Sunday, June 25, 2017


He came bounding into my room, his mouth all foamy at its edges. A million light-years from sleep if I were to gauge drift-off by the thrust of his energy.

“I brushed my teeth. I changed into PJs. I'm ready for bed,” he said with rapid-fire excitement. “Come tuck me in.”

It melts my heart that he still needs me to shoo away the monsters, as well as remove all the litter and laundry that pile up in his room.

On any other night, he'd be taking his time, dragging his feet. Pleading with me for just a few minutes more with whatever he was doing.

But when he wakes up tomorrow he will be ten. He knows sleep cuts through the lag between now and then.

“I don't want you to grow any older,” I tell the boy as I sit by his bed, carefully ducking my chin so as not to hit my head on the top bunk.

He smiled at me as if I were kidding.

I was dead serious.

Scratch that. “Dead” is not the word I wanted to land on for this sentiment.

*Searches for a term that doesn't joke about mortality but imparts all the anxiety of a mother in an uncertain world, who worries that we are all just pinballs in some elevated tin-can of an arcade game.

*Shrugs shoulders.

Anxiety is a terrible thing. It's a frenetic heartbeat that races around in our minds causing all kinds of havoc. Many mothers aptly describe the feeling as if these babies entered the world and dragged our hearts out with them.

My thoughts race and collide as he drags the covers up to his chin, and finds his most comfortable position in which to rest:

I want him to grow up.
And willingly get in the shower without me having to ask a dozen times.
I want him to clean his own room.
And do his own laundry.
And finish high school.
And college.
And not be drafted.
Or killed in a war we can't win.
I want him to know real love. I want him to find it everywhere. Especially inside himself.
I want him to know he has choices and that others do, too.
I want him to grow old with someone he admires.
I don't care if he's a doctor as long as he can see one when he's sick, even if just for reassurance.
I hope he's not a hypochondriac like me.
But I want him to be sensitive. To remember he's not alone among strangers.
I want him to care about whether his neighbors are hungry, or cold, or hurting.
I want him to mow a little more than his lawn, just to help out.
I want whatever he has to be more than enough.
I want his heart to live outside of his body, too.

But I can't say any of that to him. I can only give my son a hug, which he gives me right back.

And then he thanked me for changing his sheets, which -- I'll be honest – had accumulated at least a cup-full of playground sand and who-knows-what-all-else since the last time I'd risked a traumatic head injury to strip them from his bunk bed.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pep talk

I hate sports.

Kids' sports, especially.

Sorry. I know it's not a popular sentiment, nor a particularly fair one at that.

I wish I could just walk it off.

It's not any one thing. … The time ... The expense ... The constant battle against rage and emotive outbursts from just about everyone.




I hate pep talks most of all, which is what was going through my mind as I read the coach's email, reminding parents to tell our kids “they were just as good as, if not better than, the team that defeated them” a mere moment ago.

He didn't want to hear the words “we can't win, they're too good” come out of their mouths. All they need to do was bring their “A Game.”

He explained, if we are to do well in the tournament, this was the price parents had to chip in. And then he used the word “nemesis” in describing the opposing team of 10-year-old boys, whose friendships all intertwine.

He said nothing about the dirt-kicking or trash-talking that came from our side of the field.

He remembered to say “have fun,” which I imagine most people assume will absolve them of all other impure thoughts about “playing hard.”

I have impure thoughts.

I want to snark and send back a reply, reminding him that most of the kids not having fun appeared to be coaches kids. And kids who sat on the bench. Or kids who missed a play. Or hit a handily-caught pop fly. Or otherwise messed up, only to have his team turn on him with a string of "you shouldas."

But who am I?

Even if their team won, 10-year-olds weren't going to be happy with their individual lackluster performances. Or their teammates, it seemed. Winning isn't everything, as the old saying goes. On these occasions, it seems to be the only thing.

I don't intervene.

I don't complain to the coach or other parents. I know they are holding their breath, too. We are all trying to keep ourselves from crossing the line between support and suppression. It seems wrong to cheer the play at second. Someone caught the ball. The other someone got tagged out.

I try not to make noise, or sigh too loudly, as I know my natural stress release can stress people out. I don't always succeed.

It's probably a prejudice of mine born out of sour-grapes and a lifetime of bench-sitting and sore-loser status. But I just can't shake off the notion that 10-year-olds seeking a “competitive edge” are playing with knives. It's all fun and games until someone gets cut. And someone always gets cut.

That's life,” you say as you blame me for the emergence of participation awards.

Not really,” I retaliate as I blame you for year-round travel teams and sucking the life out of recreational games.

Eventually, we must face the truth.

My kid is never going to play professional baseball. (I erased the word “probably” from that sentence to eradicate any shred of expectancy, even slight.) And neither will yours.

But my kid will meet his “nemesis” at school tomorrow on the playground. And if he's learned anything about the value of sport, he will congratulate his friend for playing a great game. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A hot mess

He usually leaves this place a hot mess, my whirling dervish of a boy.

His face is reddened by exertion. His hair plastered upward into a look made possible by the automatic motion of preening and the natural pomade of perspiration. His white uniform and blue belt are almost as disheveled. But he is happy.

This is martial arts.

Twice a week, for four years, we've come to his humid gym so he might kick and punch his way toward a rainbow of belts.

As he moves through the “forms,” as they are known, he breaths out an audible current of air. There is a calm fluidity to the sequence that allows a moment of tranquility before it is ultimately broken with an ear-splitting yell called a K'ihap.

A K'ihap sounds nothing like Hiayah!

Lately, though, he's not been happy.

Transitions from school to home and from home to lessons haven't been as fluid. I brushed it off as a normal phase.

Sparring, a key ingredient of this particular discipline has packed too much spice for his taste. Also a common complaint.

The kicks have come at him harder, the punches more forceful. He wears his mad face more and more before and after class.

He never wants to talk about it.

Until one days he doesn't stop talking:

"This isn't fun anymore," he says one day after class. "I don't like getting hit."

Of course, I don't fully understand. My offer to skip those particular lessons is met with incredulity.

It's part of a process I hadn't fully processed during all those years I had perched on a folding chair, watching my phone, on the sidelines.

He knows without sparring he won't progress, and if you don't progress you just stagnate.

My mind runs through the Parent Ponders checklist:

What happened?

Is he angling for more screen time?

Will he regret coming all this way and giving up?

Do quitters never win?

I make him speak with his teacher.

It is the difficult thing to do. And something I think is necessary.

And all goes well until he cries and agrees to keep trying.

"Give it one more month," we all agree.

At least, that's what I THINK we've decided to do as my red-eyed, puffy-nosed boy sat quietly in the back of the car.

Until the following week.

When he just broke out in tears when I handed him his uniform and gave my usual 10-minute warning.

"I just want to be done. I don't want to do martial arts anymore. ... I want to do other things: I want to go to the playground after school. I want to play flag football. I want to learn to play the trumpet next year in school. I don't want to be a punching bag."

I wonder if tag-teaming with his teacher was the best thing?

He agreed to continue only because he was the smallest person in the room, and everyone knows the smallest people don't usually win in a fight. 

Fighting our own battles, we tend to agree, builds character.

And what about commitment? 

Does following through to the end mean committing to unhappiness?

If it does, it seems to me, that in itself unhappiness is a means to an ending of another sort.

And so, I agree. It's time to try something new.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

There are no small parts

Serenity was in the air.

Birds were singing. The sun was shining. Emerging from a week-long viral torpor, my husband had slunk downstairs and was making coffee Neither child was trading barbs with the other over which spoon was "theirs" in the favorite-occupier sense.The dog and cats were getting along. And even though I hadn't gotten out of bed to see which part of my body ached the most, I could tell all was right with the world. At least for the moment, and within my seven-acre slice of it.

I have listed my goals on my cortex in the indelible ink of magical thinking:

Today I will mow the lawn.

And then I will rake the hay the mower leaves behind.

I will weed the garden and dig up the grassy bits around the trees.

I will find a place to dump the organic remains.

Maybe I will mulch if the mood strikes. Who knows?

This will take the entire day, I think to myself without concern. The imaginary ink dries glittery.

I take a deep breath and a sip of hot coffee. There is still time to be slothful.

There's nothing else to do. I can take breaks. Drink coffee. Go on walks. I will stop to watch the kids go back and forth to the park now that they are older and not tethered to such a tight leash.

I will move at a glacial pace ... Which, let's be honest, is considerably faster than it once seemed.

But I won't worry about that now. I've silenced my phone, tuned out Twitter and Facebook, and all the other things that pull my attention in opposite directions.

The little folks will still bring their problems my way. But I will just smile and nod, and leave my contributions to commiseration. I won't offer any plans they could execute.

If nothing else, I have learned there is little to be gained from telling folks all the things clanging around in my mind.

"You would have been perfect for the starring role," I tell my disappointed thespian, it's probably true and it's what she want's to hear. "There are no small parts."

"Yes. You can cover your sister's bedroom doorframe in cellophane as a prank. But before you do, could you just turn on the spigot to the garden hose? Thanks."

The day ebbs and flows this way for hours, and when the work parts end, it feels like an immeasurable accomplishment. Literally. The yard isn't transformed, but my work there is done. I've handily ticked off the boxes on my to-do.

I am content if not happy.

By way of payment, I treat myself to an indulgence.

I accept an invitation and go to see the new laundry room a friend has just completed in her house.

I take the kids with me. They will chat with my friend's children as we ignore them, and she will show me the tiny space that has transfixed her life at this moment.

"Don't get too excited," she tells me with a laugh.

But I will marvel at tidy space with its sleek new appliances, and I will gush over the handy shelving and fresh paint. I won't wonder aloud how she will reach the top shelf. I will just be happy for her.

But I will be excited.

And I will laugh when my daughter puts it all in bittersweet perspective:

“So what I've gathered from this is that when I grow up, I can expect to be excited about a new laundry room?”

And all I can think is … “If you are lucky … you will be happy about everything.

“There are no small parts.”