Can I Have Your Autograph?

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Soccer Mom

I've been meaning to write this post for awhile. Most of you may already know that we have signed up both kids for a Soccer League. (Yes, it's supposed to be capitalized, so that you say it with the proper amount of reverence.) A new league started in our town, and a bunch of people from a competing league lost a bunch of players (defectors or traitors, depending on which league you are in) because they followed our coach.

Anyhow, this coach is from Nigeria, and everything he says is taken as gospel by Habtamu. We get lots of "Eno says..." and Lee and I look at each other and murmur, "Didn't we tell him that last week?" I'm all for backup from a big, tall Nigerian. I had to ask him to talk sense into H last night, who wanted to be a martyr because he forgot his jacket and wouldn't take the sweatshirt I offered. Eno asked, "Is he ok? Just playing the fool?" "Yep." "Habta! Put this on!" I talked to H later and said, "You know, I'll go to Eno if I need to, but I'd rather have you listen to ME when I tell you something." "Ok, mom." There may have been an eyeroll involved. (Possibly mine. I'm not saying.)

We were originally just going to sign Habtamu up, but someone got Yordanos to practice with the team, and she liked it too. Their practices are on the same days, back to back... meaning 3 times a week from 5-7:30. They have a 1/2 hour overlap.

They had their 1st tournament last weekend, in Elgin, so we stayed at Lee's folks' house, which is about 2 miles from the tournament. Habtamu's team (the under 13s, or U-13 co-ed) didn't win any of their 3 games, but Yordi's team (U-11 girls) won their second game. The big winner from our league was the U-18 girls. They won all 3 games (2 were shutouts) and won their play-off game. Yordi was so excited about them winning. "Hey! It doesn't matter that my team didn't win! The big girls won, and they're Shadows, and we're Shadows, too, so we all win." Indeed.

Yordi had so much fun playing, that, after the 1st game, she ran off the field toward us yelling, "Yay! We won!" "Um, no you didn't." "We didn't? Oh well, it was SO FUN!"

Habtamu was sad, of course, that they didn't win any. But, boy, you could see their improvement from one game to the next. They're the team with kids from the most different places... kids that have not played together before. (I guess the U-18 girls are like that, too, but they have the maturity and experience to be able to adapt more quickly.)

If we're not around much for the next, oh, infinity plus one, you'll know why. We're a soccer family now.


Frankly My Dear....

We were working on a project for Christmas out on the front porch. Yordanos reached for a marker, realized it was the wrong one, and said, "Damn."

I asked calmly, "What did you just say?"

She said, just as calmly, "Damn."

I said, "Oh, ok, that's what I thought you said. That's a bad word. We don't say that."

She said "Oh, ok." She paused, "Why is it a bad word?"

I gave a lame-o answer about some words being used in a bad way. Lee gave a much better answer later... that it means the opposite of blessing someone.

Then, of course, I tried to remember if I ever used "Damn" in front of them. It's not my swear word of choice, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't me.

HOWEVER, when you hear Yordanos say, "And I was like, YOU KNOW," you'll know that WAS me. D'oh.


Oh Relax! You'll survive

As you will see, the kids have really conquered their fears since last year's Tilt-a-Whirl experience, so we tried out Pharaoh's Fury (aka the Pirate Ship ride-thingy) at the fair this year. Unfortunately for them, their parents still have a twisted sense of humor and took pictures.

Click here if you really want to see the terror in detail.


Kids: Can't live with em, can't live without em

(Continuing with the Retro theme... I typed this on the fourth of August before Chris's brilliant parenting maneuver.)

Well, I don't know who had a longer day yesterday. It was either Habtamu who was angrified most of the day, or Chris who had to deal with him. The first call I got at work was, "Well, we're right back to where we started last year..." and I heard Habtamu banging around in the background. He had already stormed away from his school lesson, gone out to ride his bike but not actually done it, and then had been sent out twice since then. His MO is to tell everyone to leave and/or go away, but then if you do he follows you around and makes sure you know he's still there. Chris somehow remained calm through all this as we came to the conclusion that he was acting out because he was really nervous about his first official soccer practice that evening. Of course, you couldn't tell him that, but it became more and more apparent as the day wore on. Eventually I got a call from him, but it was pleasantly NOT like previous phone conversations... usually when he wants to talk, all I get is him yelling 'NO' over and over into the phone. This time he was clearly upset, but not yelling. I asked him if he figured out what was wrong yet. Usually this question gets a rabid, "NOTHING!" but this time I got a cracked, "I don't know." So we went over the basics. Hungry? No. Tired? No. Need the bathroom? No. Thirsty? No. Again... not the angry defiant "NO's" I'm used to, civil ones. We chatted a little longer and decided that taking the flat tire off his (old) bike would be a good change of pace and take his mind off things. It worked for a while. He came back in, got through school and lunch, and then proceeded to swing wildly emotionally the rest of the afternoon. By the time I met up with the family at soccer practice Yordi was bopping around the playground, Habtamu was stepping through a gauntlet of footwork drills, and Chris was totally shot but distracting herself by taking pictures of the team.

Things are much better than they were last year, but it's really frustrating how quickly we can slip into the old routines. Chris and Habtamu had a discussion about 'Fight or Flight' in an attempt to explain to him that pushing people away is a 'flight' response to being scared. It doesn't make him a bad person, but it doesn't excuse bad behavior. Chris and I talked about how even soldiers get training on resisting the 'flight' instinct and that we can help him deal with his fears. Who knows how much of it stuck.

Today was another day of iron sharpening iron. The kids had dental appointments this morning, which got Habtamu nervous and twichy. Chris reminded him that not only was his sister going first, but that this trip to the dentist would be exactly the same as the one 6 months ago. "I know mom," he said, "Different people different feelings." Chris seded the point and quit using the shame/logic angle and just comforted him. There was also some altercation that ended with Chris going into the bedroom alone feeling that nothing she said or did made a difference. Instead of just watching a movie and stewing, which they had been given permission to do, or finding something to bang on, which they didn't have permission to do but often do anyway, they came into the bedroom crying asking mommy to please keep telling them what to do because she knows everything. There were tears, group hugs, and even a mommy sandwich. Chris spent yesterday fueled by the knowledge that tonight she would get to go out to coffee with the ladies, and didn't even end up going.
Kids over coffee? What's this world coming to?


Mackinac Island aka Fudgie's Revenge

Written 7/29/09 - Mackinac Island

As you can see, we're off to a great start...

Yet again, I've become what I used to detest. Back about a year ago, when I didn't have kids of my own and had the brain capacity for resentment, I hated tourists. I hated being associated with the 'average American' tourist, especially when I was being one. Now though, other than your average tourist being totally rude and self centered, I take some comfort in seeing otherwise reasonable people being reduced into using their primal brains while dealing with their children in public. We went to Mackinac Island today I selfishly smiled as I heard a woman nearly lose it when she realized that her child had crawled into a rental locker and was able to close the door behind him. But my moment of vindication came when we passed a tall blond man standing on a corner with his son, back-arched and whimpering, in a choke-hold. I didn't talk to him, but know that story quite well. I was just glad to see someone else getting to tell it.

And besides, my time was coming.

It was a perfect day and we had planned to rent bikes and ride the 8 mile perimeter of island. This of course was a new experience and Little Mr. Anxiety was not on board. Chris and I go back and forth as to what is the best way to deal with Habtamu's fears. In general we feel the more we tell him up front, the better off we are, but to a certain extent, it doesn't matter. Once he panics he doesn't process anything anyway. Maybe what we need to work on is trusting us when he gets scared instead of trying to prepare him with the logistics of a new situation.

The bane.

The first problem of renting a bike, is choosing a bike. Habtamu had already decided that on an island full of bikes, none of them were going to be right. He kept saying he wanted one with only one chain, meaning one gear. But he also wanted an adult bike. What I heard was, “Too many choices.” So Grandpa picked a bike for him, which he didn't like either. The seat was too big and he didn't like the basked on the front. So he freaked out. I don't remember how we got him on the bike. I think I had to leave and ride ahead first and then without me there he begrudging got on it. Apparently in the chaos Yordi decided that her bike wasn't hip enough for her to ride, quote, “I don't look pretty on it,” but H was taking the limelight on this one.

It took him about 4 out of the 8 miles to level out, apologize, get back to his normal happy self. Yordi swallowed her pride and I never heard another word about her ugly bike.

After riding around the island, we returned the bikes and walked up to the Grand Hotel and back down. We didn't push our luck. We got ice cream and were off the island eating pizza by 5pm. It ended up being a good day but took it's toll. All us adults were exhausted and one of us forgot to put on his SPF7000 sun screen so now he's got sunburn on my... I mean his, mosquito bites.

*A word about the title of this post: Mackinac Island is famous for it's fudge. Local slang for tourists who come to Northern Michigan, go to Mackinac Island, and think that they've experienced all that the Upper Peninsula has to ofter, are lovingly referred to as Fudgies. Sometimes they're also called Trolls because the come from 'below the bridge.' Anyway, I just thought 'Fudgie's Revenge' sounded funny. I don't take any responsibility for any other interpretation of the word fudgie.

Fudgie. Fudgie. Fudgie.

Feel free to giggle.

The Grand Hotel



Narnia - The Lion, the Witch, and WhatTheHecksYourProblem?

(Written 7/28/09 - Cedar Campus, MI)

This morning the kids had programming (i.e. running around with other kids their age) which meant that Chris and I had some time to ourselves. I think I spent most of mine blogging and sleeping, though I can't really remember. The afternoon we had all planned to hike out to 'Narnia,' which is a pretty spot on the coastline of Lake Huron with plenty of rocks on which to climb around.

We knew the kids would like it but of course as soon as we said, “Trust us, you'll like it.” we got immediate resistance. Mostly from Little Mr. NothingNewPlease. We tried to cover all the angles... How long we'd be out, how far, how we'd get to the trail in the first place, who would be there, etc... but in the end it really didn't matter. As soon as we got there, he picked up a walking stick that someone else had kindly left at the trailhead and proceeded to beat it against every animal, vegetable, or mineral within reach. (I'm guessing just a little pent up frustration...ya think?) Eventually, it escalated and he turned his attention toward his sister. Chris heard her yell 'Stop' several times. In his version, she walked into his blast radius and therefore it was not his fault. Although from the way he was acting, he was clearly feeling guilty about something. Now it wouldn't surprise me at all if his little hot poker sister really was invading his personal space, but this quickly tumbled into the, “You always believe her, I'm not part of this family, I'm always wrong, You don't love me, etc.. etc.. etc...” So I stopped him there on the trail and let everyone else go ahead. We then sat down, I calmed him down and we had a reasonable man to man discussion in which we worked out his feelings. Nah, just kidding. I grabbed his arms and held him until he screamed like a little girl. Then I told him that this was the place where he could scream as much as he wanted to because no one could hear him and he could yell until he felt better. Needless to say with that kind of encouragement, he didn't scream again even after two other hikers tip-toed around us, but we did stand there arm-locked until he cried and eventually concluded that this was even less fun than walking and swinging a stick at his sister.

When we finally got to Narnia, he stayed with Grandma, Grandpa, and me while Chris and Yordanos took a detour to Lost Lake to get some pictures of the elusive carnivorous plants, and then joined up with us later. His sister was out of sight for about 4 seconds when he finally saw the rocks and his smile came out. He then spent the next hour bounding from rock to rock daring me to keep up. And as a final testament to just how much fun it was, he even recovered after slipping into the water so well that Yordi wanted to jump in too.

After all that screaming and fussing, he admitted on the hike back that it was pretty cool.

We have friends who have a running, "And what did you learn?" dialog with their children. They use it to acknowledge good behavior ("I learned that if I clean my room the first time mommy tells me to do it, I get to watch TV longer in the afternoon") and also to nail down exactly when poor choices were made ("I learned that the phrase, 'Make me' might fly with other 4th graders, but never use it again on Daddy.") We've tried similar discussions with our kids but we just get blank stares and end up answering the question ourselves. Chris told the kids after the hike, "Today you learned that you can trust that mommy and daddy won't lead you into the woods just to show you crap. Even if finding wolf poop was actually one of the highlights. That was just a coincidence."

I'm sure C.S.Lewis would be proud...


Vacationing with The Klingons

Written 7/27/09 - Cedar Campus, Michigan

So the good thing about family vacation week is that there is hardly any set schedule. You pretty much can do what you want when you want. The bad thing about it is that there's hardly any set schedule and you can gripe about how bored you are and about all the things you're not going to do for as long as you want.

What really makes daddy happy is when you complain for 2 days about how you really want to go kayaking, then complain while kayaking about how tired you are, then complain that this place stinks and we never do anything you want while putting on your shoes after kayaking. That really makes Daddy happy.

I'll give you a hint: Daddy's not a big fan of the kayak.

As I alluded yesterday, Habtamu does much better with a schedule than he does with a big line through the day on the calendar that says, “Free time.” So, in situations like this I become the program director, a job I'm not particularly fond of or good at. Apparently, “Go sit on the beach,” or “Go play with those kids,” or “Go make friends on the far side of camp,” or "JUST GO!" are not acceptable activities. I know, I know, I know how the song "Cat's in the Cradle" ends and I've listened to my wife talk about her latest favorite book, "Hold on to Your Kids" but sometimes it's a better choice to go commune with nature for awhile by yourself than trying to get Daddy to be as cool as your camp counselor. And it probably goes without saying that the things I wanted to do, like sitting and listening to some guys play guitar weren't acceptable either.

So this morning started like one of those bad breakups where the girl that you broke up with just won't leave you alone. And she keeps trying to hang out with you and get you to like her but the more she tries, the more it drives you away. You don't have anything to talk about and you don't want to do any of the same stuff, so all you do is disagree politely until you can't take it any more and start yelling at each other. Yeah, you've had that relationship. You know what I'm talking about. Ok, Ok, maybe that never happened to *me* because, like, I couldn't get a date until I was 32, but I've seen a bunch of movies where that kind of thing happened. I'm sure stuff like that happens all the time to real people.

Anyway, my point is, I was the one stomping off into the woods on more than one occasion today. I'd leave with my son's scowling eyes burning through the back of my head, and returned to his scorn because it was my fault his day was being ruined. This is pretty much what all parents strive for, right? You nurture a young life in the hopes that someday you can come home to either the apathy or disapproving glares that you've worked so hard for. *SIGH*

Well, the good news is, true to form he got this, "Entertain me" thing out of his system around lunch time and had a perfectly afternoon. So at least today there was happiness during the daylight hours. Maybe tomorrow we'll have a blowout at breakfast and even get to enjoy the rest of the morning.

Note: Yordi's hasn't been getting a whole lot of blog time this vacation, and I feel kinda bad about it, but really, she's been almost self sufficient. She's been making friends, holding babies, running with girls, chasing boys, and playing games since the van door opened. And when she's not doing that, she plays by herself. Don't get me wrong, she's still got some sass, but overall, she's really in her element out here and it's hard not to do side by side comparisions with her brother. They're just two completely different personalities, especially in the stress-response department. So you might not hear much about her this week but that's because the old, "No news is good news" adage applies.


Michigan weather isn't the only thing that changes on a dime...

(Written 7/26/09)

If you know my son at all, he doesn't respond well to new situations. He likes to know the schedule, the system, the plan, the options, the people, the places, the everything. If there's anything unknown, he gets frustrated which can easily turn into panic and then fight or flight. This pretty much dooms anything... new, like say, oh I don't know... maybe a vacation.

The first couple times, as a reasonable adult, the fear is understandable and easy to deal with. You go over the schedule. You walk the paths so he knows where everything is. You go over the schedule again. But eventually even the most patient mama bird has to start prodding the little ones out of the nest. Here at camp, there's a lot of unstructured free time. This leaves Habtamu with a lot of time to watch other people playing games, getting to know each other, having fun, etc... and he becomes unfillable. Whatever he's doing isn't as enjoyable as what those other kids are doing, especially when it's exactly what he thought he wanted to do. And that's when daddy gets irritable.

At one point, and honestly I don't even remember what the catalyst was, H slammed the door and went out in the hallway and started flicking the lights on and off. He hasn't done that particular combination at home for a long time, but it's his way of saying, “Come get me I'm inconsolable.” The problem is at that point he won't “find his center” and come back. He can't cool down and it escalates, usually in front of other people, until I intervene... which of course is really what he wants, he just ran out of other ways to say it. So attempting to nip this bud as quickly as possible I storm the hallway telling him in no uncertain terms to get away from the light-switch because there are sleeping babies close by. He says 'No!' but stops anyway. I grab for his wrist and try to make eye contact. Now, neither action is going to make the situation better but I know how this is going to play out and I just want it over. He pulls and tells me to let go, I twist his forearm and tell him to get it together (aren't I helpful when I'm angry?) and then there's a small pop in his arm. Now, when I say 'small pop' I mean like cracking knuckles pop, not shoulder dislocation pop although honestly if his arm would have come out of the socket at that moment I probably would have beat him with it. Usually he finds his growth-spurt crunchiness very amusing, and I knew instantly that there was no (real) damage done, but don't think for a moment that it would prevent him from dropping to the floor and writhing like a 2 year old. I, oh so helpfully, reminded him of the age he was acting, and dragged him back to the room where we could finish this without a conservative Christian audience or keeping those sleeping babies awake. [Side note from Chris: I also told him to keep it down because babies were sleeping. He said "No!" very angrily, but in a whisper.]

Once we got into the room, I tried something a little different. I normally keep him on my lap until he's done freaking or has cried it out, but the bunkbeds didn't exactly accommodate that. This time, I let him sit across from me almost immediately. I think it took more time because he didn't cry it out right away, but we eventually talked it through. I heard all about how there was nothing to do here, and how everybody else was having fun, and how he wanted to go home. He never did admit to me how scared he was and it still bugs me that he never really came to terms with that.

Usually with H, when it's over, it's over and you get a good solid hug and an earnest apology. This time I got a weak hug and the apology was more of a statement than an admission of guilt. I suspect though, it's because he's still afraid and really hadn't resolved those fears yet.

It wasn't until well after dinner that he got involved with some kids throwing a frisbee around and then a volleyball game. That's when we finally saw that big natural smile of his. An hour and a half after his normal bed time he came up to me sweating and grinning and said that maybe this place wasn't so bad after all. Maybe tomorrow he'll figure that out while it's still daylight...



The thin line between a “Family GetAway” and “Family, Get Away!”

Posted by Lee... Notes from last week...

Well, this is vacation week for Team Gardner. We reserved our spot for Family vacation week at Cedar Campus in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Grandma and Grandpa Gardner are here too and even offered to take the kids in the minivan/camper a day early. They planned on breaking the trip up into 2 parts while Chris and I blitzed up Saturday morning so she could get one more night's sleep in her own bed. We were saddle sore, but in good spirits when we met up at the camp. People looked at me funny when I told them that we were starting our family vacation by intentionally not driving together, but in this case it worked. A friend from work loaned us his DVD player so the kids enjoyed their extended movie time in the van, as did G'ma and G'pa. :-) Chris got to listen to Phantom of the Opera throughout her shift driving, which she somehow finds relaxing. I guess it helps to know the storyline because all I heard was shrieking, arguing, some evil laughter and the occasional lull so the next round of random screaming would jar me half out of my seat. I tried to get back at her when it was my turn to drive, but I didn't have anything particularly obnoxious on my MP3 player. Remind me next time to load up on bagpipe and tuba duets for just such an occasion. Anyway, we all made it and it looks like we're off to a good start.


Great Parenting Moment: One and Counting

Ok, ok, I've probably had more than one good parenting moment, but lately it just feels like I'm no closer to competent than the previous day.

Last night both kids were wound up. Habtamu, of all people, was saying he "Heard Something", which has been Yordanos' siren call. Then Habtamu got up to turn his fan off and startled Yordanos who then "Heard Something, and it can't be Habtamu because he can't make that sound." Meanwhile Habtamu is re-enacting turning the fan off, and it is determined that YES, he CAN make that sound.

BT (BedTime) + 1 hour: Yordanos comes down crying, thinking about Ethiopia. It's obvious that she's exhausted, and not to diminish her needing to process... past bedtime is not the time to do it. We sent her back up bed, but she was still upset and keeping Habtamu up.

BT + 1.5 hours: I dim the lights, and call both kids downstairs. Are you ready for the magic that is me? I had them work on a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Yordi and I side hugged and talked and worked on the puzzle. Habtamu and Lee did the same. By BT + 2 hours, they fell into bed and we didn't hear a peep.

I had told them to go back to bed if it was before 8:00 in the morning. Habtamu said "What about 7:50?" "Go back to bed." "7:59?" "Go back to bed." They got up at 8:30. All in all, it felt like what successful parents should do. :)