Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Sugar Experiment - One Year Later

It has been exactly one year since I started a sugar-free six week experiment. One huge prayer, a lot of complaining and panic and I dove into what I thought would be an impossible goal. Those six weeks turned into seven which turned into eight and kept on going. In fact, I consumed almost zero sugar from just before Halloween until Christmas Eve, when I allowed myself the tiniest, most pathetic little piece of apple pie ever consumed by mankind. It was Christmas, after all. And when that wee piece of pie was done, I kept right on the no-sugar bandwagon. Or at least the very-low-sugar bandwagon.

I've had a lot of funny interactions over this. People will offer me a dessert at an event which, up until a year ago, I would never have turned down. Now, I politely say "no, thank you." This inevitably leads to either a hurt look on said person's face if he or she has been the one to bake the dessert or a look of confusion. What decent American turns down dessert, after all? So, I've often found myself explaining why I'm not eating sugar in a futile attempt to make them feel better. Usually this backfires because then people feel guilty for eating the dessert themselves. Rock. Hard Place. Me.

When I first started this experiment I wouldn't have thought I could go more than a week. An old high school friend, upon learning of my new endeavor, called me to give me some pointers and warned I'd not probably feel well while my body went through detox. He was right. I'm glad I was warned because I might've rethought the decision and given it up. For the first two weeks, I didn't feel great. My energy was weird, I didn't sleep well, I craved sugar 24 hours a day, I spent hours justifying in my head why this was a dumb experiment but in the end my rule-keeping won out and I didn't give in. Halloween candy entered the house but not my mouth. Thanksgiving pie scents wafted through the air and I sulkily munched on nuts. When afternoon sugar cravings hit, I ate hummus instead. A LOT of hummus.

And slowly, ever so slowly, my body began to like what was happening. My energy increased, my sleep improved, what few headaches I had remaining after earlier dietary changes and acupuncture virtually disappeared. PMS, gone. Brain fogginess disappeared. Exercise felt better than it had in years. Running three miles used to feel like an unattainable goal to this sprinter body but now it's a regular and increasingly easy jog for me. I have even, for the first time in my life, entertained thoughts of signing up for a race longer than a 5k. Woh.

Now, it's no secret that originally this was a dietary change intended to, yet again, solve my infertility. And again, that aspect of it was a big failure. No pregnancy, no baby. And for awhile, every time I abstained from sugar I was reminded of my infertility, an unfortunate side effect of a good decision. But slowly, as God has been helping me with acceptance of my uncooperative body, as I've been readying our home and my soul for the baby that IS coming through adoption, the reason for the sugar-free has faded into the distance. After all, I feel great. The change was for the better, no matter the initial reason. If I never do have a second biological child, there is nothing but good in my life for having changed the way that I eat.

So now I, Carolyn, lover of all things chocolate, former imbiber of a daily pre-slumber glass of chocolate milk (with a straw, of course), once consumer of multiple desserts per day, see sugar as yet another unnecessary ingredient in my life that I've been conditioned to need.  And the truth is that I don't need it, I barely want it now and I've found that there are plenty of other delicious foods that I can consume that won't mess with my body. Do I eat it occasionally? Sure. Little bits here and there. Do I completely abstain from any food containing even 1 little gram of sugar? No, but I try to. Do I still bake my son a birthday cake and let him eat it? Of course, I'm not an ogre and I'm not trying to make anyone else in my life adhere to my own change.

But what was an experiment is now a way of life. I'm glad I took the risk to try something I never thought possible and am humbled by the results of trusting God with something as seemingly insignificant as my crazy sugar addiction.   

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Last Cuddle

I've never been the most touchy-feely of people. I remember back in college I was dating a guy who asked me if he could hold me hand on a walk and I told him (and I think I really believed what I said) that I needed to have my hands free so I could move with proper momentum. And any kind of PDA's? Nope, not gonna happen. I just like when people keep their hands to themselves. Didn't we all learn that in kindergarten, anyway?

Fast forward to the birth of my child. God's sense of humor strikes again when I am given the child who could win the award for "clingiest human in the universe" his first two years of life.  For two years my child cried, whined, freaked out, pulled hair and basically clung on to whatever part of my body he could reach at any given moment rather than risk the scary world of independence. I had to utter sentences like "I just need you not to touch me for 30 seconds. Just 30 seconds, love, how about mom gets to stay sane with just ONE. LITTLE. BREAK?"

After we moved to North Carolina and my son miraculously began to understand that there were indeed perks to this whole independent thing, I started to understand what other moms would talk about when they would utter sentences like "I wonder what so and so is up to? I guess I should look for him." I'd never had to utter such a phrase before because, oh look, he was always attached to my leg. But he began to branch out, he began to climb on playgrounds (yes, I had been up to the very top of the chick-fil-a play spot in a vain effort to get my son to play without me, thinking that if I could just show him how wonderful it was up there, he'd go free. Didn't work. And it was NOT easy to get back down.)

Now he's turning 6 in just 2 weeks. He's in kindergarten for 6 hours a day. He's really a boy now. And ironically, the thought enters my mind every time I get the chance to cuddle up with him, "I wonder if this is the last cuddle?" All kids are different and I don't know when they are supposed to start detaching. I don't know when to expect the eye roll and the "Mom, not here, my friends can see you!" kinds of statements.  But something in my soul has started to panic a little. For someone who has never loved the cuddle to begin with, the thought of losing those cuddle privileges seems suddenly to be the saddest prospect in the world.

I've mentioned this to a few friends, some of whom have older kids and I have been reassured that there are 8-year-olds out there who still dig mom time. And just last week while we were at worship rehearsal at our church, the mom of one of the teenage guitarists showed up and he gave her a big hug and kiss right in front of God and everyone. Score one for hope.

So, I've decided to savor the cuddle. To treat each one like it could be my last, to enjoy the smell of his hair (because I'm pretty sure sniffing his head when he's 30 would be less than appropriate), to tickle him as much as I can, to drink in the giggles and the warmth and the sweetness. And to do my best not to dread when this phase ends because if there is one thing I've learned through 6 years of this whole parent thing it's that each new phase has amazing and wonderful surprises of its own and spending time wishing he'd stay a certain way is an exercise in futility and an affront to who God is making him to be as he grows up.

So, little man, bring on the cuddle. Let's enjoy it while it lasts and let's savor the ever-changing ride of this incredible journey of growing up.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Lessons From the Little Field

I got into youth soccer coaching accidentally. One moment I was responding to an email asking for volunteers with my own questions about the details of coaching so that I might better consider coaching from an informed standpoint- after all, I didn't want my kid to be wait-listed for lack of volunteers but I was growing in this whole ability to not always say "yes" to every opportunity that came my way. The next moment I was receiving an email back with a roster of sweet three and four-year-olds. So much for my cautious response.

I remember well my very first practice. It inspired its very own blogpost, Herding Cats, that I ocassionally go back and read to remember how far we have come. The Mighty Tigers, that first season, felt chaotic, fun and frustrating all at the same time.  In the seasons since then, as I have watched these kids grow up and seen some come and go, I've learned a lot.

Here are eleven lessons from the little field:

(1) Never Show Your Weakness. The practices that I have shown up for exhausted have been the ones most likely to dissolve into chaos. It's as if these little people can tell you are on the edge and they manage to suck out every last vestige of patience, control and vitality from your very soul and take it as their own. The more energy you can infuse into your being before you show up, the better things will go.

(2) Never, Ever Turn Your Back. I learned this one the hard way. The second you turn away from a team of little kids, all hell breaks loose. Balls flying through the air at people's heads(including the coach) Kids lying scattered on the ground like a bunch of bowling pins. And noise. Noise everywhere. Noise that will make your head explode. 

(3) You Gotta Have a Trick Up Your Sleeve. There is no reasonable and straightforward communication involved in a kids soccer practice. Everything has to have a spin. If you want the kids to take a water break and actually return to the field, you have to make it a race. If you want the kids to listen to something you want to say, you need some kind of gadget to keep them quiet. (If you hear my voice, clap once..if you hear my voice, clap twice...etc.) If you want the kids to go get their balls and bring them back to where you are, count backwards from 10. Otherwise they will take roughly 2 hours to go get them and likely end up on another field altogether throwing balls at innocent bystanders. True story.

(4) There IS Crying in Soccer. My first season, with kids who were barely larger than their soccer balls, I would consider it a successful game if there were any kids left on the field by the final whistle. Sometimes it looked like a war zone- kids laying on the field picking flowers, one kid sitting squarely in the middle of the goal just waiting to get walloped, multiple children sobbing in parents' arms for varied legitimate and, in my opinion, illegitimate reasons. But then I've never been high on compassion. We've made it through two games now with no tears and I feel like we're on our way to the Olympics. It's that miraculous.

(5) When in Doubt, Abandon Ship! It wasn't until this current season that I could really try to run a drill and have kids actually participate. Up until now, it has been games, games and more games. All, of course, purposed to increase skills in dribbling and kicking, but games nonetheless. Occasionally, though, even games fail. Kids are freaking out, balls are not even on the right field anymore. If that happens, abandon ship. Give it up. Always have a new game ready to replace a failure. You just never know what's going to be a hit and what is going to usher in armageddon.

(6) Cheer like it's your job! We've made it a priority to have a fun cheer every season. Because no matter what, whether a kid has sat out an entire game sobbing or scored 20 goals (yes, we do have a few of those kinds of kids, too) they all want to celebrate at the end. And they will fight to the kid to have their hand be the one on top in the middle of the huddle and use their "outside voices" like they've been given the best gift in the world. Pick a name, create a cheer, teach it and do it often. The kids will leave the field smiling even if they lose 100-1 or have had the worst practice in the world. And after all, if the kids aren't smiling, what's the point?

(7) Keep Things Moving. You've got to have a plan. And it's got to be a plan with very little down time. The second the kids are standing around wondering what's next is the same moment you lose control. From warm-ups to cool-down, the kids should know every minute what they are supposed to be doing. If not, they may initiate a very cute, but hostile, takeover.

(8) Smile and Nod. Kids will want to share totally irrelevant details of their lives in the middle of your most inspired coaching moments. They will want to show you their pretty pink purse or stick-on Spiderman tattoo or tell you about the birthday party they are attending next month. This is important to them. If you shoot them down, you might send them into a downward spiral from which they cannot emerge. Love on their info, smile and nod and tell them you are excited to hear more after practice and them make it a point to actually follow up. They'll love you for it.

(9) The Name Thing. Everyone's had that moment when someone in authority could not remember their name. It's no fun when you're 30 and it's no fun when you're 5. I make it a point when I first meet my kids to say their name constantly that first practice. By the end of that first hour of knowing them they should be fully confident their coach knows who they are and cares about them and will notice if they aren't there. If you're bad with names, bring a camera and take pics that first day then make it a point to memorize those sweet little faces. Believe me, their parents will rest easier on the sidelines if they know you actually care enough to know who are their kids.

(10) Go Team! Kids sports can be a world in which parents live vicariously through their children.It can be highly competitive on the sidelines even if the kids on the field aren't even sure which direction to run. Encourage your parents from the get-go that this is about the kids having fun, playing hard and learning good teamwork. Help them learn the kids names. Ask them to cheer for all the kids, not only their child and team but also the little ones working hard on the other side of the field. There will be plenty of time in the future to get competitive- maybe if we infuse our kids with a healthy view of sports, teamwork and the opposing team, their trash talk won't be quite so mean in those later years.

(11) Never Go It Alone. I won't say it's impossible to coach kids by yourself, but it's pretty darn hard. Get the parents involved. Beg, borrow and steal to get a friend to be your co-coach. I finally have one this season and I cannot begin to explain what a difference it has made. Whatever you do, have an ally. Two is exponentially better than one. Especially if your assistant coach is a bald guy who can scare the heck out of unruly participants.

To those friends of mine who are considering coaching your kid, go for it. I have faced some of the most frustrating moments of my life with these teams but there is no question that I have experienced some of the best moments of my life as well. Watching my kids go from chaotic and weepy Mighty Tigers to this current season of the Fireballs where they are communicating and passing and laughing and staying on the field the whole time is just incredible. And seeing your own kid excited to tackle practices and games and so proud and excited that you are his coach- well, that's a pretty awesome bonus!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Best Kind of Homecoming

It's that time of year again. Football rivalries are all over facebook, I'm getting mailings all the time from my college about upcoming events, Josh's school is planning a spirit week and pep rally and teenagers all over the place are stressing about a date. Homecoming. I still remember all the hype (and unnecessary drama) that surrounded it when I was in high school. I remember the excitement and work everyone put into making a few days a little more special than usual. And when it was over, its memories faded quickly as we rushed on with our classes and sports and extracurriculars.

This past weekend, our son got invited to a Homecoming Party. One of his best friends and, incidentally, one of the sweetest boys I've ever met, was allowed to invite one friend out to dinner to celebrate the anniversary of the day he joined his family, the day he was adopted. We'd never even heard the term before but I immediately fell in love with it. What a wonderful idea and perfect name! Of course, when anything new is introduced to a five-year old, roughly 784 questions immediately follow. What's a homecoming? Why did he invite me? Do we bring him a present? Who did he live with before his family? Does he know his other mom? And on and on. 

Now, because of our own process my son probably has a slightly higher adoption IQ than your average five year old. Because of his inquisitive nature, he has wanted to know the ins and outs of just about every stage. So, I'm used to answering questions that inevitably increase his understanding that the world we live in is a broken place. When your kid asks questions about why a baby wouldn't have parents to take care of it, your heart breaks a little. Or, frankly, a lot. Answering some of these questions in the context of the life of his good friend was emotional for both of us. Adoption has been so abstract for him, this mythical baby in the vague future that will all of a sudden be a part of our lives. But looking at his friend, with whom he plays soccer and legos and superheroes and builds forts and teepees and giggles incessantly, here was a real kid, a real baby 5 years ago that needed a family. Something clicked.

So, the idea of getting to celebrate that day five years ago when his friend was adopted was incredibly special. As we sat around that table, laughing, cleaning up spilled drinks, watching our two skinny kids inhale more food than their bodies could possibly hold, passing around this child's baby pictures and the picture of the first time his parents got to hold him when he was eight months old, I was blown away. Blown away by this family with whom we have gotten to be close friends, grateful for their wisdom and the risks they've taken, overwhelmed by this beautiful kid who has become such a sweet friend to our son, amazed at God's goodness in their lives and ours. Reminded again that God brings sweet beauty out of ashes, redemption out of tragedy. I could see the raw emotion in the eyes of his parents in that photo, this crazy moment where you are handed a child you've never met, not carried in your own body, and told he is yours. Forever. Being able to celebrate this with our friends was an unexpected gift, both to see into their family and rejoice with them and to be reminded, yet again, that our own homecoming is on its way.

As much as I remember those fun football games and dances and fighting with people over the best float idea, homecoming didn't change or affect my life. I barely even have pictures of it. In the grand scheme of things, it was another school event, a fleeting surge of school pride, another something to be involved in for a few passing moments.

But this. This is the best kind of homecoming. This day to celebrate when a forever family was established. This is where the joy and the expectation and the excitement really belongs. This is the real stuff of life, a moment that will stick with me for years to come.

And I can't wait for our own homecoming, can't wait to take those shell-shocked pictures, to be able to see my son's eyes light up when he holds his new sibling for the first time. To celebrate again every year the day our child finally came home.