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Why I wear the shirt.

I am a grown woman who never played on a basketball team. I didn’t know much about basketball until my mid-20s, when I met my basketball-loving husband (in defense of my parents, I was not sports-deprived; I grew up watching football and … yawn … baseball). By now, I know how to shoot a basketball properly. But I still don’t do it well.

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So, at this stage in my life, why did I recently spend money on a basketball tournament t-shirt (long-sleeved, oversized and super comfy, by the way), which has become my favorite thing to wear?

Obviously, I didn’t play in this tournament. It was not held in our town. I didn’t organize the tournament, nor did I volunteer to work at it. It wasn’t a big, well-known tournament in another state. I just went to watch my son’s team play. And while they did win some of their games, they didn’t win the tournament. My son was not the MVP, nor did he score a newsworthy number of points.

He just played.

And it was amazing.

You see, this was the first time Michael has been able to play in a tournament. He’s been on teams that have played before, but he’s always had to sit on the bench because of injuries resulting from a condition he has that causes hypermobile joints. But this year, Michael played. He got better. He scored his first tournament points. He was cheered on by his coach. He turned the ball over to the other team. He was yelled at by his coach. They won some, and they lost some. He celebrated with his team.

So this is why I wear the shirt from this tournament. To celebrate the kids who “just play.” The kids who persevere after injuries. The kids who play through everyday pain. The kids who didn’t make the team but continue playing anyway.

And for the parents, like us, who are happy to watch our kids “just play.”

 

 

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Lessons from midlife.

I’ll be turning 50 soon. Looking back, I’ve learned a lot of things. Sadly, some things, like how to do long division, or a cartwheel on a balance beam, I’ve forgotten. Others, I know I’ve learned, but can’t for the life of me explain to someone else — like how to parallel park a car or successfully clean dog poop off a toddler.

That said, in almost 50 years, I’ve learned a lot of important things that I think I should share:

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Some things are almost always worth investing your time in — studying for final exams, washing a new red shirt separately, flossing. Others, not so much: watching “very special episodes” of Disney Channel tween sitcoms, or standing in a long Black Friday line at Old Navy to save what’s probably $1.50 on a pair of khakis that you’ll spill something on by mid-January.

There are certain things worth splurging on. Eyeliner, ground cinnamon, toilet paper. And others you shouldn’t bother spending a lot of money on —  birthday cards, dish towels, kids’ dress shoes. Just trust me on these; I’ve done the research for you.

Eating gross things is probably not going to hurt you. The best example is the boy I knew growing up who regularly ate red crayons in kindergarten. We’ve lost touch, but last I heard, he was a professor at an Ivy League university.  I’ve also seen people eat dog food, lip balm and White Castle. They all survived.

You will probably never forget really embarrassing things. During college, I was once at a fraternity party talking to a cute guy. I don’t remember his name or what he looked like, which of my friends I was with, or what fraternity it was. What I do remember vividly is the sight of the piece of gum I was chewing flying out of my mouth and across the room mid-sentence. In my memory, the gum moved in slow motion, and the unnamed cute guy and I both watched it sail across the room and land on the floor. I don’t remember what happened after that, but suffice it to say I’m married now, and it’s not to that cute guy from the fraternity.

You’ll probably have a few regrets, but try and learn from them. I once stress ate almost a whole of a box of Honey Bunches of Oats in one sitting. Then I threw up. And many years ago, I hastily opened a bag of M&Ms for a party. You need to be careful with those things; the bag pretty much exploded all over the kitchen. It was when I was in high school, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents had found an orange M&M behind their refrigerator in the last few weeks.

And then there are a few pointers that I just can’t categorize:

  • A child under the age of one can’t properly digest a large amount of watermelon.
  • When dishwasher directions tell you not to use dish soap, they’re not kidding.
  • No matter how old you are, if the ice cream falls out of your cone onto the boardwalk, you’re going to want to cry.
  • Just because the dollar store sells steak doesn’t mean you should buy it. This is just common sense, not personal experience.

You’re welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

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50 For 50.

I’ll be turning 50 in seven months. To be honest, it’s the first “milestone” birthday that I haven’t felt great about. On my 30th birthday, I was planning my wedding and had a job I loved. When I turned 40, I was busy with 6- and 2-year-old sons, teaching part-time and freelance writing.

And here I am now, almost 50 — still teaching part-time, still writing. My boys are in high school and middle school; they still need me, but the job of parenting has changed and requires less of my time and more trips to the gas station. My husband and I have, in recent years, often been ships passing in the night, so to speak, as we juggle jobs and parenting.

I’ve been struggling with finding a way to make this birthday meaningful. What gift could someone possibly give me that I don’t already have (except for, let’s say, better vision and a good night’s sleep)?

After seeing several ideas online, I decided to make a commitment to what I’m calling my “50 for 50 Project” — 50 random acts of kindness to celebrate my 50th birthday. I asked friends to join me with their own acts in honor of their own milestone birthdays.

I started today; one down, 49 to go. And I started simple — a handful of post-it notes with cheerful messages, left in random places. I wrote out the notes, and after being sarcastically mocked, not necessarily unexpectedly, by my teenage and almost teen son, I took them with me on a few errands.

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I started at the drive-through at the bank. I planned to leave one of my happy post-its on the drawer after I completed my transaction. But I finished up and took my receipt; the teller didn’t leave her post, and seemed to be challenging me to a staring contest. I chickened out and drove away.

Next stop – the ATM at a different bank. I drove through, took my cash and smiled as I stuck a post-it to the machine. But it immediately fell off and fluttered under my car. I was still determined to brighten someone’s damn day, so I drove up, got out of my car, walked back and stuck the corner of the note into the part of the machine where the cash is dispensed. As I got back into the car, it started making a weird noise, so it’s entirely possible that rather than making someone happy, I broke the ATM.

Off to the supermarket. On the way in, I stuck one of my notes on the seat of a shopping cart. I’d planned to put a few of them on items around the store, but it was jam packed, and I knew I’d feel weird if someone saw me sticking “have a great day” notes on their cereal, so I did my shopping and left. On the way back to the car, I saw that the cart I’d gotten to earlier had been taken, so I imagined someone smiling their way through their shopping. I loaded up my car, and put another happy post-it on my cart before returning it.

I’m going to count this as a successful start, even if it didn’t go exactly as planned. I hope that at least one person found one of my notes and smiled. I hope that each subsequent random act I do will feel a little less weird, but I’m glad I’m taking some steps outside of my comfort zone. And I REALLY hope I didn’t break the ATM.

 

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Embracing the Dalmation.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I had this sort of vision of what I thought my future life with a spouse was supposed to look like. Tall, smart, cultured husband with dark hair and a serious job. Nice dinners out. Nights at the theater.

And then I met Dave. Smart? Check. Dark hair? Check. But we were the same height, he had a job working in college sports, little interest in culture, and his idea of fine dining was anything a step above McDonald’s.

I loved him anyway, and he loved me, even though he was clearly disappointed that I didn’t fit the mold of his dream girl, who could challenge him on the basketball court and didn’t ask questions when he was watching sports on TV with her.

But rather than being joyful about finding someone who made me laugh, who let me be who I was without taking myself too seriously, who I could talk to for hours and really imagine making a life with, I worried that he couldn’t possibly be the right person for me, because he didn’t match my checklist.

I explained it to Dave this way — imagine you’ve spent 10 years dreaming of adopting a Golden Retriever. You’ve thought about your future with this beautiful creature by your side — taking walks, snuggling on the couch, brushing its long golden coat.

So you go to the animal shelter, still dreaming of your life with this Golden Retriever. When you walk in, before you can even find your Golden Retriever, you see a Dalmation. And for some reason, you’re drawn to him. You ask to meet him, he looks at you, and there’s some instant connection. For a moment, you forget about that Golden Retriever. You’re in love, and you know that you can’t leave this Dalmation at the shelter. He’s yours. You were meant to be together.

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So you take the Dalmation home. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty great. But every once in a while, you look at him and wonder how you ended up with this dog with the weird spots. And what about that Golden Retriever?

But with each day that you and the Dalmation are together, you somehow stop noticing the spots. The short hair that you thought was going to be golden and flowing. The long, brisk runs that you’d imagined would be ambling walks.

You realize that those aren’t the things that really matter.

Dave and I learned that he could teach me about sports, and I could teach him about the arts. That sometimes it was okay if we pursued those interests alone. And while he’s still quite content to eat a bowl of cereal for dinner (and still refers to too-fancy restaurants as “big plate, little food” places), we can enjoy nice dinners together.

We all have Dalmations in our lives — the husbands who came in packages different from what we expected for ourselves, the kids who aren’t the student or athlete we thought they’d be, and the friend who wants to meet for brunch instead of a late night out (okay, that one’s me).

But when we take the time to get to know the Dalmation, instead of focusing on that Golden Retriever we thought we wanted, there can be some pretty wonderful things in store.

 

 

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I’m a happy camper.

When our kids were younger, their summer activities were pieced together for the 10 weeks between school years – swim lessons, a week of baseball camp, a few weeks of gymnastics camp – whatever they were interested in that year. My husband and I had both gone to more traditional camps; some of my favorite childhood memories are from day camp, while my husband spent summers starting at age seven at sleepaway camp.

I thought our boys might be missing out, so we looked into a few day camps for them. At the time, a friend was working at the camp where his kids went. It wasn’t something that I’d considered doing before, but since I was teaching just one college class during the summers, and wondered how I’d fill nine hours a day while my kids were at camp, I decided to look into it. I thought that being an arts & crafts counselor would be something I could handle and might enjoy.

On a chilly April Saturday, we went and toured LakeView Day Camp. It had everything we were looking for, and by later that week, we’d enrolled the boys.

Unfortunately, this camp wasn’t looking for anyone on their arts & crafts staff. The camp director thought I might be a good fit for an open position for the camp office. I liked the idea of access to air conditioning all summer, and the director was right – even though I have some formidable glue gun skills, I was definitely more suited for an office job. We talked it over, I thought about it, and ultimately I decided that I’d give it a try. I’d just be along for the ride with my kids, and I figured I could do any job for just eight weeks.

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As I expected, the boys thrived at camp. They made new friends. They learned to swim better than they ever had. They learned that they loved activities they’d never tried — archery, zip lining, performing, lacrosse. It was even more than we hoped it would be.

But here’s what I never expected to happen -in my 40s, one of the oldest staff members at camp – I thrived too.

The job wasn’t always easy. The days were long, wrapped in a 45-minute commute on either end. Managing the needs of parents of the hundreds of campers could be complicated. Searching for the one staff member who left her car lights on in the staff parking lot was daunting. Getting through the piles of paperwork that came through the office each day was exhausting.

But at my age, even tucked away inside, sometimes seemingly far from the hustle and bustle of hundreds of campers and staff, I made new friends – ones I expect to be in my life for a long time.

I got to be myself. I could be silly and start a rubberband fight in the middle of the day. I could cry happy tears because I saw one of my kids having fun in the pool or singing in a show. I could give someone a hug just because it was the first time I’d seen them in a few days. I could dance just because I heard music. I could laugh until my stomach hurt.

I got to try new things; I’ve flipped on a bungee trampoline, driven a go-kart, gone down an inflatable water slide, and taken a ride on a fire truck. I got to wear shorts and a t-shirt to work, and dress up in goofy costumes on theme days.

So, it seems  I was not just along for the ride with my boys, but this was going to be my camp experience too.

Tomorrow starts our seventh summer at this wonderful camp. I’m still one of the oldest working there, but nobody else seems to mind. And because I’m around the energy of the rest of the staff, most days I don’t even notice. For eight weeks, I get to be a part of something magical – where kids (and adults) come to be who they really are, try new things, laugh and cry.

We have a motto at LakeView — “Live Camp, Love Camp.” We all do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Elementary School.

I know we’ve been together for 10 years, but as our youngest child is finishing up 5th grade, it’s time for us to break up.

It’s a bittersweet ending to what I can truly say has been a pretty amazing relationship. On one hand, it’s time. Our 5th grader is ready to move on to middle school. As parents, we’re beginning to feel a little out of place among the parents herding younger siblings on the playground and pushing them around in strollers.

On the other hand, even though we know it’s time, it’s still so hard to leave.

When we first walked through the door, you were a little intimidating, despite the small stature of the people inside. We were about to trust you to take care of and educate our kids, who frankly we’d only known for a handful of years. We hadn’t yet figured out how to get them to eat anything but plain pasta, so we were wondering how in the world you’d get them to actually learn anything.

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I think of how much we didn’t know when we came into this relationship, and how much we’ve all learned in 10 years.

You taught our kids how to write in cursive. How to check out a library book. What to do if you think you’re going to throw up someplace that’s not home (Answer: try not to do it on the floor. But when you’re still this little, it’ll all be okay if you do). How to write a book report, do long division and play games on those little scooters in gym. How to make conversation during lunch, and how to play nicely at recess (and what happens when you don’t).

You taught our kids that getting a bad grade isn’t the end of the world. That if you fall off the monkey bars, dust yourself off and try it again. That kindness matters.

You worked with us to give our kids the confidence to participate in nerve-wracking spelling bees, to learn how to play an instrument, to give a presentation in front of the class, to ask for help when they needed it. You helped them set goals like making our town’s all-city music ensembles or district art show; you celebrated with them when they achieved these goals, and helped them know it was okay when they didn’t.

We learned lessons too. That sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your kid is just not going to eat that lunch you packed for him (Bonus lesson: he won’t starve to death). We learned that every kid picks up different skills – social and academic – at different times, and comparing your kid to another one is probably not going to make anyone happy.

Together,  we learned that sometimes people are going to disappoint us. And that others are going to be there for us in ways that we couldn’t even anticipate.

Thank you, elementary school. You’re a very special place. I know you’re going to make some other family very happy.

 

 

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This is love.

This morning, I came downstairs to discover my husband’s used Band-Aid on the kitchen counter. Before I threw it away, I did what I believe any rational wife would do.

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This is pretty much how things go around here. Dave and I have been married for 18 years, and the one thing we’ve never done in those 18 years is take each other too seriously.

This morning’s offending Band-Aid was used to cover what I’m going to categorize as a disgusting rash on Dave’s hands that the doctor thinks is some allergic reaction. It’s been itchy and bothering him, so I’ve been doing what any loving wife would do – I’ve been checking in to see how he feels. And calling him “Rashy McScabby.”

A few months ago, Dave was snoring so loudly one night that in my irritated non-sleep, I recorded the sound to play for him in the morning. He listened for a few seconds and said, “What? It sounds like the ocean. Very soothing.”

I’m not saying this kind of relationship works for everyone. But for Dave and me, behind our jokes and fake insults, there’s nothing but love and respect.

And how do I know that?

A few years ago, Dave told me that he’d never be able to cheat on me. I said that I thought it was sweet that he was telling me. His reply — “Oh, no … it’s that we’re so close and I tell you everything. I’d be so excited that I got some other girl that I’d just HAVE to tell you about it!”

Now if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

 

 

 

 

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