Thursday, December 28, 2017
As we approach the end of another year, I'm feeling many things: Relief that the busyness of Christmas is complete. Sadness that our time with our out-of-town family is fleeting. Hopeful about being home again and the feeling of a fresh start that a New Year brings. Anxiety about many things, close to home and in our larger community.
Of course, I'm grateful, too. I'm thankful to have marked another year. Matt and the kids are my world, and they are mostly happy and very healthy. That is huge. But the flip slide of gratitude is the always-present knowledge of the fragility of it all. I try to mindful of what is good and right in front of us in this moment.
Yesterday, I was in the bathroom with Lauren at Matt's aunt and uncle's house. There was a sign that said, "In all things, give thanks." Lauren, as she is apt to do--even while sitting on the toilet--read the sign and proceeded to scrutinize it. She said, "Mom, what does that even mean?" I said, "Well, I think it means, no matter what happens we should be thankful. Like say, even if you were sick, you should be thankful." Lala scrunched up her nose, narrowed her eyes, and asked indignantly, "Why would I EVER be thankful to be sick?!?"
I realized she was right. I hadn't quite captured the sentiment correctly. So I tried again: "I think it means that, you don't need to be grateful for being sick, but when you're sick, you can find something to be grateful for." Lauren then wondered, "Like how it's nice how you take care of me when I'm sick?" And I said, "I think that's it, exactly."
I close this year, thankful for each of you who has taken the time to read another year of our reflections on gratitude. Life is beautiful and difficult; some days it feels more one than the other. I hope that we can continue to find some love, some light even in the darkest times--or at least resolve to look for them again tomorrow.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Thursday, December 14, 2017
We do still run around quite a bit--like tonight. We had a school dinner to which we took separate cars, because Matt had a meeting to go to at 7:00. On the way home, with just the kids and me, I took some extra time to drive around our neighborhood and let the kids see the holiday lights. It was a nice, leisurely excursion that allowed us to take a moment and appreciate some of the wonder of the season.
When we got home, Lauren was a bit distraught, because she has a "very, very wiggly" tooth. She let me try to wiggle it (not my fav thing) and tried to eat an apple (that's how she lost her first tooth). Alas, the loose tooth remained attached. I suggested that she could go to bed and try again in the morning. She managed a tearful "OK" and headed off to bed. I'm thankful that she understands in her own way that sleep is restorative, and things will be better in the morning.
As usual, I am a bit overwhelmed by the holiday season. I've got many to-do lists running through my head--only half of which I manage to write down. Though there's plenty of stuff pending, I've slowly but surely checked a few big items off some of the lists this week. And now I've reached the time of the day when I will choose to wind down and rest. I might address a few Christmas cards, or go to bed early. I'm grateful for both the opportunity to rest and my own understanding, in this moment, it is what I need most.
Thursday, December 07, 2017
Thursday, November 30, 2017
The meetings I attended this week were meaningful. One was a PTA Board meeting in which we discussed a proposal for a creative, innovative program. Discussion, disagreement, and, even, awkwardness ensued, but, ultimately, we voted unanimously about what the next best thing was.
The second was a focus group related to breast cancer services. I met with some thoughtful service providers and survivors, and we were able to have a candid discussion as well as make connections. The gathering had the potential to be uninteresting and formulaic, but it was anything but. It was really inspiring to meet with a group of people I don't know very well--unlike the PTA meeting, where I knew people really well--yet feel connected with them in a common purpose.
In both meetings, I felt grateful to be part of building something. Not all meetings feel this way, but these two did. This week has been full of reminders of the many connections my family has to our community. My hope is to be a constructive, collaborative participant in whatever group I'm a part of.
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Thursday, November 16, 2017
These kids. They're fun.
Last Friday, we went to the Tar Heels' home opener. It was the first time all five of us were in the Dean Dome together--and Lauren's first time ever. The kids delighted in every aspect of the experience: riding the shuttle from the Friday Center, climbing all the way up to our seats, drinking soda, cheering as the starting lineups were announced, rooting for the Heels (who won easily over Northern Iowa), and even hearing a favorite Bruno Mars song played by the band.
No one really even complained when we had to wait for nearly 30 minutes in 40-degree weather for our shuttle back to our parking lot. In fact, Lauren and Evan spent the time running around in a grassy area, playing tag. It was a treat to be out past 9:00 without feeling like the world would fall apart.
Once again, I find myself grateful for this season in our family life. Life moves quickly, and my babies aren't as easy to scoop up and snuggle. Their personalities are familiar and also emerging/ shifting as they learn more about themselves and the world. And, increasingly, it feels more like we're experiencing life together--rather than us leading and them, following. I know there will be growing pains, but I hope they know that Matt and I are here, ready to comfort them and celebrate with them, whatever their "growing up" brings.
I'm thankful for the fun we have together and the love we share. And I'm grateful that even our youngest is able to tag along on later nights--and for the nap she could be persuaded to take earlier that afternoon.
Thursday, November 09, 2017
Back to the other night: I came inside and watched a couple of videos online for how to access the fuel door, I opened it, and make a quick run to the gas station to fill up. I still need to fix the release cable, but the car has gas and it's ok.
When Evan woke up last Sunday and I had the microwave mostly taken apart, he asked what I was doing. After I explained it, he said "I'm glad there are videos to help you fix things." I realized he's right. While I would definitely prefer not to have things break or malfunction, I am thankful that I have the means, resources, and ability to take on most of the minor repairs that we've faced recently. I'm also thankful that the greatest frustrations at home that I've faced this week were a microwave and a faulty cable to a fuel door. I'll repair the fuel door soon (with a little help from the internet), and try to remember that I'm fortunate to have solutions to most of the problems I encounter.
Thursday, November 02, 2017
I'm thankful for the memories we're making, raising our kids with great neighbors. Halloween is one of my favorite nights of the year. We gather with friends for an early dinner before heading out all together. The kids still run from house to house, squealing and laughing.
My kids never coordinate their costumes. This year, we had Princess Leia, Robot Ninja, and Turtle Wizard. I love how they make their own choices. I'm thankful that Tobin still wants to dress up, even if deciding on what he wanted to be seemed a more complicated decision.
Halloween is a memory snapshot, poignant in how it feels both familiar and new. I'm grateful for traditions in how they create memories and mark the passage of time. Most importantly, I'm thankful for the people who we are sharing these experiences with on special nights and many ordinary days throughout the year.
Thursday, October 26, 2017
It was a great night, but for more reasons than the basketball. We talk (and write) a lot about sports here, but part of what made the night special for me was getting to see Steve interact with my own kids. Steve was a crucial part of my life through all of high school, and has now been part of my life for most of three decades. He was an officiant at our wedding. He's on my short list of most influential people in my life. I'm thankful that every time we get to talk or see each other, it feels like we simply pick up where we left off.
This year, T started youth group at our church. Tonight, I got to spend some good time with his youth minister at a community forum. T has enjoyed his youth group meetings and events so far, and seems to be off to a great start, making friends and getting involved. I'm thankful that he and Tommy seem to have complementary personalities, and I'm hopeful that T is beginning what will be an important relationship for a long time to come.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
This is me about four years ago, around the time of my first October post-diagnosis. When I look at this picture, I notice how small Tobin's hands are and how he still has his top baby teeth. He was seven--right between the ages Evan and Lauren are now. I also notice my hair and remember how glad I was to have it back, even if I was self-conscious about how short it was. I had only recently shed my head scarves and caps; I felt relieved and exposed.
Prior to my diagnosis, October and its "pinkness" in honor of breast cancer awareness had been a simple, positive association. But October 2013 felt complicated. My first encounter with this feeling was when I walked into Kroger to do my weekly grocery run. As I lifted two-year-old Lauren into the cart, I noticed a huge display of water bottles, all with pink labels. Behind them was an ad with a picture of a young woman, smiling with her head covered in a pink scarf. I felt a rush of tears--not the good kind--and wanted to run from the store. It felt traumatic, seeing all the pink, making me think about the disease that had turned the last seven months of my life upside down.
A few days later, I was driving into Chapel Hill for one of my last radiation appointments when I passed a pink fire truck, driven by a smiling firefighter. Tears welled up again--this time, the good kind--as I felt what I'd guess was intended by the color of the truck: a sense of solidarity with women like me, fighting the good fight.
I don't know why my reactions to these two instances of pink were so different. All I know is that there's a before and an after. Now that I'm in the "after," I'll never experience October like I did before. I feel like I can also speak on behalf on a lot of my breast cancer survivor friends: it's complicated and different for all of us. Some embrace it; some hide from it. I think I might be somewhere in between.
October happens to be the month I finished treatment. On Monday of this week, I saw my oncologist for my semi-annual checkup. She confirmed I was in good health and, most importantly, my MRI from last week was clear. Tuesday marked four years to the day of my last radiation treatment. It felt surreal to talk with my oncologist about my next appointment in April 2018, when I will be past the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis and likely switch to once-a-year checkups.
This morning, as I drove across town en route to the two-school drop-off, listening to my kids sing along with the radio, coffee in hand, and my heart pumping a little fast from the adrenaline rush that comes with trying to get everyone out the door on time, I felt a wave of joy wash over me. I am so grateful for this season in our lives. I am here, in the thick of it--sometimes a little too busy, often stressed out, and never handling it perfectly. But I'm here, watching my kids grow and change, laugh and cry, win and lose. I'm cheering them on, comforting them, and laughing with them.
In this month--this moment--that's what pink means to me. I can look at this picture and be thankful for what has changed and what hasn't. My hair is longer and my boy is (a lot) bigger, but we are still in this together. I can hug him tight and then let him go.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
Evan especially seems to have friends who are experimenting with inappropriate words lately. For a string of nights not long ago, Ev tearfully shared with us that he had actually said some of those words in an attempt to be funny or silly. It became clear to us is that Evan and his friends don't really have a firm grasp of the words they're trying out. Still, it was endearing that Ev obviously felt a level of guilt about the possibility that someone might have thought he had ill intent at any point in the words he was using. Allison was especially comforting to Ev when she explained that our words are important, and that we want to be sure we don't use words to hurt people--but that he has a good heart and loves people--and that if he follows his heart, he'll be just fine. He seems to have gotten over it.
Lala's questions about words are pretty different from Evan's. As in most things, she is more blunt about her questions and ideas. Where Ev will whisper something along the lines of "My friends and I might have said the s-word when we were being silly on the playground at school," Lauren is much more likely to say "Dad, why is [actual s-word] a bad word?"
Lauren has also picked up on context as a concept at what feels like a pretty early age. Someone on the playground was apparently using an inappropriate word that also happens to be part of the name of a famous national sporting-goods store. So she asked me at home one night, pretty smartly, why that was a "bad word." I explained that it's a word that people use in an ugly way to refer to a body part. Because she is who she is, she asked which body part, so I told her it was an inappropriate way to refer to someone's penis, which is private. She thought for a few moments, then said succinctly something along the lines of "That's really weird that it could be a bad word: it's not like the name of that store is 'Penis Sporting Goods.'"
Luckily, we moved on from that discussion to something equally puzzling or hilarious. While Allison and I have had some good laughs about these conversations, I realize that I am sincerely thankful to have children who think (and maybe worry a little) about how powerful their words are. One of the points of emphasis in my English classes is the importance of measuring our words. Early in the year, I invite them all to remember a time in their lives that they felt most hurt. After giving them a few moments, I take a kind of straw poll to see how many thought of a time that they felt physical hurt. Those numbers always pale in comparison to the ones who indicate that they remember being hurt by non-physical things. Grief and hurtful words outweigh physical pain for most of us when we conceive of painful memories. I'm thankful that my own children are already grappling with the weight of words and how they use them. I hope their mindfulness will remind me to use my own words to build and affirm and love as a parent, partner, friend, and teacher to those in my life.
Thursday, October 05, 2017
The weekend before last, I drove up to DC to spend the weekend with two of my best college friends, Molly and Amy. Molly hosted us at her lovely home, and Amy flew in from Vermont. Three years ago, we had a similar girls weekend in DC but we were also joined by our dear Jeanne from Utah; we missed her this time around.
There's obvious reasons why I'd be thankful for a time away with my girls: long conversations, good meals, and a little break from the rigors of life with kids. The weekend felt indulgent and restorative. I'm grateful for friends who have known me for almost twenty years, who were right alongside me as I fell in love with Matt, who have been there to share so many joys and sorrows over the years, and who can always pick up right where we left off. Friendships of that depth and length are a treasure.
The picture above shows us enjoying a lovely brunch. We were joined by our college friend Tom, who happened to be in town, and Molly's husband Deepak, who was taking the picture. There was such a relaxed and joyful feel to the whole weekend. Back home, Matt was holding down the fort, taking the kids to three soccer games on Saturday morning. I'm grateful for him and the way he's genuinely happy for me to get away and handles life at home so gracefully.
I am mindful of the abundance in my life when it comes to friends and family.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Yesterday evening ended up being one of the less hectic ones this week, but the lead-up to it was plenty busy. I took the kids to school then went home to prepare for an 11:00 meeting in Raleigh, 45 minutes away. I had taken the day off from my office job, so I could attend this meeting at the law firm I work for (albeit, usually, remotely). My meeting was short and put me back in Durham by 1:00, but I had to run by Costco. I got home with about an hour to spare to eat some lunch and check emails, then the kids started arriving home around 3:00. All the kids. Tobin had a rare day off from soccer. While they did homework and played, I made a pot of chili for dinner. Matt got home from work at 5:15, when I headed out for a school meeting, leaving him to feed the kids.
I pulled in the driveway around 7:00 and saw a smiling Tobin running around the backyard. He was playing touch football with Matt and Evan. When I walked in the house, I could hear Lauren’s voice from the playroom, engaged in some sort of chitty-chatty, imaginary play. The evening had a more relaxed feel, because the kids had been home—not rushing in from somewhere, scrambling to take showers and get in bed.
We’d done it. We’d made it through another very full day. And everyone was pretty happy. I don’t love being this busy. In fact, Matt and I try to plan the kids’ schedules so they’re not too busy—e.g., only one sport per season . . . with the exception of school sports, which is a new thing for us? But the current fullness of our lives highlights so many things I am grateful for: healthy, able bodies; sports; community; a true partner in parenting; two vehicles; a big yard for football; jobs; good schools; and even enough hours (in some days) to make good food for my family.
Thursday, September 07, 2017
Thursday, August 31, 2017
This week has been full of change for all of us, but especially for Tobin. He started a new school and cut off two years' worth of hair growth. Cutting his hair was something he'd contemplated for a few months. He finally pulled the trigger last weekend. Since then, he's spent a lot of time looking in the mirror and rubbing his head, adjusting to the different feel of it all.
A lot feels different this week as we get up earlier to leave the house earlier to take the kids to two different schools. Tobin has definitely been tentative and nervous about going to a new school. But it helps that he's at a small school with lots of friends from elementary--especially with his best friend since first grade in his homeroom. I am thankful for these constants in the midst of change.
Change is inevitable. Sometimes we choose it--like T did with his haircut. Other times, it's just an expected next step--like moving up to sixth grade. Still others, it's something that surprises and overwhelms us--like a natural disaster or a scary diagnosis. I've tried this week to be thankful for the opportunity to experience something new. Change can be scary, but I've learned that I can be fearful AND grateful--with an open heart. I've said that in different ways to the kids this week: "It's okay to feel nervous. You're going to learn some new things." I'm thankful for new opportunities . . . and also looking forward to when this "newness" feels more routine.
Thursday, August 24, 2017
I had a really good feeling about T's middle school at the open house, and know a few of the teachers there personally. I'm thankful to feel confident in the school year the kids are about to begin. As I prepare to teach at my own school this year, I've tried to be mindful of the words, deeds, and environments that have put me (as a parent) and our kids at ease about the classroom. I hope to put my students and their families similarly at ease next week. I hope to be a welcoming, mindful teacher for all the young people I get to meet, and I hope to be a support to other teachers in my department. I hope to honor the spirit of Maria Montessori in my own teaching: "We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master." I am thankful for the schools I attended, the teachers I had, the school my children attend, and the teachers they have had.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
Thursday, August 03, 2017
Since we came back, a regular ritual has been playing records on our turntable during the day. I choose one or let the kids choose, then we listen to one or both sides, sometimes as backgrounds music, sometimes as the main activity. It fills me with all kinds of good memories, and it has been fun to see all three of the kids engage with music and vinyl. I'm thankful for memories I have of listening to and learning to love music, and I'm thankful to be making some of those memories with my own kids.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Earlier this week, we arrived at a beach house to share the week with two other families: six adults and seven kids. Our friends Kari and Adam flew in from Colorado. Our friends Danielle and Mattison drove down from Cary. Our kids have enjoyed the ocean, playing board games and hide-and-seek, and lots of snacks. We adults have enjoyed shared meals and drinks and long, late-night talks.
Next week, we'll spend another week at a beach house just nine miles away with five other families (12 adults, 14 kids) hailing from Colorado, Boston, Maine, and even Toronto. I imagine it will have a different feel from this week, with twice as many people, but I think there will be lots of similar feels: enjoying being together and watching our kids play.
I am struck by the abundance of amazing people who have crossed our paths and remained in our lives, even though we almost all live very far away from each other. This week, we're spending time with friends we met when I was in law school. Next week, our group of friends centers around connections to Riverside.
I am thankful for these people, their friendship, and the opportunities to make memories together this week and next.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
This summer I decided to read more. I've been inspired in part by Tobin, who chewed through all the Harry Potter books and at least another dozen novels in the first 6 months of the year. I read Ender's Game for the first time after hearing about it (and its author) for decades. I read White Trash. I read the most recent Rick Riordan book to try to keep up with T. I read a couple of other "easy" books.
The book that surprised me most, though, and that has really made me want to prioritize reading more as part of my weekly routine, was Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. In the summer, I usually like to read nonfiction or pop fiction, since I spend a lot of time at work with capital-L literature. Despite trying somewhat deliberately to avoid deep fiction, I fell for this book hard, and felt something I haven't felt from a book in a long time: a thirst to finish it accompanied by a paradoxical sadness that it was going to end.
The book hit me on a number of personal levels: as a father, a son, a baseball fan, and as a member of a family dedicated to church work. Rather than give a synopsis, I'd prefer to quote a couple of passages, because what I'm feeling most grateful for is art's ability to stir emotions and challenge the way I think.
This passage captures the magic of the way I (we?) experience little epiphanies of our existence, and the simple way in which they intermingle with the other details of our lives, in this case baseball and the meditative wiggle room the pace and phrasing of the game allows.
It was one day as I listened to baseball that it occurred to me how the moon actually moves, in a spiral, because while it orbits the earth it also follows the orbit of the earth around the sun. This is obvious, but the realization pleased me. There was a full moon outside my window, icy white in a blue sky, and the Cubs were playing Cincinnati. (45)This next passage gets the gist of a lot of the frustration I have with arguments among people who would claim to provide "scientific" proof of faith and theology. I've never been able to articulate why those kinds of apologetics always ring of "methinks thou doth protest too much."
In the matter of belief, I have always found that defenses have the same irrelevance about them as the criticisms they are meant to answer. I think the attempt to defend belief can unsettle it, because there is always an inadequacy in argument about ultimate things. We participate in Being without remainder. No breath, no thought, no wart or whisker, is not as sunk in Being as it could be. And yet no one can say what Being is. If you describe what a thought and a whisker have in common, and a typhoon and a rise in the stock market, excluding “existence,” which merely restates the fact that they have a place on our list of known and nameable things (and which would yield as insight: being equals existence!), you would have accomplished a wonderful thing, still too partial in an infinite degree to have any meaning, however.Throughout the book, Robinson's narrator rang true, and helped me reflect on myriad relationships, discussions, and conversations I've had over the course of my life. What I am most thankful for is the way that this book embraces the paradox of the beauty and sadness of life as we know it, while advocating humbly that this life and what comes next are worthy of honor and effort and love. That's a paradox that I've tried my best to navigate over the last decade, but the one I still struggle most with. The solutions others offer are often too extreme in their approaches: nihilism on one side, faith-inspired platitudes on the other. Robinson (through her narrator) deals clearly with the absurdity, joy, and sadness of life while somehow maintaining a sense of humor. And if I ever were to solve that paradox, I "would have accomplished a wonderful thing, still too partial in an infinite degree to have any meaning, however."
I’ve lost my point. It was to the effect that you can assert the existence of something — Being — having not the slightest notion of what it is. Then God is at a greater remove altogether — if God is the Author of Existence, what can it mean to say God exists? There’s a problem in vocabulary. He would have to have had a character before existence which the poverty of our understanding can only call existence. That is clearly a source of confusion. Another term would be needed to describe a state or quality of which we can have no experience whatever, to which existence as we know it can bear only the slightest likeness or affinity. So creating proofs from experience of any sort is like building a ladder to the moon. It seems that it should be possible, until you stop to consider the nature of the problem.
So my advice is this — don’t look for proofs. Don’t bother with them at all. They are never sufficient to the question, and they’re always a little impertinent, I think, because they claim for God a place within our conceptual grasp. And they will likely sound wrong to you even if you convince someone else with them. That is very unsettling over the long term. “Let your works so shine before men,” etc. It was Coleridge who said Christianity is a life, not a doctrine, words to that effect. I’m not saying never doubt or question. The Lord gave you a mind so that you would make honest use of it. I’m saying you must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own, not, so to speak, the mustache and walking stick that happen to be the fashion of any particular moment. (178)
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Evan is EIGHT.
Today, you turn eight years old. You remain the purest, sweetest person I know. You came to us in 2009, which was one of our hardest years, when we lost Dad's dad, your Granddad, after he fought cancer for two heartbreaking years. You are somehow all sweetness and light--what we needed then and what we all need now.
We are on the road for your birthday, as usual. Today actually kicks off our week-long reunion with our Lantrip family. You'll spend your day with a few hours in the car, then playing near and in a lake in northwest Louisiana with your many second cousins. I'm so happy that each year, you make new, fun memories right around your birthday. I also appreciate your flexibility in letting us celebrate your birthday earlier in the month, including giving you most of your presents already. This year was fun, because you got your very own, brand-new (i.e., not hand-me-down) bike in time to ride in on the now-annual Father's Day bike ride with Dad.
First grade was a transitional year for you, but this year second grade has felt more like you hitting your stride. You continue to love math especially, but your reading has really taken off, too. You watch Tobin tear through books--several a week--during the school year. You aren't up to his pace, nor are you quite up for some of the more suspenseful novels he reads. I remember sometime in the past year, reading the first chapter of The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan with you. The narrator and main character Percy Jackson spends the first page warning the reader not to keep reading because the reader could discover that he himself is a half-blood. The intent of this, of course, is to stoke your curiosity and build suspense. But as we read these words, your eyes widened and you asked a lot of questions about half-bloods and what might happen in the book--some of which you already knew by hearing Tobin talk about it--and you decided that you weren't ready to ready this particular story. I was proud of you for showing self-awareness and seeking out books that were more lighthearted. You especially liked reporting how many pages you had read during the school day and on the bus ride home. Some of my favorite memories from this school year were meeting you and your siblings at the bus stop, and you emerging from the bus with a book in hand and then continuing to try to read on the short walk home down our street.
You just wrapped another fun baseball season. You moved up a level to machine pitch, but you had the same coach and many of the same teammates you'd had for your two seasons playing T-ball. Third base seems to be your specialty. You field with confidence and often come up firing. It's hard to make a put-out from third at this age, but you made a few. You've also come to understand when it's time to hold the ball and just look the runner back. You hit consistently but you also fought your way through a little slump at the end of the season. It was hard to watch you strike out in those games, but you kept your chin up and continued to play solid defense. And you always cheered for your teammates. Your awesome coach paid you a high compliment at the end of the season, noting how you brought a certain calm to the dugout and field. I think your dad and I appreciated that because we feel it too--in our family life.
Your sweet, patient, positive attitude is so important to each of us. You display a steadiness beyond your years. Maybe you're playing a bit of a sibling role: the happy medium between an analytical, understated big brother and an especially exuberant little sister. You move with ease between the two of them, playing well with both--often admiring Tobin and encouraging Lauren. Whatever your role now and in the future, you are a very good brother to each of them, and I especially appreciate that. There's a calm cohesion you provide at our family's center.
Another sweet memory I have of this year for you has been your growing interest in the piano. You've always loved music and often sing to yourself. You've taken that up a notch and like to try to bang out chords on the piano to go with your lyrics. As Lauren notes, a lot of your lyrics are "not really words" but you have some recognizable, repeated phrases, and Lala has also noted that you are "a really great singer!" I'm pretty sure no one really hears you singing outside of our house, as you remain kind of shy about it, but that makes it all the more special. It's a joy to hear you play and sing, lost in the music.
We'll spend today celebrating and appreciating you for the being uniquely you. I hope your dad and I can always provide you with the space you need to sing your heart out and share what's on that heart. You're an awesome, admirable young man. It's an honor to watch you grow into yourself with each passing year, and you make my own heart swell every single day.
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Now It's Time
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
Lauren is SIX.
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
Tobin is ELEVEN.
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.
Thursday, May 04, 2017
I am sending out approximately one million emails a day, primarily in my parent volunteer roles at the kids' school, recruiting parent volunteers for end-of-year events and next year's leadership roles as well as coordinating Teacher Appreciation Week.
At some point, I need to think about the kids' birthdays, which start with Tobin's eleventh on May 18.
Life can feel overwhelming and abundant with good things. That's kind of what I'm feeling right now and what I remind myself of when I feel really stressed: life is very full of good things. I am thankful for life's abundance in this particular moment. (Also? Exhausted.)
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Our kids are funny (these are some of my all-time favorites).
I also appreciate that we laugh at silly things, like funny sounds or ridiculous movies, or laughing when we're scared or surprised. I don't feel like it's a stretch that we laugh in our house every day. I'm thankful to live and laugh with my family at this precious time.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
We were home for Easter this year. After spending spring break in Florida with my parents, we headed home for the weekend, since school resumed the Monday after. We also got back in time for the kids to each play a baseball game.
The holiday, a truly Holy Day, of course, has inherent significance--well beyond the traditions of our little family. That said, I've come to love how we celebrate it. What we've cultivated over the years is a day full of joy. This does include things like toys and candy, but it always includes time together. This year our time together was blueberry muffins for breakfast, church, an egg hunt in our front yard, and then an afternoon and evening spent relaxing and playing together.
I'm grateful for Easter, for our family traditions, and the memories we make. I'm also thankful that I have pictures of us each year. My heart aches and swells looking through these as they show the many and varied seasons of our family life.
Thursday, April 06, 2017
We watched our last college basketball game of the season on Monday night. Tobin's favorite team was playing for the title. Last year, we let him stay up when they played in the championship also. That game ended in heartbreak. This year ended in happiness. I know it's just sports, but it felt bigger than that. I spent most of the game worried about how he would handle another loss, fretting that I would have to explain to him again that some things don't go the way we want them to. But then the Tar Heels made just enough good plays to win the game, and we hugged and were grateful to share such a joyful (exhausting) moment together.
Our sports focus shifts outside, in the longer daylight hours, to baseball. All three kids are playing this season. They put on their gear, pack their bags, and pile in the van to go spend a couple hours at the ballpark. They're talking about hitting and catching, and can't wait to get their new uniforms. We will sit beside both familiar and new faces on the bleachers, cheering our kids on. There's a lot of promise as the season begins.
I'm emerging from my running slump, making efforts to stick to a more consistent routine. It's easier to do when the mornings are so pretty. In a couple months, I'll try to get up and out there before the sun is up, but right now I'm enjoying the combo of sunshine and still-cool morning temps. I often find myself in a familiar place each spring: frustrated with myself for slacking off on running in the winter but eventually encouraged as I build my stamina back up. I've been here before; I know I can do it.
Next up is a little break from school and work. We'll spend a week in Florida with my parents, playing and resting. We'll come home to backyard Wiffle ball, gardening, and weekly cookouts. I'm thankful for the change in season and how it feels both familiar and new.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
A central figure in my tournament emails for the last eight (!) years has been Clark Kellogg. I used to laugh at Clark Kellogg, but over time I've come to really like him. He has a ready wit, is generous and kind with people, even on Twitter, and fearlessly (and sometimes hilariously) provides his commentary on the games. His work became an early jump-off point for me to make some jokes, perhaps in part because I was trying to make sports more important than they really are. Still, over time, my appreciation for Clark Kellogg has grown into a sincere fondness. We've never met, but I'm pretty sure even if he read the jokes I've made about him, he would roll with it and continue being himself. I'm thankful for the tournament and the connection it allows me with my friends. And I'm thankful for Clark Kellogg, who occupies a special place in my basketball-loving heart. Below are some of my longer Kellogg-centered comments over the last 8 years of facilitating a bracket challenge among my friends.
- "Agitating to ecstasy."
- "That's what penetration will get you."
- "You've got to worry then about the pseudo-penetration."
- "He's working hard and deserves a blow."
- "You have to protect yourself against their spurtability."
- And, as far as I can tell, Clark Kellogg coined the word "valutility" today.
- During the Baylor-St. Mary's game, talking about an old school coach: "He's older than tweeting. Older than this twittering age we live in." The Twitter allusion works as a clever comment on the coach's age and a wry comment on the perfunctory communication modern man engages in. Kellogg is adding his distinct voice to the postmodern heteroglossia of Twitter.
- On a player fouling out: "He's been Dairy Queened." His pedestrian explanation to Jim Nantz that he was creatively saying "DQ'd for disqualified," was just being modest. "He's been Dairy Queened" is a much richer and more insightful comment than it appears. It's a clear appeal to our collective subconscious and our oneiric archetype of the Dairy Queen experience. When do we go? For a treat. When do we get a treat? When our game is done. When is your game done? When you foul out. Jim Nantz might as well have been working the game with T.S. Eliot last night.
I leave you with this, from today's Big 10 Championship game, Clark Kellogg: "One more thing to consider: the mental, and the emotional, and the physical fatigue he's feeling from being tired."
- At one point last night, he said "Keep your head out of the popcorn." I would give you the context, but there wasn't any. I choose to take it as advice I can't yet appreciate.
- During the aforementioned offensive drought by Michigan St., he sagely noted "They're going to need shots to drop if they're going to come back." Taoist.
- He noted a couple of times that Duke's defense was "Saran Wrap tight." Clark Kellogg is better at Saran Wrap than I am.
- When Wichita State's pace seemed to frustrate Louisville's hapless offense, Kellogg offered "Unless Louisville can speed this game up, Wichita St. will keep doing what they're doing." You might think this is redundant, but read it to yourself again--it's as clear and profound as introductory physics. If Stephen Hawking were calling the game, he would say things like this.
- Malcolm Armstead had a tough game against Louisville. At one point, though, he spun his way up the court, almost losing the ball. Extra spins meant extra prefixes for Kellogg, who succinctly described Armstead's effort: "He did a nice job to re-retrieve it."
- Michigan was up 8 points with three minutes to go. Kellogg opined "If you're Michigan, your instinct is to ride with the parking brake on." At first I rejected this idea. That would never be anyone's instinct. But I've thought about it a lot. Here's my theory: a) Michigan is famous in part for its contribution to the auto industry. b) Improvements in car quality may have seriously reduced the need for auto mechanics. c) Riding with the parking brake on could stimulate the service economy necessary to maintain Detroit's most famous export. To conclude, I think Clark Kellogg was tying together our tendency to be careful with precarious leads and note the Wolverines' empathetic stance on our national shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy.
- During a frenetic stretch during the first half, he exploded "You'd better keep your head up and stay out the kitchen. This one is full throttle." I don't have anything to add at this time, but I hope you'll keep it in mind
- Read it again. "Dayton has the ability with its reversible-clothing type players, inside and out to give Stanford all they can take." On the surface, it only says "Dayton has the ability to compete equally with Stanford." The richness of Kelloogg's work lies in the imagery and levels of language: I've had two concepts blended in my mind for the first time: reversible clothing (neutral for temperature) and modifiable clothing (for adapting to temperature changes). I've become enamored of the concept. Kellogg could make a Kickstarter campaign for reversible zip-off pants. I would buy some. Just like I buy the basketball players that they necessarily call to mind.
- Product potential aside, don't miss the balanced, evocative language of reversible: inside/out & give/take. This is composition, friends. Underestimate Clark Kellogg at your peril.
- [Mission Control]
- "Can you see them on radar, Corporal?"
- "No sir."
- "Might they be flying under our radar?"
- "I can't imagine how. We've --OHMYGOD THEY'RE UNDER THE SCREEN THEY'RE IN THE BUILDING THEY'R--" [scene]
- Kellogg, on Villanova's blowout of Iowa, said "In our house, we call that a woodshed, whether it's Word Streak or Words With Friends." Um ,OK. There's not even a vague mention of basketball there. At all. But let's dig deeper
- 'Woodshed' would have a base score of 15 in Words With Friends (16 in Scrabble).
- Depending on your luck with double/triple letter and word tiles, adjacent letters, and on whether you played all your tiles for 'woodshed' (bingo!), you could possible score 54, 33, or 87, which were Villanova's 1st half, 2nd half, and final scores, respectively. This is Kellogg at his best. Subtle, but with depth that rewards effort.
- Producer #1: "We've got 4 minutes to fill."
- Producer #2: "Let's go back to the touchscreen."
- Producer #1: "Please don't ever suggest that again. Maybe a remote interview?"
- Producer #2: "Too cliche'. We need something innovative."
- Producer #3: [snorts as he wakes from Wisconsin-induced nap] "No! Um, tangled, the. .. the strings are tangled THE PUPPETS are, uh . . . what?"
- Producer #1: "Genius! Call the puppet guys!"
- He has repeatedly referred to college basketball players being "brain neutral." This two-word combo has become my own personal Banach-Tarsky paradox. I don't know if brain neutral is good or bad. Sometimes I think it's an asset to be brain neutral. Other times, I'm convinced it's what keeps us from excelling. Am I "brain neutral" as I type this? I don't even know. As soon as you contemplate "brain neutral," you no longer are.
- A related linguistic subversion happened during the University of New Orleans-Mt. St. Mary's "First Four" game Tuesday night. Travin Thibodeaux (the most Louisiana name in the tourney) almost choked out a teammate after a costly turnover. Kellogg's comment was "They're getting closing to dropping hands there." At first, I thought he was misstating the slang "throwing hands" for fighting. But "dropping hands" is an even richer phrase. And the team that was in danger of dropping hands is known as UNO. UNO. As in, "draw four" -- the "First Four drawn" -- drop your hand in UNO and you lose all possibility of the sneak-attack Reverse-Skip-Draw-Two combo you have waiting for Grandma. UNO, you lose. You lose, UNO. How could that be accidental?
- I'm so tired but I can't sleep
- Standin' on the edge of something much too deep
- It's funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word
- We are screaming inside, but we can't be heard