Wednesday, April 30, 2014

For Better or For Worse

I never dreamed that when I bumped into a tall surfer dude at Brannigan's in 1999 he would wind up being anything to me but a guy buying me a drink. I didn't realize until years later how pivotal that moment would be to changing the course of the rest of my life. But it's only now, when The Big G and I have been together nearly 15 years (and married for 11) that I realize just how far we've come. And quite frankly, considering that I was a 22 year old amoeba when I met him I'm shocked at how well things have worked out...or that they've worked out at all.

All around us, friends' marriages have crumbled. Six weddings we attended in our 20s ended in divorce and in the past two years alone we've attended 3 second weddings of some of those same people. And I will be the first to admit, I understand the high divorce rate, because marriage is really, really hard. And although I pray Big G and I will never have to go through it, I don't have any judgment on concept of divorce in general. While some marriages can transcend infidelity, some cannot. No woman should stay with a man who physically or verbally abuses them (and vice-versa)and for every person that insists they want to "keep our marriage together for the sake of the children" I would argue to be careful -- if you are showing your children an indifferent, passionless union based sheerly on finances or function then THAT is the model they will try to emulate one day when they are looking for a partner. But for The Big G and I, well, it's pretty safe to say, that at this moment in time, marriage is our jam.

When Big G and I made it to eleven years this past weekend, we got a lot of congratulations from a number of other married couples. "This is A BIG accomplishment" they would say with a knowing look. Because they know. They know how hard it can be to have to constantly compromise, put each other's needs first and sometimes even go to bed angry. It can be exhausting. And what I tell any bride-to-be who expresses admiration of my own long-standing, seemingly happy relationship is this -- "No matter how good a man matter how giving, loving or amazing with the matter how considerate he is about sending flowers and taking care of you when you're sick and always supporting your some point...I promise you, you will literally have the urge to smack him across the face with a toilet seat."

You won't DO IT of course. That erodes trust and anyway it's illegal. Physical violence is never the answer. But what I'm trying to say is that there will be times in your marriage when you will have feelings so overwhelming you will not know what to do with them. Some of them (like when your husband takes your parents to brunch two weekends in a row, spirits the kids out for a bike ride so you can sleep late and then plants you a surprise rose bush) will be such powerful waves of love and gratitude that you think you might die if you ever lost your soulmate. Other feelings, like the one when he insisted on leaving your grandfather's 85th birthday between dinner and cake to "go for a quick jog"...are not as delightful. True story. I still have no idea why the Big G did that...we weren't dating very long at that point and I guess he didn't realize the importance of long gatherings in my family where you eat dinner twice and dessert all day long.

But when these brides-to-be wrinkle their noses at me, never imagining that they will ever feel anything but goo-goo over their betrothed I only chuckle quietly to myself, thinking they've never had a husband decide to wax all of his surfboards in your dining room one hour before you were hosting 15 friends for a tea party. Marriage is hard. Yes, it's rewarding and comforting and exhilarating but it's also hard. Please, don't say it's not.

Then, you have children. And for realz, you look at this man that you married...and you see him tenderly caring for your children, giving the bottles, exclaiming delightedly over their 1000th drawing of an angry bird and you literally think to yourself "My God. Just when I thought that I couldn't love you any more I have developed this deeper, even more profound bond with you because we are the only two people in this world who will ever feel the same way about our children." And then you come home one night and you realize that the neat home you left before going to the PTO meeting looks like a bomb hit it, and your husband and children are happily eating chocolate ice cream IN YOUR BED, it's 9 pm and your two year old actually is wearing a pair of her brother's Batman underpants on her head. "They're clean...they just came out of the dryer" your husband grins at you, as if that's the only thing wrong with this scene.

And that's when you pour a tankard of wine, call your sister and bitch incoherently about men in general. This is the reality of marriage. It's sometimes ugly. It doesn't mean that I don't love, cherish, honor and respect The Big G. He's really the only one for me. My rock. The guy who brought me the watermelon 15 years ago and stole my heart in the process. No man I've ever met before or since Big G has ever been this perfect for me. But please don't think it's been easy. It hasn't. Because, (say it with me now!) marriage is hard.

Was I told marriage is hard before I entered into the marriage? Perhaps someone mentioned it to me but I just didn't listen. But to be so challenged by someone, so loved and still, so incredibly surprised as I am by The Big G makes all of the hard times worth it. The hard times exist in any marriage. Someone tries to come between you. Tensions with extended family can run high. There's money struggles. A child gets sick. Work is stressful. But it's all ours and between The Big G and I there's a lot of laughing going on.

Because we have a happy, fulfilling, extraordinary union. But don't think it hasn't been without it's bumps and messes because we're certainly had our share. And our mishaps haven't detracted from our relationship, they only serve to strengthen it. So Happy Anniversary to us for making it this far...and to all the rest of you who know how hard it is to nurture and maintain a marriage. And to those of you who are still looking for your price, fear not. I guarantee he's on his way, and he's getting here as fast as he can. And when he does, I will assure you that the occasional urge to hit him with a toilet seat is perfectly natural.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Everyone's A Winner! Or Are They?

I am going to go on record and say that after the age of say, 6, I do not, repeat I DO NOT believe in the notion that every kid should get a trophy. While 90% of success in life is indeed showing up, I don't think you deserve a medal just for doing so.

I was on a run (translation: a slow, labored jog) this morning with my sister Chrissy and she proudly shared some great news about her 9 year old son (and my nephew) James. James had done an excellent job at playing catcher for his entire baseball game last night, showed exceptional sportsmanship in trying his best and cheering on his teammates and gotten a single, 2 doubles and a triple, leading his team to victory. The coach of his little league team, a 23 year old volunteer, insisted that James get to keep the ball from the game.

"Wait!" James's father Jim (my bro-in-law) objected.

"What?" asked the coach.

"Um...James got the ball at the last game." Jim stated. "Another child should be given the ball." he suggested.

The coach looked at him.

"I gave him the game ball at the last game because he pitched an amazing game," the coach explained.

"You really don't need to. Please give it to another kid," Jim repeated in an attempt to be fair.

"No," the coach responded reasonably. "James earned that ball."

While I was happy to see that my brother-in-law hasn't become one of those sports-crazed competitive dads with which Monmouth County is rotten, I also felt gratified that hard work and extraordinary effort gets rewarded. Yes, James got the ball for two games in a row, but it was based on his performance. Isn't that what we want to teach our kids? That being amazing equals reward, even if, in this case, the reward was just a game ball? And that "just" a game ball means a lot to a child...I know because I remember mine.

Let me take you back to the year 1989.

My little league softball team, The Hollies, were down by 2 runs, it was the bottom of the last inning, the bases were loaded and I was up. Whoever won this game would win the entire MYAA championship. In a moment of sheer joy that I will never forget, I got over my nerves and hit a triple, driving in 3 runs and winning us the game. It was a beautiful moment, especially since playing sports has never really been my strong suit, and it was made all the sweeter by the fact that the Coach handed me the game ball. It was the only game ball I have ever gotten in my life. I still have it, to this day, and when I come across it every so often it brings me back to a moment of which I am proud. I wonder what my feelings would be if I received a game ball after every single game...if the entire team did...regardless of how we played. I doubt I would have kept any of them, as they would have been far from special.

I think participation certificates are awesome. But every child cannot be a winner at everything. I like when being outstanding is acknowledged and rewarded. What's next, there will be no "lead" roles in the school play and 10 different girls will all play Annie, at the same time? I'm not sure this kind of thinking is inspiring our children to anything other than mediocrity. They learn that they don't need to try too hard and they will still be rewarded. I'm not certain that this is good preparation for adulthood nor does it foster the desire for greatness.

When our friend Griffin won the school's spelling bee, I was delighted to see his name on the big board outside the school as "Bee Champ" It was nice to see they didn't squeeze on the names of the rest of his Fourth Grade class with the proclamation "Nice Try!" I like when hard work is celebrated. We try to instill that in our children because it's for their own good. A kid is not entitled to someone gazing at their scribbles and insisting "You're Picasso!" I mean, that's what grandparents are for. You're not entitled to an "A" in math if you haven't yet learned to subtract. And wouldn't a trophy mean a lot more to a kid if they know they've earned it?

I know I'm in the minority here. I also know that my 5 year old came home and burst into tears because he didn't win something he called "The Christopher Columbus Coloring Contest" a few months back. Apparently, this was a loose competition where the kid with the best colored Columbus won a sticker. I didn't call his teacher to object, nor did I say "That's NOT fair! Everyone should have won a sticker!" His tears led to a nice discussion about how you can't win everything but if you try your best, then you can rest easy knowing you have done all you can to achieve. He wiped his eyes and admitted "But I didn't try my best. I colored super fast so I could go play." And a few things seemed to dawn on his young psyche. He seemed to have made the connection between effort and reward. How proud he was last month when he was 1 of only 5 students in his class of 20 who got an award for reading the most books online. He had been diligently reading a few books each night for weeks and he was so happy to see his hard work paying off. We hung the certificate with pride, knowing that a) it meant something and that b) it was his very first award for merit. I am convinced if every child had received one, whether they read 100 books or zero the reward would not have meant nearly as much. And I wondered what message that would have sent. And I wonder, as parents, educators and coaches if we really want to be sending that message.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Hunger Games

My 2 year old likes to "help" me make dinner by scattering food everywhere and refusing to budge from in front of either the dishwasher or the garbage can making it impossible for me to get into either. She also enjoys stealing my giant, fish-shaped cutting board and pretending it's her skateboard. She also points to the stovetop repeatedly and says "This is hot?" She knows it's hot but she keeps checking with me like she doesn't really believe me. But the great thing about Dilly (her nickname) is that she has the palate of a food critic. She eats raw red cabbage slaw, veggie sushi, eggplant parmesan, guacamole and hummus. I know a lot of kids possess this adventuresome trait but since my almost 5 year old is THE PICKIEST EATER IN THE UNIVERSE I really enjoy Dilly's desire to try different healthy foods. (She also scrapes frosting off of cupcakes, just eating the cake part, and hates chocolate chip cookies. This makes me wonder if she was switched at birth but since she still enjoys most pies, I think she's mine)

But back to my 5 year old, The Big A. He's a terrible eater in that if I let him eat plain macaroni every night he would be perfectly content. Red sauce is far too exotic for him. He never met a hot dog he didn't like. And besides carrots, he makes a big federal case out of eating any type of green vegetable. Although he's literally thrown up into his plate when tasked with eating asparagus, broccoli or spinach we still make him do it. I have to give my children something to discuss in therapy one day.

Last night was no different.

I made a salad plus a wheat pizza for Dilly, my husband and I, topped with fresh grilled chicken, balsamic, mushrooms, sautéed onion and asparagus. I topped it with aged provolone and fresh tomatoes for a sort of different type of pizza than the same-old same-old.

The Big A, who helped me grate all of the cheese, dubbed it "Garbage Pizza. It looks like garbage."

"Well, aren't you a treat?" I scoffed as I shoved it in the oven.

"Don't worry," he assured me. "Daddy will like it. He'll eat anything."

That is true. But how did two total foodies like my husband and I get stuck with such a finicky eater?

As I served Big A's dinner, neatly separated into quadrants as per Big A's OCD demands the whining began.

"We're not having noodles!?" he protests.

"Nope, not noodles." I said through gritted teeth.

I had served little chunks of roasted chicken, baby carrots, sliced apples, cheddar wedges and some bright green steamed asparagus with butter. A glass of milk completed what was a very fresh and nutritious meal.

"Arrgh" he grouses as he plops into his seat "Asparagus again?"

I am now sort of furious because I just served a delicious meal and he's already complaining. Also, considering the food that we are always collecting for Lunch Break through our church, I should not need to remind him how many children would be thrilled to get this meal.

And then the negotiation begins. Such as:

"Can I just eat the heads of the asparagus?

Do I have to eat all 5?

If I promise to have a tea party with Dilly can I not eat it?

Can I eat it tomorrow?

Can I eat it later?

I think I'm too full to eat my asparagus."

So now I'm past my breaking point, I already poured myself a glass of red and I'm taking a deep breath. He scarfed up the rest of his simple repast, including all of the carrots, which he has deemed the only non-evil vegetable.

Then he looks over at me.

"Do I really have to eat it?"

"No," I respond, "you don't have to. You can go straight to bed right now at 6:15."

So then, while mugging, gagging, moaning, flailing his arms and acting like I've just given him fish heads, poison or both, he takes tiny bites of the asparagus, chasing each one with milk and then slumping, in a heap, onto his chair. He's only eaten one spear at this point.

Then he does something that aggravates me so much I want to scream.

He begins talking to the asparagus. And himself.

"Okay Big A," he mutters, "You can DO THIS!" He's dead serious, giving himself a pep talk to eat delicious fresh steamed asparagus, crisp tender and smothered in butter. He eventually finishes it all, acts like he's just done me a great favor by dealing with this indignity and clears his plate. This was good night. Sometimes he talks his way out of eating all the greens or my patience runs out before his does.

I give up. I gaze over at Dilly who's polishing off her asparagus, a small slice of "Garbage Pizza", and some spicy beef empanadas my father brought over earlier from her favorite Latin restaurant. She loves empanadas. Like most 2 year olds. I guess if we lived in Argentina.

I don't know when The Big A will realize that boy cannot live by plain spaghetti and chicken nuggets alone. He also likes pancakes and birthday cake but that does not a healthy diet make. I can't help but wonder how two children that came from the same parents and who have grown up in the same home can be so vastly different when it comes to their taste buds.

I guess I'll keep wondering. And I'll keep in mind what every grandmother says with a shrug -- "When they're hungry, they'll eat." But will he ever eat his greens without a fight?