Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Homecoming in the Age of Covid

[Disclaimer: my sophomore has not only given his permission for me to write about our Homecoming prep experience, but encouraged my efforts, noting that he "doesn't star in enough blog posts."]

Attending a homecoming dance - any dance - any social event, period - in the age of Covid represents a triumph of returning high school rituals and tiny blooms of self-confidence. Many students were dealt body blows to confidence and self-acceptance by the torture of Zoom or hybrid school, going months without live peer interaction. We parents excitedly prepped for the return to in-person, or "regular" school, not realizing that the hustle and bustle, the 1,000x stimulation would cause great anxiety for many kids, grades pre-k through post-grad. And so Rob and I celebrate our son's Homecoming preparation rituals, even as we added a few gray hairs.

Four days before the dance, Daniel said to me: “I need to find a restaurant where we can eat, and it should be vegetarian, since my date is vegetarian.”

"Good, OK," I said. "I can help with that." No further words were exchanged, since my advice on virtually any subject is currently toxic. 

On the afternoon of the dance, I asked innocently, “Did you decide on a place to eat?” 

“The X Tavern. It’s near the school so we can walk to the dance after.”  

Daniel waved me off as I Googled the place, a bar and grill specializing in burgers. I started to say something, then held my tongue under his ferocious side eye. I figured Daniel's date could eat a salad. But I did insist that they accept a ride from dinner to dance since a two-mile walk seemed slightly out of line for a young lady in (I suspected) high heels. 

Dressing for the dance revealed heightened nerves and apprehension. Hair woes required use of special conditioner, gel, hair dryer, endless consolation, and finally our total silence on the subject. The buttons on the shirt were wrong, the tie too long, the shoes too tight. Daniel insisted on trying black Vans with his suit, we demanded he change back to one of his two pairs of dress shoes. Black shoes of various types were strewn around the living room: shoe-bomb shrapnel amidst the wreckage of dry-cleaning wraps and discarded ties and belts.

A confrontation over the suit jacket raised the volume on our arguments still higher. Daniel insisted the dance was “semi-formal, Mom! I only need the shirt and pants for a semi-formal, the jacket makes it fully formal!” We refused to drive him to his date’s house until he put on the jacket (it was cold and windy), insisting that at our seven previous Homecomings all the boys wore jackets.

Furious that we were chauffeuring him (his license over a year away)  he cursed at us from the back seat and repeated his desire to go to boarding school, mostly to get away from us.  Duly noted. Rob followed phone directions to the date's house and when we pulled up, Daniel was beset by uncertainty. 

“Are you sure this is the right place?” he asked us suspiciously.  

“This is the address you gave us, Daniel. Six – oh – one – six.”   

He lit up, incandescent with rage, bleached blonde hair standing on end.  “I said six – ZERO – one- six! This isn’t the right house! What are you doing?”  

We couldn't help but chuckle (which heightened his anger) as we explained that – in this case – “oh” and “zero” were the same thing.

Fortunately, we were at the right house and Daniel’s cute date came down the stairs to meet him wearing a lovely short dress – and black high-top Converse sneakers.  “Guess we should have let him wear the Vans,” Rob muttered to me behind his hand.  The young lady's mom and grandma took a few photos in their front yard as Rob did the same. Both sophomores gritted their teeth and bore our interest for a few precious minutes.

In the car on the way to the restaurant we realized that Daniel had forgotten his school ID and mask, both required at the dance. Rob kindly promised to bring both when he returned to take the kids from the restaurant to the school, finally  reconciling Daniel to last ride with parents. Rob left them at the dance a half-hour early  but no complaints were made; who knows what they did between events. Rob and I went for the fridge door - a beer and a hard seltzer, respectively - and were in bed before 10pm, more exhausted than our young dance-goer, and more relieved that all went well.


Monday, October 4, 2021

Leaf-Peeping in the Rockies

 "Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree."  - Emily Bronte

"In autumn, the trees show us how beautiful it is to let things go." - Unknown

I went to Frisco last weekend to hike with girlfriends, and the Rocky mountainsides threw down golden carpets to greet us. Bold yellow aspen leaves shook and shimmied as a Friday afternoon storm washed the valleys clean. We went through our first snow of the season after emerging from Eisenhower tunnel into that same storm, and snowcapped peaks around us stayed white over the weekend as we hiked and chatted our days away.

On Saturday we climbed almost ten miles through a magical fir forest, punctuated by the resplendent aspens and occasionally a red maple or oak. We walked singly or two by two as we discussed our college freshmen, older and younger children, husbands, jobs, politics and favorite hiking accessories. Striding out across a meadow at approximately 10,000 feet, we encountered a young couple and we stepped aside to let them pass.

"No," said the man, "You have to turn around and see the view behind you. It's spectacular!" Dutifully we turned around and exclaimed over the postcard-worthy vision before us: mountain tops split by green, gold and amber, a sky of deepest blue and scudding white clouds. We took photos for them and posed in turn for our group shots. All the autumn hikers greeted us cheerfully, leaning in to the steep slopes and to awe. We encountered many groups of women enjoying the trail together and joked with them (and took more pictures) as we passed.

Later in the day we curled up with prosecco and snacks, somehow finding new subjects to discuss, and I thought about how my girls' weekends have changed over the decades. From dancing, dining and drinking at exciting establishments, returning late, exhausted (and possibly hungover) to young families and messy homes, we've shifted to exertion of a different nature. Without the urgency to seize and fill every independent moment, as I felt when the kids were younger, it's easier to appreciate life's golden moments. I'm not comfortable saying that I have moved into my own autumn, but I'm not unwilling to go when it's time.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Incredible Coaching Opportunity Ahead

For the past six years I watched the girls' and boys' swim teams at our local high school with avid interest, noting the splits and times of my older two children as well as the performances of their friends and teammates. In the stands I would bite my lips and either sit on my hands or clap hysterically, trying not to shout random instructions that would be caught on Rob's video but never heard by swimmers in the water. 

It was a poorly kept secret in our family that I was an ardent fan, not at all cool and removed as I tried to play it.  I have nine years' of coaching experience between high school and Masters teams, but my kids already had coaches and needed me to be Mom, instead.  So I threw my passions into the booster club, planning banquets, wielding stopwatches as a timer and working the scoreboard. I tried to hide my over-the-top passion for stroke technique, streamlines, starts and turns, keeping my post-race comments to "You looked great, I'm proud of your effort."

But the crazy swim geek in me doesn't need to hide any more; I am over-the-moon excited to say that I will be assistant coaching for the girls' team this year.  We have a terrific staff, extremely talented and hard-working girls, and every opportunity to teach great technique and love for the sport. I'm in chlorine-scented heaven, especially since my own swimmers are now off at CU and happy to give their blessing to my pursuit of all things swimming and coaching.

Sitting in the registration meeting last night with an auditorium full of girls, a sense of rightness filled me like helium - I had to hold onto my seat to not float away.  I've never been so sure of a new job - a new anything - in my life and I am grateful to the universe for opening this window when I thought the door was swinging closed. I also appreciate the new head coach who brought me on board. Time to openly wield the spreadsheets of splits and times, to jump up and down on the pool deck at meets, and to obsess over relay combinations and meet strategy. I can't wait!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Ministry for the Future

 "The days grew short, the air chill. The leaves on the lindens turned yellow and the west wind swept them away." - Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future

I started Kim Stanley Robinson's powerful novel, The Ministry for the Future, at the beginning of summer when Colorado baked under a heat wave. At the time, the Pacific Northwest was suffering under a heat dome and millions of shellfish were boiled alive in their shallow-water habitat. The opening scene of the novel describes millions of people dying in a terrible heat wave in India, and the conjunction with reality was too much for me; I had to put the book down. It lay untouched on my bedside table - mutely chastising me - until the cooler evenings of late August allowed me to push past memories of stifling heat and resume reading.

If you're interested in looking closely at the climate crisis and potential solutions, I highly recommend the book, which left me on a hopeful note despite hundreds of pages dealing with the obstacles confronting humanity. Among those - bankers, the wealthy, fossil fuel companies, intransigent governments, etc, that we see in action every day. Though a work of fiction, the book is well-researched and Robinson's perspectives on economics, science, diplomacy and human nature continually resonated with me as true to both our current and prospective situations.

Who knows what great invention, positive social trend or technological advance lies right around the corner? We must always hope, and work, and hope. Robinson writes of sailing ships that run on wind and solar, dirigibles and other air vessels that also run on renewables and replace jets and jet fuels. The protagonist sails from France to New York and takes rail from NYC to San Francisco. The world banks group together to  issued money in units of carbon saved, and across the world people's movements for a fair wage and fair taxes catch fire. These hope-filled ideas spring from the possibilities of today, which we can make real. In the book, as with anything, you have to struggle through the muck to get to daylight on the other side, and in this case the struggle is worth it.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Fossil Free Finance

 When I moved to Colorado in 2004 with two young children, I volunteered time and energy to form "Green Teams," groups of neighbors, churchgoers or co-workers who wanted to collectively reduce their carbon footprint and waste production to help the environment. At the time I possessed the zeal of the newly converted, with my recent Environmental Studies degree tucked under my belt and hourly motivation from the two little faces constantly turning to me, sunflowers to the star. One neighborhood group was profiled in the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, and photos showed my backyard compost pile and efficient sprinkler system. The smart sprinklers were new then, and the Wall Street Journal also called for a quote. 

I felt good about the work at the time, but looking back now, I feel I was duped by big oil and gas companies who wanted us to stay busy measuring our individual footprints, our trash output, our electric and water use. With our heads down in the daily nitty-gritty we stayed out of their (big) business, failing to note how the investment in fossil fuel infrastructure continued, how the money from sales of oil, gas and coal flowed steadily into pockets. Many oil and gas companies promoted tools like the Green Team guide, the "footprint calculators" that proliferated online and guilted us into faulting ourselves, focusing attention on our neighborhood and social groups rather than big companies who kept pushing their damaging products.

Guilt distracted us from the real issue behind the climate crisis - that burning fossil fuels will eventually render this planet unfit for habitation by humans. The Chevrons and Exxon-Mobils of the world have known this for sixty years, but they obscured the knowledge, lied about the effects, paid climate naysayers to spout garbage on television and in the papers, driving the locomotive of our destruction to the edge of a cliff while raking in profits. They love the footprint calculators, and they don't want us to lay the blame for this crisis at their door.

"But we drive! we use too much gas! we fly!" Yes, all true. But we need comprehensive legislation, energy policy, infrastructure builds and other high-level changes to provide us with choices. We drive because no investment has been made in good public transportation, we fly in the US because we don't have high-speed rail, we get our electricity from coal because utilities refuse to shut down coal-fired power plants.

No more. The House Oversight Committee has now focused attention on the oil and gas industry's role in "spreading disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming" (NYTimes). Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said she "intends to hold the fossil fuel industry to account for its central role in causing and exacerbating this global emergency." As citizens of the world, we need to focus our protest energy, our investments and purchases in such a  way as to influence banks, oil and gas companies, coal companies, and governments to move immediately away from fossil fuels in order to prevent a catastrophic rise in temperatures and an uncertain future for humanity.

Futher, House Representatives Mondaire Jones, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley introduced the Fossil Free Finance Act in Congress just this past week. The act would require the Federal Reserve (the bank that makes rules for all US banks) to hold big banks accountable for financing fossil fuels. In the last five years, the world's 60 biggest banks have financed fossil fuels to the tune of $3.8 trillion ( I recently protested the Fed's involvement in financing fossil fuels at their Denver office. Our chants: "Fossil free Fed" and "leave it in the ground."

We should continue to do what we can in our own lives both because it's right and because it makes us (or at least it makes me) feel better. With constant headlines of floods, fires, heat domes and drought, daily efforts to help our environment can empower us to believe in positive change. The birds at my feeder inspire me, my solar panels make me smile, and my drip sprinkler keeps plants happy without wasting valuable water. But if you're called to do more in the face of the climate crisis, keep an eye on the oil and gas industry, the banks, and central government. Don't waste time on guilt, go after the real culprits.