Let’s use some critical thinking skills, folks

Let’s use some critical thinking skills, folks

PLAYING SOCCER

For two years, the once-vibrant St. Mary’s High School building and grounds have sat empty in the middle of my neighborhood – the oldest neighborhood in Independence. Poised to become one of the area’s greatest eyesores, the empty building and grounds can only deteriorate property values. Each day that it’s empty makes it less appealing to many potential buyers.

I’m a social worker, so for a while, I dreamed of turning the school into a shelter for homeless families and single adults, complete with programs like GED and budgeting classes; reliable, 24-hour daycare to encourage and enable homeless parents to work; a massive food pantry; and a large community garden.

I dreamed, but I knew that idea would go over like a ton of bricks in my neighborhood, where residents routinely call homeless folks “vagrants” and look for ways to discourage them from using things like public parks and sidewalks.

Then last winter, my 17-year-old daughter’s Blue Springs-based soccer club discovered the St. Mary’s gym. It was a perfect spot for the team’s winter practices. My daughter was ecstatic – no more driving to Blue Springs for indoor practices. She could walk the five or so blocks from our house near the Truman home to St. Mary’s if she had to.

The first night, though, she came home perplexed. Many of the girls on her team told her they were nervous coming to our part of Independence, just blocks from the Square. Maggie, my daughter, got the feeling they seriously thought they were slumming.

So when I heard that her soccer club, Alba FC, was considering purchasing part of the St. Mary’s complex, I crowed with delight.

Finally, I thought, a chance to bring suburbanites to this historic Independence neighborhood at a time other than Labor Day Weekend, when it’s difficult to really get a feel for what we’re all about here in the Queen City of the Trails.

I’ve been extremely disappointed to hear the negative take some of my neighbors have of this idea of soccer coach Chris Dean’s. Dean wants to repair bathrooms and locker rooms in the gym and possibly offer fitness classes for adults. Outside, he wants to replace the grass field with turf and install some lights, which would allow for outdoor practices and possibly tournaments.

Some of my friends and neighbors worry that allowing soccer practices and games on the grass field will cause a “ruckus,” and that streets will fills with cars and trash during soccer events.

I’m thinking maybe they don’t know much about the soccer crowd. We’re talking suburban (mostly) parents with children, some of whom routinely only think of Independence when they read about another high-speed chase or meth-house bust. Law enforcement here has been on top of the meth scourge for years now, but it’s hard to live down that reputation.

This is a chance to do that. It’s a chance for Independence to shine, to show those folks who abandoned their hometown for Blue Springs and Grain Valley and Oak Grove that we’ve got something special, from the historic homes in my neighborhood and others near the Square to the Square itself and its bustling businesses.

A few years ago, before Studio on Main opened, I had to drive miles and miles to find a quality yoga studio. A student at the studio I frequented in Midtown Kansas City turned up her nose when I mentioned I lived near the Independence Square.

“Oh, the Square,” she said dismissively. “It’s always so dead there. There’s nothing going on.”

Au contraire. There’s plenty going on. And we’ve got the perfect chance to show those who left for greener, newer pastures what they’re missing. If they drop off their kids for soccer practice, they can head to the Square to shop. They can drive around our neighborhood and admire the work we put into our historic homes. They can remember the myriad Square restaurants the next time they’re thinking of a cool spot for dinner.

I urge the Independence Planning Commission and my neighbors to challenge the status quo and take a chance on this soccer facility.

Progress doesn’t happen by standing still!

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Don’t eat me, Tiger Mom

Aren’t they cute? But I don’t think I’m a Tiger mom…

 What’s the opposite of a tiger?

I figure it’s a robin or something like that.

I started wondering last week. See, last week was the Scripps National Spelling Bee. And I heard a story on NPR about how South Asian-American students have dominated the spelling bee in recent years. True to form, this year’s winner was Snigdha Nandipati, an eighth-grader from San Diego. The NPR story reported that one reason Indian-American kids do so well at the bee is because it’s a point of pride for their parents and an activity the whole family can get in on.

In fact, Snigdha said that her father helped her prepare for her spelling competitions, which is not unusual.

I call parents like this Bengal Tiger Parents, not to be confused with Tiger Moms, made popular last year by the book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Yale law professor Amy Chua. You know, Chinese-American parents who demand excellence of their children, who usually end up neurosurgeons or what have you.

Hey, I’m not judging. It’s cool that their kids can spell words like guetapens, or play Beethoven’s entire  Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2, by the time they’re 7. And it’s awesome that they don’t have to worry about how they’ll finance their retirement because their kids will be able to set them up in a nice condo in Boca.

I am, perhaps, a little bit jealous.

But personally, I’m more of a robin parent. You know, like the bird. I just let the chips fall where they may. I show the kids how to fly and then hope and pray they don’t get eaten by the neighborhood cat.

Sure, I’d like to reap the benefits of a child who can explain quantum physics when he’s 9 or can discover the cure for toe fungus as her eighth-grade science project, but you know what? I submit that those accomplishments are sometimes less kid-oriented, more adult-driven. For one thing, kids don’t even get toe fungus.

But I digress.

I once was on the path to becoming a Tiger mom, or at the very least, a Really Mean Domesticated Housecat Mom. I saw that my firstborn had innate intelligence, that he was a quick study. He was musical, too – showing great rhythmic skills at an early age and excelling at Kindermusik. That, as any first-time parent knows, is a sign of mathematical genius.

So we enrolled him in music classes and summer enrichment and various other cerebral endeavors.

And then we began working harder than he did.

He loved music and practiced grudgingly, but when our practice sessions started routinely ending with him in tears and me with a sore throat from yelling, I took a step back. All he wanted to do was play outside, and was that so bad? Did I really think he’d be the next Paderewski? No. I just wanted him to learn to play the piano.

I tell you, it was hard to dial down my expectations. I am a perfectionist by nature, at least in some aspects of my life. My housekeeping is about a B+, but when it comes to schoolwork, I was A+ all the way. I rarely can let myself get less than an A.

And for what? My college GPA was pretty freaking high. And look where it got me  — I ain’t working at National Geographic, folks.

So my husband and I backed off and decided to let our kids figure out what they wanted to be good at instead of projecting our own expectations. We expect them to do their best, of course. But they don’t have to be the best.

It’s kind of hard, at least in this day and age. The pressure to get your kid into lessons to make him or her the best at whatever they do – music, sports, art, you name it – is high. We sometimes feel like salmon swimming upstream.

So our kids are learning to play piano. And draw. And play soccer. And joining the high school band. But do we expect them to make a career of any of these? No. Our goal: To create well-rounded human beings who, as adults, can appreciate classical music as well as their own pop songs, to be able to visit an art museum and understand what’s going on, to develop a love for the theater.

In other words, we’re raising them to be cultured human beings. And whatever else they want to become beyond that is up to them.

But when I feel the urge to push a little too much, to make them devote their lives to something that’s important to me but not to them, I have to mentally tell myself, “Hey, you’ve already done this. Back off.”

I think it’s paying off, although not in the Harvard-full-ride way that many Tiger parents might experience.

On the last day of school, I walked home from the elementary school with our youngest, and my hubs greeted me at the door. He excitedly told me that the oldest, who’ll be a junior next year, tried out that day for the honors concert choir at his high school and made it.

Wow. He hasn’t sung in a school choir since the sixth grade. We had no idea he was interested in this.

But he was. And this summer, he’s taking voice lessons from the choir director, who asked last week what instruments my son plays.

“Baritone,” my son said.

“And piano,” I said. “And drums.”

The choir director seemed surprised. “Wow,” he said. “You’re musical.”

I guess this surprised him that my kiddo had this talent. We hadn’t pushed him to share it. But he did when he was ready.

And he did it on his own.

I think this is robin-parenting success.

Simmer down, soccer parents

How many times am I going to write about parents behaving badly at their own kids’ sporting events?

How many times is Kim Kardashian going to get married? We have no way of knowing, right? Ditto on the bad parents. The possibilities are endless.

My latest rant stems from last Saturday’s U10 soccer game between my younger son’s team and their local rivals. Tom warned me going in that it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Hoo boy. He sure wasn’t kidding.

Here’s what when down:

The game was heated. An opposing player may or may not have tripped a player on Tom’s team, but the ref called a foul. And then the little opposing player said, “Are you f***in’ kidding me?” to the ref. The referee heard the remark and gave the young player a yellow card.

Then the opposing coach screamed in outrage because he disagreed with the ref that what his player said was offensive and inappropriate. He already had bullied the young refs into calling some other fouls his way.

So in my worldview, that coach should have at the least received a yellow card and at the most been ejected from the game. But no. Nothing. The other parents and I were dumbfounded.

In disgust, I wrote a letter to the league board. Here’s an excerpt:

“Hmmm. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why a young player on that team would feel entitled to express his displeasure with the referee’s call. Just look at the coach.

While I find any behavior of this sort abhorrent, it’s especially disturbing given the context. It’s a recreational soccer game. These children are 9 and 10 years old. The stakes are non-existent. Seriously, it’s not worth developing high blood pressure over whether a referee made a proper call.

I’m certain this is not the first complaint you have received about this particular coach’s sideline behavior, and I’m just as certain it won’t be the last, unless the man receives some sort of anger-management training. I just feel so sorry for whomever he goes home to.”

 

I think the league needs to ask itself whether the coaching behavior exhibited today is how the league wants to present itself.

So far, I’ve heard nothing from any of the board members who received my letter. It’ll be a week tomorrow.

Here’s the problem, people. Adults watching their children playing team sports have lost all perspective. I grew up barely after Title IX took effect, so most girls I knew didn’t play team sports before junior high or high school. Some boys did play Little League, but I don’t remember their parents going ape over their kids’ freakish athletic ability, plastering their cars with sport clings with their kiddos’ name and number on it, driving all over Hell’s Half-Acre to watch them play whatever sport they played.

And that would mostly be because the parents were busy with other things in life and saw sports as a diversion and learning experience to keep kids busy until more important things came along – like school and jobs.

I really think the energy expended by people like that opposing coach could be channeled into making sure their kids learn what they need to learn in school, set some attainable life goals and work on becoming a human being who could make the world a better place.

But I think I’m in the minority.

The sting: Don’t try to fool Mama

The game was afoot.

I knew something was going on when I turned on the television in my room one day, and the TV was in a different mode. There’s only one way that can happen, and that’s by deliberate intent. And there’s generally only one reason the TV would be in a different mode, and that would be because someone was using the xBox on it.

Which is weird, because it was a weekday. And folks in these parts don’t play video games during the week. That’s a luxury reserved only for weekends because of homework and such.

So I took a straightforward approach and casually remarked to my three offspring that the TV was in a different mode. Did any of them have any theories?

They emitted a collective “nope.”

Hmmm. I posited the xBox theory. And they were aghast. What? “No way,” my oldest said. “I don’t know what happened.”

But you see, he protested a bit much. Because he is home by himself for a couple hours three days a week while I’m either at my internship or at grad school.

It was a curious situation, exacerbated by the daily updates from PowerSchool, that gift/curse that tells parents what their kids’ grades are. And the grades of the prime suspect were fair to middling. I smelled FIFA12, but I couldn’t prove it. And with the face of an angel and the pulse of a con man gifted at outsmarting lie detectors, that kid was telling a tale, I was sure of it.

I just needed evidence.

Not for nothing have I watched years of the various Law & Order franchises and NCIS. And that’s not even counting the dozens of Agatha Christie novels I’ve read or the five or so times I read Harriet the Spy.

And let’s not forget Oceans 11, 12 and 13.

What I’m saying is, I know how to get the evidence I need, capiche?  I just needed to bide my time.

So one Sunday, we all got up bright and early to go to church. But the oldest was exhausted from his busy social life and asked if this once he could sleep in a bit and then work on his homework, study for his finals.

Certainly, I purred. Just don’t play any video games.

“I won’t,” he said, all wide-eyed innocence.

The hubs and the other two kids were in the car when I ran back inside to get something. I tiptoed upstairs to my bedroom, where the xBox was sitting. I piled a few games on top of the console and put a controller on top. Then I sped back downstairs and went to church.

When we got home a few hours later, I went to my room. Surprise! The games weren’t on the console, and neither was the controller. The TV, too, was in the video game mode again.

I ran into the oldest kid’s room. “Aha!” I said. “You played video games!”

He looked hurt.  “Mom!” he said. “I didn’t do it.”

And then I explained the little trap I’d set. He narrowed his eyes, giving me a look that said, “I hate yo…” And then his look turned to one of – dare I say it – grudging admiration. He smiled sheepishly.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I did it.”

I sputtered, taken aback at the lack of indignant anger, that he’d better do his homework for the rest of the day.

I went back downstairs and shared the evidence with the hubs. The youngest listened intently.

“Wow,” he said. “You set a trap. How did you do that?”

Tsk, tsk, tsk, my young friend. Mama’s not going to reveal all her secrets…

I don’t know how I do it, either

So it’s been weeks since I’ve posted anything here, and I apologize.

I’d like to blame it on my studies or my internship or some sort of minor yet still serious illness or the Greek economic crisis, but alas. I can only blame it on this:

This is the cake I made for Maggie's birthday. It took a crazy long time.

…and this…

Tom wanted a soccer ball on his birthday cake

…and this…

I stayed up until 1 a.m. making cake pops for Tom's family birthday party.

And since I am currently learning the ways of behavioral therapy, I will tell you that these are not merely symbols of fantastic birthday celebrations. Nay, these are signs of my overcompensation.

I’ve been down this road before, my friends.

Many, many moons ago, I was a frenetically working young mother of two. My job often required long hours and, occasionally, travel. My supportive spouse traveled, but not as much as he does these days. And he picked up a lot of my slack, cooking dinner, getting the kiddos from daycare, folding laundry.

I was still a reporter chasing big stories, and my days never were predictable. So the hubs was there when I wasn’t.

But on the days I was around, hoo boy. I was uber mom, psycho holiday decorator, party planner extraordinaire.

I don’t mean to brag, but my birthday parties were legendary. And that’s not because I rented a moon walk or a clown or a magician. That’s amateur stuff.

There was no way I was subletting my parental duties to anyone else to ensure my kids had the best birthdays ever, so I did everything myself. If there was a clown making balloon animals, buddy, then that was either me, my husband or some gullible relative of ours wearing the red nose.

Take Joe’s fourth birthday party. He loved pirates back then. L-O-V-E-D them. Way before Jack Sparrow arrived on the scene, Joe was sporting eye patches and turning sticks into hooks. So, as a faithful reader of every parenting magazine under the sun, I decided to throw the biggest and best pirate bash EVAH.

U.S.Toy has an insane amount of pirate decorations, by the way. And you also can order just about anything pirate-themed from Party Express.

And did you know you can make hand hooks out of two-liter plastic bottles and plastic hangers? I hoarded those items for weeks to make enough so the 20 or so kids we invited could take them home as party favors.

We gave every kid a pirate tattoo (temporary, of course,) and hung a piñata from the swing set. We commissioned my husband’s Uncle Pat, an architect, to be in charge of the balloon swords, a job he took to heart.

The only glitch: The cake. I had attempted to draw freehand a Jolly Roger. Big mistake. I should have sculpted something out of fondant.

Maggie’s party that year featured butterflies, her favorite bug at the time. Everyone got gossamer wings, and I made the most beautiful cake with a pastoral butterfly scene on it.

The next year, we threw Joe a cowboy-themed party at a cousin’s rural house and hosted a chuck wagon dinner (all homemade, of course.) That year Maggie had a princess dress-up party, with dress-up clothes supplied by yours truly and a cake that looked like a pink castle (also made by yours truly.)

Then I quit my job in 2001, and the birthday parties became less elaborate. Oh sure, my cakes improved, but I acquiesced to outside venues for the actual parties. I justified that because I spent almost every waking hour with the kids. I needed a break, you know?

Well, this year things have changed. I’m gone all day three days a week, either at my 16-hour-a-week internship (for credit hours) or at the university, taking back-to-back classes. The laundry is piling up. The old dogs have developed bladder infections because I’m not there to let them out as much. I’ve missed a few field trips. I still haven’t made relish out of the pounds and pounds of zucchini I chopped up and froze in July.

But the crazy birthday overcompensating is back. Hence the Perry the Platypus cake, the soccer ball cake, the cake pops.

I just can’t stop myself.

It’s funny, because the youngest kiddo wasn’t even around in the days when I made homemade yogurt pops to have on hand and handmade Christmas presents for my kids and my nieces and nephews. He’s never really seen this side of me.

But a month or so ago, when trailers for “I Don’t Know How She Does It” were all over the TV, Tom watched one and then looked at me.

“The lady in that movie could be you, Mom,” he said.

And he wasn’t telling me I look like Sarah Jessica Parker, either.

Me and my middle-aged brain

I knew it was going to happen one day. Frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened long before now.

I hurried my kids out the door to a soccer game that wasn’t even scheduled.

Well, that’s not entirely true. That game, the one we showed up to, was scheduled, all right. But my kid wasn’t a part of the team warming up to play.

So confusing. I know. I’m living it. But let me explain…

I looked at my calendar last week and realized that Maggie had a soccer game at 10 a.m. Saturday, the same time Tom had a basketball game at a different venue. And Matt was out of commission, since he had a daylong board meeting. Grandparents were out of the question for various reasons, and I couldn’t be two places at once.

So we asked our friends who coach Tom’s basketball team if I could drop off Tom at 9 a.m. on the way to Maggie’s game. They said sure, and we were set.

On Saturday morning, everything went like clockwork. We dropped off Tom and headed to the soccer place with enough time to spare that I stopped for gas and a cup of coffee. I dropped Maggie off at the door and found a parking spot, then Joe and I went inside for the game.

Maggie was sitting on the bleachers, looking a little lost. I saw some girls from her team kicking a ball around, waiting for the current game to end, so I told her to go warm up. Joe and I sat there talking, but I could feel someone watching me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a parent wearing the same team T-shirt I was staring at me. I didn’t recognize him, but it’s not like I’m close with any of these soccer parents.

A little background: Maggie played on this team two years ago. It was her first girls-only team, and it wasn’t the greatest experience. She only played in fall and decided to go back to her co-ed rec team, which caused a mini-uproar on the team she left. Some parents told my husband and me that we were doing our FIFTH GRADER a disservice by not forcing her to play on this competitive team, to which we just smiled sweetly and secretly flipped them off in our minds.

So when the guy kept staring, I figured he knew all about that history and wondered why Maggie was back on the team. And for the record, she’s only playing on this team to get some touches on the ball before her school’s spring soccer season begins.

And this particular club has two teams with the same name playing in this league. They just split up their regular team for the 6v6 season. Maybe, I thought, Maggie’s team was playing the other team from her club.

Anywho, a few minutes later, Maggie came back. She looked confused.

“Mom,” she said, “none of these girls are on my team.”

I looked back at the gaggle of blonde, pony-tailed girls dribbling the ball. They all looked the same to me. Except there were perhaps too many blonds. Maggie’s team has a few brunettes.

“Hmmm,” I said. “Maybe your team is playing the other team from your club, you know? I’ll bet that’s it. Go ask the coach.”

So she did, and he came over, smiling kindly.

“Maggie’s got a game at 7 a.m. tomorrow,” he said. “But if she wants to play today, we can use her. We might have someone missing.”

I could feel my face turning red. I looked at Maggie, and she shook her head.

I thanked him and told him I must have read the schedule wrong. Then we walked the long walk in front of the bleachers toward the facility’s exit. I could feel all the parental eyes on me.

Right then I knew who would be bringing Maggie to her 7 a.m. game, and it sure has heck wasn’t going to be me. And I started casting about for a way, any way, that I could blame Matt for this. There had to be a way, but I couldn’t see a clear one.

So we piled into the Suburban and drove to Tom’s basketball game, which just had started. I laughed about the soccer screw-up with my friends there. One said I could still blame Matt because he should have corrected me when I insisted there was a soccer game on Saturday, but I thought that was stretching it a little.

Later that day, when Matt got home from his meeting, I told him all about it. He told me that if I had a Blackberry, I could put all the times and places I needed to be in my electronic calendar, and that would solve my problem. But I reminded him that I still would have had the wrong date and time in there, so what was the good of that?

I didn’t have it in my calendar,” he said smugly.

I stared at him. “Why didn’t you tell me, then?” I asked.

“Because I knew you’d get mad and tell me I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “So I didn’t think I should tell you.”

 So it was his fault. I knew it.