Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Talent versus hard work

Both my girls are busy and active, just like almost every other kid in America. I firmly believe in keeping kids involved in *something* so they find a place to belong and have a place to be and things to do. It helps keep them out of trouble as they get older and it teaches them so many good lessons about goal-setting and hard work and how to work together with others and way to many other good things to list here.

The oldest plays volleyball, serves on the student council, and runs the social committee at school. The youngest is a competitive dancer. Recently the situation came up for both that emphasized a point that every child really, really needs to learn early.

When things get hard, you have to make a conscious choice to rise up and change what you're doing to meet the challenge.

K plays on both the JV and the varsity teams for volleyball, but she was frustrated that she sat on the bench for the whole last varsity game while others of her skill/experience level played. I explained that it's the same issue that her little sister is dealing with right now.

L is starting her 4th year on the dance competition team and she was frustrated that she wasn't chosen for any small groups this year while many of her friends who are the same age and have been on the team a shorter time got solos and duets and special dances. Her friends are all nice little girls and they didn't gloat (our studio director is also the kind that would not have stood for such), but suddenly the duet partners were new best friends, music and styles for solos were the topics of discussion, and the teachers were pulling kids into the small groups for choreography work. It was all brand new and it was all in her face for every one of the long minutes she spends in dance each week. Every day that first week or so, she came out of class and shuffled quietly straight through the crowded foyer and out the door.

It hurt to see my bubbly, dance-loving daughter so upset. When she explained what was going on and asked why she was being left out, I had no explanation to give except that I had told the director we needed to have a light year in terms of time and financial commitment (L did start private school this year) and maybe she was trying to honor that in the way that would best meet the needs of both L and the team. A perfectly reasonable explanation, but I wanted to make sure that was the case, so I went to the director and asked.

That's always the best way to handle it, you know. To ask rather than assume. After all, L is...bubbly...and I wanted to make sure she was behaving herself in class and the no special dances thing wasn't because she was being a pill for the instructors. I wanted to know if there was a problem I could help with or something that L needed to change. So the director and I met and we came to a conclusion that is a bit foreign in our "I'm so awesome and it's all about having fun!" culture.

L is a talented dancer. She has a God-given ability that has carried her nicely this far. She's very flexible and graceful and has mastered many skills with minimal effort. But this year, the director moved L and her whole group up a level. They've got a brand new crop of cute little bitties and suddenly L's group is having to meet some very different expectations. "Cute" isn't going to cut it anymore.

While L is a very good dancer, she's kinda stalled out on learning new skills. She has come to the end of her inborn talent and she has come to the end of her this-is-all-brand-new enthusiastic practice-all-the-things-wherever attitude.

This is not a good combination.

While her friends are working on skills at home, L has been coming up with every excuse as to why she can't. She can't practice in her room because Dad is working all day right underneath her floor. She can't practice in the loft because there's too much furniture. She can't practice in the garage because it's too dirty and Dad's car is parked there. She can't practice outside because the grass makes her itch. Sure, she still taps down the grocery store aisles and cartwheels across parking lots, but she doesn't have a fully-outfitted dance studio in our normal-sized townhouse, so she can't have a focused dance practice.

Do you see the common thread? *I can't practice* She looks for excuses and isn't mastering new skills while her friends, who find places to practice at home, are moving forward. Because things have come so easily for her thus far, she hasn't built a solid foundation of hard work. Sure she practiced while it was fun, but she hasn't learned to discipline herself to practice the same things over and over even when it isn't fun. She's never had to work at something hard for a long time and so she's never known the immense satisfaction that comes from trying and failing so many times and then watching yourself finally achieve the goal you want.

Her director put it this way - she needs to make a choice. Is she going to quit because it isn't fun right now? Is she going to be satisfied with just being okay? Or is she going to work harder to achieve the goal of getting those special dances in the future?

The thing is, this is about so much more than dance.

When you get to college and the workload jumps, which choice are you going to make?

When you get that first job and your boss sets difficult expectations, which choice are you going to make?

When your marriage hits a really hard time, which choice are you going to make?

I want L and K to learn NOW, to be able to say when things get hard, *I* am going to be willing to change what I'm doing and work harder to achieve the goal. Whether it's a special dance or playing time on the court or a job or a relationship, *I* am willing to do whatever it takes. And then not just be willing, but actually DO IT. Stop making excuses. Stop expecting others to change. Stop expecting others to see how great you are just because you exist.

Trust me, it's good to learn that lesson at 9 with dance or at 12 with volleyball when the stakes are smaller, because it only gets more important from here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I'm liking this new schedule

Having both my children in private school this year has forced a few schedule changes around our house. I have never been much of a morning person. When hubby and I got married, it didn't take long for him to learn that talking to me for about the first hour of the day was not a good idea. Any necessary information should be relayed in short sentences that did not require a response because anything more was not going to go well.

When I taught and our school started at 7:30 (and what high schooler did they think was going to be ready to interact with the world at 7:30 in the morning!?!), I went through a terrible time with a reactive form of arthritis that left me in pain for much of the time. When we moved and I quit working and could sleep until the child woke me up (and she loves sleep as I do), the arthritis quieted down and has pretty much disappeared. I firmly believe that being able to *sleep* has been my saving grace. The whole less stress and not being on my feet all of the blessed day has probably helped as well, but I really credit the sleep.

Since school has started, my alarm is set for most days at 7am. Early, yes, but not stupid hour early. And curiously, my body has adjusted so well that it's often awake and ready to go before my alarm ever goes off. And I'm liking getting the day started earlier.

On Monday and Friday, K and I leave about 7:30, pick up a neighbor, and meet up with the rest of the carpool. We load up a total of 6 middle and high schoolers and all their gear and I drive them all to school where we draw a lot of attention when kid after kid comes piling out of my car in carpool line. I then drive home where L and I get started with her schoolwork right away. I'm really, fully awake, I've had some caffeine, and we can get organized and going smoothly.

On Tuesday and Thursday, L and I leave about 7:30 and I drive her to meet her carpool. I drop her off then go over to Starbucks for a chai tea and I get to sit and enjoy a peaceful morning writing a blog post before heading into the rest of my day. I sorta, kinda promised a new friend that I would show up at a spin class at our gym on Tuesday mornings, so today's chai tea was smaller and I have to leave here soon to get a spot in the class. She and her husband go and just love it and when I mentioned that I had considered adding that to my Tuesday routine, I ended up halfway promising to meet them. Spin is not my favorite and I am so not in the shape needed to keep up, but I like the accountability and comraderie of having a regular class, so we'll see.

Wednesday is my one day of no alarm as someone else picks up Kate for carpool. I love the sleeping in, but I find that those days don't go as well, so it may be time to add an (admittedly later) alarm for that day as well. I like structure and *doing* and this weekend was a perfect example of why I need it. We had Monday off school and we didn't have a whole lot of schoolwork Friday and there was a party at school I ended up helping with, so my whole schedule was thrown off the past 4 days. I felt so lost the whole time and it was confusing trying to get Lydia's work organized last night and trying to figure out if she had everything ready to turn in. I'm still not positive we had everything done, but I was getting emails from teachers late yesterday with apologies because they were late with posting their lesson plans, so everyone was totally thrown off by the holiday. Maybe they'll be gracious with the fact that Lydia went off and left her Language Arts homework in the fridge this morning (we made cookies and cream chocolate bark for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

And I'm off to spin class. If you don't see another post from me on Thursday, come visit me in the hospital where I'll probably be laid up in traction.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The perks of being impatient

I recently finished an Enormous Painting Project. A year ago (or maybe it was two, I claim memory loss due to old age and/or paint fumes), I painted a large portion of my downstairs in a beautiful creamy, yellowish color that looks like the pale yellow-white of real butter. And after a year (or 2), I still really love the color, so I had a dream of seeing that color on the rest of my house. The beautiful yellow cream with an occasional accent wall in a deep, rich color. I stared at the increasingly nasty builder white walls and dreamed. Until last week, when we had just started school and volleyball and were deep in the stress of starting the busy dance schedule, because that's the most logical time to start a major painting project (insert sarcasm here). But the project is done, I had fun doing it, and it looks beee-you-ti-full. The hallway and the stairwell and most of the loft are creamy yellow and the large back wall of the loft is a deep navy blue. I'll show you pictures next time, but for now I wanted to show you another project that I tacked onto the end of the Enormous Painting Project. The large back wall of the loft is a wide open expanse of navy blue. It's the perfect look for that wall, but it's a very large wall with no windows (it's the inside wall of our townhouse) and I just kept looking at it and thinking how it really needed a really large *something* on the wall. A month ago we were in the Ikea in Dallas and I saw an gorgeous piece of art that would look awesome on that wall.

Isn't that lovely? It ties in the blue from the loft and the fallish tones from downstairs. And it's HUGE. So I drove across town to our Ikea and...they didn't have it. Gloom, despair, and agony on me! Deep dark depression! Excessive misery! Ok, not really. But I was frustrated. I walked out thinking that I could just order the print or I *could* go next door to Hobby Lobby and see what they had. And I had a 40% off coupon there so it was worth a shot. I walked through the store and looked at everything until I found this. 

Very awesome. Beautiful. Perfect. Except that it was way too small. But then I decided to go for a meandering walk all through the store and loaded up random items into my cart then hauled it all home.

I enlisted my oldest daughter's help between school assignments this is how you can accomplish what we did.

Mix up a few pale shades with white, brown, and yellow and blotch them around the canvas, don't forget the sides! Apply it thickly and the crazier the pattern, the more interesting your background will be. Then take a clean natural sponge and tap it over the entire canvas (including the sides) to blend and texture the paint. At the end, you can dip it in either a much lighter or much darker color and tap it lightly in a few spots. Then let this dry.

Next you need a couple of stencils. Spread some darker or lighter paint on a paper plate and dip your natural sponge in it. Place your stencil over one area of the canvas and tap the stencil in gently so it doesn't cover solidly. I used a border stencil over and over to create a big pattern then added a few other individual designs.

Now you need to paint in a few crazy bare branches. Make sure you've got plenty of horizontal-ish branches for your birds to sit on.

While all that dries hard, get online and search images for "bird silhouettes". Pick out a few that you like then print them out really big. Or whatever size you need for your canvas. My canvas is 36" square, so my birds are a little bigger than a single sheet of paper. Find some awesome scrapbook paper in the colors you want and cut the silhouettes out. Tip: Line up any pattern on the paper with the orientation you want of your bird. Make sure they're facing the way you want and that the pattern will come out lined up on the final artwork like you want. Once you've got the birds cut out, using a darker paint (I used a bronzy metallic here and in the stencils) and the natural sponge, tap around the outside edges of the birds so that it creates a shadow all around. Don't be tempted to skip this step as it adds so much to the final look.

When everything is dry, paste the birds to the canvas. I used spray glue and it works nicely to keep things smooth.

Now it's time to add the 3D accents. I used burlap flowers cut off the stems and some awesome ones I found made of swirled metal that were meant to be hung on the wall. These I just attached with high heat hot glue.

And you're done! We started after lunch and had it hanging on the wall before dinner. And it's awesome! I didn't have to wait to get it shipped, it's a great size for the space, it's all the right colors, and every time I look at it, I can think, "I did that!" And now you can make your own.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Keeping it low-key

This morning I'm sitting in Starbucks celebrating a personal victory. I think my body is starting to get used to this 7am alarm life and I woke up before my alarm. I brushed my teeth, got dressed, and realized I hadn't heard any noise from the small one who had said she was going to set her alarm early so she could make a hot lunch to pack. I had heard something about the time I got up, but nothing since. When I yelled (quietly) upstairs, she popped her little bleary eyes over the stair wall and croaked that she'd be ready in a minute. Considering we had 7 minutes until it was time to leave and she had just rolled out of bed, I helped her with her lunch and I put the last couple of things in her backpack. We finally walked out the door only to discover that the one pair of shoes L has that fit and aren't flip-flops weren't on the shoe shelves in the garage. She disappeared back inside to look and I waited. And waited. And waited. Then I just called our carpool to say we'd be driving ourselves. We were 10 minutes after when we should've left, L still hadn't found her shoes, and I actually thought to make the best stress-free decision instead of my usual freaking out and making both of us miserable. So we kept our cool and Lydia remembered where she had put those darn shoes. I just told her she would now be setting her alarm 15 minutes earlier and resisted the urge to lecture. We made it to school in plenty of time and I got to stop at the cheap place for gas. Total win all around and definitely deserves a little Starbucks.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I think I've got this all wrong

The small(er) one is off at school on Tuesdays and Thursdays now, which leaves me and (sometimes) hubby and the big(ger) one at home alone those days. Speaking of the smaller and bigger ones, L has grown tall for her 9-year-old self. No short Asians around here! And K hasn't grown much at all in the past year, which makes me think she might actually be done at 5'7 1/2". Which probably means that both of my children will always be shorter than me. Back to the Tuesday/Thursday thing. On Tuesday, I dropped L off for her carpool and then took myself to breakfast where I relaxed and wrote the previous blog post. I stopped and got groceries and spent the rest of the morning puttering around my kitchen where I made dinner and listened to music. While K was holed up in her room doing her schoolwork, I read a magazine and did my nails and just generally had a fabulous, relaxing day. Yep, this is the life, I thought, and I was already looking forward to Thursday. Today, I again woke up and took L to meet her carpool, then I came home and got right to work. Hubby was working from the office, so K and I created a playlist for the Sonos system and we rocked out to loud music while she did schoolwork and I painted the upstairs. For some reason, I just can't leave well enough alone. Instead of more relaxation and "me time", I decided yesterday that it was the perfect time to get around to that big painting project I had been planning all summer. The paint was waiting in the garage, the walls were looking dirtier than ever, and I actually had the time and energy and *need* to get it done. So out came the blue tape and the paintbrush and I got part of the hallway done last night - all the little walls around door frames that are ALL cutting in. And then this was my day today. - Prep and paint the larger hallway walls. - Look at the loft and decide to just keep going. - Move the TV and video game paraphernalia. - Prep and paint the half wall in the loft. - Decide that it's the perfect time to move the computer cabinet since hubby's not home to need wifi. - Move the computer cabinet. - Paint the wall behind the computer cabinet. - Well, I already have the roller out, so I should get as much of the window wall as possible without moving the couch. - Take down the blinds. - Prep and paint around the window and get most of that wall. - Get a text asking if I can pick up a friend's daughter. - Clean up and get in the car. - Grab quick lunch with really large drinks (painting and schoolwork is thirsty work!) - Pick up new paint color and more supplies. - Pick up L from school. - Pick up friend's daughter from summer camp. - Race home to change girls for afternoon activities. - Jump back in the car and go pick up another girl. - Deliver big girls to volleyball. (Other grandmother brought them home afterward.) - Go pick up yet another girl. - Deliver last 3 girls to dance. - Chat with moms during their short class. - Pick up Chinese on the way home. - Eat in blissful aloneness while the girls take their food to their rooms for their own downtime. - Go back upstairs and pull up all the blue tape and put the outlet and switch covers back on. - Vacuum where the furniture was and find lots of "lost" items. - Put all the furniture back against the freshly painted walls. - Pull all the furniture away from the last wall and a half left to be painted. - Decide that those last walls can wait until tomorrow! I guess I'm just not a sit and relax and be a lady of leisure type. Even hubby points out periodically that I have to *something* going on all the time. At least this something is useful and productive and will have the long-lasting effect of creating a lovely space for our family to hang out. And I love to paint, so it's a win all around. Then next week when I'm done, I'll take another relaxation day, then I'll probably be looking for another project.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Being late

At 7:50 this morning, I dropped my youngest child off for carpool. Ok, fine, it was actually 7:51. I was ready in plenty of time. We even left in plenty of time. The problem was that everyone else in the area was also on the roads at that hour and traffic was Stacked Up all the way to my friend's house. I hereby pinky promise to leave the house at least 5 minutes earlier for carpool from now on. I hate to be late. I hate the rushing and anxiety I feel. I hate how grumpy I get with everyone who causes the smallest imaginary delay. I hate finally screeching into the parking lot and rushing through the door. I hate seeing anyone having to sit and wait on me. Do you realize how rude it is to keep someone waiting on you? What you have just said with your actions is, "My time and my desires are far more valuable than yours. You are not a priority in my life and you and your needs are not important to me. My promises to you mean less than an extra 10 minutes reading Facebook." Would you ever say that out loud to someone's face? I can't imagine anyone who would! But your actions speak louder than words. Now, people are usually incredibly gracious. No problem, they say. Things happen, they agree with a smile. I love that my friends are generous and forgiving on the (hopefully) rare occasion that I'm late to something. I find myself extending the same grace to others because I understand that sometimes traffic is bad or a child needs something important just as you're trying to leave. I truly don't mind waiting a few minutes. It's really just the people who are *always* late that test my patience. I know a number of people who are chronically late to everything. Everyone knows to add at least 10 (or 20 or 30) minutes to whatever time they said they would be there. They come breezing in with a smile, exclaiming "Oh, you know me! Always late!" as if it were some badge of honor or cute personality quirk. They get angry if you have started an activity without them or they make you derail and spend several minutes catching them up on what they missed. It is the ultimate example of selfishness. Now when people poke fun at me for being early to things (and it happens), I just smile. Yes, I'd rather leave 20 minutes early and have to sit in a parking lot reading, waiting until it's a decent time to go inside than run the risk of being 5 minutes late. When I pickup a friend's daughter for school, I make sure to give myself plenty of time to make the left turn out of my neighborhood through heavy morning traffic. I set my alarm early and have taught my children to get up and moving and be ready to go when I say it's time to go. There have been times in my life that I have set my clocks ahead a few minutes to trick myself into getting out of the house in time. I remind myself that being on time is showing respect. So next time you're meeting a friend for a movie or getting ready to herd your family to church, set an early alarm and give yourself plenty of time to get everything and everyone ready and out the door. Heck, set several alarms - one to get up, one 15 minute warning, one to get out the door, whatever it takes. Wouldn't it be nice to have a stress-free morning and get to school with everyone still smiling? To walk into Starbucks without having to apologize and explain why you're late again? Thursday when my alarm goes off again and I have to drive my youngest to her carpool, I'll have already packed her backpack and her lunch and reminded her of the dress code. We'll have located her shoes and we'll be ready to jump in the car at 7:30, just in case we have to wait even longer to make that left hand turn.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

These are my people

It's August and summer has flown by. School training and orientation classes have happened and now we're just waiting until the first carpool on Monday to get the official start to the new year. Training was very different this year than last. Last year it was the high-level *why* of Christian classical education. This year more time was spent on the nuts and bolts of how to survive in this particular Christian classical school. I see the value behind the theory stuff, but I'm more of a nuts and bolts, practical person, so I liked this year's training much better. There was also the distinct advantage of not being new anymore. I knew some of the other parents and most of the staff. I had an understanding of the ins and outs of how the school worked and felt much more comfortable this time around. Yesterday was my first time attending the elementary sessions and I'm a little worried about how *much* I'm going to have to do on L's home days. But it'll be great and if I just keep telling myself that, then it will be. Today was the secondary training and all the upper school kids came. The campus buzzed with the energy of 80-something teenagers who hadn't seen each other ALL SUMMER. Or at least since Tuesday night's volleyball dinner. K immediately disappeared into the crowd and I caught a few glimpses of her throughout the morning, immersed in a gaggle of her "besties". At lunchtime, she found me long enough to ask for the keys so she could get her bags for tonight's student retreat. Let me back up a bit here and tell you a little of what this week has been like. Both the girls have had commitments every day this week. It's a big dance week with team tryouts and rehearsals, so L has been at the studio everyday. K had student council and volleyball stuff and tonight's retreat. Add 2 days full of school orientation and my calendar looks like a spider web of who has to be where when. And did I mention that hubby had a fun opportunity and went out of town with his brother? I've been juggling everyone's schedules and it became clear to me early on that I couldn't handle the logistics of it by myself. The best part is when I realized that I don't have to do it all. Over the past few years, I've found a community of people who are happy to come alongside my family and lend a hand. The last 2 days, I dropped L off with a friend in the morning who gave her a ride to dance. K rode to the retreat today with a friend whose mom ended up taking 6 girls. Another mom friend is bringing them all back to school and yet another mom friend is bringing K home for me. When the last mom friend texted me tonight offering to bring K home tomorrow, I almost said no because I *could* go get her. I don't have anywhere else I have to be at that time and I didn't want to take advantage of this friend. Then I smacked myself over the head and texted back that it would be great if she could bring K home. She is going to be there to pick up her own kids and she lives just up the street. We trade rides for the girls all the time and it's not like either of us keep score as to who drives more often. I realized that I just felt like *I* have to be the one to do everything. I mean they're my kids and I do like sitting in the car after an event and talking about it with them. It's just that the whole trying to be Supermom is exhausting and quickly burns me out. Somehow I've managed to build a network of mom friends who are great at helping each other out, not just during emergency scheduling conflicts, but when it simply makes our lives easier. Like rides to or from dance just because it's easier to not get the little kids out after baths or it saves 15 minutes on the commute. The funny thing is, I didn't do it intentionally. It was a series of small gestures over the past few years. I've taken the time to get to know my girls' friends and their moms. I've offered to help others when I could and swallowed my pride enough to ask them for help when I need it. Suddenly today, I looked up and realized that I have a support network that's bigger than I ever thought. And that's a beautiful thing. So as this school year continues, I need to remember that I do have help and we can make everyone's lives easier if we lend each other a helping hand. I don't have to be the one driving to every away game (and K probably won't end up in therapy if she doesn't have a parent at every single game). I can arrange some carpooling with nearby dance friends just to make the rehearsal schedules more practical for all of us. I think that's one practical effort that will payoff nicely in the end.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

There's a gentle breeze that causes the leaves to dance overhead. It's pleasant sitting here in the shade, watching the people pass by. There are kids dressed in leotards and tae kwon do uniforms that skip blithely across the street. There are quieter ones toting books to the tutoring center or hauling guitar cases as big as themselves up the stairs to the music place while someone bangs out a complicated rhythm on a drum set that can be heard through the open window. Women carry yoga mats or cupcakes and sometimes both. Friends laugh sitting around the many tables set outside of the various cafes. Whether you're in the mood for tapas and martinis or a British pub, you can find it here. I love this little neighborhood marketplace. It's an island of peace and refreshment in my otherwise busy days. School is finally, officially over for the year. Today I picked up Kate from her last day of middle school. The experiment that was university-model private school was a resounding success. She had a full and fantastic year where she wove herself seamlessly into school life with its friends and sports and academics and clubs and events. She loved it and is a little sad that she won't have her friends and her schedule for a couple of months. When she goes back, she'll be a high schooler, but thankfully at her little school there's not much difference between middle school and high school. On their class days, there's only 7th through 12th grade on campus and they all just hang out together during breaks. In fact, we loved our little school so much that Lydia is starting 4th grade there next fall on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She also had a good year, but she needs to branch out a bit from me. She's still highly attached and I think it will help her to have a little more independence. We're spending the summer catching her up to the math program they use, but she's so excited to go to school that she's already got a good start on her summer reading and math packet. Tomorrow starts our official summer and we're kicking it off with a quick trip to Great Wolf Lodge with friends, then camping for the weekend, then dance and volleyball camp and China Camp and Texas and training for school. We'll fill in the chinks with bowling and Carowinds and before you know it, school will start again. In the meantime, I'll sieze the occasional moment to come sit in this little marketplace and find some peace.