Celebrating the family ….in a long over-due reunion

An airline flight of five hours is not ideal travel conditions for five boys ages 4-9. Nor is a 3-hour time difference conducive to productive sleep thus yielding subsequent emotional dysregulation. There was great dread and very little interest in my soul last week as I packed for the trip to California to visit relatives. The fear and nervousness dissipated with the first hug.

IdyllwildIt was the first family reunion in 18 years. The first time family gathered except for patriarch funeral and then matriarch funeral and then the eldest son’s funeral and then a few family members together for a wedding last fall where the idea of the family reunion germinated.

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Awesome uncle encouraging The Little Guy to join in the soccer game.

Finally, fifty people including 24 children, gathered at a mountain resort. We adults were practically giving each other high-fives to not have to hear, “Look how much you’ve grown. Gosh, how big you are now.” Yes, it’s good to be on the other side of that. We got to hug and talk and laugh and introduce our children around. Social media has helped bridge the distance, but nothing is as strong as a warm hug.

Funny how it took a day to start to get to know each other. “Hi, and you are?” Despite my dislike of the custom, almost all conversations started with “And what do you do?” as we sought to establish some understanding. The kids, on the other hand, had no trouble at all. The girls held hands and skipped along like best friends within hours. The boys climbed rocks, battled with stick swords and chased each other round. There were crafts generously donated and coordinated by a great aunt and such laughter and joy. There were meals together and games and hikes. There were slide shows of old and new photos of the family, generating so many memories of prior times and prior clothing and hair styles!

And, there was also a delightful viral illness which knocked out Super Tall Guy, three cousins and one significant other. There’s nothing so glamorous as cleaning up vomit and diarrhea in a log cabin and longing for gloves and Lysol. My 31-year-old outdoor adventure cousin was the hardest hit and eventually left for IV fluids at the closest ER. Despite the miserable day he had spent in bed with constant fluid loss, he left with a smile and remarked, “In some ways, I don’t mind that I got sick. It showed me the amazing power of the family I have.”

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Plastic cups labeled and washed for reuse! No waste here!

Yes, it is a tremendous amount of work and money to take the kids to the other side of the United States. Yet it is so important to me that my boys know in their very soul that throughout this large country, there are people out there who love them….just because they are family. They have joined this family through a court decree; yet, they have been welcomed with loving arms and open hearts. For that, I will be forever grateful. For each and everyone of my great big family is unique and wonderful and loving.

On our second night together, as The Little Guy had drifted off to sleep and Super Tall Guy’s eyes were softly fluttering, my brother opened the door to our cabin. “Everyone’s on the step for a family photo.” “Now?” I grumbled in disgust. “You’re kidding!”  Knowing that we had talked about it all day and never done it, I was frustrated that it was happening “late” at night. Yet, with furrowed brow and glaring eyes, I woke the boys, got them dressed and ran to the steps in time to set the timer on the camera. It flashed three times and we trudged back to the cabin. My cousin’s hug soothed me and I knew it was the right thing to do, but I teared up when Super Tall Guy lay down to sleep again and whispered, “I can’t wait to show that photo to my kids.”

Full circle.

Family.

 

We honor each other.

We love each other.

We work to continue to connect with each other.

Despite the trials and the difficulties of gathering.

Despite our differences and inconveniences.

 

If not for us….it is for our children.

For they must know that they are worthy and that they are loved.

They must know the strength of the bond that ties us.

We must give them family.

 

Family who will be there when you are sick and vomiting.

Family who will be there in the good times and the bad.

Family who will be there on the other side of the photo.

 

For someday our children will share us with their own family.

From one generation to the next

Love will endure.

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The family also celebrated my parents’ 50th anniversary! They bear witness to love and family.

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The Sports Mom (ahem….Tiger Mom?)

It’s hard to be a competitive person by nature, and to channel that trait in parenting active and athletic boys (good thing my boys are not anywhere near Olympic potential or I’d surely be in trouble!). I stress out enough as it is, trying to instill the values of sportsmanship, of having fun, of playing your best, of staying in there for your team, of respecting and listening to your coach, of learning the game and not worrying about the score. After all, let’s be honest – the boys are only 8 and 6!  Of course, these little guys are hard-wired to be competitive – you don’t have to keep score, they keep it themselves! They know who won! So my typical pep talk has nothing to do with scores or winning, despite what my loud cheering on the sidelinesflag football might lead you to believe otherwise.

This Spring my older two played flag football (not “real” football because I’m a mother and I’m a pediatrician and I have a fetish about keeping brains intact). My eldest is not a natural at football but he seems to really enjoy playing and names it consistently as his favorite sport. So we arrived on the field and I was all smiles and happy to find out that he’d be coached this season by a former NFL player. Wow. Swoon. Or not.

Soon I was dealing with a sad, disappointed player who spent more time on the sidelines than he did on the field. And when on the field, he was allowed only one chance to actually carry the football, because there were 3 or 4 other players who were really good players. And they got to be quarterback and they got to be running back and they got to catch the ball and run. And it gets a little hard to have your boy look you in the eye and say, “Why don’t I get to play, Mom?” (especially when you know you paid $140 for your kid to PLAY!)

At the end of the first game, the coach went around the circle and told every single boy what he noticed about their play during the game. “S, way to get the flag that time.” “J, excellent run, you had great speed today.” “The medal goes to JL for that end-of-the game interception.” And when he got to Super Tall Guy who was last, he said, “Um, you man, you have two eyes.” Ouch. Now there’s a self-esteem builder. Two eyes. Fortunately Super Tall Guy is not socially savvy enough to know that he was just offended – but his mother is.

So, the next week, I decided to double check my perception. I grabbed a notecard and a Sharpie from the gym bag and recorded who was off the field in the first half. Kid #15 was on the sideline for 16 plays (his mom said he asked her if he could play his DS — I mean, really?!? The kid is sitting on the grass for so long that he wants to play a video game because he’s bored!)  #29  was out 11 times, Super Tall Guy was out 9 times….and the two coaches’ sons stayed in the entire half.

Don’t mess with Mama Bear.

Being much more bold than I almost EVER am, I marched right up (timidly) to that 6 ft- 4 in muscular giant and said, “Coach, you are not rotating the kids evenly. Some of them are spending a lot of time on the sidelines” and I showed him the card. My heart pounded!! He looked down at me and said, “I play them only if they are paying attention and every kid gets to carry the ball once.” Once? That’s football?! You get to touch the ball one time?!  And you want 8 year olds to sit on the sideline and learn by watching? I believe developmental research indicates that children learn by doing! Heck – most adults learn by doing!

Shaking from the interaction, I returned to the other side of the field and watched Super Tall Guy get out on the field at least a little a bit more that week. Over the rest of the season, though, he was called up mostly when the team was on defense (he’s a solid mass, probably seems more intimidating than his actual flag-pulling ability). And if he got on the field for offense, he got to snap the ball – and get his one carry. Not only did Super Tall Guy notice this, but the coaches of the teams we played against also noticed that the talented players played more.

Believe me, I’m not naive. I understand sports. I know that you’re not going to be able to

play if you’re goofing around. I know you have to work hard. And some day, if my boys want to try out for a school team and expect to play in the games, they are going to have to figure it out. I won’t be coddling them. But for this season, I invested in this particular sports league because of its promise to be non-competitive, to focus on the joy of the game and learning all aspects of the game, and to play every kid an equal amount of time. I want my boys to have fun. I want Super Tall Guy to feel like he is part of a team. I want him to look forward to the games.

Super Tall Guy has played two other seasons in this league. He’s not dumb. He knows this isn’t right or fair. But he also can’t quite figure this out in words. He can’t express the disappointment he’s feeling. And he’s certainly too shy to try to talk to a coach. Until he learns how to stand up for himself and be able to demand what he is due – until that day, then it is my job.

I do not like confrontation. I am a peace-maker. But I will also fight for fairness and justice for my boys, for your boys, for your girls, for all children.

I asked Super Tall Guy to write a thank you note to each coach as we do every season the boys play. He wrote it willingly, sealed the envelops and addressed them to “Coack” (spelling his own). I know the coaches volunteer. I am grateful for their willingness to share their time and talent. I truly am. But I will also hold them to a high standard when they touch the life of a child.

Sure glad to be done with this season. Tiger Sports Mom is moving on.

Letting them down…Helping them learn

Last week I frantically waved my left hand at the back of the kindergarten classroom hoping that the substitute teacher would notice me, and I could point to an empty ring finger in the hopes that she’d stop asking my 6-year-old to “be thinking of what you like to do with your dad because I’ll call on you next. I always like to call on kids when their parents are visiting us.” His head dropped as she reached down to tie his shoe and I heard her speak more softly, “that’s okay. You can tell us something you like to do with your mom instead,” but she never did call on him.

It’s the end of the school year. Time to make Father’s Day cards. Heart sink. I cringe with regret that I have let my boy down. I’m not good enough. I have not “given” him what every boy wants – a Dad. My boys probably deal with this issue more than I imagine. Given an age in which non-traditional family structure is becoming more and more common, it still amazes me that certain settings continue to function as if there is only one model of family. Elementary schools still have pre-printed materials that ask children to fill in what they do with their dad or with their moms as if it applies to everyone. Parent forms usually do not include a way to indicate single parenting or non-traditional parenting.

And I realize that even though I have wrapped my mind around the fact that we’re currently a non-traditional family, I don’t often talk about it with the boys. Yes, when they bring it up, I answer their questions. When Super Tall Guy blurts out, “You’re never going to get married, Mom,” I answer, “You never know.”  But I realized a few days ago, that it might actually have been helpful to talk to Mr. Ornery about what happened in the classroom, to reflect with him, “I noticed your teacher kept asking about what you like to do with your dad. How did that make you feel?” I might be able to learn some from him and help him feel more aware and comfortable with our situation.

Instead, I process the experience for myself. How did it make me feel? What did I think? Well, I felt like I let him down. That I wasn’t providing enough for him. That I put him in an awkward situation just because I haven’t done the “typical” life cycle event of getting married. That somehow my poor kid is not living life to the fullest that he could be. Then I stop myself and remind myself that I am providing for these boys so much more than what the situation they were born into could have provided. We have a home filled with more toys than they need. They rarely experience hunger. They have an extended family who loves them and a wide social net around them. They play sports. They go to the pool. We take family vacations. I remind myself that I am doing my best for them and it’s pretty darn good, come to think of it. (Yes, they do need to be doing piano lessons….but I just haven’t gotten around to scheduling that yet, much to their delight!)

It’s hard to understand the world around you if no one explains it to you when you’re six. It’s hard to comprehend how families are different and how life is different for different people unless someone explores that with you. And as an introvert who is so used to internally processing what I see and hear and experience, I rarely think about making my thoughts “evident” to my sons. Huh. New parenting insight. “Think” more externally. Journey with them rather than apart from them.

Good thing I processed the situation! 🙂