Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Monday, July 15, 2024

Looking Outward in the Same Direction

 "Life has taught us that love does not consist of gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction."  -Antoine de Saint Exupery

Rob and I watched the bride and groom from our window table in the steakhouse as we toasted our twenty-fifth anniversary. The laughing couple twirled and boogied through the meadow in front of their videographer, while tan horses frolicked and green mountains rose behind them, bathed in sunlight of the magic hour.  Two and half decades ago, we posed - similarly young and energetic - in front of Lake Tahoe during the setting of the summer sun. Different mountains looked on as we pledged our lives to each other in a haze of innocence and joy. 

What we didn't know then . . . Life and its circumstances have knocked us off our feet more than once. Even as our capacity for love has grown exponentially, our ability to serve each other and our family has flowered, shriveled, flowered again. I put our wedding photo next to a photo taken at that recent anniversary dinner and two things struck me: wrinkles, glasses, grey hairs, necklines have changed, but we are still looking outward together.

We are now (probably) farther from our wedding day than we are from future weddings of our children. What do I tell them about finding a well-matched partner, one whose loyalty and steadfastness render uncertainty / jealousy / doubt emotions of the past?  How do you pull together like a team of horses, independently but together?

An unnecessary rhetorical question;  I can't tell my children anything (yet). They don't ask for or need my advice.... perhaps once they hit 30 such a thing might be possible. But I hope they see what their father and I feel for each other, that we trust, love, respect, argue, debate, plan and aspire individually but with consideration for the other, for the family. 

Through white hairs and wrinkles, weight gain or loss, and yes, sickness and health - we clung together through it all. As our children spread their wings and leave the nest for the next, we will be home base for adventure, security, laughter, tears. Our parents provided that example and our children hopefully benefit from a legacy of silver and gold anniversaries, one that we're also grateful to follow as we add our link to the chain.


Monday, July 8, 2024

Vienna, Ennui and Getting What you Want

 "Slow down you crazy child / You're so ambitious for a juvenile / But then if you're so smart tell me / Why are you still so afraid?

Where's the fire, what's the hurry about? / You better cool it off before you burn it out / You go so much to do and only / So many hours in a day (ayay)

But you know that when the truth is told / That you can get what you want / Or you can just get old / You're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through (oooh) / When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?"

- Music and Lyrics to "Vienna" by Billy Joel, The Stranger (album), 1977

As New York Times subscribers we receive The Daily newsletter via email each morning (and play the games religiously, but that's for another blog). A few days ago the Times linked to this article in The Guardian, explaining how Billy Joel's 1977 song,"Vienna" is "an anti-hustle" anthem for Gen Z, capturing "their particular feelings of ennui."

I brought this up on our drive to the mountains Sunday morning as our (Gen Z) daughter drove a carful of sleepyheads up to the mountain where she had arranged an early start for our semi-annual family hike. As the driver, she chose her favorite playlist, and "Vienna" came on as we drove through Boulder.  

"I just read about this being an anthem for Gen Z," I piped up helpfully, between verses. "Supposedly, it describes your generation's feeling of ennui."

General groans from the older children. "We know, mom, that's why it's on the playlist," followed by silence until the end of the song. Aden added kindly, to rescue me, "I just learned what ennui meant. My friends and I were discussing it because of the new Inside Out movie."

It took me a minute to understand, per usual. "The new Inside Out movie has ennui as a character?" 

"Yep, and in the movie it means boredom." 

William added helpfully, "I'm the only one in this car who has been to Vienna."

I sat in silence, desperately wanting to expound on the definition of ennui (a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement - per Google) but heroically refraining so as not to elicit another round of groans. Whenever I bring up a "new" trend that I read or heard about, the children shake their heads at me, having known about said trend for several years.

Back to ennui: Joel might capture the dissatisfaction of Gen Z in Vienna (a B-side to "Just the Way You Are") but different lyrics call to me in middle age. On our hike through high altitude lakes and purple/yellow/blue wildflowers, the lines "You can get what you want or you can just get old" kept running through my head. If "Vienna" tells young people to slow down, get off the phone, appreciate life, he is also telling older people to get up and get after what you really want because "you're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through."

Though perpetually late to trends, I still grasp the concept of carpe diem readily (partly from my own childhood pop culture exposure to The Dead Poets Society). When I commented on my new appreciation for Joel's lyrics as they apply to my Gen X peers and I, Aden affirmed my outlook. "The best way to add years to your life is to put more life in your years," she noted as she swung a sharp left turn up a switchback. "I heard that in a podcast."

So true. It's not too late for us, William, we can still get put more life in our years. As the master himself said,  "When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?"

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Literary Definitions and the State of Whelm

 whelm - (archaic) v. to engulf, submerge, or bury. "a swimmer whelmed in a raging storm" n. An act or instance of flowing or heaping up abundantly; a surge. "the whelm of the tide"

"I know you can be underwhelmed and you can be overwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?" - Chastity Church (character) in Ten Things I Hate About You (movie, 1999) (Also, Google says the answer to this question is "Yes")

Book club looms on Thursday and I rushed to finish our current book, The River, by Peter Heller, in a lull between yesterday's meetings. Heller's carefully selected prose, his passionate detailed descriptions, served as delightful wakeup call to the power of words, which I've mostly been missing.  In one lovely paragraph, the use of "whelmed" made me sit up and seek clarification. As a swimmer, the example sentence of being whelmed in a raging storm appealed on a visceral level.

Whelmed provides an accurate description of my usual state. The daily roil of life's mundane challenges, four part-time jobs, house and yard issues, and my children's emotional stability often whelms. Since returning from our family trip to Indy for Olympic Trials, where I had one focus, one job, and no distractions, I've been feeling overwhelmed. The raging storm feels heightened by comparison, perhaps even to hurricane proportions.

When I brought up the topic at the dinner table last night, my twenty-one-year old waved my fascination aside. "You said that before," he mentioned, casually spooning a second helping of chicken stir fry into his bowl.

"I did? I don't remember ever having this discussion."

"Well, we did. And you use the word 'underwhelm' all the time."

This interchange baffled me. I don't recall having the conversation, or ever using the word "underwhelm" in conversation with my son. Particularly now, when all systems point toward overwhelm, it's odd that he would say such things. Then again, my brain has been whelmed for most of the past two decades, so I probably forgot.

Lastly, the term "whelm" is labeled "archaic or literary" in the definitions I've retrieved, but a 1999 movie and a 2019 book would indicate otherwise. Google informs me that "whelm" has come into contemporary use as meaning "Neither overwhelmed or underwhelmed." Delightfully incisive, Google. Would we then use "mid" as a synonym, or is that too broad? I love the resurgence of archaic terms and their juxtaposition with modern slang, and wish I could devote more time and single-minded focus to this pursuit. 

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Indy for Olympic Trials

The stadium lights went dark except for the red, white and blue spotlights on swivels and the overhead beams that laid a Escher pattern of the Xfiniti logo on the massive 50-meter pool. The bass of the hype music thundered through 20,000 audience members who leapt to their feet as the swimmers in the first final of the USA Swimming Olympic trails passed, one-by-one, under the 50-foot video screen of their images in competitive, focused stances.

The announcer's voice swelled as he intoned their credentials, "USA Tokyo Olympian, US American record holder, USA Tokyo Olympian..." and the crescendo of applause took on greater ferocity with each name. Up in the third tier, surrounded by families of swimmers who had also purchased multi-day tickets, we perched on the edge of our stadium seats, glancing between the pool far below and the 35,000 pound scoreboard that showed intimate, close up views of the athletes and their performances.

At the 50 meter mark. of the 100 fly, the leading swimmer, Gretchen Walsh, charged out to amazing first-half speed under world-record-pace. Even before the announcer mentioned this fact the swimming-savvy crowd had leapt to their feet, screaming for the swimmers to hold speed to the end, to get home. When Walsh touched, breaking an 8-year-old world record by a massive amount of three-tenths of a second, a massive wave of noise emanated from the stands. Non-swimmers in the crowd jumped to their feet along with the rest of us, high-fiving and howling for an amazing athletic accomplishment.

No world record has been set at US Olympic trials in swimming since 2008. The meet is a pressure cooker and only about 30% of qualifiers improve on their seed time. The goal is to make the top two in each event, though at this stage only the winner is guaranteed a spot on the Paris Olympic team. Those athletes who thrive in such settings are few and far between -- and they are incredible.  We got to see many such swimmers, including Regan Smith (who set a world record of her own the day after we left), Katie Ledecky, Katie Grimes (whose family sat next to us in the stands), Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Murphy, Lily King, and others.

As a lifelong swimmer I was moved to tears by the recognition of our sport in Indianapolis. The city raised banners on every street near Lucas Oil Stadium, drew swimming lane lines on the nearest big intersection and in the airport, and hosted concerts and festival-style markets near the venue. The first night set a world record for the number of people at a swim meet and succeeding nights have even raised that threshold. 

We saw 46-year-old Olympian from 2000 and 2004 swim to lifetime bests in her two events, and a 14-year-old make the final of the 400 IM. My family purchased souvenirs and explored the football stadium, waited in long lines for the escalator to take us up to our seats, and marveled that our sport generated this recognition. Aden and I caught up with swimmer friends of past and present, and trained one morning outdoors with the Indy Masters team.

A unique family vacation, an amazing chance to indulge my passions, a wonderful opportunity to cheer athletes on at the fastest Olympic Trials meet in history....all lead me to ask, when can I buy my tickets for 2028?

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Abracadabra...We Have a Graduate!

 " 'Abracadabra' is actually from the Aramaic (before Hebrew) phrase "Avra kehdabra" which means literally 'I will create as I speak.' " - Medium

On Friday, Daniel's Literature teacher said kind words about him on stage and then the principal of his small high school shook his hand, handed over a diploma and moved his tassel to the "graduated" side of the cap.  Our family cheered loudly, William's bellowed "Atta kid!" bringing a smile to Daniel's face as he posed for the final graduation photo.

Our third high school graduation brought familiar feelings of joy and pride and gratitude for the teachers and tutors who helped our son along the way, and also an unfamiliar sense of surprise and delight. Far from assuming that this graduation was inevitable, I had many low moments in the past 16 years when I doubted the possibility. In tough times my thoughts and vision would drift forward; I would "play the movie" about Daniel's future, and the tape would lapse, blunt cut ends flapping in my mind.

With its time management, peer pressure, sophisticated topics and group interactions, high school can lay a minefield at the feet of it's initiates. When students layer in emotional and learning challenges, high obstacles loom over the mined ground and a path forward seems impossible. But speaking expectations aloud, "You are smart, you will graduate, we just need to find the right place" helped fuel our collective belief and determination to move Daniel forward.

When I heard Kerri Walsh Jennings say on a podcast that her favorite word is "abracadabra" because it means "I create as I speak" I stopped my walk and replayed it.  We all know that words are powerful and that our brain believes what we tell them, but this "I create as I speak" mantra jolted me into a higher plane of awareness.  Daniel and I went to many classes together and as we drove to and fro, we worked to speak positively about his potential, his ability to do good things, graduate, go to college. And, well - to oversimplify - it worked! 

(It's interesting, too, how familiar the Aramaic spelling is to Avada Kedabra in Harry Potter, which actually means "I kill as I speak" but that's a post for another time.)

I believe more in the power of speech than I ever have and I am trying to watch my words and how I speak about my own difficulties and opportunities, as well as those things confronting my husband and my children. Our brains believe what we tell them and the more I say good things, the more good I can create.