Monday, November 10, 2014

Help me help you help me etc.

I was schlepping Finn through the Costco parking lot when an older woman stopped us and asked for help. She had locked her keys in her car and was wondering if I could fit my arm through the partially open window to unlock her door.

"Of course," I said, walking right up to her car. "No problem at all." But my arm was no smaller than hers so there was really nothing I could do. Well, darn. I thought. What am I supposed to do now? I couldn't exactly leave her standing there with her groceries in her cart and her little dog looking at her expectedly from the front seat. But there was no real point in hanging around either. I offered a handful of dumb suggestions ("Do you have a coat hanger?" "Something sticky?" "A spare key?") until she stopped me and looked at Finn.

"Will you unlock my door for me, honey? I'll give you a dollar."

It was one of those hand to forehead duh moments. Of course he could do it! Who else had small but long arms? Who was being held at the perfect height for optimum window access? If anyone could help save the day, it was Finn!

Only, he didn't want to.

"C'mon, buddy!" I pleaded. "You're the only one who can help! Just reach your arm in there and pull up on the lock. You can do this. It's just the right job for you!"

He shook his head and held his perfectly sized arms close to his body.

"Finny, please!" I said growing embarrassed. "This is the job you were made for. You have to at least try..." I lead his hand up to the opening and helped guide his whole arm into the car. It was literally the perfect fit. But as soon as his hand touched the lock and he could have grabbed it and pulled up, he took his arm out of the car.

"I don't want to," he said, shaking his head.

"Oh, buddy! You were so close. Please just try again. Please?" I lead his hand again and again he stopped right before he could have saved the day. I could tell he was done.

"I'm so sorry," I said to the woman. "But I can't force him to do it." Now I was really stuck. I could help - at least my son could - but it wasn't going to happen. I didn't want to just leave her but staying was growing more awkward by the moment. Luckily she spotted another kid (whose arms were just as big as mine...) and wandered off to ask him for help.

I apologized again and we went into the store. I felt terrible. How could my kid be so unhelpful? I honestly thought this was going to be his morality tale moment. You know, like when the lion thinks he's so great because he's big and strong but when he gets a thorn stuck in his paw and the mouse is the only one who can help, he realizes that sometimes being small is where it's at. I thought he was going to be the little guy who saved the day! Instead he was kind of a jerk.

I know my kids are their own people. That their successes and failures are theirs and not mine. I want them to be themselves and most of the time their choices don't have any affect on me whatsoever. But sometimes I have to draw the line. Being unkind is not okay. And it's not just because it has a negative reflection on me. I don't want to hang out with anyone who isn't kind. That includes my family.

We talked about it a lot. While we picked up the few things we needed, as we stood in line to pay, and all the way back out to the parking lot. I told him I hoped he would change his mind and help her if she was still in the parking lot.

"I'm really sorry, Mama," he said, and I could tell that he meant it.

"Thanks for saying so, bud. But it's not so much about being sorry as it is about doing the right thing next time. We all make mistakes. It's what we do about them that's important."

When we got out to the parking lot, the woman was gone.

"At least we know she got some help," Finn said hopefully.

"That's true," I said. And then because I couldn't help myself I added, "I really wish you would have helped her."

Later that day, we were in the car when I asked the boys if they would go to the YMCA with me so I could go to a dance class with a friend. Liam was on board but Finn immediately said no. I wasn't surprised - he's only gone once and, even though he was there with a friend, he still cried half the time. But as we drove, I started to feel like that poor old lady and her dog.

"So...let me get this straight," I said, turning down the music. "I want to go to a dance class tonight but I can't because you won't help me? Seriously? This feels a lot like what happened earlier..." We told Liam all about it and then I made my case again. "I really want to go to the Y tonight and I need your help. Will you please go with me?"

He was quiet for a bit and then I don't know what happened. Perhaps the planets aligned or we drove through a random patch of magic or he recognized he was getting a second chance to make the right choice. Hard to say. But all of a sudden from the backseat he piped up. "I changed my mind," he said. "Mama? I want you to dance."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Part of me.

Have you ever talked to your kid on the phone? What am I saying, of course you have. So you know what I'm talking about here. In person they are clear as a bell, perfectly easy to understand. But on the phone? They may as well be talking muppet.

I think this must be how people other than us hear our children all the time. It's why they listen to what our kid is telling them then turn to us with big eyes like, "I got nothing." We're like, "Really? How did you not get that? He was telling you in great detail about the part in Battle of the Heroes when Obi Wan gets choked by Anakin. It sounded perfectly clear to me."



But it's easy for us. We're fluent in whatever lispy mumbles our own kids happen to make. Everything they say makes perfect sense. Even when their mouths are full of food or they're telling us something while mid stream. It has to! Otherwise we'd spend all our time asking, "What?" while a frustrated kid spit nonsense at us.

And speaking of what. I'm not sure if Finn has too much wax in his ears or he doesn't pay attention or he has a weird tic or something but I swear to you, after almost everything I say he responds with, "What?" It got to the point where he was saying what almost as much as he was saying Mama. Which is a LOT. It was starting to drive me nuts so I told him he had to say, "Pardon me?" instead. It has definitely cut down on his auto-whatting. And now when he really needs me to repeat something he thinks for a second and asks sweetly, "Part of me?"

We went on a weekend trip with friends recently and it made me keenly aware just how accustomed to Finn's voice I've become. Everything he said - especially chocolate milk - made them giggle.

"Hey Finn, you want some more SHAKA MILLLL?"

It's true. He does say chocolate milk like a 70's DJ introducing a new disco song. Like Chaka Khan with a little more oomph.



And now that I'm paying attention, I see that he says lots of things like this. Frankly, he's adorable. His voice and intonation but also the things he says. For instance, the other night we went to ice cream and he said to the girl behind the counter, "May I please try the one that looks like poo?"


Then on the way home, I thanked him for being such a good date and he said, without missing a beat, "Does this mean we're gonna kiss?"

We laughed the whole way home.

Four is a really great age on this kid.




Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Missed opportunities.

Today is one of those days. I guess you could call it post-election let down. Like a hangover that you didn't drink enough to deserve and now you can't chase it away with a fountain Coke.

Total injustice.

Women have less rights, Republicans have more control, Millenials didn't get the memo that it was election day and people on my side of the aisle are having a really bad day.

The whole thing feels like a bad example of too little, too late. Now that we've lost our rights and control of our bodies we are up in arms, flooding the Internet with our vitriol and committed defiance. WE WILL OVERCOME. But where we were yesterday? And before that? Besides the "I voted" sticker selfies, I didn't see a whole lot of activism.


I am, of course, speaking for myself. I voted yesterday and received about a billion emails from various DNC committees which I complained about (and occasionally contributed $10 to) but that's about it. I did as little as I could to be involved while not stepping one inch out of my comfort zone.

And now? I want to complain and rant and rave about the lunacy and injustice but how can I when I did so little with the opportunity I'd been given?

the opportunity that women before me fought so hard for...


I am feeling particularly sensitive to this at the moment because last night a friend passed away and death has a way of making everything feel like so much more. And the two situations are feeling all wrapped up in each other.

We met Alan in 2004, right after we moved to Nashville. I remember being so surprised that he had recently had a heart transplant. He was so warm and full of life - not at all sickly or fragile like I would have imagined. He exuded positivity and had a way of making you feel like he saw you for you and he liked what he saw. The kind of guy who seemed to make everyone in a room feel a little bit brighter.

He threw a party for his one year anniversary with his new heart. Partly to celebrate his new lease on life; party to thank all the nurses that made his recovery possible.

Over the years we didn't lose touch so much as we just carried on. We would occasionally run into each other at a party or comment on one another's posts on Facebook but that pretty much became the extent of our relationship.

Which is how most casual friendships go. You meet, you hit it off, you maybe hang out a few times, you realize your lives are pretty different and full and making room for a real friendship is probably not going to happen, you stay friendly but disconnected and simply move on with your life.

So this morning when Bill texted me - so sad about Alan - it was easy to guess what had happened. Facebook kept us connected enough that I knew he was having complications. I knew his heart was not as strong as it had once been. I knew hew was struggling - with his health as well as just in general. And yet, I knew this text had nothing to do with any of that. I knew it meant he had passed away.

The outpouring of love and loss and sadness on Facebook confirmed my hunch. I wanted to join in - to say how great he had been and how much he'd be missed - but I felt like a total sham. Like too little, too late in the worst possible way. Reaching out now felt easy. But when he was alive and hurting and could have really used a friend? I guess that was too much to ask.

My sister called right when all of this hit me. I sat down to write with a vague notion that there were some things here worth digging into but, to be honest, I wasn't really feeling it. I wasn't feeling sad or disappointed or angry or anything except maybe a little guilty. But as soon as I started to write, all I could think was, "We're all such assholes."

"Hey Moose," I said, trying to pretend like I hadn't been crying.

"What's up?"

I told her about Amendment 1 passing and how it means that a woman's right to choose has been taken away and given to the state. How everyone is so upset NOW but didn't really seem to care much before it passed. How it feels like all elections are being bought and yet I don't even care enough to get upset about it. How the amendments are worded in a way that most people couldn't begin to understand them and we're just like, "Well, I guess that's how it is..."

How is our anger justified if we don't take action when we have the chance?

And then I told her why I was really sad.

We knew Alan was going to die. It sounds harsh but it's true (if not from this, from something, right?). And yet I just sat back, waiting, wondering, doing NOTHING. I hadn't reached out or brought him dinner or dropped him a comment to let him know we were thinking about him. I honestly hadn't done one single thing. I know we were not close. But I also knew he was hurting and did nothing.

How many of the people flooding his Facebook page this morning had done the same? I have no way of knowing, of course, but I'm willing to bet I was not the only one. We do this. Let opportunities pass us by then regret that we didn't do more. We pay our respects. We commiserate in the aftermath. We choose regret over action. Why?

My sister reminded me that none of us can do it all. "You can't go making casseroles for EVERYONE. You take really good care of the people you DO take care of. Maybe that's enough?" Then she said she hoped she didn't make me feel too much better because writing about this kind of stuff is something I can do. "We all have different strengths," she said. "Maybe yours is to make people think about things in a different light."

Maybe.

But I also don't want to let myself off the hook that easy.

In the movie Alive Inside, one of the things that blew my mind was that no matter how easy or effective or available or inexpensive bringing music to people in nursing homes with Alzheimer's and Dementia was, it wasn't until a video of a 90 year old man coming alive once he heard his music went viral that anyone cared. Nursing homes were saying no to the program left and right. Not for any other reason than it was just more work than they wanted to do. Sure it changes lives but...no. But once millions of people commented on how amazing this video was on YouTube, suddenly everyone wanted in. All the nays turned to yays. And it only took ALL OF US to make it happen.

I think it's the same with politics. With everything. Public opinion matters. Tides can be changed. But it takes a lot more than a vote or a $10 donation to make things happen (although, that's better than nothing). I have no idea where to start or what to do. I just know that I'd rather take action NOW than wish I had later.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hallowhine.

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of Halloween. I like the costumes, the decorations, the spookiness, the time of year (so great for photos) and the utter lack of expectations. Unlike Christmas, which is so easy to get caught up in, Halloween is a lot more take-it-or-leave-it. Less expectations mean more fun if you do get involved and less guilt if you don't.

Win/win!


I was talking to a friend about it the other day, expelling the virtues of my most favorite holiday, when she dropped a pretty major bomb. "I don't like Halloween," she said. "It's way too much work." I sat there for a second in shock. How could she not like Halloween!? It's the best! I felt like, as her friend, I had an obligation to turn this around for her. I would make her see how fun it could be. I would make her like Halloween!

I mean, what's not to like?

You can transform your house to be a little bit scary or creepy or, at the very least, involve colors it normally doesn't. It's like a house-sized art project!




And speaking of art projects?! There are so many fun things you can do with pumpkins and glitter and glue, it's like a non-stop craftapalooza.



You get to come up with costume ideas and find ways to make them come to life. (We decided on Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, Professor Mcgonnagol and Professor Snape. Sadly, we never got a picture of us all together...) You can be literal or store-bought, abstract or creative - however you want to capture the essence of what you want to be. And you better believe there will be glue guns involved!




(Plus, it's still really fun to pretend to be somebody else once in a while.)



I even like the candy. I know a lot of families who limit what their kids can eat or keep and, while I totally get why that's a good idea, I also have no intention of doing that at our house. Candy is part of what makes this holiday so much fun! I mean, half my memories from Halloween are of counting and sorting my loot. (And after a few days when I put it up high, my kids pretty much forget about it anyway.)


Ooh, and don't forget the themed out party food! I could scroll through creative party food on Pinterest for days. And then spend at least that long shopping and prepping and trying to make Pinterest happen in real life (I'm convinced this in impossible and yet, it doesn't stop me from trying.)

So, yeah, I guess what I'm saying is that for this take-it-or-leave-it holiday I decided to TAKE IT ALL this year. Which means instead of convincing anyone how great it all is, I think I proved my friend right. Halloween (at least the way I chose to do it...) is a LOT of work. It's fun work, but still. I'm going to have to main line some candy corn to get through trick-or-treating tonight...


Edited to add: As my friend who thought she didn't like Halloween was leaving our house last night she said, "I had no idea Halloween could be so much fun! This was awesome!" Mission accomplished. And now? We crash.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Scared healthy.

At the end of my cardio blast class this morning (a real butt kicker), our teacher told us about a friend who passed away earlier this week.

He worked for her family in construction so he considered his physically demanding job his exercise. He had quit smoking about a year earlier and was trying to eat healthier but admitted to falling back on fast food several times a week. She said he didn't exactly look healthy but he wasn't obese by any stretch. Really, nothing about him would make you think he was a ticking time bomb.

And yet, at 34 years old he had a heart attack and DIED.

He had a first grader, you guys.

I am a mostly healthy person but, like everyone else on the planet, I could definitely do better. I sleep enough, drink plenty of water (most days), have been intentionally exercising at least a couple times a week (but need more cardio), and eat (at least in theory) a healthy diet.

But her story shook me up. If I know I can do better, why not?

I have recommitted myself to leafy greens and will find a way to incorporate at least some cardio into my day to day. I know that a healthy lifestyle is no guarantee (I have a good friend who lost her extremely healthy 36 year old brother-in-law recently to a brain polyp no one could have seen coming) but that's no reason not to do it anyway.

I am sharing this with you because I needed to hear it and thought you might too. Are there areas in your life where you could do better? Diet, exercise, sleep, water, mental health, joy, passion? Pick something and do it for a week. Create a good habit to take the place of a bad one. Do it for yourself, your kids, your loved ones, me. Do it for Nike! JUST DO IT.

Athena - goddess of wisdom, war (and arts and crafts!) holds
Nike - goddess of victory.  (from our field trip yesterday)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Storytelling.

Today we went to the lake beach with a couple of our favorite families. It was pretty awesome to be hanging out in swimsuits the same week as Halloween (and not just because I could say the water was cold as a witch's tit and almost get away with it...).





The kids played in the water a bit (even though it was, well, you know) but spent a lot of the time on the beach. They buried each other in the sand and "amputated" each other's sand limbs (it was supposed to be gory for Halloween...), built tons of cool tunnels and pools, played a Harry Potter themed throwing game I'm guessing Liam made up, and sat around asking us to tell them stories.


I love when this happens.

Today we talked mostly about prom. What we wore, who we went with, what it was like. I told them about the time about 10 couples came to my house for dinner before senior prom and I botched the spaghetti I was supposed to make for dinner and everyone had to eat tacos straight outta the box from Taco Bell. And, as if that wasn't embarrassing enough, there happened to be a news crew at the house filming one of the girls so EVERYONE got to see how awesome I was.

Our theme was "Unforgettable" - it sure was!


(I swear I wasn't trying to convince the kids that prom isn't all it's cut out to be. Like, Just in case you poor little homeschoolers don't get to go to prom , don't worry. IT'S NOT THAT FUN.)

I love storytelling. It brings us closer together, let's us share our history and helps us preserve memories. It's one of the reason's I keep up with this blog. I love knowing that we have some of our stories down, you know? That no matter who remembers what, we'll have something to come back to for reference. Although, I just realized that it's not exactly our family's history I'm preserving but my own.

My perspective = my story.

Tonight at soccer, Liam asked if he could read another story on my blog. This is a new development - the subject becoming the audience - and so far, it's going pretty great. It started last week when I wrote about Finn playing soccer. Liam and I were sitting at Finn's practice when the kids discovered the cones and started putting them on their hands. "That's so funny," I said. "I just wrote about cone hands today!" He was curious so I let him read the story. Part way through I made him stop while Finn was taking a water break and had to give him the eye when I caught him sneakily turning the phone back on. "I'm sorry," he said. "It's just such a good story. I have to keep reading to find out what happens!"

I mean, kind of the best compliment ever, right?

Since then I've let him read a couple more stories. Liam stories! I was a little nervous - it's one thing to read about your brother but quite another to read about yourself - but he really enjoyed them. He said that it helped him remember what happened and liked reading what it was like from my perspective. I encouraged him to start writing his stories from HIS perspective (or MY stories from his perspective!) and sincerely hope he will. If for no other reason, than so one day when his kids' friends ask him to tell them a story, he'll have lots of good stuff in his memory to choose from.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Most sportsmanlike parent.

I've never been very athletic so even when I played sports on a regular basis, I was never what you'd call good. I did my best and had a good attitude but was never in the running for MVP or anything like that. Most sportsmanlike was more my style. Like that time our high school softball team was playing our biggest rival and the runner trying to steal third base lost her helmet. Sure, as third baseman it was my job to catch the ball and tag her out. But I couldn't do that before getting the girl her helmet! Safety first, people.

My parents could have died.

But I've always valued being nice and having fun over winning. You would think preschool soccer would be just my speed. And it is. But it's taken me a little practice to get here.

Have you ever seen three and four year olds play soccer? It's amazing. Probably the best use of the term "herding cats" I have ever seen. Each team seems to have the same makeup of players: the kids who understand that soccer is a game with clear objectives (each team has one, maybe two of these), the kids who cry a lot, the kids who never make it onto the field and the kids who run around like crazy asses until it's time for snack.


At his first practice, Finn did such a good job listening to Coach that I thought it wouldn't take long for him to go from running around like a crazy ass to playing soccer. Worst case scenario he'd be on the field not crying. World Cup here we come!

At his first game he started off strong but by end of the first quarter he was done. He was too hot. And hungry. And thirsty. He wanted to go home. He was just...done.


Rather than meet him where he was with a little compassion (and possibly a juice box), Bill and I took turns trying to shove our sweaty boy back onto the field.

"Your team needs you!"

"Playing soccer means PLAYING SOCCER!"

"We can go get ice cream after the game if you play..."

Then through gritted teeth in that angry voice that nobody likes, "NO ICE CREAM IF YOU DON'T GET OUT THERE RIGHT NOW!"

It's funny to think about now but at the time it felt like a really big deal. Like there was no way we were going to raise a quitter. First four year old soccer then what, huh Finn?! It was like suddenly this soccer game (which is not really a game so much as a mess of kids in matching shirts) was EVERYTHING.

It was ridiculous. And it didn't stop there. We talked about what we expected from him and built it up so much that by the time his next practice rolled around he didn't want to go. Of course, we took this personally too, like it was confirmation that we sucked at raising winners. He cried in the car (a first) but once we got to the field, everything was okay. He ran around with his team, playing games and acting goofy, even kicking the ball from time to time.



Liam and I sat on the sidelines watching Finn practice. "He's having so much more fun today than he did on Saturday," I said. "I wonder what changed?"

"I think it's the cone hands..."

Practice was so much fun that Finn went to his next game without any drama. But rather than starting off strong like he had before, he just plopped down on the sidelines and waited for snack.

I was really embarrassed. About the whining and laziness and mostly about how Bill and I were responding to it. I longed to be the parent who held her barefoot soccer player on her lap the entire game without even once trying to nudge her onto the field. That child (the coach's daughter, no less!) looked so peaceful and happy, like someone who would grow up knowing her parents loved her no matter what.

What would Finn grow up to say? That he got high fives and felt loved when he played soccer the right way but that when he was tired or hot his parents gave him the cold shoulder and threatened to take away his ice cream?

Not cool.

We left the game still steaming but as soon as we got in the car, I realized how awful we had been. We let the boys watch a show with headphones so we could talk and immediately decided we had to apologize to Finn and make things right. Where better to do that than the ice cream shop?

When we parked the car and Finn realized where we were, he didn't know what to think. I told him we were really sorry for being such jerks and wanted to take him to ice cream to make it up to him. A look of relief and love washed over his sweet face and he hugged our legs harder than he ever had before. I knew we were finally on the right track.

Over ice cream we came up with a few game rules to help guide the rest of the soccer season.

FINN'S RULES:

1. Have a good attitude. (NO WHINING.)



2. Cheer for the other team and give high fives (or do the parent tunnel!) after the game.



3. Sit with your team, listen to coach and watch the game if you don't want to play.


4. OPTIONAL EXTRA SUPER COOL GUY BONUS: run around and kick the ball!


OUR RULES:

1. Have a good attitude. (NO BRIBING, SHAMING, CAJOLING, THREATENING, WHINING OR MISSING THE POINT OF FOUR YEAR OLD SOCCER.)

2. Support Finn in his rules. (Sit on the bench or go on the field with him if that's what it takes.)


3. Accept that sometimes snacks are the best part of the game and THAT'S OKAY.


The rules have helped us remember what's really important. It's not winning the game (or even playing the game) that matters right now. It's meeting our kids where they are. Connecting with them unconditionally. Making sure they feel loved for who they are, not what they do.

It's so simple - unconditional love is where it's at - yet shockingly easy for me to forget. I'm glad to have found yet another good reminder.

Running off the field in the middle of the game -
look how happy and accepted he looks! Most improved fo sho.