Next year from Nintendo: Wii Fight
I’m scanning the faces at our kitchen dinner table. All of them, except for the oblivious six-year-old, are fused in disappointment.
“How was I
supposed to know Edwin would clothesline
the kid?” I say.
“Two weeks,” Shannon says, disappointment oozing from her words. “It took you two weeks… and that was with only one practice and one game a week. So really, it was more like four days.”
Edwin, the nine-year-old whose team I’m now forbidden from coaching, asks to be excused. He hasn’t touched his chicken fingers, even though he loves
chicken fingers. Shannon excuses him. I want to apologize, but I can’t get the words out. The six-year-old, Fiona, also asks to be excused, but in a more excited voice. She’s not expressing any particular judgment – she’s just following Edwin’s lead like it’s a game. Still, it somehow feels like she, too, is rejecting me.
Now it’s me, Shannon and our twelve-year-old, Devlin. They’re still glaring with disapproval.
“You were both in the stands,” I say. “You saw how they were manhandling us.”
“They were just taller
,” Shannon says. “They weren’t playing dirty
“Maybe not, but that team was rigged
,” I say. “They were gigantic. The only thing my team could ever do is…form a Lollipop Guild.”
“You shoulda called timeout in the second quarter to settle them down,” Devlin says. “The other team scored 10 straight points, and you didn’t do a thing.”
“I wanted our guys to play through it,” I say.
“They’re 9 and 10
,” Devlin says, as if being 12 makes him some sort of child psychologist. “They can’t
play through it.”
Come to think of it, several members of my pint-sized team did
return to the bench at half-time crying.
“I thought they’d be a little more resilient,” I say.
Devlin shakes his head in shame. “What a massacre,” he says, “and then to order a hard foul like that.”
I look to Shannon.
“Is he allowed to talk to me like this?” I say.
Shannon absently runs her fork through a tiny pile of green beans.
“You know what the most upsetting thing is?” she says. “Your attitude going in was so good, so positive. Your introduction e-mail to all the parents was great…I spoke to several of them and they were thrilled
with your learn-first, win-second approach. But the approach was a little surprising to me, frankly, because it was so not
“What do you mean, not
me?” I say.
“Oh stop it, Doug,” Shannon says. “If you’d just not tried to fool yourself about your nature from the beginning, maybe it wouldn’t have snuck up on you, bitten you in the behind, and gotten you kicked out of a children’s basketball league.”
I deadpan to Devlin. “Is she allowed to talk to me like that?” I say.
“It’s like When Harry Met Sally
,” Shannon says.
“Good movie,” Devlin says, nodding.
Now I’m back to Shannon. “Is he
allowed to watch that?” I say.
“When Billy Crystal says the worst kind of woman is high maintenance but thinks
she’s low maintenance,” Shannon says. “The worst kind of man is competitive but thinks
“Seriously,” I say to Shannon. “There’s a lot of sex talk in that movie. Are you ok with him seeing that? And what about the-” I shield my mouth from Devlin and lip the words fake orgasm scene
Devlin rolls his eyes. “May I be excused?” he says.
“Yes,” Shannon says, not taking her eyes off me.
As Devlin saunters off, I slump in my chair, trying to figure out where it all went wrong.
“Do I…have a problem?” I say.
“Well, you’re the only person I’ve ever known to snap a putter in half over his knee at a miniature-golf course,” Shannon says.
“Am I ever
going to live that down?” I say. “That was 10 years ago. And besides, the speed of that windmill was screwed up. There was no way
to putt through it.”
“Of course there wasn’t,” Shannon says. Then she starts glaring at me in a way that is far more serious than before.
“What,” I say.
Shannon motions me into the living room, where Edwin and Fiona are playing Mario Kart on the Wii, with Devlin watching.
“Stupid controller,” she says.
“My car stinks,” he says.
Edwin Crashes. Devlin says, “This game is defective.”
And on it goes.
Shannon whispers into my ear as I watch the kids.Stupid controller…my car stinks…this game is defective…that team was rigged…that windmill was screwed up…See a pattern?
It all becomes so clear in that moment.
So very clear.
“Oh my God,” I say. “I’m raising a bunch of losers.”
“Uhm… that’s not what I was getting at,” Shannon says. “What you’re raising are children who blame everything but themselves when they encounter hardship. That’s not a recipe for success.”
“So what, this is all my
fault?” I say.
“See?” Shannon says. “Can’t assume any responsibility, can you.”
“I assume responsibility. I mean, I am
their father,” I say under my breath. “I’m just saying it’s not my fault.”
“Are you… proofreading
anything that’s coming out of your mouth?” Shannon says.
My brain gets all hazy. The idea that I might be responsible for my kids’ shortcomings does not register.
“I don’t even…spend enough time
with them to be a bad influence, do I?” I say.
“Unfortunately, setting a bad example doesn’t take much time,” Shannon says.
I step toward them. Shannon grabs my arm.
“What are you doing?” she says.
“I’m setting a good example,” I say. “Starting now.”
“No, don’t,” she says. “You’re not ready.”
“It’s not like being a Jedi
,” I say. “I just need to be encouraging, pleasant, and tolerant of…incompetence and failure.”
“And what exactly is it about your current body of work that makes you think you can do that?
” she says.
I look at Shannon, and speak my next words oblivious to the paradox.
“Good intentions,” I say.
Shannon lets go of my arm, but looks worried.
Five minutes later, I understand why.
Links: Travelling: Intro / Book JacketChapter 1: CribbagegateChapter 2: Two e-mailsChapter 3: PatternChapter 4: Shattered
, Chapter 5: Hilarious PeeChapter 6: SuicideChapter 7/8: Coaching High school, Shark attacks and appetizers
Labels: chapter 3, Evil Ted, traveling