Winner! (aka: My Parenting Trophy)

I did it! I won a trophy!

Not just any trophy, either. The Best Trophy Ever.

Finally, after years of driving my three kids around to their events and watching them earn gymnastics medals, soccer trophies, science team trophies, and scouting awards, I finally had my turn.

Okay fine. It’s not like I’ve never earned awards before. After all, I grew up at the beginning of the High-Self-Esteem-Trophies-For-Just-Showing-Up era, when every kid was a winner. Of course, the moment the coaches’ backs were turned, the “real” winners stole the conch and Piggy’s glasses, then danced around a bonfire. And those trophies? Their fate was to be crammed away in some cardboard box in the garage until Mom tried to push them off on her grown kids. (No thanks, Mom. I’d rather keep the memories).

But today was different. Today, on the day before the last day of school, I opened an envelope that my 11 year-old son handed me. Every sixth grader heading off to middle school next year wrote thank you letters to their parents — a tradition carried on through the years at his school. My kid, who isn’t usually the mushy, sentimental type, wrote a love note that brought tears to my eyes. My heart cartwheeled in happiness.

This was not just a letter. This was proof. Proof that my children think I’m pretty special. Proof that I haven’t been screwing up this parenting thing. Proof that the experiment is working. Hooray! Yahoo! This letter from my kid is my trophy. The only trophy I need. And I don’t know, maybe I will frame it and hang it in my closet. So anytime I feel like I’m failing in the mom role, I can read my son’s honest, loving words and be reminded.

Hey Mom. You’re doing just fine.
LoveLetter FromConnor

Onward! (aka: Your Amazing Journey)

lifes journey

Life is not just a journey.

It can be like a journey though. It starts when at last we leave the nest, empty-handed, fluttering our barely-tested wings. Life is not so new anymore, and yet, everything is fresh. Like babies, we toddle into the vast unknown, swiveling our heads to take in everything around us. Our hearts are open to love. We blaze with light, high on new ideas.

Onward!

journey toward sun

It doesn’t take long, though. Somewhere in those ten years, we forget the steps. Our wings droop, weary. Our lights burn lower now, a candle’s flicker, shocked by the splash of sudden responsibilities. In our hands, we carry sacks, heavy with disappointment. Sometimes, we stop in our tracks, compass spinning wildly. Maybe we retrace our steps, searching for the safety of the nest we left behind.

But there is no nest. Not anymore.

So on we continue. When we are lucky, we find others journeying in our direction. We take turns carrying the load for one another, emptying sacks with laughter, with words. Candles together, we shine, lighting the path ahead. We remember our wings. We soar.

candlelight people lights

But luck does not always last. Those moments will come. Our paths may split, companions scattered. What was once you is no longer you, but an empty hole that fills with salty rain and empties again. The light is snuffed, the darkness overwhelms. We want to stop, to curl into the darkness, wrap our wings around us and forget.

But there is this wonderful thing called time. You will hate that word, but you must trust it. Time will gently unfurl your wings, lift you from the darkness. Time will open your eyes to the good ways to be you once again. Time will reveal a great truth to you: life is not just a journey.

Life can be your very own novel. You are the protagonist, fresh ink on each new page. You can begin the dialogue, write the verse, and when you aren’t happy, you can change the plot.

Life can be your canvas. Sketch your plan. Add your own splashes of color where you can. Or better, make yourself the canvas. Trade your jeans for polka-dot skirts and wild, artsy jewelry. Grow the longest beard you’ve ever seen. Sculpt your form like clay, love your softness.

Some say that life is a spiral. You move onward and upward, but the climb brings you around to where you began. But now, you have grown, learned, hovering above the steps you once climbed.

No matter how you see it, there is one thing that remains unchanged. This is your one and only life. No matter where you are in the journey, no matter which page you’ve reached in your book, you have the power to choose what happens next. Who will you be when the sun rises next? Where will your next steps take you?
remember your wings and fly

I hope that your baggage will grow lighter as you travel. I hope that you remember your wings and fly.

I hope that time and love will seep into your cracks and heal your hurts. I hope that when you wander from your path, you will find your way back. I will be here, waiting for you, my fellow traveler. My candle is lit, ready to share my light when you need it.

May your journey be long and filled with great love.

Life (and Other Games)

board game pawns dice“Hey mom, can we play a board game?”

Groan. I looked at the eager, shining eyes of my 10yo and pasted on a cheery smile. “Oh boy, a board game! There’s nothing I’d like better.”

“Hooray!” My son bounced off to search for a board game. “Blokus?” he called. “Chutes and Ladders? The Game of Life? Ooh, I know, how about Dogopoly?”

Nooooooo! I wanted to scream. Anything but Dogopoly, which takes the world’s longest, most boring board game and makes it more boring by selling dogs instead of luxury properties. Luckily, our Dogopoly game had mysteriously disappeared, so our family (minus the older teen, who was superglued to the computer, lost in the World of Warcraft) settled down on the living room floor to play Scrabble Slam!

dogopoly_boardYes, it is necessary to write Scrabble Slam! with an exclamation point, to emphasize how fun! And exciting! And fast! This game is. For about three minutes. Then, of course, Mom wins while everyone else is still holding a fistful of cards. Because we all forgot rule number one of Family Game Night in our house – never play word games of any kind with Mom. Or strategy games. Or pretty much any game besides Life or Chutes and Ladders.

 

The strangest thing is that I used to be crazy about board games. When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I played them all the time, whenever we weren’t playing Atari games or little league sports. Pay Day, Clue, Connect Four, and yes, even the dreaded Monopoly used to seem so fun (even though my older sister used to alter the rules in her favor). But somewhere within the past several years, I lost my enthusiasm for board games. Especially games of chance, where it doesn’t matter how talented you are at anything, because any player can win or lose just by getting a lucky spin or landing on the wrong space. Maybe it feels too much like the real Game of Life.

But here’s the thing – even though I am no longer crazy about board games, I am super crazy about my kids. They are like a cup of awesome-sauce with sugar on top. And so, any trace of distaste I may feel for board games is overshadowed by my love for them. For them, I would happily roll dice and dole out fake money. I would pretend to suck at checkers and accidentally-on-purpose forget that I am holding a +4 Wild Card in my Uno deck. I would even – gulp! – play Dogopoly for a few hours, if that’s what they really wanted to do.

family_games_words

Because that’s what you do when you love someone. You jump into their world with them and play the game with your sunniest attitude, even if it’s not your thing. Game on!

classic board games

Love, Chocolate, and Lupercalia (aka: Valentine’s Day)

Love love love 

You guessed it – I am a Valentine’s Day hater. Okay, not really.  Because deep beneath the surface, I am a hopeless romantic who grows weak-kneed at tales of true love, candlelit dinners, and moonlit walks. But on the outside, I look at holidays like Valentine’s day through a scornful and cynical eye. When I scan through the Facebook posts and Tweets of other people, I am amazed and somewhat disgusted by some of the posts I read. “I swear, he’d better have roses and chocolate for me when he comes home…”  For reals? Since when was it a romantic gesture to receive a gift which you demanded? Isn’t it really just a fulfillment of your shopping list?

meh

 

Ugh. Well, instead of turning this into a full-blown rant against commercialism and narcissism, I decided to try taking a different turn this year, by sharing some of the positive aspects of St. Valentine’s Day from history. You see, there was this Christian guy named Valentinus who was martyred in Rome in the 3rd century. Apparently, he wrote a note to the blind daughter of his jailer just before he was executed, and signed it, Your Valentine. Hence, at some point down the line, it became popular to give love notes signed Your Valentine. Because apparently, we’re all going to be executed on February 15th. How romantic.

Of course, before this, the Roman festival of Lupercalia was celebrated around Valentine’s Day. And – well, those crazy Romans – they celebrated by sacrificing goats and a dog, then stripping their hides. Then they ran around smacking women with the hides, in order to make them fertile.

The heck?

Stephen Colbert Discusses Lupercalia

I give up. There are so many ridiculous traditions, both in modern times as well as ancient. But through the ages, with the possible exception of Lupercalia, there is one common thread that is the saving grace of St. Valentine’s Day. Love. Yes, the main focus is usually on romantic or erotic love, but I tell my kids that it’s also a great day to focus on loving your friends and family, too.
Charlie Brown Snoopy Valentines

And so today, instead of passing on my bitter cynicism to the next generation, I am celebrating Valentine’s Day by loving my kids. Here is what they will find when they return home from school today:
Strawberry Cake and Candy

They will also learn that I have already done their chores for them, so that they may begin the weekend free. Now that is love. No martyrdom required.

 

 

Defying the Stars (aka The New Romeo and Juliet Film)

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”

It is true. It is sadly true. Deep inside, where almost no one can see, I am a sappy, daydream-y, hopeless romantic. My heart melted when Jim finally revealed his feelings to Pam. I cried silent, happy tears when Mr. Darcy finally proposed to Elizabeth. Profound love songs and poetry make my heart flutter like the wings of a hummingbird. And I still get weak in the knees whenever I read the most famous love story in the world, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

I recently learned that there is a new Romeo and Juliet screenplay, scheduled to be released in U.S. theatres this September. My initial reaction was to leap in the air and shout with glee, “Hoorayyy!” After all, Romeo and Juliet is my absolute favorite Shakespeare play, filled with such romance and passion and frustration as the star-crossed lovers are thwarted by life and cheated by death. The Starcrossed Lovers Romeo and Juliet 1968

Then I quickly sobered as I remembered the unfortunate modern interpretation of the play released in 1996, which made use of guns instead of swords and Leonardo DiCaprio instead of a real actor. (Okay, fine, maybe DiCaprio has improved remarkably since then). I was filled with trepidation until I saw the trailer for the new film, and breathed a sigh of relief. The actors are quoting the actual lines of the play, and wearing period costumes, and performing on sets that appear true to Shakespeare’s Verona.  Of course, I would feel much better if the director, Carlo Carlei, were known for more than just television movies and dramas. I would also feel better if they had chosen a slightly older actress in order that they could film a steamy nude lovemaking scene like in the 1968 film.

Still, I am looking forward to the new film’s release this September. If it turns out to be a flop, I can at least enjoy sitting in a dark auditorium, mouthing the beautiful, romantic lines along with the actors. “For never was there a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

The Strange World of Kids and Crushes (aka Clueless)

very young lovers

How young is too young for dating?

I feel entirely lost when it comes to the subject of kids and dating. At what age should I allow my children to go out on dates, or have boyfriends or girlfriends? Should boyfriend/girlfriend relationships even be encouraged? What about setting limits on physical affection? What about the inevitable hurt feelings that come with rejection and breakups?

Funnily enough, I did not start to worry on account of my oldest son, who will be starting high school this fall. In fact, he apparently has next to no interest in dating (although he did admit to having a crush on some girl at his school last year). Nor did I begin to think of this subject on account of my daughter, who will begin 7th grade. She apparently has zero interest in boys or crushes or dating. Such a relief! However, I was surprised to learn recently that my youngest son, who is almost nine years old, had a girlfriend at school.

“She is so pretty and nice, Mom,” he told me with the cutest puppy-love expression, pointing out every one of her photos in his yearbook. “And look – she drew little hearts all around my picture. Isn’t that cute?” Half of me wanted to melt into the floor from the overwhelming cuteness. The other half of me wanted to melt into the floor from shock. 8 years old? 8 years old? My brain screamed at me. Surely the boyfriend/girlfriend thing isn’t supposed to start so soon! Well, luckily (for me, not for my son), he will be starting 4th grade at a different school, far away from this so-called girlfriend. teenage_love

I really did not date much during my youth. Partially because I was really never the type of girl that boys wanted to date, and partially because I was scared out of my wits of boys. (It’s true. I pretty much never talked to boys during high school unless they were obviously gay or even more shy than I was). I had a couple of passing crushes, which were rejected (“My parents would never let me date a black girl. Sorry.”). My first boyfriend, my freshmen year of high school, was gay, I later learned. He was kind and shy, and never tried to kiss me or even hold my hand. That suited me just fine, because the idea of kissing a boy scared me to death, too.

kids kissing

I first kissed a boy in eleventh grade. His name was Joe, and he was blonde, blue-eyed, and geeky. He was my boyfriend for three weeks, during which we barely had time to hang out, due to my busy activity schedule, and during which we exchanged perhaps a dozen quick pecks on the lips. Then I dumped him, because I found the whole thing boring and pointless. What was the point of being so permanently attached to someone you barely knew? Where were the dates – the actual dates where two people go out and do things together, like bowling or movies or the batting cages? Was the only point of having a boyfriend to kiss and hug and hold hands like all the sappy, shallow girls around me? Why the focus on exclusive couples during such an age of youthful exploration? Is that still the way things work for teenagers today? I honestly have no idea. Nor do I know what the best advice is to give my kids.

“I think that she seems very cute and sweet,” I told my 8 year-old. “But next time you have a crush, please tell her that your mom says no girlfriends until college.”

“Seriously?” My son stared at me like I was completely nuts. After all, college is probably unreasonable. But then, who knows? I am a great parent when it comes to baking homemade cookies and helping with schoolwork. But the world of dating and crushes is something I never learned to navigate well. For the first time ever as a mom, I do not know the right answer.

Hands

The health of my grandmother, the nonagenarian, is beginning to fade. Today I visited her in the hospital. We talked about family and laughed together, although she did not remember at all who I was. But I happily kissed her warm, soft cheek and gently held her fragile hands as we shared a few moments together in love.
image

HANDS

I see her
across a small pool
every flutter, every line
soft folds of pale skin
beneath sterile lights
dark eyes that look back
in wonder and confusion
and her hands
so like mine
once strong and smooth
two small doves
at rest

She sees me
across a wide ocean
a shadow on a distant beach
who smiles
with the mouth of her daughter
and reminds her of
a forgotten home
in some distant time
when her hands
were like mine
and full, and never
at rest

MANOS

La veo
a través de un charco
cada aleteo, cada arruga
pliegues suaves de piel pálida
bajo las luces estériles
ojos oscuros que miran hacia mi
con asombro y confusión
y sus manos
tan como las mia
una vez fuertes y lisas
dos palomitas
en reposo

Ella me ve
a través de un vasto océano
una sombra en una playa lejana
quien sonríe
con la boca de su hija
y la recuerda a
una casa olvidada
un tiempo distante
cuando sus manos
fueron como las mia
y llenas, y nunca
en reposo