Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Life Lessons from my Summer of Travel

Summer 2015 has been extraordinary, exhausting, exhilarating, exceptional... Probably a whole bunch of other E words. Basically, I haven't been home for a full calendar week since May, and that streak won't end until the middle of August. That's right, I have a couple more adventures to come. But I since I have some time off this week, I wanted to reflect on the lessons I've learned so far from each adventure!

1. Blogger Trip - Chicago, IL

  • Going on a trip with 7 people you've never met can be a little intimidating, but absolutely wonderful!
  • When everyone else is buying giant bags of popcorn, just trust that they know what they're talking about and get a couple bags yourself. 
  • If you can afford the upgrade to "club access" - do it. It's worth it. 
  • Flights are never guaranteed. Pack extra underwear. 

2. Blogger Trip - Door County, WI

  • Always ask locals where they like to eat - they'll send you to amazing places like Fish Creek Market!
  • When you are zip lining, don't push back and away from the platform. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask for what you want - you might get to ride go-karts and do paintball

3. Gymnastics Camp - Lincoln, NE

  • Always bring sunscreen if you're going to sit by the pool all day
  • Gym moms are pretty much the most fun people on the planet
  • There is a lot more to Lincoln, NE than one might actually realize - give it a chance! 

4. ISTE 2015 - Philadelphia, PA

  • I don't care if you're there for a work conference, make sure you take time to appreciate the amazing history of being in a place like Philadelphia! 
  • Cheesesteaks are kind of overrated. And don't believe them when they say you "have" to have it with Whiz. 
  • Networking is just as important as going to sessions. Those are the relationships that will benefit you for years to come. 

5. Family Vacation - Washington DC

  • Don't feel guilty about not bringing the baby along - you'll miss him, but museums and miles and miles of walking are not going to be fun for either of you
  • Let your kids have their own shopping money in a fixed amount ahead of time - it removes the stress of having to factor in the extra added cost as you go
  • When you fly Delta, they still give you snacks. This is not true of every airline. It is, however, true of Southwest. 

6. Code.Org Training - Chicago, IL

  • Chicago weather is just as hot and humid as Iowa, even if it feels like you're in a completely different place. Be prepared to sweat the minute you go outside.
  • The Sheraton Chicago is a top notch place to stay, and you can see the fireworks from one side of the hotel. 
  • There are tons of fun things to discover walking along the river. It's not San Antonio, but it's still beautiful - especially at night!

7. ASCD Leader to Leader Conference - Washington DC

  • Go big or go home - this actually applies to every trip. You're not going to be there forever, and who knows when you'll get to go back. You're tired? Rest when you get home. Take advantage of every opportunity! Try new things.
  • Going outside your comfort zone and making new friends is one of the best parts of travel. Especially if you're going on your own and don't really know anyone. Not very often do I leave a conference/trip actually missing the people I met while there (thinking of them fondly, sure, but missing them?), but this was definitely one of those trips!
  • Everyone should see the monuments at night at least once. On the weekends the metro runs until 3am (although you don't have to do it that late!) - take advantage of it. 
  • There is always something new (and free) to see in this city, I swear. 
  • Do not fly Southwest if you are a family, unless you plan on checking in super early. You pick your own seat on a first come, first served basis - if you're at the back it's definitely going to be tough to find seats together! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

How do you talk to your kids about effort and failure?

My co-worker shared this articleHow not to talk to your kids, by Po Bronson, with me yesterday to help me prepare for a conference I attended last week (yes, I was gone again), and it really helped me wrap my head around a clear distinction we want to make for our children.

Basically, Carol Dweck, a guru in "growth mindset" (and the theme of my conference) explains to us that when we praise results, it leads to frustrated children who do not what to try something that they may not be good at. It creates an environment in which children tie self-worth to success. For those children that are addressed with praise for effort, it was much more likely that they enjoyed taking on a challenging task vs taking the easy way out. They enjoyed the process of being pushed. My kids are very much the first kind of kid, though I don't think it's because I only praise their results. I want them to be the second kind of kid, so we work really hard to offer varied experiences for our kids that will challenge them in a variety of ways.

On a side note, what I don't want this to open up is what my team would call the "brown ribbon" debate. The "brown ribbon" is what you get when all the high places/awards have been given out and they've used up all the pretty colors, but they still need to give you a ribbon for participating, so you end up with brown. I don't think kids should receive participation awards for everything they do, that's not the point. I *do* however think that as a parent, it's important to encourage our children through difficult tasks in an authentic way, when they are putting in real time and effort.

Just food for thought this week. I'd love to know what challenges you or your kids face and how you felt about needing to persevere through something that didn't come easily.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

When It’s Time to Walk Away… Part 3 – The Gym Mom

As I continued to write about walking away, I realized that my position as a gym mom, by nature, puts me in a very vulnerable spot. Whether it’s gym mom or football wife, my fate and relationships rest in someone else’s hands. And that’s unsettling. No, I don’t expect my kids’ activities to last forever, and I assume husband won’t still be playing in 3-4 different leagues per year for the next 20 years (although he often surprises me). I know all of it will end at some point. But the idea that I don’t get to pick when it ends? That someone else will choose when I walk away from people that I love? It’s hard to accept.

It’s hard enough to not get to go to the games and competitions and watch your kids anymore, but to leave behind the people that shared my joy and my heartbreak? The ones who understood the light grocery month because it’s that time of year to buy new uniforms and warm-ups? The ones who cringe with you when your 34-year-old husband rolls an ankle or takes a particularly hard hit? How do you say goodbye to those friends?

I will support my family - kids and husband - in any decision they make. It’s not my body being put through the physical impact, and of course most of these activities are too expensive to continue doing if it’s not fun anymore. And I often wonder what I would do with all the extra time. Clean my house maybe? Learn a language? And don’t get me started on the miles I put on my car, or the permanent bleacher imprint on my butt, or the early mornings and late nights.

In the last 10 years I’ve watched kids grow up, celebrated weddings, said goodbye to loved ones. I’ve watched families grow, seen champions crowned, and felt the heartbreak of defeat. But at some point I’ll see my last run at Ada Hayden. I won’t spend camp week sitting by the pool with friends. I won’t sit in a diner at 10pm with a table full of linemen. Coming to the realization that I don’t know when it will all go away was eye opening. Literally. I was up writing at 4am. But coming to the realization that I don’t get a say in when it will all go away? Terrifying. Sure, Facebook helps. You see the pictures and catch the basic highlights. But watching SportsCenter isn’t the same as being on the sidelines, and clicking “like” isn’t the same as the hug given or the laugh shared.

So tell me friends, parents who have gone before me, how do you say goodbye when it’s time to walk away?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

When It’s Time to Walk Away… Part 2 – The Family

When I sat down to write the original “Time to Walk Away” piece, I started to realize that I was feeling two very separate, yet very entwined, emotions. You can’t walk away from the act (the sport, the job, etc) without walking away from the people that you love. How do you say goodbye to your family? And maybe even harder to accept, how do you say goodbye to family when they are the ones moving on?  

When you put your blood, sweat, and tears into something, literally or metaphorically, it’s nearly impossible not to form a bond with the people down in the trenches doing it with you. Even when you compete against each other, or push each other, you learn to respect each other, and that often turns into caring about each other.

I know, I know, if you're really a family, you've probably formed life long bonds beyond just the job or the sport or the activity. And I think in many cases that is very true. However, I firmly believe there is a very different vibe and relationship between those who are actively involved, and those who have moved on. You no longer have the same practice schedule and travel schedule, you're not sharing the same stories, etc. Life gets in the way, especially when you're living very different lives. 

I have had the opportunity to form relationships with many great people in the last 28 years. I have people in my life that have been there since the day I was born, others only a few short months, and it’s hard to picture life without any of them. But there are also days where I wish I could go back in time, just for a moment, and put the pieces and people back together that have been left behind along the way.

I think it’s harder in sports that transcend grade level, or age. For example, when you play high school sports, you enter it knowing that the team will evolve each year. Freshmen join the ranks, seniors graduate. Saying goodbye is always hard, but is essence, you’ve had four years to prepare yourself. Sure people move or things change, but at the core, school sports are meant to end, and you can prepare yourself for that.

But then there are the teams and people you choose to surround yourself with outside of the school environment. The traveling leagues, the sand volleyball team, the gymnasts. These things transcend grade level, and often location (for those that drive hours each week to participate). You choose to come together as a family to make something great happen. There’s almost an immediate connection formed. There’s an understanding of the pride and passion the individuals surrounding you have in what they came to do. So when it’s time to hang up the grips or the cleats, when it’s time to walk away from the mat, or the field, or the court, is it harder to walk away from the people? From your brothers and sisters?

And again, how do you say goodbye to the people walking away from you? When I travel I always miss my family, but a) I know I’m coming back home, and b) I’m so busy with my conferences and activities that the time flies by. But when you’re the one left at home, it’s tough. You’re wondering what the others are doing, if they’re having fun, if they’re missing you as much. You’re probably starting to figure out that I don’t really have answers for most of these questions.

Facebook helps. Or hurts, I'm not sure. But I dig into that a bit more in Thursday's post. Stay tuned for the final installment, where I talk about what it means when it's time to walk away and you are the "gym mom" in the situation. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

When It’s Time to Walk Away… Part 1 – The Sport

I’m going to frame this in the world of gymnastics, because it’s what I know – personally and as a parent. However, trying to wrap my head around the sadness I felt upon seeing several Facebook posts from husband’s retiring teammates was the catalyst for this three part series.

Each summer I look at our team family and feel like it’s complete. You embrace the newcomers that have been added, but there are the familiar faces that have been a part of your life year after year. Whether it’s the girls you came up with in the pre-team program, or the ones you have watched adorn the walls with trophies season after season, they become fixtures in your world. You can’t imagine the family without them.

Then the day comes that it’s time for one of them to walk away. Life calls you a different direction sometimes, and at some point that day comes. When you’re new to a team, it’s hard to be left behind as others move on. It’s not just about the physical act of competing; it’s about the family you build. R has only been on her team for a year and a half, but I can’t imagine our lives before the people – the moms, the girls, the coaches – that made it so special. From season to season it seems impossible that you won’t walk in and see all those faces again. Will it be the same? Will we have as much fun? It’s never the same, but it can be different fun.

When I sat down to write this piece I couldn’t wrap my head around how you can walk away from something that runs deep in your veins, because as I think about gymnastics and being a gym mom, it isn’t our time yet. As I watch A go to football camp, and the kids train for the Iowa Games, I know that our time is just beginning. So what exactly happens when it’s time to walk away? Is it that you don’t love it anymore? Is it physical? Mental? Then I realized I’ve done it. Twice. I know the familiar ache of not seeing your friends at competitions on the weekends; of longing to do one last pass down a blue mat. I still feel the heartbreak of knowing I’m not walking back into my own classroom to teach kids I’ve spent months or years building relationships with. It’s painful to walk away from something you love and from people you care about. Especially when you know you can still do it. It hurts and there are tears and you wonder if it’s really even the right decision. People tell you that you can go back again, but that’s not always true.

When you live and breathe a sport or even a career, I don’t think closing the door is really even possible. Nor am I positive most of us even want to completely close the door. So how do you know when it’s time to be done? How do you know that it’s your final time on the floor?