Suburban Snapshots

Where We Feel Loved

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Dada, can you help me put this slide together?" Steve had just walked in from work, barely taken off his boots and was making a beeline for Anna's new bedroom, where trim was waiting to be fastened to the walls.

"Kiddo, do you want a toy slide or do you want me to finish your new bedroom this week?" I suggested that maybe she just wanted a couple minutes of his time before he disappeared into the back of the house as he's been doing after work for the past few weeks. He'd argue that she's so attached to me she barely notices his absence, I'd imply that maybe assembling the Barbie slide would help.

Steve and I have had this conversation often. His side is that he wants her to be self sufficient, or that he doesn't understand why I wait for him to go into the kitchen before asking for a glass of water. It drives him crazy still that I ask to taste his meal when we eat out. He's practical and disciplined, and I've spent sixteen years explaining that sometimes when people ask for a favor or a bite or help opening a jar, they just want to feel a little loved, taken care of.

"But how hard is it to get off the couch and pour yourself a glass of water?"
He misses the point.

"I want her to be able to do things for herself."
Usually she does. Sometimes she just wants Daddy.

The line I use on him when we get on the topic is that not everything needs to be a lesson. She's learning all the time, she's learning by watching what we do. I spend days feeling like not a word I say registers on her synapses and then she'll wander into my room to help me fold clothes or ask to set the table, she makes appetizers for guests and draws cheer-up cards for her friends. I think she has a solid foundation but like any kid, she needs almost constant reminders. She is capable of tying her shoes, brushing her hair, walking to bed, but sometimes she needs to watch our hands make a tighter knot, unsnare a tangle, or carry her to her bedroom. I wish he'd relent more often, but it's a struggle to convince him that she won't be calling us from college to double-knot her sneakers if we help her sometimes at age seven.

I know that Steve thinks I'm a good mom, but I'm also aware that he feels very much like the heavy. He doesn't witness our mornings, when it's all I can do to not exhaust my monthly reserve of yells to get her to M-O-V-E. I don't think he considers it the same kind of discipline when, over the course of our walk to school, I remind her to stay to the side and watch for cars, or when we're at a crowded grocery store on Sunday and I direct her to look out for other people. My lessons aren't as structured as his and maybe less obvious, and my affection is more blatant. He sees the learning during baseball practices, in using restaurant manners, in tying shoes and cleaning up. He tells her when he's proud and when he knows she can try harder.

He takes his work as a father very seriously: to raise her into a capable, compassionate, motivated person. And he's not all business—he's definitely the funner bedtime parent, more likely to let her pile tons of garbage on top of her frozen yogurt, more willing to drop what he's doing to go for a bike ride or spend an hour at Y family swim, he's the reason she climbed to the top of the jungle gym before she turned three and she'll still share the couch with him for a Sunday nap.

I get on him when I think he's being too overbearing and he lets me know when he thinks I'm coddling her. He parents in the way that makes sense to him, and I want to be sure that she understands where his love is.

I also want him to understand where she feels loved. He doesn't need to cater to her, or to be always nuzzling her, I don't expect him to spoon feed her or leap at her beck and call, but sometimes tie her shoes, sometimes bring her a snack, sometimes carry her just because she's tired. I remind him: she's just a little girl, and just for the moment.

We give love in the ways we've received it. Part of loving someone, though, has to be giving love in the way they understand. It's one thing to recognize that you're loved, to appreciate being loved, it's another to feel it. We all want to feel it.

Bleacher Parents

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

I stood leaning against the dugout fence for five minutes before saying, "Well, I'm going to get my grocery shopping done while I have the time to myself."

"That was my plan too, but I just enjoy this so much."

Our little league team mom had three kids at practice, at least one of whom I think was actually able to catch and throw the ball. Her kids have done other sports, she listed them off: soccer, karate, a third and maybe fourth I don't remember. She seems to genuinely enjoy watching them play.

I know it's not even really the season yet. The kids are just starting to practice and the age spread on our team is anywhere from 6 to 9 years old. Anna's one of the youngest and after spending the past several months trapped indoors by snowbergs, not the most practiced. Steve and I suffered through cold, windy t-ball practices and games last year watching one kid bat while the other eight made dirt angels. Anna's a strong hitter with the attention span of a summer gnat.

We signed her up for little league because Steve loved it as a kid. I knew he'd been waiting for her to age-in, so when try-outs were announced I sent our registration fee, plus three proofs of residence and her original birth certificate. We'd like her to enjoy sports  but short of that, at least enjoy being in fresh air. It wasn't until she was signed up that we were swept into the seriousness of it all—practice three times a week (both weekend days), compulsory announcing and concession duties, and since I helped talk Steve into managing her team, hours of research spent on practice drills and studying the team roster and regulations, coaching clinics and parent meetings. I don't know if this is normal but I know it's our life until June.

I maintain that Anna performs better when I'm out of sight. She doesn't stop short to make goofy faces at me (literally, she does this at swim lessons and sinks every time) or gesture wildly until I figure out that she's trying to get me to notice her nail polish. I will be at most of her games and some of her practices because I love my kid, but I don't love baseball.

My exposure to sports has been by vicinity—an office a few doors from Fenway Park, a condo between Boston College and Boston University, a professional basketball team at my college gym. I never had to look up a score, I just counted how many times my floor shook. That's how I spectate my sports.

Already bleacher parents at practice are engaged, giving their kids direction, watching each toss and catch, "Hands higher, Marcus!" "Get under it, Sofie!" I'm standing there hoping Anna doesn't get beaned in any permanent teeth by a baseball that she awkwardly misses, that she won't be the bench warmer, that she'll actually enjoy herself. I want to have the confidence these other parents seem to have in their kids, but I'm kind of half-assing that too. I think my daughter is funny and smart and sometimes even athletic, but she's Bambi on ice. She has the legs of a runner, and I anticipate one day they'll take her eyebrows-first into a track hurdle. Maybe she just has to grow into her limbs.

As the season begins I'm sure I'll get more invested, I'll cheer from the bleachers and I'll try to soothe Steve when he stresses over managerial duties. I'll cheerfully work the concession stand and chat with parents who wear team jerseys and don't wish they'd thought to put a nip in their tumblers, and I'll be glad to be outside again.

Until then, you'll find me grocery shopping during practice.