Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Climb On!

This is me...rock climbing.
For a middle aged, slightly over weight, mother of six, I'm looking pretty good on that wall.  You might even be tempted to be impressed.  (And maybe the fact that I was willing to put on the harness at all is impressive, but all the kids were watching, I had no choice.)

There are a few things you should know before you get too impressed.

  • There is a rope.  If you look closely you can see it.  There were moments when that rope did more than just keep me from falling.  Sometimes it gave me a little boost.
  • There was a belayer.  In this case it happened to be my husband.  The rope isn't much good without the belayer.  Not only did he make sure I didn't fall, and give me a couple of boosts, he also gave me instructions about where to find handholds and a lot of encouragement.
  • The person who took the photo (maybe it was my sister or maybe my son, I'm not sure) was kind enough to take it from the side, not the back.  I have some pretty awful photos of people's backsides while climbing.  It is not flattering.  Thank you for making me look good.
  • The bottom of the photo is about 2 feet above the ground.  That was as far as I got.  I'm not much of a rock climber yet.  I may never be.  My husband and some of my kids love it and I am happy to support them in that hobby.  I'll even put on the harness and try an occasional climb.  If nothing else it makes everyone else feel better about their own attempts.
It is so easy to look at a snapshot of someone else's life and make assumptions that may not be true.  You may not see all of the help they have received from family and friends.  You may not realize that you are only seeing the carefully orchestrated photo shoot.  Taken from a different angle it may be a whole different picture.  

It is ok to have a harness, a rope, a helmet, and a belayer in your life.  In fact, we'd really struggle to get anywhere without them.  And even if you feel like you can only get a few feet off the ground, don't discount the value of the attempt, and the example to those who are watching.
Climb On!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Habitat for Humanity

I have always wanted to work on a Habitat for Humanity house.  It just always seemed really cool.
But I'm busy and I didn't really know how to sign up and don't you have to go as a group and... so I never did.  You know how it is.  Good thing there are people our there who do stuff anyway, like my daughter's National Honor Society advisor.  She set up a day for the 12th grade Honor Society students to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.  And she needed adults to come along.  She emailed me personally and asked if I would be willing.  I rearranged my schedule.

My group spent the day painting the inside of a house.  (We were really glad we got that assignment because it was about 10 degrees that day.  Some of the other groups spent the day working outside.  Brrr.)  The lady from Habitat was so nice and so helpful.  She explained everything so clearly.  (Several of the kids had never painted anything.)  And she explained Habitat's mission in a way that made so much sense.  (Did you know that the owners are required to put in a lot of hours helping build the house?  There are two reasons for this, one, it gives them a sense of ownership of the house, and two, it teaches them the skills they need to maintain the house.  They know how to put up a shelf, paint a wall, fix a hole, replace a light fixture, etc.  Brilliant.)  The kids and I worked hard and we painted the whole house.  We felt like we accomplished something and we had a good time.

I was impressed with this group of kids.  There were about 10 in my group.  They were pretty evenly split between African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Caucasian.  Several were children of immigrants and several were immigrants themselves.  They were all members of the National Honor Society which means that they have maintained a GPA of 3.6 or higher throughout high school and committed to providing service for their communities.  All of them are planning to attend college and major on a variety of fields from medicine to archeology to environmental science.  And some are still undecided.  That's ok, too.  (Nearly everyone changes their major at least once anyway.)  None are wealthy, all have had to work hard and make sacrifices.  They are smart and kind and they really don't care what country you come from, what color your skin is, or whether you speak with an accent.  They care about how hard you are willing to work and how you choose to treat other people.  

I'm looking forward to another day with Habitat and meeting some more amazing service minded people.

I'm back.

It is OK to miss a few weeks on the blog.
Some months are harder than others.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Getting to Eagle

The Eagle Scout Project
or "It is ok to let a 14 year old lead."

The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

This is why I support the Boy Scouts of America.  This is why I give my time, money, energy, and my husband's time to the Boy Scouts.  This is who and what I want my son to be.

When Thomas achieved the rank of Life Scout and began thinking about his Eagle Project he struggled to know what to do.  He thought he had an idea to build a bridge at a local park but there were some complications that nixed that project.  While driving in the car I asked him to think about who he wanted to serve.  (Proud mom moment here.)  He started listing the most vulnerable members of the population: the homeless, victims of domestic violence, refugees, etc.  
As part of my responsibilities with my church women's group I had recently started a conversation with a local organization that serves refugees.  I gave my son the contact information and then helped him make the initial phone call.  

Here is the hardest part of helping your son earn an Eagle Scout award.  Letting him lead.  I cannot tell you the number of times I had to bite my tongue, or walk away.  My mantra: "It is ok if this activity looks like a 14 year old is leading."  The whole point of the Eagle project is for the boy to practice the leadership skills he has learned in scouts.  That is not to say that my husband and I didn't help.  We helped a lot.  But we worked hard to make sure that Thomas did everything that he needed to do to be able to say in the end, "This was my project and I did it."

Tom's project benefited an organization called Samaritas.  One of the things Samaritas does is sponsor refugees arriving in America.  They provide refugees with apartments, furniture, clothes, medical care, education, English classes, and help finding a job.  They serve these families for 3-6 months and then the family is on their own.  It is truly amazing.

They have a small warehouse space where they store home furnishings that have been donated until they are needed by a refugee family.  It was a mess.  More than anything they needed some shelves.  Thomas set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to buy used industrial shelving.  Then he organized a day of service for his scout troop.  He also invited our church friends and his old Cub Scout Pack to join us.  We spent the morning putting together shelves and clothing racks.  Then we filled them up.  It was a great day.  

It is ok to let the 14 year old lead.  It might even be AMAZING!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It is OK to be Sad.

It is OK to be sad.

Pixar nailed this one on the head in the movie, Inside Out.
Allowing ourselves, and the people we love, to be sad when we experience loss makes it possible for us to heal.

Sorrow acknowledges that something is wrong 
and allows us to search for solutions.  
It lets the people who love us know that we are hurting 
so that they can help us.
Our sorrow is what makes us kind, compassionate, 
empathetic people.

Whether you are a toddler who has lost a favorite toy, a teenager losing a friend or an older adult who has lost a spouse, the pain you feel is real.  Being sad is how you deal with that pain.  
It is ok to be sad.

Be sad as long as you need to.  Let it heal you.  When you are ready to be done being sad you will feel it and God will give you the grace you need to complete the healing process.
It is ok to be sad.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Happy Mom

This is the Mad Mom!
She is on display at Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids Michigan.  (If you are ever in West Michigan I highly recommend it.)
I like the Mad Mom.  I can appreciate her on so many levels.  From the look on her face to her hands on her hips to the simplicity with which the artist portrays the emotion of being disappointed in a child's behavior.  I admit it, I look just like her far more often than I want to.

My daughter joined the art club after school in 5th grade.  The teacher introduced sculpture.  My daughter came to me trying to decide what she should make.  I recommended "Mad Mom," simple, doable, and I always really wanted a miniature "Mad Mom" to put in my kitchen.  (Just to remind everyone...)

The day finally came when the sculptures were fired and painted and ready to come home.  I was excited to see what she had created.

This is the Happy Mom.

For many years she was on display in my family room.  
I like the Happy Mom.  I can appreciate her on so many levels.  From the goofy grin to the bad hair day to just not having enough hands.  (She loses her head regularly, but never her positive attitude.) I love the simplicity with which the artist portrays the emotion of being happy amid the every day struggles of parenthood.
I proudly displayed the Happy Mom, just to remind myself.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Piano Lesson: An investment

My parents made me go to piano lessons for 7 years.  I pretty much hated every minute of it.  I hated practicing, I struggled to understand and be understood by my teachers, I could never be as good as my older sister.  Somehow I still managed to acquire a minor level of proficiency.  I guess practicing once a week at lessons is enough to learn something.  I eventually went on to get a degree in music, but not in playing the piano.  (Low brass instruments, tuba, euphonium, trombone.  A blog for another day.)

When my kids got old enough and started showing interest I signed them up for lessons.  The teacher I chose for my kids is a friend of mine who has a gift for working with 8-13 year olds.  (I do not have this gift, and that is ok.)  They studied with her for several years until she was unable to teach anymore.  (She put the needs of her children before the income or the self fulfillment.  Good mom.)

My oldest daughter, Alicia, decided that she had had enough lessons for now and didn't feel the need to let me find her a new teacher or, heaven forbid, teach her myself.  That is ok.  She has the basic skills, no problem.  (She can always change her mind later.)  Fast forward a couple of years and suddenly people are contacting me looking for piano teachers for their young beginners.  I don't really want to teach piano lessons.  But hey, I bet Alicia could do it.  A couple of friends took me up on the offer, sweetened by the fact that you will not get piano lessons that cheap anywhere else.  So started Alicia's career as a piano teacher.  Fast forward a couple more years and now she is employed by a home school organization as a piano teacher and she will interview this afternoon for a position as a piano teacher at the local music store. She's 17, still in high school.  She makes $20 an hour.  How many teenagers make $20 an hour?  (When I was in high school I worked as a custodian at the junior high for a couple of hours every afternoon vacuuming and taking out trash.  They paid me $3.80, minimum wage at the time.  I had no idea I had a potentially marketable skill.)  Somehow all the pain and frustration of taking that kid to piano lessons and trying to convince her to practice is paying off, literally.  I'm so proud of her.

Tips to convince a kids to practice the piano (or whatever they don't want to do):
1. Help them choose a time that they will practice every day.  Set an alarm if that helps them.
2. Remind them when it's time to practice, but don't nag.
3. Set a reward for practicing.  What works will depend on your kid.  My 7 year old loves to play on the wii.  He will do almost anything for half an hour of wii time, even practice the piano.
4. If you make a plan and it works for a while and then stops working, don't just toss it out the window. Look it over and figure out where it isn't working and try again.  Refresh the old plan or make a new one.
5. If your child and the teacher you hire aren't seeing eye to eye, for example, the teacher struggles to understand the questions your child asks, or expects your child to sit still longer than they are able, talk it over with the teacher.  If the problem persists consider looking for a new teacher.  That is ok.  The personality of the teacher combined with the personality of your kid makes a big difference in how much they will enjoy lessons and how much they will be willing to practice.
6. Be reasonable about how much time you expect them to spend practicing every day.  If they are able to pass off the songs they are assigned to learn then they are practicing enough.  Some will spontaneously practice more when they learn to love it.  Be careful about setting a timer.  Most kids will jump up and be done the instant the timer goes off even if they would have practiced longer without it.
7. If you know how to read music then invite your child to ask you questions when they get stuck, then leave them alone and let them struggle a little.
 It is in the struggle that the real learning happens.