January 19, 2011

Hoops in the Heartland

Too many snow days has caused a lull in our regional cooking but keep checking back. We've got Indiana coming up and with the cold weather here in Missouri, I'm thinking thoughts of Hawaii. I've forgotten what WARM breezes feel like. 

We have more snowflakes falling at a nice clip today so I'm guessing tomorrow will be a snow day with my daughters looking to be entertained. (Read: watching more TV and making some microwave caramel popcorn.) In the meantime, here's an adventure from our weekend.
It sort of pained me to tell people my daughter was giving up dance to concentrate on basketball and spring soccer. Well sort of, and perhaps if I was being totally honest it wouldn't be discomforting to see my little girly girl change into an athlete seemingly overnight. And not that dancers aren't athletes. I think Paula Abdul would make an incredible bodyguard.

Liz is lithe and graceful, fit to be a dancer in my scout's eyes. I loved watching both daughters in their beautiful, classy dance outfits in last May's dance recital. I was gearing up for that again this year. I liked the other parents and it seemed a more civilized way to get exercise without the notion of competition and all that brings out in parents. If you've been to a youth league game recently you know what I mean.

But I think I'm more in love with the idea of having dancers, probably because I never got the chance to dance as a child. In my small Kansas town we lived too far away from a dance studio for it to be a viable option. Now rather than live vicariously through my daughters I am thinking of joining an adult class to get a start on becoming graceful. Though I suspect I might be too late in that regard. Though my balance and posture do need a lot of help.

A yoga instruction recently explained that she's always getting potential students who fear their balance isn't good enough to even try yoga. She says she reassures everyone that balance isn't something you're born with, it's always changing and needing work even for her entire yoga class. I like that idea that we must continually work on balance and balancing what live throws our way. That's why I'll try and support my daughters in whatever direction their hearts takes them.

It's just that Liz's new-found love of basketball is treading close to my most passionate sport. Basketball conjures up many moments of dread and pain and embarrassment -- puking during warm-up drills and going a full season in high school with barely a win. Oh, there were a moments of glory (winning a game!) as with all sports, but just hearing sneakers squeak on hardwood (even making that sound on my home's not-quite-as-buffed-floor) flips this little switch in my brain where I start thinking: "I don't want to watch, I want to play."

And Katie who's five wanted to play basketball too. She might have some power. And since she's so short and petite, she's going to have to be one tenacious point guard. But early indications show Katie's spunky enough to not let anybody get in her way. She's NOT the daughter who cowers from rebounds. She's in fact the one child clearly running down MOST rebounds and dribbling down the count in her "Fun Basketball" practice/games. She's gotten more ball time than her sister by far, but that's a stat we don't mention out loud.

There are so many things I want to point out to both girls. I want to teach them about playing all-out all the time, setting picks, boxing out and using their hips, and knowing that making a basket is 90 percent confidence. But I try to stay quiet, reminding myself that from the court it's hard to focus on what parents are yelling from the stands. (Her grandfather -- my father -- enjoyed yelling instructions in one game. I kept hushing him, even apologizing to the coach after the game. The coach was nice enough to say he'd not heard my father.)

I wish I could will my daughters my court sense. I always thought I had good court awareness, vital for full-court presses and fast breaks, few and far between in third-grade basketball. I still motion too much with my hands, as if I'm a puppeter moving Liz to where she needs to be on defense.

And Liz's defense is improving. My friend Christi who's a good player and still referees and coaches in her freetime, says that at this age defense is key because it's hard for most kids to basically heave the ball to make a basket.

Liz only really gets an hour once a week at practice to work on shooting because it's too darn cold to practice shooting on our outdoor goal. What Liz really needed was the knowledge that she COULD make a goal. Too often I hear her say she cannot do something around the house, and I have to turn to Dick Vitale speech to get her to do her job. I was concerned she's feel that offense and making baskets was "too hard."

But last Saturday's game proved to be the best challenge yet with just five players including Liz. With 10 players at the beginning of the year, the coach had the luxury of playing each girl for half of each 10-minute quarter.  Liz was about to get more playing time and she and her teammates responded to the call. Liz, always a bit hesitant when lining up around the circle for the tip, got the ball and started to dribble it, her first time to actually dribble in four games.

Just having her near the group rebounding with her hands up was an improvement over her first two games where she'd duck with her hands over her head when the ball came anywhere near her. We've been working on playing catch in the basement to work through that fear.

This game, Liz got a few rebounds and on one, heaved it back up. That's when adrenaline came in and her toss was a perfect arc toward the basket. And the basket went in! I was overjoyed but tried to not act too excited. Her sportswriting father smiled and had a great deal to say on the subject later. I was proud beyond words, and I know that even if she doesn't make a basket or win another game for the rest of the season, this year has been worth it.

Liz seemed to keep it in perspective, acting like her first basket in a game EVER was no big deal. I'm trying to do the same and keep my emotions in check. But I cannot help to think about the bigger picture: She's learning so much more than she thinks. She's learning to be part of a team and all the intangibles that come with working with others. She's also learning more about herself -- self-esteem which can come even on a team that loses more than wins -- and find the ability to BELIEVE is can do anything she sets her mind to do. I think she's learning that practice can provide results that go beyond one game, one basket. And she seems to really like it, which makes me think she'll be sticking with it.

I'm getting too excited now and I really do need to check into that dance class for my own sense of movement and dance floor awareness. I really do need to find out if sneakers squeak on dance floors.


  1. Hey, writing is a family talent. L-O-V-E-D your husband's piece, and enjoyed yours, as well. The difference between loved and enjoyed is, well, the reason he gets paid the big bucks! :)

    You've got a beautiful family. Thanks for sharing.

    P.S. I would read a grocery list, if Joe wrote it.

  2. Congratulations, thank you for sharing with us!

  3. It's fun to see the different thoughts coming from mom's and dad's perspectives on the same event. Parenting, Rashomon-style! Best of luck to Liz in her burgeoning basketball endeavors. And definitely put on your dancin' shoes, you'll enjoy it. :-)

  4. Really enjoyed your perspective on this story. Good luck with dance class!

  5. I do not miss Joe's postings, he directed me here. As I suspected your daughters have an incredible Mother, you can see the love of you for them in their eyes! They are lucky, you are lucky, God Bless you all, I grew up in Marysville, life revolved around basketball and family and wonderful times that I then thought were typical for all kids.

    By the way, my kids (31 (son) and 29 (daughter) have a wonderful Mother too, it is in their eyes as well. Enjoy them as you do now in the future as well. They have given us nothing but joy forever. Best, Jack

  6. Thanks for a Mom's perspective on the basketball game. My wife and I are expecting our first child in a few months and both of us were/are athletes and I appreciate your and Joe's handling of sports with children.

  7. Thanks for sharing this story, I hope you try those dance lessons. You're never too old to have a good time. It's also good for kids to see their parents try something new. Life is alot more fun if you don't spend it looking over your shoulder. Keep the food stuff coming please. CHICKEN FRIED STEAK!

  8. Thanks so much for this, Margo-- the pictures are just adorable! I'm expecting my first child this summer, and unsurprisingly I've found myself paying special attention to parent-related writings. I love reading pieces like yours that touch on unexpected thoughts, like your feelings about your daughters playing sports instead of taking dance, and how you handle those moments.

    Thanks again, and I look forward to more!

  9. man, parenting sounds scary! everything is such high drama! i just want some cute babies. i want to connect with them emotionally and have nices, but this sort of experience sounds overwhelming

  10. I coached youth basketball (and other sports) for years. Even without any of them being my own children, the rush I would get from seeing a child make their first basket made it such a satisfying job. I'm glad Liz had her big moment and that you (and Joe) were able to witness it, and have a moment of your own.

  11. Congrats to Liz on what is almost definitely one of the most written about first baskets in history! ;o)

  12. Awesome piece. I will have to add another site to my RSS feed it appears.

  13. Great story! Congrats to her and to you - proud mama!

  14. I read Joe's piece of course, and came here when he posted the link. Thanks for sharing, Margo. I was a first team all conference football player six times in high school (3x each, off. & def.) and played some college. At our admittedly small h.s. I am still on the record board as part of the 800m relay. My wife held the record for the 200m for many years and for the 400m for almost 20 years (we graduated in 1981), even though she only ran the 400 twice. All that to say, our 10-year-old son has all kinds of physical talent. And what he loves is playing video games or making up games akin to Calvin Ball, if you remember Calvin & Hobbes. While most of me does not want him to play football (I read those articles on brain injuries) he would be fantastic. Before we had I child, however, I promised myself that I would not be a pushy parent. My son is smart and funny and very kind to others kids. I am so proud of him. And while I wish he would develop the love of baseball that I have, mostly I want him to experience the joy of competing w/teammates and winning together. And losing too, which isn't much fun but probably provides better life lessons.

    Thanks again. Joe always apologizes for writing about his kids but they are usually my favorite posts. I still feel good when I think about Katie the Prefect.
    Dark Side of the Mood

  15. Margo I'm from your PTL rival, Jewell High and our high school tenures overlapped and I remember the tenacity and grit you showed on the basketball court at Hillcrest High School. Therefore, I'm not surprised at your youngest daughter's determination, and I think its pretty awesome that Liz is enjoying success. I'm thrilled for you that your kids exhibit the same enthusiasm for basketball. Those of us who grew up in north central Kansas had too few outlets for fun and competition; basketball really was the only thing in the winter months.
    I hope that when my kids are ready, they'll have the same reaction to sport as yours.
    Keep up the good work!

  16. Another reader sent over from Joe's blog, thank you for the great story! Always fun to get two different and well-written perspectives on the same subject.

    If you've not road tripped in Maine yet, I do have some suggestions. Where food is concerned, there are two great dessert options: no bake cookies (http://homesteadinginmaine.blogspot.com/2009/10/easy-baking-recipes-desserts-no-bake.html) and whoopie pies (http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/WhoopiePieHistory.htm). I make no claims as to the quality of these recipes, both had Maine connections so I chose them over the various other ones out there. For entree purposes lobster seems like the obvious choice, though anything from the ocean that you can steam and eat would work. This looks like a decent intro to lobster and other shellfish: http://www.newenglandcooking.com/cookingguide.html.

    As far as stories go, Blueberries for Sal or One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey would be good choices. For something more advanced, I'd suggest Pink Chimneys by Ardeana Hamlin. My wife read this in either junior high or high school (she's the Mainer in the relationship).

  17. Too cold to shoot baskets outside? She'll never play in the NBA with that attitude!

  18. I'm the father of a four year old girl and I hope for her all of the things that you and Joe hope for your girls. I also hope my wife and I have your perspective on all of this.

  19. Thanks for all the great comments and your time in coming over to read the blog.

    Bigsteveno: Good point! It's kinda hard to dribble when there's snow on the driveway. Though I just learned how to use the snowblower today.

    Bill S: How are you and your family? I remember you and I'm flattered you remembered I played hoops (a few years back.) I always liked when we played against your black and orange Jewell High. You are so right that basketball was the highlight of a winter with few options.

  20. Nice write-up Margo. I especially liked how you described your feelings when they are out on the court; its difficult watching them and holding back our instincts to tell them how to do it better. I really try to do the same with my daughters, just letting them have the experience on their own.

  21. As something without kids (and probably will not have any), I really enjoy when you and/or Joe write about your parenting adventures.

  22. Thank you both for sharing these stories. I was recently recruited to be an assistant wrestling coach in my hometown and my third grade son decided wrestling would be fun. He doesn't seem to lack confidence in day to day personal interaction but with teachers and school work he is always hesitant. But with baseball last year and the success he is having this year with wrestling I see that confidence growing. Thanks for the stories.

  23. Margo: Thanks for replying to my message. The PTL was the best, wasn't it? (lol). Sadly, it's a fraction of what it used to be. My school closed for good a few years ago and now that wonderful gymnasium sits empty - as does Hillcrest's, correct? Family is good, thanks for asking!Keep up the great writing. Between you and your husband, these are my two "can't-miss" sites on the WWW.