Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rediscovering the fun in racing

Connor (number eight) cheers for his teammates at last night's baseball game.

With a group of friends, I rehashed Saturday's 5K race with Caleb. After imparting a few details, I finally said, "I forgot that races could be so (pause) enjoyable."

My friends erupted into laughter.

I couldn't stifle my own giggles.  I knew my statement sounded absurd.  Why would I near 40-something, non-elite runner subject herself to numerous races if she didn't find them enjoyable?  

In post-races photo sent to my email, I look anything but happy.  The typical shot features me scowling, hunched over, and an inch-away-from death.  (To add insult to injury, the runners next to me in those photos always seem to be beaming and hardly breaking a sweat!)  Those pictures certainly don't depict a woman gleefully passing time.

In my normal runs, speed is king.  I can rattle off my PR as quickly as my social security number.  That figure dangles over my head, directs my strides, and impacts my post-race temperament.  While the chase is not always easy, in some weird way it is enjoyable.  Silly, I know.

But Saturday's race reminded me that races can be fun, really fun.  During that race, I chatted with fellow runners.  We carried on extended conversations about baseball teams and summer plans.  I gazed at the scenery and waved at the race personnel directing traffic.  We stopped to take a water break.

As we neared Saturday's finish line, another mom runner and her son strode along side us.  The running mom pulled out her iphone and blared the "We are the champions" tune.  She said to me, "This will get him moving.  He's so embarrassed to be by me now, he'll race to the finish line."  Sure enough, her son blew past us both and sprinted to the end.  We both erupted into hysterics.


That's certainly something I haven't experience during a race as of late.  It felt good.  It was fun.  I forgot.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


 A pre-race pose with my running buddy.

 At the starting line.
Ready to go.
 We're off.
 Our cheering section.
 Finishing.  Notice, Caleb is in front!
 Holding the special plaque from Papa.

Papa and Caleb post-race picture.

My father handed Caleb a present.  Nestled between the scraps of tissue paper sat a plaque.  Caleb's name and hometown were inscribed on the front.  Then it read, "Winner, first race."

Later, I thought how the plaque differed from the typical award one receives at a race.  The plaque didn't name Caleb as the overall winner or an age group winner, just as a winner by the fact he ran a race.

I couldn't agree more.

Today, Caleb finished his first 5-K race.  For 12 weeks, he faithfully trained three days a week.  I watched him transform from a couch potato into a runner.  It was amazing.

I didn't nudge Caleb into a running plan with the intent of grooming an elite runner, but rather I wanted him to learn a few things during the process and increase his fitness level along the way.  

The last few weeks, Caleb learned the value of working towards a goal.  He saw the fruits of his hard work.  And, I think he developed a sense of satisfaction from reaching his objective.

As we approached today's finish line, Caleb sprinted ahead.  I had a burst of pride as I watched him blow past the finish line.  

He was a winner.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A yard full of pets waiting to be discovered

After ten years of parenting I don't even flinch when an entire crayon box cascades to the floor (as long as little boys help clean up the mess). 

I pity the creature that ventures into our yard.  I certainly can't guarantee his/her safety.  You see, I have four nature-loving sons that manage to "love" on any animal within their path.  Their deep expressions of adoration leave many animals, well, lifeless.

They're not cruel boys.  They don't squeeze or stomp.  They inspect and handle...maybe a little too much.

Squirrels are too fast for them.  Birds are too high.  But the insects are within perfect pawing distance of little hands. 

Last week, they unearthed a slug.  They immediately adopted him into our family and affectionately named him "Sluggie."  The boys created a home and provided nourishment for their new cherished pet.  Sluggie became a source of great entertainment and conversation for days on end.

Sluggie didn't fare so well in last week torrential rainfall.  (Yes, Sluggie's home is outdoor!)  One morning, Caleb peered into Sluggie's home and noticed that he appeared exceptionally dormant.  Caleb tried everything to encourage a response from his listless friend.  

Finally, Caleb pulled a salt shaker out of the pantry and crept over to Sluggie's home.

I questioned, "Caleb, what are you doing?"

"In the Bible they used smelling salts to arouse the dead.  I'm going to try that on Sluggie," he replied.


 Where to start?  

Smelling salts in the Bible?  Not ringing a bell.

Smelling salts to arouse the dead?  I'm not sure it's a proven technique.

But I let him try.  I watched as he sprinkled his friend.  Caleb's expression soured as Sluggie remained motionless.

I soothed my son.  We recalled all the good days with Sluggie.  Then, I reminded him that Sluggie probably has a family nestled somewhere beneath our mulch piles.

Caleb smiled.

Thanks for all the prayers for my sister's surgery.  It went very well and she should be returning home soon!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Life outside the bubble


It's certainly been an eventful week.  For days, we were glued to the TV, mesmerized by the situation unfolding in Boston.  At the same time, we were experiencing our own family drama, tending to my ill sister still cocooned in the hospital.  

It's been a few days where I've been thrust out of my "bubble," a term I adopted from a friend.  My friend says she lives in a "bubble" and kinda likes it that way.  In her "bubble" (at least right now), there is no illness, disease, poverty, and heartache.  Life is happy, she says sheepishly, why leave?

I can relate.

My bubble popped when my sister became ill.  I left my little, sweet slice of suburbia, where all my friends are young (relatively) and healthy, to visit my sister on the oncology unit.  The sights on her floor are depressing.  Mostly older individuals, shiny bald heads, sad eyes.  Grim looking visitors popping out of rooms and meandering down the hall in a daze.  On this floor, life doesn't revolve around whose kids are on the soccer team and what color a living room will be painting.  Life revolves around the sanctity and fragility of life.

My sister shares stories about her time in the hospital.  Code blues called during the night.  A woman weeping in the hallway; my sister says she just received dire news.  Patients sitting in hospital rooms alone seemingly without friends or family to visit.

My eyes are opened.  This is life outside the bubble.  I'm flooded with perspective and appreciation.  I realize life is only fully valued when seen outside the bubble.

Prayers welcome for my sister's surgery today!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Power of "I'm Sorry"

Flood waters engulfed our park and baseball diamonds and cancelled Little League's opening night ceremony.

A week ago, my sister landed in the hospital.  Low platelet counts secured her a room.  At first, we thought her stay would be brief.  We imagined the first treatment would kick her out in no time.  But treatment number one failed and so did treatment number two, and then subsequent treatments.  With each setback, we've grown more concerned and her hospital stay has lengthened.

Last night, I visited her in the hospital.  She sat in a darkened room with an old Friends episode running on the TV.  An adjacent desk was littered with a gift basket, magazines, and a book.  She was curled up on her side, clad in sweats, without a stitch of makeup. 

I tiptoed into the room and plopped down on a neighboring chair.  I asked the obvious, "How are you doing?"

Deadpanned she replied, "Not good."

I continued to prod, asking questions about her medical care and hospital stay.  Her responses were heavy, filled with medical jargon and disappointments.  I listened with sympathy.

She unloaded all her fears and sadness over the situation.  I pulled out my mental pompoms and encouraged her to fight the fight against fear and despair.  She nodded, seemingly encouraged.

The conversation went cold and finally I said, "I'm sorry."  As the words fell out of my lips, I started to cry.  Sure, I was sorry about her health and the hospital stay, but mostly I was sorry about us.  As sisters, our relationship has been tumultuous over the years.  We've both done and said things we regret.  I was expressing sorrow for my actions and my part in the divisiveness in the relationship.

She didn't need an explanation.  She knew what I meant.  Her eyes teared up too.  She clutched my hand and whispered the same words.

I'm sorry.  It's the phrase I most often require my children to say.  A conflict isn't resolved until those words are exchanged.  Sometimes, through clenched teeth one boy utters those words to an injured brother.  Even if the delivery isn't ideal, there's something about hearing that phrase that repairs a relationship and softens a heart.  

For years, I've clenched my teeth, refusing to let those words slip past my lips.  But once they did, I realized how easily they slide out and how quickly the heart fills with peace. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sleeping with the Enemy

A happier moment between two brothers.

Lately, we've fallen into a wretched bedtime routine.  Each night, I'll tuck two roommate brothers into beds and then flip off the lights.  At that moment, everything seems fine.  The room is darkened and the boys are quietly reclined on their respective bunk beds.  I'll breathe a sigh of relief and slip into my bedroom.  I'll pull out a coveted book and collapse into a chair, savoring the precious silence.

Just when I'm settling into my book, it starts....the complaining, the crying, and the fighting.

Each conflict centers on super important matters of contention, like:

-is the door to be left open, slightly ajar, or completely closed,

-can the CD player belt out music during those moments when two boys are attempting to slumber (and then the secondary issue of what music will be played), or

-will the nightlight be flipped on or off.

Each boy holds passionate views on every issue.  Neither wants to budge.  Coupled with fatigue (theirs and mine), these nightly conflicts can end our evening on a sour note.

One boy has begun an "I deserve my own room" campaign.  As he sees it, we're withholding one of his most basic human rights by forcing him to be bunk with a brother.  He certainly can rattle off a zillion of his fellow classmates that inhabit single bedrooms.  "Good for them," I'll respond with a smile.  He'll scowl.

Chris and I have talked about whether we need to reconfigure the boys' bedrooms.  Perhaps this combination of boys just doesn't work.  Maybe some children do need their own rooms.  But then I think, one day he'll have a roommate and (hopefully) a wife.  Learning to share a room with a sibling is the best hands-on training possible for those future living arrangements.  One day when he's faced with a quirky, unruly, mess of a college roommate, he might not even flinch.

As for now, the boys will continue to be roommates.  One day, I'm thinking they'll thank me for it.  Well, maybe.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Distraught over Boston

In November, running to the finish line of my Boston qualifying race.

The past several days,  I've exchanged a flurry of texts and a few precious phone calls with my dear friend, Jessica.  Each time I heard her voice chirp over the phone, I could feel the excitement radiating from Boston to Indiana.   She was excited about embarking on her first Boston Marathon and eager to share details about her upcoming race.

I was excited for her too.  I hung on her every word and savored each details.  After all, I also had plans to run the Boston Marathon, but not until 2014.  My qualifying race was six weeks too late for the 2013 Boston Marathon cut off. 

As Jessica gushed, I grew a little sad.  Privately I bemoaned the fact that my qualifying race was six weeks too late.  If only I had run a marathon earlier in the year, I lamented, then I could be running the 2013 marathon with Jessica.

As the day progressed, I received text messages from the race updating me on Jessica's progress along the course.  With each word from the race, I shot Jessica a quick text of encouragement.  And after each response, I would think, Why couldn't I have run six weeks earlier.  I could have run today!

Minutes after Jessica crossed the finish line, she gave me a call.  The Boston Marathon had been everything she hoped: challenging, spectacular, epic.  I praised her amazing time and celebrated her performance.  As I hung up the phone I thought again about those lousy six weeks.  I could have crossed the finish line with her!  We could have our arms around each other right now with medals slung around our necks.

Moments later, I heard the news out of Boston.  I saw the video.  I started to cry.  I thought about Jessica.  I texted her.  No response.  I grew anxious.  I couldn't wait.  I called her again.  She answered.  They (her, her husband, and three children) were fine.  They heard the two explosions from a nearby subway station.  I was so relieved, but couldn't stop crying.  She was fine, but so many others were not.  

I thought about those six weeks again.  What if I had completed a qualifying race six weeks earlier?  What if I was racing along the Boston Marathon course during this horrific day?  What if my family was in the stands?  What if?  What if? 

When my oldest son came home from school.  I was still distraught.  My husband provided Caleb with some vague details out of  Boston.  He told him that evil exists in the world and bad things happen, but that God is ultimately in control and He can make things right.  He assured him that God promises one day evil will be gone.  On a day like today, that promise is encouraging.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Getting out on the Soccer Field

 I really love this!  My sweet neighbor Sy made me this bracelet in honor of Autism Awareness Month and included the most thoughtful note.  Every time I look at my wrist, I remember my friend's kind act and this special month.

The Icy Dragons (Collin's in the center) huddling up with coach Gwen.

I few weeks ago I shot off this text: "I'll do it."  As soon as my fingers brushed the "send" button, I had second thoughts.  With those few words, I committed to be the assistant coach of my four-year-old's soccer team.

Why I committed to co-coach a soccer team is puzzling.  After all, my knowledge of soccer comes from a single viewing of Bend it Like Beckham.  I know: 1) no hands, 2) kick towards a goal, and 3) pepper practice with snacks and water breaks or the pint-size athletes revolt.  But, foreign sounding terms like corner kicks and spot kicks shoot shivers down my spine.  

Gwen, the head coach, reassured me that my second-in-command position would require little.  I would be the mommy version of a water girl.  The one that would nurse boo-boos on the sidelines and distribute snacks at the end.  That I could do!

Today was game one.  Gwen immediately took her position on the field.  In her white coach's jersey and black athletic pants, she played the part of coach well.  She pulled out a tiny scrap of paper with her scribbled notes.  Reading off the sheet, she belted out the line-up.  Little boys rushed onto the field.

I secured my cushy seat on the sidelines and relaxed in my folding chair.  Two players, Collin being one of them, took the first sideline break and snagged adjacent seats next to the field.  I was beginning to relax.  Sitting field side was delightful!  I smiled as I basked in the sun.  Perhaps I could even get a tan, I mused.  

Quarter one ended quickly and Gwen called in new players.  Collin was to take the field.  Upon hearing his name, Collin...just sat.  It quickly became apparent that he was absolutely petrified about entering the game.  I coaxed him out.  He hardly budged.  I snagged his little hand and walked him towards the center of the field.  He buried his head in my pants.  

I bent over and whispered, "Collin, you can do this.  It's fun!"  He clutched my hand harder.

Gwen tossed out the idea that I coach this quarter to aid Collin's transition.  

Why not, I thought.

The next quarter, Collin and I looked a bit like partners in a sack race.  He gripped my hand and we ran around the field in tandem.  While I was reassuring my little side-kick, I was also encouraging his two other teammates and receiving quite a bit of hands-on education (with an audience no less) on the rules of soccer.  

And so it went every time Collin entered the field.  The two of us running hip to hip, hand to hand.  I wondered, "Is this the way Mia Hamm or David Beckham started their illustrious careers, racing around the field while clutching the hands of their mothers?"

After the game, the opposing coach offered me words of encouragement.  He said it took one of his children three games to muster up the courage to enter the soccer field.

I smiled.  Well, at least we're on the field...both of us.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hitting the Morning Finish Line..On Time

Chris helped Connor and neighbor friend Stephen practice baseball skills.

Chris strolled into the house around 9:30 a.m., fresh from work.  He pecked me on the cheek and tossed out, "How did the morning go?"

I shot him a look of disdain and then took a swig of Diet Coke followed by a forkful of cake.  (Yes, it was that kind of morning!) 

"Well," I began.  "Collin's wearing soccer cleats to school."

Chris furrowed his eyebrows and opened his mouth to speak before wisely holding his tongue.  Then, he started to smile.

I couldn't help smiling too as I rehashed the events.  The morning started off smoothly.  Four little boys happily devoured breakfasts and easily slipped on school clothes.  I even found time to catch up on a few emails and wash a couple of dishes while the boys breezed through their morning routines.

But, what I have learned in my decade of parenting is children are not out the door until they are physically out the door.  So often, we almost hit the morning finish line when an unexpected, last minute kink threatens to push us back to the start.

This morning's "kink": shoes.  Shoes!  Two boys were already sitting in the car waiting to be escorted to school when Collin realized his standby, white tennis shoes were muddy and wet from yesterday's yard play.  

Option #1 shoes are out.

Option #2: Crocs.

Only could find one.

Option #3: church shoes.

Collin was completely and utterly distraught by the thought of even considering wearing church shoes to preschool.

I thought about forcing him, but at this point my blood pressure was rising and his anxiety was peaking.  I remembered a pastor once talking about a family arriving at church on time, but sinning all the way there (due to anger and strife).  I thought the same about school.  I wasn't going to push the two of us into a full out rumble over church shoes.

Option #4: soccer cleats.

Soccer cleats it is.

After I dropped Collin off in his classroom (yes, his teacher noticed he was wearing soccer cleats!) and I returned to my car, I noticed the missing Croc sitting on a car seat.  That's when I deemed it a Diet Coke and cake sort of morning.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Florida Finds

 Cooper literally jumped for joy at seeing the beach.  After leaving our snow-covered state for Florida, I think we all felt equally elated.
 The boys found some beautiful shells on the beach.  As beach novices, we were shocked that our "finds" came with animal inhabitants.  Collin got quite a scare (and education)!  Those pretty shells got tossed back to the ocean.

 We meet up with the Seiler family in Florida.  Between the two families, we have eight boys!

 The best thing about vacationing with the Grandparents is that we had built in babysitters for date night!
 Caleb was beyond giddy at meeting up with this fella!
Chris can truthfully tell his friends that he wrestled an alligator.  If you look real closely, he's clutching an alligator!
 Hooked up with Grandma and Grandpa Wood a few days too!
 My four beach babies!
 A beach pic.  Love Collin's expression.  There always has to be at least one that's not thrilled with the day's activities!
 Caleb's not a huggy kid, so I absolutely love this picture of him snuggling up to his Grandpa!
 We attempted a few restaurants with the kids, making sure to bring plenty of crayons!
 Caleb was excited to visit the Edison Home with Grandma and Grandpa!
 A family picture before dinner!
 With Grandma and Grandpa Joseph!
 Cooper liked playing lots of games.  He seemed to always win thanks to his ever changing version of the rules.
 Papa and Caleb at the Edison home.
 Caleb served as my running partner three mornings in Florida and helped me prepare to run the Naples 10K on Sunday. 
With Grandma and Grandpa Wood!

Last night we unpacked the suitcases.  I pulled out a plastic baggie filled with sand-covered shells.  They weren't pretty ones, like the kind you buy at those shells stores that sit on every corner in  Florida.  Many of these shells were broken fragments all plucked from the beach by my boys and immediately deemed "finds" and "keepers."

I gazed at the bag with disdain.  Another handful of "stuff" that will liter our home.  I mentally placed it in the same category as the trinkets they bring home from fairs and the plastic doodads we get in goody bags.  How desperately I wanted to toss the whole bag and then feign surprise when four little boys searched endlessly for their Florida treasures.

But I imagine these shells mean more to them than the yo-yos and animal erasers.  These shells remind them of a week in Florida with family, lots of family...two sets of Grandparents!  

When they look at the shells, do they see the beach?  Do they remember spotting dolphins in the water and scanning the shore for crabs and starfish?  Do they recall meals spent with Grandparents and endless hours horsing around with a brother in the pool?  

And so the shells stay.  When I look at them, I remember.