What a long, strange trip it’s been

As long as I can remember, I have said, “Yes” to every opportunity to make my life better. I was attending college full time while working full time while running the mile, two-mile and two-mile relay on my college track team and winning the collegiate national judo championships, senior national judo championships and U.S. Open. Then, I went to graduate school full-time, worked full-time and won another national judo championships. After graduate school, I worked full-time, had a baby and won a world judo championships. Then, I went back to graduate school, while working full-time and had two more babies. This was all before I turned 30.

Are we detecting a pattern here?

Fast-forward 34 years. I have earned a Ph.D., founded multiple companies, raised four daughters, written grant proposals funded for tens of millions of dollars, been the first American woman elected president of a national judo organization, written a book on judo, published academic articles on everything from factor analysis to the needs of rural schools on American Indian reservations.

Would it really have made a difference in your life if you didn’t work on that grant for that one day? Or if you didn’t do one more grant at all?

– Ronda Rousey (my little pumpkin)

What prompted Ronda to say this was that she was getting an Espy – an award from ESPN for best fighter of the year, having beat out Floyd Mayweather, and while she was giving her acceptance speech, I was sitting on a table in the back with my laptop working on a grant.

I’d always taken the pace of my life for granted. Sometimes my children complained, but I’m pretty sure that if you had nine gazillion dollars, spent every waking hour with your children and bought them each a unicorn that farted cupcakes, they would still find something to complain about. Besides, their father had been ill and then died and I had to work to support the family so they could all just shut the hell up.

Did I change my life? No, I did not

If you expect me to say I am sorry about that, you have clearly come to the wrong blog. At the time, I thought she did have a point that I could stop working for an hour and watch her get an award and listen to her speech. However, I also had one daughter left to put through college, student loans to pay off from another and I did not have as much put away for retirement as I would have liked.

People misunderstand what it means when you get $30 million in grant funds over your career. It does not mean you get to pay yourself a million a year and buy a beach house in Kauai . That’s embezzling and you end up in white collar prison sharing a cell with Martha Stewart making placemats from toilet paper and shredded shoelaces. No, you pay yourself a reasonable salary and the rest of it goes to pay for software developers or trips to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to present your research.

Seven years, another company, a pandemic

welcome screen for game
One of four games we released in the last 12 months

Ignoring Ronda, I had started another company, 7 Generation Games, and by the time 2022 rolled around we’d published 20 games.

When the pandemic happened and millions of children were sent home to be taught by parents who hadn’t thought about common denominators in the last 20 years, it was all of a sudden a very good time to be making games that teach math. It was not, however, a good time to be a friend of AnnMaria, apparently. I had three close friends die of cancer. A lot of people died of COVID – my friend’s husband, a student’s father, a co-worker, the list goes on. I got COVID myself and was too sick to get out of bed for weeks. When I finally had the strength, I would get up, work for a few hours, be exhausted, sleep for four hours , and then wake up and work some more. As I slowly got better, I worked more hours, because, of course, I did not turn into a completely different person. Eventually, the stores, schools and restaurants opened again and everyone just went back to work as if a million people in the country hadn’t died.

Isn’t that what we wanted, though, for everything to go back to the way it was?

– My husband

I wasn’t so sure. So, seven years after her sister had brought this up, my daughter, Jennifer was over one day, sitting on the couch and asked me,

“You know, we’re all grown now and have our own houses and careers. You don’t need to work three jobs any more to keep us from living in a dumpster behind Gelson’s. Have you ever said ‘No’ to anything? When is the last time you turned down a contract or said you couldn’t speak at some conference?”

I just finished Shonda Rhimes’ book, Year of Yes. Apparently, I was the only person in my family who had no idea who she was because I am also the only person in my family, possibly on the planet, who does not watch television. She attributes major changes in her life to a comment from her sister about her never saying ‘yes’ to anything.

In my case, it was those two comments from my middle daughters, seven years apart, that led to my year of saying, “No.”

Stay tuned to see how that turned out.

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