The older I get, the more sure I am that life really is just a series of hoops–hoops we choose to, or have to, jump through (or not). I’m not being pessimistic or minimizing so many of my decisions, just realizing that hoops are what I have encountered, sometimes like medicine that I have to swallow in order to get on with it all.

School poses the most amount of hoops. As a student, I jumped through them all. Classes I didn’t want to take but had to in order to progress onto the next level or complete my major. Assignments I had to complete in which I had no strong passion for the material, all hoops! But I did it all–I jumped through each one because I saw the ‘prize,’ which was the diploma, the degree, the celebration, the end of my formal education. A huge hoop for me that I refused to jump through was anything related to math. Actually, I am quite good after all in math, but I lacked the confidence in myself. In picking a major, I leafed through the university catalog to find the one major that didn’t require any math at the time. Linguistics! Studying five languages was a fair trade for no math. I avoided the big hoop in my life…the fear of math only to have it hit me during my doctoral studies–statistics. Another valuable lesson….sometimes we just can’t avoid the hoops even when we try. They either meet us when we’re young, or get us when we’re older.

I see my own students struggling with their hoops–often fighting against them with such humility and perseverance. Many can’t afford their books, have two jobs to make ends meet, help their families financially, have no transportation, not even supportive shoes on their walking journeys throughout the city. I tell them, “Life is a series of hoops and you can just decide to jump through them or ignore them.” Some show a recognition of my metaphor; some believe I am referring to basketball, and some are sleeping with their eyes open.

I have come to see that hoops really are there for the ones who are ready, the ones who have decided that they want what they want so badly that they will swallow everything–their own voices and even their pride, temporarily, in order to comply. These are the students whose ‘light bulbs’ have gone off and who know that they need what I have to teach them. Simple as that. Thus, the hoops that I once jumped through in college are now ones that I provide. However, my goal is to provide students with meaning and enjoyment, as much as formalized, required writing can be enjoyed. Dr. Jaffe’s hoops. Hoops attached to learning and growing, with no ego-driven power over them. The ones I jumped through were often the busy work of egotistical professors. I would like to think that mine are the new kinder, gentler hoops–hoops with collateral learning–so students can learn writing while they learn about themselves and their own hoops.

The hoops of parenthood are varied and countless. Ironically, these hoops aren’t for my kids to jump through, but for me to leap through, often tripping and sometimes falling, but always getting back up. Believe me, there were days that I just wanted to stay ‘down.’ I have actually thought that the largest hoops as a parent are the following (not counting pregnancy and childbirth): sleeplessness; chicken pox; toilet training; and driver’s licenses. I have horrors about all four of these ‘big ticket items.’ But like with everything in our lives, we survive and keep going, no sooner finishing the jump when another presents itself. We want our kids to be happy, healthy, have friends, do well in school, so we are creating more of our own hoops while they are jumping through theirs, which might be very different than our own, resulting in the push and pull of the generations. I want to pick my kids up when they trip through or even over their hoops, but I know I can’t, especially since they are grown men. I’m on the sidelines, now, as I should be, cheering from afar, praying they will decide to jump when they are ready, hoping they know I’ll always be there.

The strange thing about hoops is that we don’t really know they exist until we review our lives with our greatly earned hindsight–earned through our own countless hoops.

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