On Choice

Ever had a miscarriage? Imagine being investigated during that time. Imagine, after already going through hell, being interrogated about what happened or what’s happening as it’s happening.

If you think, “Oh yes, that would be awful, but they’d know I didn’t intend it on purpose because I wanted the baby so badly,” you’d better hope and pray that you didn’t go for a run or carry your two-year-old up a flight of stairs before you started miscarrying, because maybe these activities would be considered as purposefully inducing a miscarriage. There are women who’ve been investigated in different states across our country, some of whom are in jail right now, for actions like this.

If you don’t think that laws can be used against you like this, that’s because it just hasn’t happened to you, likely because you have privilege enough that it may never. I’m like you, so far, anyways, in this regard. But laws have been used to criminalize what women go through when pregnant or losing a pregnancy for quite a while now. This happens today, even without the atrocious laws that are currently in the news in place, (which also means if this is just reaching you now, that’s because you’ve just been privileged enough not to have it affect you yet).

I know a woman who is anti-choice who had a D&C when she was five months pregnant because her baby died in utero. Laws like the ones in the news that are being passed in certain states may affect her if that should happen again. Should she live in a certain state, she will be investigated; her doctor will not be able to perform the D&C until talking with police. She could die while waiting for that to be sorted. (If you think, “Well, she won’t die during that time,” then you just haven’t had a medically scary miscarriage or pregnancy. Because time matters in any medical situation and she can most definitely die). If you’ve had a D&C and you’re anti-choice, you’d better know that your beliefs are in conflict currently. You’re not special and you don’t get to decide when the police get to investigate you if the laws are on the books. An investigation can lead to jail time really quickly, especially if you can’t post bail.

I know a couple who is vehemently anti-choice who had their babies using IVF. They claim their Catholicism forces them to take a stand on abortion, though Catholicism has been wrong on lots in the past (and in the present) and wouldn’t that same Catholicism prevent their babies from being here at all since it was IVF that helped them get here? Their beliefs are in conflict, but they’ve doubled down on their anti-choice stance. I don’t think they’ve considered, however: If embryos are given full legal status as fully born alive humans, what about all of the embryos being stored in IVF offices across the country? If you’re anti-choice and have stored embryos that you’re not sure what to do with (or that you’ve destroyed or donated to science), you’re in major conflict. And you, too, could be punished should these laws take effect.

I’m asking that if you’re anti-choice, you think about it. About what your preconceived notions are that have led you here. About what you do and don’t understand about women’s bodies, about science, about your own body, about medical decisions affecting women, about situations you may have never experienced, about situations you may never have to experience, about some time when you’ve needed medical care for something and how it would feel if you didn’t get to choose, about how confusing the choices can be because life is confusing.

The fact remains: If you don’t want to have an abortion, don’t have one. I carried two fetuses that my doctors told me were going to die just so I could see if my body could do its thing on its own, without intervention, because I’m so afraid of procedures. But, if ever my life had been in imminent danger, you’d better believe that I would have arrived to that D&C on time and with bells on. Luckily, I was able to make that choice with my doctor, and without any other legal concerns to think about.

Lastly, if you can’t develop empathy enough to understand that you shouldn’t get to decide what choices women need to have, I don’t know what to say other than there are thousands of kids across the United States alone that end up homeless or in jail every year when they age out of our foster care system. Many of them have had trauma far beyond what any child should ever experience and the fact that their future is as frustratingly bleak as their past is unconscionable. I don’t know if I should ask you to help them because they need major empathy and I’m not sure you’ve got that to give, but you should do something. Support them. Give them a job. Pay for their education. Pay for their medical bills. If you’re going to claim you care so much about human life that you want to affect a women’s right to her own life, then care about all of the fully living humans we have here together with us on this planet who have nothing and who need everything.

Here’s a website where you can search some of the foster care children who are in need of homes. Maybe you can start there somehow and leave women alone: https://www.adoptuskids.org/meet-the-children/search-for-children/search

There are also foster care homes across the country that operate similarly to orphanages of the past. They call them homes because it sounds better, but there are no major differences in what you’d see in an orphanage. See what you can donate. Experience life other than what you’ve known firsthand. It’ll open your mind in infinite ways.

Star Student

If no one’s coming through in offering you words of encouragement about yourself, don’t despair. You may need to take the task into your own hands, however.

On May 9th, my baby determined, upon counsel from himself, that he is, in fact, a Star Student. He took this sheet out of his classroom’s kindergarten bin and filled it out for himself by himself. He pinned it up on our refrigerator where it will stay until school’s out.

Do what you gotta do to make it through May: believing in yourself works.

What’s the saying? “The best emperors crown themselves.” (Also, probably: the craziest, most narcissistic, but that’s neither here nor there when you’re 5🤞.)

Finally, if you’re a mother and there’s something your heart desires for Mother’s Day: You must tell them what you want and/or you must plan it for yourself. It’s just the way it is. Take the proverbial Star Student sheet out of the bin and fill it out for yourself. Pin it up on the fridge for all to see. You’ve gotta make it happen. If you really, really want something a certain way, then they (whomever) really, really have to know what it is. Clearly. Like, spoken and also texted so that you can show proof, if needed (it’s almost always needed).

My children are not babies anymore and so, it’s funny, I don’t really care what I do for Mother’s Day. I don’t need sleep like I used to want to sell my soul for and I don’t need a shower like everyone else probably wanted to sell their souls for me to take. We’re in the golden years: no babies, pre-teens. Star Students, all of us.

Happy May. Ask for what you’d like, make what you want happen. I’ll pin it up on my fridge for you if you need.

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Anne FlavinComment
Eventually

My 10-year-old spoke with me for a solid 30 minutes tonight about the book he’s reading, a book he’s chosen to read just for fun; we talked about the plot, the innuendos, the characters, how much he loves it, how he doesn’t want to finish it quickly because then he won’t have the story to look forward to anymore. And then I told him about the book I’m reading and, honest to god, I was just writing poems about how I couldn’t close the door while I went to the bathroom and now we are having conversations about whether fiction or memoir moves us more. How in the world, right?

He laid down as we finished talking and stretched his giant body, which meant that his feet almost touched my nose. If you’re in the rut of babydom and you haven’t showered a real shower in a few, know that you have lots of fun — nerd-book fun is still fun — to look forward to.

It just keeps getting better, honestly. I mean, you never really sleep again — as far as I can see on the horizon, anyways — but you can talk with someone who’s generally reasonable (unless they’re asking for more time on the damn Xbox) and it’s worlds away from the days when you’ve narrated your day entirely to a human who’s just taking it all in.

“Now, you and I are going to go and get groceries because Mommy keeps the house moving....” What? You didn’t passive-aggressively talk to your babies? Well, how are they ever going to be able to understand all of the nuance in literature?

I kid. Enjoy what you’ve got. Ferris was right, “Life moves pretty fast.” (Like, not at 2am when your baby’s crying with an ear ache, but eventually).

Eventually.

Eventually they write notes like this to people they love because they know that words matter in letters and books and all the ways possible.

Eventually they become even more than you might have wished for when you shut the door real quick just to take a 2-minute break in the bathroom.

It’s worth it to give what you’ve got; you get it all back eventually. Somehow. Eventually. 

Love that he inlcudes his last name when he’s signing off to his grandmother.  😂

Love that he inlcudes his last name when he’s signing off to his grandmother.  😂

Anne FlavinComment
Should You Go to the Opera?

Weeks ago, a text flew around about whether I wanted in on a Girls’ Night Out. It was a dinner and opera night in the city — Cinderella at the Lyric.

“Yes!” so many of us texted back. “Sounds fun! Thanks so much for putting it all together!” The honest truth somedays is that anything new sounds exciting and worthwhile even if a little voice in the back of your brain is piping up with, “Do you really want to go to the opera?”

I’ve only been to the opera once, while in college. I don’t remember much about it other than it felt long. I remember it feeling special, though, too. But I haven’t had the desire to see an opera again, not the way I regularly have a soulful need for a broadway musical. I was young, though, at the time of that last opera, and I thought, when I said yes to this opera date, that surely I’ve matured a lot since the first time around; we evolve, right?

Well, here we were — seven girlfriends who’d left our children at home for a night of culture. We found our seats in the balcony section and settled in as the lights dimmed. We hurriedly typed out our last messages on our phones and then turned them off; we were, now, at the opera, as I’m sure we had relayed to everyone in our last texts because nothing makes you sound more like you’re somebody than saying that you’re at the opera. 

We somebodies lasted two acts. In the intermission, I hesitantly explained that I’d been up since 5am, had worked all day, and though I loved what I had heard and had enjoyed the experience thus far, I was ready to conclude my night. It was Cinderella, after all, and I knew how that ended, I explained. I couldn’t read the rest of the group, though; were they digging it?

I was interested in it, the way you are in a show for a couple of seconds before you flip the channel. It wasn’t holding me, and it certainly wasn’t going to hold me for the next two acts.

I said what my plan was for the rest of the night and waited. Turns out, half an opera and being in our pajamas before midnight was what everyone in the group wanted, though most, like me, were afraid to admit it. Everyone hedged, “Well, if it’s ok with everyone, I might just head out with you,” the first woman offered until every last one admitted laughingly that while we enjoyed the experience, we were all done with it; our culture level, as low as it was, had been reached.

So, do I think you should go to the opera? Well, of course, you do you. If you’ve never been, I’d still say go. Why? Because you’ll understand references and have background knowledge and when someone says, “Have you ever been to the opera?” You can say, “Indeed.”

But if you’re at all hesitant? Then, maybe, this review is for you: Operas are long. Like, so very long. I felt like I was listening to my young children tell a story, in song. Can you picture that? That long. And, I know I’m giving up the level of culture I have, the point at which my evolution as a cultured human has stopped. I’m ok with that. Even though every review I read raved about this opera performance, I think there are more of us out there like me who like it, but are not three-hours-gonna-like-it.

Cinderella took 10 minutes to leave at midnight. I was like, “Drop the damn shoe already and go!” And also, she didn’t drop the shoe. I’m not sure about how that went down because, of course, we left.

I knew I wouldn’t know what they were saying exactly — it’s in French, and then with the operatic annunciation — but they put the words up now on a computerized banner sign high above the stage. It felt like reading subtitles, which I hate. Again, zero culture here. Do I watch or do I read? I’m watching. What are they saying, though? And now I’m reading. It’s too much for me. I like my books in my hands and my shows without printed words.

It’s all very theatery; I could picture these actors backstage. I bet they’re fun in the way that theater people are — extra and energetic. But it felt boring for me on stage. I (gasp) wanted to check my phone. I did not. I was a proper opera goer.

I have not, as I had hoped, matured in the way I might have imagined since I’d last been at the opera.

Though, perhaps I had. That first time I was just as ready to leave, I remember now, but I’d never have done just what I wanted then. I would never have told a group, without knowing where they stood, that I was going to leave. This time, I did.

And, interestingly, we all felt the same; every last one of us didn’t have what it takes to be an opera fan, it turns out. I drove all seven of us home in my minivan and I was asleep by 11pm, which makes me want to aria and, actually, I do understand that that’s not the way to use the word “aria.”

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Anne FlavinComment
Linked

Let me tell you about before this picture:

Sleepless nights with sick children, which made for a cancelled flight; praying; new flights obtained; so much packing; cleaning the house so we come home to a clean house; waking pre-dawn to get to the airport; a delay; while we waited for our plane, our son choked on a bagel and then barfed in my hands, which I was grateful for because he was breathing; rental car issues; so much talking from our kids while we try to figure out logistics, which is its own especially loud ring of hell; an exploded sunblock in a luggage that covered most of what I brought for myself; a toothbrush that fell in the toilet just as I was about to brush my teeth the first night....

All of that and more is what came before this shot that happened organically. Stuff like that (and more!) is what is always before whatever great snapshot you see almost anywhere — at least if you go back long enough in the timeline.

The mess is life. I forget that too often; do you? The mess is not a glitch, but a feature. It can’t be fixed so as never to occur again; it’ll always be there somehow. We clean and we clean, and we should; and we work and we work, and we should because we get to moments like this where it all feels right and good and unmessy. For awhile.

They linked arms of their own accord and stayed that way for long enough that I could snap this shot — a 2019 miracle in the first three days of the year. We were linked behind them. And because we were asleep when the new year came in, I’ll take this as our new year beginning. We get to decide when we want to start anew. We’re the bosses of ourselves.

The good stuff is what powers us through the mess of life in a year — the sleepless nights when a kid is wheezing for air or when one has a headache in her eye for too long, which means that no mother is going back to sleep soundly because that would be impossible.

There’s a moment coming for you if you’re not in the brilliant or even just the ok now. There’s always a next. It may only be a second, though. Nothing lasts forever. But seconds count. They make up a whole new year. Can’t blink, though. And you’ll have to look up from your phone to see it. Usually have to get off the couch to experience it, too.

Thank you for reading here. I’ve got plans for this new year and would be thankful if you’d stick around. Let’s stay linked however we can this year. It’s the best way to get through the mess of life.

Xoxo,

Annie

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Anne FlavinComment
Hope

I paid money to have my house cleaned. I will skimp anywhere to be able to do that; it gives me that much joy. To walk in my home and have it smell like nothing: a real gift. I clean before she actually cleans, so all of the garbage is out, the toys are put away, the stuff of life is where it goes when you take a break from living in it all.

I’m lying in my warm bed and no kids are in it this morning; they’re one room over discussing the puppy they’re sure Santa is bringing them. I know that one child doesn’t fully believe anymore, though I’m keeping up the charade as we wink and nod at one another. With the littler two there, he does: Hope is contagious and I want to never become immune. I want the same for them.

It’s not sad when they get older for me — not yet anyways, if ever. I like more reasonable people. You get conversations! Discussions! Decent arguments that make me change my mind when I should, date nights with my husband and just one kid — these are all beautiful for me.

Baby believes that a puppy will arrive Christmas morning and, really, — why wouldn’t Baby believe that? He knows who he is. The most oft-repeated phrase in Baby’s life is probably: “Give it to him.”

But Baby is not getting a puppy. I promise you that as much as they currently want the puppy, they’ll be thrilled Christmas morning even still. Why do I know this?

Because I’ve been laying the groundwork for them so that they’re not devastated when there’s no puppy in our family room on Christmas morning: “Santa can’t really bring a puppy... also, we travel a lot... also, I don’t want to deal with a puppy and it’s hard for you to pick up your socks so we’re not there yet...”.

And my daughter said this, which I’m going to put in quotes, but it was a monologue and I didn’t write it down as she spoke, so I’m doing my best at paraphrasing, but I’m missing some. She said:

“I know we probably won’t get it, but could you stop saying we probably won’t? Because I don’t even care if I do, but I like to ask and think about crazy things all month. This is the fun to me. Santa always surprises me with stuff I like better than what I even asked for and that — plus the time I get to picture outrageous stuff he might bring me — is the whole fun for me.”

Honestly? All that she said — same for me. I picture scenarios where I’m reading a portion of the book I’ve written in a room full of people who are feeling it and also not related to me and where I’ve taken the trip to Italy and we’ve just finished dinner in some small Italian town and where did the kids wander off to? Oh, there they are getting gelato across the plaza. Look how grown they are. Is that Italian flirting with my daughter?

I’m here for outrageous imaginings.

Living in the moment? Brilliant, wonderful, necessary and our children can teach us how. But there’s not enough props given to living in our imaginations. Reality starts somewhere and, often, it’s in our games of pretend. I know this because I’m listening to them talk to each other and no one is fighting and, like I said, my sheets are clean and I think I dreamt this scene before. And that’s a small scenario, but our whole trip to Ireland last year started directly in Imaginary Land before I ended up with my husband, our kids, my mom, and a table full of Irish cousins at a table on the second floor of a restaurant on a narrow street in Ireland.

Everything good starts somewhere.

Santa is not bringing a puppy this year, but I am listening to them talk puppy names and whether it’ll come from a shelter or a breeder and where it’ll sleep and who will do what to care for it and this is a moment that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have a little girl who knows the stuff and reminds me not to interrupt hope. Because there’s a place for that and we should make room for it forever.

These are the gifts we get as they grow.


(Want to be with me when that book I haven’t yet written comes out? Stay in touch and share with anyone who may like to read. Thank you. xoxo). 

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Anne Flavin Comment
🙏

If you’ve got your way to pray figured out, you’re so good, truly. This is for the rest of us, and for you, too, when you’re in a weird place again. (Also, if you’re not a pray-er: Hi, great to meet you and welcome to the club).

The fastest and best way I’ve learned how to pray is... I’ll give you an example. Like tonight, when we’ve all just gotten over one sickness, or are trying to, and kids start vomiting whack-a-mole style. One’s up, one’s down, up, down, up, up, down, down.

That should be enough to start talking to whatever god/goodness you believe in, but it’s not for me.

When I get interested in a higher power is when, with the night going as it is, my washing machine decides to surprise me on when it would like to perform its rinse cycle.

I am the best pray-er I know how to be at this moment: middle of the night, vomit-cleaning since 10pm, listening for every sound that will foretell the next stage of our night. Hail Mary.

I start repeating anything I can remember and also pleading, until it turns into a conversation with, “Sorry I haven’t been around, but I know you’re not petty so help me out: I only come when I’m really desperate because I’m not going to waste any time. Also, have I thanked you for the people who invented running water and bleach and Gatorade and buckets? Big thanks there.”

We put all of our Christmas decorations up last weekend and then a painter that I like had availability and I had been wanting to get this room painted and so all of the things in that room are disbursed into different areas of our home and it’s a mess — literally and figuratively.

But it’s quiet right now. This instant as I’m typing. I know from experience it won’t be by the time I hit publish. An ear ache that wrecked me last night is gone without me even praying or getting on antibiotics, but I’m not convinced it’ll stay away so I should add that next time I start praying, or just get into a doctor when I can... the vast majority of desperate prayers come in the middle of the night and from pain, I’d wager. Or while waiting for a doctor. Desperation can make you holy.

I was called for more blankets. Remember that cold feeling when you felt sick and how it took five blankets to get you warm? I don’t know how to pray, but when I want to believe in god, I think god is the five blankets tucking you in, not caring that she just had to shower off from when you puked on her. And she wouldn’t care if you talked rudely on the way home from school because she knows the whole of who you are: from her, you came. Of her, you are. With you, she is. Even at 2am. Parenthood is holy, too.

Fix my washer at least until the puke stops.

Amen.

//

I wrote this the other night. It was the kind of night in parenthood and in life where you find out what you’ve got, in terms of strength, in you. We’ve all had a couple, I’m sure, during sicknesses, NICU stays, labor, watching loved ones take their last breaths, finishing something that must be done by morning.

They woke after last night to clean beds from a washer that either rallied or that I set wrong to begin with.

I’m awake now, in the middle of a new night, for no reason at all with the thousands of others of you who are, too. When it’s not chaos, it’s so peaceful. And amen to that.

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Anne FlavinComment
Baby

Hi, meet our Baby. He’s there, blending in with the winter night sky. Everyone loves Baby; everyone loves everyone’s Baby everywhere the world over. I know this because I married a Baby.

When you have the Baby, you know so much more than you did when you had the First. When Baby comes, it feels easy; this is part of the reason everyone loves Baby so much. The First greased the skids so Baby could just slide right in and fit. You weren’t so worried anymore so you could just let yourself brine in the love and comfort of Baby.

Baby never fell asleep on anything but a human for the first year of his life. Now, someone (like, literally anyone who is in the home at the time) rubs his arm for 5 minutes and Baby is off to dreamland— many times in someone else’s bed, but he transfers: well, he transfers if we don’t fall asleep first before moving him. Babies transfer anywhere easily.

Babies can hang. Babies are dreams.

Except, except.... Babies are every bit of extra. Babies know things babies shouldn’t know. Remember the Firsts? How nervous they were/are of doing something wrong? Of getting in trouble? Babies are brave. Babies don’t care so much. My First politely and privately ASKED ME WHAT THE F WORD WAS IN SECOND GRADE. Baby knew and properly used the f word very young (too young) while putting on his wet swimsuit this summer. “F@ck it,” he said, as he left the one stuck side of his suit to show his bum because he couldn’t pull it up. “What did you say?” I asked. “Nothing,” he answered as he ran out the door to join the others. Babies have to keep up.

While Babies want to be good, they also know that being funny is sometimes even better than being good. Laughing is fun and Babies love a laugh — even better if they made the joke that got the laugh. Babies have senses of humor the minute they’re in our arms. They have to to survive.

Babies have a twinkle in their eyes: like, all of them. Every single Baby I know has a glint of Baby in their eye and it would behoove us all to notice that glint and be ready.

So why is our Baby here raking leaves in the dark? Because Baby is responsible for the first phone call home I’ve ever had from a school. Also responsible for: first - and second and third - emergency room visits; first butterfly bandage attempt (successful); first phone call to 911 (we found him before the police came — he was hiding); and first, youngest ding-dong-ditch of our family. Babies are remarkable. And can I tell you? I’m really watching, honest to goodness I am. This is Baby when I’m doing my very best. Granted, it’s Third Baby Best, but it’s my best even still.

Yesterday, I received a call that Baby was crawling under bus seats to get to the back of the bus even when he was asked not to do so.  So, first, gross. Have you ever seen a bus floor? He’s crawling on that to get to the back of the bus and then coming home and sitting in everyone’s laps, as Babies always do, in those same clothes? Yuck. And second? You know they asked Baby to stop before they called me at home, but Babies give zero f$cks. And third: When I hung up the phone from The Call, I turned and looked, the way good mothers do, at Baby. I said nothing. And he said, “Would that have been about the bus?” with the Baby glint in his eye.

After he and I spoke, he was sent out to rake the yard. He didn’t finish, but said he would today — but even the weather knows about Babies. It snowed this morning so there’s no more raking now. Fall is gone, winter has come, and Baby’s bum better stay in his seat on the bus. What will happen if it doesn’t? I don’t know. We don’t know. We’ve never had Baby before.

But I know I’m in good company: with the Baby of my friend who would like a second ear piercing (she doesn’t even have one ear piercing currently); with the Baby of another friend who blurts out bad words randomly just for the laugh he’s sure to get from his brother’s 10-year-old friends; with the Baby I married who still pulls something Baby amongst his 8 brothers and sisters and gets the laugh.

I never thought birth order mattered very much until my kids came out like they had read every birth order book. Of course, it’s not everything. Baby will learn to keep his butt in his seat and listen to his teachers or he will be raking in the fall and shoveling in the winter. But, he’ll do it with a glint in his eye, while making jokes as he rakes. And you know what he did after he raked a tiny pile of leaves from not even half of our small yard? He jumped in them and laughed because Babies know how to have fun.

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Anne FlavinComment
Scrappy Tennis

We know we are supposed to prepare our children for the world — roots and wings, they say. I agree. And, also, I think we should not prepare them for everything. What I mean is that I think we should teach them how to do things even when they’re unprepared. Most of life, we know this as adults, is about doing things for which we are unprepared, for which we aren’t quite ready. For example, for parents, remember when they let you go home with your first baby? What the hell was that all about? Talk about figuring it out on the fly.

My first baby is the guy in the neon orange shirt. He learned how to play tennis this summer — picked up a racquet for the first time and took lessons. It’s the only thing he hasn’t wanted to do that I asked him to do for me — well, more like the first thing he hasn’t wanted to do that I asked him to do for me; I’m betting on there being plenty more. I asked him just to learn a few things so that he could play with me on vacation someday; these are my dreams, ok? Let me live. I said he had to give it a week before he could quit. I give the option of quitting almost always if their absence won’t affect a team. They should learn when they have to go and suck it up, and they should learn when it’s ok to say, no thanks, this blows, I'm out. We should learn this, too, as grown-ups, by the way.

He loved tennis this summer. In the mornings, like the basketball practice you saw below, it was an early morning tennis workout off of our garage door. And he can play now - good enough that he can return a ball and he likes it enough to want to beat me. I adore when our kids learn to really hang in some capacity, when I can yell “Don’t choke!” if I hit something good enough that I want him to miss, the way every supportive parent does, right? 😉

Now, though, he wants more — lessons, matches, whatever. But I don’t pay for a sport until they really, really want it. I think the waiting is key to giving them ownership of themselves, their play, their autonomy, their life — and for having them respect the amount of money and time it takes you to get them there. Also, I don’t have to beg kids to go to their own damn classes then — it’s a win-win. Whatever it is is their thing then, not mine. You want to take ballet? Great. Here’s a YouTube girl from whom you can learn. Once you practice so much that I can’t deny you care, then I’ll sign you up. There is almost nothing they can’t learn in its beginning stages from the internet at this time in history - the world is their oyster if you’ve got an internet connection and a chair to use as a barre.

Instead of giving to them every experience and lesson so they can have every experience to see what they like of the world, I say let them learn how to be scrappy. Give them just a little. Make them show you that they want more before you indulge them, if you can indulge them; kids sports are no-joke expensive. We’re all trying to give them what we may not have had, to fill ourselves up through them. It may work for us, but it won’t fill them up. So take it easy. Give them endless love, always, but endless opportunity isn’t necessary or, even, beneficial.

They’ve got to learn resilience somehow. And an easy way to learn that skill, if life has been kind enough to them so far, is through having experiences that aren’t exactly a perfect fit. Resilience lets them know how to hang even when they’re unprepared.

After learning to play this summer, my son hasn’t taken any lessons. He hasn’t really played except with me here and there since August, but he’s wanted to play more and so we found one place that would let him play in a tournament even if he’s not enrolled in lessons. Most of the tennis places won’t let you do that because they like to have all of your money. But we found this place that would let him play in a tournament even though he was the only one participating who isn’t taking lessons currently.

He walked in with his regular old sneakers on to play and he had a racquet that he won this summer from the camp he was in; his racquet is great to him — much better than the hand-me-down one he started with. He had no tennis bag or any of the other accouterments the other players had. He walked onto the court like you’d walk into a bar, except with a tennis racquet in his hand. He has drive, though, and no fear. He has a love of the game, too. And stamina and excitement. He played every point hard — the ones where he was licked from the get-go and the ones where he could win just the same.

We were late to the match. I went to a different location of the building because I didn’t know. He called the place and said we were coming and I was worried he might not get to play the first match at all because tennis doesn’t mess. He felt really bad. I asked him if he was anxious because he seemed nervous and he said, “What’s anxious? I’m sad that we’re late because I don’t want to miss even one match because we paid and I want to get every match in.”

He had to collect himself before he checked in and then he learned how the draw was set and made sure he hadn’t forfeited a game because we were late. He figured it out; he handled it. It’s amazing what any of them are capable of when they want it for themselves and when we, as parents, don’t have a clue and, therefore, can’t help them.

So there he is the kid in the orange who, for now, plays tennis at the park in his sneakers and who played tennis in a tournament in those same sneakers with a racquet he won. He still has major privilege, of course — the ability to have a court that he can ride his bike to that’s nice and clean and safe, parents who are excited for him to play, etc., etc..

But he didn’t win the tournament or anything, though that would be the ending you’d maybe hope to read. That would be the great story that everyone would want to share, I suppose. That’s not this story, though, and that’s not what’s important to me or, I think, to you with your kids, anyways. We just want to know: Can they hang? Can they handle the world? Can they get rattled and still rally? Collect themselves and sign in? Do they know how to be scrappy and get it done?

They can and do if we let them. But it’s like anything: we have to give them so many opportunities to practice. Only practice gets us there. Those are the skills, though, I’m convinced. Those are the ones that got us through when we had them in our arms that first night at home and it was 2am and no one was awake but us and this tiny, new human who was looking at us like, “What now?”, and we were like, “Not really sure, but I’ll just keep trying,” and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since, which is why we’re a little tired. We snuggled them in close, told them that we loved them, lied to them that we knew what we were doing, and then figured it all out on the fly. We got it done, though. Mine are old enough now where I get to see glimpses of them being able to get it done, too, when needed, and that’s a large part of our whole job with them in the end.

And that’s what I thought about at my kid’s first tennis tournament.

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Anne FlavinComment
Their Own Boat

This is my oldest. He wakes up by his alarm clock every morning, gets dressed, brushes his teeth, comes in to my bedroom to give me a kiss, and then heads outside for his morning work out. If you ever feel like a loser as a parent, just think of how I feel in my bed, tucked under the covers, while my 4th grader goes out for a workout at 7:00 AM. Some days, if it’s raining, he asks me to go and work out so that he can shoot in the gym while I workout (read: take a steam). The work ethic he has has only been inside of my body, to his degree, I think, when he was inside of my body as a fetus.

The point of this, though, is that he hardly liked sports a year ago. He liked everything a little, but nothing that much. My husband and I just thought he wasn’t sporty, which was fine by us, but then we remembered back to when we were younger. Both of us played sports into high school and we realized — we hadn’t even touched a ball in some of the things we went on to be good at at the ages our kids are now. Everything starts younger so you, as a parent, can feel like you’re missing it all if you don’t sign your kids up for a league when they’re 7. I’m just offering an opinion that is this: If they don’t care, you shouldn’t care. There are lots of ways and times to become good at something. I think we’d do well to let them be, to let them come into their own on their own time, at their own capacity, when they’re ready, and to save our money instead of spending it on every sport activity for them. I know, I know — we’re worried that if we wait, then everyone will be better than them if they decide to come in later. And I’ll admit, everyone was better than him when he started last year. But that’s not true now. Because kids change and grow in all sorts of unimaginable ways that we can’t fathom until they’re doing it. Would he have worked as hard if he’d been forced? I don’t think so. That’s never how it works.

He doesn’t come inside until he’s done his whole workout: lay-ups, shots from around the made-up key he has in his head, which must be swooshed for them to count, and then 5 made-free-throws in a row. I watch out the window sometimes because everything our kids - especially our firsts - do is amazing. It’s so pathetic and absolutely essential for us to be somewhat enamored by them.

If you’re worried that they’re missing the boat on something that they don’t care about, maybe consider that that’s not their boat for now. I know that it feels like we have to push them in everything they try at ever-younger ages; it feels like that’s what the world wants of us and of them. Maybe, take a pass. Our job, sometimes, is to sit with them and let them wait for their boat. Who knows when it might come? Who knows what it might look like? I have one kid who thinks his boat is saying bad words, making jokes, and ding-dong ditching so I’m not saying they don’t need a little direction every now and again. I’m just saying that sometimes we, too, need it from them. We need to know when to back off and trust them. They might surprise you. I’m surprised every single morning when I look out my bathroom window.

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Anne FlavinComment