Homecoming, Always a Celebration

When the kids are little, you can’t wait for the day when they won’t distract you with demands for meals, rides, and errands.  Then bad-da-boom, they graduate and head off to college and onto careers and you long for an interruption – a call, a letter or an email – from that wayward daughter or son.

As they do their best to squeeze you into their busy lives, you find yourself crossing off days until their homecoming.  You bake childhood favorites and stock the pantry with the treats your child used to love when he or she was 6 or 12 or 20.  Suddenly the volume picks up. The screen door bangs; the refrigerator squeaks and the phone rings with their childhood friends wanting to reconnect.

In a flurry of joy, you attack the chores you hate with renewed vigor, you wash bedding, clean under furniture, and air out rooms filled with memories.  Some people remodel, changing bedrooms into bureaus when the kids move on, but I am unable to discard anything. Their rooms remain the same as the day they left, like shrines to their childhood.  Sport medals hang from bedposts, favorite books perch on shelves, stuffed animals sit on bedcovers, posters of athletes and pop artists cover walls and closets remain full of Beanie Babies, Little Ponies, and PlayMobile figures.  OMG! Am I the only mom that cannot part with my children’s keepsakes decades after they grow up? Each time I step into their rooms, memorabilia lets me stop time to relive that stage in their lives, which, in retrospect, blew past the first time around.

baking family favorites

baking family favorites

My parents, edging toward eighty, still spoil their adult children.  Mom fixes my brother’s favorite meal,  “Swiss” steak, a cheap cut of meat slow cooked in tomato sauce that has nothing to do with Switzerland.  (No one is really sure it ever was his favorite, but it has become part of our family lore.) They stock up on veggies for me, which makes them laugh, because as a kid I hightailed out of the kitchen when anything green showed up.  They tidy up before one sister visits; or add an extra bit of disorder for me, more comfortable in chaos.  They indulge in the same rituals for grandchildren, fixing favorite meals and stocking up on favorite brands: Yoplait Strawberry (only) Custard Yogurt, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Wisconsin Colby.

Homecoming is a universal ritual everywhere in the world. When we go to Normandy, my in-laws, nearing their nineties, will lay out the finest fare the land and the sea can offer. My mother-in –law still slings a basket over her arm to shop at the open market, preparing to serve five course meals with my husband’s favorites, from coquilles

traditional diner in Normandy

traditional diner in Normandy

St Jacques to strawberries in cream, while my father in law uncorks a bottle of his best burgundy.

My youngest sister recently returned home and said, “It was great.  I never cooked a meal!  Got to talk as much as I wanted.  I was the Babe again!”

Whatever your age you will always be somebody’s kid.  You are never too old to come home.

Spring in Switzerland Parades Past My Window

Spring parades past my Swiss house that perches on a slope overlooking Lake Geneva. Puffy gray and white clouds hover over the mountain range where Mount Blanc, the highest peak in Europe, sticks its head out like an apparition of my imagination.  On a clear day I can see as far as the water jet in Geneva and the tips of the Alps, sixty miles away.  The mountains, in different shades of gray, appear to bow down to Mont Blanc, the queen bejeweled in a sparkling white crown.

The earth unfolds before my eyes. In my yard, forsythia transforms into a sunburst. Across the street, yellow colza fields contrast with green wheat fields. Grape vines like gnarled, old arthritic hands reach toward the light. Pink and white blossoms explode on the rows of apple and cherry trees.

Below the fields and vineyards, the rust-colored rooftops of villages peek above a ribbon of green trees outlining a purplish-blue lake dotted with sailboats.  On the far side of the lake, milk chocolate colored chalets lace the mountainsides.

Lake Geneva and the Alps

Lake Geneva and the Alps

A John Deere tractor, like a giant green snail, creeps along turning the soil, while migrant workers bend over vineyards pruning the vines by hand.  A rider trots across the field on a dappled grey horse, while overhead falcons and great blue herons soar.

In the picture outside my window, light changes the perspective every second.  A ray of sunshine breaks through the clouds, casting a spotlight on a mountain flank.

Why would someone with one of the world’s most spectacular views, live behind closed shutters?

Even though it is spring outside, winter remains in my soul.  April marks the third anniversary of a demanding pulsed antibiotic medical treatment that requires me to avoid light exposure.  My skin and eyes must be protected and covered all the time.  Too much light will damage my eyes and lead to inflammation throughout my body.

Discouraged? Sometimes.  Defeated?  Never.  If I close my eyelids, I can picture the lush emerald fields, majestic mountains and peaceful blue water in my mind’s eye.

I know paradise resides outside my window.

Believing makes all the difference.

World Class Olympic Swimmer on Wheels

Think your life is tough? Imagine learning to swim without legs?  Then go out and break the world record. Not once, but twice.

In the Beijing Paralympics 2008,  Teresa Perales broke the record for 50-meter freestyle (35.88), the 100-meter freestyle (1:16.65),  and collected 3 gold medals, 2 bronze medals and a silver medal.

From Sydney to Athens to Beijing, the dark eyed, 36-year-old athlete starred on the Spanish Paralympics team for the past 3 Paralympics Games winning 16 medals total.  Not bad for someone who learned to swim at age twenty, without the use of her legs.

At the age of nineteen, Teresa contracted a neuropathy in her legs, a residual effect of another illness.  Since then she has been wheelchair bound, but that never slowed her down.  Listening to her speak one would think her wheels were the best pair of legs ever invented. The inspirational speaker reminds students at my school that it’s all about attitude.

Teresa Perales

Teresa Perales, Pekín 2008 Olympic Champion 100 m Freestyle

“You have the possibility to create your own happiness,” Teresa says with an infectious smile.  “It does not depend on other people or things.”

Or legs.

“I keep my wheelchair in my bottom, “ she insists, “not my head.”

As a teenager Teresa only practiced one sport, karate, but as a paraplegic, she tried diving, car rally racing and horseback riding before deciding she liked swimming the best.

“Don’t your legs sink and slow you down?” one primary student, at my school, asked.

Teresa laughed and said, “Not if I swim fast enough.  I start off the block because then my legs are buoyed up, at least at the very beginning of the race.”

In addition to her work in politics with the City Council of Zaragoza in sport and tourism, she trains six hours a day in preparation for the 1012 Olympics in Barcelona. She adheres to the principles any athlete follows.  Courage. Sacrifice. Support. (Family and team) Hard work.

In 2007, she and her husband, Mariano Menor, wrote the book, My Life on Wheels.

Teresa travels the world, works, trains and raises a one-year-old son.  He stole the show by crawling from his father’s arms across the stage and pulling himself to stand by his mom’s wheelchair.

“Do you ever wish you could walk again?”  One boy asked.

“No, about three months after my legs went numb, I realized my feet are not that important. I am lucky to live in a country that recognizes disabilities,” she explains.  “Many places in the world still hide any kind of handicap in hospitals, institutions, and homes. I have met people of all different cultures, religions, languages, customs and disabilities.”

Handicapped? No way.

She could “run” circles around most of us.

 

 

 

Senseless Racism, a songwriter’s opinion

 

The inspiration of children from around the world challenges each of us to work together to create a better world.

Etre né quelque part, a song by French  singer, poet and guitarist, Maxime Leforestier, loosely translated in English shows the nonsense of racism.

 

On choisit pas ses parents,                                    We don’t choose our parents
on choisit pas sa famille                                         We don’t choose our family
On choisit pas non plus                                         We don’t choose
les trottoirs de Manille                                          the sidewalks of Manila,
De Paris ou d’Alger                                                or Paris, or Algiers either,
Pour apprendre à marcher                                   To learn to walk
Etre né quelque part                                              The place where one is born
Etre né quelque part                                             The place where one is born
Pour celui qui est né                                              For whoever is born
C’est toujours un hazard                                       is always random chance
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa

 

Y a des oiseaux de basse cour et                         There are domesticated birds and

des oiseaux de passage                                          migratory birds
Ils savent où sont leur nids,                                  they always find their nests

quand ils rentrent de voyage                                 whether they return from travel
Ou qu’ils restent chez eux                                      Or they stay home
Ils savent où sont leurs œufs                                 they know where their eggs lay

Etre né quelque part                                                The place where one is born
Etre né quelque part                                                The place where one is born
C’est partir quand on veut,                                     Means leaving when we choose
Revenir quand on part                                             Coming back after leaving

Est-ce que les gens naissent                                   Are people born equal
Egaux en droits
A l’endroit                                                                  Wherever they were born
Où ils naissent

Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa

Est-ce que les gens naissent                                    Are people born equal
Egaux en droits
A l’endroit                                                                 Wherever they were born

Est-ce que les gens naissent                                   Are people born
Pareils ou pas                                                            The same or not

On choisit pas ses parents,                                    We don’t choose our parents
on choisit pas sa famille                                        We don’t choose our family
On choisit pas non plus                                        We don’t choose
les trottoirs de Manille                                         the sidewalks of Manila,
De Paris ou d’Alger                                               or Paris, or Algiers either,
Pour apprendre à marcher                                  To learn to walk

Je suis né quelque part                                        I was born somewhere
Je suis né quelque part                                        I was born somewhere
Laissez moi ce repère                                          Leave me that reference point
Ou je perds la mémoire                                      Or I will lose my identity
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwaha.sa

 

 

 

Education, Racism, Football, and Mama

If you want to capture boys’ attention, talk football (at least in Europe).  Paul Canoville, who helped break the color barrier in British soccer spoke at the International School of Geneva about racism in sport to tie in with United Nations Day of Tolerance Nov. 17, 2010 and March 21st International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

« Mama said, ‘get an education ! »   Canoville said in a high pitched voice with a Caribbean accident, wiggling his hips imitating his mama.

Chelsea's player Paul Canoville

Chelsea's player Paul Canoville

« Don’t worry Mama, football gonna take care of me. » said the first black man to play for Chelsea in 1981, who still remembers that pain of racial abuse when even his own fans called him animal names.

« My Mama, from a poor Caribbean family, came to England alone and dreamed of becoming a nurse, but never had the chance to become educated.  She worked hard all her life.  She didn’t care about football ; she wanted me to go to school.»

When Canoville’s career ended to a knee injury at age 25, no one took care of him, especially not football.  After a downward spiral of drug addiction, street life and jail time, he turned his life around.  His autobiography, Black and Blue received  the best British sport book award in 2009.

After Canoville’s visit to our campus, three of my freshman students, a a tall dark-haired Italian basketball player, a blond blue-eyed Austrian footballer, and a young Swiss tennis man wrote him this letter.

Dear Mr. Canoville

Thank you for coming to tell us a story that has the power to make people change their way of thinking  about racism. In school we always learn about the history of racism, what it is about, what it provokes, but we have never had a witness talk to us about his experiences. It is a privilege that students will cherish. Most kids are sports fans, and many would love to play professional football later in life.  The opportunity to hear a famous footballer sharing important views so freely is fantastic. It has even more of an impact when you are funny.  When you tell your life altering stories and describe the appalling behavior you confronted, you showcased your great sense of humor and positive way of seeing things. A person will always face challenging times, but if you fight for what you believe in, no matter how unfair things seem to be, you can do just about anything. You taught us this. We would love for you to come back and pass your experiences and knowledge on to other generations of students.

Canoville’s final words to our students were “Always have a back up plan.  Get an education. And listen to mama.  Mama knows best!”

Here’s to all the mamas around the world, making sacrifices everyday, giving children a better chance through the opportunity of education.

 

 

Anne Frank, Miep Gies, Erin Gruwell –Solitary Voices Speak Out To Make a Difference

We hear the stories of great male leaders discovering new lands, leading nations to battle, defending human rights, but what about everyday valiant acts by ordinary women. “Courage doesn’t always roar. “

“You are not defined by this moment in time
You are not defined by what has happened to you
It is the way that your choose to respond
That matters what you do
And what you decide to do
Courage is not the absence of fear
But a powerful choice we make…”
From Courage Doesn’t Always Roar By Paula Fox

During WWII, a soft-spoken, young secretary helped hide her boss’s Jewish family in an attic in Amsterdam.  When the Gestapo discovered the Frank family, Miep Gies risked her life again, by hiding Anne’s diary (written between June 12, 1942 – August 1, 1944) from authorities. In 1947, Otto Frank, the only family member who survived the concentration camp, published Anne Frank Diary of A Young Girl, which sold 31 million copies, was translated into 67 languages, and has been studied worldwide including my English class at the International School of Geneva.

Miep Gies Feb. 15, 1909 – Jan. 11, 2010

 

In my class, I continued my lesson about Dr. Boswell’s pre Civil War quilt codes guiding slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad with another exercise to show the bravery and ingenuity of everyday people.

Franco-Suisse Hotel Arbez

A half hour from our campus, the Franco- Swiss Hotel Arbez at La Cure sits on the borderline dividing the two countries. During WWII, the owners hid British and American soldiers and Jewish civilians from the Nazis. The bottom of the staircase lies in German Occupied France; the top of the stairs “the Hideaway,” a second floor room, is on Swiss territory. Refugees disappeared into the mountains on the neutral Swiss side.

After showing examples messages stitched in quilts, I asked my students to sketch symbols that could help map the route for imaginary refugees escaping from our school to the French border at La Cure.

Over a half-century later, another daring woman, Erin Gruwell, inspired 150 disillusioned tough kids from broken homes and street gangs, to use writing to bring about change.  The Freedom Writer’s Diary, published in 1999, was the true story her freshman English class at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California.  In 2007 the movie Freedom Writers was released, and the Freedom Writer’s Foundation website was established.  http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org/site/

After reading Anne Frank, Miss Gruwell’s class then raised funds to fly Miep Gies over from the Netherlands to speak at their school.  After Miep speech,

Marcus, a husky, former gang member, once living in the street, raised his hand and stated, “You are my hero!”

“Oh no, young man, I am not a hero,” she said.  “You are the heroes in your own life story – I just did the right thing at the right time.”

Single voices. Small steps. Soft whispers. Subtle strength. Simple women of courage stand out.