Thursday, May 30, 2013

End of the School Year Party

We (with our friends the Inmans) hosted our annual End of the School Year Party for the neighbor kids.

 This year, we aimed for an easier, simpler party.  Instead of last year's banner, we made a homemade sign.
 Some of the children at the party before the water balloon games.  About 35 neighbor kids attended this year's party.

 We started with a water balloon toss game with partners.
Then we did a variation of water ballon "wars."  
First, we divided the kids into age groups (under 5, 6-7 year olds, and 8 and above).  Each group got a chance to throw water balloons at same age friends. 
 Then, all the kids went into the yard and parents only got to throw water balloons at the kids.

 Finally, it was a free-for-all.  Both parents and kids tossed/dodged water balloons.
 After the kids picked up the water balloons (we held cake over their heads until they cleaned up!), summer cake was served (Thanks Costco!) plus birthday cake for Emma Hermacinski.
The party officially ended with a bike/scooter/foot parade around the neighborhood.  Many of the kids lingered after the party and played water guns.

This was our most successful End of the Year party.  Both parents and kids walked away happy!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day

 Collin snuggles with his preschool teacher, Mrs. Chrisman, on his last day of preschool.

 Spent Friday with Connor's second grade class.  The school held their annual Once Upon a Cure day.  Such fun!

We enjoyed a weekend visit from our dear friend Rachel and her kiddos.  They came down from Chicago to see the Indy 500 (and us!).

Happy Memorial Day!  Too busy with end of the year madness to blog.  Just pictures today!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How I ended up clutching a sign by the baseball field

Connor's baseball sign.

I'm mid-way into my freshman season as a baseball mom.  It's being a learning curve.  I've become a student of other baseball moms, the moms that have a half-dozen seasons tucked under their belts.  These moms have it down.  They bring the right equipment: comfy chairs, packed coolers, icy cold water jugs, an array of sunscreens.  They know exactly where to set up "camp," the spot with maximum shade and unobstructed views.  They can rattle off the league rules as quickly as their addresses.

I aspire to be a seasoned, knowledgeable baseball mom.  I'm just not there.

As a novice, I was unsure how to answer one of Connor's early requests.

"You need to make a baseball sign," he begged.

"Really?" I asked.  "Moms bring baseball signs to the ball park?"

He nodded and replied, "Yes, they bring signs to show support for their kids."

In the dash out the door for the first game, making a sign was forgotten.  But at the baseball field, I noted the absence of signs.  I passed on this observation to Connor after the game, but he was undeterred.  I needed to make a sign, he prodded.

Over the next several days I continued to forget about the sign.  Soon, Connor took matters into his own hands and made his own sign.  He wrote, "Eight is great.  Go Rays."  (Connor is number eight.)  He then attached Collin, his four year old brother's, name to the sign.  Collin may have mastered many four-year-old skills (getting dressed, brushing his teeth, throwing a tantrum), but sign making is not one of them.

Connor beamed as he handed me the sign and uttered that familiar request, "Bring the sign to the game!"

What's a mother to do?  I brought the sign.

When we first hit the ball park, rain pelleted the field.  The little boys and I realized the sign could also serve as an umbrella of sorts and so we savored the sign.  But when the skies cleared, the sign needed to be transformed back to its original purpose.  I imagined that other parents glanced at the sign and wondered if I was a zealot or a nut.

I certainly felt foolish lugging around this big sign, but carrying the sign wasn't about me, it was about him.  Whether or not I looked like a tool field side mattered little as long as Connor glanced at the sign and knew he was loved and supported.

And that's how I ended up making the rookie mistake of bringing a sign to the field, but I'm happy with my blunder (and so was Connor).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Benefits of Being Uncomfortable

Collin performed in his preschool's Spring Sing program.  We think he was strategically placed on the back row!

Exercise to me involves a good pair of running shoes and an open trail.  Running is what I enjoy.  It works for me.  Rarely do I deviate from my passion.  But yesterday I found myself perched on a yoga mat surrounded by a handful of girlfriends.  One friend won a semi-private yoga class and I was included on the invite list.  Yoga wasn't running, but I decided I'd treat the class as an "outing," a "social event" with friends.

I have sporadically attended yoga classes in the past, but it had been years (a decade even?) since my last class.  As soon as we hit the first Downward-Facing Dog, it became apparent that I was out of my element.  I think runners hold this faulty notion that somehow we possess superior athletic skills that equip us to exceed at any and all sports.  The thought is: If I can run for hours on end, I can surely master volleyball/tennis/bike riding/fencing/shot put/air hockey.  So, went my thinking with yoga.

As I struggled with the grueling plank poses and the endless vinyasas, I landed on a staggering conclusion: Yoga is hard, really hard.  My puny muscles aches and my wobbly tummy muscles screamed for mercy.  My back was drenched with sweat.  The makeup I had applied (yes, I put on makeup!) was now dripping down my cheeks.

The pinnacle of my pain came when we tackled the "Eagle."  The instructor explained:

-tuck your right leg over your left leg,
-now, pull the front foot behind the back leg,
-then wrap your right arm over your left arm,
-intertwine fingers,
-now bend,
-hold, and
-hop, quack, and count to 100 (just kidding on that one).

It was grueling.  Instead of an "Eagle," I looked more like a duck.  During this torturous exercise, the instructor threw out a tidbit, a life lessons of sorts.  She said, "Practice being uncomfortable.  When you find yourself in other uncomfortable situations throughout your life, remember how you got through this one."

During the final few minutes of class, we collapsed into the corpse pose (decidedly my favorite part of the class).  I closed my eyes and lay completed still, arms and legs outstretched and relaxed.  I ruminated on the instructor's words, "Practice being uncomfortable.  Remember how you got through the discomfort."

I thought about the uncomfortable situations in my life.  At first, little plights flashed through my mind: dealing with a whiney child, an annoying neighbor, a frustrating project.  But then I pondered bigger situations. I thought about my Asperger's son.  I reflected back on all the "uncomfortable" moments from his past and the present challenges, all the "practice" I've had at being uncomfortable.  I ruminated on all the ways I've had to push him out of his comfort zone, and therefore I've been pushed out of mine.  Memories flooded my mind; times where we made it through each and every challenge unscathed, and perhaps a little better.

In this day and age, discomfort is treated as a bad word.  We do everything in our power to ensure comfort.  We demand luxury, convenience, happiness.  We expect things to go smoothly and quickly.  (And by we, I'm including myself!)  But the thing is, life is not always comfortable.  A life lived will include discomfort.  It's how we learn to treat the discomfort that makes the difference.

Yoga class was uncomfortable for me, but that's OK.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Doctor Prom

 Junior Prom 1991 with my dear friend Erin.

 "Doctor" prom 2013 with my hubby.  We spent Saturday night at Chris's hospital fundraiser dinner.

 My man!
 Love that this gown doesn't include shoulder pads, sequins, or big bows!

Such a pretty night!

Last night I slipped on an evening gown.  It was the first time I'd pulled on formal wear in over a decade (minus the occasional bridesmaids dress).  I whined about the hassles of gussying up for the night.  I wanted to hate it, but I just couldn't.  Playing dress up is fun, even at the age of 39.

It took a village to get me ready for the event.  A fashionista friend lent me a dress and another hairdresser pal curled my locks.  I slapped on a fistful of makeup to conceal rapidly multiplying wrinkles and I thanked the Lord for well placed undergarments that tucked, lifted, and flattened in just the right spots.  The finished product was, well, as good as it gets.

As I primped and coifed, my mind drifted back to my junior and senior proms.  I thought about the differences between my high school proms and last night's "doctor" prom.

At "doctor" prom:

-I wouldn't try to ditch my date all night.

-I could comfortably walk around candles knowing my hair wouldn't ignite.  (I didn't wear the gallon+ amount of hairspray I caked on at junior and senior proms!)

-I would be pleased as punch to arrive home before midnight. (Somebody's got to wake up with the kids in the morning and remember the babysitter is on the clock!)

-My fancy "ride" for the evening would be a well-loved minivan littered with Goldfish crackers and Pirate's Booty.  (What convertible?)

-I wouldn't hear "Sea of Love," walk through a tunnel of intertwined turquoise balloons, or clutch a decorative 1992 commemorative glass filled with pink lemonade.

-Without raising an eyebrow, I could spend the night with my date:)

At "doctor" prom, the teenage awkwardness was gone.  I was comfortable in my much older skin and smitten by my date.  Who knew prom could actually be enjoyable!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Will work for toys

 A cheering section of little brothers on the sidelines for Connor's baseball game.
 A post-game snapshot after Cooper's final soccer game of the season.

"Cooper was on fire," my friend gushed to me last after the soccer game.

I smiled and agreed.  Cooper spent the entire game running around the field like the Energizer Bunny.  It was as if a magnetic pull kept his feet within close proximity to the ball.  No opponent or obstacle seemed to hinder his drive to move the ball towards his goal.  (Side note:  That being said, we're still working on the concept that soccer is not an individual sport, but rather a team sport!)

Those parents on the sidelines that watched Cooper's entire soccer season may be scratching their heads over Cooper's dramatic increase in playing ability.  Some may attribute it to practice or maturity, but I know better.

Several weeks ago, Chis came home from one of Cooper's games discouraged.  He griped about Cooper's apathy towards the game.  He lamented the fact that Cooper spent most of the game gazing at the sky and fiddling with his nostrils.  In pure frustration, Chris offered Cooper a deal.  He promised Cooper a Skylander's figure if Cooper could make ten goals during the remainder of the season.

At the next game, Cooper played like a pint-sized David Beckham.    He was no longer interested in the dandelions that flanked the field, but his singular focus was on the goal.  

The other parents were amazed at his dramatic transformation, but I was not.  I'd smile at the comments, but never reveal Cooper's true motivation.  I felt a bit like I was holding onto a dirty little secret, like I just stepped over some parenting line that I shouldn't have crossed.


It's something I struggle with as a parent.  Yes, it's effective, but does it hinder the real motivation I want my children to have in life: an inner gumption and drive to do the right thing and their best at any and all activities?

Sometimes I call it "positive rewards."  That term has a softer, more respectable tone.  I remind myself that even as adults we work for "positive rewards."  After all, employees are positively rewarded for good work with bonuses, raises, and promotions.  Can't kids be too?

But I want to instill in my kids that we work hard because we can and we should.  And as Christians, we work hard because God commands us to work for His glory.  ("Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." Col. 3:23)

But I'm not sure a six year old (at least my six year old) quite grasps those concepts.  My six year old will work for a Skylander's figure.*

I tell myself that, although bribed, Cooper will feel the satisfaction of working hard and begin to shoot for that "high" even without a special toy or treat dangling over his head.

That's what I tell myself.  We'll see.

*When I finally revealed my little secret to a few other soccer moms, the truth tumbled out.  The other little boys were playing for Lego sets and icy treats.

Monday, May 13, 2013

When dirt lands on your driveway

Collin proudly wears his first soccer medal.

Cooper raced through the door.  His eyes were wide and his face was flushed.  

"Mom," he screamed.  "There's a HUMONGOUS dirt pile on our driveway!"

He beamed and danced around the kitchen with excitement.  In Cooper's world, it was like Disneyland uprooted and landed outside our house.  In the life of a little boy, days don't get much better than this.

"It's not dirt, but mulch," I replied.

Cooper looked perplexed.

"They're different because...because (hmm)," I paused.  "Just because. "

"And," I continued.  "It's off limits."

Cooper's face fell.  

I saw the wheels in Cooper's head turning.  I imagined all the ways Cooper was planning to supersede my instructions.

-What if I accidentally fell into the mulch?
-What if a ball lands in the mulch and I have to retrieve it?
-What if I need to hide in the mulch to protect myself from a bear?
-What if a tornado comes and our house collapses and the mulch pit is the only place to find refuge from the storm?

I held firm.  No mulch diving, under any circumstances.  N-O.  No. NO!

Cooper was hurt.  He acted as if I placed a brand spanking new trampoline on our driveway with a "Do not touch" sign.  It just wasn't fair, according to Cooper.

Cooper paced the house for a while, letting off steam.  Then, he ran around outside doing a fairly good job staying out of the "dirt."

Around supper time, I went outside to call the boys in for dinner.  When I hit the driveway I glanced at the mulch pile and gasped.  Balanced on top was......Ozzy, a neighbor boy.  Ozzy is a child that's always impeccably dressed and sparkly clean.  I've never seen Ozzy's blond locks in disorder.  He's a sweet boy, extremely polite, and obedient.

Tonight I found Ozzy drenched in mulch remnants as if he rolled, slid, and tunneled through the mulch pile.  Ozzy's hair danced out from his skull with mulch chips blanketing his scalp.  I took a once over on Ozzy's appearance and prayed his family wasn't planning a family photo that night or a special celebratory dinner.

"Ozzy, I asked.  "Will your mom be mad?"

Yes," he answered in complete honesty.  He had a conflicted look on his face, an expression that was a mix of guilt and elation.

Cooper shot him a look of pure envy.  

Sometimes life just isn't fair.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day on the soccer field

 Trying to capture a picture of my soccer playing boys.
Cooper treasures his new soccer medal.

I know the calendar says it's May, but the temperature on the soccer field felt more like December.  The wind whipped across the unencumbered fields adding to the already frigid feel.  Despite wearing three layers and a pair of fleece gloves, I was freezing.  Most of the game I sat on the sidelines huddled under a tartan blanket, knees knocking and torso shaking.

Perhaps I would have had a better attitude about the weather if the soccer play was remotely warm.  Instead, our (sparse) team of four and five year olds seemed to have an array of issues that hindered any chance of stellar play.  One little guy was temperamental, prone to wild emotions that he felt very comfortable displaying in front of a crowd.  (I think he may have a future as a reality TV star!)  Another was timid, preferring to trifle his game time away on the sidelines clutching a water bottle.  And that's just the beginning.  Did I mention the child that took on the likeness of a narcoleptic and would simply collapse on the field in corpse pose?  Why?  Why not, I suppose?

As the game dragged along, I remembered that it was Mother's Day.  While many other mothers were lounging at spas or savoring delicious meals at yummy eateries, I was on the soccer field...coaching...with my own four kids in tow.  Where did I go wrong?  

This year, I spent Mother's Day solo with the kids.  My husband passed the day recovering from one ER shift and then working the next.  We saw each other briefly.  He made efforts to call.  He gave a thoughtful gift.  But, he wasn't there.  He couldn't help it.  That's his job.

While I was on the soccer field throwing myself a private pity party, I thought about my husband.  I imagined he was treating someone's mother right at that moment.  Wasn't someone else grateful that my husband was working today?  Wasn't someone else experiencing a much harder Mother's Day than me?  Those images tilted my emotions.  

Chris and I agreed that Mother's Day doesn't have an expiration date.  We plan to celebrate on an alternate date.  I cancelled my pity party.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Taming the Class Clown

Enjoying the gorgeous spring weather. 

As we walked into Collin's preschool class, my eyes gravitated towards the chalkboard.  In big bubble letters were the words, "Welcome Moms to the Mother's Day Brunch."

My heart sank.  I forgot.  I glanced around the room suddenly very aware that all of the other moms were clad in pastel sweater sets and floral sundresses, the type of attire that screamed "respectable mom."  I, on the other hand, was wearing running clothes with my hair tossed back in a loose bun (the sort of hairdo that rode the line between chic and hobo).  Suddenly the tune, "One of these things is not like the other" flashed into my mind.  I was the other.

I couldn't run.  I had to stay.  I slicked back my greasy hair and pulled on a smile as I waltzed into the classroom, hand in hand with Collin. 

The teacher motioned us to the rug.  The moms snagged spots on the carpet and pulled children into laps.  Collin selected a seat next to his buddy Garrett.  I sat Indian style on the rug with Collin nestled into my lap.

The preschool teacher sang out the good morning song and announced the class helpers.  Collin was selected as the line leader.  He beamed as if he just won the Heisman trophy.

Circle time started to get long.  We ran through the seasons, colors, shapes, alphabet, days of the weeks, and....  (We may have even hit on the Periodic table, I don't remember in the mass of information thrown at the kids.) As circle time continued, I noticed Collin getting antsy.  That's when Collin and his cohort Garrett (also the fourth son out of four boys) decided to liven it up a bit.  They added their own flair to "Five Little Ducks" and improvised "The Birthday Song."  There I sat holding the class clown, mortified by his hysterics.

During this commotion, I noticed the mom next to me continually reprimanding her daughter.  The little girl was curled up in her mother's lap with her thumb plugged into her mouth.

"Don't you want to be a big girl and pull your thumb out of your mouth," she pleaded.

"Nobody else has their thumbs in their mouth," she noted.

"You can't sing with your thumb in your mouth," she whined.

I shifted my gaze between the class clown and the sweet thumb sucker and for just a minute I was jealous.  What I wouldn't give for the quiet, sedate thumbsucker!

I left the Mother's Day celebration a little worn out.

Later that day, I heard someone mention Psalm 139.  Unfamiliar with that passage, I flipped open my Bible and read through the words.  I stumbled upon the following verse:

"For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

That spoke to me.  It reminded me that God didn't make a mistake.   He purposely gifted me with the class clown.  I wasn't meant to raise the docile thumbsucker.  Now it's up to me to tame him.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Baseball Mom

 The boys participated in a walk for Living Water International that raised enough money for 2 1/2 wells in Haiti!  Great job organizing Shank Family!
 Post-game soccer glow for Collin.
 Saturday morning on the baseball field with Connor.

Anniversary (for us)/Birthday (for Jim) dinner celebration with the Brinkruffs.

This is my freshman season as a baseball mom.  My husband thrust me into my new role the minute he signed Connor up for his first baseball team.  Naively, I thought baseball would be just like t-ball (minus the t).  Silly me.  Baseball is (literally) in a different league.

Right away, I missed t-ball.  Gone were the days when everyone runs to a base, scoring is superfluous, and game time is capped at an hour. (Yes, an hour!)  

Baseball is for big boys.  Strikes and outs are called.  Scoring is kept.  Games run on for....ever, it seems.  Practices and games are frequent and can be called on any (or many) days of the week.

At first, I was annoyed.  I missed the predictability of a single/fixed/weekly practice with a single/fixed/weekly game.  Family life could easily rotate around the repetition.  The baseball schedule was different.  It required us to work around it, rather than it work around us.

The first baseball game was long.  I spent most of my time corralling Connor's siblings on the sideline and rebuffing their endless pleas to visit the snack bar.  With all the commotion, I barely caught a glimpse of Connor swinging the bat or standing ready in the outfield.  To say the least, I was irked.

But then things started to get better.

Since the first game, I've learned a thing or two, like:

1) The snack bar can be used for bribes.
2) The adjoining playground offers siblings something to do and a birds-eye view of the field.
3)  Connor is really enjoying himself.

It's the third one that's softened my outlook on baseball.

Tonight, I plopped down on a bench near the playground.  Connor's siblings jumped on the seesaw and secured a spot on the tire swing.  I watched Connor stride up to bat and fall into a stance.  He whacked a ball into the outfield; it whizzed past his opponents.  He raced to first base and then pushed his oversized batter's helmet away from his face.  Even from a distance, I could see his eyes aglow.

And so it continued for the remainder of the game.  Balls caught in the outfield.  Runs to home plate.  Endless cheers from teammates.

We left the field over two hours later.  We were fatigued, dusty, and hungry, but happy. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Noticing Kindness

Cooper snagged our neighbor's motorcycle helmet.

Once a month, I volunteer in Cooper's kindergarten classroom.  My responsibilities range from making copies to working with reading groups.  Those mornings are enlightening.  Sure, I'm there to work, but observing the inner workings of the classroom is a nice side benefit.

Wednesday morning I arrived in the classroom.  Cooper's teacher greeted me warmly at the door.  Her voice was soft and her smile (like always) appeared to be a permanent fixture on her face.  She motioned me to the cafeteria where I proceeded to work with a parade of kindergarten students on their reading.  Some breezed through "Five Stops" while others struggled.  Some tried to "work me," begging for a drink break or a tissue when they hit the first snag.  Some just wanted to cuddle.

I noted their personalities.  Obstinate.  Affectionate.  Silly.  Kind.

One particular child stood out.  He had a smile as big as Texas paired with the most beautiful eyes.  But something was different with him.  His speech was disjointed and his movement labored.  Leg braces covered his socks.  If these things were hinderances, he certainly didn't show it.  He placed himself smack dab in the middle of the action.  He plopped himself down amid a slew of children frantically constructing a marble tower.  This little fellow cheered on his classmates' efforts and then he squealed with delight when the first marble swished through the turns and landed on the floor.

What he may have lacked in other areas, he exceeded in compassion.  When a little girl burst into tears during reading time, he was the one that meandered over to her and slung his arms around her neck.  He said, "Don't cry ______.  It's ok."  She whimpered one last time and then stopped.

I almost started to cry myself.

That night, I asked Cooper to name his favorite friend in the class. He selected this special little boy.  When I asked why, he replied, "He's nice."

I love that the thing Cooper's class (Cooper included) noticed about this boy was his kindness.