I confess: during the programming marathon that lasted nearly three weeks, I took one evening off from coding, but didn’t write a post. Instead, I bought a basketball hoop for Sara and got it set up. It was important to her. To understand why, I’ll share the opening paragraphs from our upcoming book for kids:
You probably remember someone like me from grade school. I was what the other kids called a brain. But that was almost 50 years ago, and I’m told kids nowadays wouldn’t insult me like that. Today they’d call me a nerd, a dork, or possibly a dweeb. Anyway, you know the type. I was usually the smartest kid in class, and I was lousy at sports.
How lousy? Well, here’s one of my not-so-fond memories from gym class: We were running a relay race where each guy on the team had to dribble a basketball down the court, make a layup, then dribble back and hand off to the next guy. I was the last guy on our team, and when I got the ball, we were in the lead. I bounced the ball down the court, tossed it towards the basket … and missed. By a lot. I tried again and missed. And missed again. And again — mostly because my weak arms couldn’t fling the ball high enough.
The other team had already won, but the gym teacher growled, “You’re not quitting until you make that basket.” So I leaned back and hurled the ball as hard as I could. It bounced off the rim, smacked me in the face, and knocked me on my butt. At that point the gym teacher decided I could quit after all.
That’s the type of kid I was. The opening chapter goes on to briefly recount my life as a fat kid and fat adult, and how I finally lost weight and got healthy as I neared age 50. Like many other people, I’ve often wondered what life would have been like if I’d figured out the diet thing decades earlier. That’s why the title of the book is Fat Head Kids: stuff about diet and health I wish I knew when I was your age.
Anyway, back to the basketball hoop. Sara inherited so many of my traits, she’s referred to herself as a female mini-me. She has a quick sense of humor and likes to write. (She already writes poems that are genuinely funny.) She loves reading books and thinking about concepts and ideas. She routinely scores 99 or 100 on standardized math and science tests. She’s watched some online tutorials on programming and done the exercises just for kicks. Often she’ll say or do something that prompts Chareva to turn to me and say, “She is SOOO your daughter.”
Unfortunately for Sara, she also inherited my athletic abilities. Before summer vacation started, she asked if we could please get a basketball hoop so she can practice. She explained that during basketball games in gym class, other kids had taken to chanting “Pass it to Sara! Pass it to Sara! SARA! SARA!” I was impressed … until she went on to explain that other kids want her to shoot so they can cheer another “spectacular miss.” That’s how she put it.
Yeah, I know all about those spectacular misses. My school gym-class career was full of them.
As I explain near the end of the book, I was never going to be a great athlete. I don’t have the natural coordination or the preponderance of fast-twitch muscle fibers that produce explosive power and quickness. But I didn’t have to be the worst athlete in class, either. I was weaker, fatter and slower than I should have been because of my lousy diet growing up.
As an adult, I worked out and got stronger. I still had a belly, but not the weak muscles. I found that with dedicated practice, I could become competent at some sports. Back when I played a lot of golf, I usually shot between 85 and 95 – not great, but not embarrassing. I’m pretty good at disc golf these days. And at one time, I actually got to be a good shot with a basketball, thanks to hours of shooting baskets. I still wasn’t a great player, since I can neither run fast nor jump high, but I could shoot. I was no longer the guy nobody wanted on the team for pickup games.
I explained all that to Sara. She replied that she has no illusions about becoming the star player during basketball games, but she’d like to become a decent shooter and silence those chants of “Pass it to Sara!” I promised we’d go shopping for a hoop some weekend.
Next thing I know it’s late July, and the new school year is approaching. Sara reminded me during my programming marathon that our driveway still lacked a hoop. I looked at some portable hoops at our local sporting-goods store and mentally selected one that costs around $350. But I wanted to check around for a service that would assemble and install the thing. Last thing I wanted to tackle during a programming marathon was a huge box full of parts and badly-written instructions with little dotted lines pointing to bolts and such.
While I was at the office one day, Chareva sent me a link to an ad on Craigslist. Someone was selling the same hoop for $125 as part of a moving-out-of-state garage sale. She’d already called for a location, and the family selling the hoop was about 25 miles north of Nashville. We live about 25 miles south of Nashville, so it would be a waste of time and gas for me drive home and pick her up, then drive 50 miles north, then 50 miles south. Okay, I said, pick me up at work and we’ll drive up there.
Getting there was the easy part. Figuring out how to get the whole contraption into the van was a royal pain in the @$$.
The seller was an engineer/baseball coach/basketball coach. He was, not surprisingly, a very fit and strong guy. But even with all us (including has athletic teenage son) tugging and pulling and banging with tools, we couldn’t get the two-section pole to come apart. So after about an hour of sweating, we decided the only option was to remove the backboard and the base, then slide the entire pole into the van. Fortunately, I’d had the good sense to tell Chareva to bring my socket set and some other tools.
The pole just … barely … fit … into the van. I’m talking with the top of the pole touching the dashboard and the bottom of the pole almost resting against the back hatch. We slid the backboard and hoop in alongside and wrapped a seatbelt around it. But the real fun part was the base, which is filled with sand and must weigh 400 pounds. That took some serious hoisting and yanking and wiggling.
By this time, I was hot and sweaty and tired and thinking about all the work I had to get done and sorry I hadn’t just bought a new hoop and paid someone to deliver it and put it together. But we’d already paid for the $125 used model and loaded it into the van, so we thanked the seller and headed south … just in time to run smack into rush-hour traffic. We crawled along to the office, where Chareva hopped out to drive my car home. Then I drove the van back into the line of cars crawling along on the highway.
Frankly, I didn’t mind the slow traffic. My worst fear at this point was having to slam on the brakes and watch the pole launch itself through the windshield like some medieval weapon of war.
Once we both arrived home, my worst fear was that we’d never 1) manage to wrestle the 400-pound base from the car, or 2) remember exactly how to attach the pole to the backboard and base.
Both fears were overrated, as it turned out. We couldn’t just lift the base from the van, but as small-time farmers, we’re the proud owners of a good-sized crowbar. So with the magic of leverage, we managed to scoot the thing out the hatch, onto the ground, and into position. We used sawhorses to get the backboard positioned near the top of the pole, then I screwed it back into place while Chareva held it steady. Then I held the pole – which is impressively heavy with a backboard attached – in its place at the base, and Chareva attached it.
Whew. Done. My visions of the pole falling over and the backboard shattering weren’t premonitions after all.
Most parents have had an experience like this: child begs and pleads for some must-must-must-have object. Parent eventually makes a mildly heroic effort to acquire the must-must-must-have object. Child is delighted and enjoys the object immensely … for approximately 137 minutes, then loses all interest. Forever.
I’m happy to say that didn’t happen with the hoop. Sara’s been out there shooting for at least a little while almost every day. After dinner, she’ll often invite me to join her for a game of Horse or Pig. Sometimes Alana joins in. We’ve played a few pickup games, first one with five baskets wins. (The rule is that I can’t attempt to block Sara’s shots. I have a wee bit of height advantage.)
As a result, I don’t think the other kids will be chanting “Pass it to Sara!” this year. She’s already improved her accuracy by something like a hundred million billion percent. Okay, that might be exaggerating. But she’s hitting a lot of shots, and her misses are no longer spectacular.
She’s my daughter, and I’m flattered that she likes being like me in so many ways. But I don’t want her to re-live my gym-class career.