Just Remember, This Was Your Idea…

We watched the Opening Ceremonies for the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, and while I remain baffled by most of the content of last night’s presentation, I feel like we’ve embraced the spirit of sport with renewed zeal in our house.

To wit:  I went out on a limb to conquer my fear of riding my mountain bike down hills. This is not to be confused with the super-extreme body-armor-required sport calledDownhill Mountain Biking. I just want to ride some single track and go downhill and not think, “I’m gonna die.” So I took a lesson—which I’ll write about for the Deer Valley Blog, soon. I did this because, unlike in the family skiing hierarchy, I’m the wuss biker in our family. The kids haven’t done single track, yet. But they will, and they will leave me in their dust if I don’t up my game. Which is the same motivation I had to learn to ski in the trees. So, the lesson. And the charity of a bunch of girlfriends who love the sport and want me to love it enough that they will actually do wussy rides with me to build my confidence. Which seem to me to be karmically appropriate (and still, so generous), since that is my vibe when I ski with my friends who ski, shall we say, with a lesser dose of balls-to-the-wall than I employ. (Which, until the Mahre Training Camp at Deer Valley Resort, wasn’t that much, but that’s another story, altogether.)

And while I always had a healthy respect for friends who learned to ski as adults, I had no idea, NO IDEA, what I meant by that until I tried to overcome my fear of the downhill ride. The whole way down, I wanted to call my pal, Grapefriend, with whom I’ve discussed that very phenomenon, to say, “I know what they feel like, those newbie adult skiers! This is freakin’ scary, sister!”

And, in the spirit of scaring the rocks out of myself only once in a week, I decided not to try to keep up with my kids in their new chosen sport. They can skateboard without me, I thought. And then I realized, since they don’t yet know how to skateboard, and they had these shiny new boards to try out, that I had to accompany them to the skateboard park. And it was 4pm, and I thought (incorrectly) that I had already maxed out on feeling old. As in: every minute I spent in Zumiez, the skater shop in the Tanger Outlet Mall near our house. It is this chaotic, well-stocked place (staffed with polite, clean-cut kids, in fact) that seemed to scream at Jeff and me: “You are out of your depth here! Abort mission!” Our kids, high on the whiff of excitement and rebellion that emanates from the sound system in Zumiez, would not stand for anything less than leaving with sweet new rides. Still, we giggled a lot. Jeff found a “Nerdy Bird” T-shirt for me, which he said he’d only buy if he could also buy me the Daisy Duke-sized gym shorts with the Corona Extra logo on them. And I said, fine, if you’re willing to hire me a personal trainer five days a week, and then he put them back. He tried on three hats with a logo that spelled out OBEY, and we had a good laugh. Mostly because they are that big-huge-boxy style baseball hat that makes a 40something guy in ironic fashion-forward horn rims look…well, absurd, really.

photo: courtesy Zumiez.com, where you can buy this hat, if you want. Jeff’s birthday is in February.

Connor, the nice high-school kid, egged us on. He tried to get us to buy our own boards.He was unbelievably patient with my kids, and kept extolling the virtues of helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards. I LIKED this boy. And when he asked me if I followed his mom on twitter (and we figured out that, yes, we follow each other!) I tweeted to her about how great her Connor is. And felt for all the world like an old biddy. But whatever. The kids were happy, and also asking if they could learn to race Downhill Mountain Bikes like Connor, who also coaches the youth mountain bike club in town. My darling husband made sure to put me in my place when I told Connor I was working up my nerve to ride down hills. “You know that’s different than Downhill, right, Nan?” “Yes, I was about to say that the Downhill guys totally smoked me on the hill the other day, and yet, were VERY polite about that, and I like that Mountain Bike Racer people are polite.” Sounding ever more like the old biddy. So you can see how that maxed-out feeling had been achieved.

Connor, left, trying not to laugh too hard at the crazy Rothchilds

Which brings me to 4pm, when I marched into the skate park at City Park, determined to support my kids’ latest dangerous sports endeavor. And there was no way around looking or acting like a helicopter mom. So, I owned it, and very loudly told my kids to rub dirt in their scrapes and try again. And very loudly explained that every good rider in the park had fallen a ton when they first started. Because maybe the people who belonged there would decide I was ok if I was loud and pushing my kids to be tough. This, of course, was all guesswork. I made friends with another skater’s dog. I didn’t narc out the guy who was smoking in the corner. And I wished, fervently, that I had been a cool skater chick as a kid, so I would know how to teach the boys–and so that I might have a hope of earning a place of belonging in this foreign land.

By the way—no skater chicks in the park, save a lone in-line skater in derby garb, who was adorable. And who looked not at all like Florida Keys Girl and I looked some 20 years ago, when we took to the outdoor rink at Chelsea Piers in New York City,  in effort to become fit, cool in-line skater chicks—in a day. Um, so, anyway……There I was, not sure how to feel about the fact that Jeff was on a plane, bound for a conference. We would have been TWO useless grown-ups there, if he’d been present, after all—but I hated for him to miss the whole scene. I cemented my heli-status by videotaping incessantly and sending footage, via text, to Jeff-on-the-plane.

One little guy’s mom sat on a blanket on the other side of the ramps’  gates, venturing in once—to give her boy a rain warning, shooting me looks of empathy and solidarity (and not at all pity-fueled) before scurrying out again to her blanket. That kid was a seasoned-enough boarder, age 9, who told me, with a world-weary air about him, that he had learned a lot about riding by getting knocked over by the expert skaters in the park. Seth asked him why he wasn’t wearing any pads or helmet, and he said, “I’m practically a professional.” But when my kids—the only ones in full protective padding (I resisted the urge to buy a couple of rolls of bubble wrap and just swaddle them in it—aren’t you impressed?) on elbows, knees, wrists, and only two of five wearing helmets—told their new buddy that he should be in a helmet, at least. “I agree,” he said. “But my mom can’t find mine.” He was matter-of-fact, noting that he’d like some pads, too, but his parents weren’t in a hurry to buy them. With a “whattayagonnado?” shrug, he rolled over to try his next trick.

Well-padded children, photographed by Heli-Mom

I watched as Lance gained confidence and a little speed—trying new angles and turns over and over, figuring things out, making up “beat you to the other side” games with the other boy. Seth vacillated between fear, frustration, falling and regaining his courage, teaching himself to scoot, balance, glide. Quickly, he deemed himself “A PWO-Feshhional.”

All the while, my mind raced—did I have any friends who skate? I have thrown myself into improving or learning other sports—maybe I could learn skateboarding? I recalled the time my friend Juliann broke her leg, benched for the entire ski season, because she’d decided to hop on her longboard, in flip flops, to go get the mail. And how the paramedic had to repeat the report twice in his radio-call to the ER, “38 year-old female…..SKATEBOARDING accident. No, not 18…THIRTY-EIGHT…” Sigh. Frankly, the prospect of missing a ski season is the thing that’s keeping me from acting on my Eureka moment….The one when I realized I have a Facebook Friend who is a legit skater chick, who is definitely in my age bracket, and often— like me—decries the fact of our age bracket, because, we feel SO MUCH YOUNGER AND COOLER THAN WE ARE. We have mutual friends here in Park City. Skater Chick lives in the Skater Chic capital of the world: Southern California. And in my new fantasy, she comes to Park City to visit our other tragically-hip-minded friends and, charitably, teaches me to ride. Or, maybe she can just tell me about shredding, over drinks.

All the while, Jeff’s parting words as he left for the airport, rang in my ears…”Just remember, this was YOUR idea…” So, as soon as we got home, from our Apres-Skate Slurpees and First Aid Stop, I signed them up for Skateboard Camp at Park City Recreation, which, of course, has classes for everything, as long as you are willing to sign the waiver.

Calling an audible—Part 2

We drove in semi-silence. The kids and I were in my car. Jeff was driving the motor home to storage. He called me on my cell, interrupting a rant I’d been administering in ill-controlled bursts. If you must know, I sounded like that guy Fred Armisen plays, Nicholas Fehn—the Weekend Update guest who’s so riled up about the political injustices he’s tracking in the newspaper, he can’t complete a sentence of the commentary he’s supposed to provide. And so, he sputters half-declarations that rail against the injustice of it all.

People, that’s where I was. I was this guy:

I may have looked exactly like this while I was talking


Jeff’s call saved the three of us from hearing more of my sputtery sputtering.

“You know, I didn’t do this just because we were only 20 minutes from home,” he said. “I would have driven seven hours home if we’d been in Yellowstone.”

I knew he was right. The camping trip was probably doomed before it started—a cocktail of exhaustion and anticipation had rippled through our five year old’s body all week. Jeff pulled the plug when Seth had acted out, then ignored my entreaties to reel it in, then followed up with a little maraschino cheery on the disrespect sundae.

As I hung up the phone, I was about to re-launch my rant. We’d need to cancel a raft of play dates I’d set up—beach picnics, paddle boarding, barbecues—with families from Seth’s preschool. I needed Seth to feel the overwhelming consequence.

Before I could, Lance apologized. “I’m sorry I complained and was grumpy eariler,” he said. “It didn’t help things.”

“You’re right, Lance, Thank you,” I said. “But you would have corrected course quickly. Your brother made a bunch of choices not to listen, and we have to live with that.” Now, I played the cancelled playmate card, verbally tossing it into the pile, face-up, so Seth could inspect it.

Things began to sink in.

“We’re going home for a minute. I have to unload some things, I have to feed the dogs. You two are to go upstairs and eat a Z Bar and a yogurt each, and you will drink a glass of water, each,” I explained. “We won’t be able to eat dinner until after we pick up dad at the RV storage unit. No arguments. If you do anything except what I just told you, you will lose another privilege. Like being in the parade on Wednesday.”

I got compliance. We drove down to Salt Lake City to pick up Jeff.

“You know, guys, if we didn’t think you could do better, we would not expect better from you,” I said. “I’d just let you act any which way. But you can, and I won’t.”

“Yes, Mom,” came from the back seat.

We let Lance choose the restaurant. Cheesecake Factory. We let him order dessert. Seth was not allowed to partake in the cheesecake. We talked about consequences.

“You know, guys, if we didn’t think you could do better…” Jeff began.

“Mom covered that, already dad,” Lance said. “We can do better. Right Seth?”

“Right, Lance.” A beat. Then: “Mom and Dad, I’m sorry I was disrespectful.”

A look passed between Jeff and me. We dared not mess with the moment.

I began to wonder if we might be on to something? Now, your turn: When’s the last time you enforced a consequence and were rewarded with the glimmer of a result?

Nine years as a mom? Really?

Watching Lance turn 9 has been a treat. And a study in amazement, disbelief (9??? ALREADY???)

Our first family photo

One of my dear friends is fond of saying, “Every age is my favorite age.”

I get it. Because that’s how I have felt every minute of the last nine years—ten, really, because the moment I learned I was pregnant with my firstborn, I was in thrall with the very idea of being a mother. From the moment Lance was born, I was in thrall with the idea of being his mother. And there hasn’t been a minute of his life that I haven’t found something to wonder at, to marvel at—even in the inevitable moments of exasperation and frustration.

This morning, talking to my mother-in-law, I shared the fact that Lance’s birthday party guests are all friends he’s known since birth.

And I noted that he had a couple of play dates this weekend that were so easy—the kids getting along seamlessly, the parents having the ability to trust them to entertain themselves, that I wanted to just freeze him at this age. “At least you know it won’t last forever,” she remarked, wryly.

Still, I could remember how every year has been a good year, how lucky we are to have been blessed with a child who has been healthy and happy for his entire life, who has known the security of a safe, loving home, supportive parents and a village of people around him invested in his success as a human being. The tween years may loom, but these facts, I hope, will carry us forward through the challenge of helping him grow into each phase.

As I toured an online album of his first weeks of life, I found myself reliving the profound amazement, disbelief and gratitude that this precious little person had been entrusted to us. That feeling has never faded, but sometimes it takes a backseat to the daily juggle of school-homework-karate-dinner-bedtime.

On this day, I want to wish our Lance a Happy 9th Birthday, a year filled with wonder and fun. His curiosity amazes me, his passion for all things tech-y, his ability to push himself to do things that scare him, to absorb the lessons life hands him, to talk about his feelings, to devour books—big, long, complicated books, to tell jokes—good ones, to find the humor in almost any situation, to be able to dive into his religious studies with interest, to have a clear idea of what he wants, and to have a handful of friends who truly “get” him is more than I knew how to wish for him in those early days of his life.

Ski jumper!

Pizza chef!

My rider of bikes, skier of mountains, teller of jokes, giver of hugs, cooker of meals, lover of dogs, guardian of little brother, and cuddlier of mom and dad—I can’t wait to see what you do next. Happy 9th birthday, kiddo. You’re the best!

Calling an audible, Part 1.

“Where are the suitcases?”

Jeff’s voice wasn’t quiet, but he wasn’t yelling. There was an eerie calm where, moments ago, there had been chaos. Seth had been jumping around the living/dining kitchen space of our motor home. And while it’s a large motor home, there’s not a surplus of space for jumping around. Apart from being annoying, it’s dangerous.

The scene of the crimes

He’d ignored my warnings not to jump. And now, he had a sucker in his mouth, the stick and its candy orb looking less like the diversion I’d just intended and more like an injury maker. I realized this in the same split-second his head came just millimeters away from striking the edge of the galley counter top.

“STOP!” I yelled.

And then, he crossed a line. No child should ever read his mom’s blog and be forced to relive a childhood transgression, so I’ll leave it at that.

And before I could respond (which I did, poorly, without a lot of pause and deliberation—any, really), Jeff was asking where the suitcases were.

It seemed like a stupid question to me, in that moment, even as I knelt on the floor next to Seth, trying to calm us both down while explaining the inherent danger in his previous activity, and explaining that disrespectful behavior wouldn’t fly…

I felt stupid, ineffectual and useless. Still, I pressed on, arguing my point to a 5 year-old judge. Not in an inside voice.

I brought the voice down a bit and told Jeff the suitcases were in the car. As I looked up, I had a view into the bedroom at the back of the rig, where my husband was swiftly emptying drawers of clothes I’d placed in them just that morning, .

We’d been at the campsite an hour. Jeff called an audible.

“We. Are. Leaving,” he said, clearly and firmly. “I’m not spending a week like this, and Seth is not going to act out in order to get his way.”

The fact is, the thing he’d been mad about was that I’d stopped his game, chasing a balloon, which I had (stupid me) blown up in an attempt to entertain him. (“What did you think he was going to do with the balloon? Cuddle it?!” I admonished myself, silently.)

“Um, I’ll get the bags. They’re in the car, I’ll be right back.”

He’s not faking, I thought. He’s serious.

I stomped out the door. I slammed it as best I could, which is to say, pushed hard against the self-regulating hydraulic hinges. I stalked across the grass to the car, popping the trunk with my key fob—the subtlety of the motion mocking me as I fumed. I heard the RV door open and shut. Footsteps. Jeff’s voice.

“Hey! Hey!” He called out to me—I thought his tone would be angrier. I hadn’t parented very thoughtfully back there. Instead, his tone was buddy-like, almost conspiratorial, vaguely apologetic. We’ve been married a long time, so I can tell how much emotion he packs into two syllables. I felt like I deserved some reproach. My overreaction had fueled the situation, I thought. He crossed the lawn and caught up to me. Touched my arm.

“I know you’re mad. I’m sorry. But I had to do it.”

“I’m not mad. At you,” I said. “I’m pissed as hell at Seth—and myself. But you did the exact right thing. I’m glad one of us had the presence of mind to do the right thing.” We’d been counting minutes until this motor home trip all summer. When we’re all in sync, being in the motor home is the way we operate best—close quarters, few distractions, intimate family time. Or, what I fondly refer to as “being pod people.”

The kids call it our “house on wheels”

The thought of trashing a whole, precious long weekend of pod-people existence, before we could even start—I wondered, on the periphery of my brain, if we’d actually do a better job parenting if we worked through the issues and showed them that we could come together after all. Then, I recalled how many times we’d tried that—and, importantly, he’d already gone out and said, “we’re leaving.” If we reversed the decision, we’d have zero authority to address consequences—on that trip, or in any other context. It’s not lost on me that we are only getting the hang of consequence-rendering now that our children are school-aged. Jeff, hearing my thoughts without benefit of speech, made it clear we were on the same page.

“I’m determined to show him consequences, you have to trust me,” he said. “If we do this, I can almost guarantee it won’t happen again. We’ll wait it out a week or two and we’ll go camping—a bunch. All summer. But it won’t be a war every time. I won’t let it.”

“You’re 100 percent right,” I said. “I’m proud of you, and grateful.”

Let my love open the door

Truthfully, I was mad—at myself. For both engaging in the fight with Seth, and for  letting things escalate, and  for not being smart enough in the moment to think of it myself. That feeling passed in a flash—all I felt was grateful and relieved, that one of us had the presence of mind to actually be the parent in the room, the person who could guide and teach, rather than react. Behold, partnership.