When you shoot a basketball, you don’t just aim and release it as you push it up toward the basket. You have to let it roll off your fingers, directing the ball and giving it a steadying spin that arcs toward the hoop. My sons taught me this. There’s an art to letting go.
Only now, I’m being asked to let go of the whole basketball hoop — and all it represents. And, honestly, I’m not quite mastering the art of it.
Recently, my husband offered our basketball hoop to our neighbor, Lauren, when he learned that her son, Jake, a buoyant 6-year-old with chocolate eyes and a raspy voice, was learning to play. It would be so easy to do a nice thing for a great kid. The giant, awkward contraption sits on wheels — all we have to do is give it a push and it would be halfway to its new home.
“Are you sure?” Lauren asked.
I wanted to reassure her but I balked. “It’s a great idea, but, I just want to check with the boys first,” I said.
On our walk home, my husband, Jamie, reminded me of what I already knew. “We never use it anymore.”
“Not never,” I corrected him. “Just hardly ever.”
Our boys are men now, with Gillette razors, drivers’ licenses and college friends. Our post-graduate son is looking for his own place and already earning more money than I ever have. The younger two live at their colleges for more than half the year. But am I ready to start throwing away every last vestige of their boyhood?
I went straight to the backyard to consider the hoop that has been shadowing our brick patio for 15 years. I saw a vision of myself, wrapped around its pole like a koala bear around a eucalyptus branch. Those claws are dug in deep.
I sighed. No one ever told me parenting required so much letting go. We already start loosening our grip in the delivery room, when the umbilical cord is cut, and then we grow hundreds of new connections that we need to keep cutting and suturing year after year, milestone after milestone. We fall in love with an infant and then he learns to crawl away. We read and teach and play with him and then wave goodbye on his first day of school. We invite friends for playdates, sports teams, and bar mitzvahs, and then they make plans without us. Who was it who said you start dying the day you are born? That may be true, but you really start dying the day your child is born.
Our basketball hoop has aged, too. The backboard is fashionably distressed. The once white net is now the color of rainwater. The hoop, underneath an overgrown holly’s prickly green leaves and hard red berries, seems to be begging for a Christmas kiss. But it remains chaste and unloved — the basketball that once wanted nothing more than to sink through its folds lies flat in the shed.
I am grateful, so grateful, that I have raised three healthy and strong young men who can stand on their own. I love hearing their thoughts about life, laughing at their jokes, marveling at each one’s glorious uniqueness. But I also loved being the mom of these three boys. I have never been sure of much, being someone who sees three sides to every decision, but I was always sure of that.
There are so many moments from their childhood that I treasure, from sifting through sand for the perfect skipping stone, to counting the hundreds of swallows that flocked to the telephone poles outside our local Jewish Community Center at dusk, to sitting on freezing metal benches and rooting at their hockey games. I loved it all, especially tucking them into bed in their onesie pajamas — making up stories about characters with names strikingly similar to theirs — and lying on my back on the rug, flying them high in the air, their bellies balanced on my feet, small fingers curled through mine, and red, hysterical faces squealing above me.
Those moments are gone now but we are making new ones, together and apart. Every quarter of the game has its moments.
I go inside and call my sons to let them know we are thinking of giving away the net. But the two younger ones ask me to keep it for a while longer. They say they’d like to play when they come home.
So, for the time being, I am hanging on to the hoop. But not as tightly. Jake’s OK — his parents bought him a new one. Hopefully, in a few years, when another new family moves in with a basketball-crazy boy or girl who needs a hoop, this koala bear will be climbing new trees.
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