Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Play: Their mother's gardens

"I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible except as Creator: hand and eye. She is involved in work her soul must have. Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty.

Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift, is a legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life. She had handed down respect for the possibilities - and the will to grasp them."

When I read that essay as a senior in college, I found the subject matter as tedious as the microscopic type and tissue-thin pages of the Norton Anthology in which it appeared.  Sure, I was all for women expressing their creativity, especially oppressed minorities, but gardening, to my mind, fell strictly in the realm of ladies like my grandmother and was thus irrelevant to young, vital, important me. 

When I was young, my grandmother grew lush flower gardens that lined her driveway.  She spent many hours teaching me the names of her plants and hoped that they would someday be useful.  When I was in high school an applying to college she would wistfully suggest that after spending all those early years learning the difference between a pansy and a petunia I might want to become a florist.  I nodded politely, but not encouragingly, at the suggestion which seemed at the time an incredibly frivolous way to spend a life.

Years later, when I was just starting out in teaching at a school where most of my colleagues were on the opposite end of their careers, I used to spend my lunch break listening to the older ladies talking about weeding dahlias and pruning roses. One of them explained to me that though her rose bushes were a lot of work, she thought they were an important tool in demonstrating to her children, high school age at the time, the beauty of nature.  Back then, this struck me as unnecessary.  Everyone knows what a rose looks like, how is seeing one in the front yard going to be any different from seeing one wrapped in cellophane and tossed in a bucket at the supermarket?   

You know where this is going.  With becoming a mother and a homeowner, I have also become a gardener.  My beds are nothing compared to my grandmother's and I've never pruned a rose bush.  I am certainly not a radiant gardener like Walker's mother, but then nor do people come from miles around to admire my work as they did hers.  Really, I'm still not great at planning out a garden, often realizing after a thing takes root that a may not have picked the best spot for it.  Also, dirt grosses me out and worms occasionally make me gag. 

Still, I feel compelled to open up the earth and embellish it with a living thing that I will then nourish and nurture and endeavor to help in fulfilling its promise to be beautiful.  And though I doubt that they'll grow up to be florists or landscape architects, I want my girls to be a part of that. 

I'll likely never be able to teach them what a dahlia is as I have no idea myself, but there are some more important things I hope I might pass on:

You may never own a home with an indoor pool like that classmate whose birthday party Big E attended a while back, but you can always plant a few of those rose bushes that grow on the dunes and imagine yourself beachside.

Though last night's dinner came from a takeout menu, that needn't be your only source.

A little dirt never hurt anybody. . . but you really must wash up before dinner.

And, most important of all, even when you have no confidence in your ability to propagate a lawn, throw out some seed and you just might end up with a lush, verdant patch of loveliness like I did.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Work: Those days that sting

When Big E was a baby she attended the teen parent daycare in the school where I taught at the time.  Every morning I would file into a classroom turned nursery with the teen moms, all of us toting backpacks and babies, and I would hand over my firstborn to a daycare staff that I knew had decades of experience and the patience and kind nature to not only spend the day on the floor playing with babies but to build trusting relationships with the high school-aged mothers, as well.

I knew that I'd be down to feed my daughter her applesauce at lunchtime, and that if I didn't run into her and the other babies riding their big red buggy through the corridors, a student or co-worker would and I'd get a full report.  Still, every morning of those first months of working motherhood when I'd hear her Separation Anxiety-fueled cry as I walked up the stairs to my classroom I would marvel in horrified fascination that as my heart figuratively broke, I could literally feel the smart of each stab of her gasping cry.

I would arrive at my classroom, usually late and with a class's worth of freshmen sitting cross-legged on the floor waiting for me, and I would suffer through the visceral sting brought on by those cries. I was too wounded to absorb a student's  heavy sigh or exaggerated eye roll as easily I would have in my pre-baby days, and everything felt so much harder than I'd calculated it would.

Time has helped to lessen the frequency of those days that sting, and this year's part-time schedule has helped even more.  But still, there are occasionally those days and yesterday was one.

On Wednesday night my husband attended Little E's Pre-K teacher conference and found that her teachers were not noting the progress in her fine motor skills that we and her occupational therapist had seen.  He also learned that through a series of miscommunications on both ends, we had not registered her for a slot in the class we'd planned for her to be in next year and so our only option would be for her to repeat this year's curriculum, during which, I suspected, she would continue sit quietly and be overlooked. After I got all crazy on the phone with my husband, I tried be less crazy on the phone with the center director.  She spoke in sympathetic tones and promised to look into the registration situation, but I got off the phone feeling no better and found myself lying awake at 2 a.m. berating myself for warehousing my child in a place that was convenient for me but not all that great for her.

I went into work feeling as if I'd betrayed my daughter by sending her off that morning to the place that had angered me to tears the night before. Little E knew nothing of this and she is pretty much okay with the daycare, but lately I  suffer even the smallest slight to her like a slash at my weakest point and so I got to work rubbed raw, too severely abraded to weather a snide comment, stray giggle or nagging e-mail.  But just as I cannot come home from a bad day, curl up in a ball on the floor and tell the children, "Work sucked today. Now leave me alone," I really cannot explain the trouble with corporate childcare or the crippling guilt of working motherhood to a roomful of 16-year-olds.  I had to play through the pain, but I knew I was hobbled.

There are countless women who manage this balance with more children I have and more important and time-consuming careers than mine.  It seems, though, that no matter how I try to make it work, both sides of my equation are somehow diminished. Yesterday I tended to my wounds by shopping and drinking frappuccinos with Little E, fabulous parenting if ever there was.  But I also fought on, setting up visits at two other childcare programs for next week. 

Flawed as I may be at work and at home,  I can only keep trying to get it right.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dream: At the end of days, I shall eat Fritos

I was browsing CVS on Friday night when I overheard the cashiers talking about the eminent Rapture. I looked down at the deodorant in my hand and wondered whether I should be wasting time on my underarms when the world was about to end. I'm not religious, but from my limited knowledge of the Rapture I guessed that I'd be in for a whole lot of hellfire, so I got the deodorant. 

Though I fret at least weekly that I'll meet some tragic end that will leave my daughters motherless and my husband and family bereft, I was a little apathetic about the impending end times.  If everyone in the world goes at the same time, no one misses out on anything, right? Still, I wondered if I should spend my Saturday any differently, just in case.

Of course, I couldn't actually deviate from the general routine because that would arouse the suspicions of children, whom I would hope to keep in the dark about the whole situation at least until fire began to rain from the sky (and even then I'd probably try to explain it away until the earth actually opened up and swallowed us). So, I spent my Saturday as I always do, with swim lessons and soccer, but kept a mental list of the subtle alterations I'd have made had I actually believed that I was spending my last day on Earth.  Here's what I came up with:

Unleash my inner crazy mom.  In my years of teaching, I've dealt with the occasional hysterical parent and heard tell of scores more.  I have always sworn that I would not be one of these crazy over-reacters, and I have mostly managed to avoid it. (Well, except for this one incident in the lobby of Little E's daycare after she'd been bitten one too many times.)  If I were confident that the world would end within 24 hours, I would love to share my unvarnished critique of the teenage swim instructor of the group next to Little E's.  Since she's not actually my child's teacher I've held back, but on the day that the world ends it would feel great to point out to that while it's annoying that she shows up late each week, causing my child's instructor to take on extra students, it's plain disgusting that last night's mascara is streaming down her face into the pool where my child is currently forced to blow bubbles.  I'd also point at that a hickey so large and, um, fresh-looking is kind of horrifying, especially in juxtaposition with the innocent preschoolers forced to rest their heads against her defiled neck as they attempt a back float.

Because I was pretty sure we'd live to see another lesson, I watched in fascination as she turned green and struggled not to vomit into the pool where my child was dog paddling but kept my mouth shut.

Eat Fritos.  Just as it was the highlight to my own childhood YMCA trips, a visit to the snack machine is always the grand finale to my kids' morning at the Y.  They love the Fritos and Cheese Puffs that come out of that machine so much more than anything I could ever make them, more than the same snacks, even, if they came from a source that didn't involve scrounging change and punching in codes.  Each week they make their selections and I abstain. . .until we get into the car and, I demand they share.  When I was in high school, I couldn't bring myself to eat in front of boys.  It was as if I thought they might believe that I survived on Diet Coke, oyster crackers and  coolness alone.  Perhaps this is the message I hope to send the YMCA desk clerk.  I don't know.  But I do know that if the world was at its end, I'd buy my own bag of Fritos and savor every salty, crunch bite.

Because I was dubious about the supposed Rapture, I waited until I got home and then gorged absently on handfuls of  reduced-fat wheat thins as I ranted to my husband about the hungover swim teacher.

Stop off for Botox. I have a face that people tend to misconstrue.  I hear a lot of Cheer up. It can't be that bad! and Oh dear, is everything okay?.  In response, I've learned to say, "No, that's just how my face looks," which generally shuts down the conversation.  It's true, though; I am usually reasonably cheerful and without problems that require concern from acquaintances and co-workers, but I don't always look that way.  My brow tends to furrow without my prompting and this has caused a crease between my eyebrows that apparently makes me look angry or upset.  I try to be conscious about relaxing my facial muscles and thinking serene thoughts, but who wants to worry about this in the face of Armageddon?  In this scenario, my concerns over  the long term side effects of injecting toxins and the cost of repeated treatments would be nullified and I could face my end with a brow as serenely unlined as a Real Housewife's.  It would be the silver lining to an otherwise crappy day.

Because I knew I'd likely wake up on Sunday, I concentrated on lifting and spreading my eyebrows so as to smooth my crease naturally.

Have word with the soccer parents.  Every Saturday my husband gamely tries to teach a squad of first and second graders how to juggle a soccer ball, patiently explains the proper part of the foot to use for a short pass (the inside) and for a long kick (the laces), and gently shows them, over and over, the appropriate form for a throw-in.  Week after week he kindly reminds them of the importance of fun and sportsmanship and not celebrating every goal as if you've just won the World Cup.  Each week he brings a stopwatch to ensure that every child gets exactly the same amount of playing time.  Every Saturday I sit and watch all of this, and I listen to those children's parents on the sideline as they scrutinize the equality of the playing time, act falsely modest about the abundance of talent they see in their children, and, on a recent Saturday, deliberate over which island nation's shopkeepers were more "disrespectful" of them --Jamaica or the Dominican Republic (ultimately, a draw).  The one thing I never hear, in keeping with their Upstairs, Downstairs world view, is a "thank you" when they all walk away with their lawn chairs as my husband runs around gathering orange cones and soccer balls.  Even at the end of the world, I probably wouldn't tell them exactly what I think about this (too embarrassing for Big E), but I would happily prompt them with a little What do you say?.

Naturally, as soon as I added this to my list one of the fathers piped up and thanked my husband.  In fact, he said it twice to make sure he was heard.

I'm pretty sure he was just tying up loose ends in the face of the Apocalypse.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Eat: Tarragon and Bacon Scallops on Crispy Polenta Cakes

I love to eat out, but over the years I've find many a foreign object in my meals: a pencil-top eraser in a Greek salad, a twist tie in a chicken sandwich, an eyelash on an Egg McMuffin, a disturbingly short and curly hair on a cheeseburger, and flies, so many flies.

Since I had kids, my restaurant discoveries have dropped off significantly, maybe a stray hair here and there but nothing really exciting.  I doubt this is because food handling has become so much more sanitary since 2003.  It is much more likely because eating out with my children simply doesn't allow for leisurely contemplation (and inspection) of my food.

The possibility of unseen eyelashes and erasers, the overpriced kids' meals that are pushed away after two bites, and the extra-large tips we must occasionally offer in apology to our server have taken some of the joy out of restaurant dining, and so we've cut back.  Every once in a while, though, I manage a meal that is restaurant quality, free of unfamiliar hairs, and can be enjoyed without worrying whether we're going to exceed the time limit on our restaurant manners.

Last weekend I managed this with a meal of Tarragon and Bacon Scallops on Crispy Polenta Cakes, arugula tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, and brownies a la mode with homemade chocolate sauce.  The scallops are surprisingly simple to prepare and the polenta cakes are made easier by using a pre-cooked roll, and all of it is delicious.


Polenta Cakes

  • 1 tube of pre-cooked polenta (I used one flavored with garlic and basil.)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350.

Slice the polenta into half-inch thick rounds.

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.

Brown the cakes in the olive oil.  This took me about three minutes per side.

Place the cakes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 20 minutes, about the time it will take you to prepare the scallops.

Tarragon and Bacon Scallops

  • 2 slices of thick cut bacon, cut into 1 inch bits (Kitchen scissors work well for this.)
  • 10 sea scallops
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter 
  • juice of one lemon 
  • 1/4 cup of white wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • Salt and pepper

Pat the scallops dry and season them with salt and pepper.

Cook the bacon until it is crispy but not overdone.  Remove it to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add the butter to the pan with the bacon grease and melt it over medium heat.

Sear the scallops over medium-high heat for about 2 1/2 minutes a side. 

Remove the scallops from the heat, slice them in half lengthwise, put them on a plate and cover them.

Add the wine and lemon juice to the pan and bring to a simmer as you gently scrape up any bits of bacon and scallops that remain stuck to the pan.

Once the wine and lemon juice mixture has reduced by about half, add two tablespoons of water and allow that to reduce a bit.

Return the bacon and the scallops (and any juices they've released on the plate) to the pan and add the tarragon.  Stir together, allowing all of the components to heat up and mingle together.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, and then serve over polenta cakes.

This served two adults with left overs and some for the kids to try.

Quick Baby Arugula Salad

Combine two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, one tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in the bottom of a medium salad bowl.  Whisk it all together, add a bowlful of baby arugula, and toss to coat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Play: On embracing spandex

Recently I've realized that a superhero's powers may be less about the cape and more about the tights.

It all started about a month ago when I decided to upgrade my gym wardrobe from the utilitarian running shorts I've been wearing for years to a pair of lightweight spandex that hit just below the knee.  They were incredibly comfortable but proved too low-rise for vigorous exercise.  Hoping to justify my purchase, I took to wearing them around the house.

I also spent a lot of time twisting around to survey my rearview in the full-length mirror in my bedroom, a view which, though that mirror has proven overly optimistic in the past, was actually encouraging. I goaded my husband into confirming this for me on an almost daily basis, and after a couple weeks I had the courage to take the show on the road.  I wore the shorts to Little E's swim lesson at the Y and it was a revelation; they were as comfortable as sweatpants but rather than making me look as if I'd given up on life, they made me look as if I might break into a purposeful sprint at any moment.

Then my husband did something wonderful.  For Mother's Day, he bought me a pair of spandex shorts even more glorious than the original.  Not only did they feel great and make me look like I do 10Ks in my sleep, they were the most comfortable thing I've ever run in.  It was like jogging naked but without the inevitable jiggle and chafing.  With two pairs my lycra-loving pleasure was doubled. I slid on spandex and running sneakers for the grocery store, Daisy Scout pick-up, the sidelines of both youth and adult soccer games, a stop at a local farm stand; if I wasn't paid to be there, I was in spandex.

I wore my spandex shorts and polyester track jacket so often that week that they came to feel like a uniform --not in the bad way like the humiliating striped top and visor I wore in high school as a McDonald's counter girl but in the good way, like Wonder Woman's badass boots or Superman's pec-enhancing unitard.  It was probably this association that suggested to me at the shorts were in some way imbued with super powers.  Before the week was out I had decided that I needed to train for a triathlon. Never mind that I despise bike riding and never mastered rotary breathing, I picked an event, penciled it into next year's calendar and started researching training programs.

Yesterday afternoon I set out for a run, planning to stretch my mileage to five from my normal three because I'll surely need a strong run to offset my bike and swim times and because I just knew that my shorts were up to the added challenge.  About two miles in it started to rain, but my shorts, magic as they are, were unfazed. I soldiered on through the rain, which quickly became a torrent, even when a mass of passing cyclists forced me into a deep puddle on the dirt shoulder.  I even kept a brave face as they insultingly echoed the warning "Walker!" through their ranks, despite a spandex-fueled pace that should have categorized me at least a jogger.

As I neared mile four, I was attempting maintain my pace and wringing out my spandex-free shirt amidst the angry splattering of massive raindrops when my husband pulled up and offered me a ride.  I jumped in gratefully but was awash in guilt before we even pulled away.  I'd failed to live up the shorts.  Their powers, it turned out, were only as strong as the will of their wearer.

Despite yesterday's disappointment, I love the spandex too much to stop trying to live up to them.  I just hope that someone will do me this one kindness: should next summer pass without me competing in that triathlon, please tell me --gently-- that it's time to hang up my shorts.  Without the powers, the tights are so much more sad than super.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Work: Reaping what I've sown

When I was 18, I was very, very wise.  Lucky for my husband, we met back then and I was able to share my wisdom before I grew up and no longer knew quite so much.

I taught him to love rollercoasters and Vietnamese food and tried to teach him how to drive stick.  The bulk of my efforts back then, though, were aimed at pointing out to him the wrongness of nearly every aspect of his happy suburban Long Island upbringing  in contrast to the rightness of my comparatively rural New England upbringing. 

Much to his parents’ chagrin, I preached to him the importance of being true to himself and making a difference in the world, thus ensuring that he would never find use for that suit that his mother bought him.  I also derided the inordinate amount of attention his parents and their neighbors paid to their tiny lawns.  I’d decry the wastefulness of all that sprinkler use and scoff at the laziness apparent in hiring a landscaper to mow a yard smaller than the living room.  Really, I’d sneer self-righteously, it’s just grass.  Why do you all care so much?

My mother-in-law will be happy to know that I am now reaping what I’ve sown.

I stand by the importance of rollercoasters and Vietnamese food (though I gave up on the stick and bought an automatic when Little E was a baby).  His being true to himself and making a difference in the world saves a lot on dry cleaning, so I try not to think about that suit-wearing salary we miss out on.  The lawn thing, though?  I’d like to give wise 18-year-old me a piece of my grown-up 35-year-old mind.

Five years ago we moved into our house (in a neighborhood not as suburban as his, nor as rural as mine) and suddenly, inexplicably, I morphed into a person who cared what the neighbors thought.  Thanks to my teachings, my husband did not experience such a transformation, and so while he is happy to mow the lawn, that is the extent of his landscaping efforts. He believes that green weeds, as long as they are mowed, are perfectly acceptable groundcover.  Having developed few lawncare skills in my youth, I have subscribed out of necessity to his theory.

 Unfortunately, the massive snow banks and pounds of road salt of this past winter have left large swaths of our front yard barren even to those green weeds I used to count on to fool the neighbors.  Far from being too occupied with whatever profundities 18-year-old me thought my in-laws were neglecting in order to focus on a lush yard, I find myself more than a little horrified by what the neighbors must think. 

As I am the only one in the house (though surely not the only one in the neighborhood) who cares about our lawn failure, it has fallen upon me to do something about it.  Earlier this week, armed with all of my grass-growing knowledge, gleaned mostly from a third grade art project involving a Dixie cup decorated with a drawing of a leprechaun’s face, I set out to reseed the lawn. . .or at least to send a message to the neighbors that though our lawn care is deficient we’re really not the derelict slobs our dusty front yard might suggest.

Given that I bought the cut-rate seed, skipped at least half of the preparation steps recommended on the bag, and have yet to set up (or purchase) a sprinkler, I’m not all that optimistic about what I’ll reap.  My effort, though, is clearly evident in the neatly raked dirt sprinkled with both seed and fertilizer.

I can only hope that the neighbors will give me some credit for having sown at all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dream: What a difference a year makes

The Thursday before Mother's Day 2010, I learned that I was to be cut from my department at the end of the year.  A younger, childless co-worker had approached me the next day, sympathetic and incredulous.  "It's just because you're a mom," she'd whispered to me, wide-eyed.  I was pretty sure she was right, and the echo of her words served as the soundtrack to my Mother's Day weekend.

I woke up that Sunday achy and feverish.  Refusing to believe that I could be both fired and sick on Mother's Day, I insisted on going to my husband's soccer game where it was overcast and blustery, my husband's play was uninspiring and the girls' behavior alternated between whining, fighting, and crying.  "But it's Mother's Day," I protested weakly and to no avail.

My husband tried to salvage the day by stuffing me with prescription Motrin and packing us all up for the 45-minute ride to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, which, we found when we arrived, was closed due to a plumbing emergency.  The only place we could find with less than an hour's wait had talking mooseheads on the wall and maybe one menu item that wasn't a slab of beef. 

Also, I was fired and angry and really, really sad.  I knew that if this was my darkest moment, I was lucky; but I knew it in the same way I knew the earth was round.  I understood that it was so, but it was hard to actually feel it and so it wasn't as comforting as it should have been.

A month later, my principal changed his mind and just like that everything was back to how it had been.  Sort of.

This Mother's Day, I again started my morning at a cold, windy soccer game, except that my husband scored a goal (and also got a red card, mortifying me at what appeared to be a terrible misreading of my appreciation of aggressive play, but it turned out to be some sort of misunderstanding and the ref rescinded it in the end). I kept warm by chasing a squealingly happy Little E the length of the field, and I had a mimosa on the sideline after the game. I went for a jog in the new running pants that I got for Mother's Day, and for dinner my husband found a spot that claimed New England's best lobster roll, which I enjoyed at an indoor picnic table and followed with coffee kahlua brownie ice cream with chocolate sprinkles. 

What with not being fired, sick or forced to dine in the company of talking mooseheads, it was all much better than last year.  The very best part, though, was how over the past year --after abruptly losing and improbably regaining my job-- everything never really went back to exactly how it had been.

Hearing Little E's happy shrieks as I bounce her down the field on my back, swapping bites of ice cream with Big E, jogging through the woods, and, yes, even sitting through the Sunday morning soccer game: without a doubt these things feel more important than anything else in my life. 

They are a comfort in the face of any hurt, and, like the troubles of last Mother's Day, they are because I am a mom.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eat: Beer Bread

You may have noticed that not long after I bragged about my new healthy eating project, I also shared recipes for ribs, ice cream pie, pizza and brownies.  I swear I still have a (passing) interest in eating more vegetables and whole grains, but lately I've been more into the beer, bread and tons of melted butter involved in this recipe.

I first saw this recipe from Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners last summer.  I was tempted but never got around to making it.  I'm thinking that it's all of the whole grains of late that inspired me to try this bread made of white flour and sugar.  Whatever the reason, I am forever grateful that I did because it is extremely easy and so delicious.

  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 bottle of beer (Blue Moon has worked well for me.)
Place the stick of butter in a 9" by 13" glass pan, stick the pan in the oven and set the oven to 350.  The butter will melt and )hopefully) b conveniently ready just around teh time the oven is.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Add the bottle of beer.


Mix it together until just combined.  You'll end up with a sticky, messy dough, but don't worry.  It will work out in the end.

Once the butter is melted, pour out about 3/4 of it into a small bowl.  Swirl the rest around to coat the inside of the pan(carefully because the pan will be hot). Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough out evenly in the pan, then drizzle the rest of the melted butter over the dough.

Cook it at 350 for about 25 minutes until it is golden brown in top.  Allow it to cool a bit, then cut it into squares and serve while it is still warm.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Play: Footballer's Wife


I know I've complained about soccer's pernicious creep into my life (and maybe a bit hyperbolically by invoking 1984), but I survived our first double soccer weekend of the season --Big E on Saturday and my husband on Sunday.  I'm trying to keep a more positive outlook, which in spring is made easier by the fact that the weather is getting warmer rather than colder and high school soccer isn't in season so my husband's coaching duties are restricted to Saturday afternoons.

Of course, I still have some gripes.  For one thing, calling the field the pitch and cleats boots makes me uncomfortable in the same manner that Madonna's and Gwyneth Paltrow's British accents do.  I also struggle to find patience for any game that can end in a tie and in which the referee adds injury time at the end seemingly on a whim.  I've always been a basketball girl, and in my world all games have winners and playing time is kept with precision and transparency.  I won't even get into the business of what happens when an injury occurs; suffice it to say it's all very well-mannered and involves passing to the other team and clapping.  Weird.

But, despite my complaints there is at least one thing I love about soccer, the thing that makes it okay to drive over an hour and cross state lines to watch a game that ends in a one-one tie.  What I really love is my husband's Sunday morning soccer alter ego.

My husband is a genuinely nice guy most of the time. He takes the first shower every morning so that I get a few extra minutes of sleep and uninterrupted hairdrying time.  He is effusively appreciative of my cooking and doesn't complain about cleaning up my mess in the kitchen. He delights the girls, though probably not the dog, by using our Boston Terrier as a puppet to act out scenarios like Cleo is a supervillian, Cleo is a lifeguard and Cleo is the Great Cleodini.  He is a kind and patient coach to Big E's soccer team and reminds them before every game that their goal is to work hard and have fun.  

But if you only knew him from watching him play soccer, you would guess none of this. That is because my husband --the man who tucks me in at night and then irons my clothes for the next day-- is that guy on the field tugging on people's jerseys, throwing discreet elbows and generally raising the ire of the opposing team.  He is the guy who provokes his opponents to say within earshot of the wives and children on the sideline words that make even me a little uncomfortable, and he is the guy who can feign utter shock and innocence when the man who is marking him retaliates with an angry shove.       

At a game this past summer the wife of one of his teammates turned to me and marvelled, "He's just like a bull in a china shop.  I mean, you go up against him, you're on the ground."

I opened my mouth to explain to her that it really wasn't like that, that I really hadn't married a brute, but instead I nodded in agreement.  "Yup," I said, accepting the compliment.

Maybe he is the guy that the other team delighted in crashing to the dirt in front of where the girls and I sat on Sunday, but he's also the guy who turned to me a few plays later as he stood on the sideline awaiting the ball for the throw in and reminded me that I could wear his jacket if I was chilly.  That tenderness, along with the toughness to get right up and dust off after the dirty hit (and, honestly, to inspire the dirty hit in the first place), is what I love.  It's how I survive a double soccer weekend.