My Secret is Out

This being Pride Month and the 2-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on gay marriage, I thought it was an appropriate time to dust this one off from Spitfire Mom and repost it. Two years later I’m more than a little sad about our current presidential situation and do occasionally worry that the good work achieved in 2015 will be undone by this administration. But I take comfort in  knowing that the light and love shared since the decision will overcome any darkness or hate that its opponents spew.

When I was a kid, I had a secret. Not just any old secret. I’m not talking about a crush, or getting a poor grade in a class, or getting caught writing (and misspelling) several curse words to a classmate. All of those things actually happened, and I’d have liked to keep them secret. But my greatest, deepest, darkest, most terrifying secret, one that I would rather die than to tell anyone, was that my mom is gay.

You might be thinking, “what’s the big deal?” With the explosion of rainbows on our Facebook feed over the past ten days, it certainly doesn’t seem like anything of consequence in 2015. But imagine a marginally popular, awkward, brainy girl in rural Minnesota in the 1980s with such a secret. Imagine a new high school freshman girl – quiet, slightly shy, painfully out of place – at an urban high school with that secret. Imagine a smart, headstrong, young woman at one of the most liberal colleges in the nation with the same secret. They were all me, and they were all terrified to divulge my mother’s sexual orientation to anyone.

What if they make fun of me?

What if they don’t want to be my friends anymore?

What if I’m treated differently by adults, teachers – what if they pity me?

What if they are disrespectful to my mother or her partner when they see her?

What if my boyfriend doesn’t want to be with me anymore?

What if people think I’m gay? Read more

Kids’ Summer Reading Challenge

Here we are on the first Monday of summer vacation. We’re all still in bed. The 8-year-old is still asleep (that child will be a caffeine addict before puberty hits if we’re not careful). The 11-year-old is staring at his phone, watching inane You Tube videos and insisting that I watch every other clip. And while I’m sure that the dog smiling at its owner and the baby bear trying to climb a fence and the dog surfboarding on his owner’s back are all completely fascinating…I’m not paying attention. I snap at him irritably because I’m only 50 pages away from the end of my book and I cannot be disturbed.

And what grand plans do we have for our day, you ask? More of this, to be sure. I’ve only had one cup of coffee and I need much, much more. After a few boring errands, number one on my priority list is to get these children to the library. You see, I have a little surprise in store for them: a summer reading challenge. I’ve put together a list of topics for them – 10 in all – that we will spend the next 10 weeks working through. I think a book a week is a good goal for a tween. Younger kids will go through more books, and that’s great. But

I think a book a week is a good goal for a tween. Younger kids will go through more books, and that’s great. Each week we will go to the library, printed challenge in hand, to find a book that fits a particular challenge item on our list. And then we’ll spend the rest of the week reading 30-90 minutes a day to get through it. It’s a lofty goal, but I think we can swing it. And – bonus – if they’re reading 90 minutes a day, so can I! Winning!

So here’s my take on the Tween Reading Challenge. I’ll modify it slightly for my younger son, and I’m also working on a challenge for myself as well.

Sign up for my email list and I’ll send you a copy of the challenge! Please share your ideas for challenge categories and for books to fit the categories too!


Another Year Down

This post about another school year passing by was lovingly first published at the SpitfireMom Society and has been annotated for a two year fast forward and move to Utah. Here I am again. Another year down. Enjoy!

I can’t even believe that I’m typing these words, but, my boys’ last week of school is next week. Wasn’t I just talking about getting kids back into the school groove a few weeks ago? It’s a cliché, but when your kids are in school, the years really do fly by. They grow up faster than you can even comprehend. One minute you’re gently nudging them onto the school bus as a kindergartner, and the next you’re handing over the keys so they can drive themselves to school. (Okay, I’m not quite there yet, but my 9-year-old would totally do it if given the chance.) [2017 note – he’s 11! How the hell did that happen?! And, true to form, he took off in his grandparents’ golf cart over spring break and got “pulled over” by the community safety patrol. LOL – stay away, 16! We’re not ready for you!]

And at the end of each of these blurry school years, I sit back and take stock of the year. You know, in my free time. And what I sheepishly admit to myself every single year, is that I SUCK at this parenting-a-school-age-kid thing in the months of March, April, and May. Read more

Reading with Tweens – Projekt 1065

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I am a sucker for the Scholastic book fair. I get a little jolt of excitement when I get that email from the PTA telling me the book fair is coming. I sign up for multiple volunteering shifts. I peruse the shelves with my kids nearly every day of the fair. When they ask for thirteen books each and a handful of total crap – pens, erasers, notepads, posters, I cannot help myself. I buy nearly all of it. Because it’s tax free and a portion of the sales goes back to the school! And because I’m a total book junkie. So when Landon handed me a stack of books, a Lamborghini poster and an assortment of junk that would be lost or broken in the next 10 minutes, I didn’t bat an eye. Enter Projekt 1065 and our first installment of Reading with Tweens!

Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz is a fast-pacprojekt 1065 reading with tweensed thriller set in World War II Berlin. Michael O’Shaughnessy
is the thirteen year old son of the Irish Ambassador to Germany and his wife, who are spies for the Allies. As he grows they draw Michael into their world, permitting him to join Hitler Youth and assigning him tasks that nobody would suspect a mere boy to carry out. The stakes are raised immeasurably when Michael rescues a downed British pilot – a Jew – and the trio hides him in the embassy. Together, the family and their hidden cargo work to discover the plans for Projekt 1065.

As I mentioned earlier this week, Landon loves WWII fiction. My mom commented (hi, Mom!) that perhaps Landon’s love for the genre is being guided by a certain someone, my grandfather and her dad, who was a military history buff to the extreme. His heroes were WWII generals and that devotion led him to his career in the military. I’d like to think there’s a touch of my grandpa’s love of history in Landon. Another aspect to his interest is likely his Jewish heritage. It’s strangely compelling for a kid (heck, for adults too) to imagine what he would do in the face of such adversity. Read more

Reading with Tweens

*This post contains affiliate links.*

I come from a family of readers. My grandparents, mom, aunts, uncles, and cousins all are voracious readers. Naturally when I had kids of my own, one of my deepest wishes for them is that they would inherit that same passion. We started reading to them at bedtime as babies, and bedtime reading has continued as they’ve grown. But now that they are 11 and 8 years old, the bedtime ritual has shifted so that the kids often are silently reading to themselves. We don’t have the same intimate cuddled up time that we used to when they relied on us to tell the stories.

It occurred to me one night when Landon, the eldest, suggested that I read the book he had just finished, that I could still capture special time with my kids by reading the books they are reading on my own time and then talking about the book with them afterwards. And the idea for the “Reading with Tweens” book club on 5280Mommy was born. Read more

Goodbye, Sam

Dear Sam,

I never met you, but a week ago today I sat in a crowded church with your family and friends to celebrate your life. I’ve watched your mom through this process, usually from afar and sometimes up close, and I just had to tell you (although I know you already know) how amazing she is.

I met your mom and your aunt when we were all about your age. In high school your mom was impossibly cool. She was magnetic. She had strong opinions and wasn’t afraid to voice them. You wanted her approval. You wanted her to think you were cool, too. Your aunt, her twin, was sweet, charming, beautiful, and endearing almost to a fault. Your mom was fiercely protective of her, always her champion. As I think about you, it seems that’s how she is as a parent. Fierce, determined, supportive, and strong. During your treatment we had a benefit night at the comedy club in Denver. It was the first time I’d seen your mom since your diagnosis. I told her that I couldn’t believe how strong and amazing she was through such a devastating experience. And she shook her head, as cool as she ever was, and said “I am just a mom. I’m just a mom.”

The night that you passed away, I cried and cried and cried until I thought I didn’t have anything left. You might think it’s strange for a woman to mourn a boy she never met. But it doesn’t matter that I never met you. You are the precious child of someone I spent so much time with. Someone I love so dearly. And so I cried for her. I cried for your dad. I cried for your aunts, uncles and cousins. For your brothers and their families. I cried for your friends, your grandma and every other soul on this earth who loves you.

I cried for all the other parents I know who have lost a child. For the parents of childhood friends who died when we were young, for the parents of a boy at my sons’ school, for Facebook friends and acquaintances who have lost children and babies.

I also cried for myself. It’s a hard thing to admit, but I cried because my kids are healthy. I cried because I have never had to see them go through as much pain as you did. I cried for the desperate wish that I will never have to see them go through what you did. They were selfish and thankful tears. Please don’t fault me for them.

I went to my sons’ rooms and I stared at them. They are beautiful, energetic, sweet, smart, kind and wonderful boys. They are what you were when you were 7 and when you were 10. I saw you at those ages in your life during the slide show at your service. I looked at their faces and I saw them as they were when they were babies. I saw the maturity in their faces, the way they’ve grown and changed over the years. But in sleep they are still my babies. I haven’t talked to your mom about it, but I think in sleep, you are her baby.

Your memorial service was another notch on the belt of your remarkably cool mom. I didn’t meet your dad till the service, but was not surprised to find that your mom chose a partner who is her equal. Your parents spoke about you so beautifully. There were tears, yes, but they held it together like a couple of damned ninjas. I was awestruck at how they could stand in front of a packed church to thank the people who have helped you all, and particularly to thank you for being their son. They were eloquent, beautiful, steadfast and strong as Groot.

I don’t understand, and I don’t want to understand, how a mother can say goodbye to her baby, no matter how old that baby is. I don’t understand how they don’t hide in a closet, shut themselves away from the world, and eventually die from self-neglect. Maybe some of them do. Maybe your mom has had days when she has hidden and vowed to never leave her room. Maybe your mom is having a day like that today. Or maybe your mom is superhuman. Something tells me she’s not, regardless of my decades-long admiration of her constitution. My point, if I have one, is that even if she has days like that, even if the bad days outnumber the good, I somehow know that your mom will be okay. She will find a way to fight those demons, to rise above the grief and live a full life. And it’s not because she’s cool, but because she’s “just a mom.” She will love you and cherish her time with you forever. Because that’s what moms do.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you, Sam. From the stories I heard, I know you were every bit as cool as your parents are. You couldn’t have picked better people to be your mom and dad.


Photo art by Casey Kalmes

Soccer Momming 101

I consider myself an up-and-coming professional soccer mom. Now before you go jumping to unfair conclusions about soccer momming involving helicopter-piloting, ref-abusing, World Cup-aspiring craziness, let me give you my definition of a soccer mom. The ultimate soccer mom has the ability to follow the game and she genuinely loves the game. She has a good handle on gear, skills, rules, team size and positions. She has soft skills such as communicating well with coaches and parents, having the “right” gear for soccer practices, games and tournaments, and having good ideas on fuel for her little athletes pre and post game. Finally, she has a sense of humor about her role as a soccer mom and her kid’s ability, or lack thereof.

So I claim to be an aspiring pro at soccer momming. Where does that put me on the spectrum of the ideal I described? As in all other aspects of parenthood, I am woefully inadequate. But in the spirit of self-examination and improvement, I want to break it down. Five categories, ten points each: knowledge of the game, parental soft skills, parent gear, love of the game, and self-awareness/sense of humor.

Knowledge: The low end of this spectrum starts with the wonderful Juliet Stevenson who played Keira Knightley’s mom in “Bend It Like Beckham.” Her husband hilariously tries to explain the offside rule to her using condiments. “The offside rule is when the French mustard has to be between the teriyaki sauce and the sea salt.” Brilliant. Top scores go to those who can name 3 or more synonyms each for “defender” and “forward”. (I swear there are unlimited names for these positions.) Bonus points for anyone who understands the World Cup seeding and draw.

Soft skills: Here’s where the helicopter parent and soccer stage parent fail. You know that Facebook meme that makes the rounds at the beginning of every youth sports season (so, you know, constantly)? Something like, “Please remember, these are kids, this is a game, coaches are volunteers, refs are human, no scouts from [name your favorite pro team] will be here today.” The parents for whom these reminders were penned get a goose egg here. You know exactly who I’m talking about. Those who can gracefully and diplomatically communicate with a coach or ref to promote their child and/or their cause without eliciting a single eye roll from other parents get a 10.

Parent gear: This is especially critical in Colorado where, as I write this on April 30, all soccer games have been canceled due to SNOW. Parent gear is the stuff that keeps us chauffeurs and fans happy during practices, games or never-ending tournaments. The bottom dwellers are the people who are constantly getting sunburned or frostbitten (and hey, in Colorado that can happen on the same day!), who don’t have anything to sit on, who have no refreshments for themselves or their kids, and who are generally miserable from first whistle to the post game parent tunnel. Top scores for those who have collapsible wagons packed efficiently with canopied chairs with cupholders, blankets, sunscreen, winter gear, summer gear, an actual tent for smaller children and pets to play in, and a cooler with snacks, Gatorade, and a few adult beverages (disguised neatly in Starbucks insulated mugs). Soccer momming on a Saturday morning is infinitely better with covert mimosas.

Love for the game: Okay, I’ve got this one mastered. In the summer of 1998, after my first year of law school, my newlywed husband and I planned to do some exploring throughout the northeast. We were living in a sweet little spot, Canandaigua, New York, which was roughly a six hour drive from everywhere exciting on the east coast. Imagine my dismay when those plans were derailed by the 1998 World Cup. Instead of sightseeing, my husband spent the entire month of June on the couch absorbing every televised minute of the action. I could either be a World Cup widow or I could join him on the couch. I chose the latter and have since become an involved and avid soccer fan over the past 18 years. We’ve traveled to Chicago, New York, Pasadena and Columbus, Ohio more times than I can count to see big games. Seeing a World Cup in person is definitely on my bucket list. So yeah, I understand and LOVE this game. That’s a 10, my friends. The lower scores go to those of you who would rather be waterboarded than spend one additional minute watching soccer beyond those that your darling children already subject you to. (Which is how I feel about youth baseball. Ohmygod, just shoot me.)

Finally, your self-awareness and sense of humor. Refer back to the “soft skills” discussed above. Let’s say you have zero soft skills. Do you know you are a complete jackass when you watch your kid play? Or are you blissfully ignorant? If you don’t even understand what I mean about having a sense of humor and being self aware, I’m sorry, but you get a zero. Just stop reading now and join me again the next time I post. The rest of you likely understand what I’m getting at. Most of us should fall in the middle of this spectrum because, lets be honest, sometimes our parental pride makes us adorably blind to our child’s shortcomings. But if we are forced, via some method of Donald Trump endorsed torture, we have the ability to be honest about our kid and ourselves, we earn a higher score. We know that we shouldn’t have flipped out when our kid had 30 less seconds of playing time, and we feel super bad about giggling at the other team’s own goal. We are appropriately sheepish about googling the college scholarship rate of the various soccer clubs in our area, but you bet your ass we have alerts set up to notify us when those stats are updated. We know that this is all in fun, it’s just a game, and these are awesome memories that we’re building and these times will be over all too soon, so we have to laugh at every opportunity and enjoy every minute.

Someday I won’t be a soccer mom anymore and I will bitterly mourn the loss of that part of my identity. So for now, I will relish the hot mess that is our Saturday morning. I will roll my eyes without abandon at every douchebag parent who’s convinced their son will play in the Premier League one day. I am going to go buy that damned collapsible wagon because I think it is totally rad. And I’ll keep aspiring to add more points to my tally. If you’re curious about my soccer momming status, I rate myself at about a 36/50 (7-7-5-10-7). I’ve got some work to do.


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