Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

The inauguration day of our 45th President was a day of despair that I spent wrapped up in a blanket shivering from illness and shuddering from the political tsunami. The stark contrast between Obama’s gracious farewell speech to the campaign of the new president-elect whose words offended everyone with his disparaging comments about women, minorities and immigrants made me cringe.

But a day later on January 21st, my spirits lifted when millions of women (and men) took to the streets in America’s largest protest ever. Wearing pink hats and carrying signs, protesters peacefully chanted slogans and mocked Trump’s sexist demeanor and discriminatory rhetoric.

I did not have the strength to join the peaceful demonstrators marching across the Mont Blanc Bridge in Geneva; I was on the phone crying with my sisters as I battled pneumonia again. Like so many other women and minorities, I am worn out. Weary from this nonsense. Why must we continue to fight the same battles we won decades ago?

My only consolation was in knowing that we are not alone. The movement spread to 670 places nationwide and overseas ranging from Berlin, London, Stockholm, Sydney and others. Spurred by Facebook event messages, thousands paraded down the Parisian boulevards protesting the sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and racist ideology Trump defended during his campaign.

Around the globe, demonstrators objected against all aspects of intolerance. In South American countries, gender violence topped the list. In Tokyo, the right to education was a major issue and in other parts of the world health care reform was the priority.

The demonstrations stemmed from Trump’s campaign fueled by audacious claims and divisive rhetoric. He dismissed allegations of sexual assault and his lewd comments, like “grab them by the pussy” as “locker room talk.”

I grew up on the sideline listening to demeaning locker room talk. The ultimate affront to emasculate a male was to call him, “a pussy” insinuating that he was a pansy, a sissy, a girl.

In the past women were insulted daily, treated as second class citizens and obliged to fight for the right to vote, to participate in sports, to earn higher education, to hold office, and to lead companies.

Today I did not have the strength to join my sisters and take to the streets, but tomorrow I will rise. I will return to the gym, encouraging my international athletes to keep fighting in face of defeat. To take that energy, that strength, that power back to their homelands and to use their gifts to make a better world.

From our streets to our offices to our playing fields discrimination remains insidious and girls are still reminded in so many subtle and not so subtle ways that they don’t count.

I cannot change public policy, but I can make a difference. Everyday. I can use my voice, my example, my courage to inspire other girls and minorities to reach for the stars, to believe that they count just as much as their white brothers and that their contribution is equally valuable.

We must all continue to make our voices heard.

Slow Down to Savor the Holiday Season

After a tumultuous year, pause to take stock, and reflect on the true meaning of the season. Holidays are loaded with sugar and sentiment and sometimes sadness for losses are felt so much more greatly at Christmas time. Don’t let the holiday frenzy take hold make time for kindness. You never know what burden that impatient, grumpy, long-faced lady in the line in front of you carries in her heart.

Do not let the twinkle of lights, sprinkle of snowflakes, and razzmatazz glitter blind you to the season’s true blessing.

Take a deep breath. Remember in the big scheme of things does it really matter if the cookies burn, the packages arrive late, the cards never get mailed? The true beauty in the holiday is in its’ imperfections…the crooked tree, the lumpy potatoes, the mismatched socks.

For as much time as you spend shopping, baking, buying, be sure to also pause to express gratitude to people working behind the scenes to pull off the holiday extravaganza… the postman, sales clerk, special aunts, and selfless moms.

As people journey across the miles to gather with loved ones, be mindful of the snowplow drivers, airline pilots, policewomen, firemen and other folks who remain on the job. And doctors and nurses, like our daughter and niece, who forfeit holidays to remain on standby to care for sick kids.

Personally, I want to thank my readers for your loyal following. A writer’s mission can only be fulfilled by sharing ideas with others; you give my words meaning. I appreciate the time you take to reflect, comment, tweet, share and repost my musings.

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other special tradition -I wish you a merry, peace-filled gathering. Regardless of how or with whom you celebrate in your mixed, blended, adopted, foster, same-sex, cross-generational, cross-cultural or whatever other combo makes up your family tapestry, seize the moment and savor it. There is no such thing as a perfect holiday in a one-size-fit-all family.

Regardless of which deity you worship or not, what makes the holiday “holy” is not pretty packages, bright lights, fantastic foods – it is the fellowship. This holiday season cherish your time together and give thanks for one another.

The true value of the season is measured by our human connections.

Our lives are richer because of each other.

 

 

A gift to you from us, another French favorite – candied slow cook leg of lamb.

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.

Why Me Syndrome

dsc01302Ever suffer from the why me syndrome? Those times you are immobilized by anger, frustration, and fatigue and wondering why you have to go through whatever it is you are enduring. Anyone who knows me knows that I have coped with an abundant amount of physical pain. Some of it was self-inflicted during my career as a pro athlete, but most of it accidental, random sh**.

I don’t have to look far for inspiration to find someone who is fighting an even greater challenge. Compared to others, my life is not so bad. I have lost friends to cancer, suicide, and bad, bad bugs like MSRA. I have friends who are coping with MS, diabetes, and depression.

I have friends enduring the crippling loss of a parent, child, sibling, spouse or friend. I know people facing surgery, dealing with dialysis, and going through chemo. I have friends who encounter each day without complaint, staring down each personal setback with dignity.

Early on, we must learn life is not fair. We don’t get to pick our opponents. Some obstacles are insurmountable. Some rivals are bigger, stronger, better. Some battles cannot be won, no matter how hard we fight.

I have cried a million tears, pounded my bed in despair and prayed to the heavens. Why am I here if only to suffer?

Because suffering is universal.

It is what makes us human.

img_0006Life is not fair. It is not fair that I was born into a stable, loving family. That as a child, I grew up with 3 of my 4 grandparents still living to help shape me. That my community was so safe I could play outside until the street lights came on. That doors opened for women in sports that had been forever closed offering me opportunities to travel and compete. That my father was a coach and I, an athlete, so I had a head start. That I met my soul mate half way across the globe. His family adopted me just as mine cherished him helping us to create a new cross cultural, bilingual family. That I had not only one, but two children that enrich my life. That I have loyal, steadfast friends and former students and athletes scattered around the globe cheering me on in my darkest moments.

img_1963Thanks to all of you who reached out to support me with calls, comments, text messages, FB shout outs and emails.

I have been blessed beyond measure. As I roll out of bed onto the floor and into the downward dog to stretch my limbs that lock up overnight, I toss-up a prayer.

To all of you grappling with the loss of loved ones, job insecurity, crazy bosses, growing older and the gamut of emotions ranging from rage to fear to anxiety that are an inherent part of the human condition, I hope you have the resiliency to weather the next storm.

As you face a new day, I wish you Bon Courage.

Be bold, be brave, believe.

Embrace life…a gift at any age.

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

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« 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.

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.