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Basketball, shopping for colleges, and the impending empty nest

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Basketball, shopping for colleges, and the impending empty nest

Even dedicated activists need to take a break once in a while. In case you haven’t noticed, no one can go at it 24/7 without suffering from major burnout. I liken the struggle for change to a marathon, rather than a sprint, and urge all concerned citizens out there to pace yourselves. (Otherwise, your effectiveness will be very limited and you will soon have to drop out of the race. And that would be a terrible waste because we badly need each and every one of you.)

I’m happy to report that I was able to take my own advice and recently treated myself to a much-needed break. I attended a basketball tournament in New York City that my son participated in. He and his teammates, two coaches and a pair of chaperones traveled from suburban Chicago for this high school competition that included eighteen teams from all over the country. It was the first time that Mick’s school had been invited. CJHS is quite small and only around seven years old but the administration, joined by several incredibly generous souls, kicked in over $7,000 to make this happen. That is really quite amazing and wonderful and I simply didn’t want to miss out. So, I decided to tag along.

The trip coincided with my birthday; that plus the fact that this was Mick’s swan song clinched the deal. I’ve very much enjoyed following my son’s basketball career and I wasn’t ready to let it go a minute sooner than absolutely necessary. Another bonus was the fact that I could stay with my dear friend in nearby Teaneck. All in all, it was a great idea with lots going for it. And, in case it felt too self-indulgent, I was able to conveniently combine the tournament with visiting a few colleges in the general vicinity that Mick was interested in.

In the name of closure, I want to tell you a little about what it was like to go on this school trip and the private jaunt that followed. Not all of us are as compulsive as I am and I fully acknowledge that as a good thing. Turning my mind off from constantly obsessing about the state of our elections is not a task easily accomplished. Friends and family can certainly attest to that. Being in the middle of this never-ending primary season with November looming has not helped settle my nerves, either. But, somehow, miraculously, I was able to switch hats from concerned citizen to doting sports mom and parent of prospective college student and pretty much tune everything else out. For nine days, I was virtually cut off from email and news coverage, partly by necessity, partly by design. I chose not to listen to the news, only scanning The New York Times sporadically the few days I was in New Jersey. For the most part, I just floated along in my bubble, fully engrossed in basketball, my son, and his team.

It was great! I highly recommend it. I was also motivated to tag along on this trip because very soon, my husband and I will be empty nesters. This is a bittersweet time, full of promise but also those tangled emotions that we try not to examine too closely: ambivalence, sadness, projected loneliness, and inevitable feelings of abandonment. This was probably the last road trip that Mick and I will take before he heads off to school and I wanted to savor it – I anticipated many opportunities for unforced conversation on the long drives from New Jersey to upstate New York and then down to Maryland.

Again, life upstaged my well-laid plans. Mick developed a bad cold on the trip and, after the grueling basketball schedule, was just plain worn out. Instead of those heart-to-heart talks I was salivating over, I was treated to a backdrop of nasal snores as I attempted to navigate through rainstorms and unfamiliar territory. The good news is that this technophobe became very attached to the GPS system we named Madge. She talked me through the trip. The screen was inconveniently located down where the cup holders reside, making sneaking a peek while driving challenging and potentially dangerous. With a sleeping hulk beside me, I had no choice but to rely on Madge to get us safely to our destination. She performed quite well for the most part, with only a few screw-ups – like when she announced a turn a little too precipitously or simply too late, giving me more ‘opportunities’ to explore the countryside while my son slept on.

In my college years, I was an avid driver, often criss-crossing the country on my own with nothing more than my good sense and some maps from AAA. Once, I drove straight from western Massachusetts to Chicago, arriving around 3 a.m. At that point, my car conked out a few feet off the highway exit ramp. I hitched a ride with a Wells Fargo truck driver and arrived home safe and sound. To be perfectly honest, I would not sleep a wink if I thought that any of my kids were pulling stunts like that. My mother was a trooper, though she was clearly mortified. She was able to derive some comfort in the fact that at least I had a canine travel companion. These days, long drives no longer hold the appeal they once did; I’m not as young, rested or resilient as I once was - who is? – but seeing as this trip didn’t easily lend itself to multiple plane rides, drive we did.

While activism and my work at OpEdNews were tucked well into the background on this trip, that aspect of my life did make itself felt a couple of times. In Maryland, we stayed with my old/new friend Arlene, whom I had previously known only through email. I finally got a chance to meet her just a few weeks ago when I came to DC for this year’s Take Back America conference and she invited Mick and me to stay with her this time around. We took her up on her offer and had a great time together, schmoozing while we explored the University of Maryland and American. Now, I feel like I’ve known her forever. One evening, we got into a discussion about electronic voting with her boarder, Arthur. My son politely excused himself and went upstairs. This stuff is old hat to him and I really didn’t resent his reaction. Actually, I preferred it to his sitting there, bored out of his mind. This way, we could continue our discussion without feeling constrained. But other than that conversation, the entire week was pretty much an election-free zone, just what the doctor ordered.

While I traveled, I made a conscious effort to leave the activist part of my life behind. But, coincidences involving familiar faces from home made me think that anyone who thinks that he can totally escape from the past even while on the road should get his head examined. Two examples.

While at the University of Maryland, we checked out their Hillel ( a national Jewish student organization) and when we were asked where we were from, we mentioned Skokie. While most people have heard of Skokie because of the infamous Nazi march many years ago, it is actually home to only around 60,000 residents. The staff mentioned that, not five minutes before, someone else from our hometown had stopped by. We discovered that not only did we know Rebecca, but she and Mick went to grammar school, middle school and camp together. Neither of them knew that the other was there.

Since Mick was feeling so lousy, we decided to cut short our trip and headed to Reagan in search of an earlier flight. Our potential standby flight was at Gate 28. We got to the end of the terminal and saw many gates, among them 27 and 29, but no 28. As we gazed around in consternation and confusion, we saw an old family friend, also from Skokie, who was returning to Chicago after visiting his grandparents in Florida. He used to baby sit for Mick, and later they were in the same carpool for a while. They really enjoy one another’s company and had a lot to catch up on. If we had come to the airport for our regular flight or had located Gate 28 the first time around, we would never have found him. It’s a small world, indeed, full of strange and wonderful coincidences.

In all likelihood, my son will become a Maryland terrapin. I wasn’t familiar with this particular mascot and at first found it a little strange – and, dare I say wimpy? – being used to more macho figures such as tigers, wolverines, badgers, hawks, eagles, lions, and the like. But, as I gave it more thought, I was reminded of Aesop’s familiar tale of the tortoise and the hare. That brings me back to my opening thoughts about activism being akin to running a marathon and the need to adjust to that steady but slower pace. The tortoise’s ultimate victory perhaps bodes well for those of us who are working hard to bring about change.

I was sorting through stacks of papers yesterday and came across a Christmas card that Merry, my friend and fellow activist, sent me. On it she inscribed: “Wishing your family all the blessings of the holiday season – and in the new year a political outcome that will revive our spirits and make us proud of our country again.” The political outcome she wrote about is not the election of a specific candidate; she was referring to the reinstating of an electoral system that invites all eligible voters to exercise their sacred right and duty, and assures that each vote has been counted as cast. That is a worthy goal that will remain unfulfilled long after this particular election cycle has run its course.

So, before I head back to the frustrating world of electronic voting machines, voter suppression, voter caging, and numerous other strategies that keep voters from being able to vote, I want to acknowledge how grateful I am for this wonderful interlude filled with the joys of motherhood and camaraderie. The trip wasn’t restful, but it was a break and probably as close to a vacation as I’m liable to get for the time being. I’m cautiously optimistic that I was able to recharge my batteries a bit and can return to my work renewed and invigorated.

I seem to have forgotten all about Passover, which is fast approaching, ready or not.  Oops!

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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