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When I pulled up in front of her high school, Zoe ran over to the minivan to collect her backpack and duffel bag, packed the night before and stuffed with everything she thought she might possibly need for the next three days. I offered to carry something for her and she declined. I started to walk with her to the entrance of the school where the rest of the crew team and the coaches and the parent chaperones were gathered. She stopped me.

“I was just going to walk you over there,” I said. “And give you a hug goodbye.”

“Can you just do that here?” she asked. I got it. I gave her a hug. Told her to have fun and not get hurt and do a good job cheering or rowing, whatever she ended up doing. She told me not to cry and walked away toward her friends.

For the record, I didn’t cry.

I don’t think of myself as an embarrassing mom, but I guess no parent ever does. I went home and got a consolation hug from my husband.

Now, several hours later, my favorite app–Find My Friends–indicates that Zoe made it to Philadelphia and actually all the way to the river where the regatta will take place. I think they’re scoping out the course, or maybe even practicing, before the race tomorrow. Zoe was invited to go with the team as an alternate for the women’s freshman eight boat, because if one person in an eight gets ill or injured, the whole boat is sunk (not literally). So Zoe will be as supportive and enthusiastic a cheerleader as anyone could want, unless of course someone wakes up tomorrow with a fever or trips while carrying an oar and breaks their leg. I would never wish this to happen, but it’s hard not to hope just a little bit that my kid would get the chance to row in what’s apparently the largest high school rowing event in the country. She, however, seems perfectly content to go along for the ride–basically taking a field trip to a cool city with people she loves.

This is the last regatta she will participate in this season. Next weekend is the national championship, and although her novice women’s eight boat took silver in the state championships earlier this month, novices don’t get to go to nationals. Don’t ask me why. But truthfully, this fact has saved me some amount of stress, because she’s also a member of the courtship for her good friend’s quinceañera that weekend. If you’re not familiar with the quinceañera, it’s a huge party (maybe somewhere between a bar/bat mitzvah and a wedding?) to celebrate a Latina girl turning 15. And the courtship is like a bridal party. Part of the courtship’s responsibility is doing a choreographed dance at the party with the birthday girl. Zoe is helping choreograph. The morning of the party, the courtship kids are gathering to get hair and makeup done, and then taking a party bus downtown for photos. So this is, you might imagine, a big deal. Also we need to get her a gold, floor-length dress. We haven’t yet found said dress. But we will!

Rowing has been one of the most challenging and exhilarating things Zoe has ever done, on par with earning her black belt in martial arts, or maybe she would say even harder, as martial arts practice was never held at 5:30am. During the spring season, the crew team practices six days a week. Typically, freshmen and novices practiced in the afternoon and varsity in the morning (at 5:30, arriving at the boathouse in the dark). But on several occasions Zoe’s coaches asked her and various combinations of other newer rowers to come in the morning. The first time they asked her to come to morning practice, she was thrilled. I was slightly less so, since I was the one driving her at 5am, but I got used to it. And she did too, although there was definitely a night when she had been at practice in the afternoon and her boat (a double that day, not an eight) had flipped, and she hurt her foot when it got stuck in the shoe of the boat (where you put your feet while you’re rowing) and she was supposed to go to morning practice the next day and I sat with her in her room trying to reassure her because she was worried that she just couldn’t do it. Of course, she didn’t actually do it because when she woke up at 5 she couldn’t put weight on her foot and we had to go to urgent care. But she was back at practice three days later, preparing for the next day’s regatta.

Over the course of three months, the skin on Zoe’s hands was shredded from gripping the oars. She complained that everything hurt. She was exhausted. But she was tough. Every night she made her lunch for the next day, and packed her crew bag. We went to the chiropractor a few times. She took a fair amount of Tylenol. She spent a lot of hours rigging and de-rigging boats. She has learned so many technical and practical things about boats and rowing that are beyond my understanding. It took me months to understand the difference between novice and freshman, which is relevant because Zoe was moved back and forth between the novice and freshman boats throughout the season. A freshman can be a novice but a novice isn’t necessarily a freshman–just someone new to the sport, which can include 8th graders. So the freshman boat is usually just a little bit faster than the novice boat. There are always going to be people who are faster and people who are slower. Such is life. And even when you work really hard, sometimes you’re not going to make it into the fastest boat. But there are many boats to fill, and someone has to row in all of them. In the midst of all this I had a good conversation with a friend of mine whose kid also rows. She reminded me of his similar struggles the year before and how she, like me, was hoping he would make a certain boat and he wisely said to her, “I row where I row.”

Then there’s this tension. There’s my core belief that you should do things because you love to do them, and you have fun, and you make friends, and you work hard, whether or not you have any natural talent or skill, and whether or not you’re getting any better, and whether or not you plan to do the thing in the future or just for a season. It’s what I tell myself when I play soccer. It’s what I told myself when I was singing in gospel choirs. It’s what I tell myself when I make art. I’ve done all those things because they bring me joy. I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. I don’t have to win any contests or demonstrate excellence. I can just do it.

And yet. And yet when you see your kid doing a thing, especially a sport, you want them to be great at it. Right? That’s not just me, right? Even if it’s against all odds and you yourself were never good at a sport and none of it matters at all. It’s like this pernicious little voice in your head, that hopes your kid scores, wins, achieves, masters whatever it is. Even though in your heart you know it doesn’t matter. You know all the ways that doing an activity is good for your kid, whether or not they ever win or score.

Niki is on a soccer team. Most kids around here who play soccer start in kindergarten. So Niki is a bit late to the game, and it turns out the boys on his team take soccer a lot more seriously than the girls on Zoe’s elementary school team did. You can tell these kids all watch soccer with their dads from the way they yell on the field and their goal celebrations. To put it diplomatically, not all of Niki’s teammates have been patient with the fact that Niki is more of a beginner than they are. An enthusiastic beginner. A fast runner. Also an anxious player who has been known to crack their knuckles a lot while playing and sometimes hop toward ball instead of running. The main point here is I want Niki to enjoy being on the team. I don’t want the other kids belittling them. And of course if they were a little more skilled, the teammates would probably have less to say. But that’s not the point, right? They’re having fun, they’re exercising, they’re practicing teamwork. And they like watching soccer with their dad too.

So we go to regattas, we go to soccer games, we drive to practices, we wash a lot of gear, we make a lot of snacks and refill a lot of water bottles. And always we tell them how much we loved watching them do their thing, and how proud we are of how hard they’ve worked. And how we’re glad they had fun. That’s all we can do.

This morning I woke up at 7 with a migraine that felt like it was threatening to kill me. I rarely wake up with migraines–they typically descend on me in the afternoon or evening. It’s one thing when you have momentum from the day that enables you to push through pain, but when you wake up with that kind of pain it seems impossible to get going. So after seeing Zoe off and giving Randy instructions about getting Zeke ready and delivered to school (typically my job) I took my meds and went back to bed. I let my good friends with whom I had a long-awaited breakfast date know that I couldn’t make it. I am always reluctant to take one of my pills because my insurance company has decided I am only allowed to have four migraines per month and they will not give me any more pills. In the past my neurologist has helped me work around that, but we’re in between visits. Anyway…

During my migraine nap I had three disturbing dreams. In the first one I found shards of plastic hair clips in my bed and hundreds of small, shiny rocks. Then we won a food truck at an auction but we had no idea how to operate it or even drive it out of the gym where we received it. Finally I was running away from my parents and ended up swimming fully clothed in a pond filled with rubber ducks. Somehow it seems insulting to have bad dreams when my head is already splitting open. I deserve a break, right?

Once I got up–headache free–I had to drive to a client’s office to pick up a laptop to use in my work with them. On the way, just a few blocks from my house, and fortunately just a few blocks from a gas station, I ran out of gas. I had been playing chicken with the little orange light for a couple days, always thinking I would get gas on my next trip, until I lost. Luckily Randy was working from home today so I called him to ask him to bring our gas can to me. We have a gas can only because of the last time I ran out of gas, a couple years ago. He came quickly and we noticed there was still some gas in the can, but we couldn’t remember how to open the can. I recalled that the last time this happened we struggled for ages until I opened it, but of course I couldn’t recall how. So I walked down to the gas station to ask for help.

When I went into the gas station lobby, the friendly woman behind the counter took the gas can and brought it into the garage for one of the mechanics to unfasten it because neither of us could. While she was in the garage, I watched the large TV hanging on the wall. The tv was showing images of old paintings of crucified Christ. There was no narration or context, just a lot of bleeding Jesuses. Pop music (maybe Bruno Mars?) was playing over the speakers. I’m pretty sure it was not coming from the TV. The gas station clerk returned and showed me that part of the nozzle pulled out of itself in order to pour the gas. She sold me $4.50 worth of gas and I went out and pumped it into the can. Next to me was a station wagon whose trunk was open, revealing a large pile of car parts. Like they had fallen off or out of the car and been stored in the trunk. Then I noticed on top of the car was strapped what seemed to be a bumper or a grill, although neither of those seemed missing from this car. Then in the front seat I saw a man who was working on the dashboard, although the dashboard wasn’t there. The whole inside front of the car had been stripped down. I could not imagine how this car had been partially disassembled but was still operational or why the guy was sitting there working on reassembly.

After I walked back to the car–which Randy was guarding–with the gas, I attempted to replicated the gas station clerk’s easy open of the nozzle and could not. We were sitting on the sidewalk and I was silently hoping someone would stop and offer to help. When someone did, I was surprised to see a short, stout, gray-haired woman. She suggested that we push down on the spout instead of trying to pull it up. Lo and behold, it worked! So I poured the two gallons into the gas tank while trying to stay out of the way of cars whizzing by. After we made sure the car started again, Randy went home and I drove to the gas station to fill up the rest of the way. As I was pulling out of the gas station, I saw the woman who had stopped to help us across the street, walking back toward the direction she had come from. She saw me too and smiled and waved and gave me a thumbs up. I laughed out loud. You never know who’s going to be of assistance and when.


I got home just in time to log into my 1pm meeting which had been pushed to 1:30 for my benefit, and kept my sound off while scarfing down the original chicken sandwich from Burger King I had picked up on the way home. I was relieved that both the colleagues with whom I was meeting also had their cameras off so I could work and eat and collect myself in privacy.

The moment the meeting was over I hustled to throw snacks in a box and collect some clothes for Zoe to change into for crew. Apparently I took a shirt from her pajama drawer, but it looked like a regular t-shirt to me. I managed to find her and one of her crew mates and hustled across two bridges to deliver them to the Anacostia Boathouse. Again it was fortunate that Randy was home because it quickly became clear I wouldn’t make it home in time to pick up Zeke from school, so Zoe texted Randy the QR code required to liberate Zeke. I forgot to tell Randy which door he should go to in order to pick up Zeke, but he was eventually directed to the right place, and they were back home by the time I got back home. Hopefully the father of Zoe’s crew mate is picking the girls up right now and delivering Zoe home, as I am at Zeke’s martial arts class. And Zeke’s back to school night is in 30 minutes.


And Zeke is testing for a stripe now. He’s been waiting to test for a while. I’m surprised they let him tonight since I just saw him staring at the classmate sitting next to him like he was trying to cast a spell instead of looking at what was happening in the center of the mat. But maybe the instructors were busy looking at what was happening instead of watching Zeke being weird. We’ll see what happens.

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