Archive for category Play

Soccer Champs!

The Colorado Rapids - Farmington ME Champs (1st through 3rd grade)

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).

The Kindergartners get their trophies

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.

Ready for the Championship game to begin

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.

The Rapids celebrate!

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.

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Wii Skills

I am an “older father.”   In my twenties I split time between grad school and a job in Washington DC, finally becoming ABD at age 29.  ABD = All But Dissertation, it’s a point in graduate school where everything is complete for earning the Ph.D. except this nasty 300 + page bit of original research.  Until I finished my doctorate at age 35 I picked up teaching gigs wherever I could, at the University of Minnesota (where I was doing my Ph.D. work), St. Olaf College and Carleton College (both of Northfield, MN).

All this kept me busy and earning enough money to have an active social life, and I cherish those grad school years as some of the best in my life.  I had enough money to enjoy myself (even while living in tiny studio apartments near downtown Minneapolis), surrounded with colleagues in the same boat, and not feeling much in the way of life stress.   Basketball every Saturday at 10:00 AM, Friday happy hours, exploring the world of political science, teaching my first classes — I loved those days.

However, that isn’t conducive to long term relationships and starting a family.   A few go that route in grad school, but it’s rough, and the job market tends to separate people.  I waited until I got a full time tenure track job and didn’t have kids until after I turned 40.  It allowed me to travel, enjoy my youth, and have an extended period of adult time with lots of freedom and limited responsibility (as well as limited income).

Becoming a father in my 40s has been a great experience.  It forces me to stay in shape (when my youngest graduates from high school I’ll be 63 — I want to still ski and play tennis with him!), keep up on how not just college students but also school age kids are living, and feel younger than I really am.

Yet I realize how different the world is.   We were in a hotel in New Hampshire the other night and Ryan, 8, asked in a frustrated voice, “dad, I can’t figure out how to pause this TV.”

“It’s not a DVR, it doesn’t pause,” I explained.   He thought that very odd.   The idea of not having a trove of recorded DVR “events” to watch — Avatar the Last Airbender, Adventure Time, Star Wars Clone Wars, iCarly, etc. — seems odd.   In fact Dana (5) had trouble accepting that a show he wanted to watch, Ben 10, could not be watched yet because it wasn’t on until later.   “Can’t you just go there (on the guide) and click it?”

“Not yet,” I replied, realizing that in a few years that probably would no longer be a barrier.

Where they really amaze me is with video games.   Now, I admit, I am not into video games.   As a teen I did play pac man and donkey kong, but most of the time I found myself bored by them.   My dad and youngest sister would spend hours with the Atari playing missile command and other such games, I’d get bored after five minutes.   I’m that way with puzzles, rubrics cubes and anything like that — if it gets frustrating and doesn’t offer any real benefit (I mean, so what if I have a cube with every side the same color, what the hell does that give me?) and takes time, then I’m outta there.   I’ve played the Wii a few times, but have the same reaction.  I’d rather write a blog entry.

Ryan and Dana, however, are already Wii experts.   My five year old son is better than me on just about every Wii game, and he can’t even read the directions.   He navigates by trying various buttons and figuring out which get him what he wants.  He watches his older brother and then picks it up.  He can spend hours with Wii Lego Star Wars, calling me over “dad, look, I have a ghost yoda,” and laugh at the fun things his characters can do.  It’s often not what a serious player would be doing, but he gets his kicks.

On Monday night, though, we had a Wii disaster.   Ryan got a game “Zelda the Desert Princess,” where some character named Link is battling various creatures in various habitats.  The music and graphics are pretty good, but I have no clue what the game’s about.    He’s been spending hours on it.   We’ve had talks about ‘screen time’ and figuring out ways to get him to put more variety in his activities (hmmm, sort of like how my mom didn’t want me watching TV all the time), but between Pokemon on his DSI or Zelda on Wii, he becomes obsessed.

Monday I heard him crying loudly in the other room.   Imagining that he fell down the stairs, hit his head on something hard (I mean, he takes pain pretty well, so this loud cry had to be serious) I ran in.   He was in the easy chair clearly in distress.  “I accidently erased almost all my Zelda progress,” he told me, “230 hours.”  (That shocked me, but I guess play hours are not literal hours but reflect progress on levels…or that’s his story and he’s sticking to it.)   To his credit he got over it quickly.   I had to pry him away from the Wii for awhile, but later let him go back, I could tell that he needed to make some Zelda practice before he could be at peace — and he did, he seemed to enjoy redoing the old levels.

Lest I create the impression the boys are tied to video games, they’ve actually had an active outdoor summer — Ryan has a great tan.   But it’s Wii skills and other technological advances that show me just how different their world is than mine was.   If I don’t know an answer to a question, Ryan’s first response is “google it.”     If the store doesn’t have something he wants, he says “go on line and buy it.”    In the world of our children all information, all products, all entertainment and communication with friends is all available right now.   He’s not old enough for facebook or texting yet, but I’m sure that’ll come.

Still, at the end of the day, as I put the kids to bed, hug them, tell a story and tuck them in, I realize that for all the differences, at base parenthood is still the same.  I may not have the Wii skills, but to be there for them, build a relationship of mutual trust and be close to them is what matters.    And when Dana calls me “Scott,” and Ryan calls me “Dude,” that’s OK.    This isn’t 1968.   But I not only love my kids, but also like them and feel extremely close to them.   What more can one want?


Quantum Life: Birth and Pre-Birth

(Note, this is part 6 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.”  It is in English, which it calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all the complexities of the world as it really is.  I’m not sure where this book came from.):

Birth and Pre-Birth

The most traumatic aspect of playing Quantum Life is entering (being born) or leaving (dying) a round of the game (a life).   The reason is because between rounds players realize they are playing, even if full knowledge of their “real” selves is not retrieved (unless they choose to leave the game completely).

Before each life, a player goes over some key aspects of the planned life ahead, usually with a game counselor who can help recommend certain life choices.   While the purpose of any life is to improve game skills and move forward, over time groups of players form partnerships, whereby they help each other during play.   In pre-birth they will plan how their lives might intersect in a given round of play.   They may choose to be parent and child, meet and become friends, or become spouses.

It should be noted that all they can plan in advance is probabilities.  Once in the game players can make choices that disrupt those plans.  A woman might have an abortion, not realizing the child she was to have was to be a prominent aspect of that life.   A man might be tempted by leave a woman who was meant to be his spouse.   Players have back up plans.  If it is recognized that the planned pregnancy may lead to early termination, they may plan to try again with a pregnancy later in life.  If (usually guided by a game counselor) a couple recognizes one of them has a relatively high probability of rejecting the plan once in the game, they may plot later encounters, sometimes much later in life.

Game counselors are very good at measuring probability and looking at past lives to determine likely choices and build in back ups and fail safes to make it likely that most life plans will be realized in some way.    What appears during the game as coincidence, a chance encounter, or a lucky break may be the result of intense and complex planning between rounds.

Players also choose the time and place of their next life.   While time appears linear in the game, the fact that it is simply a complex program means people do not have to progress chronologically.   A life lived in 20th Century Asia may be followed by one in the early days of human existence.   Sometimes people choose that to take a break — early human life is exuberant and extremely sensual.   Others having lived a life of tragedy due to a lack of personal discipline may choose to go to an era of very strict social norms and rules in order to try to reintegrate discipline into the personality.  Others may try to hone traits.  A person lacking empathy for the poor may choose to have a life of abject poverty.    Groups of friends playing rounds together may also choose very difficult lives in order to play a role in helping a friend progress.

More advanced players often undertake very difficult lives both to meet the challenge of succeeding (overcoming fear and being content) in horrible conditions, or to act to motivate others.   A player may be born as a child with a terminal disease in order to help the parents learn life lessons, for example.   In the game it’s impossible to know the exact background of a person simply due to their conditions.   Not only might the same conditions be chosen for very different motives, but the choices made during the game might alter the kind of life expected.   All birth points have a myriad of possible directions for that life, with each decision point widening the possibilities of life-experience.  Even well planned lives can end up going in a much different direction, sometimes helping the player develop, sometimes setting the player back.

Once the purposes and plans for a life have been made, the process of “forgetting” begins.  The player enters an hypnotic state wherein the connection with the greater Whole is hidden.    How this is done is impossible to explain using a Quantum Life language like English, and can only be done with the willingness of the player.   Once the connection is hidden, the player enters the game as a small, helpless baby, requiring attention and love from other players to survive.   This puts the player into a mode of pure instinct and information gathering, helping enhance the hidden nature of the connection with the greater Whole, and making the new game environment intriguing and overwhelming.

Yet in those early days the nature of thought/mind development allows communication between players setting up that person’s plan and experience.  This communication continues at sub-conscious levels throughout life, though rarely does any player notice or suspect they are in such contact with other players.     Also, some novice players enter the game with the goal of only spending days, months or a few years in a given life, not feeling ready for the whole experience.   Indeed, the first time out as a human is almost always for less than a couple weeks, most players don’t venture into aware childhood until at least their fifth or sixth “life.”

As vocal and cognitive skills in the Quantum Life world develop, the connection to others becomes further buried in consciousness.   Often this comes out as imaginary friends or images for the children (which some cultures take very seriously, often recognizing that it is a kind of communication), but usually the weight of the Quantum Life reality presses hard on the player, who becomes so immersed in and curious about the new environment that by age three the game world is simply reality. At that point a player has fully entered the game, and play becomes more complex.

The process of  “being born” is feared by many new players, though within the game players ironically tend to fear death!  It is traumatic, but the overwhelming sensations overtaking a new born make it generally painless.    It is not remembered during a life, and afterwards players recall it as a fog combined with a mix of sensations and emotions they could not identify or fully control.   Players early on form bonds with parents, and the sense of love and caring (or despair and rejection) dominant early life experiences, and have an impact on later life experience.   Perhaps the most important lesson for players to learn is that part of the game is to help new players enter life, and that requires connection and bonding.   Otherwise, it’s harder for players to stay focused.

By age 2 or 3, most players are fully in the game and ready to start engaging certain skills and capabilities to make the most out of the game.

(I’ll stop copying the manual for today — I’ll try to find time to post more of it in the near future, between my normal blog posts).


The True Meaning of Halloween

The Halloween decorations went up after Labor Day.   We’d told the kids (who wanted to get them out in June) that they would have to wait for fall.   When they saw the first colored leaf they insisted we get out the lights, skeletons, cobwebs, spooky posters, spiders, etc.   We have more Halloween decorations than Christmas decorations, and our kids host an annual Halloween party.   This year will be the fourth one, and each year things get a bit more elaborate.

Yesterday we decorated outside for the party — the entry way, and then the back “haunted” woods, including a leaf-filled “dummy” wearing a mask in the playhouse.   Hopefully the weather will cooperate and the kids will be able to play outside.   Halloween is also gaining importance nationally as a holiday.   What once was primarily a night for kids to trick or treat and Wiccans to celebrate has become a national event.    So what is the true meaning of Halloween?

Just as Christmas is not just about Christianity and materialism, Halloween is not just about the occult and candy.   Indeed, just as secular folk celebrate Christmas in terms of peace, love and joy even if they do not share a belief in its religious origins, celebrating Halloween does not require one to believe in ghosts.  Just as Christmas means much more than the materialist excess of holiday spending, Halloween means more than just sugar highs and candy.   But while Christmas has a long track record of having meanings conveyed in cards, movies and songs, Halloween’s true meaning remains a bit unclear.  I’ll take a shot at defining it.

One thing clearly associated with Halloween is spookiness. Scary movies, haunted houses (in Farmington there is both a haunted barn which really spooked the kids, and a corn maze that is haunted on Halloween weekend), and the Simpsons’ annual “Tree House of Horror” attest to that.   Yet it is not really a celebration of fear.   The goal is fun, an enjoyment of confronting something “scary” and laughing about it.    So to me Halloween is about play and the power of imagination.

Imagination inspires costumes, spooky stories, and haunted houses.   We imagine ghosts, ghouls and witches; even my four year old will roll his eyes up and don a blank face with arms outstretched to become a zombie.   Imagination is fun, the limits of the real are dispensed with, as are concerns about what would really happen if creatures could suck our blood and turn us into vampires.     Imagination is play, and Halloween is the ultimate play holiday.   We are all playing, creating scenarios and pretending to believe in all sorts of creatures and story lines.

Halloween is also a very social holiday.   In Farmington the streets are crowded with ‘Trick or Treaters,’ and is truly a community affair.  People put up lavish decorations or props to make things fun for the kids, and at the very least most people have candy to hand out.   If Christmas is more about family, Halloween is about community.     People rarely go door to door any more, visits are planned, and if you want to see someone on the spur of the moment you usually call first.   The days of just “stopping by” are long gone — but on Halloween nearly everyone’s door is open to provide children with a small gift.    It is a social event.

In our society people often lose perspective, driven to anxiety by an apparent contradiction: our lives are both unimportant and extremely meaningful.   No matter how serious things seem to be, in not too long we’ll all be gone and the things we obsess about will be forgotten.    Yet, even if nothing in life is permanent, life is all we have.    How do we reconcile those two facts?

Halloween reflects the answer: recognize the power of imagination and play, and the importance of social contact.    In the film “Life is Beautiful” the capacity of the hero to use imagination and play to make even a holocaust concentration camp more tolerable for a child attests to the importance of play.   No matter where we are or what we’re doing imagination can flourish and help us through, and a sense of play can add to the experience.   When things are bad, imagination can keep us sane by encouraging hope; when things are good, imagination is key to maximizing enjoyment.   Life as play helps us have the energy to act and achieve without succumbing to stress and anxiety.   Life as play is living with perspective.

So I embrace the true meaning of Halloween.  It reminds us to imagine, and to treat life playfully.   Living with perspective means not letting life’s annoyances and pitfalls cause too much anxious stress or depression.   Imagination is to our mental health what diet and exercise are to our physical health.   So happy Halloween!