she watches movies until her head hurts. This is my plan for the evening.
Patience may be a virtue but it has never been a virtue of mine. It’s a failing. I hate to wait.
I’ve had some practice in the last year or so with my twice-daily walks with our aging pug. He cannot see or hear and it takes him quite a bit of time and effort to find the exact right spot to take care of business. He cannot be rushed. I should be getting better at this. I am so not getting better at this.
Lately, my challenge with patience has been pushed to its limit. Our family is in a holding pattern. It’s no one’s fault but our own and it is something that we could put an end to but we have consciously decided to wait and see. As with Heinz ketchup, the waiting is the hardest part.
There is a point in the near-ish future where we will not be waiting. We will be seeing. And doing. It’s not that far away. But as each day goes by, my patience is more and more threadbare. It’s beginning to unravel. The thing is, the possible outcomes from all this waiting are all pretty good ones which, in theory, should make it easier to wait and see. But I’m so darn ready to do something that I’ve kind of lost sight of the fact that, in the words of Bob Marley, everything’s gonna be alright. Let it go, already.
My son is in the vortex of this waiting game. I am trying so hard not to be an annoying gnat (or am I more of a horse fly?) circling his head. We have promised him we will wait. We will see. We should make good on that promise. We will. I just may not have much sanity left by the time we get there. I hope at least one of us does.
<I also hope that you hear Bob Marley singing in your head after reading this, rather than the Heinz commercial or the song from Freeze ….>
I just read one of those “Letter to My Daughter after I’m Dead” things on Facebook. Yet another reason I really need to start spending time doing productive things and not scrolling the e-universe, but those darn pajama-wearing goats keep bringing me back. Facebook is like crack for the ADD mind.
Anyway, this letter was full of light and airy, yet very deep and meaningful, words of advice for the dying woman’s 13 year old. Tear jerking, smile inducing. You know what I’m talking about. And my cynical mind, out in full force this gloomy morning, thought, “Give the girl a break, would you?” I mean, she just lost her mom, and here comes her mom’s voice from the grave telling her to shine and smell roses and don’t think negative thoughts and avoid vampires (aka, boys who are bad for her). It’s not enough that we parents hover when we’re alive, we now have to send our precious children letters after we’re dead, telling them how to live their best lives?
Those propellers are getting pretty loud.
In truth, this girl may be a perfectly lovely person who will go out and spread love and hope and run a charity for homeless dogs, and she may credit her dead mother’s instructive letter as inspiration to lead this life. Or she may become a rebel, battle anorexia, be snarky once in a while, fail a test, quit cheerleading, have a bad boyfriend. These are life’s realities. What she really needs to know is that her mommy, wherever she may be, loves her.
Maybe the “Live This Life Not That” message in that letter is the way today’s competitive, over-achieving, hand-wringing parents know to show love.
I’m smack in the middling place. Middle America, middle class, middle age. I wear size middle. Lately I’ve come to realize I’m mid-cliche. I’m moving from cliche mommy to cliche mother of a college kid.
In my normally clouded life view, I am still young and vibrant, my life stretching endlessly ahead. And then I see the mothers of elementary school children and realize that they CANNOT RELATE TO ME, as I am the mother of a senior in high school. I’m baffled, because I fully relate to them. After all, my son was 10 just a few months ago (93 months, but let’s not dwell on numbers, shall we?). When those moments of clarity strike, sharp reality blinds my (I recently learned) cataract-ladened eyes and I squint at my wrinkling and spotted hands with wonder. David Byrne’s voice flits through my head … HOW DID I GET HERE?
I took my son to visit some universities this fall, as he considers the next phase of his life. I spent years of my young adulthood at two of the schools, and they felt foreign and welcoming all at the same time. I found myself walking past the dorms and dilapidated student houses, feeling that I should be back there with the students, filling a weekend with house parties, football and trips to the library. Somewhere, close enough to touch, I am still that college girl. The one who loves to dance and do tequila shots. The one who hasn’t a clue what her life will become and dances anyway.
I watch my son, as he absorbs this new world, and I am conflicted. Part of me is the toddler’s mom, who wants to keep him safe from the dangers that I know are there. Part of me is the serious, let’s-not-lose-sight-of-education, this-is-not-about-the-parties mom. I know that soon I will become the college kid’s mom. The one he rolls his eyes over when I send him 10 texts in a row because I haven’t heard from him in a week. The mom who takes him and his roommate to dinner and then leaves, thank you very much. But part of me is also his friend, who wants him to experience college the way it should be. I want him to love to dance (hopefully he doesn’t love shots too much …) and who hasn’t a clue what his life will become and dances anyway. I want him to explore and question and fall in love, to have a professor nudge him toward an interest he never even considered.
This is the process of unmommy-ing. We hear a lot about empty nest syndrome, but this is pre-empty nest. This is anticipating what the next phase will be, letting go of the roles that we each have played and learning new ones. This is hoping that we’ve taught him what he needs to know, because time is short. Soon he will know it all (and then, hopefully, at around age 25, he’ll realize he doesn’t know as much as he thought he did).
The other night, he told me about some incident at school. Later, when I’d crawled in bed, I panicked a little — had I ever shown him what to do in that circumstance? Did I need to tell him now? Never occurred to me … I made my way to his room and sat on his bed and told him what I thought he needed to hear. He smiled in a somewhat strange way and said, “Seriously? Why are you telling me this? Mom, don’t you think I figured that out already? Geesh, this is awkward. Can I just say, I’m so glad we never had the sex talk.” And then I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh. What is he telling me? Maybe I need to have a sex talk with him … I mean, what should I say? Is he expecting something profound? He did have health class, right”?
Let it go, I tell myself. We are in the middle.
Look where my hand was
Time isn’t holding up
Time is an asterisk
Same as it ever was…
As we drove home, wet from the rain, he told me he felt bad that I sat on the bank while he fished. He wondered why I didn’t join him. “I didn’t mind,” I said. “I was cold and damp and it was good to sit under the tree for a bit.” I couldn’t find the words to tell my son that watching him in this place, as his line danced over the water, was more than I could ever have needed in that moment.
Walking through the crowds; feeling the boom of blasting light
Floating on Lake Huron watching explosions in the sky; boyfriend’s uncle at the helm
Newly married bliss; red, white and blue parading through Breckenridge
Waking toddler Riley; watching bright lights from the deck
Clam back at the Dines’s; kids running through the yard
Boat parade on Piatt Lake; Dad gives Gettysburg Address; boys set off roman candles on the beach
Vail parade and party with friends; long hikes and bike rides leave us spent
Born in the USA; Yankee Doodle Dandy; Grand Ole’ Flag; God Bless America!
Sixteen years ago tomorrow, the school shootings at Columbine sent tremors through our nation. At a relatively quiet suburban high school outside of Denver, two boys armed themselves with homemade bombs and semi-automatic rifles, walked down the halls and lived out their extensively planned terrorist attack, murdering twelve students and one teacher, and injuring many more before killing themselves.
My son was a toddler at the time. He and I had gone home to meet a locksmith at our home in central Denver when I learned of the deadly standoff. I picked him up and held him close, trying to work out just how to raise him up in a world where he could go to school on a day like any other and be randomly killed by a class mate.
A couple of years later, as my husband and I got ready for work, we watched as our normally friendly morning TV showed us planes crashing into the Twin Towers a half a continent away. By then, we had moved, ironically, to the suburbs just a mile or so from Columbine High School. Again, I looked at my curly-headed boy and thought how different his world would be from ours.
He would never know a world where mass school shootings were unimaginable, or where holy war was some esoteric concept discussed in classrooms as something that happened somewhere far, far away. His world is where attempted shoe bombings make us expose our feet as we pass through intense security before flying to our vacation destinations. Where a backpack left unattended on a busy sidewalk is something to be feared. Where the debate around the rights of the individual versus the safety of the masses makes it feasible for our government to monitor personal communications.
Our society learned a lot from Columbine. We learned that warning signs and threats from young people cannot be ignored. We learned that years of bullying may push a child to the brink and we have to try to stop it. We learned that we can never forget but we must carry on. Columbine High School was repaired and healed after the attack. Its teachers and students returned and found their way through the scars, unified as only co-survivors can be. Now, almost a full generation later, I’m sure its hallways are like those of virtually any other high school across the country. It has carried on, in-part, to honor the lives cheated by the incomprehensible actions of two.
No matter how much we learned, though, the sad truth is that we couldn’t prevent mass shootings from happening at other schools across the country.
I’m reminded of the adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Parents have feared for their children’s future world for thousands of years. As long as man has existed, people have done horrible things. They have waged war in the name of ideals and principals, they have murdered both family and strangers for no apparent reason. They have abused and taken from our land and the people on it.
If I had the chance, I might tell my younger self clutching her child that for all the horribleness bubbling up around her, there is still life. There is still good. There is still a curly-headed boy who cannot live from a place of fear. While she must teach him about the dangers around him, she and the boy’s father must also help him learn to embrace the world around him, to love, to go and do and experience.
The other day, that curly-headed kid (who now towers above me) and I were confronted by a woman on the escalator at the mall. “What beautiful hair you have! And your son is beautiful, too!” She beamed at us from a couple of steps up. I noticed something moving in the clear tote she carried. A small rat was perched upon some cloths. “Oh, my,” I blurted, “Who do you have there?” She happily told us what great pets rats are, so smart and all. We nodded, having known this from pets of years past. As we approached the top, she waved and told us to “Have a blessed day!”
The kid and I couldn’t help but smile as we made our way past the shoe department. “What a great way to go through life,” he said. I agreed and we decided that we should give more complements to random strangers, bringing more smiles to more people. Maybe without the rodent in tow. But still.
Bad things happen. Good things happen. Sometimes the difference we can make is to notice something good and say it out loud. Live life. Embrace.
The other day I wrote about wanting to bubble wrap my not-quite-grown-up kid. I am seriously considering duct taping a protective layer around him for real.
We have seen a parade of bad-to-horrible injuries over the last few months, reaching a crescendo this past week with a series of blown ACL’s, dislocated shoulders, badly broken legs and broken hands at the races Riley’s team attended. Then we learned that a young freeskier from our community was severely injured in a training run for Nationals and airlifted to Denver. My heart breaks for her and her family, and my stomach does flip-flops at the thought of something this horrible happening to our own “baby.”
The irony is that my son didn’t think to tell me about this. He had signed a card for her, he knew that she was undergoing extensive surgery and HE DIDN’T EVEN MENTION IT to me.
What do I make of this? What does it mean when such a horrific thing happens and it doesn’t bubble up from him? Is this a defense mechanism, developed from years of putting himself in scary situations, of watching friends suffer terrible injuries, some life-ending? From facing milder trauma himself and wondering not if but when something worse will happen? Or is this a typical 17-year-old-male-ism: Why would I tell my mom about something that happened to some girl I hardly knew? More than likely it’s the latter.
And so it goes. My mom-ness freaks out, his kid-ness says huge bummer. My mom-ness empathizes and imagines what-if’s, his kid-ness moves on.
Last night, for no particular reason, we watched some old videos from his growing up years. Lots of violin recitals, baseball games, Christmas programs and kindergarten graduation. I felt very much like Chevy Chase, up in the attic, tears streaming. Well, ok, tears didn’t stream because we were having too much fun laughing at his cousin, then age six, who was killing “stupid bears” in their fort, but you get the gist.
We parents don’t video the scary times, the trips to the ER, the struggles in school. We don’t record what goes on underneath the smiling facade or the times when we cross our fingers and toes and pray that he stays safe. Those memories and feelings are indelibly etched into the undocumented pages of our life stories. Their weight is hefty enough to counterbalance the fun memories flitting across the screen. We would rather our next generation not know their heft until he feels it soon enough with his own child.
So, I smile at him and my dear husband as we turn off the videos. I give him a hug, silently grateful for the warmth in his body. I tell him he is a gift. I quietly say a prayer for all parents. And then I bring out the bubble wrap …
They tell you all sorts of things about being a parent before you become one, while you are becoming one, and after you are one. They tell you, with a grin (!), that you won’t sleep for months on-end when that little bundle moves in. And you nod back with appreciation, while saying to yourself, how bad can it be, really? And then, after two weeks of sleep deprivation, you hit a wall so hard you can hardly see straight. It didn’t matter how much warning they gave you. It was, in fact, that bad and even worse. How could all those parents who went ahead of you still have the capability of putting a sentence together, let alone smile?
They tell you about the terrible twos (which are really the terrible 18 months-all-the-way-up-until-age-fours). Again, you nod and smile and say to yourself, not my little peanut! And then one day, there you are in the grocery store while the nut is on his back in the middle of the produce section screaming louder than an ambulance siren. And you are conflicted by the desire to sit down on the floor and scream along with him or to walk away and pretend that you have never seen a child, let alone had one of your own.
And then they tell you about the joys of middle school, with all those hormones, cliques, and learning struggles. Right, right, right. How bad can it be? Uh huh.
No matter what, at every stage, that huge, overwhelming, all-encompassing parental beast inside of you wants to make it better, to do it for them, to prevent the pain you know will come. But they have told you that you can’t, you have to let them live their lives. And yet again, they are right. You can only hope beyond hope that they will survive. That they will come home and soak in a healing bath of love and comfort, to be able to face the next thing.
They also say that this feeling of wanting to make it better for your child never really goes away. And now, as my own child is growing toward adulthood, I know that they are right. This parent beast within will never leave. My baby now stands at 5’11” and is approaching our societal age of adulthood. Even as he faces more and more of life’s difficulties, I must step back and become more of a spectator.
Although I still would love to wind him in bubble wrap and keep him safe, I will be the one cheering from the sidelines, “Go, Peanut, Go”!
He walked into the apartment, small but upright, and gave my friend a hug. He found a seat on the sofa and quickly accepted the offer of a glass of wine at 3:00 in the afternoon. He had lost his friend that week and she had lost her dad, and they were remembering him. At 88, he said, he didn’t have any more friends. They were all gone ahead of him.
His eyes reflected the lifetime of memories. She prompted with, “I always thought your name was Eddie, but on this paper it says Steve.” He replied with, “Well, here’s how that goes …” and the stories began from the Manhattan east-sider of Irish descent.
He started with a ridiculous tale about his current lady friend, a couple of blue pills and a plane ride. He moved on to some outrageous escapades involving football games and VIP clubs that he and her dad had enjoyed over the years. Then there were stories about her father in younger years with younger ladies. He had us on the edge of our seats right up until it was time for him to head home. I have no idea which parts were true, but I’m sure most were heavily embellished. He’s the sort that has been telling stories his whole life, engaging his listeners with twinkling eyes, a wink and a knowing nod.
My great uncle was a story teller, too. I was young when he died, and I wish I could remember more. “Those mules, Pete and Repeat, they were the laziest, most good for nothing …,” he’d start with a slow chuckle. “I’m not akiddin’ you ….” His was the gift of a story well told.
My husband told “Jack Stories” to our son at bedtime when he was small. Jack had crazy adventures with a bumble, monkeys and bears. The monkeys were always getting into trouble, usually somehow tied into something that had happened in our household, and the bears were just plain mean. At the time, I remember thinking we should record the nightly installments, but of course we didn’t. They are gone, and my son only vaguely remembers poor Jack.
Many of today’s stories are now told in pictures, whether on Snapchat or Instagram or Facebook. Quickly flashed on a screen with a few choice words, we get the message and move on to the next. But I fear that an art form is dying, much like, I don’t know, clogging or the juice harp. Storytelling takes patience, imagination and an audience willing to sit for a while. Very few have developed the skills to tell the little details and surprises that bring smiles, laughter and cries of “Oh, come on!”
Maybe this will become our summer evening tradition. Come join me the deck with a glass of something and let’s search for some storytelling magic.
The lines on my forehead are becoming more pronounced, and a few crow’s feet dance at the corners of my eyes. I have sun damage “discoloration” on my cheeks. I’ve noticed more blue veins in my legs than I used to see. More than any other area, my hands don’t look like mine any more. They are all crinkly. It’s really dry here, and yes, what They say is right, the sun does do a number on exposed skin.
So, I ask myself, do I attempt to whip back these signs of the inevitable, lion tamer-esque, or do I let them carry me on down the river of aging? I admit to coloring the greys for quite a few years now. But somehow, it hasn’t occurred to me to do something about the other stuff until recently.
I don’t have to have soooo many wrinkles in my forehead quite yet. I could Botox them into motionless submission. I could zap the veins in my legs, laser my cheeks, yadda, yadda, yadda. I don’t see a problem with any of it in any sort of philosophical way. We do things all the time to look different, why not nip and tuck a bit?
What has prevented me from taking any affirmative action in this direction is not a moralistic high ground, but a lack of energy. It takes time to make the appointments (not to mention cash), and I just haven’t gotten around to it, much like my mammogram that I should have gotten a few months ago. I know, I know, I’ll do it next week. I do manage to get to the dentist every 6 months, I think because the necessity of that particular time frame was drilled (ha!) into me from a very young age.
And so, when the topic of wrinkles came up a while back with my son, his reaction to my possibly injecting something into my skin was a bit of a shock. He wasn’t just opposed to it. He was close to apoplectic. “How could you even think of doing that, Mom? I will disown you. (HA!)” As far as I can tell, he views this as some sort of fraud, that I’ll be pretending to be something I’m not.
I began to wonder about this. Why do I care? Like Popeye, I yam what I yam. I guess vanity gets the better of me? But why not look “my best” from here until the end? My grandma wore a wig. My entire life I never saw her without it. She was highly concerned that she have it on when she died, lest anyone would see her exposed, so to speak. What’s wrong with that? She lived well into her 80’s, stood at least 8 inches shorter due to osteoporosis, and wore old lady sandals and polyester dresses, but, bless her, she had her wig on when she died.
Bobo is getting old. He is big for a pug, double the size he was “supposed” to be, and twice as tall. Being abnormally large must be harder on his systems, because even though he is relatively young for a pug (11), he is slowing down significantly.
He has never been a smart dog, but his level of cluelessness has reached an all time high. I don’t think he sees well, he only hears what he wants, and he is more impatient than ever. He has trouble walking sometimes, and our wood stairs now confound him. He has been such a good dog, and as part of our family, we will take care of him until he leaves our world.
I tell you all of this because I feel a little guilty about my reaction to Bobo’s increasing neediness. Other people out there seem to be so understanding when their pets need extra attention. They give their diabetic cat shots twice a day, carry their arthritic Golden Retrievers in and out of the house, make special organic, gluten free foods for their dog’s testy stomachs. Whatever it is, they seem to do it without the commentary that I sometimes hear coming from the voice inside my head. Sometimes I say it out loud too. “Seriously, Bobo?” I say to my hard-of-hearing pug as I trudge down to get him, “You’ve gotten stuck in the laundry room five times in the last hour.”
The truth is, I have an inner expectation that he will get better. That his legs will remember how to move, that he will stop getting lost in the house and that he will stop being kind of, well, gross. Intellectually, I know this won’t happen. I know, if anything, he is going to continue to decline. I will probably have to carry him up and down the stairs someday soon, go and get him instead of calling for him to come, keep him on a leash so that he doesn’t get lost twenty feet away from me on a walk.
I’m not used to this mindset. I’ve been raising a kid for 17 years. The kid learns, grows and develops. I know that he will get “better” at whatever it is he is doing. Stairs only befuddled him for about an hour when he was six months old, and then my problem was how to keep him from going up and down the stairs when I wasn’t looking. What I’ve learned from parenting a child is that I need to let him do it without helping more than I should. Knowing that his goals are his to achieve or miss. There is so much that I would love to do for him if I could, but he has to go his own way.
And so, when Bobo needs help going up the stairs, my mom-ness cheers him on, “You can do it!” I want him to figure it out, like a child, and I get frustrated when he doesn’t. But he won’t figure it out. He needs something different from me. He needs me to take care of his aging body, because we all will be old someday, if we’re fortunate. Bobo is teaching me that we and the aging folks around us all need a little more patience and understanding. Someone to say, “It’s ok. Take your time,” in a kind, if sorta loud, voice.
I’m interrupting a half-written draft of an article containing musings about business’s lack of focus on their customers due to short-sighted financial reporting. Sounds fascinating, right? It’s not as bad as it could be, but it’s not holding my attention this afternoon. So, here I am writing about me instead.
I recently decided it was time to shut down my little law practice. I’ve been at it all by my lonesome for close to four years. It’s been a good, flexible arrangement that allowed me to work from home, bring in a (little) income and recover from some emotional scars I picked up in a prior life. It has been a good touchstone for my lawyerly career roots, but it’s not what I do best. And, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago in a thinly veiled blog post, my heart isn’t in it.
Our family’s situation is a little odd. We live in a resort community. My husband works two hours away in Denver during the week and my son is living his high school years on the race hill. Through circumstance more than a conscious choice, I am the mostly at-home parent. When I left my big, hefty grown-up job in 2011, I didn’t know what would be next. It soon became clear that I needed a break from high-pressuredness and my husband was fairly terrific about supporting whatever direction life sent me in. And then I was fairly fortunate to gather a handful of clients and keep my fingers in the pie, so to speak.
Nevertheless, it feels like I have been at a crossroad for going on four years. It hasn’t been stagnant and I regret none of it. I’ve settled somewhat, my son is growing in all ways and generally in good directions. I’ve had the luxury of being here almost every day, of thinking, of writing, of spending time with friends and family and traveling with my husband and the Kid. My law practice, for all of its benefits, is also preventing me from looking ahead. It is my little safe place but I don’t belong there. It is time to put one foot in front of the other and trek forward on my own life journey.
Part of me, way in the back recesses, wonders what the next phase will be when I’m not needed here, when the Kid embarks on his grand life adventure outside of our family, when I’m ready to jump back into the soup of everything else. I’m ready to follow my heart instead of my head, to do the thing that best fits me and my gifts. I don’t know where the other side of this crossroad is or when it will get here, but each day and each decision, including this one to stop lawyering, brings it closer.
Yep, another Alpine World Cup life analogy.
Lindsey Vonn, perhaps the most well known ski racer in the U.S., accomplished the incredible feat of returning from back-to-back knee surgeries to compete in and win World Cup speed events this year. She is now the winningest female alpine racer ever, with 64 World Cup wins. The expectations placed on her to medal at the World Champs last week were outrageous. And she only got a bronze in Super G, a 5th place in Downhill and failed to finish the Super Combined. Loser.
When she later apologized for her 5th place finish in the Downhill, I was dumbfounded. Girl, you just skied a very tough hill on a doubly repaired knee against the best women in the world and you took 5th place. Yay! You rock! Go, Go Go!
The announcer at the races repeatedly reminds the fans that fourth place is losing, since it doesn’t win a medal. He talks about a racer “just not bringing enough” to the hill when they were a second and a half out of first place. I’m sorry, but anyone who is willing to send themselves careening down an icy mountain at 75 miles per hour is bringing more than enough, buddy.
The stands empty after the big name American racers compete, especially if they don’t finish in a winning spot. I look at the competitors out there from Czech Republic, Chile and Argentina, the young racers coming up, the older ones who keep at it, and I think they are all fabulous. Even when they don’t cross the finish line.
We live in a world where winning is everything. We celebrate the guy who crossed the line one hundredth of a second faster than the next guy. Do you know how little that is? It equates to the blink of an eye. The loser is angry, defeated and berated because of that blip of a time difference. And our memory is so short. Lindsey’s 64th win was less than two weeks before her embarrassing 5th place “loss.”
In normal, non-sports life, we compete through professional accomplishments and finances. We compete through our children (he walked sooner than she did, he throws the ball faster, she got into Harvard, he just made partner …). We admire the prettiest, the wittiest, the wealthiest. Whatever-est. Often it feels like a zero sum game. If he is succeeding, I must be failing.
In the end, all winners are also losers. With almost no exceptions, they have lost a match, a game, a race, a promotion, a something. The focus we and they place on being the best blurs the backdrop of hard work, support from others, determination and dedication a winner must have to survive losing. And it devalues the accomplishments of all of those out there who never quite win, who are bringing everything they have every day. Who may be winning in every way but the one that “counts.” Without the losers, there are no winners.
Mikaela Shiffrin is our next great hope for Slalom and Giant Slalom this week. At 19, because of what she has been able to pull off in her young career, she is expected to win. Anything less than a gold will be a disappointment for many. The announcer will express shock and dismay. The fans will leave shaking their heads. I hope she accomplishes what she sets out to do. If she does fall short, I hope she doesn’t apologize. I hope she is proud and happy with who she is, looks forward to the next chapter and congratulates the rest of the field for doing what they do so well.
My grandfather died in his mid-70’s quite suddenly. It was June of 1978, just before their 50th wedding anniversary. My grandmother was lost without him. She hadn’t driven in years, she didn’t pay the bills or oversee their investments. Mom stepped in to help that summer and we spent a lot of time with Grandma at her home in central Michigan. I was a gangly 10 year-old, looking more like a boy than a girl. My siblings were mostly grown. Much of the time, it was just the three of us: Grandma, Mom and me.
Grandma and Mom dug through closets and boxes and papers, while I mostly hid my nose in a book. We ate chicken, salads and the homemade cookies she kept in her freezer. She decided to lose weight and joined Weight Watchers. In support of her efforts, a new yogurt machine turned out white goo. She would spoon in some jam, turning it into nasty fruit-flavored slime that we would eat with air-popped popcorn in front of her black and white TV. We went to town for lunch at the slanted-floor diner and sometimes drove all the way to Graying for groceries.
While we did a lot of touristy things to get Grandma out of the house, “visiting” was our most common pastime that summer. “Visit” could be a noun, a verb or an adjective, with a special emphasis on the “t” in “Visiting.” We would go Visiting, or we could be on a Visiting trip. Every so often people would stop by for a Visit. Sometimes they called ahead to let Grandma know that they were coming. Sometimes they just showed up, car tires crunching up the driveway, stopping on their way from somewhere to somewhere. I would be introduced to Cousin Somebody, and then we would sit in the screened-in porch, drinking tea, while they talked about their trips, the weather, my grandpa’s passing, and family members’ comings and goings.
Sometimes we spent an entire day driving miles from home to home, Visiting. To keep my Grandma occupied, we went up to my father’s family cabin in the Upper Peninsula several times. Inevitably, the trip included a stop at a distant cousin’s or family friend’s house for a Visit. We returned to our home in the Detroit suburbs, and took Grandma Visiting the relatives who lived in that area. I can’t tell you how many “davenports” I sat on, waiting for the end of the Visit. If I was lucky, it was a glider and I could push it back and forth in the August heat, creaking in concert with the drone of cicadas. If I was really lucky, our host served rhubarb pie.
I sort of wish Visiting was still a thing people did. It seemed a kind of homestead soil, grounding people together, lives intertwined with shared stories. The connections were mysterious to my 10 year-old self. These vaguely familiar people whose houses held threadbare furniture, unique smells and pictures of those I had never known. Stories of cousins killed in the hay fields, uncles taken ill at a young age, or great grandfathers who lived into their 90’s.
Thus asked the man who rescued my son and his friend. Our truck, a beast of a thing — 2500HD if you know trucks — was solidly stuck in soft snow up to its belly. The Kid and his friend, en route from school last night, decided to take the side road and it didn’t end well. This morning, some heavy duty road clearing equipment made a path so that the stranded monster could be extricated. Nothing a couple hundred dollars and a mild headache could’t fix.
This adventure was quick on the heels of a warning from our county sheriff, who found the Kid and others doing doughnuts in a parking lot. The snow was perfect, the Kid tells us, and my car is awesome at drifting. Sigh. I remember being in a group of kids who did doughnuts in the school parking lot, Tears for Fears beating through the speakers. Different music, different kids, same games.
We knew these days of less-than-optimal choices would come. So far, at least as far as We The Parents know, they have been fairly harmless. The Kid has appeared appropriately shaken up by the outcomes and we hope that some sort of lesson is sinking in.
This parenting thing starts out with lack of sleep and a lot of effort aimed at trying to keep the little being alive. It then tumbles through all the wondrous ups and downs of growing up. Tantrums, play dates, victories and defeats. Papers, exams, unfair teachers and unfair kids. Injuries and illnesses, hugs and pats. Then the child reaches this age of in between, and it’s more difficult than all that other stuff. At times he is the adult he will become. Insightful, wise, bright. Then a raging teenager emerges, angry at the world, himself, you and the dog. Then he picks up a long-forgotten gizmo and plays like a boy, a grin spreading across his face. Then he goes 4-wheeling on a two track after two weeks of steady snowfall . . .
The Kid asked me last night, after the rescue, at what point a male brain stops being stupid. Didn’t quite have an answer for that one. Does it ever? We’ve all read the studies about the developing male brain, and that it takes much, much longer to firm up than we once thought. Alas, although testosterone filled teenaged boys are more prone to it, you don’t have to be male or young to make a stupid decision. Any of us can leave our brain behind at any point.
And so, we tell him to try to think first, that it only takes a second or one wrong move for things to go upside down. We know our words are mostly bouncing off, but hope a few sink in. Mostly, we remind him that we love him, and wonder how any of us made it this far with all the dumb things we’ve done.
I forget how weird we are. At dinner the other night, our friends in Denver were remarking, again, on the monumental choice we made by moving to the Valley four years ago. You’ve heard about people who sell everything and become RV nomads, with kids in-tow? Or the executive who, after getting out of the slammer for insider trading, is now happily mowing lawns in New Jersey? To the folks who knew us way-back-when, we’re like that. We might as well be living in a shack on a Chilean beach, our hair in dreads.
Flashback to 2010. We lived in Denver in a suburban McMansion. I had a high-powered, high-stress career. My husband had a successful consulting business. My kid, in 6th grade, was fairly normal. He loved sports. His two main passions were ski racing and lacrosse, and he was drowning in one of Colorado’s best private schools. Balancing his already demanding training and travel schedule with the aggressive curriculum was next to impossible for him. Our choices seemed to be to take him out of racing, his true love, so that he could focus his energy on surviving school, or to move him to Vail where the ski academy would let him continue to race in a more supportive environment.
We couldn’t take away his true love. We jumped, with both feet. There was no halfway. We enrolled him in Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. At the time, it had four classrooms crammed into a corner of a middle school in Minturn, Colorado. He was ecstatic. We were terrified. Were we letting our kid become a ski bum? Had we destroyed his future by over-indulging him in pursuit of a nearly impossible dream?
Our friends and colleagues in Denver looked at us in horror when we shared our news. What the hell were we thinking? Vail is where they have their vacation homes. They come up for a weekend here and there. Do people actually live there? Can they converse? Do they have all their teeth? Yes, yes, and mostly.
We settled into a community of people who were as certifiable as we were. Some even crazier. Some moved half of their family here, one parent in Vail and the other back east, making the money. Some gave up their professional jobs in Elsewhere, USA and became ski instructors and bus drivers so that their kids could live here and pursue their passions. Some, like us, teeter between Denver and here.
Together, we live a vagabond life in the winter, following the race circuit, dragging around tuning benches and six pairs of skis, standing on the side of a mountain in a blizzard watching the kids battle the hill. In the summer, we send them off to places like Oregon, Chile and New Zealand to continue to ski. Living in Weirdo Land, I forget how strange we are, until we see our friends from Before and they say things like “monumental choice” when referring to our decision to move here.
We gave up a lot, but we also got a lot. We got a kid who found his right place in the world. We got a family that spends time together and shares experiences that most people don’t even dream about. And, big bonus, we got to live in a place that is spectacularly beautiful.
Yes, we’re weird. And it’s all good.
How did you spend Christmas this year? The Valley’s Christmas present was day after day of really nice snow, and we headed to Beaver Creek to play in it for a few hours. Eventually, our kid took us over to the Stone Creek Chutes. You powder hounds will recognize this as the extreme terrain that runs next to Rose Bowl. Steep, with tight trees and deep snow, it is beautiful and, I would guess, never crowded. I’m guessing because I had never skied it before, and because, during our somewhat-longer-than-normal visit, we didn’t see another soul.
I have skied steep and deep, and trees, and chutes. Rob and I can get through just about anything, perhaps not with grace, but we can do it. But on Thursday, we found our limits.
My ski popped off immediately after I dropped into the chutes. Fortunately, my kid was just below and rescued me — I had a tough time just standing up, let alone getting the ski back on. Undeterred (well, we had no choice but to continue down — once you’re in, there’s no other way out), we continued to make our way. I got myself stuck in amongst a bunch of trees. As I searched for an escape, I heard my boys talking. Ok, so one was talking, the other was sort of barking that I needed to get over there to help. Ha! I could barely move. How did they think I could maneuver my way to where they were?
Worried that someone was hurt, I shimmied through some aspens and subsequently tumbled/rolled/slid down the hill a few feet, losing another ski in the process. I could see the binding sticking up just 15 feet above. Trouble was, I couldn’t move without my ski-less leg sinking down into the oblivion of snow below me. There I stood. Everyone seemed to be ok. Apparently Rob had taken a tumble as well and was having some trouble getting his skis back under him. Riley managed to climb up, get him re-situated, and guided him to the bottom. He yelled back telling me to stay put, he would come back around and get my ski.
There I stood on the snow-covered hillside. All was still and quiet, other than the giant snowflakes falling around me. Peaceful. Beautiful. And, my mom-brain muttered, potentially deadly. Mom-brain can go from this-is-fun to this-can-kill-you in about a half a second. But I reminded Mom-brain that all was well, plus my phone had coverage back there and, worst case, ski patrol would eventually find me. Riley, sweet boy, phoned from the lift: “Are you ok? I’m heading back up.” Good grief. I felt sorta stupid, but proud of my growing-up kid. He was awesome — calm, knowledgeable, kind. He didn’t once make fun of how horribly inept Rob and I were.
The next day, we returned to Beaver Creek. Riley made laps on Stone Creek Chutes with his friend, looking like this (you can’t see the smile but it’s in there):
Rob and I stayed out of the chutes, looking like this:
all the while trying not to think of our baby careening through the trees and jumping off of cliffs on that beautiful (and, Mom-brain thinks, danger-laden) snowy mountain side. We all have our limits. I’m pretty sure Rob and I found ours. Riley is still pushing his, smiling all the way.
Surefoot Holiday Classic race at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs last night. We stood with friends in the side-blown, ice-pelleted darkness and watched 90 “men” fight down a slalom course that developed into a feet-high rutted luge adventure. Those who survived the first run got to do it again. I think the athletes had fun. Lifetime memories.
What memories can your Ghost of Christmas Past dredge up? During my driving time lately I’ve been pulling up some of mine from long ago. Maybe I’m trying to make myself feel better for not filling out Aunt Pat’s Christmas Memories book for the last 20 years. In any event, most of my recollections are pretty good ones. Some are just odd.
As a child, I hated going to see Santa. I liked the idea of Santa, the whole bringing me presents thing seemed like a good deal. But he knew if I was sleeping or awake, and if I’d been bad or good? And he came down our chimney and left presents in our house while we slept? That was kind of creepy. Then, after standing in line FOREVER, I was told to go and sit on his lap. Seriously? Stalker and B&E Santa? This was way before political correctness, but somewhere in the back of my mind I just knew this was not right.
Nevertheless, come Christmas Eve, I was SO EXCITED FOR HIM TO COME that I could barely stand it. Fortunately, my family had a tradition of going to the Greenfield Village and/or Henry Ford Museum (depending on how cold it was) on Christmas Eve before heading to my Grandparent’s house for dinner. It was a great way to get a child’s mind off of things for a little while. My grandmother was step-mother to my dad and things at their house were always just a little bit stiff, shall we say. We would gather with aunts and uncles and cousins and have dinner. We were not allowed until later to venture into the living room, which was where the tree and the presents were, and really where all of the action would happen. We couldn’t touch ANYTHING (or at least I couldn’t, at the time I was the youngest and I suspect I was under an extremely watchful mother’s eye) because things in there could break, like those multi-colored glass grapes in the centerpiece bowl on the coffee table. <sigh> The drive home was long and one year the snow flew at the headlights so thick we could barely see. As my dad drove slowly, white-knuckeled I’m sure, I sat wide awake on my mother’s lap, searching through the snow for Santa’s sled somewhere up there in the sky. (Ah, yes, those were the days, when children bounced around from front seat to back, happily unencumbered and unconcerned about car seats and crash tests.)
Christmas mornings, I, the youngest, dutifully woke everyone before the sun came up. My brother loved me for this, I’m sure. It was the one time of the year when Dad took home movies of us. Horrifically bright white lights flooded our little family room, sending off an astonishing amount of heat as we held up our treasures with giant smiles. My retinas never recovered.
The reason for the season was always alive in our house, and the Christmas story was told and retold. I was infatuated with the nativity scene, in particular Mary adoringly looking down at Baby Jesus. So, I would grab a blanket and drape it over my head. I knelt (because Mary is always kneeling, right?) on the family room floor and looked lovingly at my baby doll, wrapped tightly in “swaddling clothes,” a/k/a a towel. That was it. Nothing else. After a few minutes, my knees would hurt and I’d go back to being a cowboy (or maybe it was a horse, I recall a lot of clomping around on hands and knees, naying from time to time).
As I got older, Christmases got a little weirder. One year, my mother decided to buy fluffy white “snow” to spread on the tree. We backed up to ensure even coverage and realized it looked like a giant spider had cocooned the whole thing in its web, ornaments and all. My brother’s tarantula, Charlotte, had recently molted and he placed her abandoned exoskeleton gently on top. The Addam’s Family had nothing on us.
We were lucky we didn’t burn the house down with our dried out “live” trees. By Christmas morning, needles showered down onto the carpet as we slid the presents out to open them. To address this problem, my mother and I decided to buy a “living” tree one year. As an added bonus, we could plant it in the yard come spring. The little tree did well enough through Christmas, but we kept it inside a little too long and didn’t think to water it once we moved it to the deck. Yet another life cut short.
My mother the science teacher collected eggs from the quails her class had hatched, tucking them into the shelves of our fridge for a couple of months. She then served them, deviled, with our Christmas dinner of Cornish hens. Delicacies, I know, but none of my friends’ moms did stuff like that.
And so it is. Oddities, snippets, bits and pieces of time shared. Many of my memories are glommed together experiences from several years. Like all that time spent snuggled on the couch watching the Grinch (with his little dog Max, wonderful thing), Charlie Brown, Rudolf and A Year Without a Santa Claus: “I’m mister heat miser, I’m mister snow . . .” The shows were on just once, so if you missed them you’d have to wait until next year. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come never failed to scare the pants off me.
Many of you can relate to the peaks and valleys of raising a teenager. If that teenager is a competitive athlete, the peaks can be towering mountains and the valleys bottomless caverns. I’m struggling a little lately with how to parent in this ecosystem.
Our son has reached a level of ski racing competition that is truly global. We hear French, Russian, Czech, Slovenian, German, Norwegian and Finnish at the finish line (see what I did there?) of his races this week. The Australians and Kiwi’s were on the start list. World Cup racers came over after their races in Beaver Creek this weekend to brush up on their giant slalom technique. My son’s body, which has grown quite a bit in the last year, is still small in comparison to many of these men’s tree-trunk legs and beefy arms.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this world, ski racing is a brutal sport. The young guys compete from the back, fighting nerves and huge course ruts left behind by the bigger, stronger guys. They compete on a point system, lower is better, and those points go down gradually as the racer fights, race after race, to finish in a better position. They must complete two runs in order to get a race finish, and often half of the pack fails to cross the finish line in both runs. They train year round, in the gym and on the hill. They travel a lot. They get hurt a lot. And then they show up at a race and their day could be over after the 6th gate of the first run.
After today’s race, our team packed up their gear and drove to school so that the boys could prepare for finals next week. Many of their competitors probably went out for a beer. It’s a little weird and somewhat understandable that my son’s focus on studies is a bit hazy sometimes.
So yesterday, when I woke up to make him a “healthy breakfast” (he got to sleep in until 8:00, a rare luxury) I had the bad sense to check his grades on-line. And I got a little frustrated with his apparent lack of attention in a couple of classes. And I woke him up to say, “You better get it together, kid! You’re clearly taking your eye off the ball.” And then I stopped. He had a race beginning in a couple of hours. He would be pushing his body down an icy hill on razor sharp skis, trying not to mess up, on the edge of crashing, and I was yelling at him about his English grades. Yikes. I chose the completely wrong moment to unleash.
He is a good kid. He is 16. He and his teammates work extraordinarily hard. He has passion. He is critical of himself for not racing as well as he believes he can, and he always feels like he can do better. I am not a former World Cup ski racer, as are many of the parents of his competitors. I never ski raced at all. I can’t give him any advice about how to approach a delay on the course or when to release his edges for the next turn. I can’t even give him much help with the mental aspects of ski racing. In fact, I’ve learned to say nothing about any of these things, because I really don’t know what to say. I’ve never faced the pressures of highly competitive athletics that he does.
I do, however, know how to be a student. 19 years of studentry under my belt, thank you very much. And so I focus on his school work and try to give him pointers on study skills and time management and suggest that he work ahead. If I’m honest (though he doesn’t need to hear this) I’ll admit that I wasn’t the best at time management and study skills when I was a junior in high school. Procrastination seems to be genetic and he is as good at it as I was at his age. It’s hard to watch him make the mistakes and not-great choices that I once made. I remind myself that this is his journey. I cannot be Captain Jean Luc-Picard and “make it so.”
Still, I’m a mom and part of being a mom is nagging a bit here and there (in future at more appropriate times than just before a race) to remind the Young One that this school thing is important. Racing will end and he will have to make a living some day. As far as I can tell, the rest of my job description includes providing food, shelter, clothes, gear and a hug from time to time.
Go get ’em! Ski fast! Have fun! (And get some sleep and don’t forget to brush your teeth.)
Today, we brought the Christmas decorations down from the attic. Also, my husband cleaned out the freezer. And I couldn’t deny my hoarding tendencies any longer. I don’t generally think of myself as someone who can’t let go of things, it’s just that sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with them, or I have some idea that someday I will do something with them and so they stay in the box/drawer/garage/closet/freezer.
Some of you may remember that last year around this time, I posted a picture on Facebook of a poor angel that had gotten into some trouble while in storage over the summer. Well, the little guy was still stashed away in the ornament box when I opened it today.
Why, for heaven’s sake (tee, hee), would I have kept him and his tangled mess of hooks? I must have had a thought that I would glue his head back on so that he could again hang out on our tree, as he had for a couple of decades (maybe more).
I often have these sorts of thoughts. Someday, for example, I may become a wonderful keeper of memories and start filling in the Christmas Memories Book that I found in the bin of Christmas Stuff That I Keep But Do Not Ever Do Anything With. My well-meaning and very sweet Aunt Pat gave me that book when Rob and I were first married. It is meant to hold 20 years of Christmas Memories. Had I faithfully filled it with little notes and pictures, it would have been complete two years ago.
But it remains in the box of things I don’t do anything with, utterly blank.
There is a fair amount of guilt that hangs out with this dutifully stashed stuff. As my husband dug out last year’s (ok, true confessions, it could have been from two years ago) turkey and stuffing from the freezer drawer, I explained that it had been perfectly good and worthy of keeping, but we were sick of turkey. So I froze it. Because when you freeze things you can save them longer and eat them when it is more convenient. But I’m not very good about remembering what I stuck in the freezer or, even if I do remember, about pulling out the carefully Zip-locked chicken parts to cook them. And then I avoid cleaning out the freezer because I feel terrible that perfectly good food has probably gone bad, even in the freezer.
I have a similar problem with clothes and shoes. Work clothes from my prior life, which I left almost four years ago, still hang dutifully in my closet. I wear some of the occasionally. But most of them I didn’t really like even when I was working. I should have given them to Dress for Success three years ago. Now they are way out of style, and yet they remain hanging there because you never know when I’ll have to put on ugly clothes and go to an office somewhere.
And then there are the stacks of lawyer magazines (mostly unread), Redbooks, Southern Livings and Coastal Livings sitting on my coffee table. Someday I might just want to know how to avoid a class action lawsuit or make real fried chicken or put on festive makeup and it will all be right there in front of me . . .
After living together for going on 6 years, I’ve had a revelation: my dog is me. Those of you who know my family may think I’m referring to Bobo, our pug. He is lazy, fat and generally clueless (wait a minute . . . maybe Bobo is me, too . . .). But it’s Wilson, the little white fluffy dog, in whom I have seen myself.
- Looks cute (well, we each have our moments), acts grumpy
- Likes the thought of meeting new people, but on his own terms
- Loves snacks
- Engages in destructive behavior when bored
- Has bad hair days with regularity
- Hates crowds of people (unless there are snacks)
- Loves going on hikes
- Enjoys a good spa day (until it’s time to do his hair)
- Teases his housemates (until the cat comes back at him, then he retreats)
- Every so often, with a devilish look in his eye, ignores all the rules
I don’t know what this says about him or me, but it sure explains a lot about the little human-like monster we’ve been living with.
I’ve seen the enemy, and he is me.
The snow is here. Smiley Face.
Starting in August (no joke — I have a friend’s Facebook post to prove it), people around here anxiously await the arrival of snow, crossing all of their fingers and toes for huge quantities of the fluffy, white stuff. They love it so much, they give it cute nicknames like POW POW and gnar gnar. Champagne powder. White gold.
Growing up in the mid-west, I hated winter. It equated with a grey, damp cold, the sun hiding behind thick blankets of clouds for weeks on-end. Every so often, I had to chisel through inches-thick ice to get into my car. Yuck. I was not a skier. I was not a snowmobiler. There was nothing to redeem the downer of all seasons. In college, my roommates and I escaped the nasty weather and went to Florida for spring break. Even though it was 60 and cloudy, we stripped down to our suits, our white skin blinding the coat-wearing retirees walking the beach.
Upon moving to Colorado, I found that winter could be something other than horrible. For one thing, the sun shines more in the month of January here than it does the entire year in Michigan. Even if it snows for a couple of days, warm rays break out afterward and make the whole white wonderland sparkle. Once exposed to skiing and snowshoeing, winter took on a whole new meaning. I started to like it. I may still have some preference for summer, but a blue sky day skiing powder is definitely up there on my list of the best ways to spend a day.
And so, our warm and dry Autumn this year was a little concerning. As road bikers gleefully pedaled along Highway 6, I heard myself saying some surprising things like, “Boy, when are we going to get a good storm?” And then the cold came. Ridiculous, nasty, January-worthy, single-digit, brrrr. That cold was not welcome. Not the sort of storm I had in mind. And then the snow came. And it came in feet. Just in time for Vail’s opening weekend.
Sunday was a rare day off from race training for my son, and we headed out for some quality family time on the slopes. Riding up the chairlift between my two guys, the snowflakes fell thick and heavy and plentiful. Heading down the hill, the Kid ducked into the trees and as my hubby and I found our ski legs again, a grin spread across my buff-bundled face.
The snow is here!
Several years ago . . . scratch that. At least a decade ago, I stopped sending Christmas cards. I didn’t mean to stop sending them forever, but it seems to have turned out that way. Life got in the way. I was busy commuting, working, raising a child and avoiding the grocery store. I bought the cards that year and they stayed right there in their neat little boxes. Every year since, at some point I experience a flash of guilt. Usually it’s when I start getting cards in the mail from all of those people who are so kind as to send us pictures of their beautiful families, smiling, and wishing us a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year! You know who you are. Nevertheless, the cards remain in their neat little boxes up in our attic.
Our attic is full of guilt-inducing good intentions. In addition to unsent greeting cards, it is stacked with boxes of jumbled up photos from before iPhones and iPhoto and iHaveDigitalPicturesOfEverythingOnMyHardDrive. My child’s babyhood is in there. I really should put them into some sort of order and then into albums or the Poor Thing will never be able to prove he existed before we got our first digital camera in 2004. There are books boxed up for our move four years ago that I can’t throw away, because we don’t throw out perfectly good books and so I should sort them for donation to someone. And then there are bins of old electronics, cables, wires, software discs and manuals that I can’t pitch because they would be bad to put in our landfill so they should be recycled but who has time to figure out where to take them for recycling??? And I have no idea what to do with the pile of (sometimes) beautiful memories that is my son’s artwork from elementary school. I can’t just throw them away, can I?
As the boxes of things that I really should do something about co-mingle with my pangs of guilt over failing to send out Christmas cards (and birthday cards and correspondence of any kind, really), the damning flames of anxiety are licking at my heels. And so, my Dear Ones, please accept my heart-felt apology for the the years and years of failure to send a picture of our decorated tree, the cat, my son and our smiling faces to you. Please know that I have thought of each of you every year and sent you good wishes via ESP as I guiltily failed to send you a card. However, the odds are that my burdened heart will not change my errant ways, so please don’t judge too harshly when no card appears in your mailbox this year.
Wouldn’t This Have Been a Cute Card 9 Years Ago?
At my niece’s wedding this weekend, I got to spend some time with my nephew, her brother, who served three combat tours in Iraq with the 17th Infantry. He is 27 now and living in Phoenix with his wife. He has suffered from PTSD, understandably, given the horrors that he lived, including watching a close friend die in his arms. As we talked, he shared that he has struggled to find a worthwhile job since coming home.
He was a leader in the Army. When he gave an order, his men followed. He has presence. He is the guy everyone likes and wants to spend time with. When he returns home to Michigan, 50 friends show up at his folks’ house to see him. He was not, however, a good student, and I suspect that the limitations of a thinly-won high school diploma hold him back in his job search. I hope that, very soon, a hiring manager out there will look at him holistically and recognize the worth and value of this warrior-turned-civilian. He wants nothing more than that.
A lot of companies are publicizing their commitment to hire veterans, and I applaud their efforts. I hope it’s more than a PR stunt and that they truly give these men and women the opportunity to work in a job commensurate with their value and to share their strengths with our communities. Today and everyday, let’s give them a chance.
On a ski team bonding weekend trip last month, my son sang along with his phone as it played Johny Cash’s Folsum Prison Blues: “When I was just a baby, my mama told me, son, always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns. . . ” His 20-something coach looked up and asked why he knew the words to that song. “Don’t you?” my slightly disrespectful kid asked. In his mind, Johny is so fabulous, he can’t imagine anyone not knowing the words to his songs.
He listens to hip hop and dubstep (are those different things?), country and classical. He shares an iTunes account with his dad and plays gospel, “Oh Happy Day,” Bob Marley and Aerosmith. He hears a Hall and Oates song on The Voice and searches it on YouTube, downloads it from iTunes and two days later I hear him coming up the stairs singing, “you make-a my dreams come true.” Ooo o. O o ooo o.
Our digital world is changing the culture of music. When I was young (I say, sounding like my grandma) we listened to whatever played on the radio, mix tapes (often recorded from the radio) and our friends’ vinyl collections over and over. “Oldies” were for our parents. Today, music is more fluid: a new song samples a classic, and an entire generation is exposed to the beauty of Etta James.
This respect for artists of all genres feels new. It gives me hope and confidence in a generation that is growing in its own direction, with its own culture, sense of style and appreciation for artistic talent, whenever and where ever it was born.
A good teacher changes lives. So does a bad one.
What teachers do you remember most and what was it that had such an impact on you? Ask anyone this question, and you will get an earful. The best teachers are remembered for being challenging, engaging and supportive. For encouraging a kid to think, explore and take a different perspective. The bad ones range from being just dull and disengaged to flat-out mean. They condescend, belittle or ignore. They have lost (if they ever had) any passion.
My 16 year-old son remembers vividly the elementary teacher who made him feel small, who didn’t know what to do with a super active boy, so he was always in trouble. He didn’t learn much that year except how to sit in the hall feeling alone and “bad.” Another one, upon receipt of a project that had taken so much time and effort, could only remark on his use of tape, which was not allowed. “Why can’t you ever follow directions”?
Those good teachers, though. They take those super active kids and have them run around for a few minutes, so that they can leave the fidgets outside. They catch a kid when he does it right. They understand everyone is different, learns uniquely, matures on his own timeline and just might have stuff going on at home that is big and scary. They do their best to make their class a place to explore, where learning is a lifestyle.
The actions of a teacher stay with a person for a lifetime, making teachers among the most influential elements of our society. How is it that their jobs aren’t as revered as those of Fortune 500 CEO’s? Why aren’t we seeking to attract and retain the very best to shape our next generations? How do we let the bad ones get tenure?
Even if you don’t have kids in school, teachers affect your world. Keep an eye on the school board and understand their budgetary needs and guiding principles. If your kid is in school, engage the principal and teachers. Make sure they have the resources they need. Recognize the good, question the bad. Thank them for shepherding your child through this time. And then, encourage them to be mindful of their power.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” — Voltaire.
At a surprise party for a good friend this weekend, we chatted with a younger guy who has small children and heard his story about a road biking accident that side-lined him for a year due to a messed up shoulder. He told us that, before the crash, he had been pretty intense in his riding, getting up at 3:30 to bike 60 miles before work while his infant daughter was still waking up every two hours in the night. He recognizes now that he had been pretty dumb. Training loses much of its effectiveness if you’re not getting enough rest, and I’m guessing the rate of injury also goes up significantly.
I wondered why he felt compelled to ride in the middle of the night on no sleep with a baby girl at home. He is a software engineer, not a professional road biker. What is it that made him decide that a twenty mile ride after work wasn’t enough? Then I thought of a group of mountain bikers my hubby and I encountered on a dusty road outside of Vail a few weeks ago. They were fighting up the hill, some doing better than others, but these were not elite athletes. The couple in the back looked miserable, angry and ready to keel over. What made them think this was a good thing to be doing? We have plenty of good trails around here that are better suited to their ability level. I’m noticing a trend not just in our Happy Valley, but in other parts of the country: people pushing themselves in activities beyond the point of rationality.
I admire people for testing their limits and living life to the fullest, but it feels like a lot of folks have taken it just a bit too far. Have the cocaine addicts of the 80’s raised a generation of adrenalin junkies? Have we become such a competitive society that working out in the gym just isn’t good enough, and instead it has to be cross-fit intense six days a week?
It used to be that the average population participated in biking, hiking, climbing and other sport endeavors as fun activities. This was a way to get outside, get some exercise and enjoy our world. Every so often, someone would become a “mountain climber” rather than a mere hiker, and they would scale the more difficult routes up 14er’s with crampons and pick axes. The more adventurous few within that group went on to climb Everest. Today, hiking has been taken to new extremes. It’s not enough to scale all of Colorado’s highest peaks over a summer. They climb four of them in two days, running up the rocky slopes.
For runners, it’s no longer a sufficient challenge to run a marathon. Now it has to be an “ultra” marathon of 100 miles. Through the mountains. At night.
Alpine skiing is not just a fun day on the slopes. People brag about skiing every extreme hill in the resort three times in one day. Or hitting it hard, rope-drop to sun-down, skinning up from the bottom each run rather than riding the chair lift. Yeeeeaaahhh Baaabbbyyy! Or they head for the back country where the terrain is more “intense” and they risk their lives with increased avalanche danger.
People want to be Ninja Warriors, Cross Fitters and Mud Runners.
Live on the edge or don’t live at all. Go extreme or go home. Really? Raising an athlete in this environment is a challenge. We try to teach him to respect his body and its limits while pursuing excellence. We find that our parents’ adages just don’t cut it. “If Jenny jumped off a cliff, would you follow her?” Here in the Vail Valley, the response is generally, “Hell, yes!” Hmmmmm. Let’s try that again. . . .
That everyone feels weird in junior high.
That high school years go by ridiculously fast, even though it doesn’t seem that way at the time.
That youth is the time to try everything (well, almost).
That the one in the corner may have been the most interesting of the bunch if only I’d gotten to know her.
That college is such a unique time — sharing every aspect of life with people from all sorts of backgrounds.
That complaining and bitterness are gigantic wastes of time and energy.
That what you do is less important than how you do it and who you do it with.
That it’s ok to give yourself a break. Your expectations for yourself often exceed everyone else’s.
That recognizing your weaknesses is a strength.
That your baby’s babyhood is but a blink.
That everyone has a story. Everyone. And it could explain a lot.
That when someone gives a compliment, time should stop for a second to let it soak in.
That giving a compliment can make all the difference in someone’s day.
Glad I know these things now. Wonder what I’m going to wish I knew now later …
Last night, Tyler Hamilton spoke to the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail community, sharing his story of doing what it took to be a winner, and the painful consequences he suffered. You may not recognize his name if you don’t follow bike racing. Tyler is the one who outed Lance Armstrong and the rest of the U.S. Postal Services Pro Cycling Team for its doping practices a few years ago.
Tyler’s story was gripping. He was a quickly rising star in the pro-cycling community when he was first offered steroids by the team trainer. He knew it was wrong, he said, even though everyone told him it was “for his health” and that he needed to take care of himself. Doping was rampant, expected, and administered by the team and its physicians. It was a necessary element to winning on the tour. Eventually, doping was pushed underground by enforcement actions. The methods became more risky to the athletes’ health and yet they continued. He said that he began to focus more energy on his fear of getting caught than he did on winning. But he was a winner. He won an Olympic gold medal. He was on the team that won the Tour de France. He achieved the glory that most athletes dream of.
Even when he tested positive for doping, he said he “took one for the team” by lying and denying any wrongdoing. He felt that he had to keep protecting the culture of cycling, his teammates and his friends. He feared being blackballed and undermined if he told the truth. He kept quiet for 14 years, even after his retirement. He suffered depression, alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts due to the burden of holding the secret. He felt alone. His ethical and moral core was at odds with his environment and he suffered from the inner conflict.
When he was subpoenaed about the team’s and Lance’s doping practices, he finally shared the truth, releasing the pressures of his secrets. Eventually, he shared the story very publicly on 60 Minutes and felt the wrath of his former teammates and the cycling community. He broke the unwritten rule of solidarity and betrayed those with whom he shared the bond of silent wrongdoing in the quest for greatness.
He says that he wishes he had been better prepared when that first pill was offered to him. He wishes that he could have seen how far he could have gotten without performance enhancements, although it’s likely he would not have been a winner. He will never know. Those decisions to dope altered his world forever. He lives a life of regret, but he seems at peace with himself now that he spoke out.
Part of Tyler’s message is his concern for our nation’s twisted focus on winning. It is not enough to give one’s best effort if it doesn’t result in a win. Only the winners get our attention and accolades. And human nature craves that recognition. And it goes well beyond sports. People in all facets of life will face pressure to do whatever it takes to achieve success: cut corners; break laws; risk lives. In the quest for “winning,” people will feel the need to cheat in school, lie on resumes, or mislead investors.
Our culture is teaching our kids to win at any cost. My son played lacrosse for many years, often at a highly competitive level for his age group. One evening, I stood on the sidelines cringing as the other team hacked and pushed and tripped our boys. Twenty yards from me, I heard a mom from the other team screaming at her boy to “Hit ’em! Hit em! Bring ’em down!” And when one of our kids was laid out flat after a cheap shot, she clapped and cheered. These kids were 10 and 11 years old, being taught to do whatever it takes to win.
How do we change this about our culture? How do we encourage our kids to be the best that they can be, and push them to find their limits, without it being at any cost? How do we shift our collective mindset to recognize the value in the one who never wins but keeps showing up anyway? How do we arm our kids so that they can resist a shortcut when “everyone is doing it” and push back against the pressure to “take one for the team” when it’s not right or it’s unhealthy? How do we help kids to find their voice in the face of an unwritten rule of silence? How do we teach a kid to take pride in an average grade that is achieved with her own mind and merit instead of an “A” that came from cheating?
Example is often the greatest teacher, and sometimes a lone voice can instigate change. Tyler sharing his story, exposing the weaknesses in himself, admitting his regrets and shining a light on a pervasive problem is a good step. Thank you for that, Tyler.
Flip flops and corduroy. Shivering with the top down. Yellow leaves on the grass. Dried up flower beds. Time to face reality. October in the mountains means winter is very near. It’s not that I don’t like winter. Rather, I really like summer. Sunshine, boating, hiking, biking, evenings on the deck. It’s just all so good.
Time to switch gears and focus on the good things about winter: big, giant snowflakes falling at night; sitting by a warm fire; sunshine glitter on new snow; floating on powder through trees; watching my kid ski race; snowshoeing with my hubby; Christmas.
- Pep talk for winter: Check.
- Ugg boots and Patagonia jacket: Check.
- Snow tires mounted: Not yet.
- Convertible’s top staying down until the snow flies: Check, check.
Parents of teenage boys spend a fair amount of time as amateur detectives. Since boys are less than forthcoming about everything a parent would like to know about their offspring. we have to look for clues. Is he sleeping enough? We’re looking for an unusual level of irritability and complete inability to get up in the morning. Is school going ok? Generally, the grunted responses to a parental inquiry on that topic don’t shed much light. We’ve learned not to even waste our time asking about social goings-on, so we keep tabs on the volume of texts and chats that blow up his phone.
When our son went to Europe for a couple of weeks with his ski team to train this month, we were like all parents of teenage boys: mostly in the dark. This trip meant missed school and risk of illness and injury. We wanted to know if it was going well. He’s taken quite a few trips like this without us, so we’ve had a little practice on how to read the social media crumbs as to how things are going. He was online 2 hours ago, so the flight must have landed. He posted a picture on Instagram yesterday (not with any people in it, but still) . . . he must be eating and sleeping. In fairness to our young progeny, he did message us on Facebook here and there, and we even got to see him on Skype once, so we weren’t completely out of the loop.
When it came time to pick him up at the airport, my husband and I were really looking forward to seeing him. We like our boy, and we miss him when he’s not around. We also know that he needs to find his way. As he gains his independence, we are learning how to let him. At every stage, from when he learned to walk, to his first day at school, to this moment at the airport, we have had to study this lesson of letting go.
We watched for him to come up from the train at Denver International Airport. He had been traveling for more than 24 hours. We knew he would be tired. We scanned each wave of people. And finally, there he was. I couldn’t help but grin at him, relieved that he was safe and in one piece. And when he looked up and saw us, a quick and full smile spread across his face. I knew then, it had been a good trip. Better than any text or phone call we could have had. It was all right there.
Last week, we traveled to Michigan to gather with my family members to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. My parents spend half of the year, including the summer months, at a cottage in northern Michigan. The cabin holds lifetimes of memories, stories told and retold, expanded upon with little additions, much like the cabin has been.
My grandfather built the original tiny cottage for his wife as she was dying of cancer at a very young age. My father spent time here as an adolescent, helping to build it with his father and uncles, hauling water up from the lake, running around with other boys vacationing with their families, and getting into trouble. Years later, he brought my mother to see the cabin and she fell in love with it. Eventually, every summer, my mother, brother, sister and I stayed at the cabin from early July through Labor Day. My father would join us when he could get away from work. As kids, our days were long and unencumbered. We slept late, wandered through the woods, hunted turtles, swam in the lake, made fudge and played games late into the evenings.
Over the years, my siblings and I have returned to the cabin with our families, to form new memories. It is rare that any of us are there at the same time, so this past week when most of us were able to gather for at least a few days, inevitably the stories, pictures and home movies came out. As I listened to my family reminisce, I realized that our memories are as varied as we are. Even the experiences we shared as a family are remembered from our unique viewpoints. What the cabin is for me is not the same as what it is for my sister or my nephew. Nevertheless, we all share the common bond of that place.
As I walked down to the beach on our last night at the cabin, I smiled to see an old friend who has been there long before my grandfather’s time: a large, white birch tree near the water. This tree was my special place as a child. I would sit on its crooked base and watch the boaters and fishermen on the water. As I touch its beautiful white bark, I consider that it had been there when my father collected water from the lake for his mother to use, and years later when my brother proudly put in his rowboat, earned by working for a man on the other side of the lake. It was there when my father and a much younger me launched our canoe to paddle back into the lagoon, and later, when my sister’s girls played on the beach. More recently, the tree marked our dock as we headed home across the water after my son learned to water ski. This week, it quietly observed my great nephew’s first cast of a fishing line. I don’t know how long that tree will continue to stand on its eroding shore. I hope it lives long enough for my grandchildren to sit in its crook.
And so, I share with you my reflections from the week. Make memories where you can. Envelop your family in them and breathe their piney scent whenever you have a moment to reflect. Share the stories, and add a piece here and there. Roast a marshmallow, make a s’more and lick the chocolate off your fingers while telling a ghost story or two. When the next generation comes along, if they’re lucky like I am, they will feel part of a shared special place that their children will also grow to love.
Originally published on July 20, 2014 in The Vail Daily.