a year passes, and i learn something on this race.

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i ran a half marathon this weekend.  it was sort of unceremonious.  i trained, but not so hard.  i put in the miles, but i didn’t stress about it.  i tried to eat well in weeks that led up to the race, but there were times i just wanted a bowl of cereal before bed.  to be honest, life and school and the ebb and flow of those things got in the way of running this race like i got paid millions to do it.  i ran like it was my hobby.  i didn’t have a dedicated training schedule on my fridge for the first time.  in fact, i vaguely knew what i was going to run each week, based on what i vaguely recalled i ran the week before.  my long runs were stretched out by a couple of miles from the week before, and then every so many weeks, i backed them off to a distance that felt like near cheating, they were so short.  my tempo run distances were based on how long i felt like running; no greater formula was employed.  one day i ran long and fast, and the next day i ran, i ran shorter and faster; this was my tempo formula.  as this marathon approached, i felt no sense of urgency.  absolutely none.  i didn’t worry that i couldn’t complete it, or that i wouldn’t do well.  a part of me simply didn’t care what my time would be, but another part of me was just confident that i was coming into myself as a runner.

maybe i actually know myself; my running self enough to know what works?!  wouldn’t that be rad.

as the week of the race approached, i tapered down my runs, and i just looked forward to seeing what happened out there on the course.  i had never run it before, or had even been to the area where the race was run.  it was advertised as a smooth, flat BQ course, but so many are.  i’ve yet to see a marathon advertised as “designed by satan, hilly, and a pain in the ass to run!”

YOU’RE GONNA HATE RUNNING THIS BITCH!

race

by the end of the night on monday (the week of this race), i was pretty sure i was sick.  my lungs were burning.  i couldn’t get good breath in, and i felt like i had a bowling ball on my chest.  i went into the doctor on tuesday, who confirmed for me that it was crazy bad allergies, and with my lungs already being trashed from the embolisms, this was my new seasonal allergy “normal”.  he gave me all kinds of medication to try to clear up the mess… singulair, albuterol inhaler, flonase….but i was a snotty, coughing mess.  i still was in good spirits though.  ready to just get out on the course, and see what happened.  coughing or not, it was just going to be whatever it was.  i slept like a baby, while g. tossed and turned with anxiety over a race that was still five days away.

as the week progressed, g. fell ill with stomach flu.  he was not as gracious in his illness, which is understandable.  it’s harder to run when you are throwing up.  he was also running the full marathon.  he didn’t eat all week.  he didn’t run.  he slept and worried.  even up until saturday morning of the race, he was still not sure he would get out there and run, because it is hard to do a race of this size without having eaten properly in the days leading up to the race.  he decided to go ahead and see what he could pull off.  if he couldn’t finish, at least he tried.

the morning was gorgeous, but it wasn’t until we arrived at the site that we realized that this was a marathon by trail…. not road.  for those of you who have ever trail raced, it’s a different animal than a road race.  it’s more grueling, for sure, and involves a lot of terrain changes.  in this case, not so subtle up and downhill grades.  i love trail running, but i do it only a couple times a month, for the sake of novelty, not because i am great at it.  i decided to stick in though, and buckle up for 13.1 miles of it.  i was told, though, by another runner that 2 of those miles were paved.  this was some sort of bonus, apparently.  a chance for your legs to recoup.  all i know is i am glad i had no idea what i was in for until i was about to run away.

at the start line, i realized my garmin had not properly charged over night.  i would not really be able to time myself throughout this race either.  in a way, it was sort of liberating, and in another way, it was a little terrifying.  i like to see where i am so i know to push when i need to.  i instead loaded some running app on my phone, and just set it to track my run so i would have some rough idea of how long this little romp through the woods was taking me.  i would be happy with a 3 hour finish time at this point.  lungs on fire, and now i am running through the woods.  g. all but vomiting at the start line.  we are a fine pair, we are.

as the runners took off for the start line, i began to just feel my legs not care what sort of race this was.  i heard kanye in my ears singing, “gone”… and i took off.  too fast, possibly.  no, i’ll answer that right now.  it was totally too fast.  i didn’t judge well for the fact that the rest of this race was going to be so up and down, and not on the sort of surface i was used to running on.  i blew out the first five miles too fast.  by the time i got to the ninth mile, i was hung out to dry.  whooped.  i wouldn’t walk.  i would rather die.  i shuffled though.  steadily moving.  up some steep inclines.  thinking….

this is your flat, fast boston qualifier?  on. what. planet.

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it felt like months between miles 10 and 11.  i kept thinking the volunteers at the race had mismarked the course and forgotten to mark mile 11.  wouldn’t that be an awesome surprise!?  i’d just come across mile 12, out of nowhere!  but then… there… mile 11.  it showed up and it felt like i had seen someone kick a dog…. off a cliff.   i tried to distract myself for a mile, and i started watching the other racers in front of me.  a younger girl had stopped to walk.  she was sort of walking, and i’d pass her, and then she would run passed me, only to stop to walk again.  i could tell she was fighting some pain.  she wanted to cry, but she was holding it back.  people can be pretty tough on marathon courses, and honestly, anger and determination will keep you from crying on the course until you finish a lot of times.  it kept me from crying on at least two occassions until i was done.  i watched her do this walk-run business a few times until we both had caught up to an older man who was running alone.  she tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned to see her, he sort of sadly smiled and hugged her.  he slowed way down and jogged next to her, instead of the run he was at.  it was her father.  when she saw him, i could see her eyes well up with tears, although she wiped them up fast.  as i passed them both, they began to walk.  maybe it wasn’t her day to run, maybe it was his… but they were going to finish together.

i couldn’t help but think of my own father.  he had decided to answer my letter with a business like phone call a few days before i left for this marathon.  he left a message on my voicemail.  he stated his first and last name and his phone number, and then asked that i called him back.  he didn’t say this was “dad” or that he had gotten my letter and hoped we could talk.  nothing warm.  nothing loving.  i thought for a minute that maybe he had misdialed my number and thought i was one of his business associates.  i deleted it.  i knew i wouldn’t call him back.  as i passed that father and daughter, i smiled at them, and i felt really happy for them both.  that they had each other.  i didn’t feel jealous or sad for myself.  they were blessed to have each other.  i felt some sort of power come over me as the 12 mile marker came into view.

i knew i was almost done, but it was something more. my brain began to churn about all people i hold dearest.  the family i have.  the love i am granted.

if all i have is all i have.  just me.  my husband.  my kids.  my brother.  his family.  i am going to run my heart out.  this minute.  i am going to run my heart out for them.  i am going to keep going until i can’t anymore.  i am going to leave everything here.  finish strong.  run hard.  go home.

and i did.  i picked up my pace, and just started whipping by people.  the fatigue i felt in those two tortuous miles lifted, and i knew i was going to hurt, but i just kicked it in as strong and as hard as i could.  the last 1600m of this race WAS a race.  i ran my fastest mile split of the entire race right there.  as i moved past people, who had so gloriously sped past me in my 11 mile slog, i couldn’t help but smile nervously.  i felt great, and i only hoped i could continue to hold my speed until the finish line. i had no idea if the finish line was at the top of an enormous hill of fire, or what the final moments of this race would hold — but as long as it was a straight shot, or even better, downhill — i was good.

LL

and downhill it was.  so lovely.  i’ve not yet seen the debauchery they call race photos, but i’m sure my finish photo will be me grinning ear to ear.  my finish time wasn’t even my greatest.  i’ve not got any “trail marathons” to compare it to, but as far as road races go, i’ve had better times.  it was just kind of average.  i’ve run enough of these races by now, though, that most races are somewhere in the middle.  there is the one that will always be “great” and the one that will always be “horrid”…. and then everything is comfortingly somewhere in between those.  and i’m really, really okay with that.  i run for the joy of it.  i run for the lessons.  i run to support the other runners.

g. did finish.  i met him at several points during his marathon, and he looked as though he might not make it, but he just kept going.  marathons are about will more than most things.  he continued on, and i met him just before mile 26.  as he rounded the bend with his last half mile to go, i ran with him for a bit.  i talked him up a bit, telling him that he didn’t have far to go, and it was all down hill.  he looked weary.  weary in that way that only another marathoner knows.

it’s all downhill.  you can do this.  run, man!  RUN! 

and with that, i picked up my pace, and he picked up his.  i started racing him and laughing, and he smiled.  he took off, and before i knew it he was gone.  i cut across the field to where the finish line was, and met him again.  i was screaming for him to finish.  to beat the guy ahead of him.  it was totally unlady like.  unsportsmanlike.  i was in the moment.  i wanted him to WIN!  he is my people.  he’s one the only people i have.  i ran so fast for him.  i wanted him to run fast too.  i looked at his time.  he had wanted to do better, too.  he is a perfectionist, and i was worried that this was going to be hard for him.  he had trained 6 days a week, by a strict schedule, for 20 weeks.  he had not anticipated a trail race, and certainly not stomach flu, but he met both of those challenges.  he had hoped to be 30 minutes faster than his gun time.  i sighed, and found him on the other side of the finish line.

he was weary and eating a banana.  he said he thought he might be sick, but wanted to eat this banana before the threw up.  i laughed.  then he handed me the banana and went to the port-o-john.  when he came back, he wasn’t upset.  he said he was fine.  he finished.  and he said he was so happy to see me when i ran with him, he got emotional.  he said he probably wouldn’t have run so hard at the end if i wouldn’t have been there.   i knew what he meant.  running a marathon is emotional.  it does make you a little delirious.  you go through moments of doubt and pain, but there is something so wonderful about finishing that you are willing to put yourself through it over and over.

on the way home, instead of lamenting over his time, g. instead asked if i’d like to start (and finish) our next marathon together.  we have never, ever done that in lo, these many years.  we have always just gone our separate ways at the start line, and then met up at the finish.  i told him that it would mean he would do all that training to basically finish a half hour slower than he normally would with me.  he said he didn’t care.

sometimes we should finish what we start with the people we love. 

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Day Three Hundred Sixty Five, or From the Wound a Lovely Flower Grew

nothing for miles.

nothing for miles.

do you think he thought he was being funny?  or that it was just an adventure for us?  

my brother had been staring out the car window for a half hour.  the drive between las vegas and L.A. was nothing but desert.  quiet and desolate.  conversation had died down in accordance with the scenery, and we had both been looking straight ahead.  while i had been trying to gauge gas usage against the next possible stop, my brother had quietly been recollecting a family vacation; the last family vacation i ever went on.

he looked out across the rolling hills as they drew up into mountains, and laughed to me, saying he hadn’t seen a walmart in about three hours.  he saw this as a blessing and a curse.  he had no idea where people got cheap zyrtec way out here.  i told him i didn’t think people got seasonal allergies.  there is nothing to be allergic to.  dust maybe.  then he asked me.

dad.  he drove us out in the middle of nowhere.  remember?  remember that vacation? 

oh.  i remember.  mom was pissed.

was he being funny?  i guess i was little, and i don’t really remember.  i only remember that we were in the middle of nowhere like this.  there was nothing but cows.  and maybe antelope.  but i could be making that up.

no.  you aren’t making that up.  we stuck our heads out the windows of the car and yelled at them all.  it made mom laugh.

looking back, what my father had done was stupid.  on a family vacation, he decided to leave the beaten trail.  the highway.  on a strip of land, very much like the one i was traveling.  where there were no towns or service for miles.  back before the days of cell phones or GPS.  he decided to “wing it” in a gas guzzling chevy station wagon with three little kids and his wife in the desert.  he got off the highway and drove for miles to a small town in the middle of nowhere. this was his vacation.  we were going to do things his way.   we ate pie, and then, DIDN’T fill up our car, because as my mother recalls, “the gas prices were outrageous”.  we continued to drive out into the desert where there were only cattle and deer in herds.  it got dark and my parents fought about which way to go.  my father was lost and his great idea soured as my mother got frightened that we would be stranded.  alone.  in the desert.  at night.  my father laughed and joked the whole time.  as kids, we thought he was hilarious.  the whole situation was funny.  we mocked our mother because my father did.  we were little and this whole situation seemed outrageous and adventurous.  my father told us we might have to hike out of the desert!  danger!  excitement! mom just seemed like a drag.  her crying was grating and was a real buzz kill.

desert

years later.  as a mother.  driving through the desert.  with my brother and my son in the back seat, i realize my mother is not a drag.  my father is not a pioneer.  the desert is enormous. it’s unforgiving and it doesn’t care if you are from the midwest and don’t know the rules.  there is no shame in watchful eyes on the gas tank, an emergency package of saltines in the glove box, and an extra water bottle under the seat.  the well worn path is worth taking when the cargo is worth protecting.

i thought about this day out in the desert weeks later as i got my mail only to find a letter from my father.  i haven’t spoken to him in over a year.  my heart sunk when i saw his familiar handwriting.  i didn’t want to read it.  the handwriting immediately seemed like it was scolding me.  i laid it on my desk as i unpacked groceries and made fish a snack.  it stared up at me from across the room.  i turned it over so i couldn’t see the handwriting anymore.

when i finally sat to read it an hour later, it was short and to the point.  he said he had tried to write this letter several times, but that simply he had chosen to have his family back now.  he missed us.  he had made that decision.  today.

he wanted us back. 

i sat quietly.  folded the paper back upon itself.  tucked the letter into my backpack.  i carried it around with me for weeks.  i never looked at it again.  i tried to show it to my brother, but he couldn’t even look at it.  he told me just to tell him the gist.  when i relayed to him it said, he just shook his head and then looked away.

he wants us back, huh?

i wrote the answer to this letter many days while driving, or making dinner.  i would think of the words that i felt needed to be said.  i would arrange them in my head as if i was saying them out loud.  some days while on a long run, with road stretched out before me, i would write long letters to my father, and as soon as i reached the safety of my front yard, i’d forget every word.  this went on for weeks.

then one day last week, while running, i just stopped, turned around, and sprinted back home.  i wrote the letter that had been formulating in my mind.  after pages and pages… i could have just written four words,

you picked us last.

 

yep.  looks about right.

yep. looks about right.

that summed it up for me.  as the child of someone who is mentally ill, of someone who has an addiction, of someone who cannot control their actions always… it is an unfortunate side effect that you will be picked last.  you are along on their ride.  whether it was to the liquor store, or into the desert on a half tank of gas, it is never your idea.   at times, it feels selfish to take your life back with both hands from someone who steered it into the ditch when you were a child, but at some point it becomes about saving yourself from the hurt that inevitably comes.

and it does come.

not in gentle ways as in normal relationships.  where you talk and grow and build.  maybe cry a little.  have hurt feelings for a day or two.  it comes with a machete when you least expect it.  and it wipes out everything you know.

i love my father, and i told him that.  but i stopped waiting to be picked first.  to be picked at all.  i stopped waiting.  i understand now that you can’t give what you don’t have.  i hope he finds the joy and happiness in the world that every person deserves, so that someday he can give that to other people.   when i found i could not get that from my father, i learned to grow that inside myself, and i gave it to the world.  i gave it to sons and a husband.  most importantly, i gave it to myself.

a cycle ends with me.  a wound heals with me.  somethings are worth protecting.

 

one eye on the gas tank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freekeh Salad with Cashews

freaking out... about freekah.

freaking out… about freekeh.

school days are here again.  for me they never ended.  for the boys they are beginning again.  i dug up an old recipe from the archives yesterday that was like putting on a favorite sweater.  it was just so good and satisfying – and forgotten about.  i was almost happy i forgot about it, just so i could rediscover it!  i’ll share it here with you here today.

this recipe is made with freekeh and, in case you are unaware of this grain, read up — it’s pretty great.  it has a ton of fiber and a great amount of protein.  it cooks quickly and has a nice texture that is sort of chewy.  it fills you up quickly, so it is great for lunches if don’t have time for a big spread (which i don’t).  the only down side of freekeh is finding it sometimes.  i am lucky to live in an area which caters to a widely international population, so i can find it pretty easily in a middle eastern grocery or even in the mainstream groceries sometimes in a health food aisle.

FREEKEH SALAD WITH CASHEWS

1 cup uncooked freekeh 

2.5 cups vegetable broth

3 TBSP coconut oil

1.5 cups red pepper, chopped coarsely

3/4 cup raw cashews, chopped

1 red onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

DRESSING:

3 TBSP seasoned (or unseasoned) brown rice vinegar

2 TBSP coconut oil

1 TBSP Asian sesame oil (and i prefer the variety that is spiced with hot chili oil)

1/2 tsp salt

dash of fresh pepper, as desired

directions:

combine freekeh and vegetable broth in a large pot and bring to a boil.  cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and let cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the freekeh is at the desired tenderness.  (for me, 20 minutes is good.  i like it a little chewy.)  while that is boiling, combine the peppers, onions, cashews, and garlic in a fry pan and saute in the coconut oil for several minutes, or until they are tender.  drain off the extra broth on the freekeh, and put it in a large serving bowl.  combine the veggies you sauteed with the with grain.  combine all the ingredients of the dressing in a separate dressing shaker, and pour it over the combination.  mix it well, and allow it to sit for at least an hour to marinate.

you can eat this hot or cold.  i like it both ways.  i have also added protein to it.  sometimes i will saute tempeh on top of the veggies and throw that in with everything else, or even some “chicken flavored” seitan and thrown that in for added protein.  it’s great for after a heavy lifting workout, and it totally sticks to the ribs.  i’ve added greens to it, like sauteed spinach or kale.  it stands up, and it’s versatile.

enjoy!!

Day Three Hundred One, or Icebreakers

if everyone could just go around the circle and say how they know us, and then tell a funny story about us… that would be great!

that was the icebreaker at my sister’s wedding rehearsal.  i am not a fan of these kind of “getting to know you” exercises.  they feel like the first day of school, or a corporate retreat.  my sister and her now husband, however, are very career oriented, and work in high powered jobs.  they do these things a lot as a function of their jobs, and i think they think this how normal people meet and learn about each other.

if you were an animal, what would you be?!  if you were stranded on an island, what items would you bring?  build a fort from plastic cutlery with five people.

i prefer to make small talk.  gravitate towards people naturally.  truthfully, i knew a couple people in her wedding party, and i was comfortable talking to them.  i wasn’t committed to inviting the rest of the wedding party over for the holidays, so it wasn’t important to me that i became fast friends with them.  one by one, though, people went around the circle, detailing their role in the wedding.

i’m marc.  i’m the best man.  i know the groom from work…..

i’m diane.  i’m a bridesmaid.  i know the bride from high school….

then it came around to one of my sister’s friends from back east.  she moved out to california a year or two before my sister, and they had become close.

i’m june.  i’m the maid of honor. 

and that was all i could hear.  i can’t even remember what she said now as i try to recall.  my sister told me for months how i was her maid of honor.  it’s petty, and i am well aware of that.  it’s just a title.  a stupid title.  but it’s my sister.

in my tiny. broken. family. this was like her vote of no confidence in me.

and i felt the color rush out of my face.  tears sting into my eyes.  i didn’t know where to look.  i was glad and terrified there were still about five people to talk before it was my turn.   i was hoping i could gain composure, but it didn’t seem likely as i kept staring into the high california hills behind the hotel and they kept blurring with tears i would immediately blink back. all i could do was lean over and tell my sister in law i saw a jack rabbit run into the under brush.

my sister’s oldest friend was to my right, and proceeded me in the introductions and icebreaker.  she introduced herself, and then began sobbing.  she said she was just so happy for them and couldn’t control her emotions.

this day is just a long time coming!

and like a visitor to this planet, who was totally unaware of the customs, i let the tears go.  i repeated her friend’s sentiments; saying i had no “amusing” stories, but that i was just so moved and happy for them.  inside i kept telling myself to relax.  almost laughing out loud at the idea that my sister would have so much bravada to ask people to tell funny stories about herself.  i would rather build a bridge out of toothpicks with the best man or something.  i looked over at my brother who was looking at me like i had landed from another galaxy.  this outburst was certainly unexpected.  i wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh at me like a little brother, or take me aside and counsel me like a father.  i wasn’t sure if i wanted to laugh or cry either, so i went back to looking at the hills.

after running through the ceremony a few times, my sister asked us all to drive to the beach.  the wedding party disbanded to our cars, and headed to the coast.  we stood in the sand for a little while, talking.  my sister walked up to me, and asked me to walk with her to the water.  i thought that maybe she just knew that i was hurt.  maybe she wanted to tell me personally she had changed her mind about me being her maid of honor.  maybe she just wanted to tell me she loved me.  or thank me for driving to be with her.  or give me a hug.  we walked out to the water.

night had fallen in southern california and the stars were out over the ocean.  i took my shoes off so i could feel the water.  it was cold by my standards.

so, what do you think?  it’s nice, right?

yeah.  your wedding is going to be lovely.

no.  i mean, southern california, as opposed to northern california. 

oh.  uh.  i guess it’s okay. 

yeah.  if this were northern california, it would be like 37 degrees tonight.  freezing!

right.  northern california.

oh!  we better go.  i think everyone’s ready to go.

and that was it.  not even a moment for me to say i loved her.  or look at her one more time.  she was gone.  running down the beach.  i am selfish in this way.  that i want to put time away.

as we walked up the beach back to our cars, her maid of honor met us and let us know that tomorrow my sister had a hair appointment.  my sister told me that she would be back at the hotel at 6:45am.  i could meet her then.  then she changed her mind, and said i should meet her at 8:20.

that night, back in my hotel room, i tossed and turned.  i hardly slept.  i felt sad.  i got up, and got to the hotel at 8:20am.  my mother was in the lobby.  i asked if my sister was there, and my mother said she was not back from her appointment yet.  she then asked me why i wasn’t with her.  all her other bridesmaids were.  my heart sunk again.   i called my sister, and got no answer.  i texted her a couple of times, and got no answer.  i went to my brother’s room, and waited with my sister in law.  she saw my face, and immediately, without a word just hugged me.

i don’t understand it.  i don’t pretend to.  i love you. 

i arrived at the wedding site, and saw my sister when everyone else did.  as she was walking down the aisle.  the other bridesmaids arrived later, gushing about how gorgeous my sister was.  for the first time, i felt like i shouldn’t be at her wedding.  the panic set in.  the money i spent.  the time i took to get there.  it was a waste.  i wanted to find a car and go home.  i wanted to stop the bleeding.  it’s always fight or flight, and i love my sister too much to fight.  i just wanted to leave.  to hide.  to be done.

i didn’t though.  i stood in the sand.  i smiled.  i married her off.  i took pictures.  i sat in a reception.  i danced.  i made conversations with people i will never talk to again.  i told my sister it was all very lovely.

and when it was all over, i went to a landromat with my brother and his wife, peanut and a sack of dirty clothes.  i watched 4 days of dirt swirl around in a 5 load h.e. washing machine, and ate a burrito, planning my escape from LA.

we got up early the next morning, and left los angeles before the sun even cracked over the horizon.

i had a lot of time to think on the way home.   my brother had stayed back in LA to spend a few days vacationing with his wife, before they flew back to chicago.  it was just peanut and i, and he spent a lot of time playing video games.  i sat in my own head, looking down the barrel of 2400 miles, thinking about the past few days.   i think the thing about some lessons is that they smack terribly because a part of you knows what the outcome of some situations will be before you even begin.  you want to be upset, but you can’t be, because you went into it hoping something different than expected would happen.

nothing different happened here.  i hoped something different would.  i was disappointed because it didn’t.  that is the definition of insanity.

i can’t be upset.  i wanted to be there.

i won’t complain about the whole trip though.  my brother, peanut, and i shared the best trip out west, and so much time together.  i can’t replace that, and i would endure all the garbage in california for that time back.

peanut and my brother pose with buffalo in colorado...

peanut and my brother pose with buffalo in colorado…

getting lost in las vegas... bright lights in the big city.

getting lost in las vegas… bright lights in the big city.

excited to be at the world's largest truck stop

excited to be at the world’s largest truck stop

on shores of the pacific.  my family is small and broken.  it's all i have though.  xx

on shores of the pacific. my family is small and broken. it’s all i have though. xx

Day Two Hundred Ninety, or 2,000 Miles

lo, these many years ago...

lo, these many years ago…

my sister moved to california a couple of years ago.  she had lived near me most of her life, and we had enjoyed a somewhat close relationship for most of it.  my sister is a little younger than me.  she went to college right out of high school. she invested in her career.  she never married or had children.  and me?  i guess i’m the opposite.  i sort of loaded my life backwards.  i got married.  i had the children.  i decided to lose the husband.  i kept the children.  i got the education.  got married.  again.

i never felt any particular pressure to do things in an order.  having kids makes things weirdly okay for me.  if we were living and making ends meet.  if they were happy and healthy, and i wasn’t struggling to provide for them and hating every minute of the jobs i had, i felt good with my life.  finishing college was a goal that wasn’t “going anywhere” so to speak, and i could return to it when i felt like i was ready.  eventually i did finish my BS with many fits and spasms, and am now finishing my M.Ed — but the timeline for me was just incredibly unimportant.  the important stuff?  it was already happening in my life.

my sister and i have had times of absolute strain in our adult relationship.  i think she has found it difficult to relate to my choices in life, and doesn’t think she would ever make the same ones i did or currently do.  the oversight she makes is that i never asked her to agree, just to respect my choices.  parenthood changes people.  it can make you able to love in a way that is totally different from any thing you thought were capable of before.  you are willing to give up the life you thought you were entitled to for the life you think your child is entitled to.  at one point in my life, providing my children with a parent who was present was more important than providing them with a parent who was verifiably educated.  being single, i could not do both.

somehow, though, my choices as a parent and a wife drove a wedge between my sister and i; my sister who was neither married or a parent.  she just seemed offended for all womankind that i was allowing myself to be “less than” by not pursuing a career or an education and allowing myself to be “just a mother.”  we repaired our relationship over time, but it was clear to me  that she still did not respect the job i was doing.  this made it tough for me to really trust her.

my sister is getting married in six days.  she is holding the ceremony in california, where she currently lives.  i was conflicted at first about attending the ceremony.  it is far away.  it costs a lot of money to get there.  i’m not currently working, and i am in grad school.  it is an amazing expense.  i wrestled with the idea for a long time, not knowing what the right answer was.  i would think,

no.  i can’t do this.  it isn’t practical.  i can’t justify this expense.  she chose to have this wedding so far away.  everyone in her family lives here.  she will have to accept that some of us can’t attend.

and then i’d immediately feel terrible.

then i’d think about the fact that peanut’s 16th birthday falls during the weekend of her wedding.  going would mean i would miss it.  it’s a milestone.  i’ve never missed any of his birthdays, and i didn’t want to start on one of the biggest birthdays of his life yet.

how can i miss my son’s birthday?  am i choosing here?  if i am, i choose my son. 

my mind would go back to my childhood, though.  back before she judged me.  when she was just a little kid who was happy to play beside me.  who slept in the same bed as i did and kneaded her feet into my leg to fall asleep.

wolf pack of three

wolf pack of three

and i couldn’t help it.  i knew i had to go.  no matter how much it cost, or if it meant i had to get a job at some point in the year for awhile to cover the expense.  we were raised in a home that functioned in its dysfunction.  we were like a little pack of wolves.  we fought and played and nipped and barked, but we slept one on top of the other at night.  there is a loyalty i feel to my sister, even if i don’t understand her or agree with her.

i decided to bring peanut with me, too, and make it a road trip.  we are killing two birds with one stone.  my brother is coming along for the trip there, and flying back with his wife.  for three days, my brother, my son, and i are going to inch from chicago to los angeles.  i am looking forward to that aspect of the week.  being able to spend time with people i love, and hold on to time a little.

cheers

cheers

i wish my sister nothing but great things in life, and maybe with marriage she will begin to see that some choices are made less “practically”.  somethings don’t happen according to order.  maybe, if she has children someday, she will understand, that some choices make themselves.  love guides most great things in my life, and while it has the capability to be quite foolish, when it comes to the lives your family and your children, it generally is the only guide you need.  it will put me squarely behind the wheel of a rented car, and push me 2000 miles due west in three days time.

when i see her, i will hug her neck and all of this will dissolve.

Day Two Hundred Eighty Nine, or Future Mama

there are some roads i just avoid running on.  for whatever reason.  some are uninspiring.  they have a row of apartment buildings, all of them the same in features.  door after door of the essentially the same building.  even music is not a big enough distraction from the fact that i feel like i am running on a human size outdoor hamster wheel.  other roads are unwelcoming.  whether it’s the exposed brick that makes it hard to get your footing, or the fact that there are overpasses with no sidewalk that make you feel like you are playing a life or death version of frogger with oncoming traffic, you’d rather just avoid it than invite it.

for me, the worst road in the whole wide world is the road that borders our neighborhood, and it’s not for any of the reasons i have just mentioned.  it’s actually a pretty street by a lot of standards.  it’s tree lined.  there’s a nice lake on one side.  lots of nice homes.  it’s in an offset residential neighborhood.  however, it goes on forever.  it’s one big straight line.  just going and going.  no interruption.  g. likes this.  i hate it.  there are no twists or turns.  nothing to break it up.  it’s unrelenting in it’s forward march, and i hate it for one reason alone….

i can actually feel time pass.

being a mother of two boys who are significantly older than my third, i am pretty averse to feeling time pass.  with the two older ones, i was blissfully unaware of how quickly this time thing went.  they were small children.  then they got bigger.  then they got much bigger.  now one’s an adult by a lot of measurable standards, and i find myself rifling through photo albums for proof he was a child.  with fish being so small, there are moments when i feel the time slipping away like i hadn’t the first time with the older children.

sweet home, chicago.

sweet home, chicago.

we just got back from holiday about two weeks ago, and it was blissful.  we took an extended midwestern tour from chicago to wisconsin to the north woods of minnesota.  it was just fish and g. and i, because the older boys had obligations at home between work and summer schooling.   we took off to chicago, just fish and i, by train together to meet my brother for the first leg, and g. was to meet us in a few days time to head up to wisconsin.  fish was so excited by the novelty of the train.  he stared out the window and watched the city come into view.  a city i love and raised two sons in.  a city i thought i would return to some day.  

these are the days.

these are the days.

as the week passed, fish played at his uncle’s house in chicago.  he drove up to wisconsin and spent a few days at this grandparents house, swimming with his cousins, listening to his parents tell stories with his uncles and aunts.  it wasn’t until the end of the week that we found ourselves alone in minnesota.  just the three of us.

g. and fish

g. and fish

i never thought i would ever say:

i don’t want to live in chicago.

but i did.  i said it.  i said it on our trip to minnesota, and i meant it.  i didn’t mean it in a “we are on vacation and everything seems awesome right now” sort of way, because truthfully, everything didn’t seem awesome for part of the trip.  g. and i snapped at each other for half the time we were there about ridiculous shit from what to watch on PBS to if bruce springsteen REALLY wrote that song.  it was unnecessarily tense for a portion of the trip, because g. was attempting to finish his thesis, and i was worried about school and a million other things as well. we were on vacation physically, but it was impossible to leave EVERYTHING behind.  however, we hiked out one day into the middle of nowhere.  seriously, miles and miles from another person, and i looked out across this lake, and i thought about giving fish a place where he can grow up quietly.  where he can grow up peacefully.  where he can learn to appreciate the beautiful things.

take your time.

take your time.

i told g. we didn’t have to move to this place.  jokingly, i said this bridge on this lake, but i want to move somewhere beautiful.  i don’t want to have to run to keep up with my life.  he agreed and then enumerated 123 things he loved about living where we lived now.  i sighed to myself but knew my husband well enough to know he has to ruminate.  you have to drop an idea and then let it sit and age.  he might bring this up to me in a month like it was his idea, and i will be happy to give him credit for it.

on the way home, he looked in the rear view mirror at fish who was happily singing “call me maybe”.  we were laughing, because we didn’t even know he knew it.  g. said fish looked so big.  we traded stories about fish as a baby and a toddler, and then g. asked me how it felt to have sons who were grown.

bittersweet.

and it is.  i remember when peanut went to kindergarten, i was talking with a friend.  somehow the subject of thumb sucking came up, because this peer of peanut’s still sucked his thumb.  i think my awesome advice was, “well, he can’t suck his thumb forever, and you can’t chop off his thumb, so just let it go.”  an older mother than myself, because most mothers were then, said to me, “that’s really great advice.  everything passes.”  i was so young parenting peanut and TR that i had no idea how golden that advice was.  i mean, i did, but i couldn’t truly.  she relayed to me that a friend complained to her about having to carry her younger child everywhere and what a pain it was, and this woman telling the story had said,

you won’t ever remember the last day you carried your child.

and it’s true.  i don’t remember the last day i carried peanut on my hip.  the last day TR crawled into my bed because he had a nightmare.  i don’t remember the last time fish wanted to be rocked to sleep in a rocking chair, or the date he took his sucky to bed last.  just one day, TR and peanut stopped calling me “mommy” and replaced it with the more mature sounding “mom”.  they stopped kissing me goodnight before bed and asking for the customary “tuck in.”

and fish will too.

i miss you.

i miss you.


it feels, sometimes, like i have been sent here from the future, and i already know how this story ends.  i know because it’s already happening to me with two other sons i have raised. as we sat in a restuarant eating our last meal on vacation together, i couldn’t help it, i leaned in and smelled fish’s hair.  it was a blend of hotel shampoo and little boy, and it immediately caused tears to well up in my eyes.  g. looked at me, and didn’t exactly understand it, but as our son drew pictures of spiderman on the back of menu and talked too loudly about wanting to be an archeologist, his face soften.  he will never be this old again.  wait a minute.  he will never be that old. 

as fish brushed by me to follow his father to the car, i stopped him.  i grabbed him and held him tight.  looking him over.  brushing back his hair.  tears absolutely streaming from my eyes.  as if i had not seen him in a hundred years.  or ten.  or five.

from the future, i miss you.

Day Two Hundred Sixty Three, or It’s Not You. It’s Me.

 

 

 

banksy

 

…well, i can think of so many times that you or your brother did things as children that disappointed us as parents, and we didn’t give up on you.  not once.  we didn’t throw in the towel!

 

my mother attempts to rewrite history all the time.  she forgets that my father unceremoniously dumped my dresser drawers into the front yard at age 13 when i told him i no longer felt compelled to wash the dishes.  he told me i could move out.  then proceeded to throw my belongings in the yard as a horrified neighborhood watched and i was embarrassed beyond words.  she forgets that he kicked her son out and he slept in their car when they went to sleep, because he didn’t have anywhere else to go.

these were just two stops on the crazy train that was our life growing up.  we were kicked out and let back in.  we were shunned and loved again.  we were despised and exalted.  we were passed to friends homes for their parents to worry about, or not worry about.  i was married off at 17.  my brother was sent to live with me on numerous occasions, because i guess i knew more about raising him than they did.

i have not spoken to my father for over a year now.  i have not uttered a word in his direction or said one thing to him.  i have not even seen him.  at first, this was a very knee jerk reaction.  i was angry.  my father has been an addict all my life, but since fish had been born, he had really decided to turn things around.  he was a better grandfather than he had ever been a father.  he seemed to be more even and happy.  he seemed to not be drinking as much, but there were signs that i think i chose to ignore that he was not completely clean.  his drinking began to pick up in the months before we parted ways.  he had a lot of prescription drugs he carried everywhere, despite really vague symptoms.  in the end, he was using, and he had illegal drugs in his home, and had them there and perhaps used them while he had fish in his care.  he cared for fish often, which made things worse.  i trusted him, when all my history suggested i shouldn’t.  i guess children never stop wanting a father, even when there is no real reason to believe that person will ever be worthy of trust.

speaking to my mother this afternoon, i was hoping to just reach out, and help her to purchase some airline tickets to my sister’s wedding which is upcoming.  the conversation quickly devolved into my father not being invited, and how we all owed him forgiveness.  she pointed out the mistakes my brother and i had made as teens, and how she felt she never gave up on us.  i begged to differ with her on the subject, though.

we were kids.  mistakes are going to happen as the gold standard.  you know what else should happen as the gold standard?  parental forgiveness.  kids mess up, and sometimes it’s really terrible.  in my case, i lived with dad, and i was willing to do whatever i had to do to get away from that.  i was willing to do whatever i had to do to get my siblings away from that.  i was not going to let him bully me either.  i don’t know what you expected, mom. 

she fell quiet for a minute, and then continued saying that she felt that she had never given up on me or my siblings.  she felt that it was unfair for us to punish our father now with our silence.  it was then that i realized that she could not understand the evolution that happens in someone who is healthy; who gets away from dysfunction and sees it from the outside.

mom.  even if you were the best parent in the world to me.  even if you stood by me and forgave me everything i ever did that you felt was horrible.  you should have.  i can say that as a parent now.  it is your job to love your kids like that.  i just don’t believe that it the job of the kids to love the parents like that.  i think the kids are born to be protected and loved, and maybe it’s selfish… but when someone put my children in my arms that very first time — i looked at them and i said, “yes, i will always come find you.” that was a promise. 

my dad?  he stopped looking for me.  he’s mentally ill.  it’s not his fault.  it took me a long time to realize that.  he looks inside first, and then he looks at others.  the problem is the internal gaze takes so long.  my silence towards my father has evolved since the first day i stopped talking to him.  i’m not angry anymore.  that anger only really lasted a very short time.  it quickly turned into disappointment.  now it’s just pity.  i feel bad for him, because i don’t know that he will straighten himself out and i don’t know if i will ever trust him in my lifetime again.

who knew will smith would nail it?  but he did.

who knew will smith would nail it? but he did.

my mother believes my silence is somehow punitive, and at first, it probably was.  now it really and truly is not.  now it is just a wall of protection.  i am not ready to let him in.  my life has an order.  while certainly, the people i love can hurt me at any time, i trust them enough to repair what they damage, IF they damage at all.  however, my father is a repeat offender going back decades.  he leaves wake in his path, and without him, i selfishly feel that there is no damage here.  no destruction.  no worry that things will fall apart.  his absence is in some weird way does what most fathers probably do for their children; it comforts.  speaking to him again, allows the chance that he will disappoint me again.  and more than myself… disappoint fish again.  this i cannot bare.  this broke my heart in one hundred little pieces.  my silence protects him the most.

this silence?  it is not about my father.  my mother can’t understand that.  her whole life is about my father.  this silence.  it’s about me.

recently, though, i have felt that i needed to tell my father why i felt this way.  i have played the game in my mind that the phone rings, and someone says, “your father has passed.”

how do i feel now?   how do i react?  what’s on my heart with this news?

i feel conflicted.  i feel like i would want to have talked to him one last time, and for that reason, i know that i need to write a letter to him.  i need to say some things.  even if he can’t understand it or won’t react to it the way i want him to.  my mother assures me that he’s changed.  he’s in therapy now, and that they go to marriage counseling — and she can’t even begin to describe the changes in him.

you wouldn’t even know him! 

i’ve heard all this before though.  on and off for years.  and years.  as he’s gotten better and gotten worse.  taken medications and stopped them.  like he had a cold.  or a sore throat.  the problem is my mom wants it so much and is so dependent on the outcome, she can’t see that it isn’t working.  as she visited me in the hospital a month ago, she, in perhaps one of her more honest moments, confided that things were difficult at home, and that dad barely spoke.

he’s in a rough place.  he’s in a dark place.  i worry about what he might do sometimes.  i’m afraid to leave him alone at times.

i’m not dependent on any outcome.  not anymore.  my life is moving ever forward.  i used to wish so hard, like my mother does now, that my father would be better than he was; that he would be a zebra with polka dots instead of stripes.  i have learned that i have to accept things the way they are, though, and that doesn’t mean being pessimistic.  it means being realistic.

if i could tell him one thing tonight though it would be simple.

it’s not you.  it’s me.

look outside yourself, dad.  look outside.

g. and fish.  we will love our sons and forgive them 100 times 100.  because that is our job.  it also our job not to remind them that we have.  we do it because that is just love.  complete.

g. and fish. we will love our sons and forgive them 100 times 100. because that is our job. it also our job not to remind them that we have. we do it because that is just love. complete.