Monday, June 29, 2009

Casualties of Self-Doubt

I was hunched over, my hands on my knees and my breath escaping in small bursts. I looked up and watched her as she continued on. She was like a machine, her arms and legs moving forward in a silent rhythm.

"She's an elite runner, you know," he said. His gruff voice forced me up. I held the heaving breaths and busied my shaking hands by brushing the snow from my sweatshirt. The pains in my side subsided, pushed out by an undefinable shame.

I wasn't good enough.

I was a runner in grade school and high school. Running drove me, it fed a need I never quite understood. I had such a passion for the feel of sweat dripping down my back, the heaving of my chest, the tightness in my legs. I felt alive. And when I crossed a finish line, taking the #1 stick or reaching for the first place ribbon, I was alive. I was most definitely good enough.

College was different. I wasn't the superstar runner. I was a struggling freshman who had no idea what she was doing. Who packed on extra weight, got a first boyfriend, lost her first boyfriend all while navigating the campus as a socially awkward entity waiting for a clue.

But that's just an excuse. The truth--I simply wasn't good enough.

"Some people are just born to run," my coach continued as the snow began to drift across the track. "You'll be a good running partner for her. Once you get into shape, " he added smugly, mercilessly. My eyes followed her as she ran passed us, the snow politely parting for each footfall.

It was one of our very first practices of the season. My coach had already lost faith in me. I had lost faith in myself. Suddenly, I didn't want to run anymore.

But I did. I ran because I had to. I ran because he said I wasn't good enough. I ran because I had to show him that I was.

Every day I ran. Before practice. After practice. Weekends. I pushed my body until it begged for a reprieve--and even then, I pushed harder. There was little doubt that I was improving. But coach never noticed. He was working with the elite runners. And when his eyes did drift over in my direction, I knew what he was thinking, "Why does she even bother?" Some days, I wondered the same thing.

Short of drinking a raw egg, I was Rocky. Theme songs bumped around in my head, forcing me to push my aching body just one more mile. Just. One. More.

Trying hard now
it's so hard now
trying hard now

Getting strong now
won't be long now
getting strong now

Our first meet. I had only one race--200 M. The "elite" runner had the favored first lane while I occupied the last lane of the staggered start. I would be in the lead for only a few moments before the crowd of runners would overtake me.

Pop. The gun goes off as I push my foot forcefully from the starting block. I can't see any of the runners, but I hear their heavy breaths and quick steps in a rush behind me. As we make the turn we are all in a straight line headed for the finish.

I am behind.

But only for a moment.

I surge ahead and pick off a runner at a time. One. Two . . . Five. Six.

I'm in first place as I cross the finish line.

I win.

I remember what this felt like. The rush. The release. The pats on my back. The congratulatory sentiments. I remember . . .

And I feel nothing. Nothing.

I see him make his way across the field. He's pumping his fist in the air and shouting, "Where in the hell did that come from?" He grips my shoulders with both hands and looks at me for the first time.

I want so desperately to smile, to take it all in. But I can't. I don't. I look across the lanes to the "elite" runner. She's hunched over, her hands on her knees . . .

My fingers slowly touched the cool dull metal of my spikes as I placed them in the Nike box; the medals I had won during the season spread out on the bottom. It was a good season. I pushed my spike key into the front of my shoe and tucked the laces inside. I shoved the box under my bed and walked away.

I had proved myself to someone who didn't believe in me. To someone who barely gave me a chance. I proved that I had a talent, that I was good enough.

I was an after school special on how tenacity, drive and determination could mean success.

I hated those specials. They tried too hard and I resented them for it. I resented those who claimed that because of my coach, his doubt, he pushed me and I was better for it. Better? Maybe a better runner, a stronger athlete, but a better person? No. Not better.

The reality, my reality--I was done running. Running had become a casualty of my own self-doubt. While my body forced itself across the finish line race after race, the rest of me grew angry and distant. It was no longer about the running.

Having doubts is natural and in some cases, necessary--I get it, I accept it. But there comes a time when the heaviness of such doubts lingers longer than it should, when the cacophony of voices questioning your value, your abilities fails to hush--especially when it is about something you love, a passion you believe shapes and defines who you are. Especially if he or she who doubts you is a member of your family, a lover, a friend.

"Am I really good at this?" you wonder. "Can I do this?" you ask yourself.

No. You know that is what they think, what they believe they know. They don't believe in you, no matter what they say, no matter how beautiful the words scratched upon the page--they are merely creations posing as truths.

Trying hard now
it's so hard now
trying hard now

Getting strong now
won't be long now
getting strong now

You'll find your place at the starting line again and prepare to prove them wrong.

And, in the end, you'll make room for yet another box under your bed.

A little melancholy, perhaps. Or maybe my sudden rush into self-reflection has something to do with cleaning out a closet--and a room that looked as if the regurgitated remains of my childhood had taken up residence.

Monday, June 22, 2009

He Came Back

The back of the mini van was packed--suitcases, towels, pool toys, shoes, snacks. We happily made ourselves comfortable in our seats, backed out of the drive and excitedly headed from dreary Ohio to the sun, the heat and ocean breezes of lovely Florida.

I had dreams.

I had visions.

I had expectations . . .

JR would skip through the sand, smiling, giggling and picking up shells as he ran toward the water. I would scoop him up and we would twirl in the cool sand and splash in the surf.

We would go to the aquarium where JR would look in amazement at the sea life as it floated effortlessly in reflective tanks. He would point and I, in my abundant wisdom, would name off every single animal he gestured toward. He would look at me with admiration, thinking how amazing his mama was (he would have no idea that I was simply reading from the fish chart above the tank).

At the pool, in the home we were renting, JR would tentatively approach the edge of the sparkling pool of water while his father and I watched as he grew increasingly brave with each dip of his toes. Finally, he would jump in the pool, we would place him in his floaty and leisurely float around, relaxing as the shadows made their way over the water.

Dreams. Visions. Expectations.

I'm not saying that none of that happened.

It did.

Kind of.

But not really. Not exactly.

See, no one can really prepare you for your first vacation with an active toddler. No one can really tell you what it will be like to chase after a toddler, a full diaper hanging down to his knees, as he runs down the beach while you clutch your nearly 8-month pregnant belly and run after him (it is more like 7 months, but I was 3 lbs. heavier and much rounder than when I delivered JR--so I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate this cumbersome pregnant vessel. By the way, I am 8 lbs. heavier as of today. ).

No one can tell you what it will be like to change a toddler who has found that stuffing sand into his swim trunks and Little Swimmer is SO MUCH FUN! Oh, and of course a shell or two (hundred) for added fun!

You can't be prepared for a toddler meltdown when you are soaked with sweat, covered in sand, lugging an umbrella, chairs, towels, shoes, bags nearly a quarter of a mile through HOT sand back to the car. The looks of sympathy from beach goers does nothing. "Help me, damn it!" you scream silently as you paste a tight smile on your face. "This is how people crack," you think as your evil glare falls upon an innocent, peaceful family having fun, stuffing their sand-free sandwiches in their mouths and giggling at their sweet toddler who sits idly playing in the sand.

No one can explain that an aquarium to a toddler is more like a floating feast. NO, thankfully he didn't try to eat the fish racing through the tank (he wasn't tall enough to reach in) . . . he tried to eat the skeletal models that sat on top of the tanks. Yummy. Crunchy.The heavy stares from the employees did nothing to me. I didn't even wince, for they have no idea.

Speaking of eating. We tried everything. But, the manual (that we never received) probably doesn't say a thing about how toddlers take finicky eating to a whole new level when in a new place with a bunch of new distractions (we know, should have been commonsense, but we tossed that out the window when we crossed over the GA/FL border). But I'll be damned if the seagulls didn't eat well. Too well, if you ask me.

Instead, JR stuffed fistfuls of sand in his mouth. Fistfuls. And, strawberries, raisins and a slew of other dropped foods covered in sand--into his mouth.

We tried to stop him. We did. But . . . he's very fast. And, there is a LOT of sand.

So as not to seem like a big-belly malcontent, the entire trip was not one fraught with misery. There were lovely moments on the beach where JR would climb up on the chair, wrap his legs around me and bury his face into my neck. It was pure bliss . . . until he realized that climbing over mommy and her huge belly was quite fun, especially with his sandpaper swim shoes rubbing against my legs, over and over and over. While he climbed, his sister kicked. And kicked. And squirmed. He squirmed. It was excruciating bliss. But I was destined to steal some blissful moment even if it meant PAIN.

Decked out in my rather cute tie-dyed maternity swimsuit, I was feeling pretty good that first day at the beach. I was invigorated by the sun, the heat, the ocean breeze. I looked at the ocean as a metaphor for all the adventures we were going to have. I buried my feet in the sand and leaned back to take in the sites of the families that wandered the beach, splashed in the waves. I watched as JR played in the sand and his daddy leaned back in the seat next to me.


And then . . . POOF!

The last day at the beach had me bemoaning personal space issues--turning my once happy and light demeanor into one that leaned on the edges of misanthropy. I raged about my inability to get up from a seated position without rolling to my side, into the sand, first. Personal grooming turned into an Olympic event for me--I mean, how do women do it? I have no idea what is even down there anymore. I can't see anything beyond my navel.

And, I HATE SAND! HATE IT. At first I said, "Oh look, I'm exfoliating" as I found sand on nearly every inch of my body. By the end, I cursed every single granule. And shells, especially when they get stuck in your backside or nether regions--SUCK! Former homes of now deceased sea creatures no longer thrill me. "Oh, look. A beautiful little pink and purple shell," I would say as I would gently pick it up and place it into the bucket. By the end, I was, "#$%&* SHELLS!" as I would pluck them from between my toes and flick them into the sand.

Oh, and there were other pregnancy related issues that I suffered through--and because I like and respect you, I will spare you the details. You may thank me later. Ah, but all was not lost. I did discover the benefits of a built in serving tray. Pregnancy bonus #236.

Couple all that with THE TODDLER and you get more fun than anyone should ever be allowed to have in one beach vacation. The mixture of heat, sand, sun and crazy toddler had the husband and I fully entrenched in survival mode. After the "flinging poop" moment that the hubs had to endure while changing JR in the dark beach bathroom (he said it was like a small, smelly corner of hell) we finally gave in--humor would be our only form of sustenance if we were to survive. We talked about tying tubes, vasectomies, therapy, medications, the therapeutic benefits of liquor, lots of liquor.

JR's father and I tapped into our sense of humor. We had to . . . by day three (of our 11-day trip) we had nothing left. As we headed out to the beach on that third day, JR went running along the banks. His father looked lovingly toward me as he spoke, "You know, they say that if you love something, you should set it free . . . " We both looked ahead as JR ran and ran and ran.

We looked at each other and didn't even try to stifle our laughs. It was either that or falling in the sand in a fit of tears.

JR, way ahead of his downtrodden parents, turned around, saw us, hunched backed, baggy-eyed, yet still smiling and laughing. And with that . . . he came back.

And oddly . . . I'd do it all again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

To My Sister-in-Law

You found this blog, didn't you? You found RJ's (my little sister) Twitter account and you tracked me down via my year-old-pic of JR that I use as my profile pic (or something like that). Regardless, there is no doubt that you're here.

I must confess. I feel a little naked. Or, at the very least, scantily clad in a see-through nighty (so attractive on a nearly 8-month pregnant woman) and footie socks. Yes, I have told a couple REAL LIFE people about this space, but otherwise, I remain heavily cloaked in the shaky promise of anonymity.

It isn't that I am trying to hide from you, from anyone. Well, maybe it is . . . it is just that sometimes in this space I say things, do things that might prompt questions, concerns, fits of utter hilarity, thoughts that maybe I need therapy. Deep and constant therapy.

Then again. I play it safe. I let thoughts linger on the precipice, teetering between the abstract and the concrete. I am fiercely protective . . . even though very few know who I am.

You should see the posts I have in draft.

I have written about our family history, no doubt stories you've heard from the perspective of my little brother, your husband, the father to my niece (that still seems so weird--my little brother, a father, a husband, about to hit a major milestone b-day--strange, surreal).

Writing has slowly become my therapy. My way to sort out the mix of histories and make sense of them all. Where did I, we, come from? How did we get here? How did we grow from the family that "couldn't afford a Happy Meal" to a family that has defied our trailer park destiny? How did we navigate the choppy parental waters, filled with our mother's predatory past and our father's disconnection--how did we do it and still thrive?

How did my brother find you? You, him? How did I end up with someone who was surely promised to someone else--a cultured, wealthy woman from a good family, no doubt? How did RJ and Cat (little and baby sisters, respectively) end up confident, ambitious, absolutely amazing when they were never supposed to leave the broken down yellow house on the street lined with rusted cars and hints of futures that were never meant to be?

How did we get here?

I sit in your cozy living room and watch as our children play together. The way Little L touches JR's head, looking at him as if he is the most fascinating creature she has ever seen. How JR watches, enraptured, as she spins her little body around to the heavy beat of music that fills the room. I look at you, at my brother and I feel full.

Even when we slam phones, scream expletives, shake our fists, spit out insults (volitility was our sustenance for so long, we can't help but sometimes ache for its comfort, its familiarity), I know that what resides in us is peace. We know we are loved. We know that know matter what we will be there for one another.

I will be there for you. No matter what. And though tender words laced with tearful emotions have never passed between us, I think you'd be there for me . . . no matter what.

This is my space. This is where I share stories about JR, your nephew, our life, both past and present, my thoughts about anything, everything. I release, I purge, I laugh, I share, I ache, I reach out with these posts. Some of them suck. Some of them don't. Some of them are funny. A lot of them are not.

But, they are as me as I can be. And for now, that's enough.

So, that said . . . welcome to my space.

By the way, what does my little brother want for his birthday?

Oh, and one more teeny, tiny thing . . . if my mom ever asks you about me and my blog, your answer should be, "Blog? What blog? Does L have a blog?" K?


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The REAL Reality

I have so much to say on this topic. Then again, I got nothin' new. I mean, what more can be said?

Sitting on the old worn couch, in my MIL's house, in the middle of a struggling burb, in the heart of MI and paging through the Sunday paper, I came across a few perfectly written lines from this article "Jon and Kate Plus *=A Waste of Time" by sports columnist/cultural commentator/bestselling author Mitch Albom.

"I may empathize with these people [Jon and Kate, Adam Lambert, Susan Boyle], but I don't feel sorry for them. No one put a gun to their heads. Once you turn your life over to the cameras, you move into a Bizzaro World of attention. You are -- whether you realize it or not -- getting what you wanted.The same can't be said of laid-off autoworkers, young widowed mothers, abandoned children or unable-to-find-a-job graduates. They live in the real world. And you'll excuse me if that reality renders the reality TV world pathetic."

Will I stop watching reality TV (I confess I am not a Jon & Kate watcher, but it isn't all that hard to find out what's going on)? Who knows. I mean, it is escapism at its best. But, the whining, crying, "poor me," "boo hoo, my life is so hard" does not really make my heart melt or my soul move.

If anything, it just makes me cringe as that sour tasting burning sensation crawls up from the back of my throat.

For now, I'll just continue to collect pennies while figuring out which bodily organ I can live without (if necessary) while assessing all my belongings for potential eBay bids.

I know. Sounds like fun, eh?

Maybe I'll just go to the park with JR where the real world is pretty darned perfect. I mean, who needs reality TV when you got an old swing, a patch of grass and a toddler who is ready to run?

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