Monday, July 21, 2014

Less Than Perfect

We are a driven people who live in a driven age. We reach for the stars. We shoot for the moon. We strive for greatness. But what happens if we shoot for the moon, yet barely get our feet off of terra firma?

Success, or the experience? Which is better? I have read several articles and blogs on this topic lately, especially as it concerns children. And while the consensus seems to say that letting our children discover, explore, and savor the experience is the good thing, real life still seems to favor winners.

My son dances. Well, two of my sons dance, but one is only six, and he is just beginning and may not continue, and even bad six-year-old dancers are adorable.


The Young Adult began dancing at the age of 10. (Actually, I have the videos to prove he started dancing as a toddler, but I am not allow to show these under pain of death.) He and his best friend decided to take a class at our homeschool coop on Highland Dance. They liked it enough and learned a few things.  When the Young Adult turned 11, we required him to take some kind of sport or PE class. He is not what you would call a "traditional athlete", and - long story short - he chose to enroll in Highland Dance as a real student this time.

First of all, if you know nothing about Highland dance (and let's face it - not many people do), it is a very athletic sport which combines dance, grace, coordination, precision, and sheer power, all set to bagpipe music. If that doesn't blow your kilt, I don't know what will! Dancing a 6 Step Fling is equivalent to sprinting one mile. Read it again. Sprinting a MILE! Now, sprint a mile gracefully, and you have Highland dance.

When the Young Adult officially began Highland dance, we did not let him compete for one year. Poor kid was 11, and had just hit a massive growth spurt. He was basically a human Labrador puppy - all long legs and big paws, and almost no coordination. And if you have done any kind of dance, you will know coordination is kind of important in dance. When his first year was up, he began to compete, but not very well. He just lacked, well, coordination. He took what we call the "long route" in Highland dance. He did not shoot up the ranks or blow through the levels. He struggled and fought his way up.

Some dancers spend one year or less in the beginner category. The Young Adult spent three years as a beginner. Three long years. He watched while others moved ahead, seemingly with ease.

Always, always, always, dance has been HIS decision. In the low points, when it felt like he would never move ahead, it was his decision to stay. When he realized that in order to succeed, he would have to give up his natural tendency to laziness, it was his decision to work at home on his skills.

I won't say Art Guy and I did nothing. We urged him to practice. Sometimes we demanded it. We told him that if we were going to spend this kind of money on an activity, then he owed us to work at it.But, the decision to continue in this activity, to be a dancer, has always been his.

And I will say this - at 16 1/2, the benefits of Highland Dance are apparent. Physically, his physique is rock hard (he could probably break cement with his calf muscles. You can tell a Highland dancer by their calf muscles.). Mentally, he has learned to focus and push himself, but not over think. Emotionally, he has learned to expect great things, but acknowledge defeat. He had learned to stand on a stage and receive one last place ribbon, after months of hard work. He has sat in the stands, hearing everyone's number but his called for awards. Dance will tear you up and spit you out if you do not learn how to deal with these things. He has learned that his greatest enemy is himself - if he tells himself he will fail (and he does this a lot), then he will. Spiritually, he has learned to accept instruction, take correction,  to be humble, to be proud, to be a graceful winner and a graceful loser.

USIR, Sugarland, 2014. The longest, biggest stage I have ever seen.

 This past weekend we were able to attend the big national competition for Highland Dance - the USIRs - the United States Inter-Regional Championships. The divisions are too much to explain, so to sum up - Premiere is the highest level, and all the other sub-levels are called Pre-Premiere.
Yes, I wish every Highland dance competition was in a plushy ballroom with temp control.


Only qualifying Premiere dancers competed in the USIRs. We watched those. And man! Were they amazing! The Young Adult was, at first, intimidated watching them, then inspired. By the end of the big national competition, he was dying to dance, to put into practice what he had witnessed, what he sat taking notes on.

Ready to dance - oh, the possibilities!

He did dance at the Pre-Premiere competitions, held at the same place on different days. His group is the next highest level, and they are very good. There were 9 this past weekend in his category. Nine dancers danced a total of seven dances. He only placed in two. He received a sixth place medal on Friday and a fourth place medal on Sunday, for the same dance.

Much happier with his fourth place finish.

On Friday, after receiving his sixth place medal, I watched his try to control his anger and his tears. He does not usually melt down like that, but I think after all the work he had been doing for the past few months (3 hours of class a week, and practice every day at home), he was so angry at himself, at his lack of "skill", at what he perceived to be his failure. I sat with my arm around him, talking to him, shoring up the breaking dam of his heart. Although I looked calm, my heart broke watching him.

No, he is not a natural at his sport. No, it does not come easy. No, even hours of practice a week is not enough to make up for the natural grace and ability others have - even some of his own dance friends. And yes, even after hours and hours of practice, sometimes the best you can do is last place.

He came away excited, ready to recommit himself to compete at the highest level, which he will move to in 2015. He is determined to go to the Southwest Regionals for the first time next year, and do something to make himself proud, to prove to himself that hard work and ambition can pay off.

And my heart quivers within me. Do I think he can do it? Well, his goal is not really to win, but to place well. And yes, I think he can do it. I think it will take more time and effort then even he realizes, and a dedication he has not quite reached (but he is so close to). So, yes; yes, I think he can. I believe in him. But, I also know what it is to work and work and work and long and desire and work some more, and never reach the top - that seems to be my life story, so maybe he inherited it from me.

I just want him to know that it IS worth it. The experience. The lessons learned. They ARE the journey. The medals and trophies and accolades - those are the icing on the cake, not the cake or even the flour and eggs and milk. Everything he is learning, all the people he is meeting, all the friends he is making - that is what matters. Someday when he is old, he will be able to say, "I was a Highland Dancer" and he will look at video of his younger self leaping into the air and he will be amazed and shocked and wish he had know. KNOWN. Known that THAT was what mattered.

In the end, the journey is what takes you places. Have a great trip, my son.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Transition Time

This morning I find myself in an odd position - I have time on my hands and I am not sure what to do.

I am not a person who thrives on being busy. I do not love to brag about my full schedule. Yet, my schedule is full. Lately, it has been overflowing. Between the four kids and all their activities, homeschooling, and a spate of singing jobs (for which I am very grateful), I have been running at break-neck speed for a few months now. Well, probably since August, when school began.

Yet, here, in the middle of May, the end is in sight. Already youth group (all three older boys) and soccer (Romeo) have ended. Just one more pottery class for Romeo. Dance and Scouts continue, but that is almost nothing compared to the full-blown schedule of three active teens (Romeo is just 12, but he is bigger than me, so I lump him in there with his brothers). School is limping along. Romeo has a few things to finish up, CookieBoy is almost completely done, and The Young Adult will be mostly done by Memorial Day. The Monkey and I work together most mornings, but it is still pretty brief.

Going from 100 mph to 10 mph (well, maybe 40 mph) feels like a jolt. As much as I long for the lazy days of summer, there is always an adjustment period.

The guilt of not being busy is intense. How much do I need to say, "I hardly had time to breathe today" in order to feel productive? As much as I hate being busy, busy-ness becomes so addicting. In my mind, it becomes warped to:

 busy-ness =  worth.


It is a love-hate thing.

My mind knows the reality. The busier I am, the less time I have to think, contemplate, read, meditate, absorb - just be. These things are important. But when I look up from my reading or thinking and see the dirty kitchen floor or the laundry sitting in the washer that is starting to smell, I feel guilt.

So this morning, I found myself wandering around the house after my initial morning chores and work. CookieBoy had already finished school and was getting ready to play a board game with the Monkey. Romeo was reading his literature. The Young Adult's online math class was in session.

What is a girl to do? I need to continue to clean my room (what am I? 13? Apparently!). There is laundry waiting to be done. The kitchen floor needs a good mopping.

These things will happen. Summer will come. In August, I will bemoan the change from relaxed days to carefully orchestrated battle plans.

For today, I will enjoy the time given and this gorgeous Texas spring day.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Year's End

The end of 2013.


I still have to pause and think about what year it is (is it 2012? 2014? 2000?), and it is already over! I do not think I really ever caught on to this year. After a string of very difficult years, 2012 was incredible, a real turning point for my family. While 2013 was not nearly as amazing as 2012, neither was it horrible. It was a year of learning and growing. 

1) Who I Am - I turned 40 in 2013. Still blows my mind. It is so . . , older! Inside, I still feel like a bumbling 18-year-old. My birthday gift to myself was permission to love who I am, not who I feel I should be (and here my husband goes, "DUH! I have been trying to get you to do this for years!" I know, honey - you are a man of wisdom!). It is a daily struggle, but I am learning to tame the negative messages I have been feeding myself since I was a teenager. I am learning to be patient with my body (because I am very unhappy with it) and more patient with my myriads of mistakes. Learning to love yourself is a tricky business.

Putting this picture on our Christmas card collage was a big step for me


2) What I Do - I began a new job, in addition to all the other things I already do. It has its goods and its bads. I am trying to weigh the two to decide how to move forward, and that is one of my big tasks of 2014.

3) What I Love - Singing. I began singing in college. I took a break from singing from the time of grad school through the birth of of my first child.  I have been singing in church again for almost 16 years. It is an odd thing - being a church cantor. You have to have the chutzpah to get up in front of a large group of people and think they won't mind listening to you, but remain humble and never forget you are serving. A real paradox!


One of my workspaces

 Earlier this year, I rededicated myself to this ministry. After a lot of prayer and helpful conversation with two fellow singers (thanks Sharon and Kerry!), I knew I was at a crossroads: I either needed to get out of cantoring altogether or I needed to place myself in the service of God in this ministry. And being in service means that I cannot be egotistical at all about what I do. For me, this means I (try to) accept what I get asked to do and what I do not get asked to do. It means I give it my all, without expectation of reward or recognition.

And believe me, I have LOTS of opinions when it comes to church music! My family gives me special "music-venting" time, when I am musically stressed!

4) Who I Surround Myself With - this was a year of changing friendships. Some relationships change, some fade away, and some bloom.

I have been so incredibly blessed to develop a real friendship with my dear neighbor. It was a
totally unexpected joy this year. It is such a gift to find a new friend, especially one you can really relate to and who urges you to be a better person and walk closer to God. She was literally an answer to prayer, but even better, her whole family has been a blessing to my whole family.
Other times this past year, I have reached out on facebook - in joy or frustration or whatever - and I received such support and love. It feels silly to say, but facebook was a real blessing this year.


2014, a whole new year full of promise. I have big hopes and plans for this coming year!

1) My Marriage - this is one of the things I am MOST excited about for the upcoming year. ArtGuy and I have been married 17 years, and have been parents 16 out of those 17 years. Parenthood has defined our marriage. It is a good thing, yes (one of the very best things of my life), but also trying, as anyone with multiple children will tell you. Some of our children are more "intense" than others, and that can lead to spending a lot of time on parenting - which is a good thing for the kids, but not so great for the marriage.

Now that our youngest, the Monkey, has turned 5 and is no longer a baby (a fact over which I vacillate between cheers and tears), and no one is currently deathly ill or dying (the illness and death of my only sister was very, very difficult) means we have a chance to really connect with each other in a way we have not for a long time.
I heard someone say that when you have been married to someone for 15, 16, 17 years, you can no longer compare them to who they were when you were first married. No one is the same as they were 15 (or more) years ago, so you have to relate to each other as you are now. It is a beautiful thought.
Not that having multiple teens in the house is a breeze, but it is a different ball game than when we had three little boys under the age of 5!
So, ArtGuy and I are on a mission to reconnect, outside of being parents. It is very exciting!

2) My Children - Like I said above, our youngest is now five - or as he proudly proclaims ,"a big boy"! And the Young Adult is 16 (gulp!). Cookie Boy is 14 and Romeo is staring 12 in the face. ArtGuy and I are in a Golden Era of parenting. The boys are all independent (to a degree), self-sufficient (at times), and able to pour their own breakfast cereal (my Golden Standard for childhood independence!). They are all interactive, fun, and easy to cart around. They are all still home. In just a few years, college will loom in our lives and my little nest will be broken up (as it should be. Sniff sniff!). But, for now, they are all here and they are all fun to be around.

Look at those hats! They just scream, "fun and crazy guys"!

We are planning a really big family trip this year, which should be a blast. I have a feeling we will look back on this coming year as a special time in our lives.

3) What To Do - I am excited about a new year and what I want to pursue. Do I want to work on writing again? Painting? Devote myself to cooking (hah hah!)?
I know 2014 will involve gearing up the college prep for the Young Adult, which makes me shake in my boots a little (if you told me 17 years ago I would be homeschooling high schoolers . . .).
 I am going to give myself permission to say "no" or "not now" more often in 2014 (I hope I learned my lesson by my over-involvement in too many things in 2013. But, I do it every once in a while - 10th grade, junior year of college, and apparently, 2013!).

So, goodbye 2013. It has been an interesting year.

And hello, 2014! May you be a year of great joy!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas is Coming

Five days until Christmas. So hard to believe.

Today is my one day with nowhere I HAVE to go (no Lego meetings, no work, no choir practice, no classes to cart kids to, no rehearsals), so I am choosing to be home! A novel concept these days!

So far I have cleaned the kitchen, swept and mopped the floor, and vacuumed downstairs. Well, the vacuuming was a two-step process. First, I ran the vacuum, then noticed it did not work. Second, I sat down and removed enough of my hair that had been wrapped around the roller that is was bigger than my hand - then I actually vacuumed!


Two years ago, I found the most adorable Advent book while I was browsing in Walmart. I bought it, and it has become one of my favorite things to do with the Monkey each Advent. I highly, highly recommend it if you have little ones. It counts down each day until Christmas with a short part of the Nativity story, with a small activity to do. Most of these activities are not a big deal and do not require extra materials - this non-crafty mom appreciates that! Yet, it really helps little ones connect with the preparation for Christmas.

Today's activity asked the Monkey to retell the Christmas story in his own words, while I wrote it down. I did. If you have little ones, get this done today. You will be glad you did. (We used a plush nativity set to help him tell the story.)

And so I bring to you the Christmas Story, in the words of five-year-old Monkey boy:

Joseph and Mary went a long, long way to the stable so that the baby could get out of Mary's tummy. Mary was going to be very excited about her new baby.

The baby got out of Mary's tummy. And Joseph and Mary thought and thought of a name for the baby. Then, they thought of one - Jesus.

Then, they saw a light that was far away, and it came closer and closer.

Then when they realized when it came it was the three Wise Men and the shepherds. The Wise Men's camel came slow.

The shepherd sat down the light so the baby would not be scared.

Then one shepherd gave the baby a little blanket to put on him.

Then two angels appeared. And they said, "Mary and Joseph, protect that baby!"

Then, the angels disappeared into heaven. But before they went, they gave Mary 
some flowers.

The three Wise Men gave Mary a crown and Joseph a hat. And they gave them 
two rings, since they got married.

And then the Wise Men sat down their stuff for Mary to protect the baby with.

Then, the shepherds went home, and the wise men went to their castle where they sat on their big, red chairs.

Merry Christmas!
                                                                       The End

Friday, November 1, 2013

Soldiering On

Since it is 1:15am and I just can't sleep, why not get around to writing that blog I never have time for? Sure, why not!

It is now officially November. Did you hear me? November! Halloween is over, and now is the official start of what we call "Money Season" in our family. Cookie Boy's birthday is tomorrow, the Young Adult's in one month, both the kids' grandmothers coming soon, and Christmas is right around the corner. Shew! Time to get creative with the gift-giving!

This fall has been a whirlwind of activity. It always is. This year more than others. First Lego League season is about at it's midway point, in full swing. I love it. This is our fourth season, and most of the boys on the team are pros by now and know what needs to happen. I love to see them getting things done. They are miles beyond where they started three years ago.

Dance season has almost reached its winter break, as far as competition season goes. The Young Adult is also no where near where he began years ago. He is so exciting to watch. His dancing commands attention. His progress through the levels has been fairly slow, but if he can pull out ONE more medal next weekend, he will move up one more ranking and be done with needing stamps forever and ever. He is nervous, exciting, and feeling a lot of pressure (from himself, I might add). I am so proud of him.

Work as been . . work. Major drama last week left me drained, stressed, and flat, emotionally speaking. I forgot about that side of a job - the talking behind people's back, the politics, the trying-to-get-along-with-people-who-you-would-normally-avoid. Sigh. I am going to keep a good attitude and smile and be nice to all, no matter what.

My big life lesson the past few months is about letting go - letting go of plans, of fears, of control.

Let nothing disturb thee;
 Let nothing dismay thee; 
All things pass; God never changes.
 Patience attains all that it strives for.
 He who has God finds he lacks nothing: 
God alone suffices
-St. Teresa of Avila

Since today is November 1, it is also the beginning of my favorite liturgical time of the year. I love November. All Saints Day, Christ the King - these feasts are full of the richness of heritage and harvest. And it all leads right up to Advent - hands down my favorite church season.

Bring it on!





Monday, October 21, 2013

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet




I would like to think I am Supermom. But if I had a hero name based on life and skills, it would probably be more like Frazzle Mom!





Less this . . .


More this . ..



Granted, our falls are always busy - ArtGuy has his annual conference, which takes him away for a week (not to mention the countless hours of work beforehand, nights and weekends in addition to days). The kids are always busy. The past 4 years, Lego League is chugging ahead in the fall.

However, this fall has been far more busy than usual. I am not a person who takes pride in my busy-ness. I do not feel more accomplished the busier I am. In fact, I fall apart without some quiet time every day. I lose myself when I have no time for contemplation and reflection.

So, this fall has truly been a challenge. I took on a new job, as a preschool music teacher. It is only two mornings a week, but that is just official work hours. There is a lot of time spent planning lessons, learning music, burning CDs, making props, creating lesson plans, prepping. Way more time than I anticipated.

I do love it, though. The kids are adorable. I love sharing my love of music with them. True story - for the past two weeks, I was sharing the William Tell Overture with them. One week we did Part 3 - Ranz de Vaches and one week we did the classic Finale. I told them all about parts 1 and 2 (Dawn and the Storm). Most classes requested to hear parts of all four movements. Last week we listened to snippets of 1-3 (and all of 4). Most classes requested to go back and hear part 2, the Storm, again. They loved it! I love seeing them get excited about music.

I also received a nice affirmation. Our preschool was observed by assessors for accreditation, and they had some very nice things to say about how I was doing.

Yet, in spite of all those good things, I spend every day flying around, trying to make it to the next task. Lego League, preschool music, cantoring. choir, homeschool coop, kids' classes, and our own homeschool - it has been a very, very challenging fall.

I am trying very hard to not lose myself in it all. It has been a good lesson for me - appreciating each moment, not worrying about what is coming (much), giving myself a break.

Even now, I am baking oatmeal banana breakfast cups (the Young Adult got a huge box of overripe bananas from a food shelter who needed to get rid of them), prepping for our Lego meeting, doing laundry, taking quick breaks to dust and put junk that has accumulated all over the house away, supervise the 13-year-old shaving his mustache off, and starting school!


L'haim!



Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Little Space

My house has thrown up on itself.

Stuff seems to be everywhere. Clutter. Junk. Toys. Books.

Stuff.

I hardly have time to think a thought, much less clean more than on-the-fly. My new schedule for the school year is way too much for me. I am so hopeful it will settle down soon. But for now, I am amazed at the amount of stuff I can get done in one day. Amazed, and impressed I have not exploded into little bits.

It is the sheer volume of "to-do", but  -almost worst - it is the constant shifting from one mode to another. Lego coach mode - zzzzoop! Now make dinner! Now get lessons plans for preschool! Now teach preschool! Now run home and teach and help high school, middle school, and kindergarten. Now STOP and dust the 2 inches of dust from the piano and grab that laundry. But wait, it is time to drive a kid to a practice. But not before you pull dinner out of the freezer! Good? Good, because now it is time to get those homeschool coop lesson plans done!

My head is spinning, I am not sleeping. I am in tears. I am tired.

I was SO proud of myself. In the cleaning I did over the summer, my bedroom became trashed. Everything seemed to end up in there. I worked really hard one whole morning, and cleared about a 3ft by 2 ft space. Just bare carpet.

Gorgeous.

I am not kidding - I have gone into my room just to look at that spot. It makes me feel calm. It makes me feel I can DO it!

I found I have to haul a load of junk to and from our homeschool coop (in a bin that does not really even fit in the back of my van! Sorry about those marks on the bin, guys!). In addition to that, the suitcase of junk I haul to the coop class I teach - those now occupy my Clean Space.

It is really stupid, but it makes me so, so sad. I am determined to find another place for those things, but I am not sure where yet.

Those lost space makes me feel I will never get it all done. Dreams of a clean bedroom, newly painted - hah! That is all they are. Dreams. Those paint chips are going to hang on my wall for as long as I shall live. No one but me will clean, no one but me cares.

Sorry, guys.

This week just has me down. Way, way down.

I need my Clean Space back! Pronto!