A Finish Line: An Update

I used to sit in my office years ago and flip through MFA program packets and dream about having enough money to attend one someday. Then, dutiful first-born that I am, I enrolled in an MA program because it was more “practical.” (This was true in some ways but not in all ways.) Through a series of circumstances, the MA program at Creighton turned out to be my way into an MFA program. And I was offered a fellowship that paid my tuition and enough stipend money to pay the rent.

My MFA fellowship didn’t only gave me time to write. Because I didn’t have to keep a part-time job on the side, I was able to volunteer in the kids’ classrooms, drop them off and pick them up everyday, bring them forgotten gym clothes and permissions slips. It’s been wonderful for us as a family. We made a big transition from split-level suburbia to two-bedroom town home in the heart of Omaha. The kids started attending large public schools. All of it has proved to be a beautiful adventure and rousing success. The timing for an MFA fellowship was perfect.

Now I’m finished! (Jesse took this photo.) I’ve got that terminal degree (meaning I have the correct papers to be a full professor someday, if the literary and professional stars fall into alignment) and without any extra student loan debt.

We celebrated all weekend and put a beautiful seal around the season of study. My biggest lesson from three years of grad school in literature and creative writing? My writing isn’t good enough, but I have plenty of ideas for how it can be better. The goal is beautiful. That’s what I’m working toward.

For the summer I’m scheduled to tutor GED students for about 20 hours a week, leaving some time for pools, flowers, walks, etc. with the kids. Also leaving time for more writing, revising, and submitting.

I had some good great news last week when an editor at a literary mag accepted one of my poems and asked to see four others after I revise them another time. That was a huge boost to my confidence! I’ve only been submitting for a little while, but when the red “declined” response is piling up, it’s nice to see a little green “accepted” in the queue. (That’s Submittable talk.) I’ll share more details when the particulars are in order.

So the plan is to keep up with my online teaching, part-time tutoring, and writing/revising/submitting for publication. (AND the children; I plan to keep up with the parenting of the children.) Of course, generous soul that I am, I am always open to Dickens-style benefactors. Applications welcome and there is no submission fee!

 

Rethinking Kids’ Sports Culture

I get it when people complain about the kids’ sports culture that waters down the idea of competition by giving everyone a trophy just for “showing up.” Once Jesse’s basketball team literally finished dead last in a tournament and every kid got a medal to hang around his neck. He was appropriately horrified. But I think my perspective has softened on that one a little bit, and here’s why: my sixth grade volleyball player.

Claire is every inch the competitor Jesse is. Despite her physical limitations from cerebral palsy, she has taught herself to shoot and dribble a basketball. This winter when she found out her elementary school was offering girls’ volleyball, she decided to learn that game. She had never played before. Because of the weaknesses in her left hand, she basically plays with one hand. She taught herself to serve by tossing the ball with her right hand and then popping the ball with the same hand over the net (sometimes – when all the parts fall into place perfectly). She has a pretty great bump when she can get under it. We’re very proud.

We’re so proud, in fact, we’d be thrilled to our toes to have a last place medal to hang around her neck. Because you know what? Just showing up is enough for Claire. Just showing up takes a lot of courage and tons of energy for this girl. She has every game carefully logged into the calendar app on her Kindle. Three days a week she goes to school early for practice, putting on and taking off knee pads over her brace – not an easy thing to do when I’m helping and very difficult when she does it on her own. (You try putting on socks one-handed.)

At first we weren’t even sure if she should play because it seemed to be making her nervous, but after a few practices she was pretty sure she could do it. Her coach (who also happens to be her principal) coaches her like anyone else, not just encouraging her but also challenging her to improve. Exactly what Claire wants and needs.

And her teammates? If you know anyone who wants to complain about tweenage girls, tell them to come with me to one of these games and have their faith restored in the fragile, mysterious species that is sixth grade girls. To be honest, these girls are also pretty great volleyball players. And I’d never thought of this before, but them being really good at what they do actually makes room for a girl like Claire to compete alongside them. They can score a lot of points so if Claire misses hers it doesn’t really matter. They’re athletic, jumping in to save a volley or back up a miss. (That’s another blog post altogether, but I’d never really thought about my strengths as a way of making room for someone else. That’ll preach, right?)

A few games ago when Claire totally whiffed on her serve, she threw her hands over her head and started to cry. I watched from the sidelines debating whether to embrace the impulse to run to her or to wait and see how she pulled herself together. Within seconds her coach and two teammates were at her side. They patted her on the back as she walked to the sideline (in this game they were all subbing out after their serves). I looked over later to check on her and saw two of her teammates making her laugh. She was fine. She had what she needed.

So I get it. It’s kind of crazy the way we do sports sometimes. And we might be really screwing these kids up. But, you know, for today, I’m just really happy we got to be here. I’m thankful there was a team that had a place for everyone, and even if we had lost all our games I’d have proudly displayed that participation medal with zero misgivings.