In Spite of it All

The fate of Sunday evening hinges on the outcome of my son’s basketball game.   If it’s been a good game, the last night of the weekend is safe.  It not, we are in for hours of disgruntled teenager.  An unhappy teen is a like a tree falling in the forest–it requires an audience, even if he “doesn’t want to talk about it.” If his first words are “I suck,” it’s time to open the Chardonnay.

A good game is defined not by whether my son’s team has won or lost, but by whether his level of play meets his expectations.  He’s a solid ball player–neither awesome or awful–and he plays in-house league.  House league is akin to a well-organized neighborhood game.  All of the kids know each other.  They have one practice a week.  They don’t have to try out.  Everyone plays.  But that doesn’t seem to make it any easier for him.

I certainly understand.  I spent most of my teenage years thinking “I suck.”  We didn’t use that word back then.  It was a far stronger pejorative then, than it is today. As the R-rated meaning fades with time, it works for me, an apt description of the vacuum of self-doubt that can pull one down.

I’m a violinist.  Like my son, solid but not stellar.   I used to panic before  every concert and competition.  My mother, tired of the drama, suggested that it might be time to quit.  I was appalled. What was she thinking?  All I could say was, “But Mom, I LOVE this!”

I didn’t get a handle on it until a year ago. Until then, I treated performing like a roller coaster ride.  I’d close my eyes and breathe deeply until it was over.  I managed the stress, but couldn’t remember anything afterwards. No magic.  An instructor finally talked some sense into me.  She said that she enjoyed hearing me play, but watching me play was another matter. “Let it go,” she said. “If not, what are you doing this for?”

Half of a memorable performance is an audience.  I like performing now.  I smile when I play. I make a lot of mistakes.  No one has ever asked for their money back.

So when my son heads out for the game, I tell him to have fun. He scoffs. “What if I suck?” he says.  I tell him, “You don’t have fun because you don’t suck.  You have fun in spite of the fact that sometimes you do.”  And no one cares.  Least of all me.

So I tell him to go and find something to love.  The thump of the ball against the floor, and the chirp of squeaking tennis shoes.  The smile of his best friend after he makes a basket, and the sharp satisfying sting of the high-five they share afterwards.  The weightless feeling when he leaps for a rebound, and the faces of his teammates as they line up for a free throw.  And I tell him that if he hits that three, remember that too, and soak it in, because these moments are rarer than you think. And he ignores me.

Life Sucks, says the bumper sticker.  Yes, sometimes it does.  But in spite of it all, it rocks.

Photograph by Mvongrue