The ghost of Halloweens past

Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, I realize I don’t have a single picture of my sons in costume this year. At 13, 12 and 9, they still dressed up and went trick-or-treating, but not with me. They scattered with friends and didn’t need (I won’t even consider the possibility of want) me with them.

I sat on my couch waiting for trick-or-treaters to ring my bell at felt the gut-punch that my years of walking door to door reminding my sons to be polite and say thank you were over. I saw the weary look of moms and dads braced against the wind and snow, holding toddlers hands on the stairs, and wanted to tell them to treasure every second of it.

I’m not sure where I read “the trouble with last times is that you hardly every realize they’re the last times,” but I’m sinking with that realization. I wasn’t done marking the moment before it slipped from my grasp.

I bought their costumes. I packed their bags. I sent them off.

I hope they said “thank you.”

AP, you broke our hearts

photo (1)It’s been a bad week for the NFL. Injuries, scandals and even arrests are nothing new for the multi-billion dollar sports/entertainment business, but this particular week seemed to tip the scales and, in our home, broke one little boy’s heart.
The news of Adrian Peterson’s arrest on charges of child abuse rocked our youngest son hard. His fascination with “AP” has become almost a private joke among family and friends. Certainly he’s withstood his fair share of jeers and comments about wearing #28’s jersey, or the giant AP Fathead above his bed. He even has an AP pillow.

Matt & APWe had no choice but to tell him the facts, at least as much as we know. The news is crawling across every station. We wanted him to hear from us and be able to ask questions. My husband held him close as our little boy absorbed the story of a man he admired beating a child with a tree branch. It’s truly terrible. Later our son went up to his bed and just stared at Peterson’s image, tears in his eyes.

I know there are people out there thinking “Shame on you” for letting a child idolize a sports star. (I know this because I philosophically agree.) It’s just not that simple. Of course we try to keep it in perspective. We’re always talking about the irony that guys playing with balls are making millions of dollars while teachers and police and paramedics struggle to earn a fair wage. We don’t call athletes heroes. We talk honestly about cheaters and drug users and the culture of sports entertainment.

But have you ever tried to dissuade a child from his passion? I don’t care if it’s dinosaurs or animals or spaceships or football, when a boy has an obsession, it’s tamper-proof. Years ago, our son watched AP run, and smile, and do his dance, and he decided on his favorite athlete. He has since waited through injury and withstood the haters to cheer on AP week after week.Matty vikings

Now he’s crushed. And he doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s in his own head and his own heart grappling with disappointment.
I’ll leave it to others to write about the culture of violence surrounding football, the illusion of impenetrability that accompanies celebrity, and the potentially deeper/darker issues plaguing Adrian Peterson. The best I can do is go and offer open, loving arms to my hurting baby boy.

Teaching Failure

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” ―  Maya Angelou

I never set out to teach my sons to be failures. Yes, it’s a part of life and we learn from our failures, but come on…don’t we all hope that the successes will outweigh the failures? I do. And, luckily for me, my sons’ failures have been manageably few and far between.

But not this year. Not in youth sports. In 2014, throughout Basketball and Baseball seasons, we’ve been cheering on the underdogs, hearing a lot of “good try” from the stands, and returning home with dejected players in the back seat.

And I am here to tell you, it sucks.

My boys want to win as much as anyone else, work really hard at whatever sport they’re currently playing and show up ready to give 100%. These are all fine qualities in young men, but when they lead to losing results it presents a problem. Why is the hard work not paying off? If you study, practice, try…you should achieve success, right?

I don’t have the answers.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about a loss here and there. My oldest son’s basketball team played the entire season without a single victory. My youngest’s travel baseball team managed only two wins this summer.

Game after game, day after day, late night after late night, I was left with nothing but platitudes about effort to offer my children. I got tired and repeating them and they sure got tired of hearing them. Yes, they were trying hard and their individual skills were improving, but they were frustrated and frankly, embarrassed.

Even in “recreational” sports, kids keep score. They no who the losers are. Wining matters to kids, mine included. We’re well past the “everybody’s a winner” just for playing leagues.

Still, ever the optimist, I tried a million different ways to boost morale. Pep talks, realistic expectations, even jokes, all stop working after a while. As Pat pointed out to me, he got sick of hearing that he had a good game, “Mom, what does it matter if we can’t ever win?”

That was a heartbreaking moment, but not nearly as bad as the few times they took personal responsibility for tough losses, blaming themselves for a shot missed or base runner walked-in. (This is not the kind of “personal responsibility” character education I planned.) No words of reason or explanations of team responsibility could assuage their guilt when they truly believed the team could have won “if only.”

I was thrown back to my own childhood, always one of the last ones picked for team sports, struggling with the Presidential Fitness Test, choosing to cheer from the sidelines instead of participating so that I wouldn’t fail in front of my peers. My sons were living my junior high nightmares. I was treading very close to that “living out our dreams through our children” line I vowed never to cross.

I learned to back off a bit. They know I have their backs. I’m there to cheer them on. I know I need to give them more personal space to work through their frustration as they learn to keep it in check.

By the time each season was over, we felt battered and bruised as a family. But they were not broken. It’s not what I would have wished for, but I have witnessed how my sons come out from the other side of failure. I’ve seen them stand by their teammates, never-say-quit and continue to shake hands with their opponents no matter the outcome. Maybe they’re not completely gracious in defeat, but I’m OK with that.  I’m ready to help them pick themselves up and rise again.

Team sports are finally (mercifully) over and we have a couple of months off before the cycle starts all over again with soccer and fall baseball. Meanwhile, we’re still Cubs fans, so lessons in failure continue to abound.

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Last Photo

This week I draw inspiration from victoriabruce at The Blurred Line. In her post, itself inspired by artist Ivan Cash, she discussed technology’s power to both connect us and keep us apart. It’s a beautiful piece and I encourage you to take a look.

What really struck me was the Ivan Cash Last Photo project.

  • What’s the last photo you took on your phone?
  • What does it say about you?

I immediately tapped my photo roll to see the last photo I had taken.

last photo

This is a shot of my oldest and youngest sons taken last weekend. They are walking to a nearby park, importantly, without me. Also important to me, it’s not our usual park. They wanted a place to play some whiffle ball that wasn’t our backyard and our park is filled with soccer players on Sundays. My husband and I suggested the nearby skate park – uncrowded, close enough and with a perfect square of grass.

“Can you take us?” asked my 9 year-old.

“No,” I replied. “But you can go with your big brother.”

So they packed their baseball bags, water and snacks and set off on their adventure.

Why is it that this was a big enough deal for me to snap a picture? At their ages I had the run of the neighborhood, boundaries which I stretched on an almost daily basis. I knew my way around, knew my way home and at least thought I knew how to take care of myself. Walking 5 blocks to a park was no big deal.

But, as a mom, every time I watch them walk away from me it’s with a flutter in my heart. I cannot keep my kids safe every second of every day. The tragic events in schools and theaters and on the streets of Chicago are daily reminders that violence lurks everywhere. But I don’t want to live in fear, and certainly don’t want to raise fearful children.

This summer has already been a momentous one (at least for me) in my older two boys striking off on their own. Whether on bike, or on foot, or with friends, they are stretching their boundaries, seeking new adventures, moving out of my line of vision.

I have to trust them and I have to trust myself. As parents we’ve given them the right tools. We’ve instilled confidence in them. The fact that they’re ready and eager to test their limits is a sign that they are growing up right. Right?

And, when it comes right down to it, we’ve given them phones. For all the times those devices divide their attention from us, we can connect to them instantly.

I know — in fact, I hope — this is only one of many images of them walking away confidently.

How about you? What’s your last photo and what does it say about you?


Related: Surrendering to Helplessness, Growing Up Too Fast, Oh Boy Oh Man



I blinked

I once had three baby boys.    I blinked.


For years, 7:30 p.m. meant bedtime.    I blinked.

My son gently wakes me at the end of SNL. “It’s time to go to bed mom.”

My sons each played with a Fisher Price phone, animatedly chatting with Elmo and Cookie Monster.    I blinked.

They now show me shortcuts in the iPhone, out-texting me easily.

I brought juice boxes & animal crackers to share at play dates with other preschoolers.    I blinked.

I just sent my oldest for twelve hours at Great America with his friends.

In the early days I carried one boy on each hip.    I blinked.

Now I look up to one and wonder how soon the other two will tower over me.

I pushed a double stroller everywhere.    I blinked.

I have to call out for them not to get too far ahead on our bike rides.

I read Margaret Wise Brown & David Shannon aloud every single day.    I blinked.

Now I’m discussing “Fast Food Nation” with my sixth grader.

I rolled a ball back and forth across the living room floor.    I blinked.

I have to check the tournament team schedule before making weekend plans.

I controlled their schedules, their meals, their clothing, their friends.    I blinked.

I’ve lost control.

Summer 2013

Summer 2013


I had three baby boys.    I blinked.

I don’t have babies anymore.

Daily Prompt: Struggling to Set a Good Example.


Failure_Freeway (Photo credit: StormKatt)

Describe your last attempt to learn something that didn’t come easily to you?

You know how as parents we’re supposed to lead by example? Well, in terms of learning new things, I’m an “epic fail” as my sons would say. I avoid “new” like the plague.

This is not all negative of course. I would argue that I know my own strengths, and in the areas of communication and consensus-building, I excel. I can hold my own on a computer, in social settings, and certainly in the work place. I have a marvelous husband who takes care of all of the home and auto complications (aren’t we deliciously retro?), so I’ve never had to struggle with wiring or plumbing.

I admit my tendency to make the less challenging choice, when possible.

But, in the behavior of my sons, I’ve seen my tendency to avoid challenge in a more negative light. One of my sons struggles in sports. It just doesn’t come easily, the way school and music do. And, really, it breaks my heart to see how badly he wants to be an athletic success, and to fear that it will never happen for him.

And yet, he tries. He tries partly because we won’t let him quit. Once he signs on to a team or a class, he has to follow through. We’ll help him and practice with him, but ultimately, he’s the one on the court or on the field and he gets out there and just does it. (He doesn’t always do it with the best attitude or a big smile, but he does it nonetheless.)

There was a year where he chose not to play his favorite sport because it “wasn’t fun anymore.” My husband and I were fine with his decision, but as he sat on the sidelines and watched his brothers and friends play, he determined to try again. “I think I want to play again next year.” I know he’ll struggle, and feel frustrated and sometimes take it out on us, but I am so proud he wants to try.

So instead of modeling the behavior for my kids, I’m following my son’s lead. I’m trying to open myself up to new skills.

When I started my new job this year, I had to learn a new design program, Adobe Illustrator. I didn’t have a ton of design skills to begin with, and was only familiar with InDesign. In fact, my bosses were open to purchasing a new design program, but I realized that all the files I would need were already in Illustrator. I was being silly. I could learn a new program, right?

I’m still learning (and I still think Illustrator is often frustratingly non-intuitive), but I’m using it almost every day and getting happier with the finished product all the time. I’ve added several other programs to my resume in a few short months. I’ve improved my photography skills by sheer determination and practice, not letting my fear of failure prevent my success.

I will not quit because something is challenging. I will meet that challenge, overcome it, and move on to the next. Because that’s life, right? I will try to do this with good humor and an ability to appreciate failure as a part of the process instead of a final result.

This is the model I want to provide for my sons.

Thanks, once again, to Daily Prompt for inspiring this post.

This post puts me in mind of Frank Sinatra singing “High Hopes”.  Just what did make that little ole ant think he could move a rubber tree plant?

Surrendering to Helplessness

Parenting requires surrendering to helplessness. There are so many things, big and little, that we cannot control. From the bodily bumps and scrapes, to the emotional and social bruises my son have suffered, I have often felt helpless. Do I understand that these injuries are all part of growing up? Of course. But would I prevent those hurts from ever occurring if I could? Probably.

My instinct is to protect, to shelter, and, above all, to keep them safe.

In this regard I have never felt more helpless than the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. As I watched the news come in, and realized the horror of what had occurred in a grammar school, I could only think of those families’ pain. I am positive all of those parents in Connecticut share my instinct to protect, and yet, they were helpless in the face of one young man with guns.

I know I hugged my sons tighter that evening. I didn’t want to scare them with details, but I wanted them to understand and be able to talk about the images and news flashes that surrounded us. So, I decided to tell them in the simplest terms possible.

“There was a tragedy in Connecticut.”  “A very sick man went into a school and killed children.”  “We need to keep all of those families in our prayers.”

I watched their faces and reactions carefully. My oldest just kind of gulped and looked away. It turns out he already knew about it from classmates and wasn’t sure if I knew. He didn’t want me to feel bad. My youngest two cried, especially when they asked about how old and how many kids. Of course, my youngest (8) wanted me to promise it could never happen to him.

What could I say? I was helpless in the face of his direct question, “Mom, will I always be safe at school?” Of course I said that I believe his teachers and principal do everything they can to make his school safe. I reminded him about the security doors, and asked about their emergency plans. I was grateful for our faith, which provides the solace of both Heaven and prayer.

And yet,

When it came time to drop them off at school, I was helpless to stop my own tears. I was terribly afraid to leave them there. Afraid of my own fear that a wave in the doorway could be the last time I saw my beautiful boys; afraid that I could be rendered utterly helpless against random violence, mental illness and too many guns.

Less than a month later, drop off has gotten easier. My sons know I love them. I refuse to raise them in a climate of fear. It’s no way to live. I determine to believe the best and trust that they will come home to me each day.

That trust, too, is a surrender to helplessness.

I thank Daily Prompt for inspiring this particular post.


Monday Quote – Back to School

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. ~Aristotle

Today is back-to-school for my sons, and I swear they are only focused on the “bitter” half of this quote.

  • No more sleeping in.
  • No more wearing pajamas ALL DAY.
  • No more afternoons at the pool.
  • No more endless hours of video games.

I can see where it might seem bitter.

But I think it’s sweet.

  • No more rotating baby-sitters.
  • No more coming home to “Operation Destroy the House.”
  • No more “Mom, there’s nothing to do.”

I have convinced myself (if not them) that deep inside, they’re really looking forward to the start of school. I know I am.

Monday Quote: Are you ready?

“So mom, are you ready for school to start?

Well buddy, yes and no.

I know just what you mean. I’m totally dreading it, but I’m ready for something new.”

–          My 7 year-old son


This Monday quote comes courtesy of my youngest son and was part of a priceless conversation we had while lying on the lawn at Millennium Park, listening to Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte.” Pretty sweet, right?

His words have stuck with me because they pretty perfectly reflect my feelings, not just about back to school, but new ventures in general. I “dread” change, yet revel in the idea of something “new.”

We’ve had a great summer. Because I went back to working full time last month, my boys have enjoyed seriously lazy mornings. A variety of babysitters have filled their afternoons with pools, parks and field trips. We’ve had family adventures, lots of sports and general good times.

So I dread that ending. Back to schedules and homework and uniforms. And, come on, he’s 7. Of course he dreads school.

But he’s ready for something new? That surprised me. He really gets it. School is not just a return to the old drudgery. It’s a chance for something new. Every school year is a fresh start. Kids are so lucky to get that each and every year.

How can he be 10?

“I know it’s only one night’s sleep, but I’ll never be 9 again.”

Those were the final words my son had for me before bed last night. I knew just what he meant. He will not be fundamentally changed when he wakes on his 10th birthday – he will still be smart and funny and athletic and sensitive. He will still be the middle child. He will still have to brush his teeth, put away his clothes, and do his homework.

But 10 feels different from 9.

It feels different for him and it feels different for me. Somehow the passage to double digits marks a shift in childhood. He hasn’t been my fat-cheeked baby for a long time, but he’s still been a little boy in my mind. With age 10, the adjective “little” disappears. He is most definitely my big boy, and that’s tough.

At such a milestone I can’t help but look back. Have I done enough? Have I been the best mom for him? I joke about forgetting the first year of his life, swamped as I was with two babies. Now I think it’s not so funny.  I look back on his baby book and, despite all the parenting advice, compare his slim volume to his big brother’s 3-ring binder. Oh, the mom guilt.

So then I look at the big boy himself. Oh, the mom pride. I marvel at the person he has become. How have we managed to raise such a wonderful kid? He is loved by his classmates and his teachers. He takes pride in his work and his athletic achievements, especially in baseball. Sometimes quiet and reserved, he also possesses a kooky sense of humor we adore.

With all these gifts, it’s easy to forget his sensitivity. I worry about how easily his feeling bruise. His brothers have long figured out the quickest ways to push his buttons. Even at age 10, he can go from smiles to tears in an instant. I take more pride in the way in which he is sensitive to everyone else’s feelings.

Today’s crisis is who to pick as his birthday helper. As the birthday boy, he gets to pick 2 friends to help him pass out treats at school. He is so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings by not picking them. He just doesn’t know what to do. It seems a small dilemma to be sure, but I understand that for him, it’s enormous. I also understand that it is only one of many perceived crises that I will not be able to solve for him.

The trouble with growing up is that, more often than not, you have to solve your own problems. As much as I’d like to pick him up and whisk him away from any hurt, I can’t do that anymore.

He is 10.