Sacrificial Judgement ~ The Life of a Sports Parent

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Sports do not build character, they reveal it. – John Wooden

I think it’s safe to say that every parent at some point or another feels overwhelmed. Every parent questions their decisions, their insane schedule and their family’s sacrifices. All of these statements are especially true for sports parents. I haven’t met a youth sports mom or dad that hasn’t sat down at some point and said to themselves, “Is it really worth it? Why are we doing this?”

We have three children who all play travel soccer. They love the sport and have made wonderful friendships along the way. But as they get older I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit feeling guilty more times than not about the time our family commits to this sport. Particularly because of the judgment I feel from other parents or the kids’ peers along this journey. A month hasn’t gone by that at least one person doesn’t criticize us for spending almost every weekday driving the kids to practices and weekends at soccer games/tournaments, most out-of-town. We are often forced to divide and conquer and although we’ve met many families just like us over the years, we’ve come to realize this is not the norm. And it eats me up sometimes.

I have no idea if we’ll regret the choices we’ve made 10 years from now. But what I do know is our kids are happy and confident. Our kids are healthy. And they are genuinely good, respectful and well-mannered kids. Soccer has taken away most of their social lives with classmates or neighborhood friends, most who don’t include them at parties due to their schedules and some who even make fun of their sport or commitment to it. But they also have teammates/friends we’ve all grown to love and cherish, kids who are just like them, kids who share and support their schedules and who’ve been there for them through ups and downs.

Someone asked me recently if I missed having free weekends or wished I could just stay home and live like a “normal” family. Sure I feel like that sometimes. But for us, this insane schedule is our normal. And as much as I complain about driving all over, staying in two-star hotel chains, cheering from the sidelines in the rain, eating out of a crock pot, wiping tears after a bad game or holding a hand during the pain of an injury, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Part of me loves soccer because it keeps our kids busy and out of trouble, which is especially helpful with two teenagers in the house. Soccer has allowed our family to travel all over the country and even overseas. These trips together as a family have been unforgettable. We’ve met so many wonderful families along the way who I know will be our lifelong friends no matter where and when our roads divide. I love soccer because our kids have been forced to learn to communicate with adults and their peers without our guidance from a very young age. They have good time-management skills in order to get their schoolwork done because they know if their grades drop, so does soccer.

But I love soccer mostly because of what John Wooden said. “Sports do not build character, they reveal it”. It’s great to see one of our kids successful on the field, the moment he or she scores the winning goal, has the perfect assist or earns “MVP” of the match. But what’s more impressive is the character of the people they have become. They have learned to be humble when they win and gracious when they lose. They have learned that hard work eventually breeds success and a strong work ethic will get them far in life. They have learned to communicate with difficult teammates or coaches in tough situations. They have learned life isn’t always fair and not every coach or teammate will like them. Their attitudes on and off the field are a direct reflection of the lessons sports have taught them over the years. The good, the bad and the ugly.

I have no idea how long any of our kids will continue soccer. They could quit tomorrow. And that’s ok. But for today I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity each of them have to play this crazy game. So yes…the sacrifice is worth it.

EXPLORE.DREAM.DISCOVER.

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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

 ~ Mark Twain

I can’t think of a better quote to wrap up our daughter’s graduation from middle school this week. I never thought I’d be this emotional about an 8th grade commencement, but I am. I still look at her like she’s 5, we snuggle like she’s 2, and she doesn’t hate me yet, most days. I just can’t imagine our home without her in 4 short years…

There is something rather special about an 8th grade graduation. Some people deem it unnecessary, some laugh at the idea while others like me look at it as a “test run” for high school graduation. I’ve actually been prepping for this day since our daughter’s first “real” graduation from “Little Bugs” class at a local gym when she was 18 months-old. The teachers lined up the wobbly toddlers, painted their hands for memory prints on colored construction paper and gave each a handmade purple graduation cap. Most of the kids tossed the hats off immediately, our daughter ate the tassel. They waddled around for photos as the moms and dads cried tears of laughter, joy and pride. Then we went to breakfast and ate waffles, never in a million years realizing we’d be sitting here 12 years later prepping for this same precious child to walk down the aisle out of middle school and into the halls of high school.

Ugh…

The first half of her 8th grade year I looked at her and thought to myself, “…there is no way this kid is ready for high school, she’s barely hit puberty, she’s still a baby, she’s so naive, she’s never going to survive.” But this Spring semester everything changed. She has had more challenges and obstacles thrown at her both physically and mentally than any 13 year-old deserves. But the beauty of these moments is getting to watch her handle each and every one of those curve balls with ease, confidence and true grace. I look at her differently now and know in my heart I have nothing to worry about as she bridges into high school.

Her room is full of motivational quotes, her phone scattered with inspirational messages, her journal full of dreams and goals most adults have never thought about. And she’s only 13. And she’s going to be fine. In fact, I know in my heart this kid will be more than fine. It’s me who won’t be fine because I know in a small way she doesn’t need me anymore. She’s ready, without holding my hand as she waddles down the aisle, without needing a wink or a nod from me…she’s pulling up her anchor and setting sail into the unknown, uncertain walls of the next four years.

So I’m ready, after years of preparation, to sit and watch our daughter proudly graduate from 8th grade. And I’ll no doubt sob, but I’ll be ok, because in my heart and deep within my soul I know this beautiful, courageous little girl is more than ready to take on the world, propelled forward one wave at a time…to explore, dream and discover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRUSTRATED SUCCESSES

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Frustration = Success

Frustration, although quite painful at times,

is a very positive and essential part of success.

~Bo Bennett

Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.

Bo Bennett

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/bobennett167499.html#6dVBwsI1uGPqmlFS.99

Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.

Bo Bennett

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/bobennett167499.html#6dVBwsI1uGPqmlFS.99

One of the most difficult things I find about parenting is how to comfort and encourage my children when they are frustrated. In the beginning I learned to soothe a colicky infant with long walks or car rides, later calming a screaming toddler by the art of distraction and a bag of M&M’s. As the kids grew older I got really good at (white) lying through my teeth to an unsuspecting five year-old or promising ice cream to make it “all better”. I even got pretty good at convincing the 10 year-old, with positive words and trusting eyes that everything was going to be ok when I knew in my heart it really wouldn’t.

Those tactics and all the parental negotiating tools I developed over the years pretty much went out the window recently. No longer can I convince my children to look at the glass half-full all the time or jump through that new door when the old one they had their heart set on, closed. I often find myself struggling for the right words, or rather the right words at the exact right time to help my frustrated children through the challenges and obstacles of growing up.

But just as we all get frustrated at times, we also learn as we grow up to accept those frustrations and push through coming out a better person on the other side. Or we wallow in our misery and let the sadness engulf our life, each and every minute of every day. I know I’ve been on both ends of that spectrum. I remember vividly the pain and anguish I felt as a young child, teen and young adult when I was faced with struggles or stressful situations I didn’t know how to control. It wasn’t until much later in life I realized these painful times were in fact molding me into the adult woman I have become.

Heart breaks, friendships lost or forgotten, a parent’s divorce, failed interviews or college acceptance letters, a family suicide…all moments in my life that caused great frustration and sadness, anger and disappointment. But looking back, it’s how I reacted to each situation that created the person I am today. We all have regrets, we all wish we could change something at some point in our lives, and it’s ignorant to think my kids won’t make the same mistakes and poor choices along the way. But one thing I do tell them is that they have a choice with every roadblock in their life. It is not possible to ignore or wish away these stumbling blocks but it is our job to choose how we are going to react to each struggle. And it is with that choice that will define the person they will become.

As parents, we can only do so much. But I do hope my kids choose frustrated successes over frustrated failures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAKING MEMORIES COUNT

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Make a memory with your children,

Spend some time to show you care;

Toys and trinkets can’t replace those

Precious moments that you share.

~Elaine Hardt

Each year we travel to a special little place in Florida called Anna Maria Island. Sometimes a few times a year. Growing up in Florida our family hit about every beach but it wasn’t until I was older that I discovered the beauty and peacefulness of AMI.

I’m not sure if AMI is so wonderful because of the memories we’ve created there or because it’s just a cute island set away from the touristy beaches that lie just a few miles south. Either way it seems like every time we leave the island we count the days until we return.

Part of it might be the fact that as our kids get older they don’t have much down time and a week at AMI lets them just be kids. It is also some of the only times all five of us are together for any length of time. I struggle with this a lot. All three kids play competitive travel soccer. Most holiday weekends we spend at tournaments and regular weekends we are often split between three field locations and multiple games. Some in town, some not. And any energy we have at the end of those days goes into keeping up with the house, organizing our life to deal with the logistics for the next week and prepping for upcoming schoolwork and tests.

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching my kids play. And I love that they truly enjoy the game. All three absolutely love their sport and would play more if we let them. But as a mom, our life moves faster and the kids are growing quicker than I ever imagined. We only have our daughter for 4 more years before she’s in college. The thought of the five of us not being together makes me sick to my stomach. And so I took it upon myself a few years ago to make the most out of every vacation and make those memories count.

So…we buy lots of junk food for our trip, have ice cream for breakfast and watch the sunrise on the beach in our pajamas, possibly while eating leftover cold pizza and a mimosa. We hire a captain to take us on a boat for a day to see the beautiful waters and marine life of Florida’s gulf coast. We pack a picnic lunch, jump out to collect sand dollars and net on sand bars for sea urchins. We watch as dolphins swim within feet of us frolicking in the water. We paddle board and kayak through mangroves and bike to the pier to fish and chase seagulls. We stay on the beach until the sun sets and snuggle up in bed to watch movies until way after all of our bedtime, falling asleep in our bathing suits and saltwater hair. We bring a volleyball, paddle tennis, frisbees, footballs and kites. And still yet someone always sneaks in a few soccer balls. But we play and we laugh and we forget about our hectic life and the crazy routine we’ll see much too soon.

It might not be much, but AMI is our little piece of paradise. Not because of the gorgeous sunsets, white sand beaches or crystal blue water…but because paradise is where my family is and those are the memories that count.

 

 

 

 

 

Tears, Turbulence & Triumph…

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I haven’t written a blog post in a while. I find plenty of excuses why I’m too busy to sit down and write. I guess I needed the push I got tonight from my kids to sit still for 10 minutes and jot down my thoughts.

It all started with a discussion after dinner about LENT. The kids were asking each other what they were giving up. What started as a discussion about sacrifice quickly turned into fights between brothers and sister questioning their choices. “You’re giving up your I-touch for 40 days? Yeah right! You’ll just sneak onto the I-Pad.” “Are you serious, you can’t give up Instagram, you take too many selfies!” “Like you’re really going to give up sweets, you have a stash of Halloween candy under your bed you liar!”

Although I gave up yelling for Lent, I quickly blew that one listening to the chaos. Do they not understand what Lent is about? They go to Catholic school, we go to church, we pray together, we talk about our faith. We are definitely not the perfect Christian family but why weren’t they getting “it”?

Then it hit me. Because they’re kids.

What followed was a conversation I wasn’t ready for…the first time any of my kids have seriously questioned their faith. My daughter says to me, “Why should I believe in God when everything that he’s done to me this week has been horrible?” She did have a really tough week so I can understand her reasoning. She had a massive vomiting migraine episode lasting two days that left her feeling terrible just in time for her school soccer team to head to their championship game. Her 8th grade year and last time playing for her school. The finals game at the end of an undefeated season. Although she bravely tried to make it through she just wasn’t well enough to play which broke her heart. To make matters worse she fell and hit her head hard on the turf during the game in the few minutes she tried to play and had to be rushed to the ER where she was diagnosed with a probable mild concussion.

So I get it. I completely understand why she’s ticked off at God.

Then my 12 year-old son says, “Yeah, sometimes I don’t know if God is real, it’s really hard to believe in someone you can’t see.” My youngest pipes in next, “You guys are crazy, he is totally real!”

Ok, my eight year-old gets it. I paused for a minute, not knowing what to say to the older kids. How do I change my daughter’s frustrated tears and my son’s turbulent faith into triumph?

I shared with them my faith journey, how many hills and valleys I met along the way. How questioning our faith only makes it stronger and that faith is so much bigger than the eye can see. It’s not just about God, the bible and the saints. It’s about believing in something bigger than us, trusting that there is a plan for each and every one of us and ultimately we are blindly following the path whether we like it or not.

I told them bad things will happen along the way, as will good. Some will have explanations, most will not. Everything will seem unfair at times and once in a while we’ll get a break and be on top of that hill just in time to fall into another valley.

I had my iPhone on my lap at the time. I glanced down for a minute because I felt like I wasn’t getting through to them. Then I saw a song title on my phone’s music playlist. “Open the eyes of my heart”. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

Forget your head, the analytical thinking and practical rational. Forget your eyes because faith is not something you will ever be able to see. The only thing you need to do is simply open your heart, and believe everything will be ok and everything happens for a reason even in our darkest moments.

The good, the bad, the tears and turbulence…eventually the triumphs will surpass them all.

EVERY MOMENT…THANK GOD

Alex praying

Happy Moments…Praise God, Difficult Moments…Seek God.

Quiet Moments…Worship God, Painful Moments…Trust God.

Every Moment…Thank God. ~Author Unknown

As we back out of the driveway each weekday for school at 7:15am it’s mad chaos. You’ll hear typical morning arguments between siblings or the panicked voice of a kid who forgot their lunchbox, homework or one shoe. You’ll hear the “too-cool” teen who woke up on the wrong side of the bed and is annoyed by anything and everything her brothers’ say or do. You might catch a snide remark or two from the middle child but lately he’s decided not to talk to anyone on the morning car ride because he knows he won’t have anything positive to say because he’d rather be in bed. And you can’t miss the little guy who is my bubbly, could care less, no worries, be happy kind of kid who really gets on everyone’s nerves as he belts out random Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars tunes from the backseat.

As you can imagine, the 15 minute car ride to school five days a week can get draining, for all four of us. You’re probably sitting there thinking, “I can relate. You are not alone!” So early on I decided we needed a morning ritual for the dreaded drive, something to calm all of our nerves and put us in the right frame of mind to start our day.

Thinking back, I think it was my youngest who was in PK at the time who actually came up with the idea, so I can’t really take credit for this one. He had gotten tired of the arguing one morning and piped up from the back and said, “Why is everybody yelling? We love each other and we’re a family, you’re all hurting my ears.” From that moment on I knew I had to do something.

So I asked my son what he thought we should do. He responded, “Maybe we should pray.” We’d never really prayed before as a family other than at church or at bedtime, or if we remembered before dinner. But we decided to give it a shot. At first we said the typical prayers we all knew. The kids took turns leading and asked for “special intentions” at the end. Not only was it quiet for once in the car, but the kids were hearing things they didn’t know about each other. They started asking for help with their struggles, guidance with their challenges and strength for their fears. Had this small daily ritual actually brought them closer?

Reality check…they’re still kids. Suddenly I found them rushing through the prayers to get to the intentions to ask for an “A” on a math test, to win the soccer game, or to get nominated for school office. I was guilty too, asking for things, and forgetting to be thankful.

This morning inspired me to share this quote and our story. Today was one of those days where the kids were asking for everything. They were asking for help to get good grades this week, to win the middle school tournament game, and to make the week go by fast so we’re that much closer to the school’s fall festival. I let them finish then said, “Maybe it would be nice for us to stop asking God for things and actually thank him. Just thank him. Not make any requests at all today. Just tell him we’re thankful for all our blessings.”

Blank stares, silent car.

I continued on my motherly rant, because, why not? No one’s stopping me.

You should be thankful because…You are healthy, for now. You are happy, today. You are loved, very much. You have gifts and talents, where many children do not. You are smart, without much struggle. You are beautiful, inside and out, even if you don’t think you are. You are blessed, you are fortunate, you are loved. So yeah, you do need to be more grateful and stop focusing on the things that don’t really matter in life. So what if you have good grades, win every game or become the most popular kid in your class? All of those things don’t matter if you’re sick, alone, disabled, poor, burdened, or miserable. So be thankful, for all of life’s blessings today and every day. Never take for granted what might not be there tomorrow.

Still quiet in the car.

Middle child finally pipes up. “So does this mean that we can’t ask for things in prayer from now or can we say a couple things we’re thankful for and then ask for something we need?”

Sure son. Whatever you want to do is fine with me.

That’s what I get for trying to teach a life lesson. I should have known.

COURAGE CALL

Courage does not always roar.

Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying…

“I will try again tomorrow”

~Mary Anne Radmacher

Meow. That’s about all the roar I have in me some days. Sure, being courageous means standing strong, hanging tough and showing steadfast faith during trying times, but being brave can also be hard when we feel like we’re at wit’s end and all hope is gone. Whether it’s a tragedy in our family, a job loss, a health crisis, a marriage on the rocks…or any of the large, medium or small issues we face in this world, let’s be honest…it is REALLY hard to be courageous a lot of the time!

We’ve all had one of those days, weeks, months, even years where we just can’t seem to get it together. When one door closes another door doesn’t open, in fact we get multiple slams in our face day after day. We long for the light at the end of the tunnel or the shooting star to kick-start our faith. But it never comes. And we wait. Patiently at first, then when we realize all hope might be lost, we crumble. It’s at those times in our lives where we have nothing else to do but find that inner strength, that call for courage so we can face each waking moment.

I love this quote because it’s a wonderful reminder for all of us but especially appropriate when talking to children. When my kids are struggling with something my advice is usually, “Keep your chin up, lean on God and stay strong. Be courageous!” But we all know how tough that is to do. If we as adults can’t find our way most days how in the world do we expect our kids to do the same?

You know what? I don’t think there is an answer. I really don’t think it’s possible to be that perfect parent who is encouraging and motivating and loving and kind all wrapped up into one absolutely insanely courageous individual, at least on a consistent basis. No, it’s not physically possible. Unless you’re super mom or dad and if so, congratulations, your award is in the mail.

I think next time my kids face a closed-door or barricade on the road, I think I’ll pay better attention to their roar or whimper and just be the quiet voice whispering in their ear… “No worries honey, tomorrow will be a better day. Tomorrow you can be courageous. And if not, there’s always the next day and the next and the next. And you know what? It’s going to be ok because you are loved.”

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

It is thought that children acquire language to tell the story that is already in them.

~Anonymous

We all have a story to tell and add chapters to our book each day. As parents, we share excerpts from our own pages through the years. We tell our kids about ups and downs, shining moments and difficult times, our accomplishments and disappointments. Sometimes we leave out a chapter or share the edited version only. Either way, our story is unique to each of us and how it’s written is our own personal choice.

My husband and I often tell our kids it’s up to them to create their own story. We remind them God already has their tale mapped out but it is their job to tell it. We ask them how they want their book to read, what they want it to say and remind them there will be good and bad chapters with many in between.

When our children step on the field or court for a game, we ask them what kind of chapter they want to write today. When they face an academic challenge, we remind them this is part of their story. When they don’t do well on a test, we point out there will be another chapter soon where they ace an exam or earn honor roll status. When they are faced with bigger life decisions we encourage them to make choices based on their book. Will they make poor choices which inevitably have consequences, or make the right choice and possibly lose friends or face hardships? Words can’t be erased from our book, white-out won’t cover our mistakes nor can we tear out pages and pretend they don’t exist.

So when the day is done and our kids have lived their life, I hope they proudly share their story with their own children. The big bad wolf, the pot of gold and all the trips up the hill to fetch pails of water in between.

BOYS. Frogs, Snails & Puppy Dog Tails

boys 2Why God Made Little Boys

~Author Unknown

God made the world out of His dreams
Of magic mountains, oceans and streams,
Prairies and plains and wooded land,
Then paused and thought,

“I need someone to stand…
On top of mountains, to conquer the seas,
Explore the plains and climb the trees.
Someone to start out small and to grow,
Sturdy, strong as a tree…” And so,

He created boys, full of spirit and fun,
To explore and conquer, to romp and run.
With dirty faces and banged up chins,
With courageous hearts and boyish grins.
When He had completed the task He’d begun
He surely said “A job well done”.

I will never forget the day my first son was born. I heard, “It’s a BOY!” and remember a rush of joy fill my body followed shortly by a jolt of fear. I had no clue what to do with a boy. I have one sibling, a sister. I already had a daughter. I knew every princess name, the best ballet studio and where to buy a frilly dress but I knew absolutely nothing about raising boys. And the thought of messing it up completely overwhelmed me.

I quickly learned how much my life would change by having a son. Not one, but now the mother of two amazing little men, I have learned to catch lizards, build forts and do a perfect cannonball. I have learned to ask big questions and be happy with small answers. I now know little things really don’t matter and it’s ok to make mistakes. They showed me anything can wait when it’s time to snuggle and say goodnight, and everything in life can be easier, more fun and less stressful if you slow down, stop taking everything so seriously and learn to get muddy and jump in puddles.

My boys, now 11 and 8 are growing up faster than the race cars they point out to me on the road. But one thing has never changed…their love for me. Never in a million years would I imagine having a “mama’s boy” adore me, but now I’m blessed to have two. They are truly the sweetness and joy of each day even when they drive me nuts. They are definitely more physically demanding, run me ragged, complacent with school work and argue over taking showers and brushing teeth, but there is something so simple about a little boy’s black and white mind that doesn’t hold grudges, resolves conflict quickly and never takes life too seriously.

My life truly is sweeter with little boys…frogs, snails, puppy-dog tails and all.

NOT SO LITTLE GIRLS

IMG_5243I can remember the very moment our eyes met, the smell of her breath, the rush of nausea but absolute euphoria running through my body. She was my first. And she was a girl. And all I could think of was how much guilt and remorse I felt for anything and everything I put my own mother through over the years. I called my mom right away.  “I finally get it! I love you so much! I get it mom! I’m so sorry for everything. I love you so much mom!”

From that point forward I knew my roller coaster of parenthood, particularly with a little princess, would not be smooth sailing. I knew the obstacles we would face, the battles that would ensue, but I also knew the connection I was responsible for building. The mother/daughter bond I wanted so desperately to share with her from that first rush of sweet baby smell.

Looking back, the first years that seemed so difficult were actually the easiest. If given the option, some days I would trade being thrown up on, drag a wailing toddler out of a store, or stay up all night with an inconsolable newborn for parenting a 13-year-old girl. She is no longer little, neither are the problems or the difficulties she will face.

Those of you with older girls understand. The physical needs that drain us as parents in the early years are no match to the emotional needs that come later. Nothing can possibly prepare you for your daughter’s first bully, a learning or medical concern, their first heart-break or their first “real” problem they have to work out on their own because you know that’s the only way they will truly learn the life skills needed to survive in this world.

No one prepares you for the times where you honestly don’t know what to say to make things better. You can’t just grab a band-aid or a bag of M&M’s and make all her problems disappear.

We can’t even rely heavily on the advice of our own parents because they didn’t have the joy of guiding children through Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat and all the other social media outlets we don’t even know about.

So yeah, it’s scary. And most days I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. But I do know a few things. When I parent with the right balance between little and big girl, life is good. When I can remember to be firm but loving she responds. When I let her be independent but cautiously stand by in case she falls she thrives. When I show her respect but demand the same, she gets it. And when I hold her, even when I think she doesn’t want me to, she still collapses into my arms and doesn’t let go.

Sure there are plenty of self-help books about raising girls, I’ve probably read them all. But trust me, there is no manual. We are in the driver’s seat with a permit and it’s our job to pass the test. No, there isn’t an instructor with a clip board documenting each mistake we make along the road, those check marks are confined to our own critical minds. So relax, your “not so little girl” will turn out ok. One day at a time, several baby steps later.

And when all else fails SMILE because…

“Raising girls is like nailing jello to a tree.” ~ Author Unknown