love

Check This Box

Cutest note ever

Spring is in the air. The songbirds have returned to my bird-feeder welfare state. Tulips are in blooming underneath our spring snow. The flowering trees have kicked my allergies into overdrive. We’re solidly entrenched in the season of new beginnings and hope, which is why I was not at all surprised when the other day my youngest climbed into my car after school smiling quite sheepishly, holding in his hand a folded paper note with a smiley face painted on the outside.

He was whispering rather excitedly to his brother and his brother, in turn, was whispering back. Their hushed conversation was both animated and intense. I had a good idea what was going on based on conversations we’d been having for weeks, but I waited to be included. Finally, Joe’s excitement spilled over.

“Luke got a note from Maddy,” he gushed. Then he added, “It’s depressing.”

“How is it depressing exactly?”

“It just highlights my many failed attempts with girls,” Joe said.

“How many attempts?” I asked. This was all news to me.

“Eight,” he replied instantly with complete assurity.

“Okay. Can we talk about that in a minute? This isn’t about you. It’s about Luke. Let him tell his own story,” I chided. “What’s going on, Luke?”

“Well, after school I found this note in my locker,” he replied, handing me the piece of paper.

It was your garden variety, grade-school note. With carefully chosen words, the author was attempting to ascertain Luke’s level of interest in her. The innocence of the note made me smile. Any note with a “check this box” format wins my heart every time, and this note had two different questions with corresponding boxes. Add to it the charming spelling irregularities of dyslexia and you’ve got about the sweetest correspondence ever. I handed it back to Luke.

“So, how are you going to respond?” I asked

“I’m not sure,” he said.

“I thought you like Maddy,” I replied.

“I do. I’m just nervous. What if I tell her I like her and she doesn’t like me?”

“She wouldn’t have bothered to write the note if she didn’t like you,” I told him. “Girls generally don’t bother with guys they don’t like. We try to avoid them. Trust me.”

“Well, then, I think I will answer yes to the liking her question. But I don’t know what to say about the question of if I have a girlfriend,” he said.

Do you have a girlfriend?” I inquired knowing full well the answer.

“No, but…,” he paused.

“You are afraid to put yourself out there?” I asked.

“Kind of,” he said.

“I can tell you this. If you like her, you shouldn’t play games. Be honest.”

“Okay. I will tell her I don’t have a girlfriend then.”

“Or…or you could make a third box to check that says Not Yet. That would let her know you’re hoping she will be your girlfriend,” I suggested, digging way back into my memories of flirting protocol. “That puts the ball back in her court,” I said, “but still keeps you safe because it’s not a definitive answer.”

“Yes. I like that,” he replied with clear relief that there was a way to respond that didn’t leave him completely vulnerable.

He folded up the note, put it away, and Joe used the opportunity to begin his lamentation about his 12-year-old brother’s third success in dating while he still only had one success, way back in kindergarten, and he’s almost fourteen. It’s hard to be Joe.

I’m grateful that my sons are willing to talk to me about girls, at least thus far. The world of interpersonal relationships is a minefield. I hope to keep the lines of communication open with them as they negotiate their way through it. They know I am an old lady, but they also know I dated plenty before I married their dad. I have shared some of my stories of heartbreak, embarrassment, rejection, and shame so they know I have been there and can commiserate. It will be difficult to stand by during the tragedy of their first broken heart but, for now, I’m enjoying the check-this-box phase of newly sprung love or, in this case, like.

Grand Gestures and Restraining Orders

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things is not like the others.

Those who know me know that I despise Valentine’s Day. It’s partly because it’s never been a happily memorable holiday for me and partly because I’m highly pragmatic and figure if you’re not loving on the people who matter on a daily basis then one day isn’t going to help. Despite my antipathy towards this pseudo-holiday, though, my sons enjoy it. Or at least they enjoy the candy aspect. So every year I go out and buy candy for their classmates and make Valentine’s Day cards for the boys to write and hand out.

Over the weekend, the boys and I were discussing the Valentines they were going to give their friends.

“I don’t really want to write any out,” said Luke, hoping to avoid any extra work that even remotely felt like a homework chore.

“Even though it’s a pain to do, you might feel a bit awkward if everyone else in the class ends up handing them out and you don’t, Luke,” I nudged.

“Okay, okay,” he acquiesced. “I’ll do it.” There’s the male Valentine spirit I am used to…hands tied, forced to participate.

“There ya go,” I replied. “What about you, Joe? What are you thinking?” I asked.

“Oh…I want to hand them out. I have a plan.”

Now, Luke often has a plan. Luke is dreamer and a schemer. Joe? Not so much. He’s as straight forward and up front as you can get. I was curious. I raised an eyebrow at him.

“A plan, huh? What kind of plan?” I teased.

“I am going to write To and From on all the Valentines except one,” he said quite matter-of-factly.

“Oh…I see. And the one that’s the exception, would that one use a different word than From?”

“Yes,” he answered.

I knew exactly where this was going. Joe has had a small crush on a girl in his class all year. He can’t seem to decide on a best friend, but the boy knows a cute girl when he sees one.

“That’s pretty bold, Joe,” I said. “Women like a grand gesture.”

“It’s not a grand gesture. She’ll only figure it out if she sees that I didn’t write Love on anyone else’s card,” he said shyly.

“Yes. But you’re putting yourself out there, Joe. That’s brave and not at all easy to do. I’m proud of you.”

It was probably because I told him I liked his plan and was proud of him that he told me the very next day that he was not going to go through with it. It was too risky. I told him understood. I do. I didn’t tell my middle school crush I had a crush on him until we were 38 and at our 20-year high school reunion. Only then did inebriated and emboldened me take the time to seek him out and tell him that I regularly used to ride my bike by his house. I don’t know what I expected from my admission, but having him look at me as if he might be in need of a restraining order in the near future wasn’t my best case scenario. Admitting your feelings comes with a risk no matter how old you are. It never gets easier, but the younger you start the better off you will be.

Tonight I called the boys up to write out the cards so I could attach the treats and get them ready for dispersal at class. I left Joe with his class list and went on to other things. When I returned later and was slapping lollipops on the handmade, handwritten notes, I noticed that one of the notes did not have the customary From sign-off. One of them was clearly and neatly signed Love, Joe. It made my heart smile.

I still don’t like Valentine’s Day. I don’t. It’s hokey, commercial, and highly overrated. But this year I almost have reason to celebrate and it’s because of a card that wasn’t even written to me.

 

 

A Reason To Celebrate

Luke and Steve exhausted in Ecuador

Today is Father’s Day. I’ll be honest. It is a tough day for me. I have never had a close relationship with my own father. We spent years estranged. We do not agree on most things. And I am not certain that there is any way to fix the situation because after 45 years of consistency you begin to accept that some things simply are what they are. Picking out a Father’s Day card is difficult because in the myriad cards available in the store there isn’t one that says, “I know you did your best, and I’m learning to be okay with that.” But I am not at my laptop this morning to write about my issues. I’m here to write about my husband and how he has given me a reason to celebrate Father’s Day.

Twenty years ago when my husband and I had been dating for just a month, he introduced me to his parents. We met for dinner with the whole family at an upscale, Swiss restaurant, and there I got my first glimpse of where Steve came from. There are moments in your life when a seemingly insignificant gesture suddenly epitomizes something much more grand. At one point during dinner, my father-in-law, deep in conversation with his son, leaned in closer to him and laid his arm across the back of Steve’s chair. He was talking and smiling and you could see in his eyes how much he loved being with his son and how utterly unafraid he was to show his son how important he was. I had never seen anything like that, such a small gesture that demonstrated the appreciation, love, and affection between a father and his son. That was the exact moment when I knew that Steve was solid. I knew he would someday be an amazing husband and a devoted father. I knew I had no reason to fear.

Steve and Joe

Steve and Joe happy in Hawaii

Now it might have been a bit naive on my part to take such an innocent gesture and ascribe to it such a grandiose meaning, but I don’t think so. Twelve years into this parenting gig with my husband and I don’t think I was wrong in my assessment. (Of course, I rarely think I am wrong about anything.) He is every bit as genuine and affectionate with our boys as his father is with him. From Day One he has been there for us. He never works more than 40 hours per work week. From the beginning he fed, changed, and bathed our boys without complaint. When they were sick, he was the first one to the thermometer to apprise the situation. When they puked up seemingly impossible amounts of pizza, fishy crackers, and juice, he disinfected the mess with the utmost courage and care and far less gagging than I ever could. He read The Hobbit to them, struggling mightily with the lengthy lists of names but muddling through undaunted. Many days after putting in his time at work, he arrived home excited to see us only to find that I was glassy eyed and already AWOL; instead of  being selfish he took one for the team and fixed dinner, did dishes, made lunches, and put the kids to bed so I could regain some sanity. He cried with me when we identified copious obstacles our sons needed to overcome with fine and gross motor skills, speech and language, reading, and academics. He spent hours building and flying kites, untangling fishing line, finding the tiniest of Lego pieces in the largest of Lego storage buckets, and perfecting his driving skills on Mariokart Wii. He has given all that he is and then some for our little family. For all the times that he felt like he was a single parent doing more than 50% of the work in the house, he never balked or grumbled. He’s a far better person than I will ever be.

So now when Father’s Day rolls around and I start to feel a bit melancholy, I think of Steve. I think of the father that he is and the gift he is giving to our sons with his constant presence in their lives, with his patience, and with his dogged devotion. When I see the tender-hearted, gentle, kind young men our sons are becoming, I see their father in them. (When I see their stubbornness, their impatience, and their kookiness…well…that’s all me.) I have plenty of reason to celebrate on Father’s Day. It’s just not the reason I expected.

I’m No Mother Teresa

“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa

Sharkboy's box

Sharkboy’s box

I remember when I was in grade school, on February 13th we would decorate boxes that we would use to collect Valentine’s Day cards from our classmates the next day. With red, pink, and white construction paper, tiny scissors with blunted tips, and the ubiquitous Elmer’s glue we would craft works of art to hold the innocent and sweet messages heralded by Snoopy, Scooby Do, the Pink Panther, and the Hulk and delivered by our sugar-enhanced classmates. In 6th grade, our teacher, let us play our 45’s on the record player while we worked on the boxes, and Cheap Trick belted out “I Want You To Want Me” while I cut hearts out of square pieces of paper that were folded in half and then affixed them to the shoebox before me. Those were the good old days (emphasis on old).

Last year, despite my cynical disdain for this heart-shaped holiday, I made the choice to participate in my sons’ Valentine’s Day parties at school. When I arrived, I noticed that on the desks of children in the classroom were all manner of decorated boxes, bags, tins, and pails. On my sons’ desks were plastic grocery bags from Safeway. Sad, but true. I hadn’t realized that many schools no longer used classroom time for artistic pursuits like heart-covered boxes for valentines. And so, my sons were given plastic bags by their teachers because their mother had failed to provide them with lovingly festooned containers in which they could collect and bring home their cards and candy. In that moment, I imagined myself in a tattered ball gown holding a dozen wilted roses, a tiara missing its rhinestones perched clumsily on my wild-haired head, and a white sash emblazoned with the words “World’s Worst Mother” running diagonally down my front. Loser with a capital L. I was a sullied angel fallen from the heavenly sky of stay-at-home mothers.

This year, I determined, would be different. My sons would not be doomed to a plastic-bag fate. Yesterday, at 9:30 after I dropped my boys at school and acquired an appropriately caffeinated beverage, I locked myself in my office/craft room with two small shipping boxes, cardstock, duct tape, adhesives, scissors, google eyes, and some slowly atrophying creative skills. I first pondered what might not embarrass them too fully at their advanced ages of 9 and 11. My original plan was simply to cover the cardboard boxes with paper and duct tape (they are future men, after all) and then carve a hole in them. So far, so good. Then, realizing that my usual cut-out hearts might not be “cool” enough as enhancements for a boy’s box, I tried to envision what might be a more appropriate fit for my guys. Joe’s box theme came to me immediately. Joe loves sharks. In our house, he is Sharkboy. Sharkboy’s box would need teeth. Luke’s box was a bit trickier. Luke is our cuddly kid, friendly and open-hearted, not unlike a small and slightly less furry Golden Retriever. I wanted to make him a dog box that would represent his personality, but feared he might find it too girly or babyish. Ultimately, with not one more suitable creative thought, I went for it.

I spent two hours measuring, cutting, gluing, taping, coloring, and wrapping those plain cardboard boxes. Considering my lack of forethought to materials acquisition, I did okay with what I found around the house. The boxes, while not representative of the kind of creative work of which I am truly capable, are much better than a plastic grocery bag because they were created from my heart and are filled with my love. As much as I can be contained, I am housed in those boxes.

The boys were satisfied with my little surprise. Joe confessed that he was hoping he would have time to make his own box, but then admitted that the Minecraft box he had pictured in his head would be nowhere near as nice as the shark I had created. Plus, he said, he did not want me to have gone through all that effort for him for nothing, even though I assured him that my reward was in making the box and not at all tied up in whether he actually used it or not. I appreciated that he acknowledged my effort, though. Luke loved his doggy box so much he said he wanted first to use it to deliver valentines to his classmates before allowing it to receive valentines from them. Then he said he wanted to keep it in his bedroom after his party was over. If he does this, I assume that dog, like our own dog Ruby, will ingest a lot of Legos.

I may never do great things in my life on a grand scale. I will not cure cancer or design a mode of transportation that will put humans into the farthest reaches of space. I will not stop global warming or solve world hunger. I may never write the great American novel or make a million dollars. And, we all know I’m certainly no Mother Teresa. But, after yesterday’s creative bent, I was reminded that at least I can do small things with great love. It’s those little things that will comprise the balance of my life and hopefully prove that I was worth my carbon matter while I existed here on Earth. And, who knows? Maybe the two small things I helped to create 9 and 11 years ago and have loved dutifully in my own small way ever since will someday do a truly great thing and there will be a miniscule part of me in it somewhere. I think that would count.