Trail of Dreams

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I had it down like clockwork.

Hair appointment at 11:00, pick up kids at 12:30.  Home by 12:45, on the road by 1:15, 1:30 at the latest.

I had a big book meeting in NYC.  (You’ll read about THAT in an upcoming blog!).

I planned to stay at my brother’s house in Connecticut and take a train into the city.

We’d been talking about The Plan all week, so when we walked in the house and Tucker stood just inside the door, slowly blinking his eyes, saying, “Meeting?  New York?  Uncle John’s?”  I exhaled a long, slow breath, and explained The Plan all over again.

“I knew you were going to New York, but I didn’t know it was this week.”

“Yeah, Buddy.  This week,” I said as gently as I could.  “Today.”

He turned away and looked out the window facing the backyard.

“Can we go for a walk before you go?” he asked.

And what are you supposed to say to that?

Your thirteen-year-old boy asks you to take a walk?  How do you say no?

So I followed him out toward the back woods.  He led me onto the mountain bike trail he and Lee had been building since last spring.

Rain dripped off the trees, and my newly flat-ironed hair soaked up the moisture.

I hadn’t noticed the cordless drill in his hand until we crested the top of the trail.

“What ‘cha got a drill for, Tuck?”

“Oh, this,” he said in a casual, this old thing sort of way.  “I thought I’d work on my trail a bit while we’re out here.”

I looked down at my black flats and imagined the traffic already building on the Merritt Parkway.

“I’m gonna head back,” I said.

“No, wait.  You haven’t seen my trail.”

“I’m standing on it, Tuck.”

“No, the new one.  The new one Daddy and I’ve been working on.”

Sigh.

I followed him deeper into the woods.  I reminded myself to pack a book on tape ’cause at this rate I’d definitely be sitting in traffic.  I wiped a rain drop off my nose.

“This is where we moved a bunch of stones,” he pointed, “and made the trail go down there.”

“You want me to walk down there?  In these shoes?”

“You’ll be fine,” he said, reaching out for my hand.

What can I say?  I’m a sucker for a gentleman.

I made it down the trail and when we rounded the corner, I stopped in my tracks.

There before my eyes was the real-life manifestation of the popsicle stick model that had been on our kitchen table, living room floor and everywhere in between for the past month.

“You built this?” I asked.

“Me and Daddy,” he said walking to the bridge, grabbing a board and casually screwing it into the log cross braces.

“This is incredible, Tuck,” I said.

He looked up and smiled.

“Wait till I ride my bike across it,” he said pulling a screw from his pocket and reaching for another board.

Later, as I sat in traffic, trying to flatten my hair, wondering and worrying about my meeting in New York, I thought of Tuck’s model bridge that he’d made into a reality.

I stared at the red brake lights glowing in front of me and realized my boy had shown me that with hard work, focus, determination and belief, I, too, have the ability to make my dreams come true.

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Winners

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Somehow, every soccer season, one way or another, I get roped into helping my husband coach one of the kids’ team.

Typically, he gets stuck at work and calls me in a panic. “Can you please just get practice started?” and a list of drills arrive via email.

Now we all know how much soccer experience I have, but because I love my husband and our children, I always agree to help.

This year has been no exception.

On the first Saturday – game day, I arrived just a few minutes before start time, a fresh cup of coffee in one hand, my collapsible sideline chair in the other.

For the first few minutes of the game, I sat back and watched my daughter and her teammates run up and down the field.

Shortly there after, however, I began watching my husband running up and down the sidelines, trying to line up subs, organize drills for the kids waiting to get in the game, and tend to an injured elbow.

“Where’s his assistant?” I asked out loud.

I tried to catch Lee’s eye, but he was too busy managing life on his side of the field.

I attempted to watch the game, but eventually set down my hot coffee and made the long walk around to the other side of the field.

“Hey, Babe.  Where’s your assistant?” I asked, breaking up a water fight between two of the players (one being our daughter).

Never taking his eyes of the field, he called over his shoulder, “Turns out he has to work on Saturdays.”

Don’t say it. I warned myself.

But I had to.

“Do you want some help?”

The words had barely left my mouth when I found a clipboard in my hands.

Here we go again, I thought.

Every season, no exceptions.

But it turns out this year is an exception.

The team we’re coaching is a U12 team, meaning the kids are under 12 and over 10 and typically have a number of years of soccer experience under their belts.

But this year there is one child on the team with absolutely no soccer experience at all.

It turns out that during the years her teammates were practicing dribbling, passing and shooting, this child was relearning to walk and talk after a brain surgery left her without the ability to do either.

The first few practices were hard.

Lee tried to encourage his new player to participate, but at the same time, not scare her off.  She mostly stared at the ground, muttered a few words, stood by her mother’s side and refused to participate.

“She can do all of this,” her Mom told Lee.

And slowly but surely she began to.

She started running around the field with the team, even though it usually took her twice as long to finish.

She began passing the ball back and forth with a few of her teammates.

And most importantly, she showed up at every practice with a big smile on her face and a greeting of, “Hi Coach,” for Lee.

Last week, as usual, I arrived moments before the game was to begin.  As I came running across the field, I saw a whole group of young women clustered behind the typical smattering of parents.  I noticed they all had neon signs – pink, green and yellow, tucked by their sides.

“What’s going on?” I asked our new player’s Aunt.  (An experienced player, she’d come to a couple of practices to support her niece and was soon enough recruited as Lee’s assistant, leaving me, Assistant-to-the Assistant!)

Auntie came to my side and explained that the women’s hockey team from the local college had “adopted” her niece during her surgery and the recovery that followed.

I looked across the field at the 25 or so college girls ready to erupt in cheers.

“Oh,” I said through a tight throat.

Lee caught my eye.  His nostrils were flared which always happens when he’s trying not to cry.  I pulled my sunglasses out from my pocket and was glad I felt some tissues in there.

Lee called in the team.

“Looks like we’ve got to thank someone for bringing her fan club, guys,” he said and everyone high-fived the Star of the Day.

She was chosen as captain and when she went out for the coin toss, the opposite sideline erupted in cheers, signs waiving in the air.

Lee put her in as Center Forward and every time she started things off, there was another eruption of joy.

Midway through the game, I sidled up next to Auntie and confessed that Lee and I were working hard to hold back our tears.

“I know,” she said.  “She has come so far.”

In between subbing in players and retrieving stray balls, we talked about how their family has tried so hard not to baby her, or make her think there’s anything she can’t do.

“We know about keeping expectations high,” I said, and told her a bit of Andie’s story.

“We’re lucky she ended up with a coach like Lee,” she said.  “It’s great that he puts her in the game and doesn’t care about winning.”

I almost laughed in her face.  Lee, not care about winning?  He tops the list of Most Competitive People I Know.

Later I told Lee what Auntie had said.  He didn’t laugh and instead thought for a moment before saying, “I make sure that every kids gets an equal opportunity to play, and I do everything I can to put them in a position to win.”

The team didn’t win that day.  The final score was 4-2, but as the entire team ran across the field to high-five the largest fan club to ever turn out at a U12 game, they all ran back with enormous smiles across their faces.

Winners, every one of them.

Sisterly Love

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Libbie and her daughter, Amelia

I just got off the phone with my sister.

I was complaining about how I feel so overwhelmed by the book publication process.  How I’m just so sick of all of it and want to throw in the towel and say to hell with it.

My sister, four years younger than I, has always been so full of insight and clarity.  She listened patiently as I spewed my woe-is-me crap into the phone and then offered the following in return:

“Just remember why you wrote the book,” she said.

Oh yeah.

“How this is just like everything that happened with Andie.  You get one more thing thrown in your path, and think you can’t deal with it, but you do.”

You’re right.

“Remember this isn’t about the publishing industry.  This is about helping people heal.”

Oh yeah.

“Keep the integrity in the process.  Remember where you were almost eleven years ago and how much your book would have helped you.”

You’re right.

“Then do whatever you need to do to get that book into the hands of the people who need it most.”

Ok.

You should go back and read the opening page of the book.”

I will.

“And then get to work.”

Ok.

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This is my sister holding Andie in the NICU.  Andie was a couple of months old and it was Libbie’s second trip back home from Colorado to see her.  Whereas I was so afraid of Andie, Libbie couldn’t wait to get her hands on her.  Libbie didn’t have children of her own back then, but she was showing me how to love my own.

This is the opening page of my book that Libbie so wisely reminded me to go back and read.

“Everyone has a story.  Mine began in November of 2000 when I thought I’d given birth to the smallest baby ever born.  She arrived four months prematurely, weighing one pound, eleven ounces and measuring eleven inches long.  Imagine a potato with tiny arms and legs.  Several days after my daughter’s birth, I mustered up the courage to ask a nurse if she’d ever seen a baby that little.  When she replied, “Oh honey, this hospital floor is full of babies this small,” I felt not quite so alone.

After my daughter was born, I longed for a compassionate woman who had been in my shoes to sit on the end of my bed and share her story with me.  It wouldn’t matter how different or similar our stories were, just to have someone who understood what it felt like to have a pregnancy end half way through, resulting in a baby that didn’t resemble any baby I’d ever seen.  I wanted to see her nod in understanding as we discussed the daunting task of raising, loving and believing in a child born at twenty-five weeks.

That woman never arrived.  Due to hospital privacy rights, we were discouraged from even glancing at other babies or parents in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU.  I was lost, incredibly lonely and terribly wrought with guilt and fear. 

So, I’d like to sit on the end of your bed and share my story with you.  Your story and mine are sure to be different, but if hearing mine allows you a moment away from yours, if it leaves you with a sense of hope, then this story was worth writing down.”

Thank you, Libbie.