What I Learned During the First Weekend of March Madness

basketball photo

My first trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2013. Kansas vs. North Carolina.

KEEP CALM, IT’S MARCH MADNESS.  –unknown

They call it March Madness for a reason. Unpredictable and erratic…causing ordinary and sane individuals to suddenly scribble out brackets, clear their schedules and spend hours plugged into an event that spans several weekends. Crazy, right? In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I am a Kansas Jayhawk fan–born and raised in Kansas. A KU alum, I have bought, paid for and wear the t-shirt. The 2014 NCAA tournament marks the 25th consecutive season that the Jayhawks have been a part of the madness. So…my madness has been going on a long, long time.

Every year I go into the tournament looking forward to the fun, the excitement, and often times the anguish of college basketball. I’m consistently impressed by the athletic abilities of these amazing young men. Time after time I find myself discovering new teams to root for and more reasons to vilify teams that aren’t on my top ten list. Each year I anticipate the ups and downs and without fail the tournament delivers. You’d think at some point the whole thing would become tiresome and pointless, but I haven’t crossed that line yet. I guess what I’m trying to say is that after all these years I’m still uncovering the lessons deep within the madness. For example, just the other day I learned something new about myself–I yell louder at the TV when watching basketball alone compared to when I watch with others.  Who knew?  And with that spirit of self-awareness, I offer these “noticings” after this first weekend of tourney play:

1. Life is not fair. Okay, we all know that, but sometimes it really hits you over the head.  Like with Harvard and Stanford.  Really? Not only do you have to be a “brainiac” to go there, chances are you’re well on your way to a successful and high paying career (and not necessarily in the NBA.) That’s a score. To top it off the guys on these basketball teams were both good-looking AND athletically gifted. What line were those dudes standing in and how can the rest of us get an invite. Yes, some people have it ALL and then some!

2. “Lebroning” has totally reached the college crowd. It occurs to me that in addition to team practice and free throw repetition, some coaches must be offering some type of drama course. Some of these players produce very convincing facial expressions and practically injure themselves throwing their bodies around while trying to win over a referee. I love how they act like an innocent bystander…even pointing out elbows and hands in order to avoid getting a foul call. Kudos, fellas. The Academy will be calling.

3. Yelling during free throws. Good gravy…I pray that those are college aged fans or maybe members of a team’s respective pep band. Otherwise, let’s grow up a little. Grown men and women (yes, ladies, I HEAR you) have no business screaming or booing a kid at the free throw line.

4. Speaking of pep bands…what is up with the face paint? For heaven’s sake. This year’s face painting has been especially noticeable. Now, I’m not a face painter myself, but I do recognize that there is good face painting and BAD face painting. Showing your pride through team colors—thumbs up. Looking like you’re trying out for some sort of zombie trumpet player role—thumbs down.

5. If you cry at the game…the camera will find you! When the camera zeroes in on some dejected player, my heart just withers. But you don’t have to be a team member to have your “boo hoo” moment broadcast all over the country. Coach’s wives and kids have become fair game as well. At least when we’re watching the game at home, no one can exploit our sadness 😦

6. Never before have I found myself rooting so hard against my own bracket. I play the odds when it comes to my picks and then find myself cheering for the upset. Every.  Time.  Yes, I have money on the line and yet I still can’t help myself. I get tired of the same teams winning it all year after year.

Sean with tickets to the madness.  Yes, it makes you crazy :)

Sean with tickets to the madness. Yes, it makes you crazy 🙂

7. This year, for the first time ever (in my case) the madness has caused lines to be drawn within my inner circle. I found myself second guessing beloved kin and friends (at one point I publicly announced that I was considering disowning my own son for going against my alma mater.) This stuff is for real!

So, bring on the Sweet Sixteen! I love it. It’s the lion and the lamb, the greatest highs and the deepest lows. We see teams rising to the occasion and others falling flat on their faces. Players and coaches getting caught up in the moment and commentators that make us want to pull our hair out or unplug the TV. (Have you noticed what flip-floppers these announcers are? Good thing this is basketball and not politics. Talk about playing to which ever team is ahead.) Yes, indeed this is March Madness! What else could grab die-hard fans and fun-loving onlookers and unify them into one massive sporting experience? My bracket is basically shot at this point, but I don’t care. Wait… I think that’s another symptom of the madness!

I wish I was at work instead of watching basketball.  Said NO ONE ever.  –unknown

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Just Might Be a Cool Mom

I had this zany idea the other day…let’s make a snow day Harlem Shake video–and upload it on youtube!  What? Yeah, I know. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that pops into the head of a quiet midwest Mom (sometimes I even surprise myself.)  So, how does one arrive at the idea of a snow day Harlem Shake?  Glad you asked.  Let me walk you through it.

The whole thing started when I saw the Kansas Jayhawk basketball team’s Harlem Shake video.  A die-hard Jayhawk fan, I absolutely loved it and shared it with my kids.  They liked it.  Liked it?  That’s right, they liked it as in they watched it once and moved on.  Okay.  Mmmm, maybe this Harlem Shake thing isn’t exactly cool.  But it sure was funny and I soon found myself cruising youtube looking for more Harlem Shake videos.  Before I knew it I had watched a couple dozen videos (some good, some not so good).  Eventually, I decided to turn to everybody’s favorite source for information–Wikipedia–and find out more about these videos.  Turns out it’s this big web frenzy…complete with rules and criteria like masks, costumes, wielding objects and in some cases, very little clothing!  The whole things lasts less than one minute and I thought to myself…it might be fun to make one.  Of course, I never (ever) thought we actually would–but Mother Nature had a better plan.

Enter the big midwest snow storm!  Wednesday’s light snow and modest accumulations  (mixed with the weatherman’s doomsday overnight forecast) led us to cancel Wednesday night activities at church.  A relaxed night of Jayhawk basketball ensued (LOL that game was anything but relaxing!)  Word that school was cancelled for Thursday made room for a laid back morning and an additional 5 inches of snow created opportunities for some outdoor fun.  We could have headed to the backyard to build a snowman (I like snowmen), but blame it on the Jayhawks victory, their funny Harlem Shake video and the rare occurrence of a well-rested Mom and an idea was born.  I announced my plans over lunch.  No one was as excited as I was. 

I headed to the basement to gather some props.  I explained the “rules” of the video to the kiddos and swore that it would take 5 minutes or less to create.  Still, no one moved.  I bribed them with the promise of hot cocoa and extra play time in the snow that afternoon.  They were slow to get moving, grumbled all the way out the door, and gave me blank stares when I directed them into the yard.  My son complained that the whole thing was embarrassing (and he’s an EXTROVERT) while my daughter moped and sulked in the snow.  Three minutes later we were done and they were FREE!  They couldn’t get to their friends fast enough and I was left feeling like the “uncool” Mom with the “uncool” idea of making a Harlem Shake video. 

Fast forward to later that afternoon.  The video had been edited and uploaded.  I asked the kids to come see the finished product.  The smile that crept across their faces was priceless.  My children are hams at heart and love to see themselves on any screen.  They giggled.  They asked me to play it again.  They laughed at themselves, laughed at each other and of course, laughed at their parents.  I linked the video to my Facebook page and we laughed together throughout the day as family and friends liked and commented on our video. 

We were surprised this morning to see that our video had more than 60 views on youtube…for today’s “plugged in” kids that’s a pretty big deal.  Our snow day Harlem Shake video was the buzz at the only hill in town worth sledding on–which means… this little family project just might be labeled a success, that as parents we aren’t that lame and out of touch and finally, that for once (yes once),  I just might be a cool Mom.

No one in this world will ever love you like your Mom.   author unknown

WINK ;) concussions

concussions😉 What I Now Know (W.I.N.K.) about concussions.

Until about  a year ago, I never really worried about my kids getting injured in sports.  Both my children have played ball since the could walk–soccer, flag football, basketball and baseball.  There were plenty of bruises and scrapes, but for the most part nothing serious.  I know that injuries are part of the deal (that’s why I made my son play flag football and not tackle.)  If injuries weren’t reality then we wouldn’t have to sign a zillion papers promising not to sue the YMCA or rec league.  That being said, I still naively thought that broken arms and sprained ankles happened to other people’s kids…and there I go, clicking my heels.

Today, I’m a little neurotic when it comes to sports injuries.  My hypersensitivity comes from my own son’s concussion last January.  My ten-year old went up to intercept a long pass at midcourt, lost his footing and landed on the back of his head.  (He would want me to mention that he DID catch the basketball!)  I will never forget how the whole gym went silent as a group of coaches and my husband ran onto the court.  My son managed to walk off on his own and sat dazed and confused on the bench as a family friend and teacher went to get ice.  At the time none of us could have imagined the scary door this injury would open up for him and our family.

He had a headache and he was grumpy (who wouldn’t be?  It was Saturday night and he had plans to go to a hockey game with a friend.)  What we didn’t realize was that this headache would last four months.  We didn’t go to the emergency room…a rookie mistake.  We did however consult a friend (a paramedic ) who recommended that we see our family doctor first thing on Monday.  The doctor’s examination was thorough and included a trip to the local hospital for x-rays, etc.  It’s amazing the things you learn about your own kids in a doctor’s office setting, you know–things they tell the doctor and not their parents.  Like the fact that when he first hit the floor everything went black for a second.  And that he couldn’t hear out of one ear for most of the weekend.  And finally that his jaw hurt on one side when he chewed (turns out he was chewing on the other side so we wouldn’t know.)  The doctor filled us in on all the results and told us that the scans had all come back clear.  We were relieved.  Now we just had to limit our son’s screen time (TV and computer), make sure he got plenty of rest, and WAIT.  Oh yeah, he couldn’t play any sports until he was headache free for 5 days straight.

I wish I could say that healing was as easy as following the doctor’s instructions.  About three days later we felt comfortable sending him back to school.  In hindsight, that was another rookie mistake.  It’s very hard to limit screen time (and READING) when you’re not present, even if all the teachers understand the situation.    I think that’s where the lesson of this particular injury really comes full circle.  Most of us (myself included) have no idea how serious a concussion is.  We see and hear about athletes all the time who take hard hits and end up  back on the field or the court the next week.  What we don’t realize is that a concussion is a brain injury and we only have one brain.  And brains take time to heal!  Especially children’s brains.  Allowing your child to return to regular activities too soon can lead to a secondary injury.  These can be very serious and cause permanent damage to the brain and even death.  You can check out Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s video for more details about concussions in children.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnIRso_04Ks&feature=player_detailpage

It took four solid months for the headaches to go away.  My son couldn’t participate in gym, recess or any other physical activity.  This is especially deflating to a competitive ten-year old boy who eats, drinks and breathes sports.  About three months in, our doctor recommended we scale back all stimuli and pull him out of school at lunch time.  This is where we really started to see improvement.  Less means more when it comes to healing a concussion!  The Monday after Easter, almost four months to the day of his injury, my son was released for regular activity.  It’s a day I will never forget.

Sean Concussion FREE

Sean with a note from the doctor clearing him for all activities following a concussion. It was a long four months.

So, here’s what I now know about concussions:

1.  Concussions are emergencies.  Have someone look at the injury right away.

2.  Reduce all stimuli for the first week, no exceptions.  This means…no TV, cell phones, computers or electronic devices of any kind.  No reading or school.  No physical activity.  I truly believe that if we had cut out all stimuli during the first week of his injury he would have recovered much faster.  Children will kick and scream, but we must be the parents in this situation.

3.  Remind your children that they must be honest in medical situations and tell you every symptom they’re experiencing.  If I had known that my son blacked out (even momentarily) or that he couldn’t hear out of one ear, we would have certainly responded more urgently and taken him to an ER right away.

4.  Don’t be afraid to make the tough decisions and stand firm.  My son wanted to play basketball again.  We allowed him to go to the games and support his team, but he was DONE for the season.  I will tell you honestly that there was a lot of talk among friends, family and schoolmates about how we were being overprotective parents, questions of my son’s “toughness,” and many who second-guessed the seriousness of concussions in kids.

5.  Find a doctor who understands concussions in children.  We were fortunate.  I cannot tell you how much we value our kid’s doctor!

6.  Pray and ask for prayers.  As a family of faith, we believe that a mighty God was with our son and our family during this time.  The power of prayer cannot be underestimated.  The strength and support offered by our church family was vital.  I could go on and on….

Today, my son is playing basketball again.  Don’t get me wrong–we all held our breath during that first basketball game back and especially during the game that took place in the same gym where he landed on his head.  I am a more fretful mom today and I make no apologies for it.  I cringe and pay extra special attention when I hear about similar injuries.  And I make it a point to tell other parents and family members What I Now Know about concussions.

Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joy, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs, and tears.                    Hippocrates (about 400 B.C.)

What I Now Know (W.I.N.K.) is a recurring entry on this blog.  The idea of WINK as an acronym popped into my head the other day while I was doing laundry.  You see, aside from being a slave to housework I actually have quite a bit of knowledge filed away in my overworked brain.  While I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, I know something about a few subjects that just might be worth sharing.  And just like that this new blog idea was born–WINK (What I Now Know).  I hope to share a little bit of what I’ve learned as a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother and all-around regular, ordinary girl.  Look for ongoing posts, but What I Now Know (as a busy wife and mother) is not to promise weekly entries because life happens– and it usually happens when I want to blog!  (Here’s where if I could wink at you, I WOULD.)

The Tribe Jayhawk

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud Jayhawk!

The Kansas Jayhawks lost the 2012 NCAA Championship game 67-59 on Monday night, but for so many the sting of defeat is already gone.  Maybe I’m speaking for myself, but I sense something different in the Jayhawk nation…something that I hope lasts for a really long time.  I’m talking about gratitude.  You see my alma mater has had a little problem in the past.  Believe it or not, people actually think KU fans are “arrogant” and “haughty”.  Some have even called us “snobby” (and these are the so-called nice comments from people I know and like–you can imagine some of the other names that get bounced around in less polite company!)

I’ll admit, we’ve been spoiled in the past.  Filled with expectations and on occasion, “hard” on our team.  However, this year fans watched, rallied and cheered on a team that was highly questionable compared to past teams and the season was initially dubbed a “rebuilding” year.  Nevertheless, the Jayhawk faithful rearranged their schedules to watch games, purchased additional cable/satellite packages to see them play on networks like ESPNU and donned their KU garb to support the team.  And something wonderful happened…we WON!  And we kept winning–games that polls, commentators, and basketball insiders said the Jayhawks couldn’t win.  That’s when the fun really started!  Around town, at work, in schools, and even before morning worship on Sundays, fans were talking about this unbelievable team.  We were bonding over the near heart attacks and close calls.  We were beaming at Thomas Robinson’s amazing season.  We were marveling at the transformed Jeff Withey who showed up to play this year (thank you Danny Manning and Andrea Hudy!)  We were developing an affection for Tyshawn Taylor during BOTH his ups and his downs.  KU fans were making room in their hearts for less familiar faces on the court–Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Kevin Young and many others.  Basketball fans were (re)discovering this team.  We were falling in love all over again with the Jayhawks…and isn’t that how love happens…when you least expect it!

The thing I have enjoyed the most has been the “love fest” we saw among fans during the NCAA tournament.  In some ways, the tournament was like undertaking a strenuous new exercise program.  There were heart bursting moments, heart attack inducing first halves, heart warming game finishes and ultimately a heartbreaking loss.  It was a real workout!  And post game, the sentiment that ran through everyone from the coach and players, to alumni and fans was true gratitude.  Coach Self gushed about his team and the love he has for each member.  The players spoke of each other like family (not just family, but a family that actually loves each other.)  Sports writers went on and on about how this season exceeded the expectations of so many.  And everybody talked about gratitude.  Gratitude for the effort the team put into the game, gratitude for the talent of the coach and coaching staff and gratitude for the overall “ride.”  This is not a “cinderella” story, the history of the KU basketball program is anything but that.  This is a story of finding $20 dollars in your pocket–you didn’t expect it, you don’t deserve it, you don’t know where it came from or why, but, man, isn’t it AWESOME?  What an amazing season…and just like that it’s all over.

Some people will read this and think I’m going over the top (and those who know me well, know that I’m known for such things.)  Still the whole experience reminds me of something I read once about tribal affiliation.  Many think that tribes are part of the past.  We’re civilized now, right?.  Advanced even.  Yet our thinking, our brain wiring retains some ties to ancient society  Years ago our survival depended upon being part of a tribe.  The tribe was our family.  It was a source of pride.  People were grateful for their tribe.  Nowadays, people equate tribes with regions of the country, brand loyalty, and of course, sport team affiliations.  Today’s tribalism is a source of social recognition, socialization and symbolism.  For myself, being a Jayhawk is not just about belonging to the tribe of my family (yes, we’re ALL Jayhawk fans!), but it’s a reminder of my personal opportunity to grow in education and life knowledge.  The time that I spent in Lawrence taught me so much about who I am and what I believe.  It prepared me for so many different experiences.  It opened doors and took me places that I couldn’t have imagined.  I’m part of the Tribe Jayhawk.  And so here’s where my personal gratitude to a school that I love comes full circle with the gratitude that I feel has infiltrated the hearts of so many Jayhawk basketball fans this season.

In this life, nothing is promised.  In the big scheme of things, college basketball (and sports in general) are like the wind—fleeting.  So when you have the opportunity to see gratitude (even if it’s in something as commonplace as sports), I hope that you’ll recognize it.  More than that I hope you make gratitude part of your every day life.  Nothing makes my heart sing like seeing those around me recognize the blessings in their lives–they are abundant if you just take a moment to look for them.

I don’t know what next’s year basketball season will be like.  Early reports show that the Jayhawks will have a good team.  I know that there are many fans who EXPECT the KU basketball team to be top-rated every year.  Regardless of early predictions, I hope that we will remember this season–and the spirit of gratitude that it brought with it!  A gratitude that made the Jayhawks a better team and the rest of us better fans.

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud and grateful Jayhawk!