Endings

Lately I’ve been thinking about endings. Maybe it’s the end of school year, the graduations, or the irrational reactions to Game of Thrones in my Twitter feed, but I feel surrounded by endings. It’s the time of year, and we are captivated by the Grande Finale.

I am here for a good ending. I love a mike drop. A one line zinger that encapsulates everything. The farewell party. The long hug and squeeze. The rapid burst of fireworks at the end of the Fourth of July. I want it grand and I want it to signal to all those involved, This Is The Final Act. The end has come- you have not misconstrued anything. There will be no curtain call. You may go home and rest in the security that you experienced it all.

But what I’m learning is that not all things end with the Grand Finale. Sometimes, a thing, relationship, commitment, a phase or season of life just stops and that’s all there is. It’s like that meme that circulates on Facebook parenting pages that’s says, “One day you will set your child down and never pick them up again.” I have always had a visceral reaction to that and my flippant response is typically, “One day I will change a nasty diaper for the last time too, but nobody’s holding space for that milestone.” All snarkiness aside, I think my problem with the meme is that I hate that there is no ending to the phases of childhood. They all meld together forming this cohesion we call life. I may want confetti and balloons when I set that child down for the last time but that’s just not how this works.

Lindsey’s volleyball season ended about a month ago. I won’t bore you with the details (other people’s kids’ sport stories are never interesting), but it was so weird. Club volleyball lasts forever and it seemed we were building for a ending- a bid for Nationals. We just missed, but we left our last tournament with the hope that there would be a trickle down bid and the girls would be back in the gym in a week. That didn’t materialize and just like that, we were dismissed. I told Lindsey, “The Summer is now open. Volleyball is over.” She didn’t say much, but a few weeks later we were driving to school and out of nowhere she said, “That was so weird how volleyball ended. No goodbye. Nothing. It was just over.” I agreed with her but I didn’t have any real counsel to give.

This morning, Paul and I were taking a walk and I was telling him about the conversation I had with Lindsey. “She was right. It did seem weird without an ending.” He said, “But that’s life. There isn’t always a neat bow on things. I have had mentors and professional relationships and they just end. There’s no farewell party. No angry fight. The purpose ends and you move on. There’s not always moral value to an ending.”

I found resonance in that.

It doesn’t mean we don’t try to end well. I tell my kids to finish strong in everything and I do the same myself. I think celebrations and putting a period at the end of a season has value. But I’m learning that we don’t have to hunt down a fancy finish where there may not be one. Sometimes we live in the tension of “I guess that was all.”

And that’s ok. That’s life.

We’re all people. Quite the same.

When the kids were little and we lived in Ontario, I remember taking them to a small local book shop. While they played with the collection of toys in the children’s section, I chatted with the shop owner. I don’t remember how we got on the topic, but she mentioned that she and her husband were taking a month long trip to Italy. They had a car rented and they were just going to wing it when they got there. I was more than a little impressed by the free style approach to vacationing so I asked her if she was fluent in Italian. She laughed, “Oh no, we don’t speak any Italian. We’ll figure it out as we go.” I remember standing there, having never traveled to a country where language would be an issue, and wondering what kind of crazy was she. After all, we had just moved to Canada, where they spoke English, and I was daily overwhelmed by not knowing what I didn’t know. She must have sensed my bewilderment because she smiled at me and said, “These are the best ways to experience this world- making our way out of our comfort zones. It’s how we find out that we are, all of us, quite the same. Just trying to do our best, love our families well, and be happy.”

It was one of those conversations, that as soon as the words were spoken, even as they hovered in the air between us, I knew they would leave a mark.

We’ve had some opportunities to travel since that time, and to places where English is not officially spoken. It really does make you slow down and pay attention to what people do, because you can’t always understand what they say. You notice that moms everywhere will swipe at food crumbs on their child’s face regardless of their age. That old people holding hands in Paris will tug at your heart just as much as your own grandparents do at home. Paul and I were in a copper smith shop in Tuscany trying to buy a wine chiller, and the old man and his wife who ran the shop spoke no English. We were limited to my Rick Steves guide to basic Italian phrases, and we had this crazy 20 minute visit that included pointing, gesticulating, and saying words in our own tongue LOUDER, like that was some kind of solution to the language barrier. The whole thing was so comical we were all four laughing. In that small shop, two couples separated by age, language, country, and culture, yet for a moment, quite the same.

As I’ve blogged about earlier, Stephen and I went to Europe with a school group back in January. It was part of something his school does, called Go Week, the week before they come back to school after Christmas Break. Students can take an educational trip, a mission trip, or work in groups here at home on various service projects. This past week, we attended the celebration of all of the trips and service work, where students and adults shared stories about their experiences. One of the students who traveled to Israel was sharing his experiences and talking about the diversity he encountered. He was a very good public speaker, but as he shared some of the interactions he had with children there, he said, “It just made me realize… we’re all, like… people. You know?” A few people smiled and chuckled because it sounded like a teenage summation, but I was smiling and nodding like a Pentecostal at a tent revival. This student had run up against the same truth I had encountered in that bookshop ten years ago. We’re all people. And quite the same.

As the evening went on, some of the local service projects shared their experiences and there were very similar themes emerging. Kids and adults were placed in environments they might not normally be found in, and serving these communities with fellow students they might not normally spend time with. They were amazed at the people they got to meet and how much they valued not just the service work, but the actual community they built in one week. We’re all trying to do our best, love our people, and be happy.

I love to travel, and I am game to go just about anywhere. I like the landscape, art, and culture of a new place. But I am always more fascinated by the people and their stories. My word for this year is ADVENTURE, but it applies to more than just travel. It’s an open invitation to explore and understand all the people and situations I encounter. To embrace the new and (sometimes) uncomfortable, and to rest in the truth that we ARE all people. And quite the same.

Being A Sports Mom: What I’ve Learned From The Sideline

This week is sandwiched by volleyball tournaments and track meets, so it had me thinking about what I’ve learned sitting on the sideline.

We have two kids. Between the two of them, we have tried a lot of sports. In the early years, we did this to keep them active and engaged with other kids. There are parents with different motivations, who see sports as the long term ticket to college or fame (and it can begin as early as three-year-old soccer), but that was never our intent. Along the way, Stephen fell away from sports and Lindsey fell in love with them. She played soccer, then volleyball and lacrosse. Recently, she has narrowed her passion down to volleyball, and Stephen has picked up the individual athletic pursuits of his choosing- sporting clays and track. So we find ourselves, many Saturdays and Sundays, on fields and courts around Georgia. I’ve learned many lessons (some the hard way) as the parent of an athlete, that have made sports-mom-ing a better experience for me and my kids. These may not be true for everyone, but they have proven vitally important in how we treat our kids as they compete in sports.

1. Watch my own child. Don’t be worried about other kids, other parents, referees, the scoreboard- none of that matters. This is one of the few moments in their life when I have no other demands but to cheer for them. My only responsibility is to watch them do a thing they have chosen and trained to do. I often joke that when I was thirteen, I didn’t care about anything as much as Lindsey cares about volleyball. She has given so much of her time to training so she can be valuable to her team. I watch her and I am amazed at her commitment to this sport. I am amazed by her.

Stephen told us when he started high school, he was going to run track in the spring. We were a little surprised because he seemed uninterested in sports when he was in middle school. We don’t know anything about Track & Field, so we put the responsibility of getting involved squarely on him, and he did it. He’s had two meets now, and watching him run might be the proudest I have ever been of him. My pride in him has nothing to do with his performance on the track. I’m proud because he chose this activity and he has followed through with it. He trains every day and has the funniest sense of humor about all of it. When I watch him run, more than any other time in his life thus far, I see the man he is becoming. If you see me in the stands at a meet, I will have the goofiest smile on my face the whole time, because that is my ornery toddler, my strong-willed kid, turning into a self-disciplined young man.

2. Recognize it’s a season. When I say that, I don’t just mean a spring or fall season, but a season of their life. This will end. One day they will walk away, and hopefully it’s with fond memories. I can help facilitate that by keeping it in its proper context. The sport does not define my child. Their success or position on a team will never be the deciding factor in a happy life. Not one person on their deathbed looks at their life with regret because they weren’t the starting first baseman on their high school baseball team.

It’s just a season. A few pages in the scrapbook of their life. Enjoy it and treasure it for what it is. One day I will miss all of this: watching them compete, the wins and losses, their growth mentally and physically at the sport, even the crazy schedule we keep- AM wave tournaments in a city 2 hours from home or splitting time at a track and a gym on Saturdays. I will miss the good, the bad, and the crazy, but there will be many other rewarding seasons in their lives. The best is still to come. Hold on loosely.

3. They will learn life lessons on the field or court. The learning won’t all be rules and strategy and situational play. Don’t get in the way of the life lessons. Don’t run interference for them. It’s hard to be a bystander when I see adversity or pain coming my child’s way, but sometimes the road they are called to in life will require wisdom gleaned from what they learned competing or in team dynamics. Those lessons don’t always congeal right away. Character building takes time and distance and that space is fertile ground for bitterness to grow. Don’t be bitter. Trust timing and perspective to bring wisdom and peace. No matter how long that takes, believe this experience will make them stronger.

4. Coach them how to manage their feelings and perceptions. What I know strategically about the game of volleyball or the conditioning needed to run 800 meters could be written on the head of a pin. I don’t coach my kids, because I have the dumbs when it comes to their sports. I also pay a billion dollars for them to play and so I assume their coaches are being compensated to do the heavy lifting. The pressure is off me to break down technique. What I can coach them on are their feelings about what happened. Their perspective at this age tends to be a bit inward focused, so having conversations where we can look at things from a different angle are so valuable. I’m not running any interference on the life lessons, I’m just helping them frame things in the proper context.

These are my Sports Mom lessons learned, so take that as you will. They may not be for everyone. I have seen plenty of parents coach their children from the sideline so maybe that yields the results they desire. It’s just not my business. These are the boundaries that work for us. This is the place where we can appreciate the value of sports in our kids’ lives and also enjoy the balance of family, school, rest, and play.

We’re playing by these rules. If we play this right, they succeed at life. That matters more than any game.