Everyday Life

The Season of The King

Confession: my husband and I are recovering sports addicts. Or maybe I should say reformed sports junkies. Actually, I should probably say reforming sports junkies, because we haven’t been to church on Wimbledon Championship Sunday in, like, a decade, and tennis isn’t even our favorite sport. Anyway, we used to watch and follow many sports very closely in our dating and early married years. It was one of our common interests. It was probably one of the reasons I fell for my husband in the first place — he didn’t freak out when I made harmless but seemingly alarming to most guys comments like, “Wow, that’s a good ERA.” This is a rarity. To this day, guys cast wary glances at me when I make comments about flagrant fouls or false starts (maybe because all the comments I make are actually really boneheaded…but I try not to over analyze this). The point is my husband appreciated the sports enthusiast in me. We watched sports, we played sports, we talked sports. To be fair to us, we had a lot of other common interests, too, but sports were pretty major until about five or six years ago, when we realized we had a problem and we needed to do something about it.

Disclaimer: this is not my parents’ fault. It’s kind of amazing that I turned out to be a multi-sport fan, because I did not come from that kind of background. Picture a family who watches their favorite Southeastern Conference football team every Fall weekend, decked out in the school colors and occasionally some face paint, and then picture the opposite of that. You know what we watched on Sunday afternoons in winter? Figure skating. That is, my sister and I watched it while my parents took their Sunday afternoon siesta or read books. The only sport we ever watched as a family, besides the Olympics, was baseball. I have known what stuff like IP (innings pitched) stood for since I was eight, and this is kind of weird for a Southern girl. Boston girls are allowed to know this, but Southern girls are supposed to know (a) how to apply enough hairspray to withstand insane humidity, (b) how to make a mean breakfast casserole for tailgating at 12:00 football games, and (c) how to avoid talking politics. The ability to grow hydrangeas or bake real buttermilk biscuits is a nice bonus, but not required. (Before you start writing me a nasty letter, please pick your sense of humor back up—I’m [mostly] kidding).

So I’ve always liked baseball. My true love of sports goes kind of like how some people talk about religion. “I always grew up in church, but when I went to camp at age 14, I really made it my own.” I always liked baseball, but it was when I discovered college basketball that I truly fell in love with sports. It was all downhill from there. I even began to enjoy watching golf, a sport I had been known to ridicule. (Don’t knock it til you try it!). In fact, I considered it a huge plus that my third child was born last month on opening day of the British Open. I watched pretty much the full day of coverage while laboring with her. No one should watch a full opening day of a golf tournament except golf analysts. Nobody. I also draw the line at overly violent sports such as MMA, or overly un-sportish sports such as bowling or fly fishing. Oh, and sports in which new tricks are invented every two minutes (I’m looking at you, snowboarding).

So, there we were five years ago, getting sucked into every sport that came on TV, spending money on tickets to local events, going to brothers’ little league games, reading articles, playing Fantasy Football…it was all getting to be too much. That’s when we drew some lines. It started with the realization that our finances were hurting because of our sports addiction. We got rid of cable (Goodbye, Atlanta Braves…), we stopped spending outrageous amounts of money on tickets to basketball and football games, and we stuck to sports that were cheap or free, like tennis and frisbee. Then we began to draw lines when it came to time. We began the slow progress we have finally made to only picking one or two events to watch a weekend. And voila! We’re recovered sports addicts. That is, except from late August through December. Because, for better or worse, football is King in the South. Fall is basically like the holidays for a recovering alcoholic. How do we just pick one game to watch on a Saturday and Sunday? How? We’re still figuring this out, but here are our basic steps:

1. Make it a point to watch our favorite college team with friends or family. Then it doesn’t actually count, somehow, because it’s more like a party and less like watching a game. It’s all about quality time…

photo (21)2. Buy a membership to our local awesome park and make it a standing tradition to take a picnic dinner there every Sunday. Too bad if the best NFL game on is at 4:00 p.m. It turns out, we actually don’t care.

3. Focus on books! (you saw that one coming, didn’t you…). Fall is a great time to find some page turners to distract from Football and mold your brain back into a shape.

4. Ask the kids what they want to do.

5. Read an article about a third world country. Only do this if you really want to be challenged and disgusted by the excess that football both creates and embraces. You paid how much for that licensed Peyton Manning jersey? That could feed a family in Africa for a year.

6. Think ahead, and save up your TV time for March Madness.

In all seriousness, we still enjoy sports, and we’re okay with that. What we’re not okay with is looking back on our lives and realizing that our passions and resources were poured into something that is, ultimately, meaningless. We’re excited that college football starts today, and that’s fine! But if you’re the type like us who can reach Christmas before you realize your weekends were a blur of first downs and touchdowns you don’t even remember or care about,  maybe you can gain some perspective from our experience with toning down our fanaticism. I’m pretty sure our eighty-year-old selves will thank us.

Everyday Life, Parenting

Building Dams in The River of Life

How many times have we heard it: “You can’t slow down time.”

We know it’s true. We feel it when we look at the pictures of our children a year, two years, ten years ago. We feel it when we race the clock again to do this before the holidays or that before the arbitrary but very set in stone deadline. I feel it when my newborn outgrows her newborn clothes in just four weeks. I feel time rushing by so quickly these days.

Time is a river that keeps on flowing, and the only way to slow it down is build yourself a dam, picking up the rocks in the river and collecting them into a wall so that the weight of your moments becomes a life of substance.

photo (19)A weighty life can be a good thing.

Each moment I feel the weight of my baby in my arms and let it really sink into my memory, that is a rock I add to my memory dam. Each time I look up from the thousand tasks and look into the gray-blue beauty of Ella’s five-year-old eyes that won’t be the same when she’s six, that’s a rock in the wall. Those moments when I squeeze that hand my husband reaches out to hold mine with every single time we ride in the car together after nine years of marriage make up a boulder. When I trace the curve of a chubby cheek on a pillow as I stop by to check on three-year-old Isaac in the middle of the night, I claim that moment from a sleep-deprived season as a gift. When I stop sighing at the laundry and start fingering the toddler t-shirts and memorizing the pattern of the favorite dress, I make my life into something tangible to my mind.

Each moment truly realized by how it looks and feels and smells and sounds becomes a rock in the dam to keep the river from rushing too quickly.

When my family goes to the mountains, there is always a creek nearby, and there is always an hour when the kids who live inside the grown ups gather rocks and build a small dam in the creek. It’s just for fun, a test of man versus nature. The kids always win, but just for a little while. Even though they’re grown men and women now and know how one rock stacks on another, the next hour or the next day, the dam is gone and the creek rushes on. The creek makes short work of all our work to slow it down, but this fact remains: we made memories in making those walls of rocks in mountain creeks. We made crazy fun memories when we built sandcastles while the tide came in and made a game of saving them from the waves as long as we possibly could. The sand, the rocks, they wash away. That doesn’t diminish the memories.

photo (20)

I know the dams I build will be just like that. I know that time will keep rushing on, even though I have stopped and picked up memory rocks, cradled them, and considered them and stacked them together. I know they’ll not stay there, that the weight of the minutes fully cherished won’t stop change. But when I gather my memories during my days, they become apart of something bigger. The joy and the pain and the sorrow and the giddy happiness will be there, living on in the timbre of life.

The memory of a three-year-old boy asleep in your arms as you carry him from the car will contain that feel of heavy arms and legs against your skin and warm breath on your neck. A lifetime of noticing and grabbing hold of the heft of the baby curled in your arms, and the softness of a quilt handmade from your grandmother, and the warmth of the sun that broke through the clouds at just the moment you needed it like a gift straight from God…these moments remembered and fingered make the whole of life into beauty realized. The beauty has been there and has been felt and seen. The stones have been held before they moved on down the river, and that makes all the difference.

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Children's Books, Parenting, Reading

I Need A Hero(ine)

As my daughters grow up, I remain concerned about what values I’m promoting amidst the fairy tale frenzy they live in. I love fairy tales as much as the next little girl at heart, but I have concerns about flooding our children’s minds with glittery dresses and happily ever afters that usually involve castles and servants. Real life has more grit to it, which is why it’s harder to expose our children to it. We don’t really want them to have to deal with real life just yet, and that’s understandable. But I want my little girls to value hard work, bravery, and honesty. I want them to see beyond beauty on the outside and care deeply about the inside of a person. So when we browse the shelves at the library or bookstore, it can be disheartening to see how the sparkly pink book bindings and the elegant gowns draw my five-year-old daughter in like a hummingbird to a red flower. Pink, sparkly books abound in the picture book genre (not so much for girls in the chapter book age, I’ve noticed), but there are some gems out there we’re slowly discovering. These books don’t feature princesses at all; just real life young girls who became heroines by bravely facing the hard tasks before them.

KeeKeep the Lights Burning, Abbie (On My Own History)p the Lights Burning Abbie is a book my mom read to us when we were little. I loved it then, and I still love reading it now.When Abbie’s father leaves the lighthouse in the hands of his daughter, he doesn’t know what a test she is facing. Abbie and her sisters prove their bravery as they care for the lights and each other. I get a lump in my throat on the last line every single time — not a “that’s so sad I can’t take it lump” but that kind of lump you get when you watch someone win an Olympic gold medal. The Reading Rainbow episode that goes with this book is also one of my favorites.

 

Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express (On My Own History)If I could have picked a story to star in when I was about eight years old, it would have been a story like Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express. Kate sees a problem, knows that people will die if she doesn’t do something about it, and does the hard work of stopping an engine full of people from plummeting into a river. Now that is some serious girl power. Did I mention the illustrations are riveting? And that Kate crawls across a train trestle over a raging river in the dark? I never did anything that brave, but it seems important that every girl aspire to heroic bravery at some point in their young lives.

Brave Irene (Sunburst Books)Brave Irene  by Kevin Stieg isn’t based on a true story as the other books in this post, but that’s alright with me. Irene doesn’t save lives like Abbie or Kate, but she does display the kind of character traits I would love to see in my daughters. When her mother, a dressmaker, becomes ill right at the moment when she needs to deliver a dress to the Duchess for the ball that night, Irene puts her mother to bed and delivers the dress herself, despite a raging snow storm. Irene is caring and compassionate and, obviously, brave. She is also not above getting discouraged on her journey–I appreciate that kind of honesty in a book about a wonder girl.

I wish I had more Picture Book Heroines to add to this list, but I’m still on this search. If you have any suggestions, chime in!

P.S. My kids are crazy about Mulan right now. Just this morning I had to explain to Ella that Mulan is not actually a princess, but she’s really cool and important; this conversation further confirmed that we have some work to do on the princess mindset. It’d be nice if Disney put out a movie about a lovely girl who lived happily ever after and washed dishes at the same time, but it looks like that lesson is all on me. Come on, Disney.