Basketball, Broken Teeth, And The Walk I'll Never Forget - A Mother's Day Tribute
My family was not particularly well off financially when I was a kid. My dad worked primarily in commission sales and his income often fluctuated greatly from week to week. My mom worked from home, running a daycare while simultaneously taking care of most of the household chores and trying to raise and feed me and my two brothers without pulling her hair out. Money was often tight and there was a period of years when we had only one family vehicle which my dad drove to work. This would occasionally create some precarious situations.
I grew up just outside Bloomington Indiana which meant basketball was king. During my elementary school years I was short and round and not exceptionally fast, I did however have occasional outbursts of accidental athleticism, as I remember it. Back in those days, playground safety was still an afterthought as evidenced by the all metal slides which could reach temperatures of up to molten lava levels and the rusty jungle gyms held together by jagged bolts that were capable of amputating the arm or leg of your average preteen.
It was in that vein that the basketball goals at my elementary school's playground were erected. Two concrete filled metal poles went straight into the air and a rim with a wooden backboard was bolted directly to them. There was no space between the basket and the poles to give players running at full speed a chance to avoid them after a layup shot, like modern day hoops have. But we were children of the 1980s and we didn’t care.
Each day at recess, my friends and I would head straight to the court and play non-stop basketball from whistle to whistle. After all, we were Hoosiers. On one fateful day in the 5th grade, I was involved in a game of 2-on-2 with some classmates. All of the details of the game that day have long since escaped me, except for one specific moment I can remember with absolute clarity some 30-plus years later.
I close my eyes even today and I can still see my teammate guarding a kid named Sam who was dribbling the ball towards us. I watch as I see Sam pick up the ball and look to pass it to the guy I'm guarding, and then in my mind, slow motion begins. This was one of those rare moments that chubby kids dream of where their bodies act as quickly as their minds do. I had managed to not only anticipate Sam’s pass, but my body had agreed to participate at the speed of my thought, and I intercepted the ball. As fast as my, what were almost certainly generic Kmart basketball shoes would carry me, I dribbled the ball towards the hoop at the other end of the court to claim my glory. One step, two steps, jump off the opposite leg and toss the ball off the backboard's bright red square, just as all Bloomington kids had been taught seemingly from birth.
But something went wrong. In mid-air, I felt a shove in my back and everything went black. I opened my eyes to find blood pouring from my face and pain screaming from my mouth. Sam had caught up with me and decided to introduce me to one of those concrete filled poles in an effort to keep me from scoring. My two front teeth were shattered from the blow and the two teeth on either side of them were chipped. Add to that a hairline fracture in my jaw, a cut on my face, and a bloody nose and I was left hurting and mangled. I seem to remember moving in and out of awareness for the next several minutes as teachers rushed around me with concerned looks on their faces.
The teachers brought me to a cot in the nurse’s office to wait. The pain in my face slowly changed from throbbing pain to more of a pulsing numbness as the swelling increased. It was at that moment I realized that with my dad having our only car at work and my mom stuck at home, no one would be coming to rescue me for quite some time. And my heart sank.
As I laid there sulking I heard shouting in the hallway as my mom burst through the school doors, demanding to know where I was. I was a short little guy at that age, but what I lacked in height I more than made up for in girth. And yet I still remember my mom swooping into the nurse’s room, scooping me up, and carrying me out the front doors of the school in a full on trot. She walked as fast as she could go towards the dentist office while carrying not only the burden of my weight but the mountain of anxiety that must have rested on her. She carried me a little ways until her arms and back wore out and then she would support me while I walked beside her offering her a bit of relief. And although bruised and battered, I remember thinking in that moment that everything was going to be okay. Not just in that moment, but for as long as my mom was around I knew that she would walk through fire and back for me anytime I was ever in need.
I look back now and I wonder what those two walks were like for her. Twenty minutes of torture on the way to get me, not knowing the extent of my injuries. Frustrated she couldn’t get to me faster. And the grueling walk to the dentist, carrying me as I bled and cried? Worrying about whether the dentist would help us. Stressing over how she might afford the massive bill that was sure to come. But that was my mom. That is my mom. Tough as nails. Fierce and unwavering in her devotion to her kids. Regularly laying down her life for me and my brothers. Giving up all she had for our benefit. Asking for nothing in return.
I regret that I missed the significance and weight of her sacrifice back then. I don’t think until now that I have been able to express in meaningful words what that moment meant to me. But I am thankful I still have time to tell her now. As a father of my own kids I look back in awe at her love and sacrifice. It stands as an example for me to follow. She carried me then, in many ways she carries me still.
Thank you, mom. And to all of the Mothers in The 812, Happy Mother's Day.