Sunday, August 12, 2012


Marathon training began in earnest last month, and with it the inevitable analysis of runs gone wrong.  Could I have been faster? Trained harder? Consumed more/less GU/Gatorade? Worn different shoes? More/less/different clothing? Could I have shaved a few seconds off my time if I hadn't wasted breath cheering on that red-faced dude who was walking in the 19th mile? And what about that weird, spasmy leg thing that happened in the last 10k? What was that about? On paper, my last marathon was a success: I didn't die, or injure myself, or unwillingly defecate.  What else can you ask from the 26.2? But I went into this one determined to do better--to finish faster and feeling stronger.

I thought I was being smart when I took some time to consider strategy--a more holistic approach to training.  I'd started to have a little trouble with my IT band, and felt good about the fact that I'd worked in some strength exercises to address that, in addition to a particularly gruesome but effective technique, recommended by a running buddy, that involved applying deep tissue massage to those areas with a frozen Nalgene bottle (for the record, that shit hurts).  The stress of the last year had left me about 10 pounds lighter, not weight I could afford to lose, and so I also started approaching nutrition deliberately (I have a tendency to forget to eat).  Pilates, strength training, deep tissue massage and icing, good nutrition: these are all elements of a sound marathon training plan.  On paper, I was good to go.

What I never stopped to consider was whether or not I wanted to dedicate myself to the endeavor.  I've been wanting to run New York for so long that when I found out I got in, the decision was automatic.  I registered immediately, giddily, and told everyone I knew, all of whom were excited for me and overwhelmingly supportive.  I made plans to take the train from my conference in Boston the night before the race, to stay with a friend in Brooklyn, to take the Staten Island Ferry the morning of.  I started training.

What I noticed right away was a profound ambivalence, which was totally new and deeply frustrating.  I didn't want to run.  I forced myself.  We all have days when getting out of bed to knock out some miles is difficult, but it was happening every morning, and I pushed through the runs with an antsy boredom.  At first I chalked it up to momentum: I needed some time to get in the groove.  But as the weeks went by, and I wasn't putting on weight, and I was getting sick more frequently and severely than I ever have in my adult life, and I was constantly stressed about fitting in runs before it got too hot, I was forced to reconsider my decision.

When you're the sort of person who says yes to everything--not out of an inability to say no or a lack of assertiveness, but rather a wish to stuff your life full of as much experience as possible--backing out of a commitment, even one that you only made to yourself, is almost unthinkable.  When people have suggested to me that perhaps I work too hard or push myself too hard or take on too much, it's always made me think about all of the things I'm not doing with my life.  If only they knew what I slacker I am!  If only they could see how deeply I've disappointed myself by not finishing that novel or learning to play cello or taking my kids on a Disney vacation or writing more letters to the editor or learning to sew or or or or or--

Sounds a little nuts, right?

I'm on the Board of an organization that's been entrenched in expansion planning for the past year; the last time we met with the developer, I asked him to identify our risks and vulnerabilities.   His answer? Taking on too much.  Trying to do too many things.  And this is the risk of every entity who wants to expand: if you take on too much, you risk collapse.  I say this to my Schweitzer Fellows constantly, as they wrestle with their community projects--most of them are passionate about what they do, they want to change the world, make a true difference.  And almost all of them try to do too much; their project descriptions inevitably read like Five-Year Plans, though they only have 9 months to implement them.  And my job is to gently direct them to simplicity and focus.  I somehow manage to do this well, though as is true of most practitioners, my personal endeavors reflect the exact opposite approach.

And so, I've withdrawn from the marathon.  I'm taking a hiatus from running, as well, as I think that particular form of exercise only promotes my tendency to push myself excessively.  I'm going back to yoga and pilates, and though the mere thought of that makes me squirm with impatience, I think that's the exact reason to do it.  I'm tired, and I'm slowing down.

This somehow feels like a huge risk (what if I slow down a little and completely stop doing everything?), but I've looked around at the people I admire and all of them possess the ability to simplify and focus, to essentially say, I can't do that right now.  It seems paradoxical, still, but in my gut I know it's true: if I want to feel stronger, I need to quit.

Hooray for quitters.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

To Evan, On Your 4th Birthday

My sweet boy,

As I write this, you are falling asleep in your brand new bunk bed, with the Beatles playing softly through your stereo.  Your class at Abeona House has spent the summer studying the Fab Four, and true to form you have become a connoisseur.  Your favorite tunes are 'Help' and 'Eleanor Rigby,' and we've had many discussions over the last few weeks about the meaning behind the lyrics--you really seem to connect with "all the lonely people." Where do they come from, Mama? Why are all the people lonely? How do people get lonely and how can we help them?

Needless to say, you're a heartbreaker.

You've grown so much in the last year, but you're still the same loving, empathic, powerful, funny, and observant little boy.  J. is still your best friend; you still love Legos.  You're still endlessly affectionate and exquisitely sensitive, and rambunctious and wild and talkative and bossy. You are perfectly happy to play alone, creating elaborate "bad guy" scenarios with your Legos or drawing or looking at books, but you also love your friends and family and talk about them constantly.  There is a quiet, commanding wisdom that surrounds you (maybe it's the Force?) and coupled with your tiny stature, it gives people pause.  People often ask how old you are; they can't quite believe that such a powerful person could exist in such a small body.

You are precocious.  The other day, I came home from a run and you followed me into the bathroom while I washed my face.  Positioning yourself on the stool next to the sink, you rested your chin on your hand and said, "So. How's your running going?"

You are super affectionate.  You have this thing where you like to squeeze "lovings" into other people and at any given time you apparently have "4 and 5" lovings in your body.  A few weeks ago I asked you for a hug and you said, "I can do that, Mama.  I have a lot of lovings in my body."

Your nickname at school and home is "Red Sprite." This came about when you watched your sister and her soccer pals order their team drinks after games; you were fascinated by the various sodas and one week at school, when you all had the opportunity to identify your fairy/spirit names, you chose Red Sprite.  And it suits you perfectly: you are all impish fire.  This spirit, coupled with your natural empathy and compassion, is so incredibly compelling--you're a force of nature.

You've started to talk about what you want to be when you grow up.  Right now it's a tie between astronaut and baseball player.  Although you've never attempted either endeavor, it's thrilling to watch you consider your future, and your identity.  You're also interested in ballet, which makes me excited, but I know not to push you too much--you have a natural tendency to balk against expectations.

Oh, but you do love to dance.  Whenever Sydney plays that Katy Perry song you drop whatever you're doing and shake your money maker; I apologize in advance for the humiliation that I will be unable to refrain from showering upon you in your young adulthood.

This year you will play soccer, and practice writing your letters, and learn about the Solar System (you and Syd have plans to make one from scratch), and visit your cousins in Florida, and draw ninjas, and get ready for big kid school.  You'll grow out of your clothes and stop using your binky.  You'll fight with Sydney, testing your burgeoning identity against her solid strength.  You'll help me make banana nut muffins--your favorite snack--and before we know it, you'll be 5.

Tonight, over your birthday dinner, we had a long talk about the 'Neverending Story.' You had a lot of questions about The Nothing, and the Swamp of Sadness, and the bullies who hound Sebastian.  You are amazingly perceptive: you wanted to know why the horse sinks in the swamp, while Atreyu survives. You identify with those characters--Atreyu and Sebastian, who are one in the same--because they share your beautiful mix of strength and vulnerability.  We talked about the threat of sadness and the power of imagination and beauty, and you seemed to accept it, to hold those things together.  I hope that you always feel comfortable bringing these questions to me.

Evie, I love you.  So many people love you.  I've learned enough about life to know that sometimes the weight of other peoples' love and expectations can be so burdensome, but I hope that when you read this some day in the distant future you will know that our love comes without expectations or burdens; that we just want you to build a life for yourself that is beautiful, and full, and true, and creative.  Like the Lego sets you own: each comes with a set of instructions, which we dutifully adhere to, only to end up with a jumble of parts that we (you) joyfully retreat to each morning, assembling pieces into new and amazing configurations--an endless source of re-creation.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful boy.  We look forward to all of your creations.