Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Of Parenting and Basketball

Being a parent is difficult. I think this goes without typing, but still, it's true.

For every parent this realization sinks in about as smoothly as a root canal. I remember when I first realized this cold hard fact (copyright ESPN and Coors). We were living in Texas, where we had moved a couple short weeks after our first child was born. My wife had gone out to some girls night function and I was left, for the first time, to be solely in charge of our daughter. It was my first quiz—no, it wasn't even a test, it was a quiz—and I failed miserably.

Our daughter was on a strict breast milk diet at the time, so naturally me and the plastic bottle I was using to feed her were met with angst. And by angst I mean tears. And by tears I mean she screamed nonstop until the misses came home. At one point during the screaming, as I sat in our apartment trying to calm both her and myself down, I remember the sinking feeling. It hit me like a punch to the stomach, assuming stomach punches can last for hours at a time: Being a parent is difficult.

And so it is.

I compare everything to sports, so why not parenthood? Sports are, in essence, games composed of a specific set of rules. For example, the rules of basketball are, at their fundamental root, to put the ball into the basket. It’s very simple. You can learn in theory how to be a great basketball player in a matter of hours, but when put into practice it can be a very difficult task. In an actual game of basketball, there are so many moving parts (the movement of the offense, your teammates, your relative position to the basket, and most of all, your opponent) that the simple task of putting the ball in the basket can seem very difficult. In the NBA a player is shooting at an outstanding rate if he makes 50% of his field goals or higher. As simple as putting the ball in the basket sounds, it isn’t.

And so it is with parenting. The task is to provide a healthy, happy life for your children. Give them shelter, feed them healthy foods, teach them important life skills, and help them feel loved. And there are volumes of books devoted to teaching you how to do this. It’s very simple. And yet it’s not. In basketball, your objective is to get more points than your opponent, while in parenting the parent and child are on the same team. And yet how often does that ring true? As with my daughter, I am forced time and time again to treat her like an opponent, even though I want her to win. It’s like we’re playing basketball, and even when I go to put the ball in her hoop, she undercuts my legs with a pitching wedge she stole from my golf bag. (Okay, let’s use one sport in our metaphors at a time, am I right? Sorry about that. Let’s say she took off her basketball sneakers and threw them at my face.)

I still fight the same fight with her I did those three years ago with my plastic bottle, except that now it’s fruits and vegetables she refuses, and the screaming has been replaced with whining, dirty looks, mean words, and screaming. The other day it took an hour and half for us to get her to eat one piece of a strawberry and one piece of a watermelon (both pieces about the size of a quarter). An hour and a half to eat two delicious pieces of fruit!! It makes no sense. (BTW, there’s far more than just her eating habits that my wife and I battle with, but they serve as the best example.)

Over time I have learned the habits of my daughter teammate (or opponent, or whatever). I can tell when she’s in a good mood or a bad mood, an obedient mood, or an “I’m going to throw my shoes at your face” mood. In basketball, understanding the players you share the court with goes a long ways to knowing how to win. Unfortunately this does me little good with my daughter. Just as I once came to the painful realization that parenting is hard, I have also now come to the painful realization that when I compare my daughter to professional basketball players she most closely resembles Ron Artest (or the lunatic you may now know as “Metta World Peace”). My reasoning is simple. Her actions, from one moment to the next, resemble nothing close to logic. She acts in ways that are sometimes very helpful to the team, and other times catastrophic to the cause. She one moment can be kindly sharing her toys with her kid brother, singing delightful Disney tunes while dancing a merry dance, and in the next moment she is likely to charge into the stands to throw punches at whoever happens to be in her way. Knowing her mood one second is nice, but it has nothing to do with what is about to happen. To put in plainly: She is nuts.

But here’s the thing about Ron Artest the player. His teammates seem to like him well enough. They can’t seem to understand why he shoots himself in the foot so often (or puts his foot in his mouth, and other such foot analogies), but they certainly like him and appreciate what he brings to the team. My wife and I love our daughter to death! She is at times one of the funniest, most delightful people you’ll ever meet. She has one of those smiles that is so large that her eyes disappear in it; she’s adorable. We cherish her, and we wouldn’t trade her for anything (Even Kevin Durant. Are these basketball comparisons going too far? I can’t tell.). But why oh why does she make life so difficult? Why must she continue to hold up the team for random and oftentimes irrational reasons? I just don’t know.

I just don’t know.

I’m not asking for tips or advice. Parenting advice is like prescriptions: What works for one person can kill another. So what am I doing? Again, I don’t know. Parenting is difficult, and so is writing about my feelings on parenting. I guess maybe I’m just venting. Maybe I just need the world at large to know that my wife and I are attempting to raise a three year old version of Ron Artest that loves the color pink and wants to wear makeup and pretty dresses every day. Oh crap, maybe she’s Dennis Rodman.