Continuing Our Family’s Anti-Perfection Lesson

True Perfection – Ryan, Four Days Old

The other night during dinner, my son told me that some of his classmates told him he’s a “perfect student.”

“I told them there’s no such thing as perfect,” he said to me.

I was glad.  I’ve been telling Ryan the same thing his whole life.  Perfection isn’t real.  Effort, true and honest and hard effort, is real.

I’ve been very conscious of not using the word “perfect” when it comes to describing anything Ryan does.  I think perfection is an unrealistic expectation, and I remember what it felt like to believe that people expected me to behave perfectly.  In fact, the only time I can remember using the word “perfect” in relation to Ryan was on the night he was born.  As I held this tiny new human being in my arms, and looked at his large, wide-awake, dark eyes and marveled at his very existence, I cried and said, “He’s perfect.”  Over and over again.

But back to my 5th grader’s perfection.

“Why do they say you’re perfect?” I asked.

“They say it’s because I do my work, and I get good grades.  They ask me how I do it, but I didn’t know what to tell them.  I told them I just do it.  Because it has to be done.”

I smiled.  “I think that runs in the family.  We’re really good at figuring out the job that needs to be done, and then trying hard to do that job well,” I said.

“How does it make you feel when they call you perfect?” I asked.

“Good.  Proud,” Ryan told me. 

Our conversation made me think of an essay I wrote several years ago, “Do What You Need to Do” about a lesson my parents taught me about doing “what it takes to get the job done and accomplish your goal.”  That essay was published in the anthology, Lessons From My Parents: 100 Shared Moments that Changed Our Lives.

The lesson continues.

 

An Evolution of Words

 

This week my son, and all the fifth graders at his school, will be watching a video whose content strives to help pre-teens “understand the maturational changes they are beginning to experience and accept these changes as a normal part of growth.”  (That’s what the school note said).  I signed the form, giving my son permission to view this short film at school. 

If you’re not familiar with this, it’s pretty standard protocol at about this age.  Boys and girls watch separate movies, usually with the school nurse in attendance, and also participate in a question/answer session.

It’s one more sign that my sweet boy, while still my sweet boy, is also becoming a bigger boy.  A bigger boy who will soon grow into a young man.

When Ryan was younger, my husband and I never used the anatomically correct words “penis” and “vagina.”  It was “pee-pee”  – serving as both a noun, your body part, as well as the verb, the action you did in the bathroom.  I remember a former co-worker disagreeing with me, chastising me for not teaching Ryan the word “breasts” instead of “boobies.”

But really, cutesy words are just a part of young childhood.  “Paci” for “pacifier,” “piggies” for “toes.”  Often these words were used long after Ryan could pronounce the correct words.

It has made me think of the evolution of words our family has used over the years, some of which Ryan tells me are no longer acceptable.

For example, each week Ryan and I go grocery shopping and before checking out, we always walk by and admire the “beautiful cakes” section.  But, my now-eleven-year-old insists that I refer to it as the “bakery section.”

Here’s another one.  Ryan and I like snacking on chocolate chips (our favorites are at Trader Joe’s).  He used to call them “baby chocolates” which I thought made so much sense based on their size.  I still often refer to them as “baby chocolates,” but now my son reminds me to use their real name, “chocolate chips.”

And just for fun, I’ll share two of my own kid-friendly words I used back during my own childhood.  I called slices of American cheese “square cheese,” based on its shape.  And for no reason that I know of, I used to call Fritos “munch-a-bunch.”

Readers, I’d love to hear from you.  Any words you remember from your childhood?  Or any childhood words you’ve carried with you into adulthood?  Feel free to share them in the comments section!

 

The A to Z List of A Mom’s Jobs

Last week, I made a trip to the market to buy a jar of pickles for my son’s science project. (The experiment – to find out which would grow mold faster: a bowl of spaghetti or a pickle.)

I visited our public library to return the books my son had used for a research project.  (I had also checked out these books almost two months ago.)

I made chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  (In all fairness, they were the break-apart and bake kind.)

I comforted my son during the night when he awoke from a bad dream.  (He felt so uneasy, I wound up lying down on his rug until he fell back asleep just so I would be nearby.) 

I played many rounds of “Heads Up.” (My son holds the record with 15 correct guesses.)

I cooked while trying to ignore the bowl of moldy spaghetti on my kitchen counter. (The pickle just shriveled up).

And in between all that, there were the meals and the clean-up.  The bills that were paid.  The plants that were watered.  The zipper that was unstuck.

In other words, there are a million little, and not-so-little, things that moms do every day just because they are moms.  Because they care about their children.  Because no matter how they do it, all moms are basically trying to do the same thing – help their children be happy, healthy, and safe.

So in honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share with you a post I wrote a few years ago for MomsLA.com.  Click here to read the A to Z List of a Mom’s Jobs.

  

Champion Role Models

At the March 30th, 2019 Clippers game.

It all began because our son, Ryan, borrowed a sports-themed Sesame Street DVD from the public library.

Abby Cadabby was teaching viewers the word “champion,” and she used her magic wand to “poof” Blake Griffin beside her.  He thought he’d been summoned since he was a slam dunk champion.  Instead he was going to participate in a chicken-calling contest – which he won.

And that’s how our son, and our family, became a Los Angeles Clippers fan.

For many, the Clippers weren’t the easiest team to like.  They haven’t won any championships.  Yet.  They’ve had their difficulties and scandals (I’m not  going to name their former owner).  They’ve had to live under the shadow of a more popular Los Angeles team and have always been regarded as the “underdogs,” and “the other L.A. team.”

But not in our house.  Blake brought basketball, Clippers basketball, to our family.  We began referring to the players by a series of initials:  BG (Blake Griffin), CP3 (Chris Paul), DJ (DeAndre Jordan), and JJ (J. J. Redick).  My son was intrigued that a daddy was coaching his son (coach Doc Rivers, son Austin Rivers – now playing on the Rockets).  Ryan even wondered if his daddy could be his coach when he grew up and played for the Clippers.  

Not one of those players is on our current team.  We’ve had to learn the hard way that it’s not very easy for players to have a Dirk Nowitzki-like career.  That just because someone has a contract doesn’t mean they will stay on the team.  That trades are as much a part of the game as the shoes.

Yet we love our current team even more than we did our “initials” team.

This year’s roster includes guys who can most likely go shopping at their local Target without being recognized and asked for autographs.  These are guys who are professional basketball players.  It’s their job.  And some of them smile while they play, like they haven’t stopped marveling at the fact that they’re getting paid (a lot of money) to run back and forth in shorts and try to put the ball through the hoop. 

These are guys who didn’t get much play time before finding their way to Doc Rivers and becoming a regular part of the starting line-up (Landry Shamet).  These are guys who are praised for their off-the-bench prowess (Lou Williams), their spirt (Montrezl Harrell), and their grit (Patrick Beverley).  This is the team without a “superstar” – a team made up of players who all contribute to the overall team win.  Because that’s what basketball is – a team sport.  No one player can do it all.  

And then there are the extended members of the Clippers organization; the people you see on the sidelines.  The people who make you feel like you, as a fan, are a part of something special.

Actor Billy Crystal – Harry Burns to me (When Harry Met Sally) and Mike Wazowski to my son (Monsters, Inc.).  A longtime season ticket holder.  A fan and supporter through the highs and the lows.  

Owner Steve Ballmer, who sits courtside (even during away games), wearing his red and blue shirts.  Clapping and shouting, kicking his feet and turning red with the same excitement my son has shown on Christmas morning.  

The Voice of the Clippers, Ralph Lawler, who is retiring after a forty-year career.  40 years of reporting, of optimism, of professionalism and all with a team that didn’t always win a whole lot.

Before the 2018-2019 season began, the Clippers were counted out.  We were a rag-tag team of no-name players apparently.  Then the trades were made in February, and with the loss of players such as Tobias Harris, our Playoff chances were lost too.  Or so they said.

Except every time our Clippers are told they can’t do something, or they won’t do something, they do it anyway.  And that’s why as a mom, I love that my son is watching the Clippers.  This season especially.

Ryan is 11.  He stands in front of the mirror and sees strength, intelligence, and good looks.  He’ll tell you he’s going to be an astronaut, a professional basketball player, a singer, a doctor.  He believes it’s all possible because no one has told him otherwise.

But someday they will.  Someday someone will count him out, because that’s life.  And that’s when he has to channel our Clippers.

Our Clippers aren’t in possession of a Championship title yet.  But they gave the defending champs a great run.

And to this organization, this mom would like to thank you for being role models for my son and for demonstrating what it takes to be a champion.

 

An Inspiring Life

I recently completed reading John Glenn: A Memoir.  This hardcover book has sat on my bookcase since I bought it and read it when it was published in 1999.  I re-read it now because, twenty years later, I didn’t remember much of what I had read the first time around, and I wanted to see if this book should continue to remain a part of my permanent library taking up valuable shelf space.

From a reader’s/writer’s perspective, the book showed me what not-to-do.  I found myself skimming through parts that contained too many details, felt like too much information, and only served to delay the story.

But I’m still glad I read it. 

John Glenn, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, could have easily lived his life resting on his laurels, boasting of his accomplishment as the first American to orbit the earth.  But he didn’t.  He continued living and learning.  He served as an executive for RC Soda, and later, served more than twenty years as a United Sates Senator.  And then at the age of 77, returned to space as a member of the crew of STS-95 onboard the shuttle Discovery.

I think the biggest takeaway I got from reading the story of this special man’s life is that you don’t have to let one thing define you.

That’s the message I want my son to know and truly believe in his heart.  That he doesn’t have to choose just one thing to be “when he grows up.”  There aren’t limits to what he can achieve and there should be no limits to what he aspires to try.

 

At a Fork in the Road

Because April is National Poetry Month, I have a story I’d like to share with you this week.

A few months ago, my son and his fifth grade class were instructed to memorize Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Granted, it’s a famous poem with an important message.  But why did my son need to memorize it?  And in the fifth grade?  (I don’t think I read it until high school).  His teacher never explained the reason(s) behind her assignment or why this particular poem was chosen.

I worked with Ryan, as he learned the poem line-by-line.  I tried to take it a step further, talking to him about the poem and asking him questions his teacher wasn’t asking at school.  

“What does it mean to you?”  

“What do you think the poet is saying?”

We had a discussion about the poem and poetry in general – that, like many types of art, there isn’t always just one way to look at, read, or interpret a piece of art.

Ryan wasn’t overly impressed.  The poem became a chore.

And months later, his teacher must have forgotten about it, because Ryan’s class never was asked to recite the poem.

I fear that an experience like this may turn Ryan off from poetry.  Though I hope not.  These early experiences with art really do have so much power and influence over our later choices and our later opinions about what we like and don’t like, what we’re good at, and what we think we’re not-so-good at.

When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, my classroom teacher painted over one of my watercolors-in-progress, and after that, I never wanted to take an art class.  In fact, I never wanted to draw or paint again.  (To read more about it, click here and read my personal essay “Too often, teachers extinguish a student’s spark” that was published in the Christian Science Monitor back in 2004.) 

For now, Ryan and I talk about poetry in terms of song lyrics.  It’s fun and enjoyable and an organic way to learn – the way all learning can be.

 

My Job

As I tell my son, one day my name will be on the spine of a book. For now, my name is inside -these anthologies each include a personal essay I have written.

My now-eleven-year-old son gave me the biggest boost the other day, and he doesn’t even realize it.

Ryan told me that during lunch the other day, kids were talking about their parents’ jobs and some of his friends asked what my job was.  It’s a fair question.  After all, I take my son to school each morning, and I’m there each afternoon to pick him up.  I’ve accompanied his class on a field trip to The Getty Center, and I attend all his class performances.  

“I told them you’re a writer,” Ryan told me.

And I smiled.  A writer is, by definition, one who writes.  And I do.  Nearly every day.  My writing time is divided between assigned posts for MomsLA.com and personal essays for my memoir-in-progress and those I submit for publication. (Update –  I have received word that two of my essays have been accepted and will be publishing sometime in the future.  I’ll keep you posted).

“I told them you’re writing a book,” he continued.

Ryan knows that I have a collection of “stories” (his word for my personal essays) that I am working on compiling into a book.  

“And one of my friends said she’ll buy your book when it comes out,” he said.

I smiled.  

“So, what’s your book going to be about again?”

I told Ryan, “It’s about living with an invisible illness.  What it’s like to do all the things I do but having an illness people can’t see.”

He was satisfied with that answer, but I was curious about something else.

“Ryan, did you tell them I used to be a teacher?”

“No.  Because that was before.  And now you write.”

“Do you even remember when I was a teacher?” I asked him.

“No,” he said.  (I left teaching in March 2013.  Ryan was almost 5 at the time.) 

It’s important to remind myself that if I hadn’t left my teaching career, there’s no way I would be writing as much as I am now.  And I certainly wouldn’t have published as much as I have. 

And my son wouldn’t be telling his friends his mom is a writer.

 

Just Keep Writing

For my birthday, a good friend gave me a book from my wish list – Jennie Nash’s The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat – The 43 Worst Moments in the Writing Life and How to Get Over Them.

Having just turned 43, I thought it would be a good time to read this book.  And,  having an increased blog readership and a growing collection of essays I hope to publish as a memoir, I thought it would be a good time to read this book.

While I didn’t agree with everything Ms. Nash wrote (and felt some of her jokes weren’t that funny), there were a number of takeaways I’d love to share with you.  I think you’ll find they’re insightful and valuable even if you aren’t a writer.

Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential.”  – Jessamyn Wes

This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package.  Don’t consider it rejected.  Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘not at this address.’  Just keep looking for the right address.  – Barbara Kingsolver

What we do might be done in solitude and with great desperation, but it tends to produce exactly the opposite.  It tends to produce community and in many people hope and joy.” – Junot Díaz

Ones best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” – Harriet Ward Beecher

 

A Passionate Life

Four years ago, “A Life of Passion,” a personal essay of mine,  was published on mamalode.com.  (Click here to read it).  I wrote about the big events of 2015 – namely, my mom turning 70 and my son turning 7 on the same day.  I wrote about these two very important people, at very different stages of their lives, each living their days with passion.

And I feared I wasn’t.

Four years later, and in just a few days, my mom is turning 74 and my son is turning 11.  And a few weeks ago I turned 43.

But what has changed?  And what has remained the same?  

Both my mom and my son continue to live passionately.  There is no doubt about it.  They are each taking care of their responsibilities and doing things that make them feel good.

And me?  

I love my family passionately.  I never let my pain, my fatigue alter the way I show my family love.

I think, I hope, I express myself passionately through my writing.  

Amusing to my husband, and annoying to my son, is the way I passionately yell at the TV when we watch basketball, worried when a player hits the ground or when two players begin to exchange shoves and pushes.  

But do I live passionately?  Do I do all the things I’d like to do, or do I hold myself back because of fear, the possibility of “what if…?”  Yes and no.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the same girl who took belly dancing classes, or went parasailing, or enjoyed a hot air balloon ride.  Am I no longer doing such things because I’m older?  Because I’m a mother?  Because I’m often in pain?  It’s so hard to separate and know which parts of my life would have been different and which would have remained the same had I not become ill.

 

I Don’t Have to Worry

Ryan and I as Marvin and Tammi

I worry about my son because that’s what moms do.  

But my worries extend beyond the usual parenting worries.  I worry about how my son is being impacted and affected by my invisible disability.

I struggle each day with being honest about my levels of pain and fatigue, because I also don’t want to shortchange Ryan or frighten him in any way.  It’s not his fault that I hurt.  But “this” (my medical condition) is a part of our life.  And most likely always will be.

Ryan often reaches out a hand to help me when he sees me struggling to stand up.  He knows, and has known for years, about the bottles of medication on the kitchen counter.  In fact, when he was just a toddler he popped a small piece of cucumber in his mouth and chewed and swallowed it with a glass of milk, telling me he was taking his medicine just like mommy.  It broke my heart.  

But I’d like to think that my son is also being raised to look at people with increased levels of compassion, patience, and acceptance.  I hope that my struggles show Ryan that all people struggle with something, even if it isn’t initially apparent.  At the same time, I hope I’m also teaching Ryan resilience and tenacity, and that there are many different ways of demonstrating bravery, courage, and strength.

Still I worry.

And then my son will do something that will totally blow me away, will fill my heart with love and pride.  And I’ll breathe a little easier, knowing that Ryan is alright; in fact, that he’s more than alright.

When Ryan was a little guy, we would often sing along to songs on my computer, using kitchen utensils as “microphones.”  We still sing all the time.  In the car, in the house, in the market.  But for the last month or so, Ryan and I have again been regularly performing one of our favorite duets, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” I love that it’s still fun for my almost-11-year-old to sing with his mom.  And I love that this is one of our favorite songs to sing together.

Because really that is the message I want Ryan to grow up learning.  That we are a family.  We’re in this together.  

“If you need me, call me 

No matter where you are

No matter how far don’t worry, baby

Just call my name 

I’ll be there in a hurry

You don’t have to worry

‘Cause baby there 

Ain’t no mountain high enough

Ain’t no valley low enough

Ain’t no river wide enough

To keep me from getting to you, babe.”

And, if you haven’t seen the 1998 film Stepmom with Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts, click here to see a fun scene featuring a family sing-along of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”