Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Together Again

Last week we were visited by Eva and her daughter Marthaline. Eva, her mother, and her three children were refugees in Liberia who petitioned to come to the United States. My sister and I, along with a few other inspiring women, were running People for Peace at the time, a peace and justice group we formed to protest the run-up to war (fat lot of good that did, eh?) and continued as a forum for peace and justice issues. We hosted speakers, events, poetry slams, and vigils. We were a small bunch in this conservative rural area, but we were mighty. We endured nasty counter-protesters who flashed signs at our 82-year-old co-founder that read "Appeasers KILL" - with 'appeasers' written 2 inches high and 'KILL' written 2 feet high. We endured yells from angry passing motorists - because, you know, we don't want our young men and women to get killed in an unnecessary war, and apparently, what, they do?! And all in all, we met some amazing people - mostly elderly, interestingly - and learned a lot.

One day my sister posed the possibility that we sponsor a refugee family, and some of our group committed to doing just that. Shortly after, Jackie picked up Eva and her family in Chicago and brought them home. We got them settled in a house apartment in a nearby smallish town and there began a new branch of our multi-cultural family as Jackie became their #1 caretaker and I became her back-up.

Marthaline, the youngest, was only 6 at the time, but she was a wild woman. She'd run and leap into my arms and climb me like a tree, gripping tightly with her legs around my waist, nearly strangling me with her arms, and burying her head into my neck. Marthaline's greetings were the best part of my visits.

After two years here, though, they decided to move to Minnesota to be near other Liberians they knew. Eva is an amazing woman - a single parent of 3 (her husband was 'lost' when they came to America - it was unknown if he was dead or alive - but now the government won't let her husband come because there's no official proof of their marriage), working nights, taking classes at a local college, all in a foreign land. I'd do well to think of Eva and all she's been through when I'm tempted to whine about messy counter tops or a weedy garden.

Last week Eva and her youngest, Marthaline, came to visit.

Photo: My sister Jackie, Eva, me, and Neecee, another friend to Eva

On Sunday night we all gathered for dinner at my mother's house, and the kids ran and played and ran some more. I love nothing more than watching a gaggle of children run wild on a balmy summer night. This particular night, the kids decided to have running races.

They'd start at the top of the barn hill and race across the backyard, around the house, and back up again.
They did this again and again, in different combinations.
And we adults were having a lovely time watching. From the deck. But then Eva had to go and blow it for the lazy adults. When the kids began challenging us, she took them up on it.

Go Eva, Go!

And then my sister got into the groove. Here she is getting beaten by our 14 yr old Colorado cousin, Lauren, who is also visiting for 3 weeks.
So then my boys started asking who was faster, my sister or me. "Well now that depends upon what race you're talking about," I replied. "I was the sprinter - Jackie was the long distance runner." This got them even more excited and they begged us to race. Jackie and I gave each other pained looks - we weren't sure it was such a good idea. But I said we'd race if ALL the kids raced, so we lined up:
There's me on the far left, Jackie toward the right.
And there's me holding my hands in the air like a champion. I didn't win, but my therapist says I should practice the power of positive thinking. "If you think it, it will be." Or something like that. Later, I kept teasing my cousin, "I think I beat you. I think I really won."
"What-EVER," she laughed.

Even the guys got in on it. There's Marcelo holding his own against Jonathan, and Rob bringing up the tail end...
Go honey, go!

But really, the best part of the visit, again, was how often Marthaline would offer a snuggle and a hug.

Who wouldn't love a face like this? Pure sweetness. And wild woman, through and through.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

He Gets His Speed from His Mama

I've been a soccer mom for many years now. Brady started playing when he was 6, almost 10 years ago, and I've spent 1/2 of every year either on the sidelines of a soccer field, en route to a soccer field, making phone calls to arrange games on soccer fields, or en route home from a soccer field. Thankfully I love soccer, although that's probably in no small part due to the fact that my favorite kids in the whole world play. There's something about watching your kids play a sport that will make even the most die-hard, anti-spectator sports person, like me, lather up the sunscreen and load the folding chairs over and over and over again, and even run up and down the sidelines cheering, and EVEN toss a critical word or two in the direction of an exceptionally bad referee. (One of the funniest I ever heard was yelled by a coach - "Hey ref! Where'd you get your license, WalMart?" Refs can never win.)

Time and again, Rob, ever-hopeful, asks not if, but how many college or professional games I'd like to see with him. When I cringe in response, my body language clearly screaming "Nopleasedon'tmakeme," he tries the same tactic over and over - "But you had your own season football tickets in college!" And over and over, my reply is this - (Kids, please stop reading now) - "Um, TAILGATE parties? I wasn't there for the football, honey. I was there for the party."

Jonathan has played soccer since he was four. After almost 7 years of it, though, Jonathan's interest began to wane. It was never as much his sport as his big brother's, which was always fine with us. Trouble was, it wasn't fine with him. It irritated him that he'd show up for every practice, run all the assigned laps without walking (when most didn't even try), work extra hard on every drill, and then still not start each game. So, last spring he decided to try baseball.

He was definitely most-improved player on his team and he did pretty well - especially considering he was the smallest on his team by about 12 inches (no kidding) and 30 pounds. Trouble was, those good ol' boys had been playing together for going on 6 years - and being the new kid on the block was, well... let's just say if there was a welcome mat laid out, we never did find it. It was a long, frustrating season, and Jonathan's shoulders slumped more and more as he got better and better but played less and less. When he said he didn't want to play baseball again this spring, Rob and I let out the collective-breath we'd been holding. That was good news for everyone involved.

He opted for soccer again, but early in the season all the old reservations came rising to the surface for him. Too much bench-time, not enough playing time, even though once again, he was working hard and showing well in practice. He's small for his age, maybe that's it.

The thing about Jonathan is he has the mental stamina of a star athlete - It's just that his physicality hasn't quite kept up yet. He's young, so there's plenty of time - and rest assured there's no pressure from us to be a star. But here's the thing - he wants it. He wants it badly.

So one day this spring I saw an ad in the newspaper for a kids' running club. 3 divisions - silver, gold, and platinum - with silver being beginners and platinum being the club-runners of the track and field world. "Hey Jonathan, want to try a kids' track and field club?"

No hesitation - "Sign me up."

This is a kid who has every Rocky Balboa movie memorized backward and forward. He knows all the Russian translations of Ivan Drago's character. (An aside - Does he look like Max Headroom, or what?!? Thank you, I thought so too.) He knows who produced the movies. He knows that Sylvester Stalone is only 5'7" in real life but Rocky Balboa is 5'11" in his movies. He has all the soundtracks and he can quote any part of any movie. But the most striking thing of all? He knows all the training sequences from each movie; better yet, he does them. Thanks to his interest in Rocky Balboa, he now owns a heavy bag and a speed bag, a jump rope and free weights, boxing gloves and hand wraps for when he gets bloody knuckles - which he does. On his birthday list is a chin-up bar. Two years ago he put a sign on his bedroom door to remind himself to do push-ups and sit-ups every day. Which he's done. Some nights, I have to wait to tuck him because just when I reach to shut off his light, he exclaims, "I forgot to do my push-ups and sit-ups!" and then asks me to wait so I can tuck him in afterward. When this kid puts his mind to something? He does it.

Last night was his first track meet. He'd signed up for the long jump, the 800m run, the 400m dash, and the 1500m run. And how'd he do, you ask?

Two golds and a bronze, that's how!

Here he is, preparing for his first race. He was so nervous that morning, he got up, ate breakfast, and put himself back to bed, trying to calm his nerves. You know how each person has unique mannerisms? That are dead give-aways to the trained parental eye? Here's one of Jonathan's - holding his head. Recalling my own glory days in track, I was nervous for him, remembering how my insides would churn before the start of each race. I'd be equally impatient - "let's just race already!" - and dread-filled - "I'm not ready!" But the difference between a pre-race Jonathan and pre-race me all those many moons ago? Jonathan has the mental stamina that I lacked. I knew he could do this.

As they lined up for the start of the 800m run, I had to pinch myself to keep from pacing and possibly translating my nervousness to Jonathan. I settled for taking 93 pictures to keep my mind occupied. (Yes, I said 93. I was really nervous.)

But I need not have worried - here he is, coming in FIRST! First place! MY BOY CAME IN FIRST! I'm just a wee bit proud.

This little stinker... he ran his fastest pace ever for the first 600m, and then at the last 200m mark (and the 200m is a brutal sprinting distance, by the way), he turned it on and he sprinted the last 200m! We all sat with our mouths hanging open while the coach gave us thumbs up signs from the infield. He finished with a time of 3:04. Yay Jonathan!

Here he is with his first place medal!

Next was the 400m, which is one lap around the track - a 1/4 mile. This race is a sprint and is rather grueling - and I should know, because I used to run it. He came in third in this race. But let's look at his form - beautiful. The sprint coach calls it "cheek pocket" - as your hands should go straight up and down from cheek to pocket. "Cheek pocket! Cheek pocket! Cheek pocket!" We like saying "Cheek pocket!" 'round here. Wish I'd had that for my bag of tricks when I coached track and field.

(Notice how I keep infusing the post with my own glory days. I'm sorry.)

Next up was the mile, but here was the problem - since the kids are younger, they don't have all the events. There are no hurdles, there's only one relay, and there's no two-mile run, for instance. That meant Jonathan's 400m race and his mile run were back-to-back, and since he was in a late heat for the 400m, he had about 1-2 minutes to rest before taking position to begin the mile. Like worried mother hens, my mom and I were saying he didn't have to do it if he didn't feel well - he looked rather pale, the nervousness of the day catching up to him added to the fatigue from running hard - but he shook his head and took his place. The coaches came up to give him some pointers, and more than one timer said, "Dude, this kid just ran the 400m! Way to double-up, Buddy!" while giving him a high-five. Jonathan suppressed a proud smile and tried to catch his breath before the starter fired his gun.

During lap 3, a girl who'd been tailing Jonathan passed him, and thinking back, I remembered how that's just the sort of thing that can take the gumption right out of ya. But not Jonathan. On the last 100m stretch of lap 4, he kicked it in....

And he passed that (poor) grrl! She stayed with him, but he didn't let up. I don't know where he found it, but he had a nice little kick at the end.

The sprint coach told me at practice last week that's the difference between an athlete and a champion - champions can dig deep inside and find "it" within themselves - and win.

And win he did. Jonathan honey? I knew you had it in you. All that commitment finally paid off.

You rock!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Unschooling Q&A - My Boy is Back

Wednesday was Brady's first day back home after completing his freshman year at school. How did he spend it, you might wonder?

Pricing out parts for the computer he'll build for his little brother.

All is right in our world again.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Reality Check

Today's Reality Check is in celebration of the first day of not having to hear an alarm clock go off at the ung*dly hour of 5:45am:

You know it's well past time to get a life start your day when you send a text message to the Today Show to vote for a couple in The Race to the Altar segment.

From your bed.