She’ll always have Paris

This post isn’t about Paris.  It’s about my mother and time.  Most importantly it’s about the invaluable life lesson my mother has taught me about time.  Paris is just a very pretty metaphor here.

My mother is fancy.  Like-she is super fancy.  She knows a ridiculous number of designer names.  She can identify specific designer clothing articles from 100 feet away.  She knows the appropriate and innapropriate attire for every particular event. I had a friend who wore combat boots to my wedding 21 years ago.  My mother has not forgotten.  Combat boots worn to a May wedding are not appropriate.  Noted.

Another example: Once, years ago, I called her to tell me what to wear to something (I cannot even remember where I was going but it was a conundrum)

Her: “Well, surely you must have something.  You must. Do you have a nice gabardine pant?  Yes, a gabardine pant would be good…something in a winter white?”

Me: “Uh…I doubt I have that.

Her: “Are you sure?”

Me: “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m sure because it doesn’t seem like Old Navy would sell winter white gabardine.”

She knows what look best on her.  She knows what looks best on me. She knows what looks best on you.   You can ask her and she will tell you.  One of her fashion absolutes is “All that matters is the fit.  If it is a trend and it doesn’t fit you, it’s not for you.”  She has assisted complete strangers in dressing rooms much to their delight and the chagrin of the store sales associate.  When I was kid, she always looked put together.  Always. She even looked good when we went camping.  Her bandana matched her Dr. Scholls.  My mother-she invented  ‘glamping’.

So-the fanciness just didn’t quite make it to me.  I kept waiting for it to happen to me and develop over time like needing reading glasses or progressive premature grey.  It never did.  I like jeans and sensible shoes and while I follow Dior on Instagram, you aren’t likely to see me wear it.  I am pleased to announce that the fancy, it has skipped a generation.  So I am bookended by two women who know fashion and as a result I am unlikely to ever be selected for a tv makeover. They both keep me current and honest.

My mother also loves and knows fine art.  For her 50th birthday, we went to Chicago to see the Monet exhibit.  She declined the guided tour and the audio tour.  We were fine.  She knew more about Monet than any reasonable non-art historian should.  Also-she walked me to the point of pain that day.  I had to sit down on a bench next to people with oxygen tanks.  Keep in mind, I was 24 at the time.  We have also been to New York to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Another solid 9 hours on foot. I need no tour guide.  She knows and loves art.  (side note: She and my daughter (9 at the time) made me walk 6 miles back to the hotel AFTER we went to the Met. They just wanted to ‘look around’. I had muscle spasms.  I was 39 that time.)

As you can imagine, fancy fashion artsy people should go to Paris.  My mom has wanted to go to  Paris for-well, a very, very long time.  The fact that my mom has not seen Paris is just plain wrong.  She is 71.  My dad had planned on bringing her to Paris.  He called a travel agent the year he got sick and wrote down all of the details about a Christmas trip to France.  He said if the doctors said the news was good they would go to celebrate.  He said if the news was bad-they would still go.  But they didn’t go.  Couldn’t go.  A year of being terminally ill can feel horrifically long and yet painfully short all at the same time. He simply ran out of time.


My stepdad also planned on taking my mom to Paris.  Theirs was an unexpected and lucky match later in life. They got married when my mom was 59.  They traveled quite a bit and had many wonderful trips and made many good memories.  My stepdad was a meticulous person and trip planning was no different for him.  He had done the research, he had looked at banked points and the logistics and the possibilities for itineraries for a variety of cities in Europe.  He was ill for a year and a half.  They never made it to France. He simply ran out of time.

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I am going with my mom to France.  Now, it’s not like a burden to go or that she needs assistance or anything.  Let me clear, nobody is suffering here.  It’s France.  I plan on eating my weight in croissants.  But I find myself in a very unexpected role of being the one to go with her.  It’s just something we didn’t plan on and I just didn’t see it coming but it’s very important to me that we go. She must see Paris. Right now.

I had a mini pre-trip panic attack when I looked at the cities we will visit and the list of things to do and see and experience.  It’s endless and overwhelming.  I’m worried that we won’t see it all because I know we cannot see it all.  I called my mom and told her that I was worrying because I just don’t want her to be disappointed.  I can’t bear it if she is disappointed after waiting this long to go.  And her response is why I love her so…she said, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly be disappointed Jen.  Don’t worry honey. Whatever we see, we see! It’s Paris!   And maybe I’ll be lucky, and I’ll have a chance to go back again.”

And this is how she teaches me about life and time and moving forward.  Life is so beautiful but time can be cruel.  Time can be a real bitch.  Time can speed up and slow down and it races and drags in all the wrong spots sometimes. She has shown me how to move forward and just ‘see whatever you can see’.  No matter what happens to you, how the plans change, what losses you sustain, the twists and bends in the straight path you have carefully plotted out, moving forward is the only option.

No better place in the world than Paris to both appreciate the beauty of the past and the thrill of the future.  So I’m here with her standing in for my dad and my stepdad who both had the best of intentions to be here themselves.   I feel like I’m here partially for them, finishing their plans and I’m so lucky to be the one to see her see Paris for the very first time.

They would both be so thrilled, the view is just magic.

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What I did on my summer vacation

This summer kicked ass.  Not like…”Dude, this summer was so kick ass.”  More like…”Wow. This summer really kicked me in the ass.”   If I were returning to school tomorrow and had to write the 80’s classic “What I did on my summer vacation” essay, it could be easily summed up with eight simple words:

I spent my summer vacation in my car. 

In this particular season of parenting, with a 15, 12 and 7 year old, our family finds itself wanting to go in 5 different directions and apparently four of us expect I’m going to drive everyone to and from.  I was just not home very much this summer and when I was, it was for a 92 minute interval to drop off groceries, drop off a kid, drop off the dog, start a load of laundry and pick up the next round of riders to get them off to their next marvelous event. I’m like an über cab that also provides you with petty cash and a ‘making good choices’ lecture.  Summer was full. Very, very full. (I loathe people who say they are busy.  Who isn’t busy? So I try to say full to convey gratitude, weight and still troll for sympathy)

In the best moments of the summer, I really felt like my kids were able to experience things that they will remember for a lifetime.  The school year is such a grind and I really want their summers to be for exploration and recreation and rest and earning some money (when possible).  We spent an unbelievable amount of money on camps this summer between all 3 kids.  I do know the exact amount but I’m not going to publish it.  I’m neither proud nor do I want it carefully documented.   The actual cost needs to fade from memory because it was a necessary evil. It meant they could try things without a giant time and/or financial commitment during the school year and see their friends and try something different and get out of each others hair (this is critical to my summer survival).  There was sailing camp (1 week Pram, 1 week Hartley rec, 2 weeks Opti learn to race!), scouts camp, dance camp (twice), vacation bible school, basketball camp, ninja warrior camp (no-I’m not kidding), YMCA day camp and old school church camp (which my son rated an 11 out of 10). There was some serious fun that was had.

In the worst moments of the summer, I felt like I was running a tiny Make-A-Wish chapter in my own family, yet none of the participants were terminally ill and they all had complaints to file.

Summer as always is far too short and fleeting so I am going to choose to remember the good and forget the rest.  This is what I am choosing to remember about the summer of 2016.

This is the summer my two eldest children passed me up in height. I went from the second tallest to the second shortest in our house just in the last 10 weeks.

This is the summer that each of the big kids took the little one on bike rides and walks with “NO parents”.  He found this quite adventurous.

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This is the summer I read The Boxcar Children and Pippi Longstocking to the youngest and he loved them as much as I wanted him to love them.

This is the summer that it was both a royal pain in the butt to drive my daughter and her cadre of friends everywhere and it was special because I know next summer she will be driving herself and I will miss her even more.

This is the summer that my older son and his friends biked (so adorable…shhhhh…) with fishing rods and bait in tow to fish under the bridge, off the dock, at the beach.

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This is the summer that I sat on the front step with my daughter until nearly midnight talking about all of the important things while the only other sound was the cacophony of frogs.

This is the summer that it rained so much that we grew accidental large strange powdery mushrooms in the backyard and my husband spent hours (days really) trying to eradicate the local vole population.

This is the summer the 7 year old requested that his stuffed animal Bunsers come and watch him play soccer.

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This is the summer that my two eldest starting getting along better. Neither of them take things as personally anymore.  They had some really nice moments that I witnessed.  Some inside jokes.  Some genuine give and take ‘asking for your opinion’ exchanges.  Some bonding over music.  It was like watching 2 caterpillars morph into 2 butterflies.  Butterflies that get along. It was strangely breathtaking.

This is the summer that we went to Madeline Island for the very first time and the little one went on a paddleboard by himself for the very first time. Also-I can’t explain his biceps in this photo.  I guess if you run everywhere and you have 0 percent body fat you are blessed with those.

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This is the summer that my 12 year old turned to me and said, “You are a pretty baller mom.” I’m quite flattered.

This is the summer that our 9 year old goldfish died, the front porch got redone, we had 3 monarch butterflies in the front garden, we were out on the lake frequently, the kids lost one fishing rod and broke another, our next door neighbor got 2 tiny daschund puppies, the boys obsessed over Pokémon go, we put up the new tree swing, Grandma moved just 3 miles away, we spent 8 hours in a row at the beach several times, my daughter and I did yoga on stand up paddle boards, I baked pies and sourdough bread, the youngest wore a swimsuit sans underwear to church, we went to 2 wedding receptions, we played cards and Ticket to Ride together, we went on bike rides, we drove long distances to try new doughnuts, we took naps in the middle of the day.

My 3 kids are not so little anymore.  It seems that each day is packed with activity without many long pauses…This is the new normal and I’m not entirely sure I like it all the time but I think they would say it was a very good summer.  And if the summer I envisioned had more long walks, quiet contemplation and unplanned stretches of time…

 

My summer starts tomorrow.

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Groversary

We have officially been dog owners for 12 months. Here are 12 things I have learned so far about owning a dog.

  1. When the kids lie to your face and say they will “help with the dog” and you know in your heart that it will be all your responsibility but they look so earnest and sweet and you want to believe them. Trust your gut.  Those sweet cherubs are completely full of crap and yet you will be in charge of picking up ALL of the crap.
  2. Rescue dogs can be fearful.  They can be afraid of expected things like thunder and fireworks and car alarms.  Also, they can be fearful of unexpected things like falling acorns and boys and wind and a weird sound 20 miles away and 1000 other things yet to be discovered.
  3. Our dog came with a file and a given name.  Grover.  We were very high and mighty and let him ‘keep his original name’ because we didn’t have the deep need to name him something we chose.  Because we are mature that way.  Also-there is no way the five of us could agree on a name.  So now we call him Grover and Groves and Grovey and Grove Town Brown and Groveydoodle and G-Money. And Boodler. And the Boodle Boy. And occasionally Mr. Fluffnuts. He responds to all equally.
  4. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.  Grover was 7 when he arrived.  But when I pick up my keys he races to the door and plants himself in front of the garage door.  If he refuses to eat but I say, “Grover…do you want a treat?”  He peeks his head around the corner. After the years in a mill in seemingly terrible conditions, at our house Grover changes position based on the sun.  He loves a good sunbeam.  He is learning.
  5. I thought the kids would be disappointed.  Grover doesn’t run up to greet us.  He runs upstairs if the kids have friends over and it gets loud.  He freaks out if you are male and try to pick him up.  He only will ‘play’ late at night and only if he is in the mood. He almost never barks.  He is just himself.  Quirky.  The kids are not disappointed.  They talk about how hard life must have been for Grover in the puppy mill.  They are patient with him.  They pontificate on what might have happened to him.  They want to make up for it.  They worry about him when the weather gets bad and anticipate his fear.  They celebrate the tiniest of successes. They have grown in empathy.
  6. You tell yourself you will not spoil the dog and you just spoil the dog in ridiculous ways including but not limited to: (sprinkling favorite treats over his food, pointing a space heater at him after a bath so he doesn’t get cold, bringing him on errands so he isn’t lonely, turning on white noise during a storm to help calm him, buying him 46 different treats to try to find what he likes best, leaving blankets in ALL his favorite corners so he is cozy, getting a teeny tiny dog life jacket in case he ends up on a watercraft?, leaving the television on when you are gone but choosing Paw Patrol and Mutt & Stuff and other shows you think he will like based on his vast experience with television, etc.)
  7. Owning a dog has set off a Yorkie themed episode of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.  As in, now that we have one we notice everyone on the planet who has a Yorkie, has a rescue dog, photos of Yorkies, people carrying Yorkie’s through the airport in leather boho bags, Yorkie greeting cards, people who have mixed breeds with a Yorkie and speculating on the Yorkie side personality traits.  Yorkies.  They are everywhere now.
  8. I decided one year ago to save every receipt for “Grover related expenses” to see what the actual cost of dog ownership is.  Mistake.  It turns out I don’t want to know.
  9. It is JUST as thrilling to take the dog in for a haircut as it is to get one yourself.  Also-it costs the same and yet he smells far better for far longer.
  10. You will look into the eyes of your dog and you will sense on a cellular level that he is thirsty and you will buy a $6 artisanal spring water at Whole Foods since that is where you are. Later you will realize that if it were your own children, you would have told them to “just calm down and wait until we get home.”
  11. Other people who have rescue dogs are right.  It does get better.  They make great strides. Maybe we make great strides.  They do become ‘an entirely different dog’ after a year.   We have often found ourselves catching Grover ‘acting exactly like a dog’ and calling everyone else in the family over to witness it.  We shriek- “HE’S DRINKING WATER!” It’s very exciting.
  12. I am still officially not a dog person.  I’m not snuggling up with other dogs. I’m not excited to meet a new dog and have it jump around and lick my hand.   I’m not planning my next 4 dog breeds to own.  However, I have become a Grover person.  I so love Grover.  I have no regrets.

testing testing 123…456,789

I have test anxiety.

The testing of my children and presumably all children seems to be spinning out of control.  It’s ridiculous.  Not only time consuming and anxiety provoking-I’m growing concerned that we are raising a generation of robots.  Test taking robots.  And if this next generation of children turn into robots…well-any good sci-fi movie can show you how that turns out.  Spoiler alert: They take over and kill us.

Is it near impossible for teachers to have any time to teach?  Has it become impossible to give students adequate time to learn?  Do we have any time left in the schedule for thinking? Pondering? Questioning?  Do teachers have flexibility within the curriculum to do things in their own way in their own time?  Is the Socratic method still alive and well out there? Or is almost all of the time devoted to preparing for and taking the next test?

I think it might be.  I give that an F.

My first grader has 44 assessments that are entered into his report card.  This doesn’t include general assessments under”work habits/social development”, or any special classes like physical education, art or music.  This also does not include twice annual standardized testing in reading and math which is also scored, entered and analyzed.  44 assessments in 174 school days.   He is 7 years old. His teacher has 23 students. The one I contribute to her daily burden counts as twins so I’m sure it feels like 24.  My point is that his teacher distributes, scores and enters about 1500 items each year not including the standardized test data.

My sixth grader has twice annual standardized testing compared to national norms.  (last year he also had state testing in 3 subject areas)  He is graded on a 70/30 system.  70% is “academic achievement” which primarily means tests.  30% of his grade is “academic practice”-homework, small quizzes,written reflection, etc.  If you are middle aged this is what we called “daily work”.

My freshman.  God bless her.  It has been quite the school year.  She is on an 85/15 system.  85% of her grades are based on tests.  15% is the rest.  It’s suffocating.  I wouldn’t survive in this atmosphere because when I was a student, my daily work propped up any less than stellar test scores.  Example: If I did poorly on a synonym test, I could turn in a nice little worksheet or essay or extra credit or large project something to balance out the score.  In this new world, you MUST do well on the tests or your grades are screwed.  Synonyms for screwed include: hopeless, ruined, broken.

I fear my children aren’t learning as much as they could be.  Learning is different from studying.  They are studying. They spend hours studying.  And I have one that would be an excellent Jeopardy contestant.  Steel trap memory.  Great test taker.  But I’m beginning to wonder about long term outcomes for their brains because it appears that there is little practice of critical thinking skills in school.

Most recently, the middle school instituted a modified “lock down” for grades not performing standardized tests.  They sat in the same room for a couple of hours (with no access to wi-fi or the bathroom)  quietly reading or watching movies so that the other grades could take their tests in relative silence.  My son watched Shaun the Sheep. Huh?     I mention no wi-fi because now that they have been issued iPads, their homework and reading material and school life is all on the device.  So-during this testing time for other grades they couldn’t have any academic instruction themselves and likely developed some bladder infections too.

The high school has juniors sit for the ACT all on the same floor of the building.  Seniors have that day off. Sophomores take a practice exam that day. Freshman have regular classes in different classrooms than the norm (since juniors are all on one floor) and an early release.  All of them reminded to maintain the utmost quiet for the ‘test takers.’

Really?  Will an atmosphere of absolute quiet make that much of a difference in the score?   These kids are going to be our future electricians and doctors and police officers and architects and researchers and salespeople and NBA players (I threw that in for the delusional basketball parents…ha ha ha)   These jobs don’t offer quiet.  Don’t firefighters make important decisions amidst chaos?  Don’t teachers?  Don’t we all?  Surgeons make critical decisions every day.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want any surgeon working on me who might be rattled by ambient noise.

Clearly, the militant enforcement of an atmosphere of quiet amps up the drama of the importance of testing.  Performance. Achievement.  Data points.  Is it any wonder we have a large and growing population of kids on anti-anxiety medication?  It may not be a direct cause and effect.  But it isn’t helping.

The poor teachers.  We have shackled them to testing schedules and pigeon holed them into narrow curriculums.  We are squelching their creativity so they can in turn squelch it in their students.  They have so many kids all along the continuum to shepherd (shove) into performing well on tests or their jobs are on the line. When does teaching just disintegrate into rote ‘training’ for the exam?

The kids eventually end up learning how to play the game.  They turn in a couple assignments and spend the rest of the precious time studying for tests.  Sometimes they retake one to get a better score.  This causes extra anxiety as the new and old tests start to stack up.   They read the SparkNotes instead of reading the book.  This causes me sadness and rage.  I love to read so skipping the book to skim through Spark Notes just seems tragic.  Plus, in time will they think about that book the way I do?  No-because they won’t have a life experience that reminds them of the SparkNotes.  They missed the experience.  The rage?  If I have to be honest, there isn’t time to really read the book sometimes.  They don’t write many papers.  A few.  They do take tests about the book and the answers to the test are in the SparkNotes. Putting down 150 pages of a novel on top of everything else just isn’t practical every time.  I get it.  We are training them to cheat themselves out of an education.

There are 16.5 school days left before summer.  I can’t wait.  My kids can step back into being children and step out of being students.

Maybe they will read books. Maybe they will think long, slow, winding thoughts and draw their own conclusions.

Maybe they will learn something new.

Throwback Thursday: 21 years

 

 

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So I have this weird thing I do.  (many weird things but I’m only sharing this one today) Sometimes I think about people who have died when I catch myself watching a sunrise or staring at a beautiful tree or looking at a bird in the yard and I think…How can they have missed this?  They should see this bird, this incredible bird.  If they had just lasted 7 more years, they could be staring at this yellow bird right now.  How did they not see this particular sunrise?  I know they saw sunrises…but not this one.  They didn’t make it long enough to see that tree! Two more years and they could have stood right beneath the canopy of this tree.  And how lucky am I to see this tree? Why am I the lucky one?

And I feel such gratitude for such luck. (stay with me…)

I’m 21 years into my marriage today.  To the same human.  How?  21!? But I’m only 30 years old! Time has just tumbled forward snowballing faster and faster. I’ve been told it goes by even more quickly with every passing year.  I was 23 when I got married.  Were my daughter to follow in our footsteps, she would make a lifelong commitment to someone just 9 years from now.

But.I.won’t.let.THAT.happen.  ha ha ha. Seriously, though she isn’t allowed.

There are many articles, studies, books all devoted to what makes for a lasting marriage.  Statistics have been compiled.  Algorithms laid out. Theories have been developed. Therapies have been formed.  I believed in all that as a newly married person.  I could easily cite why we were married, why it made sense and why it would all work for the long haul. If you ask people what the ‘secret’ is they have many simple explanations.   People often say God brought them together,they have similar values, they are opposites and opposites attract, they “grew up together” (a case for marrying early), they “knew who they were” before they got married (a case for marrying later), they work hard at their marriage, they put their relationship first, they are just the perfect compliment to one another, and on and on and on.

I wanted to believe it was simple and formulaic but I don’t believe that at all.

  1. God brought us together.  God likely only gets partial credit for some things and is harshly criticized for others and people make it pretty convenient to involve God in the argument if it suits them.  If you meet someone at an Atheist Convention in Vegas and you are 9 cocktails in and end up getting married that night, God planned that out just for you?   Mmm-I’m not so sure.  Seems like the bright lights and adrenaline and Johnnie Walker Black may have set that up for you.  And if God brings all these people together does he bring over 50% apart?  God makes the matches but then it’s all free will when people split up?  Nah. Plus,  I don’t believe in the one person for one person myth.  There are probably other men I could have contentedly married and we could have lasted 21 years.  There are also probably several nice, docile, pleasant, lovely women out there who enjoy bass fishing, Cheetos, tank tops and sub-zero house temps that my husband could be happily married to right now.  Stay away from him you bombshell fishing floozies-we’ve already put in 21 years renovating each other.
  2. Similar values or opposites attract.  Yeah.  Sounds good.  Until a city mouse wants to be a country mouse. Or the person who always wanted children suddenly feels it at the very core of their being that they do not. The frugal saver spends lavishly on a whim for the first time in their life. What if one with the ever stable job walks away to ‘find themselves’?  What if the opposite thing that was so alluring is now the very thing that you can’t tolerate? People do change.  Similar values in 1995 may not mean similar values in 2005. In our case, some of our most sweeping changes were the very scaffolding to hold us together.
  3. Timing.  The exact right age to get married. Once, in college, my friend Erika’s dad told us this at dinner-(I’m paraphrasing) ‘There are no soul mates.  You don’t find the right person and marry them.  You get to an age where you are ready to marry and end up with whomever is in front of you at the time’  Needless to say-we were disturbed and insisted he was wrong.  He wasn’t wrong.  Wise words from George.  If you ‘grow up together’ you have the challenges of getting on the same maturity trajectory.  If you already ‘know who you are’ you have challenges compromising because you have your own ways of dealing with life independently.
  4. Working hard at marriage.  Sheesh.  Is there any other way?  Two humans that live together?  It’s a lot of work to just get up every day and be yourself.  To consider another person and their needs/wants/dreams/hopes on an ongoing basis is…is…is.. A LOT.  And I like him and love him and it’s still a lot. Rewarding. Joyful. Instructive. Humbling.  I think people who stay together work at it and I still think people who end their marriages worked at it too.  Regular date night is not a guarantee of anything except a decent meal-usually.
  5. The appearance of happy.  We look happy a lot of the time. We are generally happy. We have loved each other truly, madly, deeply over 21 years. HOWEVER, it is not a stretch to say that at one point or another (I’ll just speak for both of us here) we have fantasized, albeit briefly, about the other person falling into a well.  Not a huge well. Not a super far fall. Nothing life threatening…but a fall into a well nonetheless.  We were at many weddings where we watched in awe what an ‘ideal’ match was about to take place.  Oh-some of those couples just made it look effortless.  I would have bet a kidney they would be together until death doth them part.  Alternately, we were at a few weddings where I clenched my teeth and waited in vain for someone, anyone (please) to stand up and OBJECT when the opportunity arose.  I would have bet a kidney those marriages would last a year, if that.  I’ve been to a lot of weddings and had I placed bets…I would be out two kidneys right now.

I have my own theory on marriage.  I think we have made it to this Thursday due to gritty determination and luck.   We have been very determined but mostly so, so, so lucky.

I’m grateful to see this, specific Thursday view of this lovely lake and I’m glad we made it these 21 years so I can be here with him. ❤️

Delta Chi Latte: Accepting late pledges

I have never had a huge group of friends.  I have many good friends.  Cherished friends. But generally, even as a little girl, my friends were not all friends with each other.  The biggest group I was ever part of was maybe three or four girls.  Groups of friends in elementary school formed pretty naturally driven by activities or geography or moms.  But by middle school I had narrowed the field quite a bit.  I think I almost preferred it that way.  I’m a secret introvert and even now if I go to a party where I know I have to make small talk with 30 people, I feel a little ill.  I want to grab one person and hold their face in my hands and discuss their relationship with their mother at length.  I know.  Now you won’t invite me for coffee.  It’s ok. I just generally suck at making ‘light conversation.’

In late high school when we were actual women making friends with other women, I had one ‘best friend’ and we floated between groups of other friends and hung out with a group of boys as a duo. This totally worked for me.  The guys were a blissful counterweight to any drama she and I might attempt to stir up.

1989 and 2014 below…


College was similar.  Again, I had lots of women I spent time with but not a sorority atmosphere certainly. I have several friends from those four years-but they aren’t friends with one another.  I found my future maid of honor in college.  We disliked each other a great deal the first few weeks of freshman year.  She found me bold and over confident.  I found her shy and irritatingly not wanting to be the center of attention.  Plus, she wore mysteriously preppy rugby shirts and I was trying out my REI meets goth look with all black clothing, dark red lipstick and hiking boots.

We must have pushed past all that since now she is the executor of my will.  Below you will find a montage of our early relationship and no, no alcohol was involved in striking any of these poses. Sadly, no mood altering chemicals were involved when I chose any of those haircuts either.  I can own it.

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Then I made “couple friends” and anyone who is over 14 knows how difficult that is to navigate.  The odds of both people in one pair really enjoying both people in the other pair are well…let’s just say even match.com or tinder wouldn’t dare try to code that algorithm.  And then large groups of couples who all enjoy hanging out together?  Even more tricky.                                                                 (note: 3 of my favorite couples to hang out with in our 20’s…all divorced now-maybe it was me?)

Graduate school.  In two years of seeing the same people every.single.freaking. day, I made a few friends.  Three.  And I made one lifelong close friend.  We were like hecklers at a comedy club except we were in Psych classes.  I’m not sure everyone appreciated our bond.  We thought all of the same people were exactly the same kind and same amount of crazy.

Work.  Various settings.  Various people.  Please.  I have yet to find an adult human who relishes attending their own company party let alone hang out with their co-workers every weekend. Worlds colliding.  It rarely works out ideally.

Church.  Surely church is filled with a lot of nice women.  I never did find 6 that all wanted to hang out together though. Never.  Acquaintances yes. Cohesive friend group?  Nope.

Neighborhood.  No.  We live on a street that ranges from newly married to retired couples. There are no block parties.  No progressive dinners.  No pool parties.  Last year we had 0 trick or treaters.  One banner year we had five.  They must have gotten lost. My closest neighborhood friend lives next door and I surely couldn’t have survived the last 18 years without her but we have our differences.  She is 69.

So-over the years when I see on social media photos of 8, 10, 12, 15! women together on trips or dinners or book clubs or scrapbooking weekends or reunions or 5k’s or wine tastings or etc…I always think…really?  How?  How did I never end up having a group of friends?

And then I realized I have one now…my first friend group.  At 44 years old.

I have finally found my sorority.  Accidentally.  It’s my ‘mom friends’.  The extensive group of women who surround me who are raising their children alongside me are my tribe.  Phenomenal, intelligent, strong women.  They know me.  They know each other.  We have a lot in common and the kids bond us together even though some of our kids are different ages and don’t even hang out with one another.  Doesn’t matter anymore.  They are women who work outside the home and women who work inside the home.  They have one child, they have four children.  They are single, married, widowed, divorced.  They are estranged from their parents, have ailing parents, have dead parents, have under involved parents, have over involved parents, all while parenting their own kids.  A few are over the top optimistic and a couple are intensely sarcastic and a couple are so wicked smart and a couple are wild procrastinators. They are volunteers and coaches and organizers and entrepreneurs and piano teachers and writers and religious and not religious and some are great cooks and some are ultra crafty and some exercise and some talk about exercising but never actually do and some are loud and outgoing and some aren’t and I value and cherish them all for their gifts and their challenges and their grit.

These women, they make my life so much better.  My circle of trust.  They make the grind of life tolerable.  They are my go to when I have a question about what the heck is wrong with my kid(s) or to tell when something goes well with my kid(s).  They celebrate my successes and lament with me when it all goes to shit.  Some of them I see in person 3 times a year, others I see weekly.  We go on mom field trips and do important ‘doughnut research.’  It is my first experience of having a large number of women who make me feel “we are in this together”. I have 20+ women who would drop everything and pick up my son if I needed it.  I would do the same for them.  They are my emergency contacts.  I have cried with them in Target.  In Target.  Right there next to the light bulbs and laundry detergent and bananas.  That is friendship.  It is an intricate but strong and supportive web of friendship that holds me together some days during these intense parenting years.

These women…they teach me.  They educate me on camps to look into, where to buy something for less, why a particular teacher is so valuable, what to open my eyes to and when to shut my ears.  NO KID REALLY NEEDS TO BE 6 YEARS AHEAD IN MATH.  They know stuff.  They recommend books and doctors and websites and restaurants.  They gently explain the reality of why I could never actually survive being a hockey mom and how many things are likely going to turn out just fine and probably don’t need my micro-management.  They point me in the right direction when I need to get whipped about something and present convincing arguments for when I really need to calm the hell down.    (It’s almost always the second one)

This photo was taken on my birthday last year.  Not even nearly everybody who is important to me is in the photo (obviously)…and I didn’t even have a chance to talk to everyone this day and hold their face and delve into their inner soul.  But it’s ok.  They know I care what happens to them.  I’ve got their backs.  I’ll catch up with them at school or on the soccer field or in the church parking lot or over lunch or maybe at Target.

We will cry at Target.  Together. Sisterhood.

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I am a Cross Country running champion (spectator)

If you are a parent, one of your primary jobs seems to be serving as a witness to the lives of your children.  I’ve witnessed a lot.  Although if you ask my youngest son, he will tell you I missed one preschool field trip to the apple orchard and ALL the other moms were there and he was completely and utterly alone.  So-we both have to live with that failure.

So far, my children have participated in what feels like 1,000 school, church and extra curricular activities that include t-ball, soccer, football, dance, choir, scouting, orchestra, cross country, knowledge bowl, and a few others I have blocked from my mind.

A lot of it has been fun.  Some of it has been not so fun.  Some of it has been downright irritating.  I’m not a great spectator because I lack a fiery competitive spirit and yet am sitting amongst the superfans.  I don’t care who wins.  I don’t get any great thrill when one team wins over the other or when one person beats out all the others.  When I watch the Olympics, and I LOVE the Olympics, I fall in love with the personal back story of all the athletes.   I will always root for the person with the toughest personal history every time. I will pray for the athlete with a compelling twist in their journey where they almost didn’t make it to compete after years of effort. I will root for the athlete who tells a story about how his mom drove him to practice for 15 years without complaint. (maybe I’m rooting for her)   But I’m not a great spectator. My cheers are very vague, “Oh go YOU!”

Until I discovered my love of spectating at cross country meets.

At most kid sporting events, you can hear spectators cheering/yelling at the kids, yelling at the coaches, yelling at each other. There is lots of yelling.  More yelling than cheering sometimes.  It took up all my yelling energy just to get everyone clean, packed, dressed, fed and in the car and at the destination on time. I suspect by the time we arrive at the event, I’m all done with yelling. It’s time for me to sit in my chair with an iced tea.  But I can hear a lot of other parents that have plenty left in the tank to scream on the sidelines. Calling plays. Making position suggestions. Lamenting the amount of play time doled out to their kid.  Complaining about the referees’ ability, a particular call, their age.  Screaming at their own kid to PUSH themselves.  Reminding their kid (loudly) that they will get ice or or $5 or other such incentives if they score.  I heard a coach on an opposing soccer team tell his team, “Swarm them like angry bees. Swarm them!”

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Dance is no better.  Studio dance culminates with a recital. There is a quiet subversive chatter at those events.  Kids didn’t get the part they wanted.  Kids got put in the back that should have been in the front.  Wrong kids featured.  Kid with poor attendance got the lead. Music choice sucked. Recital is too long. Teacher wasn’t good so choreography is too hard/too easy/too jazzy/too old/too young/too much.  (I should know the teacher critiques-I taught dance for years.) I love watching dance.  But even I find it difficult to watch a 3 hour recital where I can see 2 minutes of my child after they have put in a year of instruction.

I watched competitive dance this year for the very first time. That’s a whole new world.  It’s not your mother’s dance team.  There are some phenomenal dancers on high school dance teams.  Seven, eight, nine consecutive pirouettes.  Please.  I bow down to you.  However, I sat next to a mom who clapped when a student on a different team fell down.  Seriously.  She clapped.  She followed it up with verbally blasting her own daughter because she missed a turn.  We can’t be friends now. Ever.

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Music.  Generally not too bad.  Choirs is virtually painless.  Orchestra?  It’s almost an endurance test in the early years.  Have you heard a 9 year old try to play the violin? I have.  Two different kids.  Please no. No.  My daughter has played for 6 years now.  I have to say…it didn’t sound like music until 7th grade. That was year FOUR for those of you keeping track.  Even at the music concerts there is chatter about private lessons, what ensemble group to audition for next year, who got the solo, first chair, practice habits.  I’m coming clean.  Kids in this house-they didn’t get in their 5,438 minutes of music each week.  Never.  Math comes before music. I can’t fight ALL the battles.  I’m only 1/4 Chinese rendering me virtually useless when it comes to being a Tiger Mother.

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Knowledge Bowl.  Have you witnessed this craziness?  Hundreds of kids from everywhere battling it out to answer questions like, “In what dystopian novel could you find the quote ‘We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought'”?  Buzzers are rung all over the room while I try to think of more than one dystopian novel.  Wow.  By the way…It’s from Fahrenheit 451.  These kids are middle schoolers who are well versed in Bradbury.  I was reading the Sweet Valley High Series in 6th grade.   Those crazy Wakefield twins and their romances NEVER said anything deep or memorable and I liked it that way.  Hundreds of parents are walking up and down the hallways watching kids answer questions and discussing how their school runs practice, what teams are the best, and other things I’m not interested in.

This brings me to Cross Country.  Watching cross country is my thing.  Finally, I’ve found my sport.  Truth be told-I cried at nearly every meet.  Cried.  This is why.  It’s all outside at a school on (mostly) lovely fall days for about an hour.   They run in huge groups divided up by grade and gender.  I can pick out a couple of kids I know in the blur that go by but I’m keenly watching for my son who is fairly easy to pick out since he refuses to wear actual running shorts because (“Mom-they are insanely short”)

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On both sides of the course, the spectators watch and wait and cheer.  And everyone cheers and claps and smiles.  For everyone.  I learned some things from the high school runners who were there watching the younger kids.   They yell, “Pace yourself!”  “Pass a couple!” “You’ve got this!” “Go go go!” “Finish strong!”  Now I say those things.  I can belt out a really good “pass a couple”-it’s such a reasonable cheer for a non-competitive person.  And when they are finished…many of the runners go back to cheer on those behind them…their teammates and those who are competing against them.  And some of the kids have buddy runners who run with them and encourage them to keep going and to finish. This makes me cry every time.  The kids who need the extra help giving it everything they have and the kids who are giving the extra help giving it everything they have make me cry in equal measure.  And everyone cheers those kids on until the very last one crosses the line.

This. This is what appeals to my deepest sense of what I think is right and important about athletics.  Participation.  Being part of a larger team.  Belonging to the group.  Get out there and do something and try even if you are not first, or second, or twelfth.  Do this with joy.  Do we not all benefit when everyone crosses the finish line?   The pure joy of participation is not exclusively owned by the winners.

Next up for my professional spectator role: Track!?  My son said he would like to try track.  I said, “Great.  I’ll sign you up. What made you decide to try track?”  He said, “It sounds fun.  It’s all the cross country kids.”   I hope he does his very best.  I hope someone in front of him is pulling for him and mostly I hope he turns around at the finish line to root for anyone still running.

I plan on swarming them all with cheers. An encouragement swarm. Finish strong!

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