Confessions of an Irish Dance Mom

I admit, it is always a letdown when our March Madness is over. Tara has been Irish dancing with the McNulty School of Irish Dance  for 11 years, and March always brings a whirlwind of performances.  I still remember her first public show, at a senior center in Libertyville.  The affection the audience gives the younger kids, who know the steps to only one or two dances, has not diminished over the years.

I remember the nervousness of handing my 6 year old over to the older dancers—all of maybe 14 or 15—while they finalized their “lineup” and parents decided who would be announcing and also running the music.  The procedure became routine as we danced over the years at parades, churches, grocery stores, fundraisers, restaurants, weddings, private parties, taverns, malls, libraries.

June parade from about 2004.
June parade from about 2004.

Soon my little girl was the one in-charge of the line up, checking off the dancers there, rehearsing, fixing costumes.  They graduated from skirts and vests to class costumes to finally the sparkly solo dresses, as their abilities increased. These young ladies (and a few young men) have grown into leaders, occasionally fighting off stage moms who want to take charge.  Great practice for beating down bullies.

Navy Pier, 2008

We moms drive from show to show during this busy month, with cars full of dresses, sock glue, make up, sound systems, water, snacks,as performances are added  throughout the day.

We chauffeurs have our own stresses of finding unknown places (thank God for GPS now), no outlets for the sound systems, Ipod malfunctions (way better than the CD’s we used to have to swap out), finding a place to hang out in some smaller locations, dealing with unfriendly managers, forgetting names of parents we only see once a year, dealing with a few parents we would rather avoid, fixing wardrobe-makeup-wig malfunctions.  It is exhilarating but exhausting, trying to help the shows run on time and without incident.   I think my feet hurt almost as the dancers at the end of the day.

This weekend was spectacular, as the older girls in my group had fun between shows putting on their own “flash mob” performance at a train station full of surprised and happy revelers headed to Chicago, videotaping themselves dancing on the streets, two-hour prep before a completely different costumes and hair at the Genesee Theater, five-minute notice to dance with the Shannon Rovers.

Finale of awesome Genesee Theater performance, 2012.

These kids get an immense amount of credit, for performing the fourth show of the day with as much energy as the first.  Kicks as high for twenty people in the audience as 1200.  Whispering start counts and encouragement to the younger dancers, some doing their first shows. Cheering for their partners.  Some (yes, you Breda) announcing shows.  Changing plans and costumes on the fly as shows change mid-stream.

People may put away their green shirts, green beer, green beads, shamrock hats until next year,  but the Irish dancers keep up with the hop-two-threes until the next show.  The countdown to my final year of March madness begins now.  C

PS.  Since people have asked, Tara is a little blond right behind the banner in the top pic, on the right in the middle pic, and the “boy” second from the right in the final shot.

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Football Frenzy

I grew up loving football,  sometimes wishing I was a boy so I could play tackle football, and ended up on the sidelines in college taking football photos.  But the thought of my 8-year-old playing tackle football scared me to no end.  He is an average size kid and a decent athlete, but he wanted, no he begged, to play TACKLE football. After saying no-no-no, I realized I needed to let him try it and decide himself if he liked hitting and being hit and the glory of the game.

After years of being a soccer mom for 3 kids, immersion into our football culture has been eye-opening to say the least. Before the teams were picked, the jockeying amongst the parents to get their kids on a specific team was embarrassing.  Yelling at 8-year olds on their first day of tackling–by their dads on the sidelines– was appalling.  As if the team they make now will control their life destiny.  

We wanted him to learn how a refereed game is different than the backyard one, play a position,  put on and wear all the equipment (I certainly had no idea how many layers they wore), how much it really hurts to tackle and be at the bottom of the pile,  meet some new boys and most importantly, have FUN!  What a shocker–my son has worn a girdle before me!

The sideline paraphenalia was overwhelming–team pins and shakers and welcome pizza parties and banners and songs and many people decorating their cars–but once the first whistle blew, the overwhelmingness was all forgotten.  We were parents, some still strangers, coming together to support our sons. 

So impressive, how much they had all learned from their volunteer coaches in such a short time, how exciting it was to watch them!, how they worked together, how the parents cheered on all the boys, and how exciting the game was compared to my vision of little boys playing their first game running willy nilly around the field.  And how great to have no negative cheering from our sidelines.

Sadly, we lost on the final overtime play, but did it really matter?  The boys, once strangers like their parents, played like a team in their first game, and are looking forward to next weekend.  I am eager to watch their playing progression this fall.  And which will he choose for next year–soccer or football…or something else? C

Camp Check-In

Have you ever waited at a camp check-in for overnight camp?  The nervous and the calm moms, the braggarts, the newbies, a few dads sitting in plastic chairs while the kids start clamoring and the anticipation builds until 2:00–when the kids can find out their cabins and make a mad dash to get a bunk next to their friends.

The camp is truly a wonderful place, with all the typical activities: horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, crafts, any number of sports, singing, campfires, with the children all learning about others and themselves. Realistically, I don’t think the camp activities have changed much from a camp I attended as a young teen.

My friend Laura and I have a routine, now in our third year taking our four girls to camp in Indiana (first year for our younger set).  We leave early morning, then stop at the most fabulous German bakery a short drive from the camp for lunch.  We arrive in the staging area about 1:00, pull up our chairs and grab our books, while the girls wander about the grounds.  We talk quietly; there is not stage, but you would not know that from some of the other mothers around us.  They babble loudly, glancing to see who is looking, as they ramble about their kids’ experiences at the camp before,  how many girls they already know, blah-blah-blah.

Shortly before check-in, the staff realized they did not have enough check-in tables. They told people they would open 3 more lines, so people could move over. I was stunned to see some very uncharitable behaviour displayed at this Christian camp.  As a row or two in front of us moved over, we stood to move up to take their empty chairs.  Instead, a group of moms behind us practically pushed us out of the way to move ahead of us. I felt like I was in Filene’s Basement crush looking at wedding dresses.  How embarassing–in front of their children!

As we drove to their cabins to drop off their bags (the teen bags like kryptonite, what can they possibly have in there?) on the gravel one-way road around the cabins, people drove in every direction, clamoring to get a spot.  Once the bunks were secured, the pushy moms’ anxiety level must have decreased tenfold.  As I waited with my blinker on to turn into a parking spot, a woman cut me off to get in first!  Crazy, as there was another open spot and my girls were already situated.

I am certain that once all the families left, the kids were perfectly content to revel in being with all kids. And hopefully didn’t learn any lessons from their parents that day.  I am hopeful that once the girls complete their non-electronic two-weeks of fun with no ipod, phone, computer, TV, Wii , they will find other activites to fill their summer hours once they get home. Wishful thinking, perhaps. C