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.

 

The Angst of Immaturity

My husband and I are at the stage where we watch our son in awe…..most of the time. Oh there’s the ups and downs of immaturity and the  aggravaSpencer,Alex,Chasetion thereof but yesterday was different.

Our son took to tennis like a duck takes to water about four years ago. Since then, he and his friends have taken lesson after lesson, clinic after clinic. When the summer temperatures rose to uncomfortable levels in the high eighties, most of the participants scrambled to the swimming pool. This group, however,  headed back out to the courts for another couple of hours of grinding a little yellow ball. I admire tenacity and determination. To have a goal and set out to at least try to achieve it, is a worthy aspiration. On the practical and pragmatic side, however, there is a harsh reality one must eventually address whether the goal is in athletics or academics. It is easy for a young dreamer to announce the desire to play in Wimbledon or perform with the New York City Ballet Company or simply compete in an Olympic event. It is quite another to fully comprehend the magnitude of the desire and knowing the cost, continue with the commitment no matter what results will yield. Yesterday, my son received a mere taste of what the future can hold.

High school athletics is rigorous, competitive and an invaluable experience. One year a particular high school will have attained notoriety in a specific sport only to return the next year barely hanging on to the bottom rung havtennis racquets.on.neting lost the bulk of the team to graduation. I can only liken the rise and fall of any high school’s athletic division to the undulating tides of the ocean – sometimes high, sometimes low. My son chose a high school closer to our home and in doing so, wound up on one of those high school tennis teams climbing up from the bottom rung. There were probably 5 students on the team and only 2 had participated in any formal training, one being our son. For those unfamiliar with tennis  lingo, which I wasn’t, Court 1 is considered the best court, the dreaded arena often referred to as the court of annihilation one wants to avoid unless properly prepared. It would be like having a Freshman suited up to play quarterback facing a defensive line made up completely of experienced seniors. Kind of takes the stuffing out of you.

It didn’t take long for the lineup to be formulated. A great, lanky, and talented sophomore played Court 1 and my son, my tall, wonderfully goofy, freshman son moved to Court 2. In one fell swoop, he was thrown into the deep end.  The remaining team members fell into place thereafter. Now, this was just our high school. There were approximately six other high schools to compete against. A few were in the same category as ours; limited number of players with equally limited experience. Others were highly regarded with a deep roster, exceptional experience, mostly comprised of seniors and carefully cultivated to dominate the competition. They did so quite well. However, our little team became the thorn in their sides, at first surprising, then annoying. While my son’s high school team didn’t do well overall in the standings, both Court 1 and Court 2 weren’t easily overcome.

The season ended yesterday with District competitions, another level involving another set of high schools,  some familiar, some completely unknown. Without being aware of the fact, my son was pushing his commitment into an unknown arena. He was facing competitors of unknown ability in front of friends, parents and other attendees for the opportunity to achieve the same goal as every other high school tennis participant: the chance to play in the finals, a lofty goal for an incoming freshman.

His first match was long and deliberate, controlled and executed. The opponent was no slouch but eventually my son prevailed. Because of a pass, he went straight into the semi finals against a player, a senior, he’d come close to beating twice. My son was chomping at the bit, eagerly ready to play, certain he could win and move to the finals.  Previously, their matches had been neck and neck so the opposing team player was rather surprised when my son won the first set handily. I’m sorry to report that’s when things began to go south. This is where the difference in age, the difference in competitive experience and the ability to pull it all together or simply keep it mentally together, is affected by immaturity. When a few of my son’s shots went awry, his frustration grew. Instead of taking a few moments to gather his wits and take a few breaths, he launched immediately into the next point with the same results. It didn’t take long for his opponent to capitalize on my son’s growing self aggravation and win the second set. My heart broke for my son. He wanted the win so much he could taste it but the possibility was rapidly slipping away.  It was a journey to a lesson he had to take on his own. A simple hug or thumbs up wasn’t going to make everything better. As parents, we aren’t allowed to coach our children during match play. The only thing I could manage to tell him, handing him a bottle of water was, “Getting angry isn’t going to help your game.” not really believing the statement would help.

As he went back out on to the court, however, a new young man emerged. I can’t readily confess he was no longer frustrated but for the first time, he took charge and began playing with his brain again. For the next ten minutes, emotion did not control his game and I saw a glimpse of the young man he is trying to become. When the tie breaker ended, he was the first man to the net to congratulate the winner. I couldn’t have been more proud. I’m not sure angst is the proper word to describe what teens go through but I’m fairly certain it’s the perfect word to describe what parents of teens go through.

Well done, son. Well done.

The Birds and the Bees

When we moved from the hustle and bustle of traffic congested highways and cookie cutter homes, our relocation took us to the other side of the country, to an area we had driven through many times on our cross country trips. Instead of having neighbors who would thoughtfully hand you the soap you dropped through a window almost touching yours, the neighbors at our new location were a considerable distance away. Make no mistake, people were as friendly here as they were in our previous neighborhood but we didn’t have to supply an extra bowl of popcorn for them as they watched movies on our TV through adjacent kitchen windows.

We chose the drastic relocation for several reasons. One was to be closer to family. The other and most important reason was to hopefully give our son a chance to enjoy the freedom to run around and enjoy his childhood like his parents had. We didn’t have to worry about walking to a park; our farm was the park. He was able to get a pony. A dog who had been abandoned and was being fed by three different neighbors, chose to adopt us as his permanent family. The neighbor behind us had the cutest little herd of miniature ponies and, of course, what is a barn without a barn cat. It was a little heaven on earth. Continue reading