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Sunday, March 26, 2017

I don't want to be Joel Berry's Mother

I don’t want to be Joel Berry’s mother. Or Justin Jackson’s. Nor, for that matter, do I want to be the mother of De’Aaron Fox or Malik Monk. And it has nothing to do with their personalities, their prowess or the schools they chose to attend.

Today, I’m perfectly content to be the mother of three  kids who once had big athletic dreams and are now all watching North Carolina and Kentucky battle into the Final Four from the comfort of their wide flung couches.

In my tenure as a sports mom, I watched thousands of games over the course of nearly twenty years. I stood in muddy fields for soccer games, bundled under blankets for football scrimmages, shivered through ice hockey games, baked on metal bleachers at baseball games, prayed for strength through softball dramas, cringed my way through wrestling meets, traveled far and wide for basketball games and endured countless hours in loud high school gyms at cheerleading competitions. 

All three of my kids followed their athletic passions to college. The daughter was on the competitive cheerleading team at UNC. The middle kid was on the football team at Rowan University and the young ‘un, a baseball player at Rutgers.  And all three of them retired, finding other passions to fuel their fire and fill their lives.

It took me a long, long time to get over it. My entire parenting career was based on schlepping from one sporting event to another. I maintained a color-coded excel sheet to keep my kids’ practices, games and schedules straight. I drove. I flew. I even rode a bus through the night with a bunch of hyped up cheerleaders to Myrtle Beach. I was team mom, team administrator, team peace keeper. Teaneck High School presented me with the Ironwoman Award when my youngest graduated for never missing a single game.

But, that’s not to say I actually LIKED it.

Sure, I loved dreaming big. I loved the whole team mentality. I loved watching my kids succeed. But, boy did I hate when they didn’t. 

I was my kids’ biggest fan. I never, ever, not once made a negative comment about a dropped stunt, an intercepted pass, a batting slump. I was the one who pumped them up with meaningless motivations of,  “Oh, Sweetie, Sweetie, Pooh, Pooh . It wasn’t your fault. It was the wind. The cold. The sun. The moon. The competition. You’ll get ‘em next time.”

But, inside I died a thousand deaths.

Because there’s nothing worse than watching your child blow a game. Except maybe taking him to the hospital for a jammed finger the night before his debut as a varsity pitcher. Or hearing the news that the persistent shoulder pain was indeed a torn labrum. That needed surgery. At the tender age of 15.

When my kids stopped playing sports I felt lost. I didn’t know what I’d do with my time. Or with all the equipment in my basement. I really didn't know how to parent a former athlete. But, I learned, just as they did, that there are a whole lot of ways to express yourself, to succeed, and to feel fulfilled. Sometimes it's just hard to see it from the locker room. 

And so, I find myself watching dozens and dozens of college basketball games, reveling in this phenomenon called March Madness. And even if my beloved Tar Heels succumb to the mighty Wildcats later today, I'll still say, "It's OK, Sweetie, Sweetie, Pooh Pooh. You’ll get ‘em next time.”

But still, my heart will break for the mothers of the defeated and pound with pride for those whose baby boys make it to the Final Four.

Go Heels!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

When I Die and they Lay Me to Rest

“Planning my funeral,” my friend Patty (aka Penny) texted the other night. “I’m making a CD even though I’m sure there won’t be any CDs by the time I go. Keep this list for when I croak.”

Among the perfectly appropriate songs she chose were The Long and Winding Road, Stayin’ Alive, and Still Haven’t Found what I’m Looking For. She suggested a photo montage to go along with the soundtrack.

What precipitated her playlist, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was our Caribbean cruise that is rapidly approaching and the improbable possibility of a Titanic ending. But more likely it just had to do an irreverently realistic outlook on life.

It’s easy to be flip when there’s no reason to believe that death is imminent. Patty and I both have older siblings and mothers who are hale and hearty. We’re not yet the oldest living generation and that makes us feel somewhat safe. But, we’ve also experienced the painfully premature deaths of close friends and have had enough hospital stays of our own to know that we, too, could be but a breath away from the grave.

Yet, I merely giggled, as I often do when I receive a text from my witty friend. I went about my merry way, not giving it another thought. Until this afternoon when I was well into my second hour of shoveling a foot, that felt like three, of wet, heavy snow while windswept sleet beat down upon my back, soaking through to my bones and leaving icicles dangling from my hair. My spouse was working from home and deeply involved in an intense interview with someone about something sinister and it didn't appear as though he’d be finished any time soon. So, I bit the bullet and headed out into the tundra.

As happens more and more frequently, and sooner than later, I got to wondering how old I have to be to be too old to shovel the driveways, sidewalks, front paths and porches of elderly neighbors. My spouse does the big job for the rich neighbor with the long driveway who rewards us with expired yogurts and dusty bottles of kosher wine. I do the neighbor who rewards us by waving as he pulls away in his cleaned-off silver Toyota. We meet in the middle to shovel out our house and cars when the rest of the neighborhood is done.

As I was silently cursing my kindness and bewailing my arthritic joints, I got to thinking that this could be it. They warn us all the time and I simply laugh it off. But, it could really happen. I could have a heart attack, fall to the ground and be covered with snow long before anyone would come looking for me.  

I didn’t have a heart attack and I didn’t die. Instead, I came inside, wet, tired and frigid, poured an ice-cold Diet Coke and sat down at the kitchen table to thaw. I started perusing our dying local paper, one of four that land on our doorstep every morning. And as I came to the Obituaries, a section I usually flip right past, I found myself reading the highlights of the lives of the deceased. There were plenty of folks who had lived to a ripe old age, some who weren’t so ripe and others that were just too darn young to die. But, it got me to thinking, once again, of my own demise and the obituary that would follow. 

I realized, somewhat sadly, that I probably don’t have enough time left to do anything remarkable. Nor have I had any major accomplishments worth mentioning. Sure, I’ve had a good life, raised three pleasant children and had more fun than any one person deserves. But, will that be my headline? Good Time Girl Gone?

I grappled with that for a bit and came to terms with a short but sweet obituary. But the one thing I insist upon is that it includes what I died of or from or because of. There’s nothing sadder, less fulfilling and just plain wrong than reading about someone like poor Ruby Haskins and having no idea why or how she departed this life.

Unless I die from an overdose of m&m’s which might be slightly embarrassing, I expect my loved ones to let the world know what finally got me in the end.

I then came full circle and started thinking about the long list of songs that have held my heart at different stages in my life. One day, I too will make my Casket CD. But, if I happen to expire before I get around to it, John Prine’s Please Don’t Bury Me is the one that will make me smile all the way up to heaven.

Woke up this morning, put on my slippers
Walked in the kitchen, and died.
And oh, what a feeling!
When my soul went through the ceiling,
And on up into heaven, I did ride.
When I got there, they did say,
"Bets, it happened this away
You slipped upon the floor and hit your head.”
And all the angels say, just before you passed away
That these were the very last words that you said:

"Please don't bury me, down in that cold, cold ground.
No, I’d rather have 'em cut me up and pass me all around.
Throw my brain in a hurricane, and the blind can have my eyes.
And the deaf can take both of my ears if they don't mind the size.

Give my stomach to Milwaukee if they run out of beer
Put my socks in a cedar box, just to get 'em out of here.
Venus De Milo can have my arms
Look out! I've got your nose
Sell my heart to the junk man, and give my love to Rose.

Give my feet to the footloose, careless, fancy free
And give my knees to the needy, don't pull that stuff on me.
Hand me down my walking cane, it's a sin to tell a lie.
Send my mouth way down south, and kiss my ass goodbye.

But for now, I'm going to get packing for that Caribbean cruise.
And Patty and I will spend a week in the sun concentrating on simply Stayin' Alive.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

“I don’t know, Mom, I think the Mardi Gras magic’s got me,” the daughter said in a phone call between parades the other day. “I’m not sure I can leave.”

We’ve been through this before.  A few weeks prior to leaving for the University of North Carolina, where the daughter was absolutely, positively sure she was going to go from the very first moment she stepped onto the cobblestoned campus, she had second thoughts.

“Maybe I should go to Villanova. It’s closer to home, plus Nana and all your sisters live in Pennsylvania…”

“Stop second guessing yourself,” I said. “Just follow your heart.”

And she did, never looking back until last year’s NCAA championship basketball game when Nova beat her beloved alma mater in a buzzer beater.

After graduating, she landed a job with Teach for America, where she was contracted to work in an underserved school district for two years. When asked to rank her choices of cities for placement, one of them was Washington, DC. After all, she had majored in Peace, War and Defense; was young and liberal; and had, as a young girl, arbitrarily decided that she would grow up, get married and raise her spirited children in the DC suburb of Bethesda, Maryland. She also put down New Orleans because, really, what 22 year-old wouldn’t want to live in a city with music on every corner and no open container laws?

And then, shortly before her Teach for America stint in New Orleans was to begin, she questioned herself yet again.

“I don’t know, Mom, maybe I should work in Durham. Louisiana is just so far away. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave North Carolina.”

But she did. And ended up extending her stay by a year, living and loving New Orleans like any food, fun and music-loving 22, 23 or 24 year-old would.

And now, at the tender age of 25, she’s at those old familiar crossroads once again. She hears the nation’s capital calling but isn’t sure if that politically-charged city can compete with the bohemian bravado of the Big Easy.

After finishing up at West Virginia University, I was determined to find my fame and fortune far away from home. I decided to move to Houston, Texas, having heard that there were all kinds of opportunities for recent college graduates. I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce, read the Fodor’s Travel Guide and sent my severely-suffering resume to every company listed in AdWeek’s directory of up-and-coming Houston ad agencies. I would start as a copywriter and work my way up to Creative Director, and beyond. Nothing would stop my dreams.

Except for a summer in Flagstaff, Arizona. My friend, Ann, and I explored the great wild west on my dear, deceased grandmother’s dime. When I returned home to Pennsylvania that fall, I decided that maybe I'd wait another year before moving to Houston.

Meanwhile, my sister, Emily, had moved to Richmond, living amongst fellow William & Mary graduates. She convinced me to try my luck in Virginia, a mere car ride away. And so I did.

I didn’t last long.

I moved back home, got a job at TV Guide magazine where I worked in a dead-end job for 9 years and lived with my parents until I was 26 years-old.

When I got married at 31, my spouse was working at The Record, a then respectable newspaper in North Jersey. I had a great four-day work schedule, good friends and three sisters, including Emily, who by then had also returned, all living within five miles of one another. And so, I suggested to my ever-loving spouse-to-be that I should continue living in Pennsylvania and just spend long weekends together in New Jersey.

Needless to say, that’s no way to start a marriage, and so I packed up and moved.  But, it was only 100 miles away from home. I could drive down for dinner. For Christmas. For birthday parties.

Teaneck, New Jersey is now my home as much as Glenside, Pennsylvania ever was. I have built a life here with my family and friends and even if they were all swept away in a tornado, I'm sure I'd stay put. 

But, that doesn’t mean I don’t still think about Houston.

I’ve never been to Houston. I no longer have any desire to go to Houston. But, it always comes to mind when I get a “Should I stay or should I go?” phone call.

I can't promise my adult children a perfect life. I can't turn my dreams into theirs. And I certainly can't tell them what to do. Like most parents, all I really want is for my kids to be happy, to be able to support themselves, to feel fulfilled in what they do, to fall in love and to have children, if for no other reason than to witness their comeuppance.

As for me, I never rose through the ranks of the advertising world. I never got beyond that copywriter position. Instead I raised children. And, while I have absolutely no regrets, I can't help but think of Houston. 

And so, when my kids come calling for advice, I always tell them the same thing in different words.

Go as far as you have to, for as long as you want to. Just don't ever be afraid to go to the Houston of your heart.