Monday, June 28, 2010

Look Twice

It's steaming hot out there today. Few people love this weather the way I do. I scooted home at lunchtime to check on the pups and refill their bowls with fresh water and two trays of ice cubes. On my drive back to work, I enjoyed some of Van Halen's "Panama" with the windows rolled down, and the sun and hot wind on my face.

I'm not interested in wishing away summer. The all-star game is in a couple of weeks. The World Cup is still in full-swing. The Tour de France has yet to start. The US Open is later this season. We've got fireworks to enjoy, amusement parks to visit, beaches to dig in, oceans and pools to swim in, day trips to take, overnights to plan, quiet moments on the front porch to savor, more post-dinner bocce games to play in the back yard.... But I can say this: I'm looking forward to season three of Sons of Anarchy.

Eager, yes. But the trade-off means summer's end. So I can wait as long as it takes.


And since we're talking about SOA, here's a little PSA for ya:

Remember that motorcycles really are everywhere, so look twice and please don't ever cut one off. Keep extra stopping distance between you and motorcycles. And if you're going to ride, for the love of God please wear a helmet.


My boys on Ian's bike, July 2009




xo

Sunday, June 27, 2010

PYO

We went strawberry picking was last weekend.



Thank you, Bishop's Orchards.


This weekend kicked off an earlier-than-usual start of the PYO blueberry season. We haven't made our way to the orchard yet. Maybe next Saturday, to pick some blueberries for Independence Day treats to share with friends at our BBQ.

There is nothing like native produce in season. Berries are flavorful and juicy, without the tartness of having traveled 3,000 miles to get here. Corn is sweet and has a snap to each bite. Tomatoes are sugary, helping me to remember that they really are a fruit and not a vegetable. And in fall, nothing is better than a crisp Macintosh or Macoun apple picked fresh from the tree.

I'm looking forward to getting a crate full of fresh blueberries next weekend. Until then, I can handle the transient California ones with my yogurt, bananas, and granola. A nice, quiet little lunch all to myself on the front porch this hazy summer Sunday.


My favorite seat in the house.



xo

Friday, June 25, 2010

Beach Day

Sometimes I make great choices.

Like today. I took a vacation day. The weather was glorious, so the boys and I went to the beach for some much-needed mom-and-sons time. We skipped waves, made sandcastles, lolled around in the sun, enjoyed a good seaweed fight, and even found a little crab to keep in a sand pail filled with water (for a while).

Nolan rocked the snorkel gear all afternoon in--and out of--the water.


Eventually we took our sunny, sandy, salty selves home and cleaned up for a trip to the movies, meeting up with Sean's friend JP and his mom to see Toy Story 3 in 3-d. Thoroughly enjoyable. It was a fun movie with some really great moments.

Now Sean is enjoying a sleepover at JP's. Nolan is sleeping over his good friend Joe's. I'm thankful for the quiet, but I miss my little beach buddies. The hush of a childless house is at once a relief and an emptiness. I look forward to the boys being home tomorrow. For now, Ian and I are maxed out, mulling over weekend plans that will include at least a couple of hours at the Irish Festival, as well as some marshmallows over the firepit, if weather permits. Otherwise, we're keeping it on the quiet side. Ian's nursing a nasty summer cold, and our neighbors have strep. I would like us all to get some rest and stay well.

Today was fantastic. I didn't bother checking email. My phone was, for the most part, left ignored in my beach bag while I enjoyed conversations about how certain shells look like helmets and others look like shields or swords. I felt the hot sun on my skin and listened to the sweet humming of a contented six-year-old digging through sand with his hands.

Today was so absolutely ordinary and so totally special.

xo

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"90% of the game is mental. The other half is physical."

The boys played their championship pee wee little league game on Tuesday night after winning the playoffs.


Sean tosses his hat into the air after the playoff victory.

Before the game, Ian and I had an hour or so to ourselves to walk to the dogs. We enjoyed the usual stroll with the three beasts, talking over the changes that are being made to different homes and admiring the gardens of certain neighbors. We each walk a good portion of our neighborhood every day, so it's fun to walk it together and point out all the things we've noticed along the way.

As we climbed one of the hilly streets and headed toward home, we came upon a house recently purchased by a well-known local civil service union leader. The home is undergoing extensive renovations. "That's gotta be the fourth dumpster they've had there," Ian asked as we walked by, while I was busy admiring a row of tiger lilies on a property across the street. "Do you know how much those things cost? AND they're doing the windows? AND the roof?"

"And they're renovating inside, too", I commented.

"Where the hell do people get all this money?" Ian asked.

"Ian, seriously. Who knows? Who cares? Why do you care so much about what other people do with their money?"

"I'm like my dad that way," he said. "I guess it's the German in me."

Cee Cee poked her nose into a patch of myrtle while Ian's two dogs panted heavily in the heat.

"Well, I'm Irish [note: Irish and Italian, but mostly Irish...]," I said. "Do you know what the Irish think about money?"

"What?"

"Nothing! Because we don't have any!"

"Wa wa wa..." Ian chided.

"I grew up in the McGuire household full of Catholic Democrats, where we talked about politics, religion and literature. And more politics. And more religion. And more literature."

"Yikes."

"Money was never part of the equation in any way."

We went home, packed up our water bottles, and headed down to the game. The kids were already at the field with their father. It was raining lightly, and the game commenced with a rocky start. Both teams were off in the first couple of innings, with the usual power hitters striking out, and the usual no-fail fielders dropping the ball. It was raining. It was late. (The game didn't start until 8PM. On a school night.) And the kids were nervous. What's more, the umpire made a few bad calls, prompting me to screech, "Who paid off this umpire tonight, anyway?!?!" My nearest and dearest friend Renee, who is Sean's godmother and who, with her boyfriend Jeff, has been at almost every game this year, laughed and warned,"You're the kind of parent who gets thrown out of here!" She would know. Her grandfather was president of the league for several years, and Renee played for many teams on those fields throughout her childhood.

It was the championship. It was raining. I wasn't the only parent in a cheeky, screaming-from-the-bleachers mood that night. And I didn't take too kindly in the second inning when my ex-husband announced he was leaving to go to (wait for it....) "band practice". He "didn't realize" it was the last game. (?!?!?!?!?!?!) After an initial wave of hot, nauseous anger flowed through me, I breathed deeply and turned away from him, taking comfort in the fact that it was just another fine example of why I do not regret being divorced from him. (I know I almost never use this space, or any space, to disparage the father of my children, but this pissed me off in a big way. Please accept my apologies. Mama bear is in full effect.) But I digress.

Vapid parental figures aside, the bleachers were once again crowded with our family: Me, Ian, Renee, Jeff, my mom, my mother-in-law, my mom's good friend, Pete. And that's nothing. One game we had in excess of dozen people there just to see Sean and Nolan. The kids have a lot of love and support, and they know it. And on Tuesday night, we cheered for them and all of the kids, especially as the game took a tricky turn.


Our usual crowd at the games. 11 of us in this pic.
Q: Who brings (and reads) a book to a little league game?
A: The same person who cuts out early of his kids' championship game.


Their foes were formidable opponents. Undefeated the entire season, they typically crushed other teams with scores of 20-something to around 3 or 4--like a bad football game. Our team, 10-1, took a draw in their first regular season game against them, and took a 9-5 loss in their second match-up. Respectable. They were really the only other team of their caliber.

In the fourth inning, the rain became heavier. The field lights had been switched on, and the bleachers on our side of the field became hushed as our opponents began scoring--two runs in the fourth, then five in the fifth. Our team was still scoreless, and since it was a six-inning game, we had only one more chance to prove ourselves.

Enter Nolan in his #1 jersey. The munchkin of the team. The youngest, skinniest, smallest. The one with the biggest eyes and biggest smile, and well-loved by all. Ginger, the grandmother of the boys' good friend Nicky, is in love with him. "There's Nolan! Nolan's up a bat!" He's got a way about himself that people adore. And we loved it all the more when he started the sixth-inning rally with a solid base hit.

Bang, bang, bang...one by one the kids began making it to base. We scored: one, two, three. Then two outs. Then three more runs. And with the bases loaded and two outs, the next batter was in a very high-pressure situation. You never want to see any kid in that position, let alone your kid.

And it was my kid.

The rain was pouring by now. Everyone was soaked. The kids squinted through the raindrops and the bright lights of the field. It was 9:30PM on a school night. Sean walked to the plate. He was 2 for 3 so far that night, and most nights he's 3 for 3. He was a decent player to have in this jam. He took to the plate, tapped it with his bat, bent at the knees and swung. Strike. He breathed, paused, and watched with a good eye as the next ball came by. He took the next ball, too. Then another swing--and a strike. And a ball. Bases loaded, two out, 3-2 pitch. Everyone was silent.

Swing.

Strike.

Our opponents took to the field in victory, but our side of the field began cheering, too. Sean was devastated, but everyone congratulated him and the rest of the team on an excellent season and a game well-played. They didn't let the other team win without a fight.

After the obligatory "good game, good game" team handshakes, our team had its usual post-game outfield huddle. I watched Sean walk slowly behind the rest of the kids, stopping to talk to Nolan who had waited for him. The coach draped an arm around Sean's shoulder and kept him by his side as he gave a pep talk to the team. The rain continued to pour. Lightning flashed not far away. Most parents began making their way to the snack bar, but I waited for Sean.

"He's crying," I said to Renee, who as always was right there with me.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, I can tell." My heart was heavy.

The team broke up with cheers and headed toward the snack bar for the requisite post-game hot dogs and soda, even at nearly 10PM on a school night. Sean was still on the field. In the rain, coach Anthony leaned in and gave him a hug, and Sean began sobbing. Anthony talked with him while coach Vinny, and enormous guy with a heart of gold, knelt down in the soggy field, looked Sean in the eye and said some encouraging, positive words. Renee and I watched from under our umbrellas. I was crying. And then Nolan showed up by my side, in tears. "I wanted to win!" he said. But he was really crying because his brother was crying. He's like that. Such a little brother.

Nolan tiredly trudged off to the snack bar, while Anthony walked Sean off the field. Cindy, Nicky's mom, was also in tears as she stood by me and Renee watching Sean.

Anthony came right up and hugged me. His voice was shaking and his eyes were wet. "Let me tell you," he said, his proud Roman nose giving away his heritage. "Your son is such a good kid. He even has me crying." Then he hugged Sean again. "It could have been anyone in your position tonight, Sean. But it was you. And in a heartbeat, I'd pick you to be in the same position again, because we can always count on you. You are a great player." He gave him the team ball. Sean choked out a few more sobs. Vinny came up to him and reiterated, "We'd pick you to hit in that spot anytime, Sean. This kind of strike out happens to every good player. It's part of the game."

Also part of the game is losing. Something that our opponents didn't have the opportunity to do as a team at all this year. I reminded the kids of this when they crawled into bed sometime after 10 PM. On a school night. (It was a school night. Did I mention that?)

"Those kids are in for a rude awakening next year when they lose. They don't know what it's like, and some of them might not be able to handle it," I said. "I know that sounds like a real 'mom' thing to say after your loss tonight, but it's true."

"I can't wait to beat them next year!" Sean exclaimed.

"I want to be ON that team next year!" said Nolan.

The boys woke up on the sleepy side of things yesterday morning, but Sean was feeling better about his role in the game and was anxious to get to school and tell everyone about it. Most of his friends were on other pee wee teams, all defeated by the #1 team. Everyone was waiting to hear what happened at the championship game. It had been the talk of the second grade for a few days. Sean could finally tell them that while they lost, it wasn't by much. All the kids were hoping that, at the very least, the championship wasn't just handed to the #1 team. Sean could proudly tell them it wasn't.

As the kids got ready for school, Sean said, "We're gonna CRUSH those kids next year!"

He was brushing his teeth while I folded bath towels.

"Well, Sean, just remember that the kids on that team are kids just like you," I said, like a typical mom.

"No they're not."

"Yes, they ARE. They're not evil. It's not like Darth Vader plays on that team, honey."

Sean spit a mouthful of toothpaste into the sink. "Yeah it is!"

Today the boys finished school. They walked out of the building as a first grader and a third grader. Unreal. We inaugurated summer vacation with a few hours with our friends and neighbors in their pool.

Nothing like a cool dip in a pool on hot day. Or a pool party. Coach Vinny is hosting one for all of the kids and parents in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing the kids together as a team again. They were a phenomenal bunch of kids. The kind of kids that went out of their way to high-five each others' successes, and give an encouraging "it's okay, good try" with a pat on the helmet when one of the teammates fell short.




Pre-game huddle on the mound during playoffs.




I'm feeling somewhat adrift and kinda bummed now that little league season is over. Maybe moreso than the kids.


I wonder when registration starts for Fall Ball.


xo

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

School's (almost) Out

Summer's officially here, and yesterday it started off with a bang! The weather was spectacular. Sunny, mid-80s. The boys enjoyed a lot of slip'n'slide funtimes when I came home from work, and after dinner they headed two houses over to the pool of their good friends, Kyle and Emily. I took Cee Cee on a long, hot walk and then jumped in and joined the four kids splashing and kicking and having a great time. Our wet bare feet left a trail of sleepy tracks across Kyle and Emily's driveway as we headed home at dusk. "Today was so much fun, I forgot it was Monday!" exclaimed Nolan.

It's hard to believe these kids still have a couple more days of school. I think New Haven goes longer than anyone else in the state. Honestly. We start too late, I think, with classes not really in full swing until after Labor Day. The kids are so ready for vacation. For summer camp with their best buddies. For long, late nights riding bikes outside with the neighborhood kids until dark. I'm ready, too. I'll be working most of the time they're off, but my relatively flexible schedule means I'll be able to pick them up from camp a few days a week in the midafternoon instead of dinnertime, giving us plenty of time to enjoy sunshine in the yard with the rest of the gang.

And yesterday's beautiful dawn of summer also gave way to my final career decision: After more than a year of weighing options, I've decided to go back for my masters and certification in early education special ed. I enjoy teaching, and my experience thus far as a yoga teacher and as a CCD teacher, especially, has proved it. I absolutely love kids, especially the preschool to eight year old set, which is the population I will be certified to work with. And special ed is just amazing. All kids have potential. And all kids learn differently. But first they need to have confidence in themselves. That's where I hope to help some kids see their own light.

So, that's that. I'm prepping for the Praxis and getting my ducks in a row. I've received a copy of my college transcript (and if I hadn't totally blown my freshman year I could have graduated with high honors!). I'm hoping for a lot of financial aid and a fast track through the certification process, while working toward my masters as I start teaching. We'll see what route I eventually take. First things first: Get accepted into my program of choice.

While I'm counting down the days until I can begin grad school, the boys and I are counting down the next 48 hours until school lets out. In the meantime, tonight the boys have a late championship little league game under the lights. Their team (2nd place, 10-1, 1 draw) vs. the first place team (11-0, 1 draw). Our team's one loss and draw were against the first place team. It's our hope tonight to steal some thunder. But either way, they've had a fantastic season.

So...summer's here again. I'm busy deciding what cute desserts to make for the 4th, which we'll celebrate right at home one our awesome little block. The 4th always makes me think of the bicentennial, which we celebrated when I was three. Some of my earliest memories are from that big party at Grandma's. I remember people...everywhere. Since my mom was just 21 then, and all of her siblings were younger, the house was always packed with teenagers and "young adults". It was always fun for me. Life was one big party during my formative years. The bicentennial was more of the same.

In many ways, I was raised by wolves.

Or, to prove my point, I was raised by these people:




I turned out okay. At least I think I did.


Happy summer!!

xo

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bunny Love

We had a tag sale a few weeks ago, got rid of several things, made a couple o' bills, and enjoyed a sunny day in the yard with our next-door neighbors who also had a tag sale. (Multi-family tag sales just draw better, right?)

For sale were relics of my past: a few wedding gifts from my first marriage, random household items, albums, comics, a motorcycle helmet, lots of jewelry. Anything about which I was entirely unsentimental went on the auction block, up for some front-yard haggling.

In the middle of it all the boys returned home from a night with their father, eager to get down to business selling some toys and earning some cash for new ones. "Every toy is $50," announced Nolan (6). Good luck with that, kid!

My ex-husband dropped a box at my feet. "Here's some more stuff from the basement," he said. For a few months, he has been cleaning out the basement of his mother's house, where we had long stored things that never fit into some of the small apartments in which we lived for many years, prior to marriage. In the box were a small stuffed bear, a baby doll, some beaded necklaces given to me by high school boyfriends, some old Pez dispensers (score!), and my bunny.

My bunny is a tiny, penny-sized plastic jack rabbit that I have had as long as I can remember. I recall being really fond of it when I was about five or six years old. I took it everywhere with me. I have one somewhat vague memory of playing with it on the cellar stairs at Grandma's, where I lived until I was eight years old.

Throughout my entire life, the bunny would disappear and then reappear many months or years later unexpectedly. It always felt like a good omen when it appeared again, like some link to my happy childhood memories. Like some kind of promise that things will be okay or some reminder that I am still that good, happy, sweet, round-faced little kid. I might be older and have stumbled a lot along the way, but I'm still that girl. The irony of its appearance is that a month or so ago I went looking for it. I felt like I needed it. I can't explain why. I just missed that little bunny, and I wanted to see it. It always amazed me that of all the things I've lost in life--earrings, socks, jobs, friends, money, love--my tiny bunny, no bigger than a thimble, managed to make it through space and time to my here and now, whenever that here and now seems to be.

As shoppers browsed our junk, I tucked the bunny, Pez dispensers and bear into a safe corner of the porch, far away from the tag sale items. (The rest of the things in the box immediately went up for sale.) I was so happy to see that bunny again. Like before, I vowed not to misplace it again--but obviously it's not up to me when this little guy shows up in my life.





xo

Friday, June 11, 2010

"Don't be a crepe hanger."

It's that time of year again. School is almost out. Kids are taking final exams. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. The NBA finals are in full-swing. The World Cup starts today! My boys start their little league playoffs on Sunday (after their final regular season games tonight and tomorrow).

And Grandma's headed back to the ring for her third bout with cancer.

It never really completely went away. She's 81. She beat back liver cancer (!!!!!) in '08, a cancer in a similar region last year, and now this. It's in the lining of the abdomen, as well as two other places. Surgery is not an option. The risks outweigh the benefits at this stage of the game in her life. But she'll be starting up chemo again as soon as next week.

And she's mad.

For the first time since her initial diagnosis in fall 2007, she seems angry. "You know," she told me, "I feel like every time I'm done with the chemo, then I'm done with the cancer. But that's not true." It's frustrating, for everyone. But in the face of it all, Grandma is so brave. So graceful. So classy. Even so vain. I remember how annoyed she was when she lost some hair the last time around. I honestly couldn't tell. But she could. And she was not happy about it. "Well I notice it, and I don't like it," she said. I don't blame her. And, given that she's a social butterfly with a full dance card (she just returned from her 60th college reunion), I don't blame her for wanting to look--and feel like she looks--her best.

At least I know where I get it from when I won't leave the house to walk the dogs without even a hint of lip gloss.

Recently on Facebook, my much-younger (read: 17 year old) sister lamented that exams are "stupid". What's the point of them? she wondered.

I guess academic exams are one way to test what lessons we've retained. But tests are also a way to measure our confidence, our stamina, or even our efforts at taking our best guesses and hoping for the best.

Maybe they really just measure our attitudes.

My attitude is softening. I initially freaked out after hanging up with my mother the other night, when she called to tell me the news of Grandma's returned cancer. I allowed myself to get really upset, rather than my usual MO of immediately soldiering on. This might not be a big deal to someone else, but considering I historically have not always allowed myself to feel *anything* remotely unpleasant (and then slip into weeks of acute anxiety and panic as a result of swallowing those emotions raw and whole), it was a very big deal that I let myself have a good cry before moving on with the information. I was way more equipped to accept the lack of control I have over the situation once I allowed myself to feel the icky things first: anger, sadness, fear. Ian hugged me for a long time, and I said, "I'm afraid of life without her. I need her." Just giving voice to that fear validated it--and let it go.

But I am accepting that Grandma has another battle to fight, and we don't know how it will end. It's not something most of us ever want to think about. In our youth-obsessed culture, there is no room for aging, illness, or death. There isn't room for wrinkles. Or pimples. Or even short eyelashes. (Honest to God--Latisse? Are you kidding me?) We're not comfortable with our human-ness. Grandma came from a different era, though, as evidenced by her account of her doctor's appointment and prognosis.

We chatted at great-grandma's old kitchen table from 388 High Street, which Grandma had refinished years ago. I had stopped by to see her on my way to work yesterday morning. I brought her delphinium from my garden, in thanks for the abundance of primrose she dropped at my house earlier in the week for transplanting into the empty edges of my yard. "Well, he was certainly serious about my prognosis," she said. "But he said I'm still robust."

Robust. My 81-year-old grandma is robust.

"It wasn't like he was a crepe hanger or anything." She paused and looked at me. "You probably don't even know what the expression means."

"Nope," I said. "Enlighten me."

"Before undertakers really got into the business, wakes were usually held in people's homes. When someone had died, their family would hang crepe paper and flowers on the front door, as a way to let people know there was a death in the home. I don't remember seeing them too often, but every once in a while we'd pass by a house as we walked to school when I was younger, and we'd see the crepe paper hanging. And then, you just knew."

The conversation moved on to other topics. She mentioned she hoped to make it to another one of the boys' little league games this weekend. And, as it was getting on in the morning, I reluctantly pushed back my chair from the table and said I should be going. I hugged Grandma and kissed her goodbye. And as I left, we took note of her garden bursting with primrose, tiger lilies, and hydrangea. "Everything is a couple of weeks early this year," she said. "Please come by and take more primrose from my yard. I mean it. I've got too much." She noted how it had spread into a wonderful bed around the perimeter of the cheerful, yellow clapboard-sided garage.

"It's so hardy, and it will do well anywhere. No matter what."

Like you, Grandma.



xo

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cutting Class for the Sweep

I love being the mom of boys. Seriously. Sometimes I think it might be nice to try for one more... maybe get "the girl". But in all honesty, I love the simplicity of life with boys. They are a joy. And they're old enough to do more than push around in strollers now, which is more fun for all of us. Yes, I love to cuddle and snuggle babies. But I also like getting predictable patterns of sleep nowadays. And I like that my kids can pour their own drinks and get their own snacks, too. And ride two-wheelers.

Yesterday, I had two of Sean's best buds and one of Nolan's best friends at the house after school. It was loud. Many Legos and Nerf guns were employed during the afternoon. And who needs a fort when you have a pick-up truck?


The fun just keeps coming, too. Today, I had the best time surprising Sean by picking him up early from school.

"Mom, why am I leaving early?"

"Maybe you have a doctor's appointment."

"Awww...."

"Or maybe you have a dentist appointment."

"Awww...."

"Or maybe you're going to Yankee Stadium today with Nicky and his parents!!!"

Hugs! Kisses! Jumping up and down! "Thank you, Mommy! Thank you! Thank you! THIS RULES!"

His happiness was brighter than the sun. I tossed him his hat and glove, and then we headed over to Nicky's.


I don't know who had more fun with this surprise--the kids or the parents. Mike and Cindy, Nick's parents, also picked up Nicky early and unannounced from school. And they never told him his BFF was coming with them. According to Cindy, as we pulled in the driveway he was asking, "But who is the fourth ticket for? And--wait! Why is Sean here?"

He was so excited, he scooped up Sean in his arms.


But with all the fun, there are growing pains. Nolan will be upset that he wasn't included in the Yankee Stadium class cutting bonanza today. He's buds with all of Sean's friends, so he often gets upset if Sean does something on his own with the 8-year-old set. He is slowly and unwittingly learning that they each have their own friends and have a right to do things once in a while only with those friends without including each other. It's a rough lesson, but he's accepting it, especially since so often they want to do things together as a group. I know that as they get older, their groups of friends will continue to overlap. For that I'm grateful. Nolan is extremely outgoing and personable, and he will always get along with Sean's buddies, and vice-versa. But they need to respect each others' right to have "their" friends to themselves once in a while.

Like today. At Yankee Stadium. Armed with his best friend, his glove, a pocket full of cash for buying overpriced Yankees Silly Bandz, and an epi-pen for the damn peanuts everywhere (and a firefighter chaperone to administer it if necessary!), Sean took off for an adventure he'll remember for a long time. It's a little scary to let go of any child, food allergies or not. But he's in good hands. And he's a good kid. He's growing up. And every day he and his brother teach me that the more joy and confidence I have in my own parenting will make their increasing independence easier to accept and something to celebrate. Like the woman in church told me several months ago, if I enjoy it now, it will be easier to let go later.

Little boys don't stay little forever. But then why is it that I often still feel like a "new" mom?

Go Yanks!

xo