Once again I have a scheduled topic to write about and Life intervenes instead as teacher, guide, and reminder.
This morning I dropped my son at basketball camp early (as in “too early for coffee” early). And although he attended last summer, I planned to stay until it officially kicked off before beginning my day.
This camp is on a mid-size university campus a bit far from our hometown and though he has done it before, I worry. I am a mother. I cannot help myself. When he is away for 7 hours each day of the week at a location where no adult knows who he is, I worry.
Today, however, my attention was drawn elsewhere. As I watched kids of all ages crowd beneath the baskets in hope of rebounding a ball, a small boy came to where I leaned against a wall. He was about six with blonde spiked hair, pale freckled skin, and sparkling blue eyes. He knelt down to his water jug and played with the spout. I continued watching the activity on the court while sneaking glances at him. He seemed to be upset so I guessed he was having trouble getting the cap off his jug.
Not seeing a parent around (most leave right after registration), I asked if he needed help. He looked to me with wide eyes and nodded. I crouched close to him on the floor and as I reached for his jug, he began to cry.
“That’s okay, we’ll figure it out,” I assured, still assuming he was upset about his water. As I noticed him pop open the drinking spout with ease, I quickly realized he did not need help with that. “Oh, honey. What’s wrong?”
“I can’t play basketball. I tried to shoot the ball and didn’t make any,” he sobbed. “And I don’t have any friends here. No one wants to play with me.”
Needless to say, my heart instantly cracked in two for this little boy. Not only for the fact he was scared and feeling alone but that he had the bravery to share it with me.
“Can I tell you a secret?” I asked. “When my son came to camp for his first year, he didn’t know anyone either. But they do something very cool here. They put you on a team and you stay on that team all week and by the end you become not just teammates, but friends.”
He seemed to consider this while fighting back tears. “But I can’t make a basket!”
“Well, that is why you are here, isn’t it?” I waved my hand toward the gym floor. “Every boy out there wants to learn how to play better. And the coaches will teach you that.”
“Okay,” he shrugged.
I asked if he wanted to join the others, but he shook his head.
And so it was that I planned to leave, but then I stayed. Along with my boy, I wanted to see this little guy start camp.
We fielded wayward balls from under the basket together and he glanced to where I was still standing a few feet away. “Where should I put these?” he asked, looking at his water jug and lunch.
“Upstairs on the balcony,” I pointed. “Do you want me to show you?”
He nodded, and we walked up the two flights of stairs. Once he found a spot he would remember at lunch time, we headed downstairs and during the final minutes of free-shooting, he sat against the wall, content to watch. And when the head coach instructed the campers to the center of the gym, he got up and began to walk in that direction.
As he passed by I told him to have a fun day. “And if you have any questions, just ask someone with a whistle.” There were over a dozen coaches and college players with whistles, and this was my equivalent to telling my son to look for a mommy with kids if he ever needed help and I was not there.
He nodded and maneuvered between boys twice his size to find a place to sit on the floor. After one final glance at my son and another at the little boy, I left to begin my day.
Even if we are not parenting our own children, we are responsible for parenting.
Whether we have children or not, adults have an important role to play. We have an unspoken duty to care for the children of this world. And when one of us is not there for our child, others need to step in if necessary to soothe, calm, cheer, or help in our absence. Too often we leave it up to family, teachers, coaches, or clergy to guide a child. But in reality, it is up to all of us to display kindness, show compassion, be patient, and reach out to someone in need.
Of course I get the whole notion of stranger danger and overstepping bounds when it comes to helping another person’s child. I am in no way suggesting we should infringe, impose, or interfere in a situation that is none of our business. It is important to know when and how to help without leaving an impression of impropriety, endangerment, or misunderstanding.
But when the intent is innocent and the purpose is to ease the pain of growing up, I have no apologies.
I have hope.
Hope that sweet boy goes home to his parents with a smile on his face, telling stories of a fun first day at camp.
Hope he realizes how brave he was to ask for help, accept it, and keep moving forward in the face of fear.
Hope he understands there is so much more good and love in this world than bad and hate.
Hope he remembers the kindness of a stranger and pays it forward one day.
Hope that if this had been my son in need, someone would have done the same for him…