Vulnerable

Vulnerable

Do you remember the moment when you knew that Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy weren’t real? Some of you may still believe in them, but I’m talking about that edge of childhood. That place where you no longer feel fully invincible (yes teenagers go back to that place for a while but bear with me). Where sadness or meanness enters your life, a world where children are shot and killed in their own school. In a schoolroom where a mean kid leaves someone out, and won’t let them play the game with the other kids. Or the kid on the climbing wall with the harness on and ropes secured who freezes, can’t go any further, ‘cause they now fear the ropes might not hold?

That’s the edge I’m talking about. That is the place where you leave the complacency of childhood behind. The ability to play full heartedly not thinking about any consequences or things that could go wrong. An unawareness of evil and planes that fly into buildings, killing the passengers, and taking the buildings with them, do you remember that place? It’s one thing to comfort your child from the nightmare that there’s a monster under the bed. How do you tell them it will be OK, as you watch the horror struck faces of runners & spectators as severed limbs are attended, after two young brothers’ casually deposited gym bags of bombs at their victim’s feet?

I remember receiving a phone call from my son, hysterical as he listened to the reports of students gunned down on the Virginia Tech campus. What do I tell him, other than come home; maybe I can keep him safe? Or the call full of tears as my daughter melts down, stressed by life and things she can’t control. Or the way my stomach feels sucker punched, after learning that a mother in my son’s class called all the parents accusing him of being a bully, when it turns out it’s her son.

Helpless.

Yes, as a parent, as human being, as a woman, as a member of society, there is such a short period of time that I can protect my offspring from reality. And I didn’t believe in hovering and I did let them fall, having their share of skinned knees and bruised foreheads. Skin heals pretty fast in the scheme of things. Bruised egos and hurt souls, those are boo-boos that aren’t so easy to cure with a kiss and hug. Sometimes it hurts more to see them suffering than anything else.

But all of these things are part of the human story. Giving them the tools to cope with the harsh realities of this world that we live in, is the only thing I can do. I just hope they can protect their gentle egos and tender souls without closing off to the beauty. My worst fear is that they become bitter and ugly too. Because despite all the ugliness and hatred in the world, there’s still something sublime about the sound of a child’s laugh, the giggling cause by a dog’s lick, a high five when a good play is made, or an “I’m sorry I made a mistake” accompanied by a hug after harsh words.

There is a moment when they cross the line out of childhood innocence. There is also a moment when regardless of all the rest, they rise above and join those creating not destroying. I choose to be part of the 20 percent minority, I hope when they realize that there’s no fairy godmother, they choose to be aware, thoughtful and responsible for themselves. To join those of us who make choices, who do things, build things, and take their lives in their own hands, rather than depending on someone else to re-create the fairy tale of a world that we all once inhabited as small children.

Remember It’s Just a Game…

Remember It's Just a Game...

I wonder if adults ever pause to think what their kids were thinking in the heat of a particular moment. Especially close to my heart are those youth sport moments, when the adults are all hot and bothered. The conversations might differ widely depending on which self-anointed soccer wonk is speaking. If the parents could hear what their kids were thinking, would they be convinced to change their ways?

Imagine, the whistle blowing, the referee, who is two feet taller than any kid out there, stops the game and calls the coach over. The parents gather in bunches, the players gather in bunches.

“I’m not sure the coach has the right seven out there,” commented the trim athletic looking dad in a well-modulated voice.

“That is a concern, but is he instructing the center striker to stay high?” said an equally calm voice of a tall dad wearing Adidas striped soccer shorts and matching shoes.

“If he would get them to keep their shape better, that wouldn’t matter as much,” noted the mom with her Dri fit top and DC United hat.

Meanwhile the players on the field seem to form into two natural groups based on proximity, the defense and the offense. The offense has gathered since the Ref stopped the game.

A player says, “Look at my dad in his coaching gear, he’s probably telling the other dad all the fine details of the game, already dissecting me play by play.” He nervously glances over at his dad.

The whole team knows that being the son of a true soccer aficionado is a huge burden and their buddy constantly looks to his dad after he makes a play, to see if his dad approved or not.

One of the players tries to make his friend feel better, “Well at least he’s paying attention, my mom is chatting away in her chair, and she could be anywhere and she doesn’t even get the rules.” The others laugh.

Coach and the referee are discussing something heatedly but eventually the game is allowed to restart.

After some play, a defender clears the ball from the back and it goes over the fence down a hill. While the clock is paused other parents continue the adult dialog.

With no action to comment on, our loudest Dad seems to calm. He’s still pacing the sideline, where moments ago he had been yelling what he thought were good suggestions, “Pass, Get Back, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot!”

Another pretty animated dad walks over to him during the break in play, “Did you see that last one, if only the ball had been crossed!”

They commiserate about if only, a third dad joins the group crackling with restrained energy, “Darn if he had a left foot and took the shot sooner, we would be up 2-0 by now!

Parents with less soccer knowledge or more, seem to naturally move to avoid this group of avid vocalists.

Out on the field the defenders have their own chat.

“Oh my god if that dad doesn’t stop telling everyone what to do, it’s going to make me crazy!”

“I know he gets me so nervous, last time I tried to clear the ball I almost missed it cause he was so loud.”

“Can you imagine how much it would suck to have your dad or mom yelling at you the whole time?”

“Yeah, well now you know why his son bites his nails, when he plays. “

“I try to shut it out, but it’s hard to even hear Coach.”

The whistle brought everyone back to the game as the retrieved ball is thrown back into play. Then it’s half time. Coach talks to the players as the parents’ eye them nervously from the other side of the field. League rules, players and coaches on one side, parents on the other. It’s supposed to provide some cushion from each from the other.

The players break from sucking down water and eating as many orange sections as possible. Sweaty, sticky now, they ready themselves for 30 more minutes of soccer. The Referee checks with the keeper to see if he’s ready, he waves his hand to say yes. The whistle blows for the second half to begin and it’s a tight game, 1-0.
Ball is in play but that doesn’t mean the chatter stops. Not all of it is about the game.

“OMG, did you see that big brute of a kid, he’s been elbowing my son all game,” said a dad indignant from his chair.

“Wish this referee would call the game better, he’s been hitting all the players,” added a mom from her arm chair position.

“Look at that, he just stole the ball and knocked my son to the ground, that’s not soccer!” another dad chimes in, as he paused mid-sentence about an unrelated topic.

Someone is down, and the parents all pause from what they are doing. Some teams take a knee but our coach thinks we should gather and use the time to talk about what’s going on out there. One huddle of players definitely uses their time to talk about soccer.

“I would so rather play games than go to practice.”

“Wouldn’t we all?!”

“Well your dad doesn’t make you practice on days when we have off, I bet!”

“Nah, I hate practicing, but if I don’t do something different before tryouts I may not make the team, I’m worried.”

“Coach says everyone makes the team, or at least a team, you could move down, that’s true.”

“They do watch everything, the other day at practice, Coach made fun of me wearing sneakers instead of cleats.”

The game is finally over, it was a win, close but still a win. The kids gather with their coach, he’s got some comments to make about the game. Some of the more aggressive parents are already closing in, inching forward to try and hear what the coach has to say. Some of the parents wait respectfully at the end of the field for their sons to make their way over to them. It’s a good day, there are smiles, relief, a big “W” can do that to anyone. They make their way to the cars.

The conversations are not over, it’s not just a game, this is serious soccer, travel, often games are over an hour away, at the age of 9. Some of the parents have started in on their review of the game, kids practiced at tuning out the yellers during the game, nod at the appropriate times. Stragglers, there are always the slow ones, follow their parents towards the vehicles. Makes one wonder, is there a proper way to parent and support young athletes? Are some of the approaches better or worse or just different? What irks kids versus what irks parents could be two different things. The coach might have an entirely different view as well.

In the end youth sports are supposed to teach kids how to be active, disciplined, and compete in a healthy way. Lessons from sports about training, winning and losing and how to be a good sport, are all important in everyday life. Have we forgotten these valuable goals and how to help our kids learn them? A nation of hovering helicopter parents isn’t going to build a cohort of kids who trust themselves to make decisions. They are our next generation who will lead us, that’s not the kind of leaders I had in mind.

I say, “Let the kids play!” “Let the parents watch, and refrain from comment!”

Teenagers R Tuff

Teenagers R Tuff

Yesterday the parking gods shared their karma with me and created a spot right at the front door of CVS. I was just running in for a moment after dropping off my son at school. I promised myself that I would be sitting at my desk by 9:30, working. My lack of discipline with work was making me feel anxious, so I was attempting to be focused. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed first one backpack laden kid, with square, hip, black glasses leaving, and another kid several feet behind him. Both had on “the uniform “of dark well-worn t-shirts and slouchy jeans. I became a bit nostalgic.

The high school is right around the corner so at 9:10 in the morning, they were either skipping school or on final exam schedule. My older children had graduated from there four and seven years ago, respectively, so I remembered a few things about the life of a high school teenager. Typically I wouldn’t have given them a second thought. With my daughter graduating college recently, I found myself more emotional. A strong pang of missing my kids washed over me. It was hard to believe they were both out of college now and on their own.

Then I heard a voice, “Excuse me,” a pause, “Yes, you with the back pack.”

It wasn’t a loud voice, but it stopped the second slender kid in his tracks. I slowed to watch, but then told myself I needed to focus and proceed on my errand. Despite the woman’s voice not being overly loud, I could still hear her as I perused the aisles.

“Did you pay for the items you put in your backpack? The soda? The other thing?” she queried him.

As I came around my row I got a glimpse of his face. No expression. The woman motioned for him to follow her to another section. My stomach clenched, shit, first I wondered if they were singling him out because he was black (racial profiling had been discussed on NPR just that morning). Then I thought, that could easily be my kid doing something dumb. I pushed my thoughts aside and continued my search. I found myself in the same row as the first woman, the boy, and they were now joined by a second female.

She was much louder, maybe the manager I guessed.
“We could call the police you know!” she said with emphasis on POLICE.

I didn’t hear him respond, and wondered how his face looked now. I felt ill and wanted to cry.

The woman’s one sided conversation continued, “Do you know it’s against the law to take things without paying for them?”

I lost much of the rest of the diatribe as I tried to shake off my sentimentality. I missed my kids and part of me felt protective of this boy regardless if he was remorseful. I remembered my good friend calling me the night her daughter got caught shoplifting. Initially her daughter had been stony faced but finally broke down. I wondered if this tough teenager was hiding a scared small boy inside him. I wondered what his mother might feel like if she was here.

Another conversation, going on in Spanish, right next to me was distracting. The Spanish piqued my interest and as I listened, I realized they were also discussing the teenager. I tried to see what I could decipher. The man and the woman were definitely discussing the same altercation. The man was shocked that the police weren’t called. The woman explained that they had the choice to press charges or not. I concluded she was an employee as well. Why was the man so strident for prosecution? I was feeling apprehensive. Couldn’t he see it was just a young kid who had made a mistake?

Their conversation droned on, the loud voiced store manager continued as well. Focus I reminded myself, you are not his mother, this is not your problem. I found myself re-reading the labels on the products as I tried to decide which one to purchase. Finally, I identified what I had come to buy and proceeded to the self-checkout.
The friend in the glasses returned, finally noticing his buddy hadn’t followed him out of the store. For some reason this made the whole situation more human. I thought, they didn’t plan this, they are just two regular kids who came over for a snack. It made me appreciate the employees’ sensitivity.

By this time, the two female employees and the shoplifter were in the main part of the store, standing near the entrance. They did appear to be letting him go. For some reason this stuck out in my mind. I still wondered though, were they too lenient? Had they put enough of the fear of police and arrest into him? I was sadder and less indignant than the Spanish speakers. What if they had insisted on the police? What if that ruined his life? He looked younger than 18 but who knows what can happen?

I had an urge to follow the two boys out of the store and let them know that if I was their mother I would have been scared for them. I wanted them to know the seriousness of what they had done. I wondered what it would have been like if it was one of my kids.

Tonight I shared the story with my boyfriend. I asked him if he had ever shoplifted and he said, “Sure, didn’t you?” I paused, “Yeah, you are right, I did too, not that often, but once or twice, little things.” Guess some kids are lucky, they don’t get caught and they grow out of the thrill. I hoped, since this kid got a break, he would realize how fortunate he was and not do it again.