Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

One Mom’s March Madness

#5 Motherhood — the moments, the madness, the profound joy, the heart-breaking sorrows

Last week, my son’s baseball team won in extra innings. We had a runner on third base, and one of our players hit a ball to right field. As the ball rose and fell, the right fielder missed the ball, and our runner scored. As happiness ensues for one team, the other packs up. I was elated for our team, but my mind shifted to the kid who missed the ball and…his mom.

After the game, my son said, “You felt bad for that mom didn’t you?” “Fine. Yes, I did…it’s empathy” (Naming it something made me feel better). I know how it plays out – son misses ball – team loses game – blame is assigned, emotions run wild and the ride home is painful!

But whose emotions are in the balance? The player, the coach, the parent? Or “D – ALL OF THE ABOVE”.


Friday night we went out to a local pizza place, sat in our regular booth, chatted, and stared up at the outdated TVs watching any team play basketball. It’s March Madness. With so many teams playing, stakes and drama are high – it’s truly a basketball binge-watching dream for fans.

I watched the teenage workers pace back and forth delivering pizzas to booths, clearing tables, and refilling their own clear cups with colorful flavors at the soda fountain machine. I saw one new employee stop and stare at one of the screens, riveted. I looked up. Wrestling? What? I hadn’t seen wrestling since high school…and on a March Madness night? Turns out it wasn’t just any match, it was the Division 1 Wrestling championships, and Iowa’s three-time national champion, Spencer Lee, was in the depths of competing for a chance at a possible fourth straight title. In the end, however, Lee lost in the semi-finals to Matt Ramos from Purdue, cementing one of the most historical upsets in D1 wrestling.

Why did it matter to me? Spencer’s mom…

As notable as the loss, Spencer Lee’s mom was shown reacting to her son’s defeat, and it was remarkable. As soon as the winner’s arm (which was NOT attached to her son) was lifted by the referee, Lee’s mom tore her glasses off of her face and smashed them up in her hands, not one, not two, but three times, hurling them to the floor.

Now that’s mad! Mad at the ref? The opponent? Her son?

Or is it passion? Or sadness? Or frustration?

My mind reeled. Sometimes as parents we are overly invested emotionally and financially in our children’s activities, sports, and school progress. That is to say, we may fail to recall who is swinging the bat, writing the essay, swimming the mile, and solving the equation. Hint: It’s not us…something I forget quite often. Our (sometimes unreasonable) expectations of what our kids can and should do are clear in our heads – run faster, pitch harder, and study smarter. Easy for us to say.

Is it the “happiness” we want for our kids? The joy of winning the race or getting into their number one college? The accomplishment is kinda like a Prime package at our doorstep where underneath the bubble wrap sits all the justification you need for your investment of time, money, and heartache. Until the next thing and the next. Perhaps, as parents, we conflate passion and perfectionism. Let’s face it, seeking perfection is a fool’s errand. We are all messy and cluttered and muddling through the days. Maybe the lesson here is the fact that sometimes other kids are going to do a lot better than our own kids on the field or in the classroom. Sounds like real life doesn’t it?

I recently read about Esther Wojcicki, author of “How to Raise Successful People”. She is best known as the “Silicon Valley’s godmother” and mom to three very successful daughters: Susan, the former CEO of YouTube, Anne, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, and Janet, a professor at UC San Francisco. By implementing her personal parenting philosophy, which Esther refers to as TRICK: trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness, she feels she was able to raise capable, successful children. As far as being a parent, Wojcicki suggests focusing on your own behavior. She says, “Parenting gives us perhaps the most profound opportunity to grow as human beings.”

As parents, we dim our own internal light to brighten that of our children.

Carl Jung said, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.” “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” 

What I learned this week:

Real life is all I know. Real joy, real feelings, real pain. Sundays I sit at church and gaze at the Stations of the Cross on the walls, and I see our own journeys to Calvary. Falling some days, getting up the next. Being carried and lifted, scorned and loved. Some days we need to carry each other on the path. Mr. Rogers’ mother used to tell him in times of tragedy, Grace will always show up in the helpers. Be the helper. Be there for the mom who hurls her glasses, the kid who misses the fly ball, and your own child who needs your presence, not your commentary. Not today anyway.

“Sadly, many of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves. Often it comes from the negative tendencies of the mind, emotional reactivity, or from our inability to appreciate and utilize the resources that exist within us. The suffering from a natural disaster we cannot control, but the suffering from our daily disasters we can. We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people.” –Dalai Lama

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

How to care for those who cared for us…


I am one of four sisters. The youngest and the furthest away from our parents. Growing up people would refer to me as “the baby” and mom would swoop in like an eagle – wings flapping and correct them in her unyielding tone, “Nooooo, she’s the youngest”. At the time, mom was busy raising four independent girls, and the term “baby” was reserved solely for those in diapers, which we were all out of by age two.

As in most families, we each had our textbook roles as siblings: the oldest – reliable and overly cautious (as kids we barely glimpsed at the Grand Canyon as she herded us like a Border Collie away from the edge), the middle sisters – a tad rebellious, with large social circles (probably helped that they had a cool 1957 Ford truck to drive), and me fun-loving and easy-going perhaps a bit lazy. Now that mom and dad are 84 and 87, respectively, (AMAZING! I KNOW!) life has changed a bit and we have adjusted our roles.

That being said, when it came to caring for them as they waltz hand in hand through their later years, I was not the daughter to step up to the helm and guide the ship. There’s something called “Seagull Syndrome” where the sibling who lives furthest away tends to visit, poop on everyone’s ideas about caretaking and fly home. I try not to do that, but rather be the “fun uncle” type daughter who says yes, to everything (“Yes, cookies for breakfast counts…yes, we can binge watch Blue Bloods until midnight”) and then I head home. 

Thankfully with three sisters, and the Catholic faith as our north star, one of my sisters retired from her job and moved back home to care for them. With a Master’s Degree in psychology, 30 years of experience managing engineers, and a heart of gold, she was clearly qualified and has made what is possibly the noblest of all jobs look easy. She’s the Helen Keller of caretaking. She knows where mom hurts and how to heal, she knows when dad needs to go for a drive or use the wood splitter, and she knows exactly when they both need a nap. Although they both say they “don’t nap”.

As a bunch (think Brady’s with attitude), we each contribute what we can. My oldest sister is always on call and will drop anything to be present. Outsourcing as needed, and sending Pedialyte, Boost, or whatever is needed via amazon. My sister closest to me in age will jump in and clean, manage all outside work, call daily, and do more between 10 pm and 2 am than most people do all day. We all have our jobs, whether it’s calling to tell them stories of our day, making sure mom takes her medicine or dad sits down to rest. But my sister, the primary caretaker has developed a skillful management of self and our parents and for that, we are all grateful. 

How does she do it?

Always reading and learning, she finds the perfect balance between caretaking and respecting our parents’ need for independence. In the book, Being Mortal, author Atul Gawande posits that whether a teen or a senior, they both value autonomy and crave the feeling of purpose and worth every day. So, when Dad, who recently stopped driving wants to drive the truck from the front yard to the back, we let him buckle up and go…better to help him remember he still can, even if just a little bit.

Equally, when mom wants to give the next-door dog, Ned leftovers through the fence (even though he’s been fed), she takes care of dear old Ned. I read a story about Bill Thomas, director of a nursing home in NY who brought in pets for the residents to nurture because he says giving people something to care for makes them more active and alert. Thus my parent’s surplus of suet, bird seed, dog bones, and corn.

Being part of the “Silent Generation” our parents are workers. Raised in the Depression Era, everything is recycled, reused, repurposed, and appreciated. Growing up wood piles were (and still are) precious commodities, prom dresses were made by mom (!) and going out to eat at “The Royal Fork” Buffet was a big deal.

Luckily Dad starts each morning by saying “Another good day, right Mom?!” Mom replies in her realistic tone placing her coffee in the microwave again, “Okay, Dad”. They do this, call each other “Mom and Dad” the titles God bestowed on them that they cherish and will use day after day until there are no more days.

During my visit this past week, I wrote down some notes. As they are specific to my parents, I believe the lessons can be applied to taking care of any senior or otherwise. I wrote this list for my sisters, so it may read like a journal, but thought it might help someone out there.

I strongly believe “everyone needs a destination” 

  • Respect what I call “the triangle”: Church, the doctor’s office, and the grocery store. These are their familiar stomping grounds – weave in a few other outings (restaurant, casino, a walk) and it gives the day purpose.

Note: If you have to reschedule a doctor’s appointment, do it. Better to take them when they are prepared and feeling okay than stressed and apprehensive.

Listen to their stories – it connects them to a familiar time

  • My mom’s stories about boarding school and all the nuns who served as her family when she moved away from home at 14 years old are formative years that are the spotlight of her daily memory.
  • When mom talks about giving up the St. John’s College scholarship offer she received, I think about the huge sacrifice she made for her family by working and supporting them when grandpa was sick. 
  • Mom will remind you of the way grandma and grandpa warmed water on the stove for their baths and how they sang songs like “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain” in perfect harmony.
  • Dad will tell you stories in Spanglish as vividly as if you were there.

Speak loudly

  • Especially if you are reading a crossword clue to dad or the jumble letters, or driving and mom is in the back seat, or telling a story, or or or.

Diet and meals – let them eat cake!

  • Mom will eat more and digest better if the food is cut into small pieces.
  • Gatorade powder (more economical per dad) is rejuvenating. Stir thoroughly or he’ll tell you there is “perfectly good wasted sugar at the bottom of the glass” and refill it.
  • Happy Hour is sacred, respect it. Open a beer for dad and poor mom’s Pedialyte. Place cheese, gluten-free crackers, and fruit on a plate and enjoy.
  • The “Big” meal is at 3:00 pm.
  • Dove Bars – we bought eight boxes at the commissary – it’s a highlight of the day…and a fair bribe to get mom to eat.

Outdoor ActivitiesEmerson said that the happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So walk outside a lot.

  • Mom will always have things to show you around the yard, enjoy the tour. Upon my arrival, she said, “Come meet our new family members.” I went out back and was greeted by 24 cranes who began squawking at me as I approached the fence. “If we go to the poor house,” mom said, “it’s because Dad and your sister keep feeding these guys so much corn”. 
  • Watching Dad move wood from the ground to the truck to the splitter and stack it is as exhausting as doing it yourself. 
  • Dad will work harder than any 20-year-old you’ve ever met and wonder why “me duele de todo” (everything hurts).
  • Later, talk Dad through why “todo duele” (everything hurts) and gently remind him he is 87 years old and must pace himself.

Indoor Weather – Dress for summer

  • It will always be warm inside mom and dad’s house. Our brilliant sister has the thermostat programmed to plummet to 72 degrees. (Highly Recommend!) To set the thermostat, press the bottom button on the left once, then walk away nonchalantly. Mom will later turn it up to 81 degrees. Once you are drenched in sweat, repeat the process.
  • The fireplace will be used if the weather is 70 degrees or below.

Indoor Activities

  • Mom thinks her hearing is excellent, but according to a hearing test, it’s not. So, before watching Jeopardy, Mom will ask you to “turn up the volume because Dad can’t hear!” 
  • Mom’s filter has gone from almost there to MIA so when watching Jeopardy be ready for a roasting of Ken Jennings who “acts like he knows everything” …ummm…he did win about a million times. 
  • With Dad’s macular degeneration, he is still able to enjoy and make out the scenery on Alaska shows “Good hard workers!” he says. He also loves “Nat Geo” “The History Channel” and “The Weather Channel”. The more drama the better with the weather.
  • Puzzles for mom…have one set up and another on deck at all times. This is her quiet space.

The Newspaper

  • Holding the newspaper in their hands brings comfort, familiarity, and joy. Even if Dad can’t see enough to read it.
  • Let mom read the paper to dad in the morning while he slurps his way through the coffee and pastries or cookies. Tread lightly, this is their time.
  • When Dad shakes out the newspaper he’ll say “Let’s see who’s left and let’s see who moved out of town.” Then he’ll hand me the obituary section to read aloud “slowly”.  I announce the names as if they were crossing the stage at a commencement ceremony, or rather, St. Peter’s gate.
  • The crossword and Jumble are great mental gymnastic exercises and keep their minds active.

Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Don’t do laundry. That’s mom’s gig.
  2. If Dad is struggling with something DO take over and help.
  3. If mom is struggling with something, leave her alone. She “CAN DO IT!”
  4. Don’t move the scissors, pencils, coffee, Kleenex, or blankets. Life is now done by feel and rote memory. 
  5. Do agree more.
  6. Do let dad cheer up mom. Dad equals levity. 
  7. Do help them remember: Dad may not remember what he ate the night before – i.e.: “Oh we ate enchiladas last night? Did I enjoy them?” “Yes dad, you loved them.” “Oh good!”
  8. OR “Did we watch Blue Bloods last night?” Yes, dad, you fell asleep the last five minutes. “Did I enjoy it?” Yes, Dad – you loved it.“Oh good!”
  9. Do answer the phone, mean people prey on the elderly.
  10. Don’t ask them, “do you remember when…” just retell the story.

What I’ve learned:

Being far away is hard. Wondering if this is the phone call is hard hard hard. Saying goodbye to them at the airport when I leave is hard…homesickness in my fifties looks a lot different than it used to and I mentally prep myself for the lifelong homesickness yet to come.

But I love that God and Grace and Mercy exist. I love that when I cry and truly let out my fear of their absence that the tears feel like a Baptism. I love that I have my sisters. I love that we are like a pit crew, repairing what is broken, filling up our parent’s tank with all the love we possibly can because we’re on the clock. I love that we take care of each other.

Thanks for joining me,


On writing…

“You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.”

Anne Lamott

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Finding home – on the bike trail


Community and relationships are as important as anything else on earth. Last weekend I discovered a priceless, strong, fit, and unrelenting community. 

When our kids began college I quickly slowly learned to listen more, encourage their own decision making and be grateful anytime they told us where they were going.

So when our son said, “I’m going to Jarrod’s Place this weekend.” I gave my default reaction: “How fun!” and began running through my mental Rolodex of our son’s friends and scoured my brain for a “Jarrod”. No luck.`

Well, if it’s not someone’s home, it sounded like a great place for a hoagie and a cold beer, nope Coke, or maybe a place you’d stop on a long drive to grab a cup of coffee and rest.

Turns out it’s better.

Sitting on the side of a mountain in Summerville, Georgia, is  Jarrod’s Place. Not a diner or coffee shop, but a shuttle-serviced bike park, the location of our son’s Enduro Race and home to one of the strongest, trusting, and daring communities around.

The only way I can describe this group is to have you think of the feeling you get on a snowy day when everyone seems to get along and life seems a little easier, or the feeling of home where there’s no need to explain who or why. You can just be you.

First off – “shuttle-serviced bike park” sounds like an oxymoron, so let me explain. There are a few definitions of “Enduro racing”. If you are a parent of an enduro rider, it is basically code for “Insanity”. If you are an enduro racer (any age), it is the thrill of a lifetime. 

According to the Liv-cycling website, Enduro is a form of mountain bike racing, with an influence from European car rally racing and motorbike enduro racing. 

“The concept was simple: get yourself to the top of a mountain and race to the bottom time-trial style. In general, modern enduro races involve anywhere from 3-6 timed stages. The timed portions of the race are mostly downhill but can vary in steepness, length, and difficulty depending on location. Between each stage, there will be untimed “transfer stages” that are mostly uphill. Depending on the race, transfer stages can involve sections of hike-a-bike, a chair lift, and/or good old-fashioned pedaling. Enduro combines elements of all racing disciplines from the physical fitness necessary for cross-country racing, the mental stamina necessary for XC-style stage races and the bike-handling skills to navigate technical gravity-fed singletrack.”

We arrived on Sunday after he had started the race which involved five “runs” up the mountain. The riders take the shuttle for the first run, and for the next four runs, they pedal up the mountain which takes 20-25 minutes. They then double back down in approximately 2 minutes, yes 2 minutes!. 

If it wasn’t enough to see our son fly down the mountain with leaps and bounds, it was just as shocking to see multiple-aged riders zoom back to the bottom, take a swig of water, grab a hotdog or banana, and pedal back up. 

One by one, they came down: each covered in mud and each with their own animated story.

One barreled down the mountain and announced to all of his teammates (at least 10 times) as they descended behind him, “Dude! My gears broke, let’s do it again!” 

Followed by a group of high school kids whose lead rider yelled “I landed a huge whip!” 

Then there’s the nine-year-old boy who slid into the finish down the mountain, declaring he “hauled a–!” “I mean, did you see me? I completely dominated and hauled a–!!” (There’s poetic license in this community – what is said on the mountain stays on the mountain – no matter the age.)

Or the 50-something dad who declared he “cased it!” (back tire clipped the top of the landing).

It was clear every single rider had conquered whatever comfort zone they had and pushed on to the next. They tweaked their technique and seemed to almost thank mother nature for the remote unforgiving terrain. With no phone service at the top of the mountain and watching the riders, each made me feel more humble about my own place in the world. All of them help the other no matter the issue.

Friends fix each other’s bike chains, patch their tires, share bikes, and stick together. As I observed, I thought cycling may perhaps be the answer to all divisions between age groups and cultures. Trails don’t care about differences, pain will come, problem-solving will happen, and they will all find an alliance beneath it all. Because truly, if we don’t have each other and community to cling to, what is there?

I’ve heard riders say when you are nailing a section of trail, the feeling of flow comes and you barely have to think. The ride heals worry and exhaustion from the world.

So is you’re longing for community and true connection, grab your courage and head out to “Jarrod’s Place”. It feels like home.

What I learned: 

The idea that we are all self-reliant is bogus. Social connections are all related to happiness and satisfaction and good health. So when you discover a community you love, dig in, even with people that make you nuts – maybe…just maybe…you can find common ground on a bike trail.