The Pack


At the beginning of the summer, I could barely walk up the hill of our 900 hundred foot driveway without stopping to get more air. For most of the spring, I rationalized my 'performance' with the excuse that I had started the year with pneumonia. Knowing that not moving was worsening my lung condition didn't get me off the couch until late night chest pains sent me to the hospital for stress tests.

The long-tern lung infection was to blame for the chest pain, but I knew my deep and gorgeous hunger (as Cary Grant might describe it) and less gorgeous physical sloth were not helping my lungs get any better. So, as I sat in the doctor's office, watching him tap a place on my chart where I had been about 50 pounds lighter, I got to my tipping point.

A few years ago, I had another similar moment of Zen that led to a summer of good nutrition and walking. I let myself get stymied at the end (something I've already moved to prevent this year) by shortening days and a bad attitude, but I remembered that the biggest changes began when I started running. This time around, I decided to start the running with the eating plan, and taking the two roads together has made all the difference, and in a way I never would have expected.

I started very slowly using a plan that had worked three summers earlier (C25K from Runner's World – try it, it works). The plan starts you with 30 second runs followed by 90 second walks and repeats until you've been run/walking for 30-35 minutes. I am not proud to say that at the beginning of the summer, I had trouble making it once around our house or even trotting for 30 seconds. Yesterday (a few days before Labor Day), I ran 3.68 miles with hills and no stopping. Part of me wishes I could say I did it all by myself, but along the way I discovered something even more valuable than my little app. I discovered encouragement.

My first runs were always on our sloping driveway and around our bumpy yard. I was embarrassed to have anyone see how slowly I ran. Then I mentioned my new plan to my sister who's currently getting ready for a 20K. She didn't ask my times. She didn't ask if I thought I could do it. She just gave me a verbal pat on the back and said, “Keep going. I'll get us signed up for the Labor Day 5K.”

We've run the the 5K together before, and, to her credit, she ran with me the first time – giving encouragement the whole way. Then, I was very conscious of the faster runners that seemed to flow around us like gazelles cutting swaths around a slow-moving elephant. Now, I barely notice it.

In the last few months, I've begun to notice more runners on the road. I've seen them in all shapes and sizes. I see slower ones and faster ones. When I'm running, we wave at each other. When I'm driving, sometimes I'll honk or yell, “Go for it!” at them whether the windows are up or down.

They're all doing it, and when I talk with other people I know who've been running or even just started, we never compare times. We talk about going the distance. We talk about how far we've come. The women who've traveled farther share their acquired wisdom with those of us who are at the beginning of the journey. The times matter, but I never feel like I'm competing with someone else – I'm only competing with my old time.

So, if you're running (or walking) on the road, and a strange lady passes you, shouting at you to keep up the good work, she is nuts. But I've decided that if you've started your journey – no matter where you are on it – you are doing good work. And that deserves encouragement, so I'm passing it on.


What You Don’t See


Dear Mr. Retailer,


You carry my old size, but you never carry it in the store because you see my wallet, but, apparently you don't want to see me (or the other thousands of American women who you ask to order online rather than come in your store to shop). But I'm eating better and working out, and my body's getting stronger and tighter. Now I even wear one of the coveted sizes you do carry in the store, but I don't think I'll be back.


You see there were places that did want me as well as my business when I was bigger. They saw not only a person who was fighting the battle of the bulge and needed a uniform, they saw something more. They saw the person that can afford to buy your plus sizes because she has an income. They saw the person who finances the wardrobes of her non-plus-sized kids in the same store. They saw a person worth doing business with.


So, now that I can get into your clothes, it's tempting to be part of the crowd you do see – that part of the crowd that doesn't have to special order the sizes you're too embarrassed to carry in the store because someone 'unfit' might be caught browsing there. But while your clothes may hang better on my body, a retailer who couldn't see me as a person when I was larger, just isn't a good fit for me now that I'm getting smaller.






No Ordinary Day


Today wasn’t the perfect day to begin with. I’d planned a day off to spend time with the kids on their first day of Spring Break.  Instead, most of my morning was spent working, and filing and paying taxes.  The morning was gone in a heartbeat, but, even though I had squandered this day of freedom on busy work, something made it feel like the perfect day.

I’d finished a couple loads of laundry.  Dishes were done.  The sky was crystal blue, the kids were still excited about yesterday’s news that we were headed to Fenway to see Paul McCartney in July, and six-year-old Thing2 and I were heading out to the garden as soon as I checked my email for any fires from work.  And then the day caved in.

I sat down at my desk and checked my email.  I finished repairing a database for a customer, flipping back and forth between work and webpages while I waited for things to upload.  Nothing much was happening.  The gun background check legislation was front page along with fluff pieces on Tax Day.  I wrapped up my email quickly, hoping to go spend some quality time in the garden with Thing2.  It was only as I was shutting things down that I noticed the big yellow headline on the front page of Yahoo!

By now everyone’s learned of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Part of me wishes I had ignored the word Boston in that yellow strip and preserved what little was still perfect about this imperfect day.  Boston was our town once upon a time.  It’s where the Big Guy and I lived when we were first married.  It’s where we explored art and culture and each other.  It’s where we got addicted to Sunday brunch at the Freedom Trail Diner (since replaced by a shi-shi bistro).  It’s where, thanks to the Big Guy and the adventures our town offered just outside the tiny backyard of our basement apartment in the North End I learned to believe in people again as I left behind a life that had long been lived in fear since an armed robbery in another place and another life.

Now, as the sun goes down, Boston is under a shadow of fear.  The Big Guy takes things in stride, but I can tell he’s numb, as am I.  We haven’t mentioned this at all to six-year-old Thing2 (We’re still going to Fenway in July, and I don’t want his joy tainted by the fear of things that we can’t control).  Twelve-year-old Thing1 is much more aware, however, and I can see the news has him upset.  Like most of New England and much of America, I’ve been glued to the internet since learning about the lives ended and torn apart on what is normally a day for a city to celebrate itself.

Ironically, the internet has, for once, been a small antidote to some of my numbness.  Fred Rogers once advised parents to tell children in times like these to look for the helpers.  Today it’s been easy to see those helpers in their Boston Police Department uniforms and fluorescent jackets and vests, running toward trouble when they should be running away.  But I’ve also seen plain, ordinary people stopping to help complete strangers in all kinds of need.  I’ve seen a shirtless runners who must be exhausted after a 26.2 mile run stopping to help a man down on his back.  I’ve seen an ordinary man shielding an injured woman with his body and trying to resuscitate her.  I’ve seen pictures of everyday people cradling other everyday people, even though they must be terrified.

Boston may go to sleep tonight under a cloud of fear, but I don’t think it’s going to live under it for long.  One thing that city taught me was that nothing is completely safe, and, while you have to be vigilant, you still have to live your life.  Chaos tried to upend the city the day today, and I’m sure fear and anger will be part of what propels the search for the deluded person or persons who thought killing and maiming innocent people was an effective way to influence a country or a city.  But the fact is that it was humanity and courage that prevailed today.  We have the pictures.  And those pictures tell me that this town that holds so many memories and lessons for me and the Big Guy will not surrender its soul or character to fear.

from our roof

So Uncool

The best thing about having a preteen is not the sudden displays of independence (or rebellion depending on your take) or the occasional surliness.  It’s the fact that no matter what you do, for the next decade or so, you know you will never be cool.  Now, no one has actually ever accused me of being all that hip – except maybe the Big Guy when I complement him on a burp – but I’ve noticed that the little bit of cool factor I may have enjoyed, has taken a nose dive as Thing1, my first born, approaches the big One-Three.  This might have bothered me once upon a time, but, now, as I’m getting a lot more selective about which dragons I go chasing after, it’s actually quite liberating.

My precipitous loss of coolness (always in danger due to my uncanny knack for mastering fashion trends just as they were ending and love of all things geek) became apparent one morning as we were driving to school.  Thing1 had already begged me to stop dancing in the car, regardless of our surroundings, and, well remembering the gauntlet called middle school, I respected this ‘request’.  My music choices, however, stayed pretty much the same.  I listen to everything, and my playlists vary with my mood.  My tastes can have us listening to Pavarotti one morning, Rolling Stones  another, or an eighties pop list the next.   It was an eighties pop mix that first prompted Thing1, a budding music geek with firm ideas about “what’s good” that can only survive in the hothouse of adolescence, to assume the role of arbiter of musical taste on our morning school runs.

He began switching up the playlists on my iPod, and, for the most part, I acquiesced happily.  That acquiescence made him happy on the drive, but when we arrived at school, he began hitting the pause button before the car stopped.  After a few mornings of this I realized my acceptance of his choices was causing him to question not his taste but his own coolness.

He’s not into girls yet, so fashion – the most visible signal that a kid is trying to display their coolness – hasn’t really become an issue (boys seem to escape a lot of this anyway), but as he stops the music and climbs out of the car, everything in his demeanor says he’s still anxious to be cool.  Most of the kids entering the building seem to have this same anxiety, translated through their tense postures and nervous glances at their friends.

It’s not just maternal bias when I say that, in my eyes, Thing1 has always been cool.  He’s a door-holder.  He can carry on a conversation with grownup. A number of his classmates are like this too.   So, as I watch these pleasant, curious kids scurrying to school, wearing their self-consciousness on their sleeves, my first daily thought is how ironic it is that they should worry that they’re not cool enough.  When the car door shuts and I unpause the music, my second thought is usually how exhausting it once was to worry about it.

I know Thing1 will survive this gauntlet.  The Big Guy and I are fiercely protective of the inner young man full of hopes and dreams and ideas, but we also know navigating between the desire to fit in and his true north (when he discovers it) is part of the test of teenager-dom.  It’s a journey we can’t take for him.

I’ve recently adopted a new exercise regimen of dancing for a 3 minute song in front of my laptop every few hours so that I can fit some movement into my day.  I pretty much look like an idiotic bowl of jello for those 3 minutes, and sometimes I’m glad none of our windows look out on neighbors.  But I would be dancing even if they did.  That carefree dance is the reward at the end of that journey.  I’ve discovered my true norths now, and, while I’ve started another part of the path, I’ll be waiting for Thing1 when he’s found his own groove.