Category Archives: Uncategorized

If You Knew Chase…

If you knew Chase, you’d probably notice his walk. Elbows up, arms pumping, his feet moving swiftly—almost a jog—to get him where he’s going. For Chase, it’s like life is the baseball diamond or soccer field and he’s perpetually heading out from the dugout or sidelines, ready for action. There’s an eagerness to him, a hurriedness, in a way—like he doesn’t want to miss out on one minute of any experience or opportunity. Even if he’s just going from his fifth-grade classroom to the playground.

You’d probably also notice how engaging he is. He draws you into conversations, “Hey, did you see that catch I made out in centerfield?” or “Do you guys want some fries and chicken nuggets?” or “Are those blue eyelashes?” He has the gift of chitchat and enjoys talking about everything from social media crazies to Kevin Hart in Captain Underpants to the design of bowling balls or how to become an umpire. Some kids shy away from conversations with adults—maybe too boring, too embarrassing. Not Chase. The guy loves to talk. With adults, kids, friends, acquaintances—you name it.

If you knew Chase, you’d also know that he always greets you with a smile. Always. After a rush to school in the morning or after a Wiffle ball has landed on his cheek, leaving him with a bloody nose and a mini circular imprint. Or even after his team has lost in the semi-finals of a tournament. With Chase, you get a warm grin and the sense that he’s genuinely glad to see you, whether you bump into him in the parking lot or meet him for an afternoon in the park.

He doesn’t shy away from challenges, either. He never lets discouragement or defeat hang on too long; his next time at the plate after a strikeout, his mind is focused, determined. He’s already forgotten about his last at-bat and is ready to deliver for his team. Facing a tall, intimidating pitcher who’s two years older? No problem. Chase hits a line drive off him. And while he’s got a brother who’s three years younger, whom he likes to pick on and antagonize (just like any big brother) he has a kind, protective heart for other younger ones. He’s the guy who delivers a pep talk to my 8-year-old after a tough time on the mound. He’s also the first one to try to inject some wisdom and levity into a home run derby after a screaming match erupts and a plastic bat flies over a questionable boundary and an alleged dinger.

If you knew Chase, there’d be other things you’d see, too. Like the fact that he sits alone in the school cafeteria, at a trapezoid-shaped table that’s pushed up against the wall in the back corner. A container of brand-name wipes sits atop it, one that his mom has fought tooth and nail to get—including obtaining a doctor’s written note—because this particular brand actually kills the proteins in foods that can spread contaminants, rather than just moving them around the table as some generic wipes do. If you looked up from that table, you’d see the sign, in bold, construction paper block letters: EGG DAIRY ALL NUTS FREE. You might also notice the ever-present black fanny pack with the Epi-Pen that accompanies him wherever he goes.

You see, Chase has life-threatening food allergies. Foods THREATEN HIS LIFE. So he carries his lunch bag to the cafeteria each day—rather than tossing it in the giant lunch bucket that other students use—and drops it off at his table. Most days he sits by himself. Sometimes a friend will join him, with a lunch that has been packed with care, with Chase-safe foods, so he can have some company. Or he walks over to another table with the rest of his classmates and stands there to chat for just a minute. When you ask what he’s doing he says, “I’m talking ‘cause I don’t have anyone to sit with today.”

If you knew Chase, most likely you’d know his mom, too. At six feet tall with blonde hair, she’s striking because of her height, but what would really make an impression is her laugh. Hearty, robust, full of fun; when she laughs, you want to keep laughing with her. She’s a nurse by profession and a master of creativity, teaching art to several classes (not just her boys’) or baking Pinterest-worthy cupcakes and cakes that Chase can enjoy.

But you also might notice the way she scouts out a room with keen perception, taking mental notes of any food remnants that may be lingering.  Or you might know that she calls ahead to grocery stores in different states to make sure they carry certain brands of foods before their family flies to a baseball tournament. Or that in the grocery store she reads every single label, every single time, just in case some ingredients have changed.

While other kids devour Big Macs and fries from McDonald’s McTeacher night, Chase settles for a Coke. He doesn’t go in to Starbucks anymore because the milk in the air makes his eyes water. He doesn’t attend team parties in restaurants. He goes to Mariners games only on peanut-free nights.

But what you never hear from Chase?

A complaint.

If you knew Chase, you’d probably grow to love him. And you’d do anything you could to help keep him safe. You’d come to understand that it’s not just for his mom and dad to figure out, but for those around him, too. Whether he’s at school, baseball practice, a movie theater or bowling alley, you’d want to do what you could to protect him. And you’d want him to feel included, not excluded, so you’d start to rethink the way you do things. You’d learn to think differently about cheddar cheese popcorn, the milk in your latte or a beloved Reese’s. You’d learn to wash your hands a little more.

In a little over two months, Chase will leave behind the familiarity of the trapezoid-shaped table topped with brand-name wipes to embark on his middle-school journey. His mom will not only equip him with twenty rolls of Scotch tape and a couple dozen red ballpoint pens in a backpack that weighs the equivalent of ten bricks, but she’ll also send him off with a new plan—one that she’ll work on tirelessly with the school counselor and principal to ensure his safety in a new cafeteria (with a new name: commons), and in a new environment.

But if you knew Chase, I bet you’d see him set off on that adventure ready to take on whatever’s in store, just like it’s a baseball diamond or a soccer field.

And that he’d greet you with a smile.

Because that’s just what he does.

Always.

Portrait Of A Band Field Trip

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It’s the day of my seventh grader’s band field trip—a Music Educators Association Band Festival at a nearby school. With minimal negotiations, Raf has granted me permission to be a chaperone. The terms? I ride on a different bus. No problem. It’s my first experience on a trip with middle schoolers.

At 9 a.m., we gather outside the school, waiting to board the buses. Roughly eighty baby-blue band t-shirts surround me; I’m lost in a sea of familiar faces—some kids I’ve known since they were in elementary school. I stand in the back of the crowd. I’ve unknowingly tapped into my powers of invisibility. Where are the hugs of joy and recognition, the squeals of delight that I received when I chaperoned the second grade field trip two weeks ago? Or fifth grade camp two short years ago? What dimension have I stepped into?

I’m the last one to board the bus: time seems to slow as I amble down the aisle, feeling like a misfit in a John Hughes movie. My eyes dart to the back, scouring the periphery for an empty seat. I slink into number 18 on the right and look out the window. The bus is so fogged up I can’t see outside. Rain pelts the windows. We listen to safety announcements and get underway. I sit in silence. A boy in front scrawls “Help” on the window. Desperate for human contact, I text my sister and friend about Jack and Rebecca Pearson’s marital status.

We arrive at the junior high school and I wait outside while students get off the buses. Raf steps off the other bus with his sax. He spots me out of the corner of his eye, but instantly diverts his attention to something more interesting—the green Dumpster in the loading dock area. We make our way to the warm-up room, where the kids prepare for their performance. I’m thrilled to be here, grateful for the opportunity to witness the behind-the-scenes action. The band director is one of the finest, most talented, well-respected and good-natured teachers around—the kind you’re thankful your child gets to interact with every day. Even high school seniors I’ve encountered deem him their favorite of all-time. He instructs and inspires, and gives them a few words of encouragement before their performance, calling it a “watershed moment.” It’s beautiful. I hold the door open as they scurry off to the gym. Many offer polite thanks. My son smiles with his eyes, his lips ever so slightly upturned at the corners. He might even be glad to see me.

The students settle into their seats and begin. The other chaperones and I sit in the front row of the bleachers. I’m filled with excitement, yet I go against my instincts and refrain from all my normal cheering behavior. I do not shout, hoot, holler, whistle or stand. I contain my pride and exuberance and just clap admiringly, aware of my form, remembering that Nicole Kidman garnered unwanted attention for her seal-like style after the Oscars.

After three songs, the kids head to the clinic room. Here, a band director from the University of Washington, who’s one of the judges, gives wonderful feedback and tips. He talks of making the pauses more like commas, rather than periods, and offers insights like “sometimes silence is meant to be dramatic.” I’m in awe of the experience they’re having. Raf catches a glimpse of me down the hallway afterwards, and suddenly feels compelled to scrutinize his sheet music.

We make our way to the gym again to listen to another band’s performance. The kids fill out evaluation forms and it’s back to the buses we go. As we mill around in the parking lot, I learn that there may be one student still inside. Eager to fulfill my chaperoning duties, I offer to run inside and check. No sign of her. I exit through the glass doors, and, to my horror, the buses are starting to pull away. I wave my hands frantically. Someone sees me. Surely, she’ll alert the driver. I’m wrong. I sprint down the sidewalk, in pursuit. It’s too late. I stand there, dumbfounded.

This is happening.

Ditched.

Deserted.

I AM in a John Hughes movie.

All I know is I need to get to McDonald’s, so I start walking down the semi-country road. I continue determinedly, as I call the middle school office and tell the assistant what’s happened. “You can’t walk. It’s three miles,”she tells me. My mind races; all I can imagine is a busload of middle schoolers returning to pick up a mom chaperone stranded on the side of the road. In the history of field trips, could there be anything more embarrassing? I quicken my pace. The band director calls and tells me not to worry, the kids are waiting in line and eating, he’ll send an empty bus back, there’s plenty of time. I stand at the side of the road, nibbling almonds. The rain has thankfully slowed to a drizzle.

Sometimes silence is meant to be dramatic.

I’ll say.

The bus returns, puts on its flashers, and I climb aboard. When I arrive at McDonald’s, I push my way through a throng of students (including those from another school) and make a beeline for the bathroom. A boy I’ve known since he was in first grade says, “Hey, didn’t you get left back there?” Not ready to divulge my plight, I coyly reply, “Well, I’m here, aren’t I?” The band director apologizes profusely and we chat about the day’s performance. I get my neon-colored Shamrock shake and linger off to the side, gazing through the windows into the PlayPlace. Raf shovels handfuls of fries into his mouth, uses a couple of them as straws, and stands with his mouth open as a girl tries to toss a few in, like feeding time at the zoo.

The bus ride back to school is uneventful, save for a few raindrops dampening my forehead through the partially open window.

As we depart from the buses back at school, a boy I’ve never met says, “They left you? That sucks.” I smile at the absurdity of it —the memorable and unexpected adventure of my first middle school band trip.

Teetering, At Thirteen

You greet me with a warm smile and “Hi Mom.” The next day, with a gruff “You don’t need to talk to me everyday.” You laugh uncontrollably with friends at a pizza joint, your eyes sparkling with delight. You erupt in anger, breaking pencils and hurling them across the room. You rave about stew. You complain about mac and cheese. You’re of age for PG-13 movies and Instagram. You’re over the recommended age limit for a Slip ‘n’ Slide. You enthusiastically encourage me to bowl with you. You scold me for taking a sip of your Coke because your friends might see. You laugh at Zootopia. You’re curious about Deadpool. When I reach my hand over and rest it above your knee or on your shoulder, in the car, or on the couch, you let it linger for a bit—a couple blocks, a few seconds. Sometimes you fling or shrug it off immediately.

Even the way you say “Mom” is changing. I’m becoming keenly aware of the nuances, your varied tones providing insight into your feelings and outlook. Your inflection reveals everything. Sometimes it’s an urgent “Mom, mom, mom!” for “Do we have more AA batteries for the Xbox controller?” Other times it’s a thoughtful “Mom…” that trails off, ready to open up and share a little something about your day. “Mom?” lets me in when you want to point out the differences between the Rawlings and Wilson gloves. It’s “Mom!!!” when you’re wondering “Is my orange t-shirt clean?” “Mom.” simply confirms my presence in the next room.

I gauge the subtleties and search your face for clues, so I can offer the right response. Asking a question after “Mom!!!” is futile, but after “Mom…” can lead to a meaningful conversation. I’m learning to follow your lead, to not push too hard as you meander through this time of ups and downs, highs and lows, mountains and valleys.

I know that soon the teetering will become a full-fledged plunge and you’ll find yourself immersed in your teenage years—years that will bring changes and challenges. Any day now your voice will deepen. You’ll no longer be at eye level.

My wish for you as you turn thirteen is this: that you will experience more of that sidesplitting laughter, finding joy in people and relationships.

Laugh ‘til it hurts.

With friends.

With the world.

At yourself.

(Just not at your brother.)

My prayer, as it’s been throughout the spring, is that you will be strong, firm and steadfast.

And finally, know this: I will continue to reach my hand over.

In the car.

On the couch.

Maybe in the backyard.

Whether you fling or shrug it off, or let it rest for a minute, may it say to you on some level, no matter what your age:

I’m here.

I’m present.

I love you.

With all my heart,

Mom…

So Long, Freedom Field

Version 2The name carries with it a sense of opportunity and promise, a spiritedness that accompanies America’s pastime. Freedom Field. Nestled in a quiet neighborhood at our local sports park, the turf field features a tranquil Northwest backdrop, with evergreens towering beyond the outfield, a cluster of bright green alders poised gracefully in front of them, an American flag in center, and a lighted scoreboard a little to its left. Lights surround the field, too, slowly coming to life for the week’s 7 o’clock games. The sports park is complete with a skate park, snack shack and announcer’s booth.

By Monday night, 47 twelve-year-olds on eight Little League teams in our community will have played their last regular-season games there.

It’s the place all the young boys aspired to play when they started off their careers in Tee Ball. They practiced and played at various neighborhood venues—one obscure park was tucked back so far that no one even knew it existed. As they moved up through the years, from Rookies 1 and 2 to Farm and Minors, the locations changed, each level taking the boys to a different elementary school. Every season, though, they’d look forward to playing at least one game at Freedom—it has always symbolized the Big Leagues to them. As the home field of the Majors division, they now proudly play there three times a week. It has become the quintessential community gathering place, as we ask “Heading down to Freedom tonight?” or meet up to watch a neighbor’s son play and order a Freedom burger. It is a beloved springtime hangout where families and friends take in a ball game and socialize, support, connect and catch up.

Some of these boys have been friends since preschool; they now walk the halls of middle school together. They are competitors on the field and the best of buds off of it. They ride the school bus together and sit next to each other in band; they zing fastballs across the plate and smash homeruns over the outfield fence.

As parents, we also share a common experience. We wince as foul balls pop into the parking lot, waiting for the ‘crash’ atop some poor soul’s car. We hold our breath a little as one of our boys gets hit by a pitch or clutches his arm or leg after a base running or sliding mishap. We huddle under tarps during downpours. We talk hit vs. error in scorekeeping, discuss the latest book we’ve read, grumble about the sixth grade history assignment. Dads pace. Moms chit-chat.

But some of my favorite memories at Freedom are not just about baseball. They’re the moments between games, or after. When a sea of red, royal blue, black, gold, navy and orange crowds behind the backstop or meanders along the skate park to enjoy a game of flyers up or pickle behind right field. A colorful medley of friends from all teams, hanging out, playing wall ball, eating burgers at the picnic tables, sitting in the stands to watch another game.

A few Thursday nights ago while we were driving down to a friend’s game, my son said, “I don’t want Little League to be over.” I agreed. The realization that it is drawing to a close seemed to hit him. And I don’t think he was just talking about the games. I think it was also that sense of community and togetherness.

Sure, baseball will continue. They’ll have a couple post-season tournaments. Some will go on to play All Stars, Select or Intermediate. But as twelve-year-olds, this will soon be it for them as far as what they’ve known: the 46’ pitching distance, 60’ base paths and 200’ homerun fences. Their days at Freedom—their field— will be a thing of the past. Another rung on the ladder of their growing-up years. Another reminder of how fast it all goes.

My favorite author, Harlan Coben said it best when he shared these words with the crowd when he was inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence before the start of the 2013 Little League Baseball World Series Championship game. “I don’t remember my stats. I don’t remember my batting average. I don’t remember wins and losses,” he said. “But I remember my parents in those stands, and that, my young friends, is the memory I hope you cherish above all else.”

I agree with him fully. But I’d like to take it a step further.

I hope they remember the wall ball. I hope they remember eating cheeseburgers and drinking Gatorade on the picnic tables outside the skate park on a sunny afternoon. I hope they remember trying to out-scramble each other for foul balls just to get a free 25-cent candy from the snack shack.

But mostly, I hope they remember—and cherish— that sea of friends that moved like a pack around their field, Freedom Field.

Balls in. Coming down.

So long, Freedom Field.

You hold a special place in the hearts of these twelves.

The Dimensions of Kira Through the NYC Marathon Experience

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Just .2 to go…

Sustained Runner
At 10:40 a.m. EST on Sunday, November 1st, she crosses the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, excited, eager and relaxed, her sister by her side, as they join close to 50,000 runners for the New York City Marathon. They are overjoyed to be on his journey together. They have trained together, planned together, traveled together. They’re doing this together. A light, comfortable breeze greets them on the bridge. It is a bit surreal—after months of envisioning and talking about— it’s finally here. They feel ready for what the day has in store.

As they head into Brooklyn, people line the streets clapping, cheering, waving, holding signs. It’s a sight to behold. The crowd gives off an exuberant energy. The enthusiasm is contagious—runners feed off the upbeat, positive vibe. Spectators see her sister’s Every Mother Counts singlet and respond, their personalities coming across with their changing inflections: “Every mom DOES count, Every Mother COUNTS, Go Moms!!!” The bystanders also provide comic relief by turning her tank top expression into a cheer, which —covered by the race bib— simply reads “She Will” (Endure All Things), happily shouting “Go She Will!” and “She Will…and She Does!”

Up and down the sidewalks, the mood is celebratory, party-like. Music blares from speakers, everything from Stayin’ Alive to Pour Some Sugar on Me to Another One Bites the Dust (which they feel is a questionable choice). Numerous bands rock out. A mini Donald Trump punching bag dangles in front of passersby. People dole out Halloween candy, oranges, pretzels. Kids stand with hands reaching out, ready to high-five anyone. Soaking in the festivities and the camaraderie, she and her sister do what they’ve come to do: run. As they take in their surroundings, they marvel at the people gathered to cheer. The feeling is almost blissful, like a wedding day you don’t want to come to an end. Mile by mile, crowds applaud strangers. It is said that one million spectators come out for this event. One MILLION.

At about mile 14 or 15 she feels something in her legs. A tightness, cramping. “What is this?” she wonders – it’s a discomfort she hasn’t felt before on a run. She keeps going. She guzzles Gatorade and tears into salt packets. It continues. Bible verses make their way into her head, almost random at first. She pieces them together, stringing the words together over and over, changing the pronouns. Focusing. Repeating. A mantra. A giant run-on sentence. A prayer. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…She Will run and not grow weary, She Will walk and not be faint. Her quads continue to seize up. At about 18, she accepts “This is not going away.” Her legs feel awkward, unfamiliar, clunky, contorted. They’re not the legs that have carried her on miles of training runs. They have become like angry rebels, to be fought, conquered. She wonders for a moment if she’ll have to visit the Medical tent for the first time on the streets of New York City. She walks a few steps to gather her thoughts. Tears threaten, but only for a moment. They’re not welcome here. Tight hamstrings, sore glutes, lower back pain, funky big toe soreness, she would have expected any of the things she’d encountered while training. Not this. This is not how I was expecting my legs to feel. But she continues. She makes her legs run.

She spots a woman standing on a street corner holding a poster board sign. She makes a beeline for her, abandoning all running etiquette as she darts across the street, cutting in front of other runners to this woman. The woman’s sign, held high, reads, “He will run and not grow weary…” She grabs hold of the woman’s hand and squeezes it. She looks in the woman’s eyes and with all the gratitude she can muster says: “Thank you.” “God bless,” the woman answers.

And so she runs, a new resolve, increased power, an answered prayer. Off to find her Pennsylvanian Steelers fan cousin—who she has not seen for twelve years—holding a 12th Man flag somewhere along the street.

Grateful Heart
She and her sister are a few blocks from where they’ll turn into Central Park to finish. She looks up at the tall buildings, some of the statuesque ones that define the city. With blue sky as the backdrop, the late-afternoon sun glistens, bathing the buildings in a golden light. It suddenly hits her, like a bolt, all the emotion of the experience. The magnitude of it overwhelms her. She is in NEW YORK. She is running the Marathon. No hurricane. No cancellation. No Medical tent. She is here, running the New York City Marathon, with her sister.

With her sister.

With her mom and aunt waiting for them in the Grandstands. Tears come, and this time, they are welcome. They’re ones of joy and gratitude. Her sister sees the emotion, and they grasp each other’s hands.

They’re here.

Almost to the Finish Line.

Ready to finish it.

Together.

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A few hours later she steps out of the elevator back at the hotel and rounds the corner to their room. As her family sits in the lobby with other hotel guests —ones who have roared and hollered when she and her sister returned from the race in their blue ponchos—she’s in awe at how it’s all come to be.

She feels deep gratitude for what the entire experience has held. A city that has welcomed, opened its arms and offered well wishes—everyone from the security guards at Jimmy Fallon to the sales associates in the stores to passengers on the subway and walkers on the streets to NYPD officers along the course. Strangers have become friends, newfound ones who will forever hold a special place in her memories of this trip: the Australian runners on the train ride, the trainer and his candy-eating girlfriend who talked last-minute details the night before, the Halloween partiers with their boisterous, good-natured laughter.

There’s also her family and friends: her cousin who drove from Pennsylvania with his daughter; the friends at home and beyond who have tracked them, sent text messages, commented on Facebook, and been so present across the miles; her husband who has stayed home with her boys this weekend —and for countless long runs — to make all this possible; her mother-in-law who will care for her boys as they return to school; her mom and aunt at the Finish Line.

All the people who’ve taken this dream and embraced it, who’ve shared in the excitement. All the strangers who looked her in the eye as she ran by, giving her strength, saying things like, “You can do it, looking strong, you’ve got this.” Who believed that for her. Who not only cheered for their friends and family, but her, too.

Kira.

She Will.

Again, she is overcome; emotion washes over her. It’s almost a physical reaction, the warmth she feels in her spirit. It’s complete and sheer joy. In that moment, she cannot seem to recall a time when she’s felt so grateful, so honored, so humbled, so utterly steeped in love — so small in its bigness. “That’s grace,” says a whisper in her ear.

And with that, she hurries to the room so she can get back to the celebration—including a Seahawks victory— downstairs.

Competitive Spirit
She expects that it will be her last run through the five boroughs. That it will have the feel of a “Farewell Tour,” a saying goodbye to the New York City Marathon, a thanks for all the memories. Having run it in 1992 with college friends, to running in Central Park after the 2012 cancellation and finally, finishing it in 2015 with her sister.

But it doesn’t.

It doesn’t bring the closure she’d imagined. It doesn’t feel like goodbye. In fact, she feels spurred on. You see, she and her sister had a time goal. Maybe a loose one. But a goal nonetheless. The leg cramps messed with that. “I’m not sure I can live with that time,” she admits the day after the marathon.

Maybe one more shot at it, she thinks.

Maybe just one more.

New York City, and the Marathon, thank you for all the memories.

Perhaps She Will see you again.

Fall, Change & Community In The Air

The turnaround began on an ugly late-August day. Not ugly outside, just inside — my head. It was a Saturday, to be precise, the morning I was to do a 17-mile run for my New York City Marathon training. As the miles built, and the time seemed to drag – so did my body. Negative thoughts and self-talk gripped me, soon overtaking everything positive about the quiet morning. By the time I got home, words like “pathetic,” “misery” and “stupid marathon” escaped my lips. I grabbed the trusty Louisville Slugger from the garage, and like a grown-up version of Whack-a-Mole, started pounding the lawn. My husband stood by, quietly offering words of encouragement. “If I was a quitter, I’d quit,” I declared. Upon which I berated myself even further for the poor word choice: “If I were a quitter, were a quitter…”

I didn’t recognize myself after that run. More to the point, I didn’t recognize my feelings about running. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t fun. I questioned why I was even doing the Marathon, wishing I’d simply gotten my money back from the one cancelled three years ago. Instead of keeping the negatitivy to myself though, like any good sister, I shared it with mine. Every pessimistic thought and emotion, I dumped on her. I was brutally honest. In talking about solutions to work through my crabby mindset, the idea popped up to run 18 miles with her the following weekend. Secretly, I rejected it. “Why drive all the way to Portland to be miserable? Why slow her down? And her friends?” I thought of every excuse in the book not to go. But the idea of one last summertime Hurrah for my boys won out and we planned to head South.

It was clear to me after that run that something needed to change and that my training couldn’t continue like it was. The peaceful solitude that had once carried me through my solo runs had been replaced by dread and defeat.

Upon arriving in Portland, my sister directed me to the guest room where a book awaited me, Tales from Another Mother Runner. I opened it to find an inscription from one of the editors: “When the going gets tough…lean on your sister and draw strength from her and other mother runners.” I swallowed hard at this reality check. I realized I wasn’t going to get through my downward running spiral alone.

The next day we set out for 18 miles. We picked up some of her best running friends early on. Wonderful and inspiring ladies that I’d met and run with before, they listened to my recent travails. We talked cross training, over training, moon phases. They got it. They understood. They offered insight and encouragement. And just like the words in the book, I drew strength from them. After that 18 miles I was like a new person, a renewed person. Hopeful. Positive.

When I returned to Washington that week, I carried on with my newfound community-seeking skills. I asked a running friend, the captain of our Ragnar team, if I could meet up with her and some ladies two Saturdays later to do part of my training’s longest run, twenty, with them. She replied with an enthusiastic “yes.” I asked my dearest running friend if she was available at any time that same morning to do a couple miles with me. As it turned out, she unselfishly skipped her spinning class to do the last three with me. And stood there afterwards, coach-like, reminding and encouraging me to stretch.

My training changed after those runs in which I called upon my community. I no longer viewed myself as a slow, sluggish old snail. I no longer saw myself finishing with the 80-year-olds. Once I leaned on and drew strength from all those mother runners, I saw myself through their eyes: strong, capable, ready.

Community.

In two days I’m taking off for New York City, flying 2,082 nautical miles away from my husband, boys, and my immediate community. I get to run the New York City Marathon alongside my sister, with my mom, aunt and cousins there to cheer us on. “Grateful” doesn’t quite cover the emotion—in every ounce of my being I feel blessed.

There are also friends and family in Washington, California, Florida, on the East Coast and beyond who I want to share it with. Ones who’ve offered encouragement, prayers, support. The community I’ve relied on stretches far and wide; people I’ve leaned on when the going got tough, who I’ve drawn strength from through the years.

We have a doctor friend who doesn’t have a fax machine. Doesn’t use one. Doesn’t seem to need it. He sticks with phone, mail—the more traditional modes of communication. I admire that about him—that he conducts his business in the tried-and-true ways that have worked for him through the years. I suppose there’s the flip side: faster records, more instantaneous communication. But he’s not swayed by the changing tides of communication, and like I said, I respect that.

I, too, have been comfortable sticking with more traditional modes of communication: email, texts, phone calls—it has always felt more personal, more real, more about talking and checking in with people than “liking.”

But I have ever so slowly come to the realization that there’s only one way to share this New York City Marathon experience with my community—and to continue to feel everyone’s presence and support while I’m there. A way to keep in touch across the miles—to share the Mets mania, Halloween in Manhattan and the Finish Line in Central Park. In a sense, it’s like taking everyone with me. And it’s no longer by lurking, eavesdropping, stalking—or hiding behind— my sister’s or husband’s accounts.

So thank you, to my community, for accompanying me on this journey.

I’ll see you in New York.

On Facebook.

Losing. Learning. Growing. Finding.

Six years ago — half my oldest son’s life ago, when he was going into Kindergarten— I wrote this story. It holds a special place in my heart and I’ve held it close for a long time. I’ve taken a look at it recently for a number of reasons. First, we returned to Whistler last month for our annual vacation and it continues to be one of my favorite spots on earth, and what’s even better, it’s one of my boys’ favorite spots now, too. They have their own special memories of it that we relive and laugh about each year. In a way, this story feels like a tribute to the place I love.

At 7:30 this morning, my son Rass stepped on the bus for Middle School after some tears, “I don’t wanna go. I’m gonna die,” and “It’s like I’m in Kindergarten again.” Last week, it was my nephew who started Kindergarten. I know my sister is experiencing all those emotions that go along with that milestone. As I’ve looked back at this story, it gives me a renewed sense of gratitude for the moms I encounter, the ones near and far, seen and unseen, who seem to show up during just the right season of life. Maybe they, too, would agree: with losing, there always comes finding. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time. And as I can now replace “Kindergarten” with “Middle School,” I’m reminding myself of that very thing, too.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *         *          *

It was our first night of vacation in the glorious, breathtaking, feel-God’s-presence-town of Whistler, BC. With the Seahawks game on in the bedroom, the Mariners on in the living room and our nine-month-old eating Cheerios off the floor, I escaped to the condo’s one bathroom for a self-pedicure. I added a splash of fragrant body wash to the warm water and settled in on the side of the tub. Not bad. The water covered my feet and the sweet smell began to fill up the bathroom.

Ahhh….This is nice, I convince myself.

Rass walks in and plops down on the toilet.

“I have to poop,” he announces and starts his business, a foot from my makeshift spa chair.

Now?!?

I feel my relaxation dissipating.

“Mom, which sport do you like best?

The quiet solitude evaporates.

“Um, I’m not sure….” I answer, trying to shift gears.

“But which is your favorite, there are only three: basketball, football or baseball. Which one?

“Well” I stall. “I don’t know, I like watching baseball with you and watching you play, but football is really cool, too.

The odor begins to rise and pretty soon it overtakes the sweetness of my coconut lime foot soak.

“Is it diarrhea?” he asks, “I don’t want to look.

 My spa experience screams to a halt.

“Let me see…no…not really…”

I stand up, back to reality, and offer to help him wipe.

The next day as we sat around the living room, the packing, shopping, traveling, 4 ½ hours in the car and six-year-old comebacks of “never, fine,” and “that’s not fair,” finally caught up with me.

My tears come. Not the sobbing, loud kind, but the silent kind, like warm rivulets quietly streaking my face—the kind no one notices. And I don’t know exactly why I’m crying: if it’s because in this moment I don’t really like him or because I feel like I’m losing him.

Or maybe because I feel like I’ve already lost him.

The next morning we hit the Adventure Zone at the base of Blackcomb Mountain—a collection of games and rides, miniature golf, bungee trampoline, walk-through maze and trapeze. Rass wanted to attempt The Rope Zone, sort of an aerial obstacle course—a series of obstacles suspended ten feet in the air—a tightrope, rope-wall climb, a wooden step bridge. He got harnessed in and was reminded to keep his rope tether between his shoulders. He was instructed to yank it along with him from stunt to stunt. I saw the concentration on his face as he attempted to walk, step, focus and keep the harness strap close. Off he went.

He moves to the outer obstacle. It’s like a hanging bridge made up of detached wooden swings. The goal is to step from swing to swing, holding onto each rope, making it to the other side. Meanwhile, he’s teetering, bobbing and trying to keep his balance.

He gets halfway across, and I am standing below watching him. He starts to slip and nearly falls between the swings.

His tears come. Not the sobbing, loud kind but the silent kind that show fear, frustration and embarrassment. He does not want to lose control of his emotions up there. The attendant comes over and stands below him, too. She speaks gently, talking him through it.

I approach to stand beside her.

“You can do it, focus….concentrate…pull yourself up,” I encourage.

He continues to dangle and swing. He looks out of control. I know he can’t fall, but I want to climb up and do something. I want to rescue him.

His tears give way to determination and he somehow pulls himself up. He doesn’t let go, or lose his grip. He works his way through it. After he makes it back up to one of the swings, there is an unmistakable look on his face: pride. He has done it. He has conquered.

I am not up there with him, but in a way I am.

And while his face beams with pride, my heart swells with it.

Ready for more adventures, we waited in line at the ticket booth. A mom stood in front of us with her two boys. They were waiting to redeem their prize for the walk-through maze. Apparently the younger boy—who appeared to be about eleven—was not happy with the time it took him to get through the maze and in turn, the prize options available to him. He blamed his mom for his misfortune.

He stands in front of her, nearly nose-to-nose, looking her straight in the eye.

“Mom, you’re mean….

She maintains her composure and speaks very quietly. She doesn’t lose her cool, yell or storm away. All I can hear is “I’m not mean” and she goes on to explain the reason for their performance and, hence, their finish time.

He disagrees.

Coldly, he repeats it:

“Mom, you’re mean.

She doesn’t flinch.

I’m amazed at her calmness. Does it crush her? Does it hurt? Or is this his favorite thing to say these days, a notch up from my-most-often-heard “I already know that?

They approached the ticket window, got their prizes, and left to join the rest of their family. As they walked away, I felt somewhat reassured, realizing that the volatile yet loving relationship I shared with an independent, headstrong boy wouldn’t end—not even in Kindergarten. In fact, it was really just beginning.

The next night, after we lingered over a breathtaking alpine dining experience 6,030 feet up Whistler Mountain, we made our way back to the gondola for the trip back down the mountain. A twentysomething man was perched atop his mountain bike, decked out in full riding gear, helmet under his arm, talking on his cellphone.

He looks off in the distance, toward the highest peak, where the glaciers roll. Rugged looking, with longish hair, I imagine it must be quite a special conversation to interrupt an afternoon of some of the finest terrain around. He seems to be delighting in the conversation…pleasant, wistful, focused. I wonder if it might be his girlfriend who lives here in the Village? Or someone he’s just met at the mountain bike festival going on this weekend— “the largest one in the world…for sure”—the emcee has told us. As we pass him, I’m taken by the sense of freedom and adventure that this young man must experience. Surrounded by incomparable beauty on this clear summer night, I wonder who is sharing this moment with him?

“Bye mom,” I hear him say as we walk by.

I turn to look again.

Spoken with such warmth, caring and love, and so simply: bye mom.

Hope, in two words.

The last night of our vacation, we headed down to the pool. It was a warm, beautiful night. We were the only ones there.

As Rass cannon balls, swims underwater, practices tall arms and leaps for a plastic cup that his dad tosses, he couldn’t be happier. It’s joyful exuberance—something he has always displayed in the water, since his baby days in the bathtub. He’s energetic and enthusiastic, full of excitement and life.

He is here, in all his glory, the boy I recognize.

Despite his growing up and away, he is here.

I have found him.

And maybe that’s what I need to take with me as he begins Kindergarten. That he is in there, somewhere, underneath all the levels and layers. That as he learns different lingo, picks on his brother, makes new friends, tests and pushes his limits, explores and discovers, he is there.

All I need to do is find him.