180 Birthday Candles and 70 Years of Marriage

6.19.16

Last night, my family gathered to celebrate two of my favorite people and three really big accomplishments: two 90th birthdays and one 70th anniversary. As my house filled with loud, loving laughter…mixed with a little mischief, I realized that none of it would be possible without my wonderful grandparents.

For as long as I can remember, my Nana has personified love. As a child, I was given the gift of spending one week at their farm in Illinois each summer. She stocked her kitchen with all of my favorite (and forbidden) foods; I loved it when she served me ice cream sundaes for breakfast! We spent hours dressing the tiny barn kittens in doll clothes and strolling them around in a baby buggy. I loved making hollyhock dolls from the blooms in her magical garden. Each year, she’d take me on a day trip to Chicago to explore a different museum; I remember being amazed by Colleen Moore’s incredible dollhouse at the Museum of Science and Industry and begging to go back to see it again and again!

Later, my grandpa lovingly built my own cherished dollhouse. He allowed me to select the design plans and colors…wallpaper and flooring, too. It was a true labor of love: I cannot imagine how many hours went into this project. When my grandma would visit, she’d take me to Miniature World, where I’d select a small piece of furniture or whimsical accessory. Eventually my dollhouse was so overly decorated that it had seasonal decorations that I’d switch out, depending on the holiday… (Maybe, I was just a little spoiled?!?)

On the flip side, my Papa has always personified laughter. I remember him embarrassing my grandma when we were shopping at Water Tower Plaza. We came out of a store and put his hat on backwards and started walking pigeon-toed toward us, pretending that he had too much to drink. He yelled her name and waved wildly. She blushed and I giggled and giggled and giggled…

At 90, he still loves to entertain both himself and everyone around him. Just the other day, he was telling me about the identity thieves that have been targeting residents in their senior living community. They’ve been calling and pretending to be representatives of a health insurance company, hoping to get personal information. My grandpa got a phone call and the game was on. He said his name was Freddie Fudpucker. He spelled it very carefully then made up all sorts of information regarding his date of birth and address, etc. When it got to the phone number, he gave them the number for IRS Fraud line and said he’d be calling it next. He started laughing; the reply was a click. I love that my grandpa can find the humor in all situations. During another recent conversation, he was laughing about how he was on Hospice for a month last summer. He truly is a miracle and proof that attitude is everything.

My grandparents met in high school and married at age 20, after my grandpa returned from World War II. Seventy years of marriage is a great accomplishment, but being happily married for seven decades is exceptional. One of the joys of having my grandparents just down the street is that I’ve gotten to know them as an adult, myself. I often leave their apartment praying that my own mature marriage will have the same loving tenderness and patience that I witness each time I spend time with them.

My grandparents are among the people that I love and admire most. I’m so thankful for those 180 candles and 70 years of marriage. I’m lucky to be a branch on their family tree. I can only hope that I inherited some of their good stuff. To be honest, I see a lot of it in my own children. I hope that love and laughter remain dominant family traits for generations to come.

Sipping the Select Sport Kool-Aid

6.11.16

Sometimes modern parenting feels a little bit like a competitive sport. Parents sign their kids up for organized sports at age three or four. By age seven or eight, many kids are trying out for select teams and focusing on a single sport or activity year-round; some continue to play other sports for fun, but time and financial constraints make it difficult for most kids to really focus on more that one select sport at a time.

I was raised to be well-rounded, not particularly outstanding at any specific sport or activity. My mom signed me up for weekly piano lessons, swim team, ballet and jazz classes, tennis and golf clinics, and YMCA soccer and basketball (one season to be exact)… We went on family vacations, where I learned to get by snow skiing and scuba diving. She sent me to summer camp, so that I could learn to water ski, shoot arrows and make lanyards… I never developed a drive to pursue any one sport or activity with focused ambition. But, I am thankful for the exposure and for my privileged, low-pressure childhood.

To be honest, I struggle a little bit with this new approach to childhood sports and activities. I think if you’re raising a driven kid who naturally falls in love with one particular sport, it makes perfect sense. If not, it’s nice to let kids shop the spectrum of sports before narrowing their focus. And, if the focus never narrows, I see value in being well-rounded. I like options.

I also recognize that being well-rounded does not always make the cut in high school…especially in today’s competitive youth sports world, where even select players can get cut from high school teams. Although select sports were not really around when I was growing up, there were kids who fell in love with a particular sport and worked really hard to be great at it.

When I was a freshman in high school, I tried out and was cut from my high school tennis team. My weekly clinics simply did not prepare me to compete with the girls who trained so much harder and spent their summers competing in the Missouri Valley. Maybe if I’d given up some of my other activities and really focused on tennis my outcome may have been different? Maybe not? Luckily, I was able to find other ways to get involved in high school (which is the ultimate goal for my three children).

A couple years ago, my daughter declared that dance was her thing. She loved, loved, loved ballet and wanted to work at becoming a better dancer. Following her lead, I enrolled her in a conservatory dance program at a small studio with excellent teachers; I kept encouraging her to keep playing soccer and basketball with her friends at school. A year later, she asked to audition for the Junior Repertory Ensemble, a performance group affiliated with our local professional ballet company. With the encouragement of her teacher, I let her try out and she’s spent the last year performing at various venues around our community. This year (after much discussion about how making the dance team will limit her ability to continue to play recreational sports with her classmates), she auditioned and earned a spot on her studio’s competitive dance team. She’s incredibly motivated to work hard and to see where this new experience will take her. I am excited for her, but a little nervous about closing the “well-rounded approach to childhood” chapter.

Last night, I attended one of her recitals at a local senior living center. The image of pure joy that was reflected on her face as she performed made me feel at peace with her decision… well really our decision to take a sip of the select sport Kool-Aid. I truly believe that part of growing up is discovering what brings you joy and makes you feel alive. Each person’s recipe is unique. There is something incredibly rewarding about watching your child discover his or her thing and pursue it with purpose.

Teachable Moments: Finding the Good in the Bad

6.3.16

Sometimes it feels like you are sailing though life…loving your family, making new friends and feeling authentically happy. That is how I would describe the first weeks of summer: filled with sunshine and freedom.

My kids feel relieved to have a break from the rigors and routines of the school year. They’ve been enjoying long and lazy days, filled with unscheduled stretches of time that allow them to read books, play Legos and pick up spontaneous games of kickball with the neighborhood kids. This week, swim team practice and tennis clinics began; it’s felt good to add a little structure to our days… In short, our summer has been filled with abundant blessings.

Yesterday, I had a reality check when I walked into a situation where a pack of boys was treating one of my kids with cruelty. My child was asking “Why?” and was being laughed at as I walked up and stood next to him. The kids stopped and looked at me, wondering what I was going to do. I simply put my hand on my child’s shoulder and said that it was time to go home. As we walked away, I wondered if I handled the situation correctly…

This event completely sucked the wind out of my sails. My mom’s old saying describes my feelings perfectly: “You are only as happy as your saddest child.” I just cannot shake this overwhelming sense of sadness.

When your kids are toddlers and have a “booboo,” you can kiss the pain away. As they grow up, you become more of a passive spectator…a fan, cheering for them to make the right choices and to pick the right friends. You are backstage, making sure that they feel loved and supported at home; but, you realize that most of their daily experiences are completely out of your control.

Growing up is hard. Everyone wants to fit in and to be accepted. Some kids struggle more than others to find friends that click. Although I desperately wish that I could turn back the hands of time and prevent the ugly incident from happening, my hope is that this will become a teachable moment. From it, I hope that my child will learn to pick his friends more carefully. I hope that he will choose to fill his life with kids that make him feel happy and who can appreciate all of the qualities that I love most about him.

I need to let go and to move on with the understanding that all of the boys involved are also growing up and learning who they are and who they want to become. What I witnessed was a snapshot in time, not their defining story. Maybe my intrusion will create a teachable moment for them, too? Who knows? It’s time for me to focus on my blessings and to enjoy the short season of summer.