A New Activity for Me

My two older girls have been taking horseback riding lessons at Columbia Equestrian Center for almost a year and a half now. My regular readers may remember that, about six months ago, Miranda had a fall that was pretty scary for her, and we had to take some time to work through that. At that lesson, our amazing first instructor, now friend, Courtney, asked if I wanted to get up on the pony Miranda had been riding while she took a few minutes to compose herself after her fall, so I did – and, to my surprise, I found it to be both challenging and fun! Due to the pricing structure, I realized it would only cost me $15 per lesson to ride with them, so I started doing that. I needed to be there with them anyway, so I might as well ride, too!

And over the last six months, I’ve discovered that riding is more than just “fun” – though it is that, too. In so many areas of my life, I am in a role of authority. I spend a significant portion of my life teaching my kids, coaching other parents, and meeting with and listening to and offering advice to other women.

In horseback riding, I am the student. I’m not the expert. As Miranda told me one day this summer, “Mom, everyone at the barn is better than you!”

I need to be the one asking questions, needing to have someone check my saddle to make sure I’ve tacked up correctly. I need to try to weave at a trot but drop into a walk before the last pole three times in a row and have to ask Emily, our awesome current instructor, what I’m doing wrong and why that keeps happening, so she can explain it, and I can go back and try it again and fix it.

I find that I lack even the self-awareness of all the things I don’t know, and this week was a prime example. I had had only a vague idea that which saddle you use matters, but this week I rode with a close contact saddle, which I’d never done before. When Emily asked me to post without stirrups, I burst out laughing the instant I tried – it was so much harder! There would have been no better way to learn that which saddle you use really matters!

There is a sense of vulnerability inherent in being the one who doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t have the answers. I ask other people to be vulnerable all the time, and I have no right to do that if I’m not willing to sit in that place, too. I need to practice being vulnerable myself, and in learning to ride, I’m doing that. I take lessons from Emily and go ride with Courtney and try to follow their instructions and put myself in a position to learn and try to grow a little bit more each time.

Having to listen to and learn from someone else is good practice for me. It keeps me humble. I need reminders that I do not know all – or even most – of what there is to know. And those reminders carry over from horseback riding into the rest of life.

I need to practice perseverance, practice literally falling off and feeling stupid but then getting back up and trying again…and then calling Courtney to talk through it with her. I need this experience of working at something and growing and getting better but so slowly.

And over the last six months, I’ve found that I’m having a lot of fun. I enjoy riding itself. And I enjoy learning new skills and being challenged and having new experiences. This new activity has been good for me, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and grow through it.

(And if you’re looking for a fun activity for yourself or your kids, I’d absolutely recommend riding lessons with Emily at Columbia Equestrian Center or, in the St. Louis area, with Courtney at Longmeadow Rescue Ranch!).

A Busy May Full of Visits and Transitions

I took a few weeks off of blogging in May – it was a bit of a crazy month! My dad visited at the end of April, then my mom came for a visit.

Our Chinese teacher (who has become a friend) graduated and moved across the country to be with her husband.

We had an ER trip for FangFang when she flipped her wheelchair over on top of herself. She was, fortunately and miraculously, completely fine.

We’ve had FangFang enrolled in public school, receiving homebound services, but we had her last session and withdrew her from public school.

I spoke at our church’s women’s retreat, where we studied the book of James, super hard-hitting. I loved getting that time away with other women, having good conversations, connecting, and worshiping together. The camping atmosphere was…not my favorite 🙂 But we did have cabins with beds, and there was an actual bathroom, and I survived! And I learned a lot studying James 3 and 4 in preparation for my talk about our speech, about our hearts, about our recognition (or lack thereof) of God in the world, and about humility and wisdom – a lot to cover but some really good stuff.

FangFang also managed to fit in a trip to urgent care. She fell off of a picnic table at the park, earning a cut on her face that required 5 stitches.

We spent a day in St. Louis with my cousin Kevin and his family, which was a blast. We really enjoy Kevin and Rebecca, and they have a daughter, Sawyer, who is just a bit older than Miranda, so we all had a really fun time hanging out together.

Matt finished his semester and headed to Michigan for 6 days, at which point my mom came back for another visit to help out while he was gone. We might have survived without her, but it was definitely incredibly helpful to have her here, especially since no one slept well for most of that week! Atticus, in particular, is very attached to his routines, including Matt putting him to bed each night, and he was not always pleased to have me hanging out with him instead. And we got to have some fun outings – going to a pow wow and spending a bit of time at the pool.

Then our horseback riding instructor (who has also become a good friend) moved to the St. Louis area, and while we can keep in touch, we’ve said goodbye to having her as our regular instructor and seeing her quite as frequently.

And we switched Miranda from her regular swim club to summer swim league at our local pool. And it…did not go well. It was super crowded, including a lot of older kids, with more of a focus on racing against other kids during practice, as opposed to just improving yourself. It took only a couple days of misery before we switched her back to her regular swim team! I should have paid more attention to my own counsel, realizing that finding an activity that works well with a coach or instructor who is a good fit is hard to do – those good instructors are worth their weight in gold – and we should have just stuck with what was working. But we made it right, and even though we lost some money, and I felt like a bit of a flake, I’m glad we did it 🙂

Then we wrapped up the month with a visit from my aunt and uncle! We got to have dinner and hang out with them and give them a brief tour of the Mizzou campus and just enjoy having a bit of time together.

The month was full of so much good stuff – we loved having visitors and opportunities for connection.

But also? I hate change. Knowing it is coming makes me nervous, and I always mourn for what we are losing. If it were up to me, I’d very rarely choose those transitions. And I think that’s one reason why God put me in a college town, where change happens constantly, and I’d have to deal with it. I can’t hold anything in my life too tightly, and I’m forced to embrace change and newness.

I’m still mourning the losses, the unexpected injuries, the moving of friends, and all the transitions. But I’m looking forward with hope to what is to come.

Telling Stories to Work Through Scary Stuff

One of the hardest things for me, as a parent, is knowing how to help my kids work through hard stuff when they’re resistant to doing that work. I love my kids, and I know it’s best for them not to try to bury their feelings – but I also can’t force them to share with me or anyone else what is going on in their hearts.

Last weekend, Miranda had an experience that brought up some big feelings for her. Our two oldest girls have been taking horseback riding lessons for almost a year now, and Miranda had fallen a couple times before, but on Sunday, she had her first big, scary fall, and it really caught her off guard. She was scared, and she was angry, and it wasn’t until the very end of the lesson time that her instructor, Courtney, and I were able to get her back up on the horse. Courtney, thankfully, is amazing and was willing to meet Miranda exactly where she needed to be met and take extra time and offer the right mix of firmness with encouragement, which went a long way.

I could tell that, as Miranda walked around the arena riding Ian, with Courtney right beside her talking with her, a lot of the tension was dissipating, and I was so glad she was willing to get back up.

Miranda riding Ian with Courtney walking right next to her – I love this picture of encouragement and support and being right there with someone as they do hard things

But the big feelings were still there. Monday was a rough day at our house. I mentioned all of this to some friends, and one of them (Meghan Scanlan LCSW – if you’re in the Denver area and need a family therapist, you should probably look her up!) suggested that I have Miranda write a narrative about it and illustrate it and read and re-read and re-read it. That’s a strategy that can often help kids process traumatic events.

This is very similar to a strategy outlined by Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson in The Whole Brain Child – Name It to Tame It: Telling Stories to Calm Big Emotions, which you can read more about here, and I’d actually considered doing something like that…but even knowing what I know about trauma and its effects, I’d still debated  – did I want to bring it up? Would looking at it more just keep it all in the forefront of her mind and make it all worse? Would it ruin any possibility of us being able to get in another lesson and another positive experience before our beloved riding instructor moves 2 hours away for her new job? But no, it was clear that Miranda really needed to work through this experience and her feelings about it, and helping her to do that needed to be a priority for me.

Tuesday morning I told her that instead of having her doing any sort of regular Language Arts with me that day, I wanted her to work with me to write and illustrate a book about her fall off of Ian and getting back up again. She was a bit reluctant, but I agreed to be her scribe and write down all the words for her if she would just dictate, and she could do all the illustrating. I wasn’t sure how she’d do with giving all of the background information and sharing about the events leading up to the fall, talking about the fall itself, and then describing working through her feelings and getting back up on Ian again afterward, but with some gentle prompting, she was able to tell and illustrate the whole story.

And it was like a weight lifted off of her shoulders. She could talk about it without all of the emotion taking over. She decided she wanted to make copies of her book to give to some friends. She’s been reading through it multiple times a day, with no prompting from me.

And she’s excited to go ride again this weekend.

I’m so glad she was willing to get back up on the horse after she fell, and I’m so glad she has been willing to do the emotional work to process all of what she has been feeling. I want to help my kids to grow up to be adults who can get back up and try again after having a bad experience and who have the bravery and strength to do emotional work to process difficult stuff. I think Miranda’s journey this week has been a step in building toward that.

Note: This story has been shared with Miranda’s permission. 

Thanksgiving with Family 2017

This year my whole family came to our place to celebrate Thanksgiving! My brothers both arrived the weekend before the holiday, so we got to spend an entire week together, which was great, since it had been over a year since all three of us had had that much time together. And because we had a good amount of time, we were able do a lot of fun activities 🙂 First up was a trip to the park.

My dad arrived early in the week, as well, and he and Matt and my brothers took all the kids bowling, while I got some work done at home. Everyone reported having a great time!

My mom arrived on Tuesday, which was also her birthday! At her request, we had chocolate cupcakes and ice cream to celebrate 🙂

There was much late night card-playing after the kiddos were in bed.

And of course we enjoyed a great Thanksgiving meal as we celebrated the holiday together!

Sharon was actually only able to be there for Thursday and Friday, but we enjoyed the time we did have with her!

Friday night we started what I hope will be a new family tradition – a book discussion! Matt had read Hillbilly Elegy and really wanted to talk about it with my mom, and we thought we’d see if other people wanted to read and discuss it, too. Not everyone was super interested in that book, but they were on board with having a book discussion, so we agreed on Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. It was a fascinating read, an interesting exploration of family dynamics, identity, conformity, and creativity, and it was fun to discuss it all as a family.

Saturday morning, Miranda was thrilled to bring my mom and David to watch her horseback riding lesson.

And thanks to the great weather, there was more park time that afternoon!

It’s hard living far away from all of our family members – but we are super thankful for the time we do get to have with them. It was so nice to be all together for Thanksgiving <3

A New Activity – Horseback Riding!

Our two older girls began participating in gymnastics just over 3 years ago, but this summer, they’ve expressed interest in trying something new. That was initially somewhat bittersweet for me, as I’ve always loved the sport of gymnastics, but ultimately, we have definite priorities in what we want in our kids’ extra-curricular activities, and they don’t really have anything to do with participation in the sport I’ve enjoyed participating in and watching!

Madeleine CaiQun came to us one day and said that she really wanted to try horseback riding. We value making sure that our children know they have a voice, so I told her I’d look into it, and after soliciting recommendations for child-friendly horseback riding lessons, I made a phone call and got her set up with her very first lesson.

She was rather intimidated when she saw the size of Lulu, the pony she was to be riding, up close and personal, but she got up there!

She got to practice leading Lulu around…

…and, while she had both Courtney (her instructor) and me physically holding onto her for most of her lesson, she was okay with us letting go so that we could take a few photos of her on Lulu by herself.

She loved it and told me definitively that she wanted to come back and ride again.

Before her second lesson, though, Miranda had her turn. Miranda had not exactly been thrilled that, while she was the older sister, she did not get to be the first child in our family to enjoy this activity! We did get her set up for a lesson, though, and after hearing about Madeleine CaiQun’s lesson, she made sure to tell me on our drive out to the barn that I would not be holding onto her leg while she rode, and true to her word, she was an adventurous first-time rider, even trotting during her first lesson!

She learned about holding her reins…

…and two-point…

…and weaving.

And of course she posed for a photo with Delilah, the pony she was riding 🙂

One thing that stands out to me in our short tenure as parents with kids involved in activities is that having a good instructor is truly paramount, and we’ve been quite blessed in that regard. Our girls’ first gymnastics coach was superb – nurturing and fun while also teaching – exactly what they needed as young pre-schoolers starting out in their first activity not taught by me. And their horseback riding instructor, Courtney, is awesome. She’s able to switch gears on a moment’s notice, and she’s great with both horses and small children (not to mention the small children’s mother, who knows next to nothing about horseback riding). She’s able to nurture both of my very different girls, teaching to them exactly where they’re at, and they are having a great time and learning.

They’re learning about horseback riding, but they’re also learning other skills, and honestly, those are far more important to us than their skill at the particular activity they choose to pursue. I love that they’re learning perseverance, hard work, courage, and productive ways to channel their intensity!

I appreciate that they are getting opportunities to interact with other people outside of our family, using their words and negotiating their needs. I’m glad that they’re learning about kindness, both to people and animals.

So far this new activity has been a hit!