Go Swish

Aaron stayed home from school one day a week before Spring Break. He had a real fever. He wasn’t faking. It was simply a coincidence that it was March Madness, simply a coincidence that fever struck the same time last year, requiring him to spend hours in bed watching televised basketball games. But on this particular stay-home day, there were no games on until late afternoon. And so it was that he found himself at home with me, too weak to play basketball outside, wondering what to do.

I’m a gal who likes my arts and crafts, but Aaron can rarely be bothered to draw or paint. We spend much more time playing sports together than sitting side by side creating. With one exception: he is passionate about drawing team mascots. Last Fall he mastered the top 25 college football teams and every Major League Baseball insignia. So I pulled out some old business cards that I will never need again (my former law firm being defunct), my favorite oil pastel crayons and made him an offer. 

“Want to draw something, Aaron?”

“No, thanks.”

Think, think, think; we have a long day in front of us. “Want to draw the basketball mascots?”

Pause. “Um, okay . . .” He diligently set to work. His hands and face concentrated on the colors and small papers, ignoring all else. When he looked up, he had completed drawing all the “Sweet 16” mascots. The drawings were so vibrant, I asked if we could make color copies of them. That triggered his idea: we could play a game with them, like Go Fish. And we could call it—Go Swish, as in, nothin’ but net.

Fifty dollars later, the local print shop had copied, laminated and cut two sets of cards. (Clearly we have to work out production costs.)  The game was a hit at our house. I was so proud of his creativity; it was a very different endeavor for him. He was so proud of himself that he got over the initial hurt when a certain cousin wasn’t all that impressed with his artistry.

He was so proud, he asked me to write about it.


March Madness began over cereal and milk and the Sports section, reading the disappointing news that our UCLA Bruins didn’t even make the competition. An hour ago, March Madness ended with us in pajamas, way past bedtime, rooting against all odds for Butler, a small Indiana school I had never heard of, to defeat mighty Duke. I had expected Duke to crush them. As you probably know (or maybe, I’m breaking the story for you?), I was so wrong. Butler stayed with Duke point for point, never getting down more than 6, and usually staying within two. In the last two minutes of the game, they came back from a five point deficit, and were within one point.

The game came down to the last 3.6 seconds. Down by 1 point, a Butler player named Gordon Hayward, snagged the rebound, hustled down court, lofted the ball from almost half-court and DAMN if the ball didn’t hit the backboard and the rim before bouncing out. Half an inch difference, he might have had a heroic, impossible, victory-clinching buzzer-beater shot, and the memory of a lifetime. Instead, at this very moment he is likely processing the would-have’s, the could-have’s, and maybe drying his eyes.

The camera showed his parents earlier tonight, in the stands. Their son was at the free throw line, all eyes in the stadium, the country, on him. As he prepared to shoot, his mother and father appeared tense, looking down, like they were awaiting a verdict, or a grim diagnosis. I wonder if anyone else noticed that moment, before cutting back to the game, but I felt it along with them.

I have a confession. I feel like that sometimes watching Little League. My child steps up to the plate and it’s all I can do to remember to breathe. We’re not supposed to cheer (at least not while they’re waiting for a pitch), so there’s no outlet for all that energy that’s coursing through my body saying, please please please: be happy. I’m not the only one like this; I am surprised there aren’t more heart attacks in the bleachers.

The kids seem to handle the pressure okay. There are sometimes tears, but mostly not. There is disappointment, to be sure. I’ve watched Aaron walk back to the dugout after striking out, head lowered, only to see him a few minutes later chatting with his buddy on the bench, chewing huge wads of bubble gum and laughing, reminding me to breathe again. And I’ve watched him whack one out to left field, past the third baseman, arriving safely at first base, permitting me to release the tension with a giant whoop and holler.

It’s good stuff, these highs and lows, this tension and comic relief, this life. I hope Aaron knows I’m proud of him, strike outs or base hits; drawings or not. I hope Gordon Hayward knows I was rooting for him. I would have given a lot for that ball to have Gone Swish.

The X-Rated Birds and Bees

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the moderately-guilty).

As much as we like to think we are our children’s best teachers, it’s the time they spend with friends that provide them with the most “education.” Case in point: the few days our 8-year-old, let’s call him Huck, spent at baseball camp last month. At camp, the counselors teach batting, fielding, throwing and chewing bubble gum. The campers teach scratching, spitting and singing rude songs. Huck comes home singing about Batman peeing on the wall, Scooby Doo eating poo and a word-play game that he generously teaches his five-year-old brother: “Hey, Butch,” he whispers to him with a sly smile, “say ‘X’ really fast, over and over.”

Butch, pleased to be enlisted in his brother’s game, says: “X X X X X X X.”

Huck giggles uncontrollably. “You said, ‘Sex sex sex sex sex sex sex!’”

Butch is unperturbed. To the contrary, he thinks it is the pinnacle of humor. They keep at it. They sling “X X X X” all over the neighborhood. It’s getting a little out of control. My husband, Stud, decides he has been handed a “teachable moment.” It is time to Talk About Sex.

It’s not like we haven’t talked with our children before about where babies come from. They have long known that a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg, leading to the development of a baby. They have had long chats about the games they played together as lonely eggs in my ovary, waiting to become zygotes and begin their cells dividing. A sleepy, sluggish three-year-old Butch once commented, “I’m not feeling very fertilized right now.” (Truly, I could not make this stuff up.)

They also know that babies, including them, come out through a woman’s vagina, or sometimes her stomach.  But they have never asked The Big One: how do the sperm and ovum end up at the same party?

I always expected to be the one to have The Talk. After all, two years ago Huck asked my husband, “Daddy, how do babies get inside Mommy’s tummy?” and his wise father replied, chin in hand, “Good question. You should ask Mommy about that some time.”

But this time, amidst the chorus of “sex” reverberating through the house, Stud decides to step up to the plate. “Do you know what sex is, guys?”

“Yes.” Butch replies. “It means kissing.”

“No,” Huck counters, “it’s naked cuddling.”

I listen from the other room as Stud takes a swing. “Sex,” he explains, “is when a man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina, because they want to make a baby.”

Silence. No laughter. Shock has set in. For all of us.

I listen for a sound, anything. Finally, Butch speaks: “I’m hungry.”

And so we move on . . . .

The next day the four of us go to see Alvin and the Chipmunks. We are sitting in the dark movie theater waiting for the previews to end. Two on-screen characters kiss. “That’s sex, right mom?” Butch asks.

Thank goodness I overhead their dad’s explanation yesterday. I repeat it, adding for good measure: “ . . . because they love each other and are married.” I consider adding that the man and woman have Ph.D’s, but let it go for now.

“Oh yeah,” Butch says, and the movie begins. Sexy girl chipmunks fawn over Alvin, Simon and Theodore and shake their rumps singing Beyonce’s Single Ladies. Horny teenage boys threaten Alvin because species-blind teenage girls have swooned and sighed over these rodent rock stars. Sex is everywhere.

Walking home later, Butch explores every leaf on every plant. I watch him, marvel at his concentration, wonder at his inner conversation. Out of the silence he asks in the slow, articulated voice he has, “Can I play with Kevin tomorrow?” He considers the leaf in his hand. “I want to tell him what sex is.”


I envision him becoming the scourge of the pre-school, the playmate to avoid. “Well, honey,” I try to appeal to his sense of propriety, “that’s something his mommy and daddy want to tell him about. It’s not for friends to tell.” I almost add, “Kind of like Santa Claus,” but that would just complicate matters. Butch seems to understand, but his eyes betray significant disappointment. “I wish I could tell him,” he adds.

“I know, honey. But please don’t.”

We get home and I e-mail Kevin’s mother an advance apology for the things my son will no doubt teach hers, not just in pre-school but over the next thirteen years. I get a frantic reply from her, wanting to know exactly what words she should be prepared for. When I tell her over the phone the words we used, verbatim, I hear the now-expected silence, and wonder if the phone has gone dead. Then I hear her breathe. “Wow,” she sputters. “You guys left nothing to the imagination.” Yeah. We figured it was best that way.

And I wonder as we say goodbye, if maybe we’re all going to be on the “playmates to avoid” list for a while.