Letting Go

images-2

The plane begins its descent and I shift in my seat and look out the window. Nearly home. My younger daughter, sitting beside me leans her head on my shoulder and reaches for my hand, intertwining her fingers with mine. My heart does a small leap and I clasp her hand a bit tighter. She is seventeen, nearly an adult, and these moments don’t come often anymore.

We are on our way back from a college visit. She is “stressed” about making the right choice. I tell her she has choices and choices are good. There are so many places that could be right for her and she will figure it out. She nods her head but I can see in her eyes that my words are of little comfort. She will have my experiences and her Dad’s experiences and her sister’s experiences to draw from, and plenty of advice from us, from well-meaning friends and other family. But ultimately, she will have to choose.

Her eyes close and we push through the clouds. I stare out the window and try to remember the last time she held my hand to cross a street or climb the steps onto the school bus or approach a neighbor’s door at Halloween. When she was little, we held hands all the time. A small, daily act taken for granted, as so many are when our children are small. We think we’ll remember every second, then with the passage of time and all of the many activities filling our days, our memory fades and we wish we could have taken a snapshot of those moments.

When the kids were young there were always dishes to wash, laundry to be done, bills to be paid. There was work and the dog and all of the sports and activities and playdates and school and homework. In a blink, they were out the door, driving their own cars, and while there was worry, there was also relief. Time alone, time to do whatever we like. The end of being a chauffeur and the beginning of the next stage in parenting.

I have been through this once already, I think. It should be easier. Somehow, it feels a bit harder. It could be because she is the baby of the family. It could be because facing an empty nest is quite different from having one child leave home. It could be because I’m older and more aware of the time slipping away. Whatever the reason, there are mixed emotions. Excitement for her and the next chapter in her life. Anticipation of the freedom that comes with an empty nest. A bit of jealousy at the wonderful experiences that await her. But also sadness that this chapter is closing. That she is moving on and away and of course, things will never be the same. Riddled with doubt as to what the future holds and how everything will change forever.

The aircraft hits a few bumps on its way down and she shifts in her seat to look out the window. She begins to untangle her hand from mine. Don’t let go, I whisper silently to myself. I take a deep breath and swallow hard. There will be no tears. She is letting go and so am I. Don’t let go, the voice inside me pleads. But I know it’s time and while we have a few more months like this, it is inevitable.

And then, we both let go.

The End of the Lane: A Swim Mom’s Reflections

IMG_2080

When my oldest daughter, Shannyn, was just a few months old, I remember placing her in the little baby seat that helped keep her safe and propped up in the tub and watching her gleefully splash at the water around her. As a toddler, she liked to stand in the bathtub, fill up a bucket with water and pour it over her head. It was clear that she loved the water and as it turned out, the water loved her back. For nearly 17 years, “swimmer” is a word that has largely defined her, so last Saturday was a somewhat remarkable day. Last Saturday, she hung up her cap and goggles for good and Sunday, she officially became a retired swimmer.

SCAN0247

Living in California, near the ocean and with plenty of pools in our neighborhood, we knew water safety was of utmost importance, so at the tender age of 18 months, we took Shannyn to a local swim school for lessons. When she had mastered all four strokes by the age of five and still didn’t want to leave the pool, we signed her up for the swim school’s novice team.  At eight, the swim school told us it might be time to move her to a competitive swim club, as she was getting a bit fast for the novice meets. She was reluctant to move and leave the comfort of the school and many of her friends. She had always been a cautious child, slow to warm up to new situations. We waited a year, until she decided she was ready to take the plunge (sorry, pun-intended). Nearly ten crazy, grueling, exciting, emotionally exhausting and heart-wrenching years later, Shannyn graduated from high school and her competitive swim team, Conejo Simi Swim Club, and accepted a NCAA Division 1 swim scholarship to the University of Arizona.

SCAN0222_3Unknown-1

And Saturday, nearly four years later, we watched our Wildcat swim her last race. I am trying to find the words to describe what this journey has been like as a parent. I know for Shannyn, despite the hard work, the struggles, the commitment, the sacrifices and the disappointments, swimming has been one of the best things in her life.  For a long time, it WAS her life. Swimming has taught her so many critical lessons. Those who have never participated in athletics nor have had their children participate, often don’t understand the value, the challenges or the rewards of being a student-athlete. I remember a relative once asked me why Shannyn would commit all of this time and energy to a college sport if she had no interest in becoming a swim coach! In retrospect, this is the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who has no knowledge of, or appreciation for athletics. At the time, I just remember being a bit stunned, then defensive. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can answer that question quite easily:

  1. Being a college athlete paid for the bulk of her education. This is not the norm, so, of course, parents looking to place their children in sports purely to earn a scholarship are misguided. It was never the goal, but fortunately for our family, it happened. According to Scholarship Stats, only about 7% of high school athletes are granted the privilege of participating in their sport at the college level, with only 2% of those participating at the Division 1 level. In women’s swimming, the odds of getting any scholarship money are one in 31.  In just making it onto a college team, Shannyn beat the odds, and in earning a scholarship, she accomplished something extraordinary. She will graduate without debt – a huge (and sadly, rare) accomplishment in the U.S. today.
  2.  Being a college athlete has meant critical academic support and perks.  Free tutoring, expected study hall sessions and the pressure of a team for whom having a high, all-around group GPA is top-of-mind, has been invaluable to our daughter who was always a decent student, but needed a little extra support and push to become a good student. Being named student of the month for her GPA early in her academic career, then later, earning PAC-12 All Academic Honors and being named to the Dean’s List were accomplishments that I could not have foreseen had she not had the support athletics afforded her. And there were “fun” perks that also saved us dollars: free athletic clothing and shoes including those expensive fast suits and free admission to all of the sports on campus. Another benefit? Being respected on her campus by other athletic teams, students, coaches and faculty. Being a swimmer at U of A carries with it a sense of pride and admiration. Even Arizona football coach, Rich Rodriguez, when he first joined the University told his players that he would only be satisfied when they “worked as hard as the swim team.”
  3. Being part of a collegiate team meant having an “instant family”. While many freshmen struggle with finding their way around a big university and fitting in, Shannyn had an entire team behind her from the moment she committed to Arizona. The team became her peer group, her circle of friends, her family. The friendships and bonds these athletes create by showing up day after day to train and compete together are like no other and will stay with her for life.
  4. A college athlete gets to travel.  Throughout her swim career, Shannyn has had the opportunity to travel across the U.S. and to other countries to train and compete. From Indianapolis to Las Vegas, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Halmstad, Sweden, during both her club and college swim careers, she has had the opportunity to visit many places. I happen to believe that travel and the experience of other cultures is one of the best forms of education, so you might say that Shannyn has received “bonus” education on top of her academic experience.
  5. Being an athlete has taught her numerous life lessons and “the intangibles”. To commit to a sport, stick with it when times are tough and come out the other end, having experienced success and plenty of failure, is an incredible lesson in real life. For those who believe college is only of value for finding a career and making money, it’s a fact that employers love hiring student-athletes because they know that the critical skills these athletes have learned translate into a successful employee: Discipline. Commitment. Time Management. Leadership. Goal Setting. Persistence. Loyalty. Passion. One of my close friends and work colleagues was a swimmer at Long Beach State during his college years. Today, he is the very successful Chief Marketing Officer for a leading, publicly-held technology company. And he is not an isolated example.

Knowing that Shannyn was accumulating all of these wonderful benefits was useful because the swim parent experience has been an intense roller coaster ride. As parents, sometimes we want so badly to fix things for our children and in sports, you quickly learn you can fix almost nothing – your children have to own their athletic career and there is little you can do for them. But you also learn that this is ok. Even good. You see them struggle, you see them fail, you see them want something so badly, but often, not achieve it. You experience heartache and disappointment right along with them. Of course, you also experience moments of glory. You see them win. You see them succeed. You seem them set a goal and miraculously, reach it. You share your joy with the other parents because they know how hard your kids have worked for what they desire. And in either failure or success, you cheer them on. You are, forever and always, their biggest fan. I will never regret a moment that I spent driving to a pool early in the morning or late at night, sitting in a timing chair, running up and down a pool deck, washing towels upon towels, traveling to meets in far-away locations, spending too much money on expensive suits, getting more sunburns than I should have watching race upon race. I treasure the conversations in hotel rooms and cars, the moments of pure bliss watching a hand touch the wall, and even the times my heart broke a little – all lessons learned and put to good use. I will especially treasure the many friends made along the way: the other swim parents, the coaches, my daughter’s wonderful teammates. It has been one hell of a ride for our entire family.

People have asked me what our proudest moment was. When Shannyn first stood on a podium with a first place medal around her neck? When she made it to the 2012 Olympic Trials? When she was offered the spot at Arizona? When she earned her first Division 1 NCAA cut? These were all proud moments, to be sure, and represented hours of hard work and untold laps in the pool for Shannyn. But the proudest moment (or, really, set of moments) was watching her stick with the sport, even when times were not good. As one swim parent wisely told me years ago, “It’s easy to love swimming when you’re swimming fast”. Two years in high school spent on a plateau, without dropping any time in her best events, wondering if she would ever excel again, watching her fifth club coach in as many years leave, watching school friends enjoying their comparatively full social lives, Shannyn thought about quitting more than once. Admittedly, I had sometimes wished she would. It surely would have been the easier route. Instead, she continued to slog through nine practices a week, including three morning practices that began at 4:45am (and required a half hour drive to reach), before heading to a full day of school, homework and yet another two-to-three hour practice in the evening. She eventually broke through and achieved her dream of swimming on a top Division 1 college team.

DSC01367

It’s the end of an era for Shannyn and for our entire family. Life without the identity of “swimmer” will be different, to be sure, but I have no doubt that the lessons learned have prepared her for whatever lies ahead. As with many athletes (and having changed her major twice), she will take an extra semester or two to graduate, to assimilate and transition into life as a “swammer”.

Although it’s the end of Shannyn’s swimming career, it is the beginning of the rest of her life and I know that while she will miss swimming, she is ready to move on. Truth be told, I will probably miss it more, but as fate would have it, our younger daughter, Claire, decided a few years back that she wanted to jump on the roller coaster, too, and is now determined to swim in college. So the journey of swimming is not quite over for all of us yet. Like her sister, Claire has already seen success and failure. She wants to be part of something bigger than herself and learn what it means to be a student-athlete. Despite the trying times and the sacrifice, I can’t think of a better path for her to take.

IMG_4025

And to Shannyn, I can only say: congratulations on reaching the end of your incredible swimming journey. In or out of the pool, I will always be your biggest cheerleader, your most stalwart supporter, your most ardent fan.

My Top Eight for 2014

UnknownAs cliché as it sounds, time does seem to move faster the older we get. It seems I was just starting to appreciate the positives of 2014 – not to mention, get used to writing a “4” instead of a “3” on my checks – when I realized the end loomed near.

Instead of writing New Year’s Resolutions, most of which have the tendency to get tossed aside within a few weeks of the New Year, I decided instead to write a note of appreciation for the highlights of 2014 – my top eight of 2014. These are in no particular order, as assigning a ranking to these would seem arbitrary (and so did making this a “top ten”, hence the less-than-round number of eight).

  • Daughter #2 got her driver’s license. In truth, this milestone ranks among both the most frightening and the most exciting events of 2014. To have our youngest become a licensed driver was certainly thrilling for her and a huge relief for us chauffeurs in the family who no longer had to plan work schedules and social events around high school and swim practice start and end times – not to mention, being on call for drop-offs and pick-ups at friends’ houses and social gatherings. We all gained independence, though in return, of course, had to battle the ever-present worry of having our little one navigating the L.A. freeways and crazy drivers on her own. At the end of the day, the freedom is a positive result for all.
  • My second favorite item of the year also involves daughter #2: Claire qualified for and participated in her first championship swim meet. When Claire told us she wanted to swim, we were surprised. Swimming was always her sister’s sport and her sister excelled at it. We’d never discouraged Claire from swimming, but never encouraged either, lest she have to compete with her sister or take on the burden of being “Shannyn’s little sister” in the pool. Despite our reservations, she decided to jump in with both feet – literally! She had setbacks almost immediately, tearing her labrum (not due to swimming, according to the doctors) and undergoing surgery just a year after joining our club team. She battled through the rehab, spending months in the pool just kicking, then slowly working to get her shoulder back into shape and resume swimming. She found herself behind most of her peers at that point, but insisted that she would move up to the next level (she did) and that she would finally make it to a championship meet. So it was with amazement and pride that we watched her this summer achieve her goals. Not only did she get her Junior Olympic time standards at a small meet in Santa Maria, but two weeks later, at the Junior Olympics meet that our club hosted, she bettered her times and made it back for her first JO finals and dropped time, once again in the finals competition. Persistence? Stubbornness? Probably a bit of both, with some hard work thrown in, but as a parent, it was a proud moment. Truth be told, even we doubted that she could do it, but fortunately, she never doubted herself.
  • After changing her major twice, Daughter #1 finally settled on her academic goals and can see the finish line. After many trials and tribulations, soul-searching and so-called epiphanies, not to mention the agony of having to take Microbiology and Organic Chemistry, Shannyn finally settled on a course of study that suited her. While she went in as a Business major (code for “I don’t know what the hell I want to do with my life”), she soon had a brilliant brainstorm that nutrition has always been her passion and becoming a Nutritional Sciences major was the path for her. Unfortunately, the self-declared “non-science person” quickly realized that this major required her to take – well, SCIENCE. After struggling through a semester of brutal classes like O-Chem that caused her GPA to suffer, she realized she needed to change course. The final epiphany (accompanied by some solid academic counseling) was that a major in Economics and a minor in Nutritional Sciences, would make the best use of courses already completed, while allowing her to pursue a career in marketing for the nutrition/fitness industry. Yes, she’ll go an extra year (thank you, continuing athletic scholarship), but she is happier, more focused and her GPA is back to its previous good standing.
  • Work travel was educational and fun. I’ve worked at home now for 20+ years and am thankful that I’ve had the ability to maintain a challenging and rewarding career with the flexibility to be available for my children. I love working from home, but there are times when I miss the “water-cooler” talk and close bonds that develop from being in an office. This year, I was able to not only pay a few visits to my key client in Silicon Valley, but to also travel with them to their annual customer and partner conference in Las Vegas. Whenever you can learn things that help you do your job better and, at the same time, have a blast with a group of smart and fun people, you know you’ve hit the jackpot, career-wise. I was grateful to participate in the four-day event, meet some of the employees, partners, customers, analysts and reporters I’d previously only communicated with via email or phone, and learn more about my client’s technology and how it’s being used in the real world.
  • Old friends came to visit. In a perfect world, we’d go abroad every summer as we did in 2013 when we visited Per’s family and friends in Sweden and spent a wonderful week in Paris, seeing the sights. But until we win the lottery, we’ll settle for visitors coming our way occasionally, as was the case this year when Per’s best friend from childhood traveled to Southern California with his wife and two children from their home in Oslo, Norway.
  • We’ve been able to continue traveling to see daughter #1 finish out her swimming career. It’s hard to believe that the toddler who took to the water like a fish at two is nearly twenty-two now. And that after almost 15 years of competitive swimming, it will all come to an end this Spring. I’m sure this will inspire a separate nostalgic and emotional blog post when it’s over. For now, suffice to say that I’m thankful for every trip I’ve made, every event I’ve watched from the side of a pool deck or bleachers of a stadium, and every hour of sitting in a timing chair, because I know it’s almost over. It has been an amazing ride, we have all learned so much, and made wonderful friends along the way. And most of all, I feel so fortunate for all the incredible benefits Shannyn has reaped from the sport – not just having her education funded – but the lessons of discipline and commitment, leadership, working through adversity, and the lifelong friends she has made. As we get ready for a few more trips between January and March, I will brace myself for the end and be grateful for the opportunity to witness it.
  • We have our health. Nothing more to say about this one. As you get older, you realize how lucky you are to escape each year without a serious malady and you’re thankful that you and your extended family are still healthy.
  • And finally, on a lighter note, no words needed for this one…you didn’t think I’d leave this out, did you?!
  • images

 

images-2

 

 

images-1

 

Go Kings Go!

 

Happy New Year, everyone! What were your favorite moments of 2014?

The Requisite Thanksgiving Blog: Thankfulness Never Gets Old

images

While I hate to cave to the expected, there is always value in producing a list of things one is thankful for – even at this, the most expected times of the year to express thankfulness.

With Thanksgiving just a day away, I will keep my list short, but sweet – three reasons who I’m grateful this holiday season.

1) I am thankful that my girls are growing into women that I not only love, but like very much.  Every day, I see more evidence that my little people are growing into big people who will be more than equipped to take on the great, big world in which they live.  Not only do I love them because they are my flesh and blood, I truly LIKE the people they are becoming. They care about the world around them, they are engaged in discussions of importance, and most of all, they are kind to others. I am a proud mother and I am grateful for the people they are becoming.

2) I am thankful for my house. It’s old. The kitchen cabinets are peeling and the appliances are outdated. Blue carpet remains in three of the rooms and some of the tile is cracking. Neighbors have long since painted, revamped, redone, remodeled…some of them multiple times. We’ve chosen to spend our dollars on other things – mostly experiences we enjoy with our family whether it be traveling, going to sporting events or concerts. Would I love to remodel? Of course. Am I thankful for this old house, regardless? I am. My children have grown up in this house, we’ve had many moments of laughter (and of course, some tears) and celebrated many wonderful occasions. At the end of the day, this house is comfort and it is our home, even if the floors creak and I don’t get around to cleaning all those cobwebs that sit at the top of the ceilings.

3) I am thankful for my spouse and for the fact that he grew up in another country. Not just any country, but one where women are valued and hold equal roles in society. I’m not saying there aren’t American men who believe that women should be paid equal wages, don’t complain about sharing the household chores and chose their partners in life based on more than just a pretty face. But there is a vast difference in cultural attitudes between America and Sweden, and regardless of how “evolved” some American men are, the fact is, they’ve never lived in a society that inherently values men and women equally. My spouse’s home country does. Because he was raised in this environment, he benefits from a culture wherein young boys and girls must BOTH take classes in home economics and shop, where both men and women are given equal time off for the birth of a child, where contraception has always been the responsibility of both men and women, without question, and no man is allowed to regulate what a woman does with her body.  The result is probably subtle, but it’s there. At no time in my marriage have I felt that my husband did not view me as an equal partner in all things business and domestic. At no time, did I feel he expected certain behavior from our girls, simply because they were girls. And most of all, at no time have I felt a lack of respect from him.

That’s my list. Undoubtedly, I have many more things to be thankful for, but I am thinking about these three today.

What are you thankful for this holiday season?

If Money Didn’t Matter…Turning a School Project into Real Life Advice

This week was Back-to-School night at my younger daughter’s high school. Walking around campus, I was painfully aware that all of the fresh-faced parents I’ve known since our teens were just tots in elementary school have become, well, to put it mildly, older.  And that if I’m calling them “older”, I have to look in the mirror and acknowledge that I’m there, too. I was also mindful of the fact that this was the second-to-last time I would ever go to a back-to-school night. EVER.

My daughter had told me ahead of time that her history teacher was one of her favorites and that he coincidentally had a great deal in common with me (UCLA grad, fan of music) and her Dad (back-packed through Europe in his younger days). As expected, his classroom was my favorite: as we walked in, we could smell fresh-brewed coffee, the lights had been dimmed and the John Mayer Pandora station played in the background. His presentation did not disappoint and the parents were given one of the same assignments he’d given to the students that week: to watch a popular, short video making the rounds on YouTube and social media called “If Money Was No Object” and write a response to the video focusing on advice, hopes and dreams for our student’s future.

Naturally, my engineering/math-brained husband looked in my direction and my eyes lit up at the prospect of a creative writing assignment.  I’m not sure if I was the first parent to turn in their paper the next day….but it’s very possible.

I don’t know if youth is truly wasted on the young, but I certainly felt a small pang of longing when I read my own words and realized that I could have been better at taking my own advice, say, 35 years ago. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’d like to believe that there are still a few nuggets here that apply to us older and wiser folks.  In case I’m right, here are a few excerpts from my response to “If Money Was No Object”. These were the pieces of advice I crafted for my daughter, with a little commentary plugged in for us older folk…

  • Explore your options now, while you’re young. While I don’t regret the path I took, I do have the “what ifs” from time to time. What if I’d gone back to school right away and pursued an MFA in creative writing? What if I’d studied a semester abroad and done more traveling? What if I’d parlayed my college tutoring job into a teaching job or, early in my career, moved from marketing and PR in the technology realm into an area I was more passionate about like music or sports? Explore the things you are passionate about now, while you’re in high school and for as long as you can in college and early in your career. It’s hard to change direction when you’re 40 or 50.

Ok, so for those of us who are getting up there in age, admittedly, it is hard to change direction entirely. But not impossible. And if you can sprinkle just a little of what you love or do just one thing each day that keeps you in touch with those earlier passions, you’ll still be exploring those options, if not making a radical move towards them.

  • Find ways to travel early on. See the big, wide world. Look for opportunities to study abroad in school. If you’re a dual citizen, as my kids are fortunate enough to be, go to school or work abroad. Grab the opportunity and see what’s out there.

Great advice for the young, but of course, easier said than done once you are settled into a career (unless it happens to involve world travel) and have a mortgage and college tuition to pay for. But when those opportunities arise, take them.  Add a few days onto that business trip and see the city you’re working in.  Plan to use that bonus money for a weekend somewhere you’ve never been instead of upgrading those bathroom floors. I truly believe that travel is the best education there is. I can’t tell you how many people make comments about Sweden, its culture and system of government to me and my Swedish-born and raised husband without ever having stepped foot in that country. Not surprisingly, they are usually all wrong. Go, see, and learn for yourself – there’s nothing like it.

Quick illustrative story: I was once on a press tour in New York City with the CEO of a start-up I was working with. He told me that he’d been to New York numerous times in his career but had never been to the top of the Empire State building or seen a Broadway show. I asked him why not and he couldn’t answer, but for some reason, on this trip, he decided to change all of that. We went to the top of the Empire State building after our meetings and looked at the glorious view. We saw not one, but TWO Broadway shoes on that business trip!  A few months later, he passed away unexpectedly; while on his regular, early morning walk/run with his dogs, he had a heart attack. He was only 51 and left behind a wife and two young kids. I felt fortunate that I got to accompany him on that very special trip to New York.

  • Rekindle and/or nurture your love for reading. Reading expands your mind, opens new doors, and teaches you empathy. Beyond that, as I advised my daughter, reading improves all of those great communications skills you need in virtually every college class you’ll take and every job you’ll ever have.

This is advice that applies to anyone, at any age. There is always time to read a book, just like there is always time to fit in a workout – you just have to want to find that time. 10 minutes here and there – waiting in the car to pick your child up from school, while dinner is in the oven, on your lunch break from work, 10 minutes before turning out the light at night.  I truly believe that reading is the single easiest thing to do to keep your mind active, continue learning, expand your horizons and visit new places virtually. Bonus: it’s enjoyable and relieves stress!

  • Remember that there are trade-offs. This is where we have to acknowledge that money does matter and that means there are compromises and trade-offs to be made. If you’re passionate about traveling, find a job that allows for it, or be prepared that you’ll be backpacking through Europe and sleeping in youth hostels, not four-star resorts. Living in this area and having so much, our children sometimes get the message that having the latest iPhone or the coolest car are things that matter more than what you spend time doing each day. Some jobs don’t come with a big paycheck, but my message would be, try it when you’re young. If you truly love it, it will be worth the trade-offs.

As adults, we are always making trade-offs.  The hope is that when you’re in the rocking chair at 80, looking back on your life, you’ve made the right ones. I live in an area where people seem to “have it all”. They don’t have to decide between that expensive vacation, redoing their kitchen and paying for private college tuition. That doesn’t mean they haven’t made trade-offs. To afford that lifestyle, one or both parents may not be spending as much time with their families as they’d like.  Maybe the wife gave up a great career that she misses to stay home so her husband could have a job that involves a great deal of travel. Or maybe they are both working at jobs they really don’t love just to keep the wheel spinning. We all make trade-offs and compromises. The key is to figure out which ones you can live with.

  • What will your verse be? The famous line from Whitman’s poem and the words that Robin Williams famously spoke in “Dead Poet’s Society” are words that haunt me a bit every day. Make sure that something you do in life makes you feel that you’re contributing, giving back, adding something to your community, to society, to the world at large. Find something that has meaning not just to you, but to others.

While I haven’t figured this one out completely, I’ve taken little steps here and there to be sure I’m moving in the right direction. Is there a specific cause or issue you believe in passionately? Give your money and more importantly, your time to it.  Write about it.  Or to come full circle to the assignment and “If Money Was No Object”, make a video about it and share it with the world. Someone might listen and be inspired.

What advice would you share with your kids in response to “If Money Didn’t Matter”?  And do you think that advice is helpful for all ages for just for those of a certain, youthful age?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Is “Follow Your Dream” Good Advice?

“Follow your dream.” Maybe your parents gave you that advice when you were in school. Or maybe you read it in a self-help book along the way. Following your dream is certainly a deeply rooted idea in American culture – the idea that if we just do what we love, we’ll be rewarded – if not with riches, than with self-satisfaction and happiness.  Think of Olympians who say that their parents always supported their dream or Broadway stars who say that living just barely above the poverty line for many years was all worth it because they were following their dream.

When I was little I was convinced that my dream was to be a writer. I had a romanticized view of what that might entail and like most kids had no idea what the day-to-day reality of being a writer might really be, how difficult it was to be published and obtain some level of success at writing. Economic realities meant that I always had a job during my college years, seemed to always owe someone money and upon graduation with a Bachelor’s in English, was faced with the same question repeatedly from well-intentioned friends and family: “What kind of job can you get with an English major?”

Turns out, there are many jobs out there for good communicators, but the one I dreamed about, penning the great American novel, seemed awfully naive in the face of mounting bills and debt. After taking the summer to go home to San Diego and think about what I should do, I resolved to return to L.A., resume my part-time job of English tutoring at UCLA and search for “real” jobs.

After a couple of months of interviewing, I was rewarded with a job offer that I thought wouldn’t entirely compromise my dreams. A technology company wanted to hire me – an English major with no technical background – to write their user manuals. How bad could that be? I would be paid to write, albeit, about the ins and outs of test equipment and communications protocols. I was thrilled that I could pay my bills, pay off my debt and enter the real, working world. My writing dream wasn’t completely sacrificed, I thought.

But writing user manuals became tedious and un-fulfilling, to say the least. Fortunately for me, the head of the marketing department noticed my writing skills, my youthful enthusiasm and my desire to be more involved in the external-facing aspects of the company and offered me a job where I could apply my skills to public relations, event management, advertising, collateral and many other aspects of marketing communications. 25 years later, I’m still working in technology PR and marketing, but for myself and from the comfort of my home, with my own consulting practice that I’ve built over the past 19 years.

Did I follow my dream? Not exactly. When people ask me if I like my job, I always say that every job has good days and bad days, fun parts and frankly, soul-sucking parts. There is the reality: 25 years later I have a mortgage, one child in college and one heading there in a few years and a lifestyle that requires both my spouse and I to contribute. There is also another reality: I’ve quietly pursued my original dream, fiction writing, on the side and discovered something important – while I still love to write, I am probably not cut out for the life of a full-time writer. The reality is that even my so-called dream job has good days and bad days, enjoyable activities and those that are painful.

So what do you do when you discover that your dream isn’t truly what you had in mind? You move on. There are parts of my day job that I still enjoy and parts that I don’t, but all in all, it continues to reward me both financially and intellectually. Separately, I continue to pursue the parts of my childhood dream that fulfill me – taking classes to improve my creative writing skills, penning the occasional short story, continuing to work here and there on the novel I “finished’ a few years ago, when the mood strikes me, and writing this blog.  Outside of work and writing, there are other passion-fueling activities: family and friends, music, sports, great books, food and wine, watching my daughters imagine, explore and wrestle with their own dreams.  Some might say I didn’t follow my dream and I guess I didn’t follow the track exactly. Still, I can’t help but wake up some mornings feeling blessed and lucky, that despite it all, I am living the dream – maybe not the one I’d imagined, but one that fulfills me, nonetheless.

How about you? Did you follow your dream?  Or find another along the way? Do you encourage your kids to follow their dreams? How do you support them in their quest to pursue a dream while still preparing them for the realities of the world?

Summertime….and the Livin’ Should be Easy

It has been more than two weeks since my last post and I can only blame it on…summertime. That’s right, it’s all summer’s fault with its lazy, long days that meld into night, the intoxicating smell of a neighbor’s barbecue at sunset mixed with the faint fragrance of summer flowers, the way the sun emerges from the June gloom daring you to come out and play instead of sitting at your desk all day.

Well, it’s not entirely summer’s fault. It’s true that I’ve chosen long walks in the sunshine, dinners in the backyard, sipping wine and conversing until the darkness forces us inside, and hours in the patio chair with a good book over more productive pursuits.  And of course, my older daughter is home for one week before she heads back to college and summer swim training, so I’m trying to squeeze the most out of every second that she is here.

I am trying my best to enjoy the quiet moments and the slightly slower pace that summer allows. Those who know me know that my very nature fights against a relaxed pace, that I am forever looking to “do”.  During the summer, though, a little voice seems to whisper that life is fleeting, that savoring the moments is the smart pursuit, that maybe in the slow-down, my mind and body can regenerate and renew, preparing me for the inevitable onslaught of Fall, when there will be plenty of time for productivity.

A recent NY Times blog entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap” echoed my sentiments and made the point that Americans in the 21st century, in particular, are constantly self-imposing this “busyness” upon themselves. I plead guilty to what the author describes. It’s true I have plenty of activities to stay naturally busy: I work full-time, have two daughters, and attempt to pursue a second, part-time career by taking classes and working on my writing.  But the pace at which I live my life means that I sometimes try to fill those scarce, quiet moments when they present themselves with even more activity. In living a life of productivity, I realize I sometimes forget the pleasure in doing nothing at all.

I would argue that social media has enhanced our desire to be constantly busy.  We’ve all had to endure the postings of folks who really don’t have much going on in their lives and frankly, no one wants to hear about the fiber content of your breakfast cereal, how many hours you spent at the gym today, that you’re out of toothpaste or that your child finally went “poop on the potty” (yes, these are all real posts). That said, social media can make us feel that we must have something to say at all times, that we should be doing something exciting or productive at every moment — something worth proclaiming (or tweeting and posting, in this case) at the top of our lungs to show the world how busy we are and most of all, I suppose, that we are relevant.

So, I took a two-week break from writing, from the wheel of constant productivity, to try to sit back and enjoy the moments that are not filled with “something to do”.  I’m the first to admit that I’m not very good at it. I like being productive, being involved, contributing…yes, being busy. But it’s summertime. And I’m going to try my best to soak it up.

Why I’m Ok With Not Being “The Hot Mom”

At my younger daughter’s graduation dinner the other night, my mother and I were talking about perceptions that my friends had of her, as a young mother. My daughter, knowing some of the history, said, “Grandma, you were the cool Mom! And the hot Mom!” Yes, it’s true that my mom was way “cooler” than I will ever be and my house was frequently the place you came to let your hair down, talk about your troubles and of course, party. Times were different and my Mom was only 18 years my senior. As my male friends can attest, my mom was, indeed, “the hot mom” on the block.

Then, an interesting thing happened. My mother asked her granddaughter: “What would you and your friends call your mom?”  Without hesitation, my daughter threw out three words in quick succession: “Successful. Smart. Hardworking.”

Now, I must admit, I’m female and I’m vain, so part of me was hoping she’d include the word “hot” in there somewhere! But all in all, I’d have to say that I felt immense pride and pleasure in her words.  There are so many moments spent raising children, most of them wondering if you’re doing the right thing. You know you are often making mistakes and you just hope they aren’t the sort that will take permanent root in your child’s psyche. The moments when you know you’ve done something right are few and far between, and often don’t come until after your children have become adults and flown the coop. That’s why hearing these words from my younger daughter – with whom I seem to battle so much these days – was so rewarding.

I’ve always been a working mom and don’t expect that to change. I know that I’m fortunate, having been able to start my own business when my oldest was just a baby and to be able to work from home for the past 19 years. I know for many working moms it’s not that easy and they have to add a commute and a typical 9-5 corporate day to their endless juggling. Like every working mother, at times I’ve felt guilt at my desk, thinking about my children, and guilt with my kids, thinking about work. I’ve multi-tasked to exhaustion, questioned my sanity, and wondered if what I was doing was right for both me and my kids.

At the end of the day, work became important not only for my sense of self and to be an equal partner with my husband in providing for our kids, but also critical to the values I wanted to impart to my girls. I wanted to show them that women can be whatever they choose: that they can have both a family and a career, that they can be successful in the corporate environment or forging their own path, and that they can find a partner in life who respects and takes pride in their success.  To find fulfillment in my job and to share that with my girls has been an essential part of my parenting.

So the other night it seemed that in just a few select words, my younger daughter told me all I needed to know about my choices. That she sees me as successful, smart and hard-working, gives me insight into her perception of moms and women, as a whole. And it gives me hope that she understands that hard work, a good education and a whole lot of enthusiasm and drive will also bring her success, in whatever way she chooses to pursue it.

So while she could have really made my day by adding “hot” to the already stellar list of adjectives, I’ll take what she has given me and know that on this long journey we call parenthood, I’ve done something right!

Getting Used to the Big Numbers…or 50 Things I’m Grateful For

At the end of this year, I will have to face a large number, a number that means I have reached five decades of existence. Why is this so difficult? After all, they say 50 is the new 30, a milestone, to be sure, but certainly not considered old age anymore. And as my husband is fond of saying, “it beats the alternative”. Maybe I fear it because I never imagined getting to this number. Like all kids, I couldn’t wait to be 16 so I could drive a car, 18 so I could go to college, become an adult and vote, and 21 so I could drink (ummm…legally). While I wasn’t anxious to reach the age of 30, I imagined where I would be and what I would be doing at that age (the year my first child was born, as it turned out –didn’t figure that!) and I could even see beyond that horizon to where I might be at 40. But 50? That’s just not a number I ever imagined.

So I’ve decided in an attempt to get used to that frightening number that I ought to start making lists of 50 that are not so scary. Like 50 things I’m grateful for, 50 things I’ve accomplished, 50 things I have yet to do, that I’m looking forward to doing some day.  50 places I’ve traveled and 50 I have yet to visit, 50 great novels (definitely won’t be including 50 Shades of Grey), 50 songs I can’t live without (maybe “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” should be on there), and maybe 50 posts I want to write. By making these lists maybe I’ll become accustomed to that scary-looking number by the time I get there….or maybe I’ll just have to drink a lot to hide the pain.

My inaugural list is 50 things I’m grateful for. Here goes:

1)   My health and that of my loved ones.

2)   My husband and the fact that his personality is the opposite of mine.

3)   My daughters.

4)   My Mom and Dad.

5)   My friends who are still my friends.

6)   My friends who are no longer my friends, but who helped shape me.

7)   The people who loaned me money in college.

8)   Every teacher who told me I could do “it”, whatever “it” was.

9)   My first love.

10) Being able to attend, and graduate from, UCLA.

11) Working from home for almost 19 years now.

12)  When I was still commuting to work every day, getting to drive down PCH every morning.

13)  All the clients who have hired me, those who have referred me and most especially, those who have hired me repeatedly to do work for them.

14) A good night’s sleep, when I get it.

15) The fact that my husband likes to cook.

16) The fact that one of my daughters has already taken after him in the cooking department.

17) The unconditional love of dogs.

18) Getting to spend part of my childhood in La Jolla.

19)  Music, music, music.

20) Books, books, books.

21) Daffodils in the spring.

22) Good wine.

23) Good, strong coffee.

24) Mint chip ice cream.

25) The scent of fresh lemon.

26) Pilates, without which I would be an injured, aching mess.

27)  Nordstrom’s customer service – can you beat it?

28) Getting to sit in the front row of the David Cassidy concert when I was 9 years old.

29) Getting to sit third row and front-row, center, respectively, at two Dave Matthews concerts as an adult and experience it with each of my daughters.

30) Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.

31) The beach.

32) Sunsets, especially at the beach.

33) Bangs…without them I might have to resort to Botox.

34) Online shopping.

35) Being able to live in California.

36) Not having to live in Texas.

37) Watching sports on a big screen TV.

38) Sunday’s Los Angeles Times…in print

39) The trip to England, Scotland and France I took with my best friend for high school graduation.

40) The opportunity to spend time in my husband’s native Sweden.

41) Dishwashers.

42) The advice of friends and colleagues who experienced things before me and shared their wisdom.

43) Clothes that don’t wrinkle.

44) The iPhone.

45) Summer.

46)  The Hollywood Bowl.

47) Writers.

48) Getting to watch my older daughter swim at Olympic Trials.

49) Friday evenings.

50) Getting to watch both my girls mature, follow their passions, learn from their failures and enjoy their successes.

Break out of the Bubble, Suburbanites!

I have come to realize over the years that my family lives in a bubble. I did not grow up in the bubble, but education and hard work afforded my husband and I the opportunity to make a good living and provide a nice lifestyle for our family. So we moved to the suburbs and began our life in the bubble.

I first realized the downside of the bubble when my older daughter was about ten years old and we traveled to Cerritos for a swim meet.  For any of you not familiar with Los Angeles and its surrounding urban and suburban areas, Cerritos is a working class area in Southeast Los Angeles. The population of Cerritos, according to the census bureau, is predominantly white, however, compared to where we live in Westlake Village, Cerritos has a much higher percentage of Hispanic, African-American and “other” citizens.  I’ll never forget my daughter’s eyes as we pulled into a convenience store parking lot so we could use the restroom and grab some water bottles. They were wide with what I quickly realized was fear and apprehension and she leaned close to me as we walked towards the store and whispered, “Mom, is this a bad area?”

Cerritos is not a bad area. But Cerritos is “different” from Westlake Village. It more accurately represents the “melting pot” that is Los Angeles. The part of Cerritos where we landed that day was not pretty or well-kept. The cars in the parking lot of the convenience store were primarily pick-up trucks and older model Fords and Chevys, not BMWs and Mercedes.   From this scenario, my daughter inferred that Cerritos must be a “bad” area, that the patrons in the convenience store might be criminals, and that we must not be safe.

Since then, I’ve had several of these experiences with both daughters whether traveling for soccer games and swim meets, attending events or just stopping off the freeway on the way to some other destination.  And occasionally, we have visited places that truly were “bad” areas. I can recall a very sketchy spot in Long Beach, a Holiday Inn with bars on it and sirens that wailed all night. And of course, attending a concert at the L.A. Sports Arena, visiting the USC campus (Boo! Go Bruins!) or trying to find a short cut to the airport, you can’t help but go through some sections of town you’d probably rather not.

Let’s face it: most of us who moved to the suburbs did so because we wanted to raise our children in safe, pleasant areas with access to good schools, and we were fortunate enough to be able to do so. That said, I think it is vital that kids (and parents) get out of the bubble that is suburbia on a regular basis. The problem with being in a lovely, protected bubble is that it gives you the false impression that everyone lives in it and, dare I say, cultivates a sense of apathy towards those who exist outside of the bubble. When you live in a lovely suburban area, you don’t have to acknowledge that poverty and homelessness exist (save the odd shopping cart lady that roams the grocery store parking lot). You don’t have to face the reality that many children grow up in neighborhoods where just getting to school is an effort and dodging bullets is commonplace. Your are lulled into thinking that everyone must have your “first world” problems of where to book your child’s next birthday party or which high school has the best track team, whether you should vacation in Hawaii or Tahoe this year or whether you should get a manicure only or spring for the full mani/pedi instead.

I’m not saying that anyone should feel guilty for having the means to live in a nice suburban enclave. But when you live in the bubble, it’s easy to forget what’s outside of it and to have your children grow up being only vaguely aware of how fortunate they are.  And when you are finally confronted with something “different” as my daughter was in Cerritos all those years ago, your reaction is usually to dislike, distrust or fear that which is different from you and your experiences.  Exposing your kids to different places, cultures, races, religions and yes, economic situations, is just as important as sending them to school. If they never see outside the bubble, how will they learn to tolerate, accept and be understanding of other people and their situations?

In Los Angeles, we are fortunate to have such a sprawling expanse of humanity in every flavor and form, just a car ride away from wherever we are. Alright, so the traffic can sometimes make it a rather long car ride, but I have to say I’m often shocked when I hear suburbanites in my area tell me that they never venture farther than the next suburb over.  Our city is rich with diversity, cultural experiences and educational opportunities that most of us never take advantage of, to our children’s detriment, I fear.

I know one of my resolutions this year is to get outside of the bubble more often and to see areas of my city I’ve only read about in the paper or just haven’t made time to explore. My older daughter now attends school and lives in Tucson, and given some of the less than glamorous neighborhoods in close proximity to campus, I think she has become more comfortable with the inherent heterogeneity that exists outside of the bubble.  For my younger daughter who is naturally tolerant and accepting, but often harbors fears about the unknown, I’ve recognized that even a hockey game at Staples Center, a swim meet in Oxnard or a walk around West Hollywood can provide her with the valuable lesson that not everyone looks, dresses and acts like her, nor do they have access to the many resources she and her friends do. It doesn’t make these people and places “bad”; it just makes them different.  It’s an ongoing process, but I’m determined to have my kids see that while it sure is great to live in the bubble, getting outside of it on a regular basis is one of the most important things you can do.