The Christmas Pageant Rat Race

I’m starting to have second thoughts about church Christmas Pageants.  Yes, I know, cute little kids in lamb ears and tails running around, slightly older kids herding them with shepherd’s crooks or strutting up the aisle carrying gold, frankincense, and myrrh, still others in wings and halos slipping down into their eyes, kids remembering lines, or maybe teens narrating so the kids don’t have to.  It’s adorable, right?

Well, yeah.  But we parents are frequently not.  I’ve finally noticed the parental competition that goes into it all.  I used to think maybe it was just me, but no, a lot of parents get really hung up on their kids getting just the right role.  And a lot of churches must fall into patterns that parents then take as rules and then get their feelings hurt when the pattern falls apart just as their child should get to be the star.

Yesterday, a friend was complaining about her older teen not being in the pageant.  Whether her complaint had merit is not what I’m concerned with here.  It was her memories and mine that her story dredged up that got me to pondering it all.

She mentioned how her church had had the tradition of the oldest girl playing Mary but when it was her daughter’s rightful turn, someone else got the part instead.  Two different girls over two different years, if I understood correctly.  This reminded me of the first year we were in our current church.  A friend’s daughter got the part of Mary over Jane and I felt a little bit jilted.  I cynically wondered if my daughter would always be second fiddle simply because she was new.

I know there weren’t exclusionary motives behind the Mary selection that year.  In all reality, only one girl can play Mary.  And Jane was a solid foot taller than the boys.  She would have made a rather strange Mary.  Her friend fit more comfortably in that role while Jane was an outstanding head angel.

That memory led me to our previous church, where the coveted role was not Mary, but Baby Jesus.  Yes, if there was an infant in the congregation, we had a real live baby play Jesus.  Somewhere along the way, it became understood that the role went to the youngest baby.  Jane started off the tradition, complete with a recording of her cries.  When Daryl was born, also in October, he took his turn.

But when Hal joined the world just two months before Christmas, he was overlooked for the role.  Some of the other parents had felt that our family was hogging the Jesus role.  It was given to a kid a few months older.  I was miffed.  How dare they change the tradition?  That was my child’s role by right.

It was ridiculous, I realize that.  But it was also real.  Raw emotion.  It’s the same competitiveness that makes parents worry when someone else’s kid talks first or walks first or potty trains early.  Some sense of validation and spotlight.

I wish I could say I’m beyond all that now.  Given some time, I can let it go, but my gut instinct is one of indignation and a desire for my child to have an important role.  Fact is, though, that there are only so many parts.  A kid gets or doesn’t get a part for a variety of reasons.  None of them, I would wager, is something that should be taken personally.

Besides, while we all clamber to make sure our kid is Mary or Joseph or Baby Jesus or the biggest speaking part, it is always always all the sheep running around that steal the show.  Every time.  That leftover role that gets handed to the littlest ones who can’t be counted on to recite a line or to go where directed.  The role that gets handed to any kid that shows up that night, having missed all the rehearsals.  That’s the role that makes the audience laugh.  That makes the audience fall in love.  That makes the audience think, Hey.  Maybe this Christmas Pageant thing isn’t so bad after all.  Just look at them!  I can’t wait to see what we come up with next year.

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Mr. Chubby Butt

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Meet Mr. Chubby Butt. He’s a pirate. And a frog. And frogs do not have butts. Or at least he doesn’t. Or if you call what he has a butt, it’s certainly not chubby.

No matter.

His. Name. Is. Mr. Chubby Butt.

Daryl read a lot of books this year and earned a lot of AR points at school for them. More points than anyone else in his elementary school including fifth graders, in fact. Nearly twice as many as the second place fourth grader.

He’s following in the footsteps of his sister, who had similar accomplishments. Their success in this arena has three major components:

  1. They love to read. I mean, a lot.
  2. Their reading level is very advanced (think graduating seniors), allowing them to read books with substantial points available.
  3. They are ridiculously competitive.

So while many of the other kids love to read or have a higher reading level or are competitive in some ways, none of them seem to have that same three-way toxic mix that mine have.

This causes the PTA some headache.  They have an “AR store” where kids can redeem their points for various little items.  Their budget and point values on items anticipate most kids getting less than 100 points, with the standouts earning around 200 to 300.

When Jane had well over 600 points halfway through her fourth grade year, they asked her to name her price.  She asked for, and received, a Kindle.  Later that year or the next, she got an Amazon gift card.

Her brother, of course, was not content to reside in her shadow.  He gave the winning fifth grader a run for her money while still in third grade.  In fourth, he tackled big-point books including Ender’s Game, Dune, and all the Harry Potter books.  And since he wanted to maximize his return, he saved all his points to spend at the end of the year.  Once again, the PTA was faced with a kid who would break the bank.

They offered him a “VIP Pass” to an upcoming event, a turn in the “money box”, or a Build-A-Bear animal.  He jumped on the latter but wanted to know how many points it would cost.  He also mentioned that he’d like an Amazon gift card.

The teacher and I went back and forth for awhile with her trying to tell me that he could have whatever he wanted, he just needed to name it.  And me trying to tell her that he didn’t fully know what he wanted.  He wanted to analyze his options once point values were assigned.

They finally set point values.  And he went shopping.  He got various little knickknacks for himself and his little brother.  He got a nice gift card to Wal-Mart.  And he got to build an animal.

He chose a frog with no backside and named him Mr. Chubby Butt.  And then asked me if I could help him figure out how to secure the belt since it was too big for such a skinny beast. A-hem.  That’s because he has no butt!  *sigh*

Destination Imagination Global Finals 2014

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This past week, we were in Knoxville, TN for Destination Imagination (DI) Global Finals.  DI is a program that teaches creativity, problem solving, teamwork, and public performance to children.  There are several different categories of events, called challenges: Technical, Structural, Scientific, Performance/Fine Arts, Improvisation, and Community Service.  Each challenge has a central problem to solve with particular rules and scoring elements.  Each team develops a skit around the solving of that problem, referred to as their ‘Central Challenge’.  Each team also competes in the ‘Instant Challenge’, a short timed event where they are given a problem to solve and they must work together right then to solve it the best they can.  Teams then place based on a combination of their Central and Instant Challenge scores.

In Texas (I can’t speak for the other states or countries), teams first compete in a Regional competition.  The first so many teams in each Challenge and age division (Elementary, Middle, Secondary, University) qualify to go to the State competition.  Since DI is a big deal in Texas, qualifying for State is exciting.  And that’s exactly what Daryl’s team did last year, their first year to compete.

They didn’t go on to Globals, but his sister, Jane, was enamored by the hype and excitement of State and fascinated by the older teams’ skits.  She declared her intent to participate in DI the next year.  Lucky for her, a friend’s parents decided to coach a team and invited her to be on it.  I was a little bit worried about this.  Daryl loved loves DI.  And it was kind of his thing.  His sister has a powerful force of personality.  It’s not often that he has the opportunity to do something before she does.  I feared that he was always following behind in her big footsteps and now she was taking over something that was his.

It didn’t seem to affect him that way, although he was annoyed when her team picked the same Challenge as his.  Both children loved their team and their team’s implementation of the solution.  At the Regional competition, the Elementary winners were announce with no mention of Daryl’s team.  Jane’s team, however, rocked the house with special awards and a ticket to the State competition.

Daryl insisted he wasn’t jealous, that he was happy to return to State even if his team wasn’t participating.  And it seemed genuine.  He, after all, had gone to State his first year too.  So off to State we went, wondering if they’d go on to the next step.  They had performed so well at Regional, that when we reserved our hotel room in Austin for State, we went ahead and reserved a room in Knoxville – just in case.  The rooms fill up fast.

That turned out to be a good thing.  The girls won another special award at State and qualified to go on.  While everyone else was frantically making hotel reservations that night, we calmly walked to our car and hugged our excited daughter.  At this point, there was no jealousy at all… provided, Daryl said, that we let him go with us.

Global Finals truly is a big deal.  I had someone snidely ask me if it was actually global or just Americans being full of ourselves, kind of like baseball’s World Series.  Well, I wrote down the countries participating as they walked in with their flags and signs during the Opening Ceremonies.  Besides 42 of the states in our Union and most, if not all, of the provinces in Canada, the following countries or territories had representation:  China, Guatemala, Romania, Cayman Islands, Poland, Qatar, Turkey, Singapore, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, US Virgin Islands, and Ecuador.  We saw indication later that over 17,000 people were in attendance.

It was impressive.

There were three and a half days of competition, each Challenge running a team every 15 minutes all. day. long.  Hundreds of hundreds of teams.

There were also side activities like the Luau, the Duct Tape Ball – where they set a record for the most number of people wearing Duct Tape clothing, a sneak preview of James Cameron’s DeapSea Challenge movie coming out in August, a Passport Party to provide information and food samples from the different countries (rained out by the time we got there), expos of exciting educational toys and fun opportunities, a Graduation Ceremony for seniors, and more.

We had a blast.  The rest of my posts this week will chronicle some of our experiences there.  We went to the Closing Ceremony Saturday night hoping for something great but working hard not to get our hopes up too much.  After all, there were around one hundred teams participating in her Challenge.  Top 20 or 30 would make us happy, her team manager had said.  The top 10 would be posted on the Jumbo-tron.  The top 3 would walk the stage.  So probably we would know nothing about how they had done until the complete results were posted online later.

And then, there they were.

They had finished in the top 10 and they were up there on the screen.  I screamed in excitement and struggled to take a picture – grateful that sleeping Hal had moved his dead weight off my arm moments before.  I began to cry.  No special awards, no walk across the stage, but still.  They were one of the best in the world.

We asked Daryl if he was jealous.  He said no and he seemed to mean it.  He had had such a good time that he was grateful for the opportunity to be there and even, in a way, grateful to experience Globals for the first time without having to worry about a performance of his own.  He plans to return next year in his own right.

DI is a big deal in our town.  I’ve heard people talk about how their teams did before.  I’ve heard the pride as they said they went to Globals.  I’ve heard the pride as they said they finished seventh or twelfth or whatever.  I’d always wondered how they could be so proud of something lower than third.  I mean, really.  If you aren’t getting a medal…?

But now I get it.  Having been there, I now realize that there’s a whole range of things to be proud of.  Her team on the Jumbo-tron?  So many teams sat through that entire ceremony without the opportunity to cheer for themselves.  They went home pleased that they had made it, maybe pleased with how they’d done, determined to do even better next year.  But they weren’t called out.  Our girls were and I couldn’t be prouder.

Race You!

As you might have gathered by Hal’s conducting of The Quiet Game, my youngest child is quite competitive. He comes by it honestly. His siblings and his mother have been more competitive than him for years. (As my daughter would say, did you see what I did there?)

Being the youngest and smallest, he doesn’t get to win much on an otherwise even playing field so he’s learned to adapt. He just changes the rules to create the desired outcome.

One of his favorite competitions is racing you some place. The best races are when you are loaded down with stuff: maybe several bags of groceries or his papers from school or his brother’s fragile art project. He’s also good at picking the right time of day: after a long day at work as you drag yourself from place to place as taxi service. Getting a head start before he informs you of the race is another handy tool.

And his favorite race track is the long covered sidewalk from the parking lot to the door of the building where Daryl’s Destination Imagination team practices. As I locked the door to the truck yesterday afternoon, he laid down the challenge: “Race you to the door, Mommy!”

Unlike most races, he actually waited for my agreement before taking off. I jogged along beside him, not letting him win with a fake run on my part as I might usually but also not stomping the gas pedal, so to speak. In fact, I thought I was running at a pretty good clip but he was edging past me, laughing maniacally as he did so.

He slammed into the door, announcing joyously “I won!” before suggesting that we race down the short hall to the room. I nixed that idea with a reminder that we don’t run inside buildings.

After rounding up Daryl and heading back outside, we were about halfway down the sidewalk, with Hal a good several paces ahead of Daryl and me, before he realized he was missing another racing opportunity. This time, he remembered not to wait.

“Race you to the truck, Mommy!” he yelled as he took off running.

This time, I was curious. Could I outrun my five year old? If I tried? I started off at my comfortable pace and knew I couldn’t catch him. So I sped up, running as fast as I could. I pulled ahead. I was obviously in the lead but not in a position to veer over to the truck without cutting off Hal’s path and risking a collision. I also didn’t want to slip in the mud, so I just tapered off on the sidewalk, without reaching the truck.

Within moments of my pulling ahead of him, he began to protest:

“Maaaaa-maaaaa! You can’t do that! It’s not fair!….. You cheated!!

I turned from the end of the sidewalk and asked, “What? How did I cheat?”

“You ran too fast! You can’t do that… Anyway, I still won.”

And since he was actually reaching out to touch the truck as I stood on the sidewalk staring at him in surprise, I suppose he was technically right.

New Frontiers

So what does the insecure and reserved goody-two-shoes do when she hits her mid-life crisis? If she’s anything like me, she throws caution to the wind and signs up to do something totally radical and unheard of. Cutting edge, daring, spontaneous, illogical. Playing in a badminton tournament so her company will keep their participation points. Talk about walking on the wild side.

Thanks to our strong turn-out in the 5K portion of this inter-company competition, our company was leading the way in participation points. That 5K race, by the way, was another notable example of my new daring approach to life. I began running a few months ago and finished my first race at 32:49. I kept an even maintainable pace and then, following my nine year old son’s sage advice, sprinted to the finish line as if I were in competition for something more than kudos from my kids.

This may not sound like much to those readers more adventurous than I, but for me, running in that race was terrifying. I barely slept the night before. I had no expectation of winning. That’s not what scared me. What scared me was the thought of trying and failing. Perfectionism is the antithesis of adventure.

However, the sky didn’t fall. I didn’t fail. My kids were proud of me. I succeeded. I felt good about myself.

So… when the email arrived from the 5K coach that the badminton team needed another female participant in order to retain all the participation points, I called my husband and asked if he thought I was crazy. Amazingly, the calendar was open the night of the tournament.

I reminded him that I hadn’t actually played badminton since ninth grade PE. He said he didn’t think recreational badminton would be all that tough and I should go for it if I wanted to. So I did. Completely out of character.

We had a practice a few days before the big event. Four of the six team members showed up. We attempted to play outside with a strong wind. It was quickly apparent that we were unlikely to earn anything more than those precious participation points. But at least I learned how to do the more sophisticated backhand serve – thanks to the teammate who had watched some YouTube videos of Olympic competitors.

When we arrived at the venue and began to walk from our car, I saw a man carrying a bag with racquets and shuttlecocks. Wow. I thought. He must be serious. Our coach had purchased a kit. Between him and the YouTube lady, we had enough racquets to go around.

I signed in and led my family into the gym. Our jaws dropped. Those birdies were flying hard from racquet to racquet. Rapid fire between the players warming up. People darting back and forth. It was intense. Even the competitors’ children were impressive, batting back and forth between the courts during warm-up.

“Dude,” my husband said. “You are totally going to get creamed.”

And he was right. A teammate would later comment that this was nothing like he was used to playing at barbeques. That teammate, and another one, actually took a birdie in the face because they were hit too fast to get out of the way.

My husband chuckled through a good portion of my first game. I was playing mixed with an overweight, middle-aged man who was fortunately pretty good. He somehow dove for a birdie and got it over the net in our first game. Neither one of us were rocking but we had a good time playing with each other. We were even leading during much of both matches in our loser’s bracket game. We might have won if we had been playing to 15 instead of 21.

The handful of coworkers that knew what I was doing had teased me about playing badminton. You could tell by their tone that they considered it a joke, a non-sport. Never mind that my muscles were still sore from the practice session. Never mind that I was sweaty and exhausted by the time the night was over. Never mind that they were likely sitting on the couch watching TV while I put my lack of talent on display. They still found it laughable.

That night taught me many things. First, what is a joke to some people is serious business to others. My team comprised most, if not all, of the white people in the room. The other competitors were overwhelmingly of Asian or Eastern Indian descent. And they were good. Really good. This sport was a big deal to them and, watching them play, it was unquestionably a sport. My coworkers had no room to laugh.

Second, I didn’t have to be the best, or even necessarily good, at something to have fun. We knew why we were there. We improved. We pulled off some good volleys and saves. We learned. We laughed. We had fun. It was a night well spent.

Third, it was rewarding to move out of my comfort zone. There was no risk. No downside. Why should I care what my non-adventurous coworkers thought? They were laughing but that was all they were doing. I was experiencing. I was living. I was learning. I was growing.

So maybe running races and competing in a sport you’ve never really played before doesn’t count as a mid-life crisis. Maybe it’d be more accurate to call it growing up. Finally.

One-Upmanship

Daryl wanted me to “test” his ability to count in two different foreign languages. He handed me two sheets of paper. One had the phonetic pronunciation and Kanji symbols for one through ten in Japanese. The other was for Italian.

He carefully counted in Japanese, occasionally calling out “Wait! Wait! That was Italian. I keep getting them mixed up!” He was doing a great job and was obviously proud of himself.

After he finished the Japanese, but before he could start in on the Italian, Hal bounded off the couch, unable to remain quiet any longer.

“Mommy, Mommy!”

“What, Hal?”

“Guess what I learned at school today?”

“What did you learn at school today?”

In a completely serious voice, with a slight hint that he hoped to outdo his brother, he proudly said, “Today I learned how not to pick my nose.”

I Let Them Win

Jane had math homework tonight. The kind of math homework that requires parental involvement. I did not realize that there was such a thing, but now I know.

The homework was concerning x-y coordinates. There were four grids on the paper and places for “Player 1” and “Player 2” to record the coordinates for each of their moves. We were to play connect-4 on the grids, taking turns placing dots and writing down coordinates.

I told my husband that I’d take the first two and he could play the second two. She let me go first. I didn’t tell her that was a mistake. After my fifth turn, the game was over. She wrote “MOM” at the top to indicate that I had won.

For the second grid, she went first. It took a couple more moves, but I still won. When it became apparent to me that I would, I asked, “How am I winning when you got to go first?”

“I don’t know!”

Daddy sat down for grid three and she let him start. He won. The fourth grid took a little longer. She started and while I was in the other room, he called out, “I think she’s finally figuring it out!”

She managed to win that one. He explained to her that whoever goes first should always win.

I called from the other room, “Unless they are Jane?” We all laughed and then analyzed the progress of the games to see where she had played wrong. I suspect that was beyond the scope of the assignment, but probably a more useful education than the recording of grid coordinates.

She showed me the paper before she put it away. She had written “I let them win” at the top.