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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

One Tough Mudder

On Saturday,  I kissed my husband and boys goodbye and told them I was off to run a race called the Tough Mudder.  No matter where I go, it is always hard to leave. I know they can take care of themselves but I made sure to make healthy meals for breakfast lunch and dinner, (which they won't eat) but I do it anyway.  I  arranged rides to and from, practices, dances and birthday parties and I was only going to be gone for 24 hours.  I even attempted to mandate a man-date for Don with one of his buddies.

My role as their mom is the one I take most seriously above all else.  And leaving them is difficult. Mostly for me, okay all for me and the last thing Oscar said as he shut the door was, "Win it, mommy".

"Ha!", I thought,  I couldn't promise I was going to win anything. I just wanted to stay alive. I mean, I'm not a long distance runner.  And this was a very long distance, and with 24 obstacles in between. I appreciated that he thought winning was even an option.

My group consisted of four guys and me.  It felt  just like home.  As we put on our matching t-shirts and they wrote my number on my arm,  it became very clear that I was just one of the guys. This may sound like it's a good thing, but later I would have wished for a little special treatment.  Maybe, just a little.

The Tough Mudder honors wounded warriors, the men and women who have sacrificed so much more that we could ever know. Military men and women were all around us cheering us on.  As we ran our first mile, I thought about what one of the motivational speakers had said during the warm up.

When was the last time you have done something for the first time?

It occurred to me that in the past year I have done several things for the first time. Most noteworthy was flying to France alone. Most crazy was clearly this.

I really had no idea what I was in for.  But as we approached each obstacle,  I wasn't allowed to hesitate. Nobody thought that because I was a woman I couldn't do what they were doing.  Everyone did the same thing and helped each other out.

One of my team members tore his bicep tendon and still finished, meaning I couldn't complain about the nail I had just broken without sounding pathetic. As we dredged forward  I was reminded on more than one occasion of my three of my biggest fears.

1. heights
2. drowning
3. leaving my children motherless

I faced all of them head on. And obviously, I didn't die.   I knew there was always someone waiting for me on the other side of the wall, or swamp or mud pit or ice water enema, (yes, it's really called that) and for very good reason.

I may be the only one that would ever compare the Tough Mudder to parenting, but it really isn't all that different.  In the beginning, you think it is a good idea, but you really don't have any idea of  what you're really getting in to until it's too late. You imagine it, or hope it goes a certain way, but you don't know until you are totally submerged in it to get the true idea of how brutal it is.  But for some crazy reason, you go for it anyway, and you don't give up. You realize that it's going to get dirty, messy,  and scary. But at the same time it is fun, exasperatingly painful and you love every moment of it.

Like life,  you face obstacles that you had no idea were coming or what to expect.  Maybe your dad falls and is paralyzed, maybe you lose a friend to cancer,  maybe you unexpectedly lose your baby at 17 weeks, maybe your mom dies, maybe your spouse leaves you.  In any of life's challanges, you don't just turn around and go home.  You could, but the race continues and you either join it, or you don't.  And It is crucial to realize you cannot do it alone. You  have accept help from friends to get you through it.

The hardest challenge I faced was a slick angled wall that we had to climb.  My team laid belly down, stood on each others shoulders until they formed a human ladder. And I climbed them. Apologizing the entire way up for stepping on their shoulders, or grabbing their butts or pulling their hair. I swear that was not intentional.  Then one of my friends told me to shut up, stop saying sorry and just carry on.  It's kind of a good lesson in general don't you think?

As we approached our last obstacle as much as I wanted it to end, I didn't.  Partly because I didn't want to get electric shocked, but also because for a brief moment, I didn't recognize myself. Who was this 39 year old woman  kicking ass in a way that I didn't know was physically possible?

When you are completely exhausted and are wet covered in mud, you don't see each others flaws.  You look exactly the same as the person next to you who in that moment you have more things in common than differences, regardless of your gender, race, age or occupation.  You aren't a label. You are just a hot mess.

Immediately after we crossed the finish line, we headed over to have a free beer, sit down and laugh about whatever the hell we just did.  I don't think any of us stopped smiling until we got home.

As I drove, I thought about that question again. "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" And I made a promise to continually drag myself out of my comfort zone and get muddy once in awhile. For me, the alternative is far scarier.

When I arrived back home, there was a note on our chalk board.  It read "Congrats to our tough mudder".  Oscar asked me what I had won.  I showed him my orange headband and he thought it was the coolest thing ever.  Then he followed me into the bathroom,  sat on the floor next to my heap of dirty clothes and read me his favorite book as I took a shower.

Almost every parent I know wants to be strong for their kids. Strength can be shown in so many different ways. Mine are just a bit extreme.  I'll never know what they see when they look at me, but at least they know that I can simultaneously take care of myself and let them feel taken care of at the same time. 

I never want them to see me give up on anything, whatever it is, but especially them.

And that is why I am one Tough Mudder.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Navigating the Choppy Teen Waters

My best friend and I wanted to take a small sailboat off the coast of Hamilton Island in Australia to go sailing. There was a long line of tourist waiting to do the mandatory training before they were given a boat to take out. But my best friend knew that my patience level had just about exceeded it's five-minute limit. I mean, the conditions were deplorable,  white sand, crystal blue water. So she marched her little self up to the guide and said she was an experienced sailor (not really but it sounded good.) And he believed her. Next thing I know, she and I were out in the shark infested ocean sailing.

As the waves crashed into us she thought it would be a good time to tell me that she hadn't exactly been on this type of boat before.  And she was going to need my help because we were drifting out to the middle of nowhere and soon one of us would have to kill the other to eat in order to not to starve to death.  I wasn't much help because I get motion sick and have a tendency to laugh hysterically in these situations, not a pretty combination if you can imagine. Eventually, I helped turn the boat around and we ended up back at shore safely, and in time for lunch.

In between laughing and trying not to puke, I asked her why she said she could sail when she hadn't in a long time, and why she would put our lives in jeopardy.  She said she knew a little bit about it and knew she would just figure it out. Fake it till you make it.  And we were just fine.

That was six years ago and I think about that story often as I navigate the choppy water of raising a teen boy.  He has only been a teen for six weeks, but I recently weathered my first storm.

The first thing I needed to admit was that I know absolutely nothing about teen boys.  I mean, I thought I knew things about teen boys, but I was wrong. Every stereotypical notion I created when I was growing up needed to be thrown out the window.  For example, all the days my 13-year-old self doodled my name with a boy's last name and thought he was doing the same was a big huge misconception.  I know this, because, on the long list of things my son thinks about, I can confidently say marriage hasn't even made it on the paper.  Which coincidentally was the same case for his father until he turned 29.

Last Thursday night, my son suddenly became ill with an acute stomach pain. He is rarely sick, so I was not surprised when he woke up on Friday, that he was still suffering.  My husband wasn't buying it,  and told him that it was a remarkable coincidence that he was sick on the day he was to present a project that he hadn't prepared for at school.

Another thing I admit to knowing absolutely nothing about is men.  I couldn't believe how insensitive he was acting towards our beloved first born!  I reminded Don about the one time he had an acute stomach pain and ended up having an emergency appendectomy.

(Then I made the motion of dropping the mic.)

My mom stayed with my son while I took his brother's to school and when I returned home, he had seemed to have made a miraculous recovery in the twenty minutes I was gone.

It then occurred to me... I had been punked. Totally punked, and it pissed me off.  I told him to get his clothes on and that we were going to school.  He begged and pleaded with me to let him stay home.  His stomach pain had returned and he now thought he may die.  If I do anything, he suggested I take him to a hospital.

But I didn't budge. I made him get in the car and I drove him to school.
He was very very unhappy with this. He was yelling and crying and dry heaving.  All while asking me how I could do this to him. But I kept on driving.

I had never been in this situation before.   I was angry that my husband was right, angry that my son had lied to me and angry at myself for not knowing if what I was doing was the right thing.

I have anxiety.  At times, it has been severe, so I know how a mental worry can manifest to your gut and make you feel like you are going to implode.

Up until this point, I had done whatever it was to protect him from pain. I thought about the old guy who watched me trying to teach Parker to swim in a hotel pool when he was a year old. "Just throw him in, that will teach him," he said with confidence.  Little did he know that very image would keep me up at night. But I knew I could never do that. Ever.

Yet, here I was. My son was in pain, whether it was mental or physical and I was forcing him to do something he didn't want to do. I was throwing him in the water.

I tried to assure him that he was going to be okay. That he shouldn't believe what a classmate told him.  He was not stupid.  What he was, was ill-prepared and there is a big difference.

When we arrived at school, we sat in the parking lot.  I watched as he took off his glasses, wiped the tears from his face. Straightened is tie and shirt and smoothed his hair back to a pompadour.

He looked at me and what I anticipated was another plea to go back home, but instead he said: " Let's go" as he opened the door.

We walked into the school and I watched as he joined his friends. You would never know that he and I had just almost capsized.

I needed a minute to breathe because truthfully I hadn't been.  Another thing I didn't know.. how scary these situations can be.

I ducked into the teachers lounge with his teacher who is also a friend of mine.  I closed the door behind us and almost burst into tears, wondering if I had been too harsh, I was shaking inside.  He put his hand on my shoulder and told me I had done the right thing.  Not that I needed that assurance, but okay.. I totally did and I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry right there.  But I didn't.

I had just faked it until I made it.

I sat and watched the presentations and had a hard time believing that I had just earned my sea legs in the choppy teen waters.

Later after dinner as I was washing the dishes, Parker put his arm around me and thanked me for making him go to school, flashed his signature smile and went on his way.  Nothing more.

We both had held on tight and weathered it,  navigating this unexpected tidal wave.  But we did together.

At least when the next wave hits, I will know we will make it safely back to shore, despite not knowing what the hell we are doing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Write On

I haven't been able to write as much lately.   This makes me quite sad because writing is what I do to clear the storms of my head.  So when I don't do it, my brain gets cloudy and end up making really dumb mistakes.  Like sending an email to my boss and others with the word boner in it.

Writing is how I discover things about myself.   Rereading journals is one of the ways I keep from making the same mistake twice, or in some cases, three times.  Sure, I always think that cutting my hair all off is a fantastic idea, until I go back to my tear soaked pages of my journal and remember how it wasn't.   If you think that sounds petty it's not.   Nothing is too petty to write it out.

Clearly American's need to re-read some history books before the election in November.. I digress.

In 1996, I wrote six pages about a guy who never called me back.  I  came up with all sorts of reasons, but the main one was that I had just cut off all my hair.  After three days, I discovered that he had mono. Had I not been lost in the clouds of my self doubt I probably would have just called him. It would have saved me a lot of angst.  But at least I can reflect back on my overreaction with fondness.

Self-doubt is the ultimate severe weather storm.  And it serves as much purpose as going out in the rain with a broken umbrella.

But it occupies so much of everything I do, and because I haven't been writing it made it's way to the surface. Which means Don had our familiar "Come to Jesus" conversation that goes down like this.

Don: What is wrong, you seem quiet?
Me: Do I? I didn't think you would notice because you never listen to me.
Don: Well, I'm listening now. Whats wrong?
Me:  (Deep breath) followed by tears and inaudible blubbering about everything I'm not doing right.

What sparked this was a rug.  We have had the same rug in our living room since we moved into the house fifteen years ago.  I got tired of it.  So I got a new one, and when the rest of the family was gone, I rolled up the old one and layed down the new one.  You would have thought I replaced it with a carpet made of hair from the bathroom floor or something.   They all hated it.  Like, adamantly hated it.  Oscar clung to the old rolled up rug and cried. Literally cried.

The entire family ganged up on me and each voiced their opinion about how much they disliked the new rug.  I pride myself in my interior decor choices, so this hurt me and made me question everything.

Then I realized something.   That rug was all they had ever known.  All of them at some point laid belly down on it before they could learn to roll over. Numerous things have been spilled on that rug. Including popcorn when we would camp out laying on the floor watching movies.  At one point it was used as the Land of Sodor.  Or the ground for numerous forts. It is in the background of all their baby pictures.

What the real issue was, is that they didn't want change. Change is scary. Even if it is in the form of a rug.

If there is one ray of the sun in this cloudy mess of a brain I have, it's that I am a creature of habit and routine.   To a disturbing, and (maybe annoying to some people) level.   My day is so habitual that I see other habitual people at the same place each and every day.  I drive down the street and see the same cars, pass the same pedestrians and dogs getting their daily walk.  I work out with the same people, and each day we say the same thing.

Each of the boys has a day of the week which they get to choose the music choice for our commute.   And on Wednesday, we really get tired of Jack's selection of Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal, but we go along with it, because it is Wednesday, and that is what we do.

I get a morning text from my mom. An encouraging text from another friend telling me I'm beautiful. I get a Friday funny text from a good friend. These things are simple, but  I have come to expect and enjoy them and  they make me feel really good.  They are things that I rely on. Much like a familiar old rug.

I have always thought this OCD routine trait of mine, made me vanilla.  But to my boys, it makes me a person who they can always count on.   Much like my writing is to me.  Like an honest friend,  it puts things in black and white. It helps me realize that I may not be as big of a loser making horrible choices and doing everything wrong.  Sure, I sent the word boner to several male co-workers, sure I made a rug choice on a whim, sure I may have said something too harsh to my 6-year-old when I was tired.

But despite all of those things, life keeps going. Even when the rug is ripped out from under us.

That broken umbrella I mentioned earlier, I was caught under it with a friend laughing hysterically. We laughed so hard, that tears were running down my face.   If I focus on everything that is going wrong, it's impossible to see what is going right.  I encourage any friend of mine going through any challenge to write out their feelings.   Even if they look like this:

It helps clear the clouds and lets light back in.

And for the record, the boys are slowly starting to accept the rug.  Or at least realize that all their complaining isn't going to bring the old rug back.