The best disappointing loss we ever had

In the small frame, this post is about basketball. In the bigger picture, it’s about learning life. I’ll try not to go into the weeds of basketball getting to the larger point.

Our university’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Final Four this year. We’ve been spoiled by going to the Final Four eight times in the past 20 years. However, our team has brought home the National Championship only once in those eight trips. This means we’ve had seven instances of build-up and high hopes, followed by bitter disappointment.

Our last Final Four was four years ago, when Big Brother was six years old. He was just becoming conscious of the game called basketball, and wasn’t interested in it as television viewing. The words “Final Four” meant nothing to him.

Since then, he began playing organized basketball. This past winter, his 5th grade team had a challenging season, but turned their fortunes around at the end by winning their league tournament. Not only did Big Brother learn how much effort and determination it took to win such a tournament, it stirred his interest in our university’s team.

He began watching the NCAA tournament games with increased interest. For me, this was a long-awaited perk of fatherhood: watching sports with a child who cared about the game.

It’s a double-edged perk.

Even in 5th grade, it takes long hours of practice.

On Saturday, we watched the National Semi-final together. The game went back and forth, until the opposing team pulled ahead. Then our team came back and got within one point, but the momentum switched again and the other team held on to win.

It was another case of high hopes leading to disappointment. I’d been there before, but it was a new experience for Big Brother. The final buzzer left him lying face down on the couch. I rolled him over to find tears in his eyes.

At that moment I felt proud, which seems a little odd, but I was glad he could develop a passion for something beyond his own person. I also felt a tinge of guilt at my role in turning him into a sports fan. Sports leads to disappointment more often than not. Even the good seasons mostly end with a loss. Nobody likes to see their children disappointed.

But we have to see them disappointed. The character moments are born of disappointment. I talked to Big Brother about keeping perspective. There are so many things in his life, more important than basketball, to be happy about. We talked about disappointment, and how you have to move past it, get on with life, and be ready for what comes your way next.

I didn’t cheer him up much that night. He’ll have to see it for himself. Life is back to normal, with more pressing things that need attention (e.g. school assignments). If my words can just hang out in the background until the next disappointment life hands him, perhaps they can help him see it’s probably not the end of the world.

I would have preferred a victory, but as far as disappointing losses go, this one may have been the most useful.

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The Tooth Fairy doesn’t work weekends

The Tooth Fairy is due to make another visit. In fact, he’s overdue. A top-notch Tooth Fairy would have shown up sometime last night. Our Tooth Fairy is middling at best.

Lately, Big Brother has been shedding teeth like a hockey player with scurvy. Perhaps our Tooth Fairy has merely been overworked.

Our Tooth Fairy leaves $1, in the form of a golden Presidential dollar coin, under the pillow for each tooth. Our Tooth Fairy gets these coins from his day job, where he buys them from the big bag of dollar coins nobody knows what to do with. Dollar coins are a novelty in the United States, which makes them great for Tooth Fairies, but troublesome to institutions that are occasionally paid them but don’t have a clue how to bundle them for bank deposit.

Our Tooth Fairy is not completely without an eye to the future. He usually buys two coins at a time, but at the rate Big Brother spits out baby teeth, our Tooth Fairy often needs a day’s notice before he can accumulate the wherewithal to visit the pillow. For these same reasons, he doesn’t work on weekends.

We can afford only two teeth purchases at a time.

We can afford only two teeth purchases at a time.

For the first couple of lost teeth, the loose tooth phase was a big deal, no matter how long it lasted. Two weeks of drama, waiting for the final separation was not unheard of. Now, teeth fall with neither pomp nor circumstance. The only reason I knew there was a loose tooth situation this time was because Big Brother complained it was making it inconvenient to eat his corn on the cob at dinner.

Half an hour after going to bed, Big Brother came downstairs with a tooth in his hand. It was a fine tooth, worth every penny of a dollar, and it took all of 30 minutes of wiggling to extract. I told him to rinse out his mouth and go back to bed. Nobody told him to put the tooth under his pillow.

But he did anyway.

This morning he complained the Tooth Fairy had neglected him. We explained that the Tooth Fairy had already set out on her rounds with a strict itinerary by the time his tooth came out. His teeth must fall out before the Tooth Fairy leaves the office, which is, coincidentally, about the same time Daddy leaves work.

I bought two dollar coins today, which will net me two more baby teeth. I don’t have a use or a want for this commodity but nobody ever told me Tooth Fairying was a profitable business or rewarding hobby.

That’s the way with children. You spend money on stuff you’d rather not have. Teeth are pretty cheap compared to all the other crap. With two more suppliers coming up, I guess we’ll go on buying at this rate.

A smart Tooth Fairy would probably just go ahead and buy out the entire sack of dollar coins in one transaction, but I never said our Tooth Fairy was top-notch.

 

The Terrible Twos wait for no one

Big Man was considering the “Terrible Twos” recently, thinking about how his second birthday is still five months off, when he had a toddler epiphany: why wait? There’s no law that says you have to wait until two to be terrible. Besides with all the good work he already has under his belt: making mincemeat out of Daddy’s CD collection, destroying all his brothers’ best LEGO creations, becoming a master artist in the medium of ripped books and papers, he’s already got a meatier resume in terrible than most authentic two-year-olds.

I must reluctantly agree. Big Man has outgrown the level of destruction, chaos, and all-around mess-making expected of a one-year-old. It’s difficult for parents to see their kids grow up so quickly, but to attempt to hold him back from the terrible twos would be an injustice to his nature.

There’s lots of fun to be had in the terrible twos, unless you happen to be one of the unfortunate people who is not two, and also not terrible. In that case, you might not see all the fun in it. You may not be able to picture the fun through all the mopping up and taping back together you find yourself doing. But everybody has their role to play; that’s the beauty of the system.

"You didn't need any of this stuff, did you?"

“You didn’t need any of this stuff, did you?”

I don’t want to say Big Man is a naughty boy; I want to use euphemisms like “active” and  my favorite, “busy.” Big Man is indeed a “busy” little boy. He is very busy being naughty. But it’s all in good fun. He doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body. It’s just that his idea of good fun means somebody has to clean it up or glue it back together, or just throw it away and realize that God didn’t mean for him to have nice things.

"Got my safety goggles on, now lets fix some stuff that aint broken."

“Got my safety goggles on, now let’s fix some stuff that ain’t broken yet.”

Big Man is very curious as to how things work, and most often you’ve got to take it apart to see how it works. I’m convinced he needs to know how every single thing in our house works, now that he knows the secret to figuring it out. Child safety latches mean nothing to him. Wait, I take that back. Safety latches mean there is a rewarding treasure of dangerous things to discover behind this cabinet door – possibly things that can be plugged in.

the mother lode

It’s easier to find the right pan when they are spread out over the kitchen floor. What a helpful boy!

In fairness, I must say that Big Man revels in being helpful. He will bring you your shoes, regardless of whether you intend going out. He is so eager to give you your shoes that he sometimes flings them at you from across the room. If a shoe happens to clip your head, that’s a helpful reminder that you should always keep an eye out for your shoes after you decide to go out – and sometimes before you decide. Also, it is not the most painful thing likely to hit your head today, so just count your blessing and put on your shoes.

And my blessing always include Big Man.

Hay still smells good, but Daddy’s done with cows

For some strange reason, it smelled like a haymow on the second floor of my building yesterday. It’s not the kind of space that should smell like hay. Maybe somebody was just wearing an extra dose of Barnyard by Calvin Klein. Whatever the reason, it sent my mind reeling back to the 1970s.

The images in my memory were not ones of attempting to lug hay bales as big as myself, or of scratching up my arms on the rough edges of cut hay. They weren’t of getting blisters in the joints of my destined-for-office-work fingers from the friction of baler twine. They weren’t of trying to balance on a moving wagon while keeping out of the way of bigger kids who could actually heft the bales up onto the stack.

My memories were of building forts with bales in the mow; of playing hide and seek and tunneling between the stacks; of the hay smelling fun, not being the odor of sweat and hard work.

haymow diplomacy

Ah, those good old days! Making forts, hiding out, and negotiating international treaties in the wonderland of the haymow. It was good to be a kid. (Image: Ridson Tillery – US Farm Security Administration)

My wife once asked me if I regretted my children not having that kind of upbringing. I said no.

They’ll have much more opportunity in their suburban childhoods than I had in my rural one. They will have schools with more resources, and a wider variety of people with which to interact. They will miss out on some particular brands of fun, but they’ll miss much of that fun merely because it’s not the ‘70s anymore. Even in the country, it’s 2015, with 2015 rules and regulations.

A farm life would be good to teach them the value of hard work. It might teach them that you can smell bad and still walk tall, as long as you smell bad for a good reason, and only when necessary. It could teach them humility, as it did me when my job was to hold cows’ tails. Cows’ tails can get to be very – let’s call it grimy – and having to hold them tight can make a young dandy have to swallow a good portion of his pride.

All the cows are doin it

Even with a friend along to help talk to the cow into it, I still don’t want to do any more milking. (Image: John Vachon – US Farm Security Administration)

There can be many character benefits to a farm life, but I don’t want it for my boys. The selfish truth of the matter is I don’t want it for me, because if they lived on a farm, I’d have to live there too, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to start work at 4 a.m. and knock off after dark. I don’t want to carry blisters on my still perfect-office-worker fingers all through haying season. I don’t want to coerce milk from an animal who doesn’t feel like giving it up, or even one who does. I don’t want my livelihood held hostage by the weather or a far-away commodities market. And I never want to have to grab hold of another cow’s stinky, sticky, wet tail again.

I’ve decided the second floor of my building smelled more like a silo. Silos were always dark and damp inside. I never had any fun in a silo.