Free throws in quarantine

Basketball 2

I’ve always called myself unathletic. The word rolls off my tongue, always ready — issued like a warning. The judgment of others means less when you’re judging yourself. Don’t expect too much of me, unathletic says.

Growing up, I was the kid who faked a headache to get out of volleyball. I warmed the bleachers like a full-time job. I jumped rope sometimes, if I had to; I played scooter hockey. I do remember being strangely good at jumping hurdles in middle school, but never attempted it again. Maybe I threw a discus well once, too?

Aside from the awkwardness of changing into school-issued T-shirts and shorts in front of classmates (seriously — does anyone ever escape that shame?), I didn’t dislike gym class. But I had it in my head that I was garbage at anything that required moving my body in a particular way, including dancing, and I’m nothing if not stubborn. I never gave myself a chance to enjoy playing games.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently discovered how much I like … basketball. “Basketball,” I mean; we’re not exactly talking regulation sports here. Our hoop is way too low. Most of the backboard is missing, with the last shards recently snapped loose in a windstorm. And up until a month ago, our single basketball had a slow leak.

Quarantine changes things.

How are you doing in self-isolation? I mean, we’re all cleaning. If Instagram is any barometer, lots of folks have also started baking from scratch; others are teaching themselves to knit, draw, or sew masks. Most parents seem too focused on gripping tightly to their sanity to take up a new hobby, because … you know. Kids. Kids all the time. Kids with no distractions. Kids who are just as stir-crazy and confused as we are.

Definitely not learning needlepoint over here.

Basketball? Basketball is different. When Spence and I were house-hunting, the hoop cemented next to our driveway was hard to miss. For a while, avoiding it with my vehicle was the extent of my relationship with it. But after Ollie arrived, someone — my dad? my sister? — decided the kid needed a basketball. We goofed around with it sometimes, but my kids have always been more interested in “playing tornado” and spinning until someone falls or pukes, so.

But getting outside has been a major part of our routine during COVID-19. While I continue physically reporting to work, my husband has handled the brunt of childcare responsibilities while also working full-time. When I get home, he desperately needs a break. The kids need fresh air. I need to clear my head. Feel some sun on my arms. Remember we’re alive and this too shall pass, etc. etc.

Grab the ball and go.

As the daughter of a sportswriter, I’m surprised by how much sports knowledge I actually have pinging around. On the rare occasions when I have a need or desire to dig it out, terms like dribble and lay-up are conjured up from nowhere. I guide our son to our makeshift free throw line in pink chalk. My husband lifts our daughter high, cheering as she dunks.

I’m five-foot-two and winded by a single trot up the steps. But I feel silly, happy and free when I’m outside with the kids, taking shot after shot in the sunshine. I’ve come to look forward to it.

Most of my attempts sail straight through the spot where the backboard should be, rolling toward the woods behind the house. Others hit the rim and come flying back at my face. But every now and then? I make it. Swish. So satisfying.

“You did it, Mommy!” Ollie will yell. “And the world goes wiiiiiiiild!”

The world has gone wild, my friend.

Still, we play on.