Thursday, August 30, 2012

I wish I didn't care so much

Well it took me a while to figure out how to multitask  We are in our last out of 3 weeks of swim lessons.  I just realized this week that I could write this while I watched the lessons.  Just imagine how much I could have written if I clued in 2 weeks ago.  Oh well.

I am a good parent because I care about my kids and want them to be emotionally prepared for activities and programs.  I am a bad parent because I let the programs/sports have control of my brain and emotions during various times.  I wish I didn't care so much.  Of course I care about my kids and don't think anyone could love them or care for them more than I.  What I'm talking about is the stress I go through ever pre-season and playing-season for each kid.  The various processes make me crazy.

I love my kids.  I want them to be happy, have fun and succeed at things they are passionate about.  That's probably not too far off of how most people feel about their kids.  The hard part is caring so much.  It probably wouldn't be as difficult if I didn't have so many kids and they weren't involved in so many things.  I try and make them wait for things, but it's all catching up to me.

When I try new things, I am a bit nervous until I understand the ropes.  One year of an activity should give me the experience I need to move forward to set proper expectations for my kids.  Until that is under my belt, we wing it.  I try to best guess what's going on to support my kids having a fun experience.

We live in a very competitive town.  I guess it wouldn't be competitive if I wasn't that type of mom.  Some sports offer a competitive choice.  It is more expensive and time consuming than the recreational version.   We had been advised to stay out of it as long as possible.  Now I know why.  Last year was our first year involved at that level.  In some respects, it was a very positive experience, in others it was very challenging.  Having last year under our belt didn't help us for this year.

Last year, #2 went in with the attitude that if she didn't make the A team she didn't want to play.  Well, she made the B team, played, was with one of her best friends and made a lot of new friends.  She is very driven and capable.  A little humbling was good for her, as was not being the best at something.  But then, an injury sidelined her for the first 3 weeks of the season.  Nothing could prepare us for that setback.  She just had to heal and move forward as best she could.  Unfortunately, it put her behind a lot of her teammates' progress.  She played the rest of the season trying to catchup to a level she was  prior to her injury.

No amount of spring clinics or winter playing could change the coaches perception of her.  The hardest part was watching the tryout process this second year.  Maybe it was the best part because I could tell where they were going to place her before the teams were even announced.  We hedged or bets and had a contingency plan if she did not make the B team again.  She would be able to play fall baseball (her true passion).  Well, baseball here we come because she was dropped to the C team.  Now, who's to say this isn't where she would have been without the injury last year.  She is with other friends and new ones will be made.  I'm hoping for another fun season regardless.

#3 has tried for 2 years, unsuccessfully, to play soccer at a competitive level.  She, somehow, has given those coaches the impression that she is not seriously motivated enough to play at that level.  In her heart, she really wants to play at that level but her actions don't always reflect what her true motivations are.  She is too young to understand that her actions will reflect in peoples' decisions that will affect her.  She has the best spirit and is so much fun.  It is definitely their loss in not picking her, but that's my somewhat biased opinion.  Now, I'm biased because I'm her mother, but I also have the benefit of knowing her and having seen her play sports over the years.  I think there is always room for a girl who will always try, have fun and do her best.  But again, I care too much.  What if I was just happy that she had the experience of trying out.  What if I wasn't frustrated thinking the weeks of spring clinics that took our time and money were a waste.  Were they a waste?  I guess because our goal was to make the competitive level, we failed.  If we had set out with a different goal, we probably wouldn't be as disappointed.

I should say that this isn't even just related to competitive sports.  I've had this experience in sports that draft too.  Baseball is a mandatory draft in 4th grade for us.  Our first round with that put us on a team where #1 knew no one.  It turned out great.  It was stressful at first because it was a new situation for us, but we had no expectations because we had never been through this before.  Year 2 we thought we knew what to expect.  No such luck when we ended up on a team we never would have chosen.  The benefit was that it gave us more experience for the next year and more kids who would be involved in the sport.  Year 3 was a bit more predictable.  I guess that is until year 4 turns us on our ear.

Drafting is stressful, even when you understand the process.  In another one of our sports, they can arbitrarily decide that they want to institute a draft.  It's based on 1-2-3 rankings from the season before.  Then intent is to keep the teams balanced.  The hardest part is that they ask for friend requests on the registration.  Once a draft is instituted, the requests go out the window.  Really, they shouldn't ask.  Then we would have no expectation.  It's hard not being with friends.  I think that's true for grown ups too.

Another area of stress is in classroom placements.  There is an expectation that we will have the teachers we've had before.  Our school does a good job tracking kids in siblings' paths.  I always still worry about who they will have and what friends will be in their classes.   I really shouldn't invest the energy because I have no say.  But I am always apprehensive until the lists come out and we can map out our feelings.  Every year it really gives us all teaching moments, but to be able to step back and deal with it logically as it happens is no easy feat.

These are all just examples of my caring getting in the way.  A lot of the inefficiencies of these sports make me nutty.  It also makes me crazy when there is a lack of transparency.  It bums me out when there is favoritism.  I get that a level of familiarity can benefit some kids in the selection process, but in our instances I feel like it has worked against us.  There is no recognition of the fact that kids can change and mature and possibly even improve.  My level of frustration rises as decisions are waited for.

I always hope I'll be wrong when I have a vision of things not working out the "easy" way.  Many times it hasn't worked out that way.  I think, thank goodness I'm paying attention to signals of decision makers in these situations.  How bad would it be if we could not psychologically prepare for what's coming down the pike.

Why can't I be the mom that just says, it's all just part of the experience?  Just enjoy the process, whatever it is.  They'll end up where is best for them.  I'm not the expert here, leave the opinions to the ones in charge.  I'm just not sure all that are in charge should be or are even supported themselves in how they operate.

But, I am the expert in my kids, what makes them tick, what motivates them, bums them out.  It is not me saying they are the best at everything and they should make the A team and have all the playing time possible.  It is me saying that they are all still so young.  Many of these experiences, more mature or older kids, can handle without having parental support.  But, should they have to?  At what point do you walk away and say it's not for us?  How do I involve myself without caring? 

So, for now, I'll just continue caring, yet wishing I didn't.  Because it makes me crazy.  I will try to minimize my kids being crazy.  I will help navigate the sometimes too advanced concepts and feelings that present themselves.  I will continue thinking and knowing my kids are awesome and hope they end up where truly is best for them. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Picking what you eat

Did you miss me?  I missed you!  Yes, it's been a while.  It doesn't mean that posts haven't been happening....Just mostly in my head.  Time to get the fingers moving on the keyboard and put it out there.

Life is still busy.  It's actually the busiest time of year for us.  Regardless of how busy we are, we still need to eat.  3 meals a day.  Every day....  

With four kids' individual personalities, their food preferences follow suit.  One point is that their preferences are a moving target.  It has been said that you need to put a food in front of a kid hundreds of times before you can expect them to eat it.  What about the opposite.  What happens when you have a child who eats a food and then stops?  How much does peer pressure have to do with "likes" and "dislikes"?  How does one meal plan around all of these factors.

Child #1, with parents who knew nothing, was a pretty agreeable eater as a small child.  He had his quirks, but ate fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, etc.  No issues.  Until he gave up all fruits and vegetables.  ALL.  Well, not quite all.  Apples and bananas were it.  Around 1st grade he added lettuce to his repertoire of things he'd eat, thanks to the school garden and a gallon of ranch dressing.  Then came the tips of broccoli and avocado with ketchup.  I don't think enough nutrients from the vegetables entered his system, but it was better than nothing.

Apples and bananas began to wane and then his sisters started to LOVE fruit.  The smell, sight or mention of the fruit would send him into a tizzy.  My patience began to wane along with all fruits and vegetables.  His extreme persistence in not eating these foods was so annoying.  I cooked with home made broths and we ate a lot of salad.  I lectured and yelled.  Speaking negatively about food they were served was a punishable offense.  The main issue that was arising was that his littlest sister, #4, was starting to mimic him.

 #4 was the slowest, pickiest eater in the world.  She would fall asleep eating, it would take her so long.  Her tastes were different.  Due to low weight, she had extra supplements of cod liver oil and homemade formula.  As she got older, she would eat anything mixed with the oil, but imitate her brother's refusal for most other things.  If she ate after 3PM, she would not eat dinner.  I was told that 2 good meals were good enough.  Boy did she try my patience.

#2 eats EVERYTHING.  I'm not joking.  She tells me when there is something she doesn't like, but says that she doesn't want to hurt my feelings and eats it anyway.  As much as she was trying to emulate her brother in most other areas of her life, thank goodness eating wasn't one of them.

#3 eats almost everything.  She eats all fruits and vegetables along with most meals.  She also likes to help cook.  Shelling an extra large bag of peas is exciting.  Payment is being able to eat them along the way.

That was then, this is now.....

Just because some of my kids didn't like fruits or vegetables didn't mean I didn't serve them.  We converted, as a family, to eating family meals together every night.  This meant I was eating what the kids did.  The kids were served more diverse foods and things they hadn't seen or liked before.  Tantrums ensued, but I pursued.  First #1 accepted onions in his food.  Then #1 and #2 started favoring spicy foods.  Seasoning became fun.  They fought over the pepper grinder.  #1 became open to eating bell peppers.  In his mind it was because they had the word pepper in them, so they were related to pepper.  This is where I knew it was a mental thing.  Really, as you and I know, bell peppers have nothing to do with pepper!  I mean, come on!  A small victory happened here.

Fast forward a year of refused meals, picking vegetables out of mixed meals, and so on.  #1 had dinner at a friend's house.  His next request floored me.  Could I please make broccolini and make sure it was well done.   Um, yah, of course I could.  In the same week I made a meal that had butternut squash and chard in it.  I figured squash tasted similar to the sweet potatoes he ate during Thanksgiving.  I must confess that I was playing on the fact he was colorblind.  I figured the chard would look brown and blend in with other parts.  I didn't count on him reading the recipe as I cooked.  He ate it anyway.  A few days later I made a yummy dish that included mushrooms.  He started to eat around them.  I asked him to think about trying them since he'd really been liking what I'd been making that week.  He ate them and said "mmmm, not bad".  #4 was watching him. 

Within a week or two, my picky-never touched/looked at-eater had quadrupled his vegetable repertoire.  I felt so accomplished.  Who am I kidding though?  It had taken over 6 years of struggles and trials.  I had never been in the position of working so long without a plan, trying to do the best I could.  Lucky for all of us that I am more stubborn than my children.  I know they get it from me, but for now, I hold the title.

What came next.....

Kale!  It wasn't far off from chard or broccolini.  I overcooked it, like the boy enjoyed.  We ALL enjoyed it.  Now, we have salad, maybe once a week and the kids fight over the rest of the kale chips.  Last night he even ate tomatoes on his sandwich.  I hope it doesn't take 6 years to get #4 on board. 

How much of our success was maturity?  Probably lots.  Both mine and the kids.  We are enjoying finding new favorite meals together.  I am so thankful we did not give up.  I am a believer.  Keep serving it, but not forcing it.  We have switched to family style.  Take what you will eat and you can always have more.  Say nothing if you don't like it.  We ask the kids to try each item but don't battle.  If they don't care for dinner, they don't get a second cup of milk.  The only thing we allow to be eaten other than dinner is bananas.  We are also thankful that our friends eat similarly to us.  We cannot control what our kids eat or are offered when not at home.  The kids trade and share lunches and snacks at school.  They learn to articulate their likes and dislikes when friend's parents offer foods.  They are exposed to things we may not eat.  Once again, it takes a village.

Now, I'm hungry, what's for dinner?!