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Growing Up

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tactile Creativity

eThe only solution I see to a crazy world is to create something new. A new way of thinking, a new hierarchy of priorities, a new object of beauty. In the past, writing has been my main creative outlet but now I crave something more elemental and tactile. I'm drawn to British reality shows about interior design or baking; the British are more polite, less ruthlessly competitive, and their brave attempts to try something new inspire me to attempt my own art projects.

Currently my project is a mosaic, a wave theme to be mounted on wood and hung in the master bathroom. In the event that it fails, no one will have to view it except me and Rob, and occasionally the children when they come in to snag toilet paper. I also want to paint the kitchen chairs green, which met with raised eyebrows and protestations from the boys, but remarkable forbearance from Rob. He seems to get it - that creative endeavors provide peace of mind and clear short-term goals that help alleviate nameless fears for the future.

As a result of my craving for tactile creativity, my writing has decreased. I weary of ideas, arguments and philosophy, and lean into my desire to create a happier, more colorful home space that smells of cinnamon and occasionally chocolate (brownies are best ). I long to change broken plates into art (after first smashing them on the porch - tremendously satisfying) or turning that old, brown banana into muffins.  My kitchen is more satisfying than a world stage, my happy family a better audience than potentially disgruntled readers. (Not that any of you are disgruntled - you are the happy readers, whom I cherish!)

So off to smash some plates and buy some clear gloves so I don't glue my fingers together. I might need them to type some day.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Funky Fall

"These frightening possibilities cannot be denied, but neither can they be taken as facts. The only fact is that we don't know what will happen in the future, and to imagine that we do is foolish. It is not unusual for history to proceed by a process of reversal: momentum going in one direction is replaced by momentum in the opposite."
- "The Religion of Politics, the Politics of Religion," Norman Fischer, The Sun May 2005

Lulled  by the high count of readers who kept returning to Halloween and pumpkin blog posts of old, I deleted blogging from my to-do list for early fall. A funk descended on me and I struggled to find the path out. Headline and current events hit my psyche like dual bludgeons, and the sorrow from missing my daughter (a freshman at college) and worry for my father (in hospice care) weigh me down. A final blow was worry and stress about my 13-year-old son, whose eighth-grade road has been rocky. I thought ahead to high school and panicked, not knowing where to send him or how to magically ensure a safe and successful road.

In finding my way out of the dark, I followed a few paths. First, realizing that I was borrowing trouble for the future and attempting, in vain, to control what "should' happen with my son. We only have today, as I have learned time and time again. The movies that play in the cockeyed scary theaters of our mind need to be turned off as soon as previews roll - never allowed to proceed into full-length features.

Secondly, faith illuminated the great lesson; I have to admit my powerlessness and trust in the power and positivity of the universal Oneness.  The great unifying love, or God, has shepherded me through dark, dark times in the past and I need to learn again (and again) to rely on something greater than myself.

Lastly, when stress and worry trigger my jaw pain, head pain, or psychic pain, I remember that I found my way through pain and illness in the past with help from mindfulness, faith and caregivers. It's frustrating to go over this bend in the road yet again- I wish I could be done with it forever -  but ultimately a relief to have networks in place to help.

The quote at the top of this blog is something I read every day. The only fact is that we don't know - that I don't know - what will happen. To worry and obsess will merely take away my joy in today. I hope the words are helpful to you, and that your road is rising and you stand in the sun.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Make America Greta Again

"You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you."
- Greta Thunberg speech to the United Nations Climate Action Summit (https://www.npr.org/2019/09/23/763452863/transcript-greta-thunbergs-speech-at-the-u-n-climate-action-summit)

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg took the UN's Climate Action Summit by storm last week, delivering a scathing speech that dared to tell truth to power. Thunberg, who identifies as a person with Asperger's Syndrome, inspired tens of thousands of youth (and their affiliated adults) to participate in the world Climate Strike on Friday, September 20, and she is a role model and inspiration to all in the neurodiverse community. A friend of mine who has a daughter with Asperger's bought her girl a T-shirt with the caption "Make America Greta Again."

Thunberg inspires me while at the same time bringing my fears about climate change to the forefront of my mind, an uncomfortable place for them to be. I first learned about climate change during my Environmental Studies program at San Jose State, where I went to get a second BA and a California teaching credential. That was twenty year ago, and it chills me to now experience the temperature rises and extreme weather events that were predicted in 1999 (actually long before).  We have done nothing, really, to save our faltering planet for future generations, and I fear that young people will, in fact, never forgive us.

I agonized over the decision to have children twenty years ago and ultimately decided that the hope and purpose they inspire would be necessary for my positive interaction with the world. And still I feel torn about their futures - though their existence has  been an unadulterated good to me, what kind of future lies before them when I am gone? 

Thunberg is right - we must act to have the right to hope, we must push our local and national governments to move forward, we must change the bad actors in Washington and we must use our consumer power for good whenever possible. We must act, because everything hangs in the balance.


Monday, September 16, 2019

For What Will Be, Yes.

"For what has been, we thank you. For what will be, Yes."
-prayer of unknown origin

My brother John resurrected this childhood prayer when we were in Montana last weekend. We gathered around a festive table to celebrate my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary and John began this simple grace. After the sign of the cross, this statement used to precede an individual thanks from each family member, proceeding from youngest to oldest. Unprepared, Michael and I hesitated a minute before we spoke, though Mom didn't falter. She thanked God for us, for those family members who couldn't be with us, and for her husband. My father cannot speak but he gave the sign for "I love you," after which we turned our food with constricted throats.

In this difficult time of transition, as we try to free Dad from worry and let him go - most assuredly to whatever heaven might exist - I cannot think of a more perfect prayer. For fifty good years of marriage, a pure example of selfless love for five children and thirteen grandchildren, God, we thank you. For what will be, we must try to say "yes."

The deep emotions were balanced by some quiet time outside in my father's beloved Montana. While Dad napped in the late mornings, my brothers and I took the stand-up paddleboards out on Flathead Lake. The scorching summer sun muted by autumn's haze, we glided over glassy shallows and peered at the fish and plants below. In one area, a pine tree had recently fallen and its boughs waved under gentle swells. In another small cove, an old dock had collapsed and we maneuvered between pointy remnants of its supporting beams.

The hidden landscapes made me think of the struggles and joys that lie beneath the tapestry of my parents' marriage. The struggles they shared, all the moves we made across country with their resulting changes, losses they suffered and joys celebrated together.  So much richness, so much vibrant life. So much to be thankful for, even as we struggle to say yes to things to come.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A Good Job

I still miss my daughter with a slowly subsiding ache; the cats and I peer at each other in the shaded house and wonder if someone will come to rescue us from this unfamiliar situation. I tend not to follow little Blackjack when he hides in Aden's room, but I can at least step through the doorway without tears. It felt heroic to support Aden in her decision to stay at school through the long Labor Day weekend, I told her it was good to "put down roots" while inside a voice was shrieking, "come home!"

My neighbor and I exchanged notes on the subject of departing children. Bonnie said "Everyone tells you that you did a good job, and that's why they can leave successfully, but what if you didn't mean to do such a good job? Maybe I should have screwed up more along the way!"  The mix of emotions is wilder than a unicorn frappuccino. Aden is rocking her first two weeks, happy and engaged and meeting all the people. She's doing so much better than I did in my first two weeks that I am proud, amazed, and a teensy bit jealous.  I eagerly await her snapchats and stay up much later than I planned to take her calls.

My wheels are still spinning as I try to work out a job that I can do from home that will swell my pocketbook while not adding stress or fatigue to my life. I have to drive Daniel to activities most evenings when Rob's out of town, so early morning work is not ideal, work during school hours only is hard to come by, and my introverted tendencies make me reluctant to do anything with phones, customer service, marketing, or pitching myself. You can see the difficulty.  But I keep praying and hoping that the right thing will drop into my lap(top) at the right time. Have to keep the mental wheels turning productively so they don't stop or go off the rails worrying about things that are out of my control - like a college-age daughter.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

College Dropoff

Wednesday was what my college roommate would call a "mad, sad, glad day."  Tara always could hit the nail on the head, and a text stream with her and my other roommates was a highlight on a day that otherwise broke my heart into pieces. Leaving Aden (and a piece of the aforementioned broken heart) in Boulder brought back memories of my own painful freshman drop-off, and my brain kept going in circles in disbelief that I was leaving my child to live someplace without me. Though we had been preparing for months, the actual move out / move in struck with the shock of a cold shower.

The excitement of a bustling, welcoming campus buoyed us through the unloading of the car, the decoration of the room, the introductions to her roommate and her roommate's family. The day was clear, the mountains loomed over all, the dorm room was unexpectedly large and clean. We walked the route between a few of Aden's classes and admired the untrodden lawns, the welcome tents, and the well-stocked bookstore (where we bought more swag).

Then lunch, then abrupt departure, with Aden reassuring me. "You got this, Mom," she said as I hid my streaming eyes behind oversized sunglasses and struggled to get words out of my clogged throat. Rob reassured me all the way home about her readiness, her happiness and the exciting new worlds at her fingertips. My agreement still didn't prepare me to pass her empty room or to stop in shock at the newly clean corner where her college supplies lived all summer.

It's a physical hurt for me, a pain somewhere in the gut that bursts out at inappropriate moments (like my son's back to school night) and induces tears and absent-mindedness. Part of me is focused on Boulder, on what Aden's doing now, and the other parts can't seem to get in gear...yet.  I have to figure this out and move forward. Snapchat and texts help, as does proximity. Stay tuned for Aden's rapid forward movement and exciting trajectory....and for my slower progress and brave face.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

First Day of School

The boys started school this week - eighth and eleventh grades. I noticed the day's approach on my calendar with a slight but growing trepidation and a dawning realization that I want my kids with me so I can keep them safe. A fear-based mindset is unfamiliar to me, and yet the events of the past year have crept into my subconscious.

What makes me inhale deeply, fortify myself, and send my kids off with a cheerful farewell is the determination not to succumb to our current administration's doctrine of fear. The president and some of his supporters have deepened divides in our country, encouraged hatred and promoted fear. We must defeat negativity within ourselves, our families, and our neighborhoods, and we must vote the propaganda machine out of office next year.

I choose to believe in the good in people. When I got a text from a friend last night, asking if my older son could meet her student for lunch on her first day of school, William immediately agreed. Another of his friends immediately did the same. Our young people are good, full of potential, and blessed with visions and possibilities that we can't see. I have to send them forth into the world because they are the ones who will help us change for the better.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

More In-Betweens

Camping gear has filled the living room, or what's left of it after Aden's college shopping has spilled out from the opposite wall. The air mattress sits adjacent to her wall mirror and sleeping pads roll up nicely next to her new gray-and-white-checked storage baskets. We appear to be readying ourselves either to host several new family members long-term, or to send them out into the world with an outline of the necessities.

My work space mirrors the craziness of our upside-down living room. The boys' back-to-school paperwork sits (mostly completed) next to permission trips for Daniel's third and final mission trip, Aden's move-in checklist partially obscures a list of part-time jobs that I'm considering in a desperate bid to keep busy and stop depression from descending after we move her up to Boulder. 

The part-time job search has been a dizzying process of determining what on earth I want to do, or can do, for four hours each day for an hourly several steps above minimum wage. Translating, teaching, typing, editing, etc.... how many times do I need to ask the question of what I want to do when I grow up? Plus, as every stay-at-home parent knows, I have a nearly full-time job coordinating the house, kids, and spouse. Even summer has presented itself with a dance card full of doctor's appointments, wisdom teeth removal, swim lessons, swim meets and grocery shopping. 

So we inhabit this crazy space between summer and school, Aden being here and Aden leaving, me stable, and me ????. Another liminal phase, another chance to breathe through it and try to enjoy the now. Practice makes perfect, or so I hear.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Tear-ing It Up

I'm a regular font of salt water these days, despite the fact that I swim in chlorine. Tears threaten at odd times and in public places, like at the airport when Rob and I picked William up after his mission trip to Nogales, Mexico. Parents around me were grinning jovially and waving hello to their teens while I nearly burst into tears and had to refrain from running through baggage claim to embrace my son. Like a bad movie, it played in my head as I fought to restrain myself and wait for him to saunter over before delivering my stranglehold hug. The tears did not so much glisten as pool over my lower lids, to such an extent that William noticed. "Are you almost crying, Mom?" he asked with a grin.

My family seems partially horrified and partly resigned to the fact that I weep frequently and without regard to the status of teenagers. I try to hide it, casually looking to the side of the room after a So You Think You Can Dance audition that is particularly moving, yawning and raising one hand to stretch while the other discreetly wipes away unwanted moisture.  It reminds me of the move that our high school dates used to pull in movie theaters, yawning and stretching before cautiously draping one arm over the back of our seats and shoulders (this was particularly fraught for female swimmers, whose shoulders were often broader than their dates.')  My move, like the movie date sidearm, doesn't fool anyone, but it helps me to move on into the commercial break with some dignity.

Meanwhile, I'm grasping at straws to solve the problem. Unsure if it's hormones, perimenopause, emotional strain, fatigue, or just a character flaw, I keep waiting for the tide to turn (literally and metaphorically). After the last few months, I'm beginning to doubt that change will come, and trying to resign myself to presenting a wet face to the public. The kids (and husband) will just have to adjust - and bring Kleenex.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Liminal Space

"liminal space is the time between the 'what was' and the 'next.' It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us." (Google)

My father has perfect pitch. When I was learning the guitar a few years back, Dad listened to my new pieces and could identify a chord or a note instantly, in-person or over the phone. Dad's talents and complexities are legion - he learned how to drive early and stole his parents' car out of the driveway when he was thirteen, only to take it straight to church to confess because he felt guilty.  Dad hiked his five kids up mountainous ravines, somehow willing us to crawl up through narrow cracks despite our fear of heights. He drove an RV alongside steep drop-offs (with Mom leaning inward from the passenger seat, yelling "Jules!") from Montana to California.  We all know him as a proud, intelligent, loving and daring man.

My throat swells and my glasses fog as I type now, reflecting on my recent visit to Montana. Daniel and I went to see Nana and Papa, as well as my brothers Michael and James and their families, for a few days last week. The house was full of laughter (and crying - we had seven children aged nine or younger)  and Mom's smiles blossomed throughout the day as delightful tableaus formed and dissipated on the back deck or the front lawn. Dad sat in his special recliner chair when he wasn't resting in the bedroom, and just took it all in.

The parasupranuclear palsy (PSP) that has Dad in its grip has now taken his ability to speak, and largely, to swallow. Since I last saw him, in December, his weight loss and his difficulty with communication have advanced, and I struggled to find words to greet him that wouldn't betray my shock.  After the first long day, he beckoned me toward his wheelchair as he and Mom were headed to bed.  "Thank you for coming," he whispered with difficulty, and then he made the sign for "I  love you." Tears fell on his head as I returned his hug.

I don't know if it's reassuring or heartbreaking beyond belief that the man I love as my father is still there, holding fast out of sheer strength of will and my mother's amazing care. My brothers and I went out on the golf course  on my last evening, and Michael asked "Why? How can a proud person be content in this situation?"

I have no answer - I only know that Dad doesn't want any extreme measures taken to save his life and that he wishes to die in his sleep in his home in Montana. None of us know what lies between the present moment and that wish but it's torment to navigate through this liminal space.

Dad has always had a healthy dose of humble as well as a hefty sense of gratitude for five healthy children and a wife beyond compare. I wonder if - in his growing wisdom, patience, and humility as he gets closer to a God that he believes in - that he is content to adapt. Dad watched the grandchildren play in the living room, helped me find my shoes on the table when I couldn't see them, and generally proved that he was present and alert. When James tried to pop a wheelie from Dad's wheelchair, my father laughed soundlessly, and when one of the 18 - month - old twins looked his way, Papa could still wave. 

Though this version of my Dad is new and different, I find so much to admire even now. The grace with which he has met the disease astounds me and my mom's diligent care provides a daily example of love and sacrifice which seem rare in this world.  So we smile and even laugh through our tears, and we pray to be transformed, along with Dad, in this liminal space.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Delusion, Denial and Luck

It's my last week to drive William around, as he gets his license on Thursday at the DMV. He already took and passed his on-road test at MasterDrive, so I know this is a done deal. I'm happy for William but nostalgic already for the conversations we've had over the past year as he drove home from practice with my heroically resisting the impulse to slam my foot on imaginary brakes. It's a double whammy; as William becomes more independent and most likely spends less time at home, his older sister prepares to move up to Boulder in August.  And like water swirling faster and faster down into a toilet bowl, my time with them slips away.

Yesterday I drove the driver-to-be to a friend's house out by Cherry Creek Reservoir and we saw a magnificent double rainbow herald the end of yet another afternoon thunderstorm. Even as we skirted the suddenly deep puddles at the side of the lane and hit dismiss on the flash flood warning on our cell phones (the non-driver did that) this rainbow was extending across the water, shining so brightly that it created its own echo.  A sign of luck and good fortune, I thought.

Which reminded me of a lovely early morning walk I had shared that day with good friends who also have teenagers and parents struggling with illness.  Our shared stories took on the theme of parenting in our late forties and early fifties: delusion, denial and luck.  We delude ourselves that we're as strong, flexible, and fit as we were in our thirties, that our children will be home for a good while yet, that our parents will live forever. When truth seeps in via injury, obstacle or news delivered via difficult phone call, we push it aside and deny factoids that threaten our equilibrium and ability to manage our families through another week of summer.  I'm in this phase of denial with Aden's imminent departure to college. I pushed her box of of new, coordinated bedding and towels behind a large chair in the living room, not to be washed or even looked at until reality must be confronted.

When delusion and denial finally flee or are moved aside in moments of brave clarity, we pray for desired outcomes and hope that we get lucky. I hope that William drives safely and intelligently - and that he gets lucky, that Aden uses common sense in  making good friends and choosing her classes - and that she gets lucky It helps to recognize that luck, or God, or some universal force, provides us with moments of grace and opportunity and joy. When I appreciate even small moments of luck (William passing his driver's test, rainstorms canceling out conflicting events last night), I am filled with a sense of gratitude that sustains and comforts me, even when denial and delusion eventually fail.


Thursday, June 6, 2019

Please Mind the Gap

Several people asked me why we pulled up stakes immediately after graduation and flew 4,000 miles to visit England and Scotland.  I had many reasons.  First, after such a difficult semester (see previous blogs regarding terrorist threats and suicides), I desperately wanted to gather my family around me and take them far away.  Second, the trip was a joint celebration of graduation and our twentieth wedding anniversary, and I have long hoped to take the children to Europe. I wanted the kids to see that they could manage international travel, that the world is so grand - amazing and full of adventure - that they should prioritize study and work abroad programs.  As to the choice of countries, the family all voted on London and then split on Spain, France and Scotland for our second choice, and I went with Scotland because I'm 42% Scots-Irish and, well, Outlander.

One of the stories I heard overseas was that a certain percent of Americans voted for a mock petition to abolish Arabic numerals. I assume the respondents were alarmed at the thought of immigrating digits, and failed to recognize that the 1,2,3,4, etc that we all learned in pre-K are, in fact, Arabic. A cringe-worthy narrative, but I couldn't help but chuckle. Here's our trip by the Arabic numbers:

22,489 - Number of steps we walked on our busiest day in Edinburgh (over ten miles)
1,900 - Age (in years) of the Roman column we saw in York which was part of the original city
257 - Stairs to the top of St. Paul Cathedral in London, also very similar to the number of narrow, winding stairs required to get to the roof of York Minster Cathedral
24 - Hours of travel to get home from London
10 - Hours spent on trains between London, Edinburgh and York (delightful!)
8 - Times we spent crossing Abbey Road trying unsuccessfully to mimic the Beatles' famous album cover
6 - Hours of sunshine we had in Edinburgh out of the three-day visit
5 - Number of roller bags wheeled through countless city streets from tube or train station to hotel/air b'n'b, usually in a single-file line led by a clueless parent
4 - Number of times we almost got hit by a car after looking the wrong direction for traffic
3 - Number of nights to (mostly) recover from jet lag
2 - Happily married parents, even after 9 days of travel
1 - Picnic in Kensington Gardens with dinner from Whole Foods

The numbers can't adequately express either the shocked joy I experienced when William and Daniel bonded unexpectedly under their umbrella in Edinburgh, or the horrific smell of feet in our small hotel room after five days of walking.  Nor does it evoke the delight on Aden's face as we bought groceries in the M & S near our London B'n'B, or the children's awe at seeing the historical graves in Westminster Abbey.

Though we were surprised and pleased to survive a trip in such close proximity, we all longed for home at the end of the trip and have spent the last four days recovering and rejoicing in Colorado and our friends and routines here.  It was hard for Aden to leave her coaching job, for William to leave his swimming schedule and friends, and for Daniel to be separated from his baseball team, and I know that the difficultly will only increase in the future as summer jobs evolve into internships and the bonds of friends / significant others requires us either to travel without a family member or bring an additional one along.

As the London Metro announcers said without ceasing during our countless rides, "Please mind the gap between the train and the platform," and we thank jobs and teammates for minding the gap between our successful graduation in wintry weather and the start of a pleasant summer in a suddenly green Colorado. I'm so grateful that we went, and that we came back.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A Fractals-filled May

Fractal - a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales. (Google definition).

Start a challenging task, struggle, complete, celebrate, start anew. Our family life contains this pattern, repeated at both the macro- and micro- levels in a kaleidoscope pattern run amok.  In May, specifically, we danced through a confetti pattern of completed major efforts on both grand and smaller scales. For instance, we celebrated high school graduation for Aden, sharing in our joy with Bill and Connie, Sean and Carol, who all came to visit from the Midwest. A snowfall the day before graduation combined with plummeting temperatures threatened to blow us off course, but with much shoveling on the part of the district, and many warm clothes on the part of graduate guests, we triumphed. The colors that day were high school royal blue and red, mottled with the grey of the sky and the white drifts of snow on the football field.

We celebrated further with a joint graduation party due largely to the generosity and planning of Aden's friend Hannah and her family. It was rewarding and emotional to see so many neighborhood friends that day. Many of their sons or daughters graduated with Aden, and since we have had the luxury and privilege of living in the same house for almost fifteen years, our bonds with friends here means that each Willow Creek name called out at graduation resonated and sparked both joy and sorrow for time's rapid passage. Colors there were black and red for Hannah's college of Northeastern and black with gold for Aden's new journey at CU.

On a slightly smaller scale we rejoiced with William and his high school swim team as they marked a win at the boys' state championships (the first such win in twenty-five years).  After months of two-a-days and exhaustion, fluctuating times and minor health crises, it was awe-inspiring to see the team pull out amazing performances and win all of the relays as well as place many individuals in finals. William didn't have his best meet but delighted in cheering for teammates and sharing in the celebration. His goal is to produce points next year as they pursue a repeat. The boys were resplendent in their bleached blonde hair and royal blue and white jerseys, happy faces and fist thrusts of muscled and shaved arms.

We then embarked on an eight-day tour of the United Kingdom which contained extended stays in London and Edinburgh and a brief stop in York. On vacation, each day contained the smaller fractal of effort, completion, reward and celebration, as we struggled to revise and follow an itinerary, find our way via underground or walking the city streets, eat food both affordable and allergen-free, and then stagger back to our room (s) at night, exhausted but still too jet-lagged to sleep through the night. Many smaller patterns with a mix of many different greys (rain, streets, rivers, old buildings) blue for the sky in London, green for the countryside as seen by the train, black for umbrellas and a rainbow of flowers in the late-May gardens. More on the trip in the next post.

For now we rest. Our photo galleries of the last few weeks startle me as I flash review all of the events that occurred, the people we saw and shared good times with, and the amount of effort that went into the triumphs. The rest will be brief, for new journeys start soon, but we will sweep up the confetti, take down the signs and mail the thank you notes, tying up the last loose ends of our magnificent May.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Turbo Mermaids

Despite deep reservations over my body's capabilities and a busy family schedule I flew to Phoenix last weekend to compete in the US Master's Swimming Nationals. Over 2,000 swimmers from age 18 to 97 gathered from across the country to brave the 100 degree heat, dubious air quality and perilously high starting blocks.  Fellowship and inspiration made the trip worthwhile even before I swam my best times in 13 years. An international meet at Stanford in 2006 was the last time I competed seriously, and since then my autoimmune illness laid me low.

In 2012 a dear friend came over to help me cook dinner and reassured me, as I slumped on the kitchen counter in despair, having lost fifteen pounds and all my strength, that one day we would be able to walk around the neighborhood again.  Her words stuck in my head, even as I began to walk (lifting my water bottle for a weight), swim, and cautiously re-embark on a weight training regimen. I swore off competition at the height of my illness, since my addiction to exercise, fueled by competition, had nearly killed me. But engaging with my Masters teammates, finding my comfort zone in shorter workouts, more rest days, and a new attitude, brought me back to competition seven years later.

It's hard to say who was more inspiring, Olympian Matt Grevers sprinting a 21 (seconds) in the 50 -yard backstroke, the 97-year - old woman wearing a fast compression suit and swimming the 200 freestyle, or my teammates - fellow "turbo mermaids" in the words of my friend, Suzy - winning their races and dropping more time than any other team.  The starting blocks were so high that they required two steps to climb up, and a permanent "fin" was anchored to the back to provide a track start.  The fin worked well when you finally stepped over it and onto the precariously slanted surface.  I admit that my heart raced crazily when I got up there the first time, but a 79-year-old man next to me flew off in a practice start and motivated me to take the (very high) plunge.  All over the deck volunteers were letting us use their shoulders, hands or heads to climb up and stay balanced, and the shade tent poles were also handy and much coveted for their assistance.

I placed third in the 100 free and fifth (by .04!) in the 50 free with times that were not so far off what I did at Stanford oh those many years ago.  To be clear, I didn't think I could even finish a fast 100 free, since here (at altitude) my lungs give way to seeing black and wanting to pee my pants after I turn at the 75.  Maybe going down to sea level was the trick, maybe just being brave enough to try was most important. I always tell the kids, "Your passion must be stronger than your fear," and I had not followed the mantra myself until this past weekend.  The residual grip of the illness and my doubts about fitness had lingered beyond their past-due date, and I was relieved and full of gratitude that I could finally drown them in the pool.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Made Like Him, Like Him We Rise

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! 
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! 
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! 
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia! 
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! 
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia! 
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! 
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 
- "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," verses 3 and 4, Charles Wesley (1739)
The soaring soprano notes and trumpet blasts of this traditional Easter hymn lifted us up on Easter Sunday even as tears started and I had to mouth the words around my constricted throat. One of my favorite pieces of music reminded me that we are called to hope, to envision a better future, to have faith that good will triumph in the end. It could not have come at a better time.
Perhaps you have stumbled through my latest entries (stumbles due to the faulty writing and not to your reading ability) and realized that our spring has been full of tragedy.  In addition to the loss of life, we had to sit through a day of school closure due to a "valid threat" to schools across the Denver metro area. Over 434,000 students and their teachers sat at home on a Wednesday because a young woman, obsessed with Columbine, had flown to Denver from her Florida home, purchased a gun and ammunition, and threatened to take young lives.
The situation was not a reality I ever want to adopt - feeling held hostage by an individual with mental health problems who was somehow allowed to by weapons with an out-of-state license, no waiting period, and no regard for the fact that she cannot even buy a beer at age 19, but could somehow buy a gun.  One neighbor reflected, "We close the schools so that the gun stores stay open."  Another noted that we had a spring snow day one week, and a spring terrorist day the next.
I can't make the situation feel normal, can't normalize it for my children. Their resilience in the face of danger reassures me in small ways and horrifies me in others. How can they be expected to operate in school with much larger pressures weighing on their young shoulders?
My mood was a bit low going into Easter, but this pivotal spring holy day reminded me of my duty as a Christian and as a parent, to hold on to hope, to have faith in a better day, and to work hard not only to envision this better world but to make it possible.




Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Bad Writing about Hard Things

After a week of time putting some distance between us and the tragic death of a young woman we knew, I re-read my last post and now must apologize for bad writing, for my inadequacies.  To write well an author needs to plumb the depths of their own emotion in order to "show and not tell" the story to the reader.  I struggled last week to deal with my emotions: shock, fear, sorrow, anger, worry. There was little desire to dredge them all up as I spent most of my time squashing them down in order to function.

We went to a candlelight vigil in the neighborhood park last Thursday night which saw hundreds of people gather to pay homage to the young girl.  Aden and her friends disappeared into the throng near the photo wall, while the other moms and I stopped a long way out, stricken with grief and unable to move closer.  The overwhelming sense of tragic wrongness sat heavy on all the parents assembled. Children in the first blush of their young lives should never go first.

Several parents shared their own stories of sons and daughters who struggled with mental health. One father told me that he was wrestling with "survivor's guilt."  Their daughter had attempted suicide twice and by some miracle had recovered and was now thrilled with life at college. He said, "there but for the grace of God go I," and it's a sentiment that most of us shared.  The multitude of candles glowed beautifully on the dear faces of loved ones in our community as we gathered in small groups. Their hugs provided some comfort but couldn't alleviate the emptiness, the reason for our gathering.

At youth group on Sunday, the young people were still reeling from their losses, including the death of a sophomore boy from a private school near our church.  The school had kept the incident fairly quiet, partly because it occurred over spring break, and the students in my group wondered if the young boy's lack of popularity, his quiet demeanor, had contributed to the lack of conversation around his death.  They are all wondering about their worth, the impact that they have on the lives of others. In social media land they calculate their value by instagram followers and snapchat streaks and wonder if obtaining the magic number of "likes" or "views" would somehow protect them from feelings of inadequacy.

How do we help them realize that their value is intrinsic, and the likes and views are as fake as Monopoly money?  Real connections matter, a small number of close friends and family matters, future hopes and dreams matter. In the midst of our struggle to affirm the teenagers in our lives came another bombshell; last night we heard the news of a death by suicide at a different high school in the district.

The loss of life must stop. I don't know how to prevent it, which adds to the general unease and worry gathering mass in my stomach. All I can do is tell my children how special they are, how much they mean to our family and friends, and pray that this wave has finally crashed and withdraws back into the sea.



Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Death by Suicide

The correct term for a young person's death at their own hands is death by suicide. Not "committed," no judgment attached, just a straightforward statement regarding an event that is anything but straightforward. Such a death tips the world on its axis.  Our neighborhood and school communities are now reeling because of such a loss.  A young lady who grew up with Aden, who swam on the summer team with her, joined her for Brownies and Girl Scouts and youth group, has died by suicide.

Aden and her friends are devastated. Though the seniors have taken different paths at the large high school, their elementary school classmates are like family.. They gathered in small groups at each other's homes over the weekend, crying over shared memories and tentatively (guiltily) sharing their plans for the future: college, majors, jobs.  They have also shared their own mental health struggles, including anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.  I am heartened by the outreach and support but terrified by the depth of the troubles they face. I want to get counselors for each one, remove the burden of homework and exams and social media, but I feel powerless in the face of their culture.

The weight of grief will not entirely lift this school year and their friend's absence will mar prom and graduation and high school memories.  This recent loss was the third death by suicide that our school community has suffered in 2019.  Apparently this is considered a side effect, that 'contagion' is a medically observed risk of youth suicide. Add that word to the list of the most odious terms ever conceived.

Anger is a part of the grieving process, and no one knows where to direct their anger in such difficult times. Some people direct it at the school, as if they could prevent this when families, faith communities and medical professionals have not. Some people ask why the school held a day of mourning on Friday when they did not have it in February for the first student who died by suicide, ignorant of the fact that the families had different wishes. The school has done everything possible to respect the families and help the students.

I am also angry and have no target for my anger, which of course is closely accompanied by fear.  It's taken me four days to write this post, struggling to corral the various thoughts that swoop through my mind like Dementors. My greatest desire is to shield my children, tell them how much I love them, but they can't understand the depth of this emotion, not until they have children of their own. I never did. The greatest force in the world - a parent's love for their child - cannot always save them.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bomb Cyclones and Blizzards

We're caught in the tail end of the huge blizzard system moving across the Midwest, which means a snow day for everyone. The school district did us all an immense favor by calling it yesterday, despite sixty-degree temps, sun and general disbelief.  We all got to sleep in, and the district powers were rapidly proven correct when rain turned to snow at 9am, and gusts of wind blew in to relieve forty-year-old trees of their embedded root systems.  As the wind howls and the electricity flickers on and off, I cross my fingers that the stew in the Crockpot gets cooked before we lose power, and calculate how much square footage we might need for sleeping in front of the gas fireplace in the family room.

Rob has been at a conference near the Denver airport all week, and got there for a brief time this morning, only to realize as the snow started dumping that he had to return home immediately or he would be staying at the airport hotel overnight.  I'm relieved to have everyone here, safe and warm, and realize for the thousandth time how little anything else matters if my family is safe and healthy. Not college admissions (so hard to pass up a tangent on this issue today!), not salaries, not status, not anything.

Snow days were hard when the kids were little (everything was hard back then), but not so difficult now as children do homework or ply their phones. I should herd everyone into a family game but might settle for a family movie later today when essays are written, Rob's to-do list has been shaved down, and my birthday project for Daniel is farther along.  Speaking of shaving - I even got to my legs today with all this extra time, and now luxuriate in sweats that have seen better days.  Should my children glance at my deshabille in horror, I need but to flash a smooth shin to reassure them that I haven't totally given up.

Wishing everyone at home in the blizzard a safe and restful day, and praying for travelers who might be caught in this system or those without homes seeking shelter. Be safe.

Monday, March 4, 2019

We're Going to Break the Rules

Though I grew up in the Catholic church and Rob in the Presbyterian, we have been attending St Andrew United Methodist Church for fourteen years.  Our boys were baptized there and our oldest two children confirmed in front of a congregation that we hold dear. St. Andrew takes the United Methodist slogan of "Open hearts, open minds, open doors" one step further; we are a reconciling congregation which specifically welcomes members of the LGBTQ+ community who are often denied the comfort of church membership.

Last week the global conference of the UMC met to vote on how to deal with this community. Our Book of Discipline states that homosexuality is a sin and incompatible with God's teaching, and many congregations in the United States - including St. Andrew - disagree and want the wording changed to embrace all people with God's love.  Unfortunately, a conservative faction of the American UMC banded together with delegates from Africa and Asia and actually made the situation worse. Not only did they vote to keep the language, but they introduced draconian punishment for any clergy who came out as gay, and for any clergy who married a same-sex couple.

The plan approved by the conference, the "Traditional Plan," says that a clergy member who marries a same-sex couple will lose a year's worth of pay the first time s/he conducts a marriage, and will be excommunicated from the church after the second time.  Our pastor, Reverend Mark Feldmeir, said that if he were a young man at this time, he would not elect to go to seminary, would not become a pastor.  But, thanks to God's grace, he is our pastor, and he helped us all through a difficult week of reconciling the narrow and prejudiced decision of the global church with our congregation's open attitude. (In contrast to the decision, which he called broken hearts, closed minds, and shut doors.)

Rev Mark held a meeting last Wednesday, the day after the vote, and between 300 and 400 people came on the spur of the moment to be comforted, to organize, and to prepare to disobey.  As our former Pastor Jerry Herships put it, "it's ecclesiastical disobedience but biblical obedience."

In his sermon yesterday, again addressing the bitter decision and the divide it has caused in the Methodist Church, Rev Mark answered his own question, "What are we going to do?" with this, "We're going to break some rules."

I heard that statement with such relief that I cried. The feeling of betrayal by organized religion (again, after growing up Catholic), the disbelief in continuing narrow-minded and exclusionary thinking by leaders of our church and leaders of our country, had swamped me into depression. To hear a courageous leader stand up for what is right, to brave consequences in defense of God's major laws ("Love God and love your neighbor as yourself"), was a buoy to my floundering spirit.

I should add here that all of our previous pastors agree with Rev Mark and posted lengthy responses to the Traditional Plan on Facebook. All are worried about members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially the youth who are denied welcome in so many areas of life. The church should be a haven and refuge for all, especially the marginalized, and I thank God that our leaders will stand up to the egregious decision to specifically outcast our members. They will marry same sex couples, they will come out, they will continue to spread love.  The United Methodist Church will never be the same, will probably split into multiple factions, but brave people will continue to love audaciously, welcome boldly and embrace with all our strength.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Listen to the Body

My son couldn't sleep last night because time trials for high school swimming start today. Last year he was excited and nervous, understandable for a freshman, and this year his body wouldn't let him rest because it remembers.  William's body took a beating last year, and he developed scary autoimmune systems from over-training. I told William that his body remembers getting sick, and that he has to promise himself that he won't let it happen again.

It's taken me a long time to understand that my body has memory and wisdom separate from my brain, and that I need to listen to it. The brain might say "sure, I can run a marathon, anyone can do it," while the body says "that's not right for you." Speaking from personal experience here, the body trumps the brain in the end.

In any sport an athlete is taught to train past "normal" stopping points, to practice through fatigue and break through mental barriers.  My concern isn't with this type of training, it's with excess, when fatigue becomes exhaustion, when the digestive tract shuts down from stress and the lack of rest pushes somatic systems into permanent fight or flight.

The old mantra of "no pain, no gain" is outdated. Fatigue is good, most pain is not.  Rest is a vital component of any training plan; rest and recovery are often overlooked.  Last weekend, after just a few days of rest (and the absence of over-training), William dropped an astounding 2.5 seconds in his 100 free.  As he had dropped 1.5 seconds two weeks prior, he's cut an unbelievable 4 seconds off a 54 second race in a month. He's worked since July to recover his health and build his strength, and now he needs to stay the course in a much choppier sea.

It's hard for anyone to stand out from the group and say "I need something different," especially for a 15-year-old among his peers. But the body speaks loudly, and we have to choose whether to listen - or to pay the consequences.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Whirlwind of Compulsion

I ate three consecutive meals in my car last week: Frosty for dinner on Thursday night, RX bar and Starbucks for breakfast on Friday, Jamba Juice kale smoothie for lunch. Major milestones came and went with minimal fanfare as Aden committed to CU and applied for housing, the girls' HS swim season ended, and Rob flew from Denver to Chicago to Seattle, barely outrunning several snowstorms and pulling an all-nighter to install twenty-one Cooler Screens in Belleview, WA. I should stop to acknowledge Aden's decision, should reckon with my own emotions at some point in the near future, but it seems there's no time.

The blur of activities, headlines and household chores consumes all of us - friends in the 'hood, family around the country, kids' classmates. The busier I get, the more frantic, the more compelled to scan my phone for more events that I should attend. It's a whirlwind of compulsion. Each Sunday I say, "This week I am going to stop, unplug as much as possible, refrain from eating meals in the car, and trust in the present moment." Despite this, I can feel my blood pressure rise as I plan on Google calendar, seeing potential conflicts, where I need to cancel, and where I need to go without sleep.

And yet I'm so lucky. Food, shelter, health (and healthcare), community. Focus on the positive, I tell myself, enjoy the journey, trust that God will watch over us and help us to meet any challenge that comes. Appreciate what I have, the growing hours of daylight, the budget to buy food when I need it, the open ears and hearts of friends.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"A-moos-ing"

I crossed an item off my bucket list on Saturday - I saw a moose in the wild. From a distance of ten meters, the old guy looked cranky and potentially dangerous, with a full rack on his head, heavy body swinging from side to side and big hooves splayed around the pine tree he dined on. My girlfriends dived behind the two pine trees closest to us while I fumbled for my camera, apparently less intelligent and less afraid. I fumbled to capture the magical moment while they hissed, "Laura, get back! Please get behind the tree...".

I did shuffle backward in my snowshoes posthaste when Mr Moose sauntered a few steps closer. We monitored his movements and mood for a few minutes until someone noticed his wife and teenager moose on the frozen lake behind us. Forget danger level orange or red, we suburban ladies hit a new level of alarm, which we called "Code Moose."

"We're between the family members!" someone exclaimed in a harsh whisper.

"Get your hiking poles ready," exclaimed another.

At this juncture I felt the need to point out that the trail was quite popular - we had seen ten people in half an hour - and the moose must be fairly accustomed to homo sapiens.  My comments fell on deaf ears. The panic in two of my companions spurred them off-trail in a vector headed away from the moose, which only landed them in two and a half feet of powder, against which the snowshoes were no help.  I beckoned them back, issuing repeated assurances that the moose "wasn't looking."

In the end, we went down the same trail that had brought us to the old guy and his rack. I volunteered to go last, since I had a green coat and looked most like a tree, but also because I really didn't think the moose was worked up about our presence on his trail.   In the end, the quadruped gave us a few moments of tears and several hours' worth of laughing until we cried, at the image of four suburbanites huddled in fear, watching a munching moose and preparing to fight to the death with flimsy plastic hiking sticks.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I was a bride married to amazement

The poet Mary Oliver has died. My heart hurts because I cannot stand to lose - we cannot stand to lose - anyone who brings such insight and joy to a suffering world. When events weigh so heavy on the individual and collective psyche, we need poets to see clearly the beauty and blessings in the everyday. They tell us what to look for, how much we have to appreciate.

In the NPR article on Oliver's death (Mary Oliver), a line from her poem "When Death Comes," ends the piece. She wrote "When it's over, I want to say all my life / I was a bride married to amazement."
Oliver's poetry reveals her perpetual leaning toward amazement, toward the miraculous.  I have been leaning in to current events, to troubling issues and worries about my children...I need to lean the other way, into seeing everything as miracle.

How many lives have been uplifted by this line, from "The Summer Day,"

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?"
 
It's been on our refrigerator for years, but we forget to celebrate its meaning. Tonight we'll talk about a "wild and precious life" with the kids, and try to revive the hope and passion first evoked by her words.

Oliver's life may have ended but her words and vision will inspire us always. She was a bride married to amazement, an artist with heart and humility, and she will be missed.



Sunday, January 13, 2019

Penumonia??

"You're the proud owner of a case of walking pneumonia," said Dr B to William on Friday afternoon.

My jaw dropped into my puffy coat. When William burst through the door with a swirl of bitter cold air and snow, coughing as if his lungs were twerking in his chest, I knew something was off. Two of his good friends have had walking pneumonia in the past six months, so it's on our radar, but I didn't think his situation was so serious. He even swam and did dry land exercises twice last week, leading his lane on Thursday.

The doctor said the infection was localized to his lower left lung and that he would need to sit out of the pool until at least mid-week next week, a relatively short rest period. I chuckled as William typed an email to his coach explaining the situation (which sounded dire) and then finished with this, "but I'll be back on Wednesday."  We'll see.

We were so lucky to get right into the pediatrician, grateful to have health care for the visit and the antibiotics. On Saturday I took William to the acupuncturist for needles and cupping.  Our insurance doesn't cover that, but we can use our HSA money to pay. I wish everyone had the same opportunities, because it's hard to see your kids suffer, hard to admit that you can't fix it, such a relief to ask for help and get it.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Re-start

Just try to maintain a schedule, a clean house, or a focused mind over winter vacation with three teenagers in the house. It's like nailing jello to a tree.  The kids have one last day off school before we re-enter the normal, calendared routine, and though I've enjoyed having them home, unstressed and mentally stable, I am ready to get back to periods of quiet when I can accomplish something more than brushing my teeth.

True confessions - I did enjoy three days of unfettered quiet and relaxation when I visited my parents and sister in Northern California. Wise and witty Karen helped with cooking and organizing the days, including time spent with our youngest brother James, his lovely wife, Molly, and there three young boys (aged four and under). I swept the floor and tried to stay out of everyone's way.  Rob had the kids in Ohio with his parents, brother Ron and Ron's family, so their rest and relaxation mirrored mine from 2000 miles away. 

But this morning we were back to early wake-up's. Rob went to DIA for his flight to Burbank and I hit the pool to coach and swim at the 6am workout. My tinted goggles didn't work well with the pitch black sky, and though the water was perfect I struggled to find the turns.  (An apt metaphor.)  We have appointments and errands to run and backpacks to prepare for second semester. My juice fast juice bottles sit in the fridge, just waiting for me to take advantage of a fresh start .... but they will have to wait a few more days.  Coffee and the remnants of holiday sweets might be necessary to get back in the swing.