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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I hope the ice cream truck has Red Bull

I recently read an article about the trend of “Slow Parenting”.  The article was not only discouraging; I found it a bit naïve. Maybe I’m just jealous. I can’t do it. I can’t get into the slow parenting.

I’m fast parenting.  Like, wear your seatbelt.

My first two children are 27 months apart…then there is a five-year gap and then the last one. The first year that I had all 3 of them with those age differences I thought this was a huge disadvantage. Actually the first year I cried a lot. Oh hell…I don’t remember much of the first year.  I do remember being exhausted and eating MANY chocolate croissants to make myself feel better and inconveniently dragging my big blue eyed boy around EVERY SINGLE MINUTE like a court ordered home monitoring bracelet…but way heavier. It felt like the movie Groundhog’s Day but without any of the fun parts.

But now I love the age difference. I mean, nobody has expressed any interest in me teaching a family planning class…but it’s working out nicely now because I get to enjoy them all in their own unique phases and stages. It’s a lot to absorb but they are fun and funny.

When I don’t want to beat them, they are my favorite people. But it’s not slow. Ever.

The Slow Parenting movement favors less structured activities and letting children explore.  Explore like let them live like I did in the 70’s. Maybe you did too. I read a lot upside down in chairs, in the car, in a hammock, in a fishing boat. I stared at seed pods floating by through the air. In the 80’s in the summer I watched MTV videos until my eyes hurt, taking a 4 minute break to go outside and cut a bouquet of zinnias from the side garden. Sometimes I saw my friends but sometimes I didn’t. I had lemonade stands. I talked on the phone quite a bit. Every summer I nourished the fantasy that I would ‘transform’ over the summer and dazzle everyone in school in the fall after an incredible summer of physical and personal metamorphosis. Never happened.

My most out of the ordinary summer was in between sophomore and junior year of high school. I lived in Ohio and did a summer program at the School of Cleveland Ballet. Leaving for the summer was fairly common among my dance friends but unheard of among my school friends. But now…it seems like the ‘opportunities for summer extraordinaire’ for my kids are endless. Camps, classes, theme parks, public beaches, pools, water parks, travel, video games, service projects, volunteering, ways to earn money, a community triathlon , art shows, fun runs, PLUS the lemonade stand thing.

I once had a professor whose wise words come to mind over and over and OVER again. He said (paraphrasing here) the grand challenge of parenting isn’t to parent your kids in an effort to repair your own childhood. Don’t try to give them the perfect childhood that you didn’t get. (i.e.: I never got to take piano lessons and therefore I’m going to force you to take piano even if it makes you physically ill because then I can live vicariously through you and you better appreciate it, etc.) He said, the challenge is to raise them the very best way possible given their own reality.

I can’t get enough of those words.

My kids are growing up very differently than I did. The basics are similar. But there is a lot that is very different. We are a bigger family than my family of origin, my husband and I are not the people our parents were, the world of school and technology and activities and expectations are different. And while I don’t want to schedule the summer away…I need to have a plan.  Big plans.

I love those old Country Time Lemonade ads with the tree swing and the haze of summer heat and kids outside running down the dock with inner tubes and the soothing voice over of nostalgia…The reality though…summer is so short. Phineas and Ferb claim we have 104 days of summer vacation. Our school district only has 91 days. 91 days of summer??? Plus we have to jam in a few teeth cleanings and haircuts and I suppose people are going to need to eat?

There needs to be time for camp and lemonade stands and going to the beach with friends and playing basketball in the driveway and planting/tending/harvesting cherry tomatoes.  We have to get in some chores and some tennis and a lot of freaking out when the giant dragonflies land on our faces. There needs to be time for bike rides and stargazing and sparklers and playing at a new, never been to before park and many minutes of listening to the frogs. There needs to be a family trip with time in the car and reading Calvin and Hobbes and sidewalk chalk and outdoor movie night and badminton tournaments in the yard that end participants knees (that actually happened two years ago-the husband and the brother got competitive and let’s just say a knee replacement for my husband is now on the bucket list). There needs to be time with friends over and time without and long lectures from me about the great blue heron in the backyard. (I’m a little excitable over the great blue heron.  I want to hug him.)  There needs to be long walks and giant ice cream cones and the State Fair and being out on the water.  We have to have bonfires, and friends over to grill out and cheer at soccer games and farmers market trips where I embarrass the children by buying far more blueberries than I can carry.  And there has to be day where I teach them to roast a chicken.  Yep. That’s in my plans tooMG_1143 IMG_9008 IMG_0025 IMG_9801 IMG_9014 IMG_0578IMG_1141

We can‘t possibly do it all in only 91 days, can we?

You’re darn right we can.

I want to do it all. With them. THIS is part of the why of why I had the children. To show them the best of the world and try to prepare them for it and then sit back and watch them take it in. I can’t let everyone just free range it because at 6, 11, and 13…everyone will be free ranging in disparate directions.  They are young for such a short shot and with the age gap…they only overlap in this house for 11 years. So I’m fast parenting.

So get ready kids-it’s my summer too. We are having a Red Bull Lemonade Summer. We are going to squeeze the life out of it. We are going to drink up summer while driving to and from soccer or sitting still at the campfire. We are going to bookend a beach trip with a pancake flipping contest and so many S’mores you are going to stick to your pillow. We are going to work our way through our summer list (which this year includes a family stay on the island in the BWCA) and fill up our bags with library books to devour like the world is ending. And we are going to do it fast.  Before summer gets away from us. And before your collective childhood gets away from me.* IMG_1373

*There WILL be a couple of times in this 91 day period that I will want to run away from home. Get in my car and leave this crew in the dust.  It happens every summer.  Then the irritation melts away like a bomb pop on the 4th of July. Ooh-BOMB POPS!

Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails and violent themed art projects: That is what boys are made of

Preface:  Before anyone freaks out and gets defensive or sensitive on her behalf or on behalf of girls-I have a daughter. I love my daughter and it’s an incredible privilege to have her and she is goodness and light but in my own limited experience it has been different raising a girl than raising boys. Different. I want to talk about boys because I’ve been thinking a lot about the raising of my boys. Look away if you don’t want to read it because it offends you.

Boys. I just love boys. Living with boys is like living with an overflowing bucket of puppies. Loud, fun, unpredictable. Like puppies, they require so very little to be happy. I can boil it down to one on one attention, food, decent tennis shoes and fresh air for my sons. A lot of the classic boy stereotypes that people talk about, complain about, warn about have proven true in my experience…

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There is high energy. There is bathroom humor. There is unabashed nudity. There is filth. There is the mysterious stench of the shoes/mittens/bedrooms/soccer bags/feet.

Pictured below: My son washing his feet to gain couch access. IMG_9033

They break my things.  Things that previously survived three generations in my family-undone in five seconds by one of my sons.  Below: Christmas ornament from 1970’s. Now garbage. IMG_4057

One uses a general clumsiness method to destroy family heirlooms, the other uses brute force and a penchant for flinging things through the air to destroy things. Equally effective. There is the requisite arguing with me about how they should be able to wear the  “nice warm up pants” to a wedding or to church or to a nice dinner. They leave wet towels on the bathroom floor and step over messes never considering the damage to the floor or the bacteria that might be multiplying. They bring me art projects that I do not understand.  My daughter brought me drawings of rainbows and butterflies.

Yesterday I got this: IMG_4062

I did the ‘good mom’ thing and said, “Tell me what is happening in this picture?”  (instead of what the hell is this?)  My son says, “Oh…See there are these guys in a garden with flowers and the guy on the ground got shot with a tranquilizer gun.”    Nice. Falling off of their chairs when someone else uses the word “balls” in a sentence happens a lot lately. Any sentence. Any context.  It is beyond the giggles…it’s downright mirth. Also on the “cannot be uttered list”: Nuts.   I’m serious. We can’t say balls or nuts anywhere close to bedtime right now. It can derail this entire household for over an hour. But I think a lot of the best in them; the very best things about raising boys have been things that nobody told me. It is their sweetness, their charm, and their easy humor. Their levity and how it brings out levity in others. My boys have very different personalities (what children don’t?) but they share those things I mentioned and it makes me better for having them. They are a pure and simple fun and they draw it out in me-they loosen the reins of control.  Oh…they probably stole the reins, tied them into an Albright Knot, lit it on fire and buried in the backyard. They get me to do things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Below: Ran a 5k in sub-zero temps.

Why? Why would anyone want to do this? IMG_2232

There is the old (and albeit archaic) saying, “A son is a son until he takes himself a wife but a daughter is a daughter for the rest of your life”. Okay, horribly outdated but the sentiment here seems to be that if you have girls they’ll visit you in the nursing home but if you have a son…he’ll be with the in-laws at that nursing home. So I guess if that holds true to any degree I’ll put in the time with the boys right now. I play the video games (and I really suck at it and they let me know). I play basketball in the driveway. I wrestle with them.

There is a LOT of wrestling.  Some of it is super hero wrestling. IMG_3061 IMG_9875 IMG_8045IMG_4060

I fish. I read to them. I play tic tac toe. I light things on fire with them. I listen to them recount their day at school.

The recollection of their school day is straightforward with little nuance. Bliss. We snuggle. IMG_3763

And I feel the urge to hug them and bite their faces out of pure love and awe for what God has made and let me borrow for a short while. And even in the happy I feel a tiny bit melancholy sometimes-they are just 6 and 11 and they have already been told to “walk it off”, “quit their crying”, “toughen up” “act like a man”.   Girls of this age are not told this. Society saves their “Get over yourself” messages for girls for adolescence…but with boys…it starts so early. Way too early and from too many different sources. When little girls do things that fall outside of traditional girlness (like prefer baseball to ballet) they just have girl power or are modern, independent, full of personality. When little boys do things that fall outside of traditional boyness (like prefer ballet to baseball) the world can be cruel. I have one son that just doesn’t get the intensity of sports. He can’t understand the competitive fire playing sports or the hype of watching them. It’s not his thing. He was on a 40-degree football field at practice one time (his rookie and retirement year all at once) and the coach told the boys to “dig deep.” I was watching from the warmth of my car and I had to laugh. Dig deep. He was 8 years old. Where was he going to dig? The worst things that had happened to him up until that point were either circumcision or eczema and I’m fairly sure he doesn’t remember the circumcision. It wasn’t much to draw on. I guess now that he is older I can tell him to ‘dig deep’ and he can recall the adversity he felt on the chilly football field.

In general, adults aren’t yelling at 8-year-old girls to tough it out and build some character. IMG_4058

I hope that I can cultivate their unabashed zest for life before the world beats it out of them. Before they walk it off. I can’t lie, I would love it if they were polite and used table manners and I toil toward that end (it is NOT going well-we just had to review the merits of wearing shirts to the dinner table) but I would love most if they just held fast onto their love of life. The way they are drawn to joy and relish fun with no concern with what happened before or what will happen after. Their days are full now with the richness of being present minded. It’s hard but wonderful and important to remember that our fathers, uncles, husbands, stepfathers, grandfathers, brothers, step brothers, half-brothers, neighbors, co-workers and male friends were boys. Boys.  They are all still boys with the spirit of a boy in varying degrees in each of them. So mothers of boys are a little nuts (see what I did there) because they see the spirit in their boy, no matter the age and they don’t want that spark to ever go out. And now I’m one of them. The crazies. Keep your sparks protected my beautiful sons. And forgive me world when I forgive them everything…because I will always be able to see the wild spirit of the boy because I was there when it all began. IMG_0945