This article was originally published in 2011, but it still holds true today.
As my last child winds her way through that last year of high school, somehow juggling five AP classes, two varsity sports with captains practices and road trips, peer counseling, friendships that have endured 3/4th her life on this remarkable planet, I keep thinking on how much I am going to miss watching her play. That has always been my line to the kids after their competitions. I love to watch you play, for it is true, and because it stops the coach in me from coaching, and gives them the chance to talk about what they might want to discuss about that contest, and even practice, if anything.
Play…Sword battles in the living room, sidewalk races in front of the house, bunk bed string and pulley communication devices, foam noodle helicopters, cutting down our Christmas tree together, Chutes and Ladders and every other game on the planet earth…volleyball and lacrosse since fourth grade, skiing in the trees, bike ride races, camping and card games; we have played and played and played.
How did I get so lucky to have a daughter like I have, many have asked. One that gets along and who is very close with her brother? I remember a mom at a lunch during a qualifier, watching Mac and Cody interact, asking, "Do they always get along like this?” I did not need to answer, they just laughed, said yes and went back to goofing off together.
Looking back, I believe it was a combination of pushing curiosity, rewarding effort over outcome, traveling, sports, good music, friends, and trying things. I also think that my training in biology helped let the risks and randomness of life take place without my constant intervention or worrying. I firmly believe that the explosion of antibacterial products is going to backfire soon, with superbugs that use their faster evolution process to get us sick at a new level. For those new to my blog, I urge you to read www.freerangekids.com to know where I am coming from.
Watching your child play, whether he/she is just learning the sport or has moved to a higher level, is one of the greatest gifts.
Curiosity, as a single parent, kids fighting, or both crying can overwhelm your capacities. I became VERY good at saying “Wow, would you look at that!” and then asking question about whatever I had redirected their tears toward. It could be anything, the airplane vent or seat table, an ant crawling on a wall, or just a picture never seen before. Throw in questions or crazy off-the-wall stories about said “that” and I generally avoided the tantrums and meltdowns that seemed to plague some of those around me.
Rewarding effort over outcome, was reaffirmed strongly when I read Carol Dweck’s Mindset, a book I have mentioned before but why not again…my story there hearkens back to elementary school, where Cody and Mac both had team projects due on a Thursday, and when they checked with their other three teammates they discovered that no one else had done their part. So with the help of hot cocoa and just being up with them, but not doing any of the project for them, my kids each finished the whole team project by themselves. That meant a 2 and 3 a.m. finish, and one short night of sleep.
On arrival at school, I waited till the kids had gone into their classes and went in to speak to the principal, a dear friend Nancy Saltzman (just a Milliken National Principal of the Year award winner, and fellow CC classmate), to ask for her help in getting the kids ‘homework for the next day, without alerting the kids. That night, after the kids went to bed a bit earlier than usual, I pack our winter clothes and ski gear into the back of my Yukon.
The next morning, we headed to school as usual, only to “miss” the exit, and then…a story from dad on how proud I was of the hard work they had done two nights ago, and that we were skipping school and headed skiing together, homework in hand for the weekend of course, and without any care about the grade, yet unknown, their projects might receive.
You Plan, I Pay, We Play
That triggered one of my U.S. Paralympic cohorts, Cindy. to story tell about the time she went outside her comfort zone as a parent. With her 16-year-old son, she headed to three weeks in Europe, using the words “You Plan, I Pay, We Play." Her son’s “planning” was mostly looking at a train station departure board, and, thanks to Euro rail passes, adventuring to a new city and country, without a hotel or real plans at the next stop. I reminded me of one of my favorite Olympic stories…where Cody, Mac and I were watching the 2002 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies, and I said “Wouldn’t that be fun, to go to the Olympics together someday…” Cody then solemnly said, holding my face and looking at me intently…”Dad, that would be the single most exciting thing in my life…” Sigh.
A phone call to the Richards family in Provo (who were going to be in Las Vegas for the President’s Day Tourney and without tickets, but with a place to stay at no charge, we adventured to Utah, missing just two days of school. Driving in, we saw a sign to the Olympic hockey venue, and just went to look at it, only to find out a doubleheader was just about to start. We waited till the end of the first period, made a more than half price offer to a Swede with tickets in hand he was trying to sell (it goes better when kids come up looking plaintively with cash in hand), and caught two great games at well below ticket face value cost.
We bought tickets off the street for cross country skiing and got lucky again, catching two events for the price of one, as a day’s event were rescheduled to that same day and ticket. So here are my kids with the 50K team relay guy from Japan, whose ski pole snapped at the start, and who skied the whole first lap with just one pole, and still almost made the medals. That was yet another story about effort over outcome that sport told my kids without me having to say a word.
Music, Travel, Friends
Music and travel: hile they often went hand in hand, again it has been an eclectic mix they have experienced together – more than 30 states, including driving and camping way north of the Arctic Circle on the Alaskan Pipeline. They play volleyball up there, based in Coldfoot, Alaska, where the principal stunned me by noting their one school district is 62,000 square miles. They have played volleyball and gone to schools in Mexico, Canada, Egypt and Fiji – hanging out with the locals so much they would say they did not feel like tourists, but as if they lived there. Most of these trips, east to west coast, have been by car, and thus music is also woven in to those thousands of hours on the road.
I have more than100 music DVDs, as I wanted the kids to SEE the performers I liked and listened to, when possible. Throw in the change in technology and some iPods, and you have a lot of song lyrics and musicians my kids know well.
And friends? There is where they have made good choices, with a bit of parental guidance along the way.<
Looking back, I think my taking my lunch break to do school recess, so the teachers could meet over lunch, was a fortunate but impactful part of friendship counseling and guidance. It also was a pretty good workout, keeping 10 different swingers flying high, as once you did the 10th, swings number one and two were chanting “Mr. Kessel, Mr. Kessel” just to make sure they got reflown into the skies. I recently learned a good teaching idea on bullying/mean friends that I want to share.
Tell the kids to take a nice clean sheet of paper, and to be mean to it…bully it…crumple it up…and then tell them to flatten the paper back to “new." I will miss the kids’ friends coming over to the house for after school snacks, homework sessions and sleepovers, and hope that my kids can keep their friendships alive as long as I have been able to with my schoolmates.
So if you have young kids in your family now, a strong suggestion is simply to hold your kid’s hand as often as possible, as there will come a time they don’t want to.
I still am lucky enough to hold my daughter's hand or arm as the case may be as her homecoming court escort. Still, those days of walking to and from the school yard with your "childinhand" (yes, a subtle reminder to visit www.childinhand.org and help our volley outreaches there) are memories that last a lifetime. And, to Mac, in advance of this final run to a championship, I just sent her one of my very favorite Paul Simon songs, that even made the Rolling Stone ‘s Top 500 songs of all-time list. Go listen to “Father and Daughter” and you might make it a favorite too.
The story of Mac’s high school final season ended well. They ran into crosstown rival Coronado again in pool play and in the finals, along with some good teams like Silver Creek, Durango and Windsor along the way, and defeated them all 3-0. Seeing her play with her friends and teammates one last time and win it all en route to a 31-0 season was wonderful. Seeing them doing the first match of the morning all-division Chicken Dance was almost as good as watching the dogpile on captain Janae at the end. Coach Dave Barkley noted in the newspaper how much the kids just love to play and compete. So true. They love to play.
MaxPreps ranks them in the top 100 in the nation, and that is fitting – she and her teammates worked hard and long for their fourth straight title, and now the adventure at the collegiate level begins... I am missing the school assembly honoring the team, as I am in Little Rock, Ark, speaking at the state ArkAHPERD convention, and doing a clinic for the Delta Region, which is so capably and creatively run by Joe and Joanie Williams. Such is life as the sole provider, but then again, I had already seen her play, and I loved it.