Saturday, June 11, 2016

Finishing Last in My First 5K

My fingers are so swollen I can barely type. I feel sweat pooling in the small of my back. I'm still panting a little bit, and the bunion on my right foot is on fire.

All of those things started about 50 feet into the 5K race I entered today. I was only walking it, with a team of village employees, but it became clear right at the very beginning that my goal was going to be finishing the course at all.

My team, resplendent in our blue "It Takes a Village" matching shirts that we got especially for the Julie's Fitness Studio 5K during Whitehouse's annual Cherry Fest, joked around at registration that it was our job to be toward the back of the pack, watching out for folks. One was a lieutenant in our first responder forces, so technically that is his job. But the course was lined with members of our police and fire departments and other event volunteers doing just that, so he got to participate in all his fit glory.

I got to watch him and the others outpace me pretty quickly. Like, from the start line. We had been hanging out in some shade, but organizers moved us onto the street and into the sun and humidity and 87 degrees, told us that we would be walking around the village park, into the metropark across the state route, around the large quarry, up the main street of our little town, and then down and back the paved bike trail that used to be railroad tracks.

I felt like fainting right there.

I signed up for this race several weeks ago at the invitation of one of the village administration clerks. As a new village council member, I thought it would be an important show of solidarity. As a fat person, I thought it would be a motivation to exercise more and go on training walks and kickstart -- for the umpteenth time -- my overall fitness journey.

The first thing worked out quite well. The village employees are truly some of the best people around. The second thing never happened. I scrubbed my shower until my pectoral muscles burned so badly I couldn't sleep, but I didn't really do anything else physical during this alleged prep time.

I had known my husband was going to be ashore for Cherry Fest, so I signed him up for the race too. It was a fundraiser for Nature's Nursery, a local wildlife rescue, and the sponsoring business is owned by a high school classmate, so every entry supported good things.

My husband is in excellent shape. He came back from his ship voyage particularly "piped" this time, and he's always jumping on his bicycle to go to the hardware store or doing physical labor around the house. He could at least drag me off the course if I fell over.

At the race we met up with our great next-door neighbors, a retired couple who always keep a lovingly watchful eye on us, especially during sea voyage times. I was so glad that they were willing to walk along with us, because I immediately knew I would never be able to keep up with those long-legged employees in their blue shirts. I'd just walk companionably along with these senior citizens, thank you very much.

That worked out great for about half a mile. I was beginning to breathe heavily, and I felt shooting pangs in my shins. I couldn't keep up conversation. But the men had started swapping stories about being in the military, so it was fine to just listen. By the time we started circling the quarry, there was a large gap between us and the village team, still in sight but quite far ahead, and there were just two people behind us: a grandmother with a little girl in a sundress, moseying along.

That's when I knew it: I was going to be last. I was going to be dead last out of a group of at least 100 people, probably more. (A little girl in a sundress and her chaperone aren't people you consider as those you've beaten.)

On the far side of the quarry there is a stone gravel parking lot, and for some godforsaken reason everyone went the long way across the lot instead of up the shorter side on the partially patched drive. We briefly considered the shortcut as a group. They would have been willing to do it for me, because by now everyone knew I was struggling.

But I was kind of disgusted with myself for even suggesting it. It would have shaved off mere feet from 5 kilometers. So I decided that I was in this race, by God, and I was going to do the course as it was laid out. No cheating. I'd accepted that I was going to be last, and I couldn't make it worse by cutting corners.

By the time we were heading back up the main street, I was regretting ever signing up for this stupid event. Everything hurt. My wedding rings were cutting into my finger. (Because I am a vain dummy who thought that if someone saw a big rock on my hand they would at least judge me as being attractive enough to one person on the planet, instead of just a sweaty pig in a blue shirt huffing all over town.)

I started to fall behind my husband and neighbors. Just a few steps at first, then a few lengths, then officially not even keeping up with them.

It was so tempting when we came back to the front of the park, near where we started the race and approximately halfway through the course, to quit. Just quit. Go sit under a shady tree, watch all the festival-goers, eat some ice cream, and wait for the rest of the team to go all the freaking way down the paved path to Cemetery Road -- a cemetery! where I'd end up if I kept walking! -- and all the way back against the wind.

Somehow I got onto the path. My husband and neighbors kept turning around and calling out to me, "You OK?" I'd lie and say, "I'm great! Just slow!" The bunion throbbing in my shoe said something else. Something vulgar.

We passed runners who already had crossed the finish line, checking their wristwatches and fitness bracelets or lounging around in the grass. On the path lots of runners came by from the other direction, some looking just as miserable and uncomfortable as I was but very determined to finish. Oh yeah, and actually running. Some of them would smile at us -- the obvious laggers -- and wave or shout "Good job!" as they pounded pass. I saw a mom and her teenage-young adult daughter run by, and heard the mom whisper to her, "Almost there, sweetie."

I started to cry.

I had at least half an hour to go. I was confronted with how overweight I am, how sedentary my life is, how incapable I am of leading my children in physical activity. I started praying for the EMT on the four wheeler who was monitoring the course to come buzzing by again. My plan was to throw myself in front of it and blame him for why I couldn't finish the race. But I was wearing that damned blue shirt and it was just too unseemly a thing to do to another public servant.

There was nothing to do but keep going. One foot in front of the other. My husband and neighbors were so far ahead I couldn't even hear them anymore. I turned around once or twice and saw that the grandma and little girl in a sundress were still plugging away, but they were a good distance back too.

I was alone.

And that turned out to be just what I needed. I cried a little more. I started imagining that people would indeed celebrate me for not giving up. I started noticing the pretty wildflowers along the path, the corn coming up in a field, the tidy backyards of homes where all kinds of people live, slow ones and fast ones and fat ones and fit ones. We're all in it together. It takes a village.

At some point I stopped trying to check how much closer I was getting to the finish line. I didn't care. I'd get there eventually. I was going very slowly, sipping on the water bottle my husband had the good sense to prepare for me, even though the water had gotten quite warm. I didn't care about the inferno in my foot, or how the shirt was clinging to me, or how audible my breath was. I smiled and waved at bicyclists and couples pushing baby strollers on the path.

I thanked 8-pound baby Jesus in golden fleece diapers for the beautiful breeze.

As I neared the finish line, close enough to see that the clock timer was about to pop over an hour, I saw a group of people in blue T-shirts coming toward me. It was the village people. "We're here to finish with our teammate," one said. My husband crossed the line with our neighbors and then doubled back too.

I was pretty moved. I didn't cry, though. Maybe because I mostly felt like throwing up. But the race organizers were congratulating me and we were posing for pictures and laughing and looking for cookies and bananas and it all kind of just happened. I don't think it actually hit me that I had indeed finished the race until I got home.

I'm going to take a cool shower and then stay off my feet for a while. I'll do some laundry. Make dinner. I want to renew some energy to maybe go back up to the festival for a while, saving some for taking our 4-year-old to the fireworks display tonight.

Because that's what people who participate in 5K races do. They are normal people with normal lives who do physically active things as part of that life. I can do that.

I can be last. That's still in it, that's still finishing. And I am not alone.

Friday, October 16, 2015

My School!

This is what Max cried when I pulled out of the primary school parking lot yesterday. "My school!"

Max's first day at preschool.
I was thrilled.

He wasn't crying-crying, there weren't any actual tears. He was too exhausted from his third day of preschool in a very stimulating classroom to wind up into any kind of tantrum. He might have just been accessing an emotional response appropriate for leaving a place and practicing with it.

I don't care about any of that. I'm just glad he said something spontaneous. I'm glad he talked at all. And I am more than grateful that school quickly has become a place he enjoys.

It's been a rough journey these last several months, discovering that Max has a speech delay and perhaps a few sensory issues. His development was cruising right along, his vocabulary was growing, and his academic learning was way ahead.

At 3 years old he can sing the ABCs, correctly identify the sounds each letter makes, and even list a few words here and there that begin with those sounds. He asks me to make crescents and trapezoids when we play shapes with a rubber band, and he is about one letter away from cracking my password on the Kindle to download more apps.

But tell me what he did at school? Say what he is thinking? Communicate in sentences that aren't first given to him for parroting? Nope, not yet.

These last few months have been a confusing and often depressing journey, but the light at the end of the tunnel is glowing brighter. Actually, it's really illuminating several more tunnels, and we still have to evaluate and explore and outright guess which one is Max's best chance at being his full and authentic self. But at least we've figured out how to drive the freaking train.

Paperwork for anything having to do with school or a state board or a child's brain development is an endless stapled packet. Four different packets are really the same one just in slightly different wording or order. We all know just how much I like filling out paperwork.

But now it's an outright battle. Paperwork is just one more tactic that I'm willing to employ to get Max the help he needs to unlock speech and let all of the learning and behavior skills fall into place. I'm willing to drive to a different city to get him the best therapy. I'm willing to be what I never thought I would be: a parent who drives her kid to and from school.

I dutifully stand in the parent waiting area, the vortex of possible friendship and probable judgment. I willingly hand over my little love to other people who don't let me past the buzzer-locked double doors. I scour the little half sheet of paper that reports what he did in school that day as an attempt to have a conversation with him about it.

Happily, three days of this have yielded more results than the previous three months. My stress level has plummeted with just a few hours a day completely belonging to me, when I can actually schedule appointments or clean the house or get some grocery shopping done (which increasingly has become a screamfest when I have to drag along Max). We're all benefiting from a routine.

Max sweetly feels some ownership of this new place, this school with new toys and new playgrounds and new friends. I am feeling the same gratitude for it.

My school! My chance! My relief.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ring of Despair

I suppose it's OK to let Max play in his bedroom while I'm here in the boys' bathroom sorting his brother's laundry he is going to be stuck downstairs all day it's freaking snowing again and I'm too filthy to go to the gym and take him so he can have fun in the kid room there I didn't wash my hair yesterday it's so dirty it hurts I'll just wait until he naps if he naps he hardly ever sleeps but maybe he will be merciful to me today and I can pop in a workout DVD and shower too while he naps Jesus how much laundry does Gabe have did he go to school naked his closet is only so big wait a minute what's that sound that very distinct tinkling sound of delicate metal and gems on crystal oh my God that little shit has gotten into my jewelry dish again I'd better rush into my bedroom and see what's happening he hears me coming he's already saying "oh no no no" and "it's OK" like I'm not going to spank you look what you did dammit how many times do I have to tell you oh yeah you can run but I'm going to catch you oh God you're struggling and I'm mad and I just hate myself for spanking you and this morning is just going to shit I'm trying to do laundry and housework and act like I've got it together and here you are dumping my jewelry you're entertaining yourself you've got no one to play with I guess there's just nothing to do but pick it up no I don't want your help just get away from me I don't even want to look at you right now and I hate hate hate myself for how I feel about you when you're just a little guy and you're just curious and I wish I was a better mother and oh my God where the fuck is my wedding band no get away stop it oh shit where is it where is it I've found all the earrings and the diamond and the other rings where is the band how many times do I have to tell you to leave my things alone this is my stuff stop it leave it just leave it alone my wedding band is gone I'm crying now and I know it's just a ring just a thing but this makes me so sad your daddy gave me this ring this is from daddy he gave it to me on the day we finally got married and this is my wedding ring and I miss him so much he's gone so long at sea and he gave me this ring and I'm sobbing and there is snot coming out of my nose and I'm on the floor now you're really crying and upset and trying to hug me and crap I have to hug you because you're making that funny little upset penguin honk and you only ever do that when you're super upset of course you're upset because you're just 2 and you don't know why your mom is on the floor sobbing but you know it might have something to do with you and you just said "it's OK" in half reassurance to me and half hope for yourself and you're putting your soft little chubby hands on the side of my face and trying to physically lift my sobbing face into a smile this makes me love you and hate myself even more and stop it you have to go somewhere else now I can't do this right now I just want to find this ring it has to be here somewhere I'll go through everything and lift up everything and put away all this piled stuff maybe it fell into this stuff everywhere wait a minute I'm doing extra work now and it's taking more time where did he go I hear the rattle of the blinds in the guest bedroom my God is he hanging himself in the cords of the blinds while I'm looking for a stupid ring I'm running down the hallway nope there he is just screwing around trying to make that noise again with the blinds c'mon let's go downstairs and do this laundry please I just want to do some laundry it's the one thing that always makes me feel like I can accomplish something just something anything in this house that can be some evidence that I have done something right.

(Just a little snippet from my morning.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring, Swings and Song

My pantless wish is slowly but surely coming true. Temperatures are in the 40s and the snow is melting. There are huge swaths of snow-squashed grass emerging in the yard, and the roads and sidewalks are clear enough for actual traversing without 4-wheel drive.

I've spent the last several minutes listening to one of the surest signs of spring: birdsong. I am no ornithologist. I can distinguish a handful of birds -- cardinals, robins, blue jays, crows, eagles, hawks, doves -- with confidence, and I will get lucky at correctly guessing a finch or sparrow. And of course I know pigeons, seagulls, geese and ducks. But that's mostly by sight and rarely by sound.

This one bird that has been calling nearby sounds exactly like another great sound of spring: swinging. You know, that rhythmic squeaking of a metal chain link on a metal hook that has hung mostly unused and frozen in ice all winter. Swings squeak any season, but there is something ringing and extra clear about it in spring, when a kid can finally get to it in the park again. Summer swings sound different, I swear.

So if you know what that bird is, that one that sounds like a creaking swing set in spring, let me know.

Max and I will be doing some actual swinging any day now. We went for our first spring walk up and down our street today, jumping in puddles and stomping the random dry leaf that had clung to a tree all winter but finally made a dive to make way for new growth.

We have been driving past the village park all winter, but there was something about it today that finally made him ask to go to it. Maybe it was because he can finally see the ground again and he remembers how fun it is to run around there.

Or maybe that calling bird reminded him of the swings.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Winter Pants Blues

The sun is shining on the fresh snow, making it look a lot more pleasant outside than it actually is. Temperatures are hovering around 20, which is a lot better than the recent below-zero stretch, but that's still more than 10 degrees below freezing. I'm not going out there, and neither is my toddler. Unfortunately this is contributing to some cabin fever and a slight funk.

Sure, we could go out for a few minutes. But unless the ratio of time outside is favorable to the time spent before and after, dealing with all of the snowsuits and boots and mittens and the literal body wrestling to get the 40-pound block of human ice back inside the house and then the mopping up of wet snow melting everywhere, I'm not likely to attempt it today.

I've been Pinning dresses like mad.
Lots of us encounter a sudden dip in emotional well-being this time of year. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real thing, but I haven't really experienced it in northwest Ohio. Central New York in winter, yes, but not here where I have lots of positive associations with winter weather and where we really fare a lot better than other parts of the country when it comes to never-ending snow or consecutive gray, sunless days.

A lot of my friends begin complaining about the winter weather early in the season, like by Dec. 1. I have an unofficial rule of waiting until March 1. But again, I know where I live and I know there is going to be a few more fierce snow storms before spring really arrives, no matter what the date on the calendar is.

It's March 2, and I feel freer to grump a bit. Being stuck inside a house with a toddler makes anyone grumpy at any time of the year. But he isn't really the object of my distress right now.

It's pants.

I am so sick of wearing warm clothes. Especially pants, with their tight waistbands and their dragging hems, but I've pretty much had it with long-sleeved tops too. How I long for skirts and dresses, for toe-bearing shoes, for skipping out of the house without a bulky wool coat that is screaming for an end-of-season trip to the dry cleaners.

I know it can be a symptom of depression when a woman wanders around her house all day in her nightgown and robe. But it's because I can't bear the thought of putting on pants one more day this winter. Not if I don't have to go out in public or welcome a non-relative into my home. I don't even own snow pants.

Ugh, please, no more pants. Give me spring and a flowing, flowery frock. I'll even be satisfied with my heather gray jersey-knit dress that is basically a giant T-shirt. Even if you can't see it, I want to be bare from my undies to my shoes. Free legs. Pantless legs. ZZ Top legs.

Now I really am having a depressive hallucination.