There is hope after all…

With the devastation taking its toll on the residents of Texas, it is heartwarming and downright encouraging to see the real soul of humanity being exposed for the world  to see. Raw and unembellished stories of people risking their lives helping others without a moment’s hesitation, forming human chains to rescue a stranded driver of a stalled hurricane_harvey_gi-800x445vehicle or an animal caught in a swirling current, steering their fishing boats and checking houses one at a time. The rain, dumping buckets of water, washed away homes, cars, enveloped major highways and buildings. But the rain washed away something more. In the midst of this deluge, the rain washed away color, ethnicity, religion and thankfully, division. Without fanfare, unsung heroes and heroines jumped into action to help their community. Why does it seem to take a catastrophic event to bring a halt to the division and bring back the best of human nature again?

I believe I found my answer one afternoon at my son’s swim meet.

I like to think my son is athletic…not the football, muscle bound type but rather the lean, running type. He’s always been involved with one sport or another but usually when he felt the urge. Long ago, as a tadpole, he loved swimming but that particular urge had faded nearly five years ago. So, when he decided to join the high school swim team his senior year, the announcement left his father and I scratching our collective heads. My son is no Michael Phelps…far, far FAR from it. But his exuberance was so contagious, we kept our opinions to ourselves, shrugged our shoulders and went along for the ride.

swim meet

Yesterday, he and his team competed against another local high school. As far as crowds go, a fair number of parents, friends, siblings and visitors gathered to watch their diversified team despite a threatening thunderstorm which failed to materialize. A nice cloud cover provided a respite from the sun and the meet began.  I snagged a chair with a bird’s eye view near one end of the pool, took out my tablet to pass the time while waiting for my son’s events.

If you have personally ever watched a swim meet, the first thing you realize as a parent is this. Once they put on the swim cap and goggles, it’s very hard to identify your child. Secondly, once they hit the water, it becomes damn near impossible. Thirdly, unless your child is a super, superstar, it’s kind of like watching paint dry…no offense intended.

Since I hadn’t spied my son on deck, I took an interest in the ongoing relay taking place in front of me, hoping I hadn’t missed his leg of the race. Being a relay, there were four team members ateam swimmingnd although they had already called the winner, everyone was waiting for the last straggling swimmer to complete his leg. Out of the four or five lanes, he was the only one remaining in the pool.

I can’t think of anything more agonizing…knowing the race is over and you have two laps left to finish. There’s just you…silently struggling to keep your mind on the task at hand, battling the fatigue and numbness overtaking your limbs, your arms now slapping the surface instead of slicing through the water. Coming up for breath, your throat burns as your lungs strive to suck in as much as air as possible, your legs slowly losing the will to kick and fighting the discouraging knowledge everyone is watching you.

As this young man struggled to reach my end of the pool, I could hear him gasping for breath as he paused before turning for his final lap…seemingly a mile away. He was a strapping fellow, broad shouldered and strong but this particular event was kicking his butt. I remember thinking, “He’s not going to make it. He’s completely exhausted.”

Then a surprising thing happened. Everyone rose to their feet, approached the edge of the pool and began shouting, encouraging him, loud and strong. The separation of team colors melted away as they came together to yell their support, willing him to find that last ounce of reserve to make it to the finish line. The sound was almost deafening.

Three races later, the same thing happened happened again. The race had been called leaving one lone swimmer to complete his last long leg by himself. Everyone, including me, rose up again to shout words of encouragement and cheer him to the finish line. They continued to applaud as his two of his friends, including my son, pulled him out of the pool when he touched the wall, his legs unable to summlone swimmeron the strength. It didn’t matter what school they represented, what religion they observed, the color of their skin or where their family came from. They were simply young swimmers doing what they loved.

And there is was…a golden nugget of evidence that all is not lost. That the thread of unity and love for our fellow man does exist in everyday circumstances. It’s there and it’s something we need to hold on to.

In the universal scheme of things, this meet will soon fade into the memory banks of most of the parents, swim coaches and team mates. Then again, maybe not. I know for certain there are at least three people who will cherish this event: those two swimmers who will forever remember the cheers, encouragement and vocal support urging them not to give up at a point in time when they probably felt most alone.

And me…who was lucky enough to witness something so very special first hand and write about it.

 

 

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It happened When I blinked.

I have to confess…I postponed and delayed it. I prevaricated and accidentally on purpose, forgot. I cajoled, scolded, denied, the request. I danced around the subject so well, Mikhail Baryshnikov would have been impressed. I found every opportunity to waylay the inevitable. But like any young buck, chomping at the bit for that first taste of real freedom, I realized he could no longer be ignored.

So today, as my son sauntered happily into the DMV with me slowly  plodding along, bringing up the rear I watched as he crossed yet another threshold. I am, of course, talking about the dreaded upgrade from Driver’s Permit to Driver’s License.

“Did you bring your permit”

“Yes , mom. Do you have the insurance information?”th

“Yes.”

“Did you bring the registration?”

“Yes, Chase. In the glove compartment.”

“Did you bring my  birth certificate?”

“WHAT? You never told me you needed your birth certificate!!”

“Just kidding, mom.”

We made his appointment with literally a minute to spare. Darn..I was so close!”

Given only three minutes to cram from a one page, laminated study sheet, the Official Driving Instructor called his name and off my “little” man went. He returned about twenty  minutes later, walking two feet above ground.

“I passed, Mom! He said I was the best student he’d had that day! Can you believe it?”

Actually, I believe I can. Life is a wonderful enigma. The Rites of Passage of have existed throughout time. Oh , the characters and the scenery have changed. Even the definition of what we consider Rites has changed. And yet, it all remains the same. The “little” man who went out the door returned simply, a young man well on his way to wherever his dreams may take him. Our parents watched us venture out alone as did their parents before them and so on. It makes no difference if was on the family mule or the horse and buggy , the Model T, the family station wagon or Dad’s pickup truck. That very first taste of freedom is intoxicating and first only happens once. So although I approached this moment with very mixed emotions, I wouldn’t take away one minute of the euphoria from my son. He’s earned it.

I hear him call from upstairs.

“Hey Mom. Didn’t you need something from the grocery store? I can go to Publix if you want.”

Ah, I remember those days too.

And so it begins.

Memories of Summer

In response to https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/summer/

 

Lazy afternoons,

Lying in the tall grass

watching billowing clouds

slowly floating past.

Grilled hot dogs, chips

and root beer floats.

Jumping in puddles

wearing yellow raincoats.

Running with sparklers

on the Fourth of July

capturing lightening bugs

right out of the sky.

searching for crawdads

 in the creek down the road.

The smell of green grass

that has been freshly mowed.

“Hide ‘n Seek”, “Red Rover”

“Ollie Ollie Oxen Free”

Games played with friends

when we were carefree.

Catching a snowflake

on the tip of your tongue,

climbing a tree

just because it’s so fun.

Tire swings that arc

over the swimming hole

and the best cannonball

was the ultimate goal.

Those nostalgic moments

that I can recall

Were idyllic moments

all in all.

 

 

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Ghostly Memories of Thanksgiving Past

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A writing prompt group I belong to threw out a suggestion about the aromas we remember from previous Thanksgivings. Perhaps it was from the fumes of paint stripper as I worked on a new writing desk that made me grab onto the subject and take time to ponder my response. After doing so, other memories from decades past bubbled to the surface and a face came into focus of one I hadn’t really thought of for a long, long time…perhaps too long.

As l remember, her salt and pepper hair was always pulled back in tightly pinned bun. After all, she lived on a farm and wearing one’s hair down just wasn’t done. It wasn’t practical and if my grandmother was anything, she was definitely practical. Every black and white Polaroid showed a taciturn woman, a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles perched on a less than feminine  nose, wearing a plain, cotton house dress typical of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s that ended mid-calf and covered a thick pair of stockings rolled to just below her knees. The only words to describe the shoes she always wore are black, blocky and durable. I believe they were called “Cuban” shoes but definitely capable of trudging through the muck typical of a working farm. To complete the ensemble, Grandmother always wore a top to bottom apron, a virtual necessity of that era, which covered a range of duties from holding freshly laid eggs to protecting her frock from flour during bread making. Most importantly, the apron covered her ample bosom.

Legend has it, my grandmother’s ample girth and bosum hid untold treasures which was later confirmed by my older sister many years later. As the story goes, there lived a woman on the outskirts of town who, to put it delicately, serviced interested gentlemen in the county. Perhaps she was beginning to feel the time had come to pack up and move along but whatever the reason, she came to the decision to sell her forty acre parcel. My grandmother was a shrewd business woman who knew a good investment when she saw one. They decided to meet and while their two attorneys were hashing out details in the parlor, my grandmother and the woman came to a mutual and satisfactory conclusion, sealing the deal with a handshake in the kitchen over a glass of buttermilk. Then my grandmother reached into her bosum and pulled out the agreed upon sum of cash. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure her bosum was safer than the bank.

Truth is my grandmother had been widowed far too early in her marriage: a difficult and frightening situation in a town of about 150. By all accounts she remained stoic and faced the adversity the only way she knew how; with determination, pragmatism and a no-nonsense view of the world. That particular era seemed to be in short supply of warm and fuzzy emotions so I’m sure it couldn’t have been all roses for my father yet he possessed a delightful prankish sense of humor.  Looking closely once again at an old photograph of her, I swear I could finally see a little mischievousness in her eyes too. Perhaps there was more to this woman I always remembered as flinty and slightly distant.

As I continued sanding and stripping, a particular memory slowly came inching back. A visit to my Grandmother’s farm was the closest thing to bliss in my youth. There were pigs and dairy cows along with a stern warning to stay clear of both. She had three devoted Chows, two of which never left her side while the third, a teddy bear with a thick black coat joined me on my adventures. An abundance of bullfrogs and crawdads filled the creek that sliced through the pasture. She always seemed to have a new litter of barn kittens darting out and about the barn sheds. When the mood struck, I would leap on my pony with two lead ropes attached to the halter and ride into town for a cream soda at Pearl’s mercantile. I usually ended up tossing feed to the chickens and the two turkeys in the backyard. On this visit, however, the turkeys were conspicuously absent.

My mother called me in to wash up and a mixture of heavenly aromas hit me as I walked up the back stairs. It wasn’t until I saw my grandmother stand up in front of the cookstove that I mentioned the missing turkeys. Wiping her hands in her apron she didn’t immediately respond but did manage to block the opening. My mother shot my father a guarded look which I didn’t catch but before he could spill the beans about the truth of our guest of honor, my grandmother spoke up, explaining turkeys often wandered off for days at a time. “I’m sure they’ll return by the time you come for your next visit.” I must have taken her explanation at face value for nothing more was said.  She gave my shoulder a little squeeze before shooing me off into the living room to play Chinese Checkers.

Sitting down for Thanksgiving supper at a table covered with a vast array of the most delicious looking vegetables about twenty minutes later, a plate with a slab of ham was placed in front of me. In fact, everyone was served ham. If anyone had thought to question the menu, she must have silenced them with a warning gaze over my head. Maybe she didn’t approach every situation with knife edged bluntness. Perhaps time, age and life had taught her a little levity and holding on to childhood innocence a bit longer to be more important. As the memory came inching back, I’m certain of it.

I look at those old family photographs differently, especially those of my grandmother.  Yep. There was much more to that lady than she let on.

Hope everyone’s memories from holidays past bring a slow smile to your lips. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parenthood = Roller Coaster

From the moment they are placed in your arms, you are overwhelmed with this immense sense of responsibility. They capture your heart when you hear the first flutter of a heartbeat and the love continues to grow. And although you would never in a million years volunteer for the “Rip Ride Rockit” at Universal Studios, you have unwittingly signed up for a lifetime front row seat to the roller coaster that is parenthood.

From the moment they take their first step, you would do anything to shield them from hurt. You know they are going to stub a toe, fall off their bicycle or skin their knee and your heart aches. That’s just the beginning. Next there is the first trip to the Principal’s office, being omitted from a birthday party or worse, not being picked for the sport’s team and you haven’t even left the single digit age bracket yet.

After this stage, we watch as they move to new schools, filled with the angst of making new friends and the navigating the social pecking order. You witness the first crush and the first breakup. During this time, you heart sinks right along with their own, although by now your support is mostly silent…after all, they are teenagers and “they do know everything.” Are we done yet? Not even close.

We feel their pain wishing with every ounce of our being we could take away the sting, knowing full well these are milestones they must experience just as we did. Knowing this fact does not make it any easier. The challenges are bigger, the stakes are higher and a simple kiss can’t make the booboos go away.

Today, I unknowingly took my reserved front row seat on that exhaustive roller coaster. My son loves tennis. I’m not quite sure he understands the sacrifices required to become as good as he wants; only time will tell, but he has stepped up his game in the past few weeks. The next stage will involve competition…at least two tournaments per month, plus setting time aside to practice serving and using the ball machine for consistency. It is during tournament play where the rubber meets the road. Previous matches have not always resulted in a win which is a difficult concept difficult to grasp. This morning yielded the same result—a complete, unequivocal defeat. Needless to say, our young son exited the match disappointed with his performance, feeling completely talentless, stating he should quit but wanting a reason to continue. Unfortunately during times such as these, a parent’s words of encouragement just don’t seem enough. I gave him the same pep talk and pointed out things he might have done differently when I realized he’d crumbled into an emotional heap in the car seat beside me. Truth be told, these teenagers, for all their bravado, are still children.

We sat in the parking lot of Publix and for the first time, I kept my mouth shut; a first for me, unfortunately. I just let him vent, cry, and pour out his frustration. When he was done, we didn’t talk about it and just went to lunch. As luck would have it, next to our table sat a woman with her two sons. The oldest, probably 8, was having a full blown meltdown, albeit quietly while his younger brother, about 5, looked on. After things had calmed down a bit, the mother stood up to get the food and the napkins. It was during this time the younger brother said something to his older brother. Although we were watching, neither of us could make out the words, however, it became clear within seconds whatever it was displeased the older brother immensely. He gave his brother a deathly glare that could only be described as the most incredible “unibrow stinkeye” we had ever seen, again and again. We broke up laughing.

I don’t exactly know what happened to my son during those hours between matches. What I do know is when he walked out on the court later that afternoon, he was different. He carried his head high, walked with purpose and carried a positivWait for ite attitude ready to listen to the little voices of his coaches he carries in his head. Without fanfare or hullabaloo my son had grown up on his own…he had turned the lemons from the morning into afternoon lemonade. Every time he looked at me during the match, he gave me a confident nod. Gone were the outbursts of exasperation and the barely audible swear words. When he walked off the court after losing 6-2, 6-4, he proudly told me, “I think that’s the best I’ve ever played.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Time Waits for No One

Chase on the Beach in HawaiiOur son completed his second year of high school. High school…..the two words together almost choke me. Two words put together to create a whole new meaning. It leaves my head spinning as to how we arrived at this juncture at what seems to be warp speed.  Only a moment ago, they were placing a squirming bundle into my arms.  Just yesterday, it seems, he assumed the well recognized “knee-to-chin” squat position on a beach in Hawaii to closely examine some shells where he comfortably remained for what seemed an hour.

Nothing defines rapidity of passing time than handing the keys of your car to your young teenager when only a brief moment ago you were

Don’t misunderstand. We are very proud of him. There are times he displays such unbridled determination that he accomplishes amazing feats, startling himself in the process. During those times, he walks on air, five feet above the ground, unable to suppress his excitement. I live for those moments because every poignant triumph only reinforces his self confidence in a way no mere compliment can. But there is a bittersweet side as well, one parents wouldn’t change for the world yet the feeling looms ever closer with each passing year.

We used to look at college or high school years with a gentle nod of acknowledgement, yet we remained unruffled. Heck, those years were decades away. We had plenty of time for Little League Baseball, swimming, Christmas vacations with the relatives, choir practice, band, so on and so on. Until, all of a sudden, the realization that our sons and daughters are about to embark on their own path. The best analogy that comes to my mind is the bird’s nest we used to have outside our window when we lived in California. You would see the parents flitting back and forth, bringing food to cavernous beaks, in an endless tag team to keep their babies fed and protected.  As time passed, we would see the now fully feathered babies on the edge of the nest, stretching our their wings as if testing the currents, hesitant, curious, not quite ready. Looking up one day, they were gone, the nest unattended, perhaps a few remnant baby feathers stuck in the woven sides. Right now, our son is testing his wings, not quite ready to leave the nest, but ready to contemplate the possibilities before him.

It seems only a moment ago, I was on the very same edge. Full of doubt and trepidation, my father gave me a gentle shove. I’d been offered an outstanding job but it meant relocation from Illinois to New York. At the time, my father was recovering from a heart attack in the ICU and I felt my first priority was to remain close and help my mother. I secretly dreaded the thought of receiving a call in the middle of the night so I entered the hospital room to inform my father of my decision. I remember the nagging beeping sound of the heart monitor and the various catheters snaking out from the sheets. When I told him, he pulled himself up, looked me straight in the eye and quietly stated, in no uncertain terms, “You can’t live your life through me. It’s time for you to spread your wings. Now, I want you to get on that plane and take that job.”  You didn’t argue with my father when he used “The Tone”. However, walking down the ramp to the plane was the hardest journey I’d taken up to that point but it also prepared me for the moment coming.

We will never be ready to see the backsides of our children and, unfortunately the time comes along too fast. Way too fast. But when the time comes, I hope I have a fraction of the courage my father had when he spoke those words to me so long ago. So, although in my heart, I will be silently saying, “stay a little longer”, his father and I will urge him to follow his dreams, to not let anyone discourage him, to surround himself with truly positive friends and allies and capture his adventures. In our hearts, we will hold those precious memories we have accumulated and savor the remaining school years we have left. And tonight, when he is sound asleep, I will sneak to his bedside, give him a gentle hug, and thank God he was placed in our care over fifteen years ago.

Father and Son at Sunset_0038

What the Heck is Going On?

I may get a lot of flack for this blurb but having been on both sides of the fence and knowing my son was also a recipient of this abhorrent behavior I have to voice some concerns. I’m talking about bullying.

Within the past week, an incident occurred involving a friend’s daughter. As she and her friends sat around a table working on their projects, 3 boys asked to sit at the table as well. They weren’t working on anything in particular but the girls didn’t object. After a few minutes, one of the boys, stated matter-of-factly, “Mary, (not her real name) you’re going to have ten children when you grow up.” I know….benign and silly. Her response was, “Oh yea, well you’re going to hang around Justin Beiber when you grow up.” Did I mention these were third graders? Secretly, I thought the entire thread funny. No name calling, no sticking out of tongues and no hurtful jabs. Personally, my teenage son thought the idea of hanging out with Justin Beiber pretty cool. I mean, sportscars, pretty girls, bodyguards…every teenage boy’s secret dream, right? The matter should have died right there or at least, that’s my opinion. UBad Boynfortunately it didn’t.

The next day, as this young girl entered the school, the boy grinned and told her, “My mom called the principal. You’re going to get it.” Sure enough, the principal called her into his office for a serious lecture.Unfortunately the boy had altered the phrase slightly. Let’s be honest here. Third graders have the attention span of a goldfish. The risk of “lost in translation” is almost a given for elementary school children. The phrase he accused Mary of saying was, “Oh yea, well you’re going to marry Justin Beiber when you grow up.” Slightly alters the implication. The principal proceeded to chide her for her statement. Am I wrong to feel this is a little over the top? The sad result of this altercation is the boy has now been able to pester Mary secretly and has, completely secure in the knowledge he has the upper hand. So what was accomplished here? Not a helluva a lot.

The sad fact of the matter is, most parents cannot conceive their child being the active antagonist which was personally confirmed to me when my son was in second grade.  At a routine school gathering. I found myself nervously approaching the father of a boy who had been picking on my son. He listened to me attentively before calling his son over and asking him directly, “Is it true you have been doing these things to her son?” Under such scrutiny, the boy confessed he had. After two weeks of grounding, the two boys became best friends soon after. However what floored me was his statement afterward. “I’m glad you came to speak with me about this. I have to warn you, however. There aren’t too many parents with whom you can have this discussion. I have found most of the parents here think their child can do no wrong.” Sadly, he was correct.

Now, I’m pretty sure all of us said things along this vein to a classmate growing up. I’m sure I received as often as I gave but, seriously I don’t remember. I certainly don’t remember this being such as issue in elementary school. Back then,  spats like these disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared.  Like storm clouds on the horizon, they blew in, caused a little havoc then disappeared just as rapidly, to be forgotten in the excitement of kickball during recess. What I find most annoying, most irritating and most irresponsible is a parent making a huge deal out of a situation which was  an opportune teachable moment. In my humble opinion, and it is humble, a better course of action would have been for the boy’s mother to have a serious sit down with her son and grill for all the details of the chain of events. She might have uncovered a few details lacking in the original story. Perhaps a polite invitation for a cup of coffee to the girl’s mother might have been a positive alternative.  I know my son was no angel. He was and is a great kid but in situations such as above, he invariably confessed to pertinent details under interrogation that were lacking in the original transcript.

Bullying is a real problem not to be taken lightly. But as parents, as adults who may or may not have experienced it growing up, shouldn’t we realistically stop and consider the possibility there are two sides to every situation?  My father always said, “There are two sides to every divorce.” I’m sure that holds true in these particular situations as well, no matter the age of the participants. Before parents call in the troops, the Calvary and the FBI, shouldn’t cooler heads prevail?  Shouldn’t we as parents examine the situation with rationality and stop with the knee jerk reactions? If parents simply take everything their little angel says at face value, they are doing a disservice to their children. As in the case of “Mary” and the boy who now thinks he “won” I see the possibility of a real bully in the making further down the road. I pray I’m wrong.