Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What an Odyssey!! Even Homer Couldn't Have Written a Post Like This!

It was a true Odyssey. And almost as long as Homer's. As is this blog post. But don't let that scare you. It's worth it.

We had a long journey to a faraway place. We had sagas on the return trip. We had competition and fierce battles. We met people from exotic places. We were heroes on more than one occasion. It was a fantastic adventure of enormous proportions. So read on because I'm about to rock the blog with the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals Post of the Century.

At the Opening Ceremonies they showed the following video on the big megascreen thing in the arena. It gives you a feel for it - but it doesn't accurately cover the scope and magnitude of the thing, you know? I mean, there are over 800 teams from all over the planet. Some of my team's feet are in the video - along with their suitcases. When we pulled in front of our dorm in our painted up van there was a video guy filming us - so the painted tan van is ours. He didn't ask us to form a pyramid in our matching shirts while singing or chanting some little clever thing about Texas.

A) No matching shirts for my team. They are anti-matching shirts kinds of kids. They were forced to wear their matching shirts at the opening and closing ceremonies and several of them actually took along different shirts to change into when the ceremonies were over. See what I have to deal with?

B) They are not the kind of kids to spontaneously build a pyramid and begin chanting. With the exception of one or two, they really prefer not to attract attention to themselves. Here's the video:

We set sail to a rocky start - we were over an hour behind schedule before we even left. The van had wires running all through it and the kids were plugged into the Collective. We are Borg. Seriously. Totally assimilated. Resistance is futile. Sorry for this, by the way. Most Odyssey people are total dorks and we are not exceptions.)

We hooked up with our other carload in San Marcos, TX - where we had our final fix of breakfast tacos before heading to Arkansas, where we would spend the first night.

"Are we out of Texas yet?" became the mantra from the back seats.

"NO," became the mantra from the front seat.

Then FINALLY!! Arkansas!! We stopped at a visitor's center for a bathroom break and I called Jeff to tell him we were in Arkansas. Ellie wandered in and I gave her an Arkansas sticker. Woot! She walked around the center, went to the bathroom, and got back in the car with her sticker (she was in the "other" car). Then Jeff calls me laughing and says that he had called Ellie to congratulate her on making it into Arkansas and she'd said, "What? We're in Arkansas? Nobody tells me anything." And seriously, folks....she's our smart one.

When they tired of movies they entertained themselves with Finger Puppet Plays made from duct tape (and fingers). This particular cast was from The Wizard of Oz, courtesy of Devin. Devin likes duct tape. By the end of the week he had rigged up his cowboy hat with duct tape so that it held a spotlight, his sunglasses, his headphones, and other stuff.

Lots of interesting truckstop bathroom breaks allowed us to cross off "Health" and "Sex Ed" from our homeschooling mamas' List of Awkward Subjects. Just kidding. None of us have such a list. We were slaphappy drunk with exhaustion from driving in a van with teenagers for endless hours and expressed this state of being by taking pictures of bathroom vending machines. We thought it was hilarious at the time. Because we were very, very, very exhausted. Not because it was actually hilarious.

We stopped at a hotel for the night and then back into the car not-as-early-as-we-should-have the next morning. We were feeling much more productive on that second day because while we had managed to only cross one state line on the previous day, on the second day we were whipping through the states, although I'm not sure that anyone told Ellie. Anyway - we were tooling along through Indiana when I heard a funny noise and yes, we had a flat on the trailer. The trailer with no spare. So that all took some time and I won't bore you with the details. Luckily, we had a 17-year-old boy belonging to Grilled Cheese Chick with us.

We were a tad concerned because we had to make it to Michigan State University by midnight to register and get into the dorms. When we were still about 3 hours or so away from MSU it became obvious we weren't going to make it. So we stopped for the night - thereby turning our two day trip into a three day trip. No problemo. Indoor pool with a slide - score! By now? My feet were swollen from all the hours in the car.

The next morning we arrived at the International Center at MSU and went through an extremely smooth registration process where I felt totally like a Big Girl because I had brought all the correct paperwork!! Now - let me just say that I am a good Odyssey coach 'cause I am pretty good with the teens. I like them and they like me. But I am not so good with the paperwork business and all that. So I was proud of myself for arriving with both all the teens and all the paperwork (and there is a lot of it). Speaking of paperwork - the kids were responsible for some, too. One form they must fill out is called the Outside Assistance form. If you've received any outside assistance you have to report it on the form. Otherwise, you are instructed to write "none" and sign it. My team wrote "NUN!!" and then signed their names upside down and backwards. I think they were trying to be funny but I'm not entirely certain. Because they is home-teached, after all.

We skipped lunch at the International Center because we wanted to get checked into the dorms and figured we'd make lunch at the cafeteria. Check-in at the dorms was a fiasco. Also? Dorms = Hot As Hell. I sent the kids to the cafeteria while my Number One (Wendy) and I took care of the fiasco with the check-in. Then we got all the stuff into the dorms and headed to the coaches' meeting at the other end of the campus. Go ahead, ask me how my feet were feeling.....or not.

The coaches' meeting was in a hot auditorium full of hot and tired people who had just arrived from all over the globe and a group of people on stage who were really excited about telling us a bunch of stuff we already knew. We needn't have attended. When it was all over and they asked if anyone had any questions most people just groaned but then the members of the audience who like to hear themselves talk, took turns raising their hands and standing up and repeating everything they had just heard to make sure that we all knew they had heard it.

So after Number One and I left the sauna known as the coaches' meeting, we walked back to the dorms because we were unable to figure out the shuttle bus schedule. We didn't get lunch but we managed to land ourselves in the hot and un-air conditioned cafeteria for dinner. Then we headed to the Opening Ceremonies!!

The Opening Ceremonies are my favorite part of World Finals. The arena is FULL of kids, music, videos, and EXCITEMENT. And all the energy is positively charged with happiness!! It is really hard to imagine it if you haven't seen it. The International Teams come out in a procession to the face the cheering US crowd. I don't know why, but I always cry during this part. Every country gets announced and comes out with their flags and costumes waving to the US kids who are all cheering and waving back and it is just extremely awesome. When Mexico came out the crowd went NUTS. I don't know why. I don't remember this happening in the past - but literally, the place exploded in love for these Mexican kids and they totally felt it. I must admit that a kid from Houston who was sitting behind us briefly booed when Russia came out - don't know why - but somebody shut him up. Dude - the Cold War's Over. Whatever. He could probably see Russia from his house.

This is my fifteen year old baby boy - excited and exhausted at his first World Finals Opening Ceremony. He didn't boo anybody.

The arena is huge and the International Teams get the place of honor on the floor - the rest of us fill the arena's bleachers.
The highlight of the evening for me was the Creativity Award given to Willard Wigan, a fabulous artist from England. He'd probably never even heard of Odyssey of the Mind and here he was getting this award from a cheering arena full of happy kids who were there to celebrate one thing and one thing only - CREATIVITY. Odyssey of the Mind represents the total opposite of what so many of our kids hear every day.....they are finally told the thing all humans really long to hear, "There is no right answer! Go for it." In Odyssey the kids who get rewarded are the kids who don't think like everyone else - the kids who look for the "out there" solutions - the kids who don't color within the lines. Willard was totally overwhelmed. He accepted his award and choked up. He just kept looking up at all of the kids and the lights and the love and finally managed to say, "thank you." Then he said that this award meant as much to him as the one he'd received from the Queen of England. Finally, all the kids in the arena held hands and recited the Odyssey Pledge, ending with "We are the Odyssey of the Mind!!" and finally....."LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!" And now I'm tearing up again just thinking about it. Dang.

I do feel the need to tell you that I have the relaxed team. None of them were screaming or crying and they were probably faking the recitation of the pledge. But inside? They were hysterical.

The next morning we headed back to the arena to unload our props. We had to get in line to back up the trailer in a really long tunnel-thing. I made Number One do it. "Make it so," I said. She said, "Aye Captain." Then she backed up about 10 feet before some dude from Arkansas took pity on us and offered to take over. We let him.

The kids worked on repairing some of their stuff and perfecting their front-end loader thing known as the scoop. Their vehicle drew a lot of attention. It wasn't as fancy as some of the other things we saw - but it was different. They felt pretty good. Then we went back to the dorm to meet our Buddy Team from Singapore.

Our Buddy Team was wonderful! We took them outside and gave them gifts - T-shirts, pins, and cascarones. Cascarones are confetti eggs - not to be confused with cajones, which are testicles. I only bring this up because one time an out-of-state friend of a friend got the two terms confused at Fiesta and wandered around all night long trying to buy cajones at the various booths, much to the delight of basically Everyone Else at Fiesta.

Anyway - the Singapore boys curiously picked up their cascarones and my team was ready to demonstrate their usage and blasted them with eggs which could have been seen as an act of aggression but luckily, was not. The Singapore boys picked up on the Mexican tradition pretty quickly and it was soon confetti all the way around. Then we ate dinner with them.

They were dumbfounded by the entire homeschooling thing. "You mean you don't go to school AT ALL???" they kept asking.

It turns out that this group of boys wakes up at 3:00 a.m. in order to work on their Odyssey stuff every morning at school. Joel thought this over for awhile and then asked, "So is that the 3 o'clock that is in the middle of the night or the middle of the afternoon?" And one of the boys said it was the 3 o'clock that comes very early in the morning and then Joel seemed to decide that this did not compute and went back to eating his ice cream. "What time do you get up?" the Singapore boy asked Joel. Joel answered that he generally liked to get up in time for Odyssey. Then he added, "That's at 1 o'clock. The afternoon 1 o'clock." The Singapore boys thought this was hysterical. "Oh man!" they said. "We wish we were homeschooled!"

Our buddy team mostly worked the entire time they were there. A lot of the international teams are like that. My team? Not so much. There is so much to do at World Finals - unfortunately it is extremely crowded. One of the things my team did to blow off steam was larp. I don't know if larping is a "real" thing or if it is a made-up thing - but it is Austen's thing. This is Austen. He is a larping god. And he knows it.
Austen likes to make foam weapons and shields. Then he larps.

There are lots of rules to larping - if you get hit on a leg you lose the leg and have to stand on the other one. You can also lose an arm, and a head hit is a "kill." Larping is noisy, too. Anyway, Austen introduced the Singapore team to larping and they liked the larping. Texas versus Singapore - kids hopping around hysterically on one foot with one arm behind their backs - other kids running to get the weapons off of the "dead bodies" littering the lawn. What can I say? We were supposed to share some culture. So we cracked eggs on their heads and hit them with foam swords. They liked it. This picture was right before I made them take it outside, where they drew a much larger crowd but had less of a chance of injuring an elderly such as myself who might have been exiting the elevators. Our Buddy team placed 4th in their problem category, which was the Performance Problem. They were awesome awesome awesome. Here they are!

I'm very proud of our team. It consisted of 5 kids who had never been to the World Tournament and 2 who had. The 5 were just happy to get there - didn't really understand the level of competition they'd face and weren't, for the most part, concerned with how they'd place. The other 2 did know what they were up against and had both been part of a previous team that had worked like hell trying to place at the World Tournament, only to come in 10th (which is still freakingly awesomely good). So they were all for relaxing and enjoying the experience this time around - without focusing on the final outcome. I think this worked brilliantly for this particular team.

They had an ingenious idea for a car powered by a sit-n-spin. They pretty much put all their efforts into this car. And their car scored extremely high - within 3 points of a perfect score - which is simply amazing at the World Tournament. Everything else? Scored really low. One kid said, "All our other stuff just sucked." And I was like, "It didn't suck in isolation. It only sucked when compared to the other teams." And that was pretty much true.

So they came in 16th in their problem solution - which isn't too shabby considering how low most of their individual scores were - this was a direct reflection of how high their vehicle scores was. But there is one other aspect of Odyssey called "Spontaneous." In Spontaneous, they are given a problem to solve on the spot. THEY TANKED. Two were sick, two really didn't care all that much, and the rest apparently fumbled around like zombies. So they ended up placing 33rd overall.

*A note about Spontaneous. Every year at the World Tournament, it is run by guys in kilts. They are funny and the kids love them. After I had sent my team off with the guys in the kilts, I went back beneath a shade tree and promptly fell asleep with the other adults in our group. After awhile, we heard cheering and looked up to see our team walking rather unceremoniously towards us, while strangers cheered them on (this is customary) in the obvious lacking of support from their own adult/parental units. I jumped up. "Sorry," I said. "We were napping." The kids looked at us quizzically as if they couldn't imagine that we would have been doing anything else.

Then they grinned and that is always dangerous. "Come with us," they said to me. "The Kilt Guys want to see you."

I followed them to one of the skirted men and he made a brief little speech about how important coaches are and said some other stuff about school and teachers that didn't apply to us and then he taped a strip of cloth to my backside that he called a tail while whispering to me that he was rather enjoying the entire thing. I assured him that it was the most fun I'd had all week for sure. Then? He told me that whenever someone asked me where I'd gotten my tail I had to answer I'd gotten it at Spontaneous while basically moving my rear in a circular motion. Then he made me demonstrate. Now, this was being done to all the coaches and the teams laughed hysterically and continued to ask their coaches where they'd gotten their tails. My team? Told me they were mildly to moderately traumatized and asked me to never, ever do it again. Deal.

Back to the Important Stuff. The Day of our Competition. We arrived at the arena. The other moms went through the spectator entrance and the rest of us walked down the big, long tunnel. Like Rock Stars. Here is THE TEAM. Katie belongs to Nine Texans, then there's Alyssa, Joel (my kid), Ellie (also my kid), Austen (one of Grilled Cheese Chick's kids), Eric, and Devin.

During the vehicle competition we waited nervously while the Poland team performed. Their vehicle was powered by a teeter-totter and we laughed at the fact that we apparently had a toy-theme going. Halfway through their performance (you have to do an obstacle course thing) their vehicle broke down. The Poles brought out the big guns - a group ran out with power tools - to try and fix it. They were unsuccessful and ended up pushing their vehicle to finish the course. Because our vehicle had broken down at the State Tournament, we knew how they felt and we held our breaths (along with the entire arena) as we watched them try to fix it. The coaches for the Polish teams were the same boys who had previously been Buddies to our team 3 years ago.

When it was our turn to start, Number One and I took our places in the coaches' seats and the kids waited behind the line and joked with the staging judge. I could tell they felt confidant, after all - everything on their vehicle had been working brilliantly just moments before. Here are Joel and Alyssa testing it, while Austen and Katie look on.
It is customary for the judging team to do/say something humorous when asked, "Judges, are you ready?" and this group was no exception. They all yelled, "NO!" and threw down their clipboards and pretended to march off. Joel thought this was hilarious. When they asked the team if they were ready to begin, Joel reciprocated. Then they began. They had to fit their vehicle and trailer inside a small taped off area. They precariously stack their trailer on top of their vehicle to accomplish this, and then they all simultaneously drop to the floor like ninjas to peer beneath their vehicle, because if one little thread or piece of tape or anything at all is touching the floor, they receive a penalty.

Then they hooked up the trailer and Joel and Alyssa climbed on the vehicle and Joel began spinning. There were appreciative noises from the audience and the judges were grinning. Because this was totally cool. But then? Joel stopped spinning. And he removed the steering wheel and looked at it. And my heart sank. It was broken. It was the ONE THING that had not ever broken. Bummer. You could have heard a pin drop as the tension spread to the audience. Like the Poles before them, they went on to Plan B and team members pulled the vehicle while Joel continued with his lines while simultaneously trying to fix the steering wheel before passing it around to other team members like it was a hot potato. It was stripped. Later, Ellie said, "Dude - you were trying to fix it with a PIPE CLEANER. What were you thinking?" and Joel was like, "Dude - it was all I had on me at the time."

Their 3 Requirements were:

1. An environmental clean-up: They were on a planet called Donutopia, riding on a planetary rover for vacation. Joel played The Terminator for a reason that is not entirely clear to anyone anywhere. He does a good Arnold impression, though. So they come across a big pile of doughnut grease that is melting the planet's icing and Joel lowers a little crane via a fishing rod and reel and there is a sponge attached to the crane and it soaks up the doughnut grease (via magnets) and he reels it in.

2. An obstacle to get around: They come upon a big doughnut hole and use the front-end loader to fill it with sprinkles to drive over it.

3. A vehicle break-down and repair: Their vehicle breakdown was quite lame and hadn't received high points at either the Regional or State Tournaments, but they thought it was hilarious so they kept it. Ellie and Devin pick up a meteorite (made out of pinto beans) and a flying saucer that has a cow hanging from it (it is being abducted) and they make the two collide and then the meteorite hits the steering wheel and knocks it off and then Joel says something lame like, "Luckily I have been programmed to repair all malfunctions." THIS TIME? The steering wheel was really broken, which was kind of funny. Joel did a little improvisation, "Oh no!" he yells in his best Arnold voice. "It appears I am being attacked by a meteor that is unfortunately made out of pinto beans. And it appears it has broken the already broken steering wheel." To get the full effect you have to understand that Joel is laughing hysterically through the entire thing - with an Austrian accent - while his sister enjoys hitting him in the head with the pinto bean meteor. Then he looks at the judges, who are also laughing and standing right there as they've been following closely behind the vehicle, grins his humongous grin and says, "and unforunately I am not programmed to fix things when they are really broken."

After their performance they were interviewed by a reporter from a East Lansing newspaper. He loved them and was just amazed by their vehicle. They were like pros with the reporter - feelin' all famous and everything. You know, rock stars and all.

So that was that. But actually, the vehicle was scored as if it had worked the entire time, since the judges did see it working for awhile. That is the rule and they followed it. So what hurt them were things like having meteors made out of pinto beans and a costume made out of a cardboard box. But what can I say? They LOVED watching the other teams and enjoyed themselves. We were lucky enough to see the winning team perform. They were insane with what they had. Here is a picture. At least I think it is the winning team. I honestly can't remember.
They also spent some time trading Odyssey pins with kids from other states and countries.

Jeff could do an entire blog post about his week, as well, since he was alone with The Other Three Children. His week consisted of visits to doctors' offices, breathing treatments, wart removals, a dance recital, and even the tearing down of a barn in his spare time. Also, there was a delicious homemade applie pie on the counter when we got home. Home. Which was a mess.

So yeah, lots of other stuff happened but I honestly can't believe you've read this much. Let me just say that what I learned from this Odyssey is that I really love my kids. Okay. So I mostly already knew that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am glad to have had this special time with them. Not just the World Finals time, but the Entire Time. As in I've been able to be there, fully and wholly, for their babyhoods, toddlerhoods, childhoods, and now this whole teenagerhood business - which has been ridiculously enjoyable for the most part. Homeschooling isn't entirely responsible for the close relationships I enjoy with my kids, but it has been a significant factor. I kind of love being their Everything.....because I know it won't always be that way. I'm reminded of an Odyssey Awards Ceremony a couple of years ago. They asked for some of the kids to come up on the stage and give a personal "thank you" to their coaches. I saw little Jules get in line. I was surprised, because I really didn't think he'd want to get up there in front of everyone. I waited while child after child enthusiastically thanked Mr. or Mrs. So and So to cheering crowds of fellow students of these teachers....and then? Jules quietly approached the microphone and said in a small little voice, "Thanks Mom." There wasn't a lot of cheering.....just a silent happy tear leaving a trail down my cheek as Jules grinned at me from the stage. So to my kids.....who don't always think to actually say thank you.....I'd like to say, "You're welcome. I wouldn't miss this ride for anything."

If this post has piqued your interest, go to and learn more about the program. Maybe we'll see you next year!

Signing Off as a Odysseus instead of Sardine Mama


  1. well, I had not been missing going to Worlds this time at all....until I read this! Sounds like you guys had a wonderful time, as usual.

  2. no wonder we didn't hook up at the falls... you must have been whooped!!!

  3. Hey! We came in 32nd, not 33rd!! Haha gosh Mom, you're the coach, you should know these things... :P


  4. "When it was all over and they asked if anyone had any questions most people just groaned but then the members of the audience who like to hear themselves talk, took turns raising their hands and standing up and repeating everything they had just heard to make sure that we all knew they had heard it. "

    Those SAME PEOPLE attend every single training event I am required to go to.

    I loved your story and all the photos and, well, everything.

    Makes me almost want to have been there. But not quite. But almost.

  5. What an awesome story! I really don't know that I'm the kind of mom who could handle that sort of thing, but it sounds really exciting for the kids. What an amazing experience for them. I'm totally impressed by the car. And I teared up at the "Thanks, Mom." Sniff.

  6. Susan - have you seen my water? Or my horny goat weed?

    Pamela - I was at the falls - you didn't show. I cried my eyes out and everything.

    Ami - Yes, those same people are at virtually every training and/or information session IN THE WORLD.

    Ellie - sorry - LAME-O. 32nd!! That is much more thrilling than 33rd.

  7. Amy - there is no handling required. You just sorta get dragged along!! You could totally do it (with meds) and you'd love it!!!! And yes, I'm pretty amazed by their car, too.