This Week,

This Week,

This is one of those weeks.

It’s one of those weeks when I don’t know how I can possibly come up with a post, because something bad happened and I don’t have the words, or the will to find the words, that will make a neat and tidy story of it.

A friend died in a tragic hit and run accident. He was walking, someone hit him with their car, and left,

just like that.

I found out about this on Saturday morning, when I was standing in line at MineCon with my sons. We had checked into a hotel the night before, meeting up with dear friends who live far away, set for a weekend of fun that they had been excited about for months.

I opted not to tell the kids when I found out.

There wasn’t anything to be done, and plenty of time for grief, ahead. Might as well let them have a day and a half of believing the world is built on solid ground and can’t change in an instant, the way we know it can,

from ok,

to complete shit.

Besides, I needed time to figure out exactly what I wanted to say to them. What I had in mind didn’t seem quite right. What I had in mind was something like,

“Hey kids, I sort of forgot to tell you, between bugging you about table manners and the wet towels on the floor, that life, this whole experience that we’re all having, really doesn’t make any sense at all. Blink, and the whole thing looks different. Good luck.”

But I kept quiet.

So, we went to MineCon and I spent most of it with my nose buried in my phone, texting and trolling FaceBook, as a way of feeling connected to the people I love, who love Rob. Accidents like he suffered take a while to compute, and I needed to get it through my thick skull, what had happened.

I ended up with this:

The guy who loved my Grammie’s brownies, who sang my name every time we said hello, who helped direct my son in all those musicals, who played piano and wrote songs and stayed open and goofy in the face of so many challenges, who appreciated my boys and told me exactly why, who has a wife and daughter who absolutely adore him— that guy is gone from planet Earth.

Because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

WTF???

Just leave it, I thought. Like rain on clay soil, eventually, it would sink in.

At the end of the weekend, I told my boys about Rob, and after talking and hugging for a moment, we drove the freeway home, my thirteen year old staring out the window in silence.

My husband was waiting for us when we got home, happy to see us.

Then, when I went to get my bag out of the car, I couldn’t find my keys.

I was holding myself together by the most delicate thread and, now, between the car and the kitchen, I had somehow lost my keys and, I thought, this might just be the thing that does me in.

You know those moments.

It seemed to me, at the time, that my husband didn’t understand,

or didn’t want to.

And maybe— I’m sure I saw it (well, pretty sure)— he sighed heavily.

What?!

Why would he sigh heavily, like he can’t believe I lost my keys. Like I’m the first person to ever lose her keys! I thought to myself. Why, at a moment when I, so clearly, am hurting?

And just like that, I am curled on my bed, crying the scrunched up face of crying that feels painful and also delicious.

Why couldn’t C understand how completely on edge I was, after holding in so much and then telling the painful news to our boys? Why had he looked annoyed that I couldn’t find my keys?

I shut the door, hoping my boys wouldn’t come in, and I kept crying.

Like when a magician stuffs a handkerchief into his pocket, then pulls a different colored handkerchief out, connected to another, and another, more things that needed crying about showed up, asking for their due.

First, it was about C. and “why couldn’t he just…”,

and then because I was angry,

and then ashamed,

and then it was about how nothing is the way it should be,

and why are people so blind to each other’s pain,

and then finally,

(oh, there it was)

It was about Rob.

11 came in, his face wet because something wasn’t working the way he wanted it to on his computer, and he was exhausted and frustrated.

Before I asked him to please leave, to give Mom a minute, I remembered,

he had lost a friend too,

so we held hands for a while.

I know I’m supposed to wrap this up into some kind of story, right?

Well, apparently, if I’m a writer at all, I’m the kind of writer who can’t write about the really hard things, which, in my opinion, makes me like a chef who can’t turn on the stove.

All I’ve got is this:

Conditions are foggy here this week,

and since I can’t get where I’d planned to go,

I’ve cut the motor

to have a good long cry

about the situation.

 

 

 

 

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Street Ball For The Win! (Ten Reasons I’m Glad My Son Quit the Team)

Street Ball For The Win! (Ten Reasons I’m Glad My Son Quit the Team)

 

My son, 11, has been playing in a basketball league for the past four years.

The poor kid comes from a family of theatre folk and bookish nerds, so when he begged to learn the game and play on the regular, what else were we to do?

Organized Sports are important, right? I  read it somewhere everywhere. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re a homeschooling family, and while this educational path has many advantages, team sport opportunities are not on the list.

So we put him in a league. He loved it. Life went on, (minus our free Saturdays, of course).

Late last Spring, when 11 announced that he didn’t feel like playing in a league anymore, I’ll admit I was sort of bummed. After all, basketball was his thing and, even with the hoop in our driveway,  I was worried that without scheduled practices and games, he’d never have an opportunity to play. 

As parents, my husband and I had a choice: make him play, because team sports have been so good for him and he’ll be glad he pushed through, or let him quit, and find something else that he loves. At times like these, I have this guy in my head, telling me what “the right thing to do” is:

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But part of my problem is that I also have this guy knocking around up there, telling me to take a chill pill and stop with the fascist parenting:

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Together my husband and I decided that it’s basketball, not dental hygiene. If he wants to skip it, fine. Finish out the last few games of the season, we told him, and that’ll be it.

Not long after he played his last league game, 11 asked me to take him to a park, a few miles from our house.

Not much was happening there, unless you count a soccer class for some pre-schoolers, suited up in safety gear like a liliputian S.W.A.T team, a few personal trainers barking orders and flinging kettle bells around, and a D-list celebrity, puffing his way around the track with an iPhone strapped to his arm.

(Oh, LA, how I love thee).

But for a boy with a basketball and an afternoon to kill, not exactly a happening place.

I asked if he wanted to stay, and he did.

I asked if he was ok if I walked a few laps, and he was.

As I made my way around the dirt path, he practiced layups on the blacktop, then free throws, and eventually sat down on his ball and kind of stared into space.

This sucks, I thought.

On my next lap around, I noticed that a couple of guys had shown up. They weren’t 11’s age, in fact, they looked to be in their early twenties. I caught 11’s eye, making sure he was cool and got a thumbs up, my signal from him to keep walking.

By the time I completed one more lap, a fierce game of three on two was on.

Two hours later, 11 and I were both exhausted and happy, and I was convinced. After four years of being a basketball mom, schlepping my son to league practices, Saturday morning games, “shoot outs” (I know what those are now), and trophy ceremonies where “everyone is a winner!”, I became a street ball zealot.

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11 in a typical game of pick-up ball at our park, photo taken on the sly 🙂

The following is a list of  reasons why I love that my son has chosen to forgo league play for the unorganized, untamed, unprocessed pastime of street ball, which can be played at our local city park for exactly zero dollars:

  1. No fair? No problem. One-on-one is fair, unless one player is a seven year old with an eyepatch, and the other is a high school senior with a basketball scholarship and an hour to kill. Que sera sera!
  2. He plays with people of all ages, races, economic backgrounds, and skill levels. You want to play? You’re in.
  3. He risks failure, and by failure, I don’t mean losing. Occasionally, my son shows up with his big goofy grin and his sneakers double knotted and no one is there. When this happens, my son calls it “a fail.” I call it a bonus! Whether asking someone out on a date, starting a business or writing a blog, the good stuff in life isn’t orchestrated for us, and all of it requires a certain amount of risk.
  4. No refs means he works it out, old school. Unlike what I’ve seen with league play, this almost never involve screaming or the throwing of tantrums (and that’s just the coach I’m talking about).
  5. He has a second home. No matter where he goes in the world, if he can find a hoop, a ball, he’ll be in familiar territory. If he’s lucky, he can make a friend. The world can be kinda shitty sometimes and, I say, the more places you can feel at home, the better.
  6. He has to talk to strangers. Again with the risk taking. Here’s how he does it, near as I can tell: he shows up, lurks around, shoots a few layups all casual-like, then asks if he can get in on whatever game is in play. Can you imagine??? Me neither. So cool.
  7. He’s unplugged. I’m always on the lookout for fun that doesn’t include a glowing rectangle in front of my boy’s face. Luckily, we need look no further than our local park. Street ball is analog fun at it’s finest.
  8. No buzzer kills the mood. When things are hopping on the blacktop, games can last way longer than the hour that a usual league game is allowed to go. More play time means more fun, more exercise, more practice, and one more lap around the track for me.
  9. He does it for his own bad self. Not only am I not expected to watch his every move in a pick-up game, but he prefers that I ignore him completely. He probably waves me off because having your mom hang around and beam at you is a little dorky, but I prefer to think it’s because, at the park, he’s playing for his own enjoyment, not for cheers, gold stars, or the requisite post-game snack of Go-gurt and Hi-C that some very together mom always shoves at him. Also, no one has ever received a basketball scholarship for street ball. What a relief.
  10. No trophies! Those of you who have had your kids in organized sports will understand why this is a grand thing. You understand because you too have a box of crappy plastic trophies that your child has been given for just existing, and you are as sick of them as I am. Even my son knows they’re bullshit. Anyway, no trophies will be coming at you for shooting hoops at the park, no sir. For his time, commitment and skinned knees 11 will only receive a slight sunburn (bad mom), and some pretty useful life skills.

Of course it’s possible that 11 will turn around tomorrow and ask to join a league again (kids are weasels, after all). That’s ok. But never again will I buy into the idea that team sports need to be organized. We’ll continue to take back a corner of our park for play, with our own, tiny, everyday act of rebellion: showing up.

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My Plan to Not (always) Plan

My Plan to Not (always) Plan

Happy New Year!

I can’t help it. I’ll always think of September as the start of a new year. Even at my age, I still love a thermos, a sweater, and a fresh stash of #2 pencils right about now.

And also— New Year’s Resolutions!

Some people hate resolutions, but I love them.

Even if they don’t stick, they almost always bring me closer to where I want to be, if only in tiny ways. One resolution to cut out all sugar from my diet resulted only in my cutting out all sugar from my coffee, but that little habit has stuck like glue and I’m damn proud of it.

Baby steps, people.

The nice thing about making new year’s resolutions in September, is that you can ride the wave of back-to-school energy that’s got everyone buzzed, and that can give your new habit some lift-off. Also, it’s kind of like taking it for a test drive before Classic New
Year’s, on January 1st. If you’re doing pretty well at your resolution come January, I say just slap that sucker up on your status update New Year’s day and proceed to crush it!

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If, however, you are failing (as I did with my resolution to keep my inbox clear), then you can just quietly sweep that one aside and do the thing where you resolve write thank you notes or run a half marathon.

As for me, I only have one resolution for the coming year:

I resolve to loosen my grip.

I like that it’s short and snappy so I’ll remember it. It’s also kind of relaxing when I say it to myself, so it can double as a mantra for my daily meditation (which was my New Year’s resolution for last year, and probably the five years before that).

This new resolution has been a long time coming, let me tell you.

I’m a planner, and I’m not super chill about those plans changing. Because of this, I get a lot of shit done, but I also miss out on the spontaneous joys, on account of the anal-retentive side of my nature. People are often surprised when I describe myself that way, maybe due to the fact that I have a filthy mouth and a very casual wardrobe, but trust me, I can be one rigid lady.

Last week I got a text from someone I really like, but don’t know that well, saying she had to go to Target and pick up a few things and would I like to join her, just for the hell of it.

It was a totally retro moment!unknown

She might as well have asked to borrow a cup of sugar or join her for a hand of Bridge and a Virginia Slim.

I stared at her text message and thought about a response, and the fact that I had my day pretty much nailed down already.

Which reminds me, as things often do, of an Ethel Merman quote.

At the last dress rehearsal of every Broadway production she was in, she would announce to cast and crew, “Call me Miss Birds Eye, the show is frozen.”

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Preach, Ms. Merman!

Each Sunday, after I complete my To-Do list and planning ritual (which is almost a sacrament to control freaks like me), I close my beloved date book, satisfied that all The Things will get done, that no time will fall between the cracks, ergo, I will never die.

Or something like that.

But somehow the charm of this young woman’s invitation melted my frosty grip, just enough. I knew that anyone who would suggest such a madcap scheme as running out to Target together would probably make a good friend.

So I did this to my Saturday list:

Pay bills, fill out insurance forms, get dog food, fix leaking hose, pick up glasses
and said, “Sure, let’s go.”

And that, reader, is how I managed to have an unexpectedly fun morning, make a new friend, and buy a box of jumbo paperclips, which no one needs but which make me weirdly happy.

In fact, I got so much happiness mileage out of allowing myself to take a little detour in my day, that I decided I want to do it more often. Friendships, passions, even solitude, need and deserve a little space.

When I was a kid, I used to catch lightening bugs in jars, poking holes in the tops with an ice-pick, to let air in so they would live until I could set them free the next morning (or until I could smash them onto my fingers and earlobes to make glowing jewelry. Sorry, lightening bugs, and God).

In the coming year, I will try to remember to take an ice-pick to my carefully planned days.

To always let in a little air,

so the unexpected

can breathe.

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