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.

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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.

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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.

Ragnarian Runner Recollections

This weekend, I took part in my first running relay, the Ragnar Relay/Northwest Passage to be specific. A total of 539 teams participated. Here’s how it works: each 12-person team has two vans with six runners each. (Except Ultra teams, which have only six people to share the running duties, making for more individual miles—hence the word “Ultra”). Van 1 (which I was in) kicks things off. Each runner in the van runs one leg (ranging from about three to nine miles), and then Van 2 takes over and those six runners do their legs. After that, it’s Van 1’s turn again. And so on. Over the course of 24+ hours, each runner does a total of three legs, for a team grand total of 200ish miles, all the way to Langley, Washington on picturesque Whidbey Island.

We met at 4 a.m. Friday and headed North to Peace Arch Park right next to the Canadian border in Blaine, Washington. Our first runner was to take off at 6:30. As a newbie, I got my first taste of the fun, personality and creativity that were in store for the weekend. Colorful vans, mini-vans and SUVs were decorated and painted with team names and phrases, like “Sole Mates,” “Van Haulin’ – Running from the devil,” “I think I just PR’ed a little,” the Marshawn Lynch-inspired “I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” “Running better than Congress,” “There’s No ‘I’ in ‘Beer,'” “In Pain Since Blaine” and the “Honey Bucketeers.” People were also dolled up in various costumes —everything from Alice in Wonderland to Elvis to beavers—and flashy (think leather, and sparkles) running attire. Everything had a lighthearted, festive feel to it, including the safety video we were required to watch. Runners left in half-hour waves, and soon my friend was on her way. We hopped in the van when she left so that we could meet up with her at our first “exchange” approximately five miles away. This is where she would hand over the bracelet “baton” to our next runner. I was the third runner in our van and thankful to witness a couple exchanges so I knew what to expect. At about 8 a.m. my 8.2-mile uphill run began. A light breeze accompanied me and I was happy to be on the road. Another good-natured yet competitive part of Ragnar is keeping track of “kills” – when you pass another runner. Kills are then tallied on van windows for all to see. I started mentally noting my kills, although they weren’t astronomical.

Our van finished up at Bellingham High School, where Van 2 took over. We hit the road for some lunch and rest time before our early-evening running would begin. I was most concerned about my second leg. I have never run twice in one day. I do not run at night. And I wasn’t sure how my chicken ciabatta sandwich, fries and pint of beer would feel when I did so. It was a warm 76 degrees when I finally set out for my 6.7-mile run. I had one simple goal for this leg: to make it to the exchange by 7:45 so that our next runner —a speedy Ironman athlete — could take off before 8 p.m. so he wouldn’t have to wear safety gear (head lamp, tail lamp, vest). I had roughly 70 minutes, give or take.

As I hit a quiet country road, I settled in and found my groove. I was feeling pretty good. Thankfully, my lunch wasn’t coming back to haunt me. I looked out across the fields, cleared my head, and decided I was just going to think about my dad, since the day marked the anniversary of his departure from earth. A couple miles in, my legs started feeling tired. I was hot. I didn’t feel like I had much left in the tank. “That’s OK,” I told myself. Even if I slowed way, way down, I would make it back in time for our Ironman to go safety gear-free.

Out of nowhere, with about three miles to go, a runner appeared over my right shoulder. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “Someone’s going in for the kill.” I glanced over. It was a woman. Surprisingly, she didn’t pass me. In fact, we fell in step together. We struck up a conversation. She asked if the pace was OK and I said yes. She agreed, and said she felt like she’d started out a little fast.

She was 64-years-old, doing her sixth Ragnar. She’d been running for 38 years. “What team are you on?” I asked. “The Matriarchs,” she replied, a team of women in their late forties through sixties. Her name was Francie. “My mom’s Fran,” I said. We chatted about running, where we lived, and our families. She said she used to run with her husband but his knee started giving him trouble so he biked. Her GPS watch beeped in the background. I felt myself slow down a little. “You can go on if you need to,” I assured her. “I’m afraid I’ll get discouraged if I don’t stay with you,” she answered. I smiled, thankful and relieved—I felt the same. We continued on, the watch beeping, more time passing. True to her team name, she was a comforting presence. Maybe there was something about the peaceful setting that prompted me to share.

“My dad passed away four years ago today,” I said, my voice catching. She expressed sorrow and understanding. I could hear the strength, wisdom and compassion in her voice: “It’s so hard to lose a parent.” She talked about losing her dad; we talked about loss for a little awhile. Another beep. A few minutes later she announced “We’re gonna finish this thing together, holding hands.” I was moved by the thought. Actually, I could think of nothing better.

We turned right on Fir Island Road and ran single file across the South Fork of the Skagit River. She looked back to see if I was still behind her. As the sunshine blazed in the distance, behind the small white building of Fir Conway Lutheran Church — with its cross set beautifully against the golden sky — the Matriarch took my hand in hers and we raised them together triumphantly, in celebration.

Of running.

Of accomplishment.

Of dads.

I suppose as I went into Ragnar weekend I expected things like painted vans, goofy team names, new friends, camaraderie, kills, lots of laughs and questionable digestion.

But I could not have imagined that in the midst of all of that, along a quiet country road, a Matriarch would find — and run alongside — a girl remembering her dad, and take hold of her hand.

Impressions From A Fifth Grade Camp Chaperone

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119 students.
34 chaperones.
10 groups.
6 school buses + 6 YMCA buses.
2 ferry rides.

One amazing experience.

Last week I had the pleasure of serving as a chaperone for my son’s Fifth Grade camp. While Fifth Grade camp was not something I did as a youngster in California, it seems to be a tradition that many have experienced here in Washington. As the time drew near, I was excited for mainly two things: to bunk with twelve other females for girl talk and giggling, and to have a break from cooking as I enjoyed five meals prepared in the camp kitchen.

We set out early Wednesday morning via school bus and headed northwest approximately fifty-two miles to the Anacortes ferry. The buses dropped us off and soon the ferry cruised through the breathtaking San Juan Islands. The ferry ride alone is one that’s often sought out by tourists. As we made our way through, the overcast sky turned blue and sunshine warmed us, and, thankfully, decided to stick around for the rest of the trip. After quick stops at Lopez and Shaw Islands, we arrived at our final destination, Orcas Island. YMCA buses took us to what was to be our home for two nights, Camp Orkila. The 280-acre camp is on the northwest side of the island facing Canada. In fact, it’s so close, some of us got “Welcome abroad” text messages from our cell phone carriers as we arrived. We were greeted by a lively young director named Tim, who, with his deep DJ-like voice, welcomed us and rounded up kids for their orientation and ushered chaperones off for a separate one. We unloaded gear in our cabins and began one of the many activities that would pack our schedule for the rest of the week.

We started with team-building, getting-to-know-you-type games and then moved into engaging and entertaining educational activities, like beach walks (to discover sea creatures and marine life), habitat hikes through the forest (where students learned through a team game about the life cycles of salmon berries, bunnies and hawks), practiced outdoor living skills (building a fire, not leaving a trail), climbed a high ropes course, and built a geodesic dome with logs and ropes. Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, college-age Y leaders – who’ve studied marine biology and other environmental subjects – guided the students through these activities. The late afternoon Open Rec time included an array of activities, like row boats, gaga ball, an art studio and archery.

I found myself in awe much of the week. In large part, at the time and effort of the five-person Fifth Grade teaching team and the preparation and organization required to make the trip possible: the fundraising opportunities, the parent chaperones, the handcrafted name tag medallions for each child, the tie-dyed t-shirts that each camper made for the trip, the transportation logistics, the cabin assignments, the freshly-brewed hot coffee each morning. To think of the dedication and commitment of these teachers – to make this memorable trip happen for students whose Elementary school days are drawing to a close – simply bowled me over. As a parent, my heart was bursting with gratitude for the experience that they created for my son – and for so many others, some of whom had never been on a ferry or in a row boat.

And then there were the behind-the-scenes happenings that moved me. The girl who declared with self-assured pride and a sense of accomplishment – after walking several miles throughout the day to the various activities at upper and lower camp, along the beach and in the forest: “It’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.” The boy whose challenge for himself was simply to climb up the tree at the high ropes course. Yet once he did that, he got a boost of confidence and traversed the whole way across between two trees, about 25 feet in the air, beaming. The girl who was so homesick that she shed tears both nights, but worked through it with the support of her teacher and cabin mates. The boys who ran around at dusk with flashlights that glowed like fireflies, goofing off in an open meadow. The girls who threw rocks in the ocean, singing the brand-new camp song “boom, chicka boom….”

The boys’ 9 p.m. “shower party.”

The girls braiding lanyards.

I simply soaked it all in and – with great appreciation – watched as they made lasting memories.

Skits, games, songs, KP duty.

Friendship.

And two of the most magnificent sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Fifth Grade camp was more than I could’ve imagined.

The time came for our final meal Friday morning. The YMCA staff passed out postcards for the kids to fill out and gave them a before-and-after writing prompt. With permission, another chaperone and I perused some of the thoughts shared. One of the girls in our cabin penned:

Before camp, I thought it would be scary without my family.
After camp, I know that friends are family, too.

With a lump in my throat, I realized that one sentiment probably summed up the feelings of many of the kids in that dining hall.

In approximately 105 days these 119 students will step foot into Middle School.

Before camp, I thought it would be scary without my family.
After camp, I know that friends are family, too.

Is there a better way to send them off?

Thank you, teachers.
Thank you, Camp Orkila.

The Case Of The Iron Gut & A Runner’s Perspective

For the second time since I’ve been the lone female amongst three males in the house, the stomach flu has bypassed me. While my boys and husband have retched, heaved and bolted to the bathroom, I’ve been left relatively unscathed. Sure, I’ve been a bit headachy, had an appetite for crackers, etc, but overall I’ve felt good. However, it has not left me totally unaffected – in fact, the effect of this particular bug has shown up in my running routine.

In 2013, my sister and I did our first running streak. We ran every day – a minimum of one mile – from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. We both continued on after that, too. At the time she told me of an instance or two when she ran her daily mile in jeans. What? Jeans? “That’s just weird,” I thought. How busy can you be that you don’t have time to put on running clothes? Who, besides someone in an airport, would run in jeans? Running down the street in denim? No thanks. Note to self: never run in jeans. After enjoying the commitment and accountability that the running streak provided, we decided to do it again this holiday season.

Round one of the flu hit last Sunday, as the Seahawks played their home field advantage-clinching game against the Rams. My pale, pasty, puking 11-year-old sprawled out on the couch, covered in a blanket, noticeably quiet. Not the usual officiating that echoes his dad’s, “Whaaaat? That’s not pass interference!!!” Silence. The air was flat. Germs seemed to hang there. Watching him “watch” a game with his eyes closed was torture. I needed to get out for my mile but didn’t feel like changing clothes. Just to the bend and back, I told myself. Who cares? Who would see me? I headed out in jeans and my Hawks long-sleeved shirt. Close to home I saw our neighbor. I explained that I was on a running streak and just needed to do a quick run, hence the attire. “I thought you looked a little less prepared than usual,” he observed.

One mile. Done.

Round two of the bug hit two mornings later at 3 a.m. My six-year-old stumbled into our room with a warning that he felt like he was going to puke. He did. And kept going. Although, impressively, he went ten-for-ten, making it into the toilet or a bowl each time. My mom escaped back to California with only a cold.

Feeling like we were in the clear and contagious no longer, we headed over to my in-laws in Port Townsend on New Year’s Day. I woke up January 2nd cold, achey, and ugh— I was certain it was my time. I rested, refrained from eating and even belted out some “You Give Love a Bad Name” karaoke. I also contemplated the idea of abandoning the streak. I reminded myself that technically it was over anyway, that my sister and I were just the ones who wanted to keep it going. There’s something about ending on your own terms.

As we hopped out of the car at my in-laws that afternoon, I said “I’m just gonna go run.” “What? Now?” my 11-year-old asked. “Yes. I’m just gonna get it over with.” I hurried off, not wanting any time to change my mind. As I clomped down the driveway in my green cords, bright pink LL Bean winter boots and white parka, Rassy yelled after me “You look ridiculous.” “I know,” I hollered back. “I don’t care.”

One mile. Done.

We returned home Saturday morning, after Grandma had unfortunately been making her own visits to the bathroom.

I awoke Sunday at 3 a.m. to find the downstairs bathroom light on — and Mo on the floor. “Oh no,” I cried. False alarm. He returned to bed. “Maybe I just have an iron gut,” he theorized.

Maybe not.

Three hours later, male #3 was officially hit.

That day, all six-foot-four of Mo stretched out on the couch, dozing. Reminiscent of the previous Sunday, the germs seemed to hang in the air. Stale. Sleepy. Sickly. A downer. I sent my sister a text: “Thinking I may not run.?!?”

She replied: “What about a brisk walk? Fresh air will feel good” and then reminded me “It’s a mile.”

Ah, perspective. Already a breath of fresh air.

I put on my running shoes and called out to Rassy, “You thought the other day was embarrassing? Check this out,” and headed out the door in my purple snowman flannel pants, a hoodie, down vest and earrings.

One mile. Done.

Over the past week, while all the males in my house have been overtaken with the flu, thanks to my sister, I’ve been out running —just one mile— in jeans, cords, flannel pants, boots and hoodies. With no embarrassment in the least.

The streak is alive.

As I begin the year in which I will return to New York City for the marathon – my guaranteed-entry for the cancellation of the one in 2012 –  I am hoping beyond hope that my sister will win the lottery to get in – or we’ll figure out another way for her to do it.

Because just when I needed it, she’s the one who…

… made me see that, sometimes, running in jeans isn’t so bad.

… reminded me that fresh air feels good.

And that “it’s a mile.”

One more mile.

Done.

 

 

Say Mohawk: Creativity In The Coifs

The Sunday after school started, I returned home to find my five-year-old and eleven-year-old boys with Mohawks. Not faux-hawks, as I’m accustomed to, but full-on, shaved on the side Mohawk haircuts. I stared disbelievingly and curiously for awhile, somewhat bemused at the hardened blue-and-green Hawks-inspired gel that made strips of their hair – from the napes of their necks to their foreheads – stand up like porcupine quills. My brand-new Kindergartner, who had just three days of elementary school under his belt, sat on the couch with a hairstyle that seemed so grown-up, so Billy Idol or Brian Bosworth, so punk rocker, that I could hardly take him seriously. And then four words flew into my brain:

School pictures. Two weeks. 

I hit the roof.

Then shot right through it and continued into orbit.

I was angry. Mad. Furious.

“I’m livid,” I fumed.

“What’s that mean?” asked my Fifth Grader Rassy, thus turning it into a vocabulary lesson.

Fearing a call from the Principal about the Monica boys being classroom distractions, I came up with two choices: don’t use styling products during the week or return immediately to the hair place and get the rest of it buzzed off. They opted for the former. I solidified my overreaction by continuing to make my opinion loud and clear: nope, I didn’t like it. Not one bit. Didn’t care for it in the least. And I would take them to get it shaved off again before school pictures or they would do retakes at a later date. Period.

The next morning, I stifled a smile as Rassy woke up with second thoughts. “I don’t want to go to school. Why did I get my hair cut like this?” he asked. We talked about having an eye-catching, severe haircut and how people were bound to have an opinion. He set off that morning with his baseball cap on, ready to tackle whatever was in store. When both boys got off the bus that afternoon, they shared how they’d gotten mixed reactions. Big brother’s teacher loved it. Little brother’s teacher didn’t recognize him (I could relate). But by the next day, Rassy had come to a new conclusion: “Mom, you know what I like about my hair? It’s unique. Not everybody has it.” And with a twinge of guilt, I agreed. He then set off for the bus with no baseball cap on.

And so I’ve spent the past couple of weeks looking at moles and divots on their heads that I didn’t know existed, watching beads of sweat literally form on their noggins, observing the temple muscles moving as they ate dinner, listening to them delight in the fact that they look like Seattle rapper Macklemore (which I’ve come to learn is technically incorrect—his style is a Pompadour) and tenderly reminiscing at the faded stork bites on the back of my five-year-old’s head.

I’ve listened to—and watched— lots of reactions. Nearly all positive. Coaches: “Sweet hair,” “I love your haircut – what’d your mom think?” Moms: “It’s awesome!” “I love it.” “It looks great” and “It takes a certain kind of confidence to wear that kind of style.” And with a touch of pride that my somewhat reserved guy would step out with such a bold look, I agreed.

It seems that creative expression has found a new form in our household—not just in the ways I’m used to like, words, birthday poems or the colors of our walls—but through hairstyles.

So this morning they headed off with their picture day order forms and checks in hand. The Mohawk brothers—with their strips of glistening, California-blond hair spiked up atop growing-out, not-quite-bald heads—will be preserved for all posterity, in the only yearbook they’ll appear in together during their school years. And should there come a day when they look back and wonder why, I’ll say—although it eluded me sixteen days ago—with a big, fond grin “That was all you. I had nothing to do with it.”

I’ll also remember what those Mohawks really stood for: brotherhood, uniqueness, creativity and confidence.

No, they still aren’t my favorite ‘dos.

But they brought with them mom’s first big lesson of the school year:
creative expression comes in many forms.

Sometimes in double doses.