Saturday, June 20, 2015

Things I want you to know about Tim: a Father's Day tribute

Almost exactly one month before we met, Tim moved Ellis, his youngest, out of his house and into the dorms for his freshman year at college. Tim was one month into experiencing the empty nest when I entered his life. He had successfully raised two amazing kids and definitely deserved to be proud and have some quiet time.

Young Tim, young Ellis

my favorite picture of Hillary and Ellis

They both still make these faces

Even on our first date, Tim understood that I was just one part of a three-pack, a package deal with Skyler and Reed, then ages 7 and 5. He never hesitated.

When we talk about this, he always says something about how he would have taken me with any number of kids, and how much he loves parenting. Instead of ever suggesting that they are tiring (they are!) or loud (that too), or that he needs a break, Tim says to me every day something like: "Thanks for letting me help you raise them." Or, "Thanks for trusting me with these kids," or, "Skyler said the cutest thing...," or "Reed and I had the best time today." 

I am not the only one who says that Tim could write a book on parenting. He is the kind of parent that every kid deserves; he has mastered the balance of high expectations and gentle encouragement.  He has taught me so much in the three years I have watched him parent Hillary and Ellis as well as Skyler and Reed, and in the hours we have spent talking about parenting (there is so very much to say about it, is there not?).  

Skyler and Reed talk about how funny Tim is more than anything. But they might not be aware that no matter how much fun they are having, or how hard they are laughing, he is teaching them in every moment. It took them a while to get his sense of humor, but now they get him. They have weird inside jokes and make a game out of everything. Throw away your trash, but see if you can make the shot into the basket from across the room. Make your bed, but let's see how fast you can do it. He lets them juggle eggs in the kitchen, but they have to clean it up if they drop one. He lets them spend all of their allowance on games at the skating rink, and then says: "that's too bad" when they have no money left for a snack. 

When they are sick, he makes toast in the shape of a heart or their initials.

When Tim isn't playing games, throwing balls, or slicing apples in midair with a knife (true story), he has this unique approach that I have come to admire. It is sort of a parenting trifecta:

He talks to them as though they are adults, he always assumes good intentions, and he praises good behavior. 

If Reed leaves his bike at the end of the driveway, he'll casually say to Reed:  "Hey Reed, looks like you accidentally left your bike out.  Might want to take care of that before it rains." He never nags them, but instead, shows that he trusts it was an honest mistake, and I see how they respond positively to this treatment.  The next time Reed puts his bike in the garage without the reminder, Tim says:  "Oh Reed, you are so good about remembering to put your bike away." I hear him telling Skyler and Reed all the time what they are good at.  "You're so good about saving money."  "I'm really proud of you for putting the kayaks away." "That is so nice how you came to the table so quickly after you were called." 

All the while, he is still the leading man in both Hillary and Ellis' lives.  They both say he is their "rock" and each have a relationship with him that we all hope to have with our adult children.

Everything that might be hard about raising kids with a non- biological parent is not hard because Tim makes it easy.

It took me a while to stop thinking it was any kind of imposition on him to have the kids around.  I stopped saying "Can you do me a huge favor and pick up the kids from school?" He wants to pick them up.  He wants to take them to school.  He wants to go to their games, their recitals, and for the love of God, even the 4th grade recorder concert. He wants to listen to their stories, read to them at night, adjust their covers before coming to bed.

Tim says:  "Yes, I will throw the ball with you."
 "Yes, I want to hear the story you wrote."
"Yes, I'll play Sorry with you."

Yes to race cars.

Yes to bacon.

Yes to being the guest announcer at Reed's Minor League playoff game.

Yes to camping trips.

We celebrated an early Father's Day this morning.
For Father's Day, we got Tim a rocking chair for the lake house for enjoying morning coffee on the deck.
Skyler made the sign.

"thank you for being funny."

There is a noticeable ease in the way the kids and Tim interact with each other now. They trust him. They get his jokes. They anticipate his lectures about the importance of investing money. They take his advice.

They know how lucky they are to have the bright light of his attention and time. These gifts are immeasurable. He gives so much to them, never asking for anything in return.

 Happy Father's Day to the man who makes all of our lives better, every single day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Super 8: How to cover two months in one post

Since I last wrote, Maine has transformed into a lush, green, sparkling, lilac-laden world, and my faith has been restored once again.  The sun comes up early, and our days are filled with purpose as we enter the gentle slide into summer.

I haven't forgotten about this blog. I still think of it as a welcoming place that calls me to write. Obviously, I have fallen out of habit, but I'm happy to know I can return when the spirit calls. The once-a-month columns in the Bangor Metro end up taking up a good deal of my writing focus. This month, I wrote about some parenting connections I made about Hillary and Reed.  Here it is:  Leaps of Faith:  On parenting brave kids.

I've been saving up some thoughts and stories, and here are 8 little bloggy updates for you.  (Disclaimer... I brag about my kids quite a bit in some of these).

1.  Lake Life
We are spending as much time as possible at the lake house now before we have rented it out for most of the summer.  Last week we were all out in the kayaks, and Ryder was bounding in and out of the water, and everyone smelled like lake water and bug dope and sun block, and I realized that this is the life I always wanted but didn't even dare to dream up. This is the Maine life. The way life should be. And I'm incredibly grateful.

Skyler out on the kayak in the early morning.

2.  Reed's latest phase
Those of you who have read this blog for a while, or who know Reed personally, know that he is a man of great passion who has obsessions that last anywhere from 1 to 6 months. His obsessions (which means it is ALL he talks about) have included:  Jillian Michaels, Spiderman, Angry Birds, roller coasters, Pokemon, Nerf guns, Star Wars, and has currently landed on states and state capitals. Sometimes Reed wakes up at ungodly hours to tell me fascinating facts, such as that "Juneau is the capital of Alaska," and "Florida borders Georgia." These things just cannot wait until the sun comes up to discuss.  It is state trivia and state trivia all the time.

Reed is also playing baseball again. It really is amazing how much he and his teammates have grown and changed in a year, and they are actually playing legit baseball now, following the rules, being strategic, making plays. This is the first year of non-coach-pitch baseball, and Reed has pitched a few innings of a few games.

When he took the mound for the first time, as you can imagine, I died. I cried.

He needs a bit of refinement, but he is pretty good.  He threw strikes! And also hit a batter, but hey... he's just a kid.  His favorite position is still catcher.  Be still my heart.

My little Catcher in the Rye.  

3.  Skyler wants to own a zoo
Skyler has the biggest heart around, specifically when it comes to her two dogs and any other animal that happens to pass by. If it were okay with us (it is not) she would also have cats, ferrets, rabbits, and a chicken coop in her bedroom. I thought we'd satisfied her needs with Ryder, the biggest dog in the world, and 5 tropical fish. But no, she is now saving her money for a bearded-dragon lizard (God help me).  When we went to the pet store to price this all out, we learned that this type of lizard eats live crickets. Skyler looked at me and I knew what she was thinking: "But I'm going to love those crickets too."  I'm not sure her heart can bear the pain of feeding the bearded-dragon crickets, so that job could fall on me.  I cannot believe I just typed that sentence.

Last week, our neighbor found a ferret on the loose that had gotten out of someone's house.  "CAN WE PLEASE KEEP IT MOM?"  No we cannot.

After the lizard, I'm sure she will start saving for a horse.  The horseback riding lessons she got for Christmas have been a major highlight of her spring and early summer. I see a long future of horses ahead.

yes we are catching fish and storing them in a trash can.

4. Ellis: El Capitan
Ellis is kind of like the Pied Piper. People just want to be around him and do what he's doing. He's a natural leader, so it makes sense he was chosen as captain of the Husson Football Team for next season.  He works so hard and so deserves the title.

He is also the greatest big brother to our little ones, and always has time to lift, throw or flip the kids around.  He also does a terrific job listening to their long and fascinating stories or watching the latest waterslide video that Reed has pulled up on Youtube.

5. Hillary graduates

Hillary graduated from Bates College last Sunday after 4 incredible and impressive years. It is so fitting that she was on the cover of the local newspaper tossing her hat in the air. She challenged herself to go to a great school and then worked so hard, accomplished so much, and made her mark on Bates. She is chummy with the president and was chosen as class marshall to lead her class in on graduation day.  That's our girl.

L to R:  Emily, Ansley, Ellis me, Hillary, Tim, Hamilton (Skyler didn't attend).  We told Reed to "look normal" right before this photo.  Almost.

6. I am not running a marathon
I was training for the Black Bear Marathon in Orono (it is on June 21), but I'm not anymore. I can tell you exactly when I decided to drop from the full marathon to the half.  It was during week 10 of the training plan, at mile 12 of my 16 mile run. It was after school on a Friday because that was the only chance I had that weekend to get it in, and I was not having any fun at all.  I was starting to take long walk breaks which made me mad at myself and I spent the next 4 miles thinking about how it was stupid to try to train during the school year when I was so busy, that it was hard to juggle long runs with the kids and our busy schedules, and that at my age, I shouldn't be doing things I don't want to do anymore.  I had another 41 reasons why I just didn't have my heart in it this time.  I don't love the course (it's a double loop). All of my long runs felt too hard:  It was too cold. It was too hot. It was too windy. It was too humid. I came up with so many good explanations, but when it came right down to it, it was really simple.

I didn't want to train for a marathon.  So I stopped.

And I'm training for the half marathon instead, and it is so much better.  A long run of 7 miles?  Now that is incredibly reasonable.

7. Listen to your Mother
Last winter I saw an ad in the paper calling for auditions for this show called Listen to your Mother.  I read about the show and really liked the concept:  "giving motherhood a microphone."  I quickly chose to revise the story of my breast cancer scare and turn it into an essay about the fear we all go through when faced with even the possibility of not being there for our children.  I auditioned and got a part as one of 12 women reading personal and true stories of motherhood.

The show was in May in Bangor.  I speak in front of groups of people all day every day; that's what I do for a living.  BUT, reading a personal story in front of a live audience suddenly didn't seem like a good idea, and to say I was nervous just doesn't even touch it.  I had a lot of anxiety about this performance and spent an awful lot of energy thinking about it/ dreading it/ fretting all the things that could go wrong.

Luckily my friend Sarah Smiley was the emcee and she totally understood my fears. We had a plan in place that she would walk over to me at the microphone and give me a bottle of water if I started to panic. Just knowing that she was right there is what got me through.

It was an honor to tell stories with all of these brave women from all over the state.  I was 2nd to last, so watching each one go out before me and survive was inspiring.  

There were funny stories about mothers and the neediness of small kids, stories of loss, sick or dying mothers, stillborn babies, raising kids alone, the need for a sense of humor, and the way in which mothers are all connected.  It made me incredibly proud to be a mom.

When I walked off stage (I didn't die or faint), I had so much adrenaline in me that my hands and legs were shaking for 30 minutes.  Seriously, who needs sky-diving or drugs when you can get such a rush in front of a microphone?

Many thanks to these lovelies who were all in the audience:

With my date to the after party, everything was right in my world.

8.  Brain on Fire
I am just now finishing up another school year and my seniors are leaving me for the great wide world.  After reading it last summer, I added a new book to my curriculum this year called Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. I chose it because Susannah Cahalan is a smart, strong woman who survived a traumatic ordeal, and because of the journalistic style and the medical mystery surrounding this book, I knew kids would read it, and they did.

Don't get me wrong, this is not the most amazing book ever. But it is a high-interest story that moves right along, perfect when the seniors have other ideas on how to spend their time rather than read for English.  Everyone read it, and they read it quickly and ahead of my assigned schedule.  I saw people all over the school in study halls and other classes reading this book.

What I love about it is that the book tackles the issue of mental illness and our society's stigmas and fears about it. And so, I used it as an opportunity to talk to my students about mental health.  I talked to them about my own experiences with anxiety and depression, and about the kinds of issues they may, personally or with a friend or family member, face as they head out into college and beyond. While this was new territory for all of us, I felt that everyone was relieved to open up this conversation, and it gave kids permission to think about and talk about things they hadn't before.

For the last writing assignment, I asked them to share a personal story with mental illness, or to write about any way they related to Susannah, or generally about their experience of reading this story. What I got was a stack of unbelievable narratives, honest, surprising, brave.  Stories I had no idea about.  Stories of things these kids had been dealing with for years and had never shared.  One boy ended his essay with: "I just cried writing all of that.  I didn't even know I needed to write it, so thank you."

All of this really just brings me back to the same thing I say every year:  I am so lucky to teach, and to teach English, where I can read a pile of books with these young adults and talk about everything. Everything. I get to talk about spiritual journeys, PTSD, mental illness, heroes, survival, parents, drugs, gender inequity and why it feels good to cry. Every year, something surprising and new evolves out of my teaching; sign me up for another year.


That's it for now.  I'm ready to hurl myself into summer.  The windows are open, I have new flip flops and a pile of books.  Hope to see you out there.  xo

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"8-year old boy. Code 3": thoughts on raising a confident child

To be fair, I want you to know that Reed is absolutely fine. He got hurt in a snowboarding accident this past weekend but, in the end, unbelievably, he had no injuries.  Read on.

If you google "raising a confident kid," you come across a slew of articles with advice about how to instill confidence in your children.  These articles don't serve me; my problem is the opposite. Reed is incredibly confident, sometimes in excess. I honestly think he was born confident, and I hope he hangs on to it as he grows up, but at age 8, he already thinks he has it all figured out, and he is not interested in taking advice from anyone. 

Reed switched from skiing to snowboarding this year, and everyone who knows him understands why. He has more of a snowboarding vibe, if you will, and the swagger to go with it. Snowboarding suits him.  He loves that he and his very cool Uncle Chris are the only two snowboarders in the family, and says things like:  "Can you believe how good I am at snowboarding?"  

And the thing is, he really did learn quickly and shows a lot of control and athleticism on the slopes. And more importantly, he simply LOVES it. It does not matter how cold it is, he wants to go. We took him to Sugarloaf twice this season (it's expensive so it's a special treat to get to go) and each time, he could not sleep the night before. On the chairlift he would say things like: "I just can't believe I get to be here," or "This is so amazing."  He is grateful to be out there, and invigorated by the sun and the mountains, and I could not be more proud of this side of him.

 The first trip to Sugarloaf, in February, was the four of us.
 my quad squad
We were blessed with perfect weather, blue skies, and forever views. I appreciated so much that we can all do this together, and that the kids can ski or snowboard any of the trails we would want to go on. They are both showing control in their turns, so I am able to relax a bit instead of screaming my head off for them to SLOW DOWN all the way down the mountain. It is so much fun.

Skyler is a fantastic little skier, nothing fancy or showy, but she just cruises happily along, often singing aloud.

Reed, on the other hand, needs to be held back. I have to be very firm that he can't snowboard on double-black-diamonds at Sugarloaf, because he wants to try.

He quickly spotted the terrain park with a half-pipe and jumps and wanted to try it. I had to make a decision. He was very passionate about wanting to check it out, and I decided to let him, because I knew that if the jumps looked too big, we could ski around them.

He successfully made it down twice on our first trip, once with Tim and once with me. The jumps are pretty big, but I was happy to see that he slowed himself down at the top of each one so that he just got a little bit of air.

I might refer to Reed as a "wild-child" or say that he "has no fear," but those phrases actually over-simplify him.  He is not fearless, and he does have control, and he does have some limits when he's snowboarding. I very proudly watched him tackle these obstacles with both bravery and good sense.

By the time we made it to our second trip to Sugarloaf, this time with Sandi, Suzanne, Ella and Maya, he had been talking obsessively for weeks about two things:
--he wanted to snowboard without a jacket because he noticed some older snowboarders wearing hooded sweatshirts.
--he wanted to go back to the terrain park and try the half-pipe and the jumps again.

It was almost 40 degrees and sunny, so no jacket for Reed.

such a beautiful day in the mountains.

After about our 4th run, we decided to head to the terrain park and then break for lunch. Skyler went down a different trail (thank God) with the Carvers, and Reed and I dropped into the half pipe.

He did a few little turns in there, and did great. The next section, below the half pipe, has 4 jumps. He took the first two slowly, not much air, with sloppy landings. Third jump, a little more air and landed it perfectly. I saw him pump his fists in the air and I shouted at him that next time, I'd get out my phone to get video.

On the 4th jump, he got a little too much air and went flying.

Too much speed. Too much confidence. My brave boy in the air, blue blue sky in front of him; if only I could hit the pause button just there and we could reflect together on the price of being over confident...

I watched to see if he could pull off that landing, but he disappeared behind the jump. He landed flat on his back right under the jump, and wasn't moving. I got to him quickly and was frantic to get him out of the way, because we were both now out of view of the snowboarders flying down toward us, and I thought someone would land right on him.

He was gasping for air and crying but not able to move. "Is he hurt?" someone shouted.  There were 3 or 4 people standing to the side of the jump. I said: "Nope!  Just looks like he got the wind knocked out of him."  I leaned over him and said, "you're okay!  you're okay!"  I got someone to help me drag him over to the side of the jump, and just in time to avoid a flying snowboarder coming right toward us.

People started to gather and look. "He's fine! Just scared"! I must have sounded like a crazy woman, insisting to everyone who asked, that he was okay, while he was flat on his back, crying and not moving. Meanwhile, he could barely get a breath and he was gasping. He said to me: "I can't get down from here. But I want to go inside." I kissed the tears off of his cheeks. "You're going to be FINE."

Someone radioed the ski patrol and time contracted, so next thing I know ski patrol was there, asking Reed questions, doing an exam, taking vitals, calling for back up on the radio, referring to spinal injury, possible fracture:  "8-year-old boy. Code 3."  (I have since learned that Code 3 means "serious injury/ fracture.)

At this moment I told myself that I could not panic. As an already anxious person, not panicking was a near impossible feat. I started to cry but I stopped myself. Reed was right there, hearing my voice, and hearing the way I was answering questions. "Are you mom?" Can you describe what happened?" I knew that his state of mind was inexorably linked to mine, so I somehow was able to remain calm and made sure my voice was clear.

This brave boy needed a brave mama.

I next had to bring Suzanne and Sandi into the loop. They were skiing with Skyler, knowing Skyler would freak if she knew how bad this was. I wanted to keep her calm so that she would be okay staying at the mountain while I would, as was becoming increasingly clear, ride in the ambulance to the hospital with Reed.

The first text was me still in denial. But when I read the rest of these texts, I think: how did I manage to do that?  My hands were shaking as I typed these.

The ski patrol took off Reed's helmet, slipped on a plastic neck collar, strapped him to a back board, encouraged him to take deep breaths if he could, and asked him a lot of questions:  "Do you know where you are? What grade are you in?  Who is your teacher?" He was able to answer all of the questions, but he struggled to get the words out. He also was able to wiggle his fingers and toes which allowed me catch my own breath a little. But I kept hearing these ski patrol guys describing the injury on the walkies and it was all so surreal. "spinal injury. spinal injury. spinal injury."

I skied down behind Reed on the ski patrol toboggan.  Halfway down, the ski patrol stopped to check on Reed, and he then turned around and looked at me and said: "You're doing a terrific job, mom."  We watched all the concerned faces and parting crowds as we made our way past the lodge and down into the clinic.

Sandi, our dear friend and favorite nurse, met us at the clinic and was standing there waiting for us when they brought Reed in. Sandi did two things that gave me information about how to feel:  she had tears in her eyes (not good), and she took a huge breath and thanked God when she saw that Reed could move his hands and feet (very good).

The next few minutes were a flurry of quick decisions about leaving my car, finding my insurance card, and handing over skis and gloves and helmets to Sandi.  I managed to pull off one key task before I left.  I called Suzanne (eating lunch in the lodge) who let me talk to Skyler and I knew I needed to get through what I had to say without crying, otherwise I would've scared her. I told her:  "You go ahead and ski with your friends for the rest of the day.  We have to go to the hospital just to be double sure that Reed is okay, but I think he's just fine." She said:  "Okay mama." I can't believe I did that without crying. Brave kids need a brave mama.

I climbed into the ambulance and said to the driver:  "How far are we going?" I assumed ten minutes. He said: "About an hour." An hour on the curviest, bumpiest mountain road to the nearest hospital in Farmington.

The EMT in the ambulance (bless him!) let me sit next to Reed, and one more miracle is that I did not get car sick on that road; I knew I could not, so I did not. Reed was so uncomfortable strapped to that board. He is high on the spectrum of wiggliness to begin with, so this was torture for him, and it made his back hurt worse than it already did. The EMT said that those hard back boards are "archaic" in the level of discomfort they cause, but a necessary precaution.

By the time we were getting close to the hospital, the EMT said to Reed: "You know all the girls at school are going to love this story," to which Reed smiled and then replied, "I am not wearing this thing to school, am I?"  His breathing was better now and he was able to talk. He even smiled. He then started talking about school, friends, terrain parks, jumps, and the trail he wanted to start on next time we come to Sugarloaf.  The EMT said:  "I love this kid."  I exhaled for what felt like the first time since the jump, and took this picture so I could show him later.

en route to the hospital

We finally arrived at the hospital, and Reed was begging to be unstrapped. The doctor came in right away and examined his back, asked him what hurt. The doctor asked him if his head hurt.  Reed said "Yes.  It feels like I have a million of the sharpest daggers sticking in it." I made eye contact with the doctor and made a face that said "he has a flair for the dramatic" (like his mother).  Pupils checked out fine and Reed was now talking fast and more easily. After another minute, they unstrapped him from the board and took off the collar. He was so relieved. He pulled up his knees and moved his head from side to side. 

The very smart doctor decided to "watch and wait" for 30 minutes before we sent him to x-ray. Within that 30 minutes, Reed sat up and talked my ear off. He then talked to his dad on the phone for a while. When the nurse asked him if he was hungry, he said:  "Well, what do you have?"  He was hoping for his favorite, spaghetti with extra parmesan cheese, but he was happy with a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. When the nurse brought it, he said:  "YES!  I never get white bread."

In other words, the kid was fine.

Aw bud, the back board did not do good things for your hair.

Within the next hour, he got up and walked around the room. He was sore and stiff, but that's about it. After a full afternoon of skiing (while receiving reassuring texts from me), Sandi, Suzanne, their girls, and Skyler arrived at the hospital, with my car, to find us discharged and hanging out in the waiting room.  

We stopped at the store for treats and drove home.  When we got home, Tim had made Reed spaghetti with extra parmesan cheese and gotten him a huge balloon that said "Congratulations."  (He said it was either that, or Happy Easter.)

Skyler thought this was hilarious. "CONGRATULATIONS!  You almost broke your back!"

After Reed went to bed that night, I sat down and felt all of the anxiety and fear I'd been keeping at bay just flood over me.  The next day, I could not stop replaying the jump over and over and over in my head.

This whole experience has left me extremely reflective and searching for the life lessons.
The moral of the story could be:
1) snowboarding is dangerous, terrain parks even more so
2) see Emilie? You don't need to worry so much; it turned out to be nothing
3) a kid like Reed is bound to get hurt eventually
4) this is the price I pay for the gift of getting be Reed's mom.

I am going with lesson #4. I am honored to raise a child with so much confidence and bravery. I love that Reed wants to experience the world full throttle, and he never has to be convinced to try something new.

I absolutely philosophically agree that kids need to learn from their own mistakes, and that as a parent, I should not helicopter and hover and save him from all pain. I don't always abide by this philosophy and am sometimes guilty of taking care of too many things for my kids. And if had the power to pause Reed mid-air in that moment, surrounded by the blue sky and before he landed, I would have wanted to for sure.

On the flip side, I would not make a different decision about taking him snowboarding, or specifically taking him on that trail. I would not do anything differently. I will take him snowboarding again as soon as we can go. And while I know it is easy to say knowing that he was not hurt more seriously, I believe that if he had been hospitalized or came home in a back brace, I would eventually feel the same way. I don't want Reed to stop taking risks. I sometimes wish I could wrap him in bubble wrap, but I don't want him to change who he is.

Reed learned lessons with this accident that he could only learn by feeling them in his body, and being as scared as he was. There is no story I could tell him or advice I could give him that would have lasting effects on his future decision making, but I do believe he will be more cautious now.  For example, he now only wants to go on "the smaller terrain park at Sugarloaf" next time we go.

Raising a confident kid means sometimes you find yourself watching that kid go flying over a jump and you're not sure how he will land. 

As his mom, I have decided that my job isn't to catch him.  
My job is to say: Congratulations, baby. You are really and truly living your life.