Saturday, March 26, 2011

I have a good day every now and then

“This is a good day,” declared my son.

I had spent the entire morning at the doctor’s office, being shuffled from one freezing cold exam room to another, forced to repeat one test because apparently the machine no longer worked. I was poked, prodded and walked in on while changing. Somehow that was the worst (even though it was only the nurse). It’s probably fortunate that human modesty is the last to go.

Don’t worry; I’m fine, and it’s a good thing. I’ve always feared something would happen to me, and I’d have to go the hospital, and my sweet church friends would come over to help out and say those dreaded words: “Wow, she’s a slob, bless her heart!”

I’m not the only woman who feels this way, by the way. I talked to a friend who said their smoke alarm went off, and as the fire department arrived, all she could think was, “Boy, I hope they don’t see how dirty my house is.”

I digress, but, in short, it had not been a good day.

But to my 9-year-old son, it was a great day. Instead of being at work, his mama picked him up from school, parking the truck and getting out to surprise him. Now, to be fair, there is a very good reason he prefers my picking him up over his daddy. It’s called Dairy Queen, which is exactly where I suggested we go the minute he climbed into the cab.

I let him talk me into a medium chocolate shake because “you know how little the smalls are, Mom.” When I saw the size of the medium, I knew I had been conned, but he proved to be worth it.

When we got home, he pulled out his folder and revealed, to both our delight, a week’s worth of A’s. Since he didn’t have much homework, he turned on Netflix and discovered an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that wasn’t rated R. I gotta tell you, the boy was practically in heaven at this point.

After that, we went to his baseball game. Having recently discovered his missing cup (don’t ask), he played catcher, and what a great job he did. And when he wasn’t catching, he was at bat and getting hits. At one point, I was so excited, I yelled, “Boy, oh, boy!” I have no idea where that came from. Too much “Leave it to Beaver” as a kid, perhaps.

But the piece de resistance was when my son took the pitcher’s mound for the very first time. He practiced turning sideways, kicking his leg up and bringing on the heat. After a bit of coaching from an awesome umpire, he was ready for his first pitch. Boom! It was low and right across the plate. The batter swung and, thanks to the magic of Little League, hit an infield ball that rolled past short stop, past the left fielder and to the fence.

I doubt I yelled out anything from “Leave it to Beaver” at that moment.

But, standing on the mound with a big wad of chewing gum in his cheek, my son seemed cool under pressure. He proceeded to strike out the next boy and then the next. The opposing team was bent on not swinging, hoping for a walk. They got one — only one. My son struck out the next boy at bat, and suddenly, it was our turn again. The score was 6-12, and my husband had hopes that they’d come back and win, but to me we already had. We lost, but it was the best Little League game I’ve ever seen.

Afterwards, the coach presented my son with the game ball. Nothing like receiving a reward for something you’ve earned. We wrote his stats on the ball, along with the date.

As I tucked in my sweaty son (it was too late for a needed bath), he grinned, gave me a hug, and said, “I knew this was going to be a good day.”

And, for that moment, I felt what it was like to be a 9-year-old boy who just played his best ballgame ever.

And then I realized, as the mother of one, the feeling I had was even better.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

On being stubborn

I just finished reading a fascinating memoir called "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua. In it, she's determined -- a positive spin on the word stubborn -- to be what she calls a "Chinese mother."

This means her children will enjoy no sleepovers, no play dates and no excuse for coming in second place. They are expected to become musical prodigies, practicing hours on end.

Though it may sound to our spoiled society ears like "Mommy Dearest," Chua's heart is in the right place, and she truly believes her way is best for her children. It seems to work until Chua quickly learns her younger daughter shares the same stubborn streak.

I can relate to that relationship. My dad was determined, too, when he was raising me. Oh, not to make me any kind of superstar -- just to get me to do things like say "please" and "thank you." Sounds simple enough, I know, but trust me, it was a lot harder than you think. I remember.

One particular time stands out. I was 4 years old and we were on our way to Jacksonville, Fla., to visit my dad's friend, Andy. I loved Andy and his wife and always looked forward to this trip, in part because each morning I'd wake up to see tiny little frogs sticking to the sliding glass door. Hey, I was 4!

It had been a long drive. I can remember the hot air blowing in the open windows of our green Pontiac, with its headliner flapping annoyingly in the wind. Daddy didn't believe in stopping, which meant we knew better than to drink more than a sip of water. So, by the time we arrived, I was hot, a little grumpy and very, very thirsty.

Andy was still at work at the sporting goods store he owned, so we stopped there first. Kindly and mild-mannered, he greeted us and gave us a quick tour of his store, and, to my delight, pulled out a quarter, dropped it into an old-fashioned Coca-Cola machine, and out plunked an 8 oz. ice-cold bottle of sheer heaven.

My mouth watered, and I reached out to grab it at the same time my dad said, "Tell Andy thank you, Leigh."

For some reason unbeknownst to me, instead of simply saying "thank you" and drinking a long refreshing gulp of Coke, like something you'd see in a commercial, I shook my head and said, "No."

"Leigh, he bought you a Coke. Tell him thank you."

Again, I shook my head.

"It's OK," Andy insisted. "She doesn't have to."

"Yes, she does," said my dad, and then he drew a line in the sand with his next words: "We are going to sit here all day until you say thank you."

My dad and I settled in for a head-to-head battle. He glared at me, and I glared at him. And we waited for what seemed like an eternity to all parties involved. I can't imagine what it was like for my dad, a 200 lb. world-champion weightlifter, to have to take on a 45 lb. sassy blonde, but here we were.

The clock on the wall ticked. Andy pulled at his collar uncomfortably. Sweat beaded off our foreheads. Ultimately, I caught a glimpse of the bottle out of the corner of my eye, and I broke.

"Thank you," I said. Everyone sighed with relief. It was probably the best tasting Coke I've ever had, though if it hadn't been for sheer thirst, we may still be there. Later, Andy told my dad that we were two of the most stubborn people he'd ever seen in his life.

I love this story because it's so true. As time passed, I learned stubbornness wasn't all bad. Stubborn is what gets a person from homelessness to success, as in the movie "Pursuit of Happyness." Stubbornness is what pushes a single mom to work during the day and stay up late into the night to study so she can get off welfare; stubbornness is what makes a person get out of bed and continue to live after an unspeakable tragedy has taken place. I marvel at it.

Of course, there's always a flip side. Stubborn people learn most things the hard way (of course, how can anyone tell them differently?). My dad used to tell me there was an easy way and a hard way, and I could choose. I had no idea what he meant. I saw my way. To me, that was it.

I'd like to think that now I'm a little more open and less stubborn. But I'm probably not. Recently, my family went hiking over some rather treacherous rocks, and as I followed my husband, he tried to helpfully show me where to place my feet.

I responded by saying, "Sometimes I want to make my own steps."

And, right or wrong, that's what humans have to do, though it may mean falling down and getting hurt. And when you do, hopefully, there's someone who loves you standing by with a cold Coke. Just don't forget to say thank you.