self-reflection

Switching Gears

Full disclosure: My husband advised me against writing this post. He did this because he is embarrassed for me by what I am about to disclose. He suggested I might not want to share this particular story. Second full disclosure: Listening well has never been in my wheelhouse. So I am going to tell my story anyway. 

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6:30 on Saturday morning

Steve and I started road cycling in 2009. When we brought my new bike home, a shiny, blue-and-silver $1300 aluminum frame contraption with mid-level components, Steve had to explain to me how the dang thing worked. I could ride a bike, but this was the most high-tech cycle I had ever owned. Steve began by telling me about the brakes and reminded me squeezing the front brake too hard too quickly would cause me to somersault head-over-heels off the bike. That seemed like an important point, so I memorized that. He showed me how to take the wheels off in case of a flat. I sort of paid attention to that detail. Then he continued explaining how to make the bike work for me. About two seconds after he mentioned mechanical advantage, I checked out. Mechanical advantage sounded a lot like physics. Yawn.

I am a bottom line person. Where some people like the fine details and want to understand the minutiae of a topic, I want to know only what I need to know. Call it impatience. Call it short sighted. Call it crazy. I call it being married to a man who tosses me a 300-page camera manual and tells me to read it when all I want to know is which button on the auto-focus monster snaps the photos.

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Ready for a beautiful ride

So as he was describing how the gears up front work in conjunction with the gears in the back to help you increase your speed or climb hills or whatever (like I said, physics), I interrupted him to posit when we might get to that ever important bottom line.

“Which gear do I want to be in to make it easier?” I asked.

He started in again about mechanical advantage, yadda yadda yadda, and I went on another mental vacation. I vaguely heard something about “big gear,” “small gear,” “front,” and “back.” I would figure it out. How hard could it be? It was a bicycle. All I needed to know was how to get going and how to stop. I could do that already.

Steve and I participated in the Tour of the Moon ride into Colorado National Monument on Saturday. We first discussed this ride as we were coming off the high of completing the Bike MS ride in June. I registered us and then I forgot about it. Two months went by during which we got on our bikes only twice for short, easy rides. A couple days ago, we started considering our options for the weekend and chose to go ahead with the ride without training. We figured we might be sore afterward, but we could handle it. At the hotel the night before, I glanced for the first time at the ride’s elevation profile. Big mistake. In roughly 16 miles we would climb about 3500 feet. Did not sleep well with that knowledge.

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13 miles of flat, 16 miles of climbing, 12 miles screaming descent

The next morning as we approached the monument and the dreaded climb was looming, Steve asked me what gear I was in.

“I’m on the middle ring,” I told him, referring to my front gears.

The middle is where I most often stay when riding because, well, I don’t understand my gears because, well, I didn’t pay attention during my lesson. In the past, I have tried to switch gears on a hill, lost momentum, stalled out, and simply flopped over sideways still clipped into my bike pedals. I haven’t enjoyed that, so the middle gear has remained my crutch and faithful companion. It gets me where I am going, and I don’t fall over while switching gears. Win-win.

We pulled off into a church parking lot so Steve could investigate. He told me to switch into the easiest gear. I did.

“What gear is your chain on?”

“The big one,” I replied.

“The big one up front?” he asked.

“Yes. Granny gear.”

“Umm…that is not granny gear,” came the reply.

“Yes it is. You told me the big gear up front was granny gear.”

“You want the small gear up front and the big gear in the back,” he told me.

“This is how I have always done it,” I told him.

“Always? Not always,” he asked doubtfully.

“As long as I can remember,” I said.

“Then you have been climbing in the wrong gear,” he replied.

Well, shit. No wonder I’ve hated hills.

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About to head into the first tunnel through the rock

With my bike finally figured out (nine years later), we began our ascent. The new gear knowledge worked like a charm. The ride wasn’t exactly easy (rain, hail, and cold weather temps ensured that), but I had no problem riding. My legs weren’t tired. I pedaled up the hills slower than molasses in January, but I never felt like quitting. And you know why? Because for the past nine years I have been training for this one ride by cruising along in middle gear. And that is an oddly perfect metaphor for my life to this point. From the beginning, I’ve made things more difficult for myself than they needed to be. I checked out too soon or checked in too late or somehow managed to do both. There isn’t much to gain from an easy path, so I’ve grown through my hard (and occasionally not necessary) work.

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Wet, cold, and looking at the road out

Perhaps you now understand why Steve was reluctant about my relaying this story. It’s embarrassing. This blonde moment lasted nine years. It’s practically a blonde decade. And, at a point in my not too distant past, I would have been too mortified to share this information. But I am older now and working to accept my flaws and appreciate my gifts. I am learning to look on the bright side. I could take this whole bike-gear lunacy and go to a dark place about what a dolt I am and how naive I was not to figure out my bike properly in the first place. Instead, I’ve chosen to be positive. For something between the 3000-5000 miles I have ridden over the years, I have worked at my cycling. Every ride I undertook, I rode with more effort than I needed to give. All the times I felt weak because the hill climbs seemed much harder for me than for others, it was because they were most likely harder. And the times I passed other riders cruising up a hill in a harder gear than necessary, it was because I was strong, stronger than I had any idea I was. That is not embarrassing. It is an awesome discovery of my power and resiliency.

I’m not saying I will eschew the easiest gear going forward. That would be silly. Sometimes the path of least resistance is a good idea. I might, however, keep riding in middle gear a bit longer and see what else I can do.

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Dried off, warming up, waiting for espresso, dreaming of wine

 

 

Never Too Late To Turn Around

Me and my Joe 8 years ago

This morning in the car, my oldest son and I were discussing a potential switch of schools for him next year. If he were in public school, he would already be switching schools next year as he heads into middle school. As it is now, though, he goes to a private, K-8 school. His father and I have been wondering lately, though, if he would be better off in a public charter school where he would have access to special ed teachers and where he would have an IEP in place that would help him have greater success in his studies. His current school has very high academic standards and, while they do make accommodations for him, it’s recently occurred to us that we’re asking our ADHD son to work at a level that is a challenge for children with normal cognitive function. While we never wanted Joe to think he could use his ADHD as an excuse not to strive for the highest end, we also never wanted to set him up for failure either. Joe is a bit tentative about switching schools because of the big change it will be. So, we’ve been talking about it as a family, trying to make the right decision. Today, though, our discussion lingered the entire course of the ride to school.

When we got there, Joe remembered he was supposed to be using that time to review for a test he has today. In his 5th grade class this week, they’ve been asked to memorize the names of all 66 books of the Bible and to know the correct spellings for these books. I can’t stress enough what a Herculean task this is for Joe. The memorization part is work but not impossible, but his spelling is not strong. Asking him to spell 66 names that many adults could not tackle (Habakkuk is not exactly a household word) seems a bit much for 10 and 11 year old children. But, this was his task this week for Bible and spelling.

“I was supposed to be studying this,” he said when we got there, pointing to a bookmark he’d been using to review the names and spellings.

“Well, take it with you,” I said. “Maybe you’ll have some time to review a bit before the test.”

“I won’t have time,” he said, tossing the bookmark onto the back seat. I picked it up and handed it back to him.

“Take it,” I insisted.

“I won’t have time,” he insisted back.

“Take it!” I said, becoming increasingly annoyed.

“I’ll just leave it here,” he said as he tucked it into a car door pocket and began to close the door.

Then, before I could stop myself, in my total annoyance I uttered these words:

“Well, fine. Now I’m mad at you.”

He looked at me and closed the door. At that moment, I wanted to staple my mouth shut. What the hell is wrong with you? I watched him walk off toward his best buddy. I pulled away. I got as far as the right turn lane at the end of the school driveway before the tears came. How could I do that to my sensitive and sweet boy? How could I let him go into school with the words “I”m mad at you” repeating in his head all day? What kind of a creep does that? I was sick to my stomach. How could I leave things that way with my beautiful son who means everything to me?

I pulled out of the lot, made a u-turn at the first available spot, and headed back to the school. A minute after I had left I was back in the lot. I parked my car and approached him and his friends. Having your mom approach you when you’re in 5th grade is highly embarrassing, so he walked closer to meet me away from his friends. He looked nervous and sad. I pulled him to me by his shoulders and leaned in so that my forehead was resting on his.

“I am so sorry, sweetie. I’m not really mad at you. I don’t want you to think that. I love  you,” I said.

He looked into my eyes, muttered a quick “I love you too,” and I let him run back to his friends before the horror of having a personal moment with his mom in front of God and the world sunk in.

As I walked back to the car, I felt a bit better, not in a great mom kind of way but at least I was no longer miserable. I mean, a great mom would have kept her patience and held her tongue, right? I’m not exactly gifted in that area. I’m a passionate and excitable person. I get frustrated and have a tendency to run off at the mouth even as I know what I’m saying is absolute crap. One thing I am getting better at all the time, though, is apologizing for my temporary insanity. If I know I am wrong, I can admit it. I might not admit it immediately, but I will admit it as soon as I’m able to recognize it. Luckily, my skill at recognizing my idiotic behavior is improving all the time. (Probably because I give myself ample practice.)

When I got home, I saw this quote by Doe Zantamata on Facebook as if it were a sign: “It’s never too late to turn it all around. Be honest with yourself and others. If anything you’re doing in life  is not what you should be doing…stop. Life is way too short to continue in the wrong direction, but the longer that you do, the less time you will have to travel in the right direction.” This morning I could have driven off and left things the way they were with my son, but I didn’t. I turned the car around and tried to make it right. Am I disappointed in myself for not shutting my yap in the first place? Absolutely. But, I’m so, so glad that instead of continuing in the wrong direction, I made a u-turn this morning. It’s not everything, but it’s a step in the right direction.