The Tale of a Girl and Her Shoes

Once upon a time, there was a girl. OK, a woman. She was almost 30, but she still thought of herself as a girl.

One day that girl received a card. A real card in a stamped envelope. A 30th birthday card from her college roommate. A card that encouraged her to make this a year of taking chances and pushing limits. And she put that card away in a drawer, but the girl took that message to heart.

Because she was struggling.

So immersed and in love with her two little boys that they had become her identity.

Lonely and missing her husband, who worked two jobs so she could be home with their kids.

Shaken by the news that her father had cancer.

So she bought her first pair of running shoes. Which, for her, was taking a very big chance. Because the girl was an athlete, but never a runner.

Those shoes were good to her. Together the girl and her shoes jogged through the neighborhood. They ran before dawn because the girl was aware of the extra weight she carried from having birthed two children. She preferred the cover of darkness to hide a body that she was ashamed of.

She didn’t find running fun. But the girl stuck with it.

She remembered the card and its message she’d taken to heart. She said to the shoes, “Today we are pushing limits and heading out of the neighborhood!” So they did. And it was hard. Leaving the neighborhood had seemed like an impossible goal, but she’d believed that she could do it, and she did.

She looked in the mirror after that run and saw the girl looking back at her…not just the Mom. And she sparkled just a little bit.

When she came home from her runs to find goldfish crackers ground into the carpet and permanent marker on the walls, she shrugged. The girl slipped off her running shoes. She embraced her babies and said, “It’s OK. Mommy’s here.” And it was OK. Because the running made little things like crumbs and stains seem like they weren’t such a big deal after all.

One day her brother joined her for a run. And that felt like a big deal. Because he had run marathons, and she had only just left the neighborhood. She wondered why he would want to run with her when he could run so much farther and faster on his own.

But it soon became clear. The laughter. The companionship. The consistency. The encouragement. The trust. The vulnerability. They shared it all. While the rest of the town lie sleeping in their beds, the girl and her brother cemented their friendship as running partners.

One day her brother encouraged the girl to register for a 10 mile race. That idea scared her, but she thought of the birthday card. This was her year for taking chances! And she liked that feeling of sparkling. She was feeling more and more like the girl and not just the Mom. And, it may sound crazy, but that made her a better Mom. A patient Mom. A happy Mom.

The girl and her brother trained all summer for that race. On race day, they decorated their shirts with the words, “Every step is for you, Dad.” And their father, whose body was fatigued from having the cancer burned out of it, looked humbly at them through blue eyes that shone bright with tears of pride.

The girl was very excited about the race. She’d bought a brand new pair of shorts for the occasion! Shorts that she’d never run in before.

One mile in, the girl realized her mistake. “These shorts are hurting my legs,” she told her brother. Two miles in, her legs began bleeding. Three miles in, the girl said, “Five is all I have today.” She walked off the course at the five mile point while her brother ran on to finish alone. When the girl saw the letters DNF next to her name after the race, she immediately vowed that there would be another race.

Then she tossed those stupid shorts into the trash where they belonged.

There would be another race. But there would be no brand new shorts.

Before another race, there was another baby. A third boy, and the happiest of her children.

His smile warmed the girl to her toes. But carrying that boy had been hard on the girl. She waited until he was six weeks old before she laced up her running shoes. So enormous were her boobs that she needed three bras…yes, three!…worn one on top of the other, to get through that run. And it hurt. And the girl cried as she ran. She cried for the pain. For deep in her uterus it hurt. She cried for how much fitness she’d lost through that pregnancy. She cried for the pounds, all sixty of them, that she’d gained. She cried for the effort it took to run with those pounds on a frame not designed to carry so much weight. She cried because, as much as she tried to deny it, the girl was suffering from postpartum depression. She felt dull and hopeless…like she would never sparkle again.

To keep the walls from closing in on her, the girl put her faith in those shoes and continued to run. She ran through the pain. She ran through the tears. She believed if she kept running, maybe she wouldn’t feel so burdened. The girl was so many things to so many people. All she wanted was to feel just a touch lighter. “Really, is that so much to ask?” the girl wondered.

When the third boy was five months old, the girl’s brother said, “I’m going to run that 10 mile race again.” Her brother-in-law said, “I’m going to join you.” And the girl remembered the card that still sat in a drawer. It had been several years since she’d first opened that card, but its message had remained her companion. She felt tired, heavy, and overwhelmed. Not at all ready to push her limits. The girl said, “I don’t think I’m ready, but I’d like to give it a try.”

She’d graduated from running with three bras to running with only two bras. The girl strapped on those bras and slipped into the most comfortable shorts she owned, old ones that she’d run in many times before, and she joined her brother and brother-in-law at the start. They ran slowly. And they stuck together. After five miles, her brother turned to the girl and said, “Five is as far as I go today.” And it was he who walked off the course that race. The girl looked at her brother-in-law, whom she loved. Even without the running, theirs was such an easy friendship. “I’m going for it. Are you coming?” he asked. And the girl felt OK. So she continued to run.

The brother-in-law stayed with the girl for three more miles. Three very slow and painful miles. He regaled her with stories to keep her spirits up. But the girl was falling apart and holding him back. So she thanked him for getting her this far and urged him to run his race. And off he went.

By then it was only the girl and her shoes. The girl said to the shoes, “No matter what, we are not walking!” And those shoes were good to the girl. Which was no easy feat. Because the girl and her shoes were running on sand! The girl wanted to quit, but the shoes propelled her forward. Everything hurt, inside and out. So the girl thought of things that made her heart sing…the ocean beside her, the angelic faces of her children while they slept, how protected she felt in the arms of her husband, the outside shower she would take after the race, and the cold beer she would enjoy before bed.

And the girl found the resolve to cross that finish line. Accompanied only by her running shoes.  Who hadn’t stopped to walk even once.

The girl bid the ocean good night. She planted soft kisses on her children’s heads as they slept. She savored the heat of the shower on her aching muscles. She found she was too exhausted for that beer after all. She crawled into the arms of her husband with a smile on her face. The girl had felt the shift. The weight was lifting. She knew it wouldn’t be long before she began to sparkle again.

Years went by, and would you believe that girl went and had another baby?

Yep…a boy! Her fourth.

And when the girl was 39, she found herself struggling again. “I think it’s time,” the girl thought, “to take another chance.” And the girl and her running shoes landed in a city far from home on a relay team with a group of runners. Runners who were different from the girl, yet mostly the same. All girls. Girls who’d known joy, pain, fear, frustration, and the aching exhaustion of sleepless nights. They were kindred spirits. A resilient group. For they were all Moms. Special Moms. The kind of Moms who celebrate and support one another. The girl and her teammates got very fancy for the occasion and donned pink tutus. The girl couldn’t forget about her beloved shoes, which’d always been so good to her, so she tied glow rings to their laces to match her tutu. And the girl delighted in every minute of their adventure.

DC or Bust

DC or Bust

It was on this team that the girl befriended a woman…a Pixie of sorts. The Pixie was the tiniest woman the girl had ever met. But her size didn’t fool the girl. For as small as her frame was, the girl recognized that the Pixie had a spirit as tall as the biggest evergreen and a heart as warm as the sunniest August day. Color, hope, quirkiness, kindness…the Pixie was a rare and beautiful collage of them all.  As the sun set on the first day they’d spent together, the girl sat on the grass and watched as the Pixie strung lights through her tutu. The girl smiled as she thought, “Now her skirt glows as bright as her spirit.”

The Pixie sat down and looked earnestly at the girl. “Sweet girl, I see your struggle,” the Pixie said,”and the struggle is in your head. I promise, if you lead with your heart, it will never steer you wrong.” And the girl felt released. Like all at once like she might laugh and cry. And the Pixie’s advice has since become a mantra for the girl.

When she came home from that race to find dishes in the sink and laundry that needed folding, she shrugged. The girl slipped off her running shoes. She embraced her children and said, “It’s OK. Mom’s here.” And it was OK. Because the running made little things like dishes and laundry seem like they weren’t such a big deal after all.

Nearly ten years have passed since the girl opened that card. A card that encouraged her to push limits. A card that prompted her to take chances. A card that led her to take a chance on her very first pair of running shoes.

In that time, the girl has run alongside women who have imprinted themselves on the fabric of her heart. From soul stirring laughter to confidences that will never be broken, the girl and these women share moments that will endear them forever.

The girl, this lucky girl, has known the unparalleled thrill of running alongside her son. And she was nearly blinded by how brightly he shines.

The girl has experienced more life in those shoes than she’d ever imagined possible. She’s nurtured her spirit. She’s abandoned judgment. She’s found love for herself when she thought she’d given it all away. She’s forgiven herself for the times she’s been too weak to muster strength. The girl celebrates her body, worn and weathered from growing and sustaining life, for the beautiful and unique gift that it is.

She is inspired by the people she’s met on her journey.

She feels grateful for all she’s accomplished with her feet in these treasured shoes.

For in these shoes, the girl slayed her dragons.

***

There is a girl. OK a woman. She is almost 40, but she still thinks of herself as a girl.

She’s not afraid to take chances.

She’s likely to push limits.

More often than not, she leads with her heart.

The girl is a runner.

Some days she sparkles.

And everyone deserves a chance to sparkle, don’t they?

The girl is not upset that she’ll soon be 40.

Maybe, just maybe, she’ll receive a card. A real card in a stamped envelope. A 40th birthday card from her college roommate.

The girl can’t wait to read what it says.

Disclaimer: The girl does not endorse running in the same pair of shoes for thousands of miles. For the sake of the story, and out of respect for her first pair of running shoes, she didn’t introduce a new pair in this essay. In real life, she replaces her running shoes every 400 miles. Or whenever she can afford it. Because feeding four boys gets expensive. 

Magic in the New Year

“Oh, this looks fabulous on you! It looks so good that it should be worn just like this! Don’t put a shirt over top of it!”

The sales girl claps her hands together. She is in her mid 70’s. Her name is Magic. She stands back and admires her customer’s reflection in the mirror.

The customer is my sister. She also looks at the mirror. She smiles…more at Magic’s suggestion than at her own reflection. She wears her favorite gray comfy sweatpants, brown Uggs, and a fire engine red bra…hand-picked by Magic herself.

In her reflection, my sister sees a ridiculous ensemble…sweatpants and red bra. She sees a stomach that looks great for having birthed 3 kids, but could use a little toning. Magic sees something entirely different. She sees beauty in the soft curves that age has not yet marred and claimed.

“That red bra was made for you,” Magic continues. “Don’t ever cover it. It looks beautiful. Everybody needs a gorgeous red bra. Now, you’ll need a pair of red panties to match!”

“Oh, Magic, I don’t need red panties, but thank you!” my sister argues.

Magic won’t have it. She is already out of the dressing room, calling, “Please, you’ll break my heart! They’re on clearance for $2.15 a pair. I’ll find you a pair!”

***

“What are you, some kind of athlete?” he asks his client. He is a trainer at the gym, and it is 10 minutes into a grueling 30 minute workout.

The question catches his client completely off guard. And a little off balance. I am his client. All of my strength and concentration focus on maintaining my form while hoisting a heavy kettlebell over my head.

“So, you’re an athlete?” he repeats.

I stammer an answer, “Um, I guess. I mean, I was. Or I try to be. I do my best. I just have a lot of kids now. So…”

He shrugs, “You look like an athlete. Some people would be insulted by that. I mean it as a compliment.”

I smile, “It’s actually pretty much the nicest thing you could ever say to me. Is class over? Because I would love to leave now on this high note.”

I come home and look at my reflection. And I see Mom. Only Mom. Not athlete, not writer, not wife, not daughter, not sister, not friend.

Just Mom.

December has taken every ounce of me. Every day has been about someone else. Swept up in the chaos of the holidays, I’ve forgotten about me. All the parts of myself that come together so uniquely to make me Bethany have been put on hold.

It’s as though I’ve forgotten to shine.

***

Tomorrow begins a new year. I hope it’s a special one…

A year of brand new red bras with matching panties, worn with absolutely nothing else.

A year of looking at our reflections and seeing what others celebrate about us.

A year in which we remember…every month…to nurture who we are so that we may shine.

A year that brings magic.

Or, as in the case of my sister, Magic.

Mom of Four Boys. More or Less.

“So, what is it like?”

People often ask me this question. Immediately after I disclose that I’m Mother to four children. And that they are all boys.

When they were very small, my answer was, “Busy. Very busy.” And that was true then.

Now that they range in age from five to twelve, my go-to answer is, “Busy. Loud. And smelly.” And this is true now.

If I really stop to put into words what it’s like to have four boys, I’d say it’s different from what I had imagined.

It’s less of some things and more of others…

Please head over to What to Expect to read more! See you there!

Who will fall in first?

Who will fall in first?

 

The Tale of Two Moms

Once upon a time, there were two Moms.

And their jeans were tight.

And that annoyed them.

Mom One said, “My jeans are tight. And I’m annoyed. I’m going to go for a run.”

Mom Two said, “My jeans are tight too. I’m annoyed as well. I’m going to join you for a run.”

They went for that run. And they talked about their kids…because they were Moms. And Moms talk about their kids. And because their kids were the reason why their jeans were tight.  But the time passed quickly. And the run wasn’t so bad.

So, they decided to run together again. And they chatted some more about their kids.

They ran again. And they divulged their dreams for their kids.

They ran again. And they discussed their husbands.

They ran again. And they whispered about the stresses of marriage.

They ran for a long time together, and…as running partners so often do…they became the closest of friends.

Their runs were so much more than exercise.

Their runs were sacred.

Therapy.

Validation.

Encouragement.

Raw honesty.

Laughter.

Acceptance.

A lifeline.

Occasional peeing behind a tree.

One day those two Moms…whose jeans were no longer tight…had the courage to talk about the one thing they’d never talked about before.

Mom One asked Mom Two, “If you could be anything in the world, what would you want to be?”

Mom Two replied, “My dream is to be a nurse.”

Mom Two asked Mom One, “If you could be anything in the world, what would you be?”

Mom One whispered, “My dream is to be a writer.”

The Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Nurse told the Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Writer, “You would be a wonderful writer.”

The Mom who Dreamed of Becoming a Writer told the Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Nurse, “You would make a wonderful nurse.”

They smiled at each other and tucked their dreams back into their boxes. Because…at that time…that’s where those dreams belonged.

And their conversation turned back to the Barefoot Contessa’s orzo with roasted vegetables. Because, damn, Ina nailed it with that recipe.

A few years passed and, though they didn’t run as regularly, they remained close friends.

They continued to laugh.

They shared more fabulous recipes.

They confided in each other.

And they reminded each other about their dreams, still tucked away in boxes.

The Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Writer said: “Remember your dream of becoming a nurse? I think it’s time for you to follow your dream.”

And The Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Nurse said: “Remember your dream of becoming a writer? I think it’s time for you to follow your dream.”

The Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Writer said: “I’m scared.”

The Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Nurse said: “I’m scared too. Let’s be scared together.”

And the Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Writer said: “It’s a deal. And by the way, I have a fantastic chicken recipe for you. Raspberry Balsamic Glaze. Really smashing.”

More than four years has passed since those two Moms first ran together.

This morning, the Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Writer received a text. It said, very simply and quite eloquently:

“I FUCKING DID IT.”

The Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Nurse had just completed her final exam.

The Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Nurse is finally a nurse.

And the Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Writer was so overcome with emotion that she sat at her kitchen counter and wept tears of joy and relief and pride and exhaustion for her friend.

And then…naturally…the Mom Who Dreamed of Becoming a Writer sat down.

And wrote about it.

Because that’s what writers do.

Here’s to tight jeans…

…To running partners…

…To reminding ourselves to dream…

…To having the courage to pursue those dreams…

…And to friendship.

Today is a good day.

Today my friend is a nurse.

 

How’s my Summer?

Well, it’s week 5 of summer and I am…

“No, you cannot play the iPad.”

It’s week 5 of summer, and I’m having a hard time…

“Because it’s 6:15 in the morning. It’s too early to play the iPad.”

Where was I? Oh, right. Here we are. Week 5 of summer, and I’m finding…

“Say the word iPad again and you will lose electronics for the entire week.”

It’s week 5 of summer, and I haven’t hit my stride. I keep waiting to…

“No snack right now.”

Sorry. What was I saying? Hitting my stride, right. I keep waiting to settle into…

“You just ate breakfast. That’s why.”

So, I haven’t settled into any sort of…

“Oreos are not a snack.”

We haven’t settled into any sort of routine. And it’s making…

“Please stop hiding behind doors and scaring your brothers.”

The lack of routine is starting to make me feel like…

“No, it’s not funny. Not for anyone but you. That makes it a bad joke.”

The lack of routine is making me feel like I’m losing my mind. I keep thinking…

“Please stop making those fart noises at the breakfast table.”

What was I saying again? I’m losing my mind. Right. I keep thinking that I will hit my…

“Because farting and fart noises are bad manners. I am raising you to have good manners.”

Every time I think that I’ve hit my stride, something happens to make… `

“I don’t know if Dad’s farts are loud because he eats green beans. I do know that I asked you to stop talking about farts at the breakfast table.”

Let me try this again. I’m a silver linings…

“Please don’t hiss at your brother.”

I’m a silver linings kinda girl. And when I say…

“Please don’t bark at your brother.”

At least, I consider myself a silver linings kinda…

“Put down the baton right now.”

I like to think of myself as a silver linings kinda girl. The type of…

“Put down the baton. And please put your pants back on.”

The type of person who looks for the best…

“Thank you for putting down the baton. You may not go outside onto the trampoline.”

What I mean when I say silver linings is I try to see the best in…

“Not until you put on underwear.”

To find the best in situations. To seek out…

“Because it’s against the law to be naked outside. And jail is not a fun place.”

Sure, I vent to…

“I think it’s OK to be naked outside in Europe. Just not in America.”

What was I saying? Venting. Right. Naturally, I vent to my girl…

“I love you too, sweetheart.”

I vent to my girlfriends. But, for the most part…

“If lava was on your foot, it would burn you. Yes.”

For the most part, I try to find the silver lining in every situation. And…

“You don’t have to worry about lava on your foot.”

I try to see the silver lining in every situation. And I look for the best in people. At least I hope…

“Because we don’t live close to any volcanoes. That’s why.”

I hope that I am that type of person. The kind who brings a smile…

“I don’t know what would happen if you had no toes.”

What the fuck was I saying? Do I make people smile? I hope that…

“You wouldn’t die if you had no toes. But you would probably have a hard time walking because toes help with our balance.”

Did I finish my silver linings thought? Goddamn, I can’t even finish one…

“Maybe. Maybe you would die if you had no toes, couldn’t keep your balance, fell off a high ladder, and landed on your head. Maybe you would die.”

Can I finish one bloody thought, for crying out loud? Just one fucking thought is all I’m…

“OK, fine. You would die. You would die if you had no toes.”

Howsmysummer

Oh, fuck it.

“Boys, have you all forgotten?”

There is no silver lining.

“Santa is watching.”

I am in hell.

“What do you mean you think I’m Santa?”

How many more days until school starts?

On Mother’s Day…

I awoke this morning…after 10 consecutive hours of uninterrupted sleep…yep,

10 CONSECUTIVE HOURS OF UNINTERRUPTED SLEEP

to the footsteps and whispers of the four boys who inhabit every corner of my home and every inch of my heart. Executing my annual Mother’s Day breakfast in bed, orchestrated by B&B.

I’m busier than I’ve ever been. With all things children. Occasionally, I require 10 consecutive hours of uninterrupted sleep in order to recover. And I have to remind myself, in the midst of the chaos, how lucky I am.

I have a guest post on Scary Mommy today . Reminding myself how lucky I am. Jill is so lovely for running it. I would be thrilled if you read me there today.

photo (13)

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you “drat” Moms…

Drawing Lines in the Sand

walkthewalk

“Call me Ted.”

When my husband was 13 years old, the police installed metal detectors in his local public high school. As a result, his parents insisted he take the entrance exam for a private all boys’ school an hour from their row home. He scored high on the test and was accepted. Instead of walking, clad in parachute pants, through a metal detector into school a few miles from his home, he rode two buses and a jitney to school every morning. He wore dress pants, a collared shirt, and a tie. He traded classrooms overcrowded with teenagers for small class sizes. He was as mischievous as he was bright, so the individual attention from his teachers proved invaluable. My husband thrived in his new school environment. He tells me to this day that his parents’ decision to make him take that entrance exam changed his life for the better.

When our young sons ask their Dad what his favorite part of school was, his answer is always the same. “Hands down, the field trips.”

My husband’s sophomore year, a priest joined the staff. That priest quickly earned the reputation of the cool teacher. My husband recalls his having an open door office policy, encouraging the students to spend time in his office, “hanging out”. My husband remembers a handful of his classmates calling the priest by his first name, Ted, at the teacher’s insistence.

This priest organized field trips for the students…both during the school year and over the summer months. Awesome field trips. As a high school junior, my husband joined his classmates white water rafting down the New River in West Virginia. The distance they traveled from school coupled with the thrill of the rapids make that particular trip a standout for him. 25 years later, he eagerly awaits the day our kids will be strong enough to navigate the New River with him.

My husband’s senior year, the same priest organized a trip to the Virgin Islands. There was a community service component to the weeklong trip. The high school kids also enjoyed some downtime snorkeling. My husband’s fondest memory of the Virgin Islands was sleeping outside in a hammock under the stars every night. It was a long way from home for that 17 year old kid from Collingdale, PA. And he loved every minute of it. He credits Ted, a mentor to my husband and his classmates, for organizing and executing the trips that made his high school experience so rich in team building experience.

Earlier this month, my husband sat at our family’s computer to open a link to an article a buddy of his had sent him with the message, “Yo, bro, this priest is in trouble.” According to the article, Ted is an alleged sex offender.

****

“Call me Bob.”

My older brother attended a private all boys’ school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It was at that high school that he was introduced to the sport that would define him. It was there that my brother became a rower. During my brother’s junior year, a young man joined the coaching staff as an assistant coach. The recent graduate of Temple University brought a new level of energy to the already competitive program. A rower himself, he’d been in the boat that had won its 4th consecutive Dad Vail Championship, and he had the personalized license plate to prove it. My brother and his high school teammates held their young coach in high regard. He bridged a gap for them…his title was coach, but his proximity to theirs in age lent itself to a kinship they didn’t share with their other coaches. He asked the boys to call him by his first name, Bob.

Bob was accepted into the school community immediately. He was an outgoing, charming young man with an easy smile. I remember because he sat across from me at our dinner table on many occasions.  He always removed his hat before sitting down for a meal. My Dad appreciated this show of respect. He complimented my Mom’s cooking. He engaged easily in discussion with my parents. He included my brother in the conversation. He made an effort with my younger sister and me, interrupting the discussion of crew to ask us about our school years. He pretended not to notice when our cheeks burned pink from his attention. My family loved Bob. My older brother, who graduated that private boys’ high school to attend Temple University on full rowing scholarship and went on to win 4 Dad Vail championships…just like his mentor before him….my older brother worshipped Bob.

Last year, my brother sat down at his computer to learn that his high school mentor, the young man whose encouragement, support, and validation had helped shape his rowing career, had been sentenced to 9 ½ years in prison for child molestation.

****

“My name is Sr. Maureen Christi. And you may call me Sr. Maureen Christi.”

She was my high school Honors English teacher. And she scared the shit out of me. She walked with purpose from her classroom to the faculty room.  She didn’t bother to acknowledge students in the hallway. She didn’t give out A’s frequently. You had to earn them in her class. But when she closed the classroom door to signal the start of class, she transformed. She covered the aisles between desks in quick strides. She gesticulated animatedly. She laughed! Sr. Maureen Christi actually laughed. She clapped her hands in delight as she quoted Henry David Thoreau. I learned to think critically in her classroom because she demanded it. Her opinion meant more to me than any of the teachers I’d had before or would ever have after her.

The first semester of my senior year in high school, I nervously approached her desk after class. It was my second consecutive year in her classroom, but I wasn’t any less intimidated. She sat in her chair, perusing papers. She glanced up at me, then quickly turned her gaze back down to her papers.

“Yes?”

“Sr. Christi, I wanted to ask you a question.”

“Why am I still waiting for you to ask the question? Out with it!”

“Sr. Christi, I need two letters of recommendation for my college applications. I was hoping…if it’s not too much to ask…I was hoping that you would write one of them for me. Please.”

Eyes still on her papers, she nodded once, “Give me a stamped envelope and a copy of your application.”

“Thank you, Sr. Christi.”

“Why are you still here? You’re dismissed.”

Two weeks later, the teacher I respected above any other stopped me in the hallway. She called me by name, which surprised me because I didn’t realize she’d known my name. She handed me an envelope.

“I don’t normally do this. But I’m giving you a copy of the letter of recommendation I wrote for you. I want you to read it. I want you to have it. I want your parents to read it.” She frowned, turned on her heel and walked away. She never spoke to me outside the classroom again.

I read her letter that night. It turns out Sr. Maureen Christi had always known who I was. Even before I’d entered her classroom as a junior. In her letter, she’d captured my very essence. Words of praise for my character from my mentor changed my life. Validation from this one teacher instilled confidence in me…as a writer, a student, and a young woman. I still keep her letter. I haven’t read it in years. But it occupies a sacred place alongside old macaroni necklaces constructed with love and a lack of dexterity by my sons. The knowledge it exists even now gives me faith in myself.

****

My husband trusted his teacher. My brother trusted his coach. Neither of them suffered under the hands of their mentors…my husband’s teacher an alleged sex offender, and my brother’s coach a convicted sex offender. Both of them have positive memories of the men they respected. The night stars twinkle just as brightly from that hammock in my husband’s mind’s eye. The discipline he learned under a coach he revered was woven into the fabric of his character…and remains a vital piece of the man my brother is today. But a shadow now exists where before there was none. The brevity of these accusations demands they examine their time with Ted and Bob through a new lens…the lens of suspicion. Those field trips so far from home…were they really designed to be team building experiences for high school boys? Those weekend trips to compete in regattas where the boys felt honored that Bob hung out with them…was there an ulterior motive to his fraternizing with the boys after the races? Suddenly these fond memories hint at a different meaning. They shift to resemble the work of a predator fostering an environment ripe with opportunity to take advantage of potential victims.

By design, overnight field trips require that a teacher spend a considerable amount of time with students. Weekend races require that a coach spend ample time with athletes. My husband and brother certainly spent much more time with their teacher and coach than the 50 minutes a day I spent in Sr. Christi’s classroom. But, Sr. Christi took her role as an adult in the presence of teenagers seriously. She didn’t confuse it with the role of friend. Our roles were clearly defined as teacher and student. The lines were impassable.

A significant part of a parent’s job is to protect our children. It’s also a facet of the teacher’s and the coach’s role. Ideally, we parents should work in collaboration with our children’s teachers and coaches to reinforce what our children are learning both in and out of the classroom.

Wouldn’t it be comforting if our children came to us, their parents, with their problems? But that doesn’t always happen. Not all kids are lucky enough to have understanding, involved parents. Some kids have the love and support of their parents, yet still feel more comfortable discussing their life’s challenges with a guidance counselor, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a friend’s parent.

I hope my kids know they can come to me and my husband with anything and everything. If they choose not to, if our boys make themselves vulnerable to someone other than the two of us, my hope is this…

My hope is that my children choose mentors who set boundaries.

Newsflash, parents, we are no longer cool. Teachers, it’s rarely a good idea to kick back with students. Coaches, there’s no need to be a friend to players. Our days of being cool are over. Let’s embrace it…or at least accept it. The weight of our responsibility to our kids, our players, our students has to eclipse the need to be cool in their eyes. We’re the adults, let’s act the part.

Our job, our responsibility, what we agree to upon accepting these positions is to teach them. Our job is to recognize when they are ready to stand on their own and encourage them to do so. Our job is to push them, knowing sometimes they’ll fall, and opt NOT to pick them up…so that they eventually acquire the strength and confidence to pick themselves up. Our job is to set goals for them, sometimes goals they think are unrealistic, and watch their newly found self confidence inflate their young chests with pride when they do, in fact, achieve that seemingly unattainable goal. As role models…and we are role models…we need to recognize when to play an active role. And, as difficult as it is, we also need to recognize when our job calls for a supporting role.

Sr. Maureen Christi set boundaries, and my memories of her role in my young life hold even more weight as I look back on them now as an adult.

Let’s understand our kids’ inherent need for boundaries. Let’s set the boundaries. Let’s enforce the boundaries. When we have the common sense and the courage to draw those lines, it gives us pause when another adult enters our child’s life and neglects to do so. Let’s do the job we signed up for, and in the process, make our kids less accessible to the potential predatory behavior of adults who threaten to take advantage of their trust and, in doing so, destroy the very innocence we strive desperately to protect.

Please, parents, teachers, coaches…let’s do the work to keep our children safe.

Short Story Long

Me: “To be or not to be. That is the question.”

B&B: “To boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Me, shaking my head: “That’s wrong.”

B&B: “What?!”

Me: “It’s wrong. It’s grammatically incorrect. Therefore, it’s wrong.”

B&B: “Jean-Luc Picard would not have gotten it wrong.”

Me: “Well, he did. Your boy got it wrong.”

B&B: “How is it wrong?”

The Verb peeks around the counter at the two of us sitting at the dining room table.  “Can I have a yogurt?”

B&B: “Yes.”

Me, simultaneously: “No.”

B&B: “Did he have any yogurt this morning?”

Me: “Yes, he had 2 yogurts. He ate one of them behind the couch and left the trash there.”

B&B: “No, you may not have a yogurt.”

Me: “And stop hanging upside down from the counter. You’re going to fall on your head. Today is not a good day to go to the hospital.”

The Verb dismounts and heads downstairs to the family room.

B&B: “He’s not going to fall. That boy has skills. Look out, world, the Verb is comin’.”

Me: “What was I saying?”

B&B: “To be or not to be.”

Me: “Right. OK, to boldly go where no man has gone. It’s wrong.”

B&B: “Yes, but why?”

Me: “OK…what’s it called when you have the preposition “to” followed by a verb? A dangling participle? I forget. And don’t say gerund. It’s not a gerund.”

B&B: “How did you know I was going to say gerund?”

Me: “You always say gerund. Any obscure grammar question that arises, your answer is always “gerund”. It’s like when we play Jeopardy. Anytime the category contains the word “international”, your guess is Pakistan. And you pronounce it Pock-uh-ston.”

B&B: “I pronounce it correctly.”

Me: “Whatever. It’s not important. Just like the answer is almost never Pakistan, the answer to this grammar question is not gerund.”

“STOP IT!” The Kenyan’s voice cuts through our Sunday morning discussion.

Me: “Jesus Christ.”

B&B: “Let them figure it out.”

Me: “If we let them figure it out, the Verb will bitch slap the Interrogator repeatedly until we walk down there to separate them.”

Sigh.

“I SSSAAAIIIIDDD STOP IT!”

B&B: “What the fuck is with these kids? Can we not have a simple fucking conversation without interruption?” Raising his voice,  “Kenyan, come up here please!”

As he crosses the threshold into the kitchen, the Kenyan is not crying. By the time he covers the 5 steps through the kitchen into the dining room, he’s at full tilt. Sobbing hysterically. With a wild look in his eyes. This child, like B&B, has two gears. He starts in park and hits 60 in 2 seconds flat.

Kenyan: “He KICKED me! In the EAR! And I didn’t do ANYTHING! I NEVER do ANYTHING, but someone is ALWAYS kicking me or hitting me, and IT’S NOT FAIR! And he KICKED me!”

We look at him. We say nothing.

Kenyan: “He DID!”

B&B: “Kenyan, we’re not calling your bluff. We’re waiting for you to calm down so that we can make sure you’re OK. And then we can get to the bottom of this.”

Kenyan: “I already TOLD you! He KICKED me! And I didn’t do ANYTHING!”

Waldorf walks into the kitchen. 10AM. Right on cue.

Me, smiling: “Good morning, honey.”

Waldorf: “Hello. Why’s he crying?”

Kenyan, to Waldorf: “DON’T LOOK AT ME!”

Waldorf: “Um, I didn’t look at you, I just asked why you’re crying.”

Kenyan: “I’m crying because EVERYONE is ALWAYS doing things to ME! Like YOU and like the VERB!”

Waldorf: “Don’t blame me. I just woke up. I didn’t do anything.”

Kenyan: “But you ALWAYS do SOMETHING! And it’s NOT FAIR!”

B&B: “OK, Kenyan, I know you’re upset, and you have every right to be. I would be too if someone kicked me in the ear.”

Waldorf: “Let me guess…the Verb kicked him in the ear?”

Kenyan: “IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS! WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS GETTING INVOLVED IN MY BUSINESS?!”

Me: “Enough, Kenyan. Waldorf, can I make you some breakfast?”

Waldorf: “I’ll have a yogurt please.”

Me: “The Verb ate the last yogurt.”

Waldorf: “Um. OK, a bagel please.”

Me, wrinkling my nose: “Daddy just ate the last bagel, buddy, sorry.”

Waldorf: “Are you going to go to the Acme today? We’re out of everything I like.”

B&B: “Can we just address this Kenyan situation please. Waldorf, we’ll figure out your breakfast in a minute. We want to get this issue resolved first. Now, Kenyan, are you ok?”

Kenyan: “NO.”

Me: “Come here, sweetheart.”

I give him a big hug, scratch his back, and feel him immediately relax.

B&B: “Kenyan, what happened? The entire story please. From start to finish. And please tell us the truth, because we’ll eventually hear it anyway. It’s best if it comes from you.”

Kenyan, tensing again: “I was sitting on the ottoman, and I put my head on the leather chair, and the Verb KICKED me!”

Me: “OK, you’re saying he kicked you unprovoked?”

Kenyan: “YES!”

B&B: “Are you sure nothing happened that led up to his kicking you? Were you laying your head on his legs?”

Kenyan: “NO!”

B&B, raises his voice: “Verb! Please come up here!”

The Interrogator walks into the room. He edges the Kenyan out of the way. And sets up camp on my lap. He’s a mass of knobby knees and bony elbows, growing taller and thinner by the hour.

Me: “Hi, buddy.”

Interrogator: “Hi, Mom. Mom, when you die and turn into a skeleton, will you be chained to a wall?”

Me: “Um, I doubt it, honey.”

Interrogator, worried: “Are you sure?”

Me: “I can’t be certain because I’ll be dead then, so I won’t know what’s happening. But I’d say I’m almost positive that someone won’t chain my dead skeleton to a wall.”

Interrogator, relieved: “Good.”

Alrighty then.

B&B: “Verb, did you kick the Kenyan in the head?”

The Verb wears a guilty expression: “Mm hmm.”

B&B: “Why?”

Verb: “Because he did this to me…” He grabs his own nipple. And pinches.

I gasp. “KENYAN! You gave him a purple nurple?!”

B&B: “Settle down, Mommy.”

Kenyan: “I did NOT!”

Verb: “He did. He pinched me.”

Kenyan: “I pinched his leg! Not his nipple!”

Verb: “He pinched me.”

Kenyan: “I pinched you AFTER you KICKED me! FOR NO REASON!”

Verb, screaming, “DON’T SCREAM AT ME!”

Kenyan, matching his brother’s panic level: “DON’T SCREAM AT ME!

Verb: “DON’T LOOK AT ME!”

Kenyan: “DON’T LOOK AT ME!”

B&B looks at me. “You realize these even numbered children are just like you? They never back down.”

Waldorf walks into the room again. “Where is the cat?”

Me: “We let him outside.”

Waldorf: “I thought we weren’t letting him outside anymore.”

Me: “We weren’t. We aren’t. He just ran out there when I opened the door.  He’ll be back.”

B&B: “Can we please address this situation, Bethany?”

Me: “Yes.”

I direct my attention to my 9 year old. “Kenyan, I told you yesterday that pinching is unacceptable. You are 9 years old. He is 4. He looks to you as an example of how to behave. When he sees you pinch, he thinks it’s OK for him to pinch. I understand your frustration at being kicked. But, please think before you retaliate. Get us involved. That’s why we’re here. Do. Not. Pinch. Your. Brother. Or anyone. Is that clear?”

I turn to my 4 year old. “Verb, your legs are for walking, running, and kicking soccer balls. They are not for kicking your brothers. Or anyone. Do. Not. Kick. Your. Brother. Or anyone. Is that clear? Now…”

Shortstorylong

B&B: “Hold on, Mommy, I’d like to say something…Kenyan, this pinching has been going on all summer. That’s ¼ of a year. And I don’t like it. The Verb has been around 4 years. So that’s a large percentage of his life that you’ve been pinching him.”

Me: “Yes, it’s 25%!”

They all look at me.

Waldorf is still in the kitchen, “Um, no it’s not.”

Kenyan: “It’s totally not.”

B&B, frowning: “It’s not 25%, Bethany. It’s 1/16th.”

*Now is the ideal time to mention that B&B scored 800 (out of 800) on the math section of his SAT’s.

Me: “Oh, right. One summer is ¼ of a year. And he’s been around 4 years. 1/16th. Right.”

Waldorf: “We got our math skills from Dad, right?”

Wiseass.

B&B, nodding: “As I was saying, it’s a large percentage of his life that you’ve been showing him a bad choice. Now, do you think maybe there’s a chance he won’t realize it’s a bad choice? Maybe he’ll think that, because you do it, it’s an OK choice?”

The Kenyan slowly turns away in an effort to hide is face.

Continuing: “Kenyan, turn around and look at me. Kenyan, it’s disrespectful to me when you turn your back on me.”

While the Kenyan’s back is turned, I lean over and whisper, “No, he won’t look you in the face. When he feels guilty or embarrassed or ashamed, he won’t make eye contact. You have to be side-by- side with him. Otherwise, he shuts down.”

B&B, in a loud whisper: “WHAT?!”

Me, eyes wide, hands gesturing: “Side by side! Like on the sofa.”

B&B, frowning: “I’m not on the sofa. I’m at the fucking table. And he is standing there, turning his back on me, disrespecting me!”

Me, whispering: “He’s not going to look at you. He’s here. He’s listening, but don’t make him look at you.”

B&B, still whispering: “Oh, he’s going to look at me.”

B&B: “Kenyan, Kenyan! Turn around and look at me in 3…2…..thank you.”

He launches into a story about the knights of the round table and how they faced one another out of respect. So the ultimate form of disrespect is turning one’s back on someone.

I stopped listening 5 minutes ago.

B&B: “You and the Verb will both sit in time out. Verb for kicking. And Kenyan for pinching. And please, Kenyan, do not disrespect me by turning away from me when I’m talking to you.”

Our even numbered boys swallow their punishments as they exit the room.

Me, quietly: “Can I say something? And please don’t go ballistic?”

B&B: “Yes.”

Me: “The knights of the round table? Unnecessary.”

B&B: “Unnecessary?”

Me: “Unnecessary. I think it’s piling on.”

B&B: “Piling on? Your math is TERRIBLE!”

Me, laughing, “Awful. I know. It’s embarrassing.”

B&B: “25%?! What the hell was that?!”

Me, laughing harder: “Please. I’m ashamed. I like grammar. Math’s not my thing.”

B&B: “Obviously. Jesus Christ, what were we saying?”

Me: “To be or not to be…”

B&B: “To boldly go where no one has gone…”

Some day, B&B and I will sit at our dining room table on a Sunday morning. Uninterrupted. No one will need a hug. No one will climb onto my lap. No one will ask me to make his breakfast. No one will need a lesson in good choices vs. bad choices. Sometimes I look forward to that day. But not today. Today I feel lucky for the abundance of noise in my house. I feel lucky for the children responsible for making all of that noise. I feel lucky for the love I feel…so fierce it’s almost tangible…for these boys and their Dad. I feel lucky for the possibilities and opportunities that await them…every one of them…as they grow up and away from us and into their own men. Today…eleven years to the day that the Twin Towers fell, and so many innocent lives were lost…today, I feel lucky.

But, damn, it’d be nice to finish a conversation in under an hour every once in a while…

P.S. It’s not a gerund. It’s a split infinitive.

Sorry, Captain Picard.

Namaste, Bitches

Balance is a tricky bugger. It means different things to different people. For kids, achieving balance means riding without training wheels. Or holding a handstand for a count of 3. Or keeping perfectly still while a friend crawls between your legs to set you free during a game of California freeze tag.

For adults, balance can mean a litany of things. There’s the dreaded credit card balance.  The elusive work/life balance. There is theoretical balance of a strong body and a peaceful mind.

My balance is nonexistent this summer. My essence, my qi, my sanity, my peace of mind, my routine. All of it is in a proverbial tizzy. It’s much hotter than I’d expected. I want to write more than I’d planned. When I do sit to write, the distractions are more frequent and disruptive than I’d anticipated. The kids are hungrier than they’ve ever been. We’ve crossed nothing off our summer bucket list. Last, and certainly not least, I haven’t made a single goddamn recipe that I pinned on Pinterest.

For almost a decade, I’ve found my balance in running. It’s been the secret ingredient to making the recipe of my life work. Running allows my jeans to fit. It wards off the demons and holds depression and anxiety at bay. It grants me patience as I listen to the 72nd “Mommy, what if…” story of the day. Running allows the smile on my lips to reach and illuminate my eyes. It provides me with the goal of a race and a formula to achieve that goal. Running has been the bridge of friendship that’s connected me with some of the most extraordinary people in my life.  It’s been the topic of conversation between me and B&B as we’ve looked at our race calendars, assessed our times, demanded increasingly more of our bodies, and dared to articulate our running goals…if only to each other. Running has brought balance to my life.

One of my dearest running friends has been practicing power vinyasa yoga for awhile. She knows me to my very core and accepts every imperfect inch of me. She’s encouraged me to practice with her. The only thing worse than my balance is my flexibility. I gather that both balance and flexibility are rather important in yoga, so I don’t bend over backwards…nor can I since I have yet to practice…to shift my schedule around to accommodate yoga.

I was on a tear one day and censored myself from posting my tirade on FB, which would amuse the masses but bring Social Services to my door in record time. So I texted Jess and let loose on her.

Jess’ text: “You need to come to yoga with me.”

My text: “I don’t know. My flexibility sucks. I’ll be a laughing stock.”

Jess’ text: “Bethany, you need to try it.”

My text: “Jess, I am the sweatiest person you know. The last thing I need is to spend an hour in a sauna trying to touch my toes.”

Jess’ text: “It will bring you balance.”

Oh, that’s a dirty trick. She used the magic words.

My text, accompanied with a deep sigh: “Fine. Friday morning.”

So I show up. With my $9.99 mat from Marshall’s. My son’s Buzz Lightyear towel. My water bottle. My running tank and tights. And a semi-skeptical attitude.

We walk into the room, set at 88 steamy degrees, and I spend the next 75 minutes struggling to keep up…with the lingo, with the poses, with the breathing…with my most trusted running partner by my side executing each with precision and concentration. She is a specimen of flexibility and strength. I am in awe of her. The last few minutes, the instructor stretches us out individually. I lie on my mat, drenched in sweat, wondering not if but when my hamstrings will seize up, frustrated by my lack of experience, yet mysteriously intrigued.

To my surprise, a single tear escapes my eye, and I catch it before it hits my mat. WTH is this? Am I crying? Must be PMS.

For several days after yoga, I feel good. In my mind. I feel sore. In my body. I feel like I’ve been hit with a baseball bat. The strange thing about me is I love that feeling. My sweet spot is my body in a state of fatigue and my mind at peace. I seek one to achieve the other.

I will try yoga again.

I continue to go back. Only once a week at this point. But each time, I set a mental goal before class and dedicate that hour to achieving it. And to celebrating it. The 60 minutes I spend practicing yoga is mine. I am present. I am focused. I am not Mom. I am not wife. I am not daughter, friend, sister, writer. I am Bethany. Happy that I can finally hold crow pose for a consecutive count of five while marveling at the guy who’s holding a handstand for a full minute. Something to celebrate and something to work towards. And, as I lie, eyes closed, on my mat in the last moments of every class, a single tear escapes my eye. Not PMS.

Jess was right.

Yoga brings me balance.

And I need balance. Because Camp Mom is a freakin’ sideshow. Weeks 2 and 3 bring with them another chipmunk into the house…this one alive. Alive but playing dead. An evolved little vermin. Waldorf saves the day and removes him, saving me the dreaded task.

Weeks 2 and 3 bring with them a milestone for Waldorf. After intense discussions with B&B, we agree he and the Kenyan can stay at the house alone while I take the Interrogator and the Verb to the Acme. Less than a mile away. For 3 items only. I leave emergency phone numbers along with explicit instructions. No microwave, no toaster oven. Do not answer the door. Do not leave the house. I am gone for a total of 18 minutes. Everything looks and sounds as it should upon my return. Such a milestone! I’m so relieved that I grab both of them in a tight embrace.

What is that smell? It smells like…like sour milk.

Me: Wrinkling my nose, “What did you boys eat?”

They giggle: “Nothing.”

Me: “I smell something. It’s OK, as long as you didn’t use the microwave or the toaster oven. You’re not going to be in trouble.”

They smile. Giggle. Exchange a look. Shrug their shoulders. Giggle again.

Kenyan: Giggle, “OK, Mommy, we had whipped cream.”

Waldorf: Giggle, giggle, “ALOT of whipped cream.”

There is a tremendous amount of giggling between them now. Perfect. Just perfect. I leave them alone for 18 minutes and they are doing whip-its in my kitchen. I shake my head as I throw the whipped topping cans in the trash. I quickly check the closets and under the beds to make sure Demi Moore didn’t arrive in my absence. And make a mental note never to buy whipped cream again. Sons of bitches will have a keg party if I leave them to go to Costco.

Week three brings with it a writing high point for me when the Huffington Post runs my Baby Pool piece. I am humbled. Validated. Excited. Thankful. Proud. Lucky. Feel like I am on the cusp of something. Something that’s mine. Just shy of eleven years ago, I put my wants, my needs, my dreams, and a large part of my identity into a box. And I put that box on a shelf, out of reach. And I haven’t dared to crack that box open until recently. It was right for my family. It was hard on my marriage. It taught me a great deal about myself. As my last baby prepares to go to school in September, I am conflicted by emotions. I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia that this eleven year chapter in my life is closing. But I’m ready. And I’m hoping that writing plays a leading role in this next chapter of my life.

Weeks 2 and 3 also bring with them the beach. And Arizona cousins. And Texas cousins. And Virginia cousins. And ice cream. And hotdogs. And hoagies. And too much sun. And margaritas. And wine. And Waldorf and the Kenyan staying up too late at night. And the Verb and the Interrogator waking up too early in the morning. And very scary storms that hit the Jersey shore out of nowhere and have me running outside to fold down lounge chairs on my parents’ deck at 1AM. Storms that have me standing guard over my sleeping children as I feel the disturbing yet unmistakable shaking of the house.

Monday is a particularly intense day between the Interrogator and the Verb. They score a record 12 time-out’s between the two of them. The pepper comes out of the spice cabinet as a visual reminder that potty words are to be uttered in the bathroom…and he who doesn’t adhere to that rule may sample a dash of pepper against his will. There are two votes for the pool and two votes against the pool. I am stepping onto the treadmill on our back patio in the late afternoon mid-90 degree heat when the Verb comes streaking out the back door…completely naked but for the large black stamp of a tree on the side of his face…and busts out a forbidden flip on the trampoline.

Enter my need for balance.

I immediately step off the treadmill and text B&B: “I’m going to lose my shit.”

He texts me: “When I get home, go to yoga.”

I reply: “Thank you.”

So I get to yoga. And I am feeling very authentic because I’ve just purchased a sweet yoga towel at Indigo Schuy, the hippest sports boutique in Philly. I smile as I open it to cover my mat, feeling a strange sense of accomplishment that I’ve graduated from the Buzz Lightyear beach towel. I set my goals for class. Give this time to yourself, Bethany. Believe in your strength. Remember your breathing. Be present. Hold crow. Try to kick back. Focus.

It’s exactly what I need to rinse away my toughest day yet of the summer. I hold crow for 20 seconds…a record for me. I kick back and fall. But it doesn’t stop me from kicking back again…and falling again. I focus on my breathing. I bust out a Bird of Paradise…something I didn’t think I’d ever achieve with my poor balance…something I celebrate. I watch a girl perform the most beautiful, fluid handstand…something towards which I’ll work. I leave feeling cleansed, tired, at peace, and as though my balance…my essence, my qi…has been restored.

Somewhere between my running shoes and my yoga mat, I believe I’ll find my balance.

Thank you, Jess. My dear, dear friend.

On my way home, I stop at the Acme. I want to steam some crab legs for a late dinner for B&B and me. I’m drenched with sweat. My clothes are soaking wet. My hair is sopping wet. I look like I’ve just stepped out of the pool. As I hurry through the produce section, a young employee…not one of my regular peeps…blatantly checks out my boobs.

Namaste, Benjamin Braddock. Look all you want. I’m in my zone. 

I order the crab legs and quickly pay for them. I race home, kiss everybody hello, and head straight to the kitchen. B&B follows me.

B&B: “So, how was it?”

Me: “Awesome. Look at what I can do!”

While I search for a spot on the floor devoid of Legos in which to show him my Bird of Paradise, he too blatantly stares at my boobs.

Me: “What is with you men tonight?”

B&B: “What?”

Me: “I caught you looking at my boobs just now. The kid at the Acme was staring at them too.”

He smiles. Nods. Says nothing.

I look down. And curse myself. I’d worn my padded sports bra. Goddamn. My entire body looks like I’ve just emerged from the pool. With the exception of the two circular pads right smack in the middle of my chest. Perfectly dry. Illuminating my boobs in their stark contrast to the rest of the soaking wet turquoise fabric. Bringing entirely new meaning to the notion that my headlights are on.

I look at him. I laugh. He laughs. I look back down at my chest.

Me: “At least they’re lined up, right?”

B&B: “Indeed they are. In perfect symmetry.”

Perfect symmetry=Perfect balance. Namaste, indeed.

namaste

A Day at the Baby Pool

I hold some tenure at the baby pool. I’m not proud of it. I’ve sat knee deep in toddler urine water, eyes rolling back in my head with my heart in my throat for eleven consecutive summers as my family of three inexplicably (I’m serious, Dad, I have no idea how it happened) grew one by one into a family of six.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned at the baby pool…

When your child is in the baby pool, you sit in the warmest of waters and watch as he mouths the plastic giraffe that a little girl just extracted from her swimmy diaper…the swimmy diaper her Mom is now changing on the grass because it’s full of poop. Poop that has disintegrated into 4000 individual particles. This indicates she pooped on the drive to the pool and has been in the pool wearing that poopy diaper going on 2 hours. So you can expect a raging case of hand, foot, mouth to hit your house by tomorrow. Despite this knowledge, you scramble from the water to offer her Mom an extra diaper because she’s just realized she left all of hers at home.

babypool

When your child is in the baby pool, you subject yourself to an oversized, colorful beach ball hitting you upside the head. Thrown not by your son, but by an enthusiastic 3 year old you’ve never met…and then you have a 20 minute catch with said 3 year old. You buy him a popsicle from the snack bar when you buy your kids’ popsicles, because he’s now practically your nephew. You wipe his hands and face after he’s sat on your lap dripping his red popsicle all over your Lands’ End bathing suit…your white Lands’ End bathing suit. You call him Henry, even though his name is Harry, and he answers to it. Between the beach ball, the popsicle, and the fact that he’s nearly impossible to understand, he forgives your mistake.

When your child is in the baby pool, you drink 47 cups of make believe tea with two little girls…one girl pours each of those cups from a lavender Disney Princess tea kettle with painstaking precision. And one girl gives you two lumps instead of one, and milk instead of cream with her tiny, delicate hands for each of those 47 cups. You blow on your last cup of tea just as convincingly as you did your first cup. And the girls giggle just as loudly and earnestly as they did the first time you blew on it.

When your child is in the baby pool, you are nonplussed when a 14 month old who doesn’t share your last name uses your breasts as handles to steady himself as he navigates the slippery floor on two legs still unaccustomed to supporting his weight. You fix his hat, applaud his efforts, call him “sweetheart”, give him your biggest smile, and clutch him against you in a hug after he places a wet, open-mouthed kiss on your unsuspecting lips. A kiss from which you surmise he’s recently eaten hummus.

When your child is in the baby pool, you have an ongoing conversation with another parent whom you’d never be able to identify in a lineup because you’ve made absolutely no eye contact…your eyes are trained on your own children. Or you sit next to another adult, neither of you initiating any conversation, for 6 straight hours…because your eyes are still trained on your own children.

When your child is in the baby pool, you silently curse the 10 year old who splashes in and grabs the Dora kickboard, because where on earth is her mother? She’s entirely too old to be in this pool! Until your own daughter, who’s 10 years old, slips into the baby pool to play alongside her 3 year old brother. And they share a moment of magic. And you’re not ready to tell her to get out of the pool just yet…can’t the magic last a tiny bit longer? How did you not realize back then how young and beautifully innocent a 10 year old still is?

When your child is in the baby pool, you leap from the side of the pool and cover 20 feet in two strides with the grace of a gazelle to grab the little boy who’s just slipped silently under water. Because his Mom has turned away for an instant to drag his screaming older sister out of the pool and put her in time-out for yanking the rubber duck from his hands…and you know she will never get to him in time. You pick him up, hold him protectively against you, and run him over to his Mom. She hears his gagging, reaches for him, meets your eyes, and the look of understanding and appreciation passes between the two of you. Tears spring to her eyes, and unable to find her voice, she mouths the words, “thank you”. Tears then spring to your eyes, you rub his tiny back, squeeze her hand, and turn to resume your watch over your children.

When our children are in the baby pool, we are in it together.

*An abridged version of this piece appeared in the Huffington Post on June 25th in the Parents Section.