American Election An Expat Perspective

12665885-silhouette-of-a-sad-politician-on-american-flag-background-with-vintage-look-stock-photoTo me it’s not about politics. It’s not about liberal or conservative or agreeing to disagree on what we each think is the best way to ensure that the US is a great place to live.

It’s about the values  I thought we held regardless of our political leanings.

After hearing the election results on November 9, I cried. I felt a gut wrenching fear and despair that knowing there was no turning back. I walked out the door and wanted to keep walking right off the planet. My disappointment was magnified thousand-fold with the heartbreaking knowledge that half of the nation believes in a leader whose platform was filled with empty slogans and derogatory rhetoric based on repression, intolerance, bigotry, misogyny and ignorance.

I know that realistically not all those who voted support those views and that they have very legitimate reasons for wanting change, I know that for many it was an act of anger, frustration and hopelessness, not racism or misogyny. But it’s hard for me to feel that in so-voting, those views, which I find so abhorrent and antithetical to the very rights we fought so hard for in the past, weren’t being endorsed. Regardless of what happens at a policy-level, I’m fearful of the message that has been sent, of the noxious sentiment that has been aroused, and of the no-longer unrealistic possibility that the rights we have fought for could be taken away, or at the very least not truly be guaranteed for all.

I understood why thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest chanting, « Not my President. »

Not my country either. Not the country I loved so dearly for defending the unalienable rights we hold so true … liberty, justice and freedom for all, not just those who shout the loudest or have the biggest bank accounts or have ancestors born in Western Europe and have less melanin in their skin.

Having lived in Europe for the past 37 years, perhaps I have no right to judge. I do not know what it feels like to be stopped in the street for the color of my skin. Or to be a working class man facing unemployment when my job was outsourced overseas. Or to be homeless waiting in line for a food pantry hand-out. Nor the despair of watching my child grow sicker and weaker due to an inability to afford health care.

But I do know the fear of standing in line in a French immigration office fearing that I will be deported. I do know the humility of depending on German teammates for a roof over my head. And I do know the gratitude of people – international friends and colleagues – who ignored where I came from and accepted me for who I was.

And I know what it feels like to be left out. In the early Title IX days, I left the USA to pursue a dream denied in my homeland. In 1979, I moved to Europe on the heels of the Vietnam War at the height of the Cold War, during the Reagan era.

While living abroad, I tried to mitigate the stereotype of the loud, arrogant, ethnocentric American by speaking softly and keeping a low profile. I demonstrated the ideals of tolerance on which my country was founded by showing respect for others who worshiped different deities, spoke different languages and practiced different customs. As a guest in others homelands, I discovered firsthand through friendship the beauty in our diversity.

I came back to a nation where people were more connected than ever on social media, yet profoundly divided in real life and unable to communicate in civil terms.

Recently retired from teaching abroad, I stayed in the states longer and followed the election with mounting alarm, stunned not just by how vitriolic it turned, but how easily we condoned it. When did the election in one of the greatest democracies become more about digging up dirt on one’s opponent than discussing critical policy issues?

I felt as if I’d been flung back in time to an era when women were objectified, Jim Crow Laws kept blacks in their place, and gays hid in the closet for safety. Trump gave free licence to discrimination. His dismissal of anyone who is not a white American male echoes an Aryan supremacist ideology that nearly destroyed us.

« Make American great again ! » Trump proclaims. What was great about America was that everyone had an opportunity to pursue the Dream.

« Build walls to keep out immigrants ! » America was built on the backbone of immigrants who came here for a better life.

On the heels of Brexit, Trump’s victory, following a campaign filled with disdain for women, minorities, immigrants, gays and the disabled only fuels the extreme right of the world. Marie Le Pen is kicking up her heels in France; Geert Wilders is dancing in Holland.               .

The nightmare I woke up to November 9 reverberates around the globe. We may only worry about what is happening in our neighbourhood, and I get that, but what we don’t realize is that, like it or not, any decision made in America affects the rest of world, environmentally, socially, and economically.

We need to remember that regardless of our political party, religious affiliation, national identity, race or gender, we don’t own this planet.

We cannot go back and change the outcome of the election, but that does not mean we should give up on those ideals. We can speak up for those who are victimized or do not have a voice. We can continue to teach our children to treat everyone with kindness and respect. We can encourage the many politicians in both parties who have condemned Trump’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric to continue to do so.

We can do better.

We must.

Happy Father’s Day Coach – Thanks for the Legacy

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

Coach “Mac” – Ralph McKinzie

On June 5, 1983, mere months after a car accident in France ended my career as professional athlete, I wrote this letter to my grandpa Coach ‘Mac’ Ralph McKinzie. a beloved college coach.

Today, I can address this same letter to my dad, who influenced just as many high school athletes as my grandpa did at the university level.

 

 

Dear Coach Mac,

I want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day, not as your granddaughter but as an athlete. Though I never had the opportunity to play football on your team (football is forbidden for girls, even tomboy girls) I still look to you as an example. As an athlete I know the impact you had as a coach, but as a woman I can express emotions more openly than a man. Today I am writing on behalf of all the boys you fathered on the football field who would wish you a Happy Dad’s Day if they could find the words.Jim & Grandpa

In our society men are not allowed to show feelings; it is uncharacteristic of the American male, especially husky football players, to write thank you letters, so you’ll never realize the number of lives you touched. Your influence on one boy, Ronald Reagan, who became President of the United States, is probably the most outstanding example of the far-reaching effects of your coaching. Many men, less acclaimed perhaps, but equally important, are fathering children and becoming productive citizens because of the impact you had as a coach, developing character. Many continue to hurdle life’s hardships because of the never-give-up attitude you instilled on McKinzie Field.

Coach Jim

Jim McKinzie – Eureka College

I am one of those former athletes. I never endured the duck walk, but I know enough of your coaching philosophies to have that iron will ingrained, a will that kept me alive this year. After the accident I thought I would never get out of bed, days passed from minute to minute enduring pain. When walking from one room to another seemed insurmountable, you were my inspiration. I thought of you pacing the football field. Not all your former athletes will have suffered the same trials as I, but each will have endured hard times, drawing on the strength you helped them develop off the field.

Since I can no longer compete, I feel useless. Again I look to you and see how you are still coaching, influencing lives even at the age of 89. So I think I will try to follow your example as a coach. Unfortunately, in organized sports today, coaches often must focus more on winning championships than on shaping individuals. However I intend to follow your philosophy and be a coach of life.

Perhaps you too are weary from life’s aches and pains. Many mornings you, a man that once kicked 50-yard field goals, has trouble pulling on his socks. Like me you wonder what your purpose is here now. But your very existence continues to be an inspiration to us all. Thanks Coach from all your athletes.

P & Nic-2My grandpa officially retired from coaching in 1962, and then was called back to the game a year later. My father retired from coaching boy’s football and basketball only to return to coaching girl’s basketball in the infancy of Title IX.

Looking back my letter reads like a prophecy; I went on to coach and teach internationally for 33 years. Together grandfather, father, and daughter have dedicated nearly a century and half to helping shape kids on the playing fields. Only days after my grandfather died in 1990, our son was born. Today that young man, Coach Mac’s great grandson, has become the fourth generation to go into teaching and coaching.

I think that is what you call a legacy.

Speaker Graduation International School of Geneva

When I accepted the honor of speaking at the International School of Geneva’s graduation ceremony during my final year of teaching, I was filled with trepidation. Who was I to give advice to such a talented group of students and their families? How I could bid farewell to my community and career without bursting into tears?

I am uncomfortable being in the limelight. My story is only one of many of the stories of the trailblazers who fought for civil rights, but my message – the right to pursue one’s dream – is universal.

As I stood on stage in front of a packed gymnasium, I fixed my eyes on my husband, sister, brother-in-law, former athletes and students and my racing heart calmed. I entered the zone, knowing I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was destined to do.

 

Students, colleagues & parents congratulate the speaker

« You each have a gift. You all have a story. Share it. As I step back into the shadows, you go out and shine. Show up. Stand up. Speak up. Be the best you can be. Raise the roof for the class of 2016. Go out and rock the world. »

At the end of my speech, people hailing from every corner of the globe gave me a thundering standing ovation and I was deeply humbled. Due to illness and injury I can no longer do so many of the things I love, but in spite of pain I continued to show up even when I didn’t feel like it and focused on what I could do. I was bowled over by an outpouring of appreciation from the community that has sustained me for the past 2 decades. Though I can no longer run, jump and play, « I can still walk, talk, write, speak, and inspire. »

And maybe that is enough.

Guest Post: Daughter Gives Mom Remedial IT Lessons

Disclaimer: This piece should not be used to judge the state of interpersonal relations in our family. My mom is a wonderful person, and I love and admire her. My parents have been happily married for 32 years, despite the fact they have owned a computer through most of their marriage.

I am not a tech-y person. My friends mocked me for refusing to upgrade to a smartphone until 2014. My approach to my computer woes is to shut it down, restart and cross my fingers that the problem will fix itself. So when I tell you that my mom makes me look like a computer genius, you can see the problem. Usually she asks my dad for help, but since his assistance is accompanied by a lesson in French expletives, I became her IT resource during my last trip home.

I realized she was having problems with Facebook Messenger when Nic’s girlfriend approached me about their communication difficulties: “Pat told Nic that I don’t answer my messages, but I do! She just never answers back”.

I opened Facebook and demonstrated the “complicated” process of clicking the message symbol in the upper right corner of the screen and we discovered that she had dozens of unread messages, dating back to early 2015. If you need to communicate with Mom, I recommend you email instead.

The next issue: Spotify, which I set up for her last time I was home. “It always plays the same songs,” she says, “Show me how to erase those and download new ones.”

“Mom, you didn’t download anything, Spotify is a streaming service. Just make a new playlist.”

Pause. Quizzical stare.

“What’s a playlist?”

Since I wasn’t making progress on the computer, we moved on to the iPhone. Unfortunately, she does not know any of her passwords, or where to find them, so setting up Facebook and Goodreads accounts was challenging. Luckily my dad, foreseeing this problem, installed the password manager, LastPass. Next, she wanted to learn to use the camera, which she grasped quickly. She was chuffed by her ability to take pictures at her retirement party, and indeed she took many. Some were of her finger, and most were too dark, but it was an accomplishment and I was proud of her.

That pride was short-lived, however, because at this party her English department colleagues gave her a Kindle, a thoughtful gift for my mom, who is an avid reader. I just wish they had thrown in a bottle of wine for Dad and I, who had to teach her how to use it. Dad set it up, and Mom browsed Goodreads trying to figure out what book to buy first. Then she screamed: “Help! I don’t know what happened, I was just browsing and suddenly the pages of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ popped up and now it’s stuck”. A lot of things ‘just happen’ on computers when Pat is around. I don’t believe in the occult, but who knows? Maybe she is the victim of a particularly mischievous poltergeist. That would explain how, a few years ago, she received emails about random men after she inadvertently signed up for a Swiss dating site (unless maybe my dad signed her on in hopes that she would find someone else to help her with her computer issues).

Returning to the Kindle saga, since nothing was stuck – she had merely opened a book sample – so I show her how to use the ‘back’ button. But when she opened the sample, a message was sent addressed to ‘Sarah’. My dad, in his haste to set up Kindle to get my mom out of his hair, connected her to someone else’s Amazon account. Surprisingly, once we connected the correct account the Kindle store switched to German (we are in Switzerland after all). Google search revealed that this is a common problem with a less-than-straightforward solution, so we navigated through10 different steps on the Amazon account in French, English, and, German, and managed to reset the country to ‘USA’. But it was too early to celebrate our victory. When trying to re-connect Goodreads after resetting the Kindle, we faced a new challenge: Pat has multiple accounts, and multiple incorrect passwords recorded in LastPass.

When she first joined Goodreads, my dad made her an account for her book, and a personal account. Now this makes perfect sense for someone who wants to use the site for marketing while retaining a second, more private online identity. It makes no sense for someone who already has accounts on a half a dozen other social networking sites and doesn’t know how to use any of them.

Finally, we got the Kindle set up and working. But we still don’t have a book on the thing though – Mom continues browsing and can’t decide what she wants to read.

Who Stole My Keys?

Everyone loses keys and teachers are notorious for it, but to prevent misplacing mine, I devised a foolproof plan. I wear them. Like charms on a necklace, my bike, car, house, locker, and school keys hang on a lanyard around my neck.

Since I literally run between three departments –English, PE and learning support – my keys open every gym, storage facility and classroom in 5 different buildings. I was dumbfounded when in the blink of an eye between unlocking the changing room door for the PE students and locking up equipment after class, my keys vanish into thin air.

Five teachers help retrace my steps on the great missing key caper. We empty wastebaskets and look behind toilets, under shower stalls, in sinks, on wall bars, under trampolines, on top of shelves and beneath ball bins.

When our search turns up empty, I deduce – someone grabbed my keys out of the door while I chatted with another student. I drag my burly colleague, a former rugby star, to the cafeteria to interrogate the suspects. The boys told us to check with the girls outside at the picnic table; the girls sent us to the smokers’ corner off campus. One guy took the cig out of his mouth long enough to say, “Pas moi, madame” and dump out his book bag as proof. He suggests I see the rest of his class that would be heading to history.

Panic set in. I made a mental, to-do checklist – empty locker, remove valuables from desk, see janitor to deactivate keys to the gyms, department offices, and equipment rooms. Frantically, I call my husband to explain insisting, “Change the house locks. Sell my car before it is stolen.”

“Why would you carry every key you own?” my husband asks.

“So, I won’t lose them.”

“But they are lost.”

“Not lost, stolen!”

I am hyperventilating when I walk into the history class and plead to the students, who I had just confronted in my PE lesson. “Don’t say anything now. No questions asked. Just bring my keys back; my life is on that key chain.”

Désolé Madame, we haven’t seen your keys.”

Dejected, I walk back to the gym where a younger colleague with better eyesight is locking the gym door and shaking his head. No luck. I urge him to search one more time.

So we repeat the process. While I peek under gym mats, Frederic strolls out of the storage room swinging a hook filled with red bibs. Low and behold, behind the bibs dangling from a black UWSP lanyard is a beautiful set of keys. I hug him and then take off.

“Hey,” he hollers. “Where are you going?”

“To apologize to those kids.”

“Wait! Don’t forget your keys!”

I grab my keys, race across campus, knock at the classroom door and eat humble pie as I appeal once again to the students asking for forgiveness.

Then I stroll back to the gym smiling. My faith in humanity is restored by my colleagues’ kindness and my students’ integrity. With my keys jingling ‘round my neck again, all is right with world.

Mother’s Day Paying Back By Paying Forward

Each Mother’s Day, I thank my mom for shaping my life; yet words fall short of expressing the gratitude I feel. Though we lived 4,000 miles apart in adulthood, I felt her strength transcending time and space inspiring me to be a more patient, loving, giving mother.

At each stage of my children’s lives, I remembered all the time my mom spent with me. As I listened to our daughter lament the difficulties of living between two worlds, changing schools again and making new friends, I remembered the nights my mom sat on my bed, wiped away my tears and listened to my fears. She reassured me that as a pioneer, my path would be different than everyone else’s. When I wished my own daughter could have a « normal » childhood, my mom reminded me that our daughter would have a unique experience and the trail she blazed as a Franco-American was one I could never foresee.

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[testimonial name=”” avatar=”image” image=”” company=”” link=”” target=”_self”]But you can encourage her and comfort her and then send her on her way.[/testimonial]
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As I read to our son, story after story and watched him kick and dribble a ball again and again, I thought how mundane motherhood could be, but when I was young, my mom never seemed to tire of my childhood. She read the same story dozens of times, and watched me shoot the same ball hundreds of times, yet still appeared awed. I felt like whatever I was doing was the most important thing in the whole world in her eyes.

During my own children’s terrible twos, sassy teens and every step in between my mom assured me that they were growing into happy, well-adjusted, unique human beings. Still as I stumbled through the trials of motherhood, I felt I would never measure up to raising bilingual, third culture kids. Yet mom made me feel that I was good enough because I cherished my children in the same way that she cherished me.

At times when my heart felt empty because of my role to give, give, give, my mom remained a steadfast part of my life, nurturing me long distance in cheerful phone calls, newsy letters and inspirational trans Atlantic trips and then becoming a doting, long distance grandma offering that same selfless support to her grand children.

Still I felt remorseful that I could never repay Mom for all she has given me over the years.

« It is supposed to be that way, » she explained. “No matter how much you love me, my love for you will always be greater. It has to be that way otherwise children would never leave home.”

So I raised my children the best I could, knowing that I was working my way out of job for a measure of successful parenting would be their ability to leave the nest one day.

When they settled back in the USA as young adults, no one understood my anguish better than my mom for she once let go of me when I moved to Paris to pursue my destiny. Yet no one was better able to appreciate the pride I felt, too, as I watched them – the teacher and the pediatrician – passing on their gifts to the next generation.

The cycle of life continues. The love I could never return to my mom directly has gone to my children. We remain linked eternally by the heartstrings of motherhood in the bond between mother, daughter, grandchild, the symbol of love reimbursing itself.