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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Mess with my kids and feel my wrath

A week or so ago, Maggie and I were in a take-out pizza joint on a Friday night.

It was crazy busy, and the place was pretty small. We queued to order our pepperoni pie, then waited against the back windows.

Pretty soon the door opened, and a couple walked in. They looked vaguely familiar, but I didn’t think much of it.

Then Maggie pinched my arm and whispered in my ear that the couple who’d just entered the joint was a former coach of hers and his wife.

Ahhh. I looked anew at the woman, who seemed to have put on a few pounds since the last time I saw her courtside. Her husband’s hair had grayed noticeably. I smirked.

Maggie shot me a sideways glance but didn’t say anything.

Pretty soon, a teen behind the counter called our name, and we picked up the pizza and headed for the door. Just as we got there, the coaching couple turned around and smiled, all Stepford-like.

“Hi, Maggie!” they said brightly.

Bless her heart, my girl has raisings. She smiled and said hello.

That’s my sweet girl…

I, on the other hand, felt that familiar motherly indignation rise within me. All I could muster was a glare, which probably looked more like a squint since I wasn’t wearing my glasses.

Out in the parking lot, I attempted casual conversation with Maggie.

“Man, she looked fat, didn’t she?” I asked. “Didn’t she look fat?”

Maggie just shrugged and smiled, a little patronizingly, I thought.

“Mom,” she said, “you need to let it go.”

“It” was an incident several years ago where the pizza-ordering fatties – back then considerably more svelte but snotty just the same – had conspired to kick my daughter off a sports team so their little darling could take her place.

But no one bothered to tell us that our girl wasn’t on the team until the season began and games started. Then, and only then, did we find out she had lost her spot on the team.

She cried. She cried and cried and wondered why she wasn’t good enough to play on the team she’d been on for several seasons. We had no reason to give, except that that the coach’s kid gets preference.

Then, adding insult, her new team had to play her old team once or twice a season. And the old teammates she’d joked around with treated her badly, led by the snarky mean girl who took her spot.

I could barely watch when Maggie’s new team played her old. I was so angry, I clinched my teeth until my temples ached.

I was proud of the way Maggie made the best of a sad situation and made better friends on her new team, full of girls she’ll play with in high school. I even softened toward the girls on the other team, who I reasoned couldn’t help being the way they were if their parents were so devious they’d hurt an 11-year-old girl to further their own child’s fortunes.

But when it came to the parents, forget it. I give them no quarter.

I’m not proud that I can’t forgive and forget. I’m all the time preaching that the past is the past, that folks need to build some bridges and get over “it.”

Yet I can’t. I can’t in this instance or a few others where adults intentionally wronged my kiddos.

Mess with me, I can eventually give you a bye.

But mess with my kids, and you’re dead to me.

Enough already with the “greatest ever” schtick

OK, but these guys really are one of the greatest bands ever. Nothing to do with the Olympics, either, except they’re Brits. And I love them. Back off.

So I was huffing along on the treadmill today, watching CNN because you can only watch so much of the Olympics. And what were they talking about on CNN but — you guessed it — the Olympics.

Turns out folks are once again calling Michael Phelps the “greatest athlete of all time.” This time, however, unlike four years ago, some people are saying, “Hold on a minute.” One such person is Sebastian Coe, an athlete, English politician and head of the London Olympics.

Specifically, Lord Coe said to reporters, as detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle: “You can probably say that clearly, self-evidently, in medal tally he’s the most successful. My personal view is I am not sure he is the greatest, but he is certainly the most successful. That goes without saying.”

Bravo, Lord Coe, I thought to myself on the treadmill. Thanks for so articulately stating what I’ve been saying for years.

Four years ago, Michael Phelps was pronounced the greatest Olympian of all time. And I wrote the following piece. My sentiments haven’t changed since 2008:

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The Olympic hype totally turns me off. I haven’t heard that much hyperbole since, oh, I don’t know…last year’s college football season.

The worst was calling Michael Phelps “the greatest athlete of all time.”

Whoa. Really? All time? Better than Jesse Owens, Mark Spitz, Eric Hayden, the Ancient Greeks?

Don’t get me wrong. The guy swims like a dolphin. Watching him mesmerizes even an Olympic cynic like me. His humble beginnings inspire us. He is a phenomenal athlete, and he seems like a nice guy.

But can we have a little perspective here? The greatest ever? That’s just over the top.

What makes Phelps better than Usain Bolt, another hyperbolic medalist they’re calling the “fastest man in the world?” Or Nastia Liukin, the gymnast who grabbed five medals at the Beijing games? Or how about Constantina Tomescu-Dita, the 38-year-old Romanian woman who won the women’s marathon in Beijing?  Who’s the better athlete? Who can really judge that contest?

And do we really care? They’re all unbelievably good at their sports. Let’s just say it. Why does there have to be one “greatest?”

I’m not knocking Michael Phelps, OK, so don’t start flaming me and calling me un-American. He’s awesome, all right? But this sort of overstatement drives me batty.

Even my daughter noticed it. Why, she implored me, are they saying Michael Phelps is the greatest ever?

I didn’t have an answer for her.

But I did tell her that just about anyone who makes it to the Olympics is the best. That’s what the games are all about.  And you’re not the greatest ever just because you win the most medals. I think there’s more to it than that.

Let’s just talk for a minute about Jesse Owens, one of my favorite past Olympians.

The guy was the grandson of slaves. His father was a sharecropper. He wasn’t pegged for his running speed until high school.  He had to work after school to help support his family, so he went to school early to practice with his coach. He only attended Ohio State University after his father found a job that could support the family.

So Owens was a track star at Ohio State, but he had to live off campus because he was black. He never received a scholarship from the university, despite winning eight NCAA individual championships, a record that stood until 2006. He worked part-time to support himself. And when the track team traveled, Owens and the other black athletes had to eat carry-out or in blacks-only restaurants.

Then in 1936, he traveled to Berlin to compete for the United States in the Olympics. There, he figuratively spit in the eye of Adolf Hitler, whose Nazi party propaganda touted Aryan superiority and claimed ethnic Africans were inferior.  At “Hitler’s Olympics” Owens won four gold medals, a feat not repeated until Carl Lewis won four medals at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

Talk about the greatest. Owens was one of them.

So, in my opinion, is Lopez Lomong. I don’t even know if he won a medal in track and field at the Beijing Olympics, but it doesn’t really matter. The fact that he was there, representing the United States, boggles the mind.

As a 6-year-old in Sudan, Lomong was abducted from his family and held in a militia camp, destined to become a child soldier. He escaped with some other boys and walked and ran for three days until they reached Kenya. There, he lived in a refugee camp, surviving for 10 years on one meal a day. To keep himself from thinking about how hungry he was, he ran and played soccer.

Eventually, he ended up in the United States, one of the Lost Boys, and a high school coach saw potential. He reportedly never lost a race, and he always ran with a smile on his face.

Lopez Lomong was a winner to begin with. Making it to the Olympics was just the icing, regardless of whether he won anything there. My kids are captivated by Lomong’s story. And they’ve never asked if he won any medals.

Is Lopez Lomong less of an athlete than Michael Phelps? I don’t think so.

See, I don’t think winning medals is the lesson of the Olympics. Which makes the whole “silver-is-just-another-word-for-first-loser” sentiment I heard bandied about so abhorrent. You’re not a failure if you don’t get the gold medal. No one who makes it to the Olympics is a failure.

I’m not encouraging mediocrity or everyone’s-a-winner kind of thinking. I’m just saying that doing the best you can do is worth celebrating, too. It’s not just about getting the gold.

That’s the lesson I want the Olympics to hold for my kids.

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.

Mom and son go to the birds

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, my immaturity rears its ugly head.

Like the other day, after my oldest son’s soccer game. His high school team formed an off-season team and is playing in a competitive league against, presumably, other high school off-season teams.

Now, generally, I’m the parent who’s pretty clueless as to the specifics of what’s happening on the field. I mean, sure. They make a goal, I can figure that one out. I’m not too sure about what constitutes “off-sides,” though. Basically, I just try to cheer positively, something along the lines of, “Way to be there!” and “Follow your shot!” and “Get it out of the middle!” You know, basic general stuff.

On Saturday, though, my son’s team played a team that was highly populated with European foreign exchange students. These dudes play some serious futbol. If you watched any of last summer’s World Cup games or ever catch any games on Fox Soccer Channel (which I watch every afternoon when my kids get home from school,) you get the picture.

Sneaky slide tackles. High kicks. Under-the-breath insults. And righteous indignation if the referees call any fouls that don’t go their way.

The game was a tough one, and my son’s team lost by three goals, to a team of guys wearing pink jerseys. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it just added insult to injury, ya know?

So he and his buddy packed up their gear, and we trudged to the parking lot. There was a long line of cars waiting to exit right on to the side street but no one turning into the parking lot. A bunch of cars that were turning left headed down the wrong side of the road, and we followed, since they were going our way.

Just then, a black Chevy Cavalier full of pink jerseys sped across some grass toward the road. I thought for sure they’d stop when they saw our station wagon barreling toward them, but the driver just grinned and turned on to the road right in front of us and cut in front of the car to our right to turn on to the road going west, the opposite of our direction. My hubs laid on the horn, and the jerkos in the Cavalier just laughed back at us.

That’s when my middle finger flew up alongside my head and slammed against my window, in full view of the carload of pink jerseys. Their eyes grew big and they looked like they wanted out of the car to come beat my a**. Except they didn’t want to lose their place in the line of cars going west.

The next thing I know, Matt is growling at the back seat. “Are you flipping them off?” he asked my son. “Stop it. Stop it right now!”

Geez. “I’m flipping them off, Matt,” I said. “They’re jerks.”

He ignored me and went on. “You do not flip them off, do you hear me?” he told our son. “It’s inappropriate.” He cast a scathing look my way. “I don’t care what your mother does.”

The other boy in the back seat – our son’s friend – was conspicuously silent. I looked back at the black Cavalier and jammed my finger back against the window where Matt couldn’t see it, smiling all the while.

And my inner 15-year-old considered flipping him off, too, but thought better of it.

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.