I’ve said before that I live in paradise. I usually mean the beauty of the foothills in the lakes region of central Maine, as well as how from our house we can access trails and the woods — meaning our kids can hike and explore the great outdoors without having to travel to a park or wilderness area.
However, what really makes me love this region is community. In the winter the local ski area is a family fun center. Inexpensive, it is heavily populated with children, including after school programs that help kids master the slopes as early as Kindergarten (our youngest already has skied down the larger Saddleback — and that was last year, he’s only in Kindergarten this year!) Season passes are very cheap and the place has a family feel — people know each other, and you can let kids go ski on their own without worrying that they’ll be in danger of some sort.
This weekend the Farmington Ski Club is having its annual sale — you can find skis, boots and poles for kids at a total cost of under $50 as families buy and sell old equipment as their kids grow up. People volunteer for work at the ski area, and though they have t-bars rather than lifts, the views are awesome and the runs are fun.
Soccer is another thing done right by a community recreation department that is a model of how communities should create opportunities for children (they do basketball, summer playground, and other activities year round). Starting in early September, soccer leagues form for two groups — division 1 is first through third grade, division two is fourth through sixth (after that middle school teams take over). Kindergarteners have their own prep soccer division where they learn basic skills and play skill building games. Dana did that this year, and he’s now better able to handle a soccer ball then me (which may say more about my lack of skill).
Ryan was in his last year in division one. The teams take on names of real professional soccer teams — since first grade Ryan’s been on the Colorado Rapids. They then play a season with games every Sunday afternoon (division one plays at 12:30, division two at 2:15 — the Kindergarteners also meet at 2:15 which meant long Sunday afternoons for me this year!) The games are competitive, but neither parents nor coaches take them too seriously. There is a fun sometimes festive atmosphere as people gather at Hippach field in the center of town on Sunday afternoon for the games. Parents catch up with friends and chat with other parents, the kids practice awhile and then have their games.
Autumn is the most glorious season in New England and though we’ve had cold and drizzly games, often there is bright sunshine, colorful trees and it just feels fantastic to be outside with community as the kids kick around the soccer ball. At the end, there is a single elimination playoff series.
This gets a bit tough for the kids who have to face the fact that if they lose, their season is over. Only the top two teams end up with trophies. There’s no “everyone wins” attitude here; the message is “having fun is more important than winning.” Losing teams often are in tears, kids used to winning (after all most parents let their first and second graders win when it’s important to them) learn what it means to lose. That is a good thing, it reflects how life works, it helps kids learn to understand you don’t always win. But it’s also not serious. Parents don’t argue with refs or coaches, people cheer and support the kids even when they make mistakes, and the message “it’s about fun, not winning” is reflected by the coaches, parents, and program itself. A perfect balance.
This year an odd early snow storm and earlier rain pushed the playoffs into November, with the semi-finals on Tuesday and the Championship games Wednesday. Parents of the losing teams Tuesday (which was a very chilly night) joked that they actually won since they wouldn’t have to be out there freezing on Wednesday! Wednesday was warmer, and thanks to an especially skilled second grader named Josh the Rapids had the edge over the LA Galaxy. Ryan played great specializing in defense, and the rest of the team had a solid effort, holding the Galaxy (which had been undefeated) scoreless.
For me this also was a chance to teach my son about the difficulty of losing. The Rapids were 1-2-1 in the season, thanks to first graders who were inexperienced. In one game it was comical. Someone on the other team broke through and two first graders playing defense stood in front of the goal motionless and watching as the guy dribbled the ball past them for an easy goal. Ryan was livid. He couldn’t keep playing. His intense personality led to anger at those “stupid first graders” (he forgot what he was like as a first grader!) and I briefly removed him from the team because his intense/hyper active personality couldn’t handle it.
But the coaches and other parents urged us to return. I had long talks with Ryan…”you win if you stay calm,” and created incentives and fun, including pre-game meals of his choice. I was there on the sidelines, reminding him when I saw the emotions grow. He worked at it. He wanted to stay in control. He went from saying “I hate soccer” and wanting to quit to overcoming his frustration and winning the championship. Moreover he realized that his team needed him, and he didn’t want to let them down.
That was tough on me. I’m pretty laid back, and never expected I’d have to deal with such intensity from my son — parents learn quickly that personalities are unique and kids are born different. Helping get Ryan through the season came to occupy my mind more than anything else. I’ve never had a problem with losing (which is good considering how often I lose) and I had to deal with the fact that I couldn’t just command my son “don’t take it so seriously.” He’s not wired like I am! But we made it through, and he was as proud of staying calm and persevering as he was of winning. At the end he hugged one of his coaches, a high school player with whom he had locked horns earlier; her patience during the season (the high school players they have as coaches are amazing) helped alot.
As the players and families left the field (with the bigger kids arriving for the 7:15 division two championship), I felt a kind of natural high to be in a community with these kinds of opportunities. I also thought of Monday night when the town was alive with trick or treaters, families running into each other and chatting as the kids rushed from house to house, safe and having fun. Community matters, it is more important to quality of life than money or possessions. Maine’s motto is “the way life should be.” Wednesday night that motto sure rang true.