With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Stuck at Denver International Airport

My flight to Albuerque has been diverted . . . back to Albuquerque. Our daily 2:00pm thunderstorm sent my flight in circles above DIA until it nearly ran out of gas, and had to go back to its place of origin (must have had SOME gas left). Now delayed three hours, I pound angrily at the keyboard as one of my children nervously warms up in an Albuqerque pool and two prepare for their last swim meet at home.  I am a mom without a pool, not fulfilling my roles as coach and cheerleader at either location.

The delay compounds a misery that began in security.  Confronted with the dreaded 360 – degree x-ray scanner, I heard the security staff telling folks to empty their pockets “until they contain nothing but air.”  I paid little attention, since I didn’t have any change in my pocket, just a tampon and a driver’s license. So I went into the x-ray machine with only a faint shred of doubt that I was “airy” enough. Sure enough, the security worker called me over as I exited the machine and told me she had to pat me down in the “lower back area” (location of my pocket in workout skorts). I explained in a whisper that it was only a tampon, but she said without a flicker of expression that I had to remove it so that it could “go through the x-ray machine.”  It didn’t seem like the first time this had happened to her, and that was my only consolation as I watched her place my bright pink tampon wrapper in a bowl (with another bowl on top of it for modesty), and then roll through the machine, no doubt to the amusement or confusion of the man watching the video feed. When my suitcase inevitably got called for further inspection, I had to tell the man to wait for me as I reclaimed my tampon. A double security threat, I suppose.


So then I read O Magazine and hung on every word of Martha Beck’s article, “Reversal of Bad Fortune: Accidents are never pleasant. But if you choose to see meaning in them, they can be useful.” It’s not the first time Oprah and Martha have guided me through a bad day, people. I commend them to you, folks stuck in airports and ladies condemned to a pat-down because of Aunt Flo. At least I wasn’t one of the hapless passengers stuck flying from Albuquerque to Denver . . . and back . . . and back again. That will be Sunday’s misadventure….

Monday, June 23, 2014

Anniversary Travels

Rob and I had a twenty-hour anniversary getaway this past weekend courtesy of a dear friend and our oldest child. Aden and Heidi held down the fort while we prowled the streets of Golden, only thirty minutes away . . . but far enough. We peacefully shopped for my folks' 45th anniversary present (three times our 15 years!) in an art store where the boys would have instilled terror in the heart of the saleswoman, and then went to dinner at a Venezuelan restaurant with plenty of gluten-free options. We stayed in a nice hotel, nodded off in front of a recent movie, and then hiked five and a half miles up Lookout Mountain on a lovely Sunday morning. We had plenty to talk about and be grateful for, recharging our batteries until our thoughts returned to our task lists and timelines on the way home. It looks like Rob and I will hardly cross paths for the coming week, so I'm glad we had uninterrupted face time to tide us over.

We watched the US soccer team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yesterday afternoon with the kids, and then I turned on some swimming after dinner. All sports, all the time - feels like the theme of our summer thus far. We truly enjoy the swim meets, but hope to get a weekly family hike started after swim season and water polo season come to a close. Hopefully we will get Daniel up his first fourteener later this summer, and we have to get him out on his bike, as well. These long days and balmy weather (minus the severe thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes) present us with the perfect opportunity to indulge our inner athletes. Rob and I have always enjoyed doing that together - from running to single-track mountain biking, triathlons and hiking - and it's a great gift to share similar activities with the whole family.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What a Girl Wants, continued

How about not being judged for how she looks in a bathing suit? This is not a trivial question, though it may seem so, coming after Malala's travails in Pakistan. When I was ill several years ago, I lost so much weight that I thought I would disappear, and I was terrified. Equally horrifying were the comments from people who thought I looked good in that unhealthy, faded-away state. It really led me to question the sanity of our culture, and also the motives of those who drive the popular images: do they want us to disappear? lose strength and presence? be brainwashed into engineering our own destruction?

Now that I've gained back all my weight and strength, I feel so good - - until sometimes when I put on a swimsuit in a bad light and start judging my body in all of its realness. When I catch those negative thoughts now, I know how to face them down. I say: "Do you want me to disappear again? Well, tough! I have the right to take up some space in this world. I will not be marginalized or ignored or judged for my fullness and strength. You're going to have to deal with me as I am." I want young girls to know that they should not risk their health or strength for a cultural theme that is poisonous to all of us.

It's also essential to realize and to emphasize with our children that though are bodies are one facet of us and we should take care of them, they are only one part of who we are. They are not the mirror of our soul, they are not the end-all, be-all of our existence on the planet. Our bodies (especially children's bodies) are under the sway of many factors out of our control - - thyroid, pre-natal illnesses, medications, metabolism, food-buying habits of our parents, access to safe places to exercise, etc. They are not our fault nor our fortune, and I should prefer mine to be a safehouse and not a temple full of false gods.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Moth Season

The moth population in Colorado is three times that of last year (per Aden). They flutter around the windows trying desperately to get back outside, leading me to wonder why on earth they came into the house in the first place. At night the sound of their fluttering wings surrounds each light and keeps the kids and the guinea pig on edge. It's interesting to watch the different reactions of my children to the influx of fluttery grey insects; Aden carefully catches them with stiff paper and a cup and then releases them outside while Daniel recoils in fear and demands that they be summarily executed. Sometimes I free them and sometimes I dispense with them - it depends on my mood.

This morning, Aden spent an hour trying to revive a beautiful black and yellow butterfly which is either injured, undernourished or truly confused. I love her caregiving tendencies and feel grateful for her compassion toward living creatures, even if it does not always extend to her brothers (that's only a reassuring symptom of her being a normal child). I enjoy watching all of the children grow and change as time goes by, a process which I (the swim geek) sometimes mark by swimming results. Aden just dropped eleven seconds in her hundred breaststroke, an event which she swam last year. That's incredible! William and Daniel are also swimming best times and looking so different year over year. It's a dizzying privilege to see them change on both the inside and outside.

We only have two weeks and two swim meets left in the regular portion of the season - a short time even on the short scale of our usual seasons. Then, like the moth population, our swim season will come to a close. Just another part of the cycle of things - neither moth nor butterfly nor childhood swimming can last forever.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What a Girl Wants

I just finished reading I Am Malala by Malala Youfaszai (Malala Fund). You'll  probably remember, as I did, that Malala was a Pakistani schoolgirl of fifteen when she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman on a makeshift bus on its way home from school. What I didn't know was that Malala and her father, the founder of her school, had campaigned for years in Pakistan on behalf of children's right to an education. They spoke out on radio, blogs and a NY Times documentary even though the limelight made both of them prime targets for the right-wing Taliban insurgency. I Am Malala is required reading for my daughter this summer before she enters eighth grade, and I am so glad that she will read it and see how schoolgirls across the world struggle and risk to gain the opportunities provided by education.

The book motivated me to write to our sponsored students in Kenya and Guatemala - one boy and three girls. They walk a long way each day to get to school and struggle to fit homework in with their many chores. One has eight brothers and sisters, another has twelve. They make bracelets or help with crops to earn money to pay for school.  Though my children work hard at their studies here, their access to education is unprecedented when compared with the situation of many around the world, and their lives are comparatively easy.

So I'm also motivated to continue arm-wrestling my kids into math, reading and some writing each day. (OK, not every day, but four out of seven.) Each summer we start out strong and then lose focus as the long, hot days sap our strength and concentration and fade the memory of homework and placement tests. There is a place for relaxation and de-stressing, but no place for forgetting what we've learned when girls like Malala are prepared to give their lives to obtain an education.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Teaming Up on Us

I went to exercise with a friend yesterday, leaving the children to work on their math and writing at home. As we concluded the final set of sit-ups and I sat gasping for air, my workout partner asked if the kids actually stuck with their school work for the whole hour and a half, or perhaps slid off-task into the forbidden world of "screens" (ie computer games, TV or Ipods). After a moment of thought, I told her that it was OK for them to be on the forbidden screens for a while, as long as they bonded with each other against me, so that no one told or gave away the secret when I got home. She laughed and said, "that's exactly the way I feel!"

No one ever told me that I would want my kids to gang up on me, but the thrill of seeing them act as a team makes me feel so good that I don't mind if I am the one being hoodwinked. One of the joys of the summer is the gift of time for the kids to spend together, instead of separated by school and all of their individual, age-appropriate activities. This time comes with a negative side, as well - enough time for them to really get on each other's nerves and drive all of us crazy. But they require the time together to cultivate their relationships and sometimes unlikely partnerships.

When I was growing up we moved three times in seven years. My three brothers and sister and I became unlikely partners in crime simply because we often didn't know anyone else. My brother John and I ate lunch together during our first two weeks at a new high school and often played tennis or worked out together, especially in the first few months at a new location. Rob and I don't plan on moving any time soon, but the gift of time in summer - without too many camps or playdates - gives the kids a little bit of that idea that they are on the same team and in this crazy life adventure together.

Now with that said, I am pretty much guaranteed to witness severe fighting all day today . . . hope not, but I'll let you know!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Baseball Concludes

The boys had their final baseball tournament this weekend and through a total of five games they hit, pitched and fielded their hearts out. The weather threatened, withdrew, and then finally unleashed at the end of Sunday morning's game, but a wonderful time was had by all players and parents as we huddled in blankets and cheered ourselves hoarse. Baseball is a tough sport, with a spotlight and the accompanying pressure fixed on one player at a time, but we are blessed with supportive and constructive coaches who encouraged the boys to smile and "have fun out there" even in the tightest moments.

It's strangely difficult to watch each season draw to a close just as the children really get their mojo, finally looking practiced and battle-tested. Basketball, baseball, or swim season typically conclude just as parents, coaches and kids see a glimmer of each athlete's true potential, and I wrestle with stopping before the kids make best use of their talents. Rob and I repeatedly discuss the thorny question of  how involved to get with each sport, and repeatedly agree that the kids are too young to focus on any one thing. They have a few more years to experiment with different sports and activities before high school forces them to narrow down and concentrate. It's their choice, and they need to fall in love with one or two activities that ignite their passion and desire for excellence, that light a fire to practice repeatedly and to endure fatigue and failure and flat stretches with equanimity.

In the meantime, we'll enjoy our season-ending pool parties and baseball games with wonderful families and friends and toast to another few months' of growth and development and fun. Now that baseball has ended it is time to focus on swimming for a short six weeks, and then a break before moving on to track or water polo or fall ball. It's been a dizzying stretch of time but I know I will look back on these days and miss them, miss the camaraderie and competition and most of all the children seeking their passion and learning to fly.



Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Mishap or Two . . .

Finally a moment to breathe, and reflect on the chaos that claimed our first week of summer. On the children's first afternoon of freedom, Aden and her friend took the guinea pig outside in the backyard to make a film of Nibbles in nature. Nibbles enjoyed the free world so much that he made a dash for the underside of the porch, where he spent the next five hours, immune to Aden's coaxing and avoiding the carrots twined to the top of a long wooden pole. He narrowly escaped spending a stormy night with the rabbits, but Aden did manage to partially dive under the wooden beams and catch him just before dark. We all slept better knowing that he was safe and warm inside, though Aden was a tiny bit sad that we now have to wait to get a cat.

In the hullabaloo that ensued when we first attempted to locate and catch Nibbles, William lost a good portion of his birthday money to a gust of wind, and I had to move from the guinea pig search to the hunt for greenbacks. Finally the last $20 was located under a shrub and I got a chance to take the boys to Target, where I spent far more than I intended and purchased items as diverse as a butterfly net, chocolate - covered bananas, and a new doormat. One summer resolution: stay out of Target!

My last mishap was last night when William handed me his new season pass to Elitch Gardens for safekeeping. I told the whole family, "Watch where I put this card, now, because the last time I hid something it was William's ski pass, which has been lost since September."  So they all watched me dive into the junk drawer and reach for my perfect hiding spot. Unfortunately it was occupied . . . by the missing ski pass. Rob burst out laughing and the kids just looked confused by their mothers' craziness. I searched the entire house in January looking for the ski pass and could not find it - how did I come to put my fingers directly on it last night?  Not sure if I was crazier then or now. In any case, we're unlikely to forget the location of William's new season pass. Summer's started with a bang!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fifth Grade Graduation

"If you love me let me go
If you love me let me go
‘Cause these words are knives and often leave scars
The fear of falling apart
And truth be told, I never was yours
The fear, the fear of falling apart."


 -- "This is Gospel" - Panic! at the Disco

I lifted a heavy cooler containing 80 water balloons into the back of the van, cracking my ankle and straining my back in the process, then mounted the driver's seat to bring my precious cargo to the fifth grade graduation picnic. With a turn of the key, these words blasted out of the radio: "If you love me let me go - o - o."  I was not exceptionally emotional about William's last day of elementary school but the poignancy of the situation struck me. The moms who stood around the edge of the picnic sniffled a little and wiped sweat mixed with tears from under our sunglasses. It's not that the kids are leaving us yet, but that we know now how fast time moves, and how rapidly this day will morph into high school graduation parties. 

I didn't cry about William leaving or hover around the school doors at the end of the day to hear their riotous cheers spill out over the playground, but I did lose it when I said good-bye to one of William's teachers, an amazing woman who has had either Aden or William for the last five years. We've had many conferences together and shared the organization of several service projects for the school, and I'm not sure if our paths will cross often in the future. So I cemented my reputation as an emotional crazy-person by sobbing briefly on her shoulder. Thank God for sunglasses!

William can sleep in today, and Aden and Daniel only have three hours of school to play games and sign yearbooks. We're almost through the intensely packed schedule that has taken us by the necks and dragged us pell-mell through May. Perhaps now I can finally replace the Easter place mats and centerpiece that still decorate our table and update the chore chart from April. I would apologize for my delinquency in posting but if you are familiar with "May - hem" you will understand. Tomorrow marks the start of summer and it's possible that I will have more time - more time to enjoy these kiddos before they grow up and before I really let them go, and then truly fall apart.