The seven stages of spin class

There is nothing quite like the workout you get in a spin class. So few activities offer a ten-plus calories-per-minute burn rate, with a soundtrack and motivating instructor. So few activities offer you the opportunity to pedal for miles and miles without leaving the room. In Park City, you’re not just taught, but coached. Competitive cyclists take these classes, weekend warrior triathletes. You get tips for your mountain bike ride and your road ride—whether you engage in those sports or not, the assumption is that you do, and you’re crazy if you don’t. And, somehow, I keep going back—maybe it’s the view of the luscious lap pool, empty, beckoning to me as I crush mile after mile on my stay-put bike, in a room full of other sweaty people. Maybe it’s the fantasy that I could be one of those super duper athletes one day. Or maybe it’s the full seven stages of class—not the cycling-defined stages, mind you, but the mental stages. Herewith, my play-by-play:

1. Anticipation: I’m setting up the bike. Every time is like the first time. I usually get a bike that was last ridden by a 7-foot tall bodybuilder who has tightened the bolts to the point where I have to call upon a stronger-than-me person in the room to help me loosen them. Yeah, I’m badass. Once I’ve brought everything into alignment, I take a stab at figuring out whether the computer will work this time. I start pedaling. I wonder about the playlist, and how many climbs versus isolations we’ll be doing.

2. Self-Hating
Class begins—warmup is way more RPMs than I’m mentally prepared to hack. Yet, here I am, hating myself for getting on this bike in the first place. I am gasping for air, grabbing for my water bottle at ridiculous intervals. I am convinced that I’m not keeping up with the class—then I’m mad at myself again for getting competitive in an individual sport. Oh, yeah, and indoor cycling isn’t exactly a sport, so much as it is an imitation of a sport. The instructor just announced our first sprint. I want to die.

3. Self-Loathing
The sprint. My legs can’t pedal fast enough. The super-triathletes in this room are going like mad. I’m sucking wind, barely. Cue water bottle distraction. We’re sprinting, we’re sprinting, and I’m thinking: “My kingdom for a hill climb.” And then, it happens. “Turn it up to your 9 or 10, and let’s climb.” Suddenly, I’m in the land of “be careful what you wish for.” My quads are burning, my breathing is too rapid. I’m pushing myself to keep some insane cadence. I check the clock, which is reflected (backwards, of course) in the mirror. I’m good at reading reflected time—but now I’m wishing I did not have this gift. It is the sixth such time I have checked the clock since class began at half-past eight. Dammit all to hell, it’s been 9:05 for the past TWENTY MINUTES. I hate myself for myriad reasons, now.

4. Nausea
And reason number 7,364 is that I now feel like I need to puke. Which is, by and large, considered bad form in the spin room. More water. We’re still climbing, but there’s talk of something called isolations, wherein you make your upper body stay still and only “spin” your legs. I can do these fine, when we’re climbing. When we are supposed to do it at speed, I turn into a spaz. Or, should I say, revert to my spazzed out self. Oh, well…here goes nothing.

5. Euphoria
Somewhere in the last eight minutes, the endorphins kicked in. Give me a climb! I’ll turn the dial up to ELEVEN! Tell me to spin it out while isolating! I’m IN, baby! BRING IT. Oh, and I just said all of that out loud. My fellow spinners give me looks of mild amusement—or maybe that’s just the smile they have in their expressions arsenal reserved for people they think are deranged.

6. Free Love
It’s minute 46, and I love each and every one of you. Not just “you” who are spinning in this room with me, but you who are reading this post. I love the world. I love climbing. I love isolating. I love when the teacher says, “Sure, we can recover—after class!” I love the fact that the miles-ridden indicator on the computer is nearing 20. I love that I’m thisclose to having burned 600 calories in an hour. I love that I’ve just ridden almost 20 miles to NOWHERE. I am the spin-room equivalent of the drunk frat boy, and his alcohol-infused love of all in the room—nay, the world. I AM LOVE.

7. Sweet Relief
“Sit up straight and give yourselves a hand! You did it!” Oh, yes, thank you to all holy spirits—from all religions and spiritual worlds, actually. This workout has reached its best moment: It has ended. And now, I’m off to find food—and eat with impunity.

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Sad, sad day

I was thinking about scaffolding today. A piece of mine has fallen apart, and I’ve been struggling to make sense of it. If you’re very lucky, as I am, you have a core group of friends, and the community around you as external support–but the strength of that communal support often comes from the friends who aren’t the every-day contacts, but those you see with some regularity, more by happenstance, or by shared circumstance, than by design.

This morning, I learned that Debbie, a woman I’d become friendly with in the years I’ve been a mother, died of cancer. We’d spent many hours together—sitting on the sidelines at toddler soccer, mucking about at mommy-and-me gymnastics, dancing and singing with our kids in music class, chatting in the nursery of the church where the class met, bumping into each other at events and activities. I wasn’t part of her inner circle of friends—though I count many of them as my friends, too. But she and I were part of each other’s scaffolding—serving as part of each other’s extended support network, often acting as sounding boards as we wrestled with school choices, parenting dilemmas, vacation plans, family-of-origin dynamics, childhood stories. You can cover a lot of ground without ever going to the mall together, or attending each other’s birthday dinners.

When I learned she was ill, I offered up some concrete ways in which I might be helpful. “I know you have your close circle to meet a lot of your needs. But know, too, that I go to the supermarket nearly daily, and that if you run out of orange juice, I will pick it up for you,” I wrote in an email. “I’ve been on the receiving end of well-intentioned offers of general help, and couldn’t ever muster to figure out what I needed.” She’d asked me for prayers, and I said, yes, of course. I told her, too, that as much as I enjoyed hearing from her, I didn’t need a reply. Of course, she wrote back, with a matter-of-fact explanation of her treatment options, which had changed. “I’m looking for a doctor who will prescribe chemotherapy that will buy me time—anything more than a year.” Reading that broke my heart, even as I felt inspired by (and understood completely) her fierce determination to spend as much time as possible with her family.

I can promise you, the very least interesting piece of information about Debbie is that she died too young of a horrible, aggressive cancer. What I liked, admired and enjoyed about Debbie was the way she lived—interested in everything, reading, running, thinking. She lived well and fully, immersed herself in her daughters’ world, in the warmth of her church community. She was utterly devoted to her girls, her husband, her family life. There was a glow about her, a warmth that emanated from her heart (and, perhaps, explained the unseasonably warm, golden weather we have had the last couple of afternoons). She mothered with the kind of strength that we all hope for, the kind of faith and belief that we should all strive for.

Debbie amazed me—our conversations revealed a mix of pragmatism and spirit, centeredness, studiousness and spunk. Before she became ill, she and her husband took a trip to Paris. Grandparents flew in from out-of-state to stay with the girls. I remember feeling totally impressed by her plans, and, also, slightly mystified. I remember saying, “You’ll never regret a week in Paris with your husband,” while thinking that I could not even consider trying to pull off such an endeavor. It seemed (to me), that Paris could wait for some season, a long time from now, when my kids are older. Today, I was thinking, maybe, on some level, she felt a sense of urgency. Maybe people who are with us for less time than you’d expect them to be are gifted with the innate understanding that the time for Paris is now.

Today, before I learned that she’d passed away, I was out for a walk with a close friend whose daughter plays soccer with Debbie’s daughter. “I just feel silly getting wrapped up in my own problems,” she said to me. “Look at what Debbie has faced—it makes me feel silly for getting bogged down by daily life.”

I thought for a moment—I’d been wrestling with similar thoughts for weeks, and, yesterday, the inner struggle was so intense, but nameless, so that when someone remarked that I lacked my usual spunk, I couldn’t pinpoint why. I’d tried to chalk it up to being tired. It wasn’t until I heard from a friend that Debbie was struggling, that I understood my uneasiness. Still, I couldn’t settle my mind. Now, I could: “You know, I think it’s disrespectful to Debbie—and the life she has led—to think like that,” I ventured. “Don’t you think she’d give anything to be around for more months or years of fretting over her kids’ well-being, feeling frustrated by school, or messy rooms, or just plain being there for them?” I’d been up late the night before, talking through some fourth-grade angst with my son, even as I had a looming deadline. “I sat there with him and felt so honored that he wanted to talk to me about it all,” I explained. “And I felt so grateful that I could be there, that nothing else mattered.” Even in my frustration that I couldn’t solve the problems for him, that I doubted if I was getting through to him, I understood that what mattered was my being there. It goes further than the urgent entreaties to hug your loved ones, to savor every moment, that I was tempted to post on Facebook last night. They didn’t capture the meaning I was trying to divine from the details.

I can’t know what she would give for another day, how she felt, and what kind of peace she found in preparing herself and her family for the fact that they’ll need to find a new normal, without her.

But, today, it was clear to me that the best way to honor her life is to continue to be part of its scaffolding. I reached out to her closest friends, people who are also my friends, to offer condolences, support, hugs. The calls were equal parts instinct and thought. “I’m calling to check on you,” I said to one friend’s voicemail. “I’m here for you, and I am thinking of you and I will see you later today.” I assumed I would see her—we are usually at school pickup together. I bumped into that friend in the hall at school an hour later, both of us there to have lunch with our kids and take them to the book fair. We exchanged a look. I felt, in that moment, that we were, inadvertently, honoring Debbie by going to lunch at book fair week; it was, perhaps, something she might have liked to do, too. As we walked, my friend mouthed “Thank you,” above her daughter’s head. “I love you,” I mouthed back—which seemed not at all strange under the circumstances. We’re not that kind of friends, but we both understand love and how it lifts you up. I meant that. Love, I knew, might help. She broke away from her daughter’s class for a moment, crossed the hall and grabbed me in a hug. “That was such a surprise,” she said. “It meant a lot to get your message.”

“I had to call,” I explained. “I’m here for you.” Tears welled up for both of us;  she reached for her sunglasses that had been pushed on top of her head. “Time for my glasses again.” I texted another friend, and I asked her to make time soon to share her favorite stories of Debbie. I shared the news with a few others. These connections meant a lot to me today—I’m feeling the loss, and I knew it would mean something to those who loved her best, to know that they were not alone, that her life meant a lot to many people, and that her relationships with them were worthy of condolences from every corner.

It’s part of what makes scaffolding so strong. I’m so grateful Debbie Cheng was part of mine. I hope she knew how many of us were truly grateful for her presence, her friendship. I know her husband and their daughters will be the beneficiaries of all this scaffolding, the support of the families who loved Debbie, and who love them. I hope, too, the girls will grow up to have the kind of central support she had, and the kind of scaffolding their mom shared with so many of us. I wish only peace and comfort to those who knew and loved her best.

Rest in peace, my friend. You are, already, missed.

(P.S. I welcome comments, below, from anyone who knew Debbie and wishes to share memories, here.)

Three Jews in The Room

Today, we attended the blessing of little Jackson, in the home of his grandparents. It was a nice chance to share a tradition with friends of another faith. In this case, our friends are Latter Day Saints–Mormons. I told my older son that these friends had attended his bris, and it was a privilege to be able to witness another tradition.

After the brief, loving ceremony, one of my boys was visibly confused. A church member gently offered to answer questions. My child declined, then beelined for the buffet. (My kids haven’t attended a bris they can remember; I assured them they could expect to feel confused by that someday, too.)

Jackson’s grandfather, our dear friend JP (really, he’s Jeff, but with a Jeff in our family, too, initials help avoid confusion.) joined us at our table. “So many Mormons in this house!” he joked, putting an arm around Lance. “I need to be with my people! You are my people!”
We giggled and then Seth, in his “all-purpose” (outside) voice, remarked: “Jeff! Do you know we are the only three Jews in the room?!” JP, unsure of what he had heard, said, “Come again?”

“I SAID, WE ARE THE ONLY THREE JEWS IN THE ROOM!” Improbably (to everyone but me), he got louder. Then, he shrugged, shook his head, sighed in a worldly way, and looked around as he said, “Look at all these Normans!“. Then he shook his head in utter disbelief.

This friendship knows no bounds. JP assumed the role of the actual Norman in our family–my dad–and trotted this story out to as many of the other friends and family as he could corner. Awesome sauce.

Here is sweet Jackson, his mom, Lindsay, and Grandma Sue. His mother will one day tell him he wailed throughout the blessing…and then was all smiles immediately afterward…

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We all remember

Each year, on this haunting anniversary of 9/11/01, we all remember where we were. And all of us, who are lucky enough to post about it on Facebook, have lived rich, full lives since that day. We have held our loved ones close, and we have argued with them, and we have made up–or not. We are the lucky ones. We have tried new things, we have failed at some. We have made money, lost money, downsized, up-sized, been promoted or fired. We have taken our freedom for granted, we have appreciated it.

These are the things I did today, all the while humbled by the knowledge that, 11years ago, terrorists robbed many, many families of such simple, satisfying pleasures:
Kissed my husband & kids good morning.
Took my boys to school.
Watched Seth show off his mastery of the monkey bars.
Laughed my way through a butt-kicking workout with friends.
Counseled a friend on coping with pet loss.
Picked up Seth, took him to lunch, the playground, his K enrichment class, talked to an old friend on the phone, talked to my mom on the phone.
Picked up Lance, then Seth & his playdate.
Listened to Superfudge, by Judy Blume in the car as the kids giggles escalated. Made snacks.
Played Candyland & Battleship.
Broke up three wrestling matches. Begged for a little quiet. Yelled, “Stop That” and “Bedtime!” at least four times. Read Hop on Pop.

…There are countless civilians and soldiers whose families have been forever fractured. And, yes, military families living through the stress of deployment. And then, there’s my little family…and today I may have succeeded in not taking my life & freedom for granted. How was your day?

chore chart, laminated, whiteboards, Staples

Calling an audible, Part 3.

Jeff has the annoying/misguided good-husband habit of letting me sleep in on days he knows I am not working, per se, and the kids have no place to be for the day, except with me. The result is that the kids tend to go straight to TV or the computer or video games, or all of the above, the second they get out of bed, and by the time I appear an hour or so later, they are over-stimulated, cranky, hungry, and, in Lance’s case, suffering from a headache that’s the direct result of neglecting to put on his eyeglasses before engaging in activities that require them.

And when I try to, say, feed them, they give me all sorts of grumpy push-back.

Emboldended by the cancelled camping trip, I shut them down one recent morning—after they’d grumped at me about stopping a video game for a breakfast that wasn’t to their liking, and then offered all sorts of attitude and eye-rolling in response to my announcement that they needed to help with the laundry.

Seth, fresh from being the center of the camping trip controversy, snapped to rather quickly, getting the plastic FlipFold gizmo I’d ordered from the Tee Vee, out of the closet. Lance explained that he is no good at folding, and will never be, so why bother? I rejoined with my “we wouldn’t expect more if you couldn’t do more,” speech, and suggested he ask me, nicely, for help learning how to fold well.

Here’s what he learned:

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Laundry done, we set about making lunch. I explained that there were new rules.

To wit:

In the morning, no games of any type, no TV, no computer, no nuthin’…until breakfast is made and eaten, beds are made, teeth are brushed, clothes are worn.

Each child has a checklist, which I figured I could download from another, more-organized-than-I-will-ever-be-mom’s blog. They have to complete the checklist, whether I’m awake or not, and then they are allowed access to TV, computers, gaming or whatever they want.

I asked the kids to help me make the charts (buy in!) and then made a big show of going to Staples to buy laminating sheets (no machine required) and some white boards. I created “command centers” in the kids’ rooms. You know, to make it official.

chore chart, laminated, whiteboards, Staples

Each week, I write a basic schedule on Lance’s white-board, so he has an idea of what to expect each day. It helps.

Here’s when I realized the drilling-in of consequences had taken hold. I hadn’t so much as web-searched “chores list” to get my game on, when I found myself waking in my bed—THE VERY NEXT DAY— to the sounds of my sons happily cooperating making their morning toaster waffles. I thought about getting up, but I knew—I knew it would wreck the moment. I lay there, while they negotiated who would pour the OJ, who would get the place mats, and which plates they would use. All I could think was, “It’s WORKING!!!” That, and “Don’t get up. It will ruin the WHOLE THING.”

I carefully, quietly, slid out of bed, tiptoeing the six or eight steps to my master bath. I showered. Dressed. Presented myself.

“Look mom!” They were a chorus of pride.

“We made our beds, we got dressed, we made breakfast—“

“Lance made breakfast, I helped!”

“When we finish, we will put the dishes in the dishwasher and go brush our teeth and wash our faces,” Lance announced.

“THEN, can we watch TV????” Seth’s voice formed a hopeful plea.

I didn’t have to consider my answer—I had a ton of work to do. Being able to allow them to watch TV was a gift. They had no idea what manna they had offered me.

“Yes. Absolutely. Yes.”

I gave nary a second thought to the fact that it was a gorgeous day outside (again) and I was letting them while it away indoors. I just enjoyed the fact that I could.

chore chart, laminated, whiteboards, Staples

Seth prefers to use his board as a means of self-expression. It’s all good. Also, I drew pictures of each chore on top of the words. As he learns to read, I’ll erase the pictures.

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.

If you’re sexy and you know it…

This is not the post you might think it will be. It may, however, be the funniest “multicultural moment” I have experienced in a long time.

First, I will tell you that ever since the Temple Har Shalom Community Seder on the second night of Passover, Seth has been obsessed—obsessed, I tell you—with the song Dayenu. (I think it has something to do with the overall “party-on” tone of the event—truly one of the most fun seders I have ever attended. Each child received a goody bag upon arrival, complete with props for the ten plagues–think finger puppets, toy frogs, and Plague Masks. Check out my guys, below—if there is such thing as a fitting plague costume, it’s Seth in the Wild Animals mask. That’s for sure.)

Anyway, back to Dayenu…If you are not familiar with this #1 Passover hit, it details all the miracles G-d granted the Jews, but argues that just one would have been enough for us.

The refrain of the song is the Hebrew word that means “it would have been enough for us,” and you will have to trust me that the repeated singing of the word Dayenu  is nothing short of catchy.

It goes something like this: Di, di-eynu, di-diyenu, di diyenu, dayenu dayenu.

Click on the link, above, to get the drift.

So, at the seder, we were introduced to a tradition that Rabbi Aaronson told us began with Afghani Jews: As you sing the chorus, you hold a scallion by the bulb and hit your neighbor with the greens. Naturally, the kids in the room (and, yes, the adults) were thrilled with the idea of Rabbinically-endorsed vegetable weaponry. My kids, especially.

And it’s probably why, nearly two weeks after the seder, my son was singing Dayenu all morning, today.

At breakfast, in the shower, and, yep, during carpool. Seth and his carpool buddy get into very animated debates about things like whether Legos are for boys or girls–or both. Come to think of it, they have a pretty decent feel for current events.

But here’s how this morning differed from all other mornings:

On this morning, Seth announced to our little blond, braided friend: I am going to teach you a song…in HEBREW.

He launches into the chorus, and then says, “You get to hit your mom with a scallion when you sing this!” To my ear, it was reported with  just a bit more enthusiasm than made me comfortable. But whatevs.

After they exhausted Dayenu, the little girl said, “Now I’m going to teach you a song!”

A beat.

“If you’re sexy and you know it, clap your hands!”

That’s right, sexy.

In these moments, I try to play it cool—I don’t want to create a ruckus of shame and self-doubt in a four year-old’s psyche. I don’t want to have some crazy over the top reaction about how four year-olds should not know the word “sexy.” Four year olds hear stuff. They repeat it. Especially if they have older brothers.

I’m sure that people smarter and more PC than I am would have just ignored it.

But I laughed. Hard.

And I couldn’t leave it there. I had to ask how she arrived at this lyric!

Still, I kept my tone light—”Hee hee, sweetie, where did you learn that song?”–Because I knew she was just repeating something innocently, and since I know her mom to be one of the good ones, who keep childhood child-like, I knew that the explanation would be totally innocent. Or would have something to do with her older brothers, ages 6 and 8, who are precocious and hilarious and just as innocent. But not free of mischief.

I was, it turned out, half-right:

And I won’t lie: her matter-of-fact response has had me chuckling aloud all day:

“Oh, I learned ‘sexy’ from my brothers…” which she pronounces, ‘brudders” –“and I learned the clap your hands part in Church school!”

I just want to know if she’s going to turn up to Sunday school with a scallion to accompany her mashup.

Of course, now, when I see her mom, the only acceptable greeting is, “Clap Your Hands!”

Here, by the way, is my new favorite Passover song—punk style!–  with some rocking Dayenus at the end. Oh, and this hilarious Fountainheads song which tells the Passover story—mashup style.

And, now, I will direct you to the top of this post, in order to inspect the mashup of tags I never dreamed I’d create.