Soccer Hysteria

The family has been trying a few new things lately. We have shed some negative influences from our lives and allowed some fresh new air in. Big Daddy Jeff has a new job, I’m returning to school, Firstborn is taking college courses in addition to serving in a truly life-changing internship, and the girls all have new activities.

Liddie Biddie was given the opportunity to play on a team with some classmates (four and five years old), and we took it. Neither BDJ nor I have ever played soccer, unless you count kicking a ball out of the path of the riding mower. ( I don’t either – we weren’t much help to her in preparing for the game.) Liddie’s team had one practice together, and their first game was this morning.

Who knew that they made such tiny athletic shorts?

It was great. Our little tiny girls did their warm up, and some of them acted like they had actually seen a soccer ball before. Liddie was one of them, yippee!

The game really wasn’t much of match. The other team was full of large specimens of those things we still don’t have at our school: boys. (Though one of them did really scream like a girl, long and loudly, when a bee landed on his knee.) It appeared as if their whole team had seen a soccer ball before, giving them a clear advantage.

Two of Liddie’s smaller teammates cracked slightly under pressure. ‘M’ cried in her Daddy’s arms, but since he was a coach, I guess she technically never really left the field. ‘R’ stood center-field crying “Mommy” (literally), while teammates hugged her (and the other team scored a gazillion goals in our unprotected net), until another coach grabbed her hand and ran her around the field chasing the ball. Our bench just wasn’t deep enough to allow mental health breaks. So tears and snot flying, our tiniest tot chased that ball.

Our girls apologized for taking the ball from the other team, when they did, and stopped to check on and help up fallen players, no matter side.

We did score twice, once by our star player’s feet (which was not Liddie), and once by an over-exuberant player on the other team, who had lost his sense of direction. I lost track of how many goals the other team scored. We are not supposed to keep track of those things in this league anyway, though every self-respecting parent was.

While some of the parents spent forty minutes on the edge of their seats, cheering and using words like “git-er” and “crush”, most of my time on the sidelines was spent trying not to laugh. I just couldn’t help it. Between the crying, the tripping, and the directional challenges, I found myself unable to ignore the humor in it all. My efforts left me with a sore bitten tongue, tooth marks on my knuckles, and pinch-marks all over my thighs.

On our walk out of the park, Liddie opened her hand and showed me something sweet: her collection of clovers that she had collected from the field … during the game. That might explain, in part, her lack of steely focus on the ball.

Some thoughts I would have loved to pass on to some of my fellow spectators:

1. One to none of these children will have a professional career in soccer. Let it go. If your five-year-old really needs to pop antacids like candy, perhaps you should find another activity. (Yes, I really saw this happening on the sidelines this morning – on the other team, of course.)

2. Bring tissues next time, and not the cheap ones. Bug spray might be good also, especially if your child has phobias about flying, stinging creatures.

3. Manners really do matter. They let you make friends in life, and isn’t that the real game?

4. Have fun. Revel in the experience of spending a Saturday morning watching strong, healthy, beautiful children chase a ball in the damp green grass. Enough said.


The Bobble Head Mom

“Mom! Stop it!” scolds Firstborn, and snaps me out of my proverbial reverie.

“What?” I say, though I already know. It is her recurring complaint.

“You’re acting like a bobble head doll again! Were you even listening to what I said?”

Well, good grief and excuse me. My answer should be “Probably not”, but she already knows that. I just can’t help it. She was using those big words that she has been learning in her biology class, and darned if I know what they mean. So what else is there for me to do but enjoy her attention (she’s talking to me!) and allow my eyes to glaze over while I admire her close up. Sigh.

For some reason, that bugs her. She tells me “All you ever do is smile and nod, no matter what I do (forgot her keys), or how I screw up (a lowly B on a calculus quiz). You never see it – you just smile and nod your head like a bobble head doll. If I want an honest opinion, I have to go to Dad.”

What? But my bobbling is always honest: my reactions are genuine. I have been enthralled by her since her birth. Honestly, I am just amazed that I had it in me to produce something so utterly magical. So when she does something that might be less than perfect, I just smile and nod. I know from experience that everything passes.

I’ve smiled and nodded through the gymnastic lessons that didn’t last all that long (wrong body type, the teacher said) , and the riding lessons that she fought after a year but then fought to pursue. I smile at her cat (the one she had to have when she was three years old), then wash my hands after every petting and go take my antihistamine. I smiled and nodded through those first cello lessons when she couldn’t find the strings, then the harp lessons. Both instruments now gather dust now that she has discovered Science.

I smiled through the history bees, which might be why she actually enjoyed them while the kids around us were gobbling antacids like they were candy – supplied by their parents. She never won, but she competed without studying and even made it past the first round.

I even smiled when she told me that she wanted to manage the boys track teams. Well, I think I did. I really tried. And she was right anyway – it was a great experience.

I know that there are some who disagree with the unconditional love approach: that a child needs to know disappointment and overcome it to succeed. Sure, disappointment and failure exist, but why should it come from a parent? I learned years ago that my daughter has an inner drive more compelling that any pressure I could put on her, so I can sit back and enjoy the ride. (It wasn’t me who made her practice that cello until her fingers bled so that she could win first chair.)

She recently participated in her first horse show. The very first one, after nine years of lessons that made her very, very happy. (So was that a waste of money? I don’t think so.) She earned a small handful of ribbons, but none blue. She had a great time: better than the blue ribbon winner who vomited in the corner of the ring. Of course, I smiled and nodded from the other side of the fence.

I just bask in her glow and realize that with every passed test, every first date, every college application, and every first show she realizes that she doesn’t need my help in, our days of co-dependency are getting shorter. Well, at least hers are.

I love this young woman unconditionally. If that makes me her bobble head Mom, so be it.


Field Trip Release

Miss Sunshine’s second trimester report card has been posted on the refrigerator for a couple of weeks now. No surprises there: great marks in everything academic and somewhat sub-par marks in categories such as “reverence” and “composure” (or categories that mean that). Okay, so there might have been a “needs improvement” in there. (Or a few … sigh.)

Nevertheless, I allowed her to go on her school’s annual field trip, or pilgrimage as some see it, to the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, Maryland. This prayerful walk of the fourteen Stations of the Cross is full of moments of reverence and contemplation, even for a seven year old. One can hope.

(The Grotto is very near Mount St. Mary’s University where I earned a degree. I always like to remind Miss Sunshine of this fact. She always likes to roll her eyes back at me when I do this, like I even thought she cared.)

Miss Sunshine was so excited Friday morning, the day of the field trip. She promised me that she would be on her best behavior. She put her lunch and told me not to bother with her gym bag: there would be no P.E. that day!

The day passed uneventfully for me, and Miss Sunshine was positively glowing when I met her at the gate after school. On our walk down the sidewalk, back to the van, Miss Sunshine sighed happily said that she LOVED the field trip. She had no recollection of any religious experience. She had played with her best friend, and the two of them ran around and crawled in the bushes until they got into trouble for being disrespectful. They were actually allowed to talk during lunch and she said it was almost as good as last spring’s field day at school. Both of the knees were blown out of her regulation navy blue stockings and there were plant particles in her hair.

On the way home, as she continued to relate her Grotto adventures to me, I asked her if she liked the statues, especially the one of Mary and she said “What statue?”

Maybe she will notice it next year.


Ruby Red

Red is my favorite color. It is the color of passion and love and life-giving blood. It is intense, vibrant and confident. No one puts on yellow when they want to feel confident: nope, it’s red.

Red indicates a certain kind of receptiveness in a woman: you can’t wear a red dress to a party and hide in the corner. If a girl wishes to send certain signals to her hot date, she doesn’t reach for the antique mauve lipstick. She breaks out the RED.

Yet, it is a warning in nature: back off!

Red is a sacred color: pass over this reddened doorway and spare the lives of me and my loved ones.

No surprise: I love rubies.

Both the Bible and ancient Sanskrit writings herald the red ruby as the most precious and valuable of all gemstones. The stone has been avidly mined since around 600 BC. Rubies are rare and special. They have been worn to ward off the plague and encourage prosperity. People thought that a ruby inserted into the flesh made one invincible.

Rubies were the original wedding stone for centuries, before diamonds became plentiful and more profitable around the turn of the twentieth century. How many of you knew that? A ruby on the hand of a new bride symbolized her purity, rarity and fertility.

When Jeff popped the question all those years ago, my answer certainly didn’t depend on the ring. I knew that he was the true gem I had won. But the fact that Jeff listened carefully and presented me with a beautiful ruby engagement ring is something I will always be impressed by. I had told him that for all the reasons above, and because rubies are the birthstone of both Jeff and Firstborn, I would like to wear one on my finger some day.

Sometimes I run into another woman with rubies as supporting stones on her engagement ring, but very rarely. I’ve never seen a round one set center stage.

This morning, standing before the cashier in a boutique I frequent … Tahr-jhay (ahem) … the young lady noticed my ring.

Cashier: Is that a real ruby?

Me: Yes.

Cashier: Well, that’s not very traditional.

Me: Actually, it is the original wedding stone. Did you know …

Cashier (her eyes glazed over): Does your partner have a matching one?

Me: No. He has a plain band.

Cashier: He?

Me: Um … yes?

Cashier: Oh. I thought a colored rock meant you were a lesbian.

Me: Oh! Well, I’m not.

Cashier: Well, it’s okay if you are. I mean, I don’t care.

Me: Well, I’m not!

Cashier: Whatever. Do you want to sign up for a red card and save 5% next time you visit?

Me: Um … I already have one.

Apparently the significance of red is just lost on some people. Next time I am looking for necessities, I’ll visit my other favorite boutique: Waaahl-Maahr. And the first thing I will buy is a “Stupid” sign for the chick at the other store.


Homemade Valentines

This past Monday, as I sat with my friend waiting on our pizza while our girls were in dance class, I watched her non-dancing daughter working hard on a hand-made valentine. She carefully cut out the shape in both white and tissue paper, made a quote in a bubble in her best hand-writing (given that she was using an ink pen) and began to color in the arms and legs with a purple marker.

I thought “Wow” and spared an extremely brief regret for the prepackaged valentines that I hadn’t even begun working on with my daughters.

Valentine’s Day has shifted shape for me over the years. Its importance used to be the color of the roses (what does it mean if he gives me white, or worse – peach?’), how many chocolates were in the box – and what kind. I heard women that I worked with say “I told him what I expect, and if he doesn’t come through, we’re done …” And (except in one case) I actually sympathized – with the woman.

But over the years, my sympathies have shifted. I ask Jeff to save his/our money, but to spend time on me instead. Never stingy anyway, he is always good for an extra warm snuggle (or three) on Valentine’s Day, even if he doesn’t always listen and brings me a card and a treat after all. He always has something for the girls, which is okay too: he is the first man that all three fell head-over-heels in love with.

If Valentine’s Day really is all about love, then (and forgive me for saying this) it really is about children too. It is about the mother who braved my driveway at midnight on a school day: she had to work so late but wanted her face to be the one that her sleeping daughter woke up to in the middle of the night, and then again in the morning.

If there are late-night giggles under my sheets on Valentine’s Day, most likely it is because the Princess made an inappropriate noise at our slumber party and set off the rest of us.

It’s not that Jeff and I are not still starry-eyed for each other. It’s just that it is much easier to get a romantic dinner reservation, not to mention a babysitter, on another night. We can fly under our girls’ radar on other, less suspicious nights. This day is about the small things that we can do to show our love for each other, and to everyone we that we care for… not just us.

Just before our pizza arrived on Monday night, my non-dancing young friend turned to me with a shy little smile and handed me the valentine she had worked so hard on.

“For me?”

She nodded.

He is just perfect.

May you spend this Valentine’s Day in the company of someone that you love.


The Great White Elephant Party

Every January since Jeff and I have been married, we have been invited to a white elephant party in the Philadelphia area. Actually, Jeff has been invited for umpteen years, but since he swears that he cannot remember life before me, we’ll go with a running eight years now. This is the first year that we sent a ‘yes’ as an RSVP. The party is a yearly event hosted by people that Jeff has known since his college days, and his best friend Gary was going too.

For those of you who, like my parents, have never heard of a white elephant party, here is how it goes: participating party-goers bring a wrapped present to put in a pile with presents brought by other party guests. Ideally, the present should be something received as a Christmas or holiday gift, but unwanted or un-needed by the bringer. So you get a wide variety of gifts, from the nice, to the naughty, to the just downright insane.

The names of all participating party-goers are put into a hat, which are pulled and announced one by one. When the first participant’s name is called, he or she walks up to the pile of wrapped gifts and chooses a gift to un-wrap in front of everyone. The next person whose name is called has the option of ‘stealing’ that unwrapped gift, or choosing another from the pile of unwrapped gifts. The third person then has two unwrapped gifts to chose to ‘steal’ from, or pick their own gift to unwrap. And so on and so on. The host or hostess sets a limit to how many times a gift can be ‘stolen’.

I hosted a practice at my house just after Christmas, with just a few friends. Since there really weren’t enough people to ‘steal’ gifts, the whole thing was over in about three minutes, even taking time to refill wine glasses. The fun that night wasn’t found in the game. Nevertheless, I had played without my ugly competitive streak blowing wide open and I felt prepared for our upcoming trip to Philadelphia.

Nope: I have never seen such a white elephant party in my life. Over 80 (yes – eighty) people participated. People who didn’t bring gifts had their names thrown in the basket; the host and hostess had enough for everyone. Even Firstborn had her name put in, though I forbade her to choose any gift that looked remotely alcoholic (without checking with me first). At the set hour, the host and hostess set the rules (only three steals on any one gift). Each time a gift was ‘stolen’, a sticker would be placed on it lest alcohol caused any forgetfulness.

There was a bottle of Dom Perignon that was stolen three times long before any of my group’s names came up, so I have still never tasted the stuff. At the other end of the spectrum, the woman who unwrapped a size 9 1/2 pair of Men’s black Nike sneakers in a questionable-looking box sat hopefully holding them out to everyone who approached the gift table after her. There were no takers.

With eighty plus people involved, the game dragged on and on … and on. Jeff’s name was called about an hour into things. We were getting hot and cranky and Firstborn had had enough of “this old people’s party”. Under Jeff’s name, I stole a set of gigantic vases that I have no practical use for, and then promptly went and hid in the entertainment room as to avoid being a victim of theft myself.

At least, I believe they are vases.

Firstborn had her eye on a beautiful white orchid plant, but by the time her name was called almost two hours into the game, she was too tired to track it down and steal it. She unwrapped a box of used placemats and some unopened DVD’s, then sat back down to stare at the wall and sweat.

Finally! My name was called! I took my time. I’d waited for more than two hours. I hunted down that white orchid that my baby wanted, and stole it from someone’s protesting grandmother. She said “please …” and I said “Thank you” as I snatched it out of her hands and let the hostess smack a theft sticker on it.

As I got back to where my small tired group was standing, our friend Gary’s name was called. He looked at that white orchid and said “Oh, good, I’m stealing it.”

I stopped, looked him in the eye, and with Firstborn looking on, said “I’m so sorry Gary. It’s already been stolen three times. It’s done.”

Gary looked me in the eye, then looked at the clear plastic enveloping the beautiful pure white orchid – the plastic with only one sticker on it, indicating that the gift had only been stolen one time, and being my husband’s best friend and the supremely intelligent man that he is, said “Oh, okay.”

I don’t know what Gary ended up with, but the next time he wants to steal a white orchid from me, I really will let him have it. And for next year’s white elephant party, I’m driving up the day before, getting a good afternoon nap and leaving the little ones in the hotel with a babysitter.

Game on!

Thank you, Gary.


How to Start a Realistic Book Club

Over a glass (or three) of wine last weekend, a few of my friends and I decided that it would be a great idea to form a book club. Since this small gathering was at my house, and I was doing much of the wine pouring, it was generally decided that I would be the one to form the club.

What to choose?

I have never formed a book club, nor have I ever participated in a formal one, unless you count my college senior seminar in English Literature, all those many years ago. Nope: I don’t count it either.

So I have done some research on the issue, and have found that there is almost no end to the websites offering advice on how to start a book club. There are plenty of clubs already out there; professional, or at least established ones, run by on-line groups or local libraries. There are even a few sites that offer professional book club hosts: you know, people to get the conversation started, moving, and on course.

I quickly decided that none of those options were for me. Even if I had the money to spend on a professional book club host, I wouldn’t. And in groups with strict guidelines or rules regarding behavior or discussion points, let’s admit it: I’ll be the first to screw up and get kicked out. This girl just wants to have fun with it.

Therefore, I came up with a few loose guidelines for our little group (I use female references only because no men are in our group – adjust as you see fit):

Members: The first thing that the original few of us did was compile a list of women that we thought would make a great group that we would want to hang out with. Women who like to read and are capable of stringing together a coherent sentence, obviously, but also women who are positive, upbeat, friendly, fun, and ‘normal’. No downers or negative Nellies – no chronic complainers because, let’s be honest, who would want to come back after the first meeting? Life is too short.

Hosting: Take turns, unless someone absolutely wants to play hostess every time and no one else cares. For some, it’s an excuse to run the vacuum once a month. For others, it is an excuse not to.

Picking the book: I am told that the book should be the choice of the hostess (and I tend to agree), who may wish to keep the purchase price (or library availability) in mind. It also shouldn’t be too long – give these busy working mothers or full-time mothers something they actually have a shot at finishing. The hostess also probably shouldn’t pick a title with a higher than R rating. That is, unless you have decided beforehand that you are that sort of group, which we did not. There won’t be anything like the Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy
for our group. (Plus, we, I mean my friends have all already read it.)

Rules: Geez, well I guess there have to be some. Respect the hostess, her book choice, and her home. Bring the food or beverage as requested, out of respect for others, and host when it is your time. Common sense anyone?

Food and Beverage: Some clubs pick a theme based around the book being read. I think that’s a nice enough idea, depending on the book. (In that case, I would need to research books about Napa Valley, or perhaps something German because I do love a good Riesling.) Seriously though, lots of good food and wine can make any guest forgiving of your book choice.

Frequency: No more than once a month, but no less than once every two months. Seriously? The women in my group are almost all mothers. We will need a chance to finish the book, and to pay our husbands or partners back for a lovely ladies night out, but not so much time that we forget each others’ faces.

One idea that I did note as borrow-worthy is this: when sending out her invitation and book choice, the hostess also includes a link to a book-seller where the choice can be bought. No worrying about where to get a copy of the book.

There you go: my rules. That being said, a friend is letting me tag along with her to a book club meeting next month. I’ll see how her friends run their group, and then give this whole thing a shot.

If any of you have any tips on how to run a fun book club with friends, please let me know.


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