Thursday, August 24, 2017

The meaningless trophy

We got a note from the team mom of the middle school hockey team asking if we were going to participate this year. It’s not a school-sponsored team, just a town team that comprises all the kids from my son’s grade.

Well, it’s supposed to be a town team anyway, but last year, there were kids from other towns who joined. At first I had no idea why, because we had plenty of kids to fill the bench.

Then, come to find out, it was because the coaches were “in it to win it.” They brought kids on board from their own sons’ elite hockey teams. Oh, because this isn’t an official school team – yeah, it’s still parent coaches.

My son experienced the unfortunate realization that kids who play elite hockey look down upon kids who play town hockey.

(Now my son wants to play elite hockey. Yet, I don’t really want to cough up more than twice as much money for tuition, pay who-knows-how-much extra for team logo gear, and then have to figure out the time and expense of travel – when we have three perfectly good hockey rinks right here in town! And last time I checked, you’re still going to make the high school hockey team even if you “only” play town hockey.)

I asked the team mom if there were going to be kids from other towns this year. She didn’t say anything either way about this year but commented that last year they “ended up taking a few more as larger number helps with schedule conflicts.”

Last year my son had been slotted into a position he had no experience with so the coaches’ sons and their elite friends could skate extra shifts. There were ineligible (because they hadn’t played enough games in season) kids in the playoffs. My son said he had no idea who some of the kids during the season were and that he had never seen one of them during playoffs before.

One of the coaches who notoriously swore non-stop during games got thrown out of the final playoff game. It seemed like many of the parents in the stands thought this was funny. I can only imagine what his son and the other kids thought. Were they embarrassed at all or did they think it’s okay and even cool to bellow obscenities at and undermine the referee to the point that the coach got ejected?

I cringed to remember all of this. The politics. The rule-breaking. The example the coaches set for the kids. The town kids sitting on the bench while the out-of-town elite kids played – both during the season and in the playoffs.

I could already guess what my son’s sentiments were about playing this year. When his team finished second in their division in the playoffs and were awarded trophies, he wanted nothing to do with his. He didn’t want to be in the team picture after the game and wouldn’t look at anyone’s camera. The trophy never crossed the threshold of his room and ended up discarded. It was meaningless to him. I never shared on social media or acknowledged others’ posts of the playoff games or team picture.

My son and I discussed it. We talked about the kid who wore his game jersey to school the next day after the playoffs. I said to my son, “Imagine wanting to fit in so badly that you’ll compromise your values to do so?”


“Or maybe he didn’t even realize he was compromising. Maybe because the other parents condoned it, he thought it was okay to win by cheating, to swear at and question the ref. Maybe he thought it was funny that the coach got kicked out of the game.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Though he sounded blasé in his responses, I know the gears in his head were turning.

We decided together how to respond to the team mom: I did not reply-all like one guy did, saying cordially, “We’ll sit this one out.” I can only imagine what his reasons were. I do know for sure at least one other parent who feels the same way my son and I do about the team. He summed it up after last year’s season, saying that it “epitomizes everything that is wrong with youth sports.”

I replied to Team Mom’s email, “I talked about it with <son> and he's going to pass. We found it discouraging last year that kids from other towns were played when <town> kids were benched, especially in the playoffs when there were ineligible out-of-town kids playing. We understand this is not your fault but it's just wrong (and the trophy is meaningless). I hope you understand our position.”

She replied that she understood and said my son would be missed. I wished the team a good season and thanked her for all she did because I am sure it is not easy being a team mom.

Sometime before the season starts, I’ll review with my son a few replies he can offer in case he gets harassed for “quitting.” He’s not quitting hockey – he’s simply making a rational choice not to play for a team whose philosophy he doesn’t share. And he needs to be able to explain that in a neutral and matter-of-fact way, without apologizing or insulting anyone.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. ~Proverbs 10:9

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Stop working so hard

Stop working so hardHere is a very real example of the disparity between time off in the US vs. time off in Europe. (Hint: Americans are overworked.)

I got a request from someone in Texas last night after 7 p.m. to do something, which meant I’d have to contact someone at a company somewhere in France. I didn’t do anything about it last night, mainly because I hadn’t checked my work email, but if I had, I probably would have.

Now the fact that I didn’t check my work email last night was a big deal. I actually had to leave the house to avoid doing so. I had to get away from my desk, far far away. I went to do a bunch of errands in and near the mall – and I accidentally left my phone at home, which was in one sense a bummer because it has my $0.10-ten-cents-off gas app but in another a benefit because it was more of a break with no electronics. However, I think it was annoying for the 75% of the other members in my immediate family who tried to reach me. (The remaining 25% was at work.)

Instead, I sent a note this morning before 8 a.m. (and yes, I was at my desk before 8. It is usually earlier because I have been getting up at 4:50 a.m. to take my middle son and his friend to work, along with all the other early commuters, and am usually back at my desk by 7:20ish. However, today I was among the first shoppers at the supermarket, “found everything I need” along with the dog food my husband reminded me we were out of -- I berated myself that I had forgotten it at Target last night, but was happy to have the chance to go to this bigger supermarket and get a few things I can’t find around the corner --  and put it all away, too.

I got this back right away from the person in France.

Réponse automatique

Je suis absent jusqu'au 3 septembre 2017 inclus avec un accès limité à mes mails.

A little later, I got this back from the guy in Texas.

AUTO: I'm at on vacation.

I am out of the office from Tue, Aug 15 7:00 AM, returning Fri, Aug 18 9:00 AM

Note the disparity.

The French guy is out of the office until September 3. I don’t know when he left, but even if he left today, that’s like two-and-a-half weeks.

The American guy is taking three vacation days, and he was working during the first one.

I was going to go out and research a whole bunch of statistics that talk about how much Americans work compared to people in Europe, but it's really not necessary if you watch the video above. You get the idea.

The picture at the top is actually from the vacation my husband and I took less than a month ago. After a wonderful week in Barbados, it was a rough re-entry to reality. The Monday I got back was when my middle son started that new job. My side gig has been inordinately busy. Fortunately, it’s flexible, but too much work is still too much.

Yet, I have a hard time saying no, even though I'm feeling seriously overworked. That is because of the volatility of the main company where I’m a contractor. So many layoffs. So much job insecurity. So much offshoring. So much cheaper labor. That’s why I have the side gig in the first place (and am even developing a side-side gig).

[bctt tweet="So much job insecurity. So much offshoring. So much cheaper labor. Can anyone just relax on vacation anymore?" username="carolineposer"]

Here is something *I* need to remember because Americans are the most overworked developed nation in the world. (We work 499 more hours per year than French workers.)

  • It’s OK to ask to move to fewer hours at work.

  • It’s OK to take a week-long vacation if we need to.

  • It’s OK to ask to work from home.

Don’t let life pass you by in the name of fear, circumstance, greed, or misguided hopes. Sometimes you just need to draw a line in the sand and say “enough is enough”.

Ten years ago I took a two-week vacation. The reason was that the conveniently timed non-stop airline tickets were so expensive, I needed to offset two weeks x three kids worth of daycare. I flew with the kids across the country to see my mom. I checked in with work while I was gone. How nice would it be to take a two-week vacation and not check in at all? Or a three-week vacation (even though I don’t get that many paid weeks).

More from 20 Something Finance:

For many of us, more work leads to more stress and a lower quality of life. Without time to unwind, take care of your home, spend time with loved ones, enjoy our hobbies, connect with friends, and generally live a more balanced life. Stress is the #1 cause of health problems – mentally and physically. And there are few things that stress us out on a consistent basis like work does, especially when it takes away from all of the other things that life has to offer.

Um, yeah. That’s why I decided to walk the dogs, assemble a piece of furniture, bake cookies, and work on my blog tonight – and not my to-do list.

What about you? Are you overworked?

xoxox, Carlie



Monday, August 14, 2017

Parents do the best they can

One of my sons’ friends is stuck at home this summer, sharing a room with her two sisters in a small two-bedroom apartment in a concrete complex. She doesn’t have a job and can’t apply anywhere beyond walking distance: She doesn’t have her license because she can’t afford driver’s ed. She told my son that her father doesn’t believe that her stepmother is mean to her.

Hearing this makes my heart ache. This girl is a lovely young lady with hopes and dreams like any high-school junior, plus she already has college plans and a career goal.

I don’t know that I can do anything to help without overstepping parenting boundaries. All I can do is lose sleep over it, pray for her, and make suggestions for my son to pass along.

“Can she spend time at her grandmother’s house?”

“Go to church. Find an adult mentor there.”

“As soon as school starts, schedule time with the guidance counselor.”

And one thing I haven’t suggested yet, “Join a sport.” Cross country would be the one with the lowest barrier to entry. (I can’t say enough about sports as a way to build self-confidence, be part of a team, and get out of the house.) I can already imagine that she’ll be forbidden to do so; that she’s needed to watch her youngest sister, her dad and stepmother’s bio daughter. Or perhaps the reason will be that the fee is prohibitive.

I wish I could do more.

I remember when I was in middle school, my mom took a couple of my friends under her wing. One was the youngest of 10 kids whose parents were pretty much done with parenting. My mom got us into dance and soccer (each of which lasted one year as we learned that we were a decade too late compared to the other kids). Another was a friend whose parents were nuts. Seriously, that’s the best way I can describe them. For one thing, they kept their shades drawn because they believed sunlight begat dust. For another, in an effort to save on their water bill, they never flushed their toilet until it was filled to the brim. They smoked like fiends and my friend always smelled. My mom gave her a journal and permission to dream, adding hope and light to her life.

Then our circumstances changed and we moved. My mom, brother, and I shared a small (and shabby) two-bedroom duplex apartment on the second floor. I remember carrying our boxes in as the neighbors across the street looked at us and held their noses, indicating that we stunk. (Okay, I don’t actually remember that – I read it a couple of years ago when I was trying to decide what to do with my trunk full of handwritten journals – but I could easily recall the feeling of shame nonetheless.)

Walking up the front stairs in that apartment, the first thing you would see is the bathroom. To the left was my brother’s room. To the right was the eat-in kitchen, off of which was the living room where my mom slept (if she wasn’t sleeping in my room, which was down a short hallway parallel to the stairs). That was it, except the back door to the kitchen led out to a rickety set of back stairs and a small landing where you could fit one chair if you wanted to sit (not lie) outside in the sun with your baby oil and Kiss Double Platinum album (to reflect the sun for a more even, all-over burn).

I didn’t have friends over much anymore. I hated being trapped in that little apartment -- and the next one, too. (We moved four times during my high school years. Miraculously I stayed at the same high school, even when we moved out of town.)

I can imagine just how my son’s friend feels. My heart breaks not only for her but also for the girl I was. I, too, had hopes and dreams like any high school girl (though the career part was vague and took a while to get sorted out). My father had not been involved for several years, and then my mother got cancer. Life was hard and scary. To escape, I read a lot of books (we didn’t have cable or the internet back then) – and ran cross country.

Running in races helped me leave my problems behind temporarily. (Later, alcohol and drugs would do that, and that's a story for another day.)

I grew older and eventually became a fully functioning adult, before becoming a parent, which is essential in breaking the chain of addiction and dysfunction that tends to continue generation after generation.

Parents do the best they can, whether or not we or anyone else thinks it is good enough. And it very well may not be good enough. Kids need more than food, clothing, and shelter to thrive, but last time I checked, that’s about all parents are required to provide. And even if they can’t provide that – they are still doing the best that they can.

  • My mom did the best she could.

  • My dad did the best he could.

  • My friends’ parents did the best they could.

  • My son’s friend's parents are doing the best they can.

  • I am doing the best I can.

  • We are all doing the best we can.
And most kids grow up in spite of their parents. The journey may have more twists and turns, but as I told my son, “Sometimes the people who have the greatest adversity wind up being the most successful.”

And then, if they become parents, they may repeat the patterns they learned as children or, as Guns N’ Roses says, they may “just keep tryin’ to get a little better. A little better than before.”

Whatever they do, it will be the best they can.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sideline coaching: why parents must stop!

Please just stop coaching your kid from the sideline. Your kid has a coach and it isn’t you. (If it is you, you’re in the dugout or on the bench or at first or third base, and by all means, carry on!)

Do not shout advice to your kid. During the middle of a play is not the time for instruction. If he needs instruction, he will get it from his coach. You are undermining the coach by telling your kid what to do and you are no doubt distracting and embarrassing your child. That is, if he can even hear you. Otherwise, you are just embarrassing yourself in front of the other parents and fans. STFU already. This is why I have to leave the stands sometimes and go watch the game from behind center field (or if it’s hockey, from center ice).

Recently while standing behind the outfield fence, I ran into another coach whose team was playing the next game. He asked me who was playing, what was the score, and so on. I told him I wasn’t 100% sure about the score because I had to walk away; I couldn’t stand listening to the sideline coaches. He agreed. He commented, “What’s worse is when every time the kid is at bat, he looks to the sidelines for his parents’ approval, rather than to the coach.” There it is people, right from a coach’s mouth.

I agreed.

[bctt tweet="Please just stop coaching your kid from the sideline. Your kid has a coach and it isn’t you. " username="carolineposer"]


Imparting your “expert” advice from the sideline

Ideally, kids learn to tune out what is happening beyond the playing field, but I pity the kid who does hear you.

Stop coaching your kid from the sideline

Like this pitcher, whose dad spent every inning his son pitched behind the backstop, coaching him on every throw. “Throw strikes!” Uhm, no shit. That’s what every pitcher wants to do. Is that helpful? Don’t you think your kid has a big enough job focusing on the catcher’s mitt without you distracting him?

Do you think the umpire likes you standing behind him and commenting on every call?

No, I am 100% certain that no one wants to hear you. Not your kid, not the umpire, and not the fans around you.


And never, ever shout advice to my kid! There was once a dad who told my son to run from third base and he got thrown out at home. Dude, that is so not your job. It’s the 3rd base coaches job to tell the kid to hold or go for it.

  • Kids can’t assimilate advice from multiple sources during a game.

  • Your advice might be wrong.

  • Even if your advice isn’t technically wrong, if it differs from what the coach or official says, it is wrong.

And another thing, don’t heckle my kid. I remember a dad shouting things at one of my boys at first base after he made a play that thwarted his son’s hit. My son was maybe 10 and doing his best to hold back tears (while continuing to rock first base). I asked our coach to intervene, which he did immediately upon taking up his position as first base coach during the next half-inning. (If he hadn’t, I would have.) I still see this dad around the fields and arenas and am disgusted every time. My son has grown into a far bigger man than this guy (figuratively and literally, since this guy is maybe 5’ 8” and no doubt has small-man syndrome, and my son, a gentle giant, is 6’ 4”).

Attending games

When your kids are little, like 4 to 6, and just starting out in soccer or t-ball, they want you to watch them. They might need you nearby. (I coached t-ball and remember a kid who had separation anxiety if he couldn’t see one of his parents at all times.) They’re often very conscious of everything you do along with say on the sidelines. Some kids might complain when their parents socialize too much and don't pay attention to the game. One of my boys wanted me to come to his basketball practices and baseball tryouts up until age 8 or 10, I forget. I came, I watched, I cheered, and I clapped. But I did not offer advice.

I don’t even go to all of my older boys’ games anymore. First of all, I can’t because there is only one of me and three of them. Second, one of them informed me that they like going to basketball just the two of them (my oldest can now drive). Third, their motivation for playing sports is to have fun and be with their friends (My oldest played on a co-ed soccer team last winter for fun). They no longer need validation from their parents. They are not super-competitive and not on the track to play college sports unless it’s a club or intramural team.

Offering encouragement

A kid's perception of himself comes from the responses of parents and coaches. Even only a few remarks from the sidelines can ascertain whether a kid's experience is positive or negative. This is why it's essential for coaches and parents to understand how to provide feedback and encouragement. This means saying things like “Good play,” or “good try,” or “nice idea,” i.e., concentrate on the effort not the failure or success.

Let the coach do the debriefing during the game. Save your play-by-play recap for the car ride home (if your child is receptive). There are many rides home where I just let my son vent and swear and say whatever he wants. Occasionally he starts immediately after the fist-bumping but I tell him save it for the ride. He gets a time limit to be pissy and then we discuss – if he is receptive. IF.

Additionally, a kid's capability to judge what he does enhances with age and he understands when you are screaming false praise. Kids appreciate sincere, constructive comments that demonstrate that you know what is going on, along with that you are paying attention. If your kid’s team is losing or he made an error, do not storm off the field in disgust. Yes, I knew a dad who did that many baseball seasons ago and I always felt bad for his son and embarrassed for his wife.

Keeping a respectful distance

I told my son that I had to walk away during a game recently because I couldn’t stand sitting next to some of the parents yelling at their kids. “I was still watching from behind the fence in center field.”

He said, “I didn’t even notice.”

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...