How You Look At It: Perspective on a “Wasted” Afternoon

Morning confession: I let my son watch television all afternoon yesterday when he should have been at a sports practice. (I’m not saying which kid, or which practice, so they can both maintain plausible deniability. ) He was tired, he needed a day off, it was plain to see. I know, I know: here was a chance to teach him the value of digging in and working to fulfill a commitment to a team, to himself, and he would have learned that exercise can make you feel better, he’d be happy when he was done. But I was tired, too, tired of schlepping and lugging. Tired of being mindful of what lesson I should teaching.

Let’s call it instead a lesson in when to take a breather. A lesson in the value of down time. A lesson in me listening to his expressed desires and not superimposing my idea of what’s right.

093

It’s all in how you look at it. In fact, that’s the most important lesson I want to teach my kids: the power of perspective. We can control how we see things, and we can strive to have a perspective of gratitude, to have a world view that looks through lenses of appreciation.

The author Andy Andrews’ new book, The Noticer Returns, has a lot to say about perspective. (I had the chance to interview Mr. Andrews for What The Flicka, which you can read here.) Without spoiling the book for you, here’s one example of a positive perspective. A character is in debt up the wazoo. But he views this depressing situation from a different angle, and comes to see his credit unworthiness as a positive: He will not go into debt again. He will do things differently going forward.

The “perspective story” I’ve been re-telling a lot lately – because it’s short, sweet, and involves baseball so my kids will listen – came from Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben:

A little boy wants to show his Dad what a great baseball player he is. He tosses the ball to himself and tries to hit it with his bat. Three times he swings and misses. Before his father can console his son, who is clearly not a natural, the boy exclaims with wild joy: “Dad, I’m a great pitcher!”

DSCF0837

I think of this story when circumstances feel glum. I’m corny, but for me it works. It makes me consciously find the positive. No matter how much I’m dreading something, if I do this I always find something positive, some small different way to look at a situation. It’s flexing my appreciation muscles, and they are getting stronger, more supple and quicker to find the positive glimmer each time.

So instead of seeing my boy’s afternoon of mindless vegetation in front of the tube as a mothering breakdown, I will appreciate the rare joy of him thinking he’s got a “nice” mom. I’ll take that whenever I can get it.

 

Want more “Confessions of Motherhood”? Get Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, the best-selling collection of true stories. Read reviews. Get Kindle here, or paperback at Amazon.com and select independent bookstores.

That Championship Season

Some balls just get away. They fly over the center fielder’s head, past the white fence, or drop two feet to the left, lost in the sun. Some games get away like that, too.

Never mind that a little brother has dressed like an Oriole, an honorary mascot that the team has allowed in the dugout all season, today decked out in orange face paint, orange and black feathers, and a beak that was painted the perfect shade of orange.

IMG_3982

Everything thought of and arranged and planned for. Everything, that is, but the other team’s bat, their incessant homeruns and ground rule doubles, again and again, unanswered. Sigh.

No matter the few great plays and big hits our team had, no matter the spirit and high hopes they brought to the field; trepidation and fear walked into the dugout, too. Their opponents had come off a week of wins, fighting just to get into this game. Our kids had a week off, too much rest from battle. No taste of vanquished teams on their tongues.

IMG_3989

There will be one more chance. One final championship game.

The team told the little mascot not to dress that way next time: no makeup, no feathers, no beak. It’s simple baseball superstition; whatever was different about this loss is banished, along with it the taint of loss. I hope he doesn’t take it to heart, doesn’t feel he is to blame. My heart’s instinct is to jump out and stand in front of the words fired at him like bullets. He’s too much of a scientist to think his outfit caused the mighty Tigers to hit perfect grounders down the third base line. My protection would draw attention to the attack.

IMG_3984

The mascot runs off the field to the park bathroom and emerges with a remarkably clean face, cleaner than it’s been in days, a pale outline of orange above his ears and eyebrows. He shakes it off. There’s one more chance, he says.

IMG_3983

Why New Hampshire Rocks: Off-the-grid Games, Baseball, and Presidential Politics

Time marches fast, even on vacation. It’s hard to believe our plans are steadily becoming history, as the days become weeks. After 28 days we have reached the halfway mark of our trip, and signs of homesickness (or maybe travel … Continue reading

The X-Rated Birds and Bees

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the moderately-guilty).

As much as we like to think we are our children’s best teachers, it’s the time they spend with friends that provide them with the most “education.” Case in point: the few days our 8-year-old, let’s call him Huck, spent at baseball camp last month. At camp, the counselors teach batting, fielding, throwing and chewing bubble gum. The campers teach scratching, spitting and singing rude songs. Huck comes home singing about Batman peeing on the wall, Scooby Doo eating poo and a word-play game that he generously teaches his five-year-old brother: “Hey, Butch,” he whispers to him with a sly smile, “say ‘X’ really fast, over and over.”

Butch, pleased to be enlisted in his brother’s game, says: “X X X X X X X.”

Huck giggles uncontrollably. “You said, ‘Sex sex sex sex sex sex sex!’”

Butch is unperturbed. To the contrary, he thinks it is the pinnacle of humor. They keep at it. They sling “X X X X” all over the neighborhood. It’s getting a little out of control. My husband, Stud, decides he has been handed a “teachable moment.” It is time to Talk About Sex.

It’s not like we haven’t talked with our children before about where babies come from. They have long known that a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg, leading to the development of a baby. They have had long chats about the games they played together as lonely eggs in my ovary, waiting to become zygotes and begin their cells dividing. A sleepy, sluggish three-year-old Butch once commented, “I’m not feeling very fertilized right now.” (Truly, I could not make this stuff up.)

They also know that babies, including them, come out through a woman’s vagina, or sometimes her stomach.  But they have never asked The Big One: how do the sperm and ovum end up at the same party?

I always expected to be the one to have The Talk. After all, two years ago Huck asked my husband, “Daddy, how do babies get inside Mommy’s tummy?” and his wise father replied, chin in hand, “Good question. You should ask Mommy about that some time.”

But this time, amidst the chorus of “sex” reverberating through the house, Stud decides to step up to the plate. “Do you know what sex is, guys?”

“Yes.” Butch replies. “It means kissing.”

“No,” Huck counters, “it’s naked cuddling.”

I listen from the other room as Stud takes a swing. “Sex,” he explains, “is when a man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina, because they want to make a baby.”

Silence. No laughter. Shock has set in. For all of us.

I listen for a sound, anything. Finally, Butch speaks: “I’m hungry.”

And so we move on . . . .

The next day the four of us go to see Alvin and the Chipmunks. We are sitting in the dark movie theater waiting for the previews to end. Two on-screen characters kiss. “That’s sex, right mom?” Butch asks.

Thank goodness I overhead their dad’s explanation yesterday. I repeat it, adding for good measure: “ . . . because they love each other and are married.” I consider adding that the man and woman have Ph.D’s, but let it go for now.

“Oh yeah,” Butch says, and the movie begins. Sexy girl chipmunks fawn over Alvin, Simon and Theodore and shake their rumps singing Beyonce’s Single Ladies. Horny teenage boys threaten Alvin because species-blind teenage girls have swooned and sighed over these rodent rock stars. Sex is everywhere.

Walking home later, Butch explores every leaf on every plant. I watch him, marvel at his concentration, wonder at his inner conversation. Out of the silence he asks in the slow, articulated voice he has, “Can I play with Kevin tomorrow?” He considers the leaf in his hand. “I want to tell him what sex is.”

Uh-oh.

I envision him becoming the scourge of the pre-school, the playmate to avoid. “Well, honey,” I try to appeal to his sense of propriety, “that’s something his mommy and daddy want to tell him about. It’s not for friends to tell.” I almost add, “Kind of like Santa Claus,” but that would just complicate matters. Butch seems to understand, but his eyes betray significant disappointment. “I wish I could tell him,” he adds.

“I know, honey. But please don’t.”

We get home and I e-mail Kevin’s mother an advance apology for the things my son will no doubt teach hers, not just in pre-school but over the next thirteen years. I get a frantic reply from her, wanting to know exactly what words she should be prepared for. When I tell her over the phone the words we used, verbatim, I hear the now-expected silence, and wonder if the phone has gone dead. Then I hear her breathe. “Wow,” she sputters. “You guys left nothing to the imagination.” Yeah. We figured it was best that way.

And I wonder as we say goodbye, if maybe we’re all going to be on the “playmates to avoid” list for a while.

More than we wished for.

What could be better than to be eight years old, out at dark, running with friends, getting candy door to door. Not much. Except, perhaps, being five years old and permitted to tag along. Or being their mother, trailing with glass of wine in hand.

Halloween did not disappoint. At first I goofed. Forgot my cup. But a friend at one house on our rounds handed me the glass of wine out of her hand. I took it, not so much because I needed wine on this sweet night, but because I needed to know if the rumours were true. And knowing this friend, it was bound to be good wine. She did not disappoint.

Barely thirty minutes into the candy march, our boys surprised us by telling us they were done. Done? I asked. Done, they answered: their bags were too heavy; they had enough candy; they had had enough of it all. They wanted to go home. Proof, as though I needed more, that they are not me.

Their father was delighted. The World Series was on. Phillies vs. Yankees. Father vs. Sons. The boys poured their candy on the floor and straddled their bounty as the Phillies struggled. They arranged, sorted, counted, traded, and consumed. They put away a few lonely rejects. They graced their parents’ palms with one or two good ones. Such good boys. The one with a tummy ache and heavy eyelids went upstairs for a bath, while his father and older brother watched baseball and monitored the doorbell.

Different treats awaited upstairs: a heated bathroom, oversized plush towels, clean brushed teeth, feet pajamas. But then a protest, “I’m not going to bed until Aaron does.” I picked up those fifty pounds of my baby, entered his bedroom though his hands grabbed the doorframe, and sat with him in the rocking chair. I offered a memory as a distraction, “Did you know that when you were a baby, we used to sit in this chair, and I would rock you and sing you songs and you would fall asleep?” He was listening still, so I kept rocking and began to sing.

Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are . . . Shelter us beneath your wings, oh Lord on high . . . Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly . . . If you want to sing out sing out, and if you want to be free be free . . . I could have stayed there all night, singing my wishes for him. I stayed longer than I needed to. Then I pulled his blankets back with my outstretched toes, and slipped him onto his bed.

Downstairs, they continued to monitor baseball and trick or treaters. The eight year old treated “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with as much reverence as he did the pitches, hits and outs. Maybe more. He sang along, stopping to comment to his father about the operatic singer in military uniform,“He has a beautiful voice.” I was surprised he would notice. They sang together, “For its root root root for the Phillies,” and I was caught off guard again; could he be rooting for his father’s home team at last? “No,” he explained. “It’s a Phillies home game. I always sing the home team’s name.”

The singing ended, the baseball resumed, the doorbell rang. He ran to get it. “39 Dad!” he exclaimed running back to the game. He was counting the number of kids coming to our door, hoping for 40.

It was a magical night. Candy, friends, a Yankees win. And 47 kids seeking sweets at our door. He got more than he wished for.