Much to be Grateful For

With the outcome of the election known, it has been much easier for me to resume my life.  No more anxiety around who is going to be in charge next, no more animosity from certain factions on the opposing side, and no more negativity, at least not at the levels it was.  I never enjoy an election when the country feels so divided. I’ve been on both sides—elated my candidate won and devastated when they didn’t. When Obama was re-elected it felt anti-climatic, and almost silly that I put so much energy worrying about the outcome (darn those pundits for getting me all worked up!), when people in our own country are just trying to get back to their lives in a more basic way.

I was able to reconnect with a friend who lives in the Northeast this week over the phone. We talked about Hurricane Sandy and the effects it has had on her own home and that of her neighbors. There was much devastation in her area, and while she and her family had fared the storm well enough, several neighbors weren’t as fortunate. Homes needed to be emptied and gutted because they had sustained so much damage. People were displaced and had to find temporary housing until they can get back into their homes. Gas shortages along with power lines that are still down make it difficult to get around and get basic needs met.  Sandy is an event that reminds us all about our priorities: family, friends, life, taking care of one another…all of things that really matter, not what we get caught up in everyday—work importance, politics, and individual needs.

HBO is currently airing a documentary series called Witness, which follows photographers who are capturing life in countries experiencing their own wars: Mexico, Libya, South Sudan, Uganda, and Brazil. The series highlights what life is like for people in the country today and everyday. One photographer mentions that he was drawn to this, because he felt the world needed to know what was really happening in these countries, not just what can be crammed into a 60 second piece on the nightly news.  In watching the episodes, while the countries and situations are different, my reaction was the same for its citizens—fear, anxiety, and an incomprehensive of how people can survive in such scary situations.

Can you imagine having to be concerned you could get caught in the crossfire of a gunfight at any time of day? Can you imagine not having access to electricity or water or not knowing where money or food would come from, and not because you don’t have the money, which is frightening enough, but because no one has electricity, water or food? People who can provide these services are too scared to go to work or it is simply too dangerous.  Can you imagine trying to raise children in such an environment?

We may disagree in this country on a lot of things, but I take great comfort in our democracy, our desire to live in relative peace with one another, and help our fellow citizens when we are able. We are not perfect and have many problems to solve, but I am thankful, so thankful that I live in a land where I don’t fear for my family and children’s safety on a daily, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour basis.  I am grateful that while we may disagree, it doesn’t result in us raising arms against one another.  I am thankful that when we experience destruction like Hurricane Sandy we come together to help each other.

I am thankful, I am thankful, I am thankful.

A House Divided, a House United

Raise your hand if you are glad the election is over?

Both my arms would be raised if asked this question. There were a lot of stressful events to watch, read and hear about in recent weeks—the election getting to a fever pitch — what will happen if Romney wins, what will happen if Obama gets re-elected, followed by Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, followed by the actual election and a country divided.  Doesn’t feel very good, right?

A reprieve from this negativity came in the form of reality came from my niece and son. My niece who was four in 2008 said that she would have voted for John McCain in our last election. When asked why, she simply replied, “Because his hair looks like grandpa’s!”  And she was right it did look like Grandpa’s.  My oldest son said to my husband and I one day in recent weeks, “I would vote for Romney!”  When asked why, he said, “Because I like his hair!”  Wow, I thought, hair has a lot more influence for a kid than I would have expected, and boy I’m glad the voting age is 18! 

Mo Rocco did a recent piece for CBS Sunday Morning where he walks a classroom of kids through the election, electoral process, and the complexity that can arise when the popular vote and electoral votes don’t match. The outcome of the mock election—what is better: colored pencils or markers—didn’t seem very fair to the children participating in the segment. The popular vote in the classroom had been for colored pencils, but markers won the electoral vote. The kids were divided. One side elated, the other felt like it was unfair. It would resonate with anyone who suffered through the 2000 election.

When the election was over and my anxiety succumbed to relief, I took a deep breath. I knew the outcome. It was over. Knowing I could now move on and not have to stress about “what-ifs” made me happy.  The last two years leading up to this felt like a rivalry football game–it felt like one team was winning handily, but being told constantly that the other team was closer to winning than you might think. And instead of “the game” lasting four quarters it felt like 100, maybe 1,000…basically it felt like an entirety, a roller coaster ride that I was glad had ended.

The innocence of a child’s thinking–like my niece and my son’s–can be easily lost in such decisive times. I wish it wasn’t that way. Elections are about winning and losing. It’s a competition played in the dirtiest of ways—half-truths, innuendo and exaggeration. Like the children in the mock election, some of us are elated with the results while others are heartbroken. While we may feel like a country divided I think we can all agree on this—there is much to still fix in our country, and the way we run political campaigns is very, very disappointing.

While I don’t have hope around how our politicians campaign and get elected to office, I do have hope for our country finding more common ground and working together to address our issues.

In my house we can all agree on that.

Fantasy Football

I hold my parents responsible for my love of sports. We lived in Atlanta when the Falcons appeared to be Super Bowl bound in the late ‘70s.  During the season our house was filled with lots of cheering and shouting on Sunday afternoons. The Falcons made the playoffs in 1981 and in order to advance they needed to beat the Dallas Cowboys. I was convinced the Falcons would win. Not because I knew that much about football, or the team at the time, but because I still believed anything was possible, whether it was realistic or not. I was a child.

My parents went to the Falcons Cowboys playoff game while my sisters and I watched the game on TV with a sitter. The Falcons led most of the game. I knew they were going to win. I could visualize it—the team winning, my parent’s elation that wouldn’t end until after our Super Bowl victory. Except that’s not what happened.  The Cowboys came from behind to win.  I was devastated.  How could the Falcons lose?  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  When it became clear there was no chance the Falcons would make a comeback, I ran to my room, slammed the door, jumped on my bed and promptly began to cry. I cried for the Falcons, I cried for my parents, and others experiencing the same pain I was.  But mostly I cried for the fantasy that hadn’t become a reality.

I took a break from watching football after that. It was too painful. I didn’t need a reminder that sometimes dreams don’t come true. Several years later, my father convinced me to watch a college football game with him. I almost immediately regained the love I had for watching the sport. At first I resisted getting behind one team, but seeing my Dad get behind the University of Miami, where he’d gone to school, win-or-lose I quickly followed. I loved it when it was clear Miami was in control and a victory certain, and had to walk away when things started going in favor of the opposing team. Whether I thought I was a jinx on the team, or allowing myself to have hope that things would improve during my absence, I can’t quite say. Trying to stay and experience the pain of watching my team lose was too great.  I couldn’t do it. My father would often remind me, “it’s only a game,” when he would see how upset or frustrated I was getting. Logically I knew he was right, but it really bothered me that he seemed at peace with it, and I was having all these intense emotions.

While I didn’t set out to teach my children to love sports, I’m afraid I’ve taken them a good distance down the path. My oldest son watches college football games with my husband and I on occasion and helps us cheer on our alma maters. He isn’t picky about who he roots for mainly cheering for teams because he likes their school colors or their mascot. He can get pretty upset—frustrated, angry and sad—when his team isn’t winning or loses altogether. He reminds me a lot of myself when I was a child. I try to comfort him and talk to him like my dad did with me. “Are you playing in the game?” I ask. “No,” he replies. “Did you practice with the team?” I ask. “No,” he replies. “Is there anything you can do to change what happens in the game?” “No,” he replies. Sometimes this line of questioning calms him down, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s hard to see your child’s heart break. To know their dream might not come true, even if it’s only a game.

Most things are out of our control. As an individual that’s hard. As a parent it can feel even harder. We can only control how we respond to what happens.  I try to empathize with my son and see the game through his eyes—fantasy sprinkled with a dose of real life.   While I’m better equipped emotionally to handle my team losing, I still can’t bring myself to watch and entire game if its clear my team will lose. I’ll turn the channel or walk away. I know it’s only a game, but the pain that teeters in the loss is still too great.

Every time I see the famous Doug Flutie pass and victory over UM I’m reminded of the disappointment I once felt, though thankfully not as intensively as I did back then (the recent UPS ad is a killer to watch every time!).  Maybe it’s the childlike fantasy I still want to believe in, the hope that the dream will come true, even though I have know I have no control over it. I think back to what my dad said and take a deep breath. It’s only a game.