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The Sanka Connection.

Just so you know, this story is not about coffee. It’s about the random human connections that brighten our days and keep us going.

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The backstory: I took Michael to see a doctor a few weeks ago; we finished up around lunchtime, and he asked if I could take him to a local diner. We ordered an egg salad platter to share (one scoop each of egg salad, potato salad and coleslaw – Michael’s idea, not mine). I commented to several people later in the day that I thought it was funny that my 5th grade son orders like a 60-year-old woman, and that all he needed to go with it was a black coffee.

That afternoon, Michael had an appointment for physical therapy. He and I were chatting about our lunch with one of the employees and the woman she was working on at the next table from where Michael was. We started talking about his 60-year-old taste in diner food, and the patient suggested that Sanka might be a better beverage choice. This evolved into a discussion about Sanka (which, if you don’t know, is a brand of instant decaf coffee, and in the dark ages of the late 1900s, was the only decaf available. It was also a favorite of the 60 and up set). We wondered if it was still around.

So yesterday, we returned to physical therapy for another appointment. And we found out that yes, Sanka is still being made. Because the patient we had been chatting with found an individual packet somewhere, brought it to physical therapy to give to someone to pass it along to Michael and me (which was really confusing to the person who hadn’t been privy to our original conversation and had no idea why a patient was giving a packet of decaf coffee to pass along to another patient — a 10-year-old boy).

At any rate, I had a good laugh with the employee who had been there when we’d been talking about it. And I was astounded that this other patient had remembered our conversation, and thought to bring this little packet with her to her next physical therapy appointment.

These are the random connections with people that make me smile – the Sanka Connections. We can choose to exist in the little bubbles of our own lives, or we can choose to cultivate the experiences that we have with the many people around us, however frivolous they may seem at the time. It’s usually worth it.

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To the people taking care of my kid.

I’ve written about our experiences with the amazing people who took care of Michael last year during his lengthy recovery from knee surgery.

Now, it seems, there’s a new chapter to this story. A few weeks ago, Michael hurt his “good” knee. It was a bone contusion – a painful, but relatively minor injury. Given his history, we did have to take him for an MRI (his 4th in the last year and a half!), and several weeks later, he’s still on crutches. This latest injury also bought him a visit to a geneticist, who diagnosed him with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. We do have to take him for a cardiac screening to rule out complications, but thankfully, it looks like a fairly benign type of the syndrome, which causes loose joints and allows him to do weird circus-like tricks with his limbs, which seem to simultaneously amaze and nauseate people. Unfortunately, it also makes him more prone to injury, which is tough for an active kid who loves sports.

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Yesterday, I said a silent prayer of thanks to Michael’s physical therapist. Michael is 10 years old. He had been going to PT twice a week for 16 months. He was released from PT for just a few weeks before he had to head back again for this latest injury. And because of his diagnosis, it’s likely he’ll be there for a while, to continue to strengthen his muscles and hopefully avoid further injury.

While Michael was in the gym warming up on the bike, his physical therapist sat down with me to talk about his diagnosis, stopped thoughtfully, and said he would try and figure out ways to make this journey easier for Michael. A few minutes later, Michael returned, and LJ had given him a ball, with instructions to dribble while he stood on one foot, then the other. Knowing that Michael loves basketball, he’d found a way to make my kid smile while he was getting back to bearing full weight on both legs.

A small gesture? Perhaps. But not to Michael. And definitely not to me.

Regardless of their medical status, athletic ability, academic gifts, social stature, or the rest of the factors that make our kids who they are, we all have challenges to get through with our kids. This is ours with Michael.

Is it easy? Definitely not. Could I bemoan the fact that I have his orthopedist’s cell phone number, and that I’ve called it more than once? That he sat on the bench for all of last basketball season, played two games this season, only to be benched again with another injury? Sure.

But I’m choosing not to. Instead, we do our best to use these situations as lessons for all of us. I’ve learned that it’s hard for me to take him to his basketball games to watch him sit on the bench. But I’ve also learned that being a part of a team is so important to him, and that Michael is happier sitting on the bench, cheering his team on, than he would be at home. So we take him to the games.

I’ve learned that Michael is entitled to bad days. And so am I. But there’s little point in having too many bad days, so we choose to find ways to turn a bad day around, especially by being thankful for the many people who are in this with us.

Thank you.

 

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A loss.

I had a sad parenting first last week. My 14-year-old son learned of the death of an important teacher in his life. He’d only known she was ill for several weeks before she passed away.

I wanted to talk to Matthew about her — about all that he’d learned from her, the fun he’d had with her, and the impact that she had on his life. The only problem with my plan was that Mickey was Matthew’s teacher, not mine. And though I’d spoken with her a few times and corresponded with her via e-mail, Matthew was the one who had been with her every week for four years, for drama classes and rehearsals for an outreach theater program. This was his loss, not mine.

And yet, I felt it profoundly. I’m still trying to figure out why.

When Matthew was 10, he decided to take part in a musical at day camp. He’d never expressed interest in theater before that, but he had fun. When we were looking for a new activity in 5th grade, he asked about acting classes. I did a quick online search and signed him up for a drama class at Papermill Playhouse, a nearby regional theater with an education program. That’s where he met Mickey. He spent two years in her weekly “Creative Drama” classes, then auditioned for and was accepted into the school’s All-Star touring company. He took part in two years of productions directed by Mickey, and performed these shows at schools for kids with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other disabilities.

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When Matthew first started these tours, he was hesitant about going into the audience after the shows for a “meet and greet” with the other kids who performed. I noticed that he’d sort of tag along with one of the program veterans – usually a girl – who seemed more comfortable with the kids who were different than those Matthew had always been around.

By the second year, Matthew was hugging the kids in the audience, taking pictures with them, and genuinely thought that meeting them was even better than performing. This, I know, is because of Mickey.

Matthew is still participating in this program; they’re rehearsing now for a tour of Into The Woods in February. As his mom, I’m proud that he’s now also volunteering for a soccer program for special needs kids in our town, and he loves it. I think Mickey would be proud of that too.

So I guess my sadness over Mickey’s death is understanding how fortunate we are to have people in our children’s lives who can impact them in such a positive way, sometimes without our knowledge until after the fact. Matthew went into a classroom with Mickey when he was 10 years old, to learn about acting. He did learn about acting, but has come away a better person because of everything else she taught him. And how many of us can say that about a teacher — and someone we hardly knew?

Thanks for everything Mickey. Rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

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End of an era.

My next-door neighbor just dismantled the trampoline they’ve had in their family’s backyard for nearly a decade. One daughter is in college, and the other will graduate from high school in the spring, so it’s not surprising. And yet, looking into their yard this afternoon, there is something missing from the landscape of our neighborhood, both literally and figuratively.

Our neighbors bought the trampoline for their younger daughter, who at the time loved gymnastics. My kids were still pretty young then, so the appeal of jumping on a brand-new, springy trampoline was strong. Our neighbors gave us permission to use the trampoline whenever we liked — a decision which I think they may have soon regretted, as I think my boys were probably on it more than their own kids.

Michael was a late walker, but loved to sit on the trampoline and bounce around while his brother jumped on it. And Matthew did his first solo back handspring there. They ran around and jumped, even when the black trampoline was fiery hot from the sun, and when the weather was icy and frigid.

But it was so much more than that.

Our youngest neighbor is nearly four years older than Matthew, but when they were younger, they bonded over gymnastics  tricks on the trampoline. As they got older, I’d peek outside and see the two of them sitting on the trampoline with an iPod, talking and bonding over their mutual love of music.

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When we had our annual block party, an adult would usually keep an eye on the kids who went into the back to play on the trampoline. It was never really necessary, because this is where the kids all learned the neighborhood tradition: the big kids take care of the little kids. The biggest kids would always make sure that the littlest kids weren’t getting bounced around more than they wanted to. Kids would help each other on and off the trampoline, and tie their shoes for them when they located them in the big pile and put them back on.

And that rule the kids learned from each other on the trampoline — it extended beyond just the neighborhood kids. I still smile when I think of the time I saw Michael, in first grade, squatting down to tie the shoes of a classmate who came over the play, got off the trampoline, but hadn’t learned to tie his shoes yet.

If a neighborhood kid was walking or riding by on his bike, the bike would often be left on our neighbor’s driveway, and the kid would join whoever was already on the trampoline. Many of the kids in the neighborhood could probably still tell you where I keep the cups in my house that they’d drink water from when they got thirsty. Some kids, including mine, ruined countless pairs of socks trudging through muddy grass after a football that they were playing with on the trampoline, or just because they were too lazy to put their shoes right back on.

RIP, trampoline. Thanks for the bounces, the lessons you taught the kids, and helping to make our neighborhood the great place it is.

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Everyone’s Got Something.

I was recently chatting with a friend about how tough it can be as a parent to watch our kids go through the same struggles we did at their age. To my surprise, though, I’m more patient with my kids than I’ve ever been with myself. Now that I have one teenager and one “tween” (okay, I know that’s really a term for marketing people who are trying to sell stuff to 10-year-olds, but you get what I mean), I do my best to explain, as I say in my personally coined phrase, “everyone’s got something.” (Yup, you can use that!).

I remember being about 15 years old, and going to bed what I always assumed was way earlier than any other human my age. Anyone who has known me for more than a few days knows that it’s still the case. It’s a rare night that I’m up later than about 10:00. I know I don’t function well without enough sleep, and I’m okay with that.

But at 15, I know it was something that made me feel different and weird. Thinking that everyone else was staying up later, and I was some freak who required a full eight hours of sleep. Fast-forward just a few years when I was in college. I still needed a good night’s sleep. And while I wasn’t quite ready to embrace it, I could speak up about it. I could go next door in my dorm and ask the girls to turn down their music. I could go home after an afternoon and evening of bar-hopping, while friends would stay out for another bar and hours longer. Shortly after I joined a sorority, we went on a weekend trip to another campus. Most of the girls wanted to stay out late. I was thankful to find two like-minded people who wanted to head back and get some sleep; they ended up being some of my closest friends during my college years.

I tell my kids these stories, with the hopes that they’ll understand that the things that make them feel different, alone and weird now are the very things that I someday hope they can learn to love about themselves because these are the things that make them who they are. And that everyone, no matter how self-assured and cool they seem to be, has something they also feel different and weird about.

Some kids, like me, need a lot of sleep. Some kids are anxious or depressed. Some kids have physical limitations. Some kids are adopted, have two moms, or are coming to realize that they’re gay. Some kids struggle in school. Some struggle to make friends.

The point is that everyone’s got something. Nobody is perfect, in the sense that none of us are without something that makes us feel different or alone. But on the flip side, we are all perfect, because these are things that make us unique and who we are. Let’s help our kids understand that, and to embrace their differences and the differences of others.

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What I Learned In Elementary School

As the school year is drawing to an end for my kids, I’ve realized that next year will be my last as an elementary school parent. My older son is entering high school in the fall, and my younger son will be in 5th grade.

I will have spent 10 years as the parent of an elementary school-aged child. That’s a fairly significant amount of time, and I’ve learned a fairly significant number of things. So, I thought I’d pass along my pieces of advice to those of you entering or in the midst of this stage in your parenting:

1. You’ll get used to the smell. I remember the first time I walked into my son’s school. I was overwhelmed by, of all things, the smell. Not a bad smell — just that school smell.

2. Ask your child questions. And by questions, I don’t mean, “How was your day?” or “What did you do in school today?,” which isn’t going to get you much information. Ask them questions that will give your child the chance to talk. I have one “talker,” which means I find out a lot of what’s going on inside and outside the classroom. The other kid — not so much. But what I discovered is that if I asked him easy questions like, “Who did you sit next to at lunch?” or “What book did your teacher read to you today?,” it would give me more information, and I could offer follow-up questions.

3. Trust the school. I’m not saying that they don’t make mistakes, because of course, we all do. But I think if you go into your child’s school experience with the attitude that nobody else can take care of your child, you’re destined to fail. Let’s face it — teachers don’t make a ton of money; anyone who chooses this career does it because they love children. They want what’s best for your child, just like you.

4. Let your child fail sometimes. A few years ago, I was working at home, and found that Matthew had left his completed homework on the kitchen table. Since I was home, I could have brought it in, but I didn’t, even though I knew he might be upset when he realized he didn’t have it. Instead, I e-mailed the teacher and let her know that he’d done it, but forgotten it, and that I didn’t plan to bring it in for him. There are lots of things your child can learn if you don’t rescue them every time — for Matthew, it was that the earth wouldn’t fly off its axis if he made a mistake. Other children might need to learn how to be more responsible or organized. Either way, if you bail them out every time, they’ll learn that they don’t have to be independent.

5. But, remember that they’re still kids. And sometimes, it’s okay to bring a forgotten lunch or musical instrument to school.

6. It’s their homework. Not yours. I remember Matthew working on a book report project in 4th grade. He had to create a cereal box that represented the character and the book. It was a cool assignment, but watching him do it nearly put me over the edge. I REALLY wanted to get my scrapbook paper and some stencils and make the whole thing look way prettier than a 9-year-old could. But I kept telling myself that it looked completely 4th grade appropriate, and as long as he could handle the project himself, I needed to back off. Same goes for nightly homework. Help your child if they ask for it, but not if they don’t.

7. Homework shouldn’t make them cry. I can’t remember which of my child’s teachers told the parents this at back-to-school night, but it’s a rule we’ve always followed. If homework is so frustrating that your kiddo is crying, first take a break and try to come back to it. If they still can’t handle it, stop, put a note to the teacher on the homework and let her know that your child didn’t understand something. Obviously, if this happens every night, there’s something else going on, but on occasion, there’s going to be a lesson that gets by your kid.

8. Let teachers know when they’re doing something right. Unfortunately, parents are quick to complain when something goes wrong, but don’t let the school know when things are going well. It doesn’t take much time to send a teacher a quick e-mail to let him know that your child is excited about a particular lesson, that they’re proud of mastering a new skill, or that they’ve said something particularly nice about a teacher. While you’re at it, let the principal know too. He’s probably fielding more calls from parents with a complaint, so he’d probably like to hear something nice too.

9. Stand up for your kid if you need to. When Matthew was in kindergarten, it took a little bit of work to get him speech therapy services that he needed for a lisp he no longer has (thanks to two years of speech in school!). One year, one of my children had a teacher he thought didn’t like him. I told him that couldn’t possibly be the case, but after I heard it from him a few more times, I asked for a meeting with the teacher, brought my son along, and told her that he thought she didn’t like him. She denied it, of course, and I’ll never know if she just didn’t like him (let’s face it — we all love our kids, but we sometimes meet people in this world who we just don’t care for). But once we addressed it, she was much nicer to him.

10. Enjoy the ride. There’s something very sweet about watching our kids grow from tiny kids who are the same size as their backpacks to “big kids” who are ready to brave middle school. Hang up their artwork. Put their spelling tests on the fridge. Celebrate report cards with their favorite dinner. And hold their hand while they’ll still let you.

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Yeah, he’s my favorite.

For whatever reason, lately I’ve been getting accused by both of my kids that the other one is my favorite.

Yesterday, 9-year-old Michael was closely examining the photos on our refrigerator, and told me that there are WAY many more of his older brother, so I must love him more. So, I counted — five photos of my boys together, two photos of Michael, three of Matthew, and one of our whole family together.

Drat. So, not WAY more, but still one extra photo of Matthew, and I guess that makes Michael right. About the photos anyway.

Another reason one kid might think I like the other one better? Because that’s what I tell them. No, not in a serious way — it’s just my answer to certain questions – like ‘why does he get to stay up later?,’ ‘why does he get more ice cream?,’ or ‘why does he have another pair of sneakers?’ My answer: “Because I love him more.”

I think most parents would be lying if we said that on occasion, we didn’t temporarily favor one child over the other. Like when I’ve cooked something new for dinner; one child is happily scarfing it down while the other is complaining and asking for something else? I’m sorry, but for that moment, the eating child is my favorite. Or when one is yelling about homework while the other is just doing his? Homework kid is my favorite.

As much as I always wanted to be a mom, on some level, I always worried that I wasn’t going to be able to love a child the way I was “supposed to.” When Matthew was born, I realized that I had nothing to worry about. I couldn’t believe how much I could love this little creature who did little more than cry and spit up on me. And it just got better as he started turning into an actual little person.

A few years later, Dave and I started talking about having another baby, and again I was fearful – I couldn’t imagine it was possible to love another child as much as I loved Matthew. But then there we were, parents of two boys, and then my fears seemed ridiculous. It was indeed possible to love two children.

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And here I am now, just about 10 years into being the mom of these two amazing boys. Do I love the both the same? Nope. I love them the same AMOUNT, but I love them differently.

I love Michael’s seemingly random (but overwhelming) enthusiasm for TV shows we love to watch together – The Amazing Race, Donut Showdown and Carnival Eats. I love that he can play basketball for hours. Even by himself.

I love that Matthew tolerates my piano playing and if I play the right song, will come sing with me. I love that he seems to know the words to every song he’s ever heard, and that he’d sing endlessly in the shower if we let him. I love that at the same time, there’s room in his brain with all of those song lyrics for massive amounts of sports trivia.

I love that Matthew willingly helps Michael with 4th grade math homework that I’m already too mathematically challenged to understand. I love that Michael will defend his brother against any wrong the world throws his way, even though he’s almost four years younger and half his size (a few years ago, I accidentally closed Matthew’s hand in a door in our house; as I leaned over Matthew writhing in pain on the floor, Michael began punching me in the back for hurting his brother).

So, yeah, I guess they’re both my favorite.

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What’s RIGHT in Youth Sports.

Over the last few years, our family has witnessed some pretty poor behavior in the youth sports our kids are involved with. Coaches yelling at their kids, punching walls, trying to intimidate young referees, and engaging in shouting matches with other coaches. Kids mouthing off to coaches and parents, and treating less skilled players poorly.

And over what? A game, where kids should be having fun, getting some exercise, and learning to work with their peers by playing on a team.

But this year, it’s been an entirely different story for us.

Michael is in 4th grade; he began a love affair with basketball when he was about 3 years old. Started playing in the YMCA Kindergarten league when he was in Pre-K.  Joined our in-town basketball program when it started in 2nd grade, and began talking that year about when he’d be able to try out for the town’s travel basketball program, which begins in 4th grade.

So at the end of this past summer, he started getting ready for the late September travel tryouts. On a Tuesday night, I brought him to the high school gym, where the kids participated in drills for hours. Michael loved it, and was thinking about the second tryout night the following week.

That Saturday, pitching in baseball game, Michael hurt his knee. He could still walk, but after an appointment with an orthopedist, he was told he couldn’t participate in any sports for 3 weeks, which included the second tryout. He went anyway, sat on the bench, and we hoped for the best.

By the time teams were announced a few weeks later, we learned that Michael’s knee injury was much worse than originally diagnosed; he’d torn his meniscus and ACL, had already had one outpatient surgery for his meniscus, and was going to require a second surgery to repair his ACL. Sports would be out for 9-12 months until he could fully recover.

We also learned that Michael had made the travel A team. So now what?

I checked in with the league director and Michael’s assigned coach, hoping that somehow, Michael could be a part of the team, knowing that he’d be completely laid up for a few weeks after surgery, and wouldn’t be able to play for the season. I was anxiously awaiting a reply the day of the uniform fitting; I heard back from his coach Don, who said he “didn’t think it would be a problem,” but I hadn’t heard from the league director, so I brought him to the uniform fitting, with fingers crossed.

The league director, Nick, made the connection when he saw a kid hobbling in on crutches, came over to introduce himself, and asked if we could speak privately. My stomach dropped. With some less than positive experiences we’d had in youth sports, I instinctively figured we’d be asked to leave, and I’d be left to console Michael on the way home.

Not even close. Nick had pulled me aside to let me know that if Michael wanted to be a part of the team to the extent that he could, that the league would only be able to provide a partial refund for the fee we’d paid for travel basketball. Really? With everything else we had on our plate with Michael’s injury, this was the least of our concerns. He shook Michael’s hand, and told him that he couldn’t wait to see him back on the court next year.

Elated, we returned to the team for the uniform fitting. Coach Don told Michael that he’d “earned his spot on this team,” and was as much a part of it as the rest of the boys. Don explained to the rest of the team what had happened to Michael, and even though he couldn’t play, this was his team too.

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And it only got better.

When Michael went in for his ACL surgery, just after the season had started, the team sent a get-well card. Once he was able to get out a few weeks later, Michael went to as many home games and practices as he could fit in, between catching up with schoolwork, keeping up with physical therapy, and just recovering. Coach Don would have Michael lead the cheer for the team before games. Michael would keep stats on a white board. He’d learn the plays. He was as much a part of the team as he could be.

I should mention that things weren’t all great. Michael would look forward to the games, but sometimes, just before walking out the door to a game, he’d be inconsolable – because really, what 9-year-old wants to sit and watch other kids play the game that they love to play? But we’d get him into the car, and things would be okay, even if it was just while he was distracted by the game.  And thank goodness for Dave. I went to one game, and had to leave after a few minutes. It was just too sad for me, watching these kids play basketball, and seeing Michael sitting on the bench, knowing this was what he’d wanted so badly.

Once Michael could stand, balanced, without his crutches, Dave would take him to team practices, and Michael would stand and shoot baskets at the other end of the court, while Dave rebounded the ball to him. One night, a teammate saw Michael hitting every shot, and the whole team came down and counted, as he sank 10 in a row. These kids got it. This was a big deal to Michael, and they were right there with him.

Fast forward to last night. The last regular season game. Michael is off crutches, in a smaller knee brace, and walking well. The team is up by 12 points, with less than a minute left. Bill, the assistant coach, asks Dave if they can put Michael in. Don calls a time out, they explain the situation to the other team and their coach – they can’t guard Michael, because he could get hurt. They start the clock again, roll the ball down the court to Michael, who makes a shot from the corner. It goes in. The team and the parents cheer. They get it. THIS is what youth sports is about.

The story won’t end here. Michael still has months of rehab, check-ins with the surgeons, and a “return to sport” physical therapy program that will hopefully get him ready for basketball next year. But in the meantime, he’s learned so much from this experience. And so have we. There’s hope, and there are great people in this world.

Go team.

 

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Well, this is a real bummer.

My kid got hurt playing baseball. It’s a story that began six weeks ago, is going to continue for at least another year, and will potentially impact him for the rest of his life.  Thankfully, at nine years old, he doesn’t realize this.

It’s not an unusual injury – a torn meniscus and torn ACL. But it’s unusual for someone of his age. And because of his small size (he’s a scrawny 57 pounds), surgeons will need to repair his ACL with a graft of his iliotibial band – a procedure I’d never even heard of until a week ago.

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I’ve learned a lot since we discovered the severity of Michael’s injury.

  • As a parent, it’s easier to withstand your own injury, surgery and recovery. I say this from experience – I’ve broken my ankle twice and undergone four surgeries in the last two years. Spent months on crutches. And the last six weeks have been a hundred times more excruciating for me. The worst? Knowing that Michael can’t play sports for a year. That might sound silly, and I’m guessing the doctors who have heard me asking when he will be able to return to sports think that I’m some crazy mom who thinks my kid is now going to miss out on the NBA Draft. That’s not it. Knowing that he can’t throw a football around with his friends after school, won’t be able to play sports at camp this summer, that he can’t play basketball this winter, when he’s waited for three years to try out for a travel team and now will have to sit on the bench for the season and watch the rest of the team, just knowing how much fun he would have had, makes me sadder than I ever would have imagined.
  • Generally speaking, people are good. And when I say good, I mean awesome. We’ve had friends, neighbors and acquaintances helping us out, visiting and dropping off goodies and gifts for Michael. People checking in, praying, offering help. Kind people holding doors, moving out of the way (and pushing their oblivious companions out of the way). Unfailingly helpful doctors, nurses and office staff. Like I said, awesome.
  • Unfortunately, when people aren’t good, they really suck. And sometimes they mean well, but just can’t figure out what the right thing to do is. A general rule: when someone you know is scheduled for surgery, you shouldn’t call a member of their family to share your own awful experience with that same surgery. I’d think common sense would tell you that, but sometimes, people just want to connect, and that’s how they do it. But think before you say something. And if you’re not sure what to say to someone who’s going through a rough time, just say that you’re not sure what to say. It’s better than disappearing off the grid and not saying anything at all.
  • A parent will do just about anything to make their child more comfortable when they’re going through something like this. Michael had unexpected surgery sprung on him at around 11:00 a.m., and wasn’t permitted to eat for the rest of that day.  In a show of solidarity, I didn’t eat either. After his surgery, Michael slept in my bed with me for a few nights, and I’m sure he’ll be with me longer after this next, more invasive procedure. I hurt my back carrying him to the bathroom in the middle of the night because he was too tired to get himself there on crutches, and I distracted him with back scratches until pain medication kicked in.
  • I have a new found admiration for parents of children with chronic special needs, as well as the siblings of those children. Trying to balance Michael’s temporary increased needs with my own, as well as the day-to-day things that Matthew needs, is just plain impossible. We’ve made plans to spend one-on-one parent time with Matthew, and reassured him that this is temporary. But when Michael is in pain because his medication has worn off or needs help getting around, it’s something I need to take care of at that very moment. It doesn’t matter if Matthew has a question about his homework, wants to talk to me about something that happened that day, or just wants a hug. It’s going to have to wait, and that’s not fair to him. So for those of you who are carrying this burden all day every day, you have my respect. It’s not fair, and it’s not easy.
  • Put a kid in a wheelchair, and people are going to stare. It doesn’t bother me, and I don’t think Michael minds, but it’s a weird phenomenon.

Anyway, I know we’ll all get through this. I’m not sure how much of my own sanity will remain at the end, but I guess that’s part of the excitement of the journey.

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I’m too old for this.

So, we’re almost two weeks into the new school year. My kids seem settled into their new routines in 4th grade and 8th grade.  Me? Not so much.

Now that my younger son is in 4th grade and I have just two years left as an elementary school parent, I realize that not only are my kids getting older, but I am too.  This was especially apparent to me on the first day of school, when I stood outside the school door, waiting for my 4th grader to bound out and announce to me that he was “starving” – our charming daily after-school routine. I glanced over to the door where the tiny first-graders came out, and saw the parents at their first school pickup, pushing a stroller with a younger sibling, or chasing a toddler around the playground.

back to school

That was me – seven years ago, picking up a first-grader while simultaneously figuring out how to get through a second round of the Terrible Twos.  I got involved in the school, met other moms, and made friends. By the time both kids overlapped in the school, every face there was a familiar one.

Seven years is a pretty long time, if you’re going to the same place twice a day, every day, from September until June. And in seven years, a lot can change.  My 8th grader is still more or less that same sweet kid he was in first grade.  Unless we’re together in public where he might be seen by another 8th grader. Then he might pretend that he doesn’t know me. My 4th grader is still adorable and energetic.

And me?  By the time my family “graduates” from elementary school, I will have spent nearly a decade getting to know teachers and parents, watching my kids learn and grow.  In “my” elementary school years, I will have gotten through most of my 40s – arguably the happiest years of my life so far. But it feels strange. I had kids on the older side, and as I’m a little closer to 50 than I am to 40, many of the new parents are in their 30s. They are just beginning this journey, while I’m figuring out how to parent with an arthritic knee, graying hair and a husband with an AARP membership (and no, he’s not generations ahead of me; they send you the paperwork at 50, and if your hankering for discounts outweighs your vanity about your age, it’s a nice thing to have. But I digress).

In another two years, when I have one child in high school and one in middle school, I suspect I will look back on the nine years spent as an elementary school parent as a sweet time in my life. I still enjoy shopping for school supplies and making Halloween costumes; I don’t mind helping with homework and packing lunches.  Now I just need my reading glasses to do it all.

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