Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The miracle of childbirth

One year ago today, my best friend, Julie, called me just before 8am and said, “Guess where I am.” I knew immediately: at the hospital in labor with her second child. “Are you coming?” Absolutely. Julie had stayed at the hospital with me the night before Josh was born, distracting me from the fear of childbirth and the double labor peaks from the pitocin. Four months later when she was in labor with her first daughter, I couldn’t be there because I couldn’t bring my baby with me, yet I couldn’t leave him overnight. This time, I wasn’t about to miss the big event. So I dropped Josh at preschool, arranged for grandma to pick him up, rescheduled a couple of writing deadlines, and drove across the bay to witness the miracle of life.

I had no idea how everything would go when I got there. I packed extra clothes. I packed work. I packed snacks. I packed gossip magazines. With Josh, I checked into the hospital at 3pm on a Tuesday and finally gave birth at 2:46pm on Wednesday. Julie had only been in the hospital a couple of hours, but her water had broken and her labor was progressing, which was more than I could boast even 12 hours after I checked into the Labor and Delivery wing.

When I arrived, Julie greeted me with excitement. “I’m already at 8cm!” She was relaxed, happy, and blissfully medicated. Wow! I couldn’t believe she was already that far along. I suddenly started thanking my lucky stars that I hadn’t already missed the main event.

So we just hung out. We talked about celebrity gossip, reminisced about our previous pregnancies, and tried to see just how uncomfortable we could make her squeamish husband, while he tried to watch TV and tune out the giggling. I slipped out for a sandwich, and when I returned, the nurse was there, setting up the warming table.

“It’s time,” Julie grinned. “We’re just waiting for the doctor, and then I can start pushing.”

Unbelievable. I glanced at my watch. It was just past noon. This was darn near exactly the way all those pregnancy books describe labor and childbirth. I couldn’t believe things was going just the way they were supposed to.

I had no prior experience with normal childbirth. I happen to be an expert in complications. When I had Josh, I checked into the hospital a week overdue only to be pumped full of pitocin to induce labor while being simultaneously doped up on magnesium sulfate (which ironically slows labor). I spent an evening watching my blood pressure rise, despite the magnesium, which it turns out my body was not metabolizing. My sole goal of was to dilate to 3cm so the hospital would let me have an epidural, which reduced my blood pressure to normal levels while the needle was still in my spine. Then I spent the night in fuzzy peace only to endure three dazed hours the next morning pushing the eight-pound baby that everyone thought was ten pounds absolutely nowhere. When he refused to advance even one measly station and my heart rate started to drop, my OB gave me the option to either try suction or have a C section. I quickly opted for the knife and then struggled to stay awake as I gazed up at my husband in scrubs and listened for my baby to cry.

Josh didn’t cry. Not at first. It turns out all that magnesium my body decided not to use went straight to the baby, who had the highest magnesium level the neonatologist had ever seen. By the time Josh was actually born, he was too doped up to cry. In fact, he was too doped up to even breathe properly. A few minutes later, I finally heard his weak cries from across the room, and I couldn’t have been more relieved. I then got exactly 10 seconds to hold my perfectly perfect, round-faced newborn before they whisked him off to the ICN. By a few days later, Josh was completely healthy, but it seems the only black-diamond feature I missed on the childbirth thrill ride was an episiotomy. To say my labor and delivery experience was not quite textbook is like saying that the stock market is currently a smidge off from its all-time highs. As I said, I know nothing about the normal childbirth experience.

When Julie’s doctor arrived, she said it was time to push. So Julie pushed. And within 15 minutes, the baby was crowning. A few pushes later, Keira Lauren was born, exactly the way nature intended. And what an incredible miracle it was to witness firsthand.

One year ago today, my best friend (who is the closest thing I have to a sister) gave birth to a gorgeous daughter (who is the closest thing I have to a niece, aside from her four-year old sister, who I also completely adore). And I was lucky enough see her arrive, all pink and wrinkly and amazingly beautiful.

Happy first birthday, Keira!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Young love

The first time Josh met Sami, he hit her in the head with a hockey stick. They were two.

It started innocently enough. Sami and her mom, Tess, had come to our house to check out our playgroup, which I happened to be hosting that week. Josh had just received a small hockey set for his birthday, which included plastic hockey sticks, foam pucks, and a goal made of PVC pipes and lightweight netting. It turns out Sami’s parents are also big hockey fans, so initially I think they felt comfortable in our home. An hour later when Josh picked up his favorite white stick and knocked Sami upside the head with it for no apparent reason, no one felt comfortable. Despite my profuse apologies, I was certain we would never see them again. And I have to admit I was disappointed because I really liked them.

Much to my surprise, Sami and Tess did decide to join our playgroup. And Tess confided in me a few months later that Sami had been talking about Josh quite a bit between our weekly visits. Josh had also been talking about Sami. With her long blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, and heart of gold, we thought he had impeccable taste. And we enjoyed watching them become true buddies.

At another friend’s birthday party the next winter, Josh greeted Sami when she arrived, took her hand in his, and didn’t let go for the entire evening. From the arcade to the gym and back to the party room, Josh and Sami stuck together like glue. As the mother of the boy, I nervously asked Sami’s dad, Bill, how he felt about his daughter holding hands with Josh. He and Tess laughed and said that Josh was already parent-approved. But I think if Josh had tried to kiss her, Bill would have kicked his butt.

During the presidential inauguration last January, Sami watched in awe as the president and first lady danced at the ball. She turned to Tess and announced that when she grew up, she was going to marry Josh because he had golden hair like hers, and someday he would become president, and they would dance together at the inaugural ball. Tess later broke the news to me that Josh would evidently need to become president of the United States to make her daughter happy. I jokingly told Josh the story and asked if he wanted to be president someday and marry Sami. He tilted his head and thought for a moment. Then he said that was fine with him, but he was also going to be a professional hockey player.

Sami also started sneaking into Josh’s conversations about the future. One afternoon I took Josh to a local park. Three junior-high-school girls in tight jeans and bare-midriff tanks were sitting on a nearby bench swearing and talking to boys on their cell phones as I tried to push my preschooler on the swing. I gave them a few evil glares, but they continued indignantly, and I finally gathered Josh up and left. In the car on the way home, I tried to use the experience as a teaching moment. I began explaining that those were not nice girls, and I advised him that when he grows up and is ready to find a girl to marry he should find a nice one. Josh thought about this advice for a moment and then said, “You mean someone like Sami!”

Last spring, Josh helped us paint my home office yellow one Saturday afternoon. That evening as we walked to the Sharks game with his grandpa, Josh looked up and said, “When I grow up, I want to paint my office yellow, too.” I told him that was a great idea but he better check with his wife first. Grandpa then looked over at me and asked what Josh had just said. Before I could answer, Josh said, “I told Mommy that I want to paint my office yellow when I grow up, and she said that I better check with Sami first.”

When Josh and Sami were together, their spontaneous hand-holding continued. No matter where they were—at the park or the pumpkin patch or in someone’s backyard—one would inevitably reach over and take the other’s hand. It was instinctive and seamless. It seemed as natural to them as brushing their hair out of their eyes or bracing for a fall. And it was incredibly sweet watching them bobbing along together, completely connected in a serene and genuine way. While they were obviously entirely too young to plan for, let alone understand, the lifetime commitment of marriage, they were undeniably kindred spirits.

A few weeks ago, Josh and Sami were the only two kids who could attend playgroup one week, so we decided to take them on a special all-day adventure to a local amusement park. Tess had an extra car seat, so she drove all of us, which was a special treat for Josh, who is always begging for someone to sit next to him in the backseat. Sami and Josh spent much of the day running from ride to ride hand-in-hand. And we all had a great time.

On the way home, Josh shouted, “Mom!” from the back seat.

“Yes? I said as I turned around.

“No, not you,” and then he repeated, “Mom!”

Tess looked over at me and laughed, “Yes Josh?” she said.

“Can I put my Twisted Fruit wrapper on the floor?”

“Yes,” she answered as I turned to her and joked, “OK, now it’s official!”

Then I turned to the kids and told them what a great day I’d had. They agreed. Offhandedly I said something about how when they are all grown up, Tess and I will have to take their kids on a special adventure together, too. As I said it, I wasn’t thinking about their agreement. I honestly meant that when our own children were grown, perhaps we could take our grandchildren on special adventures. But after I’d said it, I realized that it sounded like I was talking about the children Josh and Sami would have together.

Tess turned to me and whispered, “Sami says she doesn’t want to have kids.” I smiled and remembered that she had been lamenting that a few weeks earlier, and I had completely forgotten. We both braced for Sami to suddenly set the record straight. But it wasn’t Sami’s voice we heard.

“How do you get pregnant?” Josh asked innocently and all too clearly from the back seat. Tess and I immediately broke into giggles. And I was stuck. I couldn’t possibly explain the birds and the bees to him in front of another child whose parents may have different views about what and when you explain such things. Yet I didn’t want to ignore Josh’s obviously important question.

As I grappled with how to appropriately respond, I heard Sami ask Josh, “What’s pregnant?” which only made us laugh harder.

“When you have a baby in your tummy,” Josh answered very matter-of-factly.

“Oh, I’m not going to have a baby in my tummy.” Sami said, and Tess nodded quietly, knowing that was coming.

It was quiet for a moment while Tess and I tried to stop silently giggling in the front seat. I could almost hear the wheels turning in Josh’s head as Sami’s declaration hung in the air. I could see him silently doing the math. If he was going to marry Sami and Sami did not want to have a baby in her tummy, did that mean he would never have children?

“But I want kids,” Josh finally said as if he were insisting it was now his turn to play the one toy trumpet or jump on the one-person trampoline.

“I don’t want kids,” Sami reiterated confidently as she nonchalantly flipped through a picture book.

The street lights illuminated Josh intermittently in the back seat as he considered his position. He then turned to her and said a bit louder and more pleadingly, “But I want kids!”

“I don’t,” Sami swiftly replied. “I’ve already decided. And I’m going to marry you.”

Josh tilted his head slightly and paused. “How do you know?” he asked.

“Because I just know,” Sami replied. “When we’re older, I’m going to find you and marry you.”

Josh seemed to accept this as plausible, but he realized he was still stuck with the same problem. “But I want kids.” Josh reminded her.

Sami was quiet for a moment. Then she turned and looked Josh straight in the eye. “Kids are a lot of work,” she said. “Are you sure you still want them?”

And in the blink of an eye, our four-year-olds were suddenly twenty-four year olds navigating one of life’s bigger issues. Each had a different point of view. And neither was willing to concede. As Tess and I silently stifled waves of hysterical laughter and wiped away tears, our kids reached an impasse they knew they could not possibly resolve.

So they wrapped it up the only way they knew how, “Can I read that book now?” Josh asked as he pointed to the picture book on Sami’s lap.

“Sure,” she said as she handed it to him.


And though none of us verbally acknowledged it, we were all pretty sure the wedding was off.

In the last couple of weeks, Josh has started to explore other options. He started a new preschool class at the end of August, and within the first week he came home talking about his new friend. When I asked what his friend's name was, he said he didn’t know, but she was a girl and she had long black hair and when he looked at her she smiled at him. I promised to help him find out her name, and when he pointed her out to me last week, I saw that she is indeed a beautiful girl with a beautiful smile.

It turns out Sami began to explore other options as well. One day last weekend, she offhandedly said to her mom, “If I do have a kid, I want to name her Princess.”

Last Saturday, Tess invited us to dinner because Eric was out of town. As we sat outside on a warm September evening, eating great barbeque and drinking our own versions of grape juice, Bill said, “Yesterday, Sami had a revelation.”

“What kind of revelation?” I asked.

Sami immediately sat up in her chair and turned to Josh. “I’d like to have one kid. If I want to have one kid, will you marry me, Josh?”

Josh sat back in his chair and seemed to consider this offer. “I don’t know,” he replied.

The table was quiet. I could see Sami’s face fall. She had clearly made a major compromise to her life plan, and it hadn’t garnered nearly the response she’s expected.

Then Josh straightened up in his chair and upped the ante. “I want two kids.”

Bill, Tess, and I could barely contain our giggles.

“Two kids are too much work,” Sami countered, clearly defining how much she was willing to concede.

“Are you still going to be a vet when you grow up?” Tess asked Sami.

“Yes,” Sami replied.

“Well, if you are a vet, maybe you can hire a nanny to help the kids.”

Sami immediately brightened. “OK Josh, we can have two kids, and I will be a vet and have a nanny to help so it won’t be so much work!” she proudly announced.

Josh shrugged noncommittally and took another bite of his macaroni and cheese. The subject evaporated along with the last moments of summer.

On the way to the zoo the next morning, my mom asked Josh how dinner at Sami’s was. He told her about Sami’s revelation and recounted the conversation at dinner. He betrayed no inclinations about this new development. And I wasn’t going to ask.

But as we talked, I suddenly remembered the original bargain the two lovebirds had struck, so I asked Josh, “Are you still planning to be the president someday?”

Josh considered this for a moment and shook his head. “I don’t want to be president.”

“I see,” I replied, knowing that meant he had moved on from the Sami plan. In any love story, it’s better to know earlier rather than later whether things are going to work out. And I’m not sure it gets much earlier than four.

It was silent for a few moments. The Josh declared, “After I’m done playing hockey, I want to be a vet with Sami.”

And just like that, the wedding was back on.

We each have our own love story. Many of us have more than one. Some are short bursts of incredible emotion that quickly flourish and then fizzle. Others are slow-building bonds that blossom and strengthen and deepen over time. Some people find the love of their life in childhood. Other people search high and low for a cohort to share eternity with. No matter how it comes to us or how long it lasts, each love story is unique. And whether Josh and Sami’s story ends as kindergarten begins or perseveres through their formative years and beyond, only time will tell. But their age does not make their connection any less real. And if they somehow defy all the odds and make it to the alter, this story will make one unbelievable wedding toast.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The life aquatic

My mom was a kindergarten teacher. Now that she’s retired, her house and garage are full of things that are infinitely interesting to a four year old. From various types of blocks and puzzles to an endless supply of playdoh toys and shelves full of children’s books, it’s no wonder Josh loves going to Gigi’s house.

One afternoon a few months ago, they were looking for an old box of costumes in the garage when Gigi stumbled on the small fresh-water fish tank from her classroom. She brought it in, cleaned it up, and offered to fill it with fish for Josh to take home. So they took a field trip to the local wet pet store. They arrived intending to buy some goldfish, but they were quickly talked into three platies, which are a little smaller but much cleaner than their carp bretheren.

When I arrived at my mom’s house to pick up Josh that day, he ushered me into the bathroom to introduce me to Chris, Martin, and Zoboomafoo. He couldn’t have been prouder of his first pets, and I have to admit I was also a bit enthralled. After a tumultuous trip across town in the trunk, the platies arrived at their new home, and we set them up on Josh’s bathroom counter, which gets great light and seemed like the ideal place for a tank full of water should we ever have an earthquake.

Josh pops in to visit them several times a day. He’s gotten quite proficient at shaking the red can full of colorful flakes into the water, and he loves to just sit and watch them swim around. I dutifully check on them every morning to ensure they all made it through another night. I had enough goldfish as a child to know that it’s not uncommon to wake up to a floater.

Several weeks went by, and Chris, Martin, and Zoboomofoo were all swimming strong—until one evening when we were brushing our teeth, and Josh noticed that Martin was sleeping at the bottom of the tank, upside down. I was forced to explain the cycle of life while flushing one of his first pets down the toilet. We had lost his great-grandma to Alzheimer’s disease only a month earlier, and he was just starting to realize that he would never see her again. Suddenly, I could see Josh equating that death to this one. And he had a lot of questions.

After an evening of deep talks about how and why things die and who is and is not going to die anytime soon, I promised to take him back to the fish store for another platy. So the next day, Josh introduced me to the store’s resident cockatoo that was on a timeout on his perch because he squawked too loudly while the shop owner was on the telephone. We oogled the various tropical fish, found Nemo again and again in a tank of clown fish, and tried to get the Cockatoo to talk. We examined the turtles, snakes, and lizards while Josh plotted how to make them his next pets, and I strategized about how to permanently avoid reptiles in my home.

While we arrived planning to replace our dearly departed platy with another similar platy, we were talked into trying a balloon molly instead. This plump white fish looked like an angel fish who had seriously overeaten. With tiny side fins that pumped at double speed and prolific caudal and dorsal fins, she was absolutely adorable, and we were sold. We also took home a small plant for the tank to keep everyone satiated between feedings and to add extra ambience to our fresh water paradise.

We introduced both molly and tree to their new habitat when we got home and sprinkled in some food. The molly flapped its side fins in utter excitement as she fervently chased bright orange and green flakes around the aquarium. She seemed to dance from side to side as she moved. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I looked at Josh and asked what he was going to name her. He thought a minute and then said, “White Chocolate!”

About a week later, I noticed what I thought were small pebbles from the bottom sticking to the sides of the tank. Upon closer examination, I realized that the pebbles had small, transparent shells. I quickly called Eric in and asked him what he thought they were. “They look like little snails,” he said matter-of-factly. That’s what I was afraid of. I examined the tank and found five little snails slowly making their way up the glass walls. Where did they come from? I looked suspiciously at White Chocolate but then quickly realized that the tree must have had snail eggs on it when we bought it. After a little time on Google, I discovered the snails were my friends. They help keep the tank clean. And Josh was thrilled to have more pets.

Two nights later, I noticed more sticky pebbles—nine to be exact. And a couple nights after that, there were fifteen. Uh oh. I suddenly envisioned snails covering the walls and decided I had to figure out where they were coming from. That’s when Josh came in and said, “Daddy and I found a gigantic snail in my tank.”

I had noticed that one of the little snails seemed to be growing a little, so I pointed it out. “Yes, that one seems to be getting big.”

“No, this one!” Josh shouted as he pointed to the back wall of the tank. I craned my neck around to see what he was talking about and let out a shriek as I saw a brown snail the circumference of a penny racing across the glass. Where did that come from?

The next morning, I called the wet pet store and explained my snail problem. The crabby man on the other end of the line didn’t seem to think I had a problem at all. “The large snail must have come on the plant, and it has been laying eggs. Your tank is a living environment. Life happens.” I could practically hear him snort as he hung up on me. Back to Google I went.

It seems he was right. Although none of the goldfish endeavors of my youth yielded this kind of excitement, and my mom had never discovered uninvited guests in her classroom tank, this sort of thing does happen. And Darwin’s theory of natural selection would ensure I did not inadvertently start my own snail hatchery. I decided to chalk this one up to biology and do what Josh was doing: watch and learn.

The snails have indeed seemed to self-regulate. And more than a few have ended up in the filter. Counting them has become a daily fascination, and thus far, none has seemed to survive long enough to significantly challenge the fish-to-snail ratio. The big hermaphroditic snail does lap after lap around the tank, covering every square inch in an hour or less. And we now recognize the abundant jelly blobs it lays and watch as they develop into litters of tiny snails that are often gone as quickly as they appear.

The fish have seemed to change a bit as well. Since we introduced the balloon molly, the other two platies don’t seem to get along as well. The pecking order has evidently been disturbed. While White Chocolate stays to herself, I have seen platy Chris nipping Zoboomafoo’s tail on numerous occasions, and Zoboomafoo now spends more and more time hiding in the foliage.

This morning as I was getting Josh ready for sports camp, I did my morning fish check. The platies swam peacefully around, but the usually giddy white molly wasn’t so giddy. And she wasn’t so white either. It took me a minute to realize that she was swimming upside down, or rather bobbing near the filter intake. And her once pearly white complexion was now dark. I said a silent prayer for our enthusiastic fish friend and ushered Josh out of the bathroom before he noticed so I could spare him the gory details.

After I dropped Josh off at camp, I returned to the bathroom and got out the small green net my mom had given us along with various other fish supplies. I quietly scooped White Chocolate out of the tank and into the porcelain vortex that would usher her to the afterlife, or more likely, the local sewer. I thought about what I would tell Josh and wondered how long it would be before we were back at the pet store picking out another fragile friend.

As I rinsed the net and returned it to the drawer below the tank, I peered in at our two remaining pets. And I noticed a tiny dark fish the size of a grain of rice swimming out from and back underneath a large conch shell at the bottom of the aquarium. I blinked and looked again. Oh my. It was indeed a baby fish. A platy, no doubt. I studied the two obvious suspects carefully, remembering their recent bickering. Perhaps Chris wasn’t simply trying to re-establish the fish power hierarchy. It was clear now that he was simply trying to spread his seed. And he evidently succeeded. Maybe all that quiet time Zoboomafoo spent swaying in the green branches wasn’t due to illness or imminent death. It seems she was simply gestating.

So I’ll pick up Josh today with a bit of bad news and a bit of good news. Nature giveth and Nature taketh away. The crabby man at the fish store was right. Life happens. Isn’t ichthyology grand?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The littlest Shark

This summer, I signed Josh up for Mini Mites through our local hockey association, which offers a weekly scrimmage geared toward 5–6 year olds. I really debated whether to let him play now or wait until he was officially 5. But after the first drop-in session, Josh was hooked.

He’s younger and smaller than all the other kids. He sometimes has trouble following complex drills. And he often pops off the ice to complain of a phantom pain. Needless to say, all the other parents know who he is. And they also know who his mom is.

Several parents have asked how old Josh is when I inevitably pass by them to loosen his skates or adjust his knee pads. Some smile cordially when I answer somewhat apologetically and defensively, “He’s only four.” Others simply turn their attention back to the action on the ice. And those seeds of initial doubt sprout roots and grow with each inquiry. But at the end of each session when Josh steps off the rink shouting, “I love this place!” I am renewed in my conviction to let him play if only because it seems to truly feed his soul. And I am fortified by his seasoned coach—who demands respect and focus while doling out consistent and equally measured encouragement—when he starts each session by reinforcing that the boys are there first and foremost to have fun.

So I sit through each scrimmage, silently and fervently rooting for the littlest Shark while simultaneously justifying his ice time to myself and wondering if eventually the coaching staff is going to recommend we wait a few more months and try again. But they say nothing more than “See you next week,” when they pass us in the locker room. And the other parents say nothing either. And we show up, week after week, to pile on his gear, lace up his skates, and send him out to center ice as he smiles and wields his big stick.

This particular Sunday morning, after a late Saturday night and with an excruciating pain in the ball of my right foot (which I would later find out was caused by a tiny piece of glass), I was a little on edge. Josh decided to skip his first shift, opting to silently stay seated on the bench and leaving his darks team short-handed. I then opted to forgo my usual rink-side seat in favor of a warmer birds-eye view from the lobby.

No sooner did I get settled in the last remaining booth when I noticed the other parents looking around and motioning to me. Then I saw Josh hobbling toward the steps. I leapt out of my seat and back into the cold to find my little Number 20 complaining that his feet hurt. I sighed and asked him what he wanted me to do about it. He shrugged his shoulders. “How about we take off your socks?” I asked, presenting a somewhat unorthodox fix to an imagined problem that I could quickly implement yet might just have a placebo effect. The idea was just crazy enough to intrigue him. “OK!” he agreed. So I pulled off his skates and socks and laced him back up as fast as possible. “Now get back out there for the WHOLE scrimmage,” I said as I patted his butt and pushed him back to his team’s bench. He wobbled away, and I slinked back to the lobby.

Miraculously, my booth was still vacant, so I slipped back into it, leaning my forehead on the window and resting my chin in my hands. I watched Josh skate to and fro, sometimes following the action of the puck, other times moving in a game all his own. I watched him fall and get back up. I watched him fight to play Center with the other, much bigger kids. And I watched him play goalie with reckless abandon, armed with nothing more than his gloves and his grit.

With about ten minutes left in the game, Josh skated down to the net his team was scoring on and planted himself in front of it. The puck was at the other end of the ice. Mini Mite hockey is played on a shortened rink in consecutive two-minute shifts. Every kid plays every second shift. They all get the same amount of ice time. Scores are not tracked. And infractions such as offsides and icing don’t exist. So Josh’s strategy was actually a clever one. He was gassed from chasing the puck from end to end, and he was desperate for a goal. So he simply skated to where he wanted the puck to be and waited. And eventually, the puck landed right on his stick. He swatted at it, and the goalie stopped it. It bounced back to him. So he swatted at it again. And it went in the net. The ref (who is the head coach dressed in zebra stripes for authenticity) blew his whistle and pointed to the back of the net, and Josh lifted his stick into the air, pumped his other fist, and skated toward the bench.

I whispered “YES!” under my breath, silently clapped my hands, and grinned from ear to ear. Finally. Finally. Finally. And not until I was just starting to exhale and settle back into the game, did I hear the clamor. This was not the collective sound of polite clapping that traditionally followed any one of the 15–20 goals scored per game. This was a loud roar, combined with delighted squeals and the thunderous booms of hard shoes stomping metal bleachers. This was swift and forceful applause, and there was no mistaking it was directed at the little Shark that could.

As Josh skated a victory lap to the bench, bumping gloves with as many teammates as he could reach, I wiped away tears, overcome and completely surprised by the support. How worried I had been about my son’s impact on all the other kids’ Mini Mite experience. And how wrong I had been about their parents’ judgments of my decision to let Josh follow his bliss. They weren’t lamenting his participation at all; they were wholeheartedly rooting for him.

When the final buzzer sounded, and the parents and kids darted to and fro looking for one another, I headed down to the ice, toting the empty duffel bag I was about to fill up with sweaty pads and gear. As I stopped to motion Josh toward the locker room, a mom I didn’t recognize put her hand on my arm and said, “I just have to tell you that when your son scored, I cried. I was so happy for him!”

I looked back at her and squeezed her hand. “I did, too,” I admitted as the crowd surged between us. Just then, I looked up and saw Josh’s coach following him off the ice. When they both reached me, Coach Bill kneeled down, which made him the same height as Josh on his skates, and said, “Hey buddy. That was a great goal!” Josh beamed. “The other coaches and I were so excited about that goal that we made you star of the game,” he continued. “And we’re giving you the game puck.” He placed the dark blue puck in Josh’s small hand, and Josh looked up at me with his mouth hanging open.

“What do you say?” I asked in my usual mom tone. What do you say when a group of people collectively display such an overwhelming amount kindness and support?

“Thank you,” Josh said quietly as he ran his finger over the bumpy edge and leaned back into me.

“You’re welcome,” Coach Bill said as he tapped his helmet and got to his feet. Then he leaned over to me and whispered, “When he scored that goal, I was SO pumped up.”

All I could do was nod and smile…and remind myself that sometimes it’s wiser to trust my fellow Moms and Dads than my own perception. It seems community is not dead. Hallelujah!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Crumbmobile

[This is a repost from a few weeks ago, but it was only up for a week or two. If you missed it, enjoy. I hope to be back with new content next week.]

I drive a Mom car. Yep. Inside and out, my blue Volvo has Mom written all over it. That wasn’t my plan. When I bought it, I was looking for a comfortable commute and a little European engineering. But I guess sooner or later, we all turn into our parents.

Eric does not drive a Mom car. He doesn’t even drive a Dad car. So when Josh was born, I decided to put the extra car seat in the babysitting grandparents’ SUV instead of in his performance tire–clad, suspension-enhanced ride.

The real problem comes in on the weekends. That’s when Eric has to drive my car if he wants to take Josh anywhere outside our neighborhood. And that’s when I have to magically transform my Mom car into something more respectable. Something he can actually stand to drive.

That’s not easy.

When I see Eric come downstairs in his baseball cap and find Josh scrambling around for his shoes, I sneak into the garage to begin my weekly chore of decluttering what I not-so-affectionately refer to as “The Crumbmobile.”

The front passenger seat usually tells the story of our week. It is filled with time-sensitive paperwork. It is filled with assorted art projects. It is filled with miscellaneous chargers for the various electronic devices that recently died. I find the workbook from the wildlife museum we visited on Monday. I find the construction paper mitten Josh laced up at school on Tuesday and the self-portrait he drew on Wednesday. I find the unopened pretzel snack pack and juice box from our impromptu trip to the park on Thursday. And I find the Scholastic order form Josh enthusiastically handed me at sign-out on Friday with the collection of Froggy books circled. On the floor are a few empty Ziplock bags and the paperback book I planned to hand my bored four year old during a long car ride before I stopped quickly in traffic and it landed just out of reach.

I move the crucial and the cherished to the front lawn, and I trash the rest. Then I start on the back seat. Josh’s car seat looms large in the middle position. On its platform, it looks like his rightful throne, and I remind myself that this car is really not as much mine now as it is his.

He sits snugly each day in the five-point harness as I chauffer him from town to neighboring town on our way to parks, playdates, and preschool. He often rules from this elevated seat, offering unsolicited driving rules and tips. “Are you going 4-5, Mom? That sign says you should go 4-5,” he often instructs. Or “Slow down, Mom. The road is getting very bendy.”

Other times, he is my irrepressible navigator. When he hears my turn signal as I near the new shortcut road to school, he sometimes shouts, “No! I want to go the old way,” meaning the two-lane country road that winds past the last steadfast farms and equestrian centers that claimed this area when I was a girl. Who can blame him for preferring to look out at goats and cows, tall pompous grass and fields of mustard flowers, instead of cookie cutter houses built exactly eight feet apart and painted in various shades of beige?

I plan my week around his activities. I happily escort him to and fro. And I relish our drives while he is still willing to tell me about his day. It’s all worth the back seat driving and bossy orders to the Mom-turned-DJ to play the song about the pots and pans, not the one about the colors. No not that one. That one!

Scattered around his car seat is a veritable snapshot of his current interests: USA Hockey magazine lies face down on the seat to his right. 1001 Things to Spot with the bent back cover is propped upright on the floor at his feet. The Dynaco helicopter from the Cars movie that he has taken from car to house to car since Christmas is wedged part way under his car seat; he likes to spin the propeller as we drive. Scattered tissues, unopened fruit snacks, and a discarded fireman’s hat litter the vacant seats. But the floor is truly the most embarrassing part. It’s covered in two parts broken Cheerios and one part cereal bar crumbs, combined with the occasional empty juice box and an itinerant sippy cup.

As I heave item after item into the trash or onto my growing pile, I look around and realize that I am still alone. Both husband and son must be otherwise preoccupied with the ritual and routine of getting ready. Momentum is on my side. So I decide to tackle the trunk that I have struggled to fit only a couple bags of groceries into all week. What it could possibly be filled with is a complete mystery to me.

I lift the lid and remove the red duffle bag that holds Josh’s hockey gear along with Eric’s skates, red gloves, and black ski jacket, which is not to be confused with his once cream, now dingy gray winter coat with a second set of gloves poking out of the pocket that I remove next. I toss reusable Trader Joe’s bags and a navy and red plaid park blanket onto the pile. Then I add Josh’s lost pullover; two of Eric’s sweatshirts; and Josh’s backpack stuffed with activity books and crayons and enough little plastic games to keep him busy in restaurants, at the doctor’s office, and even in the grocery cart. I unload Josh’s bike helmet, a super-sized Frisbee, and a chunk of colorful rubber attached to a bungee cord that he got for his birthday. And as I survey the mound on the front lawn, I now understand why two bags of groceries barely fit.

It seems my Mom car is very much like my Mom life: It is stacked to the brim with everyone else’s stuff, leaving precious little room for my own. Along the way, I did discover a few things stashed in the corner that are truly mine. A Target gift card tucked inside the center console from a dear friend that I’ve been carrying around for months. A craft fair flyer that slid between the two front seats, reminding me how long it’s been since I’ve done anything moderately therapeutic. My favorite black umbrella — the one I carried through every major city on the East Coast on my springtime sabbatical several years ago, and again across Eastern Australia and New Zealand the October I was pregnant.

But most of the car’s contents are not mine at all. These things fuel others’ lives, satisfy others’ needs, and stir others’ souls. I am merely the vessel that facilitates these other lives, lending time and support while steering them in the right direction. Making sure my loved ones indeed have lives that are filled with their favorite things and activities.

Suddenly I hear voices and slamming doors, instructions and reminders. As I close the trunk and peer into the back seat, I now see a fuzzy blonde head rising up above the car seat. I hear the jingle of Eric’s keys and the whir of the electric seat moving down and back. I step away from the vehicle and onto the grass. And I wave as the blue Volvo glides slowly out of the driveway and turns onto the main road.

When it’s out of sight, I stretch my arms around my big load and carry it in the back door. But I don’t drop it in the middle of the family room floor where there is plenty of space to sort and fold and purge. Instead, I dump it in the middle of the guest bed, and shut the door, leaving all the sorting and folding and purging for another day. I walk through the family room past a hundred disheveled toys, through the kitchen past stacks of dirty dishes, and up the stairs to the back corner of the house where an old card table holds a small tote bag filled with fancy-edged scissors and glue, assorted brads and punches and eyelets. And where the weathered dresser on back wall contains a drawer full of paper.

At this table where my grandmother used to sew dresses for her three daughters, I am surrounded by nothing more than little scraps and memories. Some bold and bright. Others small and subtle. So I collect my favorite supplies, dust off my trimmer, and begin piecing myself back together, bit by fascinating bit.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Snapshots of the future

There you are. Shirtless and pajama-bottomed. Talking to Leah on the phone like you're both teenagers. You giggle. Then she giggles. I can hear her shrieks of glee through the line. You roll onto your back and kick your legs in the air as you shout, "When can I come over to your house?" The energy of youth that will someday be replaced by the fire of hormones emanates from you both. She starts to sing. You join in. And you are two peas in a pod, separated by 40 miles.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Becoming big

It’s been a busy week, and as I tuck Josh into bed tonight, I feel like I haven’t spent much one-on-one time with him. So I linger over our bedtime story, sing an extra song, and snuggle in next to him for a nightlight chat. We talk about his day. We talk about my day. We talk about tomorrow: where we’ll go, what we’ll do, what we have to look forward to.

Josh loves to look forward. He loves to know our schedule in advance so he can anticipate what’s next. He gets that from me. Now that he can tell time, he often wants to know not just what’s next but at what time. Then he glides into the kitchen in his sock feet every few minutes to check the green numbers on the oven, announcing them gleefully as they get closer and closer to his desired hour. He even counts down to bedtime because he can, having finally grasped the heartbeat of our days, the rhythm that guides our itinerary.

When it’s time for lights out, I roll over and squeeze him tight. I breathe in his little boy scent of grass and salt and dirt. And as I hold him, I am suddenly overcome by a sense of dread. Dread that he is growing up too fast. Dread that my days of slipping into bed with him and snuggling and talking and planning are numbered. Dread that all too soon he will simply call out, “Night, Mom!” from behind his closed door. And then one day, when I open that door, he will no longer be there at all.

I squeeze him tighter and rock him back and forth. “Will you stay my little four year old forever?” I sigh through my reverie.

“Nnnno,” he replies through giggles. It’s the same “No” I get when I ask if he lost any fingers or toes when the bomb exploded in his once-clean room.

“Please?” I cajole while rubbing his back and making exaggerated kissing noises on his neck.

“No,” he cries louder, in a gleeful, high-pitched voice.

“Pretty please?” I plead. “Don’t get any older. Just stay my snuggly little boy forever and ever.”

He is quiet for a moment. Then I hear it.

“No,” he says again, but this time it’s not playful or joyful or silly. It’s urgent. It’s panicked. It’s tearful.

I immediately look up and see his amusement has turned to anguish. His mouth is open wide. His eyes are full. And the harder he tries to hold back the tears, the more forceful his emotions. It’s the same cry I’ve seen on the rare occasion when I’ve startled him. The same cry I’ve seen when he nearly touches the hot burner and I scream, “Stop!” at the top of my lungs. It’s the same cry I’ve seen when I’ve scared him.

I am suddenly aware that I have just broken the cardinal rule of motherhood. I have put my needs ahead of his. I have weighed him down with my burdens instead of relieving him of his. I have asked him to do the impossible — for me — and in so doing, set him up for miserable failure.

Even at four, he knows he cannot stop growing. He knows he will turn five and then six and then twelve and then twenty, and there’s nothing either one of us can do about it. And now he knows that when he does what he has no choice but to do, he will be somehow disappointing me.

“Oh sweetie,” I say, trying to channel my calmest maternal voice. “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I was just being silly with you.”

He nods and wipes his nose with the back of his hand, but his distress is still palpable.

“I know you can’t stop growing. You’re going to be five and six and seven and eight someday. And you’re going to learn how to do so many things. And that’s good.”

He sniffles and then dissolves into the ugly cry again. “But someday, I’ll be big!”

He says “big” the same way I say “old” when I occasionally spot the translucent bags under my eyes, the slight puffening of my neck, and the lines of varying depths on my face and hands.

I gently brush his hair out of his eyes. “Yes. Someday you will be big. But thankfully, you will only get big a little bit at a time. It takes years and years. But when you finally are big, you’ll be ready. And I’ll be ready, too.”

He nods, and a hint of peace creeps back into his eyes.

“Really?” he asks.

“Really,” I quickly reply, hoping I have somehow wrestled my baggage off his small shoulders. Hoping I have replaced his fears with staunch reassurance and given him something to look forward to. And hoping against hope that what I told him is actually true.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fantastic four

This is you. Today. On your fourth birthday.

This is you. In your birthday shirt. On your birthday bike. On your favorite day of the year.

I understand that each day is unique. Each day is special. Once lived, you can never get any particular day back. But on these most special days, I am more acutely aware that today is the only fourth birthday you will have. That today is the only fourth birthday I will get to help you celebrate.

How did I get here? How did I come to be staring through this lens at my four year old. I remember many of the milestones along the way. The momentous occasions. The achievements. Even the most despairing moments. But most of the 1,461 days in between are fuzzy.

I remember being pregnant and feeling you swimming and squirming around inside me.

I remember those first few days when you were a tiny newborn, and I was trying to figure out who you were as a little person and who I was as a mother.

I remember how special I felt in those early weeks when strangers would ask me how old you were and I could answer them in weeks.

I remember pinching your plump thighs. Running my hair across your face to make you laugh. Taking countless pictures of you with your toes in your mouth.

I remember watching you bounce and bounce in your Jump-a-roo. I remember chasing you around and around the kitchen island as you pushed your dump truck and giggled a deep belly laugh.

I remember recording your first words and then marveling as your vocabulary grew beyond what my little journal could hold.

I remember a few days when you pushed and pulled and twisted every boundary you met, while I chased after you, picking up broken pieces and stepping between you and peril — just in the nick of time.

I remember the delight and discovery of two, and the urgency and upheaval of three. I remember teaching you about opposites and metaphors and things that go together. I remember tantrums and turmoil and striking bargains to avoid meltdowns.

I remember your first smiles, your first steps, and your first day of preschool. I remember the first song you sang from beginning to end. I remember the look on your face the first time you tasted chocolate.

But I don't remember the millions of moments in between that stack all those milestones together. I can't recall off the top of my head how old you were when you stopped breastfeeding. I don't know exactly when you last sat in your baby swing or ate rice cereal or pooped in a diaper. These days it's even difficult to recall what our conversations were like when you didn't have any concept of time or when you weren't yet able to form full sentences. So many of your milestones are progressive that's it's difficult to rewind my memory precisely. To back up the counter to a particular point in time and recapture what we were like then. What life felt like at that specific moment.

But a montage of highlights rolls through my head like faded filmstrip footage on these special days. The scenes that connect then to now somehow align as I watch you ride your big boy bike down the block. And suddenly the in-between doesn't matter. What matters is You. Here. Today. In all your fabulous four-ness. And what matters is Me. Here. Today. Watching you. Cherishing you. And cheering you on as you take on the big stuff. First training wheels. Then two wheelers. Then whatever comes next.

Happy, happy, happy birthday, my Josheroo.

Those were the days
when we had childish dreams
We’d run through the house
chasing our cares away

Turn on the sprinklers
we’d roll in the evening grass
laughing until we cried

And I love the lovely years
No worries — no fears
Oh what a great life

— Fisher, "The Lovely Years"

Friday, January 23, 2009


I’m going to bed 15 minutes later than I planned. Actually, an hour and 15 minutes later than I planned. It seems everything takes longer than I think it will these days. I’m not sure where the time goes, this time I’m certainly not frittering away. But it just goes somehow. And as I sit at the edge of the guest bed tonight, I am again surprised that it’s so late.

A congestion demon has invaded Eric’s head and chest, so I volunteered to sleep downstairs. A likely fruitless effort to avoid yet another virus. I run my hand over the cold cotton sheets with blue flowers and decide to sleep in a long-sleeved nightshirt.

I’m not used to sleeping alone. So I flank both sides with extra pillows and even stick one between my feet to stimulate warmth and help me forget I’m all by myself. I curl up on my right side, hugging a pillow with my left arm and closing my eyes tightly.

It feels so good to finally rest. I have been working late the last two nights — chasing adjectives and commas, SKU numbers and prices around black and white pages until way past my bedtime — and tonight I am so tired.

I snuggle in and start thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list, reminding myself of errands and phone calls. Then my mind drifts to the show I was watching just before I went to bed — the one I used to quiet the revving in my head after finally meeting my deadline. Then I’m suddenly thinking about a childhood friend who lost her sister last week due to a grave medical error. I grip the pillow tighter and clench my teeth. I am so tired. Why won’t my mind shut up?

I look at the clock. A half-hour has passed. I decide to roll over and try a trick my grandmother taught me when she would visit from Kentucky and sleep in my trundle bed. “Count exhales,” she would say when I couldn’t get to sleep. “It quiets the mind.” So I inhale deeply and exhale slowly. One. Again. Two. Again. Three. But then I start obsessing about the rate of my breathing, speeding it up and then slowing it down until I’ve forgotten to count altogether. I suddenly realize that I’m not getting enough air no matter how fast I breathe, and as I sit up, I notice my legs are ice-cold.

It’s now after midnight. I decide to put my sweatpants back on along with a pair of fuzzy socks, and while doing so, I notice the familiar pain in my right hip that came on with pregnancy and forgot to leave after the baby was born. So I reluctantly get up, pad across the family room floor, and pull the bottle of ibuprofen out of the pantry.

As I walk back into the guest room, I try to avoid looking at the empty closet with uneven stacks of boxes spilling out, the bits of Christmas decorations and file folders peeking out from haphazard piles. I ignore the clutter-hater in the back of my mind as it berates my lack of organizational skills. I remind myself that the next time I have a couple of spare hours when I’m not working, mothering, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, throwing a birthday party, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or driving Josh to this or that practice I will finally go through this mess. I will throw things away, donate to the needy, and pack up the few treasured items into a neatly labeled Rubbermaid container. Yes, as soon as I have a couple of hours to spare.

Before I get back in bed, I decide to put on a sweatshirt as well. I know I’ll wake up sweaty in an hour (if I ever get to sleep), but at this point, I’m willing to try anything that might help me find dreamland. As I slip back under the covers, I remember reading somewhere that the part of the brain that enables imagination also enables dreams. So I curl up and try to imagine myself in my favorite place doing my favorite thing.

The problem is, I don’t know where that is. You’d think that with as much time as I spend some days thinking about where I’d rather be that this exercise would be a no-brainer. But I’m stumped. So I start guessing. How about back on the peaceful beach in Hawaii on a clear day? Nope. That’s not working. How about sitting at the kitchen table crafting something beautiful? Uh-uh. OK. Let’s think smaller. How about watching Josh laugh with reckless abandon? While that does make my heart smile, it doesn’t spawn any actual dreaming. I finally give myself permission to take a mental vacation, and I can’t figure out where to go. I’ve got nothing.

As I roll around and bemoan my complete inability to sleep, I suddenly realize my ultimate fantasy. Where I want to be most at this very moment is asleep. It’s so simple I can’t believe I missed it. So I assume my favorite cuddled-up position and decide to try to imagine myself sleeping — arms and legs sprawled out, hair smashed into my pillow, deep loud breaths flowing through my nose. I think about that warm tingly feeling I get as I’m falling asleep. I imagine weightless limbs. I picture my peaceful frame cozy and motionless. And then I think about…nothing.

I don’t consciously realize it, but I am no longer awake. And I won’t figure it out until two hours later when Josh wakes up screaming for no apparent reason, and I am roused from my deeply needed sleep to rub his legs and hand him tissues and quiet him back to sleep.

At which point, I will be restless once more.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Those three little words

"Mommy?" Josh says many times a day. It may be when we're sitting at the breakfast table, when we're riding in the car, or when I'm taking care of a basic need like pouring him some juice or wiping his behind. Sometimes it's when we're playing outside. Other times it's just as I'm closing his door at bedtime. But no matter where we are or what we're doing, several times each day Josh will say, "Mommy?" with a subtle wistful pitch. Then he waits patiently for me to respond. And when I look up from whatever it is I’m doing and acknowledge him. When I turn my full focus toward him and gently reply, "Yes?" He always says the same thing: "I love you."

All my life, I have heard my mom talk about how I couldn't leave the house when I was little without shouting, "Bye Mom! Love you!" This is a memory I'm sure she clung tightly to through years of sibling rivalry, adolescent know-it-all-ness, and inexplicable teen angst.

Now I know how she must have felt when she heard my small voice calling from the front door. Those words, spoken by my spirited son who depends on me for literally everything he needs each day, are truly the most rewarding words a mother can hear. And I can see how much he means them as they flow from his mouth.

But my favorite part of these exchanges is the tranquil, happy look on his face when I turn back to him and say, “I love you, too.”

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hanging ten

Josh spots the colorful boogie board in the closet of our rented condominium on the North Shore of Kauai and decides immediately he wants to learn to "surf." As he claws at the shelf for it, I turn to Eric and ask, "How old were you when you learned to boogie board in San Diego?" He shrugs. "Maybe four." I look down into Josh's eager eyes and lower the giant piece of styrofoam into his grasp.

We pack up a variety of sand toys, chairs, and towels from the generous closet and set off down the path to the beach. We don't know what we will find, but we're up for an adventure. We wind past well-kept tennis courts lined with guava and citrus trees, through a thicket of banyans — their roots winding up over our heads, from one side of the path to the other — and past a murky bog that's teeming with mosquitoes. When the path levels out, we run right into a construction site. We peek through the thick black netting at the landmark hotel to spy on the rumored remodel, and we find buildings stripped to their studs. We edge around the barriers and finally find sand, which we follow to the water's edge and away from the noise of bulldozers and buzz saws.

We set up camp under a large magnolia tree. It's yellowed leaves strewn here and there in the shade it offers us. I fold out chairs, set up towels, shuffle through the beach bag to find buckets and shovels for my enthusiastic castle builder. "Want to boogie board?" Eric asks Josh.

"Not yet," Josh replies, obviously having second thoughts. "Maybe a little later." And he glances nervously at the lapping water.

When I sink into my seat, I look around to find one of the most idyllic spots on earth. Lush green mountains curve from my left around the picturesque inlet of sparkling turquoise water. Directly in front of me, Puff the Magic Dragon rests his head on the surface of Hanalei Bay, mourning Jackie Paper's lost boyhood forevermore. Waves crash in the distance on a coral reef and then lap quietly up onto our beach, making the requisite ocean sounds yet alleviating motherly fears of undertow. Fifteen or twenty surfers ride three distinct sets of waves off to the left, many of them proficient enough to ride from swell to break before falling gracefully backward into the surf. A gentle breeze blows as Josh sits at my feet, carving out roads, filling up buckets, and digging for water.

Occasionally another beachcomber or two will pass by on their way around the shore. At one point, a petite lady stops a few feet from us and throws a large piece of driftwood into the lackadaisical tide for her black labrador to retrieve. But other than the intermittent interlopers who are always on their way to somewhere else, we are always alone in our paradise. We seem to have found an ideal pocket in time to occupy this peaceful spot: Lucky enough to miss the hotel guests during the renovation. Early enough to avoid the honeymooners, twentysomething travelers, and older families who are all still undoubtedly asleep. Boring enough to steer clear of the thrill-seeking wave riders who crowd the beach further down the way. And stagnant enough to be only a short-lived attraction to the movers and shakers warming up for their morning workout. Does it get any better than this?

Josh finally tires of the sand and musters enough courage to dip his toes in the ocean. He and Eric watch their feet slowly disappear as they both warm to the water. Suddenly, Josh comes bounding up the beach, grabs his new-found board, and dives head first on top of it on the sand. He goes nowhere. His patient engineer father shows him the best way to start, instructing him to point the board perpendicular to the waves, helping him stand with his feet shoulder-width apart and his knees bent, and quietly explaining things like balance and buoyancy while also warning about wipeouts and water safety. Josh listens astutely and follows every direction. He starts on the sand and then moves the board closer and closer to the water as he gains confidence and earns more kudos from dad — until he is dropping his flat slice of adventure on shallow water, kneeling on the board, and then hopping up to a surfer's stance.

As the waves lap under his floating toy, he learns to negotiate his equilibrium by leaning forward and shifting his weight. He finds success more often when he lets the waves come to him, so he begins hopping onto the board on sand and ever more patiently waits for the water to take him on. He rests his hands on his knees and turns his blond head toward the incoming swell. He is far from surfing — far from even throwing his board across the shallow tide and jumping on top for a free ride up the beach. But he is mastering the basics and learning a lot about balance and hydro physics along the way. Not to mention, he's having the time of his life.

When our stomachs finally beckon us away from our paradise, we make the uphill climb back to our home away from home. We are a chatty bunch on the walk back, each of us bubbling over with renewed spirits and newfound passions. "I sure did some great surfing today, Mom," my three-and-a-half-going-on-ten-year-old son says as we negotiate the hills that seem to have gotten steeper while we soaked up the Hawaiian sun.

"You sure did. You'll be hanging ten with the big boys before you know it."

Josh looks down and grins. "Yeah," he sighs and then skips ahead to catch up with his dad.

"Yeah," I echo wistfully as I adjust my pack and continue my unpredictable journey.
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