Monday, April 21, 2014

Stating the obvious

Look at Jack's poor, sad little Easter basket still sitting untouched and unappreciated. It's actually sad on two counts. Sad, that no one has dug into its contents and declared them wonderful. But perhaps even more sad is that out of all the Easter baskets my kids have had over the years, these tacky little nylon ones that I bought one year at a drugstore in Maui are the ones that have stuck. They are Annie's favorites and WOE to the Easter bunny that tries to put out the beautiful Longaberger basket my sister gave her when she was a baby. Nope, these bug-eyed, oddly sports-themed, why-didn't-they-fall-apart-years-ago little treasures are the ones that get pulled out every year. Their only saving grace is that they do, in fact, squash down flat which is certainly handy for storage purposes. And given that I refuse to employ more than one storage box for Easter decorations, that is actually a pretty big plus.

But back to Jack's sad little bunny....and his notable absence on Easter Sunday.

I knew he had to work in the afternoon and that he had worked late the night before Easter so that made the likelihood of seeing him sometime Easter morning, or at church, pretty slim. But, I didn't want him to think he'd been forgotten so when we hadn't seen him by 2pm I sent him a friendly text saying: THE EASTER BUNNY PUT A 48 HOUR HOLD ON YOUR BASKET BUT AFTER THAT ALL CONTENTS ARE UP FOR GRABS!

Wasn't that sweet?

This is the second year in a row that Jack has not been home on Easter. Last year, he was in Jamaica on a mission trip and this year he was....well, living like a college student. Turns out, when your child moves away from home, even just to live on campus, even a campus a mere five minutes from the threshold of his childhood home, he just isn't around as much. Huh. Who knew?

The truth is that we have been spoiled. Our firstborn chose to go to school close to home and we have gotten to see him a lot over his first year in college. But I've noticed that as the year has gone on we have seen him less and less. And this decrease in visits and laundry runs interestingly enough directly corresponds with his growing happiness and comfort level with his new home away from home. We see him less because he is happy. And as Mary Poppins would say, "That's as it should be." (which isn't particularly profound but when you hear it in that perfect Julie Andrews accent, it sounds really wise with just a touch of melancholy).

Although, in spite of his thriving independence, I'd be willing to bet that he will turn up at some point today to claim his goods. He has no idea what is in that bug-eyed-baseball-bunny basket but he for darn sure doesn't want to see it go to his brother.

I'm kind of thinking that maybe I will throw in few quick supplements to his basket. Not that the Easter bunny didn't do well, but clearly we aren't doing enough to entice this kid home on Easter morning. Maybe if he gets a plastic egg with a tempting wad of cash in it he will think twice about sleeping in and skipping the festivities next year. I mean, nothing says Easter like bribery and emotional manipulation, right?

Alright...maybe not.

Maybe I'll just let him go ahead and grow up. A little bit.

And I'll start strategizing with the Easter bunny for next year....

Easter Past...and before the ugly baskets
The key to his heart it seems...
Weep, weep...sob, sob....

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

We also call him Coach

I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station,
who did not do better work and put forth greater effort
under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.
~Charles Schwab

We call him Superdad because he's, well, pretty super. He's a super hard worker, he's super patient, he's super positive, and he can make a super duper grilled cheese sandwich. But what you might not know is that among all of those other super qualities, he is also a super coach.

I don't think I always knew to appreciate the fact that my kids grew up having their dad coach the majority of their sports teams. Ben has coached 14 years of soccer (some of those were spent coaching two teams at the same time) and somewhere around 12 years of baseball. He has coached little kids and big kids, boys and girls, winning teams and not-so-winning teams. But there are still players to this day who, when bumping into him at the grocery store, or down at our neighborhood village, will see him and call out, "Hey, Coach!" 

You don't know to be grateful for all of the great coaches out there until you encounter the not-so-great coaches. Sometimes it would be the coach of our opposing team who would leave me wishing I could gather up all those other little players and bring them onto our side. Coaches who scream, who belittle, who yell profanities and encourage their players not just to play hard, but to play with the intention to harm. And then there are the coaches whose offenses are more subtle. They are disinterested and unengaged. They don't really know the sport and they don't care to learn. They are the coaches who don't really care if the kids grow as players or as people. 

Sadly, these coaches exist. Thankfully, they are in the minority.

Soccer is really Superdad's sport, but he learned to be a good baseball coach, too. He learned by watching other good coaches and offering to be their assistant when our kids were young. He never minded being the co-pilot and enjoyed the camaraderie coaching with other like-minded men whose goal was as much to model good character as it was to build a winning team.

Superdad has won some championships in his time as Coach, but more importantly he has helped to raise champions. He never allowed foul language or poor sportsmanship on his teams. He made sure all his players played and felt valued. And he modeled an appropriate competitive spirit by ending every game with a smile, pats on the back and encouraging words regardless of the outcome.

The other day we heard about a coach who, while viewing the film of the previous game, called out a single player as being solely responsible for the goal that lost the game. Not only is it rare in soccer that one player can truly be identified as the lone weak link in the string of events that lead to a goal, but my mother's heart couldn't help but lurch in response to such an overt act of humiliation by a coach. But I'll admit that in my head I thought to myself, "I don't's really competitive at this level now. Maybe that's what coaches do." It wasn't what I would do but, heck, I'm not a coach.

But my heart's response was vindicated when I saw Superdad shake his head and then heard him mutter,

You praise publicly, you correct privately.

And I was reminded yet again why parents loved having their kids on his team. Because he knows what it means to be a coach. He knows how you talk to kids. He knows what motivates a kid and what just tears him down. He knows that being a coach is really about being a leader and the basic principles of good leadership apply whether you are running a business or trying to get 8 year olds to kick a ball down a field. You communicate, you affirm, you inspire, you teach, and every once in awhile you get a rousing game of Sharks and Minnows going- because you gotta have some fun.

Superdad's coaching days may be winding down. He got to coach Tim longer than we anticipated when he was asked to assist on his club team last year, but this year Tim will be moving on to a higher level and we will turn him over to a new club, a new team, and a new coach. We feel good about what we have seen from this new coach, but it still feels like an act of faith. Because like teachers, pastors, music instructors, and so many other adult mentors we bring into our kid's lives, coaches can have a dramatic impact for better or worse on the development of these young minds and spirits.

Synonyms for coach: guide, counsel, lead, mentor, shepherd, show, instruct

The best coaches are those who truly understand the power they wield and they do so consciously and carefully. Sports will not always feel fair but it should never feel unjust. Players may not always get what they want but they should always be treated with respect. And my personal belief is that when you are coaching kids below the college level, the development of the person should be as much of a priority as the development of the player. Actually, I believe that should be true at any level of sports, but that's just me.

So, this is my little tribute to our Coach. A thank you for the countless hours he has given not only to our own kids, but to the dozens and dozens and dozens of other kids he has tried to encourage and motivate along the way. I know it hasn't always been easy. I know there have been kids and parents who pushed you to the limits of your patience. I know you reach the end of every season exhausted and spent but also sad to see it end. I see how much you give and it is so very appreciated.

We call him Coach, because that's what he is. Always.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Strong enough to bend

I've been reflecting a lot on where we were a year ago. The biggest thing I remember from a year ago is the complete uncertainty about where we would be now- a year later. Decisions were still being made, discussions were being attempted and thwarted by a teenage boy who needed to go through his own internal process, and the planner in me was staring at her calendar wishing desperately I could start filling it in but having to wait because well....decisions were still being made.

It. Was. Agonizing.

But like so many things (in fact, almost everything) this too did pass and now here we quarter away from Jack having completed his first year in college. Successfully completed, I might add. It's mind boggling.

As we watched our first-born navigate his way through so many choices and options over the past year, we were doing some navigating of our own. I don't know about everyone else doing this parenting gig, but sometimes for Superdad and I the whole thing looks an awful lot like a big game of darts. We keep flinging out ideas and plans and rules and intentions and hope that every once in awhile one of them hits the bullseye.

In case you are wondering, they do not all hit the bullseye. I don't even want to know our ratio and I'm glad no one is keeping track.

One of the things we felt very sure about in our grand plan for launching our first child out of the nest was that he should not go to college with a car his first year. Our reasons were very sound and filled with an abundance of parental wisdom. Every time the topic would come up we would toss out our razor sharp explanations with fine-tuned accuracy.

You need to earn that privilege.

We want you to get involved on campus.

It will be a distraction.

Walking is good for you and will prevent you from gaining the Freshman 15. (We didn't actually use that one, but it's good, huh?)

You need to settle into college life first and then we will consider letting you have a car at school.

And to his credit, he never really argued any of these points. Instead, he just came home a lot that first quarter. To visit his car.

And we watched...and observed....and discussed...and slowly we noticed that all of our arrow-straight rationales seemed to be landing somewhere on the outside edges of the Parenting Dart Board. They weren't hitting the mark.

Over Christmas we had more discussions and in the meantime Jack got a job downtown that meant traveling to and from school late at night. Concessions started to be made. You can take the car on the days that you can have the car for the whole weekend since you work both nights...okay, you work Monday and Wednesday so just take the car and bring it back on Thursday and then you can have it again on Friday....oh whatever, just take the car!!!

Now he has a car at school full time. And guess what? The world didn't come to an end. He is actually happier, more involved at school and spends more time on campus now that he has access to his own transportation. It helps that he has to pay for his own gas so he has gotten surprisingly thrifty about unnecessary driving, but he never complains.

Superdad and I just look at each other, shrug, and happily say, we were wrong.

We had the best intentions but in this instance, with this kid, in this moment in time, we were off the mark. We had to re-calibrate, take a deep breath and try again. Let's try something different. Show us how this could work. We are open to a new plan. We could be wrong.


And it got me you know how many things could be solved, how much pain could be avoided, how much less conflict there would be...if we would all entertain the possibility that we could be wrong?

I like to believe I am a pretty forgiving person and one of the reasons I try to be that way is because I am well aware that people need to be forgiving of me from time to time. I am not perfect. I do not always have the right answer. I do not always say the right thing. I have bad days and good days. I try to use that awareness when I encounter someone behaving in a way that I find difficult to understand. I try to extend a little grace and hope that someone else will do the same for me when I find myself adrift and not operating from my best self.

Even our most deeply held convictions do not have to be used as a bludgeon against those who disagree. Is it possible that this person has a history you don't understand and that history has shaped his or her beliefs? Is it possible that you both actually do want to arrive at the same place you just have different ideas as to how to get there? Is it possible that if you really understood the fullness of this person's life experience and could truly get inside his head you just might find some common ground?

Is it possible that you could be wrong??

I don't pretend to know much about what will come after this life. I am a person of faith who believes in a loving God so I do believe there is more....but I don't imagine for a minute that my simple mind can conceive of what that might be. But one thing I am sure of is that I will discover there were a whole lot of things I was wrong about in this life.

And knowing that makes it a heck of a lot easier for me to concede now and then, while I am still living this life, that I could be wrong.

I don't know...maybe that makes me spineless, or weak, or wishy-washy? Maybe it would be better if I put more things in the "non-negotiable" compartment of my mind and heart? Maybe my peacemaking tendencies are really just a cover-up for a fear of conflict? Maybe you really can tell everything you need to know about a person based on a label, a single moment or a point of view?


But I could be wrong.