Thursday, December 28, 2006

A bargain

Earlier this week my brother took the boys for the day (such a good uncle). During the day-long love fest he took them to the major league ballpark and bought them items from the shop.

One guy ended up with 50 playing cards (the other got a miniature mascot). When they came to my office he started to show a colleague the entire pack. This colleague patiently commented on each player ("He was good." "He wasn't so good." "He started off not so good but then got better.") when they came upon a card for Jose Melendez.

Jose was a marginal pitcher for the town team in 1993 and 1994. He is also the nom de plum for my colleague's blog. He's had to use a playing card on the web site from the Padres era which doesn't work for the overall feel of the blog.

Until my son stood with a Jose Melendez card. Jose Melendez wrote about the grueling negotiations. It was quite suspenseful.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

One more voter

This morning I spent three hours talking about advocacy with a group of women enrolled in a computer training and job skills program. Part of the tactic is to get the group to realize that the personal advocacy they have done (e.g. getting their kids into the day care of choice, helping someone get health care) uses the skills involved in systems change (e.g. baggering people, caring about issues). The morning session hopefully changes the collective perception of a group of low-income women that they can make a difference. I hope that because I believe it.

The morning definitely started with some skeptics, some very tired skeptics (it was two days after Christmas). "What difference can I make?" "It seems there was more stuff going on in the '70's and that it mattered." "If Congress controlls the money, then why do they keep voting to give the President money for the war?"

I didn't touch that last one.

But I did tell stories about finding funds to expand children's health care coverage. About this year's successful fight to increase our state's minimum wage but how we lost the chance to link the minimum wage to a cost of living index. They talked about CORI, health care, gun violence and housing. They know how hard their lives are and how the broader system is not responding to their needs. They just need a few simple tools to know how to change that system.

And one of those tools is voting.

At the beginning several participants insisted the vote was meaningless. They acknowledged they weren't even registered. They rolled their eyes as I handed out a voter registration card.

At the end, one of those skeptics handed me a filled-out registration card and told me this was the first time she had registered to vote. I hugged her.

I hope she uses her new found tool to make system change.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


We actually had a kindergarten basketball practice/game on the eve of Christmas Eve. Mr Reluctant didn't make it again and there were no relatives campaigning that he really is enthusiastic. In fact we only had 6 players. One of the two girls and probably the five most intense of the ten boys (my sons on either end of that spectrum).

Today I asked the team to focus on rebounding and dribbling. Dribbling will be the constant reminder ("hey folks, is this basketball or football?"). Rebounding clearly became every player's obsession. One guy got the "rebound" after the ball successfully went into the basket only to shoot again. Much to the other team's angst.

I had to stifle a laugh when the purple team's coach laid out some ground rules including no reaching in to take the ball while someone was dribbling. Even the timid girl on our team looked confused. Our opposition seemed to be younger kindergartners. We kept getting shots in. One of our guys would get the rebound under the basket, take the ball out and keep making three-point shots. He's six years old.

Then we came to the realization our basket was shorter. By at least a foot. The other coach accused me of rigging the game. I do feel bad about the discrepancy but come on - I sneak onto the court and lowered the net?

The net was raised to the same height. The White Ghosts kept making baskets, even the three-point shots.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas letters

My mom has written an annual Christmas (now Holiday) letter since the 1970's. It is always one page and sometimes printed on red or green paper. Through the years the margins and font would get smaller to accomodate the packed lives we lived.

Its funny how the general concept of these letters are derided. Some should. The saccharine perfect people. Then there are the families that skip a year because of a death or divorce. One family we know wrote in painstaking detail about how the death of his elderly mother was complicated due to her mental illness. My husband has a friend who for years did the anti-holiday letter, sent around New Years, full of his death poetry and gruesome images. People often asked to be taken off his holiday letter list. Now he is married and the New Years letter is full of little ditties about their dog and living on the beach. I kind of miss getting a piece of mail on January 2nd with a picture of someone's eyeball hanging out of their socket.

As a child I looked forward to getting the Christmas letters from my parents' friends. For the most part they were people I didn't know. People my parents were close to years ago, before they were parents. I'm finding that there are many people in my life - people I adore and have wonderful memories with - who are just vague names to my kids.

Like the graduate school friend that let me crash at her apartment between classes and my overnight shift at the battered women's shelter.

Or the college buddy whose mom paid for my trip to Italy. She didn't want her daughter to travel alone for a month and thought I was a suitable companion. Insert laughter here.

Or the two guys I drove across country with. In a 1973 Dodge Dart. With no air conditioning. And only an AM radio.

I miss that consistent check-in holiday letters provided. I miss reading between the lines of what people were trying to say. Very few people write holiday letters now. I guess they are all blogging.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


When I was 8 and 9 years old I would lip-sync to Donna Summers in the living room. The record player was in one room and there was a speaker in the living room (how cool was that). I would strut, croon and wiggle to my heart's content.

I have no memories of anyone watching me. It was my own private performance. There were no doors so various family members probably watched but they have kept quiet for all of these years.

I rarely can see my 2 year old sing in her car seat since I am usually driving and she sits behind the driver's seat. On one of those rare times we were all in the car together, I was in the passenger seat. She was singing to the song on the CD (Erasure, of course) and looking out the window. Then she broke into a perfect

You got to believe!

Complete with eyes closed, head back and teeth bared. When she opened her eyes, she saw me staring at her. I was smiling because while she was 6 years early, I knew exactly where she was in her creative mind.

"No mommy! Don't watch me!"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Change sisters

To pick up the boys at extended day, my daughter and I push a buzzer at the main entrance of the school. A teacher lets us in then uses a walkie-talkie to some subterranean place asking that the boys be brought up. We wait for a few minutes at a door for them to come up a set of stairs down the hallway.

Usually my girl does an initial walk down the hallway, asks if I want her to come back and then returns to wait next to me.

The other day an older boy we see during pick-up was greeted by his mom and little sister who is about 15 months old.

"I wish she was my sister" he lamented pointing at my daughter. "She runs down the hall and gives her brothers hugs. I wish she would do that" he says motioning towards his sister.

Then, the boys arrived and their little sister ran down the hallway yelling "BRUDDERS!!!" The three of them did a big group hug and she announced "I missed you!" One guy rubbed her back while the other showed her his latest art project.

"See?" said the third grader to his little sister. "Why can't you do that?"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

One of those Commandments

Thou shall not steal. Especially times two.

After church on Sunday my husband charges up to me. "Did you buy the boys gum?" with a panicked intensity that seemed pretty silly.

"No. We don't let them chew gum. Why would I buy it?"

One of our guys had orange gum in his coat pocket. The packet was still in its clear wrapper. Now, if it was mint gum I would have thought he may have pilfered one of my packets. I've been known to buy gum from time to time. However, I don't like orange gum.

After standing like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar, he admitted that he took the gum from a little convenience store. I couldn't believe my kid would steal from someone else. I trooped both boys into the store and they handed the pack over the counter. They had to apologize. The guy behind the counter said it wasn't a big deal and they could have it.

Thanks for helping with the big life lesson.

I declined his offer.

Later in the day, while goofing around in their room, I found another pack of gum still in the wrapper in the other guy's bed. He never admitted to having his own pack.

Back to the store we went. This time, the owner was behind the counter and was incredulous we returned it. Then he got that he was part of a life lesson and went into stern don't-do-it-again mode. A customer waiting to buy a lottery ticket pitched in with "Oh NO! And with Santa coming? How could you?" My little guy was so mortified he looked like he would melt right there.

Much better.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Girl Coach

This Saturday's match-up for the kindergarten league's "White Ghosts" (the team voted for that name) was much more even than last week's game. The "Red Sox" were more our size and equally comfortable with the ball. It was a good game.

The two girls finally played. Last week they spent nearly the entire game on their respective mothers' laps, usually in tears. This week, they were still a bit nervous but they played. One even got a basket and a few rebounds. By the end of the game, they acted like they owned the court.

Last week's less-than-thrilled newcomer didn't make it. He had strep throat according to his mom's email. But his aunt found me on the court to tell me he's excited to play. Seems there is a campaign to convince the kid, and me, that he should be playing basketball.

I met the other newcomer's mom. Even as a kindergartner he is a guy's guy. He's got the name of a future drinking buddy. I told her he was a terrific player and I was glad to have him on the team.

She said "Yeah, he told me 'Ma, I got a girl coach. But she's good.'"

Friday, December 15, 2006

What is she thinking?

I try not to judge other parents. I really, really do. I'm so painfully not perfect that I am in no place to judge anyone. I lost it with the boys in the middle of a gift shop at the Kennedy Space Center a few summers ago. It was so bad my husband commented the people were staring at me. I was blind with rage. No one was hit but I can still remember my fury from the constant complaining and nagging. Of course, I should have been the grown-up and stayed in control. I admit this because I know I wouldn't win any best parenting awards.

Two boys joined the basketball team this past Saturday. One seemed to have played before and was very comfortable handling the ball. He consistently made baskets, passed the ball to other players and played defense with confidence.

The other guy was sobbing as his mother brought him onto the court. He cried as she put on his team t-shirt. He sobbed as she sat him down in the team circle. "He's afraid he doesn't know anything and will make mistakes".

Uhhhhh...... you're kidding, right? I'm thinking.

She then walks out of the room. Leaving me with 10 other kids and her sobbing son. After explaining we would practice for 1/2 an hour then play our first game for 1/2 hour, everyone lined up with a basketball to practice dribbling. The other kids start bouncing the balls. Some lost control of the balls while others banged into their teammates. All done with earnest seriousness and concentration. It was beyond adorable.

The sobbing kid let go of the ball to dribble and it bounced off his foot. He simply crumbled. He couldn't see through the tears. Where was his mother? In another room talking to a parent. I scooped him up and charged out of the gym. The mother looked at me like I was doing something wrong.

"I'm alone with ten other kids. I cannot give him the attention he needs especially since he doesn't seem to want to be on the court. You need to keep him until he's ready to join us."

What I really wanted to say was:

If you were a better mother you would have stayed near him and not put me and the other kids in this awkward situation. Maybe you wouldn't have signed him up since he has been a basket case on other sports teams (we coaches talk to each other). Why don't you find something he's comfortable with. A different sport. A completely different activity. Don't make him suffer.

Of course, I didn't say any of that. Before the game I went back into the other room to check on him and he was rolling the ball with a friend's younger sibling. He looked really happy. When I asked if he wanted to come and join us his lip started to quiver. And I bolted.

Let's see how tomorrow goes.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Barbie went too far

Last night we took the kids to a large toy store. It was to prepare for their New Orleans grandparents annual trek to this store to buy them gifts. It is a thing my father-in-law loves to do. He's a guy with little joy in his life and if this gives him some, so be it.

I however, hate these huge stores. And the Barbie section didn't help.

I have nothing against Barbie. In fact, I desperately wanted a Barbie doll for years as a kid but my mother stood her feminist-ground and refused to get me one. So did Santa Claus. Apparently after yet another Christmas with no Barbie under the tree, my forlorn face made mom call my aunt for all of an older cousin's beat-up Barbie dolls. I'll never forget that box full of half-dressed, ratty haired Barbies. I was in heaven.

So I was wandering the store with my two-year-old daughter. She was more interested in the objects (a kitchen, a phone, a CD player which she knows "makes music") then the characters plastered on them. Then I saw it. Or rather her.

Barbie was wearing a cropped top, micro-mini skirt, CFM boots and holding a funky bag. Not a big deal since she is competing with Bratz these days.

However, the tiny shirt had Elmo's face. The itty-bitty skirt was topped with an Elmo belt buckle. The boots had Elmo socks sticking out. The bag had Elmo's face as well. And Mz. Thing had her very own mini Elmo that did something. I'm not sure what it did (dance, sing, poop) because I wanted to get away from it as fast as possible before she saw it.

It would be one thing if she were Preschool Teacher Barbie and had Elmo helping her. Or even Sesame Street Barbie with a bunch of characters. Or even pair her with Elmo but have Barbie wear a track suit.

With everything going on about girls body image, how could Sesame Street knowingly let a beloved character's face adorn a doll dressed as a slut.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More tales from parochial school

One of my sons keeps asking me how Jesus died. He asks how he ended up on the cross and how they got him away from Mary and Joseph. Its been going on for days. The same questions, the same responses.

Finally, while in the tub taking a bath, he asked again about Jesus being taken from his parents. Then it dawned on me, he thought Jesus was hung on the crucifix as a baby.

"Honey, Jesus was a grown man when he was hung. I know it is only a few months between Christmas and Easter but he got to grow up and become an adult."

He visibly relaxed in the bath and hasn't asked again.

I'm looking forward to when this year is over. Then we can focus on living, not obsessing about death.

Monday, December 11, 2006

First basketball game

Last year we were the Bad News Bears of kindergarten basketball. All the other teams were pretty much guaranteed a "win" (not that anyone kept score of course) when they played against our team. One of the only baskets we scored all year was because the coach for the other team told his players to back off and let our team get a basket.

Saturday, we were the taller team. The one with the kindergartners who look like 3rd graders compared to the other team. Several guys (my two sons included) were playing for the second year. One guy showed up for the first time yesterday. Aside from not dribbling the kid could shoot, pass the ball accurately, play defense and rebound. He's six years old. After 20 minutes we had 12 baskets while the green team had none. My guys were responsible for half of them.

This time I was the coach telling the kids to back off. You should have heard the green team parents cheer after the ball went into the basket. It was the sweet sound of "you did it!". One of my sons though was devastated that first of all I told them to back off and then I cheered for the green team. He was so upset he started to cry.

After the game, I had a little pow-wow with the team to congratulate them and remind them to practice dribbling ("People this is basketball, not football"). As we were talking, a really small boy in a too big green shirt was circling our team with tears streaming down his face calling us "the yucky white team". He was so upset (where were his parents to help him through this?) that it broke my heart. Which led to a stern conversation in the car.

"We'll play well this year and probably get a lot of baskets. I'll cheer for you and celebrate your good plays. Do not, though, under any circumstances be mean to the other team. Remember how sad you were after every game last year? It is hard to not get a basket. O.k.?"

One guy "yes Mom."

The other one "just don't cheer for the other team."

I've got some work to do.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Happy Birthday

As I was walking into the house from dropping the boys off at school my husband yells,

"Don't come upstairs!"

Then I hear quietly,

"Let's finish putting it on. She'll be so surprised. Be sure to say 'Happy Birthday'".

"I say 'Happy Birthday'? To Mommy?"

"Yes, to Mommy."

Then, "O.k you can come up!" and who comes barreling around the corner but my daughter. In a dress! A dress that was too small with marker stains. She picked it out herself. If you recall she had been boycotting dresses all fall.

"I pretty!" she declared. "Mommy, don't cry."

Truly a happy birthday.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wedding songs

My daughter is the family DJ. She has discovered the stack of CDs that were taken out of the 300 disc player years ago. There is a group of 15 CDs that are just being destroyed as she plays them, rips them out of the kitchen player while they are still playing, drops them on the floor, and "cooks" with them in the toy kitchen.

She has decided that a Lionel Ritchie CD is "daddy's favorite music" which is appropriate since I didn't bring this into our marriage.

Tonight while playing Ritchie's "Hello", she stood on a stool saying "I'm dancing with daddy" and pretended to dance with him. He's working late, as he does most nights, but she didn't seemed sad or upset. Just matter-of-fact as she danced with her daddy in her head.

Then a brother stepped up and offered to dance with her. They took each others hands and swung around the kitchen, doing twirls and coaching each other through intricate moves.

Now you'll know why I'll be balling at my daughter's wedding. To who ever it is. I hope she finds the devotion from one person that she has from us four.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Boughs of Holly

I'll admit it. I just love the carol Deck the Halls. There is something about a rousing Fa-La-La that just makes me get into the Christmas spirit.

I was raised Unitarian. When I went off to college I didn't think being part of a congregation was all that important. Then my junior year, while studying in Italy, a family was in a car accident. The three children were killed instantly and the mother died five days later. The father survived. They were one of the first families I babysat for. My mom and the mother were friends. I'll never forget which phone booth I was in when my parents told me the news.

It was then that I figured out that for me religion wasn't the creed, it was the community. It was the people who saw you on a fairly regular basis that weren't family or co-workers or the parents of other children. So I joined a church in New Orleans while teaching. And we joined a church when we moved to town.

The first Sunday in December is the Hanging of the Greens service. Older children and teenagers wait around the stately meeting house until the congregation sings Deck the Halls. Then they hang wreaths in the windows surrounding the sanctuary and place electric candles underneath. They race up to the balconies and drap long garland over the sides and drop down others to be wrapped around the columns. My 6-year-olds were struggling to watch it all. And I was struggling not to cry.

Christmas for me is the traditions and wonder. The yummy treats and combining of pagan, secular and religious. It is music, color and finding warmth in the cold. It is finding the absolute perfect gift for someone and, yes, getting one too.

So Deck your Halls. And Fa-la-la.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

My work is done

I put Laurie Berkner in the mini-van CD player.

From the carseat behind me,

"Um, um, um, no, No, NO, NO! I don't want Laurie Berkner!"

There's nothing else to teach her.

Monday, December 04, 2006

That first practice

There were suppose to be 13 kids on the team this Saturday. Four girls, eight boys and one name I couldn't figure out. Leaving that message was strategic. "Hi, this is Coach. I'm looking forward to having 'Pat' on the team. So, 'Pat', come on to the school gym at 11 am this Friday." Turns out he is a boy.

For basketball there had been a kindergarten boys division and a 1st/2nd grade division. For girls they were all combined into one division - meaning little kindergarteners who had never dribbled a ball were trying to keep up with players who were entering their third year of playing.

Our town has finally smartened up that kindergarten boys and girls can play sports together. I could never figure out why they were separated for soccer and basketball but play together in baseball. Not that there are any girls playing baseball past 2nd grade.

Earlier in the week a girl who thought she would be on her mom's team asked for permission to be a kindergartener on a 1st/2nd grade team. I couldn't argue with that. Who doesn't want to be with their mom? Now we've got three girls.

Friday before I got two phone calls from a different mother. She kept telling me her daughter was shy and scared to play with boys. But then her language would change and it sounded like she- the mom herself - was afraid to have her daughter play with the boys.

My first thought was well why did you sign her up if you knew she would be uncomfortable?

My next thought was how dare you let her be a wimp. Get her out there. Break the Princess-spell and let her mix it up with the boys.

What did I really say? "Oh gee. Whatever she's comfortable with."

Of course, she didn't show up.

So two girls are on a team with seven guys (two didn't show up). They both were scrappy chicks who ran, jumped, and threw the ball with gusto. One was doing a good job putting the ball in the basket after 38 minutes of practice. Afterwards they both said they looked forward to next week. Their moms said it too.

It's going to be a great season.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Season starts

Me and 13 kids. As if mothering three weren't enough.

I'm starting my second year as a basketball coach. I do think it is completely ridiculous that our town starts basketball at kindergarten. How long have these kids been walking? Who in their right mind thinks kindergarteners can dribble a ball, pass it, deal with defense, and get the ball in the basket? Without crying? I didn't start basketball until I was in 3rd grade.

My guys' birthday is right at the cut-off for kindergarten so they are in their second year of kindergarten. This means they'll be those kids who play pretty well compared to the ones who have never touched a basketball. Last year, half of the green team were repeat kindergarteners (we were the red team). Compared to my team, they played like 8th grade stringers. At one point, the coach graciously told his kids to back off and let our team score. It was our only basket for the entire game.

If we end up being a team with some skill, I hope we are as gracious as the green coach last year. And don't worry, there will be weekly updates about this year's white team.