With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

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!)