Saturday, March 20, 2010

Q&A Continues - Donna Reed and Tightrope Walking on a Strand of Spaghetti

SK8nLane asked me how I balanced the life of a passionate skater with the needs of our other children. Oddly enough, I had to think about that one. 
   Our family dynamic was a bit different, so I'm not sure that what I have to say about this will be applicable. The answer is not a "One Size Fits All." I'm not even sure it is one that fits most. 
   Like the game of Jeopardy (or living this life), I'll start with my answer: 
Treat your kids like only children. Celebrate them separately and enjoy their successes as individuals; share in their lives and don't bunch them together. Don't compare them to one another. (So, did I win the Daily Double??)

   That sounds so simple, doesn't it? You all know better than that. Balancing the lives of your children is tightrope walking on a strand of spaghetti. When it's al dente, spaghetti's a bit easier and less fragile. It is less likely to break. Uncooked, it is fragile and definitely capable of shattering in a hundred pieces; overdone, it falls limp to the floor in a pile of sticky mush. 
   Rather than getting into another "War and Peace" blog about my life, let me start by saying that I was an only child. Going into this, I had very little experience and absolutely no credentials. So on occasion, learning to balance meant slipping. 
   I have a wonderful and talented daughter who is six years older than our skater; my amazing stepson is also six years older. They are unique personalities with their own plentiful skills and bountiful talents. My daughter was  - and is - an athlete of some renown. She grew up ski racing and went on to compete three times at X-Games in Skier-X. My stepson is the Brain of the family. He speaks fluent Russian, has traveled extensively, was an extraordinary student and one who still takes great pride in killing us all in Trivial Pursuit. He is now married and expecting a child this fall with his equally extraordinary and intelligent (and incredibly funny) wife. And, of course, there is our skater.
   When the kids were young, learning the ropes was a challenge. I had to quickly master balancing work, sports, school and personal time. I wasn't always successful. Actually, I wasn't successful a lot of the time. However, I do remember something that was very important to the lasting success of our balancing act.
   One day, when driving my daughter home from ski club, we had a conversation. She was about 12 at the time, but I remember talking to her like a friend - not a daughter. I told her that I had been asked to run for president of the skating club and I explained what that meant in terms of time commitment and involvement in her brother's sport. I asked her permission. I told her that I would not do it if she had a problem with my focusing more time on the rink and a less time on the slopes. But along with that, I made a promise: I would be at every race I could. I would stay involved with the ski club and I would be there for her, personally and emotionally. Her father was already heavily involved with her ski racing, so she knew that she would always have one parent around. But what I did had nothing to do with his commitment. I had to decide how I was going to make it work for us as mother-daughter. One-to-one.
   I would love to say that it was a Donna Reed Moment and that I was successful 100% of the time. You can all stop laughing now. You all know that isn't possible - or even probable. Like all of us, I did my best.
   As the kids got older, my daughter and stepson went off to college and on to their own lives. Mine was still in the rink, and now more on the road - driving and then flying back and forth for training in Colorado Springs until, eventually, we all moved (see previous Q&A blog). 
   The other thing that happened was that the older kids grew to understand and accept this strange way of life. Of course, we had some rough times along the way. We almost broke the spaghetti strand trying to stay balanced. But now, we seem to have crossed from one side to the other (*applause, applause*). 
   We learned a lot about family along the way. We learned a lot about love. We learned that love is not conditional; support is everything. If one person started to fall, we would all readjust and re-balance to get them back on the wire so we could get to the other side. We're still balancing, but now we have separate strands in a bowl full of al dente spaghetti - and its all good, and I could not be more proud of all of them.
   Do you know how you test for the perfect spaghetti? You throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. Right now, I'm happy to say my wall is a mess. The kids? They are all finding their own recipe for success. And using what they learned from this adventure, they are now weaving their strands into bridges on which to walk because they understand that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

   Donna Reed would be proud.
(And this still turned into War & Peace..sorry, folks..)


  1. I love this! I think I should throw some spaghetti at the wall. You guys as a family have such a great combination of love, respect, and humor, and it's clear your priorities are in the right place.

  2. Divide and conquer has been one of our strategies. As you mentioned making sure there is one parent for each child's events or if one just wants to be home spending that time with them doing an activity.

    We are just at the stage of adding the ingredients to our children's recipes. I hope I can make that recipe as successful as yours with adults who are happy, loved and respected.