Monday, April 30, 2012

Cub Scout Lesson

Day 196
I’m standing in a field filled with five-year-old boys for A.’s weekly soccer team meeting at the Y.  Watching from the sidelines, one might wonder if they’re at the same practice.  

One boy hops up and down in a goal.  Another steps up onto a soccer ball, attempts to balance on one foot before crashing to the ground in a fit of giggles.  A. stares across the field at something no one else can see.  (He’ll tell me later this only proves the existence of his super powers.)

Maybe it’s because my eyes have been jumping from one boy to another that they fall upon the trash on the ground.  I lean over and pick it up.   Six feet away I see another.  I pick it up. 

When we camp with the Cub Scouts, the boys methodically walk the camp site at the end of the weekend to pick up any debris.  Their motto, Leave No Trace, teaches the boys be responsible for the environment by eliminating any evidence that boy (or man) stepped hiking boot on the site. 

I walk up to the top of the field and start walking.  Up and back.  Up and back.  

The trash I find is small:  A torn corner pieces of a granola bar a mom opened for a child, a white plastic cap from a disposable water bottle, a crumbled napkin.  All the little pieces together fill both hands and a pocket.     

One eye on the practice field, one eye on my task, the 45 minutes flies by.  Much faster, I realize, that A.’s last rainy soccer game.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Be a Friend: Fooducate

Day 195
I use an app called Fooducate whenever I grocery shop.  You scan the bar code of a packaged item and the app provides a nutritional letter grade.  If the food item isn’t listed in the database, you can send in a photo of the item and app techies will add the item and notify you when it’s in the system’s updated. 

I love this app for lots of reasons but my top one, hands down, is how the app gets the kids to buy in to our plan to eat healthier.  I hand over my phone and let them scan away.  They happily report poor letter grades and (usually) return the items to the shelves unprompted. 

Let’s be clear: I don’t always make healthy food choices.  I try but fail as often as I succeed.  That’s why I try to make good choices at the grocery store.  I figure if I don’t bring it into the house, we can’t eat it.

So what’s this got to do with kindness and the price of tea at Kroger? 

While at the customer service desk I start telling the store clerk about Fooducate.  I pull out my phone and start scanning items out of my own cart.

“I’m always trying to eat healthy,” the clerk confesses.  “But it’s so confusing.  How do I read the labels?”

“I have no idea!” I say.  “That’s why I scan!”  I don’t elaborate that I’m functionally illiterate when it comes to translating nutritional labels.

You’d think I was some kind of app ambassador the way I gush. 

“It’s so easy!  You try.”  I hand her my phone. 

She starts scanning items lying around her desk. 

“This is so cool,” she agrees.  “What’s it called again?”

I tell her and watch her write it down. 

We should all be kind to our bodies.  Knowing this doesn't make it easy.  Eating healthy and exercising regularly is hard work.  If we have something, anything, that will make it easier, we should share it.         

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hard Headed

Day 194
F. loves lacrosse.  Really, what’s not to love? Football-like pads.  Bulky helmets.  A big stick.  Throw in the lacrosse swag of crazy monkey shorts and his current obsession with wearing a cup and it’s a sport made in F. heaven. 

The weather’s close to perfect for tonight’s game and we toss in an extra canvas chair for the sidelines.  Someone always needs a place to sit. 

I call out to a friend and wave her over to the extra chair. “I’m so glad he’s found his thing,” Chaz says to me as we settle in to watch.   

My friend’s son is naturally athletic.  He possesses an uncanny grace when he darts between players and spins away, cradling the stick.  His arm bends back and sends the ball in an effortless arc across the field. 

F. is not.  It’s not from lack of (our) trying.  We signed him up for soccer.  Too much running.  Swimming.  What’s with all the kicking?  Basketball.  I just like to bounce the ball, why do I need to walk at the same time?  Then we found lacrosse.

“It’s nice when your kid finds something they like,” my friend says. 

I find myself daydreaming about an older F.  One who struts around the halls with a proud swagger.  Confident and self-assured, he’s a star “middy” on the varsity team. 

For boys, involvement in sports can guide them through difficult, challenging years.   Plus, there’s something invaluable about learning to work together as a team.  I want my kids to practice being gracious winners and good losers. 

That’s when I turn and see him. 

“What’s he doing?”  I point at F.  He’s standing alone on the field, pounding on his helmet with a closed fist and shaking his head.  The ball and the action are at the other end of the field.    

Maybe JV.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Poem In Your Pocket

Day 193
It’s Poem in Your Pocket Day at school.  To celebrate, the school librarian roams the halls and randomly picks kids to win Barnes and Noble gift cards if they have a poem in their pocket.  At breakfast, all the boys scribble poems on scraps of paper and fold them into teeny, tiny squares before tucking them into the darkest corner of their pockets.

"Remember," I say.  "Not everyone can win."  

"I will," F. answers.  He's hatching a plan.  What can I say?  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“I’m going to pretend to go the bathroom and that’s when she’ll see me,” he explains.  

“Does she always tag people coming out of the bathroom?” I ask. 

“No,” he answers.  

I don’t ask the obvious follow-up.  I've learned I don't need to.  If there’s one thing about F. it’s this.  By sheer luck or determination, his plans usually works out.  (He coined the phrase "F. wins!" months before Charlie Sheen started ranting about winning.")   

That’s why I’m not surprised at four o’clock when he flies off the bus waving a B & N gift card above his head. 

“I won!!!” he yells and dances his way into the house to get a snack.  Of course you did, I think. 

A. looks less excited.  “Did you not win?”  I ask. 

He shakes his head.  “I did,” he says. 

“He won an eraser,” I. fills in the blanks. 

“That’s great!  Do you want to show it to me?” 

A. shakes his head again.  “I don’t have it anymore.” 

“Oh,” I say.

“I gave it to someone who wanted it,” he says.  His eyes begin to water and his mouth sags into a frown. 

“You gave you prize away?  That was really, really nice.” 

“Yeah, I guess,” he says just as the tears begin to fall.  “But now I don’t have it!” 

What can I tell him?  Sometimes kindness hurts.   

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sinus Siren

Day 192
I wake up with a raging sinus headache.  One where you want to turn off all the lights, crawl back into bed and forget that you have hungry children who want breakfast.

“You look terrible,” my husband says in lieu of good morning.  I grunt. 

“I’m going to the store to get lunch stuff, then I’m going back to bed.”  It’s my way of pushing away some of the guilt of passing off parenting to my husband until I feel better.  At least they’ll have lunchmeat and apples. 

I walk into Kroger with one goal: get what I need and get out.  My eyes feel squinty and the pain in my temple is spreading across my forehead. 

A friend’s husband comes around the corner of Aisle 6 with a panicky look on his face. 

“Oh, good,” he starts.  “I thought that was you.  Can you help me?”  I attempt to smile but it comes across as a grimace.  My head is screaming. 

“What are you looking for?”  I ask. 

He’s a dad on a mission to find soccer snacks pronto and is having difficulty navigating the new layout of the grocery store. 

“Let’s check down the cereal aisle.  I think that’s where the granola bars are,” I say.

His blank look says, “Cereal aisle?”

“This way.”  I turn my cart and roll it towards the snacks. 

“And kids will eat these?”  He asks picking up a box. 

“Not those,” I steer him away from the raisin bars.  “I’d stick to these.”  He picks up three boxes of chocolate chip. 

“Drinks?  Do you need drinks?” 

“In the car!  Thanks!”  And with that he turns and dashes towards the check out. 

And I hobble towards the lunchmeat.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Farmer Ashley

Day 191
When Farmer Rebecca asks if any adults on the field trip want to milk a goat, my hand instantly shoots up. 

“You want to give it a try?” she asks.    

“Yes!”  I nod.  If we weren’t chaperoning kindergartners, I might have answered, “Hell, yes!”  I mean, really, who doesn’t want to milk a goat?  

That’s when I notice that apparently no one does.  No other parents have raised their hands.  It’s no happy accident that this doesn’t phase me.  Did I mention I get to milk a goat?   

Angus gives me a proud smile as I walk up and take a seat on the low, wooden bench at the front of the barn.   

“Clamp off the teat,” Farmer Rebecca instructs.  “And roll your fingers down.”

I do exactly as she says and warm milk squirts out.  It makes a satisfying sound when it hits the side of the tin pail.  I’m grinning like a farming fool.   

“Any one else?” Farmer Rebecca calls. 

“I think I’ll try, too,” a mom says and takes my place next to the mama goat.

Sometimes playing the fool opens the door for others to join the party.  Never take yourself so seriously that you forget to have fun.  

Hello, Nationals!

Day 190
Watching these kids I can’t help think that I don’t know if I could do it. 

For the second time, I’m here as a community judge  I enjoyed myself so much the first time I couldn’t help but return. Today the best of the best compete for a spot to dazzle at nationals. 

The category is impromptu speech.  A dozen slips of paper lay facedown on the table.  A timer starts the moment the teen chooses a slip.  Speech rules dictate he has two minutes to prepare a five-minute speech.

I’m nervous for them and I’m only sitting at the judge’s table enjoying their performance. 

A bubbly blond asks if the judges are ready.  We nod our heads indicating that we are.  And she begins.  Within the first few seconds I recognize that she, like my son, stutters. 

I sit riveted.

In the four years my son’s been involved with speech and speech retreats, I’ve come to know many kids who stutter.  This girl stands out.  I wish my son were sitting next to me to listen.      

Her stutter is noticeable but it doesn’t take away from her well-reasoned and thoughtful words.  At first, I hold my breath when her words catch in her throat and she pushes through the block.  It’s something the therapists teach I. to avoid.  But, as I know from experience listening to I., when you have something important to say, you barrel through. 

She struggles through several passages but the smile never falters.  She’s confident, intelligent, captivating.  In a word, she’s amazing.      

I tell her so in my judge’s comments.  Kids, especially those who stutter, can’t be told enough that their words are being heard.      

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Bully Antidote

Day 189
What started as a wink of an idea has grown into six months of kindness and an outline for a fiction book aimed at middle school readers.   

The Bully Antidote chronicles the story of fifth grade Caitlin and how she uses random acts of kindness to change how others treat her. 

Caitlin starts fifth grade in a funk.  Her best friend drops her for the cool kids.  The class bully targets her as her newest victim.  Her mother who quotes television stars with alarming frequency can’t understand how “they all can’t get along.” 

If things are going to get better, Caitlin needs a new plan.  That’s when she discovers that something her mom said might actually make sense.  Caitlin implements the Kindness Cure and in the process helps a bully discover sometimes the best way to make a friend is to be one. 

Or that’s the plan. 

The thing you need to know about creative types, we’re good on ideas.  It’s the follow-through that drags us down. 

My writer friends and I have spent entire weekends discussing process and managed to not scribble a word.  Locked away in a Kentucky convent, we talk schedules (and keeping to them), editing and triumphing writer’s block.  We make promises.  We set deadlines.  Then we break them all. 

The thing this project has that the others didn’t is one 9-year-old boy waiting to read it. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pirate Booty

Day 188
We might have been upset about the missed email but we weren’t.  Our morning unexpectedly free because of a cancelled lacrosse game (and some crossed wires), we find ourselves at an unexplored park and an entire day with nothing to do.

Let’s be clear.  This never happens.  Activities fight for calendar space in our house.  Soccer.  Baseball.  Lacrosse.  Cub Scouts.  Book Club.  Piano.  An entire day with no plans is a gift, one we plan to take all day to unwrap.   

The boys run ahead of us to the woods and race down the trodden path to the river where they friend a family geocaching.  By the time, Chaz and I catch up, the other parents and six boys are digging underneath piles of dried leaves and peering into hallowed tree trunks in search of hidden treasure. 

For those who may not know, geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt that uses GPS technology to help you find a “cache” that contains pirate booty.  (Not really pirate booty, but that’s what we always hope to find.)  Treasure seekers may take something from the cache after they add something to it.  A small notebook logs the names and dates of the successful treasure hunters.

“Found it!” one of the boys yells, waving a white plastic box in the air.  A hush falls as they gather round the cache to see what’s inside: a pink beaded bracelet, a broken rhinestone watch and a packet of girly stickers.  The boys groan in unison.  

With all the craziness life throws at us, we often forget the simple pleasure of spending the day together as a family.  It’s these days we’ll remember most.   What we won’t?  Who batted first or who brought the after-game snacks. 

I’ve written before on showering kindness on your family.  We give the very best parts of ourselves to work or school and leave the grumpy dregs to the people we love most.  Not today.

Today we made memories filled with adventure, high fives, hugs and a box filled with girly booty.    

Monday, April 16, 2012

You Like Dogs? I Like Dogs.

Day 187
The boys, Lucky and I bound across the street to talk to our new neighbors, a family with two boys, and invite them over.  They won’t move in until the end of the school year but are spending nights and weekends painting and cleaning.        

“Want to play?” A. asks their youngest. 

The boy looks to his mom who she nods her head yes before the two run across the street to our house and dash upstairs to A.’s room.  It’s that easy.  For kids, seeing the world from the same height is enough to start and maintain a long, lasting friendship. 

With adults, it’s not so easy. 

For the last several weeks, I’ve been resisting a Linked In invitation.  I don’t know how I feel about it.  I don’t know the person sending the invitation very well and don’t understand why she’d send it to me in the first place.     

We see the world from the same height but I feel at my age I may need something more solid to build a relationship on.  Or do we?  Maybe sharing only one or two common interests is enough.  Maybe I need to be more open-minded and accept a chance at finding more than I expect.   

I’ve seen this woman walking her dogs in the neighborhood and I think maybe I’ve been rash in my judgment.  I mean, she likes dogs…I like dogs.  I log in and click “accept.”   

Half Way There

Day 186
When the boys and I started our year of random kindness, we didn’t know what to expect.  I thought it might naturally lose steam and we’d fizzle out in a few weeks time.  (Just ask my husband about all my other “great ideas” that somehow never took off.) 

Now at the six-month mark, no one is more surprised than me that we’re still cooking with gas and chugging along.  I only wish we’d started earlier.    

Our top five lessons learned in no particular order are (drum roll, please):

1.     The boys and I can choose to be kind even if we’re having a bad day.      
2.     When you’re kind to a bully, you take away his or her power.
3.     It doesn’t matter what motivates one to commit a random act of kindness, only that he or she does. 
4.     Reactions of complete strangers push us to find new and fun ways to incorporate kindness.  Nothing is funnier than a dropped jaw.  
5.     Sometimes it’s harder to be nice to a brother than a total stranger.

An added bonus to the last six months are the stories people share with us about all of their random acts of kindness.  From giving pizza to a homeless man to helping a stranger find his way, the list goes on and on and on. 

So, let’s mark the halfway point in a big way.  Commit a random act of kindness and leave your story in the comment section.  This blog isn’t (or shouldn’t) only be about me and my boys.  It’s also about you.    

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Weeds or Wishes?

Day 185
“Do wishes you make come true?” My kindergartener asks as he inhales in preparation to send white dandelion fluff sailing across the sidewalk.  His cheeks fill with air and he blows out in one long breath. 

“Some do.  What did you wish for?”

“I can’t tell you or it won’t come true.” 

I nod in understanding.  “Don’t tell me then because I want it to.”

A. takes my hand and we continue our walk home from school in silence for several sidewalk squares.  “Mom?  It’s candy.  I wished for candy.” 

“Oh.  That’s a good wish.” 

We walk quietly for a few more squares thinking of chocolate Cadbury eggs (me) and Skittles (him).  

“”Mom, if you tell someone your dreams does it mean they won’t come true?”   

“No.  Wishes are different than dreams.  I think the more people you tell your dreams to the more people you have who help you reach them.  Think about how I’m always working on writing a book but haven’t managed to do it yet.  And Nanny and Pop Pop always tell me I can do it?   I like that.  It’s nice to have people believe you can when you sometimes forget.” 

A. considers this. 

“So wishes and dreams are family?” 


We round the corner onto our street.  F. runs ahead happily jumping on EVERY SINGLE SIDEWALK CRACK and laughing manically.  Figures, sometimes he is a pain in my backside.   

“Look!” A. points to a yard covered in weeds.  “It’s a whole yard of wishes!”

What could we accomplish if we all shared a child’s perspective and saw only the possibilities and not the weeds? 

Look Local

Day 184
Maybe it’s because I’ve been baking all week and have cakes on the brain that I remember to contact the silent auction chair at church.  I always think to contact her for the annual event but it slips off my mind. 

All the money raised during the auction stays local and helps neighbors in our larger community.  I like that.  I’m all about helping people across the globe too but it seems those who live closest to us often get overlooked.  Shoes for inner-city kids might not seem as exiting as building a well in Africa. 

News flash.  Need is need, whatever it looks like.  

Tennis, Anyone?

Day 183
With warmer weather teasing to stay around a while, hibernating neighbors peek out from cracked doors and step into the sunshine.  Besides reacquainting ourselves with long lost neighbors, spring means nights jam-packed with sports.  Tonight was a go-go-go of soccer and baseball practice and lots of shuttling between both to get boys to where they needed to be. 

Picking up A. from the YMCA, we motor back to the baseball field to catch the last of I.’s baseball practice.  To get to the diamond, we follow the fence line of the tennis courts.  As we walk, a bright yellow ball flies over the high chain link fence and lands near our feet.  Oh, I think, that’s what happens when I play tennis, too.  Instinctively, I bend over, pick it up and toss it back. 

Which makes me think: aren’t so many random acts of kindness simply instinctive reactions?  You open a door.  You pick up something that someone’s dropped and race to give it back to him.  You smile at a stranger. 

All these small cumulative gestures by strangers build us up.  Then why does it only take one random act of meanness to knock us down? 

Driving down I-71 with the boys, a woman, clearly agitated, swears and gestures at me.  This isn’t today but last week and I’m still thinking of her red, angry face. 

I have no idea what could have upset her.  I wasn’t straddling the yellow line or poking along 10 miles under the speed limit.  All the random acts of kindness shown to me by strangers that day are null and void.  This lady’s rampage has emptied the bank. 

Which brings me to this, as powerful as a kind gesture is in building someone up, hate tears people down.  More importantly, the hateful exchanges push out all the lovely ones in your recent memory. 

So, people, what do you think?  Let’s all tennis, shall we?  LOVE! 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

French Fry Love Affair

Day 182
I have a love-hate relationship with McDonald’s fries.  I hate the fact that they are so bad for you because I love them sooooo much. 

From halfway down the block I see the red paper container but it’s my husband who pulls over unprompted to retrieve the trash.  I'm sorry to report that my mind didn’t immediately go to “We should pick it up” but instead “Humm, I could eat some fries.”

I blame the addicting combination of grease and salt for my moment of confusion. 

In that split second of French fry frenzy, my husband knew what to do.  Isn’t the best definition of a spouse one that fills in the blanks?  One that knows what you need before you verbalize it to the world, even if it’s only a picking up some trash on the side of the road to check off our family’s daily random act of kindness? 

What teamwork!  He’s the ying to my yang!  We should celebrate!

With some fries.    

Cakes for Kids

Day 181
“Mom?  Mom?”  I intentionally ignore A. because I’m measuring out cups of powdered sugar and don’t want to lose count.  I slide the straight edge of the knife across the cup to level and add it to the mixing bowl. 

“Mom?  Mom, do you hear me? Mom?”  Yes, I want to tell him, it’s hard not to. 

“And?”  There’s always an “and.”  I turn and give him my full attention.   

“Can I crack the eggs?”  He grins.  Next to quality control taste testing on my cake batter, egg cracking ranks far up the list on his favorite things to do in the kitchen. 

I stall.  Usually I don’t mind, but today is crazy.  For the last several Easters, I’ve baked cakes for charity.  The first year, my husband returned from work to find 34 bunny cakes scattered across every available counter, desk and table space on the first floor of our house. 

“Um, Ash?” He asked.   

“What can I say?  Bunnies multiply.”  

Just like the bunnies, each year, “Cakes for the Cure” continues to grow. 

Past cakes helped fund my participation in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk, a 60-mile stroll that helps fund breast cancer research and treatment.  For those unfamiliar with the event, it’s a life-changing weekend shaped by the unwavering strength of women.  If you or someone you know isn’t affected by breast cancer, I’d argue with one in eight women diagnosed in her lifetime, just wait.  For me, it’s a women’s issue, but I digress.

I’m not doing the walk this year (but will again in 2013) so the boys and I decide to change Easter baking from “Cakes for the Cure” to “Cakes for Kids” and donate to Cincinnati Children’s.  For the past several months, a writer friend’s toddler son has been battling brain cancer.  I can't imagine.  The mother of three boys, I absolutely can't imagine.  He’s receiving excellent care at Children’s.

Today we’re baking and decorating a dozen.  Tomorrow we’ll bake and decorate another dozen.

“And you’ll be very careful?” I ask.  This is rhetoric.  For me.  Asking a 5-year-old boy to be careful cracking eggs is like asking it to snow on Christmas in Southland.  It ain’t going to happen unless Santa intervenes. 

I compromise and set A. up with a glass 2-cup measuring bowl and three eggs.  “Into the bowl,” I point knowing it will be easier to pick shells from here than through cake batter. 

“I’m the best egg cracker ever!” He says as he slams the delicate shell of the egg against the glass and causes the egg to splatter across the counter in a translucent gooey stream.

“Yes, yes, you are.” I agree and return to measuring sugar. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Homeless Hello

Day 180
The first time I saw him riding his bike around town I assumed he was a teen with questionable fashion taste.  He wears a faded yellow windbreaker and plastic bread bags on his hands.  It took several sightings to realize he was homeless. 

To be clear, I’ve encountered several homeless folks in my life.  When living in DC, I passed a handful everyday on my walk to work.  But here, in Montgomery, I’ve never seen even one.

He stands in the entrance of our local Kroger counting change.  I watch three people walk past him.  Each keeps his head down and diverts his eyes away from the man.  Horrible, I think.   

I step through the automatic door and walk straight towards him. 

“Hi!” I give him my friendliest smile.  

He looks up uncertainly. 

“How’s your day going?” I push on.   

His shoulders stiffen and he nods.  He’s clearly uncomfortable and I’m feeling a little crazy.  I choose to abort.   

“Well, have a great rest of your day!” I say and march happily into the grocery store. 

He smiles with a puzzled expression.  I just know he’s thinking, “What in the hell just happened?”   

First Grade Rock Star

Day 179
First grade boys are funny little people. 

For the last several weeks, F.’s talked incessantly about a new girl who will be joining his class. Her family moved to Cincinnati to be closer to her doctors at Cincinnati Children’s.  I don’t know any specifics only that her treatment ended recently and her doctors agree it’s safe for her to be around other children. 

In F.’s mind, the little girl rivals any rock star.  She got to miss school…for months!  Who but first grade royalty gets to do that? 

“So,” I ask as the boys bound off the bus.  “How was the new girl?” 

F. shrugs. 

“Did you say hello?  Sit next to her?  Help fill her bucket?” That morning we’d brainstormed ideas on how to welcome a new friend to class and ways to make her first day better.

“Not really.”  After spending weeks anticipating her arrival, it seems he spent much of the day pretending she didn’t exist.  My outgoing boy seems to have come down with a case of shy. 

“Did you at least throw her a smile?” 

F. considers.  “I helped her pass out crates.” 

It’s a start. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Coming Through!

Day 178
Ian and I join the growing crowd of ticket holders that cluster at the doors.  An older woman wearing a black vest and Aronoff Center nametag guards the entrance.  “Seating begins in ten minutes,” she says pressing her back against the heavy wood door to steady herself against the onslaught of excited theater lovers.   

It’s the last day of spring break and Ian has begged me to “do something fun” as if I’ve been making him sit at his desk and study flash cards for the past week instead of planning day trips and inviting friends over to play.   

That’s how we got here.  Half-price tickets in hand, we wait.  And wait. 

“How many more minutes?”  Ian asks. 

“The lady just said ten.” 

Ian turns my wrist and looks at my watch.  “How many minutes now?” 


With each passing minute, people press themselves closer to the door.  Ian tugs on my hand to pull me into the crowd. 

“We have assigned seats.  Let them go ahead.  The play won’t start without us.”   

Ian reluctantly agrees and steps back out of the crowd. 

I take his hand in mine and settle in to wait another eight minutes.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Candy Man

Day 176

I turn and see F. uncurl his fingers and drop several small, foil-wrapped kisses into his friend’s hand.  Hold the phone.  “F?  Are you giving away candy?” 

The boys are dismantling plastic eggs from the morning’s egg hunt and categorizing their loot.  Stacked piles of taffy, tootsie rolls and gum lay precariously in each of their laps.   

“But Sam likes them more than me,” explains the boy I’ve seen pick up candy from the ground and eat it.

“OK, well.”  I’m tough-tied as what to say.  “That was really….kind.”    

Oh, This May Be a Bad Idea

Day 175
In the beginning of the school year, F. talked endlessly about his new friend’s love of Mario Bros. and their shared strategy on reaching World 6.  Six months later, the friendship continues.  The two eat lunch together, play at recess and trade all levels of knowledge on Pokomon. 

Never once in all this time does F. mention that his friend wears braces on his legs.  He simply doesn’t see them.  It doesn’t define his friend or the friendship that the two share. 
Don’t you love how kids only see the important stuff? 

It’s spring break and we’re housebound with the new puppy so we invite the boy over to play.  I figure they’ll stay in the yard or walk Lucky down the sidewalk. 

I should know by now that boys make their own plans. 

“Mommm,” F. yells from the yard.  “We’re heading to the creek!” 

My boys love to explore the creek that runs along the length of our yard and twists its way to Montgomery Park.  There are drops and ditches, a half-mile obstacle of animal holes and fallen branches. 

My mind jumps ahead to all the things that might go wrong.  Oh, this may be a bad idea, I think.  My kids know every slope of the woods, what to avoid, where to slow down.  This little boy doesn’t.  Plus, what if he gets hurt?  With his braces, is he physically capable? 

“Have you ever done creek exploring?” I stall. 

“No!  Never!”  He grins.  He's clearly thrilled with the idea which oddly doesn’t make me feel better. 

I remember what a college friend who volunteered her summers at a camp for kids with cancer once said: Kids just want to feel normal.

It’s a great lesson for us all to learn and it shouldn’t apply only to kids.  Those who might be perceived as different want to be included.  We all have our struggles.  It’s just the ones on the outside are easier to see.

“Mommmmm, we’ll stay together,” F. says in an exasperated tone. 

“And help each other if someone needs help,” I’m still not 100-percent certain but trust my oldest to keep a watchful eye.  

“Just be extra careful,” I say and find myself a nice spot of grass near the creek’s mouth within earshot of any trouble. 

An hour later, I slip on my rubber boots and go hunting for them.  My nerves can’t take it.  I find my three boys, this boy and two others playing a pick-up game of hockey on a near-by driveway.  The boys successfully navigated their way through the mud (which covers their pants) and water (which wets their shoes) to the lower side of the creek.  They did it.  Each grins wildly.

When we drop the friend at home an hour later, I walk in to explain to the mom about the mud. 

“I hope it’s OK.  They got a little dirty.” 

“It’s fine,” she interrupts.  “He doesn’t get to do boy stuff like that often.”

She’s not upset.  Instead she thanks me.  For letting her son run wild in the woods and ruin his pants.  Just like any other boy.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Here, Doggie, Doggie

 Day 174
From inside the house I see a beagle sniffing around our front yard.  I step to the right of the large picture window to see if I can spy his owner. 

“Stray dog!” I yell.  The boys’ eyes never leave the television screen. 

“Shoes, shoes, shoes…”  I mutter before finding one beneath the table and another lying next to the door.  I slip them on and race out the front door towards the dog..and its startled owner. 

“Oh, I…” I stammer.  “I didn’t see a leash and thought the dog was loose.” 

She holds up the hard plastic of her retractable leash.  An entire front yard separates the dog from his owner. 

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” I laugh.  “I just thought…”

“No,” she interrupts.  “Thanks!” 

We wave and both turn back towards our mornings. 

Bucky the Dinosaur Cowboy

Day 173
The boys sit attentively as “Bucky” the dinosaur cowboy tells the story of how he discovered two T-Rexes on his South Dakota ranch.  The reenactment is part of the Dinosphere exhibit at the nationally renowned Indianapolis Children’s Museum.  For dinosaur-loving kids like mine, it’s heaven on earth. 

Bucky invites everyone to stay and “take a look around” before wrapping up and heading to the break room.  Ian bends over and starts collecting the square pieces of carpet he and the other kids sat on during the performance. 

“Those need to stay here,” I say without thinking.  When I look up, I see a museum staffer picking up and stacking carpet squares on the other side of the room. 

I touch Ian lightly on the shoulder, “Go ahead,” I correct.  “You had it the whole time.”