Monday, August 31, 2009

Once more to the beach

Yesterday we spent the day at a beach party, which was a wonderful way to end August. ("Yesterday wasn't the end of August, Mom, today is," Tim would say if he read this, ever literal like most 10-year-old boys.) It was so great to be at the beach with a big group, most of whom we knew. The thing with the beach is that kids always have fun. My college roommate, Renee, has a house on the beach and has seen dozens of kids play there over the years, and she says as much outright: "I've never seen a child who didn't like the beach." Childcare columnist Barbara Meltz, formerly of the Boston Globe, says the same thing: every child, of every developmental level and age, has fun at the beach.

I know my kids do, and what's even better is that they always have fun together at the beach. There's something about digging in the sand, building moats, carrying buckets of water, tunneling and scooping, that makes them inherently colaborative. They never argue by the water's edge. Tim makes up complicated assignments for Holly to carry out; with a sense of purpose, she follows his instructions, and he praises her for her execution. Is it the fresh air, the sunshine, the cool water, working magic with their temperaments? Is the seashore just a primal draw for children? More than anywhere else, by the seashore is where my kids find each other and enjoy each other.

Yesterday at the party I watched about 20 kids all having fun in various groups and combinations. The older kids, even older than Tim, climbed on the rocks and searched for marine life. The toddlers squished their way through the sand. Holly's friends ran in circles, splashed, dug, ran some more. A beautiful way to end the summer.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rainy late-summer Saturday

Due to Tropical Storm Danny passing listlessly off-shore, it's a rainy and dreary day here. Strangely, I found myself looking forward to running in the rain, which was falling steadily by midmorning, and the reports were for downpours by the afternoon, so I went earlier than usual, in the late morning. I took the dog and we did three miles and the rain didn't bother me a bit: the cool air felt refreshing and the rain just seemed like a soothing steady backdrop to the rhythm of my feet. Everything about running suddenly seems easier now that the air has cooled and the humidity eased.

Though no doubt disappointing to people with late-vacation plans, the weather seems fitting to me and appropriate to what I want to get done today: organize the household and ourselves for back-to-school time. It's always so tempting to believe that being organized at the start of the year means everything will stay that way for the next nine months. It's like tidying up a room really well and wanting to believe everything will somehow stay exactly in place rather than gradually drifting into disarray again: if we start the school year with early bedtimes, clean clothes, a roster of nutritious lunches and a tidy workspace for homework, the whole year will somehow fall into place. I know it won't really happen that way, but surely getting off on a good foot is the right first step.

When I was growing up, I put such faith in school supplies: buy the right notebooks and highlighters and a year of good study habits would follow. Unfortunately, no quantity of school supplies could make up for my innate tendency to disorganization, procrastination and poor prioritization skills. (And by "poor prioritization skills," I of course mean watching a boys soccer game rather than doing homework. Fancy terminology!) School supplies are neither a crutch nor an issue for us now because every child is given the same standardized list of what to buy, which is both easy and reassuring. As a mother, though, I still look at all the different ways I can try to get this school year off on the right foot and only hope that a strong start will pay off.

I asked both of the kids to make lists of bag lunches they would actually eat rather than toss and snacks they wouldn't complain about. We've talked about what time Tim will have to get up now that he's on the earlier school schedule, and whether he should walk, bike or take the bus to school. Holly has her wardrobe for the first week lined up and ready to go. With Tim, what to wear to school is more a matter of my rejecting various choices than his selecting them. I myself started moving my wake-up time five minutes earlier every day beginning last Monday in hopes that I can ratchet back to 6 AM fairly painlessly by Wednesday.

Nutritionists always tell us that eating a well-balanced and robust breakfast is the healthiest way to start the day, and I'll use that as my metaphor: being as prepared as I can be for the first day of school is, I hope, the best way to ensure a successful school year. One characterized by strong study habits, happy children and a minimum of early-morning chaos. We'll find out soon enough.

Friday, August 28, 2009

First post, new blog: Setting the scene

For the past two years, I've been a "streak runner," covering a mile or more every day with my now 10-year-old son, Tim. Well, we haven't actually run together every day, but we both ran every day. Our first year, from August 15, 2007 - August 15, 2008, we ran together all but five of those days. The second year, August 16, 1008 - August 15, 2009, we ran together about 75% of the time, but occasionally he'd opt to go out for his run when I was busy doing something else, or one or the other of us would be away from home for a day or two and run on our own, or I'd want to do a longer run than he did so I'd head out on my own. In late June, he spent five days at a baseball tournament in Cooperstown, New York, while I attended a writers' conference in Colorado. With his dad keeping an eye on things, he ran a mile around the baseball stadium every day; I ran on the bike paths of Aspen. That was the longest stretch we've run separately.

But when we reached our second anniversary of streak running earlier this month, Tim decided to retire his streak for the time being. It was a sensible decision. He took on the challenge of daily jogging when he was eight years old and no one really thought he could (or would) do it for a year, but we both persevered. And he hung in there for a second year. But now he's ready to try not being a streak runner for a little while. And that makes sense too. Since the time we began running, he's become a far more serious baseball player, he's discovered several new series of books, he started taking trumpet lessons, he made some new friends, he became a stronger swimmer, he developed a passion for ping-pong, badminton and pool. Things change, especially at that age. Sticking with the running would have been impressive on the one hand and a little bit unnerving to watch on the other. I'm happy he was able to make this choice.

But I'm continuing my streak, and I'm now at Day 748. Running alone is a big change after the past two years, and as much as I loved the challenge of heading out with Tim most days, I have to admit that I love running alone, and that having experienced tandem running for two years, I have come to believe that running is truly a solitary sport. It is, after all, one reason I started running, back in college: to get away from everyone. It's the reason I've made time for it so often during 17 years of marriage and almost 11 years of parenthood: for the solitude.

Running with Tim was rewarding in its own way -- the lessons it taught me inspired me to write a memoir about the experience -- but there sure was a lot of discussion and commotion: "What time do you want to go?" "What route do you want to do?" "What time do you need to be back?" "Wait, I need a drink of water." "Wait, I need a clean pair of socks." "Do you know where my iPod is?" "Are we bringing the dog?" "Where's the leash?" And on and on.

Now it's like it used to be. I slip out the door into a cone of solitude. I listen to NPR podcasts and either engage with the topic or use it as white noise while my mind wanders: to articles I'm on deadline for; to books I'm reading; to upcoming events I'm looking forward to or dreading. Running as an act of mind-clearing meditation. It's good to be back.