Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Goodbye Sweet Friend

For the past three years I have been heavily involved with my children's PTA at school. Four years ago, a friend of mine, who was ending her two year term, asked me if I would step in as President. I think I laughed. I still had a wee one who was only in school for a few short hours in the morning, and I worked part time. It didn't seem feasible to add one more thing. She was asking a few others though, and fortunately two of them agreed. I hesitantly agreed to be their Vice President. It was a bumpy first year for all of us, but we got through it. The next year only one of them was going to stay on and she asked if I would Co-President with her. I said yes.

I don't write about being a PTA President much. This is not because it isn't full of fodder. There is so much I could write about, but it is not my story alone to share. My partner in this two-year (turned into three) commitment, is so much a part of this experience, that I feel it would betray her to only share my side of any story. This job (that I need to remember does not pay us) is the hardest one I have ever done. It requires skills in so many fields that I had little-to-no experience in, prior to signing on. Human resources, management, business, banking, communications, scheduling, organization -- and an enormous amount of patience. My partner excels in all these areas. There was never a chance that I would ever do this without her.  She and I met when our first children both started at school. She has two younger children, one of which is days apart from my youngest. We were never super close before we started working together, and we have only socialized outside of school a handful of times, but this working relationship we have is the single most successful partnership I have had.

Straight off the bat we learned pretty quickly that we both have very different and complimentary skills. We never stepped on each others toes, and were always there as emotional support for each other when challenges came up, and challenges sure did pop up. On the first day of school last year, we both had to present to the parents directly after we both dropped our babies off for their first day of Kindergarten. We knew we would both be emotional, but she couldn't even look at me because my tears were too contagious for her, and she was much more effective at being the stronger one of us. The strength she had that day was only a tiny amount of what she would need to get her through the year and a half ahead of her. She is a very religious Christian, and her faith is everything to her. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer, and she did her very best to keep it together for him, for her children, and for the school. Before I knew what was happening at home, she had pulled out of an event. I put the event on without her, and knew whatever was going on must be huge for her to step away from a commitment. She had been in the process of trying to foster a child when all of this occurred. When things settled down they finally had a child placed with them -- a little girl with whome we all fell in love. Sadly, she stayed with them for much less time than they had hoped. If I felt like we were robbed of time with this little girl, I knew she really felt it worse. She had a roller coaster of a year and in the spring when her husband was in remission, my mother in law got sick, and then my dad. Together with our new Vice President, she stood next to us in a circle. Our friend who was the VP was a religious Mormon, and so it felt funny for a moment when we had our heads together praying for each other's families. There is a joke beginning there I know, A Christian, a Mormon, and a Jew are running the PTA when...but in reality it was a beautiful example of how loving and respectful our relationship has been towards one another.

Last year was supposed to be out last as Presidents, but we didn't find anyone to take it over. We would not do it again without the other, so we both agreed this year would be our victory lap. We decided we would have a huge party at the end of the school year to celebrate our big finish. We also talked often about what next year would be like without this huge job. We joked about being just plain room parents, and maybe having time to go for lunch together. This year brought more challenges. Her husband's cancer returned and once again she showed incredible strength and dedication to his healing. He is now free of cancer thankfully and her eyes have the twinkle in them that was dulled by her fierce ability to keep it together for those around her. With such a hurdle cleared for them as a family, they realized what was important to them. He got an opportunity to work and live closer to family, and it was too good to pass up. She let me know, and once again she remained strong while tears filled my eyes. I am so very happy for her, but I am trying to process day-to-day life will be like without her.

A few hours after she told me, I texted her to say that above all else, I will just miss her. She will likely not be finishing out the school year, and she keeps apologizing for leaving me hanging. I don't really know what it will be like working without her, but that is not what concerns me. I am so very sad to see her go. I love her spirit, I love seeing her as a mom to her kids, I love the high fives we give each other every morning, and I love that our two little boys sit next to each other at lunch everyday. We may not have had so much time together outside of school, but we sure had plenty of time spent together at school.

Cheers to the future, my fine friend! We may not be finishing this journey together like we thought, but believe you me, we will still be celebrating what we have done this far. I am not going to let you leave without that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Figuring Out Friendships

My daughter barely got in the car to drive home after school before the tears rolled down her face. She explained that she had a horrible day, and that one of her friends has been so mean to her lately. This is not the first time I heard her say this. She has a group of about five friends she spends a lot of time with, and well, groups are tricky. They dynamics shift, hormones can contribute to bigger feelings, people feel left out, jealousy comes in to play, and it can be a mess. In fifth grade, friendships that seemed easy in the past can get more complicated. Maybe some of my daughter's close friends will remain close with her in years to come.

Maybe they won't though. When I begin to listen to my daughter tell me what her friend said to her, my heart breaks. My daughter tried to discreetly share some news to one other girl about a trip that just the two of them are going on. When my girl sat down for lunch, the rest of her friends were upset for talking about the trip at school. She didn't know how they knew, and she apologized, but one of them went on to say that my daughter managed to ruin her day and gave her a dirty look. My head searched for what to say. I stopped the car, got out and hugged her in the back seat. I tried but failed to wipe the tears and dirt smeared on her face from a day at school. I asked her if she wanted advice or if she just wanted me to listen. She said she wanted advice.

I'm not sure anything I said was helpful. After all, no one can or should try to fix feelings like this. She needs to have them, process them, and navigate through them on her own. I shared my opinion that perhaps this friend wishes she could be invited on the trip as well. I explained that even though she was trying to be private about talking about the trip, that in the future she should not share any of it at school. I explained that sometimes people can be hurtful, and that I wish I could say it would be the last time she felt like this but it won't be. I then gave her a few options on how to move forward from this. I said she could take a break from this group since she had other friends she could spend time with for lunch or recess. She could speak with the friend that is upset with her and talk it out, and she could also see the counselor at school who is available for situations just like this. Today will be her first day back and I believe she choose to take a break.

For my daughter and for myself, I remind us both what being a friend really means. I have to give myself this refresher course from time to time. If something comes up with one of my friends I need to check in to see how we can talk it through, and if we can't I need to make sure that this friend still enjoys their time with me, and I with them. All friendships aren't made to last.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Daughter Of A Good Man

My father will be turning 91 this week. I will be taking every opportunity I can to let him know he is celebrated, appreciated and loved by me. My earliest memories of him are being held in his arms or wrapping mine around his leg. His earliest memory of me is at the hospital where I was born, when he learned I was a healthy baby girl before my mother did. She was still in a twilight induced sleep due to some complications, so I wonder if he got to hold me first. I know that while my parents were at the hospital our house was burglarized (along with all the families in the maternity ward at the time), and the robber stole some jewelry. As awful as that was, I hope my arrival provided a happy distraction.

My father was already a two time parent by the time I came around, an ol' pro. Knowing from my own experience with my second child, there is a relaxed confidence that comes from parenting experience. He was close to 50 when I was born and jumped right back in to fatherhood. When I came home from school, he gave me a snack and was ready to help me with homework. We both had a sweet tooth, so when we shared treats it would be our secret from my health nut mom. When I became serious about figure skating, it was he who drove me all over the place to practice.  The age difference between my siblings and myself allowed for more one-on-one time with my parents.

Despite both my folks having been around the block as parents, I wasn't the easiest kid. I suffered from anxiety and often this was quite difficult for all of us involved. There was a lot of "please come pick me" calls, some therapy and probably quite a bit of money loss from quitting several camps, soccer and after school programs.  In those times none of us knew a solution to my anxiety, but I could always count on my parents' efforts to help me find support. I also had a medical scare when I was nine. My doctor found a bump on my neck and had my dad sit down in his office to talk to him. He told me wait while he did, but I could see my dad sitting in a chair next to the Doctor's desk and he was crying. It was the first time I saw my father cry and it was because he was scared I was sick. It turned out I had an extra cervical rib, but it took a pretty traumatic few days to figure it out, and while we waited everyone told my parents that they suspected I had Leukemia. We were all so relieved to hear I had a spare rib instead.

As a teenager, I didn't get much easier. I was passionate about skating, but also just passionate, so there was a lot of arguing about school, skating, boys, and I truly thought I knew what was best for myself. Sometimes I was right, mostly I wasn't. Through it all though my father was present. Whether or not I liked his ideas, he had them and was there to let me know. Having him as such an involved father is something I am grateful for.

Today I watch my husband with my daughter and I see the close relationship that they have. It makes me happy to see the bond that they are building.  There are times when I see him tickling her back while talking to her before bed and I smile. There is a level of safety and comfort that you feel when you are in the arms of your father. I see my daughter crawl into my husband's arms and all is right in the world in that moment.   I remember when I was a little girl, at night when I couldn't sleep, my father would tickle my back and tell me stories. He made up stories and characters that in my mind were perfect. I insisted as a child that he could write a book. In my eyes if I needed something from the moon, my father had the power to get there. I remember one night I'd been sick and throwing up. I was so upset about throwing up and begged him to help me to stop. He said he was going to run to the store and when he came back he gave me medicine that stopped the vomiting immediately.  My dad tried every which way to do right by his kids and it shows. Today, he still makes sure we are all okay and checks in regularly. If we are in the same city visiting each other, he will always make sure we're all well fed. He is true definition of a mensch.

My kids know the kind of man their grandfather is. They know he has a sense of humor and sings to them in a hilariously high pitched voice causing them to giggle uncontrollably. They know if there's something about science or history that we don't understand, all we need to do is call grandpa because he has all the answers. They also know that he loves us all, that he is a good man, and that we love him right back. Happy Birthday Daddy!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

First Visit To The Principal

On the way to a birthday party on Saturday, my son said that he forgot to tell me he went to the principal's office the day before. Something about the way he said it made me ask if he was joking. The minute I asked I wished I could take back my question. He is six. His sense of humor revolves around knock knock jokes and popping out from around corners. His odd tone was simply indicative of his fear of telling me that he got into trouble at school. I asked him what happened and he prefaced that he would tell me with, "Please don't be mad." I explained that I could not promise that I wouldn't be upset, but that I also would not get mad. He begrudgingly told me what happened.

He was playing at recess with his two closest friends and they were all being silly. He thought it would be funny to wrap his arms around both of them and knock their heads together. His friends did not think this was funny (rightfully so) and before their heads made any contact they pulled away from him. One kicked him (I can understand this reflex) and the other told on him. Together they all ended up in the principals office to work it out. This is my son's version of the story. He got this much out in tears, explained that he apologized to his friends, and then drew a picture with the principal. I have since spoken to the parents of his friends and the principal and the story checks out. So I am proud of him for his honesty.

The fact that he was so remorseful and weepy indicates to me that he understood the weight of his decision on the playground. He did not intend to hurt his friend, but rather made a poor choice. The principal helped him by explaining other ways that he could be silly instead and this all made sense to him. By the time he finished telling me, we had arrived and parked outside the birthday party, but  he wouldn't get out of the car because he was crying. I hugged him in his seat and explained that we could move on now. He couldn't. Inside, as a parent, this was a first for me as well. It hurt a bit to hear his story, and I wondered what exactly my response was supposed to be. I wonder now,  if there anything else I should be doing to help his behavior? I looked at him crying and saw that his bottom lip was quivering. I've never seen this happen to him before. My daughter sat beside him in the car and watched silently. We were both at a loss. He then said that when he apologized to one of his friends, the boy didn't say anything back except that he wouldn't be friends with my son anymore. They have a little group called the ninja team and he told my son he couldn't be part of it anymore. This is the natural consequence that came with his actions. This hurt the most.

I stepped out of the car for a moment because another parent called to me. I left him in the car with my daughter, who seemed as surprised as I was with this news. I could also see that she felt sad for him as well. When I got back in the car, he asked if I would help him by talking to his friends parents, and then asked on his own if he could apologize again. He did, and both friends forgave him this time. When I got back in the car, after dropping him off, I asked my daughter what she thought of all that.  She said she felt bad for him and told him that he could always be on her ninja team. I love my children so much, faults, poor choices, moods and all.

Sometimes, my son reminds me more of myself than my daughter. I made some dumb decisions in the name of getting attention as a kid. I decorated a school desk in first grade and ended up in the Principal's office. I thought I made it look better, but in hindsight, I broke school rules. My son has a lot of spirit, energy and is pretty much Dennis the Menace. He loves to dance in part because he can't stop moving. If his body doesn't stop, maybe his mind doesn't either. I am learning along with him, how to keep up, focus and pick my battles. I know with certainty, he doesn't mean ill on anyone and he has a big loving heart.