Friday, October 10, 2014

How's your pain today?

Most of the stories that spin my head--the conflicts, the twists, the what-might-happen-nexts--they aren't mine to live or to tell. I'm a supporting character, sure. But most of what I do these days is stand beside the protagonist and say "I'm here in the absence of answers, through every if and when."

We breathe in, then out, then in again. On some days, it's the best we can do.

I try to inhale hope and exhale fear, but I usually screw up the timing just like I do in yoga. Wait, what, we're supposed to be inhaling up, exhaling down? Damn. It's a wonder my lungs fill up at all.

I am fragile, raw and vulnerable. So are you. And yet we're all so quick to disguise ourselves as resilient, unshakable, as fine, everything's fine, and you?...

When I'm at the store, the hospital, the gym, I look for the other pairs of tired eyes. I don't know their stories, but I know a smile from a stranger never makes anything worse. (Unless it's a creepy stranger and a creepy smile, but I'm careful not to be creepy.)

Anyway, my point is that we're all somewhere on the spectrum of pain, and in those moments when we're only a 1 or a 2 and life feels okay, we can maybe hold the hands or smile at the eyes of the 8 out of 10s. And when it's our turn to be a a 7, 8 or 9, maybe we can answer honestly when asked "how's your pain today?"

Sunday, August 3, 2014

At the top

I keep thinking about last year, where we were in the day by day of moving from there to here. I remember eating sweet potato tots on a patio restaurant in South Dakota on the 3rd of July. I remember the sudden swoosh of a Montana road, the butterflies, the shock of color, cliffs and craned necks.

When we drove into Alaska for the very first time, I hadn't put a name to the face of the mountain that made me marvel, not even as we posed in front of it. Denali. McKinley.

I've seen it now a hundred times, maybe more. All it takes is a clear day, and there it is--white against blue--popping up in the second mile of my go-to running route.
Sometimes we take a day trip to get even closer, to skip rocks and peer across the river at 20,000 unfathomable feet.

When friends ask, I tell them we're happy here. We are. Though at times this Alaskan life feels like a caricature, like my husband bringing home salmon he pulled from a net in the Kenai is only playing to the stereotype. Now all that's left is to buy an RV and a husky named Nome. (I admit it--I do want a husky!)

But not interestingly enough, I still manage to be a cliched suburban soccer mom in the last frontier. My car is filthy from carpooling and cleats, and I am carting kids everywhere like my life depends on it. It doesn't. What would happen if I woke up and decided that we could skip soccer practice and medical release forms and gymnastics and school registration and all-women's road races and all the things that keep me driving and running to and fro?
Maybe we'd play a game of scrabble in the middle of the day or drink pink lemonade from the good china tea cups. Maybe we'd go camping, forget dinner and fill up on potato chips and s'mores. That wouldn't be the end of the world.
Maybe it'd be the start of it. 
(For the record, we did all that, and the only regret was not bringing more chips.)

My son loves to skateboard, and I think he's nuts. My daughter loves to play dolls and dress up in frills, and I don't get it, not even a little bit. I love to run so fast it hurts like bloody hell, and no one in the family--not even me--gets that either. But we're all here, doing our thing.

Sometimes, I drag them on a hike to the top of a mountain, and the whole way up is torture. She whines about her legs hurting. And he whines about slowing down for her. And I whine about how much they're whining. And then we get to the top.

And at the top, we get amnesia. We have no idea how our legs got so tired. There's no record of the bickering/whining/dragging of grumpy arses up an unrelenting switchback.
At the top, we use every one of our five senses to taste smell feel hear see the view.
At the top, the trees look so tiny, and is that the forest?
At the top, I shed my status as a stereotype and target demographic. I'm just a person, with my people. And we are all the best kind of alive, at the top.

{Just writing today with Heather.}

Thursday, June 26, 2014

When the wallflower gives way to the fool

I grew up believing trees were meant for climbing, however high the branches could hold, that falling wasn't the worst fate, that great heights outweighed the gravity of broken bones.

I'm not sure what age it was when fear grew like a layer of bark, a ring in the trunk--the kind you'd see if you cut me down and measured the length of my years. But there was a time, not too far past 14, when fear of falling, failing, overcame the fear of missing out, the thrill of swaying with the wind in the tip-top branch.

I lived afraid for a good many years, not so much of scraped knees, but of laughter and pointed fingers, of foolishness, of judgment.

I'm not back to climbing trees, no, not by a long shot. But I've started running full tilt against the wind. When it's age I want to defy, I turn to the track instead of the spa. It does no favors for my skin, adding years only to my heart. At 40, I'll be the fastest I've ever been. Maybe that's not saying much. (I wasn't terribly fast at 14.) But it speaks volumes to the part of me that used to be afraid.

See? I just said "used to be", like I'm not living in fear of what anyone thinks, like I'm not afraid to give my whole heart to beat loudly into the day and be made the fool of dramatic proportions. Finally, finally, I'd rather be the fool than the wallflower.

I see it in the way I live. I see it in the way I parent. I see it in the way I've stopped caring so much about the what ifs in favor of asking the why nots. Maybe this is what it means to grow up. Not to give up the climb, but to let go of the fear that I might fall.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

In Which Not Everything Was Ruined

On Mother's Day, I wanted two things.
1. To sleep in.
2. An entire day of happy hearts.

It was more like this:
1. Dog wakes me up at 6 am and doesn't leave me alone until I let her outside and feed her.
2. Back to bed.
3. Daughter wakes me up at 7 am. She falls back asleep (in my bed!). I do not.
4. Son gets up at 8 am, just as I am sneaking my way out of bed in search of coffee (trapped between daughter, dog, and the husband who is still on the night shift schedule).
5. Son bursts into tears because the surprise he had planned is forever ruined by my presence. Son goes back into room to sulk.
6. I get my own coffee.
7. Daughter comes downstairs, cranky as heck, asks for a bagel. Not nicely.
8. Son comes downstairs, still sulking, tells sister she ruined the surprise by waking me up too early. And also, you're not supposed to demand breakfast on Mother's Day. At least not from Mom.
9. Daughter bursts into tears, highly offended by the accusation that she has ruined mom's special day.
10. Fighting, crying, and everything is apparently ruined.

But not everything was ruined. Not even close. Not even when you count the hour long nail polish mishap and dishonesty-induced drama with the girl that followed shortly afterward. Or that we missed church entirely. Or that the husband barely got any sleep before the 10 hour shift he was about to begin.

Not everything was ruined. For starters, my coffee was perfect. (If you want something done right....)
And the boy finally pulled off his surprise--at lunchtime, but still. The salad he made me was delicious. And no one yelled or screamed or demanded at lunch. So there was that.

But here's what I was thinking this afternoon as I held my daughter, pressing my nose into the strands of her hair, smelling the tears she'd collected on her cheeks. I was thinking that it's always going to be messy, and not just because the nail polish spills. I was thinking that there's never a day where you take a break from all the hard stuff, the misfiring of good intentions, the blocked goals, the cranky moods, the harsh words and rolled eyes, the disappointment. Sure, sometimes you get a day where it's a little less of that and little more of the sweet cards and surprise lunches. But usually, I mean almost always, it's really hard work to stay above the fray and to keep the kindness in your voice.

At one of our favorite Maine beaches, many moons and mother's days ago
If motherhood has taught me anything, it is this:
If there are people in your life that you love so much--so much that you'd rather be sleep-deprived and chronically frustrated and sometimes hurt and often annoyed and frequently worried and growing gray hairs at an alarming clip--if you'd rather deal with all that mess than to live without them, well, then you're a very lucky girl.

And I am. So very lucky.

Not everything was ruined. Not even close.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


The (redheaded) wicked stepsister
I grew up back in the day when all the princesses were blond or brunette, when gingers were cast only as villains, wicked-stepsisters or--if they were lucky--orphans. It wasn't easy being a redhead in a pre-Ariel, pre-Merida world.

As a kid, I wished a million times to trade my red hair and blue eyes--the rarest color combo on the planet--for something a bit less flashy. A muted brown sounded dreamy. And don't even get me started on the freckles. I despised them, along with all the names I was called. I never personally smashed a tablet over Gilbert Bly's head, but I sure as heck understood why Anne would do it. (A temper to match her fiery hair, Rachel Lind might speculate.)

One of the things they say about gingers is that we're more sensitive to thermal pain--the extremes of hot and cold. We also require extra anesthesia (and I have a wisdom teeth removal story that will support this finding). I thought about the thermal pain theory this morning as I dunked my leg in an ice bath. I wondered if it feels like a trip to frozen hell for everyone, or if that's just another one of my redheaded privileges.

I'm icing and cutting back on my mileage and training intensity thanks to some newly flared tibial tendonitis. Tibial Tendonitis is a fancy phrase for "my ankle hurts like non-frozen hell". It also might be the name of an ancient Greek antagonist who is purported to have kicked the very first marathon runner in the shins at mile 22.

Anyway, I've been slowing down my runs, holding back, avoiding the pavement pounding, taking it "gingerly". I'm paying attention to the pain. This isn't my favorite. It's easier to swallow some motrin and go full speed ahead. Being careful messes with my head. I toggle between two screens of worry--one with me on crutches and the other with my hard-earned fitness slipping like sand through an hour glass. Do you know how hard it is to turn that hour glass over, to start from scratch? Definitely not the hardest thing ever, but pretty close to the definition of discouraging.

So I'm back to talking to myself, asking the no-right-answer questions. How hard do I push? When do I lay off, take a break, and for how long? I really have no freaking clue.

The other thing they say about redheads is that we have a reputation for being strong and determined, at least that's how it was back in the day of the Roman empire, nearer to the time when Tibial Tendonitis was going around acting like a chump, picking on poor innocent distance runners. I think it's pretty true, the determined thing. If you were going to be a jerkface about it, you might say we aren't so much strong and determined as we are ridiculously stubborn. And you would be correct. Mean. But correct.

At church this morning, there were four red-heads in a choir of maybe sixteen. All four were girls, none older than 17, and I wanted to hold up a sign--a secret sign that only redheads could see--to tell them that they are fabulous. And that Gilbert Bly can be an idiot sometimes, but he didn't mean it to be rude. And that red hair is a good thing, albeit awkwardly disguised, and that it's okay if sometimes the cold and the heat hurt a bit more, if it takes extra doses to dull the pain.

Because we can handle the pain even when it's sharp. And we can keep going, doggedly, stubbornly, even when we have to go gingerly.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

In which the trying is the sweet spot

Call it denial. Call it optimism. It's probably both. But there's a place where, given enough sunlight, 37 seems warm and 39 feels young.

There's a sweet spot in every sport, at least that's the theory. In golf, you know it when you hear it, club to ball. It sounds like a hole-in-one. And in baseball, you know it when you see it, or maybe when you don't--because it's already out of the park. As for the sweet spot in road racing--the sport I'm supposed to know the most about-- I'm not totally sure. I'd guess it would be the finish line. Well, unless you puke in the chute. In that case, it's more of a delayed sweet spot, like later that afternoon when you're polishing off a cheeseburger and relishing in proving yourself to be faster and stronger than you were the day before, the year before, maybe than ever.

The thing about sweet spots is that they aren't very big, very often, or very easy to come by.  You have to work so hard to find them, and when you finally do, they're fleeting. You can't put them in a mason jar, poke some holes in the lid and hope they'll last until August.

This week I found myself in a contented striving, the sort of place where you're delighted just for the privilege to try. I ran on bare pavement in 37 degrees on 39 year old legs underneath the highest sun I've seen in months, and for maybe a quarter of a mile I felt strong. Top of the mountain strong. Bow of the ship, I'm flying, king of the world strong. Look me in the eye and tell me I can't, I dare you strong. Of course it didn't last. Of course. But those sweet spots--damn if they don't keep you going through the next one hundred shanked shots. (I'm back to golf again, if you haven't noticed).

I have a friend who's running a marathon tomorrow, and I keep thinking about her, hoping that tomorrow's her day, the day of the BQ. She's the bravest sort of lady, the kind who ignores all the really good excuses and only pays attention to the lofty goal, the kind who lets her heart publicly break in the almost-but-not-quite achievement of a huge PR and a barely-missed-Boston. The kind who duct tapes her heart back together and trains through the polar vortex and goes RIGHT BACK OUT THERE.

The sweet spot isn't always (necessarily) at the top. Sometimes it's in the climb and the burn.
You guys. This is how we stay young, and this is how we stay warm, and this is how we stay alive. We keep striving. We keep hunting the sweet spot. We tell the melancholy and the disappointment and the negativity to suck it. We chase the maybe-just-maybes and the almost-but-not-quites. And in the chase, we get warmer and stronger. We get faster, braver. And who knows if we'll ever catch whatever it is we're after. But we're sure as heck gonna bask in the privilege to try. And sometimes? The trying is the sweet spot.

Monday, March 31, 2014

In which glacial is the new epic {Just Write}

Environmental whiplash. No seriously, it's a thing. I had a severe case of it this weekend when I launched straight from a bouncy house birthday party to a glacier hike. One minute I'm surrounded by screaming banshees and smelly socks and headache-inducing inflatables. An hour later, I'm hiking a frozen lake en route to a glacier. Which, come to think of it, is the cure for just about everything, including environmental whiplash.


At first, she envied the toddler in the sled with the skate skiing dad. Then, the musher and his huskies. For the whole of two miles, she trudged, springless steps toward this wonder I'd promised at the halfway point. I was talking about the glacier, but she was thinking about the candy. And really, who cares what the carrot looks like as long as she kept walking?

The boys pressed forward faster, leaving us to linger in the long mountain shadow. I listened to her whine of a cold face and a bruised knee, neither of which are remote factors when she wants to ski just one more run. Hiking is all plod and no whoosh, or so she thinks.

I asked her to sing to pass the time, to leave less air space for the complain-plane. She sang her Alaska songs (Fur Rondezvous and Huskies), and corrected me after I messed up the refrain (you say mush TWO times, not THREE, silly mama). The sun found us again, and together we turned a corner in every sense.

There it was. We walked right up to the glacier and said hello. We pulled out the snacks and the camera and our sense of wonder. Perhaps they were tired of my remarks about how incredibly amazing it was to travel this hour in this place, but they didn't disagree. The girl perked up, in fact, started dancing on the ice, pointing out heart shapes, embracing the label I tried giving her earlier when pleading for a faster gait--my "tough Alaskan girl".


I could maybe name a few moments in the whole of two hours where there wasn't at least a hint of discomfort. Fingers too cold, bladders too full, stomachs too empty, legs too tired.

But the discomfort is never what we remember. We latch on instead to the handful of minutes when the sun highlighted our hair and the glacier towered above and the icebergs became seats and the four of us were together in this surreal, desolate, wild corner of the world. 

I am a day early in this "just write" deal, or six days late is probably more like it. But I think Heather will forgive me just this once.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mahalo, etc.

I never know where to start, usually because I should've started years ago. Do you pretend the years never were and start fresh? Do you go back and wax chronological?

The kids are weaponizing their stuffed animals. There's an invention room and a testing room. They skip room to room. An F-18 bomber has been fashioned from a soccer pillow. It's raining in Hawaii, and we don't care. (Jimmy cracked corn as well. Still don't care.) They say mahalo for the best. vacation. ever. I say mahalo for having eyes that sparkle like everything is wild and new. Their pupils widen, pulses quicken like it's the easiest, most natural way to live. This is the glory of youth.

I live vicariously. I didn't know it wouldn't last forever. I should've, I mean, is anything more obvious? But I didn't. I was in such a hurry to be a responsible adult. Too bad. I would've liked to stay wide-eyed and wild beyond the age of 13. But, I'm still obsessed with whether there will be dessert, so, at least I have that in common with the children.


C brought home a school packet yesterday. He'd written, "An example of someone who shows the habit of amazement and wonder is my mom, because she loves nature and when we came to Alaska, she was amazed." He drew a picture of me with bulbous eyes and weird hair. It's not terribly flattering. But I'm not sure I can think of a compliment that would have made me happier. There was another worksheet about persistence. I was the example in that one too. He said it was because I run marathons. I'm glad there weren't any worksheets asking for examples of people who are impatient or yellers. I'm glad it was just about wonder and persistence.


We came home to sunshine. This is breakup season in Alaska. The ice begins to break, to melt, to disappear. The sun stays up later and later, until it is higher in the sky at 6 pm than it ever was for the whole of January. It's easier to be happy on the days when the sun lingers above the mountains until after dinner. It's easier to love where I live when we can go night skiing in the sunshine.


I never know where to start, but I can usually figure out an ending. Usually. Not today. Today, I'm content just to ramble and to elude to a vacation during which I was so sick I couldn't go 30 seconds without a tissue, a vacation in which rain didn't daunt us even in the slightest, mostly because it wasn't the freezing sort. The truth is today I don't care in the least bit about an ending. I'm happy to have finally just begun.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Closest I Get To Miracles

I want to believe I can walk on water, but skating on thin ice (without falling in) is typically the closest I get to miracles.

It's been two weeks since my husband drove me to the airport in freezing rain and on ice rink roads. I breathed deep breaths and gulped down water and talked very good sense to myself, but my pounding pulse could not be tricked into slowing down.

There was something wildly unsettling about leaving my most precious people to fend for themselves in icy weather, to miss seeing their first ski meet, to risk that a long weekend with "just Dad" could turn into an entire childhood of the same.

I know that sounds melodramatic (and it totally is), but I'm not so naive as to think life carries always and perfectly on. And I was about to spend a good deal of time on the LA freeways, so the worrying was at least partially warranted.

But there was something triumphant about leaning into the anxiety, looking fear in the face, going out of my way to meet risk and discomfort  

I know. I must be a real piece of work to call myself courageous for leaving my family in Alaska to enjoy a girls weekend and run a marathon in California. I fly on a plane to flip-flop weather, and somehow this translates to me being brave?

But it does. In my pitiful, privileged way, it does. This is my vulnerability--that I love three people to the depths, the source of my wildest joy and most wrenching fear.

Tonight we scarfed pizza and devoured books. They're still reading as I type. The sun dipped behind the mountain, and we sat underneath the same roof while the moon rose. This is lovely and safe and comfortable and I could go on like this forever.

Except I couldn't. And neither could they. At least not without a heavy dose of antidepressants. That's why I left them for a weekend. That's why I set a goal I wasn't sure I could reach. That's why I took a risk.

Because this is what you do when you want a story to tell. You get off the couch and you go somewhere besides the carpool line or the cubicle. You stop picking stupid fights about where to store winter gear and start asking the hard questions, listening to the uncomfortable answers. You invest without guaranteed return. You give your whole heart to beat loudly into the day; and you don't damper-pedal dreams, yours or theirs.

I want to believe I can walk on water. Don't we all? And of course, we can't.

But you know what we can do? We can take a risk.

Sure, we could slip or sink, get soaked, start shivering. But we also might swim it, surf it, skate it, scale it. Water walking doesn't have a monopoly on the miracle market. It's not the only way to cross.

Most of the time, I think, the miracle just slips quietly into the back row while we're telling our stories--the stories of how we came up with the courage to cross, how we made it to the other side.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In the plod after plod {Just Write}

Sometimes the hours are rote, a plod after plod through daily dirt. Sometimes the miles are long, like manning the doily booth at the flea market. No one stops to examine the lace or ask for a price. And it's one thing when life is lonely, but when it's both tedious and lonely, all you can think is maybe you should give up on selling doilies. Or running 20 miles on the treadmill.

But even the rote hours deliver the surging moments. Ideas surface, endorphins rise, strides lengthen. (And doilies sell. Just maybe?) Somewhere in the plod after plod, you begin to feel strong where you once felt lame. Somewhere in these everyday hours, the dull staleness morphs into a brilliant stillness. And you cling to it like desert icicles. Who cares that it always melts away? It's magic while it lasts.

Every now and then in the plod after plod, the legs stop feeling like bricks. You look down to see a rushing ground. You sprint. You smile. You wonder--is this how it feels to float? The drudgery may be back tomorrow or maybe by mile seven, but for now, you are no longer lonely. You are no longer bored. You are as alive in your own life as a person gets to be. 
And this. This is why you keep running. Or selling doilies. Or mothering. Or doing whatever it is in life that you do. 
Because in every faceless desolate 
step-after-step minute, 
there is a chance to find a desert icicle, 
to be surprised by speed or 
astonished by stillness, 
and to feel 
so very much alive.


I have no idea where the doilies reference came from. The running, yes, because it's the only darn thing I seem to do these days. But doilies. Really? I have to blame the doilies on Heather, since she's the one who started this whole Just Write nonsense. (And I love her for it.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Just Wait Until Winter

What winter looks like along the Turnagain Arm. Gorgeous, yes?
The rumors are true. I've been neglecting my family to spend a scandalous amount of time with Newman.

Calm down. Newman is just a treadmill. And it isn't really neglect if you feed the kids eventually, right? A few mornings ago, I stumbled my way into running shorts at 6:00 to run 20 miles with Newman. The night before I gave the kids strict instructions: 1) sleep in like you've never slept in before, and 2) get your own breakfast. 

And you know what? It worked. When I came upstairs a bit before 9:00, two puffy-eyed bed-headed children looked up from their cereal bowls and cartoons to say good morning. Well, it wasn't so much good morning as it was, can we watch another show before you make us do responsibilities. Translated: We wish you'd run a bit longer, Mom. 

So anyway, we are all surviving my winter marathon training. The timing isn't my favorite--with mileage peaking at the most wonderful (coldest, busiest) time of the year, while the kids are on break from school and my time to run is limited by our need to sled, ski, skate and have All The Fun. But all this winter training will be worth it, if not merely for the accomplishment of 26.2, then for the fact that I get to attempt a BQ wearing shorts.


I've been doing all my best writing with Newman too. Which is unfortunate, since neither of us can take notes, and my memory is only slightly more advanced than his. (He can calculate pace and calories like a math whiz, but his creative writing skills need some work.) You'd be amazed at the deep thoughts that are dredged up during 160 minutes of running, once I get beyond the usual cursing and self-loathing.


When we first moved to Alaska, many people warned me to "just wait until winter!" in response to my gushing about how much we loved it here.

Well, I waited.

And I still love it.

Where else can you go snow tubing at the break of dawn? Where else can you watch a bowl game before the sun comes up? (I know, I know, the break of dawn isn't until 10 o'clock, but still....).

We celebrated winter solstice by spending every second of daylight outside skiing. You can fill up on just five hours of daylight. You really can.

Last week, I referred to 20 degree temps as "warming up" and took the kids to a sledding hill with more vertical drop than our old Ohio ski slope.
Our sledding "hill"
This week, I glimpsed Denali on the way to the library. 

Last night I cooked the salmon our neighbors gave us for Christmas (the fish they pulled straight from a net in the Kenai).

This morning I laced up my spiked trainers and ran 16 miles on a trail of packed snow.

And this afternoon was spent skating and playing pick-up hockey with friends on an outdoor ice rink at a neighborhood school.
So yes, just wait until winter. Because after just one gorgeous and snowy and cold Alaskan winter, you might never want to leave.