Happily Ever After

Sometimes things just aren't meant to be.

In this case, the race day mentioned here dawned with a Roberts lacing up the old pavement treaders....and it wasn't me.

Someone in this house had trained faithfully for a half marathon that never sells out. But this year it did. So he was all prepped and ready to go for an event so full that no race number was left over for his fit and eager self to claim.

I did what any chronically exhausted, slightly depressed, somewhat fearful, creaky and significantly out-of-shape mom-of-five would do: handed my Disney race number to him.  For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in fitness and in flab, till death do us part....

So in flamboyant Disney happy-ending style, my dear husband ran this weekend in a field of 20,000+ merry and highly costumed gals and 1,500 bold men, ending with a personal best for his time, an enormous smile, great memories of an incredibly entertaining course, and some big honkin' Princess bling to boot.

My (sweaty) prince.

Which he promptly gave to me.

And they all lived happily ever after...

Disney require racers to report to the race corral around 4 am and spectators aren't too far behind them.  They should give everyone a medal just for getting up that early.

With running behind him, we could all get to the serious business of fun.

Remember we are a competitive bunch.  Shucks! Mama loses yet again.

Stripey stripe stripe.

The little guy bawled 'cause he had to get off Dumbo when it was over.  Son, those are the unspoken rules of the ride.

Ahhhh, the mood swings of a toddler.

Goodbye, Disney.  Maybe one of us will shape up in more ways than one before next year's race rolls around again.


A Secret to the Best Kid-cations...

So David wanted to go skiing and at first all I could think about was how to keep myself warm.  I hate feeling chilly.  I know, I'm a baby that way.  I blame it on Florida. 

But then I remember the secret to all great kid vacations!

It starts with layers and layers of clothes that have to be wrestled into, pulled over, strapped on and yanked up--

And continues with hearty young children hefting bulky boots and slippery skis to and fro--

Mix in the mental strength it takes for them to gather their courage and start down the hill--

Not to mention the physical challenges of little bodies going up and down the mountain all day long--

Then, for good measure, add a half foot of fresh snow, a self-made sledding trail, and some extra-cold temps--

The secret?  To tucker the whole bunch out.  Which, come nightfall, lets mom and dad have a mini-vacation of their own.



No Such Thing As Summer Break {and other musings}

When I was sitting in the school office this week, a very sweet boy who had attended math competitions in the past came up to me and asked:  “How did Collin win the Mini Mu?”  It was worded exactly so, and his pleading look made me very much wish I could give him a short, practical answer.

I can see how it might look like it “just happened” to a fellow kid.   From the outside, there’s not much about Collin (or Madeleine, who has also done well at these things) that screams “Math!”  If you look at the event photos, the children who make it on stage for a trophy are almost uniformly Asian or Indian.  (This is simply a fact of observation.)  And to the child who approached me, Collin’s school routine seems remarkably similar to his own.

So how did it happen? 

Completed practice tests---yup, there were quite a few.
Madeleine at her second math competition.

I’ve pondered the question over for the past week while we’ve been on a little vacation, and here are a few Roberts Family Philosophies (RFPs) possibly at work.  These are not a reflection of a “know it all” attitude by any stretch, but rather a gradual coming-to of beliefs as our family has grown that I thought I’d share.  I very sadly admit that I haven’t read lots of parenting books (with the exception of Shepherding A Child’s Heart, which I’ve read multiple times), attended parenting seminars, or even joined a MOPS group.  Why?  I guess I’ve been too snowed in with the never-ending task at hand: parenting.

So here are some RFPs, such as they are, in no certain order:

We, the parents, are the guardians and gatekeepers of their time.  We do not like our kids gaming, watching junk TV, or surfing the Internet.  They do not have their own smartphones, Instagram accounts, or Facebook pages.  As parents, we are the ones who set the “norm” in our household, and it includes lots of foursquare, tag, touch football, hide and seek, Legos, puzzles, reading, crafts, polly pockets, pillow tents, hand-sewn Barbie outfits, a little Khan Academy, and, yes, math.  Do the occasional apps and Disney Channel sneak in?  Of course they do, but as the official time gatekeepers in Casa Roberts, we have no problem powering down these scenarios mid-stream.  

There is no such thing as summer break.  Reading and especially math go on to a certain degree ALL YEAR ROUND in our household.  For instance, two summers ago, Collin finished a math text on his own under our (David’s) supervision. This summer, he steadily completed a series of Mini Mu sample exams as his summer project.  Our younger kids get math facts sheets or clock worksheets or any number of challenges that David prints out and presents with enthusiasm at the breakfast table.

Hard work trumps natural smarts any day.  I can testify to this by my college experience.  I went to a top-20 university by a squeaker admission.  I scored a whopping 1070 on my SAT and, even though I was in classes with National Merit Scholars and Valedictorians, I was so grateful to be there and so intimidated by the big brains surrounding me that I put in the hours and finished magna cum laude with a full-tuition-plus-stipend scholarship offer in hand to graduate school.  It continues to shock me that this RFP is true, but I most definitely watched it happen in my own life.  Did Collin have the highest IQ on the stage?  Probably not.  But he certainly put in the hard work in his own free time which, when all things considered, rendered IQ scores irrelevant.

Our organization, intentionality, and logistical support affects our child’s outcome.  I am not outstanding in this area, but I am very conscious of it as a factor (does that count?).  Who makes the trips to the library, scouts the book lists for good reads, pulls out sewing patterns, or suggest a good recipe?  It's not going to be the child, I can assure you.  Knowing these competitions were on the calendar for the upcoming year, I set about in early June to printing Collin’s math practice exams, organizing his summer folder, arranging a “Study Zone” at a quiet desk, and questioning him regularly about his progress.  David supplied absolutely critical tutoring support by explaining how to solve tough questions and often times supplying two or three possible means of solutions for a single problem.  Collin was disciplined to complete the task, but we—the parents
set him up for success.

Whether deliberately or not, we build a culture of what we value in our home.  Kids pick up on all the cues.  I value literature, music, and art very highly, so you will find paintings on our walls, art books on the tables, Pandora often running on the classical station, and a very active bookshelf in our kitchen where books in progress, just finished, and to be read are lined up alongside our Bibles and several favorite Bible commentaries.  We also value an active lifestyle, so there are swim googles, road bikes, baseball equipment, basketballs, and all manner of sports paraphernalia in our home.  David uses math every day in his job, and the kids know that math is one of the brain tools Daddy relies upon to support our family.  You better believe they realize how important it is to learn and how we simply without question expect them to do so.  I have very fond memories of a four-year-old Collin perched at our breakfast bar, having an absolute blast going head-to-head with Madeleine (two years his senior) in speed round fast facts math sheets, often coming out the winner.  My guess is that if you visited the homes of the children who lined the stages with my kids, they would have a culture of math in their households as well.

There is only so much that can be achieved in a day.  It takes consistency, day in and day out, to see true progress.  There is no room for procrastination in parenting (believe me, I’ve tried).  We build into their character, discipline, behavior, and knowledge every day, little by little, balancing fun free time with focused learning time.  It’s brick upon carefully placed brick rather than a blow-up house you plug in for quick success when college admissions roll around.  And if one day, week, or even month is a big flop, I reassure myself that tomorrow will bring a new opportunity to try again.

So, that poor fella’s simple question in the school office led to this long train of thought and possibly triggered the most boring blog post ever placed on the web.  But I feel satisfied that I have at least part of the answer in hand, and hope one day my kids will come back to the RFPs when they are wondering just why their childhood played out the way it did.


Mother Bear For The Win

He won, HE WON!

Yes, Collin won 1st place at the regional math competition this morning.  Twenty-eight area schools, 500 kids in two grades, two hour-long tests, one combined individual score.

This pic says it all.  The math whizzes are looking nervously at their parents or the announcer while my son is amused by his kid brother picking his nose in the audience.  Really.

I had an out-of-body experience when they pared it down to 20 finalists on stage, then 19, and 18, then 17 and 16....then the final three....and then there was one.  I was tingly all over, the stuff dreams are made of kind of happy.  When a well-rounded boy who QBs his football team and happily helps pack lunches every morning and patiently throws pitch upon pitch to his little brother in the front yard comes out over the plethora of math-only, math-insane, math-obsessed nerds who show up at these events, well, you just gotta be plain old happy for a kid like that.

I cried a bunch today just thinking about it.

Because you know from this post that I've had to be a Mother Bear about his education.  I never expected it before I had kids, but now, on the other side, I realize that sometimes you have no choice but to fight for them.  You have to be tenacious.  You have to pipe up and be convincing and say your peace to try to make it better, challenge their hearts, play into their gifting, increase their preparation, and (most importantly) have unshakable faith that the end result will produce virtuous, thoughtful people who can make a difference in the lives of those around them.

I'm talking in abstract philosophies, so let me tell you a story instead.

When we saw the math problems we were having when Collin was in 1st grade, we had a conference first with his teacher, and then, not feeling anything might change, with the principal of our A+-rated school.

Sitting across the desk in her office, David calmly explained the situation: our son was intuitively good at math and for the moment still liked math, but if the school couldn't help us with a better math curriculum and/or challenge than what was being presented to him each day, then he would probably end up hating math.  We implored with her.  Please, give us anything to help us help him.  We aren't professional educators--you are.  Send the math home, we will work through it with him.

She looked at us like were were plumb crazy.  Like no parent had ever asked that of her before.

She calmly described their wonderful FCAT scores, how blue-ribboned their school had become, how stellar their gifted program was, and even refused our very simple request to at least switch teachers.

The more she went on, the angrier I felt.  Nearing the end, I lost it a little and blurted "I honestly don't care about your achievement scores.  I want you to go to bed at night and ask yourself:  Did Collin Roberts learn anything today?"

Uh oh, Mother Bear was roaring out of her cave, so David whisked me out of that place as fast as he could.

The next week, Collin switched to Christ Classical Academy, where they've allowed him to do math until his brain hurt and he's loved every minute of it.

But sometimes you gotta fight for your cubs.  So I cried a bucket today with sheer relief.  This moment in time almost didn't happen, and I knew it.  I cried with the vindication of a mother who stood up years ago at a time when it was painful, confusing, and costly.

And wouldn't you know it, God is so good.  Did He have a hand in that very principal sitting there today watching Collin on stage, as he edged out her school's students at 2nd and 3rd?  It's possible.

And I hope she goes to bed knowing Collin Roberts learned something today: exactly what it feels like to be not just good, but truly great, at something God has gifted you to do.

His mama learned a little something, too.


3 Words Every Roberts Must Know {Friday Photos}




Good luck to my secondborn as he works some heftier numbers
in a math competition this Saturday.


Who's Flying This Plane?

I'm looking out the plane window today and feeling a little unsteady.

Parenting will do that to you. 

I knew I was boarding a flight marked Destination: Mom.  I heard the hatch click on her birthday and the engines hum and felt the sensation of movement and the rush of force as we took off. 

Now, as she enters the middle school years, we've hit 30,000 feet and I'm finally looking out the window for the first time.

Holy altitude, Batman.  I'm high up here in the thick of it.  There's no getting off this here plane and it's a blistering long way down.

I'm a mom, but thankfully I have a mom.  She logged many a miles with me as her passenger, so with full street creds she sent me the following email* today about my middle schooler, who has shed tears as of late and struggles with feeling like a misfit toy.  Boy, do I remember those tortuous marvelous middle school years like they were yesterday.
I feel good about how Madeleine sees herself and the world around her. When she was three feet tall and was visiting in the summer here in Houston, I took her to the public library for story time. I had never been there and did not know that it would be crowded and you had to arrive early to get a seat.

When she and I walked in my heart sank because there was a mob of little children, moms around the wall and well, what to do about that? After they gave very tiny Madeleine a carpet square to sit on, she looked over the situation for about 30 seconds, did not talk to me and marched right up to the storyteller in the front of the room and set right under her.

The moms were looking at me like…you allowed her to cut in front of my child! I ignored the stares and listened to the story. This is a very short example from years ago but very “Madeleine”.
1.      Nobody is going to rain on my parade.
2.      I want to hear this story and you are not going to stop me.
3.      Who cares what they think, I care what I think.
4.      I have the power to change the situation if I have an idea to do so.

She is a leader and not a follower. She will lead in great and interesting ways in the future. Oh, I hope I live to see this.  God has given her so many gifts. She knows that but she will have to figure out how to use those gifts and be a happy person.
I still remember the pain of it all. We are in the basketball stadium at Robert E. Lee HS, you had tears running down your eyes because you were not elected or chosen for some thing that you wanted badly. (Hey Mom, it was drill team officer.) I kept saying to you, ‘it is not your time’. And, it was not.  (Truly an example of God's mercy. No more splits on the football field in white cowboy boots. Ahem.)

Who wants to really compare lives, but if we ever could see into the future, you and I would see that you would get into Vandy early admissions even though the counselor said that you would never go there. That you would love college, learn to waltz, do well, actually pass physics (excuse me, three courses in physics! Art history major here!), impress those who taught you at Vandy so much that they would invite you to teach in Paris?  That you would meet a prince, work at the Smithsonian, marry, have 5 small near-famous children....
Life is hard and once you realize that it is not so hard, you wonder....who said that?
Oh growing up!!!
You are a great mom and wonderful person to talk to.  Lucky Madeleine.  Love, Mom.
*Biased grandma alert.

I guess there's no way to know the rest of the story in advance for any of my kids. There are many chapters yet to be written. Looking back on my life, I can only say it was grace, grace, all God's grace.  I really didn't know what the heck I was doing.

Still don't.

But I can look to where He's brought me and know it most certainly wasn't of my own efforts, brilliance, life strategy, or---dare I say it---the parenting I received during the middle school years. Whew, that's a relief.

Someone else is flying this plane, and I'm gonna have to look to Him for a steady landing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, 
who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 
James 1:5

Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
Psalm 25:5-9