I don’t want to write about it; I don’t want to think about it…yet the pictures haunt me. Every parent holds dear images of watching little ones skip off to school or dropping the inert lump, our adolescents, at the gym door before practice. We have state of the art learning centers, sports fields, theaters and play grounds and yet, it is no longer safe for children to walk to school in America. Why?
I come from a family of teachers-my grandparents were teachers, my dad taught high school, my mom taught kindergarten in Sterling, my baby sister 1st grade in a Minneapolis suburb, my middle sister teaches in Yorkville, one French sister-in-law 2nd grade in a village school at Honfleur, the other in middle school in Rouen France. My son is in teacher training working with at-risk kids in St. Paul after school program. Many of my former students have gone onto to teaching careers around the world. Our belief in education as a birthright is as natural as the right to breathe.
I teach at the world’s oldest and largest international school in Geneva where I work in a global
quiet walk to school
community representing 138 nationalities and 84 mother tongues. My century old school, tucked on a slope of open fields and vineyards, offers an exquisite view of Lake Geneva surrounded by the snow-peaked Alps. I teach in a classroom without walls. No fence surrounds the property, no security guards patrol the campus, and no backpacks are inspected at the door. Yet daily, students from all races and religious affiliations -Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Mormon – sit down together to learn about one another’s beliefs and discuss ideas.
Everyday when I walk to school I gaze at the sun rising over the mountains with a prayer of gratitude on my lips that such a place still exists.Read more→
Shaker Heights – only place in the USA where as many fans come to see the high school marching band as well as the football team
Football was my first love, but I’ll be the first to admit America can be a bit over the top when it comes to ball games. It’s nice to know there is one place on the planet where the drawing card is not just the football team itself, but the band playing in the halftime performance.
The Shaker Heights school system in the Greater Cleveland area emphasizes the arts and education, and is the rare place where spectators attend the ritual fall weekend game to admire both the band and the ball club.Read more→
On Thanksgiving Day, I dragged through the work feeling sad, wondering why bother to connect kids and cultures in my job as an international schoolteacher and ex pat blogger. I suffered from writer’s angst about my upcoming memoir publication. I missed my homeland, friends, and family, including both Big Kids now living in the States. Like the November weather outside my window, a dense fog settled in my soul. Then I received an unexpected gift – the Written Acts of Kindness Award – from a friend I have never met personally.
Kathy and I took Dan Blank’s Build Your Author Platform Course in 2011. Now we follow each other all over cyberspace! Kathy is a grandma on the go, retired family nurse practitioner, cancer survivor and inspiring writer, whose strong faith and sense of purpose comes through admirably on her blog site, Memoir Writer’s Journey. She is working on a memoir about the power of hope through her faith in God.Read more→
As soon as I was old enough to walk, I was off running. Before racing was fashionable for females, I dashed around the block of old East 19th Street neighborhood. In the winter, I ran circular laps around Jefferson, the first round school in town. In Jr. high, the coach let me run cross-country with the boys. In high school, when the law finally mandated equal opportunities for girls, I joined the track team.
Though my running days are long gone due to injuries, much to my delight my niece Marie was a runner. Though she no longer belongs to a team, she still enjoys a good race. Every July she competes in the Warrior Dash, a fun run where 600 runners lined up every half hour from 8am to 5 pm all weekend.
Her dad, Dick, a heart attack and cancer survivor, dedicated to fitness, joined her. After surgery in April to remove cancerous thyroid tumor, his goal was to run the Warrior Dash with his daughters. This type of cross-country run was fitting for his younger daughter, Hannah, a two time state championship rugby player, because it included army crawls and obstacles climbing.
Dick Carlson & John Pupkes coached daughters in team sports
The five-K run set on a ski slopes at Afton Alps Ski Resort in Minnesota was mostly uphill. Every 100 yards, an obstacle including a ten-foot high wall, had to be scaled by rope. Dick, ever the gentleman, sat on top of the wall to help women struggling to swing their bodies over the barrier. Then as soon as the contestants’ feet hit the ground, they crawled under barbed wire through mud.
“It gets tougher as you go cause your body is weighed down in muck,” Dick said, “and your feet slip and slide.”
But for Marie, a recent college graduate, the whole experience is “fun, fun, fun!”
To add to the gaiety, many competitors dressed in costume. At the end of the race, runners hosed off the mess and enjoyed a beverage, which for many was beer. Food booths sold chicken wings, turkey legs and hot dogs adding to the carnival atmosphere.
“Wear old clothes cause you’ll throw everything away,” Dick said, “except your shoes which are donated to charity.”
The entrance fee was $50 and competitors went home with T-shirts, buffalo warrior hats, participation medals, heads filled with pride and hearts bursting with joy.
“This year was better than last cause my friends ran,” Marie said, “ and so did my pops and sister!”
Thanks to Title IX dad coached daughters in soccer
According to the fifty-six year old dad, “It takes a lot of upper body strength to climb over obstacles and the run uphill was much harder than I expected!
But Marie, insisted, “It was awesome! I can’t wait till next year!
If you love to run and roll in mud, check out this site http://www.warriordash.com/ to find the Warrior Dash in your area. Hit the treadmills and pump that iron! Work it this winter, so you can roll with the warriors next summer!
I always wanted to belong to a writer’s group, yet never felt I had enough talent to write nor stayed in place long enough to join. But when I moved abroad, Internet made everything possible; I have discovered hundreds of people out there driven to make a difference by sharing their journey and inspiring others through words. Serendipity of cyberspace.
From my blogging buddy, Kathy Pooler in Virginia, I met Sonia Marsh on the Californian coast. Sonia Marsh is known as a gutsy lady who can pack her carry-on and move to another country in a day
I am honored to have the opportunity to present Sonia Marsh in a Meet and Greet! And while you are still in the voting mode, please hop over to Gutsy Living and vote for my story.
As a teacher, mom and ex-pat, I know the perils of living outside one’s passport country and the challenges of parenting, I marvel at your guts. Before you recount your year in Belize, could you give readers a brief background of your nomadic childhood?
My first adventure started at the age of three months, when my Danish mom and English dad decided to raise me in Nigeria, a country in West Africa. There I grew up with a Great Dane to protect me from the occasional thief who broke into our family’s colonial house outside Lagos.
When I was six, we moved to Paris, and three years later, my parents sent me alone on a plane from Paris to Los Angeles to visit my cousins. I knew from that day on that I would live in California one day. After boarding school and University in the U.K., followed by internships and jobs in Glasgow, Brussels, Strasbourg and Paris, I wanted to see life in the U.S.
In 1983, I moved from Paris to California. I was twenty-five and knew I wanted to marry an American. At age 13, I was fascinated by NASA astronauts, and fell in love with their rich, deep voices. I knew I would marry an American man with an astronaut voice. I met my husband, Duke, in a “gutsy” way: I responded to an ad in a magazine. I fell in love with his voice first.
I’ve lived in Orange County, California since 1983, except for the year we uprooted our family and took our three sons to Belize, Central America.
Making any move with children is challenging, especially in the teenage years, what compelled you to do this?
Many things, all building up to a point where my husband and I couldn’t wait to leave Orange County’s
comforts and move to a hut on stilts in Belize. My husband was overworked and fed up with Los Angeles’ gridlocked freeways. He longed for adventure. I was fed up with our oldest son’s teenage defiance, peer pressures facing him, and the entitlement attitude of kids in our neighborhood. And lastly, I was selfish and wanted my own Caribbean paradise.
Did your boys continue academic programs during their time in Belize?
Our initial plan was to send our three sons to the local school in Corozal, northern Belize. All the guidebooks mentioned how good the schools were in Corozal, however, when we purchased the high school English language book, here’s what happened. (Excerpt from my memoir.)Read more→
When my daughter was born in Paris on a cool October day nearly three decades ago, I prayed for the strength to help make her resilient. No easy task as I was still enduring chronic pain from a car accident and I would be raising her in France in a cross-cultural marriage. As she grew, I dreamed of watching her run, jump and play. Like my dad once taught me, I showed her how to shoot baskets in the driveway and before long I was following her to games in the French and then later Swiss club leagues.
playing ball in apartment in Paris
When Nat entered the international school, I coached her and her friends. Every time she came out of a game pouting about an elbow to the face or knee in the back I encouraged her to brush it off and get back in the action.
Was I pushing her too hard or not enough?
When I had her play one-on-one against a boy and he accidentally broke her ankle, I could’ve kicked myself. I always pressed the limits. Nat played with exercised induced asthma, so I subbed her out of games, insisting, “Breath, Nat, breath. But tell me as soon as you can go back in.”
In all fairness, what coach likes their 6’2” center to sit out? After all, I had been raised by get-up-and-walk-it-off father and grandfather coaches.
I never knew if what I said made sense to a girl growing up in Europe where the emphasis is less about winning and more about participating. What good were my lessons?
However after shining in the Swiss basketball league, as a freshman Nathalie moved to the States and as a college freshman played in the DIII Final Four tournament for University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point under Shirley Egner, who became the most decorated coach in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC).
mom & daughter share triumph & defeat
The final game of Nat’s career ended in an upset. The athlete in her collapsed, but her fighting spirit will remain in the gym, another brick in the wall, forming the foundation of UWSP Pointer’s tradition. That athlete kicked the bleachers and cried in the shower, but the scholar in her rose early the next morning to ace the biochemistry exam.
I who once majored in “basketball,” floundered, searching for a career. So driven by my obsession with the game, I was lost when I could no longer play. My daughter knew instinctively that brains would outlast the body. Four days, after the disappointing end to her basketball career, Nat nailed her interview gaining admittance to the University of Minnesota Medical School.
But I will always remember that night when we stumbled off the purple and gold court at UWSP. I slipped my right arm around her waist as she draped her left arm over my shoulders. She leaned on me for support and I clung to her waist for balance; where my strength ended, her courage began. I drew on her calm, logical ability to see the big picture; she relied on my humor and spunk to make it through the moment. I marveled at her ability to memorize the chemical compositions of molecules, she admired my tenacity to keep fighting each day faced with debilitating pain. We are tougher, more resilient, and more compassionate because of each other.
When I was a child, women had no more chance of playing pro basketball than being CEOs, neurosurgeons or college professors. Yet during her college career, Nat guarded the superstar of Milwaukee School of Engineering, a woman whose job at NASA awaited her graduation. Nathalie became the first international player in the WIAC to receive the Scholar Athlete Award (2006-2007). She juggled the demands of academics, college basketball, and dual nationality, crossing between cultures. And in 2011 she took the Hippocratic Oath at University of Minnesota Medical School to become the first doctor in the family.
Today Dr. Lechault uses that same tenacity she learned on the basketball court to work incredibly long hours teaching adolescents good health habits, answering a pager in the middle of the night, calming distraught parents, and making tough, split second decisions in her work as a pediatrician. Happy Birthday, Nat, and hey, thanks for listening!