Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Meet Ben

Ben is sitting beside me.  Note: It's 5:58 AM, a time when most five year olds are snug in their beds, dreaming of the summer time activities they'll be doing when they do later that day, when they roll lazily out of bed.

Not Ben.  He's an up-and-at-'em type of guy.  He does everything quickly and loudly--I'm grateful that my other two kids are still sleeping as he sprinted to the bathroom and clumped down the stairs to me moments ago.  His bright green-hazel eyes are still sleepy but happy to see me in this quiet house that is now ours to share.

He is now sitting next to me, wearing his pajamas, which are really only pajama bottoms.  They're old hand-me-downs from his cousin in St. Louis, but Ben loves them because they have footballs and baseballs all over them. His upper body is lanky and chiseled--I marvel at how many muscles are packed into his little body.  I guess that's what you get when you never stop moving.

Ben (in yellow shirt) and his buddy,
after their rugby game
He asked me to play a card game with him, but I explained that this is my time to write.  With a quick "awwww" that comes hard-wired in all kids to voice their disappointment, he trots over to the printer to grab a piece of paper.  He wants to write out numbers or "scores" that make perfect sense to him. I ask him what he's doing, and he does his best to explain it. The top row belongs to Seattle, the bottom row, Los Angelos.  He explains to me that Seattle won.  I'm happy about that, though I'm not even sure which sport we're talking about. I'd like to chalk it up to the fact that I only have the first of two cups of coffee ingested, but I really think it's because we're on two different wave lengths.

Ben is our oldest son. The big brother.  That's what I say when I introduce him. In truth, he's our middle child. He's smack dab between a smart and funny big sister and a sweet and adorable little brother. Ben's full time job is to stand out.

He does a good job at standing out, thanks in part to the world of sports, where his ability to do things quickly really comes in handy.  He's been really great at anything he tries out--t-ball, rugby, tennis, golf, soccer.  How he has fit in all these sports in his five years I really don't know.  It helps to have a big yard and a curious mind, a supportive dad happy to provide the gear for anything in which he expresses interest, and a mom who will help him find books on anything.  But really, it all starts with Ben.

Checking the scores of yesterday's games
As he sits here next to me, interrupting my writing about him with with his enthusiastic recount of yesterday's games.  He's chattering on about how the Dodgers are a really good team, and the Pirates' McCutchen is super fast.  The game yesterday looked "pretty good," like it would have been a "pretty fun one to watch." At least now I know he's talking about baseball.  Clearly I've moved through my two cups of coffee.

Sometimes, in this parenting journey in which I'd like to take and maintain full control, I'm simply along for the ride.  I sure am curious to see where it ends, and what happens along the way with this unique boy named Ben who sits beside me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Go Away, Bird

It is 5:26 AM as I sit in my dark, quiet kitchen with one light on, hot coffee still to sip beside me, a laptop in front of me to type out this essay.  Before sitting down, I slid open the door to the deck so my black dog, Lulu, could come and go as she pleased.

There is now one bird outside that door, chirping incredibly loudly.  There are a few other birds that make muffled sounds now and then, but this one is close.  And this one is loud.  It rarely stops.  It doesn't seem to need to breathe much.  It sings like my boys do--too loudly.  Clearly, the bird (just like my boys) is unaware of the subtleties between singing and yelling.

I can't figure out if I love it or hate it.

I love that I'm so close to nature, and one of her pets is so close to me, infusing my morning with cheerful chirps.  But I hate that my boys' bedrooms are next to this morning diva.  Both of them wake around 6 AM.  I'm guessing this often has something to do with the bird.

Just as an experiment, I walked out to the deck and looked for something to throw at the bird.  I'm still a nature-lover even if I try to scare off the one bird that seems determined to give me 45 minutes of writing time instead of two hours, right?  I found two large toy animals, the hard plastic sort, big enough to make a dent in some leaves, but small enough that I could launch them fairly well.

I sent the elephant charging towards this bird first.  There was a pause, and then the chirping resumed.  My feathered friend was probably laughing at me, incorporating insults into her song, a bird version of "nah nah nah nah nah…can't reach me!"


Next, the tiger.  I aimed higher this time, directly to where the bird seems to be sitting and singing.  I launched its striped body with all my might and hit a bunch of leaves, but again only earned a pause.

Double damn.  Now I'm out of animals to throw.

At least I'm now certain: I hate it more than love it.  I won't tell my kids how I used their toys to scare off this bird.  They'll come up with their own theories on how the tiger and elephant traveled from the deck rail to the floor of the woods.

I know the truth: I battled an innocent little bird that was only trying to fill my morning with song.  And I lost.

It is 5:41 AM.  The first boy is now awake.

Damn bird.

Update: it's 5:52 AM.  The second boy is now awake.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

An Accident, and Letting It Go

Last week my kids and I spent the evening at our community pool.  Leaving at 6:15 PM was late for them in a delicious, it's-summer sort of way.  Happy chatter, the smell of chlorine, and the crunch of apples filled my giant Suburban as we made our way out of the gravelly parking lot and towards home.

As I rounded the corner, I started to pass a row or parked cars in order to get down the driveway to the main road.  Suddenly, a small car started to reverse out of its parking spot in front of us. She and I were both going slowly, but I had the right of way and I also was too close to be kind and wave her back so she could exit in front of me.  I stopped and waited for her to see my monstrosity of a car.

She didn't stop.  She didn't see me.  In fact, instead of stopping, she accelerated her car and didn't hear the blare of my horn cut through the evening as a warning to stop.  To stop NOW.  As my kids and I sat there, she backed up into us.  When she hit us, our car rocked a little bit--just enough to stop my kids' conversation to ask what had happened. We were all so unhurt that it wasn't scary at all.

I got out, and a thin-legged, long-haired, sun-burned teenage girl got out of her car.

"Oh that was totally my fault!" she said.

"You bet it was!" I replied, too sarcastic for the situation, too sarcastic, I soon found out, for the delicate mood of the teenager at hand. By the time I had parked out of the way of other cars heading home, this poor girl had tears streaming down her face as she called her mom to see what she needed to do.

"I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!" she repeated over and over to me and to her mother, whom she was calling to help her through her first fender bender.  She shakily fumbled for her registration and insurance information or whatever it was that she was trying to find.  "I'm so sorry!  I just wasn't paying attention! Oh I'm so embarrassed!"

I gave her a hug and tried to explain that, in the big scheme of things, this was nothing.  Nothing! It didn't matter at all, my car was fine, my kids were laughing about getting a new car; this was a nuisance, but not a big deal.  Caroline was hard to console.  She was just so very sorry, so very embarrassed, and so very sure that it was all her fault.  It was, but I assured her that accidents happen.  I got her information, patted her back one more time, suggested she walk around a little before she got back in the car, and then headed home myself.

Driving home, I couldn't stop thinking of Caroline and Caroline's reaction to this small bump of an accident.  As my kids started their bedtime routine, I sent her a quick email about how making mistakes is part of life.  Without making mistakes we can't learn and grow.  When we make mistakes in our house, we say, "On to new mistakes!" because not repeating the same mistake is really the goal, not avoiding making mistakes altogether.  When you really live, you make mistakes.  And life is meant to really live.

I hoped Caroline wouldn't dwell on this all summer long. I hoped she could learn to let go of the embarrassment, guilt, shame of hitting my car. In short, I hoped she could forgive herself.

I began to see for Caroline the process of letting go very clearly: On day one, she would think about it constantly, berate herself a little for being so careless, cry some more about it, apologize to her mother a few more times, send me one more email.  The next day, she'd think about it, but hopefully a little less.  Maybe shed one fewer tear.  No email to me that day. One week later, she might think about it whenever she drove her car, get a wobbly chin at the memory, but be able to deep-breathe her way to calmness.

Seeing clearly someone else's path of letting go is helpful to me.  I'm someone who has a difficult time believing that letting go is even possible. But maybe if I take the same approach I recommended (in my mind) to Caroline, I'll be closer, if only a few baby steps.  Maybe if I realize that obsessing about my own mis-step slightly less than I did last year, learning all I can about myself from the situation, thinking about it just one fewer minute than I did yesterday…that's my own path towards letting go of the past and forgiving myself.  Finally.