When you screw things up…

I am sitting here with my daughter and one of her friends and volleyball team-mate in our motel room in Herkimer NY.  Herkimer is a little town near Utica in Central New York.  I guess it is most famous for the Herkimer diamond minds, a place where you can go and chip on rocks and come home with some pretty crystals.  Many of us who live in Central New York and have children have some of these famous “diamonds” somewhere in our house.  My son brought some home to me when he came here with a friend one Summer day.  He had a great time and that was when I learned of Herkimer NY.  I have no idea where those crystals are today.  I never thought back then that I would be here today nor that I would be coaching a girls volleyball team who is playing in their second tournament tomorrow.

Our first tournament was two weeks ago.  It was not only our first tournament but it was my first time as head coach and my first time participating in any tournament, ever.   My assistant coach wasn’t able to be there.  I really had no idea what I was in for.  Within a few minutes everything that was happening seemed as though it was coming at me at a hundred miles an hour.  Girls asking if they could go do their hair, referees asking me who the captain of the team was, scorekeepers asking for the line up and at the same time I needed to get the team on the court and warm them up for the game…. warm up?  What should I do.  Right then without looking up, in my mind’s eye I took in the rest of the coaches and their teams and they all seemed so cool and collected.  Doing warm ups, handing in their line ups, they all seemed to be handling everything with ease and familiarity and some of them were looking at me… That was when the panic began to hit.

Panic is a funny thing.  For me it seems to follow a thought.  There I was balancing, it all like a juggler at the circus, (except they skillfully make mistakes) and then wham, this thought runs across my mind that everyone else has it under control and I don’t and they are watching me! . . . . PANIC button!

Well, I made it through the day, I must say thanks to my generous husband who I recruited to help me after our second game. The number of mistakes I made is beyond being able to count but I also learned more about coaching in one day than I had learned in the several months prior.

I learned that I without the girls clearly knowing what I expect of them, they don’t have a place to measure themselves in how they are doing.  I also don’t have something to hold them to.

I learned that I am coaching the girls, not their parents.  I respect their parents yet they may or may not understand what it is that I am doing as a coach.  Having clear expectations of the parents and a clear statement of who I am and how I coach and what they can count on is important.

I learned how to substitute players, correctly 🙂

I learned all the particles that I have to manage in a day-long tournament.  Score keeping, line and down reffing, line up for each game, substitutions, breaks …and so much more.

When we met before this first tournament I talked to the girls about going beyond where they know that they can go.  I challenged them saying that them going beyond what they think is possible is what I wanted for them for that weekend.  I hadn’t thought that in challenging them that I was also challenging myself.  I had forgotten that when you set a bar for those that you are teaching or coaching or training that you also set a bar for yourself.  Set the bar I did.

Well, here I am heading into tournament #2 with these same girls and I am a different coach.  I have the line up for every game set, I have the working schedule set, I have the expectations written and ready to hand out and I have given parents the responsibility of making sure that their players eat and drink water on our breaks.  I have recruited Rich, my husband, to be my assistant coach and we have gone over all the play plans and other items so that we are on the same page.  We are ready!  I am ready.

Learn from your mistakes.  That is a sentence that I have repeated over and over to the girls at the last tournament and in our practices.  What really excites me about tomorrow’s games is that I have learned from mine and I can now guide them further into learning from theirs.

Game on.


Reverence for Life

The other afternoon I was driving to pick my daughter up from track practice after school.  We live in a small village in upstate New York and there is no traffic to speak of. This particular afternoon was stupendously beautiful and many young mothers were out walking their babies in strollers and accompanying their young children riding bikes along the main street I take to get to the school.

I slowed as I edged my way past the first Mom and stroller and then, with another car coming from the opposite direction, I had a split moment of trying to figure out the best way to maneuver around the upcoming children on their bikes.  As I slowed to a stop, and waited for the on-coming car to pass I was suddenly struck with how lucky I was to be in my car, stopping for these beautiful children on this amazingly wonderful day and I said to myself, “what if we lived and taught a reference for life.”

As I continued along the road to pick up my daughter I realized that having reverence for life is not just doing what was right so that those children would be safe or making sure that I obeyed the laws of the road or looked socially and/or politically correct.  Instead I was present to the preciousness of life all around me and including me.  Young mothers with their children out on a Spring day, walking in the fresh air teaching their kids to stay on the right side of the road as they wobbled down the street happily being alive and me driving my car happily on my way to collect my daughter.

I loved the early years of my children’s life.   On our walks I would pull my son’s radio flyer wagon down Via delle Mimose, the street we lived on in the Italian countryside.  At first both kids sat inside the wagon and later my son started to ride his “bicicletta di Superman!” and we walked down to the Coffee Bar to get an ice cream for them and an espresso or iced tea for me.  If we didn’t go to the Bar we would go the opposite direction to feed Solero, the horse.  I often wonder if we ever gave Solero a stomach ache for how many apples and carrots we brought him.  Still today, the kids talk about Solero.  Those days are gone.  Life is passing, my children are growing, they and I are fully emersed in their teen years and now I get to see others enjoy their young children and watch as a friend of mine goes through her first pregnancy.  All of this and at the same time observing and supporting my friend Betty as she deals with the reality of being in the nursing home doing daily rehab, fighting courageously to be able to dress and bathe herself as well as get in and out of bed alone so that she can go home.

I am, fifty.  Twenty years ago I was thirty and in twenty years I’ll be seventy.  When I am seventy my son will be thirty-six and my daughter thirty-four.  They will be around the same age I was when I gave birth to them.  Who knows, maybe they will be parents too at that point.  Where will I be?

My yoga teacher said something the other day which I really liked.  “We learn that we are not trying to get connected to nature but that instead, we are nature.”  We are born, we grow, learn and develop and continue doing so through our lives, just like the trees, flowers, animals and all that surrounds us.  Where were we before we came to this earth and where will we go when we leave here is a grand question.  I think it is an important question to consider and to thoughtfully answer for each person individually.  It is important because without an answer that fits for you, that inspires you, your life today is being lived in a context of something other than your answer.

For some the answer of where we came from and where we are going is an inherited answer that others came up with many, many years ago.  For others we are fighting against, or for an answer that resonates with what we truly believe and what makes sense for us.   I find that just asking myself the question and reading, studying and exploring the world and people somehow gives me an answer – today I would say that Reverence for Life is the best way to explain it for me.   So, if I say that it would mean that, we come from reverence and will return to reverence?  Hmm, maybe but what I find really  fulfilling is having reverence today, in this moment while I write this blog, and as I drive down the street and bring my car to a stop so the young children on their bikes can pass.  Maybe we come from reverence, are reverence and will return to reverence.  I think I’ll sit with that one for a while.

Transitions smitions, Enough!

All right, it has been a year now since I resigned from leading The Wisdom Course for Landmark Education.  At first it was such a delightful thing.  My time was once again mine.  And to top it off, my husband had resigned from leading the same course and we were both freed up to do things we hadn’t done before.  We had (and have) a lot more time to be with each other and to do whatever we want to do.

My kids have prospered in this past year.  It was nearly a decade that I had been on the phone a lot, travelling frequently, and occupied by my accountabilities and suddenly I was there and available to them.  It has been good.  They have blossomed and our relationships have become quieter, stronger and I am more in tune with them.

I am thrilled with the difference my being more available to them has made.  My daughter is thriving in school.  She has blossomed into a responsible, self managing teenager.  I just love her and I have grown so much with her in this past year.  And my son, well, he has continued surfing the teen years and is doing it very well.  What I love most about being more available to him is that I am observing him and watching him grow.  He is now pulling more and more for his independence and I am so lucky to be a part of this young man’s life.

As for my husband and I, well we watched the entire Mad Man series, and are looking forward to the season premier later this month, the entire Guardian series and we caught up on a lot of other television.  We go to bed earlier, get up earlier and spend more time together.  That may seem very ordinary, but to us being able to sit on the couch, side by side, with our legs intertwined, holding hands, just being together is like pure decadence.

My house is clean, I do it myself, with the help of my kids on their chore day.  My garden is tended, I am waiting for the plus 700 bulbs I planted last Fall to blossom.  I have connected with friends in my community and have Friday morning coffee with a group of women who are delightful and a lot of fun.  I go to my yoga class three times a week and I am a class advisor for my son’s class.  This Sunday I’ll be coaching the first tournament for my daughter’s club volleyball team for which I am the head coach.   In addition to this, I have been working on completing my degree, though I must admit things in this domain have slowed down over the past few weeks.

It has been a great year of what I would call “down-time” after the years of balancing a family with extensive responsibilities and being available to and leading hundreds of people in their discovery of what matters most to them and then having it happen in their lives.  This year has been a good thing.  It was the right thing to do.  I am stronger, healthier, my family is tighter and calmer.  And yet lately it has all come to a place of “ENOUGH!”  It is time to….   What?  Well, that is the question.  What is it that is next for me?

As a Wisdom Course Leader I remember telling people that answering the question – – what is it that calls you in life?  What is it that touches your heart and while you are doing it time stands still?  Answering that question is something that only the questioner can do.  It is my turn.  Only I can answer that question and *&%$#@ I don’t have an answer!  I have come up with many possible answers which have all fallen flat – – Yoga Instructor, Transform the School’s Athletic Program, Athletic Director, Political activist and more.  Lately I have surfed the non-profit sector and have a couple of speaking engagements and a workshop scheduled to support Volunteer Coordinators in managing their volunteer programs.  That last one is fun and something I am continuing to explore.

I have thought lately of another Landmark course I participated in just before I became a Wisdom Course Leader.  It is called Partnership Explorations.  What I keep thinking of is one specific conversation where Angela (then my course leader, now my friend) said we are going to take you farther and farther away from shore – – where you cannot see land and we will have you become more and more comfortable with being there – in the unknown.  In that moment, as I have shared with many people over the years, I found that statement so unnerving, so threatening that I was ready to leave the course, but I didnt’.  Thanks to my friend Tina, I stayed. And I am glad that I did.  The course and having the skill of being in the unknown has been extraordinarily valuable to me.  But here I am, in my life and I seem a long way away from shore.  Can’t leave, don’t have an answer and I am ready… ready for some excitement, to be swept away by something that touches my heart and lifts me into action.

So… I ask, when will it come?  Some say that there is no answer to that other than it will come when it comes (that has been my answer too).  But somehow, just writing it here helps.  It is good to just say it out loud (even though I am writing to whoever it is that reads this and then, maybe no one will).   I love coaching people, I love leading and performing, I love having my life make a difference for others.  I love being with my children, I love having couch-time with my husband.  I love tending my garden, being with my friends and practicing yoga.  And there is this place in my heart and maybe it is out there somewhere in the eternal or in my connection with all of it that keeps whispering……. But  I just can’t hear it.

You know, today in yoga something amazing happened.  I was doing my handstand practice (I really love that I can say that I can do a handstand, even if it is at the wall) and my teacher Rachel said, look down and press the top of your head into the wall.  I did and in that moment I could pull my feet away from the wall and all that was touching were my hands and the top of my head.  At first I was thrilled.  I did it again and then again.  And then I noticed that my mind couldn’t quite make sense of it – – what just happened somehow, in my mind defied logic.  I was physically able to do something that I had been trying to do for months – – pull my feet away from the wall.  I wonder now, maybe, just maybe that is all that I need.  Maybe I only need to press my head into the wall (instead of beating it) and let my feet move away naturally.  Whatever that means, I am not sure but it is fun to think about it or consider it. 🙂

We’ll see how things progress.  But for now, thank you for reading.  Thank you for listening.

On my drive

I was coming home last night from visiting Betty.  Her rehab in the nursing home is progressing.  She feels better than a week ago, she is getting stronger.  She said it would be a miracle if she can go home by April.  And it will be.

The forty-five minute drive on Ridge Road from Horseheads to Trumansburg is one of my favorite drives.  The rolling fields, old homesteads and barns are breathtaking in every season.  Each time I drive that road I am filled with awe.  Last night it was dark.  I couldn’t see the scenery but the silence of the road, and being the only one on it for at least thirty minutes of my drive was a new, peaceful way to experience this drive I love.

I was listening to satellite radio, as I often do.  I roam the channels. Sometimes looking for relaxing SPA music, sometimes Classic Rock and Roll or varying types of Blues or Jazz.  When my kids are in the car, they take over the roaming duties, looking for current stuff.  I enjoy listening to what they like to listen to.  But last night, I had the channels all to myself.  I came onto a station that was playing songs I listened to as I became an adult.  Back then I thought I was an adult already — but that is another story.  Singing along I noticed how my voice isn’t as good as I used to think it was.  I conversed with myself in my thoughts: “If I took some lessons I could actually be pretty good.”  “Yeah, but not good enough to be a real singer.”  “Agreed.”  Then I continued on down the dark road comfortable yet at the same time pondering over the various conversations I had just had with Betty and her daughter, Nancy.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, family differences, bank accounts, her breathing, doctor’s appointments, Betty needing to advocate for herself when the staff give her meds she doesn’t need, the food being served not being adjusted to someone who is diabetic with high blood pressure, water retention from congestive heart failure and other complications – – last’ night’s meal was a chile dog on a white bun, potato chips, a piece of cherry pie and a small cup of canned fruit cocktail.  Salt, sugar, little to no fiber, how can this be part of a rehabilitating environment?  The issues to deal with when caring for someone elderly you love are great.

All of these thoughts were there, in the background and as always, after my visits with Betty I was poignantly present to the gift that life is and then, an old favorite came on the radio.  “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas.  I turned up the sound and sang along.

“I close my eyes

only for a moment and the moment’s gone.

All my dreams

pass before my eyes of curiosity.”

As I sang I thought about how the moments in my life have come and gone, continually.  I thought of  how sometimes I have thought situations were unbearable or that that they would never pass. I felt trapped.  And then, that too passed.  It all passed.  Everything in my life up to that moment (which has now passed) when I was thinking these thoughts.  And my dreams.  How many I have had and they have come and now passed.  Traveling and living in Europe. Learning Italian, working for the United Nations, becoming a mother – having two beautiful children. Returning to the US.  Loving and caring for my children all the way through the difficulties of my divorce and along the way finding a man that was part of a dream from long ago.  Marrying him, leading transformational programs for hundreds of people, building a beautiful home, returning to school, working with people, making a difference, bringing my voice to issues that really matter to me and to the world.  Being known in my community as a resource. Life is rich and my dreams have been many.  My dreams have been full.  Whatever I have been willing to dream and hold has past before my eyes, I experience it and then… I dream some more.

“Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind.”

Like Betty, someday I will be facing the ending years of my life.  All that she dreamt, like me, has passed before her eyes.  She has had a rich life.  She has loved and been loved.  She has laughed, cried and now she is resting, working on getting stronger so that she can continue to dream.  And then she, like I, will die.

“Same old song

just a drop of water

in an endless sea.

All we do

crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see.”

This was when my eyes teared up, my voice cracking as I continued to sing along. The beauty of life and the slipping nature of how it continues on.  How thinking that what matters is that conversation from a year ago or that thing I need to do next week or next year, when really what matters is this moment right now.  That this moment is a moment well spent.  That we are present, experiencing it, experiencing the love surrounding us, the beauty of the world and the people who are important to us.  That moment passes and then there is the next one.  It is never stopping. Ever.

“Dust in the wind

All we are is dust in the wind.”

Egyptians, Romans, Mesopotamia, Native Americans, grandparents, parents, Betty, me, my children.  All of us.

“Now, don’t hang on.

Nothin’ lasts forever but the earth and sky.

It slips away.

And all your money, won’t another minute buy.”

I had never heard the lyrics this way.  Don’t hang on.  My first thought was Betty.  Don’t hang on.  This moment, right now is passing by.  Another will be here to follow.  Enjoy each moment with her as they pass.  My children, right now are growing, learning becoming more and more independent.  “Don’t hang on.  Nothin’ last forever…”  All of it is changing, moving, slipping by into that next beautiful moment under the sky, on our precious earth.  Money will never change that.

“Dust in the wind.

All we are is dust in the wind.”

It seems to me that being able to come to a place of acceptance of our inevitable death is one of the most empowering things we can do. How to do that is an interesting question.  I am grateful for Betty for many things. One, being that as I walk with her through this phase of her life, she is giving me the gift of cherishing life.  Of cherishing all that I have, all I have done, all that I will do and that in the end, I too will be dust in the wind.  There is something liberating about accepting that.  I am overcome by a sense of  peacefulness, a vulnerability and a deep sense of compassion for humanity.

Hospitalists and whose minding the store of continuity.

Two days ago I assisted in moving my dear friend, Betty from the hospital to the rehab unit of a nursing home.  Betty will be 84 in April.  After nearly four weeks in the hospital moving Betty was a relief yet, it was a sad day.  The nursing home was the last place she wanted to go.  At her age many people don’t come out and she knows that.  But at the same time, with the care she was receiving in the hospital she was not improving.  So we were glad she was moving, in hopes that she would now receive the care she needed to improve.  Time will tell.

I visited Betty nearly every day.  As a close friend I was added to the list of people who could speak to her doctors and who could call to talk to anyone in the hospital about her case.  From the beginning I was vigilant to ensure there was a continuity to her care.  In the ER I made sure that her current list of meds was entered into the hospital system (the last time when she was discharged we were given a list of meds “she had been on when she was admitted” and the list was inaccurate.  So this time, I made sure that the list in the hospital’s computer was updated.

A week after she moved to her room and was treated for an irregular heart beat which peaked with a heart attack, she was still coughing severely, the main problem she came into the hospital for.  Her breathing was stressed and though her heart issues seemed in control, she was not getting better.  After talking to a good family friend who is a  pulmonary specialist I addressed her doctor, who had no pulmonary specialists to work with as the hospital does not employ one.  He agreed to speak with our friend, then ordered some tests and voila’ discovered that Betty was hyperventilating because she was breathing too fast.  She started to seem better as they coached her in how to slow her breathing down and they gave her some anti-anxiety meds.  Things were moving along and all of a sudden, new symptoms and a new doctor.  Those new symptoms got dealt with and a few days later yet more new symptoms arose and we got yet another new doctor.

In the nearly four weeks Betty was in the hospital she had 5 doctors and two specialists working with her.  The specialists were always the same and while the hospital didn’t have a pulmonary specialist, her heart doctor and hemotologist seemed to know what they were doing.

The most upsetting aspect of Betty’s stay in the hospital wasa the constant change of guard and the seemingly lack of turn over from one doctor to the next.  It was us, me and her family, who were the ones who ensured the continuity of care.

I haven’t gone into all of the details of Betty’s care here – – they were numerous and required many meetings with each new doctor, keeping track of what was happening with and for her all the time she was there. What I am left with after this stint of being with Betty and ensuring, as best I could, the continuity of her care is a new view of what it is to be cared for in a hospital – at least in our local hospital  – and from interviewing doctor friends who work in hospitals, it seems to be something that is happening in all hospitals, at least in NY State.

At one point during Betty’s stay, when the change of guard marked a radical change in care and resulted in Betty not getting some of the meds she had been taking as well as breathing treatments which eased her breathing, I called the administration of the hospital and asked to talk to someone.  It wasn’t a complaint about the individual doctors that I wanted to register but instead a concern about the organizational structure the doctors were working inside of. It seems to me that this type of structure – on for 4 or 5 days then off and another doctor takes over, and when the first doctor comes back he/she is not necessarily reassigned the same patients.  The same with the nurses.  Betty had great nurses but she would have one one day and the next that nurse been moved down the hall to new patients.

I expressed my concern to the person who answered the phone in the Administration Office and a few hours later received a call.  My complaint I was passed on to the head of nurses, which made absolutely no sense to me.  I expressed that and he assured me that he was the right person to talk to however, when I started to speak knowledgeably about what was happening to Betty, he didn’t want to talk to me because the slip of paper which had my name on it showing that I was approved to converse on Betty’s behalf, had been thrown away.

With this dilemma, in front of him, he didn’t hear what I was saying and instead defended the doctors and ultimately hung up on me. Well, I did get a little hot under the collar just before he said “I am not going to have you holler at me, I am hanging up on you now.”   He later apologized (once he discovered the missing piece of paper) and listened to what I was saying and suggested I go to the Doctor in charge of all Hospitalists.

All of the doctors and nurses cared about Betty and wanted to provide the best possible care for her.  I think, however the way in which they are scheduled doesn’t allow for THEM to provide continuity of care.  At best they can write good notes and then when they come on duty with a new patient read the notes the last doctor or nurse left very carefully.  That is something but it isn’t reliable.  People get tired, get stressed and forget things. To turn over critical information about patients is something that requires extraordinary skill – – and the amount of turn over being required by these doctors is an added responsibility which, I believe takes them away from what they are there for – – to care for the patient effectively.  To have an environment which allows for the medical staff to excel and be extraordinary doctors and nurses there needs to be a structure that allows them to do that.  This is not it.

Now the question is, what am I going to do about it?  The system is so big and so entangled that I couldn’t possibly understand it all from here – outside as a friend of a patient.  Saying something is really the only action I can take.  Calling the doctor in charge of the hospitalists is a start.  Perhaps a letter to the editor is another step.  The other thing I can do is research where there is a better hospital to plan for any possible emergencies I or my family might undergo – that is for my own peace of mind.  I could do all of these things.

One step at a time, pressed up against the resignation of being able to truly make a difference in such a large and intricate culture of unworkability.  I can chose to step or I can chose to ignore it.  Well, I guess writing this is a step, isn’t it?  A phone call is not a difficult thing to do.

“Hello, may I speak to Dr. Stellone?”