With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Thursday, December 24, 2015

May the Merry Force Be Christmas With You

Six Star Wars movies in the past four days, enough John Williams music and light saber battles that I responded “May the Force be with you” to the cashier who wished me a “Merry Christmas.”

Of course we had to watch the three original films prior to viewing The Force Awakens in the theater on Sunday afternoon.  Loved the new episode (VII), even dragged the kids to the theater an hour early to “stand in line.” Very little line materialized (blame it on the Broncos game) but Rob and I enjoyed telling stories of our childhood when lines for episode IV stretched around theater buildings.  Remember when Darth Vader was new and very few of us caught on to the vader / father reference (until episode V, at least)?

We’re trying hard to keep a lid on spoilers for the new movie now that we’re reunited with the Clavadetscher cousins - who haven’t seen it yet. Watching the Empire Strikes Back with their crew last night inspired many witty zingers about brother-sister crushes and uncle most likely to be voted Chewbacca.  (John does a mean Chewie howl).


The light side of the Force is dominating our Christmas at the moment despite ice and snow and William’s winter cough.  The boys went sledding and came home frost-bit and crusty, ears full of our tales of the childhood sledding hill. Aunt Karen crafted the baked sweet potatoes and Nana put soup on while Carol and I walked our prospective turkeys off, and Papa held down the fort in his easy chair. The kids are playing “Star Wars” in the basement now, and I’m signing off to put my computer in cold storage for a while.  May the merry force be Christmas with you.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Family Photos

Pinning Christmas - photo - cards to our 6' long, quilted pine tree brings me satisfaction. You don't see folks folding up and mailing out their resumes (though some Christmas letters resemble one); they carefully choose and print the best or most humorous pictures of their loved ones to provide a snapshot of their lives. A quick update in a glance at how the children or grandchildren grew, how the parents aged (or got mysteriously younger), where families vacationed over the past year - magic. I save them all, and refer to them if we get a rare visit from old friends whose children's names escape us.

We bought a gift certificate to a photography studio at our church auction last spring, looking to update the dated black-and-white photo of several years ago that predated both my illness and the kids' growth spurts. We paid well for the 8 x 10s and 5x7s that we bought from the studio and had to pass on their Christmas card offer due to holiday budget restrictions. The Christmas card photo ended up a hastily snapped arrangement on the altar at church, with Aden muttering "Can we get off now?!"

In the new photo, our teeth are too white, wrinkles have disappeared from mine and Rob's faces, all are acne free, and yet - I'll take the magical realism. It's not representative of 99.9 % of our daily life, but it's a moment that was true, however briefly. After several years when scheduling and arranging a family photo were as out of reach to me as a visit to the moon, I appreciate this one.

I also appreciate the photos of friends who show the lead-up to the "good" picture - the shots where one child screams or one vanishes entirely one while Mom frowns a mass of wrinkles and lectures. Those are real, too, and more representative of family life. There's a time to 'make it work' and there's a time to cherish the high points. To my mind, all are good.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mary Did You Know?

Watching Jordan Smith sing "Mary Did You Know?" on The Voice. (Amazing kid). I was struck by these lyrics:

"Did you know,
that your Baby (Boy) has walked where angels trod?When you kiss your little Baby, you kiss the face of God?"

And I thought, that's true for all of us. Did I know?
Do I still?









Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Most Powerful Woman

Parenting has been on my mind. If you followed the two previous blog entries you'll know that I am still digesting the November issue of The Sun (thesunmagazine.org). The articles, poems, and stories focus on parenting and offer thought-provoking insights. Lots of tidbits on mothering, like this gem from Jennifer Senior in her interview with Mark Leviton: "A woman who stays home used to be called a 'housewife' or 'homemaker.' Now she is a 'stay-at-home mom'. The emphasis has changed from the place to the person. Keeping the home is no longer the focus of an American mother's life. Kids are." (in Great Expectations: Jennifer Senior on Modern Parenthood and its Discontents),

Moms know this, of course, but to have the linguistic proof set me back a step. Our focus on our kids - their well-being, success, and happiness - has become the standard of our lives. No wonder most of us are slightly crazy; you can't ensure the path of another person's life.  I grasped at Natalia Ginzburg's advice to 'step away' from the kids and 'provide space' for their life to develop as if the phrases were life preservers and I was a floater in the Black Sea. Both Ginzburg and Senior argue that the best way to show a child how to develop a passion and find a vocation is to have one ourselves. Blessed be.

While making these mental adjustments, I opened the new issue of National Geographic, which has the Virgin Mary on the cover with this caption: "The Most Powerful Woman in the World". (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/).  No pressure, ladies. If this is the standard we have to live up to, no wonder we find motherhood stressful. Dads are lucky that Jesus didn't develop a similar studly reputation for fatherhood. Joseph is great, but not quite cover photo material.

I found this quote from poet Adrienne Rich to be more analogous to my experience as a parent: "The worker can unionize, go out on strike; mothers are divided from each other in homes, tied to their children by compassionate bonds; our wildcat strikes have most often taken the form of physical or mental breakdown."  In this crazy month of to-do lists on steroids, let's remember to reach out to one another, to give ourselves and our kids some space, and to put down the exaggerated role models. We're just doing the best we can, and that has to be enough.




Thursday, December 3, 2015

More on the "Little Virtues"

In the wake of yet another horrifying tragedy, glimpses of yet more parents' deep pain, I can only think to gather the ones I love around me and hold them close. I keep returning to Natalia Ginzburg's words in The Little Virtues: "We must remember above all in the education of our children is that their love of life should never weaken."  Above all, a strong love of life. What if all children grew up into adults who loved life?

Ginzburg also talks about the parent and teacher habit of teaching "little virtues," which she lists as thrift, caution, shrewdness, and a desire for success. She writes, "We do not bother to teach the great virtues, though we love them and want our children to have them, But we nourish the hope that they will spontaneously appear in their consciousness someday in the future."  Great virtues: generosity, courage, love of truth, self-denial.

How does anyone teach the great virtues? I can only think it's by example. My father taught generosity by giving deeply to the church, courage by volunteering to fight in Vietnam. My mother taught self-denial by placing us first her entire life. I wonder, what am I teaching my children?

In the same issue of The Sun (The Sun) where I found Ginzburg's essay, I found another excellent piece entitled "Great Expectations: Jennifer Senior on Modern Parenthood and its Discontents." I'll have more from this amazing interview in future posts, but wanted to leave with this quote that relates to the great and small virtues:

"You might feel nachas when your kid gets into Harvard, but you'd feel it even more so, I think, if your kid stood up to a bully, or for a principle, or did a good deed. Personally, I'd be prouder of that behavior. If your kid gets into Harvard, sure, it's worth celebrating, - but if your kid is the one who tells the asshole to stop picking on the gay kid, you've done something even more right." (issue 479, p. 6).

Love of life, great virtues. And we carry on.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Our Children's 'Becoming'

Before we left for our Thanksgiving in Ohio I spent a morning with my Just Faith group. We were writing Christmas cards for men and women held in detention for immigration-related offenses. As we scissored, colored, and signed our cards we went around in a circle saying listing things for which we were grateful. I stumbled over my big-ticket item, which is being alive and healthy to watch my children 'grow up.' My friend Jeri nodded in understanding and put it in better terms; we're grateful to witness our children 'becoming' what they are meant to be.

On the plane headed via jet stream to the Midwest I read several fascinating articles in The Sun (thesunmagazine.org) related to the complex issues of parenting and watching our children become. In an article titled "The Dog-Eared Page" (excerpted from The Little Virtues, by Natalia Ginzburg), I was startled into underlining and highlighting the following exceptional paragraph:
   
"What we must remember above all in the education of our children is that their love of life should never weaken. This love can take different forms, and sometimes a listless, solitary, bashful child is not lacking in a love of life. He is not overwhelmed by a fear of life; he is simply in a state of expectancy, intent on preparing himself for his vocation. And what is a human being's vocation but the highest expression of his love of life? And so we must wait, next to him, while his vocation awakens and takes shape. His behavior can be like that of a mole, or of a lizard that holds itself still and pretends to be dead but in reality it has detected the insect that is its prey and is watching its movements, and then suddenly springs forward. Next to him, but in silence and a little aloof from him, we must wait for this leap of his spirit. We should not demand anything; we should not ask or hope that he is a genius or an artist or a hero or a saint; and yet we must be ready for everything; our waiting and our patience must compass both the possibility of the highest and the most ordinary of fates."

Amazing, fascinating, striking at truth. We must wait, in extended advent, for our children, just as we wait in this season for the coming of perhaps the world's most famous child. Whereas the Christ-child brings joy and spectacle without doubt, the unwrapping of our children's future brings profound mystery, a requirement of readiness, and the challenge of remaining apart.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving gratitude

When I was really ill I started to keep a gratitude journal, motivated by some of the books I read on "how to be sick," or rather, "how to turn your mind to being well while you are sick." Some days it was hard to scrape five items together (my bare minimum), but other days, even in the worst pain, the gratitude would just tumble out of me. I would write in the journal every night before sleep, and it set a positive tone for the resting hours. I still write in the journal, and now Aden and William each keep a gratitude journal of their own. Gratitude is a powerful force for action, for healing, for rest, and to kick off Thanksgiving week I've collected a few quotes on gratitude that inspire me. Thank you to all of the people that support and inspire me, as well; I'm grateful for you!!

- At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. - Albert Schweitzer 
He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." - Epictetus
- from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201111/the-seven-best-gratitude-quotes

“Sometimes life knocks you on your ass... get up, get up, get up!!! Happiness is not the absence of problems, it's the ability to deal with them.” 
― Steve MaraboliLife, the Truth, and Being Free

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” 
― Meister Eckhart

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” 
― William Arthur Ward

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
[Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1963]” 
― John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Colorado Seasons

Two days ago I raked
Ten bags of leaves and needles
In a tee-shirt and shorts
In the yard.

This morning I shoveled
Two feet of snow
In boots and gloves
From the driveway.

Two seasons
Only days apart.
Who knows what
Tomorrow will bring?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Confirmation Day

My beautiful girl is at church now to support the first "wave" of confirmands joining our church at the 9:00 service. Before I dropped Aden at St. Andrew UMC, she asked me why confirmation was such a big deal, given that she believed in God, tried to put her faith in practice every day, and already feels like a member of the church.  I told her that Confirmation was for the community of faith, for us all to recognize and support our newest members and be enlightened and renewed by their decision to join us.

In the aftermath of the attacks on Paris and gut-wrenching waves of news reports about the events there, it is a relief to celebrate young people who have decided to commit to a life of faith. Pastor Mark says "These students will profess their faith openly and pledge to 'walk in the way that leads to life.'" Though confirmation is but one milestone on the life-long journey of faith, it is a hope-filled and joyous one. I pray to remember my own commitment to live out a life of kindness and service to others; it's hard to renew those credos when fear and hate raise their heads in our world.

Many thanks to grandparents and other family members whose emails, cards, and well-wishes helped to support Aden today. She read her cards with many smiles and thank yous, and we all feel buoyed by the love from afar. We send it right back to you, with gratitude and joy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thoughts on Legacy

Our pastor at St. Andrew UMC, Mark Feldmeir, talked about a theme earlier this fall that I can't shake.  He contrasted "resume" achievements with "legacy" achievements. Resume-builders include the usual academic, athletic, and career-related triumphs, while legacy includes charity, generosity, kindness, and altruism.  Focus on the resume in the first half of life, and focus on the legacy in the second half, or so it seems.

Rev. Feldmeir asked the  congregation to think about how we would like to be discussed at our funeral. Will speakers focus on on our job title, income level, long-distant academic successes? Or will they talk about the money and time we gave to others, our random acts of kindness, our loyalty and our dedication to friends and family?  For me, the latter rings true, and not just because I'm mostly a SAHM with little income and no job title to speak of.

The idea of legacy makes me feel better about life decisions that have taken me off the career ladder, moved me into the 'volunteer' category in different areas. I'm also motivated to do more - do better - with the time I have left. Like our oak and maple trees that were planted five years ago and waited all this time to leaf out in brilliant fall colors, our fruits and our offerings can get better over time.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Elk-like

Aden saw my stack of Trader Joe's salads in the fridge and said, "You're going to turn into an elk!"  An elk? The image of a lumbering, plodding, gigantic-antlered beast came to mind.Seeing my confusion, my daughter added, "I was just trying to think of an herbivore."

Fantastic.

So I'm an elk, and I'm also confined to the house for the day as Daniel woke up feverish, with an urgent need to throw up. I'm going to focus on being grateful that he made it to the toilet, and not on all of my canceled plans. It helps that I already ran upstairs to vent to Rob that I will never be able to write a novel - or even a short story - while the kids are still young. No time, no control over the schedule, no available brain cells. Even the blog will be short today.

So now that I've Lysol-wiped the whole downstairs, let me end on a positive note. Our young oak tree actually turned red for the first time this year, our flaming bush is starting to go up in scarlet, and the house is cozy on our first really cold day. Time to curl up with my sick boyo, drink tea while he sips ginger-ale, and look forward to some TJ's salad.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

And now . . . November

From celebrating el Dia de los Muertos in Mesa to trick-or-treating in the tiny mountain town of Crested Butte, we've whirled through the past ten days. A few days at home in between trips allowed for laundry, appointments and packing - making sure to include Halloween costumes and trick-or-treat bags in the backpacks. Crested Butte celebrated Halloween with a Friday afternoon parade, and our cowboy, lifeguard, and Robin Hood zig-zagged down Elk Street with other costumed creatures, collecting candy from all of the stores on the main drag. Rob and I sipped hot chocolate and stomped our feet to keep warm while Ninja Turtles, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Michael Jackson and Pink Ladies trotted by in search of sugary bounty.

Our kids were delighted to join the happy throng of kids, reminding us that last year we had no trick-or-treating in the Grand Canyon, and the year before that we had only grocery store candy from Orlando. Rob and I reminded them how lucky they were to have a fall break timed for inexpensive travel, and how grateful they should be to see new places at regular intervals. Our words may have fallen on deaf (or sugar-buzzed ears), but it did make an impression when, on Saturday's trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Aden's phone pulled up the "what you did last year on this day" feature to show pictures of the Grand Canyon.

"How cool is that!" she said, as she scrolled through photos of the kids hiking on the Kaibab trail. We had just finished the Oak and Rim trails at the Black Canyon, and felt a little bit of "deja vu all over again."

So grateful for adventures, so grateful to be home again. Loved seeing pictures of cousins and good friends trick-or-treating in costumes from Ghostbuster to Taco, and thrilled to drop off excess candy at the elementary school, where they are collecting it to send to soldiers overseas. Good times, all round; next up, Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mesa & Rocktober

William and I were somewhat shocked to find ourselves in Mesa, Arizona, last Thursday night. Despite efficient calendaring and planning, the trip to "Rocktober" 12 & Under Water Polo Championships came way too fast. Also, Mesa looks a lot like Albuquerque; my roommate (fellow WP mom) and I kept thinking we were in New Mexico instead of Arizona.  Despite the short flight, there is an hour time change and a twenty - degree temperature differential, which combined to shock bodies and scramble minds.

The kids handled the change better than we did, as evidenced by their amazing 3 and 2 record against some of the top teams in the country. California contributed most of the teams, but Connecticut, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and yes, Colorado, brought excellent groups, as well. Our boys and girls finished 10th out of 24 teams, earning them a legitimate place among the top ten U12 teams in the country.  By the end of the tournament, we not only knew for sure where we were,  but we knew that our kids belonged in challenging games and excellent tournaments; that's pretty exciting for a group from pool-poor, landlocked Colorado!

In addition to watching five close water polo games we explored Mesa. Highlights for me included a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival in downtown Mesa's art district, and dinner at "Organ Pizza,"  a pizza place with a giant, European cathedral - style organ built into the whole front wall. The organist serenaded team, parents, and other patrons with tunes from Sinatra to Ghost Busters, and the kids were dancing and singing along to the music. We also played at the Sheraton "Wrigleyville" pools and saw the stadium where the Cubs play their spring training games. Quite a lot to see in Mesa, after all!

The trip ended on a rough note as one of our kiddos got sick, and our flight was delayed two and a half hours. When we landed at 1:30 am we were a tired crew, but after a few days' rest we will be as good as new and grateful for the chance to have such an adventure.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pumpkin as Metaphor, 2015

It's a whirlwind of sodden leaves and homework assignments, and William and I head out to Arizona tonight for a water polo tournament. I got back from hiking with friends on Sunday evening, Rob was out of town Monday through Wednesday, and now the van heads back to the airport this afternoon. Since I'm caught between packing and doing coursework for my new class, I am reposting this blog (with a few edits) from February of 2010. Hard to believe that Aden was eight years old when I wrote this piece. I remember sitting next to her, little legs swinging over the edge of the seat. Now she's closing in on my height . .  .

Enjoy.

“What would you rather have my friends
A chance to shine, or die here on the vine?
The better way seems very plain to me/
You will have eyes to see, and for that night, you’ll be
A bright lamp burning in the darkness”
- From “John’s Garden” Music and Lyrics by Peter Mayer

I took my eight-year-old daughter to her first real concert on Friday. Peter Mayer, a folksinger with incredible vocal and guitar skills, was the star and solo act. She and I sat enraptured while he worked his guitar-string magic, making cat’s cradles of the cat gut and tuning the instrument as finely as a mother might comb and braid her baby’s hair. Many of his songs are humorous and many contain moral queries and speculate on life’s big questions, such as “is it better to go big and flame out or slowly fade away?”

The song, “John’s Garden,” addresses this question in a pumpkin patch on the eve of Halloween, when farmer John comes to tell the pumpkins that their lives will soon change forever. The big moment, the climax of their existence, is at hand, and though it may be unfamiliar it will be glorious. When John leaves, the pumpkins call a meeting. Most are confused, scared or reluctant to become the jack-o-lanterns John has planned. One boldly speaks out and calls the promised eyes and candlelight a lie, a trap that will not be worth the sacrifice. Another counters with the verse I included, saying that their moment of glory will encompass splendor and vision (maybe even starlight!) and be worth any sacrifice.

On the way home I asked my daughter which were her favorite songs. “John’s Garden” was at the top of her list, and I asked her what she would decide if she were a pumpkin at Halloween. She decisively replied that she would want to die on the vine. Hmmm. She did not ask which option I would choose and I held my counsel. I asked her why, and she said, “I don’t want to be carved.”

Perhaps I would have answered the same way when I was her age, withholding my promise and potential from the mere thought of endings, of fading away, of bruising and carving.

Now, at what I hope is the midpoint of life, I tend to favor the road of the jack-o-lantern. I know life will carve me up (there are a few slices already), and if either original or reflected light burns within me, I’d opt to have it shine through the cracks. Hopefully the candle within is long and slow-burning as opposed to the short and stubby blackened nubs that we usually place in our carved pumpkins. Who knows, if my jack-o-lantern self is not too bruised and blackened at the end of the party I might even be used in a pumpkin pie.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Art in Nature

Our fall has been gorgeous, warm and sunny, no rain, lots of fall foliage lingering on the trees. I've been appreciating the quality of light through the reds and golds of autumn while noticing the weirdness of wearing tank tops and shorts through mid-October. In the midst of this juxtaposition, I made arrangements to rejoin / restart a group that's interested in the environment.

We met at a lovely solar-paneled home to discuss things we can do to help the earth through this time of crisis. We can only do small things, but feel the moral imperative to do something. Our organizer had some notes that raised our  hopes; she had recently been at a presentation by Randy Hayes, organizer at Foundation Earth (http://www.fdnearth.org/), who advocates for doubling the native forest canopy around the world. Hayes says that by doubling the canopy and turning to renewables, humans can actually bring greenhouse gases under control in future decades.

Few messages about climate change are so hopeful, and I came out of the meeting newly energized. We were also buoyed by looking at environmental art by Andy Goldsworthy (http://visualmelt.com/Andy-Goldsworthy), who works with natural materials in nature to create ephemeral works of art. I was so delighted by his sculptures that I had to share his images with the kids, and we spent the next hour working on our own "yard art." Aden's pictures - above - is the result of her efforts.

So I'm off to hike in the mountains this weekend with renewed hope. The mountains are sure to inspire us, as always, and I will come back and give money to plant trees, research solar panels, find more messages of gratitude and hope.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dizzy Daze

I just had to out myself after a few days of crazy stunts and foolishness. My brain must have scrambled over a weekend of class at Regis. I enjoyed class immensely, wrote several essays, and apparently burned all neuron bridges to functioning in the real world.

Exhibit A: I went to Starbucks to get an iced green tea. Having given up coffee, I inhaled the scent so deeply that I drew suspicious glances from the others in line. After drinking my iced tea over Brene Brown's latest book, I went to the bathroom and set my purse on the toilet instead of the hook. When I turned to flush, my purse fell in to the contents of the bowl (fortunately only liquid).  So I had to fish out my purse, pray that no one else was in the bathroom, and mop it dry over the sink. Urine cures leather, doesn't it?  No wonder they put hooks on the door.

Exhibit B: I went to the gym, in a hurry to warm up on the treadmill before yoga. Valuable minutes ticked away while I tried desperately to untangle the blue wires of my ear buds. Finally triumphing over the tangle, I stuck them in my ears  and turned on my iPod - to discover that it was dead. I kept the buds in my ears, of course, so no one would notice my wasted effort.

Exhibit C:  I tried to call my parents in the twenty-eight minutes of kid-free time that I had last evening. I picked up the house phone, dialed a number automatically, and waited while it rang for minutes . . . .only to realize that I had dialed my own number. Please tell me this gets better . . .

If any of this has happened to you, you're not alone. If anyone has advice on how to resuscitate brain cells, I'm all ears!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Anger and Grief

"Grief is perhaps the emotion we fear the most."
- Brene Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.

It's so much easier to get angry than it is to grieve. Much easier to over-function and plan than to break down, especially when surrounded by children and the needs of a busy household. I've been wrestling with grief over the past weeks, trying not to feel the sorrow of my father's diagnosis, not to feel the loss of what I thought would be a life-long friendship, not to fully swallow the pain of a child who has been routinely excluded.

My MO for grief is usually to brew anger in my gut (no wonder I have so many gut issues) and then let it fly like the steam of a teakettle late in the evening when the kids are in bed. Rob usually gets a contact burn from being a beta listener, and he patiently steps back and waits for the pressure to die down before offering a few words of support. Rarely do I substitute tears for the anger, but when I do it's more cleansing for me and easier for Rob to offer support. The tears are more rare because it hurts too much to go there, and I don't know how to "do" grief.

In a wonderful article called "The Geography of Sorrow" by Tim McKee (The Sun , October 2015http://thesunmagazine.org/), psychologist Francis Weller talks about how modern society has lost the grief rituals that sustained our ancestors in a tribal culture: "When modern people engage in grief rituals, the often say it feels familiar, as if they've done this before. Yes, we have, for more than two hundred thousand years. And then, within the past few hundred years, it practically disappeared. That's a profound loss."  We now grieve alone, not wanting to inflict our discomfort on other people, not wanting to disappoint.  We've certainly lost the practice of thanking the one who grieves, as Weller notes in the same article:  "During the grief ritual you go off by yourself to weep, and when you return, the group welcomes you back and thanks you for helping to empty the communal cup of sorrow. How many of us have ever been thanked for our grief before?"

I was fortunate to read McKee's article and Brene' Brown's book at the same time I was suppressing my grief. With a double whammy of insight and instruction, I was able to give myself space and permission to feel sorrow and to let the steam of my anger settle back down into tears. I still want to function, to not overstate my grief or let it overwhelm me, but a wise, wise friend told me that my compassion and my grief (shared in many cases) can prove a valuable undercurrent to pragmatics and planning. To sit compassionately with one who suffers, to listen and not try to fix, would certainly be a gift.



Friday, October 2, 2015

Lord of the Flies

It's definitely lord of the flies around here. On the cusp of cool weather our house suddenly fills with horrendously large, buzzing flies that come from nowhere and bump against window screens and light fixtures until they fall dead on the floor in appalling fuzzy clumps.The annual event never becomes less disgusting, though this year's horror is alleviated somewhat by the humor of watching Rex the cat in his perpetual hunt of the ugly insects. Rex stalks, leaps, bats, sometimes connects, and then immediately loses interest when the flies fall motionless to the floor. We think he ate one or two and became disgusted with the whole process, but at least he was exhausted for a few days.

The craziness of the flies has expanded to my mental state as the round of children's events, practices, and appointments increases with each passing day. From track meets to band concerts to swim initiations (where you apparently spend hundreds of dollars on swag before even making the team), to practices we drive with white-knuckle intent. To add insult to injury, we also had four trips to the orthodontist and dentist this week, accumulating rubber bands and ibuprofen tablets as fast as flies.

The dentist / ortho combination really chaps my hide. For two appointments I tried desperately to get the kids into the ortho to remove the wire before they had their teeth cleaned, only to run late at the dentist and barely get back to the ortho in time to have the wire put back on. I gave up the attempt to do things in the requested order and yesterday managed to reverse the process, so that William had to go to the dentist before his braces appointment. The hygienist was mad at him for not getting the wire removed (as if he has control of the car keys, the appointment calendar, and the credit card??), and then the ortho tech muttered about fluoride's stickiness and how they are more than happy to take wires off before the appointment.

I'm frustrated that anyone would complain to my twelve-year-old child instead of to me, and happy to explain that our schedule is so ridiculous that the kids are lucky to be in braces and get to the dentist at all. I guess the takeaway is relief that I am not trapped on an island with a group of dental and ortho assistants, schedulers, and technicians, or my lord-of-the-flies demeanor would get all of us in trouble.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Holding on to Normal

We spent the weekend in Albuquerque watching water polo games. Aden, Rob and I cheered on William and Daniel and their U12 and U10 teams. Aden was a really good sport; it was difficult for her to spectate in an arena where she has most recently been a competitor. Her support for her brothers and past teammates was one of the bright spots for me in a very bright weekend.

My favorite moments were watching Daniel and William pass together in the warm up pool or clown around with their friends when they were supposed to be passing. I joked with a friend that all it took was six hours in the pool and three physical games for the boys to be able to hang together. She called it the "get along or drown" method of parenting.

Other great moments were stopping in Santa Fe with Rob, Aden and Daniel for lunch and for a quick tour of the Georgie O'Keeffe Museum. O'Keeffe is one of my favorite artists, and Aden has done two projects relating to her art, so we were both excited to see the pieces on exhibit. The scenery up in Santa Fe is beautiful, too.

But I have to "out" myself - it was hard to stay grounded in the "normal child" philosophy that I so vigorously supported just last week. After William had a particularly good game, we had kind friends and other parents come up to us and compliment his play. They also asked if he had signed up for Olympic Development Camps, future seasons, other tournaments, etc. Instantly my mind went to Stanford, picturing seats at poolside for a PAC 10 game some eight years down the road.

I did firmly grip my wandering mind and rein it back to the present, but it was an exhausting tug-of-war. I'm dismayed by how convinced I can be in one moment, only to topple in a relatively light wind of praise or recognition. I guess I'm just wired to "Zing" to that type of reinforcement, and it will be the project of the lifetime to take such comments in stride and move forward with my normal, wonderful life.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Normal Children

"All day, every day, we are flooded with the truly extraordinary. The best of the best. The worst of the worst .. . This flood of extreme information has conditioned us to believe that "exceptional" is the new normal. And since all of us are rarely exceptional, we all feel pretty damn insecure and desperate to feel "exceptional" all the time."
- Mark Manson, author, on markmanson.net

Manson's sentiments struck a chord with me. Since I was six, I felt that I had to be exceptional to be worthy. Normal was a bad word; only the top 1% would do (this was long before the phrase "top one percent" became a negative.)  In the last ten years I finally realized that this pressure was making me miserable. Striving for exceptional caused an artificial separation from other people, and sent the wrong message to my children: that they too, had to strive for the unattainable.

When I saw the thought process passed from parent to child I felt sick. I don't want that pressure, that loneliness for my kids, but it's tough to turn off the message that we receive from society. In this age of uber-parenting, parents are told that our kids need to be "more, better, best." Jeffery Kluger notes in his TIME Magazine article, "In Praise of the Ordinary Child," (link)  that the reason we push our kids might have economic underpinnings:

"The stock market swings of the 1980s were followed by the tech boom of the ’90s, which led to the tech collapse of the aughts, which was followed, finally, by the great, tectonic crash of 2008. Through all that, the American middle class grew smaller and smaller while the rungs on the economic ladder grew ever farther apart. If their kids were going to get ahead, many parents felt, they would have to be bred to be failure-proof."

And so we push towards the exceptional in school, test scores and sports. We fear the normal, even though the odds of Ivy Leagues or Big Leagues are infinitesimal. We sometimes - God forgive us - fail to see the unique miracles perpetrated by our children every day, and we forget that allowing children to fail and teaching them how to get up, are some of the most important lessons in life.

Thinking of my kids as 'normal' was a mind-bender at first. The children aren't ordinary to me or their father. What of Aden's budding artistic ability, her amazing pictures of flowers in the sun, her kindness toward strangers? Or William's sun-bright smile, his singing voice accompanying a favorite song on the radio, his loyal friendships? And Daniel's passion for reading comics, his joy in sharing funny lines announced with "now hear this!" and his Space Invader stacks of books? These traits can't be measured by grades or test scores but they are intrinsically valuable.

Our children might be normal in the eyes of the world, and that's just fine, but they should know that they are unique. No winning result could make them more special or loved. They should also know that success requires hard work and healthy striving; it also requires the ability to fall and get back up. They should know that no matter how "normal" their class rank, their band seat number, their place on the team, they will find a way to build a healthy and productive life, surrounded by friends and family who know that life is not built out of exceptional moments, but by the common ones in between.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Forty-five Years

What does the number 45 mean to you? It's just over my age, scarily close to half a century, a number that goes with 'Colt' or "RPM.'  It also the number of years that my both my parents and my in-laws have been married. (Actually, Mom and Dad just celebrated their 46th).  Together, they give our family a legacy of ninety years of partnership, hard work, prayer, love - and did I mention hard work?

My folks were here for a visit over the last week, checking in with a few docs at the UC Hospital, and blessing our family with their presence along the way. Mom reminded Aden how to crochet, and they baked and ran errands together before sitting down together at the kitchen table to knit scarves and washclothes.  Dad and Mom teamed up to make a formidable solitaire team and played with me and the boys several close games (solitaire being a game that has been mastered by Connie Dravenstott, and occasionally by Bill, too!).

Sometime over the weekend Mom told me a sweet, sweet story. On the morning of their forty-sixth anniversary, they exchanged cards, and Dad opened hers with a smile. After reading the card with its two hearts on the front, Mom opened . . . the same card.  Hearts and minds attuned, for sure.

Mom takes great care of Dad as he works through some health issues; her hand in his, her arm at his elbow, her care for his drinks and meals starts tears flowing. If there is an evolution in the state of marriages, theirs is highly evolved, for sure. Another example of this: one of Dad's doctors recommended that they turn into snowbirds, and find a warm and brighter climate for the winter. Though it's hard to change plans and routines, difficult to venture out on that limb, I could see both of them nudging forward along the thought process, willing to do whatever it took to keep each other safe, secure, and happy. I only wish Denver was warm and sunny all winter long, but promise to come visit whichever snowbird nest they choose.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

PS to Back to School Nights

Mom and Dad are visiting this week after making the trek down through Wyoming from Polson, Montana. As we sat with steaming mugs of tea Mom commented to me, "I had to laugh when I read your post about Back to School nights blog," which is code for: you messed with the truth, young lady!

So I quickly apologized for any fiction I may have passed off as reality, and she waved her hand and said, "it's only that we DID go to back to school nights at Rolling Hills High School.  Both of us went; one went to your classes while the other went to John's. And Dad still remembers that French teacher of yours, and the eighty-two-year old long term sub you had in Calculus. And how would we know that if we had not gone to Back to School night?"

Duly chastened, I noted that no one could forget Madame, and admitted that as a self-absorbed 16-year-old, I probably didn't notice anything that didn't pertain to my immediate self. Since I wasn't at my own open house,it could not have happened.  Makes me aware of what's in store when my kids get just a bit older . . .and my own reputation goes down the tubes. Mea culpa, Mom and Dad.



Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Good Egg

Rob and I went out two nights in a row last weekend, an event as shocking as if Daniel had sat down at the piano to play Beethoven's Fifth with no prompting. On Friday we had the Book of Mormon, which was full of impressive talent, but which strayed toward the vulgar (not shocking from the creators of South Park). We enjoyed it but didn't erupt in the same guffaws and knee slaps as the slightly inebriated folks in the row behind us. The next night we had clubhouse tickets to the Rockies game courtesy of old friends that we hadn't seen in years. We enjoyed catching up and comparing notes on our high-schoolers, which was startling considering that when we met twenty years ago no one had kids and Rob and I had just become a couple. We enjoyed our couple time, able to talk, people-watch, and listen to profanity without children present.

After some naps and football on Sunday, Rob dedicated a few hours to researching new refrigerators. Our current fifteen-year-old model is turning itself off regularly, requiring Rob to restart it by unplugging, and then plugging it back in (a trick learned after 20+ years in the high tech world!). Scared to contemplate losing hundreds of dollars in food, we decided to go spend thousands of dollars on a new refrigerator. After a lengthy visit to Home Depot, a Q&A session on water filters, and pulling Daniel out of several ovens and dryers, we came home with receipts and instructions on how to fit the new fridge in our kitchen. We cut out / tear down the cupboard currently set in the wall and repaint the kitchen, of course, as one has to pay a high price for a new appliance.

When Rob got home from work last night he sat down rather despondently and sighed. "I've got to get something off my chest," he said.  A different woman's mind might have flashed toward pornography, an affair, or a missed bill payment, but knowing Rob, mine did not. I was surprised however, to hear the reason: "you know our fridge? the one I thought was ranked third in consumer reports? Well, it's not the same model. Our is actually ranked seven points lower." He looked at his tamales with regret.

When I assured him that I didn't care about the Consumer Report ranking and felt confident that we would be able to use the new fridge for fifteen  years regardless, he was relieved and set to dinner with relish.  That's the kind of confession a woman likes to hear. A good egg, for sure!


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

'Rapidification' of Life

I've been meaning to read - or just look into reading - the Pope's climate change encyclical Laudato Si (Praise Be to You).  Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, called it the "most remarkable religious document in a generation" (Sojourners Sept-Oct 2015 p12, www.sojo.net). As a parent, former Green Team leader and Ecojustice participant, I feel that the Pope's call to save the earth might be a wee bit relevant. I've put it off because, frankly, our family is not doing nearly enough to be green and I'm not quite ready to feel the guilt or the fear that will undoubtedly wash over me when I read the encyclical. At least I can empathize with the seven billion or so other people who feel the same, and also do nothing.

Fortunately, I found a nugget to blog about in Bill McKibben's short review of the document. McKibben quotes the Pope as he discusses the '"rapidification of life" in the sense that:

 "the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.'" (Sojourners Sept-Oct 2015 p12, www.sojo.net)

Anxiety. A curse of modern times. I suffer from it, my family members and friends suffer from it, in fact health professionals assure me that most of America suffers from it.  This quote helped me to realize that our response of anxiety is just normal in the face of all that bombards us every day. Humans are not  meant to have messages, photos, news bytes, texts, etc. flooding our consciousness all day and into the night 365 days per year.  No generation has ever lived like this before, and the Pope's message indicates that the pace of change may be too rapid for any quick adjustments on our part.

On the flip side, if we could slow down, if we could make changes that are positive for the earth - which includes our own species - then not only would we be doing the right thing but we would be a whole lot happier.  Let's "de-rapidify" our lives. I might start with a long, slow read of the Papal encyclical.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Non-Writing Life

Last week I organized the files on my computer for the first time in fifteen years. I am not kidding; though I have had three or four different computers in that timeframe, I just transferred massive amounts of files from one to another. It took hours to read through and delete outdated lesson plans, Christmas letters, and swimming workouts, but in the process of cleansing I found some personal treasures - journals of my first pregnancy. My face burned and my gut clenched with some remembered emotion as I read through the months leading up to Aden's birth.

One bittersweet note was the number of references I made to writing, to hopes for editing and freelancing jobs, to classes taken and books purchased (last week I also had to throw out the 1996 and 1997 Writer's Markets since both are obviously outdated, pre-twitter, pre-everything). Here is one note I made to myself from February of 2001;

"I got really busy with school and two coaching jobs sometime after my last entry and have not had time or extra energy for writing, just for emails and checking the pregnancy websites J However – I got a letter from a friend asking to exchange some writing material for critiquing purposes. I’m intrigued by the suggestion and asked her for an “assignment” to complete since I don’t have any other writing to give her! Definitely need to keep in practice."

I was often "intrigued" and given to exhortations to "keep practicing."  I made other references to writing up to August, and then - after a detailed description of Aden's birth - everything stops for ten years.  While this decade of delay is not uncommon after women have children (see Meg Wolitzer's The Ten Year Nap link), I felt constricted and teary at the thought of so many false starts and delays.There's no doubt that - while motherhood pushed everything else out of the way - it has also provided deep and lasting topics for writing and discussion, which are 'intriguing.'  Now I just have to "keep practicing!" and finally make that dream happen.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Mom's Battle Against Sugar

I'm supposed to be "off" sugar, which is more difficult than getting my teenagers up in the early morning. The sweet stuff is in everything from catchup (can't eat it) to tea to tacos (well, not so much in tacos but I was looking for alliteration).  As I struggle to keep sugar out of the house and out of my mouth, the kids and Rob are dragged into the fray - not a lot around to eat, and lots of begging to buy more. Here's a poem I wrote this summer in honor of the Dravenstott war on sugar:


Sugar, the Enemy


Sticky-spray confections at swim meets,
Popsicles at the ice-cream truck,
Syrup on French toast golden in the pan,
Washed down with apple juice from a tin can.

Youth’s energy squared by Splenda,
Attention deficits blasted by corn syrup,
Wild gazes snagged by adverts and TV games,
Ability to focus gone up in flames.

Frenetics fueled by toxins addictive as cocaine,
Point to the proof and be called insane.
Cower at the store if you say “not today,”
Be clipped with the cart if you get in the way.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Where I Am From

I spent a thought-provoking weekend in poetry class at Regis. One of the exercises we tackled was the Where I Am From poem, based on the original poem written by George Ella Lyon (http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html) and a template created by Levi R0mero (template) inspired by the original poem. Each student created his or her own piece in about twenty minutes, and we had a blast reading and listening to everyone's brief synopsis of growing up. I asked my sister to write one of her own and was tickled that we picked several of the same words or images. Here's my version:

Where I am From

I am from pea green shag rug
from mustard yellow wall phone and long, long cord.
I am from the blue-shuttered salt box without air conditioning
holding the odor of lentil-barley soup.
I am from the rhubarb patch, the weeping willow,
whose tentacle limbs and gnarled roots hid secret notes and Barbie dolls.

I’m from living Christmas trees and loud sneezes,
from Herman and Ruth.
I’m from throat-clearing and garage-sale shopping
and Mass on Sunday mornings.

I’m from suck it up and respect your mother
and “My Darling Clementine” on guitar.
I’m from eggy-cheese casserole on holidays.
I’m from Pompton Plains and Ann Arbor,
turkey tetrazzini and 31 Flavors.
From shipwrecked child-bride Mary
passing a ten-spot down the queue at Ellis Island,
from many wood-paneled living rooms on which hung
photos of Montana tree farms, mountain sunsets,

 and family crests of keys.

-Laura Dravenstott

Friday, August 21, 2015

Back To School Nights

I've been a hamster on the Back to School treadmill for the past two weeks and now slump over my laptop with the first of many cups of black tea, sighing in relief for Fridays and trying to plan a big sleep over the weekend. We're blessed to live in a school district where teachers and schools welcome parents and community members, plan for BTSN, and dedicate entire evenings to the process of greeting and informing thousands of parents, but these first ten days have exhausted everyone.

And yes, I did say "thousands.' Last night at Aden's high school, one of the assistant principals told us that he estimated between 3500 and 5000 parents would attend the BTSN.  I was in shock for a number of reasons: my fitbit said that I walked two miles to get to all of Aden's classes, we had just walked into - and out of - the special college prep counseling room with hundreds of collegiate pennants hanging from the ceiling, and Rob and I had just finished musing on the lack of any kind of back to school night at our high schools. In fact, what memory tells me (and it could be lying) was that my parents took me to seventh grade, wished me luck with college planning, and did not set foot on my middle school or high school campuses until graduation.

So we either live in an incredible district or just see the real-time effects of helicopter parenting, or both, as we jostle for space in crowded corridors and wipe sweat from our brow in overcrowded classrooms. I almost laughed out loud on Tuesday at the 7th grade BTSN; William's science teacher was absent due to taking her own daughter to college, so she recorded a video to play for parents. As we filed in and sat down, another school employee greeted us and explained, then started the video. The classroom was full, the video playing, and I looked around in disbelief as everyone focused intently on the screen, taking notes of the teacher's contact info and requirements. Surely this was the moment for idle chatter, comic relief, or even sneaking out early - but no, we were rapt. Anything to guarantee our children's success.

But of course, we can't guarantee success, any more than we can prevent heartache and disappointment. To that end, we were gratified by the high school's emphasis on students' reaching out to their teachers whenever they need help; teachers have office hours each day and set up other special times by appointment. They expect the freshman to need help and ask for it, and that might be the greatest skill they learn this year. I didn't learn how to ask for help until my mid-thirties, so our kids will be way ahead of the curve, no matter what grades they earn.




Monday, August 17, 2015

A Room With No View

I'm writing for the first time in the new basement office, which Aden and I cleaned and arranged over the summer. She plans to do art here and I, (dare I say it out loud?) I plan to write. And I might as well make a full confession; I plan to write blog entries, magazine articles, poetry and possibly even . (drumroll please). . . a young adult novel. Take that, universe! I actually typed it 'out loud.' No take backs.

It's weird being down in the basement, hiding from housework, the phone, and the cat. When I plugged the computer into the unused wall outlet - after working for ten minutes to get the child protector piece out of the socket with various coins, and banging my head on the desk in the process - I thought I might be electrocuted, either by the ancient outlet or by a lightning strike from God, angry at my hubris. But no electrocution, only a frightened spider.

Stephen King gave me the motivation to clear 200 pounds of toys and old clothes out of the space in order to create my writing haven. In his wonderful book, On Writing, King strongly recommends that a hopeful writer finds a place of their own to write. King says, "it really only needs one thing: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk." (2000, page 155). The kitchen counter and our converted dining room / office space do not have doors, which is great when I need to see what the kids are doing on their computers, but counterproductive for me, when all family members and pets can find and distract me at will. This little room has a door, it also has a small desk and a bookshelf. It's humble, but it's a start. If you'll excuse me, I'll get to work.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A New School Year

Up at 5:45 this morning to get Aden off to the school bus by 6:15 (are the school administrators CRAZY?) and spent the following three hours prepping bagels, smoothies, sausages and toast for three different kids off to their first days of school (at three different schools). I'm somewhat used to getting up early to work out, or squeeze in some writing, but my mind boggles at the thought of getting up so early just to keep someone company. All I did before work was putter around the kitchen and make messes so that I could clean them up.

Nerves were at play with all the kids and I felt the emotional weight of the milestone, so we'll all be jangly this afternoon, for sure. A few of my friends had tears (their own and their kiddo's) at the elementary school, and while I feel more excited for the adventures to begin than sad at the start of crazy school week routines, I understand the emotions. Though time passes quickly all year round and the children grow and change daily, parents notice the growth - the sharper cheekbones, extra inches, newly practiced eye-roll - much more at an official start date like the first day of school.

It's shocking as a cold rainstorm in August to realize that my child started high school today. She's ready, and I'm curious and eager to hear about all of her adventures, but I do thank my lucky stars that she has four full years left before college. (By that time I plan to have invented a college that she can attend in my living room).  Now the hard part will be buckling down myself to get writing done, and hopefully acquire a writing job. With no kids to distract me, with the house mostly cleaned out and ready for new adventures I have no excuses - except maybe to finally get my 5:30am workout in before everyone comes home.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Home from Hawaii

We made it home in the early afternoon yesterday and spent the rest of the day shuffling with glazed eyes from suitcase to washer to dryer. As beachy-salty sandals and swimsuits full of seashells spilled out of the hamper we reflected on our amazing week and already missed Hawaii. Despite our joy at seeing the cat again and our relief at sleeping in our own (well air-conditioned) beds, we miss the breeze, the carefree island attitude and above all, the ocean.

I have been to Hawaii four times and this trip was my favorite. Highlights included: snorkeling with the kids - seeing a green sea turtle with Aden and swimming through a school of white and black striped fish with William; sea kayaking out to a small island / bird sanctuary and down Lanikai beach; taking turns on a paddle board in both the calm canal and the choppy ocean and watching Aden and William ride the waves (standing!) all the way back to shore; shopping and eating out at the Kailua farmers' market (trying local kombucha, dragon fruit, lychee popsicles and macadamia nut candy); playing high-speed, competitive solitaire with Grandpa Bill and Grandma Connie each night, and wandering through a brilliant plumeria grove at the Koko crater botanical garden. Of course, food cost twice as much, and the kids almost killed each other in the back seat of the rented minivan on more than one occasion, but all things considered it was a vacation beyond compare.

We did miss the meeting of the Clavadetscher cousins, aunts and uncles in Montana, and we watched Aunt Karen's compilation video with full hearts and eager eyes. We hope to see everyone next year - maybe back at our other favorite ocean off the shore of Cape Cod?  And lastly, I want to ask for prayers for Andrea Himmelberger, Rob's cousin's wife, a wonderful lady who starts chemo for lymphoma today. Sending love to all!

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Poem for August

Coming up to the last two weeks of summer, and feeling the days shorten and the birdsong start later each morning. As we studied sonnets in my poetry class a few weeks ago, I found one that was appropriate for this summer's shift toward middle age:


A Calendar Of Sonnets: August
Poem by Helen Hunt Jackson

Silence again. The glorious symphony 
Hath need of pause and interval of peace. 
Some subtle signal bids all sweet sounds cease, 
Save hum of insects' aimless industry. 
Pathetic summer seeks by blazonry 
Of color to conceal her swift decrease. 
Weak subterfuge! Each mocking day doth fleece 
A blossom, and lay bare her poverty. 
Poor middle-aged summer! Vain this show! 
Whole fields of Golden-Rod cannot offset 
One meadow with a single violet; 
And well the singing thrush and lily know, 
Spite of all artifice which her regret 
Can deck in splendid guise, their time to go! 


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Presence

It's no coincidence that many birthday invitations read "No presents - just your presence!"  Though most of my peers would agree that the gift of someone's time means more than any dollar amount, it's still helpful to be reminded of the value of a friend.

On Friday night we celebrated the 50th birthday of a good friend whose wife had gone all out to make sure he didn't know about the party. In the row of friends and family holding the S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E signs was a college friend who flew in from upstate New York to visit the birthday boy, whom he hadn't seen in decades.  When we blocked the road with our signs and released the balloons, the honoree smiled and looked grateful and certainly surprised, but when he saw his dear friend holding up the second R, his face just morphed into a beautiful expression of shock and love and gratitude. All of us who saw this recognition and their ensuing embrace teared up, men and women turning aside to dab at their eyes and wave their hands in that helpless, mid-life expression which signifies "I don't know why I'm crying but dammit, here I go again!"

Rob also celebrated his birthday yesterday. Since it wasn't one of the "big ones" we had a quieter family day at home, but it was lovely to watch him read the cards from parents and his grandmother and brothers and the kids, and to remember what a gift his life is to all of us. Without Rob, the kids wouldn't be here, and I would be in a radically different place. We are blessed by each other, that's a fact, and we don't need to be You Tube sensations, Facebook fanatics, or Instagram addicts to know that our presence is a gift and the people in our lives are gifts to us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tail End of Summer

Clutching the tail end of summer as it swings around like a wild cat and heads into the teeth of the school year. Emails come every day from elementary, middle and high schools (yep, a kid in each this year) urging me to fill out forms and calendar all registration days. We've barely finished spring cleaning and have numerous projects going . . . but the fate of such aspirations hangs in the balance of fading energy and desire to laze in the sunshine while we still can.

Last weekend we broke free of the calendar and camped with friends at a delightful locale called Spillway Camp. Third time's still a charm, and the kids ran and played with as much abandon as on our first two yearly outings at this lovely, rock-pile-strewn riverside camp. The stars on our first night were absolutely breathtaking; William and I thought the little dipper would pour a cup of warm milk right into our hands.  We saw a bald eagle, a fox, hawks, and many chipper-munkers, as well as the most amazing sight of all - kids of all ages getting along for the better part of three days.  William wore his high-top hiking boots and scrambled over boulders without re-injuring his ankle and Aden and I wrote poetry during the rains to make up for my missed seminar.

This week William is off to camp at Eagle Lake, I'm working, and Daniel has nature camp every morning. Aden finished her math packet for high school and I am trying to arrange an tour for her at the high school where she will be a freshwoman. Thank goodness for our village here in Willow Creek - the carpools, pet-sitters, package-picker-uppers and reminders from our neighbors have saved our bacon numerous times over the past weeks. We're blessed beyond measure to be reminded daily that our friends and family matter most - that long afternoons in conversation and long walks and even short group texts tie us all together on a emotional-spiritual life raft to carry us from season to season.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer Swimming Finale

Four days of swim meets this week - two days of cold, drizzly weather and two days of blistering sun. Tiny figures in Speedos shivered their way to the blocks and through their 25's and 50's, while the older girls in bikini tops chatted with school friends between their 100's and 200's. We spent approximately $853 at the concession stands, and Daniel became a connoisseur of breakfast burritos and cheese pizza. More sugar was consumed per capita than anywhere else in Colorado, and purple tongues bespoke sticky spray candy and snocones. Moms and Dads staggered from tent to pool deck, carrying the bags under their eyes as well as towels, water bottles, goggles and heat sheets. All in all, an epic week.

Aden raced on a cool Tuesday with the 13-14's and 15-18's, swimming her best times in the 200 free, 100 breast and 200 IM.  She placed 9th in the breast to qualify for finals and later was bumped up to 8th as someone in front of her scratched (whoopee!). Both of her relays also qualified and ensured that the day of finals would be full of friends. Today she improved her time by another second and both relays moved up in the standings. She also swam a blistering 50 free to anchor the free relay and it was her best time in that race, as well.

Daniel raced on another cool day that turned rainy and colder. He swam two relays and a 50 backstroke, cutting six seconds to race to his best time in that race. He also spent time at both his brother's and his sister's prelim days, putting in nearly as many spectator - hours as his mother.

William battled through his badly sprained ankle, removing the air cast for the first time to kick at prelims on Thursday, and squeaking into finals in his 50 fly and 50 free despite adding between two and three seconds in both races. His relays also made the championship heat in finals and all of the boys ensured their return trip today. When the day of racing did not cause further injury or additional swelling to the ankle, we decided to proceed with finals today and William shook off any concerns of readiness and pushed himself, dropping 3.5 seconds in his 50 fly and 1.7 seconds in his 50 free (from Thursday!) to do best times and improve his standing in both races. The relays also improved, and we're hoping his 11-12 boy teammates brought home the trophy for C division once again.

So now we're sunburned and bleary - eyed, resting up before the season-ending banquet and awards ceremony. As usual, the time has gone too quickly, and we'll hang up goggles for a while before jumping back into the pool again to train or race. So sorry to see the season end but grateful for good health and good friends, and the kids' internal drive to do their best.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer Days

Independence Day in our neighborhood rivals Christmas for its party atmosphere and joy. The morning begins with a bike parade from the elementary school to the closest pool, a tidal wave of children and adults in red-white-and-blue. The middle school kids usually take the lead, careening around the first corner in a tipsy scrum that barely stays upright. Younger kids next, with parents jogging alongside to shout warnings or grab an errant handlebar. Then teens stroll by with dogs on leash, kids and dogs all spray painted in the colors of the flag. Adults stop by a certain driveway for a 10:00 beer, all ending up at the pool where lifeguard distributes otter pops and occasionally the fire truck stops by to squirt everyone with a hose.

Next stop the pool. We go home and change, fill the cooler and lube up with the sunscreen before heading out to relays and games at Mineral. With the shade tent in place from an early morning scramble to save seats, we kick back with friends to watch the kids dive for coins and soda cans, their goggled faces nearly split with glee. The kids get kicked out for the 21-and-over beer can grab, and our youngest danced with excitement to see Rob jump in and take part. Moms, Dads and grandparents grabbed a beer and snapped the tab immediately to the lifeguards' great dismay. "No beer in the pool!" they shouted.

Our family relay made the final heat but then placed fourth, after a valiant effort from William on his sprained ankle. I blew the inner tube relay for our team trying to loop it around my foot in an awkward backstroke, and was barely forgiven in time to purchase a hamburger and chips for lunch. A visiting man in bright pink trunks won the big splash contest by sacrificing his body for heroic belly flops. After the kids' water balloon toss we made our escape to veg out at home for a few hours. In the evening, a barbecue with friends and fireworks in the cul de sac topped off the exhilarating and exhausting day.

After a day of recovery we're embarking on the final week of swim team, with prelims for our kids on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The jury's still out on how much William will swim and on how many events the kids might have to re-swim at finals. Certainly no rest for the weary!


Friday, July 3, 2015

A Pneumonic for sIn

Aden and I attended a beautiful Catholic wedding service yesterday. The young bride was radiant on the arm of her tall groom and the wedding party was wonderfully global, with family members from Argentina and South Africa in attendance. The priest spoke with a Spanish accent -appropriate for the bride's bilingual family - and delivered a good sermon, though I had my doubts when he dove into the topic of sin on such a happy occasion.

His message was unexpectedly simple and appropriate for the newly wedded couple. "Sin should be spelled with a little s, a big, BIG I, and a little n. That's what happens when the egoic "I" gets in the way of our savior and our neighbor.  We have to work very hard to take that big I and bend it, force the ends together, round it out and change it's shape.  When we're done we have a circle, an 'O' and the word now is 'son,' as in the son of God."  Easy to remember, hard to do, but always helpful in a marriage, a family, a community.

Wishing everyone a blessed Fourth!

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Brief Fling

My love affair with baseball is over - killed by injury and defeat. The Creek team lost in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon in a 3:00 game that vividly recalled Jim McKay's voiceover prelude to ABC's "Wide World of Sports":  "We'll see the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."  If last week's games illustrated the thrill of victory, this one dealt the agony of defeat. I pictured that hapless skier crashing into the boards in pinwheel fashion on the ABC montage, especially when William charged full speed at first base to beat the throw, stepped on the bag wrong with his left foot and went sprawling hard into the dust.

After a breathless moment or two on the part of my son and myself, he stood up and hobbled with the coaches' help back to the dugout. I doctored his arm with neosporin and bandaids while one of the coaches who is a physical therapist helped to ice and elevate the ankle. William tried to go back in to bat in the third inning on a swelling limb that was duct-taped over his sock, but no dice. He struck out, the boys' momentum slowed to a crawl, and we lost 13 - 4. 
 
William promptly came down with a fever and ear infection, as well, and the poor kid is laid up on the couch alternating with ice baths for the ankle and blankets for the chill. I feel jilted and betrayed by the game of baseball, which lifted us so high last week and sent us packing - dusty and sore - two days ago. To add insult to injury, the kids' swim season is almost over, and it looks like William will miss his last week of practice in recovery. Since swimming was my first (and always will be my strongest) sporting love, I will have to kick baseball to the curb, at least until next year.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Baseball Mom

I've heard it said that if left up to moms, baseball would die. The statement seemed plausible a few weeks ago, but no longer. A tournament weekend full of valleys and implausible peaks converted me to a tender new love of the sport. Between our two boys we had seven games, in hot dry weather that gave kids bloody noses and sunburns. Daniel's team fought hard but lost two games and exited their double-elimination tournament, while William's team won one and lost one on Saturday, which sent them to the loser's bracket on Sunday - games at 11:00, 1;00 AND 5:00 if they kept winning. The heat reached 95 degrees, the team was down three boys and had one injured kiddo who could not, would not leave the game and strand them with eight players.Families gathered in the shade with coolers of gatorade and ice cream bars and prepared to wait it out.

Our baseball team has been together four years, and our coaches and families are committed and passionate while trying to keep wins and umpire calls in perspective. The three boys who were absent sent extended family at the game to spectate and cheer along with us, yelling phrases like "that's a good cut, Tom," or "good eye, Jack" when a batter swung and missed, or held off and watched a ball sail by.  Normally baseball is too slow for me, an excuse to chat with friends and zone out in the heat of the afternoon rather than be drawn into the game. But this weekend the action seemed fast and furious, the first game close, the second game a blowout in our favor, and the third game an intensely even affair that came down to the wire before our side struck out a final batter and erupted in cheers of joy and disbelief.

Sometimes baseball cuts cruelly, the spotlight falling on a struggling pitcher, a batter who strikes out at the crucial junctures or a fielder who gets a bad bounce and fails to stop a line drive. The boys breathe deep to get the butterflies out before they are pinned by the excited gazes of fifty spectators, and nervous parents pace behind the dugout while their kids pitch, bat, or lunge for the ball. Some games, like the one-run loss on Saturday night, stick in our craw, and remind us to teach our sons that we cannot control life, only our efforts, But some games reward players and fans alike, with three-up, three-down innings by our pitchers, home runs off our bats, safe slides across home, and jubilation at the final out. What hooked me was the huge grin on my son's face as he entered the dugout after a home run, yelling "did you see that, Mom?" and his exuberant leap into the arms of a coach after he pitched a great inning.

We're back to the tournament on Saturday, with a brave bunch of boys and a renewed zeal for the game. The families will be out in force, our numbers back to the full team, and the weatherman promises a hot day. Nothing better on a summer afternoon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How to Say I Can't

We've always told the children not to say "I can't" since saying the phrase out loud commonly makes it true. We encourage sayings like "I can but I will need your help,"  or "I can but I have not practiced enough yet," diplomatic ways of identifying challenges and how to overcome them.  Yet my words of wisdom are now coming back to bite me.  In the past six weeks we have been deluged with 15 inches of rain, canceled and rescheduled baseball games, swim practices and meets, and multiple demands from each child to get summer books, summer clothes, summer entertainment.  In the hurricane of requests, I had to periodically tell my children "I can't do that right now. I can do it in a week."  Or simply, "I can't."  My oldest child objected strongly to such statements, accusing me of weakness, procrastination and self-pity.

These accusations chip away at me like a workout session with a punching bag. You don't feel much at first but after repeated attacks the muscles quiver and you need to sit down.  I agree that I should not say "I can't" - it makes me a hypocrite and a bad example.  But what to say instead?  It's good for children to recognize that their parents have limits and that the kids cannot have everything they want right at the time they want it.  My mom, who was visiting, praised Rob and me for not giving in to every whim and encouraging delayed gratification, but I don't know that we do, really.  The children most often get what they request fairly soon after they express their desire.  They may pay for what they want themselves, but the ride to a store and the time it takes to shop come from us.

I guess that a parent's inability to be everywhere and do everything gives rise to the need for a driver's license at a child's 16th birthday.  Though some young adults may be too young to drive, the family's need combined with the young person's intense desire to be with friends and do what those friends are doing RIGHT NOW makes that little piece of plastic a necessity.  I don't know how to navigate the two and a half years before that piece of plastic comes home with Aden, but I'd better stop saying those two bad words.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Watching SYTYCD

One of my harmless vices is watching So You Think You Can Dance (link) .  I enjoy people with great bodies flinging themselves around to good music, I thrill to the passionate intensity that hallmarks a nervous parent in the audience, and I empathize when tears meet either the joy of success or the pain of defeat.  Last week's episode highlighted a young female tap dancer who first auditioned in Dallas. At that audition she received a "no" response from all three judges, who also provided her with a helpful critique on her song choice, her tempo, and her steps.  The girl took all their advice to heart, flew to Detroit to audition again the very next week with a new song, a new routine and a new determination. She made it to the next phase (Las Vegas!) with a unanimous vote and the compliments of the judges on her ability to take criticism and use it to her advantage.

I was surprised and inspired by her performance. (I was also impressed by the deep pockets that allow her to fly around the country for repeat auditions, and the mysterious ability to work her way into a second audition in as many weeks). No one likes failure, but it's the best if not only way to really learn.

This message resonated with me again this morning as I took Aden and Daniel to SwimLabs to work on their strokes and to practice using the video software. They both did a great job in applying my suggestions, though Daniel still tends to take critique personally and react with growing frustration. I could see huge growth in Aden as she calmly listened and watched and worked to incorporate changes that felt strange and new. She used to take such comments personally but has grown to realize that adults only take the time to critique when they believe the student has potential to be better, to be excellent.

As it turns out, my video was a bit too long for the connection to upload quickly, and my upload took twenty minutes (about 12 minutes too long) as the next class moved into the water and could not use the TV.  I felt guilty and unpracticed, and got into the car with my own angst. I asked Aden, "What would I say to you if this happened under your watch?" and she calmly replied, "You didn't hurt anyone, you didn't do anything wrong, and everything will be OK."  I don't know who's raising who, but so glad to have some expertise in the family. I fall down just as much as the kids and can use their help in getting back on my feet - though I'll never be the country's best dancer!