The Rest of Your Life

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You’ve probably heard someone say at some time, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” It’s the kind of comment we expect in our hard-charging, Type A culture. There have certainly been times in my life when I feel as if my to do list will never get done unless I burn the midnight oil. But the older I get, the more I recognize the wonderful restorative effects of rest.

Just today as I walked past the local library,  I overheard a mother explaining to her three young children that there would be a mandatory rest time when they got home. “Why?” the son wanted to know, with something of a whine in his voice. “Because Mommy needs some time to herself,” was the answer.

I had to smile, remembering so many times when my house was filled with young children, and it was all I could do to use the bathroom in peace. But I can also remember being a little girl myself and absolutely detesting both nap time and bedtime. Because I had a hard time falling asleep, I felt bored and trapped in my twin bed or on the rest time mats we used in afternoon kindergarten. Worse, at bedtime, not only would I not be sleepy, but I would imagine that the shapes and lumps I saw in the dark were ghosts and monsters.

As is true with many aspects of life, you never know a good thing until it’s gone. So many times in my adult life I have longed for just a 30-minute nap to get me through the day. More times than I can count, I would find myself on the couch reading to one of my children in the middle of the afternoon, and my eyes would always start to droop magically during the third picture book. Three’s a charm, I guess.

Ironically, after your children grow up and you retire from your hectic job, you find yourself awakening at four in the morning or at numerous times during the night. Sleep starts to elude you just when you actually have the time for it again.

But I think it would behoove adults, both young and old, to consider the benefits of a good night’s sleep and the occasional 40 winks on the couch. Study after study has shown that lack of sleep can cause weight gain, health problems, and both industrial and driving accidents.

Let’s not make that comment about sleeping when you’re dead a prophetic one. We all need rest where we can have time to ourselves to relax, sleep, and dream. Our to do lists – sometimes even our children – can wait.

In the Scrum

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18157322_1591400950892487_212723468669144388_nLast weekend, I had the opportunity to watch my son and his team compete in the Rugby National Championship in Denver, Colorado. Four top teams from small colleges across the country met to battle it out on the field in a sport that is unfamiliar to most Americans.

Until my son started playing rugby in his senior year of high school, I was unfamiliar with such terms as “line out,” “ruck,” “knock on,” and “scrum.” Fans at his games were mostly mystified by this sport that looks like football but is so different from that iconic American game. Luckily for us, our announcer would explain each referee call and other action so that, slowly but surely, we are learning the ins and outs of a game developed in the UK during the 18th and 19th Centuries.

My son’s success in rugby is not at all a surprise to me. When he was four years old, he told me he wanted to play that game where “all the guys pile on top of each other.” Sure enough, by age 10 he was playing tackle football and enjoyed laying out his opponents from his spot on the defensive line. Total fearlessness made him an excellent defensive tackle. He had the good fortune to be accepted into a great college in California where he continues to play American football and his more recent passion, rugby.

Over the weekend, I was able to see the camaraderie of the young men both on and off the field. And as I watched the odd formation known as the scrum, I saw it as a kind of metaphor for the relationship and purpose of these boys who are quickly becoming men. In the scrum, teammates literally hook themselves together in a unit, bearing down and pushing against a group of opponents, both sides attempting to move and gain possession of the ball. It’s a moment of intensity and even intimacy, as the teammates are joined in a single goal.

The Claremont Colleges Rugby Football team became the National Champions in a resounding victory of 65-0 against the Tufts University Jumbos. Words can’t express how elated my son’s team was at their tremendous feat. During the awards ceremony, they were irrepressible, cheering each other and teasing, clearly a band of brothers. But what meant the most to me was the award my son received: one for being the heart of the team off the field. Knowing that he means this much to his fellow teammates and coaches is to me the most meaningful thing to come out of his rugby experience.

Long after these young men hang up their football and rugby cleats, they will be out in the world working, raising families, and contributing to society. After seeing how they have connected with each other and how they have committed to being the best at something tough, gritty, and fierce, I have no doubt they will do great things. And I am so very grateful that my son is a part of something bigger than himself, something that will serve to make him more selfless, determined, and bonded to others as he continues on his journey to adulthood.

The Invisible Mom

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In the 1980s television series thirtysomething, the character Elliot Weston complains to his best friend and business partner Michael Steadman that they have become “invisible to teenage girls.” That remark really resonated with me as a new mother whose body was now a soft and nurturing landing place for my infant daughter instead of a curvy and sexy one men might find attractive.

That feeling of invisibility has changed over the years as my children have grown and I have experienced a different way of being invisible to teenagers. As a mom, I’m sort of like Mt. Everest – never-changing, solid, and just there. Immersed in their world of Snap Chat and Instagram, my kids seldom really notice me, except when they’re hungry or need money.

I’ve felt that same sense of invisibility in the hallways of the local high school. On the few occasions when I have been there during the school day, I will be walking down the hall and hear all kinds of profanity being shouted between teens who are blissfully unaware of the middle-aged woman in knee-length skirt and sensible shoes. It’s a bit jarring to hear, as is the sight of boys and girls canoodling in corners. This is their world, and I am just a vapor floating through it.

Still, there are some benefits to being invisible to teens. As frequent chauffeur for my kids and their friends, I have the ability to be a fly on the wall, listening to their teasing, gossip, and teenage patois, all while being perfectly unseen. The only way to break that spell of invisibility in the car is to interject my own comments, so I have learned to be the silent specter getting a glimpse into the teenage world.

On my recent visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, puppeteers did a skit depicting the story of a man gifted with a cloak of invisibility. Thus clad, the man was able to escape Death, who roamed the Earth ceaselessly in search of souls. Harry Potter himself uses the cloak to defeat the powers of evil represented by Lord Voldemort.

Invisibility can be both blessing and curse. It can hurt to be ignored by others because everyone wants to feel important, to feel recognized. I sometimes get annoyed or hurt by my kids’ seeming indifference. But invisibility can also be a gift, wherein one can be a spectator in life, observing, noticing, and learning.

I’m keeping my invisibility cloak handy for that next chance to gain insight into the world of my teens and their friends. Who knows what fascinations I may find?

The Spectacular Now

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Chicago’s Art Institute recently announced that it will soon be displaying the world-famous painting known as Whistler’s Mother. The portrait, known as the “Victorian Mona Lisa,” features the simple composition of an older woman sitting in profile and looking ahead. While most portraits depict an individual head on, Whistler’s painting almost looks as if he were catching a glimpse of his mother in repose.

What strikes me when I gaze at Whistler’s Mother is her absolute stillness. While most mothers are busy doing, this portrait seems to capture a woman simply being.

In our modern age, it is a radical move to practice simply being. While life can only be lived in the present, human beings persist in either dwelling on the past or looking to the future. As the philosopher Blaise Pascal puts it,

The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.

Pascal’s statement reminds me of playing pretend with my siblings when I was young. One of our favorite games was called “Journey,” in which we pretended to be pioneers getting ready for a journey out West. But our play consisted entirely of preparation: collecting our stores, readying the wagon etc. We seldom, if ever, got started on our journey.

I am particularly prone to this future-leaning tendency. My mind is always scanning the horizon for what comes next. I need to plan. What items does my daughter need for school? What holiday do I need to prepare for? What am I serving for dinner? I make notes and lists for myself. Obviously, some planning is necessary. We can’t simply hurtle from one moment to the next without being aware of our schedules. But we tend to be so fixated on the destination that we don’t enjoy the journey.

My family drives through Michigan on a regular basis to visit relatives in Detroit. Our goal is always to get there as quickly and painlessly as possible. I have often fantasized about getting in the car with my children and starting the drive, but instead of high-tailing it to the Motor City, we would stop whenever and wherever we wanted to. A detour to the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan or a winery or the now-closed Kellogg’s Company attraction, Cereal City: we would take our time and just enjoy being together.

What is more likely to happen nowadays on a trip with my children is that they will be submerged in their music and their smart phones, barely glancing up to notice natural scenery or the skyline of a new city. Last fall we brought my youngest with us to visit her brother in college out in California. We tried interesting her in the look and feel of the campus, but she was 2,000 miles away, communing with her friends back home.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have diversions, especially for young children on a long car trip. But I feel we have lost something in the process: an appreciation of the here and now. For my part, I would like to practice the stillness and “being-ness” of Whistler’s Mother. Perhaps her age-old wisdom would help me dwell in the spectacular now.

Material Girl

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My youngest child is a great kid. She works hard in school, plays multiple sports, and is a good friend to many. But she has one trait that drives me a little batty. She is constantly wanting “stuff.” Whether surfing the web on her phone or comparing herself to her friends, she is continually finding items to add to her ever-expanding wish list. When we go shopping, she finds something in every store that she absolutely must have. I could take her to a hardware store or a place selling home health aids, and she would find some doo-dad that she wanted.

This quest for possessions reaches its zenith during the Christmas season. Her Christmas list is almost comically long, and her three older siblings just shake their heads at her rampant materialism. Mind you, all of them have had their share of “wants” over the years as well. But their desires have always been tempered by a measure of good sense and an acknowledgment that their parents are not going to indulge their every whim. But for my baby, hope springs eternal.

Along with wanting lots of stuff, my daughter has a passion for brand names. I’ve noticed that middle school kids have an almost pathological need to get the right brand of jeans, shoes, jackets, and electronic equipment. But that brand fanaticism seems to fall off in high school. Not so with my youngest. She is an advertiser’s dream. Just slap the word “Patagonia” on something, and she will want it.

I have sometimes wondered whether my daughter’s outsized need for things stems from deprivation early in life. For her first 11 months of life, she had to share the limited resources of goods and attention with dozens of other babies in a Chinese orphanage. And even though we showered her with love and attention (and toys!) when we brought her home with us, she may have a nagging sense of wanting that is hard to fill.

Each year, I have had my kids help me shop for and wrap presents for a needy family for Christmas. Last year, this became my youngest daughter’s Confirmation service project, and she indeed threw herself into every aspect of it. It was humbling for both of us to realize that the wish lists for another family consisted of such prosaic items as socks, work boots, and jeans. My husband and I have strived to teach our children that we are incredibly fortunate, that others are not so lucky, and finally, that material things do not bring happiness.

I hope that over the years, through her knowledge that we love her abundantly and will never leave her lacking for attention, my daughter will come to value relationships over material goods. I hope maturity helps her realize that it is how she moves through the world that makes her special, not the label on her jacket. Meanwhile, I will try to handle my “material girl” with humor and compassion.

 

Lone Star State

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This weekend I’m “gone to Texas.” My trip to the U.S. state that defines the notion of “big”is due to my son’s impending graduation from the University of Texas in Austin. After four plus years of wearing cowboy boots and drawling, “y’all,” my boy is entering the great big world of adulthood.

My second born has been my high-maintenance child. From an early age, he developed life-threatening food allergies and asthma. Temperamental from birth, he took a lot out of me physically and emotionally. As he grew up, we had frequent skirmishes over behavior and school achievement. My husband has always said that of my four children, he is the most like me in personality, which is why we have so regularly butted heads.

At the same time, my son has always been highly intelligent, creative, and sensitive. At school, he always took up for the child who was being teased or bullied. At home, he could be found deep into a marathon Lego-building activity or creating a tableau out of action figures. Using our 8 mm video camera, he made silly movies with his friends. No doubt he has had his share of shenanigans in college too. It’s difficult to imagine him in the adult world.

Yet Saturday he will don his cap and gown and, in the words of St. Paul, “put childish things behind” him. He will step out into the adult world of work, taxes, and independence. We have come a long way from the days when I had to pack him peanut-free snacks for school or sleep away camp. A long way from sleepless nights cuddled under a blanket to let the cold night air soothe his terrible cough. With God’s grace, he has grown up to be fine young man, one of whom I am very proud.

So here’s to my lone star in that vast world of Texas. May his boots be shiny, his barbecue tender, and his Longhorns winners. Hook ’em!

 

Harlan Coben a Cure for the Reluctant Reader

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Myron Bolitar has returned! In his latest novel Home,  Harlan Coben resumes his popular mystery series about the intrepid basketball star turned sports agent turned detective and the cast of colorful characters that peopled Coben’s 10 previous Bolitar novels.

I first became addicted to Coben’s twisting, heart-pounding thrillers with his novel Hold Tight, a story about every modern parent’s nightmare, their children’s online world. The novel asked the question: How far would you go in invading your child’s privacy in order to protect him?

Like one of Coben’s troubled junkies, I was hopelessly hooked on his blend of humor, character development, and endless plot twists. For Christmas that year, my husband gave me a box filled with most of Coben’s early novels, and I immersed myself in the world of Myron Bolitar.

In between his prolific publication of adult thrillers, Harlan Coben managed to dash off a trilogy of novels for teens starring none other than Myron Bolitar’s nephew, Mickey Bolitar. Although I had been aware of their existence and had even given the first novel, Shelter, to my son, I had never thought to read them myself – until Home was published recently.

I realized that the Mickey Bolitar series, which does feature Myron, might be a continuation of  his story and decided I needed to catch up by reading the trilogy. Like his adult books, Coben’s Mickey Bolitar series were instantly riveting, and I devoured them like candy corn.  The character of Mickey is similar to his uncle Myron in that he has a sarcastic sense of humor, a great sense of integrity, and a need to save people that propels him on adventures and puts him in danger.

Parents of teenagers, especially boys, who find their kids loath to pick up a book would do well to check out this teen series by one of the masters of modern crime novels. It is no accident that Harlan Coben has won every major mystery writing award.

Now that I have caught up on the life of one of my favorite fiction characters, Myron Bolitar, I have started to delve into his latest adventure in Coben’s novel Home. I encourage reluctant readers of any age to start on the Harlan Coben oeuvre. I guarantee you won’t be able to put them down.