For her imminent eighth birthday, Zoe has asked for sparring gear (so she can participate in the sparring class at Evolve All, where she takes marPrincess Leia legotial arts), a Jedi robe (in part so she can be Luke Skywalker for Halloween, after having been Princess Leia this past Halloween), action figures from Big Hero 6; and Legos. Oh, and to get her nails done with me.

I don’t know what exactly this means, but she is a far cry from the fairy princess she used to  pretend to be. Her favorite books right now are a series about clans of cats that fight each other to establish dominance. When she asked her grandfather to guess what she planned to be for Halloween this year and he said Princess Leia, I reminded him that she had already been Princess Leia, but that he was close. I meant close as in someone else from Star Wars, but he thought I meant another princess, so he said, “someone from Frozen?” Zoe scoffed. She does like Frozen, and we watched it again just last week, but not as much as she loves Star Wars, and she said, “I would never be a princess from Frozen.”

Certainly Zoe still loves her American Girl dolls, and has taught her brother how to properly brush their hair, because he wants to get in on the grooming action. He loves to take care of her babies (and the baby–Sam–that he received for Christmas this past year) and is often stuffing pretend food into their mouths. But Zoe also has her American Girl dolls teach her baby dolls how to do tae kwan do. I think her dad is relieved that the days are over when Zoe wants to play mommy-having-a-baby or be a princess with Randy acting as prince.

She also loves to play board games and word games and sometimes she beats us at Othello and Trivial Pursuit. She loves to draw and she has created a cartoon superhero named Pet Girl, who takes care of lots of animals. She still draws lots of rainbows that say “I love you Mommy.”

She is stubborn and argumentative and has already mastered the teenage glare although she’s still five years away from adolescence. She loses things and doesn’t pay attention and asks over and over for things she know she can’t do or have. But she is also the sweetest big sister who deeply adores her little brother, even though she does get annoyed when he gets into her stuff, which happens all the time. She is thoughtful and compassionate and curious. I love the person she is and the way she is learning to see the world and her place in it. I love that she would rather look in the boys section at Old Navy for Star Wars or soccer t-shirts instead of the girls’ section for Hello Kitty. Although she did wear a sequined panda shirt today that she recently picked out. I love that she wants to wear matching clothes with her brother and take baths with him. And she wants to be elegant and beautiful and go to royal balls and tea parties and try on makeup. I don’t love the makeup. But I get it.

Part of me cringes at the thought of her sparring, and I wouldn’t let her do it if it weren’t part of the instruction at the martial arts school we love so sparring glovesmuch where they teach you that the black belt attitude is about caring, responsibility, respect, determination, and patience. It’s not about fighting. I imagine the sparring will help build her strength and confidence, which is a good thing for any kid. And you won’t be able to see her manicure underneath the sparring gloves, but her nails will definitely be lovely.

Unfortunately this is NOT the mouse I saw in my bathroom at 3am.

Unfortunately this is NOT the mouse I saw in my bathroom at 3am.

The worst part of last night, at least for me, was not Zeke’s persistent crying and refusal to sleep horizontally (although that was quite unpleasant) but rather the fact that after I plopped a weepy Zeke on our bed with his dogs Kirby and Uh Oh Dog and woke up Randy to keep an eye on him while I used the bathroom, when I turned on the bathroom light I saw a mouse dash out of the bathroom, across the hall, and into my office (also our guest room), which caused me to pee in my pants. I am not typically one of those people who is terrified of mice (although I don’t love them cohabiting with my family) but seeing a mouse vacate the bathroom in our bedroom and relocate to another bedroom, all on the upper floor of our house, where we sleep, does not sit well with me. Suddenly my mind switched from exasperation over Zeke’s restlessness to fear that the mouse (and perhaps his whole family) would be crawling over our faces if we ever did get back to sleep. tiny slug

A few weeks ago when our family was suffering from round after round of stomach viruses, twice during wakeful, messy nights, I spotted a tiny slug in the corner of the kitchen. The slug’s presence was disconcerting, but not alarming. First of all, it was tiny. Second, it was as slugs are wont to do, moving quite slowly, so I didn’t feel like I had to attend to it immediately. Slugs are notoriously easy to apprehend and Randy removed both slugs to the backyard without incident. This happened in the kitchen and I never once worried that slugs would crawl over our faces as we slept, leaving poisonous trails of slime. But a mouse. Those things are dangerous. Our exterminator told us to use gloves and masks when he reminded us many times to remove the mouse poop from the utility shed behind our house. You’re not going to want to come over for dinner now, are you?

Not that we can have anyone over for dinner these days anyway, because we are always sick or trapped inside by snow and ice. Not really trapped, Boston-style, but stuck inside because where are we going to go when it’s snowy and icy anyway? Our weeks of isolation began on January 29 when Zeke was first struck with norovirus, which he generously shared with all of us in turn. We were supposed to have friends over for dinner a few days later but had to cancel. And every weekend since then, someone has been puking or feverish or something yucky. School has been closed or delayed. I have postponed and rescheduled work meetings and personal appointments and social events over and over again.

When my mind is forced to spend those days (and nights) home with sick kids, or sick husband, or sick me, it tends to wander off toward dark and dismal destinations. I was fairly convinced throughout February that I was a terrible parent, incapable of compassion or patience, and also to blame for everyone’s illnesses. I was sure I didn’t have any real friends and somehow my children and I were being excluded from all fun things that were happening everywhere. I spend a lot of time worrying about all the things anyone could possibly worry about, and then I create some new things to worry about. I embrace my tendency toward worst-case-scenario thinking. Meaning, I am always on some level planning what to do if I need to take someone to the ER or what if someone never comes back from that errand or that trip, or what if we lose power and so many other what ifs that actual reality has no room to exist in my brain. I’ve struggled to figure out how to extract myself from this hole. Everyone I know seems to have crap they’re dealing with, much of it significantly more challenging than mine. Or everyone is just sick. During one of my doctor visits in February, my doctor said there were three groups of people in this area: people who’ve recently been sick, people who are sick now, and people who are going to get sick soon. He said the virus season this winter is the worst he’s seen in a decade. Still, knowing other people are sick does not at all make me feel any better, or even absolve me of responsibility for our germs. We wash our hands all the freaking time. While toddlers are not known for their hygeine habits, even Zeke loves to wash his hands, wipe up spills, and bring out the dustbuster when there’s a spill. We bleach, we wipe down, we spray. And yet the germs circulate and attack us again and again and my mental and emotional state deteriorates. So it’s been hard for me to reach out. I don’t like to complain (maybe you can’t tell that from this post) and I don’t like negativity. I am an optimist. I don’t like whiners. But the past five weeks, which feel more like five months, my sense of hope and positive attitude have diminished. My creativity and confidence have crumbled. I’ve felt increasingly lonely and isolated. I am an extrovert (or to be more accurate, according to my reading of Susan Cain’s work, I’m an ambivert, but still I need some outside stimulation). It’s not been good.

One bright spot during this time has been the sermons by Rev. Aaron McEmrys at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. I’ve been a member of All Souls Unitarian for nearly a decade, but for a variety of reasons it’s become untenable to attend services there. Recently a friend invited Zoe to participate in the sex ed (appropriate for second-graders) segment of the Sunday morning religious education class, so I figured I would go to services while Zoe was in class. I’d been to UUCA a couple times before in years past and found it pleasant but not powerful. This time, though, I was surprised and moved by Rev. Aaron’s preaching. I find his sermons to be thoughtful, challenging, exquisitely written, and passionately delivered. And this week he challenged the congregation to do something fun or frivolous or whatever it was they needed to do to be more resilient–to live more and work less. By example he told physicians in the room to work five fewer hours this week and do something entertaining or fulfilling instead. But he said he didn’t know what we all needed–we did. And what I needed to do was write this. It is embarrassing to say you’ve felt lonely and sad. I was raised not to feel sorry for myself. But sometimes you just need to say how you feel. I also, as a writer, constantly struggle with reluctance to put words out into the world unless they are fully formed and somehow worthy. Unfortunately, I just don’t always feel worthy. But I still need to put words out there before they burn a hole inside me, as they sometimes threaten to do.

So I am praying for spring. For health. For sleep. For the mouse that is upstairs in our house to move out. For a new show to materialize that makes me laugh as much as Parks and Recreation did. For more books like Wonder, which I read in a day sometime in February and would recommend to everyone. And for you, if you are in a hole, to find your way out as well.

imagesAt her annual ophthalmological checkup today, the eye doctor confirmed what I had suspected, that Zoe has convergence insufficiency. Actually I didn’t know that particular phenomenon was the problem, but I knew something was wrong. Zoe loves books and reads at a high level, but in recent months I had noticed her gravitating back to picture books instead of reading chapter books when given the opportunity. And I had observed that after the 20 minutes of required homework reading Zoe would often claim she was exhausted or had a headache. I knew something wasn’t right.

So I made a two-hour appointment (not covered by insurance and not cheap) with a developmental optometrist after hearing about a girl who sounded a lot like Zoe who was a capable but reluctant reader because of a previously undiagnosed vision problem. Then I filled out an extensive inventory of Zoe’s health and academic history and asked her teacher to complete another form.

Meanwhile Zoe became obsessed with a series of books called Warriors, about tribes of cats who fight each other (I don’t get it at all, but that’s another story). She devoured the first book and I thought maybe her reading reluctance was a passing phase. Her teacher filled out the form and said she didn’t notice anything amiss about Zoe’s work in class or behavior while reading. So I cancelled the appointment. And I figured that since we had her checkup scheduled for today, if there was anything wrong, the doctor would find it.

And she did. Apparently this problem is quite common and just as treatable. Surprisingly, the convergence insufficiency is hereditary, but Zoe didn’t get it from Randy, who has a history of strabismus, but from me. The doctor said many people are walking around with it but have never had any symptoms or problems. She did a quick check and said I definitely have it and could not blame Randy this time.

The cure for Zoe’s convergence insufficiency is eye exercises, which she can do with the help of a computer program, and reading glasses. I was thrilled to hear this seemingly simple remedy. Zoe was not. Our conversation on the way out of the doctor’s office went like this.

Zoe: “I am not happy about this. I do not want glasses. I never thought I would have to get glasses. I’ll look different.”

Me: “I’m sorry you’re not happy. You will look great with glasses. We’ll pick out some really cool ones. And I’m surprised you never thought you would have to get glasses because I’ve had glasses since I was in fourth grade and Daddy used to have to wear glasses so it was pretty inevitable that you would end up with glasses at some point. Besides, glasses are cool. Remember in Heidi Heckelbeck where Heidi’s friend got glasses and she was jealous because her friend looked so great, and she pretended to have bad vision so she could get her own glasses?”

Zoe: “I’m not the same as Heidi Heckelbeck. First of all, I’m not a witch.” [Heidi Heckelbeck is a witch, of the friendly Harry Potter and Hermione Granger variety]

Me: “That is true, you are not a witch.”

Zoe: “I do not want glasses.”

We went to the drugstore because the eye doctor had advised us to get a pair of over-the-counter reading glasses to see if they helped Zoe before investing in a pair of custom prescription glasses.

As soon as we found the glasses rack in the drugstore, Zoe was excited, drawn toward the animal print cases and sparkly frames. I found a pair with the right magnification and handed them to her to try on.

Zoe: “Wow! I can see so much better!” She tried on at least a dozen pairs and we took pictures. She got even more excited when she saw another rack of options that also included a shelf of colorful cases, which were free with a purchase of reading glasses. She started picking out a case to match the pairs of glasses she was considering. I told her to find the right glasses first and then we could find a case.

Finally she settled on red frames with blue earpieces and some shiny blue dots on the front. They are too big for her face because they’re adult glasses, but they’re ok for a trial run. And she loves them. On the way out of the drugstore.

Zoe: “I love my glasses. They are so cool. I can’t wait to show everyone. My friends will be so surprised. Zeke won’t know what to think. I can’t wait to show Daddy. When we get the real glasses can I get a hard case? Can I buy a cloth to polish them with? Can I wear them in the car? These glasses are so cool.”

At home I asked Zoe to read a few pages of her Star Wars novel without the glasses and with them and tell me what was different. “The words were so big and so easy to read,” she said. Well there you go. We’ll see what happens this week, and when we get the eye exercise program. But convergence sufficiency seems promising. And this is a good reminder that as a parent you should always trust your gut. Even an articulate seven-year-old can’t tell you that her eye muscles aren’t working together and that reading makes her eyes tired. I can’t wait to see what opens up for her when all those interesting words become bigger and easier to read.

Another Friday night, another adventure at the laundromat, with the woman in the fur hat scrounging through the trash retrieving crumpled lottery tickets, the telenovelas blaring above the whirr of the washers and dryers, the little boy racing back and forth between the lollipop machine and his family.

Our clothes and sheets and cloth napkins that at this moment may not be that good for the environment are spinning in six 40-lb. capacity machines. The beauty of arriving at the laundromat at 10pm on a Friday is that you have the whole row of jumbo machines to yourself, and everything seems to have just been tidied.

The pollo place adjacent to the laundromat is still open, although you’re full of slow cooker shredded beef tacos which were an experiment and you thought at first a failed one but they turned out all right and your husband and even your daughter cleaned their plates and declared the tacos delicious.

Perhaps tonight when you get home you will go online and order a new washer and dryer, since the repairman declared your dryer unsalvageable after four visits to your house with two sets of replacement parts. The washer works fine but they are part of one unit so must both be replaced, yet another appliance inconvenience you never considered when you bought the condo a decade ago. It turns out there are only a handful of washer dryer models that will fit into your laundry closet. But at least you have a Home Depot credit card and the promise of six months of interest-free financing. There’s always that.

And you are thankful that your husband is home keeping the kids in bed so you don’t have to chase children here, just sit and watch the laundry spin. And you are thankful that it’s a new year and mechanical inconveniences are just that, and that you have a loving family and a roof over your head and you can plan summer vacations and really you are surrounded by everything you could want. Even though washer 78 is making a terrible racket right now, it’s probably just your son’s overalls, which are very cute if somewhat impractical.

And hey, you found a quarter in washer 76 after you put that load in the dryer. Maybe it was your quarter to begin with, but either way it’s your lucky day.

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04277121_zi_blue_silverLast night around 6, when I was waiting for a friend to pick Zoe up for tae kwan do because I didn’t want to bring Zeke because he was coughing and his shoes were soaking wet because I let him stomp in a puddle when we were picking up Zoe from school and when we got home I discovered the dryer, which we just paid $400 to get repaired, was screeching mercilessly whenever I turned it on, I started feeling panicky. I was upstairs waiting by the window with Zoe to spot her ride when it arrived while downstairs Zeke had found a tray of Christmas treats Zoe had left out, and was stuffing chocolate covered peanuts in his mouth. When I ran downstairs to find him, there was a blend of saliva and chocolate seeping all over his face and clothes and his mouth was full of unchewed peanuts because he still doesn’t have that many teeth. He had also managed to open Zoe’s Finding Nemo DVD that she received for Hanukkah the night before and had somehow smeared it with chocolate as well. I wiped off his face and yanked off his shirt and fleece and went to put them in the bucket that we soak stained things in but discovered I had left it outside on the patio and it needed to be washed. And I couldn’t wash it because the sink was full of dirty dishes and bottle parts because even though Zeke will drink water from a cup he still refuses to drink milk unless it’s in a bottle.

I was short of breath, my chest was tight, I felt nauseated and dizzy. I have a friend just a few years older than me who had a heart attack last year. Someone else my age with whom I graduated from college died this year from one. And one of Randy’s grad school classmates just died from a possible heart attack. I was increasingly panicked. I looked up the signs of a heart attack and a panic attack and found several websites that said the symptoms are remarkably similar. How helpful!

When Randy got home he dropped me off at urgent care. I should have just gone to the ER. The people at urgent care did not demonstrate any sense of urgency whatsoever. The receptionists and the physician’s assistant all seemed bored and completely uninterested in their jobs or the fact that people they were helping might have some sort of problem. They acted like they had been hired for jobs at lackadaisical care. The PA greeted me with, “So are you having a heart attack?” I told her I didn’t know what was wrong, that’s why I was there. Later when she was doing the EKG and tears were streaming down my face she repeatedly told me to relax. Oh ok. Thanks for the advice. The doctor, who was at least friendly, said I was fine and there wasn’t really anything he could do for me, as my heart and lungs and blood pressure were normal. He asked if there was anything stressful going on in my life. I didn’t even know where to start. I offered, “I have two young kids…” He said something like, is that all? I didn’t go into the running my own business thing or the fact that it’s Christmas and Hanukkah and so many things are undone or the fact that tragedies local and global are constantly breaking my heart and assaulting my soul. He asked if I wanted anything to calm me down, like a Xanax. I declined, as I have attempted to use Xanax in the past and even in small doses it makes me feel drunk and unable to function. Calm, sure, but not really worth it.

So the good news is I didn’t have a heart attack. The list of things to do remains long and the stacks of stuff to deal with are piled high. I am struggling to resist the urge to climb back into bed with my book–The Gravity of Birds–which is so good. In the meantime, I will listen to John Denver and the Muppets and try to get back to work, and be thankful that my heart is good.

Santa_Claus_BMW_01This is excerpted from an actual conversation I had with Zoe the other night.

Z: “I just want you to know that two of my friends, K____ and M_____, don’t believe in Santa Claus. I’m not saying this is good or bad, I just thought you should know.”

Me: “Well the good thing about our country is that people can believe anything they want to believe as long as they don’t try to hurt other people with their beliefs or force them to believe something they don’t believe.”

Then Zoe mentioned a clarification of something on her Christmas list.

Me: “You’d better write Santa about that.”

Z: “It’s ok, he just heard me.”

Me: “Oh. OK.”

Z: “I know the Easter Bunny must be real because last year he brought me stick-on earrings and I know you would never buy those for me.”

Me: “Oh. OK.”

Z: “And I’m not sure about the Tooth Fairy because I don’t believe in fairies but I kind of think the Tooth Fairy is real. But I’m not sure.”

I explained to her what a contradiction was. I asked if the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real, who was putting the money under her pillow when she lost a tooth.

She pointed toward me.

I said, “Who? Is there someone in the kitchen who brings you money? Is the Tooth Fairy hiding in here?” She laughed.

And we left it at that.

courageboard

I lost count of how many times Zoe kicked her board during Saturday’s growth ceremony at Evolve All. At the end of the day, the number doesn’t matter.

Breaking the board is the final part of the test to graduate to the next belt. In this, Zoe was graduating from the yellow solid belt to the green solid belt, which requires you to break a much thicker board than all the previous belt levels. This is a big-time board.

To be fair, most of her yellow solid classmates found it challenging to break the board. Out of a dozen young martial artists, I think only one or two got it on the first kick, and most of them required several kicks. It was tough. And really breaking these boards is tough for many levels. The young woman who became a black belt during this ceremony, who is fierce and had to break five consecutive boards with different techniques got really stuck on the third board and had to kick it at least a few dozen times before she broke it. So this is not easy. Not impossible, but not easy.

For whatever reason, Zoe just wasn’t connecting with the board with enough force to break through. She had actually broken one of these thick boards before, during a board breaking focused summer camp at Evolve All. So she knew she was capable of it. Of course at summer camp, no pressure at all. She broke it there on the first try.

Back to Saturday, Zoe was the last yellow solid of her group to go. She kicked and kicked but no break. The instructors gave her extra chances and then had to move on to the next part of the ceremony. They took her into another room to practice. She practiced. They coached her. Master Emerson asked her if she thought she could break the board. She said yes. He asked us if we thought she could break the board. We said yes.

They gave her another opportunity back in the ceremony. She kicked. No break. She bowed. They took her into the next room to practice. She practiced. They coached her. They gave her yet another opportunity to break it in the ceremony. She kicked. No break. They said after the ceremony was over she could try again.

At some point during all this Zoe was sitting with me at the edge of the mat and a mom we didn’t know came up to her and said, “You are so courageous!”

The ceremony ended and most students and families filed out. A few dozen people stuck around to watch Zoe make her final attempt. Master Emerson explained to her that this was her last chance, and he couldn’t promote her to green solid if she didn’t break the board. She said she understood. Master Emerson and Mister Christian continued to coach, encouraging her to use her heel instead of her toes, and to fall forward toward the board as she kicked. They let her try different kicking techniques to see where she could draw the most power.

Finally, somehow, she gathered her strength and power and hit it with her heel and the board broke. At last.

Zoe told me later that she was embarrassed that I jumped up and down and screamed and picked her up and spun her around. She buried her head in my neck in a way she hasn’t done in years. She said later that she was crying. Something had to happen to all that tension and adrenaline. Everyone who had stayed was cheering wildly and taking pictures. Mister Christian tied her new belt around her waist and gave her a big hug.

Throughout the whole ceremony, Zoe never once said, “I can’t do it,” or “This is too hard,” or “I give up.” She didn’t cry. She just kept trying.

I took her to lunch after the ceremony and asked how she felt and she said, “This is a great day!” She was smiling and happy and in no way discouraged. I was kind of astonished.

We went roller skating that night and I had already decided that I was in no way going to push her. She started skating last year and was still pretty tentative about it the last time she put her skates on. I figured she’d pushed herself enough all day. But we got there and after a few minutes of skating with the walker on wheels that you can rent (an ingenious invention made of PVC pipe) she asked me to take the walker several feet away so she could skate to it. Over and over she would ask me to take it farther and farther away so she could practice skating without it. By the end of the night she was challenging me to races.

At the community center where the skating takes place we ran into a friend of a friend who we didn’t know but who had also been at the growth ceremony and who congratulated Zoe on her persistence. Then yesterday Randy and Zoe and Zeke were at a playground and another mom they didn’t know who evidently had been at the growth ceremony said, “Zoe! Did you break your board?” and congratulated her when she said yes. Zoe said she didn’t like being famous.

Last night when we were cleaning up, I asked Zoe to write the date on the pieces of board she had broken, so we would remember when it was from. We have martial arts board fragments in drawers and boxes all over the house. She wrote the date and Evolve All green solid break (actually it’s the yellow solid break to become a green solid, but that’s ok). She drew a little belt with the fortune cookie knot. Underneath she wrote COURAGE!

resilienceIt is hard to talk about your children’s failures, whether they are large or small. On social media you can brag about your kids, demonstrate their silliness or cuteness, and it’s definitely acceptable to discuss how they are making you crazy. But rarely do parents share when their kids mess up.

And in this era of what seems to me like excessive parenting, which I’m sure I’m guilty of it sometimes, it seems parents are reluctant to allow their kids to mess up. No one wants to see their kid fail, so it’s easy to try to swoop in and remove obstacles and provide extra support and do whatever you can to ensure your kid succeeds. Certainly as parents it’s our job to help our kids succeed as much as we can, but I realize that is not the same as not letting them fail. There is a subtle but importance distinction.

Yesterday Zoe took a test in her martial arts class to determine if she would be able to move up to the next belt level. She has been working toward this moment for about six months. She has learned upper body, core, and lower body exercises. She has mastered hand techniques, kicking techniques, and her martial arts form (a rapid sequence of kicks, punches, and blocks). And she has contemplated what virtue she could most improve upon and why.

This level of testing is the hardest she has encountered in her two years of practicing martial arts, because it is the first level of elements in the advanced class–the solid belts. She has struggled occasionally with techniques over the past two years, but this time around, the techniques have really been tough. But she is motivated and she has practiced and practiced and practiced at home, and she’s figured it out. Her instructors are kind and patient and encouraging and have provided constant support, often staying after class at her request to help her hone her techniques. That doesn’t mean that she hasn’t experienced many small failures. The steps toward getting each new belt are obtaining a stripe on your belt that indicates your mastery of a particular technique. Students typically test for their stripes when the instructor or the student thinks they are ready, but they sometimes fail. Maybe even often. Maybe other students seldom fail, but Zoe doesn’t usually get her stripe on the first try. Sometimes it takes two or three. The instructors are very demanding. If your moves are not sharp and powerful, or your toes aren’t pointed, or you’re going too fast and lack precision, you don’t pass. They want to make sure you get it right. They always provide constructive critiques and generous encouragement to the students who have failed.

Usually when she gets to the stage of the belt test, which is a big deal, she’s got it all covered. Yesterday afternoon she was exceptionally nervous. She said she wasn’t sure if she could do it. I told her I knew she could. I have also been telling her for weeks that whatever happens, I am proud of how hard she has worked and proud of her for sticking to it. I knew this was not a sure thing. A few weeks ago I told her that whether she advanced to the next belt now or in a few months, I would still be proud of her, and either way she would still be moving toward her goal, which she says is to become a black belt and a student instructor. I struggle sometimes with making sure martial arts is her thing and not my thing. I try to motivate her to practice without nagging. Sometimes I am more successful than others. But I know how good she feels after she practices and I love seeing her face light up when she knows she has turned the corner and really knows what she’s doing.

So she took the test yesterday and she performed her techniques well. I didn’t see most of them because I was chasing Zeke around the studio, but Randy was watching. He left work early to see her test, at her request. After all the kids had tested, the instructors called each student up individually to discuss his or her scores. Zoe was the last of 12.

Because of her nervousness, when she said that the virtue she should improve upon is timeliness, and they asked her to explain it, she froze and couldn’t remember what to say. She knows what timeliness is. She explained it perfectly in class on Saturday, to the same instructor. She has practiced her answer at home with me more than a dozen times.

But somehow yesterday the answer wouldn’t come. That happens to all of us sometimes. At least it does to me.

So she failed the test, even though the instructor said she did great at everything else.

Fortunately she has an opportunity to take the test again on Friday. She will have to do everything all over again.

I realize that this may not sound at all like a big deal. There are no lasting consequences. It’s an enriching activity, not the Olympic trials. This is not going on her permanent record. But to her it’s a big deal. She has been working so hard toward this for months. And months to a seven-year-old can seem like years.

But she handled it well. She was disappointed, but she bounced back. We discussed possible options for helping her to practice and memorize her answer so it would come to her as easily as the techniques that she has engrained into her muscle memory. She was open to my suggestions.

On the back of one of her martial arts shirts it says RESILIENCE. It’s funny because it’s not like they say to your kids when they walk into the martial arts studio, “you are going to fail, so get used to it.” This is not boot camp. They are not cruel. But they know that the kids will struggle and they will fail and that when they finally master something and it all clicks and they succeed it will mean so much more to them. Master Emerson, the head instructor and owner of the studio, has said something to this effect to them many times. And if you can struggle and fail and persevere and not give up, it is indeed that much sweeter when you come out on top.

At the growth ceremony where the students break their boards for the final part of their tests and then are awarded their next belts, there is a lot of communal inhaling and exhaling. They call the kids up in small groups and they practice a few times with targets and then everyone counts down from three to prepare the students to break their boards. Many kids break them on the first try and there is wild cheering and applause. Some kids take a couple tries. Still more cheering and applause. And some kids take five or six or more times to break the boards. Once it took Zoe seven tries. So much tension. So much. Whether it’s your kid or someone else’s, because everyone knows that feeling. And when the student finally breaks that board after so many tries, there is seriously wild cheering and applause. That is a hard-earned victory.

Zoe does not give up. I am so immensely proud of her for this. Like anyone else, she may need a moment to collect herself, to feel all those hard feelings, and then she gets up and tries again. Enabling her to cultivate this quality is so important. The number one thing I want to teach my kids is to be kind, but after that this trait of resilience is high on the list. Whether you’re in second grade or in college or out in the complicated world in which we live, there will always be challenges coming at you, and sometimes they will knock you flat. If Zoe can continue to get back up again and start over, she will survive.

Tonight I was called in for Zeke’s second bedtime shift, after Randy had rocked him to sleep, put him in the crib, shushed him and left the room and Zeke decided he wasn’t yet ready to go to bed. This used to happen often. Now, thankfully, it is only occasional. Zeke typically goes to bed on the first try. He sleeps through the night about two-thirds of the time. That’s just the way it is.

It is easy to become frustrated when Zeke won’t go to sleep or when he wakes up during the night. He is as light a sleeper as his sister is a deep sleeper. I won’t lie and say we don’t often get exasperated, because we do.

But tonight when I went in to take my turn, I sang my lullabies in my scratchy voice and tried not to cough too much. And I snuggled Zeke in my arms. I stuffed his feet back into the sleep sack. I wrapped an extra blanket around him when he gestured to it lying in his crib. He drank a few more ounces of milk and he fell asleep. He was asleep long before I finished “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” traditionally my benediction lullaby, my way of praying for the people we love.

But I kept holding him tight and rocking and thinking of the people who can’t tuck in their babies anymore. My heart broke a couple weeks ago when my mom’s friend lost her 21-year-old son to a rare disease. She was the third of my mom’s good friends to lose a son in as many years. And my heart shattered all over again last week when 8-year-old Emily Barkes and her mom died in a fire in their home. Emily was in third grade at Zoe’s school. Zoe’s beloved teacher was Emily’s teacher last year. Emily’s 11-year-old sister Sarah and their dad survived. Sarah is still in the hospital recovering from injuries. I keep thinking of the fire and the aftermath and how Sarah and her Dad are even functioning. I keep thinking about how that could happen to us. And then you have to stop thinking because your brain just short circuits if you think that way for too long.

Tonight I was thinking about how Bill Barkes never imagined that night would be the last one he would spend with his wife, and that it would be the last time he could tuck his daughter into bed. I just couldn’t bring myself to put Zeke back in his crib. I kept thinking of the chorus of an old Pat McGee song “if I could hold you tonight, I might never let go” even though that’s about a girlfriend and not a son. I felt the weight of his muscular little toddler body in my lap and on my chest. One of his arms around me and one curled under himself. I leaned in and kissed his soft hair. I gave thanks for his breathing. I wished for him happiness, health, safety, and peace. I held him and rocked and promised myself I would always appreciate the opportunity to hold him, even when he’s going berserk and I’m very tired.

This is Emily Barkes. Emily BarkesI didn’t know her, but I know she is loved and she is missed.

If you would like to help Emily’s family deal with their medical expenses and rebuild, there is a fund set up here: http://www.gofundme.com/gsvlsc

emergency truck_IMG_0045Tonight we had to tell Zoe that a third grader at her school and her mom were killed in a house fire this morning. There were no smoke detectors at their house. The girl’s older sibling and dad are in the hospital.

We talked about how horrible it was and how we felt sad for her family and her friends and her classmates. We talked about why smoke detectors are important and what we would do if there were a fire in our house. We assured Zoe that we would run into her and her brother’s room and carry them out of the house.

We held Zoe and rubbed her back and I thought about the other heartbreaking tragedies that have happened to people we know that she doesn’t even know about. I’m not even sure what this means to her, but I know that she, like her parents, has a big heart and a lot of compassion, and the idea of a third grader whom she might have seen on the playground or in the cafeteria suddenly not existing anymore is probably overwhelming.

After a few minutes and a few tears and a few tissues, I asked if she had any other questions. At first she shook her head. Then she nodded, and said, “Can we not talk about this anymore right now?” A reasonable request. So we went downstairs and she got out her colored pencils and we all drew pictures. She drew a bear dressed as a robot for Halloween. It is good to be able to switch gears. I think that gets harder as you grow up.

After I tucked her into bed when I was walking down the hall she called me back into her room. “Will we have a fire drill tomorrow at school?” She asked. I told her I didn’t think so. I was picturing a lot of tearful students and teachers. A lot of questions. She was thinking about how to be safe. I will think a little harder than usual about how to keep my babies safe, as best I can.

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