Thursday, March 29, 2018

Robots = Life Part I

So those who follow my blog get a dose of needlework interspersed with my musings of how we can make lives better by being respectful of differences and that usually comes through my work in robotics and the small victories.

Life has been especially difficult this year and of course the robotics are the thread that weaves through it all for me.  In a week where a national news story of a random murder touched our team (a friend of one of the girls), one of our families was kinda failing apart emotionally at the six month point over the death of the mother, and our having to decide to move our child from his school because of racism against him - we had two state championships in seven days.  It was unbelievably stressful.  So I am choosing to talk about something that happened that will make you smile (over two blogs, this is the setup) and believe that good can triumph if we all try hard to look for it in others.

I am not ready yet to tell this year's Robot Story - as we aren't done yet.  But it might just top all other years in a way.  Full of life lessons and almost at times made for one of those TV shows on the Hallmark Channel.

The progression for the older team goes through a series of qualifiers to the state level and then super regional and then worlds.  We have a problem in our area with an extraordinary talented region of teams faced with too few teams on a whole to earn slots for advancement.  So while many regions can send 11-15 teams onwards, we are allowed to send only 5.  Last year we had 3 teams in the World's eliminations (ie. best 24 teams in the world).  So every year, more than one team that could have made the World's eliminations will be left behind at this level and their season will be over.  Tragic for those kids.  And you can imagine how hard they all work on their next season while the rest of us are getting beaten up for three more months in the current year competition.  It is making it fierce and has now spilled over to Vermont where they don't have enough teams to run a state competition - so they allow us to come up four hours north and compete in theirs for two spots.

So keeping the state of teams (about 1000 kids) in a balance where we are helping each other and respecting each other is a challenge for us adults - it could get really, really nasty.  At the state championship yesterday, one coach decided to run an hour meeting, closed doors for the rest of us to chat and get to know each other better.  It was a great idea.  Us adults all are in it for the education of the kids and so we were trading ideas and talking about the unique ways we all run our teams.  As my team has dominated the state robot game and world stats for several years, we have noted a really big uptick in nasty comments on social media forums as well as 'memes' with pictures of our kids (one shows my son as the multiplied evil guy from the Matrix, another with one kid floating as Yoda while driving the robot).  Comments run from how we are rich with private jets, the adults do the work, we cheat, and things like that.  Of course, not stating the obvious - the kids work really, really darn hard.  We have become the "Patriots" of our region.

A current internet 'meme' running around the FIRST social media where my son's head is transposed onto everyone like the evil guy in the movie 'The Matrix'.  What starts to happen when a team does well for awhile.
When it came to me, I had to be honest about how we 'recruit' and how/why I got into this, as for all of us coaches it is a thankless and non-paid job no matter if you were a teacher or a parent and everyone had an interesting story.  It is something we all believe in for some reason - so the coaches are often people of principle and character when you dig deep.  I stated that it all started to be a safe place where my dyslexic child could see that he was good at something and we invite only kids with dyslexia, autism, asbergers, ADHD, or some other sensory or medical disability onto the team.  The coaches were stunned.  I then talked about how we were an emotionally wounded team having gone through parent deaths, suicides, and now a murder and how that has made the kids extremely close and makes them have to work through their issues as well as be here all the time as a 'safe place' where they can bury themselves in their joint work.  I then mentioned how my job wasn't to teach them about servos or motors, it was to be a mom and feed their emotional souls and teach them about life and help them deal with what they are all going through.  I stated that our success was born of these difficulties.

I could see in the meeting and during the rest of the day that the tone had changed towards us.  Coaches were chatting nicer to me, other teams were coming over to look at our robot and while our treatment of them hadn't changed (we are really helpful and respectful to others), I could tell how they saw us had turned from the Goliath that kept others from moving on to something else more respectful and positive.

It just shows how you need sometimes to understand someone's story...

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