Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Not Languishing

 "How to spur creativity when languishing" shouted one of my emails yesterday. How appropriate, I thought, then promptly deleted it.

While not exactly languishing, I have spent the summer focusing on family activities, swimming, friends and fun, mainly trying to distract myself from horrendous headlines and the knowledge that two of my children will move out in a month. Time is not an obstacle for writing, rather it's a stubborn turning away from introspection.

Instead of deep thinking, I relish car conversations with my daughter, dispensing such pithy bon mots as "Relationships are like guacamole, always a side but not the main course. Sometimes you want it and sometimes you don't." Chipotle-inspired comments masquerading as wisdom; that's about how deep I can go in the summer of 2021.

I cherish each family dinner, each grace and round of gratitude shared before the meal. I sit in silence with my soon-to-be college freshman and wait for him to share stories of late-night activities, which I'm sure  are edited for my consumption but nonetheless fascinating. With my youngest I exchange Snapchats and follow his mission trip progress throughout Texas. 

Humming in the background like a live electric wire, the knowledge that all this will change. Come Labor Day, an urgent need for activity and busy-ness will once again inspire regular blogs, hours of rewriting my book, environmental activism, and everything else I have put by the wayside. But for now, I'll continue my not-languishing, and let my creativity take a back seat.

Friday, July 9, 2021

I Need a Commercial Break

I was flipping through radio stations yesterday and the schmaltzy - but classic - lyrics of Peter Cetera's "Inspiration" floated my air-conditioned box. "You're the meaning in my life, you're the inspiration" he crooned before I switched back to commercials, willing my teary eyes to dry and focus on the road. How strange that I switch from songs to commercials in order to avoid emotional flashpoints.

William's swim team banquet was Wednesday night and I told his coach near the end of that long but lovely evening that I deserved a medal for withholding tears. He blinked, confused. His kids are younger and he may not completely understand the ache of loss surrounding graduation and departure for college, though certainly coaches and teachers experience grief when a favorite class departs and all that's left is an urgent need for restructuring and finding new talent.

In the words of William's head coach, the senior class was "generational," even "transcendent." They re-wrote the record books at the state and school level. William walked away with three All-American times (that means the top 100 times in the country this year, which I didn't know previously because I never came close to achieving it), the fourth-fastest 100 butterfly in school history, and a stack of team awards. The other seniors benefited similarly from their hard work, and they all supported each other's rise as a team, sticking with the sport even as the season extended a month into their summer vacation.

As the sun set over the Rockies the inevitable team slide show brightened up a big screen. Young faces gasping for air as they cruised through water, or masked in cheers and poolside rallies, all so full of promise, so passionate. Then the seniors' baby photos and earliest swim shots, chubby cheeks trapped under too-big goggles, curly hair escaping tiny swim caps, itty-bitty Speedos barely holding around their hips. The cherubic faces elicited oohs and ahs from the crowd and I could hear the coaches guessing the identity of each child, so different from the tall, broad-shouldered men on stage. And yet, so much the same, so dear and always and forever a child whose growth cannot be measured by times, points and awards but in heartache and heart-leaps, love and loss. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Lessons from a Surprise Thunderstorm

William just dashed through the hall and slid around the corner in stockinged feet. "Hailing!" he said as he grabbed the car keys and ran to move his freshly washed and waxed car into a more protected space. Rob uttered an expletive and went out to help him, still covered in putty and paint after touching up our outside overhead beams, which he finished just before the thunderstorm descended.

Of course the storm burst forth at the worst time, smack dab in the middle of an otherwise pleasant July 4th afternoon. It wasn't predicted, but that isn't stopping quarter-sized hailstones from knocking against the windows. This inconvenient fist-shaking from Mother Nature proves two things that keep smacking me upside the head: nothing goes to plan and everything keeps changing.

I couldn't sit still to write last week, still struggling to contain my sorrow around the end of William's high school swim career and the knowledge that he only has a month left at home before leaving for school. Like a non-swimmer desperately paddling to keep her head above water, I searched for events and trips to look forward to, and reached out to coaching friends who might need an assistant during the next high school girls' season.

Common wisdom says that "when God shuts a door he opens a window," but life doesn't usually work like that for me. First I waste time and energy pounding on the door and re-trying the knob with both hands, then I bang my head in despair before I finally get around to looking for the exit / entrance to my next chapter. I wasted less time this week because my kids are all present, looking to me for stability and guidance, so I can't fall apart yet. I'll have to pencil in my breakdown for the week after Aden and William move into their college digs.

I know that unexpected joys and discoveries lie in wait, just as this surprise thunderstorm centered itself right over our house from out of the blue. But when you have dedicated your life to raising children and they unceremoniously - even gleefully - leave your protection without a backward glance, the heart tends to suffer. The pandemic gave us extra family bonding time, for which I'm grateful, but it made for a terribly short runway to William's takeoff into adulthood.

Even as hail continues to batter the house and Rob belatedly realized that the gutter-cleaning company never came (hence the water pouring off our roof), we know that blue sky awaits just a few minutes away. Even if I have to climb out of a metaphorical chimney or burrow through a basement, I will get past this closed door and find a way to get around the door that has recently, and abruptly, closed. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The End of an Era

At some point during William's state championship swim meet I noticed the ring finger on my right hand had swelled and bruised purple from clapping against my platinum band. I couldn't clap or cheer by the last relay - my voice gave out in the first half of the meet - so I clutched at my torn blue fan, tears welling as I mutely watched my son swim his last high school race. They took third, beating their seed time by over five seconds and jumping up three places. Their first relay had kicked things off with a bang, winning and setting a new state record by over two seconds. 

The crowd was electric, packed sweaty knee to sweaty knee, screaming itself hoarse for the respective high schools. Barred from a 2020 season by COVID, forbidden even to attend dual meets in the 2021 season D events, parents, families and friends were finally set free to cheer on our boys. The nerves and intensity rose to a fever pitch as the swimming heavyweights duked it out in the pool.

More state records fell: the 50 free (to an Olympic Trials competitor), the 200 free relay (William's teammates), the 400 free relay (neighboring high school with yet another Olympic Trials swimmer on board). William came away with four podium swims (podium in this case being top ten places): first in the medley relay, where he swam the butterfly leg; seventh in the 100 fly, in which he broke 50 seconds for the first time; fifth in the 100 backstroke, and third in the 400 free relay. Both of his relays are automatic high school All-American times.

William overcame overtraining syndrome, autoimmune issues, a late start to the sport (he was 14) and a pandemic to crush his best times and help lead his team to a second (non-consecutive) state championship title. When the parents could only speak in whispers or whistle, at the end of the night, the boys and their coaches all jumped in the pool, holding the trophy aloft and lifting fists and voices to the high rooftop. 

Watching Aden and William in their high school swim meets both lifted and filled me. Loving the athletes and the sport, feeling the partisan passion for their school, teammates and friends, I'll never be able to recapture the particular pleasure-pain of those swim seasons. Two or three days after State I crashed back to earth - no more videos to watch and post to friends and family, no more news articles to scan. The slight relief I felt at William being done, free of responsibility and care, fell flat under the sorrow of my loss. 

Aden and William might move forward to swim club together at CU, and I can cheer Daniel on in cross-country and track, but I will miss the high school pools, the uncomfortable bleachers where I perched with friends and neighbors, straining to catch every stroke, eyes flashing to the scoreboard for results, raising my fist in triumph when the kids looked to me with a smile. I'll miss timing behind the blocks and running the scoreboard in the "crow's nest," the team cheers, and the thunderous roaring of the crowd when the home team wins. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Simone Manuel Defeats OTS

Simone Manuel was the face of U.S. women's swimming at the Rio Olympics. A gold-medal winner in the 100 meter freestyle and a silver-medal winner in the 50 meter freestyle, she added on another gold and silver in the 400m relays. In late March of 2021 she fell ill while training for a big meet in Texas, a lead-up to the Olympic Trials. After that meet she went to stay with her family for the first time in over a year, and a doctor diagnosed her medical issues as overtraining syndrome (OTS).

In an emotional press conference that Manuel gave after she failed to make the finals of the 100 free at the 2021 Olympic Trials, the standout swimmer graciously sat and answered numerous questions, some of a personal nature, about her symptoms and the stress she carried as a black athlete during the racial reckoning of 2020. The list she provided of her body's warning signals: high heartbeat, extreme fatigue, inability to resume her normal schedule after weeks of modified activity, anxiety, depression and insomnia, are all familiar to me. I had the same issues in 2011 and 2012 when I over trained for a marathon / triathlon combo. William, too, shared many of those symptoms in 2017 after his freshman swim season.

A reporter asked Manuel if she thought that overtraining syndrome was common with swimmers. She said she could not answer that, having just heard this diagnosis for the first time, but that she supposed it was quite common. Swimmers work so hard, for so long, trying to turn their bodies into hydrodynamic machines, that we often hear of injuries, burnout, depression, anxiety, stomach and sleep issues. But these symptoms are not often treated as credible. Without understanding, without the official diagnosis, swimmers have trouble finding solutions from doctors, parents, coaches. The diagnosis came at a terrible time for Manuel, but the understanding of doctors and coaches who allowed her to rest - that was fortunate.

By offering her story and being so vulnerable with a nation full of swimmers wondering "why?" Simone Manuel shone a light on a patchwork of problems in our sport. Too much difficult training can ruin an athlete - even a world class athlete. But this story has a happy ending. At the urging of her doctors and her coach, Manuel rested for three weeks in April, a thing absolutely unheard of just a month before Trials. Though she missed the final of the 100 free last week, she persevered through prelims and semifinals in the 50 meter free, and last night she won, landing on a second Olympic team. America's sprint queen is headed for Tokyo, and a more worthy winner I cannot imagine.