Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Participation Award

The following appears in the April edition of Chicago Parent.

For many years, I have been philosophically opposed to “participation” prizes. It felt like a disservice to have kids believing that mediocrity was cause for celebration. I beamed with pride the first time my oldest son deposited his “everybody wins” ribbon directly into the trash. While I certainly wanted the boys to enjoy learning games and sports, I felt they should also understand that not everyone can be a standout.

Not everyone wins.

It is why I never threw a game of Candy Land in my life.

Things got tricky when my youngest son turned three. There was nothing Joey coveted more than his older brothers’ trophies. He would line them up in ascending height order, rearrange them by color, and then sub-categorize them by sport. Joey polished them. He talked to them. He made them his friends. It was only a matter of time before Joey began his relentless siege to secure his own. Every morning, the first words out of his mouth were:

“When will I get my trophy, mommy?”

Perhaps if Joey had been my first child, I would have engaged in intellectual conversation about winning and losing. About hard work. About striving to be the best.

Instead?

I drove to Goodwill, plunked down $1.99 and bought my kid a random pillar of victory* to get him off my case. Despite this obvious lapse in judgement, I still hated meaningless trophies.

Last month, my older two boys asked to participate in a local chess tournament.I hesitated when Joey insisted he should play, too.

Joey has attention issues. The diagnosed kind. During coach-pitch baseball (where every player has the ball thrown to him until he or she hits it), Joey saw a LOT of pitches. I’m talking 58 strikes here. Butterflies distracted him. He felt the urge to wave to everyone walking through the park. When he got bored, he would plunk down, hum a tune from “Frozen” and draw smiley faces with his finger across the dusty first base.

With this in mind, I reluctantly registered all three boys for the tournament, cringing at the improbability of Joey being able to sit through 4-5 rounds of chess.

Despite these fears, I dropped the kids off with my usual directive:

Do your best.

I may have prayed, too.

Three hours later, I returned and the boys rushed over to fill me in on their evening. Danny complained about having to play eighth graders. Jack was pleased with his 2.5 points. And Joey?

The boy I didn’t consider capable of sitting through a single game lost twice and scored two draws. He played four games. TWO DRAWS. It was so much more than I ever thought possible.

Despite not landing a trophy or winning a single game, Joey received a participation medal.

The next day, he proudly packed his prize in his backpack to show his teacher. He wore it around his neck for a week. He hung it on his wall like he had seen his brothers do – a sole entry in a vast sea of emptiness.

He then asked if he could play in another tournament soon.

I once thought participation medals meant nothing.

 I could not have been more wrong.

 *If Jeni Thompson, the 1999 YMCA Sharks’ Rookie of the Year, is out there and still wants here trophy back, feel free to contact Chicago Parent.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Big Save


The following appears in the March edition of Chicago Parent magazine.

When I registered my oldest son for “instructional basketball,” I had no idea it would be a watershed moment. I envisioned youngsters learning the game from devoted volunteers sworn to uphold the tenets of equal playing time and encouragement for all.

Poor, naïve mom.

Up until that year, athletics weren’t even on Danny’s radar. Despite a newfound eagerness to play, Danny spent more time on the bench than the water boy. It was a sad reiteration of his initial fear that he just wasn’t any good at sports.

Frustrated and angry, I took my grievances to the coach. His response? “Well, has Danny even PLAYED basketball before?”

The message was undeniable. Danny had no business playing this sport. The window of opportunity had closed. If he wasn’t good by now, GO AWAY.

Danny was nine years old.

In an era saddled with ridiculous pressure to master a single sport by second grade, I have often stood in open revolt. I have been mocked for suggesting that winning is meaningless if only two kids can handle the ball by season’s end.

Yet when my middle son expressed a desire to play ice hockey, I succumbed to peer pressure. I signed up for extra camps and coaches. I upgraded the $19 stick. I downloaded YouTube videos on wrist shots.

I became part of the problem. And when a newbie goalie named Jake was assigned to the team, I was irked. Barely out of learn-to-skate, Jake had never before played travel hockey. He was tentative on the ice. I scrutinized his cherubic face and detected not a hint of killer instinct.

I wrote him off.

I became the very type of sports parent I hate. I forgot how quickly kids progress when they are allowed to play. I was only thinking of wins and not of the life lessons youth sports are meant to impart.

Game after game, Jake got better. He began stepping out of the net. He made remarkable saves. His skating improved tenfold.

Then came the all-important tournament weekend. The team fought its way to a championship game only to tie in regulation. There was an overtime. Nobody scored.

 SHOOTOUT.

Poor Jake felt the weight of the team’s expectations and was terrified to disappoint. For a moment, I thought he was going to bolt for the nearest exit. Then I saw a coach whispering in his ear.

He told him he could do this.

Chin up, Jake skated to his spot in front of a net that must have felt enormous.

The kid delivered, blocking shots, and winning not only the game but also MVP for the entire weekend. I cried. I realized it would not have mattered if Jake had given up every goal, I would have been just as happy. By going out there, he had already won. I felt privileged to have witnessed it.

In the end, Jake made the big save not just for his team. He saved me from thinking there is a window or specific criteria for being extraordinary. He saved his mother from having a heart attack right there in the stands. And he saved us all from forgetting that these sports are about believing in the infinite potential of a child.

It is why I think every kid should play sports.

As an aside, my Danny continues to dabble in basketball and always cheers loudest for the newbie.

He understands that someone should.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

John Scott, The Chicago Wolves, and All-Stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a sponsored post. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. I still only recommend products or services I use and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


The indisputable hockey story of the week has been John Scott. The 6'8" enforcer of the NHL went from being bullied and shamed by an NHL representative (who wanted him to bow out of the All-Star game) to scoring two goals and being named  MVP. He was applauded, celebrated, and carried around the ice by teammates who perhaps forgot he weighs nearly 300 pounds.

The lesson to my kids?

Always play with heart. Play hard even when nobody is watching. Even if everyone on the ice is faster, more agile, or more talented. Even if you think the whole world is against you.

Play with heart and good things happen.

While not everyone may have been watching, good things happened Monday for a couple of Chicago Wolves' elder statesmen. AHL All-Stars and Wolves players Pat Cannone and Andre Benoit brought home sweet victory for the Central Division in a 4-0 rout with Cannone securing MVP honors.

Let the word go forth:

Chicago ice hockey is on fire.


They played hard and got to go to a Wolves game.
The Chicago Wolves understand the growing interest in hockey in Chicago and are strong supporters of youth development. Last year, when my son Jack was new to the sport, he was pretty much a one-trick pony.  He would bank the puck against the boards and rely on speed to get up the ice.  Jack had no stick handling abilities whatsoever. Yet the Chicago Wolves believe in just these kinds of kids and their potential to improve.  They regularly offer up the big stage for young teams to play during intermission. It is just another reason to head to a game:




With hockey becoming the "it" sport in Chicago, The Chicago Wolves Fan 4 Pack, presented by Orville Redenbacher's, is a great way to bring the whole family out for live action without having to mortgage the farm.  Starting at only $89, packs include:

Four (4) tickets
Four (4) hot dogs
Four (4) medium sodas
An order of popcorn!
Awesome hockey where attendees can obtain autographs from players after every game
Tickets available HERE

When it comes down to it, it is always more fun to cheer on the underdogs. The workers. Those who strive to be better and with enough heart, will get there.

Cheering on The Chicago Wolves, beyond just the spectacle and excitement, is part of that.

If you don't want the bundle. I've also got you covered for $5 off individual ticket purchases. Simply use the coupon code WALSH in the promo code box when ordering through Ticketmaster and get $5 off on each ticket. 

Check out a game and let me know what you think!



Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a sponsored post. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. I still only recommend products or services I use and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, January 29, 2016

More Cowbell

The following appears in the February edition of Chicago Parent, copies are almost completely gone at my local hockey rink, so be sure to find one today!

Despite being forbidden by my husband (and several school by-laws) from toting a cowbell to our
sons’ assorted competitive events, I definitely have a little bit of Christopher Walken lurking just beneath the surface.

 “I got a fever, and the only prescription is cowbell.”

In the ultra-competitive world of youth sports, the use of cowbell remains controversial. I understand that sounding off after a fifth unanswered goal may be overkill, but the urge to rattle that thin sheet of metal is strong, like the Force. Why even have a cowbell if you can’t ring it? Yoda would totally have my back.

Joe believes that unless you are a dairy farmer, no sane person should be issued a cowbell. The Force is not as strong within that one.

A local father I know was escorted out of a tiny gym after his treasured cowbell irked the wrong referee. Sure, he might have been a little trigger-happy (double dribble call against the other team = COWBELL!), but the lifetime ban from attending Catholic League Basketball still seems a bit excessive.

I begged Joe to let me bring a cowbell to a chess tournament once. I thought it would be super funny – a first time for everything! He said he would turn me into the National Chess Federation himself.

Suffering from cowbell-envy, I have instead taken to yelling the words:

COWBELL COWBELL COWBELL!

After that, you can usually hear me screaming:

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?

or

AGAIN!

or

YOU’RE KILLING ME, SMALLS!

Joe stopped sitting next to me in the bleachers years ago. He also says I watch too many movies.

I see a certain symbolism in the cowbell that I think others miss. Originally intended as a way to locate lost cows, sport spectators never waffle on whose parent brought the cowbell. Come game day, kids are often nervous and anxious. They worry they might let their team down. They think their parents will be disappointed in them. Cowbell is a strong statement of support from a parent who will never waver in their devotion. The message is clear:

Home is nearby. And it loves you.

There aren’t many people willing to sacrifice their carefully crafted image and personal poise for another. Cowbell bearers face open disdain, mocking, and ostracization. I personally have never done the wave at a professional sporting event. I won’t paint my face for the Chicago Bears. I do have standards.

But for 6th grade basketball?

Dude. I’m making signs and crafting Danny-specific chants.

Cowbell is unconditional love. It is proud, undeniable, and obnoxious. Most importantly, it is felt deeply and without question, even when the object of that love pretends he has no idea who you are as he sprints to the locker room.

Still, I believe the world needs more cowbell.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Chicago Wolves Fan 4 Pack Presented by Orville Redenbacher

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a sponsored post. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. I still only recommend products or services I use and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


I am a full-fledged hockey mom. It took me years to figure out the blue line and what constitutes "off-sides," but I am there.

And I am totally broke. Because ice hockey is freaking expensive.

But now I live with all these damn hockey fans who won't stop clamoring for live hockey. What do they want from me next...blood?

Which brings me to The Chicago Wolves. In the past, I have been honored to participate in a focus group for the Wolves where I beat the drum of "Yeah, the tickets are affordable, but dude...a hot dog and a coke is going to run you another $100."

And those nice Chicago Wolves people listened. Mostly because I'm loud.

The Chicago Wolves Fan 4 Pack, presented by Orville Redenbacher's is a great way to bring the whole family out for live hockey without having to sell your body to science. Starting at only $89, packs include:

Four (4) tickets
Four (4) hot dogs
Four (4) medium sodas
An order of popcorn!
Awesome hockey where attendees can obtain autographs from players after every game
Tickets available HERE

Having been to several games, the spectacle and excitement of live hockey is like nothing you've ever seen. With 21 seasons without a losing record, the Wolves are also a proud sponsor of youth hockey:

Check out the nifty patch - I was about to use duck tape until one of the mom's suggested an iron. In the past, Jack's team wasn't exactly known for their tournament victories, but under this year's Wolves' sponsorship? Totally won the Irish South Bend Cup! 

Best yet?

If you don't want the bundle. I've also got you covered for $5 off individual ticket purchases. Simply use the coupon code WALSH in the promo code box when ordering through Ticketmaster and get $5 off on each ticket.


For all my local Chicago hockey-obsessed friends, my family and I have always had an amazing time at the games. Enjoy and let me know what you think!




Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a sponsored post. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. I still only recommend products or services I use and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sweat Shops & Slurpees

My goal this summer was to not be an enabler.

7-Eleven began its stranglehold on my purse years ago. With gaggles of boys showing up to entice my kids into a seedy life of endless Slurpees and Moon Pies, the daily clamoring for a dollar was relentless. After desperately digging around in my purse for a quarter one afternoon only to come up empty, I knew things needed to change.

If the kids wanted to subsist on flavored ice, then they would have to pay for it themselves. Ironically enough, all three of my boys are currently between the ages of 7 and 11. Jesus was secretly whispering to me to get these people jobs. Who was I to disagree?

After carefully reviewing existing child labor laws, I was bummed to discover sweat shops are apparently frowned upon nowadays. So much for my ideas of little hands scrubbing toilets and crafting ammunition. Damn child advocates totally ruin everything.

Danny suggested forming a lawn care business, citing his impeccable service of our own yard. Glancing despondently out the window towards the unevenly cut grass and countless dandelions, I opted to redirect his efforts. I suggested tutoring chess.

Within moments of posting his services on a local mom’s page, my mailbox was inundated with folks wanting to get on Danny’s schedule. His first gig was a pair of young twins. Twenty minutes before Danny’s first day of work, he made a huge spectacle of departing. Noting his disheveled hair, wrinkled shirt, and peculiar goop stuck to his cheek, I stopped my firstborn in his tracks.

“You are NOT walking out the door like that,” I scolded.

“What?”

“You look like you just rolled out of bed.”

“I DID just roll out of bed.”

“You are not professional at all,” I chided while spitting on a towel to wipe the crud from his face. Danny groaned as I ordered him back upstairs to change.

“I cannot believe I have to endure all this just for a stinkin’ Slurpee!”

Despite an impressive performance of righteous indignation, the crisp ten-dollar bill and smile that arrived home an hour late belied his complaints. When the doorbell rang and the Slurpee crew appeared to collect their reliable mate, the outcome was unusual. This time, Danny turned them down flat and tucked his ten bucks into his short pockets.

I had actually won one. A critical life lesson about hard work and the value of a dollar was secured. Seldom had I known such sweet victory.

So to celebrate? I went out and bought myself a Slurpee.

Extra large.

I’d earned it.