Full stop

There are bumps in the road.

And then there are the brick walls. The ones that, quite literally, stop you in your tracks. Not slow life down. Not adjust the weekly schedule. But put everything else in your life on the shelf while you deal with what is in front of you, so impenetrable, that you must figure out an alternative route before you can go anywhere.

The brick wall that makes you fervently hope that you’ve earned enough of a solid reputation at work  that you can, emotionally and physically, check out in order to manage it (I have). That your bosses are kind enough and supportive enough to green light it (they are).

The brick wall that necessitates immediate care and trained professionals and mountains of paperwork with legal mumbo jumbo and very, expensive. fixer uppers.

The brick wall that steals sleep and erases appetite and brings day to day functioning to its barest essentials. When breathing feels like a victory.

The brick wall that makes you feel so incredibly alone because it is so scary, and stressful, and overwhelming, but you are the one in charge of taking it down, piece by piece, brick by brick. Only not really, because it is someone else’s wall. So you feel completely, 100% responsible, and wholly, utterly helpless, simultaneously.

That kind of full stop.

That’s what it is going on in my neck of the woods.

If this seems vague, it is. Because it is both my story, and not my story at all, to tell. I want to write it out, because writing is my therapy, and not write a word, not utter a syllable to anyone about any of this, because speaking of it makes it real.

I have all, and none, of the words about this.

I am hurting, on the most profound, basic, instinctual level, but also surviving. Taking care of business and doing what needs to be done. Because that is what I do.

I can say that my muses, for whatever rhyme or reason, this week have been my badass writer friends. I am an English teacher, and a writer, and a lover of words, so when I need strength, it is words, and mantras, that come to me.

This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me.

I don’t know why this is the Dickinson phrase that tolls inside my brain. The poem it draws from does not particularly apply to my current situation. Certainly “hope is a thing with feathers” would be far more appropriate – but there it is.

Grace always bats last, and the lightness always overcomes the darkness.

I am not a Christian but Anne Lamott has gotten me through more dark times in the past 7 years than I care to admit. She has a way of making the dark and twisty and messy human crap seem beautiful and noble and essential. We need more of her in this life.

I can also say that, with all due respect to Gretchen Rubin, who seems like a perfectly lovely human being, that her Happiness Project book appears to be my own personal doomsday. Remember the first time I tried to blog the Happiness Project? Round two is NOT GOING SO WELL PEOPLE.

I’m not overly superstitious but I’m also not blind to signs from the universe. Consider this my official resignation from that writing project, round two.

I have a triathlon on the docket in 13 days. Suffice to say I’m not in training (and have not been for several days). Full stop, and all. Right now, it is very. very. very. far down the totem pole of priorities. Maybe I will show up, if I can manage to run for more than a couple miles without feeling lightheaded and nauseated (I attempted an easy run the other day in the interest of self-care, and discovered that running after not eating or sleeping for several days, even at an “easy” pace, is not so “easy”.)

In the meantime, I know grace bats last. And I know lightness always overcomes darkness. But if that “last’ could come sooner rather than later, that would be fantastic.

Amen.

 

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The Happiness Project: April

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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Lighten Up – Parenthood

For April, Rubin focused on parenthood, specifically her effort to “lighten up” when it came to parenting her (at the time of writing) two young daughters.

I totally get this. Parenting babies, toddlers and preschoolers is hard, y’all. I’m a decade out from it, but trust me, I haven’t forgotten. Rubin writes of the research, “Marital satisfaction nose-dives after the first child is born and picks up again once the children leave home” (91).

Picks up again once the children leave home.

I know when the kids are young, and you haven’t slept in years months, and you’re cooking dinner with a baby on your hip and one wrapped around your knees, and you are, literally, assisting little human beings with their shit and snot, that the thought of those little people having the independence to wipe their own asses, never mind make their own snacks, seems so intoxicating and alluring that anytime in the future seems like a better alternative.

People, I survived the early years of three offspring delivered in a 4 year span. They eventually grew older, started sleeping and taking care of their own bowel movements, and I had several blissful intermediary years of post-early childhood but pre-adolescence. Those were the magical years.

I now have 3 teenagers living at home.  To follow up on Rubin’s notes about the impact of children in general on happiness at home, “Marital satisfaction, which typically declines over the course of marriage, reaches its all-time low when the oldest child reaches adolescence.” To put it simply, if having kids at home is stressful and exhausting and on a day to day basis lowers general levels of happiness, then having teenagers at home is the bottom of the barrel.

Let it be said, before I go any further, that I actually have really good kids. I mean, I hit the jackpot. Furthermore, after working with teenagers for nearly 20 years, I’m going to make the claim that I *get* teenagers more than the average parent. So I have a leg up.

But still.

I’m not sure how “light” my load is.

Here is the problem with me (and I totally own this as my own dysfunction). I just can’t not worry, nag remind, obsess, stress, and perseverate over any little box that is left unchecked. It’s not even so much that I want to control the outcome, rather once something is on my radar, on my to-do list (even if it’s not my list, but someone in my orbit), I can’t let go of it until it’s taken care of.

Let me give you an example.

My oldest child was recently invited to apply for the National Honor Society. He was given the invitation to apply on a Friday, with a Wednesday deadline to declare his intention. So the 5 days went something like this:

Friday: Me to him: “So what do you think? Do you want to go for it?” Him: “I don’t know. I’ll think about it.”

Sunday afternoon: Me to him: “Don’t forget you need to decide by Wednesday.”

Monday after school: Me to him: “Have you made a decision about National Honor Society? You need to decide by Wednesday.” Him: “Um. No. Still thinking about it.”

Tuesday morning before school: “Okay, so you’re going to your Dad’s tonight. Don’t forget that application is due on Wednesday if you want to apply.” Him, noncommittally, “Mmm”

Wednesday afternoon: Me to him: “So what did you do about National Honor Society?” Him: “Meh. I didn’t apply.”

First, slow clap to my oldest for his A+ game on dealing with a type A mother.  But more importantly, while I disagree with his choice not to apply, I really wasn’t ever pressuring him on what to do. The decision was all his. I just needed to get it off my list. Now imagine this times 3 very busy children with a myriad of activities. A husband, who loves to be helpful and take things “off my list” but doesn’t quite have my rapid-fire timeframe for checking things off.

And the kicker: 103 seniors who I shepherd through a multi-faceted senior program with multiple components, plus 30 kids in English class, plus 11 advisees.

“Light” I am not.

So, where does that leave me? Because, listen, while this project is about happiness, it’s not about fantasy. I have been like this my entire life. It’s part of the reason why I am excellent at my job, highly productive, and high achieving in multiple facets of my life. But I will also never be “laid back”. “Light”, if you will. I am okay with this. That doesn’t mean I can’t dial it back a notch.

So, I’m working on letting go. Only reminding my kids once or twice instead of daily (and yes, I know that better serves them. Again, this isn’t about me trying to helicopter parent them into a certain outcome, rather my own obsessive list-making). Trying to let Jesus take the wheel instead of feeling responsible for others’ choices (especially the 103 young adults that I am kicking, nagging, cajoling and pleading with to get across the finish line).

My goal, like Rubin, is to modify my natural proclivity for order and control so that I’m lighter. She wrote (after working on lightening up), “The difference was that, although my nature was unchanged, I had more happiness in my life each day; … through my actions I was successfully pushing myself to the high end of my inborn happiness range” (111).

Lighter.

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Project goes rogue

I’m doing a 2017 blogging series on Rubin’s The Happiness Project (for March’s “official” post, see here).

This is the unofficial March post. It’s March. And it’s about happiness. So I’m counting it as part of the series, even though I’m breaking format.

I’ve alluded recently to how difficult this academic year has been, both professionally for my husband and me, and personally for two of our three kids. The junior has been fairly miserable, swamped with AP classes and SATs and ACTs and the grind of the dreaded junior year. The 7th grader has been wrestling with some personal issues, some having to do with middle school (is there anyone who survived middle school unscathed?) and some her own #2010 demons.

But that is her story. As her mom, it’s been heartbreaking, and stressful. We want to fix everything for them, and there’s nothing I can do but sit beside her, hold her hand, and tell her that she, too, must find her own peace with it all.

So it was with this emotional baggage that we all eagerly packed our suitcases and took off for spring break. We take a family vacation every other year (the years we have them for spring break), and the 24 months between each are spent budgeting, planning, squirreling away funds, saving Christmas checks from Grandma, parceling out some of the summer second job income, and anticipating family adventures.

Our next spring break, the currently cranky and overworked junior will be a (knock on wood, fingers crossed) college freshman, and off on his own spring break adventure, so this was likely one of our last trips all together.

Where better than Jamaica to escape reality?

They called me over, with a “Mom, come see what we made for you. Thank you SO MUCH for this trip.”

This picture might be my favorite from the entire trip. To see her so joyful in her soul, after the past few months, was worth every penny.

This girl.

They didn’t have a good time at all.

It was the first time out of the country for my kids, and our first time at an all inclusive. If you have teenagers, I highly recommend paying for the all-inclusive option. Sure, the food isn’t as high-quality as other resorts, but unlimited food and virgin daiquiris for 3 teenagers more than compensates. The kids were in heaven. As were Mom and stepdude, who never had to stress out about feeding the bottomless pits.

finally had a chance to decompress, and get quiet, and do some beach reading. I whipped through Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior and Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes.If you have read Love Warrior and if you know my story, you are probably waiting to hear what I have to say about that. It was … an experience, reading that book. I have an entire blog post about that. I have an entire book to write about that.

Perhaps, for another day. Because I am no longer on the beach, watching the surf, processing and reflecting and composing. Actually, if you want to know the truth, I’m typing this in a doctor’s office waiting room, where I come every Monday night.

Back to reality.

So, I know this isn’t a post about Rubin’s book. Or a race report. Or PTSD recovery.

But it is about happiness. Even if I had to run away to Jamaica to find it.

The Happiness Project – March

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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“Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness” (69).

For March, Rubin focuses on work. Oh dear. This is a quagmire.

Have I mentioned before that I work at the same school where my husband is an administrator? Oh, and where all 3 of my children attend? So, with this topic, I tread lightly. Coincidentally, or not, work has also probably – no definitely – been the single biggest challenge to my overall happiness and wellbeing this year.

Again. Tiptoe through the minefield.

Here’s the thing: I am incredibly #blessed with my work situation. I know this. I work with fantastic people (love my colleagues), and am so dang proud and grateful to not only provide my kids with a topnotch independent school education, but know (really know) that they are being taught by amazing people who genuinely know their stuff, and care about my kids. I have worked alongside these people for 8 years now (and for my husband, 10); the tuition is worth every dollar.

But I have also worked my way into an overwhelming, stressful situation with a relentless pace, where I never feel like I’m getting my job either done, or done well. Without spending too much time or energy (that I don’t have. Ha!) on the details, I voluntarily agreed to take on several extra duties this year.

Now, it’s important for me to stress that none of this was forced on me by my employers. They did not demand that I teach an extra section, or create and teach an online class. I didn’t do it for the money, or for the glory or accolades. (is there either of those in education? Discuss amongst yourselves). I took on the extra responsibility and challenges because I knew it would benefit my students, and I always want to be the best educator I can be.

“March’s focus on work and happiness highlighted a tricky issue: the relationship between ambition and happiness. There’s a common belief that happiness and ambition are incompatible … Studies show that many creative, influential people in the arts and public life score above average in ‘neuroticism’ (i.e., they have a greater propensity to experience negative emotions); this discontent arguable urges them to higher achievement” (88).

am ambitious, only not in the way that is typically admired or celebrated in our society. I don’t dislike money, of course, but no one goes into education to get wealthy. Nor do I have a desire for a title, or authority over others. I really just want to help others, serve my students well, and perform to the absolute best of my ability. Unfortunately, in my quest to do all of that in bigger, better and more creative ways, I created a situation for myself that feels just the opposite – I can’t possibly do it all, and am strung out trying to make it all work.

However, in the spirit of Rubin’s Happiness Project March goal, I am proactively trying to change my work situation for next year. In a move that is very unlike me and outside my comfort zone, I appealed to my superiors for a change in job description for next year. I am not one to ever complain or make waves in my professional life, so it was really hard for me to advocate for myself. I’m not sure how it will all play out, but they were receptive and open to the discussion, and I’m hopeful that next year will result in a happier, healthier work environment for me.

 

2017 – Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k Race Recap and Life in General

On Feb 4th I ran the Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k , and I’ve been meaning since then to post my race recap. I’m not sure how two and a half weeks have passed, except to say that my 2017 so far can best be described as the following:

There continues to be a lot, a lot, going on in my neck of the woods, and most days I feel like I’m drowning. So much so that I considered, seriously considered, bailing on the race. I’ve never bailed on a race since I began running in fall 2013 (if you don’t count the 2016 Houston half marathon, which I don’t, since I made the decision roughly a month in advance of the event not to participate after I pulled a muscle in my back. That wasn’t “bailing” so much as changing plans due to injury).

When I say I almost bailed on this race, I mean that starting 72-48 hours in advance of the Saturday race, I waffled on whether I was going to follow through. The week leading up to the race was particularly exhausting and overwhelming and difficult for my family, and I was averaging 2-3 hours of sleep each night, and going through the motions.

The day before the race, when I had to drive downtown to get my race packet (taking time out of work and traveling 30-40 min from school), I gave myself the mother of all pep talks, told myself I wasn’t a quitter, that I would and I could and I should do this, and set off.

And got rear-ended on the highway. I can’t make this up. The universe hates me.

That night, with a stiff neck and sore shoulders to add to my litany of physical and emotional ailments, I was so ambivalent about the race that I didn’t even take my traditional night before gear-laid-out picture. I decided to set my alarm, but gave myself permission to not attend if I felt worse in the morning.

Ultimately I decided that whatever physical discomfort I endured during the 9.3 miles would pale in comparison to the emotional pissiness I would feel at not following through with my race entry. I hate not finishing what I start.

I don’t have an in-depth race recap to share (partly because I waited so long to write this that I don’t remember most details) but I can say this: until this race, I never really understood how people don’t finish races due to cramps. I mean, I’ve heard of people not finishing races due to cramps, I’ve even seen it happen in televised races. Someone is clipping right along, and suddenly grimaces, limps. sometimes dramatically dropping to the pavement, writhing in pain.

I always thought that was a little … much. I mean, how bad can a cramp be?

And then I ran 9.3 miles after forgetting, in my zombie state, to drink many fluids the 24 hours prior. Hello dehydration. And agonizing searing quad pain.

I was doing pretty well for the first 7 miles or so. So well that I knew I was on track to bust last year’s 15k time out of the water. I’m not going to lie, I was feeling pretty badass – there I was, almost not even showing up to the race hours before, and now I’m flying along at a faster pace?

And then my legs starting twinging. Not badly, at first, but enough to let me know they weren’t happy. I wasn’t overly concerned – with less than 2 miles to go, I figured I was home free.

Around mile 8.5, with just under a mile to go, the pain got so bad that I actually had to do this weird Jedi mind trick where I pretended I was floating and my feet weren’t really striking the ground each time, but just skipping across clouds. I know it sounds weird and doesn’t make sense as I type it out, but it worked, in the sense that I hobbled-limped-floated to the finish line when all I really wanted to do was collapse on the ground and start crying. Like those people I had seen on television who I secretly called wusses in my head. #karma

Still, I finished. With a 4+ minute drop from last year’s time to boot.

In other news, yesterday my oldest turned 17. 17. I can’t really wrap my brain around the fact that I have a 17 year old. In one year, I will be the mom to a legal adult. How did that happen?

Wasn’t I just giving him kisses in the park on my 26th birthday?

In my mind, he’s still this age.

But actually, he’s about to be a senior in high school and next year, in addition to delivering cookies to his advisory down the hall, I’ll be ordering his graduation tuxedo.

The Happiness Project – February

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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About a week ago, last weekend to be exact, I began preparing this post. I went through the February chapter of The Happiness Project and picked out what quotes I wanted to use, and marked down the techniques that Rubin identified to improve her marriage, and then I actually interviewed my own husband to see if he felt that our marriage could also be improved. If you’re not reading the book, she chose:

  • Quit nagging
  • Don’t expect praise or appreciation
  • Fight right
  • No dumping
  • Give proofs of love

I went through each one and explained what she meant and asked him, no getting-in-trouble, no-penalty-assigned, if he felt that I was weak in those areas. As I went through each item, he reflected and thought and then said that, no, I really did a good job with all of them.

Keep in mind that we’ve only been married (nearly) 5 years, and also, I did extensive therapy prior to marrying him.

In the spirit of the project, I asked him if there was anything other than what Rubin chose that could make our marriage better. He was silent for a bit, mulling it over, and then said slowly, “You know, really? The only thing that makes me … not upset, but frustrated, with you? You take on everyone else’s problems. You’re so busy worrying about the kids and school and me and making sure everyone is safe and happy and taken care of, that you get really overwhelmed and strung out. I wish you could just relax and not care so much.”

Wait for it.

So, as I mentioned in my first post, my first attempt at this blog series ended abruptly in February, 2010, when my life completely imploded without warning. There I was, working my way through February, ready to make my marriage my focus of the month, and my (then) husband decided to relieve me of the project. Here I am again, February, and on the heels of that conversation last weekend, things went completely off the rails on several different fronts this week.

February is not so much my favorite.

I can’t elaborate on details. For one, some of this week’s circumstances are not my story to tell, and out of respect for my children, I won’t say anything other than sometimes life knocks the wind out of you. For another, some of this week’s developments are my burden to (directly) bear, but it is not in my best interest to share in a public forum.

I will just say that if my husband’s wish for our marriage is for me to relax, kick my heels up, and bring a little levity to the union, I will have to write him a big fat IOU on that one, because we’re in for a bumpy several months.

But lest you think February’s Happiness Project is a complete bust, I will say this about this month’s focus. If, as Rubin says, “The atmosphere of my marriage set the weather for my whole life” (39), then I will be okay. I will. Because, and I don’t say this with an ounce of exaggeration or melodrama, one of the very few areas of my life that is truly, madly, deeply right and healthy and safe right now, is my marriage. If, as they say, God does not give you more than you can handle, then I offer thanks to the universe for recognizing that, while I’m sure I would survive the current clusterfuck that is my life, I wouldn’t do so with nearly the fortitude or grace that I am.

If you can call deeming my life a current clusterfuck, “grace”.

 

Marathon by decree

As I wrote earlier this month, training for my only first marathon is on my agenda for 2017.

Let me elaborate.

Back in 2014, when I ran my very first half marathon, the crazy notion that maybe, just maybe, I could complete a marathon first occurred to me. The significance of even entertaining this endeavor is a post of its own (which I will write at some point), but suffice to say, I have been mulling it over for, literally, almost 3 years. For someone who tends to rush into graduate programs, mortgages and babies, this amount of reflection is indicative of just how intimidated I am by 26.2 miles.

Nevertheless,  I slowly began socking away money, because I knew, even then, that 1. I may very well be a “one and done” marathoner and 2. if I was going to do one marathon, it was going to be at Disney.

If you’re reading this, the odds are high that you’ve run at least one marathon (at least, when compared to the generally acknowledged statistic of 1% of the population that has run 26.2 miles). I have a lot of readers who found this blog through the running and triathlon communities, so maybe you’re thinking “oh, just you wait. Marathons are addictive. You’ll definitely do more than one.”

Maybe. But maybe not.

But there’s no uncertainty or hesitation in my desire to do my (potentially) singular marathon at Disney. I love Disney. Love. It. Beyond that, RunDisney is supposed to do a fantastic job at putting on the race, and it’s rookie-friendly. So, nearly 3 years ago, I began saving a bit of money each month. When I say “bit of money”, we’re talking less than a Starbucks coffee a day amount. Our budget is tight. We have 3 kids in private school, and “we” are teachers. But I committed to working on it. I threw some tutoring money in there. I saved my PTA Christmas bonus, every year. I taught an extra class in the summer, and split the extra between my Disney fund, and family vacations.

I knew, in 2014, that I wanted to go in 2018. It is the last year my oldest is living at home before leaving for college, and it is really important for me, as a mother, to have my kids see me complete this goal. That is also an entirely separate blog post, that I will also write.

But for now, please understand that my kids seeing my first marathon? Even if I go on to run 20 more and they see nary a one? Non-negotiable for me.

In 2014, when I began saving, Disney marathon weekend was the 2nd weekend of the month. As it was 2015. As it was 2016. So you can understand why it never crossed my  mind, as I saved for and fretted over this Herculean goal, that the Disney marathon in 2018 might be the 1st weekend of the month.

Also known as their Dad’s weekend.

You see where I’m going with this.

I wish I could say that asking my ex-husband to trade a weekend was a possible scenario, but it’s not. If you know me, you know why. If you don’t know me, just trust me.

So. Isn’t that just a kick in the teeth?

As someone who has a lot of practice reframing and turning lemons into lemonade, I decided that I would just find another marathon that is worthy of my  investment. I mean, there are some other awesome marathons out there – even if they’re lottery-entry, I’m sure I could find one that is kickass, and on my weekend, right?

Chicago marathon? His weekend.

NYC marathon? His weekend.

Marine Corps weekend? His weekend.

I literally spent about 45min the other night, thinking of marathons I could get excited about, googling them, checking my calendar, and then dejectedly returning to square one. I commented to my husband that race directors must all be divorced men who are looking to make the most of their 1st, 3rd and 5th weekends.

I kid. They’re probably divorced moms who need to work on the weekends that their exes have the children.

I’m sad, y’all. But truly, personal growth, because I’m not angry, or resentful, or shaking my fist at the powers that be that godDAMMIT divorce is just the gift that never stops giving. I don’t feel upset.

I just feel sad. Dejected. But resigned. It is what it is. This is part and parcel for my life. It’s a marathon, it’s not life or death.

But it matters to me.

So, where does that leave me? Right now, I’m leaning towards the Houston marathon in January 2018. It’s my weekend, and a 3 day weekend, so the kids won’t even miss school. I hear it’s flat, with good crowd support, and I’m sure it will still be meaningful and amazing and heck, I’ve got the money more than saved for the entry fee and hotel.

It’s just not what I’ve envisioned for the past 3 years.