Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just call me "The Fly"

I work for a high end greeting card company. This week I am expanding our space in Target stores across Indiana. What that means is, I stand in the same Target store scanning and unwrapping cards for three to four hours at a time.

A lot goes on in a Target store if you allow yourself to just stand there and listen. One of my favorite parts about my job is the ability to listen in on other people’s conversations with ease. Here I am, just working my section, it isn’t my fault I can hear what that couple over there argues about. Target stores don’t even play any background music. Really, it leaves a vendor with nothing to do BUT listen to the conversations of others. The following occurred at my store last night:

A young dad in his thirties slowly pushed the bright red cart down the aisle in front of me. He took the slow deliberate steps of a shopper carefully scanning the cards looking for a specific section. As I listened to the drop of one dress shoe, then another, I could almost imagine him silently mouthing, “Anniversary…Graduation…Sympathy…uh, where is Thank You?...oh…uh… ok, here it is.” He must have spotted an Elmo card, because suddenly I heard him singing, “Elmo is a monster, a monster, monster, Elmo is a monster. Yes he is.” He sang the song with the bounce of a ping pong ball, hitting each word with a jaunty little tap. He then proceeded to weave through the entire section, except for mine of course, singing his little song. “Elmo is a monster, a monster, monster, Elmo is a monster. Yes he is.”

As he left the card section, I thankfully spotted a baby seat nestled in the back of the shopping cart. He wasn’t singing to himself, but to the baby. Yet, I couldn’t shake the image of a cute little Elmo growing fangs and sprouting gleaming claws as he sprang off the card, like a mini teen wolf. Sure, Elmo is a monster, I guess. I just never thought of him that way. He’s more like a furry sprite or something, a lovable fluffy creature that enjoys singing and tickling. Just then, I realized my mind had annonying picked up the man’s song. In the absence of a new conversation to distract myself, it sang, “Elmo is a monster, a monster, monster, Elmo is a monster. Yes he is.”

Other people of note, two teenage girls about 13 or 14 years old, strode down the main aisle in Lavern and Shirley style, arms hooked together, and counted off, “One, two and THREE!” After which, they proceeded to crow like roosters in the middle of the silent store. They giggled into their hands, delighted with their rebellion and headed towards the makeup aisle.

A mother and daughter argued over how much money remained in the mother’s purse. The mother was in her 60’s, the daughter was in her 30’s. The mother adamantly told the daughter only $20 was left. The daughter assured her it was actually $66. The mother demanded to know how it could be that much. “Because, mom,” the daughter yelled exasperated obviously feeling cornered. “I put another $46 in your purse…OKAY!”

“Why would you do that?” the mother spat back angrily. And they too disappeared down the aisle, off to pay for their items with somebody’s money, the mother’s or the daughter’s. Only the cashier would know.

I almost disappear when I work on the cards. I don’t mind at all. Don’t we all desire to be the fly on the wall sometimes? As I was packing up, a heavy set woman and her friend pursued the cards next to mine. She was fairly heavy set and wore dread locks, a backwards black baseball cap and an oversized white tee shirt that came down past her knees. A large piercing poked out around her mouth, just below her lower lip. After she and her friend read a few of our competitors love cards she announced, “I don’t know, I just don’t think I like him enough for a card like that yet.” She walked away seeming upset. The friend read a couple more cards before giving up herself and did a quick shuffle step to catch up.

I unwrapped my last set of cards and placed them in their designated spot and thought, “I love my job.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

1 year anniversay-Gotcha Day

(Kai earlier this summer with the classic bump on his forehead! He is always moving!)

Tomorrow is our family’s one year anniversary of Kai’s Gotcha Day. It is one of those things that remain so filled with emotion that it becomes difficult to write about accurately. Everything I write lands on the page sounding overly emotional or then, not passionate enough.

I will never forget that hazy day, zipping through the depths of Guangzhou at 2pm in the afternoon after waiting around the White Swan hotel all morning. We stayed in our room as much as possible. Parents with new babies crossed our path everywhere. It freaked me out actually. No matter where I looked, Caucasian parents, most much older than we were, pushed tiny Chinese baby girls around in the strollers. On the street the stroller vendors called out, “Oh, such pretty baby!” to all the new parents walking past, hoping the flushed faced parents would step into their shop to make a purchase.

Here we were in China, in this grand hotel, wandering amidst this strange land of the Chinese baby girls, and we planned to adopt a little toddler boy. No tiny little bundle of pink for us. How would the transition go with a toddler versus a baby? We could only wait and see. I kept scanning the multicolored strollers for other boy s or at least another toddler.

During our entire stay at the famous White Swan, we only saw another two or three little boys. Out of all of them, Kai certainly stood out as the happiest and the loudest. By the end of our 2 week stay, he secured the role of “Norm” from Cheers. The entire breakfast buffet staff knew him, all of the families from other agencies greeted him by name and every street vendor outside of the hotel stopped to talk to him in Cantonese. The shop keepers smiled wide grins and told us how lucky we were to get a boy. One woman stopped us on the street to talk to Kai. “He is so handsome,” she told us scanning his face approvingly. She was an older woman with gray streaks in her black hair. I smiled with pride, until she continued, “His mother must be missing him.” While it shocked me at first, I appreciated her honesty. Yes, his mother must be missing him. The shop keepers wanted to sell us their goods, this woman wanted me to know that we received quite the treasure, a treasure another woman paid a high price for us to have.

Early on, we realized that Kai possessed spunk and energy by the tons. Each morning he would grin and call out “Hello!” in his raspy little voice, delighting those around him with his quick uptake of the English language. During the first two days he mastered, hello, bye-bye, and thank you. Other parents could not believe how well adjusted he was, how gentle he played with the other babies, how quick to play a game of catch and laugh uproariously at the slightest attempt to make him giggle.

Those 17 days in China changed all of our lives in so many ways. This weekend we will celebrate our family and Gotcha Day by delving into a few family art projects, eat some pizza, make a cake, and enjoy some outdoor gifts for the Big Sister and Little Brother.

A year later, Kai is still a cheerful kid in addition with a high volume knob. He has come such a long way from that first day, learning so much with such determination. We all have. Happy Gotcha Day Kai-guy!

(I have a video clip on our gotcha day I am trying to post, I will try to get it up tomorrow!)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My sister

I miss my sister. She’s been on vacation for the past week and it seems like a month has passed since I’ve talked to her. Apparently, the lodge in Minnesota she is staying in does not get cell phone reception, as I’ve called her about 3 times now and so far, nothing. I sort of feel a little bit like a stalker.

If no time limit existed on cell phone messages, the following would be the message I would leave for my sister:

Hey, it’s me. Where ARE you? I have big news to tell you and you are not answering your phone. Like, I went to Target a few days ago and found the cutest jewel toned purple shoes, and they were on sale for 17.99 and my orthotics fit in them, which means they will be great for work. Or how about I am still feeling sad about Elizabeth going to school, it makes me feel somewhat pathetic and cliche. I promise not to go on vacation when Owen starts kindergarten next week. Although, I know he will only be gone a half a day, so maybe you will be fine. But even if you are not, I promise to be incredibly emphatic. Oh, and I had to figure out a bunch of questions about work on my own, since I cannot reach you by phone. Do you really have no reception? …We bought some new furniture and are thinking of doing some painting and I have no idea where to start? What is that color your dining room again? I think I may do that. Is it elephant? And I joined a writing group and signed up for my first workshop. Seriously Jenny, I am scared to death I am going to get there and just totally suck. I need you to tell me I can do it, that it will be fine. GEEZ! Get home already. I miss you. Call me when you get this. Hope you are having fun. Bye.

When I was little I wanted a little brother or sister more than anything in the world. My sister and I are almost 5 years apart, and when you are young, 5 years translates into eons. I wanted another sibling for a companion and friend, someone to be in cahoots with, and just maybe someone for me to boss around.

My sister, who lives one state away from me, has been gone for just one week. I wish I knew as a little girl just how close Jenny and I would be in today, that I would feel so annoyed by the total lack of communication for 7 days. She is easily my best friend, what every parent hopes for during those pre-dinner hours when their children start to tear into each other. They say that your relationship you’re your siblings will serve as the most significant relationship of your life. As siblings you will most likely outlive your parents, and you’ve been together before spouses. For me, she is my necessity, my item to take with me in a deserted island, the person who isn’t afraid to tell me when I am full of crap or hold my head up when I would rather hide in bed.

I am pretty lucky. I may have not known it when I was little, but I sure got a good one as far as big sisters are concerned. Which reminds me, she better call soon. Vacation’s over.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kindergarten is killer

“Mommy, I really like school, but I am just missing you…”

-Elizabeth during our bedtime snuggle after the third day of kindergarten

On the third day of kindergarten I laid in bed and couldn’t help but indulge in a few mommy tears. It was 5:30 am and both Josh and I lay in the bed awake, yet not quite ready to get up and moving yet. Day #3 of kindergarten was upon us, and I wasn't quite ready to face it yet, so I closed my eyes and allowed my lids to rest for a few moments more.

I remembered my first years of teaching, before children of my own, feeling baffled by the emotional mothers sending their kids off to kindergarten. The mothers stood, Kleenex in hand as they watched their little ones trot off, mini students, a backpack half their height strapped on top of their delicate spines. I shook my head and vowed never to be that parent and headed down the hall to my own fresh batch of second graders. My goodness, it is just kindergarten, not college I would think to myself. It is funny how your own words and opinions are the ones that settle in on your forehead during the early morning hours.

“I’m so happy and proud of her,” I told Josh, rolling over to face him. “You should see how happy she is when she gets off the bus. She literally runs up the driveway with a huge smile across her face.” I pushed my face into the down comforter breathing in the cool weight of it. Those first days I braced myself for the moment she stepped off the bus and cried, saying she just didn’t want to be at school, didn’t like her teacher, and it was all just too much. So far, no sign of that, and although I felt such a surge of pride in her smooth transition to the full day kindergarten program my heart dropped anchor in sea of maternal longings thinking she is already so able to leave mom behind.

When trying to decide on whether we should send her to full day kindergarten or not, I discovered that moms around here hold very strong opinions one way or the other, the 5 year old breast feeding debate of sorts. I was not a breast feeder, my first parental flaw. Breast feeding left me feeling isolated and trapped. So I let it go. I would be lying if I said that the first bottle feeding from Josh did not fill me with a sense of delight to be sharing the responsibility of feeding our baby, all the while, keeping my boobs secure in my bra. There are moms that believe so strongly in breast feeding, that if you chose not to, it comes close to child abuse. The same is true for full day kindergarten; many feel it is too much too soon. As with so many things, it all depends on the individual child and the situation. We felt that for Elizabeth, full day was the right choice.

“I miss her Josh,” I admitted, my words as a pre-child teacher floating around my head like white flecks of backwash in a water glass. “I just didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to put her on the bus every day of the week.”

“She loves it though,” Josh reminded me gently.

“I know it. Still, it’s so hard. She is just such a neat little girl.” I stared at the whirling ceiling fan above our heads and wondered if calling her in sick was totally out of the question.

When I say Elizabeth is a cool little kiddo, I mean it. This is the girl that cried for two days after overhearing the story of the woman who died in the emergency waiting room a few months ago. She is the same girl who stood up for the little boy who said he liked purple while the others teased and laughed at him. “Purple is a color for boys and girls,” she explained. The laughing stopped and they all moved on. The same girl who worked for weeks to learn to ride her bike without training wheels, never once throwing a fit, and instead calmly stating, “Well, I will get it soon. I just have to trust in myself.” I would love to say she got this all from Josh and I, her courage, kind heart and happy spirit, but I believe much of it is just how she is.

So I pulled the covers back, threw my feet to the floor, shook off the morning moodiness and we all managed to start our day. Breakfast was consumed, lunches were made and packed, everyone managed to dress themselves in appropriate outfits, and a little before 8am, Elizabeth hopped on the golden flat faced bus.

Late on that night, while putting her to bed after another successful school day, she asked for another “snuggle”.

“My love tank is pretty empty,” she said. This is a term I introduced to Elizabeth to help her understand when she feels like she needs a little extra attention and TLC.

“Ok, “I said snuggling up to her on top of her lavender and pink fairy quilt, “let’s fill ‘er up then.” She curled her back up against my chest and I wrapped my arms around her, knowing that my days of such all encompassing snuggles would not be infinite.

I played with her hair for a few moments, still damp from her bath, when she shifted her weight to look up into my face.

“Mommy, I really like school,” she paused, “ but I am just missing you,” she continued, seeming somewhat confused by the contrast of this statement.

I realized she was saying exactly what I shared with Josh that very morning.

“I am missing you too kiddo. But you know what, I am also so proud of what a great job you are doing in school.”

She nodded and turned towards her lavender wall, curving her back a silent invitation for the nightly “back tickles”. We lay together for a few more minutes, and then I kissed her goodnight, leaving her to burrow down deeper into her pink sheets.

As I walked down the stairs to our family room, I remembered the day she was born, looking at her smashed little pink face and realizing that I knew absolutely nothing about this little person. Five years later, I've got a great idea of the person she is, and feel so incredibly blessed that she was born to us. We are the lucky parents along for the ride.

My foot hit the first floor and Elizabeth called, “Night-night mommy. I love you!”

“Night-night sweet pea. I love you too.”

First day of Kindergarten 007.JPG

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Time for tutu's and feather boas

(me, age 5 at my birthday party)

“Trust in what you love, continue to do it and it will take you where you need to go.”

-Natalie Goldberg from Writing Down the Bones

You hear this all the time whether it flows from the mouth of Bill Gates, Oprah or Lance Armstrong. Do what you love and the rest will fall into place. As a child, this is the most obvious statement in the world, like making an announcement that ice cream from the ice cream truck tastes better than the stuff in your freezer. When I was 5 I completely understood the secrets to life. A few years later, age 32 rolled around and suddenly I’m journaling for weeks in order to arrive the same door I confidently knocked on as a little girl.

Pursuing what I really love leaves me feeling a bit like Alice in Alice in Wonderland as she wanders around the dark forest nibbling tiny treats and sipping potions along the way, growing and shrinking in order to get into our out of different shaped doors. There are days when my role as a mother and a wife fills every space in my brain and body with an uncomfortable force. This sends me searching for something else to relieve the bloated pressure. I set the alarm for 4:30 am and double check the coffee timer to be sure it is all set. When the alarm buzzes , I stumble down the stairs to sip heavily sweetened coffee, tuck my feet under thighs on the oversized blue chair, and let my pen float across the journal pages with the ease of an Olympic figure skater.

When I was little, I distinctly remember what I wanted to be when I “grew up”…a ballerina. My mom in a helpful vein said, “Kate, if you want to be a ballerina, we should probably start you in dance lessons.” Sigh… how annoying, I thought, and responded haughtily, “Mom, you don’t have to take lessons to be a ballerina.” She did not understand that being a ballerina meant wearing a wide pink tutu around all day and who needs lessons for that? The profession had everything to do with costume and nothing to do with artistic skill.

I once babysat for a sweet white haired little boy of four, who proudly informed me that when he grew up he was going to fly a truck. How is that for taking two professions and blending them into one tidy package? I never asked how he planned to fly that truck, but I like to think of him sailing through the sky in a large yellow earth mover, a huge smile stretched across his pale face in pure satisfaction.

This year I am officially dedicating myself to my 5 year old self. What do I want to be when I grow up? I still don’t know. But I have some ideas about what I want to do. I want to write and paint, ride horses, climb trees, color on the walls with a brand new box of crayons and use every single color. I want to have my friends sleepover at my house and eat chocolate cake whenever I feel like it. I want to hug people more and think less about my shoes matching my outfit and more about where they can take me. I want to learn to play the guitar and sing in the car. I want wear a pink feather boa to the grocery store and wear cherry red lipstick. That should be a good start. I’m keeping track here people. I will post the results as they unfold. Anyone else up for some 5 year old fun? Let me know...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Real Simple Contest

One of my favorite magazines, Real Simple announced a writing contest a few months back. The deadline to enter an essay is September 5th I think. The topic? What was the most important day or your life? “ Oh, is that all?” you say. It sounds easy enough. No matter who you are, we’ve all experienced those life altering days and moments. So, what is the problem?

“Queue the big fat problem please!” (Big glaring problem lumbers center stage for spotlight performance)

How do I decide what was “the most “important day of my life?

Here is how Real Simple describes the contest:

Perhaps it was the day of your high school graduation. The day you started your dream job — or left a nightmare workplace. Maybe it was a day noted for its poignancy or one that was downright hilarious. Whatever your memory of the most important day of your life is, share it.

Now, of course those days are hugely important, my first kiss, my first heartbreaking break-up, the day I knew my husband would propose, the day I saw those two little pink lines on the pregnancy test, that day in China, not even a year ago, when we met our son for the first time, they have all changed me in profound ways. How do you choose one that is the biggest, the best and therefore the most influential?

As difficult as that has proved to be, I think I have an idea of my specific moment, which by the way, is not any I listed above. This leaves me to wrestle with the process of attempting to accurately portray that moment in my life. I keep asking myself, “Why does this story matter to anyone else.”

I believe so strongly in the significance of our personal stories. I am constantly asking other people dozens of questions, my curiosity about their lives and hidden daydreams a constant motivator to know just a little more. Selfishly, the dreams, hopes and funny stories of others never cease to inspire me. They serve as a touchstone connecting me with another person and their life experience. So often we discount what we have experienced as not very significant. Which is why I am excited about this particular contest, it asks readers to look and those moments and validates their worth.

My goal in this endeavor is to just submit something. I would love to get something published somewhere. I hope my essay will connect with someone, even if it is just the lowly intern at Real Simple who is stuck screening hundreds of entries. So I guess I better get to work!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No hidden talent here

Ok, so since the triathlon almost a month ago now, I have not submerged my body into the pool. Jenny, my sister and Mrs. “Wasn’t that swim so nice and relaxing” after we met up at our bikes for the transition from swimming to biking. Uh… no it wasn’t. I do not call getting knocked in the face repeatedly by the same lady, I swear she was attracted to me like a polarized magnet, relaxing or nice. Not to mention my inability to stay on course, which resulted in my endless zig-zagging across the lake, which means I really swam more like a mile instead of the half.

Unlike me, Jenny can swim. We like to say, she “got the swimming gene” from my Dad. My Dad boggles my mind, as he can swim really, really well, but chooses not to anymore. He swam for the swim team in high school. During my childhood in Minnesota we frequented a Crystal Lake, an ironic name for a mucky seaweed filled swimming area. He used to impress us with his ability to hold his breath for extended periods of time, circling and twisting about us as we tried to spot him, anxiously waiting for his head to pop out of the greenish brown water. He did the Chicago Triathlon in his fifties without much training at all for the swim. And yet now, a hip replacement later, he doesn’t seem interested in swimming at all. Augh! I would kill for that ability. Let me tell you, I use up all of the abilities that I have. I cannot think of one talent or skill that I possess in which I chose to ignore. I try to use up anything I have each and every day. I actually keep hoping I will find something else that I possessed a hidden talent for and didn’t realize it. Like maybe I could make amazingly beautiful and tasty cakes, (nope, I tried that one) or perhaps I would be a fabulous belly dancer. You never know. That one I have yet to try out.

A good friend of mine, Veronica, does Ironman Triathlons. She is an incredible inspiration to me and so humble and low key about it all too. She is single and actually groans when people try to set her up with male triathletes. She just doesn’t like to talk about it all that much. One particular male friend was so interested in her bike that she felt he wanted to date her bike and not her! The great part about her story is she competes in these events to spend time with her dad Jack. Jack is around 68 years old. (I think this is right from what I remember V saying, but it is hard to tell, as he is obviously in great shape and looks much younger.) He has completed something like 15 full Ironman competitions all around the world. I need to get back into that pool because I really would like to do an Ironman someday too, 2.4 mile swim, 110 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run. I think I could do it. Honestly, for me it would be a great excuse to spend more time with Veronica.

Part of what is keeping me out of the pool right now is two men that work there. Both of them are convinced that lessons from them will take me “to the next level in swimming.” Does this illustrate how pitiful I must look in the water? I keep telling them, “Hey guys, my goal here is to one, stay afloat, and two, not to drown. As I work on those goals my last effort is poured into not throwing a massive temper tantrum. ” It is hard to gear yourself to go swim when you know someone is critiquing each lap. Neither of them knew that I was training for a triathlon as I felt they would explode with sales pitches highlighting my improved abilities under their care and supervision once they were privy to that knowledge.

I’ll keep you posted. I swear someday I will be a beautifully strong and technically correct swimmer, but it will have to be at my own pace. Then , I will be ready to do a bigger event with Veronica and maybe Jack. Until that day, I will continue my Karate Kid type drills, believing that perseverance has to be at least as important as skill in my effort to get closer to that Ironman. I guess I better get back into the pool this week. I don’t have the gene and I’ve got work to do.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

School is almost here...Thank God!

I try to ride my bike as many places as possible when the weather allows. Elizabeth can now ride a two wheeler, so she often rides along side me, but there are days she opts to ride in the trailer with Kai.

Our bicycle trailer and what it is like to pull it with the kids in there, symbolizes the entire summer. They laugh and talk back there. They also yell and scream and hit each other as we roll along. The quarters are tight when you have a 5 and 3 year old back there.

That has been our summer this summer. It is the first summer that our family has consisted of two children. I daydreamed about this summer for years as we worked on the adoption paperwork and then proceeded to wait and wait and wait. We would still be waiting had we not put our names on the list for children with special/and or medical needs. Last year at this time, Kai was still living in his orphanage.

And so, this summer, there have been days when I suddenly realize the wounds and memories of the past have healed and the family I longed for is right here in our home, playing blocks, rock band, singing songs, jumping on the trampoline and reading books together. And then there are other days, my "garage days" (I will blog specifically what I mean when I say "garage days" this week, but many of my friends already know exactly what I mean by this), when they are tearing each other apart, yelling, screeching, and crying. On those days, I feel as if my patience and ability to come up with creative solutions evaporates into the morning mist and I am left to deal with the disbelief that it really IS only 8:30 am.

The only logical remedy that presents itself is a 2 hour run or an emergency trip to Dairy Queen for a massive candy bar filled Blizzard to compensate for the utter frustration. People are fond of saying "My kids keep me in good shape." The listener envisions a chipper mommy running after her children, frolicking in weed-free grass and kicking a brightly colored ball to her well-groomed offspring. As for me, my kids keep me in shape because the workout center offers childcare, a treadmill and some weights. If I am going to stay sane I need an hour or so to myself, (childcare), something to burn off stress (treadmill) and push through frustration (weights). Or, as I mentioned before, large amounts of sugar, which I try to save for the really crappy days.

I am getting off track though. In this picture, the kids had been fighting like crazy as I pedaled home from working out that morning. Suddenly, about half-way home I noticed it was silent. I dared not to ask what was going on, and only when I pulled up to our driveway did I see Kai's head snuggled into Elizabeth's lap, as she contently stroked his hair as he slept.

I had to capture that moment. I heard recently on a Manic Mommies podcast, that siblings will argue about something 3.5 times in a 15 minute time block. This is often true for my kids. As much as I want them to play nicely with each other all the time, it may not be very normal for them to do so. They do love each other though, and that is worth capturing anytime I can.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hulk Hogan has a special place in my heart

There are days when all I want to do is kick some serious ass. Not in the pick- a- fight- with –someone-way. I am talking about a “I am going to knock this (fill in the blank), out like you would not believe, so stand back people!” The blank may be a final paper for a class, like the one I just finished on the history of foster care. Or it could be how much I lift in a weight room filled with college guys home for the summer and buffed up over-confident business men. It can even be the thrill of finding two pairs of shoes and an entire outfit on sale for a killer price.

Recently, it was trying wake boarding for the first time at a friend’s lake house and popping up out of the water on the first try! Those “fist pump” moments fuel an addictive rush of adrenaline which bounces across the masses of grey matter in my brain as my neurons scream, “I am woman, hear me roar!” Unfortunately, in regards to the wake boarding, I celebrated my feat a little too early and within moments of my successful launch, I lost focus and face planted into the water! But I digress…

When I was little, I also felt the desire to kick some ass, specifically, Jeff Huntly’s . Jeff Huntly lived up the hill from our modest tri-level home in a similar brown tri-level. I grew up in Apple Valley Minnesota. As the name depicts, we lived in a picturesque middle class neighborhood. Our street teemed with boys around my same age. While I loved to play with dolls and Barbies with my girl friends, I preferred to run around outside playing cops and robbers or practice jumping my banana seat purple Huffy off of the ramp we haphazardly threw together .

Jeff was significantly older than most of us. He was in fifth or sixth grade, had that pasty white skin of a child who spends most of their time in front of some type of screen with a greasy hand in a potato chip bag for much of the day. He sported a gut which also spoke of his love for junk food, and liked to occasionally pick on kids half his size when he emerged from the depths of his family room to join us out in the sunshine.

In our neighborbood, the classic games like dodge ball and freeze tag never get old, but it is always fun to switch it up a little bit. One of the games we loved to play for a summer or two was WWF. As I write this, I have to struggle to think exactly what those letters stand for… World Wrestling Federation? For us, it meant wrestling, a little grandstanding, showmanship, and kicking some neighborhood butt.

Our little neighborhood gang wasn’t made up of many tough characters. There was the tear prone Read and his older, slightly buck toothed sister Kirsten. Ben, a lanky, soft spoken , sandy haired boy, who seemed much more likely to charm small animals than to wrestle anything to the ground. Jason, the older brother to three sisters was the most experienced with moves such as the headlock of a full nelson, as a result of his family make up and birth order. And of course I played as well, an average sized 7 year old with white blond hair that my mother insisted on pulling into two pony tails on each side of my head constant high pitched complaints. I kept my trusty Nike sneakers tied onto my feet at all times, with the exception of Mass on Sunday mornings.

At the beginning of each WWF game, we all called our character. I called Hulk Hogan every time. How do you not like a guy with such a cool mustache? The Hulk Hogan was blond, full of bulging muscles, and from what I understood about WWF, as my mother certainly did not let us watch it on TV, he usually won. One day, Jeff rambled down the hill to Read’s front yard to check out just what we “little kids” were doing. Jason, the oldest of the group, at age 9, told Jeff we were playing WWF. Jeff hung out as Read and Ben headed into the corners of our imaginary ring for the first round of wrestling. Kirsten served as the designated referee, as she never wanted to wrestle ,yelled, “GO!”

Reed and Ben, both gentle spirits at heart sort of chased each other around the square. White clouds floated by overhead like semi-curious bystanders. Ben grabbed for Read’s waist, and in a blink, he fell to the ground with a dense thump. We all held our breath, wondering if Read would cry, knowing Ben would feel horrible if he did. The air felt heavy, it swirled around us, a mixture of the freshly cut grass, with gasoline and melting black pavement from the street. Before anyone could offer him a hand, Read simply got up, brushed himself off; and we were ready for our next match.

Jeff stood there, sweat beginning to spread out in small semi-cirlces under the armpits of his tee-shirt, smugly watching it all. “You guys are pitiful,” he spat. “I bet none of you would last a second with me.”

“I’ll wrestle you,” I offered, my voice breaking at the realization of what I had just said. Yes, Jeff could be a jerk. In the past he had taunted Read past tears into what would probably serve as material for future therapy sessions in Reed’s later years. He made fun of Kirsten’s teeth and was quick to give any of us a punch on the shoulder while passing us on the sidewalk. Jeff turned his pale blue eyes to mine and grinned with delight. “Ok, you’re on.”

Everyone looked at each other with unease. Before anyone could voice protest to such an unfair match-up I announced, “Well, just so you know, I am Hulk Hogan.” Kids do that don’t they? They swear that the person they pretend to be will make them strong, faster, or smarter than whom they really are. At that time, I still believed that new shoes possessed freshly loaded “ running power” and that when I put them on I could run like the wind. I remember many times reaching the parking lot of the shoe store and yelling, “Hey, Mom! Watch how fast I can run!” And then being so amazed by my new ability to dash about with such speed. Telling myself and Jeff that I was indeed Hulk Hogan gave me the confidence I needed. In my head I chanted, “Hulk Hogan, Hulk Hogan, Hulk Hogan….” I imagined my small body morphing into his, muscles raising out of my skin in quick succession.

Jeff and I marched to our corners and listened for Kirsten’s “GO!” And then we were off. The ground felt hard and lumpy under my white Nikes. I dung my feet in and headed straight for Jeff’s doughy gut. I went with the only move I knew and rammed my head into him in a charging bull fashion. My lack of ever viewing a WWF match was a detriment to my game plan for sure, but I knew bull, so I put my money on the ramming move. To my astonishment, he fell to the ground, his butt a heavy weight thrown off kilter naturally sank, landing in the emerald grass. My inner Hulk yelled, “Way to go!” as I threw myself on top of him. I caught Jeff’s humiliated and now angry face just before he flipped me onto my back, taking that same weighted butt and letting it fall on my back…hard. My spine cracked as the air escaped my lungs like a defective whoopee cushion.

When I caught my breath I yelled, “GET OFF OF ME!” Jeff reluctantly stood up and rolled over as Jason stepped forward to help me up. Once standing firm on my Nikes once again, we all just looked at him. Suddenly, the yard wasn’t big for the two of us. Jeff was 5 years older than me. He won the match, but he outweighed us all by at least 50 pounds. When you are seven, twelve is a lifetime away. Jeff may have won that wrestling match, but we all knew who the tough one was that day. It was Hulk Hogan. Hulk Hogan who the tough award for that day.

In my daily life, I feel like I encounter Jeff Huntly’s all the time. They think if they can knock you down one time that they have won. Let me tell you, the real victory comes in accepting the challenge. I still think of that day sometimes, and it still makes me smile. I don’t ever want to lose sight of that feisty Kate of seven. I try to tell myself, “Game on buddy”, if I can take on Jeff Huntly as a seven year old, imagine what I can do now as a 32 year old! Bring it on. I am afterall, a Brickhouse, at least that is what I am telling myself these days!