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When the four oldest boys were younger, we had them in gymnastics. They were so good that they were on the prep team. We were helped by a scholarship that covered the expense.

The boys practiced four days per week, 3-4 hours each day. I had the younger ones and I would sit in the stands and try to entertain them by reading books, playing games, and so forth.

We lived 35 miles away, so I had to stay in town and I did not have the money to take the little ones elsewhere or pay for a sitter.

The gymnastics club wanted to move the boys to the competitive team, but as the scholarship did not pay for that, we were never able to let them compete.

One afternoon as I was waiting for the boys (and now Maria, too), I was speaking with one of the mothers who had a child competing. Up to this point, I had not realized just how time consuming and expensive it was to go to the meets.

She explained that the competitive team traveled throughout the state and region and that the meets were Friday nights and all day Saturday. They had to pay for a hotel, food, and travel expenses.

At some point in this conversation, I realized that even if I had the money, I had no desire to drag my whole family to meets each weekend, or split my family each weekend as one parent stayed home with the younger children.

Shortly after this, I pulled my children from gymnastics and put them into soccer.

We still had the traveling issue as at the time we lived in southeast Kansas in a town called Niotaze, and played soccer in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. We did that one year and since we had four children playing, we had practices and games on different days, at different times, and so forth.

Soccer took up 3-4 afternoons per week and again, all day Saturday.

At least when it was pretty, the small ones could wander around and enjoy the outdoors. If it was cold or rainy, though, it was miserable.

The following year, the city recreation of Caney, Kansas (a small town 8 miles from Niotaze) started their own soccer program.

Fito and I coached, refereed, and enjoyed not having to travel so far. After a few seasons, he and I became the directors of the soccer program.

That was even better, because we could set up the program as we wished. We did not allow any practices on Wednesday nights or Friday nights.

We scheduled the games so there was less conflict. A couple of seasons, we did not even play or practice on Saturdays.

We simply practiced for so many weeks in the evenings, and then started the games on the same nights. If a team did not have a game that night, they would have a practice.

We still had the same problems that disrupt any sports organization. There were always parents complaining of coaches or referees.

I finally reached the point, that when they came to me with a complaint, I would say:

“Well, I am so glad you came to me. I know for a fact, that he (or she) did not want to coach (or ref). Would you be willing to become the coach?

This would usually change the complainer:

“Oh no…(they would protest)…I can’t be the coach. I don’t have time. You misunderstood me. I wasn’t really meaning to be that critical. He is really a good coach…everything is okay…

(This is a whole lesson in leadership in itself…but that is for another time…)

We had parents who wanted to form a traveling team to compete with other cities, allowing the older youth play that was more competitive.

I believe in competition, I believe it prepares the youth for the business world; however, I did not personally have time nor the inclination to travel with a team. In addition, of course, the ones suggesting it wanted Fito and I to do the actual organizing, coaching, and traveling.

Fito was in college and was already traveling quite a bit as he played soccer for the university, and they went to regionals, then on to nationals.

Other parents and coaches wanted to practice more days and move the games to Saturday.

Others wanted us to give a trophy to each child who played or to eliminate the scores from the game.

To us, this would encourage mediocrity, and we would not allow it.

Our rule was simply that each child enrolled was allowed at least ¼ of playtime of the total game. I would never ask a businessperson to use an employee to do a task that he or she was not suited to do. Nor would I make a coach use a poor player the whole game.

I believe they should be allowed some time as it was a community program and not a private, competitive league; but parents, educators, and trainers need to remember that self-esteem comes from accomplishment, not from flattery.

Flattery may temporary elevate an individual in his or her own eyes for a short time.

But then stark reality will quickly show that person that their capabilities are not equal to the task, they will flounder, and then wonder why they are not succeeding.

This is a cultural phenomena at present.

We have countless individuals who were given trophies, praise, or certificates for merely participating, for purely made up reasons, and now they drift from job to job and wonder why they aren’t CEO yet, and why the world doesn’t know how wonderful and smart they are.

They have no clue (some of them) that it takes hard work, perseverance, dedication, developed skills and talents to progress.

Now I must add an explanation.

Worth is inherent.

Each individual has worth, and simply because they are a son or daughter of God. Each person has inherent value because of God-given gifts and abilities.

The sociologists have taken God out of the equation and have taught that worth is the same as self-esteem. We each have significance and should value each other person for their inherent worth.

Nonetheless, we need to understand that if we do not develop or use our God given abilities and talents we will feel less than we should. We will feel as though something is missing in our life, as though we are floundering.

This is self-esteem.

Self-esteem must be based in accomplishment, but of accomplishing what God would want us to do.

Therefore, we need to help those in our care to understand the difference between individual worth and self-esteem.

We do this by teaching or training character traits (virtues) i.e., self- mastery and teach or train the danger of vice (passion) i.e., addiction.

Now back to my soccer story.

One night we were coming home after an evening of soccer. Five of the children were playing in the program. Three of them had games that night and the other two, practices.

Fito and I each had refereed a game. We had missed one of our children’s games just because we could not be in two places at the same time.

We were reading the scriptures in the car, so we could go to bed when we arrived home.

I had paid a babysitter to watch Felipe, who was a toddler, while I refereed the game. His diaper had not been changed. I was now trying to change it in the car and he was whimpering and crying because he now had a horrible diaper rash.

I took care of him and tried to comfort him. I knew that I needed to bathe him when we reached home.

I was also eight months pregnant with David at the time and there had been some comments I had overheard as I refereed the game.

As I sat in that noisy car, full of tired, hungry, dirty children; a clear, piercing realization came to me that changed the rest of my life. I will never forget that moment.

I realized distinctly that when I was younger and dreamed of being a mother of a large family, that this scenario had never entered my mind.

Obviously, I had realized that there would be difficult times (and we had already passed through some).

Still, this was different.

This was something we had control over. This was something we could change.

In my mind, when I visualized a happy family; I saw them all together, gathered around the table or working or playing together.

At sporting events, usually one child was playing the game; the moms are sitting together-visiting.

The dads are together-yelling at the coach and ref, and the older children are hanging out with their friends, while the younger children either play or whine because they really would rather be somewhere else.

The family usually eats horribly fattening food that has little or no nutritional value and they usually do not share a profound, enlightening, or peaceful moment.

At this moment of truth for me, I knew that I did not want to continue on the path we were on. I wanted something better for my family.

I told Fito what had happened and we had many discussions as the season went on.

We finally reach the decision that we would not continue in soccer. We worked hard to find replacement directors, train referees, and turn the program over to others.

Fito and I believe very strongly in physical fitness. His Bachelor’s degree is in PE and Health. We both have been active our whole lives in outdoor activities and fitness. This was a very difficult decision for us.

We chose instead to pursue family activities where we accomplish something together—as a family—not as individuals.

Gardening, landscaping, outdoor projects, landscaping, walking, bicycling, replaced organized sports.

To this day, 13 years later, we have continued in these activities and have been very careful as to what school or community event, project, activity, or sport we engage in.

We play board games and cards. We have made water ponds, patios, gardens, gazebos, docks, fire pits, forts, tree houses, playhouses, and more. Currently, we are putting together a greenhouse that we bought used, dissembled, and brought to our property.

We work together, we plan the projects, and the children have even drawn plans for ideas.

We also try to do service for others as a family; taking meals, mowing lawns, cutting wood, and so forth.

We play soccer outside, play volleyball anytime we can gather a crowd, jump on the trampoline, climb ropes (not me), go on walks, have dances at the house, and more to keep fit.

When you are not over scheduled or tightly scheduled, life is more peaceful.

You can respond to calls for service when not every night is taken.

Life is calmer and you actually have discussions of relevance with your children.

In my experience, work, service, and gardening should be the top three activities.

Gardening teaches so many of life’s lessons. It also teaches about nature, the scriptures, and truly calms the soul and gives a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Work and service are character traits that are sorely lacking today, and it is sad because work and service are great healers.

They can cure depression, boredom, greed, apathy, anger, insolence, rebellion, self-pity, and more.

When your children are about to drive you crazy with their whininess, rebellion, or sarcasm; find a project.

Build a tree house, make a fort, create a garden, visit a nursing home, feed people in a homeless shelter, etc.

You will feel better, your children will be humbled and satisfied, and all will sleep better and be happier.

Just one final note.

Many times the choices we make are not between evil and good, but between good and that which is better.

Choose the better and find a freedom and peace that you did not know existed.

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