Friday, April 30, 2010
Big Sprout, our almost-ten-year-old, took up the violin this year. He worked through frustrations to learn some difficult pieces, and although he wasn't begging to practice every day, he would. His end-of-the-year concert was last night, and it was a much better performance than their mid-year show. You could actually hear the melody in the songs and the synchronization was better, but since the kids were fourth, fifth and sixth graders, it was to be expected that they were often playing at conflicting rhythms. I had heard the violin part practiced so much, that I knew exactly what they were supposed to be playing, and they were. The problem was that they were so focused on their own notes that they weren't listening to the other instruments, or each other, to gauge whether they were in harmony.
That is an indication of the age of this group, and I get that. As they get older they will be less intent on reading their own notes and they will hear how what they play fits into a larger piece. That is a cool thing to hear. When large bands go marching down a parade-route or around a football stadium, it is goosebump-worthy music. An ensemble of orchestra-members who play together seamlessly is awe-inspiring. I just wish more of life looked like the harmonized musicians.
If you've read my blog for a while you know that we are a sporting family. My husband and I are college coaches and our kids are really active on sports teams. We encourage them to play on teams for the same reasons I love harmonized music. There is something so amazing about the achievements of a group of people who come together with their own individual talents to work toward a common goal. Harmonizing for a group of athletes is messy business.
More and more, kids who play sports are only watching their own notes. Their parents are only listening to their kid's version of the song, and it is harder and harder to get a group to play in harmony. The concern seems to be about how good an individual can get at a particular sport, or how an individual can garner awards and recognition. With all that individual focus the TEAM harmony is lost and the music is just noise. It's easy to hear when kids are off while playing a musical piece, but harder to see when a team doesn't quite have its groove.
Growing up, I played on some really good teams. I also played on some teams that had really great players who did not play so great together. The teams that found harmony, despite a lack of individual talent, did better than the teams that had the all-stars. We may not have sounded that great solo, but together, we made great music, and that group sounded better than I ever did alone.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I lost to Big Sprout in an arm-wrestling match last night. No, I should say, Big Sprout beat me at an arm-wrestling match. The worst part is that I was actually trying. I have had head-knowledge that this day would eventually come, but even expectation has not prepared me for the inevitable. The passing of time is marked well by the growth of our kids.
All of my kids seem a lot bigger than they did a year ago. One magical thing about the seasonal lives that we live, is that I can mark the changes from year to year when my husband leaves for his job. This year is no exception, but the growth that has happened seems even more significant than past years. It has been a big growing year for the sprouts. Physically they have all grown close to two inches, but the emotional maturity, which is sometimes harder to measure, has been profound. The transition to life without Pappa Sprout has gone amazingly well this year, and they are recognizing how they can help with him gone, rather than continually show how sad they are.
It is a far cry from what this house looked like five years ago when Pappa Sprout left for the summer. Five years ago, Littlest Sprout was seven months old, Middle Sprout was three and Big Sprout was five. Only Big Sprout was in school, and well, you can imagine what the day looked like with two really small kids at home all day. They didn't quite understand where daddy was, and there was not an easy way to explain it to them. The daily child-maintenance was intense, and I had not yet found my own niche to de-stress. We were trying to sell a house that we had purchased to fix-and-flip, and I was overwhelmed at times with all the responsibilities. None of the kids were at an age to help, and it felt like I was going to be in that stage forever.
My favorite memory of that year was the night Big Sprout lost to me in a round of "PIG" on a little basketball court. He didn't quite know how to deal with his anger about dad being gone, and losing to mom at a game was what threw him over the edge. He threw a basketball across the street, screaming at me, and then spent the entire car ride home yelling, "I hate you poopy lady! You are the poopiest lady I know!" He ran away to the neighbors fence to commune with the cows for a bit, but he eventually calmed down enough to go to bed.
I remember how distraught I was. I had so little energy to be the parent that I knew he needed, and it felt like it was never going to end. That stage for him has most certainly ended. He walked himself to the bus stop yesterday, when I had to leave a few minutes early to take Middle Sprout to physical therapy. He sets his alarm on his watch at the basketball court so that he can come home in time for dinner, and he takes seriously his dad's instructions to be the "man of the house". Middle Sprout has grown up a ton too. She is turning into the helpful young lady that I knew she could be. She gave Littlest Sprout her shower yesterday and has taken on her chores with gusto. I am grateful for the adjustment of the big sprouts, because Littlest Sprout simply follows their lead. However, this growth is both a blessing and a curse.
Part of me is glad that the never-ending little kid stage has passed, but another part of me is really sad that it has gone so quickly. In five more years, Big Sprout will be fifteen, Middle Sprout will be thirteen and Littlest Sprout will be nine. I anticipate that the struggles will be real, but very different. I may hardly feel aged at all, but the sprouts will be. If I've learned anything from the seasonal reminders of how quickly these kids change, it is that I need to appreciate them no matter what stage they are in, because it too will pass.... and probably before I am ready.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
A lot has happened in the last three weeks, but most notably is the fact that I didn't have a whole lot of time to sit down and write about it. A number of experiences could have easily turned into full-blown blog posts, but instead they have simply become snippets of memory. Here we go...
Dear Mr. Wisconsin State Patrolman,
You looked awfully snazzy when you pulled me over on that highway. Your hat was effectively stiff, your uniform ironed and pressed, and those manners....who can say enough about those manners. You did your job well. I could hardly argue with you about the fact that I was driving that much over the speed limit, and you were too professional in your delivery of my citation that I didn't get to tell you that I was trying to get home to take my daughter to preschool. You should have been more emotional and then maybe I could have mustered up some moving tears. Instead you politely sent me on my way. I hope to never see you again.
Happy for some tax return money, but sad to give it right back to Wisconsin
Dear Littlest Sprout,
We love listening to you sing, and for the most part we think the four-year-old version of your lyrics are great. We had a little meeting yesterday and we have decided that we should really censor you a little bit. It is probably not appropriate that you sing, "Ho, ho, ho be a lady" instead of "whoa oh oh be a lady". It might offend some hoes. You should maybe go back to singing PINK... you know her lyrics a lot better.
Your Biggest Fans
Dear Head Lice,
How nice it was for you all to come and visit our home. I know that you were bored staying on the heads of the little classmates at the sprouts' school, and I completely understand your choice to hitch a ride on middle sprouts' head. She does have a pretty nice head. I'm sorry that we had to attack you that way. Please don't take it personally. If the nurse hadn't directed us to go on a hunt-and-destroy mission, you would likely still be living comfortably. If any of you are still hanging out in there...your days are numbered, and tell all your little friends that as pleasant as that head of hair looks...it is hell on earth for your kind.
Mom turned ape-bug-seeker (no eating involved)
You rock! Your outfits are amazing, and what is that perfume you wear? You have been incredibly generous to the Midwest this year. More sun than rain, more warm temperatures than cold, and an awesome early display of sprouting life. I'm not sure how you have managed to keep the bugs sleeping, but I'm grateful. It makes up for past wet and soggy springs, and it makes this washed out weekend acceptable. Keep it coming.
Grateful Sun Lover
Dear Dirty Bathroom,
Please stop yelling at me!! I know you need a good cleaning, and I will get to you today. Haven't you noticed, when I look in your mirror, those ridiculously dark circles under my eyes? Haven't you made note of the fact that I've been squinting at you at 4:15 in the morning? That's too early for people to be up. So when I should be massaging your counter with cleanser and brushing your toilet with vigor, I have been sawing logs. I promise to be more attentive...if you promise to stay clean!!!
Almost Fully-Rested Maid
You suck! Although littlest sprout thinks you are gorgeous and she brings a few of you to me every day, and then of course I must place you in a small flower vase, I want you to know that I loathe you. Can't you see that we don't want you? That aeration was not intended for you. Those seeds we threw down are meant to crowd you out, and when I go around pulling you from the root, I hope you sense the seething anger in my heart. I don't want you in my yard. I'm sorry if you got some mixed messages because I blew so many of your seeds around when I was a kid....I didn't know what I was doing!
The Budding Gardener
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
An unfathomable admission, but apparently possible. It's amazing to think that, after conception, what happens during a pregnancy is so involuntary for both the mother and the baby. An embryo can gestate for nine months, without parental intervention, and come out a full-term baby. Of course it is not advisable for the mom to remain clueless about that additional life, and to keep living like nothing is happening, but life is possible outside of awareness.
I don't think most humans like to simply succumb to the involuntary miracles that make up the human condition. We are control freaks. We want to manage and micro-manage and configure our lives. We are the only living thing on the planet that exhibits this level of manipulation. I am struck by the power of the human mind to attain the level of control that it does. We are a conscientious bunch, and with intellectual awareness comes an innate desire to keep at bay all the habits that might remind us that we are a miraculous animal. There are a number of human experiences that are involuntary, but with age and the right training you can teach yourself to stifle the involuntary reactions that are purely human. It comes down to goosebumps, crying and laughter.
A number of animals get goose bumps. There are theories about the use of a goosebump, but the general consensus is that the animals who have fur rise on the back of their neck when threatened are responding involuntarily with goosebumps to a "flight or fight" scenario. Porcupines offer the best example. The raised fur warns the enemy and triggers an appropriate reaction in the fur-owner, plus it realigns the fur to better protect it during a potential attack.
Human goosebumps happen in similar times, although not necessarily at a level to alert a predator. We get goosebumps when we are scared and cold and generally when we need to make a decision to stay and fight or to run for it. I am fascinated by the fact that I could not find a scientific explanation for why we get goosebumps when we hear that high note in the "Star-Spangled Banner" or while we are watching a mind-blowing display of athleticism. That is a purely human phenomenon. I do think, however, you have to be open to letting yourself feel the emotionally-driven goosebumps. With body language of crossed arms and a stoic attitude, I am certain you don't get the full pleasure of an episode of goosebumps.
Similarly, emotional crying can be controlled. Most men have taught themselves to keep from tearing up when they see something moving, and although women cry more, with enough effort they can remain dry-eyed too. One of my favorite scenes in the move City of Angels happens between a perplexed angel (Seth) and a human doctor played by Meg Ryan (Maggie) as they talk about the reasons people cry.
- Seth: Why do people cry?
- Maggie: What do you mean?
- Seth: I mean... what happens physically?
- Maggie: Well... umm... tear ducts operate on a normal basis to lubricate and protect the eye and when you have an emotion they overreact and create tears.
- Seth: Why? Why do they overreact?
- Maggie: [pause] I don't know.
- Seth: Maybe... maybe emotion becomes so intense your body just can't contain it. Your mind and your feelings become too powerful... and your body weeps.
The doctor's initial description of crying explains what happens physically, but it doesn't explain the why. Crying happens for lots of reasons, but the emotional tears are reserved for humans. Crying out of pain happens for all sorts of animals...including people. Emotional crying, however, does not happen for other animals the way it does for humans. We cry when we are happy and when we are sad, and often when we are fatigued or stressed. Stress and sleep deprivation knock down defenses, and I have seen that firsthand the last few weeks. I am more run down, my hands get cracked and dry from eczema, my body retains water and cortisol, and I can just tell that I am off. When I am stressed and tired, I cry sooner too...because I cannot control myself.
As I've gotten older, I have learned to tap into that emotional crying weakness more often. Scientists may not know why we cry when we are emotional, both ecstatic and devastated, but they do know that there are positive reasons why we should let ourselves do it. The body releases harmful toxins when it cries, and they have found that those people who allow themselves to cry more often have fewer ulcers and other stress-related problems. So my response to my 9-year-old boy when he tells me that I cry too much, "Oh honey, you're just jealous."
Then we laugh.
We laugh at the unexpected and the surprises and the silly. We all know how great it feels to have a laugh-until-you-cry-and-then-almost-pee-your-pants session, yet there are still the reserved among us who can only muster up a chuckle. Belly-laughs leave you vulnerable, and it is scary to think you are the only one who may laugh that hard, but with the known health benefits of a good laugh, how can you sit quietly? Laughter reduces stress hormones and increases the level of positive hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters. People who are able to see the humor in a potentially stressful situation have been more successful in recovery from trauma, illness and injury. Laughter is so good.
It all is. All of those things that are innately human and involuntary need to stay that way. We need to let ourselves be our own natural best. To cry when we need to cry, to laugh when we need to laugh and to notice the goosebump moments and embrace them. The burst of human emotion are such miraculous gifts that we have no right to try to control them. So sign me up for everything involuntary.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
"Your college decision is not permanent," I lie. "If things don't work out, you can always change your mind."
It's true that high school seniors can eventually transfer if the initial college they choose turns out to be a bad choice, but I think I may have underestimated the permanence of that first big adult decision. It's April, and this is the month that many of the soccer recruits I have come to know over the last six months are making a final decision about where they will be attending college next fall. When I was a senior in high school, I knew well before April that I was going to go to Colorado College, but what I didn't know was that Colorado College was going to become such a permanent part of who I am.
For those of you who are not CC alums, you may not fully appreciate what it is to live on a block plan, but let me try to explain. Students at CC take one class at a time. The class lasts for 3 1/2 weeks and for minimally 3 hours Monday through Friday. It is an intense way to digest a semesters' worth of material, but the focus is on one thing at a time, and thus one final at a time. When the class is done, there is a Block Break that lasts from Thursday through Sunday, and then the next block starts. Students take 8 blocks a year, although there are some classes that are two concurrent blocks long. It is definitely not your typical college semester-plan, and I'm starting to realize that it has sculpted everything about my life.
Yes, I met my husband there, and of course the children who have joined us are a bi-product of our marriage, so undoubtedly my time at CC started the family that is now my life. I do think, however, that the block plan style of living has had an even deeper impact on the way we operate. We're still on the block plan...it's just a much larger version of it.
Our life on a yearly basis is made up of three blocks and a block break. At the end of this month we will start the longest and hardest block of the year. From May through September, my husband is intensely focused on his "Work Block". He runs Renaissance Festivals, and that means that he leaves home to head back to Colorado for the summer and Pittsburgh in the fall. Because of that, I have had to adapt, and that part of the year is my "Single-Parent Block". As the kids have grown, it has become easier, but it is still an intense block for all of us. We do eventually join my husband in Colorado, but the intensity of his job is not conducive to much family time.
I have to say, however, that I have also been able to immerse myself in my writing during the "Husband-Working Block". When my husband is home, I want nothing more than to hang out with him regularly and laugh often. When he is gone, I shut myself up in my room and I don't feel guilty about spending hours writing.
Block two starts when we return from Colorado. This block includes my work, and unfortunately overlaps the Pittsburgh section of block one, but it is a truly enjoyable part of my year. It is the intense college soccer season for the team I coach, and that lasts from mid-August through mid-November. There is an intense need for childcare coordination and scheduling, but it has gotten easier with practice.
Once the "Husband-Working Block" and the "Wife-Coaching Block" are done, we head into the "Freezing Hockey Block." That third block is when my husband telecommutes for his real job and coaches college hockey in the afternoons. He and I can do regular breakfasts, workout during the day and then get the kids shuffled everywhere they need to go. All three of the kids want to skate and play next year, so that block will be busy with ice rinks, and frozen ponds, skate-sharpenings and practices. It is my favorite block of the year.
Then there is Block Break...Frank style. When the "Freezing Hockey Block" is over, we have some time in March before my spring season and before my husbands' departure. Just like in college, we absolutely make the most of our block breaks!
It is definitely not the typical household, but just like CC, atypical can be great. We soak up the variety that each block brings, and we have the luxury of saying that the block will eventually end. We trudge through those blocks that are difficult because we know they are not going to last forever. We can see the new block on the horizon and the block break out in the distance. It is not a lifestyle that suits everyone, but what I wonder is whether my husband and I would live like this had we not made the decision to attend CC? Who am I kidding...if either of us had chosen not to go to CC, we never would have met, and I can hardly fathom what my life would be like. College decision... schmollege decision. It doesn't really matter, right!?!
Monday, April 12, 2010
It had to have been easier for him, right? Shakespeare was able to simply embrace his genius and worry about writing. For him it was about the quill and ink, the storytelling and characters and getting the plays ready to present on stage as soon as possible. He didn't have to build an online platform, upload scenes on youtube, twitter his mind-blowing tweets in less than 120 characters, update his status regularly on facebook, or religiously follow the blog posts of fellow writers.
I envy him.
Sure, it would have been hard to have had to write everything by hand. To pore over each letter in hopes that the ink would outlast the creative inspiration and that the wick of the candle would burn the entirety of a writing session. He may not have had internet or word processing to ease the process, but he had the glorious experience of complete immersion in the presentations of his writing. The plays were written, sometimes collaboratively with other poets, sometimes with scenes that had been changed the day of a performance, but always with words as the center. It is no longer an option for the modern writer.
If he were around today, I do wonder how Shakespeare would handle the modern media battle.Would he be writing poetry or screenwriting for the next blockbuster? Would his work be presented on stage or online? Would he find his niche with novels or would he be satisfied with regular blog posting? I wonder. I suppose what is most interesting is the fact that a man who has been dead since 1616 has over 35,000 fans on his facebook fan page. He is popular and his writing is read all over the world. Not because he is good at building an online profile and not because he navigates the web well. Shakespeare is still popular because the writing is genius and the words will eternally retain their power.
In line with how Shakespeare has always inspired me, I did a little experiment this weekend. I went back to my poetry...the hand-written kind, and I made an attempt (albeit a rather poor one) to voice what I think Shakespeare might say today. To all of you well-read Shakespeare experts, I apologize for my hack job, and yes, I know it is not in pentameter. My computer was acting up...while the tv blared in the background...and my cell phone was ringing off the hook. Next time I'll pull out the quill and ink, light a candle and unplug everything.
'Tis greater to be fanned than to be followed
Though both give needed weight to labored words.
At night I toil with quill and pen to save them;
Ideas...some profound and some absurd.
I am but a mere blink if no one knows me.
If stories go unheard...have they been told?
'Tis not that I can help but try to tell them;
The stories of the meek... the wild... the bold.
The words; they are the true unfailing comrads
For them I'll suffer through what I must do.
To upload scenes onto the youtube webpage
To tweet and link and blog...I'll suffer through.
But know the words are why I'll often visit,
The pages and the words from friend and foe.
'Tis how I know my life's been lived with meaning
And where I'll put the words and let them go.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Women are masochistic! Think about all the things we do in the name of beauty. High heels are the most ridiculous foot accessory. Not only can you not do any sports in them, but I for one, can hardly walk! Then there is the waxing. I do pluck (my eyebrows), so I can put up with small amounts of pain, but the thought of the full brow waxing or the upper lip rip...ahh! Don't get me started on the bikini wax. I start to well up a little bit just thinking about it! Botox, implants, make-up tattoos, piercings, laser hair removal, and liposuction are all part of the full transformation, and I'm not sure I'm up for it.
I'm starting to wonder if I might have gotten into the game just a little too late. Maybe if I had started in heels as a five-year-old, I would be able to play sports in them by now. If I had done child beauty pageants instead of soccer tournaments I would know how to apply make-up, accessorize effectively and walk like a lady. Can you teach an old tomboy new girlie girl tricks? Maybe, but I am finally declaring that I may not want to be as girlie as the girliest of girls.
As a result of these revelations, I have come up with a spectrum of girliness, and my new goal is to just move further down the scale knowing that I am NEVER going to reach the pinnacle.
I hope I will eventually land somewhere between girl and girlie girl. I enjoy so many of the things that girlie girls do. Manicures, pedicures and massages rock. I enjoy having someone do my hair, and one of my new favorite things to do is sit and chat while femininely sipping my coffee. I do hope, however, that I'll start to enjoy shopping. I hate to shop, but I know that in order to move up the girlie scale, I am going to need to improve my look with newly purchased items. I just know that I don't want to spend money on something that brings me pain. While I may actually try the eyebrow and lip waxing, I am doubtful that I will adopt any other pin-pricking activities. I am admittedly just a little too wimpy. I guess it helps that I have a standing date with someone who will take me out in sweats and a baseball cap or in heels and a dress. For him, and for me, I still feel compelled to make subtle improvements so that when I do put on the heels, I actually look like I know what I am doing.
Being a girl is hard, adopting a girlie girl lifestyle is harder, but as a self-described tomboy, I am too stubborn to give up. There is lots of work left to do, but the process has been both fun and eye-opening, and I will of course keep you updated
Monday, April 5, 2010
Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California- Berkley has discovered, through her research, that young children learn more from each other than they do from structured adult instruction. Her assertion is that a child's brain is wired to develop through free play, and when adults intervene with that process they are actually stunting the growth of the kids.
So, now I have something to cling to when I get the glaring I'm-a-better-mom-than-you looks when I take my kids to the playground. I let my kids play. I let them fight (argue) with each other and occasionally with the other kids they meet. They know better than to come whining to me, because my usual response is..".you guys work it out." They have my permission to come get an adult opinion if they have tried all of their strategies first, and there is no middle ground. I let them lose when they are playing games, and if there is an element that they cannot scale on their own, I will often tell them that if they can't get up it...it wasn't meant for them. I let them make the mistakes that Gopnik argues they are wired to experience. She has found that the mistakes and the freedom are what makes the connections for kids in their development. Who knew that the experts were the kids themselves?
I've never really been that parent who jumps in and controls a playground conversation, and I have occasionally been annoyed by the hovering parent who does. I want to tell them, "they'll work it out, just give it a second." Now I know that those parents who jump in are taking a chance to learn away from my kids, and I wonder if I might have to get up off my observatory post to say something; not to the kids, but to the parents. I hope not! As long as there are no punches being thrown and the rocks stay where they are supposed to be, there is no real need for adult involvement, and I hope the word gets out to all the adults that we have scientific permission to get back to hanging on the outskirts. The kids have got it. They'll be fine...no, better than fine...all they need is for us to get out of their way. They need to play, and we need to let them.
Friday, April 2, 2010
It has been a glorious three weeks...okay, I'm lying a little, but it has been a pretty good break with the three sprouts home from school, Pappa Sprout done with hockey, and some time to actually bond as a family. There have been snippets of experiences that I felt would be best shared in short letter format, so here it goes...
Dear Pappa Sprout,
I love that you love to do projects, and those stairs to the dock look absolutely amazing. I do wish you would have warned me, however, that I would feel like my heart was going to explode out of my chest when I watched you put the dock in... you know, the one that should have been put in by three grown men...I am glad that the torn material was your waders and not the skin and muscle that is just scratched and terribly bruised.
Dear Lake Wildlife,
You know who you are. You trumpeter swans... you eagles...you loons...you ducks...you geese...you other diving bird with the mohawk that I don't know your name...you little bird that flew into our big picture window...and even you turkey vultures. Thank you for the amazing production the last few days. It was well-choreographed, highly entertaining and a huge part of why our kids love going to the cabin.
Dear Elderly Cabin Neighbors,
I am glad that you are okay. I hadn't realized that your dog took a walk on a moving iceberg, and got stranded out on the lake. I would bet he was glad to see you when you got out there on your inflatable boat to rescue him. I do hope he is not too traumatized by witnessing both of you falling out of the boat as you went to grab him. Thank goodness you were all in the boat by the time the fire truck arrived.
Dear Next-of-kin to Mr. Squirrel,
I am sorry I smooshed your friend. It was totally his fault though. He broke the agreement. The one that says, once you start crossing the road you need to just keep going all the way to the other side. He started across the road, I slowed, and then he changed his mind about what his job was supposed to be and he turned back around... right into MY wheel. RIP Mr. Squirrel.
Dear Mother Nature,
You were awesome these past few days. Really?! Seventy-five on April 1st in Minnesota? Way to go! You did a great job at the cabin too. Phenomenal full moon, warm enough weather to let us watch crashing icebergs, and time outside without coats. It just about makes up for the bitter cold you put us through in the winter. Thanks!!
Dear Lady Jogger without a Sportsbra,
I commend your efforts for being out there running. I appreciate that what was in your covered stroller was probably a really tiny baby, and you are back out exercising again. Take it from me...running while you are a newly nursing mother is a bad idea. The bras don't fit like they used to, and the tatas don't stay where they should. Taking nursing boobs out for a jog is painful for you...and your boobs. Take it slow. Your boobs will thank you.