Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A few weeks back, Big Sister had her first violin recital.  She's a determined little thing, and she practiced her heart out before the big day.  We were singing Lightly Row all day long for weeks.  

She had done everything she needed to do to prepare, including getting new strings when her bow started bumping along a string instead of gliding.  She had rehearsed with the pianist and nailed the piece on her first try.  She had a group class that morning.  She had a new dress and a fancy hairdo, thanks to a YouTube video.  She was ready. 

But she was very nervous.  What if I make a mistake?, she kept asking.  We reassured her every way we knew how.  Her violin teacher reassured her, even telling her stories of her own performance mistakes.  But nothing could quiet her fears of messing up.  It seemed that all the hard work and preparation had increased her performance anxiety, because she felt she had so much to lose.  

We brought a little friend with us to the recital, for some extra love and support, in hopes that it might help calm her nerves. 

The violinists were seated together during the concert.  Although we could see Big Sister (and her little kitty) during the performances, we could not tell how she was doing.  It was clearly a friendly audience, full of supportive parents and loved ones who cheered for their little stars.  And there were plenty of students less advanced than Big Sister.  Some even played cute little cardboard box violins.  We hoped that would all be comforting to our nervous performer.

When the time came for Big Sister to play, she couldn't do it.  It was as if she were glued to her chair and all the love in the world could not get her to her feet.  Through tears, she told her teacher that she was too scared.  The show went on without her. 

Before I could get to my daughter, her teacher was seated right next to her, holding her hand.  This teacher is gentle and patient, a personality so perfectly suited to working with young children.  From the very beginning, Big Sister felt comfortable confiding in her about her feelings.  In their first lesson, they talked through Big Sister's fear of participating in a group class with other young violinists.  Big Sister responded surprisingly well to this teacher, agreeing to give the group class a try.

In that moment, when Big Sister was paralyzed with fear and had declined to play when her name was called, my child did not need her mother; she needed her violin teacher.  She needed a violist who had felt those very same fears and overcome them.  She needed a teacher who had already helped her get past a very real fear of performing.

Before I knew it, before I had much of an opportunity to offer comforting words or do damage control, the two of them were walking to the stage.  My daughter, who had been gripped by fear, was going to play. 

They began playing together.  Although I'd heard Lightly Row a million times, I'd never been so happy to hear that piece. 

Soon the teacher quieted and backed away.  By the end, Big Sister had the stage and the spotlight to herself.

When she finished playing, the applause was astounding.  We cheered for her playing, which was beautiful.  But, more than that, we cheered for her courage.  Everyone in that room knew that she had accomplished something really big.  She had conquered fear.  She had overcome a feeling overwhelmingly powerful, something that we've all felt at one time or another.  At seven years old, she had learned her own strength.

I don't know what the teacher said to her before they took the stage.  But whatever it was, it was exactly the right thing.  I don't know where my child found the courage and bravery to overcome fear so gripping.  But I've never been so proud. 

Best of all, Big Sister was proud of herself.  Although the recital did not go how she'd imagined, there was a lot to celebrate.

Even this guy, who spent most of the concert wiggling and fidgeting around, was proud of his sister.

2013 Sewing Stats.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Last year I kept a list of my sewing projects.  And I'm feeling pretty proud of myself.

I didn't count mending and alterations, and I didn't count the endless Girl Scout patches I sewed.  I probably forgot to log some projects too.  And I still made it to 50!  That means I averaged almost a project a week.  Not bad for somebody who works full-time, has two young kids, and always has a to-do list a mile long. 

So what did I sew?  All kinds of things.  Too bad I didn't do a very good job of photographing or blogging it.

It probably comes as no surprise that my daughter came away with the largest number of my creations.  I sewed 18 items for Big Sister, including dresses, leggings, nightgowns, shirts, skirts, skortings (see here if you have no idea what I'm talking about), a scarf, and a gnome costume.

I sewed 14 items for Little Brother.  I wish I'd branched out a bit more, because his mama-made wardrobe consisted only of pajamas, dress-up clothes, a muscle tee, and a couple of scarves.  I think his lumpy muscle shirt is probably the most fun thing I sewed all year.

Speaking of dress-up clothes, I spent a surprising amount of time working on costumes.  Incredibles, knight, lucha libre, gnome, Batman.  15 items.  Fun stuff.  And funny, coming from somebody who used to think sewing costumes was not worth the time.

I sewed 12 pajama pieces.  Pants, shorts, shirts, nightgowns.  PJs are probably my favorite thing to sew.  Quick, easy, soft, comfy, always a big hit with my kids.

I didn't sew a lot for myself, but what I did sew turned out quite well.  Too bad I haven't taken photos of any of it except the Incredibles costume!  My 6 items of selfish sewing also include a lovely purple Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt, a Kitschy Coo Lady Skater dress, a Neue Mode 22990 skirt, and a Sew Much Ado Seafarer top.  I hope to do even better this year.

I sewed 3 items for the home.

I sewed 8 gifts.  I think that's lower than the past few years, but still something to feel good about.

I sewed undies and dresses for dolls, and a doll Incredibles costume.

By far the coolest statistic of all is that I used 27 new patterns.  I love trying new patterns.  Although it would certainly be faster to reuse a pattern I've sewn before, and there are many good ones, I always enjoy the challenge of trying something new.  Only once was it a complete dud.  That's a pretty good success rate, I'd say.  I won't list all of the new patterns I sewed in 2013, but here are some of my favorites, in addition to those I sewed for myself (listed above):  Fishsticks Designs Watered with Love layette set for Create H.O.P.E. DesignsGo To leggingsHeidi & Finn PlayDay dressMADE tee (free) and muscle tee (free), Kitschy Coo Skater dressCali Faye Wednesday dress, Titchy Threads Fancy Pants leggings, and Lil Blue Boo Sienna 2.0 dress.  

Since it's already February and I've yet to complete a sewing project in 2014, I expect that this year will not be quite so productive.  But that's okay.  We'll call it a quality-over-quantity year.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Now that the holiday craziness is behind us and we've had our fill of black-eyed peas for a while, I'm looking forward and thinking about what's ahead.  Nobody knows what's coming, of course.  So while I'm glad for a fresh start, I also wonder if I should be bracing myself for the unpredictable.  What I do know is that whatever is headed our way will be met by a bunch of Supers who are ready to take on the world.

Whatever it is, good or bad, this family will take it on together.  Together We Are Stronger.

We will learn, and we will grow.  We will meet the challenges of the year head-on.

We will do what we have to do, even when it's hard, even when it pushes us and tests our limits.

We will smile and laugh.  We will balance life's necessary responsibilities with unnecessary silliness.

We will be serious when we need to be, and focus and determined.  We will work hard.  We will prove ourselves again and again, without giving up and without losing sight of what's most important.

We will look for and find everyday heroes, those who help and inspire others, those who remind us of our own strength.  And we will do our best to help and support others in need.

When the unexpected happens and we struggle to make sense of it all, we will find healing in the power of love and compassion.

We will find comfort in exercising our minds and bodies, in staying healthy, in our creative outlets.

When we need a boost, we will remember our red tights and masks (maybe even put them on?).  Hopefully then we'll feel like superheroes and be reminded that we are tough, and we are winners.

Whatever it is that 2014 has in store, we're as ready as we'll ever be to tackle it.  As long as we've got each other, we'll be alright.  So, 2014, bring it on!

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Parenthood and perfectionism are a tough combination.  Because there's always a new challenge right around the corner, it's virtually impossible for a parent who tends toward perfectionism and unhealthy self-criticism to live up to her own expectations.  I battle this regularly, often measuring our family, and myself as a mother, against an unrealistic ideal that I've created.  This time of year, when I'm working overtime to make the holidays magical and ensure that Little Brother's Christmas birthday does not get lost in the shuffle, that sort of noise becomes really loud in my head.  I'm not doing enough, I tell myself.  The house isn't decorated enough, we haven't baked enough, we haven't seen enough lights, we haven't done enough crafts, we haven't made enough gifts, we haven't focused enough on the meaning of Christmas, we haven't spent enough quality time together, we haven't stayed in touch with friends well enough, and on and on and on.  Next thing I know, my to-do list has grown into something truly unachievable, and I all I can think about is the impossibility of it all.

I know what I need to do.  I have to bring myself back.  A few deep breaths, a moment in the sun and some fresh air, a cup of tea, and I'm all set to RESET.  The only way out is to change my outlook.  Instead of what I haven't done and can't done, I need to think about what I have done and am doing.  Instead of the unachievable ideal, I need to focus on what I'm doing right, what I'm giving my family and what I'm doing for others.  Because really isn't that the better measure of success? 

In the spirit of resetting and reframing, I want to tell you something that I've done right -- I am raising a family of volunteers.  My children each began volunteering regularly at age three, and now they view community service as something we do.  In our family, we have blue eyes, we read each night before bed, we put a fairy on top of the Christmas tree, and we volunteer.  Community service has become part of the fabric of our family, and I am so very proud of that.

Organizing reading material at Operation School Bell.

Marking storm drains for the City Watershed Department.

When my daughter was a toddler, and the perfectionism noise in my head started to become unbearably loud this time of year, I began looking for a way we, as a family, could get out in the community and help some people.  Not by giving money -- we already did that -- but by using our time and our talents to do something.  I had grand hopes of involving friends and their young children.  Wouldn't the holidays be brighter if instead of buying each other gifts, we could come together and do some good in our community?  I was terribly disappointed to find that volunteering with children was almost unheard of in my community.

The next year I looked again and was thrilled to discover a nonprofit startup with a mission of creating local volunteer opportunities for families.  I invited myself to lunch with the founder and asked how I could help.  I knew this was something important -- to our family and scores of others, to local nonprofits who didn't yet know how much families could help them, to community members who benefit from the good work that nonprofits do.  I began volunteering behind the scenes (working mostly on funding strategy and grants), and we soon began volunteering as a family.  Now, thanks to Little Helping Hands and the many nonprofits and local organizations LHH partners with, we are volunteers

Helping maintain the park where Mr. Great and I got married.

I knew, as everyone does, that volunteering is something we should all try to do, like eating veggies and flossing our teeth.  What I didn't quite realize was how volunteering would inform the ways in which our children view the world around them.  Our volunteer experiences have provided a foundation for talking about difficult topics (like homelessness, hunger, child abuse, refugees, disaster assistance).  As our children become more aware of imperfect and unfair aspects of our world, they can find some balance in knowing that good people are working hard to help find solutions.  They are experiencing all sorts of ways people can and do help their communities, and it has become natural for them to think about how they, and others, can make a difference.

Making Mother's Day flowers for moms with hospitalized children.

Painting over graffiti for the City.

When confronted with others in need, my children don't turn away or pretend not to see, as so many adults seem to.  No, they ask what we can do to help.  Because they know that even small children who can't yet read can help.  Families, together, can help. 

Helping maintain city parks.

Cleaning trash from a beautiful local landmark.

Bagging groceries at a food pantry.

Making thank you cards for the American Red Cross.

We've even gotten the grandparents involved.  On some school holidays, instead of going to the movies or playing games, Big Sister and Oma volunteer together.

Assembling backpacks for Project HELP.

Preparing food for the hungry at Caritas.

We have not hung lights on our house, and I still haven't found our tree skirt.  We haven't baked cookies, and I've still got loads of gifts to buy and wrap.  But you know what?  This family has done a lot of good.  As Mr. Great and I said in our wedding vows so many years ago, together we are stronger.  Together we are making a difference.  That's what really matters.

Breaking down computers for recycling at Goodwill.

Making dinner at Ronald McDonald House.

Helping food pantry recipients.

Making visual aids for Komen Foundation.

Last year, Big Sister did so much volunteering that she was honored with an award.  A trophy!  And a certificate from the mayor thanking her for her service.  Little Brother got a certificate too, and a ribbon.  Hard evidence that we're doing something right here.

This special kid was very proud, and we were very proud of her.  She took her trophy to school for show-and-tell.  She told her Brownie troop about her award and the work she'd done to earn it.

I have to tell you that I am every bit as proud of myself, too, for committing to spend much of our family time in a productive way, for making it happen, for modeling the importance of volunteering to my children.  They know that I spend some evenings helping Little Helping Hands in its search for funding and grants, they know that I help lead the Brownies troop and that I help organize charity projects at my office.  We are volunteers.  They know.

As I try to reset, reframe, and refocus, and as those not-enough thoughts invade my mind during this busy time, this is what I want to remember.