Grumpy Girl, Grumpy Uterus

Last week, we returned to our annual inter-generational art conference. This put us essentially in a “hotel” room together for five days. We pulled the short straw on bathrooms in the lodge and got a tiny one where the bathroom door barely cleared the front of the toilet. This is challenging for a family our size, to say the least.

One morning, while I was in the shower, Jane came in and started rummaging through the myriad of items on the counter. “Where’s the Ibuprofen?” she asked with more than a tinge of grump in her voice. She found it just as I prepared to answer and swallowed them without water.

“What’s the Ibuprofen for?” I asked as she began to exit the room.

“My uterus” was the frank reply. Then with the same unhappy, grumpy tone, she added, “It’s not happy that I didn’t put a baby in it.”

Now, some mothers might have been startled and even concerned by the comment. But being a writer and Jane’s mother, I knew she wasn’t saying that she wished she had put a baby in it. She was speaking from the uterus’s point-of-view and it was definitely not happy at that moment. I found it a beautiful(?) description of a woman’s monthly cycle.

Later, when I shared the exchange with a friend who reacted in the more predictable manner, Jane chimed in with an expanded explanation.

“You know when your parents tell you you are going on a trip and you are really excited about it? You get everything all packed and ready to go. And then they tell you that you aren’t going anywhere after all and you need to unpack.Do you unpack nicely and gently? No! You are angry. You grab your clothes out of your suitcase and slam them back into your drawer. It’s like that.”

It’s like that. She’s right. And maybe that’s why it hurts so much more when you are younger. Your uterus hasn’t become jaded enough to expect the trip to be canceled. After years of unpacking every month though, it gets tired of slamming the clothes back in the drawer and instead does so tired and dejected and just a tad disappointed. But not surprised and not angry.

I love my daughter. I love that she’s a reader and thus a creative wordsmith. It’s so much more fun when the people around you can create unexpected pictures in your mind rather than conveying the basic, dull information you requested.

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What’s On The Other Side?

Hal is the youngest member of our children’s choir at church.  As such, it’s sometimes necessary for him to step out of the choir room before rehearsal is actually finished.  This could be because he’s just gotten too restless or it could be because they need to work on a song with the older ones.  Either way, the ladies running the choir seem to always have a plan for him.  This week, he made a miniature “paper doll”.  He told me it was him.

20140928_203114I told him it was great and I really liked that he was wearing pink shoes.  The shocker was when he turned it over.  The back, in fact, shocked everyone.  His big brother told him he was stupid, which earned a sharp rebuke and lecture from me.  Later, his sister, standing in line for dinner with the youth group, expressed her shock without insult but a handful of teenagers bursting out laughing as he proudly showed his ‘doll’ was too much for him.  He buried his face in his dad’s leg in shame.

It hurt to see him hurt like that.  He was so proud of what he had done.  What none of the other children had bothered to do was ask why.  Why had he drawn what he did on the back?  It’s simple, really.  Take a look.

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Those are butt cheeks.  What possessed him to draw (albeit too small) butt cheeks?  Isn’t it obvious?  Do you see any pants covering the back of that boy?  No?  Me neither.  Which means we’d obviously see his butt cheeks.  And that’s why he drew them.  Because that’s what we’d see.  And even though it’s a bit off-color and most people won’t be able to keep from laughing, I’m proud of him.  It shows intelligence and creativity and attention to detail and… humor.  He knew he was being funny.  In a silly little boy kind of way.

Sometimes I ache for him, growing up as the youngest of three.  Worse, growing up five years younger than the next youngest.  And, without a matching partner in any of our friends’ families.  One of our closest sets of friends has two kids: a girl 2 weeks younger than Jane and a boy 2 1/2 months younger than Daryl.  Our kids have been close friends for years, but when Hal is around, he’s the third wheel and is often treated as such.  One of our newer sets of friends also has two kids: again, a girl in the same grade as Jane and a boy in the same grade as Daryl.  Jane and the girl are friendly, not as close as they’ve been in the past, but Daryl and the boy are pretty much best friends.  And Hal wants to be part of it.

Hal gets upset every time the boys get together and he’s left out.  He doesn’t understand that he’s too much younger.  He doesn’t understand that he’ll eventually make friends of his own.  But even if he does, it won’t be kids from the families we currently socialize with.  So when those families gather, he’s still left out.

I don’t know what kind of effect this will have on him long-term.  I certainly don’t regret our decision to have another go at the kiddo roulette wheel.  But sometimes I wonder whether this was fair to him.  Whether we spent any time thinking about the impact of this gap on him.  Whether we even had the capacity to understand it had we thought to consider it.

Take this doll, for example.  If he had been Jane – the firstborn, he would have been met with nothing but praise and merriment.  He would have only had adults to show it to – loving, supportive adults.  He would have been validated, his creativity rewarded.  But as the “baby”, he still receives the love and support, but he also receives ridicule and rejection from people he truly looks up to.  Even if he believes the supportive adults, he is still left with the sense that something about his creativity was maybe not-quite-right.  And that’s sad.

All we can do now, of course, is make sure he knows just how much he’s valued.  And how much I love his tiny-butt-cheek, pink shoe wearing, googly-eyed selfie and every other wonderful thing he comes up with.  And help him (and his siblings) navigate this tricky path we’ve laid for them.  And teach his siblings that he is worth their respect.  He has feelings too.

 

TBT: Square Peg in a Round Hole

The discussion on my post about my youngest child’s recent Kindergarten homework reminded me of my daughter’s struggles that year.  So this week’s Throwback Thursday travels back eight years.

She’s nearly 14 years old now and in the eighth grade. But eight years ago, she was the bright-eyed, excited Kindergartener in our house. She had a great teacher. The teacher was highly requested, was very good with the kids, taught them a lot, and even received the district’s teacher of the year award that year. I loved almost everything about her.

What I didn’t love was a facet of what made her so good. She ran a tight ship, which allowed her to produce solid results. However, she didn’t have much room for out-of-the-box thinkers on that tight ship. And that’s where my problem lay. Because my kids aren’t good at fitting into other people’s expectations.

On the first day of school, the teacher greeted each child at the door and encouraged them to find their chair and sit down. At each place was a big glob of gray clay. She cheerfully encouraged each child to kneed their “magic play-doh” and see what would happen.

Jane looked around the room at the children who had arrived before her, all gleefully squishing their clay and laughing in delight as it began to change color. Some had red, some blue, some yellow, and so on. She glanced down at her clay and pondered it for a minute. Then, as if she had a sudden inspiration, she tore the ball of clay open to reveal the drops of food coloring inside.

With her face lit up and expecting praise at solving the puzzle, she ran over to the teacher, “Look! Look! I figured it out! See?! I figured it out! There’s this stuff inside. That’s what’s making them change colors!”

The teacher was more irritated at the possibility of the cool activity being ruined for the other kids than she was appreciative of my daughter’s skills of deduction. She gave a quick “That’s nice, Jane. Now go sit back down.” before turning her attention to the newcomers. This left a bad taste in my mouth but I chalked it up to new-mom-pride on my part, bothered that the teacher didn’t seem to find my child as impressive as I did.

Several months later, it was time for “brown” show-and-tell day. They had gone through a series of colors, shapes, and letters over the previous weeks, each one being the criteria for choosing a show-and-tell item. Jane had been growing increasingly frustrated with a boy in her class who always tried to figure out what everyone else had brought. She wanted her item to be a surprise.

So for brown show-and-tell, she came up with the perfect solution – many days or weeks ahead of time, actually. She was so excited when she told me how she was going to bring her hair for show-and-tell: “Because that way, he won’t be able to see what I have because it’s my hair!”

I was excited for her on brown show-and-tell day so as I tucked her into bed that night, I asked her what her teacher had thought of her brown show-and-tell item. Her face fell.

“She didn’t like it.”

“What do you mean she didn’t like it?”

“I didn’t get a ‘good choice’ Kissable.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you do something good, she gives you a ‘good choice’ Kissable.”

“And you didn’t get one?”

“No.”

“Did everyone else who brought something for show-and-tell get one?”

“Yes.”

I was flummoxed. The best I could come up with was that the teacher thought Jane had forgotten her show-and-tell item and had chosen her hair while sitting at the table, waiting her turn. I thought a letter to the teacher would surely clear things up.

In the letter, I explained that Jane said the teacher hadn’t liked her show-and-tell item. I explained that Jane had not forgotten, that she had been planning it for some time and was very excited about it. I told the teacher that she had done it so the boy couldn’t guess what she had and that we had been proud of her problem solving.

The return note surprised me. First, she showed an inability to understand that children can tell when adults don’t like something even if the adults don’t explicitly say they don’t like it. “I never told Jane I didn’t like her show-and-tell item,” she said. As if withholding the treat for participation did not say it clearly enough.

Continuing, she said, “I told the children that they were to bring an item from home. Her hair is not an item from home. If I start letting them use their hair or eyes or clothing, then pretty soon we won’t have anything to show and tell about.”

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I will concede that the teacher had considerably more experience with Kindergarteners and thus her concern was probably reasonably well founded. My problem was not that she didn’t appreciate Jane’s contribution (although taking the time to understand why she did it would have/should have caused her to appreciate it). No, my problem was how she handled the situation.

She didn’t need to shame Jane by denying her the same reward everyone else got. She didn’t need to hold her accountable for a very strict interpretation of “an item from home.” She could have achieved her objective of stopping the impending snowball of non-item show-and-tell presentations by simply saying this:

“That’s very creative, Jane, thank you. But when I said I wanted you guys to bring an item from home, I meant one that you don’t bring to school every day already. So let’s everyone keep that in mind next time. Here’s your Kissable. Joseph, you’re next.”

That night, I had one of my better parenting moments when I comforted her. I told her about how all my friends, some of whom were teachers, simply loved her show-and-tell item and her reason behind it. I told her I thought it showed tremendous creativity. “But that’s not what Mrs. Smith was looking for. And now that we know what she’s looking for, we’ll be able to meet her expectations next time, won’t we? I love you sweetheart. Good night.”

What I didn’t do, and now wish I had, was contact the teacher again. Then again, I had already explained the motivations of my child’s choice. All that was left was to tell her how she could have done her job better and that seems like a dangerous area to enter into. Maybe it’s best that I let it go.

But sometimes, looking back, I wonder how much the push to conform has changed my children. Are they as creative as they would have been if people hadn’t kept trying to force them into a shape that didn’t fit?

One Shoe

We are participating in a joint garage sale with some other families from our Financial Peace University (Dave Ramsey) class.  I didn’t think we’d have too much stuff to sell but that’s before we made a trek into the attic late one night.

We haven’t added anything to the attic in probably a decade so I guess I thought there just wasn’t that much up there.  Boy was I wrong!  We found oodles and oodles of stuff – only some of which had been destroyed by nesting mice, other critters, and the passage of time.

It cracked us up to find a huge box labeled “Garage Sale”.  But the best find, by far, was the group of 3 or 4 tubs and boxes of Jane’s baby clothes.  Everything from tiny little newborn up through about 3T.  And some cute little shoes!

20140712_074959They were lined up so nicely at the bottom of the box, each with their match… except for that lone white Ked.  And here’s what I love about my kids.  Half joking, I held it up in the air and called out, “Who wants this shoe?!”

Quick as lightning, Daryl’s hand shot up in the air: “I do!”

This caused Jane to retire her own hand that was making a belated attempt to claim it.

As I handed it to my ten year old son, his face beamed and he said, “I’m going to paint it.  It’s going to be so cool!”

“I was going to plant a tree in it,” Jane said forlornly.

“Well, maybe you can plant the tree in it when he’s done painting it,” I said, thoroughly impressed that my kids were showing their Destination Imagination credentials by so quickly finding a use for a lone tiny baby shoe.

 

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.

Being An Artist

We are at an inter-generational art conference this week. Last year was our first year here and we had a blast. The conference strives to enforce the notion that we are all children of a creating God and each of us has incredible creative potential inside, waiting for us to recognize it and grow with it.

The conference opens with a worship service Sunday evening. Tonight, the worship leader asked us to close our eyes and think of a creative person we know. Hold an image of that person in our minds. She then described possible images we were holding: a woman in a paint splattered apron in front of an easel, a shaggy-haired man bending over his guitar, a writer scribbling away in the corner of a coffee shop.

The first image that came to my mind was one of myself, sitting in front of my computer, writing this blog. I immediately began to analyze whether this counts. I’m not a novelist, creating a story out of my imagination. I’m more of a journalist blessed with amusing children. At best, I’m a storyteller. So my mind searched out further and I gazed at my husband in his clay-stained apron leaning over his pottery wheel. There’s a good image. I’ll hold on to that one.

When she told us to open our eyes, she asked, “Did any of you imagine yourself?”

Silence filled the room as one small hand was raised in the chair next to mine. In a room of over 50 people, mostly adults, Daryl was the only person to think of himself. The speaker’s eyes lit up. “Daryl did. Daryl knows that he is a creative person. He is an artist. Children know these things. They are born with the ability to play. And creating art is about playing. Being able to try something different and not worrying about failing.”

I thought about how I had pushed my image of myself out of the way as inadequate or not quite fitting the profile. It was still haunting me when the other worship leader asked us to stand and set some intentions for the week. We confirmed that we would help create a loving, safe, and supportive environment. We confirmed that we would strive to grow and try something new.

And then she asked us to commit to silencing that inner critic, the one that told us we weren’t good enough. Not creative enough. What we created wasn’t beautiful, wasn’t worthy. Convicted, I choked up as I tried to say “I will”. And even as I forced the words out and wondered how surreptitiously I could wipe the welling tears from my eyes, I wondered if I really could. Then, as the chorus of “I will” completed, I heard a husky male voice add “with God’s help.”

Of course. She wouldn’t have mentioned the problem if I were the only one with it. Nearly everyone in that room has an inner critic. Perhaps not all as vocal or harsh as mine, but they all have one. Even Daryl. So as she invited us to come to the front and draw something on the cloth that would serve as our communion tablecloth at the end of the week, I resolved to not be scared of that simple invitation.

I stood back as Hal and, well, most of the people, traced their hands and colored them in. I din’t want to trace my hand. That had been her suggestion, a jumping off point. A place to stay for the very young or the scared or the rushed. I wanted to go further. I saw someone draw a beautiful tree with gorgeous leaves and thought, “Oh! I want to do that!” But to do that would be to copy. Just wait. Think. Wait.

Finally, I reached over Hal and drew a simple shape. I divided it up with lines and used the colors available to fill in each section. I was pleased with my creation. It was simple but colorful. And unique. And mine.

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I showed Jane and she responded, “You drew that? Really?!” Hah! I told my inner critic. Who needs you? I’ve got a daughter! And then I realized that she wasn’t surprised because she thought I wasn’t an artist, although that was probably, realistically part of it. She was surprised because she’s not used to seeing me create anything and doesn’t see the things I do create as art.

I headed off to my beginning jewelry making class feeling hopeful. That hope carried me through the panic that rose as the teacher told us to begin sketching out designs for our pendant. I stared at my stone. I turned it over and over. I backed off and thought of what was important to me and how it might look with the stone. An idea began to form.

“Can we use wire to make a shape in front of the stone?” I asked. It took her a minute to understand what I meant but then confirmed that I could. But what to do with the back? When an answer didn’t come, I let my mind wander. In a rare moment of peace for me, I allowed the emptiness to be comforting. I just waited and tossed images and words around in my mind. There’s a tree in front of that stone and I like how it looks. What if the backing was a leaf? I drew it out on the paper and saw that it was good. And so was I. Not perfect. Not the best. But good enough.