Kindergarten Throw Back

Do you remember kindergarten? How about when your children or grandchildren were in kindergarten? No, not really? Is it all a bit foggy? Surely, though while we may not actually remember being a kindergartner, we do remember what we learned at that young age. And while, what we learned in kindergarten became the foundation of our education, I think especially now after a week filled with so much hate and violence, we could all use a refresher course. 

In between recess and naptime, we learned our ABC’s and 123’s, but more importantly we learned how to be good classmates, friends, neighbors and children. Among the rules we learned as 5-year olds are five of the most important to remember:

  1. Listen when the teacher (or someone else) is talking.
  2. No running in the halls. (Slow down!)
  3. Keep your hands to yourself. 
  4. Share with others.
  5. No name calling.

While all of these “rules” are important, I find that #5 may need the most review among American adults today.  Even as precoicious 4 year-olds, my daughters both knew that the word “Duh” was disrepectful and that the word “stupid” was a “bad” word and would call me (rightfully so) out if I used one of these words. Yet, when someone disagrees with one of our values, beliefs or opinions, many of us are quick to assign judgement and call each other names. 

political sign

I passed this political sign (to the left) on my way to the dentist this afternoon. I felt physically ill as I passed by.  I am glad that my  youngest daughter wasn’t in the car with me to read this hateful sentiment. While it is a wonderful example of alliteration, it would have been distressing to explain to her what a douche bag and douche are, and even more so to try to explain to her why these words were being used in this context. I am not offended by this sign, but am disappointed and saddened by it. A more effective sign might have been to tell me the positive reasons why I should vote another way instead (Republican maybe?). The writer of this sign does just the opposite of what his or her intent was – to influence me not to vote democrat. Yet, the off-putting aura of hate that surrounded the message makes me want to vote democrat even if I weren’t intending to before I read it.

While I whole-heartedly support our right to free speech as proteted by the first ammendment, even the Super Bowl halftime show is censored and music, videos and movies are rated based on content. I do not agree with the content of that roadside sign or for that matter of various tweets and contents on any given social media platform, I would never call the author a nasty name because of it (even though I may momentarially think it). While the old childhood rhyme may be “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  They do. Words do hurt. Words instill hate in our hearts. Words insight violence. Words matter. 

Last week my daughter was upset because someone in her class supposedly her a “mean name.”  We talked about the saying of “I’m rubber and your glue whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”  As Taylor Swift sings, “Shake it off” as the “Haters are gonna hate, hate, hate.” We agreed that when someone calls you something mean, it’s more about their lack of self-esteem than it is about her. This is true. It doesn’t matter what people think about you in theory. But pratically, speaking I can replay in my mind more exactly the hurtful things people have said to me more easily than the positive ones. While I shake it off, a sliver of pain is still left behind.

Words can inspire. Word can affect positve change. Words can lift us up. 
Words matter. 

Are there any other kindergarten rules you think we should revisit?

It’s Called Empathy

When my oldest daughter was around 3 years old, I went on a girls’ weekend with my mother and sister. I left my daughter with her dad.  He was on call that weekend and wouldn’t you know it, he got called into work.  He asked a neighbor boy to come stay with her. Not wanting to wake her, he left without introducing her to the babysitter. She woke up to a virtual stranger, terrified. The babysitter called my cell as he couldn’t get her to come out from under the covers or to stop crying. I tried to comfort her over the phone, but could tell from her whisper of a voice that she was still afraid and I was four hours away. Grandpa came to the rescue that day (as he was only 45 minutes away).

The pain and distress my daugher felt that day shot through my heart. It took her several months, if not, longer to get over it. I felt like the worst mother ever. Would I have knowingly, on-purpose caused distress to my child? No way. Unless…her life was in danger, then absolutely.

This is why I can understand why immigrant families come to our border knowing they could be separated from their children – better in an internment camp than dead?  I can’t imagine how horrible the conditions must be in their home countries that they would rather their children live without them in a foreign country, than die with them in a country overrun with violence. Sure I could be separated from my children, if I committed a felony or was deployed in the military, but in both cases the decisions would be mine. One could argue crossing an imaginary line in the sand is a choice as well, but is it, if the alternative means death for my children? This is called empathy. Would I make that same decision in their place if it meant my children would live? Yes. What would you do?

Sitting on a hard wooden pew as a child, I remember hearing this parable many times:

“‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” (Matthew 25:42-45 (NIV))

In my heart of hearts I never wanted to be the one that passed by someone in need with a cold, hard heart. I strived to be like the Good Samaritan (another parable ingrained in my mind). In my mind I really wanted to be kind-hearted and help those less fortunate than me. I grew up believing in loving my neighbors as myself and in praying for my enemies. This is where I learned about empathy.  “What would Jesus do?”  Do you remember those bracelets from back in the 1990s? I had a green one.

A few months ago a woman approached me as my daughters and I were getting out of the car to go into the mall.  She asked if I had any spare change to give as she’d run out of gas and didn’t get paid until the following week. I gave her what change I had in my pocket and knew my daughter had $10 in her coin purse. I asked her to give the money to the woman. She reluctantly gave the woman the money, who was very grateful. I assured my daughter I would pay her back the $10 as soon as we found an ATM. Yet, she was still salty (yes I just used teen lingo there) over the whole episode.

I asked her what was wrong as this is my child that has bible verses posted on her bedroom walls. I expected her to want to help others. As it turns out she thought the woman was scamming us or could have robbed us. I told her that yes, she was absolutely right. Both of those things could have been true. On the other hand, the woman may have been sincere in her need. I said I would rather assume she truly needed help. It was broad daylight and many people were around so I didn’t feel unsafe doing so.  I told her I would rather ten people scam me, than not give to one person who could really use it. If I were in need (and I have been), I would and am truly grateful for those that have helped me.

I share this story not to shame my daughter or anyone else for that matter. Her fears come honestly.  We live in a day and age where our society assumes the worst in others instead of the best. Imagine what life might be like if instead, we assumed the best by default? I’m not a theologian or a philosopher or a politician, but I honestly think it would be pretty damn awesome. In my cheesy, alter-universe, we live in a world full of empathy, compassion, tolerance and love. We are all human. Each and every one of us. We all have the same basic human needs (anyone remember Maslow?) Why can’t we move away from fear and hate to love and acceptance?

Whether you are a conservative, right-winger or a liberal, leftist, it doesn’t matter. We are all human. The right thinks the left is brain-washed and vice-versa. People shout “fake news” when the read something that doesn’t agree with whatever politician they support. In the end, we are in a quagmire. Yes, there are shades of gray.  But there is also right and wrong. Taking young, innocent children away from their parents, who are only seeking a better life for themselves is w-r-o-n-g.  I don’t care who put the policy in place (Clinton, Obama, Trump – I’ve seen all three in my news feeds today), it is doesn’t change it from being wrong. Two wrongs never make a right. Ignoring what is happening around us doesn’t alleviate our guilt, it makes us complicit.

Our country was founded on immigration.  My grandfather came here from Mexico with his parents, seeking a better life. He worked as a hard laborer, a migrant worker and eventually along with his parents became naturalized citizens. I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t sought a better life and to live the “American Dream.”  (Even so, I had no control over where or when I was born and neither does anyone else, including the people we seek to keep out). We dehumanize the people who come to our borders, when we call them “illegals” or “criminals.” They want they same things that we want.

I read this Tweet from our president and I weep.

2018-06-18_12-49-40

Children are not bargaining chips. People’s lives are not pawns in a political agenda. This is using blackmail and extortion to get what you want. These are real, human beings. This is not fake news. These screenshots are from reputable news feeds:

2018-06-18_12-43-32  2018-06-18_12-41-15

People are quick to comment and point fingers at each other, but fail to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. I read many un-related arguments to justify supporting this horrible policy (why are the Democrats mad, they support abortion? Why don’t they worry about American children instead of illegal aliens?)  These arguments are beside the point and still doesn’t change the fact that what we are doing now is inhumane. For the record, I personally, do care about the American children living in poverty and orphanages and I think all human life is sacred (from the unborn to the criminals on death row) and I also think it is wrong to separate children from their parents. If we spent the millions (dare I say billions) of dollars earmarked for a wall or temporary camps for the displaced children and used it to help end poverty in our own country, to give those seeking a better life a path so they can become contributing citizens, we could make America even better.

Yes, we in doing so we may let in some “thugs” or “criminals” along they way. But, hey, at least we can all go out and buy an AR-15 style rifle to protect ourselves, just in case. (Yes, that was sarcasm there, but I digress.)

I know in the grand scheme of things, my little post means nothing and won’t change anything. But, if you shared this post to your feed, and someone else posted it to theirs, maybe the 1490 words of this blog post could make a difference.

empathy

It’s About Time…

20180528_150323689_iOS.jpgIn the background of life, time steadily ticks — loudly or softly depending on the day.  From that split second when life sparked and you became a zygote, the timeline of your being began. Boom, you silently existed and not even your mother knew your timer had started. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, years go by and you can’t stop time or go back for a re-do. Even as my hands type these words another 20 seconds of my life have gone by and yours too if you are reading this. We are on a journey that ultimately ends in the flash of a second when our life energy exits our bodies and we cease to be but memories to those who knew us here.

Time is hard to wrap my mind around. It is such a fluid concept. We measure it in terms of Earth’s relationship to the moon and the sun.  The Earth’s rotation on its axis, the moon’s orbit around the Earth, the Earth’s orbit around the sun. We measure time linearly, marking our existence as we travel through space.  My mind turns this thought over and over (and time continues to pass even so). Time is constant. Yet, my perception of time is not, nor yours I presume. This is especially true now as we our news feeds flood with graduation pics, wedding photos and requests for prayers. It was true Wednesday, as I stroked the head of my daughter’s 4-H goat as he unexpectedly breathed his last breath and lie still. Even more profoundly still years ago when I kissed my grandmother’s cheek the last time. My mind can perfectly replay the last time I saw her, sitting in a rocking chair on the porch with a blanket wrapped around her shoulder even though the thermometer read 90 degrees, the sun shining on her face. As I backed out of the drive way, I knew this would be the last time I would see her in this world.

My mind easily goes back in time.  It goes back to the day I felt that flutter of life within my womb the first time and longed for those nine long months to hurry up so I could hold my daughter in my arms. Yet, that moment that seems so long ago and like yesterday at the same time, happened seventeen years ago.  When running on the treadmill, a minute feels like an hour (or more like a week!), while sitting in a cool, darkened theater, watching Deadpool 2 flashes by in mere minutes.  The amount of time that passes by stays the same, even though my perception of it does not. While I’d rather that long drive to my vacation destination to feel like minutes and our time relaxing by the pool to feel like years, it doesn’t work that way.  A week after I’ve returned to work and the daily grind, that vacation spot only weeks ago feels like decades past.

Mindfulness teaches us to live in the moment. It reminds us to focus on our breathing and to be rounded in the moment we are living this second. Doing so, helps slow down anxious thoughts and rehashing the what-ifs of decisions past. It helps shut down negative thinking and self-criticism. I don’t have to record every moment of my journey with a selfie or a hash tag.  Stopping myself from reliving the past helps me learn to be enough and be happy in the now.  Yet, when that “on this day”reminder, pops up in my Facebook feed or the cycle of the seasons repeats itself in my yard – crocus -> daffodils > tulips > peonies… Time reminds me that it is a precious commodity that once lived cannot be repeated, but if we are lucky we are given another moment. While I’d like that warm embrace of a first kiss to last years and a sniffling head-cold to last mere seconds, I don’t want to wish away my time here on Earth.  My life is seemingly not as linear as time dictates it to be, but my perception of time is a series of zigs and zags, stops and starts, ups and downs. Looking back on those memories remind me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.  Having dreams and goals give me the inspiration to take a step forward toward the future that will be here whether I like it or not. And being mindful of the moment I’m in right this second, allows me to be grateful for that ticking clock of life.

Why did I write this post on time, I’m not sure.  Would I like the power to pause, rewind and fast forward time? Or to travel through time and back again? Maybe? Would you?

Best Day Yet…

The best day of the year came today. OK, maybe I can’t equivocally deem today the best day of 2018 as we’ve really only just begun. I can say it will rank up there in the top 10 best days of the year though. THIS is the day, I long for most. Is it my birthday? No. Did I get a huge raise? Hardly. Did my children surprise me by spontaneously cleaning the entire house? Did you just spit out your coffee? Yes, I am laughing too. I am dreaming big there!  So what might you ask, makes today, April 12, 2018, one of my top 10 best days of the year? Can you stand the suspense? Today is the first day the temperature made it into the 70’s, the sun is actually shining, and the Ohio winds died down to just a light breeze. You can’t plan for a day like this nor can you count down to it. It just comes seemingly out of nowhere. Bam! Spring fever has arrived.

Yes, indeed it is those little things that make me smile. When I woke up this morning I had no idea, today would be that day. As I walked to the corner Shell Station to get my morning cup of coffee (and yes, I know it is cheaper to make it at home, but that requires 10 minutes less snooze time and yes I digress again. But, I do love parathenticals), it was actually spitting snow. Yet when left the building at exactly 5:01 PM, the sun warmed my face and the wind tossled my hair. I wore no coat or jacket and I was not cold. Not only that, but I actually had no one I had to taxi to an activity after work. Thus, I made a beeline to the local Ace and picked up a pair of fresh gardening gloves and a sharp snipper thingy (I do believe that is the technical term for that tool:)) I even threw in a few packets of wildflower seeds for good measure!

I spent the last few hours digging in the dirt. I got out the rake and started in one corner of the yard. I cleared away the dried leaves from falls that were caught under the bushes and hiding my daffodils and tulips. I pulled out the remants of last summer’s tall grasses. I marvelled at the tips of green poking up through the moist dirt of plants whose names I don’t know. They are ready to burst through and thrive. Maybe I’m being a bit optimistic with that last part (this is me I’m writing about after all).

My knees are dirty, my face is flushed and any passers by probably got to see more of my backside than they wanted (as even with a belt my damn jeans keep falling down. Now I know how plumbers feel.) I breathed in the fresh, warm air that smelled of spring. Oh yes! I am blissful. I feel invigorated. I have that spring energy, where when I look at my yard everything is fresh and has possibilities. That hot, sweltering dusty, dryness of late July is in the distance. I am not yet cynical and too tired to pull another weed or water my withered flower beds or fight another infestation of bugs. Right now, in this moment, I can see the beautiful blooms in my minds eye and it is gorgeous.

 

 

Always Hope

Seemingly everywhere I turn, I am attuned to the suffering, angst and overwhelming depression around me.  If I focused too much on that heaviness, I could easily find myself wallowing in self-pity and inactivity; paralyzed and allowing fear to control my life. Is that living or merely surviving? Recently, I’ve felt more compelled to do something to further the causes that are important to me and not just be a passive bystander.

Those of you that follow me may remember that my 2018 motto is “Be Brave.” What does that mean? Have I been too fearful? Maybe.  More like timid. In the past, I often found myself holding back to keep the peace. But why? We all know life is not black and white.  Free thinking and the freedom to learn and grow allows for change and betterment. It’s those shades of gray that make life interesting. So, for me, being brave, is letting people know my authentic self. It means to take risks and speak (or write) my mind without worrying that someone, somewhere might be offended or not like me because of it. This was and is a huge, step for me, but one that feels incredibly right and liberating.

Discussion and differing view points are what allows us to come together as a community to find a meaningful solution instead of a “knee jerk” reaction or passively leaving it to someone else to decide. Having a voice, being informed and taking a stand, while listening and being respectful of others is the key to making a difference. It’s no longer enough for me to passively let “them” determine my destiny.

While issues big and small weigh on my mind at any given moment, as the title of this blog (“serendipity”) implies, it’s those little simple surprises that  remind us to smile, to be grateful and to always hope. So as the ides of March sets, I bring you the hope of spring and the promise sunnier days will come.

The first flowers of spring, sprout and bloom despite being frosted and snowed upon as the edge of winter recedes. And, now I just need to spot my first robin. Always hope.

People Problem? Gun Problem? Yes and Yes.

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

This is my 100th blog post. It has taken me seven years to get here as my writing life has had its ups and downs. I’d planned to write an upbeat post about the journey, hard work and successes. However, my heart is heavy and my stomach twists. I want to stand out in my yard and scream for it to stop. I fear for my children. I’m torn between wanting to keep them locked inside, home-schooled and safe and letting them venture out knowing that they have to live life  as do I. But….it is h-a-r-d.

As I scrolled through my news feeds and read various articles about the latest school shooting (how horrible is it to have to write latest), I feel like throwing up. How does this happen? Why does this happen? And why the fuck can’t people put their agendas aside and really listen to each other? (sorry for the language there — actually I’m not.) I am an angry mother and I want the politicians, law makers and my fellow citizens to look into their hearts and really think. The children that were killed Wednesday could have just as easily been YOUR children. The shooter could have been YOUR child. We need to stop pointing fingers at each other and ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING!!!!! How many lives have to be lost? How many children? How many lives have to be destroyed before we as a country take a real stand, collaborate and stop ignoring the problems.

Many articles have been written on this. We argue and accuse each other and fixate on one argument over another without truly hearing each other. We need our leaders to come together to make a true difference.  Next week the twitter will trail off and everyone will go back to their normal lives as if nothing happened and nothing will happen. Except that something did happen and those families and children will never be the same. I don’t want the next blip in the discussion about mental illness vs gun control to be when a bullied, mentally unstable person,who slipped through the cracks, comes into my children’s school with an assault rifle and unloads their 100 rounds of wrath and anger on my children. We need a real dialog now.

Those of you who have read my writings in the past know I am equivocally not an “Either/Or person and see the world largely through a “Both/And” lens. This situation is definitely a case for “Both/And.” I hear the same tired arguments over and over on both sides, but nothing changes. School should be a place where our children can safely learn and grow. When I was in high school, we had tornado drills and fire drills. We did not have “active shooter” drills. This is our norm now. The NORM!!!! Does this not make anyone else cringe? Why is this acceptable? I am not arguing that in this day and age that it isn’t necessary. This is a bandage that is barely closing a gaping wound in our society.

Here are the arguments I’ve heard and seen in the last 72 hours and what I interpret.

  1. Guns don’t kill, people do. This is a true statement. On the other hand, it is also a true statement that guns do NOT kill without people.
  2. It’s a people problem, not a gun problem. Actually, I think it is both. Yes, it’s a gun problem. I can buy and own a gun, easier than I can buy a box of Sudafed. Let that sink in. Sudafed that little red pill I used to be able to take for sinus pressure, I now must show a driver’s license, sign a computer registry and I’m limited to the amount I can buy in a month. No one seems to be bothered by this. What’s next baby aspirin?  Yet the second, people suggest that we limit the number of guns people can buy, make certain types of fire arms/ammunition or accessories illegal (to buy and manufacture?), institute a waiting period or a background check, we freak out and point to our Second amendment rights. When something injures children or people or even our pets–jarts, cribs with wide bars, car seats, contaminated dog food, cars, etc.–we recall the products and we either make them safer or stop selling them. Why is a certain category of products exempt?Yes, it is a people problem as well. We need to help people who are so hurt and wounded that they go to such extreme measures for attention and vengeance. We need better mental health coverage and care. We need to be aware of troubled students, co-workers and ask questions, offer encouragement and point them to help. We need to make it harder for them to hurt themselves and others. We need to stop bullying and teach our students (and lawmakers?) to praise our differences and embrace them, not marginalize them. We need to teach people gun safety. No where in the Second amendment does it say that we can’t be smart about it. We do not just let anyone drive a car or a semi-truck. No. We have instruction, we practice and we must pass a test to have a license to drive. We don’t make it easy. And, if we break the rules, they take our license away! No one is worried that when renew our driver’s licenses or get our automobile plates, that because our name and address is on a registry that the government now knows who has cars and knows where to confiscate them. Why do we treat gun ownership differently?
  3. If we ban assault rifles, what’s next? Cars? Knives? Pressure Cookers? People will find another way to kill. Yes, cars and knives can kill people. Where there’s a will, there’s a way for sure. People can pretty much turn anything into a weapon. I agree. Right now, we are talking about AR15 assault rifles that can kill and injure 30 -100 people in a matter of minutes (seconds?). Because a man put pipe bombs in his shoes at an airport, now all law-abiding travelers must take their shoes off if they want to fly. Because of 9/11, we go through metal detectors and our families can no longer meet us at the gate or see us off. We have to throw out liquids and snow globes if we want to board a plane. I understand why we have these rules. Yes, it makes air travel less convenient, but we are all safer for it. If knives, pressure cookers or cars become an issue in the future, then I would whole-heartedly want our society to dialog and make changes.
  4. Look at Chicago…Gun control laws don’t work anyway. Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t throw away the baby with the bath water.” I hear and read the failure for crime and gun deaths to fall in Chicago a city with some of the strongest gun control laws in the United States as a reason to keep things status quo. I did some reading on this as I was curious. I lived in Illinois for 5 years and I know that the state has waiting periods and registration rules for gun ownership. Why are things failing in Chicago?  Chicago is actually very close to the border of Indiana. Indiana has very weak gun laws. If the guns don’t kill, people do argument is true, then does it follow that Chicago has a higher population of unstable people and that if we made it easier for them to get guns within the city itself, would it also follow that they would have even more gun deaths without these laws? It reminds me of all those fireworks for sale signs you see as you cross from one state to another. Last chance! Buy now!
  5. We took God out of the classroom, what do we expect? I’m not exactly sure how God gets thrown into this discussion. God has never left our classrooms; religion has and should be. As parents it is our jobs to put love and acceptance into the hearts and minds of our children. To teach them morality, kindness, integrity, empathy.  Not judgement, superiority or mean-spiritedness. God is love. If God is not in our classrooms, that’s on us, not on anyone or anything else. We don’t need bibles or prayer or any one groups religious agenda in our classrooms. We need mercy and grace. Separation of Church and State is one of the guiding principles of our country. This idea as is the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments of which the Second is a part. Note it is an amendment – which by definition is a change or addition to our original constitution) is part of the fiber of our country. Are these principles infallible? Can they or should they change? Who decides?
  6. Let’s arm our teachers! Turn our schools into armed fortresses. This one probably scares me the most. Many schools are already cutting back music, arts, field trips, bus transportation and sports due to money issues. Do we really want to put the onus of protecting our children from “active shooters” on our educators? Who will pay for these weapons and training? Is it fair to ask our teachers to foot the bill to protect our children? Will tax payers step up? If people can also kill with bombs or cars, how will arming our teachers with guns help? In the seconds it takes to shot off 30 rounds, would a teacher be able to shoot an assailant with a hand gun? Os should they have AR15’s too? And what happens when an armed teacher fails to use their gun and freezes if in active shooter situation? Would they then be deemed negligent? What happens when an angry student gets ahold of one the teacher’s guns and accidentally shoots another student. It will happen. It happens in homes now. The answer is not to become a military state where fear and intimidation prevails. There has to be a better way.
  7. Why punish law-abiding citizens?  I understand where law-abiding gun owners are coming from. It’s the old one bad egg spoils it for everyone. Yep. That’s true. Life is not fair. Get over it already. Accept it. Don’t use it as an excuse to not protect our children. The sole purpose of an AR15 is to destroy. Yes there are examples where people have learned to shoot and reload other guns rapidly in competition.  Should we ban those too? If they are available then why not the AR15? It takes time practice and dedication to shoot other guns this way, not so much for a military grade weapon designed for war. Why make it easy for every-day people to own them? Yes, there are black markets. Yes these types of guns will exist in the world. I accept that fact. I’m ok with that. But, how many teenagers do you know that have black market connections? Do you know where to find black market connections. It would be much harder for someone to get an AR15 from the “black market” than it is for them to go to the local gun shop. No one is saying we should ban all fire arms. I haven’t read that solution one time.

If everyone could put their fears and pride aside, I know we could come together as a community and as a nation to help those people who feel unheard, to keep our children safe and keep our Second amendment rights intact. We need to put our fears and politics aside to make it happen before the “thoughts and prayers” sentiments ring in our own ears as we stand over the grave of one of our children.

I know my idea may not be popular among all of my friends, followers and readers. Everyone has a right to their own opinion.  I have never been an overly political person. Lately, though I have felt more compelled to write. I know one article won’t make a hell of a lot of difference and that we will come to the stalemate of doing nothing. If we keep doing the same thing over and over, why are we surprised that we get the same results over and over? Or maybe we aren’t surprised, but we’ve become immobilized by apathy.

I’m open to your comments and ideas. Thanks for reading.

Does Winning Have To Be Everything?

20170928_234413893_iOSMy fifth grader recently finished up her first season of basketball. She’s been learning the basics, since third grade and attended Coach Huger’s Basketball Camp last summer and fall. This, though, was her first year where she got to play actual games and not just a scrimmage at the half time of someone else’s game. She spent countless hours in the driveway shooting hoops and dribbling. She loves to play. Nevermind she’s this little, waif of a girl, she is tenacious and not afraid to shoot. She was ready to play.

Her coaches were awesome and gave all the girls on her team equal opportunity to play in games, even when they weren’t winning, which was most of the time. In fact, her team didn’t win one game all season. They lost a lot and by a lot. However, she didn’t let that get her down. She kept practicing and pushing forward.  She and her team made strides and improved immensely as the season progressed. By her last game they only lost by single digits. It didn’t matter to her that she lost (OK maybe it did a little as who doesn’t like to win once in a while?), only that she played her best. She learned and she grew as a player. I am proud of her. Not because she scored baskets or got to be the point guard once in a while, but because she is a team player and worked hard.  At basketball camp she was on the team that won the end-of-camp tournament both times. However, the best sport trophy was the one that made me proudest.

Juxtapose her experience with that of my oldest daughter. She played her last game as a ninth grader after spending countless hours on the bench. From seventh grade through ninety grade her playing time in games wasn’t more than an entire game total. I am just as proud of her as my younger daughter though. I cheered even louder and encouraged her even more for those last few minutes or seconds when she got in to the game. I don’t think I could have been more excited when she was finally in a position to shoot, was passed the ball and scored a basket in the very last game she played.  My heart broke for her on those games when she didn’t get to play at all. I think my heart ached for her more than her own disappointment in not getting to play at all. And why didn’t she get to play, I thought to myself after every game when she didn’t even when her team was beating their opponent by more than 20 points. She worked hard and she practiced hard.

Our school district has a strict policy about asking the coaches about “playing time,” so I kept my mouth shut as my disagreement in coaching philosophy grew.  I watched as her love for playing the sport and being on a team dwindled to nothing. She has no desire to play any more. She, too was a small side. However, she was more timid than her sister. As  parent I understand that not everyone can be a starter or the MVP of the team. What I fail to understand though why all players aren’t developed as opposed to only those that showed some natural ability.  In the beginning she went to basketball camp and practiced in the driveway; however, her enthusiasm diminished as even though her skills improved, her playing time never did.

As I was prohibited from asking the coaches about playing time, I encouraged her to talk to them to find out what she could do to improve and see more time in the game.  After finally finding the courage to ask, she came home more discouraged than ever when she was given a vague answer of “improved basketball skills and knowledge of the game overall.”  What??? The lowest day came when the coaches dismissed her and a couple other players from practice early to work with the starters as they weren’t “needed.”  I only heard her side so I don’t know if that was meant, but it’s what she heard.

10984214_10153569454479046_6742827290618213911_nI was frustrated to learn later that she and several other players not deemed “good enough,” sat against the wall during many practices and watched the starters scrimmage and learn the plays. She wasn’t even given the opportunity to learn the plays during practice. Is it any wonder that when put in the game she had no confidence. If she made any small error I could see her eyes travel immediately towards the coach’s, waiting to be pulled out. Sure enough as if it were a self-fulfilling prophecy, she’d be back on the bench in one or two plays. Even the very best players make mistakes in games, they: foul, travel, miss shots and rebounds, throw bad passes, and step out-of-bounds. The difference is they have the confidence to know they won’t be pulled from the game if they aren’t perfect. Mistakes are part of the game. A field goal percentage of 50% and above is considered good. That means most players miss at least one basket for everyone they make! You have to shoot to score. If a player is not given the opportunity to play during practice or allowed to gain experience in actual games (in middle school!), how will they ever grow into the players they could be? Is it politics? Coach ego? The drive to win? I’m not sure, but it sure sucks. I can understand the “must win” mentality at the college level and obviously at the pro-level as those coaches are being paid mega-bucks to win.

As far as I can tell even the starters of our winningest team didn’t go out to play Big 10 basketball or even little 10 basketball. Our stands are not crawling with scouts. Would allowing all team members the space and time to make mistakes and become better players in lieu of a perfect record be that horrible? I worry that this same fate is in store for my younger daughter as she moves into junior high in the coming years. I want her to learn that hard work does pay off in the end. I want her to know that winning isn’t the end all and be all. I want her to have a positive experience and good memories. I have fond memories of my time as a basketball player. Granted I played in our local CYO league, but I got to play the game I loved without worrying about being judged or punished for not being perfect. I may not have scored every game and our team definitely didn’t win every game, but when I look back on that time I remember the laughter, the camaraderie and the excitement of playing on a team and being part of something bigger than myself. That is what I want for my daughters.

I truly don’t get the need to win at all costs. Why is winning more important than encouraging and developing all our young athletes into becoming better players? I don’t think we need to give our kids participation awards to make them feel good, but I do think we need to give them all the opportunity to be better. Just think how good Michael Jordan’s high school team might have been had his coach spent time developing him instead of cutting him from the team. Luckily for basketball fans (especially those in Chicago), Jordan didn’t get discouraged. He continued practicing and practicing to improve his skills instead of giving up and believing he’d never be good enough.

Life is unfair. I get that. It’s a lesson we all learn sooner or later.  However, I’d rather it be later than sooner. What do you think? Do we place too much emphasis on winning in middle school/high school sports?