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Archive for September, 2011

Bright, shiny, new

My family and I celebrate our 5th Anniversary in Little Rock at the end of September. This time of year always makes be reminisce about how the whole crazy “hey-I’ve-got-an-idea-let’s-move-to-Little-Rock” thing started — when the future was bright, the idea shiny and new.

In June 2006, I sat in a lounge chair at the pool where I grew up watching my children swim with the children of a close high school friend. I had an epiphany: “I have to raise my children here.” The thought had crossed my mind before, but this was different. There was a force pulling me. I was absolutely certain that my husband and I were supposed to figure out how to leave Montgomery and move to my hometown. 

I told Charles all of this when I returned from the trip. He laughed. He was used to me being in a funk for a few days after visiting my mother. But as he turned to look at me, he must have seen the determination in my face. I know I saw the realization spread across his. This wasn’t like the other times. I meant it. I felt it deep in my bones.

It’s a testament to how much the man loves me that he agreed to it. We began talking about how it might all come together, dreaming and making plans without fully knowing what the future held. We said we’d give ourselves a year, thinking we’d move the next summer before Charles Jr. started 2nd grade and Emily started pre-K. We said to each other, “if it’s meant to be, doors will open and there will be no hurdles.”

A week later, my husband’s newest employee expressed interest in buying the company, and just like that, we had extra money to finance the move. Two weeks later, a neighbor knocked on the door to tell us one of her best friends was interested in looking at our house. Before we knew it, we had a pending offer on our charming 3-bedroom cottage — the first and only home we’d owned together.

In early August, my father sent me an email. A colleague of his had mentioned that his company was looking for an editor. By late August, I’d accepted a job as the editor of Little Rock Family magazine and the annual consumer publications for Arkansas Business Publishing Group.

All the right doors had opened. We were on our way to Little Rock. So much for giving it a year.

The hurdles came later. A steady stream of bills but unpredictable contractor’s income. Disappointments with family relationships. A startup company that still struggles to gain traction. The politics of little league baseball. The ugly closed-door meetings that ultimately closed our beloved school.

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember why we uprooted our children from the only home they’d ever known to move halfway across the country to my hometown. It’s easy to forget the certainty I’d felt, the hopes and dreams we’d had for our new life. I get mired in the day-to-day grind and began second guessing our decsion.

But every fall, when the air turns cool and begins to smell of fallen hardwood leaves, I remember when life in Little Rock was bright, shiny and new. I’m reminded of the time in our lives when all the right doors opened. And at the end of the day, despite the bumps in the road and the hurdles we’re still jumping, I’m grateful we walked through them.

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One of the great things about Arkansas Business Publishing Group is the fact that it’s so family-friendly. There’s a kid’s room with two tvs and bean bag chairs, a well-stocked vending machine (okay, maybe that’s really for the grown ups, but it’s also great for after-school snacks) and coworkers with infinite patience, most of whom seem to genuinely like children.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I pick up Emily from school and she spend the afternoon with me at the office. If she has homework, she sits next to me at my desk and works on it. Once she’s finished, she’s technically supposed to go to the kids room. However, the Marketing Department is her favorite place to hang. Susan, Levi and Rachael welcome her and tolerate her. They’ve even set up a little workstation for her, with office supplies and a laptop so she can pretend to work.

In return for their gratitude, she added her flair to the area last week. Here’s a video of the sheer delight of it all with a cameo by my co-worker Mark.

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My son started playing baseball when he was 7 years old. Like most families in Little Rock, we ended up at Junior Deputy. We were on some great teams, had some caring coaches and met many nice families. My husband was asked to help coach, resulting in some special memories for father and son. Sure, we saw some of the ugliness that often accompanies youth sports: yelling coaches, overzealous parents, bratty kids. But for the most part, those first few  years were pure, honest fun, and some of the boys he’s met at Junior Deputy remain his closest friends today.

At bat - 2008

By 2008, he was playing baseball year-round, having been selected to play for the JD All-Star Team. He played for the All-Stars for three summers. We gave up vacations, camps and even my 15th high school reunion to travel to weekend tournaments. Lonoke. Maumelle. Sherwood. Jacksonville. Lake Village. Baton Rouge. We saw them all.

In 2009, He was drafted to the Cal Ripken Braves to play for a coach he respected and adored. My husband continued to coach, finding within himself levels of patience, knowledge and skill he never thought he had. We had a great first season, with lots of wins. Charles Jr. started catching and pitching, which always stopped my heart but made his sing. Nothing made him happier than standing on that dirt mound, staring down a batter. Even if he was having an off night, he wouldn’t give up.

On the mound - 2010 (Photo courtesy of Noelle Buttry)

Last season was a disappointing one, and it wasn’t because we had a losing record (which we did). Our friend and coach was put on probation by the governing board of the ballpark and ultimately asked to resign. I know there are two sides to every story, but we felt — still feel — that he was given an extremely raw deal. The board never fully investigated the issues they cited as reasons for their decision. They never questioned the parents who were pleased with his coaching or the assistant coaches. They had an agenda, and they executed it. Three weeks before the season was over, we had to tell our son that he’d no longer be coached by the man he had grown to consider a second Dad.

The whole experience soured us on youth baseball. No, that’s not entirely true. It soured us on the organization we’d been a part of for five years. My husband and son finished the regular season as coach and player, but we declined to be part of the All-Star team. Charles Jr’s bat and glove gathered dust in the garage all summer. He opted to focus on football this fall instead of playing fall baseball. He wants to play in the spring, but he’s made it pretty clear he’s not crazy about the idea of going back to Junior Deputy without his former coach and his coach’s son, who’s one of his best friends. To be honest, I’m not either, but we’re keeping our options open.

I was beginning to wonder if we’d every feel the love of the game again. Then last weekend, the family and I volunteered to serve as buddies for the Miracle League, an organization that provides baseball teams and games for children and adults with special needs. Buddies help the players bat, run the bases and field balls. I’d seen the Miracle League field countless times as I drove in and out of Junior Deputy, but I’d never bothered to get involved.

When we arrived, Charles was paired with a young boy named Colby on a walker. It was his first time at the Miracle League, too. His family had gotten on the road at 5 a.m. to drive from Warren to Little Rock for the game. His mother told me that he’d always watched from the bleachers while his older brother and sister played baseball and softball. “He loves the game,” she said, “But he’s never gotten to play.”

Charles and Colby took the field, chasing pop flies and throwing them back to the pitcher. When it was time for Colby to hit, Charles stood beside him, encouraging him and showing him how to hold the bat. When Colby connected with the ball, he FLEW down to first base on his walker. Charles jogged alongside him and continued to run with him as he advanced the bases and finally crossed home plate. Charles told me later that, after Colby’s first hit, he’d looked up at Charles and said, “I’ve been waiting for this day forever.”

I guess in a way, I’d been waiting for that day, too — the day my son smiled and cheered and enjoyed the game of baseball again. At the end of the game, all the players and buddies stood in a circle and sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The voices were loud and jubilant. There were hugs, smiles, laughter, high fives and knuckle-bumps galore. It felt pure, honest — just like those first seasons down at Junior Deputy.

Charles and Colby at the Miracle League game

I know now that we will be back down at the ballpark a lot this season and next, at least on the Miracle League side of the ballpark. My son might not be standing on a dirt mound wearing a uniform, but he’ll be playing  just the same, buddy at his side, laughing and loving the game again.

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Raising a Hoarder

Note: I wrote this in January 2010, and I’m ashamed to say Emily’s habits haven’t changed. I still have to plow through her room every two weeks or so to clear the clutter and restore order. Yes, I know I should teach her to do it. I’d rather outsource that. Any takers?

Two weeks ago we received an e-mail from a long distance family member: “Coming for Emily’s birthday. See you on January 28.” We really are excited about the visit, but it’s thrown us into Super Cleaning Mode.

First plan of attack: Emily’s room. It’s not the room of a normal 7-year old. She spends hours playing there every day after school and on weekends. She creates elaborate pretend games: school, office, concert; you name it. And I love that, because I remember fondly the hours I spent engaged in my own imaginative games when I was that age.

But boy, can she make a mess.

Have you seen “Hoarders” on A&E?  This room qualifies. And I realize it’s mostly my fault. I’ve tried to teach her “a place for all things and all things in their proper place,” but mostly I just heap clothes, toys, books, etc., on the guest bed in order to create a pathway from the door to the bed and from the bed to the closet. And I hope that I’ll find the energy to put it all away … some day.

Some day was Saturday morning. It took me TWO HOURS to clean her room. With trash bag in one hand and vacuum cleaner in the other, I entered at my own risk. I was merciless. Any piece of paper, any junky trinket, all dried-up markers and broken crayons were trashed. Paper and cardboard “houses” for stuffed animals came crashing down. The tea party setting that had been occupying the middle of the floor for weeks was scooped up.

Emily sat on her bed watching apprehensively, nodding yes or no when I asked her whether or not larger items could go in the trash. “What about these?” I asked her, brandishing two pieces of wood that she’d chopped in half at a karate demonstration almost a year ago. She pondered them for a moment. “Put them my closet. Because one day brother might need wood to build a birdhouse.”

Of course.

As I finished up the last of the tidying, I began to wonder if other parents have this issue. Are most kids’ rooms messy beyond belief? Do other kids hoarde bizarre objects for no rational reason? What could I do differently to show her how to clean up after herself? If anyone has tips and suggestions, I’m open. Because otherwise, the production crew from “Hoarders” will be at my house one of these days to film their next episode, and Emily will no doubt give an award-winning performance.

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The Blessing of Change

A year ago today, my children sang with The Cathedral School Choristers in front of 46,000 Cardinal fans at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The faces of the 30 2nd – 5th graders were shown on the big screen. Their voices filled the stadium. Their performance received thunderous applause, and they were immediately invited to return the next season.

Ready to take the field

There’s a photo from that night of the choristers and their chaperones walking hand-in-hand out onto the field under the blazing lights. I’ve always loved that image. It sums up the sense of community we all felt at Cathedral – that anything was possible if you just grabbed the hand of the person next to you.

I remember my heart was bursting with pride for my children and for the school. After all, it had only been two short years ago when a contingency of school board members and parishioners tried to close the school. Those of us who believed in its mission – to educate the whole child, mind, body and spirit in a small, nurturing environment – stood strong. Alums, board members, parents, and parishioners grabbed on to each other’s hands and held fast to what we believed in, and we had two more magical years of education, inspiration, singing, playing, laughing and praising.

Today, our school sits empty.

A year ago today, my husband and his older brother sat with their father in his room at a hospice facility in Georgia. Billy’s body was frail and failing. Most days, he was confused. He wasn’t eating very much, and he never got out of bed. On the last day of their visit, he had a “good” day, talking with them and commenting on whatever shows were on television. When it was time to leave, my husband said goodbye to his father with a lump in his throat and a brief hug.

Billy died in November.

So many more things are different now than they were a year ago. The newness runs the gamut from the simplicity of a new football team for Charles Jr. to the gravity of a dear friend’s battle with cancer. A year ago, I was planning a school auction with my best friends. Today, the core group is planning an auction for their new school without me. My family has a new church. My children are in new schools, which offer new challenges and opportunities every day. We’re still adjusting to a world without my father-in-law in it.

Most days, I’m pretty smug about how well my family is coping with all the change. My children are making new friends and seem to be thriving in their new school environments. My heart sings when we attend church and are surrounded by warm, welcoming people who are truly happy to have us worship with them. I go about most every day with a positive attitude, embracing the change and looking forward to what’s around the next corner.

Other days, grief washes over me like a strong wave. I feel like I’ve been swept off my feet and gotten tossed underwater. I panic, trying desperately to find my way back to the surface to catch my breath. Little things can trigger it: a comment from my daughter about how she’s glad her new school doesn’t have a church so that we “don’t have to go through all that again,” or when I space out behind the wheel of my car and find myself about to turn into the phantom carpool line at the old school.

On those days, I have to concentrate on holding back the tears and continuing to breathe in and out. My heart feels like it will stop. I feel cursed. I wallow in the sadness of all the change.

I am blessed to have several very wise women in my life. One of them starts every morning with a prayer, emailed to a large group of former Cathedral School parents and devotees. Today, the crux of her prayer was this: Blessings and curses are always placed in front of us. We are free to choose. Choose the blessings!

Choose the blessings. It’s worth a shot. Is it a blessing that my children are spreading their wings at larger schools  with more resources? Sure. Is it a blessing that Billy is no longer suffering? Absolutely. Is it a blessing that I am being forced out of my comfort zone to meet new people at new schools, a new church and new ballparks? Probably.

I just hope they grab my hand when I reach for theirs. I need something to hold onto in all this change.

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Re-Boot

I once had a blog. Three years ago. I wasn’t so great with the care and feeding of it. It died.

So, I’m re-booting.

By day, I’m the editor of Little Rock Family magazine. I’m also a wife, mother of two, daughter of two great parents and sister to a very cool brother. I’m lucky enough to have several good girlfriends, and I try to be as good to them as they are to me.

Life has thrown a lot of changes my way this year. This blog will be about coping, healing, planning, scheming, laughing and just plain surviving this crazy, wonderful, busy life I lead every day.

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