Sunday, December 30, 2012

The dog days are over

Here are some things you should know about me:
When I exercise, I turn bright red--pretty much immediately.
I also sweat, a lot. Even if it is cold outside.

I stomp everywhere I go.
In the ridiculous dance class that I attend I never float across the floor. I awkwardly jerk my way through the songs, dripping sweat from my ruddy cheeks.
You would think I'm a 7 foot tall lumberjack based on the echo of my footfalls, but I'm lying when I tell you I'm 5'3" (5'2.5", so what???)

Any exercise related to building core strength automatically makes me want to puke. When we do hip openers in yoga, I cry. Every time.

Nobody has ever looked at me and thought : "Wow, there goes an athlete."

Least of all *me*.

And yet.
Over the last two years, I've come to recognize how necessary exercise is to my well-being.
My mental well-being as much as my physical well-being.

For a long time roller derby was my sport of choice. In retrospect, I think I enjoyed the community and social aspects more so than the actual sport. I tried to get back into it after a year-long hiatus but quickly learned that my community had dispersed. The new skaters were really driven and I'm positive they are lovely women--but I couldn't make it work for me. The sport that used to build me up left me feeling flat.

 And so I walked Ruthie all over town. Miles and miles--every day while the big kids were at school. While I waited to for YH to join us. While I tried to figure out who this new, work-in-the-home version of "me" was. I walked the dog and I looked around and I got lost in the doubts that filled my head.

My legs were tired at the end of our walks, but my heart was heavy.
I was lonely.
I missed my work friends, my roller derby friends.
My old life, and my old support systems.
Somehow they had all disappeared.
(the "somehow" had a lot to do with my retreating from the world during my darkest times; turns out when you are hiding from the world, life goes on for everyone else)

When YH joined us, and school started, and pneumonia hit, all of the "free time" I spent wandering through the streets suddenly disappeared.

And I started to go a little crazy.
A little unhappy in my skin, disconnected from my limbs, get-me-out-and-moving kind of crazy.

The first step was to join a gym that I had heard a lot of my fellow former derby friends talk about. The thought of attending a group aerobic hip-hop dance class seemed just absurd enough to rock my world. I am sooooo not coordinated, but I *am* an enthusiastic dancer with a secret love for young-person music.

I take my place in the back row two times per week and I leap and spin and fake my way through all kinds of fancy footwork. I feel silly and I laugh at myself, and I have the BEST TIME.
It's awesome.

A few weeks ago I added a once-per-week bootcamp led by one of my favorite people in the world.

As an aside: Have I told you that a large number of my friends became personal trainers when they stopped playing roller derby? Do you know how intimidating it is to to go out to dinner/the movies/coffee with a pack of women who look like they stepped off the cover of a fitness magazine? When you're wearing increasingly stretchy pants? It's not fun.

BUT. One of my newly-minted-personal trainer friends manages to be all inspiration and motivation, with very little intimidation. I love her for that, and I think she is the *perfect* personal trainer. I want to work harder for her; for ME.

And slowly, my confidence in myself has come back. I am finding ways to fill the post-derby community/exercise void. I am learning to believe in my own strength again.

Recently, I found a new piece of the puzzle.

A friend encouraged me to apply for a half-marathon challenge.
And as it turns out, my application was selected to be the sponsored athlete to train for the race and receive a TON of support and perks.


And y'all?

(and scared. I'm pretty scared, too).

But I can do this.

Before yesterday, a 5K was the longest distance I've ever run.

Yesterday I ran 4.2 miles.
On Friday I'm going to run 5 miles.

And then 6.
And then 8.
And so on, up to 13.1 miles.

I'm going to turn bright red and I'm going to sweat like crazy the whole way through.
And that's ok with me.

I *am* an athlete. I'm a short, slow, clumsy, stompy athlete.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I'm sorry.

Recently we were at a park. A lovely park, with an enclosed playground in a neighborhood populated by many of our school friends. My three were running around and climbing everything in sight--engaged in elaborate games with their friends.

I stood off to the side, chatting with Sean and with our grown-up friends.
We were a happy pride of children and parents, celebrating life in the wake of a national tragedy.
Some of us were a little weepy as we watched our children's six year old forms and thought of the equally tiny bodies in Connecticut that lost their lives earlier this week.

(some of us are weepy again just typing that)

In the middle of the playscape perched a boy in a cheery red turtleneck sweater. He sat on a four-wheeled scooter type platform, and rolled back and forth across a bridge. YH clambered up the rungs near the boy and began to move past him. The boy thought YH was trying to take his scooter and he exclaimed in a loud and flat voice "I'm not sharing my scooter with anyone--not even you."

There was something about his tone and his word choice that triggered the alarms of our pack of children and big sister Miss A immediately confronted the boy.

"You can't talk to my little brother that way. He wasn't even trying to take your scooter."

And as she spoke her friends formed a tight circle around her, and the boy.

I saw the boy's mother watching the scene unfold from a nearby bench. I walked up to her and said, in a light-hearted voice "Are they ganging up on your son?"

She was calmly watching the interaction--which continued in rapid back and forth between the boy and Miss A. The boy's mother turned to me and said, "The thing is, he's on the autism spectrum so he doesn't always understand what other kids are trying to tell him. Especially about his tone, or how to make friends, or if they're inviting him to play."

At this point I heard Miss A raise her voice a notch and try to reinforce the finer points of her argument, her defense of her littlest brother.

"Oh," I said to the mother, "I understand. Would you like me intervene? Get my kids to back off?"

"No," she said."This kind of thing can be good for him--he might learn from it..."

She sat with straight posture, watching her son unravel the mystery of his peers.
Her eyes were bright with concentration, her shoulders set with resolve.

Eventually our kids began to splinter off, to leave the scene of the conflict.
The boy in the red sweater sat on his scooter and rolled back and forth.

His mom got up and walked to him; she spoke soflty in his ear and he responded loudly.





***                       ***

In the car on the way home we talked about how some people's brains work differently from other people's brains. How making friends and understanding social cues comes easily to some people, but is very hard for others. We talked about how for most people, a person's words are only a tiny piece of what he/she is saying. His/her body posture and inflection add to the words and can change the meaning of the words.

Miss A got it. I knew she would.

The exchange stayed with me all night. I turned it over and over in my mind, making it shiny with worry.

I wish I had said something to the boy's mother.
I wish I had told her that we were also raising a child who is not neurotypical; that our son could face similar challenges.
I wish I had let her know that I saw her son as just a kid. A kid with some challenges, but not a bad kid or a mean kid or a kid I pitied.

Especially in light of the news out of Connecticut, that the person who committed an awful crime was on the spectrum; especially because of the potential fall-out from that information.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In defense of the elf.

Our elf hangs out with Willie Nelson, doesn't yours?

 Last night after a particularly long day, I settled in on the sofa with my laptop and a dog curled at my side. I was ready to end the day with bad tv and some social networking. And as I persued facebookery I discovered that our family was at the center of not one, not two, but three separate posts bemoaning a certain holiday "tradition".


The "tradition", of course, is the nightly antics of our elf, Happy Sam. Antics which amaze and delight my kids and which pepper their playground conversations.

Pinterest is awash in ideas of what to do with your Elf on a Shelf should you wish to engage. With the rise of pinterest and the ever-escalating adorability of elven tricks therein, there comes a number of articles/blog posts/status updates shaming those of us who participate in the ruse.

(click above for link)

And friends: I get it.
I totally, totally do.

I get that the concept of an elf spying on your kids can be creepy and not in keeping with child-centered parenting. I get that the original Elf on a Shelf contributes to the further commercializtion of the holiday season. I *know* that when some kids have elves that get into mischief it can make the kids without elves, or with more sedentary elves, feel bad.

I know that this a practice that can seem forced; that can seem worthy of derision and scorn.

But here's the thing: My kids have had a rough year. They have had to deal with a lot of very grown-up, very real issues. Addiction. Cancer. Surgery. Change in economic circumstances. Leaving friends behind in order to feel challenged and engaged at school. Starting at a new school where you don't know anybody. Adding a new sibling to the family, one who has lifelong special needs and who doesn't always *want* to be part of the family.

To be frank, a whole lot of this year sucked. It was painful. I would give anything to spare my kids the really, really rough stuff. I would.

And so now, if I have the chance to delight them with some suspended reality? Yes. Yes a million times.

If it makes them happy to discover that a stuffed elf has decorated the Christmas tree with their underwear, I'm going to do it.

***                     ***

Last year at this time we were all in a funk. We were demoralized by the seemingly never-ending adoption process. The big kids caught wind of some friends' elves hijinks and repeated the stories to us in reverent tones. I asked the kids to draw a picture of what *their* elf might look like. Miss A's was named "Sam" and Sweet Bub's was named "Happy".

The next day the big kids woke up to a plush elf sitting on the dining room table, bearing a letter of introduction from Santa.

His name is Happy Sam and he is not so much a punitive elf (no tattling for Happy Sam) as he is a merry-making elf. He stays with us for the month of December and plays little tricks and jokes every night right up to Christmas Eve. Then he leaves us until the following year when he returns on December 1.

Yeah, some nights Sean and I are really freakin' tired. Yeah, it is work to do this and yeah, it's wholly unnecessary.

But before you roll your eyes at the lot of us who do this please remember that for some of us *manufacturing* joy for our kids is our effort to tip the scales for them. To provide counterbalance to the gross grown-up issues clouding their childhood and to let them, and us, believe in a little elf magic.

Does it really take away from your joy if for three weeks my kids gleefully recount Happy Sam's antics at lunch? If they talk about it with a smile because it's easier than talking about how hard it was to see their little brother in pain after his surgery? Or how stressed over money mom and dad are? Or how some their very favorite people suffer from illness?

It is not my intention to make things harder for you. I'm only doing my best to make things *better* for my kids.

I hope you understand.