The Dress Was Worth A Thousand Words

Dear Mom,  It’s me, Mrs. John William McCarty.  Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  It does to me.”

Betty Leiper McCarty.  June 27, 1955.

imageSo began a letter from my mother to her mother two days after she became “Mrs. John McCarty”.  That was day #2 of a marriage that would last until my father passed away 21,455 days later. She was a love-struck bride thanking heimg_5013r parents profusely for the “perfect wedding reception” (I’d like to state for reference that the reception was in the backyard
of my grandparent’s Connecticut farm.  Lively to the point my Dad had to sneak a small keg of beer behind the barn, out of sight from my temperance preaching great-grandmother).    When
she wrote that letter, she had a lifetime of experiences in front of her.  She was obviously very excited about recent events and the journey ahead.  By the time it concludes with detailed directions to their new home in a trailer park, it tells the story of a wide-eyed woman as uncertain as the rest of us when we reach a point in our lives when we feel like we should be grown up.

My mother passed away three weeks ago.  The logical Jack keeps reminding me that she was 88 years old, and lived a life she loved.  She saw her kids and grandkids grow to become happy and successful.  She even played with great grandkids.  That ain’t bad.  As soon as I begin believing this propaganda, “Emotional Jack” stomps on the logic and argues back; “it sucks, and you know it.”

Just before she passed my siblings and I found a note she had written that listed a few things that were important to her and wanted to be kept in the family.  Suddenly there were five kids in a house where we were all raised allowed to explore places we were never allowed when growing up.  The things we found were amazing.

  • We found the letter I quoted above that my mother wrote to her parents after her wedding. It was in a yellow wooden box at the bottom of her closet. The box and a backstory were explained in her note. The box was made in 1901 by mom’s great imagegrandfather for his daughter (my great grandmother) after her mother passed when she was very young.
  • A few random wedding invitations and personal letters addressed to my grandparents Frank and Hellen Leiper.
  • Pictures of my great grandfather, Hazzard Kenyon.  (Is that the coolest great grandfather name ever or what?)
  • The letter approving my father’s GI Bill allowing him to go to the University of Connecticut.
  • A loan agreement for a Singer sewing machine.  $14 per months for 24 months.  A $300 sewing machine was a pretty big deal back in the 1950s.

Then there was The Dress.  On the list of things my mother wanted to remain in the family was her wedding dress. Thanks to the wonders of a cedar chest, it was in perfect condition. This marked the first time any of us had seen it in person.  I was showed this bit of McCarty history to my daughter Julia a few days later.  Strangely, to me anyway, it was close to her size. Soon I was sitting in the living room talking to my sister when the dressJulia in Dress

I had seen thousands of times in static pictures came to life. As the dress moved down the stairs, it began to tell it’s story.  In the smile on Julia’s face, I could see Betty Leiper.
She was a giddy, young, vibrant bride elated to have married the man of her dreams and excited to take on whatever life had in store. She was young once.  They all were. The items on her list were more than keepsakes.  They are part of our story.

  • It was not a “yellow wooden box made by my great, great grandfather”. It was a gift from a broken hearted, recently widowed father who loved his daughter and wanted do something to help her cope with the loss of her mother.
  • They were not “random wedding invitations to my grandparents”. They were invites from people who wanted to hang with “Frank and Hellen”.  The couple with five kids and lived down the street.
  • It wasn’t a picture of my great great grandfather Hazzard Kenyon.  He was a young dude with a really cool name that was sitting for a picture.  Great grandkids were the furthest thing from his mind. With a name like that, he probably went out that night
    img_5012
    Hazzard Kenyon undoubtedly about to rock the mic right

    and did whatever people with badass names did in the 19th century.  I don’t know what it was, but I promise it was awesome.  (Note: I rarely, if ever, use the term badass, but I thought it fit here) 

  • It wasn’t a GI Bill approval letter, it was a gateway.  That approved document allowed my dad to provide a life for his wife and kids. Colleges, weddings, a house, vacations and lifetime of memories way beyond anything he or my mother had when they were growing up.
  • It was a sewing machine that would go on to make clothes for kids that didn’t exist, and decorations for a house they didn’t own at the time.

While the emotional side of Jack is absolutely correct in that this whole experience sucks.  There is nothing I can do about it except realize this is part of my story.  They went through it, and now it’s my turn.  As my portion of the story continues, I will draw strength from those that help shape me and embrace the cast of characters and events that make my chapter so interesting.  I have been lucky beyond words to have incredible parents in my life for almost fifty years.  I will miss them, but I know a part of them resides in my kids and me every day as our story continues….

For those of you who appreciate creativity or maybe performance art, this post is exactly 1,000 words….  BOOM!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making A Molehill Out Of A Mountain….(Chunks Of A Mountain; full version)

This past weekend I was skiing with my daughter Julia, a couple of her friends and their families. We don’t ski very often, maybe once a year. The girls are pretty athletic, and their progress in just this short two-day trip was pretty amazing. By mid-day on day #2 they were feeling comfortable on their skis, maybe even a little cocky, and were ready for a bit more challenge. It was time for the “Black Diamond.”

Anticipation had been building for weeks. The “Black Diamond” slopes were the toughest our Western Mayland mountain had to offer. Once the gauntlet had been thrown, and the girls called each other’s bluff, it was “go time.” We headed to the fiercely named “Odin’s Chute.” I skied to the crest of the “cliff” and watched as the girls cautiously approached. Even through their tinted goggles, I could see their eyes increase in size as they began to realize they could see the bottom but could not see the hill itself.Drop

Being teenage girls and great friends they are usually full of chatter. At this time, however, there was silence. By now they had descended a preliminary hill and knew there was no going back. As a Coach and a Dad, this is the type of teachable moment you dream of….. The expressions on their faces said,

“I will listen to anything you have to say if it keeps me alive.”  

There were no arguments, no rebuttals, just a united focus that non-verbally said… “yes, I’m listening.”

The other parents and I refilled the girls rapidly depleting reserves of confidence and assured them that they were completely capable of accomplishing what they set out to do. They just needed to take this on like they would any seemingly insurmountable task. In bite sized pieces.  It was one turn at a time and to cut it into small “chunks.”  By this I mean, ski across the side of the mountain, turn and ski back.  With each turn, they would descend a little more.  Don’t worry about the next turn, only what’s in front of you.  One turn at a time.  That’s exactly what they did.  They took on the mountain, cut it into bite size “chunks”, accomplished their goal and claimed a well-deserved victory.

The girls know me well enough to realize I will always find a deeper meaning, and this was no exception.  Throughout life, we are continually faced with projects, tasks, long-range goals, which make us shake in our boots.  When we break them down and take them one turn at a time, eventually we get where we want to go.  Sure we are scared.  Sure we question if what we are about to do is a wise decision.  We probably won’t even accomplish the goal our first attempt.  But when we earn the right to pose for the picture, it’s worth a thousand words.

Black D
The sign above them says it all.

What’s your next Black Diamond????

 

 

 

Go Ahead, Call Me Names…

As I mentioned earlier this week, for a few months a year I don an alter ego as “Coach Jack.” In all honesty, this is a bit of misnomer as it is the opposite of “alter” and all about “ego.”  When I’m on the soccer field with “my girls” I’m as inherent as a forty-something guy with a mortgage can be. There is a reward that comes after walking that undefined line and pushing a player beyond their comfort zone to a point where they may be rather unimpressed you, only to watch them accomplish things they did not know they could do.  When you laugh with the player later, the bond is stronger and unequaled by many things in life. During the times mentioned above, I am quite confident the name they are calling me is not, Coach Jack.  When a breakthrough finally happens that I help instigate, it makes everything right. It provides a feeling of invincibility that lasts until the next 12-year-old puts you in your place.

During my tenure as Coach Jack, there have been many players that have fueled and fed this drive along the way.  There was Danny of course, my nephew, who started it all.  He was the first person that caused me to be simultaneously angry and proud when he passed the ball in front of an open net so that a teammate could score his first goal.  In that same era, there was “Rachel Defense.” An eight-year-old girl that had a natural ability for timing and position that caused many a young man to rethink his future in soccer.  I think of “Ella the Goalie,” a dainty 9-year-old girl with bows in her hair that wanted nothing more than to be the last line of defense for her team.  By the end of the season after bumps, bruises and tears she learned her craft and stopped a point-blank shot in the championship game that earned her my eternal gratitude.  There was Caroline, who’s parents told me “she should play defense because she’s more comfortable when the ball rolls towards her and all she has to do is kick it.” Two years later, mid-way through the season, Caroline was our leading scorer.  These players and many others* pushed me to be the best coach I can be.  (*This short list intentionally omits current players, but I promise there are many more examples published in my tell-all novel.)  There is one player however that in my eyes has a highlight reel all to herself.
Her drive to compete second only to her overzealous coach.  She (and her smaller, but an equally important partner in crime) unknowingly push me not only to be a better coach but to be a better person.

As a coach you are not supposed to play favorites but I unabashedly admit, #10 is one of two very favorite players who has ever walked on a soccer field.  And it’s not just because of this moment:

Championship Game – Score tied 0-0.  :30 seconds left.

She doesn’t have things easy.  She’s the coach’s kid.  Every team has one. It’s the kid who has to be at every practice early and stays past the last player has been picked up.  The player that has to perform with higher expectations than the others to get praise, so it does not look like the coach is playing favorites.  They don’t get to leave practice or a game “on the field”. There is the talk of the team or strategy all week long.  This

IMG_1311
Game Jersey, Goalie Jersey Elected Captain on Opening Day by her teammates.

player that is forced to play goalie, or offensive line or any other potentially undesirable position because the coach can’t put other players in situations where he or she would not put their child.  Other factors make this role more difficult.  The big loud guy who yells a lot is not always the most popular guy on the field.  He or she is an easy target for peer ridicule.  That’s not easy to hear. And lastly, but certainly not least, the coach can and will say things to this player that are a bit more direct and possibly cutting. They do this because…. well… there is no good reason.  It just happens, and I’m sorry it does.

 

Julia, #10,  is that player for me.  She had to stay in the goal long after the Julia kickother girls who wanted to try it realized it wasn’t always fun.   Without complaining, she accepted her fate and put in extra time outside of regular
practice to learn the position.  Now, even though it’s not her first choice when she plays in the nets with a confidence that makes me nervous and an ability that makes my voice crack when I congratulate her on a save. Other instances seem to have left a scar.  Such as the time that despite having scored two goals in the first half and making, at least, ten saves in the second half, she was not awarded the “Game Orange” because another girl had yet to receive such an honor. This offense took place five seasons ago.  I’m not sure of the shelf life for this atrocity.  In the time since then, I am fairly sure I could have grown an orange tree or two that would have repaid my debt several times over.

Julia Breakfast#10 turns 13 today. It’s gone by in a flash.  She’s been #10 since her grandfather first held her and proclaimed her a perfect 10 for being the tenth grandchild. I wish I could say that I remember every game, every moment she had made my life special, but that would be impossible. This morning I tried to explain that I not only love her because she’s my daughter which is almost mandatory, I like her and truly enjoy being around her.  She was quick to remind me that she was now 13, and that may change. Both of our statements may be true. Time will tell.  But I for the time being she’s one of my favorite people to talk with and spend time.
She’s an incredible big sister and a daughter that makes Patty and me proudIMAG0119 every day.  image1She does a spot on Dad impression, has a creative mind that connects unrelated topics with ease and an ability to make me laugh almost on command.  She is intelligent, caring, giving and compassionate for most of her waking hours. However, once she crosses the sideline to walk on the field, she’s a five foot, three inches, blonde haired, blue eyed, ball of Catholic school girl fury in a Lululemon headband.

The name “Coach Jack” is a natural extension of my personality.  Thirteen

2012-11-17 007(0) copy
Yellowjackets WIN!  Our first title and she hit the game-winning shot.  I thought it was ok to show a bit of public favoritism.

years ago today, #10 joined my team.  She gave me the name “Dad”, and suddenly my entire world changed in ways I could not possibly have Julia Posterimagined. I am a very fortunate man in many ways.  Two amazing kids call me this name every day (they also use Mac Daddy, which is acceptable and maybe even encouraged).  Granted, the name Dad is not always said in the most positive light.  Much like the situation above, when a player is pushed out of their comfort zone, the method to the madness is not always understood or appreciated.  When it’s a
parent that’s causing the discomfort, the irritation to the child is magnified.  That’s ok with me; they can say whatever they want as long as they call me Dad. I’ve answered to many nicknames in my life, but Dad is the name that I am most proud.  I’m more than willing to tell everyone why.

 

Happy Birthday, Julia.  We love you.  Dad, Mom and Aidan.

Goals and Wins…. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Championship…

“This season, all I care about are Goals and Wins!”

     –Coach Jack

Those were the words that started off my first speech of the season. I’m a firm believer that when leading a team of 7th-grade girls it’s important to establish priorities immediately. This being my 3rd full season, the girls were aware their coach was a little off kilter and may take his role of “Coach Jack” just a bit too seriously. Even with their measured expectations I could tell this statement took them by surprise. I’m confident they felt duped and were wondering what happened to the guy who used to promise fun and just wanted them to try hard?

Old Soccer
Yes, Jorts were part of the uniform and all the rage back in the 90’s.

I became “Coach Jack” in my early twenties when my nephew Danny’s, team needed a coach. I had nothing better to do so I coerced my buddy Doug into joining me for an adventure that would surely impress the ladies. Minutes into our first practice it was glaringly obvious to both of us that we had absolutely no idea how to communicate with wide-eyed, nervous 8-year-olds. There we were, standing in the middle of a huge field on a hot summer night. Fourteen pairs of brand spanking new soccer shoes and oversized shin guards waiting to be scuffed. We looked at them,… they looked at us… and we looked at each other. You know that awkward moment when you run into an old friend and have absolutely nothing to talk about despite having something big in common?  Yeah, that’s what it felt like. I was scrambling words to wind up our first pep talk when I backed Doug and me into a corner by concluding with an overly enthusiastic….. “you are going to have a GREAT time and we PROMISE you are going to have fun!!!” or something along those lines. I could see the veil of polite confusion lift. Their faces were lit up and all eyes were focused on the guy who promised FUN. It was easy to see I struck a nerve and was now speaking their language. And just like that, “Coach Jack” was conceived.

It didn’t take long to see they were buying what we were selling. We worked hard to make sure the kids had Fun. Our not so secret ulterior motive was to turn these kids into Spartan-like athletes that would drop their surname to become one of the greats like, Pele, Maradona, and Doug. I think we only lost two or three games those first couple of seasons (but who was counting besides me). That season turned into another and eventually into several years of rec teams, travel teams and indoor soccer. Eventually when my nephew Danny grew older, I hung up my whistle.

 

Yellowjackets Victory
U-10 Championship For the Yellow “Jack-ets”. After this Julia and I were off the CYO League. Julia is in the back row 2nd from the right.  Credit to Liz Sweeney for realizing my name was in the already agreed upon team name.

When my daughter, Julia, began playing soccer six years ago, I was more than willing to once again break out the whistle and “Coach Jack” was back again. Thankfully Julia tolerates her Dad’s antics. We’ve had our successes along the way that seem to validate my methods. Like any daughter, she lets me know when I go over the top, but I catch her laughing so I consider it a wash.

 

I currently coach the Immaculate Conception 7th grade girls. It’s a school team made up almost entirely of classmates. There are no tryouts and the team is the team. You take the players you get. Julia began playing for this team in the middle of her 4th-grade year. I became the head coach the following fall. Before my first full season with “my girls”, one of the parents of a long time player said, “good luck getting these girls moving. There is no chance of getting them to play aggressively.” I know a challenge when I hear it. This guy had history on his side. “those girls” hadn’t won a game in three years and scored only 3 goals in the past two seasons. My first season didn’t fair much better. We scored three goals en route to another 0-10 season.

Interspersed in the fun, I preach soccer philosophy over and over until the girls are sick of hearing the self-proclaimed “Coach Jackisms”. It’s known by all of them, that I’d rather have smart players than good players. Smart players can become good, good players don’t always become smart. Like most coaches, there are a few phrases that I probably repeat hundreds of times throughout the season. I continually tell them that my goal is for them to “understand the game”, “make good decisions” and the one that is emphasized loudly at least once a practice…. “We play smart soccer!”

Version 2
Worst to First…. from 0-10 to 10-0.            2014 ICS Eagles.

Somewhere along the line something clicked. We went from 0-10 the first year to 10-0 the second year. At the end of the season, we entered a tournament and did not know what to expect. We ended up winning the U-12 division to cap off an amazing season.

 

Towsontown Champs
2014 Towson Soccerfest U-12 Champs. I was freezing and the girls were in short sleeves. It’s moments like this that help Julia (next to me) tolerate the rest of my behavior that would make most 12-year-olds cringe.

So this year’s coaching mantra was “Goals” and “Wins”. When explained further, after the shock value of my opening statement wore off, “Goals” are what the girls would set for themselves and “Wins” happened whenever someone achieved their goal. When wins started to accumulate, our wins as a team were sure to follow. Before practice, I called on each girl and asked them to proclaim their goal for that practice. After practice, I asked, “who had a win?” Sometimes a girl would raise her hand and others a teammate

Soccer clap men
“Who had a win today?”

would point out, “Cindy played aggressive” or something to that effect. We would all give the soccer clap of respect to a player who achieved their goal and that’s how we ended the practice.

 

The timeliness of this post is a result of one of those moments of clarity that stops you in your tracks. It occurred during the game I coached on Sunday. This year we entered the same end of year tournament in a higher U-15 division to play against a mixture of 7th, 8th, and 9th-grade girls. Hopes were not that high since as 7th graders we were younger and smaller than the other teams. Surprisingly we were one of two teams that made it out of the first day undefeated.

In the semi-finals, we were playing a very tough team from Columbia MD. It was half-time and we were winning 1-0. All of the things we had been practicing were coming together. It was truly fun to watch. I called the girls together for my halftime review and started with the question; “are you having fun?” Almost in unison I heard and enthusiastic, “YES!” One player raised her hand. Before I said a word, she described a scenario on the field and how we could capitalize. Immediately another player chimed in with something they had noticed and how a teammate can benefit. Then another player spoke up, and another. All the comments were accurate. I didn’t have to say a word. All of a sudden I saw it in front of me….. “my girls” were indeed smart soccer players. They knew the game. They were playing for each other. They wanted to win and despite being probably the youngest team in the division, they believed they could. I barely said a word during the rest of halftime.

Then, as if it was something from the movie “Hoosiers” – I started the hand pile for our customary “Can’t Stop…. Won’t Stop” battle cry as per our custom before games and at the end of halftime. Still feeling the emotion from what I just witnessed, I said a the tone of pure pride; “listen to your teammates; trust your teammates; trust yourselves. You know what to do; I’m proud of you all and I love you guys.” This was a bit awkward for me, as I’ve never gone THAT deep as to tell a team I love them. Any perceived awkward moment was erased when voices responded immediately and almost in unison “we love you too coach”.

We didn’t win that game. We lost 2-1. The girls were upset with the loss of a contest that could have gone either way. That’s completely understandable and I would have liked to have advance to the finals as well. For the rest of that day (we had one more game against a team of 8th-grade girls and won 6-1 in case you were wondering) I watched them differently. These were girls who loved to compete and loved to play. They knew the game and were having fun. All I wanted to accomplish when I set my personal “Goal” during that very first practice a long long time ago was playing out in front of me. Regardless of the score, I felt like a winning Coach. I know I will consider that game one of the biggest “Wins” of my career.Whistle

Somewhere along the way, in the midst of all this fun, the lessons, the yelling, the sweat, the bumps the bruises, the measurement of being a successful coach went beyond win / loss records or championships.

Thank you, ladies, for continuing to teach me something new and being the reason I achieved my goal. To answer my own question; “are you having fun?” My response is; “more than ever.”