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Social Re-entry

We are now a week or so out from fall soccer, and have gotten through what I will call re-entry. At first, with all that time on our hands and unseasonably cold temperatures outdoors, we were all on edge. What in the heck were we supposed to DO with ourselves? Honestly, none of us were sure, and Simon wasn’t the only one who was feeling restless and cranky.

Thanksgiving break provided a great reminder: We are supposed to socialize, something that we had largely forgotten about unless it took place on the sidelines. But this week we had a family holiday on Thursday, a party with friends we met at Brandeis on Friday, a party with some of our first Louisville friends (and Simon’s first ever friends) on Saturday, and then a soccer binge day today.

It was pretty glorious, especially Friday, which reminded me a lot of nights out in San Francisco. There were about six couples in all, and I feasted on Chinese, Filipino, and Indian food while getting to know everyone. We all had kids, but they were all boys, so we more or less tossed them in the basement and forgot about them. I think Simon went to bed slightly hungry because we opted to not cater to his pickiness and let him make do with what was on offer. And honestly, he didn’t seem too upset, because he’ll give up a lot for nearly five hours of one-on-one time with a friend.

Then last night we celebrated our friend Dave’s 40th birthday and remembered why we became friends in the first place. Simon, meanwhile, sneaked dessert with first friends Leah and Sophie and again went to bed slightly hungry after not eating enough of the Middle Eastern spread on offer. I, once again, stuffed myself nearly sick and opted to not worry about what or how much Simon was eating.

Adult conversation! Food that wasn’t pizza! The “benign neglect” school of parenting! It was a very good weekend. So good that today I did not mind at all slipping back into old patterns. We watched two EPL soccer games in the morning, I went for a run while Simon and Matt went to play soccer in the park in the afternoon, and for dinner we went to watch the U of L men’s soccer team play in the NCAA tournament. My dinner ended up being nachos and a pretzel, which I am deeply regretting even as I type.

But you know what? Friday and Saturday made up for a lot of bad meals before and after. And the entire weekend has me realizing that I need to grab the off-season by the reins and socialize my brains out. It’s not that I mind being a soccer mom—I actually kind of love it. It’s that I cannot only or primarily be a soccer mom all the time. And that it is wonderfully freeing to occasionally toss Simon into a scenario where I can largely forget about him for an evening or half-day. Given what a great mood Simon was in the entire weekend, I can only guess that he feels the same way.

Suddenly, the six weeks between now and the Winter II soccer session doesn’t seem so long.

The Testy Taper

At the end of any training session for an endurance event comes the taper. This is when, having reached the point that you can run, bike, swim, whatever for the full race distance, you back off your training to recover and conserve energy in time for race day. I’ve only tapered once, for the half-marathon I ran three years ago. What I mostly remember from it was feeling restless and agitated at no longer having my usual outlet for energy. It was made worse by the fact that all that training built up energy reserves to a new peak.

Simon is tapering now, and it’s not pretty. The soccer season ended two weeks ago, an unhappy event that coincided with shorter, darker, colder days. Matt and I are not so secretly relieved to have ease in our schedule. Now we have a soccer skills practice on Thursday, a tennis clinic on Sunday, and are otherwise free for un-rushed meals, homework assignments, and weekends.

Simon, on the other hand, is one crabby, cranky kid. He’s got energy to burn, no decent outlet for it, and is suddenly a moody, boundary-testing, hyper sensitive kid I hardly recognize. I know he just turned eight, but the timing seems suspicious; I don’t think this is about age. My theory is supported by the fact that last week, Simon was his usual sunny self on Monday, when he played with a friend all day, Thursday, when he had soccer, and Sunday afternoon, when he had tennis.

So what are we to do with this Mr. Hyde? Last year we dropped him into the last third of a soccer season and payed a prorated rate. I really don’t want to do that again this year, as there is so much going on between Thanksgiving and the new year. I think my best bet might be to take him out on runs with me, but the problem there is that Simon does 8-9-minute miles and I do . . .  uh . . . considerably slower ones. I’m thinking the best solution for now might be to take him with me for longer runs and hope I can make up for the slow place by doubling his usual distance. Five or six miles might—-just might—take the edge off. For now.

But then what do I do next year, when he’s going to have even more speed and endurance? There’s got to be some way to keep Mr. Hyde away!

Field Education

Originally this post was going to be called “The Value of Losing” and was going to focus on how much Simon has learned about losing with grace from his experiences playing soccer. I was planning to pen that entry immediately after the King’s Hammer Invitational Tournament, which you may have gathered did not go so well for Simon’s U-9 team. Then something funny happened: Simon’s U-10 team traveled to Elizabethtown Kentucky for a tournament, won three games out of four, and brought home the second-place trophy.

He handled that pretty gracefully, too, which highlighted what my post should have been about all along: The Value of Competition.

By virtue of being athletic and competitive, Simon is getting an education in an arena I have virtually no experience in. When I was growing up, I was competitive about grades, project-based academic competitions, and (sometimes) art. But neither of these things are determined in a single outing or in a single moment, and in both areas you are competing against your own best efforts as much as anything else. Nor did I compete much in board games, partly because my family didn’t play them much owing to others’ (echem, my oldest brother’s) difficulty losing.

It’s sad but true that I adapted something akin to a “If I can’t win, I won’t compete” philosophy. I got past this (mostly) long ago, but it’s still a gap in my experience, and sometimes it affects how I discuss competitions with Simon.

What I learned in the past 30 days is that I should just be quiet, because to quote William Wordsworth, “the child is the father of the man.” Simon doesn’t need any counsel from me. Let’s start with how to lose. Simon’s U-9 team was invited to a tournament at which his team was wholly out-classed. Our club, LSA, was playing select teams from other clubs where only the best (and tallest!) made the team and where weekly games involve regional travel. The teams we played had no weak links: no slow kids, confused kids, or ball-hogging kids. It’s not that their best players were better than our best players, it’s that they had four times as many of them.

And so Simon and 8 of his friends and their parents traveled to Cincinnati for back-to-back thumpings. After the second thrashing on Saturday, everyone knew or at least strongly suspected what in store for them on Sunday. At Simon’s age, I would have given up, pouted, gotten mad, or tried to quit. Possibly all of these things. Simon did no such thing. He went out there, played his best every time, kept his head up, and found personal satisfaction where he could, like when he scored in the first game and set up an assist in the last. See how traumatized these boys look:

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Exactly. On the Sunday drive home, Simon summarized the weekend thusly:

“I don’t think my team had the technical skills to compete in that tournament.”

How much wisdom lies in that short statement? Simon understood that he was playing more competitive teams, and with that understanding came acceptance. He knew there was no shame in losing to a better team, so he didn’t feel any. He just went out there, gave it his all, and chalked it up to experience. I got to the same place myself, but it took me longer, and that second game on Saturday was painful.

On the flip side, when Simon’s same U-9 team ran up a score against a much weaker team in the last regular game of the season, none of the boys celebrated very much. After the first few goals they understood they were going to win and dialed down the exuberance. I remember Simon telling me later that day that their opponents weren’t very good and that they shouldn’t make too much of the win or do anything to make the other team feel bad.

The Goldilocks competition came this past weekend, in the aforementioned Elizabethtown tournament. The field was pretty even, with either team having a chance to win or lose each game. The end result was exhilarating for Simon’s U-10 team and all the parents—seriously, an otherwise dignified and somewhat restrained  highly successful professional mother hugged me so hard she picked me up—but the best and most lasting takeaway for me is that Simon played just as hard in near certain defeat as he did in a hotly contested battle.

He’s got this. And while he’d much rather win, it’s the thrill of competition that does it for him, not any assurances of victory. Nope, the trophy is just the cherry on top of the delicious soccer (or tennis, or running) sundae.

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Empty Shelves

So we survived October. Actually, October was awesome, there was just a little too much of it! There’s a fair bit to catch up on, but I’m going to start with something odd: a dream.

I am not someone who often remembers dreams, and when I do they are usually mundane or pure brain junk. There’s rarely any meaning to be sussed out, with one notable exception. Ever since I moved into my house, I’ve had a recurring (once a year on average) dream about my basement.

In reality, my basement is half finished and half unfinished, and is just large enough to hold tools, my washer and drier, a desk, band equipment, a couch, and some bookcases. The people before me finished it roughly themselves and used it as a second living room, but we haven’t used it for anything that nice and won’t be any time soon, especially given the state of the carpet and ceiling tiles.

But the basement in my dream? It’s crazy. It’s at least twice the size of my actual house and is filled with potential. It has two kitchens—really! two—a spacious  living area, two huge bedrooms, two huge bathrooms (with ugly colored fixtures, but still . . . ),  and an office. I’m always both excited and daunted by the discovery of these rooms. On the one hand, there’s so much space to be had, but on the other hand the rooms represent a huge amount of work to be useful.

Because the other thing about the secret rooms in my basement is that they are cluttered. The people who lived in them before didn’t pack up anything before they left. I’m left with old lumpy mattresses, dishes I don’t want, dusty old furniture, and worst of all, thousands and thousands of books, most of them in technical fields other than mine or Matt’s. Enjoying these rooms was always going to require a dumpster and hundreds of man hours, hours I didn’t have at the time. Plus, I somehow felt responsible for getting the books back to their owner, even though he left them behind.

So in the end, I always walked upstairs feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the task at hand and closed the door behind me. What the heck could this mean? Was this a dream about untapped potential? About a new adventure? And if so, what did it say about me that my response was to shrug and walk away? The one time I asked a friend who’s studied a bit about dream interpretation, he focused on all the mess and the sense of burden, skipping the metaphors of potential:

“I don’t think you need Jung here. You are sick of dealing with other people’s stuff and feel overwhelmed by it.”

Was I? I didn’t and don’t know.

Two nights ago, the dream returned. There I was, staring at the same huge but odd kitchens, wandering into the room with the lumpy king bed and the room with the lumpy twin beds, wondering why anyone would choose a red bathtub, etc. I saved the office with the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookshelves for last. This time, though, when I walked in, the office was clean. Empty shelves, clear desk, ready to be used.

What the heck does that mean? Is this about Simon being more independent and me having more time for my own projects? Is this a metaphor that my brain is now literally empty? Or, literal person that I am, is it just reflecting that I’ve spent several months clearing out my house, including hundreds of books, and no longer feel over-burdened by clutter. I’m guessing it’s the latter, and it motivates me to get going on my shed, basement, and dining room closet. But I am happy to entertain other theories as well. Go head and tell me! I just hope it’s not that I’m empty-headed.

Hanging on by a Thread

I’m still here. Barely, but hanging on. October is always a busy month for us, but this October, THIS OCTOBER, has set the bar at a new level. Here’s some of what has been happening:

  • Matt was on call for a week.
  • Then he traveled to North Carolina for a week.
  • Then he started a new job (same company, new role, more later).
  • Somewhere in there, it was Yom Kippur, and Simon’s second 5K of the Fall.
  • Then he turned 8, which involved one trip to school, one friends party, and one family party. That weekend was a little over-booked.
  • But NOT as overbooked as the next weekend, which involved a soccer tournament in Cincinnati. We drove there and back twice, and still managed to fit in a friend’s birthday party Saturday night and a tennis clinic Sunday afternoon.
  • Then this week we made up for all that not being around by trying to cram in making a Halloween costume and finishing a school project while also having regular week-night soccer practices.
  • It’s a new scholarship cycle to organize for the Sudanese Refugee Education Fund.
  • I’m planning a home insulation blitz with the CRC and Project Warm.
  • I compiled a school directory and organized a PTA art competition for Brandeis.
  • I’m incorporating a group of neighbors into an association to deal with my neighbor’s (still) illegal duplex.
  • Matt had (very) minor surgery this week.

Needless to say, my pantry is empty and my bathrooms are dirty. But Marvin the Martian promises to rock, Simon picked up a lot of practical skills while figuring out how to construct a timeline of the universe, turning 8 really was great, and the other stuff is coming together.

But man, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I look forward to a relaxing weekend of soccer, tennis, drum lessons, a pilates class, cleaning, grocery shopping, and doing piles of laundry, and getting in a decent run. It’s going to feel like a two-day nap in comparison.

Is it November yet?




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Dear Simon,

On the occasion of your eighth birthday,  I’d like to share a little anecdote. A few weeks ago,  I took a silly Internet quiz that promised to tell people who they were after answering 20 questions. When I took the quiz as myself, the answers were freakishly accurate about my age, hair color, and life circumstances. So I decided to take it as you. It described you as a person who is serious about work, serious about play, very competitive and driven, physically fit, and with a close family and circle of friends . . .

. . . who was 50. Seriously, only the references to male pattern baldness sounded off. The rest was spot-on.

At eight, you are nothing more and nothing less than a grown-up version of the person you have been for several years now, and that person was also an old soul. There’s a constancy to your character; only now the childish language has to go.

Let me explain. When you were very young, I described you as “ball loving”. For the past two years, I upgraded you to “sporty”. This year it is time to recognize your ability and hard work and get more serious: You are athletic. In the past year, your PE teacher, tennis coach, soccer coach, and swim teacher have all told me that you are “a natural athlete” or “a talented athlete”.

I have heard the “A” word so often from so many different sources that I no longer doubt it. I have no idea how far you can, will, or will even want to go in any given sport, but there’s no denying that your ability, passion, and work ethic have combined to make you something special on the sports fields and courts. You have trophied in both a tennis match and a 5K race, you will travel for a U-10 soccer tournament next month, and your dad and I can do nothing from now on but cheer you from the sidelines.

Similarly, I’m thinking you are not going to be “a numbers kid” for much longer. In the not-too-distant future, that word will have to flip to “mathematician”. You love to carry in addition, you’re working on borrowing in subtraction, you have your multiplication tables down and can divide just fine, too, and you love playing with negatives, factorials, square roots, and powers. It’s a giant game to you, and comes as naturally as kicking a soccer ball.

But sports and math aren’t the only ways you  play up. You’ve been playing up socially as well. Thanks to tennis and soccer, you have met some very nice boys who are 1-2 years older than you, and it has not escaped my notice that your rapport with them is effortless in a way your rapport with boys your own age isn’t always.

Having said that, if your soul is old, your heart remains as young as ever. I’ve guarded your youthful innocence as much as possible, and so far you haven’t put up any walls of remove or cynicism. You are as sensitive, open, and caring as ever, and your sweet nature is one of your best qualities. You still expect everyone to be kind and honest and to do their best, and you are still confused when someone doesn’t. It’s a lovely view of the world, and I want you to hold on to it for as long as possible.

Honestly, this is a hard letter to write. Even though only dear friends and family read this blog, I feel like all my kvelling over you teeters over the edge of obnoxiousness. It seems unseemly to praise your athletic exploits, academic abilities, and good nature. If I were reading this about another child, I’d be dubious.

But the truth is that your faults are so minor compared to your gifts, that I cannot believe my good fortune in having you. Yes, you can get a little whiny when you are tired or hungry. You are a picky eater. You still interrupt me too often. And you are way too worried about making a mistake. But I never meet a teacher, coach, or camp counselor without them praising you to the hilt. You are admired for your strengths and liked for your character. Your science teacher tells  me you are a role model, your second-grade teacher nominated you to be a student of the month (which you won), your tennis coach tells me you are a great little athlete, your soccer coach tells me you are a good boy and runs charity races with you, and your drumming teacher makes fun of your burgeoning mustache and leg hair. Well, four out of five ain’t too shabby!

You make me proud of you every day. If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I catch you being more thoughtful or generous than I am. You’ve reminded me to buy a present for the child not having a big birthday party, asked someone about a recent illness or injury when I forgot, admonished me for getting too angry at other drivers on the road, and otherwise set an example and inspired me to be a kinder, better person. It’s equal parts humbling and pride-inducing when you lead the way.

I don’t think it’s supposed to be that way, at least not yet. But it’s one of the countless ways, big and small alike, that your presence in my life has enriched it beyond my imagining. I have often said that having you was the best decision I ever made. So far, it’s also the best present I have ever given myself. It’s your birthday, Simon, but no gift I give you can come close to the one you have given me for eight years today.

You just keep on being you, and your Dad and I will keep on cheering you and loving you from the sidelines. Have a birthday as great as you are.



Kol Nidre Confrontation

If you look at the title of this post, you will see three words that should never, ever appear together. Kol Nidre is the name of the prayer that is recited at the very beginning of the evening Yom Kippur service. As Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, the very last thing one should be doing is picking a fight. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell that to a woman sitting behind me, and as a result a whispered confrontation took place between solemn prayers.

I still don’t completely understand what happened. My mom and I were standing with Simon just before the Kol Nidre prayer was to be recited when an older woman leaned forward and barked at Simon:

“Don’t do that again!”

Or something like that. She had a nasty tone to her voice and a Cruella de Vil mean look on her face. My first thought was “Did that just happen?” A quick look at Simon’s trembling chin and moist eyes informed me that yes, that really did happen. But what? And why? At the time of the remonstration, Simon was standing silently with prayerbook in hand. What could he have possibly done?

Alas, it was going to be a while before I found out, because the eponymous Kol Nidre prayer was beginning. It’s the heart of the entire service, the most solemn part of a solemn holiday, a vocal show-piece for the cantor, and is recited slowly in English and in Hebrew. Thrice. Meanwhile, my nervous system was in overdrive as corticosteroids pumped through my body preparing for a fight.

After what felt like ages, the prayer ended and I had my chance. I turned around and whisper-shouted at Cruella:

“Why did you just discipline my son?”

There were no “excuse me”s or “pardon”s here. I was angry and wanted to make my displeasure clear.

“He was kicking the seat,” she sneered.

The look on her face as she addressed me was pretty nasty. But unlike my son, I was prepared to defend myself. Perhaps more to the point, she was wrong. My mom spent decades sitting next to restless kids in shul and reprimanding them when their restlessness got too noisy. I spend two days a week wrangling preschoolers who tend to flail and kick. If there is one thing both of us are well qualified to do, it’s to detect inappropriate seat kicking, especially when the suspect is sitting next to us. I assure you our kicking-child radar never pinged.

But just for a moment, let’s assume Cruella was right. Let’s assume that before Simon stood up he was swinging his legs and kicking the seat underneath him. Now let’s ask some questions:

  1. Was he kicking her seat?
  2. Was he kicking loudly?
  3. Was he kicking a part of the seat that could be harmed?
  4. Was he kicking the seat when she yelled at him?

The answer to all these questions is “no”. Further, if she had a problem, she should have taken it up with me or my mother. So our conversation continued, and it didn’t get any nicer on either side.

“I don’t think he was,” I rebutted.

“He wa—”

With eyes blazing with as much anger as I could muster, I held up my hand in front of her face and cut her off. “No, stop. You listen to me. My son is a very well behaved boy, and he is also very sensitive. You’ve upset him, and he didn’t do anything to deserve that. The next time you think you see something that needs to be corrected, you take it up with me, not him. Got it?”

The look on her face was indignant anger. How dare I talk to her that way! “Certainly” she seethed.

“Then we have an understanding.”

This last bit was uttered with as patronizing and angry a tone as I could possibly muster, and I turned my back on her before she could say anything in return. Meanwhile, Simon was sitting like a statue, trying not to cry any more, and looking very anxious. The night was ruined for him.

On the way home we could talk about what happened. I explained that even though I teach him to respect all adults, sometimes grown-up are wrong and/or mean.

“You mean you were mad at her?” he asked.

“Simon! I wanted to rip her tongue out of her mouth, and I’m sure Bubbie did, too!”

“But why did she yell at me when I didn’t do anything?”

“I don’t know that either, Simon. She was either confused or just plain mean. But I told her she wasn’t allowed to speak to you ever again, so you don’t need to worry about her.”

The next morning he was still worried about “the mean lady”, so I let him stay home while I went to services. Cruella and I came face-to-face only once, at which point we both attempted the look-straight-through-a-person maneuver. I asked around to find out who she was, but no one seemed to know.

Finally, I had a short conversation with the synagogue’s executive director. He was appalled that someone would yell at a child in front of his or her parents,  disbelieving that Simon could have done anything worthy of admonishment, and visibly upset that Simon was now scared to come to the synagogue. He’s finding us new seats for next year.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the entire situation go away. There will be repercussions. Simon is the child who struggles to fully participate at school because he is constantly worried that he will do something wrong. His teacher knows this about him and is working hard to increase his comfort level and free him up a little. She wants him to understand that learning entails making all kinds of mistakes–even behavioral ones–and that no one can be perfect all the time. Now one of his worst fears had just taken place: He was reprimanded in public (painful for an introvert) for doing something wrong when he didn’t know what that could possibly be.It’s absolutely not in the spirit of the season, but I can tell  you that I hate that woman and would still like to rip her tongue out of her mouth.

Coda: Several days out, Simon was able to laugh the incident off. He was happy to see me defend him, and he’s almost proud to have had his own “Mrs. Naomani moment”, which is what we call it when an adult who should so know better is unaccountably mean to a sensitive child.



About a year and a half ago, I dragged Simon out on a run with me. He was six and made it two miles, and I was pretty impressed. By the summer’s end, I decided he could run the Dare to Care Hunger Walk with me.

Here’s what the Hunger Walk sounded like back then:

“Mama, I think I need to take a short break. Did you bring the honeysuckles? [honeystingers energy chews]”

“Come on buddy, we’re almost there. You can do this!”

“Let’s try to pick it up just a little bit, OK?”

And here’s what it looked like:

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We finished in 43 minutes, and he was pooped. But he was only six and he made it 3.1 miles! I was so proud of him I could have burst.

This year we only got out to run once or twice. He wasn’t that into it, and he was busy with soccer,  tennis, and swimming. I signed him up for the Hunger Walk again this September because I wanted the company and the fundraising support. I also persuaded his soccer coach to do the run with us.

Here’s what the Hunger Walk sounded like last month:

“Simon! Simon! Slow down buddy. You’re going out too fast and are going to bonk.”

“I got this Mama.”

“No Simon, trust me. If you go out too fast you feel really bad after a mile or two. You need to let yourself warm up.”

“I’ll be OK, Mama.”

[me to water station volunteer]”Hi, Excuse me? Have you seen a young boy, not quite 8, pretty skinny in a blue shirt run by here?”

“You mean number 109? He flew by!”

“OK, great. That’s my son, and I lost track of him.”

“Well, his legs are younger than yours. It’s OK.”

And here’s what it looked like:

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We’re on the far right. I’m in the blue top and grey and white skirt, and Simon is in front of me to my right. Soon he would be further in front of me. By mile 1 he would turn the corner ahead of me, and I would next see him at the finish line.

Yes, that’s right. Within the space of a single year I went from slowing down to run with Simon to not being able to keep up with him. He ended up finishing in 28:18, and that includes time wasted slowing down (briefly) at my insistence and looking over his shoulder to see where I was. In his own words, it was kind of freaky crossing the finish line because he didn’t see anyone he knew there.

His time put him in 3rd place among children under 10 in the race, and it lit a fire under him. He wanted to run another 5K as soon as possible, and this time he wanted to win something. So we signed up for the Highlands Cup 5K, a much hillier course that runs through my neighborhood and the park adjacent to it. As 5Ks go, it’s a challenging race.

I told him all of that, explained that many of the youth runners will have had cross-country experience, coaching on running form, more practice, etc., but he was having none of what I was selling. He wanted to run fast and get a medal, and nothing I could say would change that.

Here’s what his 5K sounded like this past Saturday:

“My legs started to hurt at about mile 2.5, but I wanted a medal so I pushed through.”

“This grown-up told me to follow him for pace, but I wanted to run faster than he did so I said no thanks and ran past him.”

And here’s what it looked like:

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That’s Simon charging up a hill to the finish line. It also looked like this:

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That’s Simon holding his 3rd place trophy. He finished in 24:54 and placed 3rd in the Men’s Division age 9 and under category. He also won a gift certificate to the local running store in the raffle at the after-race pancake breakfast. By 9:30 a.m. he was already sure that this was the best day of his entire life.

By dinner he could hardly move, as dropping three contiguous 8-minute miles with no training, coaching, or proper stretching tends to leave one stiff and sore. Today he had to skip part of soccer and we rescheduled tennis for Tuesday.

The pain has done little to diminish his enthusiasm. He’s got plans. He wants to run more races this fall. He wants to run the Hunger Walk in 23 minutes next year. And in two years he wants to win one of these suckers.

I’m not about to tell him he can’t!

Report Card Day

It’s report card day here in Jefferson County, and that means several things:

  • free ice cream, donuts, and game tokens at local eateries for kids who get As;
  • mounds of Facebook bragging by parents of the same.
  • me complaining again about how much I hate the report card song-and dance.

What began as suspicion and progressed to disapproval has turned into heart-felt, visceral hatred. I hate it so much that I filled out a JCPS parent questionnaire last spring in support of reducing the number of grading periods per year based solely on my desire to cut down on the number of free ice cream trips and social media bragging cycles.

For the record, this is not sour grapes. Simon does well in school, and his own academic performance has nothing to do with my unease.

Instead, I’m motivated for three reasons: in its current incarnation, the report card ritual discourages risk, potentially rewards the wrong things, and unintentionally makes good people feed bad about themselves.

Let’s start with the risk issue. Simon asked me last week if I’d be proud of him if he brought home some Os on this report card (an O is an A in the K-3 years). I flatly told him no.

“Huh?” Simon asked. “You won’t be proud if I make good grades?”

“I don’t care what your grades are,” I replied. “What I care about is that you work hard and do your best. If you do that, you can get straight Ss (satisfactory) and NIs (needs improvement) for all I care.”

OK, strictly speaking, that last bit is not completely true. But my general point stands. Rewarding good grades and only good grades increases risk aversion. If Simon decides that only an O will do, he’s not going to try things where an O isn’t a good bet. Just today he told me that he didn’t like the paper mache project they were doing in art class because “I’m not very good at it” and “so many in my class are better.”

“That’s awesome!” I told him. That means you will learn a lot, can expect to get better, and can get help from some of your friends.”

This was a new line of thinking for him, but I meant it quite sincerely. I wasted too many years not trying things I wasn’t naturally good at, and the single most wonderful part of being over 40 for me is liberating myself from those constraints. I have since found much joy—and great improvement!—in areas where I am not a natural and will never be great, but have worked hard to become adequate or good enough.

At a certain point in time, we all become specialists and follow our strengths. But surely we don’t have to start clipping the wings of elementary school students.

Then there’s a matter of reward. I’ve said (and typed) it before, and I’ll say (and type) it again: The kid who struggles in math but busts his or her tail every day to get better and pulls off a B deserves as much or more praise than the kid who earns the A with little or no effort.  The B (or C) student might not deserve entry into MIT—I believe in the meritocracy—but in the elementary years at least we should be encouraging and rewarding the effort.

Besides this approach being kinder, I also think it sets children up to be more resilient the first time they encounter something truly challenging. It’s much better to believe you can work your way out of a tough spot than simply thinking you automatically are good or no good at a given task.

Finally, I can’t help but think about all the parents out there whose children won’t be bringing home As. Some kids simply aren’t that academically able, and I don’t see why they should be made to feel second-class. (And where do all these As come from anyway? I smell rampant grade inflation going on.) Some kids struggle with health, psychological, or learning issues, and I don’t think they or their parents deserve to have these struggles highlighted.

Some kids have difficult home situations that prevent them from reaching their full potential. Do they need also have free ice cream withheld from them? And then there are all the worried parents of kids who make poor decisions. I assume they feel bad enough without the disparity between them and others broadcast all over their Facebook feeds.

I’m fighting a losing battle here, and I know it. But if it were up to me, report cards would be an occasion for private discussion and praise.


Much as I adore Simon’s role playing with Rainbow Dophie (the stuffed animal he’s been role-playing with for the last few months), there’s one aspect that’s been driving me around the bend: Dolphie has a speech impediment. Like many toddlers his age, Dolphie says his “r”s and “l”s like “w”s. I’m not sure where Simon came up with this, because he himself never did this.

Like my mother before me, I am the .01% of adults on the planet that respond to youthful speech impediments with concern and—if I’m honest—even more irritation. I don’t think Cindy Brady sounded cute: I think she sounded like she needed speech therapy! More than once I have gritted my teeth as a friend told me how much they loved the sound of their child, niece, nephew, or child of a friend whose speech was marked with a pathological mispronunciation.

Apparently, my joyless rigidity extends to imaginary dolphin friends. Because one night, about a month ago, Simon was having Dolphie tell me something or other when I blew:

“Oh my Gosh, Simon, I can’t take it any more. I think Dolphie needs to go for speech therapy.”

Simon was stunned, but for a time my strategy was successful. Simon would have Dolphie say a word (not) adorably wrong, and then fix it. After a while, however, it was clear that Dolphie’s speech therapist was a hack.

“Why did Dolphie just say “hungwy”? Isn’t he in speech therapy?”

“Yes, but this week he’s working on his ‘b’s.”

“Well his ‘b’s are fine. Tell that therapist to focus on the ‘r’s and ‘l’s. It’s driving me crazy!”

Tonight Dolphie sounded as bad as ever. I confronted Simon with his distressing lack of progress and learned the very sad news that Dolphie’s speech therapy school closed. It was a for-profit institution, you see, and it didn’t have enough students to stay open.

Simon shrugged at me, but I could see a gleam in his eye. He thought he had me on this one. He would soon learn not to underestimate his mother.

“It closed? It was a business? Oh, no, no, no. Dolphie is still under three. [I know this because Simon himself has explained that Dolphie plays in a U-3 soccer league.] He should qualify for free speech therapy from the state. We need to fill out some paper-work for him and get him on an IEP.”

For just a moment, I had him. Then he looked at me with narrowed eyes and offered a retort:

“I can’t do that, Mama. I’m just his brother. You have to do it.”

Now, a reasonable person would never consider filling out a fake IEP for a stuffed animal. But I’m pretty sure all of our conversations about Dolphie’s speech impediments offer ample proof that I am not reasonable in this regard. So tomorrow, sometimes between working on a PTA directory, printing out flyers about a PTA art contest, planning a Project Warm home insulation blitz for the Jewish Community of Louisville’s Community Relations Council, figuring out what the heck to do for Simon’s upcoming birthday, and—oh yeah—getting ready for Rosh Hashanah, I’m going to mock up a fake application for state aid for Dolphie.

Why? Because I can’t take it any more. Because I’m “cwazy”. And because I can’t wait to see how Simon spins his way out of this one.


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