Retreat

Retreat. It’s a word I never want to hear unless someone is telling me to run from a bear, as in, “Retreat! There’s a bear!” Chances are I will never hear that, since I never put myself in a place where bears are…but that’s a story for another day. Today, I’m talking about retreats.

Years ago, a friend invited me to join her on a “ladies retreat.” I’m sure I asked her to repeat the question, because I couldn’t have heard her correctly. I was thinking, “Clearly, she doesn’t know me well. If she did, she would know I think the very idea of a ladies retreat sounds like Hell on earth.” No joke. Very little sounds worse to me than women going up to some little camp in the mountains, sitting around talking about their feelings. Yuck. I don’t mean to be offensive. I know some people love that stuff. I’m just not one of them. The last thing I want to do is be holed up somewhere with a random bunch of women. Don’t get me wrong. I love my friends, but I’m picky about how I spend my time. My time is valuable, y’all, so I’m choosy about who I spend it with. The older I get, the pickier I am. I barely have enough time to spend with my real friends. I’d much rather pick some fun stuff to do with them than go on some “ladies retreat.” It’s just who I am. No excuses.

For years, I’ve believed “retreat” is just another word for “mandatory, forced fun,” which doesn’t sound like fun at all. I hear about people going on work retreats, church retreats (***those were actually fun when I was a teenager and they were co-ed***), ladies retreats, and my personal favorite…a retreat for students at school. Nothing says “mandatory, forced fun” more than a school retreat.

Our daughter is starting her senior year in high school. She has endured more than a few school retreats. And when I say “endured,” I mean it. I’m not talking bad about the school. I’m just saying she has her mama’s genes…she hates the idea of “retreats,” too. We also hate the word “mandatory,” and it seems that’s always attached to a school retreat. I wish I could remember which grade was which retreat. One year, they went to a YMCA camp. Maybe 5th grade? I don’t remember, but I do remember that I volunteered to chaperone overnight, which meant I got to sleep on one of those horrible plastic-wrapped, thin, noisy camp mattresses in a cabin with a bunch of girls. It was not fun. It was fun spending time with the girls, but the sleep quality was nothing short of miserable. One girl in the bunk next to mine tossed and turned and tossed and turned, and because of the awful plastic mattress, I heard every toss and every turn. Eventually, I whispered, “Is there a problem?” No answer, but the tossing and turning stopped. Soon thereafter, I fell asleep, but every time someone moved, I awoke in a panic, because I thought someone was falling out of a top bunk. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. But one night was enough for me. It was enough for my daughter too. The next morning, she begged me to take her home with me, but she had to stay for more activities. Poor kid. I felt terrible for her, because I wouldn’t have wanted to be there either.

Because I went on that trip, I never had to do another one. I was off the hook, but our daughter wasn’t. She’s like me…she loves not camping. And that’s OK! Give me a nice hotel with room service any day of the week, but please don’t ever ask me to sleep in a cabin, a tent, or an RV. We simply aren’t those people. The next year, when the “retreat” rolled around, she was begging me not to make her go. We were sitting in her bed two nights before. She was already dreading it. I was explaining that she had to go. You know…”it might be fun!” I knew she didn’t want to sleep in a cabin. And while we were talking, I noticed a nasty-looking bump/wound on her knee. When I said, “That looks like a staph infection to me! You might not have to go if it’s a staph infection,” she couldn’t believe her good luck! I circled it with a Sharpie, to see if the redness grew overnight. I’m sure she prayed for it to be a staph infection that night. The next morning, the redness had expanded outside the Sharpie circle, so I took her to the doctor, and the doctor confirmed it: staph infection. She prescribed an oral antibiotic and ordered her to stay home from the retreat. Success! Who knew she’d be so happy to have a staph infection?!?

There was another retreat the next year, and maybe the next year. I have trouble keeping up with all the mandatory, forced fun. And then today, she had her senior mandatory, forced fun…a day trip (in the rain) to a local camp, where they had a book talk about their mandatory (ugh) summer reading (for over an hour!) before having lunch (she ate Oreos) and swimming in a “lake.” I should also note here that we don’t do warm, brown water, as in lake water. On the rare occasion, I have had to get in a warm lake, but generally speaking, it’s not my thing. I don’t mind it up north, where the lakes are cold, but in the south, the brown water just feels like it’s teeming with bacteria and snakes…lots of snakes. No, thank you. (No offense to the lake lovers of the world. It’s just not my thing.) As I’ve heard before, “I’m outdoorsy in that I like having cocktails on the patio.” That’s a joke, of course; I like outdoor activities…just not in warm brown water.

Today, she rode the bus to and from the “retreat” with her classmates and tolerated the mandatory, forced fun. They rode home on a hot bus filled with seniors. I did the math. Statistically, at least a few of them must have COVID. There were 140 kids on buses. (Yes, the plural of “bus” is “buses.” “Busses” would be kisses. If you doubt me, click here.) Praying there isn’t a giant outbreak from the mandatory, forced fun.

The good news? The “retreat” is over. Thank you, Lord. And now we proceed with her final year of high school.

So, if you ever plan a “ladies retreat,” please don’t invite me. It won’t hurt my feelings.

The High School “Lasts” Have Begun

The high school “lasts” have begun.

Our daughter is finishing up her junior year in high school. As any mother knows, life with kids is full of “firsts” and “lasts.” It starts with first smiles, first teeth, first words and goes on to first time riding a bike, first day of school…on and on.

At some point, though, we start having “lasts.” Often, we don’t even realize we have had a “last” till well after the fact. There’s the last time you had to actually feed your child, the last time you tied their shoes, the last time you helped them bathe, the last time you brushed their hair, the last time you read a book aloud together…the list continues to grow. A big one for me is the last time I actually carried my child. Fortunately, when our daughter was five or six, I had a friend who told me she always picked up or carried her daughter if she asked (same age), because one day she wouldn’t want her to. Based on that, I carried our daughter or picked her up any time she asked. Eleven years old and she wants me to carry her on my back through an amusement park? You bet! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize when the last time I carried her was actually the last time, but because I had always gladly carried her, it wasn’t painful when I realized she didn’t ask anymore. Honestly, if she asked me to carry her on my back today, I would…and she is 17.

My friend, Linda, told me years ago, when her son was in high school, that she totally didn’t realize it was the last time she would drive her son to school when it was the last time. He got his driver’s license one day, and he was off to school alone the next morning. She said to her husband, “But wait! I didn’t realize that was the last time I would drive him!” It really bothered her. She is long past it now. Her son is in graduate school in Scotland, so she has had lots of “lasts” that were bigger than that.

The “lasts” add up over time: the last day of preschool/elementary/middle school, the last time I actually drove her to school, the last time I actually had to drive her anywhere, and more.

I’m thinking about this, because today, I paid tuition to her independent school for the last time…for her senior year of high school, which will start in August. I’ve been paying yearly tuition since 2008. As soon as I hit the “send” button on the bank draft, I sat back and thought, “that was the last time I’ll do that.” Sure, I will be paying tuition of a different kind, for college, soon enough, but I just paid tuition for my daughter’s 14th year at her present school (she started with transitional kindergarten before kindergarten), and it felt weird to know I will never do it again.

My husband and I talk about “lasts” often, since our daughter is entering her senior year in fall and will be off to college before we can blink. There will be last sports games, last volunteer opportunities at school, and there will even be some people we will likely never encounter again after she graduates.

We sit on the patio with cocktails some evenings talking about how different it’s going to be when she departs for college in just over a year. And we try to enjoy the moments we have with her. Often when she gets home from sporting events or hanging with friends, she will come sit outside with us…it’s valuable, meaningful time for us…and one day there will be a “last” for that too. I hope we will recognize the “lasts” as they occur, like I recognized the last tuition payment today, but I’m sure there will be some that just pass right by without my realizing it. I won’t be able to get a photo to save as a memory of every “last,” but I hope I will remember to get some. I’ll try to get a photo of her last first day of school at her present school. I’ll try to get photos of her last sports games, last time she drives to high school…anything I can think of.

She’ll be flying the coop before we know it. While we are excited for what lies ahead of her (and us), we want to make sure we remember these days. We want her to get out and spread her wings wherever she chooses to go to college (tuition payments to a different place) and live her best life. We just want to enjoy every moment she shares with us.

Now that I’m feeling sentimental, I wonder if I should get a screenshot of that last tuition payment?!

8th Grade Underdogs

8th Grade Underdogs.

No, I don’t want to relive middle school. Lord, no…just no. I don’t even want to relive my daughter’s middle school years. We were fortunate she had great teachers and administrators for most of her middle school, but she wouldn’t want to do it again, and I wouldn’t want her to. Today, though, a friend posted her daughter’s field hockey stick for sale on Facebook, with the caption, “For sale! The field hockey stick has a proud history of fending off many goals plus an epic win over [our rival]. #letthemeatcake  And it brought back a great memory from my daughter’s 8th grade field hockey season.

One great thing about middle school was that it offered students an opportunity to try sports they had never played before, and our daughter wanted to try to play field hockey in seventh grade. She had been to a field hockey clinic or two, but soccer had always been her primary sport. As the school year started, she decided that, even though she was also playing club soccer, she wanted to play middle school field hockey.

And so the school year started, and she would stay after school for field hockey practice for a couple of hours. Then I would shuttle her over to another part of town for soccer practice. It was more stressful for me than it was for her, because of the traffic at 5:30, but we did it. And then one day, after one of the first field hockey games, she got in the car and said she just couldn’t go to soccer practice. She had too much homework.

Something had to give.

I told her, “It’s time to make a choice. We can’t continue like this. Your schoolwork can’t suffer because of all these sports commitments.” And right there in the car, without hesitation, she picked field hockey. She was tired of soccer, and I understood…she had been playing since she was five years old. Frankly, I was tired of traveling all over the state for it every weekend. Getting up at 5am to drive to Mebane, North Carolina, for an early game was not my ideal way to spend a weekend. So…field hockey it was!

She loved it, but I wouldn’t let her play club field hockey, because I wasn’t getting us back into the same situation we had been in before with soccer. She needed time to get her schoolwork done in a timely fashion, and she needed family time and friend time. So she just played on her 7th grade school team, and she had a great time! Most of the girls on the team had never played before, so they were all learning together. They won some games and lost some games…maybe even lost most of them, but they had a great time. It was a good learning year, and they had a coach who was patient and let everyone get some playing time. And then, in 8th grade, most of them played again.

In eighth grade, the stakes were a little higher. The girls all got some playing time, but they didn’t get equal playing time. In eighth grade, they play to win. Again, I think most of the girls had a great time, and they played pretty darn well. In fact, as the season came to an end, they found themselves in the semifinals of the conference championship (the highest level in middle school) against their biggest cross-town rival. Our team was the underdog, but they had heart…just like The Bad News Bears…but with field hockey…and they’re girls. Their coach got them motivated, and they went into the game wanting to win…on the other team’s field.

The game started, and it was a close one…both teams were playing really well. A friend’s daughter was playing goalie for our team and had some great saves. The girls were stepping up their play! They were playing together beautifully as they never had before! Coach had really pulled them together! She certainly gets all the credit. And then, my daughter, who was playing center-mid, went down with an ankle injury right after halftime, when one of her friends on the opposing team accidentally hit the ball hard right into her ankle. We heard it in the stands: THWACK! My friend who was sitting next to me sat down with me, as I fully expected to have to take my daughter to Urgent Care, where, at the time, we should have had our own parking spot from all her sports injuries. From the stands, though, I could see her crying on the other sideline and icing the ankle, and in a little while, she was back on the field! I was elated!

The game came to an end, and our little team of Bad News Bears won by one goal! They jumped! They screamed! They cheered! They celebrated! And then, while our girls were still celebrating, two or three players from the opposing team quietly approached our players. They were carrying a cake…the one that was intended for their celebration…except they weren’t celebrating. The girls said their coach wouldn’t let them have their celebratory cake, because they didn’t win…and they offered it to our team. We didn’t have a cake, so it was a gracious gesture. Our girls were in shock but accepted it, and a new motto was born: Winners Eat Cake!

Our girls went on to play another cross-town rival in the championship and lost, and although they were disappointed, they have never forgotten how awesome that semifinal win was! As our girls start their junior year of high school and a new, strange field hockey season during COVID, they are still looking forward to the season and being together…and making more memories together. Sometimes the underdogs get the win. Such a sweet memory…

Hoping we can have a great season this year…even with COVID!

Winners eat cake!