With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Poking the Bear of Hope, or Lighting the Darkness

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."
- Helen Keller

I swore several blog posts ago to write only about positive things, but realize that might be the reason for my infrequent entries.  Writing has the most value when it comes from an authentic place, and though my mind wants to focus on the positive my heart aches over recent news.  The government's climate report warns of hard times ahead, for us and especially for our children. The treatment of climate and war refugees on our borders strains credulity. And as Hanukkah begins, I think of last month's anti-Semitic actions - rising from no reason but from primitive, propaganda-fed places.

How do we acknowledge our authentic grief and still strive for hope, lighting candles in the dark places and trying to re-imagine a future that holds every potential for our children?  My spiritual guide, Dominie, read me the Helen Keller quote (above), to remind me that more possibilities and perspectives exist than just the grim headlines. For every dire prediction springing from the headlines or from the panicked places in my own mind, I can respond with this: "That's one way to look at it."
Dominie's words poked me, woke the bear of hope from a brief hibernation, and encouraged me to remember that the dark and troubled view is not the only view, and immense capabilities for healing exist.

Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Christmas - all these celebrate illumination. We can acknowledge our struggles while turning toward the light and becoming a light for others.  Our communal hopes will feed us, fuel imaginings of a bright tomorrow, if we can share them authentically along with our grief.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Thanksgiving

Laughter. Shouts, snickers, bellows and hoots of laughter punctuated the Thanksgiving table we shared with our family of friends. Memories from decades ago, weeks ago, from yesterday, reared their pointy little heads and tickled funny bones around the arc of couples and kids with whom we have shared fourteen years of child-raising and growing up.

Before the meal we stood in a circle in the kitchen, revealing one by one the things we felt most grateful for. There were some chuckles as the six-foot-plus boys put food at the top of the list, but the sentiments of "family," "friend," "my Mom," "my chosen family," were so heartfelt I had to blink away sudden tears. 

It's been too long since we sat together and laughed. Though family life is less physically stressful with teenagers, the pace of our calendars has accelerated and left fewer moments for bonding. Sharing a meal and swapping stories, feeling the ache of smiling cheeks and held-back tears - that's a Thanksgiving to be grateful for and to remember always.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Kindness to be Thankful For

An old friend posted a heartwarming story on Facebook. She relayed that a girls high school volleyball team from Paradise, CA - the town that burned to the ground in the Camp Fire - received new uniforms and equipment from their opponent in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) playoffs because their own equipment had been lot to the fire.  Crossing my fingers that the story wasn't fabricated, I visited Snopes.com, and found that it is, in fact, true.

Here is the story in greater detail as reported online. May we all be thankful for acts of kindness in this week of Thanksgiving and every week.  And may we all be inspired to act in similar fashion:

As the Grass Valley Union newspaper and other news outlets reported, the Paradise Adventist Academy girls’ volleyball team arrived to compete in a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) playoff game on 10 November 2018 to find that their opponents at Forest Lake Christian High School had provided them with both material and financial support.
After the game, Forest Lake athletic director LaRon Gordon announced that local parents and students had donated around $16,000 as well as shoes, clothes, and toiletries to their opponents as well as gift cards for each individual player. Gordon’s team also gave Paradise Adventist new jerseys, shorts, and knee pads to use for the contest, which was a semifinal match in the Northern California Division VI regional tournament.
Forest Lake also received permission from the CIF to forego charging admission to the game in favor of donating all tickets sales to help victims of the fire.
“I’ve never been so overwhelmed by so many things I would have never thought possible, and this is one of the most amazing things I could ever have thought would happen,” Paradise Adventist head coach Jason Eyer said following the announcement. “Your community is awesome. We will be forever grateful.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Altruistic Swimming

It's no secret that I love the sport of swimming: the camaraderie of teammates, the way a body moves through the water, the envelope of silence that descends when I dive in. It's a joy when swimming converges with altruism and people who work on behalf of others, as with my friend Nicole Vanderpoel and her committee working on Swim Across America - Denver, which raises money for cancer research and trials with Children's Hospital.  Another example springs from my Masters' teammate Liz Herr, who works with a swim team in a poor area of Nicaragua, sponsoring children on the Nica Nadadores, who would otherwise not be able to train and travel.

In her latest email update, Liz writes:
"As you know, the Nica Nadadores swimmers live in one of the most impoverished areas in Nicaragua, the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. In communities where most people don’t bother to dream anymore these kids do have dreams and they work very hard in the hope they can make those dreams come true. "

Our CAC Masters team sponsors five Nica swimmers and Liz and her husband sponsor another individual. The support helps pay for pool time, supplies, and travel expenses. The kids have even been able to come to the United States to compete, and their world has opened far beyond Nicaragua. We share a bond with them -- our love of the sport -- and it's a joy to pave the road as they follow their dreams.

I also belong to a Swim Coaches Idea Exchange on Facebook (each time I want to quit Facebook, a group like this pops up and makes me hold on for another week). Yesterday a coach posted to ask if we could help swimmers and coaches in the area affected by the Camp Fire in northern California. A Chico coach responded that they were OK, the fire had not invaded Chico, but the summer team in Paradise was probably affected. No one can get into that area yet to determine the status or need, but he will keep us posted.

My swim community provides vital connections to the world, to swimmers, coaches, and problems / solutions crucial to other teams in other places. I tell Aden and William that community is the reason for swimming, that working hard and getting results are secondary to bonds formed from shared experience and passion for a common effort. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other ways to connect but this is mine, and the greatest joy of all is that swimming has become theirs, too.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Representative Democracy

As promised, this blog entry contains good news. Last night, as election results poured in, election watchers detailed a number of epic firsts for our democracy (from NPR):

With women making up only 20 percent of Congress, there are many types of women — especially women of color — who have never been represented on Capitol Hill. The record-breaking wave of female candidates in 2018 comes with a list of firsts among those women. Here's a list of some of those firsts, which we will keep updating as results come in.
Youngest woman: Twenty-nine-year-old Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to Congress, in New York's 14th District. First Muslim women: Democrat Rashida Tlaib, in Michigan's 13th District, and Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, from that state's 5th District, both became the first Muslim women elected to Congress tonight. Tlaib will also be the first Palestinian-American to serve in Congress.First Native American women: Democrat Sharice Davids won the House seat from Kansas' 3rd District, unseating incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder, and Democrat Deb Haaland won the seat in an open race in New Mexico's 1st District. That makes both of them the first Native American women elected to Congress. Republican Yvette Herrell in New Mexico's 2nd District could become the third member of this group, but the Associated Press has not yet called her race.First black woman from Massachusetts: Democrat Ayanna Pressley became the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, in that state's 7th District. She unseated incumbent Democrat Mike Capuano in a surprise upset in SeptemberFirst women House members from Iowa: Democrat Abby Finkenauer in Iowa's 1st District defeated Republican incumbent Rod Blum, and Democrat Cindy Axne in the state's 3rd District defeated Republican incumbent David Young to become the Hawkeye state's first two women elected to the House. Iowa elected its first woman to the Senate in 2014 — Republican Joni Ernst. First Latina Congress members from Texas: Democrat Veronica Escobar, in the state's 16th District, and Democrat Sylvia Garcia, in the state's 29th District, will be the first Latinas to represent the state in Congress, according to the Texas TribuneFirst woman elected governor of Iowa: Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds became the first woman elected governor of Iowa. She served as lieutenant governor of the state from 2011 through 2017, then became governor when then-Gov. Terry Branstad was appointed ambassador to China for the Trump administration in 2017. (https://www.npr.org/2018/11/06/664951794/a-list-of-firsts-for-women-in-this-years-midterm-elections)
Here in Colorado we elected the first openly gay governor in the United States with Jared Polis. Guam elected their first female governor. It's important to note the first lines from the NPR story - that there are many women (and men) who have never been represented by one of their own in Congress. This year's midterm election marked a number of historical firsts in the United States' ongoing experiment in representative democracy. I have great hope that we will see more action for the people, by the people who have been elected to represent us.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

From Scary to Light

I receive an email per day from Writer Unboxed - you guessed it - on the topic of writing. Today's Halloween edition was composed by novelist Brunonia Barry and it deals with scary places. Barry writes that her agent challenged her to write a scary novel, and that she leaped at the challenge, only to find it more difficult than she originally anticipated. Here's her explanation:

"The first draft of my WIP [work in progress] started simply enough. The story was initially about fear of the dark, a universal taken to the extreme in a tale of isolation and disillusionment. But as my own disillusionment with society grew, that once simple idea became far darker. Instead of a universal genre story, it became far more personal. I realized that what I was writing about was the darkness inside myself.

Of course, that was where the narrative was always meant to go. I just didn’t know it when I started. I think our most poignant horror stories express the darkness inside all of us. But, to me, as a writer at this particular moment in history, I was having trouble going there. Everyday life was tough enough. More darkness was not something I craved." (Writing What Scares Us)

Barry's words hit home like one of the Red Sox baserunners in the recently concluded World Series. My blog entries have slowed to a trickle recently, and though I have excused myself to friends and family with the usual, "I'm too busy," and "I can't concentrate," the real reason is that my brain has gone dark. Though I have many tactics to protect my fragile positive outlook - don't watch news (ever), only skim headlines, limit Facebook, listen to NPR only til noon - election season and the proliferation of recent troubling events have moved into my mental space like the darkness creeping out of Sauron.

Sometimes my children are the bearers of the bad news, unwittingly bringing me to tears, such as William's evening announcement that some 60% of animal species are extinct or have moved toward extinction since 1970. I snapped at him to stop talking while trying not to burst into tears and had to wait several hours to explain how that broke my heart, and how I've been an environmental activist for twenty years trying to prevent such things.

Or Daniel asking me about the tragedy in Pittsburgh, or Aden reading the headlines from the IPCC report on climate change. My resolve to be hopeful quavers in these dark places, my bright vision of the kids' future dims. So on this day of All Hallow's Eve, where we typically scare and trick, I resolve to go the other direction. I've had enough of scares and darkness, and although Barry intends to challenge her fears and penetrate her dark spaces (a laudable and worthwhile goal), I plan to hand out candy and search for the light.  For the next few months I will be seeking out good news and hopeful headlines, positive sentiments and good examples. Not living in denial of the challenges we face, but welcoming the light that shines out of dark places like candles from the hollowed cores of orange pumpkins.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Take Me Home.... and Vote!

I had the most fantastic start to my morning driving our neighborhood carpool to Wednesday breakfast at Einstein's Bagels. After packing six teenage boys, four of whom over six feet tall, into an Acura MDX without legroom in the third row (sorry, C and R!), I cautiously drove out of the neighborhood as William plugged his playlist into the stereo. He started off with John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and the boys belted out the chorus as we headed out of Willow Creek through the early morning darkness. They followed it up with Men at Work and Toto's ubiquitous "Africa," during which time I was sorely tempted to whip out my phone and start recording. Safety won out, and I am just grateful for the memory.

It's a time to hold onto merriment and gratitude wherever we find it. The barrage of negative campaign ads makes it impossible to watch TV, listen to the radio, or open my email. My well-informed seventeen-year-old wanders around the house rumbling darkly about how the Earth will not be salvageable by the time she turns thirty, and just this morning I heard about suspicious packages (bombs?, white powder?) turning up at the homes of the Obamas, the Clintons, George Soros and the offices of CNN. Hmmm. I wonder where someone is getting the idea to incite violence at the homes of Democrats and news organizations?

But we rational (well, mostly), moral adults have the responsibility to hope and to clean up our messes. We don't have the luxury of despair or negative thinking. Now is the time to vote, write letters to the editor, encourage and help friends, and re-imagine our future. A little bit of off-key singing and some humor go a long way to assist. For example, this statement "Do you suffer from electile dysfunction? Voting could be the cure for what ails you."

I don't know if I have"electile dysfunction," but voting was a big upper, regardless. Rob and I both completed our ballots and sent them out, and we're apparently part of a record-breaking advance voter turnout. Let's break the bank, people, and make those election officials work overtime counting our ballots. It's time to turn the tide definitively, and show our young people that we can still get things done. In a few years they will be old enough to help us out, and that is the most encouraging thought imaginable.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Dangerous Time in the Country

"Misogyny is when women finally start reporting sexual assaults and the country's response is to say we must protect our boys from the accusations."
- Feminist News, October 8, 2018

My cousin's wife posted this on Facebook yesterday. I've never met here but I think I would love her.  Prior to surfing FB for my allotted 15 minutes, I heard an interview on NPR with two men at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. I didn't hear the beginning of the piece so I don't know for sure the name of the organization, but it may be Men for Change (per quick Google search). Their purpose was to stand with women and protest violence against both genders, promoting a culture that values consent and the worth of each individual.

The interviewer posed this question: "What do you think of the president's statement that this is a dangerous time in the country for young men?"

The group's founder replied, "I find that to be an interesting premise.  There probably are dudes who are afraid, and there's probably a good reason for that. I think they should be afraid.  There are many other guys who have always respected women and their right to consent - or dissent - and they're not afraid.  We just need those good dudes to stand up and speak out against violence and sexual assault. It's not enough to be good on your own, you have to help change the culture."

Poignant words. The men also pointed out that false accusations only occur between 2 and 10% of the time, though it's impossible to tell because sexual assault is not thoroughly reported for many reasons (the listeners fail to believe, fail to act, fail period.)  Any incidence of false accusation is too high, because it can ruin a person's life and hurt the cause of many women who are legitimately reporting incidents, but we should remember that this is extremely rare.

I'm appalled and depressed that Brett Kavanaugh has a seat on the Supreme Court. The only actions now are to vote, speak up for what we believe in, rally our friends and neighbors (and relatives), VOTE,  and make the change that we want to see in the world, just like the men in Fort Collins, Dr. Ford, and women everywhere who come forward to speak their truth.

Friday, September 28, 2018

This Matters

Lunch roils in my stomach as I write, having just heard the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to move a decision on Brett Kavanaughto the full Senate.  Having listened to testimony on and off all day yesterday, from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's emotional recollection of (alleged) physical, sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh when she was fifteen, to Judge Kavanaugh's fiery rebuttal and denial, my emotions rise and fall like a tidal wave and my mind hovers in perpetual disbelief.

I don't know what happened at that house party in the 1980's, though I know Dr. Ford has far more to lose - and nothing to gain - by giving her testimony.  Judge Kavanaugh obviously feels that the best move is an offensive against the Democrats, against the media, against Dr. Ford.  He teared up yesterday over the pain this has caused his family, the damage that it's done to his reputation, the potential harm to his chances for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the United States.

His outrage and bluster, as well as Senator Lindsay Graham's impassioned, angry speech, remind me of something: the rape trial of Brock Allen Turner, a Stanford student-athlete who was convicted of felony sexual assault. During the trial, witnesses for the defense stood up for Turner, admiring of his accomplishments and athletic prowess and bemoaning the fact that because of this one act, his name and his future would be ruined.  Because Turner was a Stanford student and a good swimmer, because Brett Kavanaugh went to Georgetown Prep, Yale undergrad and Yale Law school, do they get a free pass?  I don't think so, but some do.

Weighing a blow to the reputation against a blow to the psyche and body, thinking not of the accused but of the victim of violent sexual assault, whose future is appropriated by the biological response to trauma, I wonder why the rights of the victim seem to matter so little.  In a powerful letter written by the victim of the Stanford rape to her assailant, she said, "And then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times. 'She was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal position. By the way, he’s really good at swimming'. Throw in my mile time if that’s what we’re doing. I’m good at cooking, put that in there, I think the end is where you list your extracurriculars to cancel out all the sickening things that’ve happened."  (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra)

Testimony by Dr. Ford contains echoes of those harrowing words. "I don't know you but you have been inside me," reads the letter. "When he put his hand over my mouth I couldn't breathe, and I thought Brett Kavanaugh might accidentally kill me," said Dr. Ford.  PTSD, chronic anxiety, phobias, damage to personal relationships, lives forever harmed. Do they not count because the women weren't Division 1 athletes or high court judges?  

I went to Harvard, and I did meet men there who felt entitled - to good grades, the best housing, Finals' club parties, a woman's body. Their entitlement came from wealth, from upbringing, from society's lack of resolve in taking them to task for aggression.  I also met men who would never think of violating the body of another human being. One of my closest male friends from Harvard posted on Facebook earlier this week, noting that his mother told him they (his parents) would support him in anything, get him through any failure, prop him up after any mistake, except if he committed a rape. Then he was on his own.

In  a close reading of recent events it seems that a woman's life is not valued as highly as a man's, with the possible exception of the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, though I suspect that many men were let go because they became financial (not moral) liabilities.  Some Americans believe that men can't help it, that this happens all the time and must be accepted as reality. Certainly it shouldn't interfere with big, important doings of rich, connected, well-educated males. After all, we can't see the scars on the women, and they seem to have gotten on with their lives, right?

I call BS on the assumption that men "can't help it." I call BS on the idea that a claim of sexual assault hurts the man named more than the actual assault hurts the female (or male) victim of violence. My husband has never - will never - lay claim to a woman's body in this way, and if my sons ever do, I will support their conviction and their sentencing. Rob and I both teach them that men can help it, must help it, must recognize they have no right to a woman's body no matter what she is wearing, where she goes, what she drinks. If they violate a woman, a human being with family and prospects and hopes and dreams, they must accept the penalty and pay the price. If Brett Kavanaugh did commit this act he should never be confirmed to the Supreme Court, and God help us if we put him there.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Writing Letters: the Privilege

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Denver has a letter-writing ladder where people can sign up to occasionally write letters to the Editor of different newspapers in response to articles related to immigration. I've been on the ladder for years, and have been asked to write a letter a few times each year. It seems more frequent since 2016, but that could be because the months race by so quickly all events pass in a blur.

The most recent request landed in my inbox on Friday, asking me and a few others if we could write about the current administration's efforts to push back on high court rulings that stipulate immigrant children must be reconnected with their parents within a certain time frame. I pushed the task to the bottom of my to - do list for a few days, because I had excuses: writing blogs for work, acting as a single parent while Rob travels during the week, picking up the children constantly, etc.

But all the to-dos on my list, most of them related to my children, stuck in my craw as I reflected on why I needed to write the letter. Young children, many younger than five years old, have been taken from their parents by our Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This policy was created purposefully to deter families from coming to the United States, even though families on the run in Central America and Mexico have no way of getting the news about our policies, and even though the separations cause permanent psychological damage to the children. Do we think that parents from other countries love their children less? Suffer less? One immigrant father killed himself after ICE took his child away.  The national outcry is fading even as the damage remains.

So I wrote the letter. When a rep from the Denver Post called to say they wanted to print it this week, and ask if I still wanted that I said yes, though my insides churned a bit. In the past, I have received hate mail from published letters related to immigration, and though I was never in actual danger, I dislike conflict and I dislike hate mail.  The uncertain feeling, the sensation of standing on the brink of invited conflict, relates back to my privilege in this country.  I could sail along in blissful ignorance of the wrongs our government inflicts, and they would never touch me personally. That is a problem in the United States today.

Here's a passage that captures my feelings, and makes me continue to submit letters and say yes to publication. It's from Teaching Tolerance, Issue 60, Fall 2018, page 41:

"In that way, white privilege is not just the power to find what you need in a convenience store or to move through the world without your race defining your interactions. It's not just the subconscious comfort of seeing a world that serves you as normal. It's also the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity. It's the power to weigh the need for protest or confrontation against the discomfort or inconvenience of speaking up. It's getting to choose when and where you want to take a stand. It's knowing that you and your humanity are safe.  And what a privilege that is."
(Cory Collins, "What is White Privilege, Really?").

Monday, September 10, 2018

Watching Tennis

Watching a bright yellow ball go back and forth over a tightly stretched net was hypnotic. As the athletes on TV sprinted, struck, strained to their utmost, I gazed at my screen in a trance, relaxed and soothed by the expert manipulation of their rackets. Such was my life for much of the just-finished US Open tennis tournament, when I returned to watching tennis after an absence of many years. I found the calm analysis of Darren Cahill (in a polished Aussie accent), Chris Evert, even a maturing John McEnroe, like a lullaby, with delightful punctuation of quiet during long rallies. So much better than news, reality shows, or action movies.

At the dentist last Thursday, I overheard the receptionist saying, "Rats! I forgot to tape Serena's match. When can we leave?"

I said, "I'm watching that, too! I don't think she actually starts until 4, you have time."

She chucked sheepishly, "I don't even play tennis," to which I responded, "Neither do I."

Tennis was a passion for me in middle school and high school. In middle school I would play for hours with my friend Jenny - we were evenly matched and enjoyed long rallies. Occasionally I would try to play against Kimi, who actually worked at tennis, and I was astonished by how fast her balls would come back over the net.  In high school I played with friends or with my brother, John, though I stopped playing John when I realized he could beat me consistently.

Part of my enjoyment over the last two weeks came from recognition of the great athletes who are still at the top of the sport fifteen or twenty years: Venus and Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer.  My middle-aged self applauded the finesse and fitness of these thirty-somethings as they kept up with much younger players. Sad to see, but easy to understand, when the heat and the torrid pace of the tournament took out first Roger and then Rafa.

Serena's final match also made me sad. I could understand why the referee would tell Serena's coach not to coach from the stands, because that is a rule, but why dock Serena a penalty and skip the warning, which usually comes first?  And then I could understand how Serena got caught up in the accusation of cheating, which is how she interpreted the penalty, because she has a young daughter who will someday watch the match and wonder what happened. When the match spiraled away, you could only be sad for Serena, and for the winner, Naomi Osaka, whose previously stated dream was to play Serena in the US Open final.  During the awards ceremony, when Osaka blinked back tears and looked uncertainly around the podium, wondering what to do with the trophy and how much to embrace her victory, I could taste the bitterness that we all feel when the reality does not even faintly match up to the dream.

Tennis, just like life, marches on. My TV watching schedule is now wide open, but I won't soon be able to return to routine programming. Perhaps table tennis has a tournament coming soon to an ESPN affiliate near you.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Rocky Mountain Showdown

"Rocky Mountain Showdown" is what Coloradans call the annual CU vs CSU football game.  We went to the game last Friday to watch and to scout out the college rivalry scene. I drove into the Broncos Stadium parking lot a half hour before kickoff, carefully navigating the inebriated mobs of students as they charged willy-nilly across the road. Though I was white-knuckled and clench-jawed, I appreciated our kids' eyes growing wide in the backseat as they observed the college kids' behavior - a bit like being on safari in the African wild.

Once we parked, on the sidelines of a rabid cornhole game, we steered the kids to the stadium. I had Aden's arm and watched her face struggle to hide the confusion and concern as waves of beer breath and pot smoke flowed over us. She thinks she might want to go to CU next year, her one concern its party school reputation. The game did little to alleviate her fears.  I largely kept my mouth shut and refrained from lectures (especially about the bandeau bikini-tops on the girls), though sorely tempted, until the end. 

Leaving early to avoid crowds, we waltzed quickly back to our now-quiet parking spot. As I opened the car door on the front passenger side, however, a curly-headed young man slowly sat up in front of the wheel.

"Whoa," he said, "you scared me!" 

Startled myself, I asked if he was ok (he didn't look super great). He stood, a bit wobbly, revealing a shirtless chest under green and yellow striped overalls, one strap fallen askew. "Yeah, I'm ok, just you scared me," he reiterated. 

I turned to Rob, turning the car on, and said, "whatever you do, don't go forward."

As the young man went in search of his friends, or a parking lot attendant, or a restroom, we watched to make sure he seemed mobile and in control, the kids slack-jawed with amazement. One of the boys said, "He didn't even go to the game!"

At that point I couldn't control the mom lecture reflex, and told the kids they could never leave a friend in that condition, especially not in a parking lot, or in a frat house, or at a bar . . . the list goes on. Hard to believe we will have a college student next year, our heads full of questions about where she will be and what she will do there.  "Hopefully," said William, "She'll at least go to the game first."

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

No More Hierarchies

Aden and I participated in the inaugural Swim Across America - Denver (www.swimacrossamerica.org) event on Sunday at Chatfield Reservoir, about twenty minutes from home. SAA has been around since the 1990's, with a mission to raise money for cancer research and trials, and the Denver effort raised over $200,000 for our local partner, The Children's Hospital. When we arrived on a clear, sunny and already-warm Sunday morning, colorful hot air balloons were rising into the air around us while hundreds of jovial swimmers wandered around half-dressed getting their arms marked, gathering autographs (from the 16 Olympians assembled) or pondering the need to wear a wetsuit.

The announcer kept reminding the assembled crowd of high school, college and Masters swimmers that this was "not a race, but an event" and to keep in mind the purpose of our swim. One high school coach standing near me chuckled at the announcer's admonition, saying "I told him that he could remind them - I wasn't about to get in their way."

But the lack of race-day tension was a pleasant change, and I loved that my focus was to stay right next to Aden in her first official open-water event.  Many first-time open-water swimmers feel anxious when lining up in the crowded chute for a walk-run-dive start, or worry about the temperature or sighting the buoys. Many understandably feel nervous about the lack of vision, not seeing the bottom in the murky dark below.

Aden has swum many casual (and cold!) miles with me in Flathead Lake, near my parent's home, and didn't show any nerves for this swim. When I said, "Let's go! Head off to the right side," she charged into the 72-degree water without hesitation. Throughout the mile swim I breathed to my left and she breathed to her right and we sighted on each other throughout. Occasionally we bumped shoulders or adjusted course to avoid a swimmer, but the mile rectangle went quickly and soon enough we emerged, dripping, from the water to cross the finish line together. One of my favorite swims - ever.

Part of the joy was in not racing, not worrying about times or rankings. The older I get, the more I push back against being ranked, placed and ordered.  Such numeral hierarchies take away from my sense of self, the pride in any uniqueness I might possess.  My swim not centered on Olympian speed but on blue skies, the nearby foothills, and sharing a moment with my girl.

The writer Sonia Krasikov captures this perfectly in her short story, "Ways and Means" for The New Yorker (Aug 27, 2018, p68):

"This primeval view of life as a hierarchy was what she'd fled by going to art school, where she was taught that true creators stood outside society's assorted chains. People who thought for themselves approached life not hierarchically but territorially, like ospreys or rice farmers, tending to their unique terrain."

I can't carve out meaningful space for myself in a rank of hundreds of local swimmers, or thousands of national writers, or billions of people on planet Earth, but I can find deep meaning in my familial relationships, in my neighbors and community, my assorted clans at work and at the pool. Anything I create derives from inspiration sprung in these locales, these peoples. My territory, my happy place, like swimming with my gaze on my daughter's face.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Gut Feeling

Yesterday William went to his first club swim practice since early June and I hugged him with relief when he came home in high spirits. He answered my breathless "How did it go?" with a "Fine, I did everything, no problem."  Afterward, I pretended to be calm and carried on with dinner per usual, but I felt a whirlwind of relief in my gut.

Guts are the problem in our family. Though neither of my parents have food-related issues or allergies, eczema, irritable bowl, or the like, all of my siblings and myself have such problems, and many of our kids do, as well. Such is the case with William, whose gut broke down under the physical and mental stress of spring swimming for high school, combined with freshman end-of-year exams. My bio-meridian practitioner, Jean, noted that his tree allergies (we didn't know he had any) also contributed to the overload.

So William has suffered through a version of the autoimmune breakdown that I had six or seven years ago, that my sister has also had, where the gut develops leaks, and escaping food particles generate an overall immune response that leaves the person perpetually nauseous, weakened and anxious.  We have taken all nightshade vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, etc) out of W's diet as well as corn and all related corn products, and that's on top of gluten and dairy.  It's hard to cook and prep meals and snacks, but well worth it if he can finish a school day and a swim practice without feeling, or getting, sick.

Guilt weighs heavy on my shoulders when I think about transmitting these genes and problems to my kids. It takes a lot of work and conscious thought to stay healthy and strong - a great deal to ask of a teenage boy. Thoughts of him going off to college, having to turn down beer (gluten!) and corn chips could make me toss and turn at night, if I didn't confine myself to thinking about one day at a time. On the bright side, he is ripped, and enjoys looking at his six-pack abs in the mirror. On the even brighter side, he's happy and having fun with his buddies in the water.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Three Moonlets

William and I watched a Nova special on "Alien Moons" last night, and the narrator caught my attention when she said that moons can be any size at all, though they only really count when their diameter hits 1 - 2 km and they are officially termed a "moonlet."  Following up with Wikipedia, I got more: "A minor moon or natural satellite orbiting a planet." As I drifted off to sleep, mentally filtering through our family's gratitude points and our needs, I pictured the children as moonlets, orbiting around Rob and me. Now that Rob is out of town during the week, I feel their orbits leaning toward my side of Planet Parent, and the gravity tugs a bit hard.

Moons often orbit irregularly, either drifting slowly away from their planet (until one day they spin off, free, on their own trajectory), or slowly losing the fight with their planet's gravitational pull, drifting gradually closer until the force rips them apart.  Children, of course, tend to have the first type of orbit, which I can see with Aden, as she enters her senior year and drifts ever further from us. Occasionally, force of habit or dire need ("Does this t-shirt go with these jeans?) means her return from the far reaches of her orbit/ room to get an opinion, money, or reassurance.

It sometimes seems as if need pulls the children into the second, more dangerous type of orbit.  Homework stress, health issues, friend drama; forces that strengthen parental gravity and pull the child moon orbit in so closely that we could be twin planets, spiraling around one another with increasingly dangerous intensity. I am usually the body that explodes (or implodes, as the case may be) in defiance of all laws of planetary physics.

The visual of moons A, W, and D orbiting parental planet Dravenstott appeals to me. I need to focus on maintaining a healthy separation, a relatively normal elliptical orbit - sometimes they're closer and sometimes farther away. When Rob comes home for long weekends I may temporarily abdicate the mother ship. And as the moonlets increase their ranges, preparing to spin off,  I will miss the weight of their gravity, but recognize their need to find a bright new system.

Monday, August 6, 2018

August and New Beginnings

It's still summer, but morning practice seemed awfully dark at 5:45am. The horizon lightened just in time for swimmers to read my workout, but we've lost quite a few minutes of early daylight. A few leafy branches of the hardwood trees around the pool even sport new orange rouge, and the kids have started to register for school. The New Year is around the corner.

For me, for many moms, the start of a new school year beats January 1 hands down. Not just because we get portions of our lives back, but because new classes, binders and books translate into new friends, opportunities, and growth.  Rob took full advantage of the trend this year by starting a new position,  Chief Technology Officer for Cooler Screens, a start-up based in Chicago (https://coolerscreens.com). He left this morning for his first week of commuting, even beating me out of the house for a 6:50am flight.

New scenarios and choices require courage, require us to draw on confidence to break through the nerves and "what if" scenarios.  Change is a certainty for all of us; whether we invite it in or stave it off with averted gaze, it's one of the few constants in life. In this season of change we're excited to welcome new adventures while appreciating the support of friends and family that bolster our strength and affirm our inner voices. 

The challenge this week is to communicate our confidence, excitement and gratitude to the children, who feel slightly unsettled by the amount of change they face over the coming months. All we can do is listen to our inner wisdom, try to hear the voice that says "yes" or "no" and move forward. We'll learn from success or failure, and regardless of the result we will have embarked on a new path, another step of the journey.

My thoughts and appreciation go out to all of the teachers whose feelings about the school year may or may not be similar to mine. We saw many of our favorite elementary schools around the aisles of CostCo yesterday, shopping for the work week that started today, and their immediate overtime efforts reminded me how grateful we are for our teachers. I hope the coming year rewards their hard work with amazing relationships, break-through moments and rewarding achievements. Thank you all in advance (and let me know what school supplies you need!)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Only in Montana

Arrived home from Montana at midnight last night, then sent all three kids off on a mission trip to Alamosa this morning. Feeling slightly guilty about their hasty turnaround -only getting one night in their own beds - but also jubilant at the time, space, and quiet that allows me to blog, as well as unpack, do laundry, clean and catch up.

Still feeling slightly euphoric as well as guilty, having passed an unexpectedly wondrous eight days split between the northern California coast and the Montana mountains.  A dinner with high school friends filled a Menlo Park restaurant with laughter and it was startling and rewarding to watch Aden cheering for Mark's son, Weston, on the shady grass next to Stanford's pool. Mike's wife, Gina, was there to cheer for Shore water polo, and she had stopped by William's game for the Mountain Zone the night before to cheer and applaud his fast-break goal. So odd to realize I was Aden's age (16!) when I met Mike and Mark at Rolling Hills High School. (Was I ever really that young?)  The longevity of those friendships is a great gift.

And my family is a great gift. The four days spent on Flathead Lake with Mom, Dad, and Karen were spectacular. Amazing weather that allowed for hours on the paddleboard and multiple 2 km swims across the bay and back.  The boys golfed every day and only threw the clubs once, and we got to visit favorite haunts (The Cove for ice cream) and spend downtime reading or making art or hearing stories of old from Mom and Dad. Recording their memories and hearing their laughter gave me goosebumps, and more than once I had to shake tears from my eyes. Karen made cakes for Rob's birthday, directed our yard work duties, and took Dad and me out on the golf cart for a hair-raising spin around the Preserve.

Only in Montana can you ....
- Get huckleberry fudge ice cream
- Watch an eagle fly in circles above as you swim across the lake
- Discover that Dad stole his parents' car at age 13, only to drive it to Confession
- Reminisce about Mom's grade school nemesis, Lois
- Eat cherries for breakfast, lunch and dinner
- Witness forks of lightning sweep south down Flathead Lake as you watch from the living room

We're so grateful for the moments and the people that made the trip memorable.


Monday, July 9, 2018

The Big Terribleness

"No one wanted to leave and go out into the world, which had changed so stunningly. Even now, years in, no one could get used to it; and conversation at parties still centered around the ways that no one had seen it coming. They just could not believe what had happened to the country. "The big terribleness," said a tall, spindly, and intense woman."
- Meg Wolitzer, The Female Persuasion (p 437) penguinrandomhouse.com/the-female-persuasion

The air conditioner labors to exhale air of seventy-six or fewer degrees as the sun beats down on our porch and west-facing walls. The cat sleeps curled up in the box-top of "The Game of Life," which I won against Daniel earlier this afternoon. As he snores away and I type, Aden and Daniel swim at Willow Way pool, where William works today from 2 - 8. It touches me that Daniel wants to go swim wherever his big brother or sister are working, and that he's willing to bring them cold drinks, snacks and a neck-cooling towel when he goes.  Wanting to avoid the baking temperatures, I hide in the house.

In the blessed silence, I just finished Wolitzer's book, The Female Persuasion, an excellent and thought-provoking read that dwells not on the politics of today but on a loose history of the women's movement and excellent characters who find their place in this confusing world. The quote I borrowed comes at the very end, when Greer and Cory, two protagonists, arrive in the present.

Though it wasn't the theme of the book, this phrase, "The big terribleness," shot me off my seat and to my computer, its resonant meaning driving me to say something about this time, when the ever-hotter days of summer collide with omnipresent, strident headlines to weigh on us all. Or not on us all, which is even more confusing.

The separation makes me think about an evening when I met two lovely couples at one of Rob's work dinners. Over the course of the evening, they asked what I did, and this blog and my book of blogs surfaced and were examined. I gave little away about the content, self-conscious to growing strident or political with new acquaintances, but when one of the women contacted me later, via LinkedIn, she mentioned that she was off to read my blog and I wondered, will I ever hear from her again?  Re-reading the past few entries leaves nothing to the imagination about where I stand with this government and its actions.  Readers of The Post editorial page are also clear on my positions, and I have, in the past, received hate mail because of it.

At the advanced age of forty-seven, I don't need to be liked  - would not want to be universally liked - and yet it makes me sad that such great differences divide us. Wolitzer and I and many of my friends agree on "the great terribleness," but others do not, and that alone seems terrible.

On the plus side, life has amazingly shifted arranged itself to enable me and some of my close friends to go on a mission trip to McAllen, Texas, where many of the separated immigrant families are detained. We will be volunteering at a location that provides aid to families who have been released from detention, and it's been arranged by a lovely women who works at our church.  The fact that my three children will be on a different mission trip at the same time - also through our church - seems not merely providential but ordained.  And so we rest, and we gear up to go out into the big terribleness, in the hopes that we might make it for a time less terrible.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Updates, Links and Opportunities Re: Keeping Families Together

I participated in a Rally to Keep Families Together over the weekend with two friends and staunch rally companions from the neighborhood. We knew a few of the excellent speakers and our hearts were warmed by the large crowd raising up the sanctity of families, the brotherhood of all peoples, and the need for love and compassion in all situations. A twelve-year-old girl introduced herself in English and Spanish and belted out "Imagine" in ringing tones, leaving me, Paula and Heidi to wipe our sleeves across our faces and draw deep, shuddering breaths. 

Today the Denver Post printed my letter objecting to senseless injury, illness and death in private, for-profit immigrant detention centers. Here's the text:

"What are we paying for?
When I volunteered as an (English as a Second Languate) teacher in a for-profit detention center, I met a man who lost the use of his legs from a bad fall. He was provided with a wheelchair but not appropriate treatment that would have enabled him to walk out when he was ultimately released — innocent. (Kate) Morrissey’s article tells the sad truth — our tax dollars are going to the companies that run these detention centers and ruin lives. They charge the U.S. government $165 per person per day to “care for” people in their charge, while saving pennies for profit by withholding proper medical care from detainees.
I do not consent to my tax dollars lining the pockets of private prison companies while people suffer. We must stand up to the egregious abuse of human rights done in our name and with our money. Call and write your elected officials and let them know that they will be replaced if they cannot reform this system."
Other people and organizations continue to fight for sane policies and family reunification. Sarah Jackson at Casa de Paz (casadepazcolorado.org) raised enough money to reunite a Guatemalan woman with her six-year-old son, and will host a Family Reunification Happy Hour Fundraiser on Friday, July 13, from 4 - 9 at Cerverceria Colorado. 
Jennifer Piper and many wonderful friends are working on circulating the People's Resolution (http://peoplesresolution.org) to help Coloradans understand the legal plight of four women who are in sanctuary in this state: Rosa, Ingrid, Sandra, and Araceli. Because of changes made to immigration law in 1996, legal channels that used to be open to these wives and mothers have either closed or become impossibly long and difficult pathways. We, the people, can make changes to the law to make a path to legal citizenship more attainable, and we can help all families stay together and contribute to this country that they love and have sacrificed so much to join.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hard to Approach the Fourth

This is what we know for sure:

- The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council six days ago
- The United States has separated more than 2300 children from their parents in the past two months
- The United States has lost 1500 young people - had them in custody and now has no idea where they are - in the past two years
- The President of the United States has recommended that the Justice Department violate the Constitution and deport immigrants and asylum applicants without a trial
- The Congress is deadlocked in partisan wrangling and inflamed rhetoric


It's hard to be a citizen of this country as our birthday approaches and we no longer stand for liberty,  justice and freedom. People Magazine ran an article giving 100 reasons to love America and I could only skim it with the five facts above foremost in my mind, wondering when the schism between our historical values and our reality grew so deep and wide.

There's only one thing to do - stand up and fight for the country we love. Write letters to the editor of your local paper, call your Members of Congress, donate to good causes, go to the Rally to Keep Families Together this Saturday (10am here in Denver, look for it in a city near you). Talk with folks at your church, listen to those who need to talk (about any point of view), and don't give up.



Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day at the Border

"It's horrendous." The words of a foster parent in Michigan after taking in a five-year-old boy from Honduras. The little boy, Jose, spent his first sleepless nights in his foster home crying or moaning, and every day would ask for his papa in Spanish.  The father was arrested at the border when he presented himself to authorities seeking asylum, arrested  under the new Trump administration policy of prosecuting parents for "trafficking their children" and then separating the young boys and girls from the parents and disappearing them into camps or foster homes where the family members can not reach one another.

According to the NY Times article that describe's Jose's plight, "In just the first two weeks under President Trump's new policy, 638 parents who arrived with 658 children had been prosecuted." https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/us/children-immigration-borders-family-separation.html.  Yesterday, an NPR report announced that the number of separated children was closer to 2,000. 

The American Council of (Catholic) Bishops denounced this policy last week, calling it "immoral" and suggesting that Catholics involved in implementing policies could face 'penalties' (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-immigration-catholic-bishops-moral-us-mexico-border-a8399016.html).

Politicians have started to denounce the policy as pictures of exhausted and traumatized young people hit the internet. Rep Paul Ryan introduced new policy measures to end this separation as did Sen Dianne Feinstein and Sen Michael Bennet.  Two bills will hit the House floor this coming week and if you are interested in contacting your Representative about voting on the bills, you can visit the American Friends Service Committee here (https://www.afsc.org/actioncenter) or contact me to receive an action email and checklist from Americans of Conscience.

Let's be clear: though President Trump blamed separation of families on a "Democrat law" this is not a law, it's a policy that is being implemented by Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice. It's being used as a cruel and heartless disincentive to immigration and as a bargaining chip in the ongoing battle over immigration policy. Democrats are not in control of either the House or the Senate and so this is the Trump Administration and Republican Congress decision.

Applying for asylum at the border is a LEGAL way to immigrate. Asylum applicants are supposed to remain free and responsive to court decisions while their cases are being decided, as ruled by international human rights agreements that the United States has signed. 

In my mind, everything about this policy is wrong. It's not truthful, it's not logical, and it's immoral. I have called members of Congress over the ongoing travesty of separating families but I am embarrassed to say that I have not done nearly enough. The horror of being ripped away from my children is one that, frankly, my mother's heart shies away from contemplating. It brings to mind photos of persecuted Gypsies and Jews being torn from their children as they board trains to concentration camps. In our country, now, parents are being placed in for-profit detention centers as they wait penniless and often without representation or means to contact their children. It's a difference of degrees, and the similarities make me ill.

We must take back our country and show the world that we have not descended into wholesale mean-spiritedness and cruelty. On this Father's Day, as we celebrate our fathers and our children spend playtime and meals with them, let's try to remember the fathers who languish in detention and the children who cry the night away missing them, and then let's do something about it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Smoky Haze

It's hard to breathe today as smoke from a grass fire east of Denver infiltrates our mountain desert air, obscuring visibility and generating coughing fits. Other fires burn south in Durango and west in the mountains, as our state is already in a drought situation and temps have been high.  Today's paper shouts that Antarctica melts away at unprecedented rates and our president blithely assures the world that everyone should sleep better at night because he had a photo op with the leader of North Korea.

In the face of momentous events such as climate change and imminent nuclear conflicts, I bury my head in the proverbial sand - or smoke, in this case - get an iced coffee from Starbucks (the small iced coffee is the cheapest thing going), and hustle through my rounds of grocery shopping, cat sitting, and cleaning while guzzling caffeine and wasting plastic that will undoubtedly fill the rising oceans. I am Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.

With summer heat my resolve to write, work, make political phone calls, and be environmentally friendly seems to ooze away as I shuttle kids to and from appointments and camps.  When I compiled blog entries for my book last fall, I noticed this trend appeared every year without exception, a sad commentary on my ability to multi-task and on my lack of discipline. It must be cellular memory retained from childhood and young adulthood, worrying only about swim sets, lessons and lifeguarding hours - the same stuff that Aden does now.

I'm off to run another errand now, Starbucks cup in hand. Just thought I would issue my mea culpa before I disappear in another whirlwind of who-knows-what non-essential, non-world-saving activity. More interesting commentary to come at some point in the not-so-distant future regarding William's rebuilding efforts, Jennifer Weiner's new autobiography, and / or crazy goings-on in the US Department of Justice. Til soon.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

As the Cottonwood Blows

As the cotton filters through ninety-degree air to light between grass blades, car grills and the spokes on Daniel's bike wheel, I finally feel as if we might have the tip of summer's tail in our grasp. Not the whole animal, but a few hairs and vertebrae caught in our sweaty palms.

William should manage to finish lifeguard training today and even won a red mesh swim bag for completing an activity in yesterday's class. He's feeling a little better, though tired and overwhelmed at all the tasks he has to complete - even after we took swimming off his list.  Health class for the high school (which will free up a period during spring semester, helpful if he swims or does another sport), the aforementioned lifeguard training and any sub shifts he picks up at local pools, and driver's training next week.  It's a boatload, but hopefully not physically taxing and certainly worthwhile. The money from sub shifts and the freedom to start driving should be incentive enough to get through a few more days.

Unfortunately for his concerned parents, William is also headed off to Mountain Zone Champs in Mesa, Arizona, tomorrow, to play in a water polo tournament where temps will hit 108 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rob is banned from flying due to a bad ear infection and I have to work, so we're sending prayers and admonitions with our too-stressed middle child. We would have canceled the trip except for his strong desire to go and be with his teammates, and his friends' parents will keep an eye on him whenever possible.

Worry over William riddles my stomach as Rob and I try to determine next steps to get him healthy and happy. I've received excellent advice from friends and fellow swim coaches, and need to talk to his new coach next week about taking the summer off. My mind keeps spinning off on "what ifs" and landing with dread on the possibility that he  might not be able to swim again.... before I remember lessons from my own illness regarding mindfulness, gratitude and deep breathing.

Fortunately, Daniel has loved summer camp and happily leaves early each morning, and Aden is getting the hang of being on deck at the pool from 7 am to noon and is even adding lessons to her roster. I just keep thinking "one day at a time . . ." and hoping that everyone gets the love, attention and rest that they need.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Alexa, Take Over

While shopping at King Sooper's (for those of you outside Colorado, yes, this is a terrible name for a grocery store), I pulled out my phone and saw that Alexa had completed 75% of the steps necessary for buying a bedside lamp.  After consulting my grocery list and happily checking off the items I had in my cart, I had slipped the phone into my purse with the Alexa app open. It somehow drilled down on the "desk lamp" on my list, then onto a website about desk lamps, then onto Amazon to purchase said lamp.  I swear that my finger was one mis-click away from purchasing furniture sight unseen, a fate I narrowly escaped by wildly fumbling my phone and then dropping it on the hard tile floor.

Alexa might as well take over my whole life, since I'm fumbling just about everything regarding the start of summer.  Jumping into the lack of routine after our trip to Boston, I must have communicated my stress and discombobulation to the kids, who promptly manifested it back. Daniel complained bitterly about going to summer swim practices, then reverted two days later to loving summer swim and complaining bitterly about going to day camp.  Aden had to juggle her coaching job with the college boot camp I enrolled her in (way back in January, not realizing), and William struggled to regain his composure after the stress of  high school swimming.

The last point breaks my heart. While sad that Daniel's day camp is primarily for younger kids and he's missing days of swim practice, I am fairly desolate over William, who now associates swimming with anxiety to such an extent that he can't go to a practice (let alone a meet) without feeling nauseous. Club swim is out, summer swim may be out, everything may be out.  After doing so well and seemingly loving the sport this spring, the dual dark sides of overtraining and pressure have reared their heads. I'm passionate about the sport but I'm infinitely more passionate about my child, and a trifecta of  emotions roils in my own gut: guilt, anxiety over a loss of control, and anger that something that was supposed to be fun has turned into something hard and painful.

It's not too late to turn it all over to Alexa. Maybe she can generate some upward momentum for a summer that's staggered off to a rough start.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Post 25th Reunion, Harvard Class of '93

"We know now that feeling disconnected from others has significant deleterious effects on an individual's health and well-being. If you can help one person feel slightly more connected and loved, you've done a very very very good thing."
- Ajay Zutshi, Harvard Class of '93, via Facebook post

Connection, family, shared vulnerability, love. The words call to mind a therapist's office, not an Ivy League Institution. Let me explain a bit through the lens of our 25th reunion which occurred this past weekend in Cambridge.

I went to Harvard for several reasons: I thought I was smart, it was "the best," I could swim on the team, and New England was, I thought, home. My family lived in tiny Medfield, Massachusetts, for three years when I was between eighth and eleventh grades. My early adolescence was shaped by joyrides on narrow, tree-lined roads (listening to Genesis), homemade applesauce, thick Boston accents, and bundled-up football games under brilliant foliage. Home.

But it's not home if your family isn't there, as I discovered when Mom and Dad left me in that Radcliffe courtyard fall of 1989 and flew back to my siblings in  southern California.  Dreary doesn't begin to describe that fall's weather, and cinderblock walls aren't cozy.  I was miserable freshman year, unable to admit my homesickness, my fears of inadequacy, my dread of going to eat in the huge freshman dining hall where I knew not a soul. I cried in the showers, skipped meals, and tried desperately to look like I fit in. All my classmates looked focused, intent, content as they strode purposefully through the Yard on the way to class.

With the spring thaw, I finally let a few people in: my friend Kristin, my future roommates Laura, Tara and Stacy.  Laura connected three of us in the rooming lottery, and I saw a crack of daylight in my future, the possibility that I would actually come back for sophomore year.

Despite my self-absorption and immaturity, my desperate attempts to look like I had it together, I was able to ask for help from this group of caring people, and they gave support and shared their vulnerabilities in return. We created a small family of our own in Quincy House and shared many excellent adventures over the next three years.  

When I saw my roommates last weekend at our Reunion, the joy and gratitude that filled me threatened to spill out the floodgates (especially after four gin and tonics). I recognized the tones of Stacy's voice, her gestures and laughter, though I hadn't seen her for sixteen years. Tara still fills the trashcan with tissues due to allergies, though it's in her lovely Wellesley home now and not a dorm room. Laura is still the amazing scholar/ athlete - and down-to-earth friend - that she was when she united us all.  And then we saw Tim, Ernie, Jorge, Mike, Juan, Eliza, and all the Quincy House friends that taught me how to reconnect. My heart was full.

For me, the seeds of my best learning at Harvard were planted in my heart and not my head. It took decades for these to grow into small trees of knowledge, for me to recognize the true gifts in any phase of life - connection, family, shared vulnerability. How astonishing that in many discussions at Reunion we could instantly bond over freshman year traumas, our past desires to leave the school, our qualms about  swim team weigh-ins and tapers. So many of us have learned those lessons about connection, and twenty-five years of life have unlocked our pride-bound recollections and allowed us to reach out.

Though it took me decades to "get it," those lessons have become my lifelong primer. When we left for Boston, our children were technically on their own, but our "family" in Colorado - our friends and neighbors here in Willow Creek - took care of their baseball games and sleepovers, their nighttime needs and their concerns. We wouldn't have made it to Boston without them, wouldn't have made it through the past fourteen years.  Leaving and returning both filled with gratitude, laughing at the reasons I had for going to Harvard and at the joys that fill me now, twenty-five years later, at the lessons I learned. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Non-Post

I've typed a few blog entries over the past week and a half but haven't published them because they focus on one of my children, who faced a difficult time at school.  That individual has asked me not to discuss the trauma publicly and not to follow up any further with school officials, which leaves me feeling powerless and angst-y.  If I don't speak up, how can I affect change? My silence is teaching my kid the wrong lesson.

But my silence has been pledged, though I made my opinions known in a series of diatribes to family members. My child is physically safe, everyone else's child in that situation is safe, and though I am grateful for those facts, they reduce the probability that the powers-that-be at school will listen to me. I need either a critical mass of parents to speak with me (each focused on their own child) or a catastrophic event to illustrate the point.

I'm tired of human nature requiring catastrophic events to make change. Tired of bank failures serving as the prerequisite for banking laws, of epidemics of measles and whooping cough serving as the basis for renewed calls for vaccinations, tired of car axles breaking in potholes before the roads can be fixed. Most of all, I am weary of the pressure on my children pushing them into a stressed state, keeping them awake at night with minds racing, forcing their tears and breakdowns at the kitchen table.  Though my child insists that s/he is "fine, Mom," I cannot erase the memory of emotional broken-ness, the hunched shoulders and sobs that escaped when I swooped in for a hug.  In some small way, I will never be fine, cannot "recover" fro this event.

We need to act on the precautionary principle and not do things that could cause harm. Every child should be protected, not just the majority, and no one should be forced into situations that make him or her uncomfortable. Isn't that what we teach our children? That bullying is wrong, that laying hands on another is wrong, that each individual has worth and their opinion, body and spirit should be respected? Then we should act accordingly, or they will know us for the hypocrites that we are.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Another May, More Madness

When I read through old blog posts to compile my book, I noticed many tributes to the madness of May. When your kids are in school, this month requires as much planning and dedication as December, with thank you notes and gift cards for teachers, coaches and carpool drivers, and planning for the ten weeks of child-packed adventure ahead. May 2018 heads up my list of crazy months, and this week, in particular, my calendar grimaces at me from the screen or page, a squinty face made from miniscule white spaces - the slender gaps between activities.

To kick everything off, Aden had her junior prom last Saturday, and introduced me and Rob to the joys of parenting a teenager out in a car after curfew. We went to bed with our cell phones in hand, startling awake each time she texted from a new location: dinner, ice cream, the prom itself, the after prom.  At 2:45am she texted that she was headed home - didn't want a ride, just wanted us to know. I prayed over and over to get her home safely, and must have fallen sound asleep before she came in, because at 4:45am I registered the time and the fact that I hadn't yet seen Aden, and leaped out of bed. Rob woke instantly, probably due to my snatching all the covers off him, and said "She's here, she's here!"  Though my gratitude was infinite, it was hard to go back to sleep after that adrenaline rush.

We were all a bit sleepy on Sunday, which boded well (not!) for baseball games and yardwork . . . and by the end of the day I was snapping at all and sundry from my post at the barbecue, lamenting having somehow purchased four pounds of chicken thighs that all needed roasting.

This week brings Daniel's art show and choir concert, Aden's first AP test, and William's band concert and league championship for swimming.  The last event requires the most planning: a freshman haircut, administered by the seniors and mandatory to wear through one day of school, a post-haircut shaving of the head, followed by a shaving of the whole body in the company of the team at some lucky parent's house. He will have to go to his band concert sporting egg-like baldness, then retire early to prepare for the 100 fly and 100 back the next day.

I can't feel sorry for myself because all of my friends are in the same boat (and paddling much more gracefully).  I told a good friend "It's lucky I can swim, because my boat is definitely sinking!"

But the new car is doing well and I am driving extremely carefully.  And we're looking forward to seeing old friends and family on our Boston trip, and coming back to a hopefully slower-paced summer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Accident

"Accident - an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance"
- Merriam Webster

When I totaled the car last week and suffered spasms of guilt, my husband and his father used the same phrase to reassure me: "it was an accident."  I also heard this: "you're only human." To be honest, neither phrase improved my shaky nerves or stopped my flashbacks: the horrified too-late recognition of the red light, thunderous slam on the brake pedal and squealing of brake pads, slow motion realization of pending impact followed by crunch of metal, whoosh of airbag, and sinking scent of things burning, broken, abused.

What did resonate with me, a friend's comment about how "precious little" it takes for a car to turn into something dangerous and deadly.  For me, was it fatigue, pending illness, preoccupation with the Harvard Anniversary report, a muzzy experimentation with a word or phrase I wanted to use in writing? I don't know. But I do know that it was careless, a "precious little" absence of awareness that led to the injury-free, yet appalling, mangling of metal frames and melting tires.

In my thirty-one years of driving I have never been at the wheel during an accident. I've been a passenger four or five times, but my driving has been without incident. I would give anything to have that spotless record again, and can but look forward to my penance in traffic court and traffic school for hopes of re-starting with a cleaner slate.

My conscience weighs heavier because I have a teen driver on the road and will soon have another practicing with his permit. I tell the kids to be eternally vigilant, to watch out for folks on the phone or drinking coffee, applying makeup or reaching for something in another seat. I was doing none of those things, yet I became the person to watch out for. (Also a person who ended that sentence with a preposition. How low can I fall?)

I'm beyond grateful that no one was hurt, that it was me and not my parents (who drove from California to Montana last week), or my in-laws (who drove from Ohio to Colorado and back again), or my kids. The accident was a wake-up call and a lesson that will hopefully serve all of us well, especially now that the fourteen-year-old minivan - with it's blind spots, old tech, and high center of gravity - is gone, and the new, smaller car has side window alerts and a backup camera. Drive safe.

Monday, April 23, 2018

25th Reunion Report

I received my Harvard & Radcliffe 25th Anniversary Report on Friday. William sliced open the heavy cardboard packaging and hefted the hardbound crimson tome in one hand with the comment, "Impressive."  Trying to hide my eagerness, I snorted and wiped my dinner-greasy hands on my cloth napkin, saying, "I probably won't have time to look at that until after the reunion." Then I reached for the book and have had my nose buried in it ever since.

Life stories and reflections of my Harvard Classmates are endlessly diverting, and their job titles and multiple degrees are both eye-opening and slightly unsettling, given my modest efforts in the area of career. The class of 1993 can lay claim to the individual who designed the NFL Madden game, the governor of Rhode Island, many doctors /researchers / med-tech consultants (doctors needing to diversify to protect themselves in the changing health care industry).  Professors and teachers abound, as well, as do (of course) the lawyers**, investment bankers, financial analysts, entrepreneurs and high tech gurus.

I knew that my classmates had reached for the stars but am charmed to find that most of the individuals who self-reported, emailing commentary as well as contact information, spend the majority of their words and white space describing the importance of family and connections.  Not a surprise, really, as we're all in middle age and have had more than two decades to learn life's greatest truths, but reassuring that many others have traced a similar path on their journeys, starting out with urgent need for achievement and status, and later turning towards loved ones and community for life satisfaction.

None of us can gloss over the fact that twenty-two of our classmates have died in the years since graduation, and many of us have survived health scares of our own. The realization that each day is gift - that resonates through the many messages, lists and poems submitted by my peers. As a companion to gratitude is the desire to do good, give back, leave this world a little bit better than we found it, whether that be on the family, neighborhood, town, state or national level.

The words of my classmates have buoyed me over this weekend, reassured me that my modest achievements align with the values and desires held by many of them. When I decided to participate in the Anniversary Report and attend the Reunion itself, I hoped to integrate the Harvard experience into my life. For many years I denied it or held it apart, feeling unworthy and unable to include that institution into my story. Finally, now, I can fold it into my life experiences, gifted by the stories of my classmates who have labored to weave it into their own.

**So many lawyers. Judges, too.

Monday, April 16, 2018

State Masters Meet

Two years after swimming my first Masters State meet in decades, I donned the team cap and tightened my goggles to do it again. As the starting blocks have gotten taller and my balance has receded, the racing starts were my biggest concern. I also worried that my shoulders would stay together and my heart rate would hover below 200.

The first dive I took from a block was Saturday in the warm-up, right before my 50 free, my "baby."  Shoulders squeezed, biceps close to the head, I tightened my streamline and held on for dear life. Though I saw stars from the impact of the water, I felt no tearing and safely navigated a half-length of a sprint. That one warm-up start was enough - I couldn't risk any more before the real thing.

 When it came time for my event, I reminded myself to breathe, and at the whistle I cautiously stepped on the block, toes feeling for the edge and hands reaching down to hold on. I couldn't risk standing up, so held my crouch until that feared beep sent me off into the cold, deep water. Between the beep and surfacing I always close my eyes, and have to open them to remind myself where I am and what I need to do: "kick like crazy, pull like mad, look for the wall, hit the wall, breathe."  I've done it hundreds of times, thousands if you count the visualizations. And yet there's a moment of panic when I hit the water, of trying to wrestle the mind back to the present moment. As I get older, it's more a shock to find myself in that situation, more difficult to remember what comes next.

Somehow I got my hand on the wall, .13 of a second faster than I did it two years ago, though second in my age group this time, to a 45-year-young speedster who just aged up. It was some consolation that I wasn't even close to her. My team was supportive and complimentary, and asked why I wasn't doing more of the freestyle events.  I fumbled for excuses, tried out a number of different lines, and finally admitted the truth, that I was scared to push my body too hard.  The longer events mean a longer stretch of elevated heart rate, a greater risk for migraines and semi-conscious post-race slump.  It's telling that my friends were confused by this, though respectful, while my family was hyper-aware, making sure to warn me not to "push too hard."

Because, when I get in the water, knowing that a time will be posted after my name, I want to bust through walls. Leave no cell untapped, no iota of energy unspent. It hurts, no matter what. At least the short events hurt for a short time.  I empathized with my kids, who train and race year-round, and who are astonishingly faster than me in the strokes. William is 4.5 seconds faster in a 50 backstroke and Aden faster by the same amount in her 50 breast. That is a lot of separation for a fifty-yard race, both humbling and gratifying. At least I don't embarrass them in the fly or the free, the fly being a pleasant surprise because I couldn't do it until my shoulder finished healing a few months ago.

But it was entertaining to share my experience with Rob and the kids, terrific to share stories and swap remedies with my teammates, amazing to see the larger swimming community and the 400 adults who participated in the state meet. I'll be diving off those blocks when I'm in my 70's, I promise.



Monday, April 9, 2018

Overload

I was so eager for William to start swimming with the Creek boys' swim team.  He was going to meet upperclassmen, bond with a group, feel a deeper connection to the school, and of course improve his times and love for swimming. All has come to pass, and yet it's not as straightforward as I anticipated. Life never goes the way we plan.

The angst that Rob and I feel derives from the fact that William moved up to swim with Varsity at the invitation of his coaches. They didn't mandate his jump from the Varsity Prep group (kind of a JV+), but said they thought he could do Varsity - if he wanted to. That's all the encouragement William needed to sign up for 10 practices and five early wake-ups each week. He's never trained remotely as hard in his young life.

He had two  bad colds to start the season and one ear infection that required antibiotics. When we went to the doctor for his ear, William discovered that he has lost four pounds, despite growing and training with weights. We were mutually horrified, and I pledged to feed him more while he determined to eat fairly constantly in order to reverse the slide.

School is stressful, practices are extremely difficult, and yet he persists. At the meet last Friday, William swam a 100 back and a 100 free for the relay almost back-to-back and he needed help getting out of the pool after his second swim. He buried his face in his knees to breathe and sat on the deck for the rest of the race, prompting Rob to run out of the bleachers and down to the deck to hand him a bottle of water. William waved him off, saying only, "Please go away."

After a mellow weekend he was ready and excited to head back to training, determining that no further time off was needed and letting us know we should keep our concerns to ourselves. We're proud of his dedication, his strength, his passion, and yet we harbor lingering worries about recovery time and stresses to health and grades. William assures us it's only three - or four - weeks more of hard training, and I try to revive my excitement in his improvements, the possibilities of his taper and final meets, laughing at the irony of my mother role taking over my swimmer / coach persona and reminding me that the only important thing is to love my kids.