Monday, May 4, 2015

Knights and Horses

I haven't posted in a long time, which I attribute to fatigue and writer's block. However, I will welcome friends back with a celebratory post. My baby--yes, the baby that I originally began this blog writing about with posts such as Mommy Mathematics--is now five years old. I can hardly conceive of this. No one ever told me how hard birthdays would hit sentimental mothers like myself! If your child is older than mine, I partly blame you! Not really. I can easily say that the last five years have been the best of my life though, and that if someone gave me an opportunity to start it all over again, I would take it in a heartbeat.

Silas welcomed his fifth birthday surrounded by people who love him. He chose a medieval knight theme for his birthday, after BJ and I took the boys to the Medieval Fair on a complete whim about a month ago. It apparently really resonated with him, and his presents included a suit of armor made especially by BJ's mom Susan. (Craft foam! Who knew?) I would like to add here that I might personally have sunk my own ship by now in the journey of motherhood if not for one Susan Potter. The lady just never stops exceeding my expectations! For the birthday party we rented a bounce house, ordered pizzas, devoured yet another gorgeous and delicious cake by my friend Natalie, and spent the evening enjoying wonderful company. The weather was gorgeous, the kids were happy, and so the mamas and the papas were happy too. Because the Kentucky Derby coincided with the party time, I  convinced begged some of the lady guests to don obnoxious hats, and BJ had frozen mint juleps at the ready. Kids and adults alike watched the big race, and it was a grand old time.

Five years ago I met a boy and fell deeply in love. Five years later, it's somehow even better. Happy birthday, Silas. You're my awakening.

Tunics for each party-going child, courtesy of Sus

His "fierce knight" face

My lovely mom, who acquiesces so nicely to my ridiculous hat-donning demands

Miles and Silas were the most avid horse-race watchers of all!

I know I dropped something down there...

Getting fitted by Susan and Miles with his brand-new armor

Don't forget the helmet!

A party-goer filled her card with confetti, which the kids promptly pounced upon, recreating the scene many times over. The party-goer, who shall remain nameless, contends that she warned me beforehand that the card contained ridiculous amounts of confetti. I contend that she told me this as I was mid-mint julep, so my remembrance is fuzzy. In any regard, the confetti is still lying on the living room floor two days later because I have been too lazy to vacuum it up.
Will just looks like he is waiting to be knighted!

Pulling the sword from the cake

Enjoying his slice of cake from the only place in the house where a man can go in peace

Ice stealer!

Friday, March 20, 2015

the root of the root and the bud of the bud

Everyone has days and weeks in their life that they reflect upon with misery. For me, none stands out more than the week of Sunday, October 13, 2013, with Wednesday, October 16, 2013 being the worst day of my life. It was a week beyond misery, a week when I wept and wailed with a deeper grief than I have ever known. It was the kind of week that I would never wish on anyone. It was October 16, 2013, when Owen died.
My favorite photo of Sommer and Owen
 The previous week, Owen had stopped eating, and Hospice had told Sommer and Pete that unless he reversed that trend the end was coming soon. Owen's two-year-old body was shutting down due to his progressive brain disease. As has been our usual for many years, I was in touch with Sommer on a daily basis, and she was keeping me apprised of his decline in detail. The timing was tricky to figure out when I should go to Massachusetts to be with her and her family. Was it better for me to be there for them in Owen's final days, when I could be of help? Or would it be better for me to wait until he passed and then be there for the funeral and the quiet, awful days that would follow as they settled into life without Owen? On Friday, October 11th, Sommer, BJ, and I spoke at great length and decided that I should fly out on Sunday morning, the 13th. I would be there by lunchtime. We all figured, based on what Hospice was guessing, that Owen would have passed away by the time I got there. Strangely enough and on top of it all, the Marshall family was planning to close on their current home on Thursday the 17th, and then move into their new home on Friday the 18th. The timing was uncanny. It seemed that the best thing was for me to be with Sommer, Pete, and Ellie in the quiet days after he passed, helping them to bear the last few days in their 'house of despair,' as they sometimes referred to it, and help them pack. I would plan to come back on Wednesday, October 16. As an aside, I should mention that I was 33 weeks pregnant with Van, and likely not to be of any actual physical help at all.

I won't walk you through most of the details of the week. It was a melancholy place to be, and yet it was the only place I wanted to be. Where do you go when your best friend is losing her son to an awful disease? You go to your best friend's side, that's where. You do her bidding. You stay up until 4AM for night-time shifts with her beautiful son when you don't trust the nurse. You memorize his med schedule, you go for walks with her when she needs to get out of the house, you take on the role as the Dunkin' Donuts coffee-run girl, you try to not get in the way, and you spend your time loving everyone there as much as you can, even as your own chest is heaving with grief. You do it because, even though you're hurting more than you have ever hurt because you love this little boy, you know that they love him even more than you do, and their grief is a million times your own. After all, she is your best friend, and she deserves the best you can give.
Owen and me, March 2012
 Despite what we thought was going to happen, Owen was still living when I arrived on Sunday. Despite our pleadings to him to go to Heaven when he was ready, he was still there on Monday as well. On Tuesday morning, the hospice nurse Amanda visited and told us she thought it would be "today or tomorrow," based on his ragged, noisy breathing. As the week had worn on I had become increasingly uncomfortable with my scheduled return date of October 16. We really thought that Owen would have long been in Heaven by then. But, as Amanda spoke those words around noon on Tuesday the 15th, I knew I was going to have to call Delta Airlines and see what they could do for me. I just didn't know what to do or when to fly home, and I can't begin to tell you how overwhelming this decision was for me to make. It seems like when you're grieving your hardest, you don't want to have to decide anything. Even the most mundane decisions, like what you should have for dinner, can become excruciating. (This is why if you're friends with someone who is grieving, it's best to not ask how you can help them. Just a pick a way you can help them and do it for them.)

And so it happened that I picked up the Marshalls' land line and found myself connected with Barbara of Delta Airlines, a kind stranger whom I will never forget. Barbara came on the phone politely and asked how she could help. As best I could, I briefly described the situation: my best friend's son was dying and I was there to be with the family. He was thought to have gone by now but he hadn't, and I didn't want to come home yet and had no idea when to reschedule for, and I was overwhelmed and had no idea what to do. She was exceedingly kind and apologized for our situation. She then began gathering my information:
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Jennifer Potter."
"What's your birth date, dear?"
"January 8th, 1981."
She paused. "Oh my. You're the same age as my daughter." She paused again. "I'm guessing that your best friend's son is quite young."

The lump in my throat that had been there the entire conversation suddenly became so massive that I could no longer speak. I was silent for probably ten seconds trying to get it under control before I finally sobbed out, "He's two."
"Oh dear." She was quiet and let me cry for a minute. "I'm so sorry. You sound so sweet. I can only imagine if this was my daughter." She sounded forlorn for our situation.
I asked her in despair, "What do you think I should do? I don't know when to reschedule because I don't know when he is going to die. I just know I can't leave when I'm supposed to tomorrow."
Suddenly, Barbara broke in with a take-charge attitude. "Tell you what..." she began.
Barbara came up with a plan that changed everything for me that day. She treated our situation as though it was a family bereavement case. "After all," she said, "A best friend is really a sister, right?"
"Right," I laughed through tears.
She cancelled my flight for the following day, agreeing with me that I certainly couldn't go home yet. Then, she gave me a confirmation number and told me that I only needed to call Delta and reschedule after he passed, when I was actually ready to leave. "No need to worry about re-booking anything now since you don't have any idea how long you'll need to stay," she said. She told me that when I was ready, a Delta agent should easily be able to find a return flight that would not cost any more than my original return flight did, and they would not charge me any fees for having to re-book. If my new return flight cost more than my original return flight, I would be responsible for that difference only. However, she did not think that it was likely that there would be a price hike. (In the end, there wasn't. The price for the ticket I eventually booked in return was the exact same price as the one I originally purchased, and I owed no additional money.) Barbara even gave me a pep talk in the end, telling me that I was strong, and that I was a good friend, and that she wished all the best for Owen and his family. Finally, she asked to speak to the Hospice nurse that was there, and she gathered some of Owen's information that she needed from the nurse that verified my story. In the end, I hung up having spent 15 minutes talking with Barbara, and having felt as though 15 pounds had been lifted off my chest. Right when I needed some help, help had come.
Sleeping during a blizzard, 2013
 Sommer and I agreed at the time that I should blog about Barbara, but I never have until now. The week, of course, got harder for everyone, least of all me. It was my privilege to have the overnight shift with Owen on his final night on Earth, and it was not an easy one. Owen was occasionally uncomfortable and always struggling to breathe, and we were at odds with an overnight nurse whom we didn't feel really understood our comfort goals for Owen. He finally seemed to be in a place of peace at about 5:30 in the morning of the 16th, and his breathing quietened for the first time since I had arrived on Sunday. He passed away early in the morning as we all stepped out of the room briefly to grab coffee in the kitchen. When I returned to kiss him three minutes later and tell him that I was going to go grab a nap and that I would be back down in a little bit to check on him again, I could see that he had passed into Heaven while we were all out of the room. That turkey! I think I felt two seconds of relief before a whole different feeling of grief set in, and I knew that I could never be the same after having met sweet little Owen. The next two hours were the worst hours of my life. The woe that I experienced and witnessed were beyond human language.

Despite the heaviness, I look back on that intense week and can easily see the highs of the week. As I wrote in my blog the week after Owen passed away, "I got to meet new people that I never would have encountered, and as we all shared a common goal of serving Owen and making him comfortable, I believe we forged some emotional bonds that may never be broken. I will never forget nurses like Robin, Bronwyn, and Amanda, and I will always be glad for my strengthened friendships with Sommer, Pete, and Sommer's parents Marylou and Tony." Certainly, one of the brightest spots of the week for me was the above-and-beyond service from Barbara at Delta Airlines. I can't even deign to call it "customer service," because she never seemed to view it that way either. Almost from the get-go, Barbara treated me like I was more than a customer. She treated me as a valued human being, lost and in despair, and she relieved me of having to make complicated, expensive decisions at a time when I was too overwhelmed to figure out what to do for myself. She identified with me as though I was her daughter, and her kindness stood out to everyone in the home that day. She still stands out to me.

I'm sorry that I haven't written about this before. Mentally revisiting this week is hard work for me, but it is so necessary, because it has made me a better person who can more fully appreciate the peaks and valleys that life has to offer. Only having walked through the valleys can we truly appreciate the peaks, after all. I should have written about Barbara before though. Kindness from people deserves to be shared and spoken aloud, and I have hopes that sharing this kindness will in turn spur my reader-friends to share their own kindnesses to others, both friends and strangers. You don't have to know someone to make a huge difference in her life. You need only be there at the right moment with the right deed or the right words, and the impact can last a lifetime. A million thanks to Barbara, from a human being that desperately needed a hand and a verbal hug. You, Barbara, gave both and a lot more.

I will close this post with the poem that hung on Owen's nursery wall. Below is a photo of the frame and art, which Pete designed for Sommer. The poem, “i carry your heart” by e.e. cummings, is beautiful—but for me it is very bitter. Nothing, in fact, brings a more bitter wave of grief than recalling the words of this poem and imagining standing in his bedroom on the second floor of their Amesbury home. It was a lovely, warm, brown room with windows on two sides, and I always picture it with windows open on a warm, sunny day and cars driving by on Clinton Street out front (much to Sommer's chagrin, but that's a whole different story!). I am working on myself to mentally redefine this poem and image from 'bitter' to 'sweet.' May the poem always remind me of what is important in life, namely, that our loved ones are the root of the root and the bud of the bud. There is nothing more important than each other, so may we be kind.
i carry your heart
e.e. cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Owen's beach

Saturday, February 28, 2015


The title of this post says it all: Ben and I did it! After months of hard work, we ran the Coldest 5K in 29:20! This was a personal record for me, including all of my training runs. The satisfaction of at last completing that goal was extremely sweet, and I was happy to earn that medal for Megan Sauer, Ben's little sister. The medal and race bib were both mailed yesterday. (In case you're worried about Ben's twin brother Jack, he has already received his medal from the January race.)

I have to say a word here about the great friends that I have. I woke up the morning of the race feeling sick with anxiety. A bitter cold front had come through in the middle of the night, and the wind was expected to come from the north at about 20-25mph at the time of the race. Icy precipitation was expected at any time, and race time wasn't until 2PM. Oh, how I would have loved to have had that race over with early in the morning, instead of thinking about my strategy, the cold, and my potential failure all morning long--not to mention watching what I ate and drank so that I wouldn't get side stitches! It was impossible to stay down for too long though, with all of my friends texting their encouragement. That morning, I got pep talks from BJ, my sister Christa, and my friends Sommer and Angie, and I got texts of encouragement from four other friends who remembered that I had a big race that day! One of those friends PR'd in her own half-marathon that morning, which was very encouraging to me as well! So, with friends filling me to the brim, BJ and I left our boys with his parents and drove to the race, listening to music and pepping each other up the whole time. Just when I started getting butterflies again, BJ would muse something such as, "Do you suppose I could win the whole race if I drove half of it at highway speed?" Once we arrived, we got ready inside the van and didn't leave until just about the last possible moment. After we took our places up near the start line, I daresay my husband stood just to the left of me and used me as a windbreaker for the remaining two minutes before gun time.


After the gun fired, I took off and tried to not think about the cold anymore. Fortunately, it was easy not to because instead I became worried about my energy level, which seemed a little low. My mouth was very dry, despite chewing gum, and I became worried that I hadn't hydrated enough. I was quickly eating BJ's dust trail and I didn't see him again until we high-fived as he was coming back the opposite direction. Despite my concerns, I felt at ease when I clocked in my first mile at 9:11. I maintained that pace and turned to come back the other direction at the halfway point at 14:28. I knew at that point that I was looking pretty good and had some play time in case I needed to slow down. Still, I saw no reason to take anything for granted. No side stitches at that point yet, but I was actively engaging in my preemptive side-stitch removal technique to try to keep them from popping up at all.

The second half was more into the wind, but I don't think this really impacted me much. I didn't seem to notice the wind too much at all. At that point I began taking good notice of the runners around me. Ahead of me were a father and son, the boy looking to be about 8 years old. I immediately thought of Ben and made my best efforts to keep this boy in my line of sight as motivation. At one point he dropped his hat, and as he stopped to retrieve it I came up right beside him and we ran side-by-side for a little bit before he sprinted up ahead again to his dad, who was looking back for him. This little boy was kind of a visceral reminder on that race course for me, and I was pleased that he did cross the finish line in front of me. The other person I took special notice of was a gal about my age who was running quite a bit faster than me, although she kept stopping to take walking breaks. In doing so, we leapfrogged each other several times. Finally on about the fourth time I passed her, I lightly slapped her shoulder on my way by and said, "You got this, girl. Come on!" A second later she caught up with me and, without speaking about it, we compromised on speed. I sped up my pace, which had fallen a bit, in order to keep up with her, and she slowed down a little bit--probably to keep herself from having to walk again. She and I ran side by side without looking at each other for two or three minutes before we began talking intermittently. We each had earphones in so I'm not sure how much we heard each other, but I know that she mostly ranted about the weather ("I can't believe we're running a 5K in this FREAKING COLD!") and I mainly shared jubilation about upcoming downhill portions of the course ("Downhill is coming! I see it!"). We each stopped once to walk, for about five to ten seconds each time, and the other stopped and walked as well. I found that she was the one keeping me in it at that point. This isn't to say that I was going to stop the race or anything; it is merely to say that my on-target pace was continuing because I found the energy to run with her, and when she stopped to walk my resolve quickly began disappearing as well. After five seconds on our last walking break, I shouted, "Enough. It's time to go." We both began running again and didn't look back. As we neared the finish, she had the energy to sprint a little ahead; she finished in front of me by five or so seconds and then turned around to high-five me, and I felt I had made a new friend. I saw her a couple of minutes after the finish and I thanked her, but never got her name.

As I crossed the finish line, BJ (who had finished in 25:07!!) screamed my name and was taking video of the glorious finish. I remember checking my watch as I crossed, but didn't look beyond the first two numbers: 29. That was all I needed to see. Mission accomplished! I walked on a little bit, completely out of breath and nauseated, and stopped to look at the river and cry a minute for Ben, who saw me through this goal from the very start, when my finishing times exceeded 40 minutes.

Thank you, Ben.

Olympic Gold may not have felt much better to me!

Megan, Kate, and Jack Sauer

 In what Sommer described as "true Jenny fashion," I have determined new goals and am ready to begin working toward them now. My next two goals will focus more on distance than speed. This year for the Memorial Marathon Relay in April I have volunteered to take the long, lakeside leg, which will be 12K (7.5ish miles) in length. I have never run that far before, but my long training runs are already about five miles in length, so it can be accomplished if I just begin recalibrating my distances. Of course, why stop there? I have long desired to run a half marathon, just to say that I have done it, and by the time I am able to run 7.5 miles I will be well over halfway there. I could begin downshifting my runs back to 5K distance after the relay, but if I'm willing to put a couple more months of hard work in, I could keep increasing distance and surprise myself by running a half marathon in June. This is what I have decided to try. Sommer ran a half marathon for Owen the month before he passed away, and I have to admit that I have wanted to dedicate the same effort for him. Today, then, I'll go ahead and just publicly put it out there--a half marathon for Owen in June. First thing's first though: Ben's baby sister Kate also needs a medal, so I better crank up my distances and fully earn one at the Memorial Marathon Relay in April. As always, my portion of the relay race will also be dedicated to a child who lost a life during the Oklahoma City Bombing. This year I have chosen six-month-old Lee Gottschall. One of my greatest honors all year is walking from the finish line to the memorial and tying my race bib to the chair of a little sweet angel.

There is ALWAYS someone to run for, so run I will.

Friday, February 20, 2015


On July 1, 2014, I wrote a blog post that stated my newest running goal: running a 5K in 29:59 or less, and honoring Ben Sauer's memory in doing so. Training runs don't count; it has to be in a race. Originally I had hoped to meet that time goal at a November race, but a stomach bug just prior to the race set me back a long way, and I ended up finishing in 31:44. In December I tried again and made a 20-second improvement (31:24), but was on antibiotics for a throat infection and once again wasn't able to gut it out. In January, I tried yet again and shaved off another minute (30:22). My February race is scheduled two days from now, and I've decided that this has to be the day that I finally conquer that time goal. It's going to be about flippin' time.

In the above-mentioned July post, I wrote these words:

Jogging, for me, is an act of spiritual unification with other people. That sounds really weird, I know, but really and truly, I find myself connecting to humanity in strange ways when I am grunting out my efforts into a jog. It's suddenly like everyone everywhere is my friend, and my sense of being joined to others becomes rich and complicated. This is why I always dedicate races and running goals to other people; it instills within me a sense of thanksgiving for other people in this life. 

I have spent months now running for Ben, and after re-reading these words tonight, I have never believed these words to be truer. Running for Ben has become a thing of the past. Instead, I now feel like I run with Ben. It's a funny feeling, to feel as though you are coming to know someone that you never really knew, but I have truly enjoyed focusing on this sweet five-year-old boy and what he must have been like. I have my own little boy who is 362 days younger than Ben was, so in many ways I can imagine some similarities. To add fuel to my already-flaming fire, Ben's mother Mindy personally contacted me last week and shared a heartfelt message. Her kind affirmation of my efforts has brought me to tears each time I read our correspondence, and I want more than ever now to beat this race clock!

I recently switched up a lot of songs on my running playlist, and I added Sia's "Chandelier" and put it near the beginning. I have never had a song give me more energy than this particular song, and it shows when I run. The other day I finished a five-mile run on a long day, and the last 11 minutes of that run were spent playing that song on repeat. When it plays, my sagging energy suddenly bursts, my arms start pumping on the "1-2-3" line, and I just want to sing out loud (okay, sometimes I do if I'm outside and no one is around). I've even adapted the beginning lyrics to make it work for me by substituting "party" with "running."

Running girls don't get hurt
Can't feel anything, when will I learn?
Push it down, push it down.

I tell myself all the time when I'm running, it doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt. Then, when I'm deep into a run and I'm truthful and can acknowledge that it does indeed hurt, I put on Pink's "Try," and keep running hard to her words, "Just because it burns doesn't mean you're gonna die. You gotta get up and try and try and try." Then, when it's all going down and my body tells me I should just stop running and give up because who cares anyway, I turn on Sia--over and over again, apparently. I have a feeling that her song will pop up two or three times on Sunday when we set a new personal record. (Note my positive thinking.)

Five or six times now I have easily beat the 30-minute mark in training. Other times it hasn't been so easy and I cut it very close, like today when I did my final training run before Sunday's race and I clocked in at 29:56. I won't kid myself; I know it's going to be close on Sunday, and the potential for winter precipitation doesn't make matters any easier. Nor will the promised 20-mph winds. It's okay. All I can do is the best I can do, and I think my best will be good enough this time. I've shaved ten full minutes off my time since I first set this goal, and I'm continually going faster and faster, fast as I can for Ben. Fast as I can with Ben. "I'm gonna [run] like tomorrow doesn't exist."

The Sia video, in case you haven't checked it out. The girl in the video can dance.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Impostor

I don't know if you were in the "popular" crowd in high school, but I really wasn't. I was on the pom squad, which was sort of a "popular" group, but I was the happy nerd on the pom squad. I was the one who was granted the "Albert Einstein Award" at the year-end pom banquet, and my 4.67 grade-point-average seemed to be my claim to fame on the squad. Through and through, I was really an Honors kid and I belonged with the Honors crowd, but I also spent time with the pom girls because I could do a switch-leap and a triple pirouette. While I had good friends on the squad and am still good friends with some of those ladies today, my true place of comfort was with the Honors kids. In that sense, I never really had a place with the popular crowd to which most of the pom girls belonged. It sort of felt like 'us' and 'them.' Not 'us' versus 'them,' because there was no animosity from either side. It was just that there was us, and then there was them.

Recently I have become acquainted with the idea of the "impostor syndrome."   Basically, the idea of the impostor syndrome is that a person finds it impossible to internalize their own success and believe that they could actually be responsible for it. Instead, they attribute their success to luck or some other outside factor. Though they may appear confident on the outside, when they look around they do so with a fear that somehow their incompetence will be exposed for all to see, and suddenly everyone will realize that they don't really know what they're doing. Research indicates that most people, 70 percent actually, feel like an impostor at one point or another in their lives. I know that when many of my colleagues and I were doing our pre-doctoral internships, we often felt like impostor therapists--that we were acting like therapists with real clients, but with no real knowledge of what we were doing and a real insecurity that we were unintentionally ripping people off. Our clients thought they were coming to see therapists, but what they were really getting was just us! The truth was, we actually did know what we were doing, but we were just scared shitless. Statistics pretty much indicate that at every work place, at least one person walking around feels like they don't deserve to be there and that their colleagues are infinitely more qualified than they are. They probably also think they are the only ones that feel this way, but in fact many of their colleagues feel the same way that they do.

While I have briefly felt like an impostor in both my career and in parenthood (you should have seen me freaking out on the drive home from the hospital with newborn Silas! "What if we accidentally kill him? Don't they know that we don't know what we're doing?!?!"), the main place in life where I feel like an impostor is in my running. As you likely well know, I sign up frequently for races, and at every race I feel like it's me and them. They're the real runners, and I'm the joker who has no idea what she has gotten herself into. I find myself at starting lines waiting for the gun and scanning the runners around me, wondering which ones will beat me and if there are any that I think I can finish in front of. The latter group is much smaller comparably, at least in my mind. The judgments that I make are generally based on foolish nonsense, such as how nice their shoes are, what their postures are, and how close they position themselves to the starting line. If they have nice gear or awesome legs or a water bottle strapped to their backs, I think, "Oh, crap on a stick." Anxiety kicks in and I often begin questioning myself; I think, 'These people are real runners, and I'm still just not cutting it." I may look the part, but my true folly will be exposed once the gun sounds. I've told myself things like "When I can run a 5K in 30 minutes," or "When I can run four miles," then I'll call myself a runner. Then I'll really be one of them.

It's perfectly ridiculous when I say it aloud and type it out. Of course I'm one of 'them.' As I've grown over the last six months and become a stronger and faster runner, I have cheated myself out of a really cool identity, one that I earned the first moment I ever decided to strap on my shoes.

I cheated myself out of letting myself think I was a runner.

What I've learned in only the past two weeks is the ridiculously simple truth that you're a runner when you run. Get this: when you run at all--even a little bit--you're a runner. You don't have to earn membership into that crowd with prescribed times, distances, or training. Most of those runners never thought I didn't belong. If they thought of me at all, they probably saw me as a fellow runner. What I've even learned is that probably many of them looked around at the rest of us with the same sense of anxiety as I did, feeling like an impostor at the race.

Recently I have hit a lot of those prescribed marks that I burdened myself with as an entry into the supposedly-elite class of runners: now I can run a 5K in 30 minutes. Now I can run four miles. Now I consistently finish in the top half of all racers and in the top quarter of all females in my age group. I'm a stronger runner than I was when I first started, but I'm no more of a runner now than I was then. I still want my goals just as badly, and I still get side stitches sometimes trying to get to them. Why in the world did I ever think I had to earn my way in? I already belonged.

Here's what I say. You run well on the elliptical? Great! You're a runner. You like the treadmill better, or the outside hills, or the trail, or the neighborhood sidewalks? Fantastic! You're a runner! You run in cotton t-shirts instead of techy gear? Awesome. You're a runner. You run half a mile each time you go out? Yup, you're a runner. Sign up for a 5K, and ask me to run with you, and I will join you. Why? Because we're both runners, and that's what runners do. There is no "us" and "them." When you strap on your shoes (which I really shouldn't say because some people run barefoot and we can't exclude them!) and start putting one foot in front of the other, there is only "us."

That's totally you and me, happy because we're runners!

Yup, we kicked butt, because we're runners!

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Audience

I have unfortunate memories from my childhood in which my sister, our neighborhood friend, and I plugged in our tape player with my dad's orange extension cord and choreographed dances to hit songs in the front yard. We worked with songs from the likes of NKOTB and Milli Vanilli, and we dubbed ourselves "The Glitter Girls." We even had a small green beaded treasure chest of money that was basically a collection of our allowances, which we intended to use for costumes until the neighborhood friend's mom stole it to "buy makeup." But that's another story. We spent hours in the front yard amusing ourselves on summer mornings and creating superfly dances that we then forced upon hapless audiences such as Martha, our sweet elderly next-door neighbor. We even charged her a quarter for the privilege of watching our productions. (That money was probably stolen by the neighbor's mom, too.)

Ah, youth. And, ah, how it comes full circle to bite us in the asses.

I am now hapless Martha, and my two older boys are the Glitter Girls--except the productions that I am subject to viewing are choreographed ninja moves, wrestling positions, pratfalls, "spider jumps," and nude dances. Yes, nude dances, because my children think it's hilarious to disrobe for a laugh, and then run out to where I am so that they can dance, giggle uproariously, and shout out the names of body parts that usually aren't subject to public viewing. Apparently my exasperation is enough to keep them coming back for more.

Over the course of the last six months, my role as a mother to Silas and George has shifted from 'primary playmate' to 'negotiator/peacekeeper.' Now they mostly are entertained by playing with each other, which is both a blessing and a curse. Now I do get a few extra minutes to prep dinner, text a friend, and start laundry, but I'm also frequently needed to break up arguments and draw figurative lines in the sand when someone took the wrong Lego or stuck a foot into the other's fort space. Silas and George dream big dreams when they're together, and their conversations are wonderful to hear. They talk mostly about "skeleton work," what they want to be when they grow up, and what superheros they are. Also, their conversations can be hilarious, such as the following:
Silas: Can I do something to your finger?
George: What?
Silas: I can't tell you. I just have to do it.
G: Okay.
(Pause) Silas: Does that hurt?
G: No.
Silas: Is it going to hurt at some point?
G: Ummmm. No.

Yesterday the boys were in the garage unraveling strings from bundled wooden stakes, and then using those strings to set up "booby traps" for bad guys around our front yard. All at once, Silas remembered a doctor's kit that George was given for his birthday and asked if they could play with that. George was immediately on board, as the doctor's kit has been a huge hit. Silas said to George,
"George, our days of fighting bad guys are in the past. Now, our doctor days are just beginning."

Then, of course, there is The Vanners. Both boys love Van greatly, but George is definitely the better playmate. George fits the bill of the middle child pretty perfectly: he is the go-between for our youngest and oldest, belonging in good relationships with both. He also seems to struggle with a bit of that identity crisis that seems to plague middle children--namely, the swift transformation from mature thinker to tantruming infant. Each morning when Van wakes up, George is always allowed to be the first one in to get him. George always stops me in my tracks with a dramatic crossing-guard-type gesture and tells me to wait. "I tell you when you can come, Mommy. I need alone time with Ban." Sometimes those two go for 20 minutes playing in the crib together before I intervene and get Van for breakfast!

Not to be outdone, The Vanners would like to remind us that he is the ultimate cake-smasher.

Motherhood is definitely a changing journey. I find myself at times longing for a newborn again, and the next minute I find myself breathing a sigh of relief about finally having my body (mostly) back to myself after five consecutive years of either being constantly pregnant or nursing. Each January my very favorite tennis tournament, the Australian Open, causes me to reminisce about the greatness of sweet-smelling newborns as I recall that two of the last three years were spent watching live tennis in the middle of the night with babes who needed feedings. As I consider that next month we're enrolling Silas for kindergarten in August though, I'm reminded to not hurry these days along. They will go fast enough on their own. That thought keeps me smiling and sitting for yet another performance by my two little vaudevillians---as long as they don't charge me 25 cents for the pleasure.