Of Soccer Balls and Guns

Posted by on Jul 29, 2015 in The World We Parent In | 4 comments


Last Friday afternoon, my kids and I drove to a strip-mall soccer store to buy my son a ball. This particular strip mall is located amongst a tangle of highway conjunctions and ramps, in a busy area punctuated by a series of strip malls as well as a traditional mall, chain restaurants, and other typical markings of suburbia. In other words, people are everywhere, going about their lives. As people do.

I pulled into a parking spot a few spaces away from the soccer store, and before I even shifted my minivan into Park, I saw the gun.

It’s amazing how quickly the brain can synthesize multiple facts to create a picture of a situation. Even with the kids chattering beside and behind me, it took mere seconds for me to process that: a) at least some, and probably all, of the five men gathered in front of the military recruiting center a few doors down from the soccer store were armed; b) the most obvious of them held in front of him what was almost certainly an assault rifle; c) although I didn’t immediately see the weapons of the others, at least several of them were wearing ammo vests and thus were probably also armed; d) vigilantes had been turning out, guns in hand, across the country since the Chattanooga shooting on July 16 in their self-proclaimed mission to guard military recruiting centers, the Pentagon had politely and respectfully asked these men to stand down and leave the security of the military recruiting centers to the U.S. military itself, and across the country, these vigilantes had refused. And here were some of these vigilantes now, in front of me, at the soccer store.

Two days later, I was driving home on a quiet Sunday afternoon with my family after purchasing paint supplies when I drove by another man with a gun. This time it was a pistol tucked into the man’s holster. He was walking casually, with a friend, by kids on bikes and people walking their dogs. (I should specify that in New Hampshire, the open carry of handguns while on foot is generally permissible and that so far as I know, this man’s actions were perfectly legal.)

Three days. Two cases of going about daily life, with my kids, in public, and running into guns like I might run into sneakers, or ice cream cones, or an individual talking in an agitated crescendo into her cell phone.

Except sneakers, ice cream cones and cell phones don’t have the power or the purpose of killing people.

I am so, so tired of trying to convince people that guns are dangerous and that they need to be respected and treated as the dangerous objects they are. Or that reasonable restrictions on guns are just that: reasonable. That a bill or a law that says X does not actually say Y; sometimes a restriction on the transfer of these nine makes of semi-automatic weapons is just that, and no more. That the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which consists of two clauses, not just one, does in fact proclaim a right to bear arms, but that it also permits regulation of that right. That the Second Amendment is not the only right in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, nor is it superior to the other rights set forth in the Constitution.

In 2014, Tim Kreider wrote in The Week, “we’ve collectively decided, as a country, that the occasional massacre is okay with us. It’s the price we’re willing to pay for our precious Second Amendment freedoms.” I’m tired of thinking about this ugly statement, because guess what? He’s right. After the slaughter of twenty children in Newtown in 2012, when the nation grieved and momentum was greatest for action but none came, it’s clear we have indeed made this decision. With the failure to act after Newtown, the argument that we ought to recast our priorities doesn’t seem to stand a chance of convincing anyone anymore. So why make it?

But I can’t stop making the argument. Because let me tell you something: when I had to cross that parking lot with my children and walk them by a man with an assault rifle and goodness knows what types of pistols those men had concealed on their persons, I got angry.

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“True Confessions of a Stalker Mom”

Posted by on Jul 16, 2015 in Growing Up, Other Parenting Stuff I've Written, Parents are People, Too | 0 comments



Who, me?

Well, yes. And I’m the last person I would have expected to turn into such a thing.

“I am not a helicopter parent, but when my son went away to camp, it took less than 24 hours for me to become his stalker.” You can read the rest at Cognescenti, WBUR’s ideas and opinions page.

Fellow parents, watch out; for all you know, there’s a hidden stalker lurking somewhere inside you, too.

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Posted by on Jul 15, 2015 in Growing Up | 4 comments

Quiet time

It’s quiet around here.

Every family has a personality, a living, changeable thing made up not only of its members, but also of the dynamic produced by the interaction of those members when they’re together. Even the pets contribute. Subtract one of those family members, and the personality changes. It’s not necessarily better or worse, but it’s definitely different.

The older of my two children has been away for two-and-a-half weeks now, and it feels like we live in a different house.

Many of the details fall into the mundane category: my laundry loads have diminished significantly. Our consumption of pizza and pasta has dropped by probably eighty percent. So has our rate of milk usage. ESPN is hardly on the television anymore, I’m not engaged in battles over screen time, I’m not enduring anyone’s sweaty, smelly sports gear or arguing about showers.

More significant details mark this time, too: arguing and whining in the house overall has plummeted. My younger child has thrived on the undivided attention she’s received; her behavior has improved, and we’ve explored new intellectual, culinary and mother-daughter bonding territory. Life isn’t as complicated when the needs and desires of one less person have to be taken into account, and after the frenzy that was the school year, this break has been welcome.


It’s so damn quiet.

I don’t mean to say the three of us—plus the pets—haven’t had any fun. We absolutely have. But our son took a substantial chunk of our family silliness to camp with him. The giggling has decreased, the constant sarcasm with which we perpetually amuse each other (although perhaps not others outside the family?) is lacking a certain luster, the truly raucous moments seem to be far fewer than usual. I find I actually miss the frequent challenges to my knowledge and reasoning—well, maybe some of them. And while it’s restful to take a break from constant attempts to decode the heart and brain of a male adolescent, that daily activity is part of what makes up this family.

Before you accuse me of being overly dramatic—which, let’s be honest, you were thinking since the second paragraph—I will freely admit to that characterization. But then I will walk that back a little,

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One of the Best Things About Last Week Was Having to Explain to My Kids Why It Mattered

Posted by on Jul 2, 2015 in Our Cultures, Races & Religions, The World We Parent In | 0 comments

Equality for All

By now, approximately 100,000 articles have been written about everything that happened in this country last week and how great most of it was. (Okay, yes: I made that figure up.) The nation finally took a look at confederate flags and realized that the history they represent is one steeped in slavery and rebellion against the United States. The Supreme Court affirmed our presidentially guided, legislatively passed law guaranteeing health insurance for all (or most, anyway). And the next day, our highest Court said, not only ought Americans to have health care, they ought to be able to marry whomever they love. Red, white, blue and rainbows for everyone.

My favorite part of this? (Aside from, you know, the actual equality.) The fact that I had to explain to my kids why any of it was a big deal. Because to my children,* born in the twenty-first century, it’s hard for them to grasp that the country hasn’t been like this all along. To them, equality is the default position.

Fly the confederate flag? “Why would anyone do that? The South lost the war.” Yes they did, and it was a long time ago. My children have both learned about historical figures like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. My older child knows about Ferguson, and other high-profile recent examples of racial violence. He is beginning to put some of the more complex pieces together, to understand how people target various other people with categorical hate. My younger child, who knows fewer details, considers treating people differently because of their race “stupid.” If the confederate flag represents a rebellious collection of slavery-based states, take it down. Amen.

I did not try to explain many nuances of the Affordable Health Care Act to my kids. What they know is that “Obamacare” made it possible, even mandatory, for most people in this country to get health insurance, which translates into actual health care. They cannot understand how anyone could oppose this. My ten-year-old, assigned to write an essay for school on why she was proud to be an American, included a lengthy collection of sentences on how easily mothers in the United States can always access doctors for their children, whenever they are required. Would that it were always true.

My favorite discussion with my kids was also the point that seemed to confound them the most:

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Things I Want My Son to Remember as He Leaves Home for the First Time

Posted by on Jun 25, 2015 in Growing Up | 0 comments


This weekend, my son will leave for sleep-away camp. He won’t return for three weeks. It’s the first time he’ll be away from us for more than a night—the first time that, despite the supervision of camp counselors and resident advisors, he’ll largely be responsible for himself.

How will he act out there in “the world?” I think about all the things I want my son to remember, and I come up with, “everything I’ve ever told you.” That’s not particularly helpful. So I drew up a more specific list of some of the things I hope thirteen-year-old “Jack” will keep in mind when I’m not there to pester remind him:

*Have fun. You didn’t expect this to be first, did you? But I want you to know how much value I place on this. You’ll be doing new things in a new place with new people in an atmosphere that’s new for you. I envy you in a way you won’t understand for years. Have a really, really good time.

*Be kind. Be someone who will talk to someone who feels left out, who would never mock someone in a cruel way, who offers to help others when it appears help may be required. If someone is being cruel, at least say, “Come on, guys,” or “That’s not funny.” Be the good guy.

*Eat something besides pizza and pasta. Chocolate chip cookies don’t count.

*Try new things. You have activities planned in your areas of interest, and that’s great. But you’re going to a camp that offers a stupendous roster of choices; pick an activity or two you’ve never done before—maybe one you’ve never even thought about. You might end up with a passion you’ve never imagined.

*The few times we talk on the phone, please say something besides, “Good.”

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How to Be a Good Sports Parent: a Real-Life Example

Posted by on Jun 17, 2015 in Education & Learning, Parenting on a Daily Basis | 0 comments

A shout-out for the parents of the U13 boys from this soccer club!

A shout-out for the parents of the U13 boys from this soccer club

Sports parents. Ugh. If you have a kid who plays sports, you know who I’m talking about. The guy who screams at his son from the sidelines because his kid didn’t make the play dad thought he should have. The woman who, during the game, scolds the kids on the other team for their rough play, the parents who fling loud condemnations at the ref, who hover as close as possible to the bench—and the coach—during the game, who call other parents obscene names, who drink alcohol during games or show up drunk, who talk about how bad the kids on the opposing team are as they stand right next to that team’s families, who yell at their seven-year-old kids to defend their f*&#%! goals, who threaten fistfights…shall I continue? No, that’s enough.

Obviously, most sports parents are not like this. But I didn’t make up any of these examples. We parents of kids who play competitive sports often catch glimpses of this behavior, and we witness some of it on a regular basis. It’s unfortunate, it’s appalling, and it diminishes what ought to be a positive experience for kids and adults alike.

This is why I want to tell you about the parents from the Central Maine United Soccer Club from the Greater Waterville area of Maine. My son’s club soccer team played one of their U13 (under age thirteen when the fall season began) teams a few weeks ago in a tournament, and watching that game with these Maine parents offered the most enjoyable sideline experience I’ve had since my son began playing competitive soccer.

For those unfamiliar with youth soccer sidelines, the spectators all sit or stand in a line down the length of one side of the field. (The players and coaches are on the opposite side of the field.) Spectators often organize themselves so that they are grouped together in the line by team, either on opposite sides of the center line or in small clusters up and down the field.

From the start of the game, the Maine parents near me kept their commentary on the game positive. When one of their boys made a mistake, they talked about it, but they didn’t yell or belittle; they mostly laughed it off. They called out encouragement to their boys rather than criticism. And when the ref made calls with which they disagreed, they noted it, but they didn’t become incensed like a five-year-old whose cookie had just been taken away.

Then there was their approach toward our boys.

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The World Cup is On! Why Isn’t Everyone Talking About it?

Posted by on Jun 10, 2015 in The World We Parent In | 0 comments

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Megan Rapinoe, who scored 2 of 3 goals against Australia Monday to win the U.S.’s first match of the 2015 World Cup

It’s World Cup time again! Remember last summer, when—for a month—the United States was in love with soccer? It was electric! It was vibrant! Messi! Ronaldo! The goalkeeper from Mexico, Guillermo Ochoa, who saved a zillion goals like some sort of supercharged octopus! Luis Suárez’s “everything I need to know I learned from my underfed dog” chomp on Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder during a group match. The dramatic fake injuries, and Neymar’s real, fractured vertebra.* The televisions on in people’s offices as they openly neglected work obligations. The colors! The banners! The sponsors! The elbows! The jerseys! The excitement!

It’s back! As in, it’s on, right now, in Ottawa, Canada.

So why isn’t the whole country talking about it? Why aren’t we making social plans around U.S. games like we did last year, especially when the U.S. is a favorite to win the whole thing in 2015? Why aren’t we buzzing with excitement?

It could be because the current FIFA scandal is turning off both fans and potential fans, causing them to worry that the soccer balls are stuffed with cash. But I doubt that’s it.

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