Marching forward

I woke up this morning to an achy body and bursting heart. Both sensations kept me weepy all day.

When the boys and I left home Saturday morning to meet up with the families who comprise our proverbial village, I had no idea what to expect aside from sore feet and complaints of hunger. In fact, I had a little talk with the boys before we even left home.

“Listen, today isn’t going to be easy. There might be a lot of people. We won’t be able to quickly leave if you’re tired or hungry. So just remember that fighting for what you believe in isn’t always comfortable and it isn’t always fun.”

I didn’t “make” my kids join the Women’s March on Washington. I’d decided to walk when I first saw the announcement, but initially figured I’d leave the kids home, fearful of subjecting them to acts of violence. But both expressed concern for this new Administration and a desire to take a stand, so we outfitted up, pockets full of snacks, and joined the throes.

“I wish I’d made a sign,” my younger son said immediately upon getting off the metro and seeing the sea of posterboard. He got something better; a marcher handed him a Ziploc bag containing a pink hat knit by a woman in Kansas unable to come for the march. (He didn’t take it off until bedtime.)

We walked. We chanted. We shared stories with the people we encountered. We smushed in close and spent the entire march keeping track of the kids in our village. We were 14 adults and 11 kids, though it certainly felt like those numbers were flipped, head on a pivot constantly counting and recounting. We didn’t make it to the rally (or anywhere near the Jumbotrons), wedged as we were on the Mall-side of the Native American Museum, just a few blocks from the action. So many people were packed into this usually wide open space that we never made it to the actual march route; instead our part of the crowd carved a wide and densely populated path to merge in with the rest of the marchers on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I’ve been to a few Inaugurations, Wembley Park for a legendary concert, the Esplanade in Boston for 4th of July festivities, and I’ve never experienced such a friendly, supportive and polite crowd. There was little pushing. Lots of information comparing/sharing. A warm camaraderie underpinned the grit, determination and passion evident on faces and signs. When in midafternoon we peeled off to head back to the metro, I was surprised to turn back and see the sea of pink overtaking the city; I wasn’t surprised this morning to read zero arrests were made in connection with the event.

We got home exhaused but exhilirated. Hungry, but ready for more. “We marched for a good cause,” noted my older kid. “Defending the rights of you and my friends is totally worth it.”

The hard work starts now. The new administration already scurbbed the words climate change from the White House website, like deleting those two words will make the crisis disappear. The new press secretary lied in his first press conference, which didn’t involve the press at all but served as a venue for him to scold the media for reporting the numbers from the day before. (Why is this White House so focused on size?) And the president made a jab at marchers before appearing to have his Twitter handle taken over by a more moderated set of thumbs.

This is our new normal; it’s anything but normal and it’s not okay. What I learned and felt yesterday is that I am not alone. For the last two months, I felt helpless; now I’m unstoppable.

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like sands through the hourglass

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I am officially mother to a fourteen-year old. While the age thirteen sounds whimsy and sixteen, scary, I’m not sure what to say about fourteen. I barely remember myself at that age.

I turned fourteen in 1983. Like my son, I was in 8th grade. Unlike my son, I had a perm, bad feathered bangs and wore bright purple eye makeup. I’d never been kissed. Return of the Jedi came out that year, but I only know that because I googled 1983 cultural occurrences. Apparently my mom was paying a buck-thirty-five for a gallon of milk and a dime less for gas.

But back to Jack. I asked this sprouting teenager over breakfast what responsibility he’d like to be granted in honor of his 14th year.

“The right to do everything I want,” he said, foam of a homemade latte on his lip.

“Doing everything is overrated,” I replied. “Really, what do you wish you had the freedom to do?”

We talked about his taking the metro alone or going to the movies with friends. Maybe a solo metro ride to the movies with friends. Otherwise, I was at a loss for suggestions, and Jack didn’t have any ideas either. Moms of fourteen-year olds, I’m open to your thoughts. Essentially, I want to give him space to grow, but within the bounds of what’s safe. A doable challenge that will make him feel good about himself. And then I want to help him build on the added responsibility rather than force him to drink from the firehose of adulthood. I don’t have many more years left to shape this soon-to-be young adult. I want to get it right.

I’m not one to miss the years gone by, but tonight we will look at his baby book, sing happy birthday and celebrate the funny, thoughtful, witty, guy he’s growing to be.

the son of all fears

My younger son had a panic attack last week. I wasn’t with him; he was on spring break with his dad and brother, exploring a cave outside Austin, Texas. I talked to him on the phone after the incident and he sounded fine, but I know how my little guy gets once he decides he’s scared of something.

“Mom, I figured out in the cave that I have claustrophobia,” he declared last night.

“Hey,” I tried to reassure him. “Anyone can feel uncomfortable in a dark cave. It doesn’t mean you have claustrophobia.”

“Do you have any phobias?” he asked.

“Nope,” I replied, trying to keep it light.

“Do you have any fears?” he pressed.

Do I have fears? I know he meant of the dark (yes), heights (no), or spiders (sometimes) but my mind went elsewhere. This child collects fears. Through therapy, in his young life we’ve already had to address his fear of candles, knives (even the butter slathering variety) and holly berry bushes. (“What if I accidentally eat a berry?”) He grows anxious if a passenger stands too close to the ledge on the metro and admitted recently he is apprehensive of flying. If I have a fear, it’s his letting fear stand in the way of enjoying life.

I knelt down beside him.

“You know buddy, I do have fears. It’s totally normal to be frightened, especially of the unknown. I probably would have felt the same way you did in the cave, but we can’t live our lives being scared or we’d never try new things.”

He nodded and looked to the ground. I squeezed his shoulders and reminded him he hasn’t met a pillow fort he didn’t want to live in forever. Only time (and a pillow fort in my living room) will tell how deeply seeded his claustrophobia is. And in the meantime, I will try not to let fear of his fears morph into my own phobia.

a funny thing happened at soccer

For the first time in his eight-year soccer career, Jack plays for a travel team. Making this big league move was just short of monumental; the time and financial commitment is greater than any activity either kid has pursued to date. But so far, three games into the season, the only real difference between the travel team and the town team seems to be longer drives to games, better uniforms, and new parents to get to know.

On that note…

Before yesterday’s game started, I staked out territory on the bleachers, book in hand to entertain me until kick off (or whatever you call it in soccer). Soon after I took my seat, a dad I didn’t know walked up and sat beside me.

Stranger Dad: “Hey, whatcha reading?”

Me: “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing.”

Stranger Dad: “How is it?”

And I knew like you know when a chatty passenger sits next to you on an airplane that no matter how good I proclaimed my book to be, I would no longer be reading it for any duration of the game.

I marked my page. We talked. The game commenced. We did that eyes on the field multitasking conversation thing sports parents are good at.

Stranger Dad: “What do you do? Hey, he’s offsides!”

Me: “I’m an aspiring writer-slash-lobbyist. Go defense!”

Our conversation proceeded like this for the first half of the game. I abandoned hope of picking my book back up at half time. The second half got underway. And then there was a shift in conversation. I’m not sure what cued him, but on a warm pre-fall day, watching our kids run up and down the field, this happened:

Stranger Dad: “Do you have any friends in an open marriage?”

Me: “Um, yeah. I do know one couple in an open marriage.”

He proceeded to ask details about their arrangement, but I’m not deeply involved in my friends’ private lives, nor would I share them with a stranger even if I were up to speed. I stammered out an answer.

Stranger Dad: “My wife and I have an open marriage.”

I’m never sure what protocol is when a complete stranger over shares. In this case, I choked out a squeaky “oh really?” as my spidey senses kicked in: this was more than chitchat. It was a proposition. He mistook my silence for interest. He explained in great detail the terms of his arrangement with his wife. She prefers not to know what he does outside the marriage, but he wants to know everything. In fact, I got to hear all about a “date” she went on recently. He leaned in close and told me that while he’s a stay at home dad, he’s the aggressor in bed.

Me: “Run, Jack! Defend the ball! Get in there, Jack!”

The game ended in a 1-1 tie and a handshake. I’m pretty sure he expected more. I collected my kids and quickly herded them into the car. I immediately checked the game schedule to see how many more games I’m likely to run into this guy. Because while I turned it into a humorous story to share at a backyard BBQ later, honestly, he made me uncomfortable. I was happy to have a new parent to talk to when the topic of conversation bounced between living in New England, raising boys, and the unpredictable DC weather. But he pushed the bar, and I’m not exactly sure why. Was it how I was dressed? Because I was alone? Did he misinterpret my friendliness for flirtation? Or is he just an aggressive asshole? All I know is instead of being excited that my son is a starting defender who played all game, I’m focused on ways to deflect unwanted attention from this creepy dad.

And that really sucks.

a big boy now

Colin had been waiting almost exactly 365 days for yesterday to arrive.

About a year ago, Jack let slip that in August, he’d be going to San Francisco, by himself, to spend a week with my dad, their “Papa.” (And by “let slip” I mean the kid can’t keep a secret to save his life.)

Colin fretted all summer. Why not him? Why Jack? It was so unfair.

Oh, the injustice of being the younger child. It’s something I’ve tried to be more cognizant of as a parent. As the oldest sibling among my brothers and sisters, it seemed perfectly fair that Jack would get his adventure first.

After a painstaking year, during which the question, “when am I going to California?” was posed nearly daily, the big day finally arrived, but was shrouded in a typically klutzy Chelsea maneuver that left my literally seeing stars for the drive from home to Dulles.

He was quiet in the car. Not unusual for the 5:00am hour or for Colin. For a kid that can be really loud, he can also be quiet as a church mouse. (Assuming church mice are quiet. I don’t exactly have field experience there.)

As we approached IAD from the parking lot, Colin wrapped himself around my arm.

“Come with me, mommy.”

“I can’t,” I said reassuringly. “I don’t have any clothes to wear.”

“You can buy new clothes,” he offered, hitting me at my vulnerable point.

“Jack is home waiting for me to return.”

“Daddy can go get him.”

The reasons I should go with him continued as we made our way through security and to the gate. I started to dread boarding. Would he cry? Would be refuse to go?

But when it came time, he gave me a hug, pulled his face into the most serious look I’ve ever seen on the kid, and made his way.

And of course, on the other end I know he’s being spoiled, getting the special one-on-one time he deserves and not having to share this experience with Jack or with me. He will return with fantastic stories and detailed accounts of where he was able to drink Dr. Pepper, which seems to be a big goal of his trip.

But it’s up to Papa to break it to him that the Hollywood sign does not live in the Bay Area, as seeing that iconic landmark is definitely on Colin’s bucket list.

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