It’s Not Just Politics

The past few days have been tough. Following what will likely go down as one of the most bitter elections in U.S. history, America has elected Donald Trump – a morally (and literally, six times over) bankrupt man with no experience in governing or world affairs who ran a hateful and divisive campaign.

I’ve been posting to social media. A lot. At first it was the only way I could process and make sense of the situation. And then it actually became somewhat comforting to share thoughts and feelings with all of the other people I know who are equally dismayed about the future of our country.

Many people misunderstand the sadness and anger. No, it isn’t because “my team lost”. This is not a football game. This is real life, the future of a country and its people, what electing this kind of person means not just in terms of policies he might set and enforce, but the kind of climate we live in – what is acceptable and what is not.

I’ve battled with the fight or flight syndrome. Stay and put up the best fight I can? Or move to a place like Canada or Sweden that better suits my values? I realized that while flight could be a long-term prospect (and I’m awfully thankful my daughters are dual citizens), at least I’m fortunate enough to live in a state that overwhelmingly voted against Trump and is filled with people who believe in equality for all and many other values I hold dear.

So what do writers do in these times? Write. Write to make sense of it all. Write for purposes of release and catharsis. Write to share with others and perhaps, gain understanding.

The first point I’ve had to battle with friends or acquaintances who either voted for Trump, voted third party or simply – and worse – didn’t vote at all, is that it’s just politics, it’s only four years, move on and come together. That he’s just one man.

  1. Point One: It isn’t just politics this time, folks. It’s the future our children and grandchildren and it’s the kind of country we want to live in. When you elect someone to the highest office of your land,  you’re saying that this person – and all they say, do and embody – represents your country to its children and to the rest of the world. You hold the person to a higher standard and you hold him or her accountable for his or her behavior. To elect a man who ran the most hatred-filled and divisive campaign in history, someone who demeaned and assaulted women, who threatened to ban all Muslims, who referred to immigrants as rapists and criminals, who has offended African-Americans, Jews, the disabled and LGBT people, says something about your country and who you want to lead it. It isn’t just politics. The electing of this man to our highest office is not just politics as usual. It is unprecedented.
  2. Point Two: It isn’t just four years, but let’s talk about those four years. In those four years, so much progress could be rolled back and so much damage could be done. Trump will likely appoint several Supreme Court justices. These Court appointments are for life and those justices could make decisions that affect the present – and future – of every American. If you’re a white male living in America, you may not see much at stake. But already we’re seeing the effects of electing someone who has spewed racist, misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric, seemingly making it “normal” and “ok” when it is anything but that. We’re seeing a rise in hate crimes, bullying and excitement among groups like the KKK, who suddenly feel their positions have been legitimized and they can operate as if they are normal – rather than unwanted and despised elements of society. I hear people claim that Trump is not responsible for that, nor are the good people who voted for him, voted third party or didn’t vote. I beg to differ. Trump spewed the rhetoric, incited the violence, called his comments about grabbing women’s genitals just “locker room talk” and because we as a country did not reject any of this, we have given the signal that all of it is ok – more than ok , he somehow deserves to hold the highest office in our land. This is beyond despicable. Yes, I’m having trouble coming to terms with the fact that not only did people in this country vote for him, but many people did not do all they could to stop him.  I have gay, immigrant and Muslim friends, and at least half of my family are Jewish and women, and you’d better believe that we are all worried and fearful of what the next four years hold. Only four years? For a white male, perhaps. For the rest of us, it isn’t just about the policies a Trump administration could put in place, it’s about the climate of our country where it is suddenly ok to hate and discriminate against all of these groups of people.
  3. Point three: Move on and come together. I see the wisdom in not spending my days posting on social media. I can’t be angry forever. I can’t cry many more tears. But I will not “move on” and “come together” under someone whose message was the exact opposite. Trump and his supporters drove a hard line of division into this country and his election lit a fire under all those who would hate and discriminate against people of color, immigrants, women, Jews and Muslims and LGBT -and I will NEVER come together under anyone who holds those views. Instead, I will do everything in my power to fight against the views and policies of Trump and those who support him, I will do everything I can to protect innocent people from falling victim to anyone who hates, bullies or tries to discriminate against them. Many think we are overreacting. Open your eyes, turn off Fox News and look at a variety of news sources both in and outside the United States right now. You will see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s ugly and I, for one, will not accept it.
  4. He’s just one man. Certainly. And we have a congress – now fully in control of the Republican party. Again, this isn’t about politics. While I am a registered Democrat, I have voted for Republicans in the past and I have many moderate Republican friends (most of whom wisely voted for Hilary Clinton) with whom I share both differences and similarities. I never felt the world was imploding when Ronald Reagan or George Bush the first were elected. Indeed, I was upset by the second election of George W. Bush and was horrified by the Iraq war quagmire, but I never thought our basic humanity, decency and all of the tenets our country was founded on were at stake. With this one man, they are. It’s possible that even without the checks and balances of Democrats leading the House or Senate, sane Republicans will curb Trump’s desire to radically change policy. But regardless of the policies – again – this isn’t just politics. It’s about human decency, equality, the way we behave with our fellow man and woman. I buy the argument that many good people voted for him because they wanted change or hated Clinton, but they still knew the full package they were getting and those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for anyone or at least not for Clinton, knew what Trump brought to the table. They knew he was endorsed by the KKK. They knew David Duke rallied for his election. They knew Putin and the Russians were hacking the DNC and rooting for Donald Trump. They knew that Trump was guilty of saying and doing horrific things against women and people of color because they HEARD and SAW it with their own ears and eyes. And yet – they still elected or allowed him to be elected. He’s just one man, but he has changed the climate of our country for everyone – especially those who are not white males.

To quote Dylan Thomas “do not go gentle into that dark night”. Or to quote my favorite NHL coach, “We will not go quietly.” I will not go gently or quietly. I will speak up. I will use my voice. I will use my actions. I will watch where each dime I spend goes. I will fight against Trump and everything his election says about this country and everything he stands for. Most of all, I will fight for those people who are endangered not just by potential policy changes but by the horrifying change of climate in this country where it’s suddenly ok to bully, hate, exclude and discriminate. In short, Trump’s vision of America? This will never, ever be my America.

Is This What it Sounds Like When Doves Cry?

when-doves-cryPrince died today. He wasn’t my favorite artist nor did I ever have the chance to see him perform. But he was certainly a touchstone for a time in my life that was peppered with equal measures of excitement, angst and emotional upheaval.

That time was the 1980s. I was at UCLA and life seemed to be spread out before me like a banquet, ripe for the tasting. You didn’t escape Prince on the radio or on the newly-launched MTV back then whether it was “Little Red Corvette”, “Controversy”, “1999” or his masterpiece, “Purple Rain”. In the early 1980s, when I turned my borderline obsession-compulsion with going to aerobics classes into a part-time job, Prince’s “I Would Die for You” was featured on my very first aerobics tape (that’s right: cassette tape). It was a fun time to be young. I think Prince knew that.

This isn’t just about Prince, though. It’s about David Bowie, Glenn Frey or any of the many talented musicians out there that bring us joy, pain and sorrow through their art. And it’s about the actors, writers, painters, athletes that are all part of the fabric of our lives and to which we form an attachment. It’s about emotional investment.

Some people call me “passionate”. I am ultra-aware that I am often too emotionally-invested in things that bring me pleasure, but in equal measures, pain. It’s why I am an easy target for taunting when my Los Angeles Kings or UCLA Bruins lose. It’s why in my work life, I often follow my clients to their next job and their next, and why I sometimes go to bat beyond the point of reason for a decision I disagree with. It’s why I cried when David Bowie died. And again when I heard about Glenn Frey. And again, today, for Prince.

Partially, it’s about feeling your own mortality. If Bowie and Frey and Prince are gone at ages that are now not too far from my own, I am suddenly cognizant of how fast time is moving and how little time might be left. In part, it’s the reminder of people I used to know, places I used to go, things I loved and lost, memories that are stored away but brought quickly to the surface just by hearing a few notes. I’ll never hear “Young Americans” and not remember a particular summer between junior and senior year of college when two of my friends – one, a summer love – painted my Mom’s living room in exchange for beer and that song blared from the speakers. I’ll never hear “I Can’t Tell You Why” and not think of my college roommate who loved – and actually possessed the vocal chops – to sing it around our apartment on Gayley Avenue. I’ll never hear “Baby I’m a Star” and not think of the little aerobics studio in La Jolla where I first started teaching and where my summer was a blur of teaching classes, riding my bike to the beach and drinking margaritas at Jose’s Cantina.

Certainly, it begs the question: is such a fervent emotional investment worth it?  My girls sometimes make fun of my intensity watching hockey games or my excitement at a concert. Or wonder why I would cry over the death of someone I never knew personally. I tell them it’s not just about the game or the team or the artist or the song. It’s about what it all represents. And it’s simply inevitable that anything that gives you so much happiness when it’s all going well, is going to bring you sorrow when it doesn’t.

Is it worth it? As I listen to “Purple Rain”, feeling a familiar pang as the memories shelved long ago flood over me, I want to say no, but I know that’s not true. For me, the answer can only be yes. A resounding and emphatic yes.

Letting Go

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The plane begins its descent and I shift in my seat and look out the window. Nearly home. My younger daughter, sitting beside me leans her head on my shoulder and reaches for my hand, intertwining her fingers with mine. My heart does a small leap and I clasp her hand a bit tighter. She is seventeen, nearly an adult, and these moments don’t come often anymore.

We are on our way back from a college visit. She is “stressed” about making the right choice. I tell her she has choices and choices are good. There are so many places that could be right for her and she will figure it out. She nods her head but I can see in her eyes that my words are of little comfort. She will have my experiences and her Dad’s experiences and her sister’s experiences to draw from, and plenty of advice from us, from well-meaning friends and other family. But ultimately, she will have to choose.

Her eyes close and we push through the clouds. I stare out the window and try to remember the last time she held my hand to cross a street or climb the steps onto the school bus or approach a neighbor’s door at Halloween. When she was little, we held hands all the time. A small, daily act taken for granted, as so many are when our children are small. We think we’ll remember every second, then with the passage of time and all of the many activities filling our days, our memory fades and we wish we could have taken a snapshot of those moments.

When the kids were young there were always dishes to wash, laundry to be done, bills to be paid. There was work and the dog and all of the sports and activities and playdates and school and homework. In a blink, they were out the door, driving their own cars, and while there was worry, there was also relief. Time alone, time to do whatever we like. The end of being a chauffeur and the beginning of the next stage in parenting.

I have been through this once already, I think. It should be easier. Somehow, it feels a bit harder. It could be because she is the baby of the family. It could be because facing an empty nest is quite different from having one child leave home. It could be because I’m older and more aware of the time slipping away. Whatever the reason, there are mixed emotions. Excitement for her and the next chapter in her life. Anticipation of the freedom that comes with an empty nest. A bit of jealousy at the wonderful experiences that await her. But also sadness that this chapter is closing. That she is moving on and away and of course, things will never be the same. Riddled with doubt as to what the future holds and how everything will change forever.

The aircraft hits a few bumps on its way down and she shifts in her seat to look out the window. She begins to untangle her hand from mine. Don’t let go, I whisper silently to myself. I take a deep breath and swallow hard. There will be no tears. She is letting go and so am I. Don’t let go, the voice inside me pleads. But I know it’s time and while we have a few more months like this, it is inevitable.

And then, we both let go.

The End of the Lane: A Swim Mom’s Reflections

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When my oldest daughter, Shannyn, was just a few months old, I remember placing her in the little baby seat that helped keep her safe and propped up in the tub and watching her gleefully splash at the water around her. As a toddler, she liked to stand in the bathtub, fill up a bucket with water and pour it over her head. It was clear that she loved the water and as it turned out, the water loved her back. For nearly 17 years, “swimmer” is a word that has largely defined her, so last Saturday was a somewhat remarkable day. Last Saturday, she hung up her cap and goggles for good and Sunday, she officially became a retired swimmer.

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Living in California, near the ocean and with plenty of pools in our neighborhood, we knew water safety was of utmost importance, so at the tender age of 18 months, we took Shannyn to a local swim school for lessons. When she had mastered all four strokes by the age of five and still didn’t want to leave the pool, we signed her up for the swim school’s novice team.  At eight, the swim school told us it might be time to move her to a competitive swim club, as she was getting a bit fast for the novice meets. She was reluctant to move and leave the comfort of the school and many of her friends. She had always been a cautious child, slow to warm up to new situations. We waited a year, until she decided she was ready to take the plunge (sorry, pun-intended). Nearly ten crazy, grueling, exciting, emotionally exhausting and heart-wrenching years later, Shannyn graduated from high school and her competitive swim team, Conejo Simi Swim Club, and accepted a NCAA Division 1 swim scholarship to the University of Arizona.

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And Saturday, nearly four years later, we watched our Wildcat swim her last race. I am trying to find the words to describe what this journey has been like as a parent. I know for Shannyn, despite the hard work, the struggles, the commitment, the sacrifices and the disappointments, swimming has been one of the best things in her life.  For a long time, it WAS her life. Swimming has taught her so many critical lessons. Those who have never participated in athletics nor have had their children participate, often don’t understand the value, the challenges or the rewards of being a student-athlete. I remember a relative once asked me why Shannyn would commit all of this time and energy to a college sport if she had no interest in becoming a swim coach! In retrospect, this is the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who has no knowledge of, or appreciation for athletics. At the time, I just remember being a bit stunned, then defensive. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can answer that question quite easily:

  1. Being a college athlete paid for the bulk of her education. This is not the norm, so, of course, parents looking to place their children in sports purely to earn a scholarship are misguided. It was never the goal, but fortunately for our family, it happened. According to Scholarship Stats, only about 7% of high school athletes are granted the privilege of participating in their sport at the college level, with only 2% of those participating at the Division 1 level. In women’s swimming, the odds of getting any scholarship money are one in 31.  In just making it onto a college team, Shannyn beat the odds, and in earning a scholarship, she accomplished something extraordinary. She will graduate without debt – a huge (and sadly, rare) accomplishment in the U.S. today.
  2.  Being a college athlete has meant critical academic support and perks.  Free tutoring, expected study hall sessions and the pressure of a team for whom having a high, all-around group GPA is top-of-mind, has been invaluable to our daughter who was always a decent student, but needed a little extra support and push to become a good student. Being named student of the month for her GPA early in her academic career, then later, earning PAC-12 All Academic Honors and being named to the Dean’s List were accomplishments that I could not have foreseen had she not had the support athletics afforded her. And there were “fun” perks that also saved us dollars: free athletic clothing and shoes including those expensive fast suits and free admission to all of the sports on campus. Another benefit? Being respected on her campus by other athletic teams, students, coaches and faculty. Being a swimmer at U of A carries with it a sense of pride and admiration. Even Arizona football coach, Rich Rodriguez, when he first joined the University told his players that he would only be satisfied when they “worked as hard as the swim team.”
  3. Being part of a collegiate team meant having an “instant family”. While many freshmen struggle with finding their way around a big university and fitting in, Shannyn had an entire team behind her from the moment she committed to Arizona. The team became her peer group, her circle of friends, her family. The friendships and bonds these athletes create by showing up day after day to train and compete together are like no other and will stay with her for life.
  4. A college athlete gets to travel.  Throughout her swim career, Shannyn has had the opportunity to travel across the U.S. and to other countries to train and compete. From Indianapolis to Las Vegas, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Halmstad, Sweden, during both her club and college swim careers, she has had the opportunity to visit many places. I happen to believe that travel and the experience of other cultures is one of the best forms of education, so you might say that Shannyn has received “bonus” education on top of her academic experience.
  5. Being an athlete has taught her numerous life lessons and “the intangibles”. To commit to a sport, stick with it when times are tough and come out the other end, having experienced success and plenty of failure, is an incredible lesson in real life. For those who believe college is only of value for finding a career and making money, it’s a fact that employers love hiring student-athletes because they know that the critical skills these athletes have learned translate into a successful employee: Discipline. Commitment. Time Management. Leadership. Goal Setting. Persistence. Loyalty. Passion. One of my close friends and work colleagues was a swimmer at Long Beach State during his college years. Today, he is the very successful Chief Marketing Officer for a leading, publicly-held technology company. And he is not an isolated example.

Knowing that Shannyn was accumulating all of these wonderful benefits was useful because the swim parent experience has been an intense roller coaster ride. As parents, sometimes we want so badly to fix things for our children and in sports, you quickly learn you can fix almost nothing – your children have to own their athletic career and there is little you can do for them. But you also learn that this is ok. Even good. You see them struggle, you see them fail, you see them want something so badly, but often, not achieve it. You experience heartache and disappointment right along with them. Of course, you also experience moments of glory. You see them win. You see them succeed. You seem them set a goal and miraculously, reach it. You share your joy with the other parents because they know how hard your kids have worked for what they desire. And in either failure or success, you cheer them on. You are, forever and always, their biggest fan. I will never regret a moment that I spent driving to a pool early in the morning or late at night, sitting in a timing chair, running up and down a pool deck, washing towels upon towels, traveling to meets in far-away locations, spending too much money on expensive suits, getting more sunburns than I should have watching race upon race. I treasure the conversations in hotel rooms and cars, the moments of pure bliss watching a hand touch the wall, and even the times my heart broke a little – all lessons learned and put to good use. I will especially treasure the many friends made along the way: the other swim parents, the coaches, my daughter’s wonderful teammates. It has been one hell of a ride for our entire family.

People have asked me what our proudest moment was. When Shannyn first stood on a podium with a first place medal around her neck? When she made it to the 2012 Olympic Trials? When she was offered the spot at Arizona? When she earned her first Division 1 NCAA cut? These were all proud moments, to be sure, and represented hours of hard work and untold laps in the pool for Shannyn. But the proudest moment (or, really, set of moments) was watching her stick with the sport, even when times were not good. As one swim parent wisely told me years ago, “It’s easy to love swimming when you’re swimming fast”. Two years in high school spent on a plateau, without dropping any time in her best events, wondering if she would ever excel again, watching her fifth club coach in as many years leave, watching school friends enjoying their comparatively full social lives, Shannyn thought about quitting more than once. Admittedly, I had sometimes wished she would. It surely would have been the easier route. Instead, she continued to slog through nine practices a week, including three morning practices that began at 4:45am (and required a half hour drive to reach), before heading to a full day of school, homework and yet another two-to-three hour practice in the evening. She eventually broke through and achieved her dream of swimming on a top Division 1 college team.

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It’s the end of an era for Shannyn and for our entire family. Life without the identity of “swimmer” will be different, to be sure, but I have no doubt that the lessons learned have prepared her for whatever lies ahead. As with many athletes (and having changed her major twice), she will take an extra semester or two to graduate, to assimilate and transition into life as a “swammer”.

Although it’s the end of Shannyn’s swimming career, it is the beginning of the rest of her life and I know that while she will miss swimming, she is ready to move on. Truth be told, I will probably miss it more, but as fate would have it, our younger daughter, Claire, decided a few years back that she wanted to jump on the roller coaster, too, and is now determined to swim in college. So the journey of swimming is not quite over for all of us yet. Like her sister, Claire has already seen success and failure. She wants to be part of something bigger than herself and learn what it means to be a student-athlete. Despite the trying times and the sacrifice, I can’t think of a better path for her to take.

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And to Shannyn, I can only say: congratulations on reaching the end of your incredible swimming journey. In or out of the pool, I will always be your biggest cheerleader, your most stalwart supporter, your most ardent fan.

My Top Eight for 2014

UnknownAs cliché as it sounds, time does seem to move faster the older we get. It seems I was just starting to appreciate the positives of 2014 – not to mention, get used to writing a “4” instead of a “3” on my checks – when I realized the end loomed near.

Instead of writing New Year’s Resolutions, most of which have the tendency to get tossed aside within a few weeks of the New Year, I decided instead to write a note of appreciation for the highlights of 2014 – my top eight of 2014. These are in no particular order, as assigning a ranking to these would seem arbitrary (and so did making this a “top ten”, hence the less-than-round number of eight).

  • Daughter #2 got her driver’s license. In truth, this milestone ranks among both the most frightening and the most exciting events of 2014. To have our youngest become a licensed driver was certainly thrilling for her and a huge relief for us chauffeurs in the family who no longer had to plan work schedules and social events around high school and swim practice start and end times – not to mention, being on call for drop-offs and pick-ups at friends’ houses and social gatherings. We all gained independence, though in return, of course, had to battle the ever-present worry of having our little one navigating the L.A. freeways and crazy drivers on her own. At the end of the day, the freedom is a positive result for all.
  • My second favorite item of the year also involves daughter #2: Claire qualified for and participated in her first championship swim meet. When Claire told us she wanted to swim, we were surprised. Swimming was always her sister’s sport and her sister excelled at it. We’d never discouraged Claire from swimming, but never encouraged either, lest she have to compete with her sister or take on the burden of being “Shannyn’s little sister” in the pool. Despite our reservations, she decided to jump in with both feet – literally! She had setbacks almost immediately, tearing her labrum (not due to swimming, according to the doctors) and undergoing surgery just a year after joining our club team. She battled through the rehab, spending months in the pool just kicking, then slowly working to get her shoulder back into shape and resume swimming. She found herself behind most of her peers at that point, but insisted that she would move up to the next level (she did) and that she would finally make it to a championship meet. So it was with amazement and pride that we watched her this summer achieve her goals. Not only did she get her Junior Olympic time standards at a small meet in Santa Maria, but two weeks later, at the Junior Olympics meet that our club hosted, she bettered her times and made it back for her first JO finals and dropped time, once again in the finals competition. Persistence? Stubbornness? Probably a bit of both, with some hard work thrown in, but as a parent, it was a proud moment. Truth be told, even we doubted that she could do it, but fortunately, she never doubted herself.
  • After changing her major twice, Daughter #1 finally settled on her academic goals and can see the finish line. After many trials and tribulations, soul-searching and so-called epiphanies, not to mention the agony of having to take Microbiology and Organic Chemistry, Shannyn finally settled on a course of study that suited her. While she went in as a Business major (code for “I don’t know what the hell I want to do with my life”), she soon had a brilliant brainstorm that nutrition has always been her passion and becoming a Nutritional Sciences major was the path for her. Unfortunately, the self-declared “non-science person” quickly realized that this major required her to take – well, SCIENCE. After struggling through a semester of brutal classes like O-Chem that caused her GPA to suffer, she realized she needed to change course. The final epiphany (accompanied by some solid academic counseling) was that a major in Economics and a minor in Nutritional Sciences, would make the best use of courses already completed, while allowing her to pursue a career in marketing for the nutrition/fitness industry. Yes, she’ll go an extra year (thank you, continuing athletic scholarship), but she is happier, more focused and her GPA is back to its previous good standing.
  • Work travel was educational and fun. I’ve worked at home now for 20+ years and am thankful that I’ve had the ability to maintain a challenging and rewarding career with the flexibility to be available for my children. I love working from home, but there are times when I miss the “water-cooler” talk and close bonds that develop from being in an office. This year, I was able to not only pay a few visits to my key client in Silicon Valley, but to also travel with them to their annual customer and partner conference in Las Vegas. Whenever you can learn things that help you do your job better and, at the same time, have a blast with a group of smart and fun people, you know you’ve hit the jackpot, career-wise. I was grateful to participate in the four-day event, meet some of the employees, partners, customers, analysts and reporters I’d previously only communicated with via email or phone, and learn more about my client’s technology and how it’s being used in the real world.
  • Old friends came to visit. In a perfect world, we’d go abroad every summer as we did in 2013 when we visited Per’s family and friends in Sweden and spent a wonderful week in Paris, seeing the sights. But until we win the lottery, we’ll settle for visitors coming our way occasionally, as was the case this year when Per’s best friend from childhood traveled to Southern California with his wife and two children from their home in Oslo, Norway.
  • We’ve been able to continue traveling to see daughter #1 finish out her swimming career. It’s hard to believe that the toddler who took to the water like a fish at two is nearly twenty-two now. And that after almost 15 years of competitive swimming, it will all come to an end this Spring. I’m sure this will inspire a separate nostalgic and emotional blog post when it’s over. For now, suffice to say that I’m thankful for every trip I’ve made, every event I’ve watched from the side of a pool deck or bleachers of a stadium, and every hour of sitting in a timing chair, because I know it’s almost over. It has been an amazing ride, we have all learned so much, and made wonderful friends along the way. And most of all, I feel so fortunate for all the incredible benefits Shannyn has reaped from the sport – not just having her education funded – but the lessons of discipline and commitment, leadership, working through adversity, and the lifelong friends she has made. As we get ready for a few more trips between January and March, I will brace myself for the end and be grateful for the opportunity to witness it.
  • We have our health. Nothing more to say about this one. As you get older, you realize how lucky you are to escape each year without a serious malady and you’re thankful that you and your extended family are still healthy.
  • And finally, on a lighter note, no words needed for this one…you didn’t think I’d leave this out, did you?!
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Go Kings Go!

 

Happy New Year, everyone! What were your favorite moments of 2014?

The Requisite Thanksgiving Blog: Thankfulness Never Gets Old

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While I hate to cave to the expected, there is always value in producing a list of things one is thankful for – even at this, the most expected times of the year to express thankfulness.

With Thanksgiving just a day away, I will keep my list short, but sweet – three reasons who I’m grateful this holiday season.

1) I am thankful that my girls are growing into women that I not only love, but like very much.  Every day, I see more evidence that my little people are growing into big people who will be more than equipped to take on the great, big world in which they live.  Not only do I love them because they are my flesh and blood, I truly LIKE the people they are becoming. They care about the world around them, they are engaged in discussions of importance, and most of all, they are kind to others. I am a proud mother and I am grateful for the people they are becoming.

2) I am thankful for my house. It’s old. The kitchen cabinets are peeling and the appliances are outdated. Blue carpet remains in three of the rooms and some of the tile is cracking. Neighbors have long since painted, revamped, redone, remodeled…some of them multiple times. We’ve chosen to spend our dollars on other things – mostly experiences we enjoy with our family whether it be traveling, going to sporting events or concerts. Would I love to remodel? Of course. Am I thankful for this old house, regardless? I am. My children have grown up in this house, we’ve had many moments of laughter (and of course, some tears) and celebrated many wonderful occasions. At the end of the day, this house is comfort and it is our home, even if the floors creak and I don’t get around to cleaning all those cobwebs that sit at the top of the ceilings.

3) I am thankful for my spouse and for the fact that he grew up in another country. Not just any country, but one where women are valued and hold equal roles in society. I’m not saying there aren’t American men who believe that women should be paid equal wages, don’t complain about sharing the household chores and chose their partners in life based on more than just a pretty face. But there is a vast difference in cultural attitudes between America and Sweden, and regardless of how “evolved” some American men are, the fact is, they’ve never lived in a society that inherently values men and women equally. My spouse’s home country does. Because he was raised in this environment, he benefits from a culture wherein young boys and girls must BOTH take classes in home economics and shop, where both men and women are given equal time off for the birth of a child, where contraception has always been the responsibility of both men and women, without question, and no man is allowed to regulate what a woman does with her body.  The result is probably subtle, but it’s there. At no time in my marriage have I felt that my husband did not view me as an equal partner in all things business and domestic. At no time, did I feel he expected certain behavior from our girls, simply because they were girls. And most of all, at no time have I felt a lack of respect from him.

That’s my list. Undoubtedly, I have many more things to be thankful for, but I am thinking about these three today.

What are you thankful for this holiday season?

If Money Didn’t Matter…Turning a School Project into Real Life Advice

This week was Back-to-School night at my younger daughter’s high school. Walking around campus, I was painfully aware that all of the fresh-faced parents I’ve known since our teens were just tots in elementary school have become, well, to put it mildly, older.  And that if I’m calling them “older”, I have to look in the mirror and acknowledge that I’m there, too. I was also mindful of the fact that this was the second-to-last time I would ever go to a back-to-school night. EVER.

My daughter had told me ahead of time that her history teacher was one of her favorites and that he coincidentally had a great deal in common with me (UCLA grad, fan of music) and her Dad (back-packed through Europe in his younger days). As expected, his classroom was my favorite: as we walked in, we could smell fresh-brewed coffee, the lights had been dimmed and the John Mayer Pandora station played in the background. His presentation did not disappoint and the parents were given one of the same assignments he’d given to the students that week: to watch a popular, short video making the rounds on YouTube and social media called “If Money Was No Object” and write a response to the video focusing on advice, hopes and dreams for our student’s future.

Naturally, my engineering/math-brained husband looked in my direction and my eyes lit up at the prospect of a creative writing assignment.  I’m not sure if I was the first parent to turn in their paper the next day….but it’s very possible.

I don’t know if youth is truly wasted on the young, but I certainly felt a small pang of longing when I read my own words and realized that I could have been better at taking my own advice, say, 35 years ago. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’d like to believe that there are still a few nuggets here that apply to us older and wiser folks.  In case I’m right, here are a few excerpts from my response to “If Money Was No Object”. These were the pieces of advice I crafted for my daughter, with a little commentary plugged in for us older folk…

  • Explore your options now, while you’re young. While I don’t regret the path I took, I do have the “what ifs” from time to time. What if I’d gone back to school right away and pursued an MFA in creative writing? What if I’d studied a semester abroad and done more traveling? What if I’d parlayed my college tutoring job into a teaching job or, early in my career, moved from marketing and PR in the technology realm into an area I was more passionate about like music or sports? Explore the things you are passionate about now, while you’re in high school and for as long as you can in college and early in your career. It’s hard to change direction when you’re 40 or 50.

Ok, so for those of us who are getting up there in age, admittedly, it is hard to change direction entirely. But not impossible. And if you can sprinkle just a little of what you love or do just one thing each day that keeps you in touch with those earlier passions, you’ll still be exploring those options, if not making a radical move towards them.

  • Find ways to travel early on. See the big, wide world. Look for opportunities to study abroad in school. If you’re a dual citizen, as my kids are fortunate enough to be, go to school or work abroad. Grab the opportunity and see what’s out there.

Great advice for the young, but of course, easier said than done once you are settled into a career (unless it happens to involve world travel) and have a mortgage and college tuition to pay for. But when those opportunities arise, take them.  Add a few days onto that business trip and see the city you’re working in.  Plan to use that bonus money for a weekend somewhere you’ve never been instead of upgrading those bathroom floors. I truly believe that travel is the best education there is. I can’t tell you how many people make comments about Sweden, its culture and system of government to me and my Swedish-born and raised husband without ever having stepped foot in that country. Not surprisingly, they are usually all wrong. Go, see, and learn for yourself – there’s nothing like it.

Quick illustrative story: I was once on a press tour in New York City with the CEO of a start-up I was working with. He told me that he’d been to New York numerous times in his career but had never been to the top of the Empire State building or seen a Broadway show. I asked him why not and he couldn’t answer, but for some reason, on this trip, he decided to change all of that. We went to the top of the Empire State building after our meetings and looked at the glorious view. We saw not one, but TWO Broadway shoes on that business trip!  A few months later, he passed away unexpectedly; while on his regular, early morning walk/run with his dogs, he had a heart attack. He was only 51 and left behind a wife and two young kids. I felt fortunate that I got to accompany him on that very special trip to New York.

  • Rekindle and/or nurture your love for reading. Reading expands your mind, opens new doors, and teaches you empathy. Beyond that, as I advised my daughter, reading improves all of those great communications skills you need in virtually every college class you’ll take and every job you’ll ever have.

This is advice that applies to anyone, at any age. There is always time to read a book, just like there is always time to fit in a workout – you just have to want to find that time. 10 minutes here and there – waiting in the car to pick your child up from school, while dinner is in the oven, on your lunch break from work, 10 minutes before turning out the light at night.  I truly believe that reading is the single easiest thing to do to keep your mind active, continue learning, expand your horizons and visit new places virtually. Bonus: it’s enjoyable and relieves stress!

  • Remember that there are trade-offs. This is where we have to acknowledge that money does matter and that means there are compromises and trade-offs to be made. If you’re passionate about traveling, find a job that allows for it, or be prepared that you’ll be backpacking through Europe and sleeping in youth hostels, not four-star resorts. Living in this area and having so much, our children sometimes get the message that having the latest iPhone or the coolest car are things that matter more than what you spend time doing each day. Some jobs don’t come with a big paycheck, but my message would be, try it when you’re young. If you truly love it, it will be worth the trade-offs.

As adults, we are always making trade-offs.  The hope is that when you’re in the rocking chair at 80, looking back on your life, you’ve made the right ones. I live in an area where people seem to “have it all”. They don’t have to decide between that expensive vacation, redoing their kitchen and paying for private college tuition. That doesn’t mean they haven’t made trade-offs. To afford that lifestyle, one or both parents may not be spending as much time with their families as they’d like.  Maybe the wife gave up a great career that she misses to stay home so her husband could have a job that involves a great deal of travel. Or maybe they are both working at jobs they really don’t love just to keep the wheel spinning. We all make trade-offs and compromises. The key is to figure out which ones you can live with.

  • What will your verse be? The famous line from Whitman’s poem and the words that Robin Williams famously spoke in “Dead Poet’s Society” are words that haunt me a bit every day. Make sure that something you do in life makes you feel that you’re contributing, giving back, adding something to your community, to society, to the world at large. Find something that has meaning not just to you, but to others.

While I haven’t figured this one out completely, I’ve taken little steps here and there to be sure I’m moving in the right direction. Is there a specific cause or issue you believe in passionately? Give your money and more importantly, your time to it.  Write about it.  Or to come full circle to the assignment and “If Money Was No Object”, make a video about it and share it with the world. Someone might listen and be inspired.

What advice would you share with your kids in response to “If Money Didn’t Matter”?  And do you think that advice is helpful for all ages for just for those of a certain, youthful age?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Thing Worth Remembering: Thoughts on the Anniversary of September 11th

 

imagesWe awoke to an unremarkable Southern California day. That is to say, it was brilliantly sunny and warm with blue skies – unremarkable for our little corner of the Earth.

It was a workday and a school day and like most families, we were preoccupied with our morning routine. My husband and I were getting our then-eight year old ready for school and preparing breakfast for our then-three year old. I would take our oldest to school, our nanny would arrive so my husband could go to work and then I’d head into my home office to start my workday.

The phone rang. It was my Mother.

“Are you watching the news?” she said, a little breathless.

“No, we don’t have the TV on in the morning,” I answered, a bit irritably. Our days were typically a jam-packed juggling routine and I didn’t have time to watch — much less chat about – Good Morning America or whatever else was on that time of morning.

“Turn it on,” she commanded. “You won’t believe what’s happening. New York is under attack.”

Like millions of Americans, I tuned in that morning and for weeks could not tune out. Smoke was billowing from one of the World Trade Center towers. The scene was unreal – like something out of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. This couldn’t be the actual news, could it?

We stumbled through our routine that morning, in a murky haze of uncertainty. Our younger daughter was too little to understand what was happening. Our older daughter had a vague notion that something bad had happened and airplanes had crashed into important buildings in New York, but of course, at that time of the morning, no one knew the hows and whys. Would school be cancelled I wondered? As the scene unfolded before us on TV, the entire country woke up to the nightmare of September 11th. Neighbors and friends began calling and talking, wondering and worrying. Did we know anyone on those planes? In the towers?

I remember scattered fragments of the day.

I remember taking my older daughter to school, reassuring her that everything was fine and it was a safe place to be, all the while realizing that my whole notion of “safe” had been turned upside down. Nowhere was safe. Every parent dreads the day when his or her children begin to realize that Mom and Dad can’t protect them from all the bad things in the world and the events of September 11th underscored this all too well. The tragic events brought home for all of us the fleeting nature of life, the way it can all be swept away so suddenly and without any warning.

I remember arriving at our elementary school, walking my daughter to the square in the center where the students recited the pledge of allegiance, the administration made announcements and the teachers and students lined up to file into their classrooms every morning. On this completely foreign morning, our principal talked to us about how important routine can be when and event like this occurs and how letting our children attend school and have a “normal” day was the best thing we could do for them. We envied our children their normal day in the middle of such an abnormal circumstance.

Parents who had barely spoken to each other before, hugged in the courtyard and clung to each other, speaking in hushed tones about waking to the tragic news. We left our children reluctantly, knowing how hard this simple act would be today. It was pre-smartphone and pre-social media days – we did not know how we’d wait six hours to see or hear from our most precious treasures.

I remember that no one could focus on work that day and no one expected us to. My husband stayed home. We took a walk around the lake by our house in the afternoon. We still didn’t know how to process what had happened. The skies were eerily quiet since no planes were allowed to fly.

That night, I remember not being able to sleep, laying in bed, listening to the complete and utter silence outside and wondering if it was over, if the terrorists were done, or if there would be more devastation. We still didn’t know all of the details and Los Angeles was mentioned as a potential target. I remember thinking that this sort of thing just didn’t happen in our country. But now it had.

Over the next few days, details emerged, names and photos of the missing and dead began appearing. All of us felt touched deeply by the tragedy, but we also all knew someone who had been affected more personally, whether they had been in New York at the time, had family there or had a loved one who worked in the twin towers. Some of us even had family and friends who died that day. It was a painful time and tears flowed easily.

A few nights later, our neighbors, like many others across the country, gathered at our community park just up the street from our house, with candles lit to remember the fallen, to pay tribute, just to be with each other in our sorrow and grieve together. We had a new family who had just moved into the house across the street and diagonally from ours. I had not met them yet, but when I stepped outside that evening, the parents sat on their front porch with their two year old daughter in their arms, holding candles, the Mom with tears streaming down her face. We acknowledged each other with a small wave, understanding that we didn’t need to speak.

The remarkable thing is that it still hurts. To watch the footage of the towers falling still causes me to gasp and turn away. To watch video of the tributes from those in the public eye on that day, whether it be interviews with the firefighters and police who valiantly stayed to search and repair, addresses by Mayor Giuliani, the late night talk show hosts or the stoic news anchors who simply couldn’t remain stoic, still brings tears to my eyes. I know I am not alone.

But what also remains is the feeling of bonding together during that time – not just friends, family and neighbors, but even those we barely knew, the strangers on the street, the heroic first responders we might never know save their weary faces in newspapers and TV, those we never agreed with and might still not, but in whom we found temporary kinship and solace. We were all impacted by this terrible nightmare. We were all one nation.

Though “cherish” is a strange word to use when remembering a terrible tragedy, that bond we felt to our fellow humans may be the thing I cherish most from those long and sad days. With so many things about that day we don’t want to recall, that human bond, the way we came together in love and acceptance, may be the one thing we so desperately need to remember and cling to each and every day of our lives.

I Love LA: In Defense of a City

A funny thing happened last week after the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years. I suddenly found myself surrounded by a lot of, for lack of a better term, “haters”.

I don’t mean just fans of the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks or New York Rangers either. It’s natural that some good, old-fashioned hockey rivalry hatred circulates on the web and social media channels amongst fans and that various reporters, bloggers and experts weigh in and begin debating the pros and cons of the newly-crowned champions.

What I mean – and what was truly unexpected – was the sudden tidal wave of disrespect and dislike for an entire city. A city of nine million people…or 13 million if you want to include the outlying suburbs. A city so diverse that it defies generalizations or at least, so one would think. But the haters came out in full force and unleashed criticisms that were often unfair, always unkind and sometimes just downright ridiculous.

It started as condemnation of what some claim is a lack of sports culture or a “fair-weather” fan environment. Many said that LA has never been and will never be a hockey town and that even fans of the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers and our college teams are unsupportive, lackadaisical and only loyal when their teams are winning. I buy that LA hasn’t always been supportive of every team. Just as the US was oblivious to the World Cup and the sport of soccer prior to virtually every suburban youth hitting the fields, LA was uneducated and uninterested in hockey until The Great One came to play for us and youth hockey began to take off.

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But beyond the sports culture smack-down, some folks I know claimed that bad fan behavior and dangerous situations are representative of sports in Los Angeles, if not unique to the city. It would take me hundreds of pages to document examples of the same sorts of behaviors occurring in cities throughout the United States (and around the World) – even those that are believed to be the great sports centers of the country, but I have no space to list them all. I would guess that most reasonable people could agree that one fan or one group of fans are not indicative of an entire fan base and that every city has its share of truly terrible fans. I mean, do I need to remind Chicago fans of the time when they all but abandoned their Blackhawks team? Do I need to remind my Bay Area friends of the 3,000-seat drop-off the Sharks experienced in season tickets at one point? Or bring up the time an Oakland Raiders fan beat a Dallas Cowboys fan unconscious? How about this hockey season when some Boston Bruins fans hurled racist comments at Montreal Canadiens’ defenseman, P.K. Subban after Montreal handed the Bruins a loss? Or when those classy Seattle Seahawk fans threw food at an injured SF 49ers player during the NFC championship game their team won?

I’m sorry, folks, but fair weather fandom and bad behavior is not exclusive to ANY city and suffice to say that when you take the behaviors of a few and generalize them to a population of nine million, you’re going to lose a statistical battle, if nothing else.

But beyond this sports talk, what really stunned me during this past week was how this critique of LA’s sports culture was extended to Los Angeles and its people as a whole. Among the things I’ve seen bantered about via social media, papers and general discussions this week (and I’m paraphrasing, but citing the gist of what I’ve heard):

– Sports fans in LA are only concerned about winning and are not loyal to their teams and by extension, people in LA are all about winning.

– Los Angeles is just a self-centered, materialistic city of excess.

– Everyone in LA is overly concerned with their appearance.

– People in LA are more interested in Hollywood than the rest of the world.

– People in LA are more interested in entertainment than education. While sports fans are uninformed about sports, the general population is just uninformed.

– The traffic in LA is terrible.

Well, ok, that last point is thoroughly indefensible and 100% accurate.

I consider myself more experienced than most when it comes to comparing Los Angeles to other cities. Born in Birmingham, Alabama – about as far from Los Angeles and its culture as you can get – I also lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Tampa, Florida, both Dallas and Houston, Texas, Kansas City, Kansas, San Diego, California and San Rafael, California. I can tell you firsthand that while each place has its pros and cons, there’s no place I’d rather live than right here in Los Angeles.

I spent my college years at UCLA where I witnessed firsthand the diverse population of the city, made lifelong friends, developed a fierce loyalty to both my school and its sports teams and got a great education that has served me well throughout my career. If there was a lack of diversity, a worship of entertainment over education or a dearth of loyalty, I certainly did not experience it there.

Is there materialism, excess and superficiality in Los Angeles? Absolutely. And yes, perhaps, because LA is both the entertainment capital of the world and a city blessed with incredible weather and beautiful beaches where folks spend an inordinate amount of time in very little clothing, there is more concern over appearance in this city than most. But I can tell you firsthand that of my friend and acquaintance circle, I know just as many women (and men!) in Silicon Valley getting Botox injections as those in LA. I can tell you that I never felt more excluded and judged based on my appearance than I did in a mall in Dallas, Texas where every woman wore heels and full makeup to go shopping and I was scolded for not owning a Neiman-Marcus card. And speaking of cities that can’t sustain professional teams and display a certain, blasé attitude toward sports, how about Birmingham (or any city) in Alabama?

The point is, Los Angeles is not unique in having its share of materialistic, wealth and appearance-obsessed denizens, nor is it unique in having some bad, fair weather and, frankly, moronic fans. But to take these as representative of the City of Angels is truly to miss the heart and soul of the city. Indeed, I’ve met my share of fake socialites, corporate ladder climbers and collagen-lipped housewives, but I’ve surrounded myself with a larger population of friends who believe in working hard, who don’t spend money on plastic surgery, who value education and who root for their hometown teams. These include friends I made in college, neighborhood families that I’ve become close with through my children, work colleagues and a very large population of Kings fans that I’ve come to know and appreciate via the wonders of social media. These are good people who all appreciate and love their city, as I do. Everyday, I consider myself fortunate to be surrounded by a beautiful community that spans the Santa Monica mountains to the beaches of Malibu on one end, the Hollywood Hills and hubbub of downtown on the other, with so many remarkable places in-between. The valley, the South Bay, the campuses of both UCLA and USC (yes, a Bruin said that!), the Coliseum, the fabulous Forum, the Santa Monica pier, the streets of Westwood, Los Feliz, the Hollywood Bowl, the Greek Theatre, the Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park, the recently-discovered and wonderfully-working Metrorail(!), Universal City, Venice boardwalk and canals…I won’t go on because it would take all day.

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My husband and I have talked frequently about the sacrifices we’ve made to live in expensive Southern California. Had we stayed in Dallas for 10 years, we would have saved a bundle and maybe we’d be on the verge of retirement. Instead, we’ve both worked continuously to have an opportunity to raise our family in Los Angeles. It’s not for everyone and that’s ok with me – in fact, with our always-expanding population and popularity, I’m more than happy for people to continue disliking LA and leave it for the rest of us who love it here. At the end of the day, LA is my city and I’m proud to be an Angeleno. I love LA.

 

It’s a New Year…How about those Resolutions from the Last Year?

And so, it’s January again.  Time to take stock and look back at the New Year’s resolutions that have come and gone. While I say I’m not one to make resolutions, I did, in fact, make a small list of things I wanted to work on last year.  How’d I do? Well, let’s just say that of the six I listed in last New Year’s blog post, I probably made some minimal progress on three of them. Hey, that’s a solid half, right?!

The issue with resolutions is that, once made, we need checkpoints to assess how we’re progressing and take action when we’re not making progress. Just like at work, there are certain milestones that need to be checked off the list and progress reports, if you like, need to be turned in.  I don’t know about you, but given I have to be accountable for these kinds of activities at work, I’m not likely to hold myself to that same structure on the personal front!

How, then, do we actually resolve and take action to improve certain areas of our life? It seems trite to simply say “I plan to be a better person in 2014”, but really, that’s the heart of it all, isn’t it?  Being kinder. Less irritable. More patient. Less hurried. More giving. Less judgmental. More understanding. Less stressed.

So this year, I’m going to give myself a break from the traditional list, knowing full well that putting in place the measurements necessary to ensure success is something I just won’t take the time to do.  I resolve in 2014 only this: to be a better person, in whatever way I can be.  That means taking time to connect with those I care about, rather than getting too wrapped up in the minute details of the day. It means making sure that all my good intentions don’t remain just that…that I occasionally take action and give to that charity, spend time doing something that yields no personal return for me or simply deciding to be understanding, rather than judgmental in situations that test my patience.  It means ignoring the insufferable, materialistic social media posts that clutter my news feeds and remembering that my family values experiences over things. Maybe it’s as simple as letting that car cut in front of me without swearing to myself or giving a stranger in the grocery store a complement, just because.

I know. It sounds like a lot of rainbows and fluffy puppy talk. But sometimes I think the world could use a little more of that. And a little less of the standard “10 Ways to Improve Your Life”.

Happy New Year, everyone. Enjoy 2014, however you resolve to do so.