2

It’s a Bling Spring Thing

Gabe's Personal Motto

“It’s so hot!”

My 5-year-old, Gabe flopped into the back row of our minivan, arms splayed dramatically across his car seat.

“Whew! I need to cool down!!” He stripped off his dark blue DINOSAURS RULE t-shirt to reveal the fuchsia t-shirt he had chosen that morning. His deliberations had almost cost us an on-time arrival to school, since he’d had tangerine, lime, and sky blue to choose from as well.

After stretching every inch of his lanky torso, he smiled gloriously until he caught a look of himself in the reviewer mirror. In an instant, he collapsed, shrinking into himself.

“Oh…”

“Gabe, what’s wrong, buddy?” I was accustomed to the whiplash mood changes that characterized the preschool set, but this was out of character…even for him.

“Jasmine said I looked weird because I had pink on.”

“Well you tell that little b-“

Wait! Was I really about to say that to a 5 year old…about another 5 year old? Nana Bear needs to chill out. Just take a deep breath and be the equanimous parent – not the Equalizer.

“How did that make you feel?”

“Sad,” he sniffed. “It hurt my feelings.”

“Well, Gabe,” Nick shrugged with the all-knowing, world-weariness that characterized the 3rd grade set, “maybe you shouldn’t wear pink to school.”

Parenting fail #574. Who was this kid? Hadn’t we instilled in him unwavering acceptance of anyone who fell a little outside the norm since this was the place he regularly lived?! Had he not worn all manner of clothing on out-of-uniform days with nary a concern for what others thought of him?

There was the 1st grade dashiki shirt and matching pants courtesy his globetrotting aunt, the 2nd grade Hello Kitty shirt he’d worn until its $5 Target stitching fell apart after daily washings, and – his most recent obsession – the bright yellow rainboots that he wore…with shorts.

What happened to the independent thinker who was simultaneously inspiring and impossible? Ignoring Nick’s detour into conformity, I zeroed in on Gabe.

“What did Miss Yeltzer say?”

“Um, she asked Jasmine how she would feel if someone told her she looked weird.”

“And what did she say?”

“She said it would make her sad. And maybe mad after that. Really mad.”

Yes, that described Jasmine perfectly. If there was going to be a future leader of the Queen Bee Society, this kid was it.

Fortunately, Gabe found the Spider Man stickers plastered on the window remarkably fascinating, which gave me a moment to collect my thought.

Do I advocate being:

Revengeful – where he tells Jasmine to find a brush before she comes to school and actually use it?

Resourceful – where he explains that “pink” isn’t really a color, since it doesn’t appear on the electromagnetic spectrum so perhaps she is hallucinating?

Resolute – where he simply states that she’s entitled to her opinion and it isn’t his job to change it?

Or do I just play Free to Be You and Me and call it a day?

I opted for Reflective.

“How does wearing the shirt make you feel?”

“I like it.”

“I like it too!” Oh! Hello, Olivia. You’re in the car as well, aren’t you? I knew that…really, I did.

“Thank you, Olivia. Why do you like it, Gabe?”

“Because it’s bright and it make me feel happy.”

Olivia, our budding chanteuse, took this as her cue to launch into the pitch-talk, up-to-11, 3-year-old version of “Happy.”

Because I’m happy, clap along if you feel like a room without a tooth
Because I’m happy, clap along if you feel like happiness is a fruit.
Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Happy (repeat and don’t fade…ever.)

“So Gabe,” I shouted over Olivia’s record-skip singing, “that’s all that matters. Do you think you look good?”

“I think I look FABULOUS!”

I see we’re back to arms-flung-over-the-head voguing. It’s good to have you back, Gabe. We air high-fived, Nick gave a restrained thumbs-up, and Olivia – finally – took a break from her Pharrell homage to agree.

“Hey!” Her eyes got that Norma-Desmond-ready-for-my-closeup look that defined her AHA moments. “WE BOTH LIKE PINK!”

Why are my children so dramatic?

“And that is perfectly OK,” I underscored. “Some people are going to make fun of you for how you look, maybe even who you are.” I flashed back to my own grade school experiences – the dark face in a sea of white, the daily teasing, the constant trips made by parents made to the principal’s office, the weekly lectures from teachers about tolerance, inclusion and Jesus’ teachings…this was Catholic school after all. But that was my baggage to carry, not theirs. They’d be footloose and fancy free for as long as I could protect them.

“You are special. You are strong and no one is ever going to take that away from you.”

OK…skating a little to close to Stuart Smalley and The Help, but it’s the best I’ve got.

“Can I get an Amen!?”

A whoop of Amen’s filled the car, and I patted myself on the back for another self-esteem crisis averted.

“Tomorrow I’m going to wear my sparkle blue headband and sparkle blue nail polish!”

“And you’re gonna look great, sweetie.” I met his smile in the mirror, both of us grinning like fools. “Right, Nick,” I prodded.

He shook his head, laughing to himself before reaching back to grab Gabe’s foot affectionately. “Yeah, that’ll look awesome, buddy.”

“And I’m going to wear my headband, too!” Cue Sunset Boulevard flared nostrils in 3…2…1-

“WE’RE GONNA TO BE TWINS!”

No, Olivia. Not actually twins. That was a concept we’d have to work on. But what she did know – what they all did – was that we stood up for each other.

And no one – and nothing – was ever going to change that.

0

Look Ma! No Hands!

352

“It’s 3:59. Are we still going to basketball?”

Nick continues to drag a stick across the dirt in our backyard. He’s ignoring my question. It’s the 4th time I’ve asked in as many minutes.

“I love you, Nana,” Gabe chimes in, to reinforce his preferred son status.

“Thank you, Gabe. But I’m in the middle of talking to Nick right now.”

“OK, Nana. I like your shirt.” Yes, Gabe. And I appreciate your ability to charm. That will come in handy when you’re older.

At 4:04 I give up. By the time we pack into the car and drive to the park district, Nick’s class will be half over. Even at a mere $10 for the season, it still feels wasteful to miss a class.

“So we’re skipping today, are we?”

Still no response as he shrugs and meets Gabe on the play castle beside our magnolia tree.

“I don’t appreciate not getting an answer. It’s rude. How many times – “ I have to stop myself. I can feel the criticisms building, just waiting for their chance to curtail Nick’s burgeoning sense of self.

Walk away. Just walk away.

I hear the voice of Olivia’s teacher in my mind. How many times have I walked into her classroom at the end of the day and heard Ms. Georgia advise the kids to disengage? Surely after teaching toddlers for 25 years, she must have some special insight into conflict resolution…

From the kitchen window I watch Nick and Gabe point to an airplane passing overhead. Gabe giggles; Nick makes some odd flapping gesture with his arms. Gabe giggles again.

My eldest scrambles over the structure and into the tree, hooking his legs over a branch as he dangles upside down. I marvel at his core strength as he starts swinging his body to and fro, arms up hit the branch, then back to give Gabe a “high ten”.

“Faster, Nick! Go faster.”

He is the picture of effortless grace…until the momentum proves too much and he lands on his head in the dirt.

I am in motion before I am consciously aware of it, taking the stairs in the mudroom two-by-two, nearly tripping in my haste.

Then I stop.

Nick has pushed himself upright, shaking his head. His brother sits beside him rubbing his back.

“You OK, Nick? Do you need some ice?”

Nick doesn’t respond, but absentmindedly pats Gabe’s arm. He finally stands, then works his way back into position – first one leg, then the other, over the branch before he slowly unfurls his body.

“Good job, Nick,” Gabe encourages. He scans the backyard, settling on an over-sized green ball and rolls it towards the tree.

“Here, Nick! You catch, then throw it to me!”

The two brothers spend the next half hour channeling their inner circus performers – Nick still swinging upside down; Gabe finding balls of varying size with which to challenge Nick’s agility.

This is childhood – the beauty of self-directed, unrestricted play.

As much as Nick enjoys learning the perfect layup, he also needs this – time to experiment and explore. To fall, get up, and try again.

The time will come when he will want to leave this house, to be independent from his siblings.
From us.

But for now, he is here.
He is happy.
And that’s all that matters.

1

What Do I Believe?

family

I was invited to answer a question – what do I believe – for a magazine I have written for.

The answer fills the pages of this blog.

***********************************

I believe in family – however it is defined.

It is an act of faith…and forgiveness. A bond tested – Oh Lord, is it tested! – and renewed.

It is an expression of humility, devotion, acceptance.

And Love.
Fierce.
Unconditional.

It is the space between you and me.
That makes us complete.