Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trading Up for Success

We gave our 11-year-old son an iPod Touch for Christmas. It was a cop-out gift. We couldn’t think of anything “big” and his siblings were getting big presents. All he’d mentioned he wanted were nerf guns and ridiculously-expensive Lego sets. My problem with those choices is that Lego land mines carpet the floor of his room and every time I vacuum any room in our house I am forced to stop multiple times to pick up nerf bullets of every shape and size. (I would suck them right up which would be satisfying but ultimately mean more work for me since they clog up the vacuum.).

In an act of desperation, and with complete lack of forethought, we purchased an I-touch.

Here’s another little piece of background knowledge you should have – this child is my most screen-addicted off spring. He’s a sweet, obedient child but screens bring out a desperate, lying side we rarely see. Until he discovered the joys of YouTube and Minecraft we rarely fought. Now it is a scab we pick at daily.

So why, pray tell, would we buy him his own personal screen? Good question.

A few years ago, I spent a year breaking a particularly difficult horse. What made him difficult wasn’t his attitude, but his curiosity and his smarts. He taught me time and again that if I wanted him to make the right choice, I needed to make the right choice easy. Putting a screen under my child’s nose is not making the right choice easy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Boys and Baseball

What is it about boys and baseball? I’m not talking about the kids running the bases. I’m talking about the big boys doing the coaching. There’s something about this sport that brings out previously undisplayed passions. Watching these men coach and listening to them give rousing Go-get-‘em speeches in the dugout almost always shines a light on a side of these men I never imagined. These are guys who are quietly friendly and politically polite whenever I encounter them in the hallways on Back to School Night. Even at parties, these same men happily guzzle beer, but rarely raise their voices. We make conversation about the weather, township politics, even gardening, but their eyes do not light up like they do when a ten-year-old catches a pop fly or steals second.

Every fall the e-mails begin making the rounds begging for a soccer coach. Considering the
fact that soccer is the suburban sport of choice, you’d expect to find plenty of willing coaches. Not so. My poor hubby gets guilted in to coaching almost every year even though he didn’t play soccer (he’s a lacrosse man) and travels so much he misses at least a third of the season. But when baseball season rolls around, everyone wants to coach. There are hitting coaches and pitching coaches and catching coaches galore. And these guys are experts at least in their confidence if not their ability.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complaint or lament as much as it is a simple observation. Men love baseball. In fact, they love it so much it can reduce them to children. They argue and complain and bitch about league leadership, opposing coaches, subpar umpires, and occasionally overly enthusiastic mothers. The theatrics and drama on occasion leave me speechless while I silently think, “They’re acting like a bunch of women!” They quit the league and start their own as often as Southern Baptists in Georgia. The sport transforms them from mild mannered model citizens to zealots in search of their field of dreams. Bottomline is that it can make them nuts. Which makes the ten-year-olds running the bases sometimes look like the adults out there.

But as I said, I’m not complaining. I appreciate passion and commitment. And these men have those two things in disproportionately huge numbers. I love to see a person who believes in what they’re doing. It’s inspiring. Especially when what they’re doing is for the kids. I’m offering the benefit of the doubt on this one because most times I don’t understand the issues at stake or the level of disagreement or pettiness that can overflow like the Susquehanna.

I don’t know how much of the craziness the kids pick up on. For the most part, they simply want to play ball. I know my kid loves the game and grins ear to ear when he comes across the plate. He can deconstruct each play in which he touched the ball, explaining it to me like a patient preschool teacher. When I watch him in the outfield I’m amazed that he knows exactly where to move depending on factors like which bases hold runners, what kind of batter is at the plate, and where the ball goes when it’s hit. It’s certainly more detail than I could juggle. I keep track of the balls and strikes, outs and runs on an app on my phone. Without it I’d be lost, yet these men that crowd the dugout can replay every pitch. It’s a wonder.

One of my favorite aspects of baseball is the necessity of “backing up” the other players. The right fielder backs up the first baseman. The second baseman backs up the pitcher. The pitcher backs up the catcher. The left-fielder backs up the third baseman. I’m enamored with the concept that backing up someone is not your job because that person is bad at his job or weak with his skills. It’s simply because none of us are perfect. Sometimes the ball gets through, and sometimes you can’t hold on to a hard hit. What a beautiful life lesson. We need to back each other up. And we need to be backed up. Not only does the concept of backing up each other cement a team, many times it is the difference between winning and losing.

Another valuable lesson that baseball teaches is that if you don’t swing, you can’t get a hit. If you strike out swinging, at least you tried. No one gets a hit every time, and the boys who get the big hits strike out plenty. To strike out swinging is nothing to be ashamed about. Life is all about taking a swing. If you sit on the bench or stand still at the plate, you won’t get anywhere in baseball or life. It’s quite the metaphor.


I hope that when my son graduates from Little League, he takes with him many of the lessons he’s learned there. I hope he always has the courage to take a swing and I hope he always has the strength to back up the people around him. And I truly hope there will always be someone out there to back him up.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Elementary Days Are Over (Almost)

I’m almost finished my last year as a parent of an elementary school student. There was a time when I thought it would never end – back when I was knee deep in book reports and dioramas. My days of remembering to sign the planner, pack the lunch, or locate the library book are nearly over. Sigh.

I’ve longed for this day, but now that it is upon me, I am misty. Somehow the six years of elementary school crawl by, but the six years of middle and high school are gone in a flash. I’m not sure what the science is that makes time work this way, but I’ve heard it from other parents so I know it is real.

I don’t have much say anymore in what they wear or what they eat or even what they do. Mostly my job is to drive them where they want to go. My words of encouragement or reminders are met with eye rolls and groans. I’ve learned that these actions are rote responses and don’t carry the meaning I supposed upon them initially when the teen years began. Now I know they simply mean, “Got it, Mom.” I don’t take offense at their insensitivity. Much.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Difference Between Plum Trees and Children

The keys to pruning are patience and timing. Good pruning can be the difference between a healthy, happy tree that produces abundant fruit and a tree that struggles to survive. I’ve read lots of articles and books on the subject in an effort to coax fruit from our little orchard of 13 trees. Alas, because I am more of a lackadaisical orchardist, than a rule-following orchardist, we have yet to have any significant yield from our little grove. Each year, about this time, I prune all of our now-not-so-little-anymore trees with the greatest of hopes. It takes me longer every year. I’m not sure if it’s because the trees have grown so much, or because I debate longer with myself about each cut.

This past Sunday as I tromped through the snow to take care of the annual pruning, I once again resolved to be better at caring for these trees. That pretty much involves fertilizing them and nagging my husband to spray them. And pruning them well.

I set to work pruning the dead and unnecessary branches. It’s not always easy to tell which ones should go. You want to train your trees to grow in a way that they can optimize the sunlight. So you remove branches that crowd or cover others. When a branch begins to grow upward instead of outward, you study the branch and seek out a “notch” (where a new branch will most likely grow) that is headed in the direction you would like to see the tree grow. You cut the branch just above the notch so that the tree will send the branch out in the right direction. Then you clear out all the “suckers” which are branches that grow strait up the center of the tree. They are useless freeloaders that only sap the trees resources. It can take hours to make so many important decisions. Some years I’m cautious and others I think just cut where it feels right and hope for the best.

As I worked, I began to think about how parenting is very much like pruning. When the trees are little you have to work hard to start them out right so that they will grow straight and strong. Sunlight, water, and fertilizer are a much bigger deal than pruning, but the little pruning you do is critical.

Monday, February 3, 2014

My Drishti is Grace

I’m trying to find a drishti for my life this year. I’d like more balance. Most of the time I feel like my life is very much skewed towards the being-the-mom part of my life. So I’ve been pondering the idea of choosing a drishti to focus on this year.

If you’ve never taken yoga (or even if you have since I’d hadn’t encountered this term in my very limited yoga experience), drishti is a point of focus where your gaze rests during meditation and during yoga poses. You look with “soft” eyes (not straining) at a particular spot. Not only does it keep your mind from being distracted by other visual stimuli, it helps you balance. I remember staring intently at an electrical socket in the aerobics room at the Y during my early morning yoga there. I suppose my gaze was a too intent because my tree pose almost always swayed and eventually fell over.

My memories of yoga are fuzzy. It was seven years ago and my youngest son was newly diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition. Those yoga sessions brought all the emotions I had tried to keep on a leash raging to the surface. As soon as the lights went down and the instructor began her soothing instructions, my tears would flow. The quiet and the peace overwhelmed me. I don’t remember the term drishti, but I do remember trying to balance my heart and my body.

My life feels askew. My body is changing in mid-life, surprising me with its unpredictability and its complaints. My children ask less of my time, but more of my soul these days. My writing is more contemplative, less certain. My garden fascinates me and my animals have become my most receptive audience. Even my husband looks different to me.

Here is an explanation of drishti I found on the web that captivated me:

Drishti is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere—and thus for seeing correctly the world around us. Used in this way, drishti becomes a technique for removing the ignorance that obscures this true vision, a technique that allows us to see God in everything.

I think my drishti this year is grace. I want to find grace in my interactions with others. I want to seek it in the world, find the tiny pockets that you don’t see unless you’re looking for them. I want to live looking through a lens of grace – accepting more, silencing my constant need to improve everything, understand behaviors, explain the mysteries. I want to let the life around me just be. I want to focus on grace as I speak to my children, my friends, even my animals. I want more grace in my life and less judgment.

 In Sanskrit, drishti can mean a vision, a point of view, intelligence, or wisdom. With grace as my drishti, perhaps I will find the soft edges in my world.  If I can sift through my reactions from the point of view of grace, will I find more kindness, more forgiveness inside me? Mostly I hope that by claiming grace as my drishti, I will witness more good in the world and in my life.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Driving Nightmares....and Possibilities



Tomorrow my oldest child will get his driver’s license. Can I possibly be that old? I’m excited for him, but terrified also. He’s already begun riding in cars with other teen drivers and that is some scary stuff for this mom. The entire time he is gone I watch the clock, calculating. My mind follows the time. Now they’re driving up 83. Now they should be there. If they’d had an accident the police would have called by now. I guess they got there safely. Then there’s a brief interim period of peace before it starts back up again. Now they’re driving back down 83. They should be here any minute. Where are they? Should I text him? Oh my God has something happened? And then – headlights. My heart is calm again.

I can’t imagine living like this for the next six years while all three of my children embrace this rite of passage. I want them to have this experience; I do. I have so many happy memories of traveling around town with my friends, heady with the possibilities of my own freedom and happy to be going places without a parent driving me. There was new-found power in deciding where and when I would go places. I loved it. And I know my teens will too.

As a parent we constantly worry about things we cannot control. It is frustrating and painful. We’ve protected them for so many years, sheltered them, defended them, and hopefully we’ve taught them something too. I believe my kids know enough to make smart decisions. We’ve instilled in them some degree of caution, yet I’m painfully aware it’s a teenage privilege not to worry- to be invincible.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Christmas Tree

Last Saturday morning I was busy rearranging bins and boxes in our basement (supposedly cleaning out, but mostly moving around) when I realized that we didn’t have a Christmas tree yet. Christmas was just two weeks away and the Christmas decorations were still snug in their boxes. How had Christmas slipped up on me like that? And more to the point, why hadn’t one of my three kids said anything?

For the very first time, no one wondered where the advent calendar was, never mind the brawl that normally followed in the debate over who got to hang the first ornament. The tiny, ugly fake tree that was the “pet’s tree” was still where I’d tossed it last January on top of the furnace. The wooden crèche scene I had managed to bring upstairs earlier that week sat on the side board in the kitchen, all the wooden shepherds and kings and lambs still in a pile in the back of the stable. No one had bothered to assemble the scene (or rearranged it because their sibling had gotten to it first). The nesting dolls and nutcrackers and Countdown to Christmas chalkboard had yet to be unpacked from the box I’d lugged upstairs a week ago.

For a very long moment, I wondered if decorating this year was even necessary. I mean, after all, I’d just be taking it all down again in two weeks. Sighing, I shoved the boxes back from whence they came, grabbed one of the big bins of ornaments and hot-footed it upstairs yelling, “Hey, it’s time to go get a tree!”