Monday, December 13, 2021

Stay Gold

 After three months of rehearsal, my daughter got to participate in her first play this past weekend. She couldn’t eat for two days leading up to the performance, and the morning of opening night, she wasn’t sure she could make it through to the evening with the nerves she was feeling. She went through a series of “what if” questions with me, and I did the best I could to reassure her that it would all work out in the end. This was an experience that she and I had both hoped she could have experienced earlier on in her middle school, but if she gets to finish out eighth grade in person then this year will be her first, last, and only year of middle school. 

For years to come, I think I will mark the passing of time by before and after the pandemic. Photos, trips, and memories will be defined by mask wearing. Despite the incredible advancement of science stepping in so quickly, I think it will take quite some time until the impact of last year’s lockdown lessons. My two children have lasting memories of the challenges they were dealt with during school last year. My daughter seemed to lose all muscle memory of socializing with her peers. This happening when socializing with peers at this age was arguably the hardest even without the pandemic was like salt on the wound. She stayed in her bedroom hour after hour trying to stay as engaged as possible while she stared at her screen. She was comfortable reaching out to friends on her own but also didn’t want me to reach out for her. Other than the memories we made together as a family, it was a lost year for her.

My son had a hard time navigating school on a laptop, but it was fewer hours. In hindsight, I should have gotten him help to supplement how little he was getting, but my priority was to keep him moving, social, and outside as much as possible. He was younger and so it was a lot easier to make that happen for him than it was for me with my daughter. He seemed to be getting by okay, but his very rocky adjustment back into school as a fourth-grader makes it apparent how much he lost by missing a year. He is still struggling to catch up and as a parent, it is painful to watch his self-esteem drop the way it has recently. We are giving him the extra help he could have used last year – better late than never.

My daughter’s adjustment back into school this year could not have been more opposite than that of her brother’s. She was a wilting flower that got a drop of water and came fully back to life. She found her ability to socialize again, which I am sure was challenging for all of them, but so very needed. She was so excited to be back in school and took advantage of all it had to offer. She made the tennis team, joined improv again, got super involved with the student council, and auditioned for the play. 

In seventh grade, part of  the required reading was the book “The Outsiders.” This year the school decided it would be the play they would do. One of the many reasons for this choice was that like the characters in the play, the students had all endured a difficult life experience living through the pandemic. Everyone could identify with accepting their situations, trying to re-identify with themselves, and trying to overcome hardship. The play was also about gangs, violence, and the ongoing battle between rich and poor, which in reality was also relatable to a lot of the kids who participated in this production. It is a large school so the roles were double cast to allow more students to participate. 

My daughter got the news that she was cast as Pony Boy, who is the lead character who not only acts with the other characters on stage but also talks directly to the audience narrating as the play moves along. She had wanted a part in a play, but she wasn’t prepared to get the lead, nor was she so sure she wanted it. She worked hard though and in the end nailed every single line. I don’t think I let out my breath until intermission. She blew me away with her focus, acting ability, and dedication. I was proud, I am proud! 

There is a poem by Robert Frost that Pony Boy recites to his best friend Johnny.

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Later in the play, Johnny from his death bed explains why he disagrees with it and tells Pony to “Stay Gold.” It is a sweet moment that became the famous quote from “The Outsiders.” Admittedly, I am guilty of poking fun at how cliche that line can be. I even bought my daughter a sweatshirt with the quote on it, because I thought it would be “cute” to have as a memory from her experience. As I watched her on the stage, the words took on a new meaning for me. I watched her with a group of friends, some old, some new, all working together. I watched how she was part of this production along with all the other kids, after being locked inside alone last year. I watched as all of these kids, despite what the world has gone through, were gold again.

The play wasn’t without flaws, it is middle school after all. The wigs were all a bit odd, there was some backstage rumbling into hot mics, and the kids had to do the entire production from behind their masks. It took some effort to figure out whose line was being said by who, since we couldn’t see their faces, but despite it all, they all came alive and were shining. 

The other night my husband was telling me how he had caught up with an old friend. He told me that when they asked him how he was, he had answered that things were really good. I was surprised at his positive spin. He is and has always been a glass-half-full person, but after every blow he has been hit within the last few years, he is still able to focus on our health, home, and family. I admire him for that. I have had a harder time finding all the positives when I can’t quite see the finish line clearly. I appreciate that we are on our way, but I miss working together with people. I miss a sense of community and teamwork. I catch glimpses of it in bits and pieces, but I don’t feel connected quite yet. I feel hopeful and watching these kids reminded me that we can and will all shine again. Even behind the mask, there is a light in our eyes that has been able to “stay gold!”

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

By November

 When my daughter started Kindergarten she cried and clung to me on the first day of school. The teacher’s aide had to take her from my arms as I ran out so no one could see me crying. The next day she wrote a note to us saying, “I’m not goin to school” and then clung to the couch when it was time to go. Other than the missing “g” she had written her note so well that I thought maybe she didn’t even need to go to Kindergarten. We kept taking her back and in those first few weeks, the drop offs didn’t get any easier. The teacher let me know she was okay once she settled in for the day, but saying goodbye each day was brutal. In the second week of school, a mom who had been watching me suffer each morning told me something that I keep reminding myself of lately. She explained that she was a teacher before she had her own kids and she always noticed that each year for some kids, it would take until Halloween for them to settle into the school year. She said there was something about Halloween that helped bring the kids together as a class and she hoped that would be the case for my daughter as well.

She was right and by November my daughter stopped crying at drop off. She started again after every vacation, even after Spring Break with only weeks left to the school year, but she eventually got comfortable at school. Every year since has included some tears, fears, and in most cases both for both of my children when it is time to go back to school. This is hard to watch as a parent, but not unexpected since I also struggled every year to settle into school. At around third grade, my daughter stopped crying on the first day of school, but she is yet to eat anything for breakfast on those first few days due to nerves. In sixth grade, at the beginning of middle school, she had an especially difficult transition. She would get into my car after school and plead with me to let her stay home the next day or to homeschool her. Little did we know then her wish would come true, but by then she had finally settled in.

It is difficult to know as a parent, when to save your child, and when to keep trying. This year my daughter was nervous, didn’t eat, and was not excited to go to school, but it didn't take her long to sink her teeth into school. She acclimated so well this year, which will hopefully be her one (and only) full year of middle school. My son was more excited to go back to school this year. He has had some teary start days in the past. He has gotten scared, clung to me, and needed to be the kid that gets to help the teacher in the morning, so he can be distracted from his sadness. Historically his morning jitters start to pass after the first few weeks. As a second-grader he really loved his teacher and had a pretty great class of kids, but then the pandemic struck and school hasn’t been normal since. 

Last year being home all together, all day, every day, had its challenges. For my son the loss of learning and the loss of the love of learning were impossible to ignore. He would sit in for his obligatory zooms and then the struggle would begin to get him through his independent studies the rest of the day. His tears last year were followed by begging to return to school. When the doors finally opened for the last two months of school, he literally hopped into school he was so excited. Again, he loved his teacher and was so starved for social interaction that nothing could damper his mood. When it ended at the beginning of June we were all sad.

This year he is in fourth grade and after so much loss of learning and loss of time at school, he and a number of kids are working with a staff of interventionists to get them up to par. The school has had a lot of turn around lately though, and with a new teacher and a new principal, it was even more challenging to return to school. Fourth grade is also the year the class sizes go up from twenty four children to thirty. The first day he went in happily since he was thrilled to be back with friends and back to a full day. When I would ask him about his teacher he would respond with one word answers. He went off the second and third day fine as well, but then things started to shift. There were a few situations that came up that seemed out of character for him. He was having trouble navigating conflicts with other kids, being silly when he should be focusing, and shutting down when he didn’t understand school work. A particularly challenging kid is in his class and that has presented more than a few issues. I have received calls, had zooms and emails with his teacher. I even got my first phone call from the principal this year, and I’m taken aback how quickly a child’s disposition can turn so quickly.

It is really a perfect storm of post pandemic, missing a whole grade, and a lack of academic confidence. He has started to cry on the way home from school because the day was hard, crying himself to sleep at night because he doesn’t want to go the next day, and then crying in the morning because he is afraid to go. My husband and I are trying to give him tools to help get him through the day. We try to remind him to take one section of the day at a time. We remind him of the good parts of school that he likes. I pack him up with an arsenal of snacks, positive reinforcement, and a promise to see him a few hours later at pick up. What he is feeling is anxiety and I know it all too well. As someone whose makeup consists of the same fear of new beginnings, my heart breaks for him. I believe in genetics and that generation after generation passes down the will to live, and also the worries about living. Since it is in my nature to lean towards the more anxious side, I need to find ways to nurture his nature now too.

The day-to-day can be considerably more daunting when you add in anxiety. Things seem harder than they need to be, mean more than they need to, and feel scarier too. We are working with him to remind him that he has the ability to turn some of that noise down to a calmer, safer, and healthier volume. We have our work cut out for us, but I also am holding out hope for a magical Halloween, and that things will begin to settle by November.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Close Call

 We eat a lot of pizza. Mostly I heat up a frozen Trader Joe’s one, sometimes I make one from scratch, but ordering one in is a treat for us. Last night the kids were so excited that we offered to pick up one, calling it “a real pizza.” Before my husband went to pick it up, he and my son were joking around about where the best pizza place was. He headed out to our downtown area and when my son saw my phone ringing with his dad’s name across the top he answered “What do ya want?” He is silly ninety percent of the time, so I smiled across the room and listened in, but my son’s face changed quickly. He went from smiling. to confused, to scared, and then quickly handed the phone over to me. I picked it up expecting to hear my husband’s voice but it wasn’t him.

“I am calling from your husband’s phone. Your husband has been in a car accident.” said the voice on the other end of the phone. I was still trying to familiarize myself with this voice. I wondered if it was a friend he had run into and my husband was laughing standing beside him? That isn’t really his sense of humor, so this must be someone who doesn’t know us that well. 

“Is this a joke?” I asked, hoping that it was.

The tone of his response made it clear that he wasn’t joking. I think he said something about wishing he didn’t have to make this call, but my head was spinning too fast to catch on to any of his words or to find any of my own. Eventually, I managed out an apology for thinking he was joking, but I was too afraid to ask the most important question, “Was my husband ok?” I needed him to just tell me. As if I said anything my words would actually have the power to change what had already happened. He told me that his car swerved over the sidewalk and into a wall. He told me my husband had a concussion. He told me that my husband was confused. Those three pieces of new information swam around in my head for a few seconds. My first thought was why would anyone drive into a wall? My husband wouldn’t do that. Then I worried that maybe his phone had rung, or worse he tried to text someone, but that didn’t seem like my husband either. I asked if he was bleeding or if any bones were broken. He told me my husband was sitting up with his legs crossed, confused but talking. His legs crossed. That sounded like my husband.

The man who called me said that my husband's phone seemed damaged and he couldn’t hear me that well. If I wasn’t convinced before that he had been talking about my husband I was certain now. He asked if he could call me back from his cell so he could hear me, and those few seconds waiting for this stranger, who was connected to my important person, felt like forever.  This time when the phone rang, it was a name I didn’t recognize, a person who I hadn’t talked to until a few minutes before, and yet someone I depended on deeply to tell me it was all going to be okay.  My thoughts began to clear enough for me to ask detailed questions. I needed to do something and suggested I come to the accident site, but the man said my husband was likely going to be taken to the hospital. He told me he would stay on the phone with me to keep me updated. He also sent me two photos to show me what the scene looked like. He confirmed that the ambulance would be taking him to a nearby hospital. I thanked him, got my kids in order so I could leave them for a bit, and head out to see my husband.

When I rushed through the doors of the ER of our closest hospital, It was more familiar than I wanted it to be. We had been here before. Just over three years ago my husband and I were hit by someone who ran a red light. We aren’t even done dealing with the mess from that accident and here we are again. In my effort to get to my husband as quickly and safely as possible, I completely forgot about Covid. There was no one allowed in the ER or anywhere in the hospital. My husband had been moved to a room and I was handed a piece of paper with a number to call for updates. I left the ER and sat down outside on the closest bench and cried. Since I couldn’t be beside him, I settled for as close as I was allowed. I texted my husband to tell him that I couldn’t get in, and when he responded to his texts I could tell something wasn’t right. He asked me where he was and then asked a few confusing questions like if the kids were in an accident or if someone was in trouble. My stomach dropped as I reread his questions. 

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I think you are confused.” I wrote. I waited a while longer outside, alone on the bench. I knew I shouldn’t drive until I calmed down. I knew it was common to be confused after a concussion but I didn’t know if that was all he had. I wanted to learn more, to talk to a doctor or just to be told he was going to be fine. . If I wasn’t going to go in to see him after a while I decided to go get the pizza he ordered. The kids would be happy to have it. By the time I parked my car, I saw more texts from my husband, this time all of them made sense. He told me the police came to let him know that the man who had hit his car was drunk, admitted guilt, and was arrested. He told me that the driver was so apologetic to him and kept saying he wouldn’t leave my husband’s side until he knew he was taken care of. He also said that the man who had called me was such a gentle, kind man who helped him out of the car when he was still unconscious and there when he came to wait for the police. Then my husband said I should go get that pizza. 

On my way back to the kids I drove to the site of the accident. There were huge skid marks, shattered pieces of plastic, shards of glass, and a piece of what was once our bumper. The tire tracks went right up on the sidewalk and threw the planter of dirt that had been behind the cement barrier that was shattered into crumbles. We don’t know exactly how the other car hit ours and from what direction since my husband blanked out for the entire accident, but we were told the whole thing was caught on video. I don’t care about the car. I'm not worried about the details of insurance, or lawyers. I don’t have it in me to be angry at the man who drank and caused the accident, but I wouldn’t go as far as my husband who feels bad for him. It is over now. What I do care about is that I almost lost my husband, again and I am so happy I didn’t.

When I drove from my house to the hospital I saw neighbors out walking their dogs and I was jealous of the simplicity of their evening. I thought about how long it has been since life has felt normal. Every time I reach for a piece of even a new normal, it slips from my fingertips. The next day my husband was home. He was checked and given the all-clear.

 He was told to expect his head to ache for a few days and maybe his body too. I woke him every few hours as instructed to make sure he was okay. When I brought my kids home from school, my son asked for help with his math homework. My husband jumped at the chance to sit with him, and as I watched them both I felt the words “Thank you!” flow over me. Things may not be normal for a while, but if the four of us are together, then we can wait as long as it takes.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Being Negative

 This time last year we took our kids' first day of school photos of them out in front of our house like we always do. They didn't have backpacks and they didn’t have shoes on. They also didn’t go anywhere but straight back in the house to log on for school. They did not return to school until mid-April and when they did finally go in it wasn’t all day and it wasn’t every day. Last year we locked down at home in the face of a raging pandemic. My husband, my two kids, and I spent every day working separately, but together all from inside the house, all of us in front of our computers. It was fraught with problems, but we did what we had to do and got through it. 

This year when my children stood side by side for their picture on the first day of school, they were finally actually going to school. It was the smoothest first day of school both kids ever had. There were a few nerves, but no tears, and overall a lot of excitement. They both came home looking more enthusiastic than I have seen them in a very long time. It was then that my emotions kicked in. I was all over the place. I was thrilled for them, but suddenly furious about what we lost last year while staying home. To see the light on both of their faces, to see the twinkle in their eyes, making it impossible not to realize how long their sparks had been out.

At drop-off at the elementary school the next day a pediatrician friend of mine joked that she gives school one week before it shuts down again. I feigned a smile and a laugh, walked away, and tried not to show my concern. The Delta surge is posing a big risk, especially to unvaccinated people, which is the entire elementary school student body, but one week? I know we will likely have some positive tests and some, maybe many families will need to quarantine, but I just want my children to have normalcy back in their day to day. I was hoping for a few months, or at least weeks, but we might all have to settle for days. 

I am not prepared to have my children at home for another school year. Without a doubt, it was not healthy for any of us. Children need other children, and I need quiet time. When a friend mentioned to her husband that she needs a plan if the kids end up having to be home due to Covid, he told her she was being negative. I don’t agree with him on this one, we aren’t wondering what will happen if schools shut down. I think it is likely that they will at some point shut down again. Maybe just for a group of kids, or a grade level, class, but it will likely happen. I don’t have a plan in place for how it will work for my family, but I do know I will scream.

We have all been thrown into the fire, we have experienced collective trauma, and all of us have had to mourn life as we knew it two years ago. The rate at which our lives changed was so rapid that eighteen months later, we are still trying to process it all, and we are adults. For our children the idea that one day they can go to school, and the next they can’t is baffling. I remember that first month of the lockdown being faced with so many of my children’s questions, none of which I had answers for. We still have a long way to go with this virus, and there will be a lot more unknowns about what the future will look like. 

With the vaccine there came a sense of calm, hope, and freedom. I thought it was the beginning of the end, and maybe it still is, but the initial restart button on our lives didn’t stay pressed long. With the Delta variant, the lambda, and other variants we don’t know about yet, we went one step forward and two steps back. I am relearning the Greek alphabet while I try to keep track of variants. I make sure my kids leave for school each morning with water, lunch, snacks, books, and the right mask. Simultaneously things feel normal and bizarre as we go from hardly leaving the house to full days of school, meetings, sports, after school activities all within the last week.  Just walking up to the gate of school on the first day, my muscle memory kicked right in. I walked up instinctively as I had for years, but then I saw the cones lined up to mark off the lines the kids were to stand in before entering the school. I saw the sea of masked faces. I saw the parents being asked to move into a line beside them to avoid crowding. It is impossible to not feel the impact this virus has had on all of us, but when I see these kids excited in line waiting to enter their school, I am grateful. For each and every day that they get to go to school this year I will celebrate. 

Wishing all the kiddos out there a fantastic normalish year ahead while I am also being as realistic as possible. As soon as the school starts testing all the students there will be calls home to come pick up your kids from school. It is only week two into the school year and already three friends of mine at other schools have their kids quarantined this week due to a positive covid test for a child in their child's class. So while I hope for negative tests all around, I don’t think I am shooting negative vibes into the universe when I think about when not if someone around us gets a positive test. I will make sure to stay distanced when I find out, not just because it's the safe thing to do, but also because my scream is likely to break the sound barrier. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Wires Crossed

 As a former competitive athlete who suffers from anxiety, I have spent much time this week thinking about Simone Biles. My first reaction to her pulling out of the Olympic all-around events was admittedly selfish: I was disappointed. I wanted to see the GOAT win it all. I was excited to see her lead her team to glory as she flew through the air, nailing her signature moves. As the experienced Olympian on the team, I watched the way she had inspired her teammates when they were getting cold feet about stepping into the Olympic arena and competing at such a monumental level. She was the role model guiding the rookies through their first Olympic games. She seemed unstoppable, unconquerable, and undefeatable. She was solid, strong, and in amazing shape until she wasn't.
I don't know what it is like to compete on an Olympic level, and perhaps many of our daughters won't either. The weight of an Olympic gold medal for the country may never lay on the shoulders of many of our children. The press might not follow them around, snapping photos of their every move from what they ate at breakfast to who you spend your time with and what you wear. Regardless, their lives will come with their own share of strife. Simone Biles has shown us all that even among the best of the best, no one is perfect. Even if you can gain a perfect score, it comes with a price. By stepping down, she wasn't letting her team down; rather, she was gracefully taking time to heal. It just shocked a lot of people when it came from her, an athlete with limitless potential actually reached her limits.
There is so much to learn from Biles' decision to take the time to care for her mental health, for women, and especially for our daughters. We are given mixed messages early on. I was told to step out of my comfort zone, put on a stiff upper lip, or even to suck it up. Sometimes these are motivating, and effective, but more often than not the reason someone said these things to me was so that I would get over whatever I was feeling and press on. We know at this point with enough evidence that different genders are capable or incapable of doing the same thing, yet it still seems that there is a stigma when it comes to mental health for any gender that one who is struggling is weak. 
As a parent, I have made efforts early on to allow my children to feel what they are feeling. I don’t want them to push past sadness, anger, or joy because someone tells them they aren’t allowed to feel the way they feel. I tried to acknowledge what they are upset about when they are sad, mad or frustrated. That being said, I strive to give them the tools to recognize their emotions and assess what is happening for them, so that they can learn how to process their feelings for themselves. I make mistakes all the time though and have heard words come out of my mouth when I am impatient, that contradict the things I have said when I am calm. When I heard myself say “you don’t have to cry about that.” I bit my tongue a bit too late. The words fell and left my messaging confusing. 
We are all human. Some, like Biles, are capable of superhuman athleticism, but we can all learn from her to take time to care for our mental health when we need it. Even if the timing is terrible and there is a lot on the line, mental health comes first. Many of us get injured and injury needs to stop being looked at just as a physical issue. She is not a quitter in my book, but a winner for recognizing she needed help. It takes courage to choose to protect your health over winning a medal. This was not an easy decision and it took a lot of bravery for her to speak up about her needs. 
The message her decision sends is one that has been long overdue, especially in the world of competitive sports. She was direct with herself and her needs. She took them seriously even as the world around her expected her to do something entirely different. Historically, we have seen athletes push themselves even when they are injured to the point of breaking. Simone Biles has already dealt with so much pressure, pain and trauma. She knew when to put her foot down for herself. That is worth more than gold. 

Simone Biles doing goat yoga

Friday, July 23, 2021


When I went to sleepaway camp as a kid it wasn't always a successful experience. I was extremely anxious. I lasted a week without eating. I couldn't sleep and I cried enough tears to fill the camp pool. Despite everyone trying to help me figure out how to navigate adjusting to camp life, I pleaded to be picked up. At the end of that torturous week for me, my parents came to get me. I immediately felt better but little did I know how detrimental it was to not master skills that could get me through future situations like this when they occurred, and they did occur.

That wasn’t my first camp experience and wasn’t my last either. As an athlete, my passion for my sport outweighed my fear of summer camp. When there was an opportunity to go to a sleepaway camp that also had two hours of skate time built into it, I decided to try again. Not only was my experience successful, but I also loved it. I loved the ability to start over at camp and get to know people who didn’t know me my whole life. I loved the freedom all of us felt being in a beautiful setting in New England. I love that there was both structure and an ability to choose certain activities throughout the day. I loved all the friends I met at camp and the memories that I made there. 

With two kids who are camp age now, I had hoped they would get the opportunity to experience the positive aspects of camp as well. Both of them also have some anxiety, and I had hoped that might not interfere with them going to camp. My daughter went for three summers in a row to a one week camp. It was actually just from Monday to Friday, but it was a big hurdle for her when she went. She went with a friend and although she told me she cried on Tuesday night, her counselor helped her get through it, and she enjoyed the rest of the week. The second year she had a fun time, and the third year she went with a different friend and got a little panicky about the idea of not being able to reach us when she needed us. Despite that, she completed the week successfully. 

Last summer when we discussed possible ideas, she said she didn’t want to go back. The decision was made for her when all camps closed due to the pandemic. After a year and a half home with us, she said she wasn’t comfortable going away this summer. She wanted to go but didn’t want to be somewhere where she couldn’t call or reach out if she needed us. I explained why camps do this, and that calling us could actually make it harder, but she decided she didn’t want to try. My nine year old on the other hand wanted to go to a sleepaway skateboarding camp. I wasn’t sure he was ready, but I looked into a way to make it work so that maybe I could work there while he attended. The camp was interested in involving me in some way, but their communication was flawed and I kept getting redirected from person to person without much success. Meanwhile my son was determined to attend this camp and even received a scholarship for skateboarding. He told me he didn’t want me to come because he wanted to do this on his own. I was proud of his bravery and wanted to support him.

He showed no sign of fear in the weeks leading up to camp. In fact, he showed nothing but excitement. He was counting down the days and couldn’t wait to get there. The morning we were to drive him up to camp, he said he had butterflies, but that he was still excited. My husband, my daughter, and I were all more nervous for him. I wondered how he would do and tried to prepare him as much as I could before we left to say our goodbyes. We were allowed to walk around the camp with him for over an hour before leaving, and he was thrilled to explore with us. When it was time to walk him back to his cabin, I expected to have him greeted by his counselors and swept into an activity, but that didn’t happen. Instead of counselors for the young kids, they have a few dads that stay in the cabin with them and supposedly look after them, but there apparently is no real training to coach these dads on how to help these kids adjust to camp.

“It's time for us to say goodbye now buddy. We love you so much.”

 My kiddo’s eyes got wide and glossy. 

“I’m a little bit sad,” he said

I assured him it would be ok once he got busy and that the goodbye was the hardest part.

“What am I supposed to do now?” he asked.

That is where I started to feel uneasy. Where was the get-to-know-you activity, or the happy counselor to take him to a fun game so that he was distracted? I assured him that the fun would start soon. We got a call later that night from him. He borrowed a cell phone, which I thought was not allowed in camp, but at that moment I was so happy to hear from him that I didn't care.

“I’m a little bit scared. I don’t know that much people here.” He said.

Before I could respond he asked me if I wanted to speak to his new friend, and when I asked him what his name was, he said he forgot. It got us both laughing and he went on to tell me what he was excited about. The next day we got another call from him and he was having a blast. Tuesday afternoon when the phone rang from his new friend’s number I answered excitedly to hear from him, but instead of him telling me about his fun day, he was crying.

“Mama, can you come up here and just lie with me?” He asked

I tried to keep the conversation positive and get him to tell me what he did that day. While I desperately tried to help him, I also got so upset that he was sitting in his cabin, on a cell phone, with no one physically present to help him. I knew the worst thing he could be doing was sitting alone on the phone talking to us and crying, but I didn’t know how to help him. He was able to tell me some fun things he did and I was able to get him to go out with his friend to skate again. I hoped that would be the last call, and when he called that night he sounded a bit better. The next day though he called crying and asked to go home again. My husband and I called the office telling them to send someone to help him, and they did, but once he seemed happy they stopped. We toyed with getting in the car to get him, but there were many reasons why we didn’t. We wanted him to succeed. We hoped he could turn the experience around and have more good than bad. I sensed he was upset when he talked to us, but when he was skating and with his new friend, he was quite happy. He told us he won two competitions and was excited about his prizes. He asked us to put more money in his canteen account so he could buy more junk food. He was thrilled that he succeeded in landing a kickflip which was his skateboarding goal for the week. By Thursday though he called us, inconsolable. My husband and I tried to figure out what to do, and we called the camp office again and demanded they send someone to our son who was sitting alone in his cabin. It was the hardest day that we have had as parents. Harder than him having surgery. Harder than our daughter’s first week of middle school (although that comes in a pretty close second) and harder than the time we couldn’t find him that one time at the beach for a few minutes. It was harder because those were short lived moments before we could wrap our arms around our children and breathe a bit easier. I counted six phone calls home crying before a woman from the office went to him and helped. She also called and reassured us that he would be taken under her wing. It was a day (6 actually) and a dollar short, but I was relieved to hear he was in good hands. She is staying in touch with us and updating us on how he is doing and when she promised us she would keep an eye on him all day today, I hung up and cried. It has been a stressful few days, and I hope for his sake that he can have a great day today. We pick him up tomorrow morning and I cannot wait to squeeze his little unshowered body.

While this camp might be a skateboarder's dream come true if you are a teenager, it has been a bit of a nightmare for a nine year old. He has learned a lot, had a few great days and made new friends, but the camp has a lot to fix to make it work for younger kids. I have a lot of notes to share with the camp director, but I will wait until my boy is back in our arms before I press send. I don’t know if I will be able to get my kids to go to camp again, but I know that it can be magical when it works. I’m not giving up on the idea, but if I send them, I will likely be found vetting every single staff member before I leave them anywhere again.

Monday, June 14, 2021

How He Rolls!

 It’s a pretty accurate saying  “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” The last wild ride of a year has taught me that. I didn’t realize how much I valued school for my children until it was taken away. I missed all my friends when I wasn’t allowed to actually see them. I longed for the freedom to travel when we were no longer able to fly. While I was proud of myself for staying pretty positive through the twists and turns of this nightmare situation, I am beginning to see the ramification of all we have lost.

Resentment is a useless emotion, yet it is what I feel towards some of the side effects of pandemic living. I am bitter about how much time was lost. I am sad that it has been over a year since I have seen my parents. They are already old so having one less year with them when time with them is already so precious makes me quite regretful. From the scant times that I was able to see them on a video call or zoom, I could see subtle changes in them, but it was difficult to really see how they were doing from so far away.

 My daughter who had a hard enough time adjusting to middle school finally got used to it when the doors closed at the school for more than a year. For her, going back after so long was like starting all over again socially. Already at such a challenging age socially these kids were forced into an unhealthy amount of alone time going from class to class in the solitude of their bedrooms to stare at teachers and students on a screen, most of which they hadn’t ever met. 

My son at eight wasn’t so affected socially, but the love he had for learning came to a screeching halt. The relationship we had from the moment he was born as mother and son had to be tweaked to teacher and student at times. That shift was neither smooth or welcomed. We lost our patience with one another often resulting in tears for one or both of us. The strain on our relationship was palpable. He deserved independence and privacy during his school days but it was impossible for him not to be witnessed by me because we were in such close proximity to each other. We came up with new strategies, new plans and made pacts with each other that we wouldn’t lose our cool with each other. We took deep breaths, tried to explain when something was frustrating without directing our frustration at each other. I tried to remind him as well as myself that it was okay to be angry, but it was not okay to be mean. 

After a few months of trying to dance between teacher and mom, I could see the toll it took on us. By the end of the day, we were tired of each other. This little boy who used to come to me and plant unsolicited kisses on my cheek would often walk right by. I organized a small PE class for the kids who lived here in our complex. The twelve other kids could hardly wait to have an opportunity to have a structured social activity, but because I led it, my son wasn’t as enthusiastic as the other kids. He too wanted time without a parent that allowed him some outdoor, physical activity with friends, but even there I was by his side. The occasional get-togethers with friends made such a difference but not always easy to organize. 

My kiddo had always loved skateboarding but things changed one day when I took him to the skate park to meet a friend who was visiting for a few days before moving to New Zealand. His friend had invited another friend too and the three of them hit it off. The father of that new friend reached out a few days later to see if my son wanted to skate and that was the beginning of a skating obsession. The two boys became close friends with a small group of other boys around their age and that little crew was inseparable. They could skate for hours on end together. I met all the parents while sitting at the skatepark. We all exchanged texts and a day hardly goes by where they aren’t meeting to skate. Any apprehensions I had about this sport, and I do have them, are outweighed by the positives. While the risk of injury is real, and even with helmets each boy has had a scare or two, they all wear every possible protective layer before getting on that board. The culture of some skate parks that I have seen was enough to have me researching little league, but I was proven wrong over and over by the amount of support other skaters give each other. I have witnessed some foul-mouthed teenagers that were pretty oblivious to younger kids skating around them, but there were far more serious skaters who didn’t miss an opportunity to encourage the younger kids when they nailed a new move.

Skateboarding was the best thing to happen to my son this year. He has made friends, gotten outside, and has been incredibly active. I may have to drive him and sit outside the park, but luckily for him, I can’t even enter past the gate. I don’t have a skateboard, know how to skateboard, or have a real desire to learn so his need to spread his wings to fly away from me has been met by a board, trucks, and four wheels. As soon as we get to that park he steps on and takes flight.

With the world slowly opening up, a lot of the pressure on the two of us had been alleviated. We still spend a lot of time together and I don’t get as many cuddles from him as I would like, but we have mostly closed the teacher-student relationship and are building back up being mother and son. He is more talkative with me. His mood is lighter and more playful. Lately, he will occasionally sit on my lap just to be near me which makes me want to stick my face in his neck to inhale him in, but most of the time I resist that temptation and take his lead. I haven’t had an unsolicited kiss on the cheek in a while, but I have noticed that through all of this, he has never stopped reaching for my hand when we are walking together. I will never stop noticing that and will deeply treasure it while I still have it.