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.

Anti-Anxiety Vignettes: #1

The past week plus can pretty much bite my ass. That bitch anxiety has moved back in to the house. Actually she has been around all fall, but I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of coping. Suddenly I wasn’t coping anymore.

It’s scary when the physical symptoms come roaring back. They feel new every fucking time. I’ve been doing my damnedest to act as normal as possible around everyone in my life. But I’ve noticed constant self-criticism escaping from my mouth before I can stop. It drives Z crazy when I say bad things about myself. He thinks I sound like I’m digging for compliments. I’m not. Really. I’m just informing everyone I know that I’m in on the secret. I know I suck, too.

It’s a fantastic way to make everyone feel uncomfortable.

So. Four migraines in a week. IBS….let’s just say it is very active. Like active enough to wake me with stomach cramps in the middle of the night. Pretty consistent low grade nausea. Two pregnancy tests taken even though I’m on the most effective birth control out there. Crying. So much crying. And pretending to be a normal person when I leave the house.

I’m exhausted. Z doesn’t know what to do. A call to my shrink will be placed today.

——————————————–

C is a hustler. At three years old he uses his sweet and beautiful face to get what he wants. I know, I know, of course I think he is beautiful.

sweet faced c

But he really is. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

He’s a drama queen who knows how to work it.

cranky pants leonard

See? Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

More than a year of speech therapy has paid off tremendously. He is still working hard on enunciation, but he can express himself beautifully with words these days. It is pure pleasure to finally discover what has been going on in that mind of his. Mostly. Wasn’t so great when he told me he didn’t love me at nap time yesterday. But seriously? He did express his frustration verbally so it still felt like a tiny victory. Ok, a tiny hurtful victory, but a victory all the same.

When we drop T off at kindergarten C darts into the classroom and over to the teachers distributing breakfast. He often cons them out of a container of cereal. This morning it was Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I settled him back in his car seat for the quick drive to his school as he opened the little bowl and started chowing down.

Five minutes later I called hello to a fellow mom before bending down to unbuckle C. His lips had a thick coating of cinnamon and sugar, it was like he was wearing glitter lipstick. I burst out laughing. He smiled up at me. “My face is very cute!” he informed me.

It has been a shitty week. So the wave of joy almost knocked me on my ass. My eyes filled with tears for all the right reasons. It felt so good.

And his face is, in fact, so very cute.

It is not my boys’ job to save me. I cannot and will not depend on them to do it. But man, they keep doing it anyway. They bring joy and frustration and delight and rage into our lives on a roller coaster of emotion. Concentrating on them helps me get my head out of my ass. Having kids is obviously not necessary for happiness and a full life. But for me? It is the best thing I’ve done.

Our family made the front page of Syracuse.com last Thursday! C is in a sleigh that was used by Z’s grandmother who was born in 1908. We have used it every winter, it works like a dream. Photo by David Lassman

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.

Try Hard

T was sitting alone on the side of the tennis court, legs and arms pretzeled together to make himself as small as possible. I walked onto the court with C’s balance bike and passed Z. “He just said he failed,” Z muttered to me. “Seriously?” my heart stuttered. I walked on a few steps towards C. “He said that exact word?” I called back over my shoulder. “Yes.”

Z and I decided, oh ok….I decided that T wasn’t allowed to ride his balance bike anymore. He had to practice with the two wheeler or not ride at all. Trying new things is hard for him. He wants to get everything right the first time.

When he gets frustrated I remind him of the three things he needs to do in this life in order to make us proud. Three things. That is it. He must be kind. He must try hard. He must treat girls the same way he treats boys. He does those things and we will be proud of him no matter what.

I approached him. He turned his back. “I need some alone time.” “Ok. You can have some alone time. Then we need to talk.”

A few minutes later I led him off of the court. He chose to crawl under a towering pine, the lowest branches were high enough to form a private hideout as the boughs draped to the ground. “T. Look at me. You did not fail. Did you try?” He looked everywhere but at me. “Yes,” he sighed in exasperation. “Listen, what will make your father and I proud? What three things?” He folded his arms and looked away and I repeated the three items. “You did it. You tried. So you didn’t ride the bike on your own. So what? You aren’t going to magically do it. Everything takes practice. It is because you tried that you didn’t fail.” He started to roll his eyes and caught himself. “Before we go home you have to try one more time. You can’t leave here thinking you failed. Because the only way to fail is to not try.” He stared at me. “I’ll tell you what. You try again and I’ll give you a marshmallow before lunch.” He perked up. “How about five marshmallows? Because I’m five.” “How about one marshmallow….and five mini M&Ms.” “Yes.”

He did try. He didn’t learn to ride a two wheeler today, but he tried. And Z and I were proud of him.

He’s off to kindergarten tomorrow, which colored the whole bike conversation.

He’s off to kindergarten and I will not be there to talk to him in the shade of a grand pine tree. I will not be able to encourage him and support him in the moments when he feels like he has failed. Or when he is scared. Or when he is hurt. Tomorrow is one of the many small separations that will continue until he is his own man. That trajectory is right, it is what we all want for our children. But the selfish part of me is mourning. It doesn’t want to let him go. Or expose him to the cruelty of the world.

I’ve been wallowing today. Head bent, I wept in the car before pulling myself together to head into Wegman’s. This afternoon my heaving sobs drew Z to the kitchen as I swept the floor. In a sabotaging act of indulgence I’ve been listening to This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush. Hell, I’ve even been watching the damn scene in She’s Having a Baby where it is used.

He needs to grow up. I need to grow up. My heart is breaking.

This evening we talked about failing again. I changed tactics. “It’s ok to fail, you know.” I told him after he brushed his teeth before bed. “I fail all the time.” “Really?” he asked doubtfully. “You fail?” I laughed. And appreciated his confidence in me. “Oh baby, I fail every day. I fail many times every day.” “How?” “Well, every time I get mad at you and yell. Daddy fails too, when he gets mad and yells.” He looked thoughtful. “You know what? Nothing new is created without failure. People fail and fail until they get it right. Nothing good happens without putting yourself out there and failing.”

So I was giving him the opposite message that I did in the morning. Well, I failed during that conversation and was trying to get it right.

“A couple of years ago we got Daddy’s car. Do you know it is different from Mommy’s car and I didn’t know how to drive it? I had to learn. And I failed and I failed. Do you know how long it took me to learn?” “No.” “More than a year! Can you believe it?” “How is it different?”

Ok. Maybe he didn’t get the message tonight. But Z and I will continue to have the conversation with him.

Tomorrow is a day T and I let go of each other a little. It is also a day of excitement and adventure. I am proud of my small man. He is trying to figure out his place in this tricky world. I am trying to figure out how to be there to catch him when he stumbles while also giving him room to grow.

I just pray I make it back to the car after dropping him off before my tears come.

bike learning

His first try on two wheels.

k and t parking lot

My boy and me.

crazy t

He is going to rock kindergarten. In that exact outfit. Just realized that is what I laid out for him…

Last Days of School

A year ago I watched the mother of one of T’s classmates struggle with the reality that her child was leaving the comfort of our extraordinary preschool and moving on to kindergarten. The transition proved painful for both mother and child. I sympathized with my friend, but I did not understand her sadness. In fact, I told her it simply wouldn’t be a big deal for T and me. She had the grace not to tell me I was full of shit.

Five years into this parenting gig and I still feel a twinge of annoyance when a more experienced parent tells me how my family will feel or act during an upcoming phase of development. “We are different” I think, “They don’t know us. We are special.” At the same time I cannot resist breaking it down for parents with kids younger than mine. I hear myself explaining what is coming and I hate myself for being that person. Especially as I see the look on the face of whatever friend I’m speaking to. I can see what is running through their head, “We are different. She doesn’t know us. We are special.”

At the beginning of last week I dropped the boys off at school and on my way out found this in T’s mailbox:

photo (41)

Last fall we were asked to fill the paper with words that described who we hoped T would be as an adult.

photo (42)

That hair. I miss that crazy hair so much.

Friday was the final day of school. During the week laminated photos that decorated the boys’ classrooms trickled home with them. But the little poster of our hopes for T was the first. I lifted it out of the mailbox and suddenly my throat was burning and tears flooded my eyes. I made it to the car before the ugly crying began.

That friend of mine? I emailed her and confessed I was wrong last year. Both T and I were struggling with his upcoming transition to kindergarten. I asked for advice on how she got through it.

A year ago I was so excited for the following fall I couldn’t see straight. T would have the same teachers that he adored. C would be going to school as well. He threw a fit every single day of spring semester when we dropped T off because he wanted to stay. And the fact that I was going to have a couple of hours a day to myself helped tremendously. Our small transition included the loved and familiar for T, exactly what C needed developmentally, and a fucking break for me. Life was great. Transitions were great. Why would kindergarten be any different?

Oh, pompous, naive, foolish Karen. When will you get over yourself and start actually listening to the more experienced parents?

The unknown is hard for both T and me. Watching his anxiety rise as he realized he wouldn’t be able to bring his much loved teachers with him to elementary school was heartbreaking. His fear is real and I ache for him. I’m also kind of furious that he is growing up. His delicious little boy body is getting harder and harder to lift. His limbs dangle everywhere when he crawls into my lap. The last five years have been the fastest of my life and I know time will only continue to fly by with more speed. Even if I didn’t believe it the first time a well meaning, experienced parent told me.

walking away from preschool

T walking away from preschool for the last time on Friday. Again, I was able to save the ugly crying for the car. Victory.

preschool T

The boys attend (Um, I mean C attends and T attended…sniffle) a laboratory school on the SU campus. Undergrads and grad students work with the children each semester. The assignments include these lovely bound books made for each child that tracks development over the semester. Here are the covers of T’s 6 books.

toddler room C

And C’s first two.

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.