Humoring Isaac: The #DogOlympics2013

If you would like your dog to do the hurdles, then follow me.

I watched my 7-year old say those words. He had me spike his rebellious Mohawk that morning. It is rebellious not because I disapprove but because his curls make it very difficult to get a good spike. It’s more like a healthy wave.

He spun on his little Jordan clad heel and with a silver whistle in hand, he headed toward the wide field of grass in our neighborhood park. I watched a semi-circle of smiling adults with their dogs follow him to a station set up with the hurdles he had built with his father.

Some of our contestants were members of our family. Some were friends we consider family. Some were new acquaintances that chose to spend their Saturday attending Isaac’s Dog Olympics.

Each dog was wearing a bright bandana that my son had numbered using puff paint. Every dog owner filled out an event sign up sheet so that Isaac knew what event each dog would be competing in. Isaiah, Isaac and I sat down with construction paper, markers and duct tape to create 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons. Isaac and I made peanut butter dog treats shaped like hearts for the contestants.

I watched as my husband walked beside Isaac. He made a great assistant with a pencil tucked behind his ear and a notebook of paper in his hand. He allowed Isaac to lead the event making gentle suggestions here and there. Levi started out as the mascot and ended up pilfering Olympic cupcakes the Dragon Lady made with M&Ms to represent the well-known rings.

He did make the cutest mascot ever.

Dexter & Levi
Dexter & Levi
Photo credit to Jena McShane of McShane Photography and person to Best All Around Dog, Dexter.

Isaiah helped Hitaly with her second puppy. I threw away dog poop, compiled the event registration and offered hugs to all involved. I beamed with pride and laughed with friends who came to fill the role of spectators.

I stood at the edge of the crowd and let my eyes well up with tears.

I watched Isaac, my middle child, my little fish, my sweet boy, lead his family and a crowd of adults. I watched him envision something and then nurture it into reality.

In the weeks leading up to the event I explained the idea to a few friends. I felt like I was trying to justify humoring my son and this summertime project. I almost felt apologetic when I asked people to come.

Hey guys. So my kid wants to do this thing. Come. Or not. You know. Whatever.

It wasn’t whatever. It was big. I am so grateful that my family and friends were there to see it.

Because I can’t explain the big. I can’t explain why my heart has a happy ache as I sit and reflect on it weeks later. You had to see it. You had to be there to watch him confidently addressing and leading adults. If you could have seen him passing out awards to the many winners including overall winners.

Yeah. He thought of that.

Well, you can see some of it in our neighbor George’s photo gallery. I took a few photos too. If that’s not enough, you can see more from our guests on the event page.

When the event was over and Isaac and I were walking home, I asked:

“If you could give me three words that describe how you feel about the Dog Olympics, what would they be?”

He replied right away.

“Loved, passionate and fortunate.”

Let those words roll around in your brain for a minute. My willingness to entertain Isaac’s idea made him feel loved, passionate and fortunate.

I am having a blissed out moment in parenting.

I hope that with a little help, I planted seeds of giant self-esteem and empowerment in that universe sized heart he manages to carry behind a seemingly small cage of ribs. I hope that he always remember how we all showed up, chipped in, followed directions and let him lead. I hope we can do it all again sometime. 

And most of all, I hope that he can grow up feeling loved, passionate and fortunate. Because, holy moly, wouldn’t that be a Mission Accomplished for me and his dad.

Oh Isaac. I love you bigger than the mountains.

With admiration,


PS – To everyone who helped, words will never be enough. Your love for me pales in comparison to the love you give in abundance to my children. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Finding Your Thing: Lessons from the Voluntold

I make my kids do a lot of things.

Most of it is for their benefit. I make them eat healthy foods, brush their teeth, hold hands in the parking lot and generally do things that will prolong their life.

Some things I do purely for myself. Why have children if you cannot ask them to shovel the drive, clear the table or take out the trash? It would just be wasted free labor if I didn’t.

There is too much work to be done in our home to have little idle hands hanging around.

In addition to domestic duties, my children have been subject to my insistence that we are a family of volunteers. They have passed out flyers for my roller derby league*, “worked” in a Habitat for Humanity home and placed stamps on appeals for Nyaka.

Isaiah and Isaac being volunTOLD at Nyaka while Kinzer and Gwenny volunteer.
Isaiah and Isaac being volunTOLD at Nyaka with Kinzer and Gwenny.

My husband and I are the captains of the volunteer ship and rarely even ask if anyone wants to come along. We just place it on the calendar and make sure there are tasks safe for little hands.

As we say on the Vixens, my children are voluntold for tasks not volunteered.

I usually do explain the cause and why we are helping in the car on the way over.

Nothing dramatic.

We support mommy’s roller derby team. We believe everyone should have a home. We believe that all children deserve to be loved and protected.

They usually listen for about three seconds, ask a question or two, sulk if they’d rather be playing video games and eventually realize resistance is futile before pitching in.

It’s not always pretty. Their attention span – especially Vito’s *sigh* – does not permit the dramatic shifting of mountains.

I give my time because I am passionate about service. I believe that it is important to give of your resources but you cannot truly love something if you are not willing to invest sweat equity.

The family that sweats together, loves together?

I don’t know but it seems like if I want my children to love the world around them like I do, then they have to not only see me living by my own words but they need to participate.

Isaiah is now 9-years-old and has been subjected to this lifestyle since I could tie his warm little body onto my chest so my hands could be free. He is starting to ponder deeper questions about the world around him.

He got all googly-eyed when I mentioned liking girls the other day.

I. DIE. It was so cute!

I have always given priority to organizations that serve women and children. Next in line are issues that effect families and then the environment. I’m not huge into fighting for cures or animals. I just never have been.

We all have causes that appeal to us. We have our things. Those are mine.

But what are Isaiah’s things? Does he care about roller derby? Does he want to build homes? Does he care about orphans in Uganda?

I didn’t know because I have never asked.

So one day I asked him a question.

If you could choose one thing to volunteer for, what would it be?

He looked at me kind of funny and needed a little more information before he could answer. So I broke it down for him. Forgive me if some of these terms are not P.C. but I was talking to a child.

Would you want to serve blind people, old people, animals, the environment or….?

I took some time to talk about a few different types of organizations with different beneficiaries and gave him some time to think.

After a moment of deliberation, Isaiah said that if he could choose, he would serve animals and the environment.

Those would be his things.

I was blown away by the fact that his interests were last on my own list. My son loves nature and wants to protect it.

He did not get that from me. I mean, I’m glad for nature and glad for people who keep it together. I’m just not the girl for the job.536964_10151375560588588_911503900_n

As a Christmas gift, I signed Isaiah up to volunteer at the Capital Area Humane Society.

We both attended a short orientation where we were given the rules of how to handle the animals in the shelter.

Isaiah impressed me with his care and attention to details that keep the animals safe from harm.

When he completed his orientation, he changed into his volunteer shirt before going into the grocery store. He could hardly wait to put it on.

Isaiah is the captain of this volunteer ship. We have a set date on the calendar for us to make our monthly visit and we go more often when we have time. As soon as we walk in, Isaiah runs the show. I am only there to chaperone. We visit the animals that he wants to visit and in the order he wants to visit them.

I have learned that he gets overwhelmed if an animal is too hyper or too strong. He remembers their names and asks if they have been adopted when we return. He is incredibly gentle and uses a kind voice with all of the animals. He tries to understand what they want and acts accordingly.

We leave every animal saying,”We hope we never see you again”. Isaiah understands his role is to give comfort to the animals while they wait to be adopted by others.

Watching my son doing his thing has taught me more about who he is inside.

Isaiah volunteeringWhat an incredible gift.

Following him into those kennels has given me a new love for animals and the peace that comes from being their friend.

And this whole time I thought I was the one who was supposed to be handing out lessons. :)



PS – Click here for more information on snuggling up on some sweet dogs, cats and bunnies with your kiddos.

PSS – As I was writing this post I remembered that Isaiah kisses our dog Charlie goodnight every night and I still never guessed his thing. :)

* Shameless promotion: Come watch the Lansing Derby Vixens take on South Bend on April 20th at the Lansing Center! Tickets are just $12 in advance and kids 12 and under are FREE!