Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Metaphors for Life

Children have neither past nor future; they enjoy the present, which very few of us do.  ~Jean de la Bruyere

You hear those stories about a generation of kids who are over-scheduled yet it seems that there is a lot of pressure on parents to make sure their child is in the swing of things by participating. I find parenting disclosures concerning how many activities are too many, why we push our kids to do things, and the  long-term effect or investment that will come.  While I'm interested in these discussions and intrigued with the idea that people are thinking about college applications and scholarships when I'm still thinking about snack and naps, I'm finding myself just happy for the moment. That brings about the question of how to strike balance between enjoying the present and contentment with the now without making children accustomed to instant gratification or lacking understanding about working toward a long-term goal. But back to the activities....

Last week, Anna Cate attended her first ever day camp through the Fredericksburg City Parks and Rec, an Art Camp.  She didn't learn techniques that blew me away (or if she did, she didn't share it with us either through word or product), but she enjoyed herself.  I listened to an NPR review of Freakanomics approach to children activities and the basic point was that parents are seeing their children as investments and trying to get them in the most amount of extra-curriculars for future enrichment so their kid will get into a good college and the returns on the investment will increase.

 This wasn't the case: she likes art, I'm not very creative or patient, so we did Art Camp.

Now, I know I said she didn't learn anything substantial about art, but I think she might have about life.  She sat next to a little girl Eva who was delightful and has Down Syndrome. It offered Anna Cate and me the chance to converse about it at home when Anna Cate said she looked a little different, but more importantly, it gave Anna Cate the chance to make a new friend. I hope we see her again.

Anna Cate really notices the little things.  When we were cooking BJ breakfast for Father's Day, I told her how important it was not to get the raw egg on the counter and if we did to clean it up immediately.  After explaining to her that raw eggs can hurt us sort of like poison, she instantaneously quipped, "then why do you eat cake batter?"

One morning on the way home from swim practice, Anna Cate stopped and said, "oh my gosh, I can't believe it, Mom, but there are wild berries growing on this path."
Can you find them in this picture:

She had to point them out to me.

She is swimming for our Community's swim team this year. When I learned that her age group was the first practice of the morning at 8am, I was a little bummed out not to get to sleep in, but I've been so grateful for getting ourselves up and out.  A couple times, I've even ran before the girls wake up.  I am sure there is some metaphor for life here about getting up and out, or some truth to Ben Franklin's quote, "Early to bed, early to rise makes one happy, healthy and wise."  (But it has interfered with my writing since I usually blog in the late evening.)

Her first race was an even more poignant metaphor for life.

Our friends came to watch and cheer for her.

She swam the 25 meter free style.

She was quite nervous so before she was coached, I told her where Brenda, her Baba whom she adores, and I would be standing to cheer for her.

So, she jumped in and started out strong.

But before she reached the finish line, she stopped on the rope three times to look at us and smile. I will never ever forget her big eyes darting through the goggles staring right at Brenda. She was more consumed with joy for Brenda and my cheering for her than the finish line.

The next meet I did not tell her where I was BUT I think her smiling face and eyes darting at Brenda personified the joy for the journey. For Anna Cate, looking at Baba and me was a bigger deal than the finish line and I think that stopping along the way to notice who your fans and friends are is an important part of the race. . . .of life.  

So we try to balance the finish line with the journey, the long term goals with the joy in the present. We are going to the beach this weekend and BJ keeps counting down because he is so excited and I am too, but I'm enjoying every day of the summer. My mantra is stolen from the yoga principle of being present.  Like spending time with our family and friends.

Molly got to play the piano a bit with Evan and Jackson while AC was at Art Camp, and afterwards we all went out for lunch.  Another mom and son were there and in making conversation, I said it looks like you two are on a Mommy-son date. Anna Cate said, I'm on a date with him as she pointed to Evan.

This week, we enjoyed playing with Naima and Daines, who are two beautiful girls whom we've met through church.

Their family whose origin is in Burundi came here by way of a Refugee camp in Tanzania. They have eight children in their home which was neat as a pin; their Dad works two jobs and  every one of the children have impeccable manners and beautiful smiles.

Their Burundian parents have seen violence I can not even imagine and their mother knows little English nor how to drive, but she knows how to raise a family of beautiful people. The children are rays of sunshine to be around and being in their presence makes me grateful for both my opportunities and gives me high hope for theirs. Anna Cate has no comprehension of their different backgrounds; they are just friends.

 And the metaphor for life in that is when we see each other as fellow human beings, as friends, there are good times....or changes we need to make in our perspective, for society or our world. Ok I know it is a stretch, but I have seen the changes that have been made in children's lives because others saw them and noticed a need.

 "We must live with people to know their problems and live with God to 'help' solve them" 
     -Author Unknown

Now, about Molly...

I find myself noticing and appreciating the milestones in her life just as much as I'm sure I did with Anna Cate. There is nothing secondary about a second child. Her quirks, habits and sounds are precious and exciting to me.

She understands so much and runs around a lot.

I can ask her to bring me an object and she does; I asked her to shut the door today and she got up from her coloring to do so. In addition to Mommy, Daddy, she says shoes, sissy, and MOE for more, mine, "dah do" for thank you, something that sounds like "here ya go" when she hands me something, down, Naah and shakes her head for No, and bow and points to her hair bows, night-night.  But the best darn thing she does is kiss.   Her mouth perfectly puckers up as she sneaks up on you for a kiss before she giggles with delight. Sometimes when I pick her up, she kisses my shoulder. Pure heaven, I tell you.

Tonight was the second swim meet of the season and Molly quickly bonded with some girls from the other team who entertained her.

She showed her gratitude in an abundance of kisses.

They were such sweet moments I shared with children I'll probably never see again.  The metaphor here is enjoy the moment with people who are in your path for only a short period of time.

And Anna Cate's swimming performance? While I had hoped the little "ham it up, hanging out on the rope" performance would be a one time deal, it wasn't. 

Anna Cate was off and started out so strong:

But then she rested and couldn't get back in the game. She rested on the rope SEVERAL times, which felt like ages for me.  

She couldn't seem to find the motivation to get back to swimming. Having been influenced by both my father and the Tiger Mom (a book  I reviewed here), I didn't sugar coat it.  She finished almost 40 seconds slower than she did last time and I told her that it wasn't her best. BJ thinks she isn't competitive enough and is too easily distracted, traits he says she gets from me.  So maybe the metaphor here tonight is DON'T STOP!  Hanging on that rope feels too comfortable to let go. Or, it might be don't start out too fast as BJ says, "sometimes the hare beats the tortoise."  Her coach Stephen said she needs to use her arms, so maybe that metaphor is use all the natural gifts God gave you.

I recently read this article in the Atlantic (which is a great periodical where I learn new words and new ideas every article I read).  Basically, the article from a psychologist point of view that 25 years ago, unhappiness in patients was rooted in something in one's childhood, particularly Mommy or Daddy issues. BUT lately, she is finding adults who are unhappy because their wonderful parents made the childhood too happy.  As my friend Lisa, so appropriately said, it is a case of 'damned if you do, damned if you don't.' I left the article with a renewed sense of the importance of balance in parenting and in life.

Balancing the long term goals like swimming the race without touching the rope with enjoying the activities by making new friends while being present for the journey is a theme I'm trying to develop as a parent and as a person.  

(and maybe even getting some inspiration from the friends since Abbie  is 5 and can swim the whole way without touching the rope) 

In all of these little moments or  activities or new words for Molly or understandings for all of us, I'm seeing that we are enjoying our summer and noticing who is cheering for us....or for whom we are cheering. 

(Read about the Vanderbilt Commodore baseball team's fabulous season, of one I'm proud Anna Cate was a part.)

All the moments aren't perfect  which is why I'm reading the book 1-2-3 Magic, a discipline plan for getting your child to listen and be respectful without loosing your cool, but after reading that Atlantic article it is ok that they all aren't perfect, right?!

Overall the blessings like the metaphors abound.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” 
-Greg Anderson

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Core of Life

Anna Cate went home to Tennessee for a week with my parents to celebrate Daddy Doug and Kitty's birthday as well as cheer the Vanderbilt Commodore baseball team in the regional tournament.  We are still cheering them on as they are going to the big Dance for college baseball (or whatever you call the College World Series in sports lingo). This is a VERY BIG DEAL for Vanderbilt Sports Fans in general and the Bates family in particular. In fact my parents are on their way to the midwest today to go to the games with many of the their friends. Read about Daddy's best friend Chuck Offenburger's take on the excitement here.  The birthdays were a big deal, too. Anna Cate loves her Tennessee family so much and it so beautiful to see such a bond created over the miles in 5 short years.

While Anna Cate was gone, we really enjoyed the alone time with Molly Mae.  And in case I had forgotten, we were reminded how much easier one child is.

 We let Anna Cate fly home all by herself and as she walked down the corridor, comfortable and confident, chatting with the pilot, I was so proud of my little girl.

Molly was so happy to see "Sishshshy."

But life is better than easy for us with our family of four and the commencement of summer. We have been filling our days with fun, relaxation and relative productivity. I mean relative because in the scheme of global matters, we aren't doing squat, but I feel productive because the laundry is done and I'm working out plus my girls are entertained and happy.

We went out downtown for a family dinner and frozen yogurt, Anna Cate has started swim team, and  are Molly is practicing bubble blowing.

Molly thinks swim practice is fun because she gets to run around. I remember thinking last year as I was nursing my little baby that this summer would be easier, that my child would want to sit and play in the baby pool. Ha! I think I should just throw in the towel on easy. (I'm being facetious  here because I know that my life is VERY EASY compared to women in this country and around the world).

I got a kick out of the fact that Molly wanted to sit with the big kids and she wanted to sit and pretend to listen to the coaches. In my observing Molly's development, it is so evident how much we learn from observing others, which serves as a good lesson here because our kids are watching us!

The weather has been nothing short of heavenly this week inviting us outside for leisure activities like blowing bubbles....or staring into the wind.
Or just playing with the wands...

I just love being home with these girls.

During the months of May, June and September there are "Picnics in the Park" downtown with music and fellowship for kids and adults. We met some friends from church as well as Miss Diana and her summer crew. Anna Cate spent the majority of her time there in the face painting line so she could get this rainbow which took about 45 seconds to perfect.  The lady was so nice and seemed to take each child's request seriously.  I'm always touched with people who get joy from bringing it to others, especially my child.

As one might be able to predict, Molly ran around a lot yet stopped incrementally for hugs and kisses.

We are savoring the leisure of the season like our Summer Friday breakfasts at Eileen's after Thursday night sleepovers with Patti.

Enjoying the ride like a little excursion to see Daddy at work and get a ride on a gator.

Anna Cate and I had a girl's night to DC.

We met up with friends of mine from college.

Sherri is on the left; Jen, the right.

It was amazing, simply wonderful.  I have truly been blessed with friendships at every step of my life, but there is something so dear about college friends, don't you think?

Both of these gals played soccer for Cornell and I always thought that was way cool!  Clearly you can tell by the picture who the non-athlete is... moi.  Sherri and I are the same year in school and she married her college boyfriend, Travis, and they have two precious sons, Korbin and Luke whom Anna Cate enjoyed meeting and chasing them around.  

They were in town on a family vacation visiting the museums.  Sherri has such a calm, sweet spirit and has such a supportive, kind way about her;  it was so nice getting to really visit with her and watch her in action as mom and wife. Sheri is super smart and accomplished, has her Master's Degree in Environmental Management from Duke and now is a program director for Duke's School of the Environment.

Jen was in DC giving a talk in her field, clinical psychology. Jen is actually Dr. Olson-Madden as she has her Ph.D. and works for the VA. She married her high school sweetheart who is now an attorney in Denver, their home town, where they are raising sweet little Ava. 2.  She is two years behind us in school so I only knew her for a short time at school, but we connected. As always with Jen, I'm blown away by her kindness and how her beauty doesn't lead to one iota of conceit. She is as gorgeous on the inside as she is outside.

So I only talk about their career credentials because it is part of why I think my Cornell College (a small midwestern liberal arts school) friends are so dear....they transcend class, position in life or situation.  At this school,  people really connect to each other for who they are in the now, not the status of their family and it carries over into adulthood. Those bonds are such strong, grounded real relationships. The reason I started thinking about this is my brother's comments about my last post on the military and why so few Americans serve. His suggestion that suburbs divide us lead me to think that we seclude ourselves, expose our families and selves only to those in our same class. We are not comfortable with diversity in our neighborhood, in our schools and in our communities (by diversity, he means socio-economic status, not race or ethnicity).

I hate to admit this but I often feel less worthy because I don't have a prestigious career choice and I'm so impressed and awed by my friends who had such drive in their 20s when I seemed to lack direction.  And let me clarify that I am proud to be a teacher, I feel called to the profession and truly love what I do, but let's face it people, "call a spade a spade" -- a classroom teacher lacks prestige and financial rewards.  I struggle with the idea of career growth as I don't know where to go from here since I don't want to be a principal.  As an extrovert, lack of status and social position bothers me. Damn my ego.

Have I lived in the suburbia that Douglas detested so long that I judge myself based on socio-economic status? If so, I'm sickened by it. It is not who I am.  It is why I love a small town and feel so comfortable in church because in those communities, social standing does not determine relationships.  I was reminded around some pizzas in our nation's capital of the beauty of friendships that transcend time, place and status. I want to continue to surround myself and my children in true community with real relationships based on spirit, passion, and interests, not on titles or location and size of their home. If my brother is right that we don't feel a part of things in this country together, that we don't want to sacrifice for each other because we are uncomfortable with diversity, I want to reject that because it is not the core of who I am or how I want my children to approach community.

(We were able to set up this dinner because we are on Facebook, but I realized that Facebook isn't REALLY totally keeping up.  Seeing pictures or commenting on snippets of consciousness isn't as fulfilling as a visit.)

Yesterday I turned 35, and last year I went running to celebrate a portion of my day as well as enjoy a delicious orange chiffon cake made by BJ and Anna Cate. This year, I did enjoy another delicious cake but didn't run this year; I did go to some PITAIYO classes (one by myself and one with Anna Cate for a Mommy and me class). Pitaiyo is a fusion class of Pilates, Tai Chi and Yoga.  In my journey of health, I'm committed to physical fitness and wellness not necessarily to achieve aesthetic results.  It is sort of a "no-brainer" as I feel like I've never been someone who looks like a rock-star athlete, lacking muscular definition or a small dress size.  But lately I'm noticing results from Pitaiyo in conjunction with all the other activities I do which has been a pleasant reward. This is a practice that focuses on  core stability in conjunction with a strong body, encouraging intentional positivity.  So maybe I'm not really seeing results, but I think I do, which is pretty much as good.

I think the lesson for success and wellness at age 35 (which as my husband so often reminds me is half way to 70)  is the results I will get from a strong core, both physically and spiritually. I guess I didn't have that drive in my 20's, but I know the core of who I am was present when I connect with friends I made from that time in my life. 

What I know at 35 is that I want to be intentional about my life, now.  I will ingratiate myself in  productivity of my days, which make up the years I count on my birthday. I seek to strengthen and challenge myself whether it is running, pilates, chasing Molly around a pool, or dealing with the uncomfortable issues in society like status, diversity and community and raising two girls to be successful but not shallow. 

I want to live fully with purpose and to break free from my ego. I want to say on the day that I commemorate my entrance into the world that I'm more focused on my purpose and less on my flaws. I want to see and feel what connects me to others rather than stand back and accept what separates me.  So while I'm not really fond of the lines you see around this face,

I am comfortable with them because I continue to cultivate the core of who I am, and that is worth celebrating.

"At the core of life is a hard purposefulness, determination to live."
- Howard Thurman