By: Barbara Matousek
I am standing over Eva’s crib, and between the glow from her nightlight and the crack of light spilling out of the laundry room, I can see her angry face. She is kicking her legs and screaming at me because I have laid her back down on her side and told her it’s bedtime. A few minutes ago I let her cry for a while before crawling out of bed and walking across the hall in the dark for the 4th time tonight. This is her 5th time waking us all up. My mother who is visiting for the holiday weekend took a turn twenty minutes ago. Each time my 18-month-old daughter settles and quickly falls asleep as I rock her, and she seems content as I lay her back down in the crib half-awake. But it’s usually about twenty minutes before she starts screaming again.
I am tired and watching the clock and realizing it’s only a few hours until we all have to get up and go out in to the world. Throughout the last few hours I have changed her diaper and put her in lighter pajamas and turned down the air conditioning and given her ibuprofen and milk and blankets and another baby doll and a third book. When Mom and I met in the hallway the last time she told me she thought Eva was anxious. “Poor thing,” she said. I said I thought she had a tummy ache. She seemed to be uncomfortable, kicking her legs and bending them and usually rolling over on to her tummy when I laid her back in her crib. I know it’s not her ears, and the cough that drove us to the pediatrician last week is actually almost gone.
“Eva,” I said a few minutes ago. “It’s bedtime. What do you need? Use your words.” She was sitting up, her feet facing the opposite direction from where I last left her.
“I want drink,” she said.
“You have a drink.” I picked up her sippy cup full of water that we’d gotten during one of the earlier visits and handed it to her. “Now it’s bedtime.”
Now as she kicks and screams, the next bedroom door squeaks open and I wait for Mom to volunteer yet again to rock Eva back to sleep. Before she can even get the words out I say, “She is fine and she needs to just go back to sleep. She needs to realize we’re not going to pick her up every time she whimpers, and this is getting ridiculous. It is bedtime and we’re all going to go to sleep. She can cry for a while.”
My mother tells me good idea and moves on to the bathroom, and Eva is quiet. She has turned on to her side and pulled her blankie and her sippy cup up to her chest and closed her eyes.
“I love you,” I say as I creep out and pull the door closed.
And that seems to be the end of it. Miraculously.
By: Barbara Matousek
We are lying in bed together, curled up next to each other in the twin mattress shoved in between my bed and the east wall of my bedroom. We call it “the pink bed” because of the bright pink sheet on it that matches the decor in Eva’s room. It used to be in the closet in Eva’s bedroom, reserved for guests, but when Sam started to climb in to my bed every night at 3am, I placed it in my bedroom as his backup location. I don’t remember when he started just sleeping there every night. The light from the master bathroom shower casts a light glow over Sam’s face and the scab on his left cheek from where he scratched himself last week is almost gone. He pulls his blanket up to his chest and shivers. I have told him it’s time to go to sleep, that it’s way past his bedtime, that we have an early morning. But as usual, this doesn’t stop him from telling me a story. This is almost always his strategy for moving around Mommy’s rules.
“Sometimes mosquitoes don’t like the blood that they suck out,” he tells me. A mosquito had bit me earlier in the evening and Sam had been fascinated by the way they suck blood out of animals. “Sometimes they don’t like the blood and they shoot it out through their needle things.”
I laugh a little. I know this will inevitably delay sleep but some nights I can’t help it. He knows this.
“They shoot it out through their needle thing and it covers the whole, whole, whole, whole…” His hand comes out of the covers and moves in circles above his head. “…whole, whole, whole, whole yellow line in the middle of the road.”
“It does? That’s a lot of blood for a tiny little mosquito.” I know I shouldn’t ask, shouldn’t continue this. I know it will encourage him. But I can’t help but want to encourage him when he creates stories.
“Yah. It’s lots and lots of blood and it makes the cars slip on the road.”
“Oh no. That’s not good.”
“You have to be careful when you’re driving around mosquitoes,” he says. I laugh and he smiles.
“You’re right,” I say. “Now let’s go to sleep. It’s time to go to sleep. We have a long day tomorrow.”
He puts his hand back under the covers and turns over to face the wall. I close my eyes and take deep breaths but his body still hasn’t stopped moving and I know it will be a while before he melts in to sleep.
“Mommy?” he says as he turns back around. “What is that cart stuff that sharks have instead of bones?” I tell him cartilage.
“Cart ledge,” he says.
“Cart a Lidge. Cart Lidge.”
“Cart a Lidge,” he says. “Cartilage. Mosquitoes don’t have bones. They have cartilage like sharks so they can bend and twist and never get caught.”
“I bet you’re right,” I say and I tickle him a little on the back of his leg. “Now go to sleep Mosquito Boy!”
He laughs and squirms and we say our I-love-yous for the fourth time tonight, and we once again try for sleep that I know is probably a long way off.
By: Barbara Matousek
My sister and I used to stay out in the driveway with my father long after the sun had gone down and the chill had returned to the air. We would bounce and dribble and bang the ball against the backboard mounted just below our bedroom windows, and the whole house would reverberate. Sometimes my mother would join us, challenging my father to hit as many free throws in a row as she did. We would play Around the World and HORSE, the cold ball almost painful in our hands, until we could barely see the ball anymore and we’d head inside to eat ice cream and watch Telly Sevalas or James Garner or Carol O’Connor.
In general I don’t think of our single parent family as missing anything, of being different from any other family. I drop my kids at daycare or pre-school and go to work. I come home at the end of the day and cook something resembling dinner and shove food in to their mouths. While they run around and destroy the living room I rinse spaghetti sauce off dishes and sweep up blueberries and mop up milk and place the errant shoes and coats back in the foyer near the garage. I get down on the carpet and do puzzles and play tickle monster and ride in imaginary spaceships while aliens try to catch us. I change diapers and pull off dirty clothes and replace them with clean (although probably stained) pajamas. I read books about furry kittens and the colors of the rainbow before rocking Eva and placing her in her crib. I do Lego and Tinkertoys and drawing games with Sam before reading his three bedtime books, books that lately have been about animals– sea tortoises and poison frogs and jelly fish. I stand my ground when he begs to stay up for one more story or one more bedtime snack or one more drink of water. I change cat litter and heap laundry into the washing machine and dig through piles of unsorted clean laundry looking for matching pink socks for the next morning. Once in a while I remember to bathe my children or trim their growing nails.
And during all of this, not for one second do I think that our family is missing anything.
But lately I’ve been reading blogs and watching other 4-year-olds, and when I lie in bed at night trying to fall asleep I feel a pang of something resembling sadness. On my friends’ blogs I see fathers who have time to toss a ball to their son and teach him to catch. I see fathers who play basketball out in the driveway for long stretches, dribbling and tossing and lifting their kids up to the net. I see fathers bent over holding hockey sticks while their kids guard the goal. Is Sam missing out because I simply don’t have time to give any more, because there are two of them and one of me? I want my children to know the love of sport that my father taught me. I want my children to stay out long past bedtime throwing a cold baseball into worn gloves or swinging tennis rackets at balls they can barely see. I want my children to be part of family that plays.
I know my memory of my childhood is probably more idyllic than reality, but is there anything wrong with wanting my children to have the idyllic memory too? Why is it that as parents we want to give our children everything right now? I have to remind myself that Sam has years ahead of him to learn ball and chase his sister in the cold grass as the sun goes down. He’s four. And if he doesn’t play ball until he’s 7 or 8 or 10, it doesn’t mean he’s behind or that he won’t ever have the same love of sport and family and cool spring air that my father instilled in me. In the meantime I’ve signed him up for T-ball and I’ve upgraded our faded plastic basketball hoop and I’m ready to admit that I’m really missing my dad.
By: Barbara Matousek
Three deep red lines wrap around my wrist, and although I’ve tucked them underneath the band of my Polar heart rate monitor, the sweat and constant motion have moved them up on my arm. I’m approaching mile marker 4 and I can hear Freebird blasting from an old country farm house on the right side of County Road 29. I wrapped the red string around my wrist last Tuesday night during an informal gathering for a friend preparing to have her second child. She was less than a week from her due date and her first child had been born two weeks early, so we were all surprised to be sitting there with her, still not knowing whether her second child was a boy or girl.
This wasn’t the first mother blessing I’d been to. My friends had thankfully forced me to have one the week before Eva was born and many of my friends have since had their second child. I’ve witnessed candle burning and feet washing and lavender rubbing. I’ve told stories and presented beads and read excerpts from The Prophet. I’ve listened to prayers and sung songs and visualized easy births and smooth transitions. Every blessing has been different, tailored to the mommy-to-be. During our speeches to Robyn I admitted that I hadn’t brought anything to read and no beads to present, but it was important to me to be there. I told the story of how Robyn had stopped at my house during a training ride last summer, how she had gotten off her bike and clip-clopped in to get some water, the back of her legs wet and covered with the dirt that had spun up at her during her 100+ miles of biking. She was the picture of strength, and she told me she was anxious about her upcoming triathalon. It was hard to believe that someone as strong and prepared and together as Robyn could ever have any doubt that she could do anything.
Before we stood in a circle and wrapped the red string around our wrists one at a time but after we’d all told Robyn how much we admire her strength, she showed us that she still had the string from Joy’s blessing on her wrist. We were sitting in Joy’s living room, her two-week-old daughter quietly asleep in the arms of another mother while Joy made sure we all got sparkling apple juice and homemade berry pie. Robyn told us all how she had accidentally cut through her livestrong bracelet when she cut off the hospital wristband after her son was born 2 and ½ years ago.
“I hadn’t taken it off for 5 years before that,” she said, “And just like that it was gone. I guess it meant I was starting a new chapter of my life.”
I thought about this and how becoming a mother had meant putting so much of my own stuff on hold, how I’d nearly stopped reading and writing and running, how finding any time for myself meant I had to steal it in tiny snippets in between laundry and dishes and diapers changes, how only now, as Eva’s on the verge of turning 18 months old, I’m just starting to return to those little pieces of me that have been scattered.
As County Road 29 becomes Fremont Street, I jog the slight incline and come around the corner on to Main Street. People line the sidewalks and at the top of the hill I can hear them announcing runners’ names as they cross the finish line.
Robyn headed to the hospital the next morning, and I got an email just after midnight telling me that her daughter had been born, that Robyn was once again entering in to another new life chapter.
I push myself faster, the muscles in my calves pulling, my heart pounding strong within my chest, as the distance to the finish closes. I glance down to check the time as I cross the finish line, and once again I see the wet red string around my wrist, a string that reminds me of my friend and her strength and my own determination to make small commitments to myself this year. I have no intention of cutting it any time soon.
By Barbara Matousek
Last year at this time the usual late winter cycles of snow and melting had the river ice receding, and Sam and I regularly watched eagles perched on the edge fishing near open water. We were stuck in that bi-polar March weather pattern that Midwesterners are used to, rushes of warmth and sunshine followed by cold gray skies dumping ice on our roads and driveways, usually dousing us with snow the weekend of the high school state basketball tournament. Eva was not yet walking, and as the single mother of a preschooler and an infant I was constantly pulled in two directions. My sister promised me everything would get easier when my second child was four.
This year we never experienced the usual January cabin fever, the weeks when sub-zero temperatures and winds whipping across the prairie leave everyone housebound. And this February didn’t ever bring the snow dumps we’ve learned to expect. And if there are lambs and lions in March, the lion is definitely out of town this year.
Yesterday we were in the backyard in shorts and t-shirts and Sam pointed out the bright green spikes of chives shooting up through the dead plants from last fall. The kids played a game of sink-or-float with a giant bucket of water and sand, and I got out my garden gloves and cleared away the snaking dead leaves from last year’s daylilies to reveal young sprouts peeking towards the sunshine.
This weekend I got my first preview of the life my sister promised me. While I cleared away dead leaves and removed layers of dust on the outdoor furniture and summer toys, the kids played by themselves. And Saturday night after we (meaning me) were all exhausted from an entire day outside in the sunshine, I sat down on the floor to watch UW-Madison (my alma mater) and Marquette (my sister’s alma mater) play in separate games in the NCAA tournament. The UW-Green Bay Lady Phoenix were playing on a third channel, and I had visions of my father sitting in front of the television trying to watch all three at the same time. Sam told me he wanted the Wisconsin Badgers and “The Marquettes” to win, and then he ran down the hall to his bedroom. Eva followed behind him (as she always does these days) and for a full 25 minutes I sat on the floor and watched basketball while the kids made monster roaring noises down the hall. For a full 25 minutes nobody wanted to sit in my lap and nobody cried “Uppie” at me from the floor and nobody hung on my arms and legs trying to get me to play a wrestling game. For a full 25 minutes I felt myself breathe deeply and glimpse at the future.
And to be honest, it made me a little sad.
By: Barbara Matousek
I do not generally agonize over decisions. I decided to move to Minnesota five minutes after receiving my first job offer. In the 20 years since then I have owned five homes, writing offers on all of them the day I toured them. When I was trying to get pregnant and the donor I had picked out was suddenly unavailable, I went to the cryobank website and picked out a new donor (based mostly on his baby picture) in about 20 minutes. So the fact that I’m waffling over a decision about pre-school is a new feeling to me.
Yesterday I had some actual alone time with a mommy friend of mine, a friend who I am getting to know slowly as our four children keep us from having deep, meaningful conversations on any sort of regular basis. She and I were invited to a mother blessing of a mutual friend, and while Kate and I rode in the car together, we both prattled on at rapid speed, as if everything we’ve wanted to say to each other had been building pressure.
Foremost in both our minds seemed to be the upcoming registration for pre-school. 3-day or 5-day? What are you going to do with YOUR son? Kate said that she had registered her son for 5-day, but I have not made my decision yet. The 3-day makes the most sense for my family.
In my life before children I once noticed a car in the grocery store parking lot with the door wide open, nobody inside. I saw an elderly man wandering the parking lot looking lost, and I asked him if he needed help. He told me he was trying to find Arlis and I led him back to the car and helped him sit. He was confused enough that he couldn’t figure out he had to pull his feet in before we could shut the door. I told him she would be back soon and there was no need to worry. It would be okay. I left him and sat in my own car and watched through the pouring rain on my windshield until Arlis came out and crawled in the driver’s side, and then I drove away with tears in my eyes. When I turned the experience in to a short story, my writing teacher asked why this narrator was longing for deep connections, what about her life was so isolating that she reached out to this lost, old man, why this connection made her cry.
Parked in Kate’s driveway after the mother blessing yesterday, she told me that even if our children are not in the same class next year we will still be friends, that she values the connection we’ve made. It was as if she had read my mind. We hugged and she got out of the car, and as I drove away I felt tears in my eyes. Perhaps my indecisiveness about pre-school was fear that if our boys were not in the same class, Kate and I would no longer be friends, that I would lose this connection that feels important to me. But thanks to Kate’s kind words from the passenger seat of my car, I can stop worrying and know that everything will be okay.
By: Barbara Matousek
The summer that Sam was 2 and 1/2 I pulled up to the daycare and the kids were all outside playing. Sam’s eyes were swollen and red, his face puffed up as if he were full of air, and a steady stream of snot ran down his upper lip. This was four hours after he had screamed at Jamie that he’d gotten some peanut butter on his hand and Jamie said “Oh, just lick it off.” Standing on the sidewalk in front of Jamie’s listening to the story my first thought was “Oh no. Not THAT allergy.”
Admittedly before my son was diagnosed with a peanut allergy I didn’t know anything about them other than the fact that peanut allergies can kill. I didn’t know that nearly 6 million (or 8%) of American children have food allergies. I didn’t know that the prevalence of peanut allergies among children had tripled between 1997 and 2008. I didn’t know that 1 in 13 children under age 3 were affected by food allergies.
After Sam’s initial scratch test in which a tiny peanut protein caused a welt the size of a half dollar on his back, I knew our lives would change, that we’d have to watch everything he ate, that he wouldn’t be able to eat baked goods from commercial bakeries or any food from Chinese restaurants, that we’d have to ask about anything he ate that we didn’t make ourselves because peanut butter is often used to thicken sauces and peanut oil is occasionally used in restaurant cooking. I knew he’d never run around and play with a child who had just eaten a peanut butter sandwich. And I knew he’d have to always carry an epi-pen in case of a severe, rapid-onset reaction called anaphylaxis which results in sudden throat swelling and low blood pressure that can be fatal.
I am a mother of small children so I understand how overwhelmed every parent is just remembering the needs of their own children. I sometimes can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car, so I completely understand a parent who barely knows my child who doesn’t remember that he has a peanut allergy. I understand that it is MY responsibility to over and over again gently remind those who are around Sam that he can’t have peanuts.
But Valentine’s Day caught me completely off guard. The school knows he has a peanut allergy. The school knows another child in his class has a tree nut allergy. The school knows food can be a tricky thing for a child with a peanut allergy. When I received a letter from Sam’s teacher giving me a list of children who he would share “Valentines” with, I bought a package of little cards with little heart stickers and temporary tattoos, and Sam and I sat down and wrote his name and the names of his classmates on 21 of them. The letter didn’t mention food. The letter didn’t say anything about candy. But I have learned my lesson and I now know that “Valentines” means something very different than it did when I was in preschool 40 years ago. “Valentines” means little card and bag of candy… and an opportunity for the exhausted overwhelmed parents of Sammy’s classmates to forget that a child in their class can die if he consumes peanuts.
According to a study released in 2008 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies result in about 300,000 ambulatory-care visits per year in children. More than 15% of school-aged children with food allergies have had a reaction at school. And approximately 20-25% of epinephrine administrations in schools involve children whose allergy was unknown at the time of their reaction. Every year we hear about children who have died in school as a result of something they ate. And if your child doesn’t have a peanut allergy you may not pay any attention. But when you’re the parent of a child with a peanut allergy, news of the preventable death of a child with an allergy triggers fear and anxiety. It is a good reminder that your child CAN die from a peanut reaction. It is a good reminder that living with a peanut allergy will require you to step out of your comfort zone and keep reminding people over and over again that you are just one person and you would appreciate their help in keeping your child safe.
Here is a great list of 10 things you should remember about food allergies in the classroom.
Valentine’s Day was a great lesson for all of us. I now realize the importance of working with the school to get the word out about my son’s allergy, and I now know that I need to be the one responsible for gently, consistently reminding other parents that there is a child in their child’s class who can die from peanuts. I don’t blame anyone for forgetting, and I don’t blame the school for failing to remind them. I blame myself for not being more informed about what he encounters at his school and what his school policies are regarding allergies. But you can bet that has changed.
By: Barbara Matousek
Recently on Facebook, one of those viral status updates about brothers was making the rounds, one of those posts you’re supposed to read and feel all warm and happy about and then cut and paste in to your own status if YOU have a brother who will always be there for you. I never had a brother so I wouldn’t know what that’s like, but I do have a sister. An amazing sister who put up with being tortured by her older sister and frequently had to wear my hand-me-downs or play with toys that were originally bought for someone else.
Last year when I had photos taken of the kids and I was trying to figure out what shots to blow up in to wrapped canvases for a collage on my living room wall, I sent a few ideas to a friend. She looked at my proposed layout and said it looked great but it seemed “a little Sam heavy.” She admitted this came from her middle-child perspective. I told her I understood, that there was a lot of Sam compared to how much Eva there was, but Eva was just six months old. Sam was 3 and 1/2. I had a lot more Sam under my belt, a lot more Sam material available.
I come to this parenting thing as a first born. I never had to put up with an older sibling demanding that I do what they say or I will tell Mom and Dad. I never had to wear someone else’s hand-me-downs or play games with torn cardboard and missing pieces. I never had a bigger, stronger sibling sitting on top of me holding me down and threatening to spit in my face (sorry, Annie). But I also was the one who got in the most trouble for everything. I was the one caught by the all-encompassing “You’re older and you should know better.” Yes, I got a lot more attention from Mom and Dad, demanded a lot more attention from Mom and Dad. But I also got a lot more of the blame and a lot more of the responsibility.
Eva’s first word was not ball or doll or puppy. It was “stop.” As in “Sam, stop that!” Sam is older and during that first year (and still sometimes now) whenever I was exhausted or overwhelmed and just needed something to change for just one second, it was Sam I would demand things from. Stop. Now. Stop whining. Stop running. Stop kicking your chair. Stop hanging on me. Stop bouncing off the walls. Stop.
This weekend I went to all the usual places to find something clean for Eva to wear so I could put off laundry just one more day. I glanced over the piles of too-small pants stacked in her bedroom closet, piles I haven’t had time to move to storage or donate. I dug through the drawers of the changing table. I pulled out the Rubbermaid bin of still-too-big clothes handed down from my cousin. And when I came up empty-handed I remembered the cardboard box of Sammy’s clothes that had come back from a neighbor after she’d sorted through it and decided not to take all of it. Not just Sammy hand-me-downs, but Sammy’s rejected hand-me-downs. I dug out a pair of 2T jammies with little green and orange dinosaurs. They smelled like a musty version of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo mixed with Dreft. I chased down my naked toddler who is happiest when her big belly is sticking out and she’s running to get away from Mommy, and she sat perfectly still while I pulled on her big brother’s hand me downs.
I will never know what it’s like to be a younger sibling, never know that feeling of wanting to be like an older sibling, of waiting patiently for an older sibling or an overwhelmed parent to notice me. But when I watch my children together and the way they interact, Sammy always trying to get Eva to bend to his will and play what he wants to play, Eva always trying to get in the middle of whatever Sammy is doing (even if it involves small pieces or red markers or sharp objects), I get a small glimpse into my own childhood. I feel so incredibly blessed that I have a little sister that has always been there for me, and when Eva sat up straight in her new jammies and ran her hands over the dinosaurs on her legs and grinned, I wanted to call my sister and tell her how grateful I am…even if I don’t cut and paste any viral Facebook post that says so.
By: Barbara Matousek
Packing up the night before it hadn’t occurred to me that we could go in a ditch, that my Subaru could keep sliding as the road curved. And to be honest, even after we saw the first pile-up of cars where I-90 turns and crosses the Mississippi River in La Crosse, I wasn’t concerned about the roads. I had called my mother and told her I was watching the weather, and I had checked the forecast at least thirty times that morning. The Weather Channel and all the local TV stations had said the worst of the snow would move in between 11am and 5pm, and up until the moment we got on the road just after noon, I wasn’t sure if we should go early and try to get ahead of it or wait and go in the morning.
We had planned our trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells months ago, and Sam had been counting the days until we stayed at “TT’s hotel.” A year and a half ago we’d stayed at TT’s hotel in Chicago on our way to visit relatives in Michigan, and last summer we stayed at TT’s hotel in Milwaukee while I ran in a 5-mile race to raise money for Children’s Hospital. TT is Sam’s grandma, and when we travel with her we stay in her hotels. TT’s hotel in The Dells has a waterpark, and we’d all been looking forward to this trip long before January first pretended to be spring and then quickly turned frigid and reminded us of her true colors.
We were in the car about twenty-five minutes when we came across an accident scene just after we crossed in to Wisconsin. Traffic that had been moving a steady sixty miles an hour came to a sudden stop, and I pushed the brakes slowly and thanked God the semi behind me had been following a safe distance. Eva was still awake because Sam had been screaming for several minutes that he couldn’t get his Leapster Explorer to do something he was absolutely sure it should do. I had long since given up on trying to convince him to be quiet and let me concentrate.
“Look at the fire trucks,” I said, and Sam looked up, suddenly quiet.
Mangled pieces of cars and SUVs littered the ditch and four or five firemen in coats with bright yellow striping lifted a woman wrapped in black blankets on to a stretcher. Her neck was in a brace and the SUV next to her was bent and caved in on one side.
“See why you need to be quiet and let me focus on driving?” I said without thinking, just grateful for a reprieve from the back seat screaming. “It is very dangerous out here. I would not want to go in the ditch.” My hands gripped the wheel and traffic crept forward and I glanced at the cars facing the wrong direction on the other side of the highway.
Sam looked up at the two firetrucks with flashing red lights and the smaller ambulance parked in front of it. He said nothing.
“Look at the firemen,” I said. “They are helping that lady. They’re going to take her to the hospital.”
Traffic merged in to one lane and I let the semi next to me pull ahead of us. I turned on the wipers and sprayed the windshield with blue fluid that froze almost immediately.
“Don’t worry, Mommy,” Sam finally spoke just before going back to his video game. “They can fix her.”
The accident scene scared me, made me hold the wheel a little tighter, let up on the accelerator slightly, focus more intently on staying at least six car lengths behind the vehicle in front of me.
Sam was, thankfully, unaffected. My anxiety hadn’t spread. About five miles later as I quietly cursed at a souped-up pickup that whizzed past us and then switched back in to our lane leaving us in a white out right behind his bumper, Sam started yelling about needing something to drink RIGHT NOW and when-are-we-going-to-get-there and “Where else does TT have hotels that we can go to?” By the time we arrived safely at TT’s hotel an hour later my fingers were cramped and the sides of the windshield were caked with blue ice, and Sam and Eva were sound asleep in the back seat.
By: Barbara Matousek
In the car on the way across Wisconsin Sam is still conflicted.
“I love Green Bay and I love Aaron Rodgers, but I also like the Lions,” he tells me. He wonders if Jack’s daddy would be sad if the Packers won. “What if the Packers won by just a little?”
Jack’s Daddy is my cousin John and he’s joining me at Lambeau Field for the final game of the season. Sam has been speculating on the outcome all morning. What if the Lions had forty-eighty and the Packers had twenty-seven? What if the Lions had one hundred and the Packers had zero? What if the Lions had eleventy-seven?
A few weeks ago, the weekend of Sam’s 4th birthday, the Packers were still undefeated and Sam wanted to know what color the Kansas City Chiefs wore. When I told him red, Sam insisted on wearing a red t-shirt despite the pile of Green Bay Packer clothing that he’s accumulated over the last few years.
A little background: I grew up in Green Bay, a small city spreading out from the banks of the Fox River near Lake Michigan. It is a town with more bars than churches, and paper mills steam the cold Midwestern air with a pungent sulphur smell. It is the smallest market in North America with a major league team, and Green Bay holds the only community-owned franchise in American professional sports. The Packers have won 13 NFL championship titles including 4 Super Bowls, and “Titletown, USA” appears on the Green Bay city seal. Five times during the history of the team when they needed money for stadium upgrades $200 value-less shares of Packer stock ownership sold out quickly.
During my childhood Sunday morning sermons in the fall were short, and even during the 80’s when wins were rare and coaching and quarterback changes were frequent, the wait time for those joining the season ticket wait list was estimated to be several centuries.
Sam is not growing up in Green Bay. But I did. I sleep in NFL pajamas and drink water out of a stainless steel water bottle stamped with a G. I do not carry a purse or a laptop case. Everything of value that I need during the day is stuffed into a backpack emblazed with a big white G encircled in green and gold. The blanket on my sofa is a woven picture of Lambeau Field. My father made me a shareholder in 1997.
So when a 4-year-old boy wants to assert his independence from his green-and-gold-loving mommy, he starts cheering for the other guys every week. Near the end of the 4th quarter of the Chiefs game when the TV showed Aaron Rodgers smiling on the sidelines after pressure for the perfect season finally subsided, I told Sammy I was a little sad.
“No, no,” he said as we watched the Packers file off the field. “I didn’t mean it. I want the Packers to win.”
So as we head across the state where Mommy will go to the final game of the regular season with Jack’s Daddy, Sam is still on the fence about who to root for. He knows Jack’s Daddy is bringing him a little present for his loyalty to the Lions during the early part of the season. But he also knows that green and gold make his mommy happy.
“I like Aaron Rodgers and I like the coach,” he tells me. “But I don’t like the other guys as much as I like the other guys on the Lions.”
I tell him that he can root for whichever team he wants to but Mommy’s team is going to win.
He declares his love of the Packers again but is still conflicted when Jack’s Daddy shows up at Grandma’s house dressed in a Lions jersey holding the promised present.
“I like the Lions,” he says looking out of the corner of his eye at my cousin. “But the Packers are going to win!” And he smiles and jumps into my arms.