Smartie Pie

A few weeks ago, my daughter (3) was sitting on the counter. She and dada were having a bonding moment and he gave her three big smooches in a row on her head. She giggled and inquired, “Dada, why are you giving me so many kisses?” He replied with, “Because you are sooooo cute!” 

Part of me cringed inside. I didn’t want to cringe – it was a beautiful moment. He was saying what he felt. She loved the attention. I didn’t say anything then, deciding I would just let it be. But it swirled around my head for a couple weeks and I knew it had to come out. I brought it up (you know how husbands love this – when you bring up some moment, like, “remember 2 weeks ago when you said xxxx?”) and explained to him that it accentuated the importance of being cute in winning her fathers love. “You could have said, ‘Because I love you.’” He, perhaps rightfully so (?), looked at me like I was a little crazy. “You don’t get it, do you?” I asked, but didn’t need to. “It’s just that I don’t want her growing up thinking that being cute is the most important thing,” I continued, “but maybe I’m just being a bit overly sensitive.” “Yes, I think you are” he stated. It is not the first time I’ve been told I’m “too sensitive”, I “think too much” or I am “too feminist.” 

I can’t help it. I am sensitive. I think a lot about the things happening around me (thus, this blog). I am a feminist. And my family can benefit from all of these things. Or be driven crazy by them. Or both. 

I dropped the topic with my husband. I call it “planting a seed.” It will not be the last time we talk about it, but truth be told, I also didn’t push it because I am really trying to figure this one out for myself: the role of beauty in my children’s self confidence. Both of my children are beautiful and they have both garnered a lot of attention from passer byers for their looks, especially Eliana, who is so petit. She is a miniature version of miniature and her fine little features, coupled with her big brown eyes are remarkable – she is “beautiful”, “cute” and “gorgeous.” I, myself get overwhelmed by her beauty, but then, I am her mother. They are both blessed to be so beautiful – being attractive provides for a lot of advantages in our world. I want them to know they are beautiful and I want them to feel beautiful and I want them to own beautiful – something I have struggled with (clearly). 

When we are 3, or even 5, knowing and believing we are beautiful is easy. It gets harder. So, in particular, I want my daughter to also own smart and funny and feisty and fill in the blank with whatever she wants to own. Max too, but society is better set up for allowing him those things. For her, I just don’t want ‘pretty’ to top her list of priorities. I, of course, tell her all of these other things, along with being beautiful, but there just seems to be something very important about that father-daughter relationship, if you want to believe anything about psychology over the last 50+ years. So I guess I just want Hubbie to say the right things. I want him to do the right things and to promote the right things. I guess I want to….um…..control things. I know, I know…I can’t. And I shouldn’t But I can absolutely educate, which is how I see my role in this. I’ll present my case to him, he can interpret and do what fits for him. After all, he married a feminist, so he kind of knew what he was getting himself into. I think. 

Then in the middle of all of this thinking about beauty and self-confidence, this film popped into my space: Miss Representation. Part of me is sad because I feel like this movie could have been made 20 years ago when I was in college, and it’s still, if not more relevant today. I do, however, think there have been some positive strides and attention for women too, just not enough. I also think that a very big part of being a parent is allowing my children appropriate doses of media for their ages and when I can’t control it anymore (because that time will come quickly), helping them understand the media and all of it’s images and personalities. To help them understand what it is and what it isn’t.  But I also think there is something to the responsibility of those producing the images in our media. I think the messages we send out in our world affect a collective consciousness which, in turn, affects how we see and treat people. And how we see or treat ourselves. 

So, I’ll go to the movie. I’ll blog some more. I’ll make a difference however I can. The biggest difference I can probably make is for the two little beings in my house, who provide even more inspiration for me to change the world we live in. Even if it’s one kitchen-counter conversation at a time.

Nice Tri

Sooooo, a few days ago, I woke up at 5:11 a.m. (it ended up that I didn’t need to get up at 4:00 a..m, whew!) to take on a 1,500 meter swim, a 40k bike ride and a 10k run. I think the experience could perhaps be summed up with the conversation my husband and I had just about an hour or so after the race, as I lay on the floor of our living room, SO happy to be sitting, my leg muscles shooting sparks of, not pain, but just flashes of feeling through my body such that I wouldn’t forget that they were slightly traumatized. I said, “you know, triathlon is weird – each one of the work-outs is really not a big deal by themselves, but you put them all together and…” hubby finished for me “ and it’s one loonnnggg workout.” Precisely. 2 hours 58 minutes and 35 seconds long. You add in that I’m push’n the pace a bit, and it’s a lot more than I would do on an average day. Here’s the play by play:

The Swim. 35:57. What I consider my weakest event, I at least felt like I was going to be able to muddle through the approximately 1 mile. After waiting around for ~45 minutes for the other waves to start, me and 60 other 40-45 year olds, put on our royal blue swim caps, goggles, and for myself, my bright orange kiddie-sized ear-plugs (I have tiny ears). The next thing I knew, we were ‘on deck’, which was quickly followed by our invitation to jump into the water. We had an AMAZINGLY pleasant morning (really, a miraculous gift that a “cold-front’ blew in the night before and it was in the ‘70’s). But the first submersion in the water had me wondering if this was, indeed, a good idea. My first few moments in water always make me think this, so I wasn’t too concerned. I was speaking with a plump-faced woman about where we could/should start from when suddenly I heard the countdown from 10. I looked at the woman with the “oh my gosh – here we go!” look and we were off. And then I sort of wasn’t. I went out, searching for my person to draft behind, as instructed by my ex-triathlete husband. But I couldn’t keep up with anyone, and then I thought I was going to vomit. I suddenly felt so ill that I was sure I was going to have to stop. Oh no! 5 minutes in and I have to stop!? My mind raced as I fell further behind the pack. I need to look for one of the guys in a canoe…wait, I don’t really want to stop, but I think I have to, oh I’m going to be sick, all the while my body felt light and airy and I had no strength. I truly thought I was done. And then I decided I didn’t want to be done. Just make it to the first buoy, and then decide. I really want to bike and run! And so it went…I found my own (slow) rhythm and didn’t worry about drafting off of anyone. One stroke at a time was my mantra. Suddenly the mile seemed like a very very long ways, but I kept convincing myself that if I just kept swimming, I WOULD, in fact, reach the end. In moments like this, simple messages really do the trick.

The Bike. 1:26:08 I was so looking forward to getting on my bike after that swim. I was pushing my bike out of the transition area, which I spent way too much time in. I wanted to wear a biking jersey for totally vain reasons – a 40-year-old 2-baby tummy, albeit a pretty fit one, when leaning over on a bike is just not that pretty. My husband advised against the time it was going to take to put on a shirt. I scoffed at this arguing it would take a number of SECONDS to put it on. As it turns out, I had not anticipated the fact that I was going to be wet when I put it on. The jersey rolled when I put it on and it was absolutely stuck at the top of my back. I strained and pulled, jumped and contorted to get that thing down. My husband’s words were revolving around my head like a stock ticker. I finally left the transition area, running my bike out to the course. And I ran and ran and ran. The distance we had to cover while running our bikes seemed excessive and I started wishing I had not put on my biking shoes yet – if you don’t know, biking shoes have clips on the bottom where the ‘pedals’ go in, so they are not flat. Let’s suffice it to say it is VERY AWKWARD to run in biking shoes. But alas, the bike ride began. Because of our miracle break in the heat-wave, I am not allowing myself to complain about this little thing that I did encounter on the bike ride (the wind), which did provide some challenge (the wind), but since I am NOT complaining about it (that damn wind!), let’s just say, by the end of the 25 miles, I was tired. There’s also something else about triathlon that is ‘interesting’. Because we start in waves, there are always stronger people who are going to pass you at some point. In our case, the men were after us, so I had a few giant swimmers plow over me in the water, which was slightly annoying, given I was dealing with my mental freak-out, but in triathlon, totally expected. THEN, on the bike, I’ve got these guys F-L-Y-I-N-G past me riding a good 5 – 8 miles per hour faster. Lots of them. Between that and the thing I’m not mentioning (the wind), it made me wonder if my odometer was incorrect and I was not going 17 miles per hour, but actually 3. I like to name people during races, those that I end up playing tag with, based on some characteristic of theirs or their clothes. These are the folks that I pass, who then pass me, who I then pass etc. etc. etc. During the bike ride, I was playing tag with Tattoos (huge beautiful tattoos on her calves), Sweet Tea, Blue-top and Pinky. It’s sometimes frustrating that the same people keep showing up to pass you AGAIN, but it’s better than having them pass you and never seeing them again, which is most of the super-power biker dudes I just mentioned, so it’s with a fond frustration that the tag continues. It was also on the bike that one of the best parts of the race showed up– my husband and two small children appeared holding a huge “go mama go” sign. My husband cheered while my 3 year old stared into the road, having no idea who or what she was supposed to be seeing (in her defense, I have trouble picking out my own husband when he’s on the bike – everyone looks the same. The numbers we wear might be for the race officials and photographers to know who we are, but they are equally so our family can pick us out and cheer for the correct person.), and my 5-year-old, who had already told me he didn’t want to go watch my race (sigh, we try to instill good sportsmanship, but anything interrupting lego-building on a weekend is a mere distraction from what is truly important ) so he watched me go by with as much enthusiasm as the rocks he was sitting next to. In addition, one of my best friends and her family were there. She let out such a whopping ‘whoop’ that I was first energized by, then verclempt over. I had to focus on the road to keep myself from crying. I have the best family and friends ever. Sorry, I do.

go mama go

The Run. 49:03 As I got off of my bike, an excruciating pain shot up from the utmost top part of my inner-thigh. Panic. I’m sure it’s just from the bike, it will work itself out… I ran, again, awkwardly, through the sand in my biking shoes, towards my transition area. I was awkward because of the shoes, but also now because of this muscle…pull? Strain? Cramp? What was happening? No! Not the run! This is MY event! I’m a runner! I can’t be injured for this!! Ack! Deep breath. I whipped off my biking top (too hot), which really did only take a few seconds this time and sat down to put on my running shoes and massage my inner thigh – very ladylike of me, I know. I was supposed to put on a visor, pick up a small water bottle, a goo and small case of sugar and salt tabs, in case I needed them. I was so distracted by my muscle problem, however, that I put on my shoes and hobbled off. I continued to massage my upper thigh, which now looked like I was grabbing my crotch as I literally hobble-ran out of the transition area. I was running a whopping pace of 101/2 minute miles. “My” event didn’t look like it was going to go very well. AND I needed to, in every-day terms, “use the restroom”, in running terms, “pee”. I had planned at stopping at the porta-potties next to the transition area, but as I hobble-ran PAST them I realized that they were partitioned off from the course. Now I had a bum leg and a full bladder. ‘One foot in front of the other’. A few minutes later, my muscle was hurting less and I was able to increase my pace, little by little, until I was actually AT my goal pace. Woo hoo! And at the first mile water-break stop, there was my lovely, vacant porta-potty. I hated to waste the time in there, but it just had to be done. My 40-year old 2-baby bladder just wasn’t going to hold that much liquid for the duration of a 45+ minute run.  This is why we compete within age-groups – because 24 year old bladders vs. 40 year old bladders is just not fair. “Fifty” kept me going – he was the guy I played tag with on this race – the person who body marked him made a very large and exuberant 50 on the back of his calves. The rest of the run was pretty great – I ran my goal pace (not my ‘I would love to run this pace’, but my ‘I’ll be happy if I run this pace, pace). The support from my friends and my own family, again, really kept me going.

I finished, with the immediate thought that I wasn’t sure if I was going to do another one of those for a while…that it was, very simply, hard. There’s a reason not everyone just wakes up any morning and decides to work out doing 3 sports for 3 hours. Later that night, when I was feeling back to my normal self, my husband found the results on-line. I came in 18th out of 54 women. Not bad. Then I noticed that the woman’s time who came in 10th (in our age group) was 2 hours and 55 minutes and 24 seconds. Remember in my last post, when I said something about not having a competitive bone in my body? Only 3 minutes and 12 seconds faster and I could have been Top 10!!?? That about translates to a non-freaked-out swim and/or a faster transition (no bike top). So, as it turns out I DO have a competitive bone in my body. I am now thinking I may just have to do another triathlon – Top 10 or bust!! But don’t worry, I’ll still hand out energy along the way.

Blood, Sweat and Triathlon

Soooo, tomorrow morning I am getting up at something like 4:00 a.m. to go swim 1,500 meters, bike 40k (25 miles) and then run a 10k (6 miles). All in a (Labor) day’s fun. It’s funny – I spend a great deal of time working out – especially as I prepare for events such as this, and while I am out swimming, biking or running, I almost always formulate that day’s blog post. I have created great tales and life analogies, been inspired and have even made myself laugh, which must leave people wondering about me. I often think I should create ‘Fitness’ as it’s own archive category because staying in shape has been a pretty big part of my life since college. I think this may be one of the things people even sort of associate with me – if they were asked to describe me in 3 adjectives, “fit” may very well be one of them. YET, I don’t really write about it. I have a couple theories on this.

The first is plain logistics. Especially since motherhood, I often find myself sneaking in work-outs where I can. Yes, I am one of those crazy people you see out running in 100 degree heat at 1:00 in the afternoon. I try not to use too much nanny time for working out, but occasionally, when my husband travels, that’s the only time I have for it, and if I have meetings or other commitments earlier, I end up doing my work-outs at less than ideal times. I also feel like I am always squeezed for time and I need to shower and get on to the next thing in at least 5 minutes less time than it usually takes me to get ready. So, my formulated blog posts go straight down that shower drain, along with my sweat and tears (usually not blood, and actually tears are rare too, but I liked how this sounded and I really got attached to this as the title).

The second is that I often write about things I struggle with, e.g. parenthood, parenthood and parenthood. I do write about other things, but mostly I struggle with being a good mom. My blog tends to be my therapist on the screen – I work through things through my writing. Staying fit and healthy is important to me and working out really is a sanity tool for me – but I don’t struggle with it. I am not a competitive person, so there isn’t a lot of ‘thrill of victory’ or ‘agony of defeat’. It’s like going to the grocery store or dropping my kids off at school. It’s just a part of my routine. My husband’s sports abilities provide much more interesting material, as he is the real athlete in the house – his chosen sport at the moment is road cycle racing and he actually wins things. I am often amused by his type-A competitive behavior, which differs so greatly from mine – I would let someone pass me just to make them feel better about themselves, if I knew that is what they needed. Case in point: when Mark was training for IronMan triathlons a handful of years back, he went to listen to a pre-race talk by one of the coaches. I tagged along because there isn’t usually a whole lot to do at Ironman events other than Ironman-related activities. The coach was a very competitive guy and he told the group a quip – that when he raced, as he passed other people, he would visualize “sucking their energy” as he passed them, because he figured they didn’t need it anyway. I was appalled. The Buddhist in me vowed to right the world and from that moment on, whenever I pass people – in a race or just out for a daily run, I visualize giving them energy because I can see that they need it more than I do!

So here I am, writing about sports while I explain why I don’t write about sports. Every day needs a little irony. This, as I sit next to a bottle of “Liquid Endurance – Heat Tolerance” – a chemical mixture I am taking 3 times today to help me in my race (all pre-race activities and diet are dictated by the athletic A-type hubby). I thought it funny that on the same label, it says, “Please keep this container in a cool dry place. Do not expose to excessive heat, moisture or sunlight.” Perhaps that is how it would work best – if I kept myself in a cool dry place and didn’t expose myself to excessive heat or sunlight either. Naaaahhhhh – where’s the fun in that? I’ve got some energy to give away.

Healthy Reminder

Wow. Really feeling gratitude for good health today. I have been training since November for the Austin Half Marathon (was February 20th), and at one point I remember on one particular run, totally in a groove, thinking about and feeling so much gratitude for a strong, healthy body. But somehow, it seems one can not really-really appreciate a strong healthy body until the strong and healthy body is not so strong and healthy for a while.

I am coming off of a 2-3 week virus that has taken me through all kinds of journeys through fevers and night-sweats to rheumatoid arthritis and the other typical lovelies like vomiting and other unspeakables. I am finally, finally feeling like I am going to be back to my ‘ole self again in the very near future. Not 100% yet, but getting closer every day.

While there is lots of emotional ‘stuff’ to process around being sick too, including missing my half marathon (!), I have just been contemplating this physical side of things and how we seem to need the relative opposite of things to truly appreciate what we have. I think I appreciate my lifestyle and my life in general, but any huge change or certainly any tragedy would make this appreciation so much more acute. I love and appreciate my children and husband, but if I lost any of them, I am sure I would feel I didn’t appreciate them enough.

I don’t know if there is a solution to this, or if one is even needed. I don’t hope for huge unwanted change (and also I know I can’t avoid!), tragedy of any kind, or losing anyone in my life just so I can “fully” appreciate what I have. I can only go on loving and appreciating all that I have to the best of my ability right now. I am grateful for the reminder on good health, so I’ll use that to amp up my appreciation of that AND everything else in my life. I’ll call it my “healthy reminder”. More appreciation, coming your way.

The East and the West

Getting ready to go out for my wedding anniversary tonight, I was not feeling well. I think I am fighting something off or have allergies or am feeling the lack of sleep from being up most of the night with a sick child or…take your pick.

I thought my remedy was funny and telling of my feeling on Western and Alternative forms of medicine (I believe strongly in both). I boiled myself some peppermint tea to settle my stomach and washed down two ibuprofens with it.

I am feeling much better. :)

A Little Off

I usually feel pretty in touch with my body and my emotions. Earlier this year, when I was just ‘not well’, both physically and emotionally, I self-assessed and sought professional help on both fronts. But lately, while I had not been feeling stressed, per se, my behavior is indicating that I most certainly am. Logically I can’t point to anything going on right now that would be affecting me so. I am having some nanny woes, so this could be affecting more than I want to admit, but there is definitely something. How do I know? A few tell-tale signs….

One of my first indicators of stress is my language, a.k.a “potty mouth”. I don’t actually feel that I have much of a potty mouth these days, at least compared to my working (perhaps again related to stress) and pre-children days. I actually use terms like, “fudge”, “dang it” and “son-of-a-gun”, for the benefit of my kids, both of them at language absorbing ages. One of my other favorites is to use “Scheisse”, the German equivalent of shit. Although Max understands German, there is this false sense, when swearing in another language, that it’s not really swearing. This week, however, one of the indications that I am a more than a little stressed was when I accidentally said “shit” in the car when I turned down the wrong road. Max piped up from the back seat, “What did you say?” Instead of trying to cover, like I usually do, with a, “nothing”, a, “I said SIT, honey”, or something of the like, I actually just repeated it for him. “I said shit Max.” “Oh”, was all he had to say. I am sure my next blog posting will be how he shouted this at the top of his lungs when he dropped something at the grocery store. But at the time, I was irritated enough that repeating my profanity to my 3 year old seemed appropriate.

My second indicator is that my taste in music shifts. My husband and I have very different tastes in music. I like “happy music”, as he deems it. I love up-beat, funky/groovy tunes that make it impossible for me to keep my body still. Mark likes, what used to be called heavy-metal, now referred to as ‘alternative’ music that, generally, makes me want to sit in a dark room and stab pencils into my thighs. Well, this past week, I got into the car and the radio came on, set to one of Mark’s radio stations. I didn’t change it. This music suddenly spoke to me in a way that it normally does not. It actually soothed some restless, stressed beast inside of me. I am not sure what this says about my husband’s personality on a daily basis, but I think it’s best I don’t contemplate that. Another day, I got in the car and Sarah Carpenter was on the radio. It actually made me angry and for a moment, I hated Sarah Carpenter. While I am not really a Sarah Carpenter fan, my anger towards her made me realize that something is not right in this head-o-mine.

There have been some other indicators also – not sleeping as well, for one, and probably related, a couple moments where I actually screamed, like my throat hurt afterwards screamed, at Max. One day he had his little sister’s arm cocked in his two hands like he was going to snap her arm in half – he’s in a “stage” and he was doing what he knew would get my attention the most. His 15 month old sister, by the way, is one tiny creature. Having always been in ~ the 10th percentile in weight, her arms appear as if they could snap in half if you even look them too hard. There is a ‘protector-mommy’ beast that lurks in my intestine and this gesture beckoned her out. I screamed at him to let her go. Then he was hauled off to his bed, where he ‘takes a break’ when I need a break from him! We worked through it all, with hopefully as little mental scarring as possible, as we mommies and munchkins do. But yet again, I was left with the realization that mommy needs to take some of her own advice, and ‘chill’ (something I tell Max to do when he’s in my face about something like opening a new toy, which he of course wants done immediately, while packaging of kids’ toys generally takes a couple hours of reverse engineering to undo). A non-stressed mommy would have realized that he was not, in fact, going to snap her arm in half and that he just needed some attention – which he was clearly begging for.

While I could get caught up in the analysis of my life and all the areas where this stress could be coming from, I recognize that this really doesn’t serve me in the short term. It’s interesting, and oh how I do love to analyze, but I could use this time more wisely. A little more me-time would serve my children right now. My inner doctor calls for more meditation, which for some reason is the first thing to fall out of my schedule when my schedule goes hay-wire. And more rest. Ahhhh, just saying more rest makes me feel better. Well timed, I am actually going on my first kid-free trip in 1 ½ years this week. While I can’t help but worry a bit about leaving them, I know that my children will appreciate a well-rested mama that can laugh more, scream less and perhaps even tolerate Sarah Carpenter once again.

Snake in the Waters

There is an analogy in Buddhist teachings (Buddhist teachings are almost all analogies, by the way) that Sogyal Rinpoche, the Tibetan Llama I followed for many years, often spoke about and that is ‘not confusing a rope for a snake’. Its meaning is to teach about discernment and to not allow every little thing to derail us from life or from our practice. An analogy better suited, of course, for a time in history when people, and specifically, monks, were walking everywhere they went, but an effective teaching nonetheless, as a fear of snakes is something everyone can relate to. The analogy actually works the other way too – don’t mistake a snake for a rope! This teaching ran through my head this past weekend when I was in this very dilemma – figuring out if I was being faced with a snake or a rope. Or a snake in ropes clothing….oh wait, that’s a different story.

As a treat for myself, I signed up for the Trek Women’s Triathlon this year in Austin. It’s a short race (750 m swimming (approx ½ mile), 12 mile bike, and 3.1 miles running), and all women, so it seemed the perfect event to sign up for as a goal, almost 1 year after Eliana’s birth. As part of my “training”, which is in quotes because I have not done much, I went to a small man-made lake, called Quarry Lake, here in Austin, to do an open water swim. It was created for, or is at least used exclusively by, a gym here. If you swim around it’s perimeter it is only ½ mile, if that gives you an idea of how small it is, and it is man-made. My point is that it’s probably the safest open-water swim a person can do. I stress this because I only learned to swim laps, properly, in the last 4 years or so (for triathlon), so I have always been more comfortable swimming in a pool where I can see directly to the bottom at all times, where I am in a lane and where I have edges every 25 meters to grab onto if I needed to stop for any reason at all, like, to adjust my goggles, stretch a muscle, or any other excuse I can come up with in order to take a break. I know my fear of open water is irrational because there are very few things that could actually harm me in most lakes, and even if there are things, they tend to stay away from thrashing humans. But I have had many a mental moment about these open-water swims.

During my first triathlon (also a sprint distance), my swim portion did not go so well. I was not as strong of a swimmer then, and with the anxiety of the race, etc. I clearly went out too fast. I had to tread water about ¼ the way into it and regain composure because I was absolutely certain I was going to drown. By the time I finished the swim, I was so exhausted (I was not the last out of the water, but pretty darn close), I could not even run to my bicycle, which is pretty standard in a triathlon to jog to transition. Mark was spectating and I remember him yelling to me, in as supportive of a way as he could, “run, honey, run”, in a tone that suggested that maybe I was not aware that I was supposed to jog, and not stumble, to the transition area. The swim went very well for me, however, in my 2nd triathlon (Olympic distance of 1 mile swim), so I am over that mental hurdle of thinking I might actually drown. However, just to be sure, I figured I better do at least one open water swim before my race this weekend, and so the Quarry Lake was it.

I confidently strode down to the lake, with my racer-looking bathing suit, swim cap and goggles – all items that make me feel like a legitimate swimmer. I am rather cat-like when it comes to water, even in a nice clean pool, so there is always a long mental talk that I have to have with myself while sitting on the edge of any body of water, coercing my body to submerge. I finally did so, and started my swim. I had planned to do two laps of this 750m perimeter course, knowing that the actual course is only one lap, so if I could do two, I would have the utmost of confidence in myself for the event. The first half of the first lap was awkward. All of my mental anguish about not seeing the bottom surfaced, and without my lanes/ropes and edges, I started to feel out of breath after less than 100 meters. I switched to the breast stroke to catch my breath and do some mental pep-talking. After I was sufficiently convinced that I am now a much stronger swimmer, that there were platforms every few hundred meters anyway, AND that there was nothing in that lake that was going to eat me, I started again. By the last few hundred meters, I had found my rhythm and I was LOVING the open water swim. I made my first lap and then decided that I would, in fact, go another round. I started in, catching the same groove. I was approximately 200 yards into my second lap when I was thinking to myself this exact thought – “I am loving this! I don’t even know WHAT it is about an open water swim that I was so freaked out about!”

As if the universe heard me ask the question, it answered back through a burly Hispanic looking man. He was calling loudly from the water’s edge (there is a running trail that goes around the lake) – “Maam! Maam!” With a customized ear plug in one ear, rendering me ½ deaf, being ½ submerged in water, AND being in my own endorphin filled zone, how I heard this man calling me “Maam”, I have no idea. But I did, so I stopped to hear what he had to say. “There is a snake in the water” is exactly what he had to say. I heard him clearly, but as I didn’t see a snake anywhere near, I wanted to buy myself time while I decided what I wanted to do.

“A what?” I yelled.

“A SNAKE! A Water snake! I almost stepped on him on the trail and he slithered down to the water right over there”, and he pointed to an opening in the bushes.

Strangely, my mind was going wild with the ‘proper’ reaction. Surely we all know that there are snakes in the water, or at least at the water’s edge. I had gone over this in my head dozens of time before even starting this swim. But now I was really faced with the reality – one had been spotted. I also wondered what this man expected from me. Did he expect me to scream and come running out immediately? Did he want me to turn directly around and swim in the opposite direction?

“Where, exactly?” was my yelled response to buy me more time, and because I did really want to know.

He explained where he entered. We both knew, however, that this was of little relevance, given that a water snake is pretty adept in the water, so he could be anywhere by now. This again raised the question to me as to WHY this man felt compelled to tell me. If I had seen a snake, would I alert the swimmers? I am still not sure. I knew this guy’s heart was SO in the right place, but as I swam away, after reporting that I would “avoid that area,” which really was my plan, I found myself a little angry at the messenger. My thoughts were going crazy…now I KNOW there is a snake in here with me…why did he have to tell me…of course we all know there are “probably” snakes in here. Aha – probably. Prior to this moment, I was comfortable with the fact that there were probably snakes in the lake. Now I really knew. And if I got bit by the snake after being warned, it would not only really hurt, but I was going to look like a total idiot on top of it. Interesting, I thought, that I was worried about his and other people’s reactions. But don’t we all dread, at least a little, the dying with egg on our face scenario? I didn’t want to end up in the annual Darwin awards e-mail, detailing out famed idiots demises. So, I did cut my lap slightly short and “avoided the area” where the snake had entered. Instead of just sighting in terms of going in the right direction, I was then surveying the surface of the water every time I turned my head for a breath, to ensure I wasn’t headed into any snake traps. All the while, I was wondering some of the things that, perhaps, you are wondering at this point – is there such thing as a ubiquitous “water snake”, and if so, is it poisonous, and if so, could this man really be able to identify it, and if so, is THAT why he felt compelled to stop me and let me know?

I found out later that afternoon, with a tiny bit of research, that cottonmouth snakes are the only poisonous ‘water snake’ variety, and while it’s possible that it was such a snake in this area, it is almost impossible that I would be bitten by one in the water. They, like all of their other lake dwelling friends, avoid thrashing humans at all lengths. And so you know for your own, “there’s a snake in the water” experiences, snakes don’t attack very well in the water b/c they don’t have much leverage. These were the things I had supposed and used to comfort myself through the end of the swim.

Though my snake or rope dilemma was slightly different from the scenario in the teaching, I thought it a great teaching, nonetheless. Indeed there was a real snake, but the danger was probably equivalent to that of the rope. The fear itself was the rope on the side of the road, and it was my choice to react to it as if it were a snake or a rope. Fears, themselves, are always ropes – they pose no real threat. And I felt a lesson had been learned. I thank the man because 1) his heart was absolutely in the right place to warn me of potential disaster, and 2) I not only got in a good 1 mile swim that day, but a great mental exercise as well. It turned out that I had a fear that I thought that I had conquered. I then conquered the fear that I thought I had conquered that it turned out I still had. And then peter piper picked a peck of peppers, and we both headed home, not spotting a thing along the side of the road.

The Big Three

Because I am breastfeeding a growing 9 month old who isn’t very interested in other foods, I have been feeling really run down, physically. I hate to complain because one of my first signals that something was off was that I have lost too much weight. Before anyone hates me, please let me just say that I do recognize how ridiculously lucky this is. And in fact, between the fact that I weigh the same as I did in High School (though I think this is not necessarily healthy) and I now have big (big is relative – for me, B cup is big) nursing boobs, I probably look better right now than I will again. Ok, now go ahead and hate me. But there is something not right about me weighing the same as I did in High School, and between that and the fact that I have not had a full nights sleep in over 9 months, I am very, very physically drained. So I recently started going to this Nurse Practitioner, who is ½ western medicine trained and ½ into the ‘alternative’ medicine. This suits me, as I am always looking for ‘the middle way’ (a Buddhist reference, for those of you who wouldn’t otherwise catch it). The appointments have been helpful in determining that I am, in fact, deficient in several vitamins and minerals, but this has led me down a path of a full-time supplement regime. I literally have 2 things I am supposed to take twice a day, 3 things I am supposed to take three times a day, and 3 more things that I only have to take once a day. 4 of these things I am supposed to take while standing on one leg, 2 of them while standing on my head and 2 more while I am on the toilet, simultaneously shitting out the prior six. Ok, slight exaggeration, but this how it feels. I am willing to try this for a short period as I am desperate to feel better. The other things that she ‘suggested’, I have been in denial about up until now. You can probably guess what they are, but she has suggested that I cut out the 3 pillars that get me through my daily life: coffee, sugar and alcohol. While there are 4 recognized food groups, these are my 3 recognized supports. Though they are maybe not really beautiful supports, like the columns in Rome, but more like the crooked, knarled tree branches that one sees holding up one of those make-shift tents on the desert. These things prop me up when I need it – coffee to wake me up, sugar to cheer me up and alcohol to ease me down. So, to remove these ‘props’, is more than a little scary, but I recently decided to give it a try – because I really, really, really want to feel better. Feeling desperate may be a call for desperate measures.

Coffee (must be said in a cookie monster voice the way he talks about his cooookiiiieeeeessssss). Like any addict, and I am one, I fully admit, I am putting myself on a mental program around this. I first out flatly rejected the notion of having to give it up. I didn’t think it was necessary and more frankly, did not want to. My 3-year old uses this argument all of the time: “Why didn’t you put your toys away Max?” – “Because I didn’t want to” – it’s a good answer – straight forward and honest. But often I reply with, “Well, sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to, Max”. Yeah, yeah, I know. Since the supplements alone are not working, and to be fair and give this health-plan a fair shake, I am giving up coffee. I decided 2 days ago. I can still have caffeine in the form of tea, just not coffee, so this most certainly has made it easier. I like tea, I just don’t love tea like I love coffee – it doesn’t inspire me like coffee does. On my first day I actually made myself a cup of coffee and let it sit on the counter while I drank my cup of tea. The cup sat there, as a mental back-up. If any point I felt I could not handle it, I knew I could, at least, take a sip of that coffee. That was comfort enough, and I never did take a sip. On the second day, I didn’t make the back-up cup of coffee. Today, I am at a coffee shop. I started to convulse at the cash register to keep myself from ordering a cup of coffee and instead ordered a chai latte (yes, full of sugar). But in between convulsions, before I even knew what was happening, I ordered a huge cinnamon roll – the ones they place right next to the register so that the proximity alone produces a sugar trance. I effectively replaced one pillar with the other. But it’s a start, right?

Sugar (go ahead and use the cookie monster voice again). I have always had a sweet tooth. It’s so much a part of me that I honestly think that people who say they don’t like sweets are lying not only to me, but to themselves, and that this inner conflict will surface in some sort of heinous act involving, possibly, an axe. I have given up sugar in the past – cold turkey – and I know that if I get over a hump, I don’t crave it so much, but honestly, life is better with chocolate. And since my metabolism has been turbo-boosted due to nursing, I feel it’s a gift from the universe that I can eat chocolate, ice cream, cakes, and all sugary goodness in any quantity I desire without gaining a pound. I know, I know, sugar makes our system crash and blah blah blah, but I am Linus and my love of chocolate is my long blue blanket, being dragged with me everywhere I go. I have also vowed, in a rather uninspiring way, to “reduce” my sugar consumption this week to see if it makes a difference. That means that due to the cinnamon role I just inhaled in one very gratifying and satisfying minute, I can not have any more desserts today. Not any “real” desserts that is – I can still have my organic, all natural, ginger snaps because they are healthy and aid in my digestion. It says so right on the box. Before you worry too much about my children – we are a ‘minimum sugar’ household with our kids. My family felt sorry for Max because his first taste of ice cream was not until he was 18 months old. He only discovered candy, really, since last Halloween, when he was 2 ½. But I myself have to laugh at the parental advice not to say things like, “eat your broccoli and then you can have dessert” because it “teaches kids that dessert is better than broccoli”. If anyone has a child that needs to be taught this, then please show yourself and sign your kid up with the circus to travel with the bearded lady and 2 headed snake. I LOVE vegetables and broccoli is my absolute favorite – but I dessert is just better. My “poor Max” is being taught that dessert is a treat that we get after our bodies are well nourished. I know – I’m a real parental rebel.

Alcohol (no need for cookie monster voice, but do use your most refined British accent, to give this one it’s refined stature it has in my mind). I lived in the UK and hung out with tons of Europeans and then I moved to France for a year. I had a French boyfriend for 3 ½ years. I lived in San Francisco (close to wine country) for another 4 years. If these things don’t give me some license to pour freely, then what does? I am not talking about getting bombed, or even buzzed, every night. I am talking about a glass of wine with dinner. But let me assure you, stating that you have 7 – 10 drinks a week at the doctor’s office raises an eye brow (well, there is a glass of wine with dinner plus the couple of cocktails on girlie night, plus that one night where a second glass of wine was really necessary). This is actually the easiest one for me to give up, but like chocolate, I just feel life is better with wine. All of my European friends, and most of my American ones, agree, so there. And the Mediterranean Diet – hello, anyone? But, again, I am ‘cutting back’ for a couple of weeks to see how it goes. I really, really want to feel better.

Because I have been struggling with parenthood recently, I find myself living for these daily ‘rewards’. My other rewards are a workout, a 20-minute meditation session and a nice seared halibut with steamed veggies and rice (outside of my sugar addiction, I eat pretty healthy), so I still fall into a reasonable world of balance. I need water and air. I love chocolate cake and espresso. I also love big salads and a 5 mile run. Most of all, and I am working on this with my therapist, I love me. Since I am getting some help to cope, mentally, I can concede that my current state of diet-like things isn’t really working, and I am willing to start chipping away at a few of my pillars. Stay tuned for this could be the fall of Rome.