Tag Archives: Recreation

Mid-Summer Sunday Report

Two weeks ago, Hubby and I attended Visitor’s Day at our son’s camp. Eager to see us, Tech waved his long arm at us as we approached his village. After he introduced us to his counselors, showed us his bed, and shoved the treats we’d brought into his trunk for safekeeping, we went for a walk. As we strolled, Tech explained that a bunch of campers had been temporarily quarantined because they all had bumpy rashes on their torsos.

Tech stopped in the middle of the road and pulled up his shirt. “Check it out,” he said, pointing to his midriff.

Hubby inspected the boy’s belly.

“Looks like heat rash,” I said dismissively.

“But it could be something,” Hubby said.

“The Health Department let us go,” Tech said.

“The Health Department was here?” Hubby and I said in stereo.

Rolling his shirt back down, our son resumed walking down the road. “They said it was nothing. The nurse told us we could go back to our bunks.”

Despite the fact that Tech seemed fine, I found myself arranging for him to have a throat culture.

As you can imagine, the Health Department was right.

All’s well that ends well, yes?

At noon, the boy came home for intersession: a few days where folks go home and drink and sleep and do laundry before returning to camp for the remaining three weeks. It’s a LoveFest over here.

And by that I mean, the boy is loving his technology.

Once in a while, I seem to manage to get a smooch in.

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Spotted in natural habitat.

How’s your summer going? And to those of you with kids who went to camp, what’s the word? Any weird rashes?

tweet me @rasjacobson

PS: Check out what my kid has been doing!

http://www.cslsummerblog.com/2013/07/end-of-july-2013-video.html

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Misty’s Old Fashioned Letter

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Y’all, another bloggy friend submitted a beautiful letter to my son in summer camp in the Write My Kid an Old-Fashioned Letter” Contest!

This one comes from Misty of Misty’s Laws.

Here’s the thing you have to know about Misty. The girl loves to send cards. This isn’t the first card that’s shown up via snail mail from Misty. She sent me a birthday card when I turned 45, and I got a little verklempt. Besides my mother and my husband, I don’t think anyone else gave me a handwritten card. Oh, I received plenty of Facebook comments on my timeline. And I got a bunch of texts. But the electronic stuff can never replace the joy of receiving and opening a personal letter.

In her letter to my son…

Misty writes as if she is a former bunkmate who didn’t return to camp this year.

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Click HERE to see Misty’s letter bigger-er!

Here’s an excerpt:

I remember all of our previous camp experiences, don’t you? Like that time we all went hiking & silly Mikey walked through all of that poison ivy. He was itchy for days! Ha. And do you remember when we went canoeing & our boat got stuck in those marshy reeds? It took forever to get out of there! And who knew mosquitoes really liked marshy reeds? Talk about itchy. Yikes. Ah, good times.

Misty “remembers” singing John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt, roasting marshmallows, and canoeing out to the marshy reeds where the itchy mosquitoes live. She hopes my son isn’t living with He Who Shall Not Be Named — which is perfect. Because everyone who ever went to camp knows there’s always one kid in the bunk you’d like to paddle out to the marshy reeds and leave with the mosquitoes.

Misty’s postscript is going to destroy my boy.

P.S: As I know you are suffering without your beloved Minecraft, in your honor, I have vowed to play an extra 2 hours of video games every day to make up for it. You’re welcome. It’s really nothing. I’m a giver.

The thing is Misty really is a giver.

If you read her blog, you know Misty goes all out to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and takes care to make everyone feel special. She buys silly stuff she knows readers of her blog will enjoy and hosts fun giveaways on her blog from time to time — just because. And she gifted me with a most delicious guest post when she shared her #SoWrong moment not long ago.

Thanks to Misty for making my kid’s summer camp experience even funner-er.

Whaaat? It’s summer. I can break a few grammar rules.

• • •

To see other posts in this series read letters from:

BrickHouseChick

Stuart Sheldon

If you’d like information about how you can win a $25 gift card by writing my son while he’s at summer camp, click HERE.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Will You Write My Son While He Is At Overnight Camp?

This year my son decided he wanted to stay at his overnight camp longer. He was willing to leave behind his close-knit group of friends in August and strike out on his own to meet totally new kids in July to have that extra week. Now I’ve been pretty good about not freaking out about this because I know 65% of the staff at the camp and I have the phone number of the Camp Director, I’ve known the Staff Director for 30 years, and I’m playing WWF with the Associate Director, and I can reach any of them in about 3 minutes I know that I can stay in touch with him via letters.

As far as I’m concerned, when writing your child who is at overnight camp, there are two rules.

Rule #1: Don’t be sad. Never tell your child that you are missing her so much that it hurts. That’s a disaster. And if your kid writes to say he is sad or homesick, don’t get all hyper and tell him you’ll pick him up. Oy. He’s just venting. No! No! No!

Rule #2: Be funny. Camp is fun – and your letters should be too. Tell stories. Take a moment from your day and embellish it like crazy. When I write to Tech, I try to be entertaining. And by that, I mean, I try to entertain myself while simultaneously torturing him.

At almost 13 years old, Tech is currently obsessed with two things: dubstep and Minecraft. If you don’t know what these things are, you are probably not the parent of a teenage boy.

Here is the first letter from home that I tapped out to my son.

• • •

Hey Tech!

You have been gone for 12 hours. I imagine you guys are just getting settled into your cabin about now. You have to tell me all the stuff you know I want to know like which cabin you are in? And who are you sleeping next to? Were things decided pretty easily or did enormous fist-fights break out? If so, was anyone seriously injured? I hope you have met some cool new people. I also hope that there are no doojies in your bunk, but you know there is always one kid. (And sometimes two.) But hopefully not.

Okay, the standard questions: How did you do on your swim test? Which hobby did you get? Who are your counselors? Are you going to ask you-know-who on Shabbat walk? If you have given up on her, is there someone else that has caught your eye? Did your cousins greet you with hugs? I paid them a lot of money to make sure there would be hugs. Please let me know if you do not feel you received a proper welcome in which case I will request a full refund. Be certain everyone knows that A & A are your first cousins because 1) they are totally cool, 2) they are staff, 3) no one will screw with you if they know you have bodyguards on the premises.

Dad & I are redecorating your room. Are you okay with yellow walls and a pink comforter? I’m pretty sure that is what you said. Dad thought pink walls and yellow comforter. Who is right? And don’t say you don’t want your room redecorated. We know you will love it when it it done!

Oh — bad news — I accidentally deleted Minecraft from my computer so you will probably have to start building your world again. Oh, I’m sorry. Did seeing the word “Minecraft” make you experience withdrawal symptoms? I’m sorry to have mentioned Minecraft. It’s probably hard for you to be away from Minecraft. Did you find out if anyone else likes to mine? What about dubstep? By the time you leave, I’m guessing everyone will be digging Dead Mouse and Skrillex.

I love you eleventy-bazillion pounds. And that, my son, is a lot.

Have a great time and be the great person that you are.

(Or be that kid. Either way.)

Sending you all my crazy-embarrassing motherly love.

xoxoxox Mom

I’d love it if you would leave a note for Tech while he is at summer camp during the month of July! Write as much or as little as you would like. I will print out all of your responses and bring them to him on Visitors Day which is set for July 15. 

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Unintentional Lessons in The Game of Life

Somehow, on a Sunday night not long ago, everyone in my family was playing a game together. This is remarkable for many reasons, but mostly because my husband despises all games.

(Except golf.)

It could also be that I tend to get a little competitive.

Anyway, on this particular night we were all lying on the fluffy beige rug playing The Game of Life – the Twists and Turns version.

Now, this is not the old-fashioned version with the spinner you’d flick with your finger and you’d get a car and fill that car with pink or blue people.

Nay, in this new and supposedly improved version, an electronic gadget spins for you — after you have inserted your individual credit card and pressed a button that says SPIN on it.

So we’re all looking at this thing that looks like a UFO, listening to it beep, and watching it light up.

You learn a lot about your family when you play games.

For example, my 12-year-old (Tech Support) on marriage:

“It’s good to get LOVE out-of-the-way as soon as you can. It can be a pain.”

On having children:

“You shouldn’t have kids until after you’ve LIVED a little. I’ve tried that and it always ends badly.”

On money:

“Life is expensive. You tend to lose money when you LIVE.”

My husband on finances:

“I have no money, but that’s okay because I helped someone to make his dreams come true, and I think that counts for something.”

Later, my husband got rich and greedy. Tech Support and I both heard husband say:

“I want a mansion. Gimmee the biggest, sweetest mansion.”

and

“How can I have this totally awesome house and not have an awesome car? LIFE makes no sense.”

I couldn’t believe it, but I found myself whining about education:

“This is taking forever! I need to get another degree so that I can be an Executive Chef!”

Meanwhile, that game is clearly confused. I don’t want to be an Executive Chef.

I want to hire an executive chef.

Whatever, I eventually earned my degree and got my $400,000 salary.

Oh and did I mention, I won?

Duh.

(This might explain why Hubby doesn’t like to play games with me.)

Want to read more from families who play games? Check out this post from Kasey Mathews and this one from Gigi Ross aka: Kludgy Mom.

What have you unintentionally learned about your family while playing games?

UPDATE 3/29: And speaking of games: Today Clay Morgan opens the polls in his 2nd Annual March Movie Madness (#MMM2) Contest for Best Protagonist of All-Time. Amazingly, my boy, Ferris Bueller has made it to the Final Four. If you can find it in your heart to vote to SAVE FERRIS (again), I would appreciate it. He’s up against Westley from The Princess Bride. Methinks I’m going to need a lot of help here. So after 1 pm, click on Educlaytion and SAVE FERRIS.

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Roots & Wings

The Golisano College of Computing and Informat...

Image via Wikipedia

Way back in December, a brochure made its way into my house advertising a summer kids’ camp at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Monkey read it hungrily and announced that he really wanted to take a computer programming class.

I heard him but I left the information on the back burner.

On a very low simmer.

Because I didn’t want Monkey to spend two weeks inside with eleventy-zillion computer screens. Lord knows our summers in New York State are short enough as it is. So I didn’t really jump on it.

But Monkey was relentless.

(I don’t know where he gets it.)

After weeks of daily questioning, he wore me down and I signed him up so for the desired two-week session. For two weeks, five hours a day, my child sat in a college classroom learning how to use Adobe Flash to create a computer video game.

And he loved every minute of it.

In the car on the way home each afternoon, he talked (mostly to himself) about “code” and “servers” and “syntax errors” and “unnecessary right braces before end of program” and other things I did not understand.

On the first day of the second week Monkey said: “You don’t have to walk me in.”

I looked at my 11-year-old son. He assured me I could just drop him off at the curb, that he knew just where to go “on-campus.” He unbuckled his seatbelt and kissed me on my nose, an old ritual since his pre-school days.

I let him go.

I wasn’t worried about him, but I didn’t drive away so quickly. For some reason, the moment felt kind of monumental. I watched my son’s slim body move further and further away from me until he was so far up the path that I almost couldn’t differentiate him from another student. Eventually, Monkey (or maybe it was the other kid) opened one of the two heavy doors to the brick and glass Tom Golisano Building for Computing and Information Science and disappeared without even looking back.

I imagined my son graduating from high school and heading off to college in five years time. And never looking back.

Later that week Monkey asked me if he had to finish middle and high school or if he could just skip ahead to college.

(This from a child who still doesn’t know how to properly use a comma.)

I, of course popped into teacher mode. I explained to him that, while he might excel in computer technology, he still needs to learn about literature and history, to continue to work on his writing and language skills – because otherwise there would be holes in his educational fabric.

“Right now, school is helping to weave a tapestry in your brain,” I said. “But that tapestry is only partially created. If you stop going to school or skip the subjects that don’t appeal to you, it would be like enormous moths attacked the tapestry and chewed giant holes into it.”

Monkey was quiet so I kept going. “You need a know a lot of different types of knowledge before you go to college. And you are going to need to understand how those types of knowledge are interconnected…”

Monkey interrupted. “Mom, I’m kidding!” He patted my hand in mock reassurance. “Don’t be so serious.”

Oy.

I know it’s a parent’s job to give a child roots and wings. And Monkey has got ’em.

I just didn’t think he would want to fly off so fast.

If your child wanted to pursue year-round school academics, would you encourage him/her to do so? Or do you feel taking time off to relax during the summer is important?

What to Do If Your Kid Says “I’m Bored”

Toilet in german theater munich

Image via Wikipedia

It only takes once.

If your child says, “I’m bored,” this summer, here’s what you do.

First get all worked up into a thrilled frenzy. Then, in the most madly excited voice you can muster say:

“You are! Because I have the best thing for you to do, and I was just waiting for you to say you wanted to do something new.”

Take your bored child gently by the hand and guide him to the bathroom.

(Ed. note: *The brush needs to be there already or else he will try to escape.*)

Have your child stand before the toilet and hand him the brush.

(Ed. Note: *You must gush here. Very important to ooze gush.*)

Start swirling.

At first, your child might like this activity, especially after you add all the bubbly cleaning supplies and let him swish them around – but after a short while, as we all know, this task loses its magic.

He will want to stop.

When he moans or complains or asks to stop, look positively bewildered.

(*Seriously, you must appear profoundly confused. Furrow your brow, but only briefly. We don’t want to leave wrinkles.*)

“But you said you were bored…”

Don’t forget to remind your child that you have X more toilets to clean if you hear him say he is bored again.

Ever.

Monkey has not said “I’m bored” since he was 4-years old.

On a down note, for the last 7 years, I have been the Chief Cleaner of all Things Porcelain.

What tactics do you employ when your child complains that he or she is bored in the summer?

• • •

Today marks my 200th post. To show how much I love the folks who comment and to make sure you are not bored, I have a fun little exercise: If you leave a comment on today’s post, I will create a fabulously fun post which will share how we met. Of course, all the content will be a lie. That’s right, I will create a piece of fabulous fiction to include each one of you. If you have a blog, I will even show you some linky-love. So let’s have a little fun! If you’ve never left a comment before, this is the day to do it!

Put Sleep-Away Camp on the Must Try List

This is the 1st in a 3 part series about why I send my child to summer camp. It first ran last June when my blog was in its infancy, and I had 3 subscribers. It seemed like the right time of year to run it again — especially as I’m starting to pack up Monkey for his 4th summer at overnight camp.

photo by Jill Butin Neuman

It happens each summer. People ask about our plans, and when certain folks learn that our child spends three solid weeks each summer at overnight camp, I am met with looks of incredulity and sometimes horror.

More often than not, people gasp and say things like: “I could never do that,” as if to imply that I somehow force my son to pack his trunk and duffel and get out of our house. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if I didn’t let him go, he would consider that the biggest punishment – ever!

Sometimes I get a variation on the theme: “I would never do that.” This response is extra excellent as it is packed with a little judgment, which I really appreciate. This response implies that I am somehow harming my child, perhaps inviting trouble into his life because I won’t be there to oversee his every move 100% of the time. (Can you imagine?)

When people respond this way, I sometimes get a little snarky and say, “At least this summer he came home with nine fingers.” (Insert a dramatic pause.) “Last summer was a disaster.” I know people  imagine pedophiles lurking around the showers or picture their own children drowning, their heads being held under water by rowdy unsupervised troublemakers. These are their issues.

For me, overnight camp was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, and I feel fortunate that my husband and I are able to pay this gift forward to our child. Here’s what overnight camp gave me and continues to give children who attend each year:

1. Continued Independence. Each August, Monkey and his posse of buddies hop on the camp bus and return with a kind of “we-can-survive-without-our-parents” vibe. I once asked my son if anyone ever gets homesick. He shrugged, “Usually, our counselors keep us too busy to even think about being homesick. If it does happen, it is usually the new kids – but once they get into it and get comfortable with the routine, all that homesickness goes away,” then he added, “Plus, we take care of each other.”

2. Benefits of Communal Life. Living in a bunk with 8 or 9 “summer siblings” affords kids the opportunity to develop some amazing problem solving skills. If there is an argument, instead of a parent swooping in to the rescue, the boys generally have to work it out by themselves. That means using their mouths to directly communicate their feelings. Sometimes they aren’t so great at expressing the subtle nuances of their emotions, but – again – they have each other to lean on. If things ever escalate, they have counselors and Unit Heads to help them.

There are other benefits of living in a large group. Boys learn to respect each other’s property, tolerate each other’s quirks, and appreciate each other’s boundaries. Everyone sees each other at their best and their worst selves. Summer camp goes a long way towards undoing that horrible “entitled” attitude. The spoiled girl quickly learns when her peers have had enough of her whining. Kids are patient to a point, but when an entire bunk is angry at you, it is time to take a look in the mirror. Campers quickly learn that despite the fact that a person cannot always get what he wants, everything usually turns out okay in the end.

3. Time Away from Technology. Okay, so when I was young, there was less technology, but I still missed Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and General Hospital. These days, kids are so connected to their social networks, their email accounts, their Apps, the Internet, their Skype. They are used to the constant buzz-ping of each new text message as it arrives. Being unplugged from most technology allows kids to connect with each other, a valuable skill that seems to be getting lost a bit these days. My son reminds me, “We can have iPods, so if someone needs some alone time, he can just pop in the ear buds.” Staff members have told me that after a few days, many kids begin to prefer people to gadgets, and rather than tune out, they start to look for other campers to “hang out with.”

4. Connection to Nature. While our family is fortunate to live in an area with plenty of access to great parks, during the school year, many children just do not have a lot of spare time to go outside and play. My son says, “At camp, we are kind of forced to appreciate nature. It’s easy to forget, but once you start walking around, you can’t help but remember.” Camp Seneca Lake has over 200 acres to explore. Trails to blaze. There are squirrels, field mice, lots of ants and millipedes; there are raccoons and skunks and deer. There is a beautiful lake with a beach that consists of zillions of flat shale rocks, perfect for skipping. What more could a kid want?

5. Opportunity to Try New Things. I like to think of CSL as a “liberal arts” camp. Unlike sports camps where kids learn the skills necessary to specialize in one venue, at CSL kids have the opportunity to try new things simply because they have access to so many opportunities they may not have at home.

The “non-jock” can try floor hockey or excel at Ga-ga, a weird game I’ve never seen played outside of summer camp. There are plays in which kids can perform; an art barn where children can make jewelry, throw on the potter’s wheel, batik, make candles, draw, paint, make just about anything. (A far cry from boondoggle – although they have plenty of that, too.) At Athletics, they can practice archery, basketball, tetherball, softball, tennis, ping-pong – and any other land sport you can think of. The waterfront offers canoeing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, sailing, banana boating — even opportunities to swim-the-lake! Picky eaters might even try something new because the kids work up a real appetite trying all these incredible activities.

Did you attend  to attend overnight camp? What is your favorite memory? If you didn’t go, would you let your kids go? Why or why not?

Lessons From Annual Daffodil Day

Me, in the Daffodil Meadow

For the last ten years, my friend and I have taken our sons to the local Daffodil Park on May 1st. The park is a gorgeous, secret jewel hidden right on the edge of our town. And each time we go, there is something that helps us to mark the passing of time.

One year, we saw a partially decayed deer carcass, and the kids poked the flesh and bones and fur with long sticks and made up stories about what must have happened to the deer. There was the time when Monkey, while walking too closely to the water’s edge, accidentally slipped in and ended up with a wet pant leg and shoe. There was the year where it was unbelievably muddy and we mommies, unprepared for such conditions, walked out of the park looking like two muddy swamp creatures along with our equally brackish boys.

Then one year was different, calmer. The boys were older. They came and went from our picnic blanket as they pleased. That year our children could reach the sign that reads: “Daffodil Park: Beginning May 1.” For years, they had jumped, trying to touch that sign with their fingertips – and then, one year, they could stand, feet planted firmly on the ground, and just push up the sign and release it with a bang. How did that happen? my friend and I wondered as we watched our sons frolic like young foals.

Daffodil Day has always been a lovely way to kick-off spring: a lovely way to pass time, a lovely way to mark our friendship. Each year, it is renewed. It is greener. Each year, a new adventure.

Monkey beside the old trees.

I don’t know how it happened, but I missed it this year.

Daffodil Day?

Not. Even. On. The. Radar.

How did that happen?

Part of me thinks that it is because the weather has just been miserable in Western, New York this spring. My husband has certainly grumbled enough about the lost rounds of golf. Even today, on May 19th, it is still overcast and cool enough for a light jacket.

But another part of me knows that Monkey and his old friend aren’t quite the friends they used to be. They have gravitated toward other people. Which is fine. It’s natural for friendships to change. But it is kind of sad, too, so I can mourn that a little.

Looking out the window yesterday – beyond the raindrops that drizzled down the glass – I decided missing Daffodil Day is wrong. Even if my friend and her son didn’t join us, I decided to take Monkey on a muddy field trip. (This time, at least I’d be prepared.) I planned to take pictures of him in the usual spots. The yellow flowers would be gone. The yellow heads would be brown and shriveled. (I was mentally prepared for that.) But Monkey and I have always liked to get dirty, liked to get caught in rain-showers, and there is a bench in the park where I figured we could just sit and chat. Without phones or any electronic devices that ping or beep. Except maybe my camera.

Because I decided I am not ready to give up that ritual. Not yet.

When Monkey came home from school and announced he had completed all of his homework, I was elated. The sun had poked out just enough for me to feel hopeful. I told him to put on his worst shoes, that we were going for a ride.

“Where we goin’?” he asked.

“Just get in,” I said, “You’ll see.”

In seven minutes, we arrived and I pulled my car over to the side of the road and intentionally left my phone in the car.

Wordlessly, Monkey and I walked down the rocky slope to the Daffodil Meadow holding hands. We walked .2 miles and quietly noticed everything. Monkey was the first to comment on green everyone was. He noticed that the water in the stream seemed lower, which it did. He noticed that a lot of the old trees had rotted more. Slapping his neck, he noted that the mosquitoes were out.

Where have all the flowers gone?

And as we made the familiar turn to the spot where thousands of daffodils usually stretch their necks upwards with a kind of sunny glow, Monkey and I marveled in unison: “Whoa!”

The whole area was under water.

This was something new.

I pulled out the camera and took pictures of him and then he took some of me. And then, because we were alone, we realized we weren’t going to have any of the two of us.

Together.

“It’s okay, Mom,” Monkey said. “We’ll come back next year. We’ll always come back.”

And I hope this is true but it occurs to me that, one day, my soon-to-be-teenaged son might not want to accompany me to the Daffodil Park. Indeed, he might not want to accompany him anywhere. He is becoming someone new, to himself, to me.

Strange as it sounds, I fell into a weird little daydream where I imagined myself a very old woman, being pushed in my wheelchair by my son on Daffodil Day. I dreamed he had made a simple picnic – a basket filled with cheese, crackers and fruit – and together we looked quietly out at the water, the trees, the flowers. I allowed myself to consider for a moment that maybe my son was not wrong, that maybe he would “always come back” so that one day, my grandchildren might bring their own children to the Daffodil Meadow.

It’s a pretty good dream, right?

I think I’ll cling to it for a little while, if you don’t mind.

What are some non-traditional family rituals that bring you joy?

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Lessons From Mahjong

Recently, my mother-in-law tried to teach me how to play Mahjong.

I’ve wanted to learn how to play for a decade, but everyone that I know says it’s awful to try to teach someone new. Besides, my friends who play already have established games, league nights, regular players.

I get it.

But privately, I fancied myself a quick study who would be able to pick up the game easily. I mean, I’m good at games. I love games. Plus, I’m insanely competitive. As my friend Michael will attest, I’m practically blood-thirsty. (Do you know I have beat him at Chess and Scrabble and Bananagrams! It’s true.)

I think this is why I have such a thing about grammar. A competitive perfectionist, I simply had to master it. I also think it is why I become irate every time the rules for MLA citation change. Dammit, I think to myself, I have already mastered this game; I’ve already won! Now I have to go and learn the rules again? Really? But I do. I kick grammar’s ass the same way I beat that punk Pac Man and his wimpy friend Donkey Kong.

Anyway, my mother-in-law showed amazing patience that Sunday afternoon because it didn’t take an Oxford scholar to realize that I was going to suck at Mahjong. Or, rather, that Mahjong was going to kick my ass.

No wonder the Chinese are so smart! That game of tiles and cards and numbers and patterns and dragons and jokers is really freakin’ complicated. Hell, even doling out the tiles is complicated. I will not even try to explain the double-stacking of the tiles or the elaborate way that one is supposed to push out the tiles, or the highly ritualized criss-crossing of tiles across the board as one decides what to keep and what to toss. I’m sure you get the idea that there is very little about Mahjong that was intuitive for this neophyte.

Trying to learn Mahjong reminded me of being back in calculus or trigonometry. Something in my brain wouldn’t click: a little place inside me that kept pushing back, resisting. Even though I desperately wanted to learn, it was very hard. The little ivory tiles have secret code names: “bams” and “cracks,” “dots” and “winds,” “birds” and “dragons.” And while I loved the ritual of setting up and the symbolism of the names and the pretty patterns carved into the ivory, the mental game itself was absolutely grueling.

It was a humbling experience.

I am pretty sure my mother-in-law thinks I’m really stupid. She is probably worried about her son. I mean, we have made it to 15 years, but now she has to be worried.

That said, this was a really important exercise for me.

It has been a while since I have tried to learn something truly new. Oh, I am forever adding things to my little bag of tricks, but this was outside my comfort zone. This was not another word game.

It is important for me to remember that Sunday Mahjong lesson because I am certain that some students experience that same overwhelming feeling of frustration as they sit in my Composition classes every other day for fifteen weeks. After all, it is a required class. Each student has to take it and pass it as part of their distribution requirements. So I had to ask myself, What if Mahjong were a required class? How would I manage? How would I feel on the day-to-day? What kind of support would I need from my teacher? Because there is no doubt in my mind that I would need a lot of extra help to pass Mahjong-101.

Obviously, I teach English because I love language – to dissect grammar, to read critically, for symbolism and irony, to revel in the particularly wonderful turn of a phrase, and because I love to write. But it is also interesting and rather easy for me. Obviously, not everyone has the same zeal for the subject. And that’s okay. I just have to remember that for some students, reading literature and writing essays is…well, like Mahjong for me: really challenging. Which is not to say it cannot be done. I will conquer this game. Eventually.  I will just have to work harder to understand what others seem to pick up with much less mind-bending pain.

Recently, a few foolish kind-souls offered to have me join them in a game of Mahjong. I politely declined. I am not ready for prime time. Not yet, anyway. Right now, I am slow. Even my father-in-law said I am ridiculously slow. It’s true.

I recently read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become expert at something. (I don’t know where I read this, but I fear it may have been a golf magazine.)  I believe there is a naturalness that can come with practice –  when people finally get to that level of play where they don’t really have to think any more. They can just do. It happens in sports, in writing, in music, even in games. There comes a tipping point where, suddenly, a person just “gets it.”

One day, I will become one with the Mahjong tiles.

I will see 1111 222 3333 FF, and decode its meaning with ease, the way I know with certainty in which context to use “their,” “there” and “they’re” or when to use a semi-colon. Someday, it will be completely obvious.

Until then, it is my understanding that my 10 year-old niece can kick my ass.

Lessons From Losing

As a self-admitted, ridiculously competitive parent who wants her child to know how good it can feel to work hard and win, it is my duty to report that my son competed in a fencing competition last weekend. On the strip, he fenced his butt off and did not lose a single match. As parents, my husband and I were internally beyond psyched, but externally we tried to contain ourselves.

After two hours, Monkey came over to the area where we were standing and said, “Explain how I have won every bout but I am now ranked #7?” Husband and I looked at each other and said (practically in unison), “Don’t ask us! Ask the guy with the clipboard.” So Monkey did. He marched right up to his coach who is like nine feet tall and tattooed and has a goatee and sometimes yells at kids or bonks them on their helmets for not paying attention. (It should be said, this treatment is always deserved. Elliott is an amazing coach, but he can be intimidating.)

Several adults were standing in a small cluster when Monkey barged in. From my vantage point (wedged against husband and the cola machine), I could see Monkey say something and point at the clipboard. Then I saw everyone look at the clipboard. And then I saw four horrified adult faces. I watched people erasing and nodding. Eventually, words were exchanged and Monkey came back over to us.

Apparently, an error had been made. One of the refs accidentally wrote down the wrong last name in the brackets and so Monkey’s competitor, the kid he had beaten, moved ahead of him.

When the error was brought to his attention, my son was composed. He stayed for the remainder of the competition and watched other fencers compete. He even congratulated the winners afterward.

Later in the car, Monkey was mad. It’s the first time I’d ever seen anything close to a kind of fire in my son. He said he was frustrated – really frustrated. That he had wanted to go as far as he could, and he was mad to have been prematurely stopped in his tracks. He did not have a hissy fit or cry. He understood an error had been made. He knew it was not intentional. He knew that by the time the error had been caught, it was too late, as fencers were already fencing in the semi-finals. He just kind of wished he had known about the mistake earlier.

So there were lots of lessons that day. Lessons we take through life. Monkey kept his head about him and kept his cool, despite the fact that he got a bum rap. He understood his disappointment wasn’t so much about the losing so much as it was losing the opportunity to do his best. That was the frustrating thing for him. (And I’m guessing next time, he’ll be the kid hovering around whomever is holding the clipboard.)

There were lessons for this trophy-seeking momma, too. I have to admit, my first instinct was to feel anger. I felt Monkey had been gypped. Privately, I wanted the coaches to go all the way back in the seeding to where the error was made and start over. I didn’t care if it meant another grueling two hours for the fencers; I wanted justice! I was surprised by how quickly my inner Tiger Momma wanted to pounce: claws bared, teeth clenched. I wanted apologies and a free year of private lessons. I wanted someone to publicly acknowledge my child’s amazing composure. For the love of Pete, I wanted to scream, Someone mention that you guys screwed up and my kid did not really come in 7th place!

Of course, I didn’t.

I squished these urges down, but it wasn’t easy. But I took my cue from Monkey, and I rode the tide. And just so we’re all clear, I’m not a great tide-rider. But on that day, I had to be. We all did. Because sometimes life really does just happen and — even if you have a sword — sometimes you just have to put it away and prepare to battle another day.