Sunday, January 29, 2017

In a Parallel Universe

This second decade is certainly getting off to a slow start.

In my second-to-last post--from a week and a half ago already!--I celebrated the accomplishment of one entire decade of blogging, then looked forward with anticipation to the next.  And then I went silent, except for one short little post, for eleven days, which is not my usual modus operandi.

The first three days of my absence here can be attributed to the speech and debate tournament Josiah participated in, mentioned briefly in this post.  The hours were long, and the pace was grueling, leaving little time for extras; and so blogging fell to the wayside.

After that, I could have blogged, but didn't, finding some reason each night to put off for another day this glimpse into our life during the tournament--or any other blog post, for that matter.  I could blame part of that on continued fatigue as I tried to catch up from the exhaustion of the tournament, but in reality, I was probably just enjoying the break.  ;-)

You see, while I was at the speech and debate tournament, I felt like I was living in a parallel universe, only vaguely aware of what was happening outside the walls of our tournament location.  I would hop onto Facebook to post a picture, for example, and would see what other people were posting about life in the real world--but only as if I were looking through a fog.  I would think of someone--a mission team from our church, for instance, who was returning from India--and would take a moment to pray for them before all my focus returned to the world I was existing in.  I even realized with a jolt on Friday morning, January 20, that we had a new President.  Unlike previous years, I didn't watch even a minute of the inauguration or any of the hoopla surrounding it.  The world went along just fine on the outside, but I only paid attention to what was happening on the inside, in the immediate vicinity around me.

When the tournament was over, I was ready to return to real life; but in the meantime, I had learned something: I'm happier when I spend less time on Facebook, and I'm definitely more peaceful if I pay less attention to politics.

I'm not advocating the head-in-the-sand approach to everyone, because I believe some people are called to use their voice to try to influence others in the public realm--whether that be in a legislative body or simply through social media.  But I've been so disgusted by politics during the past year or two that my absence from that realm now has brought about a reduction in my blood pressure, I'm sure!  ;-)

So, what was life like in that parallel universe that existed for three and a half days?  I'll tell you, and intersperse the telling between pictures I randomly snapped on my cell phone during the tournament.

For Benjamin, the tournament meant new territory to explore, new floors to crawl on, new people to smile at, and generally a grand adventure.  Since it was held in Fishersville, I had to wake him up each morning about 5:45 a.m. so that we could leave here shortly after 6:00 a.m. (on the mornings we needed to go by Strite's Donuts on our way to pick up the donuts they were generously donating for judge hospitality) or 6:30 a.m. (on the morning we could go directly to the tournament).  That is not his usual wake-up time, but he didn't complain.  In fact, the last morning, as we were driving south, all the occupants of our van were fairly silent, either veering towards the realm of Slightly Grumpy or teetering on the edge of Half Asleep.  But not Benjamin.  He was happily doing his version of "singing," not bothered at all by the fact that the sun hadn't even come up yet when we had to pull him out of his warm, cozy bed!  By the way, on Thursday morning as we traveled south, we saw a gorgeous sunrise.  We kept watching it and watching it and really soaked in the beauty of that splendid sight.  I thought, "Wow!  If we hadn't had to get up so early, we would have missed this!  I'm sure glad we got to see it."  But, sad to say, that thought hasn't convinced me to get up that early the mornings since the tournament, just to see if another beautiful sunrise might be happening!  ;-)
I took snacks and activities for Benjamin, but he mostly liked the chance to scoot around and see new things, which was usually fine--unless I happened to need to be doing something else, like helping to serve food to the competitors and their families.  I got some extra practice in the area of How Much Can You Do with One Arm?
Each day, Jeff got off work early to come down and get the younger kids and take them home; and until he drove into the parking lot in our old white Chrysler (modern-day equivalent to a dashing knight on a white horse), I felt a level of stress about how the kids, particularly Benjamin, would do.  Sure, they could all be happy one minute, but what might happen in the next?  Would Benjamin get fussy and inconsolable, especially as his fatigue built up?  Would I be able to handle everything and meet the needs of all of them?  As it turned out, Benjamin never hit the wall.  Sure, he needed a little extra attention from time to time, and sure, sometimes his diaper needed changing when it wasn't exactly convenient.  But there were no major meltdowns, and overall, he was a cheerful little fellow who brought a smile, not only to my face as I watched him and snuggled with him and carried him on my left hip, but also to the faces of others.  They particularly liked watching his unique method of scooting across the floor.  ;-)
Moriah spent quite a bit of time playing with the activities we had brought along, especially coloring books and notebook paper.  She does love to draw!  Besides that, she sometimes helped with Benjamin--like giving him pieces of food when he was sitting in his stroller and I needed to help with other things--and also enjoyed running up and down a sidewalk area between two buildings.  An occasional break to get some fresh air and stretch her legs did wonders, when the prolonged inside time was getting to be too much.  When we were outside together, she would sometimes wonder what to do, and I would ask her to count the blocks in the sidewalk or some such thing, and she would do so happily, giving me time one day to actually have a sort-of-extended conversation with an NCFCA mom that I had not met before!  :)  The other thing that was special for Moriah during these days was that occasionally one of the moms who was helping with food would have a job for Moriah to do--like helping Linda S. roll a cart downstairs to get some supplies from Linda B. or helping Patti put out bags of chips on a tray (as can be seen in a picture later in this post).  I was SO grateful for the way they included her and made her feel important.  :)  Their kindness touched my heart and brought delight to Moriah's soul!
Shav spent HOURS playing at this table with the things we brought, and I was thankful once again for his easy-going, self-entertaining, non-demanding personality.  I remembered from our tournament last year how much he enjoyed playing with these magnetic pieces, so I brought them along and, sure enough, they were a huge hit--not only for Shav and Tobin, but also for other younger siblings of competitors--and even (as you'll see in later pics) some of the competitors themselves!  :)  I'll also add that Shav was an invaluable help from time to time with Benjamin, willingly watching out for him when I was called away.
Here Shav describes one of his creations.  :)
I'll pause here to add that one of the neat things about these tournaments is how friendly everyone is.  Just like last year, Benjamin got to hang out with some kind "big kids" when they weren't giving speeches or debating.  :)

One of the competitors even paused to play a game with Tobin and Shav one day.  :)
I just love the way Benjamin sits, with legs crossed and one foot on top of the other.  This is a common pose for him, and I think it's so cute.  :)
Benjamin loved scooting under the table where his older siblings were playing...
...and he loved pushing this little car along.  It makes a satisfying click-click-click as it goes along, and it has an easy-to-hold handle.  Perfect for Benjamin's stage of life.  :)
I've described what Benjamin, Moriah, and Shav did to fill their time; but what about Tobin and David?
Well, they could occasionally be found at this table, too; but what they did most of the time (and really loved to do) was be timers for the rounds.  You see, there are some limited prep events in which, for example, the speaker is given a topic and two minutes to prepare a five-minute speech.  The person doing the timing in those rooms keeps a close eye on the time and calls out certain times during the prep time--then gives certain hand signals during the speech itself.  David had done a good bit of that last year and was quite proficient in doing it again.  Tobin had done a little last year and had watched some but wasn't completely confident; the lady in charge of timing this year had an older, more experienced timer watch him at first to make sure he was doing it right.  But even before that round was up, she told the other timer he could leave because Tobin was doing such a good job with it.  He really, really enjoyed getting to do this.  :)
When David wasn't timing, he was often off with (or without) Josiah, watching a debate round, for example, or sitting in a circle with the big kids and talking with them.  That was fun for him.  :)
OK, more pics...  Fewer words...  :)

Shav used the dice from our Tenzi game as soldiers in his epic battle.  :)

It struck me at this tournament how grown-up Josiah is becoming.  Actually, I barely saw him the whole time.  :)  He had entered so many categories of speeches that he was kept quite busy. Besides Lincoln-Douglas debate, he did an Informative speech, a Persuasive speech, Impromptu speeches (that's one of those limited prep events I described earlier), and an Open Interpretation (basically, acting out a book--in his case, a children's book about Anansi the Spider). I think he barely ate, and every time I saw him, I would encourage him to please eat something.  ;-)  One day I spotted him in this common area, munching on a banana, and I was happy.  ;-)
He enjoyed this tournament so much, and it is a JOY to see him grow in intellect, maturity, communication skills, and character.  Unlike last year when he didn't place high enough to advance to the next level, this year he "broke" (the term they use for moving on to the next level) in his Open Interp, so he is qualified to go to the Regionals championship in April.  When they announced that he broke to Semifinals in this tournament--and then later, after that round, when they announced that he broke to Finals--we were OVERJOYED.  There was some serious elation happening; as he told me later, it was one of the happiest moments of his life.  I did what I always do in moments like that: I cried.  ;-)  One of the sweet girls who was competing saw me in the bathroom where I was dabbing my eyes and trying not to completely lose it, and she was concerned about me.  I managed to choke out the cause of my tears, and she gave me a hug.  :)  Later, our paths crossed in the common area, and she told me again how happy she was for me and Josiah.  I loved that.  :)
Oh, that's another great thing about NCFCA: as keenly as the competitors want to win, they also desire to help each other.  Josiah was part of a group of debaters, for example, that got together online and shared their cases with each other so they could help each other and strengthen each other's arguments.  These are kids who debate each other in the tournaments; and obviously, one of them has to win.  And yet, rather than trying to make each other weaker, they're actually helping each other become stronger.  It's amazing.  They also pray with each other.  It's an incredible feeling as a mom to look across a room of teenagers and see the guy you judged that morning in an Apologetics round praying with your son...or to see your son and a group of his friends surrounding one of their friends who is getting ready to give a speech and praying that God will guide her words and help them to be effective.  How did we get so blessed that this is Josiah's chosen circle?!
On Saturday, we had a real treat when our friend Grace (who is an accomplished NCFCA-er but has had some serious health problems this year and hasn't been able to compete yet) and her family showed up at the tournament.  Grace has helped Josiah tremendously with his speeches, and it was so special to see her there.  Her mom, Kristine, took the next four pictures and kindly shared them with me (and Grace shared the above photo with me).  Of course, I love this one of Josiah and I...
 ...but I love the next three a whole bunch, too, because Kristine got to sit in during Josiah's final round, and she took these during that time.  Josiah doesn't actually want me to sit in when he's giving his speeches (and I don't mind! I understand how my presence could add to his nervousness, and I don't want that), so it was fun to have this glimpse through Kristine's eyes.  :)

Here is the picture I mentioned earlier.  Patti was "needing" some help with those chip bags, and Moriah was doing a great job.  ;-)
Here's a little glimpse of Benjamin in action on the last day of the tournament.  This was the day he needed to stay the longest before Jeff could pick up him and Moriah and Shav, and I discovered that letting him put granola bars into their box, then dump them out, kept him entertained for quite a while.  Whatever works, right?  :)
I know the names on this list don't mean anything to my blog readers, but I'm including it here for memory's sake.  These other competitors are very experienced and very accomplished, and to see Josiah listed with this group was thrilling.  :)
On Thursday and Friday, Benjamin would fall asleep fairly quickly in the car when Jeff picked him up--and usually Benjamin wasn't the only snoozer.  ;-)  On Saturday, however, Benjamin fell asleep (finally) in his stroller about 3: 15 or so.
I didn't have anything I needed to do inside at that point, and the weather was wonderfully warm outside (such a nice thing in January!), so I pushed Benjamin outside and let him nap while I watched the other kids run around.
So fun to watch a baby sleep.  :)
During the awards ceremony Saturday evening, I managed to catch this little snippet of Josiah's name being called.  NCFCA has a particular way they run these ceremonies, and it was so very exciting for us to hear Josiah's name for the first time ever in one of them.
The first time, yes.  But I'm hopeful it won't be the last.  The NCFCA bug has bitten Josiah hard, and he's extremely motivated to write, revise, and practice speeches, as well as get better in the area of debate.  He's already planning what he'd like to do next year (although he is still competing in at least one more tournament this year) and is lamenting the fact that he can't do something in EVERY category.  He absolutely loves it.

Sort of to my surprise, I've discovered that I do, too.  Before the tournament, I was confessing to another mom that I kind of have a love-hate relationship with NCFCA.  I love what it stands for, how it's run, and what kind of fruit it's producing in Josiah's life; but it is a sacrifice to take him to club meetings, to help him prepare here at home, and to be involved in tournaments.  The other mom knew exactly what I was talking about.

But then, this tournament began; and whereas last year I was just struggling to keep my head above water and was totally overwhelmed by the tournament, NCFCA, and life in general, this year I thoroughly enjoyed the tournament and discovered, to my shock, that I really love judging!  :)  I didn't get to judge any rounds last year--Benjamin was a nursing baby, and that isn't conducive to being a judge.  But this year, on Thursday and Friday after Jeff took the little ones home, I was able to judge two rounds on each day, and had so much fun doing that.  Previously, I had been very intimidated by the thought of judging; but as I began to do it, although I sometimes wished I could give everyone first place because they were all SO GOOD, I found out that it was heaps of fun.  The tournament was so much more enjoyable when I could be involved in it, too--involved beyond the basic level of showing-up that I did last year.

Last year, I rather reluctantly tiptoed into the world of speech and debate.  This year, I realized that I'm in.

I'm all in.

How soon can we go to another tournament?  :)

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