Mack Memo #4: Nothin’ You Can Do About It Now

One Sunday many years ago, Mack, her dad, and I headed home from a youth basketball tournament just like we did on so many Sundays during Mack’s competitive basketball career. We passed through the University of Illinois campus, where we had spent the weekend. We traversed nearly the entirety of the twin towns of Urbana and Champaign. We drank leftover Gatorade and engaged in some small talk, perhaps about the basketball facility, a bad ref, or a Mack-crazy assist to one of her favorite inside targets. But soon we settled in for the ninety-minute drive home to Springfield, and then Mack tuned out with her headphones, ear spray wafting up to me in the front passenger seat. It was a typical afternoon in our basketball lives. But as we were cruising at 75 mph on Interstate 74, nearing the town of Monticello, a soft little voice, quiet and matter-of-fact, whispered from the back seat: “Hey, mom, do you have my basketball bag?”

Of course, I did not. Of course, I yelled a few obscenities, demanding answers as to the said bag’s whereabouts. Of course, Mack feigned investigative effort, leaning over the back seat of my Honda Element to search the trunk, but knowing full well that the bag was sitting on the sidewalk outside of the recreational center on the University of Illinois campus, so many fucking miles behind us. As I loudly recited a list of the bag’s contents, offering appraisals as to each item’s monetary value, Mack maintained the resting heartbeat of a person who was sleeping. As I frantically, and maybe even a little hysterically, called coaches who might have stayed behind after we were gone, Mack was cool and composed in the face of the unfortunate situation and in the path of her Momma Bear’s wrath. While I raged at her about responsibility and warned about consequences of the lack thereof, Mack’s easy breathing in the vicinity of my stress over her lost basketball apparel, would have been the envy of even the most secluded Buddhist monk. As she always did in unfortunate situations, Mack remained perfectly relaxed and serene even in the knowledge that she might never again see her beloved and perfectly broken-in Nike high-tops. As she frequently said, and certainly uttered in some form or another on that day as well, “Oh, well,” shoulders shrugging, “nothin’ I can do about it now.”oh-mack

As it turned out, Mack’s basketball bag made its way into the car of a coach of another team who recognized the Predator logo upon it. There was no hard lesson for Mack to learn and, in fact, the good luck only reinforced Mack’s perspective on the whole sordid affair. When the bag with the entirety of its contents returned to her, Mack sweetly reminded me of how much energy I had expended in the car that day. Mack knew that sweating and fretting and carrying on was of no use. It could not change the fact that Mack, distracted by giving hugs to parting competitors and teammates, had left the bag sitting on the sidewalk in the first place. It did not cause a coach who knew Mack’s team to recognize the bag and pick it up for safekeeping. And even if the bag and those beloved Nikes had been lost forever, Mack knew that sweating and fretting and carrying on had no power to change that either.

For years, this Mack story was just one of dozens of illustrations of the peaceful and lackadaisical quality of her nature in striking contrast to the frenetic and worry-wart quality of my own. But during this past year, I have been practicing meditation and the basic principles of mindfulness in an effort to quell my anxiety and to lead my restless mind to some peace. In this personal journey, Mack’s natural sense of peace has been my guide, and this particular Mack story is now an inspirational one for me. Though I am still very much a novice, my practice is beginning to make a positive impact on the health of my mind, I now understand better how Mack possessed such a healthy and happy spirit, and I am finding some clues about how to make my spirit happy, as well. While I know I will never achieve Mack’s level of calm, because of her and with her as my guide, I am working very hard to one day be the kind of person who might inadvertently forget a bag of necessary and favorite items on a sidewalk somewhere and shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well, there’s nothin’ I can do about it now.”

Mack Memo #4: Let it go, people. Relax. Have some Gatorade. Nothin’ you can do about it now.


I Love to Laugh

Writing this blog has been a therapeutic endeavor for me, but it has also been a way for me to share my unique and amazing girl with the world and to keep her spirit alive. Mack and I were close, I knew her very well, and I have been able to share so many stories about her life, her character, her world view, and her zany and charming personality. But I realize that my perspective on Mack and my understanding of her was through the lens of a Momma Bear. Therefore, when I run across an artifact of Mack’s life, I am compelled to share it. And when it comes in the form of Mack’s own words, so much more the better.

Recently, one of Mack’s best friends reminded me of a random Facebook game in which Mack participated back in February 2009 (thanks, Kailey!). It was one of those chain games in which a friend of Mack’s tagged her to “write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals” about herself, and then tag twenty-five people to participate, too. Generally, Mack poo-pooed games like this, and she was very resistant to use social media to call attention to herself. Therefore, it’s quite surprising that she decided to answer this very public request to share personal insights about herself. I have no idea why Mack made this post, but I am thrilled that she did it. It offers one of those precious windows into her soul that has become a priceless artifact of her beautiful life and a sweet treasure for me. When Mack posted these twenty-five random facts about herself, it was 12:35 a.m. on a Saturday night. She was just shy of her fifteenth birthday, a high school freshman in the middle of her first varsity basketball season, well settled in at high school, unusually comfortable in her teenage skin, and already a wise old owl.

Below is Mack’s list of twenty-five random thoughts she offered about herself more than six years ago. I have provided some annotations and a couple of photos to go along with Mack’s words. Coincidentally, I have already featured several of Mack’s random thoughts in previous blog posts (they are hyperlinked) and, no doubt, other items will provide entertaining fodder for future blogs about my Macko. Mack’s wonderful list captures her incomparable humor and charm, offers some honest insights from her heart, and reflects the level of comfort she had with herself at a time when most girls her age are struggling to find themselves and to make their way in the world.

  1. I tend to overthink things. not sure why.
  2. I’m crazy if you know me but quiet if you don’t. [Mack was a little shy around strangers, but that never lasted very long. The close friends she made on the golf course is an excellent example at how quickly her “quiet” faded away.]
  3. I enjoy food. a lot [Oh, Mack, what an understatement!eating 1].
  4. lunch is my favorite [I suspect what she meant by this one is that lunch was her favorite subject at school!]
  5. people say I’m odd, but what do they know =).
  6. Basketball’s chill but it’s not my life [Even though Mack was at the height of her basketball success, making varsity and getting playing time as a freshman, she already knew that basketball did not define her nor did it control her life.]
  7. When I grow up I’m going to have a show on the food network called Mack’s Makin Bacon. I shall be famous [Mack’s love of bacon was legendary, and for a very long time she talked about having this show. A blog post entitled “Mack’s Makin’ Bacon” is definitely forthcoming].
  8. I once had a hamster named Strawberry Fabio McDermott. She died a tragic death. [Strawberry died of wet-tail disease, which is a common ailment in hamsters. Yet, I do suppose her death was kind of tragic, as Mack was so very fond of that little rodent.]
  9. I also had a fish named filis. Her death was similarly depressing. [Mack named a giant carp in our aquarium Phyllis (at least that’s how the Greeks and most other people would have spelled it). During an ice storm one winter when the power went out for several days, we had to leave the house as temperatures dipped below zero. Sadly, we left Phyllis behind, and the poor beloved fish froze to death. Mack was upset with her dad over that one for quite some time!]
  10. I have a pound puppy named Spot that I’ve had since I was two.
  11. I have 2 dogs. One is fat and the other is insanely hyperactive [Napoleon was our fat pug; and Pepper is our crazy Pomeranian]
  12. Stuff doesn’t bother me, I just kinda go with it.laugh
  13. I play golf basketball and softball. I don’t really have a favorite, but I’m best at softball.
  14. I can’t dance, but that doesn’t stop me.
  15. My nails are bright purple at the moment [Mack’s one beauty item was nail polish, and her toes and fingers were always as bright and cheerful as her personality.]
  16. Harry Potter is pretty durn sweet. not gonna lie.
  17. I love to laugh [oh, yes, Mack laughed every day; and she made other people laugh right along with her.]
  18. It takes a while for me to break out of my shell.
  19. I did not enjoy middle school.
  20. When I wake up in the morning, the only thing I want out of life is to stay in bed. [Mack was a professional sleeper…more to come on this topic for sure].
  21. I have 7 pairs of huge sunglasses. They all cost about 5 bucks [Stay tuned for a photo-essay about Mack’s glorious collection of sunglasses.]
  22. Blueberry pomegranate gatorade is disgusting. (that is not really about me, but I just took a sip and thought I should give a warning).super cool 11
  23. My sister’s in Argentina and I am very jealous [Savannah spent a semester studying in Buenos Aires when she was junior at Indiana University majoring in Spanish.]
  24. I watch comedy central, disney, food network, and discovery, and that’s about it
  25. There’s a giant CWLP cone in my room [Mack’s sister stole a giant orange City Water Light and Power caution cone, and when she went away for college Mack inherited it. When we moved to St. Louis, Mack insisted that it come with us. It enjoyed a place of prominence in her bedroom, we have it still, and I will keep it for Mack forever.]

Dreams at 11: Addendum

In my recent “Dreams at 11” blog, I featured a letter that Mack wrote about her basketball dreams. In that letter, she noted that Diana Taurasi was her favorite college and WNBA player. And in the photograph I included of the 11-year-old Mack in front of that giant basketball, she is wearing her Diana Taurasi jersey.

Of course, I had no idea how timely this post would actually be…

Yesterday, the Phoenix Mercury, Diana Taurasi’s team, drafted Mack’s friend and former basketball teammate Alex Harden as the 18th overall pick in the WNBA draft! Mack played recreational ball with Alex and they were teammates at Franklin Middle School. Mack thought the world of Alex as an athlete and as a top-notch kid with a great deal of character. Mack would be absolutely over the moon about this exciting news. Mack’s best friend Justice Collins agrees: “I mean Alex gets to be Diana Taursi’s teammate'” she said, “doesn’t get much better than that. Mack would have been stoked.”

I cannot help but believe that Mack’s spirit will be on the sideline when Alex takes the court for the first time as a teammate of Mack’s childhood idol.

Talk about basketball dreams!

Franklin Team

Congratulations, Alex! I am so proud of you; and Mack would have been so proud of you, too.

Dreams at 11

Among Mack’s school mementos, I found this sealed envelope inscribed in her handwriting:

do not open 2015

A few weeks ago, I opened it. And within it, I found the dreams of an 11-year-old girl written in her handwriting, addressed to her future 21-year-old self:

do not open 2005

4/8/05 I am 11 years old. I am triing out for the Predators B-Ball team I want to go to UCONN, and then play in the WNBA. My idol is Diana taurasi, that’s why I want to play for UCONN. My good friends are Elyse, Ashley, Amy, Nytro, Laura, Maggie, Nell, Bridget, Hana, Sierra, and Elya.

This is just one of those silly school assignments torn out of a printed activity workbook, but it really does capture the brave hopes and wide eyes of my child. It allows me to know Mack’s dreams at a fixed moment in time. At 11. When the most important thoughts in her head centered on basketball and her friends. What a special memento this is to me now. I wonder if Mack would have remembered writing it. Would she have recognized those dreams of her eleven-year-old self?

Mack worked very hard to achieve the innocent goals she had put into this letter, making her first competitive basketball team just days after writing it. After joining the Predators, Mack dedicated the remainder of her childhood to honing her basketball skills and improving her basketball knowledge. She lived her life with a basketball in her hands so much so that it became a natural extension of her. She bounced it at all hours in her bedroom, making us all crazy. She walked everywhere she went with a basketball tucked between her torso and her inner bicep. And on those rare occasions when Mack was standing still, she loved to entertain with her fancy, ball-handling skills, spinning the ball expertly upon her long fingers. For years there was a basketball rolling around in my car, so Mack could seize every opportunity to bounce it, spin it, or shoot it. She lived in basketball shorts, she gave up her evenings and weekends practicing with her team and shooting hoops in the backyard, and she kept her basketball dreams alive. Mack worked hard and sacrificed much, and we spent so many weekends and so many summers driving her all over the Midwest with her competitive teams that it is sometimes hard for me to think of the young Mack as any other than a basketball player.

It is so sweet to me now to know how important it all had been to her at the tender age of 11. When I think of that kid, full of basketball dreams and sporting the apparel and swagger of an athlete, I cannot help but smile. Here she is at the Fieldhouse in Indianapolis one summer weekend when we attended a WNBA game, where she was in awe of Tamika Catchings, the Indiana Fever point guard. In this photo, she is 11, wearing her Diana Taurasi jersey and her Predator shorts and high-tops. She is, indeed, a basketball player.

wnba basketball

gus macker champ

Mack, Mariah Bond, Corrine Brent, and Justice Collins.

Mack played competitive basketball for three very successful competitive traveling teams, playing point guard and winning numerous local tournaments, several regional championships, and one international event. She played in two Gus Macker summer championship title games, winning one and lifting what was always her favorite trophy. It was winning Gus Macker with four of her very best friends that left her with her proudest and happiest basketball memory. Mack did well in school ball, too. She was a two-time all-star player at Franklin Middle School, she earned MVP honors of her 8th grade team, and as a freshman she made varsity at Springfield High School, which went to the Illinois state tournament each of Mack’s four years. Mack had fierce dribbling and ball-handling skills and was a lights-out three-point shooter with a sweet, long stroke. By all accounts, she succeeded in the game. Her hard work served her well.

But like most childhood athletic dreams, Mack’s basketball dreams faded as other interests crowded into her busy life. By her junior year of high school, Mack was losing the desire to put in the hard work needed to play to the best of her abilities, and instead of dreaming of UConn and the WNBA, she was dreaming of college and of her intellectual future. When Mack returned to the Fieldhouse in Indy with her last Predator team the summer before her senior year of high school, she already believed the time was coming for her to leave the game she loved behind her. Posing in the lobby of the arena this time, Mack is 17. This time, that basketball is not quite so big in comparison to my nearly 5’10” girl; nor is it so big in Mack’s more grown-up imagination, either. That weekend tournament was more about hanging with friends than playing ball, more about making memories with her teammates than about improving her jump shot against Indiana’s best players. big bbal with aau team

By senior year, Mack knew in her head and in her heart that she had lost her desire to play competitive basketball, and a tyrannical high school coach made her decision to give up the game even easier. She toyed with playing at Oberlin, a Division III school; but in the end, she was ready to hang up her high-tops and ready to focus on her intellectual skills instead of her dribbling skills. I questioned Mack’s decision to stop playing, and I applied a great deal of pressure on her to make her change her mind. I had a hard time understanding why she would put in the years of hard work and then stop short of playing in college. But I soon realized that Mack was ready for a life without the game, she was dreaming about life without the game, and she was open to a future beyond it. It took me some time, but I ultimately accepted her choice, and I was proud of her for having the courage to make it.

You know, Mack never regretted her decision to stop playing basketball, but she never regretted the sweat and sacrifices she had made for basketball, either. I think Mack would say that she had not failed to achieve the dreams of her 11-year-old self, but rather the dreams of her 18-year-old self had changed. Basketball dreams had inspired a wonderful childhood journey, and pursuing the game played an important role in the young woman she had become. She was proud of that, and she knew that basketball had served her well. But basketball did not define her, nor did she want it to define her. She wanted to be more than just a basketball player. And in her mind, and in the minds of everyone who knew her, Mack was oh so very much more than just basketball player.

Hoosiers and a Hedge Maze

In the summer of 2004, Mack was a ten-year-old rising fifth-grader playing on a competitive basketball team with girls who were a year older. After a schedule of local games in Springfield and a few area tournaments, the Sonics ended up in a regional tournament at Indiana University. We were happy to give Mack a serious basketball experience and excited to enjoy a simple, summer family getaway as well. But it was one of those crazy years that the Illinois legislative session continued well into the summer; so Kevin, who covered Illinois politics for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was unable to leave town with the girls and I on Saturday, July 17, for the drive to Indiana. When I pulled out of the driveway that morning in our brand new Honda Element, I had no idea that this little trip to my native state would be such a significant one. That trip gave Mack an experience that inspired her throughout her basketball playing years, turned out to be a fateful one for Savannah, and conferred upon me a special, memory-making, all-girl road trip with my two favorite people in all of the world.

We spent the first half of that week-long trip in Bloomington, Indiana, wandering around IU’s campus and watching preteen girls play basketball. Mack was so happy and comfortable to be the little kid on that basketball team, and playing at the tournament with them was exhilarating to her. The Sonics lost in the championship game, but Mack was not disappointed. She was such a wise little kid, breathing in the experience, just thrilled to be dribbling with the big girls. She was also honored to be a chosen as a rebounder for a teammate participating in the three-point shooting contest that took place on the Hoosier’s basketball court. Standing on that hallowed Hoosier hardwood was a dream for Mack, and the experience inspired her for her entire basketball career.Sonics3

Savannah, who had not been all that thrilled about our basketball-centric trip when it had started, was inspired, too. But for her, it was not the basketball that offered the spark; it was the lush green and floral landscapes, the Indiana limestone buildings, and the meandering medieval-style walls of the outrageously gorgeous IU campus. As it happened, Savannah was preparing to begin her all-important junior year of high school that fall, and college was very much on her mind. On that summer trip, she fell in love with IU. Had it not been for Mack’s basketball tournament, Savannah might never have considered Indiana University at all, let alone chosen it as the perfect fit. Mack always took a little credit for Savannah’s decision to attend Indiana, arguing on many occasions that all roads lead to the Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

The second part of our all-girl road trip was a bit on the wacky side, but it has remained one of my favorite vacations. We left Bloomington after the tournament and drove south through scenic Hoosier National Forest. Driving through the southern portion of Indiana with my girlies was such a treat, and we all giggled and sang and Mack drove Savannah and I crazy with her bad jokes from the back seat. When we drove through Jasper, Indiana, Mack and I rolled down the windows and yelled hello to Scott Rolen, her favorite Cardinal baseball player, who grew up there. I am not even sure how Mack knew that little piece of sports trivia, but she did; and we paused ever so briefly to acknowledge it. We stopped at Santa Clause, Indiana, just long enough for a photo opportunity, and then we settled in at a resort hotel in New Harmony, Indiana, along the Wabash River. I had promised loads of time in the fabulous hotel pool, some good food, and a movie of their choice (we saw “Dodgeball,” which Mack declared was the best movie of the year). But as usual, I had a little history on the agenda as well.

New Harmony is a tiny, historical town that possesses great charm if you are a nerdy history buff like me, but it holds little allure for kids. Therefore, I had my work cut out for me. We walked around the town center looking at old buildings, and I picked up some tourism flyers and purchased a little book about the historical beginnings of the settlement, founded in 1814 by religious dissidents called the Harmonists. One night after dinner and swimming, I read to the girls about the funky little colony, its quirky residents, and its fascinating history. They rolled their eyes, not even pretending to pay attention, and went back to whatever they were watching on the TV. I left them alone and turned my attention to the tourism materials, which revealed a fantastic, historical secret weapon.

The next morning, I drove the girls to the edge of the town for a little surprise. Apparently, when they established New Harmony, the Harmonists built a hedge maze to symbolize their quest for a better life in America. In the 1940s, the residents of the town rebuilt the maze and restored the little building at its center. When Mack jumped out of the car, she ran as fast as she could to the entrance of the maze and disappeared within it. We could hear her cackling and snorting, and we watched as her cute little head, adorned with her backwards Green Bay Packer hat, bounced up and down as she raced through the maze. It was absolutely delightful for me to see my little Macko romping through that maze, pretending to be lost, yelling periodically for assistance, and having so much fun. Savannah put on her best this-is-so-annoying teenage face, but even she admitted that the maze was lovely. And, of course, once again, Mack succeeded in dragging her big sister into the fun as well, encouraging her to succumb to the absurdity of the three of us in a remote and tiny town in southern Indiana exploring a maze made out of bushes.

We spent a good hour exploring that maze, enjoying the cool-for-summer day, before driving back home to Illinois. It was one of the silliest and most simple things we ever did together, but it remains one of my favorite memories. We had embarked on the trip for a basketball tournament, and we finished the trip with so much more. Mack lived a basketball dream and collected some Hoosier inspiration. Savannah found a college. I had my girls all to myself for a precious few days. And we all felt the magic of a hedge maze.

new harmony maze3 new harmony maze2 new harmony maze1Sonics2Sonics1