Sunday, January 26, 2014

A league of our own

It's not winning or losing, it's how you play the game.”

I used to think that old saw was motivational. A reminder that fair play and enjoyment can't be calculated by the numbers on a scoreboard. But now that I'm a parent and have weathered a few seasons of fun-sized sporting events, I've come to understand the line is more of a tautology: Winning or losing is entirely dependent on how you play the game.

Whether you enjoy playing – win or lose – is something else entirely.

No one really believes that hippy-dippy, feel-good blarney either.

Or so I gather. ...

Certainly not the over-zealous father to my immediate left. He's coaching from the bleachers and openly mocking the refs. It's obvious that he's not enjoying the game.

The woman over on the right is trying not to yell out in frustration as my kid tosses the ball directly into the waiting hands of the opponent. But the exasperation escapes anyway.

I don't blame her, really. We're all human, and even the nicest humans, crammed into the pressure cooker of an indoor sporting event, could potentially explode. In the heat of play, I've had to hold my hand over my mouth and bite my palm to keep from hollering completely uninformed advice. It just slips out.

Even the woman wearing the sari and greeting everyone's light within with a small bow and the declaration of her own internal illumination, scoffs at the idea that if all a person cares about is winning and, if every loss leaves them in despair, then they'll never truly experience the joy of playing.

“It's easier to say that when you're winning.”

She may have a point. I don't know.

Winning isn't really my area of expertise.

I'm pretty good at losing, though, even if I do say so myself.

I don't grimace or make faces. I don't demand a recount. I don't blame the cards or the dice or my stupid shoes. The sun didn't get in my eyes.

I smile and congratulate my opponent.

But should I play on?

After all, don't we need some degree of success to continue in whatever field we endeavor? How long can a person continue to enjoy losing games by landslides? How long will they let you? How long can one kid sit on the bench before she gets the hint?

Pssst. … Art club. Try out for arrrrrrt club!”

You can't really sugarcoat it forever. It is what it is.

We all have to go looking for what we're good at, or just let it in when it finds us.

Back when my mother was lucid and could trounce me at Scrabble, she asked if it bothered me that I never won against her.

It didn't feel right to her – always winning.

I knew what she meant. I felt badly that I wasn't much of a challenge – always losing.

What's fun is a sport without competition?

I just told her the truth: I liked the game regardless of the points.

How I play the game isn't about winning or losing. It's just playing the game.

Sometimes, I think players like me really do need a league of our own.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Let GPS be your co-pilot

We'd been down this road before. Literally.

The directions were clear. I was supposed to take a left.

I had taken a left, though, and it lead to Nowhereville. So I took a right, which lead to NeverNeverLand.

“If you reach Maple, you've gone too far,” the directions explained.

It didn't matter if I backtracked, drove as slow as molasses invoked the name of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, every turn seemed to lead to Maple.

Up until this very moment the 25-minute drive to an unfamiliar school in an unfamiliar town using an unfamiliar roadway had been nearly uneventful.

I had taken the toll road. Something I rarely ever do because my husband's car is the one that has the magical box affixed to its windshield that keeps the driver from having to pay in sticky, coffee-stained currency, which the children have helped fish from between the cracks in the seats while we wait in the inordinately long line at the tollbooth.

Oh sure, navigation was clunky. I had eschewed the GPS device and emailed computer-generated driving directions to my phone, choosing a mapping program that was the most technologically-deficient-user-friendly.

Which, in hindsight, may not have been wise ... to throw caution (and familiarity) to the wind ... all for the promise of 20 minutes shaved off the commute.

Because, at the side of the road, where I'd pulled over to scrutinize the complicated web of instructions MapQuest had provided, the kids were growing restless and I was growing frustrated.

“I don't think you have any idea where we are,” said Ittybit in the sing-song voice that usually makes me wish our minivan had a sidecar. “We're going to miss my game.”

Her brother agreed. “You should have stopped at the school we drove past five hours ago,” he chimed, completely unaware that five hours ago he was still tucked snuggly in bed. “That was probably it.”

I shouldn't have been surprised.

In order to email myself the directions the mapping program made me prove my humanness by having me click on an ad and then type in a sentence from the script, which only appeared once the ad was launched.

“Captcha's gotcha!” I grumpily thought as I jumped through the hoop.

I had to be close, I thought, giving up on the driving directions and scrolling through old emails looking for the address.

A few minutes later, with the phone and all its useless apps firmly in the sweaty palms of The Champ, we pulled into the school parking lot … which was on the right … about three miles past Maple.

Turns out it the directions were just wrong. Plain and simple.

It's times like these that make me miss paper maps and the homespun directions that used to come from real humans.

“The take Route A until you get to Route B and then take a right and drive for three miles. You can't miss us. We're on the left. … White house, black shutters. A green car will be in the driveway. If you get lost give me a call.”

But I'm too young to tell Google Maps to get off my lawn.

That should be my father's job.

It was shortly after my technologically-challenged trip to a town two counties away that he called expressing concern with a trip he was planning to the D.C. area.

“I'm worried something's wrong with my brain,” he said sheepishly, acknowledging that he'd used a navigational service to map his trip, thinking it was better than the GPS.

“I can't make heads or tales of these directions. They have me going in circles and going about a half hour out of the way… they even want me to get off of an Exit numbered 43-44. Does that make sense to you?”

“Honestly, I think your brain is fine. But do it a favor, don't give it a headache with these directions. Let the GPS be your co-pilot.”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Leftover candy

It seems as if 2014 is well on its way. 

To where is anyone's guess. 

Of course, it's too early to tell whether it will lead us to heartbreak, or if it will give us the fresh start and new direction we'd hoped for when we closed our eyes back on New Year's Eve and made a wish.

Those among you who have made resolutions are busy trying to live up to your clean-slate expectations. Some of you have already given up. I don't judge. After all, it would be a shame to waste the chocolate or toffee remnants of 2013's holiday excess.

It's been a while since I've made a resolution in the formal sense of the declaration.

Not that I don't want to be a leaner, happier, healthier, more energetic and charismatic version of myself.

I'm just a realist.

And as realists, we know buying the membership doesn't mean we'll ever really belong to the club.

People like us know our limits. We know that wanting to change our lives in meaningful ways is like trying to find our “One True Love.”

It only happens when you stop trying.

And even then, what we find is never exactly what we expected.

In these early weeks of the New Year, I tend to think of resolve in retrospect.

It's not vowing to change in the future, it's noticing when change has already happened and deciding to explore it further.

Granted, for me this has meant taking a risk of some kind: Saying “YES” or even a hesitant “OK” to something when all I want to say is an unequivocal “NO!”

It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to accept looking like a fool, but it certainly helps if you accept that what anyone else thinks of your foolishness is really none of your business.

It also means being open to the idea that you may not know yourself as well as you think.

Because using that flawed logic, and the rarely-ever-fruitful child psychological mantra “How you know you don't like (fill-in-the-blank) if you've never tried (fill-in-the-blank)?”

So as I look back over my year I've noticed something. Things I thought I would hate -- things that I thought might even kill me or cause me unimaginable embarrassment – were actually quite enjoyable once I gave them a chance.

I went sledding down the steepest, iciest hill you can imagine. And I didn't die.

I went downhill skiing for the first time in my adult life, and I didn't die.

I started running (without having anyone chase me) and not only did I NOT die, but I discovered it was something I looked forward to doing every other day for a few miles, at least.

I haven't lost a pound, but I feel different. Lighter. More optimistic.

If you could measure such things, I'd say I trimmed the fat on my cynicism by about 40 percent. And not having that doubt weighing me down means realizing I might sometimes surprise myself. In a good way.

So enjoy the New Year, whatever it may bring. Tomorrow might be just another day, but today there is leftover candy.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Urgent but not emergent

My husband didn't want me to go.

But, of course, I had to be where all the hot people are on a glamorous, holiday night ... The waiting room of an urgent care center.

Not that I was hot, nor even mildly warm. In fact, I was freezing. Every time the door opened, a gust of frosty air came in. The chill mixed with the sounds of clear bells and gravelly coughs, and made me pull my coat in tighter around me.

I felt clammy, like death warmed up.

I'm not sure I even combed my hair. Nope. I didn't. When I turned toward the plate glass window in my isolated corner perch, I could see ruffled feathers at the back of my head. I laughed a little. My reflection, sandwiched between the parking lot and the reception desk, seemed surreal, as if I were a cartoon character that had been partially erased.

A door opened. A voice called a name.

It wasn't mine. Not that I expected to be called so soon. I hadn't been there long, and I could see by the number of occupied seats in the alcove there were a few people ahead of me.

I didn't want to look at anyone. Didn't want to see the weariness of lingering respiratory distress on their faces. I didn't want confirmation that we were all here with the same thoughts:

No one likes to be sick over the holidays. We all have so many expectations. Not for the perfect holiday memories, necessarily, just not to miss them entirely.

How many visits is this now?” asked the receptionist when she'd handed me the clipboard. “Two? Since September?” Keyboard fingers flying, she answered her own question. “You can go back into the waiting room. Someone will be with you shortly.”

I smiled tightly and returned to my seat. Yes, I've been here before. More than twice, but I wasn't the patient on all occasions. I was here trying not to panic when Ittybit sprained her thumb. I stared into the light-box, squinting at an x-ray to see the crack in my husband's elbow. And, yes, I was here in September, contorting on an x-ray table trying to show the camera where my ankle hurt.

This time my visit was the result of a weird virus. Ittybit already had it, and I wouldn't doubt if it hadn't breathed, at least lightly, on all the other kids in her class. It started with jaw pain that moved up into her ear. There was gastric upset and headache. Low-grade fever.

Most of those symptoms seem to be gone now,” I told the nurse as she took my pressure, pulse and temperature.

It's just that no matter what I do, this rotten little headache wouldn't release me. I was worried it was a sinus infection, and that it would just get worse if I didn't come in and have you take a look.”

I babbled. She scribbled.

The doctor will be in soon.”

Softly, I banged my heels against the examining table as the door clicked closed.

Forgot my cell phone in the car. Have to amuse myself as I wait. I look around, tap the table, pop my lips.

If my kids were here, I'd tell them to stop being so annoying. “Patience is a virtue!” … and then I'd define virtue.

The doctor knocks and opens. Smiles. She presses here and there. Asks a few more questions. She listens. She prescribes rest and more fluids, and the generic name of an over-the-counter decongestant.

She wishes me a Happy New Year as she hands me the sheet with my “aftercare instructions,” which clearly state, at the very top of the page that I have been diagnosed with “The Common Cold.”

I think about how my husband, who already thought I should wait a little longer before jumping off the hypochondria diving board, would react.

Um … could you do me a favor and change this right here to 'Man Cold?