Teen: “Ms. Michelle you play?” Me: “I can show you better than I can tell you.” I missed my first few shots so I took off my heels and we began to play. He is 15 years old, plays soccer; he has never held a basketball, heavy accent, overdosed once. He is the new kid, the quiet shy kid. My third day on post and I cannot remember his name. He shoots, misses horribly. I begin to teach him the techniques of holding a basketball, of bouncing. He continues to miss. He bounces the ball to me saying, “You try.”
I get’em all in! Sundress, barefooted, happy, sweating and connecting. During our conversation, I learn that he speaks nothing but negative statements about himself. “I can’t do it.” “I won’t get close to the blackboard.” I learn that his parents are from Honduras and El Salvador. I learn that he is a US citizen and that when others call him, “Mexican” its the only time he corrects anyone. I learn that I cannot pronounce his ethnicity but I continue trying until he laughs. He doesn’t mind repeating, teaching me.
It is just him and me. All the other teens have gone elsewhere along the park. I see him relax. I see him smile. I see him continue to try. I am learning to be his biggest cheerleader. I clap and yell when he gets a shot in. He then asks about me: “How did you learn how to play?” Me: “I have older children and I like the game of basketball. I watch it. You have to keep trying. Find a spot on the court you feel comfortable with and go from there. Keep practicing. Don’t give up.” Him: “Okay, Ms. Michelle. You got WNBA skills!” We laugh. I did outscore him.
After our interaction, sitting at the counselor table, Older Guy, smiling: “You have to meet them right where they are.” Me: “It was nice.”
Our moment healed my “self-tearing” struggle from last week. “Don’t give up.” They tell me I am no more than 32 years old. I dare not correct them. They know I am not a recovering addict and my first day they dismissed me as confidant. Yet today…today was a good day.