Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

In Defense of a Little Drama

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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I spent lat week immersed in drama.theater mask

The drama became so all-consuming  that I actually had to take a couple of days off work to deal with dysfunctional family dynamics, jealousy and romance. And I enjoyed every minute.

That’s because the drama was on stage, where drama belongs.

My daughter was in a youth summer production of Cinderella, and her involvement required parental involvement. I supervised, ushered, sold gifts, stayed up past midnight several nights in a row and made food for the cast party.

But, as my husband so eloquently said, since I’m the one who got my daughter interested in drama, I’m responsible for all that involves.

What he doesn’t realize is that, for such a generally pragmatic person, I crave drama. I grew up with a dad who performed in local theater, and I loved going to plays, especially musicals. But even at a young age, I knew there was more to theater than the story the audience sees on stage.

In reality, the audience members actually get the short end of the deal. That’s because the genuine magic of theater doesn’t happen on the stage. Sometimes, it doesn’t even happen backstage.

It happens with the voice teachers who encourage their students to take a risk and audition for a part in a musical.

It happens with artists who can envision a set and the carpenters and painters who can build it.

It happens in the pit with musicians who can pick up an instrument and learn a piece of music instantly.

And most of all, it occurs in the relationships that are built not with the intent of beating another team or winning a championship. but on making people smile, think, cry, imagine and relate to others.

When a team is focused entirely on that, they can only encourage each other and cheer each other on.

Last week, an adult (make that this adult) made a comment about an actor’s off-key performance. My daughter didn’t even let me finish the sentence.

“He’s nervous, Mom,” she said harshly. “Don’t be critical.”

Last week, I heard parents debating why some youth always get a speaking part while others don’t (yes, this parent was involved in that conversation.) My daughter told me that being part of a cast is fun no matter what the role is.

Last week, I tolerated mothers who worried over hairstyles and costumes. At the same time, I witnessed kids who are generally labeled as misfits being included, hugged and encouraged by their peers.

Last week, I saw adults bringing in large bouquets of fresh flowers to bestow upon the actresses, musicians, directors and producers. At the same time, I sold four plastic  flowers to a member of the cast who spent a great deal of time deliberating over just the right message to send to four girls in the chorus: girls who didn’t have any lines.  According to the notes the actor finally wrote, all four girls were “amazing stars.”

And he was right.

Everyone involved in the production was contributing his or her unique gifts to make the show a success. Every parent who lost sleep and hauled kids to performances and fundraisers made the show possible. And each person who bought a ticket was telling our young people that theater is important.

I never had that opportunity. For whatever reason, the theater department at my high school was defunct when I graduated. The football, basketball, baseball, track and volleyball programs were all fully supported, but I never heard one person complain that my class never put on a school play.

That saddens me as much today as it did when I was a teenager.

I know the odds of anyone becoming a Hollywood star are just as astronomical as the odds of  someone becoming a star athlete. But the odds of a person using the skills they learned in theater – confidence, positive relationships, public speaking and public relationships are extremely good.

And if we support local and youth theater – and the drama that comes with it – the odds are even better.

It’s time we play those odds.

Fuzzy Truths, Fake Beards and Imaginary Poison Ivy

Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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I’ve come to realize that  being a parent sometimes requires creating your own version of the truth.

I should have caught on at least 45 years ago, but I can sometimes be a slow learner.poison ivy

When I was a little girl, my dad provided a running commentary about the dangers of my behavior.  He said my skin would turn green if I ate too much pea soup. If I swallowed a watermelon seed, he informed me that it might take root in my stomach and start to grow there.  He warned me of that dangers of crossing my eyes in the car because if we hit a  bump, my eyes would stay crossed forever. And, according to him, if I didn’t go to the bathroom when the urge hit, I would suffer some miserable but unnamed disease as an adult.

I listened to him with a cautious ear. I didn’t necessarily believe that everything he said was entirely true, but neither did I want to test the veracity. By the age of five, I’d  decided to err on the side of caution by avoiding anything potentially harmful. Generally, that wasn’t a bad thing, but there were times my fear interfered with my quality of life.

I feared eating any mushrooms because my dad had told me some mushrooms were poisonous. I refused to even try  jerky because Dad said if people didn’t prepare it properly, it could cause food poisoning. And I looked at all greens suspiciously because I had been warned on multiple occasions to never eat rhubarb leaves.

But nothing scared me more than a warning that came not from my father but from another man – a complete stranger who pretended he was worried about my well-being. In reality, he was worried about his store. I don’t remember the name of the store, but I do remember it was a large one in another town and that my entire family was there. For some reason, my brother Sean and I were alone when we spotted the larger the life-sized fake Santa Claus, and Sean dared me to touch its beard. I took on the challenge, reached up and ran my fingers through St Nick’s most famous feature. I was surprised that it wasn’t soft at all. Instead, it was stiff, wiry and apparently off-limits to children.

At least that’s what the store manager told me when he marched over and ordered me to take my hands off Santa’s beard. His tone of voice intimidated me, but his words were downright scary. “That beard is made out of poison ivy,”  he said. “It’s made out of poison ivy so people won’t touch it.”

I had no idea what poison ivy looked like, but I knew it made a person itch. And for months, I itched everywhere and was convinced that I had a case of poison ivy. By the time I realized that there was absolutely no way that poison ivy would ever be used as material for a fake Santa Claus beard, the incident was well in my past and I had realized that people sometimes manipulate the truth.

Sometimes, they do it to protect their children and sometimes they do it to protect family and holiday traditions like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. And sometimes they do it to protect themselves.

I never thought I’d be one of those people who lie to protect themselves, but apparently I am.

I’ve always prided myself with being open about any topic with my children. But a few weeks ago, my daughter Kendall and I were having a meaningful conversation about tough issues when she asked me a question that I couldn’t honestly answer. Telling her the truth would open the door to so many more questions - how could I be such a hypocrite? How could I set different expectations for my kids than I did for myself?

And so, on the spur of the moment, I lied.

Now I wish I hadn’t, and I’ve battled with myself over the decision. During this same time, I’ve also managed to get a  real case of poison ivy because I refused to let the plant take over my rhododendron bush.

Since I will forever associate poison ivy with lies that adults tell kids, I can’t help but note the irony of the situation.

My daughter, who is oblivious of my lie or my subsequent internal turmoil, thinks I made way too big an issue over the poison ivy. According to her, I if had  just left it alone, I wouldn’t be so miserable.

She’s probably right.

But like I said, I can be a slow learner.

Roughing It

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
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A few days ago, my daughter approached me with her hands on her hips, her head cocked and her voice dripping with exasperation.

“Well, mom,” she said. “Your great experiment failed.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, and I said so.

“This whole not using the dryer thing,” she explained. “It’s not working.”

I still didn’t understand what she meant, so she slowed her words and paused between each one.

“The      towels      are     rough      and    my     t-shirts    are     stiff,” she explained.

“That’s because they weren’t dried in the dryer,” I said. “The dryer fluffs things.”

“Exactly,” she said.

I understood her perspective, but she didn’t understand mine – which was that dryer needed a replacement part and running it would break it completely. Besides, dryers use a great deal of electricity, and electricity costs a great deal of money. I’m all for saving electricity.

Our brief and pointless conversation was ironic.

Just days earlier, I’d had a conversation with co-workers about the benefits of drying laundry on a clothesline. I expressed the intense embarrassment I’d experienced as an adolescent when my mom had hung all of our laundry, including underwear, on clotheslines and drying racks in our backyard for the neighbors to see. A colleague, who is younger than me but grew up in the country, said everyone dried their clothes outside when he was growing up.  Another, who is older than me but who grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., said she had tried drying clothes outside once but her sheets were full of bugs.  The only consensus we reached about line-drying clothes is that is much cheaper.

And then my dryer started making a funny noise and I decided that cheaper is sometimes better, and we don’t need technology as much as society tries to tell us we do.  Humans survived for hundreds of years without it, and even my own generation once made do with much less.

I remember my family’s first color television, first microwave oven, first electric typewriter, first answering machine and  first touch-tone phone. And I most definitely remember our first computer, which required us to insert a floppy disc with the operating system. I never dreamed of voice mail, cell phones, the internet, laptop computers or being able to rewind live television.

My children can’t remember a world when they didn’t have all of that technology at their fingertips.

Their disbelief reminds me of trying to understand how my grandparents had lived without television, telephones or running water. It also reminds me of a moment in my own childhood, when my grandparents had traveled from Michigan to Oregon to visit my family.

My grandmother was helping my brother Sean clean his pet hamster’s cage. “You need to use elbow grease,” she said.

My brother looked at her and said, “I don’t think Mom buys that. Should I ask her to go to the store?”

My grandmother laughed and explained that elbow grease is something that comes from within. It is the effort each person uses to get the job done.

I am thinking about that moment as I sit on my back porch in the dark. I am fortunate that there is still a battery in my laptop computer so I can write. My son is sitting at the picnic table at the other end of the deck reading a book to the glow of a lantern.

A storm blew through my town a few hours ago, and there was a fire at the local substation. The power has been out for hours.

I can’t say I’m pleased with this turn of events. The slight inconvenience of drying laundry on a clothesline is nothing compared to the worry about the food in our refrigerator going bad, the temperature in the house getting too hot, our lack of internet and television or, most important to my kids, our inability to charge our mobile devices.

And yet, as I write this on a laptop with a depleting battery, I am enjoying the gentle breeze blowing through the leaves of the oak tree that rules the backyard and the dance of the fireflies against the dark sky. I am enjoying the fact that the only noise I hear is the sound of crickets. And I am enjoying the fact that, just for a moment, I can understand a world that used to exist. A world that depended less on electricity and more on imagination and personal relationships.

A world in which kids accepted rough towels and the need for elbow grease.

The Great Indoors

Monday, July 7, 2014
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Maybe next year she can go someplace that lets her catch things.

Maybe next year she can go someplace that lets her catch things.

When I think back to my childhood, I realize that I didn’t do a lot in the summer.  I rode my bike through the Kanawha City streets (but never across MacCorkle Avenue), bought Slush Puppies at a  7-11 convenient store, ran through a sprinkler hooked to the garden hose in the front yard, and I watched HBO after my parents went to bed. One day rolled into the next, set to the labored hum of a large window-unit air conditioner that was bought from Sears and Roebuck (yes, both of them).

Some years, we took a vacation to Wrightsville Beach, N.C. or Williamsburg, Va.  Some years we couldn’t.

But never, ever did I go to camp.

And I sort of wish I had.

Last summer, as I lounged by the pool half-watching my girls cannonball off the diving board, I became engrossed in an article in Town & Country magazine.  The writer reflected on his summers at camp — an exclusive, preppy, hard-to-get-into-and-even-harder-to-pay-for place tucked away in the forests of “old” New England.  This sleep-away camp was the place where mosquitoes bit but fish didn’t, canoes capsized but nobody drowned, and hearts ached for home.  For a little while, that is.

The writer still believes that camp is a rite of passage in childhood; a necessary “roughing it” that removes some of the shelter in kids’ lives — physically and emotionally. Back then, going off to camp (for at least three weeks) was a way to connect with the world.  Today, it’s a way of making kids unplug from it.

The article romanticized camp in a way that made me actually look into places for my daughters, ages 11 and 8.  I follow a few camps for girls on Facebook and through images posted on Instagram and Pinterest — all of which make the experience look downright enchanting.

Ava doesn’t see it that way.

“WHAT? No walls?!” she exclaimed, as she leaned over my shoulder to study a large tent with its flaps peeled back to reveal giggly girls sitting on cots.

“What if it rains?!” she exclaimed.

You pull the flaps down, I guess.

“And bugs! Bears! No, Mama. NO,” Ava declared, stepping back from the computer as if it had malaria.  Her idea of camping is a cottage overlooking The Old White golf course at The Greenbrier.

Maryn, our youngest, took her sister’s spot over my shoulder.

“Cool!” she said.  “You get to sleep outside?”

Yes. For a month.

“Hmmm…” she pondered.  “How far away is it?”

You’d go to camp? I asked, shocked.  Maryn is our explorer, but she’s also the one who will sit and hold my hand when I’m bedridden in a nursing home.

It’s about two hours from here. You’d like to do that? 

“Maybe….” she said.

Well, let’s throw this little fish back in the water, I thought to myself.

Tomorrow (which will be “this morning” once the blog is published), Maryn will attend Fun With Words: A Young Writers Camp sponsored by the Central West Virginia Writing Project, a program overseen by Marshall University.  No, she won’t sleep in a tent (or a dorm), and no, she won’t be in the next state.  But, she will be gone during the day and she won’t have her sister sitting right next to her. She’s going off by herself, and I have to admit, I’m a little nervous.

Before I get ahead of myself, Maryn asked to attend camp. I didn’t sign her up for the sake of doing so.  She loves the arts, so this seemed like a good fit for her.  But, I’d be wrong if I hid an underlying motive for paying the rather steep tuition fee.

I wanted Ava, who will be starting middle school in about a month, to watch her little sister walk into a new environment without any familiar faces for comfort. It also takes some motivation to try new things, especially when they aren’t necessary or required.

My girl isn’t going to be sitting at the edge of Walden Pond penning the next great American novel.  Or, maybe she will — just not beside a bubbling brook.  And, she won’t be writing letters home detailing songs sung in unison around a fire, or merit badges won during archery contests or at the conclusion of wilderness survival tests (thank God).  But, she might write a story about meeting new friends and having new types of fun.  It may not be Lake Ossippe backdropped by the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but it will be an adventure … for all of us.

 

Independence Day

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
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I had a flashback to the Summer of 1976 while riding my bike the other day. The rubber on my back tire had split, and the damaged tire was slowing me down.1976

Instead of recognizing the problem, I blamed myself. I thought I wasn’t pedaling hard enough, which is the same accusation I made of myself during the Bicentennial Parade on the Fourth of July in 1976.  That parade  provided some of the hardest, but most meaningful, lessons of my childhood.

I grew up in a small town in Central Oregon where summer meant two things: being outside and celebrating the Fourth of July.

Being outside involved building forts in Juniper trees, capturing tadpoles in irrigation ditches, swimming lessons at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and riding our bikes everywhere. Bike helmets weren’t even a consideration back in those days. We only worried about skinned knees, and, when the temperatures were cooler, getting our bell bottom pants caught in the chains of our bikes. But during the warm days of summer, we were wearing shorts, and our greatest concern was how to decorate our bikes for the Fourth of July parade.

Everyone in Madras Oregon participated in the parade. Adults and children planned and prepared for months, and the anticipation of  the annual event increased dramatically for America’s Bicentennial. As soon as the calendar turned to January 1976, the planning was on. Every activity and event highlighted America’s 200th birthday.

During  Girl Scout events, all the girls wore Betsy Ross inspired outfits.

During school programs, we sang patriotic songs.

And almost all the clothes in stores that year were red, white and blue.

But, in the eyes of the kids, nothing was more important than how we decorated our bikes for the Fourth of July Parade. As I recall, there was a prize for the best decorated bike, which only partly explains why we took the task so seriously. Prize or not, kids on bikes led the parade and finished in time to catch a ride on the fire engines that wrapped it up.

With all that at stake, we took decorating our bikes in theme very seriously. We had always woven streamers through the spokes and threaded them through our handle bars, but the Bicentennial parade was something special and required extra effort.

My friend Shannon and I had a plan for how to make a statement. Instead of riding bicycles, we decided to ride tricycles with signs that said “Ready for the Tricentennial.” I don’t remember where we got the trikes. Perhaps they were from her brother Kip or perhaps they were sitting around my parents’ garage.

All I know is that my nine-year old knees and legs were much too long to ride a small tricycle with any efficiency. On the day of the parade, I gathered with all of my peers at the start of the parade. When everyone else sped off, I didn’t. I could barely pedal the well-decorated but much-too-small trike. Before long, I was trying to keep up with the antique cars. And by the time I realized I’d be faster if I simply pushed the trike, I was with the floats. When the fire truck with all my peers on board passed by, I felt completely defeated. Despite that, I didn’t quit. But I was extremely embarrassed by my poor showing.

Thirty-eight years later I’m not embarrassed at all. Instead, I proud of that little girl and her perseverance.

Life has a way of encouraging us to re-think our memories and identify how they can help in the future. As a mom, I appreciate the  benefit of of  perspective and a life time of experience. I’ve learned a great deal from both.

I’ve learned being embarrassed does not equate to failure. In fact, being embarrassed simply means you went outside your comfort zone, which is something winners always do.

I’ve learned that finishing what you start means more than a first place ribbon.

I’ve learned that blaming ourselves when something doesn’t go as planned is pointless. Sometimes, the circumstances are beyond our control: the tire is flat or the distance to the pedals too short. Sometimes, we don’t have the resources we need, like a bigger or faster bike. And sometimes we are simply out of our element.

I’ve also learned that  life can’t be truly enjoyed if we try to measure it in terms of success or failure. Life requires that we cheer on those who are ahead on the parade route and encourage those who never have a chance to ride the fire engines.

Most of all, I’ve learned to appreciate having the freedom to make mistakes, the luxury of having the independence to talk about those mistakes, the opportunity to fix the flat tires that life sometimes delivers and the importance of recognizing that we can’t control every aspect of our lives.

This Fourth of July, neither of my children will be participating in or attending a parade as I did when I was young. Despite that, I have no doubt they will be turning to me for ideas about how to celebrate. And I’m almost positive, I’ll suggest we take a family bike ride.

Decision Times

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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I was organizing old photograph albums on a shelf in the basement when I found a journal from my teenage years. I picked  up thedr-seuss-memory-quote spiral-bound notebook filled with sprawling cursive writing, but I only read a few lines before  putting it down.

I’d thought I would enjoy reminiscing with the author, but I realized that I didn’t even recognize her. I recalled the events and even many of the emotions she described, but I didn’t remember the girl.

Experience and time have distorted my memories of the teenage girl I once was, and even though I still have a great deal in common with her, we are now very different people. And in reading those few journal entries, I found myself wondering how that teenage girl could possibly have been expected to plan what she wanted to do with the rest of her life when she hadn’t yet grown into herself.

dr seussNow, 30 years later, that former teenage girl is fielding questions about what her son wants to do with the rest of his life, and I’m having a tough time believing that he can possibly know.

Maybe I’m a cynic. After all, I’m just as astonished by people who stay in the same career, much the less the same job, for their entire life as I am by people who are still married to their high school sweetheart.

In my world, that just doesn’t happen.

In my world, teenagers are just tall children who are exploring the world and discovering new interests and passions every day. They are young souls who are still learning that life isn’t about one decision that will lead them down the right path but about a series of decisions that will take them on an adventure.  And the are unique individuals who still need to determine how to use their gifts.

But I realize that’s in my world.

In the real world, teenagers are encouraged to identify their interests, decide on a college major and purse a career path by the time they are 21.

Maybe, if I didn’t have a son who was only a baby last week and is turning 16 next week, I might buy into that world.

But in reality, my son who is still trying to figure out who he is, and I’m pretty sure that the only way he can do that is through experiences – both good and bad. My job as a parent is to encourage him so he pursue opportunities that will allow him the time and the freedom to learn about himself.  And I hope he encounters some life-changing adventures along the way.places-ypu-will-go-quote

I also like to think that the teenager I used to be hopes for the same thing.

According to her journal, she does.

 

The Day I Ate Dog Food

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
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dogfoodWhen I was four years old, my brother Sean and his friend Gusty convinced me to eat dog food.

The food didn’t look anything like the plain Purina Dog Chow my family fed our mutt, Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown’s food was hard and brown and looked completely unappealing.

Moses, the yellow lab who belonged to our neighbors, ate something that looked far more interesting, It, like Charlie Brown’s food, came out of a bag. But in addition to dry pellets, there were softer chunks of some kind of strange, reddish substance. In my four-year old opinion, Moses was getting filet mignon while Charlie Brown was getting hamburger.

I must have expressed such thoughts to my brother, who immediately cooked up a scheme to get me to eat dog food. He shared it with Gusty, the human boy who lived with Moses.

I wish I could say they took forever to wear me down. I wish I could say they bribed me. I even wish I could say they threatened me. Those would all make a better story and would make me appear smarter than I apparently was.

I was at Gusty’s house playing with his sister Anni when he asked if we wanted a snack.

Anni said she wasn’t hungry, but I was always up for food.

“We’ve been eating Moses’ food,” Gusty said.

I must have looked skeptical, because my brother quickly added, “It’s actually really good. You should try some.”

That’s all it took. They brought me the dog bowl and told me to take a handful. I did.

That was by far the worst snack I have ever eaten, but I refused to let on. I don’t know why I pretended, but I did. As the boys and Anni stood watching  me, I ate. And as I crunched, I asked the boys if they were going to eat too. They said they were full.

It was only days later, when word leaked out to other children in the neighborhood, that I realized I’d been the butt of a cruel joke. The embarrassment grew  in me like weeds during the summer months. The only way I could get rid of the weeds was to start distrusting people.

I’ve had 43 years to get over the incident and learn to trust when I should and to distrust when appropriate. But looking back, I wonder about those small moments that change children forever and shift the way they view  the world. I wonder if trying to protect our children too much prevents them from learning tough lessons.

I’ll never know.

What I do know is that memories have a strange way of resurfacing in our lives.

Shortly after we were married, my husband and I adopted our first dog. There was no debate over his name; I simply made a decision.

We named the dog Gusty.

It seemed appropriate, and, for the record, our beloved Gusty lived 16 years. During that time, he ate pounds and pounds of dog food.

The Problem with Peacocks

Wednesday, December 4, 2013
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Sometimes I wish my life had a rewind button.peacock

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a time machine. I have no desire to go back and  relive parts of my life (although a few do-overs would be nice.) But I would like to revisit certain moments so I can see them from a different perspective, particularly one that takes into account my parents’ point of view.

Years ago, I never would have thought I’d want to see things through my parents’ eyes, but time and children have a way of changing many things, including the way I think about peacocks.

When I was growing up, my next door neighbors had peacocks (now known as peafowl but when I was a kid they were all peacocks), and I thought that they were the ultimate cool pet. I used to visit their pen daily to search for stray feathers, and I was always impressed when a peacock fanned out his tail and strutted for me.

My parents were less thrilled about the peacocks. In fact, they actually despised those birds. My dad constantly complained about them and the noise they made. At the time, I just thought he had extremely sensitive ears. I should have realized there was more to his complaints.

He and my mother aren’t pretentious, and they don’t care about how people look or what clothes they wear. Most of all, they aren’t taken in by people who call attention to themselves by being the loudest or the most demanding. In other words, they find peacocks annoying.

When I was a child, I may not have understood. As an adult, I do. I’ve had to deal with too many people who are more focused on appearance than substance and who waste energy and resources getting attention rather than focusing attention where it is most needed.

In other words, I now also find peacocks annoying, and I realize I should have paid more attention to my parents’ opinions.

But here’s the really cool thing about being a parent: we have the opportunity to see the impact of  genetics and our own lifestyle choices on a new generation.

When my children were younger and we visited the zoo on a regular basis, we always admired the animals for their various qualities. We talked about how fast the cheetah was or clever the monkeys were or how wise the tortoise must be. But my kids never gave the peacock the time of day. They found the strut and beauty completely unremarkable.

Even better, now that they are adolescents, they actually find the peacocks in their lives annoying.

And I find that completely satisfying.

The Son I Don’t Know

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
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Yesterday, my husband insisted I watch a video of a baby dancing to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.” I had just gotten home from work and Image (51)was already on my way out the door again, but Giles was persistent.

When I finally looked, I knew why.

The baby dancing in diapers reminded both of us of our son, a teenager who now towers over both of us.

When he was born, everyone told me the years would fly by, but I really didn’t believe them. Sleepless nights, diapers and endless worries about his development consumed my time and energy.

Now  suddenly, he is  a sophomore in high school with a life about which I know very little.

I know the  boy who walks through my house in his boxer shorts and tousled hair. I know the boy who is obsessed with computers, video games and music. I know the boy who comes home from football games and plays the trumpet after he thinks everyone else is asleep. I even know the boy who gives me sarcastic answers in one breath and says “I love you too, Mom” in the next breath.

But what I don’t know is the teenager who goes to school every day and faces the realities of adolescence and peer pressure. I simply get glimpses of him every now and then.

The first glimpse came at the end of his eighth grade year when he won a dance contest during a school assembly. My son? Seriously? He was never the most coordinated kid nor particularly interested in anything that’s popular. I later found out he’d won the contest by performing the “Dead Bernie,” which is actually a shout out to a movie from the year I graduated from college.

I got another glimpse when I was at Girl Scout camp with my daughter this summer when one of the other mothers mentioned him.

“My son loves Shepherd,” she said. “He’s like Norm on Cheers. When he enters the classroom, everyone yells his name.”

I asked Shep about this, and he stoically said, “I’m a character, Mom.”

And then, at a recent football game, an English teacher was chatting with me. “I love Shepherd,” she said. “He is just so enthusiastic. He doesn’t care what people think about him.”

I got the not caring about what people think about him part, but I wasn’t sure about the enthusiasm. Around the house, he generally shows the enthusiasm of a slug.

Generally,

But that same night after the game, he was particularly talkative.

“Mom,” he said. “One of the kids from the other band told me I was an awesome trumpet player.”

That’s about as talkative as Shep gets. At least, that’s about as talkative as he gets with me. But he highlighted his enthusiasm by wailing on his trumpet until the wee hours of the morning.

His love of music is why I am being the dutiful mother and taking on responsibilities with the school music boosters. That’s also why, on Monday night, I found myself playing games on my phone during a boosters meeting while I listened to other parents discuss basket bingo and costumes for show choir.

Then the band director said something that caught my attention. The group had been talking about the band’s performance at an away football game when the other school had given them unexpected respect and a standing ovation. In response, the band had signed a thank you letter. Only, according to the band director, he couldn’t send it yet because someone had decided to give himself an inappropriate title upon signing.

My heart sank. The band director never gave any indication about who the culprit was, but I knew. When I got home, I didn’t even ask.  But I did tell my husband, who pursued the issue with Shepherd.

“I asked Shep about signing the letter,” Giles said. “He admitted he embellished his signature a bit by adding that he was the best trumpet player.”

My heart sank a bit that my son had once again gone a bit too far. But then, my heart also lifted.

Maybe I’ve been kidding myself. Maybe I do know my son better than I thought.

Maybe, just maybe, I am having a problem letting go of the toddler and embracing the man he will soon be.

But in the meantime, I’m drafting a speech about modesty and how to sign a letter.

I have absolutely no doubt about what Shep’s one word response will be.

And when he says, “whatever,” I’ll know he still needs a mom to guide him.

Nice Girls

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
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The girl’s costumes matched the costumes of the other dancers, but her moves were nothing like theirs.

Instead of tapping, she stood awkwardly in the middle of the stage and occasionally shuffled her feet. Instead of jumping and leaping, she swayed from side to side. And her arms hung limply at her side instead of moving in sync with the other girls.

But as both of her dance numbers ended, she waved wildly at the audience then clapped three times.

Not only did the audience cheer enthusiastically, but so did the dancers backstage.

Even though she’s been in my daughter’s dance recitals for the past few years, I only recently learned that the girl’s name is Grace. I still don’t know the exact nature of her cognitive disability. What I do know is that I’ve never once heard anyone make fun of her or complain that she is ruining a dance number.

In fact, the only time I’ve heard anyone talking about her was this past weekend when I spent numerous hours as a backstage mom “supervising” a group of middle school dancers.

In reality, I did very little supervising and a whole lot of listening.

As the girls watched the performances on a grainy television feed in their dressing room, they didn’t point out anyone’s mistakes or missteps. Instead they cheered on and complimented everyone, including the dancer who didn’t really dance.

“She is always so happy,” said one girl. “That’s just adorable.”

“She has a signature move,” said one of the star dancers. “She claps three times and then everyone else claps.”

“Have you noticed how all the other girls in her class take care of her?” asked another. “That’s so awesome.”

I agreed that was awesome. But I don’t think the girls recognized just how awesome they are too.

In a society in which adolescent girls are often depicted as being self-absorbed and mean-spirited, the dancers were building each other up instead of tearing each other down. In a world in which out performing others is often described as success, they were more focused on being kind. And on a stage where a disabled girl simply wanted to dance, they simply wanted to cheer her on.

If that isn’t reason to have hope for our future, I don’t know what is.