Sunday, April 27, 2014

Adventures of a soccer mom: the final chapter

It's 7:09 am at home.  I'm on a plane somewhere high over the Atlantic ocean.  Cruising at 40,000 feet.  The plane is dark.  It's 1:10 pm Barcelona time.  I've been awake since 5:30 am or 11:30 pm for those playing at home. We've been in the air about 2.5 hours.  We've had lunch and the boys have watched Frozen.  Now they are on to the Hobbit.  Eyes are looking a little heavy...

Having spent a week in Barcelona I've noticed a few things.  First, I must commend the FC Bolts Celtic organization for arranging this trip for the boys and to their coaches for their tireless dedication to our boys before and during our trip.  They were more than coaches, but surrogate dads for the week to a bunch of the boys and they were fantastic.  They looked out for their safety on and off the field.  They found  the positive and humor in a devastating loss for the boys their first game (with a dose of reality) and helped them emerge from this trip proud of their accomplishments.  I am grateful. 

I also want to commend the boys of this team.  While yes, they are 11 and 12 year old boys, and at times, behaved as they were (and should), the degree of maturity and respect they showed the soccer teams they played against, even though they did not speak the language or have a skill advantage (which they are used to back home), they spoke the universal language of futbol and they became much more fluent in it after a week training with some amazing trainers and putting into practice what they'd learned.  They've been commended for being polite and sweet and 'nice' boys.  They've been wonderful little ambassadors for their club and for American soccer. 

I'd forgotten how much I loved Europe.  It's been 15 years since I've been, not counting Ireland a few years ago.  Having previously been to London, Ireland, France and Switzerland in the past, Spain was never on my short list of places to see.   I'm grateful for this trip for I'd likely never have known the beauty Barcelona held otherwise.  I've written about the treasures Barcelona holds in my previous posts.  I only wish I'd had more time (in longer chunks of time) to take in more of it.  I don't really have any regrets per se.  I wanted and needed to balance seeing the sights with spending time with my boy and watching him play.  I'm not sure I'll ever have the opportunity to return.  Still, I saw more than I ever thought I would!  I'm grateful to my boy and his love of the sport for leading me to this opportunity to see a bit of Spain.

Spending a week in Europe has also made me question the ways of the U.S.  Some observations:

- the police are very visible here.  They are on foot, in pairs.  They wear fluorescent yellow shirts/jackets.  Their guns and clubs are visible, some with bullet belts around their waist.  Riot vehicles are visible near potential 'problem' areas like at the FC Barcelona game.  They ride bicycles, scooters, cars and riot vehicles.  They are in and around the Metro.  They are easy to find and plentiful.  Violent crime is nearly non-existent according to the natives.  Pickpocketing in tourist areas is the most common and pretty much only crime.  One can't help but wonder if it's because of their tremendous visibility, friendly nature, and visible display of their weapons.

-  I did not see one overweight person who was of Spanish descent.  People walk or bike or take the Metro nearly everywhere.  There are beautiful bike paths throughout the city.  There are bicycle stands that locals rent on yearly basis.  They are red and white and they can use them for a half hour each day for their annual fee or 1 cent/minute over the 30.  Many use them to get to/from work. 

-  The Metro.  Why, oh why, can't Boston get their act together?  These trains are like clockwork, with 2-4 min between trains and they are always on time.  Signs display when the next train will arrive. Signage is clear to follow, even if you don't speak Spanish.  There are stairs everywhere (in places, escalators and elevators, too).   The stations are clean.  The tickets are all purchased electronically.  It's so easy! 

- Work hours.  Works seems to begin at 10 with siesta from 1-3 or 4 ish depending on the venue.  Many shops close for these hours.  Tapas is popular.  Then, back to work until about 8 pm.  Dinner is late, after 9, with the city staying up late and enjoying leisurely meals and sangria.  The influence of a Mediterranean diet likely contributes to the health of the general population.

- The culture.  Granted, we were in a very tourist driven city, but nearly everyone in Europe is fluent in at least 2, often 3 or more languages.  We are so embarrassingly behind in the U.S. on this.  Our kids should be learning a second language from Kindergarten so they can compete in a global market and be savvy travelers when they get older.  I felt so inept at my ability to communicate in any language other than English.  Although I did use some French such that France is not that far to the north and many also spoke fluent French.  Sadly, I do not remember enough of my 5 years of French now to speak more than the simplest of phrases.

** note:  boy is now sound asleep on my right shoulder.  His head is heavy!  **

-Futbol:  this is less a sport and more a way of life here.  Soccer fields are everywhere.  Beautiful sponsored turf fields, sand fields at inner city schools, rooftop fields, fields in the middle of apartment complexes, even a gorgeous field in Parc guell!  There are signs on open grassy areas that say 'no futbol' because where this is open space and kids with a ball, here is futbol!  I swear every child in this city's first shoes are teeny cleats from FC Barcelona.  They all play.  Whether elite or not, they all know how to play the game it seems.  They are active and thus, fit and healthy.   In touring Camp Nou, there were also trophies for basketball, hand ball and other sports.  This is an active culture.  Not a sit on the couch with your video game culture.  In fact, we played a game at a school entirely dedicated to soccer players.  I imagine there are many of those around this country.

- tolerance:  There was not the arrogance of the French here with regard to Americans and their presence or lack of mastery of their language.  They seemed, for the most part, happy to try to accommodate.  They love our tourist dollars but they also seem genuinely interested in our boys and their soccer team and their experience here.  They wanted to make it a memorable and good one for them.  Our attempts at speaking their language were appreciated.  Most were patient and kind.  Even the airline crews were delightful for the most part.

-Cleanliness:  The city is amazingly clean.  There are street cleaning crews out every single day.  Sweeping, emptying trash cans, making sure the streets are pristine.  There are trash cans with clear bags on every block.  They power wash the squares and bring out the street sweepers every day.  There are large recycling bins on the streets for trash and all manner of recycling.  There is absolutely no reason one would need to litter but if you did, it would be picked up pronto.  Shops are clean, windows are clean, everything is neat.  Dogs are everywhere and picked up after religiously.  Again, I wonder what this says about the city, it's people and the culture in general.  A clean city, with friendly and active people, and prominent police, is a safe and happy city.  With no visible poverty (a few beggars but they stand quietly, usually by churches), I wonder if the appearance of the city contributes to the low crime rate. 

-Traffic:  Driving in Europe is a mystery at times.  There are lots of tunnels on highways.  There are both 'mini' cars and regular sized cars as opposed to many places in Europe where the mini cars are what most people drive.  I did make note that the police riot vehicles were Mercedes.  Here, they drive on the same side of the road a we do but have different ways of making turns an navigating rotaries.  There are multi-lane one way roads and a tram (above ground metro style train), bike paths and wide and clear crosswalks especially at major intersections.  Their walk/don't walk is a red or green man symbol.  One of the interesting things is that even if there is a 'green man' indicating safe to cross, cars can still drive on some of those roads and through those intersections however they must yield to those who are in the crosswalk.  Amazingly, they do!  There is little jaywalking and I heard most pedestrian deaths or accidents are due to people crossing on a red man or not in a crosswalk.  I wonder how many of them were from the U.S....

**insert nap for Kim**

While I enjoyed Barcelona, I'm glad to be heading home.  The transition of the mind from vacation mode to home/work mode is depressing.  To think of all the things I thought I'd get done on the plane (reading, writing, planning) and to realize I've done none of it.  Thinking of all I will need to do tomorrow, sleep deprived and jet lagged.  I had the foresight to take the day off from work, especially since because I don't anticipate being home much before 6:30 pm tonight EST (1;30 am to my body).

Adventures of a soccer mom: Barcelona day 8. Or, try to see everything you have not yet day!

This is it.  Our last full day in Barcelona.  It seems like the time has passed so quickly.  Today was family day for most people.  Shopping and sightseeing were on the agenda.  We compared plans with the other families at breakfast and then set off on our adventure.  We got an early start and had a long and full day planned.  The weather once again cooperated.  Though not as warm as previous days, it was mostly sunny when we started out.

Our first stop was Las Ramblas for some souvenir shopping.  We ended up in the store next to the apartment some of the moms from our group had rented for the week.  They knew we were part of the group and so they started giving us discounts and free gifts!  They probably made a killing from out group!  We picked out some shirts and various other keepsakes from Barcelona.  Then, having run into some of the other team members and their parents, a small group of us ventured to futbol mania, the soccer super store.  It's the huge soccer mecca store we visited the first day, but now we had no time limit on shopping and specific items on the shopping list.  Manimal purchased a jersey and jacket and I got my eldest son the Chelsea jersey he asked for with his favorite player's name and number.  I also found a cool Nike Futbol T-shirt and a baseball cap with a rooster (the French team's emblem) on it for him.  He was not able to come with us, but he will be happy with his gifts! 

Then we parted ways with the other folks and headed back to the hotel to drop off our bags.  We then headed right back out again to head to the beach.  When we arrived, the wind was quite brisk and chilly.  Clouds were building and the sun disappeared.  We had lunch by the water at a little bistro.  We sat on the beach for about a half hour but then we were too cold so we decided to head off elsewhere.  We hopped in a rickshaw for a ride back to the main square since our legs were tired of walking and the boy wanted to experience a rickshaw.  We ended up at the aquarium which was fun but small and did not take long to see.  By the time we finished there, the sun was back out so we lay on the grass and people watched and soaked up the sun for about an hour.  Next, we headed to Montjuic via the Funicular.  We walked past the Olympic Stadium and to the National Museum of Art.  The building and the grounds were beautiful.  The waterfalls and fountains over multiple tiers of the park that sat below it were also stunning to behold.  We hoped to take in the Magic Fountain of Montjuic.  The show was supposed to happen at 7.  We stuck around until about 8:15.  After being there for over 2 hours, we were tired and achy and neither of us really wanted to wait until the likely 9 pm start time.  We still had to pack and had a very early wake up time.  So we left.  The fountain show did happen at 9.  Although I'd have liked to see it, I think we made the right choice or I'd have gotten even less sleep! 

It was a nice last day in Barcelona with my boy.  Without his friends around, he was much more clingy and affectionate.  He held my hand, he snuggled up to me on the metro.  He reminded me he's in that space between a mama's boy and wanna be independent tween.  He was tired.  He was 'on' for much of the trip from a soccer standpoint.  He needed the down time and time away from his friends as much as I needed and wanted some one on one time with him.  It was really nice. 

We talked about how he enjoyed his trip and what he learned.  We discussed how fortunate he was to have this opportunity to travel to Europe and Spain, to get to train with Barcelona coaches and play the Spanish teams.  We discussed how lucky he was to be part of an organization that helped to arrange and coordinate such a trip for his team and the generosity of his coaches in being willing to sacrifice their time to see the city to give the boys a soccer experience of a lifetime. 

I think he now gets how lucky he and his team is to have had this amazing adventure.  At least on some level.  He is looking forward to playing "Spanish style" with his team at home.  I think he now gets how much he still has to learn and work on to be the best soccer player he can be.  He sees where the bar is.  He realizes it's waaaaaay higher than he imagined.  He also sees is *might* be possible with some hard work, dedicated coaching and a team that plays together in the same way.  There are no 'hot shots' on a team like this.  It's a true team.  Working together.  Strategically.  Intelligently.  Patiently.  Controlling the ball and the game.  With skill.  With maturity.  Playing true futbol. 

I hope he sees that dream come true.  It's why I brought him here. 

Adventures of a soccer mom: Barcelona Day 7 - Friday fun!

It's hard to believe it's Friday already!  Another beautiful day in Barcelona.  The time is passing quickly yet I feel like I've hardly seen what the city has to offer. I was torn between going to see my son's last practice with the Barcelona trainers or taking a few hours to see something else I'd not yet seen.  Ultimately, I see enough soccer practices!  I sent him off with his team and set out to take in a sight. 

I wanted to see the inside of Sagrada Familia but I only had 3 hours and with the transit time and wait time, I'd not have made it back in time and we had plans to spend the afternoon together with some friends.  Instead, I chose to take the Metro to Las Ramblas and go to the Cathedral of Barcelona.  We'd seen the outside of it a few days prior on our rambling around the Ramblas but we did not go inside.  On my way to the Cathedral, I did some window shopping.  The streets were relatively quiet and it was nice to not have to fight the throngs of people that fill the streets by the middle of the day. 

The Cathedral is stunning.  The Gothic architecture is something to behold.  Both outside and inside the Cathedral.  It was busy inside, but not crazy crowded.  Admission is free.  Upon entering, there were large marble chalices with Holy Water.  Around the outside walls of the entire Cathedral were shrines to different Saints, Jesus and Mother Mary.  They were quite ornate and behind iron bars but you could take photos between bars.  There was also a mass going on in a side chapel.  As I wandered around admiring the stained glass and details of the architecture, I noticed a traditional confessional booth with a few people in line.  No, I did not join the line!  No one has that kind of time ;-) 

The marble altar was quite a sight to behold.  Beneath the altar is the tomb of a Saint.  I'm forgetting who at the moment.  I must've spent a good 40 minutes taking it all in.  Then I found my way to the Cloister.  A beautiful little peaceful haven that offered some views of the spires of the Cathedral and more shrines as well as a fountain to St. Jordi.  The biggest 'attraction' here were the cloister geese.  They roam the garden area freely.  No doubt, they are blessed.  Interestingly, there was also a small shop selling mostly religious gifts but also some generic and traditional Barcelona and Gaudi style gifts.  I saw several nuns in a traditional habit, something we rarely see in the US anymore. 

I wandered around the perimeter of the Cathedral, noting the gargoyles, details of the doors and corners of the buildings including several carved with angels.  It's a wonder there are not more falls and twisted ankles in this city, with the tendency of the tourists to be looking up at the architectural details and not looking where there feet are going!  Then again, I suspect many people missed some of the beauty in the details because they didn't look up nearly often enough!

I was mindful of the time although I could easily have spent more time with my camera.  I headed back to  the hotel and made it just before the boys did.  I actually got some shots of them returning from practice from our window on the 2nd floor.  After a quick shower and snack for the boy, we headed out with some of the other families in search of a Segway tour.  We got of the Metro at Dressanes and got distracted by the street artists.  They are quite amazing both in their costuming and in their ability to stay still for so long.  They look like statues until you put some coins in their bin, then they come to life!  Even the boys got a little spooked.  They sacrificed Captain Manimal to an alien! 

Then we saw the segways but could not figure out where the rentals originated.  They boys were distracted by a bungee trampoline and go kart style cycles so we went there.  The boys racing  around the track on their little recumbent cycle karts reminded me of when they used to go to Farmland when they were young.  They were enjoying being boys, not soccer players.  They laughed and giggled and ate ice cream and chased pigeons.  They did flips and tricks with the bungee trampoline and all got off walking gingerly due to tight  pelvic harnesses.  The parents lay in the sun and enjoyed the rest while they tormented their family jewels! 

We then gave up on the segway tour and headed to the beach.  Ah, the Mediterranean Sea!  The boys wanted to go in the ocean so off they went.  It was cold!  It took a few of them some time to work up the courage to jump in, but they did.  They did not stay in long!  Then, they decided to bury the one friend who did not go in the water in the sand!  I put my feet in the water.  The only people in the water were young tourists.  The water was in the 50's and the air temp about 70.  We hung on the beach a bit then headed back.  We stopped for gelato on the way.  I am going to miss the coconut gelato!  So yummy! 

We had a little adventure on the way back.  The Metro car we were riding in lost power one stop from our desired switching point.  Thankfully, the door had not yet closed so we jumped off and ran to the next station.  We were dangerously close to not making it back to the hotel in time to get the boys ready for their soccer game and the bus!  We made it with time to spare!  One dad took the boys to the hotel while another mom and I stopped for sandwiches for them. 

Then, we were off to our last game.  Soccer fields seem to be everywhere.  This one, not unlike the one the second day, was in the shadow of apartment buildings.  A nice field.  just odd that it was where it was.  The teams were well matched and our boys looked good!  They were using the skills they had learned this week and it was working!  They did not win, but they played the best they had all week!  The coach rewarded them with soda and chips at the little field restaurant.  Yes, there seems to be some sort of food and drink establishment at every soccer field and they serve beer and wine!  I'm going to miss this aspect of soccer!  America, take note!  Cater to the parents as much as the kids!  :-) 

It was back to the hotel and dinner.  Discussion was had about the plans for our last full day on Saturday.  There was the possibility of travelling to see the Barcelona youth games but it would eat up much of the day.  Most of the families opted to skip the games since even the kids were pretty much done with soccer, and instead, use the entire day to take in Barcelona.  Then it was off to bed.  I did some preliminary packing and planning for the next day.  So hard to believe our trip was almost over!

Adventures of a soccer mom: Barcelona day 6 Sightseeing and a lunch date

Day 6.  Already.  Wow.  Time flies when you are so sleep deprived for the first few days! 

It's Thursday.  Another beautiful day in Barcelona.  The boys had training and then about 4 hours free.  Which meant I had about 3 hours to take in some sightseeing on my own while they were at training.  So I hopped on the Metro and got off at Placa Cataylunia.  I walked around the square and took some photos of the statues.  I inquired about directions to the Arc de Triomphe.  I opted to walk it through a Gothic neighborhood instead of take the Metro directly there.  I'm glad I did.  The streets were far less crowded and the details of the architecture were really cool.  There is not a 'plain' building in this city!  Even the street lights and water fountains are ornate and detailed!  It was about a 12 minute walk.  A peaceful, leisurely, quiet, soak in the culture, walk.

The Arc de Triomphe is reminiscent of the Arc De Triumph in Paris.  The park and grounds around it were reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  Do all big European cities have an arc and a park like this?  I've only been to Paris, Barcelona, London and Switzerland.  Being that I got an early start by European standards (I left the hotel at 9:15), there were few people around when I arrived.  I took some photos and then wandered in the park.  There were lush green areas, a pond, rose gardens and random statues.  It was sort of like the Boston Public Gardens but not nearly as pretty.  I did happen upon runners folks individually practicing yoga or Tai Chi in the park on the grass, folks walking their dogs and eventually, other tourists.  There were fountains that were not yet turned on for the season and lots of pollen in the air.  Truly spring in full bloom here. 

I wandered through the park and sat for a bit and soaked it in along with some sunshine.  Then I walked back down toward the water and back to the Metro at the other end of Las Ramblas.  I basically walked in a great big circle.  For those playing at home, it was about a 4.5 mile round trip.  It was a nice quiet morning out with me, myself and I.  And my camera. :-) 

On the way back to the hotel, I  picked up 2 tomato mozzarella sandwiches for me and the boy.  He considered it an appetizer when he returned from soccer.  I asked if he wanted to go to Las Ramblas with the other players and their families but he said no.  He was tired and wanted to chill out and play with his iPod.  I didn't argue.  The kid has been logging close to 10 miles a day easily (I'm averaging 8 and I'm not playing soccer) for 6 days straight.  He deserves a rest! 

After about 90 min of resting, he took a shower/bath and we went to lunch at an authentic Italian restaurant a block over from our hotel that some other parents had recommended.  It was fancy but it was a date!  :-)   He had home made spaghetti with Bolognese sauce and I had a ziti with pesto.  It was fantastic.  I forgot how good home made pasta is!  The bread was also fantastic, with 3 choices of garlic cheesy bread, bruschetta style bread and bread with whole olives baked in.  He ate 4 pieces of bread sticks!  He also ate 3/4 of his large bowl of pasta.  I could not finish mine.  Neither of us had room for dessert!  :-( 

After lunch, we came back to the hotel.  He was hoping for a foosball competition but none of the other boys were back yet.  So he went back to his iPod. 

Then, it was off to game 3.  The bus took us a bit out of the city to a wealthy looking suburb.  We ended up at a private soccer school.  The grounds and field were very nice.  There was a spa (I kid you not), a restaurant and cafe which of course, also offered beer, wine, and sangria, and several fields.  Boys of all ages were practicing on various fields, all turf and all well kempt.  The boys had a good game.  They kept the other team from scoring for most of the first half of the game and although they ultimately lost, it was a close game (especially if you don't count the accidental own goal).  The home team was clearly frustrated that they were not blowing this American team out of the water. 

One of the things that I noted was how good these coaches were not only at assessing our teams strengths and weaknesses, but immediately changing their strategy to shut down our strong kids and take advantage of the gaps in our play.  Of course that's the name of the game.  I think this in part is helped and made more easy by the fact they play quarters here, not halves.  This gives more time for coaching between quarters and less coaching from the sidelines.  This coach had a magnet board he used to show his players what he wanted them to do visually, not just with words.  I thought this was brilliant.  Not all kids are auditory learners or process auditory cues.  The visual helps those kids or reinforces the verbal instruction for those who *get* that.  I wonder how that would work with our boys.  I wonder how quarters would work, too. 

No photo op at this game.  Not sure if it was not requested or if the offer was declined.  We'd been taking team photos of our boys and the hosting team before/after the game but it didn't happen at this one.  I'm not sure why.  No biggie but unfortunate. 

Then it was back to the hotel for the spaghetti-o sauce delicacy of the night. :-) 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Adventures of a soccer mom: Barcelona Day 5 - Mom's day out!!!

I've been in Barcelona for 5 days.  The first 3 were a whirlwind of sleep deprivation, soccer mania and a bit of quick hitting sightseeing.  I've spent 5 days with twelve 11 and 12 year old boys and their assorted parents.  They boys were getting on my nerves.  I was getting soccered out.  I needed some mommy time. 

So I asked one of the soccer dads if he'd keep an eye on mine for the day so I could go do some sightseeing.  A few of the other moms and I headed off to Gaudi's Parc Guell.  It's was an amazing journey to an amazing park.  Gaudi was an incredible artist with amazing vision and creativity.  So much of the architecture of Barcelona and it's famous places were created, at least in part, by him.  This park was no exception. 

We took the metro to Vallacarca and walked to the side entrance of the Parc.  It was atop a steep hill with hundreds of stairs.  But fear not, there were several outside escalators!!  I've never seen such a thing!  Up we went, between apartment buildings and a few shops to the top.  We got a snack and some water at a lovely cafe from a lovely man.  We got there early and since we went in the 'back' way, there were relatively few people so we were able to stroll and soak in the beauty and uniqueness of the park at leisure.  The views of the city were stunning.  Throughout the park there were musicians.  GOOD musicians.  There were also many vendors who sold trinkets off of sheets on the side of the walkways. 

As we wound our way down, we marveled at the vision Gaudi must have had.   A very unique and complex park, yet very beautiful.  It was a gorgeous day to explore, too. Sunny and in the low 70's.  The park is mostly free however they are now charging for the 'famous' part, where the tile mosaics are.  I ventured to purchase a ticket at noon but the first entry was at 4, so I was not able to see it up close.  That's OK.  I saw it from other areas of the park, from a distance.  It would have been nice to see up close, but it was not to be had. We needed to leave the hotel for the soccer game at 4:30. 

After the park, we took a very long walk to the Metro on the other side of the park.  It was a nice way to see an area of the city where there were no touristy sights. 

I have to say, Barcelona is beautiful.  The architecture is detailed and beautiful everywhere you look.  There are little store fronts on every block and a ton of little eateries.  Most with outdoor seating and multi-language menus, especially in the more touristy areas.  There are large trash and recycling  bins on the streets and there are street cleaners every single day!  The city is so clean!  Shopkeepers sweep daily.  Everyone is friendly and helpful.  Because it's so touristy, many in the hospitality service speak at least a bit of English, certainly better than my Spanish and I don't know Catalan! 

It was also St. Jordi Day, the equivalent of the Spanish Valentine's Day.  This is a serious holiday in Spain!  Streets at Las Ramblas were closed to allow for the crowds of people.  Most every street corner had vendors selling roses and books.  The tradition is that the men buy their ladies a rose and the ladies buy their men a book.  Nearly every woman by the end of the day has received a rose.  I returned to my hotel room to find a balloon 'animal' rose on my pillow.  The soccer coach took the boys to buy roses for their mums.  Mine did not have his euros with him so he went back later to get me one.  I got him a Gaudi lizard instead of a book.  He was very pleased with that option.  :-) 

It's also been nice to have the opportunity to get to know some of the other soccer parents better.  We see each other a lot, but rarely talk anything but soccer since we are often multi-tasking at practice and watching games.  We've been spending lots of time together on this trip and it's been nice.  It's also been nice to see the soccer family become more of a family.  Boys looking out for each other.  Parent's looking out for each other's kids.  Parent's taking turns being the 'elephants' when street crossing and leading/following the pack to be sure they stay together and stay safe when we are walking about the city in our large or smaller groups. 

The boys played their second game today, as well.  Against Mercet.  A team from a different soccer school.  They were much more 'pushy' as a team.  More like American soccer players in that sense.  They tried to play the 'Barca' way but were not nearly as good or effective at it as the Barca team was.  They played on a slick turf and our boys were slipping a bit as they wore cleats that were not meant for this style of surface.  The teams were better matched.  Our boys played better.  They are still learning some new 'tricks'  but it was better executed.  They lost, but played better.  There were no obvious tears after this game and generally much happier boys.  Us moms got a pitcher of sangria!  Sangria and soccer!  I'm liking Spain more and more!  Better yet, they gave it to us for free.  Not sure why.  If it's because it was St. Jordi day, because they wanted to do something nice for the visiting soccer moms (some of whom were a bit flirty wit them) or because they had wine and fruit they needed to get rid of.  :-)  Still, sangria-d soccer moms, are happy soccer moms! 

I've also noticed that the Spanish parents are very quiet compared to American parents at soccer matches.  They don't yell or coach from the sidelines.  They said very little really.  Even very little reaction when they scored.  I imagine they are coached, like the kids, from the very beginning.  It seems there is a greater respect for the coaches here and an understanding that parents should be parents, not coaches.  Not yelling at and distracting their kids.  American parents should take note of this back home.  they also don't have a special place to sit, at least so far as I've seen.  Kind of wherever there is space along an outside perimeter.  No one on the field but the teams and coaches.  It's interesting.  And apparently, very effective.

Back at the hotel, we had dinner and then the boys headed to bed.  While I am grateful for the relative ease of meals at the hotel (they were included in our package) there is little variety in the menu and virtually no vegetables and  a little bit of fruit.  For a non-meat eating gal, there is nothing but carbs and some egg and yogurt at breakfast.  And I usually don't eat a lot of carbs yet it's all I've eaten here!  ugh.  It's making me more sleeping and cranky and achy.  Need to eat out more! 

The boy is itching for down time.  Tomorrow I will take in a bit sightseeing in the morning and then spend the afternoon with him.  I suspect it will involve some quiet time with his iPod and lunch nearby.  That's OK. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Adventures of a soccer mom: Barcelona Day 4 and their first game

The day dawned showery but full of promise.  The boys getting revved up for their first game against the Spanish teams.  Their day began with breakfast.  My boy having slept nearly 11 hours and was still difficult to rouse.  Then, we were off for the mile or so walk to the training field.  The sun peeked in and out through the clouds and it warmed up a bit.  The air more humid today.

The boys went through their second day of training building upon lessons learned the first day and putting them into practice.  The Barca style of playing is not one they've really done before and although they showed improvement over the first day, it will take time to integrate and incorporate into their game playing.  It's more than just new skills, it's an entirely different mindset on how to play the game for them. 

After practice we had a 5 or so hour chunk of time so we went out to explore the city with some other families.  We took the Metro to the end of Las Ramblas by the marina and walked to El Born.  There we discovered lots of very cool side streets with fantastic architecture and numerous tapas bars and cafes and shops.  Finally, with some assistance (what is it with Europe and their lack of street signage?), we found our destination, the chocolate museum!!  It was a short visit but a yummy one!  Our entrance ticket was a chocolate bar!  One learned the history of chocolate and how it's made and then most of the museum was an amazing display of sculptures made of chocolate.  I've not figured out how to get pictures on the blog via my tablet, so all my blog posts will be updated with photos once I return. 

After the chocolate museum, the boys, one of whom carried a soccer ball with him, played some impromptu street soccer.  Then we went our separate ways.  We ended up at a cafe that served cheeseburgers.  The boy swears it's the best cheeseburger he's ever had!  He ate it in 4 bites, so it must have been good, or he, very hungry.  Or both.  :-) 

From there, we made our way back via the Metro, switching lines.  The boys are learning how to use the Metro as part of their Spain experience. 

We had an early dinner and a brief period of down time before it was time to get ready for their first game.  It was expected to be the toughest one of their lives.  It was against the Barcelona Youth team.  I believe they were a U11 team (a year younger than most of our boys).  The boys, at least some of them, were nervous.  Their coach was also a bit wound, partially with excitement and partially, I think, with nerves of a different kind.  There was a lot of hype about this game and how it was a 'proving ground' for soccer teams from all over the world.  The Barcelona youth and academy system is renowned as the best in the world. 

The coach had them sit quietly before leaving.  This is not something I recall seeing done before.  He spoke briefly to them and asked the parents to keep their distance.  We boarded the bus with showers in the area and rode the short distance to the field.  They were taken to a locker room (!) to be prepped.  They truly had a club experience, walking from the locker room, through a 'tunnel' and up the stairs to the field.  While cool, this probably added to their anxiety and nerves.   They were met by the Barcelona team and walked out ceremonially together to mid-field where they shook hands and posed for their pre-game photo.  Much like we do with the final of a tournament back home.  Then the captains from each team (my son is their team captain) went out for the coin toss.  And the game began.

There is so much I could write about.  No one expected our boys to win, and they did not.  I don't even know what the final score was.  9-0 I think but I may be wrong.  Honestly, I wasn't really counting goals.  The boys did not play their best game, but they played the best they could under the circumstances.  They had very little time with the ball in their possession and they are not used to that.  When they were losing by a few goals, they got frustrated. They were nervous.  They were excited.  They were probably a wee bit intimidated by the reputation of the Barca kids and the club.  They knew these kids would be good.  I'm not sure they realized how good, which in their minds, translated into how 'bad' they are.  They lost confidence and faith in themselves at times I think.  Not all the boys, but a few.  In hindsight, a little sports psychology would be good for these boys and their parents.  I wonder if the club can do that...

The Barca branding is impossible to ignore.  It was everywhere.  The FC Barcelona brand is everywhere on every practice field.  They play and 'study' in the shadow of some of the greatest soccer players in history and they all hope to be the next Messi.  These kids played under a billboard sized photo of the FC Barca team.  It's not just a soccer club, it's a culture.  A way of life.  And an entire paradigm shift for these boys.  It's why they are here.  To watch.  To play.  To learn.  To grow.  To aspire to be the best they can be and play the best soccer they can.  Individually and together.  They lost sight of that in the middle of the game.  Not surprising.  They are kids.  Far from home.  Out of their routine.  In a foreign country.  On a different time schedule.  Playing way more soccer in one day, day after day, then they normally do.  Most of this team not having played together since last fall and the entire team as it's made up right now, never entirely together.  With all that taken into consideration, they did pretty damn well. 

They took another group photo at the end with the coaches.  The kids were all mixed in together which was nice to see.  They were a classy team.  Good sportsmanship and for the most part, played clean.  They didn't have to play 'dirty', they played football.  Amazingly well.  Like.   Yeah.  Wow.  Just.  Wow. 

Many of the boys were harder on themselves then tween boys should be.  Then again, you feel what you feel.  Many felt frustrated and disappointed not only with the team's loss, but with themselves.  Mine was in tears by the end, as were several others.  Not because they lost.  Because they felt like they failed.  That they didn't do what their coach wanted or expected.  That their 'big chance' was missed.    The coach talked to them on the bus on the way home.  I don't know what was said.  It seemed to help a few of them.  Upon arriving back at the hotel, they had cake for one of their teammates whose 12th birthday it was.  Cake helps everything!  Then, they parted ways and went to bed. 

It took over an hour after they got back before he'd articulate where his head was at.  The crux of it was he felt he played horrible. He didn't get a lot of touches on the ball.  His tackles were not working because they moved the ball so damn fast and hard.  He got mentally drained trying to do the right thing and not being able to make it work.  Once emotionally upset, he got madder because he was emotional! (boys...oh, wait...)   He felt he failed his team and his coach.  He failed his own expectations.  It wasn't the loss.   It was pure disappointment and a bit of fear about not being 'good enough'. 

I told him, as I always do, I love him and  I enjoy watching him and his team play.  But I'm not a coach.  I don't know what he did and did not do 'right'.  I don't know if he was way off base on his assessment of his skill or not.  I told him to ask his coach for feedback, but he's too shy.  *sigh*

I asked him if he thought he played the best he could and he said yes.  That's all you can ever do I told him.  Play your best.  Have fun.  If it's not fun, you won't ever reach your potential.   You need the fire and the passion, not just the skill.  Learn from what did and didn't work and make adjustments in the future.  What seemed to hit home the most was when I told him these kids have been playing soccer this way since they could walk.  They eat, sleep, and breathe soccer 24/7.  It's not a sport, it's a way of life here.  In contrast, his team has been playing this style of soccer for 2 days.  8, 9 or 10 years vs 2 days.  Go a little easy on yourselves boys.  You are doing great! 

That said, a reality check is always a good thing.  Sometimes, it takes a serious wake up call like this one to help the kids realize a) if they want to work as hard as they need to (practice, self-sufficiency in preparation and practice, discipline  on and off the field, the time commitment) in order to have the potential to play at a super elite level and maybe professionally some day b) if they want to play at that level at all and c) do they have the rudimentary skills to allow them the potential to play at this level and d) what it actually takes to play at this level.  Not to mention the support of their parents both financially and emotionally and a coach that cares not only about their soccer skill development, but their development as boys and as individuals and as a team.

He dried his tears and asked for a hug.  He fell asleep holding my arm. 

Yes, he's an amazingly smart, athletic and creative kid who is loving the boy bonding and soccer experiences he's getting on this trip.  He also still needs his mama and some TLC when his body or his ego is bruised.  I'm so glad he's still a momma's boy and that I'm here to support him through this adventure.  I couldn't be more proud of him.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Adventures of a soccer mom: Day 3. Training begins

It's Monday.  The day dawned rainy and damp, as seems to be the trend here.  It was cool, in the 50's.  I was woken from a very sound sleep by the phone.  It was the coach, telling me breakfast has been moved a half hour earlier.  I almost said to him, "Are you f*$% kidding me?"  but I didn't.  (Sorry Andrew).  The sleep deprivation had caught up.  BTW, I am now all screwed up as it's 11 pm and I should be asleep! 

So I stumbled into the bathroom to bathe and then wake the boy and nag him to prepare for the day.  We stumbled into breakfast half awake at 8 am.  We left to head to training about 9:15.  About a 15 min walk from the hotel, the boys have a private 2 hour training every morning on a turf field in the shadow of the famous Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona.  They are training with a couple of coaches that run a camp, not with their own coaches.  I think they are learning as much as the kids, which is a fantastic opportunity for all of them.  The boys went through drills and some teaching of skills and principles of the game the way it's played in Barcelona.  The kids got a lot of fantastic instruction and the chance to apply it immediately with definite improvement in their skill in a short time.   Amazing.  By the end of the 2 hours they were exhausted, heads spinning from all they had learned and had to process.  It was fascinating to watch. 

Then, a walk back to the hotel for a quick tub for the boy and a change of clothes and then to a quick lunch.  Pasta!  From there, we went back to Camp Nou for the "Camp Nou Experience".  An opportunity to tour the museum and see the history of the club, the (many, many, many) cups they've won, information on some of the greatest players to ever play the game and videos of their greatest moments.  The chance to see the away team's locker room, the press box, access to different areas of the stadium, to see the chapel and to walk the route the FC Barca team walks when they take the field (with the Barca anthem playing for effect) was really cool.  They got to see the bench (crazy first class style seats with cup holders in a rain shelter!) and stand at field level.  They were not allowed on the field but the ability to stand that close was a huge thing to some of them.  The tour ended in the gift shop, of course.  Where we spent entirely too much time but surprisingly not a crazy amount of money.  Just a few small souvenirs. 

From there we headed back to the hotel.  Dinner (ugh, I may not make many more dinners here...) and then down time.  Precious, much needed, down time.  Aside from a little foosball and a quick trip across the street to the grocery for some sports drink, we had a nice low key evening.  A chance for the boy to call his dad and for me to have a decent conversation with my husband and send a few emails.  Oh, and write this post!  :-)

Now, I must get some shut eye.  Another early wake up call and more training for the boys.  Their first game is tomorrow night.  Against a Barcelona youth team.  Their toughest game, ever.  Wish them luck.  These kids are probably the best in the world.  Win or lose, they will learn so much.

It really hasn't sunk in yet.  How lucky they are to be here.  How fortunate they were to be given this opportunity.  How much they still need to learn and put into the game to get where they want to be.  To figure out where it is that they want to be.  They don't get it.  They just can't grasp what it means and why it's such an amazing opportunity.  I wonder if they will by the end of the week. 

It will be interesting to see the progression of this week alone! 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Adventures of a soccer mom: Barcelona, day 2

Today dawned showery.  It's Easter in Barcelona. 

Our alarm woke us at 8 am.  Neither of us wanted to get up.  It was loud around our room last night and we  slept poorly until about 1 am.  Our hotel room is nice by standard European hotel standards, but the beds are rather uncomfortable.  Not that we cared.  Especially last night.  We were SO tired! 

Turns out the shower in our room does not work, so tub baths it is.  The sight of me kneeling in the tub to wash my hair under the faucet is amusing, I'm sure.  Yet it works.  Tub baths are not the worst thing.  In fact, small boy prefers them.  While not as efficient as a shower, they accomplish the same goal. 

After our breakfast we hung out for a bit, then departed as a group to ride the Metro to Las Ramblas.  It's the old city of Barcelona.  Most of Barcelona is a grid system.  The old city is not.  There is a main 'drag' if you will, that is straight, but many amazing rambling little narrow side streets that house great shops and restaurants.  It's easy to get lost, since there are no street signs.  Seriously.  What is up with Europe and the lack of street signage?  Las Ramblas is a sight to behold.  There were tons of people, even on Easter Sunday.  Like, TONS of people.  A  pickpocketers paradise.  We had a chuckle when the first thing one of the boys spotted was a likely cross dressing Marilyn Monroe on the balcony of the erotic museum of Barcelona.  The large '69' signs made the adults chuckle, too.  Ah, Europe! 

Our group split into little sub-groups and we wandered the city for several hours until our pre-determined meeting time of 4 pm.  We toured with the boy's friend Tyler and his dad for a bit, then ran into his friend Toby and his dad.  The 6 of us enjoyed meandering about and exploring.  The boys were truly boys.  Being silly at a playground for much younger children, leap frogging at the water front and chasing pigeons.  They were in and out of the little souvenir shops until they realized they all had the same merchandise.  Every storefront had something Barca related.  We left with a Barca scarf and hat for my son.

We happened upon a great little Italian place for lunch.  It was our waitress' first day and she was very nice and spoke enough English that the boys could order themselves.  We had pizza and what I thought was regular water, but was basically Gatorade sugar water.  Along the way, the boys got some ice cream, too.  Aside from the people watching and admiring of architecture, we saw the Cathedral of Barcelona, the court building, the Christopher Columbus monument, and our friend's apartment!   After our day of exploring we headed back to the hotel and had dinner.  Rice with tomato sauce?!  It was...well... icky.  But I ate it.  Well, some of it.  Also a skirt steak (i did not eat) and fries that were pretty icky, but I ate those, too. 

The highlight of the day was walking to Camp Nou to see FC Barcelona play!  The walk there was an experience in itself.  Crazy crowds of people decked out in their Barca gear.  The stadium was not sold out but it holds 80,000 people!  It was amazing to me the strong police presence, especially around the area for the opposing team's fans.  The boys had an amazing opportunity to see some of the best soccer players in the world and experience what enthusiastic fan support is really like.  The songs and chants of Barca, Barca, Barca could be heard throughout the game.  I had video of a goal Messi scored on a free kick and the fan response was deafening!  Unfortunately, our group was not seated together, so we were off by ourselves but we had VERY enthusiastic Barca fans behind us.  When they scored they sang and danced and were very loud about it!  :-)  To make the night even more amazing, they got to see Barca win at home!  The walk back to the hotel was also accompanied by singing and chanting by happy Barca fans.  The boys were so wound up, it took a while to fall asleep, even though it was midnight. 

Tomorrow, Monday, starts their training.   The real reason they are here.  Soccer. 

Adventures of a Soccer mom: Barcelona Day 1 - crazy long and crazy busy!

As I write this it is 3:29 am EST or 9:29 am Barcelona time.  It's Easter morning.  Happy Easter! 

Day 1 in Barcelona was a crazy long, crazy busy day. 

It began with our arrival at the Barcelona airport just a few minutes late, despite our nearly hour late departure from PHL.  Most of us on precious little sleep and several of the kids on no sleep. They were flying on pure adrenaline and excitement.  We made our way through customs, fetched our luggage, and met our guide.  The kids were absolutely thrilled to find a luxury coach bus with "Celtic FC Bolts"  on it.  They were traveling in style on their own private bus!  They quickly assembled in the back of the bus while the parents chose the front. 

We had about a half hour bus ride to our hotel.  It took several hours for us all to check in.  We stowed our luggage in the coach's room since his was the only one ready and we took a walk around the block.  This could be dangerous.  There is a pastry shop every 3rd store front!  All displaying their treats for Easter.  We found a toasted ham and cheese sammich for the boy and a chocolate muffin.  We hung out in the hotel lobby.  The boys were entertained since there was a foosball table!  Finally, about 1:20 pm local time we were able to get into our hotel room.  We had 10 minutes before we had to be re-assembled for our afternoon tour.

Lo and behold, another private bus complete with our own personal tour guide.  These boys have no idea how lucky they are!  We had our own 'hop on hop off' style tour of the city.  It was a great way to get oriented.  The city is absolutely beautiful and incredibly clean, at least the areas we saw.  Even ordinary buildings have amazing architecture. 

The highlight of the trip for the parents was La Sagrada Familia.  An absolutely stunning work of architecture, still in process.  We only saw the outside.  The line to get inside was probably close to a 2 hour wait.  We also stopped at Montjuc for a spectacular view of the city and the Olympic stadium, where there was a rugby match going on.  Let me tell you, these people take their sports very seriously.  Nearly every spectator was decked out, and I mean head to toe, in support of their team. 

The highlight of the trip for the boys was Futbol Mania.  As one might expect from the name, it was a ginormous store dedicated to soccer all over the world.  The boys were over the top.  Disneyland for soccer!  We walked out many euros poorer with 3 official soccer jerseys, two complete with the names/number of their favorite player. 

We then headed back to our hotel and immediately had dinner.  We were starving!  We were served pasta and bread and bottled water which was devoured.  We thought that was it (and were sad, because it wasn't enough for these hungry boys, let alone their hungry parents) but then we also got second dinner!  Chicken and fries.  Followed by an amazing strawberry and vanilla ice cream dessert.  Dinner was overall, average, but it was quick and easy and we were so hungry, I don't think anyone cared! 

As soon as dinner was done, we walked a mile or two to the Camp Nou Mini Stadium to watch the Barcelona B team play Girona.  It was like going to a Revs game except these guys played futbol!  The stadium was barely 1/3 full but the spirit was strong.  Flags waving, drums pounding, fans chanting and cheering.  Animated players.  The boys who were able to stay awake had a blast.  A few were dozing on and off and few outright passed out they were so exhausted.  The parents were having a hard time staying awake, too.  It was a gorgeous evening, albeit a bit cool and breezy.   After the game we walked back to our hotel.  It was about 9 pm.  Small boy was asleep 2 min after his head hit the pillow.  I was not far behind him. 

The hotel is OK.  Our room is nice by European standards.  Small but neat.  The floor could stand to be washed.  The beds are not comfortable but we were so tired we didn't care.  We are on the second floor.  It was loud and noisy until about 1 am so sleep was on and off for me.

Thank heavens breakfast wasn't until 10 am this morning.  We woke, reluctantly, at 8 am.  The shower is not working so we took tub baths.  Not the worst thing in the world, honestly.  We are now dressed and ready for day 2!  A walking tour of Las Ramblas and we're seeing Barca play tonight!!!! 

Easter in Barcelona! 

Adventures of a soccer mom: Update from cruising altitude

Leg one:

The boys gathered at Logan Airport in Boston.  They were so coordinated and excited.  Wearing their khaki's and team practice shirts.  Each with the Bolts soccer backpack in hand.  They congregated together until everyone was present.  Check in at US Airways terminal B was surprisingly quick and easy.  The gate agent helped us, especially when small boy came up as an 'unaccompanied minor' due to our names being different.  In other news, my suitcase was 49 pounds, 1 pound shy of the extra baggage weight fee! 

Once everyone was checked in, we went through security.  There was no one in line!  We moved quickly through security and on to  lunch.  Pizza, of course!  It was only a short and relaxing wait until our group was called to board.  The boys were so excited, shuffling seats so they could sit with their friends instead of their parents!  My son sat with his best buddy Toby.  They giggled and laughed and played Mad Libs most of the short fight.  If I can figure out how to insert photos on my tablet, you'll see a few.  :-)

Upon arrival at Philadelphia the coach did a head count, gave a short address and then we walked a looooong way to our next gate in another terminal.  Once everyone knew where our gate was we scattered to eat an early dinner.  We were successful in finding pasta!  The boys and their parents wandered about for a bit and then we ended up back at the gate with the boys playing hackey sack and having a blast hanging out together.  Parents took advantage of the opportunity to charge their electronics, only to find out you could on the plane!

Leg 2:

Boarding went smoothly on our second leg.  We're on an A 330.  2-4-2 set up.  We are in row 7.  Second row of the economy cabin!  Score!  We're in the middle section.  Small boy sat next to his friend Ty and myself and Ty's dad had the aisle seats.  They thought they were in first class!  The seat back TV's were a hit and after dinner half of the team chose to watch Frozen!  There was a rather amusing and quietly dramatic singing of "Let it go".   I wish I had videotaped it!  I watched a Discovery show narrated by Morgan Freeman and a few episodes of the Big Bang Theory.  Then I blew up my airplane pillow (the big one like you see in Sky Mall, thanks, Jeremy!) and attempted to sleep.

We might have gotten 3 hours of frequently interrupted sleep.  Sleeping on planes is so challenging.  It's 1:48 am EST now and we are about an hour from landing. We've had breakfast.  About 4 hours after we had dinner.  Wakey tea on board.  I fear more may be needed!  Everyone is awake now, the kids having juice and the parents some caffeine.  A cinnamon chip muffin was our breakfast fare.  Several of the kids did not sleep at all. 

Of interest, my GPS screen tells me we have thus far been in fight 6hr 9 min and we've travelled 3604 miles and are currently travelling at 41,000 feet at a speed of 535 mph.  We've got about 50 min left in flight.  It's -79 degrees outside the plane.  Holy cold atmosphere!

We will be on the ground in Barcelona in about 45 minutes.  It's currently 8 am in Barcelona.  That's 2 am for those of you playing at home.  :-)  We have a long, exciting day ahead of us.  We're looking forward to meeting up with our 'exploratory committee', a group of moms and siblings that arrived on Friday am and seeing some of the sights.  Right now the boys are gathered around a window amazed that they see snow covered mountains!  This is the longest flight most if not all of them have been on and the first time out of the country for most of them, too. 


Welcome to Barcelona! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Adventures of a soccer mom: Travel (looooong) day ahoy!


It's 5:30 am EST.  I might have sleep about 4.5 hours.  But I am packed.  :-)

It's 26 degrees and dawn is breaking and it's quite beautiful.  The birds are starting to sing.  I am sleepy.

On the bright side, it's 12:30 in Barcelona and 64 degrees!  Wa-hooo!  The weather looks to be low to mid 60's for the time we are there and night time temps in the 50's.  Partly cloudy with a slight chance of rain, although that could change.  Sounds delightful for soccer and sightseeing.

In other news, guess who started complaining of a sore throat and a cough last night.  Yep.  The boy.   Chances are high he has the viral bug his older brother and I had last week.  The good news is, one only feels 'meh' for a day or two.  The bad news, we are spending the bulk of today hanging around airports or on planes and it's likely the day he will feel the worst.

Oh, and our clothes dryer stopped drying last night.  *sigh*

Since I gave the boys their Easter goodies yesterday, and he ate too much chocolate too late in the day, and thus, he, too, was awake until after 11 pm.  I'm going to wake him up at 6.  That will be a challenge.  Might as well get him closer to Barcelona time and hope he'll sleep on the plane tonight.

I'm impressed with my packing!  Small boy's bag has a lot of snack foods in it!  It has primarily soccer shorts, shirts and socks, casual clothes and is toiletries. His carry on bag consists of his soccer backpack with complete 'kit' (too fearful of it being lost for it to be packed in a checked bag so all the soccer essentials are hand carried, in jumbo ziplock bags not only for organization, but to mute the shin guard/shoe sweaty boy stench for our fellow passengers!) and a string backpack that consists of his travel pillow and blanket, entertainment system (iPod touch), headphones, glasses, his composition notebook/adventure journal and pen and a whole bunch of snacks!  Oh, and his epi-pens, inhalers, and just added, Advil and Ricola cough drops!

My checked bag is larger.  I just couldn't fit everything into the smaller suitcase for 10 days.  I shall carry on my purse and a backpack.  I also have ample snacks.  :-)

I'm checking my list(s) to be sure I've not forgotten anything of import.  I'm enjoying the peace of the early morning.  The next 10 days are going to be a whirlwind!

For those playing along at home, and my mom, whose job it is to be anxious when her (44 year old) baby travels, our travel adventure begins in about 3 hours and will take us the bulk of the day and into the wee hours of tomorrow morning EST.  We are leaving for the airport around 9 am, budgeting for traffic.  That should be about an hour's drive, but how long it actually takes is anybody's guess.  The airport will be nuts, as it's April Vacation week and a big travel day.  We meet our group at 11 am to check in. I'm told if we arrive early, we're getting a donut!

Our first flight departs Logan about 1:30 and gets us to Philly for 3:11 pm, where we have a layover until 6:45 pm.  It will be a fueling stop for growing tweens!  My son has already scoped out the terminal food establishments and is concerned about in-flight options!  We fly 'over the pond' to Barcelona 'over night'.  About an 8 hour journey.  We arrive 8:35 am local time, that would be 2:35 am to us.  I'm hopeful for a solid 3-4 hours of sleep on the plane, more would be fantastic!

From there, a loooong and exciting day shall commence.  I'll tell you all about it!  Who knows, there may be a travel day update from the airport, too!

See you 'in' Spain!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Adventures of a soccer mom. Barcelona! - T-24 hours. The back-story.

T-1 day and counting. Trying not to panic.  I have SO freaking much to do.  I leave for Barcelona tomorrow morning!

Why am I going to Barcelona?  Why to watch my 12 year old son play soccer.  Crazy, I know!

This trip was not on my radar until November.  The concept of the possibility of one of my boys being invited to play soccer anywhere but Massachusetts was never on my radar, let alone another country! Yet now it is.

How did I get here?  Glad you asked.  I wondered the same thing!

The back story:

When my boys were 5 and wanted to play town soccer, I thought it was cute.  There was something adorable about seeing these little guys in their too big soccer T-shirts all chasing a ball around like it was a magnet.  They'd run as fast as they could, kick it, if they were lucky, sometimes several at once, and sometimes, it went into a net.  It might have been the net 3 'fields' down, but it was a net.  They'd get all excited and jump around.  Except for the one who was staring at the sky or twirling or running the wrong way.  The games were short and the season was measured in weeks.  It was a mere $50 and I could buy cleats at Target for $20.

Then, they really liked it.  They started to get very competitive about it.  They wanted to play more than town soccer.  I was clueless.  I didn't even know something called 'club' soccer really existed!  A fellow mom whose son also played and loved the game, invited my youngest, then 9, to try out for a new club team called F.C. Celtic.  They were adorable, talented, local boys.  They had a coach who had a lovely British accent and a great sense of humor.  He engaged the boys and taught them football. European style football, not American soccer.  Turns out, there is a difference.  A big one.

This adorable group of young boys were also the sweetest, kindest, gentlest kids you'd probably ever assemble.  They are innately skilled and athletic, sponges for knowledge, and have a lot to teach the rest of the world about sportsmanship and the importance of team.  They had the good fortune of a coach who taught them to win with skill, not 'dirty' play.  It's almost a 'kill them with kindness' (and amazing foot skills) mentality.  And it works!

These boys have grown tremendously in all areas.  Not only are they taller, more savvy to the strategy of the game and becoming young men, they are advancing in skill rapidly.  Those with the fire and the passion live, eat and breathe soccer.  The core of that original team is still intact today, 3 years later. They are the best of friends and their care and concern and support of each other is inspiring and heart warming.  Newer team members have come and gone.  They are now the Central Mass Bolts Boys U-12 team.  They are still the sweetest boys you'll ever meet.  They just happen to have a tremendous team bond, great friendships, and they play kick-ass soccer.  The best part?  They have fun doing it!

They have worked hard and played hard.  Soccer is now a year-round sport.  I spend thousands (tens of thousands over the years) of dollars on equipment (those $20 cleats are now $100 and last 3 months if I'm lucky, and keeper gloves... yikes!) club and tournament fees, uniforms, and gas to drive all over creation to games and tournaments.  Someone has soccer just about every night of the week and every weekend day.  Most of our weekends in the fall and spring and most holidays are lost to soccer.  I have paid a gazillion dollars and spent countless hours driving to/from games and sitting in all kinds of weather year-round to help him accomplish his soccer goals and dreams.  The things I've given up so my boys can play soccer is... well, this is not about me.

Parents, when you have those babies, these are the things you don't realize.  Self-sacrificing for your kids, to give them the best you can, never ends! I sure as hell hope they thank me someday and maybe get a scholarship to college out of it!

Now, he and his team have the tremendous opportunity to travel to Barcelona, Spain, representing their club, to play football against the Spanish kids.  They will train 5 days and play 4 games.  They will get to visit and train at Camp Nou, the amazing stadium where FC Barcelona plays.  They will even get to see FC Barcelona play on Easter night.  To say they are over the top excited would be the understatement of the year!  It's like they are going to soccer mecca!

The boys really don't quite grasp what this means.  How far Spain is.  How different the culture is. How good these Spanish kids are going to be at the game! What a tremendous opportunity this is for them, both for their soccer 'careers', but also the chance to go to Spain and experience all that Barcelona has to offer.

"Manimal" as his coach affectionately calls him, is very excited.  Not only about the travel to Barcelona and the soccer he will play and watch, but mostly about spending a week with his best buddies.  He's almost giddy.  It's so wonderful to see him so happy.  He's worked hard for this.  I'm so glad I will get to share it with him. He's still a mama's boy.  :-)

Of course I have a gazillion things to do before we leave.  I am sad, because it's just he and I going. The trip is crazy expensive and was unexpected and not budgeted for, therefore I am unable to bring the entire family. I just couldn't afford it.  I really can't afford it for me!  I just couldn't deny my son the opportunity.

My older son, who is also a soccer player and fantastic goal keeper, is not able to come with us.  Nor is my husband.  I feel so horrible as a mother that I can't share this experience with both of my boys and my husband.  We will 'make up' for it in another way when another opportunity presents itself, but it's not the same.

So check back here as I plan to chronicle our adventures!

Excuse me while I go to work.  I'll be the one up most of the night trying to get everything done.  I guess that means I'll be on Barcelona time real quick!  ;-)

Safe travels to my fellow soccer moms and dads, some of whom are leaving today.  See you Saturday!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Playing nice when breaking up. With friends or with lovers. A how-to guide.

It's no secret I am divorced.  It's really no secret, at least to those who knew me 'in that life', that it was a messy, contentious, and difficult divorce.  It took waaaay longer than it should have and cost waaaay more than it should have, because my ex-husband refused to come to the table and 'play nice'. Eventually, that led to me having difficulty playing nice.

Where there was once love and compassion, there became anger, resentment and a very broken relationship.  The reality was it was broken from the beginning and poor communication and all that goes with it set us up for failure. It takes two people to make a relationship work.  Both of us were responsible for it's ultimate failure.  Blaming serves no one. Least of all the children or other important people in our lives.  We are both to blame for it's demise.

Despite that, we could, and should, have gone about ending our relationship differently.  More kindly. I tried.  But it takes two to end it amicably, too.  Therein lies the challenge for most couples.  We could have ended it in a much kinder way to both of us.

The details of the failure of our marriage are not important for you to know.  The lessons learned, however, are.

This is not about him.  Or me. Or our divorce. Or even about collateral losses as a result of or related to the central one.  It's about YOU and YOUR relationship(s).  It's a bit of insight into what I learned along the way that I hope others will benefit from on their journey.  Whether you are party to a divorce or break up now, have been in the past, or may be someday in the future, this is for you. Maybe it's a romantic relationship that has ended.  Maybe it's a long term friendship.  It doesn't matter. A break up is a break up and someone hurts.  Often, everyone hurts.  Yep, that's pretty much anyone who has a heart.  No one is immune.

Why am I writing this now?  It's been on my 'things to write about' list for years.  I have several friends in various stages of relationship crisis right now.  Some in messy divorces.  Some in amicable break ups and divorces.  Some who are married and working really hard on resolving their issues and learning to communicate better.  Some who are married and outright lying to their spouses about really important stuff. Some who are trying to repair damage done in the past when they didn't know what they do now.  Quite simply, it is time.  So if you are reading this, it's for you.

That, and I actually have time to write it today!

Some people are in unhappy relationships.  They have fallen out of love.  They don't want to be with the other person anymore but they choose not to tell them.  Or maybe they do tell them, but they agree not to divorce if married.  They may no longer wish to live together, some don't.  Despite that, they decide to stay in those relationships.  Some because they are in abusive relationships and are afraid to leave and afraid to ask for help in doing so.  Some choose to stay because they are afraid of the repercussions or the financial strain separating or divorcing will impose. Some stay 'for the kids'. Some stay because it's just easier to lie to themselves or their spouse than it is to speak, honor and live their truth.  This often leads to extramarital affairs or 'secret' behaviors because of the discord and unhappiness in the relationship and an unwillingness to talk about it with your significant other/spouse, which can lead to the aforementioned messy and contentious divorce or separation.

There are also people I know who are in strong, healthy relationships.  They seem few and far between, but they are out there.  Some are fully committed to each other and only each other.  Some are actually in open relationships (they are married or in a committed primary relationship, but have their spouse's/S.O.'s blessing to date other people).

They are the ones that realize a relationship is work. It takes two.  It takes honesty.  It takes being 100% transparent and truthful, even if it's not what the other person wants to hear and even if it's difficult for you to be so vulnerable and reveal your 'weaknesses'.  It takes open, honest, communication. It takes respect and honor. It takes an open mind and a compassionate heart.  It requires the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes to see the other side of an issue.  It means you come to the table when things are not right, not run away or blame.  You are a team.  A partnership.  You are equals.  You got into it together.  You get through it, together.  You learn the fine art of compromise.

They have learned to play nice.  No, they don't walk around blissed out all the time.  They argue.  They fight.  They talk it out.  But they listen and say they are sorry.  They respect.  They forgive.  They work hard to grow and change together. They support each other.  They get it.  For better or for worse.

The Beginning
When love is new, it is intoxicating.  It's easy to spot someone in the throws of a new romantic relationship. There is romance.  There is an endorphin high.  There is something wonderful about being courted and wanted and having your feelings returned by someone you are attracted to.  You do new things together. You go places.  You show each other off.  You are always 'on'.  Looking and acting your best.  It's nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime.  Therein lies the flaw of being human. Emotions and feelings.  Eventually, our feelings get hurt.  Especially if we don't learn the art of effective communication.

As relationships grow, they change.  At times they plateau or stabilize.  This is a natural thing.  With familiarity, comes routine.  Eventually, our 'real' selves start to show.  That constant state of being our best selves is nearly impossible to sustain long term.  We are human after all.  You know, the one where we don't dress to the nines to impress our significant other, where we begin to take compliments and day to day things for granted and love is implied, not said or even shown much.  The world where our partner sees our 'bed head' and still loves us.

Sex that may have been fantastic and frequent in the beginning of your relationship may become routine and less frequent.  Physical affection may dwindle.  The hand holding and cuddling that was so sweet in the beginning slowly dwindles.  Not necessarily because the love is not there, but because life happens.  We work, we have kids, we get busy, we get tired.  And we drift apart.  If we don't make the effort to connect, it becomes harder and harder for us to.

Do we 'settle'?
I've had many a conversation with many a person about how when we are young (or not so young), we 'settle' because we feel this person is 'good enough' or because we fear we will never find someone 'better'.  It may be because they fit the concept of our 'ideal' mate in looks, job status, personality or some other traits we thought we wanted in a partner.  Maybe it's because our biological clocks are ticking and we were looking for a spouse and a baby making partner more than a true life partner.

Some people choose to marry or enter a committed relationship with someone they know deep inside of them is not the 'right' fit.  They hope they will change or be good enough.  They hope that the differences they might have, the ones that irk them, will somehow magically disappear or become less bothersome.  That rarely happens in 'real' life.

All too often, we realize at some later point in our relationship we are unhappy.  Some people choose to go with the flow.  Some seek a relationship that they feel gives them what they are missing.  Some will choose to end their relationship.

In the end, it doesn't matter if we settle or not.  What matters is that we talk to our partner when we are unhappy and attempt to find happy again. What that is will depend on how those conversations go.

Kids stress a relationship.  Big time. 
Ah, kids.  They complicate things.  They are expensive.  They are demanding.  They 'ruin' the life you knew as a single person or a childless couple.  The vast majority of people who have children planned on having them.  They consciously set out to have babies. Yes, they were created and born of your love.  They are YOURS. How quickly we forget that when we become stressed and overwhelmed by the demands of parenting.

If your relationship was not strong and stable with open and honest communication before kids, it means more work to maintain your relationship after you do have them. All too often this comes as a complete shock to a couple when they have their first child.  The more children, the more stress that seems to come along for some.

Some people can't handle the stress children bring to a relationship.  They start to work later or spend more time with friends.  They travel more.  They avoid the kids and/or their partner rather than communicating.  Eventually, the relationship will break down.

Even if you have had kids for years, talk about how parenting has changed you or potentially will change your relationship and why.

Communication.  Communication.  Communication.
Communication often breaks down as relationships stabilize because the reality is it was never that good, honest, or frequent and 'real' in the first place.  Very few people are 100% honest and truthful with themselves, let alone with their significant others.  How many white lies have you told your S.O.? How many things do you hide from them?  Communication with ex's?  A porn habit?  A shopping habit or 'secret' credit card or bank account?  Debt? A history of illicit drug use, addiction, or a run in with the law?  An affair?

Over time, communication breakdown breeds resentment.  Resentments cause further breakdown and can build and before we know it, we think the other person has changed.  The truth is, so have we.  Or maybe the other person has not changed at all and we have.

Instead of trying to talk about the issues, we place blame on the other person.  We may begin to seek what we are missing in our relationship with them elsewhere.  With friends.  With ex's.  With alcohol and drugs. By working later or traveling more.  Instead of confronting the issues, we end up creating more.

All relationships need good quality communication to work.  Teacher and parent.  Parent and child. Boss and employee.  Friend to friend.  Husband and wife.  We, as humans are generally pretty bad at communication.  Words.  Body Language.  Tone.  They all convey different aspects of communication.  The advent of social media and electronic mail has only further complicated communication, reducing it to an impersonal level where it's hard to understand tone and impossible to see body language.

Talk.  You must learn to talk.  To each other.  Openly.  Honestly.  Daily.

The Blame Game
The crux of it is, all relationships take two people to work.  The truth is if your relationship is broken, it took both of you to break it.  Sure, one person may have more of the 'responsibility' say, if they went off and had an affair or drained the savings account without your knowledge, but something that was fundamentally broken in your relationship with each other led to it.

Blaming the other person or placing all the blame on yourself is unfair and highly likely to be an avoidance of conflict.  An avoidance of confronting the reality of who you are and an inability to face the consequences of the choices you have made and the responsibility you hold in it.  Because you are responsible, at least in part.

No one 'does' anything to anyone else.  No one 'makes' you say, feel, or do anything.  Only you are responsible for your actions (or inaction) or feelings.  No one else holds any special power over you. Unless you allow them to.  That, too, is all you.  Not them.

We all make choices.  Some good.  Some not so good.  They all have consequences.  Also some good and some not so good.  Some are really, really, hurtful and bad.  We make the choices we do from only two places.  We either choose from a place of fear or from a place of love and compassion.  It's important to realize why you are making the choices you are as it relates to YOU.  Not to the other person.  Because you are the only person who controls what you say, think, feel, or do.  Yep,  You own it.  Not them. You.

So re-frame how you view the other person in the context of yourself.  Make it about you.  Because it is. Nothing happens in isolation.  All of your choices impact someone else when you are in a relationship.

Be truthful.  Always.  
Chances are, eventually the truth will come out and it will be far better if it comes from you in the beginning. So, if you had an affair.  Fess up.  You don't like such and such about your partner.  Tell them.  Nicely. Overwhelmed and feeling unloved?  Tell them.  Racking up debt?  Tell them and get help. Maybe you are chatting on line with someone the other person doesn't know about and wouldn't approve of. Tell them.  Be honest.  Own it. Explain why you feel what you feel or why you did what you did.  It's not because 'they' did or didn't do such and such. It's about why YOU did or said what YOU did.  They should do the same.

Does this mean you have to change?  Not necessarily.  It does mean you have to understand, speak, live and be willing to stand in your truth.  You need to own your behavior, your choices, your actions. If you can't, then why are you doing what you are doing because it's hurting someone you once loved?

Try to do this calmly.  Sure, there may be a heated argument.  But stay present.  Count to 10.  Breathe. Write it down first if you have to and exchange letters than discuss it.  Seek the assistance of a counselor or good friend who can be impartial.  Talk in a neutral or public place where you are more likely to stay calm and present emotionally.

Please, talk to each other.  Be honest.  Be kind.

See their side of the story.  Put yourself in their shoes.
There are always two sides to every story.  Make an effort to see the other side.  To understand their argument, even if you don't agree with it.  Don't judge.  Just listen.  To each other. Even in the middle of a bad break up, you need to see both sides to fully understand why you are in the situation you are both currently in and so you don't repeat your mistakes in the future.  You need to be aware of how your choices impact others, not just yourself.  It's about being a good and mature human.

Everyone brings 'baggage' to a relationship.  Hopefully there was full disclosure at the beginning of your relationship about what this baggage is.  Maybe there was not.  Maybe you thought there was, but other things emerged over time neither of you realized or could have anticipated. Chronic or mental illness, a medical crisis like battling cancer, financial crisis, job loss, the demands of parenting or pregnancy loss/infertility struggles, or a profound loss like the loss of a close loved one all strain relationships.  They change us.  They challenge us.

Realize there is a reason for the choices we make.  Find it.  Share it.

No matter how hurt and angry you are, play nice.

One word.  Karma.  It's a bitch.  It really is.  So no matter how angry, bitter, hurt, betrayed, or devastated you are, be kind to each other.  In words and in deed.

Don't spread rumors.  Don't lie.  Don't embellish.  Don't exaggerate.  Don't taunt.  Don't name call. Don't say things that are not truth and fact (check them, first).  Don't blame.  Don't steal.  Don't damage their stuff or their reputation.  (They will do just fine on their own damaging their reputation, don't worry.)  Don't say or do things just to piss off the other person.  Don't allow yourself to stoop to their level if the other person is doing these things in an attempt to hurt you.

Remember, only you control what and how you feel and how you act.  It's no one else's 'fault'.  It's all you. How they react to it is their choice.  How you act, is yours.

In this age of social media, keep in mind what you post is out there forever and can and will come back to potentially haunt YOU.  Chances are high your family, friends, kids and co-workers past, present and future will see it.  While no one should, people judge.  Think of the repercussions before you go down that road. For all of you.

Don't say or do anything when you are angry.  Chances are you will regret it.

Basically, follow the Golden Rule.  Do unto others...

In other words, don't be an ass.  No matter how angry or hurt you are.  It serves no one but the lawyers whose pockets you are padding.

When and how to tell the kids

Parenting is a team sport. If your relationship with your significant other is failing, don't fail your kids. Keep your feelings for the other parent out of your conversations and interactions with the kids. To the kids you must present a united front.  You must say and show them that you both love them and care for them.  That you will be a part of their lives (if you truthfully will be and want to be).  Tell them your relationship is ending but not your relationship with them.

Make absolutely, 100% sure you never, ever, blame the kids for the failure of your relationship with the other parent.  It is NEVER the fault of the children.  They will think it is.  You must be sure they know they did nothing wrong.  You made them together.  You parent them together.  United in what is best for them.  Always.

Do not use them as pawns.  They are not 'weapons' against your now estranged partner.  They are YOUR CHILDREN.  Do not try to take them away from the other parent unless their lives are truly in danger.

Don't push the kids to do something they don't want to.  If they want to live with only one of you or the shared parenting schedule is upsetting them, talk to them and try to honor their wishes and needs. Doing so from the beginning will help them to better cope and have a stronger relationship with you as they grow.  Try not to force them to do something they do not want to do unless the court orders it.

Be mindful of your children and THEIR needs and wants introducing someone 'new'

Kids are wicked smart.  Even babies and toddlers *get* emotion.  They notice everything.  They absorb that energy.  They learn by watching you.  They will behave the way they see you behave.

Kids are definitely affected by the relationship their parents have.  Affectionate children come from affectionate families.  If kids see you name call and fight and yell as your primary mode of communication, don't be surprised when they do the same.  Not only to you, but to their own children and spouses someday.  Do you really want them to have the same relationship struggles you did? Think about that.

Before you introduce someone new and 'special' to your kids, make sure it is going to stick.  Far too often, parents who break up have a 'rebound' relationship.  Maybe it began before the parental relationship ended, maybe it was the reason the parental relationship ended or maybe it is simply the thrill of someone new who seems to understand and care and think you're all that and a bag of chips. You fall for them.  You think it's 'right' or they are the real 'one'.  Before you go any further, stop.  You once felt that about the person you are breaking up with/divorcing too.  Don't lose sight of that!

When and if you introduce the idea of someone new in your life depends on the age and maturity of your children and how they are coping with the separation of you as their parents.  Their relationship with you should take priority.  Broach the subject in a conversation first.  Ask them how they feel. Don't put words in their mouths.  Don't be surprised if they are upset or never want to meet that person or meet them but never like them.  Listen to what your kids are saying and why.  Honor their wishes.  Chances are they think you are replacing their mom or dad.  Of course they are going to be upset about that.

Never force them to meet, spend time with or 'like' the 'new' significant other.  Give them time to adjust.  Help them connect with a counselor if they are struggling with your break up or someone new in your life.

I dated Joe for nearly 3 years before I introduced my boys to him as my boyfriend.  They had met him in group settings as a 'friend' about a year earlier.  It was only after they met, spent quite a bit of time together and it was clear they liked him and he understood what parenting meant and was willing to be a father figure for them (and an amazing one he is) that I agreed to marry him.  If my kids did not like him or if he were not able to 'handle' the demands of parenting them and what I was like as a mom (as opposed to just a girlfriend) I would not have married him.  We may have continued our relationship, but living in separate homes and without an integration or marriage.  My kids are just that important.

The bottom line
We are human.  We all make mistakes.

We also all deserve to love and be loved for who we are.  Unconditionally.  To that end, we all deserve respect, trust and truth from those around us. Especially those we choose to partner with in some way.
Communication makes the world go round.  Mis-communication makes misery go round.  Talk to each other.  Get help if you need it.

Relationships are fluid and dynamic.  They change.  Because people change.  Sometimes, we grow closer.  Sometimes we grow apart.  It's because we are growing.

No matter what the state of any given relationship is, it deserves to be treated with love, compassion, respect, honesty and grace.

Be kind to one another.  Choose from a place of love and respect, even if it's in ending a relationship.

Forgive.  Yourself and the other person.  You loved them once upon a time.  Chances are you still do, it's just in a different way.

Go in peace.