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Posts Tagged ‘parenthood’

…And it will make them happy?

Before answering that question, let me set the stage. My girls are at the beach with their 15 year old cousin. They’re having a fabulous time, until Lindsey cuts her foot somehow. Unlike most people, Lindsey has somehow figured out how to cut her foot on the top of a toe, not on the bottom of her foot. (My children have always shown immense creativity when it comes to injuries!)

Blood, water and sand made for a dramatic wound. The amount of blood left Lindsey in hysterics. My niece had her hands full, then she noticed Nora was on the verge of wailing herself. So my niece suggested that Nora head over to the nearby playground, to play, catch her breath, calm down, so that the lifeguard and my niece could tend to Lindsey.

Nora ran off for all of one minute. Then she raced back to her sister. “Lindsey!” she shouted. “Look – I have an inchworm to make you feel better!”

And it did.

So when faced with hysterics, find yourself an inchworm. It’s just the thing for calming down hysterical little girls. At least in my world, it is!

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To be frank, I thought the idea of the “montessori graduation” to be a bit overwrought. Caps and gowns. Pomp and circumstance.

For people who were six years old.

I thought the woman in front of me was a tad overdramatic when she started tearing up before the ceremony started. A teacher darted in with a kleenex. It was all a bit sloppy.

Then the music started. Pomp and circumstance played by the music director, who is also our neighbor. The children walked down the aisle of the little church above the classrooms, dressed in their bright green caps and gowns.

And the tears started to flow! My tears! Cynical me, crying at the pomp and circumstance surrounding the montessori graduation.

What a shock!

Then I saw my girls.

And I was in awe.

They looked so big in their graduation gowns. They looked so beautiful. Their smiles were spectacular.

And thus the tears flowed some more.

“Mooooooooommmmm!” said my son. He was embarrassed by his mother’s tears, as boys usually are by such things. But not surprised at all. He knows me all too well.

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For those not in the know, lacrosse is a barbaric sport. Sure there is padding to protect the arm and shoulder from whacks. Yes, there is a helmet to protect the head.

But it is a sport that involves a small, hard ball and sticks. And to be successful, there is a whole lot of whacking going on with those sticks.

It is not a game for the faint of heart.

To parent a child who plays lacrosse is also not for the faint of heart. At least that’s what I learned during the last game of the winter season.

It had been a fairly miserable season, for the most part. Filled with losses by many points. But on this, the last game of the indoor season, our team had played exceptionally well. At half-time, the score was 2 – 7, but by the end of the game, our team had tied the score, 8 – 8.

However, there are no ties in junior lacrosse.

So the ref called for the Braveheart. (You will not find college lacrosse players involved in a Braveheart; this is a play only found in junior lacrosse, apparently.)

In the Braveheart play, four boys take the field – two from each team, a goalie and an offensive player. First team that scores, wins.

On this, the last game of the season, I saw my son trot to the center line, the designated offensive player for our team. Apparently, he’d volunteered for this role. He was up against a fifth grader, a boy who was a year older, a year bigger than my son.

I was worried. Very worried. We’d seen this play just once before, last year, and it was exceptionally stressful to watch. And at that game, my son was not on the field.

Now he was the sole offensive player, THE boy who needed to score if his team was to win.

The ref dropped the ball. The fifth grader hustled and pushed and it looked grim for a minute. But my son did not give up. He pushed back. He fought for the ball.

And he came up with the ball. And he swiftly ran toward the goal. Crowd was screaming. I was screaming. He lined up the shot.

And missed.

The goalie ran out of the goal cage, got the ball, tossed it to his teammate.

My son hustled, but could not catch up. The boy threw the ball at our goalie.

And scored.

We lost.

And I realized why the Braveheart was given that name: if you lose, you feel as eviscerated as Mel Gibson’s character at the end of Braveheart, the award-winning bio pic about Scotsman William Wallace.

My son was devastated. Crushed. Feeling like he’d failed, that he’d let his team down.

He held it together until we got to the car, and then the tears came. So I said the only thing a mother could possible say in this situation.

“I’m so very proud that you volunteered for that exceptionally challenging play.”

And I was proud. I was proud that when a difficult moment came for the team, my son put himself into consideration. I was proud that he did not hide from the challenge. I was proud that the coach felt he was capable enough to be put into the Braveheart play. I was proud that he out-hustled the older boy at the face off.

For all those reasons, I was proud. But still, watching my boy lose was painful to watch.

We engage in sports for fun, for the physical activity, to pursue something we enjoy. But sometimes, we learn lessons that can be painful. We learn that showing up doesn’t guarantee a medal. We learn that even when we hustle to the point of exhaustion, the opponent can still out-hustle us.

We learn what it means to lose.

Losing sucks.

But in life, losing is inevitable. You simply cannot win every game every time.

What I want my son to know is that losing means defeat only if we decide to give up as a result of the loss. Losing should inspire us to work harder to achieve our goals and experience success. Losing us should force us to take stock of what we really and truly want out of our life, how we really want to expend our energy.

Spring lacrosse started this week. My son is out there on the field, working hard to improve his game. I know that as a parent of an athlete, there are more Braveheart moments in my future. I know that all I want is to experience the same kind of pride I felt when I watched my son during the final moments of the last game of the winter season.

I was proud because he worked hard and gave it his all. That made him a winner in the eyes of his mother.

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Ronald Howes, Sr., the inventor of the Easy Bake Oven, died just the other day. He was 83 years old.

Truth be told, I’ve cursed out that inventor on occasion. I don’t find much that is easy about the Easy Bake Oven. I never had one growing up – for whatever reason, our family bucked the easy baking trend that Mr. Howes had foisted upon America back in the early 1960s – a trend that has lasted for more than 40 years.

But this Christmas, the Easy Bake Oven had gleamed brightly as an object of desire for my girls; it was one of the few things on their wish list (alongside a dream catcher and candy necklace); the sale price at Target prior to Christmas made it an imperative purchase.

So even though my girls are five-years-old (a tad young for unsupervised baking) “Santa” felt compelled to bring them an Easy-Bake Oven to share. Thus, we became one of the 20 million families that can claim ownership of an Easy Bake Oven.

The first hint of trouble came when we opened the box on Christmas day, a day that has been set aside for family and celebration, not for shopping. On this day, we discovered that the oven did not come with a heat source – i.e. no lightbulb included.

Channeling Gertrude Stein
Now there are philosophers that will say that a lightbulb is a lightbulb is a lightbulb, but when the lightbulb for the Easy Bake Oven is missing and the oven won’t work without it, then the lightbulb is an issue.

In our case, the missing lightbulb was an issue we skirted until December 26th, when two hopeful little girls REALLY wanted to bake a cake. So “Santa” went out and got some bulbs for the oven and the easy baking commenced.

A Darkening Mood
Only it was not so easy. The mixes seemed dry and crumbly. One mix, the S’Mores packet, required the baker to pat out graham cracker squares to put into the round cake pan. I didn’t understand this concept – patting out square items to place in the Easy Bake Oven’s very round pan.

But we made S’More squares out of that dry, crumbly batter. And we shoved those little pans into the Easy Bake Oven, one pan at a time. And we attempted to commence the baking process.

Instructions said you had to make sure to place the pan in such a way that the oven doors were closed. But lacking a window to look into the oven, I discovered it was difficult to tell exactly where the pan needed to be to get maximum exposure to the lightbulb. So we shoved the pan and peered in through the sides only to realize we’d shoved the damn pan right out the other side.

So we had to pull out the pan and try it all over again. Frankly, it was an irritating process and I wanted very much to move on with my day. However, two little girls eager to eat some Easy Baked goods made it impossible for me to quit the Easy Bake process.

None of this seemed easy to me. The process was so challenging that I began to wonder how the hell this product had lasted for 40 years on the market. How could something so irritating be so enduring?

An Enduring Legacy
I started asking around. And what I found was remarkable. All the women I knew who had an Easy Bake Oven as a child loved it. They LOVED it.

That’s what my girls were telling me as we baked. They loved it. They really really loved it. And I realized that even though there was nothing easy about the Easy Bake Oven, it was something little girls loved doing. And thus, though I loathe the process, I know there will be many Easy Bake Oven activities in my future.

And I have Ronald Howes, Sr. to thank for that. He’s a man who gave millions of little girls a toy they loved to play with. And that is truly a wonderful legacy – to create a toy that brings happiness and the promise of something sweet to the children who play with it. So even though I’m not a true fan, I will be using Ronald Howes’s invention to create memories with my girls that will endure long after our Easy-Bake Oven experiences come to an end.

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“All politics is personal,” so the quote goes. The decade of the “aughts” – the 2000s – is known in some circles as “the lost decade,” the decade where our nation elected a president based on the ruling of the Supreme Court, lost a surplus, gained a deficit, held prisoners of war without charges, saw the vice president of the United States advocate torture as official policy.

For me, the “aughts” also represent my first decade as a mother. My son was born in the waning moments of the 20th century, arriving nearly two weeks early and in time to ring in the New Millennium.

His life has been my joy. Motherhood has been one of the best jobs I’ve had in my life. Not perfect, not easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but rewarding in ways I never could have imagined.

My son is 10 now, a tall boy, eager to do well in math, learning a musical instrument, loving legos, exploring downloads for his iPod. He already knows how to use a computer (something I never touched until my early 20s.) He’ll never experience an “album” but will create his own playlists on his iPod. He’ll never roll down a car window manually; he’ll probably never drive a stick shift.

When I was his age, the great enemy of the US was the USSR, a nation that he’ll only read about in books. The solar system held nine planets, not eight. Pluto was big enough in those days to be thought of as a planet, not as the “dwarf planet” we’ve come to know today.

When I was his age, the twin towers in New York stood tall over the American landscape. Terrorism existed, yes, in other parts of the world.

My son’s world is different than my world was when I was 10, but the basics remain the same. Doing one’s best is how we should approach our activities in life. Family and friends remain a much-needed staple in a successful life. Looking forward into a future that will bring inevitable changes to the world we know today, I wish for a safe, secure and successful environment for my children and my children’s children.

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Like much of motherhood for me, Halloween 2009 has come and gone with a pace that left me breathless, with not even a moment to snap a pic of my trick-or-treaters. So fast that it seems almost like a dream…

My 4th grader (Alien) went off with his friend Sandro (Yellow Power Ranger.) Sandro’s dad wanted to trick-or-treat with his next-door neighbor, a man who happens to have a 4th-grade girl (Hermione).

As you can imagine, the 4th grade girl wanted some girl power to hang out with, so she persuaded two girlfriends from outside our immediate neighborhood to join her (Harry Potter – no gender bias here! And Pebbles.)

Thus, I sent off Aidan to trick-or-treat with a co-ed group of class-mates this year. A first. But parent-driven this time around. Was curious to see how that would play out.

My girls (two witches, again!) hooked up once again with their girlfriends (Lion and Batgirl).

I dropped Aidan off at the Yellow Power Ranger’s house – and then the race for treats began.

Good God those girls were fast! The other two moms quickly fell behind, answering the needs of the younger siblings. There was no way 3 yr old legs could keep up with the swift pace set by the kindergartners.

Throughout the night, I would race past clusters of families that had children who moved at a leisurely pace. I seriously have no idea what that would be like. Since my son (my alien!) learned to walk about 9 years ago, I’ve been bellowing loudly at the top of my lungs, “WAIT FOR ME!”

Such are the perils of bringing three speed racers into the world.

And of course my girls have found friends who can match their speed.

Half-way into the race, we came across the co-ed group of 4th graders – conspicuously missing the two boys. Sandro’s dad wondered if I’d seen the boys. I had seen, some moments earlier, the Alien and the Power Ranger taking a break from trick-or-treating by swinging on swings at the park. Was a relief to realize the boys and girls aren’t yet ready for the co-ed adventure. Glad to see the need for speed is totally missing in that area!

Halloween was fast-paced and furious fun. But over with a rapidity that left me exhausted!

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The 4th of July is just two days away… a day I strongly associate with fireworks, barbecue… and Thomas Jefferson.

Yes, the 4th of July is when I think of Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the seminal document those brave Founding Fathers signed on July 4th, 1776, setting into motion the creation of the country we celebrate today.

And in a way that seems to prove the power of serendipity in our lives, Jefferson also died on the Fourth of July, a half century after he signed the Declaration of Independence (and just hours after his friend, foe and peer, John Adams, died.)

Here’s a fabulous story about Jefferson that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. I strongly recommend that you check it out.

It’s a story about how a Jeffersonian cipher was recently cracked by a 21st century mathematician.

Seems that Jefferson had a friend named Robert Patterson, and as part of their friendship, they would send each other ciphers to decode. Patterson sent Jefferson this particular coded message in 1801, when Jefferson was a new president in a new nation still working out the details of its operations.

It appears that Jefferson was never able to figure out this particular code. But Lawren Smithline, a professional cryptologist, cracked it recently – it was difficult, he acknowledged, but using complex organization and incomprehensible mathematical formulas, he cracked the cipher that Jefferson could not.

“The key to the code consisted of a series of two-digit pairs. The first digit indicated the line number within a section, while the second was the number of letters added to the beginning of that row. For instance, if the key was 58, 71, 33, that meant that Mr. Patterson moved row five to the first line of a section and added eight random letters; then moved row seven to the second line and added one letter, and then moved row three to the third line and added three random letters. Mr. Patterson estimated that the potential combinations to solve the puzzle was “upwards of ninety millions of millions.””

See what I mean? A great deal of brain power – and the time to ponder – is needed to figure out a code of such complexity.

I read this story and started thinking of Thomas Jefferson, who set aside blocks of time each day for reading – and blocks of time for writing in his journals – and blocks of time to enjoy the work of solving a great cipher, even if he could not indeed solve it himself.

Then I think about how he had all that time to do all this great work because he had all those many slaves doing the other stuff for him.

The cooking. The cleaning. The child care. The farming.

All of it was done by other people.

Slaves. People who were owned as property by the man who defined the liberties that come with being an American.

Jefferson had time for his books and his important writing and his ciphers because he had slaves to take care of every last detail of his domestic life.

I don’t wish for slaves to do my work for me. But wouldn’t it be nice to have all that time we devote to the basic tasks of living instead be used for developing highly influential political philosophies? Or creating enduring ciphers? Or for doing whatever it is we love to do in the time when we’re not washing floors or cooking dinner?

Jefferson was a brilliant man – a brilliant man who had the luxury of time to develop his brilliance. I wonder how his brilliance would have been expressed had he been diverted by the mundane tasks that absorb so much time when there are no slaves to pick up the slack….

For an absolutely fascinating look at Jefferson, please don’t miss this piece in the NY Times….

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