Wednesday, May 27, 2015

It's A Date

At first I thought my son was joking. 

Big A had a proposition for us, he said. 

To make a long story short, he wanted to use his allowance to take a girl out on "a date".

He's 6.

He suggested going to Carvel.  He outlined that me, his mother, would drive himself and his date but I was to sit at a different table, hidden behind the drink machine so he and his friend could have some privacy.  The plan was that he would order one huge milkshake with 2 straws.

We were in the car and I was biting my lip to stop from laughing. I wasn't laughing with my son, but at him.  My husband began cackling until he looked over at Big A and saw he was quite serious.

What to do?

"Who's the girl?"  I ask him.

"Tulip. She's in my class." he said.  (Her name is not Tulip.  I am merely protecting her identity)

Most of Big A's friends are boys.  He's 6, after all. But there are a couple of girls he has deemed "cool" who have slipped into the friends circle.

"Do you think she's going to want to go out on"

"I think so.  Can you please call her mom now and ask if she can come on the date?"

I wish he would stop calling it a date.  They're 6 for goodness sake. I stalled for time.

"What if she doesn't want a milkshake?" I asked him.

He thought about this.   "That's okay. She can get whatever she wants."

I called Tulip's mother. Tulip's mother asked Tulip, who said that she would like to join Big A for an ice cream social. A time and date were arranged and yesterday I found myself driving towards Tulip's house to pick her up.

"Now when we pull up, you stay here." Big A directed me. "I'm going to walk to the door and get her. And I'll say 'Ready for OUR DATE?' " He grinned goofily.

"Please don't say that," I begged him. "It's just two friends getting ice cream."

"Okay," he concedes.  "I'll say 'Ready to go get ice cream?' but then I'll wink."

Oh good grief.

We picked up Big A's little friend with no incident.  He held the door for her at Carvel and let her order first. She doesn't like milkshakes, it seems, but she got a dish of Mother Earth.  I sat across the ice cream shop pretending to read a book but straining to listen to their conversation.

Apparently Big A had taken it upon himself to come up with some talking points that I'm pretty sure he pulled from an episode of Clarence

"So Tulip, if you were stranded on a dessert island, what three things would you bring?" 

She thought about this for a minute.  "Water, food and a tent."

"I would bring water, food and a laptop so I could watch Minecraft videos."

"So Tulip, if you were being attacked by zombies, what weapons would you want to have?"

And so on.

The rest of the "date" passed pleasantly, the two of them chatting and eating ice cream until we dropped her home 20 minutes later.  I have no idea what came over Big A but he suddenly announced "What if I kissed Tulip?" and started smiling at the sheer madness of such a thing.  He turned to Tulip and said "Did you HEAR what I just said?"  and the wise girl replied, "No" as she got out of the door.

My husband called to find out how the "date" was going.  We thought it was all so charming but the two kids seemed to think it was normal.  Two friends, getting together, having conversation and having a treat.

My husband and I talked last night about how, (even though it's unusual for a first grader) glad we were that Big A came up with this idea to have "a date."  He doesn't see girls as "other", as stupid, covered in slime or not worth his time.  And what about Tulip? I hope this innocent encounter sets the stage for her expectations of dating.  The guy should plan the date, hold the door and pay.  Accept no less, Tulip!

Because soon enough children will age into teenagers and they WILL be dating.   And I hope it's nice. And mutually respectful.  I hope it means conversation and fun.  Not making out at a party and then never speaking to each other again at school. (I know, I know...I'm wishing for miracles here)   But it's never too early to teach out children good ways of interacting with the opposite sex.

"This is what dating should be like"  my husband proclaimed with a definitive nod.  "Doing fun things with different people and getting to know them." 

We brainstormed the idea of letting Big A invite 4 boys over this summer and turning our deck into an Italian restaurant.  The catch?  Each boy would have to invite a girl as his dining partner. Then they could all gather around the same red checked tablecloth, eating spaghetti, drinking grape juice out of wine glasses and having conversation.  After which they would likely run around our yard like maniacs and fight over the tire swing like the 7 year olds there are but, still, the foundation for the future would be set.

Our child won't truly be dating until...what? High school?  But it's nice to shape his perceptions and expectations now.  I still have NO INKLING as to what made Big A come up with this notion of going on an ice cream date with Tulip.  He seems to have reverted back to being a 6 year old kid.  This morning he was focused on his new lego set, latest baseball game and the thrill of back-to-back play dates with two buddies on Friday afternoon.

But when his Grandma asked him how his "date" when yesterday he told her it was "Awesome."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tales from a Bike

I'll never forget when my nephew James learned to ride his two-wheeler. An extremely agile and athletic child, he was around 5 years old when he looked hard at his bike, removed the training wheels himself and began riding around the neighborhood a few hours later.

From what I can discern, this is not a typical bike-riding experience.  At least, it wouldn't be normal for my son.

Until about a month ago, my 6 year old had zero interest in learning to ride a two-wheeler.  I'd be like, do you want to help me put away laundry?  Or go outside and ride your two-wheeler with your dad? 

He'd choose to put away socks.

But now riding his two wheeler is all my son thinks about.

Every day when he arrives home from the bus he yells "Can I ride my bike?"

Unfortunately, he's not exactly a natural.

He gets home from school, throws on his helmet and drags me outside, away from doing Very Important Things (AKA my books and my wine) and makes me run up and down the street, in flip flops (okay my fault, not his) holding his seat.

I let go of his seat days ago. He rides all by himself, though it's in a zigzagy sort of way, like you'd ride if you were really drunk.  Then he realizes I'm not holding on, screams like Nathan Lane in The Birdcage and topples to the ground, wailing.

So we go from determination and pride to wailing within the course of 5 minutes. This scene is repeated every afternoon with very little variation.

I lift the bike off him.  He's huddled on the ground in the fetal position, sobbing.

"Mo-OM! You didn't catch me!" he says accusingly.  

(I want to state that Big A actually has a huge bike that's his correct size due to his legs being so long. When he falls, he falls 3 feet into the ground. If I even attempted to catch him, we'd both get injured.)

"Calm down, calm down," I urge him, his shrieks so high-pitched that neighborhood dogs are moaning and covering their ears. "You're fine!"

"I'm NOT!" he yells, cradling his arm as a tiny speck of blood the side of a freckle appears on his elbow.

Now he's lost all confidence. Now he's lost all the excitement of riding his bike.  And my Chardonnay is still being held captive on the kitchen counter.

I walk the bike back to the garage, as he shuffles and moans like a member of the living dead.

I apply expert first aid once we get inside, splashing wine on his boo-boo and letting my 3 year old daughter bandage him with a Hello Kitty Band-Aid and a kiss.  He rolls his eyes "I'm not wearing this band-aid to baseball tonight."

Big A skulks over to the couch and throws himself on it dramatically.



"Promise me that I'll never fall off my bike again."

I laugh. He glares. I stop.

"I can't promise you that.  You will fall off your bike again."

"Promise you'll always catch me when I fall, then" he says.

I sing a few bars of Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time.  "If you fall, I will catch you I'll be waiting!" I sing.

"You will?" he asks, brightening.

"Actually, no."  I admit.  "Your father and I are always here to help you with good advice and support. We'll try to help you get out of jams and pickles and the like, but I can't promise that I'll always catch you if you fall off your bike.  Like today for example."

He looks devastated.

It dawns on me that this could be an opportunity for a life lesson. I recall the Batman Begins reboot with Christian Bale when he falls in to the pit of bats as a child.

"Do you know why we fall?" I ask him, trying to keep a straight face and be earnest.

"Because I can't ride my bike that well." Big A says.

"No!  We fall so that we can learn to pick ourselves up."

"Why don't you just pick me up?"

"Because if I picked you up, you wouldn't learn how to do it yourself.  And you and your bike are incredibly heavy. You're like the largest first grader I know."

"Why don't you just buy me knee pads and elbow pads then?"

"Because those are for sissies. And I'm cheap." I say.

I come closer and wrap him up in my arms.

"Listen, buddy I know that riding your bike is scary and that falling hurts.  But when you came home today you were so excited to try to ride your bike. You were so proud when you did!  Did you know that you actually know how to ride your bike? The whole time I'm running alongside you, I'm not even touching you, did you know that?"


"Really. It's all mental. And then when you see I'm not holding you, you freak out."

"Mom, we're a whole family of freaker-outers."

"True, but we have passion!  Who wants to be vanilla and calm all the time? Not us.  But the point is, I don't want you to stop doing something you love, because it's scary.  Don't let the fear stop you, okay?"


"And I know that you are capable of picking yourself up, dusting off your scraped elbows and getting back on the bike.  I know it."


"Now do you want to get back on the bike?"

"No, I just want to lay here with my injuries."

His injuries, of course, being the glorified mosquito bite on his elbow.

Big A then stripped off his Hello Kitty band-aid and went to baseball and played with his friends afterwards. 

When he came home, I heard the familiar "Can I ride my bike?"

It was nearly 745 pm and he hadn't had dinner yet or taken a shower.  This defied our nearly sacred be-in-bed-by-8-pm rule. But I was happy he had gotten over his fear so I let him ride up and down the street, once, to show his dad.  

Big A was very proud. 

Until he ate it on the ride back. I was prepared for him to wail so loudly he'd break the sound barrier once again without an airplane.  But there as just silence.

He gets out from under his bike, picks it up, climbs back on and tries again. And again.  Until he falls one final time and we call him in for dinner.

He walks his bike into the garage with his head held high.

"Band-aid?" I offer him since I see a new scrape or two.

"No, thanks.  Did you see me ride my bike?"

"I did!"

He stops.

"Did you see how I fell and I picked myself up all by myself?"

"Yes, Big A, I saw that."

I feel a lump in my throat. Big A has been practicing every day for a month.  Bike riding does not come as easily to my cautious, overthinking boy as it may come to others.  He'll go on any roller coaster and be brave when blood is drawn or teeth are filled but he's nervous about trusting himself. 

I watched him give his bike a little pat, put it back in its spot in the garage and carefully hang his helmet on his handlebars until tomorrow. I know he's going to get the hang of it. And I know the bigger lesson is that just because you keep falling doesn't mean that you shouldn't keep trying.

At that moment I feel a little hand tugging on my skirt and I look down at my 3 year old daughter smiling up at me.  She's managed to put her brother's helmet on her head.

"Can I ride my bike?"

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


A few weeks ago I heard a woman in our town had breast cancer but since her children aren't in the same grade as my children I didn't know who she was. We have some mutual friends which I discovered when I looked her up on Facebook.

Here's what else I discovered.

This mom was really, really pretty.
If her ripped arms were any indication, she works out regularly.
She has lots of friends.

And most impactful, to me:

She is a single mom to three young children.

Breast cancer is not supposed to happen to someone like her. It's supposed to happen to someone else. Someone we all don't know.  Someone who doesn't live a few streets away. Someone who is old. Someone who smokes, per say.  Or eats nothing but pork rinds, guzzles beer all the time and lays around on the couch.  It's certainly not supposed to happen in our small town to an otherwise healthy, young, lovely mother of three.  Didn't God get that memo?  Seriously, W.T.F.?

People started posting pink ribbons as their profile pictures on FB. Photos of her friends in pink shirts started popping up, reminding all of us that no one fights alone.  Her child's class did a special program to let her know of their support and encouragement. 

At times, I hear people criticizing the drawback of living in a small town, where everyone knows your biz. But this closeness is also one of the great advantages -- if people know you have something going on, they can help.  I began keeping this mom in my prayers so I figured I might as well friend her on Facebook.  Friending someone I've never spoke to in real life was a huge step for me, since I've never done that before. Miraculously, I must have looked fairly normal because she accepted my friendship.

A week or two later, I came face-to-face with her at our annual PTO auction by the Platinum prize section and recognized her right away.  I was so happy to meet her.  Luckily I had only had two glasses of wine and could communicate what I wanted to say which was "I don't know you but I'm with you.  I'm praying for you. You're A HUGE inspiration." I hoped it was that cohesive. I may have squealed like I was meeting Taylor Swift.  But she didn't edge away towards the bar so maybe I did okay. What I meant to say was "I'm incredibly sorry this has happened to you. But you are an amazing person and you have brought this town together."  She was so nice. I remember that she listened and spoke to me, (a virtual stranger who approached her to gush) without me worrying she would run off to her friends and go "Who the hec is THAT freak?"  And she mentioned a silver lining: that due to her diagnosis, a number of her friends had made appointments for their first mammograms.

As the weeks passed, I watched her via Facebook trying on wigs with her friends. I watched as she shaved her head and donated her hair, her children close at hand. Maybe 10% of the women in the world have the kind of face and bone structure to pull off a shaved head and still look super gorgeous and she is one of them.  I watched her hooked up for her first chemo appointment a good friend by her side.

I signed up for her meal train but so beloved is she that the first opening is months away.  Thinking she might be sick of all the delicious yet heavy casseroles and zitis surely coming in, I decided to do a French-themed meal with baguettes, cheese, fruits, a salad and napoleons.  I wondered if she could drink wine while she's in recovery and figured I'd throw it in anyway and she'd get to it, eventually.

But even though I barely know this mom or her kids, she is present in my mind and heart.  She's a mom in my town. She could be me. I could be her. She could be any one of us. And if her fight has taught me anything it's that cancer does not discriminate.  And that no one should fight alone.  When I think of moms in the past with illnesses they were made to feel ashamed of, or who suffered in silence and isolation, it makes me want to bake Mark Zuckerberg an entire cake.  God Bless Facebook! 

I cannot imagine what this amazing mom's battle will be like. I cannot imagine the inner-strength this mom warrior will call upon during her fight. But I am sure she will triumph over it.  Hoards of people are in her corner, rooting for her, loving her, supporting her.  What she is going through is terrible but she will not fight alone.

Below is a great way to show your support.