Twenty-three and Flying

First I turn 57-½, and now I have a 23-year-old child. The numbers are racking up! What the heck is going on? Where has the time gone?! It reminds me of a time when I was in my mid to late twenties, working my first real job as a young government lawyer in Washington, D.C., and it suddenly dawned on me that I was no longer “right out of college.” That was the day I witnessed a group of young people who truly were “right out of college” disembark en masse from a bus. One look at these babies, and I was struck by the cold harsh reality that I was NO LONGER “right out of college.”

Now I see young moms at the YMCA carting their little boys and a part of me still identifies as close in age. Or at least closer than the “old ladies” in my exercise classes. Maybe I am just young at heart. Or immature. Or delusional.

In any event, today is my son’s 23rd birthday and, hard as it to wrap my brain around, I now have a child who is “right out of college.” And as I have found with most of my life as a parent, just when I get used to one phase, things change and I’m forced to adapt to a new one.

I am finding this “right out of college” parenting phase quite fascinating. My son is now completely independent from us. He has his own place to live, a car, a job, and a bank account. We try to talk to him once a week (if he has time) and we text often. But after years of controlling, then directing, then advising his actions, it is part unnerving, part deeply gratifying, to step back and watch him navigate life on his own. He still sometimes calls for advice, but his decisions are clearly his. And wise ones. It’s like finally nudging the baby bird out of the nest, taking a deep breath, and watching him soar.

There is freedom in not being responsible for him. And immense pride in the responsible, competent, unaffected adult he has become. My grandest joy, however, is the genuine love and affection my husband (his father) and I share with him. It is perhaps the greatest prize of parenting to raise a child that becomes a treasured adult companion.

My son currently lives halfway across the country from us, and although part of me wishes we were closer and more intertwined in his life, it oddly feels right to be physically removed from him. (I do remember being 23, and being glad my mother was not too close by.) At this phase of his life, he is truly coming into his own and this is his time to soar (especially since he is just starting flight training!) We love the excitement of getting updates on his life and marveling at his adventures from afar.

We also find it rather exhausting when he comes home to visit. We forget about the hours that “right out of college” aged people keep, and it always seems someone is coming or going in our house while he’s there.   Much as we love the visit, and we are incredibly sad when he leaves, we also welcome the return of quiet and routine and appreciate the “empty nest” life we’ve grown accustomed to.

My drawing on a recent card I sent my son, totally age-appropriate for a twenty-three year old

My drawing on a recent card I sent my son, totally age-appropriate for a twenty-three year old

As with every other period of his life, I grieve the passing of each stage, since I’ve cherished them all, but I am eager to see what’s next. Like turning the pages of a captivating novel, I am excited to see how this story unfolds, without the pressure of being the author. In this tale, I’m proud of the hero, and am more than content being a supporting character. Happy birthday to my son who occasionally makes me feel old, but keeps me forever young.

Fifty-Seven and a Half

This week I turned fifty-seven and a half. When I was growing up, our family celebrated half-birthdays. The half-birthday honoree was allowed to pick his or her dinner of choice, and I always chose hot dogs and chocolate milk.

My half-birthday dinner of choice. A plain hot dog.

My half-birthday dinner of choice.
A plain hot dog.

The half-birthday celebration was particularly important to me, since my birthday is in early August, a terrible time for a kid in a Navy family.   We were almost always either in the process of moving to, or had just arrived, someplace new. In either case, my hopes for a fancy birthday party with friends, which is all I ever wanted (that, and a new Barbie), were constantly thwarted.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure my mother concocted the half-birthday tradition just for me, mainly to mitigate her guilt over my lack of fancy birthday parties with friends, knowing how gypped I felt. My brothers didn’t seem quite as taken with the half-birthday idea as I was. And the whole family made, in hindsight, a suspiciously over-enthusiastic celebration out of my half-birthday. I suspect they were all in cahoots with my mother, forced to be cheery under severe threat of retribution.

In any event, I enjoyed my half-birthday hot dogs, and to this day, I still keep half-birthdays on my calendar – my husband’s, my son’s, and mine. Not that we do anything special, but I still smile when I see a half-birthday on the calendar.

My half-birthday drink of choice. Milk with Bosco chocolate syrup.

My half-birthday drink of choice.
Milk with Bosco chocolate syrup.

Until this year. I looked at my calendar this week, and saw that I am now fifty-seven and a half. Holy you-know-what!   I am not only halfway between fifty-seven and fifty-eight, but I am halfway between fifty-five and SIXTY!

In my mind, fifty-five was cool. It meant I was eligible for early retirement, and still sounded relatively young. And what could be more hip than a financially independent, relatively young woman? I couldn’t wait to turn fifty-five! But now the years are flying by and I am swiftly approaching SIXTY. Try as I might, I doubt I’ll feel as snug about SIXTY as I did about fifty-five.

Coincidently, this week I read a post entitled The Old Woman I Want to Be on NotQuiteOld, a blog I enjoy following. Nancy Roman, the blogger, recently celebrated her sixty-fifth birthday, and reflects on the significance of this milestone and how she wants to live her remaining years. A sentiment in her post that particularly resonates with me is her fear of wasting time. She writes, “I want to make the most of whatever time I have left – and to enjoy that time. Maybe that still means television and shopping. But maybe not.”

I’ve increasingly noticed in myself that urgency to use my time wisely. This week, during an Ash Wednesday service, I unexpectedly decided to give up Facebook for Lent (and I’m not even Catholic), partly because I often find myself wasting time on it almost reflexively, and I want to make space for more intentional pursuits. (I’ll see if I can link this post to Facebook automatically so I don’t blow my vow on Day Two and enter the forbidden land!)

When I was young, time seemed to be an infinite commodity. I had endless new adventures and new stages of life to look forward to. Not so the older I get.   Today I have the health, resources and time to do almost anything I want. I worked hard all my life to get to this point and I want to squeeze as much as I can out of every day. I am acutely aware that this stage is finite and I want to take full advantage of it while it lasts. This outlook may partly stem from my fairly recent experience as the child in charge of care for both of my parents at the end of their lives. I saw how quickly their lives changed when their health declined.

The flip side of this urgency to live as if I were on leave from death row is that, taken to its extreme, it can be crazy making. Not every day or moment can, or should be, filled with ultra-significant moments or experiences. Left to my own devices, I can easily fill our calendar with terrific events every day of the week, in the process wearing myself out and driving my husband mad. As Nancy quotes John Lennon in her post, sometimes “time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”   It all comes down to finding that right balance.

With that, I think that I will go waste some time and make myself a hot dog and some chocolate milk. Happy half-birthday to me!

My New Favorite Yoga Teacher

Remember when I lost my favorite yoga teacher Diane?  An Homage to Diane, or, Life Lessons I Learned from my Yoga Instructor And I thought (1) my life was, so to speak, over, or, (2) I’d never ever find anyone that I like as much?

Well, guess what? I found my new favorite yoga teacher Lucy. Conveniently for me, Lucy took over Diane’s Gentle Yoga classes at the YMCA, which were my favorites, and still are. Lucy is not Diane, and there are some things I still miss about Diane’s classes. But Lucy does other things I love that Diane didn’t do. And Diane’s lasting gift to me was teaching me how to adapt to any yoga class or teacher.

Whereas Diane was calm and soothing, Lucy is loud and bubbly and fun. Lucy starts each of her classes with a short theme or message. She shares an idea (like when we “open and close”) and how this concept applies in her life and how it can apply in ours and in our yoga practice.   She also works hard on that upper back area where, at my age, we are starting to round and stoop. When I’m in Downward Facing Dog, she comes by and presses down on that sweet spot on my back, where I’m rounding, and then squeals “Yeeeeeessss!” at my straight backbone and her joy is infectious.

One of my "happy places" is yoga classes at the YMCA

One of my “happy places” is yoga classes at the YMCA

I am grateful I have a new favorite yoga teacher Lucy in my life. But even more, this yoga teacher transition came in the midst of a personal gloomy bout and taught me (or I should say “reminded me” since I never seem to permanently learn anything) a few valuable lessons:

Change is hard. I completely understand that transitioning to a new yoga teacher is not exactly a hardship situation. But, it was a reminder that change is constant and sneaky and disruptive. Even when change is good, it is still change and can cause anxiety and discomfort. My recent accompanying mini-funk, I realized, was tied to yet more life adjustments (don’t we ever just reach our comfort zone and stay there for God’s sake?!). Because of some recent health issues, I was rudely and unfairly reminded that I could no longer engage in some physical activities like a twenty- or thirty-something. At the same time, our son is post-college, entering a new stage and one step further along his path toward adulthood and independence. Now, this is a good thing and exactly what we hope for as parents; but the outlook of reduced time with him rendered me melancholy. It helped to acknowledge that I was grieving over life changes, including my loss of Diane.

Be open to new people. During my first yoga class with Lucy, I immediately disliked her, only because she wasn’t Diane. But I kept going to her classes, and gradually started to appreciate the qualities Lucy brought to her teaching. It was Lucy, in fact, who helped me recognize and understand my gloom. Another day, when I was feeling inexplicably detached and pissy, Lucy talked about challenging ourselves to “go toward that which you are afraid of” in her opening comments. That caused me to examine the root of my discomfort and to identify my underlying fears and needs, rather than to simply withdraw or avoid the situations.   Lucy is not necessarily saying anything I haven’t heard before, but being open to, and hearing new voices or perspectives can be powerful.

Be open to new practices. Diane did more breathing and meditative exercises. I usually left her classes feeling like I’d just returned from two weeks in the Caribbean. Lucy talks, then goes right to business, which at first seriously irritated me. Lucy proudly calls herself a “Yoga Geek” and loves to explain the mechanics behind poses. She also uses the wall extensively to strengthen our positions. As I let go of my annoyance and started really listening to and embracing her teaching, I found my understanding of yoga and the goals of our movement increasing. I became more of a partner, rather than simply a follower, in the practice. As much as I valued Diane’s gentle teaching style, through Lucy, I have gained an added dimension to my yoga practice. Outside of yoga, I was inspired to incorporate some self-care practices, like journaling and dance, to my everyday routine.

The Sun Will Come Out Again. When I get too deep in my Black Hole of Despair (as I affectionately call it), it can become a self-sustaining condition. I can begin to only see a bleak future that may never end, through my personal gray-colored glasses. One day Lucy started our class with a confession that she was feeling blue, and she wasn’t sure why. I found her transparency empowering. She then reminded herself and us, that it is normal and okay to be downcast at times, and the important thing to remember is that the sun will shine again. In yoga, we approach our practice as self-care for those times of darkness. In life, we put one foot in front of the other and trust that things will get better. And, in my case, that was true, and in part I can thank my new favorite yoga teacher Lucy.

 

 

Some Things Never Change!

Often, the saying is uttered in exasperation to describe a never-ending irritant. But, I recently discovered I am grateful that some things don’t change.

Two dear friends from college visited me this past weekend. Lynne was my first roommate in the dorm, and Devie lived down the hall. I met both of these women when I was eighteen, my adult self still very much a work in progress.

The first day I met Lynne, she came bounding into our dorm room carrying a field hockey stick in one hand and a tennis racket in the other. Before her dramatic, high-energy entrance, I warily scrutinized the photos already hung on her side of the room, which were mostly of pigs. She later clarified that she was a P.E. major (which explained the multiplicity of sporting equipment) and had been in 4-H (which explained the pigs, whom she proudly declared were named Aristotle and Socrates).   Over the course of our college years, I found Lynne to be uproariously funny, whip smart (she later changed her major to biology), with an almost insatiable curiosity, and a great problem solver. She was our unofficial dorm den mother, a natural caretaker with her calm wisdom and ingenuity.

I met Devie in my Art History class. She was physically striking, talented, creative, slightly neurotic, and I found her endlessly entertaining. She was an art major and a gifted pianist. I spent weekends at her Jewish parents’ house, and she was highly skilled at discussing and dissecting (often inventing) problems (hers and mine) until we were both near exhaustion.

Last weekend was the first time in 37 years that the three of us had all been together. Although Lynne and Devie became two of my closest friends during college, after I graduated and continued to law school and then moved to the east coast for a period, I largely lost touch with them until recently. I was curious to see how much we’d changed, both individually and as a trio.

We quickly discovered that the essence of who we each were at eighteen had not changed, and that we eased almost immediately back into our comfortable, safe friendship. Thirty-seven years later, Lynne is a retired science and special education teacher, married to a deaf Native American man, who lives on a chicken farm in Tennessee and is currently building a fence. Devie is an art therapist who is even more beautiful now than in college, works with children and teens in the Bay Area and is still highly conflicted about many things. They both found their callings, perfectly predictable based on their eighteen-year-old selves. They both claimed that my successful legal career was completely foreseeable (even though I began college as an interior design major).

My weekend also wonderfully illustrated teachings from a recent Alive and Well Women workshop entitled “Deepening Connections” in which my friend Cissy spoke about self-compassion. We talked about how we, as women, are often more compassionate with others than with ourselves. We explored the power of female community, and the healing that takes place when we find those friends to whom we can safely confess our self-loathing, our fear, our shame, our needs, and from whom we can receive loving empathy and compassion.

With Devie (far right) and Lynne (middle), back in my world

With Devie (far right) and Lynne (middle), back in my world

After three solid days of each other, in which we laughed (much) and talked (a lot) and even cried (some), Lynne, Devie and I shared how affected we each were by our weekend together, both emotionally and physically. The best that I can describe it, for me, is that I was not changed by this deep re-connection with my old friends, but anchored. An important part of me, deep inside, never lost but perhaps unnoticed, was re-aligned, reinforced. Through speaking our fears, our shame, our needs to each other, and finding the solid core of our friendship still trustworthy and strong, it became a deeply comforting, healing, and spiritual experience of compassion.

It was also great fun for my friends (and for me) to get a glimpse into my current life.   I took them to my yoga class and my favorite brunch restaurant and we walked around my neighborhood. We’ve now decided to make this an annual event. Next year, whether chasing chickens in Nashville or doodling with crayons in Palo Alto, I will be joyfully discovering new friends in my old.

 

Alive and Well in Retirement!

I was recently reminded of a blog post I wrote back in January of 2014, entitled Existentialism, Disenchantment and the Six Phases of Retirement. It was written about five months after I retired. A fellow blogger who explores retirement issues found my post and used me, in a YouTube presentation, as his comic example of someone bumbling through the early adjustment phases of retirement. As I watched the YouTube presentation (slightly discomfited, listening to a complete stranger talk about the antics of “Betsy and her husband” like we were Lucy and Ricky), I was stuck by how much we’ve evolved since then.

I am quite content with my life now. Looking back, I see it really took me about two years to fully adjust to retirement. Five months after my retirement date, when I wrote that post, I was clearly in the Disenchantment Phase (Stage 4). The Honeymoon Phase (Stage 3) had worn off and I was starting to feel some loneliness, boredom, uselessness and disillusionment.

Stage 5, following Disenchantment, is described as the “Reorientation Stage,” where the retiree moves on to build a new identity in retirement. It is described as the “most difficult stage in the emotional retirement process and will take both time and conscious effort to accomplish. Perhaps the most difficult aspects of this stage to manage are the inevitable self-examination questions that must be answered once again, such as ‘Who am I, now?’ ‘What is my purpose at this point?’ and ‘Am I still useful in some capacity?’ New – and satisfying – answers to these questions must be found if the retiree is to feel a sense of closure from his or her working days. But many retires cannot achieve this and never truly escape this stage – make sure you do!” (Mark P. Cussen, “Journey Through the 6 Stages of Retirement”)

I wasn’t always mindful at the time, but in hindsight it’s clear I did go through this reorientation process, often in fits and starts. It forced me to take a hard look at myself and make some deliberate decisions about how I was going to spend the rest of my life. After all, the rest of my life could be another 30+ years! If I were to summarize my acquired bits of wisdom (and I emphasize that these are MY conclusions) they would be:

Throw out the expectations (especially of your partner) – Retirement is a wonderful and terrifying marriage laboratory, where you get one last chance to finally work out those thorny relationship issues so often ignored during the busy dual-career and childrearing years. Especially for my husband and I, polar opposites in many ways. Plus, I realized that I went into retirement with some unrealistic expectations. In my imaginary retirement la-la world, my husband (already retired) and I would be happily spending 24/7 together, having lunch dates and play dates and going to art museums. We would have an abundance of extra time, and we’d joyfully split the housework and tackle all those long-delayed projects around the house, like cleaning out the garage. We’d do all this together, with any relationship issues magically solved by the absence of work pressures.

That rose-colored bubble pretty much burst the first few weeks of retirement. We never spent that much time together, even when we were dating, so it was bone-headed to think we would start now. And my husband doesn’t even like art museums. After about a week of being together in the house, we had nothing interesting to report to each other. Plus, my homebody husband has vastly different ideas on how to spend his time, and was unwilling to give up his established and cherished routines and household chores. As I noticed my frustration and resentment start to build, I had a choice to make. I could either try to change my husband to fit my expectations, or I could respect his differences, let him be him, and focus on what I could do to structure my own life. I ultimately chose the latter, and also found it works far better to ask clearly for what I need than to expect it.

There are of course some things I still wish were different. For example, I really wish my husband would clean out the garage. I wish we entertained more, and we watched less TV (especially sports). But I finally realized there is an excellent chance our garage will never be tidy, that entertaining can be pretty stressful for us, and that watching a good football game together is a great shared activity. I had to look clear-eyed at those areas where reality and expectations collide and make some choices. If there were deal-breakers for me, I had to address them. If they were not, I had to come to peace with them. Just because Mr. and Mrs. McGillicudy down the street, also retired, work puzzles and drink Moscow Mules together every afternoon doesn’t mean we should. This process of letting go of unhelpful expectations and accepting, even embracing, the goodness in my own reality, with a spirit of gratitude, has been very liberating and my path to contentment.

Look no farther than thyself – I don’t mean this in a self-centered or narcissistic way, but I am learning that I am the one responsible for my own happiness.   It is too easy, but not helpful, to look to others or go into blame mode when I am unhappy. As it is difficult, if not possible to do on my own, there is a spiritual component integral to remaining centered and open, in removing blame and extending grace.

Eliminating unhealthy expectations freed me to look pragmatically, even creatively, at myself, my husband (and our life together), and to craft a fulfilling life. If I need more social interaction, I have a wonderful network of friends to call on. When I need more physical exercise, I hang out at the YMCA right down the street. I have a women’s study group and a book club that provide plenty of regular female companionship.

I also gradually came to the conclusion that contributing to my disenchantment was a growing and nagging feeling of uselessness. Although I initially thought I would enjoy doing more around the house, I found I was honestly just as happy letting my husband keep his chores! (And I am, BTW, the envy of my girlfriends.) I found I need more time out of the house. I was someone who worked my entire life and was used to being the breadwinner in our family and a leader in the workplace. I missed the energy and camaraderie of the office, the business travel, and being a part of teams where we solved problems for our clients. I enjoyed all the fun I was having in retirement, but I began to feel that something was missing.

For me, a providential solution was my involvement with a charitable organization. A few months after I retired, I re-connected with a friend who was long interested in starting a non-profit. She enlisted my help and together we launched Alive and Well Women. Today I am the Chair of the Board and last year volunteered to take the lead on grant writing (something I’ve never done before).

My work with Alive and Well Women has proven to be a godsend. It gives me an outlet for using my professional talents, a sense of value and accomplishment, while allowing me to give back to the community. I love the women I work with and I’m learning new skills. We are in the midst of our first capital campaign and I’m finding it a joy to raise funds for a cause I feel passionate about. And since I am a volunteer, I work when I am home but still have the flexibility to travel with my husband.

Find some things to enjoy with your partner – when we are home, my husband and I find the ideal mix of together/independent time typically skews more toward separate schedules. We have breakfast and dinner together, and go for a daily walk around the neighborhood, but the rest of the day is typically individual time (often we are both home, but separately engaged.)

The danger with our natural parallel play tendency is that we can easily become disengaged. So, we deliberately look for activities that we can enjoy together. For us, our favorite joint activity is travel. Something special happens when we are on the road. We find we love being together 24/7, we work as a team, and we create amazing shared memories. These are the moments when I am overcome with gratitude. And as soon as we’re back from one trip, we start thinking about our next, which gives us something to dream about together.

We also try to do a few things each week while we are home. We rarely miss church and brunch on Sunday. We have at least one lunch or dinner out during the week, and we recently started ballroom dancing classes. We’re still more Lucy and Ricky than Fred and Ginger, but we’re having fun with our salsa!

"Eventually the new landscape becomes familiar, and retirees can enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose"

“Eventually the new landscape becomes familiar, and retirees can enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose”

The Routine Stage (Phase 6) of retirement is when “finally, a new daily schedule is created, new marital ground rules for time together versus time alone are established, and a new identity has been at least partially created. Eventually, the new landscape becomes familiar territory, and retirees can enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose.” (Mark P. Cussen)

You know, I think we might be there!

Christmas Peace

The older I get, the more melancholy I feel around Christmas. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the holiday season. I love the traditions and Christmas trees and cookie baking and lights and carols. But the innocent, pure joy and excitement I felt as a child have given way to a more nuanced experience of the holidays.

This year, as I decorated our Christmas tree, I was reminded of my blog post from two years ago entitled Christmas Memories. Just as I related in that post, the powerful remembrances elicited by unpacking our boxes of family Christmas decorations are enough to plunge me into sudden gloom.   Even though I am generally excited about the upcoming holidays (especially for our son’s homecoming tomorrow), I found myself taking frequent breaks (cookies, coffee and chocolate seemed to help) as memories of people and places and times past came flooding back. I grieved over the loss of my beloved parents and stepson, and a broken relationship with another family member. I missed the days when our son was a young boy and I was a young mom. The mere recognition of the passage of so much time causes its own despair.

I find myself grieving over our broken world. The seemingly everyday news of bombings and shootings and ISIS and terror feels overwhelming to me.   I’m often disappointed by a lack of clear moral leadership coming from political (highlighted in this current presidential election circus) and religious leaders.

While preparing for our family Christmas, I heard from two friends experiencing tragic circumstances amidst this holiday season. One friend’s son was seriously injured in a sports-related accident, her father died, and she broke her hip – all within a couple weeks. Another friend, as a result of a series of setbacks, was on the brink of losing her home. I felt heavy and helpless. What am I to do with all this suffering? And how can I feel the joy of the season with so much brokenness around me? I did what little I could for my friends – I visited the first friend, brought her lunch, Christmas cookies and a wreath (since she couldn’t drive to get one). I sent the other friend some money and prayed for her. But I struggle with a sometimes overpowering sense of futility and pain when people around me are hurting.

How can I feel the joy of the season with so much brokenness around me?

How can I feel the joy of the season with so much brokenness around me?

And then last Sunday, as if on cue, God met me and blessed me.   The church sermon that morning was entitled “Waiting for God to Send Peace.” Our Pastor Megan spoke to our challenge as Christians in finding the peace of Christ in a broken world. It was the sermon for which I had been longing and I needed to hear. It reminded me that, although I can’t turn a blind eye to violence around me, my peace comes through my relationship with God. My worldly responsibility is to show compassion in the midst of pain and strife. Pastor Megan reminded us of Jesus’ parting words to his disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

That same afternoon, our church sponsored a concert entitled “What Shall We Give Him?” highlighting Courtney B. Vance reading the Christmas Scripture from Luke 2. I found myself weeping while listening to the music and the words of the sacred Christmas music. When the Christmas Scripture from Luke was read, what initially caught my attention were these words:

In those days a decree went out from emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Ouirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Holy cow! Was the family of Jesus Christ an early example of Syrian refugees? As I sat contemplating current events in light of this text, I abruptly felt the convergence of the past, presence and future. I was unexpectedly comforted by the words of carols, many I’ve heard since I was a child, but which in that moment took on new and powerful meaning.

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new born King,

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

God blessed me with the reassurance that my care of my friends and family, that my voice for good in the world, will make a difference, and that He will give me peace. As I left the church, like Mary, “pondering all these things in my heart,” the words of Scottish poet Alexander Smith finally made perfect sense: “Christmas is the day that holds all time together.”

What the Heisman Trophy Says About Us

This past Saturday, the 2015 Heisman Trophy was awarded in New York City. The previous Monday night, I excitedly watched live as the finalists were announced. When only three names were read, and Keenan Reynolds (senior quarterback at Navy) was not one of them, I felt an overwhelming disappointment.

First let me say, congratulations to all three Heisman finalists. They are worthy recipients and I wish not to diminish their accomplishments. Let me also say, I am a lifelong Navy football fan (USNA daughter, wife and mom) so its fair to say I am biased.

Why am I so saddened about this year’s Heisman Trophy? I’ve spent some time reflecting about this. (Believe me, I rarely get worked up about anything sports-related.) I am disappointed because it was an enormous missed opportunity. The Heisman Trust and voters had a chance to boldly look past cultural norms of success (Big Schools, Big Money) to choose someone who clearly embodies the aspirational qualities the Heisman purportedly stands for.

The Heisman Trust Mission Statement reads:

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. Heisman.com

I hate to single out the Heisman, but the award is emblematic of a larger problem in our culture, where role models are increasingly entertainers and professional athletes, and power and money equate with success, yet we lament the “moral decay” of our society. If we truly value integrity, we must proactively spotlight alternative role models who exemplify exceptional character. I think about some past Heisman winners, who may have been excellent football players and played for top college teams and pursued successful NFL careers, but whose high-profile conduct off the field (played out in the media) exhibited questionable character and choices.  Are they good models of excellence with integrity?

If I were in charge of awarding the Heisman Trophy, I would give it to Keenan Reynolds, a young man who personifies excellence with integrity.

Keenan Reynolds, Navy Quarterback (Navy Athletics)

Keenan Reynolds, Navy Quarterback
(Navy Athletics)

Reynolds deserved serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy based on his football accomplishments alone. In 2015, previously independent Navy joined the American Athletic Conference (amidst high anxiety as to how Navy would fare), and Keenan led the team to a 10-2 record, victories over Air Force and Army (securing the coveted Commander-in-Chief Trophy), and a national ranking of #21. Saturday he became the first quarterback in the history of the Army-Navy series to go 4-0 against its rival. This season, Reynolds received national attention for setting the record (previously held by past Heisman finalist Montee Ball) for most rushing touchdowns in NCAA Division 1 history (85). The list of his records and accomplishments is astounding. See NavySports.com for a more comprehensive review.

More remarkable is the unprecedented impact Reynolds has had on the entire Navy football program, more than any Navy player I can remember. As a four-year starting quarterback (highly unusual at Navy) his mastery of Navy’s complicated triple-option offense is unmatched. This offense capitalizes on quickness and QB decision-making to equalize Navy’s perennial size disadvantage. The triple option requires the QB to make the right split-second decision on every play, and under Keenan, the Navy offense clicked into high gear. The success of the Navy football team under Reynolds’ leadership infused the entire Naval Academy, indeed the entire US Navy, with enormous pride.

His on-the-field accomplishments are particularly extraordinary given that he achieved them as a Midshipman at the Naval Academy. In addition to football, Keenan carried a significant academic load while undergoing rigorous military training. When he graduates from the Academy in May, rather than cashing in on a lucrative NFL contract, he will serve a five-year military commitment in the U.S. Navy. His service assignment is Information Warfare (Cyber security) a highly competitive slot in which 25 physically qualified midshipmen interviewed for five spots.Keenan Reynolds balances football, intense course load

We watched, over the course of his four years at Navy, as Reynolds grew into a true leader of leaders. Since he overlapped three years with our son at USNA, we attended many of his home games and witnessed the excitement he brought to the program. As a senior, he was voted team captain and led by example, on and off the field. I read and watched countless articles and interviews with Keenan, and was always struck by his humble, selfless approach. He consistently deflected individual attention and gave credit to his teammates for every accomplishment. The Navy football team gathered after practice on Monday to watch the Heisman finalist announcement, expecting to celebrate together. They were reportedly “bummed” and stunned that Keenan was not named a finalist. Washington Post

Although only counting as one vote in the overall tabulation, Reynolds won the 2015 Heisman fan vote (partly due to a highly mobilized Navy fan base). Overall, Keenan finished fifth (the highest finish in the Heisman balloting by a Service Academy player since Navy’s Roger Staubach won the award in 1963). According to the Heisman website, between three and eight of the top candidates are invited to New York for the trophy presentation, and these are considered the Heisman Finalists for that year. Presumably because the vote totals dropped significantly after the top three candidates, only three finalists were invited to New York.

Even more disappointing than Heisman voters overlooking this extraordinary young man was the failure of the Heisman Trustees to invite five finalists to New York. Since the Army-Navy football game (in Philadelphia) was the same day as the Heisman Trophy ceremony (in New York), Navy had plans to helicopter Keenan and his family to the ceremony. What an honor, indeed a source of national pride, it would have been to see Reynolds at the ceremony, on national TV, in his Navy service dress blue uniform. Would it have been such a stretch to invite two more finalists to the ceremony?

A Heisman Trophy, even just an invitation to the ceremony, would have meant the world to not only Keenan and his family, but to all the Service Academies and to the men and women serving our country. It would have sent an important message recognizing one of their own as a shimmering example of “the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” I rooted for Keenan Reynolds for the Heisman not only because he’s Navy and deserves the award as a player, but also because he so impressively embodies those qualities we should demand in our role models. Although I am sad for him, I suspect Keenan Reynolds will have a bright future, with or without the Trophy.   What our awards say about us is what makes me most sad.

The Kid is Alright (And So Am I)

We spent this Thanksgiving with our son (my only child) in Florida. He graduated from the Naval Academy in May and is now waiting to start flight training. I am therefore passing into yet another new stage of parenting, having an adult college-educated son who is completely independent. He has an apartment, a car and a job. He really doesn’t need us for anything.

Looking back, the two hardest transitions for me were his first day of kindergarten and the first month after he left home for college. My husband had to peel me away from the front door of the elementary school when we dropped him off at kindergarten. I blubbered all the way home about this being “the beginning of the end.” The first month of his “Plebe Summer” at the Academy, I missed him terribly. Our house and lives suddenly became strangely quiet, and I found myself pacing anxiously around the house and staring at his empty room. I physically ached from the loss of his everyday company.

Somewhere around the beginning of his senior year at the Academy, long after finally and happily settling into my role as USNA Mom, I began to feel a pit in my stomach, knowing that my son would soon be leaving the relatively safe Academy environment (that I had grown to love) and that his chosen career would become increasingly dangerous as he pursues his future training and then faces prospective deployments. After we said good-bye this past May, following his graduation, we knew we might not see him again until Christmas. I anticipated another tough adjustment, but I have to say, so far this stage has been much easier than I thought.   I feel surprisingly at peace being less actively involved in his life.

I believe there gradually comes a point in the parenting relationship, where both our kids and we realize that it is us (the parents) that yearn for more time with them (the kids) than they yearn for with us.  The early to mid twenties is also an important time for our kids to independently build their own identities.   When I reflect on my own past with my own parents, I am reminded of the importance of “releasing” my son for his vital personal development.   Besides, quite frankly, I find much in the life of a 22-year-old male somewhat unappealing, and often the “son” I miss hanging out with is the 8-year-old version (the one for whom I was the center of his universe). Added to that, my husband and I have built an active and enjoyable life together.

As for the future dangers in my son’s military career, I try not to think about it too much.  I put his safety into God’s hands and remind myself that he is doing exactly what he’s always wanted to do and he will be well trained.  (Of course, it is still relatively easy to ignore my fears while he is waiting around for training to begin, so check back in another year or two on that one!)

What is important to me personally, though, as I adjust to this stage of parenting, is to (1) maintain a connection with my son, and (2) know that he is okay. In my quest to sustain a connection, we frequently text each other, and routinely talk every Sunday by phone. Our Sunday calls, however, are often more interrogation than chat. Our son is not naturally talkative – he doesn’t hide information, but he doesn’t freely volunteer it either. Therefore, expertly framing and posing the right questions is a key skill when talking to him. When physically with him, however, we have long conversations (usually over meals) and I feel connected and caught up with his life. Since he had plenty of time on his hands (waiting for flight training to start) our Florida visit was pure gold. He was relaxed; we talked, laughed, and enjoyed several activities (and daytrips) together. He and I have always shared a sense of humor (that sometimes stumps even my husband) and he can make me laugh like few others. We are fortunate that our son still enjoys spending time with us (or at least cheerfully tolerates it). And though I admit I occasionally still long for my little boy, there are many parts of this stage of life that I enjoy even more. What a godsend to realize I’ve raised someone that I truly like!

A visit to my son's workplace

A visit to my son’s workplace

Most importantly, I was able to do my “Mom’s Due Diligence” and feel content that my son is okay. I saw his apartment. It is attractive and in a great location. I met his two roommates. They are polite and respectful. I visited his workplace. I inspected his car. No scrapes or dings, and it has been conscientiously well maintained. I met some of his friends. They are solid buddies. I went to his volleyball and basketball games and chatted with his teammates. They are affable and supportive. He introduced us to his new girlfriend. She is adorable, funny and smart, and she clearly appreciates my son and treats him with respect.

I know I will have fewer such opportunities to pop into his life as his career progresses. The future may be uncertain, and although it may not always be so, for now, we are connected and the kid is alright. And so am I. And that is my Thanksgiving blessing.

Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

A Love Letter to Paris

Our first trip after I retired two years ago, was to Paris, a city I’d wanted to visit my entire life, and where, I informed my husband at about the 15 year mark, we would celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. And so, we celebrated my retirement and our silver wedding anniversary with a 2-1/2 week, magical, unforgettable, Parisian holiday.  Following the abject evil that has visited Paris this week,  I am reposting this blog I wrote soon after our trip as a tribute to this beautiful city and my tender memories of our French hosts.  “Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité”

After spending over 2 weeks in Paris recently, I’ve been repeatedly asked what I enjoyed most about the trip.  Rather than show the 30-minute slide show (with music!) that I’ve been subjecting my friends to, I’ll do a quick run-down. Note that my opinions are completely based on this, my one and only, trip to Paris, but here goes:

A typical view on our night-time walk back to our apartment

A typical view on our night-time walks back to our apartment

The nights – The city is at its absolute magical and romantic best at night.  With the lights illuminating the buildings, monuments and the Seine, Paris by night is spectacularly beautiful.  My husband and I would find a restaurant each night, where we would enjoy a magnificent. 3-hour dinner with a bottle of wine (we never had a bad meal) and then walk back to our apartment hand-in-hand, completely mesmerized with the city and each other.  It was as if we were under Paris’s spell.

Me and my "vela" across from Notre DameBike riding – We went on two bike tours in Paris.  One was a day tour with Bike About Tours and the other a night tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours.  Both cater to English-speaking tourists and provide young spunky guides to steer their charges through the perils of Paris boulevards and provide some commentary along the way.  We were at first skeptical of the wisdom of taking on Paris by bike, but the tours came highly recommended so we decided to chance it…and loved it!    We found biking an easier and faster way to cover more ground than walking. For our day tour, we rode all over the city with a lovely young Swedish guide named Angelica.  She gave us historical commentary as well as her personal perspective as a young student immigrant to Paris.   For our night tour, we had a young burly German-American guide named Nick who was in Paris working on a master’s degree in information technology.  His main goal was to keep us all alive.  I have never been more terrified (and more euphoric) than on our ride down Boulevard St Germaine at night in heavy traffic.  Nick’s often-repeated survival strategy was for us to all stay together in a block and when faced with oncoming traffic use “The Power of the Palm” (i.e., holding the hand in a bold gesture toward the oncoming vehicle.)  My gratitude at outliving that stretch turned to wonderment when we crossed the Seine and biked into the courtyard of the Louvre.  I was overcome with emotion at the beauty of the scene.  I remember thinking to myself “I can’t friggin’ believe that I am actually here at the Louvre… at night…on a bike!”  It was beyond cool.

Seine River cruise – I signed us up for the evening of the first full day we were in Paris, thinking it would be a nice introduction to the city.  But we couldn’t find the boat launch and it was one frustrating experience walking around the docks dressed up trying to find the right spot and not able to ask for directions (see my previous post about my issues with French).  Later in the week, after I read the instructions more carefully and realized we actually walked right by the launch twice, we did the cruise on what proved to be a much better, clearer night.   We saw a dramatic sunset onboard during dinner, and then the lights of the city. The waiter was kind enough to move us to a window seat.  And by this time, having spent a little time walking around the city, it was enjoyable to see familiar sights from the water.

Musee D’Orsay – This was by far my favorite museum.  It is housed in a former train station, which itself is stunning.  The D’Orsay holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh.  It was also where the seemingly meek museum security guard suddenly shouted “Madame!” at me from across the lobby when I took an unauthorized photo (I couldn’t help myself).  My second favorite museum was the Musee de l’Orangerie, which contains the famous water lilies paintings by Monet.  This was a quick 20-minute stop but one of the most unforgettable.

Luxembourg Gardens – I’ve been to several famous parks and gardens in the U.S., including New York’s Central Park, but I have never seen anything like Luxembourg Gardens.  The flowers!  The lake!  The fountains!  We strolled through during the middle of a weekday afternoon and it was bustling with Parisians soaking up sun, children on the playground, tennis matches and bocce ball games in progress.  It was an explosion of color and beauty and activity.  I later read that the French equivalent CIA has it headquarters under the park, which only added to its appeal.

Waiting at the "Midnight in Paris" stairs for the Magic Cab to pick me up!

Waiting at the “Midnight in Paris” stairs for the Magic Cab to pick me up!

Walking  – We loved exploring the neighborhoods of Paris.  One day on a whim we did a “Midnight in Paris” treasure hunt.  We re-watched the Woody Allen movie before we left home and decided to find the scene locations.  We found a self-tour someone had posted on-line and set off on our quest. We found two of Hemingway’s apartments, Gertrude Stein’s salon, homes of Cole Porter and Ezra Pound, and the famous “stairs,” where the character played by Owen Wilson stops and rests after getting lost in Paris one evening.  Around the corner comes a vintage 1920s cab, which picks him up and transports him back in time, where he meets Hemingway, Porter, Stein and others.  The actual stairs used in the movie are at the Church of St Etienne du Mont near the Pantheon. We also did a self-tour of the Montmartre area, and found an eclectic mix of sites including Picasso’s studio, Renoir’s apartment, Van Gogh’s house, the café from the French film Amelie and the last remaining vineyard in Paris.

The Jupiter Fountain Water Show

The Jupiter Fountain Water Show

The Gardens of Versailles – I didn’t care much for the Chateau (palace) of the Louis’ (XIV – XVI).  It was definitely worth seeing — beautiful in an ostentatious, over-the-top sort of way.  But the crowds were horrific and I was happy to be spilled out the back door to what I found most spectacular and memorable about the visit – the gardens.  It was a stunningly gorgeous day and we were fortunate to visit on a day when the water fountains were flowing.  The last thing we saw before leaving was a 15-minute water display at the “Jupiter Fountain” made up of at least 40 individual fountains.  It was not high-tech, with lights or lasers or gadgetry,  but rather a lovely and graceful water display on a beautiful day with period music playing in the background.  At the conclusion, I noticed a young worker who carried what proved to be an enormous ancient metal sprinkler key (not unlike a gigantic version of ours before we installed automatic timers) open a cap in the pavement, turn a valve with the key, and off went the water!  Just as they’ve been doing since the 1790s no doubt.

Normandy and Giverny – We took two side-trips, one to Normandy to tour the D-day Beaches and Mont St Michel, and the other to Giverny to see Monet’s house and garden.  Both were highlights of the trip and warrant posts of their own to describe.

My first night-time viewof the Eiffel Tower, doing its sparkle show!

My first night-time view of the Eiffel Tower, doing its sparkle show!

Eiffel Tower – Even though I’d seen a zillion pictures my entire life, the Eiffel Tower in person is still hands down the most spectacular sight in Paris.  I’d already been to Epcot Center and Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casinso (with its scale model of the Tower) so I thought I’d already pretty much seen it.  But the sight of the real thing in person at night takes your breath away. The night of our ill-fated dinner cruise (when we couldn’t find the launch spot) we instead went to dinner at a restaurant nearby.  As we rounded a corner, I caught my first sight of the Eiffel Tower all lit up.  Not only that…every hour on the hour for five minutes there is a sparkly light display on the Tower……and that was my first view.   I immediately burst into tears at the sight.   I realized that, even though we missed our dinner cruise and I was initially terribly disappointed, in this city there are countless other splendors just waiting around the corner.

A Veterans Day Remembrance

Today is Veterans Day.  Ten years ago today, my father, a USNA graduate and U.S. Navy veteran, passed away.  I’m again sharing this post I wrote two years ago after we visited Normandy, as I remember my Dad and “The Greatest Generation.”

Normandy: Paying Our Respects

I wish every American could visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy and pay tribute to the servicemen who risked or sacrificed their lives there.  We were privileged to do so on our recent trip to France and it was one of the most unforgettable parts of our journey.

Prior to leaving Paris for Normandy, my husband and I watched “Saving Private Ryan” on DVD.  I previously eschewed this movie; afraid I would be unable to stomach the gristly D-Day battle scenes.  However, in preparation for our D-Day tour, I felt it important to watch to gain a small measure of appreciation for what the troops braved.

We took a 2-hour train from Paris on Friday evening and spent the weekend at the Hotel Churchill (reputed to have been Eisenhower’s favorite hotel during the war) in Bayeux, which was the closest village to the D-Day beaches that was left untouched during the conflict.  On Saturday, we toured the American D-Day beaches.

Our guide was Dominique, a French woman whose family resided in the area for generations.  She was extremely knowledgeable, spoke excellent English due to a stint in Santa Barbara, CA, and gave us a local perspective on historical events.  She peppered her commentary with personal stories of relatives who participated in the French Resistance and their involvement with the occupation and liberation, which was fascinating.

What I learned, from a historical perspective, was that the D-Day beaches were code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah, for purposes of the Allied invasion on June 6, 1944. The Americans were responsible for Omaha and Utah and these were the beaches we visited.   Young soldiers (many of them 18 – 20 years old with no previous combat experience) carrying 70 libs of battle gear apiece were transported in flat bottom boats in rough waters to the shore (many becoming seasick) and dropped into the cold water, several drowning under the weight of their gear even before reaching shore.

The first units, taking advantage of surprise, made their way quickly to farmland at Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches.  Americans at Omaha were not that lucky.  There, in the center of the battlefront, soldiers walked into a wall of German gunfire.  Earlier bombing raids had been largely ineffective in taking out the heavy German armaments.  Attempting to scale a bluff well covered by German defenders, more than 2,000 GIs were killed or wounded.   After penetrating corpse-laden beaches, the soldiers ran into a maze of hedgerows in which the Germans had stationed machine gunners, invisible to the Allies until they were virtually on top of them. But by nightfall, they had secured the bluff and later proceeded to join troops enroute to liberating France.

No one is certain of the exact numbers, but there were probably around 4,500 American and Allied casualties the first day, horrific yet considerably less than the 75,000 some planners had feared. That more troops were not killed is testimony to the planning, training and weaponry of the Allies.

My husband wading into the waters at Omaha Beach

My husband wading into the waters at Omaha Beach

Watching “Saving Private Ryan” beforehand helped to personalized the story of Omaha Beach.  The movie conveys the terror, anxiety, sadness and horror felt by the young men who participated in D-Day.  During our tour, even though the weather was blustery and cold (but warmer than the actual D-Day), my husband (himself a military veteran) wore shorts and sandals, and he walked down the beach and into the water so he could feel what the troops felt and, looking back at the shore, see what they saw.  We observed the immense width of the beaches (which were not as low tide as on the actual D-Day) GIs were required to traverse in the face of withering enemy fire, remnants of the heavily fortified German bunkers and weaponry, the craters still visible from Allied bombing, the lethal hedgerows; all combined to leave us overcome with a profound sense of sadness for the loss of so many and a deep gratitude for their courage. We were heartened to witness the gratitude still felt and exhibited by the French in Normandy toward Americans.

The American Cemetery in Normandy

The American Cemetery in Normandy

The next stop after Omaha Beach was the American Cemetery, overlooking Omaha, where 9,300 U.S. service men and women are buried, representing only a third of the total U.S. casualties in Normandy (the remaining two-thirds were returned home at their families’ request).   Half of those killed in Normandy had no previous combat experience.  This I found the most emotional part of the visit.   Rows and rows of marble crosses and Stars of David stretched as far as the eye could see.  As I walked through these sacred grounds, with tears streaming down my face, I read the names and ages and hometowns of those resting there.  Age 19, age 20, age 18—– it was heartbreaking and I considered my anguish if one of these were my own 20-year-old son.   I said quiet prayers of gratitude for them and prayers of comfort for their families.

The British Cemetery in Bayeux

The British Cemetery in Bayeux

The next day, after we returned to Bayeux, we visited the British Cemetery, where 4,650 are buried (including some Germans).  It was a lovely cemetery with rows of stone markers decorated with colorful flowers.   I again felt overcome with emotion, particularly as I read the personal messages on the gravestones.  One in particular caught my eye and tugged at my heartstrings:

TREASURED MEMORIES OF A DEAR SON

HE WAS SO YOUNG TO GIVE SO MUCH

"He was so young to give so much"

“He was so young to give so much”

We should always remember the sacrifices made by these young men and remember that they were just that – young men.  Each had a story and a future and a family and hopes and dreams.  No matter how terrified, they said “yes” to the call, and the result was the preservation of life and freedom for others.  I am grateful that I was able to travel to this awful, beautiful, and blessed place to personally say thank you to these valiant heroes of the “Greatest Generation”.