Category Archives: Life

Anything I Can Do, You Can Do Better- Musings On An Average Life

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“You’re a shining star

No matter who you are

Shining bright to see

What you could truly be”

-Earth Wind and Fire

There are two classic songs with the title “Shining Star.” One is by Earth Wind and Fire, the other by the Manhattans. It’s difficult to compare the two, as the songs are very different. One is slow, the other fast. One is about love, the other is about being the best YOU that you can be. One hit number 1 on Billboard’s “Hot 100.” The other only hit number 5. I love them both, but the one by the Manhattans is my favorite, no matter what the charts say about which is better. This week, though, the Earth Wind and Fire version has been playing in my head.

Zoe just finished her first select soccer tournament this past weekend. Her team placed 2nd in their division against a tough Snohomish United A team. While some may consider 2nd place losing, I am very proud of Zoe and the rest of the girls for a fantastic performance. I’m not a big participation trophy advocate, as I believe it diminishes accomplishments, but  I do consider 2nd place worthy of getting excited about.

I won 2nd place once. There was a track meet my fourth grade year, and somehow I ended up on the shuttle relay. As you can see…

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I still have my second place ribbon. The girls I ran the race with were probably disappointed. Truth be told, I’m sure I was the weak link on that team, and they likely would have won the race if they had someone faster in my place. Two of the girls had already won several events that day. That red ribbon that they received for the relay was likely the lowlight of the meet for them . For me, however, it was worthy of saving for 30 years.

I was having a conversation recently with a friend who said, “Have you ever met someone like you, only better?”

The answer is, of course I have. I’ve never been the exceptional one. I’ve never been the prettiest, smartest, fastest. Never the best athlete, never the star of the play, never the best anything in my whole life. Don’t get me wrong- this is no pity party. You could say I have had a lot of disappointments, but I never had any expectation of being the best. Maybe I have lowered my expectations. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I was scared, or maybe I wasn’t ______________ enough.  Maybe I just wasn’t enough. I’ve never won a race, but I’ve finished several. I’ve never won a singing competition, but I’ve sung. I wasn’t valedictorian, but I made the honor roll every year. And I’ve relished these personal victories, even though I never had any public ones.

I have known some exceptional people. We all have. You can usually spot them right away. There is a girl like that in Zoe’s grade at school. From the beginning of Kindergarten, it was obvious that this girl had “it.” The one that every girl wanted to be friends with, to be like.  Who, at age 6, had no clue of the power she wielded, but it was obvious to everyone around her. And she would soon learn. She’s the girl who makes every team she tries out for, who gets the starring role in every play. The one who will win every student election  she runs in, and who, someday, will be homecoming queen. She will have more trophies and awards than her parents will know what to do with.

I had two friends like that growing up. One in elementary school, one in high school. The first, let’s call her “E,” I met right after my family moved from Huntington Beach to Lake Stevens, Washington. My parents went church shopping, and her father was the pastor of a tiny new church. They were recent transplants from Tucson, Arizona. (Or Las Cruces, New Mexico. I can’t remember, maybe both. All I know is her mom made amazing Navajo tacos.)

E and I clicked right away, and in the fall we started first grade together at our local private Christian school. We had so much in common, but in everything we did together, she was just better. She ran faster. She was better at basketball, volleyball, track. She had long, shiny wavy dark hair. I had straight blonde hair that I had permed, causing me to look like a poodle.

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She was taller, thinner. She wasn’t boy-crazy like I was, and yet they flocked to her. We sang duets in the school talent show, but she had more confidence. She played first chair clarinet, I played second chair flute. We both tried out for cheerleading in 6th grade and made it, but she was clearly the more coordinated of the two of us.

E had another friend that she spent a lot of time with. I don’t blame her for wanting to hang around this girl. “S” was blonde also, but she was Scandinavian platinum blonde, while I was Irish dirty blonde. S was as good, if not better, than E at sports. (S and E were the two girls on my relay team I mentioned earlier.) She was beautiful, sweeter than pie, and she lived in a big house on the lake. I couldn’t compete.

So I got bossy. And mean.

I developed an ability to be condescending in the 3rd grade that could rival even the snarkiest of adults. I used my large vocabulary as a weapon.

And I sealed my own fate. My jealousy, instead of motivating me to improve myself, caused me to be resentful, and a sore loser. If I couldn’t beat them at their game, I would create my own. The trouble with that is I was the only one playing. I was the winner and the loser all at once.

I wasn’t a naturally gifted athlete, but I did love sports. I asked my parents to buy me a bunch of softball equipment for my 10th birthday. I got the ball, the glove, the bat, the hitting net and all the Mariner’s gear. I didn’t have a team to play on, though. Sometimes I would play catch with my dad. One day, I missed the ball, it smacked me in the face, and broke my nose. To this day I have a bump on the bridge of my nose as a reminder of my failure, not to mention a fear of balls flying at my face.

In the 7th grade I tried out for Volleyball. I was on the third string. For those of you athletes out there, third string is where they place you when you are hopeless, but they feel too sorry for you not to let you on the team. I was benchwarmer for the benchwarmers. I had a curious habit of kicking my right foot back every time I served the ball. I could hear the giggles from the sidelines. I tried out for basketball, and found that the same habit  appeared every time I attempted a free throw.

This was also about the time that I grew boobs. Between those “developments” and my propensity to have an asthma attack whenever I ran, I came to the conclusion that I would never be an athlete.

My next foray into the sporting world was 9th grade track. As you can see…

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I didn’t actually run track. I was the manager. (Thanks, Mr. Gionet, for making sure there was no question as to my participation on my certificate.) I attended the meets and did whatever the coach wanted. And I organized the spaghetti feeds. Remember, “if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”

Also during my ninth grade year, a new girl came to my school. We became fast friends. It’s always great when you find someone with similar interests. What is difficult is when one of you has success and the other doesn’t. “C” was/ is a beautiful girl/ woman. She had perfect skin, teeth and amazing blue eyes. Where I was awkward, she was graceful.

At the end of our sophomore year, we both tried out for jazz choir. We chose our songs together, rehearsed together, and went to tryouts together. When they posted the results, she was listed for jazz choir, and I was listed under the women’s choir, which I hadn’t even tried out for. I went to the choir director and he told me that the vote was very close between the two of us (current choir members had voting input on the new members) but that they had decided she was a better fit. I was crushed. If I had chosen a different song, if I had sung it better, if I was thinner, prettier…

About a month later we both tried out for cheerleading. Getting on the cheer squad for junior year was a big accomplishment. There were usually only 2 selected each year, the rest being incoming seniors. Whoever came in as a junior, would then be captains the following year. I had wanted to be a Snohomish football cheerleader since I attended a cheer clinic in the 3rd grade. (We did a stellar routine to “Mickey.”) C was selected, I was not. Soon, she was invited to all the cool parties and her squad and their older friends became the people she spent the most time with.

My response was to do what I always did when faced with my insecurities and inadequacies. I tried to bully her and control our friendship. It took almost a year to repair the damage that I did.

The following spring I tried out again, and this time I made it. She was captain. And she was on the homecoming court. (As was “S”) But by this time I had begun to come to terms with my place in this world. I was never going to be the superstar, but I had good friends who were. And if I wanted to stay friends with them, I needed to get over myself and just be there for them. Since that time I cannot think of one moment that I have ever begrudged the success of one of my friends.

Fast forward 10 years, and I’m  a mom to 5 year old Sydney. Jeff’s boss at the time convinced us to sign her up for the soccer team he was coaching. It was his son’s team. All boys, and little Sydney. To say that season was comical and painful would be an understatement.

When soccer didn’t pan out, she asked to take ballet and tap lessons. I made her take them one additional year after she started begging to quit. From there, she did English horseback riding for two years, hip hop dancing for one, a summer of tennis, and one week of field hockey. As the $200 worth of field hockey equipment sat unused in the garage, Sydney decided once and for all that sports was not her thing. She’s finally  found her thing- music. She taught herself to play the guitar, write songs and sing.

We signed Nathan up for Tae Kwon Do at the age of 4. He did that for 2 years, and then we moved from Utah to Socal, so he quit. At 7 he started baseball. He had never even played catch before. (Don’t look at me.) Following his first practice, the coach called me and asked, “Do you really want to do this?” Nathan was so far behind ( at this point all the boys had been playing for 2 years) and the coach was concerned it would damage his self esteem. I told him that he needed to give him a chance, that he was a hard worker, and he would do everything asked of him. If he was willing to coach him, Nathan would be coachable. At the end of that season, he received the award for “most improved.”

Nathan played baseball for 3 more years after that, and did jiu jitsu and kickboxing for two. Most of the time I had to drag him there. He didn’t love it. A year ago he started playing tennis. He seems to actually enjoy it, and that’s my hope for him. I’m not setting my sights on Wimbledon, I just want him to find something he likes to do.

Parker could care less about sports. He’s done two years of soccer and is playing the last game of his third season of baseball on Saturday. Following the game, they are having their end of season party.

He asked me last night, “Do we get a prize at the party?”

I said, “You get trophies.”

He responded, “I don’t care, trophies suck.”

Barring a minor miracle, Parker is unlikely to be MVP of any team that he plays for. He just doesn’t care enough.

His first season of soccer he spent chasing after his opponents ( and sometimes his teammates) like “the Creeper” from Scooby Doo.

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He never paid any attention to the ball. Sunny games in either sport are always a challenge, because then he can see his shadow. One time I bribed him with a dollar for every intentional contact he made with the soccer ball. He earned $3 for the whole game.

And then there’s Zoe. Zoe doesn’t have to be cajoled, bribed or forced to play sports. She played 3 years of softball, 3 years of soccer, she’s done ice skating for 18 months, and she really wants to try volleyball. My issue with Zoe is that she wants to play too many sports, often concurrently. She’s good, and she’s improving. But I don’t believe it’s because we have done anything different with her, and it’s certainly not that she’s inherited some recessive athletic gene, she just really wants it. And she will have to work harder than some of the other girls to get it. She’s shorter and stockier than a lot of her teammates. But she’s got a passion to play and a competitive spirit.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about superstar kids in sports. Zoe’s team played against a girl who scored all but one of her team’s 8 goals. This friend has a daughter like that. She is a third generation athlete, who excels at every sport she tries. She was ostracized by her team last year because she was the only one to score any of their goals all season long, except for two. The parents and kids were so jealous that they made her feel bad about her success.

I try to teach my kids that they don’t have to be the star of the team and don’t need to put their teammates down to make them feel better about themselves. The kids who are amazing, the kids who are average, the kids who probably shouldn’t be playing- they all deserve to be supported and cheered on. I want my kids to try their best, and enjoy what they are doing. (Except Parker. I’m gonna keep making him do sports for now, even if it is torture for everyone involved.)

There are families that would say winning isn’t just important, it’s everything. I feel like winning isn’t only about the score at the end of the game. It’s the byproduct of doing something you love, and putting your everything into it. Sometimes, you can give your everything and not be the victor on the scoreboard, but when you know you’ve done your best, there’s a victory in that.

But what do I know? My greatest sports accomplishment was second place in an elementary school relay race 30 years ago.

There will always be those that we meet that are better than us. I choose to revel in the accomplishment of improvement . If I only considered winning success, I would feel like the biggest loser around. But I can take pride in doing me the best that I can, and improving where there is room to do so. (And boy, is there room.)

Whether Zoe’s team wins first place or third place in their next tournament, I’ll be as proud of her as I was this past weekend as long as she tries her best- Just as I was proud of Nathan’s “most improved.” My wish for my kids is for them to be the best Sydney, Nathan, Zoe and Parker they can be. And I haven’t quite given up on myself yet either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Have You Learned?

If yesterday was any indication of how this coming year is going to go, I have a feeling there are interesting times ahead.

My morning started with a coffee date with Sydney at her favorite local coffee bar, the Spotted Cow. She’s there so often, walking in with her is like walking into “Cheers” with Norm. We sat down at a table, and I must admit I was a bit nervous. Sydney likes to ask probing, introspective questions. “So,” She says. “What have you learned since your last birthday?”

It’s not an easy question to answer. After a moment I said, ” I guess the best part of being over 40 is that your fears become less, and risk isn’t quite so scary.” It’s true. I’ve found myself more and more asking, “why not?” I’ve wanted to try new things, new foods and I started looking at all of the things I’ve told myself I can’t do in a new light- as possibilities.

After coffee we picked up sandwiches and brought them home for birthday phase 2- family games. (Or as my husband said, “we’re gonna play ‘pin the blame on the child.'”) Although there was at least one time out ( who could blame Parker for getting a little upset when he caused the Jenga tower to fall and Zoe jumped up on the kitchen table in a taunting victory dance?), there were many more moments of laughter. Playing Apples to Apples with a kid who is an early reader is an amusing experience. Besides the fact that he giggled and said, “that’s mine!” whenever his card was read, and often didn’t understand the categories, he actually had some surprising success, in spite of himself. When Zoe announced the category was ‘cosmic’, Parker confidently slammed his card on the table. It was “Captain Kirk.” Sydney said, “Do you even know who that is?” He said, “Of course I do! He’s Superman!”

Game time was followed by dinner at the Melting Pot. For those who don’t know, the Melting Pot is a fondue restaurant. Or, as Nathan put it- “They charge us all this money to cook our own food?!”

The restaurant was my choice, I’d been lobbying to take the kids there for a year. However, I didn’t want to come out and demand it, so I dropped the hint to Sydney, who passed it along to her father.  His response was that he’d rather die than take Parker to anything that passes for a nice restaurant and promptly made reservations for the loudest restaurant he could find- Buca Di Beppo. He did call the Melting Pot and explained his concerns, so they booked us into a private dining room with a door that closed in the back of the restaurant. He decided he could live with that, even though he was still convinced someone was getting scalded before the night was through.

After we were seated, our drink orders taken and our waiter had left, Sydney said, “Apparently you have to be very attractive to work here.” Zoe (who had already whispered to me, “Our waiter is very attractive”) quickly agreed, “THAT’S what I’M sayin’!”

The first course of four is the cheese course, followed by the salad course. It was at this point that Nathan, a self-professed cheese and salad hater, realized he had just entered his own personal nightmare. Nathan thinks he hates cheese. I say “thinks” because in spite of what he says, he likes pizza, mac n cheese, enchiladas, casseroles, and nachos. The idea, however, of dipping vegetables in melted cheese was enough for him to declare that he was going to starve because they had nothing he was willing to eat. Eventually he relented and dipped some chips in the cheddar, which he decided he liked. That is, until my father asked what the waiter had poured into the cheddar and I responded, “beer.” Nathan’s head whipped around faster than “the Exorcist,” he stared at me accusingly and said, “You’re letting Parker eat a bunch of BEER?!” sigh. Did I mention Nathan’s fierce protective instincts towards his younger siblings?

As the salad course I arrived, I began opening my birthday cards. The first card, from my husband, said:   photo

I read it out loud and Jeff replied, “Well, 41 is almost 50. Just 9 more years!”

I heard the cute waiter guffaw behind me.

The main course arrived, and it soon became clear that we were inept at fondue. 9 people, 18 skewers, all jockeying for position around 3 small pots. Small children using sharp objects to spear raw meat and then plunge it into boiling oil; I started realizing my husband may have been right.

The final course was the chocolate. I read off the choices and Zoe became very upset when I mentioned “turtle chocolate.” She believed that meant we would be eating turtle, her favorite animal. My father enjoyed stoking that fire a bit, but before her hysteria reached epic proportions I managed to convince her no turtles had been harmed in the making of our dessert.

Three hours after we entered the Melting Pot, we all waddled out drizzled in chocolate, bellies heavy with cheese,  and smelling like we’d been working the fryer of a fast food restaurant all day. I’d say that is the sign of a successful dining experience, wouldn’t you?

But the fun didn’t stop there. I had been invited out for Karaoke with my friends Zac and Heather. My husband smiled gratefully as I left  and said, “Thank you for not making me go with you.”

Zac is a karaoke pro, and Heather is his wife/biggest fan. I have yet to find the amount of liquid motivation that will get Heather up to sing, so I stand in for her on the duets with Zac. I never imagined I would play Lita Ford to someone else’s Ozzy Osborne, but it’s the unpredictability of life that makes it fun, right?

The karaoke bar that we go to used to be a British tea room . The day Princess Di died, my mother and I went and had tea there as a sign of solidarity in mourning. Where the bar is now, there used to be a market filled with biscuits, canned bread, Devonshire cream and currant jellies. In the back of the store was the tea room, with a fresco ceiling covered in blue sky and wispy clouds, lace tablecloths and fine china. While the painted ceiling remains, the delicate formal setting has been replaced with two large pool tables. Unfortunately, the restrooms are in the very back, which means getting there is like running a gauntlet of inebriated men with pool cues.

One of these men, about 55 years old and about 55 inches tall, made quite an impression last night. As he was beginning his performance of Garth Brooks’ “The River,” he pulled the mic cord to our table, as if checking how far it would stretch. I had my back to the karaoke area and was facing Zac and Heather when her eyes suddenly got very wide and she said, “Here he comes!” I turned my head  and suddenly found my personal space heavily invaded, as he was singing right into my face. I leaned away and he moved towards me. I leaned back further and he lurched even more. By the time he tried to touch my face, I had almost fallen backwards off my chair trying to get away from him. Thankfully he finally took the hint and backed off. As she finished recording this encounter on her phone, Heather said, “Looks like somebody is looking for their future ex-wife!”

I will admit, I’ve always wanted to be serenaded, but that was not quite what I had imagined.

As one of the regulars, Hawaiian Joe, began his second Bob Marley song of the night, it seemed like a good time to call it done. After all, it was after midnight and no longer my birthday, and the bar was starting to turn into a pumpkin.

As I drove home I thought about Sydney’s question. “What have you learned?” What I learned yesterday was that too much cheese isn’t a good thing. I learned playing board games with my kids and husband is more entertaining than any comedy Hollywood could contrive. I learned that posting your very first blog on your birthday is the best way to go because everyone has to be nice to you on your birthday. I learned it takes 2 mandarin cosmos to get me to sing Aretha Franklin in front of a crowd of strangers and two good friends. Mostly, I re-learned how truly blessed I am to have the love and support of my family and friends. That’s a lesson I never get tired of learning.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m gonna party like it’s my birthday. Oh wait… it is!

Inaugural blogs often feel like the opening monologue on “Saturday Night Live”- necessary to get things started, but awkward for everyone. So let’s just rip this bandage off, shall we?

I’ve been told a few times that I should consider writing a blog. I like the idea of it- a cathartic release of all these thoughts and experiences jumbling around inside of my head. I like other people’s blogs. However, every time I think about writing one, I feel like it’s a declaration of “Hey everybody! Listen to me! I’m clever and witty! My life is more interesting than yours! And now I’m going to tell you all about it!” Of course, I don’t feel that way about my friends who  are already blogging. But since when does my measuring stick of others ever apply to my own life?

So, here I am. I’m blogging. I must say, it’s not so bad. I thought it would be a little scarier. Of course, I haven’t posted this yet, so there’s that. If you’re reading this, though, it means I took the plunge. I did it. Let’s take a moment and do a slow “80’s teen movie slow clap” for my courage.

Ok, you can stop now. I appreciate the support, but frankly, it’s starting to make me a little uncomfortable.

I don’t think there’s anything especially interesting about my life that justifies me having my own blog. But I believe that life in general offers constant opportunities to find humor, all we have to do is keep our eyes open. I will say that I have an extremely quick- witted husband, who has passed down his quirky way of viewing the world to our four kids. And we are strong believers in the power of laughter to make any situation better. It’s our main coping mechanism around here.

Today is my 41st birthday. Man, that sounds old. Doesn’t that sound old? I asked my friend/therapist/hair stylist Marques this week, “Doesn’t that sound old?” He responded, “You don’t look or act the way I imagined a 40 year old would.” I took this as a compliment. Hopefully it means I don’t act senile and decrepit, and not that I’m just immature.

My husband, Jeff, is still 40. He has approximately three more weeks of being 40, and he is reveling in that fact.  Last year, for my 40th birthday, he was really laying on the “old lady” shtick pretty thick. My daughter Zoe, who was 8 at the time,  was horrified by the gag gifts he gave me and spent most of the evening offended and in tears on my behalf. I wish that I could post all of the hilarious things that my husband says, but most aren’t fit for public consumption. Just know that for every funny thing he says that I recount, there are probably a hundred more that I cannot.

We have 4 kids. Technically we now have 3 kids and one adult, as our oldest, Sydney, is 18. You likely won’t hear much about Sydney. Not because she’s not funny. She is. Mostly because Sydney is a stealth comedian. She doesn’t say a lot, but when she does, it’s spot on. She’s an observer by nature, but she’s also kind-hearted and doesn’t like making fun of other people, unlike her parents. The thing about Sydney is that  she’s truly one of the best people I’ve ever known. I know I’m her mom, but I’d say the same if I wasn’t. I’d like to take credit for her, but as our oldest, she’s endured the spectrum of our parenting learning curve and yet somehow come out the other end a spectacular human being. More of a miracle than an accomplishment on our part.

Our son Nathan is just finishing his freshman year in high school. Other than a mid-year “come to Jesus” intervention of early- onset senioritis, his freshman year has been fairly uneventful. Nathan is our enigma. I’m certain he’s much different elsewhere than who he reveals himself to be at home. Even his voice is deeper when he talks to his friends. I find him a puzzle I can’t quite solve. What I do know is that  he adores his younger siblings with a fierceness that touches my heart. He’s smart, constantly surprising me with poignant, thoughtful questions and interesting facts. His humor is intelligent, and I often hear his laughter echoing up to me from downstairs long after he’s supposed to be in bed. Some day I hope to know him better. For now I just wait for those rare moments when he shares snippets of himself, and I treasure them.

When Nathan was 5 years old, Zoe was born. Whereas Nathan reveals little to nothing of the inner workings of his mind and heart, Zoe wears it all on her sleeve. Bedazzled. In flashing neon. With an accompanying soundtrack. Everything about Zoe is bold; From her deep belly laugh, to her constant throaty full-voiced singing. From her deep sensitivity, to her passionate exuberance and joy. Zoe is the most like me of all of my kids, which means many of our interactions leave me standing motionless, mouth agape. How do you argue with someone who knows how to use your own logic against you? I look forward to Zoe’s adolescent years with great trepidation and full anticipation of the roller coaster that is coming. She’s a walking, back-talking, Ethel Merman-singing, one-girl show.

Our youngest, Parker, Is just completing first grade. In many of my best stories, Parker is the starring character. And what a character he is. The classic baby of the family, combined with a severe height deficiency and a huge personality equate to the napoleon complex personified that is Parker. A bit of a diva, often his only saving grace is his cute little freckled face and big blue eyes. It never occurs to him that anyone may have a valid point of view other than his (I have no idea where he gets that from.) At 7, he still subscribes to the toddler rules of propriety. It’s not with malicious intent- it’s just how he believes life should work for him. And so far, it has. He has no filter whatsoever, so many of the things that come out of his mouth are shocking and often hilarious. It’s hard to encapsulate a description of Parker in just a couple of sentences. His is a personality that just needs to be experienced. You’ll see.

As for me, I’m the ring leader of this circus we call a family. I’m your typical stay at home mom with unfulfilled potential. I guess that’s where this blog comes in- an attempt to keep my brain semi-functional, and an outlet for all the crazy things I am witness to on a daily basis. Sometimes sharing the crazy makes it seem less crazy. Like somehow talking about it dissipates it a little. So, thanks for joining me on this journey. I will do my very best to make it worth your while.