Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Unsolicited Advice for Sports Moms (Dads, too)

Dear sweet, loving soccer mom that I saw scream at her kid from the bleachers, "Come on, get in there! Geeze!" this one's for you. Over competitive volleyball dad who literally hung his head in shame when his fifth grade daughter missed a serve, it's for you, too. Baseball mom who finds it impossible not to argue with the ump when your son is "unfairly" called out at third, I'm looking at you, sweetheart. Tee ball mom who won't stop screaming at her five-year old because he's playing in the dirt, can we talk for just a minute?

Because I know you. I love you, momma. Girl, you are my friend, maybe even among my dearest. I know your heart is kind and your love for your kid couldn't be greater. Dad, I have watched you with your baby girl and seen the joy she brings your heart. It's obvious to me because I know you outside of sports. I know you day-to-day and I see more of you than just "sports parent."

I get it. I do. I have been you. Sometimes I still am. I have argued with umpires, talked about coaches behind their backs, and yelled at my kids from the stands. My grimace was obvious when an error was made. I've overstepped my bounds and made myself look like a fool. More than once. After all, dears, sports parenting ain't for the faint of heart. 

When our oldest started playing team sports, I found out that I'm a competitive sports mom. That wasn't a surprise, as I had found myself coaching our little guys at the kids' money hunt at the fair. Because, you know, that extra $1.27 was really going to be life changing for my two year old. Talk about embarrassing. When I realized that I was actually doing this, I made a sincere effort to just keep my mouth shut from then on.

If you know me at all, you might know just how hard it is for me to do so. I'm pretty sure that no one has ever accused me of being quiet. I'm opinionated and loud. So loud, in fact, that I became a distraction for my son on the wrestling mat. You see, he knows my voice. So he would hear me above all others, even the coach. And because he was young and used to my instruction, he would instinctively look for me when he heard my voice. This wasn't a good thing, because even after three years as a wrestling manager for my high school team and several years as a wrestler's mom, I'm not a wrestling coach. I'm a wrestling mom. There's a big difference. 

My husband called me on it. You see, he's both a dad and a coach. He's exceptionally good at both. But he was frustrated that E would search me out in the crowd and lose his focus while wrestling. It cost the boy more than one match. Vance let me know what a distraction I was and a lightbulb went off in my head. "I'm not helping. In fact, I'm HURTING my kid with this mouth of mine. Woah." 

So I backed off. Generally now, I'm quieter, sometimes even completely silent, while my kids are competing. Because I'm learning to play the role of "Sports Mom" a little better now. It's a work in progress.

A Kansas City area baseball complex (3&2) has the best signs on the fences as you enter the park. They say this:

Pick only one
1 - Coach
2 - Player
3 - Umpire
4 - Spectator

I'm trying so very hard to do this at all of our games. Easier said than done. 

But the sign is right. 

It's not my job to tell the kids where or how to play. That belongs to the coach. If I can't trust him to do that well, then maybe my kids shouldn't play for him. If I feel the need to advocate for my kid, the bottom of the ninth inning isn't the time or the place. Private, calm conversations can be had later, when adrenaline isn't pumping quite so hard and everyone can be rational. Or maybe not. Maybe my kid is old enough to advocate for himself and I should just stay out of it. 

I'm too old and too out of shape to play much anymore, so not choosing to be Number 2 is pretty easy for me. But we do encourage our kids to do their best. To try hard. To be good teammates. That no missed shot, strike out, or ace is worth their integrity. 

Number 3. Man, that's a tough one. Everybody wants to make the calls, but unless we're wearing the stripes or the blue shirt, that's not our job either. The ump gets paid to decide ball or strike, safe or out. If he sucks at it, and sometimes he does, then it's still not my place. It's up to the people who are paying him to decide if he keeps his job or not. More than once, I've had to remind not just myself of that, but my kid, too. Especially when the crowd gets all up in arms about a "bad call," my kid may deflect the blame from himself or the players involved and blame the ref. We've had to remind him that once the call is made, it's made. Officials are people, so they mess up. Sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. But no matter how wrong they are, yelling at someone over a little league game isn't worth my integrity. 

My job is spectator. That means I cheer for my kids and their teammates with all I have. I applaud the good stuff and when the bad plays come; when the ball hits the floor or their shoulders get pinned to the mat, I don't boo or audibly sigh or shake my head or mumble (or God-forbid, shout!) obscenities. My job is ONLY to encourage and to build up. It is NEVER to tear down. Not my own kid, her teammates or her coaches. Not the umpires, referees or line judges. And certainly not the kids on the other team. Because they're just kids, too, doing their best, messing up, and trying again. 

So fellow sports parents, can we just make a deal? Can we just agree to "pick only one" and to parent our children with love and integrity on and off the field? To act in ways that build up, not tear down? Can we remember that at the end of the day, it really is just a game and that the lessons we want to teach our kids through youth sports are so much more important that winning or losing? Because our kids deserve that, don't you think?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Say What?

You know how sometimes you just don't quite hear things right?

There's this country song out there that I heard a million times this summer but I just couldn't catch the lyrics. I just kept hearing, "Lego chicken rider beside me..." Turns out the real words were something more like "No other shotgun rider beside me." That makes more sense. Thanks, Tim McGraw, for not having a song about Lego chickens.

This happens to me a lot. And I'm not talking about just song lyrics.

When it's 6:30 and my husband asks what's for supper and I don't have anything planned, I don't hear a hardworking man who ate lunch 7 hours ago trying to figure out if he should make himself a sandwich. Nope, instead I hear him accusing me of being a lousy wife and mother.  He never says any such thing but I turn his words into something they aren't.

When a great friend encouragingly tells me that she thinks it's great that I signed up for an exercise class, I hear an added, "Because fat girls like you need to work out." It's never there. Never even implied, but I sometimes hear it.

I'm learning to ignore those things that aren't really there. Maybe one day I'll only hear things the way they are actually said, in the tone and spirit they are meant in. That will be a good day. Until it comes, I need to remind myself that just like Lego chickens, such negativity from those who love me makes no sense. And if it doesn't make sense, there's a good chance I'm hearing it wrong.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Unsolicited Advice for Your Wedding Registry - Non-Kitchen Edition

One of my dear, sweet, little fourth graders is getting married. No, Lauren's not a 10 year old child bride, but back 2001, when she was in my classroom, she was the most adorable thing on the planet. I still think of her that way and cannot believe that ANY of the kids I taught are old enough to be married and having babies and being grown ups and stuff. But apparently they are, because she's not the first.

Today her beautiful sister, Kaity, posted a question about what to advise Lauren to put on her wedding registry.  Because I'm helpful like that, I posted a link to the post I wrote last year, after another of my beautiful students got engaged. That post is all about what to get to stock your kitchen. It's good advice. Take a minute and open that in another window so you can read it when you're done with this one.  You won't regret it. I promise.

Kaity's question reminded me that I'd always planned to do another wedding registry post for things that were non-kitchen related. So, thanks for reminding me!

It's been over 15 years since I got married, but if I had to do it all over again today, I'd do my best to ask for things that would last as long as my marriage (or at least for the first decade). Here's what I'd put on my a wedding registry:

1. Bedding. You're going to need a couple pairs of sheets. Might as well ask for the nice ones now. Go for the good stuff because buying them yourself later is pretty pricey, especially if you have a king size bed. And after a couple kids, you're gonna want a king size bed. Trust me.

2. An emergency kit for each vehicle. I know, glamorous, right? Jumper cables, flashlights and a jack. Seriously, who buys these for themselves? But you need one. So, let Uncle Harold and Aunt Marjorie feel good about getting you something practical that could literally be a life saver down the road.

3. Tools. Rakes, shovels, hammers, ladders, snow shovels, saws, gas cans, flash lights, screwdrivers and a staple gun are all things you're gonna eventually need. If you don't have them now, put them on your list! And don't forget the plunger. Because you're definitely going to need one of those when your brothers come to visit.

4. Games. Believe it or not, these can really add up fast if you're players. If you plan to entertain, it's always great to have a few board games on hand. Even pick out a few kid friendly versions if you think you'll ever go that route, or even if you just want to someday entertain the nieces and nephews. Yard games like corn hole, croquet, and even lawn darts could be a lot of fun, too!

5. Lawn Chairs. To go right along with those outdoor games, ask for some nice lawn chairs.  More than two, because yes, you and your spouse will be using them the majority of the time, but they're always great to have when company is over, too. We still have a set of folding lawn chairs that we got at our reception. We use the heck out of them, especially during baseball season, and they are holding up beautifully. If you aren't apartment dwellers, outdoor furniture could be a great thing to ask for as well. A table, chairs, maybe even a fire pit, would all add wonderfully to your list.

6. Towels. I'm a little torn here, because you're going to get them anyway, so why put them on the list.  I was tempted to put them on the Stuff You Don't Need to Register For list, but decided to go on this one instead. Why? Because at least this way you might get a couple that are the color you want.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have been married for 15 years, have 4 kids and have still NEVER ONCE bought a single towel for my house. We are still using the ones from when we got married. We got that many. It was a bit overwhelming, but it's been nice to not have to buy new ones. For the record, the last of the wedding towels are now in use and have seen their better days. I don't know that we'll make it to year 16 with these but one and a half decades seems like a good, long run.

7. A year of Amazon Prime. Free movies. Free books. Free music and free two day shipping. You really can't go wrong with this one. Even if you don't use the shipping, the movies and music alone are totally worth the price. Even better if someone else is gifting it to you for the first year!

8. A Christmas Tree. If you're not live tree people, you might consider putting a tree on your list. I know it seems strange, but this is a surprisingly big ticket item that you may not be able to afford for yourself for a couple of years if you're just starting out.

There are also a couple of things I think you should skip putting on your registry. One you will get anyway and one I think is just plain impractical. But this is just me. If you just really, really want or need either of these, go for it! It is your registry, not mine.

1. China. Unless you are going to be hosting a lot of formal parties, I don't think you need to register for this stuff. Yes, it's kind of traditional, but do you have a place for it? Will you really use it? The answer to both, if you're young, is probably no. My suggestion would be to pick out some great everyday dishes that you can use for a long time. I'd go with simple, solid prints that you can mix and match with some pretty patterns. Stay away from anything that is going to look dated: stick with classic looking pieces for your mainstays and accent with more trendy items.

2. Picture frames. You're gonna get them anyway. I can pretty much guarantee it. Frames are a go-to gift for people who don't know the couple well, haven't seen the registry or don't have a lot to spend. This doesn't mean they can't be a good gift. I actually still have a couple that we got 15 plus years ago. So, you'll get some. Just don't ask for extras by putting more on your registry.

So, all the rest of you old married folk? What would you add to my list? Newly marrieds, what did you put on your registry (or receive as a surprise gift) that you think everyone else should have as well?

Friday, February 27, 2015

I am NOT Okay With THIS

My kids LOVE Legos. I mean, love! They have three GIANT tubs full of them and hardly a day goes by that they are not dumped out all over the floor. And they especially love the mini figures. For those of you not up to speed on your Lego terminology, that's the people. They love, love, love to play with the little guys. The line up the pirates to fight the Star Wars guys and the hobbits to invade the knights. I've found minifigs in the van, on the kitchen table, and even in the shower.

Given that my kids love them so much, it should come as no surprise that I thought about getting them some for Christmas. Since I have a Prime membership, Amazon.com was my first stop. I searched "Lego mini figures." Lego Movie guys. Super heroes. Star Wars. The Simpsons. The Simpsons? Really? Hmmm...and then there it was at the bottom of page 1: the "Lego Walter White Cooking Figure - Breaking Bad."

I honestly had to look twice to be sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was. You see, I don't watch Breaking Bad. I haven't seen one single episode. But I'm not a social pariah and I do have a general idea about concept of the show. It's about a high school chemistry teacher who becomes terminally ill and then, along with a former student, decides that making and selling methamphetamines is the way to secure his family's financial future. It's an interesting concept and millions of Americans watched the show. It was on cable and if grown adults wanted to pay money to watch that, I'm okay with it.

What I am NOT okay with is someone creating and marketing drug dealers as toys. The "cooking" figure is in a hazmat suit and holding a blue crystal. He's not baking a cake or grilling burgers. This dude is "cooking" crystal meth. You can also buy the companion figure, Jesse, also in hazmat gear and holding his own blue crystals. In fact, they have what appears to be the entire cast of the show available, right there in the sponsored section on Amazon. It wasn't hard to find, buried deep in pages and pages of other Legos or only when specifically searched. Nope, it was right there, on page one, under "Toys and Games."

Yes, I know, these are probably not created with little kids in mind. The target audience is adult collectors. I get that. I do. But I'm still NOT okay with it. Kids are drawn to Legos. They are toys. If Uncle Billy has one on his desk, a shelf or a keychain, the kids will notice. And they will think it's cool. Meth dealers are NOT cool.

I am NOT okay with this. I have seen what meth can do people. I have seen little girls watch their daddies arrested and taken from them. I've watched the effects of fatherless boys growing up while their dads were in prison. I've seen beautiful women become toothless, wrinkled messes and seen addicts neglect their kids to the point of losing them to foster care. Glorifying drug dealers, even fictional ones like Walt and Jesse, through kids' toys is just sick. It's sick.

As far as I can tell, these figures are not produced by Lego but rather by a company called Henchman's Bricks using real Lego parts.

Amazon.com and Henchman's bricks, I am NOT okay with this.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Haircut

There are times in parenting when all you can really do is laugh or cry. This was one of them.

My daughter was three years old and my oldest son had just turned five. The baby was sleeping and the back yard really needed mowed. It was almost 5:00, time for the boy I was babysitting to go home. We had tee ball that night. I was coaching the team and needed to be there by 5:45. But still, there was just enough time for me to get the back yard mowed. Half way through, the mom came to pick up her son. We said, "See you at the ball game in a little while," and I left the kids inside while I finished. Ten minutes later I came back into the house. 

Both kids are standing in the living room, with the light of the evening sun coming in the picture window behind them. I'm hot, sweating and in a hurry to get cleaned up and ready for the game. My son, is his most helpful voice says to me, "I put it all in the trash for you, Mom." What? What did he put in the trash? Then I see them. He's holding my scissors. 

I shift my gaze a foot to the left and I see her. My beautiful, curly haired daughter is standing with a wide grin on her face. I gasp. Half of her hair is gone. Gone. In its place is a mini-bang mullet that not even a mother could love. And bless her, my little darling looks up at me and says, "Don't I look beautiful, Momma?"

Now, I know that the right thing to say there would have been "Yes," but I just couldn't make myself. The words, "No. You look horrible!" came flying out of my mouth. Her little face fell and I quickly recovered and added, "I mean you are beautiful. But your hair looks horrible!" 

Eli immediately knew that his plan had gone south. Without hesitation he leaned his head forward and said, "She cut some of mine, too." When I looked really hard, I could almost make out one patch where he was missing a few strands. Not enough to notice and certainly not the equivalent of what he had done to hers!

At that point, I took the scissors, sent them to their room and called my mom. She laughed. She ALWAYS laughs. It's her number one coping mechanism. And she made me laugh and reminded me that hair will grow back. And she said not to kill anyone and not to scream and that she would be there to get Abby in a few minutes so I could get Eli ready for his ballgame. And she told me to grab my camera because I would want the pictures later. 

And because my mom gives the best advice, I took pictures. These pictures. 

And then I made her brother bring the scissors and get in the pictures, too. (He had had a bike wreck the week before, thus the beat up face. I promise, it was not haircut related.) He almost managed to look guilty in this one.

By the time we took this one, I was able to laugh a little. Obviously, Abby was not traumatized by the event. Shortly after this, her Nana came and picked her up. She brought her to the ballgame rocking the side ponytail. I was mortified but she just enjoyed the attention. 

The next day, I was able to get her in at the local salon. This is where the poor stylist had to start from. 

And this is where she ended up. Abby loved it. 

And by Christmas it had turned into quite the cute little bob. 

None of my kids have ever cut their own or each other's hair again. I think it was the threat of 100 spankings that prevented further escapades. And the constant reminders that you have to have a license to cut other people's hair. And the hearing of this story about a million times in the seven years since it happened. 

That day, Haircut Day, I had only a few seconds to decide if I would laugh or cry. I'm glad I chose laughter that day and I'm glad I took my mom's advice and took pictures. I don't ever want to forget these little stinkers!