Thursday, June 22, 2017
I have been encouraging Lauren to take the training wheels off her bike for the last two summers. She would usually say "Not yet," and move on to something else, but at times she was adamant, responding with something along the lines of "I will never ride a bike without training wheels." When we reach this point, I'm usually the one who moves on to something else. It's just not time.
A couple of things were happening last week that led to a pretty surprising development on Lala's birthday. I've made a tradition of riding 10-15 miles with the boys on Father's Day the last few years. To get ready for this year's ride, I had been working on all of our bikes the few days before Lauren's birthday. With an eye toward getting Lala to ride without training wheels, I ordered new handlebar grips and cleaned up the hand-me-down bike that our friends had given her. I expected a protracted negotiation and summer-long project of leaving her training wheels behind.
She saw me working on her new bike last Friday and said "I guess I have to try to ride it today?" in a tone of voice that sounded less than thrilled at the prospect.
"No, you can try later--I'm just getting it ready for you to ride when you're ready," I tried to assure her.
"Well, I guess I could try it just one time. You will help me?"
Entirely unsure of how it would go, I agreed to help. We started in our driveway. My hand was under her seat and I readied my stream of encouraging words while I mentally prepared to administer first aid when she was sure to spill.
Instead, she started to outpace me by the time we reached the street. She made a smooth right turn and headed to the neighbor's. No longer holding on, I yelled for her to remember to brake when she wanted to stop. When she finally stopped, she jumped off as her bike tilted to the side. She smiled at me and yelled "I did it!"
We made a few more laps up and down the block. I helped her get started, but other than that my only job was jogging along behind (have I mentioned that it was almost 90 degrees last Friday?). I was finally the one who had to take a break, and we hatched a plan to surprise Allison when she got home from work.
When Allison got home, I was still in my sweat-soaked shirt. She asked what I had been doing and I told her that I'd tried to get Lauren to ride her 2-wheeler. When she asked how it went, I just said "Very Lala," which is true. Riding over a mile in her first 15 minutes on two wheels is very Lala. She was stable enough that I started shooting video the next day. The clips in the video are chronological, all shot on the first couple of days she had ridden the bike.
The only thing that dampened her spirits was when I told her she wasn't ready for our Father's Day ride. She insisted she was ready--and honestly, she is so good already that she might have been . Instead, when I got home from my ride with the boys, Lauren and I headed out on our own Father's Day trip to a nearby park. I think she'll be ready for next Father's Day, but I'm thankful she'll be the first to let me know.
Friday, June 16, 2017
Today you turn six years old. Your light shines as brightly as ever. You read and write and narrate your life for anyone who will listen. You wear your heart on your sleeve. You are very affectionate--hugging almost anyone you know, whether a teacher, a coach, or a friend's mom. And sometimes I feel like you heap the lion's share of that affection on me. You insist you always want to be with me and never let us part ways without giving me a huge kiss. Every time.
Last week you graduated kindergarten. Another mom, who, like me, was watching the youngest of her three kids graduate kindergarten, asked me how I was holding up. I said something like how it felt a little unreal and maybe it would hit me later. The truth was, I wasn't sad at all, but I didn't want to explain why--because it felt a little complicated. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I got to see this milestone. Each one is a gift. I will never lose that sense of how lucky I am to be here.
This spring, you began a new adventure: playing baseball. Your dad showed you once how to put your bat on the ground, so you could line up the right distance from the plate when you got in your batting stance. Every single time you batted, you went through this little ritual. Often you would get a hit and run with a flourish down to first base. (We had to remind you a few times that sliding into first base is not as good as running through the bag.) Fielding did not hold your attention like batting, but when you chose to, you could field a ball cleanly and throw it at the right teammate. You were proud to wear a baseball uniform--especially a hat!--like your brothers.
I think a lot about the bigness of your personality. You are an inspiration. You feel what you feel. You are who you are. You are smart, kind, brave, loud, and hilarious. There is nothing small or quiet about you. I hope your dad and I can always hold space for you and allow you to fill it with the fullness of yourself, while also encouraging your natural empathy and kindness. You have other teachers, too. Your brothers watch out for you and challenge you. You try to keep up with them, and they encourage you to try harder. Yesterday morning, you and Tobin had quite the spat about who deserved a certain spot on the couch. As I cleaned the kitchen, you each pleaded your case to me. I resisted intervening and quietly said I knew y'all could figure out a solution. Evan played his part by noting he was happy to sit wherever but thought Tobin technically had the right to the couch cushion in question because, as usual, T was up before anyone else. There were tears and some yelling, and I don't know how it happened exactly, as I was in and out of the room, but the next thing I knew you and Tobin were sitting together, longways on the same spot on the couch, so you could share the space. Tobin had his sketchbook, and you were asking questions about and admiring his drawing. It made my heart swell, because in that little moment I think y'all figured out how to speak up for yourselves and compromise. Proximity can be challenging, but y'all usually find your way back to this: we belong to each other.
None of us have it all figured out, but you seem to be onto something. You seek and create joy. Whether walking into school, running up to classmates you see every day and hugging them like you haven't seen them in years. Or marveling at worms we dig up in the garden. Or collecting "pet" ants in a Gatorade bottle cap with a friend, while y'all play in the dirt near the baseball bleachers. Or getting distracted from a dusk game of hide-and-seek with the neighbors to chase lightning bugs. While life is hard and not always happy, I think you're figuring out that there's something to appreciate and enjoy in each day and in the people you meet.
Thank you for being you. Today we will celebrate you, and I hope you will feel the power of our love. You have so much love to share and being alongside you as you do that is an awesome privilege.
Thursday, June 08, 2017
Your mom has made practice of addressing you more directly in these posts because you're going to read them eventually. I haven't made that move until today. I decided I needed to change my writing perspective about you because I've more fully realized how independent and distinct you've become. Having children, as you may choose to learn someday, is an intimidating, exhilarating, daunting, rewarding, terrifying proposition.
I think it's natural for parents to think of their children as extensions of themselves for a while--your mom and I have been your primary influences, after all. Lately, I've been more aware of the delineation that all of us have to make between ourselves and our parents. I remember having those realizations myself about how I was different from my parents, and I realize a lot of it was beginning to happen around the time I was your age.
You've done a great job lately of deciding who you want to be. Choosing to grow your hair out was a good example. Last night was an even greater reminder of how fully you are your own person. You were brilliant in your class's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. You were bold and confident. Your voice boomed. You instigated a fight (!). You owned lines that spoke wisely of the folly of the human spirit and the hilarious and unexpected ways of love. Not only was I proud of you, I admired your confidence and passion.
More people than I can remember complimented me on your performance after the show. I loved hearing it, but I realized I want to remember that it's you and your work they were praising. Your performance showed me a side of you that I don't think I've ever seen--and I've gotten to spend almost every day of your life with you.
Personally, I've been trying to remind myself to listen more to the people around me. I feel like I need to listen and hear more than speak and tell. Last night, I had a chance to listen to you and your wonderful friends, and I am better for it.
Then today, you graduated from 5th grade. We're off to middle school. I admit, feel nervous about you going to middle school, because it's new and kind of intimidating. The play last night reminded me that you're your own person, and middle school is largely yours to take on.
I just want you to know that I want to help. I promise to try to listen, and I want you to feel free to tell me anything and ask me anything. The nature of a parental relationship means that we're going to disagree sometimes. I want you to know that it's ok for us to disagree. There's an idea I like that I share with my classes sometimes: "If all the people in a room share the exact same opinions, then all but one of those people is unnecessary." I hope to remember that idea even applies to young adults whose diapers I used to change (Too much? Bad joke? That's a dad thing, I guess).
More seriously, it also makes me think of some of my favorite ideas about love and forgiveness. I promise I will always love you, no matter what. And I promise that will be true even when we disagree or have days when we don't see eye to eye on everything. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians said it a long time ago better than I can now:
"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of wrongs. . . Love never gives up. . . and endures through every circumstance. . . Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love."As you leave behind elementary school, you're leading our family into uncharted territory (again). You may not realize it, but you've taught me a lot over the last 11 years. I promise I'll try to listen, love, and learn from you as you move on to the next stage. This blog is a place where mom and I have dedicated much of our time to expressing our gratitude, and I hope you know in your heart of hearts that we are thankful for you, your brother, and your sister more than we could hope to say. I love you, T, and am thankful for the brilliant young person, friend, sibling, and teammate you are.
Thursday, June 01, 2017
Our baseball season is winding down. It's been a special one with all three kids playing this year (Lauren's rookie year!) and each kid has a had an awesome coach. I've enjoyed sitting in the bleachers or helping out in the dugout. I focus on cheering--try not to coach, although an occasional "Watch the batter!" comes out when Lala is playing the field. Matt, on the other hand, has done some assistant coaching: keeping the book, helping with practice, and pitching for Lauren's team.
I'm writing this now, the week before the playoffs start, because while winning in the playoffs is undoubtedly fun, it truly doesn't measure the success of a season. We've watched our kids shake off batting slumps and fielding errors, cheer on their teammates, and make some big plays of their own. All while learning a little more about the game. We've all made some friends along the way.
I love sports. And I love how our family enjoys and loves sports together.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
We have great conversations about the animals in the neighborhood (deer, rabbits, vultures, hawks, snakes, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, etc.). I'm especially aware of how thankful I am for inquisitive kids. And I'm thankful we live in a place filled with readily recognizable birds and animals that allow us to share our wonder at the world.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Today you turn eleven years old. Your hair is longer than last year. Your smile is broader. Your quips are quicker. You're taller. And we both get a kick out of how your shoe size is now big enough that I can slip my size-seven feet into your flip flops and rain boots.
You are growing up. It's true, you've been doing this all along, but this year, time has slipped by especially quickly and, with it, you have eased into yourself a little more. I notice this especially at school, when surrounded by friends, you are more comfortable with the attention you receive. While you don't seek out attention, like your little sister, you are a measure more comfortable with it. You seem to understand that you are liked and respected--something that has been true all your life, but somehow it seems to rest a bit easier on you.
You have an awesome teacher. This is your second year in his classroom, and I marvel at how a kid who had a lot going for him had the fortune of landing in this class--where expectations are high and you thrive under them. We are so grateful. Last year was great; this year has been transformative. Earlier this year, in a parent-teacher conference, your teacher shared his hope that you would demonstrate more leadership. I processed this with some protectiveness on your behalf, but I trusted your teacher and you to figure this out. You met the challenge. You're still you: understated and quiet. But people listen when you speak up. You help fourth graders with math. You took on the role of Lysander in your class's rendition of A Midsummer's Night Dream and are diligently preparing for your performance the last week of school.
You've been a leader at home, too. This year has been one of transition with me returning to part-time work. Our family schedule has changed such that it's not always possible for me to pick you and your siblings up from school. So y'all have started riding the bus home a few days a week. And sometimes, you arrive home just a few minutes before me. You let yourselves in the house and call me from the home phone to let me know you're safely home. I hear the pride in your voice and the quiet confidence: "It's all good, Mom. We've got this."
I am trying hard to be open to that message, especially from you, my oldest child. I still want to protect you and make life easy for you when I can, but I also am increasingly aware that you can do hard things. Most recently, at the ballpark, I've winced when you've struck out and found myself wishing, for you, that you could get into a more consistent hitting groove. But what I've also noticed is how after a strike-out, yours is often the first, loudest voice I hear from the dugout, cheering the next batter on. While I wish baseball could come as easily for you as many other things, I realize that you are learning something from not being the best at something you try. You understand the value of teamwork and that sometimes your role is to encourage, not be the star. You understand that other people can hit more consistently than you and can be okay with it--even happy for them. You are understanding that we each contribute in our own way; life is not a zero-sum game. And you've learned the value of showing up, each spring since you were four years old.
I'm thinking a lot about this as you head into your next transition: middle school next year. I have my own anxieties based on what I remember of middle school. This is the part of parenting that's hard: reminding myself that you are not extensions of your dad and me. You are you. You've already expressed some anticipatory sadness about leaving your elementary school and especially your current classroom community. I get it; it will be sad. But you've also talked about trying out for the middle school soccer team and choosing electives like Latin. I don't expect next year or the rest of middle school to be easy, but what I do hope is that you will learn something more about yourself and everybody else.
Heading into your twelfth year is no different from the day you were born. You are an amazing, precious person. And yet this year will also be totally different, because you will encounter new things that change you and teach you. You are growing up, but you are already you. And I'm more grateful than I can adequately express to be here for another one of your trips around the sun, loving you and appreciating you for who you already are.
Happy birthday, kiddo. May you feel the love--today and every day.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Today on the way home, I had to run two quick errands. I was delayed a little, but for reasons that I realize I'm thankful for. At my first stop, the cashier behind the desk welcomed me with a friendly "Hey Mr. Smith!" I stopped for a second to hear about how community college was going for a former student. She asked about Allison's health, and I asked about her grandma. When I picked up an order, the brother of a former student of mine was working at that desk. He greeted me by name and asked how school was going. We chatted for a minute about his brother, who has had a rough few years.
At my next stop, another former student greeted me in the aisle in the grocery store. A student whom I recognized, but whose name I don't know, was my cashier. He mentioned having friends who knew me and had taken my classes at Riverside. Then, in the parking lot, I ran into two friends and their kids. I hadn't seen their children for over a year. We talked about elementary schools and the coming summer vacation. While we were talking in the parking lot, a former colleague, who transferred to teach at another high school, walked out. The six of us chatted for a few minutes until I got to head home.
In the late 1990s, the idea of "six degrees of separation" became really popular. Today was one of those days that reminded me how interconnected I am with Durham and the lives of thousands of people because of my work. Earlier this week, some friends and I were trying to figure out how many students we had taught over the course of our careers. If I've taught roughly 150 students a year (a low estimate, probably), I've had the opportunity to work with 2700 students in my classroom since starting my career. It has been good to remind myself that teaching is human work this week, because some of the ephemera of the job has been causing me stress. I'm thankful for community today, especially my classroom, my school, and my city.