The Fountain of Youth

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“Advanced Maternal Age” read the chart when I peeked over the doctor’s screen.  I was only 38, and I’ve known women who had their first child in their forties, so I was a bit taken aback to be lumped into a category that labeled me as ‘old’.  

“It’s just to track risk factors,” explained the doctor as she glided the ultrasound wand over my growing belly.  When I was pregnant with Jack, six years earlier, I already had a little of the feeling that the Big Guy and I were late getting in the Family Way.  Most people we knew had started their families within a year or two of getting married, while the Big Guy and I spent four years acting like teenagers together.  But, despite that most of our friends’ kids were grade school and beyond by the time Jack arrived, we never questioned our decision to take things slowly – until that moment.

My ultrasound was a little off, and we ended up needing to go to a bigger hospital for a closer look at  developing Thing2, but the possibility that he might have Downs Syndrome was not the cause of my age angst.  Rather, it was the slow recognition that I would be almost two generations older than my youngest child.  I would be hitting the ‘change of life’ when he starts getting pimples.  When he gets to his age of adventure, I and my body would be wanting to slow down.

Seven years later (Thing2 will be seven in October) I can still remember that moment in the doctor’s office as if it were seven minutes ago.  At the beginning of the summer, I about it a lot as I huffed and puffed to the top of the driveway.  On Labor Day, I thought about it again. 

Labor Day Monday, Thing2 and I ran in a race together.  I ran the 5K, and he ran the kid’s half-mile fun run.  It was a friendly crowd of five thousand people, and there were about 200 kids in the fun run.  I was excited for the 5K, but I was nervous for the fun run. Thing2 is a country boy – how would he deal with the four foot high surge of humanity flowing around the block?  Would he be scared? Would he get discouraged if he got tired?

The starting gun went off, and I had my answer very quickly.  Thing2 was at the back of the group, so we had time to get to the finish line.  As he came around the corner, he briefly faltered, but the smile never left his face.  He passed us, barely hearing our shouts of encouragement, and I realized that tears and not the soft drizzle were making my face wet.  

Thing2 crossed the finish line and waited for us in the kids’ area.  When we got to him, he had already collected his green ribbon.  I hugged him and raced to the starting line of my own race.  His smile never left my mind, and it propelled me – with a smile of my own – the entire 3.10 miles.

Our runs were the culmination of a summer of fitness and following my kids around mountains and into dried-up waterfalls and down sandy beaches.  It was a summer of being inspired to live better and do more with both my boys throughout.  I ran my last half-mile, singing to my music and thinking about the upcoming kids’ winter sports, and that seven-year-old memory came back to me.  This time, however, when I pictured the doctor’s office, it wasn’t the words on the chart that flashed in front of my eyes – it was the memory of the grainy black-and-white screen glowing with the image of my wriggling fountain of youth.

Un-Tunnel Vision

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I hadn’t been on a bike in 20 years and was more than a little nervous about the prospect of spending 3 hours riding on mountain trails – however flat they were.  The last time I was on a bike a motorist had literally run me off the road into a ditch, and, after limping my bike home, I stuck to walking.  But this has been a summer of redemption for me, and it would continue to be from the first 10 minutes of our journey.

Fortunately, you really don’t forget how to ride a bike, and my summer fitness plan – intended to make sitting in a standard-size train seat more comfortable – paid off once again.  The mechanics were in place, and we would be riding in a converted railroad bed, ensuring there would be no maniacal motorists.  Faking the absence of fear was getting easier as we got closer to the starting gate, and then the trail guide began giving us the rundown of the road we were about to travel.  

We were to start with a 1 1/2 mile ride through a tunnel with no light save for our headlights.  There would be several tunnels throughout the ride, and several of them had trenches running alongside them.  I listened and smiled, taking courage from the relaxed faces of my family, but my stomach was already beginning to churn.  

The safety warnings noted, we mounted our bikes and headed for the first tunnel.  Thirteen-year-old Jack and his eighteen-year-old cousin, already thick as thieves despite having only met a few days earlier, charged ahead.  Fearless but not reckless, Jack sped towards the tunnel.  I was still getting my bike lets and was happy to pedal more slowly.  The Big Guy was trailing our youngest son, and went between us.

The darkness closed in around us quickly.  Behind me I heard one of my nieces struggling with her own fears, and the mom in me slowed to try and comfort her.  Her father, however, was just behind us and, falling back on his twenty years of military-instilled discipline, barked at her to get moving.  It worked for both of us.  I began peddling and calling back encouragement to my niece. 

Jack and his cousin got to the end of the tunnel first and were waiting for the adults.  One by one, we emerged, blinking at the summer sun.  I was shaking a bit, but when I looked at my oldest son, there was only excitement and happiness with the day and the mountains around him.  There was no fear, and I could see there hadn’t been any.  Part of me pondered how he got so brave with a mother who constantly lets fear govern her life – and his sometimes.  The other part of me was absorbing his excitement.  

We snapped a few shots of cousins and then pedaled further.  Every mile featured breathtaking views and, often, equally breathtaking drops that seemed incredibly close to the road.  The further we traveled, however, the less I even felt the fears that would normally have me thinking about the size of the drops and what it would be like to fall from them.

The sun in the cloudless sky that framed the majestic peaks that surrounded us drenched the day’s palette in intense blues and greens.  It also brought everything into sharp focus.

Jack and his cousin remained in the lead the rest of the ride.  And, while he was busy growing the part of me that had absorbed his excitement and joy realized that I was busy being reborn. 

Take Away

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Six-year-old Thing2 doesn’t like art – he lives it. There is no dragging him to an art museum, there’s only the whining when we leave. Whether it’s sauntering around a museum with his sketch pad or putting his own spin on a particularly acrobatic leap he saw in a dance routine, Thing2 throws himself into color and sensation and into life in a lot of ways. Always, his joy becomes ours, but, as we learned once again the other night at a Hubbard Hall performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, it’s not always predictable just how that happiness will spread.

Currently in a Billy-Elliot-I-Will-Dance phase, we were certain this opera – a comedy punctuated by more physical comedy – would be the inspiration for his next set of dance moves.    Every new movie or show is an opportunity to learn and create a new step. So, as we settled in, I began watching Thing2’s to see if he was absorbing the action.

He sat two seats away from me, but the stage cast enough light for me to see his rapt gaze as the ensemble of singers filled the stage.  At first he was a statue – absorbing the color and the new experience of having a play sung for him.  Then, after trying to ask if we recognized one of the singers as his former camp teacher, he began to move – but not in the way I’d expected.

I was already prepared to reign in any bursts of flair, but Thing2 had been absorbing something else besides the dancing.  In front of the stage was a lone pianist accompanying the singers throughout the show.  Her hands danced, never resting until the curtain call.  Now Thing2’s hands began to dance, following every inflection of the piano player’s wrists, ever flutter of her fingers.  Thing2 can play “Doe A Deer” on our piano at home, but, mimicking the musician in front of him, he became a virtuoso.  He became one with the music and the musician.  

The Big Guy and I smiled at each other as we watched him.  Thing2 had found his own unique perspective to take something away from the show, and there was another show still to come on Sunday.  The Big Guy and I were eager to see it.  Watching “The Barber of Seville” ten feet in front of us would be an experience in itself.  But we were also wondering what new inspirations Thing2 will bring home for us to enjoy.

The Numbers Game

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243 was the number on the scale Monday May 25, 2013. 

1412 was the number of calories to eat each day to lose 2 1/2 pounds each week.

15 seconds was the longest I could run without stopping.

22 was the number on the label inside my  jeans.

6 is the number of times I had to run day 1 of my fitness program before I could finish it.

2 is the number of kids who were depending on me to be strong enough to take care of them.

24 is the number of runs I’ve done since the first time I actually got through a routine.

9 is the number of weeks I’ve been counting calories.

12 is the number of days I slipped up on a vacation 14 days long, and 

18 is the number of days in the last month I behaved – for the most part. 

3.68 is the number of miles I ran yesterday without stopping.

1282 was the number of calories allowed on the calorie counter yesterday, and 

209 may still be a big number on a frame that’s only 63 inches high, but it’s the sum of a summer of small but meaningful successes.  

 

 

The Ministry of Organization

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This may come as a shock, coming from someone who blogs (I don’t brag about it either) about being a bad housekeeper (blogs – not brags), but I am not naturally organized.  Staying organized always seemed like a juggling act that required advanced skills.  I pick my battles, but the need to organize my day is forcing me to pick a new fight with my life.

There are certain balls I can always keep in the air.  Apparently having kids endows you with some hormone that keeps you from letting their priorities slip through the cracks (thank goodness), and the desire to eat regularly keeps me signed in at work on a daily basis.  But the house, writing and fitness are a few things that tend to hit the ground more often than I’d like.  

The house has always been the lower priority, but almost a solid week of intense cleaning and vacuuming dictated by a sudden flea infestation put it at the top of the list.  With kid not yet in school, I’ve been able to juggle a few things, but fitness and writing have become casualties more than I wanted them to.  A few days ago, out of desperation, I pulled out my organizer and created a weekly schedule. 

The plan was to get up early and write, then exercise and then clean before the kids got up or had to go to school.  The morning writing is relatively new – the morning thing is new.  I’ve traditionally been a night owl, but last winter decided to try and change my body clock.  It worked – sort of. 

At the time, I was a serious caffeine addict.  Over the summer, a change in my diet helped me mostly kick that habit.  At first, I keenly felt the absence of my old stimulant, but better nutrition and fitness helped to compensate during the day.  The one time of day I still notice the dearth is in the early morning, and I finally realized that maybe even moms need more than 4.5 hours of sleep a night.

Last night my body, intensely aware of that need was not able to convince my brain that it was time to shut down.  Minute after minute passed as I watched my planned six hours of sleep dissolve into five and then four.  In the past, I’ve gotten up and written, but the last few days worry has inspired my insomnia, and I did what I do best – worried.  About braces for Jack, about the lemon I call a car sitting the driveway, and – naturally – about every flea (phantom or in-the-flesh) that might still be crawling toward our beds.  

Finally, I picked up my alarm/organizer and, surrendering the idea of writing or doing yoga this morning, I set the alarm to go off an hour later.  Then I scrolled over to the organizer trying to find another hour in the day.  It took an inordinate amount of time to remember that once I would have used this kvetching time for creating, but when I did remember, it was an ‘A ha’ moment (the nearby slumbering Big Guy just incorporated it into a dream).  Fortunately, I hadn’t scheduled worrying into my night yet, so the slot was free.  Suddenly there was time in the morning to walk the dog, clean, get exercise out of the way, eat, get the kids out of the house, and get to work.  And there was time to sleep.  

This morning the alarm went off an hour later. There was an actual to-do list (something that’s only existed in my imagination until recently).  Another hour later, the must-do’s were done.  The worry was gone, and there was an unscheduled hour, so I sat down to do what I love to do best  – write – and what could only have happened when I started to what I hate to do most – organize.

Flea-ting Moments

 

A week spent vacuuming and sterilizing and excavating our house has left me with a zero-tolerance attitude towards new flea or tick acquisition, and the bearer of fleas into our home – Katy the Wonder Dog -has suddenly had most of her freedom curtailed.

Where once she got a morning and late evening romp through the forest and fields surrounding our house, yapping at deer who have long since learned that there is no bite behind the bark, now she is condemned to keeping a slower pace beside me as we travel down and back up the road to the horse farm near our house. Katy was confused by the new routine, at first, but after a day or two appeared to begin enjoying the quality time. I've used the extra walks together as extra exercise this week, but it's also been one extra thing to do on a crowded to-do list. Today, however, the walk became its own reward.

We have another day of intense cleaning ahead of us, so I rose early for a little walking and writing time. Katy has already reset her body clock for a six a.m. walk, and was close at my heels as I trudged from bed to bathroom. It wasn't until we climbed the hill of our driveway that I began to wake up, but as we started down the hill to the horse farm, the scene that greeted us breathed the day right into me.

Before the bridge at the end of our road was closed, I drove the perfect s-curve to the farm everyday, and everyday I saw something new. Today was different. Today, I saw the same six deer that had just crossed from our woods into the field, but this morning they stood still as we came closer. They seemed curious but not fearful (they already know Katy can't catch them), and in a few minutes I was no more than 20 feet from one of them.

The mist rising up from the pond behind them made me wonder if we'd crossed into some magical realm. In a way we had. I've seen this road a thousand times before and seen the deer almost as often. But I've never really seen them.

I reached for my camera phone as quietly as possible, but it beeped, Katy barked, and the deer were gone. But the moment lasted the rest of the way home. I'm not sure if I have the fleas or the dog to thank for it.

 

The Pack

 

At the beginning of the summer, I could barely walk up the hill of our 900 hundred foot driveway without stopping to get more air. For most of the spring, I rationalized my 'performance' with the excuse that I had started the year with pneumonia. Knowing that not moving was worsening my lung condition didn't get me off the couch until late night chest pains sent me to the hospital for stress tests.

The long-tern lung infection was to blame for the chest pain, but I knew my deep and gorgeous hunger (as Cary Grant might describe it) and less gorgeous physical sloth were not helping my lungs get any better. So, as I sat in the doctor's office, watching him tap a place on my chart where I had been about 50 pounds lighter, I got to my tipping point.

A few years ago, I had another similar moment of Zen that led to a summer of good nutrition and walking. I let myself get stymied at the end (something I've already moved to prevent this year) by shortening days and a bad attitude, but I remembered that the biggest changes began when I started running. This time around, I decided to start the running with the eating plan, and taking the two roads together has made all the difference, and in a way I never would have expected.

I started very slowly using a plan that had worked three summers earlier (C25K from Runner's World – try it, it works). The plan starts you with 30 second runs followed by 90 second walks and repeats until you've been run/walking for 30-35 minutes. I am not proud to say that at the beginning of the summer, I had trouble making it once around our house or even trotting for 30 seconds. Yesterday (a few days before Labor Day), I ran 3.68 miles with hills and no stopping. Part of me wishes I could say I did it all by myself, but along the way I discovered something even more valuable than my little app. I discovered encouragement.

My first runs were always on our sloping driveway and around our bumpy yard. I was embarrassed to have anyone see how slowly I ran. Then I mentioned my new plan to my sister who's currently getting ready for a 20K. She didn't ask my times. She didn't ask if I thought I could do it. She just gave me a verbal pat on the back and said, “Keep going. I'll get us signed up for the Labor Day 5K.”

We've run the the 5K together before, and, to her credit, she ran with me the first time – giving encouragement the whole way. Then, I was very conscious of the faster runners that seemed to flow around us like gazelles cutting swaths around a slow-moving elephant. Now, I barely notice it.

In the last few months, I've begun to notice more runners on the road. I've seen them in all shapes and sizes. I see slower ones and faster ones. When I'm running, we wave at each other. When I'm driving, sometimes I'll honk or yell, “Go for it!” at them whether the windows are up or down.

They're all doing it, and when I talk with other people I know who've been running or even just started, we never compare times. We talk about going the distance. We talk about how far we've come. The women who've traveled farther share their acquired wisdom with those of us who are at the beginning of the journey. The times matter, but I never feel like I'm competing with someone else – I'm only competing with my old time.

So, if you're running (or walking) on the road, and a strange lady passes you, shouting at you to keep up the good work, she is nuts. But I've decided that if you've started your journey – no matter where you are on it – you are doing good work. And that deserves encouragement, so I'm passing it on.

 

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