Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Treading water.

This guy.
He's totally amazing.

It is hard for me to recognize that we are fast-approaching YH's one year tenure as an in-the-flesh member of our family. That one whole year ago we were on the precipice of *meeting* him, much less loving him or caring for him every minute of every day.

I hesitate to put it out there, because I know there are many many of my friends who are still waiting for their families to be complete. Children matched years ago, still waiting to meet their parents and siblings. The memory of the pain of waiting is visceral for me; I suck in air when I read the latest updates, my lungs clenching in empathy for those families caught in the endless wait.

It's awful.

I stay quiet on the "post-placement" internet forums and FB groups too, because I am well aware that we have had it easier than many. That our son's adjustment has progressed well, and that his personality is a good match for our family. It's not that we didn't have difficulties, or that he didn't grieve. It's more that our expectations were so dang low that we were happy to raise them up and meet our son where he needed us most.

His language skills are improving rapidly. But they are still not at the same level as his peers. I can see his cognitive skills bloom; concepts like colors and numbers and categorizing objects are becoming easier for him. His articulation challenges remain; Sweet Bubs and I are still the only ones who understand him 90--100% of the time. YH and Sweet Bubs get by with "brother tongue"--their own secret language, mostly spoken in grand gestures and corporeal movement.

It shames me that YH's burgeoning language skills have had such an impact on *my* happiness. My days are far less stressful now that he can enunciate his needs, and can listen to (and sometimes follow!) my prompts. I am a person who prides herself on being able to communicate across cultures; I believe fully in the ability to transcend language when building a relationship.

Oh, pride.

The truth is it is HARD to parent a child who appears to be an older toddler, but who possesses the language abilities (in Korean as well as his "new" language) of a much younger baby. It is HARD to remember to parent to his developmental age/his "family age" (equivalent to the length of time he has been a member of our family) instead of his chronological age.

I get impatient. I expect too much. I get frustrated and I have to take time to remove myself and reset my expectations.

If anything the last year has been a wonderful opportunity to confront my parental shortcomings. To watch the "theoretical" parenting skills that I dutifully banked during our wait to take custody fly right out the window in the heat of a challenging moment.

To give myself grace.
To give others grace.
Above all, to extend grace to YH.

Lately I'm feeling a bit stuck in this arena.

Our family is taking on more and more activities. We are comprised of one true introvert, three super extroverts and one introvert-with-extrovert tendencies. (Woe be unto the poor introvert, his burdens are legion). The extroverts drive the family ship and we collect every shiny social opportunity that comes our way. YES--we would LOVE to audition for commercials! YES--Let's sign up for swim team! YES--Let's arrange playdates, and babysit for our friends, and go an adventure to a new city and more more more.

And in the middle of all this chaos, this stimulation overload, I am finding it harder and harder to be *present* in the way I wish to be as a parent.

I need to put on the brakes for a bit.
I need to focus on breathing in and out.
I need to give myself permission to tread water, instead of belly-flopping with abandon into the unknown.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In the books.

I did it.
(The end was ugly, but I did it).

On the day before the race all of the optimism and confidence of my previous post flew right out the window. I let real life problems wiggle through the cracks of my steely reserve--throwing me off balance.

One of my children is being bullied, in a very subtle-not-noticed-by-grown-ups kind of way. That child's pain has had an impact on his/her behavior at school and the fall-out of a recent incident led to raised voices and short tempers amongst the adults in the family. As we snapped at one another I couldn't help but feel defeated. Really--on the *day* before my race? On the day when I *should* be built up by the people in my life who know how hard I've worked for this? REALLY???

It took most of the day to shake off the feeling of betrayal. I spent a long time on the phone with the child in question's teacher and felt good about our talk. I hustled the littlest kid off to his grandparents' house so that I could drive out to the resort where the race would take place. I packed my bag, taking great care to select only articles of clothing that made me feel powerful.

I filled the car with gas and hit the highway, slowly creeping through the late-Friday afternoon traffic that plagues my city.

When I got to the resort I put on what my husband calls my "conference face": the one with a cheerful smile for anyone who crosses my path. I brought out my schmooze skills and worked the exhibit hall, stopping to give sincere thanks to the race founders and others who had supported my training.

I waited for my roommates to arrive and when they did I went to dinner, head still in a fog.
I wasn't ready--but this was going to happen one way or another.

***                           ***

I wish I could tell you that I woke up refreshed and mentally strong. That the doubts of the night before had vanished in the face of race day. In truth I tossed and turned all night. Our lights were turned off by 9:15pm, alarms set for 5:30am-- and I don't think I slept more than an hour at a time all night.

I woke up and drank a cup of bad hotel coffee. I solemnly unpacked my peanut butter sandwich and choked it down, along with a banana. I laced up my Sauconys and headed to the lobby.

My husband and kids showed up just before we had to line up at the starting line. My children had bedhead, and the baby looked dazed. He had scraped his chin at his grandparents' house the day before and I clucked worriedly over his wound. We exchanged quick hugs and kisses and then I was off to line up.

My running mentor Lisa was by my side, as were two other amazing Zooma ambassadors: Leigh Ann and Missy. We shuffled back and forth in the cold waiting for the race to start.

My stomach was clenching. I was terrified of not being to finish. There was a rock in my shoe; I kept pushing it back and forth with my toes, too out of it to actually *remove* the darn thing.

Go time.

***                      ***

Once Lisa and I got out on the course my fear started to recede. I remembered the route from our course preview, knew when to expect the big hills. We laughed and talked as we ran--commenting on the "team outfits" sported by some, wondering about the sour expressions sported by others. The weather was cool and overcast, just the way I prefer it on a long run.

We stopped to get our picture taken in the bluebonnets. A lovely woman who had made a wrong turn on the 5K course was our photographer. She was now trapped on the half-marathon course and was walking to the finish line--a full 10 miles further than her intended race distance. Despite the miscalculation she was in good spirits and we wished her well as we continued on.

The middle-miles, miles four to seven, were magnificent. I remember little beyond my happiness. I remember my breath, my feet moving in concert, my arms swinging in the chilly air. I remember picking a runner ahead of me and trying to pass her. I remember watching the form of other runners, appreciating the diversity of craft. I remember hearing teammates cheer for one another and getting swept up in their enthusiasm until I too was whooping and hollering.

I loved those miles.

Those miles were the miles with the biggest hills. Hills that loomed up before you, hills that said "Go on--I dare you." Hills where the down part was just as terrifying as the up part.

And I loved them.

***                                 ***

The last three miles of the course should have been easy; they wound their way across the smooth golf course, not a hill in sight. Lisa warned me: the concrete would hurt our legs, feet and hips. Erika warned me: the sight of all the runners in front of you and all the runners behind you, endlessly weaving along the path, would make it seem like you were going nowhere. I *heard* them, but I didn't believe them.

Until I got to the golf course.

Man, those miles were the worst. Every step I took made my left knee and hip flexor contract in pain. I could feel blisters forming on the arch of my right foot. I was cold and my fingers swelled to twice their size.

I was no longer having fun.

Lisa had saved a pep talk to deliver to me on mile 12. She saw the grim look on my face and knew it was time.

She gave an impassioned and beautiful speech about how this was *my* first half-marathon and no one could ever take that away from me. About how I needed to dig deep and finish strong. She reminded me of the sprint exercises we had been working on.

I snapped: "We are NOT doing those."

She let it go. She extended grace my way and kept up a steady pace by my side, willing me to move my leaden legs.

"Just a little farther. Just around this corner. I promise you the finish line is right there."

***                                  ***

And it was.
There was Sean and the kids. There was Melanie's family.
Miss A was jumping up and down waving a sign for me.

I grabbed her hand and together we ran across the finish line.

***                                          ***


All through the training process Melanie and I would joke about the similarities between becoming a runner and being pregnant:

1. You can't talk about anything else
2. Your feet hurt, and sometimes they swell
3. You buy all new clothes--even if you *intended* to stick with the same ratty pair of sweatpants
4. You google evey ache and pain incessantly and worry about what the internet diagnoses
5. You read every blog you can find related to running/pregnancy
6. You constantly compare your size/appearance/form to other runners/other preggos
7. The closer the "big day" gets, the more excited/nervous you get
8. You eat A LOT
9. You have to pee every 45 minutes (from hydrating pre-race)
10. You act like you are the first person in the world to ever run a race/have a baby

It is amazing to me how apt this joke metaphor turned out to be. Those last three miles for me were absolutely akin to the transition stage of labor. Just as with my two deliveries, I hated every minute of those last miles--and then as soon as it was over I wanted to do it all over again.

I am so proud of myself for doing this, and of my friends for finishing strong.

I am a runner. For real.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


In two days I will run my first half-marathon.
The thought of this accomplishment fills me with both terror and a giddy joy.

 I have been training with steady determination since the start of 2013, when I was selected to be the ZOOMA Texas Muscle Milk Light Half-Marathon Challenge athlete.

For the first few weeks I looked at the training plan askance. I assumed that once the mileage on the long runs surpassed 4 miles/5 miles/6 miles/surely-not-10 miles, I would quit. I would hit a mental wall, or injure myself and would have to resign my position. I would be outwardly chagrined, yet secretly relieved.

Throughout the training process I have had some rock-solid running friends by my side. This too is not what I imagined. In my mind running was a solitary pursuit. I would try to time my runs for bits of the day when normal people are at work. I would huff and puff my lonely way down the trail and if I did happen upon another runner, I would tuck my chin down and power through without making eye contact, not looking up until we were well past one another. I did this because I felt sure that in the other person's eyes I would see reflected my own fraud. That the other runner would know instantly I wasn't a "real" runner. My bright red cheeks and thick waistline would give me away, as would my shuffling gait.

And then on the second week of our training plan there was a kick-off event at a local running store. My running mentor, Lisa, wanted to meet before the event to run a few quick miles. We arranged to be there early. I was certain that she would write me off as a lost cause, but instead she immediately charmed me with her warm nature and no-nonsense support. I was afraid she would critique me throughout our run; instead she approached our relationship with the notion that *of course* I was going to do this. We were going to do it together.

 Lisa was not afraid to talk about her own past injuries, or her own aches and pains, or the days when she really didn't *want* to be running. She showed me that having those thoughts and feelings doesn't mean you aren't a "real" runner--instead, it means that you accept the breadth and depth of a commitment to a sport and lifestyle. Every run will not be a joyful experience, but every run does carry the potential to bring you long-term joy. When I run with Lisa I am not concerned about pace or stride. My legs and arms find their natural rhythm and my mind clears. Through her mentor-ship I was able to shed my visions of failure, and replace them with a vision of myself as a runner for life. Not necessarily long distances, and not necessarily with the purpose of winning races, but absolutely in order to be a healthy and strong woman. Now, in mid-life. Twenty years from now. Forever.

My friend Melanie was also in attendance at the kick-off event. She was in the process of completing the Couch to 5k program and wanted to check out some running shoe options. She met me there after my first run with Lisa and together we hit the trail once more. We returned to the store and got fitted for shoes, and ate free bagels and talked to the other amazing women involved with this program and somehow, by the time we left, Melanie had registered for the half-marathon too.

I am so impressed by Melanie's commitment to this race. She took a huge leap of faith in upping her running goals from a 5k to a half-marathon. She has encountered set-backs, and faced them with grace. The other day we set out on an 8 mile long-run that neither one of us was too excited about. By mile two Melanie was struggling with calf pain and needed to take a break. We walked until she was able to run again, and despite the fact that we could have very easily cut the run short she made sure we pushed through and achieved our target distance. Her mental fortitude inspires me.

I used to read running blogs with deep cynicism. I sneered at the people who purported to have been instantly transformed from sloths to elite athletes. I couldn't believe that it was as simple as lacing up a pair of sneakers and opening your front door. I thought that a runner's high was a myth, and that all these gleeful sinewy runners would end up injured hobbled wrecks within ten years.

I was wrong.

The main error in my thinking was the notion that running exists as a pursuit separate from everything else in your life. That you compartmentalize: there is running, and there is everything else.

Instead running becomes the support and under-current for everything else. You do more yoga and strength training because you want to keep running without injury. You drink more water because you want to be hydrated for your runs. You get up early because you have a tough work meeting on the agenda and you know you need to clear your mind with a run before you tackle the tasks at hand. You pay attention to nutrition and sleep patterns because you see a direct correlation between what you put into your body and what you get out of your runs.

Since starting the ZOOMA training plan I have been transformed. You wouldn't know it to look at me--I am still amply padded, and I still don't *look* like an elite athlete. But I am stronger. In my legs, in my endurance, in my commitment to myself. I am less afraid to look foolish or vulnerable. I have seized professional and personal opportunities that I might otherwise have let slip by. I have been fearless in a way that I *know* is directly related to my relationship with running.

In a way this weekend's race doesn't matter. I mean, *of course* it matters. But while the race has always been the goal, it is no longer the prize.