Play Ball!

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It’s a sunny pleasant day with a slight breeze and it’s the Cubs versus the White Socks. What a great way to spend a Saturday morning!

No, it isn’t the Chicago Crosstown Classic, it’s BGRA Buddy Baseball Opening Day.

This is one of the things that makes me proud to live in the community that I do.

BGRA Buddy Ball is an organization for children and young adults who have disabilities to have the opportunity to play in a baseball league during the spring and summer. It relies on adult and youth volunteers that help their assigned players to participate in any way that they can. It is simply awesome.

The first game is the for the younger crowd, ages 6-16, while the second is for 17 and older. They play on a rubberized field with embedded plates and the dugouts are well-covered. The park district facilities make this particular venue a winner.

These players have a variety of different challenges to face each and every day, but when they step up to bat, they are the stars.

Opening Day is highly anticipated and one of the most attended of the season, like any other league.

Families come with their chairs, water bottles, and dogs. The players come prepared in uniform with gloves and bats in hand. Just like every other league.

The Cubs go to their dugout, and the White Socks go to theirs. Just like every other league.

One team takes the field, while one team gets in batting order. Just like every other league.

Fans cheer for their favorite players and clap for runs scored. Just like every other league.

What is the most remarkable thing, to me, about this league, is the loyalty of the players, volunteers, and fans. Many of these folks have been faithfully supporting this league for many, many years. It is definitely a time commitment, but it is also a commitment of love. What is very clear to see when you watch one of these games, is how much the players love having the opportunity to play the game, and how much the volunteers and fans enjoy being there for the players. That is not just like every other league.

These special fields aren’t cheap, but our community found a way to make it happen all those years ago, and it was worth it. Not just for the players, but for the rest of us. As a fan and mother of buddies, I feel gratified that this opportunity exists, both for the players and the volunteers. Not only do my children have a good time, but it provides them with the chance to practice being good people. And that, certainly, is not just like every other league.

I wish that every community had access to a program like ours, for it really is for everyone. It gives me great joy to watch as a player steps up, or is wheeled up to home plate to bat or when a player catches the ball. The smiles that radiate from some of those faces warm my heart and my soul.

It isn’t all about winning the game on Kendrigan Field, it’s about feeling that you are a winner.

Batter up!

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Do you ROYGBIV ?

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I’m generally a pretty laid back person who goes with the flow most of the time. I have a clean house, but do not spend countless hours cleaning it until it sparkles. I like to keep things organized, but have a few piles on my counters and I will argue that that is a filing system. I also do not move my furniture until it is lined up with the edges of the rug, as I have a husband for that. What I do do, however, is ROYGBIV.

At a function recently, I was engaged in a conversation with a friend. We were setting up tables and she was straightening things up to make them symmetrical. I commented that I used to do that, too, but that I broke myself of the habit and prefer things in odd numbers or off-kilter now. As we continued the discussion, I mentioned that sometimes, I will torture my poor, very symmetrical husband by tilting pictures on the wall slightly or leaving drawers opened enough to notice. I know that he will straighten them and close them, unconsciously, as he walks by. I am fascinated that this behavior is so ingrained in him. It provides several minutes of entertainment for me as well as reminds me that order means different things to different people.

This young woman and I discussed order and I admitted, that although I had used behavior modification techniques in college to curb my borderline obsession with making things even, I still have residual OCD-like tendencies. One being the need to chew food exactly the same number of times on each side of my mouth. This behavior is very nearly extinct, but will show up when trying a new food (when I was a kid, I thought something terrible, like choking, would occur if I didn’t chew correctly). I also bared my soul and admitted that I still have to hang my shirts in ROYGBIV. She stopped, looked at me and admitted, that she, too, ROYGBIV’d! A Rainbow Bright soul sister! How lucky can I get?!

If you ROYGBIV, you know that you do and you know what the acronym stands for. For those who do not, I will enlighten you, or possibly send you back into the dark ages if you choose to engage in this behavior.

ROYGBIV stands for: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet-the colors in the visible color spectrum. Although there is much written about this phenomenon, and it gets very scientific, for my purpose it means that I can put my shirts in order and find them easily. I have been doing this for as long as I can remember and it used to include everything in my drawers (socks, undies, pajamas, shorts, etc) to the order of my colored folders for school. At some point, I started color coordinating my folders and notebooks with the color of my textbooks, but not until junior high or so. Other things needed rainbow order, too. My Barbie’s clothes were put in order. I was a little worried that she might come to life and kill me in my sleep if I didn’t ROYGBIV her wardrobe. Apparently, she approved of the spectrum.

As an early childhood and special educator in my previous life, I am always interested in patterns of human behavior, how they develop and why they do so. When I watch others, and I do observe people all of the time, I intuitively pick up on quirks and things that don’t necessarily catch other peoples’ attention. I identify the behavior, watch as aspects of it develop in front of me and begin to think about its origin and what influenced its current manifestation. Fascinating.

Knowing my own repertoire of behaviors, I consider why I still need to ROYGBIV. Perhaps it is the simplest way for my brain to organize. It could possibly be that I am a very visual person and this appeals to me more than any other form of organization. It could also be because my mother taught me how to do this (although I seriously doubt it- I’ll have to check with her on that). Or it just might be that some of us are born with our wiring for order intact in such a way, that we have to find an organization technique to make sense of the chaos that thrives in a world full of “stuff”. I’m sure that any psychologist will tell you that it is an expression of control, and I’m sure that that is true to some extent. Whatever the reason, it gives me comfort to know that I will find the exact shirt that I’m looking for immediately without making a mess of my closet, which is a topic for a different day. It is a harmless, although slightly obsessive, way to organize anything as long as it doesn’t get out of control. I would really hate my house if I walked into a red foyer, then the orange dining room, then yellow kitchen, then green family room… Wait! That is the color spectrum of my house! Well, minus the red foyer and orange dining room.

I guess, as long as I’m aware of my eccentric behaviors and am able to keep them in check, there’s no harm done other than to my ego and reputation.

So….here it goes. My name is Melissa and I ROYGBIV. Do you?

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…

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One-one thousand,two-one thousand,three-one thousand…

I can’t wait for the approaching thunderstorm to hit. Whenever I get the opportunity, I sit in my family room and listen for thunder and look for the flash of light that signifies one of my favorite shows sponsored by Mother Nature.

My heart beats faster and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. I mute the music on the stereo (you know-the box that you turn on and  hear a variety of music through old speakers) and focus on listening for the sound of the thunder, from the first rumble all the way through to its end. I stare out the tall windows searching the sky for that sliver of light that magically appears, then disappears as quickly.

I love storms.

I have a very healthy respect for weather. I love watching Storm Chasers and am envious of the folks that are in the souped-up storm chasing vehicle when they are out stalking a dangerous weather event. Truth be told, I would be too terrified to ever participate if I got the chance, so I live vicariously through those on the television shows. I wish I had the guts to be a full-time storm chaser, but this was not meant to be.

When a storm is predicted, I will turn on the weather channel and watch the radar in real-time. Yes, my inner (or not so inner) geek is showing, but I can’t help myself. The knowledge that something so powerful and completely out of my control is coming to get me is thrilling.

My favorite storms are those that bear a distinct front. I’m as giddy as a teenager in love when I see a dark blue line of horizontal shelf clouds aggressively advancing towards me. It feels like a long-awaited online order that I eagerly await at my front door. As I have the good fortune of living directly next to a large area of open land, when I hear the first mention of possible bad weather, I am out in my yard looking to the west. I will stand patiently to watch and listen, feeling gutsy when lightning flashes and I’m standing out in the yard.

When the first few seconds of rain start to fall, I retreat back into the house and sit down with a book. The rain hits the glass of the windows in diagonal patterns, like a wallpaper,the patio pavers begin to take on a darker hue, and the unmulched dirt turns to mud. The rain falls harder, now making the distinctive noise that heavy rain makes. It seems like the grass is greener in the twenty minutes since it actually started to rain, and that the trees have grown just a little taller.

The excitement of the oncoming weather, the comfort of sounds recognized since childhood, and the renewal of dormant landscaping are all factors in my love of a good spring thunderstorm.

I hope that there’s another one on the way.

Priorites

In light of the most recent tragedy to fall upon our own soil, the post that I was planning to write about seemed frivolous, and so instead I will make this one short and to the point.

We, as a nation, are not used to living in a world where there is a daily threat of terrorism, whether foreign or domestic. When it occurs, we are still shocked, angered, and surprised. As much as I wish it weren’t true, we have to realize that this is our current situation and continue to prepare the very best that we can to avert it, knowing that our best will sometimes not be enough.

I believe in human kind and I repeatedly see the good in people when these horrific acts of cowardice happen. I know deep in my heart that whatever faith you believe in, there is a lesson to be learned, even if it doesn’t make sense and causes unbearable pain. I have to.

My prayers are for all of those who have experienced tragedy, not only that which occurred in Boston. And although it is obvious that peace continues to elude us all, it is still the prayer that I speak each night before I close my eyes.

The prayer for peace to come to us all and for hatred to cease.

You’re Only as Happy as Your Least Happy Child

ScanWhile at coffee with some good girlfriends today, one of them said, “You know you’re only as happy as your most unhappy child”. How true that is.

Living with teenagers, we as parents, are quite often prone to long stretches of unhappiness.  I think it might be some type of tag team effort, because if it isn’t one child, then it’s the other. In our house, its typical teen drama for the most part, but once in a while I have to stop and think about how it felt to be seventeen. Although my memory isn’t that terrific, I do remember thinking that my parents were wrong in that they didn’t know what I was going through or what was best for me. I remember thinking that I was the only one in the world to suffer from a broken heart or a B on a final exam. I remember feeling like no one understood my feelings and that my emotions were much more intense than my parents’ could have ever been. I’ll have to ask my mother, but I’m pretty sure that she would remind me that, as a type-A, first-born, girl child, I was driven, controlling, moody, and thought that I had the answers to every question in the universe. (If I didn’t, I would go look it up and give a report on it later.)

My point is that it’s really difficult for anyone of my generation, or older, to understand the complexities of the emotional world that our children live in today. With all of the constant exposure to social websites, picture sites, and texting, they have to deal with things that didn’t even exist when many of us were their age. And yet, with all of this new-fangled technology have come the age-old practices of humiliating, shaming, and terrorizing. Emotional upheaval at their fingertips for everyone to see.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when your child is having a bad day, or is truly unhappy. So many times we write off their emotional outbursts as “drama”- an overused, but appropriate word. Have kids always been “drama queens” and “kings”? Growing up, I only remember a few kids who were always playing things up for attention. I tried it a couple of times myself, and found very quickly that I wasn’t at all talented as an actress. When our kids tell us their lives “suck”, what does that mean? Is it a temporary situation that will fade away in a day or two? When they tell us that they hate everything in their life does it mean that there is an ongoing problem that they can’t find an answer for? When they tell us that they can’t take “it” (school, friends, parents, etc.) anymore, does it mean that they are emotionally drowning and are asking us for a life-preserver? What it means is that they are frustrated, or angry, or hurt and that they need us to understand, and possibly commiserate. What they do not need, at least immediately, is for us to tell them where they went wrong and how we would fix it. For at least a little while, they need to know that we are human, too, and that we can be unhappy for them. That we love them enough to hurt. Learning to deal with the negative stuff is important, but we need to feel it, too.

After any tragedy, especially those that hit close to home, I think we take stock and promise to love our children harder, spend more time with them, and vow to make each day count. Often that lasts for a few days or weeks until life returns to normal and the same old routines return. We mean well, but we have to work and run our families, so we stop remembering until the next time something horrible happens.

I challenge everyone with children, even if they are only five and stub their little toe, to feel with their children the next time they are unhappy. Close your eyes if you have to, but feel their pain while you wrap your arms around them. Cry a few sympathetic tears and let them know that it hurts you. Hopefully someday, they will hug you back and wipe your tears because they have remembered your compassion.

I’m okay with being unhappy when my child is hurting because it means that they aren’t hurting alone.

And by the way, Mom, you weren’t wrong.

I Love Winter, But This is Getting Ridiculous…

I love winter. More accurately, I should say that I enjoy winter. I enjoy watching the gray clouds move in over the fields. I enjoy watching the wind pick up and move the branches as it blows through the trees. I enjoy waiting in anticipation for the first small snowflakes to start swirling down from the sky.

But, really? It’s April first and the damn grass needs to start turning green already.

I will own up to the fact that I am not a hearty, outdoor winter person. My days of downhill skiing are most definitely over. I may hop a saucer sled for a disastrous run on occasion, however, I will not be snowboarding. Which leads me to the reason that I felt obligated to write about something as cliché as the weather.

Being born, raised and living my life entirely in the Midwest, I have a fond appreciation for the changes in seasons. The first sight of a crocus peeking its head through the snow, the boisterous thunderstorms that come to clean the earth, the hot summer sun warming the sidewalks until your bare feet burn, and the inevitable turning of the leaves that provide a unique afghan of rich color to consider.

What I do not appreciate is my instinct to buy an entire carload of not-ready plants to plop in the ground before their time. When I wake up and see the sun shining, I feel compelled to run to the nearest garden store and buy flowers, soil, and fertilizer. As soon as I slide out of my car and into reality, I’m wishing that I had worn my heavy coat. The full length one with the hood. Long underwear wouldn’t have hurt either.

I’ve been told that patience is a virtue. It’s pretty clear that I have great difficulty exhibiting any virtue at this time of year when all I want to do is dig my hands into the dirt, place some impatiens (oh, the irony) into the hole, and cover its roots with enriched soil. There is something restorative about planting.

It is still April and the grass is a sick, sleepy, yellow and the tall towering birch and ash trees are naked.

It’s just not working for me.

I think I will consider to move the frost line a bit north so I can help replenish my world of its color. As long as I’m at it, I might need to ask for some luck with some warm weather. Maybe I should just go to the nearest big box store, load a cart full of plastic greenery and decorate my lawn like there’s no tomorrow.

Or maybe I’ll just try not to be so pissed at Punxsutawney Phil for being a crappy predictor of spring.