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.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Kinkeeping in the Month of May

"A kinkeeper is someone who cultivates a sense of 'family solidarity or connectedness'."  - Carolyn Rosenthal in the New York Times

"When researchers sought out kinkeepers for a 2017 study, more than 91% of the volunteers were women." - New York Times

The counter holds a stack of graduation announcements and party RSVP requests. Our calendars are filling with parties and reunions trying to elbow work aside. Many extended family members claim a birthday in May (seven at last count) and birthday cards, texts, and phone calls need to be sent (on-time if possible, but often lagging). 

The signing of checks, scrounging for cash, mailing of cards, represents work that I gladly complete, enjoying the thought of our family member opening the letter or spending birthday money on a favorite treat. But it does constitute effort and take up mental space, which is at a premium these days due to age and busy-ness. I was delighted when I saw the New York Times article on kinkeeping, lending a name and weight and honor to these tasks.

In my family it's true that women do the heavy lifting of kinkeeping, organizing Zoom calls, sending the cards and gifts. It's work that was not assigned or explicitly recognized in our house, but I wanted to do it and so it fell to me. I have excellent role models in my mother, mother-in-law, aunts, and good friends - they illustrate the means by which a large family, geographically dispersed, can stay connected.

Rob does a fair amount of kinkeeping, himself. He remembers gifts and anniversaries, particularly for his extended family, and created a family tree for both sides. He even printed out enough paper copies for each family to hang a tree in their home. In this joint effort I am blessed; I married someone who rates family connectedness as high as I do.

I think kinkeeping also refers to dear friends and chosen family. Graduation cards and gifts are part of recognizing important milestones for this wonderful group, and attending graduation parties a piece of being present to witness this moment in the life of a young person - and their parents. Though my introvert heart skips a beat when I see the calendar for the upcoming week, I remember that this work is old and hallowed - and important. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Love is Not Guaranteed

 A few days ago I read a quote in The Sun Magazine that slapped me across the face. The words that leaped off the page - "Love is not guaranteed" - were simply stated inside of another poem. I gave the magazine to a friend but that quote will not leave me alone. It echoed through my head on Mother's Day, as I spoke to my mother, opened cards from my husband and children, and exchanged texts with my friends.

My mom's love for me and for my siblings provided such a strong foundation in my life that I was virtually ignorant that love wasn't present and active in everyone's life. As an adult I knew I was extremely fortunate and that not everyone had an equal experience of being mothered, but my thoughts never descended to the ground level.

I can't find the original author of this statement, but when I googled the quote the internet offered up a little more: "Love is not guaranteed.We are not owed love. That's why, when we get it, we know how lucky we are and hold on for dear life." A stark realization - that people out there do not have love in their lives. Love as both necessity and luxury - as gift and good fortune of the highest magnitude.

The idea reminds me never to take loving relationships for granted, to hold up my end of the bargain and make the special people in my life know my love. A poignant reminder on Mother's Day and every day.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Trauma Recovery Handbook

 About a year ago, I went through an experience in which I felt excluded, humiliated and betrayed. It took me months to be able to write about it in a coherent fashion - that first sentence is a product of introspection, many discussions with close friends, and recent work on trauma recovery. Guilt stabs at me for even using the word "trauma" about this experience when other people go through so much more painful and difficult circumstances, but I'm learning that comparing my life history to others' (and feeling like I should feel lucky and blessed all the time) does not work.

A good friend recently loaned me a book titled Trauma Recovery Handbook for Survivors: A Simple Guide to Understanding Complex Trauma, by Rachel Walker, LMFT. The page on Instinctive Defenses in adults blew out the lightbulb above my head. I knew about fight/flight/freeze responses but I didn't know about the variations of each, and it helped to know that other people experience the same range of emotions and reactions. For example, under Fight, emotions and behaviors include 'controlling, full of rage, judgmental.' Yes, yes, and yes. Under Flight, 'lost in fantasy, spacing out, urge to escape.' You mean other people do that, too?  And under Freeze, 'guarded, paralyzed.' Check.

So. my behavior is in the range of a normal instinctive defense for adults, but why was it happening? To the outside world, the triggering event was not such a big deal. I could recognize that fact logically but it made no difference to my body. As it turns out, the feeling of exclusion, humiliation, betrayal - and shame for feeling all of these for "no reason" - was triggering earlier memories of similar experiences.  The most recent event reached back and pushed multiple buttons in my brain, gaining momentum with each successive button. The result was an outsized instinctive, physical response to multiple incidents.

Discovering this took a year, and a conversation with my good friend helped me complete the picture. She helped me talk it back to the first experience I had of stinging betrayal, which happened at a sleepover when I was 12. I had left the room with three or four girls in sleeping bags behind me to go find the upstairs bathroom. When I came back down, quietly, I heard my best friend talking about me behind my back (or around the corner in this case.) Her words were not complimentary. The hurt and shock made it impossible to breathe. I never confronted her about it, just waited a few extra minutes to recover and inhale before re-entering the room and pretending that all was as before.

Obviously that pain exists somewhere in my brain, and that angry, confused and hurt 12-year-old girl lives within me. She got really angry about being re-injured and re-provoked, and was determined to defend me from the people and the situation that hurt me.  I've had to learn to talk to her and explain that we are not in danger, that the threat has passed, and that we are going to be OK. I even thanked her for looking out for me but let her know she can rest. 

I'm grateful for the insights provided by friends and by this wonderful little book while recognizing that therapy might be needed to go any deeper. I certainly don't prescribe my self-reflective methods to anyone else or pretend to know what any other individual experiences in their life, but I thank you for letting me write this out and for reading.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Racing Masters with my Daughter

The onset of nerves before I swim a race roils my gut and sends my heart rate sky high. I can tell myself that no one cares (true), that at my age it's silly to get nervous (debatable), and that everyone will still love me even if I fall flat on my face (hopefully fair), but no matter. Over the past weekend I learned that one thing can calm me down - racing next to my daughter. Aden and I were seeded in the same heat and in lanes 3 and 4 for the 50 freestyle at the Arizona State Masters meet, and that was so fun I almost forgot to be nervous.

At the start I closed my eyes, which is typical, and opened them in the water with a focus on the wall ahead for the turn, but when I flipped I pushed off on my side toward Aden and she towards me. For a split second we stared at each other between outstretched arms - and then I reminded myself to get going since she's a powerhouse on the back half of any race.  Aden pulled ahead and finished four-tenths before me, but she carried me to my best finish in a few years. We got out and staggered behind the timers into a bent-over, leaning high-five, smiling even as we gasped for breath.

We swam together in the 100 free, too, but Aden was two lanes away and ahead the entire duration of that race. On less than 20 hours of pool time this spring (she's a working woman now, after all) she propelled herself to four national top-ten times in her age group. Her will and determination inspired me into one (hopefully) for my much-older age group. Away from the blocks we had fun in the warm up and warm down pool, chatting with always-friendly Masters swimmers from Arizona, and particularly with our new friend Rich, who remembered our names and asked about all of our races.  

Tucson in the spring is glorious, with flowering cacti, happy birds, and bright blue skies. The high temps and bright sunshine scared us into multiple applications of sunscreen and flight to the shade but the vistas of saguaro and barrel cacti lit up our vision. We listened to Beyonce's new album, which was strangely befitting to the Western setting, and tooled around town looking for acai bowls, gluten free baked goods and smoothies.

I'm reminded again why I sign up for meets and force myself to train for them - it's for the adventure, the shared time with friends and family and the occasional reminders that I still have something in the tank. Dealing with the nerves as the price of admission makes it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Define "Third World"

"The term "Third World" arose during the Cold War and it was used to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO or the Warsaw Pact." 

"Since most Third World countries were economically poor and non-industrialized, it became a stereotype to refer to developing countries as "third-world countries".

"Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the term Third World has decreased in use. It is being replaced with terms such as developing countriesleast developed countries or the Global South."


Our driver and tour guide for four of the seven days in Guatemala called himself Tony.  Tony's ready laugh, his excellent English (with timely detours into Spanish when only I was meant to understand a comment) and the prodigious knowledge of Guatemalan culture, history and tradition endeared him to the whole family, particularly Daniel. Tony's omnipresent Panama hat covered a head full of information and occasional shocking anecdotes.

Daniel and I sat in close proximity on the bench seat in our rental van through hours of jolting through the countryside, and I watched covertly as my son digested the latest history lesson. If the information had come from me, he would have tuned it out, but when Tony offered it, mixed with jokes, asides and "look over there!" interruptions, Daniel absorbed it hook, line and sinker.

One of the phrases that Daniel picked up on our trip was "third world" and he used it in his guest essay about our trip. When I read his paper, I had a vague sense of unease that the term was no longer politically correct, and did a few minutes of research (as evidenced by the above notes from Wikipedia.) I told Daniel that he should correct the phrase - which he promptly did not do - and now I'm motivated by a wavering fog of guilt and OCD need-for-accuracy to retract the phrase.

I confess that I did not do exhaustive research prior to writing this; I'm only going to excerpt portions of Tony's history lessons here. There are many similarities between this history and the histories of a legion of other countries in the beautiful and resource-rich global South. Guatemalan timeline according to Tony:

First: the Spanish came to Guatemala through Mexico - and with the help of indigenous Mexican tribes - in the 1500s.

The Spanish colonized Guatemala, converted the residents to Catholicism (forcibly when needed), built Catholic churches on top of Mayan pyramids, brought new traditions, foods, and ways of life to the country.

Second: Guatemala gained independence from Spain in 1821, but 200+ years of colonialism lingered and the country's developmental path did not run smoothly.

Third: United Fruit Company (formed in 1899) dug its claws into Guatemala to produce fruit - specifically bananas - and ship them for profit to customers in America. Such were the deep interests of United Fruit that the American government involved itself in Guatemalan politics and deposed a democratically-elected leader in the 1950's (he was ostensibly 'soft on communism') to protect United Fruit's interests. Here enter the phrases "banana republic" and "blood for bananas."

Fourth: This governmental interference led to Guatemala's 30-year civil war in which one faction was backed by the Soviets and one by the United States. Many civilians died as collateral damage, particularly innocent indigenous people (Mayan) in the interior.

As I listened to Tony, horror occasionally gripped me at the injustices perpetrated on its people by European and American governments. We have all heard the story before, not only in Guatemala but in Haiti, South Africa, and many countries wrung out and ripped apart by the global North. I pulled Tony aside in Antigua, after we emerged from a church, and confessed to being embarrassed by my country's role in their problems.  He touched my shoulder and shook his head: "No, Laura," he said. "We all have both the good and the bad. We need to focus now on the good, work together to fix our problems." I have a feeling that correcting the term "third world" isn't enough.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Guest blog: Guatemala

Today I have a guest blogger - my son Daniel, who turned 18 on our adventure-filled trip to Guatemala. Daniel was born in Guatemala and came to our family in the US when he was 23 months old. Here are his thoughts on our recent trip, which was his first return to the country of his birth. Take it away, Daniel!

"When you think of Guatemala, you may think that it's a third-world (better phrased "developing") country that's filled with poverty. This is not the case. Guatemala is a beautiful land with vibrant people. Our tour guide, Tony, was a perfect example of this.  

I was blessed with a chance to visit my birth country of Guatemala this month. Guatemala is a country with a rich history, from Mayan traditions to being the five - times - running international champions of rum! Guatemala has it all and the trip was filled with adventures and knowledge.

We started by visiting the Pacaya Volcano, one of three active volcanoes in Guatemala. At the top we got souvenirs that included pieces of lava rock from the previous eruptions of the past decade. The next stop was the beautiful city of Antigua, which is one of four UNESCO world heritage sites in Guatemala (although Coca Cola was nearly responsible for getting Antigua removed from this list because they put their logo on sponsored improvements!) This city is filled with rich cultural history, especially during Holy Week (Semana Santa), where there are processions and colorful sawdust carpets lining the streets.

Soon after we headed to Lake Atitlan, which is hailed as one of the most beautiful lakes in Central America. This body of water is located within a volcanic crater created from an explosion nearly 84,000 years ago. It has a depth of 340 meters. We went across it by boat to visit San Juan la Laguna, and we stayed near Panajachel. Those are two of the 11 villages surrounding Atitlan. In San Juan la Laguna the streets were lined with vibrant colors and art, with music playing as you walked down certain streets.

Our next stop was the city of Chichicastenango, at 7,000 feet elevation, which is known for its famous markets (Thursdays and Sundays). On Palm Sunday the streets were filled with food, clothes and just about anything you could sell. Everywhere you looked you could see petite women in traditional Mayan clothing and men carrying huge loads of products.

Finally, our last stop was the Mayan Temple complex of Tikal, which contains ancient Mayan pyramids in a subtropical Guatemala jungle. The jungle was full of beautiful trees and wildlife, from howler monkeys to peanut-headed butterflies. Every temple was majestic and giant; they were built to show power and wealth. Tikal is also famous for being in 18 seconds of "Star Wars: A New Hope."  

Guatemala is a land that I'm lucky to call home. It's been through a lot but has a sense of hope and community as it continues to thrive and provide unforgettable memories, rich scenery and traditions.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Return to Guatemala

Our electronic photo frame has been rolling through images of our first Guatemala trip, in 2008, where we met Daniel for the first time. Aden was in first grade, William in preschool, Daniel nearly two.  The children stare at the cameras with big eyes, unable to comprehend the enormity of the changes about to befall each of us. Daniel's facial expressions vary from shocked sorrow to frenetic activity to tentative openness toward his siblings, adoration for his dad, suspicion towards me. 

This morning I opened my eyes in disbelief that today we return to Guatemala with a now almost-18-year-old Daniel. The past sixteen years have been full of challenges that we could never have foreseen. Adoption trauma is real. Families can fracture and mend, children and parents may harbor vast ranges of emotions, some apparent and many brewing under the surface. On frequent occasions I struggled to make it through the day, pushing toward some invisible end zone, a ticker-tape barrier that I could burst through and announce a triumphant finish.

As any parent knows, the idea of "finishing" seems laughable now. Parenting knows no end, no definitive marker that allows one to turn off the anxiety, worry and emotion. And yet, this return trip may offer some closure. Daniel's excitement towards the itinerary - hiking the same volcano when he can actually notice and remember the lava, visiting the pyramid in Tikal where Star Wars was filmed, seeing Lake Atitlan where Mayan aristocracy lived - his positivity gratifies me, though I know it covers an understandable nervous hesitancy about going back to the country of his birth, one he only knows through stories.

We leave shortly, feeling positive and ready, unsure of what's to come but strong in the knowledge that we have all come a long, long way.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Covid Poetry Part 2

 My third round of Covid and my second poem of the round. This one still evolving, called


Thursday, March 7, 2024

Writing Poetry While Covid Positive

 My third official bout with Covid started yesterday with another positive test that looked like a pregnancy. (At my age the positive for a pregnancy would transmit greater shock and connote a much bigger problem). In between trying to focus on work from home and hopefully going to the drug store to pick up my Paxlovid, I am running down a few old poems that need revamping. Here's one-

Swimming Outdoors in Midwinter

Air bites exposed skin but the
Sun’s rays at altitude are aphrodisiac.
Light hits tinted goggles while frosted bubbles 
Drift by defiant purple toes.

Canadian geese and airplanes fly 
Between jet-trail corridors overhead,
Black webbed feet in ragged V's as
Spurts of snowflakes feather down.


Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Leaving a Mark

A few nights ago I stumbled out of my high-waisted jeans, apparently unable to lift my right knee high enough to extricate that leg from pants. Dancing around on my left foot, I finally toppled over and caught myself with my left hand, leaving a nighttime application, anti-aging, avocado-oil handprint on the cold tile.  Rob called from the other room, "Are you OK in there?"

I looked down at the handprint and felt a wave of hysterical laughter rise - alongside a sinking feeling of loss. Insert hysterically laughing/crying emoji here. A strangled response emerged, "Yep. just fine. I couldn't get out of my jeans, but I will recover."

Later that night I slept too hard on my left side and temporarily pinched a nerve behind my shoulder blade, rendering me incapable of turning my head in either direction.  Injured while sleeping - a common occurrence. I've suddenly lost my smooth neck, gained a million more freckles and gray hairs, and now require pillows to box me in on both sides at night to prevent shoulder injury.

The years have left a few marks on me, even as my smile lines (and magical photo frame) note that most of those marks have been happy. The impacts are accelerating, too, just like the days and months that whirl by (how is it already March?)

Our house also records history - different notes from the different family members. Black grease marks in the master bedroom wall from the years Rob had an elliptical machine up there, current Peloton towels, fans and sweat marks on the bike.  A broken stair-rail pillar from Daniel's hasty grab as he whirled down the stairs, hallway art from Aden's prolific period. Senior photos, William's bedroom holding his trophies and occasional closet resources for Daniel. The cats, too, share their marks; cat hair drifting into the corners, claw marks down the leather couch.

After almost twenty years in the house it's time to re-paint, re-finish the wood floors, update the kitchen. I'm sometimes excited by the possibilities and sometimes reluctant to contemplate the loss of our visual history. The same principle goes for my face... sometimes I want to investigate youthful promises of various skin care professionals, start wearing makeup again, use eyebrow serum, etc. But then I waver, detained by either exhaustion or resignation. This is who I am, and I'm grateful for the life I've lived.

But I may sit down before taking off the next pair of high-waisted jeans.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Sting of Message in a Bottle

I used to do a lot of work with immigrants and on the immigration issue. As long-time readers of this blog might know, I have been to the Arizona/Mexico border six times and deep into Mexico once (where we drank tequila out of Pope shot glasses with a Catholic priest). My old social justice group from church had immigration reform as one of our top priorities and we volunteered in detention centers and in various immigrant support organizations throughout the Denver area. 

That work has receded from my working memory, buried by COVID and the post-pandemic anxiety over the mental health of my children and my friend's children. I got busy working with young people through coaching, and though we still give to the organizations I formed relationships with back in the 20 aughts and 2010's, I had in large part buried those experiences under the busy-ness of the present.

The musical production "Message in a Bottle" brought the memories back on Friday night. Rob and I went to see this brilliant dance performance (choreographed and directed by Kate Prince), sponsored by the music of Sting, with his co-worker and her husband. Seated next to the co-worker, I didn't want to burst into the tears that threatened throughout the first act but instead clasped my hands together until the knuckles glowed ivory.

In the words of Lolita Chakrabarti's synopsis, "we live in a world where one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution. In 2022 statistics show that over 100 million people around the globe had been forced from their homes." She goes on to summarize the story of "Message in a Bottle": "We follow the fortunes of a father, mother and their three teenage children who face this brutal reality (of civil war) together."

The dancers' moves were magical, the versions of Sting's songs poetic and moving. The first act showed trauma of war, separation, abuse, abduction. As I watched and clenched my hands I kept thinking "this is happening, this is happening now."  In Ukraine, in Gaza, in Lebanon, Syria, Venezuela, in so many places around the world families are being broken by forces outside of their control and it's just dumb luck that my family and I are safe and together.

Why did I stop my work? Is it a post-pandemic selfishness that cares only for myself, my own family, the children of my community? The only interactions I have now with the immigrant community are postings on social media and twice-yearly donations. Nearly forgotten are the days of teaching English in the Aurora detention center behind bars with men and women from around the world, the days of washing feet at the border and of pushing for reform.

The issue of immigration will only get more pressing, as we can see in the news everyday. We currently have no good answers for the issues that come with climate change and global destabilization that will surely contribute more and more people on the move, desperate for someplace safe to raise their families. I think I need to go back, to do something more, and I owe this discomfort and sorrow to Kate Prince, the dancers, and Sting.

Monday, January 29, 2024

A Flood of Gratitude

One of my swimming friends, an amazing athlete (national champion masters swimmer, biker and hiker) sees an acupuncture specialist about thirty minutes from my house. My ears perk up whenever Kathleen mentions her appointments and the great results, but the drive time had kept me from following up until recently, when I got information and made a first-time date.  Wear and tear from the high school swim season plus general fatigue and incessant nerve prickling in my scalp helped me focus on a plan of action.

D. did not disappoint. Traffic was bad and I made it with just two minutes to spare - cutting things much closer than I like - but my heart rate subsided and I could draw a deeper breath within ten minutes of my sitting down. No one else was in the office, and I unburdened myself of medical history, current emotional and physical challenges, and desired healing. 

In our discussion it came out that I blog and meditate for self-healing when not overly busy, but of course I jettison both of these therapies (at the time I most need them) when my schedule gets crowded. She gently prodded me to get back to both, hence this first blog post in many weeks. Letting myself go off the rails without the support of two stabilizing influences seems short-sighted and destined for failure, and yet it often happens. 

When D. treated me, dimmed the lights and withdrew, I felt a flood of gratitude rise from somewhere in my core and flood upward and out through my tear ducts. I lay in the darkness with acupuncture needles in various locales, weeping for no discernible reason except for this strange and lovely feeling of gratitude.

Since my visit last week I have had much more energy and a more positive outlook. I'm going back on Wednesday (before our high school league championships), hoping not only for my own peace and optimism but that some of the joy will rub off on my girls, helping them to swim best times and hit their goals.