Saturday, March 30, 2013

Beyond Imagination

So. DI season is over.

That was fun.

No, really. It was better than fun. Despite all my rantings and ravings - with the kids, and afterwards to my Hubby - and all the wine I necessarily consumed post-meetings - I really, truly, honestly enjoyed this time as a Team Manager for Sweetie's team.

I thought it would be a few months of supervising kids as they planned out and created their solution to a Team Challenge on which they agreed upon focusing their time. Throw in some Instant Challenges I'd have to come up with, somehow, for them to solve on the spot, and that was pretty much all I'd have to do. This collecting of Instant Challenges, in fact, I figured would be the toughest part of my responsibilities. Where the heck do you find Instant Challenges, anyway? (I quickly found out, and it wasn't really an issue after all.) At any rate, DI is all about the kids working out solutions. Parents, managers and any other adults are expressly warned that they are to be completely hands off. Cool. Like I said, I'd sit and supervise. No prob.

How quickly did I learn that I'd be doing oh so much more than "just supervising"? Oh, I'd say within the first 30 seconds of our first meeting. No. Earlier than that. Preparing for that first meeting. But in actual time with the kids? Pretty much immediately.

And not just me doing more (Mediator. Guidance Counselor. Teacher. Nurse. Organizer. Etc., etc., etc....) than I thought I would. But me learning more than I ever thought I would. Who would have thought that this small team of 3 could ever show me so much about myself and the world around me, while working on a project that's designed to show them how much they really know for themselves?

Things I learned - or at least were reminded of - from Destination Imagination:

- 3 kids is not an easily manageable number. One always feels left out. It will change, as to who feels like he or she is being left out. But one always does. Decision-making can be nearly impossible.

- I can keep my nose out of things fairly well. I was concerned, going into this, that I'd want to be too controlling - too in-control. But, all in all, I feel I was pretty darn successful at letting the kids plan out their solution on their own (as I was supposed to do.) I saw as they went along where things, I knew, would eventually fall apart for them. But allowing them to buy/gather/produce/try whatever they wanted in order for them to get to that place where they saw for themselves that things weren't going to go as they envisioned came easier to me than I expected it would.

- Sometimes - heck, a lot of times - they really surprised me by going through with their plans that I "knew" would fail and ending up with some totally awesome and completely successful workable solutions. Wow! I would have never thought in a million years that would work out the way it did.

- Making assumptions really can hold you back.

- Failing is not only okay, but encouraged. You didn't do it right this time? Okay. Do it again. Do it better. What did you learn? Maybe something else you never even thought of is now on the table to explore further. Fail spectacularly and try again. Go!

- Take a breath before speaking. See if others have ideas. Collaborate. Work together on a communal solution, not together on 1 member's idea. The more involved every member feels, the better they'll all feel about the final solution, or why the answer they tried to achieve didn't really work in the end.

- Celebrate "weirdness." Some pretty cool things come out of some pretty weird ideas.

- Coming together as a group is key. Absolutely. When one member is just "done" with the whole experience, the whole group is done. But not lost! Find a way to reconnect, refocus, and get back on track. You can do it!

- Sometimes a person just doesn't want to hear it. Doesn't want to be helped. Won't allow you to be "let in." Not in the moment, anyway. People need time to process mistakes. Even if those mistakes are only self-perceived. They just need some time...

- ... But they'll come around. Sooner or later, they always do.

- "Only children" vs. "the youngest in a family." Oh what a difference, maturity-level wise.

- My kid is a confident, mean power driller. Who knew?!

- The bestest of friends can bicker the most. Of course they do! They feel comfortable enough with each other to know that they can express their frustrations and displeasures, but still be great friends when it's done.

- Sending a simple email to check in on a kid who you can tell had a long, rough day of stress and injury can do a world of good for that kid - and yourself. They will know that you have their back, are concerned for them, and think they are pretty great stuff. Because they are.

- Making a kid do something they absolutely, unequivocally do NOT want to do can, in the end, show them that they not only can do it, but can do it really well and will actually have fun while doing it!

- I can grab ahold of a situation, stop the chaos, and calm things down. I can command attention. I can ease tension. I can make others see when things are not that big of a deal or, conversely, when things are much more important than they think they are. I can keep people on track. I can do a lot more than I think I can, while allowing others to see that they can too.

- It stabs a little to know you most likely "lost" a kid. No more DI for them. At least, that's how they feel now. We'll see. (Heck, I don't even know if I want to do it again!)

- It's worth it all to know that the kid who passionately stated they would absolutely, positively never do DI again and could not wait until it was all over, actually ended up enjoying Regionals and would consider another go at it next year. Even if they don't - wow. What a turn around!

- It doesn't matter whether you win or lose. It's whether or not you showed up and did your best. One team member who I thought "got this" saw one of their competitors after their own performance and felt sadly defeated. "We didn't win. They were better than us!" As opposed to the team member who is painfully shy and afraid to fail seeing the same performance and declaring, simply and honestly, "Wow! They were really good!" Kids. You never can tell. They will surprise you every time.

- Everything will be okay in the end. Every time. Not to worry. It's not your problem.

- Kids are amazing, creative, smart and just plain awesome.  They can do oh so much more than we think they can. Allow them to think and do and try and try again. What an amazing gift to give to our children.

And perhaps the biggest lesson I learned? Being a DI Team Manager is like giving birth to a child. In the heat of it, it hurts. A lot! You can't imagine why you got yourself into this mess in the first place. You'll never do this again! You just want it all to be over. But when it is? Eh. That wasn't so bad. And look at what you have to show for it? Something really beautiful. I want some more of this in my life...

Friday, March 08, 2013

Boys vs. Girls

I've presented Sweetie with a task.

Starting next week, she must attempt to talk to/play with/befriend a girl or girls in her class.

Not to say that her best friend (a boy) and her best classroom friend (another boy) aren't great kids. They really are! But to know that, half way through the 4th grade, she's still either playing with these particular boys or off playing (happily, I presume) by herself... well, I really think she needs to mix it up a bit. Stretch her limits of comfort and what she's used to as "the way" for her.

I remember, for myself, as early as Kindergarten I had one very best girl friend. We were inseparable! We were always together at recesses, we played on weekends, we had sleepovers and we talked forever on the phone. And this was all before I was 10, as it was that summer that we moved from Ohio to New Hampshire and our friendship was abruptly altered forever.

Now, as far as the dramatics and difficulties of befriending the female of the species as one of the crowd yourself... man, I get it. Moving to NH for the start of the 5th grade, being the new kid who was so "different' and walked funny and all that... it either enhanced my shyness or created it - I don't remember which - and I had difficulty making friends. But I ultimately did. In 5th and 6th grade I was part of a small band of friends - definitely not the popular crowd - that consisted of 3 other girls and a boy. We had fun together, if not oodles of other kids clamoring to join in on our (mild-mannered) shenanigans.

In junior high, we disbanded, with me going off to one area school and they going to the other (much, much larger) school downtown. I made friends with a new group of girls. Enough so that we went to each other's homes for sleepovers and invited each other to our birthday parties. But we didn't really hang out together outside of school. With one girl I did, I think, just a bit. But it definitely wasn't a chatting on the phone/hanging out together every weekend sort of friendship. I was decidedly much more a part of a small (still not popular) "group" and not terribly chummy with any individual member of said group just one on one. Maybe the others were with each other? I don't know. I suppose I was happy enough to have a table of friends to sit with at lunch and to lead the rest of my life in relative peace.

By the time I went off to high school, I was leaving our junior high a year earlier than all the others to attend a small, all girls, Catholic school in town. Another girl from my group of friends was coming with me and, yes, we did remain friends right through graduation. But my very best friend in high school showed up in a girl who was 110% the exact opposite from me. Whereas I was a quiet, polite, girly girl who enjoyed school and my classes well enough and basically just wanted to keep to my hidden, unassuming ways, my friend was a trash talking tomboy-to-end-all-tomboys who liked hard rock, didn't like school, and reveled in being different. Or at least that's what she presented to others. Now I recognize that she was probably just as self conscious as anyone - maybe more so - but was doing her utmost to make it look like she didn't have a care in the world. I suppose being with her excited me, to show me a bit of the wild side. I can't speak for her to say what it was about me that kept her around as my friend through the years. But come post-graduation, when I realized that it was always me calling her during our freshman years of college in different states - and she never sounding all that focused or interested when I did call - I made the decision to just not call her again. To see if she would call me if that was her only option for staying in touch. She didn't call. Or write. To this day, I have no idea where she is or what she's doing.

In college - there I was, off again to another all female institution. I had no choice but to befriend, of course, other girls (women!). I liked my roommate well enough. She, like me, was shy, quirky, and involved in her studies. She had friends from her hometown at school with us as well, so I had a casual acquaintanceship with them as well. But beyond these 3, I really didn't make any great, deep, long-lasting friendships. Friendly with many, close to few. In fact, by the end of my sophomore year, I was feeling as out of place as ever amongst this collection of women who were, as a whole, largely science and math focused - always off to labs and math clubs and studying - while I, the lonely English major, "just" stayed in my dorm room reading and writing all day.

I got the heck out of there and transferred to somewhere - co-ed - closer to home. And, being closer to home, I lived at home with my parents and only went to school for my classes, rarely having much between-class time to hang out much and form any friendships. Except for one. A guy. He, again, was shy and quirky, just like me. We did hang out together at the on-campus pub when waiting for our next classes to start. And we had lunch together in the cafeteria when we could. But, again, it was a purely on-campus friendship. Not the kind of relationship where we'd call each other up to just chat or hang out on the weekends together. He's another one I immediately lost contact with after graduation. Oh well.

But, how nice it was to be friends with a guy! Girls were so dramatic and gossipy. Guys didn't care. This guy accepted me, as is. Girls, in general, were too.... much. I was girled out!

So, as you can see, I've never been one for deep, meaningful relationships with other females. To this day - yes, of course I have a few good female friends. But they are the types of friendships where we meet for coffee once a month, or go to each other's houses - with our husbands or significant others - for dinner and drinks, or meet at book club to discuss our latest reads. Not to say they are not true friends. Of course they are! I value my friends and the times we're together very much. They are a great bunch of ladies! But, even though they may very well be - most definitely are, in fact - women who talk on the phone with and shop with and generally hang out with their other girl friends, my friendships with these ladies are much more compartmentalized, subdued and relaxed. Which is just the way I like it. I'm not looking for or needing silly girl talk and shopping trips and girls weekends, etc. I am accustomed to my quiet, one-on-one ways of coffee chats, wine evenings, and book reviews. Keep it quiet. It is my way.

I noticed this last time I took Sweetie to a roller skating night at her school. Other moms were huddled in groups of 2 or 3, chatting and laughing and having a great time together, with their young daughters, likewise, all laughing, skating and having fun together. And I sat by myself, enjoying watching the kids go round and round - especially Sweetie as she made her way around and around the gym floor, having a grand ol' time all by herself. I recognized many of these women as the moms of kids whom Sweetie's been classmates with for 5 years. But I have never had the opportunity to be around any of these women enough over the years to form any real friendships with them. And that was fine. Is fine. I didn't necessarily feel lonely that night, nor did Sweetie appear to be anything but truly happy with the way her evening was going. But I did begin to notice where Sweetie gets her anti-female ideas from, even if they are subconscious. I don't have overtly obvious female friendships (that can be noticed or are talked about on a daily basis) and am doing just fine, so why should she?

So, yeah. I get it! Sweetie has fallen in with the boys from the get-go and that's where she feels most comfortable. Which is great! And cool! So far. She has always been the super hero loving/Lego playing/imaginative girl. She's a quirky kid, and not ashamed of it. She's just discovered much earlier in life what it took many years of friendships with others for me to realize - that it's much easier to be "one of the guys" than to model yourself as something you're not just to gain a female friend or two in your corner.

BUT, after all that...there's also something to be said - especially as Sweetie and her classmates enter into upper elementary and junior high school - about fitting in, in the name of getting through these pending difficult years with as little drama as possible. There's some worth to be had in establishing a few meaningful female friendships as they all begin to change and develop and grow. I'm wondering if it may not be so easy to maintain true friendships with her current male friends as these next few years pass us by. Wouldn't it be good and nice for her to have some girls she can turn to when the boys, inevitably, let her down? Or, for that matter, when they come beating down her door! Having a few good girl friends to giggle and gossip and hang with, at this time in her life, may be a very, very good thing for her to invest in.

So, take it from me, kid. At least try to give this a shot. Girls aren't so bad. You may find this hard to believe now, but you just may want to giggle and joke and tell secrets with someone other than me in the not too far off future.

Trust me. I'm your mother.