Superstitious? Nah (knock wood).

As someone who grew up in a family of all girls, my knowledge of baseball could once be summed up in a few words: Fenway, Yaz and hot dogs.  However, after marrying a small town baseball legend and then spending the past seven years behind the outfield fence watching my son play, I’ve picked up a few things.   I finally remember where the short stop stands, when it’s time for a sacrifice bunt and I’m even starting to be able to recognize a change-up.  But nothing is as important in this storied game as it’s superstitions.

Last week Ben’s 12-year old summer baseball team (coached by Andy) was playing in the Cal Ripken District Tournament, and traditions were in full swing (ba dum bum).  For starters, my house stunk to high heaven with the smell of sweaty boy because they were on a winning streak.  Not making sense?  If your last name is Shumway and the past few games have gone your way then there is no cleaning the uniforms because HEAVEN FORBID you wash the luck out them.  That’s right, socks too (I gag just typing this).  The boys go to bed early the night before the tournament and always, ALWAYS visit the loo before they leave for the game.

It sounds insane, I know.  But superstitions are not to be scoffed at. photo-28

The day of the District Championship game, I had a full day of meetings, nervous energy before the 8pm start, and all the ingredients for my Spicy Blueberry Pie.  Despite the fact that a pie is perhaps the most ridiculously hard-to-eat thing that one could possibly want at a ball field, I placed the warm plate outside the Snack Shack and it was a hit.  Then, Georgia pulled the prize out of her Cracker Jacks – a tiny Louisville Slugger sticker – and stuck it on my arm. Random event or Lady Luck?  You decide.

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The boys after their fourth consecutive District title. I am insanely proud.

As the nail-biter went into extra innings and Ben approached the batters box with two outs in the bottom of the 7th and go-ahead run on second base, I took my place behind the outfield fence.  Doing my best Jedi Mind trick to insure that my boy get a base hit instead of strike out and end the game, I held my breath. When he railed the ball to the gap in right field and two runs came bombing across home plate, we all cheered and FINE, I may have cried a little (read: bawled like a little girl).  And when we got home that night, pride was accompanied by relief that Ben had not only delivered when he needed to but also, I would get to wash their funky uniforms and end the stink once and for all.

As the boys headed to the next round of the tournament the following week, I found myself reaching for not only the Cracker Jack sticker but also the blueberries.  I mean, what if I shunned the superstition and the team lost?  Would it not be MY fault?  As it was, I was going to have to wear a different shirt because of a 20-degree increase in temperature (no superstition is worth Sweaty Betty sporting a long sleeved shirt in 97% humidity) so really, could I possibly take that risk? photo-29

I blame my husband and son for this newfound paranoia.  I still take issue with the “Tournament Stench” but I can sort of understand the (ridiculous) logic.  Unfortunately, the team lost in Game 2 of the State Tournament so I suppose in the end, the sticker and the pie didn’t bring the luck that I had hoped they would.

Obviously, it must have been the long sleeved shirt that sat in my drawer.  Damn.

Do as I say, not as I do, children…

So last night as I was leaving Ben’s 27th baseball game in three days, I was carrying too much and as I stepped over the wooden fence to get to my car, I whacked the top of my left foot on the wooden post.  Hard.

Ummm…ouch.

After a few choice words I limped to my car and cursed myself – literally – for not being more careful.  When I got home (foot throbbing), I noticed that I was bleeding.  Despite the mind-numbing pain, I put a wet paper towel and a bag of frozen peas on it, propped it on a pillow and went to bed.

“I’m fine, right?” I asked Andy.  “You’re totally fine,” he told me, “the fact that it’s bruised and swollen is fine, your foot just needs to heal.”  After 14 years of marriage he’s learned that telling me what I want to hear is always the best course of action.

ImageAfter keeping it elevated today during work, I had decided that I would take it easy, “walk it off” and wait for it to feel better.  There was no way I was going to the ER and DEFINITELY no way I was going to settle for it being really injured, because that would destroy my summer plans.

At tonight’s baseball game I asked for the expert opinion of a friend who’s an oncology nurse but as she was heading to work and even had her scrubs on I figured that I was covered (right?!).  Her raised eyebrows and insistence that I ice it more and “keep an eye on it” made it clear that perhaps I may just be shrugging off something I shouldn’t be.

I mean seriously, busy parents out there, who has time to go to the doctor?  Or the patience to sit through x-rays (oh and that co-pay alone that could be better spent on things like swim trunks for the boys or hell, more wine to numb the pain)?  I had a full day of work, a tournament game of Ben’s to attend and kids to ferry around.  An injured foot, for the love of GOD?   I don’t think so.  That is SO not fitting into my life right now.

I remember my father falling off a ladder when he was in his late 70s.  My younger sister still tells the story about how, despite the fact that he was clearly in severe pain, Dad had told her not to call the ambulance because “Christ, I’ll walk it off.  I’ll be fine.”  When he eventually wound up in a cast (broken foot), we never let him forget it.  As I recall, he didn’t want to go sit in the ER and suffer the co-pay.

Where EVER do I get this from?

My Mom says it’s the Irish in me…we don’t go to the doctor unless there is an actual organ protruding from our bodies and as for a high fever, I learned from her long ago that after a hand to the forehead, you say to the child that “You-ah cool as a cucumbah,” feed them a Bufferin or Baby Aspirin (at least in 1977) and off to school you go.  We are tough stock.  Not exactly Mensa candidates, but tough nonetheless.

Of course, if one of the kids had done this I’d have them in the doctors office so fast their eyes would spin but I’ll be honest, much of the reason would be that if they had gotten injured, it would mean time off of sports and constant complaining at home.  Then they’d REALLY be injured.

So do as I say, not as I do, kids.  That’s my prerogative as parent.  I’m Irish.  And I’m tough.

Just don’t step on my foot.

Middle School Finals: do what you gotta do, ‘rents.

This week I learned a valuable lesson in parenting a pre-teen and I’d like to share it here.

Embrace bribery.

photo-25As Ben headed into his first week of finals in Middle School, he had good grades – all A’s and B’s.  He knew as well as we did that in order to finish strong and have a shot at all A’s, he’d have to hunker down and crush every test.  He also knew (because I told him about 25 times a day and even whispered in his ear while he slept) that the surest way to achieve this was to study.  And that, I explained to him, would involve quiet time in his room with a book open on his lap, reviewing the past few terms.

“I got it, Mom, I think I’m prepared.”

Hmmm.

I’ll give it to him, he went through study guides and seemed to recall most subjects pretty well.  We’d have him practice using ethos, pathos and logos persuasion in real situations like, “Ben, using ethos, tell me why you shouldn’t have to study for another half an hour.”

As you can imagine, he nailed that one.

When it came to the math final however, he and I went to blows.  You need to understand, I totally get math.  For me, the logic completely makes sense; I’m careful and methodical and write everything down.  Ben, however, is a big “yeah, I got it” kind of guy and that, to me, screamed “I’m unprepared.”

Batten down the hatches, kids…there’s a storm comin’.

photo-26As Ben and I argued incessantly (I, of course, was right), he got angrier and more stubborn and I became more insistent on “helping him.”  As I’ve stated before, I am Alpha Dog in this house when I’m sure of myself, so I had all but declared summer vacation canceled when I noticed a turning point.

On Sunday afternoon in the car ride back from New Hampshire, he studied.  When we got home, he went to his room and with his math pages spread out over his bed, he prepared.

“I knew he’d realize I was right.”

As we went to bed that night I remarked to Andy how proud I was of Ben and that it was great to see him embracing responsibility.  Our boy was growing up.

“Yeah, either that,” Andy explained, “or it could be that I told him that if he got an 86 or better I’d pay him $50 and if he he got an 85 or below, he’d owe ME.”

The day after the exam, I was sitting in the lobby of an ad agency waiting for my meeting when I got a text from Ben:

103 on my math final

You know, at first I was disappointed that it took a financial reward to get Ben to get an A+ but then I realized, what motivates any of us?  I mean, I love my job but I’ll admit that I don’t give it my all SOLELY because I want my Mom to be proud; I do a great job because I’m getting paid.  And although it’s not Ben’s choice to go to school, there are many days where working full time may not necessarily be my choice either.  But there I am, doing my best, making a salary because, let’s face it, the aforementioned pre-teen and his siblings tend to cost a bomb and I intend on going the extra mile because my bank account sure could use it.

So at the end of the day, I’m down with motivating my kids by pressing the right buttons.  While I’d love for them to strive for excellence based on a desire to change the world, I’ll settle for a couple bucks or Taylor Swift concert tickets (Lord help me if that carrot ever has to be offered).  When I told my client today about Ben’s final, this intelligent young woman with a good job admitted that her parents had paid her $20 for As and $10 for Bs.  And just look at her now.

Hey, if it keeps going in this direction I’ll be working harder than ever before…not to pay off the mortgage but rather to fund the blooming intellectuals I’m raising.

Maybe I’m not so good at math after all.

Kickin’ it on the Soccer Field: Tips from a Hapless Coach

After three years and six seasons of coaching Georgia’s soccer team, I have decided to hang up my clipboard and whistle and call it a day.

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Alright, sure, I never actually owned either – and my soccer skills are lacking to say the least (never having actually played makes it hard on that front) – but I have definitely picked up a few things along the way. A friend told me a while back that when the girls are little, you don’t need to know much more than which way to kick the ball and how to hug them when they fall down (which is a lot).  Now that they are older however, I am quite sure that most of them are on to me; any time I’m asked to “demonstrate” something, I divert their attention with funny story or explain that I just got a pedicure and can’t possibly be kicking balls around.  While I seem to have gotten away with it by the skin of my teeth, I credit a few things I’ve learned and would like to impart my wisdom on other future inexperienced-but-backed-into-a-corner-by-their-child-to-coach soccer coaches.  By following these five easy tips, you too can become a 8-and-under coaching phenom!

  1. Picking the Team Name – the first practice is always terrifying.  “Will they listen to me?  Will they ever score a goal?  How the hell am I going to fill an entire hour of soccer practice?”  A good/hack coach can stretch this little exercise to eat up at least 30 minutes.  Begin with the shirt color (little kids need a starting point) and work from there.  We’ve been “The Golden Soccer Players,” the “Purple People Eaters,” and my personal favorite, “The Silver Bullets.”  Nothing like telling people your team of 6-year old girls is named after a beer.
  2. IMG_0099The “Assistant” Coach – this can mean the difference between a leading a skilled and confident team and trying to organize a pack of wild monkeys.  Although I’ve always been the “Head” Coach (which at this level simply means I’m on the league email list and have to bring the soccer balls to practice), I’ve never been without an Assistant  who actually knows what he’s doing.  It’s because of my seconds-in-command that my girls knew how to do throw-ins, corner kicks and pull-back turns.  It’s because of me that the balls were always fully inflated.
  3. Ice packs – when your girls fall to the ground writhing in pain because they took a stray ball to the face or tripped over their untied cleats, make sure to have copious amounts of ice packs in the soccer bag.  Nothing makes an “injured” soccer player feel better than being able to grab that white pack, punch it until the stuff inside breaks and mixes to get cold.  Like a toddler with a Band-Aid (“my belly hooots, I need a Band-Aiiiiid!”), the allure of the ice pack can cure any ailment.  Next time I have an angry client, I might consider pulling one out of my bag to see if it solves the problem.  “Sorry your expensive ad campaign didn’t work, but…ice pack?”
  4. A drill is drill is a drill – IMG_0093alright, my soccer knowledge is limited to one college intramural game (they needed an extra body) and many years of watching from the sideline, but I did play four years of High School lacrosse and so therefore I used what I had in my arsenal.  On the few occasions when I was coaching alone, my girls basically played lacrosse without sticks.  Shout out to Wayland High’s Coach Nelson, the Purple People Eaters often played her game.  And three years in, I still have to stop myself from calling the offense “the attack.”  Old habits die hard.
  5. Give good hugs – Schmaltz alert: I am really going to miss my team.  What I lack in actual knowledge of the game, I make up for with high fives, cheers and bear hugs.  The way I see it, I haven’t earned the right to be too authoritative when it comes to skills so I need to rely on positive reinforcement.  It seemed to work (I think we won a lot…I’ll admit, I’m not really sure of our record) and I saw more smiles than tears.  A winning season in my book.

And so, while I’m somewhat relieved to let go of my coaching duties, I’ll miss my kids greatly.  Having spent three years with them and watching them go from little girls who skipped (the wrong way) on the field to great players who passed the ball and played as a team, they’ve become a big part of my life.  And even if I didn’t teach them much more than how to break an ice pack, what they gave me is something that I’ll never forget.

The Parenting Trade-off

I have big news. We have a new baby in our family!

20130604-172648.jpgLet me clarify…not the family of five that lives in my house (thankfully) but a new cousin for the kids. My younger sister Jocelyn and her husband David had their third baby girl, Elise Corinne, and she is 7 pounds of pure little baby love. Meeting my niece got me thinking about how different life was when we were new parents with just one baby. Life was simpler then; not necessarily easier, but definitely more simple. The way I see it, there have been numerous things that I have traded as each little Shumway entered my life. Take for instance…

The Calendar – with one child, I had a pretty wall calendar with different pictures of Boston for each month; it was filled with birthdays, anniversaries and other various appointments. 20130604-172719.jpgI would spend a few minutes every morning checking the day’s activities while sipping my morning coffee, admiring how pretty the Public Garden looked and making sure to send a birthday card to my friend Erika in LA so that it got to her on time. With three kids, however, it’s much different. We now rely on a nasty white board near the back door that’s either halfway filled in or at least a week behind (I can never find the bloody eraser), an iPhone calendar that is constantly bing-bonging at me because I’m late for school pickup again and Facebook for birthdays. This year’s birthday card for Erika? Sent two days after I posted “Happy Birthday my friend, mwah mwah!!” on her wall.  Luckily, she’s another frazzled working mother of three and totally gets it (we tend to travel in packs).  Solidarity, sister.

The Gym – when Ben was a baby, I had a gym membership. Now I hold Platinum Status at Dedham House of Pizza and a consider Marty, the manager of the wine section at Whole Foods, a dear friend.

The Weekends – Ah yes, I do miss these. The weekends of yesteryear involved waking up around 7am and snuggling with the baby in our bed as he watched Elmo. We’d then have coffee, play with him on the floor a little, take a walk and talk to each other while Ben napped.  Weekends these days consist of waking up at 7am with a three year old’s sharp toenail in my back, pouring scalding hot coffee down my throat because I’m late to get Georgia to her soccer game (see out-of-date whiteboard above) and negotiating with Andy as to whether Quinn comes with me as I coach Georgia’s soccer or with him as he coaches Ben’s baseball. We then go our separate ways with different kids headed to different fields and try to text each other in hopes of making sure that no child is left alone on a field. Sometimes there’s a birthday party (major monkey wrench) or food shopping to be done (if Quinn is with me and there are no race car shopping carts then it’s The Seventh Circle of Hell) but eventually, around 10pm, we have a drink and get to talk. Or just drink because we’re too tired to talk. Don’t judge.

The Wardrobe – With one child I did laundry, folded it and put it away. My nice clothes for work were brought to the dry cleaners weekly and hung back in the closet. I’d shop at Ann Taylor and Banana Republic because I had a nice little disposable income after paying my small mortgage and one daycare payment. 20130604-172806.jpgThese days? Sometimes my clothes are clean. We do laundry 27 times a week and occasionally it gets folded, but often it sits in the dryer for days. Dry cleaning is a thing of the past because all of my work clothes are machine washable (Old Navy is good that way). I shop now only when I have to and usually it’s for size 12 boys, 8 girls or 3T and if there is a cheap sweater within reach of the cash register – and I have a coupon – will I buy it for myself.

Despite all that I have “given up,” I wouldn’t change a thing. I mean, sure, life may have had more order and less chaos back then but these little comedians I live with definitely keep me laughing. Insane…but laughing.

A Time of Remembrance

Memorial Day weekend includes one of my favorites traditions of the year; not only is it the unofficial kickoff to the summer, but it always reminds me of my Dad.384724_10200308183450098_1771680723_n

My parents married when my mother was 25 and my father was 50.  Having found himself a widower with two teenage kids, he was lucky enough to be able to begin a “second” family with a wonderful lady and three more little girls.

As a child, I had a Mom who was the same age as everyone else’s Mom and a Dad who would often be mistaken for my grandfather.  Of course, my sisters and I didn’t find it at all unique until we got older and realized that our family was different than most.

Because he had grown up in a different time, we knew more about the Great Depression, Ted Williams and WWII than most elementary school age girls.  Along with his stories though, came traditions from an era that many of our friends couldn’t appreciate – and one of those was what Memorial Day really meant.

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Each year, he would go to the market and buy flowers to plant on the graves of relatives that had passed on.  Granted, they were usually cheap red geraniums (or whatever was on sale), and we liked to think that this was due to his Depression-era frugality rather than his lack of floral taste.  Either way, Bill Meek (who at that point was well into his 60s) would pack up his little girls and head off to pay their respects.

We would find ourselves at two different cemeteries; one here in Dedham where my grandmother Rose is buried and then it was off to West Roxbury to adorn the grave of his first wife, Jean.

photo-21I remember the sunny days, the dirt between my fingers, those red geraniums and the silent prayers while we knelt in front of the headstones.  We had never met either of these women but we knew that it was important to him…and therefore it was important to us.

My father passed away at the age of 85 while I was pregnant with my first son.  Before Ben was born, I found the grave of my grandmother and said a little prayer.  I’ll admit, I was praying for an easy labor, but a Shumway tradition had been born.

Ben arrived in April and on his first Memorial Day, I brought him back to plant flowers at the graves of his great grandmother and even at Jean’s.  Knowing that my father would have appreciated someone tending to these women when he no longer could gave the experience that much more meaning.

Thirteen years later, we still hit the flower market on Memorial Day weekend, pack up our gardening tools, watering cans and head out to continue the tradition.  We now count my husband’s great grandparents and great uncles (who are also buried nearby) as places we visit and the kids help plant flowers, tidy up the markers and say prayers.  When I explained to my friend Bob what we were doing on Monday, he remarked that while we are often trying to forget and move past things, it’s so nice to stop, reflect, and remember.

photo-20I love watching the kids take so seriously a tribute that is almost 41 years in the making, even though they, same as I, never even knew the relatives that they are praying for.  I can only hope that when they are parents, they make the same trip with their kids and pass it on to them.

And if they buy the cheap red geraniums, all the better.

Child Logic

While scratching my head yesterday as my 12-year old son tried to tell me that I should applaud him after seeing a homework assignment where he had completely phoned it in by giving lame one-sentence responses rather than writing A+ answers, I thought…HUH?

It made me think about the different stages of logic employed by the 12, 8 and 3 1/2 year old mind.  Observe:

12 year old boy

photo-19Situation: Child must be ferried from soccer practice on one side of town to baseball game on the other.  Midway through ride, child realizes that he has left his bat bag and glove in father’s car which is a) locked and b) back near soccer field.

12-year old logic: Freak out in front seat of mother’s car and demand that she turn around and magically enter locked automobile to recover said forgotten bag.

Mom logic: You blew it kid, not a big deal.  A bat is a bat is a bat; find a teammate’s glove to use until father appears with your own.  Learn a lesson.

Outcome: Exasperated mother drives home at 65 MPH, finds spare key, returns to soccer parking lot, retrieves *^&%#! bat bag, drives 66 MPH across town to baseball field to drop off 12-year old who is visibly peeved that he’s (gasp!) six minutes late.  TO WARMUP.

8-year old girl

Situation: Child lays on ground writhing in pain and exclaims, “Ben threw me to the floor!”  Brother explains that after younger sister grabbed clicker and changed channel to yet another mindless Disney Channel sitcom, he repossessed clicker and returned to watching ESPN.  Sister threw herself to floor on her own accord.

8-year old logic: “You never believe me, everyone is against me.  I hate you.”

Mom logic: “This is insane.  I didn’t witness any of this.  You both need to spend time in your room and think about how to coexist.”

Outcome: Two angry children.  One exasperated mom.

3 1/2 year old boy

Situation: Child sits in carseat while mother grinds teeth during rush hour traffic en route to pick up child’s sister from soccer practice.  Mother on cell phone trying to speak to colleague about new business opportunity while hoping that young child stays quiet.  Child looks out window at green lawn on I95 and notices 20 Canadian Geese grazing.

3 1/2 year old logic: “Mommy.  Mommy.  MOMMY!  MOMMY YOU NEED TO STOP TALKING, I AM TALKING NOW.”  “Ok, Quinn, what do you need?”  “Awww, look outside at all the penguins!”  “Quinn, those are geese, not penguins.”  “MOMMY I SAY THEY ARE PENGUINS, LOOK AT THE PENGUINS, THEY ARE MANY PENGUINS!”

Mom logic: I am an exasperated mom.  I give up.  Penguins, they are.

Outcome: (Covers phone) “Those are awesome penguins, buddy.”

My lesson?  Don’t use logic.  Just go with it.  It’s what the penguins would do.