Thursday, May 31, 2012

Finding Your Place

My vision of Ian,
a few years into the future...
My son is a gamer. There have been years months days when I was certain I'd find him slumped over the computer keyboard or Xbox controls, his body weakened by a lack of fresh air, nutritional sustenance, and face-to-face human interaction. Ian's love of the game has caused his poor mother more than a little bit of angst, but now I'm seeing a light at the end of the virtual tunnel. Eighth grade will be remembered as the year Ian found his place...somewhere other than in front of a screen.

During the second half of the school year, it became apparent that Ian's "thing" is music and theater. He's enjoyed singing in the chorus since 6th grade, but more recently I saw evidence of his passion and commitment when he attended, without complaint, daily after school rehearsals for the school musical. These rehearsals ate into what would have otherwise been valuable game time.  In addition to the musical, this winter Ian was asked to join Cantible, the select vocal group he unsuccessfully auditioned for back in September. Turns out someone else in the group wasn't doing his job and Ian was invited to take his place. (They had after school rehearsals as well. Even less game time.) When I recently thanked the director for giving Ian the opportunity, she remarked at how he had blossomed and surprised her with his development as a singer.

This past Friday we received news that confirmed that Ian has indeed found his voice. I had a phone call from his best friend, Noah, around 2:30 p.m. before Ian had arrived home from school. The conversation went something like this:
N: Hey, wanna hear something?
M: Sure, what's up? 
N: I think Ian made the Silvertones.
M: What? No way. Where did you get this information?
N: Someone said they saw the list posted at the high school and Ian's name was on it.
M: Are you sure?
N: About 80% sure. 
80% was not sufficient with news as potentially big as this. See, the Silvertones is the most select singing group at our high school. Only 36 students from grades 9 through 12 will make the cut. I had been hoping Ian might make it by his senior year (oh ye, of little faith). I waited anxiously for him to get home from school. Fifteen minutes later, he came to the door with a shocked, disbelieving, over the moon smile.
Me: Is it true?
Ian (playing dumb): What?
Me: Did you really make Silvertones?
Ian: I think so. That's what Henry said. 
Henry is one of Ian's friends. His dad happens to be the director of the choral and theater program at the high school. This meant Henry was likely to have insider information. But still, Ian warned me, "Do not post this on Facebook." He expected a letter from the high school to arrive that weekend. A few hours later, a congratulatory phone call came from the Silvertones coordinator. And the postman delivered a glorious letter also confirming the good news. Ian was one of only two freshmen/women) to be selected. The letter also provided valuable details, including:
  • Ian's strengths (excellent resonance, placement, and relaxation throughout) and weaknesses (precise independent intonation and reading)
  • The requirement for Silvertones members to be in all three high school choral groups
  • The immediate start of 7 a.m. rehearsals, daily.
  • An upcoming introductory meeting for include discussion of the group's spring trip to Italy.
My son, the gamer, a latecomer to finding his voice, now a member of the Silvertones. We're still in shock here, but I couldn't be more proud.

Seeing your child "find his place" in the world---his gifts, a sense of accomplishment and joy, a circle of friends, belonging to a community---is one of the most amazing things I've experienced as a parent.

Thanks for allowing me to share the experience with you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What are Your 25 Greatest Achievements?

You're probably saying to yourself, Kim's really been in a mood lately. No fun to be with. Increasingly snide and sarcastic posts. A bad attitude all around. You're right; I know you're right. Given the lack of a more legitimate explanation for the state I'm in, I believe that I may be in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Several signs would seem to confirm this diagnosis:

  1. My daily search for the perfect convertible
  2. A subscription to Botox Injection of the Month Club
  3. An increasing tendency to wear skinny jeans whether they look good or not
  4. Surprising maternal angst because my daughter is leaving elementary school and my son is headed to high school
In addition to these outward indicators of the approach of a mid-40s meltdown, I am also finding myself in the desert of vocational wandering. Translated, this means I have no idea what I'm doing with my career. Am I in the right job at the right place and should I hunker down and wait for retirement, or is it time to shake things up? I've always wanted to own a marina. Or maybe I should pursue stardom in Hollywood. Or perhaps the circus is calling.

If you find yourself in the desert of vocational wandering, I pray that you are blessed with an employer like mine. One you can go to in tears, crying "what am I here for??" without fear that they will put you on the list for the next round of pink slips. Of course, it's possible I'm on the list and just don't know it yet, but in the meantime, they're appearing very supportive. So supportive, in fact, that they're giving me the opportunity to visit the Center for Career Development and Ministry outside Boston.

Before my August visit to CCDM, there's lots of homework to complete. Some of it is fun, personality and skill assessment kinda stuff, but one assignment has put a serious damper on the good time I was having:
List Your 25 Greatest Achievements
You can't believe how difficult this is proving to be. I can think of a list of maybe 10-12 things, including:
  • Learning to ride a bike
  • Successfully narrating the 5th grade spring concert 
  • Winning a few Forensic competitions in high school
  • Singing a solo in a high school musical 
  • Going to Girls State and some other leadership conference while in high school
  • Writing a master's thesis
  • Scoring a couple black belts (also have a couple brown ones; depends on what I'm wearing)
  • Marrying well
  • Having good kids 
A close look at these accomplishments reveals that all but one of my achievements was pre-kids. And that black belt was merely a means for handling the stress of having said kids.

As I work on this assignment, it occurs to me that it would be much easier to make a list of 25 things I haven't done that I consider to be true feats. For instance, I haven't:
  • Run away from home
  • Strangled either of my children
  • Smothered my snoring husband with a pillow
  • Quit my job on a bad day
  • Rented my own apartment
  • Told everyone what I really think of them
  • Quit every volunteer position I have
  • Succumbed to my desire to eat nothing but soft pretzels and mini powdered donuts, and drink nothing but fountain cokes
  • Fire bombed the kids' rooms when they are beyond trashed (the rooms, not the kids)
  • Kidnapped my sister and brought her home from Colorado
See how much easier that was?

If ever there was a blog post deserving of your contribution/comments, this is it. Go ahead and share your achievements, whether they be the "I did it!" kind or in the "I wanted to, but you're lucky I didn't" category. Have fun!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Grateful Weeping is Always Appropriate

I am in a lousy mood with a bad case of writer's block. There may be a cause and effect relationship there. Regardless, the blog must go on, so I'm going to address one of my pet peeves. You seem to like it when I'm foolishly honest, so here it goes.

People who don't show the proper amount of appreciation bug me.  

As is often the case with our personal issues, this is genetic.

In my family (parents and sister), we don't go overboard on gift giving (the exception being my mother's Christmas Presentpalooza). Given the infrequency of our bestowing of gifts, when you receive one, it's understood you will make a Big Deal out of it. Translated, this means you will:
  • Immediately try on any article of clothing received
  • Wear said clothing within 24-hours
  • Wear said clothing with any gifted jewelry
  • Read the book, fill in the calendar, or watch the movie received within 48-hours
  • Appropriately fill the candy jar, the flower pot, or the magazine rack within 72 hours
  • Offer an Over the Top appropriate emotional display for any gift worth more than $50
Anything less means you didn't really like what you received and that the giver is not truly loved and appreciated. We're a sensitive bunch.

This proclivity toward Extreme Shows of Appreciation does not particularly resonate with my husband. In his family, it was all about the greeting cards, not the gifts. I think greeting cards are a waste of money unless they're holding cash, gift cards, or theater or concert tickets, in which case the Big Deal Reaction is warranted lovely, but clearly not worthy of a major show of appreciation. My husband really struggles with major displays of "Awesome!" when the gift received is something he did not request. I personally think surprise gifts (those you didn't ask for) are the best, but that's a different blog post.

My need for a proper show of appreciation extends beyond my family. While friends don't have to cry or express undying love, and don't have to swear to never take off the jewelry or t-shirt you gave them, a genuine, heartfelt "thank you" is appropriate. "You're the best friend ever," never hurts either.

A completely reasonable
show of appreciation
Then there are those occasions on which I share/give a friend or acquaintance something of value that I have but don't need, something that I graciously bestowed upon you over all others. Examples include Hersheypark tickets or a seat at the World Series. Serious gushing is appropriate in these circumstances and offering to buy me a beer at the game or a soft pretzel at the amusement park is the least you can do also a welcome response. In a few of these instances, I've felt more appreciated by complete strangers in the supermarket when I give them my extra coupon for free Turkey Hill ice cream. Just sayin'.

I realize that gift-giving should come from the heart and that the giver should expect nothing in return, but that's crap let's face it, even when we're giving a gift out of love, we expect to feel good in the process. If you fail to react appropriately, it's going to piss me off bum me out and I'm going to put you on my list of ungrateful jerks, never to receive anything from me ever again. That includes a piece of gum. A tissue may be all you can ask for and even then, your nose better really be running.

If you're wondering whether you're on my list, feel free to contact me privately. And if I have ever failed to Go Overboard in expressing my thanks for something you've done for me, please let me know. I consider it my personal responsibility to make sure the world learns how to make a Super Big Deal over every little act of kindness and so I must be sure to put my enthusiasm where my mouth is.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Games People Play

I had a great weekend. For 24 heavenly hours, with my daughter Abby, I enjoyed the sand and the sun in Avalon, New Jersey, one of my happy places. We rode bikes, ate out, spent time on the beach, and window shopped. If we could have shared a bottle of Pinot Grigio on the ocean front deck of our hotel room, the whole thing would have been picture perfect.

Adding to the delight of this time together was a fine discovery I made. There, in my toiletry bag, I found a pair of earrings that I hadn't seen in months. Actually, this is not a rare occurrence. I frequently find lost jewelry, lipstick, underwear, socks, you name it, when I open suitcases, duffel bags, backpacks, purses, etc. It's always such a delight that it occurred to me I should be intentional about arranging my "surprises." For example:
  • Leave a little something special in your suitcase before putting it away after returning home
  • Keep a favorite pen or lipstick or other goodie in the purse you're swapping out for the season
  • Place a few bucks in your jeans pocket and "forget" to remove the dollars when putting them in the wash or back in your closet
  • Hide your favorite candy or other well-preserved treat in a cupboard you rarely open.
Then, voilĂ ! The next time you reach for that suitcase, purse, pair of jeans, or kitchen shelf, you're in for a treat. Life just doesn't serve up enough pleasant surprises so I see no reason not to help it along.

In keeping with this mind-game approach to good stuff, there are a number of other means to orchestrated joy-filled moments:
See, he gets it!
  • If, like me, you live and die by your to-do list, go ahead and add a few tasks that you've already completed, just so you have something to cross off your list. Look how productive you've been!
  • Love flowers but never receive them from that special someone? Go ahead and send yourself a bouquet. Schedule delivery for a few weeks from now so that you forget about them. What a nice surprise when they arrive! 
  • Frustrated by your weight? Trying to lose a few pounds? Buy your pants a size larger and stick them in the back of the closet where you're not likely to discover them for awhile. Then, when you go to put them on, they'll be too big, and you'll feel like you've accomplished something. Of course, if they fit, or God forbid they're too tight, you'll totally bum yourself out, so consider the risks with this one.
And if cash in hand gives you a sense of satisfaction, here's a fun little trick you can play on your wallet. When selling fund-raising stuff for your kids or purchasing tickets for a group to attend a concert or play, always offer to cover the costs up front, allowing others to pay you back when you deliver the goods. This way, at some point in the near future, you will receive cash from a number of folks, thereby filling your wallet and making you happy at the sight of all that green. Yes, I realize that the money was previously taken from your checking account or charged to your credit card, but that doesn't seem to affect the joy I find in this approach to "making money." Please note that this particular game should not be played 1) with people who never pay you back, or 2) if you don't pay off your credit card in full every month. It's no fun at all if interest fees accrue in the process.

So there you have it folks. Just a few of the mind games I like to play. If you have others that work for you, please share. I'm always looking for ways to trick myself into a happy "surprise!"

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Parents Behaving Badly

As you might expect, I'm a loud and occasionally obnoxious an enthusiastic parent at my children's sporting events. I hoot and holler, scream wildly, and encourage the kids to "RUN!" "KICK!" "DEFEND!" I cheer for every hit, catch, goal, block, and nice try. As embarrassing as I can be for my children, and as much as I may annoy other parents, the one thing I never do is criticize. Having attended my fair share of children's sporting events, however, I can tell you that other parents are not as self-controlled as yours truly. 

A representative badly behaving parent,
not from deep Delco (as far as I know)

Abby is currently playing softball and the games this season have been particularly unruly. I've heard parents scream at their children:
"Don't swing at that! Make her throw strikes! She made you throw strikes!"
I've heard coaches criticize their players:
"You couldn't have hit that with a broom! Wait for a pitch!"
I've heard parents chew out coaches. And umpires scold parents and coaches. And parents instigate fights with coaches and other parents. Yes, the news you hear about parents behaving badly at kids' sporting events is true.

Last night's game was a doozy.

First, the other team kept catching fly balls. Players don't usually do that in U11 games (kids under age 11). It cost us runs, and that's annoying. Annoying, but not improper or disruptive.

Disruptive is having parents on one team (I'm ashamed to say it was ours) make a rude comment to an assistant coach on the other team, at which said coach asked them to repeat that comment and when they declined, confidently retorted, "I didn't think so." And frankly, I don't know what they were thinking insulting this particular woman. Even before they baited her, she looked like a ticked off linebacker, already in a bad mood because she wanted to get home for the Flyers game. Those Flyers fans are a mean, volatile bunch.

All this negative energy put the ump, who's normally very sweet, in a rotten mood. She called every possible error:
  • Obstructing the base (lost us two outs and advanced runners)
  • Batting out of order (an automatic out; the other coach was actually keeping track. Jerk.)
  • Tossing the bat after getting a hit (one warning)
And she threatened parents and coaches on both sides with ejections for bad behavior. And no, I wasn't one of them.

Then there was the constant yelling. Our coaches are big into "KEEP GOING!!" when there's been a hit and a player is running to base. As long as the other team hasn't returned the ball to the pitcher, all's fair, and they take full advantage of it, even when it seems cruel. Of course, given the seemingly dirty (though perfectly legal) "RUN!!" instructions of our coaches, the other team decided to make it work for them as well. Now we had two coaches hollering at the girls to head to the next base. In the end, the "GO FOR IT!" approach worked out well for the other team and they beat our formerly unbeaten girls in the bottom of the last inning.

Heads were swimming. Their girls were screaming with joy, while ours were dejected by the loss and madness. It was like a reality TV show: "Naughty Parents of Deep Delco." (Only local readers will appreciate that deep Delco reference.)

Time to share. What's the worst, craziest, or most offensive thing you've heard at a child's sporting event?

Monday, May 7, 2012

10 Things I Love about My Son

Ian with the Phanatic 2007ish
Fourteen years ago I gave birth to my son, Ian. It was an unpleasant experience, primarily because I was too stupid clueless to request an epidural. Only recently have the scars on Rob's wrist faded after I dug my claws into him for getting me into that pregnant state in the first place. But this is not about the pain Ian has brought to my life. This is about the joy. I figure the kid's been through enough abuse via this blog that I owe him this:

The Top 10 Things I Love About My Son

  1. He's a genuinely nice and particularly likeable kid.
  2. He's extremely funny and quick-witted and can be a major goofball.
  3. He's sensitive and affectionate.
  4. He's smart and engaging.
  5. He sings, acts, reads, and enjoys movies (we have lots in common).
  6. He shows real concern for others.
  7. He's respectful.
  8. Other parents and his teachers have nothing but good things to say about him.
  9. He's fun to spend time with (as long as there are no electronics within 300 ft.).
  10. Every night before bed he tells his father and me that he loves us. 
Ian, I'm sorry I'm not the kind of mother who remembers what time you were born or your first word, but I hope you can take comfort in the fact that I never forget how blessed I am to be your mom.

Happy Birthday, Ian!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

They say, next to anti-depressants, it's the best medicine

Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill manners.
--Lord Chesterfield
Lord Chesterfield has my number, but then I never did like that guy. Yes, I laugh easily. I laugh heartily.  My laugh makes people laugh. My Freakin’ Angel friend Theresa told me it's one of the things she likes best about me. Though she added that there really isn't much else to choose from. Theresa recently reminded me of an occasion at a small movie theater in which she heard a woman’s loud distinctive laugh and told her husband, “I think that’s Kim.” Husband thought she was crazy. Rob and I ran into them leaving the theater. Yep. That was me.We still laugh about it. Ha.

It may seem to be a desperate subconscious cry for attention, but honestly, my laugh is genuine and heartfelt. It makes me feel good to laugh hard. As Charles Swindoll writes, “Laughter should come easily to a place characterized by joy.” It does that for me. Laughing removes all traces of sadness, stress, frustration, irritation, etc. I feel so wonderfully alive when laughing out loud, consumed by the moment.

I just wish I wasn’t often the only one laughing.  Like at church. Or my child’s school assembly (where the kids turn around to look at me instead of paying attention to the speaker). Or in the theater.  It seems what I find laugh-out-loud funny is often not what others perceive worthy of a hearty chuckle. I have a soft spot for dry humor, smart humor, and snarky humor (no kidding). Comedians Jim Gaffigan, Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld are favorites. And I still miss Dennis Miller on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. I think being quick-witted is an exceptional trait (my son Ian is among the gifted) and I can appreciate light-hearted, good-for-the-soul attempts to make me laugh (as found in many a forwarded email joke and those cute BBC talking animal videos).   

I think the Three Stooges and most Jim Carrey movies are stupid, I’ve never been a Lucille Ball fan, and potty humor doesn’t do much for me either.

Humor does not appear to be a genetic trait. I think my funny bone is substantially larger than that of either of my parents (though on the occasions that my dad does laugh out loud, it’s worth the wait) or my sister (though when she gets going, her laugh itself is hysterical). While Ian has a terrific sense of humor, Abby may have been born without a funny bone. After watching the BBC talking animal video, she asked, “Why is that funny? Animals don’t really talk, you know.” And she saw no laughter potential in the Muppets, which breaks my heart.

Another side to having a sense of humor and embracing life’s laugh track, is being eager to make others laugh. This is one of my goals in life, born out of necessity and pain, of course. Like many a comedian, my desire to make others laugh masks a deep insecurity and need for validation. Somewhere around the age of six months, when I first realized I was not like everyone else, I made it my life's work to distract from my differences by creating laughter, even at my own expense. I'm still working it out in therapy, but don't let that stop you from finding me amusing. 

In my next post, I'll share how I cry easily, cry heartily, and how my cry makes other people cry. Have your tissues ready.