Thursday, November 15, 2018

Blessed by Football

Last night was breathtaking. And heartbreaking.

My youngest son's team played in 40 degree weather in the pouring rain to win the Bigs Championship game for his football league. The game had been postponed two days because the home fields were flooded, and there had been talk of not playing the game at all. But the players and coaches said, "No way. We'll play in a parking garage if we have to."

And they meant it.

He will age out of the league after this year, so it is terribly bittersweet to know he has taken the field for NYO for the last time. Although our time there has been short — three football seasons — it has been incredibly impactful. I actually wonder if playing multiple sports for many years there might have actually diluted the impact that these three particular seasons have had on my son and my family. I know that have fertilized my growing love of the sport of football — when played by good kids with great coaches for the love of the game.

Season 1 —5th Grade — Crimson Tide

NYO 2016 — Army team supports Jordan's brother during Basic Training.
Jordan's first season playing tackle football was while his brother Sandy was in Army Basic Training in Missouri, so he never got to see his little brother play. When the NYO Army coach heard that a Crimson Tide player had a brother serving, he made posters for Sandy and planned a photo of the two teams that we could send to him. He also got American flag stickers for our team's helmets.

The Army coach didn't have to do this. I honestly don't even know how he knew. Maybe our coach told him? Maybe he heard through the grapevine? But regardless of how it happened ... it happened ... and our family was blessed.  

Same team! Convenient for teachers who came to watch.
It was also the first season playing tackle for two of his friends from school who were  in the same age group. All were nervous about having to play against each other. Or worse ... two of them being on a team together and the third being by himself. But God orchestrated it so that all three were together on one team. The coaches didn't know who they were or what school they went to when they drafted them. Each was a complete unknown. But they played together.  And our family was blessed.

Jordan's coaches were amazing. They were tough and supportive and funny and great teachers. They had a team full of first-time players and therefore everyone assumed the team would be weak.

They. Were. Not. Weak.

Coaches James, Penn, and Howard taught them fundamentals and had fun at the same time. They yelled like banshees and made fun of themselves for doing so. And they won the championship. They said that they gauge their success not by the standings, but by how many of their players want to come back and play football again the next year. Well, regardless of which metric you use — record or retention rate — they are off the charts. We would be back for another season.  And our family was blessed. 

Season 2 — 6th Grade — Steelers

Jordan was drafted by the same coaches the next year, which was a little surprising, but tickled us to death. Jordan had a great first year, he's a big kid, and was named to the All-Star Team, so he was no longer an unknown. Other teams were eyeing him. But the coaches wanted him back, so they drafted him early. We were ecstatic.

Then he broke his knuckle on Labor Day at football practice. (Just FYI ... knuckles are not strong enough to withstand being stepped on by a 6th grade boy wearing cleats. Just so ya' know.)

That was the end of his season playing, but not the end of his season. His coaches made him team captain multiple times. They let him help coach and organize practices. They even planned a surprise banner for him playing off his nickname of Edge. He came to all the games and most of the practices and he learned lessons that can only be learned by not playing.

But the boy still wanted to play. And he couldn't. This picture was captured at a playoff game and the coach sent it to me with a note saying, "Just a kid who wants to play some ball with his buddies." It's one of my favorite pictures of him because it captures his season in a beautiful — yet heartwrenching — manner.

He just wants to play...
His team lost in the semi-finals, and on some level he felt personally responsible. He cried the tears of a boy on the sidelines who wanted desperately to be in the game. They say to "leave everything on the field" — but he hadn't. Because he never even got to step on. That was a hard conversation to have with him. But our family was blessed. 

The Final Season — 7th Grade — Raiders

Where do I start?

First, Jordan was drafted by the same coaches for the third year in a row. Unheard of. I got an email while the draft was still going on.

Then I realized that the son of a sorority sister of mine from college was on the same team.

And that she had cancer.

And that she would only make it to one game before she passed.

Katherine died at home on Saturday, September 22.
Another player lost his beloved grandfather on Monday, September 24.
Both boys played with their team on Tuesday, September 25.

Jordan, Me, Katherine, and Tripp on September 5
That was our only loss of the season. They played like a team that had had the shit kicked out of them — which they had. The boys were all processing hard things and asking hard questions and working through hard emotions. And honestly, they were scared. Who would be next to lose someone they love? And it's hard to do that and play football with your whole heart because football requires your whole heart, if only for 32 minutes.

But then they played again. And again. And again.

There is something about playing a team sport in general — and football in particular — that pulls boys together. They let themselves feel the gut punch for a time, then they got back on the field and played.

The Hurricane (Michael) Bowl of 2018
They played in the heat.

In a hurricane.

Through a tornado warning.

In the dark.

They played through the one-year anniversary of the death of another player's father — the only football coach he had ever had prior to this year.

They played with 12 players — when 11 are on the field at a time — more than once.

And finally, at the championship game, they played on an unfamiliar field in the cold and rain.

 They played with two members of their team on the bench with injuries — right where Jordan had been the year before.
They just want to play too
The coaches had told them the day before the game that at halftime one team was going to be cold and wet and miserable. And one team wouldn't be feeling a thing. If they wanted to be that second team, they'd better come ready to play from the first snap.

They came. And they played. And they were boys. And they were men. And they had been to hell and back together. And they prevailed.  

And our family was blessed.

But not because of a (second) championship. We were blessed because of the lessons that were learned on a field of grass over the course of those three seasons.
  • You don't write off a team or teammate because they aren't experienced.
  • You pray for the impossible — and sometimes it happens.
  • You support other teams because you're only their opponents on the field, for one day.
  • You're on the team whether you play or not.
  • It's OK to be sad or mad or hurt when something bad happens and you couldn't do anything to stop it. 
  • But it's not OK to put the blame on yourself.
  • When someone sticks their neck out for you — when they choose you — you owe them your best. Better than your best.
  • Sisterhood is forever. #ChiOmega #KeepRolleN #ShesStillSwimming
  • You should hurt when your brothers hurt. 
  • You should help your brothers bounce back when the time is right. 
  • You shouldn't expect conditions to always be favorable. Embrace the suck.
Thank you to the coaches and the coaches' wives and the teammates and the other families and the officials and the team moms and everyone at NYO who have been a village to my boy these past three years. We will miss you. But we are not leaving empty handed.

We are leaving blessed.

By football.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Extreme Parenting: The Vacation Edition

The beach is my happy place.
My husband and I had three lovely days at the beach this summer. We slept late. Bought fancy cheeses and desserts at the grocery store. We read books, watched movies, and took long walks on the shore with our dog. We had a long, relaxing lunch at a nice restaurant with good friends who live at the beach full-time.

What we didn't do is take our children with us.

Oh, we were supposed to. We were all supposed to ride down and spend the first three days with just the younger two  before their older brothers joined us. You see, we've entered that stage of parenting where older kids have real jobs and can't always take a whole week off to go on the family trip to the beach.

So it would be just us and the youngest two.
For three days.
And I was not happy about it.

Here's the back story:

See? Aren't they cute? We even dressed them alike.
My two youngest boys don't get along. It wasn't always this way. They used to be best buds.

But as they got older, they turned, just like milk left out in the hot sun.

I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill brother arguments. I'm talking about incessant taunting, name-calling, hitting, violating personal space and rooms, taking things, one-upsmanship, and just generally being unadulterated jerks.

It does ebb and flow, but when it's bad I don't want to be around them.  And before you chime in with suggestions, know that We. Have. Tried. EVERYTHING.
Forcing them to be together • Forcing them to be apart • The t-shirt of brotherly love • Shared bedroom • Separate bedrooms • Sending them to their separate rooms with instructions to lock the doors • Sending them into the yard to fist fight until they got tired or someone won • Losing privileges • Losing activities • Taking the thing they were fighting over • Chores done together • Chores done separately • Discussions on brotherly love, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek • Writing 100 times "I will not hit my brother" • Incentives and rewards of all types
You name it, we've tried it. Nothing works for long, if at all.

It's so bad that we intentionally sent them to different schools and didn't let them play the same sports or participate in the same activities. "Nope, you can't play lacrosse/play football/play piano/take dance lessons/whatever. Your brother does. And you don't need one more thing to compete at."

But the week before our vacation, I had a realization. I did not want to go. Or, more specifically, I  did not want to go with them. They were going through one of their vitriolic stages which climaxed with older brother putting his lacrosse stick through younger brother's door. (Yes, he's paying to replace it. That's not the point.)

The point is I was dead tired and needed this vacation, but I didn't want to go. I knew I would come back more tired than when I left.

So when Herb walked into the bedroom the day before we were supposed to leave and looked at my face, he knew something was very, very wrong.

Me: I don't want to go on vacation with them. I don't want to be in the same room with them. If I have to drive to South Carolina with them, we may not all make it alive.
Herb: Do you want me to send the boys to bootcamp at Torrie's instead of taking them to the beach?

Me: Yes.

Herb: I was kidding.

Me: I'm not. Call her.
Torrie and me (and Grace in the middle)
You see, Torrie is my neighbor, girlfriend, girl-crush, and just all around amazing friend. We met three years ago when her husband asked to borrow our mower, and we have been like family ever since.

I have seen her cop an attitude with her own kids that can best be described as, "I love you dearly, but I'm considering selling you. Keep on doing that. Help me make up my mind."

I trust her with my kids, and she has my full permission to parent them however she sees fit whenever they are in her presence, whether I am there or not. So when Herb suggested sending the boys to Torrie, he knew exactly what he was suggesting.

A few phone calls later, and a discussion between Torrie and her husband Joe, and the plan was set. The kids were going to Camp Brotherly Love, and Herb and I were going to the beach.

My boys and Torrie's son
And I had a wonderful trip.

My boys slept in a two-person tent in Torrie's sunroom. This was not a "sleepover" with her kids.

They worked at the Atlanta Streets Alive Festival with Torrie and Joe and the booth for their bike rental business. #BikeBox They earned their keep.

They ate leftovers when Torrie didn't want to cook. This was not vacation, y'all. You're missing that to be here.

They wrote letters of apology to us and had heart-to-hearts with Torrie and Joe.

And when they drove down on Tuesday with their older brother, Sandy, he said they were perfect gentlemen to him and to each other.

And the rest of our vacation was lovely.

When they got there, Herb and I took them out to breakfast to talk, and it was good. Very good. We learned some things that we may have done wrong as parents. (Ok, treating them like twins when they're not wasn't necessarily the best thing.) We were able to pinpoint when their relationship turned and why. And we were able to talk ... and laugh ... and listen ... and even cry a little.

And I returned home rested and happy.

Every mom needs a Torrie in her life. Thank God I found mine.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It's May: Let's Make a Deal

Because it's May and I have a kid graduating from middle school and because this year seems to have been about ten years long ... I give you one of my favorite post of all time. It comes from my old blog before I moved to Avoid. (It's called Domestic Diva Disaster, and it's got some funny stuff.)

I wrote it in 2014 in response to Jen Hatmaker's post from 2013 about being the Worst End of School Mom Ever. She reposted a link to that blog on her Facebook yesterday. So I figure if she can bring hers back out, I can bring out my response.

In 2014 my younger kids were in 3rd grade and 2nd grade. Elementary school is very different from middle school, I will give you that. Each has its own things that make you want to pull your hair out. But whether your kids are 5 or 15, I think by May we are all DONE.



Dateline: May 16, 2014

Last year, Jen Hatmaker wrote an amazingly wonderful blog post about being the Worst End of School Mom Ever. By taking off the mask and revealing this about herself, all of the rest crappy May Moms have breathed a sigh of relief, given each other the knuckle bump of solidarity, and aired our End of Year dirty laundry to one another.

It has truly been cathartic.

The one thing that Jen's post did not include was a true remedy for this problem. Therefore, I have a deal to propose. It's a deal between teachers and parents. And if necessary, we can get school administration involved. But let's do what we can to keep them out of it, shall we? This can be our little secret.

First, in case you haven't read Jen's post, some background from my own life...

August Lunch
How Awesome August Becomes Monstrous May

I think we can all agree that in August, we as parents ROCKED. We packed cool lunches, we signed things with legible signatures, we diligently checked homework and backpacks, and we quizzed our kids on spelling words and math facts. I'm going to call this August Me.

But it's May. August Me is gone.


Dead. Or at least in hiding.

August Me skipped town somewhere around April 25 when we had Shakespeare Day (with costumes) and Colonial Day (with costumes) in different grades on the same day.

With both hubby and I as parent volunteers. In costumes.

April Shakespeare Day (with costumes)
After that, the last few drops of August Me were spent and I had nothing left to give for the last month of school. I still look like August Me on the outside, but the inside I'm all May. If you look deep inside, you might see a few dried drops of glitter glue and a balled up napkin that says, "Love you Buddy! Have a GREAT Day!"

You see, August Me had fresh stashes of all things artsy craftsy. She wrote little notes to her kids and put them in their lunch boxes. She remembered things, and she cared.

But at the end of April, she hit the road, Jack.

This was evidenced in all its pathetic reality this morning.

My 8yo's class was supposed to wear navy shirts to school today. Simple. I am the Class Mom for the class, so I knew this. The original email about this went out weeks ago. I sent a reminder on Sunday. And another one yesterday.

Whose kid do you think showed up with the wrong shirt?


Like I said. May Me is an empty shell of what August Me once was.

So here's my proposition. In recognition that by May, teachers also are spent, kaput, and wiped out — they just hide it a lot better — let's all agree to the following. 

In the last month of school, teachers will not...

1. Require the children to come to school in costume. Or in matching colors. Or coat and tie. Unless the costume is "Typical American 3rd Grader" we stand completely firm and united on this one. It's a deal breaker.

2. Assign creative projects. No dioramas of a Colonial village, wood carvings of the Santa Maria, or models of the Roman Coliseum made out of sugar cubes. Cutting paper dolls out of construction paper is acceptable if it is done in the classroom, not at home.

3. Assign research projects or papers. Book reports are fine, as long as the report requires no parental working knowledge of said book. Unless it's Goodnight Moon, because we probably still have that one memorized.

4. Schedule field trips that require parent chaperoning. Have the Reptile Guy bring the python into the classroom. We're totally OK with that. In August we might have preferred the snake be behind protective glass, but hey, it's May. In May, anything goes.

In exchange, we as parents agree not to hold teachers responsible for teaching anything new in May. Let's just call May "National Review and Recess Month."

Do we have a deal?

We stand united as parents and with our children's teachers who are AWESOME all the time. But let's be honest. We are all counting the hours until summer when we will recharge our batteries by having peanut butter sandwiches and Cheetos for lunch every day for three months.

When we will refresh our souls with chlorinated water.

When we drop our kids off at camp knowing that when we retrieve them in the afternoon, there will not be a list of assignments to complete before arriving back the next day.

And in August, we will be AWESOME again.

Friday, April 27, 2018

“I Will Gather My People”

I occasionally have the privilege to use my writing to tell some pretty incredible stories. This is one such story. Thank you to LaTonya Gates-Boston and her husband Carlos for letting me tell their tale of redemption and flourishing. You are doing wonderful things in Avoid, and I am grateful you have allowed me to be a part of it. To learn more about PAWKids, please visit their website or Facebook page.

The reality hit home in the middle of the night.

LaTonya Gates-Boston, Executive Director of PAWkids, was startled to find her husband Carlos was just climbing into bed at 2am that Sunday night. (Or, really, Monday morning.) Instead of getting mad at him for waking her — or being concerned that it was so late — she quietly listened to him talk about what had kept him up and out so late. 

LaTonya and Carlos
“I was up all night, just walking through the Gathering Place, thinking ‘how in the world did we do this?’” said Carlos. “This is beautiful! I just can’t believe it’s here. I mean … how is this even possible?”

This sense of wonderment came on the heels of the Grand Opening of the Gathering Place, an extension ministry of PAWkids, which officially launched on February 17.

LaTonya says she was both shocked and excited when more than 150 people came to visit the Gathering Space during its Open House. She had hoped for about 50.

Carlos was shocked, too. But also humbled to walk through the rooms and consider the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars that PAWkids supporters have poured into this little blue house. A house that is already pouring back into the community.

Why Gather?

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are always gathering. Gathering for worship, gathering for sacrifice, gathering for meetings, gathering for celebrations, gathering for mourning. God even promises that “the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see my glory.” (Isaiah 66:18)

A place to gather in Avoid
The vision for the Gathering Place is an open space that will allow neighbors to mix and mingle, hold meetings and classes, and get people out of their houses and into the community. But LaTonya’s plans for the Gathering Place seem to grow every time she talks about it.

“There are so many things we can do with this beautiful space,” said LaTonya. “I want to have classes here, and Bible studies, and tutoring. I even want moms and dads to be able to come and sit down and have a cup of coffee and a muffin and just hang out with each other.”

Within weeks of opening, the Gathering Place is already proving itself an asset to the Grove Park neighborhood. A parenting workshop meets around the large kitchen table twice a month, and an Atlanta doctor holds clinic hours once a month, providing free primary care to Grove Park residents. Also in the works are a family Bible study and GED classes.  

Every House Has a Story

The little white house on Hortense before the renovation
The Gathering Place has been the home of a lot of firsts already. The previous resident was named Phil and the house at 676 Hortense Place belonged to his aunt and uncle. When they moved into the house in the early 1970s, they were the first black family to live on the street. In addition, they were the first in their family to own their own home.

In 2017, when Phil realized he needed to move out of the house, he knew what he wanted to do with it.

“He didn’t want it to be sold to just anybody. He wanted us to have it,” says LaTonya. “But for what, I didn’t yet know.”

And she certainly didn’t know how they were going to pay for it. Or renovate it. Or furnish it. While the neat 1950s bungalow looked in decent shape from the outside, the inside told a different story. But like God renovates people from the inside out, He had plans to do the same in that very important house.

There was much work to be done

 A Vision Takes Shape

The first person to take an interest in LaTonya’s vision for the Gathering Place was Justin Bleeker. Justin runs Grove Park Renewal, a community-minded housing partner that invests in vacant and blighted Grove Park properties with the goal of repurposing them in ways that benefit the Grove Park neighborhood, particularly current residents. Grove Park Renewal purchased the house and sold it to PAWKids so they wouldn't need outside financing.  

But that just bought the house. There was still oh, so much work to be done before anyone could gather there. 

“It had active leaks in the roof, tons of mold, layers of carpet on top of one another that were rotting, there was water getting in everywhere,” said LaTonya. Phil simply hadn’t been able to keep up with needed repairs over the years, and the house’s infrastructure had suffered. Or, rather, crumbled.

But with donations from friends and and community partners, and construction help from Grove Park Renewal, slowly the house began to take shape.

“The PAWkids kids came and helped knock down walls,” said LaTonya. “They worked hard on this house! They know the house is also for their families.”

Groups from Whitefield Academy, Atlanta Westside Church, MAP Project, and Perimeter Church invested hundreds of hours working on the house, breaking it down so they could build it back up again. Friends who heard of their furnishing needs started donating pieces for the Gathering Place. Carlos even took some of the furniture that was left behind in the house and lovingly repaired and refinished it himself.

And slowly, day by day, the house began to take shape. And then one day … it was done.

The Grand Opening came and went … and Carlos had his middle-of-the-night walk through the house. And LaTonya keeps talking about the Gathering Place. Her wheels are turning and her hands are moving as she gets more and more excited about the possibilities.

If you ask her what’s her favorite part of the house, she smiles like a kid in a candy store.

“The kitchen. Definitely the kitchen,” she says. “I knew it would be nice. I wanted it to be nice. But I didn’t know it would be this nice!”

Cooking class with the PAWKids kids
LaTonya hopes to have cooking classes so that the community can learn some simple ways to cook more healthy food, and also perhaps taste foods from other cultures.

“When you do a lot of your grocery shopping at the Family Dollar, it’s hard to know what to cook your family that’s healthy and easy and different,” said LaTonya.

“Imagine if there were Gathering Places all over Grove Park and other neighborhoods like it. Real community spaces where people can gather and grow and learn and just be together,” said LaTonya. And perhaps that’s the story of hope that PAWkids can help tell again and again.

Friday, January 5, 2018

When Did We Feed You?

Something happened a while ago, that I have struggled to put into words.

How do you tell a story that was both funny and heart-wrenching? Can you tell a story without making it seem like a joke and without losing the hilarity of the situation? Can you do both/and instead of either/or?

I'm going to try, so I ask for your grace in case I err too far on one side or the other.

It was probably two years ago when I was supposed to meet my friend Denise for lunch. I was at home with the kids trying to work and be mom and probably failing at both.

Then there was a knock at the door. It was Kimberly.

Not my pastor's wife Kimberly. The other Kimberly.