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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.

shoes

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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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.

boys and mom

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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You’ve got that right. Or wrong.

A few days ago, I heard a radio report that talked about how people like to give advice to new parents. Reportedly, these people enjoy giving this advice because as parents themselves, they believe they’ve done this parenting thing so well, they think everyone should do things the same way.

Which leaves me with the thought that I must be in the minority here, because often, the advice I can offer new parents is to do something differently than I’ve done, because I’ve screwed so many things up.

badparenting2

This really started in my first few days of parenting, when we brought Matthew home from the hospital and could not for anything figure out how to get this kid to stop crying and sleep. We were so desperate that we called the newborn nursery at the hospital where he was born. The nurses there must have had some idea of how stupid we were, because the first question they asked was whether or not he was warm enough. As first-time parents, we were following all of the rules we’d been told about, which included not covering him with a blanket in the crib. I guess we didn’t realize that we had to find some other way to keep him warm.

We’ve been parents now for almost 14 years, and don’t get me wrong – I think we’ve got some pretty great kids. But I sometimes question how much we’ve actually had to do with that.

Just a few months ago, for example, our younger son suffered a pretty serious knee injury. Thinking he was overreacting to get a little extra attention, I made him go to Hebrew school the morning after it happened. As he limped into the building, the rabbi asked, “Michael, what happened?” My response? “Nothing as serious as he’s making it look.” Really??! I said that to our rabbi, one of the people in our community who we consider to be the arbiter of all things right and good. So after Michael’s second knee surgery, the rabbi stopped by to see how he was doing. Or maybe just to check and see if my parenting was actually as irresponsible as it seemed to be that day.

I’ve made plenty of other dumb parenting moves. When Matthew was in preschool, I invited a girl in his class to come over for a playdate. I was impressed when she came in and said, “Matthew, I’m your guest; will you please show me around?” So I thought it would be okay to leave the two of them unsupervised in our backyard for a few minutes. Again, I was wrong. This delightful little girl then came to the back door to get me, telling me that she’d tied Matthew up in our yard.

It’s not just me – sometimes Dave makes the same stupid parenting mistakes I do. When Michael was about four years old, he had a friend over to play. I had to take Matthew out somewhere, so I left the little boys at home with Dave. When I returned, he took me aside to tell me I needed to have a talk with the other boy’s mother, because when Dave went to check on them in the basement, they were sitting nicely, playing video games. Naked. And apparently it was Michael’s idea.

So, you see, I’m happy to help you out. But if you’re looking for parenting advice from someone who’s done it all right, I’m probably not your guy.

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Thanks, everyone.

Last night, we had Matthew’s first music teacher over for dinner.  Matthew, who is now in 7th grade, took piano lessons from “Mr. Dave” in 2nd and 3rd grade.  We’ve stayed in touch with him via social media, where he’s watched our kids grow up virtually, but it had been about 3 years since we’d seen him.

I think I’ll always have a soft spot for Dave, who patiently taught a 7-year-old Matthew to read music, play the piano, and gave him his first taste of performing in front of others at piano recitals.  And last night, I had a reminder of why – he couldn’t wait for Matthew to play the saxophone and sing for him, and he accompanied him on the piano for both.  He didn’t judge Matthew (or us) for not continuing with the instrument he’d taught him to play, but seemed genuinely happy that Matthew still has a love for music (which I will always be grateful that Dave helped nurture).

piano

So, when I was getting a little misty last night, listening to Matthew and Dave playing music together, I was thinking about the many adults in my kids’ lives, the roles they’ve played (and continue to play) and how happy I am that our paths have crossed.

When Matthew was a baby, I remember feeling bothered that he enjoyed the company of other people who weren’t me.  I know it was my own maternal insecurity, which evaporated when a seasoned parent told me, “Kids can never have too many adults who love them.”  And I’m sure now that it’s true.

We have neighbors who have seen our boys playing outside and stopped what they’re doing to come and have a catch with them.  Friends and relatives who have come to see concerts, games and performances.  Teachers, coaches and camp counselors who have understood and appreciated their strengths and quirks, and have nurtured their love for sports, music, theater, art and more.

So, despite the fact that on occasion, I feel slightly crestfallen (I do still like to think I am my kids’ favorite grownup) when I think my kids prefer the company of some of these wonderful adults in their lives, I will always be grateful for these fantastic people in our kids’ lives who are helping shape them into the pretty awesome people we think they’re becoming.

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Sick Day.

I’ve got Michael home sick with me today.  I’m certainly not happy that he isn’t feeling well, but there’s something about taking care of a sick kid that touches the deepest part of my mommy-ness, and I have to admit – I kind of like it.

I realized this about myself when Dave and I were first married.  He got a bad case of the flu.  I SO wanted to take care of him – bring him soup and tea, take his temperature, worry and fix his blankets.  But unfortunately for me, all he wanted was to be left alone to be sick and sleep.  And I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Little did I know that just a few years later, I’d have plenty of opportunities to take care of little people who really couldn’t take care of themselves.  When Matthew was a baby, he seemed to catch everything that was going around.  Before he was a year old, he’d already had about a dozen colds, a handful of ear infections, coxsackie virus, and two pneumonias that landed him in the hospital.  Back then, I could barely keep up with it.  And it stinks to take care of someone who just cries, because they can’t tell you what’s wrong with them.  Until they throw up in your lap.  Then it becomes pretty clear.

cartoon-sick

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve nursed my boys through colds, bronchitis, stomach bugs (those, frankly, I’d be happy to skip), asthma and more.  And they seem happy to have me bring them soup, take their temperature (usually with a kiss on the forehead, which I believe is nearly as accurate as a thermometer), worry, and fix their blankets.

I’m taking Michael to the doctor in about half an hour.  Right now, he’s tucked into a blanket on the couch, eating a waffle and watching TV.  He asked if when we get back from the doctor, if we can “snuggle on the couch and watch a movie.”

So, maybe THAT’S what I like about it.

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I see where this is going.

Michael had his first sleepover at a friend’s house last night.

He’s 8, and had a few unsure moments at home yesterday before it was time to go.  But when his friend’s parents came by to pick him up, he grabbed his stuff, hugged us goodbye, and didn’t look back.  He was happy and tired when I picked him up this morning.  Just like it should be.

sleeping bag

I’m at the same time relieved, delighted, and and frankly a little sad.  Because Michael is our youngest, and in my mind, still too little for sleepovers.  But not really.

And at the same time Michael was sleeping at his friend’s house, Matthew was also out, and we knew he’d be dropped off late – around 11:00 p.m.  Now don’t get me wrong – it was REALLY nice to have a quiet house, sit on the couch with Dave, have a glass of wine, relax and watch football together.

But it was kind of weird, because usually when we have time alone together, we are out somewhere, and the boys are home.  I realize that as the boys get older, this is going to be more the norm – they’re out later than we are, and we’re home, pretending that we haven’t fallen asleep on the couch.

I know this is the natural progression of things, and I plan on letting my kids grow up the way they’re supposed to.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.  Honestly, not only do I not mind the mess, noise and chaos that can sometimes accompany a home with kids, but I kind of enjoy it.  And sometimes, when they’re not here, it feels just a little too quiet.  But don’t tell them.

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This is the world we live in.

Caution Tape

Caution Tape (Photo credit: Picture Perfect Pose)

For the past three summers (this will be the fourth), I have worked at the camp that my kids attend.  It’s a great fit for us – I love the job I have and the people I work with, and my boys have a fabulous eight weeks there every year.

As a camp staff member, I attend required staff training sessions every year.  At the end of today’s training session, we had several camp-wide drills, before which the camp director spoke frankly to the staff about the harsh reality that we all live in.

And it hit me.  Hard.

Not because I didn’t already know this.  I follow the news.  I read the information that comes home from my kids’ schools, and I know that safety is something to be taken seriously.  But there was something about looking around and seeing the faces of the counselors who take this job just because they love kids, thinking about my own kids being there, and then thinking of the terrifying possibility that something unthinkable could happen.

I find it so sad that kids’ (including my own kids) reality these days includes lockdown drills and intruder drills.  I know it’s necessary, and somehow it’s both scary and comforting at the same time to know that places our kids go are preparing for this.

It also makes yearn for the days of previous generations, when parents put their kids on a camp bus every morning, or sent them off to a sleepaway camp for the summer, thinking that the worst that could happen would be an argument with a friend or a bee sting.

I think every generation of kids has had their crises, their issues and things to fear.  All we can do is hug our kids tight, love them with everything we have, and just talk to them when they have questions, because unfortunately, we don’t have the answers either.

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