Last week Jesse played his last basketball game as a 5th grader. In a gym where I also played as a 5th grader. He lost. They gave him a medal anyway – for losing two games. For most of the night I was embarrassed.
But not because of Jesse. No way. Not because of him.
We had taken with us Marc and Ruth, our friends from Brazil. Two of the most inspiring people I know. They operate a children’s program in Fortaleza, Brazil, that provides education, safe play, and good nutrition to children in some of Brazil’s poorest favelas. Marc and Ruth are some of our favorite people in the world; I can’t imagine ever being embarrassed by them.
I certainly wasn’t embarrassed by the facilities. Even though that gym has been around for as long as I can remember and sort of shows its age, it is a sign of rural America fighting for viability. The elementary school has long moved out of town for consolidation, but the gym still hosts a 5th and 6th grade basketball tournament every year. It’s a niche market, but they know how to work it.
And besides, our friends were right at home in a simple gym without a fancy rubber coated floor or padded seats.
Nope, none of that bothered me. Jesse was his usual competitive but polite self. The gym represented the struggles and small triumphs of a rural economy trying to hold it together. I was proud of those things.
But I was embarrassed by a number of the adults in that gym. The parents and even a coach or two. When we first arrived, my girls sat in front of a woman yelling and screaming for her slightly chubby 5th grader to grab that rebound so loudly it was blowing the girls’ hair straight out in front of their shock-wide eyes. As Ada would relate later, this upset mom was overheard telling the ref to “go to where-the-Devil-lives.” Thanks for that, lady.
It didn’t get much better after our game started. I always cringe at this kind of behavior. Even the kind of yelling that parents think is being helpful often seems like too much to me. In my non-professional opinion, a kid learns a sport better when they have the opportunity to get their own feel for it. They need to learn to trust their instincts and the training of their coaches, not the sound of their mother in the stands shouting for them to JUST SHOOT! Sure, I’m guilty. Even that night I wondered what my spiritual friends would think of me yelling out, “Go, White!” or “Defense, Eagles!” (Cheerleaders die hard, okay?)
Once we all returned to the van for the 30 minute drive home through narrow, dark country roads, I wondered what our international friends would make of our basketball experience. Would they be appalled by our pushy attitudes toward our 10 year olds? Would they be surprised by our willingness to spend time and money on a meaningless game? Would they be shocked by the way we yell and stomp our feet and fuss?
No. Marc’s comment went more like this, “It’s so nice that you have something like this you can all do together. It’s so good for parents to be involved in their kids’ lives. This is something our kids in Brazil just don’t have. It’s a blessing, really.”
I’ll try to remember those words next time I’m embarrassed by a parent who takes things a little more seriously than I think is optimal for his child’s emotional development. I’ll try to be grateful that he’s there. Being there counts for a lot. Probably more than I can imagine.