Friday, July 27, 2012
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." — Olympic creed.
Four years ago, out of complete and utter desperation I did something crazy: my non-swimming almost ten year old joined a swim team. Gratefully, the founders of the team, a husband and wife dynamic duo named Pete and Koren Motekaitis, didn't just allow Patrick to join, they welcomed him with open arms. To add to the irony, Patrick would practice at an olympic-sized pool on our local university's campus. It was thirteen feet deep.
Patrick had tried traditional swim lessons; he had tried just enjoying the pool of friends and family; he had private lessons, official Red Cross lessons, and even lessons at a fantastic private pool with the most patient and loving of swim teachers...all with little to show for it. He could get his head wet and he could (kind of) float and he always had his secret weapon: his good-natured ability to just keep trying something that was easier for so many others. But, no matter how he sliced it, he couldn't swim.
So, my good friend Michele kept nudging me toward the Aquamonsters and finally I made the emails and paid the money and we showed up.
That first year, his teacher was a college student who swam for an Ivy-league school during the school year. She was the one who coaxed Patrick into the pool and agreed to hold the board for him if he would kick across the pool. She would swim backward, holding the kick board, talking to Patrick and distracting him from the amazing, crazy thing he was doing. For about 8 weeks, Patrick and Emily did the kick board tango and I never will forget the random day in August when Patrick felt strong enough or confident enough to kick the board all on his own. Emily was there, kicking her own board right next to him and they spent the last week of summer kick, kick, kicking side by side lap by lap.
The following summer Patrick was graced with an enthusiastic coach who was a top diver for the UC Davis men's team. Jason insisted on "dry land" work before swimming. So there Patrick was with a crew of younger kids holding his weight doing the plank and assorted other yoga moves designed to strengthen his core on the hot cement deck and then swimming. All summer, he used the kick board. Jason, Matt and many other coaches tried to talk Patrick away from the board without success. However, like someone learning a new language, once in a while we would see a broken bit of fluency and be rewarded with a leap of growth. By the end of another solid eight weeks of swimming, Patrick floated, glided and used his arms and legs enough to call it swimming. Of course, I wasn't there to see it...but I got the call from Patrick afterwards and heard in John's shaky voice that a miracle had occurred. As John relayed the shouts on the deck and the sheer victory that the coaches felt when Patrick swam for the first time, I was more than touched. Here are these high level athletes hugely invested in Patrick's success with swimming -- it was a testament to the vision for Pete and Koren's Aquamonsters and the ability to live and breathe the motto
"Every monster matters."
Last summer was Caroline's turn and she willingly jumped in that deep pool and began swimming with the help of her coach, Paul. It was incredible to see her just go for it day in and day out. Her belief in herself propelled her into becoming a swimmer. On the day that she swam across the pool on her own, she promptly jumped out of the pool and said, "Now I'm ready to race!" She would have to wait a year to be old enough but she was ready. Meanwhile Patrick was chug, chug, chugging along. He was swimming but it wasn't pretty and it wasn't for very long distances. Pete thought Patrick should consider doing a meet. I deemed that unthinkable...maybe next year.
And so here we are...Patrick is swimming in the same group of kids with Caroline. Together they swim, practice side breathing and actually learn other strokes from their master instructor and coach Paul. Like a gigantic puzzle with only the final pieces left to place, we can see everything fitting together. Patrick can get close to 3/4 of the way across an entire lap without stopping, but he still grabs the lane line as a safety net. He can do the back stroke, very crookedly, but he can get from Point A to Point B. Caroline works on flutter kicks and basic strokes. She can often blend in with the crowd of swimmers using this pool and pass herself off as a legit swimmer...it's wild!
So it only made sense that Pete would notice this too and push a little harder..."It's time for a meet, Beth. Get out of his way." I took his chiding seriously since Pete knows the territory of parenting a child with developmental disabilities. His son is an adult now, but he's coached enough kids with and without special needs to know when to push and when to believe in the impossible. We agreed...it would happen July 7th.
Like some parallel Shakespearean plot, Pete would be taking his one and only swimmer that he had been personally coaching ever since the dissolution of the UC Davis Men's Swimming Team in 2010, to the Olympic Trials days before our big meet. Scott Weltz, a breastroker and Aquamonster coach himself went to Omaha to test himself against the best. He was an underdog and completely off the radar to those on the outside.
Not for Pete and Scott.
They knew what they had come there to do..."swim at night" (make the swimming finals in your event). They tested the waters with the 100m Breaststroke. Scott created a buzz by getting into the finals, "swimming at night" and getting in 4th place. (The top 2 get to go to the Olympics.) That wasn't even his event so he was primed and ready for the 200m race. Scott raced in the prelims and easily made it to the semi-finals. He came in first in his semi-final race and was ready to take on the former world record holder and the current American record holder along with a host of others. Dreams do come true! Scott didn't just swim at night. It all came together in a 2:09.01 perfect race. He dominated the race and decidedly won -- Incredible!!! Together Scott and Pete are in London this very minute -- cheerio!!!
Only days after Scott's tremendous success and unbelievable win, Pete was on a flight back to our little town to lead a bunch of young swimmers through an ordinary, very local meet. On this blazing day, Patrick had to swim with the 12 and unders...all swimmers who can dive into the pool to begin the race. Patrick was allowed the benefit of starting in the water. He also had a swim coach swimming alongside him just in case it was all too much. The whistle blew and away he went. He would have to swim 50 meters -- there and back -- because of his age. As he swam the first 25, I noticed that he wasn't using his arms at all. He paused halfway through and hung on the lane line for a breath (suprisingly, this is not an automatic disqualification). As he got to the wall, who was sitting on the diving block waiting to coach Patrick directly...Pete.
Pete Motekaitis. The man who just had the biggest achievement a swim coach can have just days before at the US Olympic Trials; the man running a meet for a few hundred swimmers; that man found his way to the wall at the 25 meter mark for a swimmer who really wasn't a swimmer, leaned down and said, "Patrick, use your arms." That tiny act of kindness that I guarantee nobody else on the pool deck took note of sent a rip tide of a message: You are important. You are worthy. You, who will come in last place, possibly be disqualified and need to hang on the lane line to catch your breath, yes, even you, get my time and energy and focus. Every monster matters.
Through Pete and Koren's example, time and time again our family has been included and accepted and integrated into a club of amazing athletes. This feeling of welcome and belonging is such a rare gift and so natural for these two that they don't notice the irony or the juxtaposition of swimmers. But I do. Olympian Scott Weltz, Aquamonster Patrick Foraker...it really doesn't make a difference. You work hard. You practice hard. You make your weakness your strength and you try for a personal best.
It's all about the personal best.
So...you can bet that six Forakers are going to be rooting for a certain coach swimming in London. Scott Weltz, Olympian, Aggie and Aquamonster coach, we know you have another personal best in you. Go for the gold -- for all of us.
Every monster matters...Pete and Koren say it's so.
They live it...it's up to the rest of us as well.
Monday, July 23, 2012
***This is a continuation in a series of letters I've been writing to my now 17 year old daughter, Mary Kate, about living and figuring out the world we are a part of as women and as mothers. It also happens to include an impassioned plea for Marissa Mayer to rethink her decision to be the CEO of Yahoo weeks before giving birth to her first child.***
"Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children."
-- Charles R. Swindoll
I hear congratulations are in order for not just one fantastic opportunity but two: CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Yahoo, and the upcoming birth of your first child.
Sincere congrats -- you are blessed.
You are clearly one smart cookie. But I'm here to tell you you've done something dumb, really dumb.
You have believed the myth of motherhood. The load of crap that Johnson and Johnson and Ford Motor Company and Apple, Inc., and pretty much all of commercial America wants to sell you as a new mom: You can be everything to everyone.
You can "have it all".
You can "have it all".
Well, perhaps, Marissa, with your gobs of money and your esteemed education and your fantastic locale, perhaps you can have it all...but I'm afraid your child can't.
When you choose, intentionally, mindfully, knowingly choose a giant job just weeks before giving birth, guess who loses?
Having a baby, especially your first baby, is a huge physical, emotional, spiritual, mental transition...HUGE. No longer are you first. No longer are your needs, wants or desires, first. You have chosen to have a child and the child is supposed to come first.
How can your child come first, when Yahoo is there...pestering you, nudging you, bothering you during those first weeks of motherhood?
How can you attend to your own healing and adjustment, let alone your tiny infant's, when a giant monolithic publicly traded, flailing company is begging for attention?
Babies need advocates. Babies need someone to be their voice. Babies need love and attention -- most especially from their moms.
Here's a dirty little secret: NO ONE, honestly, no one will care for and love your baby in the way you will...not even your husband or your own mother.
Yes, of course, you can find fantastic nannies. You can hire loving and experienced people...but nobody can care give and love like the mother. Marissa, only you can fill that role.
I know you don't want to hear this. I can only imagine what you would have said to your own mother if she were telling you these things: "Mom, I can't believe you're not happy for me." "I can't believe you're doing this to me...giving me some kind of guilt trip." "Mom, I can afford only the best; I will get only the best to take care of the baby."
I'm telling you what no one else will. The one person who is going to lose in all this is your sweet baby boy. If he doesn't deserve to be the center of your world at his birth, when does he?
Corporate America is going to greedily steal any and all of your free time. It will suck away the enjoyment of just lingering over your baby's precious presence. It will take every single bit you have to give and ask for more. Your baby on the other hand, gets the leftovers...how crappy is that?
I know it's hard to imagine. Truly it is inconceivable, but your precious baby will fill your heart and soul and change your world view. You will be a different person. And you will look back at this giant job and smile...you thought that was important. You thought that was something to be proud of. Get a load of that baby boy...now he's the one thing that matters most.
If you let your heart speak to you and try and drown out all the people who need you to step it up and save Yahoo, you will know the answer. You won't want to sit in on any meeting...you will biologically, physically and emotionally want to be one place, and one place only: right next to your sweet baby boy, and without any distractions.
Marissa...I know what I'm talking about.
I'm the mom to four children. My oldest is turning 20 this year. I've been at this for a while. I'm sure not perfect but I know that I never regret a single moment I spend with my kids. There is no place I'd rather be...no place. And trust me, the big office at Yahoo, is one of the last places I'd pick to hang out in without my kids.
I also happen to be married to a CEO of a publicly traded company. And yes, he works his you know what off. He's a big wig but guess where he'd rather be...with his kids. Ask him what his greatest joy has been and it will have nothing to do with work. Check out the film footage of all those people helplessly trapped in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Do you think they were wishing for one more day at work? Hell no. They were begging for another moment with their families.
Life is full of choices. Some of them are no-brainers. This is one.
The precious, never-to-return early-years with your first child vs. a company that is teetering on the brink of failure.
The precious, never-to-return early-years with your first child vs. a company that is teetering on the brink of failure.
Love + Family > Money + Prestige
Trust me. Yahoo is not "evolved" in their thinking. No one in that room who had children wanted you to know what you were trading in with this agreement. No one wanted to say out loud that you will be placing the company ahead of your child over and over again without even knowing it. No one wanted to acknowledge the privilege and joy of motherhood that you will miss by not being present during your tiny baby's first weeks, months, or years.
What are the chances that you can be a CEO again?
What are the chances that you can get back your child's first years?
I know it is frightening. I know that it feels so normal now that you can't imagine not being your super organized, very clever, totally together self. I'm here to tell you that it's all going to change. Believe it or not, being pregnant is the easy part. It's going to get a lot more complicated very quickly.
I wish for you a joy-filled last few months of pregnancy and a real chance to prepare both mentally and spiritually for this amazing gift you are being given in your first child.
I wish for you an easy labor and delivery, a healthy baby boy and moments of deep and fulfilling love like you've never known.
Mostly, I wish for you the courage to choose your baby over this ballyhoo called Yahoo. I wish for you the freedom to just be. Just be a new mom delighted in her new child. Just be smitten, enraptured and hypnotized by your tiny bundle. Just be a person all wrapped up in their child.
The world could use a few more people putting their children first.
"The secret to world peace is to go home and love your babies."
-- Mother Teresa
Friday, July 20, 2012
"Yes, there is a Nirvanah; it is leading your sheep to a green pasture, and in putting your child to sleep and in writing the last line of your poem." -- Kahlil Gibran
Lately I've been finding myself very contented...full of peace, in tune with the world, joy-filled. The moments are ridiculously brief -- sometimes they are mere whispers of a moment -- but I feel it and know it as a truth. Last week, I was talking on the phone to a mother of a classmate of Patrick's. She was telling me that her family was going to be doing Relay4Life soon. She was walking in honor of a friend who is battling (for a second time) colon cancer. It has spread to her liver and the treatment is even more difficult and arduous than the first time around. She is feeling like she is in this battle alone and that the original supporters, while still around, are more of onlookers this time. She told me about her friend's young children; about her faith and her fear. She told me about the difficulty of just watching it all play out. I could feel the cortisol washing over my brain cells and feel the tension begin in my neck. Although I haven't been in that exact situation, I've been close. I hung up the phone and took a deep, long breath of life-giving oxygen. I rounded the corner and headed into the kitchen.
The image that met me is one I'm going to hold close for a long, long time: Jack was at the kitchen table on his computer -- no doubt looking at something on Reddit, the hip-undergraduate's preferred place on the internet; Patrick was next to him plowing through writing thank you notes; Mary Kate was at the kitchen counter with both Caroline and my six year old niece, Lizzy, looking over her shoulder making chocolate chip cookies. Absolutely nothing was exciting, innovative, awe-inspiring or energetic. It just was a normal day of the summer...a frozen moment in time...and it was beautiful. Tears sprang to my eyes and I let that kitchen scene just soak right in. I let the feeling of contentment squish its way into my cracked open heart. It lasted for less than a second because as soon as I walked into the vicinity of that group, they could feel my presence and unsurprisingly all sorts of issues suddenly arose. My one and only thought during the split second dousing of contentment that came my way:
"Beth, this really is as good as it gets...enjoy it."
Days later I felt it again as I read a funny book to Caroline just before bed...a micro second later I thought of my grocery list...but it was there.
I found it again as I rode my bike along a bike path filled with grass and shade trees so common in my town.
I tasted it in my new delicious summer treat I discovered on Pinterest (double dare you to try and not get addicted to this amazing spot!): iced tea filled to the brim with ice cubes made of lemonade...so yummy.
Noticed it again as I stared at a large stack of folded laundry just waiting to be put in its place (well, maybe that was more a feeling of satisfaction but contentment slipped in too for a bit).
Contentment is a funny thing. It's elusive and intangible. It's like trying to capture the fluff of a dandelion freshly blown into the breeze. I can feel it within reach...hovering close enough to notice and then as soon as I stop to take note, away it goes. In its place: some automatic list of things that need to get done, chores that need completion or the most pressing items of the moment.
All I know is that I'm getting better at noticing the moments that fill me up.
What fills you up? What brings you contentment and joy? Share here and we'll make a list of things to try. I'm up for gathering together a search party to make our way up to the peak of Mount Contentment. :)
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
"There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle." --Deepak Chopra
July is the time when I invariably reflect on my little bundle with an extra chromosome, Patrick. He is my third child so I thought I had it down...at least a little when he was born. Turns out I didn't know squat. I call Patrick my "Freedom Train". Without his presence in my life, I cringe at the kind of mother I could have been to both Jack and Mary Kate. I'm pretty sure I would have made that Tiger Mom look like a kitten. Then along came Patrick -- the universe gave me one big old chill pill and helped me to unlearn and relearn some of the very most important lessons on living.
In honor of his 13th birthday on July 1st, I give you the 13 things I never knew I never knew until Patrick.
1) People with a disability are not running around wishing they didn't have their disability. They are busy living their life. If you can't help them, get out of their way and at the very least hook them up with someone who can. They need no pity...trust me.
2) Moms and dads of kids with disabilities love their children ferociously and tenderly in this crazy blend found in the moment. They know how to find their voice and ask for what they need...turns out their children gave them that voice. They know when to fight. They know when to lay low and lick the wounds. Their love is in no way any less than their love for their other children.
3) CHILL -- please try it. I beg you. Just chill. Honestly, it will help even in an emergency. Patrick chills every single day. When he does it, he is in the moment, present with whoever is with him, living the way we are all meant to live.
4) Maybe it all revolves around the ability to chill...because when you have something that is stressing you out, Patrick has shown me that the way to get through it is to take it moment by moment. Don't try to think too far ahead. Patrick lives the way Stephen King writes his novels: pretend you are on a dark road with your headlights on. You can only see so far. You drive a little farther on and you see a bit more. You just keep driving that way and the entire road will eventually be revealed but only in installments of great light, bit by bit.
5) When I was at my worst as a mother -- downright bratty, rude, scary, mean and all about me -- guess what Patrick did. He looked me in the eye and opened his arms wide. He embraced me and loved me at my very worst. He was two. It's pretty humbling and mind blowing to receive unconditional love from someone so little in such a genuinely deep and abiding way. He taught me that we all deserve that wide open embrace...especially at our least deserving moment.
6) Rock out -- you know that quote about "dancing as if no one were looking". Patrick really does it. The groove just goes right through him and he feels the music in a very primal way. If you dance this way (and sing this way), you can't help but feel free and full of joy. It's the way we are meant to dance. Heck, it's pretty much the way we are meant to live.
7) Inhibitions,Shminihibitions...just a barrier. Patrick doesn't hold back. Normal cultural inhibitions are far fewer for him. He runs up to you at the library if you've left him for five minutes to find a book and gives you a big old hug as if you had been gone for a fortnight. He points out the obvious and keeps it real. He cherishes his rather round belly. He tells anybody who asks that it is just like Santa's -- there is no greater compliment for Patrick.
8) Rushing is really not where it's at. Be leisurely. Take it slowly. Stop to sing one more song or have one more dance. I cannot tell you how this one small tweak of a mindset has so drastically improved my life. Turns out that the slow, careful way that Patrick learns and lives is fantastically beautiful. I'm so privileged to watch this gorgeous flower unfold in his perfect time and without his guidance I would have missed it all.
9) Slow does not mean stupid. It's so easy to pigeon-hole people -- so effortless to assume that because Patrick processes things in a slower steady rhythm that he isn't capable of deep understanding or meaning. He has moments of insight that flash brilliant for me. His memory is amazing. He has his own genius...it's just not in the typical wrapping paper you're used to.
10) Sibling relationships are the same for people with disabilities and those without. They bug you; drive you crazy; make you laugh until you pee; freak you out; and offer up some of the very best truths about love and humanity that you will ever know. Siblings are not cheated of some typical relationship at all. They are given the many typical experiences but enriched by seeing the world through a different lens. The sibs learn empathy, compassion and unconditional love through osmosis. They are blessed.
11) I like to think that before Patrick I knew how to love but in truth I have been washed over with a tsunami of love knowing Patrick. It makes my small little pond look rather shallow. Love is deep...real deep. It gives us superpowers -- strength, endurance, tenacity, patience, kindness and compassion -- that we didn't even know were in there. It reveals the essential truth: love is boundless, ever present and ready to support you through anything. Love never fails.
12) There is no downside to celebrating and cherishing the moment for someone else. Patrick is generous in his joy. I really want to be like this...try to be like this...but whatever I have gleaned is from the master. For Patrick, it is simply his way. For me, his closeness with God is reflected right here.
13) Perhaps the biggest thing I didn't know is just how normal it is having someone like Patrick in your life. I am not wandering around thinking about Down Syndrome 24/7. I am not upset each day that God played some cruel joke on Patrick. I am not burdened or beaten down. In fact, the load is actually quite light. My marriage hasn't suffered. My other children haven't been ripped off. We're a pretty typical family with pretty typical annoyances and rarely, if ever, do they have to do with Down Syndrome.
I sure wish I would have known that at the very beginning.
Today I'm grateful for my son Patrick and his designer genes. Happy Birthday big guy!