Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Community and Connection

 "New friends may be poems but old friends are alphabets. Don't forget the alphabets because you will need them to read the poems."  -William Shakespeare

As I followed Aden at a dead run through Chicago O'Hare's B Terminal, I thought of abandoning our effort to get to US Masters Nationals in Greensboro. Dodging other masked travelers in a high-stakes reality version of the game Frogger, we managed to arrive at our gate, gasping, in time for the connecting flight. "There are more people coming," said Aden to the gate agent. She had bonded with Speedo-backpack-wearing athletes on our first flight, even as she flew past them in the terminal.  Everyone finally made it, slumping into their airline seats and panting, just in time to be delayed another 90 minutes.

But I'm so glad we rallied, grateful to have made the aggravating trip to the East Coast, though the airport sprint and time change threw off my races on the first day. Aden suffered no lingering aftereffects from our travel and crushed her first day and second-day races, going lifetime best times in five for five. Watching her swim, seeing her look of delighted surprise each time she finished and turned to read the giant scoreboard, lit me up from my heartspace and erased the aches and pains of my fifty-year-old body.

Also valuable beyond compare, seeing my old friend Amelia after a thirty-year gap. Though connected by Christmas cards and occasional Facebook messages, we hadn't seen each other since college. Amelia and I swam together from age 13 - 16 after we both started (late to the sport) and we moved up from the little kids' lanes to seniors together, sharing relays, travel trips, and sweet 16 parties. Her family hosted me and my aunt for Thanksgiving of my freshman year in college when I couldn't go home due to time, money and (of course) the demands of swim team. I remember our group gathered around her brother as he played "American Pie, part 1" by Don McLean on the guitar as we gamely sang the lyrics.

Aden and I also met new friends; she exchanged Snapchat handles while I traded phone numbers for texting. Masters swimmers are focused and can be intense when it comes to swimming but are relaxed, friendly and funny on the sidelines. The group from Wisconsin were memorable with their individualized jerseys and their loud cheering, and the announcer kept us in hysterics with his false news reel beeps and static. Many swimmers were delighted when they learned I was swimming with my daughter, and often added wistfully, "I hope to get my son / daughter here to swim with me next time." Moments of connection and community that came so rarely during the worst days of Covid were everywhere in Greensboro, and I can't imagine a better way to spend a meet weekend.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Not Languishing

 "How to spur creativity when languishing" shouted one of my emails yesterday. How appropriate, I thought, then promptly deleted it.

While not exactly languishing, I have spent the summer focusing on family activities, swimming, friends and fun, mainly trying to distract myself from horrendous headlines and the knowledge that two of my children will move out in a month. Time is not an obstacle for writing, rather it's a stubborn turning away from introspection.

Instead of deep thinking, I relish car conversations with my daughter, dispensing such pithy bon mots as "Relationships are like guacamole, always a side but not the main course. Sometimes you want it and sometimes you don't." Chipotle-inspired comments masquerading as wisdom; that's about how deep I can go in the summer of 2021.

I cherish each family dinner, each grace and round of gratitude shared before the meal. I sit in silence with my soon-to-be college freshman and wait for him to share stories of late-night activities, which I'm sure  are edited for my consumption but nonetheless fascinating. With my youngest I exchange Snapchats and follow his mission trip progress throughout Texas. 

Humming in the background like a live electric wire, the knowledge that all this will change. Come Labor Day, an urgent need for activity and busy-ness will once again inspire regular blogs, hours of rewriting my book, environmental activism, and everything else I have put by the wayside. But for now, I'll continue my not-languishing, and let my creativity take a back seat.

Friday, July 9, 2021

I Need a Commercial Break

I was flipping through radio stations yesterday and the schmaltzy - but classic - lyrics of Peter Cetera's "Inspiration" floated my air-conditioned box. "You're the meaning in my life, you're the inspiration" he crooned before I switched back to commercials, willing my teary eyes to dry and focus on the road. How strange that I switch from songs to commercials in order to avoid emotional flashpoints.

William's swim team banquet was Wednesday night and I told his coach near the end of that long but lovely evening that I deserved a medal for withholding tears. He blinked, confused. His kids are younger and he may not completely understand the ache of loss surrounding graduation and departure for college, though certainly coaches and teachers experience grief when a favorite class departs and all that's left is an urgent need for restructuring and finding new talent.

In the words of William's head coach, the senior class was "generational," even "transcendent." They re-wrote the record books at the state and school level. William walked away with three All-American times (that means the top 100 times in the country this year, which I didn't know previously because I never came close to achieving it), the fourth-fastest 100 butterfly in school history, and a stack of team awards. The other seniors benefited similarly from their hard work, and they all supported each other's rise as a team, sticking with the sport even as the season extended a month into their summer vacation.

As the sun set over the Rockies the inevitable team slide show brightened up a big screen. Young faces gasping for air as they cruised through water, or masked in cheers and poolside rallies, all so full of promise, so passionate. Then the seniors' baby photos and earliest swim shots, chubby cheeks trapped under too-big goggles, curly hair escaping tiny swim caps, itty-bitty Speedos barely holding around their hips. The cherubic faces elicited oohs and ahs from the crowd and I could hear the coaches guessing the identity of each child, so different from the tall, broad-shouldered men on stage. And yet, so much the same, so dear and always and forever a child whose growth cannot be measured by times, points and awards but in heartache and heart-leaps, love and loss. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Lessons from a Surprise Thunderstorm

William just dashed through the hall and slid around the corner in stockinged feet. "Hailing!" he said as he grabbed the car keys and ran to move his freshly washed and waxed car into a more protected space. Rob uttered an expletive and went out to help him, still covered in putty and paint after touching up our outside overhead beams, which he finished just before the thunderstorm descended.

Of course the storm burst forth at the worst time, smack dab in the middle of an otherwise pleasant July 4th afternoon. It wasn't predicted, but that isn't stopping quarter-sized hailstones from knocking against the windows. This inconvenient fist-shaking from Mother Nature proves two things that keep smacking me upside the head: nothing goes to plan and everything keeps changing.

I couldn't sit still to write last week, still struggling to contain my sorrow around the end of William's high school swim career and the knowledge that he only has a month left at home before leaving for school. Like a non-swimmer desperately paddling to keep her head above water, I searched for events and trips to look forward to, and reached out to coaching friends who might need an assistant during the next high school girls' season.

Common wisdom says that "when God shuts a door he opens a window," but life doesn't usually work like that for me. First I waste time and energy pounding on the door and re-trying the knob with both hands, then I bang my head in despair before I finally get around to looking for the exit / entrance to my next chapter. I wasted less time this week because my kids are all present, looking to me for stability and guidance, so I can't fall apart yet. I'll have to pencil in my breakdown for the week after Aden and William move into their college digs.

I know that unexpected joys and discoveries lie in wait, just as this surprise thunderstorm centered itself right over our house from out of the blue. But when you have dedicated your life to raising children and they unceremoniously - even gleefully - leave your protection without a backward glance, the heart tends to suffer. The pandemic gave us extra family bonding time, for which I'm grateful, but it made for a terribly short runway to William's takeoff into adulthood.

Even as hail continues to batter the house and Rob belatedly realized that the gutter-cleaning company never came (hence the water pouring off our roof), we know that blue sky awaits just a few minutes away. Even if I have to climb out of a metaphorical chimney or burrow through a basement, I will get past this closed door and find a way to get around the door that has recently, and abruptly, closed.