Setting Goals

Running Out Of Time

IMG_3737

Before our run this morning, my son summed up how I felt about our run this morning.

Joe decided after his successful foray into track last spring that he would go out for cross-country this fall. A couple times during the summer, he received emails from his coaches encouraging training plans and providing workout schedules, emails which he deleted because denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. Once August hit after an entire summer of remaining exercise free, I suggested he do a few weeks of a Couch to 5K training app to dip his toes into the water again. Being a teenager dripping with disdain for anything requiring effort, he had less than zero interest in or enthusiasm for such an endeavor.

If there’s anything anyone who truly knows me knows about me, it’s that I don’t run. I think you should only run when you’re being chased by something bigger and heavier than you, like a large carnivore with sharp teeth or a runaway grand piano. While I have participated in a plethora of 5k events because I enjoy doing fun activities with people I like, I have not finished even one race where I ran the entire course because, as I mentioned, I don’t run. I. Don’t. Run. If you know anything else about me, though, it’s that I am doggedly determined once I set a goal. And this goal was to get Joe on his feet again.

To that end, being the super annoying mother I am, I downloaded the Couch to 5k app to my phone, waltzed into his room at 8 a.m. one oddly cool morning, tossed some socks and his running shoes onto his chest, and told him we would be leaving in 10 minutes. That was two weeks ago. I have been running with him every other day since then because it turns out I love complaining about running while running with Joe more than not running.

Today we were finishing up the last minute of our brisk-walk warm up when I noticed an elderly couple traveling side-by-side on the narrow path in front of us. He was moving along unsteadily with the aid of a cane while she held a walking stick in each hand to assist her. It was a bittersweet scene, at once a charming vision of long-term commitment to a life partner and yet a heartbreaking exhibition of the difficulty of aging. I couldn’t decide how I felt about it.

The gentleman heard us approaching, turned to verify our presence, and slowly moved behind his wife to allow us room to pass. Billie (our annoying, imaginary running coach) barked from my phone that it was time to jog. Joe sprinted off with his long, sixteen-year-old legs. I plodded along behind him and offered a polite greeting as I prepared to pass the couple. The gentleman replied in kind.

Then as I hit my stride next to them and began to leave them behind the way Joe had left me, she sighed and spoke.

“To be that young. Oh, to run again.” 

That hurt. I mentally clutched my heart with my hands.

We spend a lot of time bitching about what we must do. Our monkey minds run a non-stop chyron of obligations through our heads, preemptively sucking the joy out of doing. I’ve spent considerable time the last two weeks bitching about running, mainly while running. It didn’t make the running any easier.

Life is not about what you have to do. It’s about what you can do, even if you haven’t found your way to enjoying it yet.

 

 

The Beginning of Badassery

img_8905

I am standing in the Best Sellers section of Barnes and Noble and, directly below my reason for the visit, a bright yellow book with large black text screams to me. You Are A Badass. I ignore it (of course) and pick up the book I came in for. I begin reading its back cover. Again the book below beckons, this time it tries with a whispered “Pssst. Hey…I’m talking to you.” You Are A Badass. I look behind me. Who? Me? I pretend I heard nothing. I go back to reading. A third time it speaks up. You Are A Badass. Okay. Okay. Enough already. This book is a relentless, attention-seeking menace. So I set down The Girl on the Train and pick up the yellow book. I read the author’s first line in the Introduction, which begins directly under an inspirational quote.

I used to think quotes like this were a bunch of crap.

I decide I like this book. Because I’ve made a commitment to work on my self-esteem, and because I am intrigued and humbled by the way the Universe works and therefore it’s not lost on me that the book I came in for was placed directly above this book on an open shelf in a book store among tens of thousands of books, I buy the damn book. I have no choice.

Truth. I’m a great purchaser of self-help books. Their potential for crushing my issues in a relatively quick 200 pages suckers me every time. Second truth. I am not a great reader of self-help books. I rarely finish them because either they’re too mired in psychology and I get bored or they’re too weighed down by cutesy platitudes and I lose respect. When I get home, though, and start diving into this book, I realize this might be The One. I begin underlining ideas like a being possessed. Nearly everything the author writes is a line I can identify with or is something I desperately need to hear. It’s like one giant hug of You’re-Awesome-And-You’ve-Got-This. And at this point I feel could underline the whole book. I don’t, though, because that would just be silly.

Yesterday, I am reading (and underlining) and I run across this:

It’s not that the things and opportunities that we want in life don’t exist yet. It’s that we’re not yet aware of their existence (or the fact that we can really have them).

I get really stuck on the part in parentheses. Traditionally, I haven’t been brave enough to believe that I deserve my dreams. The voices in my head won’t allow it. What makes you so special that you deserve your dream? Don’t you appreciate how lucky you are already? Get over yourself, keep your head down, and realize that life is about living and not dreaming. Etc. Etc. Etc. Because of the voices, I’ve never allowed myself to have a dream.

So, I reflect for a few minutes about what the author is saying and try to imagine a world where I could really have a dream. What would that look like? And in my heart the answer raises its timid hand. My dream is one where I get to write every day and someone, somewhere, reads my words and finds a connection with them in their life and their experience, the way there is a connection for me with the writer of this book I am reading. As an added bonus, if I got paid for my work and never had to go back to a traditional workplace again, that would be perfection. Wait, though. Isn’t that what every writer wants? Who am I to….the negativity creeps back in, but I force it out. What if I could be a writer who made that happen? I imagine it. I let the thought in and then allow the possibility to wash over me. Mind. Blown.

A couple hours later, long after I’d stopped my reverie to let real life intervene, I stumble upon a friend’s link to a Washington Post article about a new book by Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon (aren’t we on a first name basis?) is a blogger who has written several books, the latest of which was picked by The Oprah for her book club. My friend has written this long introduction to the article, talking about honesty and truth telling. And there, near the bottom of her post after she mentions Glennon and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, I see this:

Oh, and Justine, my beautiful FB friend, your truth, your journey, fully resonates with me. Bless you for being willing to take so many risks – you are the real deal!

I read the post a second time. Then a third. Did she just mention me in the same post along with Glennon and Elizabeth? I let that sink in for a minute. Then I went into a full on cry. The good kind. The therapeutic kind where the emotion of the moment, filled with a mixed bag of joy, surprise, hope, gratitude, dreams and, yes, even self-love, swallows you whole. I let the thought occur to me. Maybe I could live my dream. For real. Kim generously reminded me that I am already on the path to doing what I previously didn’t dare dream I could do. I am writing and when my words strike the right set of eyes there is a ripple in the pond.

I went back to the Badass book to search for something I had underlined.

You don’t have to know exactly where it’s going to take you, you just need to start with one thing that feels right and keep following right-feeling things and see where they lead.

So that is my plan. I am simply going forward doing what I love to do, what feeds my soul. I am going to write with honesty and share my truth. I am going to stop second guessing things that feel right and I am going to stop thinking about who I might offend. I am going to see what kind of ripples I can create and revel in those small moments and learn from them and move on to the next one. Sooner or later, the collective ripples will become a wave, and I will sweep up my tribe and we will go be badass together.

 

 

I Am The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog

What? I don't look like a killer rabbit to you?

What? I don’t look like a killer rabbit to you?

Tonight I am celebrating because today I did something way out of my comfort zone. And I survived!

A few weeks ago, the boys’ school hired a company to make a promotional video that would be used on its website. The company planned to interview teachers, administrators, and students. They also wanted to interview some parents. Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand to be on video. I hate it. Emphasis on the word hate. Did I mention hate? It makes me so uncomfortable I want to puke. I loathe video chat. I wholeheartedly believe Facetime was invented solely as a torture device. If someone brings a video camera within 20 feet of me, I disappear faster than a case of cheap beer in a college freshman dorm room. I would honestly rather have a full on Brazilian bikini wax by an aesthetician student than appear in front of a camera. When I first saw the email asking for parent volunteers, I immediately resigned it to the Trash folder. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities at the school, I reasoned. There’s no need for you to jump in on this one. I was not going to do this. No way. No how.

But as the week wore on, that email vexed me because I knew I was exactly the kind of person that should be talking about that school. With not one but two sons with learning disabilities there, with our six years’ worth of struggles as we tried to discern how best to help our boys, with the exponential growth we’ve witnessed in them over the past eight months, I was a poster-child parent for this project. I was being a coward and I knew, that like Emmett in The Lego Movie, the self-doubt that plagued me was keeping me from reaching my true potential. I opened the Trash folder, found the email, and responded that I would be happy to help with it. I clicked send knowing that I was doing the right thing. The minute I heard the whoosh sound, I felt the bile rising.

I put the whole thing out of my mind because I figured there was no point stressing about it for weeks. Deep down I knew it would all be fine and that I was doing my usually brilliant job of making mountains out of mole hills. Over the weekend, with the video date rapidly approaching, I made a conscious decision not to think about it. I would not pick out an outfit or practice speeches. I was going into this with the most laissez-faire attitude I could muster. I’ve been working on this skill lately…trying not to borrow trouble. It would all be fine, even if my hair wasn’t perfectly coiffed and I stumbled over some words.

Today was video day, and I went in more or less off the cuff. I had an inkling of things the interviewer might ask. I prepared myself for those questions. I was feeling fairly confident…right up to the point when I walked into the room with the big video camera, boom mike, and lighting set up, and saw a single wooden stool in front of it all. I did my best to give useful answers, but found it challenging to be articulate while I was simultaneously reminding myself not to slouch, touch my hair, or look anywhere but at the interviewer. I’m not sure how long I was on that stool, but it felt like forever. As the minutes wore on, I felt my cheeks turning pinker and rounding the corner to full-tilt-embarrassed red. Finally I gave an answer that seemed to satisfy everyone, and my time in hell was over.

As I was walking to my car afterward, I found myself somewhere between needing a drink to relax and needing a drink to celebrate. I’d done it. And, despite the fact that I was now rethinking every single comment I’d made (on camera about my children in front of school staff, nonetheless), I was proud of myself. I had gone out of my comfort zone and faced a dirty, rotten fear. On the drive home from school, I quizzed the boys about their fifteen minutes of fame and then I talked about mine. I told them how good it felt to do something I really didn’t want to do but knew I should. They asked me if I was glad I did it. At the next stoplight I grabbed the Bunny Buddhism book (I carry it everywhere these days) and shared this:

Bunniness is not learned in safety. One must seek unfamiliar ground and hop without fear.

Like the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, I go forward prepared to leap upon any challenge that darkens my path. There are no fluffy bunnies here. Bring it!

 

 

 

 

Surviving The Fire Swamp

This photo is not relevant to this post. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

This photo is not relevant to this post. I just happen to find things my boys do amusing.

Buttercup (referring to the Fire Swamp): “We’ll never survive.”

Wesley: “Nonsense. You’ve only saying that because no one ever has.”

~The Princess Bride

Someone asked me yesterday where I am with the book I am working on. It was a polite question, meant only to show interest in my progress. I have been dreading this question because, well, the truth is that I am nowhere with the book I am working on because I haven’t really started it. Wait. That’s not totally true. I have two ideas fleshed out and a couple chapters in each story attempt. I also have another story idea that I really kind of like, but it is still flipping over and over in my brain like a rock in a tumbler until I decide it’s shiny enough for me to write. So, I guess I have started writing. I simply haven’t made any real progress on an actual book.

A couple days ago I began analyzing my situation to determine what is causing my writing paralysis. Originally I blamed it on a lack of time. I used my blog as an excuse. Well, I’ve been off my blog more or less for over a month now and I haven’t added one lousy, stinking word to any of my started stories. Not one. I haven’t worked on a character sketch or written an outline. Aside from giving a couple hours’ worth of mental massage to my stories, I haven’t done a thing. I don’t suppose I can blame my blog for my lack of progress anymore. I have time now that the boys are back in school. As I documented the other day, I’ve had enough time to clean out my pantry, hand wash the floors, and dust baseboards. All those housecleaning maneuvers are clearly nothing but the actions of a desperate woman. I’m uncomfortable enough with the idea of having to write something creative that I cleaned out my pantry. I hadn’t done that job properly once in the ten years we’ve been in this house. Interesting that I should decide now is the time to remedy that situation.

Tonight, though, during a conversation with my sister it hit me. I was able to admit what is at the root of my procrastination. It’s fear. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it. I’m afraid that if I do finish it that it still won’t be worth reading. I’m concerned that perhaps my putting myself forth as a writer was a mistake because if I do this and I’m not successful then I won’t even be able to claim that I am a writer. And, I only just got up the nerve to admit that I’m a writer a little less than a year ago. What if I’m a sham?

I’m a smart gal. I know there are no guarantees. I know that the best things in life come when you take a risk. I know that life is a growth proposition and to make forward progress you actually have to move. I know all these things. So, what the hell is my problem? Why am I being such a scaredy cat? And, how do I get beyond my fear? How do I make it through the Fire Swamp when I don’t see any way to survive?

I’d love to believe I could face the Fire Swamp the way that Wesley did, with optimism, blind faith, and complete confidence that it would all simply somehow work out. But, I don’t work that way, which is what has gotten me into this predicament in the first place. Rather than taking Wesley’s approach, like Inigo Montoya, I think I need to go back to the beginning. I need to make mini-goals that aren’t as scary as the goal of writing an actual book. Perhaps, first I will write a paragraph and see how that goes. Maybe I can do that every day for a week and then gradually, over time, I will find that fiction writing isn’t really as terrifying as I’m imagining? I nearly stalled out on my 80-page Master’s thesis due to this same type of writer’s paralysis, but I survived that Fire Swamp so I’m fairly certain I can negotiate this one. I have to stop telling myself I can’t. There are no flame spurts, lightning sand, or R.O.U.S. here, anyway, so that means my chances of survival are pretty good.

 

Keep Your Hands Inside The Ride At All Times

You could eat out of this pantry without being poisoned. No more canned goods from 2003!

You could eat out of this pantry without being poisoned. No more canned goods from 2003!

I’m a strange beast. For most of the year, I operate at breakneck speed. I can’t stand to be bored. You likely won’t catch me growing mold as I fester on the couch, not even during the winter months. I’m busy, and I like it that way. But, for three weeks, three glorious weeks beginning mid-December and running through the first full week of January, I shut down and become Slothstine rather than Justine. In all likelihood exhausted from 49 straight weeks of running headlong into my future, I quit moving. I don’t work out. I only go out when absolutely necessary (apparently Christmas with the family is compulsory). I lounge in bed reading, surfing Al Gore’s Internet, playing games on my iPhone, and going into some sort of trance while busting through episode after episode of my latest television show du jour. It is decidedly, uncharacteristically, not at all like me.

There are pluses and minuses about this annual holiday shutdown. On the bad side, without my usual workouts and time on my yoga mat, I often resurface during the second week of January only to find a random Hot Tamale candy stuck in my hair and tell-tale orange fingerprints on my clothes from excessive Cheetos consumption. And, it’s right about that time that I step on the scale and hear it whimper. My house is a pit because it’s hard to clean a bathroom when your butt hasn’t moved out of bed. My husband, like a dog whose repeated enthusiastic requests for a nice walk have gone unanswered, stops barking at my door. Of course, that might have more to do with my slovenly state than with ego-bruise gained from the repeated times I smacked him on the nose with the rolled up newspaper when he asked if I wanted to go for a long, winter’s walk with him. My kids. Well…where are my kids, anyway? I have no idea. And, at the end of this three week period of sloth and gluttony, a time during which the only real accomplishment I can note is my OCD completion of three puzzles (2500 individual pieces, thank you very much), I’m usually ready to hit the ground running as soon as the kids start back to school after Christmas break. If I can find them, that is.

Just as Punxsutawney Phil emerges after a long, shadowless winter, I too am ready for spring. Yes. Spring is still over two months away. I know this. But, I’m well-rested after my three weeks of hibernation. To that end, in the past four days I’ve picked up the pace. I’ve done insane things, like wash light fixtures, clean out our pantry, and scrub the laundry room floor on my hands and knees. I finally made it back to yoga today, and they’re having a promotion that coincides with my fitness goals. If I complete 20 classes in 30 days I’ll get a retail credit for new yoga clothes, so that’s a win-win, right? I registered for the Tubbs Romp to Stomp 5k snowshoe event in Frisco, the 7k Running of the Green (which, knowing me, will be more like a Walking of the Green), and my annual MS150 ride. Yesterday I whipped out 16 handmade greeting cards so I won’t miss birthdays during the first quarter of 2013. I think I’m finally back on track.

I used to feel bad about this rollercoaster ride I’m on. I would berate myself for falling off the wagon and losing myself to Christmas cookies and movie theater popcorn. I don’t anymore. The way I have it figured I’m merely one of those people who needs something to motivate her. And, nothing motivates me more than the chance to let go and fall apart occasionally. After a quick, exhilarating downhill slide, my coaster car is back on the platform and about to begin its next ascent up the highest peak on the coaster. I’m a lifelong coaster rider, and I’m ready for another go around. There will be plenty of time to relax again when I head down the big hill next December, arms in the air, smile on my face. It’s all good.

 

 

 

 

The End Of The Tunnel

No one was harmed in the making of this lunch. How incredibly awesome is that?

Since my sons were born, I’ve spent more of my waking hours caring for them than I’ve spent caring for myself. I don’t mention this as a complaint. It’s just what is. It is the nature of the beast of parenting. When you decide to bring another life into this world, you change the course of your own irrevocably. With our recent revelations about our sons and their learning difficulties, I’ve spent more time doing things for them than I have in a while. My life has been a blur of paperwork, interviews, conversations, and applications. Because my husband is already a full-time, paid, paper-pusher elsewhere, these tasks fall to me. While all the filling in blanks and checking off boxes is tedious work, it’s infinitely preferable to all the nose and butt wiping I’ve managed to leave behind as the boys have gotten older. I’m still doing things for my boys, but at least the things I’m doing are becoming less odious. I’ve always felt it was a parent’s duty to do all they can for their children to give them a leg up in this world. Tonight I realize I was at least partially wrong.

As the hours inched on toward bedtime, I realized I needed to make Luke’s lunch. I didn’t want to. I just did not feel like it. As a rule, not feeling like it is not ample enough excuse to avoid the task, so I suck it up. Tonight, I was happily lazing on the sofa researching spring break options and watching Sunday Night Football. Making lunches sounded like a dismal reason to get off my expanding hindquarters. So, at 9:15, when my son should have been headed up to bed, I made a lazy parent decision.

“Luke,” I bossed, “go make your lunch.” There. No longer my problem.

“You want me to do it?” he asked, surprised.

“Yep. You know how you like your sandwich. You will make it better than Dad or I could, anyway. Get busy.”

At this point, I was certain I would encounter verbal backlash or, at the very least, a small whimper or whine. But, none came. Luke simply marched into the kitchen and started gathering his materials. In five minutes he had assembled his lunch: a PB&J (crusts jettisoned, of course), a plastic sleeve filled with organic yogurt, a small container of Goldfish crackers, a “healthy” (read: no food coloring or high fructose corn syrup) fruit roll-up, and an organic vanilla milk. He shoved it carefully into his Star Wars: The Clone Wars lunch box and was about to flee the scene when I called him back and made him clean up the mess, which he also did without fuss. Then he headed upstairs to play a round of Draw Something with me on his brother’s iPad while I stood there, jaw hanging open and hand scratching my head.

Years back, I had allowed our sons to make their own lunches one time. It was only one time because they had assembled lunches filled with Halloween candy, cans of soda, and a measly sandwich. In the process, they had turned our kitchen into a replica of the food fight scene from Animal House, and I’d had to shoo them out and start over but with twice the amount of work. I chalked it up to immaturity and boyhood. I figured they weren’t ready. In fact, I wondered if they might never be ready. Tonight, though, our 9 year old son made his own lunch and it was no big deal. There was no whining. There was no colossal mess. I was tempted to look around for the hidden camera. He’d completed the entire task without drawing blood or destroying the kitchen. And….and…the best part was that I hadn’t even had to get off the sofa for it all to happen. Perhaps it wasn’t the best lunch in the history of lunches and yet it was because I hadn’t had to make it.

It got me to thinking. My boys might be a lot more capable than I’ve previously thought. I started to wonder if I’m doing too much for them. Perhaps they’re at the ages now when they are ready to take on greater responsibility. Not only would it save me some work, but it would also give them an opportunity to experience all they are capable of. It will build their esteem. It will increase their skill set. Holy cow! I’ve been robbing my children of the gift of self-sufficiency. Well, no more, I say. There are so many things I should not be doing for my boys. The possibilities are endless. Wait. Just ahead. Do you see it? That light? It must be the end of the tunnel.

 

What About THAT Guy?

Yesterday I went to do one of my usual fall workouts. I know it’s not technically fall yet, but when the kids go back to school it’s fall for me. Anyway, I was at Red Rocks Amphitheater to do my standard exercise routine there. It basically consists of my walking or jogging a loop around the inside of the amphitheater…up the stairs, across the top of the amphitheater, down the stairs on the other side, across the front of the stage, and back up again. Depending on my energy level and schedule, I will do that 5-10 times. It’s not overly strenuous because I don’t get too intense about it, but it’s enough of an interval workout to get my heart pumping and my legs worn out. The charm of working out at Red Rocks goes beyond the sheer beauty of Red Rocks itself with its scenic with views of Denver and the towering red rocks framing the vivid blue sky. When you’re there, you feel like something of a bad ass. You’re not walking your dog down your block; you’re out there with the warriors who leap the steps, jump the benches, do lunges at the top of the amphitheater, and then crunches on the stage. And even if you’re not there doing a boot-camp style workout, you’re still there putting in your time. The folks who work out there form a loose community of nut jobs for whom a jaunt around the park does not truly register as exercise. You are a part of something unique and cool. You’re at the most awesome gym in the country. You’re a link in the crazy Colorado network of endorphin junkies. It’s no mistake that Colorado is the leanest state in the nation. We work at it.

So, as I was climbing stairs and feeling particularly bad ass for being there when what I really wanted to be doing after only five hours sleep was napping, I spied this guy.

<——-This guy is a firefighter. He’s in his full gear. He’s hauling a hose. He’s got his tank strapped to his back. He’s climbing the stairs in boots. Somehow, after watching him walk the stairs I was walking while wearing all that gear, I didn’t feel like such a bad ass any longer. In Colorado, as impressive as your dedication to your own health and fitness is, there is always someone who is more dedicated, someone who is doing what you do only he’s doing it longer, harder, faster, and better than you will ever do it. It’s humbling. It’s also inspiring. In my next life, I want to be that guy. For now, I’ll be satisfied that I was out climbing stairs at Red Rocks rather than sitting on my butt on the patio at Starbucks with a morning bun and a triple venti latte.