Bowling Lessons

“What size shoes?” he asks.

“I need a Men’s size 9 because you don’t have Ladies 11. And even if you do, I’d rather just ask for the Men’s size 9. Because I’ve always been a size 11. My mother and I trekked to a store in Passaic a few times a year. My mother was an impressive size 12. A sign boasting “WE SPECIALIZE IN LARGE SIZES” proudly taped up in their window, my first memory is being fitted for my Bat-Mitzvah shoes by our salesman, Alan. But I won’t burden you with all that information, Mr. Bowling Alley Guy.”


The first thing that struck me were the  bumpers. I’ve never taken a child bowling before. And my own memories of bowling were filled with hardcore gutter balls. No bumpers in my bowling career. One pathetic gutter ball after another on visits to the bowling alley in my youth. And you know what? It was still fun. I didn’t get frustrated, like I know my own daughter would’ve. This desire to get it right the first time was never very strong for me. I just liked that feeling of swinging my arm back and letting the ball fly down the lane. The few seconds of “possibility” was the thrilling part. Would I hit any pins at all?

Watching that ball spin and roll down the lane was a lesson in resilience. No matter how many pins you knock down the first time, you get a second chance. You shouldn’t get angry. You shouldn’t get frustrated. You will just try again. As a child, I’d concentrate on that freeing feeling of releasing the ball and the laughable moments of gutter balls or even ending up in a different lane all together.

dino bowl

There was a dinosaur ramp for Miriam to use. Push the dinosaur in front of the lane and give your ball a shove down its back. It was a stegosaurus, I think. Miriam liked it better without the dinosaur ramp. She preferred the strength of pushing the ball herself down the lane. Screw gravity. Miriam is her own force of nature.

Taking turns. An important lesson in sportsmanship. But being our first trip to the bowling alley, I let her take my turns too. Because motherhood is all about sacrifice. The Men’s size 9 shoes I had on weren’t that comfortable anyway. We cheered on Daddy, while she anxiously awaited her turns.

Miriam started to lose interest a few frames from the end of the game. Hal and I decided we needed bowling alley French fries. And Miriam saw the arcade games. Hal finished out the frames while Miriam and I ordered a giant $5 basket of fries.


We each ate our fries with our own fry-eating methods. I’m one at a time with ketchup. Hal is two or three at a time with ketchup. And Miriam is slice them in half with a plastic knife, eating the white inside first and then the outside. But this only takes place after we are told by Miriam to “get that ketchup away from me!” She’s not a dipper.

And then, as every happy family outing usually ends…the meltdown. It went like this. We went over to the claw machines. I was relieved to see a sign that said, “Play Until You Win”. But it was still $3 for a crappy stuffed animal she would forget about by the time we got home. And, on principle alone, I didn’t want the magnetic pull of every arcade game in every inopportune place to become a battle of wills. We looked at the other claw machine. This one was a dollar for a rubber ducky. All different kinds of rubber duckies. So, we put our dollar in the machine, also with a guarantee of “A Winner Every Time”, and the initial joy of seeing the claw rising with a cute pirate rubber ducky, quickly became a meltdown of angry grunts and screaming. What the hell just went wrong?!

Well, we found out later that Miriam had her heart set on a princess ducky she spied in the ducky pile-up in this machine filled thousands of different duckies. And as I tried to explain to her that you don’t always get the ducky you wanted out of the claw machine, I couldn’t help but feel a barrage of life lessons come on.

  • Bumpers are nice. They’re like the kind co-worker at a new job, answering all the questions you’re afraid to ask. Bumpers build confidence. Be a bumper to someone today.
  • Enjoy the possibility of a strike! But try to enjoy the spares and gutter balls too. Because throwing a bowling ball down a lane is simply fun.
  • Eat your fries however you want. But don’t forget to share. Share your fries and your preferred method.
  • Its about the claw, not always the prize it grabs. Give that pirate ducky a chance.

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