Monday, January 24, 2011

When The Music Moves You

It was not the way I would have preferred to spend a very cold, snowy Thursday night, but it meant a lot to my son. For the second year in a row he had signed up to participate in his elementary school’s annual lip sync night. Their last practice was Thursday night. Sam is my child who spent most of his first five years hiding behind me whenever we were in public. How could I not support the fact he seems to be bursting out of his shell with wild abandon?

For an hour and a half I sat in that auditorium chair and watched group after group file onto the stage, practice their dances and try out their props. From kindergartners to fifth graders, every act had something unique to offer. And as often happens when I’m given more than ten minutes of down time to reflect on life (and not dinner, or laundry, or dishes…) I came to some interesting revelations.

For one thing, I would have never been able to pull off such a feat in any year of my elementary school career. Every mom I talked to said the same thing. Not a chance you would have coaxed me onto that stage. And I began to wonder why things seem to be different today. Why is it that there were so many kids signed up to put themselves ‘out there’ in such a vulnerable way, that we had to have two nights of practice, just to fit them all in?

I think part of it stems from the influence of music and videos. The generation of kids I saw perform last week have been surrounded by video input since they were toddlers. They begin with Elmo and Barney, who have a few simple moves in their songs, but they also have shows like the Backyardigans. If you’ve never seen this show, it’s an amazing cartoon, geared to the 3-5 year olds, where the characters not only harmonize, but do some pretty impressive dance moves too. It’s a great way to get preschoolers off the couch, dancing along with their favorite cartoon friends. It also starts a chain of events that make kids more comfortable with moving their bodies (I was a preschooler in the early 70s. Mr. Rogers was great and all, but he didn’t do much groovin’. Neither did Captain Kangaroo or his trusty moose).

Next, this generation has had access to music and videos like no other generation before. Many TV commercials are filled with popular songs and dancing people. Even kid oriented stuff is more sophisticated. I don’t remember the nursery rhyme songs of my childhood having a back beat. “I’m a Little Teapot” had motions, but they were so simplistic, your grandma could perform them. The kids in elementary school today know who Michael Jackson is as well as the artists who play on current radio stations. There seems to be a very thin line between ‘kid music’ and ‘adult music’ these days.

And we can’t have this conversation without bringing up the existence of dance games. Dance Dance Revolution got everyone off the couch and in recent years the dance games offered for Wii and Xbox have had the power to make anyone feel comfortable showing off their moves. In our house, the general opinion before Christmas was that we didn’t need the Dance Revolution game that went with the Kinect system. Then Santa left it under the tree and we’ve had to have family meetings to discuss who gets to have their friends over on which nights to play it. I’m convinced that kids today are much more comfortable dancing in front of their friends.

Which brings me to my favorite part of the lip sync show. I was amazed by how many boys had signed up for it. When I was a kid, this would have been a ‘girl’ thing. Girls took dance lessons. Girls were the performance types. Guys were guitar players and rock stars. But guys didn’t dance and sing.

But this is a new generation. Today’s ten year olds have seen many cool guys (singers and dancers) carve a new path for males everywhere. It’s suddenly really cool to have some dance moves up your sleeve and show them off when asked. There are as many guy icons in the video dance games as there are girls. Sam gets mesmerized in the effort of copying the character on the screen and has become very confident with the new moves he’s learned. I’m convinced it’s part of the reason he was so at ease up on that stage, when the real show started on Friday night.

The auditorium was packed. All three of his older siblings, as well as three of their friends, were in the audience. But he didn’t care. He knew his moves. He felt the music. And it was all about having fun putting the two together.

Side note: Two weeks ago I wrote about missing one of the best games my football team has ever played. I may never know who took mercy on me and left a copy of that football game in my mailbox at work, but whoever you are…THANK YOU! It had to be one of the best gifts I’ve received in a very long time.

Now here's a short video of my boy (the one in brown) at his big debut..

Friday, January 14, 2011

Slow, Sudden Change

A very important letter showed up in our mailbox this week. My oldest son’s name was right there in the middle of the envelope, with the name of a very special college printed in the top left corner. This was the envelope we’ve been waiting for. It’s the letter we’ve been hoping for since the college application process started almost a year ago.

You have to understand that my son only really wants to go to one college. It’s a beautiful private school set right in the middle of the gorgeous Salt Lake City valley. It would not only put him back in a state he’s missed since we moved away four years ago, but this specific school has the exact, specific degree he wants.

Knowing that he might not get his first choice, he eventually picked some back up schools. He browsed through their websites and read their catalogs with indifference. Because that school in Utah was the only place he really wanted to be.

So when the envelope arrived, with what we knew was the acceptance or rejection letter, we all held our breath. He scanned the first paragraph and broke into a huge grin. He was in. He could officially plan his big move west. We hugged, I cried. He just grinned a whole lot.

We made the calls and sent the emails. Grammy had to know. Aunt Mary (my sister) would be thrilled to know, since she pretty much kept me from jumping off a cliff through the application process. He texted friends and I changed my facebook status. It was all so exciting and unbelievable.

Then slowly it started to sink in. Although I know I won’t feel the full pain of what it means that he’s leaving my nest until August, it started to settle into my soul that my boy was now very much on borrowed time. I’m not the only one who understood what this magical letter would mean to our family.

We went out to dinner as a family to celebrate. On the drive there I began to tease my son, that as excited as he was to move on in life, he might be surprised to find he’d miss us, even just a little bit, once he moved so far away. My other teen son teasingly said, “Oh, don’t worry. I won’t miss you!” Then, quietly from the back seat a small voice piped up. “But I’ll miss you…”

As much as my ten year old complains about his big brothers, there’s something pretty special about the brotherhood of brothers. For every play punch, he also gets a ruffling of his hair when he finishes first in the race at school or brings home a 105 on his spelling test. For as much as my almost college bound boy pushes his baby brother’s buttons, he’s also the one who scoops him up and gives him bear hugs when he’s sad, or sick, or just feeling low. My baby boy will still have a big brother to pick on him, but the dynamic of two brothers is very different than that of three. He might not even realize it yet, but my little guy idolizes that big boy. There’s no question in my mind that he’s going to feel that hole in our family as much as I do, once his biggest brother flies away.

That letter in the mailbox changes us all. In obvious ways it changes the boy whose name was on the envelope. He’s hunkered down into schoolwork again, inspired to get the best grades he can before he jumps into the college level classes. He’s scheming and dreaming about his new life, in the shadow of those mountains where he first learned to ski when he was a much smaller boy. He plans to take full advantage of discounted lift tickets for college kids and spend just about every weekend possible on the slopes. He’s so ready to start that new life. So ready to take his next step.

But that letter also changes us as a family. And it changes every person in our family. He’s been a part of our unit, a part of the pecking order, and a part of the balance we’ve found in our time together. He has a place in our family dinner discussions. He has a place in our van as we drive to see grandparents in New Hampshire. He has a place in every one of our family traditions. And all those parts of our life will have to stretch, constrict, and change, as we find our new order without him.

My biggest boy has been in a great mood since he got the letter. I know he’s still floating on his acceptance high. And we’ve all started treating him differently. I don’t know if it will last, but for now my children (especially my boys) all seem to be getting along very well. They’re making up games to play in the evenings (glow stick wars!), like they used to before two of them turned into teens. I sense a coming together, a unifying while they still have time. They might not even realize it, but I think they all sense the impending change and are eeking out their last moments together as the clock ticks toward a huge change.

Life’s still rushing forward. Now we have forms to fill out, deposits to send in. The list of logistics is long, as we prepare to send our son to a college that’s two thousand miles away. And as I work on every last detail I’m so fully aware of the months, weeks, hours, and minutes I have left with this amazing kid I call my son. We worked so hard to get him to this point. So why does it suddenly feel like the clock has sped up and I’m not as sure anymore that I’m ready for him to go?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Silly Sadness

I know I write a lot about being optimistic and positive. Always seeing the good side of a situation. I’m generally a glass half full (even three quarters full!) kind of person. But sometimes I get knocked down by the reality that pretty insignificant things can still make a person pretty sad.

If you’re not a sports fan you might not get the story I’m about to tell. We’re a football family. I grew up watching my mom, not my dad, watch the NFL, following her hometown Cowboys, while we lived in Missouri. I found my own team when I was in high school and began a thirty year love affair with the Seattle Seahawks (I picked them way back then, honestly, because I loved their uniform). I married a guy who’d played college football. We naturally began hosting the yearly Super Bowl party for our friends. In 1993 I gave birth on the morning of the big game and brought the baby home by the fourth quarter, to show him off to the friends who had gathered at our house to watch the game.

So yeah, we kind of like football around here. One of our best friends in Utah teases me that I have a list of favorite teams, when others have just one allegiance. I tell him that I love each team for a different reason. I started watching the Colts after reading Payton Manning’s book, and then continued to watch them because I love a good passing game. I’ve stayed loyal to my Seahawks, many times feeling like I was their only fan in the country outside of Seattle. I loved watching the Packers when Brett was in his glory days and only in the news for his sports accomplishments. And after moving to NY I’ve become a mild Giants fan, since Payton’s little brother is on my TV each week.

But my all time favorite team has always been the Seahawks. They’ve never had a stellar season, plugging away, year after year, and making me crazy when they dominate a top team one week, then lay down for a losing team the next. The year they made it to the Super Bowl, one scrappy game at a time, I was more than elated.

We built a huge snowman out in the front yard, put my Seahawks helmet (found at the goodwill one year) on his head, and a Seahawks flag in his hand that announced our love for the team. I was pretty sure they’d get creamed, but having my team in the big game was a day I never thought I’d live to see, so it really didn’t matter.

So that brings us up to this season. I rarely get to see my team on my TV. Even when we lived in Utah, three states away, the programmers never found it fit to show a Seahawks game in regular broadcasting. I’ve had to rely on the rare Monday Night games to catch a glimpse of them. So when I found out my team was going to be in an important game last week, against the Rams, on my TV, I couldn’t wait.

It was a night game, which I usually can’t see to the end because, well, I’m old and get tired by 10 o’clock. But this one was important. I stayed up for every minute, saw every down. And the Seahawks won.

Unbelievably, my team, who went in the record books as being the only team ever in the NFL to go to the playoffs with a losing record, were on their way to playing the Saints in the first round of the play offs.

For the entire past week I gloated. I wore a Seahawks t-shirt all week. I was pretty sure they’d get run over by the Saints, because the Saints are an amazing team and, oh yeah, won the Super Bowl last year, but I couldn’t wait to see my team on my TV one more time.

There was only one problem. Sam’s year end football banquet was at the exact same time as the big game. Although it did cross my mind, I really didn’t think I could justify missing his big night, just so I could sink into my couch and watch a football game. So we set the TV to tape it and went out for the night. There was one minor glitch when one of the dad’s at the table blurted out “The Seahawks are winning in the fourth quarter!”, after discreetly checking his phone.

When he found out I was a fan, he respected my desire not to know the score, but toyed with me until I just had to know. With disbelief I saw the final score on his cell phone. My team had beaten the amazing Saints, scoring an amazing amount of points. I couldn’t wait to get home to watch the game. I knew they must have played very well, and since that’s not always a given, I couldn’t wait to see my team shine, on my TV.

I got up early on Sunday, got myself set up, and turned on the TV. But there was no game in the queue. Somehow the game, that I had personally set up, had not taped. Either the machine had malfunctioned or one of the kids pressed a wrong button, but my game was nowhere to be found.

I’m embarrassed to say I was heartbroken. It took awhile to sink in. I was not going to see this game, which was by far one of the best my team has played in years. It was over. All that’s left is highlight reels. And for some reason, that’s just not enough for me. I was ready to spend three hours lost in a game that my team played well, and seeing only the best plays from the game only breaks my heart more, reminding me of what I missed.

I did my best to control my emotions. My internal dialogue went something like this, “It’s just a game. It doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture. It’s just one game. For heaven’s sake, there was a shooting in Arizona last night that’s worth being sad about, this is just football.” But I have to admit, littered in between those thoughts were some others that went more like this, “YOU’RE KIDDING ME! One of the BEST games my team’s ever played and I didn’t SEE it? It was on MY TV and I didn’t get to SEE IT??”

It still feels like I have a rock of sadness in my stomach. Hopefully at some point this week I’ll be healed (mature) enough to watch those amazing highlights. But for now it hurts too much. Some silly, insignificant- to-the-good-of-the-universe game has knocked me down a notch.

I’m still an optimist. I still try to see the good in most things. But sometimes I think it’s okay to be sad about silly things. If it’s the little things that bring fulfillment in life, then I think it can also be the little things that bring us unexpected sadness.

Now I need to start gearing up for a big game this weekend. My team has one more shot in the playoffs. I won’t be setting it up to tape.

I’ll be watching it live.

On my couch.

On my TV.

So don’t even think about calling me during that three hour block. Don’t expect me to answer the door. And if you happen to be watching the game yourself, have some compassion and become a temporary Seahawks fan.

No matter how they play.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Boys in Brazil

It’s my last day of being the daily mom to only two kids. For over a decade my household has revolved around the needs of four separate children. Four different developmental stages. Four different academic, emotional and physical needs. Then suddenly two of my boys boarded that plane to Brazil.

We have family friends there and have traded kids back and forth for a few years now. My two oldest boys, ages 14 and almost 18, fought the crowds at JFK on December 17th and left my cozy nest for almost three weeks. They are having an amazing visit, as always. We Skype them every few days, and their tanned faces and wide grins keep me from worrying.

But our household completely changed the day they boarded that plane. For the past few weeks we’ve been the parents to a 19 year old and a 10 year old. And because the college girl comes and goes on her own independent schedule, it really meant we were down to one, very lonely, ten year old.

No big brothers to bug him, playfully punch him, tell him what to watch on TV, take apart his treasured Lego creations, or make him do their chores. He’s not been banished to the back seat of the van when we go somewhere. He’s had the whole couch to himself when he wanted to watch his shows. He got to pick what we had for dinner so many nights in a row that he lost interest in the process.

And I’ve felt the change too. There have been days in the past week that I did no laundry (gasp!). In our household of six I don’t dare let the washing machine take a break. It just means I’m forced to spend an afternoon catching up again. But in the past few weeks my laundry room has been eerily quiet.

One of the reasons comes down to two words - sheets and towels. I changed the sheets on the beds of my two traveling boys the day they left and they are still fresh and clean, waiting for their occupants to come home. There are two fewer sheets in my laundry and four fewer pillowcases (not to mention blankets that the cat covers in fur when he sleeps with one of them).

And for the first time in years there has always been a clean towel waiting for me when it was my turn to shower. One of my biggest pet peeves used to be reaching for a fluffy fresh towel in the morning, only to be greeted by an empty shelf…after spending so many of my day time hours washing and drying loads of them. Since the boys have been gone, that shelf has overflowed with towels, ready and waiting for the next person to shower.

My pantry has also been eerily full. I brought home the huge load of weekly groceries almost a week ago, and there are still some left today! There are crackers on the snack shelf. There is ice cream in the freezer. Heck, there’s cereal (the good kind!), in the top of the pantry. And milk. For almost three weeks there has been at least one full gallon of milk in the fridge, in that same spot where there’s usually a jug that’s one gulp away from being empty.

I had to stop my habit of buying a gallon at the local quick stop every day. About a week into my social experiment with just two kids, I brought home a gallon and discovered we had two others, almost full, already in the fridge. I honestly stood in front of the open fridge, letting all the cold air out, mouth hanging open, unable to process this new turn of events.

It’s been so quiet around here that I’ve started thinking of Sam as my grandchild. Our days are mostly centered around the activities of two old people (me and hubby) and this little guy just happens to live here too. It’s a lot like I imagine grandparenthood to be.

But before you misunderstand this to mean I’m liking the fact my boys are gone, let me set you straight. My boys are gone. GONE. Half of the offspring that I’ve been in charge of for many, many years, are not here. As quiet and ‘good’ as it all could seem, instead it mainly feels ‘off’. Our household has lost its electricity, its energy, its intensity. I’m always aware that something, someone, is missing.

When we go out to dinner and there are only four of us around the table, I can pretend that the boys are away at a track meet. Or at a friend’s house. These were common circumstances this fall. But once we get home, and I dare to open the fridge and see a full gallon of milk, I am reminded. They are not gone for the night. They are gone for weeks. And it hurts my heart once again.

I am very aware that our family dynamic is changing rapidly, as we have older kids who are heading off to college and finding their own adult lives soon. But I had mentally prepared for it to be in steps. One would go. Then the other. Then we had four more years before the next one went. I had time to adjust. Time to make peace with the new circumstances. Time to get used to it. This idea of putting two kids on a plane and not seeing them for weeks doesn’t fit my plan.

This time tomorrow my chaos will be back. My nest will be full. My milk jugs will be empty. Because after a long trip south, to that crazy land called JFK, my mommy heart will be full again. Life will be in balance.

Because, at least for a little bit longer, my boys will be home.