Sunday, July 8, 2012

Of fear and water

The other day my older son Christopher complained that his hands were hurting him. That news didn’t faze me at all because I knew why his hands ached: He spent more than an hour clinging -- with a white-knuckled grip -- to the concrete edge of the pool at my sister-in-law’s house on the Fourth of July. (She and her husband hosted a family get-together, and the pool was the main attraction on a rather sultry day.)

Group swim lessons have helped him a little, but his fear remains. And that fear now seems to be contagious because my younger son Sean is also in full fear mode; he barely left the pool steps and resisted my attempts to help him relax and enjoy the water. Most of the time I was holding Sean, he had a death grip around my neck or arms. I have a few scratches on my back from his frantic attempts to hold onto me.

This summer we hired a babysitter – Michelle, a rising senior at St. Joe’s University who just so happens to be a former lifeguard. Fortunately, my sister-in-law is aware of her nephews’ fear of water, and she has given us access to her pool so Michelle can hopefully help them increase their confidence and comfort level in water.

I used the mantra, “You are tall; you don’t need the wall,” with Christopher while he was in the pool. My rationale was simple: He’s 4 feet, 7 inches tall, and he’s standing in four feet of water. There really was no reason that he couldn’t walk away from the wall – which he did – with encouragement, of course.

Sean, on the other hand, didn’t want to leave the pool steps. He wouldn’t let me hold him because he said he was afraid that I would let him drown. I guess Sean forgot about the time I lifted him up out of two feet of water when he somehow managed to lose his footing and went under water. (All he had to do was stand up – he was 3 feet, 5 inches at the time ‑- but that’s another story.)

So our challenge this summer is daunting but doable: decreasing our boys’ fear of water and increasing their confidence so they can enjoy the water... and feel safe.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sisterly love

This is my first blog post, and I’ve picked Elena Della Donne as my first subject. I didn’t pick her because we share the same name. I didn’t pick her because she’s an All-American basketball player (not to mention an academic All-American).

I chose to write about Elena because of who she is as a person and her actions off the basketball court. She had been a standout player at Ursuline Academy, a private Catholic high school in Wilmington, Del., and received an offer to play basketball at the University of Connecticut, a powerhouse team in NCAA women’s basketball.

She only attended UConn for a short time before deciding to return home to Delaware where she enrolled at the University of Delaware. She had done the unthinkable by walking away from one of the best basketball programs in the country. Nobody could fathom why she abandoned this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. People didn’t understand her actions because they didn’t understand who Elena is as a person.

First and foremost she is a young woman who loves her family and values her relationships with them. Ultimately, she decided that family was more important than winning basketball games, setting records for points scored or being in the bright spotlight at UConn.

What mattered most to Elena was being close to her family, especially her disabled sister Lizzie. Her sister is blind, deaf and doesn’t speak. She knows Elena only by smell and touch. Their sisterly bond is what drove Elena to return home. Elena felt an emptiness without Lizzie and her family nearby.

Elena’s story demonstrates that she values her sister’s life and that Lizzie’s presence is paramount. Elena feels such a strong connection with her sister that she has Lizzie’s name tattooed on the side of her ribcage. Elena will tap the tattoo during a game to remind her of her sister and ask for her help.

Elena’s story and example of love is now more widely known thanks to recent newspaper articles and TV coverage during the NCAA tournament. Her team, the University of Delaware, made it to the tournament and won its first match against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. It was the first time a University of Delaware basketball team had ever won a NCAA tournament game. Unfortunately, the University of Delaware was knocked out by the University of Kansas in the second round, despite Elena scoring 34 points in that game.

I’m sure Elena and her teammates were disappointed, but I have a feeling she was able to take the loss in stride. Why? Because Elena knows her priorities and family will always trump basketball.

Elena is a shining example of someone who loves unconditionally, and she fearlessly shows that love to the world.