Neon Birthdays

I’ve been up since 4 am, and so has the rest of the house (sort of). I sat up in bed, and then Layla came to our bedroom to snuggle, which she doesn’t do much anymore. Her luck would have it that Zade got up a second later and wailed with disappointment that the tooth fairy hadn’t come (shit!). Since it was still dark out, I was able to convince him it was nighttime; she hasn’t come yet. I wrapped my body around his as I slipped a bill under his pillow and clutched the tooth like a clever thief. That tooth for sure was definitely his jewel. He took it out of the container and showed it to the drive-thru teenager at Brusters. It’s his big deal.

Other big things are happening for the kids today. They will have their first joint birthday party at a neon-back-to-the-90s roller skating rink. When I discussed the party details with owner on the phone, she said, “Honey, I’ve done this a long time. You’re lucky if the kids sit down more than 15 minutes to eat. You sure you want to order that much food?” To my request to bring in decorations, she said, “Baby, I’m a mom of four kids, and I run my own event company. From mom to mom, just keep it simple. Really. It’s a roller skating party!” I kind of wanted to hug her.

I had to explain to the kids that slap bracelets and FunDip are essentials for our 90s-skater-themed goody bags. Layla said, “None of this stuff feels old. It feels really cool!” Damn right, it’s cool. I have to say that while I’d really never been to a roller skating rink when I was a teenager, I think it’s hilarious that one of my formative decades is now a theme out there.

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Layla got out of my bed an hour ago. She was angry at me for leaving her to be with Zade instead. She never believed in the tooth fairy, so I explained to her how I had to tiptoe past his room to grab $5 from her dad’s wallet and stealthily make the exchange. I told her how when I came back to her side when it was done, she was already back asleep. She nodded and understood, satisfied with the special truth. Our eyes sleepy but our bodies awake, we toasted a waffle and got under blankets.

Last weekend, Layla was a guest speaker on a big radio station(crazy!). She spoke unwaveringly and had me struck. That same weekend, Zade made me a book–his own story of, as he writes it, “a book with no pictures”–where the hero goes on a funny adventure.

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My kids are getting older. One is finally losing his teeth and the other knows the game. I feel like I’m witnessing this absolutely unique time in their life. It’s unclouded with teenage emotions, all the stuff ten years from now and ten years thereafter will bring. I’m not ready for all that. It’s still a time where they seek me for the answer, and their forgiveness is quick and honest. The height marks we’ve continued on the walls are smudged from how often they run their fingers up and down their numbers and letters. They are fascinated with their growth, and I’m fascinated with the whole picture of it all.

I hope matching t-shirts, green glowsticks, hodgepodge birthday cakes, and decad-ish goody bags help make some timeless stories for these two enchanted markers of my life. 

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New Framing Turf

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I am new at this official sport stuff. It’s no secret to my friends that sports for me can be like walking through a zoo; I stop and pause at the exhibits, nodding and reading the descriptions, and then I decide I want funnel cake and wander off. But yesterday, we bought a couple of red sports chairs so we could sit at the sidelines. I sat in one while getting to know parents on the same green turf as me while we watched kids play their first soccer games. When I got home, I noticed my chest and shoulders got red from the sun. I’d say we are officially in new-soccer season terrain.

We’ve somehow branched away from the rec soccer camps we’ve done before–the kind where not knowing the rules of the game was okay. I had to find a blue shirt from Layla’s closet to turn inside out for her game. I’d ordered one color and not the other, so I had to make do. It’s when we ran from one soccer game to Dick’s to buy cleats and shin guards for the other soccer game that we decided to really get sporty with those chairs.

Looking up to the week before the games, I could see all the black expo ink on the house calendar and worry about the stuff I knew was coming up that hadn’t even made it on there. This year I made the hard call not to not sponsor any extra clubs at work and that I would be smart about what I let slip into the work/activities week. I even had to put up a limited-number sign-up list for students who requested a college rec letter; I’ve done 30 each year in between all the things, and those take so much time for me.  A lot of last year had seemed less of a time management issue and more of an omg-there-is-too-much-on-here-to-be healthy issue. So I’ve started clipping coupons with time, so to speak.

After the games, the kids left a path of wet jerseys and black shorts across the floor. I picked them up while I got ready to head out again to help a friend write a college admission essay, a promise I felt worthy enough for the calendar. Each part of the day was full. I came home wiped out like most of the women I know on Saturday evenings. I’ve written stuff like that before, but I hope the small difference between last time and this time is lasting: it is going with the flow of things rather than against it.

Natural disasters like the ones going on around us now, of course, change the answers to the question, “To what are you committed?” To echo one of my students, we need essentials like safety in order to reach up to happiness.  With the privilege of safety, I started thinking about my commitments and the things that make my family happy (happy wife, happy life!), and once again like the women around me, it feels like everything–to my family, my students, health, authenticity, home, etc.  Recently, though, I co-presented on a professional development for the classroom that involved how we should frame things–and change the way we think about overarching unit questions– to promote cross-curricular understanding and critical thinking (for all parties involved). Extending beyond the classroom, I got to thinking today about why this academic year feels more peaceful than last year despite similar demands, a busy calendar, and the same “busy busy” text messages. I think some credit should be given to how this year is framed.

The way the crazy is paced this year feels more deliberate. It doesn’t change the load, but it changes the way I feel about it. If I frame this stage of my life as, “What kind of mom do I want to be during this short stage of their life?” or “How do all these black expo marks add up in the big picture?,” it helps me find true steadiness in things I have to let go and things I’ve had the privilege to keep.  It doesn’t mean I won’t serve the questions that frame other characteristic of my identity or that I haven’t stopped writing this piece at least 40 times to break arguments or pour cereal into bowls,  but it does mean I am a little less weary of all the things. It means that more than before, I feel peace with this. I’m tired but full because it’s clicking–those small changes and the feelings around them. 

You know that game we all play of what would you do if you won the lotto? Kal and I will do that sometimes on car rides or on the porch. That conversation can start broad and then get personal. After all that imaginary money is spent, I usually tell Kal that the simplest thing to do instead of criticizing aspects of your life is to just change your perspective about it. Not easy, but simple. We usually rock back and forth on that for a minute and walk back inside the house.

Lastly, I attended Jen Pastiloff’s “On Being Human” yoga-ish writing workshop a few weekends ago. Over 70 women sat mat to mat in a hot room while honesty poured out of them after a pastiche of yoga moves, dancing, and hugging. Of her many thought-provoking questions (I think on so many of them even now), Jen asked us, “What is your bullshit story?”–that story that keeps you from doing something, makes you feel shitty, or is in rotation on your feedback reel. I think when you’re a working mom who is also so curious about experiences outside of your family, it’s really challenging to just focus on patience with the stuff it takes to raise children, and even more to to find genuine satisfaction in it. I have several bullshit stories, one of them being “she’s too busy.” Busy can be misconstrued as exclusive (of the things we don’t have time for) when it really is the effect of being the most inclusive as possible. Busy doesn’t mean I don’t have a choice; I’m just searching hard to make the right ones. 

At the end of the evening as I drove home from tutoring, I–for the first time ever–listened to college football news on the UGA and Notre Dame game because, hey, I’ve been telling myself that bullshit story for awhile about not understanding sports when really I just didn’t care to. These kids, my new red chairs, and their blue soccer uniforms may guide me otherwise. 

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