The Only Thing Better Would Have Been A Glass Of Wine While Walking

Tonight I watched the BFFs kids at dinnertime.  My house was in total pandamonium.  Two four year-olds and two two year-olds yelling, screaming, playing the piano, telling stories, asking questions, and refusing dinner.  I loved it.

After they left, I got my kids in their jammies, brushed their teeth, read stories, sang two songs, said a prayer, and kissed them goodnight.  When I closed the door to their room, I looked out the window.  Light.  At 8:10 pm, the sun was down but the sky was blue.  I looked at Dave and said, "I'm heading out for a walk.  Just a quick one."

For the next 20 minutes, I processed work and home and packaged those problems into neat bundles.  They're stored away in tidy boxes on the shelves of my brain until tomorrow, or the next time I have to deal with them.

As I turned on the loop and began heading for home, I realized that when I was done putting the kids down, I'd been faced with a choice.  I could have sat down and enjoyed a glass of wine, which would have likely turned into two.  I would have awoken tomorrow retaining water and feeling generally sluggish.  Since Alexandria's been born, that's the usual pick.  But I opted instead for a walk in fresh air, under blue skies and green trees.

While walking, I recalled an interview for Big Brothers Big Sisters.  I was asked, "What do you do to relieve stress?"
"I go for a run."
"What do you do if you have a really bad day at work?"
"I go for a run."
"What do you do if you are experiencing tension with your partner?"
"I go for a run."

I was like a robot in that conversation, but it was the truth.  The way I stayed sane was by running.  It put the world back in order for me.  I could think quietly for about 45 minutes and by the time I got home, all my problems were scattered behind me on the pavement.

Tonight marked the first time since having kids that I revisited the habit of exercising to relieve stress, anxiety, tension, or just get some quiet.

Twenty minutes later I walked through my door.  I'd worked out work problems, decided my legs are looking good, marvelled at the bright red streaks of cloud across the sky, and contemplated the end of Alexandria's preschool.

Slowly but surely, old parts of me are emerging like grass blades popping through the snow.  The kids are a little older, and perhaps I'm less winded by the responsibilities of the day.  I don't have as much clean up or prep work to do at night.  I guess tonight was the first night in a long time where when the kids went down, I was done.  I didn't have to be drill sargeant general harpee mom.  She sucks.  I could be Natalie again.  I like her.

No real moral to the story.  Just a little sharing time.



I'm not going to mince words here.  I'm beat.  And it's the Big Tired.
There are two kinds of tired in my world.  There's the Little Tired, where you haven't gotten enough sleep for a few nights, or you had two really rough days at work but heck, the weekend's coming and you'll get a little down time.

Then there's the Big Tired.  This means that you haven't gotten enough rest and sleep in longer than you can remember.  You haven't a day where somebody hasn't demanded every need from you.  You've gone to bed thinking of all the things that still need to be done, yet when you wake up fresh the next day, you have no energy to do them.  A weekend won't cure it.  An afternoon away from home won't make it better.  The only solution is solitude and a cook.

That's where I am.  I wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 every morning.  I get my cup of coffee and I write.  I write until small people begin needing me, about an hour later.  Then, I don't write anymore.  I don't think anymore.  I don't really get to complete thoughts until they go to bed, but by then, my brain is fried from the day and I'm lucky if I can construct a sentence.

I still have all of my Cinderella duties between their bedtime and mine, too.  There's the dishes and the laundry and the picking up and the sweeping.  It's mind numbing and hateful work.  That's very un-Jesus-like, I know, but it's where I am and I comfortable with my feelings.  I just can't muster the energy to do all of it when it's going to get undone 3 1/2 seconds after they wake up in the morning.

My house doesn't look like a house on Hoarders or anything.  I'm quite tidy.  But the small bothersome things are small enough that I don't feel a pressing need to confront them.  Yet I see them and they bother me.  But if I started one, I'd keep going and wouldn't stop until it was all done and I'd never get any sleep and I'd be worse off than I am now oh lord run on sentence.

The obvious solution is to use my time in the morning.  Forget writing for a while and do the things that will help regain my sanity.  Well, here's the deal.  I feel really anxious when I don't write.  More anxious than the small things make me.  Writing is like draining a bucket set beneath a leaky roof.  Every morning, rain has filled it, and in order for the bucket to catch more rain, it must be emptied.  That's how my brain is.  I want the ideas to flow through me because they keep me alive!  They keep my mind young and fresh and energetic.  It's the only time in my day where I'm not serving others, and to dismiss that time as ill-used is not correct.  That time is pure and unviolated.

So, the moral of the story is this: mountains of laundry, unvacuumed carpet, a handprint on the window, and a drink ring on the bathroom counter are too much for me right now.  I don't have the energy to care.  Two demanding kids fill every time and thought slot.

And, summer's coming.

Maybe I can check in at one of those resorts where everybody takes a vow of silence...silence...silence.


The Luxury of Goodbye

I've been saying for years that I want to live to 100.  I want to get there.  In case you didn't know already, I'm really competitve.

A few weeks ago, my mom told me that my grandpa was sick and would be going into hospice.  He'd reached 90 and his body was failing him.  His giant heart was trying to call it quits, but his difibrillator wouldn't let him.

My sister and I each went out independently to see him, to offer love, to say, "Goodbye Grandpa.  I love you."  We all went out to breakfast.  All the waitresses joked with him.  While I was there, I helped my mom change sheets, do laundry, clean the house, and keep my grandmother, who suffers from dementia, occupied.  We played Rumikub, a family favorite.

Grandpa's legs swelled with edema.  I joked that they looked like tree trunks, and that made him laugh.  I noted the blurry blue tatoos, scars of his service in the Pacific Theater during World War II.  He said simply, "I'm in bad shape."  We all knew it.  I gave him a foot bath and rubbed lotion on his chapped, fluid filled limbs.  He winced if I pressed too hard.  He was miserable.

When we left, I gave him a hug and kiss and said, "I love you Grandpa."  He smiled and continued eating his lunch.  I felt so lucky.

I cried on the way back.  I knew that was my last time seeing him.  It's not quite how I wanted to remember him.  I wanted the energetic, feisty, political guy I've known for 34 years.  I decided that getting to 100 isn't nearly as glamorous as I'd envisioned.  But this is what the end of it is like sometimes.  Slowly, one by one, the organs slow down.  Time and love won't heal them again.

Today, they stopped.  My grandfather passed away this afternoon in his home, and he'd been surrounded by his children only a week before.  Living life was painful, and it's not anymore.  My grandpa, my funny, charming, smart, witty, war-hero, patriotic, loving grandpa, is not of this earth anymore.

He lived a life full of love.


Oh, Wildflower.

You know, even as I sit looking at the blinking cursor I don’t really know what to write. My feelings about last weekend are conflicted and confusing. I’ve asked deep, uncomfortable questions like, “What is success?” “Am I too hard on myself?” and “Do I see myself the way others see me?”

The "transition" area, where triathletes change from swimming
to cycling, or from cycling to running.
Triathlon is incredible. On any given Sunday, you can watch pros and waitresses suffer equally and accomplish an incredible feat. Nobody would deny that completing a triathlon is something amazing.

I just finished a triathlon. So why don’t I feel amazing?

The weekend began with a tickle in the back of my throat that I chose to disregard in the hopes it would disappear. I felt calm and confident. I’d trained really hard. I was stronger than I’d ever been. My singular goal was to beat my time from 2005, hopefully by a lot. In my mind, it was a foregone conclusion. I’d trained right and my mind was tougher. I’d worked through more distractions with more focus. The race was mine.

We arrived at Lake San Antonio and set up our camp, which I lovingly dubbed Camp Rock ‘n’ Thorn. Very rocky. Very thorny. After setting up and getting settled, we realized that our air mattress had a hole and we didn’t have a patch. Dave made a valiant attempt to shore it up with a bike patch, but it just didn’t hold. That night would be spent on the ground. The highlight of the day was finding my short story of returning to Wildflower published in the official program. It had to be a good omen.

That night, as the evening turned into early morning, the temperature dropped into the mid-30s. I lay awake in our tent with a freezing face unable to drift back into slumber. I woke up exhausted but confident we’d have a mattress solution the next night. Of course we would. The weekend was preordained to go perfectly.

On Saturday morning, Alexandria and I headed up the little dirt road to cheer for the Half-Ironman triathletes as they embarked on their 56 mile bike ride. We helped riders who lost water bottles and food, and cheered loudly! We spent all day at the Wildflower Festival talking with athletes, watching the long race, eating lunch, and enjoying the day.

Pro Triathlete Jesse Thomas was so
excited to get a picture with me!  Actually,
it was the other way around.
We met Jesse Thomas, the “mystery man” pro who won the Long Course! Turns out, he and Dave worked together over a summer! He gave me advice, “Race within yourself. You’re not racing anyone else. Just race within yourself.”

I ate a great dinner. I felt relaxed. But we couldn’t fix the mattress, and the low temp that night was supposed to be 33. Yikes!

Race morning. I’d woken up in the middle of the night with a freezing face and a stuffy nose. I didn’t get more than 4 hours of continuous sleep. My body would pull through, though. I just knew it.

Sparing the details of pre-race eating and the girls all talking about that girl who was going to *gasp* swim without a wetsuit and “I just don’t know how she expects that she’s going to have a good swim because it’s cold” and “HELLO! I’m standing right here and can hear you!”, I walked down to the start line and felt good. I felt good. I caught sight of Dave and Alexandria standing high on the wall of the boat ramp and felt more proud and excited than I thought I could. Seeing my child, my real inspiration for doing this, cheering for me was like a tonic. It was short-lived.

We lined up. The buzzer went. We plunged into the cold water.

I started out getting kicked in the face a few times and sucking down some water. I suddenly didn’t feel right. My stomach felt queasy and I thought I was going to throw up. The water was cold, but I’ve been in colder water and felt fine. I didn’t feel fine. Mere minutes into my race, I could feel my brain failing, refusing to let my body be as tough as I’d trained it to be.

I rolled over and did a few back strokes. I took deep breaths. I prayed. I marveled that the rays of bright sun didn’t make the water any warmer! I turned back over. I tried again. I couldn’t find a rhythm. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. And that would be it. I couldn’t do any more without taking in big mouthfuls of lake water. Heinous. I know.

I thought about swimming over to one of the race attendants and giving up. My chest felt tight with phlegm and my throat constricted with a possible onslaught of tears. “Jesus, please help me I just want to give up!” I thought. “This wasn’t the race I was supposed to have!” I watched the pack of 30-34 year olds get further and further away from me. I began to suspect that my race goals were finished. The race attendant was tantalizingly close.

Then I thought of Alexandria. I thought about her needing to see her mom finish a hard-won challenge. I pressed on.

About ¾ of the way through, still struggling, I rolled over on my back again. I felt completely alone in the water. Nobody was really around me. I let the sun warm my body and I prayed again. “Please help me through this. Just please help me finish this.” I took a few deep breaths, and turned over. I found a rhythm for a few strokes, and again had stop and catch my breath. Then I bore down and found that rhythm again. Again, I stopped and took a breath.

When I finally touched the boat ramp, my swim was 8 minutes longer than I’d expected. I walked a few steps, and then jogged up the ramp to get ready for my 25 mile bike ride through rolling hills.

Leaving camp for the starting line.
I never fully recovered. I pushed my exhausted body for the next three hours and 27 minutes. The brutality of the rolling hills of Wildflower further broke me. I got off my bike three times to walk up the hills, and once to retrieve a dropped water bottle. Halfway through my ride, I began to think, “I don’t care anymore. I’m not going to win or even beat my old time. But I must finish. I just really don’t care anymore.” The only hill I felt good on was the last one, the steepest one. A fellow rider explained as she rode by, “This one’s the hardest.” In pure fury at myself, and her for telling me that as I obviously struggled with my machine, I pushed up hard and ignored the lactic acid sizzling through my legs. I channeled the chant my kids scream at me during the tough parts of my rides, “Go Mommy Go!” I reached the top and felt scant satisfaction.

During my run, I walked up every hill. I’ve never done that. I thought I was going to have an asthma attack. When I could, I ran with a group of ladies and at one point explained, “I’m struggling.” A woman replied, “We all are.”

In the end, I finished my race half an hour slower than I did in 2005. I crossed the line terribly unhappy. I felt no pride in what I’d just done. In the hours that followed, I questioned whether the sacrifices of time and money to which I’d subjected myself and my family were worth my valiant-but-fruitless effort. Dave told me I was crazy. I couldn’t help it. My body failed me. My mind failed me. I wasn’t tough enough to pull through my struggle.

Though my friends congratulated me and used the words “rocked” and “proud to know you,” I couldn’t help but think, “They just don’t know what a good time is.” I knew what I could do, and I didn’t do it. Nobody seemed to acknowledge that. I began to feel like my frustration and disappointment were wholly unjustified.

The past week has provided insight that I’ve never before needed. I realized that I’ve never had a bad race. Sure, I’ve had races where I probably missed my goal by a minute or something, but when I told that group of ladies “I’m struggling,” it was out of pure confusion. “Struggling” had never happened to me before. I didn’t know what “struggling” in sports really was.

I’ve thought of the great athletes who famously struggled and finished. Greta Waitz ran the 1984 Olympic marathon with the flu, and crossed the line crooked, limping, and delirious. There was that Ironman guy on the Gatorade commercial who limped across the finish line. Floyd Landis practically collapsed on Stage 15 of the Tour in 2006 (just forget the scandal that followed). Eric Harr, champion Ironman triathlete (and author of my training book), tells of a personal account of a race that boiled down to the following words, “At this point, it’s not about winning. It’s about finishing.”

Well, as a reluctant middle-of-the-packer, I take comfort in knowing I stand in the company of greats. My brain knows I didn’t fail. I actually succeeded. I finished. And for what it took to get to the finish line, I should be, and am, proud. I trained with two little kids and a husband who travels. I didn’t get to run very much because I have a hard time focusing when two small people perpetually need snacks, waters, throw things out of the stroller, and are generally antsy. I learned to enjoy riding my bike in the company of children. I learned to go faster when the kids chanted, “Go Mommy Go!” I learned not to dilly-dally at the gym, and that I can get a 45 minute swim workout in when the Kidz Club is only open for another 50 minutes. I learned to change my clothes fast.

Oddly, emotional closure came after talking with my sister. I explained all that I’d felt through the week. She understood. My brother in law, an incredible athlete, had a similar experience a few years ago. She told me that on race day, he’d looked up my time and upon seeing my finish, he said to her, “Your sister had a rough day today. But she finished.”

Somehow, the simple acknowledgement that someone knew my body didn’t do what it could have done, and didn’t try to sugar coat it as some sort of amazing accomplishment, felt good. He legitimized my disappointment.

I did not rock the course, although I loved reading that. I didn’t glide or fly. I was in a lot of pain. I suffered, and I get that now. I know what that is.

The amazing accomplishment of Sunday’s race was not that I did it. The amazing thing is that, through that race, I finished it. I didn’t give up.
A fuel more powerful than carbohydrates - my kids!