FitBloggin’

I’m going to Baltimore next weekend.  I am going all alone and I am alternately nervous and insanely excited.

I’m going there because I won a spot volunteering at Fitbloggin.  I’ve been trying to explain to my friends what Fitbloggin is, what it will be for me, and why I am going, and I’m not even really sure I know I can really explain it.

I’m not a fitness blogger.  OK, I have a fitness blog now, but I didn’t even really pull the trigger on it until I got the gig working at Fitbloggin’.  Yes, I am interested in exercise now that I’ve been running for the last year, but I’m not a fitness guru.  I don’t go to a gym, I am definitely overweight and I clock between 37 and 40 minutes routinely on a 5K.

I am a web designer, and use the blogging platform WordPress routinely now in the work I do.  So there is definitely an element of the geek in me wanting to see more and learn more about blogging and how people turn their own thoughts and designs into a viable platform for various topics:  weight loss, fitness, parenting, etc.  I don’t ever feel like I’ve found my voice blogging.  I tell stories, sometimes.  I am funny, sometimes.  But what I don’t think I am is consistent.  I’d love to see successful bloggers there and see what they have to say about all of that.

Plus, there is a little of the star struck in me.  I’ve been following Roni Noone since I lost weight successfully in 2007.  I always appreciated how honest she is in her postings; she shows her house before she cleans it (!), she confesses to late night snacking, and owns her insecurities.  I honestly can’t imagine meeting her, someone who seems both at once like a superhero and my best girlfriend (that I’ve never met) all at the same time.

I guess I’m not entirely sure what I’ll get out of the conference or what it will mean to me.  I don’t know a soul going.  I am going for three days of workshops and events without a single other person in the world I know.  I think I’ll meet people and it will be fun, but there is always that side of me that wonders why I am doing this.  I’m not a true fitness blogger, I’ve gained much of the weight I successfully lost, I don’t plan on monetizing my blog or using it as a springboard for a career (although, that would be all kinds of awesome, actually).  But still, I won the spot, and I’m going.  I’m going to spend three days in Baltimore and they’ll all just be about me.  Not me the Mom, or the wife, or the perpetual volunteer.  Just me, and what I want to do with myself and my health.

Which, I guess, explains why I am both excited and terrified all at the same time.

The View From My Corner of the World

The roundup of what my world looks like since I last blogged (nearly two weeks ago?  Yikes).

Today is my eldest son’s 23rd birthday.  Holy how on earth did this happen?  It seems both a million years ago and also about a few days ago that I was balancing him on my hip while I navigated life.  He came home last weekend with his girlfriend, and we had dinner Saturday night with her parents.  It is still hard for me to believe that this is my life.  That he and I could have ended up in a very different place.  Instead, we’re eating amazing Italian food with his potential inlaws in this crazy expensive town in CT that we can almost afford to live in now.  I’m not sure if this totally set up situation for meeting her parents is a prelude to Some Really Big News, but for now, holy smokes, my kid is older than I was when I had him.

The younger two kids are back in school.  I am still desperately worried about my daughter and her swimming with all of the sharks at school.  There were whispers about people not sitting together at lunch (not on purpose, really) and getting transferred out of her classes.  We don’t know what all is true, but a glance at her iPod text app yesterday made my heart sink.  She still is trying so hard to be friends with people who really don’t give a crap about her.  I vacillate between hands off (“she’ll have to figure this out herself, as painful as it may be….after all, didn’t we all hate middle school?”) and hands on (“honey, if they treat you that way it is time to move on…why don’t we call so and so who actually likes you and invite her over?”) on a daily basis.  We’ll see what happens.

My dog is one crazy canine.  While we were out drinking heavily celebrating Labor Day with friends, he tried to escape from his crate.  Not sure what all happened (I must set up that streaming video idea I had) but when we came home his two front paws were mangled and bloody, and he’d lost a toenail.  I nursed him for two days before taking him to the vet (having decided that while we love him, we weren’t paying a thousand dollars to the doggie ER).  Having a dog is indeed like having a small child.  The poor thing is now scared to death of his crate, needs pills twice a day, and now begs for (and receives) a companion in the room where he sleeps (not our room; the den downstairs where his crate lives).  Not sure what I am going to do when I have to leave the house, but I kind of do have to leave the house, like, some time this week.

My one year running anniversary is coming up in six days.  I started the Couch 2 5K program on 9/12/11.  I saw this blog entry from this one woman on her running anniversary and she’d gone from the program to like, a half marathon on her anniversary.  I am going to be struggling through another 5K this weekend (this is my seventh), hoping I don’t die, because I let my exercise go the whole time I was in Europe (and to be honest, it was on a major downward spiral before we left with the kids home this summer).  I’m trying to focus on the positives of it:  like, I am still actually running, and that I weigh less today than I did a year ago (um, only about 9 pounds….but whatever), and that I am likely healthier and all that.  Still, I do feel an awful lot like I should be trying harder, doing more having been at this thing A Whole Stinking Year.

Speaking of OMG THE RUNNING, I am going to a fitness conference in two weeks called FitBloggin.  I scored a free ticket by applying to be a live blogger, even though at the time I had no fitness blog and no audience for the real blog I actually do have.  The ticket might be free, but the hotel room on the Inner Harbor is like $200 a night, but I’m a little freaked out about getting a roommate that I don’t know and have never met (though, apparently, people do this all the time at these things).  I tried to entice my girlfriends with the Hotel Room in a Awesome City Away From Here for a girls’ weekend type of thing, but they all have soccer games, or football games, or husbands that aren’t interested in them subsidizing my weekend in Baltimore.  So it will be me, all alone, with all of these bloggers who write about fitness while I am pounding out 40 minute 5Ks.  Still, I’m super excited anyway.  Maybe I’ll network and find a job, or something, out of it.

And that’s the view from suburbia this warm September morning.  Yes, sure, I could have written about politics, or my inner conflict about why I am not hearing back from an old friend, or some other existential dilemma but for now?  This is where I am at.

What If?

Maybe it’s a mid life crisis.

Maybe that’s what it is that is forcing me to be looking back into my past and find resolution, find peace.  I am, after all, in my early forties now, and searching all of the time for where I am going, what I am doing with my life.  Which is likely why I found myself last Sunday evening sitting in a bar next to another person whom I loved in the past.  For those of you keeping count, that’s twice in less than a month that I’ve reconnected with someone who figured large in the story of my life.

This time it was Dennis.  Dennis, whom I had drunk Googled a few months back, and then later, screwed up my courage and called on the phone.  The conversation was easy and flowed as if the years of silence had hardly existed.  We exchanged emails, and he told me that I should let him know when I’d next be in town.  When I made plans to travel out to see my family during my kids’ Spring Break this week, I let him know I’d be in the area.   We made plans to meet at a local bar and grill, as we’d done so many times in the past.

Five hours (!) later, when I drove home far later than I’d anticipated doing, I had a smile on my face.  It was just like old times.  We’d talked about the years we’d missed in each other’s lives, we talked about teaching and politics and all the things I’d loved talking about with him way back when.  And we talked about us, our relationship, and what had happened to end it.  “I’ve been loved,” I whispered, as I slowly navigated the dark streets of my past.

“You know there are all sorts of ways of loving a person.  There’s that instant attraction, love at first sight,” he’d said while sipping his beer, which had followed a martini.  I nodded and held my glass of cabernet, slowly turning it in endless circles.  “But it wasn’t like that with us.  You were fifteen when we met, of course.  With us, it was like a friendship that just grew and grew.  And by the end, you know, I was falling in love with you.”

I had known that, of course.  He’d told me that after I’d broken up with him.  But still, it was nice to hear it repeated, all of these years later.  It was still true.  He still thought fondly of me.  He still used the word “love” when he talked of those times.  It made my head spin, a bit.  I knew I’d still felt that way, that the emotions were never tainted by the ending of our relationship; it was nice to know he felt the same.

“If you recall,” I said slowly, looking into the dark red of my wine glass, “That’s of course why I broke up with you.  Because I was falling in love with you, and I knew that it would have to end.   You weren’t going to leave your wife, and you didn’t want more kids.  You were always very honest about that, and I was changing the rules.  It would have ended the same way eventually, no matter when I did it.  I was always going to want more than you were able to give.”

He took another swig, and looked at me squarely.  He’d always been able to do that, be utterly honest and direct, without pretense or shame.  “True.  I definitely did not want more children.   Sure, I might have ended up with you if we’d continued on, and left my wife.  But I still would have not wanted more kids.”

I nodded, hearing in my head the same story I’d told myself for the 19 years since our relationship happened.  Love, yes.  Wait…what?

I replayed the sentence in my head again, realizing it did not jibe, it didn’t match.  In my story, he had been clear that he would never have left his wife.  And I had even told myself since reconnecting with him that it had been true; after all, he was still married to her now.  But here he was, telling me that perhaps indeed there might have been a different future that could have existed if I hadn’t split with him all those years ago.  That part, I didn’t remember.  That part, I don’t think he ever admitted.

I pulled apart the half eaten quesadilla in front of me, a nervous action that I used in an attempt at covering up the emotions bubbling too close to the surface.  A whole different future, a whole different life.  What would that have been like?  I clamped my wandering thoughts down, trying to stay in the moment with him.

“Well,” I said finally, groping for words.  I had to be honest, to give him the gift of truth as he’d just given me.  “I have never regretted that we shared that time together, that we explored that part of who we were to each other.  In fact, I’ve always looked back and been very glad that we went down that road together.”  There was more, much more to say, of course.  I took a sip of the cabernet in the space in between what I was able to say freely and what I struggled to put into words.

“Good,” Dennis responded quickly into the pause I had created.  “Me too,”  he said simply, thus answering one of the most burning questions I’d wondered about in the time since we’d lost touch.  And then he smiled, so reassuringly that I couldn’t help but break into a smile myself.

“I guess the only regret I have now is that I couldn’t have just allowed myself to be happy with you a little while longer,” I responded.  It was as far as I could go with the topic aloud, in his presence.

But later, as I drove back to my sister’s house, the thoughts recurred.  I’ve been loved, I thought.  What a wonder that is, after all of this time.  To know that there was love, that a different path could have been there for me, had I chosen differently.  I was thankful that I had a twelve hour drive to endlessly mull the question before I reentered My Current Life back here at home.  You know which one I am talking about.

What if?

The Hardest Thing

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took our children to Mass, as we do every Sunday.  I wasn’t born Catholic, and I haven’t always been a regular churchgoer even after I became one.  But we love our church here, mostly thanks to the wonderful priests who run the place.   I originally became a Catholic because I felt that there was something I got during a Mass that I never was able to find anywhere else.  Our current parish carries that sentiment to the nth degree for me.  There’s always a peace, a message, a hope that comes over me during the service.  I’m able to put the petty worries of my life aside and just breathe.

During this week’s service, our priest talked about how so much of our time is spent running.  At first I thought he was going to rail on about the evils of this high impact exercise that I’ve come to love, so my dander was up (plus we went to the 7:30 service to avoid the crowds, so I was uncaffeinated as well).  But then as he continued, he made it clear that he was talking in much more of a figurative sense.  We’re running towards a financial goal, or a material one; we’re running from some horrible event in our past, or a person we were hurt by; running so fast, all of the time, that we don’t take the time to do what I do at church.

Breathe.  Reflect.  Be calm.  Remove the cobwebs and prioritize.  Figure out what is truly important.

Later that day, my husband asked me what I was running from.

“Excuse me?” I asked the tone I always assume when I feel my husband is making an accusation or a critical statement.

He was referring to the amount of traveling I’ll be doing in the next little while.  In a few days I am loading my children into our SUV and driving out to Michigan to see my brother and sister.  And I suppose it doesn’t make a lot of sense to him that I am doing this.  After all, neither of my siblings ever comes out to see me.  And most of the time when I drive out to see them, my brother and I get into some sort of fight that ends up in months of silence between us.  Why would I want more of that?

But my brother and sister have both had some trauma in their lives recently.   And frankly, they somehow seem less equipped to deal with the hard stuff that I’ve always been.  I’m not sure why that is.  For me, I thought the hardest thing I would do would be having gotten pregnant and 18 and have the father leave me.  And it was, until three years later.  That was when the woman who had supported me and helped me through that experience, my mother, was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.  I was her caregiver at home, while finishing my student teaching and raising my two year old son alone.  She died eleven months after being diagnosed, and then I was left alone with a college degree, a part time substitute teaching job and a pile of bills.  My father moved across the country six months later, weeks before I started the only full time teaching job I could find; teaching in the inner city.   The next few years were a mixture of fear, despair and worry that covered me and everything I did like a blanket.

It was different for my brother and sister.  My sister was married and independent.  Where I was 21 at the time of my mother’s diagnosis, she was 27.  She was an adult, and had been for a while.  She had gone to college for a while but quit when she started dating the man who later became her husband.  When my mother was diagnosed it was devastating for her as well, but she wasn’t expected to provide round the clock care.  She was helpful, very helpful.  But not responsible for everything, like me.

My brother had dropped out of college and was floating from job to job when my mother was diagnosed.  He had partied his way through his late teens and early twenties, barely scraping by.  He had friends, and they drank and smoked through the weekends as lots of kids that age do.  When my mother was diagnosed he was working part time at a gas station.  He actually lived with us briefly but found his own place nearby later.  Again, it was an awful thing for him when my mother was diagnosed.  But the only responsibilities he had at the time were to himself.  He would show up, sometimes.  When he was able to.

I think for my brother and sister, while their lives too were sad and hard in the aftermath of our mother’s passing, it wasn’t going to change much in their lives.  They would still live where they lived, work where they worked, and go back home to a house that was going to be the same as it was before.  I didn’t have that.  Everything in my life changed.  It was horrible.  When I read back in my diaries or the words I’ve written here about it, I still can’t believe that I made it through, that I did everything that needed to be done.  That I went on to have a pretty normal life, despite the scars that I carry with me every single day.

Now, both of them are going through some pretty life altering experiences.  Different, for both of them, but still harder than much of what they’ve ever had to deal with before.  They are scared.  They are paralyzed.  They are unable to cope.  And so I am running, I suppose.  Running to give what I can in the hopes that it will help.  The same way that they “helped” me when I needed it, during my most difficult time.  I won’t know what it is like to live in either of their lives right now.  But I can be present, lend a hand or a shoulder or a few bucks, and try to make the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do a little easier.

The Family You Have

My sister emailed me over the weekend; she asked if it would be possible for me to visit Michigan next month for her daughter’s birthday and an event at her son’s school.

Her email initially bugged.  I’m not going to lie.  I’ve lived in the Northeast for seven years, and I can count on two fingers the amount of times she’s been to see me and my family here.  Yes, you read that right.  Two.   If I want to see my family, which I try to do once a year or so, it’s generally up to me to make the trip.

It’s not like I haven’t asked, or invited, or even begged her and her family to make the trip out here.  We’re so close to New York City, I tell them.  We can go in and eat great food and see a Broadway show.  Or visit Ground Zero.  Or Times Square.  Or we could go to Boston.  Boston is so great with all of the historical things you can do.  Or, we can visit my grandparents, who live just three and a half hours to my south.  There’s a lot here.

But no.  It never happens.  My daughter’s First Communion, my son’s college graduation, my son’s First Communion….all went by without her (or her family’s) presence.  And don’t even mention my brother….he’s never even been to the place I’ve called home for seven years.  Not once.  One year I organized a trip for us to all meet in Pittsburgh to celebrate my father’s 70th birthday, all three of us.  This way they could meet in the middle, it wouldn’t be expensive for them, and everyone could be together.  You would have thought I’d asked them for the moon.  Their drive clocked in at five hours, ours was nearly eight.  But whatever.

It’s made me bitter, frankly, and at least on my end, put a wedge in the relationship.  Because it all feels very much like a one way street.  I’m sure they would beg off, saying that we’re better off financially and in more of a position to do the visiting.  And in some ways, they’re right, which is why I have put myself in the car for the last several summers.  Summer trips that have been punctuated by knock down drag out fights between my brother and I.  Trips that make me angrier and angrier with each mile I travel on each side of the trip.

I am trying very hard to accept that this is my family.  They’ve always been this way, and they’re not going to change any time soon.  My being able to visit shouldn’t be about anything but whether or not I can swing all of the arrangements that need to be made to allow me away from my life for three days.  It shouldn’t be about the mental scorecard I’m guilty of keeping, or any bitterness I feel.  It should just be about the fact that these people are my blood, the only people in the world who have known me since I was born.  It certainly isn’t my niece or nephew’s fault that their parents haven’t made visiting us a priority in their world.  If I want to see them, it’s clear that this mountain has to go to Muhammed.

There are days, though, that I wonder truly how it is I ended up related to these people.  Truly.

The Quiet

It’s quiet.

It’s just the same as it used to always be here in our house….two kids amusing themselves, windows open on an unseasonably warm fall day, homework done, husband at work.  Relaxing.  Peaceful.  Blissfully quiet.

Except that now all of that quiet seems disconcerting.  Too quiet.

It’s because my eldest, Zachary, is gone.

Zachary graduated from college last May.  He went away to school, far away, to the University of Pittsburgh.  On a good day it would take us seven hours to drive out there.  He spent the summer there working at an internship that he had hoped would turn into a full time position.  It didn’t, and so we moved him and four years of his life back home in early August.

At first it was strange to have him here after him being away for so long.  In the past he always had something to do:  school, or music practice, or a job, or friends to see.  But this time, all of his friends were away working or still in college.  And he didn’t have a job; his only task every day was to find full time employment.  He traveled to interviews, did them on the phone and on Skype.  The weeks past, frustratingly empty of job offers.  The school year began, and for the first time since Zachary was five, he didn’t have anywhere to go.  He grew frustrated, unhappy, but continued every day to apply for more work.

And then finally, it happened.  A company in the Washington, DC area asked him for an interview, and then a second.  They emailed him writing samples and Excel spreadsheets to work through.  They asked him to travel there for an in person interview.  He didn’t get his hopes up, because he’d been there before, taking a bus down the Jersey Turnpike and waiting in traffic.  But this time was different:  five days later he received the job offer.

I marveled as I watched my son do all the grown up tasks involved with deciding upon employment.  He reached out to a friend to see if they could be roommates.  He made a budget and researched cost of living.  He mapped out his mass transit route to work.  He scoured the internet to gauge how much his car insurance, his gas, his taxes would be.  He asked us which pieces of furniture he would inherit and planned out a living situation.

He accepted the job.

So this weekend, he packed up the car we gave him for his college graduation, and he drove down to DC from our tiny little town in CT.  All by himself.  And just like that, he is living a whole different life.  Last week he was here watching my little guy during my daughter’s soccer practice, and tomorrow he’ll be putting on a suit and tie and collecting a paycheck.  It’s mind boggling.  It’s exhilarating.   It’s bittersweet.

Zachary is living the life that I never had the chance to live after college.  I have to perspective to gauge any of it by; when I was his age, I was substitute teaching and caring for him and my mother with cancer.  I never picked out an apartment, or chose to live away from my family.   He has choices I never even dreamed of, and I am continually amazed at how far we’ve all come.  Life could have been very, very different for him, and for me.

So I will remind myself that the quiet is good, today.  But you’ll forgive me if I also remember that it is a little sad, too.

Vacation

I am on vacation this week, going back to my family who still live back in Michigan, as I alluded to in my previous post.  I tried to make sure I had enough posts to get me through the week while staying at my sister’s house, but unfortunately I am going to not be able to cover a few days this weekend while I’m in transition back to “My Current Life” in Connecticut.

I spent this morning visiting the tree lined neighborhood where I lived prior to my parents’ divorce, and took pictures of the elementary school where I went for my first five years of school.  It was definitely surreal to drive down that same street where I delivered papers, the same street that inspired my very first post here, Paper Routes and Sunrises.  I wrote it a year and a half ago; what a strange feeling to be in the same place at such a very different time in my life.  They say you can’t go home, and it is very true…my time here hasn’t brought me peace at all, but I never suspected it would.  It’s probably easier, and better for my peace of mind, to recreate the stories in my mind than to actually physically revisit My Former Life.

So I’ll be back here in a few days to tell a few more stories, though we’re getting very close…I’m currently writing stories now that happened AFTER I started this blog last year.  I’ll be finished soon, and somehow, My Former Life will meld into My Current Life.  Until then, I’ll be trying to keep my head above the lapping waters of the past that is surrounding me in every sense of the word for the next few days.  It’s not an easy journey, but I hope that when I come out the other end, I’ll be better for it.

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