Tuesday, January 27, 2015

So I will dance with Cinderella....

Today is a sort of say day in the Ayers household.  Today is the day that Brooke is shipping out the Irish dancing dresses that the girls had worn for their competition.  Irish dancing was an activity that I really loved the girls participating in.  It was a rare sport that three of the girls could do together.  The activity gave us an excuse to travel together to competitions in Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  It gave our parents excuses to travel to see all of us, to be together.  Irish dancing gave my girls a connection to a part of their heritage that I believe is very important.  Their great grandmother (God rest her sainted Irish soul) would have loved to see them Irish dance, just as she always made Burbon square dance.  My parents used to cook Irish food for my class in grade school, I studied abroad in Ireland during college, and Brooke and I spent our honeymoon in the land where the term originated (so they claim), Ireland.  Irish history has always been big part of my life.

So you can imagine that the move up north was softened a bit when we realized the girls had plenty of opportunities to Irish dance. Opportunities that were much more scarce in Lexington.  Very quickly after our move up here we found a good dance school to affiliate with.  Before long, we were marching in parades, racking up medals, and buying very expensive dance dresses.

Then something changed.  Irish dancing is not something you can just fall out of bed and do.  The girls were moving up in the ranks which required more practice.  For the first time in their lives, they were forced to practice something every day.  I used the term forced very specifically.  What was once fun, turned into a pain for Brooke to get them to do.  The girls would go through the motions every day, just to get the practice done.

This past September we had a competition in Nashville.  We knew this would be a good opportunity for the girls to medal and move up a rank.  The farther south you go, the weaker the competition is.  Of all the competitions the girls had done, in all of the games they have played, they never looked as disinterested as they did in Nashville.  It was horribly disappointing/embarrassing for Brooke and I.  Not because they didn't do well, but because we knew they did not try their best.  All four grandparents were there to watch them "half ass" it.  The car ride home was not a pleasant one for the girls.  Poor Hadley had nothing to do with it, yet she had to sit there and take it too.  We were....teaching...the girls a lesson about life. No matter what, you always give your best effort.  We talked about the effort it took for all of us to get down there, the money it took, the time, etc. etc. for them to sleep walk through their performance.  We were at a crossroads with Irish dancing.

There were a few more practices and private lessons after that.  Brooke refused to make them practice on their own, so as you can imagine, the daily practices stopped.  It was time to move on. We couldn't make them do something they did not want to do.  It was a tough moment for me for a lot of reasons. I wasn't sure how I felt about it really.  I felt like they were giving up, something I didn't want to let them do.  In the end, if my first desire is for them is to be happy, I had to let it go.  Did I want them to Irish dance for me, or for them?

I remember the time when I told my father that I wanted to give up playing baseball (a sport I was good at) to play soccer (a sport I ended up being good at).  I think it sort of broke his heart.  Baseball was something that he did with his father and it made him happy to pitch to me.  I also remember how with relative ease he let me do what made me happy.  He even went to every game, yelling "ALRIGHT BOOMER STICK SOMEBODY!" at my first game.  In the end, it all worked out.  Eventually, I would have had to stop playing baseball and soccer to play two sports I really loved, football and track.  I was good enough in football, I was best at running.  My experiments into baseball and soccer just helped me develop those skills that I would need playing other sports later on.  Dad was always one of my first coaches in sports, turns out he was coaching me about life lessons, too.  Lessons I wouldn't fully learn until I had to let my girls choose which sports they wanted to play. Very similar to the choice I had to make back in the day.  Dad had set the table for me to learn, the girls did the rest.

So, tonight Brooke is bagging up those expensive Irish dancing dresses that I bought for them way back when the girls decided they wanted to be world famous Irish dancers. They are being sold to someone else chasing the feet of flames dream. Tomorrow I will pay for cheer leading outfits or gymnastic class time.  Either way, its all part of the journey.  I am thankful for the dancing memories they gave me, but more appreciative for the lessons they taught me along the way.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hadley, The Brave

I went and saw the movie American Sniper today.  I knew what happened in the movie, because I had read the book as soon as it came out.  I was also aware of the ending, a dark cloud that hung over the entire movie.  American Sniper moved me, but I am not ready to write about it yet.  However, I will say a big congrats to Aunt Kristin. She worked with the star of the movie, Bradley Cooper, helping him with his diet.  She has been mentioned by name by Bradley a few times in the past couple of weeks.

Anyway, there was a particular scene early on that stood out to me.  It was a scene where young Chris is at a table with his (younger) brother and parents.  His father begins to tell an abbreviated version of  this story:

Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident. We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
Then there are the wolves and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy. Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
Then there are sheepdogs and I'm a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf. If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the unchartered path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid school. Our children are thousands of times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the sheep only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the path of denial.
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours. Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports, in camouflage fatigues, holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, Baa. Until the wolf shows up; then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.
It is a story very relevant to our society issues today.  Regardless, the story was told to the young Kyle boys to instill in them a sense of protection.  Specifically, it was about the older brother Chris taking care of his younger brother.  The younger brother was being picked on at school, Chris had come to his defense in a fist fight. The father was adamant that they do not start fights, but they do finish them.  Most importantly, you stick up for your brother.  I leaned over to my friend that I was at the movie with and said "my father had that very same talk with my brother and I."

I recall one time when I was younger, I couldn't have been more than 5 or 6, getting bullied by some guy I didn't even know.  I really don't remember anything about the dude.  The only thing I remember was Patrick coming to my defense.  It was the first time I ever heard of a thing called a fight.  I once found  myself in the Principal's office because (as a 7th grader) I had gotten into it with an 8th grader who was picking on a bunch of folks.  I knew it was all a formality, because both the principal and my folks had no issue with me causing a ruckus for the reason I did.  I was taking up for someone getting picked on.  

It was one of those family lessons that really stuck with. While I have all girls, I have tried very hard to pass on to them that very same belief.  I do this to the point that I don't event let them fight with each other.  It is not acceptable.  On numerous occasions I have told them that no one else will be there for them except the four of them.  I have even said that there will come a time when Mom and Dad won't be around anymore to take up for them, so they must do it for each other.  We have spent time at dinner talking about Reagan's responsibility she has in always sticking up for Caroline.  I don't want anyone picking on Caroline, Reagan must not allow any of their mutual friends do that.  Caroline must do the same for Baylor Grace, and BG must do it for Hadley. At the end of the day, all they will have is the four of them. You never know how these lessons are going to take with girls, particularly young girls. No matter what, I won't stop preaching it.

The other day, Hadley and Baylor Grace were walking after school with their mother.  There was a boy at the corner who is known to be sort of a bully.  He was throwing snow balls at people when they would pass.  Apparently, no one felt the need to say anything to him.  That is, until he made the mistake of throwing one at Baylor Grace.  This set Hadley Blaine into a fit of rage.  "HEY, DON'T YOU THROW A SNOW BALL AT MY SISTER!"  Brooke said that she practically had to restrain Hadley from going after the boy.  He was bigger, he was a stranger to her, and he was a boy.  Hadley didn't care.  Don't you pick on her sister.

It gave me a little hope.  Hope, that when the day does come that Brooke and I aren't around,  that the girls are going to be alright.  They will have each other.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Divine Intervention

Hello y'all, did you miss me? It has been a while since I have posted.  I don't like to write just to write. I like to write when I am inspired, or I have a story to tell.  Brooke said that some of my blogs were starting to sound the same, so I felt like it was time for me to take a little sabbatical.  I'm not sure I am entirely back, but I guess there was some divine intervention that brought me back tonight.

Caroline will be receiving her First Communion this year.  It was a great moment for our family last year when Reagan did it.  Prior to that sacrament, you must go through your First Reconciliation.  This is when you confess your sins to a priest.  It is a big deal for us Catholics, something that separates us from other Christian religions.  Being Caroline's first time, you can bet she was nervous. Now, my inclination was to make up some scary stories to get Caroline more nervous.  That's what my father did to me when I had to get my first physical for football.  I am proud of myself, I showed a lot of restraint.  I didn't tease her at all.  I tried to make her as comfortable as possible.  We rehearsed her lines, repeated the steps she would need to go through, and tried to prepare her as best as possible.  She was ready to go, of course she would go first.

We walked her up to the priest and presented her to him.  I remember that feeling of nervousness and helplessness the first time I dropped her off at school.  Caroline was different than the her older sister.  I was more nervous for her than Reagan ( & Baylor Grace).  I wanted to protect Caroline.  Tonight came with sort of the same feeling.  When we walked her up there, it was like she was entering a new stage in her life.  It was another one of those times when I had to let her go. It wasn't that big of a deal, I just one she was originally very nervous.  So there I was behind the alter, watching my daughter who is scared of her own shadow all the way across the church, going through her first confession.   I honestly thought she was going to need a hook.  I was moved with emotion to see her hamming it up with the priest.  Obviously, I have no idea what they were talking about.  Whatever it was, she was full of smiles.  Caroline was nervous no more.

After she rejoined me and the two big sisters, we went to a kneeler to pray.  As a devote Catholic, I was so proud to kneel at the front of the church with 3 of my girls.  I wondered what they were praying for, and then I prayed myself.  When we were done and in the pews, I reflected back on my prayer.  I didn't pray for a UK win tonight.  I didn't pray for more money.  I didn't pray for a new car, or anything else.  I simply prayed for the health of the 5 girls that I live with, and I prayed for the health of their 4 grandparents.  That's it.  Its interesting how your prayer needs change as you change in your life.  I just prayed for health and more time with the ones we love.

At this point it was time for me to go to confession myself.

Reagan: Dad, that was quick
Me: Well of course, I am a pretty good guy.  I don't have much to confess.
Reagan: Did you confess the bad words you say during UK games?
Baylor Grace: Yeah Dad, you probably should have confessed that.
Me: Well, Baylor Grace, I'm sure you would be a pretty quick confessor as well.  You always try and do the right thing, that makes me very proud of you.
Baylor Grace: Yeah, but not Hadley.
Caroline: Definitely not Hadley.  She would probably spend the most time with the priest.  She would have the most to confess.

We all couldn't help but laugh.  I looked to my left and right and I was surrounded by my entire world.  Additionally, in the same row were some really good friends that I am so thankful we have.  In the back of the church my wife directing traffic.  Somewhere in the building Hadley was running around causing problems.  I couldn't help but feel the Holy Spirit surround me with love.

At that moment I asked for one more thing, and it happened to be a line from a song that I have sung so many times in buildings very similar to the one I was in.  Until that moment, looking at my girls, it never hit me like it did tonight.....

I asked the Lord to "make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand."