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Swinging the Bat

13 May

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I do not know how you measure success.

Is it wealth, fame, good health, love, all of them, none of them. I don’t know.

Maybe it’s just making an effort you thought you could never make.

My son is on his school’s baseball team. I am not betraying him when I tell you he is not the best athlete on the team. But he loves being on a team and part of a team. Recently, my mother told me she had a conversation with my son about his method of playing. In essence, his approach was to never swing with the hope of getting walked to first base. This was heartbreaking to me. I was also unaware of it because he instructed me not to attend any games because he was mainly in charge of keeping the bench very warm. Although I am not exactly athletic, I confronted him:

“You need to swing the bat. Even if you miss. You still have to try because you will miss 100% of the balls you don’t swing at.”

I am not sure if he was frightened of the speed of the ball, the shame of an earned strike, or just simply taking a chance. He promised he would try. And with that, he was able to allow someone else to keep that bench warm, at least some of the time.

Academically, my son is, for the most part, thriving. He has recently struggled, however, with a couple of subjects and was less than thrilled about grades he received. I’m not exactly sure, though, that he was swinging the bat at those plates either. We had multiple, similar conversations about the importance of making an effort, trying your best, aiming for a hit instead of a walk. I’m not sure how many of these talks sink in or how many translate to the Charlie Brown teacher language of “WOH WOH WOH WAH.” My expertise and life experience are not impressive to him. It seems not to matter that I have already lived all the days he is living. He probably just wants me to stop talking. Oh well, too bad. It’s my job.

This combination of some poor grades and baseball ineptitude was starting to wear on his confidence. I cannot blame him though, again, he wasn’t actively participating in his own life enough to change his situation. It is hard to watch your child struggle with self-doubt and think you can give them all the tools and praise needed to remedy it, but it is, ultimately, up to them to cure their problems themselves.

Yesterday, on one of spring’s most beautiful days, and with my son’s blessing, I finally attended a baseball game: my son’s team’s last home game of the season. My son was at bat. He swung a few times, accruing two strikes. His team and coach continued to call his name, encouraging him. On the final pitch, as the wind blew its warm, gentle breeze over the field, I sat in a lawn chair and watched my boy make his very first hit. It was solid. It went to third base, and he made it to first base safely with his team cheering him on. And later, during the last inning, and only minutes after my husband arrived, we both had the privilege of watching our son make his second hit, into the field, right over second base. Again, his team cheered. And so did we.

While I have been largely focusing on the importance of his school work, perhaps excelling here, on a baseball diamond with friends and teammates, is just as important. He needs to feel good about himself in all arenas, and those two hits, likely inconsequential to most kids on the team, were home runs for all of us.

Had my son not swung, he never would have hit those balls. He never would have known what the impact of the ball against the ash in his hands would feel like. He never would have known that he too could create that familiar “crack” symbolic of a hit. He never would have known the joy of hearing his friends and teammates root for him and the thrill of reaching first base because he proactively earned it as opposed to watching for the pitcher to err. He never would have known what it was like to cross home plate on that beautiful spring day, the completion of the story that began with his first hit. This type of knowledge he gained is every bit as useful and meaningful as the type learned from a textbook. If not more so.

Maybe success is just swinging the bat.

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Living the Dream

24 Mar

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Exactly a year ago, my son was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. When you receive a diagnosis like that, as a mother, you want all the information you can get and yet simultaneously, you want none of it. You want a crystal ball to know what your child’s future will be like and at the same time, you do not want that kind of knowledge. You imagine the next year of your life and you fear it. You envision terrible pitfalls and tears, and still you cross your fingers and hope you will be one of the lucky ones.

My son is one of the lucky ones.

My boy has wanted to perform for as long as I can remember. Prior to this year, the two shows in which he acted have been mere displays of adorable children as opposed to any type of pageantry of talent. About two years ago, my then 9 year old son, while spending his free time in school scouring Backstage.com and Variety for notices for open calls for children, seized on an audition being held in the city for a Broadway show. He prepared his own resume, which included gems like:

Dancing Training: None (I’m still good though)

Acting Training: None (I can cry on the spot)

Vocal Training: None (I can sing in the shower)

He also included a mandatory school performance among his acting credits. He pasted a Photo Booth picture to this paper and fearlessly dragged my unsuspecting father into Manhattan.

About three hours later, my father called me:

“You and your mother are crazy! We are in way over our heads! There are kids tap dancing up and down the hallways. Some are wearing jackets from the shows they have been in. Others are here with their agents and managers.”

I was more than reluctant to let him go and get his heart shattered but I also thought, maybe this level of competition would be eye opening for him. Needless to say, he did not get any part in that Broadway show but he was nevertheless encouraged by the supportive words given by the panel who auditioned him.  I reminded him that if he truly wants to be involved with theater, there are multiple behind the scenes ways in which to do so: writing, directing, producing. He not only did not want to hear it, he turned to me and shouted:

“YOU’RE A DREAM KILLER!”

And with that, we shelved the conversation.

Last weekend he performed in his first middle school show, 42nd Street. He was cast as Bert, a role to which he brought humor, joy, and, to be honest, talent. He tap danced circles around my heart. He made me laugh. He made me cry. He made me downright giddy. And most of all, he made me so very proud.

Who am I to kill anyone’s dreams? Especially those belonging to my sons. How can they dream at all if their own mother is constantly whispering threads of reality to them? They can’t. Part of being a child is dreaming dreams that are our own. Hopefully, those dreams will guide us along the paths we want to pursue, and in some cases, maybe even come true. Maybe not the dream of another son of mine who wants to play for the NBA. But it is not my job to extinguish it.

Sometimes we learn the most important lessons from our children. Yes, we learn the importance of dreaming. But we also learn the importance of living our lives without limitations: without diseases which may confine us, societal notions which may hinder us, and parents which may hold us back.

A diagnosis of exactly one year ago has just become a tiny part of who my son is: a multi-dimensional, sweet, talented, driven, loving, realistic dreamer. It is a luxury to be on the other side of this year, to have this knowledge, to see our future become our past, to have looked at that crystal ball and know everything is going to be all right. And most important, to know that we all are, indeed, the lucky ones.

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Lemonade and James Taylor

6 Jul

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So I’m living out a little dream of mine.

Since the age of 13, I have been a James Taylor fan. I have seen him all over the East and so many times I cannot even estimate. But as all James Taylor fans know, the ultimate experience is the July 4th concert at Tanglewood.

A few months ago I was looking into planning a trip to the Amalfi coast. And then something personal happened and I just didn’t feel like leaving the country. I felt like making lemonade.

“I know what we’re doing. We’re going to Tanglewood for the 4th of July. We’re going to see James Taylor. I’ve always wanted to do it. That’s what we’re doing.”

G-d bless my husband who said:

“OK”

He’s not a big fan of James Taylor’s music or of music in general, probably. In fact, he could listen to 1010 WINS on the radio until we lose reception or die. But thankfully, he’s a big fan of me.

I found the last room at the last bed and breakfast for the holiday weekend and promised to do anything outdoorsy he wished.

As an aside, you should know I’m not outdoorsy. I’m indoorsy, to say the least. In all honesty, years ago, I lied to an outdoorsy guy I had a crush on. I told him that I loved hiking and gleefully packed my trail mix and canteen only to projectile vomit at the end of the hike from sunstroke and fatigue. It’s probably just not within me to enjoy that level of nature or that kind of guy. But marriage is about compromise: I got James Taylor, and he got me outside.

We arrived in Lenox at our Bed and Breakfast, and lo and behold, we were not the only people to have made this pilgrimage. But we were definitely the youngest by a decade or two. We hiked for a few hours (I did not vomit), we tooled around some small towns, and I even bought some turquoise. The Berkshires are like a drug.

The forecast for July 4th called for rain and it was solidly accurate. It poured all day long. We still bought supplies for a picnic under the stars on the lawn at Tanglewood. We prepared like the most beautiful evening was ahead of us.

And it was.

We entered Tanglewood at 5 pm, just 3 hours before showtime. My husband tiptoed across large patches of mud and found a protective canopy of trees under which we set up a blanket and picknicked in the rain for a couple of hours. The weather didn’t even matter anymore. All that mattered was that I was there, where I always wanted to be.

At 7, it stopped raining. People cheered. Scores of tents and umbrellas were dismanted as the sun shone through the trees. Candles were lit, citronella saturated the air, and a cool breeze settled over Tanglewood.

The concert was lovely. In truth, I did not love his set list but it wasn’t important. I loved James and I loved the setting and I loved the mountain air and I loved the Berkshires and I loved my husband. I even loved 2/3 of that hike. There was no place I would have rather been. Not even Capri.

Maybe we build things up to be “perfect” in our minds and when they unfold they are inevitably not going to be as we imagined. It’s disappointing when life does not happen in the way we romanticize it.  It was freeing to let the night just be what it was: and to me, it was the sweetest lemonade I ever did drink; it was perfection.

The Berkshires did seem dreamlike and hopefully, I only have 10 miles behind me and 10,000 more to go.

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