Lesson in a Lunchbox

It’s Friday morning and I just got back from dropping the kids off at school. To say I’m glad this week is over would be a vast understatement. Aside from the fact that they started school on Monday and I wasn’t there to see it due to my school starting at the same time, we had a total of 7 sporting events in 5 days between baseball and soccer. And with summer giving one final push into the mid 90’s we were without AC. Again. This week wasn’t pretty. But we got through it.

Today at noon the kids are leaving school early when their dad picks them up to spend the holiday weekend at Lake of the Ozarks with his new girlfriend and her 3 kids. This morning, in their flurry to get ready for school and their excitement over the weekend, Silas and I had a hard time seeing eye to eye. On anything. Actually, it’s been like that for about the last 48 hours, just one thing after another. Nothing major, just lots of little nitpicky things. We had some pretty great moments over the summer, but the last few moments before school this morning were not our finest.

As parents, we all struggle with walking that fine line between being firm on things that we maybe don’t need to and giving in to our kids to the point that they walk all over us. I never do it perfect and this morning was a clear indicator of that.

Yesterday when we got home I asked Silas for his lunchbox so I could empty the remaining contents. He couldn’t find it, not in his backpack, not in the car. But he assured me he was absolutely positive he had not left it at school. So this morning as I walked into school with him to see if we could locate it, he was more than unhappy with me that he had to carry a brown bag. I’m not sure why that was my fault, but he seemed to think so. As sure as he was that his lunchbox was not at school, as we approached his classroom, sure enough, there it was hanging on his hook in the hallway.

He stormed into his classroom without even looking my way. I popped my head inside the door and said a quick introduction to his teacher who I hadn’t met yet. She mentioned how excited he has been all week about leaving at noon today, I quickly brushed past the fact that it was not with me.

I was halfway back to the car with lunchbox in hand when I paused. I really didn’t want to go back into the school, especially since I was wearing the same clothes I was wearing at drop off yesterday (it’s been a rough week, don’t judge me) when I had to go in to deal with Ally’s meds. But I stood there on the sidewalk knowing what I needed to do.

As a mom, there is nothing better than seeing the look of pure joy on one of my kid’s faces. I got to see that look several times over the last few weeks, like at one on one Cardinals games with each of my boys, our Fab 4 adventure day all around the city and my road trip with Ally to see her fave band, 1 Direction (who is apparently breaking up, so there is a lot of drama around here).

And there is nothing more heart wrenching than seeing them with a look of defeat or disappointment. One of those moments occurred a couple weeks ago at Ethan’s baseball game. He was up to bat and he got hit by a pitch for the first time in his career. It wasn’t hard, I knew he’d be ok. But I could tell that it shook him. He took his base. Lead offs are allowed now, so he was testing the water with that. After a couple pitches, the pitcher threw the ball to the first baseman and Ethan wasn’t at all close to getting back to the bag in time. He was clearly out.

I could see the look on his face. He was disappointed, embarrassed, frustrated. He felt let down, and worse he felt he had let his team down. That’s the worst feeling in the world, especially when you’re out on the middle of the field with everyone looking on. I watched carefully as Ethan came off the field and one of his coaches put his arm around Ethan to speak to him. He didn’t make him feel bad, just used it as a learning experience. With kids, or with anyone really, it’s all about what you say in those moments.

That got me thinking back to my own days on the softball field. Now, let me be very clear, I was not good. Ethan has talent for baseball, I did not. Sure I could throw and catch and shag a fly ball, but my batting average was .000. Seriously, my final varsity season I either had a pinch hitter, walked or struck out at every single at bat. I made contact for an occasional foul ball, but I had no hits. None. Somewhere I even have a certificate to prove it.  Despite all that, there is a right way and a wrong way for a coach to treat his players and my coach didn’t really know the difference. While I was at best mediocre, I still always put forth any effort I could muster. I’m all heart, I always have been. I distinctly remember a time my coach had promised me a place in the starting lineup, but as game time neared and he announced the positions, my name wasn’t mentioned. I found myself sitting on the bench again. I made it through the game and helped gather the gear at the end. And as I shuffled toward where my dad was waiting in the parking lot, I felt the tears welling up. It wasn’t long after I shut the van door that the tears flowed and I vented my frustration. It wasn’t about the fact that I didn’t get to play, it was that I had been promised an opportunity and then without explanation it was taken from me. I wasn’t treated right and that stuck with me. Obviously. It’s now 22 years later and I still remember it like yesterday.

My dad just listened and let me get it out. I don’t recall what he said to me that day, but I remember coming out of that experience knowing that he was still proud of me and my efforts. And I had the confidence to seek the explanation I desired.

I went to my coach the next practice and explained my disappointment. Rather than owning his mistake, he basically manipulated the situation and told me I got his words mixed up. I left feeling even worse, when really, all I was seeking was “You know what, you’re right, I should have handled it differently and I’m sorry.”

Coincidentally yesterday when I was going through a box of stuff and I came across a picture of my dad. There was a sticky note next to it with these words written in my handwriting: The one who attempts to be better than oneself is likely to have more success than one who attempts to be better than someone else. I have no idea who to give credit to for that quote, but it very easily could have been something my dad said to me in the van that day more than 2 decades ago.

Flash forward back to today. Me standing on the sidewalk holding a 2nd graders lunchbox. It took less than a fraction of a second to decide what to do. I couldn’t wait until Tuesday when I see Silas again to make things right. So I turned around, walked back into school and straight to his classroom. He looked up at me like why are you back in here? I walked to his desk, he stood, I knelt. I whispered in his ear, “I’m sorry we fought this morning. I didn’t want you to leave for the weekend with it this way. I love you.” He put his arms around me, and kissed me on the shoulder, then went back to his desk. I smiled and told him to have fun. And I went back out of the school to the parking lot, got in my car and drove away, crying of course.

Even in his absence, my dad continues to teach me things. All any of us really needs is validation and acknowledgement of our efforts. It’s ok if we don’t see eye to eye all the time, as long as we accept and love each other in the process of figuring it out. I don’t need to be right all the time and I don’t need to be better than anyone else, I just need to do right by my kids to the best of my abilities. And to try to be better than myself, better than who I was yesterday. And I guess if I keep doing that, then I’m doing alright.

With my little buddy at Ethan's baseball game on the first day of school

With my little buddy at Ethan’s baseball game on the first day of school

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