First Day of School Fun

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Caroline-EvosNYToday marked the first day of class for our neighborhood elementary school. It made me smile to drive by the school and see mothers and fathers walking their backpack-ladened progeny to the red brick building around the corner from my home.

I’ve always loved the first day of school. The new school supplies, new lunchbox, new shoes. The chance to see friends I’d missed over the long summer months. The colorfully decorated classrooms and hallways. Teachers at their freshest, brimming with energy and good will for their new crop of students.

The first day of school is so full of promise. If you’d had a rough time or a tough teacher the year before, here was a chance to start anew. After a long summer that was starting to get boring, there were both old friends and new classmates to play with on the school playground.

For moms, the first day of school marks the first day of freedom. There’s time to get things done, even the chance to grab a cup of coffee with a friend or take a long walk in the still-warm weather. While sending a child off to kindergarten can be traumatic, most moms relish the first day of school as it restores a little quiet to their rough and tumble lives at home.

A short while ago, I once again drove past our neighborhood school. It was alive with kids at recess, running across the grass, bouncing balls on the blacktop, climbing the jungle gym, swinging on the swing set with happy abandon. I recalled all the times in the not too distant past when my own children played with their friends on those same school grounds. That red brick building housed their early years of education and formed the foundation for their future successes.

I don’t really miss having a young child in grammar school, one who walks home for lunch in the middle of the day and brings home glittery art projects. But it’s nice to see and hear a new crop of kids enlivening the place that has been quiet and closed up for a few months.

The first day of school is fun for everyone, even those of us miles away from our own salad days. It’s a reminder that our youth are growing and learning and stretching themselves. And, if their efforts on the swing set are any indication, the sky’s the limit!

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The Little Things

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healthy-family-dinner-keeps-the-weight-offThe little things in life are the big things. That’s what age and wisdom have taught me as I meander into my sixties.

The other night, I lingered with my husband and two of my children over the remnants of a steak dinner, a homecoming dinner of sorts for my college-age son, who had just returned from a summer internship across the country. Our conversation would never make it as scintillating movie scene dialogue. But just being there with my family sharing a meal at the kitchen table constitutes one of the great joys of my life.

So too with my morning cup of coffee, enjoyed on my front porch in the morning while the summer air is still comfortable and not muggy. I’m able to sit out there in my pajamas, concealed from the street by bushes and trees. Today I read the paper and completed the Tuesday crossword (another little thing that gives me outsized pleasure) outside before going in to start my day of errands and chores.

A walk through the neighborhood, a good book, a glass of wine. A kiss, a hug, the warmth of my husband’s hand in mine. Sharing a laugh with my sister or a good friend. Watching a great movie or television series. Listening to a Chopin nocturne. Even the peaceful and methodical act of folding clean laundry. All these little things add up in a life.

My daughter and I have taken to playing card games lately. As summer wanes and the schedules of school and sports loom ahead, we are having fun whiling away the time with such games as gin rummy and crazy eights. To my daughter’s dismay, I am seriously kicking her ass at gin rummy. Sometimes the old lady seasoned veteran holds all the cards (pun intended).

It’s wonderful occasionally to plan a huge celebration or take a once-in-a-lifetime trip. An evening of live music or theater, a trip downtown to see the fireworks, dinner at that gourmet restaurant you’ve read about: these are all fine diversions to spice up our everyday lives. But for me, the accumulation of small pleasures day by day is what makes me truly content. I hope to amass memories of thousands more little things in the course of my life.

They really are the big things.

 

Father-Daughter Bond

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My husband and I saw a new film the other day entitled Leave No Trace. Although the title suggests some sort of crime thriller, the movie is really a lovely and elegiac contemplation of the relationship between a father and young teenage daughter living in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.

Throughout the film, the bond that has formed between this father and daughter is depicted as respectful, nurturing, and loving. The father has taught his daughter not only the kinds of things one learns in school, but also survival skills and the virtue of living without possessions. Refreshingly in this age of modern parental coddling, he expects her to carry her weight and contribute to their survival. Yet their deep closeness is what moved me most about the story.

It reminded me of the odyssey my own husband and daughter have been on this summer. They have traveled near and far to nurture her soccer talent and visit potential colleges where she might both play and learn – and grow into adulthood. Along the way, they have had to coexist in hotel rooms. He has had to cajole her out of bed and off to early morning sessions. He has helped her keep in touch with coaches and given her pointers on her soccer development. They have attended numerous college tours and info sessions. And while they haven’t quite been roughing it in the manner of the father and daughter in Leave No Trace, they have experienced the merits and detractions of dorms and cafeteria food.

My husband told me that the favorite part of his summer has been the dinners he’s shared with our daughter after her day on the soccer field. In those quiet moments and with full and contented bellies, they have shared their thoughts and hopes and dreams for her and her future. They have experienced the quiet joy of just being together.

As a mother, I have spent countless hours with my children. All the nitty gritty of parenting has been part of my lot, and I have appreciated it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have grown close to my kids in the process, in the ordinary moments shared at the kitchen counter, bent over a homework problem, driving to school and practices and doctors’ appointments.

As the primary breadwinner in our family, my husband has missed out on a lot of that. He has had to make an effort to get to know his children and provide them with the expertise and guidance of his perspective as a businessman and father. Early in their lives, he would take the kids on trips, sometimes together and sometimes individually, in order to nurture that bond. Because our soccer star is our youngest child, she has had the benefit (or at times the curse, she’d say) of her dad’s undivided attention.

Mothers and fathers tend to relate to their children in different ways. I’m grateful for the bond that my husband has developed with each of our children as they have grown. And while she may find her dad’s hovering presence a bit annoying right now, I know that in a couple of years his love and wisdom will go with her to college and beyond.

Put HPV on Kids’ Vaccine Roster

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originalWhile the anti-vaxxer movement has mostly targeted childhood immunization such as MMR and TdaP, there is another recommended vaccine regimen that tends to make parents uncomfortable: the vaccine to prevent human papilloma virus, or HPV. The reason for our discomfort is that HPV is contracted through sexual activity, and we just don’t want to think about our precious 12-year-old having sex (11-12 being the target age at which to give the vaccine series).

But if you think your child will ever have sex in his or her life, it’s a really good idea to have them immunized for HPV since the virus is incredibly common. In fact, without vaccination, most sexually active adults will contract HPV at one time or other in their lives.

The reason for vaccinating against HPV is that certain strains of the virus are known to cause cancers of the reproductive organs and the throat. HPV can also cause genital warts, which is uncomfortable and painful to treat. So while the HPV vaccine is mostly touted for girls, boys should also be vaccinated.

Naysayers will argue that giving children a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection will encourage promiscuity. But given how widespread the virus is, even if your child remains a virgin until marriage, his or her partner may still be infected and pass along that infection to a spouse. I have also heard parents argue that the vaccine has not been proven to be safe. But millions of children have received the HPV vaccine with no serious adverse effects.

Physicians who treat common gynecological cancers such as of the cervix see great promise in the HPV vaccine. While the vaccine won’t prevent all such cancers, it will greatly reduce the number of people who develop them.

Getting our kids through childhood in one piece is only part of our responsibility as parents. We owe it to them to provide as much protection for their future as we possibly can. The two-dose HPV vaccine regimen is a relatively painless way to help them stay healthy as they mature into young men and women.

Yes, there are plenty of shots to be gotten through in childhood. But with a dose of humor and a Sponge Bob bandage, we can make the HPV double shot part of the “going to the doctor” routine.

Wisdom Teeth

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My youngest child needs to have her wisdom teeth out. Just as with her three older siblings (and most young adults), her third molars are impacted into her jaw and need to be surgically removed.

I still vividly remember having my own wisdom teeth extracted back in the days of chloroform and leeches. I was actually hospitalized overnight and can remember my mom coming to my hospital room with a milkshake to make me feel better. My own kids all weathered the experience reasonably well and were kind of funny as they slowly came out of their anesthetized haze. My older daughter kept telling me she thought the fish wallpaper in the oral surgeon’s office was so pretty, and my younger son kept slapping his cheek and exclaiming, “I can’t feel anything!”

Wisdom teeth are vestiges of our early millennia as homo sapiens. Early human diets were uncooked and rough, and people lost teeth on a regular basis. So third molars were very important to survival. As humans evolved and ate a softer diet, our jaws narrowed and now rarely can allow the wisdom teeth to break the surface of the gums.

So having wisdom teeth removed has become a rite of passage for young adults. For me, it has been a time when I could baby my children who are not really little kids anymore. For at least a couple of days, I could  park them on the sofa, ice their cheeks, and prepare Jello and other soft foods for them to eat. I could watch TV with them and wish these lazy summer days wouldn’t end.

My youngest child will be a junior in high school in the fall. She is driving and going out most nights with friends. Soon she will be taking ACTs and SATS, applying to colleges, and making her way out into the adult world step by step. I hope the presence of her so-called “wisdom teeth” indicates a maturity that will enable her to be sensible and safe. And I hope I have the wisdom to let her grow up and leave the nest, however hard it will be for me.

Still, I look forward to babying the baby of the family when she gets her wisdom teeth taken out. We still have a lot of TV to watch together.

Good Sports

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IMG_1627This past weekend found me once again on the sidelines cheering for my son in the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) national championship game. The weather in the Atlanta area was picture perfect – an ideal environment for the Claremont Colleges Rugby Football Team to defend their championship title from last year.

Unfortunately, they were bested by a very physical and very good team from Iowa Central Community College and forced to settle for the second place trophy. Yet what I noticed during the match, and what has stayed with me since Sunday, was the good sportsmanship I saw displayed.

Rugby is an aggressive, physical game with lots of tackling, pushing and shoving. It seems inevitable that tempers would sometimes flare between two groups of fit and muscular men going after each other. Yet more than once during the match, I saw one of the opposing players give one of ours a hand up off the field after a tackle. I saw our player reach out and give a “bro hug” to an opponent after knocking him to the ground. At no time did I see any altercations or hear any trash talking from the field.

After the match, the teams made their traditional way opposite each other to shake hands and give each other short embraces in a display of good will. The four teams in the finals gathered together for the awards ceremony, and I was touched to see an ICCC player reach around his teammate to grasp the shoulder of one of ours.

Sports teach young men and women many valuable lessons: of team work, perseverance, battling back from adversity, and healthy competition. But I think the most valuable lesson of all is one of good sportsmanship. It’s a lesson parents and coaches can instill in our youth, one that will take them far beyond the rugby pitch.

I once heard the following quip: “Soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans; rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.” Judging from Sunday’s performance at the rugby national championship, I’d definitely have to agree with the second part of that quote.

I’m so proud of my son, grateful to his coaches, and impressed by this group of young men with the heart of Lions.

The Disney Experience

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My husband, daughter, and I just returned from a weekend soccer event at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida. It was a warm, sunny weekend, our daughter’s team played well, and a good time was had by all. My only regret was not having time to visit one of the many theme parks that make up the World according to Disney.

Being close to the “happiest place on Earth,” however, reminded me of the many times we have taken our children to visit Disneyland and Disney World over the years. While I am an unabashed fan of all things Disney, my husband has always been a grudging participant in our visits.

On one of our first trips to Disneyland in California, we were in line waiting for a ride when we overheard a child in full meltdown, red-faced and wailing. My husband turned to me and drily quipped, “That’s the Disney experience.” From that time on, we referred to the many tantrums and outbursts that are an inevitable part of dragging young children around a theme park in the sun as “the Disney experience.”

The world created by Walt Disney and his successors is a strange one indeed. There is a certain Stepford Wives quality to the perfection of an imaginary Main Street and the many other fantastical settings created within the parks. Everyone acts as if it’s normal to line up behind a figure in a giant costume and wait to get Mickey Mouse’s autograph. Mind you, these are not just children jostling to get close to the world’s most famous rodent.

Within the world of Disney, unseen voices sweetly, if a bit eerily, encourage guests to “please move to the center of the row” in a given attraction over and over again – to the unthinking and perfect compliance of the guests. And inside these dimly lit fantasy worlds, animatronic figures go about their business in a not-quite-lifelike manner.

There is an entire unseen, underground apparatus that runs the Disney theme parks. When I learned this, I imagined cartoonish jail cells where unruly guests might be confined for, say, throwing their jumbo drink cup on the ground or taking cuts in line. One gets the sense while at Disney that there is no possibility of allowing misbehavior to go unchecked.

In fact, that’s one of the things I love about the Disney experience. It’s unreal, true. But we all get enough reality in our day to day lives. It’s nice to go somewhere where everything is shiny and perfect and have some good old fashioned fun. The jokes are corny and the songs sometimes a bit saccharine. But there’s no denying the sense of magic in the Magic Kingdom.

And notwithstanding the toddler meltdowns that are part of “the Disney experience,” it may just be the happiest place on Earth.