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! Plus...eh, 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?