Parenting at my age and theirs

Although lovely in many respects, this summer was an interesting one for me, surprising and hard in ways that I neither anticipated nor welcomed. I believe that difficulty is often a sign that one’s current course should be reconsidered, altered, and/or learned from. That said, challenging times sometimes come when you’re not remotely interested in reconsidering, adjusting the sails, or learning new techniques. And yet we must stay dynamic, for life and those around us surely do.

I wrote earlier that it was a real limp to the finish getting the boys to camp. Once home, relaxation did not wash over me like a fragrant and refreshing breeze. Rather, I felt anxious, had trouble sleeping, and generally found it hard to settle.

Initially, I tried to keep busy not least because I love feeling productive, but also because, in honesty, busyness makes it harder to sit and ponder what isn’t quite right, what isn’t quite working. I taught myself to repair wood trim, puttying, sanding, smoothing, painting, and reveling in the way much of the wainscoting and trim in our house took to the refurbishing. In general, I feel that new coats of paint on your walls and mulch in your yard are like the best red lipstick out there; they finish the picture and make it shine. But there is also something satisfying about learning to do things instead of paying for another to do them; self-sufficiency feels good.

Tom and I gutted our laundry room and then redid it, hanging new cabinets, repairing and painting the walls, reconnecting the plumbing after the new counter and our old sink were reinstalled. That, too, felt good. Useful. A lovely way to spend time together during a summer we couldn’t travel so instead stayed here.

But in the background, I considered the busyness and the relative inability to relax. I realized I didn’t much know what relaxing even meant anymore. For thirteen years I’ve been on the parenting hamster wheel. I’ve loved a whole lot of it, but the day-to-day relentlessness of raising and guiding kids, ferrying them, keeping their appointments and cooking for them, managing the household and the pets and the volunteer work and the yard and and and. All that alters our courses more than we know, even when we try to maintain selves.

For me, both out of intentional and loving input and without realizing a thing, my mother-son dyads turned my sails out of my wind. There are many reasons for this, and I assess no blame. But I do see this summer as a come to jesus with myself, and that’s a good thing.

The week before we picked the boys up, I started thinking hard about what I needed to do to build in time for self care while parenting. The kids are 10 and 13; they’re not toddlers, they’re not incompetent. They spend six weeks a year in a place without electricity or running water, a place in which every single day they have to make multiple decisions, about how to spend their time and how to be as people. Do archery? Go on an extended hiking trip? Assert their feelings or stay quiet? Join with friends or do what their inner voices are suggesting?

That is them learning to be. And as they forge paths like those, I need to be doing the same, relearning what it is to live meaningfully and wholly with the kids here so that when they’re not, life is still full and balanced and not a fatigued mess of catch up and question.

One of my oldest, dearest friends is also a really good mother from whom I’ve picked up not a few insightful tidbits about parenting. She mentioned something about a chore jar, a bucket of popsicle sticks with a chore on each from which her children pull a job every morning. I stole this idea immediately upon learning about it and made a jar specific to my crew. Some are silly like “Have a dance party to a crazy song” while others are serious such as “do the dishes” or “clean the litter boxes.” Since their first morning home, the kids have pulled a stick and done the chore. Jack and I have taken two great selfies (with real smiles), Oliver has learned how to do a load of laundry, both have organized their desks and played with and brushed the cats. Both dreaded cleaning the litter boxes, but this is not my problem and Jack got over it quickly (Ol has yet to pull that one).

And what I have found, as with so many things related to parenting, consistent, non-negotiable rules, like the chore jar and our longstanding No-Screen Monday, make whining and push back much (!) less likely.

Over the summer, we also had reading hour every single day. That was as much because they had required summer reading and book club work as the fact that I desperately wanted to read through the stack of great books that beckon on the regular. And so we sat together and read, and it was nice. And not negotiable.

Some might say that of course these things should have been happening already, and maybe that’s right. But while I have kids who like to read, it’s never their first choice. And while I’ve always asked for help from them, I’m sick of needling and reminding. The set reading hour and daily pull from the chore jar cut the crap completely, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

We have never given the boys an allowance, in large part because they get a decent amount of birthday and Christmas money from generous grandparents and aunts but also because I don’t feel that making your bed or helping at home necessarily warrants payment. That’s a family decision, and I’m not judging allowances; I grew up getting one, and it taught me a lot.

But my boys tend towards laziness and they live privileged lives, so I’ve decided that the money they have beyond gifts will have to be earned. Several years ago, Tom and I told them they had to earn all spending money for trips we took them on. What they have chosen to purchase since then has been infinitely more thoughtful and frugal than before. And now, as Jack enters his teen years and wants things like more Magic cards and what not (which I’m not buying), he decided to start a lawn business in our neighborhood and has done a great job. He’s learning what it really takes to earn $10 and the thought that needs to go behind purchases when your budget is limited. He’s learning to correspond professionally and to keep track of appointments, and because of his income, he now has a bank account and knows how to deposit, withdraw, and all that jazz. I love it. It is beyond compare to watch from behind as he asks the guys at Dice City if he can see a specific Magic card, decides to buy it, pulls out his wallet, makes change, and says thanks.

This guidance towards and enforcement of independence allows for space for me. It will allow me to search for ways to make meaning in my life that are just for me even if they involve others. I’m teaching myself Irish and, impossibly and yet actually, I am taking two literature classes at Politics & Prose (my favorite local bookstore) on four Friday afternoons in late October/early November. The logistics of making that happen were ridiculous: class from 3:30-5:30 and 6-8p on Fridays? That is right smack in the afternoon frenzy of carpool, weekend commencement, dinner, sleepovers, etc. But instead of missing this chance as I have so often before, I registered and then figured out how to make it work. I am excited for myself and also for what this models for the boys. I am Mom but I am also Emily.

Hope kinetic

I am slowly recovering from Roger’s wrenching loss on Sunday. In all seriousness, I was just crushed. What an incredible match, a fact that in some ways made the tiebreaks that much harder to swallow. Amidst all the ugly news of late (the past couple years), R’s being in the finals was such pure joy, and I so wanted to see him hold that trophy aloft for the ninth time. Alas.

Last night, I had the profound fortune and pleasure of attending a rally sponsored by my House rep, Jamie Raskin (he is awesome), and co-hosted by none other than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC! It was in support of Rep Raskin’s organization, Democracy Summer, which he started a decade ago, and the importance and spirit of political organizing. I love that there’s an historic educational component too- political science, change, and so forth.

The event was held at a local civic building and was to start at 7, so I got in line at 6 and was about 50 deep. The crowd was wonderfully diverse: young, old, in the middle, straight, gay, black, white, Latinx, immigrant, American born. Our energy and anticipation were palpable despite the pro-life protesters moving ever closer with their six-foot tall graphic signs and false claims that women who chose to have an abortion are likely to end up drug addicted and/or suicidal. Most of us simply ignored them and talked with one another instead. One man tried mightily to have a real discussion; his irritated wife kept dragging him up in line and encouraging him to stop because he was making zero headway.

When the doors opened, people scurried in to get spots as near the stage as possible. Finally, at 7:30, Jamie and AOC emerged, and the crowd of 700+ went nuts. I am an enormous fan of Jamie’s intellect, passion for representing and supporting his constituents, and belief in what good politics can do. Same for AOC, and her magnetism is undeniable, y’all. She is smart, engaging, gorgeous, and absolutely what politics needs more of.

Also in attendance were Bob Moses, THE Bob Moses of SNCC and Civil Rights activism renown, he who helped pull back the Cotton Curtain of racial apartheid in American, who coined the phrase “one person, one vote,” and Danny Glover who I think is Bob’s friend and supporter. Bob is a legend, and as a complete aside, both men have the dearest of faces. Seeing them was like getting two hugs.

Jamie gave a wonderful opening speech about his family history of political involvement and activism and then introduced AOC not only as a colleague but also as his vice chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

AOC gave a thoughtful, rousing address about where we are as a country right now. It is her belief that we are picking up where the Civil Rights movement left off. “America has always been the story of the efforts of some to advance the rights of others while others work to advance the rights of a few.” It is the duality, the many-the few, that essentially defines us and our history.

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In referencing the last book Dr. King wrote before his assassination, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, she said that the only way to move from chaos (our present) to community (hopefully our future) is to move forward via organization. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. This is hope kinetic. “We are characters in America’s story- who do you want to be? What side do you want to be on, now and when history looks back?”

I urge all of you to ask yourselves those questions. It is my dearest hope that most of us are decent people who don’t hate different others as vehemently as it seems. Who won’t throw our pluralism and democratic promise under the bus because you really can’t accept who others love, what color they are, what choices they make when it concerns their OWN bodies and not yours. Does it really matter who a person in another state is sleeping with? Why must you demand that everyone live within the singular, small worldview that you prefer? Isn’t the pursuit of happiness a virtue that our founding fathers enshrined? Are not most of us immigrants to these shores? People who came in search of better?

For the first time in a while last night, I felt hope. Not from the hateful things being said to those of us waiting patiently in line by those who’d come to evangelize and demean. But from the efforts of a man whose family has fought the good fight for generations and from a member of The Squad whose mother cleaned houses and whose father died at just 48 and who worked 18 hours a day organizing and bartending to help keep the family home and STILL wore through her shoes canvassing in the Bronx. Who did what everyone said she couldn’t and wouldn’t. Who once here has been celebrated, yes. But also treated with such racist, bigoted disdain and cruelty yet who still rises with hope and determination every day.

Those two represent our future. Those in favor of LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter and Choice and ending Citizens United. That is our future.

What character do you play in our nation’s story?

Records are meant to be Rogered

Y’all, I am a truly outstanding Roger Federer fan. Really, he couldn’t ask for a more committed, enthusiastic supporter, and I have been that for so many years now. I watch every possible match whilst wearing my official-from-his-website RF hat. I know that he and darling wife Mirka have two sets of twins, Myla and Charlene, Leo and Lenny. I feel that Roger has great hair, including the perfect amount of arm and leg hair, and lovely skin and incredible legs.

As you can see from the six recent examples below, I am not kidding about the extent of my fandom.

Roger is class incarnate, just champion AF. I once heard him say that in his early years on the pro tour, he would sometimes emote in peevish fashion, yelling, say, or thrashing his racket. Watching replays of his behavior embarrassed him, and so he cut it out and has since acted with elegance and grace as far as the eye can see. Would that everyone be so self aware and willing to work on themselves, including in small ways like changing a bad hairdo (see early Roger below; OMG, code red).

Roger has both temper and hair fully under control today, and he is a shining example of masterful sports psychology, self-containment, and on-court compartmentalization. As I pace, cringe, jump up and down, hide my face with my RF hat, talk to the cats, text friends who sympathize, post updates to Facebook as if it’s my only outlet, send Mirka vibes of strength and understanding from afar, and quietly wish bad things toward Rogie’s opponents, Roger is cool as a cucumber. I mean, in today’s Wimbledon semifinal against Rafael tic-master Nadal, Roger lost the second set so mortifyingly badly (6-1) that John McEnroe and Chris Fowler were nearly speechless. Which is saying a lot. They finally concurred with much brevity that it was the single worst set Roger has ever played at Wimbledon.

Did Roger freak out? No he did not. He came back and whipped out wins in both the 3rd and 4th sets to advance to the finals, Rafa picking at his nethers and obsessively aligning his water bottles all the while.

Me:

Roger:

I mean seriously. I had to go work out after the match because I was a mess.

I actually made this during the match because Mirka, me too! I feel you! But, our man won.

I actually made this during the match because Mirka, me too! I feel you! But, our man won.

Meanwhile, the man is a month shy of 38 years old and is setting records left and right. In the quarterfinals earlier this week, Rog became the first player in history to win 100 matches at Wimbledon. He has won more Grand Slam singles titles -20- than any other male player and more Wimbledon championships -8- than any male peer, spent a record 302 weeks as the world ranked #1, and won a slew of sportsmanship and humanitarian awards. His eponymous foundation has invested nearly $30 million in education and children in Africa and Switzerland.

I love him. He’s a total dish.

Nanny and I always loved the same players. We were hardcore Sampras fans for years. YEARS. We called him Petey and cooed sweet nothings at the TV every time he played. Then came Roger and our adoration moved on. I still think of Nanny every time I watch Rog play (and also the way I used to mock how nervous my dad and grandfather would get during sporting events and now realize that I am exactly them), and I thought of her today. Send vibes for Sunday’s final, Nanny. It NEEDS to be Roger’s day. Novak “I look like an angry muppet” Djokovic has years more to play and win. Step aside, sir.

You know where I’ll be this Sunday! Breakfast at Wimbledon hoping Rogie rogers another record: becoming the first man to win 9 Wimbledon crowns.