Sunday, October 3, 2010

Long Run

6 days from today I will run the inaugural Gulf Coast-Louisiana Northshore Half Marathon. It should be a great race, along the lake, a sunny and cool October morning on the Northshore. I've been training consistently, watching the aches and pains, stretching, taking days off when needed. Saturday I ticked off 6 quarter-mile repeats at a 7:30 pace and was breathing normally throughout the entire workout. Yesterday morning I ran 11miles that felt like 5 or 6: I never got to that point in the run where I'm typically muttering things like christ-just-make-it-go-away-make-this-stop-why-the-hell-do-I-put-myself-through-this-every-weekend or don't-look-at-me-lady-what-the-fuck-are-you-looking-at-haven't-you-ever-seen-someone-take-her-shirt-off-in-the-middle-of-the-park? or dear-god-is-that-a-client-cannot-let-them-see-me-stumbling-around-the-edge-of-the-track-trying-not-to-hurl , or anything even close to that. I listened to Ben Folds and even sang along a bit during my favorite tunes. And last Wednesday night, after a terribly exhausting day of work, I did a 5-mile tempo run down the streetcar line that left me feeling like an 8-year old, but in a good way. I feel ready for the race, in good shape for it; I may even be in the best shape of my adult life.

And I am scared shitless.

Okay, so that's a bit of hyperbole, but the emotion is real and really negative. At the end of a long training phase, right before a race, I like to do a few visualizations; I think they help me feel mentally prepared and push a little excitement and energy into those final workouts. But I have found, when imagining myself lining up in Fontainebleu State Park for this race, a strange tightness forms in the center of my chest, and I get a little woozy. My left hip starts to ache and suddenly I'm aware of the kink in my right hamstring. I try to picture myself crossing the finish line and instead of jubilation and relief, I see pain, frustration, disappointment.

This is not good.

It's no mystery to me that this all stems from my Mardi Gras marathon experience last Spring: I sustained an injury that I initially thought to be sciatica but turned out to be a stress fracture in my hip that took 10 weeks to heal. I was surprised by how deeply that experience affected me; running isn't even close to being my job, as my daughter once assumed, so why should a hiatus feel so devastating? In the intial stages of healing, I harbored the deep, paralyzing fear that I would have to stop running entirely--like, forever--and that thought produced a wellspring of emotion so powerful and dark that I was forced to examine where it was coming from. What sort of crazy attachment was provoking such emotion?

Driving down St. Charles Avenue one evening at dusk, as I watched the runners trot up and down the streetcar line, I began to cry so uncontrollably that I had to pull over. My leg throbbed; I saw a PT who taught me some active stretches, told me to stop sleeping on my side, and was careful to make no assurances that I would return to running. I went home and curled up in bed. I took walks that felt like torture, both physically and mentally. For the first time ever, I walked the Crescent City Classic, and had to down a couple of jello shots along the way to keep from becoming visibly despondent. Something had been stolen from me, something really valuable, and I was convinced I would never get it back. I tried talking about it and found that my fears were met with either bland reassurance ("you'll run again, give it time") or benign dismissal ("you could always take up swimming/cycling/tennis"). Every time I got on the stationary bike at the gym I wanted to throw my magazine across the room, preferably right into the bulging calves of the runner pounding out intervals on the treadmill in front of me.

One day, just before Jazz Fest, I realized my hip had stopped throbbing. I went for my walk in the park and decided to try a light jog; I was surprised and thrilled to find that it didn't hurt. I jogged one half mile, then walked the rest of the way. I did this again a couple of days later, and again and again and again, adding a bit more running each time. Over the summer I thought I broke my fear of racing by participating in the NOTC Free for All Summer Series, a series of 2-milers in the blistering heat; I performed well at each of them and so signed up for some fall races. I did the Crescent Connection Road Race in September and though it is a killer, I was the 20th woman to finish and nearly won my age group. I should have conquered this fear by now, but still it lingers, clouding my vision, warping my ability to judge my readiness for this race on Sunday.

The subject of identity is one I broach almost every day; the people with whom I work often come to me with these questions or struggles, and my job is to help them form a picture of themselves that feels real and meaningful. And though identity is not entirely about the things we do, it is partially that. What's the first thing we typically ask someone we've just met? Isn't it about what they do for a living? And when asked to describe ourselves, don't we typically start with the things we like to do? What's more, don't we tend to omit the things we used to do--the activities that used to define us--but don't engage in anymore? For example: I spent most of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood engaged in playing, writing, and studying music. Every day, for significant portions of the day, I engaged in musical activities; thus, I called myself a musician. But grad school killed that joy for me and the regularity with which I engaged in musical activities declined and so I no longer describe myself as a musician; that part of my identity has been retired (though not permanently, I hope).

Running has been an active fixture of my identity for a long time now. Even before I took it seriously, it was something I held on to as a stable and continuous facet of my existence, something I could point to and say: yes, I do this thing. When you willingly get up before dawn to engage in an activity a few days a week for years on end, you earn the right to claim the activity as your own. When I became a parent it was especially important to me that I hold on to this thing. In those not-infrequent moments of existential ambiguity, where my mind starts to wander into the bright, empty spaces, when I look at Sydney and start to wonder about the point of having children and raising children and giving it all up just so that those children can grow up to have children and raise children and give it all up all over again--in those moments, part of what pulls me towards a more reasonable place is the reminder that I have things that belong to me, things I create for myself, palaces I've built. Running is one of those things. It is precious. It is something I am building.

It also keeps me healthy (well, except for the hip fractures). I struggled with nearly debilitating joint pain throughout my childhood and adolescence; doctors could never figure it out but both my grandmother and my mother suffer with it. I missed days of school, I cried through many nights, and nothing ever helped. Nothing except running; since I started running regularly, in early adulthood, the pain has ceased. It has simply gone away. My moods are more stable and I rarely have trouble sleeping. I've always been a physically active person but all of these improvements are attributable to running.

So what if I have to give it up? What if, 7 or 8 miles into this race, something *pops* and I have to limp to the finish? Will that be an indicator that the end has begun? Or will it be just another setback?

There's no way to predict, of course, so I will just get up on Sunday morning and drive to the Northshore and line up with the rest and give it a go. I'll try not to think about that last time, or all the times ahead of me. I'll remember that conversation I had with my daughter a few weeks ago, when we went running together and she stopped about three-quarters of a mile from our house and claimed she was too tired to make it home and I told her that being a runner means finding strength when you think you don't have any left. I'll remember how she brushed the hair from her face and picked her arms up by her side in the way I'd shown her and put one little foot in front of the other, all the way home. She thought she was done, back there, but proved to herself she had the strength left to continue, and that was a very important lesson for her to learn.

A very important lesson, indeed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

To Sydney, On Your 5th Birthday


You are 5 years old today. It's hard to believe that it's only been 5 years since I first held you, first stroked your dark, curly hair, first shared you with another person. Then again, it seems like you've always been with us.

What a year this has been. I've said that every September for the past 5 years, I know, but the last 365 days have been filled to bursting with every sort of milestone and celebration. Last year I wrote about my feelings about your upcoming graduation from Abeona House, and your move to Big School; I simply could not imagine how we would all handle such a major change. But you, you amazing and brave and powerful little girl, handled the transition with complete grace. On the last Friday in May you walked down the ramp at Abeona House, giggling with your friend Amaya, and took the certificate Ms. Emmy handed you; 3 days later I left you in a crowd of strangers at a summer camp across the river. You looked so tiny sitting there amid all the bigger kids, with your princess backpack and princess sneakers, but when the time came you kissed me goodbye and took a seat on the floor with your group, arms crossed over the tops of your knees. I stepped outside and watched through the window as you sat quietly, taking it all in. Watching you there made me feel relieved and proud, of course, but it also made me acutely aware of your inner life: what was going on in your little mind? What mysteries were swirling around in there? For the first time ever I experienced you as separate from me. There are things about you I will never know, thoughts I will never be privy to, feelings that will remain hidden.

But here is what I do know: you are fierce, you are fiercely loving, you are a social creature but tend to be shy and reserved around people you don't know well. You are left-handed, and this causes me a ridiculous amount of anxiety with regard to the logistics of teaching you how to tie your shoes. You are keenly aware of rules and like to know whether or not you are following them. You love to draw and paint, to do puzzles, to read, to sing, and create menus and serve meals to me from your play kitchen in the little house outside.

You are very girly; every day you must wear a dress. I know my wardrobe disappoints you.

You are starting to read and write. You started a "dream book" recently, wherein you record the important ones, or the ones you manage to remember; I help you occasionally with the words but you like to sound out and spell the words as much as you can. Your first story is called "The Scary" and reads: "I was in my bedroom. I fell in a tunnel. I was scared. I met a princess. She told me the way out."

You have a gigantic personality. Everyone who knows you knows that booty dance you do when you get really worked up, your infectious laughter, your VOLUME. They also probably know your sweetness, your sensitivity, the way your little hand rests on the back of the younger child you're guiding across the playground. They've undoubtedly seen what Dad calls your "troll face," which we see a couple of times a day, sometimes more if you're tired or if Evan is getting on your nerves more than usual.

There was a lot of Katrina talk over the last few months, as we approached the 5-year anniversary, and you've seemed more and more curious about--and proud of--the story of your birth. We talk about how Dad and I left New Orleans that Sunday morning, and you seem particularly interested in the fact that we didn't bring any of your baby stuff, except for the car seat. I explain to you that bringing the seat was a last minute impulse, and seemed at the time to be a ridiculous waste of precious car space, and I watch you struggle to understand why we didn't know what was coming. We talk about living in Houston with Aunt Syd and Uncle Parry, how I found a new doctor and we got all set to have you there, how PaPa even made you a basinette while we all waited for you to be born. You have a hard time understanding that Miranda and Josephine, who live with Nana and PaPa, were actually our cats before the storm, how they moved with me and Dad from New Orleans but had to go back with your grandparents when they left Houston a couple of weeks later. We talk about the other hurricane, the one that came to Houston and forced us to leave a few days after you were supposed to be born but hadn't yet arrived, how we drove for 3 days until we reached Grandma's house in Orlando. You like hearing how you were born the day after we arrived, at the same hospital in which your beloved cousin Ethan was born. As you get older I see you developing an awareness of the special nature of your story, which is fun to watch. How many people can claim such an interesting beginning?

You draw me lots of pictures and somewhere on almost every one of them are the words "I Love You." I hope you hear this often enough.

Thank you for choosing us, for challenging me to be a better person, for bringing us such incredible joy. Even our difficult days are so important, so precious. I hope you will read this 15 or 20 years from now and know, deep in your bones, the wonderful gift you are and how much you are loved.

Happy Birthday to my big girl.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010


From Annie Dillard's "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek":

Thomas Merton wrote, "There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues." There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have "not gone up into the gaps." The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzilingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound...Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock--more than a maple--a universe. This is how you spend the afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Two People Agree

Last week, a childhood friend of mine who writes a wonderful blog posted something about an article she'd read about therapy; the next day I found a copy of this same article in my box at work and figured I needed to read it. The article, called "My Life in Therapy," chronicles the experiences of a chronically depressed woman who seeks the services of many, many psychoanalysts over the course of her life. I read it with great interest and increasing distress: her experiences were just so awful, so invalidating,

The author states from the outset that:
To this day, I’m not sure that I am in possession of substantially greater self-knowledge than someone who has never been inside a therapist’s office. What I do know, aside from the fact that the unconscious plays strange tricks and that the past stalks the present in ways we can’t begin to imagine, is a certain language, a certain style of thinking that, in its capacity for reframing your life story, becomes — how should I put this? — addictive.
This is probably my greatest professional concern: that I will not actually help anyone, but only serve to perpetuate the therapeutic tropes that run rampant in our culture. Come see me, go watch Dr. Phil, go read a book by Dr. Laura--whatever, it's all the same.

She goes on to write about an experience she had with one of her analysts wherein she found herself profoundly bothered by the rules and regulations of the relationship, but simultaneously found it necessary to keep her mouth shut:
Needless to say, I didn’t air any of these thoughts and instead went into my skittish, slightly apologetic, pre-emptively self-deprecating patient mode — intent on sounding like someone who was aware of the pathological currents that ran beneath a life that might be viewed as functional, even successful, if looked at from afar.
I guess you could look at this a couple of ways: as the unending spiral of an incurable neurotic--as most analysts would likely see it--or as the understandable need to portray oneself in a certain way so as not to be labeled prematurely. In my experience, the latter seems disturbingly reasonable: there are a whole lot of pathologizing clinicians out there, people who will diagnose every assertive woman with Borderline Personality Disorder, who start talking about "resistance" when patients start questioning the point of therapy. And speaking of questioning:
All of which raises the question: What exactly is the point? How can you be expected to know when being in therapy is the right choice, to know which treatments are actually helpful and which serve merely to give the false sense of reassurance that comes with being proactive, with doing all that we can? Does anyone, for example, really know what “character change” looks like?...Even to this day, I’m not sure I know anyone whose character has been genuinely transformed because of therapy. If anything, most people seem to emerge as more backed-up versions of themselves.
I felt truly heartened when I read this passage. In fact, this is the point in therapy when I frequently feel the most hopeful: when a client begins to question the usefulness of the whole endeavor. The whole idea of "character change" repulses me, frankly, and I use the moment of questioning as an opportunity to tell people precisely that. The job of the therapist, in my opinion at least, is not to change the character of a person, but to help that person become more fully themselves. Sure, it can be and often is about changing problem behaviors or habits, but the self of the person should remain not only intact but more solid, more whole, more robust. I have come to understand that people arrive at my office with the expectation that I will reveal to them all that is flawed within themselves, then give them the necessary tools to remedy the problems. This makes me immensely frustrated with the whole business of therapy, which is truly responsible for the idea that most people are flawed.

One of the most striking passages in the article dealt with the issue of the therapeutic relationship:
And for all the emphasis on therapy’s being a place of intimate disclosure — for all the times, in between shows of hostility, that I haltingly stated my feelings of great affection or even love for my therapists — none of them ever opened up about their feelings for me other than to convey a vague liking or appreciation for some facet of my personality.
I have to admit a certain fascination with this topic. Therapist transparency is a hotly contested topic, with some clinicians--mostly those of the psychoanalytic persuasion, but some plain old psychotherapists as well--maintaining that transparency or self-disclosure on the part of the therapist only serves the therapist's own needs and inevitably muddies the therapeutic waters, while others--myself, and most therapists of the existential persuasion--believe that transparency is essential to an authentic and intimate relationship. Let me be clear: I believe in strong and healthy boundaries, and while I keep photos of my kids on my office desk and respond geniunely to personal inquiries, while I invite frank discussions about the nature of the therapeutic relationship and frequently express my care and concern for the people I see--despite this belief in authenticity, I am also aware of the threat of self-indulgence, the TMI factor, the thin line that sometimes exists between transparency and non-productive self-disclosure. And I harbor the not-so-secret-anymore suspicion that those clinicians who denounce transparency are somehow uncomfortable with the between-ness of the therapeutic relationship; that they can't quite negotiate the kind of working relationship that's based on true human contact, not arbitrary heirarchies.
I was wary by this point of the alacrity with which I attached to shrinks, each and every one of them, as if I suspended my usual vigilant powers of critical judgment in their presence merely because they wore the badge of their profession. The truth of the matter was that in more than 40 years of therapy...I never developed a set of criteria by which to assess the skill of a given therapist, the way you would assess a dentist or a plumber. Other than a presentable degree of intelligence and an office that didn’t set off aesthetic alarms...I wasn’t sure what made for a good one.
And this, of course, is a major freaking problem. I have no problem stating for the record that there are a great number of very bad therapists out there--I've seen a couple of them myself--and the potential for these people to inflict serious harm makes me gasp for breath. The beauty and gift of the therapeutic relationship is, alas, it's Achilles heel: the subjectivity of the intimate relationship makes it difficult for many people to separate "their own issues" from true and real problems with the practitioner. But here's some real and objective truth:

A good therapist will encourage questioning--at the very least they will not try to make you believe that your questioning suggests a fundamental resistance towards self-reflection. Good therapists will project warmth; they will project caring; they will set a tone of safety and acceptance. A good therapist will have strong boundaries, but won't shame you for making personal inquiries. A good therapist will help you discover yourself and learn skills to help you function better, if that is what you are seeking. A good therapist will admit mistakes.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article, and I wish the author well on her journey to find the "right" therapist. Of all the things that struck me in reading this, perhaps nothing resonated so completely as this line, attributed to the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips:

"Psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex."

I don't know why I love this, but I do. I really do.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Driving to New Orleans

The first time I drove to New Orleans, it was on a whim. My soon-to-be best friend approached me and my then-boyfriend after class on a Wednesday afternoon and asked if we were interested in heading to New Orleans the next day for this thing called Jazz Fest; she didn't have a car and I did and I said sure, why the hell not? The next day we headed out after class, the 3 of us piled into my Dodge Omni for the 10-hour drive, chugging up I-75 to I-10, across the dead miles of the Panhandle, through the midnight fog along Mobile Bay. We reached a friend of a friend's house sometime after 2 a.m., and one of us--I don't remember who--had the gall to actually ring the doorbell. We crashed there for 2 days, ate some crazy brownies, wandered brazenly through streets we knew not at all, where the drinking age was 18 and we were one year older. I remember Joshua Redman in the Jazz tent, as The Boyfriend worked his way through a pile of tiny lobsters, the likes of which I'd never seen. I remember BB King in the rain, slipping in mud towards the port-o-lets, tracking down friends in the French Quarter--no easy feat in the days before cell phones. It was 1994. I was enthralled.

The next time I drove to New Orleans, 2 years later, it was a planned affair. The Boyfriend and I had spent the year--my second year of college, his last--planning and saving for a spectacular road trip that would take us from South Florida to the Pacific Northwest and back, with an extended stay in the Big Easy. We found a tiny international hostel just off Canal Street, definitely the coolest place I have ever stayed, and spent a week or so wandering the city. My memories of that week are spotty, mixed in with others from that summer of crazy mis-adventure, but what I remember most are sounds and smells, the way the magnolias cast shadows on the cracked sidewalks, the ever-changing smell of the Mississippi river, the steamboats singing, the powdered-sugar smiles we wore when the Japanese tourists snapped our picture at Cafe du Monde. There was a tiny alligator in the pond at the back of the hostel; every morning I'd sit on the back steps, roll a cigarette, and listen to the streetcar clanging a few blocks away. There was music in the streets and the people were rude as hell and I loved them for that--for not pretending to give a shit about me.

It's funny: the night I met Cade, I knew he was the person I would spend the rest of my life with. I felt no urgency, nor did I worry or fret when I didn't see or hear from him for 2 months after. I knew he would be back; I felt connected to him and that connection led to certainty. In the same way, when I left New Orleans for New Mexico in the summer of 1996, it was with the certainty that I would be back some day, and not just for a vacation. I had met my future home.

5 years later, I drove to New Orleans with everything I owned stuffed into my Toyota Tercel. My friend--the one who talked me into coming for Jazz Fest the first time--had landed a job at a yacht company in the East and another friend of ours from college was moving down from the Northeast and I had been looking for a reason to get the hell out of Florida. The house was one half of a shotgun double on State Street Drive. We went to Venezia that night and the next morning I got up and ran a few miles, trying to find Audubon Park and failing miserably. Somewhere around the 3rd mile I knew I was home. I can't explain it, though I've tried so many times in the 9 years since. The best explanation I can come up with is that I didn't get lost that morning; I didn't find my way to the park but I knew exactly where I was the entire time, and I am not one blessed with a keen sense of direction. And when I got home and got dressed and we headed to the Quarter for breakfast and HOT DAMN, it was Southern Decadence, well, that just sealed the deal: I was never leaving. I was home.

Last week we took a trip to Orlando to visit my family. As we drove across Mobile Bay I remembered, as I always do on that bridge, the first night I drove to New Orleans, when we crossed through the midnight fog, my friends dozing in their seats while I hunched over the steering wheel to get a better view. I had no way to know it then, but on the other side of that fog was a tranformative experience, and I'm not talking about a one-time thing.

Living in New Orleans is a tranformative experience. In many ways I feel like my life really started when I moved here. I was happy before, and I had accomplished much, but what I experienced that first morning on State Street Drive was a sense of being fully alive. And that's what keeps me here, that's probably what keeps a lot of people here, that feeling. Sometimes, when I spend a period of time in a place like Orlando, where the grocery stores are amazing and everything works and is clean and the kindergarten teachers come for home visits before school starts and you can drive 15 minutes and get out of your car and walk directly onto a beautiful, unblemished beach--sometimes I start to think about how hard things are here in New Orleans, I start to think about what life might be like if we lived in a place like Orlando. But that is utter nonsense, it's a moot point, because here's the thing: I would get lost a lot. I would feel homesick, and cut off from my real life. Fridays would be insufferable, as everyone around me would actually be working. One Tuesday out of every year I would have a severe existential crisis. I would have to stuff this exuberance away, this belief--no, conviction--that life should be lived every single goddamned day.

It's both wonderful, and terrible, to live in a place you love with every fiber of your being. It's wonderful for obvious reasons; it's terrible because, damn, what happens if someday you have to live somewhere else?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

To Evan, On Your 2nd Birthday.

My sweet, sweet boy--I have struggled for days with the content of this letter, not because there's nothing to say but because there is so much, because every time I think of you I go into emotional overload and the part of my brain responsible for logic and rational thought and organization just kind of shuts down. I've found some quiet time here in Florida, while you and Sydney play outside on the swingset at Grandma's house, to try my best to put into words how much joy and laughter you've brought into our lives, what an amazing little person you are, how much we love you.

So much has happened this last year. You started to walk, then talk a little; you discovered trucks and diggers; you developed the ability to play with your sister (much to her delight, and chagrin). The Saints had their miracle season and you were there every step of the way; now, if you see a Fleur de Lis, you point and shout "De Lee! Saints! Who Dat!!" and if you hear the "Stand up, Get Crunk" song, you drop whatever you're doing and dance with the whole of your tiny little body. You had a wonderful year with Ms. Gwen at Abeona House, and have cemented your reputation as a pint-sized Lothario--you adore the little girls in your class, and are unfailingly gentle, smiley, and attentive. If this keeps up, Mommy is going to have to beat the girls off with a stick one day (and believe me, she will).

You have beautiful golden ringlets that Mommy just can't bring herself to get cut, even though she doesn't like long hair on boys. You have big blue eyes and those big, full Roux lips. You are very, very social--you love to mimic what the bigger kids are doing and you love to repeat everything you hear. Despite your gregarious nature, you love to play on your own and could play alone for hours if we let you. Of course, no one ever wants to let you play by yourself, because you are just so much fun to be with.

When you were first born, you did not like to sleep in your crib, so you and Mommy spent the first few months of your life on the couch downstairs, where you slept nestled in the crook of my arm. We'd sleep for a few hours, you'd wake up to eat and cuddle, then we'd snuggle in for a few more hours. The world was quiet and it was just us two, in our sleepy cocoon, and I'm not sure I've ever been happier. I loved those precious early days, and I've loved watching you grow into such a loving, joyful, smart, sincere, and funny little boy.

We love you so much, Evan, and cherish every moment of this life with you.


Mommy, Daddy and Sydney

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why I Should Not Allow My Father to Transport Me To, or From, the Airport.

Dad: "So, honey, how are things going in New Or-leens these days?"
Me: "Fine! Great."
D: "All those houses getting put back up and everything?"
M: "Yep."
D: "Good. I'm so sick and tired of all these people whining and complaining about how the city needs this that and the other-"
M: "Well, the oil spill feels like the beginning of the end for the area, to be honest."
D: "What? You gotta be kidding me!"
M: "It's pretty bad, Dad."
D: "And here's where everyone needs to get their facts straight, honey. Did you even know that this same sort of thing happened in Mexico about ten years ago--you probably don't even know, because nobody ever wants to get their facts straight--and they got it all cleaned up, like it never even happened. Besides, there's no oil on the beaches, people are just getting all hysterical. Those liberals make everyone all worked up about stuff that isn't even happening."
M: "There's oil on the beaches, Dad. And in the swamps and in Lake Pontchartrain. You should come down and see it."
D: "You know what really gets me mad? That everyone* overreacts to this supposed 'disaster' and they shut down the oil wells and the drilling and that just makes me crazy. When are people going to wake up and realize that we cannot survive without oil? When are the people in New Or-leens going to wake up and realize that their whole economy is going to go down the tubes with the drilling stopped?" (snickering) "It's just unbelievable, man."
M: "I don't think the people of New Orleans passed the moratorium on drilling, Dad."
D: "Well, it's just a good thing you've got Danny Jindal for your governor."
M: "Bobby Jindal."
D: "Bobby Jindal is a good man, a man of the people, a good, conservative Christian man. If they would have let him do what he wanted to do when this whole thing started, you wouldn't have the mess you have right now. Uh-huh."
M: "Jindal is not a hero, Dad, trust me."
D: "Well, you probably don't have your facts straight. That's the problem these days. Nobody wants to hear the truth, nobody has the facts straight."

* In Dad-speak, "everyone" is code for "Barack Obama."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Things My Daughter Has Started to Say After Graduating Preschool, Attending Day Camp, and Spending the Month of June in Another Parish

1) "It poured and poured this one day at camp. Did ya'll get much rain here?"

2) "I have impeccable manners."

3) "Why are you looking at me like that? You're making me feel about 3 years old."

4) "Evan, mind you don't drop that heavy book on your foot."

5) "Can you tell me what time it is? My watch is a bit off."

6) "What do you say we put chocolate chips in the zucchini bread? That would taste fabulous."

7) "So the girls and boys are in the same groups at the JCC? That doesn't seem like a good idea."

8) (Looking at her baby photo book) "So...guess you didn't get any good shots of Hurricane Katrina?"

9) "You know, boys just get handsomer and handsomer as they get older."

My New Favorite Web Site

Read it, bookmark it, be prepared to laugh your face off.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Big Girl!

This morning I dropped Sydney off at Kid Cam in St. Charles parish, where she'll spend the next 4 weeks. In walked my baby girl in her over-sized camp t-shirt, clutching her bright pink lunchbox, into a cafeteria full of loud, writhing, pre-pubescent strangers. My original plan was to stay for the hour-long orientation session--I had arranged my work schedule around this plan--but I soon noticed that all the other parents were scooting off after quick hugs/kisses/admonishments. Not wanting to be that Mom, I sat Sydney down next to a sweet-looking girl who seemed close to her age, gave my baby a hug and slunk off to one corner, where I hoped to avoid the appraising eyes of the camp staff (okay, okay, so I am that Mom, so what?). After watching Sydney sit quietly and watchfully subdued for a few moments as the camp staff discussed rules and said a few prayers (and feeling a bit hedonistic as I looked around and realized that my child was the only child not successfully performing the sign of the cross), I blew her a kiss and slipped out the door.

I made it to the parking lot before completely losing my shit. I'd call that a success.

And Sydney had an AMAZING day: when I talked to her later she told me all about the 2 friends she made, the nice "teachers," the FIELD TRIP they took where they RODE THE BUS to go ROLLER SKATING and where she fell down a lot and it hurt but still, it was FUN. She told me that she made sure to eat her sandwich and fruit before eating the gummi fruits I'd packed as a treat. Nana and Papa picked her up and they went to the library and got a snoball. Life is good for my baby, on her first day of camp.

I'm so proud of her.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

All You Need

Night before last, I had a Beatles mix playing on i-tunes as I prepared dinner. Sydney was oblivious, enveloped in her after-school rituals, but every now and then Evan would scamper into the kitchen to shake and shimmy to the more upbeat tunes. I watched as he clapped and shuffled; he watched to make sure I was gazing appreciatively. (I was.) "Yellow Submarine" came on and Syd wandered in to sing along and engage me in a brief fantasy of what life would be like if we all lived in one. I turned back to the stove and realized I was experiencing a moment of pure joy. I'd had one of those moments a few days before, as I lay on my back in the grass at Audubon Park after my first 3-mile run in over 8 weeks, gazing up into the blue, cloudless afternoon sky. This moment at the stove, though--this was a different kind of joy entirely. This was the kind of moment filled with joy but also sadness and fear, of that gasping realization of the fragility of it all, the impermanence--a moment filled with the recognition of everything that can go wrong, all that might not have been, all that might happen. I heard my kids bickering over a toy. I stirred the pot of boiling noodles and the moment was gone.

"All You Need Is Love" was playing and almost instinctively I called out to Sydney. She came into the kitchen with a "what did I do now?" look on her face, and I scooped her into my arms and started rocking back and forth to the music. I felt her wiggle and strain for the smallest second before she realized what was happening and then I felt her relax against me, nestling her head in the space between my shoulder and neck. We swayed together, silently, for however long it was, I have no idea, and then I looked down and there was Evan, watching us with his crooked little smile, and so I bent down and scooped him up and he nestled his head in my other shoulder and it was just the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. I don't even mind sounding corny because damn, good fortune may be fleeting and blessings come and go but memories like these--they last forever.

Happy Mother's Day, ya'll. We are lucky, lucky people.

Evan on the Carousel at City Park

Evan would ride flying horses all day
Originally uploaded by Cade Roux.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


HBO's 'Treme' premiered Sunday night, after months and months of local anticipation. We don't have HBO at home, but as we had a wedding to attend that very night, we found ourselves temporarily child-free, so we ducked out early from the reception and found our way to the Mother-in-Law Lounge, where they had a screen set up across from the bar for patrons to take it all in.

I've been reading this blog lately, so felt a keen awareness of everything that seems to be at stake here. I'm also keenly aware that I can in no be way objective about this show--there is something about seeing the heart and soul and guts of your city spilled in front of a national audience that precludes any sort of objective appraisal. And so much has been said and written about the premiere already, here and here and here, and so many other places, so much more eloquently and knowledgably than I ever could manage. But what's been going through my mind the last few days is what a stark contrast this show is to the one that aired a couple of years ago. Both K-ville and Treme can be thought of as having a similar purpose--to pay homage to a town and its people, to tell the story and profess a set of feelings--but one is like bad, pre-pubescent poetry, while the other is an aria, or a sonnet or symphony. Both hope to obtain the same objective, but only one manages to do so effectively.

The other day someone--someone from out of town--asked me if I liked the show. What could I say? That I absolutely and ecstatically fucking loved it, that I stood rooted to my spot in the bar for 90 minutes and hardly blinked or breathed, except during the scenes when we all danced and sang along to our favorite riffs or when a little sob of grief and shock escaped me while I watched John Goodman bring a little piece of Ashley Morris to the national stage? That being in that room with all of those people and that energy and watching this act of love unfold, so reverently, with such grace and nuance, made me want to get down on my knees on the sidewalk on our way back to the car and thank whatever god I don't believe in for bringing me to this place, for letting me be a part of this place, for leading me to this city I call home.

Yes, I told her. I really, really loved it. But, I also cautioned, I'm probably not very objective.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Zest for Life

I read this article with great interest as I sipped my morning coffee, marveling yet again at the journalist prowess of our veteran T-P writers. Shelia Stroup never fails to capture that perfect, heartwarming story, writing incessantly and with seemingly unwavering enthusiasm about that person-who-seems-familiar-but-you've-never-actually-met-them--those stories that really make you want to clean off the front porch and plop down in that old rocking chair and pass the time with a tall glass o' lemonade. She writes about the Everyman with a style that is unmistakable, and the folks in her stories always tread that fine line between offbeat and just plain fucking nuts. Perhaps, given her penchant for these pieces, Ms. Stroup is just plain fucking nuts herself? Ah, but let's save that for another post.

That article really got me thinking, particularly this part:

One of their favorite chickens was a little bantam rooster named Que who walked into their lives in August 2008. His top beak had been clipped so far back that when he tried to drink, bubbles would come out of his eyes. His neck had been broken and he was covered with lice when they found him wandering a couple of blocks from their house.

They didn't think he'd live a week, but they just lost him three weeks ago.

"He was an inspiration to a lot of people," Katrina says. "He really, really had a zest for life."

My friend Holly called attention to the conundrum presented herein: that is, "how can one differentiate between a chicken with a zest for life and a chicken who thinks life sucks?" How, indeed. I've been thinking about this all day.*

The problem, of course, is not just that chickens cannot speak, and therefore pronounce their zest, nor the fact that they are not capable of exclamations of joy that might indicate zest--the problem is really that most chickens, by their very mannerisms, seem zestful. Have you ever watched a chicken? They strut, they squawk, they flutter their wings in a prelude to flight that seems, at least superficially, to indicate excitement. So how does one detect zest-for-life in these enigmatic creatures? May I offer a few suggestions?

* Gets invited to more parties (H/T mom)

* Caught reading Walt Whitman in the backyard

* Vigorous pecking

* 30 minutes of calisthenics every morning

* Enjoys the occasional cigarette

* Always has dessert first

* Seen leading other chickens in a rousing rendition of "Tomorrow"

What else? Anyone have any other suggestions of what to look for when trying to detect that chicken-in-the-rough?

* Yes, this is what I do with my mind on my days off.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sydney @ 4 1/2

Syd crazy in soap suds
Originally uploaded by Cade Roux.

* Very girly. Must wear some sort of skirt or dress every single day. Likes her hair long, must wear some sort of headband every single day.

* Smart. Is starting to spell basic words, like "cat" and "dog" and "mom" and "dad". Can write all letters and most numbers. Seems to have great spatial intelligence--very good at puzzles and mazes. Must get this from Daddy.

* Working on self-regulation. Gets very excited and this often spirals into something resembling hysteria. She's having fun, but no one else is.

* Favorite Foods: cherry tomatoes, smoothies, peanut butter toast, apples, applesauce, pineapple, avocado, animal crackers, ice cream

* Very Excited By: seeing friends in unexpected places, riding the rollercoaster at City Park, picking wildflowers, chasing Evan in circles, screaming (happily) with Evan at bath time, visits from/to Florida family, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, trips to Brocato's, running around the block with Mommy, bouncy castles

* Not So Excited By: leaving Abeona House, sleeping in her own bed, brushing teeth/hair, being made to wear pants under her skirt/dress when it's cold outside

Evan @ 20 months

Crazy Evan monkey
Originally uploaded by Cade Roux.

* A tiny little person. 21 lbs., 30 inches at last check-up.

* Favorite Foods: muffins, melon, chicken breakfast sausage, meatballs, kiwi, yogurt

* Excited By: large trucks and machinery ("diggers"), dogs and cats, peppy music, screaming (happily) with Sydney at bath time, anything that Sydney is doing, ants, playing outside, basketballs and footballs

* Not So Excited By: diaper changes, nose wiping, being made to come inside, getting picked up by Sydney

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Abeona House

4 years ago, in the spring following Hurricane Katrina, I found myself in a state of frustration, desperation, something closing in on panic. My 6-month-old baby was entering her third month at a day care that was not meeting my expectations; granted, they were high expectations, but this was my child, after all. There was nothing particularly wrong with the place: it was clean, the staff was friendly enough, there were no televisions in the play rooms or creepy boyfriends hanging out in the break room. And Sydney seemed happy enough, although I was starting to suspect that this contentment was more a reflection of her innate disposition, not of anything special the organization was providing. Then, one day, I walked in and found my my child, my precious baby, struggling to wrap her mouth around the nipple of a bottle that had been propped against the edge of her infant seat. That sight, of her struggling for sustenance, haunts me still. I marched out of there with my child and all of her belongings and knew that we would not be going back. I didn't have a back-up plan but could not, I would not, tolerate the idea of not-quite-good-enough child care.

Luckily, that very afternoon I received a call from a friend who knew of a nanny who was looking for another child to join her group. This nanny happened to be a former member of the staff of the Gris Gris House, the childcare center I had chosen for Sydney, before Katrina came, wiped out all their resources, and forced them to close. Some parents from the Gris Gris House had started a nanny-share situation with this woman, who was awesome, and I signed up right away, grateful and relieved and feeling very, very lucky.

I felt even more grateful and relieved and lucky and excited when I learned that this group of parents had banded together to form a new childcare center; it was supposed to open in a couple of months and I knew I had to be in that number. I took my registration form and my deposit and hand-delivered it to the appointed person's doorstep, then waited anxiously to hear if we had been granted a spot.

I don't remember when we heard, but eventually we did, that we were on the list of families to open the center. We went to the open house, met the other families and future teachers, built a ramp, painted, cleaned, sorted through donations--most of what we started with, from cribs and toys to tables and chairs, was second-hand--and just generally got things ready. Meanwhile, I worked on finishing my master's degree and internship and in between things pushed my chubby little baby girl up and down streets littered with debris, through wrecked neighborhoods, past the remains of so many people's lives, so many people who would never come back, and tried hard to imagine the day when things would stop feeling so surreal, so transitional, so impossible, so wrecked. And when I would push Sydney through the streets in her stroller everyone always seemed appreciative, approving, genuinely glad to see such a concrete affirmation of the future of the city; everyone else--everyone I knew who did not live here--made it clear, explicitly or otherwise, that maybe I was just a little crazy, darewesayeven negligent, for introducing an infant into such a lonely, toxic, fragile, wrecked environment.

But then. Then, in September, Abeona House finally opened. The name, when I stop to think about it, still moves me to tears. In Roman mythology, Abeona is the goddess of Outward Journeys--more specifically, the goddess responsible for guiding and guarding children as they take their first steps away from home. I mean, seriously. From the very beginning, I knew we were a part of something very special--I knew we had found that sacred third place, that home away from home, that so-much-more-than-a-day-care scenario.

Maybe you're wondering what's so special about Abeona House. A lot of it has to do with Emmy, our Director, who periodically sends me midday emails, just to let me know that Sydney was gentle and thoughtful with a friend on the playground, or that Evan is having a great, smiley, happy day. For no particular reason--just because. And there's Gwen, the Assisant Director and fearless head of the one-year-olds' classroom, who has this uncanny ability to get 8 toddlers to sit in a circle and sing songs for extended periods of time, who had the entire school chanting "Sydney ROUX!" every afternoon when I would pick her up, who is simultaneously playful, nurturing, and respectful of children--which is indeed a rare combination of skills. There's Alli, the 2s teacher, who engages her young charges in truly impressive feats of creativity, who is gentle and fun and funky and sees every child as a unique, crazy, creative little force of nature. There's the Mardi Gras parade where we march up and down Oak Street with our signature throw--the Golden NuNu. There's Aliza and Nicole, the preschool teachers, who are so patient, so engaged with our children, who seem genuinely happy to be doing what they're doing and who make a concerted effort to communicate my childrens' successes, to problems-solve around their challenges. There's the quarterly work days, where parents show up on Saturday morning and fix things up. There's the teacher luncheons, which happen about twice a year, when parents report for duty in the middle of the workday so that the teachers can go out to lunch with each other. There's the Kids Tent at the annual Oak Street PoBoy Fest, which we host; there's summertime walks to the snoball stand, Friday morning romps on the levee, Yoga Thursdays, visits to a sibling's classroom when one is feeling sad (yes--if Syd is having a hard time, she goes to visit with Evan, and vice versa--amazing), visits by brass and Zydeco and Klezmer bands, Family Nights at a parent-owned restaurant. I could go on and on and on; we have 4 years' worth of experience, and what a rich experience it has been.

When I had Sydney, I knew very few people my age with children; I was the first of my group of friends to take that journey, and so it was unchartered territory, a great and terrifying unknown. So there was no way I could anticipate or understand the great and terrifying dilemma around early childhood education--if I had understood what a tremendous problem it is I might have had second thoughts about having children. But now, knowing what I know, having what we have, I am fully aware, every single day, of how incredibly lucky we are, what a gift it is to have this place, this third place, this community that is helping me to raise my children. In two months Sydney will be leaving for summer camp and then kindergarten; every step of this newest journey has just reinforced for me the knowledge that damn, my baby girl has been shown some serious love, such genuine and thoughtful attention, that I know can never be replicated. My children are thriving, I believe, in large part because of what they have at Abeona House.

But it doesn't come without a price. It's not a painful price, but it takes work. There's the tuition, of course, but on top of that there are the work days, the board membership (I've been serving for 2 1/2 years, now as Vice President), the community efforts, the teacher appreciation initiatives, the fundraising. As a small non-profit, so much of our livelihood as an organization depends upon our fundraising efforts, like the upcoming Crescent City Classic fundraiser, affectionately known as the Reggio Run. Last year I raised almost $700 and ran the 10k in a prom dress; this year I hope to raise even more and run in something a tad more comfortable. If you've read this far, it must mean you're interested; won't you please consider sponsoring my run? Say yes--you know you want to. I'm talking about 5 or 10 or maybe even 25 bucks, which you can donate through the PayPal button on our website, or mail to the center in a check. These funds will help keep our school open, help us keep offering health insurance and paid days off to our teachers.

And my kids will be so grateful.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


6 months ago, when the email arrived in my inbox, I eagerly followed the link provided within. I had a few half-marathons under my belt, and I was eager to sign up for the next one. I followed the link and soon discovered that the Rock-n-Roll people were coming to New Orleans, taking over the Mardi Gras Marathon, doing their band-at-every-mile thing. My finger hovered on the mouse, the cursor hovered over the registration tab as I considered the options. I was ready to try a marathon, but had always been a little wary of the whole ordeal. I mean, Phidippides died, already. But there would be live music! At every mile! But how would I manage to fit the demands of marathon training into my already precarious routine? But...Sarah Palin ran a marathon, and she sucks!, whatever, I had made up my mind, and before I could talk myself out of it I went ahead and just...clicked.

And that was that. I ran the Children's Hospital Half Marathon a few weeks later and felt great. I went to New York City a few weeks after that and ran a 10-mile loop in Central Park with the golden leaves dripping from the trees and felt inspired, seduced by the experience, even after a stranger walking her dog felt compelled to stop me mid-run and, gesturing towards my chest, remark "I used to be like you--like a boy. But then I hit fifty and BAM! there they were! I had to go to the doctor, I thought something was wrong with me!" Throughout Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's and NFL playoffs I ran, gradually nudging the mileage upward, sneaking out the door before dawn on frigid Sunday mornings to put in 12, 14, 16, 18 miles, returning home as the kids were finishing their pancakes, waking up a couple of mornings a week to pound out miles on the treadmill before work.

It was only when I stopped to consider what was going on in February that I felt the first real stabs of trepidation. Then, my sister called to tell me she was getting married. In Las Vegas. Super Bowl weekend.

"Super Bowl weekend?" Cade practically shouted. "If the Saints are in the Super Bowl, there's only two places I want to be: in Miami or in New Orleans."

"That's a big if," I said, but what I was thinking was something along the lines of oh no that's the week I'm supposed to run 40 miles and how will I do that in Vegas and what if we have Super Bowl on top of that?

And Cade said "Stop being so negative." Or something like that.

And we all know how it turned out: the Saints did go to the Super Bowl. And we went to Vegas, and I got up the morning we left and ran 6 miles, then did the same the next morning in the fitness center of the Luxor hotel and casino, then flew home the following day and voted for the next mayor of New Orleans. Then got up Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday, and ran 20 miles.

After that, everything seemed easy. The next two weeks of training consisted of a gradual step-down--a "taper"--in mileage and intensity, a welcome relief. There was Super Bowl parade and Mardi Gras and still I ran, faithfully, up and down St. Charles Avenue, slipping on bits of broken beads, trampling discarded tarps and cigarette butts. It was sinking in: I was going to run a marathon. I was ready to run a marathon.

Come Sunday morning, I had a plan. I thought I could run the race in close to 4 hours, but I wanted to focus on having a good experience so I was aiming for something closer to 4:10 or 4:15. So I lined up with the 4:15 corral, with the idea that I'd go out easy, maybe speed up a bit in the second half if I was so inclined. The weather was absolutely perfect, 50 degrees and sunny with very light wind. Perfect running weather. The crowd was perky, the race well-organized, the spectators were spectating, I felt good. I had my Gu, I had my plan, I had the training under my belt and I was going to take this race. Phiddipides was a goddamn fool.

I felt good, really good, throughout the first half of the run, up Tchoupitoulas to Jackson, down Prytania to Jefferson, down Jefferson to Magazine and through Audubon Park. I was so relaxed that I stopped to use the Port-a-Potty at the entrance to the park, which I never do during races. I thoroughly enjoyed the stroll down St. Charles, the energy in the French Quarter, the beauty of Esplanade. I saw Cade and the kids at the top of City Park, around mile 15, and stopped to give them each a kiss and have a swig of Gatorade. I was ready to speed up a bit.

Then, as I passed the sign marking the 17th mile, I felt a tiny pop in my left hip, followed by the electric jolt I have come to recognize as sciatic nerve pain. During my first pregnancy, and after giving birth to Sydney, I had terrible problems with this, the pain getting so bad at times that I could barely stand up straight, let alone walk (or run). My doctor told me, way back when, that during pregnancy and childbirth the pelvic bones shift and expand and then constrict, opening up lots of opportunities for the sciatic nerve to become compressed. It was an issue again during my second pregnancy, but the issue seemed to have resolved itself, and I have never, ever, during any one of the thousands of miles I have run, had a problem since.

Until mile 17. I sat down on the side of the road and stretched, hoping to persuade the nerve to just move over a bit, to quiet down, to behave already. I got up and limped along the road, testing things out; there was some relief, but not much, but maybe, just maybe, enough to get me through the next 9 miles. Nine. Freaking. Miles. I needed a plan, a different plan. I decided I would concentrate on getting to each water station--there was one every couple of miles--but soon realized that wouldn't work, I needed to focus on making it to every mile marker. The pain was intense, horrible, stabbing, and now my gait was awkward so my knee was hurting, everything was hurting. No, not everything; my lungs, my stomach, my quads, my feet, and my entire right side felt fantastic. It just wasn't fair.

I passed the sign marking mile 20 and started to cry. No, no, that wouldn't do. I sniffed back the tears and thought about giving birth. What I wouldn't have given at that moment to be back in the delivery room, at 8 centimeters dilated, coasting the waves of pain that would bring my child into the world. I knew that pain, that pain was manageable. This, right here, was un-chartered territory. I had no idea how to do this. I gave birth to both of my children without the benefit of pain medications; I did this by training myself to focus fully on the pain, not to push it away but to embrace it, to take it in, to stare it in the face and memorize its features. That strategy was not going to work here; every time I thought about what was happening to the left side of my body I started to cry. I needed another game plan. I remembered an article I had read a few months back in a running magazine; the author had talked about running through pain or exhaustion and suggested that the only two ways of dealing with this were to focus on the discomfort or to dissociate from it. Dissociation it was, then.

I looked around for something to focus on. I was in Gentilly; Gentilly was a wasteland. There were people all over the side of the road, stretching or gasping or just collapsed. I passed--yes, passed!--a woman I'd been chatting with way back in the good old days (around mile 9) and asked where her husband was. "Oh," she sputtered," he's done." It took me a moment to realize that she meant he had dropped out of the race--not that he had finished it. I passed a middle-aged man who identified himself as a physician and gave me some advice about the Left Side (he thought the pain was triggered by running on uneven surface, and suggested I try to find a part of the road that was slanted and run on it. Of course, from that point on, the road was perfectly flat). I thought about nothing and everything; I floated somewhere outside or above or next to my physical body and observed my own struggle with passive interest. I know this sounds insane. It was, it really was.

And then I passed the sign marking mile 24. I shook my fists at the cheerleaders as they waved their pom-poms in my tear-streaked face. I passed a water station without stopping for a drink, and I gave a really nasty look to the man who clapped me on the shoulder and smiled at me as I ran past. Who the fuck did he think he was, anyway? Why would he smile at me? He should get off his butt and run next to me, that would be the really helpful thing, not some patronizing clap on the shoulder that was supposed to make me feel--

Yeah, I was in a bad way.

At mile 25 I saw a sign that read "Get Crunk, Mommy" and looked down to see my two children beaming up at me. Cade had some Gatorade waiting for me so I stopped. I told him what was going on and started to cry. Now, this man loves me, and I'm sure he hated to see me in such pain, so I understand why he said what he said next, but really--he should know me better. He knew enough not to suggest an epidural when I was in the throes of labor, he knows that I don't quit things. He should have realized that if I'd been running in that state for and hour and a half, another 10 or 11 minutes was not going to be an issue. But still, he looked at me and told me I needed to stop running. I turned and jogged away, my children's cries rising up behind me. I hadn't even said goodbye.

I turned into City Park and I was feeling pissed off. I hated everyone, but most of all those half-marathon runners with their bright green bibs and their smug little faces and their beers and their gear bags, walking back to their cars. They probably ate all the food and drank all the beer, not that the thought of any of that appealed to me. As I made the turn at the top of Lelong Drive, a woman looked at me and shouted "You're almost there! The finish line is just on the other side of the museum!" and I thought, if I discover that the finish line is not directly behind the museum, I am going to turn around and beat the shit out of that bitch. That's the thought I had as I ran towards the museum.

I was not in a good way.

As it turned out, the finish line was not directly behind the museum, in fact it was about a quarter of a mile or so past it, but the last thing I was capable of doing was turning around and jogging back to an earlier place in the route, let alone beating the shit out of someone. And I even managed to smile a little in the general direction of the photographers as I crossed the finish line, about 4 1/2 hours after I started. I took my finisher's medal, grabbed a banana, walked to a spot just past the runner's chute, found a tree a little off to one side and sat down in its shade and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

These were not tears of relief, or pride of accomplishment, or even of exhaustion or pain. It was disappointment I was feeling, and it was bitter. Now, before everyone decides that I'm just being too hard on myself and I should feel proud that I finished and all of that nonsense, I should make it clear that the disappointment came from the overall experience, not the results. I can run a faster race, and I will someday--maybe even later this year. And the idea of not finishing is so foreign to me, so utterly incomprehensible, that the mere act of crossing the finish line feels less like an accomplishment than it does a requirement. So I met the minimum requirement. So what?

I'm disappointed in my body, that the pain prevented me from having fun and finishing strong. I don't run races with the goal of finishing, of enduring, but with the purpose of challenging my potential and pushing just enough to feel like I ran a good race. I did not run a good race on Sunday. Enduring physical agony and mental anguish is not healthy, nor is it something to be proud of. And now that I've had a few days to think about it, I realize that this sort of issue could probably have been prevented, had I spent more time stretching and paying attention to strengthening the muscles that keep my hip and pelvis aligned and stable. Next time I will be more prepared.

I can hardly wait for next time.

Monday, March 1, 2010

February, 2010

  • Men in dresses. Syd in Who Dat shout-off with man in fishnets and a miniskirt. Me, without the video camera.
  • Kindergarten applications. Don't get me started.
  • Monster Month: in running circles, common term for the peak training month before a marathon. Long runs of 18-20 miles, weekly mileage in excess of 40 miles. Up before 5 a.m. several days a week, pounding out 6 or 7 or 8 miles on the treadmill in the basement, while the world sleeps and I mutter profanities into the darkness.
  • Sydney starts flag football with Coach Dave. On the first day of practice, Coach Dave describes how once, about 25 years ago, a little boy stood before him, one of the pack of eager young charges, on the very same patch of grass where my wee one was now standing. That eager young man? Peyton Manning.
  • Baby sister gets married. To her high-school sweetheart. In Las Vegas. Super Bowl weekend. Fly in Thursday, leave Saturday. Lots of Who Dats and thumbs-ups and some vaguely hostile stares as we charge through airports in our Saints regalia. In a rare display of enthusiasm, flight attendants chant "who dat" over the loudspeakers as we wait to board the plane in Dallas. Upon landing in New Orleans, the pilot plays "Black and Gold Superbowl" over the intercom. On the bus to the Park-and-Ride lot, every single person looks like they just discovered an enormous stash of money buried in the backyard.
  • Voting, as soon as we get home from Vegas (like, on the way home from the airport). Mayor Landrieu. Nuff said.
  • Super Bowl Sunday. 20 miles that morning, which is ridiculous in and of itself, but even more so because I thought it would be a good idea to wind my way through and along the parade route, which turned out to be loads of fun but added an extra layer of exhaustion (weaving in and out of trash and chairs and that incredibly annoying crime tape that incredibly annoying people insist upon stringing along the perimeter of "their" parade space, etc). At home, I told myself that the heart palpitations were due to exertion, not football anxiety. Riiiiiiiiiight. Jambalaya, boiled shrimp, black and gold king cake, Abita. Ready to go. Lots of half-finished conversations, most along the lines of "I just hope it's a good game..." or "But really, their defense just sucks so bad..." Half-assed attempts to play outside with the children. Confused by Queen Latifa at kick-off ("wait, is that the national anthem?"). Excited that the Saints are playing well, at least we'll show the world that we can hold our own against--wait a second. Did we just win the fucking Super Bowl?? Is this happening? Where did I just kick my cell phone? Is Cade having a heart attack? Never mind about the phone, all the towers are jammed up anyway and--oh my fucking god, we just won the Superbowl and let's get outta here get in the car and drive and whoa look at all these people high-fiving us like we're rock stars cruising down St Charles Ave and this is fucking insane! and I'm hugging strangers and we're crying and the cop horses are going nuts and everyone is standing around them in a circle chanting who dat and this is getting crunk and hey I can finally use that term in casual conversation and let's get outta here it's getting CRAZY. Whoa! Did we really just win the Super Bowl????
  • Super Bowl Parade. Say it again: feels good. Super Bowl Parade! People around us start referring to Syd as "The Who Dat Girl" and taking their pictures with her. Caught nothing but a kiss from Sean Payton, but for once in my parading life, cared not one iota about beads.
  • Mardi Gras. Lombardi Gras. What? Parades every night and day. Cade constructs a 9-foot Lombardi replica and plants it at St. Charles and Sixth. Hundreds of people along the route stop to have their pictures taken with it. When Bacchus passes, Drew Brees spots the trophy, fist-pumps, and bows down to us, over and over and over again. Cade says, "This is the best day of my life." I remind him that he said that three weeks ago, when we won the NFC championship, and again the week before, when we won the mother-fucking Super Bowl. Whatever. It just keeps getting better and better and better.
  • Mardi Gras Marathon. I ran the marathon yesterday. 17 wonderful miles, 9.2 terrifyingly agonizing ones. More about that in another post.
So. Whatcha got for us, March?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Saints are Coming

I am leaving to get on a plane to Vegas to see my baby sister get married. I'm trying to put aside thoughts of the big game for a couple of days so that I can fully focus on her celebration, but boy, is it hard to do. So I thought that perhaps, by writing a few words down here on the blog, I could purge myself of the Who Dat fever--temporarily, of course.



Remember this? Remember this game-changing play, when our quarterback talked our coach into going for it on fourth-and-goal, and executed a perfect and perfectly glorious quarterback sneak which resulted in a touchdown and, ultimately, a serious Dolphin ass-whooping?

This is what our Boys can do. This is heart, and soul, and will and desire. I hope they leave it all on the field on Sunday--blood, guts, glory, and everything in between.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Strange and Beautiful

First of all, let it be known that I care little for, or about, football. I have a scattered and generally ambivalent relationship to the sport: growing up in Central Florida, we watched our share of Dolphins' games--Marino was in his prime back then, so it was fun in a look-at-him-go sort of way--at home, while at my grandmother's house, where everyone hailed from Chicago, we rooted for the Bears. After my mom graduated from FSU we cheered on the Seminoles, and there were some moments, years later, living in Gainesville, where I experienced small, silent spurts of inexplicable happiness as I sat in faceless, featureless bar-and-grills and watched the Noles beat up on the Gators. But really, I was no great fan; one of the major factors in my decision to go to New College was it's lack of organized sports--or more specifically, the fact that it didn't have a football team. I had seen enough of the ugliness the game seemed to provoke (someone always died after the FSU-UF game), I wanted nothing to do with the seemingly pointless group-think, the shirtless screaming, the endless, inscrutable statistics.

So. Anyway. What was I saying?

Oh yeah: I don't give a crap about football. I guess that still holds true, in the strictest sense, though last night I cared, a lot, about what was happening on the field. I knew every player's number, their position, their strengths and weaknesses*, I found myself shouting about third-down conversions and bad calls and oh my god, I was singing that Favre-on-the-ground song and I meant it, I did, I wanted to see him writhing on the mother-fucking ground, until WHOA, he was actually writhing on the ground, at which point I felt bad for wishing him ill, but still. The point is: I cared, for the first time, about football. I have cared for a while now, though not nearly as long as some people in this town, but long enough to get it, to understand what drives this crazy, fanatical, heart-bursting-through-the-ribcage love--LOVE!--we have for our Saints.

A lot has been written and said about this team, what it means to this city and vice versa, and I'm sure a lot more will be written and said in the next couple of weeks. But I wonder: if you don't live here, can you really get it? Because this video is so beautiful, and so true, and while I'm sure people watching it in other places--some of them--will shake their heads in wonder and maybe wipe a tear from their eye, do they really know? I don't think so. Because if they knew, they would live here. They would uproot their families and take a big paycut and maybe home-school their kids and they would move here, they would be here--they would, if they really got it. Like John Besh says in that wonderful video--something I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to articulate for years now: "New Orleans doesn't have a place for people that are lukewarm. You're either with us or you're against us."

Our team, this team, is about so much more than football. When Drew Brees played for San Diego, I'm sure it was all about football--about the money, the game, the fame and maybe the titles. When Payton coached the Giants and the Cowboys, it was probably all about football--the money, the wins, the stats, the titles. And don't get me wrong: it's still about that, it's always about that, but here, in our town, it's about so much more. It's about synergy, about underdogs, about being the hated ones, the ones left behind, left for dead, left to pick up the remains of their shattered lives and put it all back together, piece by piece, tile by tile, play by play, win by win. They are a team of NFL orphans; we are a city orphaned by it's government, its countrymen, left to fight our way back, on our own. When the Saints claw their way to victory, we can relate; we all know by now what that feels like, what it's like to sling a sledgehammer against the rotted walls of your own home, or to shovel debris from your neighbors'--and when the Saints soar, when those passes soar down the field and seem to nestle right into the hands of whatever receiver they happen to pick for that particular play, we can relate to that too--we know what it's like to second line, to dance in the streets, to celebrate life, to soar.

So, can we beat the Colts in the Superbowl? Does it really matter? Well, okay, of course it matters--we'd be kidding ourselves if we said it didn't--but at the end of the game, after the clock runs out and the coaches shake hands and the winners mount the podium and the losers trudge back to the locker room, our Boys will get to come home, they'll get to come here, to the greatest city in the world, where we'll all be waiting with wide open arms and huge-ass beers and more gratitude than can ever be expressed in words. No matter what the outcome, they are us, we are them, and when Drew Brees rides as Bacchus, you better believe we're all going to be bringing the love. No matter what. And what will they get in Indy? A couple of parades and a pat on the back? It just simply does not compare.
Saturday afternoon, the day before the game, I went for a run; about halfway through the 5-miler I stopped, sat down on the sidewalk, and put my head in my hands, overcome with emotion. A man strolled by, walking his dog--both were dressed in Saints attire--and he stopped to ask if I was alright.

I sniffled. "I'm just thinking about the game."

The poor man seemed at a loss; in a reassuring tone he said, "But I really do think we're going to win."

That was it; I totally lost it. "I know," I sobbed. "That's why I'm crying."
This city has taught me so much, so much about myself, about perseverance, about community and sacrifice and fear and hope. And I'll be damned if it hasn't taught me about football, about how a team--not just any team, but a truly special team--can bring a generally sane person, someone not given to public displays of emotion, to her knees on a random sidewalk, wailing to a stranger in a Saints jersey.

Strange and beautiful days, indeed.

* Like, why the fuck do they keep handing the ball back to Bush? Am I missing something??

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It Was Me

This morning, at 6 a.m., I headed out the door for my 15-mile training run. Now, I usually bring a small water bottle with me on long runs, but this morning I decided against it--I could hardly bear the thought of running for two and a half hours in the (dear-god-in-heaven-please-present-me-with-an-animal-carcass-so-that-I-may-crawl-into-it-) cold, let alone the prospect of lugging a plastic bottle filled with liquid for the entire distance. So I set off empty-handed, having mapped my route strategically, with public water fountains in mind.

Sounds like a good plan, right? (This is where you shake your head, marveling at my stupidity. It's okay, go ahead. Don't feel bad.)

The problem, of course, was that the water fountains had frozen overnight. I realized this after I spent a full minute slapping and punching the fountain near the bathrooms at the Fly; I finally put things together when I looked down to find myself standing on a sheet of ice. (Go ahead, please, I promise I cannot hear your snorts and chortles.). So I trotted into the ladies' room, where I hopefully turned the tap at the sink, only to be met with a meager trickle, which told me--I was catching on a little more quickly at this point--that the pipes in the bathroom had also frozen. I was parched, however, and with the knowledge that the next 12 miles would only leave me feeling more so, I bent my head and slurped. When I was finished, I turned the taps until I met resistance, then trotted off. At the top of Audubon Park, near the big playground, I found a similar situation: the water fountain, having frozen, was inoperable; the sink in the woman's bathroom provided me with a trickle. Once again I slurped, turned the taps until I met resistance, then headed off down the streetcar line.

About an hour later I stopped at the same restroom, to have a slurp and an energy gel. It took me several seconds to process the noise; it recalled a quickly flowing stream, though I knew nothing of the sort existed in close proximity. And that's when I saw the water rushing through the entrance to the bathroom, the same bathroom where I had stopped to--

Okay, you know what's coming, right?

--and yes, the sink was gushing water, so much that it had filled the small basin and had gathered in a two-inch puddle on the floor, topped the small ledge at the entrance, and was now spilling out onto the floor of the breezeway. I knew right away what had happened, of course: instead of turning the taps off, as I had intended to do, I had turned them all the way on, so that when the temperature rose just a little and the pipes warmed up, the deluge was initiated. And I was more than a little freaked out, looking around in panic as though someone in charge might realize that yes, it was I who had perpetrated this crime, then tiptoeing through the flood, soaking my shoes and the bottom of my pants, to turn off--off!--the taps.

Funny thing about shame, though: it really does tend to dissipate in the face of certain physical needs. Once, while enduring the Katrina gridlock at 9 months pregnant, I peed in a cup in the front seat of Cade's car, then handed it to him so that he could dump it out the window. So, this morning, despite my embarassment and desire to run far, far away from the scene of the crime, I stayed, I lingered, to look for an alternate source of water. I was so, so thirsty. I briefly considered the water in the sink--that's just how thirsty I was--before the thought occurred to me that, unless there is some male equivalent of me who runs around doing dumb shit really early on Sunday mornings, the men's bathroom would have a sink, and it would not be flooded. So, having determined that said bathroom was empty, I headed inside and turned on the tap.

I was busy slurping away when the door opened and someone stomped inside, muttering and cursing through undoubtedly frozen lips. I bent my head lower and prayed for obscurity, prayed that he would chose a stall, rather than the urinal which happens to be situated right next to the sink. But no such luck: he went for the urinal, and I can only assume that he assumed I was a man--a man of short and slight stature, perhaps--because he didn't seem alarmed by my presence, though we were so close at that point that our asses could have bumped. I slurped, in what I hoped was a manly fashion, while he peed, in what was definitely a manly fashion, and I thought the worst was over until he decided that hey, we're both here, we're both guys--let's have a conversation!

"Sure is cold out there, huh?"

I bent my head and considered my options. 1) Ignore him. Unfortunately, it is not in my nature to ignore people when they are speaking to me, and even if I did, he might assume I didn't hear him and come closer, thus blowing my cover and causing a most awkward encounter. 2) Answer, in my regular voice, and most likely cause a seriously awkward encounter. 3) Answer, in a...different sort of voice.

Now, you're probably sitting there shaking your head and muttering oh no she didn't, but I'm here to tell you that yes, yes I did, I most certainly did, I bent my head over that sink and I spoke like a man. I grunted, actually, in a tone several decibels lower than normal, in what I hoped was a manly fashion. And I guess it worked, because he wished me a good day, left, and I sat around, slurped out and humiliated, waiting until I was certain he was gone.

On my way back around the Fly, I noticed that someone had locked the door to both restrooms. Smart folks, they are. I hope they didn't get their shoes wet turning off- off!- that tap.

So there it is, my confession. Two points of advice: one, if you're going for a long run, bring your own water--it's just so much easier when all is said and done. And also, if you're going to Audubon today, you might want to avoid the ladies' room at the top of the park, near the big playground.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Home Sweet Home

It's a tricky thing, when people ask you where you're from. It used to be no big deal, of course; it used to be you'd smile and say "New Orleans!" and people would nod their heads with recognition and envy and tell you all about the time they came for Jazz Fest/Mardi Gras/Sugar Bowl/Bachelor Party and got totally hammered on Bourbon Street. It was generally acknowledged that New Orleans was a spectacular place, and while maybe you were just a tiny bit crazy for actually living there, it kind of made sense to folks. It was not, in other words, objectionable.

Not so anymore. These days, when people ask what has become for me the Dreaded Question, I find myself hesitating. Sizing the person up, quickly and silently, preparing myself. Is this guy, who seems perfectly nice and ordinary in his polo shirt and baseball cap, secretly one of those Fox News nutjobs? Am I going to spend the next hour defending my city (or, more to my nature, fall silent and listen with seething disdain, having long ago resigned myself to the knowledge that these people are not worth arguing with)? Will this soft-spoken, kind-eyed lady force me to recount every detail of my Katrina Experience, clucking her tongue throughout before posing a diplomatic but pointed question--that being, "But after all that, you decided to come back?" Will I nod, a bit sheepishly, ashamed of my sheepishness, feeling lame and defensive as I list the various reasons we live here, knowing all the time that no matter what I say, this person simply will not get it?
I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving in New York City, where my best friend and his fiance live. They share a beautiful, tiny studio apartment on the Upper West Side, right across the street from Cafe Lalo, one of my all-time favorite New York spots. I totally heart New York, in every way: running in Central Park, walking walking walking, everywhere and anywhere, the food, the subway, the energy, the people, the random celebrity sightings where I pretend to be all cool and jaded but am, in fact, freaking out just a little on the inside. And New York City in the fall: oof. I mean, you'd have to be brain dead, or just plain evil, not to find yourself awestruck and occasionally overwhelmed by the spectacle, both natural and man-made. It is, to me, an indescribably wonderful place, and although I will probably never live there, I have no difficulty understanding why so many people do.

One evening we visited the home of my friend's friends, a married couple expecting their first child. They were bright, creative, gregarious people who, despite having just purchased a spacious and undoubtedly expensive apartment in Tribeca, seemed as laid back and liberal as they come. Still, though, when the question came, I hesitated. Where are you from? she asked, absentmindedly rubbing her swollen belly, the way all pregnant women do. And I had a small, private moment of panic, knowing the conversation that was coming, the awkwardness I'd feel--do they really want to hear about this? or are they just being polite?--the likelihood that my friend would mention that hey, I was pregnant for Katrina, tell her the story, this is unbelievable. But I went on with it, feeling really tired and bored with myself, and unreasonably frustrated with everyone else, wishing for the first time that I was from Wichita, or Boulder, or anywhere else really, and I could just say so and that would be that.
This is a hard city to love, in so many ways. It's dangerous, and dirty, and the schools are just so bad. Politics are a joke and yes, there's that pesky hurricane business and did I mention the schools? But still. After all. What I mean to say is--

If you don't get it, you never will. You'll never know what it's like to stand in line for the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney and see a family with Saints sweatshirts on and find yourself screaming "Who Dat!?" at them, even though you don't really care about football. You'll never understand why a beignet is much, much better than a dougnut, how the clang-clang-clang of the streetcar (NOT the trolley) coming down the line after a two year hiatus can bring tears to your jaded eyes. You will never line dance in the street on Mardi Gras day, nor will you understand how perfectly normal, sane people might be driven to knock down their elderly neighbors for a strand of plastic beads. And you'll never, ever know the pleasure of hearing your four-year-old squeal with joy upon discovering the king cake on the kitchen counter, on the first morning of Carnival. Your kids squeal for Santa; ours, well, they know real magic when they see it.