Sunday, August 24, 2014

In defense of "every kid gets a trophy"

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again. ~Elizabeth Lawrence

For the King girls, that garden is rather a swimming pool. The girls both swim on our neighborhood swim team, and the whole experience is a very big part of our summer. Summer is a big part of our life, so it is fair to say that swim team is a big part of our life. Luckily this season, we enjoyed a visit from Nana and Daddy Doug and they got to experience a swim meet. Daddy said, "there is no way you could have ever explained to me what a big deal this is!" Indeed, swim team is a big deal, which makes us feel like our kids' swimming is a big deal.

This was Anna Cate's fourth year swimming and in all those years, she has never hesitated to go to the early-morning practices. For the past two school years, she participated in swim team lessons twice a week. She loves everything about the sport -- the swimming, the friends and the coaches.  Anna Cate is not the fastest swimmer, but she is strong and knows the strokes.  
She often wins her heats in the B group, but during the summer she asked to join a more competitive year round team with the plea, "I really want to be pushed Mom." So we are joining that lifestyle. 
Molly was the youngest kid on the team.
(photo above by my friend Jen Ognek, swim mom, team photographer)

Neither Anna Cate or Molly are the fastest kids or will their swimming determine whether we win a meet or not by their points accumulation (they don't even give points in 6 and under), but the feeling that they are part of team as they simultaneously find victory in personal bests make me think that this "every kid get a trophy" sentiment is not so bad! The girls get ribbons every time they get a personal best or win a heat. Anna Cate won several heats; Molly won one.  

 In addition to all the fulfillment the kids get, BJ & I have enjoyed the sense of community. Every family has to volunteer at meets and it is a great opportunity to meet new people and share in the journey.

At the end of the season, every kid gets an award with a personal story told by the coaches about each swimmer. Molly received "the Little Engine that could" award because she dropped over 30 seconds off her 25 meter time. Anna Cate got the early bird award (her Daddy gets her to practice). They both beamed, and I'm so thankful they have this opportunity to swim and be a part of a team. While the fast kids get a really big trophy, every swimmer does get a trophy to commemorate the season and the child's participation in it. Molly was so proud of hers she took it on our annual trip to Tennessee to show her grandparents. 

 Summer swim team is such a big part of our life and of Anna Cate and Molly's childhood. I'm so grateful they have these opportunities to experience community which celebrates all the children who participate. In many ways, it is a little haven of all the harsh realities of life where all kids don't get a trophy or an award.

“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.”

Here are more images of our summer swim team experience. 

Swim 2014 from Sarah King on Vimeo. 02 12

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Figuring Life Out Together

I've neglected to take the time to write and reflect and ponder what parts of our life and my thoughts to share here in this space.  It is not that I'm not thinking about what I would write, how I would flesh out my thoughts and feelings. Often, I just don't have make the time for writing. Also, I find myself fluctuating between wanting to get out the every day joys of our life in pictures and words and thinking it will just come across as trite and I should spend the energy myself on how to describe my thoughts on this journey which I can't tell if I'm leading or following in this experience as mother.  I revel in the chance to enjoy that role more fully in the summer, but so often by the end of the day Anna Cate, Molly and I feel like Olivia and her mother.

We we wear each other out.

 Similarly, I fluctuate between thinking my two girls are the most precious pair of sisters I've ever seen and just when I want to sit down and tell about all that love in words and pictures, I think again that they are most antagonistic little manipulators compacted in little bodies.

 Saturday night, they were moved to tears over who got the blue corn on the cob holders and the next morning, they fought all the way to church about who got to wear which pair of sunglasses…. and it was raining!!!   One night, they were fighting, and whining and probably hitting when I told them to separate and sleep apart, but when I went to check on them I found them all cuddled together. . .

We have had a busy summer; the girls have enjoyed swim team, a couple Parks and Rec camps (basketball and softball for Anna Cate), a few day trips trips to the pool, a local park or the amusement park nearby Kings Dominion. Lately, I've noticed my frustration is higher because I want them to be more grateful but it seems like it is never enough.

Swim Team is a big part of our summer, and while neither of them is the fastest swimmer out there, I'm so thankful for the opportunities they have to improve themselves. (More on swim team in another post)

Molly is the youngest kid on the team and her progress has been stunning.  As I may to have alluded to before, Molly tries my patience, but I realized one day when I was watching her dive and swim across the 25 meter pool without stopping that this is a part of who she is. The same kid that fights me tooth and nail over the minutia of life will dive and swim and push herself to limits that amaze me even more than she frustrates me.  

And it is these simple yet deep realizations about life and the human journey I am learning from them and this ride that make me want to write it out so one day I'll know I remembered how precious and frustrating it all is.  I'm sure they will remember my yelling and cussing every now and then and my "no TV in the summer" will be changed to that it starts when Mommy wakes up.  I'm not perfect and I'm a slacker but these lessons I'm learning are just breathtakingly simple yet profound.

So while I could spend the time on this blog showing pictures of our typical summer with beach trips, amusements parks, swimming and relaxing. . . .

and while I want to focus on their faces who represent what our whole life is about, I really want to appreciate their spirit.

I would rather share with posterity the deep sense of relationship and struggle and love and humor I find in their very being.  Helping me to appreciate the being rather than the doings of our summer is a book I'm reading among other things this summer "The Conscious Parent." It speaks truth to me in the idea that this parenting journey is really another way to bring awareness to our own lives.  I've dabbled enough in yoga, read Eckahrt Tolle and "The Four Agreements" to understand the way the ego works and the value in self beyond my judgmental thoughts, and the beauty of the present above the illusion of "what's next or better."  

 A couple vignettes below represent how their spirit brings me awareness in the midst of relationship filled with frustration as well as enchantment, both with Anna Cate and Molly and with my experience as their mother.

Molly Mae. . .
Molly fights me on just about everything, but mostly it is about her wanting to do things herself.   One day while she yelled at me for trying to help her make a bed simply because I pulled a blanket straight, I asked her why she gets so mad when I try to help her; she said, "because I think you don't trust me." Truth and perspective boosted my patience. 

So often I forget she is just a little girl trying to establish and figure out her place in this world.  While I get so frustrated with her, I find myself so amused and fascinated by her as well. One day after I totally lost it on her and her selfish ways, I said, "I must just not be a good Mommy because I can't help you learn to share. I need you to go to your room because I can't be around you right now." That night at dinner, she asked to say the blessing and said something like "Thank for such a good mommy who helps me learn how to be nice, but God it is so hard to be nice."  Promise she said that. Recently she said, "it is just really hard being nice; it is not hard to be mean." It reminds me when once I asked her to tell her sister she was sorry for hitting her, she quipped, "But I'm not sorry."
One day last week after moments of consecutive patience on my part, I lost it. "Damnit, Molly I'm so sick of you arguing with me," and she, through tears, said, "Well I'm so sick of you cussing at me." 

Yet in the midst of her raw self-absorption and quick humor, she can be so pure in her love and affection. One night last week, after we exchanged "I love you," I asked her what  her favorite thing about life is (trying to encourage gratitude in my children's consciousness). She said, "what we just said….the love." She is so precious, a little mores while she is sleeping as long as she is not rubbing my neck.

Anna Cate. . . 

She amazes me in her ability to care for and think about others….except when it comes to picking up her shoes. Anna Cate will wear me down about why I don't give the homeless person on the street money, or immediately gives of whatever to her sister.  For instance, if Molly lets a balloon fly away that they each got at a restaurant, without asking, Anna Cate will give hers up. She thrives on making others happy. But she can be sassy and thoughtless, leading me to completely lose my cool when her room is messy or she sneaks TV on her kindle during quiet time when she is supposed to be reading.  This is another thing I go back and forth on -- at what point are they just being kids and at what point am I allowing them to be brats?!!? 
 I cringe at the excuse, "they are just kids!" Well….will we say that about 16 year olds texting and driving, or 17 year olds drinking or high schoolers engaging in unhealthy, intimate relationships?!  Anyway, back to Anna Cate -- she's a dear. I look at pictures of her and realize she's just a little girl, too, trying to figure it all out, which includes trying to watch too much TV or dance too many moves to kids bop for my comfort.  
 The week of Vacation Bible school, we had signed up to provide sanctuary flowers for church and rather than flowers, we got school supplies to go along with the mission they kids learned about that week. It is a group of volunteers who tutor English as a Second Language Learners. This was the display.

After we left the store where Molly and Anna Cate got to stack up a cart full of supplies to donate, Anna Cate said, "this makes me feel so good, Mommy, doesn't it?"  And lately at night, she wants to make sure I tuck her in because she says she just misses me during the day. She is such a wonderful person, aside from all her "kid-like" tendencies to sass and wonder what I'm doing for her next. I'm kidding, mostly.

So in the midst of all the doings of our summer, I hope we will remember that we've taken the time to be together, which includes being who we are as we struggle to be grateful, or nice or patient. We are on this journey together and I'm so thankful that these little spirits are leading the way.  I hope that Anna Cate and Molly will always know that while I mess up, lack self-control and need a neat house that more than anything, I just love being with them.  I hope that in the midst of wearing each other out, when Anna Cate and Molly realize that their parents are just two people who had kids, that BJ and I are not larger than life and that we, like them, are just trying to figure it out. Thankfully, we are charting our course together.

“You don't think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.” 

In case you care about the doings of our summer in pictures, I've created a collection of some of the highlights (Vanderbilt baseball winning the National championship with my parents in town, the wedding of my dear friend Dorinda and a fabulous weekend in DC, a beach vacation with Nana and Daddy Doug, visits with our friends the Smiths, and lots of other summer time scenes along with some "selfies" of Mommy's patience boosters -- working out).

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

I run because I'm happy. . .I run because I'm free

Monday was the first official day of summer and my birthday and it was my best birthday yet. I planned to enjoy myself by celebrating the simple but beautiful things in life. I woke up to an arrangement of flowers from BJ, a note of love, a keurig and a home-made fruit salad.
 I enjoyed my breakfast on the back porch while Molly snuck in some time to play with Anna Cate's guitar in her high heels.

Both girls had swim practice and then we headed to Marian's for brunch. 

 They were treated to summer gifts, which included a beautiful book called GRATEFUL, which Anna Cate read to us.

 And my birthday present to myself was a long run in the battlefield, made possible by Marian who watched the girls for me.
I grew up in the country where I felt like I did not have the opportunities my children have. . .like swim team. Therefor, it is not lost on me that what I treat myself to on the day I could do anything (well most of anything) I want is enjoy something I did have growing up . . .long roads in the countryside.  On these jaunts, there is nothing but the countryside, my thoughts on life, spiritual understandings and an appreciation for the blessings of my life which I pause to celebrate on my birthday.

The reason we have such expanses of nature in the midst of suburban sprawl and icky strip malls is the historical preservation of the Civil War battlefields.  I chose to run on my birthday in the steps of the Battle of Fredericksburg, but in past years I've run in others nearby. 
I stop and take pictures, stretch, breath and focus on all the metaphors in life I can as a way of seeing the connections in this one, wild and precious life. It is almost like Pandora knows these longs runs are times for me to reflect because the music provides such rich connections to my thoughts and directives for life.

I just keep thinking about how grateful I am for the experiences, family and health.  Most of all I focus on the clarity of perspective age has bestowed on me, which seems most clear as I run in these open spaces.  I think about how much I appreciate this time and space that has been available to me my whole life. Like the good witch tells Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, "you had it all along."
I ended up running/jogging/walking 8 and it felt so good. 
I listened to songs on a black spiritual station I've discovered, where I find the soul of a joy and faith in these songs inspiring.  With each step and deep breath, I'm reminded of the faith journey of my own soul and all the friends and loved ones I've had along the way. I am not sure what I believe about theology but I'm convinced of the presence of the Holy Spirit. 
I feel most closely connected to the center of this spirit as I breath in the beauty of simple scenes of nature.  Running and focusing on my blessings reminds me as the song did that His eye is on the sparrow. . so why should I be discouraged?

These songs come on the "Oh Happy Day" station. . . and, that it was.
This journey, both the run and my life,  beholds so much beauty. Of course there are hills and times I have to stop and walk, yet like the disappointments, the scenes and stories take my breath away. I'm continually thankful for what I've had all along.
To be admitted to Nature's hearth costs nothing. . .you have only to push aside the curtain. 
~Henry David Thoreau

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Finding Gratitude over Pride

This summer, Molly starts swim team.  I could focus on how proud I am of her for knowing how to swim and having the confidence to go out and do it, being the youngest member of the team. But more than anything, I'm grateful for the opportunities my kids have. 
I teach in a school with a lot of students who don't seem to have the parental involvement and/or resources that I think are crucial to raising kids. While I I find myself frustrated with parents' lack of attention to the things that I value, my own parents raised me with enough compassion to realize that I shouldn't criticize unless "I've walked in another's shoes." So as my own children get older, in addition to feeling proud of Anna Cate and Molly, I'm really grateful for the leaders, coaches and teachers who help us raise them to participate in activities like sports, music and church. 

Several weeks ago, Anna Cate ran in a fun run at another Elementary School. She was sick on Friday but pushed through to run because her own elementary gym teacher would be there cheering for her.

Anna Cate finished her winter swim league and placed in every event. 

Her favorite stroke is the butterfly and I'm so proud her.
She has great coaches who want her to have fun as much as they care about learning the strokes. She gets a great work out twice a week while BJ and I get to work out, too. Nearby, there is another program, which is a lot more intense and competitive, and I will have to figure out the right time to step it up.
The girls are the reason we go to church on Wednesday night.  I always find God there, and it is fabulous, authentic fellowship but is such a hassle to get to church by 5:15 on a Wednesday night for dinner and the children's choir practice at 6. The girls love it, though, and the season culminated in a really fun musical.

As we were waiting anxiously for summer to begin, we've enjoyed some evenings at the pool, including a play date with our best friends.

But I think it is fair to say, we were ready for  summer as we enjoyed the traditions of winding down a school year. Anna Cate had an amazing 2nd grade experience; her teacher was fabulous, kind, firm, consistent and a great teacher. Anna Cate is reading a chapter book a week and I'm so thankful she has had such a good experience in the classroom, and I'm quite proud of her reading. But I realize, it is not just her…it's that great teacher!!

An "end of the year" tradition is the sleepover at Miss Diana's. She goes "all out" throughout the year to make fun memories for the children for whom she cares, but the Spring sleepover are over the top in the  most fantastic way. Each year, there is a theme. . . kept a secret. This year, Molly forgot her pillow and at 4'o clock when I stopped by Diana's to say, "have a good time" to Molly, I offered to come back to bring the pillow. Diana said, "you can't come --- I'm not giving you a sneak peek." 

Anna Cate enjoyed a Pirate's Paradise, a Hawaiian luau, a cowboy hoe-down, and Molly's first experience was a beach party last year, and last weekend Molly and her friends were treated to a camp out.

CampOut from Sarah King on Vimeo.

The next day, my best friend Norah took the girls to a missions day at church where they did a series of good things, including taking potted plants to a group home.

Recently, in Molly's prayers, she says, "God, thank you for helping others and teaching us to help people." I think she embodies what I'm trying to say and to live ---- focus on being grateful for the experiences and the people who make them possible.

 All that we behold is full of blessings. ~William Wordsworth


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I love my family, deep thoughts, pure feelings and a good time making lasting memories with people I love. I procrastinate, but love to plan. I'm insecure about my body but confident about my heart and mind. I grew up in a small town, but feel like I'm a citizen of the world. Being a working mother was not in my life plan, but neither was being poor so I'm using this blog to help me focus on the precious time I do have with my family. My husband is the most competent person I know, and in many ways, he is more motherly to our precious girls than I am, since I have the job of being the disciplinarian, more like my Dad. I love to work out, write, eat, drink wine, entertain, decorate and think.

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