The Soundtrack of My Life

Last week, I took my middle son to our local bookstore to meet his favorite author Mike Lupica.  Lupica (who is probably better known as a popular columnist for the New York Daily News and a commentator on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters”) has written numerous sports-themed kid books and has become known as “The King of Reluctant Readers.”  My son is one such ‘reluctant reader’ which is why we were both so excited to actually meet the author in person.

Although Mr. Lupica is an accomplished writer, he’s also a great speaker–appealing to both the crowd of boys (I didn’t see a girl in the bunch) and their parents (many of which were Dads that were absolutely giddy to ask such thought-provoking author questions as “Who do you pick to win the NCAA?”).  There was one statement that Mike Lupica made that stuck with me for days: “Parents, those conversations you hear from the backseat of your car or at the dinner table…those conversations are the soundtrack of your life.”  Wow—really?  I was thinking what my own soundtrack might be and was hoping it would be filled with deep conversations about life changing events or those ‘after school special endings’ where Mom and Dad are always right and brothers and sisters embrace each other with love. Instead, this is what I have:

Daughter: “I am getting an ‘A’ in language arts.  Finally an ‘A’ in language arts.  This means I have more ‘A’s’ than ‘B’s’.  Whoot Whoot!”
Son #1: “I am getting a ‘D’ in social studies.  I thought I was getting an ‘F’.  I have more ‘C’s’ than ‘D’s’.  Whoot Whoot!”

Son #2: “I know I was on yellow today, but Trinity was on red.  Do you know this is Trinity’s first time on red?  She cried. I don’t cry when I’m on red because I know the next time I will probably be on yellow.”
Daughter: “Don’t you mean you will probably be on green?  Isn’t green the ‘good’ color?”
Son #2: “Yeah, but yellow is kind of my own green.”

Daughter (as she stomps up the stairs with her phone): “Am I the only one in this family who doesn’t want to wrestle in the family room or hear about somebody bleeding during recess?”

Son #2: “It wasn’t my fault.  It was his fault”
Son #1: “Me?!  You are the one that pushed me into the table and made the pictures fall.”
Son #2: “I know, but you are the one that makes me mad which makes me do crazy things.  It’s your fault.”

If my conversations were turned into an actual music-filled soundtrack it would probably include Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’, Mxpx’s ‘Responsibility’, No Doubt’s ‘I’m Just a Girl’ and the Offspring’s ‘Come Out and Play’–each representing a specific chunk of our current state of affairs which includes a son who thinks he will somehow get by with poor grades, another son who has apparently set his own standards and rules for classroom behavior, a daughter who wants to flee our testosterone-filled household and siblings who constantly look to blame one another for their own actions.

What is the current soundtrack of your life?

Why I Don’t Coach

I just received a phone call asking if I would be willing to be the coach of my son’s recreational soccer team.  There is no part of my body that thinks this is a good fit for my personality.  First and foremost, after years of watching all three of my children play soccer at least once or twice during their long athletic careers, I still know very little about the sport itself. And, if that’s not enough to keep me off of the sidelines, I have very little patience for other parents.  Let me rephrase that…I have very little patience for other parents who 1) think their child is a better athlete than he or she really is, 2) feel the first grade soccer team is one step below becoming a member of the Chicago Fire and 3) run over to the team huddle during every timeout with an extra water bottle and cheese cracker snack because little Johnny didn’t eat a very good lunch.

The patience I lack as a possible coach, I make up for in being a good ‘player parent.’  I am none of the people described above (at least I hope I’m not) and I really do think being a coach of any type of kid team, even if you were forced to volunteer, is an enormous amount of responsibility.  Which is why, at the beginning of every new sport’s season, I truly believe that our coach has the best interest of my child and his or her team at heart.    For the most part, this philosophy has served us well and we have been blessed with a myriad of coaches who have gone above and beyond their call of volunteer duty.  Until last year.

Last year, my middle son moved up an age bracket for his baseball league and was put on a new team.  While his fielding was strong, Nate was in a bit of a batting slump—a slump that lasted pretty much throughout the entire season.  With each and every game, I could tell the coach was growing more frustrated with Nate—pulling him from key fielding positions and taking him out of play every other inning.  Near the end of the season, this coach allowed teammates to give Nate a hard time about his hitting ability to the point where Nate’s love for the sport itself completely deteriorated.  It took just one season for an 11 year-old boy, a boy who was sitting on the All-Star field the year before, to decide to hang up his bat and glove for good.

As we begin our first spring/summer season with one less baseball player in the house, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had that coach looked at my son as a person instead of just a player.  I’ve seen it happen before—the wrestling coach who showed Nate the importance of setting goals; the soccer coach who encouraged Hanna to learn a new position; the baseball coach who knew Jack’s size had nothing to do with his might and the football coaches who defined what it meant to really be a team—these adults looked at the role of coach as more than just a manager of the game and realized the impact they might have on the future lives of their young players.

For the record, I’m not volunteering to coach this soccer season and I’m pretty sure after spending a fall season where half the game time was devoted to helping 6 year-old boys zip up their coats, my husband will not be volunteering either.  But, we will be there on the sidelines, cheering on our children, remembering to bring our snacks on the right day and supporting our coaches in any way possible.

The Write Stuff

My youngest son came home from school last Monday, dropped his backpack at the door and ran up the stairs and into my office.  “Mom,” he started barely able to catch his breath.  “I want to write a book.”  OK, this is the sentence I have been waiting to hear come out of the mouth of at least one of my children pretty much since the day they were born, but suddenly, I found myself envisioning him twenty years in the future sitting on the floor of a rundown apartment with nothing around him but a light, a laptop and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

That must have been the same vision (minus the laptop, of course) my Dad had when I announced with great pride that I would be majoring in English in college.  “And what else?” He had asked.  “Are you planning to get a degree in business or education?”  I simply replied, “Nothing else.  Just English.  Even if I don’t ever write a book, what business doesn’t need a good writer on staff?”  Apparently lots of businesses succeed without having good writers and it took me many years to discover that small, but relevant truth.

Did I really want one of my children to go down that same road—the one often filled with frustration and cynicism?  Doesn’t Jack deserve a career that is a bit more secure and financially lucrative?  Just as I was beginning to make my mental list of “why you should not be a writer”, I looked over to find Jack busy writing down words on a blank sheet of printer paper he had found on the floor.  He was lost in his own writing—furiously trying to get his pen to keep up with the stories that were obviously flying through his mind.  I knew that feeling—it was a great feeling.  And that one singular sensation (pardon the ‘Chorus Line’ reference) you feel as a writer (and I am assuming you feel with any career/hobby you love) somehow makes all the frustrations more bearable.

“Jack, I think it’s great you want to write a book,” I said as I joined him on the floor to see what he was putting down on paper.  “You could be a writer like Mommy.”

“You’re a writer?” He asked without even looking up from his paper.

“Yes,” and I hesitated before saying, “What do you think Mommy does?”

“I don’t know.  I didn’t think you really did anything.  Oh, laundry—you do a lot of laundry.”  I got myself back up from the floor, found my place at the desk and said, “Well, I am a writer and I love it.  And now you can be one, too.”

“I just want to write a book in the first grade.  My real job will be something cool like a football player or a UFC fighter.  Or, a bus driver.  Whatever.”

Obviously I put way more thought into his writing career than he did which is how this whole parenting thing usually works, at least for me anyway.  I find myself pre-planning their individual lives when in all honesty, they are just looking to make it through next week’s math quiz, English project or round of playground tag.  It’s a lesson I need to learn from my children–just taking each moment as it is and not worrying about what the future may hold.

As Jack would say, “Whatever.”

The Parenthood Journey

It is really true what they say, kids do grow-up fast.  My oldest will be heading to high school next year and as we try to keep ourselves from being buried by the paperwork of new class schedules, band auditions, and parent orientations, I can’t help but think back to those first few years of her life.  Those were the days filled with sleepless nights, diapers and tantrums and when her brother arrived just two short years after she entered the world, I found myself juggling the ever-growing demands of my toddler with the ever-present demands of a newborn.  I was exhausted and cranky and found it difficult to believe that this would be the easiest part of my parenting journey.

That is precisely what my sister told me as I complained to her about my hectic and overwhelming life as a new mom.  She listened to my endless stories of grocery store meltdowns and missing “bops” (pacifiers for those not in the Minglin clan) and calmly said to me, “I know you don’t see this now, but the problems you are having at the moment are small and controllable when compared to the problems you will face as they get older.”  Small and controllable—those words stayed in my mind for years after that conversation.  Mostly because I thought my sister had lost her mind.  When I found myself rushing to grab towels after my daughter’s lunch made an appearance in the aisle of a drug store, or stayed up all night consoling a baby with an ear infection, or even when I spent an entire morning convincing a toddler they couldn’t wear sandals in snow—small and controllable?  At those moments my problems seemed big and unmanageable.

Then, just as they do, my children got older.  And as they got older, so did their problems.  We went from small illnesses and shoe arguments to broken hearts and bad grades.  There have been so many moments where I have watched as my children cry over lost friendships, struggle to succeed in sports, and drop the ball with school assignments.  It is during those moments that I have come to realize exactly what my sister meant by ‘small and controllable’ and have come to appreciate the days when I could make their decisions for them and soothe their spirits by simply holding them in my arms all night.

As we embark on our first high school adventure, I am keenly aware that my job as a parent is getting harder not easier.  But, with great hardship often comes great reward, and watching my children become smart, healthy & happy adults is worth every moment of every sleepless night.