6.24.2015

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...

6.21.2015

And just like that you are Twelve

The summer solstice is one of the best days of the year for many people. For our family it holds even more meaning as it is the day that The Boy was born. I can still remember waking up that Saturday morning 12 years ago, going about my normal routines but also knowing that it was my due date. I didn't really expect you to be born on time, but you were. And just like that we were parents, and you have changed us in ways we didn't know were possible. We love you so much, and are thrilled that we get to be your parents. Happy Birthday J!


Baby J

New baby J and a tired new mom
One year old
2 years old (with baby sister)
3 years old
4 years old
5 years old

6 years old

7 years old (and an awesome Mario cake made by Grandma)

8 years old

9 years old

10 years old (had to have a soccer picture included)

11 years old with our new puppy
Nearly 12 years old in this picture


Even if I was a little annoyed to be woken up unusually early for a Sunday by you and your buddies this morning I was grateful that you are here to share our lives. You bring so much to this world, and I know that your quiet thoughtful always noticing always feeling self is going to continue to bring a lot of joy into this world. Enjoy your birthday buddy, and I will maybe enjoy another cup or 2 of coffee to make up for my lack of sleep.














5.25.2015

Running - my friend

I'm not as dedicated to running as I was when I started this blog. I take more random days off because running isn't convenient than I did when I first fell in love with running. I also take it for granted a lot, and I don't really race much anymore. I think I did just one race last year, and I only half-heartedly trained for it (the TC 10 miler, because if you are going to run just one race in a year you might as well make it a 10 mile race). I typically run 20-25 miles per week, without any training plan or any real goals from any of the mileage I put in. That suits me just fine most of the time. I might run  a few races this year, or I might not, but I can always count on being able to run a solid 6 miles if I feel like it.

We visited my Dad and Step-Mom yesterday and spent the night at their new house. When I woke up this morning it was raining steadily, and my initial thought of driving to the Lakewalk to run sort of vanished. I had visions of the kids throwing rocks into Lake Superior while T and I ran. In the cold rain though I knew nobody would be up for that but me. I still wanted to run though so I quickly scanned the map from my running app to see what routes I could come up with. I found something that looked to be a decent route and headed out. The first thing I realized upon starting though was that there was a really long kind of steep hill at the start. Rather than readjust my route I decided to suck it up and run up the hill and hope for the best. The run ended up being great. Despite the hills, I was in a good groove and the miles ticked away and felt easy. The best part of planning an out and back route with a huge hill at the beginning is knowing that you get to run down that huge hill at the end. The hills did make my overall time slower than I like to see, but even with that my time was decent. I ran faster than I do from home many times (although my routes from home all have at least one cursed hill in them too).

I won't drone on about running, because I think people who don't run actually hate hearing about running from runners. Weird. I will add though that today reminded me how much I love to run. It reminded me how awesome it feels to be out there in the rain when everyone else thinks you are a bit crazy, and it reminded me that I still have it in me if I want it enough. I'm glad running is still my friend, and I know it will be for a long time to come.

Notice the rain drop falling from my hat brim

5.20.2015

Ten

My baby girl turns 10 today. It seems almost impossible that she has reached double digits already. I can still vividly remember moving into our "new" house while pregnant with her. So much has changed in my life since she was born, but then again so much is also the same. We have a great family, and our lives are so much richer and better because this girl is part of it.
One day old


Almost one year old

First Birthday

2 years old

3 years old

4 years old

5 years old

6 years old

7 years old

8 years old

9 years old
There isn't much more for me to say. I am lucky to be this girl's Mom, she has taught me more than I ever thought was possible. I can't wait to see what the future holds for you my now a tween baby girl.


The 10 year old rollerblading at her birthday party

Second year in a row playing in a soccer game on her birthday

Birthday cake

Had to take her hair down for pictures (same outfit as the 9 year old pic)

Big brother as a very close audience



5.06.2015

Body Language

Here is where I admit that I am a TED talk junkie. I love them. I watch them while I eat lunch sometimes (the perks of working from home), and the talks that move me I watch over and over again. I am not sure if the most powerful talks I've seen were really powerful enough to get me to see things from a different perspective, or if I was ready to hear their messages and therefore they held some power. I've talked about the Brene Brown talks in a previous blog post, but her talks especially her TEDx talk is one of my all time favorites. I have watched it at least 10 times if not more. Maybe that makes me a stalker, or maybe the message is just that good that I want to hear it repeatedly. Anyway, I won't drone on about Brene Brown, but seriously watch her first talk if you haven't already, and read her books. You won't regret it.

The most recent TED Talk that has me fascinated is a talk by Amy Cuddy about body language. I watched it several weeks ago, and was curious about whether her power pose suggestions would work. I decided to try it for myself. In the past few weeks when I have had to give a presentation or just try to get my point across on one of the many many calls I find myself on each day (the perks of working from home again) I have done some form of power posing as I sit comfortably in my office where nobody on the phone can see me doing so. I also did more subtle forms of power posing while I was at my company's HQ and giving in-person presentations last week. The results of my not at all scientific study with a sample size of one and no control group have concluded that power posing is in fact effective. I have not managed to convince everyone at work that I am right about everything yet. However, I've made some small chips away at progress forward, and got approval for something that seemed almost impossible just a few months ago. Was it the power posing, or was it the year + of work I've put into honing my message? It was likely mostly the latter, but the power posing possibly helped me to deliver the message in a way that made me sound more convincing.



I was so excited by my power posing experiment that I told my kids about it. I showed them what power posing was, and then told them that they could do it before tests at school (the more subtle poses I suppose, though I think kids could get away with even the more overt poses). I also told them that they could do it before track meets and soccer games. They both rolled their eyes at me.

This week both kids had their first soccer games of the season. I don't think I reminded tortured the Girl with a reminder to power pose before her game - as I was likely busy just trying to get her there on time. She played well despite no power posing, scored a goal and got out of a 4 on 1 and away with the ball during one of her shifts playing defense. Her team won that game 8-2 - imagine if they had power posed! I think their success could be attributed to the cheer her team came up with. It is creative and pretty awesome - The Girl keeps repeating it. Or maybe it had more to do with skill and the mismatch between their team and the other.

I did say something to the Boy before his game though. He rolled his eyes at me. The first half of his game was rough. His team has 14 players, and I think 13 were there last night. 3 of his teammates have never played with the group before - and I think at least 2 boys are U11 players playing up to U12. Their passing fluidity wasn't quite there. I think they were all trying to get a feel for each other in a game situation again. The Boy looked okay during the first half, but even he was struggling a bit to find his groove. The second half took on a different note though. The Boy (and several others on the team) had some nice opportunities. He had at least one great shot on goal from a good distance away that was just perfectly placed - high in the net, hard for the goalie to save, but the goalie had a great jump save and managed to deflect it out over the back of the net. That led to a corner which The Boy took, and nearly led to a goal, and then a second corner shortly thereafter that he also took and did lead to a goal. His team ended up losing 1-2, in a game they certainly had the ability to win, but it was still a good game. When The Boy found us at the end of the game I asked him who had tipped in his corner kick for the goal, and he said the other team did so he got the credit for the goal. He was beaming, and clearly proud of how well he had played.

In the car on the way home he said "Mom, I didn't want you to be right, or to tell you about it, but I tried the power posing you talked about when I was sitting in the rain shelter tent between shifts. I pretended I was tired and stretching, but I was really power posing." He had a small little impish grin on his face, and he said "I think it works." So was it the power posing? Or was it the 9 months of him getting extra skills training at Left Foot Academy? I guess we can't really know, but hey power posing is pretty easy to do, and if it gives you a mental boost, why not try it?


4.26.2015

In this moment

The phrase living in the moment seems so happy and free, so why is it so elusive? I won't speak collectively, but for my own life I know that I have spent most of my time either contemplating the past or wondering about the future. To what end? Has it made me better prepared to think through many different what if scenarios? Has it ever helped me to change mistakes I've made in the past? The answer to both is that is hasn't.

I think a healthy dose of reflection to process things we've done in our past is helpful, but only so much as we process them to a place where we can forgive ourselves of any mistakes and move on. Any more lingering in the past I think holds us back from living fully. As a parent I've seen that this is likely universal (small sample size of my own children, so humongous leap to say it is universal I know). I've watched my children make their own mistakes. I've stood by them to help them process what they've done or forgotten to do, and tried my best to help them cope with those feelings. After being a shoulder for them to cry on, talking through everything that happened, and projecting a bit about what might happen next, the best I can come up with is that it will hurt for a while but eventually it will hurt less. I think sometimes we learn our greatest lessons by teaching another. I struggle with perfectionism, but being a parent has helped me to shed that burden better than anything else I've encountered. I've told my kids that they are human, and they will make mistakes because that is part of human nature. I've told them that they are only 9 and only 11, and nobody expects such young children to be right every single time. I remind them of my age and tell them that I'm still making mistakes every single day, but I'm still here learning and growing each day. I've told them that sometimes mistakes are big, and sometimes you can't fix them, but even those unfixable mistakes teach us great lessons. In my case I'd say that the more I try to teach my kids to move on from their past mistakes, the more I'm able to do it for myself.

Projecting about the future is harder for me to tackle. We all want to be prepared for what might come next. At work it absolutely makes sense to do the tasks you need to complete in order to be ready for a big presentation or client meeting, or whatever else it might be. What doesn't work for me is going through what if scenarios to predict how people might respond to that big presentation. It is almost always better to just ask the people you are worrying about what they think. Maybe the key is deciding what you need to focus on now and knowing that the future will remain uncertain until it becomes the present? Or maybe it is always a tricky balance that involves a conscious decision to stop worrying about what might be when I find myself fixating about it.

My last post about expectations touched on this too. This is clearly an area where I have more work to do. I think that my knowledge that this is a trouble area for me is powerful though. I'm more aware of it, and therefore I'm less likely to be drug down in the details of it for long. Like so many other things I've seen, once you see them you can't unsee them. I know that my tendency is to do everything myself rather than to ask for help from anyone. When I'm in the middle of one of those cycles I tend to feel resentful of the bystanders who aren't helping me though. They aren't helping me because I never asked for their help, but yet I want them to just know that I need help without asking for it. I can see how crazy this cycle is, and now whenever I get into one of these cycles and my first urge it to be mad at the bystanders I instead see that I again didn't ask for help. This could lead me to be angry at myself for not asking for help, and it did when I first recognized this pattern. However, now that knowledge has led me to a place where I actually ask for help when I need help. I don't always ask for help, but I do more and more.

I think living in the moment is a great goal. It is likely a goal that most of us won't fully achieve in our lifetimes. There will always be a balance between reflecting on the past and projecting about the future. I guess the alternative is pretty aptly played out in the robin who keeps flying into the windows on the back of our house. He is pretty convinced that the reflections he sees are other birds trying to come into his nesting territory. He doesn't learn from the hundreds of past mistakes because he is living in the moment always, he also doesn't project his past mistakes into the future to stop himself from whacking into another window painfully. Reflection and projection are gifts, and living in the moment is too. I think in order to life in the moment you need to know how to reflect and project effectively. I think that rather than repeatedly flying into windows painfully I'll take this alternative. I'll accept that at times I will reflect too much, and at times I will project too much, but every once in a while I will find myself fully enjoying the present - living in the moment.

The bird is remarkably able to evade photos but he loves this window


4.11.2015

Expectations

My family and I went on a spring break trip to Florida. My goal for the trip was for our family to go to a place with a beach, with warm temperatures, and an ocean. I wanted to lay on the beach or by a pool and read a book, dipping myself into the water when I felt too hot, but otherwise relaxing. In my pre-trip planning conversations with T, he pointed out to me that my vision for what the vacation would be did not match up with reality. I ignored him. It is not as if I am new to this. We have taken many vacations with our kids, and each time my vision of the vacation does not match up with the reality. Apparently T had learned from each of those past vacations, and I chose to remain stubborn in accepting the truth. His advice had been to skip the vacation and just stay home with the kids where we are all comfortable in our routines so at least the anxiety that comes from being in a new place, sleeping in a new bed, etc. didn't come into play. As I said, I ignored him. I told T that it was important for me to give our kids new places to visit and explore, new ways to expand their worlds. He relented, and we planned the vacation or maybe more accurately I trampled over him and I planned the vacation.

Fast forward to the actual vacation, we made it to Florida and ultimately made it to our hotel on the beach. Our room was great - a 2 bedroom suite with a full kitchen and 3 televisions, a short walk to the beach, and a nice pool with ample lounge chairs around it. And then the reality of what it means to vacation with 3 other people, two of which are children, who all have their own agendas sunk in. The Girl deals with uncertainty by wanting to numb which usually means watching TV or some other screen - those 3 televisions in our suite were heaven sent for her. One of our struggles during the vacation became a battle with her about not just sitting inside and watching Cartoon Network or Disney Channel, but rather enjoying the warm weather we had traveled to. The Boy internalizes his angst, and then blows up when he can't contain it anymore. T and I have our own struggles that add to the powder keg and make a vacation with our family kind of uncertain and ready to blow at just about any moment for any small reason.





 

I think I finally get now that it is my expectations about what I want the vacation to be, and how I want everyone else to act that cause me (and the rest of the family as a result) the most angst. I know that I was somewhat determined to prove T wrong, to show him that our kids are now old enough for a vacation, and that we would all have a great time. If I had been able to let go of what I wanted to happen, and just enjoyed the what is happening perhaps things could have been a little smoother. Or not. I think the reality is that even though there were hungry whiney children (and adults!) who didn't eat exactly at the right meal time, and ate too much junk food, and watched too much tv, and freaked out over trivial things (me most likely) we still had fun. My kids got to go snorkeling for the first time in their lives. We saw a wild tortoise who was very curious about humans and seemed completely unafraid. We saw some beautiful sunsets - and I saw a beautiful sunrise while the rest of the family slept. We got to walk on a beautiful beach, bask in the sun, and swim in the ocean. We learned how to make perfect hotel Belgian waffles in a crowded hotel breakfast bar. We found some pretty shells. We tried to see manatees unsuccessfully, but even that failed venture has become part of our family story.



In the end, both T and I were right. The vacation was a disaster, and our kids are old enough to enjoy a great family vacation. Our summer vacation will likely be in driving distance for us, and I'm sure it will be terrible and fabulous at the same time. I make no promises about letting go of my expectations, but maybe I can snap myself out of them a little bit faster in the future. The best part of taking a lot of pictures while on vacation is that over time you forget all of the whiney parts of a vacation and you look at the pictures and remember the wonder and the fun, and the fabulous. Here is to lowered expectations, and a lifetime of memories. I wouldn't trade the messy, crabby, terrible, and frustrating moments because if I did, we wouldn't have what is real.