Family Stories

Family Stories

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Yesterday, I posted this story on Medium. I will probably add it to my blog at some point, but for now, here’s the link. It is in honor of my grandmother, grandfather, parents, and all the teachers in our lives who help us learn about the past. I hope you enjoy it and feel free to leave comments.

Family Stories

 

View story at Medium.com

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A Portrait of the Superhero as a Young Boy

IMG_6015This essay is a tribute to my littlest guy, Ian, for his fourth birthday. Each year he reaches new heights. I am watching him, with my eyes partly covered, to see what this year holds!

I have learned a few valuable lessons from my third child:

  1. Each child reveals new and unprecedented talents
  2. A three-year-old can develop his number sense by keeping track of his black eyes and how they came to be
  3. Baby proofing is a farce

My husband Rich and I had always hoped for a third child. We were both under the impression that it would be fun to be outnumbered, that we could finally succumb to utter chaos without having to try to make things seem neat and organized. As a teacher, I associated a four-person family with perfect squares, four quarters in a dollar, and other things that fit neatly into boxes. Five was less predictable, couldn’t be divided evenly and had an amorphous feel to it. When our daughter Eliza had just turned two, we found out we were having a third. We couldn’t wait to meet this baby.

Some parents of three children told me the third is easy; he or she just falls in line with the other two, and you barely notice you have another child. This may have been a tiny bit true in the newborn days when Ian was a seemingly easy baby, although our life was a bit upended in other ways. It logistically no longer made sense for me to teach for the time being, we were contemplating moving out of New York City after I had spent my entire adult life there, and we needed a bigger car to fit everyone. But the real excitement started when we moved out of the city and Ian became mobile.

I noticed there was something different about Ian as soon as he started to walk. He looked at staircases with a gaze of intrigue and delight rather than hesitation. Doors, locks and buckles were not barriers, but puzzles to unravel and obstacles to overcome. Kids are curious, but it was Ian’s ability to follow through on his curiosity that set him apart. At 18 months, his crib became a jungle gym rather than a box to contain him. On his first successful climb out, he fell, and thinking that would stop him from doing it again and I naively placed him back in his crib. Undeterred, he launched himself out immediately, and with a much safer dismount. We converted the crib to a toddler bed that night, invested a small fortune in Safety First baby-proofing products and hoped for the best.

For the first time, I understood that those leashes that some parents use might not be due to overprotective parenting, but out of necessity. Ian was, in fact, a runner. The larger suburban yard, multiple doors for escape and new climbing opportunities in fences and rocks meant he was constantly under my vigilant watch. I mean, I watched him as much as humanly possible with two other young children. One time, just when I realized he was not playing happily in the basement as he had been a moment before, my neighbor Andrea knocked on my door, returning a diaper-clad Ian. A few weeks later, he escaped mid-diaper change, right at school drop-off time. Our house was two doors down from the elementary school, and I ran out after him just as another friend caught him and redirected him back to our front steps. This time, he was wearing only a shirt. No diaper. We had a dare devil and an exhibitionist on our hands. The third kid just falls in line, eh?

Around the same time that Ian was soaring to new heights as a two-year-old, I read the book Unbroken by Laura Hillendbrand. Already knowing the basic story of a World War II hero and Olympic runner, Louie Zamperini, I was delighted in the first chapter when the author describes Louie as a child. He scaled out his second-story bedroom window, ran through the closing doors of a train, and was constantly escaping his mother’s grip. He was fast, quietly sneaky and seemed to lack the attachment that normal children show, opting instead for adventure and smiling back at his mom as he dashed away. This is Ian! I thought to myself. He could be a hero or a star athlete! Chapter 2: Louie becomes a juvenile delinquent well into his teen years and it is only by some lucky turn of events that he avoids serious trouble and makes something of his life. Hmmm. Time for more baby proofing, and maybe a star chart. But how do you teach a child to have a respect for danger?

IMG_6029The answer is, you can’t exactly teach it, but over time, we have developed a mutual respect. I’ve learned to worry less and to accept my children’s differences, acknowledging that his fearless demeanor and having older siblings means he will constantly push physical boundaries. My role is to keep him safe and give him wings, a tricky but not impossible combination. I ignore glances from some other moms at the playground when he attempts seemingly dangerous feats that I know he can handle. He is exceptionally tall for his age and can climb things intended for older children, but telling him to stop has no impact. He is a child who needs to learn from experience and actually reinacts his falls to improve his performance.

Unlike my older two children, who have a reasonable sense of danger and dislike injuries, Ian brushes off a skinned knee and actually smiled at himself in the mirror when he saw his first black eye. The other day, he proudly recounted his three black eyes, one from tearing around the house blindfolded and crashing into a wall, one from tripping on a superhero cape while walking down stairs, and one from going down a hill on a scooter. I had forgotten about the scooter.

IMG_5991Last spring, the two of us were out in the yard playing, with Ian dressed as Captain America. Our magnolia tree was in full bloom and it was a gorgeous day. I went in to get a snack, thinking he would be safe with the fence closed and no other apparent danger in site. When I returned, Ian was perched on top of our car, shield in hand. He had moved a chair next to the car in our driveway and climbed up the hood to the roof. When I begged him to come down, he said, “In a minute, Mom! There is a bad guy up here!”

If Ian can channel his imagination and energy into true courage and perseverance, maybe he will become a hero after all. In the meantime, I’ll be by his side, guiding him along and ready to catch him when he falls, holding an ice pack.

 

 

Skate Like a Girl: A Case for Coed Sports

Photo by: Chris McCooey Photography (www.chrismccooey.photography)Photo Credit: Chris McCooey at  http://www.chrismccooey.photography/

Thank you to Jozy, the Porcini family and Chris McCooey for your permission to use this image with my story. Jozy Porcini is a hockey player who dreams of playing on the Olympic team someday. Here’s one family that will be cheering for you, Jozy!

 

 

A special thanks to the Rye Rangers, especially the twenty dedicated coaches in the 8U/Mite Minor/ADM programs who have shaped our children’s lives over the past three years.

 

My husband and I did not intend to become hockey parents. Neither one of us played growing up, but we both learned to skate when we were young. We thought that our children should learn this skill, as well, especially now that we had moved from New York City to a nearby town that many people had described to us not only as a sporty town but a hockey town. Stereotypes aside, it seemed our kids would probably get invited to some skating parties over the years.

Our oldest child, Robert, was six when we moved. Already a Rangers fan like his dad, he asked to play hockey the minute we showed him the nearby ice rink. We joined the town program, the Rye Rangers, and spent an afternoon at the local hockey store getting initiated on how to “gear up.” He and our daughter, Eliza, also took group skating lessons once a week.

Robert loved hockey but hated falling, so he quickly learned to stay up on his skates. Eliza started her lessons with a decent effort, and then after a month or two became more and more hesitant, waddling off the ice in tears long before the lesson was over. She is not a hesitant child, so I figured we would take a break and try it again the following winter. One morning, watching her brother at hockey, Eliza said, “I can skate if I play hockey.” I asked what she meant, and she explained that if she had all those pads on, she wouldn’t be afraid anymore.

Done. We signed her up for Rye Rangers for the following year. Robert had girls on his team, and while they were mostly girls who grew up in hockey families and had been on skates since they could walk, we could tell the program was very inclusive and supportive. It would work out or not, but we were happy to give it a try.

In her second season, Eliza is not only a competent skater but a confident child on the ice. There are only a handful of girls, as there were in Robert’s group, and they are treated exactly the same as the boys. There are no double standards, no greater tolerance for tears, no lower expectations in drills or concerns about the roughness of play. The coaching team treats each child as an individual, and the whole program is designed for children to develop at their own pace while also being part of a team. The children have internalized this philosophy and even the slowest and least experienced skaters come off the ice with proud smiles.

These children are young. There is no real reason to separate genders at such a young age in sports like baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey, where the rules are the same for boys and girls, and yet most sports programs do. This program has given both of my children a chance to spend time with classmates of the opposite gender outside of school and see that stereotypes about what boys and girls can do are just that – stereotypes.  They build friendships and they work together, without the artificial barriers that seem to be constructs in their world at every turn.

I have heard the argument for gender-segregated sports as it relates to confidence, mostly in favor of girls having their own team. Advocates say it gives girls a chance to shine, have their voices heard and build confidence, even the ones who are more shy and hesitant. I have heard parents say, “My daughter would never have played soccer again if it was still co-ed.” I understand the argument, but think it points to greater problems in the philosophies of youth sports programs. How are coaches, even at young ages, tailoring their coaching to girls differently than they would to boys? What about the hesitant boy who needs a bit more nurturing to build confidence, or the girl who wants to compete on the boys team and isn’t intimidated? What about the fact that physically, their pre-pubescent bodies and abilities are no different based on gender? This position, as well-intended as it may be, makes a lot of assumptions about gender differences and about our own children. My daughter could not even let go of the wall without falling when she started playing hockey, and now she is one of six girls in a hockey program of over forty children, and she feels great about herself.

I have no expectations for where my children’s hockey careers will go, but I am grateful that they have had this surprisingly unique experience of inclusion. In soccer, children in our town spend one year on mixed-gender teams in Kindergarten, only to divide up arbitrarily in first grade. Apparently six is the age at which girls and boys differ in their soccer abilities. The girls who start out in Rangers often stick with it for a number of years and then may opt to play on a girls team instead of or in addition to Rye Rangers, just as some of the boys choose other programs for other reasons. The girls are never excluded from the team or discouraged, and everyone gets playing time, not in the everyone-gets-a-trophy sort of way, but in the spirit of working hard and being part of a team.

One of my favorite moments as a hockey parent was last winter when Robert saw the photograph above, which a friend had posted on Facebook. After reading it, he said, “Mom, why ARE the girls so fast?” In his age group, the team that he finds most intimidating is one with some very fast, strong players who are girls. I didn’t even have to answer. I think the image above says it all.

 

Trump vs. Literature

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In March, I wrote this essay as a way to process my growing concerns about Trump’s candidacy. I did not share it widely and did not submit it for publication because I was trying to stay optimistic and believe that this nightmare would go away. Instead it has grown bigger and worse, like a bad case of poison ivy. If I were to rewrite this, I could discuss Trump’s history of misogyny, lies, sexual assault and complete disregard for humanity, but this was back in the day of bullying, bigotry and narcissism. I thought we had reached the peak of his hatred; we weren’t even on the mountain yet.

I am sharing this now for a couple reasons. First, I found Melania’s fight against cyberbullying platform more than laughable – it is abhorrent. Second, there could be some people out there who were on the fence or even early Hillary supporters who have now shifted to Trump because of media influence. Maybe a couple will read this and be reminded of how scary he really is. Lastly, if nothing else, I’ve included a couple of book recommendations. Reading stories is the best path to tolerance, so maybe someone will read one of these books and think differently because of it. Most importantly, vote tomorrow (and vote wisely)!

March, 2016.

A few days ago, I drove along the street by our local high school and passed a car with a Trump ’16 sticker on the bumper. I couldn’t help my reaction. I cringed, felt a wave of nausea combined with anger and fear, gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter and then remembered to exhale.

Through all of the elections in my adult life, I have taken sides. I have pulled for one candidate over the others and hoped for an outcome that aligned with my values and what I felt was best for our country. Never, ever, have I felt deep anger and fear. Even in the elections where I was not pleased with the outcome, I maintained a certain level of respect for and trust in the government as a whole to serve us as a nation.

In some elections, I cried tears of joy, viewing the winning candidate as a sign of our nation’s progress. In others, I sighed out of disappointment, but still felt a patriotic inertia to look forward. Perhaps only some of my interests would be prioritized this term, but I am not the only person in this country. We are a country of many, a country of differences, and a country facing challenges. We are a country that cannot move forward in fear. Hate does not make great, Mr. Trump.

It upsets me that I am angry at Donald Trump and his supporters, and at the GOP for letting things go this far. Our nation has become a joke, and Trump’s candidacy is bringing out our nation’s worst qualities: boasting and badmouthing. As a classroom teacher, I facilitated discussions with students about the issues that concerned them most, trying to instill in young children an understanding of the electoral process that does not emphasize opposition, fear or hate. Now, my seven-year-old comes home from school with questions about why Donald Trump hates Mexicans and Muslims and why he would be allowed to be President if he is mean to people. I can engage in thoughtful, age-appropriate discussions with my children and my former students about 9/11 and other world events, but for these questions, I have no answers.

I recently read two books, titles I picked because they had been on my reading list for a long time, not because they had any connection to this year’s election. Both books left my mind spinning, thinking about the current state of our country and its people.

In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, we glimpse a fictional future in which hatred and fear take over our country, people lose their sense of humanity and compassion, and society is an every-person-for himself wasteland without laws and governance. Mr. Trump advocates for violence and citizens mistreating their fellow citizens. It might sound humorous or provocative at a rally, but the greater message he is sending is disgusting and foreshadows an America that is a bad, bad place. There is nothing funny about violence and lawlessness.

In Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, I met an Olympic athlete and soldier, Louie Zamperini. Louie, along with other Americans and soldiers from around the world, suffered intense torture at the hands of their captors as POWs during World War II. That one man could survive this torture, let alone many men, is a testament to the will of good over evil and shows what our citizens are capable of when we defend the universal human rights of all of mankind.

In both stories, there is hatred, enslavement, cruelty and fear, but it is clear that the characters who thrive on shattering the dignity of others are not the victors. The strongest people show love, compassion, and respect for their fellow human beings. They even show forgiveness. We do not need to be historians or sociologists to recognize how many problems are caused by hate and bigotry. Some notable individuals built their power on fear and racism in World War II. Let’s not forget who they were.

Donald Trump tries to present himself as a strong man, but he is weak. A strong person embodies positive characteristics and upholds those values in the face of adversity. A strong person has a sound moral and ethical code by which they govern themselves and to serve as an example for others. We have no room for Trump’s weakness in the White House.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Despite being incredibly wealthy on paper and believing himself to be one of the most successful businessmen in history, Donald Trump makes people feel awful. He fills his supporters and his opponents alike with negative emotions. By this measure of what makes true wealth, I would argue that Trump is one of the poorest men in the world.

Moving forward, because it does me no good to get upset over a bumper sticker or fear a bully of a man, I have decided to replace my own frustration with the optimism and hope I have felt in the past. By focusing on the ideals that have made our country great and the values that shape everyday heroes, I ask you to replace Trump’s anger with compassion, his hate with kindness. Remember this advice from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Let’s not let Donald Trump take another minute from us.

 

Questions and Answers

img_7775About three weeks ago, the question of what it means to be an American moved to the forefront of my mind and stayed there. It can no longer be compartmentalized; it cannot wait for the moments when I read the news, discuss the election, visit landmarks or watch a Presidential debate. It does not wait for my children to go to bed. This question interrupts my sleep and creates ripples in my days, constantly intersecting with two other questions: What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be human?

The shift happened in late September, and is now my new normal. This is a change that will not be settled on November 8th. I remember the weekend when this shift occurred vividly. It is hard to forget a ruined rug, a dead rodent and the moment you look at your daughter and realize her identity and her future are on the line. Continue reading

Handmade

IMG_6041Dedicated to my mother and grandmothers. Happy Mother’s Day.

Through all of life’s changes, my mother knits. She knits in waiting rooms during doctor’s appointments for her elderly parents and in-laws. She knits in hospital chairs alongside my sister or me after the births of our children. She knits when she has quiet time to herself, when no tethers, young or old, are pulling on her.

When my mom first started knitting again, reigniting a hobby she learned as a child from her grandmother, Mary, she had no grandkids. It was as if a factory had opened and we, her four children and our spouses, were the only customers. Suddenly I had scarves of many colors, mittens, ponchos, wraps, and hats; one made of something called Fun Fur. Continue reading