Friday, October 18, 2013

Tuesday night lights - I'm here for the benchwarmer

Published on KSL - HERE's the link
Published in Cross Timbers Gazette - HERE's the link

I sat in the stadium bleachers, watching my seventh-grade son’s football game. He stood on the sidelines, where he had been the entire game, as the fourth quarter started. It had rained all evening, I was shivering, I had several unattended items waiting for me at home, and my son wasn’t likely to even play.
Wondering why I had even bothered to come, I seriously considered leaving.
While considering, I remembered thinking — before I became a mom — that I pretty much knew what being a mom was like. I had been, after all, present while being raised by my own mom.
Among thousands of other fantasies, I had somehow conjured up images of my kids single-handedly scoring game points on bright, sunny days. In these daydreams, I was always sitting in the front row wearing a super cute outfit and a huge smile, holding a special treat for my darling child who had just stole the show or won the game.
I know, right?
Simple calculations would have probably been a better use of my time than daydreaming. Five kids multiplied by one or two activities each could have given me a rough estimate of how many mom hours I would spend sitting in bleachers or auditorium seats or camping chairs, watching and cheering and taking pictures.

Enlarge image
Susie Boyce's son, jersey number 80, stands on the sidelines. (Photo: Susie Boyce)
Yes, it should have been a no-brainer. But somehow, the fact that attending kid events would take up a good portion of my waking hours (plus a few sleeping ones) had eluded me — or I didn't acknowledge it due my reluctance to face the inevitable.
For the most part, I thoroughly enjoy it. I’m even proud to say I’ve accepted the reality that my kids won’t always be headlining performances or scoring the most points. More often than not, they’ll be extras in the background or standing on the sidelines. I’m fine with this, because I know that my kids are in the process of becoming who they will be some day — but they’re not yet there.
In the meantime, they’re figuring out what they enjoy, what their talents are and how to be good team players. And ideally, I’m there to support and document that process by cheering them on and taking a few pictures along the way.
As important as these events are, scheduling doesn’t always work in my favor, making it logistically impossible for me to attend everything. Most of the time, I feel badly when I have to miss something. But I don't always mind having to bow out. Call me wimpy, but at times I'm simply exhausted.
Excessive rain definitely wasn't working in my favor at my son’s football game this past Tuesday night. So, with about five minutes left on the clock, I stood up to leave. But then the coach made a call, and I sat right back down.
I watched him turn completely around from the lineup of players on the sidelines and carefully search the bleachers for a familiar face. Thankfully, mine was still there for him to find.
My son had finally been given a chance to play. He played his big seventh-grade heart out for about one minute, during which time I tried to snap a few action shots. After those brief 60 seconds, he went back to the sidelines. That was it.
My son has a decent social status at school and does much (especially with his hair) to maintain it. So I was stunned by what happened next. I watched him turn completely around from the lineup of players on the sidelines and carefully search the bleachers for a familiar face.
Thankfully, mine was still there for him to find.
It was then that I remembered exactly why I had bothered to come. And why there were so many other parents all around me sitting on wet bleachers, shivering under their umbrellas. Because whether our kids are sidelining or headlining, it’s our faces they look for in the stands.
So I'll be there whenever I possibly can.
On bleachers, auditorium seats or camping chairs.
Watching, cheering, taking pictures.

Rain or shine.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Book Review - 'The Wednesday Wars' by Gary Schmidt

My Take:

A friend of mine (who teaches middle school English -- bless her) recently alerted me to the author Gary Schmidt and his terrific novels.  In a fit of enthusiasm, I ordered four of his books (rash, I know) and read ‘The Wednesday Wars’ (Newberry Honor) first.

‘The Wednesday Wars’ has just about everything I love in a coming-of-age novel.  Hilarious in places, affecting and tender in otherswith the requisite amount of learning and growing and “a-ha” moments experienced by Holling Hoodhood, the 7th grade protagonist.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Because the book is set in the late 1960’s (a time period I don’t often discuss around the dinner table with my kids), many of the political and cultural references won’t be familiar to them.  This may or may not affect whether they enjoy/understand it, so I’m thinking it might be great as a read-aloud (or audio) so that I could take a break when necessary to explain and discuss some of the issues (big ones – Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, Jr.).

On the other hand, since the book is written by a typical 7th grader – who worries just as much about the 8th graders yanking his shorts down during track practice as he does about the missing soldiers in Vietnam – the coming-of-age story probably speaks for itself, albeit on a different level to kids than it does to me.

Either way, I heartily recommend 'The Wednesday Wars.'

If this book is any indication, my book shelves have just received an upgrade.

(Next up: ‘Okay for Now’, then ‘Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys,’ then ‘Trouble’). 

Goodreads Summary:

In this Newbery Honor-winning novel, Gary D. Schmidt offers an unforgettable antihero. The Wednesday Wars is a wonderfully witty and compelling story about a teenage boy’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year in Long Island, New York.

Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book Review - 'The Orphan Master's Son' by Adam Johnson

My Take:

I picked up this book because of its high ratings and Pulitzer Prize (2013) status.  It’s been hailed by many critics as a ‘tour de force,’ and I can’t argue.  It’s epic in scope, content, and literary genius -- I was mesmerized and astounded in turn with Adam Johnson’s brilliant and insightful writing.

However (and this could be a game changer for some), I wasn’t prepared for the emotional, gut-wrenching ‘tour de force’ the novel delivers by frequently and graphically describing human suffering, violence and torture.  I came very close to abandoning the book altogether.

But in the end, it was that very human suffering that compelled me to finish. Pak Jun Do’s story, combined with the larger story of North Korea, are essentially about humanity.  And lack thereof.

Taking away someone’s humanity, giving it back; giving away one’s own humanity, getting it back.  And how love can be used for both.

'The Orphan Master's Son' can be a life-changer.  It’s that good.  But I’m giving it 4 stars (instead of 5) because it’s not worth reading unless you’re absolutely sure you have a strong stomach.

Tip:  I would suggest reading the author’s Q&A session at the back before reading the book itself.  It’s very helpful to understand the background information on the author and his experiences with and in North Korea before you read the story itself.  It contains a few spoilers, but they won’t register much until you've read the book (at least that was my experience).

Goodreads Summary:

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers.