Archive for category Sports

Skating with Molotov: Portland Renegade Roller Derby

Last week, after I wrote a post that referred to my own elbow-throwing, competitive propensities, a woman who skates by the name of Molotov approached me on my Facebook Page, Running from Hell with El, to see if I was interested in sponsoring a growing derby league, Portland Renegade Roller Derby. We started talking, and this Q&A is what resulted. Oh, and my answer is yes, hell yes I want to help support this league of hardy souls!rollerderby521293_320380494737815_1774815638_n
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El: I just think roller derby is the coolest, most fascinating thing!

Molotov: It is pretty great. And seeing how it can bring a community of women together is kinda amazing too. My league is a renegade league, which means we broke off from a bigger league here in our town.

El: Ahhh–I was wondering what the renegade meant. I mean, I see renegade and I automatically smile!

Molotov: It was too big and micro managed and became for profit and lost a lot of its community feel. What they are doing is great for a lot of people, but we just wanted something different. So it thus has became a lot of hard work starting a league and team from the ground up!

El: Grinning. How long have you been playing roller derby (is “playing” the right word?)?

Molotov: I’ve been skating most of my life, but only have been skating derby since November.

El: So it’s called “skating” derby?

Molotov: Most of our coaches and base teammates have been playing for four to six years. It’s called “bouting.” Once I made the mistake of calling it a “game” the first time I went to a bout. And I was very embarrassed.

El: LOL–I can imagine.

 Molotov: But we say skate usually.

 El: you’ve been skating most your life? Hockey or ice skating?rollerderbytwo54333_308446725931192_1930708213_o

 Molotov: Just roller skating and blading.

El: This is fascinating! And you were a runner before?

Molotov: Yes, since I was 18. I still want to run again. I haven’t really since last June.

El: I don’t think we ever lose that desire. Did you suffer an injury?

Molotov: I have anemia and it was too much. I was getting out of breath and really sick. My 7 year old beat me in the last 5k we did together.

El: Shaking head–that’s rough.

Molotov: So I knew something must be wrong then.

El: Yes for sure. How did you find derby?

Molotov: I wanted to play derby for a long time. My kids and I watched Whip It back when it came out.

El: That was awesome!

Molotov: My best friend is involved in another derby group in our town.

El: That’s the main league right?

Molotov: she has been skating with them for years and still not on a team. I went with her to a bout a couple of years ago and met the person who is now the ringleader of our group.

El: The ringleader–is that the league commissioner of the renegade league?

Molotov: Yes, our president. I just call her ringleader to be silly.

El: LOL! What does roller derby do for you?

Molotov: I always wanted to do derby, but always thought it was too expensive, too much time, I didn’t deserve to spend then time on myself, etc etc. I was in a very unpleasant marriage up until just a few years ago and never would have been doing this if I was still married.

El: I’m so glad you’re out of that marriage hun! I was talking about derby tonight with my husband, and he grinned at me.

“You know Cutie, if you were younger . . .”

 ” . . . Yep. I’d do it for sure! Nothing more fun than throwing elbows and hitting people, lol.” I replied.

^^^

© Earl McGehee

© Earl McGehee

does that sound familiar?

Molotov: Lol! Totally.

El: Grinning. I thought so!

Molotov: We have people of all ages.

El: What’s the range?

Molotov: 23-43, currently.

El: How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?

Molotov: I’m 32.

El: Oh you’re just a kid!

Molotov: Ugh–wish I felt like just a kid.

El: Are you kidding me? 32?! You’re in your athletic prime!

Molotov: So I met this crazy, fun, positive, happy gal at a bout. Her name is Julie Locktress and a year later (last November) she invited me to be part of what we are calling the Renegade movement. At first I thought I was too weak and tired to even skate because of my anemia. I hadn’t ran since June or May. I hadn’t been on skates in two years, since I had taken a fall and hurt my tailbone. But I was depressed and anxious and needed a cause for myself other then just raising my kids and carting them around to their sporting events and working 50 hours a week to keep a roof over their heads I don’t get any child support from their father and am basically on my own.

El: Oh man–50 hours a week and no child support? And hun, we all need something greater than ourselves, you know?

Molotov: Yes, exactly. So I figured at least I could help with the admin part of it.

El: (nodding)

Molotov: But then I started taking derby classes and I went broke and ate Top rRmen and oatmeal packets for lunch to buy skates and gear

El: that is *awesome* good on you!

 Molotov: And I’ve beePortlandrenegades29544_308788379230360_644203395_nn working ferociously to get better and stronger and raise awareness and get sponsors and skaters. I got in touch with a friend I had not seen for 10 years and now she is going to skate with us. And she brought another girl, who also brought a friend and so on and so on.

 El: Right!

Molotov: So we have a mix of new skaters and older experienced skaters. we are from all walks of life

El: Like what careers?

Molotov: One is a Native American and she is a licensed Drug and alcohol counselor.

Locktress is a hairdresser.

El: grinning.

Molotov: We have a waitress/model, a graduate student, a nurse, a logistics worker/liberal arts major.

El: A nurse!? LOL!

Molotov: Yep . . . and a construction/flooring sales personrenegades

El: And what’s your 50-hour week job?

Molotov: I work in shipping/receiving/inventory control for a laser test equipment company. I was a full time student too up until a couple of years ago . . . I’m hoping to get back to school one day.

El: (nodding) I hear ya.

 Molotov: Yes . . . no time to be sad or feel sorry for myself. When I am not busy that is when I start to fade. So I work hard, love hard, play hard.

 El: Seriously I get that. And don’t think too hard or too much (that’s my problem lol).

 Molotov: Mine too.

El: Yeah.

Molotov: I wanted to be a philosophy major.

El: And that’s where sports and competition help me. Who is your favorite philosopher?

Molotov: Tolstoy.

El: Loved War and Peace. Why Tolstoy?

Molotov: His writings on women and love really speak to me for some reason. I like a lot of the less known ones too… like Karl Marx. Economics and philosophy are very closely related.

El: So as a philosopher, what does derby signify to you?

Molotov: Oh wow . . . that is very deep . . .

El: that’s where I abide lol!

Molotov: I suppose it lies in the theory that we must make today count . . . and each moment . . . and I want to inspire and help others the way that I have been inspired and helped by so many. If I had know that my life could be as good as it is now, I would have chosen a different path very long ago. But it matters not now, because here I am and I am what I do with it. I got a tattoo on my back a year ago that reads ” take the pieces and build them up to the sky” its a line from my favorite song and summarizes the journey of my life.

El: Beautiful. What song is it?TwoNorthWestJammers

Molotov: It’s a most beautiful song . . .

El: Biffy Clyro?

Molotov: YES. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0q2iXlsKNA

El: Listening now. OMG if I were building a soundtrack for Ripple this would be in it. It’s profoundly moving to me, in ways I can hardly explain. There’s a scene in Ripple when Phoebe, the rape victim, is falling apart, but her friend talks to her, helps hold her together, and this song, it could be playing.

Molotov: I’ve had a lot of people who have helped hold me together . . . so yes.

El: Same here. This song, the one tattooed on your back–is this what derby kind of means to you?

Molotov: I think what derby means to me . . . is a dream that I had given up on coming true. And an exciting journey just beginning. One I am so honored and proud to be a part of.

El: That makes me so happy to hear, almost happy tears, you know? Because we should all find those dreams and take part in those journeys.

Molotov: It’s easy to find excuses not to follow our dreams. The hard part is doing what we really want.
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To support these great women, please follow them on Facebook. If you’re interested in sponsoring them, as I sure am, please contact them here:

portlandrenegaderollerderby@gmail.com. Sponsorship packages start for as low as $50.

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Bob Costas on Gun Control

Bob Costas stared at the camera with a steely-eyed glare, and then used the entire ninety second halftime segment of last night’s Cowboys vs. Eagles game to argue in favor of stricter gun control laws in the wake of Kansas Chief Linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder suicide.  Costas paraphrased and quoted from a piece by Fox Sports Columnist Jason Whitlock:

 How many young people have to die senselessly? How many lives have to be ruined before we realize the right to bear arms doesn’t protect us from a government equipped with stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks and nuclear weapons?

 Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.”

Costas went on to say that has Belcher not possessed a gun, both he and Kasandra Perkins, the mother of their three-month old daughter would be alive today.

At this moment, I shrugged and turned off the television.  The last thing I want to think about while I’m relaxing on a Sunday night is gun control and the Second Amendment.  For me, football and politics should not mix unless the issue, like regulation of performance enhancing drugs, is germane to football.  Costas’s rant felt like a low blow, an abuse of his invitation into my cozy family room, and like all guests who overstay their welcome, I showed him the door.

 And yet . . . his words remain with me.  I am angry as hell that another woman has died at the hand of an abusive man.  It sickens and infuriates me that because he made a decision to murder a woman in cold blood, a little girl, no doubt once much loved, now faces an uncertain and tricky future.  It’s a tragedy and my prayers go out to that little girl and to the family of the deceased.

 My anger, however, is centered on the perpetrator.  No one forced Belcher to murder his girlfriend.  Nothing excuses his behavior.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, mitigates his dastardly deed.

It is often said that guns kill people.  Having taken a self-defense training course, and having learned more about handguns than I ever thought possible, I think this is overly simplistic.  I can say for sure that in order for guns to kill people, a finger must pull that trigger.

 While I appreciate and respect those who argue that the proliferation of guns increases the incidence of crimes involving guns, I’ve heard from police officers that criminals will always be able to obtain guns, lawfully or not.  As the female police officer who trained us opined, “I want for as many good citizens as possible to arm themselves in a responsible way, to learn how to use those firearms responsibly, and to assist us in making the world a safer place from the criminals.”triggeranger488247_386522741413328_1988699599_n

 This police officer went on to tell us some scary stories about criminals and would-be extreme right-wing members of local militias.  “Please,” she added, “We need all the help we can get from the good citizens of the world.  We’re fighting the good fight, but it’s dangerous out there.”

Her words chilled me a bit.  And handling the pistol frightened me.  She warned us, over and over again, to be careful, and to realize that a single mistake could result in serious injury or death.  I felt empowered but also sobered after I fired the Glock on the firing range.  And it’s unlikely that I’d ever own a handgun.

But I like being able to buy a firearm should I judge it in my best interests to own one.  For sure, there are and should be some limits on the application of the Second Amendment to our modern life.  I’m no firearm zealot.  I believe a firearm can be both a tool and a weapon, and that in the wrong hands, a firearm can do much harm to the innocent.

Perhaps Costas is right.  Perhaps we need to better enforce the current gun control laws.  Perhaps Belcher should not have owned firearms.  Or perhaps Belcher is yet another victim of the epidemic of concussions and perhaps the rash of violent acts by past or current football players is connected to this epidemic.  Perhaps Belcher was using performance-enhancing drugs that affected his personality or made him mentally ill.  Perhaps.

anger334263_378390765559859_1810865759_o

You see, we don’t have the answers, but the best way to find answers is to pursue them with clear minds and calm discernment.  Costas’ rant from the bully pulpit struck me as ill-timed and misguided.  Rather than solve a problem or encourage reasoned debate, he inflamed hearts and incited passions with his self-righteous anger.

My prayers go out to the family the Belcher and Perkins families, respectively.  May Kasandra rest in peace, and may Jovan find in dying the peace that so tragically eluded him.

I’d love to hear your views on this issue.  Please keep it civil and respectful.

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It’s Okay to Be Like Everyone Else: A Five-Miler

I’m in a crowded room and my family’s there, waiting, and I’m holding my breath.  I see my brother. He’ carrying this biological terror inside him, this virus that he’s going to unleash on the world, so I take a deep breath and slip out the back door.  I end up in a bathroom, and there’s no toilet paper on any of the dispensers, so I dig under the sink and grab a handful of rolls, which I’m handing to several strangers.  And then I hear my name, and it’s my husband screaming for me.  Come help me, El, so I go to him, and he’s fallen in this shallow pool with tiles on the bottom.

I hesitate.  I’m scared.  Then I see blood dripping from his mouth and eye, and I leap in there and grab him.  I lead him by the elbow to the infirmary.  But then I must leave.  I’m the only one who knows how to stop the virus.  The secret is orange juice.  The scene changes, and I’m sitting in the back of a car watching a long line of cars queued up for gas, trying to get the courage up to run inside and buy orange juice.  I must buy it, and save myself, and then save everyone else.  But first I gotta get out of the car.

I wake up, shivering.  It’s 6:55 AM and it’s time to get the kids off to school.  I make a mental note to buy orange juice.

It’s 9:45 AM.  I zip up my red running jacket and tap my Nike sportsband.  It’s 38 degrees, so I’m wearing shorts but once I get a mile under my belt, I’ll be warm enough.  My body is tired but my mind is not.  As I jog along, slow and steady, my thoughts flit and fly about and I let them be without trying to control what comes into mind.  I don’t have any agenda when I run today.  I just run.

My run follows the trail along Burke Lake.  Light brown leaves hang from tall pen oaks above me, and many more leaves obscure the soft dirt underfoot.  It smells like burnt wood and mold and dirt and lake water, which for me is what Heaven must smell like.

Last night, I stayed up until three AM working on draft two of I Run.  It occurs to me now that I once ran to keep from drowning under the sea of troubles I then was facing.  There was something almost superhuman in the miles I covered, but even as I ran and ran from my pain, I ran my body almost into ruin.  I smile, gently, thinking of the odyssey of healing and faith I was on, and thank God I don’t have to run like that anymore.

An old man wearing gloves nods at me, and I wish him a good morning.  I need to go to WalMart on my way home from this run because we’re out of laundry detergent.  It’s not the worst task I’ve ever faced it, but I’d rather be outside running past the birdwatchers clutching binoculars than negotiating the blue aisles of a discount store.  I sigh, and allow a small half-smile, because I’m happy now.

But when I ran fifty, seventy, even ninety miles a week, as I did in the pages of I Run, I wasn’t so happy.  It was never enough to be average, or good enough, or middle of the pack.  It wasn’t enough to run 15-20 miles a week, or get Bs in school, or less than excellent reviews as a young lawyer.  If I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t enough.  I needed that external proof of my own value; I needed it like a woman needs oxygen, because I did not have my own source of self-value.  I knew not the unconditional love that God’s grace provides.

An Oriental woman runs past me in the other direction, and we smile at one another.  Fast or slow, tall or short, we’re all runners, and we’re in this together somehow, even if we never see one another again.  I used to be afraid to be like everyone else, “in it together with them,” because without trophies or a high enough salary or a low enough average running pace, I would be left with just me, my essence, my very being, and that could not possibly be enough.  After all, how could anyone love just me, without a good reason why?

I check my watch.  I’ve run 2.5 miles, and it’s a good time to turn.  A five-mile run is nothing heroic, and that’s okay.  I don’t need to be a hero.  I’m healed now, healed from so many things, including this sick sense that I have to accomplish anything to earn the title of being lovable.

Because that is what I am.  You see, I’m just like you and the next man or woman.  God loves us all, just the way we are.  I smile again.  He loves me.  And as I head back in the other direction toward my Mazda, I think about picking up the orange juice.  Today is my day to be like everyone else, and if that includes making a trip to a discount store, then I’ll face it with a smile.

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What Makes a Good Mom?

My daughter with light sabre.

When I opened my daughter’s door to tuck her in for bed, I caught a glimpse of a 9-year old flashing a toy light sabre at incoming storm troopers. Naturally I grabbed the other light sabre and joined her in her valiant fight. We were victorious.

I’ve written as of late about some serious topics, including my daughter’s bullying at school. We received news from the school that leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic, and I wanted to pass that optimism along to you, dear readers.

But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about my kids and me, or my daughter and me. And it’s about the kind of parent I try to be. I don’t try for “best in class” because it’s not about that. Good parenting is not about competing with other mothers or about trying to fulfill anyone else’s notion of what constitutes a good mother.

Speaking of “notions of what constitutes a good mother,” I don’t bake lemon bars, knit fancy scarves, volunteer at school, or in any way fulfill the traditional 1950’s-era definition of what makes a mother. Nothing against moms who do, but I don’t wear dainty skirts, keep a particularly neat house or even get the bills paid on time.  Christmas decorations may or may not come down after the first of January, beds may or may not be made up each day (and never with those super-neat “hospital corners”) and we may or may not arrive at soccer practice on time.

But.

Children receive hugs, often and pretty much on demand. Homework is always checked, and reading lists are assigned. Questions, even hard, icky ones, like “what does incest mean, Mom?” get answered. Balls are thrown, sometimes over the roof and into the backyard and back again.  God is spoken of every day, with or without the exact scripture referenced, but always with reverence and love.  And miles are walked, run and swam together, side by side, hand in hand, with a finish line that stretches ever onward.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Thanksgiving morning, my daughter and I will reach an actual finish line.  We’re running a 10K Turkey Trot race together. It will be her first of no doubt many 10K races, and the fourth or fifth race we will have run together. She and I will feel the glow of achievement and a small glimpse of glory. We’ll eat our bananas and don our medals and grin at one another, speaking of the next race, the next finish line, beckoning from some distant horizon.  And together we will head, over one finish line, ever onward, always moving forward, with gratitude for this and every second, minute and finish line we pass.

Dear Readers . . . I don’t usually ask questions at the end of my posts, but I’m wondering–what do you do well as a mother or father?

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Sleepless in Virginia

I can’t sleep tonight.  My husband, a Den Leader for my son’s Cub Scout Troop, is out at Burke Lake on a campout with our two sons.  My daughter is asleep and I am approximately 393,234 sheep from sleep.  Here are a list of things keeping me from sleeping tonight:

1. Is the new air mattress comfortable?

2. Are the boys too cold?

3. Did Travis take his meds?  Did I?

4. Will Ben’s scar go away soon?  Damn.  We forgot to put on the scar-reducing lotion.  I need to buy some Vitamin E from Freshfields.

5. Did I really shut the garage door? Would it be neurotic to check it for the third time?  If I went and checked it, I could get the clothes out of the dryer but I can’t find the brown laundry basket and the white one is full of clean laundry.

Ben’s scar

6. Will my headache ever go away?  I think I gave myself a mild concussion when I knocked the contents of the top shelf of Ben’s bookcase on my head.  I cradled my head in my hands, sunk to the floor, and called for a medic, or the chief medical officer of our household.  That’s the Cup Scout leader of course.  I’m so grateful it was only a passing head wound.  I lay there on the floor thinking about all the doctors and nurses who have taken care of me in the past.  They comforted me each time and promised me I’d be okay, and I was.  I could tell from their faces that they’d seen far worse injuries than mine.

7. Is lip balm addictive? What if it is found to cause cancer, like saccharine?  Oh crap.  How many bottles of diet coke have I had over the years? How about regular soda?  Coke is usually too sweet, but I love Slurpees, especially with Coke mixed with Cherry and that blue stuff. How many calories does a regular sized Slurpee have?  And why do they have to make them with Aspartame in the lemon-lime flavor?

8. What if the anti-diarrheal tablets are expired and I get diarrhea? That makes me giggle.

9. It’s so quiet I can hear my heartbeat.  My resting heart rate should be 60 BPM or lower but I’m not resting.  I should check it right now but if it’s above 60 BPM, I’ll stay up all night wondering if I’m going to get a panic attack.  If I get a panic attack, I’ll have to call Travis on his cell phone and what if his cell phone is out of batteries?  Will that mean he doesn’t love me enough to keep batteries operational?  Crap.  Did he replace the batteries in the black flashlight?

10. Did the boys brush their teeth?

11. It’s too quiet.  Why are the frogs gone?  I miss the frogs and they won’t be back until spring.  In spring, the pollen returns and Maddie is allergic to pollen.  Remember when she had to take Xopenex 3-4 times a day for months at a time?  Or the time she had to stay on the Nebulizer for the entire winter after I took the kids out in the rain in December and all three of them got pneumonia . . . man was I scared.  And I was secretly convinced thay it was my fault they all caught pneumonia.  That had to have been my fault, right?

12. How far away is Florida from Seattle?  Baltimore is what, 2,700 miles from Seattle?  Remember when they showed the flight plan in Harry Met Sally?  And can men and women really not be” just” friends?  What’s my friend Sam doing right now?  I should text her.  It’s only 9:30 in Seattle.

13. The Marine Corps Marathon is in seven days and seven hours. This time next week I’ll really be freaking out.  Damn.  My heart just sped up.

I should stop at 13.  Wait.  I’m supposed to write out “thirteen.”  Speaking of number thirteen, I refuse to believe in silly superstitions.  So does my Maddie.  Obdurate and strong, she wears the number thirteen.  That is one of the many things I like about her.

She and I watched A League of Their Own Tonight.  It’s the first time she’s seen it, and the fourth time I’ve seen it.  I still cried at the end, and after it was over, we talked about it.  She wanted to know my story.

I grew up as a serious ballplayer . . . but tonight was the first time I could really explain it to my daughter.  We talked some, and then she hugged me and gasped, “Wow–so that’s the sport you grew up playing?

“Yep.  I won championships.  I was a pitcher, like Kit.”

Madeline stared at me, a little breathless.  “You were?”

I grinned.  “Come on Maddie.  How many moms throw like I do?”

With her arms wrapped around my neck, she replied, “None. You throw like Dottie.”

I nodded.  “And I can teach you how to throw like that too.”

Goodnight friends.  It’s one a.m. here in Northern Virginia.  I’m not going to bed yet.  But I hope you are sleeping in the arms of the person you love most.

And if you’re in the mood to chat, please tell me some of the things that keep you up at night.

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Running and Mom Guilt

One kid, then a second, and then a third jumped-tumbled off the high bus steps and gang-tackled me.  After hugging them back, I walked behind the boys with my daughter, who chattered about her day.

“I have something I want to ask you about,” I began, my arm resting on her shoulder.  “All of you.”

She squinted up at me through the afternoon sunlight.  “Why?  What?”

I started to explain what was bothering me as we kicked our shoes off by the steps to the laundry room.  Standing there, with my fingers wrapped around the door frame, I felt off-balance.  One time, years ago, I had shut the door on my son’s little fingers when he used the frame to maintain his balance, and since then, I’d been afraid of sticking my fingers in the space between the door’s edge and the door frame.  And yet for some reason, I still did it every day anyway.  Once I got my purple and bright yellow running shoes off my feet, I breathed a sigh of relief that my fingers were intact, and slammed the thick white laundry room door behind me.

I removed lunchboxes from backpacks, stacked the three backpacks in the space between the china cabinet and the dining room wall and set snacks in front of the kids.  For a few minutes, everyone talked at once about their day, three overlapping voices forming the ever-shifting mosaic of our life as a family.

 I leaned against the kitchen counter top, which is where I usually stand when I’m in the kitchen.  Since the accident, I almost never sit down at the table.  It’s become my new normal and no one thinks anything of it.  When my husband isn’t around, sometimes I jump up and sit on top of the counter, right near the spice drawer, which is where I used to sit as a child.  This annoys my husband.  He thinks it’s going to break the counter, so it’s one of my many guilty pleasures, I guess.

“So, guys, I need to ask you something.  I have this race tomorrow, but I’m thinking it’s going to take me away too long from you.  That’s making me feel really bad.  It seems unfair.”

“Yeah, Mom, you are gone a lot on the weekends.  Why do you have to work so much?”

I sighed and looked at Maddie.  “I’m writing a novel, hun.  And it’s important.”  I took a deep breath.  Was I really gone that much?  “Anyway, I would be gone, like, the entire day, from before breakfast to dinner.  And so I wanted to let you decide.  And whatever you decide is fine with me.  I’ll honor it.  If you want me home, I’ll not go to the race.”

Jim’s eyes brightened.  He didn’t need to speak.  I had his answer.

Then Maddie did one of her smile-shrug-hair flips, with a dozen other facial expressions thrown in for emphasis.  She’s able to convey more without speaking than any other little girl I’ve met.  With her voice rising to a higher pitch as she spoke, she spoke.  “I want for you to do what makes you happy, Mom.”

I sighed.  “No, I’m asking you what makes you happy.”

She twirled her hair.  “Well, it will make you happy to run the race, won’t it?  You’ve trained for it.  You’d be disappointed if you didn’t run it, wouldn’t you?”

I felt like Hell.  She cared about me—that was obvious.  She wanted me to be happy—that was also obvious.  But did she just not want me around?  I tried to pull it together.  “I don’t want you to miss me while I’m doing something that will make only me happy.  What you want is very important to me.”

She shrugged.  Her faces twisted in concentration.  “You are gone a lot on the weekends.  But we’re okay with Dad.”

“So you want me to be gone then?”  It was a stupid thing to say, but before I could right the ship, Ben, with a bored look on his face, swung around in his chair and exclaimed, “I want you to go run it.  We’ll hang out with Dad.”

That stung.  I tried to inspect him, to understand his words, to find the hidden resentment, but I think he was just speaking without filter, saying what he really was thinking, which he usually does anyway.   Tears were rising, but I pushed that back down.

“Am I really gone that much?”

Maddie wince-smiled, and I tried to read everything she was thinking, just as she was trying to read me.

“Okay.  Maddie.  Please.  What do you want me to do?  I want to be here and I want you to be happy.  That’s job one.  Be a good mom.  Take care of y’all.  That’s my job.  What you need to concentrate on is not what makes me happy.  I want to know what makes you happy, okay?”

She nodded.  I could almost see the gears moving in her head.

“So, do you want me to stay home tomorrow?  You have the deciding vote.  And it’s perfectly okay.”

She smile-shrugged again, and twirled her hair.  “It would be nice to have you around.  But what about all of your training?”

I breathed.  Finally.  “The training is fine.  There will be other races.”

“Are you sure?  It’s okay if you want to run it.”

I crossed the room and opened the fridge door.  As I pivoted, slamming the door shut behind me, I thought real fast.  This was absurd.  I was being absurd.  This wasn’t really their decision.  It was my decision, all the way.  Even if it hurt me that Ben didn’t seem to want me home, I wasn’t going to run from my responsibility.  Even if staying home meant admitting I’d been gone too much, I wasn’t going to run from this.  Even if it meant facing my guilt, I could do that.  I could even face my guilt for being away too much and being too busy and too absorbed in my work without turning it into a shame-making session with my past, present and future ghosts haunting me.

Because, you see, I thought to myself, I can control how the future works out with me and my children by slamming the door shut on this race, and this disengaged parenting, right here, right now.  They won’t remember the Saturdays I disappeared, or at least won’t be haunted by them, if I change–if I manage to be here going-forward, most Saturdays and Sundays.  I’m in charge of how our family turns out, and all I got to do is be here, and when here, actually be present.  I can do all of that without sacrificing my work, and my happiness.

After guzzling half a liter of ice-cold water, I rubbed my mouth on my sleeve and then nuzzled my daughter’s head.  “I’m sorry I’ve been gone so much.  I’ll try harder.”

It took a few more passes for us to reassure one another that all was well, and then I changed the subject back to the contents of their day.  And as they unpacked their day like a woman unloads the contents of her purse, I tried to sort through my feelings.  Feeling guilty paralyzed me, and so I had to try to set that aside and think things through.  Had I been gone too much?  Maybe; maybe not.  Children can be self-absorbed.  So can I.  I never really grew up.  In some ways, I’m still a life coming into being, rather than a finished product.  And the thing is, I was profoundly unhappy when I was just a stay at home mom.  No offense to SAHMs (Hell, moms that don’t work get their own acronym just like some neighborhoods garner their own zip codes, so they must be doing something with all of their time, right?), but I lost my sense of self when I stopped working. 

I love being a mom.  But I didn’t love being just a mom.  I’m not much good at most things domestic, and I never felt comfortable with the other SAHMs.  I felt like the ugly swan around them, and deep down, I knew I didn’t belong.  As the days revolved and became years, I felt constrained and trapped and overwhelmed with the unchanging routine of it all.  I wasn’t very good at running a household and I never wanted to be.

Which is not to say I didn’t love being home with my children.  I did.  And they knew I loved them.  Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind when I disappeared for hours on my long runs—because when I got home, I brought my grinning self to the threshold and bestowed hugs and laughs and well-timed winks.  Running made happy, and being happy made me a better mom.   Within limits, running made me a better mom.

I guess it’s all about balance.  I’d never quite found it.  Every day I reached out and tried to hold onto something stable to find it, because I was always moving so damn fast.  But as a mom, I had to be my own doorframe.  I had to provide the ballast to keep the ship afloat, and to do that, I had to stand still, if only for a few moments at a time, or else I was going to run my family aground.  And ships, like families, get pretty messed up when that happens.

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I Hear Him and I Surrender

This is an excerpt from my final chapter from I Run: Running from Hell with El

Many people have asked me, often with great exasperation, what I was running away from.  For years, friends told me to stop.  Over and over and over again, people told me to rest, to stand still, to stop.  But I was too scared.  I was scared of myself, of the demons that danced and pranced inside me.  I was scared of dying, perhaps by my own hand.  I was scared I’d end up in Hell.  I was scared of my past.  I was scared of facing my pain.  I was scared I wouldn’t survive whatever I saw when I finally faced it—all of it. 

And I’m still scared.  I’m fucking terrified.  Really, I am.  I’m at this crossroads, and I gotta decide which way to turn—which path to take.  If I keep running away from my pain, something really bad is going to happen to me.  I don’t know what that is, and in the past, I’d just keep running for miles and miles, one day, one horizon, one sunset fading into the next, until my legs could carry me no farther.  I’d follow one path, then turn down another one, hoping that I could drink in the adventure of it all and find my way back home someday.

I don’t like to give up.  It feels like surrender.  And surrendering means making myself vulnerable.  All my life, I’ve gritted my teeth and refused to stop moving.  God tried to get my attention more than ten years ago.  The seizures almost killed me.  And I heard Him loud and clear.  I had given up on Him and then, all of a sudden, well, I needed Him.  I realized how much I loved being alive, and every night before I fell asleep, I thanked Him for another day, and begged Him to let me see the morning light.

And yet I kept running away.  I waged war against myself; I plotted my own downfall; and I teetered on the edge of living and dying.  He was patient with me.  He gave me three beautiful children and they loved me.  Through them, I felt the first glint of self-love.  Because of them, I fought . . . I hung on.  I tried to find my way through the darkness inside; I tried to live a good life but I kept running away from my past.  I remained a stranger and too often, an enemy to myself and thus to Him.

The bus collided with our SUV and my life as I knew it ended.  I knew He kept me alive that night for a reason.  I felt His grace inside me as I screamed with a mother’s fierce love, “NO!! Don’t hurt my children!!”  For once, I stood still for a little while.  And I felt a pain unlike anything I had ever felt before.  I ran to Him; sobbing, I collapsed in front of a priest and confessed not just my sins, but the sins others had done to me.  I tried to find my way to Him through my childhood Catholic faith, but the church would not have me as I was—the Catholic church rejected my Protestant marriage.

I staggered and fled again. I was trying to find my way but I managed to get lost again.  I ran and I ran and I couldn’t stop running this time because I was running to stay alive.  You see, I was running back through my past.  I was running right through the gates of Hell and the only way to get through Hell is to keep moving until you’re safe again.

It took me two years of intense therapy to get out of there alive.

This year, for Lent, my therapist ordered me to stop hurting myself—to stop even wanting to hurt myself.  I couldn’t do this alone.  I needed God’s help.  He filled me with His light and I turned that light on the demons, real or metaphorical I do not know, that were lodged inside me.  I don’t care how this sounds.  All I know is that after two decades of wanting to hurt myself, of sometimes hurting myself, I stopped.  I didn’t overcome this on my own.  I worked hard that day to channel light and goodness and most of all, God’s will.  You see, He helped me do it.

Since this day, this miraculous day, I haven’t wanted to hurt myself.  And yet, I still wasn’t listening very well either.  And He kept trying to reach me.  He sent friends to talk to me, friends who told me they carried His message.  It’s true.  I sort of listened, but I also kept running, but slower.  Not as far.  And every so often, I would pause, look around, and listen.  I started to read the Bible again.  I started to listen when He talked to me, and I’ve been trying to figure out what He wants me to do.

Then He spoke to my friend. This is part of what He told her:

A: He says you are running from Him, too…and stop it sooner rather than later.

El: okay.

A: Run to Him, not away…Run to Him…

El: I hear Him. Chills are running up and down my spine.

A: Then listen…be kinder to yourself and trust Him to get you through the process. You cannot hear Him when you are constantly going 100 miles an hour.  And your body won’t hold out if you do not slow down. He will get your attention, and He will slow you down. It’s entirely your choice which way it goes.

El: Wow–is this Him or you–the tough love thing?

A: Him. I just type it.

El: man.

 A: Once He wants your attention, He will stop at nothing to get it but it is done out of LOVE—not sickness like all of the past people because he is not a people…He is God! And if He has to inflict pain to heal, He will do that—with love.

El: I hear.

A: It is easier if you surrender…but I know that is hard for you.

… … …

I do have a choice, apparently. I can listen to Him, or I can keep running.  If I keep running, and don’t listen, I’m going to get injured, again.  And it ain’t going to be pretty.  The thing is, some people I love very much depend on me.  And if I can’t get my shit together for myself, I can do it for them.

I wasn’t 100% sure what I was running to when I started writing this book, but now I know.  I knew I was running away from Hell but I didn’t quite grasp where I was supposed to go.  But now He has spoken and I’m listening.  No more running away.  My safety lies in Him and deep inside of me–that place we all have if we can get very, very still, and hear Him. I hear Him.  I’m on my way.  I’m on my way home.

 

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A Laundry Mountain, Falling Leaves and the Synopsis

I learned a little about the way I write this last week.  I like juggling several projects at once right up until the irreversible moment when I hit terminal mental velocity.  Then I drop all the balls and hide under the mountain of laundry piled on my bed, whimpering. 

It turns out that I write query letters and synopses in a state of complete and utter distraction.  To get in the mood to write something technical, which a synopsis is, I went through the writer’s version of a baseball player stepping into the batter’s box.  Minus the loogies and the crotch grabs.

I skimmed books and websites to learn, sort of, what I needed to write.  Then I got scared and thought about outlining Alien Enlightenment, but I don’t outline anything.  So I researched angels and demons and time space continuums some more.  And I drank way, way too much coffee and ate a pumpkin scone or two.

Then I started reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly and told my closest friends and about a thousand other people that they really, really needed to read it too.  I even made a poster of the Teddy Roosevelt quote that inspired Daring Greatly.  The first poster I made sucked, so I created a second one.  Here it is:

I started the query letter.

• • •

A few more days passed.  Every once in a while, I walked past the computer, glared at the query letter, and typed out a sentence or two.  I ran many miles, celebrated a fifteenth Anniversary and whined, a lot.  My husband told me I was doing a marvelous job and no, Cutie you’re not fat several times.

I skimmed, in no particular order, pages from a few more books on writing and several websites.  I asked a few patient friends like Astrea Baldwin, Deb Bryan, Doug MacIlroy and August McLaughlin for tips, help and advice.  Yellow leaves fell outside my window and the weather turned cold after a front blew through.  I opened a document and titled it: Synopsis/Ripple/Farris.

Two more days passed.

I reorganized all of the books on my desk.  More yellow leaves tumbled and danced and skated as they spiraled to the Virginia clay.  I contemplated the seasons and tried to stop counting the acorns on the deck.

I folded the laundry, went for a run, and took a hot shower.  Then I wrote fifteen words.  Man I hope my husband isn’t still reading this because when he got home from work yesterday, I told him I had worked nonstop all day.  I spent a half-hour whining on Facebook:

Help! I must finish this synopsis but it is as boring as writing a freakin’ legal memorandum. Ack! Groan. Wail. Teeth gnash. Fingernail nibble. Nervous pacing.

I wrote another fifteen words, ate a bowl of Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal, counted twenty-seven yellow pen-oak leaves float past, and whined for thirteen minutes.  Just re-reading this makes me exhausted.  A gust of wind brought a bombardment of acorns against the rooftop of our Dutch Colonial. 

The laundry pile beckoned, but I resisted.  It was time.  My short, chubby fingers ran over the wireless iMac keyboard, lickety-split, staccato tapping echoing against a mosaic of alternative music.  Sentences split, fragmented, then wove together.

Eight hundred and thirty two words and a week after I started, and the first draft is done.  And now?  Now I fold laundry.

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Unfiltered, Raw and Real

It’s been raining this morning since I woke up.  The house takes on a grayish tint without sunlight and I’m thinking about grabbing my red running jacket and heading out to run over tree roots and through mud and into puddles.  That will come later.  For now, I grab a sweatshirt, my husband’s thick black fleece one, and edit and write and think and create, hoping to sculpt some beauty out of the uncertain edges that make up my rainy morning.

I don’t write to anyone else’s requirements anymore, and I love that.  I love the freedom of crafting words according to my own artistic needs.  For far too many years, I wrote what and how and when I was told . . . by partner, court or client.

Please forgive me, kind friends who have bestowed lovely blogging awards on me, but I simply cannot spend time writing to spec, so to speak.  What I love most about this writing gig of mine is I can blaze my own trail.  I have total and complete artistic freedom, and this is more precious to me than almost anything else, save my family.

Artistic freedom is a beautiful and mighty thing.  I was thinking about this last night while talking to a dear, dear friend of mine.  You see, I will never work for anyone else again.  I’m going for it.  I’m all in, as far as my choice of vocation.  I am blessed to be doing for a living the one thing I love most: writing.

While I don’t write to spec, I love to riff off other writers, and my favorite source for improvisation material is my dear friend, Deborah Bryan.  A few weeks ago, I received her post, Let’s Get Real, in my in-box and I sat there, all hunched over my brand-new Macbook Pro, reading the results of five minutes of unfiltered, fearless, straight up “this is what I’m thinking and fuck it all I’m going to tell you what’s on my mind” writing.   And I grinned and howled and felt at home, as if she and I were sitting on her balcony drinking tea and watching the cars race past on the freeway overhead.

So here goes.

I know I write well.  Am I arrogant or just honest?  I suck at a lot of things and am average at best at many more.

For example, I strive to be a good mom.  In truth, I think I’m a mediocre mom, but that’s better than telling everyone who will listen that I’m a great mom and consistently proving otherwise.

I’m mad at Facebook.  My friends call Mark Zuckerberg something different.  They switch the “Z” with an “F” and I think it’s funny but then I feel guilty for calling him bad names even after I use his product all day, every day.  That said, he is trying to make page owners like me pay for what was once free.  My friend, D.Z., explained that he should be paying us, the content creators, for what we do.  We get Facebook users to linger more online, and the more our followers linger, the more likely they are to click on the paid advertising links.

I’m bored with this rant.

I’m bipolar and hyper and unable to sit still.  I interrupt people too much; smile when I’m sad; giggle when I’m mad; and hate to wear dresses or uncomfortable shoes.  In fact, the real reason I’m a writer is so that I can wear athletic shorts and a t-shirt every day.

My husband says I look sexy in shorts and t-shirts.  He says I look even better naked.  This pleases me.  I feel secure and unconditionally loved.

I love my hair.  It’s long and sort of dirty blond, not quite auburn, and not yet silver.  It makes me feel feminine and pretty, which is hard for me.  Usually, I don’t feel pretty or even feminine.  It isn’t safe to be soft and pretty.  It scares me.  And typing that makes me wanna cry . . . but I don’t cry much and I don’t feel like being sad today.

Loud noises give me a headache.  Violent TV shows give me nightmares.  Every time I see a gratuitously naked woman in a movie, the little child in me screams in pain and fury.  Shades of Grey’s success infuriates me.  What the hell is wrong with people anyway?  Why is this book popular?  The book celebrates abusive sex and the writing sucks.

This world we live in is so awful.  Damn it all.

But this world is beautiful too.  I hear the raindrops hitting the leaves in my backyard.  It’s raining harder and harder and not every drop makes the same noise as it hits the green and yellow leaves.  It doesn’t sound discordant, and I wonder how many raindrops it takes to create harmony.

I laugh too loud.  And so do my kids.  Sometimes I worry that they laugh too loud.  I worry that I laugh too loud and too much so that people will like me more.

I’m terrified to publish I Run because I’m going balls to the walls and telling my story, my real story.  What will people think?  What will my birth family do to me if they find out about what I’m writing?

Did you know where the phrase “balls to the walls” originated?  It comes from the aviation world.  On an airplane, the handles controlling the throttle are often topped with ball-shaped grips, referred to by pilots as balls. Pushing the balls forward, close to the front wall of the cockpit increases the amount of fuel going to the engines and results in the highest possible speed.

In other words, balls to the walls means giving your maximum effort.  That’s the way I live and love and write.  Consequences be damned.

And that, my friends, is a wrap.  I’m going to write like this more often because it feels good.

I’m heading out for a run in a few minutes.  While I’m gone, please feel free to tell me something unfiltered about yourself in the comments below.

 

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Tales of Woe from the Soccer Field

It’s Tuesday afternoon.  He runs into my room wearing cleats, shin guards and socks that are so long on his still tiny legs that they reach up over his knees and need to be folded over.  I sigh and follow him down the stairs and out into the garage, and before I get in and turn the key in the ignition, I put a hand on his cheek.  “You going to have fun and listen, right?”

He nods.  I take a deep breath and hope it will be different, but some things either don’t change, or aren’t going to change for a long time.  He’s no more a soccer player than I’m a soccer mom.

Jim.

That’s part of the problem: me.  I’m an abject failure at this so far.  Last Tuesday, we had three kids that had to make it to practice at 5:30 p.m., and the practices were in three locations.  Our daughter rode with neighbors, and I drew the easiest lot: taking our middle son, Jim, to his practice.

I paced around and fidgeted and tried to watch Jim run through his drills.  I talked to other moms.  And then, at 6:15, I checked my watch.  Practice was ending at 7, which meant I had time for a 3-mile run.  Twenty minutes later, I paused in the thick early September air and checked my watch.  It was 6:33, which gave me plenty of time to make it back to the fields with ten minutes to spare.  I smiled.  Damn, was I on my game, for once.

As I loped back onto field eight a little bit later, a sense of panic overtook me.  Those aren’t the same kids, I realized.

Then I heard a little voice screeching my name, “Mom!”

I caught a glimpse of my son standing on the running board of a tan SUV.  What the hell is going on, I muttered, and before I could ask the coach what happened, my husband drove up in his black sedan, and smiled at me.  The coach had called him because, well, practice had ended at 6:30.  I apologized of course, but I felt awful.

At Wendy’s an hour later, I looked over my diet soda at my husband.  “How did it go?”

He shook his head.  And then, with a bemused smile, he replied, “Ben went searching for fossils.”

I chuckled.  “Fossils?”

“Yeah.  And when the team scrimmaged, he walked off the field, in search of four leaf clovers.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” he nodded, his facial expression switching between laughter and frustration.  “And then, when the coach told the kids to run around the field, he was in the lead.  Then he stopped to look at something.  And then, when he ran next to his teammates, they turned left, to follow the field, and he turned right, ran down a hill, and in the opposite direction from everyone else.”

I covered my eyes and giggled.  “Wow.”

Ben.

“Will you please take him next time?”

I looked over at my children, who were busy eating and elbowing each other. “I’ll take him to his game Saturday.”

Fast forward to Saturday’s game.  I fidgeted and paced and observed Ben doing anything on the field but playing soccer.  He never even touched the ball.  When it came his way, he seemed to run in the opposite direction.  He bent over in search of bones, fossils, pretty crystals (rocks) and four leaf clovers.

Seeing a couple of dads running around the fields, I joined them.  Maybe if I help out, I can get Ben engaged, or so I thought.  I had no effect on Ben, other than to confuse the hell out of him.  The other dads ignored me.  It felt like I was invisible.  And then the ball flew toward me, and I’ve replayed this over and over again, because I’m not sure if I did this on purpose or was completely passive when the ball hit me in the hip.  I suspect that it was a little bit of both.  I’m a lifetime athlete, and when a ball comes my way, my instinct is to go and get it.  This instinct to go for the ball is every bit as strong as a border collie’s instinct to herd, or a golden retriever’s inability NOT to chase after an object in flight.

Whatever I did or didn’t do, I wasn’t expecting what happened.  The other dad on the field helping our team, an assistant coach, yelled at me to get off the field.  “Let the kids play.”  And so, with my head down and my face and neck turning even redder than the sun was making them, I headed off the field, where my in-laws sat.

“That was your fault,” my father-in-law snapped at me as he caught me muttering a protest under my breath.  “You should not have gotten in the way of the ball.  This isn’t your game.”

I stood there, several feet away from him, and tried to listen to this friend of mine, this dad who always has a story to tell, but I couldn’t follow him.  Tears were falling down my face, and even though my dark sunglasses hid my eyes, he could see me shaking all over.

“Hey,” he whispered, as he reached out and put a hand on my shoulder.  “It’s okay.  I’ve been ordered off the field before.  To be honest, you did get in the way of the ball.”

“I know,” I sobbed, barely able to speak, “But I’m so embarrassed.  Why did he have to do that?  Yell at me in front of everyone else?  And then my father-in-law has gotta pile on, and he’s never said a nice word to me, not ever.”  I cried harder and harder, and my friend listened and tried to make me feel better.

“I’d give you a hug,” he added, his eyes moving from the field to me and back to the field, “But I don’t wanna embarrass you.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

Sometime in the middle of this, my daughter had arrived, still wearing her soccer uniform from her earlier game.  She tried her best to make me feel better, and I tried my best not to cry in front of her.  After the game ended, I tracked down the assistant coach, and with tears again falling, I asked him not to ever yell at me in public, and explained about my son, and how he’s doing his best.  And so was I.

Maddie.

As I touched Ben’s cheek on Tuesday afternoon, all of this flashed through my mind, and I knew it wouldn’t be any better at practice, but I knew I wouldn’t love my son any less.  Sure enough, we couldn’t find the practice field, and I was too anxious and nervous to ask anyone.  We were a few minutes late.  And we forgot our ball.  And Ben ran in the wrong direction of the ball, searched for four leaf clovers, hung off the goal posts, and barely a soccer ball.

When it was over, he asked me how he did.  With his gray-blue eyes looking very blue, he chirped, “Am I a good soccer player, Mom?”

I looked down into his eyes and thought of my friend, the dad who put a hand on my shoulder when I cried tears of humiliation and frustration at Ben’s game on Saturday, and I smiled.  I wrapped my arm around his shoulders and kissed his head.  “I love you.”

“But am I a good soccer player?”

I’m not a fan of lying to my son.  The truth is, he’s no more a soccer player than I’m a soccer Mom.  And in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay.  And we’re going to be okay.

I smiled at him.  “I love you.”  With eyes shielded from the setting sun, I held his hand and we rambled off to face the close of another day.

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