Saturday, June 30, 2012

Evolution of Heroes

When we moved into our house, four years ago, our son was getting ready to turn five. He was completely infatuated with Batman. Because we're the most awesome parents ever, we decorated his new room in a bat cave motif complete with a life size wall sticker of the caped crusader and a bat logo over his bed. Now, with his ninth birthday approaching this week fictional super heroes have lost their appeal. He'd rather have a room that's more grown-up. Something cool and mature. You know...Star Wars.

As we become adults we stop noticing who our heroes are. Those that inspire and uplift us. It becomes rare that we name those influencers, both large and small. In our children, however, it is easy to see the evolution they go through. From super heroes and cartoon characters to family members, teachers and members of our community. Kids show their adoration through mimicing, collecting, and devotion of their artwork and allowances.

Whenever his uncle comes home from Afghanistan, my son greets him dressed in his own set of "official" camouflage fatigues. Every care package we send over seas during Uncle John's deployment gets a scenic crayon picture complete with an American flag waving atop the mountains. At the ripe old age of eight, he may not know how to put into words that he's proud, but he know's how to show it.

The newest influence in my son's life is one I've become quite impressed with too. This spring was our first season of baseball. Quite a switch from juggling soccer balls, but an enjoyable one since my husband and I know a lot more about swinging a bat then scoring a goal.

We were convinced that our little slugger could benefit from a baseball camp this summer. In the fall he'll be moving up to an older league that could be intimidating if he didn't have a little more coaching. He wasn't sure about attending a camp, it was a little out of his comfort zone. With a little of Mom's gentle sales persuasion tactics...okay, maybe there was a deal made involving some Legos, he agreed to go.

The camp we chose was with the Woodstock River Bandits, our local Valley League team. The Valley League is known as "The Gateway to the Majors", and college players come from all over the country to spend their summer playing ball in the Shenandoah Valley.

For one week campers spent three hours a day working on drills and games to improve their baseball skills. Sounds pretty standard, right? What made the week great, was that the camp was run by the River Bandits coaches and players. What made it exceptional, was the devotion and heart those players put in to the camp. They didn't just show up to put in their time. The Bandits were enthusiastic about sharing their love of baseball with those kids. They went out of their way to make sure every child was included and made to feel like a winner. Best of all the campers walked away with new friends to look up to.

My son loved baseball before, but now he leaves and breathes it. Especially River Bandits baseball. At the end of camp all of the players signed his baseball. It couldn't be more precious if it was made of gold. He wants to put it on a stand with a picture we took of him and his favorite player, #18 Taylor Rakes.

The very next game we attended after camp, my son was sure to take along some of his money to buy a River Bandits hat. He had to dust off a few cobwebs first, his money box never gets cracked open. To him it was worth it though, to have a hat just like the team.

During the game one of my little girls and her friend chased down some foul balls and wanted to get them signed. The opposing team's bullpen had been coarse and foul mouthed whenever we passed by, a bit intimidating for tiny 6-year-old girls. By comparison the River Bandits were happy to see their young fans and jumped to accommodate our request for autographs, chatting up my bashful girls.

Maybe I caught them at the right time, but I never heard any foul language or bad attitudes, and we were down quite a few runs. Certainly during camp there was nothing but positivity in their speech and actions. I'm very pleased with the players that the River Bandits organization has brought to our community this year. I'm even more pleased that my children are finding heroes that don't need capes.

Where will you find a hero that inspires you today?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Reverse Logging

First, let me apologize for not posting last week. Everything is fine, and thank you to all of those who checked up on me. I've been uprooted from my day job and transferred to a different division. The post for last week had a little too much attitude in it, so I decided to scrap it until I was in a better mood.

There's a small percentage of Americans that never actually have to work a day in their lives. The rest of us will be punching a clock for the majority of our natural lives. Depending on how broke we are, will determine how hard and how much we will have to work.

Everyone has stories to tell. It starts in high school waiting tables, pumping gas or taking orders at the drive-thru window. Maybe it's even younger working on the family farm or delivering the newspaper. I've never actually lived somewhere that had paperboys, but I'm sure it exists other then on television.

I worked two jobs through college to pay for living expenses. I'm still paying for the actual cost of college. Unless it was an emergency, I swore after graduation I would never eat Raman noodles again. Little did I know the happiest poverty was yet to come.

Combining two incomes should improve your financial situation. Unfortunately you're also combining two sets of living expenses. We discovered in the first year of marriage that our income would not stretch to cover a vacation.

Enter our short lived career in reverse logging.

What we did might sound a lot like planting trees, but it was much more labor intensive and hardcore then simple landscaping.

To prevent erosion around streams and creeks, the government provides grants to land owners to plant large numbers of trees in these riparian areas. In true red-tape bureaucratic style, there's about seventy-four steps to planting government trees.

First, a small hole is made and the stick with roots, think about twice the size of what your kid brings home for Arbor day, is mashed in and covered. Then, the next person drives a stake into the ground beside the tree and places a protective tube over the stick, cable tying it to the stake. Are you still with me?

The next team member comes along and places a 3'x3' fabric weed square with a slit in the center over the tree. Most importantly the fabric has to be shiny side up, according to government specs. We once had to re-do half a field that did not meet the check box. After that we learned to chant "sunny side up" as we laid the mats. Each mat had to have every corner folded in and a staple driven through it into the ground. Not necessarily difficult, but excruciating on the back.

The crowning piece was a little birdie net that went on top of the tube to keep birds and animals from eating the trees.

There's a couple things you should know to put this logging project in perspective. Planting a few trees on a lovely spring day sounds like a charming way to make a little extra money. We planted 750 to 2500 trees per farm in wind, rain, mud and bone-chilling cold. There were a few days we could work in our shirt sleeves, but they were few and far between. It was more common that we would lay thirty mats, and then sit in the truck for five minutes to warm up, and then lay thirty more mats.

Now, a dozen years later, my husband likes to tell these stories to our kids. He wants them to know that the mother they always see with hair and make-up done, heading to work in high heals, is capable of manual labor.

He especially likes to tell them about me walking through a truck stop to the ladies room. To stay warm and dry, I would layer my husband's brown coveralls over my coat, jeans, sweatshirt and long johns, paired with massive insulated boots. I stomped down the hallway like a brick wall. The roughest of truck drivers and bikers stepping aside in reverence, or fear.

The following year we still couldn't afford a vacation, so we went on a "free" time share weekend. All we had to do was take part in a ninety minute presentation. After being held hostage for three hours, I would have gladly planted trees again before accepting another deal from that particular devil.

Everyone has experiences like this. The waitressing job that kept you on your feet so long you had to go into the walk-in freezer to get your wedding rings off your swollen pregnant fingers. Or the teacher that delivers pizzas and DJ's weddings so he can provide a better life for his family. Maybe you're there right now. Whether you know it or not, you are making someone very proud. 

What story does someone tell about you? 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Wedding Story of Life

Tis' the season for showers, bird seed, and floating bubbles. That's right people, it's wedding season. I've recently been asked to be a bridesmaid, something I haven't done in ten years. Believe it or not I'm completely stoked, not because I have a love of teal taffeta, but because I adore the bride. It's an honor to be asked, plus I think this is going to be a really special event for our family. Now after all that warm fuzziness, I have to be honest, my next thought was that I better start hitting the gym. I'm going to be standing next to my cousin who is about as big as my little finger, and the bride who's the "after" of my Jenny Craig commercial.

Weddings offer so many opportunities for entertainment. My cousin drug her father up the aisle and then had a cow moo during the middle of the ceremony. Unfortunately, as guests we sometimes miss the best parts of the event. The story that unfolds later.

During the set-up of my sister-in-law's wedding, her fiance left with the keys to her car. That normally wouldn't be a big deal, except large portions of the decorations were in her trunk. Using good old fashioned American ingenuity, I shimmied through her half open window and folded down the back seat to access the trunk. Yes, this was prior to the birth of my three children.

At that same wedding the groom realized just minutes before the processional that he had forgotten the CD of the bridal march. The home owner scrambled through their limited music collection. Would the bride really walk down the aisle to Wayne Newton? Luckily, I have a freakish obsession with the cannons. I find them relaxing, okay? There was a full disc of wedding music in my car, and it was unlocked.

Some of the most ridiculous wedding moments I've heard of, come from my own wedding. What can I say, I was young and didn't plan well, but it made for a memorable day.

Bubbles were just coming into fashion for weddings, but were still a bit expensive. I was wearing way too much hairspray to let our guests surround us with sparklers. Still, I was not interested in spending hours packing birdseed into tiny little bags. My bright solution? Fill a birdbath with seeds and each guest could grab a handful to toss. Simple enough. I failed to take the groomsmen into account.

My husband's dearest friends lifted the top off the birdbath and dumped the entire thing on our heads. I had to take down my hair on the balcony of our hotel room that night, to shake out the six cups of birdseed trapped in the intricate up-do. It was in our pockets, ears, shoes, anyplace you can think of.

I won't go in to detail about what they did to the car. My car, that my trusting husband left unlocked with the keys in the ignition. It was epic, I'll say that much. Even after a trip to the car wash, it was a conversation starter at every rest area we stopped at on our honeymoon.

With first dances, cake cuttings and socializing with distant family members my husband and I never had time to eat anything at our reception. Never fear, our family took care of us and packed a cooler with all the best snacks and finger foods. When we got to the hotel we were starving and couldn't wait to dig in. Except in all the craziness of leaving the wedding we'd grabbed the wrong cooler. All we had were extra broccoli and carrot sticks that had not been on ice all evening. Not exactly a pleasant smell.

At five minutes till midnight my groom and I rolled into a local McDonald's and super sized ourselves a first matrimonial dinner. I was stilling wearing my hairpiece, and we hadn't cleaned out any of the aforementioned birdseed yet. To say we were stared at would be a mild understatement.

The crowning jewel of the night, however, came right after we left the reception. Tradition holds that when the bride and groom leaves, the rest of the wedding party piles into cars and follows them through town honking, cheering and raising a general commotion. Our wedding party was exceedingly good at this task. As we were ending our rounds through town we passed a gas station where two not-so-distinguished country gentlemen were rolling out of their pick up truck. One looked up and with out missing a beat yelled out "You fool!".

No matter what hysterics take place backstage during your wedding or catastrophes that go seen or unseen by the guests you will be just as married in the end. Best of all you'll have some great stories to tell one day, when you're writing a blog about weddings during the week of your thirteenth anniversary. Who wants a boring "everything was perfect" story to tell?

Life, like our weddings, isn't perfect. That's what makes it a good story. It doesn't matter if you're a millionaire or a pauper. If your house is spotless or a mess. In the end we all meet the same maker, it's just about the story we have to tell.

How interesting is your story going to be?

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Age of Innocence

This week my eight-year-old told me I should write about love and drama. What better topic then the third grade field trip. Third grade has been quite a change up for elementary school. It has come as quite a shock, and I think my son has noticed a few differences too.

Someone told me earlier this year that they loved my son because he was still so "childlike". What did that mean? I wasn't sure how to take it. Was that a polite way of saying he was immature? I didn't understand it fully until I chaperoned a field trip this week, and got a full dose of what is happening to the children of this generation.

Third grade is the cut off point between glue sticks and crafts and the hard work of training for standardized tests. It's also when children start becoming hardened by the impressions of the world. The age when innocence starts to fade.

The kids on the trip weren't bad or disrespectful. They were certainly energetic since it was the only field trip in over a year. What I noticed most was the language. Not coarse or cursing, but too mature. The topics, too, were not what I would expect among eight and nine-year-old's. Who had a crush, who was the man or wouldn't get "punked". They sounded like teenagers. They looked like teenagers.

Up until this year comfort was the main focus of my son's wardrobe. Now he's become concerned with the design on his t-shirt and how his hair looks. Not because he's fashion conscious but, rather he's afraid of being made fun of.

Maybe my children have been sheltered. They don't watch movies that weren't meant for grown-ups. We pause the DVR recordings of the crime shows we like until they've left the room. Even though my daughters are only six, they wear clothing that covers their bodies. My son has never played a teen rated video game. There are even certain "kids" shows, I don't let them watch.

They may not know it yet, but I have given my kids a tremendous gift. I have given them their childhood. Yes, compared to his classmates, my eight-year-old is more childlike. He enjoys riding his bike, building tents out of quilts and daydreaming about ninjas. Mint chip ice cream can still turn a day around.

My girls like nothing more than to have a sleepover on their brother's floor on the weekend. All three kids still love to pull a chair up to the kitchen counter and help me make pancake batter.

On the flip side, my son is one of the most responsible kids I know. Even other adults have commented how they can trust him with certain tasks without hesitation. On the field trip, while other kids were spending their money in the gift shop on as much candy as they could get, he bought something for his sisters and something special to remember the trip by. Then he asked me if I'd like to get anything.

I don't tell you all these things to brag about what a wonderful kid I have. He has his rotten moments too. Like any good big brother he torments his sisters on occasion. Every hour on the hour. You should also stay clear of him when he's hungry. It is not pretty.

My point is that a child can be mature and still enjoy their childhood. It's our job, as the adults in their lives, to insure they're getting that childhood. They only get to have that playful innocence the first time around. We need to make sure that their environment in not propelling them into adulthood on fast forward.

Third grade should be a time for recess and dodge ball, not love and drama. At the rate things are going there will be a reality show based on hard core eight-year-olds owning the halls of the elementary schools.

How childlike are the children in your life?