Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The March to Madness

Spring is in the air, the cherry blossom trees are coming to life, and the daffodils and forsythia are bursting out in bright flashes of yellow.   This should be a relaxing time to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak.  But with spring comes March madness.  No, not the sitting around watching college hoops kind of madness.  A different march of madness – more like a mad dash really – from the soccer fields to the baseball fields to ice hockey to tennis to ballet to choir to  horseback riding to the …. You get the idea.

Every spring I declare I am going to stop this insanity and sign up for one sport per kid per season.  Every spring, I immediately break this rule and sign them up for even more stuff.    What is wrong with me, I ask myself, as I obsessively check the carpool schedule for Jack’s soccer practices, hustle across town to get Alexandra to her soccer games and ice-skating lessons, and try to figure out how Jack is going to make it to his soccer game and his baseball practice at the same time.   (Answer: unless I bend time and space to my personal desires, which I’ve tried without much success, he is not).

There is a lot of discussion about how overscheduled kids are nowadays, and I agree, my kids are overscheduled, and I have no one to blame but myself.  But for reasons that I clearly need to spend more time introspectively pondering (if I had the time, that is), I am unable to say “no,” and to make them choose which of the myriad activities they want to do.  My internal thinking seems to be along the lines of “I don’t want them to miss out on an opportunity,” as if not being on THAT soccer team is somehow going to make the difference between becoming the next Beckham and playing on a JV soccer team their senior year of high school, if at all (the horrors). 

Obviously, I am very type A++++.  I know this about myself and I work on it, I promise I do.  But I somewhat blame this sports-overload on the various sporting leagues that run organized sports in Montgomery County too.   Why, MSI Soccer, do you make it so impossible to only have a fall team and then take a break for the spring?  Both their website and their emails constantly remind you that if you don’t register for the next season, you are going to lose your spot on your team AND THEN WHERE WILL YOU BE?  If you don’t get a spot on the BCC baseball team in Kindergarten, well you can forget your kid playing on the school team with his friends until fourth or fifth grade when most of the roster (and really more their parents) are forced to admit that watching their elementary school kids play baseball is worse, way worse, than watching paint dry.   White paint.  Matte, with no gloss.

Then you’ve got the debate of whether it is better to diversify and try lots of different sports (what most of us were forced to do growing up), or OH MY GOD, your kid is in second grade and you haven’t picked what sport he or she is going to “major” in yet?  The various travel clubs add to this debate by basically insisting that your kid commit to only playing that sport if they join the club, because you know, all of that time they spent getting your 8-yr old to learn to do that fake-out scissor kick move is a big, big INVESTMENT that needs to be protected.  Heaven forbid your soccer-playing future phenom break his arm playing ice hockey for MYHA, that would be a truly selfish act and would let down your kid’s travel team and then they might not make it to that championship game or whatever it is you are supposed to care about if your kid plays some club sport.   (And don’t even get me started on the god-awful ice rink times you are subjected to if you stupidly let your kid “try” ice hockey). 

This sports-centric MoCo world is all new to me.   You should know that I was no athlete in school – my “team” in high school was the debate team, and let’s just say Dave learned a lot of Latin in high school.  I’m sure a psychotherapist could have a field day with that confession.   But I do know that I somehow need to take a deep breath and find a better way to not get sucked into this insanity.   

The other day I was watching Alex’s ice-skating class at Cabin John when loud, fast-paced music came blasting across the speakers behind me.  A column of girls started dancing across the ice in a synchronized pattern, swooping and turning in time to the music.  I inquired what was going on and found out that a synchronized skating team (DC Edge) was practicing.  I chatted with the coach and found myself picking up an informational sheet from her table, learning that they practice twice a week and get to travel as far as Boston to compete.  I was intrigued, picturing how much Alex would love it, especially the fancy costumes, and was about to put the flyer into my purse when a voice in my head spoke up.  Lisa, put down the flyer and step away, step away from the table.   I slowly set the sign-up sheet down and took a few steps backwards, turned and then fled.  Baby steps, baby steps. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Important Newsflash from CSES Second Grade

This just in from the Second Grade teachers and Principal:

Dear Parents,

There have issues recently in regards to pencil grips in the classroom.  The second grade teachers, along with Mr. Palmisano, have discussed the concerns and have come up with what we feel is an equitable solution.  We are sending all pencil grips home today with students. Two pencil grips with the student's initials written on it in permanent ink may be returned to class on Monday. . . Thank you for your help and cooperation in this matter."

Allow me to translate this into non-school speak.

Dear Parents.

We have about had it with your second grade kids.  We can't believe how late spring break is this year.  Although we are complaining about the pencil grips, we are really more pissed about the fact that your kids keeping teepeing the bathrooms and writing in poop on the walls.  We deeply regret ever suggesting that a ".6" teacher is the equivalent of a full-time third teacher, at least when it comes to your kids.  We are planning to sell our souls and do whatever it takes to get a third teacher next year for this rowdy bunch, because otherwise the third-grade teachers are all going to quit.  We are even considering putting all 60 kindergarteners into one class size of 60 and borrow those teachers, because we are pretty confident that the kindergarteners will still behave better.

Now we are all going to go drink a bottle of scotch."

The second grade teachers.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

In the last couple of weeks there have been several posts on the neighborhood chat that have really made me think about what makes a “good” neighbor.  First, we got into a flame war about a gang of teenagers roaming the neighborhood playing an air gun rifle equivalent of paint ball.  Although the discussion quickly devolved into a debate about whether air rifles where legal or not (there being way too many lawyers involved in any debate in DC), the central question was really something different:  how do neighbors resolve their differences? Do you pick up the phone and call the police, or do you step outside and talk to the teenagers, reach out the parents and attempt to resolve the dispute in the neighborhood?   Surprisingly, this was not an easy question for the neighborhood to answer.

Just when that debate had cooled off, another one flamed up.  Turns out someone in the ‘hood called the Montgomery County Environmental Division to complain about a neighbor’s landscape contractor dumping their yard garbage (limbs, woodchips, etc) on their lawn.   Supposedly, the complainant never talked to their neighbor, otherwise they would have learned that this had been a hard year, in which one member of the family had been hit by a serious illness and they were struggling to keep their heads above water.  A visit from the County’s environmental division was probably the last thing they needed.

                I am sure most of us were forced to analyze Robert Frost’s “mending walls” poem in high school, and we remember the line “good fences make good neighbors.”  Tortured English paper essays aside, it is too easy to forget that this poem is not about erecting barriers between each other.  Rather, the neighbors work together to build the stone wall, talking to each other and working together to find mutually-respectable boundaries.   Sounds like maybe we all need to read this poem again.  It is too easy, in this day and age, to sit behind our computers and hide behind our cell phones and avoid the difficult conversations, not going outside to mend the walls together.

 Just a year after we moved into the house, we got fed up with weeding the natural “grove” in the front of our yard, and asked our landscaper to put some wood chips down.  The next day, I awoke to orange day-glo cheap chips scattered around the front yard, crossing over into my neighbor’s au natural section of the yard.   Our neighbor could have been furious; instead, he knocked on my door and explained to me that he and his wife had gotten married in the grove, showing me the very spot where they got married and pointing to where the deer liked to congregate.   Since then, we have worked together to plan out the grove, discussing the removal of dead trees and coming up with a plan to replace them with new trees.   Each spring, we got outside to mend the “stone wall” together.

So, next time you are tempted to take the easy, anonymous way out and call the “authorities,” rather than having that difficult conversation with a neighbor, ask yourself, what would a good neighbor do? I think the answer is self-evident.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Won’t you be my neighbor?

We quickly outgrew our house in AU Park when the twins were born.  That small third bedroom went in one fell swoop from the “tomorrow “ room to a room stuffed full with two cribs, a rocking chair, a changing table and no room for much else.  We started looking for a bigger house, our search expanding in concentric circles, like sonar radar, as we realized our budget was not going to get us the space we wanted or needed.

We briefly considered moving to Virginia but that Maryland aversion to crossing a bridge had already set in.   We told our patient realtor, no matter what we are not going outside the beltway, as if that were the magical line between a reasonable and nightmarish commute.  (Turns out the line is MUCH closer in).  Tulip Hill, Bannockburn, Bradley Hills, Kenmore,  too expensive, too small, too old, too boring, too much work.

Finally, we found ourselves one weekend crossing that dreaded Beltway, passing over a stalled river of cars,  taking a left and then a right and then turning into a neighborhood we had never seen or heard of before.  Carderock Springs.   Gone were the red-brick colonials with white
picket fences.  In their place, 1960s styled modern houses, with more windows than walls, surrounded by towering trees, natural landscaping and not a power line in sight. 

One step into the open house and we knew we were home.  (The other family who bid on the house had to be persuaded but ultimately saw it our way).   The raised ceilings, open floor plans, with the
light pouring in from all the windows.   A gate in the backyard fence that opened to the elementary school  field!  Brick colonials were forever ruined for us.   A few months later, we moved in.

We thought we were buying our dream house, but what we didn’t realize at the time was that we were buying our dream neighborhood.   Where neighbors are your neighbors in that 1950s/60s old-fashioned sense of the word – lending cups of sugar, looking out for your kids, stopping by to help when they hear you are sick, chatting at the school bus stop when you should be hightailing it to
work, hanging out at the neighborhood pool until it is so dark you can’t see your toes, let alone where your kids are. 


At a time in our lives when supposedly it is harder to make and keep new friends, we have made close friendships with so many Carderock families, ever expanding that circle of people that we consider an essential part of our “village.”  Over here in Carderock Springs, we are rockin the suburbs.  Wanna be our neighbor?