Appreciating the beauty of individuality

The  T-shirts were identical.

A sea of kids wore the shirts, which declared them members of the DREAM team at their school’s fun run. They made their way around a track lined with orange cones as they sang along to Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars. In these 30 minute blocks with their classes, they were all in it together, running to raise money for playground equipment and field trips and musical instruments.

But those shirts were all they had in common.

There were the superstars who ran lap after lap with ease and got lots of high-fives. Some struggled to keep up (the chubby kid in me related to them) and received lots of encouragement. A few stumbled, and their classmates reached out to help them up. Two kids from a special needs class tightly held hands the whole time, guiding each other through rowdy mob. One boy happily  jogged along in heavy winter boots.

Sadly but surely, some of them will have an easier time in life than others. I wondered how many of them have people in their lives with the resources to make pledges so they could win highly coveted prizes like a screaming flying chicken and how many of their families don’t have a credit card, checking account, or address. How many excel in school and how many of them can’t read?

All these kids, from diverse background and experiences, are learning who they are, what they are good at, where they fit in, how to stand apart.

They whizzed by me, stopping briefly as I marked each lap on the backs of their shirts,  and I delighted in their exuberance and individuality. I gained even greater appreciation for the teachers who work with these distinct personalities all day. (And I realized some of these boys need deodorant at a much younger age.) I wished for each of them, no matter their circumstances, the same opportunities and a bright future.

The other parents and I predictably cooed, “They are sooo cute!” But oh, these extraordinary human beings are so much more.

They are athletic and awkward
Witty and wise
Shy and shameless
Friendly and ferocious
Caring and crazy
Lovely and lonely
Outgoing and optimistic
Tender and tortured
Clumsy and cool
Polite and precocious
Determined and dramatic
Gregarious and gentle
Fearless and fragile
Wounded and wry
Respectful and ridiculous
Silly and sweet
Charming and courageous
Intelligent and indignant
Angry and adorable.

Each of them beautiful. All of them worthy.

Dream on, kids. The world awaits your unique gifts.

Another year on the nice list for Mom

I watched the touching Spanish IKEA commercial that went viral about kids writing two letters – one to Santa, and one to their parents. It turns out the kids asked Santa for lots of toys, but their wishes from their parents were very different. They wanted more time with them, they wanted to be listened to.

I asked my son what he would ask me and Dad for that wasn’t a material thing. He didn’t take long to answer: “I want to know the truth about the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns and all that stuff.”

Not the response I was expecting, but I shouldn’t have been surprised giving his growing skepticism. A lot of my friends with kids this age are struggling with how to approach this. (You can read my previous post about this.)

We settled in for a talk. I told him flat out: the Tooth Fairy is not real. And leprechauns, I don’t know. I’ve never seen one. (These leprechaun traps kids make today weren’t a thing when I was growing up. I had never even heard of them until H wanted to make one a couple years ago.)

“So….Easter Bunny?” he asked.

I opened my mouth to reply, with a sigh, but before I could answer, he blurted out, “Do I REALLY want to hear this?”

“I don’t know, do you?”

“Well, I don’t want to know about Santa!” he said, quite emphatically.

santa package.jpgSo we left it at the leprechauns. And I decided it was time for another Package from Santa. I ordered the package (this is a pretty cool thing if you’ve never done it  (www.packagefromsanta.com), this time editing the letter to reflect his questions. It arrived last night. He squealed when he tore open shiny envelope from the North Pole (Whew! Another year on the Nice List!) and sat down to read the personalized letter.

“I know you’re almost 9 now and you’ve been hearing from other kids that there is no Santa Claus and trying to decide for yourself what you believe. Your parents and I have been thinking a lot about what to tell you,” Santa wrote.

“You said you wanted the truth, so here it is: the magic of Santa is real.” (More squealing.)

“But you’re such a smart boy and ask so many questions that you have figured out a few of my secrets. You’re right, it is hard for me and the reindeer to fly all the way around the globe in one night…and your parents sometimes help me make sure your presents get delivered.”

It went on to congratulate him for this good works and successes during the year and to wish him a happy birthday, which falls on the day after Christmas.

He beamed. He jumped up and down. He was thrilled. He was relieved.

He was not completely fooled.

“So exactly how does Santa get the presents to you guys?” he asked.

To tell or not to tell? He wants the truth. He wants to believe.

So I told him what I believe to be true: It’s all part of the magic of Christmas.

I hope that gets me on the Nice List.

 

 

Holy *@$Z!* Where did my kid hear this?

swearingThe other night at dinner, our not-yet-9-year-old son asked me what a c***s***er was. He actually asked just like that, asterisks and all.

“I know the F word and the S word and the D word and the B word, but what word is that?” he asked.

What the bleep?

He told me he was checking the parental warnings of a movie he and a friend wanted to watch On Demand and that word appeared on the TV screen so they didn’t watch it. I had no idea they actually specify which words might be heard in a film. They do. (They also mention what nude body parts you might see, just an FYI.)

To hear him rattle off the ABCs of curse words was unnerving to say the least. Where has he learned all this?

I remember when we were kids – I was the oldest of the group and probably 8 – we found the “F” word scratched into a fence behind our playhouse. We ran inside and asked our mom what it meant. She said, and I quote, “It’s an ugly word for a beautiful thing.”

We didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, but we were instructed not to say it. My mom used to say things like “Fiddlesticks,” when she was mad. If my Norwegian grandma was disgusted, you’d hear her say, “Uff da.”

Unfortunately today, kids hear a lot worse. Most wouldn’t have to ask the meaning if they saw a bad word scrawled on a wall.

I monitor what my son watches, but it seems like swearing is everywhere and it’s acceptable if there’s that beeeeeeeeeeeeeep in place of the word. Cursing is commonplace in the media, on pop radio, in PG movies, and on the playground. Older siblings also share lots of choice words with younger kids.

Swearing itself doesn’t bother me – my vocabulary includes some fine examples. Too often my son hears me exclaim, “Shit! I mean, shoot!” usually when I spill something, miss a freeway exit, or forget to pack a lunch. And he scolds me for such language.

Sometimes after he’s gone to bed and I’m watching the news (Oh what the h-e-double toothpicks it might have been the Real Housewives), he overhears and yells, “Mom, you know I can hear that? And it’s not appropriate!”

He knows he’s not supposed to say bad words and he doesn’t repeat them (at least in front of me.) But sadly, he’s heard a lot of them. Some moms don’t seem to care – YouTube is full of videos of babies and toddlers dropping the F bomb – but I don’t want my kid talking like that.

So we’re going to watch our tongues and enact a few more parental controls of our own. And he’s just going to have to wait a while to find out about any of those “C” words.

Gosh darn it.

 

 

Five reasons I won’t give up on Forced Family Fun

My husband and dad are watching football for the third straight day. My son and his friend don’t want to do anything except play the Xbox. I’m bored and unsatisfied with our family interaction.

What do I do? Bring out the board games! Plan an outing!

It’s a picture-perfect November day, with blue skies and sunshine to kick off the Christmas season. We’ll go to the Seattle Center, ride up the Space Needle to see the futuristic Santa, then visit the gingerbread houses. Family fun day!

The response from my son?

“I don’t want to go!”

Oh yes, we’re going. This isn’t just family fun. This is forced family fun at its finest.

forced fun biggerThe night before, I had suggested a rousing game of spoons with grandparents, parents, and kids. I heard more than a few complaints about what a dumb game it was. What’s the point? All you have to do is grab a stupid spoon? Lame.

“The point is THIS IS FUN!!!!” I screamed.

After finally getting everyone on board and explaining the very complicated rules of the game (pass a card, get four of a kind, reach for a spoon and don’t be the player to end up without one), we had a great time moving through the deck as fast as we could and diving dramatically toward the middle of the dining room table trying to grab our spoon.

As I was trying to inspire a little enthusiasm out of my son and his friend for my holiday sightseeing plans, I asked my dad if my siblings and I moaned and groaned when it was time for a family adventure our parents thought would be a blast. He just laughed. “Sometimes,” he admitted.

I don’t remember that, but I do remember the family fun – games of Facts in Five (does anyone else remember this old-fashioned, tougher prequel to Scattergories?) road trips filled with endless singing of “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” and “The Other Day I Saw a Bear,” and visits my parents arranged to historical sites like Pearl Harbor and the Lincoln Memorial.

So no matter how much grumbling I hear, I won’t give up on forcing family fun. Here’s why:

Because it get us off our screens. Whether it’s Minecraft, Facebook, the NFL Network, You Tube, or WordPress, we all spend a lot of time looking at our devices and not really talking to each other. It’s important to step away and have actual conversations and play real games. They always evoke giggles, and laughing together is my favorite kind of family fun.

Because I go places like the Family Fun Center and Chuck E. Cheese. Let’s be serious. These casinos for kids are not a place for family fun. Trying to keep track of the kids, limiting the dollars spent on tokens to stuff into machines that spew tickets, only to wait in line to count said tickets, then wait some more while they carefully redeem them for plastic swords and whoopee cushions is not my idea of quality time. But I do it for you, kiddos.

Because we’re creating traditions. Maybe we whined when it was time to play the classic Midwest card game Rook with my mom’s large extended family, but we always had fun at card tables filled with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins at family get-togethers. The night of my grandma’s memorial service, her children and grandchildren gathered together and played the game she taught us, and we now-adult grandchildren have shared it with our spouses and kids.

Because we’re making memories. My siblings and cousins often reminisce about camping trips and fishing outings with our parents. Waking up at 4 a.m. to climb onto my uncle’s small boat for a long, bumpy ride out to the halibut and crab grounds in Southeast Alaska drew some protests from the younger set, but we have fond memories of those times we spent together. Someday, my kids will teach their children the silly songs I sang in the car with them, and I will join the chorus.

Because most of the time, we have fun. The trip downtown wasn’t the best example of that. Suffice it to say I wasn’t the only one who had this great idea. Crazy long lines kept us from the two main things we set out to do, and the kids were hungry and cranky. After one of those Mom-of-the-Year moments when I told my son I was so done with his whining I might not ever take him anywhere he wants to go if I don’t want to go there too, I put myself in time out.

Succumbing to failure, we headed home. My son asked if his friend could spend the night, and my initial thought was no way, not after how you behaved today.

“I really want to play spoons again!” he said with genuine excitement. “I have to admit, Mom, that was pretty fun.”

Forced family fun wins again.

 

 

 

Count your blessings every day

It’s easy to talk about all we’re grateful for on Thanksgiving.

Our family has been trying to make a habit of counting our blessings all year long. The idea was born on a crazy-making day when everyone was complaining and whining. I suggested – ok maybe screamed – that we all take a minute to think about something good that happened that day.

The good thing that day was the beautiful box my son made asking us simple questions: What are you grateful for? What good happened to you today? Easy questions with often profound answers that undoubtedly change our perspective. A few months later, we went to a paint-your-own-pottery place and he decided to make a more durable Gratitude Jar.

We slip colorful pieces of paper in the box and jar and share them over the dinner table several times a week.

I’m often overcome during the reading.

I’m grateful for a sunny day.

I’m grateful for true friends.

I’m grateful there was no traffic.

I’m grateful for my thriving family, my funny son and my sweet husband.

I’m grateful for coffee. I’m grateful for wine.

I’m grateful for music, for books, for laughter, for tears.

I’m grateful for our home, our health, our sense of humor. Especially that sense of humor.

Sometimes we’re grateful for simple things we usually take for granted. I’m grateful for my coat, my umbrella, my dinner on the table, my bed. My son always wants a little more stuff. He’s almost 9 and thinks more stuff would make him happier.

Sometimes he’s grateful for Minecraft. Sometimes it’s the money he got in a card from his Grandma. Or doing well on a math test or having a friend over.

Then he writes something like this, that he’s grateful for happiness, and my heart swells, knowing my message is getting through to him.

h grateful

Granted, sometimes we’re better at it this gratitude thing than others. We have been through our trials this year, as have you all. Some days just suck, as my son says. Many of us are struggling with loss and pain and stress. Others are coping with hunger, joblessness, homelessness, loneliness, illness, addiction. No matter our circumstances, someone certainly is in a worse position. No matter our wealth, someone surely has more.

When I’m down, I look through the piles of paper I’ve saved and stuffed into gallon Ziploc bags, and I’m reminded how bountiful my blessings. So I try – as corny as some may find it – to find joy in every day: A giggle, a song I like on the radio, a message in marker on a pink slip of paper that reminds me someone loves me.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

 

Rushing toward imperfection

My in-laws are early. My hair is wet and I have no makeup on. I wanted to make the pie before they got here, but of course I am out of one ingredient, so flour and sugar are all over the kitchen. My husband is running the vacuum, and my dad is frustrated over computer problems. My son is pounding on the piano and the dog is going crazy jumping and barking over all the excitement. I have to get to the airport soon to fetch my brother, and the sheets for the guest bedroom are still in the washer.

Happy day before Thanksgiving!

This is not the way I wanted this morning to go. I’m not a good housekeeper, and I don’t really bake. But we’re hosting everyone this year, so I wanted everything to be spic and span, as my dad would say, for our out-of-town company. I didn’t strive for perfection, and no one expects it out of me (seriously no one), but I was hoping for more than abject chaos.

I mean, is cool, calm, and collected too much to ask for the day before Thanksgiving? Apparently so.

But here’s the truth. This is kind of me, kind of us. I wait until the last minute to do things, so I don’t have any leeway when things go awry. I laugh at myself so it’s ok for others to laugh along with me.

And in this moment, I am grateful for the noise, because my house is full of people I love. I am grateful for the imperfect morning, because I have the whole day ahead of me to improve upon the way it started.

I have 20 minutes until the oven timer is done. That’s plenty of time to slap on some makeup, make the bed, post a blog, and get to the airport.

Plenty of time.

 

 

I’m so sure! I have some mega memories of camp in the ’80s

Every time I go to my childhood home, I dig through another box of mementos that have been stored in the closet of my old bedroom for decades since I left for college. Last week, I found a gem: the journal signed by the friends I’d made during three weeks at music camp.

journalI have wonderful memories of the time I spent there, nestled in woods on the shores of King’s Lake. I remember walking along the trails, drum beats accompanying my strides as violins whistled through the trees, and being overcome by the magical harmonies of our madrigal choir.

I was so nervous to go the first time, thinking everyone would be cooler and prettier than me, and way better musicians. But I remember how quickly those friendships formed in our cabins, over late nights with giddy girls listening to the radio and whispering about crushes on brooding guitar players.

From what’s on the pages of that canvas-covered book I had saved since 1982, those camp kids thought I was super neat!!!

“It was super neat having you in the same cabin,” wrote one girl in her loopy handwriting. “You are a super funny, neat, and sweet person.”

“You are a super, great, funny, cute, loveable and all-around neat person,” another said.

“You are so funny and super nice! You are always so cheery and friendly.”

“Camp would have been very boring without you!!!,” my friend Christine wrote. “You brighten up our day.”

On these lined pages, before social media and cell phones, there was a distinct lack of profanity and not a hint of nastiness, like you hear so much about with teenagers today. The teen verbiage of the ‘80s shined through.

“It’s been, like, a blast at camp this year. Like, I had a lot of massively fun times. You’re an awesome gal with a mega sense of humor and a totally excellent singing voice.”

“Things have been mega quad this year,” wrote a guy named Jeff. “You may be dingy, but your heart holds much goodness, and I believe (why I don’t know) that reality will be good to you.”

He continued with the most explicit entry in the book: “Lots of luck, love, success, happiness, and great sex (not too heavy on the last one.)”

And from another boy, with whom I had shared some summertime drama.

“Thank you for being a friend. I hope that this year we better understand each other, though it was mostly my fault. F/A.”

The signoffs were equally hilarious.

Love and Preppiness, signed both Tracey and Jennifer, who must have worn polo shirts with their collars up.

Love and Vogueness, from Tammy, obviously an outdoor fashionista.

“I’ll call you after camp and we’ll do something totally radical,” a friend from my school wrote. “Remember that I wuv you to the max!”

Many of these signatures were from people who were only in my life for those few weeks in the summer, but some are from lifelong friends, like the guy who wrote this:

“I’m real glad we’re friends, and I know that we always will be!!! Thanks for being my friend. You always keep me smiling or laughing.”

Back at you, Tyler.

That was my last summer at camp, before we all got too grownup for bunk beds, early morning rehearsals, and waiting in line for showers, and we chose instead to spend our time off school working and trying to find the RADDEST party.

The summer of 1982, I was still belting out songs from the much-loved movie “Fame,” about a group of kids committed to their art, and channeling Irene Cara:

“Sometimes I wonder, where I’ve been, who I am, do I fit in?”

For at least those three weeks, I fit in.

That’s pretty neat.

Hope blooms

It’s a rainy, dreary day in Seattle, with Halloween and darker days just around the corner. I’ve heard a lot of sad news this week, and I’m preparing to help one of my best friends say goodbye to her mom, just as  she did for me.

And I found this today:

2015-10-26 15.24.42

Despite the blustery wind and pounding rain, this gorgeous flower continues to thrive.

My husband gets me fuchsias, my favorite, every year on Mother’s Day. I love the bright ribbons of color that wrap underneath the petals of another shade, and the small, ordinary-looking buds that explode into cascading hues.

They seem so delicate, but these have been hanging for more than five months, surviving summer’s extreme heat and fall’s chilly nights. Still there are buds hidden among the wet, yellowing leaves, just waiting to pop.

It made me think that we are not as fragile as we feel sometimes. We can hold on through the storms, clinging to the branches that hold us up, and find we are stronger than  we thought.

Hope blooms.

People in wheelchairs deserve to be seen

mom and ma (2)

I hardly see the wheelchair in one of my favorite photos of my fun-loving mom and my aunt.

I hate that seeing a wheelchair always reminds me of my mom.

She was so much more than that chair. So much more than the monster called MS that she lived with for 30 years.

But whenever I see someone in a wheelchair, or a hopelessly inaccessible bathroom, or a store you can only reach by taking the stairs, I’m reminded of my remarkable mom, who was dependent on a wheelchair for too many years before she died too soon almost 13 years ago.

Sometimes the chair was all people would see.

Sometimes it made this vibrant woman invisible.

I thought about that this weekend while we were at our city’s Halloween festival. We admired the creative costumes, screamed through the haunted house, and trick-or-treated at the shops along the way to the town square for the dog costume contest and the wiener dog races.

A crowd gathered around the small cordoned-off area to watch the tiny four-legged racers. It was hard to see, and kids crouched down at the front while adults stood behind. A man wheeled up and took a spot behind the children.

Soon, a woman appeared and stood directly in front of him. She kept looking around, I assumed, to make sure she wasn’t in anyone’s way. She never noticed the gentleman in the wheelchair behind her. He kept trying to peer around her, to get a glimpse of the action, but he never said anything.

Finally, I touched her gently on the shoulder, letting her kindly know she was blocking his view.  She was embarrassed, she felt bad, and of course she apologized.

“I didn’t even SEE him. I didn’t even SEE him,” she kept repeating.

She didn’t even see him.

My mom would never have been alone. My amazing dad or one of her kids or a friend would have been there to push her forward and make sure she had a clear view. This man was by himself. I don’t know him or anything about his circumstances and really have no right to speak for him.

But I saw him.

And I saw my mom and all the times airport security wanted her to stand up to be searched, all the waiters who tried to get us into a booth rather than seat us at a table she could easily pull up to, and all the salesclerks who looked over her head and asked me if they could help me find something. I thought of the numerous times my Mom was using her electric scooter on our walks and someone jogged by, cheerfully but thoughtlessly saying they envied her ride.

I remembered the times she didn’t want to make a scene when we couldn’t get somewhere she wanted to go, and the times she made a joke about it.

“Watch out for the crazy driver!” she’d laugh as I pushed through department store racks placed too tightly together so she could reach the sweater she wanted to try on.

I’m grateful for the strangers who would hold the door for us, who would help us negotiate a curb where there was no ramp, and especially thankful to those who greeted my mom, instead of avoiding her eyes and looking to me.

mom and me

My mom and me, before MS.

Because she was someone you wanted to know. She was a funny, smart, and resilient woman who loved shopping, football, and politics and could debate with the best. Before the disease ravaged her hands, she played a mean piano, and the former English teacher and music school owner inspired her children to play music, to write, to sing. She fought hard and worked hard and loved much and never stopped trying.

She was so much more than that damn chair.

Please remember that the next time you encounter a person in a wheelchair.

Just see her.