It’s 3:30 AM and I can’t sleep. I’ve been working on another blog post, but this one seems to be writing itself. Or at least keeping me from sleeping. I’m all worked up. Just short of a hot mess.
I went to Joita’s first basketball game of the season yesterday. It was played at the opposing school, another elementary school in the town where she goes to school. The gym, not built for spectators, was a typical elementary school gym, devoid of much in the way of amenities. Those few of us parents in attendance sat cross legged on the sidelines away from the players, coaches and scorekeepers. The other team had a player whose father is a university basketball coach and she was amazing to watch. Like a graceful gazelle she scored 30 points in the first half. Seemingly without effort. By then it was time for us to pull out the big guns and get serious. Joita was called in to play.
For her first 10 seconds on the court she tripped and fell flat on her face. As her parent, I held my breath and sent loving courageous thoughts her way while others looked uncomfortably away. Her second time out on the court she was at mid-court (because she is so much slower than the other players) when a ball got away from the opposing team. She was in great position for a break-away (so to speak). And she dribbled down the court with me shrieking on the sidelines. Unfortunately, when she got near the basket she bounced the ball on her foot and sent it sailing out of bounds. And fell again.
I was sitting next to the other two parents from our school at the far end of the court, on the sideline floor. The parent in the middle got up to go use the bathroom, leaving me next to a woman I’ve noticed doesn’t seem to like me. She appears to be a youngish mother for a junior high school student. She looks like a page ripped out of the Athleta catalog; LuLu Lemon workout pants and Sundance Catalog blouses and footwear. She’s attractive in that Meg Ryan kind of way, blonde hair cut in a fashionable bob and big brown eyes. Her daughter, Summer, joined the team this year and since the first practice, this woman has flagrantly ignored me.
Since our first meeting I have felt her blatant dislike of me. She sized me up immediately, with a look of condescension and repugnance that was like a tangible force. Such was the look on her face, lips raised in a near sneer and nose wrinkled in enmity. At first I tried to convince myself that I was just being overly sensitive and that perhaps she was just shy. So I tried to say hello and make small talk with her before, during or after games and practices. But each time I was repelled by her palpable disdain.
At yesterday’s game, after the woman between us left, after I yelled and cheered (admittedly somewhat garishly), I turned and looked at her. Again, as she studiously avoided looking at me there was a look of contempt and irritability on her face. I sheepishly apologized saying, “Sorry I’m so loud. I guess I get a little over-excited when she gets her hands on the ball…” But before I’d even gotten that far she literally, moving like a cross-legged crab, skittered away from me turning her back unequivocally and unremittingly to me. I finished my sentence dumbly facing her back as shame colored my cheeks. I’d been definitively shunned.
As I sat there in my discomfort, Joita made her third appearance on the court. There was less than 5 minutes in the game and basically it was a total blowout with the other team’s score close to 50. The ball got knocked out right in front of me at what was then our basket. The referee moved his towering frame around the court in a somewhat curious dance. I knew what he was doing. By moving around thus, he effectively compelled players to move back, positioning himself between Joita and the other 8 girls on the court with a clear pass-in from the girl on the side and a clear shot at the basket. As he passed the ball to the girl throwing in he whispered, “I think number 12 is open.” She passed to Joita and there was a moment of hush as Jo took a step and positioned herself. Just as an opposing player came to defend against her, Joita let go a shot. And it went in, nothing but net. Tears welled in my eyes and goose-flesh rose on my skin. The gym erupted (players, coaches, spectators and ref alike). I was completely overwhelmed with emotion.
I was standing but not shouting. Lost in some kind of daze. Finding myself in a school gym, filled with feelings, standing next to but being ignored by a mean girl, I was overcome with the need to say something. My first thoughts were, of course, to take responsibility and ask if there was something I’d done wrong or to have elicited her dislike. But then the buzzer went off signaling the end of the game and I knew what I had to say.
I was standing and she was sitting. I turned and bent over her, not allowing her to move away, and put my hands on my knees leaning toward her. In a loud, clear yet shaking voice I said,
“I’d very nearly forgotten what it felt like to be rejected and ignored by the mean girls in junior high. You have sufficiently reminded me.”
There was a shocked silence as I stood back up straight and she continued to look directly into her lap. My heart was pounding so loudly in my head I was dizzy as I turned to walk away. Her husband got belatedly between us (her knight in shining armor defending her) and yelled, “Hey hey! What was that all about?!” I looked back over my shoulder at him and said, “Ask your wife. She’s mean. I’ve been nothing but congenial and she has been nothing but mean.”
I shook all the way home. Excitement for my daughter and glowing pride, I loved seeing her so elated. I’d just witnessed a referee for a sporting event basically put himself on the line in order to give my kid a fighting chance in a game that was over before it even began. I’ve been witnessing, since Joita made the basketball team, the kindnesses of middle school girls (not necessarily known for their compassion and altruism). These girls and this coach have not only accepted but embraced having Joita on the team. Even though she puts them at a distinct disadvantage on the court. And all this was juxtaposed with my confrontation with that other parent. In some ways I was shocked at what I’d done. Never mind asking what Pema would have done! What was I thinking?! I suspect Anne Lamott would have had some quirky blessing or prayer to offer. Did I learn nothing from the humanitarianism of the team, the coach, the town? I battled within myself feeling self-righteous indignation – take that Lulu Athleta! – and shame at having responded to mean with what also felt somewhat mean.
Was I mean? I didn’t intend to be. What else could I have done? I suppose I could have kept my mouth shut and said nothing. I’m not sure what I hoped to accomplish with that brief speech. What message did I convey to the woman? To the people who overheard? To my daughter? This is what is preventing me from sleeping. Was there a right thing to do? And, if so, what would that have been? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I hate mean.