When Soccer Was Fun

I am looking at a photo of the soccer team my son played on for three years. In this photo, soccer was still fun I think. You can tell that this photo came from a full Saturday of soccer. A tournament where the boys played 6 games in one day. Their hair is pasted to their heads with sweat in the photo and in between games, they played rounds and rounds of jackpot. A game they made up that involved a fake jackpot amount and kicking of a soccer ball and tackling to see who could catch it in the air.

It was so fun to organize snacks and food so that they could stay energized. Always challenging to keep them from wanting donuts or treats of other kinds. We the parents had to vow to offer only healthy food or else risk a food mutiny.

That was when soccer was still fun for me. I hope that it stopped being fun for me long before it stopped being fun for my son. That is him in the very middle of the back row. Now, before I get a little angry, I do not want to seem completely ungrateful in this post. The men who coached him for those three years made so many sacrifices as volunteers. They would often miss the events of their other children in order to coach the team my son played on. I am so thankful for their willingness to do that for my son and the other kids on the team.

Soccer was fun when teamwork and learning and joy were the main mission. It was fun when every parent cheered for every child and gloried in the idea that every child was doing the best he could with the amount of talent he currently had. Soccer was fun when each child cheered each other on and communicated well so that they were stronger together than they were apart.

Soccer became not fun. It was not fun when parents would whisper in clumps about the abilities of other people’s kids. Soccer was not fun when people you thought were your friends would suggest that your child quit playing at the level he was currently playing at. Soccer was not fun when teammates were allowed to scream at each other like the very worst version of teammates ever. How could it be fun to watch adults blame each other for losses or goals? How could it be fun for adults to revel in the failure of children and groan when a child entered the game? How could it be fun for try-outs to happen before a season was over and everyone from the team, except for my son, cheer together at the end of that tryout for the team that he was still on for several more games? All of this happened.

Soccer was more than just not fun then. Soccer was damaging.

To those parents who believed that their behavior was justified, I hope you get what you want. From this mom, I saw ugly in sports where I had never seen it before. I played sports for my whole younger person life. Basketball and field hockey and softball. I always saw sports as much more than winning and college scholarships. I saw it as character building and all about learning what being a part of a team really means. Sports were always joyful and fun then.

So, to the parents who encouraged their kids to play team sports with an individual sport mindset, you win.

And, just so you know, I lose happily in this competition for whose kid is the best because I never want to be a part of making sports damaging ever again.

I am so thankful we are free. I am so thankful that you did not damage my child. He still plays sports. He still thinks that it is fun.

All or Nothing

I missed days of this challenge and then once that happens, the real challenge is coming back to writing. I think psychologists call this All or Nothing Thinking. Instead of congratulating yourself on each day that you are able to meet a goal, people with this all or nothing thought disorder tend to see things in more black and white terms. The most interesting thing about me and this disorder is that I absolutely do not see other people in this kind of light. I am way harder on myself than I would ever be on anyone else.

I think this is worth thinking about for a few moments. When other people fail to accomplish something, I am able to think about the larger context around that failure. I am able to see them as people with obstacles who are absolutely trying their best to accomplish what needs to get done. When their humanity is visible, I embrace it with an attitude of people can only get done as much as they can get done. I mostly view other people as doing the best they can at all times.

For me however, it is as if I know better. I always think that I could have done better. I am also always sure that other people believe that about me too. I think because I am so hard on myself, I assume other people are hard on me too.

However, why not assume that other people are as understanding of me as I am of them? That would be a real flip the switch kind of thought. Radical for me.

Perhaps I worry that if I start to be kinder and more understanding of myself, I will stop being an accomplished person in the world who contributes to the growth and happiness of others. Interesting to think about self-kindness as the key to my effectiveness instead of its demise.

And so, I wrote today in this challenge. What an accomplishment.

The Alternate Schedule

On a Post-it on a desk first thing Monday morning is the alternate schedule. All that we had planned for today will need to be postponed for another day. We will need to make today the best learning opportunity possible. Our idea is to devote time to action research. We will work side by side with a child and then from that research, make a plan for how we will teach them.

After working with several kids across several classes, I get to read with Arabella. Arabella looks worried about her growth as a reader but so do her teachers. I concentrate on making sure my face does not look worried. I know instantly that I will need to share my belief in her with her so that she can continue to grow. She can do so much. With just a little bit of prompting and coaching, she is able to problem solve words. I make sure to shift our attention from word to meaning. “There are funny things in this book, Arabella.” She has never laughed while reading. A small smile curls and I see a dimple that I had not seen before.

I find out that when her sister is sad, Arabella invites her to play with her Barbie house. Her story ends with, “And then when we play we are both happy.” Arabella is tentative and anxious as if she knows she is below benchmark but she does not need to know that or to own that. I make sure she knows how much she can do. And, as I send her back to her seat, I see her whispering to her reading partner. They are laughing together at something. Arabella looks like a different child. Dimples flashing. Face relaxed.

People are worried about Arabella in this class. They are wondering if she needs more help than they can offer. I suggest that Arabella do more work with her partner. The two of them together look powerful. They look like they could accomplish anything.

I want Arabella to forget the benchmark. I want her teachers to forget the benchmark. I want Arabella and her friend to flash dimples as they lean into books and laugh together. She will learn to read then.

And, everyone… breathe.

March Sun

There is something hopeful about March sun. There is sun in February too. But there is something hopeful about March sun. The early flowers that open to it agree with me. They make me laugh with joy that I am in such good company. Me and the flowers. March promises a waking up and a reaching out.

There is a reason for the seasons. The hibernation of winter lets me go completely inside my heart. While there, I tend to its scars and slow down enough to remember all of the sadness. In the sadness, are the memories of all who have moved on. All who have passed from this light and into another light.

And, as I write this, I can see that the March sun is filled with those I love. My puppy got up just now and moved from his cave-like bed under my desk and into the squares of March sun that decorate our plain beige carpet. He is watching now. Dust maybe or my mom or John or Lynn or Kathleen or Herbie.

March sun is filled with warmth. I move next to my puppy. I feel motivated to uncurl from my spot on the couch and get out into it all. Instead of a nap, a walk. Instead of a snack, a glass of water. Instead of passive, active. My seltzer bubbles on the table next to me as I make a promise to the flowers. I will open to the sun. There will be more cold for sure but I will merely close- temporarily. I will not head back under ground. In touch with myself again because of the winter, I head out to get back in touch with the world.

Me and the flowers. Such good company. Both of us out in the hope of March sun.

Podcast Try #1

I will try to record my first podcast ever today. I am interested in podcasting. I love the format. A voice in your ear with a story to tell and space filled with bits of silence just long enough for serious thinking and reflection. I think this might be a fun medium for me. I do not hate the way my voice sounds on a recording and I love the idea that I can share my thinking without having to put myself on video.

So, I did some research the night before the big day to find out what I could do to make a great podcast. I googled. Right away I found an entry called, “How to Make a KickAss Podcast.” I think this was part of a larger series of podcasts by the same name but I did not open this one. I just liked the title. I moved into another podcast advice column by clicking and I found what I think I already knew. Story. Be ready to wrap the information that you are wanting to teach into stories.

I began to think about 12 minutes of content and then how I might attach stories to each of those parts. If I could have somewhere between 4 to 6 main points with stories attached, I would be able to make a first great try at my first podcast. I felt excited and anxious. Some part of me wondered if this was the start of a new part of my life. Okay, maybe that is a little dramatic.

I headed into the podcast room later that morning. The podcast room looked just like the office it also had been with two differences. Lisa was sitting there with a very small recorder. As big as my cell phone. It had two microphones. One that bent toward her and one that angled toward me. Looking at the recorder helped me understand what a podcast really is. It is a conversation. We made a little plan. We were strategic about the kinds of information that would be most helpful to listeners and we put that information into some wort of flow. We thought a little bit about what might make for some beautiful last words. But really, a podcast is just a conversation.

I paid attention to how I was feeling as we talked. I was enjoying myself. I let my energy rise and fall naturally as I would when I talked or taught about anything. A podcast is really a conversation about something that you have passion for. I loved that thinking on my feel part of my 15 minutes. I left the room feeling smart and like I had offered up at least a few nuggets of wisdom about my topic. Thus ended podcast attempt #1. Stay tuned. It may be coming to an earphone near you someday soon.

And, who knows. This may be the start of something new.

Book Baggy Research

I pulled up next to Josue and I asked him if we could look at the books he had loaded into his book bag for reading this week in reading workshop. He told me that he had just picked all of these books on Monday, so this was his third day reading from this collection. We spread the books on the table and there were seven of them. I said which ones of these have you read so far and he touched just one book. I then asked, “How far are you into this book?” He was on page 7. That meant that he had had 60 minutes or more of in school reading time and he had only read 7 pages.

I was attempting to model how I was setting myself up to be a consultant to these second grade readers. I had no interest in “holding them accountable”. I was more interested in teaching these young readers how to build and understand their reading identities. I helped Josue set a new goal for the next few minutes and when I returned, he had met it. I asked, “What changed? What did you do differently to get more reading done?” He paused for a second and then answered, “I read.” That made me laugh because I knew he had been mostly talking during reading workshop but he just discovered it for himself. So much better than if I lectured him about that. Science teaches us that the epiphany is the best place for learning. The secret is that the person who is doing the learning needs to have the epiphany.

When I asked Nolan about his book bag he had no answer until be started to sort his books. I said, “You have this whole pile of animal books. You must love animals.” Nolan looked at me and said, “No. I do not like animals.” So funny. Kid after kid answered this way when we talked about what was in their book baggy. It was clear that they had just been choosing books by level and number. As soon as we spread the books out and we had kids really look, read the title and take a book walk and maybe even read a little bit, they were choosing books in a much different way. They were thinking about what they wanted to read and why. After working with two other kids and having them really work to pick their books, they both sat hugging their pile and they wanted to know if they could read at home too.

This kind of work can sometimes feel like it is frivolous, not rigorous but if we make people who want to read and if they have books that are tempting to them, they will practice more and that will grow them. Especially if the books are also ones that they can read with high levels of understanding.

Before I left his room, Nolan came running up and said, “Wait. Wait. I was wrong. I like frogs. I like frogs.” I smiled and said, “Oh. Just one animal you like.”

He said, “Are you coming back?”

The Best Week Ever

We were tanned and our hair was blonded. We had just finished our last day of our yearly, week long vacation in Wildwood, NJ. I was wearing my favorite bathing suit ever. One with diagonal blue stripes that made me feel strong. My brother was even more tan than I was and his hair was plastered to his head in some weird shape that was made by the waves he would ride from morning to night. My sister had a bucket of shells that she had been working on all week. She was collecting them from the grass where they had been bleached white by the sun.

My dad called and I thought he was going to tell us it was time to start packing. Packing was a real to-do. My mom would let us load as much as we wanted into the car and my dad would always complain about how we did not need all of this stuff. Stuffed animals took up a lot of room for me and now I had even more to bring home. I was obsessed with winning on the boardwalk. Every night I would play the water balloon races and I would win. It was my job to rescue the giant panda or the 6 foot snake from where they hung over the rising clown heads. I had already rehearsed my answer if my dad complained about even more stuffed animals. I was ready to have the animals crowd onto my lap. Which would mean a super sweaty ride home in the car we crowded into with no air conditioning.

My dad and mom were standing there and they were both tanned and relaxed. They were holding hands and they looked happy. I don’t really remember what my dad said but what happened next is one of the clearest memories of my entire childhood. We started running around the little house that we had rented. We were whooping and screaming and hugging each other. We had gone from believing that we would be jamming the car with all of our stuff, to knowing that we would be spending another whole week at the beach. At some point, I ran into the house and gathered up my 6 foot stuffed snake and wore him around my next as we continued to run laps around the house.

That extra week was one of the best weeks of my life. I had run out of allowance but my parents gave me some more. All I could think about was more water balloon races. As we fell asleep that night on the couches that we had pushed together in the living room, I could already envision that purple koala bear sleeping next to me.