Social Ineptitude practiced here

It’s the beginning of a new year and I realize that I have not yet set a goal list of resolutions for myself. Maybe that should be my resolution? ‘I will not make any further deceiving, naive, blind and/or stupid empty promises to myself in the year of 2012’. This includes the tried and true biggies: losing weight, exercising more, eating healthy everyday, not yelling at my kids, being a more positive parent on a daily basis, meeting my husbands needs and desires for what he expects out of the “perfect wife” .

Whew! That was a tough one, but I think I can manage this for a year.

Instead, I will try to be honest with myself and those around me, and stop trying to make everyone happy at my own expense. I will take the time to lounge in a bath filled with hot scented water, read a good book just because, go for that extra jog alone because it is a sunny day, and say “no” when asked to volunteer for something that I truly have no desire to be a part of. I will let those around me who feel that they should lead do exactly that, and I will get out of their way and let them bask in their own glory of accomplishment. I will be a better friend to those that are good friends to me.

Sometimes it’s not about what you should give up or get rid of, it’s about putting it all in perspective and prioritizing. The rest will fall in line…I am certain.

The best part of it

We often try to define what the “best part” of being a parent is, but it changes daily (at least it does for me) Some days it’s the way that your little one snuggles up to you while you read them a bedtime story and you can smell the scent of clean baby/child as well as feel their pudgy hands holding yours. Other days it’s the way that they come to you to solve their problems and trust that you will know the “right thing to do” – even when you’re not sure you will, but you have to try and hope for the best. But then there are times, like I’ve been experiencing with my oldest, that you realize this is one of those experiences that you will hold onto for a lifetime and be so proud that they chose to be around you.

Recently my oldest son has become interested in running and being fit. He’s 13 and has a girlfriend, so really not much of a surprise there. The surprising part is that he chose to run with his mom. That’s right – he asked me to run with him. I want to take credit for his interest in running since up until the last year I too was running and trying my best to improve my 5K times and hoping to run a half-marathon, but somehow got off track and added on ten pounds of defeat in the process.

I was flattered to say the least, and a bit worried that I would disappoint him since my form is far from what it used to be, but he has been patient and supportive and has kept asking…so I have kept going. We don’t run far – yet. But we run as often as we can, just the two of us alone in the early morning darkness sharing a secret of sorts. We talk, we run, we stretch. It’s a “kindred spirit” experience and one that I will forever hold onto and cherish. It makes me so proud to be his mom and so happy to know that he wants to be with me at a time when most of his friends think that their mothers are idiots and are getting in their way. It gives me the sense that I’ve done something right. That doesn’t happen too often as a parent.

So, I will continue running with my teenage son and enjoying the time that he is allowing me to be a part of his world and hold onto every moment like a scrapbook in my heart. That is the best part of it.

Redefining “winning”…really?

We are in full swing of a new school year, and with that is also a new season of sports for our three boys. Well, actually only for one of our boys, the other two are waiting it out to see if something comes along that is worthy of giving up time with their iPods. (grumble, grumble…)

Our youngest is only six. He’s still at that age when it’s all exciting and fun and he’s just glad to be out running with other kids his age. He’s always loved soccer in theory, but now he has to put it out there and actually play a match for an hour. He has to keep control of the ball while he runs against a group of other boys and block shots while he is protecting the goal. And all of this in a seeming brew of chaos of red and blue on a field that looks as if it goes on forever. Whew!

The thing that struck me as odd was the “agreement” that was required to be signed by the players parents and guardians. Some of the listed things required good sportsmanship, no name-calling, respecting each other and other teams. I’m all for that, and glad that someone has the presence of mind to put it into print so the maniac parent who may be at the match screaming at their kid and making unkind remarks to the other kids may realize that their behavior will not be tolerated (trust me, they’re out there and they are just as frightening to the other adults as they are to the kids playing). No, it’s not those points that I have a problem with, it’s the one listed in the middle of the list “we will redefine what winning means”. Really? Has it changed since I was in grade school? I had no idea!

According to this agreement, winning is about playing your best and giving it your all. It’s not about keeping score, it’s not about being the best necessarily, it’s about playing your best…and having fun. Sounds good for the most part, but is that really what “winning” means?

I may seem like a “militant mommy” with this, but winning is winning. When did it become a negative attribute to want to win? Or to keep score for that matter? And when was it deemed acceptable to make “everyone a winner”??

I grew up knowing that when I played a game – even so young as playing checkers or cards with my family – that someone will win and some (or generally the rest of us) will lose, and I was okay with that idea. If it mattered to me to be the best at a game or sport I played more and practiced to get better. If I didn’t have a passion for it I found something else that I might like better or was better suited to do.

Isn’t that what we are expected to do in life in general?

My connection with this to our grown-up world is to translate it to the workplace of adults. Let’s say that you work in an office doing what you do with a team of other people doing generally the same thing. You all started out making the same amount of money the day you were hired – that’s fair as long as you all have the same education and qualifications for the job, right? Now, six months later you’re all reviewed. During that six months you have put in 60 hours a week to work on big projects for the firm and have helped them secure better clients because of it. Your neighbor in the cubicle next to yours has gone home every day at 5pm, never worked a weekend or holiday, and is working on everyday menial tasks that could be done by a monkey.

The firm informs you the day of the reviews that they are going to give everyone equal raises across the board, regardless of work ethics or workload of the individual. And all promotions will be done on the same timeline regardless of the time and/or effort of the individual. Would you stay? Or would you be firing up your laptop to rework your resume and start looking for another position in a company that values your hard work and good work ethic?

I’m guessing that you wouldn’t sit back and say, “well, that makes sense, because we’re all part of the same team and should be paid the same…we’re all winners! And I’d hate for monkey-boy to feel bad about himself because he didn’t get the same raise or promotion as me, that would be bad for his self-esteem.”

I’m not saying that we have to be brutal with our kids – I’m as guilty as the next parent for wanting at times to bubble-wrap my kids to protect them in some instances – but I try to hold back and let them figure it out and learn from their experiences. Losing is part of that life lesson, and the sooner that they get a taste of it the faster they will decide if they want to keep trying in that sport, activity, etc. If you think about it, it would save a lot of sanity for all if kids were given the choice to realize their talents (and shortcomings) and to make the decision to push harder in something that they love. Also they may try something else that they may excel in to replace it instead of  floating along in a sport or activity that they may not be cut out for in the long run. It’s okay to play sports for fun in your own backyard and not play them on the field that keeps score. It’s okay to like something that you’re not good at and to keep doing it for your own personal satisfaction.

I guess that I worry that we are raising a society of “perceived winners” which gives us too many privileged, pouty, slacker adults to contend with in the end. This heavy sided fulcrum of “winners” will not help us as a country (or generation) to move forward or excel in many ways, if at all. The same percentage of real winners – or top workers, top athletes, top students – will be expected to excel and to drag the heavy weight of the rest behind them, so that nobody gets their feelings hurt or feels bad about themselves. Is that what we want for our kids? I don’t.

I want my kids to fight for what they believe in, to push to be the best in what they love, to try new things.  But I also want them to know that they may not be the “best” at it and that THAT’S OKAY. You can’t be the best at everything. You won’t always make the team or be chosen for the group. You won’t always get a medal or a trophy just for being on the team. That is the stuff that you have to earn, and when you do earn it it will mean so much more to you. Life is not a carnival with consolation prizes just for showing up. Anything worth doing is worth doing well – and sometimes that means doing it better than anyone else. Or as our family likes to say, winning.

Organized?… Who me??

I am trying my best this coming school year to get ahead of the curve, the huge rolling ball (think ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘), the never-ending challenge of getting organized…and staying that way. If my recently ditched fitness routine is any clue to my success rate I am in deep trouble.

I was the “good mom” at the end of the last school year – ordered my School Pak for each child to arrive in their classrooms on the first day of school this coming year (meant to contain everything that they need for the upcoming year with only a few exceptions – we’ll see…) I’ve tried to get in early and round-out the supply drawer at home with “homework supplies”.

I have all of their medical records copied in triplicate and filed in my lovely file, sitting on my kitchen counter, for easy access. I have spent part of my summer going through their clothes to sort out what fits and what doesn’t – our oldest went through an amazing growth spurt this past spring and now he’s all over the board with sizes, his shoes have gotten bigger while his pant size has gotten smaller! Go figure.

I have also checked all pertinent websites, activity schedules, and scheduled doctor/dentist appointments and marked our “family calendar” with a fine-point Sharpie (which, to be honest, is more MY calendar since nobody else really looks at it and seem to rely on me to keep it all organized and handled). I have even purchased more “eco friendly” snack bags and lunch bag items to feel better about those sack lunches this year.

Whew!

Now the true test comes this week when the boys begin school and I have to test-drive this baby. There are always a few “unknowns” once the year begins, of course. I’ve managed to score the title of “room parent” this year which will add to my calendar, not to mention the requests for volunteers for recess duty and center help. The occasional school event and the catechism class that I have also volunteered to instruct, figuring that my youngest will be there anyway I may as well be there too. It all balances precariously once the school year begins, but for now I have a good feeling and a positive attitude that it will all flow seamlessly and without much difficulty.

But a phrase I have read often over time keeps popping into my head: fail to plan or plan to fail. Which one have I accomplished? Only time will tell, but until that time let me feel organized…even if it’s only for another day or two…it’s on my calendar already.

I give up

This past weekend I realized that it was okay to give up. Not in the educational sense, or career sense, no something much bigger than that in a sense (make sense?)

I am usually the one leading the battle cry of “what are you doing inside on a beautiful day like this?!” I have to make the plans, or come up with the ideas for outings and activities to get my family out the door to do something “fun”. It almost makes me crazy to see three healthy boys sitting inside of our house staring at the TV or iPods while the blue sky and gorgeous sunshine are beckoning them…and they don’t seem to care.

What makes it worse for me is a husband that also sees nothing wrong with staying in to watch TV during the gorgeous days of summer (grrrrr…) He is more than happy to plop himself onto the couch and watch countless hours of baseball or golf or whatever sport is being broadcast that day. I was actually told to “lighten up” and also asked “is it against the law to stay inside the house on a summer day?!” to which I replied “no, but it SHOULD be!” while I promptly pushed my little monsters out of the house and made them ride their bikes (yes, MADE THEM RIDE THEIR BIKES. Mommy Dearest has got nothing on me I guess)

But this past weekend I wasn’t feeling well after battling a virus for a week straight, I was run down, and tired of the fight. If they wanted to stay inside and waste yet another perfect day of the last week of their summer vacation let ’em. Why was I trying so hard? What is the point of “forced fun” anyway? Don’t they get enough of that idea at school? Plus, it also gives me permission to lay down and take a nap, to sloth for a day or two.

I know that my irrational fear of wasting beautiful days comes from a “Twilight Zone” episode. The one that takes place in the future, after we’ve destroyed the Earth’s normal cycle, and now the sun only comes out once every seven years, and even then for only one hour! The worst part is that there is a girl that the class seems to enjoy ostracizing, and another girl talks her into looking for something in the basement. Once she goes to the basement the “mean girl” locks her in the room! Shortly after this the entire class is brought outside to enjoy the one hour of sunlight -the first that most of them have ever experienced in their entire lives since they look about 7 or 8 years old – while this poor little girl is locked in a dark basement room with only a peep hole of a window to view the beauty of it all and watch as her classmates romp about in the golden warmth.

It’s heartbreaking.

Since watching this episode as a young girl I have always been appreciative of warm, sunny days and beautiful blue skies. I often comment on it – ask my kids, they’ll roll their eyes and say “yeah, she does that a lot”, but it’s an appreciation that many people just take for granted. Especially very young people who don’t realize that all too soon they may be stuck in their own “basement” of a job that only allows them one hour a day to enjoy the warm sun and beautiful blue sky if they’re lucky. Sigh…melodramatic? Maybe.

Just please, put down the iPod, turn off the TV and go outside and play. It will make me feel better.

Reaching my maximum girth…

I know that I’m not normal – you’re not pulling the curtain back on that idea for me at this point in my life, trust me, but I have to wonder if I am at least not alone…

Before the summer season is in full bloom we see advertisements for what people love to do in the summer: they swim, play at the beach, run, play volleyball, ride bikes…it’s active time! We all want to eat healthier, too! Salads, light beer, fruit and vegetable recipe ideas, farmer’s markets abound. We are all sick of the cold and the rain and the clouds and all we want is warm sun, light food and time to play, right? Then why is it that once summer hits I go into sloth-mode? Truly.

I am that person who would much rather lay on the beach baking with a tall ice-water and a good book than go surfing or play beach volleyball. If the temperature gets too high I am somewhat happy to be indoors in the air-conditioning – but I do feel guilty about it. I want to like being outside and romping in the sunshine. I want to “just do it” with my Nikes and run farther than I ever have before. I want to be able to wear that awesome bikini just once more (or just once!) before I am considered “too old” to be doing so (altho, with today’s attitude, I don’t think that there is such a limit thankfully)

I want to LIKE summer more than TOLERATE it. But I can’t.

I’ve come to realize that I am truly a fall/winter person. No, I don’t ski (very well or often) nor do I own a snowmobile or enjoy shovelling 18 inches of snow off of my long and winding driveway, but I prefer it to summer believe it or not.

I find that in summer I tend to slow down, my fitness regiment goes out the window because we are either travelling or I just lose motivation because “it’s too hot to run” and the gym seems so depressing in the sunmer. I ask myself “why am I inside on a machine or in a class when I should be outside running around, jumping rope, swimming?!”

Plus, the sweating. Oh God, the sweating. I am not a glistener, trust me, I am that kid from the playground that is soaked within the 15 minute recess time and all I was doing was playing hopscotch! Can you imagine if I was running around?! And no, I wasn’t the “fat kid” either. Well, I am still that kid. I don’t sweat like a lady, I sweat like a…I have no idea, but it’s not pretty and it’s not pleasant to be downwind of me either (once my brother made the sound of a horse neighing when he stood next to me after I had taught an aerobics class, if that gives you any clue)

My hair and make-up (when I try to wear it in the summer) look horrendously similar to Betty Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” in the summertime – sticking up and out, smeared and running. How do they do it, those women that look pulled together in 95 degree heat while I am melting and stinking?? Do they have their pores removed? or just frozen in time and space until September 1st?

Add to that the fact that summer fashion is anything but fashionable, unless you are a size zero. T-shirt material tank-tops with spaghetti straps? Really? Daisy Duke shorts? You don’t want to see that on anyone over 18, trust me. Bare arms, bare legs, and (gag) bare midriffs…who’s idea was this?! And why do women who shouldn’t be wearing these items wear them the most?! Summer is the time of the most uncovered skin and for some of us this is not the best solution…

Unlike the normal population, I actually GAIN weight in the summer. I attribute this habit to our living abroad for over 10 years. How did I come up with that line of reasoning? Well, when you live in another country that doesn’t have a fast-food restaurant on every corner you tend to overdo it when you go home to visit, which is exactly what I would do each and every summer that we came home. I would binge on everything that I couldn’t get in Germany or Hong Kong: Arby’s, Chicago-style pizza, good Chinese take-out, fair-food (corn dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, etc.) and drink way too often because we were always going to a cook-out or house party while we were visiting…don’t want to appear unsocial now do we??

By the end of the summer visit I would barely be able to button my shorts, my shirts would all be tight and pulling across my expanded breasts and I would have gained approximately 8 pounds – give or take a pound or two. UGH!! The summer vacation photos always make me cringe…

I would then go home to my home in another land, bloated and depressed,  full of resolve to “get back on track” which would be close to Fall – perfect weather for me.

I embrace the cool air, the slight wind, the scent of decaying leaves while I run through the darkening mornings or ride my bike on the gravel trails. I feel my heart lift and my head clear as the mercury dips below 75. I feel lighter, faster, awake and alive. I sweat, but not before I get started, and I feel good about it because I have earned it.

Summer is good, but Fall is better for those like me. Call it “reverse hibernation”, whatever, just take pictures of the others at the party until I shed this innertube I’ve gained around my waist. How does October sound to you??

Games that people play…or maybe not?

So far this summer has been a busy one, almost unusually so from my perspective.

Gone are the days of sitting in the backyard with a gang of little boys climbing the trees, swinging on the swingset and eating a Nutella sandwich lunch on the patio. Gone is the wading pool with the Little Tikes slide leading into it, for an added challenge for our little daredevils. Also gone are the days of letting the day direct itself and deciding at a moment’s notice to go exploring, head to the public pool/beach or visiting a park with nothing else on our calendar for the day (with the exception of thinking of what to make for dinner when my husband came home). The days would drift into one another and each day had it’s own reward at the end of time well spent being “us” and the lack of time constraints that school always imposes.

Some of those days would not be the best summer weather days and we would have to go to “plan B” of finding an indoor activity to keep us all busy and happy (and for mommy to be sane by dinner time) Those days we would get out the playdoh, or paints, or beads and make craft projects with the cd player blasting the latest kids music, or break out the Duplo Legos and build the biggest block tower we could reach – usually only about 5 feet due to my height restrictions. And still, some days, we would get out all of our games and play until we were tired of taking turns. Our middle son had an addiction  to “CandyLand” and a bit later “Yahtzee”, our oldest to “Obstgarten” and “Quips” (both European games introduced to us by our favorite German friends/family) Once our youngest came along he picked up where the other two boys left off and also favored “CandyLand”,  “Obstgarten”, “Quips” and “Yahtzee” as well as currently “Monopoly” and “Sorry Sliders” (he’s six by the way) We also play card games (that may or may not involve a bit of gambling…some things have to be done to keep the adults interested every now and then) and the boys have all learned how to play chess and checkers (some better than others!)

The challenges can go on for days!

This summer I have come to realize that we may not be “normal” by the American standard (what else is new?) We have spent time with other families, had playdates at our house, and realized that we may be the only family around that actually plays games?! On a board?! It’s the one of the most amazing things I have witnessed since moving back stateside.

Just last month while visiting with a group of families I was stunned to find a group of preteen and teenage girls had never played “Scrabble” or “Yahtzee” before, plus they didn’t have any idea HOW the games were played. We’ve had playdates that six year old boys have never played “Sorry” or checkers or “Trouble” or any other young game and they also had no idea how to play. My youngest takes it all in stride and offers to teach anyone who will learn so he can have a chance to win, of course.

But this all got me thinking, and worrying, that maybe this is becoming a lost art. Maybe we are all getting too busy to actually sit down and play a game with our kids, to teach them how to take turns and how to win and lose. It’s really a very basic idea, but one that is on it’s way out unless we pay attention.

I realize that we are in a new age of technology and kids all want an i-Pod touch or i-Phone or DSLite or…whatever is new and cool on the market. I also realize that it is sometimes easier to just hand them a handheld game or turn on the TV and keep them busy while you get your “stuff done” (I’m just as guilty as the next parent, of that I am sure) but I am sensing that some of us do it more often than we really need. Parenting isn’t just keeping them healthy and safe, fed and clothed, loved and protected. Parenting is also about teaching, sharing, leading by example. It’s taking the time even when you’d much rather read the paper or watch the latest reality TV show or just sit and be alone. I feel that if we don’t do it now we will regret it later with a new generation of adults who have fewer values in human contact, know how to win and lose and play by the rules.

Our two oldest boys are old enough to not want to play games now, but they still do play. Sometimes I rely on them to play a game with our youngest while I get dinner ready or finish a load of laundry, whatever, but they play. They still play with their i-Pods and DSLs but they also love to sit around the table and play “Yahtzee” or “Monopoly” or challenge each other to a game of chess.

Maybe it’s just us…but I hope not.