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Gratitude

26 Nov

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Possibly one of my top ten favorite words and something I try to keep in mind when confronted with things I’d prefer not to think about because things could always be worse:

G R A T I T U D E

Perspective is so important and today, like every day, I am so grateful for

  1. My children
  2. My husband
  3. My parents
  4. My brother
  5. My extended family
  6. My friends
  7. Good health
  8. James Taylor
  9. Licorice
  10. Music
  11. Warm chocolate chip cookies
  12. When Harry Met Sally
  13. Medicine and science
  14. Taxi
  15. The NYT crossword puzzle
  16. Laughter
  17. Words
  18. Not turkey — I could skip that
  19. Meatballs
  20. My pizza oven
  21. My grandparents. They were the best.
  22. A well told story
  23. Games of all kinds
  24. Good coffee
  25. The University of Michigan
  26. Shehecheyanu
  27. The gym (not while I’m there, only when I’m leaving)
  28. Frizz Ease
  29. Blow outs
  30. Public School
  31. Kindness
  32. Sunshine
  33. Pickles
  34. Bloody Marys
  35. The ocean
  36. My Kindle
  37. WordPress
  38. My GPS even though she sometimes sucks
  39. The freedoms granted to me in the Bill of Rights
  40. Love

Thank you so very much for reading and for your encouragement. I am grateful for you all.

Shehecheyanu.

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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My Son and My Swollen Heart

11 Dec

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This year has not been easy.

At the end of last year’s school year, my son was trying to select courses for his first year at middle school. He wanted to take chorus but was reluctant.

“Do you like to sing?”

“Yes.”

“You should take chorus.”

“I like singing but I’m not sure about chorus.”

“Are you worried you will be teased about it because you’re a boy?”

“Yes.”

“You should take chorus.”

He was already dealing with more than any 11 year old child should have to deal with: a Crohn’s Disease diagnosis and the attempt to get it under control. He was also being followed for rapidly progressing Scoliosis and only 4 degrees away from getting a brace he would have to wear 23 hours a day for at least 3 years. He selected chorus.

Recently, I was involved in a fundraiser for Crohn’s, Colitis, and Celiac (which another son of mine happens to have). It was successful in that we raised money, awareness, and spirits, particularly those of my sons. The following day, my son had his follow up appointment with the orthopedist to determine if his Scoliosis would finally require a restrictive brace. Eight months elapsed since his last X-ray and I spent most of the day alternating between holding my breath and praying for good news. Miraculously, his Scoliosis did not worsen; if anything, it may have slightly improved.

Perhaps good deeds beget goodness. Perhaps that fundraiser made a large karmic dent in our tiny world. Perhaps my son was just entitled to finally receive some good news. Perhaps.

Last night was his first chorus concert. He stood, clad in a bow tie, next to the only other boy in chorus, amid a sea of 35 girls. He was also chosen with three other children to sing parts of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” As I crouched in the aisle of the auditorium, taking pictures and watching this boy, with his unique and immutable spirit, I cried. He has survived so much in so little time and he is doing what he wants and living his life. Good for you, Eli, good for you. Don’t let anything keep you down, my baby boy. You are unstoppable.

I am so thankful for this current lull in the great and unwanted upheaval of life. It may be temporary but that is no different than the life belonging to anyone else. There are good days and bad days and days in between. The hope is that the good days outweigh the bad and that we are lucky enough to find them and know them and love them.

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Born Good

4 Jun

Sometimes, people are just born good.

Last week, my 14 year old son came to me:

“Mom, I finally figured out what I want to do with my March Madness winnings. I want to give it to Relay for Life.”

“That’s the fundraiser at your school for The American Cancer Society, right?”

“Right.”

And then my heart caught. My mother is a three time survivor of  breast cancer. She is the most beautiful warrior I have ever seen. She is also the inspiration for this sudden largesse. That and the fact that donations are tied to chances to watch a certain teacher go down in the dunk tank at the school carnival. I told him I loved him. I told him I was proud of him. I told him to sleep on it before he does anything.

My son loves sneakers. LOVES them. He loves a lot of things he could buy himself with his money. He also understands the value of a dollar because he babysits his little brothers and earns every last cent we pay him. But there is a certain depth to him. He gets things. He is understanding. He is a thinker. He is connected.

A few days later, my son found me in the kitchen.

“Mom, I’ve thought about it and I’m going to give the money to charity.”

He showed me a Ziploc full of $125 cash. He was unaware of the grand gesture he was making. It was just an easy decision that made sense.

Later that morning I received a phone call from the school, the caller ID for which always elicits  panic. After the assistant principal told me there was nothing to be alarmed about, I realized why he was calling. He told me that he nearly cried when he discovered my son wanted to give all his money to charity and it was an emotional conversation to say the least. I hung up the phone and wept.

I have been really riding my son all year about his school work. My concern is that it doesn’t matter to him; that he’s not as motivated as he should be; that he’s not competitive enough with himself to do the best he possibly can; that it doesn’t matter. I have been remiss. There are more important things in life. And I was just reminded of that by my son.

When my son came home from school that day, he was excited, he was animated, he was maybe even a little bit proud. He didn’t seem to recognize the grandeur of his action until he told me that for 20 minutes, the teachers (who originally didn’t think they could even accept that high a donation) crowded around him and told him what a wonderful thing he was doing. The superintendent and the principal also spoke to my son about his generosity. And more important, he seemed poised to manipulate the dunk contest results so that one teacher in particular was a goner.

“Did you do this for Nanny?”

“Yes. And Aunt Sandy.”

My beloved aunt who died from lung cancer when my son was only 6. There’s that depth again.

I am so proud of this boy. And I am so disappointed in myself for all those times I pushed him while not focusing on what is really important: he is. And he is not just a grade point average or an extra-curricular activity or some dumb random honor. He is not a high school transcript or a standardized test or an assigned generic task. He is so much more. He is everything.

I can teach him all I want. I can help him with his homework (not math!) and how to organize an essay and how to make a good omelet and how to make his bed and how to do the laundry and how to moonwalk. I cannot teach him to be a good — a really good — person.

Thankfully, he already is.

Opening Doors

30 May

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Yesterday, I attended my last-ever Spring Walkthrough for my sons. In just one month, I will no longer have any children in elementary school. Everything feels so wistful and nostalgic and momentous underneath an overwhelmingly heavy blanket of sentiment.

I tried to absorb every moment of Spring Walkthrough, instead of just completing it as in years past. I paid attention to each detail of my sons’ handiwork, spent time on all the bulletin boards decorated with their projects, read everything as if it wouldn’t be sent home next month in a large paper bag. As we moved from classroom to classroom, I became increasingly emotional. My eyes watered, my heart ached, my babies were growing up.

Approximately halfway through the evening, the power failed for the briefest of moments and then the fire alarm sounded. There was talk as to whether someone intentionally pulled it or it was an actual problem. Everyone was told to leave the building. Over 1000 people congregated on the steps of the school as the fire trucks pulled in, and firemen in full gear with axes made their way inside. It was hot and chaotic and it seemed the sky was ready to open up. And then, out of nowhere, someone decided to blast the song “Happy.” Kids began to sing, a group of girls began to dance on the steps, parents began to groove. The infectious beat slowly spread among the people crowded out there waiting for this night to end. As I looked at my kids jumping up and down, at the girls dancing, at my hips rocking, I thought, “this is ridiculous! Life is ridiculous!” And I laughed.

The firemen exited, some kids took pictures with them, and the man with the boombox re-entered the building. I don’t know if there was a genuine issue or whether the fire alarm was a prank. Either way, it was the best Spring Walkthrough I’ve ever been to. Thank goodness for that unexpected minute of chaos and contagious joy and insanity. It was a perfect moment that I sorely needed. And It saved me from myself.

I am not a fan of change. I spend so much time emphasizing the importance of “lasts” that I often forget to recognize the beauty of “firsts.” I need to look at every new door as an opening instead of sadly watching an old door close. I’m going to start celebrating more beginnings instead of solely focusing on endings.

Thank you to that fire alarm. Thank you to that man with the music. Thank you to those girls on the steps. Thank you to unchoreographed moments of absurdity. And thank you to my sons, nonchalant through all my tears and hysteria and reflection.  I wish you the best last month of elementary school and I look forward to seeing you start middle school in the fall.