Bowling with Bumpers



I have never been the athletic type. I considered PE one of the most useless subjects I’ve ever had in school. Standing around in gym shorts squirming in discomfort was not my idea of fun. I did not have the height or stamina of a basketball player., nor did I have the skill or interest to play volleyball. As for softball, forget it! I was scared stiff of that hard, speeding ball. I knew if I ever got hit by it, the impact would be as catastrophic as that meteorite that hit earth billions of years ago. I wisely stayed away, and buried myself so deep in books that no PE instructor dared dig me out. Thus, I managed to lead an injury-free existence from high school to my college years, and somehow made it to “The Middle Ages” without a visit to the ER.

So a few weeks ago, when my kids suggested a night of bowling, I said yes for the sake of family time, but felt as much enthusiasm as a vegan invited to an all-you-can-eat meat extravaganza. The only saving grace was that my mom would be there, too. I figured that either we could both just sit it out, or keep ourselves company in the bottom rung.

Before the game started, my daughter Chessa listed down the names of the people who were playing. That list included my brother, sister, brother-in-law, mom, two kids and myself. Chessa took it upon herself to order “bumpers” for her grandma and then asked the rest of us if anybody wanted bumpers. Everyone else declined. I myself had no idea what bumpers were, but being naturally suspicious of anything unfamiliar, and giving in to “herd mentality,” I said no to bumpers as well. The game was on.

At first, everybody basically started at equal footing. There were a couple of strikes and spares here and there, a few hits and misses. By the time the game was halfway, everybody had their share of gutter balls. Well, most everybody that is, except my mom. It was finally around the seventh inning when I noticed that my mom’s score was creeping up while mine continued its secure footing at the bottom.

I turned to my daughter, Chessa, barely able to conceal the panic in my voice. “Babe, your grandma’s score is now higher than mine!”

Chessa smiled sweetly at me and replied, “Bumpers…”

“What? What do you mean, bumpers? ” was my baffled response.

“Grandma is bowling with bumpers. I asked you earlier if you wanted bumpers, and you told me no.”

“What are they, babe? I don’t know what they are, but I want them! I want them!”

“Details, Mom. Details. You never notice the details. Pay attention, Mom. See, when it’s grandma’s turn, notice there are bumpers that discretely rise at either side of the lane. They block the balls from going into the gutter, so the balls just bounce back into the lane. No gutter balls. ”

“Whah! Why didn’t you tell me that before! Bumpers! I want that! Yes, I definitely want that.”

“Too late, Mom. We’re in the middle of the game. Everything is programmed already.”

“What! ” I whined. “Whatcha mean I can’t have it? I want my bumpers!’ ( I was having a meltdown in the privacy of my daughter’s understanding presence. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to admit that when I’m around my kids, it’s hard to tell who is the adult and who is the toddler.)

“Mom, you have to wait until the game is over. No bumpers for you until the game is over and we can reprogram everything, okay?” was my daughter’s patient but firm response. Chessa has way too much experience dealing with toddlers to be fazed by her forty-something-year-old mom acting like a four-year-old. My tantrum had zero effect on her.

So I had no choice but to sit it out. In my frustration, I did manage to knock down some pins and even got a lucky strike, but it drove me bonkers every time I got a gutter ball. Chessa would just smile at me sweetly and whisper, “Bumpers!”

At the end of the tenth game, I gleefully jumped over to Chessa and asked her, “Now can I please have my bumpers?”

Chessa shook her head at me and patiently explained, “Mom, we paid for an hour, so until that hour is up, we cannot change anything.”

“What! You mean I have to continue without bumpers!” I could feel the toddler in me ready to stomp its feet. “I want bumpers! I don’t want to lose to your grandma!” Then I vented out my frustrations, trying to win her over to my side. “Babe, she looks at me with pity every time I get a gutter ball, and then she gives me advice on how to do better! Imagine getting advice on bowling from an eighty-year-old! Whah, babe, you gotta help me out!”

My daughter gave me a sympathetic smile, and told me, “Grandma’s been scoring some points, too, Mom, even without the bumpers. She’s holding her own. They’re not all gutter balls.” She paused for a minute, then pointed in the direction of her grandma. “Mom, do you see how grandma looks though? She is glowing. Awww. Look at her. She’s so cute. Look at that big smile. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen her smile like that.”

I looked up. My mom had just finished her turn at bowling. She was in the lead. Everyone was congratulating her. Then I saw her face. My daughter was right. My mom’s face was lit up like the Fourth of July. She was beaming. She was grinning from ear to ear. She was flushed with triumph, victory, contentment, happiness. How could anyone begrudge her that? How could anyone steal that moment of glory from her?

“She does look happy, Chess,” I remarked, a little embarrassed at my juvenile behavior.

“Yup,” said my daughter. “Now do you still want bumpers for the next game?”

I was quiet for a moment, taking it all in, then I said, “Nah. We’ll leave the bumpers for your grandma.” Finally, the reasonable adult stepped in. “I wouldn’t want to steal the thunder from her game. And from now on, only your grandma can use bumpers. And we won’t tell her about it either. It’s our big secret.”

My daughter smiled and nodded at me in approval, like an adult who just knocked some sense into a spoiled brat. You know, sometimes I gotta admit, my kids are so, so much wiser than me.

It was almost midnight when we headed home. As we left the bowling alley, my mom was as pumped-up as a kid who won the trophy for the home team. There was a spring in her step and an excitement in her voice, and she was full of stories about the time she and my dad had gone bowling in their heydays. She also shared with us some tips he gave her, like “Always keep your eye on the ball.” My mom was on the roll.

On the way out, she spotted a couple of kids playing table tennis, and she challenged us to a round. We all groaned in unison. There we were, all exhausted, and my octogenarian of a mom still had the energy to play another round! Talk about stamina. The adrenaline was obviously still in her system, and she was ready to take on the world! We promised her “next time,” but I wonder if we siblings were just a wee bit scared of her ability. After all, my mom is known for her skill at table tennis, or ping-pong, as we call it in the Philippines. If she beat us at something that supposedly was not her game, how much more for one that she’s known to be good at? We were shaking in our boots.

As I reflected on that day, I realized how right my daughter was. With or without bumpers, my mom is a champ. How many grandmas can you drag to a bowling alley in the middle of the night who will actually play and even beat you at the game? Most would have sat it out, but not her. She dove right in the thick of things, and ran away with the trophy, so to speak. In her house, she plays bowling on the XBox, and gets mad at herself for scoring less than a hundred. Despite the aches and pains of old age, she keeps herself active managing a board and care facility, drives around town in her silver Mercedes, and has “power lunches” with social workers, discharge planners and her circle of family and friends. Throughout the many gutter balls life has thrown her way, she has retained that sweet smile, that sense of humor, and that spunk that make her the vibrant and lovable character that she is. I’ve always told her that I would have been richer if I had her drive, her energy, her charm and her personality, and she would just smile sweetly at me in response. (Notice I didn’t say that she objected to this statement.)
Truly, my mom is a winner who has scored strike after strike in this game of life.

I am proud of you, Mom, and I forgive you for not letting me win at bowling. Love you, Mommy. You’re the best.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. achijoy
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 17:12:09

    Ilad ka ni chessing, pwede baya butangan bumpers anytime, LKK


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