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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Freedom to Run – Boston Marathon Bombs Hit America’s Heart

Participants in the 2010 Boston Marathon in We...

Participants in the 2010 Boston Marathon in Wellesley, just after the halfway mark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a five-year-old, I ran my first race at my family’s boys’ summer camp on a winding dirt road lined by a quiet green forest. My heart pounded in my temples, dust clogged my throat, and I inhaled the sweet aroma of swamp water as my skinny legs floated toward the finish line. At the recognition banquet, Grandma handed me a pink ribbon with OUTSTANDING typed in capital letters. I pressed it to my heart. I ran many more races, winning other ribbons, but the thrill of that first race never left me.

As a child, I outran the neighbor boys in kick the can, capture the flag, and tackle the man with the ball. In adolescence, I ran through the emotional upheaval of hormonal rages, unrequited loves and shattered friendships. In college, I raced through setbacks, devastating losses and future uncertainties. After graduation, I jogged down the wide boulevards of Washington DC, the cobblestone streets of Paris, and the winding alleyways of Marburg lined with half-gabled houses dating from the 15th century.

Running represented freedom. Like many other athletes worldwide, I dreamed of one day running in the Boston Marathon.

This year’s Boston Marathon, synonymous with the spirit of the American people, was held on Patriots Day at the historical city that represents the democratic values we hold so dear. When I first saw bombs explode on TV, I gasped for air as if my lung had been punctured. Immediately, I wondered, where’s Tina; my best friend – a runner- repatriated back to Boston. Twelve years earlier, we squeezed hands for support in Switzerland as we watched the Twin Towers disintegrate on September 11, 2001 setting the stage for a new era of terrorism.

Like everyone else, as the newsreel in Boston unfolded, I thought first of my friend, and her family. Even after I found out that she was all right, the anxiety didn’t subside. Instead it rippled out in waves, while I went through the motions of my day teaching multi-cultured, multi-colored students in Switzerland’s tranquil countryside. I kept replaying the scenes of pandemonium, knowing that today someone’s life was shattered. Forever. Someone lost a leg. Someone lost a life partner. Someone lost an eight-year-old son.

Running is the great equalizer: anyone at any age can run anywhere. Out the door. Into the street. Across the fields. Over the hills. Through the woods. You don’t need to rent a court, pay club fees, own special gear or earn a specific income.

Air is free. Breath. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. Runner’s high. The benefits are immediate… until a bomb strikes the Boston Marathon on an American holiday reminding us that our streets, and fields, and hills, and woods are not safe.

Robert Cheruiyot in 2006 Boston Marathon as he...

Robert Cheruiyot in 2006 Boston Marathon as he passes through Wellesley Square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the week, as the news unfolded of the manhunt for the perpetrators, I watched in horror a city under siege in lock-down. Until the capture of the second brother, soldiers patrolled sleepy suburban streets; snipers perched on the rooftops and armed tanks rolled through the trendy neighborhoods of Watertown and Cambridge.

Though my running days are long gone, as I walked to my international school where I encounter a hundred different nationalities on a daily basis, I wondered what has gone wrong? Why can’t we get along?

Running, freedom, bombs, all blur into a nightmare of disbelief, replaced by uncertainty, anxiety, fear.

We will always run free!

 

 

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A Daughter’s Homecoming Brings Sunshine to Switzerland

My Frenchman and I stand at the Geneva airport, gazing through the glass windows at the crowd milling around the luggage carousel. Our daughter, towering above the Europeans, slings a duffel over her shoulder and strides through customs with a tired grin, dropping her bag to hug her dad.

Baby Nat with grandparents

Baby Nat with grandparents

How many miles must one travel to connect generations between separate continents? Nearly three decades ago,  I cradled my Franco-American newborn in my arms during a 4,000 mile journey, 500 mph, 30,000 feet over the Atlantic. What was I thinking?  My anxiety melted the moment I stepped through customs at O’Hare airport and witnessed her grandparents’ joy. For the next 5 summers until cousins were born the McKinzie’s first grandchild was spoiled like an only child by her aunts and uncle.

proud little girl on the beach

happy little girl on the beach

How many road trips were made to Trouville in a pilgrimage to

Trouville in the spring

Trouville in the spring

Normandy and the other side of her heritage? In the thousand year old village on the English Channel, time stood still, frozen in the spindly, brick, 5-story fisherman flats lining the cobblestone quays. Here, Mamie and Papie raised their first grandchild on fish and fresh crème, the finest offering of France’s dairyland where sea and soil marinate to perfection.

Years after our first trans-Atlantic flight, my daughter landed back in Europe. Sunshine blinked through clouds in Switzerland for the first time in weeks, as old man winter finally lifted his heavy, gray veil. As we walked and talked, my footsteps felt lighter, as we wined and dined, the strawberries tasted sweeter, hinting at spring.

In a reversal of roles, now my daughter tucks me in at night. Sprawled under my duvet, we reminisce about her childhood where we weathered the storms of relocations and separations as we traveled to distance lands in our imagination on a 4-poster bed in make-believe. Today, we discussed books and babies (she is a pediatrician) and child development and teaching, language acquisition and writing.

Then in a blink we are back at the Geneva airport waving goodbye choking back tears, our hearts heavy. Our daughter flies home to her children’s hospitals in the Twin Cities, where she answers her pager at all hours. She cares for infants, speaking French to West African immigrants and conducts wellness visits for Spanish families. She reassures frightened foreigners, breaks down medical jargon into layman’s terms and magically calms fussy toddlers.

“She is so far away! Don’t you miss her?” my friends here ask. Others wonder, “How could you let her go?”

Ah, but just as my mom taught me, I know that “a child is a gift on loan from God.” Our daughter belongs to the world. She is where she is supposed to be, doing what she was destined to do.

We are together,
My child and I,
Mother and child, yes,
But sisters really
Against whatever denies
Us all that we are.
Alice Walker

Over the years, watching her grow strong, we invested thousands of dollars in education and traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, thousands of meters above sea level from Switzerland to Minnesota. The precocious little girl who grew up loving water settled in the Land of 10,000 Lakes where the trees grow tall and the skies are blue.sailing in Wisconsin

Can you put a price tag on family ties?

Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from lovin’ you.

No matter how great the distance, can you ever truly sever the cord connecting a mother to her child?

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Happy Easter, March Madness and Home Sweet Hardwood

I published a book and exposed my soul. Today, I stand on your steps, with a dimpled grin, vulnerable like a kid selling chocolate door-to-door for summer camp, soliciting your sponsorship of a dream.

Tall, smart, athletic -three strikes against me, I grew up being teased, but never bullied because, heck, I fought back. But I also wondered what was wrong with me for being so darn feisty, so damn driven. My story is the tale of a generation of girls who grew up feeling left out, girls who fought for the right to participate, girls who paved the way for the Lisa Leslies, Brittany Griners, Elena Delle Donnes of the 21st century.

More than just a basketball book, it reflects the bonds between parent /child, teammates/friends, coaches/athletes and about the compromises we make for love, family and career. It is about a crazy kid’s dream, filled with detours that carried a small town Midwestern girl from the cornfields of Illinois to the City of Lights, challenging stereotypes about gender, race, and nationality every step of the way.

Coach Hutchinson, coach Egner & Nat

Coach Hutchison, Coach Egner & Nat

It is tribute to Jill Hutchison, my Illinois State University college coach, who fought behind the scenes to help elevate women’s college sport to the levels we enjoy today. And to my former teammates like Cyndi Slayton, Vonnie Tomich, Beth Landis and the late Charlotte Lewis (1976 Olympian.) It salutes my old college rivals, Northwestern’s, Mary Murphy, a Big Ten announcer, and La Crosse’s, Shirley Egner. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, two time DIII NCAA championship coach, also led my daughter’s team to a Final Four. It hints at the story of those who followed my path at ISU, Cathy Boswell (1984 Olympic Gold Medalist,) Vicki Vaughan, Pam Tanner, Kirsti Cirone, Jamie Russell and all the others.

Why now? Time is running out as the once invincible, Pat Summittt, the most revered coach in women’s basketball, fights her greatest battle against early onset Alzheimer. Home Sweet Hardwood acknowledges unsung heroes, women, who fought for change. And men who supported them like Jim McKinzie, who co-coached my younger sister’s Sterling Golden Girls Team to the first-ever Illinois State Championship in 1977 at a time when most fathers did not want their daughters getting dirty and playing ball.

So many stories were never recorded. Stories no one heard. Stories lost with each passing generation.

Four thousand miles away, I sit in Switzerland and wonder who will read my book? I need your help. Get the word out. Pass the link, not only to my generation, but also to the next one.  Home Sweet Hardwood makes an ideal graduation gift for the college bound, a wonderful homage to parents for Mother’s or Father’s Day, a great read for your local book club.

It’s entertaining, uplifting, fulfilling like a delicious chocolate bunny without the calories.

I never made a living writing news articles; today I blog for free. I pen my words in a cyberspace vacuum in hopes that, somehow, my ramblings will strike a chord and capture your heart. I write to inspire courage, break barriers, make connections. That’s my brand.Buy my book_2

This is my story. Please pay it forward. Now I will get off your front porch and shut up. Thanks for keeping a little girl’s dream alive, for passing the torch, for giving a voice to the Title IX pioneers.

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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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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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