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.

Heat Sheets and Sharpies and Crash Rooms, Oh My: Miranda’s First Real Swim Meet!

This past weekend Miranda had her first official swim meet! She started swim team this past fall, and she participated in an intrasquad meet several months ago, but this was her first time participating in a true swim meet. We were all excited but also a little bit nervous 🙂

After talking with her coach, I told her she had the option to swim 1, 2, or 3 races, and she said she wanted to do all 3, so for this first meet she swam 25m freestyle, 25m backstroke, and 25m butterfly races. One thing I love about her head coach is that any time I talk with her, she always has something encouraging to say about Miranda and how much they all enjoy working with her (she does this for all the kids and all the parents). She told me, when I asked her thoughts about which events Miranda should swim, that Miranda had one of the most natural dolphin kicks she’d ever seen, which thrilled Miranda to no end. She hasn’t quite put all the pieces of the butterfly stroke together smoothly yet, but she still loves swimming it so that she can put her dolphin kick to good use!

We had to get there early on Saturday morning – not ideal. Warm-ups started at 6:45, so I got up at 5:10. I am never, ever up at that time. I’ve been battling a cold, too, so it was not fun. But I powered through, and I woke both big girls up at 5:30 so they could get ready. Madeleine CaiQun insisted that she wanted to come early, too, so the three of us left the house in the pitch black darkness of the pre-sunrise hours.

I think Miranda was a bit overwhelmed by the big-ness of everything at the Mizzou pool. She’s used to me being 20 feet away from her for her entire practice, and this was not that. She swam in the pool farther away from the crash room, so she couldn’t even see her coaches or her pool from the crash room door. Parents are technically not allowed to be out on the pool deck…but I may or may not know anyone who, when confronted with the tears of her child, ignored the prohibition and walked out with her anyway.

Miranda is quite enamored with this sharpie-on-arm writing

I love the way everything is structured for these 25m 8-and-under events. They have a “bullpen” – essentially a staging area, where some coaches and volunteers get all of the kiddos lined up in exactly the order in which they need to be so that they can walk out to their lanes and swim. Then there are coaches and officials double-checking that each swimmer is where they need to be before their races begin.

The head coach of Miranda’s team is great about making sure that kids see meets as fun opportunities to improve their own times. No one focuses on rankings or where kids are placing relative to others; it’s all about personal growth.

Miranda swimming her freestyle event

I did look at the rankings, and Miranda finishes toward the bottom in every event, but that’s totally fine 🙂 It was huge to get this first ever big meet under her belt and to swim 3 whole events. Even at the intrasquad she’d only done 1 (backstroke). She improved her backstroke time by almost 4 whole seconds (!!), and she now has established times for freestyle and butterfly.

Miranda swimming backstroke

Matt and I were joking that she could actually shave multiple seconds off of her times if she would take off when the starting sound goes instead of looking around to make sure other swimmers have started first.

Miranda is the “splash” in lane 6, as other swimmers are already well underway 🙂

Honestly, I find it all quite endearing. I love seeing her start out at the beginning and make progress. When she first started swim team, she could make it across one length of the pool doing freestyle and one length doing backstroke, but barely. And now? She routinely swims the length of the pool dozens of times in each day’s practice, and she’s getting faster and better at the mechanics of everything. It’s so neat to see that growth.

And she’s growing in other ways, beyond just her swimming skills, too. She has a little friend she loves to see at swim practice, and she told me she made another friend at this swim meet, because they were in the same heat for their first race, so they had time to chat in the bullpen while waiting for their turn to go out on deck. Giving her a chance to interact with other kids her age and with other adults is a big reason we pursue extracurricular activities, so I’m thrilled to see that she’s starting to feel more comfortable in those areas, as well.

Overall, it was a very good experience. I’m so proud of her for being brave and taking on the challenge of swimming 3 races in a bit meet like this. It was such a fun morning for me, as her mom, to watch and help her through. I hope we’ll have many more fun swim meet experiences coming up in our future!

Another New Activity for Us – Swim Team!

I wrote this summer about how both of our older girls had opted to leave gymnastics behind for a new adventure of horseback riding. They’re still doing that, but we’ve also added another activity for Miranda – swim team!

She loves being in the water and loves swimming, and we realized this summer that she was actually a strong enough swimmer to be able to do swim team – kids just have to be able to swim one length of the pool in some approximation of freestyle and one length in backstroke, and while it wasn’t pretty, she could do that! She said she wanted to try it, so we signed her up, and she is loving it.

The first day was pretty overwhelming – there were so many people, but since then, it has calmed down significantly!

You can see Miranda in the front, next to the starting block for lane 2, dipping her toe in the water

For her age group, there is a 45-minute practice each day, and swimmers are asked to make it to one practice per week but are welcome to come daily, with most families choosing to have kids attend 2-3 days per week. There are a few days that I’ve made the choice of whether we’re going to go or not, based on what else we have going on and how everyone is doing, but when it’s left up to her, she almost always chooses to go!

swimming in lane 2

She is definitely a sensory seeker, so having this built in activity for many of her days is really a blessing for her. She’s also ready to be having more social interactions with other kids, and swimming provides her with an opportunity for some of that.

She’s one of the younger kids in this entry-level group of swimmers and one of the least experienced and one of the slower kids. That’s something of a new experience for her – being the oldest child in our family and the oldest child in our small group and one of the older kids at our church as a whole and being homeschooled, she’s used to being the top dog. We think it’s good for her to be able to experience working hard and persevering and celebrating doing her best, regardless of where that places her in the rest of the pack, and being able to have fun in the midst of all of that.

Last Friday evening was her first swim meet ever, a team intrasquad. I appreciate her coach’s perspective of taking things slowly and letting young swimmers just have fun and enjoy swimming. Our club is actually hosting a huge meet later this month, and her coach advised me not to sign Miranda up for that at all and to keep things very simple for her at this first intrasquad meet, just signing her up for one event. She’s really enjoying backstroke, and I do think it’s probably her strongest stroke right now, so she chose to swim the 25m backstroke for this first meet.

She was nervous beforehand, and honestly, I was a bit nervous for her. I’ve attended some swim meets with friends over the years, but this was the first time I’d been a parent responsible for a swimmer at a meet, and I was nervous that I’d somehow miss where she was supposed to go for her event or say something silly and discouraging before she had to race. But I think we did alright 🙂 We got her set up with her events written on her arm (she was so thrilled to have a legitimate reason to have Sharpie on her arm!).

And we made it to the pool in time for me to get a good seat to watch her race and for her to do her warm-ups, after which we had some time just to chill.

my nervous swimmer pre-race

(Don’t you just love her Christmas themed swimsuit? We were instructed to buy our swimmers endurance suits, which are more durable than regular swimsuits, and as she and I scrolled through the options on Amazon one evening, this is the one she really wanted. I verified that she planned to wear it for more than just December before purchasing, but while she has another one, too, she chooses this one virtually every day – I think it’s pretty adorable :)) 

She had a snack and played an ipad game while the older kids warmed up, and then we got her ready to race! They had a bullpen staging area for the 8-and-under crowd where coaches and volunteers got them lined up appropriately for their races, so I helped her get into her spot there, and then I went back to my seat to watch her.

I’d talked with her a lot about how Matt and I would be proud of her no matter what – she might win her heat, she might be somewhere in the middle, she might come in last, or she might get disqualified for some reason, and no matter what, we’d be proud of her for doing a new thing – her first race in her first swim meet.

I cheered hard and took a video of her, watching her and the swimmer next to her as he slowly edged in front of her as they swam across the pool. I knew she’d be disappointed if she finished last in her heat, but it also wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for her to experience – and as I saw the swimmer next to her pass her, I was pretty sure she was going to finish last.

She did finish the race (in what I thought was last place), she got out of the pool, and her coach gave her an enthusiastic high five and told her she’d done a great job, and she was beaming when she made it back to me 🙂

She was bummed when I told her I was pretty sure she’d finished last, but she took it well, and we got her dressed and got ready to head home. But on our way, I texted Matt and asked if it would be okay if I took her out to eat – everyone else had already eaten at home without us, and she’d been asking for a date with me for a while. She and I headed out to Olive Garden and enjoyed some sweet one-and-one time for the rest of the evening and talked about how proud I was of her for doing a new thing and working hard and swimming her best.

I actually realized later that night, after she was already in bed, when I went back to watch the video of her race, that it looked like she really did finish before one of the other swimmers in her heat (one on the far side of the pool, on whom I hadn’t been concentrating at all), putting her in 4th place in her heat instead of last. I told her that the next morning, and she was happy, but really, I was very pleased with how she handled it all even when she thought she had finished last!

Overall, I’m really thankful for her swimming experience thus far. It has upped the ante for us as a family in terms of these extra-curricular activities. Gymnastics – at the level at which Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun had been participating – was very much an activity where we paid our money and showed up once a week and that was it. Participating in a swim team is a whole different ballgame. We pay our money (though it’s actually a pretty low cost, given the number of hours she can be in the pool each week for that amount!), plus we have a fundraising expectation, plus we are required to volunteer at every meet our club hosts (and not just for an hour here or there – my required volunteer shifts for this upcoming meet will total something like 11 hours). And because of the timing of the practices, I can often be found parading into the pool building with 4 kids in tow, after having prepped most of dinner ahead of time, which I know is the only way we’ll be able to eat before 7:00. At least for now, though, the younger kids are all completely on board with going to swim practice, mostly, I think, because I let them play on old iPads of Matt’s while we’re there, an activity that is not generally allowed at home 🙂 Ultimately I think it would be neat if swimming became a whole-family sport – but we’ll have to see what the future holds for us in that regard! For now we’re just enjoying Miranda’s participation in it.

I do, though, really appreciate that swimming is such a good lifelong, healthy activity. Especially with Matt’s health history, it will be important for Miranda to establish good exercise habits from a young age, and my hope is that this will be part of that. It’s a great fit for her with her sensory seeking tendencies, and it’s a really good opportunity for her to get some experience interacting with the coaches and other swimmers, people outside of our family. Plus, she’s enjoying it 🙂 It’s a welcome addition to our repertoire this year.

a new stage in parenting

We’ve recently been transitioning more into something of a new stage in parenting, one in which our girls have increasingly more experiences without us present. Of course, as a homeschooling family, we’re still together quite a lot. However, they are growing in independence and sometimes spend time away from us.

pool 1

For instance, now that Miranda can go off the diving board by herself, that’s what she really wants to spend her time doing at the pool. She could spend hours doing just that. Last week, on only the 2nd day she was allowed to jump off the diving board by herself, I watched her a few times, then took Madeleine CaiQun and Atticus to play, and then brought the younger two kids back to a closer area of the pool a bit later to check in. Miranda came over to us and talked excitedly about her diving board time but pointed one boy out to me – a boy who was probably 2-3 years older than she is, as were most of the kids in the diving board area – and said he wasn’t being very kind to her. But she still wanted to go back and jump some more. I told her she could always tell the lifeguard if anyone was being unkind to her, and she nodded and went back to the diving board line.

When it was almost time to go, I went over to tell her that she could do just a few more jumps, and then we’d need to start drying off to get ready to leave. As she jumped off the diving board, I heard the boy she’d pointed out earlier say quietly, “Yeah, jump a little closer to the side next time and maybe you’ll hit it.” I looked over at him, and another boy urged him, “Shhh! That’s her mom right there!”

I hesitated for a second, but there were no lifeguards within earshot, and there was no sign of who this boy’s parents might be, and I didn’t want to let it pass as if it was okay. I walked up to him and said, “Excuse me, are you being unkind to my daughter?” He seemed embarrassed and looked down at his feet. I said, “I’d appreciate it if you’d speak kindly to her,” to which he responded with a flustered, “Yes, ma’am.” I thanked him and continued to stand nearby while Miranda did her last couple jumps. He didn’t say anything else, but the boy who warned him about my presence later said, “That’s why I was telling you to be quiet! Now you got in trouble!”

As we were walking back to our chairs, I saw one of the lifeguards who’d taught Miranda’s last session of swimming lessons, and I brought it up to him and told him what Miranda had said and what I’d seen and that I’d talked to the boy, but I wasn’t sure who his parents were to mention it to them. If my child was being unkind to someone, especially a child 2 or 3 years their junior, I’d definitely want to hear about it, so I could follow up with them. He said he wasn’t sure who the boy’s parents were, but he’d keep an eye on him, because stuff like that definitely wasn’t cool, and they didn’t want to let it continue.

pool 2

It was an odd experience for me. On the one hand, my kids need to learn to negotiate their interactions with other kids on their own. On the other hand, they need to know that I’ll stick up for them – and they’re still so young. I wish I’d known who the boy’s parents were, because my preference would have been to take it up with them and let them parent their child, but I didn’t know. And while this particular experience may not have been a huge deal…it could be the six-year-old and eight-year-old version of stuff that IS a big deal. I don’t want to stand by when people are being demeaned, whether those people are my children or others (but, honestly, especially when those people are my children!).

Later that night I talked about it with Miranda and asked her if she would have felt comfortable talking to the lifeguard about someone being unkind to her if it was a lifeguard she didn’t really know (as the one on duty in that area at the time had been), or if that would be too intimidating, and she said it would be too intimidating. Part of me wishes I’d done something different when she’d first told me about it, but I’m not sure how much I could have done, since I hadn’t actually heard or seen anything myself, and she didn’t give a lot of specifics about what was going on. And later, I thought I could have talked with both boys about how it shouldn’t matter whether another child’s mother is standing nearby – character is about treating other people well regardless of who sees – but that might have been overkill. I was glad that I did see something and said something and that I’d seen a lifeguard we knew and could run it by him.

But I do wonder how other parents negotiate these things. What say you, parents? Have you encountered similar situations? What have you done? What would you do in this scenario?

swimming progress!

I’ll share more soon about our perspective on summer this year, but for now, I’ll just say that one of our major priorities is a great deal of fun time at the pool! Last year was the first year we worked with either of our girls at all toward learning how to swim, and they both loved our time at the pool, and both grew in their level of comfort in the water.

IMG_0644

This summer they both have already grown a ton! Miranda started the summer totally comfortable in the water and having all the pieces to really start swimming on her own but not completely able to put them together. After 2 weeks of swimming lessons and days at the pool, plus one half-hour private lesson with her very favorite lifeguard, Lauren, our girl is swimming!

We want all of our kids to learn how to swim, but we aren’t interested in pushing them beyond what they’re ready for – we figure they’ll get it eventually! But Miranda SO wanted to be able to go off the diving board by herself this summer! When I offered to ask Lauren to do a private lesson with her, she jumped at the chance, and by the end of the lesson, she was going off the diving board and swimming to the side all by herself. The video above was taken later that afternoon. She is ecstatic, and I’m so happy for her 🙂

Madeleine CaiQun has grown a ton, too. Last year, any time we left the small, roped-off, 2-foot-deep area, she wanted to be wearing floaties and have me holding her tightly. Even with the floaties on, she was NOT interested in me letting go of her at all. She started off the summer a bit more comfortable but still not really anywhere close to swimming – when I’d give her a kickboard and have her kick, she usually actually moved herself slightly backward, a feat I wasn’t sure I could accomplish even if I tried! Now she’s starting to get those beginning swimming motions, and she’s getting more and more comfortable in the water!

It’s so great to see each of them growing and developing and gaining new skills and having fun. We’re very thankful for our pool and its awesome lifeguards and the opportunities both girls have had to move toward swimming independently – plus we all just enjoy ourselves there!