Are you ready for some football?

When you were a kid what did you love?  Was it a pet or a toy? Or did you have a favorite activity you just couldn’t get enough of?

Our oldest son has recently become very interested in football. Any football. College, professional, high school, it doesn’t matter.  He asks his father if they can go outside and play football every day regardless of the weather and regardless of the amount of daylight left—there have been many twilight games.  He loves the game.

It’s always a joy for me to watch them play together and hear their conversations during the game. Our son loves to tackle and be tackled. He loves to wear clothes that make him look like a real football player, and he loves to kick the ball. Above all else, he likes to make up new rules. The rules for any game change with almost every play and almost always lean in our son’s favor.  As I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, winning has become increasingly important to my sons as of late.

While watching my husband and son, a number of questions have crossed my mind:

  • Where did his drive for winning come from?  My husband and I have worked hard to not place a high value on winning.
  • How do you explain rules, what they are and why they’re import?
  • Why must he want to play football?  It’s so dangerous!  While I’ve always loved watching college football, I hoped our children would love watching it with me, not actually want to play it.

It occurred to me that all three of these questions brought to mind a different parenting conundrum.

Where did his drive for winning come from? I don’t think our son is any different than his peers. Winning is going to be important, regardless of our efforts to downplay it. What we are trying to teach our boys is that of course everyone wants to win, and that while winning may feel good, you often learn more from losing. When we win we’ll often attribute it to our hard work, practice or execution of the game on a given day. Those things may be true, but what if the team that lost worked and practiced just as hard? We talk to our boys about how temping it is to become complacent and stop pushing ourselves when winning comes too easily, and that losing can be an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and allow us to improve. Talking about sports is great opportunity to discuss with the boys the merits of learning to win and lose with grace.

How do you explain the rules, what they are and their importance? Football has a lot of rules. While I’ve always felt I had a good understanding of the game, I didn’t appreciate the complexity of the rules in football until I listened to my husband and my father educating my son on the game.  Most of these rules make a lot of sense. They are needed to keep order and ensure that the game is played fairly by both teams. Rules ensure a level playing field where one team doesn’t have an advantage over the other. However, sometimes the rules don’t make much sense and seem to only create obstacles for playing the game. There is as true in life as it is in football. Some rules make a lot of sense and are clearly in place to protect us and keep us safe. Some rules are not as clear-cut; I’m not sure I’ll ever understand our tax codes, but I’m grateful for accountants who can make sure I comply with them.

Why must he want to play football?  It’s so dangerous! As an avid fan, I suppose I have no one to blame but myself on this one, but I honestly hoped he would just enjoy watching the game with me. I should have known that if he enjoyed watching football, he was likely to want to play.  I have conflicting feelings about  this. On one hand, I want to encourage his passion and football is his passion, at least for now. On the other, I’ve always believed that one of my main jobs as his parent is to keep him safe. In light of all the reports in recent years that show the long-term damage caused by the head traumas so common in sports like football, it’s hard not to want to keep your child away from the game (or any game where the risk of head trauma runs high). My husband and I haven’t had to make a final decision on this yet, as our son hasn’t asked to play on a team. For now he’s okay with just playing in the backyard or on the playground. But we suspect his interest will only increase as his friends get more serious about the sport and at some point, we’ll have a difficult decision to make.

This coming Sunday we will celebrate one of the most watched games in televised sports.  Most of us aren’t as concerned about who wins the game as we are with the ritual of watching the game. We watch because it’s an opportunity to get together with friends, we like to watch the commercials, or we just hope to see a good game. My son will be watching too, but for one reason only—because he loves it.

Emerging Victorious

I recently had my first book published. Many friends have been very encouraging by telling me how proud they are of me. While I am grateful for their praise and support, the reality hasn’t really sunk in yet.  I keep asking myself the question, why don’t I feel proud?

When I was younger, I swam on our neighborhood swim team. The team practiced every weekday morning throughout the summer. I loved swimming. I loved practicing with kids my own age and learning from the older ones. There was always an opportunity to push myself to be better. I loved competing at the swim meets where I could demonstrate the progress I’d made and bask in the glow of a hard-earned success.  Any time I swam my hardest and won an event I felt deep feeling of accomplishment. It made me feel proud and reinforced the notion that all my hard work would pay off. Like many burgeoning young athlete, my early success in the pool lead to a childhood dream of competing in the Olympics. I could truly visualize myself swimming the vigorous lengths and emerging victorious, making my country proud.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve struggled with feeling such genuine pride in myself. I’m still very good at pushing myself to achieve my goals, but I often don’t allow myself to truly acknowledge my accomplishments. There have been some notable exceptions. Moving cross-country for a job when I was in my 20s made me feel proud.  Traveling alone overseas for a few weeks in my early 30s made me feel proud. Speaking to parenting groups about what I’ve learned along the way made me feel proud. The common thread between these accomplishments was that I took a risk needing to know if I could do it. I knew if I didn’t try I would regret it.  It made taking the risk greater and the reward taken from the accomplishment more satisfying. Yet, though I’ve written and had my first book published, which I never predicted or dreamt I would do, and the risk is quite possibly the greatest I’ve ever taken, the feeling of accomplishment hasn’t come, at least not yet.

Maybe it’s because this is a new beginning for me. It’s the first step toward the life I want to live, one in which I am more creative and able to push myself in more satisfying ways. Not just the life I’m feel I’m supposed to live—the one I accepted as a young adult that may or may not align with my true passion or calling. How many of us truly pursue our dreams as adults? It’s scary and overwhelming to go after what we really want–especially with a family to support–but what do we miss out on if we don’t push ourselves to try? Or perhaps it doesn’t fall into the category of something I needed to do and I wouldn’t have felt regret it if I hadn’t done it.

Maybe down the road, I will look back and feel proud that I was brave enough to take the first step and push myself to accomplish something I didn’t even know was possible.  Maybe in the moment, I’m still feeling to vulnerable and nervous about the huge step I’m taking.

My dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer didn’t become a reality for a variety of reasons that were out of my control. As an adult I returned to my favorite sport when I joined a Masters league (a competitive swimming league for adults). With a lifetime of perspective between myself and my childhood ambition, I realized the reality that I’d never had the necessary leg strength needed to be an elite swimmer. I still love the sport and it comforts me to know that I avoided losing my entire childhood over a goal that wasn’t meant to be.

Writing feels like something that is much more in my control; fortunately there are no age limits or strength requirements. I decide what comes next on this journey for what comes next, another book or something else and determine how hard I need to push myself beyond this. I’m looking forward to what comes next and while I don’t know what the future holds; I do know that pushing myself to live the life I want to live helps me visualize myself emerging victorious.


Game on!

I love receiving holiday cards, especially the ones that contain letters telling me what my friends and their family members have been up to. Reading these helps me feel connected to people I don’t get to see often. We recently received a card from some friends who live overseas; it was wonderful to see the pictures of all the interesting things they had been up to and I enjoyed reading all about their adventures. My husband had read the card before I did and when I was finished reading it he said, “Did you see what their kids can do? They can read and write in a foreign language, and ski!” This chaffed a bit considering that the children in question are a little younger than our own.

I admit that for a brief moment, there was some jealousy on my part. Our oldest is in kindergarten just starting to learn to read and while he’s had some exposure to Spanish, I wouldn’t claim he’s anywhere near fluent. We did take our children for ski lessons last year, but they’re nowhere near as accomplished as our friends’ children in this regard.

I told my husband, “If we lived overseas as our friends do, our children would probably know how to speak, and possibly read and write in a foreign language. And if we skied all the time like our friends do, our kids would probably be pretty good skiers as well.” He agreed and we moved past this fleeting moment of parental envy.

Later as I was reflecting on our discussion, I was reminded of a key point in my book, Ten Simple Tools for No Regrets Parenting, namely that parenting is not a competition.

Our boys are at the age where winning suddenly becomes very important and everything is a competition: who can get make their bed first, who gets their shoes on first, who gets dressed first. What they win in these little contests is arbitrary; the winning itself is what’s important. My husband and I discourage this ceaseless competition and are working hard to change their thinking and help them find healthy outlets for the impulse. We remind our kids that they shouldn’t feel constantly pitted against each other as brothers; that they should be cheering each other on. I think that’s a good lesson for us as parents as well.  So next year when the holiday cards start arriving, I look forward to hearing all of the wonderful things my friends are up to and cheering them on.

Where did my vacation go?

Last week was the first week of the new year and I am already exhausted! How is that possible? I decided to take the last two weeks of 2011 off from both my day job and my writing work. On the one hand, I felt I had earned a break. On the other hand, I felt incredibly selfish. I’m trying to launch a book and reach my audience, I thought I don’t have time for a break! Never mind that I work a full-time job, am raising two kids, have a spouse and home to take care of. Sounds crazy, right? And yet, I would guess that many of us have struggled with guilt over taking time to rest and rejuvenate.

It became apparent to me that if I was going to enjoy my vacation at all, I was going to have to get over my guilt with taking it in the first place.

My first few days off felt great. I enjoyed guilty pleasures like Kathie Lee and Hoda on the fourth hour of the Today Show, catching The Ellen Show in the afternoon and taking long walks outside by myself–ah, what luxuries! But after a couple of days of this, my sense of I’ve got a lot to do, why am I wasting all this time? started creeping back in. I finally broke on day three when my compulsion to be productive became almost overwhelming. I’m not good at being still, at doing nothing so I let myself do just a little work. I have to admit, I was concerned that I would slip back into full work-mode, but I was able to keep that impulse under control after checking a few things off of my to-do list.

As January 3rd (the official end of my vacation) approached, an impending sense of dread set in about how fast-paced my life was going to once again become. My life had just started to feel like it was slowing down momentarily and now I was going to pick right back up where I left off? Not fair! Sure enough, I jumped right back into the chaos once Tuesday came. When I shut the computer off late that night, it felt like my vacation was a distant memory. On Wednesday morning, while I was at the gym, I reflected on my time off and the enormous amount of work ahead of me and thought, something’s gotta give. I made a quick inventory of my competing priorities: family, day job, writing/book, house upkeep, exercise, sleep. I tried to figure out where I could invest less time. I immediately eliminated family from the chopping block; I’m all about living a life without regrets, and I’d have some MAJOR regrets if I wasn’t giving my full self and attention to my relationship with my husband and children. Next I eliminated Day Job since I obviously need to make a living and I enjoy what I do. I also eliminated Writing/Book; writing is the way I express my creativity and my passion for helping others, it’s something that gives me energy and helps me feel fulfilled. Next on the list was House Upkeep– I can’t lie, I already don’t keep house the way I was brought up or would like to, so doing less in this area is not really an option. Following that on my list was exercise.  While some may jump at the chance for an excuse not to work out, exercise is something I can’t do without. It’s my ‘me’ time–a chance to be by myself, read on the elliptical trainer and burn off some steam. This all leads us to the last item on the list: Sleep. For a split second I almost convinced myself that sleeping less was the answer. As you may have guessed, I ended up having to cross that one off too. No one does well without a good night’s sleep. I need a solid 7-8 hours; I know some people can do well on much less, but not me.

Rest is something we all so desperately need each and every day. Not just restful sleep at night, but the ability to recharge and reenergize ourselves throughout the week during daylight hours.

I came to the conclusion that I have to redo my something’s gotta give list. I’m trying to figure out what areas exist that may give me more room to breath, and rest. My husband and I could be better at balancing all of the kid’s activities and household responsibilities we are juggling. Investing more in pre-prepared meals and a cleaning service is sounding more and more attractive. I’m aware that I need to find time for myself, accept that that’s best for me and my family and lose the guilt–just like I had to do to enjoy my vacation.

A fascinating read on re-energizing that I came across a few years ago is The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. I’m going to start rereading it soon. When? On the elliptical of course. That’s the only time I’ve got. For now.