Hats off to Hannah And High School Graduates of 2011

I never graduated from high school.  Not officially.  Sure I got my diploma, but I  never tossed my cap to the wind. I was sick the day of graduation. Back then  it was simple.  We had one senior picture,  a ceremony on the field and a little cake and punch party with a few family and friends.

The class of ‘75 signed year books, promised to keep in touch and moved on. With the exception of a handful of close friends – living within a block – I lost touch with everyone  until 35 years later, when I reconnected with classmates via Facebook (which, incidentally, today’s youth complain the old people are ruining!)

happy Hannah graduates from high school

happy Hannah graduates from high school

In June 1975, to humor my parents, I donned the blue gown with the gold tassels and stood in the yard while my grandma snapped a half a dozen blurry photos from an Instamatic. And that was that. Then I headed back to the gym to shoot hoops.

Big difference from the grad walk of today. For my niece, Hannah, a senior at Armstrong High School, it was a whole new ball game.

In the fields behind the Minneapolis suburban school, graduates spilled over an emerald hilltop in a sea of red, while parents sat in soccer chairs capturing the event on camcorders. Then to keep the kids off the street, parents chaperoned students at an all night party filled with games, magic, music and movies.

Weeks later, Hannah hosted a grad party. She invited her rugby team, half the church, the entire neighborhood and all of the relatives from Chicago to Omaha and in-between. Hannah has lots of friends. From the time she was born, the ready-with-a-smile, happy-go-lucky, laid-back kid always drew a crowd.

These days, the grad party is a must. The invitation, which features the student in a favorite pose from the hundred-some senior pictures, is more elaborate than wedding cards were in my day. (Hannah’s sister, Marie, graduated three years ago, but her invitation remains  on my frig, too beautiful to throw away.)

The party can be extravagant, complete with bouncy castles and gourmet meals, but Hannah, settled on a simpler fare, featuring her favorites – croissant sandwiches and ice cream treats.

Food ordered, tents set up, card tables unfolded, coolers packed. And a room filled with of memorabilia of student life : a bulletin board of childhood photos, dance recital, play bills, band equipment, musical instruments, certificates, medals, trophies, team jerseys, diplomas, stuffed animals, postcards, bits and bobs of a child’s’ magic moments. « I thought shrines were at wakes,» I said to my sister.

« Just shows how long you’ve been out of the country, Sis. »

And forget gram’s fuzzy black and white photos. Nowadays the event will be commemorated on video and DVD. While in progress, graduates cover Facebook pages with hundreds of photos for the entire world to admire.

hats off

hats off

My only dream back in the seventies was to play ball; Hannah set a more noble goal. She is going to be a neonatal nurse; she has already cuddled premies as a volunteer at the local hospital. She started applying for scholarships her junior year. With her dad’s Nebraskan Big Red blood, Hannah knew (before anyone else)  that she was headed  to Creighton in Omaha, where the rest of the Carlson clan lives.

Yep, babysitter, soccer player, a State rugby champ, honor student, loyal sister, fun loving friend, kidding cousin, nifty niece, cherished granddaughter, a dream child and all around good kid. No matter what hat she wears, Hannah fits the bill.

Dads Play Big Role in Parenting

Back in the ‘60s when girls’ sport were taboo, my dad taught me how to throw a perfect spiral, pitch a baseball and shoot a basket.  Each time he tossed the ball to  my brother, he also threw once to me. He made sure to hit each of us an equal number of pop ups to field. He showed me how to hold a baseball glove, pump up a basketball and take a fish off the hook.

Papa Mac passes on tradition

Papa Mac passes on tradition

Like the Pied Piper, as soon as kids saw my dad arrive home from his teaching job, they lined up for a turn at bat. Soon he was pitching whiffle balls to the entire neighborhood. Instead of grass in our backyard, we had permanent dirt-patch bases, a diamond in the rough, the Field of Dreams for an entire generation.

Even though I never saw any other fathers in the yard shooting hoops with their daughters, I never thought it odd. Chasing grounders, running passing patterns and learning the baseline drive with my dad seemed as natural as  breathing. After all, he was a coach and I was an athlete. So what if it took the rest of the society a few decades to catch up.

Today with the acceptance of girls’ sports and working moms the norm, dads’ coaching daughters is no longer an anomaly. The Women’s Rights Movement also liberated men to assume a greater hands-on role in fatherhood.

Today’s dads are free to coach Little League AND girls’ soccer, to build camp fires, make tree forts, piece together Legos, to change diapers, give baths,  bandage cuts. They can also bake birthday cakes, read Good Night Moon, cook bœuf bourguignon and grill burgers.

French dad at 1st Final Four

French dad at 1st Final Four

Throughout our children’s youth, my husband worked the score table, drove the van for our daughter and son’s teams and prepared gourmet meals for all of us. Gérald never batted an eye about running a printing business during the day, and then wearing the apron at night.  Though it may have been a typical behavior for a Frenchman, he paid the bills, balanced the budget and brought home the bacon, proud to be a family man.

Just as I witnessed my dad in multiple roles – caring teacher, inspiring coach, loyal husband -my children saw their father as tough and tender, demanding and nuturing, competitive and compassionate.

Kids raised in families with ball-playing moms and story-reading dads make for a balanced, healthy, wholesome childhood.  Whether organizing car pools, building sand castles or playing catch,  adults investing time in youth yields the greatest dividends.  Worth all the gold in the world !

Expat Women: Confessions For Gals on the Go

In 1980, I became a globetrotting professional basketball player and my plane touched down in Paris.  When I saw little women with baseball bats (baguettes) slung on one shoulder, and vegetable-laden baskets over the other, stopping on cobblestone street corners to kiss, I thought I’d landed on another planet. I moved dozens of times between continents and countries and have three decades of experience teaching in international schools abroad. With the world as my classroom, everyday is a learning experience, but when I first moved abroad I was clueless.

Expat Women: Confessions, 50 Answers to Your Questions About Living Abroad hits home with me.  The authors, Andrea Martins and Victoria Hepworth, address issues any woman faces leaving home, yet the stakes are higher as an expat.  In a simple-to-read, down-to-earth, no nonsense style, the authors tackle the toughest questions with aplomb. They touch on complex topics women confront in their roles as partners, mothers or employees, which are more complicated when living overseas. The book includes sensitive issues from transitioning-in to, to child raising, to culture shock and repatriation, to divorce and death abroad.

Expat Women: Confessions (http://www.expatwomen.com/expat-women-confessions.php) is a must read for anyone leaving the homeland.  It offers insightful advice from women who have years of experience living cross culturally. As valuable as the Berlitz Language guide, I would highly recommend this for anyone contemplating the expat life.

Thirty years ago, I lifted weights, ran laps and shot hoops to train my well-honed body for the rigors of international ball, but my mind was ill prepared for life abroad.  I had no idea where to locate Paris on a map, how to ask for the restroom in the local language or how many times to kiss cheeks in greeting.

In retrospect, for anyone contemplating an overseas assignment, I strongly recommend 5 basics before signing the contract.

1.  Research – find out as much as you can about the country, culture, customs, and language including work place protocol

2.  Network before leaving your home – sign on to newsletters and blogs that entail expat life (http://pattymackz.com/wordpress/subscribe-to-my-blogs/)

3.  Make sure the salary allowance includes or covers health insurance and costs of trips to the homeland for holidays or family emergencies.

4. Be open minded, flexible and willing to make mistakes (a sense of humor helps)

5.  Read Expat Women: Confessions, the book I wish existed when I first moved abroad

My Norwegian great grandmother, Eugenie, immigrated to America in 1902.  Her four-year-old daughter died a fortnight after arriving at Ellis Island; then, Eugenie passed away 5 months later giving birth to my grandmother. Leaving the nest and striking out for a better life elsewhere is as old as time; yet with high tech connections shrinking our globe, no one needs to be blind-sided as to what awaits. Sacrifice has long been the female’s role, but no one no longer needs to lose the self in the transition.

From the pioneer women loading wagon trains Westward to the trailing spouse and adventuresome entrepreneurs paving new trails in Africa, Asia and Europe, women, round the globe, have always been bridges between generations and cultures. Bon voyage!

 

 

 

First Doctor in the Family

I slouched through school feeling ashamed with three strikes against me: tall, smart and athletic.  Not cool.  In the 70’, girls pursuing advanced careers in sports or academics were scorned minorities. Fast-forward four decades. Our Franco-American daughter, Nathalie stood proud, set shot blocking records in college and aced medical boards, playing the game her way.

Ironically, I, who grew up with hospital phobia and feared white coats, gave birth to a doctor.  Yet in retrospect, I saw the makings of a medicine woman early on.  As a precocious child, Nat spoke two languages, read books at the dinner table and excelled in her studies.  As a youngster, she had an innate ability to sense others’ pain.  She held her great grandpa’s hand when his footsteps faltered from Parkinson disease and leaned her head into Great Grandma’s shoulder to make her feel special.  She distracted her little brother when he threw tantrums and settled squabbles between cousins.

Fascinated with body parts and blood cells, she insisted we read « The Way Your Body Works » over and over again in childhood.  While I cringed at the word science and the sight of blood, she loved chemistry and biology, mixing chemicals and dissecting animals.

She paved her own path sans doctors in the family on either side.  Born of blue collar and modest teachers’ families, she jumped social classes to become a doctor of medicine, following her dream 4,000 miles away from home.

I marveled at her persistence; the greater obstacle, the harder she grit her teeth. The night her college team got knocked out of the conference championship, she mourned the end of her basketball career.  Yet hours later, she cracked open books and crammed for the biochem exam scheduled for 8 am the next day. She survived four years of boot camp for doctor wannabees in the grueling med school program enduring thirty-hour shifts and studying every free second. Med school is intense from the get go. …First day meet body buddies, second day meet body – as in cadaver.

Nat's medical school graduation

Nat's medical school graduation

The afternoon of Nat’s graduation from the University of Minnesota Medical School, her dad and I stayed up late in Switzerland to watch live on webcam.  When they announced, « Doctor Nathalie Lechault » and she stepped forward to be hooded, my throat tightened. I blinked back bittersweet tears filled with awe.

In 2011, nearly half of the 238 students in Nathalie’s graduating class were female.  From the Susan B. Anthonys and suffragettes of the late 1800s, to the Rosa Parks of the civil rights, to the Gloria Steinems of the liberation movement – hats off to all the women, who dared to think outside the box, who dreamed big, who helped give birth to our alpha daughters of the 21st century.

Help! I am becoming a social media junky

Okay, what started it all was this crazy desire to be a writer.  But nobody sits downs and writes anymore. They socialize, they connect, they advertise, they promote, they sell.  They pound the pavement on line to build a platform. Reminds me of selling potato chips door to door to raise money to attend Y Camp as a kid.

I naively signed up for blogging 101 and build your author platform with Dan Blank, our social media guru. http://wegrowmedia.com/ Before I knew it I was hooked.

First he encouraged us to blog.  Got that down.  Next step -Twitter.  Twitter scared me. I feared the CTA (Cyberspace Transit Authorities) would catch me smuggling words across borders.  Twitter feels like passing notes in class to strangers.  Twitter is like it sounds –  a bunch of magpies sitting on a telephone line gossiping.

Next Dan insisted,  «join Facebook. » What a tool. Daunting. The concept scared me.  I  avoid  mirrors. I don’t particularly enjoy looking at my face these days, so why  would anyone else ? Yet now, as if displaying the bulletin board of my childhood, my mug shot flashes on the « wall » of the world.

All these people are coming out of the woodwork.  It’s awesome reconnecting with my high school and college alumni, but also unsettling. I can’t get my head around it.  It’s like looking into a trick mirror – we look grey and paunchy. Yet I’m still sweet sixteen in my mind, a skinny thing in pig tails and skinned knees.

The worst part of my new social media gig, is that I no longer want to go to my real job interacting with real students and real colleagues.  It is more rewarding to catch up with former students and friends on line. They are so much smarter than me. English teachers are obsolete. Seriously, no one writes complete sentences anymore.  Even Shakespeare  looks like this – R & J in love 4ever. The downside of social media is that it makes me feel old, dumb, and ugly.

Yet for somebody living abroad, it is a way to link in with old classmates; to keep up with the youth,; to meet new people in a  writers group that shines from sea to shining sea.  Rebecca in San Fran and Barb in LA, Viki in Chicago (http://www.friendgrief.blogspot.com/), Porter in Atlanta (http://www.porterandersonmedia.com/), Kathy (http://krpooler.com/) and Jen in Virginia (http://jenhenderson.com/wordpress/ ) Judith in Italy (http://aromacucina.com/) and Dan in NYC.

To attract more followers, Dan says we need to host events, plan give aways, and create gimmicks.  It makes me feel more like the on-line Avon Lady than Virginia Woolf.  One thing I know for sure working with teens, social media is the future. Tomorrow we “boogie, “on their terms; my generation is on the way out! So suck it up, Pat, and get it on with it.  Tweet. Tweet.

Staying Connected at Christmas Always Worth the Trip

My sibling and I live 5,000 miles apart, away from our childhood home, yet in spite of the distance we remain close. It helped that we were a family born on wheels. In the sixties, at time when most people wouldn’t take four kids five years apart any further than the corner grocery store, my grandparents and parents loaded the station wagon with, nine bags, eight bodies and one big red ice chest and hit the road. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, we cruised the blue highways from sea to shining seas in our beat up old Rambler.


We grew up believing life was an endless road trip. Consequently we continue to spend an inordinate amount of time in our adult lives riding the rail, flying the sky, and pounding the pavement to remain connected.

Just last week over a span of 24 hours, my youngest sister, Karen, drove to my son’s college game in Minnesota, one evening, and dropped our daughter, Nathalie, off at the Minneapolis airport at 6 am the next morning. Then she drove 7 hours to Sterling to support my mom and middle sister, Sue, as my dad recovered from delicate hip reconstruction surgery in Sterling Rock Falls Hospital. Meanwhile my older brother, Doug, and sister in law, Julianne, picked up Nat at the airport in Cleveland and chauffeured her to her residency interview at Rainbow Baby and Children’s Hospital.

In the meantime, Rush Memorial called her for an interview, so my brother-in-law, Cliff in the Chicago suburbs, helped change her ticket and arranged her pick her up 0’Hare Airport. He will drive her to her appointment at Rush; she’ll take the train from there back to the airport to fly to Utah for another interview.

On December 17th, Gerald and I were supposed to fly from Geneva via Amsterdam to Minneapolis. Our son will pick us up in the car he borrows regularly from my brother-in-law Dick. Then after Nathalie arrives from Utah, we will drive back down to Sterling, via our cabin at Summit Lake, to celebrate my dad’s successful surgery.

“And that my dear,” Aunt Mary used to say, “is love in action.”

One wonders what do people do without family?

Every winter, the McKinzie clan will log miles in the air and on land, braving blizzards, airline strikes and flight delays because Christmas happens whenever, wherever and however we can get together.

Be sure to rejoice in the gift of family especially this holiday season. Safe travels to you wherever you gather. May your wheels keep spinning for another year.