June had a highly satisfactory weekend. Friday afternoon just before five I took her to the basketball hoop down the block to shoot baskets. I told her I was only going to stay for ten minutes or so but she was welcome to stay longer by herself. Back home, when I realized she’d been gone over an hour, I went looking for her. It was going to be dark soon and she needed to change clothes for her school’s Latin Dance.
When I got to the hoop, I found her kneeling on the ground with a neighbor girl building a fairy apartment building in between the roots of a big tree using of pieces of bark, twigs, and pebbles. There was even furniture in the rooms. This was a major social coup for June. Olivia is a fifth grader who rides the bus home with June in the afternoon but who doesn’t wait at the bus stop in the morning. As a result, I’ve never met her parents.
They’ve been wanting to play together for a while, but whenever I went over to her house with June—to introduce myself and make sure it was okay for June to be there—Olivia wasn’t there or wasn’t free. And whenever they arranged for Olivia to come to our house she wouldn’t show. So I was starting to think she wasn’t interested but didn’t know how to tell June. But June reports Olivia heard her shooting baskets and came out to play so apparently it was a logistical problem.
We walked home and June got changed into a long red velour dress she bought with her own money at a thrift store a few months ago. (It’s the same dress she wore on Christmas.) I had no real idea how much of a dress-up occasion the dance was, so I offered no sartorial advice, which June probably appreciated. She selected a pair of white tights, a white cardigan, and her shiny black bejeweled shoes to go with it. When Beth got home she gave her some money to spend and June tucked it into a silver and gold clutch I think she got as a hand-me-down from Beth’s mom. And she was ready for her first school dance.
June and two of her friends had been making plans to go to this dance at school but apparently Evie and Zoë didn’t share these plans with their folks because when I contacted their moms to see if they could take June, they both said their daughters weren’t going. Almost ten seems to be an awkward age in terms of making plans. June and her friends often want to do it themselves but can’t quite get the plans off the ground without adult involvement.
The reason I was trying to palm June off on someone else was that neither Beth nor I was interested in attending the dance and we weren’t sure if you were allowed to drop your kid off and leave. I contacted the mother of another one of her friends, who was the main organizer and she said people do, so that’s what we did. I think being left at the dance without a parent might have made it even more exciting for June.
When Beth brought her home a little after eight, June ran into the house yelling, “Mommy! I won all the prizes I tried to get in the raffle!” She was carrying a big stack of boxes full of Monster High paraphernalia: four dolls in varying sizes, a cup with a lid and a straw, and a DVD. One of the dolls levitates by means of a magnet in her head. Take a close look—she’s hanging under the big purple ball: http://shop.mattel.com/product/index.jsp?productId=65561156
Beth had bought her some raffle tickets but when she had money leftover after buying herself pizza and a cupcake (plus brownies to bring home for Beth, Noah, and me), she bought a lot more. Every prize she won she did so by putting in more than half the tickets in play. Beth hadn’t really intended for her to do this but she hadn’t told her not to either. “Well, it’s for a good cause,” she said ruefully. The dance was a fundraiser for fourth grade field trips.
In addition to eating and winning prizes, June danced with her friends and her teacher and generally had a good time.
As exciting as Friday was, Saturday was possibly even more so. In addition to a gymnastics class in the morning, the last game of the basketball season and the team party were that afternoon. After the second to last game of the season, June told me, “We can’t have a losing season now. If we lose the next game it will be a tie season and if we win, it will be a winning season.” The Pandas won that game by a big margin—16-5 and they were playing the same team, the Lady Terps, so I thought they had a pretty good chance of winning, but you never know.
At half time, the Pandas were leading 6-0. It looked so lopsided Beth was relieved when the other team finally got a basket in the third quarter. “It’s sad to be shut out,” she said. The Terps’ playing the week before had indicated the team wasn’t as experienced as the Pandas. Their defense in particular wasn’t very good. It seemed like there were organizational problem, too. A lot of the players didn’t have jerseys. And there weren’t as many parents in the bleachers cheering for them. This was a little uncomfortable and eventually some of the Panda parents started clapping for both teams.
But the Terps were better this week defensively and in the second half their offense clicked together (mainly due to the efforts of one really good player), more baskets followed, and by the middle of the fourth quarter the game was tied 8-8. And then they scored another point in a free throw and the Pandas were losing 9-8.
There was thirty seconds left in the game. I said to Beth, “They can’t make a basket in thirty seconds.”
“Yes, they can,” she said. And they did.
As you can see in the middle picture, Megan was pretty stoked as they lined up for the postgame handshake. All the Pandas were. One of the Terps crossed her arms over her chest and refused to participate and least one other player walked through with her arms at her sides. They’d done the same thing the week before. The Pandas had discussed it and were offended at this show of poor sportsmanship and exasperated to see it repeated. The players in the next game were already waiting so the Pandas hurried out of the gym to the hall for a quick team meeting—which Mike does after each game to offer praise and suggestions for improvement.
All he said at first once he had them all gathered around was “Wow…” Then he went on to say how proud of them he was for “digging deep” and coming from behind. At a recent game, when the Pandas were way ahead Mike called a time out with a minute left in the game to talk to them about their next move and all the parents, even his wife, laughed. But Mike’s central lesson for the Pandas is that it’s never too late for a learning opportunity and you are never too far ahead or too far behind to stop trying your best. He takes them all seriously as athletes and that’s why June loves playing on his team. There’s almost nothing that’s as important to her as being taken seriously.
While they were posing for a team photo I went to the bathroom. I thought I heard a girl crying in one of the stalls, but when a Terp player came out, she looked okay so I thought I must have imagined it. As we walked to the parking lot, however, I realized I wasn’t. Half the Terps were crying, one saying she was quitting basketball and another trying to dissuade her. In five seasons of basketball I’d never seen a team so distraught at losing at game, not even when they were five years old. I later learned the Terps lost every game this season. It must have been very hard to lose this one in the last thirty seconds. It made me glad for Mike again, because last year when the Pandas lost every game, he kept them buoyed and they left their last game happy and ready for the end-of-season party.
We had a party this year, too. It was graciously hosted by Talia’s dad. There was food and the Pandas ran around the back yard and there was a trophy ceremony in which Mike took each girl aside to tell her what he appreciated about her playing while the others chanted her name. (This keeps his remarks private.) It was a lovely way to mark the end of the season.
Because this is June we’re talking about, she’s moving right on to the next thing. This morning before school she had her first Girls on the Run practice. This is a running club at her school (and other area elementary schools). In late May she’ll be running a 5K. Parents are invited to participate. I told her I might walk it because while I can’t always keep up with her whirlwind pace, I like to be where my girl is.