A Rotary Youth Exchange Blazer Story

The day had arrived. The day I was looking forward to and dreading all at the same time.

I was in charge of one of the big suitcases and the rolling carry-on while she wheeled the other big suitcase and shouldered her overstuffed backpack. We followed the signs to Lufthansa and entered the ticketing/check-in line. After months of learning, checklists, paperwork, to-do’s, and last minute errands, we realized then that she still wasn’t ready.

“Amy!” I fake scolded. “Where are your luggage tags? You were supposed to write them out long before we got here!”

“I know. I forgot. I didn’t have my host family’s address.”

“What do you mean? It’s in your paperwork. Get it out.”

Down came the backpack and out came an envelope full of the documents she’s supposed to travel with:  names and address of her first host family, the Rotary club in France that will host her, passport, birth certificate, permission to attend school, her insurance policy, parental permission, travel itinerary, and several other items. We pulled out the one with her host family’s address and I read it to her as she wrote it on the tags. She was nervous and her handwriting was atrocious, almost illegible.

As we fumbled with the tags and reorganizing some of her documents, a young girl got in line behind us.

“You can go ahead,” I said, scooting over the two suitcases I was in charge of.

She smiled and wheeled on past us, all of her luggage neatly stacked on a rolling cart.

“Mom,” Amy whispered, “do you think she’s an exchange student?”

“She might be,” I said. “I just don’t know why she’s all alone. It seems like someone would come to the airport with her.”

Once we felt organized, I told Amy to put her official Rotary blazer on so I could take her picture. All of the kids in our Rotary District – District 5470, the southern two-thirds of the state of Colorado – as well as all students going abroad through any of the United States Rotary clubs are supplied a black blazer. They exchange and collect pins and proudly display them on their blazer as they progress through their year abroad.

Amy gave me a look. I knew what it was about. Yesterday, as we were loading up to leave our home in Grand Junction and drive to Denver–where she’d be flying out of–she said, “Mom, what should I do with this blazer? I hate it; it’s so ugly. I mean, why don’t they just tell us to go buy an attractive, well-fitting black blazer that we actually like instead of SURPRISE! HERE’S THE UGLIEST BLACK BLAZER WE COULD FIND FOR YOU!”

I laughed out loud. Both of our emotions had been running high for the past two weeks as her departure day loomed and both of us had had a few outbursts and good cries over nothing, really. She wasn’t being ungrateful or disrespectful to the Rotarians who had helped her get to this point, just open and honest and funny. We all know that a heavy, black, too-big, too-constructed blazer is not what any teenage girl wants to wear, let alone travel in or meet their new families in. They want to wear comfort clothes and something in which they feel attractive and that represents the way in which teenagers dress in the country they’re from.

When my laughter subsided, Amy gave me a pouty look. “Mom, I’m scared I won’t be funny in France. I mean, how can I be funny when I don’t even know the language?”

“Honey, I think that anything you attempt to say in French will probably be hilarious. You’ll be plenty funny and interesting.”

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I got the official departure photo and then helped Amy neatly fold the blazer and tuck it into her carry-on. “You should probably get this out right before boarding the plane and wear it for at least a little while on the plane. It’ll help other exchange students notice you, if there are any others on your flight. And make sure to wear it when you layover in Germany and maybe when you land in France. You’ll be safer in it – airport personnel are probably familiar with these blazers and they’ll know you’re an exchange student and a minor – and people will be less likely to mess with you.”

We then went to the counter, just as the other girl was finishing her check-in. “Hey, are you with Rotary?” she asked, looking hopeful. “I saw your blazer.”

“Yeah!” said Amy. “Are you?”

“Yes. I’m going to Croatia.”

“Where are you from?” I asked, knowing she did not live within District 5470. Croatia is not one of the 20 countries that students in District 5470 can exchange to.

“Boulder,” she answered.

“Are you here alone?” I asked, feeling at once both a little sorry for her and also that perhaps I wasn’t letting my daughter be independent enough.

“Oh, my dad’s here. He’s parking the car or something.”

“Are you traveling through Germany to get to Croatia?” I asked her. If so, that would mean she’d be on Amy’s flight.

“Yes, I’m on the 5:30 flight.”

“Cool,” said Amy, her eyes lighting up. “So am I!”

She gave the ticketing agent her passport and as he finished up his work, he asked, “Any seating preferences?” Not knowing exactly what that meant, Amy responded with, “Umm… no, I don’t think so.”

“Well,” I started, “is there any chance you could seat her next to the young girl who just checked in? The one in line in front of us? They’re both minors and they might feel more comfortable sitting together.”

“Sure,” he said. “I can do that.”

We were plenty early to the airport, but Amy was too nervous to have lunch or look around in the shops. So we made our way to the security area and plopped down on some seats there. I asked Amy how she was feeling. She seemed okay. I felt okay myself, compared to what an emotional mess I’d been the two weeks leading up to this point.

The line going through security looked long and I guessed the process might take about 45 minutes to an hour. After a while, when it seemed like it was probably time for Amy to make her way to her boarding gate, I said, “Hey, maybe I can stand in that line with you. That’d give us a little bit longer together.”

The woman in charge of the entrance to the line said it would be fine, that I’d just have to exit the line when they started checking boarding passes. “Unless, of course, you get randomly selected for Pre Check.”

“Pre Check? What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, we randomly select some people to go through a faster security line. You don’t have to take your shoes off.”

“Okay,” I said and we started winding our way through the serpentine straps used to create and manage a line of people. We didn’t go more than 20 feet before a man said, “Pre check. This way.” We veered off to the right into a different line.

I guess we were randomly selected, I thought. Amy was the one to notice. “Interesting. Everyone in this line is in a family. Look at the babies and kids. And us. The other line is all men. Nice random selection.”

I had it in my mind that I would be with my daughter for about 45 more minutes before I had to say goodbye to her once and for all, but the Pre Check line was only about two minutes long. The time was now. “Oh my gosh, Amy, we have to say good-bye now. Are you good? You okay?” I pulled her in for a hug.

“Mom, I’m sad,” she said, and started to cry a little.

I was sad, too, but tried not to let it show. “Don’t be sad, be happy. Go have the time of your life!” And I let go of her. And I walked away. And I cried, but not as badly as I thought I would.

I had to go upstairs to level two to exit the area. When I got up there, I realized I could look down on the security lines. So I found a quiet spot and stood looking over the railing, scanning like crazy to locate Amy. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t figure out where that Pre Check line was. Or maybe she had already gone through it.

I glanced at my phone, it being in my hand, and saw a notification from Facebook that Amy had mentioned me in a status update. What? How? I thought. She’s in an airport security line. I opened it up and there was a picture of me standing on level two, looking for her. Randee Bergen spying on me it said. What? She saw me and I couldn’t see her? I wish I was spying on you! I wish I could see you one last time! I thought. Or, maybe not. Maybe this is for the better.

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I exited the airport and went to find my vehicle in the parking area. Should I leave? Was it okay to leave the airport and head back to Grand Junction when she had more than an hour to sit at her gate? What if her plane didn’t show up or wouldn’t be able to take off? Maybe I should stay.

But I couldn’t. I drove away.

When I stopped to get gas, I texted her. Are you at your gate? Have you found your friend?

Yes, I”m here, but I don’t see her anywhere!

You will, eventually. I love you!

Not too long after that, there was a text from Amy. I found her and guess what? Her name is Amy!

Crying, I typed. No, that wasn’t texting language that I typically used; it was something Amy would have said. It usually meant happy tears, oh how special, how meaningful, something like that.

Then I added a smiley face and pushed SEND.

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Triple Play Day

Hey, do you want to do anything fun this evening? Bike riding? Pickleball? There are only so many summer evenings.

Jim texted back. What say you pedal down to Sherwood Park and we’ll toss the frisbee around for a while? That’ll give you one of those triathlon days you like.

That sounded fun. And Jim was right; that would be two more exercise opportunities for the day on top of the hiking I had done early in the morning.

The triathlon idea started with day trips to Glenwood Springs, where I would choose a hike or a run, ride my bike down the canyon, and then swim laps and relax at the world-famous Glenwood Hot Springs. This was an individual event, made up entirely by me, and done at my happy pace, which included having lunch between legs and reclining in a chaise lounge with a good book between laps. The whole point was not to go my fastest and get the event over as quickly as possible, but to fully embrace and enjoy each aspect of it, making it last all day and taking pictures along the way.

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So I met Jim at the park that evening and we tossed the frisbee back and forth in the low, late evening sunshine. To add some oomph to the workout, we did what we always do with a frisbee or a ball, we counted how many times we could get it back and forth to each other without dropping it. This extra challenge of throwing more accurately and running to catch throws that were slightly off got our heart rates up. At first, we did 18 in a row. Then 19. Then 26. And our record for the evening was 56. Fifty-six tosses back and forth with the frisbee never hitting the ground.

After, we sat in the cool grass. “Good idea, Jim! I forget how fun it is to throw a frisbee.”

“Good exercise, too,” he said. “I’m going to feel this tomorrow. All the bending over and reaching and sudden bursts of running.”

“You know how in your text you called this a triathlon day? I was thinking we should come up with a different name. Triathlon implies swimming and biking and running. But, really, any exercise counts. Even the work you do all day long at your job.”

“But the three different things is what’s important,” he said. “I think it’s a good goal to shoot for every day. It doesn’t have to be three big things, like your all-day Glenwood Springs triathlons. It could be walking down to the farmers’ market, paddling around the lake. Anything.

I pondered my locale and exercise tastes and all the options, especially in the summer months. “Yeah, Jim, there are so many fun things to do around here–hiking, trail running, walking, mountain biking, road biking, pickleball, racquetball, swimming laps, open water swimming, kayaking…”

“Frisbee,” Jim added.

“Yes, frisbee. And this would remind us to play more often. Plus, things like strength training, push ups, stretching.”

“Yeah, just stretching at some point in the day. It wouldn’t be that hard to get three things in.”

“And most of this stuff is fun. I’m thinking triple play, make it sound fun, like a triple play day.”

“Triple Play Day.” Jim tested out the sound of it. “I like it. Because most exercise is fun. Or it should be. People should try to find exercising options they enjoy, that make it seem like they’re playing.”

“It’d be really good for me,” I thought out loud, “to try to do triple play days as often as possible, especially when winter rolls around. I always slip into this horrible thinking that I need to be home and safe and locked in my house once it’s dark. And in the winter, that means 4:30. And that’s not good. It’d be great if I had a reason to go and do one more type of exercising. Go to the gym. Walk around the block on a snowy evening. Whatever. It would just help me change my mindset.”

“Yeah, we should keep it in mind. Think about it every day. See what happens.”

“There’s also housework and yard work. They’re not exactly fun…”

“For some people, they are,” Jim interrupted.

“Agree. And, even if they’re not fun, they’re rewarding, once you’re done, and that makes them fun in a different sort of way. So they’d be included. Included in this idea of ‘playing.'”

“What about long runs or climbing a 14er or something like that?” Jim asked. “Would that count as three things?”

“It should.”

Jim thought for a minute. “I’m thinking it shouldn’t. I mean, the whole point is to get in the habit of doing three things each day. To ask your body to do three different types of activity. And even if you do a biggie, you can still come home and stretch or vacuum or pull a few weeds in your yard.”

“I agree. Plus, it’d be too easy to start counting more intense exercise as two or three things for the day and then the whole triple play concept would be lost.”

I went on a week-long road trip right after I had this conversation with Jim. It was a good opportunity to test whether back-to-back, ongoing triple play days were a possibility. Some days were easy, like the day I went for a short run around the lake where we camped and then later that day played hard in the ocean and then took a long walk down the beach. Triple Play. Other days, the ones with seven hours of driving, were more difficult. But I could always get in some walking, some stretching, some isometric exercises while sitting in the driver’s seat. It was on my mind, a new challenge, so I made sure I did it. And I liked it.

Triple Play Day.

Triple Play Day copy

 

Just Wondering

Early in the summer, I was camping in the southern Utah town of Cedar City. After a day of hiking and then napping by the pool at the campground, I ventured out for a short run about town.

Heading south down the main street, from the northern end of town, I came upon a picturesque cemetery. The tall trees, in an otherwise high desert setting, cast shade about the thick, neatly trimmed grass, made a brilliant green by the slant of the evening sun, and upon the roads leading into the cemetery, vacant on this late Sunday afternoon, inviting me in.

At first I focused on my running, feeling fortunate for the quiet roads and cooler venue. Out of respect, I ran as lightly as I could, placing each step without sound upon the pavement. Is this irreverent? I wondered. I’ve run alongside my hometown cemetery, but never through it.

But soon my attention was on the headstones.

There was something perplexing about them. Each marker seemed recently placed – clean and gleaming like new countertops, all with what appeared to be freshly incised lettering. A newer section of the cemetery, I thought, but, with the inscriptions so sharp and mysteriously not timeworn, I could see, easily, that they were diversely aged, many having been situated there more than 50 years.

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How has time not permanently dusted and dulled these markers? Why are the loving inscriptions and vital statistics not worn down, lost to those looking upon them now for the first time? My wondering continued as I ran.

And the decorations! The sites, nearly every one, were adorned with bright bouquets, crisp and new, like the headstones themselves. Deep reds, not one bit faded from the hot western sun, and yellows vibrant as if they had just popped that morning. I saw balloons, aloft of the markers, not drooping in the least, seemingly placed just moments before I arrived. Hats, flags, garden decor. All tidy. Colorful. Nothing out of place. Every grave looking as if it had been attended to that day.

How is this possible? I wondered, looking around, searching for someone, anyone, to inquire if they were noticing what I was noticing, to ask if they knew the secret of this place. It would make sense if it was just past Memorial Day, but the holiday formerly known as Decoration Day was two weeks gone. No one else. No one there to wonder with.

I thought of my running friend, how we’d discuss this if she was here. And my hiking partner; he’d enjoy contemplating these things with me. But mostly I thought of my mom. I remember visiting with her live-in partner one day, remember him saying something about how my mom never says, “I don’t know.” He said that when he asks her a question and she doesn’t know the answer she won’t say, “I don’t know.” She’ll muse about it, toss out some ideas, ask him what he thinks. He didn’t seem to understand why she would do that, why she wouldn’t just say, “I don’t know.”

“Is that bad?” I asked him. “Because I do that, too!” I visualized doing this with my mom; yes, we definitely had thought, together, about things we weren’t sure about, exchanged ideas, furthered our thinking, and often come up with answers or explanations that we wouldn’t have, had we not gone through the process of wondering, together.

I needed my mom, a friend, information about this cemetery, Google, anyone.

After running crisscross up and down all the paved roads in the cemetery, I came upon a newer section toward the back. Here, the roads were gravel. Here, there were no trees, none casting shade anyway. But the markers themselves looked the same–new, recently etched, smartly adorned. An American flag, not faded in the least, flapped in the wind, wind not previously perceived in the more protected confines of the cemetery.

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I ran on.

Now I came upon a small dirt area, red dirt, typical of the southwest. Short sticks and rocks marked the burial sites, presumably those of pets. Twenty graves perhaps. Why just 20? Just 20 beloved pets lost over all these years? Perhaps the pet cemetery concept hadn’t taken off or the idea ruled against. A few weeds grew here. Why are there weeds here and nowhere else? Why haven’t they been pulled?

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Oh, to mull these thoughts over with someone.

Not far from the pet cemetery, I came upon an information board and a map explaining the layout of the cemetery. A bit of information to shape my pondering.

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What? Not a pet cemetery, but an Indian burial area. More questions. Why just 20 or so Indians? Maybe shortly after Indians were permitted (or chose) to be buried here, they were included in the regular sections, treated equally, with grass instead of weeds, proper markers rather than sticks and stones.

I went back to the little dirt area. Took a closer look. Noticed an etching on one of the sandstone rocks placed there. Tom somebody. This rudimentary carving was not sharp, not legible, not even up close, not even later when I zoomed in on the photo. October 1947? 1941? Space for just one date. Was this the year of birth or death? Probably death. Tom. Lost. Lost to most.

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I continued on through the cemetery, taking each road one more time. Wondering about this place. Wondering about wondering. I could stop by the office the next morning. Ask some questions. Inquire. I could, upon arriving home, do some research on the Internet. Was there another cemetery in Cedar City? An older, more historic, more typical one? Where were most Indians buried, back then and now, too?

No, forget it. I wasn’t going to. To leave here just wondering, that’s what I decided to do.

I recall mentioning to my aunt the conversation I had had about my mother and her wondering, her thinking aloud, her expecting others to build upon her thoughts, her using this approach to try to come to some understanding, some conclusions. I recall my aunt saying, “I didn’t have a mother who wondered. I had a mother who said, ‘I don’t know.’ It was the more appropriate thing to do in her time.” And then, “I missed out on a lot of conversations.”

So here’s to the power of wondering, to thinking aloud. And here’s to my mother for engaging in this behavior, drawing me in, teaching me to wonder, to just wonder.

Assignment: Today (7/14/14)

I realized later that I hadn’t seen the whole post, the entire paragraph. There was a quote, then a line space, and at the bottom…

Assignment:  Today

I love the assignment part I commented on the post, thinking the assignment was one word, to focus on today, to make the most of it.

The person commented back that I could download the app and it would give me a new assignment every day. I took a closer look and saw that the word today was only the first word in a multi-sentence assignment. I wasn’t interested in the entire description of the assignment (hardly read it) or the app, particularly. I had already decided that my assignment was today. Just today.

Today. An optimistic word full of promise. Today. A fleeting notion. Today. Something that definitely needs to be grabbed onto and made the most of.

This wasn’t a new revelation for me, this embracing of the gift of a day. It just reiterated for me how I shouldn’t waste precious time, moments, or–the worst–an entire day.

Earlier that morning, I went hiking with a friend and she told she was thinking about doing a sprint triathlon coming up in September. “I just need to commit. Commit to the training,” she bemoaned.

“I’ll do it with you,” I said. I spit it out, before I could think about it, before I could tell myself no. “I’ll train with you.”

“Really? You will?” she asked, stopping in the trail, ahead of me, and turning back to look at me.

“Yes.” It wouldn’t be my first tri. I’ve done several since I started running about six years ago. Most triathletes have to conquer the swimming portion of a triathlon, already being capable enough of the running and the biking. For me, the swimming is the easiest part and the pedaling isn’t so hard either; it’s the running that kills me. I am a slow runner. And I’m especially slow after swimming, riding my bike, and then attempting to run.

I’d pretty much written off any more triathlons and any serious running training as well, for that matter. In fact, I had just recently decided that I was only going to run, ever again, if I felt like it. I wasn’t going to push myself. I love exercise and I do all sorts of it and I figured it was no big deal if I ever ran again. I wasn’t that good at it anyway, even back a few years ago when I was running a lot.

But, there is this secret inner part of me that still wants to be a runner, that wants to be stronger, that wants to lose the 15 pounds I’ve gained since I quit running on a regular basis. And that secret inner longing was probably what made me spew the words “I’ll do it with you” before my brain could really think about it and override the pact I was about to make.

My friend and I hiked to the high point on the trail–Eagle Wing–where we finalized the commitment to train together and took our official commitment selfie.

Mary Jo and Me

On the way down, we made a training schedule. We decided which mornings we would swim, when we would run trails, and that we’d have to squeeze biking into evenings and weekends.

From now on, starting today, I am in training. I will write a weekly training plan and try to stick with it, taking it one day at a time, focusing on today, doing my best, and then moving on to the next day.

I must admit I’m excited. I didn’t want to be done being a runner (slow as I am, a runner who runs on a fairly regular basis, runs a few races here and there, and enjoys the benefits of a leaner and stronger body) but I was definitely in a slump and developing a negative mindset, thinking I was too old to run and that I was never meant to run anyway.

But today is a new day. And I’ve got a new challenge and a new focus.

Assignment:  Today.

 

Quick Question

Is anyone out there who never had trouble with spam comments now having to deal with them? That is all I am getting and it’s really annoying.

Also, I put up a new post a few days ago, got a few legitimate comments, and now the post is completely gone. At first I thought, “Well, maybe I didn’t really post it. Maybe I imagined it in my Reader.” But, the comments are there in my notifications.

Weird stuff. And it’s really turning me off from blogging. Any similar stories? Ideas?

Thanks, WordPress community!

Manikin Panickin’

“Mom, I got VATted today,” Amy said as she came through the front door. Neither success or defeat was conveyed.

“Oh yeah, how’d it go?” She had told me about some of the other lifeguards getting VATted so I knew what she was talking about.

“I failed. Big time. It was so embarrassing.”

She had been through a weekend of rigorous lifeguard training two months prior and was required to get a certain number of inservice hours each month to ensure her training remained fresh and up-to-date. In addition, she, and the other guards, would occasionally be VATted. This, her first time to experience it, was during her second full week of guarding.

“I was guarding the deep end and there were only three people using it. I knew where they all were and none of them were in the water. One was standing on the edge, one was talking to her friend by the hot tub, and the other was walking to the diving board.” Having been to this pool several times, I pictured the scene in my mind. “So, I’m just standing there, keeping an eye on these people, and this little boy comes up behind me and taps on me. Tap, tap, tap. I look down. He’s about six. He says, ‘That man over there threw a baby doll in the water. Aren’t you supposed to get it?’

“OMG,” I said, knowing how she must have felt. To have a little kid see the baby doll go in, to have him know that she’s getting tested, to have him come and tell her she might just want to rescue it.

“Yeah. So, I only have 20 seconds to get the manikin to the surface. It’d probably been down there for over a minute already. Maybe two. So I jump in and go down for it. And I didn’t have enough air. I couldn’t get it. I had to resurface and try again. And that little kid watched me the whole time. Probably the whole place did.”

“I’m sorry, honey.” I thought back to her training stories. She had brought up real live grown men who were hanging out on the bottom of the pool, waiting to be “rescued.” So I knew she could bring the baby up, that she had the skills to do it.

“So what happens if you fail a VAT?” I asked. I invested nearly $400 for her to become a lifeguard, from the training course to the red lifeguard suits and shorts and guard t-shirts and then the expensive Chaco sandals that would provide enough support for standing all day and wouldn’t fall off when she jumped in for a rescue. I hoped she wouldn’t be fired. More important, though, I didn’t want her to fail, to think she wasn’t competent enough. This was her first real job. It demanded a lot of responsibility for a 15-year-old, but I knew she could do it.

I thought back to my lifeguarding days. I remember taking a course that was several weeks long, but after passing that and getting hired by the city where I grew up, I had no further training. And I lifeguarded for three summers.

“Since I didn’t pass, I’ll get VATted a lot over the next two weeks. And if I continue to fail, I’ll get fired.”

“Oh, I think you’ll do okay the next time it happens. You’ll be ready.”

“Me, too.” Now she sounded confident. “I learned a lot today. I’m kind of glad it happened the way it did because I realize I wasn’t scanning the bottom. We were trained to scan the bottom, kind of like scanning your mirrors in driver’s ed. We’re supposed to do it on a schedule. And I wasn’t doing that. I didn’t think it was necessary since I knew where my three people were. But now I know. I have to do it all the time.”

I loved what I was hearing–not only that she realized the VAT was a good learning experience, but she already knew what to take away from it.

Several weeks later, I had my own experience with the VAT manikin. I was swimming laps at the outdoor pool. The big, busy outdoor pool. The lap lanes are in the center of the pool, a calm, quiet oasis between the crowded shallow part of the pool and the hectic deep end with the diving boards. No one who isn’t swimming laps is supposed to be in the lap lanes and no one’s supposed to cut across them to get from one end of the pool to the next.

I was in the far lane, the one next to the deep end. Whenever I front crawled in this lane, I could see how the bottom of the pool dropped off, right under the rope, sloping from about five feet deep beneath me to twelve under the diving boards. At the end of the lane was a lifeguard stand. When I’d stop swimming to take a breather, I’d nonchalantly check out the guard there, to see how engaged he or she was, to see if I could notice elements of the training that my daughter had told me about.

Sometimes the guards used the stand, sometimes they didn’t and instead stood on the edge, or paced back and forth, moving, watching, scanning.

As I approached the wall, doing breast stroke, on the day I think of as my VAT day, I could see the red of a lifeguard standing near the edge of the pool, a watery figure through my goggles as I lifted my head to breathe. Two quick reports of the whistle, the leaping figure, and the giant splash not five feet from me seemed to happen simultaneously, the wake pushing me sideways, even with the rope there to squelch it, and I knew instantaneously what all of this was about.

The lifeguard had jumped in to save someone!

I took one more stroke and was at the wall, turning my body back and toward the deep end. What was going on? I shoved my goggles up on my cap to get a clearer picture.

But I could see no commotion. No victim. All I saw was the guard, a girl, holding her sunglasses in one hand, the rescue tube in the other. She was treading water, looking at nothing in particular, not for a person in distress or at the bottom of the pool. And she was smiling.

Smiling?

Something was wrong with her. She wasn’t thinking straight. She wasn’t rescuing the victim. She had given up and she was just treading water and… smiling.

Some sort of instinct kicked in in me. My old lifeguarding instinct. My mommy instinct. My teacher instinct. My adult instinct. So much experience, so many instincts, all raring to go. I knew I could help. Plus, I had my goggles! I’d be able to see the entire bottom of the pool!

I pulled the goggles back down over my eyes. And then… then I hesitated.

Maybe I shouldn’t interfere. I didn’t work here. My training was decades old. I could, possibly, make the situation worse.

And then it hit me, why the guard wasn’t trying, and why she was smiling. Why she thought this whole thing was funny.

Her twenty seconds were up.

She had failed. She knew it. And there was nothing to do now but smile and handle it graciously while the crowd looked on.

When I figured it out, I smiled, too. Smiled that I was all raring to save someone.

It was almost a year later, just a few days ago actually, that I went to swim laps at the indoor pool. My daughter was working. Guarding. I watched her for a few minutes. Pacing the edge, scanning, guarding. Really guarding. She was no longer a rookie. She looked good. Impressive. Serious. Professional.

On my way out, in the lobby, I saw this sign explaining about the VAT (Vigilance Awareness Training) manikin. Oh, so that’s what VAT stands for, I thought. The sign was large and it explained why the VAT doll was used, but it was in a corner where, I think, most patrons probably don’t see it.

To me, people need to be told as they enter the pool, need to be made aware, somehow, that the baby doll manikin might be in use. To see someone toss a baby into the deep end or to watch as a guard either does or does not bring the tiny victim up, could result in a brief episode–as it did me–of manikin panickin’!

VAT

 

Breaking Night – A Book Sampling

BreakBreaking Nighting Night by Liz Murray. Fiction.

This is a memoir of survival and forgiveness and journeying from homeless to Harvard.

It is remarkable what some children live through. Lizzy grew up in the Bronx and somehow survived her parents’ drug addiction and what that meant for her – being a caretaker at a young age, constantly being dirty and hungry, and being teased at school about her lice-infested hair. Her family fell apart when she was 13 and she dropped out of school and lived on the streets. It is a miracle she was not raped or mugged or anything worse as she slept at various friends’ houses, in cheap motels and stair landings, and on the subway and rooftops.

The story is quite detailed, almost day-to-day, from preschool to age 20 or so. It provides a good picture of the life of a “clean” homeless teen. Most of the writing is straightforward and not lyrical and flowery. A few passages, toward the end of the story, especially, stuck with me.

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I was inspired by a question that kept repeating itself in my mind:  Could I really change my life? I’d spent so many days, weeks, months, and years thinking about doing things with my life, and now I wanted to know, if I committed to a goal and woke up every single day working at it, could I change my life?

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I had to study while also learning how to study. I wrote an essay… while learning about essay writing, and while learning how to type, all at once. I did so by tapping a single button at a time, frustrating myself with countless mistakes, messing up and starting again and again and again.

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This was the environment in which I finally came to my education, the environment in which I knew I could no longer lie in bed and give up. How could I pull the blanket back over my head when I knew my teachers were waiting for me? When they were willing to work so hard, how could I not do the same?

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It’s not that I never stole again, because truthfully, I did. But that day was the beginning of my never stealing again, and it was the start of a long process of me understanding that I was not, in fact, an island unto myself.

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This author, the person who really lived this life, seems to have no regrets. She’s forgiven her parents, holds no ill will for her neighborhood and how she grew up, and realizes in hindsight that most of her teachers were there for her, in some way or another or often in many ways. She shows us a plane of America with which most readers won’t be familiar, not just the horrible aspects of it, but the good as well.

 

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