Hoops, Hopes & Heart
All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them. (Magic Johnson)
Today is Yael’s first day of basketball practice. I am still shocked that I am even writing those words. This is the same child who always hated P.E., never liked to run and never once showed an interest in team sports. It’s hard to blame her really. She has poor visual spatial skills, low muscle tone and her fine & gross motor planning skills are still a struggle. That would be enough for most of us to steer clear of organized sports. But, her new school encourages all students to play at least one sport during the year. They have a “no cut” policy, which means that no matter the skill level or experience, anyone who wants to play can play. The only reason one can be cut from the team would be an unwillingness to listen to instruction and participate actively. In other words, if you bring the right attitude and “can do” spirit, there is a place for you on the court.
So, off my daughter went this morning. She had a huge smile on her face and an air of excitement surrounded her. I asked if she was nervous, especially given the fact that she had never really played basketball before. She was not. She was ready to simply do her best and have fun. As excited and proud as I am to see this new-found confidence that Yael has in her physical abilities, I am equally as hesitant. She will, after all, be playing on a varsity level. There are not enough girls in the middle school & high school who want to play, so they combine the two to form a team. There are 24 scheduled games and she will be practicing every week, Tuesday through Friday, from 3:00-5:00. My husband and I keep quietly asking one another if it is more than she’ll be able to handle. Will she have the stamina or will she begin to fizzle out halfway through the season? I mean, this is the same kid who tucks herself in almost every night at 8:30 sharp, announcing that’s she’s tired and needs to go to bed. She’ll be coming home from practices and games late, then there will be homework to get done. Will she be able to juggle it all, remain organized and not begin to get stressed out? Did I mention that her executive functioning skills are a struggle as well? No? Well, according to the last psychoeducational battery of testing, they still are.
But I must admit to an even greater fear & worry. What if, despite her best efforts & positive attitude, she hits the court and simply can’t play. In practice, with her peers, I know that will be okay. There, they will build her up, help her to learn & grow as she develops this fledgling skill. It’s the actual games that scare me. I don’t want my daughter laughed at, or left feeling vulnerable mid-court when she misses the pass or can’t dribble & run at the same time. I mean, let’s face it autism & athletic ability rarely go hand in hand. The “what ifs” run rampant in my mind and I instinctively want to place a protective force field around my daughter. Wouldn’t it be safer to just stick with what she knows? On somebody else’s turf, on their home court, she may truly falter. And who will be left to pick up those pieces and build her back up, when she gets knocked down, suffers that first loss or begins to question her abilities?
The answer is clear… I will. I will show up at her games with a smile on my face. I will cheer from the stands with everything I’ve got. I will encourage her, believe in her and support her through every step, every dribble, every pass and every basket. I will quietly contain the fears and anxieties, recognizing that those belong to me and should never be placed upon her shoulders. My job, as a parent, is to step back and allow my daughter to pursue her passions. I can guide her along the way, but she must learn how to follow her heart, her gut & her instincts. Those are skills that will serve her well in life. So many will doubt her abilities along the way, believing that autism defines her, limits her and makes investing in her a waste of time & resources. She’ll need to prove them wrong.
So as hesitant as I am, I am also incredibly proud of my kid. I am filled with admiration for her courage, her fearlessness and her willingness to take risks, to try and to fail. She is braver than me. That is a fact. I am not so willing to put myself out there, particularly in such a public forum. To allow yourself to be vulnerable requires a depth of strength that is hard to come by. She’s got it. Perhaps autism is a blessing in that the “what ifs” don’t often exist in such a concrete & literal world. Maybe we would all benefit from a dose of that every now & again. Just think how much we might accomplish if we did. What hidden talents might we discover buried deep within ourselves?
So, I am going to do my best to bench those fears. I’ll end those “what ifs” with a healthy dose of optimism. What if she finds out she is good at basketball? What if she learns meaningful life lessons about being a part of a team? What if she shoots & scores? What if learning to lose with grace builds character? What if she truly surprises us all with undiscovered talents & abilities? So, win or lose, whether she plays like an ace or fumbles through the game, if she heats up the court, or just warms the bench, I know my girl has the heart of a true champion. And no matter what, I will always be her biggest cheerleader and her number one fan.
I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass. (Maya Angelou)