Kicking Puppies

I have been a mother for 10 years and 6 months. That is kind of a long time. Of course, relatively speaking.

I mean, it’s the longest I’ve ever been a mother.

Tonight my oldest son played in what could have been the last game of his first season of basketball. It was game two of what was also his first tournament. Now, I try not to take the athletic endeavors of my children too seriously. I’m not looking for incredible feats of strength and awe-inspiring talent out of three boys who make peeing in the toilet look like a death-defying Olympic sport.

I’m just not.

I make sure they have water bottles. I get them to practice on time. I beg them to pay attention, cheer on their team and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP PICKING YOUR NOSE!

I really believe that their experience in athletics during elementary school should be a fun opportunity to learn things like dedication, sportsmanship, determination, commitment and teamwork. I would hate to have one of them shake their fist at me about how I ruined their love of sports by middle school. They will already have so much material for their therapist. I am not giving them more ammunition for their memoirs.

Tonight, after working and then getting lost, I arrived at the gym a little late. After a few excited squeezes from my two younger children, I found my seat just in time to see Isaiah get a rebound, shoot and SCORE…

in the other team’s basket.

Oh, the horror. Oh, the injustice.

I think it took him a trip down the court and back before he realized his mistake. I’m pretty sure a teammate let him onto it during a brief pause in the game. I saw his face change. I saw the color rise in his cheeks. I saw his chin quiver. I looked over at my guy and I said with an aching heart, “He’s really upset.”

Now, I come from a soccer/football/cheerleading/volleyball/band/choir mom. My mother went to all of our things and clapped so hard she burst blood vessels in her hands. She often came home with no voice from screaming for us and our teammates. She did all of these things but barring terrible injuries, she never ever went onto the field/court/stage.

Okay, in all honesty, there were never any choir injuries but she could’ve rescued me from several solos where the words escaped me.

She never did.

She believed that the game was where we learned from the coach. Her job was to cheer, make sure our uniforms were clean and that we were well fed….and the millions of other things that mothers do for their kids.

So, I like my mother before me swallowed the ache in my chest as I watched my darling boy swallow back his tears. I watched him play defeated. I hoped that he would focus in on me, my smile and my all-knowing, nurturing vibe.

I think my vibe was coming in on the wrong channel because it didn’t connect.

A minute or two later, he went after the ball with three other little boys and got hurt. You know the injury. The one that’s more frustration and disappointment than actual pain.

Hello, insult. I’d like you to meet injury.

He came off the court in tears.


He was injured and so I had an excuse to look after my baby boy.

I sidled up to him and discovered that I was right. He was red in the face. He was frustrated and a little angry. I had him take a few deep breaths and when half-time came I sent him into the locker room with his team. He objected but I reminded him that’s where he belonged – with his team.

He came out and had a pretty good second half. His coach kept him in the game and built up his confidence with some intentional positive feedback. A solid two thumbs up and Isaiah was back in the game.

Good job, coach!

I saw it happen. I saw him come back to the game in that moment.

And then I almost lost my emotions.

I wanted so much for him to know that it was okay. I wanted him to let it go and move past his mistake. I wanted him to give himself some grace.

While playing roller derby with the Lansing Derby Vixens, my coach shared a podcast from Bonnie D. Stroir. It was called The Puppy Talk. The basic idea is that as an athlete learning new things, it is our job to treat ourselves as gently as we would a tiny, sweet, little puppy. Knowing Isaiah’s love of animals, I knew this lesson would really be something he’d relate to.

I was right.

I asked him if he would hit, kick or yell at a puppy for making a mistake.

Because he’s not a psychopath, he said no.

This is not my son.
This is not my son.

Phew. Parenting success.

I asked him if he would try to gently teach the puppy the right thing to do.

The answer was yes.

Ladies and gentlemen of the roller derby world, I told my son not to kick his puppy!

He then gently confessed that he got mad at the kid who accidentally hurt him.

This gave me the opportunity to share with him that it took me a FULL YEAR to be able to make nice with the women from the other team after a bout. I had to learn sportsmanship just like I had to learn how to play the game.

My son knows me to be kind and loving. He knows my relationships with the loved ones in my life. He knows my gentleness and compassion. I told him that when I first skate onto the line, my teammates are my only friends. I want to devastate the other players. I want them to be frustrated by my tenaciousness. I want to kill their dreams.

Of course, he laughed and I admitted that it doesn’t always go as planned.

The point is, there’s a place for aggressiveness within the confines of sportsmanship. After the bout, you should all be able to share a drink at the after party… or a slice of pizza or whatever you whippersnappers are into these days.

If you’re not paying attention, this might seem like an ode to my amazing parenting skillz. It’s not. Even though, I clearly have it all together and am superior in so many ways. *choke.snort.laugh* This is about how roller derby has made me a better mother.

It’s about Vito looking up at me and reminding me that every time you get up from a fall, you get a little bit stronger.

It’s about Isaiah reminding me that I should listen to my body and rest when I need to.

It’s about Isaac drinking more water so that he can be a better runner on his track team.

We learn as a family and roller derby is now just another tool helping me prepare my boys for a great future as exceptional men. When Isaiah climbed into my minvan swagger wagon this evening, we talked about puppy talks, aggressiveness and sportsmanship. Most importantly, I told him how much self-control, bravery and determination it takes to get back into the game after losing your emotions. I told him that I was so proud of his character and how much he’s learned this season.

He may never play basketball again. I don’t even care.


He’s already a better person.


Love from the bleachers,




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