Wednesday April 26, 2017

I listened to an interview this week with Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook executive and author of "Lean In", who lost her husband suddenly two years ago. She and psychologist Adam Grant have written a book "Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy" and her interview struck me to my core.

It reminded me of so many feelings from the early days and feelings I still have today. Guilt over feeling happy, anger that never goes away, the permanence of the loss. But good feelings, too - resilience, perspective, compassion and gratitude.

It reminded me to take stock of where we've been and where we've managed to go. Option B is a perfect title. We all have grand plans for our lives and we think we know what's ahead. Then the world turns upside down. When option A no longer exists, what do you do? How do you reset your vision?

We all face adversity and deal with grief in our lives. And when those we love are dealing with grief, often, we don't know how to help them. Sandberg and Grant share words of wisdom.

Take a listen:


Sunday April 23, 2017

Ahhh, the sunshine and some down time does wonders for the soul. We have had a weekend at home, time with friends, time on the golf course and a few home cooked meals. Good to slow things down every once in a while.

Erin, however, does not let any moss grow under her feet. She is back to full time driving, still in the Lincoln, but we are hopeful that the RAV will be done this week. She is driving herself to school, to golf practice, to volunteering, to friend's houses, and to half price apps at Applebees.

Yesterday, she went to the golf course to practice, then to the Mayo HS baseball game, then to see her volleyball teammate in the prom grand march at St. Charles, came home briefly and changed, then off to the Mayo lacrosse game and over to friends houses after that. In true teenage fashion, she arrives home just in time for her curfew. As it should be, I suppose.

We are in the push to the end of the school year now. Overlapping golf and volleyball seasons continue. This week will have two golf meets followed by three days of volleyball next weekend. I need to stay young and in shape to keep up with Erin. (Let's be honest, I am neither!)

This warm spring weather is one of my favorite times of year. The promise that it brings - new blooms, better days ahead - is a metaphor for life. You weather the rough stuff and keep the faith that the tide will turn.

Saturday April 15, 2017

The emotions of this week have just about done me in. Last weekend involved a 5am trip to LaGuardia airport. Waiting stand-by for a flight, and making it home just in time for Erin to play in her volleyball tournament. Uff da.

Monday was Erin's 16th birthday and the long awaited driver's test. Erin might be the last junior at Mayo High School who didn't have her license. I was about as nervous as I've ever been, wanting so badly for her to gain this right of freedom. She passed and we celebrated over bagels before she took me and Dan home and drove herself to school. Oh, the joy!

Dan's car - the Toyota RAV - was passed down to Erin with160,000 highway miles that Dan put on it in the last 5 years. Dan's company car is arriving soon. Perfect timing.

I was especially pleased when I didn't have to pick her up from volleyball on Monday night at 9:30! Or, pick her up from school in time for her golf meet on Tuesday. I wasn't worried a bit as I was confident in her skills. She is a good driver. All was right in the world.

Wednesday afternoon was an early release from school. Erin was headed out to lunch with her friends. On the busy road outside Mayo HS, Erin was waiting to make a left turn, with traffic backed up behind the turn lane. A teenage boy in a pickup truck with "redneck" written across the front (yes, I'm judging) was either distracted, going too fast or both. The front of his truck had a hitch on it for a snow plow and that hitch slammed not into Erin's bumper but into the back gate of the RAV, crumpling the door and shattering the windshield. Erin said "I could see him coming and knew he was going to hit me. I just braced for impact". In my 30 years of driving, I've never been in an accident that violent.

The call I got made my heart sink. I arrived on the scene and we called the cops. Luckily, everyone had insurance. Erin was OK, she was alone in the car and had her seatbelt on - a little whiplash, a sore shoulder from the seatbelt and a lot of fear.

Our insurance agent is confident that the boy's insurance will cover our deductible and repairs. In a rear end crash, it almost always works that way. Our insurance rates will not be affected. Erin was not at fault.

We drove her to and from school the next day, but by Friday she was ready to get behind the wheel again. Her car is now at the body shop and we have a rental, covered by insurance. Of course, a teenage girl can't drive the rental, so Erin is now driving the mom car, my Lincoln. She might be the youngest person in America driving a Lincoln MKX!

But now, I'm a nervous wreck when Erin's out there driving. I now imagine the Mayo HS parking lot and surrounding roads as a real live version of Mario Kart. The first two days I was fine, confident, happy for her to have her independence. Now I can't relax until she is home safe and sound. She had a midnight curfew last night. I was wide awake when she came in at 11:55.

I know it's almost a rite of passage to have your first accident when you are a new driver. Usually it's a bump on the fender, not whiplash and a shattered windshield. Damn.

Dan and I were talking this morning about the highs and lows of life. Parenting is hard, and I wonder if we want so badly to have the highs after experiencing the lows. Are we searching too hard for those feel good moments?

Today is a reminder of what we have endured as parents. Today is diagnosis day, April 15.

6 years ago, we were told that Shannon had a brain tumor and that there was little we could do about it. We did what we could, but still lost her. The rest of our parenting moments are framed by that event. This life had a random element to it and some things are out of our control.

Our kid getting in a car crash but not getting hurt? That's nothing in the grand scheme of things, right? But that's not fair to Erin. The car crash this week was traumatic, and Erin shouldn't have to live under the shadow of "there are worse things in life." Erin's allowed to have her own tragedies.

But, we are thinking of Shannon on this day. Remembering how she handled her diagnosis with grace and determination. When life throws me a curveball, I can only hope to do the same.

Friday April 7, 2017

I had hoped to be writing you from our flight home today, but, the best laid plans sometimes go awry. Delta has cancelled hundreds of flights up and down the east coast and we are caught in the backlog. Our  10 am flight is cancelled and they haven't found a flight with room for us yet. So, it looks like another day in NYC. There are worse places in the world to be stuck - like the Atlanta airport. That's where Dan spent the night last night trying to get home from Jacksonville. He has arrived back in Minneapolis now, 24 hours late.

Erin thinks this is a good test of my ability to go with the flow. Ha, I'll show her! Actually, I have been good on this trip - even spontaneous by my standards :)

We arrived Tuesday (almost 90 minutes late) so didn't have time to go to our hotel prior to our first college tour. No worries, we just took our luggage in a taxi right to Wagner College on Staten Island and did our first ever college tour. After the tour, we hauled our luggage on the Staten Island Ferry, transferred to the 1 Subway line, got off at 50th street and walked - luggage and all - 4 blocks to our hotel. How's that for flexibility?!?!

Day two involved a trip out to Long Island to visit Hofstra University. Getting there involved walking to the Times Square station, taking the Subway to Penn Station, then taking the Long Island Railroad to Hempstead, NY, and jumping on the shuttle for the mile trip to the school. Then plan was to do the same on the way back, but when we arrived at Penn Station, we decided to stop for burgers and shakes at Shake Shack. While standing in a packed restaurant to eat, the guy next to us asked "Do you know what time the doors open for the concert?" Erin asked "What concert?" "John Mayer is here at Madison Square Garden tonight". MSG is located right above Penn Station.

So, Erin talked the new and improved spontaneous Jen into trying to get tickets. 15 minutes later we were through security and at the box office finding out that there were a handful of tickets remaining.


It was a great show in one of the greatest arenas in the world. Check that off my bucket list. 

Yesterday's adventure involved walking 4 blocks to the F train, riding it for 30 minutes out to Queens, getting off at 169th Street, then taking the Q-30 city bus to St. John's University. We toured on a rainy day but still got to see the campus and get a feel for the school.

On our way back to the hotel yesterday, we decided we'd grab a pizza and take it to the room to eat and watch the Masters for a little down time. Angelo's Pizza, located right next to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert was the closest pizzeria to our hotel. We sidled up to the bar and ordered a pizza to go. Just minutes later, a crew guy comes in and says "We'll be in for the photo shoot in just a minute". Next thing you know, I'm shaking Stephen Colbert's hand and photo bombing his shoot.


Last night - which we thought would be our last night - we had tickets to see Waitress on Broadway. The musical was written by Sara Bareilles and just last week, she started a turn starring in the show. Erin is a big fan and we both loved the show.


This trip has solidified Erin's wanderlust. She can see herself here, potentially at the schools we visited. We're not done looking by any means, and NYC isn't the only potential choice, but it is on the top of her list. I am coming to grips with the idea that she's going to have more of her own life soon that doesn't involve me on a day to day basis. I know it's still a year and a half away, but I'll need all that time to prepare.

I know it's as it should be. This is normal for kids to grow up, start expanding their horizons, go to college, make their own life. Normal doesn't mean easy, though.

Today we will work on getting back to MN. Erin is suppose to be playing in a volleyball tournament tomorrow at 2:30pm in the Twin Cities... The adventure continues...

Wednesday March 29, 2017

The Facebook flashback have been particularly poignant this week. If you're an FB'er, you know the ones. "On this day 6 years ago..."


I feel like the flashback should say "On this day 6 years ago, you had no idea what life would hold for you." or "In this picture you had no idea that all hell would break loose two weeks later."

That spring break 6 years ago, we took Shannon and Erin to NYC and Washington, DC for the first time. Shannon was 12, Erin was 9. I loved planning our perfect family vacation for our perfect little family. Nothing would ever be "perfect" again.

We came home from that spring break, Erin turned 10, and Shannon was diagnosed. I don't need pictures to remind me of those days. It's burned into my memory in a way I'll never forget.

I shared Shannon's story with some new people this week as the Mayo Girls Golf season has kicked off. At the parent meeting, we always share information about our golf fundraiser with the new families. I wasn't very smooth when I talked about Shannon. Tears were close. Sometimes it just hits me like that.

I guess there's some comfort in that. Knowing that the wound never completely heals. Shannon lives on deep in the pain of these memories. Day-to-day life goes by without really "feeling" sometimes. Maybe that's self preservation. Maybe it's lack of attention to detail. Either way, the pictures this week are conjuring up the memories and I am feeling them deeply.

Next week is spring break again. Erin and I are headed to NYC. We've never done a mother/daughter trip, so we're both really looking forward to it. It's a college visit/16th birthday adventure.

6 years ago, I never imagined that I'd be taking that 9 year old to look at schools. 6 years ago, I didn't know that 9 year old would be my one and only.

Erin has persevered better than we could have hoped or imagined. She has goals and dreams and she's working towards them. I'm glad she didn't give up when her world was turned upside down at age 10. Erin will live with the loss of Shannon longer than any of us. She deserves the world. I hope we can help deliver it.

Wednesday March 22, 2017

There have been some sure signs of spring this week, and not just on the calendar where is says "First Day of Spring"!

The eagle has been flying down out street again this week, heading to the reservoir to hunt for dinner. It makes us wonder if there are babies in the nest this year. Sunny barks at the eagle as it flies overhead. It makes us smile every time.

I also know spring is here because the Mayo Girls Golf season began yesterday. We had our first team meeting and it's always fun to see the girls again and meet the new ones. We have a roster of 25 this year, including 9 new faces, so that's fun. Erin is a captain again this year and I will have the opportunity to be a volunteer coach.

Each year when we start the season we have a meeting the first day. It's a chance to lay out the team rules and talk about the upcoming season. That also includes talking about MGG Swings for Shannon, our annual fundraiser. Each year I tell a new group of girls about Shannon and her short time on this earth. Yesterday, I brought copies of the book for anyone who wants to read about our journey with Shannon. When I look at the pictures of Shannon the day she played in a JV golf meet, she looks so little. I guess she was.

To accommodate the golf schedule, I will start my workdays a little earlier so I can finish and be done in time for practice. I'm so grateful to have this opportunity and to have a job that allows flexibility. The time with Erin here at home seems to be flying by now. I can't believe it, really. Next week, 3rd quarter of her junior year will come to a close and then we're off on some college visits. How did this happen to my little girl?

I know I've contemplated this here before, but I think I need to keep saying it over and over in preparation for the changes ahead. So, thank you all for being my sounding board!

I feel like Erin's independence carries extra weight because of Shannon. I know that's not fair to Erin, but it's a reality. We are only going to have a new driver in the house one time. We are only going to go through the college choice process one time. Etc... These are big milestones and I have to enjoy the process and not let my mind jump ahead, which is not always my strong suit.

So, we carry on working our way to the end of March. Life is good on Willow Lane. I continue to remind myself to enjoy the moments, stay in the present and appreciate the hear and now. I hope you all can do the same.

Thursday March 16, 2017

This week is flying by as I'm catching up from being gone for a few days last week. My trip to Palm Springs with my girlfriends was lovely, just as I had imagined. Strong coffee in the morning, tennis and sunshine and good conversation day and night. Three days of fun and friendship. I did manage to see my boy Roger Federer practicing. He looks just as good in person.

I came home just in time to see the latest 6 inches of snow fall, and to go shopping for a prom dress. This was my first time - ever - shopping for prom. I never went, and, of course, Shannon didn't get the chance. Sunday, during the snowstorm, Erin and I spent 5 hours looking for just the right dress. Dan thought we were crazy. Some things dads just don't understand. Mission accomplished and Erin looks beautiful in the one she chose.

Today, March Madness begins - the NCAA basketball tournament kicks off and will dominate the sports landscape the next three weeks. Dan, Erin and I have filled out our brackets. Always fun to try to guess better than the next guy. And, the MN Gophers are in the tournament this year, so we have a rooting interest.

It's also fun to look at the names of all the colleges and universities participating as it's a reminder of the endless possibilities out there for the kids who are beginning this journey. Erin's senior friends are down to crunch time and making their college choices and Erin and her junior friends are just beginning the college process.

Sports, as you know, is a common topic of conversation in our household. Say what you want about organized sports and crazy parents, but I still think the pros outweigh the cons. Erin's volleyball team this year has 11 girls from 8 different schools who are learning to play together, win and lose together, and support each other no matter what. Those lessons will serve these girls well in the coming years as they learn to live with roommates and advocate for themselves when mom and dad aren't at their side.

Erin's sports life will get even busier starting next week as the high school golf season begins. The first month of the season in Minnesota involves hitting golf balls indoors, but Erin and I are both excited to get the season started. I am lucky enough to get to be a volunteer coach again this year.

We graduated 11 seniors, so our team will have some new faces this year. The first golf meet is scheduled for April 11. Hopefully, the snow will be gone by then!

Dan's travels took him to Wisconsin this week and it just so happens that the Gophers play in Milwaukee this afternoon, so Dan is able to take some customers to the game.

This weekend will take us to the cities for a volleyball tournament. This will be a chance for Grandma and Papa Harkins to see Erin play as the tournament is right in their backyard.

All is well in our world.