Stick Skills and Dustpans Required


Ready for the start of a new season

Grab your sticks and helmets, spring is here!

Despite the winter-like temperatures (and residual snow on the ground in some places), spring sports have officially begun.  For us, that means juggling youth lacrosse, youth baseball and travel basketball.  Never a dull moment with the Tarr boys, or should I say never a slow moment.

The new season means a new family schedule to get used to.  While it’ll take some time, and a few loud, sometimes frantic reminders to the boys about time management and responsibility, we’re slowly finding our rhythm (and by we I mostly mean me, as I’m the one who manages who needs to be where and when).  As we run out the door each night for practice, I routinely rattle off the checklist of items each son needs for whichever practice he has.  For lacrosse, the roll call sounds like this … Stick?  Check.  Helmet?  Check.  Pads and gloves?  Check.  Cleats?  Check.  Mouth guard?  Check.  Cup?  Check.  Water bottle?  Check.  Dustpan and brush?  Check.

Wait, what?!?

To play on my older son’s U11 youth lacrosse team, those are the required pieces of equipment.  Scratching your head over the dustpan and brush?  I’ll let you in on a team secret … it’s not literally a dustpan and brush, but rather a metaphor for the attitude that the coaches require.  Although, that said, an actual dustpan and brush would be wise, too, given the clumps of mud and dirt my boys track in from the fields all season long or worse, all those little black rubber pellets that seem to be everywhere after they play on the high school turf field.  But I digress …

You see, the boys (at least my older son who plays on the A squad of a U11 youth team) are coming off a losing season.  Last spring was rough and the kids started getting down on themselves and each other.  To combat that this year, the coaches are addressing proper attitudes early on.  Here’s part of an email I received yesterday from my older son’s lacrosse coach:

  • “Yesterday … we talked about mistakes with our … players … It is OK to make a mistake on this team.  We want [the boys] to learn from [their] mistakes and not let [it] discourage [them] from working hard.  We will have a [team] ritual saying of “Brush it off, next play” when [someone makes] a mistake.  I will [also wear] a dust pan brush necklace at practices and games to reinforce this.  This ritual will help [the boys] wipe the mistakes out of their heads, refocus and be ready for the next play …” – Coach Wes
When I read this email, my first thought was where does one find a dustpan brush necklace?  My second thought was thank you, Coach Wes.  Thank you for reminding the boys that in addition to honing their stick skills, it’s important to play hard, brush off mistakes, learn from those mistakes and move on … good lacrosse precepts and even better life rules (and if you read my March 13 post, you know I love a good life lesson).

So this season, despite the fact that their oversized equipment bags are already stuffed with the necessary gear, every lax jersey and pinnie they ever wore over four seasons, a few extra balls and probably some stinky, wet socks and a few chewed up, old mouthguards, my boys will be sure to make room for their dustpans and brushes, too.  If their teammates do the same, I think it’ll be to be a very good season.

Sticks in, boys.  Team on 3 … 1, 2, 3, TEAM!


My favorite part of lacrosse


The Madness That is March

What do you get when snow continues to fall in March and winter and spring sports collide?  March Madness.

Today was the start of the NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament, also known as March Madness — a two-week battle wherein 64 of the nation’s top Division I men’s basketball teams compete for the title.  It was also the first day of spring.  What do these two events have in common?  They are both filled with anticipation and hope.

My hope is that I survive this month because so far March hasn’t been my favorite.

Yes, March has its good points … St. Patrick’s Day (although, I kinda blew that one this year — read my last blog post to find out how), Daylight Savings (spring ahead to longer days), a few early signs of spring (the crocuses were budding until it snowed again!) and a bevy of birthdays for some of my favorite people.  But it also has a bad side … the side that has to contend with bi-polar weather conditions and conflicting schedules.

I’m a planner and an organizer.  To manage our family schedule, I use a color-coded calendar — both an electronic version found on all iPads and iPhones, plus a written version on a dry erase board in the kitchen.  Overkill perhaps, but it keeps everyone accountable.  If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening.  The trouble with March is, the combination of unpredictable weather and the unknown outcome of tournament games means schedules are constantly in flux.  I don’t do well in flux.  I’m trying, but I’m not there yet.

Will it rain?  Will it snow?  Will practice be canceled or moved inside to a new location at a new time?  The answers to these questions can mean a complete upheaval to the day’s plans.  Did we win?  Did we lose?  Did we tie?  These outcomes can alter the week’s plans — a win means one thing (in terms of next game date, time and location), a loss another.  Then there’s the three-week discord when winter sports coincide with spring sports.  Practices conflict and games overlap.  Kids need to be in different places at the same time.  Anxiety grows and stress levels rise.  This is real March madness … at least in our house.

Enter the carpool.  They say it takes a village, but I say it takes a carpool.

Carpooling Kids

Once kids reach a certain age, if they are involved in any after-school activities, carpools become a necessity.  For those of us with more than one child, it’s inevitable that someone will need to be in one place while another has to be in a totally different place at the same time.  This is especially true for me during the month of March when our schedule is the most hectic.  The realist in me knows that I should ask for help.  The perfectionist wants to do it alone.  But I’m a recovering perfectionist now … so now I carpool.

With the carpool driving schedule in hand, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Winter basketball wraps up this week (which means less activities to manage) and the weekend forecast looks dry (so practices and games should proceed as planned).  Only ten more days before we can turn the page on the calendar.

If I can just get through the next week and a half, we can slide into April and begin a new routine … until those April showers come and wreak havoc on our schedule again!


How The Grinch Stole St. Patrick’s Day … and Easter, Too!

March 17, 2014 was the year without a leprechaun in our house.


This morning, I decided to slow the usual school day pace down a bit because we had yet another 2-hour delay (yes, it snowed again!).  Apparently, my boys didn’t get the memo because not only were they awake at the usual time, but they rushed through the A.M. routine of getting dressed and making their beds in record time (something that never happens on a regular school day, of course).  As they came racing down the stairs, I heard my youngest shout out to his brother, “Don’t read the note without me!”

It took me a moment to realize that he was talking about the leprechaun’s note.

CRAP!  I forgot all about St. Patrick’s Day.

I’m not sure if it was the previous week’s hectic schedule, the house guests we hosted over the weekend or the Sunday night snowfall that threw me off my game, but this year I just plain forgot.  There was no note with a catchy rhyme and smart riddle directing the boys to the hidden pot of gold filled with small treats and green trinkets.  There was no Irish music playing on the iPad (ok, we only have one Irish song — The Unicorn Song — but you get the idea).  There were no shamrock placemats, no leprechaun straws, no emerald decorations.  Just two young boys dressed in green, standing in the kitchen, waiting …

My oldest (10-1/2yrs.) seemed to take it in stride, deciding that leprechauns do not exist and that I was the one who decorated the house and bought the treats each year.  I must have forgotten, he reasoned.  Smart kid.  Maybe I had dodged a bullet.  Maybe the luck of the Irish was on my side today.  He didn’t even seem disappointed.  But my little guy (7-1/2 yrs.) was heartbroken.  He thought it was his fault because he forgot to set a trap.  To make matters worse, my older son told him his theory about leprechauns and moms.

Moment of truth … Do I lie to keep the dream alive for the 7-year-old, or do I come clean for the sake of the 10-year-old?  I decided to do both.  This was a golden opportunity for me to help my oldest, who will be entering middle school in the fall, mature.  I quietly pulled him aside and told him the truth.  He was ready, I thought.  I hoped.  I took it a step further and told him the Easter Bunny wasn’t real either (since that holiday is just around the corner), but I stopped short of killing off Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, too (I was able to ditch the Elf on the Shelf this past year, but that’s a post for another day).  The catch, I told him, was that he couldn’t tell any of this to his younger brother.

I felt good about my decision to tell the truth, but guilty at the same time.  Had I just pushed my 5th grader out of childhood?  Was my decision selfish?

You know what? It was the right decision.

It was the right time for both of us to turn a corner.  My son was beginning to question these mysterious holiday mascots and I was beginning to feel stressed by the pressure to outdo myself each year.  But not anymore.  Telling my son the truth felt like a weight had been lifted.  Freedom!  Whoo hoo!  He was growing up and I was now free from all this secondary holiday hoopla … or so I thought, until I remembered that my younger son still believed and he was just too young to have the rug pulled out from beneath him.  Argh!  Now what?

Thinking on my feet, I ran upstairs to hide a dollar bill under each of their pillows (hey, money is green, right, and who doesn’t love money?).  Then I told my older son, now in on the high jinks, to take his brother back upstairs for a moment so I could scribble a note, which I subsequently hid under his (not green) placemat.  Here’s what it said:


The note that saved St. Patrick’s Day (and yes, I know the sticker spelled “Paddy’s” incorrectly!)

I tried to redeem myself with a green breakfast: dyed pancakes, omelettes and milk, plus green grapes — the usual St. Paddy’s Day fare in our house.  But it wasn’t until after breakfast when the boys were clearing their dishes and “found” the note that I was redeemed.  My 7-year-old was thrilled that he hadn’t ruin the holiday and all was right with the world again.

St. Patrick’s Day may have been watered down in the Tarr house this year, but we did manage to keep the magic alive for one more year … at least for one kid.  And an added bonus:  My 10-year-old told me that for the next holiday, he’d help with the surprises and decorations so his brother can keep believing.  Looks like I’m the one who scored the pot of gold.



Composed by Lauren Dewey Tarr,

There once was a mother of two boys

who sometimes struggled to see all the joys.

But she knew in her heart

they were handsome and smart

so she learned to live with the chaos and noise.


There’s No “i” in Team

Four tickets to a Harlem Globetrotters game: $175.  Arena parking: $15.  Snacks and souvenirs: $70.  Hearing my boys belly-laugh as a player performing a layup is stripped, not just of the ball, but of his uniform:  Priceless.  Having them learn a valuable life lesson at the same time:  Even more priceless.

Ok, so the lesson wasn’t exactly learned during the layup stripping (although having your shorts tied tight enough so they can’t be pulled down is a good life lesson), but it was realized at the Harlem Globetrotters game this past weekend.  Amidst the flurry of corny jokes and childish gags, and in between the fancy ball-handling and trick shots, was the not-so-subtle message that if you dream big and work hard — despite your circumstances — you can achieve your goals.  Just ask Kevin Grow, the Pennsylvania teenager with Down Syndrome who suited up and played with the team on Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.


Kevin Grow with the Harlem Globetrotters

I was prepared for the night’s expected fanfare of smelly armpits, noisy gas and silly dances (hmmm … this sounds a bit like our house on a Saturday night), but I wasn’t anticipating the inspirational message about overcoming adversity.  It got me thinking … what other positive life lessons can a simple game of basketball teach kids?

Not wanting to miss a teaching moment (heaven forbid!), I asked the boys yesterday on the way to practice what they thought basketball teaches them.  My youngest is only 7 and quite literal, so his initial responses included, “Keep your hands straight up on defense” and “You can’t pick up your dribble.”  Both true, but not what I was looking for (A+ for effort, though, buddy!).  After further explanation, a little prodding and even some leading, this is eventually what they came up with …

The five (5) life lessons that basketball teaches, as told by my sons:

  1. Basketball is a team sport and there’s no “i” in team – Translation:  Learn to work as a team and be interdependent, not independent.  Selfishness never wins (just like cheaters never win and winners never cheat).
  2. Sometimes calls don’t go your way – Translation:  Life can be tough; if you get knocked down, get up, dust yourself off and keep going.   You don’t always get your way (you get what you get and you don’t get upset).
  3. You win or lose on the foul line – Translation:  Be prepared by practicing (or studying).  Learn from your mistakes and improve upon your performance yesterday.
  4. Keep playing until the whistle blowsTranslation:  Never give up.  Do your best, give 110% and work hard to achieve your goals (it’s not over until the fat lady sings).
  5. It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play that gameTranslation:  Always display good sportsmanship.  Play competitively, but fairly.  Be a good loser and a gracious winner.

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!  Winner, winner, chicken dinner!  If my boys practice these five teachings as much as they practice their crossover dribble, reverse layup and fade-away jumper, they will be victorious on and off the court.  I may not be raising the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James, but I am raising the next generation of men, so it’s important that I get it right.

Will my sons continue to play basketball?  Will they make the high school basketball team?  Play in college?  Be drafted into the NBA?  It’s much too early to tell, and the odds are not in their favor, with just over 1% of college players making it to the pros.  But little boys will dream, and if they work hard enough, you never know … just ask Kevin Grow.



P.S.  If style counts for anything, my boys — with their throwback headbands, big hair and high socks mixed with the current-day trends of oversized shorts, armbands and shooting sleeves — are already on their way.


Talk Dirty to Me

Last Friday, I was stopped in my tracks by three dirty words from my second grader.

After the usual morning madness, the boys managed to get outside with a few minutes to spare before the school bus arrived.  Tossing their backpacks aside (into the snow of course, getting them all wet), they grabbed a ball to shoot hoops.  A quick game of P-I-G?  Nope!  A game of one-on-one ensued, complete with dramatic dives to save loose balls (landing in the same pile of snow where their backpacks lay).  I came out to find them both soaking wet and my youngest was filthy, too.  He had crawled on the dirty garage floor to retrieve the ball from underneath my equally dirty car (don’t judge).  Really?!?


To say I overreacted is an understatement.  There wasn’t enough time for him to wash up and change clothes and I couldn’t drive him to school because I had a morning appointment.  I was annoyed, angry and embarrassed to send him to school that way and I told him so.  Loudly.  Actually, I screamed at him.  After my tirade, I sent him to school wet, dirty and miserable.

Of course, I felt horrible afterwards — really horrible — because my reaction was way out of line with the crime.  I planned on apologizing as soon as he came home from school (yes, another teaching moment of how not to behave, brought to you by Mom!).  Then, to add salt to the wound, I saw this:


“U ROCK MOM,” written in dirt by my     7-year-old

My seven-year-old, before crawling under the filthy car, had scribbled this loving message into the back of my badly-in-need-of-a-wash SUV.  Talk about a dagger through the heart!

This simple, dirty message filled my heart and broke it at the same time.  It reminded me just how sweet and adoring my little guy is, and exposed how far I still have to go to loosen up.  I need to cut him, and myself, some slack!

The thing is, our kids don’t always do the “right” thing.  They make poor choices.  They make mistakes.  They do it their own way, which, I need to keep reminding my recovering perfectionist self, doesn’t make it wrong, just different.  They are kids.  Good kids most of the time, even great kids some of the time … and we are good parents, or at least we try really hard to be.

My mom has an expression she uses to describe my sister and me when we were young:  street angels, house devils.  It’s her way of saying that in public, my sister and I were well-behaved, polite, considerate children.  At home, however, we were often less than perfect and possibly even drove her to drink some days (or eat a box of cookies).


me, Mom, Denise – circa 1975

I think my kids are the same way.  At home, they don’t follow directions, need to be reminded a thousand times about routine things, and even roll around on the dirty garage floor before school.  It’s annoying, frustrating and makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong as a parent.

But then they hold the door open for a stranger entering the store we just left, or offer a hand to the opponent they just fouled in a game, or scribble “U Rock Mom” in dirt on my car.  At these times, I know I’m doing something right, just like my mom and most moms I know.  My boys may not be perfect (not even close), but they are good boys who I hope will grow into even better men …


Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten Season for Christians.  It’s a time of reflection, fasting and repentance.  In our family, we each give up something, like chocolate or swearing, for 40 days.  The boys plan on giving up sweets and arguing with each other (yeah, right!).  As for me, in addition to chocolate and cursing, I’m giving up doubting myself and my parenting skills so I can live more positively and be a better example to my kids.  If I slip up,  I’ll think about my 7-year-old’s dirty message and remember that, in his eyes, I rock.