Friday, July 29, 2011

Baseball and Bathroom Breaks

It was recently noted by one of our readers, that we needed a male voice. Apparently, men are harder to talk into things then women because the only man I could talk into doing this was the one I'm married too! Speaking of talking him into things, I asked him to write about something that I talked him in to doing several years ago-----coaching Aaron's baseball team. I have fond memories of the parents who invested their time in my teams and in my own growth  through the years. Here in our corner of the world, it is common to be coached by the same parents and play with the same kids from age 3 until 18. You can't help but know every child and parent in your kids' class. I love the comfort of knowing exactly who my kid comes home talking about and knowing that child also knows me (and adores my husband)!  Thanks to "coach" for writing this week! 

Wife: “Coaches meeting for baseball is this week.”

Husband:  “Oh, I didn’t realize it was here already.”

Wife: “Yup, I signed you up to coach again.”

Thanks goodness that coach’s wife remembered to do that.  In a small town, there’s plenty of ways to spend your time.  I’m fortunate that I get to spend my summer coaching my son’s baseball team.

This was my third year coaching my son, Aaron’s team.  His teammates haven’t changed all that much, which is great.  They look forward to seeing each other on the field every year.  When the first practice rolls around, if someone isn’t there, they all need to be assured that D. is out of town and K is at a birthday party, but yes, they will be playing.

To the boys, baseball wouldn’t be the same without all of their friends involved… and I agree.  In fact, this year I called two sets of parents whose kids missed the sign-up.  The boys had been talking at school and a couple of them didn’t know about this year’s schedule.  Of course, I know all the parents of the kids my son goes to school with so they were just a phone call away.

Officially, I have one other coach, but I really have more.  The same group of Dad’s helps each year.  I organize the practice schedules, make sure to send text reminders out about games and answer parent’s questions.  But after that, we all make it happen, in fact, our third base coach changes almost every game.

Here are a few things I’ve come to expect from coaching at this level:

1)    At any given time, someone is going to be digging in the dirt, watching and airplane or waving to someone in the stands.  So, a hit by the other team, will be a surprise to one of our players. I guess that adds to the excitement of the game…
2)    D. will ask me before every game, “Can I pitch today coach?”  I respond the same way very game, “Not today.”  Then I turn I smile.  I would miss it if he didn’t ask.  D., by the way, is an excellent third baseman.  He rarely misses the ball and he tags the base every time… I mean every time… even if there isn’t a base runner.  By the way, D. has never practiced pitching.
3)    H. will, while pitching, have a conversation with himself.  We are not sure what he is saying or who he is saying it to.  He will nod and shake his head in the direction of the catcher as appearing as if he is selecting his pitches.  Never mind that the catcher has no idea this selection process is occurring and has no intention of retrieving H.'s pitch if it doesn’t some directly to him.
4)    A lot of boys will be on the ground as a part of catching or stopping the ball.  And they most likely will not be in a hurry to get up.
5)    The dugout, while we are batting, is like a Jr. High track meet.  Unless they are up to bat or ‘on deck,” they are busy filling their water cups, going to the concession stand, running to talk to their parents or discussing the newest Transformers movie.  We try, but they have their own agendas.
6)    Aaron will field the ball and occasionally make a smart play.  It won’t always turn out like he envisioned it, but it’s great to see him play.  His understanding of the game, in this case, is ahead of his physical ability.  He tries hard and though he makes mistakes, I’m always proud of him.

This past year, in the middle of the inning, an opposing team’s player walked off the field announcing that he needed to use the bathroom.  Typically a pitcher is relieved, but in this case, the shortstop was relieved, literally.

Coaching has been a blessing.  We don’t seem to win often, but the boys tend to forget that by the next game.  We hold practices, try to instill fundamentals, encourage them often and watch them grow.  I can see the potential in each of the boys, so I know next year will be even better.

Being in a small town may mean that we don’t have an ex-college player or ex-semi pro coaching our teams.  It does, however, mean that there is someone like me coaching.  Someone who is doing it for his son.  Someone who respects each boy on that team like they are his son.  Someone who cares less about winning, and more about playing with character.  Someone who will be there for them, beyond baseball.  Now that’s a small town, and that’s what’s great ‘out here.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Overwhelming Goodness

It’s been an up and down kind of summer in Atchison County. We’ve had celebrations to commemorate a church’s anniversary and our country’s birthday. We’ve hosted an incredible air show. We’ve played softball, volleyball, baseball, and splashed in the city pools. We’ve gardened and barbequed and chased fireflies. But we’ve also been battling a relentless flood.

On Memorial Day, I learned that water was coming, and that it was going to be “as bad or worse than ’93.” Yikes. Dread, fear and concern began leaking in around the edges of our collective subconscious, but those feelings were secondary to the need to act, and those of us who had something to do were thankful. For two different weeks in June, my office coordinated meals and such for two sandbagging operations, which involved running ice and beverages when needed and spending oodles of time discussing details with volunteers.

For me, those weeks were overwhelming for several reasons. First, it was a different kind of work than I was used to, a constant commotion of thinking talking planning doing, moving from task to task, location to location. Second, it was emotionally difficult to see the water creep into MY county, with every intention of staying for months. It was violating, offensive. Simultaneously, I was overcome with rage and an oppressive feeling of helplessness.

The last kind of overwhelming was yet another reason why I love this place, and why I grew up trusting in the decency of others: good people live here. One day, I would be working with church ladies, veteran women who didn’t flinch when I called at the last minute to say, ‘Um…we’re going to need meals for 75, not 50 like we discussed.” The next day, I would talk to an individual who had purchased enough ingredients to feed an army and was ready with her assembly line of friends to throw sandwiches together at any minute. Another day, a local business volunteered to feed not only one site, but both, and delivered a bbq spread like none other. One day, I couldn’t find enough meals for what we needed, so a busy mom hit the pavement and requested donations from businesses in the area. Those businesses, by the way, were immediately and seriously impacted by the flood – still, they gave.

My work was insignificant compared to what others were taking on. I wasn’t one of the amazing volunteers who lived at the sandbag-filling site every day, physically tying sandbags or helping out behind the scenes wherever needed. I was not one of the people stacking those sandbags on a levee in the unforgiving, unyielding sun. I wasn’t spending hours working with state and federal organizations to make things happen. But still, even I got calls and emails of encouragement from cheerleaders in the community. I built the kind of in-the-trenches friendships that only happen in times of crisis. And I was able to see, day in and day out, the caliber of people that are committed to living here.

It’s been an up and down summer here. We’ve worked and we’ve wept, but we’ve also Lived every time we had the opportunity. We’ve had endless discussions about who caused this flood; it’s an understandable reaction, a need to assign blame and to determine who should be held accountable for this disaster. But personally, I don’t spend much time thinking about that. It's too big, too far out of my control, and it feels almost irrelevant to my focused, 'it's here, now how do we fix it and move forward' mindset. I am concerned about where our county will be on the other side of this – but this summer I have witnessed our citizenry’s capacity for generosity and diligence and hard work, and I know that no matter what comes next, there’s no group of people I’d rather be standing with.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lil' Firecrackers and Lil' Blue Jays

Please welcome Jennifer Herron our guest blogger today. Jen is a member of our Community Hospital team, a busy community volunteer and a talented writer, but most importantly, she is a mommy to two adorable children, Ryder (3) and Reese (1). Jennifer is not from Atchison County, but has made it her home after marrying a hometown boy. Jen does a beautiful job of describing a day in the life of a small town mommy and what it means to her to be raising her children here. 

One of the best examples of a great weekend in Rock Port could not come at a better time.

Fourth of July weekend in Rock Port is comparable to being at the North Pole on Christmas.  Memorial Park was buzzing with activity across the street from our house before our coffee was even brewing. Just looking at the park, I could already smell the remains of sparkers, funnel cakes and sun block.

Our phones started ringing early in the morning from friends and family. Since our house is so close the festivities, everyone wanted to know if they could set up camp in our yard for the day. Can they use our bathroom, can they get some ice? Do we have an extra blanket? Yes, sure, come on in.

It doesn’t matter that I only ever see you in the convenience store or that you know my children’s names better than mine. On a holiday, or on just a regular week day, you are more like family here.

At 10:00 in the morning, we load up the stroller with snacks, bottled water, sun block and swimming suits. Friends park their cars in our yard and we all head to the park together. There’s the high school wrestling coach sitting on a plank above the dunk tank. There are the 4-H Club kids trying to keep all the frogs corralled for the frog jumping contest and the jumping castle is taking shape.

We spend the next two hours basking in the sun, listening to kids squealing in delight and watching little babies all decked out in red, white and blue win prizes for “best smile” and “chubbiest cheeks” in the baby contest.

When it is time for lunch, we all load up and head back to home base. Some of our friends needed to go back to their house across town for a change of clothes, but we took their little ones back with us because they were hungry. We will feed them just as if they were our kids and they will fit in as if they were always here. The babies fall asleep for quick naps together in one crib and the older kids excitedly talk about how high they jumped in the castle.

This holiday is just one of the great examples of why I love living in this community. I did not grow up here, but always visited because it is where my mother, father and generations before were raised. I will be honest and say that it did take some getting used to.  But eventually, that old feeling of “everyone knows my business” transformed into “everyone has my back.”

If your car breaks down on the side of the road in the college town I used to live in, you’d be weary to ask for help from a passing motorist. If it happens here, the first person to stop will likely be one of the farmers who drink coffee with your grandpa every morning. There’s one thing less to worry about, and the stress relievers just keep coming.

Once, I left my phone at the pool, but it was waiting for me by the time I got home, because someone found it, recognized my little girl’s picture on the screen and dropped it off at the house. My husband’s billfold fell out of his truck at the grocery store. A man called him from the store to tell him before my husband even realized it was lost.

These little details and so many more are what make raising my kids here the easiest decision I have ever made. Where else you could feel as safe? Where else can you go where the whole village is on the same team in raising the children? It’s comfy, convenient and close and makes being a mother just that much easier! 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Fair Lady

Ever grown weary of beige? I did. About 9 years ago, I was tired of beige. Beige siding, beige carpet, beige furniture.  Beige defined the world of rentals and subdivisions. Miles and miles of beige vinyl siding with two car garages plopped down in a world of concrete with a cute name like Stoney Brook or Silver Lane. 

After five years of beige rentals, I knew I could not raise my children in a home devoid of personality and charm. I could not commit to another lease agreement in a world where my home was only distinguishable from the surrounding fleet by the number outside the door.

Instead, I envisioned a future where my children could claim a yard, a house and a whole town as their home and it mean more than just an address. I wanted to find that house that my children would identify with happiness, safety, comfort and uniqueness in town where they could be “from.” 

My Fair Lady
On a fall day in 2002, my husband and I trotted across the yard of a home for sale in my home town of Tarkio. The leaves had turned gorgeous shades of yellow and orange and were ankle deep in the yard of this house that had been on the market for over a year. Matt hoisted me up on his shoulders so I could peak in the window of this 100 year old Victorian. Original woodwork, high ceilings and a turret…this was no beige.

In December of 2002, we made this house our home for a mortgage payment hundreds of dollars less than our rent in Kansas City. In the years that followed, we added gutters, storm windows, paint, gardens and a drive way. We added a baby boy in 2003, a little girl in 2007 and filled the last bedroom in 2010 with another sweet little boy. Over time, we have stained the carpet, put dents in the walls and had to break down the bathroom door after my son locked himself in.  We’ve  laughed in times of joy and cried in sorrow with our neighbors. 
Best part of this home is not just its charm, its uniqueness and its history. Best part of this home is that everyone knows that’s where the Schlueters live. That’s Aaron’s house. That’s Josh’s baby swing. Look, Lizzie left her bike in the driveway. Matt must be home early tonight. His pickup is in the driveway. Call Ann. She left the van lights on again.

What we are lacking in concrete and beige, we make up for in identity. That’s Ann’s house. That’s my home. Friends, that’s where WE are from.
No offense intended to those beige loving folks...there's enough love for us all!