Friday, July 8, 2016

If I could be the world's mom

To me, it feels like the world is throwing a huge high-stakes temper tantrum turned into schoolyard brawl. No, noone I know has shot anyone--yet--but apparently it’s only a matter of time. We are posting mean things about each other’s ideas, each other’s fears, and each other’s priorities and passions and griefs. We are watching human tragedy unfold and our response is name calling and blaming and casting around anger and scorn and despair. I don’t like it. It’s inappropriate and injurious, and it’s beneath us. If you are doing this, I am heart-broken at your behavior. But here’s the thing: I have claimed you as my own. I love you. I love you even if you are being mean to the other kids, but I also don’t want to let that go on. I believe you can do better, and I show you less love by letting you be a little jerk because that’s just who you are. You don’t need to be the mean kid. Eventually, a world filled with people who behave meanly in small ways fuels the fire that consumes us in large ways. I want to make this world a better place, and the only way I know how is to be a mother.

I want to do this: I want to be the mother for a little while. I want to pull the world into a huge, restraining hug.  I want to let the world scream into my stomach and smear snot and tears on my shoulder and even punch me and struggle against my embrace until it gets tired, until it begins to settle down. Then I want to send the world to its room--not as punishment but because I think some of us have not yet learned how to be civil in the presence of someone with whom we do not agree. Name calling isn’t the answer in elementary school, and it isn’t now. Shoving and punching were not the answer then, and they aren’t now. Sometimes the best course of action is to, metaphorically, take a time out. Even for adults, that might mean stepping away from the social media for a little while. If something makes you gloat, if it feels like it’s going to really smack down your “enemies,” leave it alone until you can consider that maybe the schoolyard is full of other kids, not enemies. Maybe smacking is the precursor to things more violent. Maybe “they” are a part of “us.”

But a time-out is temporary.  If we all walk away and sit in our rooms forever, that doesn’t solve the world’s problems.  When the world is ready to discuss rationally, as the world’s mom, I want to sit down and discuss what is a helpful way of talking to others. How should you deal with people who want to draw rainbows when you want to draw trucks? How should you deal with the girl who always insists upon being line leader even though she was line leader every day this week? What might be happening in her life to make that so important to her? Can you let her? Can you? How do you deal with the kid who, when he loses at soccer, body checks his opponent when contact could have been avoided? How do you deal with the kid who won and is rubbing it in? How should you deal with someone who rides a bike on the trail when you want to run on it or vice versa? How can you talk to someone who passionately believes in owning a gun when you passionately believe they should not? Is it ever EVER going to help you or them to ridicule and name call and taunt? What is really going to happen if you do that? Do you think making someone an enemy is going to win him or her over to your way of thinking?  I don’t think it will. What could you do instead? How could you tell that girl or that boy that you disagree with him/her but still care about his/her well-being? How can you tell him or her that you are hurting in a way that makes him or her reconsider rather than lash back? If you go at someone with knives, might they not use knives to defend themselves? Before speaking and acting, let’s think about the kind of world we want to live in, and then let’s show others how to make that world real.

I’m sorry life is hard, world, but it is. I’m sorry people disagree, world, but they do. I’m sorry people mess up, but they do (and so will you. Remember that.) But think about if you really want to be the mean, selfish, self-righteous kid before that’s who you become. You can be angry and hurt and confused. I am. But try to make the world a better place rather a worse one. Just try. Then try again tomorrow. I’ll try too. And I’ll have this talk with you again tomorrow if you need it.

Go get a drink of water. Then go do better today than you did yesterday. I know you can.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A few things I'm not doing, and a few things I am

I wish I would make myself write every day.  I am happier when I write every day. However, I also believe that the level of chronic sleep-deprivation in which I exist is not healthy, so I should average more than five hours of sleep a night.  I also wish I could/would exercise more.  Who in a million years would have thought I would fail to exercise enough?  It’s true, though. And I wish I cooked more healthy meals and ate less sugar. So there are a number of things I wish I would differently, but the truth is that I am sincerely, honestly doing the best I can. Every day. And I’m not yet where I hope to go.
 
That said, in the last couple of days, there has been some evidence that while I’m failing on a number of fronts, I’m not failing all of the time. Since my self-talk tendency is to beat myself up about not being all that I know I should be, I should keep track of those victories and pull them out when the failures become too overwhelming.
 
Maybe Victory #1: The best victories are probably the ones that felt all along like failures.  Physical therapy has felt like a failure.  At least one morning a week my back and hips hurt so much that I can barely function. So much that I dread living. It’s not the sort of pain that makes me scream; it’s not sharp.  It’s just so darn debilitating. And it ruins my quality of life.  It’s why I went to Dr. Turner’s office in the first place. And since it always was mysterious and not every morning, it didn’t seem to be getting much better.  In fact, Tuesday morning was bad. So I went into my reevaluation on Wednesday but very sleep deprived and pessimistic.
The results of the reevaluation, however, showed that my strength in key moves has become much more balanced and much closer to what it would need to be for me to successfully run at all. There is clear, numerical data that shows that I have improved.  On top of that information, though, my physical therapist really heard me when I said my pain wasn’t gone.
Tuesday night, though, I had tested the alignment of my hips as my PT had showed me. They were really off.  So I did the exercise I am supposed to do in the morning to align them. I woke up feeling better.  I’ve been doing it every night, and I haven’t had a really bad morning since. Hmm. Maybe I’ve finally found the “thing” that will make my life less painful.
Victory #2: Thursday morning was the Breakfast of Champions.  It was televised, and I was oddly nervous. I don’t even like to leave messages on answering machines and voice mail systems. Oh well.  I presented one of my students as student of the month for the English department, and she was thrilled.  When I had told her (the week before spring break) that I was nominating her as the student of the month from the English department, not only did her face light up (I think that might be literal), I had the impression that she also lifted off the floor.  She was so elated. That's what counts and why I got up at 4am and talked on TV.  
Afterwards, her mom told her to tell me what she's decided to be professionally.  She was shy about it.  She wants to be an English teacher.  I didn't know that.  So I asked where she wants to go for training, and she said that if she can get scholarships (which she knows is how I went there,) she wants to go to Illinois Wesleyan.  
 
Bam.
 
I had been dragging myself through the week without direction or sleep.  It was a rough one. Hearing, though, that one of my students has been inspired to not just major in English but want to teach it makes it all worth it. I am pleased with my rating on my evaluation this year, but even so, I think that maybe one measure of how I am doing is how many of my students decide that they are going to major in English and/or become English teachers.  My count is pretty good.  I actually learned this year that a student who I had at WWS as a freshman, whose mom called me out of nowhere to say that I had ignited her daughter's enthusiasm for school, became an English teacher and teaches at a middle school in the same district where I teach.
 
Given that my job is the reason I’m not doing all of the things I mentioned in the first paragraph that would mean I was living life as I believe I should almost exclusively because of my job, I’m not sure whether or not I’m doing my students a service in making them all want to do what I do.  On the other hand, there are some powerful rewards associated with the job as well: for example, inspiring young people to because English teachers.
 
Victory #3: Wednesday was the first meeting of the literature circle project my honors students are going to undertake. They had decided on the books the week before spring break, and their assignment was to obtain the book.  That’s it.  Just get it. On Wednesday they were going to come up with a reading schedule. In many groups, no one had obtained the book.  This by itself is somewhat annoying, but they are teenagers and to some extent that behavior isn’t shocking. What was shocking, however, was that I repeatedly had conversations with students that led me to believe that they do not know how to use public libraries.  Some of the books the students needed were in our school LRC. (As a side note, I did find it annoying that students claimed to have no access to the books that they then found in the LRC after a five-minute search. They were clearly not trying.) Some books were not in the LRC, however, or there were not enough copies. In addition, some had also already been checked out from the public library. It did not occur to those students to request additional copies through inter-library loan. My students seemed unaware that such a thing existed. I left school (to go to the PT reevaluation I was dreading) believing that most of my students do not ever go to libraries. Ugh.
The third quarter SSR projects were due on Friday, and given the weird resistance I had been encountering all week, I was not looking forward to that due date.  When it came, however, the projects that were turned in (which is not all that should have been) were really well done. The answers are thoughtful and make me believe that at least many of my students actually read and enjoyed a book! In addition, in the short reports they wrote about them, their grammar seemed to have improved.  Either I am an awesome teacher and I have changed my students or there is something about the less formal task that allowed them to just write, and it turns out they can!! It feels like a victory on two fronts. Maybe their grammar improved because they had been reading?
Take-away: I should continue to assign such independent reading projects.  I should do one every quarter.
Just a funny story: My last story from the week is neither a victory nor (I don’t think) a defeat. I cannot remember quite how it started. My memory of it begins with me telling Gary that I don’t know what I like in a wine.  I just know that there are some I like and some I don’t like. Gary asked where I live and invited me to a wine tasting on Sunday, but I cannot go. I also said I wouldn’t know what I was doing at a tasting and I certainly couldn’t drink very much but wouldn’t enjoy spitting.  Gary, our nominee for Kane County Teacher of the Year, determined to teach me. I think Gary maybe believes he can teach anyone anything, and he may not be wrong. An important factor, however, might be context.
In this case, Gary decided that we would practice tasting wine with some flat ginger ale sitting on the counter in the English department.  He poured us both a few swallows of the old pop in big red plastic cups also left over from the meeting. He demonstrated the sniffing, the swirling, and a rather disgusting-sounding process of swishing the “wine” around in the mouth. I refused to do that, so he said I could swish it more quietly and with my mouth closed. I did. He asked me where in my mouth I “felt” it.  (I think he said “felt,” but I’m not sure if this is the right terminology. See earlier comment about context.) I said it was in the front of my mouth, and Gary said that was correct!  I was surprised I was right, but pleased.  “Where else is it?” asked Gary. I said it was on the insides of my teeth. Right again!
Then the questions got harder. Apparently a good wine has balance of fruit, body and acidity, so Gary wanted me to assess each quality of the ginger ale. I did not do so well.  I was instructed to take another sip and this time really swish it around, chew it, breath it, and try again. As I was in the process of doing this, and as Gary was pontificating about these three qualities, my evaluating administrator walked in the door. I was facing him, as I swished ginger ale around my mouth, but Gary’s back was to him.  So he kept talking about how to taste and talk about wine.  He kept talking. Gary is a difficult many to interrupt or derail, and so the administrator stood behind him listening and waiting for him to move. So yes, he saw and heard me doing a “wine” tasting in the English office, as instructed by Gary. Someone, I think, assured him it was ginger ale.
So, yeah. That happened. There is some fun in my life.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Badness Makes Friday Good


This year is the first time I have seen any sense in calling Good Friday “good.” Of course Good Friday isn’t good without Easter, but this year I see that Easter would not be the good news it really is without Good Friday.  I used to think Jesus could still die for us and arise from the grave if we did not kill him, and I suppose this is true, but the fact that the people Jesus loved were so bad is the reason Good Friday is so good.

The Good Friday sermon this year was arguably one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. It rocked my theological world. It was a sermon designed for a literature nerd, making connections between all sorts of verses from all over the Bible, but the part that really has changed my thinking is the translation of Jesus’ last words, “It is finished,” followed by his last action, “He gave up his spirit.” According to Pastor Darr, “It is finished” is not a phrase of despair; it’s not what you say when you throw in the towel and admit defeat. It’s not what you say when your team is eliminated from the end-of-year tournament. The three words are a translation of one word that is the kind of word you would say when you cross the finish line of a marathon, the kind of word you would use when you defend your doctoral dissertation, the kind of word you use when you finish grading 110 final exams and leave for the summer. It’s a word that means, “Yes! I did it!” In the context of the crucifixion, it means that Jesus has accomplished his mission.  And what is his mission? To reveal to humanity the extent of God’s love. Then, “he gave up his spirit” translates more like “he handed over his spirit.” It wasn’t defeat; it was choice.  If it had been Jesus’ will to overpower the soldiers, he tells his disciples, he could have called down an army of angels.  No, he accomplishes his mission through his death on the cross.  I never left a Good Friday service feeling so beloved and hopeful, but it was the next night and on Easter morning that the full impact of Good Friday hit me.

Saturday night we were dealing with the very eleven-year-old-boyness of our eleven-year-old boy. My sister reminded me today that he is a wonderful person, and I do know this, but yesterday he was doing his very best to be as maximally annoying and difficult as he could, and he’s pretty good at being annoying and difficult. By dinnertime, even his extremely patient father had had enough and sent him up to his room during dinner. I believe in dinner together, so although I went along with the punishment for a while, I wanted reconciliation to happen while we were still around the table. I went up to his room to talk to him. The first thing out of my mouth, by the grace of God, was, “I love you. There’s not much you could do to make me not love you because you are my boy.” My point was going to be that his behavior isn’t about me but about who he intends to be and how he intends to interact with the rest of the world, but as the words came out of my mouth, they started to vibrate the Good Friday strings that had recently been plucked.

The following morning, Easter morning, is usually my favorite morning of the year. This year, though, I was grumpy because our house, even at its best, is never picked up. I sometimes think I should quit my job so I can stay home while everyone is gone and throw away all of their stuff. I am angry pretty much every moment I spend at home and not either sleeping or eating. I feel, consequently, like a terrible parent and spouse. This morning our Easter egg hunt, inside because of the weather, started in the living room. While the kids were ecstatically finding eggs, I was busy being angry that the telescope the kids received for CHRISTMAS was still in the LIVING ROOM. Lord help me, that seemed like the worst thing in the world this morning, especially when combined with all the piles of stuff we don’t need that have become the constant state of our dining room and the piles of Christmas and birthday presents in our family room.  It was Easter morning, and I was angry, as I am always angry lately. Then I was angry at myself for being angry on Easter and for being angry so often and not being a joyful mother or person. Ugh. To intensify my lack of joy, I decided, as I often do, that I am a horrible person and not worthy of anyone’s love. Fortunately for me, my son displayed a bit of annoying and selfish behavior, and when I flashed back to our conversation the night before, suddenly the pieces fell into place. Easter means that even when I am angry, petty, stupid, negative, and self-centered, God will still come back. Every Easter. Every day. There is nothing I can say or do or be that will make God not love me. I could torture and kill him, and he would love me. It is finished. Jesus showed me that before I said, “I love you. There’s not much you could do to make me not love you because you are my boy,” God had said that to me. My behavior might affect how I feel and how I get along with others, but there is no amount of grumpiness or perfectionism or pettiness that will drive away God.

That is the good news of Easter. It’s not just about conquering death. Jesus could have accidentally fallen off a cliff and conquered death. Jesus could have been hunted down by the Roman army while all of his friends and fellow Jews fought to the death to defend him; Jesus could then have defeated death in a triumphant in-your-face sort of act, but that is not how it happened. Instead, his religious leaders resented him, his followers betrayed and denied him, and his people told Pilate that they did not call him their king and wanted Barabas released instead of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to defeat the Romans; he came to prove God’s undefeatable love for us. The good news of Jesus is not that he came back from death; it’s that he came back from death to us, the angry, the resentful, the petty, the selfish, the annoying, the stubborn, the weak, the frightened, and the stupid. In the last few months of his life, he saw the very worst that humanity has to offer, and he managed to hand over his spirit and say, “It is finished”--I did it. I have shown them that God loves them no matter what. Now they will know that there is nothing they can do that could make me not love them. Bam.

If humans can kill Jesus on a cross, and he will still come back and love and comfort them, surely he forgives me for all of the darkness in my heart too. It is proven. It is finished. Amen. Hallelujah. Good.

31What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39.)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lord help me: I'm raising a shyster

The other day Husband I were reminiscing about those days when Son was a toddler and preschooler and we were pretty sure he was already secretly enrolled in law school. We were reminiscing because Son's ridiculous argument about what was and was not considered a sidewalk was particularly weak and empty of convincing evidence. His eight year old sister was able to pretty well undermine his argument with a few well-considered questions. "Well, I guess we don't need to worry about him being a lawyer," we declared.

This morning I heard crying and bickering upstairs and after delaying some time and finally accepting that intervention was possibly required, I went upstairs to investigate. The offspring were arguing over who owned the "materials." Upon further interrogation of both parties, I discovered the "materials" to be recycled items owned by their joint "Recycling Company." 

"Aren't you both members of the Recycling Company?" I asked. They both said yes. "So both of you should be able to use the materials owned by the Recycling Company." 

"Exactly," said Son.

"Wait a minute," I responded. "You're the one who was not sharing."

Son then explained to me that the mission of the Recycling Company is not just to make things out of recycled materials but also to give things to people who need them. Sounds lovely. But Son had formed a second company--a company his sister was not invited to be part of--and that company needed recycled materials. So as a member of the Recycling Company, Son had given the recycled materials to the second company and they were therefore no longer available to Daughter. 

Lord help me.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Running into the Sun

My son is sick. I'm not sure what he has, but since he's already on antibiotics from the ear infection he had last week, I'm going to guess it's a virus and we just need to wait it out. He missed his wax museum performance. Poor kid. After he was sent home on Tuesday with a fever and sore throat, I put in for a sub on Wednesday and stayed home with him. Staying home with a feverish Adam is not a hard task, and, as a bonus, it meant that I could run at 6am with the sunrise. As I was running up a hill on a grass trail with the sun directly in front of my face at the top of the hill, it seemed like life was just about perfect. 

But life isn't perfect--mine or anyone else's. I was there because my kid was sick. That's not perfect. I can no longer run as much or as fast as I want to, and I'm facing the fact that this is a permanent condition. I have degenerating vertebrae, and they aren't going to grow back. I'm only going to get older. Older, if my grandmothers are any example, means dementia and total loss of mobility. Then there are other things about life that aren't perfect. I have students with unpleasant attitudes and even worse home lives. I have more to do than I could possibly accomplish even if I didn't sleep at all for the next three weeks. But at least I have my job. I know people who have lost their jobs and people who can't get jobs in the first place. There are people who have lost their homes to debt or disaster. There are people born with physical deformities and mental disabilities. There are people with terminal illnesses and people who are paralyzed in car crashes. There are people who lose their children in tragic accidents or from horrible childhood diseases. I could list thousands of horrible things that people endure, but the short version of what occurred to me as I was running down the other side of the hill is that every morning when you wake up, you have no idea what is going to happen. Is this the day you lose your job, lose your beloved, make a bad decision, survive a tornado, die in a car crash, or suffer a stroke or a freak heart attack? It seems like the list of terrible things that might come out of nowhere is greater than the list of wonderful things. And yet, I thought, as I rounded the corner to overlook a small lake, I am happy to be alive and to see what I can see. 

I am willing to wake up every morning, even knowing that anything could happen. At the very least, life is pretty interesting. And so in spite of all of the ugliness and pettiness and brokenness one is sure to encounter sooner and later, it still seems worth the risk to get up every day and keep an eye out for the beauty. Just in case. 

And then, a good 250 yards from the lake, I started running through piles of fish. I'll just leave that there.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Falling Off the Trail

Our first campground in New York was at the top of a hill/mountain in Watkins Glen State Park. (The hills in the finger lakes are much much bigger than ours, but I don't actually think it was an official mountain.) On Tuesday I decided to run down into the town, which was on the lake shore, and try to find a way to run by the lake. The lake is something like 50-60 miles around or some such distance I couldn't possibly manage. On my way out of the campground, I found a little semi-hidden trail, so I decided to take it. It took me down (literally) to the entrance to the part of the campground we were staying in. Then I took the road to town which was windy and down down down. I had only gone two miles or so when I reached the town and the bottom, so I tried to find a lake trail (there wasn't one) and explored the town some. After I had run another mile or two, I realized I had better start back up. Up was harder than I thought. I was glad I had done the small hill at Johnson's Mound a few times the week before. Two miles of steep incline is more than I am used to, and I was thoroughly done and very satisfied when I finished. I had that pleasant exhausted muscle buzz the rest of the day.

Because I sincerely intended all along to be extremely cautious to protect my meager running gains, I took Wednesday off. I had found a way that the tiny trail out of my campground area connected with the rim trail of the gorge which we hadn't hiked yet. (We did the more exciting and treacherous and popular gorge trail to see the dozens of waterfalls.) Thursday, I decided to explore the trails. Of course, since my tiny trail went down and down, the rim trail, which went to the top of the area, went up and up. I had my Garmin watch, so I could see that between the incline and my cautious trail running, I was going very slowly. For a moment I contemplated turning around and repeating Tuesday's run, but then I decided that I don't often get to trail run in the woods up a gorge rim and that I could always go easy on the trail and hard on the road the next day. Good plan, I thought. I ran the rim trail, being cautious, and came out at the top in less than two miles. Boo. Not long enough. I started down the road I found at the top, and only a few minutes later, I passed a little sign that labeled a "punchbowl extension" trail. I decided to take it. It took me straight down into a little clearing by a large pool of water, maybe the river just before the falls? I don't know. It was clearly a planned trail but very little used. I hadn't seen a single soul on the rim trail either, but this place seemed even less traveled. From the clearing, I spotted an even smaller trail (perhaps my definition of cautious is a bit stretchy,) and I started down it. I hadn't gone even a quarter mile around the edge of the "punchbowl" when I tripped on a root or a hole or something. It happened so quickly. My left ankle twisted and then slid off the trail towards the pool, and my right side--all the way up to my right cheek--hit the trail. Moments later, when I had time to reflect, I was rather impressed by my body's survival instincts. Although I haven't run on a trail in a couple of years at least, and even then I only had the chance a few times a year on vacation, my body knew what to do. I live in a flat part of the world, so I don't ever practice falling off of a precipice. I didn't think about grabbing hold of the vegetation on the side of the slope or digging my fingers into the trail, but I did those things. When I caught my breath, I pulled myself up on the plants and the roots, hoping I hadn't grabbed a strong vine of poison ivy in the process, and regained the "trail." "Well," I said to myself, "I guess that's the end of that run."

The problem, of course, was that I had a short, steep climb to get up to the main trail, and then a longish trek back to the join with my little campsite trail, and I had clearly sprained my ankle. The steep incline was rough, but I found another trail with roots and things that I could use to pull myself up with my arms, mostly. Then on the main trail I told myself it was not so bad. I could definitely make it. I had been reading Into the Wild, so my head was full of stories of people who have done crazy things and survived against the odds. (Of course, the main character survives for quite a while and then makes a rather small mistake and dies from it, but I chose not to focus on that part of the book.) A less than two mile hike on an obvious trail in a state park didn't seem that extreme, even with a sprained ankle. But it was slow going, to say the least. I felt like I was not moving, and the longer I walked, the worse I felt. I considered sitting down and crying for a while, but I talked myself out of that decision. I could be sitting there for hours. I had at least managed to get myself onto a real trail, but no one had taken the trail yet, that I had seen. I decided that really my only option was to gut it out and get myself back. I confess that I did cry a few times, but I kept going.

I was watching my Garmin to judge how much longer I'd have to hold it together. I knew I'd be back by mile four, since I had fallen around two and had taken a short-cut up from the bowl. When I had been walking for about a mile, I saw a glint to my right, away from the gorge. A car? A road, then? I thought a road would be much easier to walk on than a trail, but then I wouldn't know where I was and might end up walking even farther. I stopped and stared. I decided that it was not a road, but a campsite! I figured it must be somehow connected to the campground I meant to find--at least part of the same state park. I decided to leave the trail and walk through the woods to the campsite and figure it out from there. Again, I must marvel at a fortuitous turn of events. Not only did I not fall all the way off the trail when I fell, but when I did leave the trail on purpose, I walked into the only campsite with an awake camper. A woman was sitting in her sweats having coffee and doing a crossword. I came up behind her and apologized for startling her by crawling out of the woods and then explained what had happened. She said she had a map of the campgrounds in her car, which she fetched, and we determined that she and I were camping as far from each other as was possible. She said she would drive me back. I generally hate to impose on people that way, but I had to. I thanked her profusely and got in her car.

As she drove, we talked a bit about running. I said that I had, to amuse myself, asked myself if I had been in a trail race, would I have tried to finish? I concluded that I could not have finished. She said her boyfriend had recently sprained an ankle in a trail race and did finish, which she thought was a stupid thing to have done. She, it turned out, was an ER nurse practitioner! My guardian angel maybe dozed off a bit when I was down in the punchbowl, but she worked hard afterwards to make up for it! The nurse reminded me to stay off the ankle as much as possible for at least 48 hours and to take it very slowly after that. She reminded me that a sprain takes much longer to heal than a fracture (grrr) and could bother me for up to six months and that the worst thing I could do is push it before it's ready. As she was talking, the pain, which I must have been keeping at bay with adrenaline or desperation, started to climb. I could barely tolerate the jostling of the car on the rough roads. I felt myself going into that sort of semi-consciousness that happens in labor and other intense pain situations.

When she dropped me off, my family was all still sleeping, so I called out for some help. The nurse asked me if I needed help making it to the picnic bench on the far side of my campsite, and I said no, I had just walked a mile, and someone would come help me in a minute, but then my vision blacked over and the world tilted and I got hot and cold at once. I grabbed for the car and held myself up, and she dashed out of her seat and caught me. By then Doug was out of the camper and the two of them carried me to the picnic bench, where I laid down. The nurse commented that she probably could have just carried me herself, and I should have said I was going to faint. She said to lie down for a while and whenever I felt faint again to lie down with my foot up.

We put ice on my ankle for 20 minutes at a time, and I started to shake. It was a chilly morning, and I was wearing a tank top and shorts. Doug gave me a blanket and some towels to cover up with, but I couldn't stop shaking and shaking. I shook for about two hours. I should have eaten something, but I was too wrapped up in my pain and too light-headed to think of it. Finally my family got up and ate, and I ate too, but I couldn't stop shaking. Was it from cold or pain or fear? I don't know. I kept replaying in my head the moment around the fall and the scenarios of how that all could have ended differently. I decided it was always going to end up OK, one way or another, but it certainly could have been much worse than it was.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Twin Lakes Triathlon



A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for Twin Lakes Triathlon because back in January my friend Jen signed up for a women’s tri in June.  She was nervous, but I was excited and maybe a little bit jealous.  To encourage her training, I found us an indoor triathlon to do in February, but when the time approached, my back was too sore, and I didn’t know if it was a return of all of my problems.  She did it alone.  I was sedentary. Then in May, when I was feeling better again, we did a brick workout, and I told her everything important I could remember about the day of a triathlon.  I told her about setting up the transition area and walking through the entrances and exits, about being dizzy after the swim, about the 300 lb woman who was near me in transition at Lake Zurich and wouldn’t let any of us other women help her because she needed to prove to herself and to the world that she could do it.  Oh, lots of things.  As we biked and ran and biked and ran, I put myself back in my triathlon days and gave her whatever seemed valuable. It was her first triathlon so the things I left out were the things about winning, the things about specific pace strategies.  I focused, for her and in my mind, on how fun it is to swim and then bike and then run.  By the time the morning was over, I was thinking, “I just did Jen’s brick workout no problem.  I believe in her.  She is ready. So why would I not believe in me, too?”  I didn’t think Jen was going to win the triathlon, and that didn’t affect my excitement for her in the least. She was going to have a great day. Why was I letting unrealistic expectations hold me back? Didn’t I really and truly believe that it was wonderful that she had signed up, that she would be awesome for finishing, and that a day spent swimming, biking and running is a day well spent?  I thought about it, and I decided that signing up is about being brave, finishing is about celebrating where you’ve been, and all the rest is about joy.  I am brave, I’ve had a long, heart-rending journey where athleticism is concerned, and I am ready for some joy.  

I missed the glut of early June triathlons, and I am unavailable for the mid-July triathlons, so I settled on a sprint in Palatine in late June. That didn’t leave me any time to really train, but I had been riding my bike and swimming and running a little, and thanks to Jen, who did great in her triathlon, I knew I could finish. Plus, I’m still recovering and still trying to figure out what that recovery means.  Training, real training, training to win, is probably not a good idea for me at this point.  The soonness of the triathlon made true training impossible.  Perfect. 

Last weekend, I decided it was probably past time to get out my road bike.  I hadn’t been on it in almost two years!  When I bought it, I simultaneously bought the bike shoes that snap into the pedals. The first time I tried to get on, I fell over in the street in front of my house.  I thought I probably shouldn’t repeat that performance in T1. On Saturday, I rode maybe 6-8 miles (my odometer wasn’t working) to practice clipping in and out of my pedals. Last Sunday a friend and I did the 62 mile route of the annual Swedish Days ride. My speedometer still wasn’t working, but for most of the ride, I felt like I was flying.  I was, in fact, moving faster than the birds flying along the side of the road. Oh, it felt good. I didn’t start to feel tired until maybe 50 miles in, and I managed to not fall off my bike, even when in the second turn of the ride a peloton of crazy riders passed me on a turn and the leader wiped out from the fast turn on gravel. I took it as a cautionary tale, not that I needed it. I am always cautious on turns.

For some reason, I didn’t get all keyed up the day before this triathlon, maybe because I didn’t take any days off.  I swam easy on Thursday and rode easy on Saturday.  I spent the day Saturday shopping and having lunch with my sister, and getting together the stuff required for a triathlon seemed like an afterthought after the kids were in bed and the house was quiet. Maybe I didn’t get keyed up because I didn’t have any expectations for myself other than to finish. Maybe it’s because in spite of my beliefs about bravery and celebration and joy, I was a little uncertain how I felt about getting back into the sport and not looking like I was any good at it. Boo to me for those thoughts. Unfortunately for me (or fortunately, since it didn’t allow me much time to freak out?), I didn’t open all of the e-mailed documents about the swim, bike and run courses until Saturday evening.  I had been aware that the swim was going to be 750m rather than the more common 400m for a sprint triathlon.  I somehow had missed, though, that the run was not 5K, as I had been counting on, but 4.5 miles.  That’s 150% of what I thought I’d be running. My heart sank.  If someone had asked me some years ago which of the three sports was going to be my weak link, I never ever would have predicted it would be the run, but Saturday night, I was sure it was the run.  My longest runs now are six miles, and they are a struggle for me.  4.5 is quite close to that.

At 3:30am on Sunday I woke up to torrential downpour. Boo.  I hated the thought of packing up all of my stuff in the pouring rain.  I hated the thought of driving for an hour for no reason.  I also, I admit, didn’t love the idea of doing the triathlon in a downpour, if there was no lightning.  But I ate a bowl of oatmeal and put my bike and my other stuff in the car, along with an extra towel, and started out.  

I had printed out the directions, and I thought I was following them, but something confusing must happen with the exit from I-90 to 53. I thought I took the exit, but when the next road never appeared, I realized I was somehow still on 90. I am thankful for Siri, who told me to keep driving to the next exit, which was, unfortunately, 8 miles away, and turn around. My poor navigation luck struck again when the entrance ramp back onto 90 was closed for construction, so I had to drive ten miles back the other way to another entrance. With those added detours, Siri told me that instead of arriving around 5:15am, when packet-pickup began for those who didn’t pick up in advance, I was going to arrive at 5:52, eight minutes before packet pick-up ended.  Yikes.  Then, when I arrived, the parking lot was full.  The race organizers had warned of limited parking and said that later arrivals would need to park on nearby neighborhood streets and walk into the park through a side entrance.  The problem was that I didn’t even know where the nearby neighborhoods were, and Siri just isn’t that smart.  Luckily, I drove around for a bit and found a road lined with parked cars with bike racks.  The park with the triathlon was probably less than half a mile down the road. The lovely check-in women told me I could calm down: I had made it. Plus, it had stopped raining.

I had my arms and legs marked, set up my transition, put my number on my bike and my race number belt, went to the bathroom, and then it was time to listen to the opening announcements.  The first wave started a few minutes later, just as a brilliant sun emerged from the last of the rain clouds. I started my triathlon ten minutes after that, in wave five. 

The swim waves were determined, I believe, by predicted swim time.  In the pool, I can do 100m repeats at around 1:50, so I signed up, feeling I was being optimistic, to finish the swim in 14:00-16:00.  I had agonized over that for a few minutes but finally decided that even if I was fudging down, so would most people. Before we were released into the water, I looked around at my fellow wave fives.  Few were wearing wet suits.  The water was supposed to be 77 degrees, so maybe they had wet suits and decided the time gained with them would be lost in transition, and they weren’t needed for temperature.  There were several women wearing bra tops.  The wave was more women than men, but there were some men too.  One woman standing near me didn’t appear to have goggles.  I thought of my friend Rachel who, two years in a row (!), forgot her goggles at the Batavia triathlon.  “You don’t have goggles?” I asked the woman near me.  She said she didn’t because she didn’t really know how to swim freestyle, so she just does breast stroke with her head above water.  Hmmm.  I do have a friend who did backstroke in a triathlon, but he never would have signed up for under two minute pace on the swim. I asked about that.  “Oh, I’m planning to finish the swim in about half an hour, “she said.  Huh.  So it must not be assigned by predicted finish, I remarked.  She said that she put down a faster time on her registration.  Clearly.  “You’re planning to do 16:00?” she asked.  “Maybe I’ll just try to stay with you,” she said.  I agreed that that would be a good strategy for her, but I didn’t have much confidence that she would pull it off.  It reminded me of the woman I talked to before my first Olympic open swim, gazing out into a largish lake almost to the point of the horizon where there was an orange cone and saying, “Where are we swimming to?  That will take us less than hour, right?”  Both women made me feel like I was at least more prepared than they were, no matter how much I questioned myself.

Even as my wave was called down to the water’s edge, I didn’t feel nervous.  No one put him/herself at the front, so although I meant to be hanging back, I ended up only a few people back from the front and center of the wave. I resigned myself to having to either battle it out in the water or just outswim my wave.  Surprisingly, even as the whistle sounded, I still didn’t feel that nervous.  We plowed into the water for about a meter, and then the bottom abruptly disappeared and we were all swimming.  I don’t remember the swims in previous triathlons being so crowded except maybe in Bangs Lake.  There were people around me constantly: people I had to swim around, a few people I accidentally kicked, and then kicked again and again, people not really swimming, people swimming but slower than I was.  I didn’t feel like I was swimming super quickly.  I was just swimming a nice strong pace. On top of that, I was swimming freestyle for a few strokes and then breast stroke for a few strokes to keep myself oriented and find holes in the crowd to swim through.  I had my obligatory open-water panic, but I had prepared myself (and Jen) for that feeling, so I rode it out and kept swimming.  The swim was a long loop around a little island. Once I turned and was heading back, the swim felt less crowded and less long.  I did more freestyle and less breast stroke.  A lovely hole opened up and I had a couple hundred meters of unimpeded swimming.  It was marvelous.  The sun was blazing a couple of feet into the water, and I could see little green seaweed pieces and the sparkle of bubbles. My freestyle felt effortless and smooth. There was another thick crush of swimmers as I neared the end, most of them wearing caps in the color of the two waves ahead of me, so I figured I must have done OK on the swim.  The ground appeared beneath me only a meter or so before the shore, and I climbed up and crossed the mat into T1. 

I had forgotten to start my watch, so I had no idea how long I had been swimming.  In T1 I asked one of the few people there from my wave how long he had been swimming.  He said 12:45, so I thought I was probably faster than I had planned to be. I found out later that my time was 13:44, a 1:43 pace.  Nice. Even before I knew that, though, I felt good about the swim.  I felt strong.  Plus, almost all of the bikes from my wave were still racked.  I sat down, swiped at my feet with a towel, and put on my socks and bike shoes.  I jogged my bike over to the mount line, clipped in without falling over (yay!) and biked off.

I felt great on the bike too.  I passed a number of people who apparently swam in faster waves, and there were maybe three or four people who I passed multiple times and then they would pass me later. I am conservative on the corners, and there were about 30 turns, some of them more than 90 degrees, in a 14 mile course.  But on the straights and up hills I would zoom past people.  Of course, there was one moment when I looked down at my speedometer, saw that I was at 24 mph, figuratively slapped myself on the back for being awesome, and then was promptly passed by a guy who must have been going close to 30mph.  Oh well. I felt strong and fast and confident.  It was a wonderfully good time.  The course was through beautiful neighborhoods of expensive houses much of the time, and I got to ride down the center of the street as quickly as I wanted.  I ended up averaging 18.8 mph, even with all of those turns. What is more fun on a sunny Sunday morning? As I reentered the park on my bike, I was told to be cautious as there were still some bikes exiting. I surveyed the sparkling lake and smiled at a volunteer who cheered me on.  My eyes filled up with tears, and I choked up a bit. I was beyond joy. I was two-thirds of the way through a triathlon. I hadn’t thought I’d ever get to do such a thing again.

I dismounted without falling down and jogged back to my transition area.  I was one of the only bikes back from my wave.  Awesome again. I hadn’t bothered to buy speed laces for this tri, so I sat down again to change shoes and tie laces. Then I started to run. 

I remember from past triathlons that it’s extremely hard to judge pace at the beginning of the run.  I felt like I was not moving at all.  I felt, again, like running has become my weak link, and maybe it has. Of course, I told myself, it’s possible that I just felt so slow running because I had spent the better part of the last 45 minutes at 20+ mph, so even my best run was bound to feel slow in comparison. I also became very aware that I had been breathing hard for about an hour.  I hadn’t wanted to let up on the swim when it seemed like I was getting ahead of the pack.  I hadn’t wanted to slow down my breathing on the bike because I wanted to keep riding hard and speeding through the course.  I was having too much fun to prioritize something like breathing. On the run, though, I wished I could slow down, but my background, in spite of appearances, is running, and it just feels wrong not to be pushing a running race.  So I kept at it.  

The run was hot and steamy, as the morning’s rain was evaporating off the hot pavement.  I never could tell how fast I was running, even after the weird bike-to-run feeling wore off.  I wanted to stop many, many times, but I didn’t.  I told myself over and over, “I will just keep running.”  I decided that victory, for me, was not about pace but about not stopping. I never stopped.  The last mile was rough, but I ran it. I don’t know how the splits worked out, but I averaged an 8:23 pace.  That’s about as good as I could expect given the distance and my paltry training.  I’ve been running that distance (or often less) at between 8:30 and 9:10 pace, so an 8:23 meant I was trying.  With a bit of surprise and sadness, I will admit that the run was the least fun part of the race for me, but even so, I am nothing but grateful that I could do it.  I have a lot of blessings that I got to put to use. It was a morning wonderful beyond my expectations, both my recent short-term expectations and my long-term expectations as I’ve been down for so long with bad injuries. 

When the results were posted, I saw that I was 18th woman.  I scanned for others in my age group and saw that I was fourth in the 35-39 category, but the overall winner was also 39.  Just in case she was therefore subtracted from the age group awards, I stuck around to see if I would get third.  I did. I am nothing but happy.