Post Play-off Depression: It’s All About Connecting

UnknownWhen I was nine years old, my family moved to Atlanta, GA for a couple of years, settling into a lovely little apartment complex called Windy Hill Village, notable for nothing much but its proximity to downtown and the newly built Omni Center. The Omni Center was the home of the then-Atlanta (now Calgary) Flames hockey team. Because of its location, Windy Hill Village boasted not only the Rubin family as its residents, but also most of the Atlanta Flames hockey players. Somehow, my parents became friendly with a few of the players and next thing I knew, we had become hockey fans. I could name all of the players (to this day, I remember Captain Keith McCreary, Ernie Hickey, Jacques Richard and goaltender Dan Bouchard) and loved boasting to my classmates that I actually knew these guys personally! For the first time in my young life, I felt the excitement of attending a live sporting event, the bonding that occurs with a crowd of people all chanting the same thing in a great big arena, the emotional connection one develops with a local team – particularly, when you know the players personally.51LTCH15-9L._SL500_AA300_

Cut to many years later, after living in a hockey-less San Diego for most of my teens, attending UCLA where football and basketball were front and center, finally settling down to love, life, marriage and kids with a Swede who played hockey growing up. The fires were rekindled a bit and then, when our oldest daughter went off to college, befriending a couple of Canadian hockey fans (yes, I recognize that’s redundant) and realizing that she also enjoyed the game, it was time to really reconnect with the sport and our local team, the L.A. Kings. It didn’t hurt that the Kings were experiencing a resurgence that would soon lead to a 2012 Stanley Cup win – just in time for us to remember what it was like to be part of an entire city rejoicing over a shared victory.

Cut to this year when after watching nearly every game either from our couch or at Staples Center, after heated rivalries with friends and colleagues, Twitter wars, Facebook posts and many evenings of bonding over the details of a game, our beloved Kings have just been pushed out of the play-offs, after a valiant effort to win game 5 against a powerful Blackhawks team. There is a sudden empty feeling now that our team’s season is over – not just sorrow for their loss, but a definite void where it feels like something more important than just a hockey series is missing.  It made me wonder what this hockey passion is really all about.  What is it about this weird, emotional investment we humans make in a sports team that is so compelling and at times, all-encompassing?   Is it as simple as sharing a common interest with other humans? Is it living vicariously through the players, being competitive in a way that you might never get to experience on your own? Or is it deeper than that, the thrill of being part of something larger than ourselves, a connection to humanity that sometimes goes missing in our everyday lives, particularly now that connections are less face-to-face and personal, and more online and distant.

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Even if you have no passion for hockey, football, baseball or any other sport, you may still understand this urge to be part of something larger than yourself. If you have a favorite band, think of how it feels to be in a crowd of people at that band’s concert, all singing the same words to the same song, surrounded by a shared connection that seems to transcend a simple concert performance. (Anyone who has seen U2 live must know what I’m talking about, right?)

I’m sure in a few days, I’ll go back to “life before hockey season” where I am not racing to finish up my work so I can don my jersey and join my hubby on the couch or pick up our younger daughter early from school so we can battle the freeway traffic down to Staples Center to make it to our seats before warm-up starts.  There are plenty of things to occupy all of us until the fall and soon, the normal routines will again take over and my Twitter and Facebook posts will not longer be all about that bad call or that amazing goal in the last 10 seconds of regulation. But I’ll still be looking forward to the next season, the next game, the next opportunity to share in that connection to something bigger than me – a way to share an experience that is all at once exciting, emotional, aggravating and compelling with my family, my friends, my team, my city, with the other humans who share the planet – and a passion for hockey with me.

Is Adversity a Requirement for Success?

My younger daughter recently had shoulder surgery – not something you plan to deal with when you’re an active 13-year-old whose sport happens to be swimming and who enjoys a full social life. Just after her surgery, I overheard a conversation she was having with her older sister who is away at college. My little one was clearly trying to stir up some sympathy from her sibling and was bemoaning the fact that she has to wear a sling for eight weeks and will then have the daunting task of trying to regain her strength to get back in the pool and swim over the course of the next six months. My older daughter dispensed these words of wisdom to combat her sister’s complaints: “Adversity is a good thing.”

This gem was spoken by the same girl who complained incessantly when her iPhone went in for repair and she had to use that “awful, ancient” Motorola Razr for three whole days: “But Mom, it’s impossible to text on this thing!  And it has no Internet!” Imagine the adversity of having to use a 6-year old cell phone for three whole days!

But in all seriousness, I thought about these words of wisdom and how Daughter #1 came to the recognition that adversity can be a positive and not a negative. As it turns out, my oldest does have some valuable lessons in adversity that she can share with her sister when it comes to their chosen sport of competitive swimming. Daughter #1 has been swimming on a team since she was five years old, on a competitive, year-round club since the age of nine and is now on partial scholarship, swimming for a Division 1 college team. During her years in the pool, she had an almost comical (though, in reality, not funny – or fun – at all) number of coaching changes – particularly during her formative periods. She also witnessed all of her best friends leave the team or quit swimming entirely, and struggled through a two-year plateau where she did not see a millisecond of improvement in any of her best events. She experienced most of this during her high school years, continuing to attend nine practice per week, including three mornings where she had to rise at 4:15am, drive 15 miles to the pool and practice from 5-7 am, attend school all day, return to the pool for practice from 4-7 pm and then conquer the usual homework and chores most students have to deal with.  She struggled to balance swimming, school, family and social life. She was fortunate to have a few good friends, her family and a couple of special coaches who encouraged her to stick with it and if you ask her now, she’ll tell you she is happy she did and could not imagine her life without swimming. After breaking through that time of struggle, she was recruited to one of the top college swim programs in the nation and in June, will compete at the 2012 Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

While I admire her, I do tease her when she talks about conquering adversity. After all, she is not living in a war-torn country with the threat of dropping bombs all around her or living in an impoverished, third world nation where she goes hungry every night, nor does she suffer from a debilitating disease. When we speak of adversity, then, we are speaking of a very personal kind of adversity that does not even begin to compare to what some in the world unfairly struggle with every day. Nevertheless, though it is all relative, she has experienced struggles and difficulties and has come out the other end stronger and a better person.

More importantly, this issue of adversity got me thinking about what we give our children, what we do for them and whether or not it helps them, at the end of the day. As a child who was raised by a single, working parent struggling to make ends meet, I worked hard and saved to make sure that my family never had to face the same. As a child of divorce, I promised myself that when I got married, it would last, and knock on wood, here I am, married to the same guy for 26 years now and going strong.  As a child who attended four different schools in sixth grade alone and was uprooted numerous times to different states, cities and neighborhoods, I made a pact with my husband that we would raise our children in the same place so they wouldn’t have to experience that upheaval. So far, so good – we’ve been in the same house for nearly 14 years and our daughters have grown up and gone to school with essentially, the same group of kids.

’m happy that my husband and I were able to provide these things for our children and I certainly don’t regret following this path. But I do have to wonder: is it really a good thing that I’ve protected my children from so much adversity?  I look back at my own childhood and while there were many difficult times that I would never want to repeat, there were also important lessons learned. Having a mother who struggled financially motivated me to begin working at the ripe, old age of twelve and never stop. I was determined to work hard, have my own money and not be dependent upon anyone. It also motivated me to achieve in school so I could attend a good college and have a higher-paying career.  Being the child of divorced parents taught me about relationships – what I wanted from them and more importantly, what I didn’t want.  Having to move and uproot was painful, but it taught me how to adapt to new situations quickly, how to make new friends and how to adjust to new surroundings. I learned valuable coping skills that contributed to success in school and have been advantageous in the business world.

As I look back on the lessons I learned from my childhood experiences, I wonder if my husband and I have somehow done our daughters a disservice by giving them a stable, financially comfortable upbringing in which they can avoid much of the adversity I dealt with.  Where will they learn the importance of hard work? How will they know the value of financial independence? Will they be able to adjust to new situations and new people? Can they handle the only constant in life – change – when it is thrust into their paths?

While I don’t know for sure, I am at least comforted that somewhere down the line, my older daughter began to view adversity as a good thing and is now trying to impart this wisdom to her sister. She may have overcome a different kind of adversity than I had to, but it’s clear that she has still learned the crucial values of hard work, persistence and perseverance. There is relief in the knowledge that she is almost at the end of her freshman year and thus far, has successfully navigated life away from home – adjusting to new surroundings, making new friends, succeeding in both the classroom and with her sport.  I can only hope that the same will hold true for Daughter #2 when it’s her turn – that maybe her sister is right that the small adversity her shoulder surgery thrust upon her will result in some valuable lessons about determination, hard work and resilience.

Do you think adversity a requirement for success? How do we give our kids a comfortable life without sacrificing the lessons that can only be learned by struggling a bit?

No Virginia, There is no Fountain of Youth

My oldest daughter recently turned 19 and is about to conclude her freshman year of college. I have many feelings associated with this milestone – excitement for her experiences, pride in what she has accomplished, sadness at how quickly the years have passed. And of course, there’s that recognition that if she’s now an adult, I’m beyond adulthood. Yes, I’m, by the standards I set myself as a 19-year old, OLD.  They say that 50 is the new 30. I’ll let you know how I really feel about that later this year, but in the meantime, let me just say that nothing makes you feel older in some ways than having a college freshman. You think it was just yesterday that you were living in the dorms, going to frat parties and rushing from class to class on a campus where it seemed the possibilities for your life were endless. But then you realize, ummm…that was actually a really long time ago.

Complicating the normal feelings that come with the aging process is our society’s continual worship of all things youthful and the ongoing pursuit of a magic elixir that will deliver us from old age.  While the concept of a fountain of youth is not new, it’s only in modern society – and primarily in the United States – where one finds such an obsession with staying young. This pursuit of continual youth is what sociologists would call a “First-World Problem”, given it can only occur among wealthy communities, where the worries of putting food on the table and keeping a roof over your head have been removed.

I think about this often in my little suburban world where it seems that Botox injections and breast implants are as commonplace as the common cold and where moms frequently wear the same outfits as their teenage daughters. What does it say about our society when people – mostly women, but increasingly (in Hollywood anyway), men – will spend thousands of dollars and put themselves through multiple, elective surgeries to chase eternal youth?

A few years ago, on a summer trip to Sweden to visit my husband’s family, we went to a local, community pool so my now-nineteen year old could get in a swim workout.  In the locker rooms, my two girls’ eyes were wide as saucers. They could not understand how every Swedish woman in the locker room – regardless of height, weight and most of all age – could walk around stark naked so comfortably and without the slightest trace of self-consciousness.  Having been raised in the modest (some might say repressed) US of A, I could not fully explain it either, except to tell my girls that 1) Swedes are much less hung up on nudity than we are (as one example, Swedish television is much more concerned with keeping violence off the screen than nudity and sex), and 2) Swedes, and the rest of the world, from my experience, are much more accepting of differences in body shapes and sizes as well as the aging process, and are much less focused on youth and beauty than we are in this country. Interestingly and despite all of this, Sweden seems to have a very high proportion of beautiful people, who age remarkably well.

The point is, my girls were used to seeing people all around them who fear the aging process and who will do anything to try to keep it at bay.  They are used to having the airbrushed images of fashion magazines and the nipped and tucked celebrities of television, movies and theater all around them.  And even in their own neighborhoods, they are used to seeing moms who fight the process daily with creams, treatments and injections, gym trips and diets, clothing from the junior department and yes, surgical procedures. Given these role models, it made me wonder, what messages were my girls hearing about what should be the very natural, and let’s face it –inevitable — process of aging?

I want to be clear that I am certainly not immune to vanity.  It’s hard to look in the mirror and see skin that suddenly sags where once it was firm and lines appearing on a forehead that was once smooth, not to mention those joints that creak and pop when I get out of bed in the morning. There’s definitely a reason I still wear bangs and buy more expensive bras. And I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t take care of yourself through healthy eating and exercise nor do I think it’s wrong to want to look attractive by wearing nice clothing, taking care of your skin, getting your hair done and using a little make-up.  But it seems to me, you have to draw the line somewhere because no one – no matter what they do – is immune to growing old. And by showing that we view the aging process as “bad” we’re sending a clear message to our kids to fight it– no matter how costly, how time-consuming, how risky or how ridiculous they may look. I say this also on the eve of my younger daughter going in for surgery and as I worry over the risks of anesthesia and the inevitable pain, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would put themselves through this by choice.

I was saddened to read the other day that one of my favorite actresses, Susan Sarandon, admitted to having plastic surgery.  . I realize in Hollywood, it must be hard to compete for great, female roles and the pressure to look young is intense. But I’d hoped that she’d hold out and continue sending the message that aging is ok, that her acting talents are more important than her image and that young girls should have strong, capable women who don’t run from life’s inevitable course as their role models.  I realize Susan is no Joan Rivers – yet.  But I think of plastic surgery as akin to remodeling a house. When you redo one room, the others look tired and run-down by comparison. So you do one more. But you can’t stop there, because the rest of the house doesn’t look as good as those brand-spanking new parts, right?  Next thing you know, you’ve re-done everything. Where does it stop? When you’re spending loads of time and money, and undergoing surgery that can put you at risk, just to prevent yourself from looking older or aging, you have to ask why and what message you’re sending. And if you’re a Mom, you have to wonder what you’re communicating to your kids about your priorities in life and how they should view themselves as they age.

The irony in all of this is that neither Susan Sarandon nor Joan Rivers has succeeded in hiding their age or stopping the aging process – and neither can you or I. The other day I was in the grocery store and saw what I thought was an attractive twenty-something ahead of me, pushing a grocery cart. She had long, flowing blond hair, a tall, lithe body and she was wearing leopard-print leggings, a close fitted tee, a short denim jacket and sky-high heels.  She stopped to grab a box of cereal off the shelf and I almost dropped my own groceries. This was no twenty-something; the woman had to be in her sixties which, despite the collagen lips, very obviously, face-lifted skin and fake breasts, to boot, was quite obvious. I suddenly realized the hair was fake (extensions), the body was courtesy of lipo plus lots of gym time and she’d clearly raided a middle schooler’s closet for her wardrobe. She looked ridiculous. An aging woman chasing dreams of being 19 again.

At the end of the day, you can get new breasts, lift your eyes, pump collagen into your lips and smooth out your wrinkles with Botox. You can wear your teenage daughter’s trendy clothes. But no one will think you’re 19, you still won’t be 19, and you never will be again.  I think that the sooner we can all face that fact and quit fighting it, the less “old” we’ll feel next to those actual 19 year-olds. And perhaps we’ll finally deserve the adage that with age, comes wisdom.

Introducing Suburban Dirt

Welcome to Suburban Dirt, a blog about the trials, tribulations and perspectives of a working mom in suburbia. With this blog, I hope to share my unique views on a number of topics including the challenges of parenting in today’s modern, suburban world.

I’m a PR/marketing professional by trade, a writer and mother of two teen-aged girls, 19 and nearly 14. Though born and raised here in the U.S.,  I’ve been married to a Swede for more than 25 years and therefore, have developed a love of green marzipan frosting, Akvavit and free healthcare (although still not an Abba fan).

My day job for the past 20 years has involved developing corporate communications programs for technology companies like Cisco, IBM, Boeing and start-ups too numerous to count.  I like my day job and it certainly pays the bills — not to mention, keeps me up-to-date on the latest technological innovations – a very important factor in parenting today’s tech savvy kids. That said, my true passions are fiction writing, literature and music.  I was also a fitness instructor for 20+ years and if my poor, aging hips and back had cooperated, I might still be barking orders from a step or spin bike. Instead, I placate myself with weekly Pilates sessions and walking around my beautiful, Southern California suburb with our German Shepard puppy.

I’m a fan of college sports (UCLA and anyone playing USC), swimming (sport of choice for my girls), The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, movies and Dave Matthews Band concerts, and I’m a bit of a political junkie. So fair warning that all these topics and more may arise in my blog posts from time to time. I’m also a published short story author and an aspiring novelist, so this blog is definitely another outlet for a mind that has a bit more creativity than can be expressed in a standard product press release.

I hope you enjoy my perspectives, musings and, yes, occasional rants.