Humbled

November 13, 2017

I can tell the temperature,
within a degree or two,
first thing, every morning,

when I open the door
to let the cat in.

When I hear my best friend’s voice
over the phone,
all she has to say is hello,
and I know if it’s time to reach for my car keys,
make some soup,
or find a spot to listen.

I read body language,
talk to dogs,
and understand why
the three year old boy next door
finds poop endlessly amusing.

But I don’t know what’s going on with my 17 year old son.

I know where he is-

a flight of muddy stairs
a damp towel outside
a closed door.

I eavesdrop on his conversations,
Not to hear the words,
But to try to recognize his voice.
It hasn’t worked.

He is steps and oceans away.

I am here,
with clean laundry.

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Orangetheory and ME

November 5, 2017

I go to the gym almost every single day. Working out gives me the chance to listen to silly pop music and use the immaculate showers when  finished, (I live with two teenagers).

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not  a gym rat. I’m as coordinated as a newborn giraffe. I carry baby weight 17 years after having the baby, and living with the teenager has probably added a late night when-the-hell-is-he-going-to-start-packing-for-college Breyer’s induced pounds. I wear glasses, my hair refuses to stay in one of those adorable high ponytails, and my torso, when tucked inside a yoga top, looks like a well stuffed sausage.

When a person acknowledges they go a health club to listen to Shakira and hit the steam room, it’s an indication this person should take their workout up a notch. When I received a chance to try out something new, I took the leap.

I was curious about Orangetheory, a fitness studio that opened a year ago in Quincy Center. There are about two hundred franchises nationwide, and the chain is growing rapidly.

Each gym is set up the same way, with treadmills along one side, a large area in the center for rowing machines, and an open space for strength training that includes TRX cords, free weights, and gravity balls. The colors are- you guessed it- tangerine orange, and slate grey.

Along the wall in the separate workout areas are flat television screens that flicker on when class begins. Every participant has their first name listed alphabetically on the screen in day glow letters. During the workout, people can track their heart rate and  see how they measure up because of a special Orangetheory heart rate monitor strapped on their arm. The studios are dark, and the music is loud.

I knew all this beforehand because I’d been peering thru their window for weeks, while sipping coffee from the cappuccino shop next door.

On the day of my visit, I went to the Friday afternoon 4:30 class. As soon as I opened the door, I was surrounded by three different employees.  All of them greeted me with the enthusiasm shown for adorable babies wearing cute hats and tiny little athletic shoes or socks with bunnies on them. They knew my name, were eager to answer all my questions and, four separate times, assured me I didn’t need to be nervous

This made me nervous. After they strapped the heart rate monitor onto my forearm and led me to the waiting area filled with female twenty something fitness models wearing perfect ponytails and shiny spandex and one very male body builder type, I was very nervous. Looking at the body builder helped a little.

My trainer decided I would start on the treadmills, and explained that even though most (all would have been the correct term) of the others were runners or joggers, power walking was fine. I walk fast, and I stroll, but I have never power walked.

Power walking was a thing in the eighties. Today there are occasional outbreaks at the mall before it opens because some brilliant activities director at an assisted living facility is nervous about residents wandering around the parking lots trying to get their steps while dodging cars, dogs, visitors, and wheelchairs. It came back yesterday to downtown Quincy, Massachusetts, thanks to me, because I only jog when I’m running outside to chase Sophie The Best Dog Ever, (obviously there might be a better dog that doesn’t slip out the door for a game of tag during rush hour,) find the newspaper, or realize someone is driving away with my phone.

Megan went over what my target numbers would be,and explained about the incline, monitor, and large tv screen where my name was right in between Jenna and Kylie. Somebody turned up the music, and I checked for the fourth time that I’d double knotted my sneakers.

During those twenty minutes on the treadmill, I worked really hard. When using the elliptical, I have access to the same data that flashed over my head at Orangetheory, heart rate, calories burned, and distance traveled. What made me work harder than I ever do at my gym- the data is posted in different colors, according to what your heart rate is. I really wanted to make my numbers RED.

I wanted to make my numbers red so much, I jogged. I even ran. It felt like running anyway.

After twenty minutes on the treadmill, we headed over to the water rowers. There is something significant about these rowers because they are powered by water, but they just seemed like nice looking rowers to me. Rowing is hard, but since I knew everyone could see exactly how much effort I was putting into it, I kept up. When I rowed, I rowed like I was actually trying to go somewhere. (I’ll remember that for next time.)

Because of my unique approach, the fact that it took me about two minutes to strap my feet into the pedals didn’t do too much damage. It only took me one minute to unstrap my feet out of the pedals because I was looking forward to the strength workout.

I’d had the chance to watch two groups rotate thru the exercises posted for us this part of the class, and felt pretty confident I could handle them. After all, I had jogged. I’d figured out the buckles on the rowing machine. I wasn’t wheezing, or asking someone to call my mom.

There are three different sets of exercises during the strength interval, designed to work most major muscle groups. The first set of exercises were one legged deadlifts, spiderman arms on the TRX, and pushups. It’s hard to do one legged deadlifts in a dark room with a Techno soundtrack, especially after running and rowing. I wobbled a bit, but didn’t fall down, so I’ll call that a win.

For the Spiderman arms, I had to position my body at a forty five degree angle, leaning backwards, while I clutched onto cables. I had to use my arms, like hinges, to pull my body up, one arm at a time. My moves were less Spiderman climbing a building and more clumsy person flails on resistance bands. But I flailed less with practice.

Finally, I made it to the pushups. I kept my back flat. My eyes faced the top of the mat. I didn’t bend my knees. I completed five of the best pushups ever before realizing everyone was back up doing the one legged dead lifts again.

At the end of the workout, everyone came together to stretch. I looked around the room, and realized that I hadn’t noticed anyone during my hour session, except so I could figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I  had run faster than I have ever run in my life. (As a child, my games of choice was not tag or soccer. They were backgammon and reading books; the latter isn’t a game and might explain a lot about my lack of coordination.)

The next day, they sent me a wrap up of my work out-

484 CALORIES BURNED
146 AVG HR
83 % AVG
29 SPLAT POINT

Am I a horrible person for pointing out the expected goal for a first time clients is around 12 Splat points and thatthe numbers are cut off, my Splat points were 29? Splat points refer to the amount of time spent in the red and orange zones, when the heart rate is elevated. Of course, my heart was racing! I ran, and I don’t run, I rowed, and I even ended the workout doing mountain climbers. (At my regular gym, I usually just hold a plank. Not a climber, either.)

At the end of the day, what I’m most proud of is that I took on something new, in a room full of people I didn’t know, and I did things I decided a long time ago I don’t do.

It’s really nice to surprise the world. It’s even better when one of my kids looks at me with respect and says ‘Mom, you’re doing such a great job.” But what I learned at Orangetheory is how wonderful it feels to surprise myself.

Next week, I’m going to try Acroyoga. I’ll let you know what happens.

There is alcohol. Wine, fancy cocktails with basil floating in them like pine needles, and beer.

There are long, dark wood walks with a dog that follows, lingers, then sprints to a pile of damp leaves. There is the observation of joy, as she thrashes in gold and rusty brown and dirt. When she jumps into the van, my sweet girl smells like she was out all night, and it’s Thursday afternoon.

There is work, swallowing handfuls of chocolate chips from the fridge meant for Sunday pancakes, dinners out at restaurants I can’t afford, where we share appetizers and order just one more.


There is splitting the check even though I ordered just one more, and knowing it’s understood. I needed that.

There is time with friends.

There are phone calls to mom, and not calling mom, because I don’t want her to know details. There is knowing she is there to listen to the details if it comes to that.

There is music from when I was his age, and his own music, the inappropriate language, the grinding bass, the beat. There is time at the gym, lifting metal, finding downward dog in a room full of women who look they don’t have a clue even though probably half of them have been where I am now.

There are impassioned conversations about Trump, the Supreme Court, moving to Canada, the latest from Trump.

There the memes of Obama and Biden.

There is tv and slippers and sleeping pills and falling asleep with the tv on so I don’t have to think about anything but the carefully written dialogue written by writers on another coast that belong to a union and  are probably talking about Trump right now.

There is knowing, somewhere, in my head, this is not cancer. It is not Alzheimer’s, or living without heat, or living alone, or being old, and wishing for what will never come again.

When I find myself dealing with another variety of grief, I may or may not turn to the same these things I have found  along this journey.

Inside this life of mine, right now, I still find bliss and laughter, even though this heart of mine weighs more than my whole house, weights more than anything I have ever carried.

I have found a way to lift this heart and love this child and move forward into the tomorrow and next month.

Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my knees buckle and I lean knowing I have lost it all. I find myself on the sofa, wishing I had softer socks, or a magazine, or a softer pillow, or it was ten years ago.

Then my daughter asks me to sign her permission slip. A student calls with a question. Sophie sighs in her sleep and I know she is dreaming of bunnies.

So I pull myself up and I take myself down to my bedroom. I find sleep, I do not dream of bunnies, that I know of anyway.

But I wake up next to Sophie and that helps.

My family is home with me tonight. I’m a little bit angry and totally blessed.

Well, mostly blessed.

I hope I dream of bunnies.

This is the holiday season. I don’t need to tell you that. The songs on the radio are carols, everyone at work is counting down days and feasting on cookies, kids are looking for elves on shelves and parents are wondering why they ever started another tradition that involves one more thing do during the season that demands the most of parents of young ones.

I’ve wanted to write about the holidays. I’ve tried to say something meaningful about slowing down and finding the spirit. I was going to talk about decorating our tree.

We didn’t decorate our tree. My husband dragged it in one night while we slept. He strung the lights while I was working. My daughter hung ornaments with a friend of hers while they were trying to decide what movie to download. My contribution was to straighten out the tipsy angel, and sweep, daily, the tinsel, that seems to be growing, like sweet potato vines all over the first floor. I sweep, it slithers down and creeps along carpet while I sleep. I sweep again. The dog finds the whole process weird.

I shopped for the first time yesterday. An eleven year old and a fifteen year old, both of whom just got new smart phones a month ago. $600 smart phones we will be paying off while we are trying to figure out how to send them to community college because we don’t have any money.

If the holidays aren’t enough to make me crazy, I’m always on the verge of something.

I’m on the verge of everything.

I’m on the verge of killing my son, throwing him out onto the street with a bus pass and a back pack. I’m on the verge of falling at his feet and begging him to just watch one episode of the Middle with me. Like the good old days. He smiles, I think- what has he done now. He grimaces- I wonder- what have I done? I’m constantly cataloging our conversations, expressions, text messages and I’ve reached no conclusions other than he is my son, and he is a complete mystery to me, and I really, really hope he knows I love him more than my own breath.

About a month ago, I asked my boss where I was heading, in a general way. I’ve been at the same job a year, my title has nothing to do with the job I do every day. I’ve been hoping for a new one, or a title, and a little more money. Tomorrow, we are having lunch at a nice restaurant. I can’t imagine he would take me to a nice restaurant to give me good news.

I’m going to the gym every day, and I’m eating cake, and large bowls of pasta, and putting cream in my coffee. So I guess I can’t say I’m on the verge of getting in shape. But I do go to the gym every single day, and walk the dog, and take the stairs. I look up healthy recipes and I think about them. So maybe that qualifies.

Today, I drove my son to school to talk to the principal about an argument my son had with a fellow student. I picked up some Christmas presents for my nieces. I spoke to some students and reached out to one organization and two high schools about working together, me and them, to help more kids come to Quincy College. I went to Marketing for cookies and the Registrar’s office for sandwiches. Based on my conversation with my colleagues, I am the only person in the world that hasn’t finished shopping. I ate too many cookies and had a cup of soup.

Today I sprinted thru being on the verge of bribing an assistant principle, spending grocery money on really, really nice tee shirts, and getting a serious stomach ache. Thankfully, none of that happened.

I made it to my therapist’s appointment where we discussed the anxiety of the holidays, and since I was in a rush, we made it quick. She wrote me a prescription. I am not on the verge of a nervous breakdown or I’m too well medicated to notice.

I raced home. Katy had a friend over to practice for their flute holiday concert this evening. I made them dinner while they mangled “Oh Holy Night.” I had a glass of wine, and served them two huge bowls of spaghetti. While they ate, I gathered my clothes for the gym. I wiped counters. I kissed the dog and promised her we’d walk before the rain came.

We got to the concert. Katy and Madeleine played first. I’d warned Madeleine’s mom, “they weren’t very good.” I asked Madeleine’s dad to tape them on his Iphone.

The girls played “Joy to The World” and “We Three Kings”.

They played beautifully. I sat on my metal chair and looked at them, poised and still in front of the music stand. I have never heard such beautiful music in my life.

I didn’t want to write my boss an email. I didn’t want to go the mall, or walk the dog, or lift a weight, or climb the corporate, or any sort of ladder.

My girl brought me Christmas.

It is eight pm. Sophie is at my feet. She will take me outside to look at the lights. I won’t count my steps, I won’t check my heart rate. I will pick up her poop, and I will let her sniff that weird patch of grass on Wood Street for as long as she’d like.

I’m inside my life. I share it with horrid, funny, magical kids, a husband that remembers a tree in the middle of his shift, and picks out the best one, the college, where my supervisors, students and colleagues teach me something new every day. Sometimes, the lessons get a little redundant. I think I’m pretty clear on the importance of patience in world of academia, but I’ll know when I know.

The month of December seems to be a time where too many people live on the verge- of losing their minds, going bankrupt, trying to keep up with the neighbors, smacking their kids, or wishing they’d never fallen in love.

From this moment forth, I’ve stepped away from the verge, and I’m not going anywhere near it. If I shop, it will be without a list. If I buy gifts, it will be because I’d like to give something to someone I love.

I’m not even sure what verge means any more. Maybe it’s when I choose something, horrible or amazing, to swallow up my entire focus. While I wait- I eat too much, I snarl at kittens or kids, I check my email, I scroll thru Facebook to glare at people who do not seem to be on the verge, while reassuring myself that Facebook lies and almost everyone is on the verge of something. Even if they don’t know it.

I do know, by definition, to be “on the verge” implies resting one foot on one spot, a less than desirable spot, while the other foot hovers and waits for a better space to open up.

That’s seems pretty silly.

I’m home now.

I’m blessed.

I’m pretty sure Colin loves me, and if he doesn’t at the moment, he’ll remember soon enough. I love him. I love so many people, and I’m so lucky that in the middle of this life, I’ve made enough space to know them.

The rest will come.

Right now, everything I want and need is here. I’m not waiting on anything.

The rest will come.

Peace.

Yesterday it was explained to me that I am actually insane for insisting someone eat scrambled eggs and toast for dinner instead of frosted flakes.

Today, when I picked up the other one from after
school at 4:30- she reminded me about a band concert this evening, except I’d never heard about the concert in the first place.

After we established that- yes, there was going to be concert that every other family with a band loving child in Milton knew about, and my daughter really, really wanted to attend, the possibility was again mentioned that perhaps I’m losing my mind, because of course she would have mentioned it, I mean , Mooooom– (Mom, I have to wear black pants, a white button down shirt, and it has to be clean, mom, like real people’s clean, and I need socks, I forgot about the socks, and shoes, black shoes, and they have to be… )

All explained to me one hour before she was due at the high school to practice.

It was a lovely concert. I was introduced to the band director, had the chance to see some good friends. So many of the kids on the stage I’ve had the pleasure of being in the audience for- either a Celebration of Spring Chorale, or Holiday concert, or Easter Egg Hunt or Isn’t Our Town the Best Town in the Whole World Parade or The Annual Mother’s Day March for Peace .*

The music was unexpected, for me anyway. The different bands performed the works of modern composers. I heard hope, terror, joy, grief, got a glimpse of spring, with just the right touch of “Let it Go”. (I think it’s going to years and years before the fans of that song take the advice spelled out in the chorus.)

The two people the closest to me have told me that I am completely insane and totally losing my mind.

Either one of those two statements might have really pissed me off, except- well, they reached this consensus a long time ago, and somehow I still remember to pick someone up for practice and sign someone else’s test and I’m the only one that ever remembers to feed the dog.

And somehow, I don’t point these points out to them on an hourly basis.

But I am really happy listening to the band, I even plan to tape the recital. I love cheering for the team, whatever the season. “Go Team” is ok, as long as I don’t use any names. Or at least not his name.

It’s been a good day.

And tomorrow, there is nothing on my calendar. No one needs a ride. No one needs anything baked, or bought, or delivered or signed.

Tomorrow’s going to be great.

*At the annual Mother’s Day March for Peace, moms aren’t the audience, we are organizers and leaders, some of us sharing and spilling grief, some of us are there to listen, a lot of us sing. And while we march, everyone keeps an eye on the children, who tag along behind, or limp beside, sweaty sticky palms inside someone’s slightly bigger palm, or race ahead, carrying signs, calling to friends, not looking for us at all, (because they know we are somewhere). Pretty similar to all of the other special days, I guess, except our name is in the title. And for the record, dad’s are welcome.

Spring Fever

May 17, 2014

I got it bad.

Not the spring fever that means I really, really want to go see a baseball game. Or the variation that sends people to the drugstore to stock up on Clariten and the Kleenex with the vaseline in the tissue for a soft, comfortable blow. Or even the milder version that involves staying out in the garden until past dark, pulling up weeds and planting petunias or whatever it is people plant around here. I don’t garden. Or like baseball that much. And I’m lucky that so far I’ve avoided this seasons allergies.

I’m as restless as a cat with no claws in a house full of mice.

I live a quiet life, mostly. Two kids. Lots of long walks in the woods with the dogs. Work I love that is just part of a life that I also love, most of the time. I dance, I see friends, I go to church, I cook dinner. I even like trips to the grocery store, can happily spend a half an hour engrossed in an aisle with 17 kinds of mustard. And walk away without buying any, if they don’t have the cranberry spice mixture I like. Until the past week, contented was a word that would apply to me and the world I have made for my family.

Now, I’m inside an itch I can’t scratch.

I want to go out. I want a manicure and pedicure. I want a new dress and to wear it inside a circle of well dressed people sipping cocktails muddied with herbs and infused with fruit, like I read about in the Boston Globe every week.

I want to be able to wear high heels without staggering. I want to go on vacation, stay up after jon stewart, meander somewhere without worrying about stepping in dog shit.

I want to be thirty two, and be mulling over a variety of book deals and suitors.

And right now I’m mulling over if it makes me a bad mom that I really don’t want to see what Ben Stiller did to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s no secret that the reviews were horrible, and I’m not in the mood.

I guess I’m not in the mood for much right now, except for things that I a. can’t afford or b. probably wouldn’t do much to make me feel a whole lot better.

Fever is a transient thing.

So I’m going to take out my flute, close my eyes, lose myself in a melody and let the night fall around me.

I’ll have a cup of tea.

I’ll let Katy braid my hair and I’ll tell her about fireflies.

And if nothing works, maybe tomorrow I will visit Home Depot. I’ll by a twelve pack of perennials, some gloves and some extra high quality organic darker than dirt dirt. I’ll see why everybody outside holding a spade looks so damn content.

It couldn’t hurt.

Places I Have Been To

September 10, 2013

I went to church last Sunday. It was the first Sunday of the church year. Everyone came early for a pancake breakfast hosted by the youth group. I’d actually been at the church since Saturday night since I had been one of the chaperones for the pre-pancake breakfast youth sleepover.  (I am either a very brave or a very stupid woman.) As I moved around the halls, directed guests to the bathroom, and found a sugar bowl for somebody in the kitchen, it occurred to me- I feel at home here. I am a member of the club.

You know the feeling I’m talking about? When all the sudden you look around whatever space you are in and realize- you know where stuff is. You know the names of people around you, you even know if they are people worth knowing, and you move thru hallways and rooms with ease.

The church is the latest in a long series of places I made my own.  I’m sure for many, school is the first thing that comes to mind.  Not for me. As a matter of fact, for all the time I spent in school, my memories are mostly of feeling lost. Literally. I have a lousy sense of direction, every year classrooms are different, they were usually located on different floors. Kids in classes changed, and every few years, buildings changed. To make matters really difficult, when I was 12 my family moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

I suppose, on a much smaller level, I got a sense of it over at friends houses. Going over to Leslie’s and being able to drink from the water jug in the fridge reserved for family members. Over at my first boyfriend’s house, I was entrusted with the location of spare key, and knew the names of all of his cousins. He only had three cousins, but I’m not that good with names. And of course, the Stanfields. Their home became the back up home to many teenagers in Mountain Lakes. I knew where to find the corn nuts, and what bedroom was likely to be unoccupied, or mostly unoccupied. Of course, so did about seventy five other kids between the ages of 15 and 18. But it was nice, knowing my home wasn’t my only home. Especially since things weren’t always so easy in my home growing up.

Skip forward quite a few years. My first true sense of belonging to a group, and knowing where I fit in, was when I settled in Boston, and discovered the club scene. And the bands. (And the members of bands. Whole nother story.) And the drugs, and the right ratio of drugs and alcohol for just the right buzz. I remember how it felt to saunter up to the front a line, nod at the bouncer and walk in a front door. How I felt so damn special to be granted entrance into a dark, crowded smoky room, with minimal bathrooms, insane lines- to buy a drink, pee, even to grab a seat. I became familiar with the bartenders, did my research and sought out the johns no one else knew about, and became particularly skilled at lurking behind someone getting ready to leave, then swooping in for their spot at the bar before they’d even picked up their keys. I knew where the stairs were, where the elevators were, where the back doors were, who bartended on which night, and who might be willing to pay for my drinks.

And the best part… Everybody knew me. By name. After years of feeling pretty damn anonymous, I had circles and circles of friends. I had friends to go out to dinner with, friends to sleep with, friends to stay up all night with, friends to play scrabble with… I had lots and lots and lots of friends. I spent piles of money, had, from what I remember a damn good time, and woke up from it all when I was pregnant with my first child.

Then I went back to feeling like I had in school, a little bit lost.

When I sat down to write this, I was going to list all of the places in my life that weren’t my home, but that felt like home.

And this is what I found out- there were the clubs in Boston and Cambridge in the 90’s, there is the space between my two kids anywhere in the whole world, and there is my church. My church is a place that practices something called “radical hospitality”, and I guess they really, truly do. At least in my case. My church is a place where we have twenty minute conversations about which class will work for a nine year old who is more mature than most, but needs to make more friends in his grade. It is a place where there is always coffee, though I often have to make it, or find the filters. Where the minister is my friend, and I swim with the Youth Advisor most mornings, (not at the church, it’s not that nice.) And where when the conversation turns to Social Justice, and it often does, it is not in the abstract.

I’m glad I finally found my way there.