulder, butt met ground, Dad scored again.

“Two points for me. Try again.”

The next time I didn’t talk at all. I was very wary of his elbow so I put my arm out and went around him. He let me pass, I shot, made it and learned quickly that talking smack to your opponent is a NO NO in Dad’s book. I never talked trash—ever after that.

I told you that story to tell you this one. I took my children to the park earlier this week and, lo and behold, they had put up a basketball goal. All we brought with us was a soccer ball. So, I walked out there and started shooting the soccer ball into the basket. I walked away and a moment later my seven-year-old daughter, Chloe, walked over, picked up the ball and started tossing it at the basket.

I watched her for a moment and then walked over and told her an easier way of shooting the basket toward the goal. For the next little while, my son played on the play set and my daughter and I shot baskets. Well, she shot the ball, I caught it and tossed it back to her. She took well over 100 shots. She hit the rim 3 times, the net countless times, but the ball never went in. I felt sad for her and my heart ached—Chloe had tried so hard and she said she couldn’t do it.

“Keep trying, Sweets,” I told her. “You’ll get it one day. You’re too small now but soon you’ll be able to make it on this goal and any other one.”

Encouragement. That’s what I was trying to do—be encouraging. I was proud of her, even though she didn’t make a shot, she tried her hardest, and that is all I asks of my children. Always try your best.

Growing up, I slept with my basketball. Not a joke. It sat by my pillow most nights (until my dad cut it in half and I had to get a new one later, but that is for another day). Rarely did my basketball end up on the floor. It always had a seat, whether on the couch or a chair or on my bed, it was treated well.

My three-year-old son, Logan, carries a baseball I gave him around. He doesn’t haul it everywhere like he does his Hot Wheels cars but he carries it around the house and often times you see it near him when he is playing, even if it is not with the baseball itself.

Tonight, my wife and I were putting our kids to bed and my wife told me:

“Lean down and look past Logan’s pillow.”

I did so.

In the corner of his bed, sat the baseball. I smiled. My wife smiled. I thought of my old basketball, long since gone some years ago.

I leave you now, my story told for today. I’m AJ and I’m out.

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