Happy September first!

My mom and I had a little game where we’d try to be the first person to call and shout Happy (insert month) first! I miss those days. That was before she was in assisted living. Now it’s hard to get her to answer the phone and rare that she calls me.

Mom and me in the early 90s.

When September 1 comes around I get motivated. The long-awaited vacation days are over. It’s time for me to get on with my life and to be productive in whatever that may be. It’s almost like starting New Year’s resolutions.

Maybe it’s because the end of heat is near. After years of desert living, September can still be hot — but we’re down to a few weeks of 100 plus degree weather. Cooler weather feels good and it’s motivating to be able to go outside any time of day.

Maybe it’s because of my years as a swim mom that I’m excited for September. The calendar for swimmers begins in September. It’s a brand new year after two weeks of time off in August. It’s when swimmers may move up in their training groups and a new meet schedule comes out.

It’s the start of the school year, too. Although these days our former school district starts in early August. That would never have worked for us. As a swim family, our vacation started mid-August after the final swim meets. Thank goodness I’m not dealing with school anymore.

So what are my goals for the fall? To write more. To swim consistently at the city pool. To take a photography or drawing class.

I’m ready. Happy September first everyone!

The critters enjoying my backyard.

What are your thoughts about September? Do you like the end of summer? Do you get motivated in the fall? Why or why not?

Reflections on my first trip since COVID

I was uneasy about traveling. My daughter got me a plane ticket for Seattle so I could celebrate Mother’s Day with my 89-year-old mom, who hasn’t been out of her assisted living facility for more than a year. In concept this was a lovely idea and I was so touched that my daughter would think of such a thing.

View from Lake Sammamish boat launch.
View from a park at Lake Sammamish in Washington.

In reality, I was anxious about going to the airport, being in a crowd, getting a rental car and driving on the freeway. You see, I have extreme anxiety driving on freeways and bridges — I avoid them at all costs. Seattle to the East Side is all freeways and bridges. I was dreading it. When I lived in Palm Springs, I didn’t have to drive the freeway at all. I think I got out of practice. I saw a therapist and she told me to practice. She wanted me to get on the freeway and drive to the next exit one day, go a couple more the next. I did the one exit with sweaty palms and sweat pouring down my back. My legs were shaking and I could barely manage the accelerator or brake. That was it for me. There’s been no reason to drive the freeways since.

Back to Seattle, I asked my college best friend to pick me up at the airport and I’d get a rental car closer to my mom’s home. She agreed, because that’s the kind of friend she is. But, I soon found out that I had rented a nonrefundable car at Seatac, the airport. So, I faced my fears and strangely enough, I drove without a hitch. This happens to me whenever I get back home to where I grew up. It’s as though a different part of my brain wakes up and takes over. Also, the drivers in the Seattle area are an entirely different breed than California or Arizona drivers. You put on your turn signal and nobody steps on the gas to cut you off. In fact, they slow down and wave you over!

Ivar's Seafood Bar for Mother's Day chowder and crab cocktails.
Mom at our Mother’s Day Lunch at Ivar’s. We had Dungeness crab cocktails and clam chowder. It was delicious and we went there because all the fancier places were booked.

The other thing that was a show stopper on my trip was my mom! It’s as though she’s getting younger, more fit, and more alert. This COVID year seems to have the reverse effect on her than the general population. I was sitting in her room on my first visit and the activity director knocked on the door and asked if we wanted to join the croquet game. She said, “YES!” This is totally contrary to her usual behavior. Normally, I have to beg her to get out of her recliner and out of her room. I was quite shocked. We are big croquet players in our family, and my mom brags that she is practically a professional. She made her way with her walker outdoors to the croquet court and she played the entire game. I had to help her to each shot, where she slowly got her feet in the right position. She was so engaged and excited to play.

Me and Mom selfie
Mom enjoyed taking a selfie with me.

Each day, I took Mom out. We went for beautiful drives along Lake Sammamish, out to eat and my Aunt Linda joined us after her drive up from Portland, Ore. Here are some of the photos of our highlights of food and scenery:

Lake Sammamish hike
My dear friend told me about a trail that followed Lake Sammamish from my hotel.
Bald eagle in tree along Lake Sammamish
I saw a bald eagle in the trees along one of my walks. It’s kind of fuzzy because I zoomed in.
Flying port a potty
Puts new meaning into the word “Porta-potty.”
Dungeness Towers at the Coho Cafe
My Mom and I had Dungeness Crab Towers for Lunch at the Coho Cafe. My Aunt had fish and chips.
steamed clams with bacon and peppers
I picked up clams at Pike Place Market. My best friend’s husband prepared them with garlic, onions, bell peppers and smoky bacon. He also made crusty garlic bread to dip in the clam nectar.
Mt. Rainier view from plane
Mt. Rainier as I flew out of Seattle. It was a spectacular day driving to the airport with views of the Olympic Mountains and Mt. Rainier.
Farewell Seattle. Good-bye Mom, Aunt Linda and Cindy and Mike. I hope to see you all again soon. It was truly a magical trip.

Sights from Pike Place Market

First thing this morning I rushed to see my mom. I called her last night to remind her I was here. The parking lot of her retirement community was cordoned off with yellow tape to force everyone to drive to the front entrance. I parked and got soaked in the pouring rain to get my temperature check for my one-hour appointment. Then I was instructed on how to drive around the complex to get to my mom’s assisted living building. They had installed barriers so nobody can access the community without first checking in at the main entrance.

View of rhododendrons out my mom’s window.

Mom was so excited to see me, but didn’t understand the one-hour rule. I told her it’s because they only allow two visitors in at once, and they want to make sure everyone has a turn. I explained that I’d be coming back each day to spend the hour with her and we could leave and go for a drive to anywhere she wants to go. Today was pouring down rain and cold. She wasn’t interested in going outside. She didn’t sound enthusiastic about the idea for tomorrow, either, but we’ll see. She looked good and it felt wonderful to be with her in person after missing her since before COVID. We were all worried about her because her home is located a few miles from the one in Kirkland, Wash. that had all the deaths early on. They had an outbreak in Mom’s home, too, but she stayed healthy through the entire year.

It’s very strange to have only one hour with her, but I’m here for several days.

Puget Sound view from the market
View of the Puget Sound from Pike Place Market when the rain stopped.

Pike Place Market is one of my favorite places to visit in Seattle. I’m thankful for the chance to go today. And for my friendship with my dear friend I met in college. It’s a treasure to have a friend you can trust, count on and share your deepest secrets. We may not talk to each other for a year or see each other for several, but once together, it’s like we’re still in our 20s and no time has passed at all.

Here are a few photos from Pike Place Market today — a day of rain, sunshine, hail and friendship:

selfies with masks
We decided to do a COVID selfie to remember this year.

La Panier Bakery, Pike Place Market
La Panier Bakery, now in its 38th year.

More photos:

Public Market sign at PIke Place
Red Snapper surrounded by salmon
Dungeness crabs at Pike Place
I have a painting of my favorite food that from 35 years ago of this fishmonger’s unique display of Dungeness crabs. My friend gave it to me when I left Seattle for Palm Springs.
Flowers at Pike Place Market

The look in her eyes when I said good-bye

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Downtown Seattle on a sunny day.

Little did I know that that would be the last time I’d see Mom before the COVID lockdown. My daughter and I were visiting my mom in her assisted living home on a trip to Seattle in March two years ago today. Mom and I share March birthdays and I try to make it a point to be with her. But last year in March they had COVID breakouts in a facility a few miles from her and then it spread to her assisted living home.

The good news is she never got it. She’s healthy and got both her shots. But I miss her. I’m hoping someday this year I’ll get to spend time with her in person.

Here’s what I wrote about my trip to visit mom in March 2019:

I will never forget the look in my mom’s eyes when I said goodbye. After lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant, we sat around a table in the lobby playing a card game our family played when I was a child, Demon.

It was fun and we all laughed as we got more and more competitive. They teamed up against me, as they tried to defeat me–but didn’t of course. My daughter slowed down her speed to make the game more fun for us old folks, because seriously she could beat us handily at anything involving speed and reaction time.

After that, we walked mom back to her room, got her settled in and said good-bye. My mom stared at me, sitting in her comfy chair, like her heart was breaking. Her big hazel eyes filled with water and I fought my own tears. I felt like I was deserting her.

My daughter asked if she wanted the TV on, and she said, “No, I’m fine.” As we closed the door, I peaked in and saw my mom sitting on her chair with her head dropped, staring at nothing.

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My mom was surprised to learn I had a camera in my phone. She enjoyed the selfie.

The good news is I came the next day, and the next. Each day she looked happier and her spark returned. She has a witty sense of humor and kept me laughing. By the time I said my final good-bye, she looked so much better. I think she’s terribly lonely and I need to visit more often.

And to think I was going to visit her more often — and then no visits at all….

If you live away from your elderly family members, how do you feel when you say good-bye?

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Nothing better than a mother daughter trip.

Missing casual friends during COVID

Mt. San Jacinto Palm Springs

The view from my morning walks in Palm Springs.

Talking to my daughter yesterday, over the phone, I told her I was feeling lonely. I had one of those moments she told me was FOMO. I looked at an Instagram pic of my friends in Palm Springs going on a mountain bike ride. I wanted to be there with them. I decided a few days ago that I’m going to get a bike and try out the trails across the street. So, I felt a little pang, wishing that I could be there riding with friends.

(FOMO, my daughter told me, is the fear of missing out — for other boomers like me who don’t have a clue.)

I told her that my life isn’t that much different here. My life is still pretty much the same. I’m isolated, sheltering with my husband, and we aren’t out socializing or doing much except for daily walks and hikes — alone. Just like back in our old home.

“Yes, but you had your people,” she explained. “You stopped and talked to your friend Shawn at the park with his Irish Setter pups and you saw your Masters swimming friends.”

I told her that the people are friendly here, too. And we share smiles and friendly words daily on my walks. But, she’s right. It isn’t the same. I don’t know them like I knew my favorite checker at Ralph’s grocery store. We shared stories about how our adult kids were doing. Nor, do I stop and talk to anyone on my walks like I did with Shawn about politics or talk dogs and kids with the lady with the show Pekes. I don’t have the shared experience with anyone here like my swim Masters friends, where we’ve entered meets together, practiced in the rain and swim for Angel View Crippled Children’s Homes to raise money every New Year’s Eve.

I read several stories recently that talk about COVID sheltering in place and how we’re losing contact with our casual friends. Here’s an excerpt from The Atlantic by Amanda Mull that tackles this in The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship; There’s a reason you miss the people you didn’t even know that well:

In the weeks following, I thought frequently of other people I had missed without fully realizing it. Pretty good friends with whom I had mostly done things that were no longer possible, such as trying new restaurants together. Co-workers I didn’t know well but chatted with in the communal kitchen. Workers at the local coffee or sandwich shops who could no longer dawdle to chat. The depth and intensity of these relationships varied greatly, but these people were all, in some capacity, my friends, and there was also no substitute for them during the pandemic. Tools like Zoom and FaceTime, useful for maintaining closer relationships, couldn’t re-create the ease of social serendipity, or bring back the activities that bound us together.

Understandably, much of the energy directed toward the problems of pandemic social life has been spent on keeping people tied to their families and closest friends. These other relationships have withered largely unremarked on after the places that hosted them closed. The pandemic has evaporated entire categories of friendship, and by doing so, depleted the joys that make up a human life—and buoy human health. But that does present an opportunity. In the coming months, as we begin to add people back into our lives, we’ll now know what it’s like to be without them.

It’s partly the pandemic that has cut us off from our normal activities and life. For me, it’s also moving to a new state and starting over. Thank God for my iphone. I’m talking daily to my dad and good friends. But I miss those casual friends, too.

diving off the blocks

That’s me diving off the blocks in my first swim meet where I’m surrounded my swim friends, officials and coaches.

How have you noticed a change in your casual friendships going on month 11 of our new normal?

What’s the main role of parents?

swim coach with young swimmer

My daughter with her coach, who also was a mentor.

In my SwimSwam parenting articles I often stress that parents and coaches have different roles. There’s a saying that I learned from USA Swimming back when I wrote a monthly newsletter for our swim team: Swimmers swim, parents parent and coaches coach.

As a long-time swim parent, my role seemed to be filled with endless loads of washing towels and feeding super hungry kids.

Yesterday I listened to a webinar that took this topic head on. It was by David Benzel of Growing Champions for Life called How to discuss performance issues with your child — and remain friends. Benzel said that the word coach was first used in the days of the stagecoach. You know, that vehicle that helped people get from point A to point B. A teacher referred to himself as a “coach” back then and today we all use the word to describe the person who helps our athletes on their journey.

Another point he made was that parents main role is to be a mentor in life lessons, while a coach helps on the field of pool with improving their skills. All mentors are coaches, Benzel said, but not all coaches are mentors.

coach with young swimmers

Coach Dwight was an amazing mentor to our young swimmers.

Here are the words Benzel used to describe coaches: instructional, inspirational, analytical, authoritarian, organized and encouraging.

The mentor or parent is supportive, exemplary, compassionate, authoritative, empathetic and loving.

If you get your roles mixed up and tell your kids how to improve or what they did wrong they can get really confused and upset. They don’t know if you’re coaching or criticizing. If you’re inspiring or disciplining. So often our kids fear they are disappointing us. Coaching them will make them defensive and feel like they’re never good enough in our eyes.

Isn’t that amazing? We are only trying to help our kids be better and want them to succeed.

In order to help our kids Benzel said we need to tell them “I love to watch you play.” And then be silent. Don’t say anything more until you’re asked. He said if we as parents ask thought provoking questions like “why do you enjoy swimming?” or “What are you doing when you feel the best?” — then we aren’t being judgmental but may open up a conversation.

Here are the life lessons Benzel listed that we can help our kids learn in our role as a parent and mentor:

self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, self-control, empathy, generosity, sacrifice, patience, personal responsibility, grit, optimism, handling emotions, humility, gratefulness, fairness and loyalty. 

Boy, that’s quite a list. Yes, I hope my kids learned these things through their years in the pool. I hope I helped them along the way. Because as Benzel said, If not you — WHO? If not now –WHEN?

college daughter and coach at the side of the pool

My daughter with her college coach at a big meet in Santa Clara. Another coach who was also a mentor.

If your kids are in sports, what do you see as your most critical role?

What I miss most about my daughter

I wrote this when we dropped our daughter off at college. Now that she’s living in the adult world — I definitely still miss these things about her. She spent a few days at the beach with us in August (same beach pictured below when she was a kid). That was the last time we were together. We were lucky to have her sheltering in place with us for a couple of months. That was one of the good things that happened in 2020 — not COVID-19 and being locked down — but getting the chance to spend time together.  

excited child at the beach

Kat at Carpinteria State Beach

We took our daughter to college two weeks ago. She looks really happy in the photos posted on FB and Instagram. She’s made new friends, is enjoying her team and coaches -and likes her classes.

My life is busy with new and old projects. But, I notice a quiet, a sort of waiting sense, that I didn’t feel before. It’s the little things about her that I miss.

close up of swimmer swimming butterfly

Kat swimming

I miss her cracking my back. She could give me a hug, tell me to relax and say, “One, two..” and lift me up in the air before she said three. The result was cracking, popping relief.

I miss her making me laugh. Kat is funny. I love her little half smile when she knows she’s especially clever. And the crinkles around her eyes when she laughs out loud.

I miss her cleaning out my wallet and organizing it for me. She’d say, “Mom your purse is gateway hoarding.”

I miss her walking through the kitchen door after her morning workout asking me to make her eggs. I don’t have anyone to make eggs for right now — except my husband and I — and we rarely eat them.

I miss her cat Olive walking on the skinny end of her four poster bed while she watched Netflix on my laptop.

precious baby kitten

Baby Olive

I miss when she was very young and called yellow “lallo.”  And when we’d go to the beach and she’d strip naked as soon as her suit got wet. I used to bring a bag full of swimsuits for her.

Kat in a dry suit at the beach with big brother Robert.

Kat in a dry suit at the beach with big brother Robert.

I miss going to the pool and watching practice, chatting with the other swim parents. That was a luxury that I took for granted.

Yes, I miss her and I hope she knows how much I love her.

Kat making an entrance into the room.

Kat making an entrance into the room.

What do you miss most about your kids if they’re away at college or left home for good?