Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Italy Trip, Part 2

Today I'm typing from the surgery center waiting room while William goes through pre-op for his ACL repair. The surgery has been on our calendar for over a month - we postponed it so that William could go on the Italy trip - but it still feels like a big, unpleasant surprise. Our minds have been occupied by train times, COVID tests and itineraries as opposed to pre op therapies. I hastily read through a number of articles last night and was alarmed to see that patients should forgo alcohol and caffeine for a week or two before surgery - two things William definitely consumed in large quantities via espresso and red wine.  But only one article mentioned that, and his diet was certainly healthy and varied, his legs in good shape from all the walking.

We were so fortunate on our trip to only have one day - really just one evening - of rain. The surgeon specifically warned us to be careful on rain-slick cobblestones as slipping or tweaking the knee could cause further damage, so on our last night in Venice as we ran through a downpour to the train station, I hovered by William's elbow yelling, "hold the railing" on every slippery bridge and city square. We don't think he did any further damage, but won't know for sure until the surgery in a few hours.

Rob and the kids teased me unmercifully throughout the trip, for my panic in the rain, my proclivity for (very) long walks, my occasional misunderstanding of where to wait in line for a tour. They really got a kick out of the evening I left my purse in a Florentine restaurant after a meal full of the local specialty - beef - and a full glass of red wine. The young waiter came running out in to the street holding my purse extended in his hand, yelling "Madam, madam!" Fortunately our VRBO was across the street and we were lingering in front of the door as Rob manipulated his key in the faulty lock.

My eyes flew wide open as I felt the purse missing at my side and realizing the full force of my mistake. I nearly bowed to the waiter in relief, saying "Thank you! Grazie! Thank you so much!" The kids laughed at my expression, claiming that I liked the young Italian men and just left my purse on purpose so one would chase after me. They reminded me of how much I liked the proprietor of our Venezian VRBO, a young man named Tiziano who had grown up in the small home. I protested that he just reminded me of them - my kids - but they chuckled each time he used "What's APP?" to send me recommendations or make sure that we were OK.

I was alone in Venice due to the one major mishap on our trip. Rob's flight from Newark to Venice was delayed a day due to mechanical difficulties with the plane. After sitting on the runway for hours, his plane was taken back and he was moved to the same flight 24 hours later. That second flight was also delayed, and Rob landed in Venice with just enough time to take a cab to the train station so he could join us on our trip to Florence. We cheered as he ran through the plaza to meet us on the station steps, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged but finally able to catch up.

Today Aden starts her new job and Rob dives back into his. I plan to wait on William all day and make sure that we have what's needed to recovery: crutches, an ice machine (still unclear about this one but friend told me to ask for it), pain medication and whatever food he can stomach. And so our next journey begins, closer to home but still to parts unknown.

Monday, May 30, 2022

A Visit to Italy, Part One

It seems impossible now to remember the hesitation we felt in booking tickets to Italy. After the trip of a lifetime, difficult to grasp my concerns for booking museum passes I felt we might never use, making an itinerary for cities that felt - post-pandemic - as far away as Mars. But everything worked: we were undeterred by strikes of cabbies and railway workers, COVID test requirements, William's bum knee/torn ACL, Rob's board meetings on Zoom from our Roman apartment - nothing got in the way of a magical ten days.

It helped that all of Venice, Florence and Rome seemed to share our YOLO sensibilities, mobbing San Marco Square, the Duomo and Trevi Fountain respectively and filling the air with a babble of foreign phrases. One language spoken by all: adherence to spotty requirements for surgical masks, which were omnipresent, attached by elastics at elbow or wrist. Italy had just lifted most mask requirements except for on public trains and in confined spaces (like the Vatican Museum or the Catacombs of San Callisto), so we didn't often need to wear the mask, but like all other tourists we had them at the ready.

A genial British woman living on the military base in Naples filled us in on life in Europe during the pandemic. As we waited in a winding line for the Duomo, she said "It was terrible here. We couldn't leave the house for almost three weeks when my husband tested positive, even though I was consistently negative. Nor leave our town to travel anywhere in Italy for two years."

Apparently, Italy's travel restrictions for in-country travel had lifted in March, when she came round to Venice and Florence with visitors. "No lines at all then," she said, waving a hand at the jam-packed square around us. "We waltzed into every attraction without a wait." When I asked what had happened between late March and mid-May, she said "The UK and Germany and many other countries lifted all restrictions for travel on May 1st in anticipation of the summer season. Everyone in Europe is on the move, and it will be even worse when schools are out in the States and UK."

While I briefly pined for empty squares and non-existent lines, I felt buoyed by the commonality I could see and feel in my fellow travelers, a joie de vivre, an excitement that spread to each member of our family. We were on a private journey, focused on new sights and sounds and only vaguely aware of current events as they popped into our phone notifications or in Italian squares marked with the blue and yellow colors of the Ukraine flag. (Sentiment ran strongly in support of Ukraine and several tour guides asked us to pray for those affected by war as we passed through ancient churches and tombs.) But mostly we could escape the news....except for the morning we learned of the massacre in Uvalde. That was a difficult day, and I cried while praying those affected in the majesty of St. Peter's Basilica.

We had plenty of opportunities to light candles and pray, with a church in every square -  practically on every corner - marked by wealth of the Catholic church, strong faith and appreciation of beauty. Ancient, magnificent works of art lay hidden inside modest exteriors of old basilicas, sudden marvels like the tomb of Galileo or the stole of St. Francis stashed in small chapels of places we just wandered into by accident. 

Other surface impressions: walking everywhere from the cool of the morning through the heat of the day, adding up to record numbers of steps by the time we returned to the apartments after a late dinner. Glorious food and wine in every shop and restaurant, some of the best meals of my life - all gluten free and luxurious with fresh protein and vegetables, olive oil and careful seasoning. Wine that I could actually drink without ill effect, sharing carafes of house red with Aden and William (legal there) and getting silly for the stumbling walk back to the VRBOs over ancient cobblestones. 

I can't drink wine in the US - something in it makes me sick here, either sugar or preservatives we guess but don't know. I also can't have gelato or cheese in the US at all unless I want to be writhing on the floor for hours after, but in Italy I had gelato at least every other day and occasionally ate fresh mozzarella without pain. I probably shouldn't have done so, since the casein protein is unchanged between the US and Europe, but we threw culinary caution to the winds and enjoyed every minute of the superior food and wine in Italy.

I toured the same three cities thirty years ago with friends on a whirlwind backpacking trip of Europe. With far less money and time, I had less ability to relish the art, absorb the atmosphere, eat the food. The second time around I had more of every resource and it was profoundly different. Rob and I watched our children's faces as they took in the magnificent sites that will hopefully stick with them for a lifetime: coming around the corner of the Accademia to see the David under lights, seeing the glowing dome of St Peter's from a night walk across the Tiber river, encountering the Duomo in Florence for the first time. A sense of awe, of mystery and joy - these emotions usually hard to unearth but perpetually near the surface on this fortunate journey. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Embracing Uncertainty

 "When someone tells me, "I'm not sure how I feel. I'm sad, but weirdly I'm also relieved," -- my first thought isn't Yikes. They have no idea how they feel! Or Hmmm, they don't have a lot of self-awareness. My first thought is normally Oh man. I get that, and I get how those feelings can coexist. That makes sense. The uncertainty feels like self-awareness to me."   

- Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

What a relief to read that paragraph, as I try to decipher my many emotions. Happy that William was home and Aden safe and living her best life in Italy on a college-related trip. Sad that I couldn't fit more hours of coaching into my schedule, guilty for letting down the head triathlon coach. Exhausted from going back to long workouts in record-breaking hot weather (read: climate change), relieved that my CPR recertification class was one hour instead of three.

To survive headlines and bad news I have limited myself to thinking about one day at a time, or at most a week ahead, and trying to be grateful for all the small mercies and occasional joys that crop up. A walk with my son, a phone call with my mom, a blooming jasmine. And I try to take challenges in stride, like crazy allergies, unexpected hot winds and fire danger, William's need for knee surgery. 

That plan has served as a sturdy life raft through some turbulent times, but what it's NOT is a steady, long-term path pointing toward a certain horizon. So many days I feel directionless, ready for anything but not holding on to anything. It's like riding the commuter train and trying not to touch any of the dirty surfaces: I can stand for a while but any sudden movement and I'm stumbling toward the back of the car.  

Of course some things are steady - my family, friends, home / yard / work. I plunged into a spring cleaning frenzy this week, hiring professional window washers for the first time ever and getting the carpets deep-cleaned. Allergies are killer with early heat, endless wind and evergreens spreading clouds of yellow through the back yard. Desperate to eliminate dust and allergens from the house, I'm also replacing rugs and scraping fur off the cat's favorite chairs, much to his chagrin.

Reflecting back on the school year, I survived the first year of two kids in college by taking on a lot of extra work and not thinking too deeply. Unfortunately, reading and writing habits drifted away like rubber duckies escaped on ocean currents. My faith has suffered in relentless activity as I've not taken the time to sit with questions, meditate or even do yoga. "Move, move, move!" is the mantra I reach for when uncomfortable with grief, sorrow, loneliness or loss.

Brown's comforting words about humanity's inner conflicts metaphorically sat me in a deep armchair with instructions to think and feel more deeply. I may not know where the ship is going, but I can be much more in tune with how I think and feel as we journey. I'm sure there will always be inner turmoil- as sure as I am that the cat will always throw up on the white carpet the day after it's cleaned - but I will try to slow down and sit with my feelings before I clean up the mess.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Reunions and Relays in San Antonio

Just returned from US Masters Spring Nationals in San Antonio, reeling from the effects of travel, racing and reconnecting with friends and family. Swimming signifies so much more than fitness, than times, than athletic ability. Meets do show off the athletic ability - mostly in other people, former D1 stars, even Olympic athletes - but the majority of swimmers go to challenge themselves, to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. I know that's what brings me the most joy as I get older and wrestle with my body to get a few short bouts of speed in the pool.

My 50-yard races and relay stints were the most fun, while the 100s felt like long-distance slogs with a piano on my back. The relays were the best, as our teams were composed of men and women from all parts of Colorado, some of whom I had met and some I hadn't. On my 200 free relay we had an Olympic triathlete from Athens, a wonderfully kind and unassuming athlete of tremendous talent, and that foursome won the National Champion title for our age group (45+, but who's counting?) 

If the relays were the athletic highlight then reunions brought the most joy. I ran into my roommate from my freshman year at Harvard - Kirsten - sitting behind the blocks on a hot Friday afternoon. I heard, "Oh my God, no way!" and turned to see my old friend, instantly recognizable in her swim cap. We were swim teammates as well as roommates, so recognized each other just as well in swim paraphernalia as we would in street clothes, if not better. To top it off, we were wearing the exact same tech suit! Still sale-shoppers cut from the same cloth.

I had known that Kirsten would be in San Antonio, as she lives in the area, and Facebook (both bless it and curse it) had at least kept us minimally in touch over the past 32 years. I messaged her to ask if we could try to connect, and we managed to find time over the three days to talk about families, work, parents, and - of course - swimming. I was brought to tears several times and was grateful to have the chance to tell her that I wished we had been roommates at a different time, when I wasn't miserably homesick, overwhelmed, and generally depressed. She of course, had had no idea, because I didn't let on to anyone that I was unhappy, just cried in the shower, skipped meals and kept myself to myself. The blessing of it is that we don't need "ifs" anymore; we have another chance. I'm so grateful and somewhat awed that our paths crossed again at this point in our lives and can't wait for the next reunion, swim-related or otherwise.

I also got to see a drove of Dravenstotts in the stands and at Ron and Kelley's lovely home in San Antonio. Bill and Connie came via minivan, John, Rob and Daniel via plane. I had spectators each day and was able to eat delicious barbeque and baked potatoes en famille before rejoining swimmers at the hotel. So while my body struggled and I skipped my last 100 in deference to last-day soreness and overall dazedness, I couldn't be happier with the trip and more grateful for the community given to me by my sport.