My Summer School: Lessons Learned in 2017

 

I’m always amazed at how suddenly the house turns silent on the first day of school. With the exiting of backpacks and closing of the garage door, my home goes from a twenty-four hour circus to an abandoned library. In the silence and sudden focus back to self, I can’t help but reflect on the lessons I have learned this summer with the help of my family.

Bed

It is my vacation, too. I took a new approach to summer travel this year, and now there is no going back. Do you see that tiny, six-inch space in the picture above? That is where I slept for ten days while on “vacation” in summer 2016. In 2017, I declared no children in my bed on vacation, and I meant it. Game changer! Feeling sassy after a good night of sleep, I made another rule: I would not be holding everyone’s stuff on the beach for hours at a time. In the pictures below you can see my beach chair in 2016 and 2017. The Tommy Bahama throne changed a lot in a year. Last year, I was responsible for two cell phones, a Go Pro, snorkeling gear, and more. Don’t I get to swim at the beach? How was I supposed to go to the bar when I had to guard all this stuff? So, on this vacation, I declared I am no longer the keeper of valuables. I would instead be a sunbather with two responsibilities: my beverage and their water safety. And, I would pay attention to one more than the other, but we need not discuss the details. This year’s beach chair was personalized with my flip-flops and a custom drink holder. What a difference a year can make! And, guess what? We all still managed to have a very good time while sleeping in our own beds and not demanding I sit in one place for hours at a time. That is summer learning at its finest!Chair I

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We are in high school. Every time I say, “I can’t believe we are in high school,” my daughter quickly corrects me. She insists “we” are not in high school and that she alone is having the adventure. I beg to differ. We are both transitioning onto this bigger campus. We are both a little unsure of how this is going to go. We are both wide-eyed at the boys who have full beards and the children who are driving cars around this new school. We are both feeling a little out of place, and yet we are cautiously optimistic that this is going to be an amazing experience. Yes, we are in high school.

Our children know our secrets. My son lost a tooth this summer. I assumed it would not be an event. However, he showed me the tooth and then told me the Tooth Fairy had better come that night. I was so stunned by his next sentence that I went straight into my office to write down the exact words that followed his request, and to let my crimson cheeks return to their normal color. He said, “Mom, don’t take five dollars out of my wallet. I already counted, and I know you would do that.”  I admit it, I have been giving my son his own money for his teeth for a while now. Doesn’t he understand I never have cash and I mostly remember to pay him back?  Stunned by his revelation, I wondered what else he knew. Does he know I eat his Easter candy while he is at school? Okay, Halloween and Valentine’s, too, if we are really putting it out there. Surely he is unaware that, although I am making eye contact when he is sharing a detailed description of his new Mine Craft world, what I am really thinking about is the last episode of This Is Us and things I need from the grocery store. Does he know that last year there was a time I didn’t  get around to washing his soccer socks in time for practice and instead quickly rubbed a dryer sheet on top of the dirty ones and handed them to him like they just came out of the dryer? Is he aware that I still get a tear in my eye when I watch him walk up the sidewalk to school? That several times a week I stare at him while he sleeps? And, that I want to be his favorite girl forever?

I cannot eat in the dark. Hot summers in Texas can be tough for a kid who doesn’t have a pool. Indoor attractions like trampoline parks are always an option, if you don’t mind sitting alone in a stale room that smells like dirty feet while listening to bad music blaring through the speakers and getting your shoes stolen from the cubby, as happened to us last week. I have yet to hear a parent exiting one of those places saying, “We should do this again as soon as possible!” At least the movies are always a great summer choice for both the adults and the kids. With so many theaters offering reclining seats and full lunch and dinner menu options delivered right to your seat, how could I not love this luxurious summer option? Trust me, I don’t. I realized this summer I have deep concerns about eating in the dark. It happened early on in the summer while I was digging into my cobb salad in total darkness. With the lights out in the theater, I blindly made my way through the mix of ingredients in confusion. Yikes, there is a tomato I wasn’t expecting. Surprise! They did add red onion despite my request that they not. How do I pick around the red onion in the dark? What about the chicken? Good Lord, you know what everyone says about eating an unusual protein! They say it is tastes like chicken! How do I know if I am biting into a rogue cricket or the grilled chicken when everything tastes like chicken? No, I am not eating in the dark unless it is popcorn, or maybe pizza — if I am feeling like a daredevil. I will not eat salads and sandwiches under the cover of darkness, and neither should you.

Kids make rules, too. As the fall sports season starts at the high school we attend, I have been given strict instructions. I am not allowed to clap loudly or call out my child’s name in support, and I must get to my seat quickly. I actually agreed to all those things just so I wouldn’t get the “don’t you dare” wide-eyed greeting each time I entered the gym. I also agreed to them because I know all the things I did not agree to, and they are so much more creative than all the options she took off the list. If I can’t do the things all the other parents get to do, then I will just have to make up my own original things to do at the games. The possibilities are endless.

I hope my lack of memory doesn’t come into play with the new sports rules like it did with my son’s new rule the other day. My son decided he wanted to try deodorant even though he doesn’t need it just yet. I’m all for a nice looking young man who smells good, too, so I agreed. He told me I was never to say a word about it and to play it cool at the register. No problem, I can follow that rule. Twenty minutes and a full cart later, I had totally moved on from that conversation. The nice lady at the register asked my son if he would like a sticker. He politely said no. I looked right at him and said, “As if you’d want a sticker after picking out your very first deodorant.” I didn’t lean into the microphone and blast my statement over the speakers, but, by the look on his face, one might have thought that I had. I am sorry, son. I am over forty, and I can never find my phone or remember things outside of a ten-minute window. Please forgive me the way I forgave you when you stuck “I have clean hands” stickers all over the back of my dress and allowed me to walk in public for over an hour.

The summer learning of 2017 has officially come to an end. Who knows what lessons the fall will bring? With two new schools, new sports teams, and new friendships to be made, it should be quite an interesting adventure. Last week, I sent one off to the first day of high school with a smile on her face, and, today, I’ve sent the other to finish up elementary at a new school with anxiety and concern on his face. Today, I will reflect on the family fun of summer, bake his favorite lemon bars, and joyfully await the return of the circus noise. I know one day, not too long from now, the silence of the house that I embrace during these school hours will be the norm, and I don’t want to learn that until I have to.

 

Summer Surprises

Three days into summer vacation, and we were off to a glorious start. There is a freedom associated with summer that is beyond compare. Dare I say we actually get windows of flexibility despite still being somewhat scheduled? Day one and my son was celebrating both the freedom of flexible mornings and nudity. The first full day of summer he exclaimed, “I just love still being in my underwear at eleven in the morning!” It didn’t take him long to start living the summer dream. He also entertains with a nightly streak across the living room after his shower, but, in all honesty, that is not just a summer happening. The only plan he has for summer is to grow out his bangs for our visit to the beach. When I asked him why, he said he needed to do a neck whip when he came out of the water, like all surfers do. I guess it is important to have goals. I would be more judgmental of his aspirations if my hope of finding the best frosé recipe by the end of June weren’t my current focus. Bangs are temporary, but a good frosé will bring joyful summers for years to come.

While my boy is living the underwear-until-noon dream and growing out his bangs, it is the girls in the summerhouse who aren’t off to a great start. My daughter’s birthday typically falls right around the last day of school. Our joke is her birthday gift is summer. Despite having a party with friends the weekend before her actual birthday, she and I planned for a quiet but fun “true” birthday weekend with a few good meals out, some cake, and a little shopping. That plan came to a screeching halt when she began coughing the day before her birthday in a way that was hauntingly familiar. Childhood asthma was suddenly back after disappearing for several years. I no longer keep an inhaler on hand, and shame on me. Her birthday weekend consisted of two trips to urgent care and four medications to get things under control. Neither of us slept, and neither of us had a bit of birthday fun.

Twenty-four hours after the right medications were prescribed, things started to level off a bit. It was time for a short outing and a much needed change of scenery. I needed to make a quick run to PetSmart for prescription dog food – don’t ask – and we needed to pick out the chair I promised I would buy for her birthday. With the furniture shopping complete, we headed to PetSmart assuming it would be uneventful. We were quite a sight, with neither of us wearing makeup or fixing our hair, and she was as white as a ghost from her medical ordeal. We had no intention of drawing attention to ourselves during our quick errand.

As we entered PetSmart, my daughter asked if she could see the cats that were up for adoption. I knew right where they would be, and I suggested we take a shortcut through the aquarium section. As we walked down the aisle, she pointed to a funny looking aquarium accessory. It looked like a soft, flexible sea anemone. I commented that it reminded me of the movie Nemo, and that I loved that it was bright pink. Assuming it was as soft and squishy as it looked, she picked it up to admire it. Without warning, she said, “Ha!” and threw it at me. It hit me just under the eye, and I knew immediately this was not a squishy sea anemone. In order for this piece to stay put at the bottom of an aquarium, it had to be weighed down. Buried in the center was a rock hidden as a base, and it had been thrown with force directly at my face because, well, teens don’t think before acting.

anemone

I immediately fell to my knees holding my face, exclaiming in pain to my daughter that there was a rock in her projectile object. She rushed to me and hugged me tight as I covered the wound. I quickly noticed blood on my hand. We looked at one another in horror, and, despite my pain, we began laughing. The whole weekend had been birthday suck fest 2017, and we hadn’t laughed the entire time until that very moment. Unfortunately for her, she was still barely able to speak without her asthmatic cough, and all the laughing sent her into distress. She began gasping, yet she couldn’t control the laughter. I begged her to stop laughing because we did not have her inhaler. About this time, the manager walked over to ask if things were okay. I replied, “My daughter has assaulted me with an aquarium accessory, and I am bleeding. Could you tell me where I might find a bathroom?” (So much for not drawing attention to ourselves.)

The manager escorted us to the back of the store, where my daughter lovingly kept her hand on my back and tried to muffle her asthma and laughter. When I opened the door to the only restroom, I knew this was not the place for a medical exam. This was a germ-laden petri dish disguised in tile and porcelain. This was not the place for open wound care. I stayed long enough to see the swelling and small amount of bleeding under my eye and reassure myself that medical attention would be needed for nothing other than the infection I might acquire from simply entering that bathroom.

We did not make a graceful exit from PetSmart. The manager waited for us at checkout and joked that they could call the police for assault cases. I assured her it would not be necessary, as the blood continued to slowly flow from my face. As we settled into the car, I looked at my daughter as I held my eye and said, “Really?” While we drove home in silence, except for the occasional giggle and wheeze, I had three thoughts. First, never throw aquarium accessories of any kind. Second, whenever possible, just stay home and lounge in your underwear. And third, perhaps applying a plastic baggie filled with frosé might help with the swelling. And if it didn’t, I could just drink it.

Current score? Summer 2017: one. Summer Lorissa: zero. Summer, I am coming after you.

eye

*Four days post injury.

**Photos by petsmart.com and browardpalmbeach.com

A Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day displays in every store and reminders to remember your mother in commercials and on-line ads, I can’t help but think about all the mothers in my life. Regardless of our life stage, as women we are bonded through motherhood. We are soaring and sinking in different ways and always watching and listening to those around us for clues of their struggle or ease with parenting. I’ve spent several days thinking about all the mothers in my life and pondering what a day might look like for them based on our conversations and my observations. What will a “mother’s day” be like for these women on Sunday?

This mother’s day will take place at the perfect restaurant for the perfect brunch and the perfectly poured mimosa. The kids will be impeccably dressed and likely color-coordinated. The photo of this moment will no doubt be posted to social media and liked again and again. This mother’s day looks amazing, but she is not certain she is a great mother. Her uncertainty troubles her, but she’d never dare to unload this burdensome thought on others.

This mother’s day will be messy. Her little ones will squeal with joy as they destroy her kitchen to serve her burned jelly toast with a side of waffles, a piece of ham, and a pudding cup. Their eyes will be wide with excitement as she takes her first bite. There will be crayon drawings with rainbows and happy faces. She kisses them and loves on them but dreads entering the kitchen, which she will clean tomorrow because they won’t let her clean today.

This mother’s day will be quiet. No one will wake her up early and her kitchen is as spotless as she left it. The children have grown and gone to make families of their own. She can sip her coffee silently and slowly and look forward to their calls later in the day. Her job will never be complete, but she is on the other side now, full of parental wisdom. She’s left the panic of, “Did I get it right?” and has entered, “It was a wild ride and I am thankful for the adventure.” She is at peace.

This mother’s day will be unforgettable. She got a late start on the baby game. She dealt with setbacks again and again. She was told she might have missed her opportunity, but she persisted nonetheless with faith and science and anything else she thought would help, and she got there. She will hold this precious child close and gaze at an angelic face. At long last, she gets to be the celebrated mother when just a year ago she wondered how it could be so unfair.

This mother’s day isn’t really a mother’s day at all. She never had the family she envisioned years ago. Her maternal instincts remain, and she showers her pets and the children of her friends and family with kindness and affection. When someone asks if she has kids, it doesn’t sting as much as it used to when she replies no. For her, there is acceptance, and the choice to pursue joy despite the disappointment.

This mother’s day is emotional. Most of her days are spent on a rollercoaster of feelings. I imagine she wakes in the fog of her tragedy and lingers for a moment in both her sleep and waking state wondering if it actually happened. She lost her child in a way that was unpredictable and unforgiving. She will always be a mother, but she struggles with how to define it now. Each day she works to adapt to her new normal. She is loved and the subject of prayer for family and friends on this day and every day.

This mother’s day is blissful. She has a wonderful husband and her kids are fabulous although not perfect. They all love her and appreciate her. She feels like she has won the husband and family lottery. She doesn’t share her truth because, in most circles, it is only acceptable to complain and commiserate. Even though she doesn’t tell others, she knows she is in a good place that is to be appreciated and celebrated.

A look into a mother’s day can change from year to year. I know in taking a close look around me I’ve also managed to describe my own situation in several of the paragraphs above because every year feels different. Whether you celebrate today, mourn today, thank God you survived your own mother on this day, or internalize a wide range of feelings on this day, be open to knowing the many stories all around you. Be prepared to give when you are up and open to receiving when you are down.   Your awareness, gentle acknowledgment, and support just might make a mother’s day.

*Photo by terrihinojosa.com

This Is What Keeps Me On My Toes!

Have you ever HAD to do something you promised yourself you would never do again? Perhaps you had an especially bad experience at a fast food restaurant. You vowed never to eat there again for the rest of your life, yet one day you find yourself starving on the road trip to nowhere and decide it is the only option. You must go for it regardless of the last dreadful experience. That happened to me today with port-o-potties. I have managed to avoid them for more than twenty years. I don’t think I’ve used one since the Lilith Fair concert in the 90’s, and that wasn’t all that bad because it was basically all women. I’ve been a sports mom for almost ten years, and I’ve still avoided entering the door to doom. I am a urine camel. I can hold my own. I am an extra long tanker truck just trying to get back home. Nothing could make me break my own rule – until today.

I know better, people! You must always limit your liquids before activities that might only have a port-o-potty option. Today we happened to be out the door before 7:00 a.m., and I drank a cup of hot tea and a protein smoothie. It was wrong, and I knew it. I chose to dance with danger. I reflected on the last several games we’ve played this season, and they all had restrooms. “This probably won’t be any different,” was my thought as I enjoyed my liquid protein concoction.

As we pulled up to the sports field, I quickly realized it was literally a field. We were in the middle of nowhere. There were hay bales bordering each playing field! As I scanned the scene I noticed a man was fishing in a tank at the fields AND he was near the port-o-potties. Oh the horror! It had been a thirty-minute drive, and the game didn’t start for another thirty minutes. The game would be at least an hour. I was looking at a two-hour window of regret. I knew that this would be rough, and I certainly wasn’t at Lilith Fair. I began to panic and told my husband I was about to gag at the prospect. He said you can’t gag at just the thought of using a port-o-potty, but I assured him I could. I then decided statistics could assist me. There were seven port-o-potties arranged in an “L” shape. Perhaps I could observe for a few minutes and see which one got the least use.

As I waited for the first user, I noticed that one facility was larger than the others. It was likely handicap-accessible. I told my husband that was probably the one to use because surely people wouldn’t take the chance of making a disabled person wait. I was wrong! It was the busiest of all of them. Clearly people like the extra room in their port-o-potty experience. Who knew? That one was definitely off my list. I then observed all the users were men. Men are everything that is wrong with the port-o-potty experience. This only increased my level of panic. The good news was each man leaving was rubbing his hands with hand sanitizer, and I liked the idea of a generous dousing of antibacterial goodness upon my exit.

I had made my decision: I was going far left. I watched a news report once that said the cleanest public bathroom stall is always the closest one to the entrance, and I was relying on that scientific data along with my own observations. As I walked to the door of doom, I wondered how it had come to this. I’ve always been so smart. How could I have let me guard down? How would I do this without touching anything? I didn’t even really remember how it all worked, and I was nervous. As I lifted the latch with my wrist so as not to contaminate my hand, I knew there was no turning back. I also wondered why I hadn’t thought to have my husband drive me down the road to McDonald’s instead of doing a side-by-side statistical analysis of port-o-potty usage. Dang it!

As I entered the chamber of darkness and mystery, I decided I should move quickly. Time to get in and get out. There would be no breathing, no looking, and no touching. I decided to stay on my tiptoes as to limit exposure to the bottom of my shoes. These shoes could not enter the house today. Once in, I assumed the position and was immediately thankful that I had been working out and that my legs were in shape. In order that I not make any physical contact with anything, I would do a quick hover, stay on my toes the whole time, and get out. Here was the conversation that took place in my head over the next minute:

I can do this. I am a mature, intelligent woman. I can do anything I set my mind to. It is all in my head. I’ve got this. I am on my tiptoes and I am hovering with my eyes closed and purposely not breathing and this feels weird. I saw a similar position once in an article highlighting the form and flexibility of modern dancers. Maybe this was her inspiration.

dancer

Where is this going? That’s quite a drop zone. It sounds like a waterfall off of a large Hawaiian cliff. Think about Hawaii. Hawaii is your happy place. Yes, you are at a Hawaiian waterfall.

 I’m breathing again! Why am I breathing? I can’t start breathing. At least my eyes are still closed.

 How does this thing even work? I don’t get it. I will pretend it is a magical toilet and not worry about the mechanics. I am in Hawaii for goodness sakes.  

 I think I need to look real quick. I really don’t want to open my eyes, but I must get my bearings. Okay, I am looking. Good Lord there is a urinal in here! With the hover it is at eye level. Avert the eyes from the urinal immediately. Why can’t I find the handle so I can flush? Oh my gosh!!!! I can’t flush!!!! Now I remember the mechanics! Stop breathing!!!!!

 Look straight ahead. Straight to the door that is four inches from your face. Why is there mud on the door? It is very muddy outside. Why is the mud up so high? Is that mud? I’m not positive that is mud. Don’t make assumptions. Calm down. Why are you  so negative?

 Why didn’t I have this story when I wrote my Tales From The Can story for the blog? This deserves its own moment.

 Okay, I can’t take this. I thought I could, but I can’t. I can’t handle this situation. My calves are cramping from the modern dance poses. I am breathing, and I am looking, and I am cramping. I must abort this mission immediately.

 Wait, I need at least six ounces of hand sanitizer in my hands before I exit. I will scrub it all the way up to my elbows as if I am entering the O.R. for surgery. I will open the door first, get my feet out of this space, and I will fill my hands with sanitizer with the door wide open. I don’t care if people think that is weird. No one should be staring at all the port-o-potties anyway. What kind of freak does that? Wait, I did that for about twenty minutes.

 I made my exit, and once in the clear I put my hands on my knees and lowered my head as if I had just finished a marathon. It felt like a marathon – a marathon of panic. I was exhausted. I was really thirsty, too. I decided to get something to drink. It would just need to be two hours later in the comfort of my own home where I would not be wearing my shoes.

 

 

Add It To My List

Nothing feels funny this week. I just can’t quite get my comedic juices flowing. The last week has been unusual, and I get the feeling that I am going to have to get out of my comfort zone to make some tasks happen that I am not feeling energized or equipped to do. All these items are outside my usual “to do” list, and I resent all of them being assigned to me.

I am not a plumber. Why do plumbing tasks get passed to me on a regular basis? I don’t even like going to Home Depot unless it has to do with Christmas décor or patio items. The plumbing aisle? Oh the horror! I haven’t received a gift from my husband in a while, but last week he gifted me with a product called a Drain Snake or something like that. It seems a child, who will remain anonymous so SHE doesn’t get embarrassed, is mixing DIY face masks with honey and/or making “slime” from glue and liquid starch and rinsing them down the sink. The sink no longer functions and, as a bonus, it is backing up as well. Why call a plumber when you have a perfectly inexperienced and uninterested lady in your home who is not in need of one more task?

My first task was to “snake” the drain. (I am excited to have found a new verb.) This process did not work. My father then gave me a ten-minute explanation of how I could take the pipes apart under the sink and attempt to clean them out. Clearly he has too much faith in me. There is serious risk of flooding and costly damage with this assignment. I am thinking of having a video taken of my attempt. It has the potential to go viral.

I am not a veterinarian. I have loved dogs all my life, but, again, I feel I have certain limitations that are not being considered when tasks are assigned. My one hundred pound dog developed a large lump that I knew was a cyst based on past experiences with her. However, this is the Mt. Vesuvius of cysts. This one was out of my comfort zone and required the help of a professional. Much to my dismay, the vet made an attempt but was not able to lance it and came up with another solution. She suggested I put a warm compress on it three times a day and give it a squeeze once a day to see if I can take care of it. Excuse me? Have we met? You need me to do what?!

And so I took my sweet dog home and thought I might be able to get the help of someone else in the house who was less emotional about the task than I. No takers. When I explained what needed to be done to my husband, the only thing I got was a lecture on how much he always has and always will hate the word compress and that we should never use the word again. That talk did not make the cyst go away. The kids are not an option, as they continue to run from our sweet dog in horror. The vet shaved the entire area around her unfortunate malady, and it is not a pretty sight for anyone. As she sits at my feet, the cyst taunts me with its enormity as if to say, “So, are we going to do this or what?” Perhaps this can go viral as well. I know I’ve tired of Giraffe cam and the lack of action that team has provided over the last several months. The zoo promised the baby giraffe would arrive last weekend and still nothing. I do have a Go Pro I could attach to my dog’s head. Maybe I will start dog cyst cam and we can all celebrate the joyful end of it together.

Lastly, I am not a boy. I am not able to comprehend the thought process of a boy no matter how hard I try. I am creating a lecture for my son regarding common sense. I doubt all boys need this talk, but mine definitely does. This weekend I’m going to have to say ridiculous things like, “You shouldn’t throw basketballs at my car or your ceiling fan.” I also need to find the right words to express, “I know how much you liked the movie Sing. You cannot hose yourself and your friends down and pretend you are the car- washing koala while sliding all over your father’s car.” (Click here to watch the Car Wash Scene he performed on our car.) No digging giant holes in the flowerbeds will be another topic. I regret the amount of energy I must use to teach concepts that seem to be common sense to me. The phrase “Stop it!” is not detailed enough, apparently.

I look forward to these weekend tasks the way one looks forward to a flat tire or a two a.m. charley horse. If you see me in Home Depot this weekend wearing medical gloves and holding a confiscated basketball, you’ll know I am just working my way down my list.

 

*photo by terrihinojosa.com

No One Wants to Play Anymore

It started again last week when I found a plastic Iron Man action figure under my son’s bed. Goodness knows how long it has been there since he doesn’t play with his action figures anymore. As I held the figure in my hand, the tears came to my eyes, and it gave me pause for what I have been missing lately. He is ten now, but Iron Man figures used to be our thing. For some reason, no matter how many he owned, I always bought him another whenever he asked. Unfortunately for him, he spent so much time in the car as a little boy that I called him the car seat cowboy. It seemed like I was always driving his big sister here and there, and I felt the guilt every time I strapped him into that seat harness. Once again, he would be going somewhere he didn’t need or want to go to. It felt less painful when I knew he would enjoy playing with his new action figure while in his seat. He loved them so. I loved them, too.

I was always the mom who would play. I played with my kids every day during those years. But these days, no one in my house wants to play anything with me. Back then, our games were always big and imaginative. Sometimes we were wizards running through the house with our wands. Other times, we were diamond miners digging through the pea gravel under the play set looking for the most sparkling rocks we could find to add to our treasure collection. My home office was often filled with baby dolls that were up for adoption and needing a good home. The kids and I always found them the perfect parents after a thorough interview and tour of the orphanage. Playing with both a boy and a girl could be a challenge at times, but my son’s Iron Man figures were always welcome to join the game of Barbie his sister and I had started. The matchbox cars were a bit of a problem. Being a true girlie girl in my own youth, I never had them as a kid, and my son loved them. I assumed you played them like dolls and that every car had a name and a personality and went on adventures. On one occasion when my husband sat down to play cars with our son, he pointed out that I didn’t teach him to play cars correctly, and he wasn’t having that version of match cars. Apparently they were supposed to crash a lot and race repeatedly. Who knew?

As my daughter matured and pulled away from playtime with me, it didn’t affect me the way his departure from play does. When she quit, I knew he was waiting in the wings, and it would finally be his chance to get some one-on-one time with me. For a couple of years, it was just the two of us paired up in a play world filled with samurais, superheroes, and anything that involved a ball. Current reality is just so different. With my daughter, I can shop, chat about girl stuff, paint nails, etc. The conversations come easily. As eager as I am for time with my son, I am saddened to find that connecting through conversation becomes harder and harder. He doesn’t want to talk much. He has one speed – fast. He loves being outside and running fast and playing sports and playing hard. There was a time I was able to keep up. I can’t attempt to play soccer anymore. With the difference in skill level, it is not fun for either one of us. I quit playing Wiffle Ball two years ago when I took a particularly hard hit to the chest after he swung with all his might.   I didn’t even know Wiffle Balls could hurt! That experience keeps me from attempting baseball with him. We were able to run together a few months ago. I was dead tired when we got home after a couple of miles. Barely out of breath, he looked at me and said, “Do you want to do some uphill wind sprints now?” I didn’t know exactly what those were, but I was definitely not interested.

I find myself struggling with ideas for birthday and Christmas gifts. All he really wants is to be outside. He has every type of sports equipment and is completely stocked when it comes to his favorite athletic gear. And, sadly, he does not want toys. The play mom is now without options. I thought I had figured another thing we could do together, but in the last three weeks he has politely said no thanks when asked to join me for a board game. I tried three different times and gave up. I decided I would make special plans for us to go to Dave and Buster’s for video games galore after an early dismissal from school the other day. I put on make up and didn’t even wear yoga pants! This was our big playdate, and I could not wait! The reconnection was finally going to happen! Unfortunately, when I arrived to pick him up from school, another parent came up and sweetly asked if he could play at their house, and he was really excited at the prospect. He chose a friend over me and Dave and Buster’s. That one stung a bit. That was one more opportunity to connect, and it wasn’t going to happen.

The morning I found Iron Man, I sulked most of the day. Interestingly, something unexpected happened that same evening. As I put him to bed that night – a time I cherish – we had an extra long snuggle. With my face in his neck I gave him a little kiss and called him sweet little names and told him I loved him. I then laughed and said, “What I just did is precisely why your dad and sister make fun of us. Well, the haters are gonna hate.” His reply took me by surprise. He looked at me and said, “And lovers are gonna love.” He then grabbed onto me tighter, closed his eyes, and settled into a peaceful smile. Love! That was it! THAT is our thing! A sense of peace I had been missing came over me as it sank in: The snuggles and late night conversations, the way he still reaches for and holds my hand in public, and tiny kisses on the forehead were ours. Those were the connections he wanted from me! And best of all, unlike board games and action figures and tiny cars, he will never outgrow my love. Love, pure and simple, is the best connector of all, and we will have our own special kind forever.

Learning As I Go

I have a confession to make: I have not nailed parenting. I am certain I try my best 90% of the time, but the learning curve is steep, and sometimes I am just too tired to put on my best game face. Somehow the four of us seem to function pretty well in the chaos of our family dynamic, and I have a pretty good notion that, when all is said and done, we will have raised fully functioning grown-ups who will not mind visiting their parents from time to time. There are still so many things I don’t know about the parenting world. I feel like I am learning something new everyday. Here are a few things I’ve recently learned.

When your ten-year-old son asks to sit in the grocery cart because his legs are tired from soccer, you can say yes if you don’t have much to buy. You say no if you have a cucumber in the cart. I didn’t realize how creative a boy could be with a vegetable. There he was sitting “criss cross applesauce” in the cart in full soccer gear, proudly holding the English cucumber in the position of his choice as I pushed him round and round the produce section. I didn’t know there could be such creative moments with vegetables. I was certainly thankful that the English cucumber was wrapped in plastic and that he had not noticed the two avocados that I had also dropped in the cart. I guess we need to find happiness in the little things.

Take every situation that seems normal and manageable to you and multiply it by 50 if you want to attempt to relate to the responses of a teenage girl. Did you ever get a tiny spill on your shirt on the way out the door? Has your mascara smeared a tiny bit under your eye shortly after you applied it? Did your parent ever buy you white note cards when you had hoped for neon notecards? You’ve probably experienced one of these scenarios. What you probably didn’t do was lose your freaking mind, wail, consider these scenarios to be injustices in the world, and threaten to go to your room and never come out. The drama is quick and rarely predictable. Most of the time, it happens right when you should be getting in your car. Sometimes it just makes me laugh, and sometimes it causes me to turn into my own version of teen girl crazy.

Long after pre-k you will still never quite know what your child is going to say. A few weeks ago, we were have a leisurely lunch out with family. We’d had a silly conversation about tattoos, who has them, and unique tattoos that we’d seen. The conversation went quiet for a bit until my son broke the silence by saying, “You know, if you tattooed the letter L on each butt cheek, wouldn’t that be LOL?” (I’ll let you process that one for a bit.) It was later suggested that I get M’s and his grandfather, Pop, get P’s. While I appreciated the suggestion, I’m probably going to have to pass on that one.

Select sports are a punishment to parents who birthed an athlete. For as much as I have complained about my parents’ never signing me up for any sports during my school years, leaving me talentless and scrambling to find my place in the world – Yikes, did my teen girl drama side just peek out? –, I think they may have been onto something. My parents had their weekends to rest and recover from the week and get a few things done around the house. The kids slept in and watched cartoons and played in the yard. That option was too calm for us. We decided to put our son in sports when he was five, and it turns out that despite his maternal genetics working against him, he is pretty darned athletic. By nine, we were told he needed to play at a more competitive level, so we moved right into select sports leagues. We went from leisurely weekend games in the neighborhood to signing over our lives and weekends for the duration of the season, which appears now to function on a year-round basis. You don’t practice anywhere near your home, and you spend most weekends on the field. Many times, sports consume your entire weekend, and then you go back to school and work sunburned, windburned, dehydrated, or a combination of all three. You pay a premium for it, too. It is also a source of conflict with the grandparents, who don’t seem to understand why we aren’t available for a weekend gathering until 2019. I truly enjoy the other parents who are living this same life with us; we are one big sports family on those weekends. But, if your athletic child has a sibling who is not playing, and if you are trying to juggle two (or more) sports, it is a butt kicker. I didn’t know this was a parenting scenario, and now I know more than enough about it.

Despite your best efforts to remain the cool parent, you will lose this battle at some point. If wearing shorts that cover my entire backside and then some makes me a grandma, as I have been called by the younger female in the house, then call me Little Ol’ Granny all day long. In the shorts she would have me wear, I would never be able to conceal those “M” tattoos I’m considering. I am tired of arguing about shorts in my house. You might see some WWE moves going down in the Target dressing room when my daughter tries on new bathing suits for me as the warmer temperatures draw nearer. I argue a lot about swimwear, too. I cannot handle this Kylie Jenner generation of girls trying to look 25 at thirteen. It’s exhausting and makes Granny want a nap. And, Granny doesn’t care if “everybody else” wears it. I do not, and therefore you are a liar.

Lighten up when you can. I did not like it when my daughter threw chips in my hair last week so seagulls would chase me. I did not like that much at all, but that was really funny. She didn’t get in trouble for it. She’ll get payback for it, but she won’t get in trouble. I chose not to yell at my son the other day after he had a spill in the kitchen. He’d just opened a package of Fun Dip he’d received for Valentine’s Day. Those are the packets of flavored powder into which you dip your vanilla candy stick. You can’t pronounce a single ingredient used to make them, but the kids think they’re great. Anyway, he spilled some of the bright green powder on the kitchen tile. When I used a damp paper towel to wipe it up, I freaked out because I then had a bright green, wet smear that stained a tiny part of the grout. I asked what was wrong with him that he couldn’t be more careful with his candy, and my tone wasn’t pleasant. Very calmly he replied, “We need a little color in here, Mom. Don’t worry about it.” Although I prefer throw pillows to Fun Dip stains, I saw his point as I looked around at my brown and beige living room and kitchen.

No matter their ages, enjoy the time with your family members this weekend. Laugh at the unexpected conversations, settle the conflict, and look for some color. If you need me, I’ll be on the ball fields.

*photo by terrihinojosa.com