Congratulations – Son’s Graduation from Macalester College

Four years ago, I said goodbye to my son and started a blog. While that young man graduates with honors from Macalester in St. Paul, Minnesota, I am still here in Geneva, Switzerland telling stories. Though I won’t be present for the ceremony, words keep me connected.

Decades ago, the happiest and scariest moment of my life was when a doctor announced, “Congratulations it’s a boy!”  From Nic’s treacherous toddlerhood, to his turbulent teens, my life has been filled with honor and anxiety ever since, so proud to have bore a son, so petrified something would harm him.

Nic was more boy than we bargained for. Stitched up twice by the age of two, he bounced off walls of our tiny Parisian flat. Age four, he head butted his aunt and broke her nose one Christmas Eve with an over exuberant hug. In boyhood, he endured a pine cone in the eye, dislocated ribs, and a shattered ankle, results of a rough and tumble life.

As a three-year-old, when Nic’s teacher punished him for being afraid in her unruly class, we removed him from school for a semester. He has complained about school ever since, yet excels in class. Though he writes so well that his college history dissertation on the Dakotas and Native Americans merited publication in historical journals, he still emailed papers to me at 1 am to tweak. Even after his patience has been tested working with underprivileged students as a part of Athletes for Education program, he still wants to enter the teaching profession.

As a boy he gave me homemade gifts – an ornament, a wall hanging, a framed photo –then took them back when he got mad – but no matter what, at night he would curl up in my lap to read stories and talk about our day.

“I don’t want to get braces, allergies, or glasses,” he stated as a six-year-old. When I explained you don’t have any choice in the matter, he reasoned, “Okay, I wouldn’t mind braces. It’s like wearing a necklace in your mouth.”

Ever so perceptive, a few years later, he announced, “We are growing up too fast, in five years Nathalie won’t live here anymore.”

With a wonderful sense of humor, Nic entertained us with his famous one-liners with his perfect sense of timing. As a kid, pointing to his plate, wrinkling his nose, he’d ask, “What’s that?”

“Fish,” I’d say.

“Oh no, not junk food for dinner again.”

Grateful for glimpses into his boyhood, I became better at understanding male competition, saving face, and how to coach guys. During rides to practice, shooting sessions and late night talks, our time together gave me invaluable insight into helping my students.

Like most 21st century kids, weaned on electronics if there was a button, he’d push it; if there was gadget, he’d bust it – accidentally.

While “helping” tidy up, he broke my reclining chair and the remote control.

“Send him to my house to help clean,” my sister insisted, “I need a new vacuum cleaner.”

As a mom I would do anything to shield him from pain, to protect that little boy in my memory. Silly me. Today he is a tall, strong, intelligent, man; I am not sure he ever needed my protection. Yet, his dad’s and my love is there always in a whisper, an invisible force of strength every step of his way.

As he enters the future, we remain behind marveling at how that kid, who now towers above us, grew up so fast when we weren’t looking. In a blink, he is gone from our day-to-day lives, but never far from our hearts where he remains cherished at every stage.

In keeping with French tradition, he bears his grandfathers’ names; I see a blend of his American, French, and Norwegian ancestry. He shows the pride of Grand Papie Elie who led the troops down the Champs Elysées at the end of WWII, the courage of Great Grandpa Olson who sailed from Norway to a new life in America and the strong character of Great Grandpa Mac, who coached college football in his nineties.

As Nic grew, he adopted the qualities of the men in his life. The industriousness of Papie Guy, the kindheartedness of Grandpa Jim, the perceptiveness of Uncle Doug, the playfulness of Uncle Dick, the handiness of Uncle Cliff, and the integrity of his father.

Nearly a quarter of century ago, I carried my 3-week-old baby on the Metro to the Embassy in Paris to attain his American passport. The civil servant read his birth certificate aloud,

“Nicolas James-Ralph Guy Lechault – such a big name for such a little lad.”

That little guy has grown into his name. Hats off to Nic. Bravo!Nic's gradImage 1

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Mother’s Day Gift- My Mom’s Greatest Lesson How to Let Go

Nat's 1st day at school

Nat’s 1st day at school

Of all the lessons I learned from my soft-spoken, warmhearted, Norwegian-American mother, the greatest and hardest of all to teach was how to let go.

“A mother’s love for a child must always be greater than the child’s love for the mother,” she once told me, “otherwise the child would never leave home.”

By her example, my mom showed me early on that a mother’s love is unconditional. What a wise old bird – Mom gave me roots to grow strong and wings to fly away. When I pursued my dream to play professional basketball, Mom hid her heartache, smiled and waved until my Air France plane bound for Paris was out of sight. When I fell in love with a Frenchman, she embraced her new foreign son-in-law with open arms.

In turn, I, too, learned how to let go. My first step was leaving the safe confines of the hospital after my daughter, Nathalie, was born abroad. The next challenge was letting go of her two-year-old hand at the primary school gate, fighting an innate urge to pull her back into my protective arms. As a seven-year-old, Nat marched off on her first week-long field trip to a farm in Normandy; the days apart felt interminable. Yet each separation prepared her for the next one.

mom & daughter

mom & daughter

As a 16-year-old, she flew “solo” across the Atlantic to compete in the World Scholar Athlete Games. Then when my daughter left Switzerland for the opportunity to combine athletics and academics and play basketball at University of Wisconsin-SP, I did not scream, “Don’t go. You might get hurt!” Instead I rebounded her sweet jump shot until the last minute, and then helped her pack a bag. When Nat was accepted at University of Minnesota Medical School, I cried with joy, though I knew, inevitably, she would settle in the States to practice.

3 generations

3 generations

Due to the great space separating us, my mom could not be by my side during long hours of therapy after my car crashed in France. Nor was she with me during my miscarriages or my daughter’s birth. Yet, I heard her concern during phone calls and read her love in letters, as her long distance support sustained me during the tough times and rejoiced with me during triumphs. She was not physically present when her first grandchild was born in Paris, but as the proud grandma, she sewed affection into every article of children’s clothing and cross-stitched courage into every wall hanging she made for Nathalie.

The knowledge that she did all she could to make me strong, gave my mom the faith to know that she could trust my judgment.

I was not physically there when my daughter played in an NCAA Final Four, or when she took her Hippocratic Oath as a doctor, yet a spirit wearing high tops followed in her shadows every step of the way.

Though at times, I pine for my daughter, just as my mom misses me, we find comfort knowing that we are where we are supposed to be, doing what we were destined to do.

Grandma & graduate

Grandma & graduate

Mom knows that her footloose, misfit daughter with a soft spot for the underdog would one day grow into her skin. As if she sensed that I was destined to unite people in the international capital of the world, Mom was not surprised when I found a home in Geneva, Switzerland. Just as I understood that my daughter’s fate meant caring for inner city children and immigrant families in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

In his bestselling children’s book, I’ll Love You Forever about the cross-generational, everlasting link between a mother and child, Robert Munsch said it best.

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”

No matter how many miles separate us, we are never more than heartbeat apart.

I’ll love you forever and always. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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Girls Basketball ABCs: Accomplish Goals, Build Confidence, Create Courage

At age 25, at the peak of my professional career, an accident forced me into early retirement, and I gave up playing basketball. Coaching abroad saved my life and kept my love for the game alive. Five years ago, I retired from coaching when repetitive lung and respiratory infections destroyed my voice. How can you coach basketball if no one can hear you?

team huddle

team huddle

Then, the program collapsed and students urged me to return to the gym. Common sense told me no, but my heart said, go!

My athletes are a mix of Algerian, American, Australian, Congolese, French, Greek, German, Haitian, Italian, Kenyan, Japanese, Polish, Senegalese, Scottish, Somalian and Swiss. A mini United Nations; we combine our talents to overcome challenges.

basketball builds lasting bonds

basketball builds lasting bonds

I silently applaud, watching my hyperactive forward focus for hours, perfecting her shot. My dyslexic guard deciphers plays on the court that leave honor students perplexed. We combine our strengths to compensate for one another’s weaknesses.

We miss free throws.
But make friends.

We lose ball games.
But win courage.

We shatter stereotypes
And build fighting spirit.

We learn every time we step on the court.

Dribbling, passing, picking, rolling
We grow together.
Singing boldly, laughing loudly, chanting mightily.

High achievers, headed for the spotlight,
Accustomed to success
We learn to battle back from defeat.

When senior teammates graduate
We will be sad
And proud!

As they trot the globe in high-powered careers
They carry the spirit of basketball
A game designed to bring people together.

Thirty-five years ago, in the infancy of women’s basketball,
my trailblazing coach, taught me to « BELIEVE! »
In a raspy whisper I echo her words, as my players step up,
Determined to be all they can be!

« To win the game is great, to play the game is greater, to love the game is greatest »

*******

Woo Hoo! March Madness! My memoir is on the market!
HOME SWEET HARDWOOD, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball

BookCoverImage“Pat McKinzie’s story captures the depth of emotion felt by a woman moving in a man’s athletic world. It is a must read for anyone interested in how we got where we are in women’s sports. We are forever grateful for our pioneer athletes whose passion for the game over-rode social mores of the day to bring much-needed change.”

Jill Hutchinson, co-founder & first President of Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, former Illinois State University Basketball Coach

Buy my book_2

 

 

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International Women’s Day, Title IX and a Nod to my Norwegian-American Mom

The unsung hero in my life story is my mom, a woman ahead of her time. While I was defying society with my dream to play sports at a time in American history when little girls were supposed to play house, cut paper dolls and dress up like princesses, my mom let me be a tomboy. Instead of coveting Easy Bake Ovens, Barbie campers and Tammy dolls, when I wanted a basketball, pop rifle and cowboy hat for Christmas, Mom made sure Santa heard my wishes.

Mom never made me wear hair ribbons instead she cut my bangs short and let me march to the beat of my own drummer. When I slid into home plate, swished hoops, and tackled the “man” with the ball in the backyard with the neighborhood boys, she grinned and waved from the kitchen window.

When I fell off bicycles and out of trees, she straightened the handlebars and brushed off the grass and said, “Off you go!”

sharing moments when reunited

sharing moments when reunited

In college as she watched me compete on the basketball court, she may have worried about my lean frame bashing bigger bodies in the tough league, but she never told me. As she nursed my sprained ankle, separated rib, black eye, broken finger, and another concussion, she may have shuddered inside, but I only saw the smile.

When I hit the wall diving for a loose ball, or got slammed on a rebound, she may have cringed inwardly, but outwardly she remained calm. I only heard her shout of encouragement every time I got up and back in the game.

In childhood, she kissed my skinned knees, patched up my favorite blue jeans, and sent me back outside. In adulthood, she honored my uniqueness and urged me to follow my own star.

Instinctively my mom knew that from the time I could tie my own shoes, I was footloose and fancy-free and the world belonged to me.

When I threw my passport in the bin after being cut from the national team trials, she pulled it back out and patted my hand. “Put this somewhere safe. You may need it someday.”

When I fell in love with a Frenchman and made my life abroad, she started French lessons, wrote long airmail letters and opened her heart to a “foreign” son-in-law.

UWSP greatest fans

UWSP greatest fans

When her first grandchild was born in Paris, she sewed clothes with extra long sleeves for my fast-growing child. When that Franco-American granddaughter returned to the USA, mom made the 8-hour round trips to the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point to watch her play basketball. Later, when that granddaughter took the Hippocratic Oath at the graduation ceremony, my mom stood in for me, and applauded for both of us.

Mom made sacrifices to help me reach my goals. She drove me an hour away to take horseback riding lessons as an 8-year-old and she exchanged S&H Green Stamps for goods to help save for summer camps. No matter what the cost, she never held me back.

She never insisted I marry the neighbor boy and stay in town, and never complained when I spent more time practicing my jump shot than cleaning my room.

My mom, a smart, soft-spoken Chicago girl from a modest family of Norwegian immigrants, worked her way through college earning a teaching degree. She raised 4 children 5 years apart and when the last one started kindergarten, she started her teaching career.

first doctor in the family

first doctor in the family

Two generations later, her granddaughter born and raised abroad, followed her own dreams, back to America to become the first doctor in the family. My mom beamed. The family had come full circle.

Title IX presented the door, but my mom pushed it open and let me go.

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Birthday All Day Party in Celebration of Life

Last Saturday, I wrote about a mountain hike in celebration of my friends’ birthday, not mine. Like most people of a certain age, I dreaded another birthday, a reminder that I was aging. Frankly, I don’t need reminders. My knees creak, my jowls drop, my muscles sag, and gravity drags me one step closer to the underground. I wanted to sneak into my 56th year without any hoop a la. But the word got out!

birthday 2013

The night before my birthday at basketball practice, right on cue, when my point guard threw the ball out of bounds on a fast break, the team burst into song. The players brought out juice and homemade cupcakes and cookies in my honor, but I toasted them – for what is a coach without a team?

In homeroom, my 12th grade students insisted I call an emergency meeting Thursday morning, which I did, not realizing that I was the emergency. Students baked one cake for me and another one for a new boy in our group, whose birthday was the same day.

In the English department at morning break, my colleagues raised their coffee cups in cheer and passed around a chocolate cake.

Students in my freshman English class whispered in front of the multimedia center where we met to watch To Kill a Mockingbird. To distract me, a student dragged me to the back of the library to help her find a book. When I entered the assembly room, the class burst into song and a smorgasbord of baked goods magically appeared along with a homemade card, the best kind.

During lunch at my learning support department meeting, another friend made a frosted, pumpkin cake with American flag candles. This time round, a colleague sang the birthday song in Dutch.

.

.

I haven’t had so much fun on a birthday since I was five years old and my mom baked me a white-frosted bunny cake covered in coconut.

When I arrived home after parent-teacher conferences, a bouquet of tulips sat on my doorstep. Inside, my Frenchman poured wine at a candle lit table and served leftovers on wedding china, but not just any ol’ leftovers!  Baby goat, simmered in wine sauce in a garden of carrots, zucchini and peppers, was a meal fit for a queen that tasted even better the second time around.

Just before falling asleep, I turned on my laptop and was bowled over with messages from family and friends scattered around the globe from Seattle to Boston, Paris to Berlin, London to Sydney and everywhere in between.

The fanfare was unexpected, especially from the college kids, like the surprise call from my son in St. Paul, who carried the conversation for a change, and an old-fashioned handwritten letter from my niece in Omaha.

GenFab writers, Gutsy Indie Publishers, blogging buddies, former classmates and teammates posted messages and feted me on facebook.

Ever since my professional basketball career ended in an accident 3 decades ago, I have wondered why I survived.

Now, I know.

In simple, heartfelt ways people took time to draw cards, write messages, bake cakes and make me feel special.

I wanted to skip my birthday; you assured me that my life –sags, bags, wrinkles and all-is still worth celebrating!

Riding on a sugar high from too much cake and so many well wishes, overwhelmed by the  ways people connected and confirmed my existence, my heart is filled with gratitude.

Every day a gift!

Merci mille fois (thanks a thousand times) for the reminder.

 

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A Good Man Gone Too Soon

At the beginning of the week, I saw that Sherrie Davis Ebersole, a member of the Sterling High School girls’ first State Championship Basketball Team (1977), posted on facebook a Chicago Tribune article which announced Bruce Scheidegger’s untimely death due to a car accident. Across the Midwest and beyond, we mourn the loss of a beloved former  coach, athletic director, husband, father and son.

Even though Bruce’s career took him to the big city, he never lost his small town ways. He took those same values along when he left Sterling for the athletic director position at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, where he continued to be respected for his honesty, fairplay and integrity.

He may have left Sterling, but he remained in our hearts.

I met Bruce when my dad introduced him to me as the new Sterling High School girls’ basketball coach (1998-2007). During my visits to the States over Christmas holidays, I went to the Dixon Tournament  to watch the girls play. Seeing Bruce coach his daughters reminded me of when my dad coached my sister and me. I admired the way Bruce spoke to the media,  interacted with his players, and called time out just at the right time.

Kind, upbeat, sincere. He remembered names and faces.Whenever we were back in town, he invited my Franco-American daughter to practice with the team. When she played for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, he followed her career.

He once told me his family originally came from Switzerland. Years later, when I visited Kleine Scheidegg, 6,762 ft, the mountain pass between the Eiger and Lauberhorn peaks in the Swiss Alps, I wanted to send him a postcard of his ancestral village. He was the kind of person you never forget.

Kleine Scheidegg, Wengen -Switzerland

Kleine Scheidegg, Wengen -Switzerland

I did not know him well, but I know well where he came from – a tight-knit family from a small Northwestern Illinois town. He graduated from Chadwick a year after I graduated from Sterling. He attended University of Illinois; I went to Illinois State.  He played baseball; I played basketball. We both loved coaching. Whether he was coaching at Prophetstown, Dixon, Sterling or Carl Sandburg, he advocated for all student/athletes, especially girls.

Bruce was truly the kind of AD that looked out for coaches, including old ones. How many big school ADs would take the time to write a letter to an 80-year-old-coach (my dad) to commemorate his birthday?Read more