Friday, May 04, 2012


It's funny how things are in the air, or maybe it's funny how I connect the dots.

My older son--not-so-little-R.--runs track. He's a much better athlete than I ever expected him to be. Not-so-big-R., my husband, is a good athlete; but my superficial and totally non-scientific observation is that bad athlete genetically trumps good athlete. But that's another story. NSLR is pretty good, it seems, and one of the coaches has casually told NSBR that our son could be great if he focuses on hurdles. He doesn't have the genetic gifts to be a lightning-fast sprinter, but the significant speed he does have can be put to good use in hurdles, which require a) strategy (i.e. brains or at least an interest in applying them) and b) heart. Hurdles are heartbreaking. NSLR hates them a lot of the time.

So that's one thing. Another is that I've been trying to get back into running. Other people's training is a very boring story so, briefly, I took up running seven years ago and since then I've lost and gained the same 15-20 pounds three times, got so I could run a hilly 10K under an hour, and now find myself back almost where I started around a 12 minute mile. On Monday I checked into a local park on Facebook and my friend who works for the park system said I should stop by. He asked if I had gone for a run and I said, "Sort of," and described my predicament. He nodded, sympathetically, knowingly. Then I told him that one of my other high school friends is trying to get a group of gals to do this Warrior 5K, and that I had agreed, signed up, and then read the description of the race only to discover that it is a 5K obstacle course, featuring such things as water, fire, barbed wire, and mud. He again chuckled sympathetically, then observed,

"The thing about those obstacle 5Ks is, with the obstacles, you're never running for very long--lots of breaks."

That made sense, although I do find that I personally have a problem with taking a break to walk, which is that I never want to start running again.

Then I went home and watched my friend David's latest video blog:

In recent years, I have watched David's growing interest in his faith with, well, interest. I like to learn about spiritual journeys in which people engage with--okay, I can't find the word. I initially said "nuts and bolts," but that turned out to be the opposite of what I meant, despite my vision of a drawer heaped with mixed nuts and bolts. Then "trappings" but that sounds so dismissive. Minutiae? When people engage with the finer points of their religion. Both Judaism and Catholicism have a lot of fine points, including "smells and bells" as my home team would say, and some people view those things as points of connection with God and some view them as...obstacles.

So, above, Dave makes a conscious--conscientious, even--decision that he cannot knowingly break one of the ten commandments by praying to a statue of Ganesh, who, as it turns out, is both the creator and the remover of obstacles. Dave hit an obstacle between him and his Judaism, and he removed it by creating an obstacle between him and his love for kirtan. Then he was able to find a way around--or through, it doesn't matter. Between this and the diving Wednesday this place is just a forest of mixed metaphors. See what I did there?

So I was thinking about all those things, and then today my friend Jim blogged about Mariano Rivera and his possibly career-ending injury:

 The key to his success was that nothing that happened on the field ever knocked him off of his feet.


We should all live like that.  It's just baseball.  It's just a game.  It's just one test.  It's just work.  Tomorrow is another day.  I try to do it, and much of the time I can't.  This guy did it on one of the world's biggest stages every day.  I know Mariano Rivera is a very religious guy, and maybe that's what allows him to approach his work, his life this way.  I'm not religious, but I think the key is finding something to grab onto that's bigger than you.  Your family, maybe.  Your writing or your music, if that's what you're into.

So there are a lot of possible strategies for these hurdles in life, and jumping over is just one. Trying not to let them break your heart is another. I have no real answers, but I'm glad we're all in this together. And I love the brave new world that lets us share it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


Note: I wrote this a year and a half ago for an essay contest. Some of the content--especially the diving story--will be familiar to longtime readers. It's out of date, but as I began to write the post I had planned to write today, it struck me that it might be helpful to post this first. Also easier.

           In the winter of 2008, my youngest child was halfway through kindergarten, and I was beginning to feel like myself. I had taken up running, lost 20 pounds, and written a novel, and now I was looking around for some more projects. Some of my friends were doing triathlons, but before I attempted a triathlon, my swimming needed work. I grew up near water, and I love to submit to the power of the ocean waves and gaze out at the intricate beauty of the river. Nevertheless—despite years of lessons—I could never swim laps without the distinct feeling that I was drowning. By the way, this isn’t an essay on “I never thought I would do a triathlon.”
            So I looked at the Adult Aquatics offerings at the YMCA. They offered three levels: 1) For the total beginner 2) To "become more comfortable in deep water" 3) Improve your strokes. I decided on option two, although I was equally comfortable in shallow or deep water, just unable to swim in either. On the first day of class the instructor asked what my best stroke was. “Um, I don’t really know any strokes other than freestyle, so…freestyle?” He looked dubious. “Let me see you swim a lap,” he suggested, “but we may need to bump you back to the beginner class.” Somewhat to my surprise, I swam a lap. “Actually,” he said, “that was great. I think you should switch to Level 3.” I looked over at Level 3, where a woman was barking something like “8 laps butterfly GO!” “No thanks,” I said. The other people in my class were, in fact, afraid of deep water and almost totally unable to swim; but there was no level 2 ½.
            Two weeks later my class had a substitute teacher. She was great—for some reason I clicked with her much better than my regular teacher—until she asked, “Any interest in learning how to dive?”
            I had interest in learning how to dive when I was about ten. I spent some time at the side of the pool with friends vaguely trying to do it, and some time with my mother trying to teach me, but it just didn’t happen. Then I got too old and self-conscious to be a beginning diver. So when the question came up, I looked away and didn’t answer. My classmates, however, all said “Yes!” brightly and without hesitation. Really? I thought. Really, Miss Literally Clings to the Side of the Pool, you want to learn to dive? You know you’ll be diving into deep water, right?
            I went along, though. The silver lining of self-consciousness is that, at a certain point, not trying becomes even more conspicuous than trying. I learned to dive that day. After class, I hopped in the shower, and as I began to rinse off, I found—somewhat to my surprise—that I was crying. I think diving into the pool moved me to tears because it was something I thought I would never, never do. I thought that door was closed. I thought I was too old. I thought I was too scared. I thought I was too embarrassed.
            But this isn’t an essay on “I never thought I would learn to dive.”
            Just a few weeks later, I discovered that I was pregnant with my fourth child. I was excited, because I felt as if I really knew how to do parenting now. I knew what to worry about and what not to worry about, how to nurse in an unsupportive chair and that this too shall pass. I knew all the good jobs in the PTA and how to make dinner from a nearly empty pantry and I had finally found a good pediatrician. Unfortunately, my body, which had been delighted to see me through three uneventful pregnancies, betrayed me this time. The 20-week ultrasound showed that the baby was not growing fast enough. Thus began a year in which I repeatedly struggled to my emotional feet only to be hit by another baseball bat. My blood pressure went up. I went on bed rest. I was hospitalized. My son was born eight weeks early, tiny but perfect: “a feeder and a grower,” they said in the NICU. He was struck by a Group B strep infection at less than one week old, hemorrhaged in his brain and lungs, and nearly died.            
            He recovered, came home, but showed developmental delays. An MRI uncovered extensive brain damage. We began to worry that he could not see well. We saw a rock-star neuro-ophthalmologist, who confirmed that he could not see at all. The hardest blow? Less than a month later, he began having seizures—the kind that come with a likely prognosis of severe mental retardation and behavior problems. Nine months after that he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
            I never thought I would have a child with special needs.
            There is a new pool to dive into almost every day.
            I have to explain to acquaintances who ask brightly, “How’s the baby?” that the baby is disabled. Or I decide not to explain, answer weakly, “Great,” and hope someone else brings them up to speed before we meet again.
            I have to meet with a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a developmental intervention therapist, a feeding specialist, and an assistive technology specialist, observe what they do, and try to implement all of it into our daily schedule. I go to neurologist appointments, ophthalmologist appointments, physiatrist appointments, orthotist appointments, and rehab technology appointments, then try to balance the sometimes-competing prescriptions for my son’s treatment.
            I have to consider the future. If we move, it must be to another town with good schools and good social services. How far might we have to commute to a school for the blind? How will that affect our other children? Might there come a day when we can’t care for our son at home? What financial plans do we need to make?
            I cannot just submit to these waves, and I cannot just gaze out on the patterns of my life. I must act, day after day, and be an advocate and an administrator and a teacher for my son in a way that is totally new to me. I cannot be too old, too scared, or too embarrassed to be a mother to my son with special needs; but I do not know how to do this kind of parenting at all. Some days I stand on the block for a while, shivering and gazing down into the blue water, and then I step off, wrap up in my towel and go home. Most days I manage to dive in. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that watershed moment when I cry in the shower, when I get to rinse off the fear, the worry and the regret.
            I did finally manage to finish a triathlon last month. The swim was the hardest part. On the way out, I had to fight big waves. On the way back to shore, I tried to use them to my advantage. I didn’t cry at the end, because I thought—I knew—that I could do it. Once I dove in, I had to do it.