101st Anniversary- International Women’s Day-« Connecting Girls Inspiring Futures »

March 8 marks the 101st international women’s day! Bear with me guys, you may be weary about hearing about women`s rights, but when you’ve been the low ” man ” on the totem pole of life for so long you never forget. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world women are still denied equality in education, careers, income and medical care, but in my homeland, we have come a long, long way. So thanks guys for your support. This is not a rant about men, but rather a chest bump for women.

From childhood to motherhood to middle age from the Midwest to the East Coast to Europe, throughout physical relocations and emotional upheavals, each stage of my life has been shaped by women, who helped me make the transition.

I am especially grateful to the grandmothers I admired; even moreso to the mother who gave me life, then offered me to the world. To my sisters who taught me to give and take, forgive and forget, talk and listen, twist and shout !

To my college basketball coach, who dared me to become all that I could be.

I am thankful for female friendships spanning different generations, time zones and continents. From childhood, high school and college pals, part of the past that shaped me and  connect me to my roots, to my French hosts and German teammates, who adopted me into their homes and hearts when I first moved abroad. To my international friends from Africa, Australia, Scandinavia –England, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland and Other Lands I could never place on a map, who shared their stories and an understanding of their culture.                         .

To my noisy friends, quiet friends,
old friends,new friends,
black, white, brown friends.
To my tall friends, short friends,
big friends, small friends,
to my athletic friends, to my intellectual friends
to my coaching friends, my teaching friends, my writing friends.
To my blogging buddies, to my cyber pals.
To my girlfriends here, there and everywhere.

No matter where I settled, women of all sizes, shapes, and colors have befriended me.  They helped me feel a sense of belonging not only to the farm community of Sterling, to the Illinois State college town of Normal-Bloomington, to romantic Paris, to Middle Ages Marburg, to international  Geneva, but to something greater.

Merci mille fois to the women who shaped me, so that one day, I  could become a role model to my nieces and the young girls I have taught and coached.

Special thanks to my daughter, my link to the future, who achieved her goal of becoming a doctor, a dream made possible in part, because of the courageous steps women took in the past to help pave the way.

So on International Women’s Day 2012, I  raise my glass to the ladies ‘round the globe in my ya ya sisterhood!

Sending Bon Courage from Switzerland for People Living in Pain

A recent study by the Institute of Medicine estimated that at a cost of $635 billion, 116 million American adults suffer from chronic pain, which is greater than the total of those afflicted with heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined.

I am one of them.

And that’s only in the USA, but pain is indiscriminate. It crosses national boundaries, economic borders and ethnic lines.

Pain is a strange bedfellow. When you are in pain, you can’t focus on anything else, but once it subsides, it is difficult to perceive exactly what it felt like.

Whether you suffer from ankle sprain, knee strain, back pain, brain drain,
Bladder, blood, bone, breast or one of the hundreds of cancer,
Headache, stomach ache, toothache, earache, or any body part ache
Arthritis, bursitis, colitis, encephalomyelitis
Polymyalgia, fibromyalgia, neuralgia or any of the algias
Multiple sclerosis, dermatomyositis, sarcoïdosis
Or one of the umpteen syndromes,
Whatever the name, no matter the ailment,
Pain becomes your partner.

Winter accentuates the pain; every cells aches.  The cold damp seeps into my bones. Viruses proliferate, bacteria run wild, and influenzas rampage.  I want to pull a blanket over my head and hibernate until spring.

Yet I roll out of bed every morning. I move. One. Step. Forward.

Chronic pain may subside temporarily, but it comes back to haunt you. Over time it wears down resistance, breaks spirit, zaps energy, steals joy, robs the soul.

Pain makes you set your jaw; your eyes grow falsely bright with anxiety. How long will it last? How can I endure the next hour of work? What can I do to minimize the intensity?

Pain interrupts the best-laid plans and interferes with long held dreams. Pain rules.

What do fighters do when they can’t fight back?

Take a time out. Return to your corner. Close the shutters. Stop of the noise. Rest up.

Give into the burning, stabbing, searing spasms. « Time out » is especially difficult for old athletes, trained to suck it up and get on with it. But as my body screams, I shut out society. I retreat to a dark, quiet room and let the douleur wash over me, surround me, embalm me. And I look to others for inspiration.

Like my eighty-year-old dad, who after his fourth surgery last year, willed himself to sit straight and raise dumb bells to strengthen shoulder muscles. He lifted the same two-pound weights my grandfather hoisted when his legs grew too shaky to stand from Parkinson disease. Or my brothers-in-law who battled back from heart operations without missing a beat.

I look to my daughter, an intern longing for a day off, yet working 13-hour shifts 24/7, because like all doctors, she knows that chronically ill children never get  a holiday.

Though my body may be broken and my spirit weary, I get by- With a Little Help From My Friends

From the cozy comfort of my bed, I strum my guitar, sing off tune, read a book, write a letter, say a prayer; I know firsthand.

That, which does not kill me, makes me stronger. – Nietzsche

And I am as tough as they come.

Cross-Country Skiing in Switzerland Precarious for a Flatlander from the Snow Belt

If you grow up in Switzerland, skiing is a birthright. Like riding a bike, no one forgets how to do it. Forget the thrill of school closing for inclement weather. Here we have the ultimate snow day! We even bus kindergarteners up in the mountains for skiing during regular school days and better yet have a ski week vacation in February.

cross-country skiing in the mountains

cross-country skiing in the mountains

No one here can believe I don’t ski even though I grew up in the Snow Belt.

Maybe if I learned to ski when I was a child, I wouldn’t be so afraid. Where I grew up in the flatlands of Illinois, only the wealthy could afford to fly halfway across the continent to the nearest mountain.

Besides, no American coach in his or her right mind, would ever condone skiing for a star hoopster. A teammate and I broke training one season and attempted to ski on a golf course on campus where the highest elevation was a two-foot bunny hill on the back nine. Heck, I still fell down.

I am not afraid of heights, but I am downright speed phobic. Anytime the velocity picks up, I envision my previous accidents, flying over my bicycle handlebars on a hill in Germany or careening out the window of an air born car off an autoroute in France.

I still might enjoy skiing if my back never cracked, my knees could bend or I had a solid base to stand on. Just try balancing on a two inch by 6 foot slabs with bad feet. With my high arches and ankle pronation, I might remain upright if I skied barefoot and hung on by my claw toes. Strong thigh muscles, able to hold the squat position also help, but I lost those when I quit doing defensive slides back in the seventies.

Ah the great irony of life! In youth, when I was nowhere near a mountain, my greatest dream was to alpine ski; now in middle age I live at the foot of the Alps yet break out in hives just looking at the slopes. However to appease Le Frenchman, an avid skier extraordinaire, I don my skis once a winter. But in the mountains, cross-country skiing is a misnomer. It should be called up and down skiing and the only thing worse than sailing 25 miles an hour on sticks, is flailing at top speed downward on a curve!

Oups !!!

Oups !!!

Luckily on groomed trails in the mountains, they strategically prop bright red, two-inch thick, gym mats against trees at the bottom of curving slopes.

Hey, I learned to drive in Illinois, I am no dummy. As soon as I see the red warning sign in the distance, I stop, remove skis and proceed with caution.  Then I put away my gear for another year.

Ellis Island’s 120th Anniversary Jan. 1, 1892-2012

On January 1, 1892, one hundred years ago today, a small island in New York Harbor called Ellis Island opened its portal as one of thirty US federal government immigration centers.  From that date until 1954, over twelve million immigrants, two thirds of all immigrants, primarily third class passengers, entered the United States through the “Island of Tears.” One of them was my maternal great grandmother.

In 1902 Christiana Norway, at age forty, Eugenie Rosholt, clasped her blond, blue-eyed, four-year-old daughter’s hand and boarded the Oscar II, a 140,000 pound ship with 898 passengers.  They were on route to New York to rejoin her husband, Johan Alfred Rosholt and young son, who unable to subsist in the far reaches of the northern hemisphere, had immigrated to Chicago for work.

My grandma - Martha Olson

My grandma - Martha Olson

Night and day, horizon and sea, merged during their stormy passage. Mother and daughter huddled together. The weight of Eugenie’s unborn child brought warmth, yet stole energy. On a clear, morning September 2, 1902, Eugenie carried Dagny on deck for fresh air. Etched against the shoreline, a giant, golden goddess glistened in sunlight.

They disembarked on a gangplank onto barges carrying them to the Immigration Center on Ellis Island, where the aliens waited in lines, inching forward in a shuffle-step. In the Great Hall (Registry Room), a doctor lifted Eugenie’s chin, poked a knife at her eye pulling down the lower lid and waved her past, nodding at the frail girl by her side. Had he looker closer, he would have noticed the shine of fever in the child’s eyes and turned them away. Mother and daughter, weary from the long voyage, were filled with hope, yet the great dream turned into a tragic nightmare. Dagny died a fortnight after arriving in America. Three and a half months later, Eugenie, pierced by labor pain, was admitted to the Cook County Hospital in Chicago. On January 25, 1903, minutes after Martha (my maternal grandmother) safely entered the new world, her mother left it.

Without a wet nurse for the baby, and unable to cope, a grief stricken Johan sank into depression and returned to Norway with Edward. He never recovered from the loss of Dagny and Eugenie. Martha, placed in the Chicago Children’s Home, became a ward of the state. Four years later, a Norwegian family, Anne and Alric Raymond, adopted my grandma. Martha never knew she had a brother until Edward appeared at her confirmation. She married Gustav Olson, also a Norwegian immigrant, on October 29th 1929, the day the stock market crashed during the Great Depression. Gustav died of cancer at the age of 47 leaving my grandmother alone to put her two older children through college and raise their seven-year-old brother.

My jovial grandmother never complained about her inauspicious debut or hard life, instead she spread good cheer with a welcoming smile and twinkle in her sea blue eyes.

The survival spirit of my ancestors flows through my veins. Like for so many Americans, Ellis Island remains etched in my family history, like a badge of courage.

http://www.ellisisland.org/genealogy/ellis_island_history.asp

Anniversary of Human Rights- 7 Billion People Share Our Birthday

Every December 10th, we mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the UN in Paris 1948. This defends individuals’ rights such as life, equality, and freedom of expression and includes economic, social and cultural privileges we cherish in western society, but often take for granted.

I live in Geneva, headquarters of the United Nations, World Health Organization,  International Labor Organization, Red Cross and  dozens of world-renowned humanitarian agencies that fight for equality in workplace and promote health and safety, so I never forget the date. The United Nations Human Rights- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights works to protect rights through international laws.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

In her speech addressing the UN General Assembly in Geneva, Hillary Clinton challenged diplomats from around the world by saying “Gay rights are human rights, too” and called on world leaders to stop discrimination against gays. “It should never be a crime to be gay.”

Some of my senior students heard the American Secretary of State’s address at the UN, but not everyone could join in marches, attend celebrations, or hear speeches of global leaders. However, we can each steal a moment from our busy lives to reflect on the millions of people who are not allowed to enjoy their rights and to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives fighting for freedom for others.

The Universal Declarations of Rights, the most translated document in modern history, available in 382 languages, promotes and protects freedoms of individuals or groups across boundaries and civilizations.

Yet we fall short. Actions speak stronger than words. Genocide recurs, oppression continues, violence erupts, women are mistreated, and slavery exists. Human rights are violated. Everyday. Everywhere. We may be powerless as individuals to radically change laws governing countries, but what small step can we take in our own neighborhood to make a difference? Shake hands with someone of another race; stop to chat with an elderly neighbor, slow down to help a handicapped person. Go out of our way to acknowledge human dignity in others, regardless of their religious beliefs, sexual preference, position in society or color of skin.

“By promoting understanding, help us all to celebrate our human rights & in so doing reaffirm your own,” United Nations Human Rights – Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.

This year, people around the world used social media to help, inform, inspire & mobilize, uniting others in celebration of our birthday. Pay it forward, pass it on.

Happy 21st Birthday, Pay It Forward, Son !

From the moment, I knew « it’s a boy, » he filled my life with joy and trepidation.  Ten days later, the  boy born on the go acquired his first passport. He made his first trans Atlantic trip as  a 1 month old. He climbed out of his crib as at 8 months, walked at 9, kicked a ball at 10. As a hyper active, never-nap toddler he banged off the walls of our tiny Parisian apartment.

smiling toddler

smiling toddler

Insisting on doing everything himself, calamity followed in his wake.  While trying to « help » me clean house, he broke the reclining chair, the remote control and the vacuum cleaner.  His Aunt Karen insisted, « Send Nic over  to help me tidy up.  We need a new vacuum too. »

One Christmas, overjoyed to see his Aunt Sue, he gave her a flying, head-butt hug and broke her nose !

As a five-year-old, his body was so strong, we called him Bam Bam, yet his heart was as tender as a poem. When we moved to Switzerland, he told us, « Les nuages font un calin a la montagne. »  (The clouds are hugging the mountains.) At age seven, perceptive, beyond his years, he lamented, « Mom, we’re growing up too fast.  In five more years, Nathalie won’t live here anymore. »

As a kamikaze kid, he slit open his palm at age two, split his head at four, shattered his right ankle at fifteen.  Each time the doctor stitched him up, I prayed, « Please keep my boy in one piece. »

always a high flyer !

always a high flyer !

The only time he sat still was when I read him storybooks. A friend once told me, « Nicolas is too cute for his britches. » He was.  He dumped cereal or yogurt on the floor, then insisted, « Me clean ! » and made a bigger mess. But I could never stay mad. When he looked up at me with a mischievous grin, his turquoise eyes twinkling, all I could do was sigh and love him a little more.

I taught him to speak English, to drive the baseline and to write essays; he taught me patience. In the push- pull, anguish-awe of parenthood, I wondered whether I was saying too much or too little.

From his first footsteps, to first jump shot, to first Swiss national championship, in my role as teacher, coach, mom, I applauded each milestone. Whether he was skiing down the slopes of the Swiss Alps, or wake-boarding the waters of Summit Lake, I admired his balance and agility.

jumping yougster

jumping youngster

With his strong sense of injustice, he intervened when children picked on smaller boys. He gave up open shots to pass off to teammates who never scored. He helped classmates write French essays and rework math problems.

Due to conflict with an uncomprehending teacher and unruly class, we took him out of French public school when he was four-years-old. Yet his love of learning remained intact. At university, he pursues a teaching degree following in the footsteps of his mom, aunts, grandparents and great grandparents. Though teaching these days is a tough sale due to educational cutbacks and job shortages, he signed on to help out underprivileged children in the St. Paul school district and understands the attention problems of our cyber generation kids.

He has been a dedicated teammate, loyal friend, fun loving cousin, adored little brother and cherished son, admired for his witty sense of humor and courage to stand up for his convictions.

In today’s society,  we honor boys for toughness, yet the world needs more tenderhearted men. Raising a son has been a wild ride, but I treasured every moment of the journey.

with sister and cousins

with sister and cousins

Though I will never again be on center stage of his life –  bandaging skinned knees, reading nursery rhymes, or chauffeuring to activities – I will beam from the shadows back stage, as I watch my son pay it forward as a young man.