Category Archives: Adventures in Parenting

That time I didn’t take my phone to the park

Smartphones are sort of like a bad relationship.  You are convinced you need them and that you can’t do without them, and all the while they are leaching the life out of you in ways you can’t really see until you are finally apart.

I’m being a little overdramatic, sure, and let me say up-front that I am not about to jettison my phone.  But I have started to be more clear-eyed lately about its role in my life, for good and for ill.  And I’ve realized that I’ve been giving it a little more attention than it deserves.

So a few weeks back, when we were riding bikes to the park with the boys, I decided to leave my phone at home.

I actually had to wrestle with myself a little before doing that.  “Whatifs” kept popping up in my mind like a game of Whack-a-mole, and I kept having to use logic to club them down.

What if there is an emergency?
Scott has his phone. You can use that.

What if I want to take a picture of something?
Short of a UFO landing on the playground, you’re not likely to see anything you will die without documenting.

What if I get bored and want to go online?
You are a mom; watch your kids.  You are a writer; look at the world around you.

And it was that logic that worked.  Because I realized that nothing on my phone could or should be as compelling as these precious moments of life, with these two precious boys who are growing up so fast that it scares me when I really stop to think about it.

So I left the phone at home, and I didn’t miss it.  I watched my kids and gazed at the trees and the sky and the flowers.  And what is arguably just as important, my kids saw me watching them and gazing at the world, not being distracted every few minutes but an update on a screen.   They saw a mom who enjoyed their antics, who basked in the sunshine.  They saw a mom who chose to be fully present in the moment, in the way that I hope they will be, too.

Totally worth it.

Why you should never, ever throw anything away

Downsizing is hot these days.  Just ask Marie Kondo, who is surely a millionaire a few times over.  And I like sorting through the things I don’t need and creating more space in my closets, drawers, and just generally in my life.  I’ve tried to do that over the past nine months, with some success.

But tidying up has its limitations.    If I had downsized too aggressively at any point in the past thirty years, I would not still have the utterly awesome Mickey Mouse Cookbook I had as a child.

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I loved it when I was young and I kept it for sentimental reasons lo these many decades.  You know what?  I’m darn glad I did, because this summer, my own children rediscovered it and were utterly fascinated.

And so we embarked on a summertime project.  I decided to teach my boys a little bit more about how to cook, with the help of Mickey and the gang.

Over the summer, I’ve let the boys take turns picking recipes from the cookbook, and we’ve worked on making them together.  I should add that we’re not exactly talking about Julia Child here; the recipes are remarkably easy, some of them more about dumping in a pan than actually cooking, but it doesn’t matter.  The boys have loved the challenge, and whether it’s Big Bad Wolf’s Brownies or Cinderella’s Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, I’ve loved tasting their creations.

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There was even one evening where I actually found myself sitting on the couch with a glass of Cabernet while someone else made dinner.  That someone else was my nine-year-old, who was making Chip n’ Dale’s Triple Decker Sandwiches with great concentration and skill.  I enjoyed the rare sensation of not being in the kitchen at 6 pm and  thought: Wow, I sure am glad I kept that cookbook.

So the moral of the story is to never ever throw anything away because you never know when it might be useful.  Just kidding, of course; I think the moral is to carefully weigh what you keep and what you give away.  Just because you have had something for over thirty years doesn’t mean you need to keep it forever, but it also doesn’t mean you need to get rid of it, either.

Listen to your gut, and if the book makes you smile after all these years, consider that it might make your own kids smile, too.

A Little League Litany of Thanks

 

Baseball

Hey God —

Remember how, when I was a kid, I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life?  Remember how my softball career consisted of one inglorious season in fifth grade?  Remember how, when my parents asked me what I liked best about softball, I said that my favorite part was getting drinks out of the cooler once the game was over?

So who could have predicted that 1) I’d one day have a son who plays baseball  and 2) I’d love having a son who plays baseball?

(I guess it’s safe to say that You could have predicted it.  I sure didn’t.)

And as this season nears its end, I’m going to try to put my feelings into a little litany of thanks.  Because, when it comes right down to it, for all the driving to practices and sitting on hard bleachers and constantly washing of dirty socks, there are a great many blessings to be found at the ballfield.

So here goes.

Thank you for games played on warm spring evenings when the light is beautiful and you are delighted to be outside.  Thanks also for games played on windy cool evenings when you freeze and wish you had another layer, because either way, you’re away from the computer and out in the fresh air … and sometimes you need that much more than you realize.

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Thank you for coaches who teach kids to respect the game, each other, and the umpires. Thank you for coaches who see the potential in their players and draw it out.  Thanks for the time and energy and heart they put into the game and our kids, not because they are getting paid but just because Baseball.

Thank you for gangly middle school umpires who go out there and have to make hard calls that  they know might not be popular but who do it anyway, often while standing right in the path of errant foul balls.  Thanks for their strength at sticking to their guns and trusting their instincts.

Thanks for the Snack Shack, where you can get soda on a hot day, coffee on a freezing one, donuts at the 8 AM game and pizza at the 6 PM one.  Thanks also for the many candy options that keeps bribable younger siblings entertained.  (Special shout-out, God, to those fabulous ring pops, which take more than an inning to finish.)

Sshack

While we’re on the subject, thanks for other younger siblings who find your own child and somehow find ways to entertain themselves with dirt, spilled chalk, and any toys they happen to bring.  Siblings’ Club at the ballfield!  It’s a good thing, God.

Thanks for the community of other parents who, over the course of a season, you get to know well. Thanks for the cheers and encouragement they give to your kid as he’s up at bat.  And thanks for the fact that sometimes, they have the inspired idea to bring little goodies for the adults in the stands.

 

A Mother's Day mimosa?  Why yes, please.

A Mother’s Day mimosa? Why yes, please.

Thank you for making me face something about myself: that I can, under certain tense conditions, veer awfully chose to becoming one of Those Parents who spontaneously erupt in outrage at a dodgy call.  I always said I’d never be one of those parents, and oh my, it’s much easier to be them than I thought. Thanks for the lesson in humility, God.

Thanks for the fact that every single game is a chance to practice detachment and going with whatever comes.  Even when it’s a nail-biting game that I really want our team to win, I’m finding that I can get myself to the point where I think — and actually believe —  Hey, we’ll be just fine if we lose.  That’s a helpful spiritual attitude to cultivate, on the ballfield and in life (St. Ignatius of Loyola called it “indifference” — the good kind.)

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And I have to give thanks for something else, too: the fact that even in a losing game, something good can happen.  The game where you get clobbered by thirteen points might be the game where your kid gets his first RBI or one of his teammates catches a fly ball that would make Pablo Sandoval proud.

And all this points to another thing I’m thankful for, God: that playing Little League is really not about the win, but about constantly putting on the cleats and warming up and going out there and challenging yourself to do a little better each time and realizing that if you have that attitude, you can still hold your head high no matter what the final score is. That’s a lesson that resonates both on the ballfield and off.  In seeing my son and his fellow players this season, I see how true it really is.  Thank you for that.

Oh, and one final thing: Thank you, God, for your wonderful trickiness in giving a totally unathletic parent like me this sporty little kid who is broadening her world in ways she didn’t even know she needed.

Play ball!

My Imperfect Advent Wreath (subtitle: Take That, Pinterest)

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It doesn’t look like an Advent wreath, I agree.  It has none of the traditional greenery, fresh and piney.  It has only one squat candle in place of four gracefully lovely tapers. It does not have the decorative pinecones or ribbons or glitter or faux snow that one finds on other, superior Advent wreaths made by crafty-er women than I.

But it’s still an Advent wreath, and it was the best I could do at six o’clock on the first Sunday of Advent.  It represents the labors of my husband, who gamely stopped what he was doing and hauled large Sterilite bins of Christmas decorations down from the rafters of the garage so I could find the little gold circlet for the candles.  It represents the labors of yours truly, who dug through ornaments and Nativity sets while the kitchen timer was going off, hissing at the kids, “No!  We are not decorating for Christmas yet!” as my son started pulling nutcrackers exuberantly out of the bins.  The turkey meatballs got overcooked as I searched in vain for the Advent candles, only to be reminded by my husband that I threw them out last year when, after years of use, they were bending outward in banana-like curves, which is disconcerting, especially when they are lit.

The wreath represents last –minute scrambling, in other words, which pretty much defines my life these days.

But you know what?  It all turned out fine.  I found an old purple Yankee Candle under a thin layer of dust on the back of the TV armoire, and I pressed it into service (“At least we only need one candle,” Scott said.)   With a helpful little book of Advent reflections and two willing boys to read it (actually, one willing boy and one who was more interested in making a telescope out of paper with which to view the flame), we all four gathered around the table for a few moments of quiet candlelit reflection redolent of Garden Sweetpeas, which I know is not a traditional Advent smell but which is nice all the same.

And I thought about how, so often, life presents us with a choice.  We don’t have the time or resources to do something perfectly, so we have to choose either to do it imperfectly, or not to do it at all.  And it is mighty tempting to choose the second option.

I fall into that way of thinking, often not just during Advent.  I don’t have lots of time to spend on writing a letter to a sick relative, so I don’t send one, when in reality a few simple lines on a card would mean a great deal to her.  I’m too tired to sit down for a long session of prayer, so I skip it entirely, even though a brief decade of the rosary or a few quiet moments in God’s presence would mean a lot to God, and even to me.

Advent is just starting, and I know that – like every Advent prior to this one – I won’t be able to engage with it as fully and completely as I would like.  But rather than making that  a reason to write off the season entirely, I am going to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and good is good enough.  My Advent evening prayers may be brief and I may fall asleep while doing them, but I am going to do them all the same and forgive myself when I nod off.  My Advent wreath may be spare and bare, but we’re going to light it anyhow.   We may not be able to gather around the wreath every single night for a family prayer, but we will do it on Sunday at least, and the gathering and praying, imperfect as it may be, will be holy.

Because at the heart of all Advent traditions is the desire to prepare for the birth of the Savior, a baby who came into this world in the most humble, imperfect, non-Pinterest-y way possible.  He was a baby whose parents had to cobble things together as best they could, in that cold unfriendly foreign place, and yet – in the end – all that mattered was the encounter with Love incarnate.

May that truth guide me this Advent, and beyond.

In praise of simple toys

If you know what this is, you probably have a child between ages seven and twelve.

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And if you don’t: It’s a kendama, and it’s currently the toy of the moment at my sons’ school.  At morning dropoff the other day, I noticed no less than five kids playing with one as they waited for the morning bell.

For the uninitiated, it’s a game where you try to swing the string in order to make the ball land on the wooden bowl on the side.  That’s the most basic step; once you master that, you can move onto really hard moves, like getting it to land on the spike on the top, or doing a series of intricate maneuvers (side, spike, side, etc.) without once messing up.

I stink at this, maybe because I’ve always been about as gifted at coordination as I am  at understanding particle physics.  But my boys adore the kendama, as do their friends both male and female.  And they’re not the only ones.

“I love that this toy is so low-tech,” another mom told me recently, a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by other parents.  In our digital/plugged-in/constantly wired age, how refreshing is it to see something so darn simple in our kids’ hands for a change?  (Very refreshing.)

I would suspect that part of its appeal for kids is how tactile it is (yes, I’m all about the senses these days).  You can only get so much joy from swiping a screen or hitting a keyboard, but when you are holding a wooden handle and feeling the tension and release of the string and the victorious vibrating thunk of the wooden ball finally landing on the spike, you get a kind of concentrated sensory feedback that many toys don’t provide.

Similar sentiments crossed my mind a few years ago, when we were helping my in-laws clean out their basement and found a jar of marbles.  How old these marbles are  we can’t begin to guess; it’s highly possible that my mother-in-law and her brothers played with them in the thirties and forties.

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My boys glommed onto them immediately, and who can blame them?  They are so beautiful, with those vivid swirls of color, and they are so cool and smooth to the touch.  We figured out how to play, and Matthew and I had some fierce games last summer, and it was so nice to play with something so simple and real, hearing the emphatic click as one knocked another out of the circle.  They make such a satisfying squidgy sound when you hold a bunch of them in your palm and rub them against each other; it’s almost the sound snow makes when you crunch it down with your feet.  It’s great that a toy so simple has such complex and positive rewards.

What about you? Are you (or your kids) partial to simple toys?  Which are your favorites?

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