Some Random Stuff about Remotes…and God…and Running…and My Lack of Being Able to Come up with a Better Title

My technological deprivation has come full circle.  My almost 11-year-old is officially coaching me on using devices and/or remote controls amongst other things.  I have to call her into the room to put the TV into Apple TV, DVD, or regular TV mode, which is done through some flicking of the buttons on the back of the flatscreen.  Forget even trying to find a remote.  Apparently they have been done away with in favor of remote control apps.  The rest of the family simply logs into the iPad as a master control for damn near everything electronics while I am still fumbling with one of three remote controls.  For me, it’s foreign to do it any other way.  Perhaps some day, way down the road, when I’m old enough for the daytime AARP and Colonial Penn commercials and I have “my shows” I watch on a regular basis, I’ll take the time to figure it out, but for now, it’s not worth the five minutes it would take to reprogram my brain.  Although, I can feel the rush to catch up starting to burn.  For example, my husband drives a souped-up Jeep that comes with screens instead of a variety of buttons.  When I need to adjust the heat, the music, or navigate (forget that), I just stare at the screen in awe.  What the hell?  It’s a good thing that 99.9% of the time when I am driving his car, I also have a kid with me.  If they are good for anything it’s definitely helping me figure these things out.

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In my last blog I mentioned not having a New Year’s resolution.  Nope.  I still don’t believe in them so don’t start thinking this is one of those.  IT’S TOTALLY NOT, OK!  Since my being able to run again (after an injury…I won’t go there…read older posts) seemed to coordinate perfectly with Jackson’s extended holiday PTO from work, he has started running with me.  Prior to now, I didn’t enjoy him coming along very much.  Not that I was fast by any means, but I was faster than him and could go so much farther.  Plus, I didn’t like to talk much.  I’m more of a plug-into-music-and-run girl.  Things have changed after 8 months, and I suppose I’m just glad to be back out there, even if I have no music and suddenly a keen sense for noticing random things on the street, on homes, and in the horizon that I never notice were there before.  This is probably beneficial to me, especially considering my unfortunate past with pot holes and sticks.  For instance, for the last three weeks there has been an abandoned condom on the street in the same exact place.  For a while it was really dirty from car tires running over it, but after the rain, it looks clean again.  I want so badly to kick it to the side, or get a stick and move it out of my line of sight.  Then I realize that whomever it is that lives in that house must know that condom is there.  I mean, I don’t know.  I would notice it in front of my house, but I doubt I would pick it up either.  I would just stare at it every time I went to get the paper or the mail – hoping and praying that it would be magically carried off by a car tire, a stray animal, or a runner who couldn’t to run past it one more time.  I imagine if it is there for much longer, I will just take a different route and avoid that street all together.  That condom is the porno version of the Stinky Cheese.  I’m not touching it.

Jackson and I, under extreme stress as of late, have poured over what we are doing wrong compared with what we have done in the past that perhaps gave life more of a sense of joy despite the mundane ins and outs of daily life.  I mean, really, we aren’t really doing anything any differently, and we have been in much more difficult times.  Financially we have things together, our kids seem to be growing up normally despite my constant worry that I will mess up horribly as a mother, and time wise, we seem to have more chances to get out by ourselves than ever before.  We no longer have kids in diapers.  Boogers don’t have to be wiped before they are picked by their original owners.  For the most part, our kids can all bathe themselves, the oldest two are even able to wash their own hair.  We don’t even have to make a fuss over bedtime anymore.  We sort of say, “Go to bed.  Lights out.”  And it just…happens.  It’s sort of like the Twilight Zone of parenting.  I keep waiting for something to happen, but perhaps this is just the calm before the storm.  God gives you a break before the stage when a boyfriend with a nose ring and loud bass system shows up at your door to take your daughter on a date.  I hope by then Jackson takes a fancy to shotguns he likes to clean on the kitchen table.  I don’t imagine that will ever happen.  Perhaps there’s an app on the iPad for that?

I’m grateful for now and will soak up every minute of it.  I love homeschooling the girls, even though it drives me nuts when they fight like sisters do.  Things feel comfortable and secure for the most part.  But still there is this unrest.  I feel as though I am short tempered and anxious.  At times I feel just plain rotten.  Much of this could have something to do with an extended period of not being able to run.  It could have to do with the fact that we promised ourselves six years ago that we would move into a better school district by the time our oldest entered middle school, and that time is quickly approaching.  However, the most prevalent thing that has culminated over the past few months especially is our detachment from our faith and God.  It’s not like we did it on purpose.  We didn’t question our beliefs in any way.  We just became complacent.  We would miss and Sunday here and a Sunday there.  Forget holy days of obligation (is that a proper noun?).  We just sort of made ourselves go to Mass here and there, sometimes even visiting other churches purely for a convenience factor.  Something we have discuss quite heavily the past few weeks is our absence of joy in the absence of following our faith.  Without it, life seems void of any real purpose, and with that, you do start to feel as if you are drifting endlessly, often forgetting to take notice and be grateful for the blessings surrounding you.  I don’t want that.  I have done that before.  It’s old news.  Not surprisingly, I felt exactly the same way as I do now.  At least the answer is easy:  Go to Mass.  Every Sunday.  Read.  Pray.  Together as a family.  Make God the focal point.  Not the children, the soccer game, moving, school books, or finances.  With God, things seem to fall into place.  It’s not magic.  Jesus doesn’t have a pouch of fairy dust He sprinkles on our worries.  It’s the grace He, and only He, gives us to get through every single day.  His grace helps us trust more, love more, scream less, and forgive.  Without His grace, it doesn’t matter how successful we are in life, it will feel empty and pointless.

We have vowed (but I still won’t call it a New Year’s resolution since we started two weeks prior to January) to tend more carefully to our spiritual life together as a family.  Jackson and I have vowed to stick together in our journey of health.  I often get a little obsessive about running.  In times past we might run together, but I would get frustrated with taking it easy and building slowly.  Before I knew it I was out running for hours on Saturday mornings instead of being together with my family.  This time I have decided to do things a little differently.  One thing I want for my husband for the future is good health, and as intelligent and determined of a man he is, he doesn’t seem to have to will-power to stick with things when it comes taking care of his health.  So, I am making no big plans.  I’m not out running trying to gain speed and distance in a remarkable feat.  Instead, I’m taking it easy, jogging a bit with the girls and with Jackson, and always with our crazy dog who seems to be enjoying hitting the streets with me more than anyone.

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On the plus side, I’m finding that running with Jackson is sort of the peace we need together.  We can step out of our roles as parents in a different way, taking our mini dates on the road a few times a week.  It gives us a chance to talk, to zone out, to laugh, and I’m not going to lie:  there is something about running with my husband that I find extremely hot.  Especially with this boss, rugged mini-beard he has grown over Christmas.

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This year will bring new changes as we head for new destinations.  No matter what, if we remember to keep our focus on God, centering our lives around living for His glory and receiving His grace, we will find the internal joy and peace we seem to not be able to live without.  365 days a year.  52 Sundays.  I’m in.

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New Year’s Resolutions

It’s January 1st, 2015.  It’s very first day of yet another year, even though it still seems like 2014, and it sort of still is until we all return to work and school and schedules.  I for one am ready for it.  To me, Monday January 5, 2015  will technically be the very first day of the new year because that is when my husband goes back to work, and when the girls and I start our Spring semester of school.

How many of you are thinking differently?  Today is THE day.  It’s THE day you’re going to start losing 20 pounds.  It’s THE day you’re going to start reading more.  It’s THE day you’re going to start paying more attention to your kids.  Perhaps, THE day you’re going to give up Facebook…or, wait, never mind.  Save that last one for Lent.  Lord knows the Santas have disappeared, the hearts of Valentine’s Day are already bombarding us, and after that…well…here comes the Easter Bunny.

For some reason I feel that the way I see things is completely isolated to just my mind and understanding of things, but I’m always curious to share these types of things to see if anyone else might have had the same bits and pieces of this-that-or-the-other programmed into their mind at one point, or another.  Take for instance, the way I see the year within my mind.  Literally.  When you say a particular date out of any month or year, I visualize it in my head along an oval-shaped calendar.  At the very top you have January and December.  It moves in a counter clockwise direction for each month of the year where December meets back to January and you start the revolution all over again.  I often wonder if my kindergarten class, or one of the daycares I was in (I can’t particularly remember if I was ever in one.  I think I was once.) had the calendar up on the wall somewhere and taught us using this model.  Here’s what it looks like in my head:

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So, here we are in my mind at the tip top of another year where we will slowly fall into Spring, then Summer, then Fall, and back up to Winter.  Somewhere in there (I will spare you the details) you have little added features on my calendar of running, biking, and hiking – weather appropriate activities – and school books, times to take it easy, and times to freak out making sure you get it all done.  Either way…there you go.  A bit of information about me you probably didn’t need to know, but you’re reading this blog, right?  I share a LOT of information on my blog.  It keeps me…sane, like running and an occasional glass of wine..  At least that is what I like to tell myself.

I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions.  It’s not that I’m lazy, or lacking goals.  I just don’t trust them.  People who start to make their way back up during the excitement of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years tend to have this notion that as soon as we turn the clocks over and we start a new counter-clockwise revolution, that everything suddenly changes.  It’s a new beginning.  Suddenly we will have magically acquired the discipline and will-power we were lacking just 24 hours ago to lose that 20 pounds we have been meaning to get around to.  But I have some disappointing news:  That’s just not how it happens, and let me tell you why that is so.  Because I’m a smart ass who knows everything, right?  I’m not a doctor or anything, but I do have some experience in this area, so I do have that going for me.

Making big changes in life requires not the click of the seconds on a clock suddenly ticking into a new year, rather it takes habit forming and habit breaking.  You have to resist temptations, replace them with new ones, and old habits die hard.  This is why gym memberships skyrocket at the beginning of a new year, but why the attendance drops drastically after the first weeks and months.  People don’t realize that it’s not about a new beginning, it’s about taking a good, long, hard took in the mirror and making a deal with yourself without the bells, whistles, fireworks, or ball drops.  What is it that you want to change, but even further, where is the root of the problem and how can you work on those issues in order to change what is on the surface?  Whatever the issue is that you need to work on, guess what, there is no magic pill, shake, drink, book, etc. that will help you get there.  It’s just you – that person looking back in the mirror.  It’s a commitment you make to yourself.  Are you worth it?  Be realistic.  Because the truth is, knowing that you are is what keeps you committed to yourself, every single hour, of every single day through the entire year.  And it’s hard.  Temptations will be there.  You have to ask yourself, “Am I stronger than this?  Or am I going to end up making this year like the last one and the one before that?”

What gets me at this time of the year are all of the products people buy into that promise them a magic way to meet their goals.  There is SO much of it that it’s confusing, and it’s leading people to believe that their will-power is too weak on its own.  Without this shake…without this particular exercise program…without this devotional…I can’t do this on my own.  Maybe you need the support of someone, or something, but when it comes down to it, it’s just you and you alone.  It’s the value you put into yourself and your own willingness to step up to the plate and do something positive for yourself.

So, if your goal this year is to lose 20 pounds, I can tell you exactly what you need:  a hat, a coat, a pair of good walking shoes, and the willingness to get out every single day and move your body.  You also have to pay attention to what you’re putting into your mouth.  You need proper nutrition to fuel your body, but you also have to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients.  An apple and a cupcake are both carbs that contain sugars.  One is a whole food, the other is not.  Obviously, when you need something sweet, grab the apple not the cupcake.  When your body needs protein, don’t go for the hamburger in the drive thru at Burger King.  Buy some high quality, grass-fed lean beef from he grocery store, pat them out yourself, and cook them at home.  French fries are not a vegetable and drinking more diet soda than water will not help your body in any way whatsoever.  In fact, the sugar substitutes will slow down your metabolism, making it even harder for you to shed the pounds.  Make sure you’re eating enough vegetables and with a variety of colors.  Make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats:  raw nuts, healthy oils (coconut, olive), cheese, hummus, but make sure you’re eating these things in moderation.  Check the labels, take into consideration the serving size, and portion out your food accordingly.  Watch for empty calories (sweets or alcohol), which are okay to have from time to time, but too much will pack on the pounds quickly and easily.

And remember always, weight loss is about calories in/calories out.  I don’t care how much information is out there that says this isn’t true.  It is.  If you are consuming too much and not exercising enough, guess what, you’re going to gain weight.  If you’re not consuming enough, guess what, you’re ruining your metabolism – your body’s furnace for burning that unwanted stored fat – and you’re going to not only have a hard time losing weight, you will also begin to start gaining it much more easily than ever before once you stop sticking to the very restricted calorie count that your body can’t function on for very long.

Lastly, just MOVE!  That’s all you have to do.  In the beginning, if all you can do is lace up your shoes and walk around the block, do that, but do it every single day.  Before you know it, you’ll be able to go farther and you’ll be able to do it more quickly.  Your body will build up endurance and strength.  You might even find that you LOVE it.  You might decide to start trying to jog – perhaps even run a 5k – but start slowly.  Do what you can.  If you start out trying to go from zero to sixty in the first week, you will burn out, become disappointed, and fail.  Take it one step at a time and start with small, attainable goals.

Look, this doesn’t take anything magical like a particular program, shake, drink, etc.  It just doesn’t.  For some, this helps them, sure.  They buy into a product, it works for them, they become involved – whether it be through endorsing the product or signing up underneath a pyramid scheme to sell it – and they convince others to do the same.  But, honestly, come on.  You don’t really NEED THAT particular thing.  The only thing that you need that those people have is the will-power, the determination, the courage, and the self-esteem to get out there and know that you are important enough to yourself and to the people you love to take care of your health.  And who knows, you may impact others along the way.  When someone asks you, “How did you do that?”  You can respond, “because I’m a badass.”  It won’t have to be because you had this product or that – some magic ingredient that helped you along the way.  It will be because you made the decision to love and value yourself enough to make it happen.

And I’ve got news for you:

You don’t have to do this all in one day.  January 1st isn’t a magic pill.  March 15th isn’t a magic pill.  Aunt Suzie’s fat-busting hooch isn’t a magic pill.  Your magic moment is when you decide that you’re ready.  And furthermore, you have to make each and every hour of every single day the decision to have a new resolution for yourself.  It’s not something that happens overnight.  It’s something that happens every day over the course of the week, then the month, then the year, then the years.  It happens because you get rid of old habits and form newer, healthier ones.  You can do it.  Just start and then don’t stop, but along the way, even if you slip up, don’t consider yourself a failure.  Just get right back up immediately and keep moving on.  Good luck!

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What Should Be Known About Us: We Do It Our Way

I’m 36-years-old.  To some that age is old and used.  To others it is young and vibrant.  Yet still to others it is just…36, and to them, we are all in the same boat.  So, forgive me beforehand if I sound whiny or rude, ungrateful or unwise, or just plain silly.

Life is hard.  And I don’t mean in that “putting food on the table and a roof over our heads” kind of way.  (That’s a reality to think about too, but I’m discussing a different kind of hard.)  It’s the kind of hard that deals with the dynamics of relationships – being a parent, a daughter, a sibling, or a friend.  For a while it seems easy.  You just sort of grow up, hang out with your best friend, have a few catastrophic moments of social despair and recovery, and float into relationships on a deeper level – in a way that impacts the heart and emotions in a new and exciting way.  You fall in love (for real this time).  You get married.  You have babies.  Love grows.  Time sails.  Then…you hit a wall.  A big wall.  Wait…that didn’t happen to you?  Maybe this is just my story.

Something has been happening, and it has progressed slowly over time.  It has been building – waiting and sleeping in between when things seemed to run smoothly – until the right time to explode all over the place, breaking perspectives up into tiny little pieces.  Then you sit there, clueless, wondering what just happened.  You look at the shards of glass – reflections of bits and pieces of memories, ideas never brought to fruition, broken dreams – and you try to decide:  Do I sweep all of this up and throw it away?  Do I start over new, building new perspectives upon a clean slate?  Or, do I even begin to put forth the effort to try to piece this back together, inspecting every single aspect down to the tiniest detail until I can put my finger on exactly where I went wrong?  Surely there must be more than one place, and surely this will take a lifetime to repair.  Is it even worth it?

My mom always has this thing that she says that gets to me:  “Don’t say that about yourself!  You’re not just a stay-at-home mom.  You’re too sharp.  You’re capable.  You do so much.”  Really?  Well.  But that is exactly what I am.  I am a stay-at-home mom.  I suppose that means I failed.

Look.  I have this notion that many people don’t realize what it is that stay-at-home moms do.  Many people say, “I would love to stay at home.”  They say it in a way that insinuates that they would love to be with their children.  They would love the freedom it allows.  They would love the time they would get to put life into a neat and orderly manner.

I have news.  That’s not how it works.  At least not for me.

I was once a girl who fell in love with a boy.  He had a huge brain with ambition that he didn’t even realize was there.  He doubted himself.  He didn’t know how to dream.  Yet, he amazed me.  I loved listening to him speak.  I loved the way he looked at me, how attentively he listened, and how much he cared.  His eyes gave him away.  They were sincere, purposeful, gentle, and kind.

I was a girl who was a bit lost.  I had a great sense of humor, an optimistic outlook on life, and I wasn’t afraid to take chances.  I liked excitement and adventure.  I didn’t buckle down enough to do well in school until my early 20’s.  Prior, I travelled to Utah and California.  I enjoyed meeting new people, especially people who were different than me.  I was (and still am) extremely relational – everything hinges on the relationships we build, the way we impact lives around us and what we learn from others.  If we can’t be a good person and a good friend, then we really have nothing.  People who were bad at relationships always seemed sad and upset over something.  I never wanted that to happen to me.

I was irresponsible.  He was not.  He was extremely practical.  I was always looking for the path less travelled.  Relationships were important to me.  He didn’t seem to have many.  I believed that you should shoot big.  He always thought that the only options were the ones that were already apparent and close at hand.  He didn’t like to take chances.  I thought the only way to get anywhere was through taking a risk.

But…it worked.  Obviously.  Something happened.  Magic maybe.  Fate.  God.  We did break up one time after dating for a few months.  It was over our different theories of love and life.  “Why do you think you fell in love with me?”  I had asked.

“Because of a series of hormones in my body that attracted me to you,” he had responded along with more of the same about the science of the body and mind in regard to physical attraction.

“Sorry,” I had told him.  “I can’t be with someone who loves me because their body simply responded in what seems to me a very computerized way.”  ‘Good match, body.  Check mate.  You may proceed.’

I believed that love and life happened differently.  I thought of life differently.  It was more that we are all connected by forming these meaningful paths between people and places and things.  Some of those connections are mistakes.  We have to find our way back to the other side and burn the stumps at either end.  But the other ones…those are worth their weight in gold.  They form rich bonds that impact our life in a positive way.  Those are the connections that change us a little bit in some way, that help us grow and succeed.  To me, these connections are formed by the graces of God who instilled in us things like compassion, empathy, and love.  Without God, we are nothing.  There is no meaning, no purpose, and without Him we walk blindly in a straight line playing things as safely as possible.  Without God there is no hope and no faith.  ‘Good match, body.  This one is a safe bet.’  I didn’t want to be (and never want to be) someone’s safe bet along their straight and narrow path.

The break-up didn’t last long.  Obviously.  The more I got to know him, the more I fell in love with him and the more I realize that this man was someone I wanted to take care of for the rest of my life – he needed that.  He was really good at doing, but he didn’t know how to breathe and laugh and live.  He set his goals low, assuming he was only worth a slight shift upward.  He wanted to land a job working for Western Kentucky University where he had been employed through his last year of college.  “Dream bigger,” I had told him.  “You’re so smart.  You have amazing ideas and you get down on yourself trying to contain them into small spaces.”  So, he took his first big chance.  He nervously interviewed with IBM, he got the job, and upon graduation we moved.

Over the next few years I learned how to become his biggest cheerleader.  He needed that.  I believed in him more than I believed in myself.  I taught preschool, attended college classes, and eventually we brought a new life into the world.  Considering my tendency to put relationships first, I decided to become a stay-at-home mom.  I stopped going to college, we bought a house, and I took on a role as stay-at-home mom for the next 11 years, never in that time waning in any way whatsoever.  I loved my family so much that it was incomprehensible to do anything differently.  Sure, I had the thought in the back of my mind that I was wasting myself – sacrificing my own dreams – but it didn’t matter.  My focus was on keeping the connections strong – those bonds along the paths that kept us tethered to each other.  I couldn’t let them loosen.  This was family.  This was everything.

We had another baby.  We moved.  My husband became complacent at work, which is never a place he finds much comfort in.  His practical side always told him not to worry too much – if it’s good enough then it’s fine.  Let it be.  He would walk through life with his shoulders slumped over like that if I let him, but I didn’t and I won’t.  I can’t.  I believe in him.  He had put a few resumes out there and had been turned down.  Encouraging him to actually polish them up and actually send them in was like pulling teeth.  He had applied to one company a couple of times already.  “I have been turned down twice already,” he had said.

“So what!  Go for it again.  Try.  You never know.”  He polished his resume.  Again, he sent it in again.  He got it.

He was so excited.  It was an amazing opportunity.  It was scary…sure.  We had recently moved back to our hometown to be closer to family and this was with a company in another state.  It would mean selling our house in a recession and him commuting until we could physically make the move to be closer to his office.  The backlash we received from family was discouraging.  “Why do you want to do that?  You just moved here.”  They weren’t happy for him.  They were devastated.  It made his new excitement lessen.  He second guessed himself.  Maybe they were right.  Maybe we should stay here.  It’s safe and calm.  It’s predictable.

That didn’t last long.  I wouldn’t let it.  It’s not how I lived my life.  I encouraged him to keep his head up, keep his shoulders straight, walk with confidence, believe in himself, and take a chance.  It has turned out to be one of the best decisions he has ever made in his career.

We moved again.  We had another baby.  Money was tight for a while, but we made it work.  Jackson focused on his career, as always.  It consumed him like all of his thoughts had since I first met him.  Our family and our relationships consumed me.  It seemed to work well.  We had balance.  He went to work.  I did everything else.  And when I say everything else, I mean EVERYTHING.  I became solely responsible for every single minute detail of our personal life.  Was everyone eating well?  Was everyone getting enough exercise?  Was everyone getting enough sleep?  Was everyone getting to the doctor and the dentist?  Were we putting back money?  Was the lawn getting mowed, the mulch getting spread, the clothes getting washed?  Was my husband OK at work?  I would be there to listen.  His life at work would become so vivid through discussion that I felt I was going in with him every single day.  I would help him navigate social situations, encourage him to go for new opportunities, never letting his belief in himself waiver.

Our oldest daughter started school and we quickly realized that the public system wouldn’t work.  I handled it alone.  I researched homeschooling, brought her home, and began the search for a good private school.  I reworked our finances and figured out a plan.  I got the girls into a good school.  The shit hit the fan again, but maybe it was my fault?  I didn’t sit my kids in front of a screen from birth.  I read them books and did puzzles.  I took them to the library consistently and to the orchestra and plays.  We played outside.  We investigated our surroundings.  No wonder our oldest couldn’t sit still in a classroom, but apparently it had caused some kind of catastrophic damage.  I researched the doctors.  I made the appointments.  I told my husband when to meet us there and for how long.  I filled in his blanks.  We went.  We got a diagnosis.  I shifted gears again by homeschooling and searching for a school to meet her needs.  I put so much emphasis on making sure that everyone was OK.  And they were.  Things would get better.  Everyone was happy.

In the meantime during our ups and downs with schools and education, my husband kept coming to me and talking about a position at work that they had trouble filling successfully.  “Develop your own plan for the position,” I had encouraged him.  “Write this all down.  Make it into a presentation.  Take it to the CTO.”  He doubted himself.  He would come and go in and out of our personal life, attending to his professional one.  Eventually, I got out the pliers and fixed him to the couch.  It was time to pull more teeth.  He worked for weeks and through an entire weekend, and eventually he finished his plan.  He practiced his presentation with me.  He went in to the office and gave the presentation to the CTO.  He got the position!  I was so proud of him, as always.  He is a brilliant man and a magnificent leader.  He sometimes just needed reiteration from me that those things were true.  I could never understand why he always doubted himself, but it was cute, like a lost little puppy so unsure of his surroundings with so much potential.  I’m a sucker for those types of things.

In all of this time, I have missed something that I never realized existed until now.  The thing is, I’m still not quite sure what that something is.  I think a lot of people look at me and what I do and assume that I have it easy.  I don’t earn a paycheck.  My husband takes care of me.  He works hard and I float around carelessly taking care of frivolous things.  I’m not sure what this whole stay-at-home mom thing looks like for others, but for me, it’s constant work, and it’s not just physical work.  It’s emotionally and spiritually draining.  The balance was perfect for so long, but somewhere along the line it started to tilt ever so slightly and unnoticeably.  I grew up learning that hard work was the equivalent of self-worth.  If you didn’t work hard, you had nothing.  And I did that.  I worked hard.  I made it into something, but I think that I took it a step too far.  I not only assumed the responsibility of caring for our family, but I assumed the responsibility of solely carrying all of the emotions that come along with it.  I felt for my husband and myself.  He floated in and out of our personal life.  He went to work.  I did everything else.  (I said that already.)

Here’s the catch, and it’s something we are just now catching wind of.  Being a stay-at-home mom is hard work, and I love it, but I have a threshold that I have reached.  For six years we have lived in a school system that doesn’t work for us.  I never could figure out what it was, but with homeschooling the kids – taking on the responsibility of not only making sure that everyone is eating well, getting enough exercise, learning important life lessons, reading enough, bathing enough, have clean clothes to wear, learning to help out around the house, etc. – I am also now responsible for teaching them math and science an history.  I’m responsible for helping the child learn to spell who never seemed to be able to.  I’m responsible for reteaching myself long division and chemistry and reading up on junior high classics to be able to discuss the books with my 5th grader while also reading up on 3rd grade reading lists for the same reason.  In between I try to get to the grocery store to have a healthy selection of foods to chose from, good meals to cook, and am trying to spend time with our preschooler who is learning to read and thrives on a bit of quiet and alone time with me doing things that just little kids like to do.  I am also trying to take care of myself.  Am I reading books for myself?  Am I getting to run every day?  Am I getting some time alone?  Am I able to write, to think, to be a grown woman?  Am I able to do a good job taking care of our day to day life?  No.  Not currently.

And this is where the pieces are starting to fall.  They have been cracking and crumbling little by little, year after year, and I haven’t figured out how to stop it.  I don’t understand it.  The thought occurred to me that I should go back to school.  Maybe I need to just not be a stay-at-home mom anymore.  Maybe the kids need to be in school, in after school programs, and maybe my husband needs to spend more time caring for our personal life as well.  Maybe he needs to hit his limit in his career without the time available to spend tending to it while I need to work on building my own career outside of our home.  Is that what it is?  Something is there.  Something has to give.  What’s the answer?

I get the feeling that I am looked at as not doing much – as taking the easy road – but I can tell you that those who view things that way in regard to me stay-at-home mom are wrong.  I don’t think they understand the scope of things.  Without me, my husband wouldn’t be where he is.  He would still be working for the university he graduated from, living in the town he grew up in during his formative years, and playing it safe.  He would feel an itch – a desire – to do something more and it would tear at him, but he wouldn’t believe in his own capabilities.  He would be depressed and by now probably angry with himself and everyone else.  He would be wandering and lost.  I enabled him to move beyond that.  I encouraged him to look further, to shoot bigger, and not in the form of things – never in the form of bigger houses, nicer cars, and an arsenal of jewelry and fine things.  I encouraged him to never put a limit on himself as far as where he could go and what he could do in his career.  I encouraged him to believe in himself.  And why?  Because I love him more than anything in the entire world.  I believe in connections and bonds.  I believe that life can hold a bigger and grander plan than what we can see right in front of our faces.  As a result, he has become a successful man, a good father, and a Christian.  He continues to grow and challenge himself.  He is happy.  Satisfied.  I helped him do that.  We do that together.

But…back to the threshold.  I have reached it.  I’m tired and frustrated.  I’m out of ideas.  I’m spread too thin, and as my husband’s demands at work grow, I’m spread even thinner at home.  I have to relieve myself of something in order to mend the walls and restore balance.  If not, something will give.  It will explode.  The pieces will be too many.  I will go back over our life together and try to figure out all of the little places along the path we stepped that we should have chosen differently.  But honestly, what a waste of time!  What a worry!  Why do that?  Life is too short.  Choices are made.  People move on.  Life grows.  When we miss a step, we can’t go back and retrace.  We can’t right our wrongs in the past, but move forward into the current, foreseeing the future, and make our changes accordingly.

We have an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to move our family into a better direction where we can restore our balance, where my husband can continue to grow and focus on his career, but where I can still keep everything glued together at home.  I don’t mind it.  I love tending to those bonds.  They are everything.  They are vital to life.  Why would I chose to focus and tend to anything differently?  Those bonds are the most important and delicate thing in life to me.  Caring for those bonds is how I care for myself.  It fulfills me to strengthen the ones that hold our little family together tightly.  But, I am spread thin.  I’m struggling underneath the weight of our personal life.  And I need a release so that I can focus on what I’m good at doing:  loving, forming, holding, being, encouraging, tending, supporting, caring.

And here is what irks me about other people:  I don’t understand why others can assume that they can peer into a little hole in someone else’s personal life and assume that they see the entire picture.  What someone on the outside sees is but a small piece of a much larger picture that can’t be understood from the outside looking in.  It can’t be understood without heartfelt discussion and patience.  It can’t be understood without understanding that there is more than one way to live life, and everyone will chose differently.  It’s is what makes life interesting.  It’s what makes life colorful.  It’s what makes the dynamic of relationships either good or bad, but nevertheless important.  It’s how we grow and live and learn from one another.  If everyone did everything the same, we would all be basing our understanding of life and placing limits on ourselves based on what we see through a tiny little hole instead of trusting the bigger picture – the pieces we can’t yet see, but that which excites us and keeps us motivated to move forward.

My husband and I haven’t done everything right.  We have made mistakes.  We fight.  We make up.  We have downtime.  We have passion.  And one thing we have done consistently over the course of our relationship is look with excitement, hope, and faith in God toward those pieces of our life that aren’t yet formed.  We seek to bring out those things in life that we know are there waiting to add richness and color to our life together.  They are the pieces that help us form our larger picture.  There is nothing worse I can think of in life than growing old and looking back and having all of our pieces lined up in a straight, predicable row of playing it safe.  Instead, we already have lines and angles, crazy offshoots that went nowhere, but gave us great memories to laugh about, an amazing puzzle being formed that makes us who we are.  It’s something we took a chance on.  It’s something we have built together.  And it’s crazy.  In one area it may be a whole messy confusion of color, but then it comes together beautifully in perfect focus, like our firstborn child.  College was a straight line for me.  I got pregnant.  It blurred drastically, but then it came together in big giant eyes and a wide smile.  It came together in a perfectly created offshoot of my husband and I, an entirely new dynamic to our life together, another bond to tend to.

My husband and I…we will continue to grow and change.  We will morph with life, bounding upward instead of settling for being stagnant and still.  And because together in life we have a good balance of practicality filled with dreams, of responsibility filled with taking chances, of love built on the strong bonds that tether us together in our little family, we can’t go wrong, even if at times our bones get shaky and scared.  Taking chances is hard, but it is worth a risk when the pressure becomes unbearable and the plan to move forward with it is good and sound.  That’s where we are.

You know, there is an easier way out of all of this pressure.  It’s as clear as day.  We could pay cash for a house in our hometown.  I could return to school and put the kids into a good school district there.  I could graduate in two years with a degree and we could become a two income family.  We could divvy up our responsibility in a perfectly balanced way of he does/she does.  We could play it completely safe, tending to our practicalities instead of believing that we can do things our own way.

Or…

We can have faith in not only ourselves, but in family and in God.  We can need each other instead of turning our backs during a time when life seems to be confusing and hard.  Too many people do that.  We are at the age when people are deciding that having a mortgage and children is too much responsibility.  One is trying to move forward in their career while the one tending to family is deciding that family is too much to handle.  They need their own space, their own independent life away from it all.  They divorce, sweep up all of the shards of glass from their previous life and toss it into the garbage.  They begin with a new slate, taking with them the mistakes they made the first time around and vowing to never do it again.

Us…not us.  We’re going to suffer through it.  We’re going to look at the pieces above our heads and carefully mend them together into our own unique design because it’s special and raw and real.  It’s everything that matters – the bonds, the love, the tethers, the ties.  Those are things that have to be strengthened and readjusted all of the time.  It takes hard work.  It takes effort.  And that is what I do.  I’m a stay-at-home mom, and that title encompasses many important things that may not seem like a whole lot to the outsider looking in, but to those within the family that they support every single day by what they do, it is a vital lifeline that keeps everything running smoothly, ensuring that love and peace and balance never falters.  I couldn’t imagine a more important thing to be doing with my life.  I look up, not down.  I seek a way to make things better, not easier.  I encourage.  I grow.  And I bring my family along on this journey with me.  I’m grateful to have a husband who needs me – a husband who works hard and takes care of us so well, but who ironically needs help keeping his head up and his shoulders rolled back.  Together, we will walk forward and hopefully some day, we won’t look back with any regrets.  Hopefully by the time we finish this thing, we will have a perfectly unique and colorful design of our life we built together around bonds that were cared for and strengthened along the way.  After all, I’m a stay-at-home mom.  I know that doesn’t sound like much.  But it’s what I do.

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Chasing Greener Grass

I have been so stressed out lately.  While I’m sure it has something to do with Christmas busyness, homeschooling, and tending to a daily personal life in conjunction with decreased sunlight, I can’t pinpoint one particular thing that has caused me to feel so overwhelmed.  This is Christmas for Pete’s sake!  As Kevin McCallister’s mom said, “…the season of perpetual hope.”

Thankfully, I have this really awesome husband, and by awesome, I mean AWESOME!  He is patient, kind, and understanding.  He knows what to say and what not to say.  He knows more often than not to just listen when I have a hissy fit, giving me a hug and telling me everything will be OK.  There is nothing much he can say, or do to lift this yucky feeling that doesn’t seem to subside much lately from day to day.  Maybe I’m becoming a crab as I approach 40.  Maybe I’m depressed.  Either way, if I don’t remedy it soon, I might start wearing black dresses and hats with black tulle veils.  I will start wearing black combat boots with large knee-high brown stockings that sag down around the rims and over my laces.  I can’t let that happen.

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(Art is not my gift.)

I have been at this point before in life.  It doesn’t happen often, but nevertheless, it is unavoidable at all costs.   I tend to have them when I have suffered an injury that keeps me from running, which is really the only sport that helps me reduce stress and maintain balance.  It also happens when I’m at a point of needing a drastic change, either of scenery, or something else.  I have a hard time sitting still.  I’m adventurous.  Mundane tasks – day in and day out, year after year – starts to wear on my soul (not to sound too overly dramatic).  Currently, there is a part of me that is excited to see my children growing up and gaining more independence, but there is another part of me (and my husband) that wishes to have just one more baby.  I definitely won’t be too desirable for those happenings if I trade in my more attractive attire for funeral garb, frumping it up around town like a lonely, self-absorbed ninny.

Before I start to sound like an ungrateful wife and mother, I should note that my husband goes through these periods like this off and on as well, and he is the most practical person I know; although, his downtime tends to be when he gets bored and unchallenged in his career, thus he seeks a way to move forward to some degree.  It takes a lot of therapist-wife action to pull him out of it.  In his sweetness and understanding, he does the same thing with me when I get into these ruts.  The only difference is, for a stay-at-home mom, there really isn’t a change you can make in positions, or companies.  I forever will work for the Brownlee household.  It is hard, exhausting work in the Department of Emotional Affairs.  I steady the home front on so many different levels, and being a bit of a perfectionist, I get tired trying to hold everything up.  I begin to feel like I’m spinning too many plates and if one of them should fall, part of our personal life will come crashing down.  It’s not the best feeling in the world.

I know what some of your are thinking.  “Then send your kids off.  Get a job outside of the home.  Work on yourself for a while.”  Believe me, I have thought about this off and on.  I could go back to teaching preschool.  I could get a part time job at a neat little bookstore in the city, or volunteer at the library.  There are so many outlets and I have thought of them all.  But here’s the catch:  I actually, deep, deep down, LOVE taking care of my family.  I love the people in this house so incredibly much that it is unfathomable to do anything different with myself.  Taking care of them is taxing, but it also makes me happy…for the most part…give or take these self-loathing periods that come unavoidably off and on.  My catch is that I’m also a bit of a perfectionist and that tends to bite me in the ass from time to time.  I expect myself to always be able to hold my head up, stay strong, and smile while keeping all of these plates spinning.  So what is wrong when me when I can’t always do that?  Maybe I’m tired?  Maybe I need a vacation without the kids?  Maybe I’m just human.

I do have this much to say about all of this:  Although this business of full-time motherhood as the Chief Tribe Officer of the Brownlee household can be overwhelming, and although this may sound cliche, this job is fulfilling in a peace corp kind of way – minus the exotic travel, living in a tent, and helping people who are desperately impoverished and in need.  What other position on the face of the earth is like being a stay-at-home mom?  It’s dirty work.  Given a job description, not very many people would apply.

Now Hiring:

Chief Tribe Officer for X Family

Must gain obnoxious amount of hard to lose weight in order to deliver new life into the world an undetermined number of times before your ovaries shrivel up and die.  New life will then suck nutrition from your swollen, sore, bleeding breasts, which after the birth of the infant will go from supple and sexy to a productive, milking food source that leaks like a faucet without warning and possibly in public.  Must clean poop from infanthood, eventually potty training and then advancing on to butt-wiping until the child reaches independence.  Must learn to control gag reflex.  Must wash endless piles of clothing and dishes.  Your happiness will be reduced to an empty sink and empty laundry baskets.  Must care for the sick, cleaning up vomit in the cracks and crevices of your carpets, furniture, hallway, and eventually the bathroom.  Must do this even if you are sick, too.  Must cook nutritionally sound meals and make sure child actually consumes it.  Must come up with clever new terminology to serve otherwise undesirable, healthy food items.  Must provide psycho-therapy services for toddlers, pre-teen daughters, and husband.  Must be able to feel like a hero one minute and your child’s worst enemy the next.  Must befriend mothers who are overly productive and overly generous.  Must aspire to be like them.  Must learn to make incredible, mind-blowing things out of old toilet paper tubes. Must volunteer at school.  In the case that you live in an undesirable school district, you must homeschool the children at the kitchen table.  Must learn things like creative die-cutting and perfect your laminating skills.  It is a crucial part of the job to seek carefully the companionship of a mom-friend who understands your quick wit and sarcasm.  Your very life will depend on it.

Pay will be in the form of jumbo rolls of paper towels from Target.  Bonuses will be in the form of a name-brand body wash of choice when it is on sale for the generic price in some highly desirable scent.  The rest will come in the form of kisses, hugs, smiles, and gratefulness of the X family for all that you do.

The term of this position is forever.  Every.  Single.  Day…for the rest of your life.  In the event that you feel overwhelmed, you must assume full responsibility for it.  You’re a grown ass women.  You are not allowed to feel sorry for yourself.  I mean, look at this face!  You will do it all for this face, and everything will seem worth the sacrifice just for this kind of smile:

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I often take on more than I need to.  I rarely give myself the room to relax and take time for myself, especially during the holiday season when everything seems to move so quickly and threatens self-destruction.  Times like this make life seem like a marathon.  And to top it all off, I’m ready for a change.  A big one.  I’m ready to move on, but not out of what I am doing for a living, even if I only get paid in the form of high-absorption paper towels, organic Meyer’s cleaning products, and love.  I need a change of scenery.  The kids need to be in a good school district, at least for high school.  So, we’re going to pack up, load it all up into a moving truck, and move down south to the Mecca of well-manicured lawns, exemplary public schools, parental involvement, and McMansions.  When we relocated to this city, I avoided Mecca suburbia for those very reasons, but I’m bending.  And my husband is right on board.  We’re selling out.  We’re drinking the Mecca Suburbia kool-aid where the neighborhoods sit nestled amongst beautiful, rolling hills.  The grass always seems greener on the other side, chasing it doesn’t make for a happier life, but it does afford a change of scenery, some interesting surroundings, and a much needed change of pace.  At this point, I’m not ready to leap state borders.  We enjoy being close to family and friends, plus we do live in a thriving, pretty hip city.  I don’t need to change jobs, or companies.  We just need to relocate the headquarters.  And sometimes, that is just a necessary thing to do.

I Did Something Horrible To My Children Today…

…and I’m NOT ashamed of myself.

This all started exactly one week ago.  My mother came to visit from up North (only a short drive, but it sounds more interesting to say “up North”).  Over the past few weeks she has been doing a complete overhaul on her house, the same one my parents’ purchased in 1978 – the year I was born – and the one in which she still resides.  This house has been sitting there like a ghost since my father passed away unexpectedly in 2007.  My mother owns a dancing school and it is more or less where she takes up residency on a full-time basis, even since I was a kid.  I remember seeing her for an extensive amount of time on Sundays when she would make a home-cooked meal, sometimes after which she would even take my sister and I out for ice cream and to play tennis.  During the holidays we saw her a little more than usual.  Most people driving down our cul-de-sac during that time of year would have thought we were jewish until Christmas Eve when my mother would work her crazy, coffee-induced voodoo magic on our house.  In a single day we would have Christmas throw pillows on our sofa, festive knick-knacks strewn about the house, and even a live tree decorated with lights and the multitude of ornaments my mother had received over the years from students, friends, or the ones us biological children had made for her at school.  I don’t think my mother ever threw anything away, so instant Christmas was never an issue.  We had an attic and a lot of closets; no space was spared.  Christmas sat dormant and threw up all over our house within a 24 hour period.  It was always my favorite day of the holiday season.

Until recently my mother never had a reason to purge the plethora of junk special things that she had accumulated over the years.  Although she would complain to us frequently about all of the “shit” we had left behind when we moved out to start our adult lives –  packing our memories away into cardboard boxes and shoving them into the nooks and crannies amongst my parents’ things and Christmas decorations – she had never really done anything about it.  “We will get to it,” we would think, but we never did.  As a result nearly twenty years later, my mother has decided to take care of our shit for us.  We should have expected it.

When she arrived last week, she had mentioned something about bringing boxes of “things” from home for me.  She made it out to seem so special.  These were “special things”, but I was so busy being busy that week that I didn’t have time to go through the them.  She kept asking me if I would set aside time to go through the boxes with her while she was there.  My husband even mentioned quietly one night during her four night stay, “Do you think you should go upstairs with your mom?  I think she really wants to go through those boxes with you.  She would enjoy that.”

“I’ll get to it,” I thought.  Two days after my mom left, I finally did.

As I approached the boxes that held these proclaimed special memories from my childhood – perhaps some old toys I had long forgotten about, cherished photographs, and other fuzzy-feeling paraphernalia to remind me of growing up in my parents’ house – I am certain I had a warm smile on my face, despite the mess I had discovered up there from my own children’s childhoods.  As I looked around the room, which I could have sworn someone said they cleaned up earlier today, I became a little frustrated.  I recall yelling down the stairs to the children that they needed to clean up their mess FIRST THING IN THE MORNING!!!  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t let it disturb my revisitation of the past – a time my children can barely even comprehend.

As I opened the first box, I was a little confused.  The first thing to greet me was an old yellow plastic mitten.  I moved it aside and removed from the box another item:  a navy blue nylon hood whose silver ream of buttons seemed to be missing the rest of its jacket.  There were a few odds and end scarves and hats, all of which weren’t of any particular memory I ever had.  I don’t remember ever wearing them.  I am also pretty sure none of my relatives ever crocheted any of them.  There were a few old softball trophies and some yearbooks.

The second box held even more random things including an ornament from some family who had thought kindly to make it for their dance teacher back in 1988.  It even had their name in black cursive on the bottom next to the date.  I am certain I have never heard of them before.

Although the third box did hold a few treasures – a quilt handmade by my grandmother, a couple of vintage plates my mother had hanging on her wall that I had always loved, and a large silver serving platter – the rest was so far removed from anything resembling my childhood that I can ever remember.  I was confused.  Was this a joke?  If it was, I deserved it for actually leaving all of this “shit” at my mother’s house for all of these years.  She wasn’t kidding, nor was she being even remotely sarcastic with her terminology.  As I looked around the bonus room at the mounds of crap from my own children now clashing terribly in a war of childhood disorganization and hoarding across two generations, I became emotional and frustrated.  “I didn’t need MORE shit to get rid of!!!  What am I going to do with all of this shit?”

My children came to the bottom of the stairs, my husband keeping a safe distance.  I actually started to cry and throw a Mommy-fit (you are either a lair, or obnoxiously put together if you don’t have these from time to time).  It was as if the bonus room was coming alive.  The barbies, stuffed animals, scribbled on pieces of construction paper, scissors, knick knacks, Happy Meal toy, markers, crayons, colored pencils, baby dolls, baby doll clothes, a giant toy kitchen and a doll house almost as tall as me were all closing in.  “WE HAVE TOO MUCH SHIT…

IN…

THIS…

HOUSE!!!”

“AND NOW I HAVE EVEN MORE SHIT.  WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH ALL OF THIS SHIT?!?”

So today, I took care of all that shit – both the current childhood shit and my old childhood shit.

Armed with trash bags and boxes, I stared in the bonus room.  Anything that my children hadn’t played with for a long time was the first to go:  ten year old Little People sets, baby toys, Lalaloopies that had long been forgotten, puzzles pieces, armies of Barbies, Barbie clothes, Barbie shoes, and little misplaced Playmobil items.  There were things that didn’t even work anymore, or that had been broken, that we had held onto for so long because my children had insisted somewhere in the past that that particular toy encompassed every ounce of their happiness and being.  It was bad.  There was even a plastic pony that had suffered the loss of an eyeball that had been remedied with a Toy Story bandaid.

After I finished the bonus room, I moved onto the girls rooms, going so far as to pull everything out from under their beds.  The girls stood in their doorway, their mouths gaping and their hearts beating fast.  They knew it!  I had finally gone insane in the worst way they could possibly imagine in their innocent minds; I was finally doing what I had been threatening to do for years and years; I was actually throwing out their old toys!  There was so much of it and it just kept coming at me in every direction.  The chaos had to go.  The only things we held onto were their stuffed animals, toys that they still found interesting, games, puzzles without missing pieces, Lego sets, and blocks – anything they could use their imaginations for in order to play, or build.  The rest went away…far, far away – to Goodwill to be exact.  And the girls…well…they handled it surprisingly well.

Once all of the boxes, bins, trash bags, and large toys had been loaded into my van, which was completely full even with the seats folded down once it was packed full of neglected childhood items, both the little bit from mine and the rest from my old children, my girls calmly went about their evening without a care in the world.  Jane went into her room, listening to music on her iPod and drawing with the beloved pencils and paper that have consumed her coming-of-age interests more than toys for quite some time now.  Her dresser once adorned with Littlest Pet Shops and other toys had long ago been replaced with lip gloss, good-smelling lotions, and a bath caddy full of wonderful girly things.

Anne and Molly retreated to the dining room table to play with the toys they still find interesting and play with frequently.  At one point Anne even stopped for a moment when I was passing through the room and remarked, “You know, Mommy, I think some kids are going to be really happy this Christmas.  I’m glad we donated our old toys to children who might play with them more than we did.”  She smiled and carried on with her play.

Out of all of these years of threatening to purge toys from our house, going so far as to hang trash bags on their doorknobs to say, “Clean it up because if you can’t, I will, and it will ALL go in here,” I can’t believe that I actually did it.  And our house…it feels so much better.  I can actually see the carpet on the floor in the little girls’ room.  The bonus room actually resembles an office now where only the play kitchen, play food items, treasured dollies and dolly clothing, and the wooden dollhouse and furniture with beloved Barbie, her friends, and their paraphernalia now remain.  I refuse to ever let our house get over-run with childhood “shit”.  I refuse to pack things away into boxes and shove them into nooks and crannies in our closets and attics.  And some day when my girls grow up and move out, I won’t have to ask them to come clean out the mess they left behind because I will have purged anything except the especially cherished items long, long ago.

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Dear Mom,

Sorry for crowding your house with all of my “shit” for the past twenty years.  Your suffering was my gain, but isn’t that the essence of motherhood anyway?  Kids are jerks.  I love you!

Sincerely,

The Middle Child

I Am NOT A Runner

I used to be a runner, but I’m not anymore.  Furthermore, I’m pretty happy about my new status.  See, I haven’t been a runner before, and although I didn’t realize I wasn’t a runner, I was so much happier that way.

Here is what I have learned in the past two years:

You are NOT a runner if:

1.  You have a pair of running shoes that you ordered from Amazon for under $30.

2.  You run in a cotton t-shirt instead of dri-wick.  In fact, you have no idea what “wicking”, “dri-fit”, or “climamax” means.

3.  Your socks – like your shirts – are just plain old socks that hopefully don’t look too goofy with your $30 Amazon find shoes.  White is probably the only requirement you have.  Blisters just happen, and as far as you know, they aren’t preventable.

4.  Your distance is measured in blocks and sounds closer to weight lifting stats.

“How far did you go today?”

“About three reps of five blocks.  I think I made it back earlier.  The kitchen clock said I was 5 minutes faster today than last week.”

5.  You enjoy your pastime.  It keeps you fit and feeling great.  It makes you a happier, less stressed out person.  You snicker at the cocky SUVs in front of you at stoplights dressed with 13.1, 26.2, or, God-forbid, triathlon stickers.  In fact, you go so far as to make a car-game out of it to pass the time.

“13.1…Boogers Picked Today”; “26.2…Hours Spent Admiring My Balls”;  “13.1…Number of Times I Have Been Dumped So Far This Month for My Egotistical Assholiness”

This was a profile of me for the better part of a sixteen year running streak; although, I was NOT a runner.

A few years ago all of this changed.  I did something I have never done before:  I decided to train for a half-marathon.  I am not sure what possessed me to do it.  It always sounded like a silly thing to do.  THIR—TEEN MILES!!  And some change!  Good Lord, why would anyone want to do that?  Of course, I never had a good answer for that.  So, I signed up.  I trained.  And for the most part it went pretty well, but on the actual race day, I bombed.  I got a cramp at mile 8 and walked back to a phone where I called my husband to pick me up.  Two weeks later I signed up for another half-marathon and completed it.  I did NOT put a 13.1 mile sticker on my car.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine from the gym suggested I go with her the following Saturday to run with the local running club.  I was a little nervous, but I went anyway.  I remember on my first visit two distinct things:

1.  If you don’t know what BQ is, don’t ask anyone in a running group.  Apparently, that’s like putting a big invincible sign on your forehead that says, “I’m NOT really a runner.  In fact, I’m a total idiot.”  You will immediately feel uncool.

2.  There are other people out there who love this sport as much as you do, and in fact, they love it so much that it is literally all they can talk about when they aren’t running.  When they are running, it’s like putting a bunch of heroine addicts together in a room full of free drugs where suddenly everything is completely legal without any negative side effects.  It’s bliss and love.  Conversation flows freely.  Bonding moments are found in the silence.  And runner’s high…well…it’s REAL.

Although my friend decided that the running club wasn’t her cup of tea (or dose of heroine), I decided to stick with it, and for the next few years those first people I ran with turned me into a runner.  I learned so much about the sport.  I bought a Garmin to track my distance and my pace.  I learned about negative splits, PRs, and which races had the best water and fuel stops.  I figured out that a $17 pair of wool running socks can save your feet from blisters and that moisture wicking shirts aren’t an option while running in extreme cold or heat.    Most of all, I learned that there are multiple organized communities in just about any city you can visit, and they are all full of people who embrace running as though it is the very air they breathe.  The best part is that runners are some of the happiest, most welcoming, and drama-free people you can come across because they take every ounce of stress they have and leave it spread out amongst miles and miles across the roads they run upon week after week.  And so, I adopted the lifestyle.  I became a runner!

I got faster and went farther.  My longest run hit 22 miles while I was accompanying a friend training for a marathon.  I finally got my average pace to a sub 9 minute mile, which was fast for me.  I was the most fit I had ever been in my life.  In fact, I felt so great that I decided to sign up for a full-marathon.  I was even contemplating a 26.2 mile sticker once I competed it.

The next few months I trained hard, despite a much wiser running friend who told me to do otherwise.  I ran every. single. day.  My stress level multiplied, but I was determined more than ever.  Instead of taking my frustration out on the road and leaving with a sense of peace, the anger seemed to ricochet off of the road and seep back in through the soles of my shoes where it leaked back into my body.  I got sore and tired, but I pushed on.  Finally, it all came crashing down…literally.  It was a stick – I think.  It was caused from a mixture of over-training and wearing the wrong kind of expensive, running specialty store bought shoes, in which I was fitted by a “professional” runner – probably a BQer with stickers all over her car, which I believe are the only requirements for a shoe salesmen in those types of stores.

The X-ray showed a fractured ankle.  I slapped on a boot, stopped running for 6 weeks, and then laced back up.  Although I never completed the full marathon, I was able to run a half-marathon as a part of the same series the day before.  I was in so much pain that it took me nearly four hours to complete a race that should have taken half that time.  I was in so much pain that I removed my shoe halfway through the race.  Nevertheless, I crossed the finish line, which meant I was validated.  I finished.  That’s all that mattered.  Although incredibly stupid, I figured I had won – a truly bonafide bonehead.  For the next 8 months I couldn’t run without excruciating pain, so I quit, and in the process I have been able to take it all back to the start.  I am learning again why I loved NOT being a runner.

I can run now if I take it easy, incorporate some walking, and keep my distance below 5 miles, which works out great.  In fact, I think I have fallen in love with this sport all over again.  My Garmin decided to stop working, which is probably a blessing.  I am back to counting my distance in blocks, reps, and happiness.  I’m able to leave my worries out on the streets where they seem to soak into the pavement and disappear into the Earth.  Don’t ask me if I’ll ever run a half-marathon, or a full-marathon again.  I am not sure, but I know that, at least for now, I don’t really want to be a runner.  Despite all of this, one thing I will never do again is snicker at the determination it takes to earn those stickers and I have learned to admire the athletes I come across at stoplights who have the strength, courage, and discipline to put those distances under their fuel belts.  But while I admire them, I am not them.  I am me.  I’m not a runner.

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Things I love about NOT being a runner all over again:

1.  My runs are for me and none other.

2.  I am not plugged into anything that reminds me that I’m going too slow.  I don’t worry about a missed opportunity for a good run if I should decide to take one my children with me, which inevitably ends up with much more walking than running.  A workout is a workout no matter how fast it happens, and the company makes all of the difference in the world.

3.  My dog can run with me, and for a 90 lb. furball of insane energy, it’s probably the single thing he looks forward to more than eating ornaments off of our Christmas tree.

4.  Although I will never go back to cheap running shoes after knowing what I know about the importance of wearing the right shoes, I decide which shoes I want based on how they feel versus how much faster they will make me, or how much pain they will ease on a 20+ mile training run.  I will also not give up on $17 wool running socks; they are luxurious.

5.  When I’m ready to stop, I stop.  If I want to run at 6 o’clock in the morning, or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I do.  It’s all up to me.

It feels really good to again not aspire to be faster, or go farther than any one distance in order to feel validated to others, or myself.  It’s my game.  My sport.  I’m NOT a runner.  This may make me sound like a failure to some, but I have my successes in life.  They aren’t found on the road, on distances on the back of my car, or in how many races I run in a single year.  I’m okay with that because I tried that once, but I found out that it wasn’t for me; at least not in this stage of my life.

Parental Control

I’m a little bit of a control freak.  Ok, I’m a whole lot of a control freak, but perhaps not in that annoying way when someone thinks they know exactly how to do every right thing the very right way; at least I hope I’m not.  I’m finding that as the girls get older, it’s getting really hard to maintain this aspect of my personality, which is ironic considering that I scarcely remember being controlling before I had children.  In fact, I was pretty zen for the most part pre-parenthood (give or take a few years in there when I realized my shortcomings and took it out on others accordingly).

Like any normal person, I automatically take any less admirable character trait that I own and blame it solely on my childhood.  After all, it makes life much easier to pass the blame.

“You’re such an ass.  But really…it’s all my parents’ fault.  Let’s discuss it over coffee.  It will take a while.”

I grew up in a house of perpetual disorder, and in more ways than the sink being always overflowing with dishes, my mother’s office work crowding the dining room table, and little more to eat for dinner than Coco Puffs or my grandmother’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have food, we just had  a very disordered selection of foods that would have been heavily frowned upon by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  I remember having chips, crackers, and cereals popularized by obnoxious commercials, catchy phrases, and likeable cartoon characters.  Every once in a while we would have some fruit in our fruit basket (or was it a stainless steel bowl…I can’t remember), but it was never very good that I can remember.  I remember there being apples in there from time to time.  They were always small, dry, and sat rotting amongst a stack of leftover fast food napkins.  As a result, I never really knew fruit could actually taste good until I was nearly a fully grown adult.

Another interesting aspect to our disorder was that my parents never really seemed to be at home.  As a result, the memory of my upbringing resurfaces visions of me being trapped inside of the walls of our house with my parents popping in and out here and there.  It was like my parents multiplied and then abandoned their offspring in a disheveled nest, providing them with a diet of refined sugars in the form of different concoctions that would be restocked on a weekly basis in colorful boxes and foiled packages.  Vienna sausages were a common delicacy stocked in our cabinets.  I would pop open the tiny, blue tin can and fish the cylinder meat sticks out of their gelatinous mass with a fork.  I would then put them on a saucer with a few saltines and considered it a meal fit for a queen.  I would clear a spot at the dining room table and turn my mother’s paperwork into visions of a family.  The conversations I had with myself seemed normal to me at the time.  Looking back, I feel embarrassed for myself.  I’m certain this day and age I would have been heavily drugged for psychosis.  Thank God my parents weren’t involved enough to exaggerate that situation just so.

This all sounds so awful, I’m sure.  I had friends whose parents did a much better job in managing their children and their household.  They not only cooked real food, but they grew it, too.  Forever etched in my memory is the time I had this really interesting dish at my best friend’s house.  I was maybe 8-years-old.  We were sitting around their kitchen table, which had a real centerpiece in place of a giant three ring notebook.  The substance was green and crunchy.  It was foreign – a delicacy that gave my vienna sausages a run for their money.  “What is this?”  I had asked.

“Broccoli,” her mother answered.

Thankfully my friends’ mothers were tactful enough not to say anything more.  Looking back, I now know why I was repeatedly invited back not only for sleepovers, but for extended periods of time.  As a result, I can recall in my memory a variety of mothers and fathers who paved the way for me as a parent.  Otherwise, I might have had my own children, brought them home, put them in a baby swing, given them a corn dog, and left the house. every.  single.  day. until they reached adulthood and naturally moved out.

As horrid as most of this sounds – really…this does sound horrible – I don’t look back with much distain on my childhood.  I got over that at some point.  For a while I blamed my parents for all of my shortcomings; and believe me, there were a LOT.  But eventually, you kind of come to a crossroads.  Down one path you can continuously blame your parents for everything bad in your life.  Down the other, you can take the responsibility of forgiving and moving on with life, deciding that it is ultimately now your fault whether or not you are a complete failure.  Down the first path you get a dead end job and start drinking heavily.  Down the other, you become a writer.

This brings us back to now and my controlling nature that I have acquired since having my own children.  Because of my own upbringing, I naturally wanted to do everything completely differently than my parents.  As opposed to working, I decided that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, which was a great choice considering that I am just like my mother (*swallows deeply…breaths out heavily…moving on*).  My mother has some amazing qualities.  She started her own business at the age of nineteen.  She is now 68-years-old and still owns that same business that has made her a legend in our hometown.  Everyone knows her name and her face.  She is creative, funny, and very bright.  She is also very good at multitasking; however, that gift never seemed to span across sectors.  Therefore, she could either apply that in one of two places:  home or work.  Looking back, thank God she chose work because that really did keep a roof over our heads and Coco Puffs in our mouths.

I chose a different route.  I chose to put my obsessive focus on home, which I decided from the get-go would be nothing even closely resembling the disheveled house I grew up in.  Everything has a place.  When I had my first child this included the particular direction I wanted my throw pillows to be in.  But eventually, I had more children, and the pillows were always turned.  I learned to bend and deal the disappointment.  By the time the children grew and those throw pillows no longer even remained on the couch, I also had to take a deep breath when the actual couch cushions followed suit.  I found a place in my heart to relax, deciding that, after all,  a pillow fort is MUCH cooler than a perfectly tidied couch.

Naturally, I attribute this relaxation in my control center to my parents, and Lord knows that I needed the stick to budge out of my ass a bit.  My parents may have been far from perfect, but they did have some really great qualities.  Instead of being uptight and too involved, they let us have a sense of freedom to grow and change in our own right.  At the same time, they taught us how to find humor in everything.  Artistic talents were encouraged and embraced more than clean dishes, and for that I owe them everything.  How interesting is a good book compared to neatly arranged cupboards?  Honestly, it’s damn near a tie for me, but good satire beats just about everything.

Currently my mom is visiting.  We had a Christmas party last night and so my mother set aside time in her busy schedule to drive down and spend a few days with us.  I always enjoy her visits.  I will overlook the fact that my oldest daughter sent us a variety of all-caps text messages last night informing me that the little girls were causing a ruckus and that Nana was sleeping on the couch.  Never mind that my mother sometimes drives me crazy because she obsessively focuses on her work and that seems to be all she can talk about.  Never mind that right now I am typing this blog because I had to take a deep breath and leave the kitchen when my daughter wanted to make cupcakes.  I know my control center would kick in.  I would freak out over every single dusting of flour that hit the floor and every single dirty dish in the sink.  I would want to help my daughter (ok…pretty much do it for her) measure out her flour perfectly.  However, I sit in the next room and my mother is in there with her.  I have no idea what shape the kitchen is in, but they are laughing, talking, and having fun.  It’s a comforting sound.  As I grow older, I am learning to be a little less completely unlike my mother and a little more like her, nevertheless maintaining my own personal balance which my daughters will follow suit to some day seek to separate themselves from.  I should also note that there is a pile of books on the floor, a roll of paper towels in the living room, and a misplaced extension cord on the shelf.  The room is a perfect candidate for a “what doesn’t belong here” activity page.  It’s a blessing that I have learned to embrace this type of disorder.  It has made me a cooler, happier, and funnier person.  It has helped me to adopt my parents’ better qualities.

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Epilogue:

The Brownlee children have never had and never will have Vienna sausages.