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March Madness: What It's Taught Me About Parenting

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March Madness offers parents a double bonus situation: excitement and insight. Behind the blinding blitzkrieg of b-balling, beer commercials, and college boosterism, I found some parental tricks easily transferable from the polished hardwood courts to the stained-forever carpets of our cozy family room.

Jump Ball
This is so elegantly simple, I'm astonished not to have read about it somewhere in the cargo container load of parenting self-help literature strewn about our bedroom. If you have two or more kids who are fighting over the same thing... a toy, the last cupcake, the dog... throw it up in the air. The one who catches it, gets it. It's fair because the smaller children may be quicker or closer to the object of desire. And it may convince the dog to play outside once in a while.

Sweet Sixteen
My nine-year-old daughter recently described, out of the blue, paragraphs upon pages of lovely details she wants for her Sweet Sixteen birthday party. No more viewing of Cake Boss in this house! It gives the little ones half-baked ideas. Sure, I loved her creativity, but my mind's eye kept attaching price tags to her dreams. Now I have the perfect retort. "Oh, angel, don't you know... Sweet Sixteen is strictly a basketball term. It doesn't really apply to life."

Bracketology
The process of predicting winners for each game from the field of 68 teams and going through to the final champion is a simpler and quaintly more rudimentary form of what parents do every year when planning their summer break. Summertime calculations require parents to research, select and juggle the right camps at the right times for each child, integrate educational, athletic and musical training, choose not-yet-visited vacation destinations within budget, strategize adult work schedules and shoehorn in that mandatory visit to the in-laws. This rigorous training puts parents in the money for the relatively easy and straightforward office bracketology contest.

Give Me the Ball
Basketball clearly shows us that, contrary to what every parent tells their offspring, giving does not mean you shall receive. It's a real life lesson every kid learns in the sand box. When you share your pail and shovel with a bigger kid, you don't get it back. Despite the alleged attention paid to basketball assist stats, the shooters get the glory. And when you pass to the shooting guards, power forwards and centers, don't expect to get the ball back. If you want to teach the valuable rewards of unselfish behavior, you better be raising a point guard.

A Little Money Goes a Long Way
Okay, hope the FBI isn't reading this, but I'm in a March Madness pool with some friends... the entry fee is a whopping $10. Curiously, that little bit of action makes me inordinately interested in the outcomes of all the games. The same principle can be applied to parenting. "Hey, Junior, if you bring home straight As on your report card, you can earn a few extra bucks." I've heard of this happening. Really. And if my wife and I ever stooped so low, we wouldn't think of it as outright bribery. It's much more a focused study enhancement.

Zone or Man-to-Man Defense
Think of parenting as classic basketball defensive schemes. When my wife and I had just one child, she could visit her friends while I took care of him, and I could still go to a movie as she watched him. So when she began talking about having another child, I thought, hey, this parenting thing is okay. We still have some free time. Technical Foul! The truth was, when our second baby came, the game changed from a leisurely zone defense to an exhausting man-to-man full court press. So lulled by the easy nature of just covering my own area of the court, I never saw it coming. When you have two children, you're always on. Both parents have their hands full, the kids require different levels of simultaneous attention, eating, napping and sleeping patterns are not synched up and the only break comes at the end of day when everyone's asleep and the parents collapse onto the mattress. I can't even imagine three on two, or more on two... that's extreme parenting... true madness!