Last weekend, May Lee and I took an impromptu trip to Memphis to buy a birthday present for my dad. It turned out to be a lovely little day trip. During the drive over, we listened to The Greatest Showman soundtrack, playing the song “The Other Side” over and over so that May Lee and I could perfect our duet.
“You be Mr. Barnum this time!” May Lee would instruct, or “Let’s switch and you be Mr. Bailey!”
Sometimes we’d pause our rehearsals to argue passionately about what the lyrics to the song REALLY are. Currently, May Lee holds the high score for the most creative lyrics, and I hold the high score for accuracy. I try not squash her inaccurate and completely humorous lyrics with my need for accuracy, because it works in my favor when she replaces the swear words with “meow”. It cracks me up every time.
We rolled into town just a few minutes late for services at one of our favorite, local churches. When church was over, we ate lunch with friends at Memphis Pizza Café, one of my favorite spots. As has been my tradition at any Memphis Pizza Café location for over a decade, I picked up The Memphis Flyer as soon as I walked in. Then, I sat down at a table and ordered a Greek salad and a slice of pizza. The only thing that really varies in this equation is the kind of pizza I’ll order, as that selection is entirely dependent upon the state of my spirit. That day, my spirit said Hawaiian, which turned out to be an excellent choice.
The Petting Zoo: What is thriving and what is not
We are down to 1 goldfish of the original seven. What strong stock must this remaining fish be made of that it has outlasted all the others? I fear that it is a female goldfish and that she is secretly harboring eggs. I fear that she will lay these eggs and that one morning we will wake up and there will be an entire, new generation of goldfish for us to care for in a cycle that will never end.
The turtle also continues to thrive. I suppose it is time to find a permanent location for her, also. Maybe she should move in with the goldfish, seeing is how they are both determined to survive living in this household.
The dog continues to be himself. Although, he appears to be less motivated to eat the cats these days. It could be the heat that has decreased his desire to chase and annoy the felines.
Speaking of felines, Tidden continues to be charming and mischievous, but Emmy Lou has taken on a new level of weird. For the last several days, she has taken to spending hours sitting in the dark on top of the toilet in May Lee’s bathroom. From the shadows, she will meow loudly at various, random times with no discernible provocation. May Lee and I will pop our heads in from time to time to check on her, and there she’ll be, staring off into space with the tip of her tiny, pink tongue sticking out of her mouth.
I fear that this may be the end of the line for her, and that some neurodegenerative cat disease that will ultimately cause her demise is overtaking her. But I’ve harbored this concern off and on for several years now, and yet here she is: alive and well and meowing from her perch on the toilet lid. Carry on, Emmy Lou. Carry on.
When coffee betrays
This afternoon, after I woke up from a power nap on the couch, I couldn’t shake off the nap-induced haze and decided to make a cup of coffee. As the coffee brewed, I prepared my prized Wonder Woman mug by filling the bottom with Cheesecake Factory Strawberry Cheesecake creamer. (It sounds disgusting, doesn’t it? Strawberry Cheesecake creamer?! I was horrified when I saw it at the grocery store, and then I bought it anyway. I can’t explain myself sometimes.)
I filled the rest of the mug with coffee, slid my middle 3 fingers through the handle, and turned to walk into the living room. I can’t fully explain what happened next, outside of some sort of temporary, epileptic convulsion, because why else would the synapses in my brain betray me by sending messages to my arms and hands to completely lose control of the cup of steaming, hot coffee?
The mug seemed to slide out of my right hand, causing my left hand to attempt to quickly grasp the errant mug in order to prevent the impending doom. What my left hand actually did, however, was send the mug spiraling into the air while coffee sprayed out in every direction. The mug hit the floor, sending ocean waves of coffee in every direction. I gasped loudly as coffee splashed up and all over my jaw, neck, chest, shoulders, arms, stomach, and legs. Pools of coffee formed in my flip-flops beneath my feet.
With my mouth hanging open and my brain frantically trying to assess the burn factor on my skin, my eyes surveyed the damage. The Wonder Woman mug was in pieces large and small. Pools of coffee were on the floor and spreading out with every second that passed. Coffee was dripping down from the cabinets, the stove, and the island.
I probably stood there for a full 2 minutes letting my brain click through it’s processing procedures:
Am I horribly burned? -“No. I’m actually good.”
How long will it take me to clean this mess? – “Most likely the rest of eternity. Maybe 10 years, if I’m lucky. Or perhaps a span of 3 years is a more reasonable amount of time to expect to find coffee droplets everywhere I turn in my kitchen, no matter how well I may clean it up now.”
Is my coffee mug completely destroyed? – “Yes, it seems irreparable.”
Do I smell like an incredibly delicious dessert? – “Yes, the strawberry scent of that creamer is strong, and coffee always smells heavenly.”
Is my skin becoming stickier by the second? – “It is going to take no less than 3 showers to remove the adhesive powers of this coffee creamer from my skin.”
In the meantime, May Lee was carefully collecting the fragments of the coffee mug and trying to console me with her optimistic belief that we could Gorilla Glue it back together. Still mostly in a daze, I slipped off my flip-flops and started laying down towels over the enormous mess on the floor, first using the towels to wipe the coffee from my neck, arms, legs, and feet.
In what turned out to be a crucial mistake, I neglected to put the flip-flops back on my feet after toweling them off. After placing a towel over an enormous puddle, I turned to retrieve another towel and felt the sting of glass in my heel. Hobbling over to the cleaner part of the floor, I removed the shard from my foot and proceeded to drip blood into my flip-flop.
It was in this moment of complete chaos where I found myself surrounded by blood and coffee stained towels and blood and coffee filled flip-flops that my child decided to make the clean up process into a game of make-believe.
“Let’s pretend the king and queen are coming to our house!” she said.
“Oh dear Lord,” was my only reply.
“They are coming in 5 weeks, so we have to get this place totally cleaned up!” she continued.
I smiled, because her imagination and willingness to help clean up was completely endearing. And yet, this make believe game of the king and queen coming to visit my house while coffee and blood mingled together everywhere I turned stressed me out so badly. My grown up brain knew very well that the king and queen were not actually coming to our house, but the stress in my body kept saying that their arrival was imminent. Apparently, my imagination is just as strong as hers.
We continued to scrub while May Lee happily pretended that the king and queen were coming. I kept chanting to myself that none of this was really happening, because denial is my favorite of the unhealthy coping skills.
It was at this point in the pandemonium that I realized what an enormous betrayal this really was. I was depending on coffee to help me make it through the rest of the day. It was to be the supplier of the inner fortitude required to play imagination games, clean the house, and listen to no less than 1000 of May Lee’s antidotes. Yet, here I was attempting to clean an enormous mess and to respond when and how I’m supposed to respond in this game of make believe with NO COFFEE. Then to add insult to injury, any coffee I may have from this point on would not be in my Wonder Woman coffee mug, which was a gift from my roommate at my last trauma-training module. The matching mugs were a symbol of our sisterhood of survival.
Sigh, I suppose we will survive even this.
I paused mid-cleanup to brew another cup of coffee, selecting the mug bearing the logo of the local funeral home. It seemed most appropriate for the occasion.
I suppose that we will be required to wear shoes in the kitchen and will be finding stray droplets of coffee for the next several weeks. Perhaps we’ll even try to superglue the mug back together and use it to hold pencils or for some other decorative purpose. Through it all, I will be drinking coffee, even though I feel hurt and betrayed at the moment.
You see, coffee and I have a long-standing relationship based in deep and abiding love, and where there is deep and abiding love, there is always forgiveness. With love, forgiveness, and coffee by my side, I can always find the strength to bid a heartfelt fare-thee-well to gentle creatures (such as goldfish) and symbols of sisterhood and thereby release them into the universe.
This week as I was cleaning and going through a stack of papers, I came across May Lee’s final report card for the 1st time. I walked to the calendar hanging in the pantry (I still have paper calendars. I will defend this choice to the death) and counted back the days to the last day of school. A week and a half had passed since the report card had come home, and all I can say is that is about right. A week and a half is a good measure of how far behind I was with life by the end of the school year, and I think we should all just be grateful that it wasn’t a larger spread than that. I am slowly catching up now that summer is here.
Spring Cleaning in this house has been more about creating lasting organization than anything else, so it has taken awhile to yield visible results, which can be discouraging at times. In fact, most of the time, it has been much more visually messy than it was before the organization process started. But this week I experienced a real sign of progress: I can now close my closet doors. In fact, they now stay closed, like, all the time. What a lovely experience!
As I finished working in the closet, I timidly held the knobs and gently pulled the doors to. When they met in the middle, I just stood there for a minute, mentally putting the former closet chaos behind me and letting the peace of new order really sink in.
A memory came in that moment. A memory of married life and an actively addicted husband who became so anxiety-ridden one night that he shot out of bed and closed the closet doors because “demons were in there”. In the morning, despite the fresh light of day, he would again request that the closet doors stay closed, relaying some story about demons coming through the closet. I remember looking at him and seeing on his face how completely convinced he was of the fact that demons had been in that closet and also thinking that I hadn’t seen his face look that sober in a very long time. Then I turned and looked at our closet. A black chef coat, a white chef coat, a pair of cargo pants, and a few of my dresses were hanging there. I remember feeling like they appeared remarkably unspectacular for playing host to demons, if that were in fact the case.
Thinking back, I don’t think I have ever closed a closet door since our split. I don’t know if there is any spiritual significance to that, or if it is simply a good measure of how deep my stubbornness can run. He always had to have the closet doors closed, so I’m going to leave each and every last one open from now until eternity. A picture of emotional maturity, I am.
Maybe that is why I smiled as that memory began to fade and my eyes refocused on the closed doors of my newly organized closet. His demons don’t live in my closet anymore, nor do they live in my mind and manifest in my behaviors of closing or not closing the closet doors. I’ve reclaimed my own closet territory, and he holds no more influence there.
I wonder what other household structure or appliance is next up on the batting order of unexpected exorcisms? I feel I should be more prepared if this is going to be “a thing”. Perhaps I should be gathering some sage and essential oils….
Shaking Hands with God
Tropical Storm Alberto made landfall this week, and do you know where he decided to land? He came right up the beach access that was MY beach access when I lived in Florida.
Tropical storm Isaac came through when I was living there. Schools were closed and work was cancelled, so we walked down that very access to the beach. I remember the feeling of complete awe, watching an angry ocean churn up the most remarkable things and deposit them on the beach. Among other things, we came across a whole section of beach covered with starfish bearing the marks of being pushed from the safety of the sandbars to the beach by the storm surge. We tried to put a couple of them back in the ocean, but the ocean just kept spitting them back out onto the sand.
We walked past a giant tree and wondered where on earth it came from, how long it had been in the ocean, and what would happen to it now. I remember feeling the constant push of the wind and thinking the sensation matched the pressure in my heart. If only I had understood what that meant at the time.
About 2 years earlier, on a beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I stood and watched the outer bands of Hurricane Earl push waves against the pier to the south of us. I remember the lights looked so lonely in the foggy dimness that comes with storms. I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband was spinning out, and a category 2 hurricane was coming ashore.
To this day, I struggle for words to express the deep, deep love I feel when I think of these memories of the beach and these storms. When I share the memory with people, I try to persuade them to go to the beach during a tropical storm. Put it on your bucket list. (And please use your good sense.)
When I watched the footage of Alberto coming up my beach access, my mind immediately went to calculating the distance and time from here to there, because I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in it. When there is a storm coming, my first instinct is to run to the beach and meet God there. I cannot think of any other time I have witnessed His power like when my eyes have seen the spirit of the ocean and the wind change like they do when a storm is coming ashore.
Since Alberto, a deep longing to go home to the beach has taken up residence in my chest. My child is languishing with the same unmet desire. Being born and raised at the beach for the 1st three years of her life, the love of the beach is as deeply etched into her soul as it is mine. We missed out on the beach last year, and right now, it looks like the same fate awaits us. Perhaps Alberto has reignited a desire that will see us to the beach this year after all. The need to walk out on the beach and shake hands with God is pressing.
I Told You
On Thursday night, May Lee and I went to see A Wrinkle in Time on the last night it was playing at the local discount theater. I was super excited, because it was one of my favorite books as a kid, and I thought May Lee would love not only the story but also the visual beauty of the movie.
What actually transpired can only be called a disastrous miscommunication regarding vomit. She ate an entire bag of gummy bears during the movie, then spent the last 45 minutes complaining of a stomachache. I asked about needing the bathroom, and she said no. On the way home, I glanced back and saw that she had “the look”. I again asked, and she said she didn’t feel well. I drove as fast as I could, as we were only 1 block from home at this point.
I pulled in the drive, and she immediately opened the door and puked everywhere. She looked up at me and accusingly said “I told you”. Then she leaned back over, and puked again.
I can’t even begin to describe what I was thinking and feeling, as I draped my entire body over the steering wheel. I pressed my head into it, alternating between sighing deeply and chuckling to myself.
After May Lee was cleaned up and the driveway hosed off, we had a little chat about the day and where we failed in the movie-going vomit portion of it. She reported a day of many cookies and other sweets that I was not aware of. She also let me know that she thought when I asked about the bathroom at the theater that I wasn’t going to go with her. I assured her that I would have been following close behind and that I would never send her to the bathroom alone to be ill.
We now have a well developed plan for any illness that may befall either of us in a public place. I feel like the day it actually goes down and one of us takes ill, we will move will military-like precision and speed. It will be a thing a beauty. Also, May Lee has taken a vow of “no sweets” for the month of June and has already broken it many times over.
Bring Your Kid to Work Day
I declared Friday to be Bring-Your-Kid-to-Work-Day, and so that is what I did. As you know, bringing your child to work can go 1 of two ways: your child will either be a delightful presence or they will make you regret the day you were ever born. Fortunately, the former was our experience, and we had a lovely day.
In fact, my daughter and I enjoyed time doing activities we never get to do together at home. This was due, in part, to the fact that the internet was down all day at the office, severely limiting how much work I could actually do. Being stood up by my clients was the other factor providing time for us to do things like play Upwords, draw together, and organize the art supplies. I can’t remember the last time my daughter and I had that amount of uninterrupted time to just sit and play a game in it’s entirety without some other event or chore pushing us for time.
Once I was done seeing the clients that did come to their appointments, May Lee and I went to lunch at a local place that was recommended to us. We played more games as we waited for our food. After lunch, we went to the local Wal-Mart and loaded up on summer toys and necessities. Then, we checked back in at the office to see if the internet had been restored, which it had not.
After finishing up the work day, we changed into bathing suits and prepared to head to the lake. This is when I discovered that my tried and true bathing suit was no longer true. I have been making changes in the way I eat and exercise, and I knew that my weight hadn’t done the “yo-yo” thing in a long time. Clearly, what I failed to realize is how much my body had changed, but this fact was now shockingly evident as the top of my tankini refused to stay up and kept threatening to slide all the way off.
I had not thought to pack 2 bathing suits, as I had packed the “never fail” bathing suit. I stood there, not understanding this new reality but understanding that I needed to come up with a solution. The pieces I had packed already didn’t really match, but they fit correctly (so I thought), so I had to wear them. But in order to keep the tankini top in place, I had to add the additional layer of my gray t-shirt, tied up in a knot just above my waist to keep it out of the water.
After driving the hour back home, I was able to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror while donning this swim get-up, and I laughed out loud when I saw what it looked like in real life. It explained a lot of the looks I was getting as we played in the lake. Oh well! We had a good time!
Also, I’m choosing to spend at least a few days living in denial that bathing suit shopping is now completely unavoidable. I need to be in the right state of mind and emotional space for that undertaking.
Saturday Morning Bliss
It is now Saturday, and May Lee and I are fresh-spirited after the good night of sleep that swimming and time in the sun always brings. Spending all of our free time yesterday at the lake meant that we had no food in the house this morning, so for breakfast May Lee ate PBJ and I ate the last hot dog remaining from our backyard campout rolled up in a leftover pancake. I think that is a good measure of how far I have fallen off the meal-planning wagon.
In fact, “good measure” is a phrase that has shown up a few times in this recap of our week. Good Measure is also the name of our local health foods store, so perhaps this whole thing is word of prophecy exhorting me to higher planes of getting my life together that do not include leftover campout food wrapped in stale pancake. I wonder if they also sell sage and essential oils. This could be a one stop shop for all kinds of health and healing!
My child has been begging to go camping. I have hesitated to take her, given her complete and unholy terror of flying insects and intense aversion to outdoor bathrooms. Reaching a compromise, we planned a backyard campout for the Memorial Day weekend.
The day of the campout began with much needed yard maintenance to prepare a nice place to camp. I spent the morning mowing the front lawn and entertaining portions of the neighborhood girl gang. At lunch, we all took a break to recover from the heat. In my case, I took a long, luxurious nap.
After I woke up, I put the hammock up between the trees in the front yard, because what is a campout without a hammock? Then I began mowing the back yard and getting it ready for the tent. In the middle of that process, we received a pet turtle, and so we spent some time creating a turtle habitat. We are now a family of 2 people, 1 dog, 2 cats, 1 turtle, and 2 goldfish. I’m going to start charging admission to this house that is quickly becoming a petting zoo.
By this time, it was time to hit the local Wal-Mart to join with all the other Memorial Day celebrators in procuring all the cookout necessities. Over $100 later, we left with all manner of campfire cookout food and 1 bona fide fish tank, because I am now willing to accept that we have become fish people. Also, because I am no longer willing to change tank water every other day when there are such blessed inventions as water filters.
We returned home and immediately set up the new fish tank. It came with an LED light that changes color, so once it was all set up, we sat in front of it mesmerized by the colors, the bubbles, and the fish making fish faces.
Finally pulling ourselves away, we began setting up the tent. I need you to understand the weather conditions under which I took up this occupation. It was approximately 1000 degrees with 10,000 percent humidity. I bent down to open the bag containing the tent and that action alone caused me to be immediately drenched in sweat. By the time the tent was up, I felt like I had walked into a swimming pool with all my clothes on.
Still, we soldiered on and started the campfire. We ate chips and dip and roasted hot dogs, and we didn’t completely swelter from the heat. We made s’mores and enjoyed the hypnotic effect of a campfire. All the while, Stax whined in protest that he was not included in the festivities and was sent to his bed inside the house.
As the sun set, we cleaned up from the cook out and let Stax outside. I walked with him around the tent as he inspected it, hoping to prevent any Lab-like chewing behavior. Rather, he immediately marked the side of the tent as his territory. Thanks, boy.
I went inside to gather the rest of the bedding we needed for our campout, keeping an ear and eye out for any shenanigans Stax may try to pull. Stepping back outside with an arm full of blankets and pillows, I found Stax happily laying in the grass while eating our lantern. By the time I pulled it from his jaws, he had already chewed off the handle. Upon further inspection, it was found to be incredibly slimy but still in working order. Nothing a good cleaning wouldn’t fix.
We settled into the tent, leaving Stax on the outside. I would have liked to have him in the tent, because despite his many flaws, he is my emotional support beast. My child, however, does not find him as charming as I do, but we both found comfort in his large form being present right outside of the tent door.
My child asked me to read to her, and handing me her small, green Bible with a ladybug adorning the cover, she asked me to read the first chapter. By the light of our now handle-less lantern, I read aloud the account of The Creation. The atmosphere of the creation account had never before felt so fitting as reading it in a tent, by the light of a lantern, with the moon and the stars peaking through the window.
Next, we read two chapters in the 1st book of the Magic Treehouse series, and then we settled into the stillness of the night. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, as I was exhausted from a day of yard work and setting up backyard camp. I had just switched off the lantern and closed my eyes, when a light rain began to fall.
“Ahhh, it’s raining!” I happily exclaimed.
“I’m scared! We have to go in!” my child declared, not at all sharing my delight.
“Look, it’s just a gentle rain. Even Stax isn’t bothered by it. He hasn’t even moved,” I pointed out.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “He’s not freaked out at all”.
Taking her cues from the emotional support beast, she settled back down into the pillows and blankets, and we enjoyed the sound of the rain that only lasted a couple more minutes. I lay there, sinking deeper into relaxation, enjoying the sounds of the insects and frogs singing, until a new sound made its way into my consciousness. Quickly, I realized that sound was Stax snacking on the guy lines of the tent.
“NO!!!” I yelled, as I bounded out of the hobbit-sized opening of the tent. Stax lay there completely unfazed by my exuberant exit from the tent and happily chewing the lines. That was the end of the campout for Stax, as I escorted him to his bed inside the house.
The humans attempted to settle back into the tent, but we were newly aware of how hot it was after exerting ourselves. Every few minutes, one of us would declare, “It’s really hot” and the other would agree.
At one point during this exchange, my child said, “Well, at least we got a tent so you can go camping when you want to. I can have a sleepover at Nana & Pop’s or a friends house”.
In response, I burst into laughter, and she promptly covered my mouth with her hand.
“Does that mean you would like to go inside now?” I inquired.
“No,” she responded, “I’ll try for a few more minutes.”
By 9:30, we were in the house, safely tucked into our beds and enjoying the air-conditioning. I fell asleep more deeply relaxed than I usually do, with the scent of the outdoors and campfire fresh in my hair and the song of nighttime creatures still in my ears.
The tent is still up in the yard, and we keep looking out of the window to make sure that Stax isn’t using it as a giant chew toy. The spirit of camping seems to have nestled into a small part of my daughter’s heart, as she keeps saying that she would like to try to sleep out again tonight.
Maybe we will sleep out all night in the tent, and maybe we won’t. Whatever time we get to spend together outside will ultimately serve us well, with the slower pace and fewer distractions it allows us to enjoy.
Last Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, was race day. It was the graduation 5K for the 10 week Women Run Arkansas running and walking clinic, and this was my 3rdyear participating.
My 1st year of the clinic, I participated in the beginner running group. I was just getting back into running after more than 5 years off, and what I found was a supportive community of women trying to jump start their own health and wellness goals. It was a gentle re-entry into an active lifestyle devoid of the pressure to perform or compete, and it served me well.
The next year I went out, I joined the intermediate running group as a way to prepare for half-marathon training. At the same time, I was trying to work out some issues with diet and nutrition. I was really struggling in that area, and it was showing up in my running as stomach and side cramps, feelings of nausea, and lack of energy to sustain my workouts. Again, the community of women, especially my group leaders, was there with guidance and support, even when it got ugly and I was about to toss my cookies!
This year, I participated in the clinic as a co-leader of the beginner running group that I joined my 1stseason out, and it has really caused me to reflect on how far I’ve come since that first season at clinic. My mind is still trying to wrap around how I went from being unable to run 3 miles to completing a half-marathon in 2 short years. I’m pretty sure that during that first season, I declared emphatically that I would never run a half-marathon. Never say never, right?
As co-leader, I learned so much and enjoyed the experience in a brand new way. I so looked forward to meeting up with our group each week, which we affectionately called “Runner-Bees” since we were the beginner runner B group. Getting to know the women, watching them progress, and coming along side them as they did things they thought they would never do was such an uplifting experience.
I made me realize how much I did not appreciate or understand my own “coming up” those first 2 years of clinic. At the time, I couldn’t see my progress because my vision of myself was clouded by faulty expectations. Now that I think about it, that may be the biggest area of growth for me since starting out: setting realistic expectations and being willing to adjust my expectations and goals when things are just not going the way I planned.
I also realized that until now, I haven’t appreciated or understood the importance of finish lines. I think before, I experienced finish lines as The Final Judgment of how I performed in relation to my expectations. They were also the portals into the unknown territory of “Now What?” and “What’s Next?” Clearly, I have been a glutton for punishment in the area of performance and expectations.
I had such a different finish line experience this race. I wasn’t being timed. I wasn’t competing with myself. My sole purpose was to support my group, encourage them, enjoy the race together, and cross the finish line together. And when a runner from our group kicked it into high gear at the finish, I did my best to keep up with her. It was a powerful experience of victory, achievement, and pay off for consistently showing up and putting in the work each week. There was no Final Judgment Syndrome or Expectation to Perform. There was only joy and pride and exhilaration, because finish lines are FUN.
After the race, our group talked a great deal about how much we enjoy the atmosphere of cooperation versus competition that the clinic fosters, and I think I’ve really come to conclude that competition isn’t a good look for me, even when I’m only competing with myself. I think the evidence of that fact is in how much I thrived each season of the clinic, and particularly this year, when I was completely taken out of the competitive part and totally immersed in the cooperative aspect.
I’ve been shedding some old ideas about my goals for running this season, and I think last weekend’s race shook things up even more. As I work on new goals for running, the focus is going to be shifting away from measuring performance and tracking progress and moving toward something along the lines of “how much joy can I experience between now and the finish line”.
The theme of this year’s clinic and race was “The Magic of New Beginnings”, and it really has been a new beginning for me. I won’t be approaching the running season, training, or races with the attitude and mindset that I had in the past. This new beginning is about the joy of the experience and the cooperative spirit of the running community. With that in mind, here’s to many more finish lines!
Each morning as I drive across town to drop my child off at school, we pass through the streets that wind around the university that I attended and graduated from many moons ago. The semester has been winding down, and finals are being given. Each day we pass by, there are fewer cars in the parking lots and noticeably more vehicles parked curbside as fathers load them up with overflowing laundry baskets of college accoutrements.
As I take in the scene each morning, images of my own white Jeep Wrangler parked at the same curbs flash through my mind. This time of year, it would also get packed full of overflowing laundry baskets of random items, because I have never professed to pack well for anything. Or unpack well, for that matter.
Those memories have collected over the course of the week, continually triggered by the sight of dorm rooms being packed up and high school seniors in cap and gown and by the stories I’ve heard people sharing about plans for summer trips or summer jobs. The air is buzzing with heavy-hearted, sentimental good-byes and the anxiety that major life transitions and milestones bring. It’s also electric with excitement and anticipation of the promise of new beginnings, new adventures, and new freedoms.
Wide-open space was what I was looking for when I packed up my Jeep about this time 17 years ago. If memory serves, it was also the song I belted out right along with the Dixie Chicks as I drove that Jeep from Tennessee to Colorado that summer. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I belted that song out, either. My little white Jeep with Wrangler scrawled down the side in purple and teal had a gray soft top, so whether I was singing or talking, I was always competing with the flapping of vinyl fabric going 70 miles per hour.
At my current age, I would opt for the hard top. Standard transmission would also be selected for such a road trip. At 20, however, I was thrilled with a manual transmission and a soft top, and all I can say is that it made Kansas a more memorable experience. What Kansas lacked in scenery to entertain my eyes, it more than made up for with wind noise in my ears.
I arrived in Colorado not knowing a single soul. Through word of mouth, I heard about different jobs and applied for them, getting hired on to do housekeeping for the summer. I got set up with a cabin to rent and a roommate to share it with, not knowing a single thing about either one of them. The roommate turned out to be a blessing from God, and the cabin we affectionately referred to as “the shack”. The toilet was essentially inside of the shower, if that paints any kind of picture. I was there alone for the first several days, when the ancient fuse blew inside of the ancient fuse box and the hot-water heater decided not to work. For the first time since hatching this grand idea to escape to the mountains, I paused that night to wonder what I had gotten myself into as I took an icy shower in a cabin without heat.
Some might say it was an omen for the trials that would come shortly thereafter, or attribute it as a sign from God that I should have turned my tail around and gone back home where I belonged. But I don’t think it was.
I think it was more like growing pains with the initial jolts and shocks that come with moving into a startling, new reality that a whole host of family and close friends have tried to shield a young person from, while simultaneously trying to prepare him or her for life inside of it. But those efforts can only fall short, even with the best of intentions, because those lessons can only be learned independently. That work has to be done outside of the familiar, the comfortable, and the safe, which is a lesson I’m still learning to this day. It is also why I believe that every good “coming of age” story begins with a road trip.
So much about that time and that summer was and is beautiful. The day trips, scenery, experiences, and life-long friendships are all etched into the fabric of my being, and I love every single one of those memories. Still, there are aspects to it that are dark and ugly, and frankly, they continue to have an affect on my ability to live my present-day life. Perhaps that is why those memories are visiting me again and at this time. Recently, I’ve begun doing the work of examining all the pieces of my story by bringing a whole heart, wise mind, sensitive spirit, and gentle strength to a round table in order to view it with eyes wide open until I can truthfully call each piece beautiful.
Once I am able to do that, I can safely and lovingly bring those things back inside myself and live peacefully with them. I have tried many other ways to reconcile my experiences, but this is the only way that I’ve found that ends with me being more like a complete person. Otherwise, these dark, jagged memories continue to dangle off of me like uncultivated tendrils, getting tangled up on things as I pass through life, causing me to trip, sometimes falling all the way down.
The pruning process can be painful and messy, and the result may still be somewhat of a mess, but it is a beautiful mess and a much more peaceful me. So, I am going to practice welcoming the memories as they come each morning as we drive through campus, until all the cars are gone and the students have moved on to whatever is next. I’m going to practice telling the truth about them until I can call them beautiful and bring them inside. I’ll practice pruning off the dead ends slowly and gently, and maybe by the end of the summer, something more deeply human will have taken shape.
This year began with the need for home improvement projects, as a flurry of repairs presented themselves at the hands, or paws, of the latest addition to our family.
I call him the handsome thief. He is the Ocean’s 11 George Clooney of the feline set: all handsome and distinguished-looking but always up to no good, cozying up to you in order to relieve you of your valuables. Or in this case, your ponytail holders.
I bought a brand new pack of hair ties, and within a week, I was down to one or two that I could locate when I needed one. I went with the most simple and obvious solution first; I shut the door to the bathroom. Having observed us opening doors a time or two and with the promise of a gold mine of ponytail holders calling to him like sirens, he quickly figured out how to open the door to the bathroom. He now freely lets himself into any room in the house that he desires to enter.
I can’t even begin to express how irritating this is.
Let me take a moment here to offer some home design advice. I know the lever door handles look nice, but if you have or ever plan to have toddlers or pets in your home, go with doorknobs. If one lacks developed fine motor skills or opposable thumbs, one struggles with a doorknob. The doorknob is a friend to parents and pet owners who would like to simply close a door to prevent disaster. Such peace only comes with doorknobs.
Next, I tried storing the ties in the bathroom drawer rather than on the counter. Within the day, Tidden (his real name) was opening the drawer and helping himself.
After that, I tried placing them on the bathroom shelf, and this is where I realized my fatal error: HE SAW ME PUT THEM AWAY. I tried to act casual and remedy my mistake. I pretended that I was placing something else on that shelf that bore no resemblance to a ponytail holder. “Oh, look at this can of dry shampoo that needs to be put away. Let me place it up here on this shelf where nothing enticing to felines lives.” Yet, his interest remained. He cased those shelves for weeks, plotting his heist.
My daughter came to me during that time with a several ponytail holders she found buried underneath the living room rug.
“Do you want me to put them on your bathroom shelf?” she politely offered.
“No! No, we have to play it cool! He’s onto us! Act like the shelves don’t exist. Completely ignore them, otherwise he’s going to try to jump up there, “ I advised like any rational and logical cat-owner would.
My daughter looked confused, but she went with it. Even if she thought I was insane, she had heard the tales of Shiva, the cat we had when she was a baby. Shiva pulled the shelves off of our living room wall, very nearly taking out the TV in the process. These are the important pieces of family history that get passed down in this house.
The very next day, while we were still cleaning up from Christmas festivities and preparing for the New Year, we heard it. The Great Crash from the back of the house that could only be my bathroom shelf bouncing off the toilet before crashing to the tiled floor. Seconds later, a blur of white fur tore past us, eyes wide, ears flat, moving quickly and erratically as if his tail were on fire.
Since then, I have tried other hiding places. He discovered that I was sneaking them into the Glam Bag that Sephora sent in my monthly subscription box. I realized this upon entering the bathroom and finding the contents of the bag emptied into the sink and the ponytail holders conspicuously missing. The silver lining to this super annoying cloud is that I rediscovered the Vintage shade of Anastasia Lip Gloss that solved my months long hunt for the perfect lip color.
Having exhausted all my options for securing my hair ties, I have given up the will to fight this battle and have resorted to wearing the remaining hair ties on my wrist or otherwise keeping them on my person.
A couple of weeks after The Great Shelf Crash, Stax, in a display of solidarity to his feline brother, escaped the backyard. About this time last year, he did the same thing, causing me to realize that he also understood how levers work.
Again, I urge you to avoid all lever closures in your home, to include the gates on your fences.
This time, somehow, he pulled the padlock off of the chain wrapped around the fence that was placed there to ensure that he could not open the gate even if he lifted the lever.
So, off I went on yet another trip to the hardware store to purchase yet another padlock. This time, I shelled out the extra dollars for the super-deluxe-theft-proof padlock. I asked the salesman if that also meant Labrador proof. He paused for a moment, filing this away on his list of interesting customer service experiences, then replied, “I don’t know. How strong is your dog?”
It strikes me, as I stare into my closet, that my wardrobe is one of those ridiculously complicated and impossible to solve word problems.
It goes something like this:
Q- Your closet contains 6 consecutive sizes of clothes. You begin training for a half marathon and drop a few pounds. The largest 3 sizes do not fit and threaten an imminent and embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. The smallest 3 sizes are painfully tight and restrict all ability to breathe. What size clothes do you actually wear?
A- The size you actually wear does not exist in reality. Your options are as follows: Yoga pants and other athletic clothing options, pants with elastic or drawstring waistbands, and belts.
After I finished my first 10K last December and was all hopped up on endorphins and feeling bulletproof, St. Jude offered me the opportunity to sign up for the 2017 race.
“Sure!” I thought, “I’m going to put my money down on the half-marathon. I’m committing now! I have a whole year to get ready. I’m stepping up my game!”
Great marketing is a powerful thing, my friend. Clearly, I am not immune.
Spring rolled around, with it’s unseasonable heat, then unseasonable snow, and then unseasonable thunderstorms that flooded what seemed like the entire earth. People were literally kayaking down their streets, while I was (attempting) to build up to a 5k in the annual women’s running clinic in my community. I was also trying to clean up my diet, with mixed results and many near-vomit experiences.
It was about the time that I was encountering the complete opposite of the success I’d imagined with the 5K that I thought, “A half-marathon is like 10 more miles. I’m in soooo much trouble”. So when my friend suggested a half marathon in October, 6 weeks before the St. Jude half-marathon, I signed up. Crazy, right? But my thinking was/is, that the October half-marathon will be the race where I make all my mistakes.
For example, today marks the official first day of training for the October half-marathon. The prescribed run for today was 3 miles. Easy enough, you say? Let me tell you a story.
I leave work 30 minutes later than I planned, pushing my run time back later than expected. As I drive, I’m slamming 18 ounces of water, because I’m really thirsty for some reason. Plus, I am actively pursuing total hydration as a goal. (I said what I said).
I get home and hurry to change, fill up a water bottle and put it in a cooler, and gather all my gear. On the drive to the course I’ve planned, I reach over for the cooler to move it out of the sun, but come up empty handed. No cooler in the car. I mean, who needs water for a 3 mile run in 90 degrees? I’m properly hydrated these days; it’ll be fine!
I park the car and begin walking to warm up my legs. I’m not 300 meters from the car, when I realize that only half of that 18 ounces of water I was slamming must have made it out when I was at home, because the other half is knocking on the door. When I hit the corner, I jogged across the street to the gas station.
“This is fine!” I say to myself, “I’m exploring potential pit stops for longer runs. Note to self: vintage bathroom graffiti and a non-working lock.”
I finally start my run after jogging back across the street to the trail. The first mile feels good. The second mile gets hard, and I can feel my face moving from bright red to deep purple. The 3rd mile, I’m willing my legs to just keep turning.
Spiritually, I’ve been in a season of “growing up”, so I’ve developed this mantra that I say to myself every time something is painful and I want to start whining. Instead of saying “this hurts and I’m dying” and I recognize the pain and say to myself “This is where I grow”.
The 3rd mile was a inner refrain of “this is where I grow. This is where my legs get stronger. This is where my lungs get stronger. This is where my mind gets stronger,” and included many more pieces of me that were hurting or feeling weak. My new inner chant saw me through to the end.
And it saw me to this water fountain, where I snapped a picture of my purple face and the copious amount of sweat that is the result of pursuing total hydration as a goal. The picture also serves as a reminder to actually put the packed cooler of water into the car.
The picture and the story behind it serve as a baseline for this journey, and I’m interested to see the difference between today and October 21st when the race finally rolls around.
It also serves as proof positive that the “half-marathon where I can make all of my silly mistakes before the St. Jude half-marathon” is needed in my case.
As for tomorrow, Training Day 2, “they” say that I need to run hills.
My daughter celebrated her 6th birthday this week, and I feel confident that she has enjoyed the heck out of it. She had a small birthday party at our house on Saturday. Then, of course, there was the birthday fanfare and cupcakes at school on her actual birthday. I surprised her that afternoon by picking her up from school and whisking her away on a secret trip that concluded at Chuck E Cheese, where the grandparents were waiting with cake and gifts.
Undoubtedly, she has been drinking in the excitement of the birthday and growing up. I, on the other hand, have been elbow deep in TimeHop-induced nostalgia, scrolling through baby picture after baby picture while drowning my tears in vanilla, chocolate, AND strawberry cake. On occasion, I’ll even throw in some Blue Bell Birthday Cake ice cream for good measure.
My stronghold of denial that allows me to ignore the fact that she is growing up has come crashing down on my head. The fact that she can read a little bit did not faze me, but the purchase of the lavender poster featuring a white, adorable kitten that now hangs on the door to her bedroom put a small crack in my bastion of denail. The unicorn-themed 6th birthday party and the impending graduation from kindergarten, however, have cracked that sucker wide open and it is now raining reality.
I find reality unpleasant.
But the kicker was this weekend when she realized that she had left one of her drawings in the car. Without a second thought, she simply walked over to the key hook, reached up and removed my car keys, thoughtfully inspected the clicker, proceeded to click the unlock button the required 2 times, and successfully unlocked every door of the car. She then glided to the kitchen door, gracefully placed her hand upon the door handle, and as if it were common practice, sweetly and serenely turned her face to me as she informed me that she’d “be back in just a minute”. Then my 6 year old walked out of the door with car keys in hand.
I stood there a little perplexed, questioning the reality of what had just occurred before my very eyes. She’s 6, not 16. Then I began questioning how I should be responding to this moment. Should I rush out of the door after her? She seems pretty confident about knowing what she is doing, so maybe I should just peer out the window and make sure she doesn’t do something crazy, like drive away in my vehicle? Is this something that requires a reprimand? Maybe a warning about car safety? Is this a completely normal maturing process and I am just freaked out by it because I want her to remain a baby forever?
By the time I had contemplated all the competing thoughts and processed all the warring emotions, my child re-entered the house, returned the keys to their rightful place, and carried herself back into the living room to continue her art. Clearly, she has things under control.