Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mini-Me

My twelve-year-old is growing his hair out again. Both boys go through this periodically; part of it is, I think, a desire to be like the other boys in school who have long hair. Another part of it is, I'm sure, laziness. They just don't want to be bothered getting a haircut. Usually, it gets so long that they can't manage to make it look "right" or it's still wet when they have to go out into the cold to catch the bus. That's when they'll concede that maybe it's time for a trim.

Because he is still young and fresh-faced, when Ben's hair gets long, all of my friends (who knew me as a child) say, "he could be your clone!" or "oh wow, no mistaking whose kid he is!". This week, I'm getting that a lot. And I don't mind at all because, as I say, he is young and fresh-faced, two attributes none of us fully appreciate until we lose them. When I look at Ben, I see my younger self.

Today, going through some old pictures, I found a photo of Ben with long hair from another grow-out period. But for the first time, I tried to picture him with facial hair. And I kinda hated it. Not because it made me recall my East-European roots, the ones that vexed me as a teenager because I was hairier than my brother. I hated it because for a moment, I was forcing myself to fast-forward to a time when he will no longer be my sweet, cuddly baby, the one with porcelain skin and pink cheeks. And that time is not so far off.

I also realized that I do not always appreciate the beauty and wonder of youth that my kids are, fleetingly, wrapped in right now. Like my own early years, theirs will be gone very soon. Before I know it, they will move away and begin their own lives and I will be left with pictures and regret as I shake my head and wonder where it all went. This line of thinking also forced me to consider that if they're getting older, it means I am too.

None of us like to consider our own mortality, and seeing my childhood self in my kids makes it easy to keep feeling young. But as much as I want to help my kids discover and realize their dreams, I am reminded today that it's also important to strive toward achieving my own. After all, I've got a lot less time to work on it than my kids do. So often, I think, "when the kids are grown in a few years, I'll really be able to get a lot of writing done," or "when they move out, then I can really focus on my goals." But who says I'll still be able and inspired by then? Just as anything is possible for my kids' futures, the same is true for my own, though not in that carefree, ready-to-take-the-world-by-storm way.

While it's an easy excuse to dream about a day down the road when I'll have all the time in the world, before I know it, that time will be here. I can, and plan to, get a lot of writing done between now and then. Besides, if there's any justice in the world, when that time does arrive, it will be split between writing and playing with grandchildren. Fresh-faced, beautiful grandchildren who look a lot like my sons.

Just not for at least ten years, I hope.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reveling in the Journey

My family loves weekends. Partly because we don't have to get up early, run out the door and work all day, but partly because most of the time, we don't plan anything for weekends. They're our downtime days, an opportunity to be together and do something spur of the moment if we feel like it, or not.

Sometimes I worry that we are wasting these opportunities. Friends post pictures of ski trips, Broadway shows they've gone to see, art museum jaunts and the like. And usually all we do is sit around and read, draw, play board games, watch movies or football and maybe go out to eat.

In this goal-obsessed world, where my kids are under constant pressure in school and sports, I really want them to have down time. Yes, it's important to set goals and have dreams. But we also need time to dream them. I'm a writer, which means my family will often find me staring off into space, thinking about a character or possible plot for a story, maybe working out a tricky scene in my mind. All they see is that glazed, half-tired look on my face, but it is in these moments, or in the quiet minutes after waking up, just before everything gets going for the day, that I do a lot of my most important work.

After two years of working on a novel, I finally got it polished enough that I felt ready to send out query letters to agents today. It is both exciting and nerve-wracking, this process, even as I take the next step in the journey of bringing my book to the rest of the world. I have a dear friend who has been supporting me in this project since I began, and when I told her about the query letters going out, she wanted to celebrate.

"Not yet," I told her. "I have friends who got agents but were never able to sell their books. Let's wait a bit."

She was having none of it.

"NO! That's not the point! The point is the journey--we need to celebrate this part of the journey. We don't know where it will go, but we do know where you have been. And that, my friend, is what we need to celebrate!"

She is right, of course. And it got me thinking about my kids, toiling away on their journey toward college and whatever will come after. I am always harping on about how they need to study hard, keep their grades up if they want to stay in this club or on that team, how much those things will help them when they are looking at colleges in a couple of years. They need to be planning for the future. But now I wonder if I am taking away their joy of being in those clubs and having those team experiences because I am focusing on the goal of the journey rather than the journey itself.

In the big scheme of things, it's all a journey. When my boys look back on these short years at home, in proportion to how many more years they'll live away from us, will they feel deprived when they think of all the shows, trips or events we didn't plan or take or see? Or will they remember these mundane days of lounging happily? Will they breathe a little more deeply at the memory of relaxing in pajamas at home with their family, cooking up the dreams they will hopefully achieve once they do leave home and head out on their own?

I can't really say, but I hope they'll recall these do-nothing days with a smile, that they'll one day appreciate the importance of resting in the midst of all the rushing. And I hope they'll continue to give themselves down time to think about their journeys, and maybe play a game of Monopoly with their own kids when they do. Yes, it's important to make the most of our time. But sometimes, that means leaving time empty so life can seep into it, filling us with the wonder and pleasure of now.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Weight Training

When Ben joined the track team, I was super excited about how much he loves the sport and how little he minds practicing outside in all kinds of weather. But there was another perk that I hadn't anticipated: he comes home famished.

Some might say, "Um, he's a pre-teen boy. Aren't they hungry all the time?" But the answer in Ben's case is no. While he has an adventurous palate and a love of food, his appetite is not what I would call 'voracious'. In fact, I would hesitate to call it 'big'. On some days, even 'good' is a stretch.

This would not be too terrible if his metabolism wasn't off the charts. Really, it's ridiculous. If I could bottle that metabolism and sell it, my entire extended family would be financially set for the next three generations. So with that combination, and the fact that Ben has always been active, he's always been thin and it's never been a problem.

Until now.

For the last several months, his doctor has been telling him to eat more. Each visit, she says something about it.

"Are you eating dessert every night like I told you to?"

"Do you like cheeseburgers and milkshakes?"

"Let's see if we gained some weight this time around."

And my personal favorite, 

"Boy, would I love to put some meat on those bones." 

At the most recent visit, after plugging his stats into the computer and plotting it on a graph, the doctor showed us how the growth chart works. 

"The red line shows kids that are heavier than average. The blue line shows kids who are right where they should be for their height and age. And this green line is for kids who could stand to gain a few pounds. That's OK as long as you're gaining along with the line as it goes up. But see here, Ben? You're sort of laying down on the line. We just want to make sure you don't fall off."

I was happy to tell her that he had joined the track team and it had increased his appetite. But my excitement was quickly shot down. 

"Yes, but he's also burning more calories." 

Dang. "But won't he gain more because he's building muscle?" 

"Let's hope," she said.

Now whenever we visit the doctor, we top it off with a trip to Dunkin' Donuts. A couple of Boston cremes for the road, and Ben is grinning all the way home.

It's a bit of a silly problem to have, a kid that you have to push to gain weight, eat more, fill with calories. I'm thankful that he's healthy, hopeful that he'll still be tall enough to prevent him from having a complex, and building my own will power by avoiding the donuts that are slated (appropriately) for him. 

Now that we're running together on weekends, I have different hopes for each of us: that he will gain weight, and that I will slim down. And the holiday break coming up means we'll be running together every day for two weeks straight.  I admit to not having an ├╝ber grasp of weight and calories, carbs versus protein, and all that athletic jargon that explains how the whole weight thing works. Add to that my poor math skills, and I'm blissfully ignorant enough to think that we may both end up getting just what we need.