Reasons our children or our friends’ children have been crying this week:

  • Don’t want to change clothes
  • Not enough Popsicles 
  • No s’mores till tomorrow 
  • Waves
  • Tired
  • Mouth hurting
  • Skin hurting
  • Spirit hurting
  • Want more ice cubes
  • Want to go outside
  • Wanted to go inside a Thai restaurant to pickup carry-put but was asleep and didn’t get to
  • Not allowed to spray paint parents
  • Want to wear more sunscreen 
  • Want to sleep
  • Don’t want to sleep
  • Want to swim
  • Don’t want to swim
  • Feeling left out 
  • Feeling crowded
  • Not enough soccer
  • Too much soccer
  • Want applesauce
  • Don’t want applesauce

Life is hard.

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 3.05.46 PMI just ordered this book, along with its companion Feet Are Not for Kicking and another board book called Calm Down Time and Todd Parr’s The Feelings Book. I stopped short of ordering the matching Feelings flashcards. In our family, we often turn to books to solve problems. At least I do, I turn to books for almost everything.

Years ago when Zoe was facing her first ptosis surgery, we read about Curious George going to the hospital (he swallowed a puzzle piece and unsurprisingly wreaked havoc at the hospital but in the process he made a sick little girl named Betsy smile), Franklin the turtle going to the hospital (he broke part of his shell playing soccer I think), and an Usborne book about a little boy who needed tubes put in his ears. We read them all many times. Between her eyelids and her bladder, Zoe has become a medical expert and a pro at handling hospitals and doctors’ offices.

So Zeke has, on more than one occasion, head butted and hit us when he’s really mad, and on many more occasions, kicked us (especially when he doesn’t want to interrupt his preferred activities to get his diaper changed). From what I understand, this is typical but that doesn’t mean it is acceptable. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a book called Heads are Not for Headbutting. Perhaps that’s one for us to write.

Most recently on Friday night I was chasing Zeke around the martial arts studio while Zoe had her classes, and everything was great until suddenly it wasn’t. Zeke and I had been contentedly sharing some pretzels, but then Zeke accidentally tore the bag open and was not inclined to share the pretzels with Zoe so I removed the pretzels from the situation. He didn’t appreciate this. Then he returned to the bathroom to wash his hands for a third or fourth time. I didn’t think this was necessary, and we needed to leave, so I removed him from the bathroom. He really didn’t appreciate that. So as I was dragging him out of the studio to the car, he was head butting and kicking and slapping and screaming and I was embarrassed and on my way to being enraged. Even though he’s two and even though I am much bigger than him, it is not pleasant to be hit or kicked or head butted. It hurts. He is a strong, solid little boy.

Later that night, during dinner, after he had eaten what he wanted off of his plate, he climbed down from his chair, walked over to me and climbed up onto my lap, as he often does. Instead of eating off my plate, which he always enjoys, he turned toward me and started smoothing my hair, covering my face with kisses (his version of kissing is putting his face close to yours and making a noise that is approximately “shh” but more slobbery. He never kisses unsolicited. And he was cradling my cheeks in his hands, like one’s little old granny might do. He has also never done this before. I could only surmise he was trying to apologize for his earlier outburst with this show of affection. I forgave him.

He is a sweet boy. People often say, “is he ever unhappy?” Well, yes, sometimes he gets very upset. And I’ve come to find out I have precious little leverage when he is freaking out. Our general approach to discipline is consequences rather than punishment, and what consequences can you give to a two-year-old? There’s nowhere he would sit still or be contained. There’s not much you can take away from him. He loves to watch tv, so you can refuse to let him watch tv if he requests it immediately after a tantrum, when you know he will understand why he isn’t getting what he wants.

I understand from people who have older children that they usually don’t have tantrums anymore once they’re in high school or college. Hopefully the outbursts fade even earlier. I’m confident that Zeke will grow out of it. But in the meantime, we will read our way through this behavior, and discuss other more positive uses for hands and feet (and heads).

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 3.09.33 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 11.43.42 AMI’ve been volunteering once a week in Zoe’s class this year to help kids with reading and writing. Next week is my last time in the classroom for the year. As I’ve written here before, it’s been a wonderful experience. Recently the class has been working on writing letters, so I wrote them one of my own. 

May 29, 2015

Dear Zoe, Zain, Ryan, Parin, Morgan, Madeleine, Lillian, Kevin, Kari, José, Jonathan, Jon, Jeremy, Jackson, Isabel, Hannah, Denis, Clare, Christopher, Bryant, Brenda, Ben, Angela, and Ms. deOlazo,

Thank you so much for welcoming me into your classroom as a volunteer this year! I have really enjoyed getting to know all of you and working with you to strengthen your writing and reading skills.

I have been impressed by how hard you have worked, how creative you have been, and all the great questions you have asked. I’ve seen your reading and writing grow so much throughout the year and I am so proud of you! You’ve written beautiful haikus, funny limericks, lovely letters, bold book reviews, and more. I’m always interested to know what you’re reading and I love seeing it when you get really wrapped up in a book. I love your enthusiasm for the stories that Ms. D reads to the class and how you can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Just as much as you’ve improved your reading and writing, you’ve also grown as people. I like how you are so generous in helping each other when your friends get stuck or need to know how a word is spelled. I like how engaged you are in the games and activities that Ms. deOlazo comes up with, like the concentration exercises, stretching and meditation, and even four corners. I know that the abilities you are developing now will be incredibly useful to you as you move through school and into life. It’s wonderful that Ms. D is teaching you how to work together, how to solve problems in interesting ways, and how to be flexible and imaginative. Those are important skills for everyone to have.

I will miss spending time with your class so much! I hope you have a wonderful summer and that I will see you all next fall.

Yours,

Ms. Rosso

HM3 Drew Provost, USN, Fallujah, July 2005

HM3 Drew Provost, USN, Fallujah, July 2005

When my dad first bought a video camera I was in fourth grade and I jumped at the opportunity to interview people on film. Using an upside down tennis racket with a foam clown nose stuffed on the handle, I asked my classmates what I thought were pressing questions as he got it all on tape. While a tennis racket is no longer involved in my interviews, I still love asking people questions and helping tell their stories. It is far and away my favorite part of my work.

Over the past couple decades I have interviewed all kinds of people–executives, volunteers, foster parents, recovering addicts, teenagers, immigrants, attorneys, educators, artists, entrepreneurs, and so on–all of whom have fascinating stories to tell. I am always grateful that they trust me with their stories and I have the opportunity to share them.

For the past few years I have had the great privilege of working with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. I write articles for the Society’s newsletter and blog. Before this assignment, I had little experience with the US military. I’ve only known a handful of people who’ve served, and admittedly didn’t have much of a clue about what service members and their families experienced.

One of the extraordinary services that NMCRS provides is a visiting nurse program. Nurses travel all over the country–at no cost to their clients–to help combat-injured Sailors and Marines and their families, as well as new moms who serve or are married to service members, retired service members, military widows, and others who have been a part of the US Navy or Marine Corps and need medical help. But medical help is really just a small part of what these people do. They find resources and make connections for their clients and the clients’ families. They help clients navigate the maddening world of mental and physical health care. They provide encouragement, tough love, confidence boosting, and most importantly someone who will listen.

NMCRS nurse Bobbi Crann put it well: “As a nurse we tend to be a jack of all trades. You are an educator, nurturer, coach, and counselor. A lot of what we do as a nurse is listen. When you’ve been a nurse for a while, there’s a sixth sense. You watch the body language. If they’re agitated or have anxiety, it may not come out in words. You learn to read patients as you become experienced. You help them identify what they’re feeling and what’s going on. When they have traumatic brain injuries, it’s difficult for them to hold on to much. It’s difficult for them to remember what you’ve discussed or their appointments.”

I have interviewed many of these nurses and many of their clients and every single time I am astounded by what they tell me.

“For a long time my wife would wake up in the middle of the night to find me under the bed looking for my rifle, speaking Arabic in my sleep,” recalled Sgt. Michael Van Deren. “I was constantly staying busy because anytime I had down time my head would start wandering. I never left the house. I would get groceries at 3am because I couldn’t deal with people. I had to be armed to leave the house, even to take the dog out.”

I talked to Robin Carpenter, the mother of Medal of Honor Recipient Kyle Carpenter, about her family’s fears and anguish when Kyle suffered serious injury after throwing himself onto a grenade to save a fellow Marine, and how NMCRS nurse Kim Bradley was–and continues to be–the family’s rock and lifeline.

When I talked with Sgt. Craig Carp he said, “I fell through a roof in 2003, was blown up in 2004, and was medevac’d again in 2006,” When he was medically retired in 2010, Carp was suffering from PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, shoulder and back problems, and speech and hearing issues.

Former Marine infantryman James McQuoid decided while on security detail in Afghanistan to take the SATs. “When you’re in a foreign country that you’re trying to stabilize, 90% of the time it’s unbelievably boring, interrupted by short moments of intense horror,” he said. After doing demolition in Iraq during a previous deployment left him with undiagnosed traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, and then he found out his wife was pregnant with their first child, he realized he needed to pursue a new path. He decided to become a physics teacher and when he returned home found an online degree program because going to campus would be too challenging for him because of his PTSD.

Most people I interview don’t hold anything back. Staff Sergeant Jay Vermillion said to me, “I came home and I was about ready to blow my head off because no one was helping me,” until he met NMCRS nurse Kim Bradley. “She called me one day when I was at my worst.”

I spent hours talking with Drew Provost and his wife Crystal about Drew’s struggle to make a new life for himself after leaving the Navy. Here’s what I wrote: Even after the encounter in Fallujah when the IED blew out his eardrum, knocked him unconscious, and caused him to vomit, Drew Provost assumed he was fine. As a Navy Corpsman assigned to a Marine unit in Fallujah, he was used to seeing serious casualties. Since he could still walk and talk, Provost quickly went about his work checking on the condition of other Marines and civilians affected by the blast. He was 19 and a rising star. It took four more years, another tour of duty, a divorce, struggles with alcohol abuse, and a new relationship for Provost to be diagnosed with, and correctly treated for, a traumatic brain injury – thanks to the intervention of NMCRS visiting nurse Ruthi Moore.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, and while clearly the people I’ve interviewed are survivors, it is unmistakable that they mourn pieces of their hearts and part of their humanity left behind in war. Today in church Rev. Aaron preached a powerful sermon about the moral weight we bear by asking our young people to fight and then not taking responsibility for the consequences when they do, and when they come home. Or when they don’t come home. The sermon (watch it in the archives on the home page), and the music, just wrecked me. But in a necessary way.

Rev. Aaron acknowledged that he doesn’t know exactly how we can escape this cycle of violence, make these wars obsolete, or help heal the brokenness of those who have suffered through the wars, only that we must try. I certainly don’t have an answer either, but for as long as I can, I will continue to listen to and retell these stories, because they must be told, and they must be heard.

The louder the rain hits the window, the closer I hold you

As much for my comfort as yours,

feeling vulnerable as if the window and wall that separate us from the water

might dissolve at any moment and we would drown

Your sleep is punctuated by coughs and

I would think you had a fever

if I weren’t intimately familiar with your solid little furnace of a body

from so many minutes and hours and nights of rocking with you and

sleeping with you in the office bed or in our bed,

sometimes peacefully but mostly not,

as you are drawn to climb on top of me and wrap your limbs securely around me

like you’ve summited a mountain and must embrace the ground in gratitude.

When your shoulder leans into my windpipe

I try to rescue myself

without waking you up

Zeke art

Zeke’s original art, made for me in Panda class

In real life not every special day turns out perfectly, and not every moment is worthy of photographing. But my Mother’s Day weekend did include plenty of mothering, which is something to be thankful for.

Zeke has had a fever since Friday afternoon, which translates into a lot of intense snuggling. Not that you ever want your child to be sick, but the snuggling is not so bad. Even when he wakes up from an intense nap, during which he has burrowed so intensely into me that we are covered in sweat and possibly his pee, I don’t even realize what’s happened or particularly mind. I’ve had plenty worse bodily fluids showered upon me by my children. Sometimes, even years after the spit-up phase has ended, I have to change my shirt two or three times in a day when a special mixture of tears, snot, and drool saturates it.

Zeke card

Zeke’s card, made for me in Panda class. His teacher’s translation: “I love you!”

Or sometimes I have to change my shirt because I sweat through Zoe’s activities, like her soccer game yesterday afternoon, which ended up being a massive defeat, so much so that her team was invited to bring an extra player on the field at some point. It was a hot day and her team was missing a few subs and we were in full sun, but I stayed on the sidelines (along with my dad, another loyal fan) to high five Zoe every time she came off the field and hand her a water bottle. I often sweat through her martial arts classes, even though they’re indoors and not because I’m doing martial arts, but because the studio can get stuffy with all those kids kicking and punching and running and I am sprinting around after Zeke for 45 to 90 minutes, depending on how many classes Zoe has that day. Zeke’s usual state is in motion, which is why it’s all the more surprising when he’s sick and wants to be still.

So this morning I couldn’t go to church because I couldn’t bring Zeke to the nursery with a fever and Randy had to take Zoe to a learn to ride a bike class we’d signed up for months ago. There was no breakfast in bed because Zoe was rushing around to get ready to go this morning. Fortunately our church streams services live online, so I was able to watch at home. At first Zeke was watching with me, and even said “church” a few times, which was a new word for him. (He also learned the word “boob” this weekend because he kept poking mine and giggling when I said “hey! don’t touch my boob!”) He pointed at the people on the screen and I explained who they were a few dozen times. Then he snuggled up to sleep while I watched the rest of the service and wept. I cried during the song that the director of religious education sang about mothering people whose own mothers just weren’t good enough, and during the rendition of “For Good” from Wicked. And when Rev. Aaron talked about the cards that he and an artist in the congregation developed for members in the congregation hand out to people to show that we recognize the divine in each other. And when he talked about his Tibetan friend who was identified as a rinpoche–a reincarnated spirit–at age three and who went to live in the Buddhist monastery and whose family had no idea they would never see him again. And I wept some more at the end of the service when he invited some children up to make the Tibetan singing bowls sing.

A little while after the service ended and my tears subsided, Zeke woke up and I decided to give him a bath. He requested bubbles and we had fun throwing animals into the air, listening to them plop into the water and disappear under the bubbles. After a while Zeke had the idea to put some bubbles on me, and he gently scooped up bubbles and arrayed them on my arms. Then he decided I needed to get clean too. He took the extra washcloth that I had gotten out in case he wanted to wash himself, and he squirted soap on it, and dipped it in the water to get it wet, and washed one of my arms, and then the other. It was kind of like Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, but the two-year-old and his mom version. With bubbles.

I didn’t want to leave Zeke to go to the planned Mother’s Day celebration at my parents’ house, and I didn’t want to share his germs with his cousin, but Randy insisted that Zeke would be fine with him and that Zoe and I should go. We arrived late, and on my parents’ back porch, Zoe shared with everyone the Mother’s Day gifts that she and Zeke and Randy had given me. My favorite was the letter she had written to me in school. The past few weeks have been more exasperating and exhausting than usual, as we’ve faced epic tantrums from Zeke and have been helping Zoe address some physical challenges. All of us have been a little crankier and more fragile than usual. Randy has been by my side every night, united on the parenting front. He has typically been the only one who has been able to finally subdue Zeke into sleep at the end of the long night. But there has also been the blowing of bubbles, and the drawing of chalk pictures on the patio, and the doing of many puzzles.

So there’s been a lot of mothering. And moments when I had to go outside and sit on the front step in my pajamas late at night before I completely lost my mind. But then there’s this. Deep, slobbery snuggles, and “always remember that you are my star.”

Zoe letter page 1 Zoe letter

lettersWelcome to the scavenger hunt at our house! I’m sure you’ll enjoy rifling through the eclectic collection of special treasures we have thoughtfully gathered in our home. Do your best to find all 10 items and you will win an exciting prize to be announced later.

1. One letter, number, or shape magnet that has been peed on. Don’t worry, you will not need to pee on any magnets yourself. You can find a whole bucket of said magnets, previously peed on, in the hallway. They were peed on by Zeke after his bath while I was searching for the diaper ointment. Randy put them in the sink to wash them off, but then he put Zeke to bed and didn’t get around to washing them off. I moved them into a bucket so Zoe could brush her teeth in the sink. No one has gotten around to washing them off yet. Bonus points if you volunteer!

2. A trail of cornstarch. Did I mention Zeke’s diaper rash? One of the remedies suggested by his babysitter is sprinkling cornstarch all over his parts. I have not yet found any targeted way to sprinkle cornstarch. But I did discover tonight after Zeke apparently somersaulted into Zoe’s bike chain (because Zoe’s bike is in the hallway) and got bicycle grease all over his beautiful new sweater that he wore for the first time today, that you can use cornstarch to remove bike grease from clothing! Generously sprinkle cornstarch all over the grease and let it absorb the grease. Then later, scrub off the grease with dish detergent. It works! You’re welcome to bring your own Ziploc bag or tupperware container and take home several spoonsful of cornstarch for your own personal uses. We easily have a year’s supply in the one tub we purchased. Actually, no need to bring your own container. Move on to #3

3. Tupperware with a lid that fits. We have a whole cabinet full of plastic containers and lids. If you can find a container and lid that go together, they’re yours! Use them for the cornstarch, or #4

4. Leftovers. The way food ingredients are sold and recipes are written, we typically make dinner for four people. While there are, in fact, four people in our family, one of them eats very little, except of course when he eats a lot. But you never know. We almost always end up with half a serving of food left. Or maybe one and a half servings. Or maybe three pieces of fish but no sides. Or a pint of couscous. We are not good at eating leftovers. Call us lazy, or excessively picky, or just call us when the dinner you’ve prepared is ready for us to eat. But we don’t want the leftovers. You can have them. Please fill up your containers.

5.  Things for Sale or FreecyclingWe have a lot of things we are trying to get rid of. We just have a lot of things. And a small house. And we don’t need all the things. We donate a lot of things to people and organizations. But we also would like a little extra cash, so sometimes we try to sell things. We post them on Craigslist and we get snarky replies from jerks. Occasionally someone buys something. But we have stuff that we just don’t want to throw away because someone might want it and someone might pay money on it and surely that Smurf or ET stuffed animal from the 80s will be super valuable on eBay. Really, we just want to make some space. So if you see anything you want to buy, just make an offer. Even if it’s not one of the things we’re trying to sell. Bring cash. Or just take what you want. We probably wouldn’t even notice it’s gone.

6. A Mixed Media Collage of Your Creation. This is where the scavenger hunt deviates from those you may have participated in in the past. Here you actually sit down and make art, using the wide variety of available materials. Some of these materials date back to the 1970s, but they’re still useable, because anything can be art! Create with clay, yarn, foam stickers, unused Valentine cards, rubber stamps, glitter glue, puffy paint, crayons, markers, pastels, watercolors, tempera paint, old postcards, construction paper, old Christmas cards, tax returns, receipts, cookbooks we haven’t used in years, and more. Just ask if it seems like it might be valuable before you start gluing.

7. Lint. Again here you will enjoy the opportunity to express yourself artistically by creating a lint sculpture. Bring home a treat for the kids when you can craft a lint doll or stuffed animal to snuggle with at night. Or, for the more pragmatic among you, weave a lint blanket to keep in the car for emergencies. If you’re particularly ambitious, gather enough lint to insulate the new addition you’re building on your house. We had to get a new washer and dryer last year after our dryer conked out and the repairman declared it impossible to resuscitate after three visits. Our new washer and dryer work great except for the lint filter in the dryer, which is not entirely willing to do its very basic job of collecting lint. Some of the lint is just free spirited and follows the advice of Fleetwood Mac and insists on going its own way. I feel like this wild lint is probably a fire hazard, so if you would collect it for us, that would be a huge help.

8. Laundry. You might say you have your own laundry and you don’t need ours, but you would be wrong. We have so much laundry that we are certain there’s something in there you would like. Any time of day or night that you happen to come by to participate in this scavenger hunt, you will find some laundry in the living room. This will be clean laundry. It may or may not be folded. Not to worry, the dirty laundry is in hampers or at least in a pile on the floor in front of the laundry closet, so you won’t accidentally pick something out from the dirty laundry, unless that’s what you’re into, and we’ll just pretend we didn’t see it. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time poking around in the unfolded laundry, you can look upstairs in one of the bedrooms or maybe even the hall and just pick up a bin filled with already folded laundry! Don’t even look at it–just take it and then when you get home you’ll be surprised by the contents. Will it be size 3T t-shirts, shorts, socks, and pajamas? A sleepsack you can hide your cat in? Or a kids’ martial arts uniform? Or grown-up jeans and dozens of t-shirts advertising computer programs, 5Ks, or our favorite bands. Anything you get you will love, I promise.

9. A Mouse. Ok, this might be tricky. I’m not really sure if there are any mice still living in our house, but if you find one and take it with you, then we will be sure there is one less mouse sharing our space. If you can’t find a mouse, I will accept a mousetrap and still give your credit.

10. Something We’ve Lost. This is kind of tricky because you don’t really know what you’re looking for, but if you can look behind and under furniture or in the tops or corners of closets and you turn up any object that any of us has been looking for a while and hasn’t been able to locate, you definitely win. If you come up with something that we wanted, we will keep it. If you find something that we didn’t even realize was lost and we really didn’t miss it, it’s all yours. We insist.

Found all 10 items? Hooray! Congratulations! You are like Sherlock, but not a sociopath (probably). And your prize is already right there in your arms, or in your complimentary tote bag that we gave you on the way in. It’s all yours! You found it, you keep it. Enjoy! And thanks for making our house just a little more livable. We’ll be happy to come to your scavenger hunt soon. You probably have some really cool stuff that we’d like.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 12.56.11 PMMy grades came yesterday. They were worse than I thought.

I am not in graduate school or even taking a class at a community center. This was my college transcript, from roughly two decades ago. In those 20 years I have built a successful career as a writer, editor, and communications consultant. I’ve worked as in-house communications officer for two organizations and launched my own business 10 years ago. People hire me because I am an excellent writer and editor and no one has ever asked about my grades from college.

Until now. I recently had this idea about becoming a substitute teacher at my daughter’s school. I asked Zoe’s teacher and our preschool director for letters of recommendation. I requested my transcript from William and Mary. And when I opened it up, I sighed. My grades were even worse than I remembered. I got a D- in a biology class my first semester. I remember going to talk to the professor after failing the first test, and his words of wisdom were, “you’re an English major, aren’t you?” as if my fate was sealed and I was wholly incapable of succeeding in his class. Things certainly improved from there, but there were many classes in which I earned grades that I did not feel reflected what I had learned. Granted, it’s a tough school, but I had plenty of friends who earned 4.0s or close to it. An illustration of their standards: when I studied abroad for a semester at Oxford University, there was extensive discussion back at William and Mary about whether to accept my transfer credit for a class in British literature. Because, you know, what if the Oxford don doesn’t know as much about British literature as the professors at William and Mary.Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 12.59.03 PM

Perhaps I sound bitter. I don’t mean to. I had a stellar college experience. I enjoyed my time at William and Mary immensely. I dedicated many hours to working on the school paper, which probably helped me in my current work as much or more than many of my classes. I volunteered at the campus child care center and the mental hospital off campus, both for my psychology classes, and helped a Japanese woman improve her English. I went on a work trip to do hurricane relief with my church group. I babysat for and developed strong relationships with families in the community. I made wonderful friends. I obsessively attended a cappella and improv theater performances. I took weight training as a freshman girl with my roommate and a bunch of football players. I rappelled down the back of the stadium in adventure games.

I do not regret not studying more. I enjoyed most of the classes I took. I learned a lot.

So why do I feel so disappointed in my grades? No one but me is judging me by my transcript.

I remember on one of my first days of college when our entire freshman class was gathered in William and Mary Hall. Some administrator welcomed us and talked about how collectively amazing we were. She named how many class presidents, newspaper editors, varsity athletes, valedictorians, etc etc were in our class. She held up one hand in the air, palm down, saying, “in high school, all of you were up here. You were the best of your class.” But any group has to have a spectrum, so now at William and Mary, some of us would be up there, and some of us would be down at the bottom, and some in between. I remember thinking, of course I would still be at the top. But I wasn’t. At least in terms of grades. Are the people who were at the top, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa, any happier or more successful now? I know some of them, and I would venture to say no. Not that they’re unhappy, but they have varying amounts of job satisfaction. They have families and houses and good lives. There’s very little about my life I would change, and anything I would change is completely unrelated to my poor performance in biology.

Apparently I made the Dean’s List one semester. I totally did not remember that. But I don’t think that matters anymore, either, if it ever did. If you want to discuss the psychology of humor, or poetry, or women’s history, however I’m down with that. And I did end up acing my writing classes. And I am a writer, so there’s that.

It may seem unrelated, but I am also struggling with my disproportionate shame about the state of my house when service providers come to fix things. I’m pretty sure they don’t care if we are messy and it makes no different to them as long as they can do their job and get paid. I know this is all in my head, but I’m not sure how to get it out.

In 10 days I will have a birthday. The big milestone birthday for the decade was last year, so this year isn’t anything special, but I’m sure at 41 I should be mature enough not to care about these things. Something to work on for the next 10 days. Or weeks. Or months. Then next year, I’ll be 42 — the secret to life, the universe, and everything, so surely I’ll have figured it out by then.

2015-03-20 18.22.06Conversation tonight at dinner:

Zoe: “I can’t wait for my sparring class tomorrow!”

Me: “Great! I’m glad you’re so excited.”

Zoe: “How could I not be? It’s awesome!”

After dinner Randy helped Zoe mold her mouth guard so it fits her teeth.

Last week I watched Zoe during her first sparring class and I was amazed. She was not shy or scared or holding back in any way. At first she was partnered with another girl who is about her age and size and who is the same belt rank. It was also her classmate’s first night in sparring class, although they’ve been together in martial arts class since kindergarten. So that didn’t seem so crazy. They were evenly matched and that particular girl is fierce but Zoe completely held her own. They even wrestled! I’ve never seen Zoe wrestle anyone except Zeke, who is not even two yet (although he can still tackle her and knock her over). But then as the class went on, there was an exercise where the students were divided into groups of five or six and each individual had to stand at the front with the instructor and spar every person in line, one at a time. Then there was the time the whole class was in two long lines and every few minutes they rotated, so Zoe started out against her original partner but eventually was sparring with much bigger, older, and more experienced students. In the picture above, she is sparring with a black belt, one of the student instructors. I think he’s 14. He’s also exhibiting supreme control. Master Emerson instructed the big kids to be very controlled with the younger ones, and they were. But they weren’t standing back and letting the younger ones beat up on them either.

I was really shocked at how exciting it was to see Zoe spar. While martial arts is, technically, the art of war, I have never felt like Zoe’s classes at Evolve All are about fighting. They are about discipline, respect, resilience, perseverance, teamwork, compassion, technique, and kokoro–Japanese for heart. They talk about the black belt attitude, which is about improving yourself and helping others, among other attributes. During the growth ceremonies, the candidates for black belt have to read essays, break many boards using a form they’ve created, and spar with their classmates and Master Emerson for several challenging minutes. The sparring has always been my least favorite part. This is not fighting–everyone is wearing protective gear but it is not the Karate Kid and no one is actually getting hurt. It’s all about technique and stamina. You can tell from watching it is very hard work for these kids.

So I’ve always known Zoe would eventually need to start sparring, but I wasn’t in any rush. What I was eager for her to do was audition for the demo team–the group of kids who perform really impressive techniques and routines during the growth ceremonies and at community events. This was the first year she would be eligible. But then they changed the demo team meeting time to a day that didn’t work for our schedule. And Zoe’s instructor Mister Christian said that sparring was more relevant to what she was learning in class and that would be a better place to start in terms of augmenting her regular classes. And to my surprise, Zoe expressed enthusiasm about sparring. She asked for sparring gear (not cheap) for her birthday.

Last week Zoe asked me if I thought she was a tomboy, because, she said, “I like things that boys usually like, like Star Wars and martial arts and soccer.” Not to mention the series of books about tribes of crazy fighting cats that she and all her friends of both genders are obsessed with. I told her that I thought tomboy was a silly and meaningless word, and that she’s a cool person with diverse interests who didn’t feel limited by stereotypes in her choice of things to do or enjoy. I probably used other words, but that was the idea. Later in the week she approached Randy with the same question and he gave her basically the same answer (yay united parenting front!). Clearly she is thinking about what, if anything, it all means, promoted probably by starting to spar. What I think it means is that she is a strong, independent individual. How great is it to start owning your strength and independence when you’re not even eight years old? I love the fact that when boys in her class write or read something about Star Wars they rush over to tell her about it, because apparently her Star Wars fandom is well known.

Zeke wishes he could spar too. He’s always trying to put on Zoe’s gear. I wish Evolve All would bring back the young masters class for three- and four-year-olds. But Zeke will have his day on the mat. In the meantime, it’s Zoe’s turn and she is not holding back.

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