Magical Basketball

There’s an elf on Hal’s basketball team.

I’m serious.

There are 5 normal, uncoordinated, barely-understand-the-rules, clueless little boys, 1 phenom that scores all the points and wins the games, and an elf (who also happens to be uncoordinated and clueless and barely understands the rules, but he’ll grow to have magical powers so it’s all cool).

As we sat at one of the recent games, I argued my case to my husband.

“Just look! I tell you he’s an elf.”

He just smiled at me.

“See his hair? It hangs down almost to his eyes and down in front of his ears in sharp points, which emphasizes his ears. Which aren’t pointy yet, but I think that’s just because he’s young. Give him some time.”

My husband laughed.

The elf boy is thin and fairly uncoordinated so at one point I said, “He doesn’t have the graceful movement yet but that comes with age too.”

“Oh, it does?”

“Of course it does. You read The Last Dragon! That poor helpless child elf was clueless and clumsy. He didn’t know how to do any magic but it came with time. Give this one some time. Eventually, he’ll be the most beautiful person on the court. Trust me.”

“So are you saying he can shoot arrows through brass rings at a hundred yards?”

“Not yet. Too young. He’ll get there though.”


At one point, the magical creature walked close to us and I saw why his eyes had looked so big and dark at a distance.

“Look!” I said to my amused husband. “Just look at his eyelashes! No one has eyelashes that long except elves. I’m telling you, it’s true. I’m surprised no one else has noticed.”

“I’m glad you are so entertained by River,” my husband said.

“River? His name is River? Really?” I asked.

“You haven’t stayed for any basketball practices, have you?”

“No. But come on! The name bolsters my argument. That’s a nature name – elves are one with nature. It’s an elf name!”

I saw an adult man talking with River in a fatherly fashion near the end of the game. The man certainly did not look like an elf. Not at all. So I can only assume that since elves do not walk openly among us, this man had been hired to act in this care-taking role while in public spaces. The elves obviously wanted to give their boy the best opportunity to interact with other children. Because anyone who knows anything about elves knows that they don’t have children very often. There’s probably no one in his extended family close to his age.

So here he is, playing basketball with my son. Who, just like everyone else in the gym except me, is clueless he’s playing with magical greatness in the making.

How Do You Say That?

I have recently become intrigued by the concept of name pronunciation.  Different cultures and different regions pronounce words differently.  We’ve accepted that people in the South pronounce pen and pin the same and that a lot of words sound very different if someone from, say, Boston says them.

When it comes to names, though, are those differences acceptable?  Or are you required to pronounce the name as the person it belongs to pronounces it?

There is a boy on my son’s basketball team named Dashawn.  I’m not sure of the spelling but after my son told me his name, I pronounced it “duh-shawn” with an emphasis, if any, on the second syllable.  At a recent game, I sat near his mother, who called out his name “DAY-shawn” (with an emphasis on the first syllable).

I found myself in a delimma.  I can’t seem to pronounce it that way.  Try as I might, I can’t seem to use the long A in the first syllable and put the emphasis on that syllable.  At least, not without sounding like I’m trying to adopt a fake accent.  But am I even expected to?  Or is it just her accent?  If I try to pronounce it that way, will she think I’m making fun of her rather than trying to honor the proper pronunciation of her son’s name?

I didn’t worry about such things until recently.  I thought dialect issues were just that.  I say “law-yer”, you say “loy-yer” and we both know what we are saying and it doesn’t matter.  Such dialect issues didn’t translate to names very often.  At least, not that I ever noticed.

But then my son started correcting me on another friend’s name.  This other boy’s name is Sawyer.  Just like lawyer, I pronounce it ‘saw-yer’.  Every time, my son would correct me, saying it in a way that I couldn’t immediately detect the difference.  I finally asked in exasperation, “How is what I’m saying different from what you are saying?!”

And that’s when I heard the difference.  He was pronouncing it “soy-yer”.  That sounded weird to me, but my son was insistent.  It didn’t feel right on my tongue but I kept trying.  Eventually, I commented on it to Sawyer’s mother.

I was surprised by the strong reaction.  Both she and her son were extremely bothered by people “mispronouncing” his name.  She said she had worked so hard to pick names that couldn’t be mispronounced and she was distressed that his was so regularly pronounced wrong.

I started laughing when she told me Sawyer would tell people, “It’s not hard.  It rhymes with lawyer.”

“But,” I said, “that’s a terrible example because the way I was pronouncing his name rhymes with how I pronounce lawyer.  You are in the South.  We don’t say ‘loy-yer’!”

She sighed and said she knew.  She’s a Yankee stuck in the South, surrounded by people who pronounce her son’s name wrong.  All this time, I thought she was saying “Soy-yer” simply because of her accent and that I was not expected to mangle my pronunciation of that name to match.  But I am.  And now that I know, I do it.

But what abount Dashawn?  I have no idea.  I guess I’ll have to ask his mom too.  I suspect that either Dashawn doesn’t care or he’s too shy to say something, because if he had ever spoken up about it, my son would have immediately enforced the “proper” pronunciation.  Interestingly, there are two common pronunciations of my own name, each more common in different regions of the world.  I don’t particularly like the “other” one but I’ve grown used to it.  Every once in awhile, people ask me my preference and I usually tell them that I don’t bother correcting people unless they butcher it beyond those two pronunciations.

It’s an interesting dichotomy to me.  On the one hand, it’s a bit like spelling.  People can spell and pronounce their names however they want and other people can and will misspell and mispronounce them.  However, spelling is black and white.  No matter how strangly people spell it, there is one “acceptable” spelling for that person.  Pronunciation, on the other hand, depends on accent and on how much people expect you to match theirs when you say their name.

This might seem trivial to many of you.  But sometimes, it’s the little things in life that capture my attention and hold it long enough for me to analyze at great length and then blather on about to whomever will listen.

My Basketball Hero

Daryl expressed a strong interest in playing basketball this year. We’ve always avoided the sport because it starts during the Christmas season, which always seems so hectic. This year has been even crazier than most, and maybe out of a sense that it really couldn’t be any worse, we agreed to let him play.

The first time that I had to drop him off at practice, the assistant coach introduced himself and then commented on my son.

“He’s quite a scholar. Yes, he is. That one’s definitely a scholar. Just need to get some sports under his belt to get him nice and well rounded.”

So what you are trying to tell me, I thought but didn’t say, is that my son is a terrible basketball player. What I did say was “Yes, he is a very smart young man. He’s really excited about playing basketball this year. It’s his first time to play.”

His team had their first game yesterday. They only have five, maybe six, players but for their first game, they were down even further – to the minimum needed to play: four. The other team had seven. I was expecting slaughter.

Daryl was obviously uncertain what to do. I could see him hesitate as play shifted quickly. But he hustled and got into the mix. Even getting a rebound early in the game and immediately sending it back up for an attempted basket. Fortunately, he missed. It wasn’t his team’s basket.

His coaches didn’t get upset. They yelled in a supportive way to only score at the other end and talked him through it at the next time out. At half time, they made sure he understood that the sides had switched, but by then he had it.

Despite being short-handed, his team was winning easily. Two of the boys were strong players and dominated the court. Daryl still got his hands on the ball though, proving himself reliable at pulling down rebounds and then quickly shooting if on his end of the court, or passing to a more capable dribbler if not.

He even scored four points and assisted on several others. The first time he scored, my heart melted when he turned as soon as the ball swooshed to see if I had seen him.

The coolest thing about watching him play was to watch him running across the court and his face suddenly burst into a magnificent smile, as if he suddenly thought to himself, “I can’t believe I’m actually playing in a basketball game! This is the best thing in the world!” He looked like the happiest boy ever.

And because of that, I am the happiest mom ever. I’ve never been a basketball fan. I don’t know the rules, don’t recognize the referee’s calls, can’t usually tell when someone does something wrong. But for that boy, you’ll find me on the sidelines yelling and cheering and fighting back tears. Cuz that’s my kid out there loving what he’s doing.

Playing the Game

We found ourselves in Kansas City for a wedding this past weekend.  My husband had done some homework and found that the Kansas City Royals would be playing the Detroit Tigers that Sunday afternoon.  For reasons that we do not understand, the Tigers is Daryl’s declared favorite team.  We do not understand this because a) we live nowhere near Michigan and b) we never watch baseball.  Our only guess is that they were the opposing team when we went to a Rangers game last year and Daryl likes to be contrary.

I had concerns about getting home sometime after midnight on a school night, but my husband insisted that the “family day” activities would be a great experience and a lot of fun.  And they could sleep in the car.  Right.

Anyway, he was right that it was a lot of fun.  We enjoyed the free face painting and balloon animals, carousel rides and miniature golf.  All the kids got a souvenir and got it signed by Slugger, the mascot.  We shared “nachos in a helmet” – a plastic batting helmet full of nachos.

As we settled in for the start of the game, however, I had a conversation with Jane that made me sad.  We had great seats – up high, but directly behind home plate.  They were announcing the players and people were finding their seats.

Seemingly out of the blue, Jane commented, “I can see why Auntie Grace gets so upset about equality.”

I looked around, wondering if there were some scantily-clad “cheerleaders” somewhere, but I didn’t find any.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, all the big sporting events that people go to see.  They are always men.  I mean, there are softball teams but there aren’t big stadiums and professional teams that people go to watch.  And women can’t even play football at all.  It’s really not fair.”

“That’s true,” I said.  And I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

In fact, there’s not much to say that would make her feel better.  Here’s a girl – a very strong and athletic girl, who is just reaching a competitive sporting environment and what does she see ahead of her?  Those boys playing football are not working harder than she is.  They aren’t more competitive than her or more dedicated.  They practice more than her team does, but not because of a lack of dedication on the girls’ parts.  They practice more because we live in Texas and this state is bat-s**t crazy about football.

No, the fact is that this is the society we live in.  People go to watch men’s sports more than women’s sports simply because that’s the way it’s always been.  They grew up rooting for their favorite football or baseball team.  You can start a women’s professional basketball or soccer league and the players can be really good, but people aren’t going to go because… well… they aren’t invested in those teams.

Add to that the persistent perception so many have that women are the “weaker” sex.  And that most sports spectators are men and many of them have this fear that an interest in women’s sports might somehow reduce their manliness.  And then there’s just the general skew of society toward all things male and things aren’t likely to improve too much in her lifetime.

So what can I say?  I can point out men who do support women’s athletics, like my mom’s boyfriend.  I can remind her that in the long run, she’s better off depending on her mind than her prowess on the volleyball court anyway.  I can urge her to stand up for equality when she can.  I can try to teach her the nuances of living in this world female.  I can encourage her to fight for change but not get disheartened when it is slow to come.  I can point out how much better off she is than her great-great grandmother was.  And I can agree, that yes, it really is not fair. Now, honey, let’s enjoy the game anyway.