River Rocks

I want to write a thousand or two words on this. I want to say everything about it and say it beautifully, the way the images are in my mind. But if I try to do that, I’ll never write anything and it will be just another thought that was laid to rest in the graveyard of good ideas. (My section of that particular plot has grown quite a bit this year. Sigh.)

Sometimes things happen. Sometimes they are little things, and sometimes not so little. And sometimes those little things make big changes in your life. Sometimes things you think will change everything actually change very little.

A few weeks ago, I listened to Terri Gross’s Fresh Air episode memorializing Tom Magliozzi, who with his brother Ray, did Car Talk on NPR for a long time. The brothers got started on Car Talk (or more accurately, on fixing cars) after Tom had a near miss with a semi-truck. He wasn’t even hit, but it was close and it shook him deeply. He quit his job, started living on unemployment, and was rethinking his life when Ray came in to help him figure things out. It was from that event—the near-miss—that they started their garage, which led to their radio show, which led to much advice and laughter and philosophizing—and a legacy worth celebrating.

It is hard to believe that they weren’t born into that life. They seemed like such naturals. But they did, in fact, have very different lives planned.

And then a rock tumbled into the river and turned it a completely different way.

The way that it turned was not direct. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t as if the rock fell in, blocked the way, and they looked around and said, “Oh, you’re right, we should be heading that way.” It was a slow process. It was gradually feeling things out and seeing what worked and what didn’t—where the good ground was and where they needed to adapt a bit more.

That adaptation led to uncharted territory that was, I’m sure, both beautiful and strange.

There have been times in my life when I have waited with eager anticipation to find out how my life would adapt to rocks and logs and that I have seen coming into my path. And there have been times when the ground I thought was solid was suddenly washed away, changing the course and the shape of my life abruptly and unexpectedly. I’ve been caught off-guard by how easily I, and others, adjust to what initially seemed to be life-altering events. And I’ve been equally surprised by how little things can force major changes.

I’ve wondered where and when those rocks will fall, that ground will erode, the logs will catch and hold and even looked ahead to see if I can see them coming. But I’ve rarely pondered the beauty they leave in their wake: the raging rapids, the slow and sinuous stream, the still ponds—serene and secretive, or the rolling falls dropping in powerful plumes, showering and spraying and misting, mystic and mysterious.

But even with that anticipation, and even trusting that those obstacles will lead to unimaginably beautiful places, the process of adaptation is uncomfortable, uncertain, undeniably distressing. Carving new ground is hard. Finding solid footing is fraught with potential failure. It can be disheartening and dizzying to feel things out, seek a new way, wade and wind and bounce against boulders.

Then again, beating the boulders, finding a way, moving and adapting and following through—that is where the beauty is made. That is where lives are changed and loves are claimed and new ground is discovered and legacies are built and shared.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I know October ended, like, almost two weeks ago, but let’s be honest: October! I’m still recovering.

Birthdays! Halloween! School stuff! But we survived. We survived!

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And having survived, I am now moving slowly, seeing the world with new eyes, experiencing life with heightened sensation.

Or trying to, anyway.

At night, I lie with each of the kids before they go to sleep.

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Little Miss wants me to sing “Let It Go.” She’s starting to sing along with me and it is, perhaps, the cutest thing ever. I know I’ve never said anything like that in regard to my children, so you’ll take that very seriously.

Squish’s request is “On My Own.” From Les Mis. I don’t know it very well, but he doesn’t care. He helps me out and we patch together a passable version.

And Manchild takes me through one of his imagination games. “Pokemon Fun” or something. The past few nights we’ve made our way across the country from North Carolina to Hawaii, employing the powers of various wild animals. We dove into the lava flow in a special ship. We created a special filter and saved all the monk seals. Tonight, we flew in a special Pokeball all the way to ancient Egypt. I was a scarab beetle. I flew on the outside.

After school, we stay and play on the playground if the weather is good. At dinner, I read to them while they finish their food. And during the day, when Little Miss and I are out for a run or running errands, we’ll stop and watch the ducks at the pond or swing on the swings.

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I’m new to this. It feels a little weird. I’m not used to sitting still or sitting back. It’s a bit disorienting to not have a list of a million things to do before the end of the day. But then again. Weird is good. Disorienting is . . . reorienting. And slow is a welcome change of pace.

Right Here Waiting

I didn’t know when I started the month of sisterhood that my own sister would be leaving New York at the end of it. (Actually, she flies out tomorrow, but close enough.)
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Abby has been a life saver and a safety valve for us for the past 4 years. It’s been a blessing to know she’s only a hour away—that she can come watch our kids, that she’ll be here for birthdays, and even there to sit by on late night flights back home to Utah.

She was there twenty minutes after Little Miss was born to take the boys off our hands for the day. And then showed up regularly thereafter, through the phases and stages where Little Miss was first indifferent toward her, then terrified of her, and finally to the stage we’re in now, where we’ll hear, out of the blue, “I love Abby, too.”

Over the past month, since she told me it would be her last month as a New Yorker, I’ve wondered how we would survive without her. Who could we call on to watch our kids for free while we stayed out late? Who would our kids jump up and down and get all excited about when they heard the buzzer buzz? Who would be our constant, our connection to our families?

And certainly she could see that of all her nieces and nephews, the ones right here in New York were the best. I mean, obviously. Why would she ever want to leave?
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But of course it’s not about me. It’s not about my family. And it would be very selfish to trot out my kids and ask her how she could possibly leave those sweet little faces, as much as I wanted to. So I kept my mouth shut and thought instead about the wonderful things that await her on the other side of the country. Palm trees. Warm weather. Beaches for days. Another sister, complete with little family who could probably also use a free babysitter on occasion.

Oh, right. And a new job. New people. New opportunities. New friends. A chance to change the scene and see what she can do.

So tonight we said goodbye. We said good luck. We cried, we hugged, and then we reminded each other that we are still family and we’ll see each other in July.

Unless you change your mind, Abby. We’ll take you back anytime.

To My Sweat Sisters

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To Allison and April, who first showed me that running for fun was a thing.

To Diana, who challenged me to try it for myself and gave me something to aim for.

To Jen and Katrina and Ana who acted like it was no big thang to keep their legs moving for hours at a time—and took it for granted that I would learn to do it too.

To Christy and Suzie and Mara and Marin, who imparted more wisdom and strength to me on a handful of 3-milers than I had learned in the decade before I met them.

To Carrie, who put a marathon on my radar when it was the last thing I thought I could do.

To Shiloh and Valerie and Valerie and Heather and Elizabeth (and the menfolk, of course) for being my Ragnar team—where I learned, for real, that I could actually run.

To Abby, who inspired me with her determination to keep finish her first marathon, even when every part of her was saying, quite distinctly, “NO.”

To Becca, who is not ashamed to commiserate with me over the messy parts of running.IMG_5825

To Kathleen and Emily and Noelle, whose quick “Hi!” as we pass each other in the park often left me smiling for miles.

To Ashley, who keeps me running, even if it is only to see how many miles I can do in a month.

To Heather and Rachel, who took me in and cheered me on in Boston.

To Madison and Sharra, who made miles and miles in 20 degree weather not only manageable, but fun—and kept my mood high and bright all of last year’s long, cruel winter.

Ladies, if I had my druthers, every meeting between friends would include a run—a time and a place to move together, think together, to share a conversation or share the scenery in silence. It’s work, but it’s play, too. It knocks down walls and narrows your focus to what is right in front of you. It tunes you into the same wavelength and gives you an opportunity share laughter and tears without the awkwardness of eye contact. It can clear the air and cleanse your soul.

Wish we could meet up for a lap at Prospect Park tomorrow. But since we can’t, I’ll just say that I’m glad we’ve had a chance to share the road.

love,

lizzie.

Sisters Tell Stories

You know that the best part of any girls’ night is the loads and loads of stories that come spilling out of everyone’s mouths. One minute you’ll be laughing so hard you can’t breathe and then suddenly you’ll be crying for real as you make an emotional 180.

As much as I love hanging out with friends, cracking jokes and musing about nothing, it’s really in the storytelling that friends become sisters.
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Last night I listened as two wonderful sisters-from-church talked about their experience with divorce — shared their stories of heartache, loneliness, redemption, fulfillment. I knew these women before, had talked with them, had a sense of their strength and depth. But hearing their stories colored in the lines.

They talked about how much hearing other women’s stories helped them through their own difficulties. We have sisters all over the place, we just don’t know it until we hear their stories, or tell them ours.

“Story of my life!” and “I love that story!” one of my sisters-in-law always says.

Stories are our lives, and I hope that we love the stories we live, whether they are happy or sad, tearful or fearful. And I hope, too, that we share them with our sisters to strengthen and support them — to help them color in the lines of their own lives, of their own stories.

Sisters in Beauty

I get a little bit annoyed sometimes at how focused we are on beauty. I mean, can’t we go a little deeper than that? Can’t we get beyond appearances to the meat of who people actually are? But then again, I am as much a sucker as anybody for someone telling me I’m pretty or that they like what I’m wearing or that my hair looks nice.

As much as I hate to admit it, it matters. It really does.

And I got to see why yesterday when I went to Dove’s Self-Esteem Weekend kick-off. I listened to teenage girls from the Girl Scouts, from Girls Inc. and from The Boys and Girls Club talk about beauty and confidence and how they can influence each other to feel good about themselves. Dove’s focus this year is on your beauty legacy — how others feel about themselves because of you.

I know that I have a lot of responsibility for my kids (and for my daughter especially), but one of the things that stood out to me was the sisterhood of the whole endeavor. “Confident people encourage others” was one of the takeaways of the event. Once you get to a place where you are happy with yourself — with who you are and what you can do — you are not threatened by others. You can bring out the best in them because you recognize the best in you.

Too often girls (and women) are so catty because they feel like if anybody is pretty or smart or talented, it means they are less pretty or smart or talented. (Guilty as charged!) And we bring each other down when we could be moving up and beyond the basics and actually getting stuff done.

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And that, I suppose, is as good a reason as any to focus on beauty. Because maybe if we master it in ourselves, we can help our sisters find it in themselves. And then maybe we can relax a little bit and see what we really have to offer.

Sister Saviors: Guest Post by Livia Taylor

Babies babies babies. So much joy! So much pain! And so much we get to discover the hard way. But having sisters around to lead, guide, walk beside—and give the baby a bottle while we regain some sanity—can bring some order to the emotional/physical/mental chaos that is the postpartum period. Amiright? My friend Livia Taylor wrote up this story of how her little sister stepped up and saved the day (or many of them) after she had her second baby a few months ago. Thanks Livia!

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Being six years apart, my younger sister and I didn’t have much in common for a long time. I moved out for college by the time she may have been considered old enough to become my friend. There were a couple of sporadic visits over the years when I was across the country in school, but we didn’t connect very deeply.

She eventually moved to the same state as me to attend school herself, and we started seeing each other on major holidays, when I hosted family and friends at my home to celebrate. When my daughter was born, my sister spent the weekend at my house and helped me pull myself back together as I dealt with postpartum. The first week I was home from the hospital, my sister called me every day to make sure I was alright.

In the four years since my daughter was born, my relationship with my sister has grown into more than just sisterhood; we’re friends. She has since served a mission and done a study abroad while finishing up school, but her influence is often felt in our home even when she’s gone.

I had my son about four months ago, and I was very nervous throughout my whole pregnancy that I’d have a difficult postpartum again. My depression flares up when I’m sleep-deprived and hormonal after childbirth, and it was scary for me to consider having another when I knew he’d be born while my sister was out of the country.

But then my sister gave me the greatest gift; she sent me an email letting me know she was rescheduling her flights back to America so she could make a pit-stop at my house before finishing her summer vacation with our parents in Maine. She ended up staying four days, and it was such a relief to me to have her help while I recovered from the chaos of hosting my son’s blessing and my daughter’s fourth birthday that weekend. I couldn’t have “caught up” on sleep (all parents know that’s not really possible, but you know what I mean!) without her.

My sister will thaw breast milk without being asked and feed my baby while I sleep. She knows how to wrap him tightly and rock him until he’s ready for bed. She can negotiate with my feisty toddler and tolerate her tantrums without skipping a beat. She insists on babysitting so my husband and I can have a date every couple of months. She helps with meals when she stays at my house and cleans up without being asked. She has made it possible for me to cope with having two kids while struggling with managing my depression. Just when I think I can’t do it any longer, my sister will take a break from her life at school and visit me, giving me the boost I need to be a better mom and wife.

I’m so grateful that my relationship with my sister has evolved to this. Our family has been through so much that could have turned us against one another, and I consider it such a blessing we have become real friends. My sister is an example to me of hard work and selflessness, and I hope I can someday return the favor if she chooses to have a family of her own (hopefully by then my baby will be sleeping as well as my toddler so I’ll have the energy to do so :) ).

Also, I feel like I owe her for all the times I’ve borrowed her clothes without asking while she was out of the country.

photo credit Mary Oveson

What To Do When Your Sister Is Kind of a Jerk

Yes, back in the day my sisters and I had plenty of sit-on-each other moments. Probably some hair-pulling. Maybe some name-calling.

I probably got what I deserved. I was super stingy with sharing whatever clothes happened to be exclusively mine (there really weren’t many) and didn’t do much to get out of their hair. Instead, I was the pesky tag-a-long sister who really doesn’t see that an age gap is much cooler for the younger kid who gets to hang out with the older ones than the other way around.

In fact, as a teenager, I wanted very little more than to distinguish myself in some way. To be different. To have my own clothes and my own room and my own identity. I didn’t want to drive my siblings around, I didn’t want to play the same instruments, I didn’t want to be part of the pack.

And then there was that one time when it seemed as though all my hopes and dreams had been rudely snatched from my hands. Life can be beastly at times, and the beast reared its head at the end of my senior year when school acceptances and scholarship notifications were making their way to many of my friends’ mailboxes. Mine, too. Only when I opened what I expected to be a happy letter turned out to be a strangely harsh one that left me questioning all my hopes and dreams.

I cried for days. And days. And days. I made it through school in a haze and went home and cried some more.

One day, there was a knock at my bedroom door. I opened it to find a plate of freshly baked cookies and a note from my sisters letting me know they loved me and wanted me to be happy.

I don’t know if that was a turning point, exactly, but it helped. (As did a letter my mom wrote which led to the discovery that my application had been misfiled and that everything was coming up roses after all . . . . )

I kind of think that experience is emblematic of what sisterhood is. Yeah, sure, you’re kind of a jerk and pretty imperfect. But sisters are willing to cut you some slack and pass you the chocolate chip cookies.

Gotta love them.

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Sisterhood in Motherhood

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I have four biological sisters. Eight sisters-in-law. A handful of friends who have honorary sister-status in my mind and heart. And dozens and dozens of others who are my sisters in motherhood.

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We have cried and fought, borrowed clothes and lent baby supplies, shared secrets and shames. We’ve looked after each other’s kids, spent hours talking on the phone, stayed up too late laughing, and then brushed it off to spend another day doing laundry, making meals, cheering for first steps, and teaching to read.

 

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These are women who have my back, whose advice and judgment I trust, who are beyond mom-shaming and cat fighting.

This month I’m celebrating sisterhood here on Mother Runner—from the big ways my sisters in motherhood have supported and inspired me to the day-to-day words and acts that sometimes get me to bedtime without breaking down.

 

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Some of these relationships have grown and matured over decades (my sister no longer sits on me and demands that I name the top 10 cutest boys in my class) while others, though younger, skipped the superficial stages of friendship and went straight to the heart sisterhood from our very first meeting.

 

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I would love to spend the next month in a weeks-long Girls Night Out with all my girls (or GNOFF—pronounced “guh-noff” as my sisters and I call it) reminiscing and recounting and eating too much chocolate, but I can’t. Everyone has too much to do. Kids and husbands and life and all.

But I’m pretty sure that sister month on Mother Runner is the next best thing. Or close enough, anyway.

 

If you have a story about sisterhood to share, let me know! lizzie@motherrunner.com

Commentary, Here and Elsewhere

I honestly didn’t know when I wrote my last post that I would be “expanding my reach” so soon. I pitched Motherlode a month ago and had been thinking it was time to move on and shop my essay around elsewhere when I found out they wanted to run it. You can read it here. Along with the commentary. Oh, yes, the commentary!

That’s something I’m learning to deal with. The questions. The insinuations. The declarations of disgust. Not just on my writing, but on my life in general. I admit that I bring it on myself because I do live my life relatively publicly—via my writing and my cycling/running/walking. I—and my family—are often out in the open. We’re not cocooned in a car with the radio turned up, deaf to whatever anyone else may be saying about us. It’s hard for me to not want to respond to everybody. I really want to get the last word, to clear up misconceptions, to give the whole story, not just the little bit I am able to share in 750-1000 words.

Mostly, I don’t read the comments on my essays. Mostly. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hear what people say. Today, as I loaded up the bike with all my purchases from Costco (yes, I rode my bike to Costco), some lady walked by mumbling something about the crazy lady with her bike. Mumbling about me. Just loud enough for me to hear her. Some other women had walked by earlier and mentioned how brave I was. I know the line between ‘brave’ and ‘crazy’ is sometimes a thin one, and it’s probably true that I am often dancing all over it. I don’t mind. I think other people are crazy and/or brave for the way they choose to live their lives, too. So I tried to shrug it off as I rode steadily and surely back home.

Which, I suppose, is the best anyone can do in the face of criticism, whether thoughtful or off-the-cuff. Sift out the bad and hold onto the good. It’s clearly something on my mind because last week when my friend Koseli asked me to contribute to her new blog, Bored Moms, the best thing I could come up with was this: that it’s worth dealing with the criticism to be part of the community—and I mean both the physical community we encounter riding around on a bike and the virtual community we encounter when I share my experiences online.

I hope that the net result of sharing, of being seen, of living my life authentically and boldly, is positive. For me and my family, of course, but for those who take the time to notice and engage and comment, too.

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