With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

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.