Sunday, May 29, 2016

The day he moved into his twin sister's room... 11 years after she died

Well, that was harder than I thought it would be.

Yesterday, I began... no... continued, a journey.  A journey of grief.  Of love.  Of emotional see-sawing. Yesterday, 11 years, 5 months, and 10 days after she died (yeah, we count sometimes), Meghan's twin brother moved into her room.

His reasoning was practical.  His room has only one window and has a northern exposure.  There is very little natural light.  His window is a casement window and he cannot place a fan in the window and we do not have central air, so his room is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than the rest of the house. He wanted a change.

Her room has a southern exposure.  It has two windows and has a lot of natural light as well as a nice view of our backyard.  The double hung window allows for a window fan or even a window A/C unit. The newness of it is exciting to him.  I had offered for years that he could always switch rooms if he wanted to, but it was not until recently, he asked to do it.  I had time this weekend, and so it began.

I thought I was ready.  I mean really.  Meg's room has been unoccupied by Meg for over 11 years now.  It's looked essentially the same for the past 10 years.  The dresser that took her life still stood against the wall (now secured).  Scrapbooking and jewelry making supplies filling many of the drawers and closet, neglected for years because I've been too busy with other endeavors. A basket of her favorite toys and stuffed animals still sat in the corner.  Trinkets gifted to us and things she made sat on her dresser.  The jammies she was wearing the day she died sat in the top drawer along with a scrapbook of their birthday, her baby book, and the photos from her funeral and wake.  Pictures she drew or finger painted and photos of her hung on the walls. The little satin cross that said "sister" with the dried roses still on it from her casket still hung on the wall.  It was still very much Meg's room, with a little bit of mommy's things taking up space.  Yet it was not really a functional room. On occasion her brother would go in there and read or play on his tablet or phone, but other than very occasional times, her room was simply there.  Holding the space for her memory, my grief.

So I walked in and began with the closet.  Then I began to empty the dresser to prepare for the room switch and moving the furniture.  As I piled up the things or put them in boxes, I began to cry.  This was going to be harder than I thought.  But why?

Because for the first and last time, Meg's room would be Meg's room, with Meg's things in it.  As I gathered all her things and prepared to move everything out to bring her brother's things in, it occurred to me this was a milestone.  The day I would no longer have Meg's room as a 'sanctuary'. The place I go on really rough days.  The floor I lay on every year on December 18th, where she took her last breath.  The place where "her" things were in "her" space.  Now her room would become her brother's room.  And although her things would still be in my possession, just in different rooms of the house, it would never be the same.

The last bits of my daughter's personal space were no longer hers and hers alone. I know that sounds bizarre, but if you are a bereaved parent, you get it.  If you are not, now, maybe you get it too.

It was like saying good-bye all over again, but in a different way.  And it hurts.

The dresser.  That God-damn dresser.  Murderer!  As I removed the items in the drawers, I remembered what used to be in them.  Her clothes.  Her diapers.  Her 'pretties' for her hair on the top... How she loved to open the drawers and throw things out all over the floor until she found what she wanted to wear.  I wondered what the hell she was doing that morning, as I have a gazillion times before.  What was she trying to get?  How the hell did she tip it over? Why didn't we hear it?  Why? Why did it happen?  Why to her?  Why to me?  Why?  Why? Why?  God-dammit, WHY?!

*** deep breath ***

and I moved on. I know better than to dwell where there are no answers.  I'll never know the answers to those questions.  Only she knows. It doesn't stop me from asking now and then, though.

As I unattached the dresser from the wall, I had a little anxiety attack. A flashback of that God-awful morning. I opened the drawers.  I ran my hand over the edge of the drawer that likely constricted her throat when she fell over it and the dresser fell on her.  I wondered what she was thinking for those seconds she couldn't breathe before she lost consciousness.  Was she scared?  Did she see an angel? Did she think of me?  I saw her face as I saw it when I ran in her room to my husband's screams... blue... lifeless... yet still beautiful.

I slammed the drawers back in, the top one slid back open as if in defiance.  I got angry.  I thought I had the anger out at the dresser the day she died. Apparently not.  Grief is funny like that. I sat on the floor in front of it and cried some more. I really wanted to kick it over...

Another deep breath... I stood up.  Ok, dresser that killed my daughter.  You and I are going to do battle... Finally...

I slid the moving discs underneath the legs.  I pushed it across her floor.  Myself.  It's freaking heavy! I once again looked up to the Heavens and asked her, "How the hell did you do this?! This thing is HEAVY!"  I fought with it pushing and pulling and readjusting to push it across the hall and into her brother's room without scratching the wood floor.  It probably took me a half hour and a lot of internal cursing and a few tears.  Mind you it was also 95 degrees and humid in the house at the time.  I didn't care.  I was going to win THIS battle come hell or high water.   I needed to do it myself.  I didn't want help. This was between me and the dresser.

I did it.  I got it where I wanted it. It was challenging, physically and emotionally.  It doesn't look right in there.  It doesn't belong in there.  None of this is right.  None of it.  I was supposed to watch ALL my kids grow up and become amazing adults. ALL OF THEM.  My heart hurts...  It was exhausting emotionally, not physically.  I didn't bargain for this today.  Although I shouldn't be surprised.  That's how grief works.

Later in the day, it took over an hour and several of us to take apart his bed and move it into her room and reassemble it.  The fan went in the window.  He was happy.  He hugged me and thanked me.  This morning, he said he really likes his new room. He has a new comforter. He wants to pick out an area rug and shades/curtains.  He doesn't know his head sleeps in the same place his sister took her last breath. EXACTLY the same space. But I do.  It's bittersweet.

Today I am continuing the journey.  The bed is made up.  I'm moving the smaller items, the clothes, the closet contents.  I need to rearrange his room to be the "spare" room that holds his desk (too big to move and not enough wall space in his sister's room for it), his sister's dresser with her things which need to be placed back in the drawers, and the piles of stuff that were in the closet in her room and all the crafty items need to find a new home in his former room.  Lots of vacuuming, dusting, rearranging, organizing.

Part of me feels sad that this final step in holding the space Meg once lived in for Meg's memory/spirit has transpired.  Of course I knew someday it would, and I'm thrilled her twin is comfortable sharing her space.  It's a beautiful thing, really.  Whether he's aware of it or not.

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to have that space be hers, mine, ours for the past 11+ years since her death.  I know some people want to move from their home when their child dies, or others who have taken an ax to the furniture that fell on and killed their child, but that's not me.  Although for a moment yesterday, I could have torn that dresser apart...

It's just another speed bump on the journey as a bereaved parent.  Her step-dad, who never parented her when she was alive, told me Meggie's things are of course always hers and I'd always have them, just in a different place.  Which is true.  He also reminded me, Meghan would say "Ry Ry did it!" about "stealing" her room and moving her stuff.  She did always love to blame her twin for everything, and she'd gleefully say "Ry Ry did it!" whenever something was amiss.  I smiled through the tears.  Yes, yes she would love to blame Ry Ry for it.  *giggle*  I can still hear her say it if I close my eyes.  Little pointy finger and disheveled hair and all.

I miss her so damn much...

Secretly, I think she's thrilled.  She finally got Ry Ry to come sleep in her room. She always preferred to sleep with him anyway...




Adventures of a soccer mom: Tournament in Puerto Rico!

Another installment in adventures of a soccer mom.  Written in Evernote and I forgot to transfer tomy blog until now.  Information is still insightful to my fellow soccer parents though!

Hello from 18,000 feet.  It's January 27th, 2016.  I am on my way to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Why?  Glad you asked!

It's not exactly for a vacation. In fact I would not even be on this plane were it not for my 14 year old soccer playing son.  It was not really in my budget or my plan to take a 6 day trip to a tropical climate in the middle of January. Although I must admit, I am definitely all for a break from winter in New England!  I'm sure when I get there and get my toes in the sand, I will not mind the time, expense, and piling up of work that awaits me when I return, at least for a few days! 

Don't be too jealous. The day at the beach will be literally a day.  Two full days are lost to travel there and back, and two days are pretty much lost to a hot soccer field with a 5:30 am wake up call.  The other day will be a transition day.  Of course there will also be lots of eating. Growing boys... it's a real thing.  Constant eating!

No, we are going to Puerto Rico for a soccer tournament, not for a vacation.  The GPS Caribbean Showcase.  He plays for the GPS U14 Central Ma Elite team.  We are playing up one year in the U15 age bracket (eek!)  I believe we are the only team from the United States playing in their age group.  It will definitely be a challenge given the change from 30 degree temps to playing in the mid 80's with humidity and playing kids a year older, bigger, and used to the climate.  I believe in addition to teams from Puerto Rico, we will play teams from Dominica, the Virgin Islands, and perhaps others.  Oh, and we don't have a goalkeeper on this trip.  That's concerning.  Yikes!   All the boys are saying "not it!"

The boys claim they are excited, but it's kinda hard to tell.  They are hormonal, "cool", and presently much more interested in their electronic devices than anything soccer.  Of course, kicking a soccer ball on a plane is frowned upon.  I think, too, they are still a bit too young to truly understand the impact of being invited to and having the opportunity to actually play, in a tournament like this one.  It's their first college showcase. College coaches will get their first glimpse at these boys, who are all in 8th grade.  You'd think that's way too early to be thinking about college soccer, but after having gone through this with my older son, it's really not!  That's frightening to mama. He's still my baby!!

This will be a combination of a day and a half of vacation at a beach resort and 3 days at the soccer hotel with the team.  They will play 5-6 games over 2 days, thankfully all in the morning, so they will have the afternoon and evenings free to swim in the pool, hang out, and eat. Dear God these boys eat constantly!  We will have a team dinner on Saturday evening.  As they are missing 3 days of school, they also have homework with them to do and a midterm to study for.  They are not pleased there will be no sleeping in on soccer mornings and bedtime will be before they are used to going to bed at home. Coach runs a tight ship.  It's good practice for the rigors of collegiate play and a glimpse at what professional players do.

It's a great team building and bonding experience and one that affords the kids a glimpse at a different culture, the chance to try new foods, and even give their rudimentary Spanish a whirl.  My son is a fairly seasoned traveller, at least on domestic flights, and at 14, it's SO much easier than when the kids were little! 


As I gaze out the window, the sun is beginning to set.  There are puffy white clouds below us taking on a pinkish hue, highlighting their tops and emphasizing the contours of the clouds. It's quite pretty.   We're flying over land instead of over the water to Ft. Lauderdale, because of rough air.  Our flight was also delayed a bit more than a half hour, which gives us precious little time to make our connection to Puerto Rico.  The boys are mostly upset their dinner plans for FLL won't materialize.  They stocked up on snacks just in case. My son has already eaten half of them.  We have 5.5 more hours before we land in PR! 

I am grateful for this opportunity to travel with my son, see him experience a new and different level of competition, and watch him play.  When given the choice to accompany him, I quickly cast aside concerns about cost and time because I know all too well how quickly he will fly from the nest.  He's already very different than he was when we traveled to Barcelona 2 years ago for soccer.  He's much less a child and much more a teenager.  On that flight, he wanted to sit next to me, sleep on me, and talk to me. On this one, he made his friend sit between us, only talks to me if he needs something, and is wide awake. 

*sigh*  Poor mama. 

Addendum:  The flights to PR were quite bumpy!  We were delayed about 45 minutes leaving PR as well.  Thankfully, because when the first flight landed, we had 4 minutes to make the departure of our next one (as in no way, since we were in the back 1/3 of the plane and they opened the door about the same time our flight to PR was to depart.  We did quite literally walk off one plane and get right in the boarding line for the next one. 

We landed at 10:30 pm local time (11 pm for our body clocks), and were at the hotel around 11:30. The boys were hungry, but nothing was open, so we walked about a mile to a Denny's where we had a pretty greasy, not particularly tasty or good quality meal.  I was amused by the fact it was 74 degrees and a waiter there was wearing a winter coat.  A WINTER COAT!  I get that it's winter for them, too, and it was probably 68 degrees in the Denny's with the AC on, but even *I* was comfortable in a sweater and jeans!  While we were walking back, the boys heard the Coqui frogs "singing" and observed what happens when the local dive bar starts to empty out (as in drunk people literally falling out the door and off the sidewalk while music with offensive lyrics blared from the open door bar.  They were amused, especially since a police officer stood across the street by a tree, astutely observing the goings on.

We did not fall into bed until about 1:30 am (2:30 to our bodies).  So glad we were not playing soccer the next day!

February 1st

Greetings once again from somewhere over the east coast. Looks to be North Carolina from up here.   Our short soccer-cation is now coming to an end and it's back to reality.  It was quite busy, and I really  had no time (or reliable wifi when I did have a bit of time) to write. So here is the rest of the story...

I woke Thursday morning before everyone else and headed downstairs to explore the beach/pool area and try to get a run in. It was very humid, but windy, and partly cloudy.  It was probably in the mid-upper 70's at 8 am.  I went to the gym and hopped on a dreadmill. I hate the dreadmill (hence the term, dreadmill).  I did a 30 min run-walk-run but even inside, it was miserable.  I went upstairs and everyone rallied for breakfast (an all you can eat buffet), which we ate on an outside covered patio overlooking the beach and ocean.  We then walked the beach and found a spot on the lounge chairs. The boys enjoyed body surfing in the ocean as the waves were quite large and the seas rough, with a significant undertoe.  There was a red flag for conditions, but it was quite shallow.  In the afternoon, we moved to the pool area, which was beautiful and offered 2 pools, 2 hot tubs, beautiful landscaping, and food/drink.  We even saw several iguanas of all sizes sunning themselves and looking for lettuce treats. 

After a day in the sun, sand, surf, and pool, we had a "romantic" dinner with the boys on the same outdoor patio.  My son had a steak and ate it in record time!  One of the things he requested was a "fancy" dinner with steak. 

Friday was much the same as Thursday, without the run for me and we did a more casual breakfast on the go, claimed out spot on the beach, and the boys used boogie boards.  Several of their soccer friends and their families had seen our photos from the day before and joined us for the day at the beach. The boys had a blast together and the parents all very much enjoyed the tropical day filled sun, food, and drink.  It was sure a different soccer bonding experience, not that we were complaining. We don't get to have this much fun for soccer tournaments at home!  Especially in the winter!

That evening, we moved to our soccer hotel in Bayamon.  We had an adventure that evening, trying to get across the street to a mall for dinner.  What should have taken 10 minutes took something like 30 because there are no sidewalks and we couldn't figure out where the entrance to the mall was (it was inside the parking garage and we were on foot!).  We ended up at Chili's. Yes, we came all the way to PR to eat at a restaurant we could eat at in our hometown.  It was food and it sufficed.  The boys had a meeting with their coach that evening and then it was off to bed. We had an early wake up call

Saturday- Day 1 of the GPS Caribbean Showcase

We met in the lobby of the hotel at 6:30 am local time. That means we got up at 5 am EST.  See why we needed those days at the beach for the moms?!  THIS is what soccer tournaments are like, no matter where they are. Early wake up calls, long days at a soccer field, unknown weather/food conditions and a mystery as to the level of competition we would face. 

The boys had a quick continental breakfast (at least they ate and drank) and got on the bus for 7 am.  We got the next bus.  The fields were about 15-20 min drive away.  Being an away team (VERY far away), we did not have our usual chairs, umbrellas, blankets, coolers, etc and they were somewhat missed. There were bleachers, which was nice, but precious little shade, and of course, the fields were in full sun.  It rained on and off during their first and second games, but the boys appreciated it since it was quite warm and very humid.  It didn't take much to get them hot and needing a cool down.  They played two very hard fought games and unfortunately lost both. The first game was lost only by 1 goal and it could have gone either way. The teams were well matched (USVI team) and the boys showed good sportsmanship to their opponents on both sides.    The second game was more challenging. Our boys were struggling adjusting to the heat, were probalby all a bit dehydrated (heck we were, and we weren't running in the sun), and have not played an 11 v 11 regulation game since November.  They lost.  I believe the score was 5-0.  It was against the home team and those boys were quite good and of course, not facing the challenges ours were. 

We went out for lunch to the Olive Garden to carb up for the boys and they ate like you read about!  Then it was back to the hotel for some down time, showers, and preparing for our team dinner.  We ate at a local restaurant in a function room. Between island time and the fact they were really not accustomed to serving large groups, it took freaking forever.  Our reservation was at 6:30, we left around 10:30!  The boys were tired and wanted to go to bed.  Their curfew was 10 pm, but their coach was with us, so he waived it until they got back to the hotel.  :-) 

Once back, everyone was asleep in record time.

Sunday

Once again, a 5 am EST wake up call for a 7 am bus departure. This day, the parent bus never came!  Our boys had one game at 8 am. At 8:40, we realized we wouldn't make the game so the parents who had rented cars rallied and drove everyone to the field. We arrived just as play began! 

Today there was no rain, and it was HOT, even at 8 am.  I was sweating standing still from the humidity.  They played hard against a team from the Dominican.  They dug deep to come from behind and win 4-3. Another really great game by 2 well-matched teams.  The boys were thrilled with a win, as were the parents, and especially a few dads who are now hoarse from their yelling. :-)  

Speaking of yelling, I can't help but wonder why anyone who screams at their kid, or in general, can possibly think that helps them. Especially when it's things like "get to the ball", "you need to get a foot on it", "you have to beat them to the ball" and so forth. The kids *know* what they are supposed to do. They *know* when they do something wrong or make the wrong decision.  They don't need the distraction or stress of a parent yelling at them, to them, or just yelling in general, especially if it's not simply applause for a job well done.  As I was explaining this to a dad who was next to me expressing his frustration with the way the boys were playing, I gently reminded him they were at a disadvantage being in this heat, not having played together on a field this big in 2 months, they were all growing and their bodies and center of gravity was changing, and that distracting them with noise and negative comments does nothing to boost their morale when they are already struggling and know they are not performing the way they need to.  I aslo pointed out, my job was to be supportive and enjoy what my son did, whatever it was. I had no business telling him how to play soccer and unless I could get out there and play at this level, I shouldn't be telling him what he should and shouldn't do and personally, I wish all parents thought that way.  He did not yell again, but was supportive with his vocalization after that point. 

We were very proud of them for how they behaved and played, bonding more as a team and displaying wonderful sportsmanship.  They "borrowed" a goalkeeper from the GPS PR team for all of their games.  We sure as heck needed him as our GK was unable to make the trip.  He was fantastic and the boys were so grateful to him and included him in their team photos, high-fives, and he also got a rousing round of applause from the parents for his contribution to the team.  The coach got a showcase T-shirt and all the boys signed it and gave it to him as a keepsake of their thanks.  Such a sweet gesture of sportsmanship and appreciation. He looked thrilled.  It makes me wonder if he's ever seen or experienced anything like it in his culture. 

After the photos, everyone went their separate ways. My son was very cranky (hot, hungry, and dehydrated) and once I got enough food and drink into him, he perked up.  Our travelling companions arranged for us to tour Old San Juan with her mom, who lives in PR.  She drives a beat up, old, barely working jeep style car and it was certainly an adventure. No AC, missing seatbelts, and her driving was... adventurous!  Still, we were grateful to her for her hospitality and for driving us around.  On the way to Old San Juan we stopped a little beach/reef where the boys did some snorkeling. There was not a tremendous need for a snorkel since you could just stand in the water knee deep and see all sorts of colorful tropical fish swim by! 

After our little beach diversion, we drove and walked the narrow, cobblestoned hilly streets of Old San Juan.  We had lunch at an old convent turned hotel and restaurant, which was lovely.  We checked out shops and observed the culture and took in the sights.  There were old forts and beautiful scenic vistas.  The architecture was very similar to what you'd see in New Orleans with the colorful buildings, balconies and railings of wrought iron and plants decorating them, and the narrow, quaint roadways.  Rumor is New Orleans was modeled on Old San Juan, at least as far as architecture goes.  I was thrilled to find a lovely pendant of larimar in a little shop.  It was SO much less expensive than the larimar necklace and earrings I got in Jamaica at a cruise port (although that was very beautiful as well), but this is a much larger piece for WAY less than what I paid for the former set!  Lesson learned! 

After our sightseeing tour, we returned to our hotel to shower, pack, and chill.  We were exhausted.  We ended up ordering Dominoes pizza for dinner and we all went to bed early, the last one being my son at 9:30 against his preference, but he was asleep quickly once the lights were out and the TV off. 

And that brings us to today.  I am now somehwere around Long Island.  We were up at 3 am EST today to get to the airport on time.  Our flights were on time and the weather much better. Very few bumps today and both arrivals on time. 

My mind is now starting to realize all the things I must do to settle back into the reality of day to day.  And how much of it needs to happen between now and when I get to bed tonight.  I anticipate being home about 3:45 pm and being in bed by 8 pm! 

As I reflect on these past 5 days, I am grateful not only for the opportunity for my son to play the sport that is his passion with friends old and new, but for the time I got to spend with him experiencing PR.  He was often distant and grumpy, as teen boys can be, but when he was not with his friends, he was more the mama's boy I know.  He's spent quite a bit of time these last 2 flights playing with my hair and sleeping on my shoulder.  He still has no true concept of how lucky he is to have these opportunities and I'm not sure how to convey it. 

I'm also grateful for getting to know my fellow soccer moms and dads better and for the ease and grace of our traveling companions who we shared rooms, taxis, and all other sorts of things with. 

Of course, I am grateful for the brief "vacation" to a warmer climate, two days at the beach/pool, and a break from the day to day. 

That said, I look forward to seeing my husband and older son, sleeping in my own bed with my cats at my feet, and returning the normal family chaos that is the life of a mom of teen boys. 

Until next time...

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Understanding the importance of anchoring furniture in pictures and a song

So often, people ask me how they can get so and so to understand the importance of anchoring their furniture and TV's.  

Even after explaining the statistics which you can find at anchorit.gov and sharing my daughter's story, as I did in a blog post a few years ago, I called Be With Me, Just for Today.  Far too many people, once they learn of the dangers of furniture and TV tip-over, convince themselves their children are not at risk.  

Common excuses include, "I'm always with my child", "My child is not a climber", "My child knows not to do that", "My furniture is too heavy to tip", "I don't want to (or can't) put holes in the walls or my furniture", "I don't have the right tools", "It's too expensive", "It takes too much time", "My (husband, parents, etc.) won't let me or doesn't think it's necessary", "It's not likely to happen, so why spend the money?", or, "We have expensive, good furniture, it's safe."  


Some people are not compelled by statistics or words or even someone else's heart-wrenching story. Perhaps they are more visual.  Sometimes, pictures have a greater impact. Some people are moved by music, not words or pictures.  I ask you to take 3 minutes to watch.  Then, perhaps you will share it with anyone who still does not understand the importance of anchoring furniture and TV's.  Who doesn't fully grasp the potential consequences.  Who thinks it only happens to "someone else".  I am that someone else.  You or they could just as easily be that someone else. 


video


This was my reality 11 years ago today.  A day I will never forget.  A day that makes the Christmas season incredibly difficult every year.  The song is called "Visitor from Heaven" by Twila Paris.  It's beautiful.  The pictures tell a love story.  Heavily punctuated with why it's so important to anchor your furniture and TV's.  So you never have to tell this kind of a love story.

Please, anchor it.  


Thank you.

Meggie's mom

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A moment in time

You know how sometimes, you start to think about the deeper meaning of a certain event in your life, and suddenly, you are taken down an emotional path you didn't expect?  

Today is one of those days.

It began by waking my son and wishing him a happy birthday.  A fairly routine event in all of our lives.  Celebrating the birthdays of those close to us.  For parents, sometimes those birthdays carry a lot of emotion for one reason or another.  First birthdays for example.  Or, milestone birthdays like sweet 16 or turning 21.

Yet today, it got me.  It's not really a milestone birthday, but then again, it is.  He is my eldest child. Seventeen years ago today, he made me a mom. SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO.  How is that possible? I'm still 28!  Forget the fact I was actually 29 when he was born...

No, seriously.  How is it possible that 17 years have already flown by from the day he was born? Everyone always says, "Enjoy them, they grow up so fast!"  It's so true! There were many days when he was younger, I couldn't wait for him to get older.  There were equally as many days I wished I could somehow savor where he was and slowed down the whole growing up thing.

So why am I so emotional?  Well, aside from the obvious that my baby is growing up?  It's really a lot deeper than that.  He is one year away from official adulthood.  He is a senior in high school. Even though he still enjoys birthday streamers on his door, he's really no longer a child.  He's a young adult.  Aside from the fact he's driving and starting to blossom into a more independent young man, it hit me he'll be graduating next spring.  GRADUATING. That means he'll be leaving the nest.  He'll be going off to college.  I won't see him every day. I won't have any control over what he does, who he spends his time with, or where he goes.  I may not hear from him for days or weeks at a time.  He's going to leave his mama!

That scares the bejesus out of me!

It's already begun... kind of like training wheels for both of us I suppose.

I know it's as much about letting go for me as it is about learning to be independent for him.  I get it. I just don't like it.

After some thought, I realized that today, it's the anticipatory grief of letting him go.  Even though rationally, I know this is how development works.  But I've already lost a child.  For real. To an accidental and preventable death.  My greatest fear is losing another one, be it literally or figuratively. Statistics tell me that's not likely (they also told me Meghan's death was not likely) and statistics also tell me that these next few years are fraught with opportunities for stupid choices on his part or those of whom he spends his time with, and that one lapse in judgement, one moment of peer pressure, and... well, it can rob an anxious mama of her sleep for years to come!

I know I will need to let go and hope and pray I've raised him to do the right things in life.  I have to hope he will embrace the challenges that lay ahead of him and rise to the occasion to take the reins of life and make good, healthy choices.  I've taught him how to use his wings properly, it's up to him to fly. I hope he can say, "No." I have to hope he finds happiness and success and that learns from his mistakes without serious life long consequences.  I have to hope he will learn to fly without my constant reminders, nagging, and support.  I hope he'll want to learn to fly.  Hell, I hope he'll remember to eat since he's too damn lazy to make himself anything!

It's more than that, though.

It's also a day that makes me look back 17 years to who I was then, and who I've become today, in large part, thanks to him and his brother and sister.  Becoming a parent changes you forever.  No one and nothing can prepare you for that.  He was a very challenging child on many levels.  He still is at times.  He taught me as much as I taught him, maybe more.

I am most definitely not the same person I was this day seventeen years ago.  I am most definitely not the person I thought I'd be as he embarks on his senior year in high school.  My life is really not at all what I imagined it would be the day he was born.  Is anyone's?

A lot can happen in 17 years.  I can't help but think about all he's seen and been through in his 17 years.  All we've been through together.  The birth of twin siblings when he was 3.  He lost his beloved sister when he was merely 6 years old. For a time, he even blamed himself, thinking he should have somehow been able to save her.  He really struggled with her loss, and still does today. He has learned a lot about grief and emotion, life, love, and death, and the importance of grief keeping, sharing, and honoring life and death.  He is a wise old soul. I wonder what his life's purpose is.  I wonder where his path will lead him...

It is worth mentioning, today is also a trigger day for me.  Yes it's HIS birthday, but I can't help but wonder what his relationship with is sister would be like today. It is a day that she should be here, celebrating with us, but she is not.  It makes my heart ache for all of us.  What she would want to do to celebrate her big brother and his bird day (yes, bird day)?  I'm pretty sure she'd make it special.  It makes me so sad that she's not here to celebrate with us.  To celebrate him.  It makes days like this very bittersweet for me.  I am often on the verge of tears and irritable for much of the day, all while trying to go about my day and make it be all about him, as it should be.  Well, I DID give birth to him, and that was no picnic! So I should get a little shout out! :-)

That's just how grief manifests sometimes.  When you don't always expect it to.

He is also a child of divorce, and has 2 step-parents. That was obviously not what I expected to be the state of our family 17 years ago.  He's already been in 2 weddings, ours!  He has a fantastic relationship with his step-dad, less so with his step-mother.  He has a large extended family and step-family.  I know he loves his mama!  Even if it's mostly because I feed him.  He is the big brother, and is learning to balance that role as a positive role model/mentor role and the obligatory teasing and sibling rivalry that brothers share.  He's been to more wakes and funerals and weddings than most kids his age.  He's had a lot of loss in his life. Then again, he's also had a lot of love and learned how to cope with all of these things, and he now has an empathy and compassion far beyond most boys his age as a result.  He is fantastic with younger children, too. The girls think he's all that.  He is a handsome fella...

Then there is the history that he's witnessed and the state of the world today, not to mention what he and all of our children will inherit in the years to come...  It makes a mama's heart ache for her son's future.  All I want is for him to be happy, healthy, and safe.

He's also had a lot of wonderful experiences, lots of love and joy, the opportunity to travel, and an abundance of silliness!  Because that's how we roll.  He's learned, hopefully, that there is something to learn from everything that happens in our lives, good and bad.  We always have choices and all choices have consequences, be they good or bad.  No one does anything to us.  We choose what we do and how we react.  We control how we feel, no one else does.  Ever.

So yeah, 17 years ago today, I woke with cramps.  The cat insisted on sitting on my big belly and kneading away.  You know, to distract me... He was 5 days "late". I shouldn't be surprised timeliness is not his strong suit these days.  I wandered around the house, restless, for a few hours.  I remember believing it was actually labor around 10:30 am.  Fast forward several hours and at 7:42 pm, I held my newborn son in my arms and my life was forever changed.  My heart understanding what unconditional love was for the very first time.  I had no idea what was in store for us, but I wouldn't change it for the world.


Happy birth day to my Kyle.  You are loved more than you can imagine.  You have taught your mama more than you can ever know, and I suspect you will continue to do so throughout your life.  You quite literally changed the course of mine.  I love your wit, your humor, your silliness, and your perspective.  I wish when you blow out those candles, all your dreams come true.






Sunday, August 2, 2015

What does it take to be a safety superhero?


Did you ever wonder what it was like to be a superhero?  Or what it's like to have a superpower?

Did you ever wonder what it takes to be a superhero?  Are they born that way?  Do they choose to be a hero?  Does someone else bestow the title on them based on merit of some kind?  

I have just had the honor of attending and presenting at the Safe Kids Worldwide Injury Prevention Conference, otherwise known as PREVCON, at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center in Washington, DC.  Their theme is “Where safety heroes meet.”  All of their marketing materials had a comic book feel to them with the theme of safety hero carried throughout the conference. 



I’ve been familiar with Safe Kids for some time.  I was unaware of how the organization really worked and how far reaching their programs and initiatives are, how involved they are, and just how passionate their members are about preventing childhood injury and death.   These people eat, sleep, breathe and work tirelessly to keep YOUR kids and grandkids safer.  I spent the past 3 days with my kind of “people.”  There were 500 safety geeks, all enthusiastically sharing ideas, experiences, and brainstorming ways to keep kids safer. They came quite literally from all over the world to do so!

First, you should know, that preventable accidents are the #1 cause of injury and death to children in the U.S. and around the world.  Over a million children every year die from a preventable accident worldwide. This is why we are all so passionate about education and prevention.  I heard over and over and over how everyone will work tirelessly until those numbers all reach zero. 

I thought you might like to know what happens when safety geeks gather, so here's a sneak peek. 

I arrived on Wednesday.  When I picked up my registration packet, there was a Safe Kids reusable bag with all sorts of literature and swag in it from Safe Kids and their sponsors and partners.  All child safety related, of course.  I checked into my room and went through my swag.  When I pulled out the Sanus TV strap, given to every registrant, I smiled and tears filled my eyes.  THANK YOU SANUS!  Best.  Swag.  Ever.  You can bet I told them so when I saw them in the exhibit hall the next day! 



The next thing I did, which I do in every hotel, is check to see if the dresser or TV is secured.  They were not.  Disappointing but not surprising. The flat screen had a wide base, but I was able to pretty easily cause it to tip forward.  We have a lot of work to do…

At 3 pm, I met with a representative from Nationwide Insurance, whom I have partnered with on their Make Safe Happen campaign.  We talked about the campaign, safety, and ideas for the future.  I also had the chance to talk with the other marketing reps in the exhibit hall.   All who enthusiastically thanked me for my willingness to share my story and participate in their program.  We all said good-bye with a hug.   

That evening, we were bused to Capitol Hill for a reception at a U. S. House of Representatives building in the Canon Caucus Room.   There, safety heroes had the opportunity not only to connect and network with each other, but to mingle with some of our U.S. House and Senate members and their staff.  Safe Kids works hard to legislate changes in laws to keep kids safer.   

Two Champion in Child Safety awards were given.  One was given to Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, for his work and support of legislation to prevent SIDS as well as his work on other consumer safety issues.  The other award was given to the First Lady of Georgia, Sandra Deal, for her work on heat stroke prevention and other child safety issues.  I had the opportunity to meet her before her award was presented.  We had a nice chat in the buffet line during which she asked about Meghan’s Hope (my name tag had the name of your organization and where you were from).  I told her the story and what I did to raise awareness.  During her acceptance speech, she happened to mention she talked to someone here who lost her daughter to a furniture tip-over and how these preventable accidents should not be happening.  I did not tear up telling her my story, but I did hearing her mention it.  It’s odd how that happens.  Grief is funny that way.

Thursday, the conference began.  It was two full days of information packed plenaries and breakout sessions, poster presentations, and fantastic exhibitors with innovative child safety products, with a good dose of fun and socialization and networking built in. 




From 7 am to 5:30 pm both days, I attended sessions, visited the exhibit hall, networked, and made amazing connections, including with SANUS, CEA, Dorel (Safety 1st), and JPMA as well as the Massachusetts Safe Kids Coalition leader.  I learned so much that I didn’t know, and had the opportunity to educate others, too.   Topics that day covered a wide variety of safety subjects including pedestrian safety, sports safety, bike and ATV safety, car seat safety,  product and toy safety, fundraising, planning safety events, safe sleep, advocacy, and research, and that was just the morning! 

The lunch plenary was a conversation with Dana Points, Editor in Chief of Parents Magazine and she provided amazing insights to our target audience, which is of course, parents of young children.  The afternoon sessions included keeping kids safe in and around cars, communication resources, fire and burn safety, impacts of legal marijuana, forming corporate partnerships, as well as another plenary on sports safety. 

That evening was unscheduled, so I took some time to walk around the harbor and sit and quietly watch the sun set as the sky changed colors.  I even saw a few heart clouds!




Friday brought another amazing  but long and information packed day.  The morning plenary was a conversation with National Leaders including the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Director of Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, and The Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.   It was an insightful glimpse into the work that our government agencies do and the challenges they face in their role in keeping kids safer. 


I waited after that session to have a chance to speak to the Chair of the CPSC.  The Communications Director was also there, who I have corresponded with in the past, and as I began to introduce myself to him, he made it clear he already knew who I was, and greeted me with a hug, as did the Chairman when he was free.  I was touched they not only recognized who I was, but took the time to talk with me and brainstorm for a few minutes about what else we could do, together, to make furniture safer for kids.   They thanked me for my courage and willingness to share my story in the way I do.  ( I have more to say later on the topic of courage)

Immediately following, there was a press conference outside on the dangers of leaving kids in hot cars.  It was National Heatstroke Awareness Day.  I attended the press conference where several speakers including Safe Kids CEO and President Kate Carr and the NHTSA Administrator, addressed the issue of kids being accidentally left in cars and succumbing to heatstroke and how it can be prevented.  

A dad who lost his daughter to heat stroke when he was out of his routine and forgot to drop her off at daycare after a doctor’s appointment shared his story.  Then, they did a re-enactment of a rescue of a child from a hot car by playing an actual 911 call from a bystander at a shopping center and having the fire and EMS actually respond and demonstrate how they get a child out of the car and whisk them away to the hospital.  They did not actually break the car window (a new car was provided by a dealership for the demo) but made it clear if the doors are locked, they break a window to gain access as fast as possible.  All I could think of while watching it, was how huge of a trigger that must have been for that father, and I sure as heck hope someone warned him it was going to happen!  I wanted to talk to him afterwards, but he was mobbed by the media. 

The rest of the day included sessions on booster seat safety, medication safety, sports policy, new ideas for injury prevention, drowning prevention, road safety, home visits and home safety, social media, safety for kids with special needs, and innovative injury prevention and partnerships (this was the session I presented at).



For the session I presented at, I was one of 4 speakers.  I only had about 15 minutes, so I briefly educated the attendees about the way I teach, by presenting to them in the same way.  Which is with compassion, from the heart, with raw emotion, a dose of humor, and a harsh dose of reality. Honestly, it's the only way I know how.  It's just my personality!  I told Meghan’s story, I explained how I teach, what I teach, and what the challenges are, including the creative ways I’ve discovered to engage parents and get them to take action to prevent tip-overs.  I explained the benefit of partnerships and how hard it is to do all of this as a grassroots one woman organization.  I asked for their help, and many offered support.



I did not get through all my slides, nor did I expect to (that was part of the humor), but they will have them for reference.  I was touched that when I showed her photo, there was a collective “awwww” from the audience (she was awfully cute!), and when I showed her dresser, a few audible gasps.  The energy in the room was palpable in how it shifted just in the first two slides.  They were engaged.  They laughed with me.  They almost cried when I almost cried.  They applauded enthusiastically when I finished.  I received many questions at the end, more about how I do it, tips for encouraging other families to share their stories, and a few about the grief process and how they can help other parents in similar situations.  Others simply approached me to thank me, after the presentation and throughout the afternoon as they saw me at the other sessions.  I guess it went okay...

From there it was the Safe Kids Awards luncheon, where I sat by invitation, with the moderator of my session and the Assistant Director of the Children’s Safety Network.  We had a lovely conversation and she provided some great ideas and resources for me.

The afternoon sessions included how to launch a campaign, establish a peer to peer program for youth road safety, ways to extend your reach, and working in multilingual communities. 

That evening there was a fun BBQ on the pier event (the hotel is on the Potomac at the National Harbor).  There was great food, dancing, and conversation and Mother Nature provided a lovely sunset once again.  In fact, I sat with a woman from New Orleans and we had an amazing two hour conversation that began about safety but evolved into talking about death and dying in children and in general and how to help parents cope with impending and eventual death of their child, as she works in palliative care in a children’s hospital.  We could have talked all night!  It never ceases to amaze me how the Universe put me next to all the right people at the right time, whether I had something to offer them, they do me, or us to each other.  Absolutely amazing!

Oh, and just so you know, I just happened to look out the window here at the hotel as I am typing, and there was a heart cloud.  Made me cry.  I’ve gotten a lot of love from above in the form of hearts the past few days.  It’s as if Meggie is saying I am in the right place and she approves.  And those words just made me cry harder.  You know, underneath all this, I’m still a bereaved parent…



So, back to what makes a superhero?  Well, I guess I should be more specific.  What makes a safety hero? 



Anyone who has a desire to educate parents about a particular (or many) dangers to kids and who is invested in helping keep kids free from accidental injury and death is a safety hero.  In my eyes, if you share Meggie’s story, you are a safety hero.  You might have saved a life by doing so!  Heroes save lives, right?  They teach others about right and wrong.  They inspire those around them to do the right thing.

I hope I’ve inspired a few folks with Meggie’s story to make their homes safer by securing their furniture and TV’s.

What will your safety hero outfit be?  Mine is a cape and a tiara, of course!


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mom + Cause = Advocate = ???

Ever wonder what it's like to be a grassroots advocate?

I never did.  Until I became one.

Do you have any idea what a grassroots advocate does?  I didn't.  Honestly, I'm pretty sure I've made it up as I go along.  At least for my cause.  Maybe that's what all advocates do.

Now, in my 11th year as a child safety and tip-over prevention advocate, I can tell you, it's not a job description most people would covet.  It's not something the average person would say they want to be when they grow up.  Who wants a job where you earn $0 and spend your own money and free time to sustain your cause?

I guess that's why most of us who do this sort of work have suffered some sort of tragedy or crisis in our lives before we ventured down this road.  It's more of a calling, a choice born of love, grief, and a passionate desire to help others, than it is a career choice.

As most of you know, it took my daughter's tragic death to send me down this path.  It's not a path I ever would have chosen to go down.  Yet, here I am.  Juggling advocacy and all that goes with it with full time parenting, being a ballroom dancing wife with a tremendously supportive husband, working part time, and holding several teaching positions.  I really never imagined when I began Meghan's Hope it would be what it has become, or how incredibly challenging and difficult it is to get what seems to be such a simple message, out there.



Now, I can't imagine not doing it.  I have a much bigger vision for it yet I now know how difficult, time consuming, and expensive it will be to accomplish the goals I've set for my awareness campaign.

I'd estimate I spend an average 6-10 hours a week on Meghan's Hope.  Sometimes less, sometimes more.  I know it doesn't sound like much, but it means that after working a "real" job and taking care of my family, instead of watching a TV show, reading a book, or perhaps just doing whatever it is most people do with their evenings and weekends, I choose to devote a good deal of my "free" time to raising awareness about the dangers of furniture and TV tip-over.  I choose to try to educate people how they can make their homes and their kids safer.  I try to save lives.

Time is but one of the costs of being a grassroots advocate.  There are dollar costs, too.  It costs me several hundreds of dollars every year to print brochures, business cards, posters, exhibiting supplies, and for web site fees.  If I am exhibiting or presenting at a conference, that adds exhibiting fees and/or conference registrations, travel, sometimes hotel reservations, food, and so forth, and that sends costs into the thousands of dollars.  The time spent creating and editing those documents, power point presentations and related materials, and corresponding with others adds up to weeks every year. Then if I add in the blogging and writing I do or time spent granting interviews or pursuing them, along with teaching and preparing for those classes, well, it's a time consuming passion.  It also costs time to prepare, travel, to present, and to network.

It's rare to receive payment for anything I write or for speaking, or even getting waived conference fees, even at large national conferences, when doing this kind of work.  I still have to pay to attend the conference I've been invited to speak at the vast majority of the time.  Not having non-profit status can hurt me sometimes, especially when exhibiting, although most venues will grant me the discounts they give non-profits if I ask and explain what I do.  Even local safety fairs often charge a fee to have a table at the fair!

I bet you are wondering why Meghan's Hope is not a non-profit.  It was, initially. The funds that were donated did help to offset the costs of running the organization, but even then, it wasn't enough to cover all of them and certainly did not pay me for the hours I put into it every day. Unfortunately, I needed to have a job that provided an income to support my family, especially once I was a single mom again.

The reality is that with a legal organization comes requirements, and those are a lot harder to keep up with in a small organization like mine than you would think.  Especially when the BOD is composed at least in part, of family members or friends, which many of these educational and advocacy ventures are.  In theory, it sounds great, in reality, it can be an incredible challenge.

It's tremendously difficult to find BOD members who are willing to be active and involved consistently and can all attend meetings regularly.  They need to be as passionate as you are.  There were many after Meg died who wanted to help, but they quickly faded away.  People are busy with their own lives and as I've previously stated, this is a time consuming effort.  You need officers who are responsible and take their role seriously.  You need enough people to do the fundraising and work that your mission outlines.  You must file taxes and annual reports, you must track income and expenses.  It's too much for one person, legally it can't be one person, and it's difficult to find enough people to fill all those roles and devote the time and energy to it that the organization needs to be successful.  Especially since they are volunteers.  I've sat on several boards over the years, they are time consuming, especially for those who lead busy lives, which most of us do.

It's great for larger charity organizations, but for education and awareness, it's a challenge.  Especially when you do not have the time to devote to it, and honestly, it is a full time job if you want it to really succeed. The greatest benefit of a non-profit is the ability to fund-raise and provide those who donate to your cause a tax deduction.  I found that those who donated to Meghan's Hope really did not care about the tax deduction, they donated because they wanted to help the cause.  I feel the same way when I donate to a cause.  I have never once donated to any organization or cause thinking, "I need to do this for the tax deduction."

I found I could just as easily do most of what I'd like to do without non-profit status.  With social media the way it is today, that is certainly a lot easier than it was to reach large amounts of people quickly.  I still offer classes, speak, and exhibit when I can.  I'm sure there are events I'd love to attend that I just don't even know about.  If you know of one, let me know!

That said, I was surprised to find out how much of a challenge it is to partner with other organizations when you are not a non-profit.  Especially with larger non-profits or big National organizations.  It's been frustrating that in some cases, a beautiful partnership was jeopardized because Meghan's Hope is not a 501 C3 non-profit organization!

Advocacy is not for everyone, especially the grassroots parent advocacy I do.  I do not have non-profit status.  I do not have a Board of Directors.  I do not have anyone donating time or money to my cause.  I have no one helping me.  It's just me.  I'm a one mama organization.  It's been that way for 8 years.

I incur all the expenses. I put in all the time, often early in the morning and late at night or on weekends.  I am the only one who has to drop everything (and do so willingly) and clear my often very busy schedule when the opportunity for a TV or news media interview presents itself.

I am the one who teaches and markets the classes, keeps up with the latest information and resources, maintains the Facebook page and website, and answers all the messages I receive (and there are several every single day).  I am the one who needs to seek information that I can share so that others can learn what they need to know to keep their kids safe.  I do it very willingly, because I believe in it and because I can't imagine not doing it.  I have to do it.

People think I must have help or I must be getting donations because Meghan's Hope must be a non-profit.  Nope.  Hell, it's like pulling teeth trying to get some of my friends and family to share Meghan's story, website, and Facebook page most of the time, let alone complete strangers who don't have a personal connection to me and have no idea of what our family has been through!

With regard to TV and news interviews... I've done several over the years.  This post was actually inspired by one I did yesterday.  A friend said, "Oh, that's so exciting.  I know someone famous!"   I know she meant it partially in jest and it was a sort of backwards compliment, but I did not want this "fame."  It's not really exciting, it's actually quite stressful.  Not the talking part, the rest of it.

Let me tell you a few things I've learned about TV interviews... It's NOT glamorous.  It's not easy.  It can be crazy time consuming (a 15 minute TV interview can take 2 hours by the time they set everything up, do the interview, and take it down).  It usually needs to be done NOW or at least today, so you have little notice and either you answer the phone when they call and agree to do it or they ask someone else (the "scoop" is still very important).  If your house is a disaster and they will arrive in an hour, good luck with that!  It can be invasive in terms of time and personal space as they are often done in your home.  They are usually requested with a mere few hours of lead time, maybe a day if you are fortunate.  Today's news is forgotten tomorrow.  Sadly, because of what I do, I'm usually only newsworthy if another tragic death has occurred.  The news media definitely subscribes to the concept of Carpe Diem!

You can certainly say yes or no to things or refuse to answer questions, but they often decide where the interview will take place within your home due to lighting and other factors.  Much to my dismay, my kitchen is usually used.

I've done interviews with local cable TV stations, local network television stations, national news programs like Inside Edition, the CBS Morning Show and NBC's Today show.  Sometimes they contact me.  Sometimes, I write to or call them to suggest a story.  Sometimes I get to suggest questions or get a list of questions that will be asked ahead of time, but that's rare.  Despite all the time and effort of the interview, not all of them actually make it to air.  Some other story can easily knock mine out of the rotation.  Maybe what I said was not what they were looking for.  Maybe the audio or video was bad. Maybe someone else they interviewed for the same story was "better" in some way.  I never know why the ones that don't air, don't.  Just try to get a producer or journalist to answer your email or calls when they have no vested interest in you or your story anymore.

None of them ever show all or the key sound bytes I'd like them to. I'm not always as articulate as I'd like to be.  Okay, I'm never as articulate as I'd like to be. I've learned the hard way that I need to be careful with what I say, how I say it, and think about how my words could be used out of context. Most media outlets have a "slant" for their story.  Once that camera is rolling or I start speaking, it's all fair game for their story.  I've learned to ask what their "angle" is.  It helps.  If they are truthful.  

Often, the person doing the interview with me has very little information about why they are even here to interview me.  Those with young children, especially young daughters, are often thrown for an emotional loop when I tell them the story.  Some moved to tears - men and women alike, and both veteran and green journalists and TV personalities.  Many don't know what to ask unless they are familiar with the story, and I'm shocked at how few of the journalists do the research ahead of time even though when I have the opportunity, I send them links to all sorts of valuable information about Meghan's Hope and tip-overs.  

Thus, I have to answer the questions to give the information I want the world to hear based on their vague or leading questions that are going down a path different than the one I want to go down. Sometimes they don't ask questions that even allow for that to make any sense!  It's all easier said than done when a 10-20 minute taped interview ends up being 15-30 seconds of spliced tape on a show, sometimes taken out of context or without hearing the complete sentence, question, or response. I've even been blindsided by my husband's 911 call in a story, and the producers did not even think to warn us they were using it in the story!  This was shortly after Meghan died and it was a HUGE trigger!

Interviews with newspapers or magazines are easier.  They are usually scheduled and over the phone. We often exchange information and links via email prior.  These journalists have usually done their homework, already know the story, have seen the Website and Facebook page, and know about what I do, but they also have a 'slant' and you need to know what it is if possible.  They often have more time to write their story, whereas TV media is pushing to meet a deadline for the next major newscast.

I have no say in how any of the media outlets will use the information I provide, and it's sometimes misquoted in print media or used piecemeal, in a way that is not what I intended or in the order that I said it, but it's closer to the information I want to convey and more of what I say is often conveyed in print media than it is in TV media.

Then there are the articles and stories I write.  Those I have complete control over content-wise.  Of course, I have no control over who reads them or agrees to print them and it's much harder for me to reach the same audience as a story in a major newspaper or magazine or on a network TV news station does.

It all takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money.  Yet I love it.  I love Meghan.  I do it out of love.  I do it so no other parent ever knows my pain.  I do it so no other child every has to die the way Meghan did.

I get no reward, other than the messages from parents who thank me for waking them up to this danger and saving their child from Meghan's fate.

That makes it all worth it.  THAT is why I do it.

Meghan's Story is saving lives.  Yet its not saving enough of them, because 71 children every single day are still injured by a fallen piece of furniture, TV, or an appliance and every 2 weeks a child loses their life to a tip-over accident.  Until those numbers are zero, Meghan's Hope must continue.  Her hope is to see a day when children are no longer injured or dying from these easily preventable accidents.  We're getting closer, but we still have a long, long, way to go.

All in all, I'd say the grassroots movement has been successful for me.  It takes a passionate and determined person, with a relatively strong backbone (never read the comments!)  It takes someone who has the know-how to figure out how to build a website (that took a long time!) or find someone who can, to develop and design and print marketing supplies.  Someone who is willing and able to talk about her tragedy and deal with the people who can't cope with the story even when they are the members of the news media interviewing you!  Someone who can educate, explain, and reach people on a personal level.

Someone who cares.

It's a love story.

So that's what it's like to be a parent advocate.  At least today.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Soccer Mom's Survival Guide: What no one tells you but you need to know if your child plays soccer at any level!

It's soccer tryout season. Did you know that?  Yep.  Otherwise known as hell week for soccer parents everywhere.  

It seems as good a time as any to write this post (which could turn into a novel) as my gift to soccer parents who might be, like I was, clueless.  I had NO IDEA how big, how political, how competitive (not just for the kids, but the freakin' parents!), how expensive, and how all encompassing time consuming, as in sacrifice your weeknights and weekends for soccer season, this game can be.  

Wherever you are in the soccer "pyramid", it is my hope something here helps you. I sure wish I had this information years ago!  Read on to get the low down on try-outs.   What to ask and when to ask it! 

The early years

When my eldest son first wanted to play soccer, I was all for it. He was six years old, full of energy, and it seemed a good channel for that energy.  The benefits of playing a team sport go beyond the physical and I wanted to foster both physical activity and being a team player.  

His younger brother naturally followed in his footsteps, starting town recreational soccer at age 5.

For several years they played town soccer. They were adorable in their too long T-shirts that looked like mini dresses and they wore them proudly.  The commitment was two nights a week in the fall for an hour.  The first half hour was "practice" and the second half hour was a "game."  It was fun to watch.  The kids for the most part loved it.  The parents were proud and happy their kids were active and happy. 

The coaches were parent volunteers who may or may not have had any personal soccer playing or coaching experience.  It was about the basics and having fun.  Anyone could play and anyone was welcome.  It was clear a handful of kids had some natural talent for running, kicking/scoring, and being able to control the ball at their feet, but it was raw talent, yet to be "developed" (important soccer word). Just getting the kids to run in the right direction and pay attention for 30 minutes was hard enough!  Of course, it was an "everyone gets a trophy" situation at the end of the blissfully short 2 month season.  Let me tell you, we have too freaking many trophies the kids no longer care about!

There is soccer beyond town rec?!

I did not realize there was anything other than town soccer when they were young. How blissfully naive I was...

Then, my older son asked to play in a multi-town league.  Essentially the same level of play, or maybe a notch above, but it really all depended on the skills of the players on any given team and the skill of the coach in teaching them the basics of the game.  It meant a little more driving to surrounding towns for games and the practices were one town over instead of in our town, but it was manageable. 

How age groups are determined

When my younger son was U9 (soccer team age groups are indicated by a "U" for "under" and a number indicating the age group, so U9 is made up of primarily 8-year olds. The cut off is typically you have to be under 9 years old as of August 31st.  Some teams/leagues use birth year instead.  Some kids can "play up" to an older age bracket, especially if they are skilled, but they do not "play down" to a younger group.  

A slippery slope: Club soccer

My son played with a friend whose father was the coach for his town rec/multi-town rec club.  A fellow soccer mom, the wife of that coach, asked me if my son would like to try out for a new elite team being formed in the area.  Elite team?  What does that mean? Try outs?  Seems serious.  Do I want to go down that road?  Does my son? I didn't even know that road existed, nor was I aware of the turns and twists and hidden hazards it holds.  I sure the hell wish I did...

"Okay", I said.  We went.  He tried out.  He was identified as having some raw talent and being very coachable (another key soccer word).  He was pegged as striker (the one whose primary job is to score). Note:  That's not the position he plays now, but at the time, he was suited to it.

The team was put together and the coach worked with him and several other core players over the next 4 years to create a high level highly skilled team.  The coach was amazing.  He wanted to teach the boys how to play futbol, not soccer.  He taught them the importance of physical conditioning, the fundamental foot skills, the mental aspects of the game, and how to work together as a team.  He was far less interested in winning than he was in developing these boys into skilled players who shared his passion for the game.  He made it fun.  He worked them hard.  He really cared about these boys and took their development as soccer players and his responsibility in doing so very seriously.  He did it for years without getting paid for his time, or certainly not getting paid what he should have been. They loved him.  Over the years, they bonded not only as a team, but as friends.  

Turns out this is rare in coaches.  In their U 11 season, they were undefeated and won their league championship. To top it off, they won it by playing solid futbol and being overwhelmingly nice boys. They didn't play "dirty", they played the game with their hearts and their heads and their feet.  They were passionate for the game, and it showed.

In their U 12 season they merged with a bigger elite club with the promise of access to better coaching, fields, competition, and amenities.  That was a double edged sword.  We had the opportunity to travel (at our expense) to Barcelona, Spain, to train with coaches there for a week, and compete with the future Barcelona players.  Holy crap, those kids were AMAZING, but what a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the boys who were selected and able to go. 

About the time my youngest started with that coach and new team, my older son took a few years off. He had been a field player and was good at it but he did not have a passion for it.  He came back to it 3 years ago, as a goalkeeper (a position he had also played before), seeing the level of coaching and level of play his brother was getting.  It reignited his desire to play.

We were going to try outs and waiting for call backs or contract offers for both boys.  Oh. My.  Head. Oh.  My.  Pocketbook.

Now, with both boys playing on club teams, instead of the $40-$100 to play in the town league, we were talking thousands of dollars per child to play on a high level travel team with former college, semi-pro, and professional players as coaches and consultants.  We were driving further and my evenings and weekends were all lost to soccer.  I seriously could not work a full time job and get them where they needed to be, yet I need that salary to pay for it! Nuts!

My older son tried out for an Academy team, and shockingly was offered a position.  It was eye-opening in so many ways, and not necessarily good ones... More on that later.

Wait, what?  How did we go from a non-competitive, friendly level of play, to highly competitive and tremendously expensive club teams that include crazy amounts of travel, high team fees, crazy expensive uniforms, tremendous costs for equipment that gets worn out (or lost) quickly, and hours and hours of driving to/from practices and games.  Most every night and every weekend sacrificed to soccer.  For a full 9 months out of the year!

And thus, I decided to write this guide.  

Over the years I have learned so much about how soccer works in this country, at least in our area, and how much no one tells you. I really thought the coaches would keep us informed of progress, opportunities for growth, and true appropriateness of the child and their skill to the team -AKA how much playing time are they actually going to get on this team and do they even really belong on this team?  

Heads up

Your child is not guaranteed ANY game time despite what you pay!  

The alphabet soup of soccer

There are many levels of play, even within each club and those levels may mean something different club to club.  "Select", "elite", "premier", "championship", "select", "united", and "athletic" are some of the cryptic names given to teams that play in different leagues or to differentiate the level of skill and competitiveness of a given team within a given club.  They are not the same from club to club.  

There are also many different clubs with many different coaching philosophies, styles, and expectations for both their coaches and players.  It's an alphabet soup. MAPLE, NEP, ECNL, NPL, pre-Academy, Academy, District Select, ODP, and it goes on, somewhat related to your geographic area. 

So here goes:Soccer mom (and dad) 101


Starter Soccer

Starter soccer is typically the local town soccer team.  It typically begins at age 5 or kindergarten.  It's meant to be an introduction to soccer, what the basics are (kick the ball from one net to the other and try to get it in the net), and a fun way to exercise. Most of the coaches are simply parent volunteers, many with little or no personal soccer experience.  

Note to parents who think they have a a future professional player:  The point here is not to make future world cup players, it's about fun.

The cost of starter or town soccer is usually less than $100 and includes a uniform of a T-shirt and maybe socks and shorts. You are responsible for purchasing all other equipment including cleats, extra socks, shorts, shin guards, and any other equipment your player wants or needs.  Most of the time it's a 2 or 3 evening a week commitment for an hour that includes a half hour of practice and then mini "games". Most towns play either in spring or fall, but some play both seasons.

Club soccer

Club or travel soccer can mean a bunch of different things.  

Club teams are often called travel teams because their games are played in locations other than the town in which you live.  This requires travel to another town to play a good number of games.  How far that travel is depends on the club you join and what league they play in.

Club soccer fees vary tremendously. My boys have played on a local club team (surrounding 5 or 6 towns) that cost a mere $150 for a season (included shorts, game shirt, and socks) as well as larger clubs affiliated with European teams or with highly experienced and credentialed coaches that cost upwards of $3000/year not counting uniforms and additional equipment like cleats and goalkeeper gloves which add up over the course of the 9-12 month season.  Yes, that's right, it's now nearly year round for most of these clubs!

Club soccer can offer tremendous opportunity for good coaching, a higher level of competition, true player development (but that is not universal and really depends on the coach and philosophy of the club), and access to resources you might not get elsewhere, especially if you don't know to look or ask for them.

Club soccer is tryout based. Most coaches are looking for three things:  general fitness, skill level within the position you play or want to play, and coachability.  

Sadly, I've learned for some club teams, it's also about the business aspect, because club soccer is a very serious business.  Some clubs will roster nearly twice as many players as they need to pad their bench and their wallets, and not all coaches give all the kids equal game time.  Some kids will get none or just a few minutes a game as a sub.  While this may come to be expected at very high levels of competition for the older teenage kids, when this happens to younger kids, it's unfair to them and their development.

Most club teams play 9 months a year, competing in the fall and spring seasons, with winter training or futsal leagues (indoor soccer on a hardwood floor) and this is variable depending on the team and what facilities are available.  Your kids will play in all kinds of weather.  Hot, cold, rainy, snowy, brutally cold and freezing wind.  The only thing that will usually cancel a practice or game is thunder and lightning or a full out blizzard.  My kids have had outside practices through the winter in New England, with snow on the ground (they plow turf fields and have lights) and wind chills in the single digits as coaches threw ice melt on the sidelines and parents sat in their cars. 

Tournaments

Club teams typically also play in several tournaments each year, and these are almost universally over long holiday weekends like Columbus Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day.  Expect to play on the minor holidays and Mother's Day and Father's Day as well. They may also have games the Saturday before a Sunday holiday (as in the Saturday before Easter) or the Monday of a long holiday weekend.  Games are often scheduled on the weekends of school vacation weeks as well and practices typically still happen. This is not unusual. 

Tournaments are fun, but they usually are multi-day events with more than one game per day, several hours apart. You basically can expect to spend the day (and weekend) wherever the tournament is.  Bring appropriate clothing, blankets or rain gear, your camera, snacks and drinks, and a camp chair.  Some people bring coolers and some form of shade.  Many teams make a day of it setting up a pop up canopy, creating a pot luck sign up, and making it a fun day for all the teams playing for that club that day. The kids not playing at any given time will watch the other games to support their club mates and perhaps observe a different level of play.

For the younger age groups, club tournaments are fun and offer different competition than they might normally get during their regular games.  There is usually a playoff for the final four in each age group with a trophy/cup for the team that wins the tournament for each age group and medals for the players.  No longer does everyone get a trophy. In club oriented play, only the best team at the end of the tournament or end of the season gets the medal or trophy.  As it should be. 

For the U 16 age groups and above, the tournaments are called college showcases.  Instead of playing for medals and trophies, they play with the hopes one of the many college soccer coaches in attendance see them play and approach them about potentially playing for their school in college.  It's tremendously competitive, but a great way to be seen my multiple college coaches in one place. I'll talk more about the college ID process a bit later.

While club soccer can be fiercely competitive, not all clubs are.  You need to do your homework and try out for several before making a choice. There are many things you need to take into consideration when deciding which team to play for, I will address these later.

School based soccer

Most of the time, playing for your school does not start until middle school. High school play can vary tremendously depending on the skill of the players any given year and the coaching.  Typically there are 3 levels of high school teams, Freshman, Junior Varsity, and Varsity.  It is try out based and like club teams, a focus on fitness as much as raw skill in the position you play matters.

Try out 101

Once you've decided which level of soccer your child wants to play, they have to go through the try out process. Tryouts can be challenging for both player and parent.  The player can be nervous and it can be hard to stand out when there are literally 50-100 other kids there at the same time.  

Most teams require tryouts be anonymous.  So although you typically register and provide a waiver, the player is asked to dress generically (no identifying club information on their attire, just a pair of black shorts, white T-shirt, and black soccer socks for example) and they are given a numbered pinney or a number to pin on their shorts to identify them to the coaches evaluating them.  

Most teams also require all their current players to also attend tryouts.  This is for two reasons.  First, so new potential players are "competing" with the actual players they are likely to play with if chosen, but also because they need to earn their spot each season. Just because they played on the team this year does not in any way guarantee they'll be invited back next year.  There could always be a better player for that position who comes along.  The coaches typically want to win, not just keep the kids they've always had because they are "good kids."  This is a harsh reality of the game, but it's true of any competitive sport.

For the teams that require try outs, typically any higher level club team (elite, premier, championship are suffixes that give you a clue), they are usually held right after the spring season ends.  That usually means the first week or two in June. Sometimes, these try outs conflict with practices, especially for Academy level teams or those in playoffs, as they tend to go later in June.

Try outs require you to do your homework, BEFORE JUNE if possible, to find out what clubs you and your child are interested in, where they are, what the level of play is like, and where there games are played.  Knowing this before you go to a try out helps you eliminate teams that are not compatible with your child's ability, time, or geographic area. 

You can search for youth soccer, elite soccer, club soccer, or some other similar terms to try to find out about the teams in your area if you don't know the names of the club teams.  Most every club has a website.  You can also ask around.  Although to be honest, some parents don't share what teams their kids are trying out for, even with their good soccer mom friends, especially at higher levels, because the competition is so fierce, they want to give their child a better chance. 

Around here, most of the club teams hold 2-3 nights of try outs and encourage kids to come to more than one to allow for the coaches to get a good look at them. Some clubs, especially the higher level teams, may only hold one night of try outs.  Most of the try outs are the same length as a typical practice would be and may vary by the age of the group.  Most are 90 minutes for the club teams. 

The most annoying thing is that the clubs all also typically have their try outs the same week! This makes it really difficult to try out for more than 2 teams! 

Insider tip:  

If you have a strong interest in one or two clubs, consider finding out who the coach is of the team your child would be playing on next season.  Contact the coach in late April or early May and express your interest in their team. Ask if your child could attend practice one or two nights as guest player. This gives both your child and the coach a low pressure opportunity to see how your child might fit in with that level of team, and for the coach to evaluate them before try outs.  It ensures the coach's attention will be on your child, and not 50 children at a general tryout. 

This may result in an offer to play well before try outs begin and eliminate the need to attend try outs at all. Of course I recommend you only do this for teams you have a strong interest in for if you get an offer prior to try out season, they'll want you to act on it or risk losing that offer to another player come the official try outs.


Finding out where the team practices is also key, as you will spend far more time at practices than you will at games. Be wary of the general "in the area" sort of response. Also be warned, clubs can and may change the location(s) of practices at any time during the season without warning.  I know of more than one team that moved practices from a half hour drive for some parents to over an hour away in the middle of the season.  Time of practice can also be an issue.  A 5 or 5:30 pm practice time on a weeknight, especially if you have a substantial drive, could be virtually impossible for a working parent to manage.

Once the try out is complete, you wait.  The coach will usually meet with parents briefly at the end of try outs to notify you of when and how those who have been selected will be informed of their offer to join the team.  The next 24-48 hours can be stressful for some parents and players, especially if they are really invested in playing for a particular team.  Most offers will come within a day or two of the tryout.  You may also get a callback instead of an offer.  This is a good thing, for it means your child is on the "bubble" and they are still considering them, but want a second look, and may be deciding between your child and another player for the same position.  

Not all tryouts are position based

If your child plays midfield, and the coach needs a defender or forward and thinks your child would do well in that position, that may be their intent with an offer to play.  If you don't ask specifically, you may not know that and your child may be disappointed that they were not selected to play the position they thought they were. Not all kids care about their position, but many do, and not all coaches assign positions to the kids. Some prefer to move them around so they become more well-rounded players or to figure out who plays best in what position as they develop.  My boys have both played several positions throughout their soccer careers, both settling into a favorite and best position around U 12/13 after several years of play.

One thing you typically won't find out about is cost until you get the contract offer.  These are typically contracted positions.  Once you sign up, you've agreed to pay the full amount.  If you sign up and end up hating the team and want to leave, you can, but you don't get any money back (save for maybe a season ending injury early on).  They can also be expensive, costing thousands of dollars per season for club tuition alone! 

The clubs usually want a response and an immediate down payment if you accept the offer and within 24-48 hours of the offer being given.  If you do not respond or wait too long, they can, and may offer the spot to someone else while you are "thinking about it". Their goal is to fill their roster and get parents/players to commit quickly, before they have time to talk themselves out of it or sign on with another team.  If you don't hear back from them for 3 or 4 days, your child was probably not their first choice, but their first choice said no.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of.

You can ask for more time to decide, especially if your child still has other tryouts to attend or if you are on the fence between two teams, but it may not be granted. You really have to to go in knowing what team your child prefers to play for and be ready to say yes or no to any offers to play.

Most clubs offer a payment plan for tuition, but it's usually front loaded so the first payments are higher and the entire season is typically paid for by December for a season that lasts August to June.  Some clubs offer scholarships or monthly payments over the entire season, but you should ask about it as early as possible.  The process may take longer for discounts and scholarships, and you still have to make a decision on a team to play for now, often before you receive word on the scholarship being granted.

Do your homework!  Parents and players!

Aside from being armed with all the above information, there are many questions you should consider asking in order to be fully informed about what you are getting into.  Especially if this is your first experience with a large club organization.  There can be a lot of surprises, more so for parents, so it's best to understand what you are actually signing up for.  The commitment, politics, and expense involved really demands you ask questions.  I wish I knew these things years ago.  

Questions to ask BEFORE you sign that contract, or maybe even try out!

Knowing what questions to ask before you agree to have your child play for any team, can help minimize surprises and help you make a decision that is practical in every way.  

Be wary, not all coaches are 100% truthful when providing information or answering questions, and may omit information that you did not specifically ask about (or outright withhold information or even lie) that could significantly impact your child's experience with the team and game time.  Things also can and do change.  A better player may come along after your child's been offered a position and told they'll start, and suddenly and without warning, your child is merely an occasional sub.  

  1. How often are the practices?
  2. When are the practices?  Time of day?  
  3. Where are the practices?
  4. How long do practices last?
  5. Are practices mandatory? Is there a penalty for missing a practice?
  6. What league does this team play in?  If you can, check the stats for the team at the league website.
  7. What is this team's win-loss record?  This may or may not be important to you but a team that plays at the highest level and loses most of their games will move down a level next season.  Likewise, a team that does really well may move up a division next season.  Coaches don't usually share this information, especially the moving down part!  This impacts the level of competition the team will face.
  8. Where are the games played? How far/long will I need to travel?
  9. What is the cost to play for the year and what does it include?
  10. For far away games (out of state), will there be a team bus or will I have to drive (or fly)?  
  11. What other costs might I expect to incur (tournaments, hotels when travelling, travel expenses, etc.)
  12. Is transportation provided for travel out of state/distant games, or is the parent responsible for that?
  13. What day are the games on? Will it change at all or are they all on the same day of the week?
  14. Is the cost of the uniform included in tuition? If not, what is the cost? (many kits as they are called can cost several hundred dollars and the entire kit is required to be purchased). What # jersey will my child have?  (this is typically assigned by the coach, be sure you know before you order the uniform!)
  15. What can I expect this to cost me? Is there a payment plan?  What if I decide the fit is not right or my child gets injured, is there a refund policy?
  16. Will my child play every game?  How much game time can I reasonably expect them to see?
  17. Is my child able to play any other sport or for any other soccer team?
  18. What position will my child play?  
  19. What is the experience of the coaches? Are they certified? How long have they coached this age group/level?
  20. Did they play soccer and at what level?  
  21. Are the coaches CPR and First Aid certified or is there a trainer at all the games and practices? Is there an AED in the coach's possession, at the practice fields, and at all game locations? If not, are you willing to work toward getting one?
  22. What education and support is available for players and parents?
  23. What is a typical practice like?  (foot skills, drills, fitness/strengthening, scrimmages, psychology)
  24. What is the coaching style?  
  25. How many coaches/assistant coaches are there?  Are they both/all at every practice and game? If not, what can I expect?
  26. Do you assign "homework"?
  27. Do the coaches coach any other teams? (college, other age groups) 
  28. How early do players need to arrive before a game for warm up typically? (some say 15 min, some say an hour!  This will factor into your time commitment.)
  29. What is your policy on parents vocalizing during the games?  (shouting, coaching from sidelines, saying your child's name in praise or instruction, etc)
  30. How many teams play in this club and at what levels?
  31. Is there an opportunity for moving to a higher or lower level team if my child shows they would be better suited to those teams? Can it happen mid-season or do they need to wait until try out time?
  32. Do you provide player evaluations?  When?  Is any feedback given to the player and parent on a regular basis?
  33. When are try outs and where?
  34. If my child can only make one try out, is that going to hurt their chances?
  35. My child wants to play for their school team or another recreational team, is that problem?
Uniforms

Uniforms may or may not be included in the club tuition and depending on the required "kit", uniforms can cost anywhere from $200-500 per season.  Many clubs use the same kit for 2 years, then the uniform styles or colors change and everyone must buy a new kit.

What's in a uniform kit?

What is required will depend on the club.  Many of the clubs are affiliated with European or MLS teams, so the uniforms often bear the name or emblem of the parent or affiliate club.  There is some debate, but this likely increases cost. The uniforms are also typically well made tech material by either Nike or Adidas.  Whichever it is, many clubs forbid wearing anything on the field that is made by any other manufacturer. So if your club is affiliated with Nike and you have Adidas shorts, socks, hats, whatever, you cannot wear them on the field.  I am currently in the middle of a switch from a team that used Nike to one that uses Adidas. Thankfully, my son is also in a huge growth spurt, so much of his Nike gear he will outgrow by the fall season! 

Speaking of growing, when ordering your kit, plan for growth!  Buy it for the end of the season!  What fits them well in the fall may be waaaaay too small by spring!  You've got 9 months to play!

A typical mandatory uniform kit contains the following items and all items have the team logo on them  Jerseys have your child's number on the back:

  • Practice uniform (shirt, shorts, socks)
  • Home uniform (shirt, shorts, socks of one particular color)
  • Away uniform (shirt, shorts, socks of a different color)
  • Warm up gear (warm up pants and jacket)
  • Backpack
Other uniform gear needed, but not included in the mandatory kit.  These items can substantially increase the cost to play, with many items needing to be replaced more than once per season due to growth, wear, or because they lose them! 
  • Cleats (expect to purchase at least 2 pair per season, plus indoor or futsal shoes for winter)
  • Shin guards
  • Soccer ball
  • Goalkeeper gloves if your child is a keeper. Expect to purchase a pair at least every season. They are not cheap! 
  • Winter hats and field gloves for outdoor play in cool and cold weather
  • Extra socks
  • Extra practice shorts unless you want to do laundry every day
  • Under layer for cooler weather.  Check with your team on what color is required (usually black or white)
  • Compression or sport underwear
  • Sport goggles if needed and your child does not wear contacts
  • Water bottle

Other Elite Clubs to be aware of 

Pre-Academy and Academy

The Academy system in the U.S. is overseen by U.S. Soccer.  There are very specific rules that the teams must adhere to with regard to their rosters, their practice time and methods, and game time and play. The focus is on more practice and skill development and fewer but highly competitive games. 

These are among the most elite players and there are not Academy programs in every state.  Academy is geared toward the U16 and U18 groups. Pre-Academy is U-11 to U14/15 as a development program to groom younger players for the Academy teams. 


These teams are incredibly competitive.  Try outs are intense and only the best of the best will be granted an offer to play. Being rostered at the Pre-academy or Academy level one year does not guarantee your spot the following year. This is actually true of any high level or elite club or other team.  Try outs must happen every year, even for the team you currently play for and being invited back to play is not guaranteed. 

Olympic Development Program (ODP)

ODP is also overseen by U.S. soccer. This is a great player development program and that is the focus - player development. There are friendly games that are played with other ODP teams, but it is not a competitive league in terms of games. 

It is, however, a highly competitive try out based program. It is for elite players who have potential to progress to perhaps someday being a member of the U.S. National Soccer team. 

Kids develop their skills in soccer throughout their years of play.  Some will peak at U 10 or 12 with others not fully developing and playing at their peak until U 16 or 17.  The reality is, the better the coaching, and the more coachable and dedicated the player to skill development and practice, the better the player will develop.  Of course some raw skill is needed, but that is not enough.

Finding out about ODP try outs in your area requires you to do your homework. You are most likely to find it by searching for your state's youth soccer organization or simply doing a search for ODP or Olympic Development Program for soccer.  Here, try outs are in the late summer or late fall (depends on when the training is to begin).  

The practices are once a week for 2-3.5 hours and focus on foot skills, fitness, drills, and scrimmages.  The most wonderful part about ODP that it really fosters players taking responsibility for their preparation and their play. 

It includes a sports psychology component that is classroom based for both players AND parents.  Let me tell you, if they taught parents at the town or club level what they teach parents in ODP about sports psychology, I bet there would be a lot better soccer player/parent relationships! 

They teach parents what it's like for your player to hear your voice while they are playing, how distracting it is, how coaching from the sidelines undermines what their coaches have told them to do and distracts them from attention to their task in the game. It can undermine their confidence and squash their love of the sport or desire to talk with you about it.  They encourage letting your child initiate the conversation about how their practice or game was and to refrain from offering advice or feedback. Simply saying, "I love watching you play" is the best thing you can say to your child, especially after a tough game.

ODP leads to a regional development camp at the end of the season where players scrimmage against other local ODP teams (Northeast, Southeast, etc.) and the National coaches observe and I.D. the best of the best to join the regional teams.  The regional teams feed the National Team.  Last year, I believe there were two players out of the several ODP teams in MA (over 100 players) that were invited to regional team. 

NPL

NPL stands for the National Premier League. It's on par with the Academy system as it's National and highly competitive with only the most elite and skilled of players typically making the cut for the team. 

So much more...
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the world of club and elite soccer. There is so much more I have to share so stay tuned for some of my personal experiences and what I've learned from them along with other insider tips and helpful information as you embrace the crazy that is having a soccer player for a child.

The realities of being a soccer mom and dad can be shocking if you are not prepared. In short, prepare to sacrifice your nights and weekends until they stop playing or move out, especially if you have more than one child playing!  I say that in jest, but it's also a harsh reality.  For 9 months out of the year, I spend most every night at a soccer field somewhere.  It eats up 4 hours of my day almost every day.  Games can eat up an entire day if not an entire weekend when you factor in travel time, warm up time, game time, and the need to eat, pee, and prepare.  

It will serve you, your child, and your family well if you learn what to expect not only for this year, but in the years ahead, especially if your child aspires to play at a highly competitive level or in college.  

For now, good luck with the tryouts! 

copyright 6/9/15, All rights reserved
Kimberly Amato