Race Pace

The rain slanted hard on Friday night so that it found our faces as we huddled under a jerry-rigged pavilion. The last I’d checked it was 47 degrees and growing colder by the minute. My fifteen-year-old son and I jumped in place and clapped our hands like kids waiting for a parade, but we weren’t happy. We were steeling ourselves because, as soon as the other runners finished their tour of misery, we would toe the line and run a 10K on a night fit for short stories.

“Should we drop down to the 5K?” I said, leaping so I was temporarily eye-level with him.

“I don’t know. That guy said we could. Do you want to?”

“Do you?”

“I will if you will,” he said, breathing into his hands.

I watched raindrops disappear into the wig of a costumed bystander.

“No, I’m doing the 10. But you can do the five,” I said. “It’s completely fine.”

Before we were ready, someone announced our race. We drew our last dry breaths and headed into the night along with the other crazies. And we were off.

When I was a young mom, I knew what I’d do to raise my kids well. I had read parenting books, but, more than that, I’d watched women I admired raise “good” kids. I was going to have those kids, myself.

In my mind, good parenting started with breastfeeding, then getting the kids to sleep on a schedule, and progressed to offering pureed vegetables first, fruits later, etc. So I did those things. In fact, I did everything I could think of the right way, the way they said to. By the time my third baby came (32 months after the first), I was exhausted, and not just because I’d made three people in fewer than three years. I was exhausted from trying too hard. Also, I was unpleasant to be around.

I had never run a night race before last Friday. My son and I crushed that first mile like demons were after us. I wore my Garmin watch to help me pace myself, but I was paying too much attention to the people around me to heed it. Judging by the burning in my lungs, this was not a pace I could keep, but I did not slow down. My son hung with me, but he hadn’t trained like he should have, and I could tell he was going to have to dig deep to go the full 6.2 miles without slowing to a walk.

When my watch beeped at the end of that first mile, I found that I’d run a full minute faster than I needed to make my goal. Instead of feeling elated, I felt warned. Not sustainable.

If good parenting hadn’t included, in my mind, scrapbooking the kids’ early years, there is much I would not remember. It’s the one of the few things I still stand by all these years later–my commitment to commemorate. If I hadn’t taken all those pictures and arranged them with captions, I’d be left with mostly fuzzy impressions of my need for control and perfection. Not that we didn’t have story time and snuggles and trips to the sandbox. It’s just that those things weren’t enough to sustain a sense of peace in me.

By the end of our second mile, I was soaked through. My shoes hung on my feet like sodden bricks and my fingers burned. I’d slowed my pace, and it had helped, but I couldn’t stop rubber-necking to check on my son, who had drifted away from me. Were his cheeks red, was he gasping for breath, did he have blisters? Where was he, anyway?

“I’m getting blisters,” he said, appearing next to me out of nowhere. “I’m going to drop down to the 5K.”

“Ok, I will, too,” I said, feeling the energy draining out of my legs.

“No!” he said. “Please don’t, Mom. Please do the 10K. You trained.”

He was right. I had trained. But I wanted him to know that, after everything else faded away, he was more important to me than my goals.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s not a big deal…”

But then, a few minutes later, when the road forked, my son sprinted to the finish line and I took the curve without him.

My kids are teenagers now. They do not require the constant care they used to. They still act like toddlers sometimes, but now they want to take naps. I wish they wanted the occasional story time, but they don’t.

I had babies young, which means I’ll be an empty nester at 45. I know what’s coming. My kids will head for the finish line, and I’ll take the curve without them. I am sad and a little afraid as I imagine it.

Between miles 3 and 5, I stopped being tired. My legs churned like fleshy pistons, holding me up, sending me forward. I was alone on the road except for a husband and wife several feet in front of me. They splashed through inches of standing water that shimmered like a moonlit lake. I should have been lonely, but I wasn’t. I was euphoric.

Up ahead, I could see the finish line. Few people lined the path since–turns out–standing in the pouring rain, at night, in late October, is not everyone’s favorite. As I got closer, I saw my son running toward me, even wetter than before.

“Go faster, Mom,” he said, catching up to me. “You’re going to PR.”

I sprinted toward the finish line, my son running beside me. I sliced the air, faster than the speed of vomit, and made my goal by 53 seconds.

We both made it. Together.

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Running: A Love Story

I started running eight months ago, not because I needed to lose weight or had gotten a diagnosis from the doctor, but because I turned 39 in February and was feeling a little lethargic. As a work-from-home mom of three teenagers, I spend a lot of time putting out fires while sitting at the computer or driving a kid to rehearsal. I knew I needed to do something to clear the cobwebs in my head and get my blood pumping, or I’d slip into middle age with declining energy and increasing girth. So when my sisters challenged me to train for a 10K this year, something I’d never considered before, I took them up on it. I ran my first race in April and I’m training for another one in the Fall. At this point, as far as running goes, I’m all in.

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But, as wonderful as running is (my sisters and I refer to it as “fun-pain”), it isn’t a panacea. In the last eight months, I’ve sustained personal loss and experienced struggles both in my job and in my parenting. Running, as great as it is, hasn’t solved my problems. But it’s helped me keep going.

When my beloved grandmother lost a protracted battle with pancreatic cancer this past Spring, I ran as tears slid underneath my sunglasses and dripped off my chin. I ran through anger and listlessness and fatigue. I ran like a bear was after me. I was surprised to find that, while I can’t outrun my sorrow, grieving while moving feels better to me than grieving standing still. I’ve discovered I like the wind to dry my tears.

fullsizeoutput_b47As well as being a homeschooling mom, I’m a writer whose current manuscript sits in a (seemingly endless) editing phase. I often fight frustration and, let’s be real, shall we? total despair as I try to coax what’s in my head to reappear on paper for the sixty-seventh time. Running does not give me “ideas” like it seems to for other writers. It does not untwist plot problems or unlock inspiration. On the other hand, the grit and consistency I’m developing in my runs seem to be helping me stay the course in my work, too. When I’m tempted to procrastinate, or to make excuses when I’m stuck in a literary quandary, I remember that I’ve learned to run when I feel like it—and when I don’t. This means I can work when I don’t feel like it, too. Feet on pavement, butt in chair. One kind of showing up helps the other.

 

fullsizeoutput_b4eHave I mentioned I’m a mom of three teenagers? Parenting is hard. Parenting wannabe adults is, arguably, hardest of all. I find myself short on patience and long on irritation, these days. Running does not produce in me a Zen-like serenity that remains unruffled in the face of my kids’ less adorable tendencies. It doesn’t offer ‘aha’ moments when I suddenly see where we all went wrong (see above). Then again, running gives me time to myself, to be quiet and breathe, to pound out adrenaline and fear, to pray. And it must be helping because, if we’ve all had a particularly trying day, or I get a certain look in my eye, my kids’ll say, “Hey, Mom. Maybe you should go for a run.”

And I do.

Hope and the O.D.D

I am beginning to think of this blog as my Occasional Death Diary since it seems all I do is wait for someone dear to me to pass away and then blog about it. At the end of May, my last living grandparent went to be with Jesus. To say her going left a hole in my center is an understatement. She took my childhood with her.

And yet. Life plods on, intrepid, slow, determined. I have three teenagers and a best friend for a husband. I have my parents and my sisters, and, well, stuff keeps me here. I’m still running in my neighborhood, still reading big books, and writing. It may seem dramatic to say, but I’m a little surprised and offended by my survival instinct. We keep going, most of us, with bloodied hearts. It turns out, that’s normal. Jesus had a bloodied heart, too, once. Someday he will make all things new. Until then, he is with us, and we press on.

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My grandfather died this week. It seems all I write about these days is death and more death.

I’ve lost both grandparents, husband and wife, in the last seven months, and I’ve heard it often happens this way–the wife dies, the husband follows soon after. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s and didn’t realize my grandmother had died back in the summer, but he deteriorated at warp speed afterward. Like he did know, somehow.

He was a jazz musician, a complicated genius, a laid-back optimist with the ability to tune things out. He was 92 when he died, but we all felt shocked when the nurses called and said he was gone for real.

He’s not here. We are. I’m still running, but with weights on my heart. That’s all I know right now.

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The Social Animal

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I want to keep a quiet heart like Elisabeth Elliot did

but

to keep one I have to have one first, I gather.

It’s not easy.

(I add to the noise in the world, sometimes,

while wishing I hadn’t.

And sometimes I just soak in the static because

Breaking!

You won’t believe it!

Outrageous!

Fools!

Idiots!

Look over here!

Click, click, click on it.

Oh! and

please, pay

no attention to the Man behind the curtain

unless you mean to buy

something

from him).

 

 

The Other

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Tonight, I sink in memory foam

but I remember the mattress on which I used to ease myself in India–the thin, dirty one I came to love.

Other travelers, with their own obedient dreams, had slept on it before me, and so I didn’t mind resting my sooty, unsandaled feet on it at the end of a long day.

Now forced air hurries through my bedroom vents like an American promise, and I listen.

I do listen.

But I remember that wall-mounted AC that cost so much to run right before monsoon in that other life when the air swirled like steam in my lungs and I prayed earnest prayers about the electricity staying on all night.

That mattress, that AC, those prayers still live somewhere

though I soak in tubs of endless hot water now

and have cut off all my hair.

Grace

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I miss this blog. I can’t commit to it and I can’t abandon it, which everyone says is the worst thing if you’re a writer. Commit or let go. Don’t waste your time or, on second thought, waste it over here, in this way, on this platform. Post pictures.

I throw things away. It gives me pleasure to fill bags with things to toss, things to donate, things to pass on to friends. I like empty spaces where my eyes can rest and blur. I have a very few items I keep without secret plans of ridding the house of them one day: my grandmother’s diamond studs, my cello, the photo albums I’ve put together over the years, the journal I kept in college (written in German and full of foolish things).

I tried to toss the blog, but I couldn’t. There are things that persist past their evident usefulness, things that collect dust and grow obsolete, you know? But I find as I get older I’m less inclined to scoop every, single thing into a bag at the first sign it isn’t earning its keep. I tell myself I need a few curled up, uncategorized placeholders in my life, that it’s OK if I don’t come back to sit with them except once in a long while, and then only because I want to.