Our structure--will it hold weight?

Odyssey of the Mind (OTM) Competition is today. All. Day. The first problem is at 9am and the awards ceremony is at 6pm. I will be at two different schools today in another town, hoping my team performs their best, but not good enough to advance to states.

Now that’s what you call being painfully honest.

My co-coach has done 10X more work than I have: filling out paperwork (which is ridiculously long and complex) and hosting practices before school during the week. Last night as we talked final details, I think we were both hoping for 4th place. On Thursday they had “show off day” at school, which was basically a dry run for today’s skit portion of the challenge. I had to work, but my co-coach tells me they did well. Except that my son and her son kept running across the stage in search of some prop.

Normal 4th grade boy behavior, right?

Problem is there are other 4th grade teams who have been coached by a tiger mom. I’ve seen them on Monday nights: all serious, organized, working hard to solve problems while my team talked farts, butts and gave other point-eliminating answers.

I have to say, this time around, I’m glad I embraced Kristin’s philosophy to just be mediocre.

OTM is probably the most challenging and creative adventure my son has ever had in school. And while I dreaded the long hours–and was warned by other moms to run as fast as I could away from the role of coach–I do think the experience was valuable for the kids. Watching their little minds try to solve complex problems, seeing them figure out how to work as a team, hearing their wild, crazy and outrageous answers to questions like “What are some ways to use the word ‘can’?” (answer: Pecan) was quite entertaining. And at times, even rewarding.

Since I will never coach a sports team, and it’s unlikely you’ll find me at a Cub Scout meeting, I guess this is the closest I’ve come to watching a group of kids bond and grow together.

Fingers crossed they walk away with a ribbon and there are smiles at the end of the day. It’s all a mediocre coach can hope for.


14 Responses to Competition Day

  1. Amanda says:

    Good luck Erin!

  2. Kat says:

    Good luck, but not too much… And I totally get how you feel. We were notified my son had been nominated for All District Band, and while that was exciting, we sort of hoped he wouldn’t make it. He did, and now we have 6-8 weeks of insane rehearsal schedules to accommodate as well as anadditional concert to sit through. Ah, the joys of motherhood!

  3. Kristin says:

    Giving yourself permission to embrace Kristin’s mantra is huge. Someone has to be mediocre, because we simply cannot all be absolutely amazing. Do your best, Tommy and try and enjoy as much as possible, Erin!

  4. Lisa says:

    Good luck to everyone–both for doing well but not the additional work part.

    Lay off the other mothers in the competition though. The fact that other people have kids with other personalities (like ones who don’t feel a need to run across the stage in search of a prop) doesn’t make them tiger moms. No matter how much of a so-called tiger mom anyone is, the thing that makes a difference in the end is a kid’s personality and innate talents. (Also, I suspect that some of the coaches themselves also excel in some of these areas and shockingly, their genes were handed down. Is it really shocking that my daughter excels in music when her mother has a PhD in the field? She’s the one who asked to study violin (an instrument I never would have suggested!) when she was 3 (thanks to Sesame Street; I made her wait until she was 4), and I think it’s because our genes are attracted to music, not to mention the fact that she’s exposed to it a fair amount too. But when it comes to sports or dancing or gymnastics? Forget about it. I run 20+ miles a week, but there’s no amount of coaching that will ever make me anything other than average. That’s true of my oldest too (shocking, I know!).

    Your oldest clearly is a very bright, articulate and energetic young man who will undoubtedly be highly successful as an adult–just like his mother is. Rather than name-calling, let’s just let everyone be good at what they’re good at and leave it be.

  5. AnnKing says:

    Well said, Lisa.

  6. Kristen says:

    I don’t think describing someone as a tiger mom is name calling, nor is it necessarily negative – it’s just a way to highlight the difference between the two teams and the approaches of the coaches. Erin doesn’t strike me as someone who would resort to name-calling on her blog.

  7. Susan says:

    I sit and read this while taking a break from helping my daughter and her team still struggle with their problem for the OM competition next Saturday. This is their second time competing, after making it to the World finals last year (which was amazing). It has been a crazy adventure of all of us, but so worth it! My daughter has gained so much confidence and learned so much from the OM experience that all the hours and stress are worth it! I am sorry you couldn’t make it to the competition, it is fun to watch! Hope your team did great, and if we both make it to the state finals (we are in NY also), I’ll make sure to stop by to say hello!

  8. Karen says:

    Hope it went well for Tommy’s team, and you survived the day unscathed. I’m cravenly glad they don’t have Odyssey of the Mind at my girls’ school, or I’d likely end up doing that as well as the Daisy troop and pulling out even more hair. Bad mom . . .

  9. Erin says:

    I of course use the word “tiger mom” because it’s become popular.

    What I meant by that–and stand by–is some coaches clearly take this more seriously than I did and I’m not faulting them, I’m just saying what is the reality. When I went to the competition yesterday I was shocked and amazed to learn how many 4th grade teams had balsa wood structures that held close to 100 pounds. Some even more!

    Knowing how hard it was to get one single structure made with no outside assistance–meaning no parental involvement–made me wonder how these other teams got that done. Are their parents engineers? Perhaps.

    Our team did not place, but fortunately, we didn’t come in last!

    As I sat at the award ceremony in an auditorium filled with bright, creative, super-smart kids, it broke my heart a little to see my guy’s eyes well up when the other team from his school placed 2nd for the same problem.

    At weigh-in our structure was .5 grams over weight, despite having weighed it several times at home. My son started shaving pieces of balsa wood away with gardening shears in the 20 minutes before his team went on (not the safest idea) and in the end only got it down .4 grams. This disqualified the structure for greater weight points. I suspect this last-minute attempt ultimately weakened the structure and it crushed at 40 pounds.

    As much as I tried to embrace the mediocre philosophy, sitting in the awards ceremony, I suddenly found myself feeling a little competitive as I watched other teams screech, hug and giggle as they picked up their ribbons and trophies.

    Then I acknowledged an obvious truth. I’ll probably be back next year. Roaring like a tiger.

  10. Christine says:

    Congratulations on completing! Our competition was yesterday too. Left the house at 6am, awards ceremony was still going at 7pm!

    We were stunned by the weights in our division. When the lone high school entry managed to hold up an amazing 850 pounds we were impressed but chalked it up to it being a high school team that was in their 7th year at the competition. And then a team in the elementary division posted 830#. I’ll admit, it did at least fleetingly cross my mind that there may have been a tad bit of outside influence. Especially as they were from the same private school. But regardless, the three other teams in our division all posted more than 200 pounds. We arrived with a structure we felt confident would hold 125# based on earlier testing with similar structures. Our weight-placer dropped the first weight (nerves I assume, although he had similar performances at almost every practice run we had) and we collapsed at 30#.

    Added to that, we’d clarified the mathematical device through official channels and had our copy of the clarification with us, but the judge at competition basically said that the clarification we were given was incorrect (the clarifier didn’t have the right answer), so we’d done it wrong. The kids were able to change things enough to make him happy, but it delayed our start and made them improv most of the skit and generally sucked the fun out of the experience (especially for us coaches who were amazing at not expressing our opinion of the judges opinion!).

    But the spontaneous problem went well, the kids had a blast all day (up until they actually competed) and we’re all good for repeating the process next year. If you coach again, I’m happy to pass along some spontaneous problem sites I discovered late in the game that I wished I had had in October. Along with a longer explanation about the clarification process (the judge seemed to think that we should have known not to believe the clarification and that we accepted the information at face value “because it was our first year” – have a game plan for all future correspondence with the clarifying people).

    We were the second-to-last team to compete all day, so we had waited five and a half hours to do the spontaneous and then another two hours to do the long term and after the disaster that was that portion, everyone decided to pack it up and go enjoy a good dinner instead of waiting three more hours for the closing ceremonies!

    I’m looking forward to packing up our supplies and hiding them for a few months! We’re excited to have most of our team already set for next year (at our school you can just sign up for Odyssey and get put on a team, or you can sign up as an intact team – we’re all over that next year!); we’ve got lots of ideas for what we’ll do differently and we’re grateful we aren’t prepping for State in April (although posting 100# on that stupid structure sure would have been nice!!!).

  11. Shauna says:

    Lisa if you think Erin was name calling you clearly don’t listen much to the podcast, especially the last one. Literally ( that’s for you Erin ) thats all the podcast was about, their sensitivity to being PC, not offending anyone and how hard it’s to do. So much so that it takes the joy and spontaneity out of their show at times.

    Tiger Mom is a new, nice phrase to express a certain group of talented, hardworking and focused moms, like Soccer Moms, everyone knows the qualities that person possess without having to find a whole bunch of other PC words. Heck there’s a book titled that and a whole group of mom proud to be called Tiger Moms!

    I wouldn’t have been so PC I would have said insane, overbearing, pushy, and meddling at any cost to win parents. Perhaps that’s why they’re THE Manic Mommies and I am not a famous podcast/blogger.

    Erin, you are not striving to be mediocre or doing anything wrong. You are giving Tommy a wonderful gift. You are not pushing him way beyond his abilities to the point of misery. He will remember this as a wonderful, fun and hopefully rewarding experience that the shared with his mom, instead of a miserable one filled with strict rules and pressure.

    NO I’m not saying that the other teams will have bad memories and that’s what their “TigerMoms” are doing. I’m saying you know what Tommy is capable of and just having him in this is broadening his abilities, why take something fun for him & ruin it. You aren’t mediocre, you excel at being an amazing, loving, thoughtful & DEDICATED mom who does all she can for both of her boys & making them get the most out of their experience.

    My son IS Tommy minus a few years and I have him in hockey. Do I want to go twice a week to a rink, strapping a now 6 year old in gobs of gear, sit in an ice cold arena with his 3 year old brother and watch him barley keep up and him get mad and depressed because there are 2nd year kids who skate circles around him? No but it’s good for him, his ADHD and ultimately his social skills. I do NOT play hours upon hours of street hockey with him in between games. I don’t sit and watch every hockey game on tv for pointers and I have NOT built a rink in my back yard like some of his teammates. WHY? Because it would produce nothing but stress and resentment on both our parts. He’s not that kid. He loves visiting friends who do all those things and does them with them when he goes BUT hes also happy coming home & playing Lego or Wii.
    Am I slacker, mediocre mom? According to the hockey moms, yes, to my son no! I’m a cool mom who loves him! Just like you Erin!
    If all I do is strive to be like the Manic Mommies I think I’m striving pretty damn high!

  12. Susan says:

    Bravo, Shauna! Well said. Love you, Erin- you are an inspiration to all of us Moms!

  13. Wendy says:

    Erin – I knew what you meant by Tiger Mom and I was ok with it. :)

  14. Juli says:

    Shauna – perfect reply, loved it. I didn’t want to add anything, just that you took the words out of my head and put them down first :)