Archives for the month of: March, 2016

My Dearest Husband:

How do you do it?

I don’t mean this vindictively, or snidely, or with anything other than amazement. I’m genuinely asking. I’m truly seeking answers.

How do you do it? How do you maintain the commas?

Because, for me? It’s all become hyphens. Mom-blogger, mom-helper, mom-cook, mom-runner. Even (good lord help us) mom-lover (“Okay, be in the moment, Rachel. Be in the moment. Was that a footstep? Oh, god, she’s awake. I knew that there was no way she’d go down so easily tonight! Not after all that ice cream before bed. You know, I really have to start making dinner earlier. At least for the girls. But, then, what, I’d have to have dinner ready by 5? Baths by 6? Jesus, how does anyone who works ever see their children? Well, I guess they don’t really. I mean, look at my hus– Oh! Dammit! Stay in the moment, Rachel!”)

Nothing can be separated out, you see? It’s all a big, tangled mess. But for you? You still have commas in your life.

Husband, lover, musician, engineer, mechanic. Fatherhood is just another facet. Another neat slice of your life pie-chart, contributing its portion to keep you complete. To bring you to fullness. To get you to 100%. It’s all still separate for you. Separate, but whole.

The other day, we talked about prioritizing. I complained that my running, my learning piano, my book clubs, my once-monthly girls’ nights felt inexcusably selfish. Unforgivably me-focused. But, at the same time, I couldn’t keep placing “me” at the bottom of my priority list. Especially since I so often feel as though I’m at the bottom of everyone else’s list too. That’s when I looked at you, and asked you about your priorities. Where was I? Where were the girls? Where were you? Your eyes flicked down and a small crease appeared between your eyebrows, and before you even answered, I knew.

You’ve never had to prioritize. You’ve never even thought about it.

Because you go to work, and you are a small business owner. A mechanic. A problem-solver. Then, you come home, and you can do some fun Dad stuff before Mommy declares that we need to brush our teeth and go to bed. And, sure, maybe you sit on the couch for a few minutes after the girls head upstairs, leaving Mom to take care of teeth, potty time, pull ups, and PJs all by herself, but, hey, you’ve worked hard today. You deserve a little break. (You do. You really do.) Afterwards, you snuggle in a king-sized bed with your wife, and rub your fingers along her thigh while you two watch House of Cards. Once again, though, she’s not in the mood. She just wants to sleep. But, overall, a day well spent.

Everything is still, remarkably, compartmentalized for you. Work, home, band practice, the occasional date night. It’s still hard. Very hard. We have a family business. You work 7 days a week. At least 70 hours. You wish you had more time for me. More time for the girls. More money for everything. I know that you worry that you’re missing out on your daughters’ childhood. It’s painful for all four of us when you say goodbye on Sunday mornings, especially when we know you won’t be back until after dinnertime. But, we’re trying to grow our business. That slice of the pie is just bigger right now. Soon, we’ll be able to cut some of it off, slivers at a time, until everything looks more balanced once again. Growth is hard. But we’ll get through it.

But me? I don’t have a pie in front of me. I have a plate of spaghetti. A jumbled, disorganized, hopelessly tangled mess. I have a mental inventory of every single item in our house stored away in the annals of my brain. I know where our four-year-old’s polka dot socks are, as well as your cordless drill. I know the exact placement of every single bouncy ball and crayon in our house, and if I was placed blindfolded in front of your closet, I would be able to put my hand within 3 inches of your favorite tie. I know what the thermostat is set to. I know how many ant traps we have out right now, as well as how old they are. I could tell you, with surprising accuracy, exactly how many chicken nuggets are in my refrigerator. I know that we have a play date scheduled in two hours, followed by naps, then perhaps a visit to Nana’s. I know that the insurance is due this week, and well-check appointments are next Thursday. I know that all of this information changes constantly because of the two small girls that I watch, protect, love, and occasionally resent every single day. I know that I missed recycling pick-up last week, so now I have to decide if we can make due for another week, or if I need to drag the girls to the recycling center and drop off our plastics in the meantime. I know that I need to start cooking more at home, because our credit card statement reads like a list of fast fooderies, and the workers at the local Chick-fil-A know my girls’ names now. But I know that cooking is the first thing to get thrown off my list at the end of a long day, and I know that it’s easy to call you and just ask for some fries instead.

I know that I’m so, so tired.

I know that you are too.

But you can at least find the small slice of “Bobbie” in your pie. It’s tiny, but it’s there. It plays music on Thursday nights. It builds guitars and spends I-don’t-know-how-many sleepless hours researching pickup combinations and guitar pedal wiring diagrams (you seriously have the most boring Google search history ever). It loves woodworking and landscaping, two places where it can show off its artistic side.

For me? It’s getting harder and harder to find that one “Rachel” noddle on my plate. Sure, I can go to book club, but I can only stay for an hour or so. My husband has to leave early for a meeting in the morning, so we’ll all get an early start tomorrow. I get to weave and create textiles on my loom, but I have kept only one or two pieces for myself. All the rest are gifts. I host play dates and drink buckets of coffee with my girlfriends. But we end up talking about the kids, being interrupted by the kids, cooking for the kids, kissing booboos on the kids. Once again, “we” are placed beneath (and outnumbered by) “them.” Even running, my one reprieve, is still tinged by my unrelentless momness. Running used to be my way to think. I would escape all of my worries, think about books, plot out the arguments for my dissertation, compose syllabuses and class plans. I never used to even listen to music while I ran. Now, I run to banish all of my thoughts. I run so I don’t have to think. I crank up the southern rock, and try to escape, well, me. I try to forget that I need to finish these five miles in under an hour, or else you’ll be late leaving for work. I try to forget that I’ve had to ask my mother-in-law to watch the girls–again–so that I can get in a run (and try to forget how much you hate that I have to lean on her so much). I try to forget that we’re almost out of milk. I try to forget the bills. The loneliness. The way that even this thing that I do, this completely solitary activity, is burdened by all of the other people and things in my life. The way that I carry my daughters, my mother-in-law, my friends, even your cordless drill around with me as I run.

Maybe your ability to compartmentalize is just another product of your male privilege. As a man, you’re not expected to be a “dad-entrepreneur.” You’re allowed to be a dad, and a businessman. In many ways, I am not afforded that same privilege.

But it often feels more sinister than that. My hyphenated state feels strongly self-imposed. A result of an overzealous rewrite of my own life, where I edited out all of my commas, one at a time. It felt inevitable at the time. It felt like it was the right thing to do after I became a mother. I should be able to delete the hyphens, organize the spaghetti, weave the noodles into a single tapestry (sort out my muddled analogies). I should be able to re-punctuate my life. But I still just don’t know how.

So, do you have any suggestions, dear husband? Can you help me? Or is your pie-chart, comma existence not really as great as it seems to me? Maybe you’re jealous of me? Maybe we both need to be our own messy, eternally divided selves in order for this to work? A part of me hopes that’s the case. The part that is tired. The part that just doesn’t want to keep searching for the unhyphenated, noodle “me.” But it wouldn’t be fair to you to stop looking for me. I cherish the small slice of “you” I get to taste every now and then. You deserve “me,” as well. Me in the moment. Me without the burdens. Me completely unattached to anything else.

Maybe together we can figure this out. You. And me.

Love always,

Rachel

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It’s March 9th. On April 9th, I will run my very first half marathon. That is, I hope I will run my very first half marathon. I know that (Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise) I will cross the Start Line, and I know I will cross the Finish Line. What happens in between is anyone’s guess.

It’s been two months since I began training for this race. In that time, I’ve learned many things, and I’m struggling with many more. At this critical juncture, I think it’s time to record a few of those lessons here.

  1. The Stats Don’t Really Matter. In many ways, training for this half marathon has reminded me of writing my dissertation for my PhD. One of the things you learn pretty quickly, is that the end result is not actually as critical as the process itself. My committee barely glanced at my finished dissertation (and I certainly never gave it a second thought once it was completed). They didn’t judge my readiness for my PhD through the finished 264 pages. They determined my abilities based on the four years prior. The conferences I attended. The countless drafts I submitted. The many (many!) rabbit holes I pursued to no real avail. I’m slowly coming to understand that this half marathon will be the same way. How fast I’m able to finish. Whether or not I’ll have to walk a few miles. Where I place in the pack. How well I’m able to pace myself. Only other runners will be interested in those details. I will be interested in those details. Everybody else will just care that I finish. My dissertation is not worthy of publication. But that doesn’t matter. I have my PhD. That’s the accomplishment. Everything else is just statistics. (You think anyone cared when this guy finished the Boston Marathon dead last, and in 20 hours? Hell no! He finished the Boston Marathon. End of story.)
  2. I’m Constantly Disappointing Myself. Running is an almost entirely self-motivated sport. There’s no team. No coach. No fans in the bleachers. It’s you. It’s your head. Your thoughts. Maybe some music. A road. The air. Therefore, it’s not surprising that runners are considered something of a psychological mystery. Because of the release of endorphins that comes with any physical activity, running eventually feels good, but the good feelings—the high—are very temporary and only last a short time. Getting your brain to release that dopamine is a long process. And a painful one. And it’s all on you. The runner has to be willing to undergo hours of self-inflicted torture for twenty minutes of satisfaction. And research has shown that runners often self-identify as intelligent, motivated, excited by challenges and risks, and highly critical (Who has two thumbs and fits all those personality traits to a T? This girl!). The majority of my training these last few months, therefore, has involved me analyzing, assessing, and finding fault with every aspect of my running. I slept in and missed my cross training session. I had to walk after that last hill. I couldn’t make the distance I wanted to. I didn’t eat right before a run, and was stymied by horrible cramps. My running is all on me, so when something goes wrong (and it frequently does) I have no one else to blame. So I blame me. A lot.
  3. I’m Constantly Impressed with Myself. All that being said, my training is truly paying off. I’m improving. Quite a lot. Every day when I go out for a run, I can feel how much stronger I’ve become in just two months. How my stride has changed. How my breathing has slowed. How my pace has increased. That’s perhaps the best and most surprising part of this process: the improvement in my pace. I didn’t even care about pace when I began training. I wanted the distance. I wanted to be able to say that I can run—run!!—13 whole miles. I never thought I would get faster in the meantime, but I have. When I first started back into running after a nearly 4-year hiatus, I was thrilled when I completed my first outside mile in 11:57, three seconds faster than I could run on the treadmill. Today, a 12-minute mile would feel like crawling for me. The last three times I’ve run my routine “maintenance” miles, I’ve completed them in an average of 9:30 per mile (some splits faster, some slower, but pretty consistent for a newbie). I regularly can now look down at my watch, and amaze myself with a PR that I never seem to be anticipating. I realized just last week that I’ll likely run this race as a “middle of the pack” runner. That makes me proud. I’m only 4’11”. I have 25” inseam. I’m pear shaped. But I’m moving. I’m not breaking any records, but I’m taking a body that falls solidly on the left side of the bell curve and pushing its capabilities right into the center. That’s kind of awesome. Kind of really awesome.
  4. I’m Not Doing this Alone. Running is solitary. Being a runner isn’t. Being a runner who is also a stay-at-home-parent of two small children with a spouse who works 70 hours a week requires a community. Though I try to get my runs finished in the mornings before my husband leaves for work, often, that plan fails. Training through all of January and February, there were plenty of mornings where roads were slick, sidewalks weren’t cleared off, visibility was minimal. For me, safety always comes first. Even if that means sacrificing a run. If conditions are bad, or in any way dangerous I just won’t go out. (I hate running in the dark. Even though I live in a quiet neighborhood, I am required to run on several streets without sidewalks, and I don’t want to be running on the same street as a sleepy sanitation worker who might be reaching for his coffee instead of looking for short moms in reflective tights.) Plans don’t always work out. So I’ve needed other people. A lot. On the weekends, my husband goes into work an hour and a half late, so I can get in a long run after sunrise. During the week, my mother-in-law watches my girls for a few hours so I can slip out to the YMCA (when the weather is cold) or down to my favorite trail, and still have time for a shower. My neighbor and I exchange babysitting. I’ll watch her boys when she has a doctor’s appointment, and she gets my girls when I need to wait until the afternoon for a run. Friends have emailed me, texted me, and told me that I’m doing a great job. I’ve asked for (and received!) Facebook messages of encouragement from both runners and non-runners. People have actually walked up to me, and told me that following my updates on my running has inspired them to try running. To try walking. To try Zumba. To try. I’ve even had neighbors roll down their windows and wave and cheer as they drive past me. All of this has made my training possible. I couldn’t have made the progress I’ve made without all of you. My community.
  5. I’m Still Totally, Completely, Unbelievably, Shaking-Down-to-My-Boots Terrified. I mean, seriously. 13.1 miles?? What the hell was I thinking? What am I thinking? And it hurts. (I’m starting to have IT pain in my left knee. That shit is uncomfortable as hell!) And it’s hard. Really hard. Why am I doing this thing that’s really, really, really, ridiculously hard? For a medal? For the bragging rights? I mean, really, Rachel, why?

The truth is, I have no idea why I’m doing this. It all just seems like an extended experiment in pain tolerance most of the time. But I do know what my mantra has been (what it’s been ever since I started my PhD, actually). John F. Kennedy, when he announced to the world that America would send a man to the Moon within a decade, gave one of the most inspiring speeches in the history of American politics. And I think about that speech every time I run. Every time I realize that it’s hard. Every time I want to quit. JFK talked about the whys too. Why go to the Moon? Why explore beyond our atmosphere? Why spend the money, and risk the lives, and tap the brain power? His response:

 “We . . . do . . . [these] things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

We do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Because they are hard.

I want to do hard things. (That’s what she said.) I’d rather fail doing something difficult, something challenging, something impossible, then float along on a cloud of a million easy successes. I want to reach, and stretch, and pull all less-than-five-feet of me to the farthest distances I can, both figurative and literal. I want to do this.

And right now, at this moment, I think that I can.