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

« 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.

 

Farewell to Coaching Basketball

misc team pics-3Coaching basketball took me to Athens, Prague, London, Frankfurt, Venice, Munich, Brussels and all across Europe, you think I would remember those sites or the games, those nail biting, last second victories and losses in the Swiss, French, and European championships. But the games and places blur, what remain imprinted in my mind is the players.

My coaching gig began 33 years ago when I followed my physical therapist’s suggestion and called the father of French basketball, Henry Fields, at the American School of Paris.

“Need a job,” he said, “Great we need a coach.”

For a decade ASP was my home. I still remember my first team – Kareen, Tami, Felicia – and the rest. I started my career as a Paris Rebel, trés à propos. I have always been a renegade at heart.

Then in Switzerland, I built a program from the ground floor, starting with my daughter and her friends in 6th grade coaching them until they left for university. They were so athletic, I hardly coached; they never lost a school league game. How many coaches have the privilege of shaping a team from grade school to graduation? What greater honor for a coach than to hear from former athletes who are using their talents to make this world better?

How many people have had the opportunity to coach their daughter and their son?

Coaching boys added a new dimension to my repertoire. I found out coaching guys was just as fun with a lot less drama.

When my health gave out, I bowed out of coaching, but returned five years later when students that I taught begged me to help rebuild the program.

How many bus rides, how many train trips, how many flights, how many games, how many pep talks, how many sleepless nights, how many lives?

Former assistant coach, Tina, claimed “I’ve seen you resurrect a team from the dead.”

Well, she was wrong. The team resurrected me. When an accident abroad ended my athletic career at age 25, I felt like I had one foot in the grave. Gradually, as I rebuilt my body cell by cell, I found a new calling. I overcame health setbacks and kept going in order to prepare my team for their next opponent.

My goal was to get them ready mentally and physically and in doing so I restored my own fighting spirit to endure decades of pain.

Thanks to a new generation of players, Geneva basketball is back on top. How many coaches bow out winning every tournament in their final season of their career?

The final scores, funky gymnasiums, and famous places fade in time; what remains engraved in my heart forever is each player’s face. Thanks to all the athletes who kept my love alive.

When I could no longer play basketball, my heart shattered; my players put it together again piece by piece season after season.

Coaching the best out of them brought the best out of me.

And gave my life purpose.

From Corporate World to Homestead – Reinventing in Retirement

IMG_0407In my final year of teaching, I have been a basket case of emotion, while my husband appeared to waltz effortless from the corporate world to the homestead in retirement. When Gérald lost his job; he found a new life. What happens when a caring boss goes head to head with the powers that be in the cutthroat, save-at-all costs, corporate world? At perpetual odds with top management for the past 5 years of his career, losing his job was inevitable, but what surprised me was how much happier he is now without his printing career.

I chose the early retirement option, while I always assumed Gérald would pursue his career into his 80s. After working long hours from the age of 14, instead of pining over his lost job, he embraced early retirement and found the freedom liberating.

Gérald worked in the printing business for 36 years producing everything from carton packaging to brochures to books to newspapers. As director of a newspaper printing firm, he lived on the edge ever ready to meet the impossible demands of clients and shareholders in a dying industry. Sleeping with one eye open, he waited for emergency phone call in the middle of the night. How do you put out a half a million copies every night without making a mistake somewhere along the line of distribution?

IMG_0294To be honest I thought he would be lost without the constant buzz. Instead he found time to enjoy his passions long overlooked when trying to make ends meet as a director, father and husband.

Now he plays volleyball, manages the neighborhood association, and serves as CEO of my website. He fired the gardener and finds pleasure in doing his own yard work and is giving our home a much-needed facelift after 2 decades of neglect. He learns new sports, helps me coach, and takes online classes. And he cooks gourmet meals and serves up fare that would put most restaurants to shame.

As my final school days approach, I look to him for inspiration. For the past 30 plus years, I have worked with kids. What will I do with my hours if I am no longer helping students write papers, organize schedules, navigate exams and wait for the next bell to ring?

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personally designed wine labels from colleagues

With his new found joie de vivre the Frenchman demonstrates that happiness and fulfillment is attainable even after one quits the day job. And he bowed out of his arena with so much class. While I was crying over the injustice and worrying about his mental state being put out to pasture, he sailed into retirement with the same grace that he faced each day in a field filled with adversity. I admired his dignity as he spent the last 6 months training his replacement and preparing his staff for the transition of management. Then after the fanfare of colleagues, clients and employees heartfelt farewell, he never looked back, content in knowing that he served his company as an honest, well-respected, hardworking leader.

He left his profession with his integrity intact.

Speaking for Gender Equity at International School

DSC00215_copyIf the dynamic group of senior girls who pulled off an enlightening International Women’s Day at Zurich International School is any indication, the future for women is in good hands. This talented group of young ladies organized a memorable event reflecting on gender bias within art, sport and the work place.

The multicultural members of the committee were completing their final year of the international baccalaureate and on target to enter fields in law, medicine, and international relations at universities around the world.

I led off their program recounting the history of the pioneers in women’s sport and the impact of the groundbreaking Title IX amendment to the Civil Rights Act. As I explained legislation helps but attitudes take longer to change than laws. Gender biases are deeply ingrained.DSC00225

Real change has to start in the home with men sharing more equitably childcare and housekeeping chores. Brothers must contribute as equally to domestic chores as their sisters.

After speaking I answered a barrage of questions not only about my experiences, but also about what can steps can be taken towards gender equality.

A German boy in a Duke basketball jersey, an avid hoopster asked how young males growing up today can make things more equitable.

“Well, you can start by going home tonight and cooking dinner for your mama.”

Parents serve as our first role models, yet their roles as breadwinner and homemaker are so institutionalized that we don’t even think about it. Even if they work outside the home, women in all cultures continue to do the greatest percentage of work in home. Half of all women do some kind of housework compared to only one-fifth of men. If they are mothers, they spend twice as long as fathers doing unpaid domestic work each week. Within many societies the disparity is far greater.

Due to centuries of inequity, gender bias remains a pervasive part of our psyche.

Following my speech, Regina Lanford discussed how artistic images have perpetuated cultural prejudices about women. Then Eleanor (Tabi) Haller-Jorden, talked about the gender gap in leadership in corporations across Europe urging us to avoid gender stereotypes that are inherent in every culture.

After the speeches, a school band played hits of the seventies during lunch hour while the girls sold tulips in a pledge for parity. A lively panel discussion between teachers, parents, students, and speakers topped off the day.

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International Women’s Day with Amy Greene, former DI player, coach, mom and assistant principal ZIS

Will the efforts of these young women in Zurich revolutionize the world? No, probably not. But their actions will raise eyebrows, increase awareness, and open dialogue. And if the turn out at ZIS International Women’s Day Celebration was any indication, with males in attendance in almost equal numbers, we are headed in the right direction.

But our work is cut out for us. “The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Only a year later 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.”

A study by McKinsey Global Institute shows that by advancing women’s equality $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025. We must pledge for parity in the public, private and social sectors. Raising awareness is a first step.

Our travail has just begun.

 

Brussels Bombing – Freedom to Fly in the Terror Age

imagesWe knew it was only a matter of time until the next terrorist attack. Yet, when the suicide bombers struck the Brussels international airport and near the heart of the European Commission at Maelbeek subway station, the shock, horror and disbelief reverberated around the world.

Weeks earlier, during a long lay over in the Brussels airport on our way to a basketball tournament in Vienna, my team dispersed to wander in gift shops and buy snacks. Though a few armed guards patrolled, the ambiance remained peaceful. Even so, when my team regrouped at our departure gates, I breathed a sigh of relief as I counted heads. Under my watchful eye, the girls lounged in comfy seats passing time by telling stories, texting friends, taking pictures and giggling, enjoying the last vestiges of youth.

To comprehend the impact of terror attacks, one has to understand how closely we are interlinked in Europe. With low-cost airlines one can fly from one capital to another for less than the price of a tank of gas. We travel through national borders more often than most Americans cross state lines.

My home in Switzerland is a mile from France, so I border hop to shop, hike, and dine out. When I coached at the American School of Paris, Brussels teams were part of our international athletic conference. Presently during our school break in Geneva, some students returned home to the Belgian capital; others traveled through there on route to their homelands.

After I heard the news of another attack, my first impulse was to reach out. I contacted friends whose children live and work in Brussels. Yet even after loved one’s safety is assured, doom prevailed. How can we stop this fatal spiral of violence?

tnPAB3n05I0wkA2AiQM-FGruhag6LKcP3pn1bTkO65ynq_k56sPDvE9sTtq-L95z4GJrSw=s115My family and friends live cross culturally. Our only link to each other is by air travel, so fly we must, but never without trepidation, never without fear.                 .

Thankfully I have never been the victim of a terrorist attack, but I have deplaned on an Italian runway, while police dogs searched cargo after a bomb threat. I have been standing at an American Airlines ticket counter in Paris when security forces cleared the area to detonate an unclaimed bag. And I have taught students who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks. I will never forget the words of one former student who wrote,

«When I found out that my mom died in the Nairobi bombing, I was so shocked,  I ran straight through a glass door. »

In the future, we must continue to cross borders, reach out to others, exchange information and stay united. We must maintain open lines of communication to learn about other cultures, faiths and nationalities.

But today we must mourn. Our hearts ache for Brussels a beautiful capital city in a small, peace32771D1300000578-3505016-Tributes_People_hold_up_a_banner_as_a_mark_of_solidarity_at_Plac-a-21_1458678138603 loving country, resplendent with culture, tradition and charm.

Tomorrow we must spread our wings. Soon, my brother will fly to Brussels for business, my daughter will fly to Geneva for family and my son will fly to London for love.

Fear must never keep us grounded. We must continue to soar free like a bird. And then fight with every ounce of our strength to uphold that freedom.