Sunday, October 30, 2011

Season of Giving

One of the greatest pleasures of being an outsider is noticing things that others have come to expect and, at times, take for granted.

We went to lunch up the street, at the bakery/cafe our friends own. I am currently having a mad love affair with their pumpkin bisque and will be sad to see it gone. But, like all things, pumpkin bisque has a season, and I will joyfully consume it until it gives way to whatever comes next.

While we were waiting for our food, a middle-aged man came in and ordered something to go. He sat down at the table behind ours, and a few minutes later, walked over handed CS something and said, "This is for you to have on Halloween--so you'll be seen and won't get hit by a car. I've been hit. It's not fun." It was a battery-operated flashlight/lightstick with a cord so that he can wear it and have his hands free for the candy he's anxiously looking forward to. A small gift, but one so thoughtful and unexpected that it felt, for a moment, like Christmas.

It gave me enough pause that I took a minute to reflect on the unexpected gifts that are so easily overlooked.

My child, for all of his talents, is not a natural athlete. He decided he wanted to play hockey despite the fact that his first time on the ice was, for all intents and purposes, his first time skating. I worry. I worry that he'll be slow to learn, that his coaches and teammates will be impatient and unyielding, that he'll decide eventually not to pick himself up and keep going. And I would understand all of these, because all too often it is easiest and most efficient to celebrate talent and let the rest go.

My fears, so far, have been unfounded. Instead of those reproaches, he has been welcomed to the ice and the team. It is an established fact that he's not ready to play--he's slow, doesn't know the game, doesn't move with the same fluidity as the rest of the kids. But he keeps working at it. From the first session a month ago until last night's first game, he's made huge improvements in his skating ability, and he's worked harder at it that I would ever have imagined. But he still has a very long way to go. His head coach and the rest of the coaching staff, have been one of those gifts. Coach Jess said to me last week, "I was talking with the other coaches last week, and we believe he's part of our team for a reason. We're glad he's with us, because we have things to teach each other."

Last night was the first game of the season. I had prepared my boy for sitting on the bench during the game, and suggested he use the time to watch and learn and ask questions. His dad and I sat in the stands, watching a great hockey game and then, in the second period, they put him in. He wobbled out onto the ice, looking like a fawn just discovering it's newly unfolding legs. We were sitting next to his best friend's mom, and the two of us started cheering and clapping as he made his way onto the ice. And then the rest of parents in the stands, our team and theirs, joined us. He was so intent on finding his position and being aware of the game that he never heard us cheering. But I did, and it was a gift that nurtured and reminded me that it is all too easy to over look what matters the most.

There are people for whom this kind of giving is a natural as breathing. The friend who randomly sends me texts saying "I love you"; the one who finds her life's purpose in helping others out of the mire of addicition; the one who overthinks everything for fear of being insensitive or thoughtless to others when in fact she is one of the most caring, loving people I've had the privilege to meet; and the one who quietly takes care of everyone else despite the fact that his life, lately, has been one massive hurdle after another.

It is all too easy to take each of them, and each of us, for granted. Sometimes, it takes a wobbly boy on skates, and a token of caring to remind us. And that reminder, too, is a gift.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


It must be fall, because we just came home from the corn maze and have scattered pumpkins across our front porch steps.

We've been waiting for the perfect fall weekend, one of those glorious days when the sun shines, the temperature hovers in the mid-50's, and there is just the slightest breeze crisping the air. Unfortunately, this fall's glory days have limited themselves to mid-week, when we're at school, at scouts, at hockey, or just too tired to move. So we went today, and although the temperature remained in the low 50's, the clouds refused to budge and the air still has a hint of damp from last night's rain.

The paths through the maze were muddy and, truth told, without the sun adding some dimension it eventually all just starts to look like corn.

There is something mournful about this time of year. We celebrate the harvest, and Halloween, and prepare for those things called "The Holidays" as if to distract ourselves from the quickly emptying tree branches and the chill that becomes more pronounced each day.

My garden is full of black walnuts; my front yard is filled with spiky chestnuts, both from trees planted multiple generations of homeowners ago. The squirrels scramble to gather as many as they can before the inevitable snows fall and every morning, I must remind my son to wear a sweatshirt despite his 9-year-old-boy protestations that it isn't really cold outside.

Time itself somehow becomes more precious, and I try to hoard it by refusing to spend it on any but the most needful pursuits. Like corn mazes and choosing the right pumpkins for the front porch. Excluding my family, I spend less time with the people I most love and this feeds the malaise of the season, making it all to easy to overlook the gift of being in a time and place that is home.

And then the silliest, most inconsequential things remind me that place and belonging are matters of choice, and that I have chosen well.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


We were supposed to be at Scout camp today. My little one is finally a Webelo, and we were going to our first overnight at the big Scout camp. We should be doing things like archery, shooting BB guns, and eating hobo dinners. Tonight, we would sit around the campfire singing goofy songs and eating s'mores before crashing in our tent. Yes, tent.

Instead, it is 45 degrees and raining outside. Between the weather and that fact that we've both been sick with respiratory ick, well, the tent we've borrowed will remain safely in the back of my car.

Sure, it's turned fall pretty quickly out there. I have a pot of onion soup simmering, the yard needs raking, and I would really enjoy a nap right about now. That said, I tend to think of this as back to school season--the real fall (for me) comes when we hit the corn mazes, make things out of pumpkins and drink cider in its various forms (warm, cold, spiced, straight, spiked).

Back to school season, on the other hand, includes things like new pencils, bus schedules, and bought v home-packed lunches. This year, it also means that CS gets to learn how to play an instrument (the cello), join the snow sports club (snowboard), and he's decided to try a new sport (ice hockey even though he's never played, and doesn't know how to skate).

Of these, the most unexpected was his decision to try hockey.

Before the move here, he had zero interest in any organized sport. Or disorganized sport either, if I'm honest. His willingness to try new things was limited to TV programs, and all too often his fear of failure kept him from participating in new things.

I don't know what it is about his place, but something has empowered this kid. I first noticed it last year, when he joined the chess club. I assumed he'd go once or twice and then drop out. He surprised me by sticking with it. Not only did he stay with it, but he went back week after week and never won a game. I'd pick him up after school, ask how he did, and he'd say things like "I lost, but next week I'm going to try a different move and see if it goes better." Come spring, he wanted to play lacrosse and I said "only if you commit to the whole season." He's a terrible player, but loves the sport and is looking forward to going back next year. Before coming here, he would've walked away without even a backward glance.

In education we call this perseverance. Perseverance is marked by a willingness to keep trying, even when we might fail, and the ability to look at failure and make plans to keep going. I don't know what changed, but I do know that each time he tries something new and goes back for more; each time he fails but gets back up and keeps going, I lose my breath to a rush of gratitude.

So here we are, at the opening volley of another school year. There are new friends to make, a cello to play, hockey equipment to beg, borrow, steal, or (if we must) buy. Lunches to pack, buses to catch, Iroquois longhouses to build. There will be joy, and loss, and another chance to camp out with the Webelos. We don't get to predict what comes next, and don't get to control much outside of our own tiny selves, but we will persevere.

I'm a little disappointed that we're not camping tonight, but mostly I'm looking forward to onion soup and a chance to cuddle with my kid while we watch Ghostbusters. Tomorrow is soon enough for cello practice and hockey equipment.