Friday, June 29, 2012

Stage Mom

Last week my son Christopher, age eight, was chosen as a featured extra (hip hop dancer) in Adam Sandler's comedy "Grown Ups 2." This week we all went down to Marblehead, Swampscott, and Lynn, MA, for rehearsals, the costume fitting, and filming.

It's been a trip!

My Hollywood Week Fun Facts:

Talked to: Adam Sandler

Photographed with: Adam Sandler

Obtained autograph of: Adam Sandler

Met: Shaquille O'Neal

Shook hands with: Shaquille O'Neal

Saw up close: Maria Bello, Salma Hayek, Kevin James

Saw across the street: David Spade, Chris Rock

Star family members talked to: Adam Sandler's mother and wife

Favorite star family member talked to: Adam Sandler's mother

Star family members Charlie played with: Adam Sandler's daughters

Star family members seen up close: Salma Hayek's daughter and mother, Maria Bello's son

Child actors Christopher photographed with: Alexys Nycole Sanchez and identical twins Frank and Morgan Gingerich

Funny tidbit: The costume fitting was held in a Jewish temple.

Greatest finds while involved with the movie: Jewish Community Center outdoor pool (Audition held at JCC in Marblehead), Orange Leaf frozen yogurt bar.

What Charlie learned this week: How to do a one-handed cartwheel

Christopher's first time: Wearing a jock strap and ballet slippers

Best on-set snack: A tennis-ball-sized plum

Best accidental meeting: Running into Adam Sandler at Lime Rickey's snack bar at Devereux Beach (Marblehead) on Sunday evening

Best Compliment: Adam Sandler calling Christopher "a handsome boy" and "a nice boy."

Once again grateful to: The Apple and Nintendo corporations, makers of the iPad and DSi XL, respectively.

Biggest regret: Looking frumpy when running into Adam Sandler at the beach. (Hair pulled back in a stuck-together, chlorinated ponytail from swimming in the JCC pool and wearing my uninteresting "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" tee shirt.)

Biggest mommy-brain moment: Forgetting to bring magazines or a book to the holding area on the close-to-ten-hour filming day.

Best photo Christopher missed being in: David Spade posing in costume with four boys from the other group of dancers.

Worst part of the experience: Driving to and from the Lynn film set. Arrived thirty minutes late from getting hopelessly lost. Same thing on the way home, though the journey took even longer.

Most obnoxious stage parent in attendance: A father of a girl dancer who befriended a security guard in the men's room to get access to filming only intended for star families and paid adult extras. (Okay, I was jealous.)

Who I'm planning to channel today for the last day filming Chris's scene: Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo -- to hopefully sneak into the filming just mentioned and talk to or see up close David Spade.

Good luck to me on that one!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Seize the Season!

Ah, summer! Lounging on the beach, sipping iced tea, picking tomatoes in the garden. It sounds so relaxing . . . like one very long vacation.

But for parents is it really? Hell, no! I suppose there are some whose schedules are not disrupted much by the change in season. Dad works his regular job, has weekends to himself, and takes a week or two off to go away with his family. Mom also works full-time, but because school is not in session she finds child care to cover the hours her kid or kids would have been in school. If Mom works part-time, she still has hours to fill with outside help. If she is a stay-at-home mom, she will spend a great deal more time in the company of her children or, at least, her school-aged children.

It is a blessing to have your sons and daughters home for the summer. Spending quality time with them is a joy. With its lack of school-year commitments and responsibilities, the season -- more than any other -- offers the possibility for family bonding through shared athletic activities, picnics and barbecues, day trips to cultural sites, and so much more.

Yet along with the opportunity for increased togetherness comes the opportunity for increased friction. Kids fighting, kids bored, kids complaining, parents unable to do their own thing because the kids are always around, poor sleep due to a heat wave, crankiness from a sweltering home. And the list goes on and on.

My situation has always been different from that of most other mothers, including fellow single mothers by choice. When Christopher was very young, I was in grad school. By the time Charlie came along, I had graduated and was expanding my thesis into a book-length memoir. That project plus full-time single motherhood of two young boys while battling chronic fatigue syndrome and having no free help occupied much of my time until last fall when I began teaching memoir-writing workshops. I started this blog on January 1.

I need to make more money -- a GREAT deal more money -- but I also need to keep my expenses down. One way I do that is by spending as little dough as possible on child care. Now that both of my boys are past the preschool years, I no longer have to sell a kidney to pay for work time or break time. When you are the kind of 24/7 single mother I am, you must shell out once in a while to give yourself a breather from caregiving . . . or you will go Andrea Yates out of your mind!

In previous years, I have forked over an arm and a leg -- body parts, again (joke!) -- to provide my sons with a stimulating albeit enjoyable summer. At least one of them has been in a group tennis clinic, a tee ball clinic, an on-camera commercial acting class, a Broadway-style musical theater program at a professional theater, and an enrichment program at a teacher's house. Phew! (Blogger's note: Charlie managed to break all the teacher's crayons and draw in RED on a $300 chair in the space of half of the first morning! Needless to say, the teacher was understandably irate and summarily kicked my then-three year old out of the program with my full support. Done!)

This summer, in the interest of finances and simplifying our lives, I have enrolled the boys in just one activity, yes, ONE -- the day camp at the elementary school known as Summer Playground. Christopher did it the past two summers; Charlie, last year. They both loved it and, therefore, I love it. It meets Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon plus Monday through Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30. The hours are longer, and sometimes even last all day, when the camp offers a field trip or other special event. However, those come with an extra fee I am often not willing to pay.

When I need to work (hint: every day), the hours off from Summer Playground in the afternoon create a problem for me. A writer basically never stops working -- for when she isn't writing or editing, she is networking on social media, trying to land side jobs to build her platform, jotting down ideas for future pieces, and performing countless other tasks whose sum total involves a lot of rejection and very little pay. And don't even get me started on the duties required to raise a happy, healthy family and to keep a home in good order. (Well, you already know from past posts that I fail miserably when it comes to the latter.)

Of course, I want to spend time with my children on weekday afternoons, but I am hardly neglecting them time-wise! I am reminded of a woman who provided a listening ear during a tough time in my life and whom, in gratitude, I named a kind of honorary guardian of Christopher. Before moving to the Midwest, she issued her parting words to me: "Don't forget to spend time with your children." LMFAO. Um, HELLO? Did she not realize who she was talking to? My problem is certainly not spending enough time WITH my children; it is not spending enough time WiTHOUT my children.

Anyhoo . . . just as I vowed not to send my boys to the wonderful after-school program this past year in order to save money, I vowed for the same reason this week not to hire babysitters over the summer for the in-between hours of Summer Playground. I must make do with the camp hours only, unless some specific afternoon opportunity presents itself that could further my career or bring some money into the house. Since my boys are now a little older, I can usually get away with doing some work while they are home with me. They are playing in the street or yard or are busying themselves with something in the house. The point: they leave me alone long enough for me to get some work done, though not always all my work and not always certain kinds of work.

Frankly, I was skeptical that I'd be able to get good work done during the day camp's evening hours at a time when I am tired, making dinner for the family, getting people to bed, and trying to relax before hitting the sack myself. Those hours were not ripe for productivity, in my opinion. However, I surprised myself this week when I sat down with my iPad in the late afternoon and handily tackled several tasks I'd put off for quite some time. I COULD shift my hours, and my work wouldn't suffer, I discovered -- at least not yet. Nor did I feel as panicked and discombobulated as I often do in the mornings when I know I only have three hours to work with and way too much to accomplish.

Plus, having the early part of evenings available to me means I have the option to go out, socialize, exercise, see a movie, or do anything else I rarely get to do for myself sans children. Woo-hoo! Finding a separate babysitter and spending extra money on him or her isn't necessary because the Summer Playground counselors are the babysitters, and the pay has been worked into the tuition I already put down. Double woo-hoo!

At $210 per child for the majority of the summer, the day camp is an absolute bargain. That's $420 total for my boys. Yet that's more than what I paid. My charge was actually only $370 because I put a $50 coupon I got for helping to clean up a town park toward the camp tuition. Summer Playground started on June 14, the evening of the last day of school, and it will end August 10.

I remember thinking last year that I would have preferred it to end one week later, which still would have allowed for almost three weeks before school resumed August 31. Speaking with other parents, I learned I was not alone in holding this viewpoint. What's more, almost FOUR weeks remain after the conclusion of the program this summer and the start of the new school year.

But who am I to quibble with such an affordable and fun arrangement?

Another reason why I have not signed the boys up for more activities is that we like to go away camping for days at a time. Since Summer Playground is not expensive, I don't feel guilty if the boys miss a few days here or there if we choose to take a trip during the week rather than on weekends. I welcome the freedom that comes from having a less rigid schedule, and I embrace the chance to live on the fly if we should get motivated to do an overnight on one day's notice.

Furthermore, I didn't want us to be too tied down that we couldn't accept paid extra work that might come our way from a movie filming in the area. Indeed, that is exactly what has happened! Christopher, my eight year old, was passed over for a scene involving redheads in Adam Sandler's Grown Ups 2 -- the sequel to Grown Ups -- but just last week got accepted for something much more impressive: as a member of a boys' hip hop dance group performing before a large audience.

As if that was not exciting enough, the audition was held at a community center boasting a large, outdoor swimming pool. The price for a single-parent family membership is much less than half the price at my old club whose outdoor pool is only half the size! (That's the club I have joined, quit, rejoined, put my membership on hold at, then quit again. There might be one more rejoined/quit cycle in there, I can't remember, but you get the idea.) In my book, there are few things in life that beat a full-sized outdoor lap pool, and I could get access to this one if I am willing to make the drive.

Parents bringing kids to the audition were given a three-day family pass to the community center. My boys went in the pool the first day for a couple of hours, and we have been back every day since! The only catch: the community center is located in another community, and not the ones next door.

Would I/we use the membership enough to pay it off? That's the $100,000 question I need to figure out.

Summer is about creating a balance between work and play, hopefully weighted more heavily towards play. On September 5, right before my boys go back to school, I need to be able to look back and honestly say that I accomplished what I wanted to in these almost three months, and I had a damn good time as well! If I achieve both of these things, then I will have seized the season.

So far, anyway, I am very happy with what the season has presented us . . . and it's only June!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Calling

Solstice is here --
well, tomorrow that is.
Pour a tall sloe gin fizz
or a frosty cold beer.

'Tis true school is out,
though some activities remain:
tee ball for one, once again.
The Scout tag sale without a doubt

makes me still feel
encumbered, not free
of academic-year responsibilities.
Hang on! Like a turning wheel,

the season arrives with the dawn,
ushering in plenty of heat,
sprinklers, sandy bare feet,
and towels spread across a freshly trimmed lawn.

Just one more weekend
before I can fully rest,
be gone exhaustion and stress!
Now is the occasion to mend.

Put your feet up,
go to your favorite beach,
eat watermelon and a large peach.
Pack ice cubes into your cup

as you relish life slowed way down.
Grill a dog, camp in the yard,
or celebrate days off by partying hard
in friends' homes or around town.

The sultry season is upon us --
rent a canoe, ride a bike,
listen to live music, and take a hike.
But please don't make a fuss.

It's laid-back time:
recline in a hammock, nap.
Find a pool, swim a lap.
Sip lemonade for a quarter and a dime.

Enjoy yourself most of all
because before you desire
summer will head to the wire.
You'll feel the air chill from fall

then think back
and say: "No, it can't be!
Vacation went too fast. See?
Again I lost track.

I'm not ready to wear slacks!"

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Father's Day, SMC Style: Awkward!

Ah, Father's Day. It's the day when dads are toasted, feted with a barbecue, and given presents such as a new tool, golf club, or Calico Joe, the recently published John Grisham novel about a baseball player. (Saw it advertised on TV as a great choice for dear papa.)

Who am I kidding? I don't really know. It's been such a long time since I've celebrated the holiday.

My father died in 1986, so I haven't celebrated it for twenty-six years. And my boys, being the products of a single mother by choice and an anonymous sperm donor, don't have a father. I suppose we could recognize the day with an uncle or grandfather. Problem is: my sons don't have those either. Moreover, I have only ever had the former . . . yet not in seven years. Besides, I never celebrated Father's Day with an uncle anyway.

Obviously, I am very much out of practice. Then again do I even need practice? Unless I take the opportunity to salute myself (and many SMCs do salute themselves) -- well, we are doing the parenting job of mothers and fathers -- I will not be visiting the Hallmark store anytime soon. I suppose my sons and I could be invited to celebrate a friend's Father's Day. But wouldn't hosting both a woman who has not provided a father for her own sons and the sons themselves be a bit awkward? I should say so.

Speaking of awkward, people often don't know how to treat the SMC family in regard to the holiday. They even occasionally make outright gaffes. Any woman who has been a single mother by choice for as long as I have -- eight and a half years -- surely has chocked up at least a few stories to tell. More likely than not, she remembers those stories because the lack of a father for her child or children is the most sensitive and personal issue she faces.

When my oldest son was in preschool, the teachers instructed the boys and girls to make cards for their dads. I couldn't help spotting these sweet mementos in the cubbyholes at pickup. Then I looked in Christopher's cubbyhole. No card. That makes sense, I thought to myself. No dad = No card. But very soon after this discovery, I realized that I felt left out. What's more, it caused me to wonder what Christopher was doing while the other children were decorating cards. I resolved to not allow this to happen the next year. Just before Father's Day, I would ask the staff to make sure Christopher made me a card.

My strategy seemed foolproof . . . that is, until last year when Charlie, my second son, came home from a different preschool -- one attended by at least one of my sons for the previous four years -- with a card in hand, just as I'd requested. The problem? The card bore absolutely the wrong message. Written in the teacher's handwriting, it said: "World's Best Dad." DAD??? Are you f#%^*+ kidding me? It was no joke. When I pointed out the faux pas to the school director, she laughed. Yes, I suppose the careless mistake was laughable. Yet plenty of other SMCs would have been IRATE. Me? I was annoyed and disappointed. There was no excuse for it other than sheer negligence.

Just another example why single mothers by choice need a damn good sense of humor!

Two years ago when Christopher was in kindergarten, I worried about how his class would recognize Father's Day. I was relieved to learn the class did nothing special because the holiday fell on the day before the last day of school. Too much was going on to add yet another project to the school day.

Phew!

Last year my son's teacher actually asked ME for my opinion on recognizing Father's Day! I told her I didn't want to deprive other students of celebrating the day in class if that's what she planned, but since she asked me I gave her my preference: no special attention paid to the holiday. And that's exactly what happened, bless her soul.

This year I also dodged a bullet in the classroom. With not even one snow day, school let out for the summer on time -- before the holiday. If there had been as little as two snow days to make up, Father's Day would have taken place first. That might have meant celebrating it in some way or talking about it in class after the fact.

Just yesterday, though, a mother at school did manage to put her foot in her mouth. While watching the second-grade play, we chatted briefly. "What are you doing for Faaa...?" Her voice trailed off mid-word as I leaned over to say, "What?" I couldn't hear very well with the show going on. She tried again: "What are you doing for Faaa...?" Then she seemed to catch herself. "Nevermind," she added. I realized afterward "Faaa" was the beginning of "Father's Day."

Oops.

The holiday is just one of those days we, as an SMC family, have to endure. And for those of us who have also lost our own fathers, it might be even more difficult emotionally. But I treat it simply as an extra special Sunday: I want to do something different on this day and perhaps out of town.

Incongruously, we live in a traditional family-oriented community, so the place is swarming with wonderful fathers. They will be out in full force at the beach, restaurants, and ballfields, as well they should be. By and large, they are great fathers, and I salute them.

Yet for someone like me, seeing them all so happy with their families on Father's Day could be hard to take. It might have been back in the early days of single motherhood. However, I am way past that now. For me, it was never an issue of jealousy; rather, of what could have been. Nevertheless, I don't waste my time dwelling on the past. My life today is completely in the here and now. I am playing the cards I have been dealt to the best of my ability, and I accept where I am and who I am.

All Oprah-esque thinking aside, why rub it in the faces of my boys what they don't have on the what they don't have's special day? What purpose would that serve? The weather is supposed to be lovely on Sunday, so I'm thinking a mountain climb might be in order.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Thank You, Technology!

In a perfect world, I would be raising my boys sans television, computers, and Nintendos. We would eat only vegetables from our gardens, eggs from our chickens, and the rest of our diet would be comprised of locally grown, organic fare. I would sew their clothes myself or frequent only used clothing shops for children. I would not own a car, and I would never stop in an Apple store. We'd be Amish, basically, or something like it.

But let's get real, folks.

As a full-time single mother with no built-in support network (i.e. family help), what I need to be is pragmatic. I have to do what works for me, the sole caregiver, because I am The One (the only one) running this marathon on behalf of my two boys. For example, if it is too much of an imposition to regularly pick up produce at a CSA in another community, if it costs too much, and if said produce will not get eaten by the three members of my family, then I won't buy a share or a half-share -- as much as I would like to. We grow some of our vegetables (and strawberries) in our own garden, and we have a second garden under way. I feel good about that.

I am raising my sons in an environmentally minded way, though I know there is room for much improvement. Coming this summer, for instance: worm composting. But one thing I won't ban outright is technology.

Let me say this: If you need a respite from caregiving, it's raining outside, or you have work to do but the noisy kids are home, turn to technology. Go for it! Let them watch TV, hand them a Nintendo, or say yes to computer time, Wii, Xbox, or Playstation. Make sure you approve of what they are watching or playing. But don't feel guilty about setting them up with a mechanized babysitter. You will make yourself crazy, angry, and resentful if you don't take the time that you need simply because your kids don't have a playdate or babysitter or the weather precludes outside activity. Technology can keep you in check so you can keep running that marathon without burning out because that is Priority #1.

For this reason, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, Technology. When I was a new, exhausted single mother by choice, you gave my son Curious George. When I suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome for four and a half years, you helped me cope with what I call The Lost Weekends -- those uninterrupted giant blocks of time between the closing of preschool Friday afternoon and the opening of preschool Monday morning (not to mention three-day weekends and, the hardest of all, holiday vacation weeks) when we didn't have any plans and I was too tired to entertain my boys, play with them, or take them anywhere.

I am aware of the dangers of relying on technology too heavily: kids becoming inactive and possibly obese, losing their creativity, and maybe even their intellect, too. These are serious detriments that should not be overlooked. However, if doled out in moderation -- to give an overworked parent a break or to help pass the time during a long stretch of confinement -- technology might be just what a parent needs.

Technology has also turned around a very problematic situation for me at home. That is, my younger son's aggression towards his brother. Part of it could be the maturation that comes from having turned six years of age, but I rather think it has to do more with getting his own Nintendo DSi XL for his birthday. Instead of occupying himself with beating on poor Christopher, Charlie more often sits quietly with an engrossing game. The two of them -- opposites in personality -- have trouble agreeing on which board game or other activity to play together at any given time. And this lack of peaceful consensus can create frustration, the aforementioned aggression, name-calling, and sometimes even tears.

"Technology is the great equalizer," another parent once told me. Indeed, I am finding this to be so. Not all the time. Hey, nothing's perfect. Yet enough of the time for me to notice, pay attention to, and feel like it has made a significant impact for the better on my life and that of my boys.

Now don't misunderstand me. I am not Technology Mom. Not by a long shot. It was only one year ago at this time that I still called myself a Luddite. I was joining Facebook, not because I wanted to but because my older son had won a modeling/acting contract and the agency booker only communicates with her clients via FB. Lo and behold, the Luddite discovered that she liked Facebook! Then came my decision to buy myself an iPad for my milestone birthday in September. I was thinking of starting a blog, and it seemed like the perfect device for such a venture on account if its portability. Well, what do you know? I loved my iPad. So I became interested in an iPhone. I didn't need an iPhone, and I really shouldn't have gotten one, financially speaking. Yet I did anyway. So here I am one year later -- checking Facebook numerous times every day for posts, comments, and messages from my 170 friends, posting often myself, and looking for new Likes on my Mad Mom page; blogging every five days and helping Christopher do his homework on my iPad using Google (hello, China project!); changing the wallpaper on my iPhone; and still watching the news, my shows, and dvds on our TV.

It amazes me that I am now more of a techie than a Luddite. I never would have thought it possible!

However, we still do not own a Wii, Xbox, or Playstation, though a friend gave me a video game for Christmas that requires one. We still do not own an iPod, iPod Touch, Kindle, or Blu-ray player. I am on Twitter but rarely tweet and, though I've been invited, I haven't joined Pinterest. As a family, we are behind the curve technology-wise compared to most everyone in our town, it seems. That suits me just fine as I am not looking to become Technology Mom -- just a mom who utilizes technology when she needs it and offers it in doses to her boys for entertainment.

Both of my boys choose technology class as their favorite or second-favorite special at school. Yet they are still well-rounded individuals athletically, musically, and artistically.

Hmm. Maybe I'll get myself an iPod for my next birthday. . . .

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bullying Starts in Preschool

You might guess that bullying starts in middle school. . . . or late elementary school. Well, think again. My older son is only in second grade, and this year he has experienced six acts of bullying, one of which resulted in an injury. But this wasn't even the first time he found himself at the receiving end of bad behavior by mean boys (and a girl).

Try preschool!

Both of my sons attended a preschool in a neighboring city. It was only ten minutes away by car and offered long hours during which I could work on my book-length memoir without being interrupted. There were aspects of the school I didn't like but none greater than one ill-behaved child.

One day as my older son was playing atop a plastic pirate-ship structure, this boy lobbed a golf-ball-sized rock in his direction from a distance of about twenty-five feet. It hit my five year old on the side of the head. Two days later this kid picked up another small rock scattered amongst the woodchips and again hurled it at Christopher, hitting him in the middle of the back this time. He also pushed both of my sons -- Charlie was only three at the time -- down slides, called Christopher "stupid" and "a liar," and mocked his gorgeous red hair. He was pretty horrible to the teachers as well, rolling his eyes at them, talking back, and not listening to their instructions.

I think he should have been kicked out of the school immediately. But the director allowed him to stay several more weeks until the end of the school year. He was then not allowed to join the summer program before his kindergarten year at the neighborhood elementary school. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck worrying about my boys those weeks following the rock incidents.

Christopher had only one issue of a bullying nature kindergarten year at our town's elementary school. Three days in a row he was chased around at recess by a certain boy. My younger son would have probably welcomed such a pursuit, but Christopher didn't like it. The teachers caught on the third day, and they put a stop to it.

Since first grade was bully-free, this year feels out of whack by comparison. The problems started in the fall during an after-school game of four square. Christopher hit a particularly good shot that bounced high near the head of an opponent who was unable to return the ball. Instead of acknowledging the effective shot and stepping temporarily out of the game, according to the rules, he kicked my son out of the game. "You are banned from four square for two months," he said.

The next day Christopher tried to go back into the popular game. His friends were playing, and he had done nothing wrong so why shouldn't he? Well, the other boy saw him and scolded: "I thought I banned you."

My son has not tried to play four square with that group again, at least while that boy is there. It's too bad because he really likes four square. He tells me he will return to it this summer at the school's day camp. The offending boy didn't attend last year so may not again this year.

In the winter, my son was shoved to the ground in gym class. He fell onto the hardwood floor, and three of his fingers were pinched under a folding door separating the gym from the cafeteria. How it happened is this: The kids in his class were -- yep, you guessed it! -- playing four square when the teacher called them one by one to pick their lunch-seat assignments out of a bucket. After obtaining their assignments, they were to return to their games in the same rotation. But when my son reclaimed his position another boy pushed him to the ground. It was very uncharacteristic of this child, and my son suspects it wasn't even his idea. Just before it happened Christopher saw a girl in the class make eye contact with the boy and nod her head. Christopher believes the girl, whom he describes as being not nice to him on a few earlier occasions, was egging the boy on.

Little League has provided the source of the most recent bullying episodes. A couple of weeks ago my son heard a boy he passed in the hallway at school say, "The Phillies stink!" Christopher is a member of the AA Phillies team. The person who made the comment is on another team in the league. Chris believes the remark was directed at him because he was the only team member in that area of the hallway as the boys passed one another. The bully was wearing his team shirt and walking with other boys; Chris was walking alone. Chris says he doesn't know which player it was because he did not look back to see (or he might not want to tell me).

A week ago we arrived at my younger son's tee ball clinic in town. As I am a full-time single mother, each of my sons must hang around the other one's sporting events and other activities. Seeing a father hit fly balls to a group of boys -- the older siblings of tee ball players -- I encouraged Christopher to join them since he too had brought along his mitt. Yet as he approached the boys, the familiar refrain rang out: "The Phillies stink!" Again Chris can't (or won't) divulge which child said it. Unfortunately, I didn't witness the event as I was still collecting things from the car. But I did arrive a moment later so I know who was there. And if my suspicions are correct, one boy is responsible for the majority of offenses against my son.

While walking to lunch with his class a few days ago, Chris overheard what else? "The Phillies stink." A different boy on the same team as the bully just mentioned said it to a teammate in the main hallway.

Why is there so much more bullying this year?

I blame the increase on the hyped-up competitiveness of growing boys and the macho sports culture that starts with Little League. In the fall, my son played football . . . but on a team that competed against kids in a neighboring city not kids on other teams from his own school.

That makes a difference.

While basketball was set up the same way as baseball, my son reports experiencing no negativity at school or outside of it based on which team he was on. Teams were more evenly balanced according to player ability, with no one team dominating play and no young participants (at least that I know of) acting cocky and obnoxious about their victories.

Yet I don't necessarily view this year as an aberration. Rather, I see it as a sign of things to come. It's not easy growing up male today. Each boy (and girl, for that matter) needs to find a way to toughen up against the epidemic of bullying.

Back in the school hallway, the last time an opposing player badmouthed Chris's team he was not alone in hearing the slander. Another Philly did as well, and he took the opportunity to respond to the poor sport when his team beat the latter's that very day in a game of gym-class kickball. "It might have been karma that caused your team to lose because you called our team losers," he said.

Touché.

I want to teach my son how to make a snappy comeback like that.