Thoughts

It’s simply the Best

December 9, 2016

It was one of those evenings right before the official start of winter when the cut of the cold and premature darkness still surprise you. It had been a long day at work. My brain needed an invigorating, startling freeze to reset. I pushed the door open, stepped into the parking lot and turned my face to the sky, as I always do, in hopes of a masterpiece. My God, the moon is breathtaking, I thought. What magical gifts He gives us sometimes. And then, just as I reached my car, it occurred to me … it came into focus … that solar superstar, that awe-inspiring sphere, was not the moon at all. It was, in fact my friends, a high roadside sign for Burger King.

I wish I was kidding. But alas, this is the burden I bear. My eyes are not like your eyes. My eyes are very special.

See, along with an affinity for chocolate laced with nuts and tendency to burn dinner, my mother also handed off a rare genetic eye disorder called Best Disease the day I was born.

First of all, we can all agree that Best Disease is, hands down, the absolute worst name for a disease ever. Ever! Can you imagine spending your entire life telling people you have the Best Disease? It sounds so narcissistic. Oh, you have diabetes? Well, I have Best Disease, so your second-class excuse for a disease can just have a gay ole’ time being in my disease’s shadow. Sorry bout ya. Crohn’s? Pssh! Why don’t you man up and get a real disease, son? Cuz there ain’t no disease like the Best Disease, cuz the Best Disease don’t stop …

I’ve seen it in pictures and had it explained to me a dozen times, but I’m still not 100 percent sure what this inconvenient little bitch is all about. As I understand it, it’s a form of macular degeneration that manipulates the macula in the retina. The macula is a tiny area that’s vital for seeing detail and color. We use it anytime we look directly at something, like when reading, watching TV and writing. (So, naturally, I decided to be a writer.) Members of our elite little club develop blisters on the macula that look like an egg yolk. There’s more potential for growth and decay after that, but it’s all kind of scary and gross, so we’ll leave at the yolk. It doesn’t hurt and there is no cure. It just is.

It’s like having a cool party trick that only the nerdiest people at the party appreciate. About eight years ago I thought I needed reading glasses. So I did what anyone would do. I went to a popular optometrist in town, known for having the coolest frames. I think the publisher I worked for at the time also got a fat discount through some shady deal, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, I went in, they took their pictures and put me on the end of the table to start playing Name That Curvy Figure That Vaguely Resembles a Letter.

“OK Courtney, if you could just read line 5 for me, please.””
“Sure. K … 7 … J … G?”
“Huh. OK, how about line 4.”
“9 … T … P … is that a horse maybe?”
“Interesting.”

After I murdered the test, the optometrist threw my eyeball pictures up on the screen. What happened next should have been embarrassing, both for the professional administering the exam and myself, but somehow it just happened and neither of us acknowledged the absolute absurdity of the exchange. The dude actually sat his pen down, excused himself and left the room. Only, he forgot to close the door.

“Tim! You have got to come see this lady’s pictures! I mean … you’re gonna shit.” he said to, I’m assuming, the other nerd at the party who would appreciate my trick.

Then, as casually as if he’d just dropped off a roll of toilet paper to a buddy stranded in a gas station bathroom, he strolled back in and resumed his routine. I let him have the moment.

My college roommates called them my special eyes. (Do you remember that commercial? “Look … Look with your special eyes!”) Hank still affectionately refers to them by this name whenever I think I see a cat in the yard and it turns out to be a plastic bag, and other such misunderstandings. I can see most things, but color can be tricky. I get headaches after too much reading. I crinkle my whole face and bring things about a centimeter from my eyeballs to put it all together. Sad? Not really. I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t know if my red isn’t your red. If it’s duller or distorted or muddy. I have no clue. Are the clouds closer than they appear? I mean … maybe. If you say so. I don’t know. Perception is reality, right? It’s like when someone describes The Revenant and how visually stunning the cinematography is. I’m never gonna watch that graphic shit, so I take their word for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m never going to actually see The Revenant, so what difference does it make, really? OK, that example was a stretch … But the point is, I can see some form of red and some clouds and so, I guess, don’t cry for me Argentina.

1-800 Contacts – Special Eyes from The Perlorian Brothers on Vimeo.

The poetic karmic justice of it all is that I spent years watching my mom magnify large print and smash magazines to the tip of her nose, always giggling right up to the threshold where good fun met mean-spirited, only to realize that I blinked and became the object of my own jollies. My brother sent me an email on my first day at a new job: “I can see you now,” he wrote. “Sitting in your new office, hands folded in your lap, leaning into your monitor, face smashed to the screen, granny panties halfway up your back.” I looked down and smirked. If he had a spy in the room he couldn’t have gotten any closer. It was exact. I am my mother’s daughter in many ways, but perhaps none as strongly as my blind lady posture.

And I can laugh at it. All of it.

Except then someone took Spike’s picture.

Hank and his mom both noticed it first. In several pictures where someone used the flash, one of Spike’s pupils was red and one was yellow or white. It was the strangest thing. Googling commenced. Discussions were had. It could be nothing … or it could be cancer. It could be a sign that the blood vessels in her eyes are not receiving blood. It could be a handful of devastating, gut-punching problems. But I suspected the Best.

An ophthalmologist in town was kind enough to squeeze her in at the urging of Hank’s dad. Hank took her. When he came home he did this thing that he always does when he delivers bad news. He sat down next to me on the bed, put his hand on my leg and started rubbing his thumb back and forth. “Well, it’s Best Disease.”

First I cried.

Then, I called my mom. And she cried.

“Oh honey. I know exactly how you feel. I felt the same way when they told me your sister had it. And I felt the same way when they told me you had it. And my mom felt the same way when she found out I had it. But you know we really are so lucky.”

When my mom was in her 30s she went to see a specialist at the University of Michigan. After a full day of tests, questions and observations, the puzzle still had quite a few missing pieces.

“Let me ask you this, can you read the paper?” the doctor asked her.
“Yes. I have to use a magnifying glass, but yes.” she’d answered.
“But, the point is, you can read the paper. A lot of people can’t.”

And the older I’ve gotten, and the more I’ve morphed into Marilyn and her mega-magnified dreamworld, the more I’ve come to terms with the hand I’m holding. And it ain’t so bad. You learn to laugh at things like grabbing the wrong child’s hand at daycare and walking right up to the projection screen to read your notes during a presentation and having your husband read an entire movie’s worth of subtitles to you so you can watch what all the sophisticated folks are watching. It’s all part of the deal. You learn to just ask for a paper menu at restaurants where the food is listed on boards above the register. You squint. And you get by.

And, above all, you learn that very special “p” word. Who remembers our life skill here? You learn perseverance. Because things won’t be as black and white (they might seem more dark gray and cream, depending on the light) for her as they will be for others, my second daughter’s skin will get a little thicker. She’ll learn adaptability and how important it is to let humor hold your hand when confronting adversity. And she’ll learn the truth, which is that it can’t all be easy. If it were all easy no one would know how to fight for the good stuff or fix anything.

When the shit hits the fan, I want my kid to persevere. When the menu is listed in light blue print on a dark blue board high up on the wall, I want her to kindly ask for a printed copy and get on with her face stuffing. Because nothing – and I mean nothing – should stand in the way of a girl and her chicken soft tacos with pico and extra guac. Certainly not a decor choice. And certainly not egg yolk eyes. Sometimes you gotta just put on your big girl granny panties and promptly bitch slap the hurdle at hand.

Every parent gives their kids something terrible; Whether it’s a weird big toe or pointy ears or debilitating genetic disorder. (Note: If you don’t know what this terrible thing is, you don’t know there’s something weird about you, too. Look into that.) In the long run, having something not great happen to you is a blessing, not the curse it presents as first. It’s the stuff of character and grit and the female equivalent of balls (we really need to figure that one out).

Plus, she looks so cute in her little sparkly pink glasses. I mean, you guys, so cute.

My sunsets might be made of Burger King signs and distorted shades, but at least I get them. And I know that Spike will learn to see the beauty in sunsets, too. Whatever colors they come in through her special eyes.

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. Meditation

December 6, 2016

Try that with Matt

While our denial of the fact differs – he adamantly disputes it and I fully accept it to the point of obsessing – my brother and I both experience an immense amount of stress. Mine even manifests into anxiety attacks as a cherry on top from time to time. (His might too, but he’d never tell anyone.)

This fact does not make us special, mind you. We don’t win a pity prize. Stress is the basic cause of 60 percent of all human illness and disease. Since 1 in 5 of us report experiencing extreme stress, it’s safe to say that our hectic schedules, ridiculous expectations and insane pressure to perform are literally killing us.

You might remember our monthly challenges are about improving and enjoying these insane little lives, so, in that spirit, we thought it might be a good idea to dabble in this crazy thing the kids are all trying called meditation. I’ve played in this sandbox before, of course, but something about bringing my brother along made me feel more accountable. More optimistic.

In a podcast I listened to recently, one of the guests said, “Meditation doesn’t fix stuff. It calms the water enough so we can see the stuff.” Then I guess it’s on us to fix the stuff. It’s better than nothin’. There’s a biweekly mindfulness and meditation class for stress reduction in our area. I know the instructor, Dr. Dave, through work, and he is phenomenal; One of those people who drops truth bombs and owns dramatic pauses like a boss and rolls out the blueprints to rewire your brain. It was Bring Your Bro to Class Day, and I was kind of geeked.

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**ME**

Matt had to hit the head before the meeting, so I went in with Dr. Dave. (We rode the elevator up together. Street cred, what?) There was a circle of chairs, every-other one occupied. We wouldn’t be able to sit next to each other. Maybe that’s for the best, I thought. I settled in to the one closest to the door. My brother walked in just as the action started. He looked at me and put his hands up (universal for, “What the …?”) and fell heavily into the next open seat.

“Tonight we’re going to be talking about stress and how it affects us. Specifically at work.” Ho! Ho! Hooooly good topic for my ticking timebomb of a sibling, I thought. I might need this, but no one, and I mean no. one. needs this like my brother needs this. I couldn’t have planned it better. I didn’t look at him. It’s so irritating when someone gives you that look. That oh-you-know-that’s-you look. That obnoxious side glare tethered to accusation and incrimination. It’s the worst. So I smirked into my lap.

Dr. Dave explained that stress is a nonspecific response to any demand or change, either past or present. It’s the Fight/Flight/Freeze mechanism. The interesting thing is, our nervous system (which also resides in our stomach, FYI) doesn’t stop when stressed to sort through the scenario. Is this me reliving that time I thought I lose my child at the department store? OK, that’s old news. We’re good here. No. It just tenses and twists and tortures.

How do we stop the torture? We smell the coffee, that’s how.

Mindfulness, he went on, is intentional (being present in the here and the now) and attentional (moment-to-moment sensory awareness). We are a society on autopilot. We don’t taste, we shovel. We don’t listen, we respond. We don’t explore, we run the routine. Putting on the brakes to snap out of that cycle, off of that hamster wheel, can turn the color on. When we detach from what we think needs to happen and attach to, instead what is happening, we become active participants in our lives. In this respect, being curious is healthier than being in control. And I am a person who craves control. Ask yourself, in the morning, could you take 60 seconds to smell your coffee? It’s just 60 seconds. That’s it. Could you feel the mug in your hands and the steam at the base of your nose? Could you notice the rich color? Could you smell. The damn. Coffee?

Next was putting our talk into practice. Dr. Dave led us in a flow meditation. We began in our toes. How do they feel against the floor? Are they clenched or bent? We went to our stomach. So much stress rests in our tummies. Really stop and listen to your stomach. Then we moved to right above the stomach. Then the chest. Then the jawline. Then the top of the head. These are some of the places we commonly foster tension and anxiety. Just by checking in there. By noticing. We’re doing more for ourselves than we do on any given Monday.

As I sat still and contemplated what my stomach was trying to tell me, I heard it. The Abominal Snowman of yawns. Oh my gosh, I thought, was that … Then, another. The source of these room-sucking exhalations could only be my brother. I opened one eye and looked down the row of people. There he sat. Tons of Fun, looking like he could topple to the ground at any moment. “Oh, I know!” he told me after class. “I was so relaxed, man. I almost fell asleep.” “Yeah. Caught that.”

When our final body scan was complete, I slowly, drunkenly opened my eyes. Nothing had changed except everything kind of felt like it had. You know during a pause, when a room is so still and so quiet you think you can hear the air moving? Like the buzz and natural current of the universe is bouncing off your eardrums. We all looked like a group of frat guys the morning they were released from the drunk tank. All droopy eyelids and turned down smiles. It was such a nice change from my typical psychotic post-work obstacle course run.

I left determined to keep the good vibes flowing. Matt and I agreed on 5 consecutive days, 20 minutes of meditation each day.

After I meditate, it feels like forcing myself out of a power nap. My body kind of wants to stay sedentary and hushed, but my mind is eager to pick back up and race ahead to catch up with what it missed while it was picturing air in my lungs. Right away, I realized that time would be my nemesis on this challenge. I don’t feel like I have time to sit still for 10 minutes. I write that, and then I say it out loud to myself. I don’t feel like I have time to sit still for 10 minutes! Who am I? In what universe is that an acceptable statement for someone to make about such a spec of a sliver of a day? But I do. I make that statement. And I feel that statement. And that is the problem.

Somewhere between tumultuous tantrums over tights vs. leggings and meal planning and freelancing and not cleaning, I lost the ability to sit still and hear my heartbeat. I mean I assume it’s still beating because I am frantically doing all of these things, but I’m not stopping long enough to hear it and sit with it and thank it. I’m not smelling the coffee. And I love the coffee.

I realized through this challenge that my problem might be bigger than quiet. Bigger than 5 days and 20 minutes. It’s more sizable and serious than any app, although Headspace did do its best to work with me. The problem might be my priorities. I’m feeding the stress and starving the senses. Sometimes these challenges are the answer. And sometimes they just give me more questions. And so my elusive love affair with meditation continues …

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**MATT**

Meditate for 5 days, 20 minutes at a time.
20 minutes a day.
It’s only 20 minutes.
20 minutes to sit and try and focus on myself.

For those reading this that know me, I know you’re laughing right now. You know I don’t sit still. As my old man would say, “I’m like a fart in a skillet.” I’m not sure what in the hell that means, but I’m pretty sure it means I don’t relax. It’s just not an option. Something’s always poppin’ off. My brain just doesn’t have an off switch. But Biscuits picked it, so, let the challenge begin …

First stop, Dr Dave. The class started with a discussion on “stressors” in our lives – co-workers, expectations of our employers to be available 24/7, workload, money, family, etc. We all have them, but how do we deal with them. Obviously, we all have our ways of coping. Some good, i.e. hitting the gym, running, enjoying nature … and some not so good, i.e. downing a six pack, bottles of wine, excessive eating, smoking a pack of Reds (if you are a badass). Dr. Dave was telling a room full of people looking for tools that meditation was the ticket to stress relief.

Now, this may come as a shock, but I have never meditated before. At least not consciously or soberly. So, I sat with 20 of my new best friends, closed my eyes and focused on myself. I followed his cues – take a deep breath, focus on your toes and how they feel … think about the sounds you hear, are they far away … We were trying to stop our frantic minds and be present, which is something I am very interested in trying to do more of.

Dr. Dave says if you yawn, you are doing it right. Well, i did it right. Thank God everyone’s eyes were closed because my big ass yawned about 20 times in 20 minutes, tears running down my cheeks. I was a couple of minutes away from laying on the floor in front of Dr. Dave and taking a power nap while he wrapped things up.

After the meditation session we talked about things we do to try to gather focus when we are having a stressful day. How we hit that reset button. One lady mentioned she has a stuffed animal with really soft ears in her car that she can look at or pet and focus on to try to calm her mind. Another lady has cats and watching them wake up signals her to focus on herself. For Adam Sandler fans who’ve seen Happy Gilmore, it’s finding your “happy place”. It’s letting all of the bullshit we deal with drop away so we can get back to kicking ass instead of thinking of everything we have going on at once and freaking ourselves out. I know my reset is going to the gym. What is yours?

We all strive for some sort of balance in our lives. One of the reasons this challenge interested me so much is because I struggle to be present. My mind is consumed with the things I need to do, what I should be doing, what do I have going on at work tomorrow, what do I need to do first, check my work email, return texts, laundry, do we have any food at the house to make for dinner … shit! I just missed my daughter’s entire basketball game. Why does all of this stuff consume me? I know I’m not the only one. I’m not complaining, either. It’s life, right? I get it. But the balance … The balance is what I am after.

Technology is awesome. It’s very efficient, inexpensive, so much information, but we all need to make time to disconnect and just show up. Fuck all of this other shit that I have going on or things I need to do. Uncle Map is hanging with his niece and son putting up his Christmas tree and being present in this time and enjoying the moment. That’s what makes me genuinely happy; watching my son playing baseball and having a conversation with my daughter and ex-wife. Happy is putting down the phone and being where I am, not working.

That is my biggest struggle and I am trying to be better. We can all return those texts and emails at our convenience. We can “like” our friends’ pictures and read their posts later. It will still be there. Be present and do whatever it is you are doing and do it fully.

This challenge made me think about the way we act when someone unexpectedly passes in our lives. We all step back and say, “Shit, man … life is so, so short. I need to do all of these things I want to do now because my ass could be gone tomorrow.” So you think about all of the things you want to do, then a few days pass and you are back in your daily grind and won’t think about those wants until the next big life event makes you go, “Shit, man …” That’s what this challenge did for me in a way. When you sit with just yourself for 20 minutes, it gives you time to realize all of this crap that consumes us daily – work, keeping our house up, going to this function, meetings, social obligations – at the end of the day, it’s all just noise. It’s all bullshit. What matters is your friends and family.

Life goes by so quickly. My son is 12, my daughter is 10, my folks are getting older, my nieces are growing like weeds, my buddies all have busy lives … So, when I get to spend time with these people I love, I want to do nothing but love and enjoy every second of that time because you can’t get it back. We need to stop worrying about everyone else, what they are doing, why they have a different opinion, who gives a damn? Do you and enjoy all of the people you surround yourself with and wonderful things you get to experience in this crazy-ass life.

I guess I should have started sitting still a while ago, huh?

Kids

Little JoJo and the case of the first grade burdens

November 21, 2016

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We’re working through something in our house right now … or, rather, something is working its way through us in our house. I’m not sure which way it’s going to be honest.

When you have kids, girls in particular, you anticipate some emotional ebbs and flows. I mean, think back to those tumultuous times. You get out first in ciphering. The teacher busts you passing a note about needing to poop. You get Danny from New Kids on the Block as your future husband in MASH. You want to play ninjas and your friends are all about house. Your pants split up the butt. Someone points out you’re digging out your wedgie. Those early (and late) school years are a social minefield and you’re just trying not to get blown up every day. True to the timeline, it seems our oldest chick has hit a valley and to be completely transparent, we’re not quite sure how to pull her out.

A few weeks back, on my birthday, JoJo invited me to her school. “I want to buy you lunch, mama!” she offered through that delicious, jack-o-lantern grin. How could I turn down chicken fries and refried beans charged to a card my 7 year old routinely exhausts with bags of Doritos and impulse cookies? I moved a meeting and accepted her invitation.

Now, I try really hard to be the cool mom. Because, you know, I’m guessing it beats the alternative. So, at 11 o’clock sharp on a Tuesday morning, I wedged my old woman butt onto the sticky, minuscule little stool next to my daughter and started working the lunch table.

“Hey Madison! What’s new girl?”
“You’re JoJo’s mom, right?”
“Ahhhh … yeah! Remember, I was at the Valentine’s Day party? With the fruit kabobs and M&Ms.”
“Oh, yeah.”
“Yeah, so, what’s the word? What’s happening in the first grade these days?”
“Well, we’re learning about the water cycle.”
“Whaaaaaa?!?!?!”
“Yeah, you know, condensation, evaporation, runoff …”
“Whoa. That is so cool.”
“I guess.”
“And Mary … is that you? How are you ya little cutie?”
“Hi.”
“Mary, did you get a lot of Halloween candy? JoJo said she saw you trick-or-treating.”
“I did! Like, a lot.”
“Oh man. What’s your favorite kind?”
“Kit Kat. Duh.”
“Yum, I love Kit Kats. So, do you live in our neighborhood then?”
“Yeah.”
“Well, fun! We’ll have to have you over to play sometime.”
“Yeah, but I can’t Friday. Missy’s having her sleepover Friday.”
“Missy is?”
“Yeah … all the girls are going I think.”

But all the girls were not going. Because my little girl was not going. I knew this because she runs all of her social engagements through me first and there had been no Elsa invitation sealed with a sticker. No call from a mother. No, “Can I, Mom, can I? Please, please, please.” None of that.

In these situations, there are always two navigation options. The high road, which looks something like:

“Oh gosh, Mary, that sounds so awesome. We hope you girls have a great time at Missy’s and we’ll find a day to have you all over soon.”

Or the gutter, which is more of a:

“Oh. Really? Well, Missy’s house smells like cat urine and she’s only allowed to have sugar between the hours of 1 and 3pm. So have fun with your lame little sleepover. I hope someone sticks her hand in a bowl of lukewarm water and she gets a terrible new nickname, like ‘Pissy’ or something even more terrible. We’ll be watching Kidz Bop Live on repeat and hittin’ Reddi-Wip straight outta the can at our crib, sucka, so, smell ya on the other side.”

But that is just so, so ugly. And I’m really trying to counterbalance some of the ugly in the world right now.

Not to mention I think the sleepover was really a minor symptom of a much bigger problem. Hank and I had started noticing some changes in our JoJo well before my birthday lunch. A shorter temper, angrier reactions, more emotional than usual (if one can fathom that), not wanting to go to school. Do I think that Pissy and her party were the sole catalysts for these changes? Nah. But I think there’s a piece to the puzzle there.

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Looking at my oldest daughter is like picking up large fragments of a shattered mirror. Not all, but so many of her mannerisms are identical to my own. Perfectionism? Ah, there I am. Trying too hard to please everyone? I see you, Courtney. She carries these pieces of me deep inside her, so I recognize them right away. She worries … my God does she worry. She holds herself to an unattainable standard and it levels her when she doesn’t reach it. If she isn’t winning it all, she’s losing completely. She is her toughest critic. If people don’t adopt her approach, she disengages. Over the years I’ve learned to curb some of my self-sabotaging habits, but my little girl is so far from recognizing her struggles as struggles. She just straps them on her tiny back and sinks.

Birth order is a funny thing. People always say, “Typical first child,” and for the longest time, I thought that was crap. (Spoken like a true youngest child.) But now I’m not sure. When you’re first in line, followed by a class clown who always gets the laugh, and an adorable little parrot, it has to bring a lot of pressure.

I agonize over helping JoJo find her place. She is a wonderful student, and learning, to this point, has come fairly easily for her. But that brings its own set of challenges. She looks at things differently. She over thinks and inflicts a lot of self punishment. She spends an exhausting amount of time and energy dwelling on defeat, large and small. I wonder if she’s hopping around in my footprints. If I’m unintentionally showing her how to slide right into that all-or-nothing straight jacket and tighten the straps.

Hi, my name is Courtney, and I need help being a parent.

As I age and grow as a wife, mother and temporary inhabitant of this world, I’m finding that when you are open to learn, you discover great teachers everywhere. I had plans to attend a mindfulness workshop with my brother a few nights ago and one of the participants, who’d attended the class before, mentioned that she keeps a soft stuffed animal with her in her car. Whenever she starts to get “too in her thinking mind” (translation: close to losing her shit) she reaches over and touches the soft dog. This brings her to her senses, literally – touch, taste, smell, sound, sight – and away from that trail of toxic thought. It’s a mini mediation. It brings calm.

Inspired, I went home that night and grabbed a small emoji pillow JoJo had won in a claw game. (Sidenote: Can they just eliminate all of the gosh dang claw games in all of the gosh dang restaurants and waiting areas already? Can that be a universal agreement? No, I don’t have any quarters. There are no. more. quarters.) I sat my girl down and explained to her that I wanted her to carry the pillow with her. When she felt herself inching toward yelling or pouting or losing her temper, she should rub her thumbs back and forth on the winky face and think about what it feels like. Is it soft? Is it cold? And what it looks like. Is it yellow? Are the threads coming undone? The idea is to diffuse her neurological nuclear attacks. To bring her calm through sensory awareness.

[Experiment update to come at a future date.]

It’s so simple to disassemble and assess myself. What’s working. What isn’t. What takes me off track. What stirs things up for me. But with my kids, it’s like a constant A/B test. In Marketing, it’s common practice to pit two similar strategies in design, messaging, etc. against each other and compare the results. The approach that performs better is the lever you pull going forward. There’s so much of that in parenting, except it isn’t just Choice A and Choice B. There can be hundreds of choices to test. Hundreds of strategies to try.

Is she sad because she didn’t ace her test? I need to help her fix the one she got wrong so she feels it’s complete. Or maybe I should try explaining it a different way. Whatever, she has to get over this perfection thing.

Did the girls in class leave her out? I need to have someone over for a playdate. I need to talk to the teacher. No, I need to tell her about how little girls were mean to me when I was little. I should get her a diary.

Are the other two getting too much attention? I need to take her on a mommy date. Or maybe help her find a hobby she likes. I should have let her bake those dang brownies from scratch. I need to celebrate her more.

It’s taxing trying to be the fixer.

And so maybe we shouldn’t. In “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,” Brené Brown talks about how hope is actually a byproduct of adversity. If we swoop in and try to work through things for our children, or find ways to numb the discomfort for them so they never have to feel it, we are taking away some degree of pain, yes, but we’re also robbing them of those earned feelings of hopefulness and optimism.

Not to mention sometimes I think that all that mopping up messes and bandaging bad experiences gets to me. Like I sponge up all of the ugly and sad, only to have it eventually erupt out of me and all over them after a particularly long day.

Then, the other morning, the biggest Brené gift yet was placed in my lap with a generous red bow. So I opened it. Christmas come early! After surviving a stupid morning triggered by a 2-hour fog delay, I raced to put JoJo on the bus. As I finally watched her hesitantly shuffle across the street to the big yellow bird, which would carry her to the battlefield to face problems I’ll never see and can only hypothesize about resolving, I hit play on my audiobook and listened as the narrator read Brené’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto.The smooth voice filled my car …

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And the game changed.

I don’t care what stage of parenting you’re in. What problems your children have, or you have, or this world has, those words are a beautiful, soul-shaking truth bomb. I will print them out and hang them in my closet, in my office and on my fridge. They are the ticket. They are the door, the bridge, the gospel. I want to have them tattooed onto my crowded, burdened brain.

I can not wipe my daughter’s struggles clean. Whatever she’s working through now, it won’t be the last time she has to sort through things to find her balance and her bearings. My fear and worries and apprehension and anger won’t absolve her of adversity. But I can hold onto the hope that letting her work through whatever she’s facing now, knowing I’m standing right at her shoulder, will carry her one step closer to being a capable little warrior of this world.

I will pull up a chair at her table. I will curl up next to her in her bed after the battle. I will let her snot and sob on my sweater. I will hand her a small emoji pillow or a tissue or a baseball bat (whoa, just kidding there). I will do my best to be strong, confident and vulnerable in all the best ways, so maybe she feels empowered to do the same. I will show up for her when the Pissys of the world don’t. And I will work toward being wholehearted and kind to myself so her sweet, impressionable little ticker starts to fill up, too.

(Unless anybody has any better ideas. In which case, private message me immediately.)

Thoughts

Paul’s Boots

November 12, 2016

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I don’t know about you, but this week left me feeling chewed up, spit out and nauseous as hell. I’m not going to talk about politics here because quite frankly I’ve exhausted my arguments and understanding, but I’ve slept, stayed off social media, gone for a run, and all I will say is that the world better just prepare itself for the shit storm of love I’m about to unleash on it, starting with this amazing short film REI released this week. Live this life. Love these people. Spend time somewhere magical.

JoJo Just Said, Spike Speak

Sisters say what? (Vol. 4)

November 10, 2016

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“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … seven girls for milking…” – Spike

“Mom, I think I’m allergic to cars. I’m always sneezing and breathing and all of that allergic things in cars.” – Spike

“If she didn’t eat dinner, her bloodline probably dropped.” – Spike

“Shut your nut hole, Spike!” – JoJo
“What did you say?” – Me
“What? That’s a nicer way of saying shut up.” – JoJo

“I’m trying to clean them with my eyelashes.” – Spike, blinking frantically with her new glasses on

“I laughed so much I was tears!” – Spike

“See how it’s a patter-in? Mama, see?” – Spike

“I’m sweats!” Spike

“I don’t think of that. Every night I think of faces on hearts before I go to bed. And sometimes it still turns into bad dreams. But that’s OK.” – Spike

This was Spike’s first week of preschool. She met a boy, and they fell in love. It happened so fast …

“Guys, c’mon get dressed. You can’t go to school naked.” – Me
“Mama, guess what.” – Spike
“What?” – Me
“My face will always be naked.” – Spike

“Let’s make this simple. We should just have dinner on Friday nights like we do with Grammy and Papa. Because we’re sisters.” – Spike

“Look! A forever-green tree!” – Spike

“How was your day?” – Me
“Horrible. Embarrassing.” – JoJo
“Oh gosh! Why so bad?” – Me
“Because my teacher couldn’t read my name and she called me up by her desk forever and it was terrible.” – JoJo
“Why couldn’t she read your name honey?” – Me
“Well, I wrote Courtney Jr.” – JoJo

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“I was chasing this cat and it went into the woods and all the sudden it was a bunny. And then these boys, who litter, came up and they were like, ‘you’re a farty fart’, and I was like, ‘I’m going to do all these tricks to you,’ and so I picked up some grass and threw it at them, I picked up a bike and threw it at them, I picked up a stick and swung it at them, and then, they were like running, and then they pushed me.” – Spike
“Whoa, whoa, whoa … I need to find their parents right now and talk to them!” – Me
“I don’t think they even have parents. It’s so sad.” – Spike

“Mom, when your underwear matches your pants, that’s fancy.” – Spike

“So, Mom, what do you think about Hillary Clinton? You know, I just don’t like either one of those contestants. That Donald Trunk or Hillary … Do you? I just think I love President Obama. He’s the only president I’ve known in my life!” – JoJo, sitting with her legs crossed, getting frozen yogurt

“Why are they wearing those panties?” – Girls, watching male synchronized diving

“I wanna see that.” – Spike
“What?” – Me
“That movie. Ya know, Critics Agree.” – Spike
“I think the movie’s called Pete’s Dragon, honey.” – Me

This was an apology letter JoJo wrote to another little girl in the after-school care program after she spit on her. Which, apparently all the kids were doing. All the kids, however, did not try to pay their victim off with one drawn dollar.

mil-letter

Thoughts

To Courtney, with love on her 34th birthday

November 3, 2016

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Today I turn 34.

As an early gift from the universe, I had the best conversation with one of my oldest girlfriends last night. We talked about expectations and pressure and our dreams and stress and our shortcomings and all the other hangups I regularly write your eyes off about. It was one of the most honest conversations I’ve had with someone face-to-face in some time. I live for talks like that with people like her. We cruise along on canned exchanges – How are you? I’m great, and you? – but when you really dig in and expose all the sores and bruises and shared struggles, that’s when it gets really good. That’s when it changes us.

Then this fell into my lap, so I unwrapped it:

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This pursuit I’m in. This journey I’m on. At the brink of my 34th year, it finally gets a name. I am a woman absolutely seeking wholeheartedness. And man, aren’t we all?

My friend said so many times, “I just want peace, ya know?” I do. I looked at her face and into her well-intentioned heart and I thought, I 100 percent know. Because I want peace, too. Not only for me, but for my children and my family and my friends and my neighbors and the gal who pumped gas next to me this morning.

Whether you call the monster scarcity, as Brené does, or guilt or shame or by some other ugly name, the feelings of inadequacy that we carry on our shoulders all weigh the same and all hurt the same. And what do they get us, really, other than a shared sense of “not enough”?

But I get a wish today. So, here it is … In my 34th year, I wish for freedom from the poisonous lies and bullshit that scarcity whispers in my ear every day. I wish for more contentment and peace and strength. I wish to become friends with the idea that I do enough. I give enough. I am enough. And I wish to reinforce those same feelings in every person I meet.

Here’s to wholehearted living! I’m comin’ for ya …

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. Filth filters

November 1, 2016

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Disclaimer: If you don’t care for cuss words, STOP! This is not the post for you. I promise I will not be offended if you politely pass on this one. (Mom, I’m talking to you.)

My brother and I were raised by the same sweet, perfectly imperfect people. We grew up under the same roof. We have just 6 years difference between us. We fished from the same pond of traits in the same country field. And while there are similarities reflected in our demeanor, one rises above the rest. I would say if heredity loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger, the powder in our gene pool was definitely packed with profanity, because my brother and I both have a hardy fervor for four-letter words.

In a recent Time article, featuring research by Melissa Mohr, she estimated that approximately 0.7% of the words a person uses in the course of a day are swear words. Compare that with the use of first-person plural pronouns — we, our and ourselves — which we use at about the same rate. The typical range of cursing goes from zero to about 3%, with your three-percenters being the guys in Wolf of Wall Street and zero being … well, nobody I know. Or at least spend a substantial amount of time with.

What does one say, for instance, when they step on a Lego on a 1 a.m. trip to the bathroom, if they don’t cuss? If you’ve ever done that, you know, like I know, that “Oh, phooey and fiddle sticks!” ain’t gonna cut the mustard. And it shouldn’t. One study, Mohr notes, found that swearing helps alleviate pain. If you put your hand in a bucket of cold water, you can keep it in there longer if you say shit rather than shoot.

That sounds like rock solid evidence in support of cussing to me.

My brother worships at the pulpit of profanity just as often, if not more, than I do. I’d say it’s a direct reflection of how we were raised, but the argument doesn’t necessarily hold water since my mom and sister are actually pretty innocent. My mother seriously refers to the F-word as “the purple word.” Dad on the other hand … Oh, Big Rog. As kids, and still today, no exasperating task or exchange went unpunctuated by a JC-bomb from the patriarch of our household.

“Dad, sorry to wake you. Can you come pick me up? I shouldn’t drive.”
“What? Who is this? Jeeezuz Christ. Yes.”

[Dad, lifting a couch]
“Jesus Christ, that’s heavy.”

“Dad, I got another speeding ticket.”
“I mean, Jesus Christ Courtney.”

[Dad, sliding on ice and falling to the ground]
“Uh! Oh! Jesus Christ!”

Our dad is kind of like Ted. You know, from the movie Ted. He’s cuddly and awesome and hilarious but filthy things fly out of his mouth, sometimes predictably and sometimes with very little warning. I adore the guy. I’d also say he offered Matt and I an introductory course in how one curses effectively. We might have missed the day he covered frequency though. We’re definitely overachieving there.

What, you’re asking yourself, does any of this have to do with our monthly challenges used to better ourselves? Well, recognizing our weakness for dirty words and tendency to speak louder in an attempt to get the response we want, we wanted to see what would happen if we tried:

No cussing or yelling for 10 days.

Imperfect as we are, we built in room for error. We kept tallies of every time we accidentally let something fly and the person with the fewest hash marks at the end of the challenge would get a case of beer, loser’s treat.

**MATT**

I grew up with a father that could let it fly. God love him, great dad, but this was before Prozac or Zoloft so every now and again you had to let it be known how you felt. Especially if some asshole stole his parking spot. Or the time I was helping him paint but fucking up his boards, so I got my walking papers. And if you are working on something with him, that son of a bitch isn’t getting put together or fixed without some damn dirty expletives flying.

Fast forward to adulthood. I’m a grownup. I’m Just Matt and I just like to let my filthy mouth fucking go. When DSS told me the challenge for this month – 10 days without cussing, loser buys beer – I thought, man this won’t be that bad. I mean, yeah I cuss quite a bit, but I can shut it down for 10 days. Free case of beer, sign me up!

I laugh as I write this because it prompts me to look back on, not just the last 10 days (which I’ll get to in a second), but my entire life. The first bomb I dropped was on my Grandpa, God rest his soul, when I was just 6. He was waiting to speak with me on the phone and my older cousin thought it would be a great idea if I picked up the line and said, “Hey mother fucker!” Not only was that my first bomb, but it was also the first time I got my mouth washed out with soap.

When I was in fourth grade, I had a birthday party at my house. Me and my buddies called a couple of girls from school. Of course we were on multiple phones and had no idea my mom was also on the phone. I dropped an F-bomb. Mom came storming upstairs, sat us all down and asked who said the “purple word”. (Sidebar: You’re probably wondering why she called it the “purple word”. I know, me too. She’s always called fuck the “purple word” and none of us have ever known why and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know why either. This from a woman who also used to flip people off on a regular because she innocently thought it meant, “up yours”.) Being that we were all just a bunch of little girls when confronted by parental muscle, we blamed it on one of the sweet honeys we were awkwardly talking to, watched Revenge of the Nerds and called it a night.

Back to the challenge and day one. No sweat, right? It took one hour maybe before I spewed my first couple of profanities, which tend to come from my mouth in nice little bundled packages. That way the recipient can unwrap them all at once, or one at a time if they choose. I found myself starting to say something, then stopping mid-statement because I didn’t know how to express what I wanted to say without cussing. It was so sad! I sat in silence quite a bit. A friend of mine at work, even said, “This sucks, I can’t wait for you to cuss again.”

On the second day, I felt a bit more stressed than usual and didn’t quite understand why. I mean work was busy, yeah, and I’d only slipped up a couple of times throughout the day. I was realizing what a release cussing is for me and I was feeling a little lost without it.

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Days 3-5 definitely got easier and I called DSS at the end of one of these days to give her an update. I was looking forward to the end of this challenge like it was an all-inclusive trip to the Bahamas in January. These few short days had taught me that I didn’t need to clean up my mouth. No … fuck that. In its absence I had come to realize and accept my unwavering and undeniable love for cussing. You guys, I fucking love it. It made me happy and got me through the challenge just to sit and think about cursing again. It was like my girlfriend was coming back from summer camp.

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At the end of the first week, the competition was close. I want to say it was maybe 11-7. DSS was winning, but I felt dialed in. Until I realized I was heading to Chicago Saturday evening for a buddy’s birthday, I know what you are thinking and you would be right. Yes, I, Just Matt, was completely fucked. I held strong for the first couple of hours, but you can‘t drink for 9 hours, go to a Hawks game, watch the Cubs win the NLCS and secure a spot in the World Series and not throw around some high fives and “fuck yeahs”.

End of the weekend: DSS 9, Just Matt 382

I was ready to throw in the towel and go back to my profanity laden ways, but I went the full pull and kept it as clean as I could for those couple additional days.

There’s a lesson in everything and, in this case, it was that you never know how much love something until it’s gone. I think everyone should try and give up something they cherish deeply for 10 days. Whether it’s food, cocktails, sex, gambling, smoking … I’m not saying that you should necessarily return to these things after the trial separation, I mean, I did, but it could show you you’re strong enough to go without. Of course in my case it illustrated that 1) I cuss a lot, and 2) it’s a huge fucking release for me. I don’t need to yell, beat my dog or push tiny people down. No, just let me say what I’m feeling and I am good to go.

I know now, much more than I did before, that l genuinely love to cuss. I celebrate each and every letter in my entire vulgar vocabulary and it will never be sidelined again. Hopefully you get a laugh out of this. Hopefully it helps you realize that it’s OK to be yourself. We’re human. So just say “fuck it” every now and again and quit taking life so damn seriously.

**ME**

I once had a sweet coworker tell me that she loved the way I used bad words because it seemed so natural. We all have talents, people. Maybe you can tie a cherry stem with your tongue or do big multiplication problems without writing them down. I can effortlessly swear in a way that would make the sailors on Queen Anne’s Revenge blush.

Cussing for me is not an intentional choice. I’m not making a stand or trying to be shocking or rebellious. It is entirely organic. Whatever that process looks like – from initial stimulus being received to thought processing to sentence forming – my brain has a tendency to pick profane over plain. It’s a force greater than me. My mind surveys the 30,000 words sitting on the shelves up there, filters out all the fluffy crap, and instinctively chooses the ones filed under “censored”.

Picking a favorite is like sorting through the pros and cons of my own children, but it’s a safe bet to double down on fuck. It’s everything; a noun, an adjective and a verb. It’s always close by to lend the umph that I need. It never lets me down. Yes, when it comes to my potty mouth, it is very likely my favorite turd.

There are those who might argue that a woman of a certain age should avoid glamorizing this crude vocabulary. Know what I say to those people? I say, they’re entitled to their opinion. (See, now wouldn’t that have been better if I’d said, “I don’t give a flying fuck”?) I used to worry about being perceived as vulgar or offensive or immature. But I don’t anymore. I’ve learned that a filthy mouth is just part of me, like lip picking and unexplainable baby hairs at the front of my hairline.

A piece featured in Forbes read, “Contrary to the common wisdom, research has shown that obscenity has no effect on speaker credibility but does significantly increase both the persuasiveness of the speech and the perceived intensity of the speaker. It demonstrates passion and passion moves people to action.” So put that in your pipe and puff it. I think it’s all about timing and knowing your audience.

I drew nine tallies over the ten days. It got sticky once I made the initial offense, because my instinct was to follow up the error with an expletive. I had to literally speak at a third of my usual pace, constantly pausing to take inventory of the assortment of words I was about to send hurling past my lips. Do you know how exhausting that is?

But, surprisingly, it wasn’t the obscenities that got me most. It was the yelling. Let me tell you something about herding 3 children, 7 and younger, through the morning routine and out the door by 7:15am. (If you do it too, I don’t have to tell you anything.) It requires yelling. Lord knows I tried. The first couple of days I was so calm you’d have thought someone shot me in the ass with a tranquilizer dart. I cooly and collectedly coached the children to get dressed; to get dressed; to get dressed; to brush their teeth; to get their shoes; to get their shoes; to tie their shoes; to eat their breakfast; to get their coats on. Even if I had to ask 10 times. I did it at a reasonable volume with an encouraging undertone.

But I’m sorry, that shit is not sustainable. By day three I was back to my ole handy escalating request cadence, which kicks off at your basic, “Will you please?” and gradually rises to a DEFCON 5 “Put your shoes on, get in the car and stop whining or I will leave you!” based on the number of times the request is made and the meltdown fired back in retaliation. I just couldn’t put this weapon aside, no matter how many times I reached for the mantra, “Peace begins with me.” (Guru Gabrielle Bernstein clearly doesn’t have any kids.)

At one point in the challenge, Matt called and basically told me he didn’t know how to talk anymore. I felt bad for him. It was like he was lost and robbed of all joy. He was a little boy who just wanted his puppy back, and that puppy’s name was Fuck. While I missed my favorite four-letter friends like Reese’s eggs in August, my longing could never compare to my sibling’s.

I think it’s safe to say my sailor mouth is here to stay. And I’m cool with that (it’s my hidden talent, after all), but the challenge wasn’t for nothing. On those days where I was able to control how I communicated with my chicks, I did notice their response was calmer. Did it take a little longer to get out the door? Um … yes. But is it worth it? Probably. I mean, as long as I don’t miss the bus again because that driver is not going to let me chase her down anymore. It was a good exercise anyway.

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I guess if I had to offer anything to summarize our October experiment, it would be think before you speak. Then either choose to calm yourself or throw that filter out the fucking window and paint the world with the punch of the purple word. We could all use a little more color.

cheers

Wellness

How to properly play the shame game

October 27, 2016

Subj: Your race day photos are here!

Pictures are a strange thing, aren’t they? Depending on the angle, the movement, the moment, they can either elevate you or level you. How silly that a simple image – a blink, a blip – can have such impressive power. And the photos in this email were going to be special. Not only would they offer some frameable moments with my bestie and proof I showed up, but they would also capture my epic photobomb of a dear family friend at the finish.

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But it was another bomb that detonated that day.

I opened the email. “Oy, that’s a rough picture,” I thought, not overly rocked. I clicked “next”. My face scrunched higher. “That’s not-a … not great either.” As I scrolled, my eyebrows raised and met in a rippled, disgusted collision between my eyes. The cadence of my finger on the mouse quickened. “Next”. “Next”. “Next”. I squinted and tightened my lips, revealing the tops of my bottom teeth. These proofs, all of them, were painful. Sobering.

Now, let’s pause here, shall we? This post is not an easy post to write. It’s also not an invitation for criticism or a passive plea for praise, though I can see how it would be mistaken for such. It is, like all musings on this blog, merely an observation and pitstop on my personal road to self discovery and improvement. I nearly ditched the topic altogether when, on two separate occasions in the past two days with two separate friends, the mere mention of this blog was instantaneously halted by dams of positive praise. “Stop! You look great.” “Oh my gosh, you’re crazy!’ Which, to be fair, is exactly what I would do, because that’s what our friends and parents are supposed to do. They’re trained to do it. It’s what’s socially acceptable. But I wasn’t baiting the hook that day, and I had no desire to go fishing.

Hand over my heart, I’m just trying to start an honest dialogue about the distance between the pins on my map. The ones marking where I thought I was, where I am, and where i want to go. I should be able to talk about that without people instinctively coddling my delicate inner child, or thinking I’m licking rice cakes and crying over Coldstone Creamery, or (the worst) that I brought my ego out for a good stroking only to be put back on the shelf for a few weeks before I prompt them to appease me again. Not that I think these girls thought that, or that I would think that about them if the conversation were reversed. I just think we’re so quick to console and then shut it down, rather than engage and encourage real change in the people we love.

What if, instead of my weight or my shape, I was commenting on my smoking habit. Seriously … just think about it. If I came to someone and said, “Gosh, you know, I’ve been smoking for years and I really think it’s time to reign it in and clean things up around here.” No one would say, “Oh Courtney … it relaxes you and you’re only having 8 a day!” No.

When I was training for that race, I didn’t feel great. I felt amazing after the long runs, yes. But mostly because they were over. I felt empowered by my endurance, yes. But my body didn’t feel like the body of a person who was running 8, 9, 10 miles. It felt weak. Like I was willing it to perform. Still my perception of the changes happening to my body was positive. But to lay it all out there, what I was seeing in myself throughout the 12 weeks was something that far exceeded the woman floundering in front of me on the screen in those post-race pics. And, you guys, that’s OK. l’m OK addressing it. In fact, I feel empowered and kind of on fire because of it.

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If Oprah and I were sitting around chatting about our truth and what we keep in our closets and all those hidden jewels she digs up when people perch upon her magic couch, a lot of things would come out. I used my heightened exertion as a free pass to take all foods – sweet, salty, fried, fast – to Pound Town. I was eating to compensate for what I thought I was burning … what I wasn’t burning. And I wasn’t eating to fuel, either. I was eating for fun. And from boredom. And as reward.

But as my new best friend Brené Brown (whose book, “Rising Strong” is currently blowing my mind and should be on your goodreads list right now) says, “Shame cannot survive once spoken.” So I’m sayin’ it, baby: I have not been good to myself.

Again, let’s pause. I want to be clear that this is not a body shaming situation, guys. (When did everything become “shaming” anyway? Fat shaming. Skinny shaming. Bachelor shaming. I actually had a craft beer guy at a liquor store cider shame me once.) That’s not my jam. I love my body. This body carried and delivered three babies. It ran 13.1 miles … twice! It carried me over close to a dozen mountains on zero sleep for four consecutive, very cold days. And it has held up generally well considering my lackluster maintenance regimen. It is flawed, yes, for many reasons, many of which I count as my biggest blessings.

This is not a conversation about vanity. It’s about confronting personal negligence. It’s about acknowledging my sincere love for this body and where I want to see it go, then finding the silence to listen to what it is telling me it needs to get there. I rarely sit in quiet. Do you?

By this point in the post you’ve either bailed (therefore not reading this) or you’re straddling the fence between empathy and exasperation. I get it. I anticipated that. I’ve wanted to write about my come-to-Jesus moment for weeks, but haven’t. I haven’t because body image is icy. Everywhere you look people are either embracing their full figures and shutting down shamers, or collecting criticism for projecting unrealistic expectations onto young girls. You can’t win for waking up in the morning. It’s slippery and juicy with judgement. And because I don’t count myself as obese or emaciated, but somewhere in the soft center, I often feel I don’t have the right to voice my dissatisfaction with what I see. But considering 91 percent of women report being unhappy with their bodies, I don’t think I’m necessarily alone out on this limb, either. I don’t think I’m the only person to ever declare: I have work to do here!

Not only do I often fear it’s unjustified, it also seems baited. Because I have 6 little eyes constantly watching my reactions and listening to my self-deprecating commentary. One day, when I went to pick up the girls, JoJo walked up and handed me a piece of paper.

“Here Mom.”
“Thanks! What is this?”
“It’s the number for Nutrisystem.”
“Ohhhhh … OK. JoJo, can I ask, do you think I need Nutrisystem?”
“Well, you’re always talking about how you ate too much, and they help people who eat too much.”

Boom! Trap snapped.

Standing there, holding that piece of paper, my mind Googled every phrase I’d uttered over the past 7 years that had anything to do with being pregnant with a food baby, stuffed, gross and, yeah, fat. The results were deep.

But that’s more of a word choice issue I’d say. I do want them to see me striving, reaching, working hard to be something more tomorrow than I am today. Again, the war I’m waging is not against my body. It is for my body. I choose to fight it out of my desire to be strong. It is a battle rooted in love and love is nothing without respect. Respect for where I’ve been. Respect for where I want to go, and know I can. I have not been respecting this body. What I saw in those pictures was the mirror I’ve been refusing to buy. (You know the one in the dressing rooms at Target that makes you look green and cellulitey.) It was a face-down moment, and what comes next is up to me.

Brené defines integrity as, “choosing courage over comfort. Choosing what is right over what is fun, fast and easy. And choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” She goes on to explain that people tend to treat you the way they see you treating yourself. You have to stand strong in your integrity.

I carve out at least 30 minutes every morning to move. I have lost 36 pounds since having Sloppy Joan two years ago. I have made great strides and I’m not embarrassed about the way I look, but I have regrets tied to my stalled progress. I have regrets about where I could be compared to where I am. And I’m not mad about that.

Regret is another label with a bad reputation. Why should we pocket regret? Why shouldn’t we listen to it and use it to fire us up inside? In Rising Strong, Brene writes, “To say you have no regret is to deny the possibility of a braver life.” Heck yeah I want a braver life! It’s indifference that really frightens me. Feeling regret is a cue that I want something more. It instigates motivation to change. Casey spoke about her fear of an uninteresting life and I think a lot of us shoulder that same worry. What would happen if we took all the energy we spent mourning and rolling around in regret and instead harnessed it as a fierce catalyst to move in the direction of our dreams?

I was listening to a podcast recently with the blogger from Strong Coffey. She was talking about the power of redirecting our thoughts of comparison. “When you’re about to unleash all the negative things in life, try to hold onto it, regroup and instead share a little more of who you wish you were these days.” It’s an exercise in visualization. Instead of letting yourself be swallowed by feelings of inadequacy, by the regrets, focus on where you, personally, are going. It’s your journey. Keep your eye on the prize and your feet and heart will follow.

half-marathon-finish-2015

Brené also shares, “There is so much knowledge in our bodies and we just have to learn how to listen.” My arms are telling me to lift what’s heavy. My head is telling me to stop sleeping with the sexy excuses. My gut is pleading with me to shed the secret sugar binges and grab what’s clean. My feet are reassuring me they can go further. It’s talking and I’m really trying to quiet down and listen.

I’ve covered miles and have miles to go. I’m just giving my shame a name in an effort to shut it down and make it something that waters my soul instead. Something that feeds and fosters growth. I want this for the little ones watching my example, of course, but mostly for the me I haven’t met yet. I want to find her, years from now, on a sun-lit peak just inches from the clouds, with a big smile on her face and nothing but light and love in her heart. I’m not asking for your sympathy or for you to talk me down off the ledge. But if you ever want to meet me at the top of the mountain, I’ll save ya a spot.

Some Kinda Superwoman, Uncategorized

Some kinda Superwoman: Casey

October 13, 2016

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I discovered the book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” by Christopher McDougall about 3 years ago. It must have been on someone’s Pinterest board or blog or podcast or some such stream that feeds into the fire hose of information I drink every day. Or perhaps it was dumb luck, I mean, divine intervention, because a book about the journey of ultramarathoners, including the Tarahumara Indians who reside in Mexico’s Copper Canyons, to ultimately cover 100 miles of unfathomable terrain in Leadville, Colorado, isn’t my typical jam. But I read every page. And I’m telling you, I loved it.

It had history, suspense, running tips, entertaining exchanges between characters, adversity and, of course, plenty of perseverance (our word of the month). I was so taken by this story, I became a book pusher; urging anyone who would listen to dive into McDougall’s masterpiece. In my mind, Leadville, and the superhuman race held in its mountaintops, were fantastic fictional plot elements.

So when my old editor posted an Instagram declaring she was in fact training for the balls-to-the-walls, take-no-prisoners, merciless, infamous, real life Leadville Trail 100 Run, my fingers couldn’t keep up with my thought bubbles.

“Casey! Are you doing this race?!?!?!”
“Yup!”
“Holy shit! You are such a badass woman. When is it?”
“Badass or crazy. In August.”
“Gah!!!! I’m so excited for you. You’ll kill it.”
“You should come run some of it with me.”

I felt it was best for all parties involved to insert a laughing emoji and slide out of the conversation at this point. I marked August 20 in my calendar and immediately started stalking her training through social media.

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A bit of background on Casey. We worked together on a food magazine in Indianapolis for about five years after I graduated from college. She made me nervous because her talent demonstrated where the bar was set for grownup writers, but she was never cocky or condescending. The opposite actually. She was hipster before hipster was a significant social class, with her PBR and her folk jams. And she was living proof that life beyond my post-college, early 20s buzz wasn’t entirely bleak. I adored and admired her.

To know Casey is to know Casey runs. She ticked off a full marathon or two in the time we worked together and spent hours encouraging me to get out there. That passion is just part of her, like a loud laugh or short temper. Her husband Bill, a respected educator and writer in his own right, is a runner as well. They’re really cool people. As a result of this street cred, and the sheer awe of the feat ahead of her, Casey’s quest to conquer 100 miles in the air-sucking altitude of some of Colorado’s toughest peaks conjured up some strong supporters.

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Her story of Leadville, much like Christopher McDougall’s, is a master class in courage. Brave, to me, is pushing yourself beyond what’s comfortable and familiar. Brave is sharing what you learn about yourself, even if it could be perceived as weak to some. Brave is this post. In “Rising Strong”, Brené Brown writes, “I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can not have them both. Not at the same time.”

I hope you enjoy reading Casey’s recount of her journey because I tell ya, she really is some kinda Superwoman.

“You don’t have to be fast. But you’d better be fearless.”
— Christopher McDougall (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen)

By Casey Kenley

AT THE BASE OF HOPE PASS, ABOUT 40 MILES into the race, everyone around us pulled retractable walking sticks out of their backpacks — everyone except us. It was the first real sign that I might be out of my league. I was attempting to finish the Leadville Trail 100 Run in the Colorado Rockies, an ultra-running race with an elevation gain of 18,168 feet and fittingly called “the race across the sky.” With hundreds of other runners tricked out in headlamps and running gear, I had crossed the start line back in Leadville at 4 a.m. that morning and had already made it up two big climbs; down a slick, rut-riddled descent; and across plenty of miles of rocky trail.

I was at the base of Hope Pass for a few reasons. First, nine months earlier, I was still flying high from my first 100-miler when my good friend Holly suggested that I put my name into the lottery for Leadville. I assumed my chances of getting in were slim to none, so I filled out the online form in December 2015, said goodbye to my $15 registration fee, and waited. If you are accepted into the lottery, you are immediately registered and divested of $315. I was one of the lucky 356 people from around the world who got in. And second, I was at the base of this mountain because I was avoiding a challenge that seemed far greater than running 100 miles: writing a book. When I trained for my first 100-mile race, I spent every Friday for nearly five months running for hours on end. I told myself that once I checked that distance off my bucket list, I would devote all those valuable Friday hours to writing a book. When I got into Leadville, that was impossible because I had to start running again.

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So there I was, on Aug. 20, 2016, facing Leadville’s deal breaker of a climb, moving from a flat, grassy plain up into dense woods. The pace almost immediately slowed to a slog. If your thighs deserve some punishment, you won’t find any mercy on this hill. Every 15-20 minutes, I stepped to the side of the trail, planted my hands on my knees and coerced my lungs to pull a decent breath of air as we climbed from 9,200 to 12,600 feet elevation. I waved people coming up behind me to pass. My heart never raced like this during my runs in Indiana.

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I was making my way up the mountain with Jessica, who I’d met about 20 miles back on the trail, when we had both avoided a nest of ground bees that had settled right on the race course, or rather we had blazed our trail through their home. Either way, they were not happy. Jessica lived in Los Angeles, moving there from the East Coast just a few months prior after a tough breakup with a long-term boyfriend. She ran in college and was about 10 years my junior, with a gloriously broad smile and straight brown hair. I was the “veteran” ultra-runner, with several 50-milers and one 100-miler completed. We shared stories about our families and jobs. We clicked.

The uphill switchbacks just kept coming. When I looked anywhere besides the trail under my feet, the steep drop-offs made me wobble and lean. There was no groove to settle into. My legs and those organs that typically are useful in long-distance running weren’t going to get comfortable with this sort of effort. I wasn’t a complete lost cause. I dressed well: compression shorts, a long-sleeved technical-fabric shirt and the ball cap that never failed me. The hydration vest on my back held plenty of water, its front pockets armed with Fig Newtons, electrolyte supplements and salt tabs. A couple miles back, we had waded through a freezing creek up to our knees, which brought relief to tired legs for a while. Still, my footfalls became lazy and short.

“Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.~Ken Chlouber, Colorado miner and creator of the Leadville Trail 100 mile race”
— Christopher McDougall (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen)

“It’s not long now,” someone said. An aid station would be at the top of Hope Pass. Once we hit that aid station, I thought to myself, we’re home free, back down the other side of the mountain to hit mile 50, the halfway mark on this out-and-back course. Aid stations at ultra races are oases for runners. Eager volunteers refill your hydration bladders and water bottles. Covered edge to edge are tables laden with potato chips, pretzels, PB&Js, cups of ramen noodles, boiled potatoes with salt for dipping, M&Ms, chunks of banana and orange wedges, and more. My favorite: bubbly Coke to ease upset stomachs and give you a jolt of sugar and caffeine. Aid stations appear about every five miles in ultra races, and the key is to make sure you’re eating enough calories to sustain up to 30 hours of nearly continuous running, about 9,000 calories total. The key is to do whatever it takes to just finish this 100-mile race.

After about two hours of climbing, I knew I was in trouble. At most of the aid stations at Leadville, you have to arrive by a certain time in order to continue. My cushion of about 1.5 hours ahead of the cutoff times was dwindling. The idea is that if you can’t make it to each checkpoint by a certain time, there is no way you can finish the race under the final cutoff time of 30 hours. Race organizers don’t want delirious, damaged, reckless runners on the trails during a race they’re managing. And when you have run 20 hours or more, chances are pretty good that your judgement is impaired. I once came across a runner during a 50-mile race who had curled into a fetal position to take a nap in the woods. He was carried out by the race director on an ATV. I met a guy during a 60-kilometer race who was slicked with mud all up his right side. He told me he had dislocated his shoulder and then popped it back into its socket. When I asked him if he was going to cut his race short, he said no. (I thought that was a little extreme.) Stories about hallucinations, falling asleep while running, being chased by stray dogs and all kinds of injuries are common among ultra runners. It’s part of the lifestyle and “charm.”

To many people, this all sounds a little nutty, but I think that a third reason I found myself at the bottom of Hope Pass this year is because the prospect of living an uninteresting life scares me. I’m married and live in a suburb of Indianapolis. I have two wonderful little boys, a white picket fence and a porch swing. I’m a relatively good girl, but I need to feel rebellious, too. I want to feel like I’m living an exciting life as I also raise kids, go to the grocery and keep clients happy. I want to feel things intensely and let go of those things that don’t matter, and running helps me do that.

A few winters ago, as I drove out to Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis, the radio reported an outside temperature of two below zero with a wind chill in the negative 20s. Bundled in two layers of tights, multiple long-sleeved tops, a jacket, hat, mittens and scarf tied around my face, I covered 26 miles on lonely forest trails. My eyes watered and fingers stayed numb for hours, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I felt exhilarated. After that sort of exertion, my senses shift. The crispness and tartness of an apple are utterly magnified, a warm car is a miracle, and a hot shower is the ultimate luxury. The annoyance I might have felt when someone slopped water all over the bathroom floor before school doesn’t matter anymore; I’m too exhausted to care. A little pain — and a lot of discomfort — makes the rest of the mundane parts of my life so much easier to stomach.

I HAD NEVER NOT FINISHED an ultra race — or any race — but it’s not uncommon. It’s called a DNF: did not finish. When the woods finally cleared and the beacon of the Hope Pass aid station was in sight, I was convinced I wasn’t going to continue once Jessica and I made it down the other side of the mountain to mile 50. From the top of Hope Pass, it was six more miles to the turnaround at Winfield. There I would be greeted by my husband and friends Leann, Karla and Alison. My good college buddy Karla would be prepared to run with me for about 12 miles starting at mile 50, so I’d have to break the news to her that she wouldn’t get to endure four-plus hours of pain. During Leadville, participants can have pacers run alongside them to keep them company between miles 50 and 100. The rest of my four-person crew had their marching orders to join me during other legs of the race.

The Hope Pass aid station was shy of the top of Hope Pass. In fact it was 764 feet of elevation gain from the peak. To the left of the aid station tents, llamas tied up along a long rope rested in a field of golden grass. The animals had hauled up the tables, food, water and everything else needed to fortify the runners. A volunteer offered up a bottle of sunscreen and rubbed it into my shoulders and back — amazing! Another guy filled my bladder and handed me a cup of mashed potatoes. They were the best damned mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. Jessica went through the same motions, though I don’t know what was going through her head. I willed myself to get going, to leave the peaceful llamas and the felled log I was using as a bench, and I started to think about how I was going to tell Jessica that I would not continue after Winfield. I was going to DNF.

The switchbacks that cover the space between the aid station and the top of Hope Pass is exposed and windy. The sun shone brightly. Unlike on the dense forest trails, now I could see runners ahead of us trudging, stopping, finding the guts to move on to reach the summit. I was frequently stepping to the side of the trail to allow runners who had already made it to Winfield to go by in the opposite direction.

At the top, a string of tattered prayer flags waved frantically. The brightly colored squares had been zip-tied to the top of a tall stick, rocks piled around the base as a foundation. Traditionally, Buddhists use these flags to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. They are also used to seek spiritual blessings for things such as reincarnations and the experience of Nirvana. Makeshift structures like the one on Hope Pass are often built at the highest places possible in the Himalayan mountains. The idea is that the wind that blows them carries the prayers far and wide to bless everyone. At that time, I could have used a little reincarnation, maybe a bird or mountain goat.

“I’m going to stop at Winfield,” I announced to Jessica after we dropped over the top of the mountain.
“No you’re not. I’m not doing this without you. You’re good. We are almost halfway there,” she said.
“OK. You’re right,” I said. It just came out! How could I disappoint Jessica, who had somehow over the course of a few hours become my top reason for continuing this race? But I knew the truth. I wasn’t ready for this event. Back home, I had trained the requisite 26 weeks for Leadville. I ran five days a week, up to 30 miles in one day, and 15 training runs that were at least 20 miles long. I was strong, in the best shape of my life. I had a signature trucker hat, minimalist and super-cushy trail shoes, a Subaru and no lack of feistiness, for goodness sake! Back home, I ran hilly trails, but nothing like the climbs in Colorado. And I would breathe in and out in Indiana no problem, but it was different in Leadville. It just didn’t add up.

The trip down the backside was more single-track trail, but steeper and more littered with rocks. I watched my running shoes maneuver step by step, willing them like a Jedi to land in the safest positions possible to keep me from sliding down on my ass or falling forward (my usual direction) so I could arrive to Winfield in one piece. About 45 minutes from the 50-mile mark, Jessica reported that she was feeling woozy.
“You’re depleted. We’ll get you some broth and food at the Winfield aid station. Drink some Coke,” I said.
“No. I’m done. There’s no way I can climb back up this mountain,” she said. Sweet relief!
“I have known I was going to DNF for hours,” I told her. “I just didn’t know how to break it to you!”

The last few miles down to Winfield seemed to take forever, but there were bright spots. The two nights before the race start, two Spanish brothers in their 30s and a Swede stayed in the same Airbnb as I. It was their first attempt at Leadville as well. We had sat together at the table in our hosts’ kitchen the night before the race and shared pasta and salad. The next morning, we met at 3:15 a.m. to walk to the start line together. I had been looking out for them ever since runners began coming from Winfield to set out on the second half of the race. Then I spotted the Spanish brothers hoofing up the trail. We hugged and kissed on each cheek. I told them how proud of them I was, that maternal instinct still kicking in when I had nothing left to give.

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We finally made it off the trail and stepped onto the paved road that led a short distance to the 50-mile mark. Bill was there, and then Leann ran up with Karla and Alison. My voice cracked and a few tears fell when I told them I was done. Jessica and I were about 25 minutes ahead of the cutoff time, so I could have kept racing. But I didn’t. I DNF’ed. My crew knows me well, so they knew that there was no sense in trying to talk me into continuing. I’m stubborn, and I explained that if I tried to continue and failed to make the cutoff time on my return trip up to Hope Pass, I would be turned around and sent back to Winfield. It was all very logical, see? So we loaded up the car and I rode back to Leadville. This was not part of my plan.

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When I returned home, people told me what I had done was awesome, amazing, tough! But I wasn’t proud of finishing 50 miles at Leadville. I had gone to run 100, after all. I failed. I’ve wanted to quit races in the past. During a road marathon in Indianapolis when my head was telling me to stop, I prayed for an injury to strike me down so I wouldn’t drop out on my own. When temperatures soared at a marathon in Tennessee and I threw up at mile 22, I hoped the race directors would call off the race, send a van to scoop me up and return me to my parents at the finish line. During my third 50-miler, my knee started to swell at mile 30, but I kept going. I never quit. I could always run through the pain or talk myself out of those dark places.

Running for me is like food, water, sleep and love. It is necessary. But like love, it can also break me and teach me unexpected lessons. The things that kept me from continuing on or finishing Leadville are complicated, but I think the main one is that I didn’t want it enough. Instead of committing completely to what it takes mentally and physically to prepare for a race like Leadville, I was using it partly to postpone my goal of writing a book. I wasn’t thinking about it that way during my training or during the race, but that’s what I was doing. It’s clear now. What is also clear is that I don’t want to write a book. If I did, I’d be doing it. I would create a book plan and tackle it with the same vigor I’ve tackled races in the past. Instead, I’m sticking to articles and essays.

“If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them.” — Christopher McDougall (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen)

Feeling like a failure sucks. There’s no getting around it. But being able to uncover the crux of why I failed has been important for me. Really wanting something means I’ll do everything in my power to make it happen, pushing myself to places of discomfort that I will welcome as points along a journey. I don’t want to live a half-assed life, but I don’t think finishing Leadville is a necessary part of my journey. I don’t want it badly enough, and I’m OK with that. My next big goal eludes me; I’m hopeful it will materialize soon. I want to go to more of those hard, fulfilling places. I just have to keep running toward them.

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Want to see another Superwoman? Read about Ashlie’s amazing journey to motherhood.

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Fighting for it, from start to finish

October 7, 2016

“Mama, we had our Panda Powwow today.”
“You did?!” Did you get a new life skill to work on?”
“Yup.”
“Cool, what is it?”
“I can’t remember.”
“No?”
“It starts with a p … It’s a long word …”
“Persistence?”
“Noooo …”
“Patience?”
“Noooo …”
“Hmm. And it starts with a p?”
“Yeah. It’s like, when something is really, really hard. But, like, you just keep trying to do it anyway. And then you, like, win over it. Because you just kept on trying. Like, you know, even when nobody thought you could do it.”

Perseverance.

When we set goals, the intent is always to persevere. And sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t (because sometimes, you won’t). Last Saturday I successfully ran my second half marathon, and I was humbled and reminded yet again that our bodies can do amazing things when we will them to.

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The entire race journey is really an exercise in body awareness and mental manipulation. It is perhaps the only true exception to the widely accepted definition of insanity. You show up and repeat the same action, day after day, mile after mile, hour after hour, song after song, and expect different outcomes. But it doesn’t make you crazy. Just optimistic. Because in this case you actually do get a mixed bag of results depending on the day, the weather, the wind, the blisters. My 8-mile training run was as painful for my pride as it was for my knees and lungs. I ached psychologically, physically, spiritually, from the second my sneakers hit the pavement until we turned the final corner. Just 4 weeks later, I completed a 10-mile run with a full minute shaved off my splits and a damn-near cocky disposition. Running is the most unpredictable game you can play with yourself. Strategy is for suckers.

And yet, I keep dealing myself in. I am not a great runner. I aspire to be, of course, but I am not great. I will never break the tape. In fact, the tape and streamers have been swept up and taken to the dumpster 5 blocks away by the time I finish. But I still come to the party. Better yet, I bring a guest. If you’ve been hanging in here for awhile you might remember my bud Britni who ran with me last year. That was until we had to part dramatically around mile 10 and I finished ‘er out with a 70-year-old stranger.

This year Britni went and got herself in the family way, but one of my ride-or-dies for the last 18 years, Jackie, signed up. Jackie, much like me, much like Britni, was not a runner when she checked the boxes to enter the race. It was a leap of faith. It was a declaration of an intent to persevere. It was brave, and she was brave for doing it. What possessed her? I think the same thing that possesses most people who sign up for these things. It’s a temporary self-improvement project. It’s purpose. Plus, don’t we all just want a win once in awhile?

For 12 weeks, starting in July, every Sunday I met either Jackie or my embarrassingly swifter friend Jill for the week’s long run. While the training schedule was exactly the same, something felt different this year. I don’t think I had what I would categorize as “a good run” until the very last training run the Monday before the race.

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“Man, do you feel older this year?” Jill asked during week 3.
“Ya know, I do.” I said.

You guys, i wish I were being facetious. At the ripe age of 33, my hips, ankles, knees and back screamed at me for 12 straight weeks to, for the love of all that is holy, stop hammering them into the ground and dragging them up small hills that felt like Mount Kilimanjaro. I guess I just never found my groove this go-around. But Jackie did, and then she lost it, and then she found it again. And I was so, so proud.

There is a rare joy that comes with watching someone else uncover a soul-changing strength that was just lurking in the caverns of their being, completely untapped. While I think most of us have that grit, not everyone chooses to go looking for it. Or to push themselves to that point where you either discover it or abandon the pursuit of it. Turns out, I get my jollies watching others push themselves to this uncomfortable, magnificent place. I mean, I like to do it myself as well, but moreso it’s the watching others.

Glennon Doyle Melton has a term for these discovery missions, and life in general. She calls them, “brutiful”. Because certain moments of every day are brutal. And certain moments of every day are beautiful. Life is brutiful. Running is brutiful.

There were stretches of country roads where it was just me, Jackie, God and the sunset. Beautiful. There were gradual inclines that hit just as a side stitch settled in. Brutal. High fiving one of my dearest friends after 2 hours of uninterrupted conversation and a new personal best; Beautiful. Chaffed armpits and chin acne; Brutal. See how that works. It’s the good with the bad. The tightrope stretched between triumph and adversity. Any challenge worth taking is one peppered with trials because, let’s face it, perseverance is a prize that doesn’t come cheap.

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On the day of the race, my sweet Jackie felt good. Really good. The temperature was ideal. The crowd and spectators were supportive. All the pieces were in place for a spectacular morning. But I had lead legs. I don’t know why. Why do these things ever happen? Not enough training. Too much training. The fact that I had peanut butter toast instead of dippy eggs. Who knows. But my limbs felt like cinder blocks from mile 3 on.

I’m always amazed at the master-slave relationship between the mind and the body. If you will it, they will run. Confession: The only things that fueled me to the finish line on that October morning were my persistent best friend, stupid pride and a ravenous desire for Chipotle.

“Get outta your head,” Jackie urged. “You’ve got this, Court.”
[me, panting]
“C’mon girl. We’re finishing this thing together. I can’t do it without you.”
[more panting] “Uh huh.”
“I can tell you’re in your head. C’mon Court!”
“Jac, I love you, but this won’t make me go any faster.”
[both panting]

I so badly wanted her well-intentioned pep talk to be the magic pill that broke up the cement encasing my extremities and my state of mind, but sadly it just wasn’t that kind of day for this old mare. It’s so frustrating when your expectation for yourself and your actual ability can’t find a way to communicate and compromise.

But just as tortoises do, I slowly, steadily finished the race. I think that’s a big part of the bargaining I’ve learned to do with myself. I accept that I will finish, but I also have to accept that I won’t be doing it quickly. Once I resign myself to the reality that I will eventually get where I’m going and I won’t, in fact, die getting there, I’m usually OK with hangin’ in. But speed is nonnegotiable. My body just takes it off the table. Covering the distance will have to be enough.

When the finish line was in sight, my homegirl sprinted it in. “Get that for yourself,” I thought. My pace stayed lukewarm but amazingly, I finished the race 4 minutes faster than I did last year. Jill blew her goal out of the water and came in well under 2 hours. I see a full marathon in that mama’s future.

The punctuation mark to these things is always the post-race picture. It’s over. You did it. You can throw your arms over each other’s shoulders, rehash the brutiful moments and smile the truest smile. Because that smile is relief spilling out of you. Relief that you did it. Relief that they did it. Relief that no one got hurt. Relief that all that time away from your family wasn’t for nothing. Relief that rest is a car ride away.

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Then there’s the babies. Ahhh, the babies. As a mother to three little impressionable girls (Jill and Jackie are also mothers of three), the pain of lost toenails and runner’s knee and stubborn chaffing dissolves when I see their genuinely ecstatic little faces. The runners enter a baseball stadium at the end of this race, and Hank stood above the entryway into the outfield, so when I made that turn to bring it home, my tiny tribe was standing right above me. They screamed from their toes and squeezed excitedly onto the fence railings. “Go Mama!” That sound rained down on me and, combined with the sight of the end, triggered the most organic emotional release. My hot tears carved jagged trails through my salt-crusted cheeks and the peace of validation hugged my heart. My poor training runs and lackluster performance washed away because it was obvious they didn’t care. In their eyes, I had won the whole damn thing.

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And after all of it was over – After they asked to wear my medal. After I admired their homemade sign. After I promised I’d help them practice so they, too, could become a runner. – I bent down, scooped up the littlest one, put her on my hip and started the long walk back to the car. The glory is great, but it doesn’t have the longest lifespan. I could feel it fading already. The lesson, however … the lesson will last. All the good ones do.

Perseverance.
“steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc.,especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”