What if Love really is the answer?

In the midst of another tragedy in our world - this time the killings in Paris, we all search for answers. I am sure that the news networks are speculating and theorizing and talking about it nonstop and will for days or weeks. Some of you will be glued to the coverage because knowing more helps you to cope with insane occurrences like this. I won't watch if I can help it. I will inform myself, and I will continue to listen to NPR where they will no doubt also cover these terrible events. I know that for me, living in the aftermath of something like this - and immersing myself in it doesn't help me to process it faster though. I think for me it turns something like this into more of the "other," something foreign to me, something that is so outside of my world that I can almost comfort myself with the knowledge that it couldn't happen in my immediate world. It also keeps the focus on the "other" and looks for blame and retribution. I understand that every one of us processes things differently though, and for some of you immersing yourself in the coverage is exactly what you need to move on.

I remember September 11, 2001 vividly. I was flying from Minneapolis to San Francisco that day for work. I had an early flight so I could be at a client meeting later that day, it was a pretty typical day in my life at that point when I was working as a sales engineer and traveled almost weekly. Except it turned out to be completely not typical as my plane was diverted to Denver, and I spent the next day in Denver instead of San Francisco. There wasn't much to do in the hotel I managed to find with availability except to watch tv. I, like so many others, stayed pretty glued to the news updates for the many weeks to follow. However, what I most vividly remember about that day is not watching the news coverage, it is the huge outpouring of love that I felt from almost everyone I knew at the time. I think everyone who had my cell phone number then, and even many who didn't have it until that day called me to check on me. Both of my parents called me, I'd of course called my husband as soon as my plane landed in Denver, my boss called, all of my coworkers, and so many friends did too. I've told my 9/11 story many times, but I always end it with a mention of the phone calls. I don't think I'd ever fully processed why that was so important to me until I sat down to write this post. That outflowing of love is what saw me through my eventual drive back home, that love is what helped me to cope with unexplainable tragedy in our world.

The blaming and the "otherizing" that happens after terrible tragedies serves a purpose, but I don't think it actually helps us cope with the events. It deflects our fears and our hurts onto those others so we don't have to feel them. When something like this happens we all have that flash of fear, the flash of it could have been where I live, it could have been my family that was hurt, and we don't like that feeling. In my opinion though the best way for us to make that feeling go away is to feel it - let yourself be afraid, feel it, process it, own it, acknowledge it, and reach out in love to others who are feeling the same way. My coworkers who called me on 9/11 were doing so out of that place - the it could have easily been me on that trip feeling, and wanting to reach out to someone else to let them know they cared. So many of us have that instinct, and if we let ourselves reach out in love to others more often I think we could heal and help so much more than we do today.

I won't pretend to know the motivations behind all of the terrible events in our world, but I do think that love is the answer. I don't mean that we have to reach out in love directly to the people who perpetrate such terrible hatred onto our world - but reaching out in love to those close to you has a bigger effect than we give it credit for. For those of us who are parents we see the result of choosing love over blame in our lives almost daily I'd imagine. Just a couple of days ago my 12 year old opened his school Chromebook and found that the screen had shattered. He was pretty upset, and truth be told, so was I, but in that moment I had a choice to make - to choose love as a response or to choose blame. I chose love that day (and I'm not going to pretend that I didn't have to fight for that response), and we focused together on it being okay to be upset about this but that it was not the end of the world and we talked about how he would bring it to school the next day and face the consequences but he would end up okay at the end of all of it. It was likely going to suck, but he would be okay, and I still loved him regardless of whether his screen was cracked or not.

My greatest desire as a parent is to choose love more often as a response than I choose blame, because just like those small phone calls from those close to me on 9/11, love has the power to do more. We all have the power to love the people close to us, and that love has a ripple effect out into the rest of the world. While we are all trying to make sense of the tragedy in Paris, maybe the best thing we can do is to love more. You might not personally know someone who lives in Paris that had their lives upset yesterday, but your love can reach through those you do know and eventually out into those that need it the most. I don't mean postcard proclamations of love - but real I see you, I feel you, I will walk with you through something hard love, that love changes people and will solve more than any retaliation ever will.


Doing the best that we can

I recently read BrenĂ© Brown's newest book Rising Strong. It is good, really good. You should read her Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly first, but even without reading the other two I think Rising Strong is a great book. There are two points from the book that really resonated with me, and since I read the book I keep thinking about them in a variety of contexts.

The first point is that we tell ourselves stories in order to make sense of this world. Often our stories are not based entirely upon reality, but in what we think others' motivation might be in our daily interactions. I'm not going to rehash the entire book, but I will say that starting a conversation with "the story I'm making up here" instead of "you always..." ends with a much better result. When you are able to remove the accusation, and get to the heart of what is bugging you you can find a resolution in a much more positive way. I used this in a conversation with T the other night, and it felt better than my normal accusatory statements that I know deep down aren't true even if the story I've made up includes them. Perhaps the trick with using this approach is that you need to be tired of your own bullshit for it to make sense to you. I haven't used it at work yet, but I've thought it when my brain tries to tell me an us-them story about why we are so right and they are so wrong and clueless.

The next point that blew my mind was that everyone is doing their best always. I enjoyed how this was covered in the book because the author's struggle with whether or not this was true struck me as a battle I could see myself facing. If we accept that people are coping with the situation at hand the best way they can in that particular moment it frees us from all of the should statements we want to lay on others. It doesn't make their behavior okay, but when we let go of our own expectations about how other people act we free ourselves from the burden of being the behavior police. This little shift in how we interpret other people's actions is amazingly powerful. Again I think you need to be ready to be a good bit self critical to see how this is a gift to yourself. How much time and energy have you wasted in your life railing about the way someone else treated you or acted towards you? If you approached all of those situations with an understanding that yes her behavior sucked and I will set better boundaries around that person in the future - but she was doing the best she could in that moment - how would your life change? I've used this a few times with my kids already, more as a reminder to myself and T that when they don't handle difficult situations easily it doesn't mean that they are purposely acting out.

There is an implied forgiveness in every "she was doing the best that she could," you think to yourself. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves, so shifting our thinking to include quicker paths to forgiving others is very powerful. There is also a good deal of annoying every time you think this way. It is much more comforting to fall into the old blame cycles and self-righteous ranting, then it is to face that other people are just as imperfect as we are. I know deep down that in order to be truly kind to myself I need to be kind to others. I need to accept that everybody is doing the best that they can in that particular moment - even when sometimes their bests are pretty shitty and terrible.


The Summer Trip

We recently returned from our annual summer trip (most definitely a trip and not a vacation). I went into this trip with much lower expectations than I had for our spring break trip to Florida. My goals were to not think about work too much, and to spend some time relaxing and connecting with T and the kids. I think both goals were pretty easily achieved, although I did take a work call one morning before the rest of the family was awake. There was swimming, fishing, jet skiing, and stand up paddle boarding. There was pool playing, a family game night of Apples to Apples, and both adults read a fair amount. And of course there was some tv watching and some serious staring at screens.

There were also more than a few moments of crabby from one or more of us. I think the difference this time around wasn't just my lowered expectations. It was also how I engaged with the kids when they were crabby. Just a few weeks ago I stumbled upon an article that mentioned the acronym HALT as a way to assess what is causing unwanted behavior. The article I read wasn't specifically targeted towards children (although I since found this blog post that is targeted towards kids), but that was my first thought upon reading it. HALT stands for: H - Hungry, A - Angry, L - Lonely, T - Tired. After one of the kids finished being upset about something I brought out the acronym and explained it to the kids. A weird thing happened when I explained it - instead of tuning me out both kids actively listened and one even grabbed a piece of paper to write out what it meant.

I explained that a lot of times when the two of them are bugging each other the first thing I ask them is when they last ate. The question typically annoys them, but a lot of times they are hungry and acting out because of it. I don't find the A all that helpful with my children, because I think they jump to Angry as an answer no matter what the true trigger for their unwanted behavior is - but I kept it in. There are times when one of them is angry about something completely separate from each other and it is causing them to act out towards each other. The L is helpful because sometimes they need to feel connected, and for whatever reason we aren't giving them enough of that. And T - while my children will almost never admit it, when they are tired they do not typically make good decisions. My kids felt that being thirsty was also a trigger for bad behavior so we added an extra T at the end so our acronym is now HALTT.

I do not think that the HALTT acronym is magical. However, applying it with my kids seems to be magical. I asked one or both of them at several points last week where they were on the HALTT scale and after first being annoyed at me they were able to walk through the letters and tell me what the issue was. It also helped me to stop refereeing their fights and punishing them and instead move to helping them work through whatever was causing the angst in the first place.

This parenting thing is always going to be a work in progress. I will continue to learn as I go along, and mess up along the way. However, it feels pretty good to have found a more positive way to deal with the inevitable sibling fights. I think overall it let me be more relaxed on this trip, and it helped me to enjoy the wonder that was all around us.


The stages of working from home

I've had a remote work position for the last year and a half. I had never planned on working from home, but the position seemed to make sense for me career wise and happened to be in another state. Rather than uproot my entire family to take the position, working remotely allowed me to take the position and keep my family where they were. I think sometimes people confuse what it is I do, with some flexible working arrangement because I work from my house. However, I have a full time job, with big (sometimes) responsibilities, and a lot of work to do each and every day. The misunderstanding is more my issue than anyone else's though, so I'll leave that alone. I travel to my company's headquarters roughly one week a month, and those trips help me to feel more connected to the people I talk to on the phone when I'm home. They also remind me that working from my home is both good and bad. It took me several months to adjust to the routine of working from home, I think I went through stages of acceptance in order to come to the steady state I enjoy today.

Stage One: Oh This is Awesome
Duration: 1 week
At first I had many thoughts about working from home: I have no commute, I don't have to get dressed up, I can work in my sweaty running clothes if I want to, life is wonderful.

Stage Two: This Sucks
Duration: 3 months
After a short honeymoon period, the reality of what it meant to commute 10 feet from my kitchen into our home office started to set in. My main contact with people I wasn't related to started to be over the phone. I had lost the daily office niceties of passing colleagues in the hall, and eating lunch with other people. Gone were beer Fridays, corporate meetings I attended in person, and random quarterly celebrations with free food. Gone was not having to set up meetings with your closest colleagues because you sat across from each other and could have quick brainstorming sessions using the white board in your cubicle. Gone was wasting time rehashing random things that happened over the weekend or who you liked best on The Voice. Gone was the social life that surrounds working in an office. During this stage I often fantasized about how long I would have to keep this job so it didn't look like I was jumping before giving it a chance. I didn't know people at the corporate headquarters well enough to actually feel like I was in the loop with what was happening when I wasn't physically there.

Stage Three: This is okay
Duration: 3 months
After deciding that I hated working from home, but also deciding that I wanted to put more effort into being successful in my job I mostly made peace with the situation. I went through a phase of putting effort into dressing up each day, even if I was just going to sit in my home office all day. It made me feel more like I was at work, and that was something that helped to give my days more structure. I also started to have an understanding of what it was I was going to do in my job - this more than anything else likely saved my ability to work from home. My position had been more or less created for me, but it wasn't firmly bounded. I had to do a lot of searching to figure out where I could add the most value, and then poke that understanding with how others viewed my role. There was a good deal of trial and error - still is, but eventually I found my way.

Stage Four: I would hate working in an office again
Duration: 1 year and going
After making peace with remote working, I found that I loved it. Well I loved it until summer came and my oldest child who is too old for daycare started being home with me, but that is another story. I stopped dressing like I was going into an office - though to be fair at best from home I dressed as though it was always casual Friday. I save my former work outfits for when I travel to the company headquarters. The bad part about this is that my former heel loving self is now very fond of flip flops and casual boots. I find that my feet don't love to wear heels when I travel now because I'm not used to wearing them - unless you count my wedge Teva flip flops (they don't count). I've also found ways to be as productive as possible from home, and thankfully from places that have free wifi when I just need a change of scenery. I've found that my favorite way to make phone calls is with the simple headphones and in-line microphone on my iPhone ear buds attached to my work iPhone. I learned that I needed to turn off the audible alert for new email messages on that phone because those alerts were audible to the rest of the people on my many calls too. I also learned how to walk away from the home office at 5 pm, which is actually pretty easy since my Eastern time zone coworkers are all long done with working by then. There are still days where I wish I had the distraction of a coworker downstairs to complain about something to, but then I call one of my colleagues and can do the same thing.

When I think about the next step in my career path, I think it is highly likely that it will be another remote working opportunity. I want to take on a greater degree of responsibility in my chosen field, and it is highly unlikely that I will find something in my current metro area. I'm glad I have made peace with working from home, even if sometimes I do still miss the comfort of office life. I think for me going to an office was a false veil of productivity - where from home you really have yourself and the work with no easy distractions at every corner. That was painful at first, but now it is freeing and a little painful if I'm completely honest.


Enjoying the wonder

I get so caught up in what we need to be doing, where we need to be, when our schedule has us arriving/departing, and who we need to be with. Sometimes it feels like I'm not choosing any of the things that fill our days. Then I remember, that I have control over all of the who/what/where/when, and that I created most of the busy in my life. It is easy to make excuses about why we can't make time to be with our friends, or why we can't spend an evening doing exactly what the kids want to do. Why is it so easy to forget to stop and enjoy the beautiful world around us? We surround ourselves with screens, and we focus on status updates from friends rather than actually connecting and doing the things we know will fill our souls.

The other night my kids came rushing in the house and asked if one of us would take them to the beach. T was having none of it, but as I sat there with the first word on my lips being "no," I asked myself why I wanted to say no. I thought for a few moments, and decided to say yes. So we went, the kids and two of their neighbor friends got in my car and we were at the beach just 15 minutes later. They didn't want to stay that long, but they got to swim, they got to take videos in the water with the GoPro camera, and they loved it. I sat on the beach and stared at my phone mostly, but after a while I put the phone down (aside from taking some pictures) and just enjoyed the quiet peaceful evening with the sounds of happy kids filling the air. 

The beach

Sunset at the beach
Every once in a while I need a reminder that there is more to life than all of the busy we have created for our family. When we drop all of the busy and let ourselves experience the wonder in the world around us I think it fills our souls more than any soccer practice ever could. Our world is an amazing place. There is so much to see, so much to do, and there is so much to experience if we can open our eyes to it. I want to do a better job of slowing down and enjoying the world around me. When I do, I always experience something deep inside my being, and it makes me feel alive. It doesn't even have to be hard to see the wonder. If we are open to it, we see that there is wonder all around us. Even landing back home from a work trip is filled with wonder. What led me to take pictures of clouds from an airplane window? I think it is because when you let yourself appreciate the world, you see beauty in almost everything.

Clouds - my view from an airplane last week
 Sometimes taking your son to the creek because he asked you to, is the best thing you can do. We both get something different out of the experience, we both experience our own sense of wonder. The only way we really pass this gift onto our children is by actually enjoying it for yourself. If my children see me checking my phone constantly, and not really present they will learn to ignore the wonder all around them just like I did. It might take a good deal of retraining, but I know I can find the wonder around me more and more every single day. I hope they can see it too.
J enjoying the wonder that is a rapidly moving creek


Finding the right team

Soccer in our state is open for players to move around to different clubs, provided that each player commits to just one club for each season. This freedom is a blessing for many, but a curse for some too. With choice comes the obligation of choosing. All along both of my children have played for the club in our city, and it has been fine more or less even though I get caught up in the politics and get mad about some of the decisions that are made. I haven't been mad enough to leave, even though we have watched some really great families do just that - for valid reasons. The draw of a club that holds practices walking distance from your house is very strong for us.

J at U9

At the end of the summer season last year was the first time I started to entertain the possibility of our kids playing elsewhere. When I picked J up from evaluations (deciding at the end of July which team your child will be placed on for a season starting the following May) he was upset. He said that he didn't know why they bothered with evaluations because they already knew who was on the top team (not him). He said that the top team kids didn't pass to him at all during the evaluation scrimmages, so he never got any opportunity to show what he could do. I didn't watch the evals, so he might have been right, or he might have been exaggerating, but he was visibly deflated. This came after a season in which he hated going to soccer at all. He had some good friends on the team, and I think that was the only reason we got him to finish out the season.

That ride home with J, was the primary reason we enrolled J in a private soccer coaching academy. He very much wanted to improve, and hadn't had any real coaching to do so over his previous few seasons. You could see the disparity pretty clearly between the top team who had just won state at a level higher than J's team played at and the half of J's team who actually showed up at all for evaluations. The kids who knew they would make the top team, and the kids who felt like it was a waste of their time to even be there. That was pretty much how it played out too. One player from J's team made the top team, but the remaining handful were placed on a half roster with the assumption that somehow enough boys would be found to fill out a team by the following spring. I was relieved that J had the soccer academy coaching to look forward to. He finally got good coaching to help him with skills he wasn't proficient at, and he got lots of opportunities to play soccer throughout the year.

I wrote in my last post about this soccer season, so I won't rehash the details here. However, we are nearing the end of the season and it is time to look forward. There is still a top team/bottom team problem in the club, and it is more pronounced because they move to U13 and 11v11 in the fall. Both teams need bigger rosters to cope with a bigger field. For the most part I think that kids from our city leave our club for other clubs, so magically attracting enough boys to fill out two rosters is likely a long shot. I found myself looking up evaluation schedules for neighboring clubs because of this fact. J might make the top team this time around, but I'm not sure I want him to. When the options are make the top team and deal with not really feeling like you are part of the team, or being on the leftover roster that will hopefully fill in with enough boys to play it seems like a simple choice to find a different club to play for.

It isn't a simple choice to leave though. We went to our city's fireworks last night where we sat with 3 different soccer families. At one point I looked up and J was sitting with 5 or 6 of his teammates laughing and having a great time. If we leave nothing really changes for the club, J is just a name taking up a roster spot or not. I don't think they would even ask us why we left. I've asked J what he wants, and ultimately he just wants to play with his friends. He only wants to go to another club if his friends do too. He doesn't want to be on a leftover roster either though. He loves soccer, and he wants to play on a team filled with kids who love to play as much as he does. I'm still not sure what we will do, but I hope that either way J continues to love playing as much as he does right now. I also hope that I can keep it about what J wants, and not what my ego wants for him.


Why can't they just win?

One of our summer family "entertainments" is traveling to various southern metro soccer fields and watching one of the children play soccer. This happens roughly twice a week, but in some weeks (if there is a tournament) we could be watching one of them play soccer almost every night of the week. Last night was such a night, we had a roughly 30 minute drive to watch J play. The field was a good one, there was ample parking (even if it was a huge trek from the parking lot to the field), plenty of garbage cans (important because even our dog comes with and sometimes you need to clean up after her business), and there was a great playground - which meant S didn't have to suffer through watching her brother play for any longer than she wanted to. It was also a beautiful night, not too hot, not buggy, and pretty pleasant to be sitting or standing on the sidelines of the soccer field watching one of your children play the game he/she loves.

Not from last night's game (J is #22)

The game started out well. J's team scored a quick goal, and they were playing pretty well. At some point that flipped though, and the other team scored a lot more goals. I won't go into the play by play because that really doesn't matter, but you can guess from this post's title that they lost. One of the other parents from the team expressed some frustration about the fact that they always lose as we were doing the pack up the chairs and walk over to wait for the boys to finish with their post game coach chat. This parent said that it was getting old to be driving all over the place and spending a bunch of money if they are always going to lose. I didn't really know what to say in response. I said that I thought their coach was doing a good job, and that we'd seen improvement in the boys' passing and just kind of nodded along as that parent mildly vented. I won't pretend that it isn't somewhat frustrating to watch your child lose a lot of games in a season. However, I was happy at the end of the game that J was smiling and laughing with one of his good friends on the team, and wasn't dwelling on the result. Earlier in the season he was so frustrated after one loss that he didn't talk aside from irritated grunts for at least an hour after we got home.

We spend a lot of money as a family on soccer every year. Both kids play two seasons of traveling soccer each year, and that is not cheap. I won't do the math because it will make me ill, most of the traveling soccer parents likely put it directly out of their mind as soon as they write the team fees checks because if you dwell on it you wouldn't be happy. J is also a member of a soccer training academy where he gets extra coaching all year long. He is doing a few extra soccer camps this summer too. S would do soccer camps as well, but her summer musical rehearsal schedule means that we can't really fit in any for her. Should we expect to earn a return on our "investment" in the way of wins? How much is one win worth? A season of wins? Is a season of losses not worth the same?

For every game played there is a winner and a loser (or maybe they tie), does the winning team deserve to play more than the losing team does? Do the kids on the winning team get more out of the experience? I know it is more fun to win, but sometimes your team is just not the better team that day. Sometimes your team makes mistakes, sometimes the other team has some really fast forwards, and passes well, and you can't defend it every single time. Sometimes there are kids on the losing team that have excellent skills, and play their hearts out, but their team still loses. The focus on the outcome of the game is where most of us go first, and it doesn't matter how many articles we read about saying "I loved watching you play" at the conclusion of whatever event we still ask if they won or lost. I know that focus is misplaced, but in a culture of winners and losers and as a backlash to everyone gets a trophy (which I don't think exists anywhere outside of sports for very young kids) we focus on wins. I won't pretend that I don't get caught up in it too at times.

Last season J's team won more games than they have so far this year. But last year every time J had a practice or game he would complain about having to go to soccer, and at the conclusion of every practice he was in a bad mood. This year he has a new coach, is excited to go to soccer, needs little reminding to get ready, and mostly comes away in a good mood. His confidence on the field has increased tremendously. He has become really good at taking corner kicks, crossing the ball in front of the net for scoring opportunities, mastered a bunch of footwork skills with names I can't remember, and has scored a handful of goals. When you put all of those pieces together I think they make a successful season.

When we as parents put the focus solely on the outcome of every game we are vastly missing the point. S's team has played at least two different teams this year that were playing dirty. She is at the U10 gold level - which is the lower of the two U10 levels in our state and U10 overall doesn't have official standings. Basically wins and losses at the U10 level mean nothing more than we make of them. So why were girls from those teams pinching girls on S's team when the ref wasn't around to see? S tells me that in one case a girl dug her fingernail into S's teammate's leg and drew blood. WTF is that? Now whether that is the full truth, or somewhat exaggerated for a good story I can't be sure because I was at those games and didn't see it. Playing dirty is only a viable tactic if winning is the only thing that matters and your team doesn't have the skill to win without it - so basically it is never an option. The fact that any youth soccer team would be playing dirty to include pinching players from the other team is incomprehensible to me and yet it has happened with two different teams S has played this season. The only way stuff like this happens is because we as parents want to see our darling children win, and it is why so many kids quit sports by the time they are 13 or 14. Win at all costs does something to our culture - we don't want our kids to be bullies, but it is okay if they beat up on other kids at the soccer field if it is in the name of a win.

I'd much rather see my kids' teams lose every game if the alternative is playing dirty. Focus on foot skills, focus on passing, focus on shooting, and above all else focus on going out with your teammates and having fun - but if your attitude is that it isn't worth it to play at all if you never win? Maybe ask yourself why it is so important to win. Even if my U12 player was on the best team in the state, and won the state tournament for his level does that make him more worthy of love? Outside of the soccer community in our state would anyone even notice that it happened? T loves soccer, and will play a pick up game with others any chance he gets. Does he care if he wins or loses? I doubt it. He just likes to go out there and play. Why would we take that away from our kids at 12 years old? Absolutely celebrate victories, and be disappointed by losses, but keep it in perspective for yourself and your kids. Working hard to master skills is rewarding, and we don't always need external validation in the way of a win to be proud of ourselves. I went for a run this morning, and it sucked. I was tired, and I walked a bunch because I had very little energy for a variety of reasons. Did I come home and tell myself that I should quit running because a route that should take me no more than 42 minutes took me a lot longer than that? No, I came home, took a shower, started my day, and was thankful that I got to be outside by myself moving my body for 4 miles today.

Winning is nice, but it isn't the point. Sports teach our kids a lot of valuable life lessons, and one of them is that we don't always come out on top. We can do our best and still not win, and we still wake up the next day and get to have new experiences. During the walk to our cars I walked with another parent and J's coach. He said something about the soccer gods not being favorable to the team this year. I like the sentiment - J's team had some nice shots that went just wide or that the goalie saved, and the other team had some lucky bounces and some nice shots that did go in. I said that it was nice to see the team passing into space - even if some of those passes were a little too far into space, and he said that yes they had been working on that. Putting things from practice into the games, even if you aren't perfect is exactly what it is about. I won't pretend that my son is always happy to lose, but him being allowed to take risks, being allowed to go out there and mess up and come out still being okay - that is what it is about. Rather than saying it is too bad that you lost, I asked J if he had fun. Despite the loss he said that he did, and that is what matters. Life lessons on the soccer field...