Haley Scott DeMaria

THE VALUE OF CRITICISM

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Notre Dame Swim Team bus accident (referred to as simply, “the accident”), I am hoping to share 25 Things I Have Learned In 25 Years. The goal is to post once a week; but since I have a year to post, I will consider once every two weeks a win.

The Value of Criticism

There is great value in listening to our critics. I have been thinking about this since Thursday’s announcement that Vice-President Mike Pence will be the graduation speaker this May at the University of Notre Dame. Of course the University has been criticized for this selection; and I say “of course,” because every graduation speaker is criticized for one thing or another, myself included.

After I was named Notre Dame’s commencement speaker, I spoke with someone who previously had the honor: former-Indiana Governor, Joseph Kernan. He too had been deemed “not worthy” to be the speaker (despite being a war hero, a Mayor, and a Governor. If he was questioned, I had no chance.) And I remember Gov. Kernan saying to me, “Criticism comes with the privilege.” I took that to heart.

One piece of criticism that jumped out at me was from a student who bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have a Wikipedia page. As in, “Who is she? My graduation speaker is so unknown she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page!”
The Midshipmen we sponsor were so offended by this, they wanted to create a Wikipedia page for me, but I stopped them. I too was experiencing the price of speaker-privilege. But I was also learning an important lesson: to listen to my critics, but not to give in to them.

“Who is she?” was a fair question. And it was one I answered in my commencement address. In a way, it helped shaped what I wanted to say. Did I give into criticism? No. But I listened.

I remember, early on in my marriage, I spoke at a Notre Dame pep rally before the Fiesta Bowl. (I followed Dick Vitale…and I learned to never do that again!) But I remember walking off the stage to where my parents and my new-husband were waiting. I asked how I did, and my parents responded (as they always do), “You were GREAT!” When I looked at my husband for his response, he said (very lovingly), “Your message was great, but we need to work on your delivery.”

Ouch.

But he was right. I can have the greatest message in the world, but it needs to be delivered in a way that engages the audience to listen. So I worked on that (a lot), and I am a much better speaker now than I was at that pep rally. But only because I listened to my critic.

If we aren’t open to criticism (hopefully, of the constructive kind) we will never learn, we will never grow and we will never reach our full potential. It is important to listen to learn, as a means of improvement. But not as a means to compromise who we are.

I still don’t have a Wikipedia page.

GOD IS GOOD

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Notre Dame Swim Team bus accident (referred to as simply, “the accident”), I am hoping to share 25 Things I Have Learned In 25 Years. The goal is to post once a week; but since I have a year to post, I will consider once every two weeks a win.

God Is Good

This seems simple enough, but it actually took me a while to figure out. I remember being in the hospital and hearing my mom say, “If God only gives you what you can handle, I want to be weak, because I can’t handle this.” Those probably weren’t her exact words, but I think she was tired of hearing this sentiment.

I also remember receiving a letter from my aunt shortly after I first moved my toes. Again, I won’t get the wording exactly right, but it read something along the lines of how lucky I was to feel God’s love in such a powerful way, at such a young age. Lying in a hospital bed after two back surgeries, wearing a bulky body brace and not yet able to walk, I didn’t feel very lucky. But my aunt was (is) a woman with a very deep faith, and I know her intentions were genuine, even if I didn’t believe her words to be true. At least not back then.

But I have learned how right she was. God is Good, even when life is bad. In fact, that’s when we need our faith the most. I just didn’t have a strong enough faith 25 years ago to see and feel the wisdom in my aunt’s words.

A quick internet search defines faith as a “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” Most people of faith believe in a greater being (God or otherwise named) of which they have no proof actually exists. And yet, my healing – my toes moving – is about as close to proof as one can receive.

My aunt was right: I felt God’s love in a powerful way at a young age…so young (in years and in my faith journey) that I didn’t even know it. Thank goodness I have the wisdom of time (and age) over the past 25 years to learn.

Happy Birthday Aunt Nancy.

IT NEVER GOES AWAY

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Notre Dame Swim Team bus accident (referred to as simply, “the accident”), I am hoping to share 25 Things I Have Learned In 25 Years. The goal is to post once a week; but since I have a year to post, I will consider once every two weeks a win.

It never goes away.

I think I knew this in 1992. There were certainly many people who told me, “This will change your life forever,” or “Your life is forever changed.” And I am very aware of the day-to-day physical challenges I live with. But for some reason, the 25th anniversary marked a renewed understanding of the on-going presence the accident would have in my life forever. Forever. Forever is a long time when you are 18; it’s also (I hope) a long time when you are 43.

But it goes beyond the predictable ways in which it never goes away: I am aware of my back and its limitations; I subconsciously keep an eye on where I place my feet when I walk; I am cognizant of every bus I see and the buses my children ride on field trips; I feel the anguish of a family or a team in the news who has suffered a tragic loss. I expect those feelings and those events to spur my emotions. It is the unknown events in my future that remind me that it never goes away.

Over the past five years, between the 20th anniversary of the accident and the 25th anniversary of the accident, I have discovered “new ways” in which the events of January 24, 1992, will continue to affect my life. So much of it is positive, the gratitude I find in simple moments and the blessings I choose to see; but there are also new challenges as my body ages (don’t we all have these??); they come with the gift of getting older.

I think the main thing I have learned is that it’s okay for it to not go away. While we never want to dwell in the past, we also will never “get over it.” But it’s okay to still feel the hurt, because it allows us also to feel such deep joy and gratitude for the blessings we have found along the way.

THIS WEEK

This post started out titled, “TODAY,” to be posted on January 24.

As it turns out, that day didn’t allow me to write and post. Knowing that January 24, 2017, was the anniversary of our bus accident, I should have known better than to plan.

This week was an emotional one, for many reasons. It started last weekend when I was in South Bend with a visit to the Grotto; dinner with my coach, Tim; time with my Monogram family and friends who have meant so much to me over the past 25 years; a visit to Meghan’s grave and Colleen’s tree. Separately, these events would be emotional; together, with the impending anniversary, it was at times overwhelming.

On Monday, my oldest son turned 15. Our children’s birthdays are always milestones; compounded with the emotions of pride we feel as they grow from a teenager to a young adult, watching them navigate challenges on their own and make good choices. It’s one of the greatest joys of a parent, and an emotional one as well, knowing with each birthday he is one year closer to leaving us. I am very proud of him, and amazed that he’s mine, all at the same time.

Wednesday was my mom’s 70th birthday. SEVENTY. She doesn’t look 70 and she doesn’t act 70 (although I’m not sure I know how a 70-year-old is supposed to act). My mom, who lived through a horror worse than mine, and who amazes me with her continued and unwavering love, celebrated a milestone of her own. I hope I look (and act!) as great as she does when I turn 70.

Sandwiched in between these two birthday milestones was The Anniversary. Or as my children call it, “Mom’s Special Day.”

January 24, 2017. The 25th Anniversary of the Notre Dame Swim Team Bus Accident.

The anniversary this year was an emotional one. It was different from year’s past in ways I couldn’t have predicted. I am still processing the emotions of the past week, and I hope to share them with you in a meaningful way; in a way, I hope, that continues to help others navigate their own challenges.

In the meantime, I leave you with a piece that helps define how widespread our bus accident was felt: I Still Remember That Night, by John Heisler. So many who were not on the bus still remember. And for those of us who were on the bus, we are so grateful they do.

I Still Remember That Night

 

COVENANT CHRISTIAN SCHOOL

Several years ago – 8 1/2 to be exact – I was invited to speak at a middle school in Indiana. I was invited by an awesome teacher who had her students read my book and – on a chance – thought I might be willing to speak to her classes.

I said yes. But I was terrified. It was the first time after my book was published that I was invited to speak. My guess is I wasn’t very good that morning; I remember shaking, sweating and being very nervous (a fairly normal reaction to presenting in front of a group). Perhaps it was just neat for the students to meet an author of a book they had read, because I’m pretty sure my presentation was not dynamic or too inspiring!

Fast forward to this morning, and this same teacher invited me to speak to her students again. This is the 5th time I have visited her classroom and it is always one of my favorite events.

Thankfully, I was not nervous this time (I am also thankful that it’s only 45 degrees in Indiana and not 4 degrees and snowy! It is January after all.)

The middle school students at Covenant Christian School are always very polite. They greet me by name at the door and walk me through the school to Mrs. Sill’s classroom. During my presentation, they are clearly paying attention and taking notes. And afterwards they stand up, introduce themselves and ask the best questions! Questions are always my favorite part of a talk; I love answering what they ask, what piqued their interest and what they want to know more about. I love answering “new” questions; ones I haven’t been asked before. There is always one of these at each event; in this classroom there are always many. And today was no different.

Same awesome teacher. New students, but still an awesome audience. And new awesome questions.
I hope the presenter was half as awesome. At least I wasn’t shaking and sweating!

HAPPY NEW YEAR

New Year. New Resolutions.

But a New Year is also a time to look back and reflect on the year past. Usually our New Year’s resolutions are based on a failure of something we didn’t do (or did too much of) from the prior year: eat less, be healthier, sleep more, etc… So before we can look forward, we have to look back.

2016 saw some changes in our family. My oldest started high school, so for the first time my boys are at different schools (in different directions, meaning more time in the car). I was concerned about the schedule, the driving and the logistics of having boys in schools 30 miles away from each other. What I discovered was the joy of spending time in the car with just one child. For 9 years they have gone to school together; meaning for nine years (with the exception of a few days) I was driving them in the car together.

The surprise of the fall, was alone time with each child. They talked more. They shared more. As strange as it sounds, we grew closer as they grow away from us.

I realized this past year how little time I have left with my children living at home. For James, it’s 3 1/2 years; for Edward: 5 1/2. That’s not that long. Those years will go quickly.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to slow down and enjoy time with my teenagers. Laundry can wait until they go to bed; I can workout while they are in school. I will have to travel and that will be time away, but when I am here, I want to be present.

Like right now: James just wished me good night. I need to go tuck him in…while I can.

THANKSGIVING

Last week was Thanksgiving. Giving Thanks. Over the past month I have seen many “28 days of gratitude” or other social media posts about thankfulness. I too thought about posting everything for which I am thankful, but the month got away from me (no excuse except for being too busy, or too lazy). This makes me no less thankful; just less vocal about it. On one day, I wanted to post, “I’m thankful too! I just haven’t told you about it.”

In a way, this reminded me of my favorite Gospel, the one read on Ash Wednesday each year from Matthew 6:1-6 “…do not let your left hand know what your right hand it doing…”  This Gospel is a yearly reminder to me that we are called to be charitable, but not in a public way; not in a way that draws praise or attention.

And yet, charity, acts of service, goodwill and – yes, gratitude – can be contagious and inspiring. Social media can be intimidating; it can be cause for comparison, leaving some of us feeling better about our lives and some of us feeling worse. My hope for everyone’s Thanksgiving posts are that they inspire us all to be grateful.

As the month of Thanksgiving closes and we move away from our “28 days of gratitude” (even though there are 30 days in November, and Thanksgiving was on the 24th…) keep posting and sharing the ways in which you are thankful and giving. Live the gratitude we all feel. It might just inspire someone (like me).

NOTRE DAME – NAVY 1991

It’s Notre Dame vs Navy week!

25 years ago, it was Parents’ Weekend at Notre Dame (back when ND had parents’ weekend). I was a freshman and my mom came to visit. For those of you who were on campus that weekend, I’m sure you remember the weekend.

First of all, my mom’s flight was late. But in 1991, you don’t know this by tracking her flight online or on your phone; you know her flight is late because your mom shows up hours later to your dorm, and you just wait for her.

Second, a storm blew in (hense, the delayed flight; and big surprise: it was November in South Bend!) The storm caused the power to go out on campus, including the lights on the Dome. (Rumor had it a squirrel chewed through the power lines.) And lastly, what we all remember most: it was -4 degrees at kick-off. That was without wind chill. (I remember being at the Notre Dame vs. Northwestern football game in 2014 and hearing the announcers say something to the effect of, “It hasn’t been this cold at Notre Dame Stadium since 1991.” I wanted to raise my hand and say, “I was at that game!”) But at least in 2014 I was prepared for the weather; in 1991, this Arizona girl wore cotton socks and the “warmest” jacket I owned to the game.

Notre Dame vs Navy 1991. Who knew that game, frozen in my memory (pun intended), would begin a lifetime of meaning for me and the Blue & Gold. Notre Dame won that contest (out of respect for the Midshipmen, I won’t mention the score, but Rick Mirer set (at the time) a school record for touchdown passes thrown). 25 years later, as I sit and type from my home in Annapolis, I look forward to watching the game on Saturday with “my” Midshipmen, the Mids we sponsor.

#GoIrish
#GoNavy
#GoBlue&Gold

BACK TO SCHOOL

I recently read a parenting article about how awful the month of September can be, with paperwork, activities, back-to-school night, etc… I laughed; I think we were intended to laugh, but mostly because so much of it was true. Or at least there was so much to which I could relate.

Back to School can be stressful. For those of us with teenagers, just getting them out of bed after sleeping in all summer can be stressful. For me, back to school means a high schooler, which means a new school, which means two different schools in two different directions. Stress…but not as much as I thought it would be.

First of all, I do spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out everyone’s schedule, especially when my husband is out of town most weeks. I have many “ride options” for my younger son (more on this in my next post), since this is our 14th year at his school – but that doesn’t always mean he should be the one pawned off on friends. We are new to my older son’s high school, and it’s about 30 minutes away, so not everyone is from the same area, meaning: less ride options for him. But that doesn’t always mean I should drive him. So of course, I end up driving all over Maryland trying to “do it all.” Big surprise.

However, there is magic in this. For the first time: my boys are at different schools! I was worried about the driving; I was stressed about the schedule. But you know what it means? It means I get to spend time in the car with each of them, daily, by themselves. One on one. Them and I. Or them and me…whatever it is, it’s just the two of us! And it’s awesome.

I have a chatty son and a not-so-chatty-son. My not-so-chatty son becomes VERY chatty when he’s in the car without his chatty brother. I love it! I know more about his back to school experience than I have in the 12 years he’s gone to school. It’s a beautiful thing.

So the stress of going back to school in our house: navigating two different schools, has become a daily gift of conversation. My hope for all other parents out there who are experiencing their own September back to school stress, is that they find their magic in it. It’s there.

WOW- 50 YEARS!!!

Today is my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I knew it was coming, but it’s been amazing to think about all day long: 50 years! Married to one person! Loving, living, laughing and figuring out how to stay married for 50 years. It’s really quite an accomplishment.

My parents’ marriage, like most people who have been married for 50 years, has changed, had its challenges (I, being one of them…for many reasons), and has not always gone the way they planned it would. It’s been filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows. And yet here they are, 50 years after two young kids (my mom was 19, my dad was 21) said, “I do,” still loving and laughing and knowing that life is good.

I woke up this morning and started thinking about my Facebook post: what would I write, what picture could I post, how do you celebrate 50 years appropriately on social media? When I opened Facebook on my phone (still in bed) the first photo I saw was of my parents, walking down the aisle, with the words: “50 years ago today. I am one very lucky guy! Happy Anniversary to the Love of my life.” Despite the early hour in Arizona, my dad beat me to the post (nice job, Dad! I’ll take a little credit for showing you how to use Facebook in the first place!)  My dad is a man of few words, but what he says, he means. And when he means it, he’ll let you know. He loves my mom.

I used to always tell my dad that I wanted to marry someone just like him. And he used to respond, “No, marry someone better.” I’m not sure I married someone better or worse (although, I did marry FOR better or worse), and I definitely didnt marry someone just like my dad (my husband is a man of MANY words). But my parents set an example of marriage and love that I wanted for myself: a marriage centered around family, a marriage that becomes stronger when challenged, a marriage that fights to stay together, a marriage filled with laughter, and above all a marriage filled with love. I have that. And I wanted it, because I lived with that example.

What I have found most amazing about today, is reflecting on all that is, and all that has been, because of my parents’ 50 years of marriage. All the kids, all the grandchildren, all the joy, all the fun, all the tears, all the challenges. All the love. When I think of the family my parents have created, it all comes down to love. Family and Love. And little else matters. What do we have if we don’t have that? Thankfully – because of my parents – I’ll never know.

Happy Anniversary to two amazing people! And the absolutely best parents.