Friday, January 20, 2017

Letting Him Go (Across the Street)

This year rather than an extremely long bus ride from school or much quicker ride in the car there, Ethan's had a chance to walk to and from school. I've mentioned this before. The walking to school thing is just one more item on Ethan's list of Why the New School is Better than the Old One (older kids; cooler mascot; a school store; and shouting pep rallies in the gym with the principal, to name a few others).

I enjoy the fact that Ethan's school is close enough to walk to, too, except for one small issue: I feel as if some days he's nearly risking his life to cross the street to get there.

To explain: we live on a busy street that crosses an even busier one, where the school is. All Ethan has to do in the morning is cross our street, walk an eighth of a mile, wait to turn right when the Walk light goes on and the crossing guard helps him get across and over to the school. Simple? It would be, if people didn't constantly 1) speed down our street 2) run red lights and try to turn on red lights and 3) constantly turn right on red even when the sign says not to.

As a kid I was walking with a friend (no parents) on our own to school by first grade. But we lived in a tiny town with no stop lights. Until this year I've always driven my kids to school. I'm not used to this. And yeah, I'm not quite sure how much to trust my kid.

Crossing our street in front of our house scares ME sometimes. So I don't feel too anal or helicopter-ish wanting to help Ethan get across. And truthfully, he's a smart kid, but once in a while he'll get in his own head and lose focus. You can't forget to look both ways when you cross our street. It's more like, look both ways and then do it again. And run.

What I want to be able to do is help him get across and then watch him walk off to school. I can see the intersection from my house. I can see the crossing guards. It's these crazy drivers that have stopped me every time. There's been close to 10 times already that the crossing guards have had to start screaming with their hands out, at cars turning, coming way too close as he's inside the crosswalk, walking with the blinking Walk sign. This makes me so mad I can't think straight. It also makes it harder to let go.

A few weeks ago was the worst of such incidents. There was Ethan, in the crosswalk, when a car attempted to race through a red light and turn left directly into where he was walking, oblivious. "ETHAN!!!" I screamed, at just about the same moment the crossing guards were screaming at the car, "STOP!!!"

In that moment when I screamed, I realized something. Ethan had been startled by my yell and the crossing guards coming from two different directions at the same time. As a result, he sort of froze in place rather than moving.

My overprotectiveness had in fact just made the situation more dangerous.

"Why were you yelling?" he asked me that afternoon.

"Didn't you see the car?" I asked.


The other day I had an early appointment and Dan was the one to see Ethan off to school.

"Mamma, I don't want daddy to walk me to school," he protested in advance.

"You'll have to talk to daddy about that," I told him.

Sure enough, later on he told me that daddy watched him cross the street (on his own!) and then watched as he walked on his own to school.

Just like that.

I'm still most likely going to keep walking with Ethan to school in the morning. I don't mind getting a little fresh air, and I like to chat with him on the way.

I'm also probably going to put a call in to the police department about the drivers at our intersection. Several people (including the school) have suggested it.

And I'm going to keep talking and reminding Ethan about tricky cars and unsafe situations, and which directions to look when crossing; to pay attention.

But he is nine years old. I have to let hold of the reins just a little bit. In this case, that means letting the crossing guards do their job. They're very good at it. They're looking out for my child. A lot of wonderful people are during the school day.

I always have to trust that he IS learning better to watch out for himself; to think; to be responsible.

This is what letting go is all about: teaching, giving them the tools, and then stepping back just a little to see how they do. Not too far. Baby steps...for both of us.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Explosive Offense

I was watching football the other day when I heard them say it, again. Every time I hear the phrase, I almost start laughing. It's been more than 20 years (seriously?!) and I'm convinced that sometimes the most irritating things that happen to us actually end up being a gift.

To explain (cue flashback ripple, a la every 80s sitcom you've ever seen):

I had a rather unconventional college experience. I didn't live there, and that was fine with me. My whole in-bed-before-11, up-before-7 sleep habits really don't fit well with a dorm lifestyle. That and the fact that I basically hate the taste of alcohol and only drink wine once in a while if I want to pretend I'm sophisticated. So I commuted to Westfield State (also known as "cheaper than UMass"). A lot of people did. Only: I didn't have a car right away. That's kind of a long story. So my only choice at first was to take several buses up there until I secured my own transportation.

This was an adventure in itself. On the bus there was some good people-watching for this introvert, let me tell you. And there were a few other sorry souls like myself who were also stuck taking the bus up to Westfield. We nodded perfunctory "hello's."

And then there was, well, let's call him "Bob."

Bob had also gone with me to high school, although we'd rarely crossed paths. He was that kind of quiet, nerdy, glasses and all kind of guy I normally liked and got along with (I'd run in the other direction from over-confident jocks!). Bob seemed nice enough. Bob also really, really liked the Buffalo Bills football team.

Really, really liked.

This was back when the Buffalo Bills were acting like the Red Sox of old and getting heart breakingly close to winning the Super Bowl but never quite pulling it off. They were a good team, for sure. Certainly much better than the embarrassingly bad Patriots. The Buffalo Bills were awesome, and Bob made sure he brought that up all of the time. I'd see him climb on the bus, and inevitably he'd end up sitting near me, and somehow, always, the conversation rolled around to football. Maybe he was especially happy that a "chick" liked to talk sports. All I know is, before long he would launch into his spiel about why Buffalo was the best, why'd they'd win on Sunday, why this time they'd win the Super Bowl. The only specific evidence he ever shared to back this up was because they had an "explosive offense."

And there you have it. Explosive offense. I'm not sure how many times I heard that term, but it may have been 3,251. Give or take. I didn't really understand what it meant -- I still don't -- but whatever it was, the Buffalo Bills had it. And Bob was going to let me know about it.

All of this would have been just mildly annoying, if it weren't for one thing. I would have politely listened and maybe done an invisible eye roll and that would have been that. But it's what happened a few months later that always got to me.

You see, my pal Bob managed to get himself a car before I did. And suddenly, he had something new to talk about. Not on the bus, of course, because he was driving to school now. But no, every time we'd run into each other, he'd announce, "Well, I've got my car now. I'm looking forward to driving home. Too bad you're still stuck. Have fun on the BUS!" with a smirk and a knowing look.

Every. Single. Time.

This guy literally lived about a mile from me. I remember the day I missed the bus and was sitting forlornly, waiting.

"Well, I'm headed home," he announced, sauntering by, not acknowledging my plight in the least. "Have FUN waiting for the bus!"

I stood there glaring at his back, fuming, thinking about how he could have offered me a ride. Then I realized I really didn't want to sit in his car and talk about the Bills for 45 minutes. Explosive Offense!

In retrospect, I wonder if Bob had some kind of Asperger-ish thing going on (the repetitiveness; the obsession with one subject). That never dawned on me until I started writing this. Maybe I should have been a little less irritated and a little more compassionate
My run-ins with Bob went on for awhile, until I finally got my own car (a 1984 Ford Tempo that, as it turns out, was infested with spiders). I found that of course I loved the luxury of coming and going as I pleased, but I did miss some of the characters on the bus. The older lady that worked at the dry cleaning place. The lonely man that washed dishes at Abdows. The veteran who would regale the bus driver with stories, many involving his medical ailments. Gus, the brilliant guy from my poetry writing class who enjoyed writing about vampires.

I can't say I missed Bob, because it was nice to not have to grit my teeth and bite my lip. Once he heard I had a car, he had little use for talking with me when we'd cross paths on campus. But to this day, when I hear someone talking about the Buffalo Bills, I think "Explosive Offense!" without even thinking. For Dan and I, it's become a sort of buzz word. He throws it around whenever he's trying to act like he cares about sports. ("The Celtics this year? Oh, yeah, uh, they've got an explosive offense!").

And every time they say it on TV, about whatever team they're talking about, and whatever it means, I laugh to myself and remember this lesson I seem to have been taught several times now. There will always be things that happen that don't seem very funny at the time, but in retrospect are sort of hysterical. I can only think also of our neighbors in our three-family house when we first married, the ones who hated us for no reason and claimed we walked on the floors above them purposely with "one shoe on and one shoe off" to bother them. In 1998, pure hell. Today, a story to tell our kids and laugh about. Again!

Things don't always work out this way. Some stuff happens and it's just crummy and there's no redeeming it. But we can mine our lives for these Buffalo Bill moments. They are out there. When we look at life in that way, it's a lot less miserable and a lot more fun.

So thank you, Bob, from all those years ago.

Go Bills!! (Next year, that is...)

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

My house is bordering on disaster, the tree is raining needles, and I haven't started my New Year's diet -- yet. This Christmas Anna received a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, "Perfectly Imperfect," and that just about sums up this Christmas. It was perfectly imperfect.

But then, isn't that how it is for all of us?

We went to the Living Nativity and once again the kids started arguing right in front of the carolers serenely singing "Angels We Have Heard on High." Ethan heard the song and said, "Hey, they took that from our song we're doing in kid's choir at church!" and I had to inform him that the carolers didn't "steal" this classic Christmas carol from eons ago.

We went to a Christmas light display and there was actual snow on the ground this year! Everything looked so festive. Chloe oo'ed and ahh'd at the lights. Anna and Ethan fought over who should sit where in the car to get the best view. Yes, the stop in the middle of the park at "Santa's Village" or whatever it was called was highway robbery (three dollars to roast ONE marshmallow over an open fire -- whaaaat?!) but Chloe loved riding the Merry-Go-Round (as I slowly froze in the 20-degree temperatures, holding on to her).

My grand plan once again for getting the kids excited about donating money to send animals (i.e. sheep, honeybees) to people in Africa to help them work a trade fell through once again. I lost the pamphlet and forgot to even give them allowance for weeks (to their credit, they didn't even ask me for it). But I did buy some things so we can make little plastic bags full of toiletries and other items to give out to the homeless. We haven't done it YET, but then again, why are we doing everything at Christmas? People need things throughout the year.

This year we finally got on board with having Anna and Ethan get gifts for each other, using their own money (including the allowances I'd forgotten to give them). This was interesting to watch, and the payoff was rewarding. I knew there was some selflessness in there, I thought when one child was about to use all of their allowance saved up rather than the $10 I'd suggested.

We lit the advent candle at church one Sunday and Chloe didn't run away and wreak havoc. She may have stood with her back facing the congregation almost the entire time, but I'll take it. Ethan once again refused to sing a solo in the kid's choir (he has a great voice and had lyrics memorized months ago) but he didn't spent the whole time looking at his watch while on stage (that was a few years ago). Another little girl had a fun time pulling her dress over her head and dancing in circles while they were singing, but that's what made it precious. I almost forgot the words to my Christmas solo due to sheer nerves, but pulled through. And didn't trip while walking across the stage, because I wore my ugly flats rather than deciding to get adventurous.

I found myself several times telling people what I continually tell myself: "It's okay, it'll be fine, you'll do great and if not it's okay because it's not about that." That's not what Christmas about; church is about; God is about.

Christmas break kicked off with Ethan getting sick and throughout the holidays all three kids came down with variations of the same virus. Everyone was hacking and nose-blowing. Ethan and I missed the Christmas Eve service with Dan's family. Chloe was an angel for the kid's Christmas pageant. She actually walked down the aisle. She didn't run in circles but looked very quizzically at the baby Jesus (a.k.a plastic baby doll) lying swaddled in front of her. We didn't get out much to do special things with everyone feeling sick, but we were able to do Christmas with both of our families.

And yes, this Christmas as we celebrated with those close to us I thought of those in my life who have lost loved ones in the past year. There have been some really horrific, difficult things that some have faced this year. And while I've often wondered how they continue to hold on, I'm not going to lie and say that there aren't times like these when my own faith is rocked. There are times when I have to fight to not ask over and over and over: Why?

For a long time I was very hard on myself about this. I hate to be one of the Doubting Thomases of the world.

But more recently I've decided that thinking people are going to ask questions. What matters more is what you do when you feel the answers don't add up the way you'd like them to.

There's been some backlash out there against those who decide to rail against the perfect Pinterest Christmas, about people who have started to "let it all hang out" online, the moms who are in defiance bragging about how inept and messy and imperfect their family is, darnit, and we need to relish in that. It's gotten to the point where some people are asking, "What's wrong with me if I like a neat house? Or if I enjoy doing crafts with my kids? Or if I managed to host a nice party? Do we have to glorify being imperfect now?"

There's a difference, though. There is a difference between reveling in your imperfections vs. accepting them.

There's a difference between being satisfied and willing to stay right where you are vs. knowing you are heading on a path somewhere but you aren't there yet, and along the way you are going to stumble many, many times.

We had an imperfect Christmas and I have an imperfect faith. And we'll keep trying to keep the focus on the right things and to love each other and to love God but sometimes we will miss the mark spectacularly. And the one thing that is perfect about it is God's grace carrying us again and again and again...through loss and failure and yes, in my case, questions, lots of questions.

Being perfectly imperfect means loving yourself right where you are -- but that doesn't mean you have to stay there. I'm going to keep walking.