Archive for November 2011

The Pre-Thanksgiving Competition

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prior to heading out of town for our Thanksgiving celebration with our dear college friends, the McQuarries, I received a text reminding me to bring a hostess gift (love that girl's sense of humor) and informing us that our family was being challenged to a little basketball competition--the reason being that they would have a greater chance of beating us than if we competed in a different sport. Always up for a challenge, we replied: Game on!

Now this family lives, eats and breathes basketball. All three kids are on teams and have been since they could practically walk. We knew we had our work cut out for us. But, much to their surprise, we were up by 7 points within the first 3 minutes. This wasn't what they expected--nor did we. They stepped up their game but we held our lead until everyone's fingers were frozen and it was time to indulge in Janelle's gourmet cooking, stuff ourselves and enjoy our family's favorite sport: Football! All was forgiven and bruised egos healed as we shared our 10th Thanksgiving together. What a joy and a blessing it is to have those lifelong friends who are more like family. But you know we can expect a re-match next year!

Bring it!

We're going down--or so we thought.

They even had the fancy shoes to intimidate us

Trey and Janelle on our way to the courts for the big tip off.

Go Ben!

Go, Quinn!

What just happened? Even we were shocked.


We want the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Everytime I see this image it makes me feel nostalgic. I suppose that was the purpose Mr. Rockwell had in this infamous painting that has spanned the generations. For my parents and grandparents it was a reflection of their Thanksgiving feast. But is it a reality for today's American family? Most likely that would be a big, fat "NO!"

I always feel anxious when the holiday season rolls around and all the questioning begins. We'll then go down the path of trying to figure out who is going to be where, attempting to meet everyone's expectations, knowing there will be disappointment and usually feeling like I just want it to be over. Every year I say, "this year will be different" and yet it rarely is. These were never issues we had to address before I had my own family. My dad's family wasn't in the picture so they didn't have to be considered. My mom's parents lived 6 miles away and it was just expected that everyone would come to their house for every holiday. No questions asked. To do anything different would be grounds for being disowned. Or just the plain old silent treatment.

When I lived on the east coast for 10 years, there were glimpses of the Norman Rockwell holiday but it wasn't with grandma, grandpa and all the cousins. We spent a few Thanksgiving weekends with Trey's aunt and uncle who are now deceased. They lived on a little island with 10 other families--most of whom lived a long distance from their own relatives. This group started their own traditions and became each other's family. This was my first experience, and first holiday, without my own kin. They welcomed me as if I had always been there and I couldn't wait to return. Yet, I was hesitant to relay my excitement to my own family. I felt like I was being unfaithful because I enjoyed something that wasn't traditional.

Now that we've been back on the west coast, it would make sense to fall back into the traditions and expecations of my pre-married life. Only it's not 1975. Our extended family has extended with marriages and babies; divorces and deaths have made the logistics more complicated, and some have moved to other parts of the country. Life has happened. As a result, everyone has started doing their own thing. In fact, I think this is the first year that all of my siblings will be sitting at an entirely different table on Thursday. I know this is hard for my mom and not what she envisioned the future to look like. It's hard for me too. I have cousins coming from the east coast that I won't get to see because of logistics and other reasons and that makes me sad. We've never spent a Thanksgiving with Trey's extended family since we moved out here and that is disappointing. But if I hold on to tradition, I might miss out on the very blessings right in front of me.

As my kids get older, which seems to happen at lightning speed these days, I have had to let go of my own expectations and traditions. When I discovered that winter sports at the high school level require Saturday and Christmas break practices, I cringed. When Ben was invited to be in a soccer tournament that spanned Friday through Sunday of next weekend, 2 hours away, I wanted to hide the information from him. When Trey announced that the last two days of his training meant he would be gone Saturday and Sunday next weekend, I was on the verge of tears. This wasn't the Thanksgiving weekend I hoped for and had become accustomed to. That's when I read this great article in my latest issue of Reader's Digest titled "Sharing the Sweetness" which I have paraphrased here.

"On the 25th of December, my mother expects her children to be present and accounted for, exchanging gifts and eating turkey. When she pulls on that holiday sweater everybody better get festive. Of course I would be the first Jones sibling to go rogue. As the middle, artist child, I was going to do my own thing, make some new traditions--I would spend the holiday at an artist colony!

No one took the news very well. From the way my mother carried on, you would think I was divorcing the family. Still, I held my ground and made plans for my winter adventure in New Hampshire. The MacDowell colony was everything I could have wished for. About 25 to 30 artists were in attendance, an it was, as well, artsy as I had imagined. It felt like my life had become a quirky independent film.

By Christmas Eve, I had been at the colony for more than a week. The novelty of snowy New England was wearing off, but I would never admit it. Everyone around me was having too much fun.......This was the holiday I had always dreamed of. No plastic reindeer grazing the front lawn. No football games on TV. Not a Christmas sweater anywhere in sight. Then why was I so sad?

Finally, I called home on the pay phone in the common room. My dad answered but I could barely hear him for all the good time noise in the background. He turned down the volume on the Stevie Wonder album and told me that my mother was out shopping with my brothers. Now it was my turn to sulk. They were having a fine Christmas without me.

Despite a massive blizzard, a large package showed up near my door at the artist colony on Christmas morning. 'Tayari Jones' was written in my mother's beautiful handwriting. I pounced on that parcel like I was five years old. Inside was a gorgeous red velvet cake, my favorite, swaddled in about 50 yards of bubble wrap. 'Merry Christmas' read the simple card inside. 'We love you very much.'"

What I love about this story was the way the author's mother dealt with her disappointment in such a positive way. She embraced the reality of her daughter's choices and reminded her that she was loved in such a profound way. I hope that when the day comes where one or all of my sons announce they are breaking from tradition and our holidays look different, I will also be able to give my blessing in spite of my heartbreak.

I may never have the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving ever again but I'll always have the memories and the chance to make new ones.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

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I think they're warming up to me

Friday, November 11, 2011

In many of my posts about this second-time-around college experience, I realized how much I mention the age disparity between myself and my classmates. The community college population had much more diversity in that regard but I knew that the majority of university students were there post-high school not pre-menopause. I was definitely out of my comfort zone--and then some. I knew that I wouldn't have much in common with my fellow teacher candidates but I hoped I wouldn't feel like as much of a fish out of water as I did during orientation.

Being my naturally initiating, out-going, inquisitive self I tried to get to know the other young men and women in my classes. In the second week when we started doing peer reviews it became clear to me that my seatmates were reluctant to offer me any constructive criticism. No one was going to diss the "mom." ( And it probably didn't help that I wrote one girl's name on her notecard for her. Total mom move.) Every time we gave feedback after our presentations, the only person who pointed out where I needed improvement was the professor! In spite of my efforts to be treated as their peer, the reality is that number one: I am not. And number two: there is the natural respect that occurs when in the presence of someone significantly older than you. The combination of these two facts guaranteed that I wasn't going to be making friends on campus. Even though I could accept it, I still felt like the girl who didn't get invited to the party.(literally and figuratively)

By week three one sweet young thing warmed up to me enough to friend me on Facebook. The next day when I sat down at her table, she said "I think it's so cool that you don't dress like a mom. You're like 'hip mom'." At least she didn't say "stop trying to look like one of us." I started to clue in that they just didn't know what to make of me. I didn't fit into the box.

Two weeks ago one of my classes had a site visit--which happened to be at Ian's middle school. One of the guys in my class wants to be a math teacher and we were there during first period. Ian has math at this time and his teacher happens to be one of the coolest guys out there. I asked my classmate if he wanted to meet the best math teacher on the planet and he agreed. Within minutes, he and Mr. C hit it off and Mr. C. offered to write a work study grant to get this guy a part time job in his class. As we walked out into the hall, he spied my son's "All About Me" poster with several mountain biking pictures. He inquired about his interests and then looked at our family photo and asked "is this your family?" Suddenly I became a real person to him--kind of like the first time you see your teacher at the grocery store and realize she doesn't sleep at the school. He then wanted to know how old my boys were, etc. We started talking about snow boarding and the boys getting their seasons' passes last week. He mentioned having an extra board and wanted to know how tall my oldest was. A couple days later I walked into class and there was a snowboard leaning up on the wall behind his seat. He GAVE it to me for Quinn.

This week was the clincher. As I sat down next to my Facebook friend the other day she asked "Dana, do you drive a mini-van?" I hesitated to answer the question not knowing where she was going with it. I figured my "hip mom" status was about to be removed. When I told her I did, she laughed and said she and another classmate had made a bet about it and she said I was too much of a cool mom to drive one. She then turned around to the other girl and announced that she was right about me and FB friend was wrong. They both laughed and then FB friend admitted that they were talking about me again yesterday and future FB friend asked current FB friend "Does Dana have a husband?" I guess she missed the wedding ring on my left hand. FB friend informed me that she told her "Yes she does. We are friends on Facebook and she pretty much has dream family. In fact I'm pretty sure she has the white picket fence too." This was when I laughed!!

I think what had intimidated me the most about starting this program was the knowledge that I would be collaborating with men and women half my age who already knew what they wanted to do with their lives. I felt embarrassed that I am just figuring it out in mid-life. I think I felt like I had to make excuses for this. But I also realize that there is no guarantee that they won't feel like I do when they're twenty years down the road. I'm not going to be "one of them" by virtue of where I'm at in life but I can be their mentor, co-collaborator and, possibly, their co-worker. And it's okay. This is so much better the second time around.


Fall Recap

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I am always glad to turn the calendar to November 1st. September and October oftentimes feel like we are operating in survival mode. With sports, school and a plethora of family birthday celebrations, we spend less time together than we would like and the pace gets a little out of hand. All that said, when looking at these pictures, I wouldn't have it any other way. Even though it's 60 days of non-stop activity, it also reminds me that we have so much to be thankful for heading into the Thanksgiving season. Thank you, Lord for friendships, family, birthdays and sporting events. None of which we could experience and enjoy if you hadn't first given us LIFE itself.

Ben is ten and it's a "friend party" year.

Sorry for the horrible picture of the birthday twins.

Big brothers and two of our favorite young men who are like family-Russ and Zach

Brotherly love.

Ben ordered an ice cream cake and Russ delivered. Such a "Martha" he is.

Middle school changed track to a Fall sport this year. There's Ian tearing it up in his bright orange.

The final lap of the 1600.

Mom's birthday dinner at her favorite restaurant with her favorite guys.

Our first experience with Friday Night Lights. Awesome.

My BFF Laurie. Believe it or not she is older than me. Isn't she gorgeous?

Happy hour with my besties. I don't have single friend who is shorter than me. Love these ladies!