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.

The Routine God

 

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I love the liturgies of daily life.  I scramble to bring order to my days and I sometimes think I’m nothing without my routine.  So when things come along to throw off my groove (and they do, routinely–see what I did there?), I feel lost.

I could lie and say this love of habit blossomed after I finally woke from a compressed and super-intense baby-producing phase in which I trust I was present but only have scrapbooks and stretch marks to prove it.  But, no.  I was making workable life plans for myself in second grade.

The thing is, I have seen daily disciplines work.  I have, in fact, used them to lose weight, to read through the entire Bible in a year, to play certain difficult pieces on the cello, to learn to speak Hindi, to write a novel.  I also know that the slapdash, open-ended ways of a creative often hinder her from getting actual stuff done.  The Muse visits the writer whose bum is already in the chair, etc, etc, etc.

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But the workable routine always wants to become my god.  It promises to save me from sloth and chaos and irrelevance.  Or that’s what I hear it say, anyway.  And then the real God, the One who helps us even when we didn’t ask him to, castrates the fake god by letting mess happen, instead.  Not because routines are bad–they’re helpful–but because they aren’t more important than life, or God himself.

All of that is to say that I haven’t written in a week and I feel crazy.  I’m working on a project with a deadline I made up because it helps me accomplish more when I pretend disaster is looming.  But, like I said, life happened this week and I ended up thinking instead of doing.  My teenagers needed me and so did some friends.  And after that I just wanted to watch Netflix and read books that have nothing to do with the one I’m writing.  I wanted to go limp.

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So now I’m trying to get back to my former routine (again!) without loving it too much. Oh,  how I hate getting back into something instead of already being in the middle of it.  I also hate confronting the fear that fills the vacuum my ruined routine leaves in my psyche.  On the other hand, I want to grow trusting and flexible enough that I can ride these longterm contractions with quiet confidence that God knows what’s best for me, that I can trust him with all the things–including my writing habits and my time.  That I can get back to work eventually.

I should be working on my novel.  But I’m blogging instead.  Baby steps.

Things That Are Saving My Life Right Now

It’s February, the shortest month that lasts forever.  Of course, I kind of like it because my birthday is in February, along with my mom’s.  Still, it’s a gray month if you don’t count all the pink and red from Valentine’s Day.

Though there are plenty of things that seem to suck the life out of us during the cold months, over at Modern Mrs. Darcy people are talking about how they’re surviving, and even enjoying, winter in a series entitled ‘Things That Are Saving My Life Right Now.’  I’m adding my two cents below.

  • Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice Tea and Half-Caf Coffee.  This tea is heavy on cinnamon and is caffeine free.  It’s sweet, too, without any added sugars.  I’ve been drinking it throughout the day, and at night before bed.  As for the half-caf, it’s my weak attempt at ever-so-slowly reducing the amount of caffeine I consume because I read that higher levels of caffeine are linked to anxiety in women (something I battle).  In the end, I just can’t give up coffee right now because the warmth and ritual of drinking it is so powerful–especially in the winter when it seems I never get truly warm for more than a few minutes.  I don’t want to go cold turkey and drink full-on decaf coffee, either, because I’m chicken about the headaches and flulike symptoms of withdrawal.  Half-caf is my solution for now.
  • Music on Pandora Radio.  This is not new for me, but music becomes even more important in the winter when the sun is stingy.  I have a couple of favorite stations I play on the laptop (I work from home) while tidying up the house in the morning.  The good news is that the right music can set the tone–pun intended–for the entire day.  The bad news is certain kinds of music can be depressing earworms that also set the tone, but not one I want.  I try to choose carefully.
  • Reading Aloud to My Teenagers.  I kind of thought we were done with this aspect of our family life since my kids are voracious readers themselves and increasingly seem to have their own agendas for…everything.  It turns out, though, that spending a few minutes a day re-reading a favorite series while my teens loll on my bed and stare at the ceiling has made winter more bearable so far.  I didn’t plan it, i.e. we fell back into reading aloud from sheer weather induced boredom, but we’re all secretly becoming attached to this ritual again (some of us not so secretly).
  • Very Hot Baths with Epsom Salt before Bed.  Again, not something I actually planned because I’m not old yet.  But it happens that old timers have lots of wisdom.  When they say that Epsom salt is the solution for several of life’s little problems, including muscle ache, fatigue, and trouble falling asleep, they’re right.  At least in my case.  I’m taking hot baths for a few minutes before bed, soaking up the magnesium found in Epsom salt through my skin, and heading under the covers soon after.  While I may not fall asleep immediately, at least I’m warm to my bones for a while and feeling relaxed.

Those are a few things that are saving my life this winter.  Of course, prayer, off and on all day, everyday, is my actual lifeline.  And then there’s poetry reading and writing, which feels increasingly like its own kind of prayer.  But these are things I cling to even when the sun is out.

What are some things that are saving your life this winter?

When Not to Worry

DSC_0919When we become mothers, women who were once carefree or serious or focused find ourselves turning angsty over all that could go wrong in the lives of our children.  We seem to stress in direct proportion to how big we feel our job is.

And I think we all agree:  it’s big.

In earlier generations, moms cared about their kids but didn’t assume they needed to be their little darlings’ entire universes.  Frankly, they didn’t think it was healthy for the kids or themselves.  But add busier-than-ever parents plus guilt plus more things to worry about (thank you, Internet.  No, really) and you’ve got a recipe for defensive, burned-out mothering from the word go.

Homeschooling does not make a mom immune to inner and outer kvetching.  It can help to turn down the temperature on our worries in some ways, only because we’re spending a lot of time with our kids, and we can sort-of take stock of how they’re doing throughout the day.  But it also presents a whole new list of things to question whether we (and they) are doing well.

In spite of all that, I’m happy with the way this school-and-mothering year is unfolding.  My oldest son turns 14 tomorrow.  I have another one who’ll be 13 in the blink of an eye, and an 11-year-old daughter who looks like a freshman.  We have had, and will have, our fair share of difficulties, new things about which to wonder, problems that will arise.

Believe me, I know.

But, looking back, lots of my parenting worries throughout the last fourteen years have not come true.  Most haven’t, in fact.  The kids are doing well, by the grace of God.  They’re turning out in spite of my failures both as a teacher and as a mom.

I want to offer encouragement in case some of you have younger kids and are tempted to worry, too.  Just keep showing up, loving them, praying for them, enjoying the time you have with them as much as is possible.

Refuse to give in to the temptation to fret.

In the end, most of what you worry about won’t come true.  And, honestly, even if some of it does, it will still be OK.

Letting Kids Be Kids

My kids are getting older, and this means things are changing around our house.  This Fall marks the first in which all three of mine will be involved in sports practices, music lessons, co-op classes, various church activities, and more–every, single week.

I know that, for a lot of people, that’s nothing new.  But up to this point, we’ve led a slow-paced–and a tad unconventional–life, both here and abroad.  Since I’ll soon have two teenagers, though, I feel our pace of life naturally accelerating.  And it should, I remind myself, even if it makes me a little uncomfortable.

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But what I want to keep remembering in this new parenting season is, childhood is (still) fleeting, each day (still) has only 24 hours in it, and a few activities (still) go a long way in enriching a kid’s life–even a teenager’s.  There’s a tendency in our culture to do too much, and I don’t want to join the ranks of the worn out and stressed just because everyone else is doing it.

On that note, I found this article on letting kids have time to be kids to be both encouraging and informative.  Maybe you will, too.  In the end, our kids only get one childhood.  We should try to protect it for as long as we can.

On Finding Your Own Bones

What do writers do but parse their own lives, combing for memories to melt down into words? It can never be otherwise because we can’t escape ourselves.

So we go coaxing aside filmy dirt on our excavation sites, small brush, please.  See that jagged bone half-sticking up over to the left?  That’s mine.

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But this archeology is dangerous if we’re mothers because our children’s stories are also shimmering artifacts that lure us.  After all, we reason, our kids’ lives are our lives, or used to be once.  But we know this kind of disclosure is unfair, our literary urges notwithstanding.  Especially when the children grow up, when they start to wear deodorant and talk in crackled octaves.

So we do our best to pry our eyes off their secrets, though they’re smudged with our fingerprints, and get about writing our own stories, stories where their shadows loom large, but we choose to look elsewhere.

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So I won’t tell you what my son said last night when he saw that thieves had shattered the window of our van and stolen my purse.  I’ll only tell you that when I saw the black shards of used-to-be tinted window now glittering gorgeously under a street lamp, I felt myself floating away.