Thursday, January 27, 2011

Raising the Bar

My friend Kristin has written about the bleak blah that is the month of January. While many people have never had a glimpse of the beast that is depression, many of us know its long and strong tentacles can gasp at any moment, sucking us down into a pit of miry clay, if I may be so bold.

I seem to live according the rhythm of the students' calendar. With three school-aged kids and one teacher man living with me, my life is set by the school. In the 16 years that he's been a teacher, and in the years prior to that when I was a real live student, I've experienced the roller coaster that is the school year. And I will tell you that January can bite it. (Along with August, December and May.)

Usually in January, I'd be wrapped up in layers and layers of soft, elastic-waisted clothes going face down in yet another pint of Ben and Jerry's Americone Dream. But you know, I've been running. And I have these goals! And it's so pretty outside right now. And I as much as I adore Americone Dream, I just can't eat another pint. Well... maybe just a bite.

My running routine was a precise and secure process in my day, leaving the house for a run right after the troops left for school. I was faithful to my routine all the way up to the day Christmas break started. It's been downhill since, rather deliciously I might add. I took time off for a trip to Pennsylvania. Then it was icy and cold. So I lost about 4 weeks of regular running. But this week my cabin fever reached critical mass. I had to find, gasp, a new routine! Golly I hate change. It's so...changey.

It occurred to me that I did not have to run in the mornings, when it was so blasted cold. Duh. What took me so long? I don't know. And I won't bore you with the logistical craziness running in the middle of the day causes. I will just say that it's not the most convenient. Silver lining: I still get outside to do the thing I love. And this is good.


Well, a few things. One, the minor inconvenience is worth it to get something I want. A simple shift in perspective opened up a way for me to carve out the time I wanted. I know it's temporary and I can deal with that.

I also realized that I didn't have to be a martyr about running. I had run in 28 degrees and that was not fun, yet I had this misplaced idea that cowing to weather was copping out. But then, I posted to Facebook this morning "I deserve higher standards," about running when it's below freezing. Heck yeah, I do. I found a way to keep running without torturing my digits in sub-freezing breezes.

And then I realized something I'd thought before. I am often disappointed in what an easy teacher running is and how thick I am that I need pictures to grasp the bigger truth. I long for running to be this largely contemplative exercise from which I emerge an enlightened, empowered voice of untaught wisdom. Truth is, running is a pretty simple stand in for much of life.

What I mean is, we do deserve higher standards and I'm not just talking about the thermometer. And I'm not talking about keeping our houses and children perfect. I'm talking about what we allow ourselves the time to participate in. I wanted, I needed to get moving outside; there were a few obstacles and I kicked them in the teeth to get them out of my way.

I'm worth a run outside. I'm worth one hour to think and move, to pace, pray and vanish.

What are you worth? How will you raise the bar?

Monday, January 24, 2011

There is No Jen in "Steelers." Or is there...?

My love for the black and gold has been well documented. And lest you think this black and gold of which I speak is the "little black dress" and gold earrings, you'd be wise to shift your gaze to that photo up there. Yeah, that one. The one of the Terrible Towel, marked with evidence of the Steelers' victories in an unprecedented 6, count em, SIX Super Bowls.

Yes. My ardor for the Steelers does not wane. And you most likely know this already. I can't help it. I love me some Steelers.

Last night, when the Steelers reached the Super Bowl for the eighth time by soundly defeating Rex Ryan and his wily, too-little-too late Jets, the texts and voice mails poured in to my very busy phone. You guys know me so well, and I know I'm not obnoxious about it. At. All.

"Congrats!" "Well done." "That was a close one!" "See you in Dallas!" "We're going to the Super Bowl!!!!!!"

This is what I refer to as the "royal we" of sport, wherein one's entire fan base takes credit for all a teams' successes and rues all of their shortcomings. When we say "We're going to the Super Bowl," we mean it. Our passion has carried our team to the crest of perfection and we ride the wave of their muscle-bound glory.

When someone says, "Congrats," that my team has advanced, and lived to play another game, another rival vanquished, I smile and say, "Thanks," because it is through my efforts that my team has a stout defense and scrambling giant of a QB.

"See you in Dallas!" They crow. "Heck to the yeah!" I cry back. Now, I'm not really, physically going to Dallas, but MY team is. And vicariously I am. And I will make my virtual presence known. You will hear the cheer in my tweets and status updates. You hopefully will not have to experience my anguish.

It's funny how invested we get in mere sport. I get loud, chatty and a bundle of nerves. I pace and hold my Terrible Towel over my eyes on 3rd and long or, worse on 4th and 1 when we choose to go for it. My husband sits quietly remote from the crowd. He doesn't talk. He barely eats. He is a stoic stone of passivity. Occasionally, though, he will mutter and grumble like the old man in the corner. "We need to tackle," he'll say. Or, "Why are we passing. We need to force the run." As if he's right there, on the sidelines, with some kind of authority to make these adjustments.

I know nay-sayers exist. There are those in the crowd who disdain the use of the sporting royal we, rightly claiming it simply isn't so. WE are not on the team. OUR cheering makes little to no impact on the game, especially those of us watching at home. We do not need to run the ball because WE do not get to touch the ball.

Sure sure. That's TECHNICALLY true. But isn't community and team spirit the point of teams? Aren't they groups of players and spectators for a reason? Sports wouldn't exist today if not for the fan dumping his cold hard cash nto the system.
Without her passion to show up early and stay there late if that's what her team needs. If no crowd arrives, there's not much of a point, is there? They play for us and we cheer for them.

So yes, thank you for the many congrats. I'm excited we made it and I'll see you all in Dallas. Look for me. I'll be the nervous nelly pacing with a yellow towel on her head.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Mystery

I can't choose! Your theories on the lost cards astound and frankly, they frighten. I promise never to cross any of you. You are a diabolical bunch.

I got a lot of "missing persons" stuff, one Rapture (interesting) and one with a failed skydiving excursion.

My rational self leans toward the "dropped it at the bus stop" variety, which is so blase. I put myself to sleep with that meager offering.

I fear it is what you've suggested. Poor guy. In the wrong place at the wrong time, car jacking, takes a swing at his abductor, grabs his wallet and flings all three out the window to leave a trail of identity breadcrumbs.

Of course, because I didn't run enough days last week, and didn't find it til Tuesday, my efforts to return to the documents are futile. The police will uncover the ugly truth, and I'll never know what became of the two. It's all my fault for not running even though is was, like, really cold out and stuff.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Perils of a Good Samaritan

After the events from yesterday's run, I threw the challenge flag and went to the booth for replay. I viewed the mental video of the goofiest things that have happened to me when I'm out running. Not too many, but enough to give pause. Surely there's significance in this?

I'll start with yesterday. I was almost done with my run. It was cold, colder than my phone app told me it was (*shaking fist and exlaiming "curses technology"). I turned the penultimate corner when in my periphery I noticed an ID badge and a notebook on the sidewalk near a bus stop. You know how your mind sometimes takes a second to balance vision with reality? By the time I had figured out that someone had dropped important cards, I was 50 yards down the way. My stupid conscience made me go back. My plan was to move it off the path, put it in the grass, so that if the person who dropped it came back, his stuff would be right there. And that's what I did.

I ran on and my stupid conscience would not shut up. Cripes. Fine. I turned around and went back. Again. This time I was about 150 yards away. I hemmed and hawed the whole time. Should I take it to a local business? Why make it their problem? And what if they didn't do their civic duty? Could I trust them to do the important work of researching and finding the poor sod who lost his badge? Oh, and his credit card? An errand of this import could not be left to mere amateurs.

By the time I got back to the lost items, the dog was thoroughly confused and a tiny bit reluctant to keep running. I grabbed the badge, the lanyard, the credit card and the wet notebook (I refuse to think about what liquid put it in that condition). I ran home. Now the conscience pushed me on. Well, that and the cold. A shift in my day. Now I had a project on my plate I didn't really want or care to carve out the time for.

Then it got interesting.

In the lanyard were two cards, one an ID badge and one a certification from some kind of training. Neither card had a phone number. The credit card that was with the lanyard but not inside it appeared to belong to another person altogether. In other words, the names did not match. Hmm. I put my citizen's officer cap on and got to work. The only identifier was the name of the training company so I called them up. Eliza answered the phone and was very kind. She told me the man's number. I asked Eliza what state I was calling; Washington. I told her I was in Oklahoma, and she said, "My word," told her colleagues and asked my number.

I called the number she gave me for my lost person, but all I got was a weird beeping. Couldn't leave a voice mail. Then I tried to call the bank of the credit card. Yeah. Have you tried to call a bank lately? Apparently, no people work at banks anymore. You simply push buttons until you either hang up or get an answer that will have to do. I was unable to speak to an actual person. In fact, I could not get past the first set of menu options. By now my good samaritan vibe had long been replaced by irritated nice person.

But! But! My twitter friends came through for me! (Thanks, guys.) In addition to offering possible story lines for the three cards and the notebook, suggeting all manner of crimes and even the possible demise of the owner, I also got advice. One friend told me to call the police.

The police? Whatever. They don't care about that stuff. I should just put it in the mail and have done with it. But again, do I really want to trust the post office to get this stuff where it needs to be? Moreover, no mere citizen can handle this kind of sensitive issue with national implications. I have never in my life called the police, and for this I am grateful. I was kind of nervous. I called, I told them the story, rushing through it to get to the important parts. The friendly officer asked me to bring it by whenever I had a chance and that they'd try to return it.

Because I didn't want some guy's stuff in my house all week, I took it in yesterday. Two new experiences in one day. It's almost too much. Called and visited the police. Yep. I'm that girl. I told the story again, and the silver crew-cut, barrel-chested, baritoned officer called me ma'am. And he said I could come to work for them. As if.

Okay. So long story. Who cares? If you're still reading, you do. If you're gone, then you'll miss these little gems. Your loss.

Being a good samaritan is a pain in the butt. It is inconvenient. It is inviting yourself into a situation and then not getting to see the resolution. It's also a good way to have a little adventure. And, even if the dudes never get their cards back, I would have wanted someone to do the same thing for me.

The other interesting part is the story of the three cards and the notebook. How did they all come to be at a bus stop a half a world away from where they originated? How did two guys drop three cards in one place? Is it identity theft? Missing persons? I'm so curious and I'll never know, and I'm worried about them both. I want to know your theories. Leave a comment telling the story of the lost cards. I'll post the best story on Friday.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Comparison Game

I just spent the better part of an hour g-chatting with my cousin. She lives in England, had her first baby at the end of last year and is struggling to feel competent at breastfeeding. My heart aches for her because this is a vulnerable time for any new mom, least of all one who is an ocean away from her mama and other support systems. Her troubles seem to universal, but in her little three-person family, she's not feeling very normal.

Every chance I get I tell her this: "You are a good mom. This is all normal. You are doing all the right things. It is very, very hard." I tell her this because some very wise mamas told me the same thing when my babies were young and I sweated through public nursing, public bouts of tears (from both the baby and me) and public I-don't-know-what-the-hell-I'm-doings. Those words go a long, long way toward nurturing new mamas.

The truth is, we mamas can be sensitive and we need to hear those words. And not just when the babies are babies. We need to hear it when the toddler stares us down and does what we just demanded he not do. We need to hear it when the 9 year old walks away from us when we're talking. We need to hear it as we take another deep breath, counting to 10 (or 100) when the once sweet teen pops off some sass that makes us blush.

But the truth is, we don't hear it and we don't tell it to ourselves. Instead, many of us buy the lie that what's-her-face over there at play group has it all pulled together. After all, just look at her, with her impeccable mommy uniform of designer jeans, sweater set and expertly highlighted, swept-up ponytail. With her toddler who is perfectly behaved, reading already, in her designer get up that is always clean. Damn her, we say to ourselves. We hate her. We make a half-hearted attempt to push it aside, telling ourselves that she may look great, but she's probably not very smart.

And this is only the beginning. We moms face a life time of the comparison game. When is the kid reading, what school does he attend, what toys does he have. It moves on to comparing which extracurriculars and how many. Then it's grades, clothes, romantic interests, colleges,'s grotesquely unending.

I told my cousin today that if she sees another mom who has it all pulled together at the play group, that woman either is a very good actress or a liar. I want to tell her to admit to someone else, someone she respects, that she's struggling. After all, that's the only way to stop playing the game. To admit her days as a new mom sometimes kind of suck will liberate her from a lifetime of second guessing herself. She will find allies. She will discover she is, in fact, the epitome of normal. She will embrace her skills as a mom who knows her baby and she will in turn be able to give the same lessons to another new mom.

It took me far too long to learn this lesson. And it took many of those wise mamas' words to teach me to look deeper. They told me of their struggles and I realized that, in fact, they are not the ideal image of mother. Only then was I able to look beyond my own desire to keep my crap private that I learned we're all doing that. I learned to look past the perfect picture. What I saw was a bunch of moms, trying to make good choices, trying to keep it all together and trying to make it look like we know what we're doing.

I now know that there is a group of women I can call on for advice and expertise. I can ask for help. I can let myself be the mother I am, the mother my kids need, not the mother I think the world wants me to be.

Monday, January 10, 2011


My friend asked me to read the manuscript of her novel. The Oklahoma sky plays a major role in the book, and while it didn't really affect me at first read, the longer the book stews in my head, the more I'm reminded of the power of the sky.

Before you accuse me of having had too much coffee or cough syrup, let me 'splain.

I'm not from "here." I'm from there, where the sky is not an unbroken line of horizon, but a silhouette of mountains and skyscrapers. Where a deep breath fills my mind with memories of cold walks to school across frozen earth. The fight for forward progress recalls steel mills and coal. Where a sniff of summer grass hearkens back to softball games and cool summer rainstorms. Where the sense of home resonates even as it no longer exists for me as "home." There is not the wide open expanse but it does not feel crushed.

Here, in Oklahoma, the sky is a vast extremity, extending from earth to air without interruption. (Of course there are buildings and skyscrapers in Oklahoma. Just go with me, mkay?). Breathing in the Oklahoma air, my memories extend, but not as far back as childhood. This smell of home is of a fresh new marriage, birthing babies and thick summers.

Running last week, I paid particular attention to the grey clouds breaking apart, the sun fighting its way through. I thought of how the hills here would not be classified as such in Pennsylvania. It seems I have one leg firmly planted in the literal here and now of Oklahoma. And one reluctant to leave the past, literal and figurative home, of Pennsylvania.

Do others exist in such a divided mind? Do you live looking forward and backward simultaneously? Can my mind coexist in memories and hopes? Is there another way? Just wondering.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bring It

Fifty-six days until I turn forty. Can I get a woot woot?

I am not dreading this turn of events. I mean, it is inevitable, after all, right? The never ending ticking tocking sliding of the clock, thrusting us forward on our own little patch of earth. In fact, I say, bring it. Forty is the new black.

I have a friend who plans to get her first, maybe her only, tattoo when she turns forty. She's planning forty days of adventure leading up to it, trying something new every day until her fortieth. Love this idea. It banishes the black balloons and fake tombstones. It says "talk to the hand" to the adult diaper givers. It denies the denture cream. It says, "Yeah? So?"

Last year, when the eye doctor ever so gently reminded me that I was holding on to my thirties by a thread (yes, he so did), I got a little snippety. C'mon, dude. Like I don't know how old I am. And then, over the holidays, my husband said something that completely shocked me. I KNOW how old my parents are, and I am fully aware of what the forward march of time does to us as we march forward with it. But he said, "They're almost 70," referring to my parents. My mouth gaped. I about fell out of my chair.

Thinking about a number in the mid sixties is entirely different from "almost 70" because 70 is, like, a really big number. It takes a lot of years to get to 70 (about 70 if you want to put a fine point on it). If my parents are almost 70, well, hell. That means I'm, like, an adult! (Because even talking about them, it's totally about me.) If I'm an adult, well then I guess I better get some stuff sorted out.

And I am. Forget new year's resolutions. I've got daily resolutions, just like my friend who's having an adventure a day to celebrate.

I will no longer attempt to fit into other people's ideas of who I am.
I will stop whispering jokes to my husband and let him say them out loud.
I just might get me that tattoo I've always wanted.
I'm running a half marathon, so there!
I will plan a trip that is just me and my besties. On a beach.
I will stand confident and proud of what is past and square my shoulders to what's coming.

So, forty, bring it. I'm an adult, after all. I can take what you throw at me.*

*This is in no way intended as a dare, forty. Please, still feel free to be kind and to not throw too much at me. Okay? Thanks.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolving to Rant

After being out of town for ten days, our cupboards were bare. I wrote out the mother of all grocery lists and trudged off to the store. I wandered about, picking and choosing and finally finished this hated chore. Then I shoved my laden cart to the check out whereupon I was confronted with skinny models with their gaunt faces and bony chests. Where I saw "normal" sized women heralding the good news of how they dropped hundreds of pounds, posing gleefully with their super-sized pants beside them. I read the headlines. They were all the same, just spread across ten or so different titles, a loud cacophony of disapproval and shame.

"Get Skinny Now" yelled one.

"Get Skinny Fast" chastised another.

"How to tone your Tummy in 4 days" or whatever, barked yet another. They blended together.

I stood there, flummoxed, mad and really, just tired of the crap.

For one fleeting moment the huge words bombarded my self-esteem. I muttered to myself, "Well, but, it was just Christmas. I ate okay, and I run, and I'm busy and and and...." Then my woman-roar rose up strong in me and I mustered the courage to roll my eyes, instead of throwing every single one of them into my cart. I might have grabbed a candy bar just to thumb my nose in their general direction, if my cart weren't already so full.

I'm not saying, you know, don't lose weight or whatever. Do what you want. But don't do it because the lastest starlet has a new "cleanse" to push at you. Don't do it because you have that wedding coming up, or that reunion, or that...whatever. Do it because you want to.

But more than that. Don't let some stranger in a cold cubicle photoshopping images of deathly skinny girls be the arbiter of health and beauty for you. Stand back and assess who you are. You are more than a number on the scale, more than the sum of calories you put in your face everyday. You are gorgeous and you are amazing and you are you.

A friend of mine is going on a cruise and she wanted to lose some weight before she left. She did lose some weight and she looks amazing. Thing is, she looked amazing already. She looked amazing because she is amazing. She does more in one day than most of us could ever hope to manage. Her kids are awesome, her husband loves her, she always looks hip and pulled together. Is there really any more to life than that?

I'm not a huge fan of resolutions for a lot of reasons, and I can tell you about that another time. I do, however, realize that many people try to adopt change in the new year. New and good habits are to be encouraged. I understand a new year can mean a new job or lifestyle or a clean slate upon which to scrawl and dance your vivid next chapter. Go for it. Go big and go strong and go bold. Just... do it because it's you. Not because some stupid magazine disapproves of you. Because you are awesome. Just the way you are.