Friday, December 26, 2008
I officially became a soccer Mom this fall. Twice weekly I dressed my daughter in soccer gear and toted her to soccer games. It really wasn't competitive. They didn't keep score, and often the coaches had to encourage the kids to, well, just stand up, but it still gave her a chance to run and burn off some of her school stress. It also gave me a lovely hour to sit and enjoy the beautiful fall weather and chat with other soccer moms.
As I watched my daughter running and kicking the ball I couldn't help but reflect on my own childhood athletic activities, or actually, the decided lack of such. My mom believed that if a girl played sports she would grow up to be a lesbian, so to say I wasn’t encouraged to be athletic is an understatement.
I don’t think I’m the athletic type anyway. The limited times I was forced to do something athletic by well meaning teachers I was so traumatically bad that I, and all of my unfortunate team mates were convinced I had no business attempting any sort of sport. My nickname in sixth grade was “statue” because when I played baseball I refused to swing the bat at anything for fear of missing the ball and striking out. Once in church youth basketball I actually caught a pass, only to yell in panic, “What do I do with it?” And in volleyball, no matter how many times someone tried to teach me I could NOT serve the ball over the net.
I didn’t really mind. I was very girly and more than content with my ballet and cheerleading. I never felt like I was missing anything.
But I remember being fascinated with girls who could play sports and could hold their own with boys. I secretly dreamed of being imbued with some magical power that enabled me to do flips on the basketball court, or knock the ball out of the park, much to the amazement of everyone watching.
By the time I was grown I had accepted my “spaz” gene. It was OK. There were lots of other things I could to do stay in shape that weren’t sporty. I jogged, did aerobics, and danced.
When I was in my 20s and living in New York City I shared an apartment with a girl I had met in church. She was the beautiful leggy California blonde guys dream about--and very sporty. She ran marathons, biked up mountains, played basketball, baseball--everything. She was and still is one of the most self possessed women I have ever known. I remember watching her with envy as she played one-on-one with the guys at the church basketball court. She was so confident and had such an effortless ease. She laughed and really seemed to enjoy herself. I remember watching and thinking to myself, “I want my daughter to play sports.”
So even with one daughter and no sons, I’m a soccer mom. I don’t know if my daughter will take to it. She spent most of the first game with her hands on her hips yelling at the boys because they took her ball. (Yeah, that big thud you are hearing is the apple falling right next to the tree.) But then again, maybe she will take to it, or maybe she’ll prefer swimming, or basketball, or volleyball (O, the irony). Or maybe she’ll just be like her old ma and stick with girly things like ballet. But I want to give her the chance. I’d like her to have the opportunity that, not necessarily my mother, but my time and place didn’t give me.
Sometimes I wonder if I had honestly given sports a chance if things might have been a little different for me. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. It’s just that I hope that my daughter does find some sport that she can pursue and enjoy -- that she can have that same effortless ease my friend and room mate had. I think the team work and self assurance it builds will be reflected in whatever else she may choose. And Dad is quiet athletic himself, so there is hope.
But sporty or not, whatever it is my daughter chooses, I think she will do it with more confidence knowing that she could have done anything, that there were no barriers in her way.
And if she does grow up to be a lesbian I just know my mother will never let me hear the end of it.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
This last summer I had a chance to take my daughter to visit my family. It's a grueling 10 hour drive so I don't do it very often, but I felt it was important for my girl to spend some time with her extended family.
During our visit she had a chance to bond with grandparents, get teased by uncles, and play with cousins. I found it immensely satisfying to see her included in the circle of family love and find her rightful place there.
My daughter's had a chance to spend time with large families here where we live, but it's different with your own family. I'm grateful to these people for reaching out to us--but that's just it, I'm grateful because it's a favor.
But with your own family, it isn’t a favor so much as it’s what is owed. It isn’t a courtesy, it’s a right. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, they all love my daughter, if for no other reason than because they loved me. And they loved me because they loved my mother. It’s a chain that reaches back into the generations and no matter how different and disparate we’ve become there is a profound connection and obligation there. It’s something I know I can count on.
Which isn’t to say that I’m not grateful to my family. Because I live so far away I know I miss so much. Our visits are rare and few and it would be easy to blow us off when we do come. But they don’t. The open their hearts and they let my daughter step in and claim her place in an unbroken chain that I hope will continue for generations to come.
Watching my daughter claim her place gave me a sense of peace. Although we may live far away she knows there is a place where she belongs, a place where she is connected. And although the 10 hour drive is grueling, every summer I plan to do it, just to make sure she doesn’t forget it.
Monday, June 9, 2008
It worked a little too well last week. SIDS took the life of a 3 month old baby in my church community. Person after person spoke of it during our monthly testimony meeting. They tried to excuse God by finding some reason for it.
I caught myself unconsciously shaking my head. As much as I believe that God is loving and merciful, or perhaps because I do, I just can't buy that he plans such things for us. Like seeds scattered to the wind, there is no reason, it is random. It just happens.
But while I don't believe that God intentionally does these things, plants these seeds of sorrow at our feet, I do believe WE can find purpose in the things that happen to us and be comforted. We can experience the sorrow as he intended and learn from it. We can embrace the design.
When I was 9 my 3 year old brother died of an illness that had kept him in a vegetative state for almost two years. I don't think I appreciated until recently what my young parents went through, and the remarkable strength and courage they must have had to pull our family through it all. It was hard, but they knew--they KNEW--that this loss was temporary. And because they knew it, I knew it. Their absolute confidence in eternity was a building block in my own testimony.
At times here and there, I still think of my brother. I think of him on his birthday. I thought of him when I was getting married. And every now and then my daughter looks just like him. He has been an absent, but still inseparable link for me to the life that waits for us after we die. That life is more real to me because he is there. Whenever someone I know dies, I think of him meeting them. Even if he didn't know them, I imagine him introducing himself as my brother. It comforts me.
I don't know if I believe that God intentionally took my brother from us for these reasons. I think, in truth, it would have been better if he had lived. But his death is what the design offered us and we made the best of it. I cannot blame God, nor can I give him credit--other than to say, "It is the design at work."
Sunday, May 11, 2008
"Happy Mother's Day", my daughter said enthusiastically at exactly 7:13 this morning. She was so excited she couldn't wait for me to sit up in bed before presenting me with her present. It was a beautiful bracelet she had made at school out of beads made by Ugandan women from recycled paper. There was a handmade card, the best kind in my estimate, with a picture of the two of us. Then she sang me two songs. I love to hear her sweet little voice sing. She gave me a hug and a kiss and wished me a happy mother's day again.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
I know Walt Disney was a man of vision, but I wonder if he truly understood family dynamics when he called his world “The Happiest Place On Earth.” I just finished a four day stint there, and here are a few snippets I heard while in the park...
“Yeah? Well if you don’t like it go home!”
“I waaaaaaaant it!”
“I’m am tired of this behavior...”
“Maybe you’d be happier in the hotel room?”
“I’ve had it with your belligerent attitude.”
“You can do it if you want to. I don’t!”
“I hate you!”
“Did you just kick me?!”
“If you’re going to keep acting like this you can just wait in the car.”
“Go ahead--pout if you want to. See if I care.” (Wait, I don’t think I heard that so much as I said it.)
And my personal favorite....
“Shut it. Shut your mouth!”
In addition, I heard bawling of all kinds, saw feet stomping tantrums, and witnessed Jehovah’s Witness like collapsing to the ground. The children weren’t much better.
Something about the place just brings out the worst in kids and therefore parents. I don’t know what it is. You’d think kids would be thrilled and happy and just play nicely while there. But no, they see it as a prime opportunity to test the boundaries and see just how far they can push mommy before she goes crazy crackers and pulls them into the bathroom for a “come to Jesus” talk.
I noticed this when my husband and I (still childless) first went to Disney World for our 5th Wedding Anniversary. Kids were melting down faster than a Mickey Pop on the cartopia in July. I concluded then that Disney World was the litmus test to determine if your child was spoiled. After all, if they can’t be happy in Disney World, where could they possibly be happy?
The first time we took our daughter to Disney World was when she was 2 and half. We failed the test by a wide margin. I still clung to some hope that we might come out of it ahead until the screaming mimi in the middle of Hollywood Studios. But, as I mentioned, she was just under 3. I rationalized that she was too young and blamed myself for dressing her in long sleeves in what turned out to be 80 degree weather. (I don’t know what I was thinking.)
But this time she was 5, and I stocked up on short sleeves and scooter shorts. We dedicated entire family home evenings* to troubleshooting problems and coming up with solutions. I felt prepared. I felt hopeful that this time we would pass the test and have a pleasant, happy child while at the happiest place on earth. That we would all have an easy stress free vacation.
That child did not miss a chance to come up with some new and freakish behavior to embarrass me with in front of Grandparents and strangers a like. Every time she got on a ride she’d ask at least a dozen tearful times if I was sure we could get off. I could understand that on “The Haunted Mansion”, but “Small World”? Even the most innocent rides were fodder for suspicion. “Will this ride end Mommy?”. Yes, the ride will end but apparently your question will not.
People were looking at me askance as I tried in vain to explain to her that Walt Disney loved children and that he made the rides so they would laugh and have fun, not to kidnap them and then sell them into slavery. It was as if she was suspicious of the purpose of the park itself. Why would someone go to this much trouble just to make kids happy? There must be some dark and horrible ulterior motive. I beginning to think she’s right, there was an ulterior motive and I wonder if Walt himself isn’t looking down at his famous theme parks right now and having a good side splitting laugh. “And they PAY for this.” he says as he slaps his knee and wipes a tear from is eye. I’m sure for him and his beneficiaries it is the happiest place on earth. They are making buckets of money off of the misery of others.
And I swear to you, I took that child to the bathroom no less than 200 times in four days. That’s 50 times a day. I couldn’t get through a meal with out having to take her to the bathroom at least twice. I was concerned she had picked up sort of bladder infection.
Of course, if you she did get a bladder infection I wouldn’t be surprised. She suddenly became fascinated and obsessed with textures and patterns. I don’t think there was a surface in the whole park the she didn’t touch or actually lick. There’s not enough Purell in the world to counter that.
I was failing the litmus test again. I started the “too” game again. Am I too indulgent, do I expect too much, am I too empathetic, etc... What am I doing wrong? Or is it her. What is wrong with her? Why can’t she just get on the Peter Pan ride and enjoy the damned thing? Why does she have to tearfully ask repeatedly and loudly so everyone can hear if someone is “controlling the ride”. Why can’t she just listen to the African drum players without bursting into tears forcing us to leave just minutes into the show?
The one thing that kept me from becoming completely discourage were the comments listed above. At least I wasn't alone. Everyone around me seemed to be struggling.
Disney World might be the litmus test, but I’ve heard other parents who seem to have relatively well behaved children complain about the same thing, so maybe it isn’t as cut and dry as all that. Maybe there is something about Disney that just makes kids miserable. The American Indians sold the island of Manhattan on the cheap because the were convinced evil spirits lived there and wanted nothing to do with the Island. Maybe there are similar spirits lurking around in Disney World?
Nah, probably not. I honestly think that kids just get so excited about Disney World and when they get there they find out it’s really just a lot of waiting in line and walking around the park while vendors dangle candy and toys in front you that you can’t have because your cheap parents will only buy you ONE. To come so close to getting what you want and not getting it (even if it is excessive and unreasonable) is torture to children.
Disciplining even the best natured child takes a lot of mental and physical effort. When parents are on vacation they just want to relax like anyone else, and they let little things slip here and there. They think the kids will be so grateful, as any human with half a brain should be, that they’ll do nothing but co-operate. But kids are little opportunist. They just can’t wait to exploit any sign of weakness they sense. The smell it like a shark smells blood. They know you want them to have a good time. The problem is, for them having a good time is pushing your buttons. That’s what they want ultimately. Not rides, not candy, or toys. They want to push your buttons--HARD. As strange as it seems, it makes their day when you loose your tempter and threaten to pitch the newly purchased unicorn pop they’ve been nagging you about for 2 days into the nearest recycle bin.
I DO have to give my daughter some credit though. This time was a vast improvement over last time. We managed to avoid the stomping, snot running, red faced tantrums. She declared “Snow White’s Scary Ride” not scary at all. And there was one night it took 3 trains rides, 2 parks, a boat ride, an uncountable number of restaurants and some serious walking in between to find a place to eat dinner. My husband would later refer to it as the Batan Death March. (Here’s a tip from me to you--if you are going to Disney make sure you have dinner reservations no matter how uncrowded the guide books claim it will be at that time of year.) She was a real little trooper and I think actually complained about it less than her mother.
Sometimes I think as a parent I’m too worried about the big picture, and I forget to just take the moments as they come. Recently during general conference* Elder Ballard spoke to young mothers (And I take that to mean mothers of young children, not mothers who are young). He said we need to “recognize that the joy of motherhood comes in moments. There will be hard times and frustrating times. But amid the challenges, there are shining moment of joy and satisfaction.”
He’s right. We do just have to take the little moments and appreciate them. Like the look on her face when she got to meet Princess Jasmine and asked her how she liked riding on the magic carpet. I actually got a little vaclimpt. Or the way she swooped her arm out to the side towards us when she met Cinderella and said with great formality “These are my parents.” When the Spaceship earth ride tilted back to reveal we were in the middle of countless simulated stars my daughter asked “Am I dreaming?” The sound of her laughter while riding “Soarin” made the ride that much better and her dimpled smile at being able to actually drive a car on “Cartopia” was priceless.
And one night while winding down in the hotel room Daddy came out of the shower. I couldn’t resist the target and I reached out and gave his fanny a little smack. We all laughed and giggled so hard our sides hurt.
And for one moment, it really was the happiest place on earth.
* See www.LDS.org Yes, I'm a Mormon. No, I didn't vote for Romney.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Friday, March 7, 2008
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
That’s what the slip of paper had written on it. It was hanging on the Christmas tree at my gym. Each slip had a name of a solider serving in Iraq with a few of his/her interest and hobbies. If we wanted to participate, we could select a slip and then bring in a stocking with some useful and fun items for that particular soldier – You know, beef jerky, socks, shampoo.
I choose Victor because I noticed he wrote he liked “Classic” movies on his slip of paper. Well, classic and action movies, as well as hunting and pudding. But that seemed enough like a kindred spirit that I took the slip off the tree.
I told my daughter about the project and we both got excited about doing something for someone else at Christmas time. We started calling Victor, “Our Solider”.
I kept the slip in my car where it seemed less likely to get lost in the avalanche of paper that intrudes my home daily. As I drove around on my endless errands I could see it wedged right behind the gearshift. Seeing it made me think of Victor. I wondered about his family, if he was young or younger, if he was scared or if he had learned to be impervious to what was going on around him.
When I had procrastinated long enough, my daughter and I went to Target and loaded up on the beef jerky, socks, hand warmers, pudding, other suggested items, and yes movies. I gave him what I think to be the most classic of classic movies-- Casablanca, and then some action movies for good measure. My daughter insisted that we give him Sponge Bob band-aids, and although it seemed to me that a band-aid might be the least of his worries, I tucked it in. We got so much stuff we had to get two stockings and tie them together. Even still I was pounding stuff into those stockings before we returned it to the gym before they shipped all the stockings off to Iraq.
Of course, I had to turn the little slip of paper in with the stocking, otherwise they wouldn’t know who to give it to. I was kinda sorry to do it. Having that little slip of paper in my car was like having a tiny bit of Victor there. It made me think about him. It made me think about a lot of things.
Outside of a few kids from our ward that I don’t know very well, I don’t really know anyone who is serving in Iraq. Getting that stocking ready for Victor made me feel connected with Iraq, made it real. As awful as war is, I think for us to forget about it here in our life of soft warm beds and singing Christmas Snowmen is even more awful.
Other than a few likes and hobbies, I don’t know that much about Victor. And of course he knows even less about me. He could pass me on the street and wouldn’t have a clue. But the thing about is, in spite of that, he has agreed to take a bullet for me. It’s a debt I can never repay. If I stuffed those stockings full of $100 bills I could never repay what I owe him. What I owe every soldier who is serving.
No matter what side of the aisle you stand on I think we all need to remember Victor, and every other soldier. It’s no small thing this contract they have with us. They are willing to endanger their life and well being for the good of our country, to go and serve and not question why but just do. The trust they put in us to not take that for granted, to not treat it like blank check… It’s a heavy burden, at least it should be. They are all “Our Soldiers”. We shouldn’t treat them any differently than we would our own sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews.
I miss Victor. Actually, I’m really hoping he’ll write. I like feeling connected to the war somehow. I like feeling that I can make a small difference, even if it’s just one person. I wonder if that is how Victor feels too—that even just one person can make a difference.
He has made a difference. He may just be socks, pudding and classic movies on a slip of paper, but he made a difference to me.