“I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.”
~ Mia Hamm
As a parent, I feel that the perfect metaphor for what I do as “Co-Captain” of my team is to be as organized as I can and build up my team to be ready for their lives. My back-to-school tactics are shaped by my disability and personal limitations, and refined to what I feel is reasonable. Here’s how I do it, in soccer metaphors.
#1: Have a clear goal. and a clean field. I can’t do a drastic overhaul of our home, but I do need to create opportunities for it to serve us better. I have to use what works for me, which is not pulling out so much at a time that I get overwhelmed or, worst of all, starting something and not finishing it (hello, laundry pile that seems to continually refresh itself on my dresser). If an important thing for me is giving my kids the tools that they need to succeed, and I have the space, they need an area to do it.
We spent a week retrofitting our playroom with two six-foot by three-foot tables on one wall. This made a narrow but adequate desk conveniently created out of things we already owned. I broke the job down into very manageable tasks. Day one was spent helping the kids pick up the Legos and dress-up box up and throwing away things from that side of the room. Then we went on to other things. Similarly, day two we moved furniture, set up the tables, found the folding chairs, moved the computers. Day three we cleaned out all the old crayons/markers/glue sticks/scissors/binder clips etc. and set up a wicker cart, purchased at the local thrift store, as a “Supply Cart.” The printer is set up nearby the desks on a storage unit that holds various types of paper at the ready. This should cut down on emergency trips to the store to buy things.
The best part was, we didn’t have to make that marathon, and exhausting, IKEA trip I’d originally planned. We mostly cleaned up and used what we had. The playroom, actually a fourth-bedroom/office we’d made out of an unused formal dining room, is now a true multipurpose room. There is a futon, desks, computers, bookshelves, a globe, a map, school supplies, and the games and toys that otherwise clog the rest of the house. And a place for me to write. Win-win.
#2: Plan, plan, plan. I have three kids, all of whom play soccer, and a husband who works full-time as a school counselor as well as a high school soccer coach. We are literally at the ball fields 5 to 6 nights a week. Problem is, we also enjoy things like eating and clean underwear. Luckily, there’s an app for that!
I use several things to help keep our lives planned and on track. As for many things in my life, if I don’t plan it, it doesn’t happen. So in order to eat reasonably well, I use the Cozi app on my phone to plan meals and snacks. Not only does this wonderful app have meal planning, you can use it to send items directly to a grocery list from the recipe. It’s interactive with a cleaning schedule too, a necessary evil within a system that does not overwhelm me but helps me make steady progress each day. The Cozi app also contains a “journal” feature, where I’m able to jot down a short paragraph of what happened during the day along with a photo or two.
#3: Get to the game. The single best feature of Cozi for me is that it links to the Google Calendar. Linking to my husband’s Google calendar has quite simply changed everything for me. Then he knows when I’m at soccer with our daughter, I know when the oldest is at the dentist, and everybody gets where they need to go on time. I set it to give me ten- and fifteen-minute warnings, and it works. In a week when I might have an event, my husband might also, and there are no less than ten practice sessions, four games and a cross country meet, that counts for a lot.
#4: There is no “I” in “team.” This is a tough one for me. As a person who is disabled, and just as a person, it can sometimes feel good to accept help when it is offered. Not having to do it all is a relief. I found that it’s okay to be the mom that helps make the team dinner rather than always be the one who hosts it. Being there for my family is what matters and good friends can be made by allowing them to help me.
#5: Take care of the coach. Should go without saying, but I’m constantly surprised by how easy it is to let self-care go to the bottom of the list for me. Small niceties add up when you are responsible for a family. I do things like give them small treats in their lunch-bags, and I’m learning to make that extra-hot latte for myself too. I’m giving myself the gift of the exercise that is so useful for my mental health. I have the Duolingo app on my phone and am learning German, and Spanish. I regularly go to the library and lunch with friends, to show myself I matter enough to plan for too.
In the words of soccer legend Pele, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” Getting back in the game for me means keeping up the good work because our family works best when we work as a team.