Reflections On Thanksgivings Past

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View on my walk, after they’ve gone.

I wrote this five years ago, when both my kids came home for Thanksgiving weekend from college. I look back on this Thanksgiving fondly because it’s rare we get to spend the holiday together. Some years, my son stays up north near his girlfriend’s family. Then my daughter couldn’t leave due to her college team’s swim practice schedule.

This year, nobody is coming home. It’s partly due to COVID-19 and a new lockdown in effect. (Honestly, I didn’t think we ever got out of shelter in place, but people seemed less vigilant about following the rules.) This will be our last Thanksgiving in our home we’ve lived in for 28 years. So sad that we will be here all alone. I’m not going to cook for the two of us. My dad turns 89 in January and we decided it was best to skip a get together. It’s going to be a take-out dinner and maybe I’ll shed a few tears alone.

Here’s a look back at Thanksgiving 2015.

It’s Sunday after Thanksgiving and I was so thankful to have my family together. My two college kids came home to be with us! I cleaned and shopped all week, preparing for the big event.

Now, they’re gone.

Some of my favorite parts of the weekend:

The four of us walked down Palm Canyon Drive on Thanksgiving afternoon, before we ate my home-cooked meal. I loved that. The kids were happy, we window shopped, laughed and talked. There were the traditional piggy back rides and racing around.

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Piggyback rides downtown.

Then came dinner and my dad joined us. He’s close to 84 and I’m thankful he’s close by and can share time with us.

I was getting tired after being on my feet for the past few days. I couldn’t help but look with jealousy at the weekenders coming in and picking up their mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing off a fully stocked shelf at a local grocery store, Jensen’s. Too easy, but seriously? Would anyone care?

Some good moments we had were swimming at our team’s Friday morning practice–kind of together. Although the masters were separated from the kids, it was a shared experience. I had a first! I managed to push myself out of the pool without swimming to the stairs. Having to swim past my daughter and her friends’ lane, who were also home from college, would have been too embarrassing. So I did it!

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Feeling slightly short next to my daughter.

My son and I shared music. He’d play a song and then I’d give him a name of one to play. We went back forth while we drove to Palm Desert and back. He loves folk from the 60s and 70s. He listens to Joni Mitchell and some artists I’ve never heard of, but I enjoyed. I suggested “A Song for Juli,” by Jesse Colin Young and Nicolette Larson’s “Lotta Love,” plus a few more. We appreciate each other’s taste in music. He also shared a novella by Edan Lupucki that was a gem.

We went healthy food shopping and he taught my husband and I how to make chia pudding. Hmm.

My daughter and I had a delicious breakfast out together followed by a pedicure. Wonderful time together to talk and be mother and daughter like we used to be.

The four of us took the neighbor’s dog to the park and tossed the ball while my son jogged around us. It felt so good to play in the park where we spent so much of their younger days.

But, now they’re gone and here I am once again–alone at my computer. I do enjoy the freedom to write and finish some projects. I love my kids and I’m  blessed that they want to come home and we spend time being together.

I said I wasn’t going to cry this time when they left. In fact, I was surprised at how strong I was. Until the door closed behind them.

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When they were younger at the beach.

Are your kids bored? It may boost creativity

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My son came up with bug headbands for a birthday party made from pipe cleaners, styrofoam balls and lots of glue and glitter. The kids looked adorable. He also got to wear a birthday crown.

Do you remember being bored as a kid? I do. But it never lasted. I could go outside when we lived in town and go ask a neighbor to play. Or, I’d jump on my bike and ride around the block. We could run over to the house down the street that had an extra lot with a brown quarter horse named Snoopy. I’d climb on the fence to pet the white strip that ran down his nose. Most of the time I’d read, or play library and create library cards for all my books and arrange them by author on my bookshelves. Boredom just wasn’t a thing. Our mom was strict about TV and it wasn’t an option. She allowed two half-hour shows daily that she circled in the TV Guide — and they were usually on PBS.

These days, many kids never experience boredom because they lose themselves in a device like an iPhone or iPad. They don’t know what it’s like to have to use their imaginations and find something creative to do. I don’t think it’s helping them to be entertained externally all the time. I wrote about promoting a creative spirit in kids here and here.

Without creativity and an imagination, our kids won’t be problem solvers or discover new ways of doing things. If your kids are bored, so what? It’s okay. Ignore the whining and let them figure it out.

 In the Sarasota Herald Tribune, parenting experts Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman wrote Allow your kids to embrace boredom

 Have you noticed that our generation of parents is terrified of letting our kids become bored? Their anxiety is what drives them to pack a boatload of amusement options when they leave the house.

A few years ago, a waiter at a restaurant in North Dakota told us about a trend in his community. One local mom had created a custom quilted bag for holding multiple tablets so that every member of the family could be distracted and amused while they waited for their meal. It was wildly popular, he said.

Not only is our society’s pervasive reliance on amusement killing conversation and opportunities to connect and build relationships, it’s also preempting opportunities for boredom. Boredom is important for building imagination, creativity and innovation in our kids. Of course we can’t force these things into our children but we can set up an environment that will support the journey.

When we allow our kids to grapple with boredom on their own, rather than providing for them structured activities or distractions and amusements, imagination and creativity may come to their rescue!

“It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves,” said author Nancy Blakey. “If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”

If we provide our kids with a constant stream of amusement options, which includes a plethora of extracurricular activities, we rob them of the opportunity to explore the open space in their own minds where the imagination hides.

They make a good point about having a structured schedule. With piano, swimming and homework, there wasn’t a lot of time for my kids to get bored during the school year. The summers gave us more hours for imaginative play. Also, swim meets when the kids would be sitting under a pop-up tent for hours on end resulted in some imaginative play. We’d be at a meet for five or six hours and they’d race for only a few minutes here and there. I remember observing some very creative verbal word games.

According to the article, the authors suggest having bins and jars filled with all sorts of things in easy reach for your kids like popsicle sticks, fabric, string, paints, googly eyes, papers of different colors and textures, glues, etc. Their suggestion:

Then let your kids get good and bored. Don’t offer many suggestions. Simply say, “Oh, there are lots of things you could do. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” It may take time but eventually their imaginations will awaken and lead them to new horizons.

brother and sister with birthday cake

The antennae headbands made an appearance at several birthdays.

What do you do when your kids are bored?

 

Six Things Parents Love About Swim Meets

I wrote this six years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago and it definitely was a different world back then! Today is a good day to remember the good times.

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One of my favorite parts of being a year-round swim parent for the past 14 years has been swim meets. Not home meets, but traveling to meets. Don’t get me wrong, the home meets have their unique qualities that I’m sure I’ll miss — but, travel meets — I’ll definitely miss more.

kat at a meetThis past weekend, we were at a meet in So Cal Thursday through Sunday. Other swim parents posted photos and wrote on Facebook about how much they enjoyed the weekend and meet. My age group swim parenting days are numbered — 40 days and nights to be exact — but who’s counting? With my daughter leaving soon for college, I’m nostalgic about why I and other swim parents love meets. kat meet

My top six reasons why I love swim meets include:

  1. Spending time together.  When you are away for two to five days with your swimmer, you have a captive audience. There’s no distraction of 8 hours at school, followed by 3 hours of swim practice, and hanging out with their non-swim friends. Spending lots of time together, unfettered with household, work, and daily school responsibilities is refreshing. Enjoy your little bubble of time, treat it like a mini-vacation. Play cards, sing songs, go to the beach, have fun! You’ll look back on these days as precious memories.kat girls
  2. Nap time. When your swimmer is older, and in age groups that have prelims and finals, you’ll find yourself in your hotel — with your swimmer — for three to four hours in the middle of the day. Your swimmer needs to be off their feet and resting, so going to the beach isn’t a good choice. Nor is shopping. Bring in lunch, relax, and enjoy some of the best naps you’ll ever have!50Free
  3. Walking. Being at a meet for days on end, without cooking, cleaning, working, etc. allows plenty of time to walk. I walk during warm-ups and warm-downs. I walk with my husband, with friends, and by myself. I look forward to checking out the areas by the pools on foot. Walking gets rid of my nervous energy and walking for hours and miles has to be good for me!kat shelby
  4. Friendships. You’ll spend lots of hours with team parents under the pop-up tent. Mostly, swim parents are generous, encouraging and have the common interest of your team and kids’ successes at heart. I’ve made great friends with parents from other teams and I look forward to seeing them at the away meets. I had a great conversation this past weekend with a parent of another graduating senior. Our daughters are in separate towns, on separate teams, yet they are both swimming in college next year — and going through the same excitements and anxieties. I’ll look forward to seeing these parents in the future, during our college phase of swim meets.kat medals
  5. Watching your swimmer race. What is it about watching your child race that is so rewarding and exciting? I’m not sure, but if you have the answer, please let me know. It’s so exciting when they do well. I love that feeling when I see their hard work pay off and watch their growth as a person and an athlete.kat relays
  6. Sushi. We eat lots of sushi at swim meets. I consider myself a sushi connoisseur and I’ve scouted for the best sushi restaurants near pools throughout Southern California.  My daughter likes to eat sushi at meets, too. It’s healthy, light, provides her with the right fuel to race. My top three favorite Sushi restaurants include: bake-lobster-roll_resize

O Fine Japanese Cuisine, Laguna Beach and Irvine, CAojc_00100_resize

Zen Sushi, Lake Forest, CA, and Orange Roll and Sushi, Fullerton, CA.sunset-laguna-roll_resizeAre you a swim parent, or a sports parent? What are your favorite things about going to away meets?

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It’s the little things that count

Prior to COVID-19 and the weirdness of today — pre my ski accident and subsequent knee surgery — I wrote about the little things in life that matter the most. These thoughts are important today. What I wouldn’t give to get up and go to practice at 5:30 a.m. or have lunch with a friend. If anything these two months sheltering place have taught me to appreciate what I have and love the most. My family and friends — and pets.

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The view from our pool makes me happy.

I’m proud of myself today, because I started off the week with 5:30 a.m. practice. I’ve been trying to get up, half-heartedly I’ll admit, for the past month but the comfort of bed is just too much for me at 5 a.m. An extra hour of sleep usually wins out. But, today I did it. I made it to practice on time, began my workout in the dark and found joy in watching the views of the sunrise and pink-hued mountain change color during my workout.

I find a lot of happiness and excitement in the little things in my days. Our lives are made of small moments strung together and if we spend too much time worrying or focusing on the past or future, we miss the little bits of joy in the present. 

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Happiness is my daughter with her puppy.

Here’s a list of moments that make me truly happy:

Hearing the birds sing early in the morning.

My fourth flip turn during my second 200 at practice this morning. I nailed it.

Having lunch yesterday with a good friend and spending a few hours catching up with our lives.

Noticing that a family member got their dish off the table, into the sink and miracle of miracles—into the dishwasher.

Olive the cat honoring me with her presence and stretching out for a cat nap while I’m laying on my side. I have to be careful not to move, so she doesn’t fall off.

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Olive the cat in our back yard.

 

My kids calling just to talk. They aren’t asking for anything and there’s nothing big going on.

Sitting under an orange tree in my back yard reading a really good book.

Walking with my husband and marveling at the beauty surrounding us on a weekend morning.

Reading a positive comment on one of my articles.

Checking things off my to-do list and feeling productive.

What little things in your life make your day?

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Beautiful views of bougainvillea.

 

 

Day 55 Shelter in Place: Good and Bad News

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The park.

First the good news. Things are opening up a little bit in our county and my daughter and I played tennis two mornings in a row. Prior to this week, the tennis courts were padlocked. I found that almost as annoying as the pool being closed. It looks so wrong to see padlocks and yellow tape wrapping around our park, parking lots, playground equipment, etc.

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Before we became a full-on swim family, my kids took tennis lessons. My daughter was at preschool at the time and two of her good friends were taking lessons with her. My son had his buddies in his group as well. The instructor was a big goofy tennis pro who the kids called “Charlie Farlie.”

I took lessons in high school with my mom at the University of Washington, some sort of fun extension class. It was in the Hutchinson gym and there were huge windows up several stories in height. My mom and I both managed to hit the ball out those windows — several times — and we weren’t even trying! I’m mentioning this because my daughter and I do have some sort of background in tennis, although we’re hardly proficient at it.

Brick north face of Hutchinson Hall on Stevens Way East. The building hosts the School of Drama, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA. The 1926 building (architects Bebb & Gould) was named for long-time faculty member Mary Gross Hutchinson,

Hutchinson Hall where my mom and me took tennis. t

Fast forward to when we decided to homeschool my daughter for middle school. We had several homeschool families on the swim team and I envied their schedules. There were no late nights after practice completing pages of math problems or filling out worksheets for them. These homeschooled kids were really smart, well behaved and looked so happy. So we gave it a whirl. We went through a phase where we started our day with a bike ride around the park, played tennis together and then returned home to hit the books.

This week brought me back to those days. We had fun reminiscing about them and laughed at our bad shots while enjoying the cool mornings. I got a better workout than I do walking around the park. I got my heart rate up because my tennis is mostly running to corners of the court to pick up balls.

Now for the bad news. The city may not open up the pool. It’s been closed since shelter in place began 55 days ago. I was going to write a letter to the city to complain when our team was no longer allowed to use the pool, but individuals could lap swim. By the time I was composing my scathing letter, the pool had closed altogether.IMG_9355

Our town’s main industry is tourism. The hotels have been shuttered along with vacation rentals for two months. There’s no way to enjoy our beautiful weather, golf courses, tennis courts and hiking trials unless you are a resident. That means the city budget is devastated. Along with the pool, the city is talking about closing the library, animal shelter and cutting salaries, too.

We have one of the most gorgeous pools in state. Our Piranha Swim Team has a history of more than 50 years — one of the longest running teams in California. The kids who go through the program can swim in college if they choose. I think our success rate of kids going on to the next level is close to 90 percent. It was the single best thing we did for our kids in terms of activities. They were Piranhas from age five until they went to college. My daughter represented Piranhas in the summer after she went to college. I can go on and on about how great the team was for my kids, and now for me as a swimmer, too. It helped develop their healthy lifestyles, competitive spirits, and their character.

I’ll be devastated is the pool doesn’t reopen.

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That time I signed myself up for nationals

Three years ago in April, I signed up for US Masters Nationals — for myself to swim. It was very courageous of me because I’m not a very good swimmer. I went way outside of my comfort zone — which I’m definitely not doing now. I miss the pool with my friends during day 41 of the Coronavirus Shut Down. I decided to take a look at my one big swim moment. I was scared to death and I don’t know if I’d do this again, but I lived to talk about it! I also got to share the experience with my best swim friends, coach and family.

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US Masters Meet in January at our Palm Springs pool.

In a little less than two weeks, I’ll be swimming in another meet. This one will be my second meet in my two-year swim career. I attended a meet a few months ago, but right before it was my turn on the blocks, the pool was closed. The transformer was hit during an accident and the power to the pool went out. I haven’t decided whether that was a good thing or not that I didn’t have to dive off the blocks and swim.

This time is a little more frightening because of the name of the meet: US Masters Nationals. Yes, I said NATIONALS! Six swimmers from our Piranha Masters have signed up and I get nervous when I think about it. There are more than 2,000 attending.

My coach says not to think about it, but just show up and swim.

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My daughter at a swim meet with her best friend and coach.

I made the mistake of looking at the psych sheets and names like RYAN LOCHTE and NATHAN ADRIAN popped out at me! Who do I think I am to be signed up for this meet? I’m seeded dead last in my events by a lot—in my age group. However, there are swimmers ages 18 to 95, so maybe I should focus on picking off the swimmers 90 and above.

Swimming at this meet does make me more than anxious, so I have to remember what I would tell my kids and other swim parents:

ONE
Don’t worry about other people’s times. That’s right. I cannot control the fact that my friend Bonnie is 20 seconds faster than me in the 50 free. Yes, 20 SECONDS!

TWO
Relax and have fun. Yes, I’ll have so much fun with all my friends and watch great swimmers. I don’t want to freeze or panic in the middle of my 50 free and have to be dragged out of the pool. That would not be fun.

THREE
Try your best. I’ve put in the hard work. I’ve made it to practice for more than a year since my first meet. I can flip turn and dive off the blocks without hitting the bottom of the pool. I can do this. 

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My son (front) with swim buddies at a meet having fun.

P.S. My daughter, who’s a swimmer in college, will be home that weekend. She told me she plans on driving me to the meet, will stand at the blocks holding my towel, and will make sure I talk to our head coach Jeff Conwell before and after each event! Somehow, I think she’s looking forward to this more than I am!

What have you done that was outside your comfort zone? Would you do it again?

 

Good News: A Birthday for the 🐕


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It’s my son’s birthday on Thursday. I wrote this story a few years ago when he was still in college and Spring Break aligned with his birthday. It was always a treat that he could be home and we’d all celebrate. 

I can’t help but get sentimental and nostalgic for when he was a young boy. He called me “sweetheart” because he thought it was my name. When we went to “Mommy and Me” at the Palm Springs Pavilion, there was a “good-bye” song at the end of each session. When his name was called, he’d toddle to the teacher and plant a kiss on her cheek. He was so sweet. Still is.

robert 1In honor of his birthday, I’m posting a story I wrote when he invited 50 kids to his second grade party. Originally published in the Los Angeles Times Kids’ Reading Room, it’s about Angus our yellow lab of 15 years, who shared my son’s birthday.

A Birthday for the Dogs

“MOM, I’m inviting 50 kids to my party.”

“What, Robert?” Mom said. “That’s too many. Do you know 50 kids?”

I sat in the back seat while Mom drove home after school. My eighth birthday was in two weeks. 

“There’s my class, plus Cub Scouts, and playgroup.”

“I can’t afford to take 50 kids skating or bowling. And I don’t want 50 kids in my house. What about the city pool? It’s heated, open year-round, and it’s only 50¢ a kid,” Mom said.

“A swim party, that’s cool!” I said.

“I’ll say yes to the party, but no to presents. Fifty presents is too much for one 8-year-old. It’s decadent.”

“What’s decadent?” I asked. Mom used words I didn’t know.

“Self-indulgent, corrupt.”

I sat silently and thought I’d be sad with no presents. Then I remembered Angus. Mom got him for me as an early birthday present. We were on a waiting list for two years with Guide Dogs of the Desert. He was being trained as a companion dog for people who couldn’t see. We got him because he had poor hips and couldn’t be a working dog. Angus was big, yellow, and I loved him. We shared the same birthday.

“I have a great idea!”

“What?” Mom asked, glancing at me in her rearview mirror.

“I’ll ask for money for Guide Dogs of the Desert.”

“Ah?” Mom made a weird swallowing noise.

“It’s Angus’s birthday, too.”

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In the rearview mirror I watched Mom dab at the corner of her eyes with a tissue, and nod her head in agreement.

Two weeks later, I had a great birthday. Fifty kids came with bathing suits, towels and money. Instead of opening presents after cake, we counted dollars they had stuffed into a large jar decorated with photos of Angus. 

Together, we raised more than $1,600 for Guide Dogs. Mom called me a “philanthropist” – whatever that is.

Angus8Happy birthday, son! We miss you, Angus!