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Play has shaped the parent I am now:

My eight-year-old daughter Adella played a beautiful game of basketball last season. She, as my neighbor who knows all sports puts it, is a great "ball handler." She can dribble that thing any way you want it and get it the hoop so a teammate with upper-body strength can shoot the thing. She's a fast-moving and coordinated 48-pound third-grader.

So why was she crying into her pillow an hour after the game?

Because No. 5 from the opposing team told her she hated her for guarding her and taunted her every time they were near each other on the court. The "I hate you" did in a little girl who seldom hears those words and never before has heard them directed at her.

Dad to the rescue: "That's trash talk, and it's unsportsmanlike. You give her a trash talk smile and let it go." Men are smart, practical, and in the moment. When the moment's gone, so is the problem. Oh, to be a man....

The tears continue; so does dad: "Players do that to get inside your head because if you're thinking about them and what they're saying, you're not doing what you're supposed to do--which is play the game. Don't let her in."

Ah yes, dear, but girls don't forget quite so quickly. Next morning Della says to me over breakfast: "Did you notice she played out of bounds most of the game?"

Me to Della: "Yup, Because people who talk trash play trash, too."

"How come her coach didn't say anything?"

Mother to daughter: "Winning is everything in that town, and that's what they teach. Your father teaches you to play well, and that little jerk couldn't handle you."

How is it a stranger, a nobody in my daughter's cosmology, could rob her of joy so swiftly? How is it cruel people--people who tell us we're worthless, who use us, who badmouth us behind our backs and insult us to our faces--have so much influence on the quality of our experiences?

My daughter will never forget No. 5 and trash talk. Will my daughter remember that No. 5's team won by 28 points and could have afforded to be kind? I won't let her forget that cruel people do business wholesale.

No. 5 didn't have it in her. My sensitive little girl does, though. Please God, we will build her up good and strong so nasty blow-ins won't hem her into a life of fear of abuse.