Your Olympic Moment

The London Olympics have gotten me thinking about defining moments. Those events or occasions that build your confidence in what you’re capable of and made you see yourself differently.

For me, such a moment happened when I was nine years old and swam on a neighborhood swim team. I was a mediocre swimmer when I joined the team, but I steadily improved with hard work and practice to become one of the stronger freestyle swimmers in my age group. I loved swimming freestyle and often participated in both the individual events and the relay races.

My brush with glory came during one of the most important meets of the year. There were different divisions for the kids’ swim teams: named red, white and blue respectively. My team was in the white division and working to move ourselves up to the red. Every meet counted and we needed to win a majority of our meets if we were going to move up. I was signed up to swim in several freestyle events and slated to be the anchor for the 4 x 100 medley relay. The score of the meet was very close with only a few events left to go as the all-important medley race approached; the pressure on my teammates and me to pull out a victory was building.

When the gun went off and the butterfly swimmers took to the water, we knew we had some stiff competition. I also noticed during the race that some of the other team members were jumping off the blocks into the water before the swimmer before them had touched the wall. My parents were sticklers for playing by the rules and instilled in me that cheating never paid off—that you couldn’t feel good about your accomplishment if you cut corners because you wouldn’t know if you’d really earned it. While I was a little concerned about what I was seeing from the other team, I had confidence in my swimming abilities and believed that we could still win playing by the rules.

The anchor on the other team was off the block a few seconds before I was, once again before the previous swimmer was all the way into the wall. I made sure our swimmer touched and as soon as she did, I launched off the block. The other swimmer had a couple of strokes on me and I knew I had to make up the time so I decided I wouldn’t take any breaths. I swam harder and harder. At first, I was lagging behind and I momentarily panicked before realizing that I was gaining on her. I was motivated to win since I knew we’d been following the rules and I wasn’t about to let my team down. I was hoping I could get a couple of arm lengths ahead of my competitor, but I couldn’t. We swam the last few strokes neck and neck. I hit the wall with my hand and got out of the water. I stood there for a minute unsure who had won the race. I was confident I could do it, but was also preparing myself for the reality that I might not have quite pulled it off. The lane judges conversed and finally one of them came over to me smiling. She said, “You won. You beat her by 1/10th of a second.” She leaned over and showed me her stopwatch. I was overjoyed we’d played fair and won the big meet. For how excited I was, I may as well have just won an Olympic gold.

My fellow relay team members were with the rest of the team and their families awaiting the results. As the news that we’d won sunk in, I turned and smiled and ran towards my father. The team erupted in cheer once they saw my expression.  When I got to my dad he picked me up and tossed me in the air. He told me that he’d seen I’d swam a fair race and was proud of me for competing with integrity and for giving it my all and not giving up.

As a parent, I reflect on what I learned that day about myself and can’t wait for my children to have their own defining moments in sports and in life. I look forward to watching the incredible athletes of the 2012 games and talking to my children about the importance of hard work and competing with integrity,

What was your defining moment?

Today is my Birthday

I have friends who get bummed out when they turn a year older but I’m one of those people who love birthdays. I love all birthdays but mine in particular. It’s a day to celebrate and treat yourself. For me, it’s the one day a year I fully love myself and allow myself to be loved all day long. That may sound a little depressing I know, but don’t despair, I’m working on fully loving myself all the days of the year but that’s another story (and possibly book) for another time.

Last year was a milestone birthday year for me: I turned forty. As I prepared for the day I sought advice from friends that had gone before me. The resounding theme from pretty much everyone I asked was the same: that the forties were a great time in one’s life, that you will really start to get comfortable with who you are, and all the “stuff” we concerns ourselves with—like what we look like, where we are in life professionally and personally will all become less important. I was fascinated!  That all sounded so freeing.  Like many of us, I feel like I’ve been wearing heavy invisible chains most of my life: trying to be the right weight, look the right way, work hard to advance in my career, appear happy at all times regardless of how I’m really feeling inside, and the list goes on.

Now that I’m a year into my forties, I see that my friends were right. As my birthday clock readies itself to hit forty-one, I think about the year in review and smile. I feel like I’m continuing to get more comfortable with who I am and am much less concerned about things that used to monopolize my time. I am more honest and open about how I feel with my friends and seek deeper more meaningful connections with others. I’m happy with where I am, but still have a ways to go and I’m actually really excited about what the future brings.

No, I don’t like the idea of lots of wrinkles and I am dropping a bit more cash at the hair dresser than I used to, but these things also remind me of the road I’ve traveled to get here, and I can’t wait to see what I find on the road ahead.

Now, where’s my cake?

When I Get Older What Will I Be?

When I was just a little girl

I asked my mother “What will I be?”

“Will I be pretty?”

“Will I be rich?”

Here’s what she said to me

Que Sera Sera

Whatever will be will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera Sera

 I loved the song Que Sera Sera the first time I heard it, and still do today. It was the melody I really enjoyed when I was younger but I didn’t put much thought into the lyrics.

My oldest son asked me a very simple but poignant question the other day on the car ride home that brought this song to mind. “Mom,” he asked, apropos of nothing, “what will I be like when I’m an adult?” I have no idea why this question popped into his mind when it did, we’d just finished talking about some of the fun things we’d each done during the day. But such is the way with children’s minds.

I turned the question back on him: “Well,” I asked him, “what makes you who you are today?” He struggled to answer the question so I offered up some of my own observations. “You are curious and like to learn about new things, right?” “Yes,” he said. “And you like to have adventures, right?” “Yes,” he said again. “And you like to play with your friends and have fun, right?” “Yes,” he agreed once more. “Well, I think you’ll probably have those same qualities when you grow up,” I said. “You may learn things, have adventures and interact with your friends in a different way, but you’ll probably do all the things you do now.” I continued, “You have your whole life to figure out what you want to be, and Mom and Dad will help you along the way.” That seemed to be enough for him. He smiled to himself and looked back out the car window.

I love that my son is starting to discover who he is and what he likes and think about what that all may mean for the future. I love that he feels more knowledgeable and empowered to figure out what makes him happy. I’m aware that he is likely at some point to want to experience things I might not be comfortable with, or would prefer he avoid. He will eventually turn into a teenage boy after all. I’m mentally preparing myself for how I’ll be able to support him during those times but for now we’re just basking in the beginning of our adventure.

After all we never do know what the future brings. Que Sera Sera.

Say What You Mean

I was speaking with a group of moms recently and we were discussing how to find your voice as a woman. We decided that the only real way to find your voice is to say what you mean. It sounds so simple, but I’ve discovered many of us struggle with doing just that.

The particular discussion began as they normally do with parenting groups, around the talk about how emotions like frustration and resentment can develop between partners after a new baby arrives. Things your spouse did before the baby came, like not picking up after him or herself didn’t bother you and well, now it really does. As an outside observer, it’s easy enough to think a new parent should just tell their partner how they feel and yet, many of us don’t. Instead our voice gets stuck, it freezes up and the words won’t come out. It can’t be that simple, we think. Can we really just ask for what we want? Or more importantly what we need?

I’ve met many women in particular who struggle with finding their voice and saying what they mean to their partner, parents, in-laws, siblings and friends (note: I think both men and women struggle with this but women talk to each other about it more frequently). I know I am still working on fully finding my voice. Asking others for what you want and need can be scary.  Will I appear selfish? You ask yourself. Incompetent? Too needy? We’ll modify what we really want to say: “I need a break” to something less direct “Any chance you want to take the baby with you while you run errands?”

But what I’ve learned in recent years is that when you ask for what you need you send a message that you respect yourself enough–even love yourself enough–to ask for what you need. Think about that statement for a moment. You love yourself enough. You respect yourself enough to ask for what you need. And when you respect yourself, others will too.

A woman in the group I was speaking to most recently really stood out to me. She was the first woman I encountered in a long time who had truly found her voice. She’d had it before her child arrived and I suspect had an even clearer, stronger voice since becoming a mom. She shared how she asked her husband for what she needed, when she needed it—telling him when she needed alone time, or asking him to take on some of the household chores because she needed help.  It was inspiring to listen to her speak.

I will continue to work to find my voice and to be more direct and clear about what I need and why.

Have you found your voice?

A Bug’s Life

My youngest son’s class made a Bug Exhibit for the children’s parents to come and see last week. My goodness I was impressed! There was a painted paper mache balloon beehive complete with bees and a ladybug on a grassy field, grasshoppers in droves, and butterflies fluttering all around. The children used recycled goods like plastic cups, and cardboard boxes to help make their creations.

The class was having circle time, sitting around the teacher reading a book together, when I came to pick up my son and it gave me an opportunity to look at the exhibit more closely. I interrupted the circle time to tell the kids what a great job they had all done. They were quick to innumerate to me their individual contributions and show me residual paint that still needed to be washed from their hands.

What struck me most was how proud they all looked and how confident they were in what they had put together. They had worked together as a class to make a darn good Bug Exhibit and they knew it! It was inspiring to see four and five years olds feel that good.

It reminded me of a documentary that I’d seen a while back called I Am. The film talks about how species on earth that are far more ancient than humans abandoned the idea of placing a high value on competition long ago. In fact, competition and the need for individual achievement have no place amongst these more evolved beings. In order for the species to survive, they have to work together, for example ants building and foraging for the good of the colony not the individual ant.

Oh course, human beings are naturally competitive. But what if we weren’t? Would that really be all bad?

I fell in some small way that I witnessed what humans can accomplish when they work together at my son’s Bug Exhibit. No one was competing. No one even thought there might be a competition. They simply worked together to put the best Bug Exhibit they could, and they succeeded.

It’s a lesson I think we all can learn from.