Syracusens

Since the New Year our life has been charged with excitement and worry. Z has been in the long process of interviewing for a tenure track position at SU. Long story short: he got the job. The tenure process takes six years. We feel pretty committed to Syracuse now. We want this city to be our long term home.

My anxiety has spiked once again. Dealing with the stress and unknown is not something I do with grace. In the back of my mind I also knew Z’s Japan trip was looming. He is teaching a class there for four weeks this spring. He leaves on Sunday. The anticipatory nature of my anxiety disorder has been rearing her ugly head.

In the last few weeks I have ballooned into a round and swollen version of myself. At least that is what I see every time I glance in a mirror. I’ve pretty much stopped looking. The voice is back that tells me I am disgusting and worthless and an object of pity. I’m scared of getting through the next month. I’m scared I am not a good enough mom to be alone with the boys for so long.

My parents are coming for the first week. They spoil my whole family rotten. My friends have assured me they will be here for support. Still, I am turning in on myself and pulling away.

Crazy folks need a crazy friend. Someone who gets living with chronic mental illness. Someone who understands in their bones when you share that you are struggling. My crazy friend moved at the end of last year. I miss him so much that I haven’t let myself process his absence.

The four women who are my closest friends are a lifeline to me. But none of them have been chronically mentally ill. Last week I put on my big girl pants and emailed them to tell them I’m having a hard time. When we are all together and I say that I’m ok….well, I’m really not ok. Just sending the note removed a weight from my chest. These women have my back.

Z is in New York until tomorrow afternoon for an end of the school year event. Our gang tends to do a potluck dinner on Wednesday nights. I hosted this week. We sat in my backyard and my friend told me they all wanted to get me a Mother’s Day present. I got red in the face and apprehensive. We are all moms. Why would they get me something?

My friend explained that she knew I was anxious about the state of my house with my parents coming. We are slobs, Z and I. Terrible terrible slobs. On Saturday my friends want to arrange a cleaning service to get the house in order. I worked really hard not to cry. It was too much. I didn’t want to impose, didn’t want to accept such a huge gift. A few minutes passed and the conversation moved on. Eventually I turned back to her. “I would love to have the house cleaned.” It was hard to say and I was choking on the guilt. But I accepted their kindness.

The anxiety is never going to go away. But it is not preventing me from being loved and cared for. It isn’t preventing me from loving others back.

Syracuse is our home. We are happy. Now. Today.

I have never trusted happiness. It can be snatched away for a million reasons. Acknowledging it means tempting fate. Yes, tragedy and sorrow can hit our life at anytime. I’ve suddenly realized that isn’t a reason to shy away from happiness, rather it is a compelling reason to enjoy the happiness while it is here.

Am I scared shitless about Z’s Japan trip? Yup. Is my anxiety worse than it has been in a long time? Yessir. Do I despise myself right now? I do.

All of that did not stop me from enjoying the triple date we went on last Friday. Six of us piled into our friends’ minivan. We were a cliche of “Parents’ Big Night Out!” and I loved every second. The bad stuff didn’t stop me from enjoying Z’s birthday part on Sunday night. We had more than 30 people over for the first backyard barbecue of the season.

Good shit is happening here. Z and I are happy. The boys are happy. We have friends that we would do anything for. And it turns out they would do anything for us as well.

lots of boys at the zoo

Taking a bunch of boys to the zoo.

the mighty salt city

Z’s early 42nd birthday present by awesome local artist Cayetano.

zeke 42

Singing Happy Birthday to Z. When I lit the candles I accidentally blew them out along with the match the first time.

handsome man

Painting banners for the annual Carnival at T’s school.

Syracuse Half Marathon

A couple of weeks ago I took a spur of the moment trip down south and was at my sister’s house in NC for an evening. My best friend from high school lives about 45 minutes south of B and was able to drive up for dinner. We haven’t been in touch for a couple of years, but we have the special sort of relationship in which it seems no time at all has passed between visits. I opened the door to greet her and she commented on the change in my appearance.

My face got read, “Yeah, um….I started running.”

She burst into hysterical laughter.

Please understand there was not a trace of unkindness in that laughter. It was the perfect reaction. She has known me for 24 years, even though we have been out of touch she still knows me better than most people. Actually, her shock at my news illustrates how well she does know me. She would have had an easier time believing it if I’d told her I was pregnant with one of the Nelson Twins love child. And yes, let’s just get this out of the way, we did go see Nelson when we were in 8th grade. It was 1991. What do you want from us? They were beautiful!

She texted me a couple of days after I got home. She went running. I couldn’t stop smiling. Turns out a bunch of people I know have started running either again or for the first time after being kind enough to read about me blundering through the process. I’m more proud of helping motivate folks (just like my friend Kelly motivated me) than I am of the running itself. The reason I think friends have decided to give it a try after seeing my struggles and little victories is because it is so unlikely that I’ve stuck to it. It is impossible to look at me without thinking “If she can do it, I can definitely do it!”

These friends that have started running? A lot of them are way better at it than I am. A lifetime of inactivity, almost a decade of being overweight, never being physically fit all add up to a very slow runner indeed. Sheer will that I didn’t know I possessed keeps me going, but my name should be tortoise. I am slow and steady.

One of these friends, T, decided to come visit and run the Syracuse Half Marathon with me. She had done a few 5Ks. She injured herself in January and came back from it, training outdoors to be ready for the race. This was her first half.

She and I watched the weather report last week as the high for Sunday dropped from the 30s to the 20s to the low 20s. The race started at 8am. We wouldn’t even be touching the highs. The cold wasn’t my only issue. Our winter was so harsh that I skipped many training runs. I was woefully unprepared. The night before the race we followed the race map and drove the course. Fear settled like a brick in my stomach. It was hilly. Really really hilly. Super hilly. Frighteningly hilly.

T and I did a quick 15 minute run to loosen up a bit on Saturday. It was clear she was much faster than me. She also said that this was the only half she was interested in running. She wanted us to stick together, but this was her only shot. I wanted her to rock it. On Sunday we stayed together for less than a mile, partway up the first never ending hill of the race, before she took off.

The conditions were brutal. Temps held steady at 17 and it had snowed an inch overnight. T rocked it. She finished 20 minutes before I did. She was incredible. It is pretty great to be proud of someone and in awe of them at the same time. It’s pretty great to know I played a small part in her decision to start running. It’s pretty terrible to feel a twinge of jealousy that she is so much faster than I am. Thankfully the petty jealousy exists outside the pleasure I feel for her.

And it turns out I PRed the race. Barely a minute faster than last time, but with the cold and the hills and the undertraining I’ll take it. For most of us non-elites the only one we are competing with is ourselves. I might be jealous of T’s speed, or my friend A’s speed, or my friend K’s, or my friend N who ran for her university and with a semi-pro club for a time. But they all run their own races. And I want them to do the best they possibly can. I just wish my best looked a little bit more like theirs.

T might have started running in part because of me, but I look at her and see the kind of runner I hope to be someday. To be honest, I look at her and see the kind of mother and person I hope to be someday as well. Don’t know how I got lucky enough to be surrounded by friends who are such extraordinary people. But I will keep on learning from them as long as they let me hang around.

syracuse half marathon

Finishers!

And a big thanks to the wonderful folks who supported us yesterday. Z for kid wrangling. E for making us post-race soup. L and E and D for cheering me on at the finish. E and E and R and E and L for joining us at lunch. I don’t know what I did to deserve you guys, but I love you all.

I DID IT!!!!

I ran a half marathon.

I ran a half marathon.

Me.

A half marathon.

It was awesome.

“Out of all of us can you believe I was the one to do this?” I asked my dad. “Well,” he said, “While we were waiting for you to finish I said to Z that I probably know about 1000 people. And if I was going to rank those people in order of who would be most likely to complete a half marathon you would be about 995. Right behind your grandmother and right in front of your Great-Aunt Margaret.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. His assessment was generous. A year and a half ago I’d have placed myself dead last out of 1000 with a kind of perverse pride.

This whole deal, situation, JOURNEY if you are going to be new age-y about it, is simply so unlikely that part of me can’t believe it happened. I mean, my dad flew up from Georgia to watch the race. My parents are completely bewildered by this strange new obsession in my life, but their pride is tremendous and sincere. You think you know your kid, and after more than three and a half decades I think it is quite the kick in the pants to be so surprised by her, by me.

I ran a half marathon and all I got was a lousy t-shirt. Ok, not true. I mean, I did get the shirt, but what I really got was the biggest boost in my self confidence of my life. I came in 957th out of 1107 finishers. My official pace was 12:06 per mile (well, that part burns me—because I didn’t run the shortest distance from point A to B, so I ran more than 13.1 miles. According to my app the distance 13.42 with a pace of 11:57. My super stretch goal was running at under a 12 minute mile and I’m pissed I missed it). The training program did not magically transform me into a svelte and beautiful 24 year old. But my middle aged body that has been caught in the iron grasp of anxiety for several decades managed to do something preposterously impossible. My body. With its overweight BMI. It ran 13.1 miles without stopping. I don’t need the body of a svelte and beautiful 24 year old to do amazing things. In fact, I’m even more proud that it was my imperfect body that rose to the challenge.

I’m not trying to blow smoke up anyone’s ass. My body didn’t just magically run 13.1 miles one day. It was hard work. It was scary and overwhelming and there were a lot of days in which I was sure I wouldn’t be able to do it. But the training program worked. I surrendered to my running app and just followed the directions. In 16 weeks it took me from someone who ran around 12 miles a week to someone who was able to comfortably finish a half marathon. I’ve said this in basically every post I’ve written about running, but I’m saying it again. If I can do it you can do it. I promise.

Last night Dad took me to my favorite restaurant for a celebratory dinner. I was talking about next steps. I’m going to join the Y runners because I’d like to get faster. I’m aiming to keep the running at about 20 or 21 miles a week. My dear friend has asked me to do the Brooklyn Half in the spring and I think I’m in. Dad looked at me and smiled, “There is part of you that is thinking about doing a marathon, isn’t there?” I smiled back. “Yup.”

Because my 37 year old body can do impossible things.

pre race

Pre race.

Finishing. No vanity here! But this is honest. I’m proud of myself.

post race

Completely blissed-out post race. My family and friends made me feel like a rock star yesterday. Getting out there in the cold to support me sucked ass. But they did it anyway. So to Dad, Z, T, and C who were there at the beginning and the end. Thank you. To D and L who trekked out to about half a mile from the finish, thank you. To E who hollered to me as she was driving in and who made delicious soup and got cheesecake for after, thank you. To J and J who shouted encouragement and then ran next to me for the last bit, thank you. To M and S who were there with a hug at the end, thank you. To my family and friends who texted me and sent me encouragement, thank you. Yesterday was a tremendous victory for me, and you guys made me feel so very loved.

Friends

More than three years ago I met a gal and fell deeply in friend lust. I just liked her so much. She lived right around the corner, was having her first kid a couple months before I was having my second, she and her husband had moved here from Brooklyn, we had a lot in common. They were our people in a town that really is not full of our people. I tried to play it cool around her, didn’t want her to know that I was in desperate friend-love with her. On facebook I wrote frequent obsessively creepy status updates chronicling my quest to awkwardly befriend her.

Guess what? She is every bit as awesome as I thought she was. She also has an awesome sister and introduced me to an awesome woman I’d casually met who lived around the corner. That awesome woman introduced us to her awesome close friend. Z and I introduced all of them to an awesome couple who we are very close to. Our families and kids started hanging out pretty regularly. And over the course of several years these folks have become our community and surrogate family.

As a kid who moved around every few years it is the kind of group I’ve wanted to be a part of for my whole life. My boys will benefit from the consistency of these relationships even as their friendships with the various kids ebb and flow over the years. It certainly doesn’t hurt that my two will grow up knowing that there will be parental eyes on them all over the neighborhood. Fingers crossed that will help curb the number of dumb choices they are guaranteed to make as they slide towards adolescence.

I love these families, I do. The kids have a special place in my heart. The husbands are also dear friends. But the ladies. Oh, the ladies…..

During the moves of my childhood, and carried into my adult life I’ve usually had one or two extremely close friends. I’ve valued quality over quantity. Occasionally I’ve been a part of a larger group, the Sparky’s crew back in Brooklyn, but usually my social circle is tiny but tight.

This might be the first time in my life I’ve had been part of a group of ladies who are all dear friends. It feels effortless to be around these women, there isn’t jealousy or competitiveness. We expand to include new ladies, we sometimes hang out in smaller groups, there is an easiness in our friendship that feels like such a relief. It has made me wonder why I haven’t been seeking out this kind of group for my whole life. Not that women like these ladies are easy to find. But I’ve learned that quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive.

I’m working on a paper this semester and have been frequenting a local coffee shop. The other morning I approached the counter. “Can I please have a savory porridge and a pomegranate Italian soda?”

The woman behind the counter looked at me with panic in her eyes. “Are you all coming?” she asked.

“Nope. Just me.”

“Ok. Because if you were all coming I’d have to make more porridge.”

I laughed. “I hope that we aren’t too loud or anything.”

“No, but we have been wondering what you guys are. Like are you working on a project or something?”

I laughed again. “No, no. We are just…..friends. We are friends.”

some of the crew

Some of the crew. A couple of families are missing. I do wish there was a picture of all of us.

dads and kids

Dads with kiddos.

brothers on pumpkins

Brothers.

Thank You, Mr. Rome

When I was in high school a million years ago I was a drama kid. By which I mean I was a huge dork. But our theater program was so incredible that I didn’t give a single fuck that the popular kids made fun of me and my friends. I really do not mean to be unkind, but they seemed boring to me. And often really mean. I’m sorry popular kids at Robinson in the early 90s, but I watched you be pretty awful to the others and it grossed me out.

The theater dorks, or the drama fags as we were so charmingly called, were not perfect. We did not escape petty behavior or meanness or heartbreak. I think back to some of the hurtful and stupid shit I did back then and I squirm with regret. But mostly we watched out for each other. We loved each other and tried to help each other through the mess of high school and growing up.

Our fearless leader was Mr. Rome.

We spent a crazy amount of time with Mr. Rome. He taught a bunch of misfits everything about the theater. He arranged an annual series of field trips to Arena Stage in DC. We saw four shows a year for $10 each. What we really saw was what we were trying to do in high school happening in real life.

Mr. Rome wasn’t without fault, no teacher is. He had favorites, kids he didn’t get along with so well. But overall I think he did an overwhelming amount of good. He taught us discipline. He was there for us when we were struggling personally. He had vision and put on terrific shows. He made us feel like we were part of something. He took a ragtag group and gave up purpose. He helped us create. We made magic. We made lifelong friends. We worked hard. We cared. A group of snot nosed teenagers cared deeply.

Some of us have pursued careers in theater. Most of us haven’t. But what he taught us was so much more than drama. We learned teamwork. We made time for play while we worked our asses off. We learned how to be small cogs in something much bigger than ourselves.

A lot of us actually lettered in drama through ITS membership. Seriously. I still have mine. Never had the balls to get a letterman jacket, but the letter itself cracked me up and made me proud at the same time.

Tomorrow night there is a retirement party for Mr. Rome at our old school. It just so happens that my family is headed home to Syracuse tomorrow. So Z is going to drop me off along I81 in Virginia and our friend K will pick me up. K and I will head up to Robinson to attend the party.

Our friend K. The guy I met when I was a 14 year old freshman. He and I were pretty good friends in high school. He was 2 years older and cool (well, cool for drama) but he didn’t know it. He was talented and eccentric in a very authentic way. Hell, he is still eccentric in a very authentic way today. He and a guy named Zeke were college freshman together at North Carolina School of the Arts. After graduation they were struggling set designers and roommates in Brooklyn. And on June 14th, 1998 I met K’s roommate. Married him September 3rd, 2000. K was the best man. He is still our best man.

So tomorrow K and I will go thank Mr. Rome for everything he did for us. I can’t speak for what K will say. Hell, I don’t even know if Mr. Rome will remember me (although I like to think I am the only ITS president he worked with who actually bankrupted our little chapter which surely made a lasting impression). But even if he has no idea who I am I will thank him. For teaching me teamwork and hard work and setting crazy goals and meeting them. For helping me to meet a friend so close he is my family more than 20 years later. For being a big part of the reason I was lucky enough to love high school. For touch the lives of so many kids just like me.

Happy retirement, Mr. Rome. Mazel tov.

Karen and Mr. Rome

1994. Fall of my senior year. Working on Stage Door. Pretty sure I was assistant director on this one.

Four Years and Ten Months

Four years and ten months ago we moved to Syracuse. Our sweet little house just became the dwelling I have lived in longer than any other in my life.

Before I left home for college I lived in 9 places. I attended 8 schools before graduating from high school. I did live in the NYC area from 95-06. In 99 I moved to Brooklyn and we stayed, albeit in 3 apartments, for 7 years. Over three stints from 1981-1995, I lived in Farifax County, VA for a little more than 8 years cumulatively.

But Syracuse now holds my personal record for longest stretch at one address.

The funny thing is it feels like we moved here just last year. It also feels like we’ve been here forever. There are so many firsts tied to this place. We closed on our house a week before T was born. Z truly loved his job for the first time here. I became a stay at home mom. We weathered a heartbreaking miscarriage. I got pregnant with C and we welcomed him into our family. T started preschool. C started preschool. We navigated early intervention and speech therapy. I started taking graduate classes. I started running. In a few short months T will go to kindergarten.

Syracuse was supposed to be a pit stop of sorts, a resume builder as we looked for teaching opportunities for Z closer to family.  At some point along the way it has become home.

We love it here. We are happy. We have a wonderful circle of friends. We imagine our boys growing up with this built in peer group. The kids they hang with have become important to us, we really care about them and love watching them grow.

There is so much to do in the summer that we can’t make it to every event we want to attend. Z plays music in three bands. He makes amazing stringed instruments from cigar boxes or cans or pie plates or salvaged wood from old pianos. He loves teaching. He’s involved with community outreach. He is too busy and always behind on projects and that is exactly how he is happiest.

This is not some perfect life. We struggle to pay the bills. C is entering the evil 3s and T is anxious about his transition to kindergarten. My anxiety colors everything, often rearing her ugly head to interrupt plans. The winters are brutal, there isn’t any way around it, they suck. And we do hate being so far from family. That is the hardest part. We miss our parents and our siblings.

But we have made a life here. More than that, we have made a home. One with continuity and comfort.

My upbringing was unusual and it provided me with fantastic opportunities to see so much of America and the world. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Hell, I became a teenager while we were in Phuket, Thailand. We spent New Year’s Eve of ’99 into ’00 in Doha, Qatar. I learned to ski on the South Island of New Zealand. Between all the exotic stuff I went to suburban public schools outside DC and Boston and St. Louis. My sister and I are lucky as hell, beyond privileged to have had such an odd and interesting childhood.

But it turns out that the life Z and I are intentionally building for our family is in a small city in Central New York. It turns out we love being part of a community. We love relaxing in our backyard with a bunch of friends and a pork shoulder that hung out in the smoker for a long time. Also margaritas. If you come visit us request Z’s deadly margaritas. You won’t remember the evening, you’ll feel it the next morning, but you’ll have a really good time.

Who knows what will happen or where we will be in another 4 years and 10 months from now. My hope is that we will be here. Hanging out with the same folks. The kids playing in the backyard. The margaritas flowing.

our family

Here we are putting down roots.

t runs to base

T running to first base during his last T-Ball game of the season.

c wants to play

C was ready to play. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he needs to wait two more years.

rockers

It seems to be the summer of salvaged broken rockers for our backyard. Because we are classy like that.

backyard piano

Our life involves having a trailer with a piano take up residence in our driveway. Z is making a bunch of instruments out of it in collaboration with local artists. They will create graphics to silkscreen on the face of the instruments Z builds.

summer in syracuse

Our crew of kids living it up at the Funky Flea this morning.

z at the funky flea

Z making music at the Funky Flea.

 

The Bitch is Back

At three miles and change my throat felt full and I dry heaved a little. Home was over a mile away. I’d run almost two and a half miles away from the house to force myself into doing 5. It was a punishment run to make up for a shitty performance the day before. And instead of finishing I had a long, slow walk of shame back to the house. The best thing that can be said is I didn’t cry.

Earlier this week another mom in C’s preschool class who is an accomplished runner and I were chatting because we were both geared up for a run. I told her I was doing speed work. “By yourself?” she asked. “Yup.” I replied. “Wow.” she said, clearly impressed.

I felt like a total fraud. Here is what I wanted to blurt out: “I get so anxious when I’m doing a challenging workout that I don’t sleep well the night before and have hideous diarrhea up until the moment I actually get out the door. Yes, I have performance anxiety without an audience. If I actually had to do speed work in front of other humans I would probably shit out an organ.”

I’ve been working on not saying the crap that would make near strangers horrifically uncomfortable. Pat on the back, Karen. Instead of that word vomit, my tongue was bitten and I vaguely mumbled something.

The October Half Marathon? I’m not going to be doing those 13.1 miles in a vacuum. In fact, one of my best friends in the world signed up so we could tackle it for the first time together. She and her family came up from Brooklyn to spend the weekend with us and help us celebrate Z’s birthday on Saturday night.

On Sunday we went for a run together. I was so anxious I almost shit out an organ beforehand. I was so anxious I was running about a minute slower than usual. I’ve been assured by many that running with a partner is great fun. You get to chat and the time flies by. Um, right. I huff and puff with such vigor that I was unable to string more than three words together. Man, I was disappointed in myself. I felt awful for my friend who wasn’t getting much of a workout at all. It was humiliating.

Thankfully my friend loves me no matter what. She knows about the anxiety. As usual, she was nothing but kind to me. That bitch anxiety did not have A’s lovely manners. She told me I was an embarrassing, pathetic mess. She lied and said that A was regretting signing up for the half with me. She told me no matter how great life was right now that she would dog me for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately that part is true. Life is going well for our family, we are in a good place. But I am overwhelmed and ashamed of how my anxiety colors everything. Leaving the house is still hard every day. Why do we have cook outs in our backyard? So it’s guaranteed I’ll attend. Our friends have been so accommodating about letting us host, but I still feel terrible about it.

Z has a work fundraising event on Thursday. I’m already spun up about what an awkward fool I’ll be there. Yesterday my friend’s family and ours went to the Zoo. I managed to have a pretty bad anxiety event there. Last week I had to cancel my therapy appointment due to a babysitting snafu. I’m sick to my stomach over the makeup appointment on Wednesday because I feel so guilty about canceling and I just don’t want to face my therapist’s disappointment. And let’s not get started on the nausea I feel when remembering the panel I’m on at my first academic conference in June.

How ridiculous is all of that? What a staggering waste of time.

That’s what an anxiety disorder is. A sickening waste of time that makes you feel like a failure and a disappointment.

But here’s the thing. I will not let this fucking thing own me. I will not. Tomorrow is a rest day, but I will be back out there running on Wednesday. And Thursday. And Friday. I will go to Z’s work event on Thursday. I’ll drag my ass to therapy on Wednesday. And even if it takes all the Imodium on the eastern seaboard I will be a part of the fucking panel at the conference. Goddammit, I am doing a half marathon in October.

That bitch anxiety might be with me for the rest of my life. But I will not let her destroy me. I will not.

a and k post run

Still managed a smile at the end of the jog o shame.

sad and lovely elephant

Sad and lovely elephant we got to touch at the zoo. Her name is Siri.

luke fights palpatine

Luke Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine battling in the Death Star.