When Life Gives You Lemons

Oct 5, 2018 From Matt Dockins: Tell a story about your son, Tom.


I raised my kids during the 90s. My son, Tom, was born in 1987. From the time he could toddle, he was fascinated with balls—base, basket, foot, tennis, golf, bowling. And like all good middle class parents in the 90s, we dutifully enrolled our kids in sports activities. Tom was all about sports, his favorites being basketball for many years as it not only was played with a ball, but it was a team sport that fulfilled his people oriented, team mentality.

For many of those formative years, he played on the YMCA and community basketball leagues. Kids were assigned randomly. The teams would play a round robin kind of schedule, so every team played every other team. Most of these games were exercises in controlled chaos, led by a volunteer coach; often times this would be my husband, Scot. The kids would swarm where ever the ball was—the concept of “playing your position” had not yet gelled in these young minds.

Later, the Edina Basketball Association sponsored the leagues. These were more formalized, and team assignment by ability began. Kids were selected to be on A, B, or C teams. There were levels of play, where comparably skilled teams from across the metro area played each other.  It was no longer all about fun but winning became more important. To be honest, winning was always important to Tom, but in the early years it was only one game won or lost. As he got older, winning and losing affected team standings as there would be a playoff at the end to determine the “best” team.

Tom played league ball for many years. Then as he entered high school, the high school team tryouts came up. Tom and his friends all tried out for the high school team,.

He didn’t make the team. He found out one evening after a week of tryouts. The phone calls among his friends began. He could only process that “all” his friends made the team. He tried not to cry, but I figure he must have. I certainly wanted to.

As a parent, it was one of the hardest days of my parenting life. I could feel his disappointment. It cut me to the core, and yet I was not the kind of person to complain to the school or follow up with the coach to see if there had been some kind of “mistake.” I thought to myself that at most other schools he would have made the team. Certainly at my high school, he would not only have made the team, he could have been a star.

The day after he got cut, I remember standing at the back door, kicking him out to catch the bus. He didn’t want to go, didn’t want to face his friends, didn’t want to feel the disappointment and humiliation that comes with wanting something so badly, and then not getting it. I wouldn’t have wanted to go either.

But life goes on and he had to face the music. He went to school that day, and every day after that.

But a funny thing happened after that cut. Tom decided to put together his own team. He called the Edina Basketball Association to find out what a person had to do to have a team. He called friends who hadn’t made the team, either. He got enough guys to field a team, and then asked his dad and another dad to coach. He called his Aunt Bernice and ordered team T shirts. He collected money from every player, paid the association, put together a practice and playing schedule. He reserved court time around the community. And became, essentially, the team captain.

I can’t remember how the team did, whether they won more than they lost.  But that wasn’t the point. They played every week and they traveled to different communities to play. He organized the team to play in a tournament in St. Cloud. They had a team banquet and honored their coaches and families.

This was turning lemons into lemonade incarnate. Tom took the greatest disappointment in his life to that point and turned it into a learning experience that benefited not only him, but his friends, too. All by himself. It was a life lesson a person couldn’t plan.

And as a parent, I cannot even say how humbling it was to see my child push through adversity and make lemonade. Without me.

3 thoughts on “When Life Gives You Lemons

  1. Matt Dockins says:

    Great story Elaine, I knew Tom had character. I knew you all have character, and your commitment to Tom and letting him face that adversity – great job!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s