Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tears and Success

What is it about watching your child succeed that is so darned satisfying? Is it that we see a piece of ourselves succeeding right along with them? Sometimes succeeding at things that we could never in our wildest dreams hope to be good at? I had the pleasure recently of seeing all three of my children succeed at things that they were striving so hard for and my reaction every time surprises me. Christopher’s baseball team won a very hard game and kept their playoff hopes alive for a while, Daniel managed to finally hit the baseball and get a base hit and Allison was successful in obtaining a volunteer position that she had interviewed for. All three successes brought me to tears. Not full-on bawling mind you, but choked-up-ready-to-bawl-like-a-baby waterworks.

My question is why? Why when it wasn’t me achieving those things do I become so invested in what happens? Let’s take baseball for a good example. Normally, I have exactly zero interest in baseball. I don’t play it, I don’t watch it and I certainly don’t talk statistics about it or belong to any fantasy leagues. I don’t begrudge anyone who does do those things, I just don’t find them interesting. Pro baseball is a slow-moving sport in my humble, admittedly uninformed opinion. Every time I have tried to watch a game on television I find myself drifting off to sleep.

Everything changes when my son Christopher is playing. Suddenly I want to watch every minute of every game he has. The same is true of Daniel’s games. In fact, whenever they both have games scheduled for the same time-slot it really stresses me out. I don’t want to miss anything at either game. I love watching Christopher knock one out of the park so to speak. He has a lot of power in his batting for a kid his size and age. The added bonus? In case I haven’t said so before I love to watch him run. He is so lithe. The words “poetry in motion” come to mind whenever I have the chance to see him run. Running for him seems so effortless and natural.

When Daniel is playing baseball true, it is a little different. He doesn’t have the coordination that Christopher does, but he does have his own style. He manages to run pretty fast and despite those curls of his obstructing his view he sees well enough to play the game well. He’s in an instructional league so playing well does not mean he is headed for the playoffs, but that doesn’t really make a difference here, does it? What matters is the smile of pleasure on his face when he finally connects with the ball, sending it into the field. What matters is the look of satisfaction as he makes it to first base. What matters is that he is having fun as he makes the out at second base, and he is leaning the value of team work.

Allison’s successes tend to be successes of the mind. She loves the intellect. She’s well-read, she has diverse intellectual interests and can intelligently discuss almost anything. So when she obtained the volunteer position she wanted I was so thrilled for her. She will get to put her formidable intellect to good use and meet new people in the process. This is a big win for her in my opinion. It will be her job to help people play with the materials that are provided. What a wonderful job. It’s a unique way for not only her to help other people, but for her to develop social skills that she will need as she goes forward toward adulthood.

So am I proud? Certainly. It makes me feel that I have succeeded in what I wanted most to do…be a mother. Do I obtain a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing my kids grab hold of some of the stars they are reaching for? Why not? Their successful lives are my reward for being a mother.

Things could change in the next few years. There could and perhaps are going to be some negative things happening while my children plod along the road to adulthood. There are some difficult things to navigate between where they are and successful lives as adults. I would be a fool to say I don’t worry about them. What if one of them decides to experiment with drugs? What if they find a mate who is abusive or so needy they can’t have a life separate from them? What if they don’t get into the schools they want to get into? What if they have children before they are ready to?

I could sit and worry about all these things. I really could. Sometimes I do worry about them if I’m to be honest. Things could get ugly for them if they make bad choices. But so far they are making good choices and I think I have to trust that they will continue to do so. While I know that their successes now do not necessarily prove that they will be successful adults, I am hopeful that they are getting a taste of success and will hunger for more. That hunger will make them pursue success as they grow toward adulthood, no matter what success means to them.

That’s why I think I cry when they have a small success in their lives. It’s a foreshadowing of the success that is to come.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Embrace the Chaos

Embrace the chaos. That seems to be what the universe is telling me these days. See, I planned a nice, relaxing vacation camping. If you don’t remember (or weren’t reading my blog until recently) check my August 10, 2013 post, I did this last year. It was great. I went “off the grid” somewhat for a week or so. I cooked over an open fire, I walked my dogs, we had s’mores and slept out in tents. It was great. Really. So great that I planned on doing it again. I even have a campsite already reserved.

This time will be slightly different though. We have a pop-up camper we bought from our friends Debbie and John. I’m really looking forward to trying it out. Sure, we had an extremely icky time clearing out the ants that took up residence during the winter. There were hundreds of them. It makes me cringe just thinking about them (Are there any in my hair? I sure hope not). We got past that though I think. I plan to set up tents too, but having the pop-up will be nice. Especially if there is any rain. We’ll be able to sleep in the camper if we like and use the tents too – but if the weather is bad there is a table inside that we can play cards and board games at.

The spot we have reserved is right above a pond or lake (not sure which it is). There’s swimming, boating and fishing just a few steps away. This will be great. We’ll have fun and relax under the stars. My wonderful husband and kids bought me a screen tent for my birthday. We’ll be able to eat dinner without being bothered by bugs. We have a propane stove for those times we don’t want to cook over the fire. It’s going to be excellent. Except…

Except my daughter got a volunteer position at the Museum of Science. I am so proud of her that they offered her the position. It seemed pretty competitive during the interview process so I think it’s pretty great that she landed the position. The only issue? She will have to come home and go to Boston a few times during our vacation. Boo!

Except….my son got picked for the All-Star baseball team! I am equally proud of him for that accomplishment. He had to try out against approximately 80 other children and only about ½ or less were selected to be on teams. The issue? Players must commit to games until August and there are 2-4 games a week, plus perhaps practices. Boo!

Between those two things and the surrounding summer camps and various other activities my summer is booked! You might even suggest I overbooked. Boo! I have to figure out rides to and from camp and coordinate schedules. I also need to make sure uniforms are clean, work clothes that are appropriate are available and my younger son is being watched. Good thing I have a wonderful husband that will pitch in and help (see last week’s blog entry to see who I’m referring to).

But that’s the life of a mother with three children. A life that I am more than happy with and I suppose we will figure it out. That’s how I embrace the chaos. I try not to worry about how it will get done. I want my children to have these experiences so I do what I can to make it happen. Notice I said I will TRY not to worry about how it will get done. TRY. That is the main verb here.

Will there be some worry? Probably. Will I let it get me down? I hope not. The main thing is that my children are having important experiences that are helping them to figure out who they are in relation to the world around them. They are developing talents, interests and skills that will help them become part of a larger community and to make worthwhile contributions to that community.

If the price of developing those talents is some chaos, I’m in.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Marry Your Best Friend...I Did

It’s been twenty years as of today. Twenty years since I married the man of my dreams. We met because of Adam Ant. Not many people may remember this musician, but wherever he is I thank him for his part in making sure I met Steve. Mr. Ant doesn’t even know he had anything to do with it but that’s okay.

See, I met Steve in high school. A close friend of mine used to like to call cute boys on the phone after school. She and I were hanging out and watching MTV back in the days when MTV actually played music and not stupid things like “The Real World.” (I always felt that in the “real world” you paid your own rent, but MTV and I have different definitions apparently of the word “real,” but I digress). This friend had called Steve and was talking to him when one of her favorite videos came on T.V. Ironically it was “Desperate, But Not Serious,” by Adam Ant. Teenage girls, desperate? Never…heh heh heh. Definitely not serious.

Well, anyway, when this video came on television my friend, who absolutely ADORED Adam Ant, just HAD to go watch. She hastily stuffed the phone in my hands and dashed off to oogle the war-paint-clad wonder that was Adam Ant. While she was dancing and clapping along with the song, I was left to chat with a young, apparently cute (I had never seen Steve at this point) 17-year-old. For someone who was under-confident and introverted like I was, this was like being thrown from the frying pan into the fire. I stumbled around for a few minutes while we tried to figure out what to talk about. My job, given to me by my friend, was to keep said cute boy on the phone until her video was over.

I don’t remember what we talked about for 45 minutes while my friend watched even more videos of musicians she liked (Billy Idol, Prince, etc.), but by the time she came back to take the phone, it was too late. Steve and I had discovered we enjoyed talking to each other and were laughing and chatting away. When my friend asked for the phone back, she was told in no uncertain terms that we were in the middle of something and she would have to check back later.

So began the beginning of a great friendship with my future husband. He made me laugh. A lot. He still does. He was always respectful of me. He still is. He was always a gentleman. He still is. He had a great family who treated me like one of their own. He obviously still has that family and they still treat me like a member of the family. The only difference? Now I actually AM a member of the family.

We have had some very tough times during our marriage. When we moved in together we had a twin mattress on the floor of our apartment. That was all we could afford. We used an American Red Cross back board for a coffee table. It was held up by concrete blocks. For months all we ate was Ramen Noodles, Macaroni and Cheese and hot dogs. That was our food budget. We had this truly UGLY red and orange floral couch, given to us by a friend.

That difficulty paled in comparison to what happened in 1997. Just three years after being married we had our first child, Thomas William Turner. He was an 8lb 9 oz beautiful baby. Unfortunately, that beautiful boy was not destined to live a long life. He had a serious heart defect and died after a surgery that attempted to correct his many problems. He was 10 days old.

I have never recovered from that pain. The pain of losing a child is incredible. You just don’t know how to keep going once something like that happens. This beautiful baby that you are allowed to love for nine months is suddenly ripped away from you, never to return. If I hadn’t had Steve to lean on during that time I think I would have gone crazy. I was pretty close a number of times. I hope that I was as supportive of him as he was of me. My gut says no…I tried to be supportive, but he was the rock, the steady one, during our darkest times.

When we miscarried our last child he was there as well. He held me as I cried and was there while I met with the doctor who told me about the D&C procedure I needed when the baby was dead. He never left my side. He was there both before and after the procedure and I never felt alone.

He was also there for the really good times too. He was there as my number one support during the birth of each and every child. Allison, Christopher and Daniel saw Daddy before they ever saw me, that’s how involved he was in their births. He was truly amazing. I honestly couldn’t have made it through the unmedicated, natural child births I had without him. He made it so much easier for me than it could have been.

As I look back on the years we have been together, I realize that he has always been there. He brings flowers home on random occasions just to say I love you. He does laundry (which sometimes is more romantic than the flowers) and he is a FANTASTIC father. He works hard at his job and does all he can to support us AND he manages to arrange his schedule so he can be at baseball games, bring kids to karate, take days off when I’m sick and help with dinner.

Have there been times that I have been upset with him? Of course. You don’t live with someone for twenty-plus years and not get upset sometimes. Has he been upset with me? Sure. I’m not the easiest person to live with at times. Despite these difficulties, I am glad we are together. I don’t think we have a perfect marriage (who does?), but it’s perfectly ours.

Our marriage has been hard work. There have been tears, arguments, and pain. But our marriage has been fun too. We laugh, we cuddle and we talk. We hopefully show our children that you need to put more effort into your marriage than your wedding. I hope they come away with the knowledge that marriage to the right person is SOOOOO worth the work.

I know mine is.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hypocrisy and Physical Fitness

I have always prided myself on my parenting, but recently realized that I am not quite as good as I thought I was. See, kids learn more by what you do than what you say. I have been a total hypocrite in one area of my life with them. I have told them over and over again how important it is to have balance in their lives. Yes, academics are important, but so are friends. Yes, you can enjoy life, but you must work hard too. Yes you are kids, but you are learning to be adults. I think that I have done okay with those things, but there is one area that I have really literally fallen down on the job.

What area is that you ask? I can feel you preparing to defend me by saying, “Now Sheri, you can’t be that bad, calling yourself a hypocrite is a little harsh, don’t you think?” My answer to you on that particular question is no. I am not being too harsh. The area that I am talking about is physical fitness. If you don’t take care of your body everything else suffers. You can develop everything from obesity to depression, heart disease to general malaise and everything in between. Studies about physical activity have been linked to better sleep, better thinking, better moods, better appetites and better sex.

I have always thought the life of the mind is very important. Reading books, figuring out problems, asking questions, exploring different ways of being. I am happiest in the classroom, particularly a classroom set up using a Socratic method of teaching. Questions being answered, open discussion. I love it. Equally important however, is the life of the body. If you take care of your body you are rewarded with a clear mind that is well rested and prepared to take on the tasks you and others present it with.

Being remiss in my duties to take care of my body is tantamount to being completely unbalanced in my life. I see the results of not taking care of myself and so do my kids. There is a history in my family of obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease and high blood pressure. So far the only issues I have had to deal with is depression and obesity (as if that’s not bad enough).
I have tried to motivate myself to address the problem and so far have failed miserably. I have tried jogging, swimming, walking, calisthenics, yoga and some hiking. It’s incredible to me that at one time in my life I was an aerobics instructor. True it was many, many years ago, but still. I was in good shape at one time in my life. And I wish I could blame my current lack of physical fitness on having babies but I cannot. I was out of shape before I had them and lost all the baby weight I gained during pregnancy within six months. I credit breastfeeding my children with that as there was nothing else significantly different in my life at the time.

I tell my children all the time that it is easier to stay in shape than it is to get into shape. This is what I say to them when they want to quit karate or some other sport that they are involved with. I want them to stay physically fit and not have the uphill battle I have. I have used the current state of my body as an object lesson for them on numerous occasions.

As my children grow they have begun to ask me why I am not doing the physical things that they are. I don’t really have a good reason to give them. I could tell them that it is just so gosh darned hard to keep going when one has the weight on that I do, but so what? Shouldn’t I power through the tough part to get into shape? Of course I should. My kids’ karate instructor tells them all the time that it’s supposed to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt a little then you aren’t doing anything meaningful to improve your body. I agree with him. I’m just not so good at applying the knowledge. Why is that? I suppose “pain compliance” is one answer. I don’t like pain, plain and simple. Trying to get into shape from the condition I am in hurts…and I don’t want to hurt…therefore, I avoid it.

I’m soft. Too soft. For a while I was doing karate with my daughter’s class. I had an incident where I got dizzy and almost passed out. I haven’t been back since. She keeps asking me when I will be back to class. I have taken to telling her when I lose 20 lbs. I want to take off some weight first before trying the karate class again. I do too. I want to take off a bit of weight before I go back. I think that I am not prepared for some of the workouts that we do in class and it’s embarrassing to not be able to keep up.

But worse than being embarrassed is watching my daughter lose her confidence in herself. I feel that my example is a strong lesson in giving up and that is definitely NOT a lesson I want my daughter to learn. When the going gets tough you give up? I don’t think so. She has been talking lately about how she doesn’t really like class and she isn’t really that good anyway. I think that it is a direct result of my example. Sure, there are other factors, but my example of giving up has green-lighted her to give up as well.

I don’t want that for her or any of my children. So how can I walk the walk and not just talk the talk? How can I overcome my desire to avoid pain, my embarrassment and the number of other things that get in my way when it comes to being physically fit? I wish I could say that I was going to, as the Nike commercials say “Just Do It.” That is not realistic for me. I think I will have to take it at the one-class-at-a-time approach. Maybe I can “Just Do It” one time and build on that. You know, like they always say in sports interviews, “I’m going to take this one workout class at a time, I’m not going to look forward. I am just going to focus on this one work out.” Maybe then I can give my kids an example I will be proud of.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Can You Be Tough AND Tender?

Three days ago my youngest child Daniel got a bloody nose while sparring at karate. He happened to be sparring with his older brother Christopher. Christopher threw a roundhouse kick that was supposed to land on Daniel’s helmet. Unfortunately for Daniel Christopher’s aim was a bit off and it landed instead on Daniel’s nose. I didn’t see it happen so I was unsure of how hard Daniel had been hit. What I saw was one little boy whose face had crumpled in tears and a lot of blood. It was the first time this has happened to him so it was a bit dramatic. There were tears both shed and unshed (shed by him, not shed by me) and some blood. At first I thought his mouth was bleeding – his mouth guard (which he was wearing thank goodness) was filled with blood, but there turned out to be no injury to his mouth.

While I was cleaning him up his karate instructor John ran over with a camera and took some snapshots. He said something like, “Excellent. Rite of passage. Now you belong here!” After briefly looking for an ice pack that turned out not to be available, John was back in class. Before he re-entered the dojo he said, “Make sure Daniel leans forward while pinching his nose. You don’t want him to choke on it.”

At first my reaction inside was, “What the hell? Didn’t he belong before?” I was on the cusp of losing my temper, overprotective Mama Bear that I am. But I thought about what John was saying, I looked at my son. I thought, “Daniel seems to be okay. He definitely had his bell rung, but there don’t seem to be a lot of injuries.” While I was definitely absorbed in making sure my little boy was okay, I began to think about how he would be affected by my reaction to what happened. If I overreacted to what happened he would never get back in class.
It was important that he go back to class. We can’t let the things that hurt us and try to tear us down stop us from accomplishing our goals. I had an opportunity to teach Daniel something about resiliency and I wasn’t going to miss it.

With all of the wonderful lessons to be learned by this teachable moment you would think that both Daniel and I left Friday’s karate class feeling on top of the world. The truth is, I feel very conflicted by what happened. Part of me is so proud of my boy because he was able to pull himself together. After stopping the bleeding and cleaning up his face and neck, Daniel re-entered class and continued on business as usual.

What bothers me is that there were no life lessons learned by my other son, Christopher, about empathy and caring for those you love. Not once did he come over to see if Daniel was alright. There were no questions about Daniel and his well-being. Was that because he didn’t care or because he knew we (myself, John and a couple of mothers there) were already taking care of things?

Mental toughness and physical toughness are important things to cultivate in our children. Our children need to learn that adversity will not crush them and that they can choose to learn from life’s bumps and bruises. Christopher impressed me this morning by making the observation that losing is sometimes better than winning because you learn more from losing than you do from winning. This is something that his karate instructors have discussed in the past and it was nice to see that Christopher had internalized that learning.

But what about being kind? Tender? Sensitive? These are things that should be equally valuable in the world. Unfortunately we do not seem to value these characteristics in our children. We tell them to “Man up” or “stop being a baby” when they cry. What about recognizing that there are things that are going to make us cry or bring us to our knees? What about honoring these tender places in our children and teaching them that tenderness or sensitivity doesn’t have to equal defeat?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On Strong Personalities and the Value of Self-Defense

“Chamber that kick Daniel or I’m going to throw you out the window!” A shocking sentence if taken out of context. This (or something similar) is the kind of thing my children frequently hear when they are in karate class. Their instructor has a strong personality, to put it mildly, and he demands the best from them.

My kids are benefitting greatly from that strong personality. Kids need strong adult role models who will tell it to them straight. John, their instructor, does not let them get away with anything. If they are fooling around or not giving 100% effort, he is not afraid to let them know it. He demands they try their hardest in class, that they care, and that they are honest about what they are doing.

The class my children take is difficult. They are expected to do a rigorous program of calisthenics, stretching, sparring and practicing of their forms. There are other things expected of them in class as well. They are expected to bow in to the dojo and bow out. They need to pay close attention when they are being taught a skill – their sensei hates to reteach something that he feels that they would know if they paid close attention when he initially taught them. They need to kneel when their sensei is kneeling, and they must, above all else, show respect for not only their sensei, but any rank that is higher than they are.

I promise that I am not trying to sound like a commercial for the karate studio that my children go to (although if you live in the area and are looking for one let me know. John’s studio IS terrific). What I AM trying to do is to convey how important it is to involve your children in activities that teach them important life lessons. My children are learning about the importance of character, honesty, hard work and commitment. When you work hard at something, you can achieve wonderful things.

Since beginning their karate class I have seen some wonderful things happen for my children. All three of my children are in much better shape physically than they would have been without the class. To varying degrees (depending on their ages and ability to appreciate it) they are more disciplined about their lives and focused when they do things.

Notice that I haven’t said much of anything about trophies or winning tournaments or competitions? That’s not because they haven’t. My children have each won their share of competitions, but they have learned that winning isn’t the most important thing. Learning is. Learning how to handle disappointment when you don’t win, learning how to be graceful whether you win or lose. Paying attention to your opponent and learning from them when you are bested. Learning to be a role model for others. Learning to respect your elders and those who have more skill than you. Learning to put effort and passion into what you do. All of these things are important to learn as you go through life as a person with character and honor.

Let’s face it folks. With all of these wonderful things at the core of what karate is teaching them, my children will be as well-prepared to handle all that life has to offer them as they can be, right? Aside from all the character building that karate has done for them, they are also learning self-defense skills. In a world where we need to create bullying task forces and have anti-bullying campaigns as a staple of our children’s educations, it’s not a bad idea to teach our progeny to defend themselves if necessary. In a world that contains fist fights over what kind of sneakers you wear and date rape, I want my children to be prepared should they be faced with these dangers.

While having the ability to fight if necessary is certainly part of the reason our children are taking karate, the confidence that having these skills instills is equally important. Karate, when taught properly, teaches you to think about the possibilities. When you can do that effectively you often (though not necessarily always) avoid fighting altogether. There is something about carrying yourself with confidence and security that takes you out of a bully’s crosshairs. You can relax and be less defensive. When you are less defensive there are fewer conflicts to worry about.

So if my child’s instructor needs to occasionally yell at them to wake them up and get them participating fully, I’m okay with that.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Friends and Missed Opportunities

This last week has been kind of tough. My friend and neighbor Candace passed away unexpectedly at the age of 66. She was a kind woman who spent her life in service as a nurse. She was married to the same man (my friend Peter) for 41 years and she has two grown children. Both men are good people and I consider myself fortunate to have met them.

When Steve and I first moved in Candace and Peter went out of their way to make us feel welcome in the neighborhood. We were invited to family birthday parties, they made and brought over pizza, and when I was very sick in 2008, they checked in on my in-laws who were watching our kids at the time. They were just as neighborly with them as they were with Steve and I.

Candace was found on her bedroom floor, a victim to a massive heart attack. The last things she had done before passing from this life were to care for her husband. She had ironed his shirts and cleaned the bathroom they used. This was after a day spent with her beloved husband, lunching and laughing. Peter told me they had gone together to have a Chinese food buffet and then come home.

I hope that when it is my time to go, I will have been as giving a person as she was. Candace made sure her boys had what they needed growing up and from all accounts she was just as giving with her friends. At her eulogy today one of her friends recounted about how she visited a friend in the hospital who had a hip replacement she was not satisfied with the traction set up that they had and went about fixing it to ensure this friend healed properly. That was just who she was. She wanted to be sure that those she loved and cared about had what they needed.

I am still in shock that she is gone. It will take a while for me to adjust and I hope that I can be a good friend to my neighbor Peter as he grieves the loss of his wife.

In the same week that this happened, a friend of ours, Steve, had a pons stroke (see http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/ate/seniorshealth/205224.html for a description of a pons stroke). There was a period of time that he could not speak, see or move. What is so shocking about this is that he is just 41. This young father of four children suddenly had his life stop in its tracks. Thank God he is recovering now, but his family needs him and came dangerously close to losing a good man.

His wife Michelle was incredible through everything her family endured. She kept positive for her children and made sure that they were surrounded by loving people while there was such uncertainty about the fate of their father. Would I have the grace under pressure that she does? I don’t know. I hope that if and when it ever becomes necessary I can answer yes.

What I find myself thinking about after the two tragedies this week is relationships. How relationships need nurturing and care to flourish. How easy it can get to rely on others’ understanding of your busy schedule and how in the blink of an eye you can lose any opportunity to let them know how truly special they were to you.

If it sounds like I feel guilty it’s because I do. With both of these relationships Candace and Peter as well as Steve and Michelle I find myself thinking about how time can run out for me to show them how much respect I have for them. I’m left speechless when something like this happens because I haven’t spent time with them to let them know. Thankfully I still have time to express to Steve and Michelle how much their friendship means because he is still with us, but you know what I mean.

I suffer from social awkwardness. I get in a room with someone who is not a family member (and sometimes with family members too) and I don’t know what to do with myself. I find myself worrying if I said the right thing. I worry that I said too much or too little. I never realized this until recently but I avoid social situations sometimes because I am so worried that I will not handle it right.

The cost of this avoidance? I think I miss opportunities to develop relationships to a deeper level than they are. When I am faced with a situation where I need to interact with people I focus too much on what I should say. I want them to know I care and I make it more complicated than it needs to be to show them that care and concern I feel.

What shows you that someone cares about you? Is it a kind word? Their willingness to go out of their way for you? Their follow through on things they have promised? Does the amount of companionship matter to you or do you think that it’s more about the quality of the companionship when you have it?

I’d love to know what it takes to be a friend in your book. Please, comment below if you can take a moment to do so. In the meantime, I have a call to make to a friend. I think we need to go for coffee and just “hang out.”