Painful Pleasures

Lance Armstrong completely changed my perspective on cycling. Not because he is an inspiration of what a human can accomplish when they set their mind to it, which is true, but because of one line of one of one of his books, “It’s not about the ride”, which my husband recommend I read. I would not otherwise have read it – professional sports and athletes are really not my thing, but I had started road-biking a couple years before, so had gained a new appreciation for the sport and for him, the name with which it is so synonymous. I both loved and hated cycling – I found it to be often times grueling. Living in San Francisco, hills were everywhere and made every ride challenging. Even understanding that the terrain was difficult, I often had the thoughts that I was doing something wrong…that I should not be so hard…that I wasn’t in good enough shape…that I hadn’t been riding long enough…you name an excuse for why something might be hard and I thought it while pedaling out of the hills of Sausalito to cross back over the Golden Gate bridge to San Francisco. And then I read the book.

I often think to myself, when reading a book or a newspaper – “oh, this is why I’m reading this today” – something will answer a question that recently came up or spark an idea for my own writing. This was the thought that I had when I read the couple lines at the end of one of the chapters that was telling about an interview that he had with a reporter after one of the stages of The Tour. The question was around what kind of pleasure he got from biking so hard and for so long. He said that he had been perplexed by the question, and then he responded, “I don’t do it for the pleasure. I do it for the pain.”

And then I understood cycling. And I didn’t berate myself anymore when I my legs were burning or I started to feel nauseous or I wanted to cry when pumping up a huge hill. A cycling friend of ours, who had road-raced during college, confirmed this again when we were talking about the quote and he reiterated, “if you don’t enjoy suffering, you have no business cycling.” I had never thought of myself as enjoying suffering before, but as a long-distance runner, I realized that part of me sort of did. Perhaps not enjoying the suffering in the moment, but enjoying the feeling of having pushed through the suffering to complete something anyway. The whole ‘that which does not kill me” thing.

I have been reiterating this experience (the transformative effect of the quote in the book) for years now to other cyclists or often, to other people starting out who say things like, “I don’t think I can cycle, this is too hard.” But only the other day, did something dawn on me…as I was speaking with a fellow-mother friend of mine at a particular low point for me. It was an end-of-day, “I don’t know what I’m doing oh my god my daughter is 3 and I don’t know if I can make it and I’m feeling bad because I don’t think I handled it very well today” kind of days. I heard myself talking and the analogy was so clear. “This is just like the cycling quote!” and I explained. “If you don’t enjoy suffering, you have no business being a parent!” I continued and it was true and funny and we had a good laugh and it was exactly what I needed.

And my perspective on parenting changed just like that. I don’t mean to sound mellow-dramatic, but it really hit me at that moment – how I resist the unpleasant moments (it’s hard not to resist a 20 minute, 130 decibel melt-down at a public pool. I could tell the lifeguard felt that he should somehow get involved – a child screaming that loud activates something within those trained to save lives.) But it pulled me out of the “why did I ever choose to become a mother?” moment because I realized I was just pumping up a big hill. That everything has its ups and downs. Parenting, I think, often has some doozies thrown in there, like the big hill you are pumping up and just as you crest, you see that it’s followed by another hill. By the third one of these, you kind of feel like throwing the bike down and stomping off the road, i.e. giving up. I actually did this once – a lifetime ago – in high school – when a girlfriend and I decided we were going to start cycling for exercise. I pulled out my what seemed like 100 pound Schwinn, which was about the same that I weighed then, dusted it off, and away we went. It was an incredibly windy day, and I don’t think I ever really knew how to change the gears on my 10-speed back then, so I had a moment – I tossed my bike to the side of the trail and walked off saying it was too much, that I couldn’t go on. My friend remained calm and in a half-sympathetic, half “oh brother” kind of way, reminded me I didn’t have a choice, and if I wanted to get back home, I better get back on the bike. Right. And such is parenting. Breaks. Good nutrition. Lots and lots of water. Bouts of suffering followed by intensely joyful periods. Pretty much the same.

(ps – if you are thinking there’s something more to my ‘suffering’ to transform and that this term might seem particularly interesting coming from a Buddhist, I think you are right and I think there’s another blog post about this in the near future. But for now, they are the same).

Mother’s Day In

Mothers – be prepared to be jealous.

Today, my husband took our kids out of the house for 7 hours! They went off and did some sort of fun involving water slides and lazy rivers, but I have little interest in that. The point is that I had hours…..HOURS to myself IN my very own home!! This SO does not happen, um, ever, in our house. My husband works from home and my kids are not back to school yet, so we get plenty of each other all day long. Yes, I can hole up in my room / office when the nanny is here and I get to be ‘alone’ (except when the kids think of something really important they have to tell me, like, some of the rocks have been moved in our front yard or they have apple stuck in their teeth), but to be free to wander at my hearts delight with no one to distract me, but my own ADD’d self…glorious. Here’s exactly what I did:

  1. I was on a bike-ride when they left, so technically, I first rode 40 miles with a fun group of ladies (Austin Flyers) – girlie time AND exercise in one!
  2. Came home to an empty, SILENT home. aaaahhhhhh
  3. Took a shower with no one sitting right outside the shower asking, ‘when are you going to be done?’
  4. Meditated for 15 minutes. aaaahhhhhhhh
  5. Napped for 5 (I remembered that I left the garage door open just as I was dozing off. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?)
  6. Made coffee and my 2nd breakfast of the day, or maybe it was my third, but I think it also counted as lunch. Coffee…..aaaahhhhhhh. Read a MAGAZINE while I ate. Simple pleasures, y’all, simple pleasures.
  7. I then tackled a project that has been on my list and growing for over a year. I kid you not – I had a year and a half worth of art projects for both kids to organize. Anyone who has pre-schoolers knows what a mountain this was. I had not kept everything, but it was enough. It took me 3 + hours, but it’s all sorted, tossed (neighbor’s recycling bin), and organized into 2 tidy binders so they can peruse and analyze a chronological progression of their toddler to pre-schooler art skills.
  8. Patted myself on the back. Sang the praises of me. Smiled smugly.

And then they came home. And I was SO HAPPY to see them all! I felt rested and great from accomplishing a HUGE task that’s been on my list forever. Now, I hate to be greedy, but I’m just eyeing my other humongous projects on my list (can anyone say, ‘baby books’?) and I’m seeing more daddy-time in my kids’ future. It’s for them. In the end…really, it is.

Close, yet so Far

In my last marathon, which was, unbelievably, 7 years ago now, in Napa Valley, I hit that infamous wall. The average temperature for that marathon was supposed to be in the 60’s. In 2004, it was in the 80’s. Living in San Francisco, I had not trained in the heat so att mile 25, I melted into a barely recognizable runner, reduced to a sniveling walker. I knew I only had 1.2 miles left and that I had already run 25, so this should seem like nothing, but that was rational thought, which I was beyond. What I felt was that every ounce of anything I ever had in me – physical energy, mental energy – all of it – was all used up. No more gas. The crowd was incredibly supportive and was what got me going again, but at the same time – what they were cheering to me was what I already knew – “you only have 1 mile to go!” they cheered enthusiastically, but with what I might have heard as a twinge of, “you big baby – why are you crying? You’ve run nearly the whole race – rejoice – you only have 1 mile left!” Yes, very rational.

I was reminded of that day this morning, as I awaited my nanny’s arrival. As mentioned, I have been on a 3-week tour-of-families with my kids – our annual trek to escape the heat, we made it one week longer this year. Traveling with my kids gets easier every year, but there is no denying that that much kid-time is very simply exhausting. We got back over the weekend, so we have been catching up with Dada and while I had some time without kids on Sunday, it’s not the same as hours of uninterrupted (sort of) nanny-time. Rationally, I knew I only had a few hours until she got here. It had been all-kid, most-of-the-time, for 3 weeks, so what was a few hours? While I knew that finish line was coming, I found any whining even more intolerable. Every “will you play with us?” made me retreat further into my tasks of cleaning and laundry. When I did agree to play, I found myself staring blankly at the wall, unable to conjure any amount of creativity or playfulness. “Why aren’t you playing?” they innocently asked. How to explain ‘the wall’ to your children?

Just as I crossed that finish line 7 years ago, I made it through to her arrival. At the end of the marathon, I cried, not out of joy for finishing, but out of pure pain and suffering (I was clearly dehydrated). Nothing so dramatic today – just a quick hello and a sprint up to my computer to work on things NOT involving dialogue between stuffed animals or other inanimate objects, explanations of why things are the way they are or arguments between 2 highly emotional beings (ok, make that 3). Work-time / nanny-time (not sure anyone would agree that getting a blog post in counts as work) is actually my Gatorade-infusion…filling up for the journey of parenthood. Chug chug chug.

Disappearing Act

JUST in case you are wondering, I have not died or even close – I am on vacation. Sometimes I think I should give notice that I’m ‘taking a break’ and then there’s that one really really optimistic voice that calls out from somewhere deep within – vacation! what an opportunity for interesting blogging! New adventures (camping for the first time with kids, already happened)! Airport mis-haps (5 hours in Atlanta airport, happened)! Personal reflection, exasperatin and growth that comes out of a week spent with your own parents, bringing your own children and all that gets wrapped up, knotted, strangled and suffocated from mixing too many people who have all of their personal c-r-a-p genetically connected (happening, but in a good way).

But, in the end, finding time for blogging while visiting family and friends with two small kids, managing the above-mentioned personal entanglements, training for a triathlon and doing a bit of work is a little on the challenging side. I don’t want to squelch my little optimisic voice, and in fact, here I am writing right now! So I’m just letting you know that if you don’t hear from me for a while, this is why. Back mid-August. If I don’t get them down here, i’ll try to save up the stories of adventure and personal reflection. Right now I have to go explain the concept of dying and ghosts to my kids who just watched Casper the Ghost on an old “classics” cartoon video. I’ll make sure my adventures turn out more interesting than this one..