Another Baseball Season in the Books

Last pic of the baseball season.Leo wrapped up his 9U baseball season with the Kansas Hammers this weekend. Part of me is sad the season is over. I really enjoy watching him play and have fun with his teammates – they’re a great group of kids.

Another part of me is relieved. Not because of all the time freed up from games/tournaments/practices… I really didn’t mind that part. But I’m relieved it’s over because I could tell it was starting to wear on Leo.

Mentally, the season was difficult for all of us. While Leo had a solid year defensively in the outfield and has improved so much since fall ball, he never found his groove at the plate. After awhile, it really started to take a toll on his self-confidence and made him begin to feel like he wasn’t good enough to play at that level.

It was hard for me (and the rest of the family) to watch him get so down on himself. I remember what it feels like when you want so badly to get a hit, but you just can’t seem to do anything but strike out. I’ve been there. It stinks no matter your age or the level of ball you’re playing. (Just ask Alex Gordon about hitting slumps.)

Things got really bad the last 4-6 weeks of the season. Positive reinforcement and instruction from the coaching staff became sparse. Negativity/fear seemed to rule the dugout. Instead of being reminded of proper form or strategy for a play, you’d hear, “What are you doing!?!” or “What were you thinking!?!” or “Come on!”

I slowly watched the fun of baseball being drained from some of the players’ faces.

I’ve played a lot of competitive ball in my life… softball, volleyball, basketball. I’d absolutely be lying if I said I hadn’t experienced that type of coaching. But I wasn’t 9. I wasn’t in the early stages of learning the sport I was playing, trying to adjust to an entirely new level of rules and competition. I was in high school and college.

For the most part, I was able to tap into those overly negative, you-can’t-do-anything-good-enough-for-this-team moments and allow them (and the anger they generated inside of me) to fuel me. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact game when I stopped loving basketball. It was a night that felt a lot like this season of Leo’s, and it ruined basketball for me. I kept playing (because that’s what you do when you live in a small town), but it was never the same… not even remotely close.

I really hope this season didn’t ruin baseball for Leo. His love for the sport doesn’t seem like it’s been tainted yet, but he’s definitely not interested in re-living this season again any time soon. And neither am I.

Being the Parent of a Youth Athlete: Am I Doing It Right?

I grew up playing sports (particularly softball), and as an adult, I’ve looked forward to the day my kids would play. My summers were spent at the ballfields – playing, practicing or tagging along to watch mom and dad play.

When we weren’t at the field, my sister, myself and various neighborhood kids were playing wiffle ball in the big yard that separated my parent’s house from Mindy’s parent’s house. We’d play for hours on end, or until a fight broke out (always a crapshoot as to which would happen first). During the summers Amy and I lived for softball and were devastated when bad weather would cause our games to be rescheduled.

Because my early years of ball were such a strong influence in my life, I’m hopeful they will be for my kids too. But I’m starting to realize being the parent of an athlete is hard.

Really hard.

It’s a constant balancing act, and all you really want is for them to have fun (and hopefully love the game).

I hope to be like my mom and dad were. Supportive and helpful – teach them to become better players and understand the game, but also knowing where to draw the line. Give suggestions for improvement, but don’t go overboard. Analyze and talk through the game after it’s over, but not to the point where they aren’t interested anymore.

I want to give my kids all of the encouragement in the world, but I’m not going to baby them. If they don’t put in the work, I won’t tolerate “it’s not fair” complaints. It’s just not my style, and it’s just not the way life works. If you’re not willing to practice pitching at home, I’m not going to let you be upset with anyone other than yourself if you don’t get the chance to pitch. Sorry, not sorry.

Sports are a great way to learn life lessons, all while having fun and making lifelong friends. I was fortunate to have great coaches and great opportunities to play. And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure my kids do too, for as long as they want to play. Even if it makes me an emotional mess in the stands.

Photo credits: Megan Mullins, a fellow Kansas Hammers parent.

Leo Lately – March 2018

In honor of Leo’s upcoming 9th birthday, I thought the timing was right for a post about Leo Lately. (With a quick search I realized I haven’t done this is 3 years. Yikes!) It’s really amazing how much this kid has grown and changed, particularly in the last year.

Growth – Leo’s nearly outgrown all boy’s sized clothing and shoes. I’m certain we’ll be doing our back-to-school shopping this summer in the Men’s section… just another sign my baby is growing up. I’m hopeful this will be the year he starts to care (at least a little) about what we buy. Although, given the big jump in cost for men’s clothing/shoes as compared to boys, maybe him being open to anything wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Photo credit: Mrs. Fawl's 3rd Grade Class Facebook Group

3rd Grade – This year Leo has been in Mrs. Fawl’s class at Overbrook Attendance Center. I honestly can’t tell you how impressed I have been with Mrs. Fawl’s teaching approach. Leo doesn’t have homework, nor does he bring home endless amounts of completed worksheets. I’m certain they do some of that stuff, but they spend their time on projects. He’s done many reports where he’s had to do research and then present what he’s learned; building projects where his team starts with sketches; uses a budget to purchase supplies; tracks their changes and keeps their expenses in-check all while designing and building roller coasters or disaster-proof houses or a house for the Three Little Pigs. Then after they’re done building, they have to see if their creations met the initial challenge. Mrs. Fawl has an amazing way of incorporating all of the subjects into the projects so the kids learn without even realizing they are learning. Honestly, it’s a lot like what I do at work everyday. I get a challenge, consider solutions, work within a budget, plan, execute and then measure my results to see how successful my solution was. I’m amazed that they’re doing this in third grade. What an awesome experience!

Reading – With Leo’s speech development issues, he’s always struggled a bit with reading. It feels like this past year he’s hit a turning point as he’s been able to catch back up to grade-level. I even think he’s starting to enjoy it. I don’t think his reading interest will probably ever be on par with his math, but I’m glad he’s not struggling as much as he had been.

Sports – Leo loves sports and being active in general. He played soccer with his friends at Overbrook last fall and basketball with them this winter. Now we’re starting to gear up for a summer full of baseball with his Hammers team. They’ll play league at Lake Shawnee and will travel a bit for four tournaments this summer. I’ve been a little concerned at the level of commitment his Hammers baseball team requires given his age, but I’m sensitive to it and constantly watching to make sure he’s having fun. His biggest challenge at this point is adapting to hitting kid-pitch. We’re working on improving his swing mechanics at home, so hopefully that will help. I know from my years of playing traveling softball that everything is a whole lot more fun when you’re confident at the plate.

Siblings – Leo’s a great big brother. For the most part, he takes his role of being the oldest and setting a good example seriously. (Sometimes a bit too seriously as he likes to step in for mom and dad every now and then.) He’s very connected to both Alex and Kate and always wants to play with them when he’s at my house.

Affectionate – Leo loves hugs and being physically close to someone (sitting by them or touching them). He’s still a little too young to know for sure, but I think Physical Touch is probably going to be one of his Love Languages. He certainly likes the action of showing/receiving affection from his family.

Responsibility – Probably the biggest change I’ve seen in Leo over the last year is the amount of responsibility he’s starting to show. He’s really started to figure out that he’s responsible for getting himself dressed and ready for school in the morning. He has to remember to take his allergy pill. He is capable and should get his own snacks/drinks. He needs to remember if he has something in his book bag that needs attention for the next day. I think the fact that he bounces back and forth between Brandon’s house and mine probably places an extra amount of need on this skill, but he’s starting to get it. And I’m grateful!

Gamer – Leo loves to play games. Board games, card games, any kind of game, he’s in. While he’s technically still a little young to be playing a lot of them, he jumps right in. I know a few of his current favorites are Cover Your Assets, Splendor, The Train Game, Golf, Old Hell and Nerts. I’m always impressed by how quickly Leo picks up on the rules and starts to follow along on the strategy. I feel bad for his friends as he gets older. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.

The 2018 Ski Trip

Last week we went with the entire Kansas-based Menke family to Granby Ranch in Granby, CO for our ski trip. It was great, and if you’re looking for a family-friendly place to go skiing, Granby should be on your list. The condo was awesome (we had our own hot tub – score!). Lessons were affordable. And the slopes weren’t very crowded. All in all, the makings of a solid week of family fun.

It’s always crazy an adventure to take the kids on a 10+ hour drive. Honestly though, we nearly have that down to a science thanks to Tony. He always makes sure we have plenty of drinks, snacks and movies that are easily accessible, and he’s willing to make copious bathroom stops.

The thing that really stood out about this particular ski trip, is that it was the first time we’d have the entire family up on skis at some point. Leo is an old pro, but it was the first time Alex would get to attend lessons, and Kate was finally big enough for us to get her out on the bunny hill for awhile.

We enrolled Leo in two days of intermediate ski lessons, although he skied all day, every day, regardless of whether he had lessons or not. He complained about having to go to lessons (cousin Carson didn’t have to – it’s not fair!), but after two days he had made several friends in the group, so I think it was a good investment in his time and our money. Because Leo’s quite adept at skiing and prefers to ski terrain parks and narrow trails, I didn’t get any photos of him. It’s a sad but unfortunate result of being better at skiing than his mother. Instead I’m including a photo of Kate and Alex looking over the balcony of the base lodge, trying to find Leo.

We also enrolled Alex in ski lessons. We opted for three days for him since it was his first time in lessons, but only half-days. Initially, we were a bit disappointed he’d only get half-days, but as it turns out, those ski school people know what they’re doing. Alex loved lessons until around 10:30 each day. Then he was tired. And done. So we would inevitably get a call from ski school, and either Tony or I would have to go down and cheer/console/bribe Alex in attempts to get him to finish the remaining hour-ish of time.

Kate was not old enough for lessons, so we took her out for about an hour one afternoon on the bunny hill. Alex tagged along and showed Kate how to ride the magic carpet. Initially, Kate didn’t really want to stand up on her skis, and couldn’t quite follow along with what was going on. But it was only a matter of time and that girl figured it out. Before I knew it, Tony had her skiing down the bunny hill all by herself, and Kate was giggling the whole time!

In addition to skiing, we also spent some time playing in the snow and building a snowman. As it turns out, the fresh powered didn’t pack well so we had a non-traditional triangle snowperson instead of the typical three-ball configuration.

For Tonythe skiing wasn’t particularly challenging. Granby had an entire mountainside that was exclusively blue and black runs, but they weren’t terribly long and several still weren’t open (while it snowed 6-9″ while we were there, they hadn’t had a whole lot before then). And let’s face it, Tony really likes the super steep, super fast, crazy stuff. I know he had a good time though, watching the kids and getting to spend time with his dad, sister and brother, along with various assortments of the cousins, going down the green and blue runs on the other mountainside.

Tony also invested quite a bit of time helping me try to take my skiing to the next level. After seven years (although technically I’ve only been skiing five times), I’m still trying to make the transition from relying on the wedge (pizza) to slow down and turn, to going all parallel, all the time. It isn’t a tough concept physically (although it does take some work), but mentally, you have to trust yourself and take the risk… and that’s something I struggle with. After a few rough moments (and one afternoon where I wasn’t on speaking terms with Tony), I think I finally got there. By my final couple of runs, I was pretty good at doing parallel turns. (We’ll see if it sticks for next time.)

All, in all, I really do enjoy skiing, and I especially enjoy skiing with Tony around… I don’t really like many other folks around because a crowd makes me really anxious, but I’m pretty comfortable with him there.

I’m so thankful that I married into a skiing family and that I get the opportunity to take my kids skiing. I can tell they’re all going to love it. (In fact, Leo declared the other day that he’ll probably be most likely to go to the Olympics in skiing, lol.)

 

A New Era Coming – Kindergarten

We’re less than a week away from Leo starting Kindergarten… man, where did time go? It’s flown by so fast (especially this past two years)! Now my baby is starting school.

Leo lost his first tooth!

I have mixed feelings about this big step in his life. I’m super excited for the opportunities school will present for him – new friends, lots of stuff to learn, and experiences that only a real school environment can provide. But I’m also sad abut the excellent daycare and friends that he will be leaving behind.

While Leo will still go to the same daycare for before- and after-school care, the rest of his current daycare-mates will not. They are going off to Kindergartens in other districts, and Leo will be heading to Whitson Elementary alone.

Up to this point, Leo’s been surrounded by many of the same faces day in and day out for as long as he can remember. Not only have the teachers at his daycare remained consistent, but most of the kids in his daycare class have been together since Leo started at the age of 1.

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These past few days it’s really hit Leo that he won’t be seeing his friends much anymore, and he’s been pretty sad about it. We talk about the new friends he’s going to make, but my heart breaks seeing him so sad.

I really hope the first few weeks of school go well and he’s able to find a few new buddies. Until that time, I’m planning on giving Leo some extra snuggles and trying to work in a few extra playdates with his daycare buddies.

Leo and Everett at Chuck E Cheese