“Nobody would pass me the ball. Even friends who I thought were my friends wouldn’t pass me the ball.” These words from my nine-year-old after another round of recess Darwinism style bounced around in my head like a bright orange basketball stealing my sleep at 2:00 a.m and making me despise a group of 4-foot tall fourth graders.
“I blame Trump,” I told my husband (also at 2:00 a.m.). In a mumbled sleep chatter he reminds me that childlike cruelty existed well before Donald Trump became the President. I know if my husband were fully awake he would share yet another tale of the bullying he experienced as a child, which is supposed to make me feel better because look at him now. But I’m a fire sign, I’m a fighter, and even though he has fallen back asleep I continue this fight with the cracked plaster on our ceiling wondering what the world would be like if we all simply believed in passing the ball.
It’s not like I’ve ever played in a basketball league before, but as a native Angelino I did grow up in the era of the Showtime Lakers. By default that makes me a Chick Hearns style sideline expert on the benefits of passing the ball. Of course most of the Lakers back then were known for their dynamic running game and flamboyant offense, but then there were players like Coop. If you called him Michael Cooper, you clearly didn’t grow up in Los Angeles. Cooooooooop heralded for his defense and his beyond belief Coop-a-loops he would slam-dunk on his rivals after retrieving a perfectly timed pass from Magic Johnson or Norm Nixon. Even NBA all-stars of a basketball dynasty recognized to win the game they needed to pass the ball.
It seems if you’re not open it makes more sense to pass the ball. It also seems a team would get more open shots the more times they moved the ball. But fourth-grade asphalt antics aren’t about the open shot. It’s about taking the shot whether you can make the shot. It’s about ego and arrogance and power. It’s also about a pack mentality where one group of kids endeavors to dominate over the other, especially if the “other” is different from the pack.
But it’s fourth grade and the kid who doesn’t pass the ball to your kid one week may be the very person your child shares his lunch with the next week. Because it turns out that kid is going back and forth between the homes of his newly divorced parents and someone forgot to pack the lunch for the leader of the 4th grade pack.
I’m trying to raise the kid who shares his lunch. I’m also trying to refrain from screaming expletives out my car window in the school valet line.
“Hey, kid? Yeah, you. The one with the ball. The one who always has some quick wit at my child’s expense. If you don’t stop your shenanigans, you’ll grow up to be Donald Trump!”
Could it be that our new President had his growth stunted at 4th grade? Is he the leader of a new pack that believes any attention is worthwhile attention thereby throwing tantrums on Twitter and threatening those who cry out for inclusivity and tolerance?
Following his election win, of which I wasn’t very surprised, I expected to feel angry, but instead, I just felt numb. There was a distinct void where my fervor was supposed to be. With deeper introspection, it actually began to trouble me. Have I become so cynical that I don’t appreciate the gravity of what has just occurred? Has my recent stint as a mom of a 4th grader hardened me? I’m a fire sign. I’m a fighter. I have debates at 2:00 a.m. with cracks in my ceiling.
Later that day, on November 9th, 2016, I found myself unsuccessfully comforting a stranger in Target. She was still proudly adorning an “I’m with Her” t-shirt, and our eyes locked sharing a mutual gaze of melancholy. We met again in the laundry detergent aisle, but at this point, our reunion just felt awkward. As I worked to wedge my cart beside hers, she looked at me revealing irises the hue of cornflower blue welling up with tears. I have never been one of those types of people who can watch someone cry and not feel a tinge of responsibility. After all, I made eye contact with her and gave her the obligatory “what the heck just happened?” shake of the head.
“This is just so terrible, she mumbled. How could he possibly win?”
“Hmm, pretty easily it seems to me.”
The words came out far more cavalier than I intended them too, and at this point, we were in a full-blown traffic jam stuck behind a twenty-something man-child appearing dumbfounded by all the options presented to him for washing clothes.
The woman began to wipe away her tears with such force I could almost make out the sound of her mascara smudging across her face.
She was angry at my effect of indifference. I was becoming angry too.
I tried to explain that I want to cry, but this election has revealed something I instinctually already knew. A campaign ran on themes of racial resentment, misogyny, ableism, and fear, paired with a dash of nostalgic “good old days” mentality can indeed be won if you speak the loudest to people who feel like they haven’t been heard. And that’s what he did. He talked about jobs and trade deals, even though a large amount of his goods are produced overseas. He talked about taxes, although never releasing his own and this above the law mentality appealed even more to his followers looking up to their guide. He talked about punching demonstrators in the face, which was received like lines from a patriotic call to arms, and he made people feel like they were part of his elite pack. He levied vicious attacks at anyone who dared to challenge him. He behaved like the toughest kid on the blacktop. He convinced his voters he would pass them the ball.
By the time I processed my perceived aloofness the young man and my Target aisle acquaintance had both moved on. I wanted to scream out, he has no intention of passing the ball, and you’re right to want to cry, but what I also know about playgrounds and politics is you can only cry for so long.
As a ringleader, Trump is good at making select people feel included; however, he has already shown his character and his corruption. He has already surrounded himself with more of the same and as for his voters, still holding out hope to be welcomed into his in-crowd, they won’t emerge as exceptions to his rules, especially because he doesn’t abide by rules anyway.
But could there be a bright side to this upset? A Hail Mary when all else has failed. Can we overcome four years of Trump-like I implore my nine-year-old to push through 4th grade? I’m holding out hope that we can. There is progress in people suddenly seeing what others have essentially been seeing all along. With this increased commonality of the “other,” of which the hateful rhetoric of the elected President so effectively unearths, a veil has finally been lifted. People are wiping the dust or crust, or mascara from their eyes and they are mobilizing against an assault on democracy. It’s “Nervous Time” as Chick use to say when the Lakers were involved in a tight game, and in order to move the ball you have to know and trust your teammates. This newfound willingness to march in each other’s shoes could very well be the one thing that turns this country around.
A week before the inauguration I picked my son up from school. With bated breath, I awaited his detailed update of the day. It turns out an unassuming classmate finally passed him the ball. Against berating from peers, one kid passed him the ball. My son dribbled and was immediately surrounded by flailing arms making sure he didn’t take a shot. As a result, he tossed the ball back to that same kid, and they continued this exchange tiring out the other players while inching closer and closer to the basket. It was a passing game that finally placed them in the position to shoot a layup. They didn’t score…that time, but they came close.
“We were so close Mom. He looked at me, and I could totally tell he was gonna pass me the ball. I was ready for it. And I caught it. And I bet if we do the same thing tomorrow we will score.”
“I believe you will score, son. I believe tomorrow if you and this friend of yours keep assisting each other, you both will win.”
It seems that’s the thing about playgrounds and politics. The very tactics a bully uses to isolate you, he is assuredly utilizing them to isolate others. There will always be more people on the outside of his pack than those on the inside. And when the outsiders come together with a shared sense of outrage and a ball movement offense, anything is possible. Before you know it, the bully will be the one eating all alone. The only question that remains is will you still be charitable enough to share your sandwich?