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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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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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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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What’s next?

My 9-year-old Michael had an MRI on his knee this week.  The tech “let me” stay in the room for it. I say “let me,” because sitting in the room was his idea, not mine. I didn’t actually think it was safe to be in the room for someone else’s MRI. But when the offer is made, and it’s your child undergoing the test, there really isn’t an answer other than “yes.”

I had the same MRI on the same knee a few years ago, so I did have some idea of what to expect. I knew it was loud, so I put in the earplugs the tech handed me. But otherwise, easy peasy.

And here’s what I discovered. It was easy peasy when it was ME in that tube, knowing that the diagnosis was probably going to be arthritis in my knee. It was quite different when it was my kid in there.

I found the noise, which was just loud and annoying for my own MRI, to be unbelievably jarring to my nerves this time. When it got quiet for a second, I asked Michael if he was okay, to which he quietly answered “yes,” because he was trying to follow instructions and not move at all – not even to nod his head.

And the only other thing I could do, aside from listening to that noise was to think. For 20 minutes. Which for me, isn’t usually a good thing.

I said a prayer or two for the parents who watch their children undergo an MRI that’s looking for something more serious than a diagnosis of a knee injury. I tried to telepathically communicate with Michael, to let him know I was still there, even though he couldn’t see or hear me. I thought a lot about where the MRI results might take him – through surgery, physical therapy, or more waiting to see if his 9-year-old knee will just heal on its own. I thought about how resilient Michael has been, intermittently in pain for weeks, bored because he hasn’t been able to play sports, and wondering if he’s going to be able to play on the travel basketball team he was selected for this winter, after anxiously waiting to try out for travel basketball for three years, until he was old enough.

I thought about how long I’d been sitting there, and wondering when this horrendous noise was going to end and I could hug my child. And mostly, I thought about how no matter what life throws our way, how lucky I am that I get to hold this amazing person’s hand and help him get through it.

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Entering unfamiliar territory.

Tryouts for our town’s travel basketball program are tonight, and I’m a nervous wreck. I’m not even trying out.

You see, travel basketball starts in 4th grade, and Michael has been talking about it since FIRST grade. It’s the only travel sport he has ever wanted to play.

His older brother has always played in-town sports. No tryout necessary – just practice once a week, play a game once a week, and call it a day. I’ve seen Matthew through plenty of “tryouts,” but they’ve all been auditions, in  a world I’m more comfortable and familiar with.

So tonight, I’ll be taking my 9-year-old to the high school gym, where a bunch of people I don’t know will evaluate I’m not sure which skills until well past his bedtime. I don’t know how he will do, or when we will find out how these strangers think he did. While I know that Michael loves basketball and is good at it, I don’t know how good he is relative to the other I-don’t-know-how-many kids who are also trying out for what I’ve heard are 36 slots on three teams.

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To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this whole thing. I really want him to make a travel team, because it’s something that he wants so much. But I don’t love some of the things I’ve felt the need to say to someone who is still, let’s face it, a little kid.

I don’t like that yesterday at our annual block party, it was nearly killing me that he wasn’t practicing basketball, knowing the tryout was 24 hours away. What WAS he doing? Playing football and soccer, and running around with his friends. Exactly what a 9-year-old OUGHT to be doing on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when everyone on the street is outside too. But part of me was concerned; would playing football instead of practicing basketball give some other kid the edge? Was he going to hurt himself or get so worn out that he’d be too tired to do well at the tryout?

I wasn’t sure if playing goalie on his soccer team (or at recess at school, for that matter) was a good idea, since he sprained his wrist playing goalie about a month ago at camp. I’ve been paranoid that the level of practice he’s done (playing most every day at camp over the summer, a few private coaching sessions with friends who have played at at high levels, and shooting in our driveway) can never compete with the skills clinics, private basketball camps and private coaching that other kids have experienced.

So, we’re telling Michael (who is definitely a little nervous, because even at this age, he understands what’s at stake tonight) to just try his best, and we’re all hoping he’ll make it. We explain to him that he just wants to play basketball because he loves it, and if he doesn’t make a travel team, there’s still an in-town league and a few others, so he can still play basketball.

Because here’s the bottom line. My kid isn’t going to the NBA. He’s not getting a college basketball scholarship. He barely cracks 55 pounds, and he’s shorter than most of his peers. I hope that he makes a travel team. And I hope that if he doesn’t, he’ll still love basketball and will want to play. It’s tough that there’s this kind of pressure on kids who still drink chocolate milk and need a babysitter.  I hope that our decision to have our kid play other sports, and run around and just be a kid, isn’t going to take away the love he has for this sport.

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Um, yeah. I told you.

Over the winter, we got an e-mail notifying us that it was time to sign up our 8-year-old son Michael for “pre-travel” soccer, a required program should he want to participate in travel soccer in our town in 3rd grade.

We asked Michael if he wanted to participate. Nope. Told him that all of his friends were doing it. Still no. Explained to him that if he decided later that he wanted to try out for travel for the fall and didn’t do this program, that it would be too late. No again. Reiterated that if he changed his mind halfway through the spring and wanted to join his friends, that he couldn’t change his mind. No, no, no.

So we signed him up.

In our defense, he’s 8 years old, and 8-year-olds can be pretty fickle characters. We really didn’t want to chance that he’d change his mind, because there would be nothing we could do about it.

And what happened? He almost always gave me a hard time about going, To our credit, when he did go, he enjoyed it, but when he wasn’t there, he told us he didn’t like it. I don’t think he enjoyed the serious level of competition (there were more than 100 boys there, being trained and evaluated by international soccer players for about 50 slots on the town’s travel teams). He said that he just wanted to play soccer, and this was, understandably, lots of drills. By the end, when Michael was justifiably arguing that HE never wanted to do this program, and that WE signed him up for it, we let him skip a bunch off the twice-weekly sessions.

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We found out last night that, no surprise, Michael didn’t make any of the travel teams. All of his good friends who participated did. And while Michael seemed happy for his friends who got onto a team they really wanted to be on, he was incredibly happy for himself that he didn’t make it.

I guess sometimes kids really DO know what they want, and we have to figure out when we know better than they do, and when we should just shut up and listen.

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