Sunday, July 28, 2013

Secret Rival

Turns out I'm a competitive sort of person.

Secretly competitive.

 Shocking, I know.

 I've spent all my time up until now telling myself that winning doesn't matter.

That enjoying something and advancing through teamwork and commitment are the only true rewards for my efforts. This non-competitive nature I had cultivated extended toward my every endeavor from school to career, and from marriage to motherhood.

 Even the state of my yard with its weed-choked gardens and miss-mowed lawn patches screamed “Not even trying to keep up with the Joneses!”

 I never needed to be the best, let alone anywhere near the top half; and yes, failure was certainly an option.

 And then I ran my first 5K.

 Now … I knew that I wasn't going to win (I can walk almost as fast as I can run) but somewhere near mile 2.5 I realized I could probably finish without stopping.

It was a miracle. I was about to do something I hadn't thought was even remotely possible.

 And just around mile 2.51 I realized it wasn't enough just to finish … I had to beat someone.

 I started looking around me. Narrowed my eyes. The woman who crossed the starting line alongside me was too far ahead now. I'd never catch up.

 Should I pick the pair of high schoolers who, for the past mile, had been running ahead of me in the shady spots and then holding back in the sunny stretches? I could probably take them, I told myself.

But maybe I should play it safe. I knew that last stretch of roadway was tree-lined and possibly breezy.

Best to pick the septuagenarian I had been trailing the entire course. He looked as if he were ready to slow down.

 So I settled on a seventy-year-old as my secret rival, and, as I predicted, a few hundred yards before the finish line, I passed him. I was ecstatic! And a little bit nauseated. And freakishly red in the face … But I beat that guy fair and square.

 As I walked around to try and find my family in the river of onlookers, I was already planning what my next step would be.

 It's not enough to Just Do It; I have to do it farther and faster than I did it before.

 It took until midlife, and smartphone app called “Map My Run” to show me that I have a need to “one up” myself. Up until that moment I was happy to just run as far as I could in the time I had allotted myself two mornings a week.

Now, with a melodious-for-a-computer-type voice telling me how far I had gone and how fast (and throwing in calories burned as an added bonus) I started timing and tallying everything.

Turns out I can walk 16-minute-miles to the playground and back. 164 calories.

The dog and I walked 19-minute miles to the post office. Too much sniffing. 132 calories.

I can bike five miles in 34 minutes. 118 calories.

 I count laundry days as an exercise, since I climb stairs for the equivalent of a quarter mile.

 Each week I try to log more activity, go faster andfurther than I did the week before. 

I feel possessed. But I have high hopes for the next race.

Watch out, grandpa. I've got you in my sights.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Are you going to eat that?

People for Less Unrest in Marriage, or PLUM as I like to call it –- a wholly imaginary but incredibly well-organized think tank for which I sometimes find myself a not-so-well organized spokesperson -- would like to share the following true-life event as a public service:

“Are you going to eat that?”

“That” being whatever was in my hand, already making its way toward my mouth.

You might think I was eating the last chocolate chip cookie that would ever be baked in the entire world. Ever. Again.

But that's not even close.

“I wouldn't eat that if you made me. Not even if you twisted my arm.”

My husband stands before me with a curled lip and stink-eyed expression, sneering openly as I am about to eat yet another tasteless hunk of fiber board, which must have fallen from a store shelf and into my shopping cart as I was weaving recklessly through the Earthy-Crunchy section of the supermarket like the lunatic, female shopping cart driver that I am.

Why else, his expression taunted, would this almost inedible food product be in our house?

It's the kind of look that always makes me want to hurl something – preferably something pungent, overripe and difficult to clean out of facial hair -- in his direction.

Coming from his mouth “Are you going to eat that” is not a question so much as an indictment. A statement of disbelief. An affirmation of what must be my dubious sanity. A declaration of our differences.

The man just can't wrap his mind around the fact that I might actually enjoy some tasteless piece of “bark,” slathered with only a thin layer of “compost.”

Foodie I am not. To me, sustenance is simply fuel to keep the moving parts running.

Nor am I a chef. It's an affront to some, the way people like me trample on the complexity of delicate tastes and textures by drowning them in hot sauce or burning them to a crisp.

I refuse to be ashamed. I have just accepted the fact that there's not a lot of "ours" in the snack cabinet, there's just his, hers and theirs. And every once in a while lines are crossed, and samples are taken for research purposes.

It's not as if he hasn't foraged through the kitchen, looking for a late-night snack and – with only crumbs left in the plastic tray of chocolate sandwich cookies that he keeps stashed behind the dishware – helped himself to mine.

I don't mine. It's not as if I keep an accounting of each apple in the crisper drawer. In fact, I encourage sharing. (As per the job descriptions in the manuals of Motherhood and Kindergarten Teachers, subset 789).

Pilfering I can handle. It's the smugness I can do without, and the dramatic displays of distaste that punctuate his reaction to the first bite of anything not foisted upon him.

Can he really be so incensed by my reaction:

“Is it really necessary to roll your eyes and claw at your tongue as it lolls from your mouth like an unfurling carpet? That kind of response seems a bit excessive.”

After all, he was the one who insisted on snitching the high-fiber snack cracker smeared with mashed chickpeas and mustard dollops from my lunch plate. It's not as if I twisted his arm.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Kids today

It's amazing how much unsolicited advice a person attracts once they become a parent.

You name it, and there is someone out there who has an opinion about the best way and the worst way to do it.

There is nothing too small to evade scrutiny.

Everything you do. Everything your kid does. Everything you do because your kid did something becomes part of a discussion that is so big it seems to envelope the world.

And it usually starts with a problem … “The problem with kids today ...”

Trouble is the problem doesn't always end with a workable solution.

The problem is other kids … parents ... schools ... teachers ... politicians … government … bullies ... guns ... boredom ... drugs ... corporate giants ... factory farms … car emissions ... toys from China … calculators ... computers … the internet …

The list is so big it can't easily fit on a bumper sticker (which, truth-be-told, is the place all the best advice is usually filed – second only to the flip file under the kitchen sink).

More and more I'm thinking the problem is a construct of our imaginations.

A good portion of the time, though, it's our interpretation of a stranger's sideways glance or our mother-in-law's two cents that have us squinting in rage and spitting venom. It's not the event itself.

The problem is we want to be the seekers of knowledge and not have knowledge foisted upon us.

You only need to think about all those gift guides we poured over for Mother's Day and Father's Day to know just how useful that was.

“Thanks for the ruffle “up-cycled” apron and the book of iphone pictures of me barbecuing. I will cherish it forever.”

That's not to say that we shouldn't seek help, or that we shouldn't look for ways to solve the problems that vex us. It's just that maybe we should do so with the understanding that the answers we find might not be one-size fits all.

We just have to be willing to understand that if the answers differ for all of us, we are probably all a little bit different.

The thing – above all others – that has surprised me about parenthood is how much my children have taught me about being not only a parent, but also a person.

It's more than handling the grocery shopping meltdowns and helping them solve their own school yard crises. It's more than fretting about the future and all the what-ifs.”

It's right now.

It's in the moment.

It's just doing the best you can and having faith that tomorrow will present a new moment.

In so many ways, it's tuning out all of the noise that makes us doubt ourselves.

The more I think of it the more I see that the only real opinion that matters – the only proof of effectiveness – will come from our kids … when they are our age, with children of their own.

And then … well ...

Then we will give our grandchildren cake for breakfast and wax nostalgic about "kids in our day."

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Molehills and mountains

The summer is here …

And I can't escape the dampness.

Or … the laundry.

It's not just the infernal rain and the wall of humidity that has me down -- though the depressing idea of traveling around inside a mosquito net has crossed my mind numerous times – it's also the moisture that just naturally trails children wherever they go.

The winter may be long gone, but there are still runny noses, which, despite my objections, are often dried not just by their shirtsleeves, but also by bed sheets, bath towels, and decorative pillows.

There are the showers, to which both kids have graduated, where a gap in the curtain causes a small river of water to pool by the sink.

And then there is the pool … which I can't understand for the life of me how no one in the entire family – including the husband – can manage to bring a towel with them to mop up the afterswim.

I suppose the joy of crashing into the cool water at the end of these overheated days obliterates the need to be prepared.

Who needs to make plans when they still have me – the lifeguard, waiter and de facto cabana boy – to step and fetch it?

Still, long trails of water stretch through the house, forking off into various directions as each of them dashed for dry land.

I am never quick enough. No one can wait all drippy and shivery at the door for the few minutes it takes to gather a few sheets of terrycloth, which haven't been clean long enough to be folded and stacked away.

And it's not just from swimming, either. The boy has taken to making “experiments” using tap water and soap in his room, and the girl has to wash her hair using every product in the bathroom … both usually end in explosions and the need for clean-up crews.

These are the summer rituals I could do without.

I used to love summer. Longer days, walking around barefoot and the anticipation of vacation plans made ordinary workdays seem restful. Even at home, it seemed the weight of the world always lifted in direction correlation to the weight of the laundry basket.

Gone were the double layer pants and heavy sweaters. In their stead were light, cotton shorts and sleeveless shirts. Even a mountain of them seemed like a molehill.

I'm not sure what changed, but something has. The washer and dryer are in operation daily, and the linen closet is always empty.

The laundry molehills have returned to their mountainous size, though now they come in a multitude of colors.

I can't seem to take a step without tripping over piles of freshly laundered towels, now soggy and peppered with sand.

“Didn't I just wash these?” I say to the dog, who is the only one in the house who pays much attention to me (even though she is also likely to ignore whatever it is I say unless it involves the words “dinner,” “walk” or “squirrel”).

Now, if I could just train her to use the washer and dryer.