Cold-Blooded Focus? I Can Do That.

Published in the Ferndale Record, February 26, 2014 

In a recent conversation with one of my children we talked about Olympic athletes. He’s met more than a couple and I asked him about their common characteristics.

After some careful thought, he said two things. First, they are gracious. Maybe it has something to do with representing our country, he said. But their kindness, willingness to engage the public and take time with fans was paramount.

The next thing he said was less predictable. “They are all cold-blooded killers.” Their sport is a primary focus and they are fierce competitors. Observing them in ‘normal’ conversation and then in their sports element is to witness acute extremity.

The Olympics inspire me even though I’ll never be an athlete on the world stage. I’m drawn to the dedication involved in the pursuit, the sacrifice, and the laser beam focus that prevails despite inevitable setbacks.

When our family gets together to watch the Olympics (yes, we do that), we see snowboarders and skiers climb into the sky performing impossible tricks, executing flawless landings. Our favorite thing to say (with mouthfuls of cookies) is, “I could do that, but I don’t want to.”

Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci stunned the world at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and is just eight years younger than I am. At 22 years old, I thought whatever she did that made her great wasn’t totally out of my reach – if I really wanted to do it.

Fact: I never really wanted to do it. Well that, and of course, Nadia had that whole talent thing going for her.

But within my capability are the desire, the focus and perseverance that can accompany anything I choose.

So, I ask myself: What do I want that much? What demands my unrelenting focus? What do I have to do to get what I want? Am I willing to do it?

For me, and maybe most of us, the answers don’t involve world-class training or years and money spent on coaches and training camps. It’s about what I’ve already chosen and how I can make it my best.

What do construction workers, artists, farmers, ballerinas, grocery cashiers, school teachers, plumbers, book editors, Mary Kay representatives, engineers, park rangers, bank tellers, custodians, meter maids, entrepreneurs and tattoo artists do to keep an unflinching, beady eye on important personal or career goals?

Olympic athletes don’t make up most of the world. But they have something to teach the rest of us. Reptilian, steely focus born of practice and desire is the stuff of dreams, whether it involves marriage, gardening or Zumba.

Jeremy Abbott, a U.S. figure skater, took a brutal fall against the boards during his short program in Sochi. He was visibly hurt and no one would have thought any less of him for limping off the ice. But he stood, gained his composure, and completed his skate – to a standing ovation from the Russian audience.

Most of us won’t get applause for showing up to our jobs when we don’t feel like it, or given 10.0s for sticking to our workouts, but the effect on our spirits is resolve and discipline.

We strongly suspect, and would probably be right, that we’re capable of more. 

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Letting Go x Forever

I should know better by now, more than 20 years later, but I don’t. I still reel at the thought that someone I love more than my own breath will be standing precisely in harm’s way – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

I should be calmer in my heart. I should learnImage from the years of watching her defeat scary inner demons and slay figurative fire-breathing dragons. I should know better than to second-guess her hard won wisdom about her own life. Maybe, somewhere buried in my DNA, I do. But it’s not surfacing quickly enough for my liking. I’m a woman. A mother. I nurture and worry. That’s my natural state.

I tell myself this has nothing to do with letting her go. I’ve already done that. She’s not a child, a teenager or even a reckless adult. If anyone can take care of herself and those in her path, it’s her. In one of those situations where you have to trust someone to lead you through the jungle blindfolded, she’s the one I would trust to lead me. She would fend off snakes, native tribes and gorillas with swoops of courage, and I would make it safely to the other side – all because of her moxie. I want her beside me in earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and the apocalypse. No one else I know has her skills. No one.

Having said all that, I’m her mom. And she’s going to jump on a bicycle and ride it for many hundreds of miles and do what she’s been longing and planning to do for years. And suddenly I feel like she’s 16 again and calling to tell me she’s hitchhiking to San Francisco and will be in touch when she can (and in case you’re wondering, that really happened).

The questions pour out of my heart and onto the page: Why can’t I just have her safely by my side forever? Why do things have to get all tangled up and people make decisions that might hurt them? Why does someone living out a dream have to be so hard to watch? I know the answers. Because when you allow yourself to love someone, that’s what happens. What also happens is, if you want someone to stay in your life, you don’t fight it.

So, today when I mused about her upcoming trip the tears came hot and fast even though I’ve known about this adventure for months. It has nothing to do with missing her for the weeks she’s away (I don’t want to talk about that). It’s about these babies of mine living their own lives. When will this whole mommy merry-go-round stop? Here’s the answer: Never. And that’s why it really IS about letting go, times infinity.

I adore every socks-knitting, tattooed, Sherlock-loving, animal-mommying, pierced, brilliant blue-eyed, scrunched up nose, tip-toe when she walks, long wavy hair, piano playing, accordion shredding, pig-tail wearing, costume making, real food eating, techno music passionate, calculated risk taking, songwriting, pie making, life-gobbling, clear soprano part of her.

It’s the adoration, the trusting her at any cost, that makes this bearable. So for those reasons I will be her cheerleader. I will banish choking doubt and fear.

I will also be on the next plane if she needs me for any reason.

Lessons From A Five-Year-Old

Published in the Ferndale Record, January 29, 2014

In what could be considered a bold move, a five-year-old at school approached me after I’d bandaged her finger. “Maybe someday, when my parents are dead and I’m grown up, you and I can be friends.”

The whole “parents are dead” thing made me cringe a little, but then I remembered the mind of a child, and the unusually active and fertile mind of this particular child, and instead of recoiling, or explaining age differences and logistics, I smiled and said “OK.”

Then she said, “Maybe we can have a sleepover.” Again, my mind gravitated to that grown-up place of stark reality, but I quickly found my inner kindergartner and said, “Maybe we can.” She closed her eyes, hugged me tight and ran to class.

The itty bitty ones live life, play and love hard until someone or something, completes the siphoning of his or her original spirit – and they eventually morph into what others think they should be, not who they really are. It’s hard to watch.

In adult land, we normally don’t say it right out loud. There’s a kind of dance, some posturing, image to consider. And it’s true, asking someone – even a platonic friend you like a lot, to have a sleepover is well, kind of odd.

I guess the question is: Should it be? Is it really so socially askew to say what we’re thinking, especially if it’s kind, complimentary or loving?

I read a book once about a gutsy woman who decided to “never suppress a generous thought.” I get what she meant, and I think that’s what children and truly genuine people already do. No hating or bashing allowed. Go with the good stuff.

It’s like giving kudos to your best friend on her new haircut because you really love it and it doesn’t even occur to you that this declaration might make your own hair any less stunning. Or, maybe telling a coworker that you saw a thing he did when he handled a tricky situation with grace, without being afraid this compliment will make you sound like a doofus.

If we get over ourselves, our egos and insecurities, handing out generosity makes us feel great, and doesn’t diminish who we are, but connects us to the people around us, and the world in general. We become shareholders in a giant community of givers, and the perks are endless.

Can we really learn all that from a five-year-old? That, and more. One day as she was leaving the school, my pure and vocal little friend began gushing to everyone. “I love you lunch lady! I love you office lady!”  No one thought this was too much or inappropriate. It was simply a manifestation of who she is.

People sometimes back away when others emote. Most of us have been in a room dripping with emotion, and it made us squirm. But choosing to forego deep feeling exacts a price on our capacity for happiness. We don’t have to express it like a child might, but if we want the accompanying joy, express we must.

Someone once said “Everything I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.”  I would argue it happens before that.