Monday, April 29, 2013

Soccer - an Update

A few days ago, I was riffing on Connor's terrible soccer team and pronouncing my expertise at rooting for terrible teams. Well, apparently my snark is all the team needed. Last Saturday's score? 6 - 5 - with Connor's team in the lead. That 5 for the other team includes one goal scored by Connor's team. That 6 for Connor's team lacks a goal that Connor came within inches of making (DOH!). The other teams 5 also excludes a second goal that Connor's team almost scored on itself - on a breakaway, no less. At the last moment, a team member caught up to the runaway team member and kicked the ball to the side, avoiding the almost certain goal.

Here is what my untrained eye noticed.

1. It's easier to not have 15 goals scored against your team if you focus on kicking the ball to the side of the field when you're not on your goal side, rather than always playing in the center. The boys seem all over executing that lesson.

2. Even when your kid's team wins a very exciting game, soccer is still very boring to someone who grew up rooting for baseball. I suspect the inverse is true for people who grew up rooting for a soccer team, and now find themselves watching little league.

3. Popcorn is a great, nut-free, post-game snack. It was our turn to bring snack, and it was a huge hit.

4. If you leave the jug of lemonade you made for the game in the refrigerator, it is very difficult to serve at the end of the game. Luckily, I noticed the missing jug at halftime, and Ed saved the day by running to a nearby grocery store and snagging new lemonade. We now have A LOT of lemonade in our home. This pleases Connor.

5. Maybe, just maybe, having grandparents in town is what we need for all of Spring, since Connor's baseball and soccer team won. Coincidence? I don't think so. Clearly, my parents are the lucky talon.

Action shot!

I have no idea what's going on, either.
So...same time next week, Mom and Dad?


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tunnel Slides

I do not like tunnel slides. I feel like I always get bruised in them by ramming into a wall. I don't like the feeling of not being able to escape.

So when Connor first tried to lure me down a tunnel slide, probably about 6 years ago, I said "No. My bottom is too big. It will get stuck.". Noting the seriousness of such a situation, both of my children have spent their lives agreeing that I should not attempt a tunnel slide.

Many times on the playground, they have said "don't ask Mommy! Her bottom will get stuck.". Many a mother on the playground has looked at me and started to defend my bottom, thinking my children were being extremely rude. I would always look at them and say "I hate those things. I believe there is a good chance my bottom will get stuck. I do not go on tunnel slides."

Today, we were at Chuck-E-Cheese and Helen wanted to crawl through the tunnels. Feeling it was the lesser of all evils surrounding me, I joined her. When we got to the slide, Helen reminded me that my bottom might get stuck.

"Yes, Helen, that would be a problem. Maybe I should just crawl back down the other way."

And then, in a burst of intellectual energy, Helen said "wait, Mom, turn around and try and stick your bottom just a little way down. I'll let you know if it looks like it'll get stuck."

I performed the maneuver. By this time, Connor had joined us. He and Helen pondered the situation seriously, and finally pronounced that they thought there was a pretty good chance I could go down the slide without my bottom getting stuck.

And then Helen helpfully said "Don't worry, Mom. If you get stuck, Connor and I will come down behind you and shove you out!"

Thankfully, no children had to push my bottom down the slide!


Monday, April 22, 2013


The sports teams I have rooted intensely for include the Kansas State University Wildcats, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Kansas City Royals, and the Washington Nationals. I tell you about those first three so you can truly know that I know losing in sports. I have lived 0-for-Autumn, an uncanny number of first round play-off losses, and "mathematically eliminated" from the August. I understand when someone talks about "next year's high draft spot" they are displaying a fierce sense of optimism - which inevitably follows a coach's tears on the news.

Because I have rooted for these teams, I also know how sweet a turnaround can be. When my beloved Wildcats finally beat those Cornhuskers, I didn't stop smiling for a week. I have been known to tell people, as they mock me for my hometown teams, that the joy of the turnaround makes it all worthwhile. I'm not actually sure I believe it, but there is a certain amount of glory when your (horrible) team is over-performing and everyone who sees you makes note of it. They want to share just a teeny bit of your excitement.

Last Fall, Connor played soccer for the first time. Judging by the score and the extra man that nearly always got to play, Connor's team was awful. They might have scored fewer than 5 goals the whole season. It was almost a blessing when Connor broke his arm and we no longer had to sit on the sidelines. I was having fun messing around with my camera, but I could see it was starting to get to Connor.

I know losing, and this losing was bad.

Spring season, the boys picked up right where they left off. Only now, rather than mostly taking it in stride, they seem to be a little upset about the situation. One parent complimented her son and he retorted "how can even say good-job when we lost 15 - 0"? I was never more thankful for my own non-complimenting policy / very specific complimenting policy. I could very sincerely say to Connor "I noticed when you stuck with the ball and kept trying to push it toward the goal!".

Parents, now, were also starting to get annoyed that the talent wasn't leveled a little better. The coach of the other team from Connor's school actually came up to me and started apologizing about the game, but I just smiled and said "Connor gets over these things pretty quickly. These things just happen." That is because I have a strict policy of not criticizing volunteer coaches. I have no idea what it takes to coach a soccer team. I'm going to do my best to not make it more difficult. Also, it's not this guy's fault Connor's team stinks, and he's always SUPER NICE to Connor at practice, as is Connor's own coach.

But last Saturday, Connor missed the game due to two conflicts. I emailed a friend with a son on the team and she emailed back that she thought they won, though she wasn't certain! It must have at least been close enough that the boys' were in it, and must have scored several times.

At first, I was really excited for our team, hoping that it portended great things in the future. Connor would love for his team to win - or even score! But then I immediately thought - oh man, that team must be worse than our team. Poor kids. That must be awful. And I realized I was wishing the other team would've won.

I guess some of us are just supposed to root for losers. But did you hear the Royals were in first place?


Friday, April 19, 2013

{this moment}

From SouleMama: {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Share your own moment in the comments at

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Helenspeak: Dinner and New Words

Helen is, by far, a better eater than Connor. She's SLOW, but she generally likes food more than Connor, is more willing to try new things, and only refuses to eat a small number of things (including drinking milk, but that's a two year battle that was given up quite a while ago at this point).

Recently, Helen has decided she doesn't like shrimp. This is a problem, given that we eat shrimp at least once a week in our house. A couple of nights ago, she stared sullenly at her plate and exclaimed:



Monday, April 15, 2013

Poisson de Avril

In France, the First of April is marked by children trying to stick fish on others. Our next au pair got the first joke in, by sending these fish.

Later in the week, Helen made a river and a pond for the fish to enjoy.

I have a feeling we'll all be wearing fish next April!


Friday, April 12, 2013

{this moment}

From SouleMama: {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Share your own moment in the comments at

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Important Numbers

Yesterday, Helen's friend G came over for a visit. She came into my office and requested I write her phone number down on a piece of paper. She even told me what numbers to write, and she was correct! At present, nobody is admitting to teaching her this little fact, but it's probably good she knows it. 

When I was finished writing, Helen handed the paper to her friend and said "Here, take this. That way, when you're older and don't know how to call me, you can remind yourself." I died of cute. 

That afternoon, G's mom reported to me that she had a history of throwing away his little tidbits of artwork and scribbles. Aware of this history, G was protecting the number with his life and told her she could never throw it away. NEVER!

We both died of cute.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Testing and Context

A lot of attention has been paid to race and standardized tests - including the SAT and ACT. Probably my favorite book touching on the subject is A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League. At issue is that some students - typically those who are neither white nor Asian, systemically perform worse not because they are less intelligent or less able to learn, but because the tests are so loaded with cultural context that students of other races lack the context to answer some of the questions. Because my own children are white and attend school in an affluent school district, I accept that they are advantaged on tests, which is not to say this is right or good. However, even my over-privileged children will find themselves guessing at times.

Last week, Connor's robust vocabulary included the word "thickens". These words are words given to all students, intending to stretch their vocabulary. The children do not have to learn to spell the words, but they need to be able to fill-in-the-blank to demonstrate understanding of the word.

After several weeks of perfect scores, Connor finally got stumped. The sentence?

[BLANK] thickens when cooked.

  • oatmeal
  • water
  • bacon
Connor eliminated water right away, knowing that you don't cook water and if you did, it would simply boil, not become thicker.

He's both a picky eater and a vegetarian - so doesn't eat either oatmeal or bacon.

He took a stab with bacon (a food he has literally never seen), and was incorrect.

Context. It matters more than you might think. And no, I did not appeal the issue to the teacher.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Cherry Blossom Bike Ride

Yesterday, we started what I hope will become an annual tradition - we rode bikes down to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms and have a picnic. The mostly downhill ride is about 6.2 miles long - by far Connor's longest bike ride. He was tired by the time we stopped for breakfast, but he didn't complain at all, which made the ride pretty fun (although it was on the chilly side, to be sure).

Ed rode lead with Helen on the trailer bike, followed by Connor, and me taking the rear. I wish I were a talented enough rider to snap photos and ride at the same time, because I could share a photo of Helen waving to onlookers as if she was in a parade. Maybe next year, she'll help more with the pedaling!

The blossoms are a few weeks late at this point, but we did catch some in bloom. We also had the benefit of several roads being closed for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, which made crossing streets a lot easier than it otherwise would have been.

Bravo, Connor! Same time next year, I hope.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Lessons

It's not the lesson we hoped Connor would be learning in second grade, but it's an important lesson all the same. Stay by your partner's side; Let people know you love them; Live a life of compassion; and All living things will one day, die.

This afternoon, parents of students in Connor's class received news that the primary teacher's husband had died. The email noted that news was spreading fast and advised parents to take the opportunity to talk to their children in the evening, so they weren't surprised at school the next day. I was going up to school in a few minutes to pick Connor up anyway, and everyone in the office (faculty, staff, parents) were grief-stricken.

So sad.

For the school auction, the children all wrote essays about what their life would be like in 20 years. I volunteered to scan the essays, and because I have a very slow scanner, I was able to read through all of them during my task. The teacher contributed an essay and the whole thing is about travel she hopes to be doing with her husband. When I first read it, I was nervous - knowing that her husband was ill, but now my heart just breaks in two.

Life is so precious.

Tonight, after we came home from the baseball game and a visit to a new yogurt store, got jammies on and whizzed through homework, Ed held Connor as I told him the news. Connor sobbed. And we took a moment to talk about what a wonderful thing his teacher had done, being by her husband for so much time, even though she missed her class dearly. We talked about how we can send a note to the teacher and if we don't know what to say, we can just write "I love you". We even talked about how even though we did not know her husband, we are still sad for her, because we love her so much. We briefly covered the ground that people sometimes die after being sick for a long time, hoping to avoid anxiety over the next minor illness that Ed or I happen to contract.

May today's rains bring tomorrow's beautiful flowers,

Updated April 5:
P.S. This morning, Connor wrote his teacher an "I Love You Mrs. [name]" in a rainbow of colors. On the back, he drew these flowers.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

April Fools Day

Connor has been looking forward to April Fool's Day since last April Fool's, and I do believe he got the first trick of the day in. As I wandered from bed to bathroom he shouted "Mom, come quick! There's a raccoon."

Admittedly, my first reaction was "who cares?" but because he was so excited about it, I ran out (even though I knew I wasn't going to be able to see anything because I hadn't yet put my contact in my eye).

And that's when Connor started laughing.

Helen was not as subtle in her tricking. She kept begging me to sit next to her at breakfast. I needed to get out of the house though, so I wasn't going to eat breakfast. Ed intervened and told me the kids were really hoping I'd join them, so I told them I'd have a glass of juice. It was then that Helen came back into the bathroom and said:

Mom - the place next to me at the table is reserved for you.
It is April Fool's Day.
Do not look down when you sit, there are no tricks going on here.

She then shrieked with delight when I sat on the whoopee cushion she'd been gifted as a party favor the day before.

I did get one trick in on the little people.

When I came home from work I said:

Bad news. We're only having one thing for dinner. Spinach.

Their faces dropped, and then they both started laughing - and claiming they hadn't been tricked for a minute.

Happy April Fool's Day,

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Economists often talk about utility in the sense of trying to understand how much a person prefers one thing to another. For example, I have higher utility when I eat a tart apple (which I love) than when I eat a mushy apple (which I do not like). Because utility is measuring a set of preferences within an individual, one cannot compare utilities across individuals. How much happiness I get out of something cannot be compared with how much happiness you get out of something. It's just not measurable.

In another light, one could simply think about how another person's happiness cannot diminish my own happiness (there is no known set of happiness that we all draw from, and when it's used up, it's gone). Think about that for a minute. There is enough happiness for everyone.

Having children can be a great reminder of this. The first crocus spotted by Helen at Lubber Run park brings shrieks of joy, and each wave of this growing season has washed in more excitement. The snow drops defy the snow that is falling. The daffodils march right through the dirt and pop out right on schedule, even as cold days threaten. In fact, it seems like only the cherry blossoms are hanging onto their winter rest right now - but that'll change in the coming days. These, too, will make Helen laugh when she's sees them. Her happiness just grows and grows. It's like she knows what so many of us are striving to learn - that there is enough happiness for everyone. And, the crocus she spotted will be magical to the next spotter. That spotter's find is not diminished by the first spotter's find, just as the magic Helen felt was not diminshed by an earlier hiker in the park.

This year, I'm working hard to live in this moment. What I have learned so far, is that it means I have given up jealousy. There is no need for it, after all. It is not even possible to compare my utility and your utility. The things you have will make you happy, and I still have all the things I need for my own happiness. On top of that, I am happy for your happiness.

It's actually easy to give up jealousy. The harder job is teaching Helen and Connor about utility. It's not fair and accusations of one child being treated better than another abound. And so I tell them the parable again - about the workers who came last getting paid the same as the workers who came first. It's not fair isn't the way to look at it at all. Each worker was given exactly what they were promised. If some worked less, it doesn't matter. It didn't change at all the first worker receiving exactly what they were promised.

I have never been so free, or happy. Join me.


Monday, April 1, 2013

7th Annual Egg Hunt is in the Books

Since Connor was 1.5 years old, my friend Elaine P. and I have been co-hosting an egg hunt. I supply the plastic eggs filled with candy; she supplies the bunny cake. The hunt was born out of an evening knitting session, where we were tossing around ideas for celebrating Easter. Ever since my house was almost leveled by toddlers running rampant through it finding eggs because it was too cold to hide them outside, it's become an event that cancels for rain. We needn't have worried this year. We had perfect weather.

At this point, Connor and Helen have become responsible for filling the eggs and hiding the eggs. This doesn't diminish their enthusiasm for the event at all. In fact, on Sunday morning, Connor was bragging to me about some of the eggs that he hid in very tricky places but that nobody found except him. Ya think?

We started out with spoon races and an egg roll. It was about this time that I remembered how last year I had decided to make wooden eggs officially marking the hunt, akin to the White House eggs. Unfortunately, it was too late to carry through with that plan. There's always next year, though.

Here's how to have an egg hunt.

First, the eggs must be hidden. We are super lucky to have a neighbor that lets us use her yard for hiding eggs, because there's no way I could keep the hunters out of the eggs if they weren't in a fenced off area.

Pause for dancing!

The spoon race.

Look at that egg fly off the spoon!
And I had missed this the first time, but Connor is actually cheering for Helen in this photo. She's determined not to drop it, as you can see from her face. More importantly, she's taken the important step of actually holding the egg with her free hand for added protection.

Followed by the egg roll - second to none, I tell you - even the one taking place today at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!

We had an egg toss - but since I let the kids use hard boiled eggs, it wasn't very funny. Which is probably a good thing, because kids crying with raw egg on them is also not very funny.

And finally, the hunt!

Happy Easter!