"they say the owl was a baker's daughter. lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be." (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Start Line

Whenever I would hear about someone running a marathon, I would think to myself, "Who could do that? Who could run for 26.2 miles?"

Now that I've done it myself, I know that the actual race is really not the big deal. It's the training.  We're talking hours and hours for months and months of discipline and dedication.  In preparing for the actual race, I estimate that I ran over 360 miles and invested about 60 hours on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail (W&OD), and that's a modest estimate of a modest training program.

When you commit to something like that, when you spend that much time with nothing but your own thoughts and the rhythm of your own breathing, you can't help but be changed.  Every mile-marker brought me a shorter distance from who I was when I started and a step closer to who I hoped to become when I finished.  Through the sweat, the heat, the rain, the sunrises, and the eventual foliage you become part of the trail, you find harmony with your thoughts, and your race becomes your friend.

I once ready a quote that helped me understand why I love running. "Running is such a fair sport. There's no interference. It's just me and the road." For me, that's true. I prefer to run alone, and I look forward to the long stretches of time and the gift of hours during which I work out my thoughts, my hopes, my regrets, and my plans. The running is a pursuit of clarity. And I think that's why I found so much friendship in those miles. Every single one became a friend. Now that the training has ended, I miss them. I miss the early morning air, the momentum of distance building behind me, the constant companion of my pace, and the mental calculation of miles to minutes.

Running is the way I learned to understand myself. Being understood requires a level of introspection and honesty that can be difficult to tolerate. It's a reckoning. But, instead of avoiding it and running from it, I ran to it, through it, and to some degree out the otherside.  It isn't always comfortable. It wasn't always easy. The path of least resistance was always tempting me; I could give up at any time.  There would have been some comfort in quitting. This form of therapy (in my case) was unforgiving. But it brought me peace.

So now, when I hear that someone has run a marathon, I know the accomplishment isn't finishing the race. The achievement is everything invested in getting to the start line, and the strength to release all that was left behind on the way there. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Five Feet

For the past few days, my little guy has been really sick. I'm not the type of mom you want around when you're not feeling well. I can barely operate a digital thermometer, I don't really know the difference between Tylenol and Motrin, I don't keep things like alcohol swabs and band-aids in stock, and I hate messes.  So, when you throw up on my carpet--or on me in my bed--I tend to react with something other than warm maternal instinct.

I really don't like that about myself, and I doubt my kids like it about me either. So, when my nine year old came crashing into my bedroom at midnight covered in vomit, I tried to respond with tenderness. 

We took our time and got cleaned up, I brought him ginger ale with crushed ice and a straw which is the salve for all things in my home. ("You feel off your bike? How about a ginger ale?" "You're doing the taxes? How about a ginger ale?" You're allergic to cats? How about a ginger ale?")  We somehow made it through the night with many more episodes of illness and not much sleep and I called in sick to work when morning dawned.

He spent most of the day on the sofa, fever burning him up, eyes rolling in the back of their sockets, not able to wake him for more than a few moments to force water (or ginger ale) into his system. A day later and it was time to see the doctor.  Before we left, I asked him to take a shower, and he said, "Will you help me, mama?" And in those moments of helping him into his clean soft clothes, of powdering his skin, blow-drying his hair, and tying his sneakers, it was like I was his mom all over again.  The choreography of early parenthood that you never forget.

When we got to the triage station and the nurse asked him to stand against the wall for height and weight, my little guy turned obediently and just like that, he crested 5"0' for the first time.  I had to hold back the tears. My hands had just tied his shoes and zipped his coat like the toddler he used to be. Over the past few days, I had reclaimed so many moments with him, so many of my own moments of motherhood. And it felt like it was all being ripped away from me by that stupid mocking giraffe-shaped growth chart, as the nurse exclaimed, "He's over five feet tall now, mom, too big for the 60 inch giraffe!". It sounded like she was really saying , "He's all grown up now, mom, and your little guy is gone forever."

She could be right. Maybe my son will only carry memories of me as the frantic mom who never had band-aids, was outsmarted by every splinter she ever met, and didn't know how to use an ace bandage.  Then again, she could be wrong. Maybe my son will think back on his childhood and remember all of his moments of need like this one, in which his tender and capable mom moved calmly and brought him comfort. And you know what? I don't think it matters. Because in that moment, while he rested on the hospital bed, dozing in and out of sleep, he reached across his IV, held my hand and whispered, "I love you, mama." All five feet of him.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


There is a lot of hype approaching a 40th birthday.  It sits on the calendar like the gateway to your own age of enlightenment.  Everyone has predictions: "You'll stop caring about the little things." "You'll gain confidence." "You won't care about the extra 5 pounds." "You'll be more calm." Maybe it takes awhile for all of these predictions about being 40 to seep in, because none of these things have happened yet. At least not to me. 

And while everyone has something to say about turning 40, the advice that resonated with me the most was this  New York Times Op-Ed published shortly after my birthday: We're all just winging it.

What the doorstep of my 40s has taught me, more than anything, is that the greatest common denominator among all of us is simple. We are all unsuspecting. So many of my friends are divorcing after decades of marriage; relationships that seemed destined to succeed have somehow failed.  Other friends are coming to terms with brain tumors, and breast cancer, infertility, and children with terminal illness. Still others are coping with elder care issues, unemployment, living loss, and death. None of those things were there yesterday. Yet they are here today. No one suspected it. We were all unsuspecting.

We need that unsuspecting space. It's the space that allows us to experience great joy, fully and without compromise. Mixed in with that joy we sometimes find awe, beauty, and love issuing their own unexpected gifts; parenthood, friendship, accomplishment, a home-run, a phone call, a warm bed. It's where we hear laughter and feel lightness of heart.

I don't plan to search for that gateway to self-enlightenment and I don't expect my 40s to bring me anything more or different than my prior four decades have. But I do think I'll try to experience them with more awareness; alert that time is mercilessly marching on and what it will bring is unknowable. I am set to be unsuspecting. And there is a freedom and a confidence in that.