Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Too Invested

I'm overly invested in the lives of my children. I don't want to be, to have my heart-rate soar with each athletic success or struggle, to lie awake at night after their competitions, my mind spinning with adjustments to their swim strokes or turns. I know too much about their school day, the fracas at the locker or the poor result on a math test, and it's difficult to let their emotional backwash spill over me and stay calm.   Given my personality, I thought this might be a problem when I first endeavored to get pregnant, but I hoped that diluting my passion with three children would prevent me from being too tied up with any one. Perhaps that has helped each kid individually, but what I feel is the emotional engagement in triplicate.

Recently I've discussed my dilemma with neighborhood moms, who confess to similar problems. Highly educated, trained for the workforce, and yet moved into SAHM space or part-time work space by various needs of the family, we may have ambition and drive and skills that aren't put to use outside the home. Or we work full-time, and somehow spread our energies across an eighteen-hour day, between work, home, spouse and children. If free time exists, we look for projects that fit within the school day, so we're free to drive endless carpools. In our conversations, it seems clear that we don't want to be this involved, know this much, or be so affected by the emotional roller-coaster of childhood.  Were our parents this caught up in the minutiae of our lives? In retrospect it appears they weren't, that this particular hyper-vigilance arouse out of our generation, but perhaps I'm wrong.

In the January 29 edition of The New Yorker, the Book Review covers books on parenting. This line, by Adam Gopnik, sums up my dilemma:

"The style of middle-class child rearing that the Germans and the French and the rest might help us (Americans) escape from is really more handcuff than helicopter, with the parent and the child both, like the man and woman agents in a sixties spy movie, shackled to the same valise - in this case, the one that carries not the secret plans for a bomb but the college-admission papers. Until we get to that final destination, we'll never be apart." (65 - 66).

As our family moves toward college with our first, my wrists have faint bruising from those handcuffs. We signed Aden up for a college application boot camp at the high school, hoping to empower her to complete all of her applications, draft all of her essays, without our assistance. We try to stay laid-back as she reviews colleges and universities, offering up our budgetary constraints and our own experiences, mostly hoping to relieve her tension, persuade her that she could do well anywhere. I want to release her handcuffs now,  give my overly stressed heart time to breathe and prepare for the moment when she goes off on her own - and leave me with only have one handcuff on each hand.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Women's March 2018

A blue sky reigned over the 2018 Women's March in Denver as crowds of men, women and children stepped out from Civic Center Park to celebrate love, individuality, and the power of the ballot. Pink hats and colorful signs contrasted with the azure background as now-familiar chants of "Show me what democracy looks like!" : "This is what democracy looks like!" gathered momentum from the front of the crowd. Feelings of solidarity bonded disparate groups, which broke out in spontaneous laughter at some of the best signs: "It's so bad, even introverts are here!", "Grab 'em by the Ballot," "Resistance is Fertile," "IKEA has better cabinets," and more.

The scene took me  back to where we were at the time of last year's March. Many members of my Saturday group were in Washington, DC last year, while the others were in Denver. We missed a few companions, one of whom wore her March on Washington sweatshirt at the ski resort and sent bracing photos via text.  In contrast to the Washington, DC, march, we could move this year, which relieved the claustrophobia. The crowds were still large; an estimated 50,000 people showed up in Colorado's capitol, and large gatherings occurred around the country and the world.

What does this mean? Despite the psychological warfare waged by the current administration, which hands down hate-filled and retrogressive edicts (or multiples thereof) every day, a majority of this country still has energy to protest bad laws, bad language, and bad precedent. We won't be broken by the onslaught, though many of us battle depression and exhaustion. Some of the strongest among us are running for office. Whether we are on the ballot or wielding it, the 2018 ballot box will be our weapon, and Saturday signaled our intent to wield it.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Weigh-Ins and Lingerie

It's been a tumultuous week with ups and owns typical of this roller-coaster life. The immense highs of my nephews' birth and the adorable photos sent by James and Molly, offset by William's injury on the home front and more disastrous language and attitudes from our president on the national front.

But I want to purposefully digress from these to talk about college swimming. Aden is enjoying a good high school season and feels cautiously optimistic about dropping more time at the end of the month (in the A League meet), to the point that we've started looking at  schools with Division 3 swimming, like Lewis and Clark College (Portland), UC Santa Cruz, and the Claremont / McKenna family of schools (southern California).

At a dual meet last week between CCHS and a rival high school, I was chatting about colleges with a mom of a senior. Her daughter is also looking at swimming in Division 2 or 3, and the mom said, "You swam in college, too, right? What was it like?"

Strangely, I couldn't part the mists of memory enough to see clearly more than two or three memories. These were: team weigh-ins in the locker room where the coach tossed us marshmallows if we had added pounds; dancing to the freshman "mix tape" that included verses from The Little Mermaid - "Bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand!;"  and one time trial race where I had to beat my roommate in the 100 free to secure my own 3rd-string position. (I did win the race, but the stress removed any sweetness from the victory).  That's about it - oh, except for the fancy lingerie I saw in the locker room. Those seniors kept Victoria's Secret in business and put my demure cotton wardrobe to shame. I remember only two swimming times from the whole two years I swan (one of which, the 100 time trial) and no other races.

"That's strange," said my friend. "Do you think it was the stress?"

Perhaps the stress, perhaps my sense of overwhelm. Literally and metaphysically struggling to keep my head above water, I suppose I didn't have the available brain cells to store specific swim memories.  That's not what I want for Aden. If she swims in any capacity, I want her to have fun, to build a stockpile of memories both glowing and challenging, a rich treasure that she can recall for the rest of her days, one not built on weigh-ins and lingerie.

Friday, January 12, 2018


Molly gave birth to Connor James and Benjamin Gregory yesterday afternoon. All were healthy and the boys came in around 5 pounds each.  Every birth represents a miracle, a near-encounter with the divine, and this experience equaled (miracle) x 2!  We're all excited to meet the babies and congratulate big brother Jack, dad James and mom Molly. William and I are excited to see them in February when we head to northern California for his ODP water polo tournament.

Of course, William's preparation for ODP (Olympic Development Program) will be hampered due to the huge gaping wound he made in his right foot yesterday afternoon. When I received the news about the twins' birth, I was in urgent care, signing William in to see if he needed stitches.  We emerged two hours later with no stitches, but with a healthy fear of the pool-cover-trolley and - for William - an extremely sore foot. He won't be able to get in a pool for several days, at least, due to the need to fight infection.

From their first breaths onward, our babies are on our hearts and minds, concern for their welfare underlining (and occasionally obliterating) all that we do. Despite Oprah, terrible tweets, and DACA deliberations, my mind cleaves to thoughts of the kids' well-being, and how to ensure it forever.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

We Still Have Oprah

“I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”
- Oprah Winfrey, speech at reception of Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, Golden Globes, 2018

A fair percentage of our country is searching for leadership, and we found it in Oprah's acceptance speech on Sunday night. While acknowledging the recent trauma and upheaval of America's social fabric, the painful truths that women have suppressed for centuries, and the gut-wrenching realization that we all have to change, Oprah nonetheless inspired everyone watching and galvanized us to become the leaders for that evolution. 

I watched the Golden Globes with Aden, who asked me why Oprah was so important when the introduction and montage began. Along with Reese Witherspoon, I tried to explain Oprah's cultural importance over the decades - her power, honesty, American triumph story of a rise from poverty and abuse to a beneficial power.  We both started to sniffle as the speech - by some accounts written by a politcial speechwriter - got into full swing, and by the end of the oration, Aden was sobbing.

Aden's reaction increased my tears, and I could only imagine what it meant to a 16-year-old girl to hear words of hope, to transform the shock and pain of the past year by some magical alchemy into a yellow-brick-road to a better future. I have no opinions about Oprah's potential run for president in 2020, but I do know that her style of leadership fills a vacuum, and the more people - men and women - who rise to fill that vacuum with empowering words and enlightening vision the more we will all benefit.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Being Vulnerable

Thank you to all family and friends who have been so supportive of my book. To those who have actually bought and read it, I am overwhelmed by your generosity and scared to death of what you might think.  The writing in Wild Specific Tangent is not the most vulnerable or raw material that I've written about my flaws, illness, and recovery, but it's honest. Though I'm no Pollyanna, the sense of gratitude that permeates my book really became a lifeline; it saved me in a battle against the major depression and anxiety that accompanied my illness.

In terms of revealing the naked despair and anger I felt between 2011 and 2013, I could only bear to open up more fully about those emotions in the last two years, at some distance from the events themselves. I'm not yet ready for the children to read about my most difficult moments, especially since my exercise addiction and illness developed in part because I was "running away" from aspects of motherhood, from the problems I could not solve for my beloved sons and daughter.

Why this book then, why now?  Two reasons. First, ever since 2012, I've been carrying a sense of my own mortality, and wanted to leave this legacy for the kids no matter what. Second, for my father to read while he and my mom have time and patience to get through such a book.  You see, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson's (and later Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, or PSP) around the same time that I was extremely ill with burning scalp syndrome.

I remember vividly one winter day when my parents were with us to take care of me and run the household. My mom encouraged Dad and me to go for a walk around the greenbelt. We dutifully bundled up and held on to each other as we staggered over the blacktop trail, Dad struggling with the early loss of balance and I with weakness.  The small hill up from the bridge seemed like Everest. We talked about our mutual shock and difficulty with new realities, and why - since we were not afraid of death - we should struggle so much to keep on living? We arrived at no conclusions, no philosophical end game, but put one foot in front of the other until we found our way home.

Mom said, "How wonderful that the two of you had a walk together in the sunshine!"

Dad and I just looked at each other and smiled. We kept our topic of conversation to ourselves.  Since that time, we've both worked hard to 'keep on living,' to make the most of the time we have with loved ones.  I've made a nearly full recovery while Dad and Mom have fought heroically to maintain quality of life, hosting family get-togethers and holidays in Montana and California, sustaining their five children and (almost 13!) grandchildren as the PSP makes swallowing, talking, reading, and walking progressively more difficult.  If my goal in life is to make my parents and my family proud (which it is), then this is the right time to make a book.  It's not the great American novel, or a "heartbreaking work of staggering genius," but it's true, and it's ours.

Thursday, January 4, 2018


I posted earlier about my giving in - after 16 years - and putting icicle tinsel on the Christmas tree. I grew up loving the shimmery look of the silver tinsel on the green boughs, but I remembered the lingering strands and mess of clean-up. This year, Aden's request overwhelmed my reservations until yesterday, when we took down the tree and took it to mulching, where the sign clearly stated: NO tinsel on branches!

The shiny strands were already in the litter box, the clothes hamper, the stair carpet runner, and the dishwasher. When we pulled the lights off and dragged the tree outside, the tinsel migrated to our geranium pots and dying ivy at the front gate. Despite the mass migration, there was still plenty left on the tree when I backed the minivan up to the compost pile and read the sign.  Aden and Daniel helped me scrape strands into the dirt parking lot while other people arrived with their annoying clean trees and cheerfully flung them on the  heap. "Happy New Year," said one, while another noted, "Tinsel's not good for the compost pile."  Thank you for that.

We finally cleaned the tree to near perfection. Aden then noticed the heaps of tinsel left in the dirt, inconveniently catching the afternoon sun and sparkling for all they were worth. "That can't be good for the environment," she noted.  "We have to pick that up."

So proud of her for noticing and for caring about the environment, but so tired of picking up tinsel, I found a broken bough and swept the parking lot until only clean dirt remained.  Then, begrimed and tired, we went off to the supermarket, where we all used copious wet wipes (meant for the shopping carts) to get the dust and pitch off our hands while the employee returning a long line of carts looked on, amused. Tinsel next year will depend on my memory of the clean-up, but it was so pretty while it lasted.