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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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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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parenting, Uncategorized

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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A love letter to my sons.

Dear Matthew and Michael,

Before we get started, I have a confession to make. I wanted girls.

I think I’ve mentioned this to you. I didn’t want boys because I have anything against them; it’s just that, you know, I’m a girl, and growing up I really didn’t have a lot of friends who were boys.  I was a pretty stereotypical girl, playing with dolls and makeup, so I think I assumed that I’d have girls, because that’s what I knew.

Someone had a different plan.

I realized that the first time I changed a diaper and had to clean pee off a wall. Seriously, I don’t think I even realized that was possible, but there I was. I’m fairly certain one of you still holds the record for the number of times a baby has peed on the wall in our pediatrician’s office in one visit. Three.

But aside from what I consider to be the sometimes quirky differences between sons and daughters, I couldn’t be happier with my two boys, and realized that we were all meant to be together.

Until yesterday.

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When I came downstairs after one of you returned from a baseball game, and I found – gasp! – a cup sitting on the kitchen island. Where I was about to make your lunch for the next day. Why? There are so many other places you could put it – your room, the bathroom, even your bed, or, you know, the bin in your room designated for all of your sports equipment. And I hate to admit this, but yesterday was not the first time I found your cup in the kitchen. And I’ve talked to other moms of boys about this, and I know you’re not the only boy who has done this.

I’ve seen other things too — the stuff of nightmares.

I’ve seen our dog ripping apart a small pile of the tissues you used when you had a terrible cold. Because for whatever reason, these tissues didn’t quite make it into the garbage.

I’ve seen you pick up a half eaten jellybean off the basement floor. And eat it.

I’ve seen you stuff the strings of your hoodie into your mouth.

I’ve seen you take dirty laundry out of a hamper to wear it. Because my usual 24- to 48-hour laundry turnaround wasn’t quite speedy enough for you.

I’ve seen you wipe your nose on a sleeve. On a clean towel. On me.

But you know what. I still wouldn’t trade either of you for anything. I can’t believe how much I love you both — more every day. You’re some pretty amazing kids.

But please. Put the cup away.

Love,

Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lessons from town.

We live in a suburban town with a central downtown area full of shops and restaurants. It’s a nice area that attracts couples, groups of friends, families, and parents with strollers, having coffee, enjoying a meal, shopping or seeing a movie.

Except on Friday afternoons, when downtown is overrun with middle school students. Every town has its rites of passage, and this is one of ours.

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Kids usually begin testing the waters toward the end of 5th grade. My 5th grade son Michael has recently started going into town with his friends, and as annoying as a pack of adolescents can be, I realize that there can be a lot of good lessons they learn from this particular rite of passage:

Negotiation: There are a handful of places these kids tend to eat (and therefore, places most adults learn to avoid when they are overtaken by smaller individuals who punctuate their sentences with “oh, man” and “like.”). They need to figure out how to decide where they’re going when there’s dissention in the group between pizza and Mexican food.

Money management: Kids develop an appreciation for how much things cost when they’re paying for it themselves. Ours have learned to manage their allowance and any other money they have so they can spend it how they like. They can also learn smaller lessons about counting their change, tipping and using coupons.

Generosity: For whatever reason, one of the usual stops for these kids is the old independent drugstore in town, where they have an unusually large candy selection. Both of my kids have occasionally come home with candy for their brother, just because they saw something they knew the other would like. I also know that Michael was pretty excited that he picked out and purchased his own Mother’s Day card for me this year.

Following the rules: We hope that by now our kids are following the general rules we’ve been teaching them for the last decade — ‘look both ways,’ ‘don’t talk to strangers,’ and ‘wash your hands,’ especially when they’re away from us. But sometimes there are more subtle rules that they can only learn through experience. The first time Michael went into town with a friend, they saw an older teen trying to not be seen taking pictures of a store employee. The teen was caught and reprimanded, and it definitely freaked Michael out. It was probably a good lesson.

Responsibility. Going into town with friends is a privilege. My kids know they’re supposed to respond to my check-in texts, and be where they’re supposed to be when they’re being picked up.

Sometimes there are lessons that kids can only learn from being out in the world on their own.

 

 

 

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Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Yesterday at school, another kid accidentally smacked Michael in the forehead with a computer. Given the description of the incident, I still don’t entirely understand where everyone needed to be positioned for this to have happened. I’m sure it hurt, and I’m guessing Michael was also a little startled (because, really, who goes through their day preparing to be hit in the head with a laptop?). He told the teacher he was dizzy, and out of an abundance of caution, the school nurse was called to the room. She walked Michael down to her office, gave him some ice, checked him out and sent him back to his classroom.

That should have been the end of it, right?

It wasn’t.

One of the boys in Michael’s class accused him of faking being hurt. And this isn’t the first time that’s happened.

I get it. They’re in 5th grade. This is what kids do. And when one kid says another kid is making something up, other kids will pile on. Unfortunately, I’m sure my kids have done it too. It’s hard not to.

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But with Michael, it’s more complicated than that, and he gets frustrated when people tell him he’s faking being hurt. It took him 18 months last year to recover from a torn meniscus and ACL. He returned to sports, only to get hurt again a month later. And when he showed up at school on crutches again, kids started whispering behind his back, and telling him to his face that he wasn’t really hurt.

And really, I get that too. Because first of all, it seems a little implausible that a kid this young could sustain these injuries back-to-back. And it gets a little annoying that Michael is again getting to leave school a few minutes early, doesn’t participate in gym class, and is once again asking friends to miss recess so he won’t have to sit in the nurse’s office by himself.

And in the midst of these injuries (which, in the last year and a half, have also included an ankle sprain and an overuse injury to his elbow), we discovered that no, Michael is not faking, and there’s a reason he keeps getting hurt — he has a mild form of a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which causes excessive mobility in his joints and leaves him at a greater risk for injury.

As his parents, we’re glad to know there’s an explanation for why Michael has gotten hurt so many times, and that it’s not too serious. But as a kid, Michael doesn’t want to be different from anyone else, and doesn’t want to tell his friends about this diagnosis.

We continue to encourage him to let people know what’s going on, in the hopes that maybe they’ll be a little more understanding. And even though Michael getting hit in the head with a computer has absolutely nothing to do with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or his previous injuries, that for Michael, getting hurt in any way can be a scary thing. Spring baseball starts this weekend; he hasn’t made it through a season without getting hurt, and subsequently sidelined, in two years. For a kid who loves sports and is more happy being active, it’s been really hard. Michael knows that he needs to continue physical therapy to keep his muscles stronger, because that’s the only way to try and avoid injury.

All Michael wants to do is be able to run, shoot baskets in the driveway, and play sports with his friends. He knows that there’s always a risk of getting hurt when he does, and even though he doesn’t like to talk about it, I’m sure that’s on his mind. But because there’s nothing on the outside, Michael looks just like everyone else, and it’s understandable that kids might think he’s making something up. And because he looks like everyone else and would prefer to be like everyone else, he doesn’t want to tell them that on some level, he’s not.

As Michael’s mom, as much as I want to send him out in the world covered in bubble wrap, I know I can’t. So, we just hope the adults around him will keep a extra eye on him, and hope that someday Michael will understand that every kid (and adult) has something that makes them different, and this is just his “thing.” And even though they can’t see it, it’s still there.

Of course it’s easier to cut someone a little slack when they have something going on that’s visible. But if we try and remember that not everything is so obvious, and we sometimes have to look beyond the surface, we’d probably all be just a bit more compassionate.

Now, back to figuring out how someone takes a computer to the head….

 

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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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