Mile 23

I haven’t written here in over a year. I started thinking I had nothing left to say, or more accurately, nothing that anyone would care to read. But then I randomly met a former blog reader named Liz, who said if I wrote something, she would read it.

So I thought about that for a few weeks.

And just like that, I found something to say.

So this blog is for Liz.

On November 4th, my friend Katie and I ran the NYC Marathon. We committed to 26.2 immediately following the Winter Warrior Run Challenge, a local contest that involved running outside everyday in January, sub-zero temperatures be damned. After dodging black ice in snow pants and ski goggles, a marathon was just what we needed to keep the self-torture streak alive.

goggles

As training partners we were simpatico: our see-how-we-feel-today pace, our non-stop chatter, the commitment to getting it done early in the day as to leave time for Starbucks. Both proud owners of bladder slings, we respect the need to pee behind a tree, and/or shove a prolapsing uterus back in.

We woke up at 4am on race day with our typical text exchange about coffee, pooping, and weather-appropriate layering. The gun finally went off for our wave at 10:45. The weather was perfect and the crowd was incredible – but the whole experience from the beginning was a bit overwhelming in a sensory overload kind of way.

The race itself did not mirror our training runs – between the cacophony of the crowd and the navigation of the water stops, it was impossible to find a shared groove. We kept pace with each other, but often with other runners in between.

By mile 18 Katie started to lag behind me. This never happens. Between the two of us, she is the stronger runner. Katie is a formidable athlete all around – she actually won a triathlon. I am just a chick who runs away from her own crazy.  So, I was slow to process what was happening.

“I don’t feel great,” she said. “I may need a bathroom break.”

So, we stopped at a Port-o-Potty. Then a few miles later, we stopped again. Shit was unraveling. Literally.

By mile 23, she stopped. “I need to walk,” she said.

I tried to fight the panic as I slowed to a shuffle. I feared walking at this point would cause every lower-body muscle to seize up, ass to ankle. I tried to breathe clarity into my muddled, tired brain.

But making good choices at Mile 23 of a marathon is like trying to parent with a stomach bug. It’s tough to be your Best Mom Self while lying on the bathroom floor. So, your Mediocre Mom Self plants your kids in front of the TV with a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch so you can puke in peace.

This was me at Mile 23. My mitigated self wanted a quick fix. But I didn’t have a TV or Cinnamon Toast Crunch or the nice, cool bathroom floor to lie on. All I had was a warm packet of peanut butter in the pocket of my running pants.

“Here,” I said to Katie. “Eat the peanut butter.”

She looked at the smooshed packet in my hand, turned a little green and said: “Um no.”

“Maybe it will help, just try it.”

She tried. She gagged.

Now what? Thinking was hard.

I am not sure how long we hobbled along, going back and forth Abbot and Costello style about whether I was staying or going. I said stay, she said go. Stay. Go. Stay. Go.

She said: “I really just want to suffer alone.” There was enough finality in her voice for me to believe her.

“Promise me you’ll call me if you puke or pass out, ok? Because I’ll come back.” Because calling someone while unconscious and running backward in a marathon both seem like solid options.

I knew with that first stagger-step away from Katie that I would regret this decision. Everything about it felt wrong in all the ways your body tries to tell you it is: pit in the stomach, heart in a vice, lump in the throat, hot tears behind my eyes. The world around me shrunk to a narrow, silent tunnel of shame. I kept my eyes fixated on the trees of Central Park up ahead, listening to the only sound I could hear, which was the voice in my head: You are just straight up a bad person.

I crossed the finish line in a fog, then stood there, dazed. The finish line officials tried to usher me along: “Keep it moving, keep it moving, collect your medal, blanket and water, just keep walking straight ahead.”

The word “medal” triggered the tears. This was not how I pictured this ending. It felt like a birth plan gone awry; a water birth-turned-c-section.

“M’am, keep moving please.” The race official man was getting testy with me.

“I can’t,” I whimpered, teetering on the edge of full-on ugly crying. “I have to wait for my friend.”

He sighed. “Ok whatever just go stand over there,” and shoved a medal into my hand.

I stood on a curb and fished my phone out of my running belt. I saw a text from my friend Shelly and immediately responded:

text

Shelly and Terri are friends from home who traveled to NYC to drink Bloody Marys and cheer us on, in that order. Shelly, conveniently, is an ER nurse, so I knew Katie was in the best possible hands. I tried to breathe deep. It’s going to be ok, it’s going to be ok. 

And it was. Shelly and Terri got her to the finish, and we were reunited.


Katie immediately let me off the hook: “I would have left you, too,” she said. “You gotta let it go.”

But I couldn’t let it go.

In the week following I re-played the events of Mile 23 over and over in my head. I could not stop crying. I wanted to stuff the memory of the marathon way down to the bottom of my mom purse, under the ticker tape of CVS receipts. I put my suitcase back in the closet with my medal still in it.

Phil tried to put things in perspective: “It’s a marathon! You have to run your own race! She would have felt worse had you stayed!”

And while I wanted to believe him, I couldn’t absorb his words. So I continued to obsess and cry, then obsess and cry some more. I was in the Shame Cave. In retrospect I think maybe I was also a little dehydrated.

Fortunately, I am 41, which is too old for many things, like crop tops and wallowing. Nothing good or productive happens in the Shame Cave, because no one lives there but me and the cast of Law & Order SVU. And the Real Housewives. There’s a big TV in the Shame Cave.

For me, the beauty of middle age has been the realization that no one can save me from myself. The only exit I have found out of the Shame Cave is to be my own best friend – to say to myself: I LOVE YOU GIRL, BUT ENOUGH WITH THE I SUCK SOB STORY. Then, I put on clean(er) yoga pants and focus on doing the next right thing.

Next Right Thing #1: Ask For Help. Because I appeared to be stuck in a do-loop of self-loathing, I called in the big guns: Gerry. Gerry was our marriage counselor in Philly, but over the years has morphed into more of a Shaman/Jesus/Mr. Rogers figure. Since moving to MA, I think of him as my Phone-A-Friend lifeline. That I pay for.

I spilled the whole story to Gerry who listened without interruption. After a thoughtful silence he said: “So basically you left her in a foxhole to die.”

“Yup,” I said.

“And this feels like a huge betrayal.” Gerry gets me.

“Exactly! I keep asking myself: What kind of person does something like that?”

“Well,” he said, “that kind of question suggests that you are only one kind of person. When in fact there was an internal conflict between the ‘You’ that wanted to run and the ‘You’ that wanted to stay.”

See what I mean? Gerry should have his own hotline.

“You know of course,” he continued, “that this is not just about the marathon.”

I laughed. “Is it ever?” That’s some therapy humor.

I won’t bore you with a catalog of my deepest wounds and darkest secrets (unless you buy me a drink – then I probably will) but the bottom line was that while shame thrives in the cave, it dies in the light. Like a Gremlin. And the only way to shine some light on that bitch was to ask for forgiveness.

Now, one might argue that I didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. Phil said: “You two should have discussed this scenario before hand. Next time, you need a pact about how you will handle something like this.”

To my brain, this sounds like a tidy solution: A pact! That is what we need! Then no one feels guilty, confused or conflicted because we have a PACT!

But my heart knows that the real pact was not made with words.

The pact was made in those pitch-black 5 AM track workouts. It was made on a 16 mile run in 98 degrees, when we kept each other going even though our arms were crusted in salt. It was made in the hundreds of phone calls and texts reminding each other to hydrate or drink the recovery shake. The pact was made in Target when I bought not one but TWO adult sized llama onesies to wear over our running clothes pre-marathon. The pact was made in those post-run swims in the ocean, fully clothed.

Beach

It was never my race. It was always our race.

Next Right Thing #2: Ask For Forgiveness.
I was shopping for a kid’s birthday gift at a local gift shop when I saw the hat: fleece lined, navy blue, perky pom-pom. The inside was warm but soft like a rabbit.

I bought the hat, wrapped it, and left it on Katie’s doorstep. Inside was a card – the rambling handwritten message serpentining front to back – in which I clumsily but wholeheartedly apologized for leaving her in the foxhole.

Back at my house, I still had my coat on when my phone rang, the name “Emergency Contact” flashing across the screen.

***Yes, Katie is my Emergency Contact. Phil was fired from this post the day I received an IV iron infusion and my arm blew up like a balloon animal. When I called him in a mild panic, his voicemail lady said what she says to me at least once a week: “This mailbox is full and is not accepting messages at this time. Goodbye.” Katie picked up on the first ring, so she was hired. And yes, I abandoned my Emergency Contact in an emergency. The irony is not lost on me.***

“I’m coming over,” she said. Some things are too much for text. (Is this a thing? TMFT? If not we should throw this into the acronym rotation.)

Next Right Thing #3: Receive The Forgiveness
She walked in the door, made a beeline for where I was standing at the kitchen island, and gave me a good, strong hug – the kind of hug that speaks without words. I cried AGAIN, but from relief this time.

“Here,” she said, handing me a small gift bag. “I saw this at a shop in Duxbury and thought of you.” It was a tea towel that said “Na’mastay in Bed.” I snorted but the tears kept coming, because the real gift is knowing that you have someone who thinks of you while shopping in Duxbury.

Phil poured us each a beer in a frosty mug (he will never be fired as the bartender). We shot the shit for a bit, and with another good hug, she went home to make dinner for her kids, aka. order a pizza.

And just like that, I stopped obsessively re-hashing the race like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, inserting different scenarios and their potential outcomes. There was no more self-flagellation; no more treading water in a pool of my own moral depravity. I felt only lightness and gratitude.

In the past, if I heard someone refer to forgiveness as “a miracle,” I would roll my eyes at such hyperbole, just like I do when James Lipton calls another actor a genius on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

But when I compare who I was before Katie came over with the person she left standing in that kitchen, the transformation is nothing short of miraculous. I felt healed in a Christian Tent Revival kind of way.

Last summer, one of my best friends from college, Krystin, came for a visit. We met in the freshman dorm 20 years ago, and it was love at first bong hit. During her brief stay in Scituate, we took my dog for a walk on the beach. In the midst of shooting the shit about nothing and everything, her upbeat and confident voice became uncharacteristically shaky.

“I want to tell you something,” she said, still walking beside me but a half step behind.

Ruh-roh. My catastrophizing mind was off to the races.

“I want to apologize for bailing on you sophomore year,” she said. “For choosing not to live with you.”

As freshman, Krystin and I planned to room together the following year. By the end of the year, however, Krystin changed her mind, for reasons that had everything to do with me being a total basket case who subsisted on vodka, cantaloupe, and mustard packets. She ended up living with someone else, and I lived alone.

I stopped in my tracks and turned to her. “Have you been carrying this around all these years?”

Her eyes filled up, then looked down. “I just feel like I abandoned you.”

“Listen to me,” I said. “That was the right thing to do. You were a kid. I was a liability with a capital L. Sure, I was bummed to not live with you but I never faulted you for that for a second. If anything, I abandoned you by falling off the deep end! I was a walking disaster and you set an appropriate boundary.”

“But you had to live alone,” she said softly.

“Uh, yeah that’s what happens when you do five shots of Jaegermeister and throw up in your roommate’s hamper. It’s called consequences. And that year was good for me. I had to learn to be ok with my own company. So, you did me a favor. Are you hearing me? It’s ok. Are we good?”

“Yeah,” she said, as we resumed our walk. “It just felt…shitty.”

“That’s because you’re a good person,” I said. “And because you missed my alpaca sweater/hippy skirt collection.”

“It’s true,” she said.

On that walk with Krystin, I offered up a quick prayer: Whatever just happened here is important.so, thank you. Standing in the kitchen with Katie, I felt the same intense presence and gratitude – for this perfectly vulnerable exchange of asking and receiving. And when a human connection yields instant relief and lightness – well, that feels pretty miraculous to me. It feels….whole. Complete.

I think there is a depth to forgiveness that defies logic…a place inside us where the right or wrongness of a situation is not always the point. Even though I had jumped into that foxhole headfirst, Krystin still carried the weight of leaving me there. And while other people in her life – her family, other friends – may have reassured her that it was ok, in order to fully heal, she needed to hear it from me. She needed to feel it from me.

It can be scary to ask for forgiveness, because there’s no guarantee you’re going to get it. But there is healing in the asking, and peace in knowing you did the next right thing. Sometimes we are forced to do the hard work of forgiving ourselves, even when the other person cannot. The wound still closes, although maybe not as cleanly as we hoped.

Glennon Doyle writes:

Healing is so painful. Thankfully when we turn away from someone who would have helped us heal (or they turn away from us), God sends another. I don’t think He punishes us. I think he gives us lots and lots of tries. God is forever tries.

I asked Gerry: “Is forgiveness a universal healing agent? Kind of like a Spiritual Aquaphor?”

“Hmmm…” he said. “Go on.”

“Well, if a person forgives you, does it help heal the times someone else didn’t forgive you – like when you take an antibiotic for strep throat and it inadvertently clears up your infected toenail?”

He laughed. “I’m not sure it works exactly like that. But the more we experience forgiveness, and understand the depth of how it works, we stop being the victim of our own story. Then we are rooted in compassion, and our ability to forgive others comes from a deeper place.”

This is where James Lipton, with eyes closed and hands in prayer position, would say: “Genius.” And this time he would be right.

When I give up being the hot mess of my own angsty ABC Afterschool Special, I create the space for compassion. I make room for mistakes. I think the transformation happens when you can own your shit without believing that you are your shit. No one is 100% hero or villain – we play both those roles, sometimes all on the same day. Or, in the parenting world, the same hour. We are only human, baby.

Anne Lamott explains how forgiveness fills “the swiss cheesy holes inside us:”

Over and over, in spite of our awfulness and having squandered our funds, the ticket-taker at the venue waves us through. Forgiven and included, when we experience this, that we are in this with one another, flailing and starting over in the awful beauty of being humans together, we are saved.

Let’s keep saving each other.

hug

 

What If You Are Your Own Guru?

I have a literal closet of self-help.

The beauty of a new house is the insane amount of storage – closets you don’t even know what to do with. There is a hall closet outside my bedroom that is filled with books devoted to self improvement.

When I say “filled,” I mean it. The books on the top shelf the books used to stand neatly as they would on a regular bookshelf. But then the rows beneath got messier. Now when I find more and more boxes of self-help books in the basement, I just shove them in the closet and shut it really quick.

closet copy

I cover a range of topics: marriage, meditation, finding your inner Buddha while simultaneously healing your gut with fermented foods. My favorites are highlighted and dog-eared, chock full of sticky notes with scribbled messages: “YES!” or “Huh?” or “I understand the what and the why, but I don’t understand the HOW.”

The thing is, you would think with all this study and guidance, that I would be a zen master. Or at least less of a neurotic, high strung head case. But no. I am still me.

Every time I walk by the closet I say to myself: I need to organize that closet. I bet there is even a book in there on how exactly to organize your closets. But I don’t want to go into the closet. There is a deep resistance, a little girl inside me who stamps her feet and says: “NO! I don’t want to do the closet!”

Because the closet makes me feel bad. The sight of all the books stacked and shoved in there produces an instant tightness in my chest, a heaviness. All the books I started and never finished, or bought and never looked at again. No wonder I am still a mess, I think. I haven’t worked hard enough. Is there a self-help book on people who buy self-help books but then resist reading them? I am tempted to Google it.

About 10 years ago I went on a yoga training in the Catskills with a famous yoga master. At one point the teacher called me up to the front of the group to engage in a discussion. I can’t remember what he asked me, but I said something like: “But this book says this, and that book says that.” He studied me in silence for what felt like an eternity and then said: “I think you need to burn your books.”

To which I replied: “Even your book?” He laughed at that. “Maybe just put mine away for a while,” he said.

I understood why he said this. I have read the books that tell you to stop reading the books. That the answer is within. That you are the one you are seeking. That what you are searching for is already inside you. This applies, I decided, to everyone but me. There’s no way there are any answers in there! I’ve looked!

About a month ago, when I was shoving yet another box into the Closet of Shame Self Help, I noticed a random business sized envelope sitting on top of “Keeping the Love You Find.” The envelope was addressed to me, but in my own handwriting.

Ohhhhhhh. I remember what this is, I thought. A few years ago, on another writing/yoga retreat, the facilitator asked that we write a letter to ourselves, and then she would send it to us at a later date. I cringed at this exercise, just as I cringe when a yoga teacher makes me audio-record myself teaching, as the sound of my own voice makes me want to jump out of my own skin. In fact, I am pretty sure when the letter came in the mail years ago, I opened it, glanced at it, and then shoved it back in the envelope.

But it’s not often that you find a letter from yourself to yourself, so I sat down in the hallway and read it. This is what jumped out at me:

“….the missing ingredient for you, the shit that makes the pizza dough rise that you forget to include in your self-help recipe is COMPASSION. And love. For you. Because whether you choose to believe it or not, there is a lot to love.”

And then this:

“The thing is, do it for you. Phil will benefit, the girls will benefit, but you need to do it for you. Because you are a good person. Let me say that again and maybe it will sink in: You. Are. A. Good. Person. You deserve to feel good. And when you start to consistently allow yourself to feel good, the times you feel sad won’t feel as scary. I’m not sure how I know this, but I do. You won’t feel like you are dying or being consumed.”

At this point I am sitting in the hallway next to the Closet of Self Help and I am BAWLING.

I have never cried like that reading a self-help book.

I am not bashing the books. I read my first self help book at age 11 (it was called “I’m OK, You’re Ok”) and don’t plant on stopping anytime soon. I’ve even come out of the closet enough to read them in public, as evidenced by yesterday’s pre-swimming lesson text to my friend Steph:

wayne copy

But the older I get the more I realize the books can only take you so far. Because thinking can only take you so far. You can read a whole book about potatoes – how to grow them, harvest them, boil them, mash them, bake them, and turn them into french fries….but if you have never actually eaten a potato, none of this information is going to truly land. You need to actually taste the potato to know the potato.

My letter to myself did not tell me everything I needed to know about the potato. It said: “You ARE the potato.”

My point is, while the books are great to have, what if this letter is all I will ever need?

What if I am my own guru?

Adaptation

I recently read an article in “O” Magazine by Glennon Doyle Melton that stayed with me. She tells the story of the day her young daughter -upon hearing of the divorce of a friend’s parents – asks her: “Mom, will that ever happen to us?” Melton replies: “No, baby. It won’t You’re safe.” A year later, she and her husband separated.

I too, have fallen into the “No, never, that won’t happen, not us, no way!” parenting trap.

When we moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania three years ago, it was hard on my kids. Really hard. They were ripped out of school mid-year. They went from public school to private school. They went from wearing whatever they wanted to a turtleneck and itchy plaid jumper. They were blindsided.

Those first few months in Pennsylvania were really tough. The girls were sad, then angry, then sad again. The guilt I felt was intense. I called the school guidance counselor once a week to check in until she gently said: “Please stop.” I wanted to fix it, to give them some kind of solace, to bandage the wound and make everything better.

And because I was even more out of my mind than usual, I said: “I promise we will never move again.”

Fast forward 18 months and guess what we are doing? Moving again. That was a fun conversation. Talk about eating your words.

“We will never move again.” What’s in God’s name was I thinking when I said this? Am I Moses? The Great and Powerful Oz? Granted, I didn’t anticipate moving 18 months later, but how did I know we would NEVER, EVER move again? Because, what do we know, really? We may not plan to move, or get fired, or divorced, or get struck by lightning, or elect an orange-faced sociopath to run our country. But us thinking its not going to happen doesn’t always stop it from happening.

So what would compel me to make crazy false promises? The same reason I make many questionable choices: Fear. Fear of seeing my kids struggle, of permanently screwing them up, of failing at this one job God has entrusted me with.

To assuage my guilt, I tried to convince myself that maybe moving wasn’t as traumatic as I thought, and tried to back up this theory with some online research. I Googled “benefits of moving for kids.” Well, apparently there are none. According to Google, moving increases a child’s chance for mental illness, relationship issues, suicide, drug abuse, cystic acne, prostitution, foot fetishes, gluten intolerance, becoming a killer clown, you name it. I could not find one positive article.

But, research be damned, we did move again. And not only did my girls survive – they thrived. Take that, Google!

One day after dropping Phoebe off at gymnastics, I had some alone time in the car with Emma. She was in a chatty mood so I took a chance and asked: “Hey Em – do you think anything positive has come out of you moving so much?”

“Sure,” she said. “I have friends in two different states.”

“Good point,” I said. “How about you, personally – do you think you changed or gained some insights as a result of moving?”

“Yes,” she said, without hesitation. “It’s like nature and adaptation – like a rose has thorns to keep away predators… or a wolf has a heavy coat to keep warm. But those are bad examples. Because it’s not like I’m angry or scared of people or anything.”

(Proud Mom Moment: When your child uses discernment in her selection of metaphors).

“No, definitely not,” I agreed. “You are neither cold nor thorny.”

“The point is,” she continued, “is that I can adjust. I know now that I can make new friends or catch on quickly with academics.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “And you are brave. I still remember you holding Phoebe’s hand and walking into a new school mid-year with your head held high.”

“Yeah, well it’s not like I was excited about it,” she said, giving me a well-deserved hairy eyeball. “But I had no choice. And it ended up being great. So now I walk into every new situation assuming it’s going to be great.”

Maybe Emma should write the article on the benefits of moving.

The more I hit the “pause” button amidst the daily craziness, the more I learn from my kids, and the more I recognize how I underestimate them. Emma already understands what has taken me dozens hundreds of self help books to learn: She recognized her fear and discomfort, but chose not to focus on it. She didn’t give into it. She chose to feel empowered rather than victimized.

I think as parents it’s our default to anticipate the worse case scenarios, the potential danger and inevitable trauma that lurks behind every corner. And of course, some of that fear is real and necessary. But when I try to protect my kids with my fake promises and my illusions of control, I take away some of their power. I rob them of the chance to navigate their way through new and difficult experiences. Plus, I look like an idiot.

I’ve spent so much time thinking about how the kids were affected by moving that I never stopped to look at how it affected me. Three years of packing, unpacking, cleaning, selling, renting, and buying put me in survival mode. It was all about getting over the next hurdle. But with a little distance comes the realization that my neurotic-meddling-fixing-catastrophizing helicopter parenting style has never served me well in the past. So now, it’s my turn to adapt; let go of the fight or flight behaviors that no longer serve me, and move into this next phase of life.

I assume it’s going to be great.

IMG_0037

 

The Couple That Left and Came Back

I haven’t written here in a long time. Because really, where would I start? “Hey guys! Remember me? I moved, then moved again, and then again…”

The thought of launching into the details of this saga has been completely paralyzing, so I’ve just avoided the blog all together. But I miss blogging, so I’ll give you a timeline and we will leave it at that:

August 2012: Moved from Pennsylvania to Scituate, MA. Lived in two rentals. Bought a house.

February 2014: Sold house and moved back to Pennsylvania. Bought another house.

August 2015: Sold that house and moved back to Scituate. Lived in three rentals. Bought another house.

I just can’t get into it you guys.

On Valentine’s Day, a Facebook friend re-posted a blog I wrote three years ago, just days before we moved from Scituate back to Pennsylvania. Reading it was intense, like watching your mistakes being played out in slow motion. There is one line in the blog that says “I know in the big picture, moving back to PA is the right decision.” You know, until a month later when you realize that it isn’t. Don’t you just hate when that happens?

Since moving back to Scituate, I often get this response when meeting new people: “Oh! I heard about you guys! You’re the couple that left and came back!”

Yup. That’s us.

So instead of diving into The Moving Trilogy, I am going to tell you a story about the couple that left and came back, inspired by a Whitney Houston song I heard on the radio yesterday.

One evening, about three years ago – during our first Tour de Scituate – I ran into a local liquor store for wine. When I came out and walked through the parking lot, I heard Whitney Houston’s “Didn’t We Almost Have it All” coming from the car parked next to mine. I glanced inside and saw a woman sitting in the driver’s seat, sobbing.

Oh man, I thought. She is definitely having a rough night.

I took my time finding my keys as I debated what to do, even though clearly there wasn’t anything I could do. I did consider giving her my wine.

I felt sad for the woman as I drove home. But if I am being totally honest, there was a little part of me that was relieved. That I wasn’t her. That I wasn’t sitting in the dark, crying in my car to the lyrics of an ’80’s pop princess. I was going home, to my family waiting for me in my big blue house by the ocean.

A year later, after we moved back to Pennsylvania, I was the one crying in my car. I cried in my car A LOT. What is it about a car that makes it so conducive to crying? Is it the aloneness? The close quarters? The song playing on the radio that seems to be speaking directly to you?

In high school, my friend broke up with her boyfriend at the end of senior year. She needed to have a friend in the car with her all summer, because if she got in there alone she would completely lose it. Driving while crying is like skiing in a blizzard with no goggles. It’s a safety issue.

Anyway.

Like my high school friend, being in the car alone consistently triggered the water works: in parking lots, in car line, in my own driveway. I even made a playlist called “Mixed Tape” for the sole purpose of car-crying. Whitney was not on the playlist, but you would be surprised at how many times Whitney is played on the radio, especially in grocery stores and hair salons. The song seemed to be following me, haunting me, reminding me of that relieved feeling I felt that night in the liquor store parking lot. The slightly superior voice that said, “Thank God that’s not me.”

Talk about karma.

This past Halloween we went trick or treating in our old Scituate neighborhood versus our new neighborhood, because that’s what our kids wanted to do. When the kids ran up the porch steps of my former big blue house, I hid in the shadows. Phil knew what I was doing and covered for me. I just couldn’t do it. Not yet. I gave myself props for braving the neighborhood at all and counted it as a win. The kids moved on to the next house and Phil came over to where I was standing in the street, next to the driftwood swing he had hung from a tree three years before. We walked down the street, the moon ahead of us, painting streaks of light on the water. As he reached out to take my hand, I started to sing:

“Didn’t we almost have it all….”

and he joined in: “The night we held on till the morning…”

And we laughed. Because while the moment was sad and poignant, we had to laugh, because we still do have it all. The difference is, now we know it. Back then, in the beautiful big blue house, we had it all but were too afraid of losing it, or messing it up, or not deserving it….so we could never really receive it or be grateful for it. I have come to realize that it is very difficult to be grateful when you are afraid.

Now, we don’t have to be as scared of of losing it or screwing it up, because we already did that. We lost it and then had to figure out how we lost it and how we could get it back. With this came a better understanding of what “having it all” really is. And it’s not the dream house, or the perfect job. It’s watching your kids run back and forth with their friends across the lawns, a sea of costumes and glow sticks. It’s walking down the street hand in hand, with the shared knowledge of what it took to get there.

Car-crying is therapeutic until it becomes masochistic. Eventually you need to be your own best friend and say: “Enough.” You turn off Whitney and put on Madonna. You take a deep breath and say, “Ok…now what?”

There is freedom in taking your lumps as a couple; in being vulnerable enough to own your collective mistakes and move on from them. You can care what other people think or you can be happy, and we chose the latter. Yes, we are the couple that left and came back. And with our return came a deep rootedness, both in my marriage and this place we choose to call home.

Which is why, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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We Drove All Night: Tales From The Ragnar Relay Cape Cod

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Two weeks ago, I participated in the Reebok Ragner Relay-Cape Cod. What is that, you ask? As described by the official website:

The Ragnar is the overnight running relay race that makes testing your limits a team sport. You and 11 of your craziest friends pile into two vans and tag team running 200(ish) miles, day and night, relay-style. Only one runner hits the road at a time.

In a nutshell: A team is made up of 12 runners divided into two vans, and each person runs three different legs (of varying distance) over the course of about 30 hours. The first runner starts in Hull, MA, and the last runner finishes in Provincetown, MA. Someone is always running, even throughout the night. When you are not running, you are fake-sleeping or inhaling trail mix.

The whole thing kicks off on a Friday morning at 6:00am – I am at my friend Meredith’s house loading my duffle and sleeping bag into a 15 person van, which will be our mobile home for the next 30 hours. By “us” I mean the six crazy women from Scituate who make up Van #1 of our running team called “The Scituation.” Clever name, right? Van #2 holds another crazy six women also from – you guessed it- Scituate.

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I could give you a play by play of the whole 30 hour experience, but to be honest most of it is a bit foggy, as I was never entirely sure of the time and/or my exact location. So I will stick to the part of the story that stands out for me, which was my 6 mile night run:

It is around 10PM and we are sitting in the van waiting for my teammate Jenna to finish her run so the next runner (me) can start. It is my first real low point of the day. It’s raining. Hard. I am cold and tired and it’s so dark. Darkness in general disorients me. When Phil is away on business, I sleep with the lights on in case I need to fend off an intruder or vomiting child. Light makes me feel sharper somehow.

I am trying to calculate how long Jenna will take on her run. This requires math, which is not something I can manage in full daylight on a normal day. I say out loud to no one in particular:

“So if Jenna runs around a 8.5 minute mile…and she’s running like 4.5 miles..or was it 5.5? Wait, when did she start?”

No one knows. We are all in the same wet, leaky boat.

“Ok, I am just going to walk over to the finish line and wait.”

My teammate Katie walks with me, as someone needs to guide Jenna back to the van. Along the way we stop at a water-logged tent serving a Dixie cup of weak, $2 coffee. I chug it. The text bell on my phone dings. It’s from Jenna:

“I am done.”

Shit. Apparently Jenna runs like a 6 minute mile. I run to the finish line, where Jenna slaps the bracelet on my wrist. I am not ready; I feel discombobulated. My headlamp is secure but my reflective vest keeps coming un-velcroed and my headphones are dangling from my hand. Considering that it is pitch black and pouring, and I am running on a road with cars, I decide that silencing yet another one of my senses might be a bad idea. Lose the music. I try and stuff my phone and headphones in my waist belt but I am also trying to run and it’s just not a good Scituation. With every other step my foot lands in a pond like puddle. My feet are already squishy and I am only about .2 miles in.

After a few minutes of tinkering with the gear, I get my shit together and find my groove. It is dark and rainy but I am running. Because the race start times are staggered, there are not a large number of other runners with me, but enough that I see some running ahead of me; headlamps and reflective arm bands bobbing up and down like a small army of fireflies.

I tune into my surroundings and suddenly the sound of the rain and the crickets combine into a symphony of natural sound. It is lovely and my eyes fill with tears. I am having a moment. I thank God for this – for this feeling of total presence and aliveness. I have legs and lungs that work well enough to bring me to this place, and that is a beautiful, miraculous thing.

The footsteps of another runner behind me interrupts my reverie. I slow down ever so slightly, allowing him to pass me. But he does not pass me. He keeps pace directly behind me. And I do mean DIRECTLY. I can hear him breathing. I am a personal space kinda gal and this is making me uncomfortable. If I were in a mall parking lot, this is the time I would start saying the Hail Mary and pray that when they find my dead body in the trunk of the car, I am at least wearing nice underwear. That is how close he is. Apparently the reflective light clipped to the collar of my vest begins to come loose, because my shadow runner dude reaches over and re-clips it. BECAUSE THAT IS HOW CLOSE HE IS.

My running watch beeps and he says, “Where we at? 3 miles?”

I smile in spite of myself. “Yup,” I say. “Half way there.”

I realize my running buddy is not going anywhere. This is what it is. The Scituation is not going to change so I need to change the way I look at the Scituation. Instead of tuning him out, I decide to tune him in. When teaching yoga, I encourage students to sync up their breath to their neighbors; to create a powerful wave of prana/energy that will carry them through a difficult pose, together. This what I do with my running buddy. I allow his breath to carry mine. I tune into the cadence of his feet sloshing through puddles. The sound becomes less of an intrusion and more of a meditation: slap, slap, splash, slap, slap, splash.

I slowly feel my jaw unclench and my shoulders sink away from my ears. Suddenly I have the thought: My runner buddy is meant to be here. And I know this because he is here. Maybe he saw my vest come un-velcroed at the same time both shoelaces came loose and thought to himself, this chick is a hot mess and needs adult supervision. And just like that, my creepy mall stalker guy is transformed into my Ragnar Guardian Angel. My feelings of annoyance and unease give way to safety and gratitude. My imaginary boundary bubble evaporates. I choose connection over isolation, and this brings me back into the moment. I am alive again. Me and my running buddy, sloshing it out in the dark, together.

The week leading up to the race, my mom kept asking me, “And why are you doing this, exactly?”

My answer was a less-than-profound: “Uh, I don’t know….because someone asked me to?”

But now I know why I did it, and why I will do it again: For me, the Ragnar was an education in choosing my perspective. There is something about stepping outside your comfort zone that tests your meddle in the attitude department. Relay running 200 miles on no sleep and spending 29 hours in a van with women I only sort of know was way outside my comfort zone. But with new experiences comes personal growth. I learned to:

  • Let my guard down. (ie. Strip down to my thong in the back of a van).
  • Surrender to what is. (Sometimes at 2am, there just is no coffee. Anywhere. And you just have to deal.)
  • Connect with people in unexpected places. (Like in line for a port-a-potty.)
  • Be grateful: For my teammates who drove the van because I don’t know how to use that rear-view camera thing-y, that one decadent hour of sleep, my body for hanging in there, the three delicious beers I pounded when it was over.

My soggy night run comes to an end, and I hand my baton-bracelet off to my teammate Nicole. My running buddy turns around and I see his face for the first time when he says:

“How did we do??? What was our time??”

I relay our stats and he raises his arms above his head for a double high-five. Our hands meet with a loud clap.

Before disappearing into the crowd he says: “Thanks for pushing me!”

And my eyes get a little misty, because it never occurred to me that maybe he was grateful for me, too.

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Fear

It is 4:30 am when the fire alarm goes off and I feel like I am shot out of a cannon: “Evacuate! Evacuate!” commands the computerized fire alarm lady. Down the hall, Phoebe is screaming. She is standing in the middle of her room, hysterical. Her reaction was immediate, as if she knew it was coming and was already poised for disaster. She is screaming: “We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die! I hate this house! It’s on fire!”

Sidenote: The house was not on fire. The heating system in the old house we are currently renting is equivalent to a dragon breathing fire into long tube, sending the hot air directly in the path of the fire alarm. Also, I read that dust blown at the fire alarm can also set it off. And we got dust. Lots and lots of it.

Phoebe is in first grade, and first grade is when they learn about Fire Safety. I remember it with Emma because she could not sleep until I bought her one of those fire ladders off Amazon for $139.99.

Fire Safety week sparks a memory for me:

I am in first or second grade, and my classmates and I are assembled in the school library for a “special video.” I am sitting next to my friend Kate and I am wearing polka dot tights. Kate and I are supposed to be sitting indian style with our hands folded in our lap, but instead we are counting the polka dots on my tights; connecting the dots to form shapes and patterns. The librarian yells at us, and tears immediately form behind my eyes. As the video starts, I am already in a fragile state.

The video is on bus safety, but no one tells us this, they just start the movie. It begins with a happy scene of excited children getting on a school bus. They find their seats, they chit-chat, they compare backpacks. One girl is carrying a tissue paper flower with a pipe-cleaner stem. Another boy proudly carries his pet hamster in a cage; he is bringing it in for show and tell. Another sneaky little boy slyly shows his seat mate the pocket knife he has stashed in his school bag.

The boy with the hamster thinks it a good idea to place the hamster on the bus driver’s shoulder, who is currently operating the vehicle. He and his friends snicker, as if to say: “This will be hilarious!”

You can imagine what happens next. Now multiply that by 100 and that’s actually what happens next.

The bus doesn’t just get into a fender bender. The bus flips about five times and finally lands upside down in an embankment. It happens quickly: flip, flip, flip. The bus rolls like a barrel. Then they show the scene again from inside the bus. Kids are getting thrown around like rag dolls. The driver smashes into the wind shield. The pipe-cleaner stem of the tissue paper flower gouges someone’s eyeball. And the pocket knife. Don’t even get me started on the knife. There’s blood everywhere. It is bus safety turned Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The End.

A teacher turns the lights back on. The library is silent with the acceptation of a few kids quietly weeping. But the message of the movie is clear: If you bring crafts, rodents, or cutlery on the school bus you will end up with a pipe cleaner through your eyeball.

For me, the scare technique proved effective. I never messed around on the bus again. The same was true years later, after watching Helen Hunt jump out a window in the anti-drug ABC Afterschool Special Desperate Lives, I vowed to never try angel dust. Or snort anything in general. Same goes for the drunk driving. In middle school we watched a movie with teenagers flying through windshields set to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” That song still triggers memories of sitting on the cold metal stool in the science lab, watching some girl with feathered hair and blue eye shadow shotgun beers while driving her mother’s station wagon before crashing into a tree. The 80’s were big on just scaring the shit out of you.

Now, you may argue that these fear-based teaching techniques just create fearful people. And if you are using me as an example, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But I am also still alive with both eyeballs, so…I could go either way on this argument.

When Emma was in first grade, Fire Safety Week was a call to action: the ladder, the fire escape plan, testing all the fire alarms. Having all these boxes checked made her feel safe and in control. Like me, Emma is very good in a crisis. It’s the day-to-day stuff we can’t handle, like…getting dressed or packing a suitcase. But I digress.

Phoebe, on the other hand, is typically a pretty chill kid, but once the fire alarm goes off, she’s Helen Hunt on angel dust. Phoebe is a fire safety liability.

So I did a little research and decided the first step was to have a fire escape plan. Knowledge is power, right? I printed out the instructions and we all sat down at dinner to Make The Plan.

Emma remembered the drill: “Oh you need to print two worksheets, one for the upstairs and one for the downstairs.”

Phoebe was quiet and still. There was a piece of angel hair pasta hanging out of her mouth, of which she seemed unaware. The only movement was in her eyes, which kept getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger……

“This is scaring me MORE!” And she started to cry.

Sigh.

Phil and I had a conversation with our eyes that said, “Yeah, let’s hold off on this.” We changed the subject and distracted her with Girl Scout Cookies. I was cleaning up in the kitchen when I heard Phoebe say to Phil: “Will you sit on the couch and snuggle with me?”

“Sure,” he said.

I still want to get to the fire escape plan. But maybe for some of us, the first step to being safe is feeling safe. And right now for Phoebe, that safe place is on the couch, in her dad’s arms.

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Fretting

Helicopter parenting refers to “a style of parents who are over focused on their children,” says Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders near Detroit and author of Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide (via Parents Magazine).

Define “over focused.”

In recent months I have felt myself “focused” on the kids more that usual. I would not consider myself a full-blown helicopter parent, but moving -as we did again in August – brings out my hovering tendencies. I know we are asking a lot of the kids to adjust to a change in place, a different school, new friends. So I am constantly watching them, checking in: Are they feeling adjusted? Are they happy? What do they need to feel at home?

IMG_7769I have noticed that it takes my kids about 4-5 months to really settle in after a move. It is at this point that the veil of anxiety seems to lift and they find their groove, their comfort zone, their routine. They morph back into their carefree, confident, snarky selves. Read: They don’t need me to hold their hand anymore.

Unfortunately once I am in helicopter mode, it is hard to turn it off. My blades are going too fast. For me, worrying is a bit of an addiction – once I start I can’t stop. My grandmother used to call it “fretting.” I get drunk on fretting and sometimes do stupid things I will second guess in the morning.

For example:

Episode #1:

It is the afternoon of Emma’s holiday chorus concert and we are scrambling to get ready. Emma has a cold. She is tired and nervous and indecisive about what to wear. She wants my opinion on her outfit but only if my opinion matches the decision she has already made in her mind but refuses to share. Because I am supposed to guess. I guess wrong. Twice.

She is very congested and demands tissues. I hand her a roll of toilet paper because I forgot to buy tissues. She blows her nose and it is impressive. She is a fountain of snot. How is she going to sing through all that snot? My OCD train has left the station. I have appointed myself the Mucus Manager.

We load up in the car and bring the toilet paper. She can’t bring toilet paper on stage – how will she blow her nose? I dig through my bottomless bag in search of tissues and my hand finds a travel pack I stole from my mother’s bathroom. It’s a Christmas miracle. Suddenly I am Mom of the Year.

I turn in my seat, victorious, arm extended, passing the tissues to Emma like the Olympic torch. “Look what I found!”

“I don’t want them.”

“But you said you can’t stop blowing your nose.”

“I don’t want the tissues, Mom.

“But you could just stick them in your pocket….”

“MOM.”

“Ok, ok fine, no tissues.”

I turn back around in my seat. A minute passes.

“Fine, just give me the tissues.”

I pass them back to her. We get out of the car and walk toward the school. As we open the double doors and she spots a group of her friends, she spins around and tosses me the packet of tissues.

“I don’t want the tissues.”

And with that, she takes off down the hall toward the chorus room.

But how is she going to sing through all that snot?

I am not proud of what happens next.

I should have just gone to my seat. But I don’t. I follow her down the hall and slip into the chorus room. I slink against the back wall, creeping behind the risers where the kids are finding their spots. What the hell am I doing in here, I think but it is too late, I am in the middle of the room. One of Emma’s friends spots me. Shit. She taps Emma on the shoulder and points. Shit. Emma looks at me with eyes that say “WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING. HERE.”

I hold up the packet of tissues and point to them. I mouth to her “I WILL LEAVE THESE RIGHT HERE,” pointing to the chair that holds her jacket. Then I gave her a thumbs up. Emma’s eyes get wide. Her friend snickers. This ship is sinking and I can’t save myself. The music stands feel embarrassed for me.

I find Phil in the auditorium and slink into my seat. I text my friend Julie and give her a play by play of what just went down. She replies with helicopter emojis.

Episode #2

Phoebe lands the role of Sally in a local stage production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. For seven Sundays she rehearses from 3:00-6:00; a big commitment for a six year old. We practice her lines in the car, before bed, while she brushes her teeth. She has two big scenes: one with Charlie Brown and one with Linus.

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thumb_IMG_8225_1024The big night arrives. I drop Phoebe backstage and we settle into our seats.

I try to be patient but I am counting the scenes until Phoebe’s stage debut, when she dictates her Santa letter to Charlie Brown. After what feels like an eternity she and Charlie Brown take the stage:

Sally: Dear Santa Claus: How have you been? Did you have a nice summer? How is your wife? I have been extra good this year so I have a long list of presents that I want.

Charlie Brown: Oh, brother.

Sally: Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems to complicated, makes things easy on yourself. Just send money. How about tens and twenties?

Charlie Brown: Tens and twenties! Oh, even my baby sister!

Sally: All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

She nails it. My smile threatens to break my face.

I can relax – the hard part is over. She only has one line in her next scene with Linus and it’s an easy one. I sit back and in my chair and let my butt cheeks de-clench.

But then the scene with Linus begins and Phoebe is not on stage. I check the program. I check the program again. There is her name, clearly listed.

Oh my God where is she.

I turn to Phil and hiss, “Where is she???” Like he knows. Like he somehow telepathically received some inside information while sitting right next to me rifling through my bag for gum.

He looks concerned which freaks me out. Then he shrugs his shoulders.

Did she puke? Is she in the bathroom and missed the entrance? Phoebe has a habit of pooping at inopportune moments.

But what if she’s sick? What if she’s crying? Do I go back there?

I turn to Phil. “Do I go back there?”

We look around us and realize we are smack in the middle of the row. “Do I text Amy?” Amy is the director of the show and conveniently a good friend. Phil shrugs again.

With my index finger poised over the keyboard, a text from Amy appears on my phone:

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As I am typing “do you need me? I can come back” I am already climbing over people, lunging and stumbling and excusing myself to freedom. Once I push my way through the auditorium doors and escape into the hallway, I take off in a full sprint. I weave my way through bags of costumes and kids waiting for their curtain call until I reach backstage. Then, I see her, her big blue bow askew, her hand pressing a wad of bloody tissues to her nose.

She turns and sees me. Her costume is covered in blood. Those blue eyes, so big and scared, fill up with tears like giant fishbowls.

patrick cryingCrying for me is highly contagious. My tagline could be Dolly Parton’s line from Steel Magnolias: “I have a strict policy that no one cries alone in my presence.”

But I know if I cry we are sunk. I pinch my leg hard and force a fake smile as I crouch down next to her.

“Mommy,” she whimpers, “I have a bloody nose.”

“Yes, you did,” I say. “But it has stopped. You are ok now.”

She whispers, “Can we go home now? RIGHT NOW?” She clutches my arm with her bloody little hand.

“The play is ending – don’t you want to take your bow?”

She stares at me blankly. She looks like a cartoon character with PTSD. I realize this is the part where I have to step in and decide about the bow. She is cooked, she is toast. 95% of me wants to swoop her up and get her out of there, but 5% says: You are not actively bleeding so do the bow. Finish what you started. I have no idea if this is the right decision but I go with it.

She does the bow, sort of. She kind of lurks stage right, still holding the bloody tissues to her nose. Close enough.

The curtains close and she runs to me. The other kids are so sweet and supportive, giving her hugs and high fives. She forces a smile but wants out.

She grabs my arm and whispers: “Can we go home right now?”

With heads down, we weave our way through the crowded lobby. I spot Phil and give him the “wrap it up” signal with my finger. When we reach the car, Phoebe says, “Will you sit in the way back with me?” We settle into the third seat and hold hands. As the car pulls out of the lot, she starts to weep.

“I missed my scene with Linus.”

“I know. It’s ok. You nailed the big scene with Charlie Brown.”

“I sort of missed my bow.”

“No you didn’t! You went out there. You bowed.”

“How did you know I had a bloody nose?”

“Amy texted me.”

She turns to me in the dark; headlights from passing cars illuminate her streaky cheeks. “When you got her text….did you get up and leave right away?”

“Right away.”

“Did you run?”

I squeeze her hand, our fingers intertwined. “I ran.”

She sighs and rests her head on my arm. Suddenly she separates our fingers and presses my hand flat with my palm facing up. Then she places her hand in my open palm and wraps her fingers in-between mine. I begin to wrap my fingers around her knuckles but she stops me.

“No. You keep your hand flat. This is how I want to hold hands. With only me holding on.”

I smile, but at the same time my heart hurts a little. Both emotions -the joy and the sadness- are equally true for me in that moment; connection and separation sharing the same bittersweet space.

“Got it,” I say, uncurling my fingers away from hers. “I can do that.”

I can do that.