A special kind of family

This week, my youngest son played his last football game as a youth. Next year he will enter high school. That thought alone blows my mind. My baby will be a high schooler? How in the world did I get this so old so fast?

Last season, his team made an incredible come back to take the state championship for their age division. Though the boys played far better this year during the season, we were not going to be granted that same miracle this year. As you all know, I hate losing, but losing here, early in the playoffs, was worse, because it might very well be the last time my son plays together with the bulk of those boys.

My son is actually a year older than most of his teammates. Because he can make weight in the lower division, and we really love the coaching staff, he has dropped down to be with this team for the last three years.

I take comfort in the fact that there were a few others who also dropped down. So next year during Freshman football training camp it won’t be a total sea of unfamiliar faces, but how I will miss the boys we had to leave behind.

In our family we play a lot of different individual sports, but football is the only team sport we play. For all the frustration that can come from having to depend on others to accomplish wins in a team sport, it also creates deep bonds that seldom happen in individual sports. All that shared blood, sweat, and tears welds together one heck of a family. A family that I hope does even better next year, even though I won’t be there to witness it.

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There is good and bad in all of us

Social media really isn’t fun anymore, is it? I see far more people casting dispersions at each other rather than just enjoying how easy it is to see glimpses of each others’ lives in real time. Somehow, we’ve forgotten one simple truth–nobody is perfect. Yet, there is goodness in every person. Some people’s goodness might be harder to see than others, but I promise it’s there…

In my late twenties, my husband and I bought our first home. We had two children, our youngest and only daughter being around two at the time. The home we purchased came with a neighbor directly to the north of us, an elderly couple–a very Italian elderly couple.

Ted, the husband, was extremely vocal about his displeasure at seeing this young couple with kids move in next to him. Besides his blunt choice of words, he had a gruff tone whenever I heard him speak. My initial instincts labeled this man as someone ornery, and someone I should avoid as much as possible. However, my two-year-old daughter didn’t share my same instinct.

While outside helping my oldest son learn to ride a bike without training wheels in the quiet Cal-de-Sac, my daughter tottled over to Ted’s garage. He always had the garage door up, sitting on an old couch and reading. Of course, my focus was elsewhere so I missed her initial move into enemy territory.

I heard Ted’s gruff voice say, “What do you want, little girl?” and I just about died. I hustled up his driveway, an apology ready on my lips. I found her sitting on the couch beside Ted.

She whined when I tried to pull her away. “Read,” she said. She loved to be read to and had noticed the newspaper in Ted’s hands.

“I can read to her,” Ted told me in his gruff voice.

“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you.”

“You’re not,” he said. “I’ve nothing else to do.”

He sounded so angry, but I worried that declining his offer would only make our strained neighbor relationship worse. I let her stay, but believe you me, I stayed right in front his house, my eyes more on my daughter than my son riding the bike that day. He never offered to hold her on his lap, he just started reading aloud. His harsh tone was so clipped and factual I couldn’t understand why my daughter was so enamored, but she sat there for at least fifteen minutes before wandering back over to our lawn.

And so began my change of heart…

Every morning before school began, my daughter insisted on walking over to Ted’s garage to say hello before we walked her brother to the elementary school. Sometimes those hellos took seconds, sometimes I had to remind her that we needed to get to school on time. He was always there on that couch, responding to whatever babble my two-year-old wanted to share. One day she decided to pick some of the silk flowers in the pots in front of his house to give to him.

“Don’t pick those,” he said, rising to put them back. He pointed to the other neighbor’s house next him. “See those yellow flowers in the grass? You can pick those, you’ll be doing Virgil a favor.” And my daughter did, giving him dandelion bouquets on many occasions. He always took them.

Over the almost five years we owned that home, Ted did many kind things for our family. He took my trash can out to the street when I forgot to sometimes and knocked on my front door when I sometimes left my garage door up.

“You don’t want somebody stealing you blind.”

However, the man’s tone and manner never changed. He was prickly and had an opinion about everything, even the slightly less pink color I once painted the house. (It’s a Las Vegas thing, they love pink houses down there.) But by focusing on his actions, I realized this man, though outwardly he was one hard nut, he wasn’t all bad. And when my husband lost his job in 2008 and we had to short-sell the house, Ted was one of the last people I spoke to before leaving what I had wanted to be my forever home.

“Would it be all right if I hugged your daughter?”

I chuckled at his request and happily agreed. At now six, my daughter was just as sad at the prospect of leaving her elderly friend. I don’t know what he said to her, he’d somehow managed to make that gruff voice of his whisper. My daughter nodded and got back in our vehicle.

“It’s a damn shame, really,” he told me, shaking his head. “You and your family weren’t so bad after all.”

His words made me smile despite my welling tears. “And neither were you.”

I will always miss that ornery man and the goodness inside him. I’m thankful my daughter managed to breakdown those barriers of judgement we had both cast. Not getting to know Ted would have been a missed opportunity for me.

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Scaredy-cat runs in our family

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before but I generally avoid scary movies. And yet, I get such a kick out of showing my kids older suspenseful flicks, probably because I know when things are going to jump out.

For a family night, we showed our youngest son the movie Signs by M. Night Shyamalan. This movie is my all-time favorite for this director so I couldn’t believe we hadn’t shown him this one before. His thirteen-year-old reaction made it ever better for me. He started out on a beanbag, far from his uncool parents. I don’t think we were even halfway through the show before he moved to the couch, right up against my side. He tried to hide his head under a blanket during the tense scenes, but I kept pulling it back down.

“I promise,” I told him over and over again, “it isn’t bloody. Keep watching.”

It’s good to see he is as big of a chicken as I am. People get a kick out of me too when I go to the movie theaters for those kinds of shows. I try so hard to be tough, but I always end up being the squealing entertainment.

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Never be too old for playtime

One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave was their willingness to play with us kids. My dad had wicked night-game skills, he always seemed to be the last one found. My mom tried out all kinds of moves on our trampoline, even a toe-touch or two. We played baseball as a family. We rode bikes as a family. I might have rolled my eyes as a teenager, but I am so glad my parents were always more than a spectator in my life.

So, this week, while I waited for my youngest son’s football practice to end, I noticed many of the younger siblings of the other families were playing a game of kickball at the other end of the field. After a few minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore. I jumped in to play too. What a fun way to pass the time.

For almost thirty minutes, I laughed as I kicked, ran bases, and sometimes intentionally threw the ball away. And seeing how much the other kids got a kick out of watching me act like one of them, made it even more priceless.

Several times, I waved over to the other parents, inviting them to join us, but not one of them did. I just smiled and kept going. The power that happens when a parent plays with their child is always worth sharing, even when the kids aren’t my own.

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Springing a leak

This week was a funny reminder that life doesn’t often happen when it’s convenient and it seldom works out the way we plan.

My kitchen faucet sprung a leak. The faucet has an internal hose that attaches to the head so I can pull it down for close power sprays whenever I’m scrubbing dishing or the sink itself. At first, the hole in the internal hose was so small water barely dribbled out. By day three, the dribble had turned into a substantial stream. Even worse, I realized some of the escaping water was falling back down inside the faucet and dripping all over the inside of the cabinetry below.

I figured squeaking out time for an unplanned visit to the home improvement store from my busy schedule would fix the problem. And I was right–kind of.

The store only offered a universal-type hose that was supposed to fix every make and model. Once I got it home, we discovered that somehow my faucet’s make and model didn’t make the cut. The faucet’s neck was too narrow for the fitting on the end of the hose to go through. So now we had a non-leaking hose but it couldn’t be fed up through the faucet or attached to the head.

My next bright idea had me looking on Amazon. Blessed day, I found the exact part, but sadly, it would take a few days to get here. (Oh how I’ve miss one day shipping during this pandemic.)

I had a choice to make. Either put the original leaking hose back on, or leave the unworkable new hose snaking out from the doors of my cabinetry until the right part finally arrived.

We decided to go with the non-leaker, thinking that would help us avoid all unwanted water damage to the kitchen. Of course, that didn’t account for my thirteen-year-old son. He turned the hose on at full strength to fill a cup the first time he used it. He didn’t realize how much the faucet head regulates the amount of water that comes out, so he ended up spraying water everywhere and I ended up on my knees, towels in hand, soaking up the water as fast as humanly possible.

Oh what a grand adventure it’s been this week! Though it took many twists and turns to over come such a little problem, it did eventually get worked out. And that’s the most important lesson of all. Yes, life is full of curve balls. But no matter how bad it gets, it will eventually work out. So never give up and just keep plugging along.

 

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An unexpected audience

I love the fact that my daughter has become such a good pianist. For someone who likes to sing as much as I do, I’m constantly picking out new music I want her to play for me. Being sixteen means she rolls her eyes a lot, but like the good sport she is, she eventually plays anything I ask of her. It’s when I ask her to perform a piece with me in front of an audience that she gets much harder to coax, so I keep those to minimum.

For weeks now we’ve been working on the song “Speechless” from the new live-action Aladdin movie. It’s been a fun challenge for both of us. Okay, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and she’s just put up with me.

One morning while practicing this week, I noticed through the window that two older women had stopped on the sidewalk with their dogs. The way they turned toward our house with their heads cocked, I realized they were listening to our song. I didn’t say anything to my daughter, since she really hates performing in front of an audience. I, on the other hand, love it and performed with my full heart and soul like I was on the stage again. When my daughter hit those last notes, a round of clapping followed from outside.

My daughter buried her head in her hands. “Mom, the windows were open?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, saluting the women before they pressed on in their walk. “The air outside was so nice and cool today.”

“Ugh, I’m so embarrassed.”

“Why? They liked the song, and you did a good job.”

She didn’t say anything, just got up and closed all the windows before finishing the rest of the pieces she needed to practice. I shook my head and let her be. Sometimes my daughter can be a real kill joy.

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The tennis meltdown

For the last three summers my youngest son and I have played quite a bit of tennis. At first, I didn’t enforce all the rules with him. If he hit the ball within the doubles line, I still played it, and even counted it as a point of I missed the ball. I also let him fault on his serves as many times as necessary without counting points against him. In those earlier games, even with all the extras I let him have, I still won most of the time. Over the years, that fact has changed. I now lose most of the games, and he now plays by all the rules for singles tennis. But even mister “I-think-I’m-awesome” has his bad days.

Last Saturday, I had the game of a lifetime. Every serve, every hit–backhand or forehand–landed on my son’s side of the court. I literally swept the first two sets without him scoring a point. By the third set, my son was good and mad.

“I’m giving up! this is stupid.”

Well, folks, you’ve already heard my recent feelings on poor attitudes, so I didn’t let it slide. “Really? Remember this is what you ask for on the weekends. Why I don’t sleep in on Saturdays, because you always ask me to wake you up to play.”

“So? It’s not fun to lose.”

“What are you talking about? You’ve won most of the games this summer, which means I’ve lost most of the games this summer. And yet, I’ve still had fun. Why do you think that is?”

“Because your a mom and you have to.”

I laughed and shook my head. “Okay, maybe being older helps me see a little clearer, but that’s not why I still had fun. I enjoy spending time with you. I enjoy smacking the crap out of the ball and the heart racing experience of when you send it flying back towards me. I’ve learned to love and appreciate every moment, because I don’t know when my body isn’t going to be able to do it anymore, so I’m soaking up the experience now.

Son, wins and losses come with every sport you play. To have winner you must have a loser, but when it becomes your sole focus for doing a sport you suck the joy right out of it. So, what’s it gonna be? Because if you’re giving up, I’d rather go home. It’s no fun when someone gives up and let’s another win. I’ve never done that to you, you shouldn’t do it to me.”

The pep talk did the trick, he came back playing like the little monster he is. But I still beat him. If you’re thinking, well that was mean, you’re wrong. He knows every win he’s ever gotten from me he’s earned.

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“Adulting” truth: high school

Your high school years are going to be fast, in fact, it’s going to surprise you how fast they go by. So be sure to suck every once of participation you can out of the experience. You’ll never do it again–at least the physically go to high school part.

Now, the land mines of personalities clashes and the petty vengeful deeds of others are never going to end. Yeah, it’s the worst part of high school, and sadly, it’s an eternal punishment for us all. It’s the dirty little secret that adults don’t really talk about. Some jerks never outgrow their horrible behavior, and often pass the attitude onto their kids.

On more than one occasion I have pondered why it seems like only the bad stuff in every era of life follows us into the next. If I had to take something from high school, I would have rather kept my flexibility and the pain-free joints. For those of my readers who survived those years, what do you still wish you had from high school?

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The destructive force of a poor attitude

The high school football season is upon us here where I live. First, I need to say how grateful I am that the leaders in my state and local government have decided to let the kids play during this pandemic. They need it and, quite frankly, I need it, too.

Sadly, our high school lost its first game of the season this week. The game actually started out on a positive note. We scored in the first few seconds of the game and even scored again before the first quarter was over. But the game turned sour in the second quarter. Not because of the refs, though I’m sure there are many boys on the team today who are thinking that. No, the boys, now full of pride, began to boast and taunt the other team. Flags flew, un-sportsman like conduct and other personal fouls started to be handed out at almost every down. Every hard-fought yard we gained only ended up being swallowed by first the boasting penalties, then the poor attitudes that grew as our opponent passed us on the scoreboard. As spectators, the team melted down before our eyes. It was disheartening.

I asked my youngest son as we walked back to our vehicle after the game what he learned by watching the spectacle.

“I don’t know. I learn more by playing the game than watching it. What was I supposed to learn?”

I tried not to rolled my eyes at his typical boy response. “Do you think all those personal fouls were a good thing?”

“No, it kept pushing them backwards on the field so they couldn’t get a first down and had to kick the ball away to the other team.”

“Yes, it did.” I was thrilled he at least paid enough attention to grasp that. “What could our team have done differently to avoid them?”

“I don’t know. I guess stop talking back all the time.”

I almost raised my hands in the air with hallelujah excitement. “Exactly. Remember this moment and always be aware of your attitude on the field. It is the one thing you always have control over. Games are never won by words, so be a player of action.” Or so help me, he might one day see his mother walking onto the field to remove him by his ear if he ever tries to get mouthy in a game.

 

 

 

 

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A haircut of no return

This week my oldest son received the last haircut he would get from me for the next two years. During that time, I won’t be able to see him except through occasional video calls. For those in my readership who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints you’re probably wondering why, but he chose to serve a two-year mission for the church.

Anyway, that final haircut came with playful banter like always between us. I swear, I nipped the kid’s ear once with the scissors and he’s never let me live it down. While holding his ear down and pretending like he’s cowering in fear, his next question surprised me.

“So who will cut my hair while I’m gone, my companion?”

I laughed. “No, you’ll go to a salon or a barbershop, like me and your sister do when we want our hair cut.”

“Oh. I only thought those places cut hair for girls.”

His innocent response struck me in such a way I stopped laughing. You see, he’s only seen the inside of a barbershop once, when he was six months old. My son’s hair had grown so long by that time, I either needed to start putting it in ponytails or it had to be cut. I’m not professionally trained to cut hair, but that event was so traumatic for everyone involved, even for the hairstylist, I never took him back to a salon. For the first five years of his life, he screamed and I mean screamed every time his hair was cut. You would have thought I was cutting off his head. A neighbor even once pushed himself above the brick fence between us to make sure I wasn’t killing him. I apologized and explained he would probably hear this every time I needed to cut his hair. Oh, it took forever for him to finally stop acting like that, but it also forced me to learn a new skill. In our household, I now even cut my husband’s hair.

I’m sure my son will find out a stylist can do much better job than me while out on his mission, but I’m grateful for the memories his comment brought to mind. Those years, even with all the struggles that came with raising small children and all their weird quirks, are precious to me above all else. My only regret is that I sometimes wished those days away. Now I would give anything to go back, just for a little while, and enjoy how they once were.

 

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