With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

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.