Three miles times three

Listen. I, like you - like everybody probably - finds it really annoying when people talk about running all the time. So, I apologize. But at least I am not telling you my dreams! Which is, let's all agree, the worst. I mean, would you agree, certain unnamed individual who I share a bed with, who has easy access to me first thing in the morning when I haven't even had any coffee yet for the love of all that is holy?

As I've mentioned a few times recently, I let myself slide in the running and nutrition department after the marathon in November, which was ok with me. I needed and took a break from the intensity of that schedule. And it stayed ok with me for awhile, until recently, when I remembered I'd signed up to run a half-marathon at the end of next month, and I hadn't exactly been training very well, or, you know, at all

I had run. Three miles here and there with the intention of getting back on a schedule as the date approached. But I was mostly acting cocky. I figured that all that running from several months ago was still with me. Plus all that mental stamina I'd developed would see me through. And yes, I think that's probably true to an extent. But I also think you probably shouldn't take a six-month break from regular exercise and then run 13 miles. In front of people who can see you and witness your physical state. And photograph it. 

That's why this weekend I took a look at the schedule (one of the training programs on Hal Higdon's site, which I've used every time I've run a race) and realized that I was supposed to be up to nine miles by this point. Nine. Not three, only when it's nice outside and I feel like it.

So, trusting that all that prior training would be enough to sustain me, I buckled the old running belt, loaded a podcast and set out to run 4.5 miles away from my house, hoping I'd make it back home. 

Here's the part where I go on a little tangent: the past few months have been difficult, and when I say that, I want to stress that I belive I am one of the luckiest souls on this planet, and the difficulty we've encountered recently has only strengthened this assertion. That being said, life has been more challenging lately. This year J and I are less able than we have been in the past to rally and remain upbeat about his ongoing job search. We are more concerned with trappings of domestic life that we used to treat more breezily: getting the kids into the right, or at the very least, the same school and the fact that we've outgrown our adorable little house. My father has had some serious health issues, which has been scary and stressful (but incredibly heartening, too, witnessing the outpouring of support and optimism from friends and family). 

Anyway, I went for that run. And while I was running, I thought about this great thing that my friend Carole said, which I've thought about a lot. She once said that she started long distance running because it provided definitive results in a world of uncertainty (she, like J, is a scientist, and was talking about how unpredictable life in the lab can be, as you plot experiments and hope for the best). Carole said that she liked it that you could steadily train for a race and your body would respond the way it was supposed to. You just followed the directions, and it would work.

Because I did all that marathon training back in the fall, my body was still in enough shape that I could do that nine-mile run this weekend. In fact, I felt really good. And to be able to break out this definitive physical skill that I've developed during what's been a rather uncertain time felt really good, too. I'm planning on sticking to the schedule from here on out, even if it means breaking away from the political headlines I'm glued to every single morning so I can get out and pound the pavement. Thank god for the 24-hour cable news cycle, am I right? 

1, 2, 3: we are not losing our shit anymore

One of the the things I've mentioned on this blog and in other writing and, if I know you, a lot in conversation, is that Gabriel can be kind diffcult to deal with. It started shortly after Aidy was born, which made a lot of sense, and then continued with no end in sight, which made less sense to us. 

He's challenging in that he meets every decision, change of schedule and suggestion with at least mild displeasure, and sometimes all-out war. For example, this morning I suggested he wear shorts and a t-shirt because it was going to be so hot. Picking the shorts was no problem. He chose the black, soft ones obviously. But picking the shirt proved to be a problem. I think because he hadn't worn many of his short-sleeved shirts since last year, and some of them were totally new so he hadn't worn them at all. So the thought of getting back into a comfortable relationship with one of these shirts at that hour of the morning was simply too much. He cried and yelled and wandered around the house with his pajama top on, and I followed him around with a death grip on my coffee mug until we came to a decision. 

One of the delights J and I have had the chance to experience this year is watching Gabe go to kindergarten, and excel in every single way possible. He can read, he does math problems for fun and he wins his school behavior award every month. I know parents are always saying how their kids are angels at school and poorly behaved at home, but I want to be clear our situation is different. That the disparity between the school-Gabriel and the home-Gabriel is out of control ridiculous. Behavior award every month vs. I wouldn't let him eat that Hershey's mini chocolate bar he found the other day with his breakfast, and so screamed and basically tried to pick up our furniture and throw it. 

Still, this year has been nice, because it's clear that he's a normal, great kid, who - yes - can be challenging when he's middle child-ing it at home, but is absolutely crushing kindergarten. Everybody likes it when their child is doing well at school and we're really proud of him, even when we are flabbergasted. At the most recent report card conferences, Gabe's teacher told us how much the other kids enjoy playing with him, because he is, "so kind," and I immediately texted my mom and mother-in-law to tell them because it was so hilarious. 

Gabe was clearly ready for kindergarten, and happy to have his own group of friends; I think the whole experience has been really helpful for him. But the other thing that's completely changed the way we react to his behavior (from running in terror and/or crying and/or screaming and/or Googling "middle child syndrome real?" to handling his tantrums more gracefully) is the book 1-2-3 Magic, which, by the way, I have in no way been asked to push here, it just honestly helped us, and that's why I'm bringing it up.

I'd heard of the book before, but we didn't get it until we went to a therapist who recommended we try it and a few techniques. That's right. We went to a therapist because we couldn't handle our son. I'm here to tell you, parents, that this is a thing you can do. You can call up a professional who will tell you how to be a better mom or dad. We only went to see our therapist twice - it was all we needed - and I'm so glad we did. 

The technique outlined in the book is beyond simple. When there's bad behavior, your child gets warnings: first one, then two and then if they don't stop by three, they get a time out or a privlege or toy taken away. This worked really well for us, but also for Gabe, because there was a clear set of expectations that had really been lacking before. When he was bad, maybe we'd punish him or maybe we'd lay our heads in our hands and open a bottle of wine, ANYBODY'S GUESS. 

Now we have a plan, and - most of the time, but obviously not all, who do you think we are? - we adhere to that plan, calmly counting the kids' bad behavior (you won't be surprised to hear that Gabe is the main recipient of this method, but we use it across the board to be fair) instead of blowing up out of sheer frustration. 

It's much better, and worth it, even though Aidy (aka Regina George) has taken up using the method on us in her more fiesty moments. Like yesterday, when the poor girl was woken from a deep car nap upon arriving home, and told me that I was "bad and a stinky mommy, and you're gonna go in a time out, you ARE, and YOU'RE GONNA CRY!"


The other day, feeling slightly overwhelmed by my schedule and all the things I'd like to be doing (difficult to acheive in the face of catching up on "This is Us" and/or falling asleep at 8:30 p.m. due to some of the children in this house and their refusal to sleep in past 6 in the morning) I decided I'd write out a few to-do items, including a revamp of this website, which is thankfully very easy because Squarespace basically does it for you. 

As you can see, I've changed the look of the site. I'm still working on the details but so far like the simplicity, a kind of hilarious point to make considering there is no way I could create anything complicated. 

I also fixed the closet situation, hanging and folding my clothes so that every morning doesn't begin with an existential crisis and, more practically, a depressing inability to find my jeans. 

These are the things that rank as less-than-important on my radar, but often provide an inspiring burst of energy in other aspects of my life. I'm hoping I can tackle a few more of these projects in the coming days while inevitably housebound due to the snowstorm threatening the entire east coast, committing myself to small bursts of productivity in between bouts of reading good books, and explaining to people that if they run down the stairs one more time, something will happen and I don't know what it is yet, but they are not going to like it at all. 

Date with IKEA

Yesterday afternoon, having about an hour to fill with my two youngest children and deciding that to bring them home, remove them from the car and then put them back in again would potentially ruin the afternoon, and perhaps my whole life, I asked a question I haven't in quite a long time: "Hey. Who wants to go to IKEA?"

I remember when I first learned you could take your young children places like this, keeping them occupied, running errands and helping parents not to lose their sanity all at once. The first time I took baby Nora to Target one cold, weekday morning, my soul suffered a small death, but was lifted, too. Yes, I disliked being a new mom at Target in the middle of the day, why the hell wasn't I in an office instead? But I also found some sweet camaraderie in those well-lit aisles. And I bought some new hand soap.

Our days are different now; we're busier with work, the kids are busier with school and there's less free time that needs to be filled (plus, when it appears on the schedule, I almost always go grocery shopping, and Aidy almost always, somehow, inconceivably, convinces me to let her eat like three granola bars while we are in the store. THREE! JESUS!)

Yesterday, however, with Nora occupied at her after-school program and nothing to do, me and the two children who tend to terrorize me the most headed to IKEA for no reason at all, besides the fact that it is paradise.

 At the base of New Haven's famed and abandoned Pirelli Building, next to IKEA.

At the base of New Haven's famed and abandoned Pirelli Building, next to IKEA.

I know. You have to complete the maze, containing every strangely-colored sofa and paper lantern hanging lamp, to get to whatever it is you're there for, but I love the amble. In fact, I've ensured that my children have never figured out you can cut directly to the kids' section at the top of the escalator, opting instead to stroll slowly through every other area - bedroom! office! bathroom! -  before we arrive and they get to go in the exact same tent and tunnel play structures that we have at home for half an hour like they have never experienced such joy in their lives.

I like furniture stores in general. It's something about the license to peruse without feeling guilty about a lack of purchase; after all, it's not as though people snap up entertainment units left and right on a daily basis. It's also so comforting to be in a home setting that isn't your own, that isn't anyone's, so you don't feel badly that you aren't succeeding at keeping your own living environment so festive and organized. 

IKEA is especially wonderful because everything is affordable and you can't beat trying to read the Swedish names. J finds the crowds there intolerable but I like it. All those people at all those stages of life getting excited about kitchen fixtures and bunk beds. So much possibility. It's inspiring.

As we walked through yesterday, Aidy kept breaking her trusty little grip on my hand and running towards all the comfy, colorful beds, exclaiming "This one! I want this!" Buying her a new bed was absolutely not happening but it was fun to observe her fickle excitement, and it was clear that she got the draw of the place. At one point she looked up at me and said, meaningfully, "This is fun." And I nodded in agreement, so happy that I got the rare chance to indulge in one of my favorite parenting getaways, and that the only impulse buy was a very soft, slate grey blanket. "I know," I replied. "This is the best."

Remember that? When I used to run all the time?

When I set out to complete a list of 10 goals last year, one thing became immediately obvious: the more defined the goal, the more likely I was to accomplish it. Not the easier it was to accomplish. Just that when I gave myself an aim with clearly designed steps by which to achieve it, the result was that I completed the steps, and the most obvious example of this was running the NYC Marathon.

Of all the things I did last year, the marathon was the one that most defined everything else. I was having the time of my life writing and making friends at Bread Loaf, but also had to go for a few hilly runs and deal with my fear of woodsy areas being natural havens for murderers because of the marathon. I was reading bedtime stories to my kids while a blister on my heel throbbed because of the marathon. I was starting my day not with coffee - NOT WITH COFFEE - but with pre-dawn neighborhood five-milers, and showing up to school pick-up in running clothes and constantly taking hurried showers and throwing my hair up in a ponytail because of the marathon.


After I finished training, I made sure to note that being able to find time for all those training runs meant that in the months ahead I could look back at the experience and remind myself that when I think I have "no time" to get anything extra done in my busy days (whether that's writing or basics like the laundry, seriously, I have a getting the laundry done problem) I do. I must. I must have the time because I had the time to somehow fit in those hours and hours and miles and miles of runs over 18 weeks and that time is still there.

And the reason I'm writing this post now is because in the past couple months, I haven't exactly done a good job of rediscovering that time. Sure, some of it was very early in the morning, and some of it took up large portions of the weekend, and I don't want to be beholden to that schedule anymore, not on such a regular basis, which is why I'm considering some shorter races, like half-marathons in upcoming months (let's do it, Jen!), but not a full one anytime soon or probably ever.

But the time it is there for the taking and, good news, if I'm doing something that's not running during that time (working on a writing project for instance) I can have coffee before and during. And the other good news is that while not every task or project comes with a defined training plan like the marathon, you can make them up as you go, breaking up seemingly vague and impossibly time-consuming tasks (apply to a writing enough laundry so that Gabriel doesn't have a tantrum about his available clothing options every morning) into smaller to do items that aren't so intimidating.

Which, I know, J, I know, is exactly what you've been telling me for years after listening to all those productivity podcasts and whatnot, and my difficulty taking that advice is exactly why when I broke the closet the other day, I took one look at the slanted shelves and rows of clothing on hangers that had come crashing down and thought, "I guess I should try and fix this. But where would I even begin? I can live with it." And why you, on the other hand, assessed the damage, decided on the best course of action, and got to work.

Now we have a functioning closet again. Although my clothes are still all on the floor, of course. Working on it. Step 1: pick up a dress. Step 2: Put it where it belongs.