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Monday, July 19, 2010

My Something Big

My husband once told me "you're the type of woman who can't be satisfied." He wasn't talking about in the bedroom. He meant, I'm never happy with my current situation. That's not a compliment, I've learned. I've told close friends that I wish I could just be happy with a simple life. I know that's a bit like the grass-is-greener mentality. But, I've wondered, why couldn't I just be happy staying home and being a mom?

"You don't have time to be a mom," my defiant 11-year-old snapped at me the other night. Ouch. I took her head firmly in my hands and told her that I work for our family, doing the best I can in the time I have and I don't like to be guilt tripped about my choices. Later, re-telling the story to a friend, I realized my daughter was partially right.

Here I am blogging about what my possible next steps are in my life when my time is stretched between running a magazine, managing a home, mothering four girls and pushing myself to peak physical performance. I've always been an over-achiever — taking on more things than I could possibly get done (never mind doing them well!). Maybe it's time to look at my choices more closely before I add one more thing.

The friend I related my woes of motherhood to is a good fifteen years my senior. She's had two boys who are now grown and out of her hair and she has been through two divorces — the ink on the second one is just drying — and she's been a working mother through it all. She always gives me the most thoughtful, sound advice and I love her dearly. She told me that she used to want to save the world/make a profound difference in her work, too. Now, she's just grateful she has a good job. She told me that maybe my desire to do something big needs to be shelved for now...because maybe my "something big" is being a mother to four girls. Right now.

When I had my first child, I resented that all my dreams and aspirations would have to wait. In some ways they have. I haven't finished college, I haven't written a book, I haven't made a million dollars, I haven't won any major awards, I haven't traveled the world, I haven't bought my dream house on the shores of a quiet lake...but, what I now have is four little women (just call me Mrs. March) with potential to each make a difference in the world. Does that mean I have to put my dreams on hold until they are grown? I'm not sure. But, it may mean that I need to stop trying so hard to always be doing more. Maybe I need to simply work on being satisfied with what I've been given.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Preparation and execution

Eight years ago I got hooked on triathlons. The competition with both myself and those around me was addictive. I loved to push my body to see how much it could do.Then, I had babies number three and four, started a business —basically, I got sucked into the busy-ness of work and life. After having Jane, my fourth daughter, I decided I wanted to get into shape to do another triathlon. I started training in February of this year.

One of my editor friends asked me to write about it, so I got a free coach, running shoes, a bike tune-up, a tri suit and a whole lot of accountability. I persuaded my neighbor to join me and we proceeded to put in eight to 12 hour workout sessions per week from April until race day (last Saturday).

The preparation for the race included some really hard workouts. These workout challenged both my mind and my heart. Sometimes, I felt I wasn't making any progress. This usually happened when I tried to fit into my skinny clothes, or when one of my older daughters told me in a fit of anger, "I'm going to punch you in your non-existent abs!" That tore me down. But, I kept going and so did my workout buddy.

One of the most difficult obstacles came when I fell off my bike and hit my elbow. I ended up in the hospital with a potentially broken arm, a series of fainting spells because of the pain and a major blow to my self-confidence. I missed three and a half weeks of training and I felt horrible — not to mention my arm wouldn't straighten or bend without tremendous pain. But, after a third opinion and a second x-ray, I was given the green light to keep training. So I did.

My doctor told me I'd have to fight through the pain to gain full mobility of my arm. Every day, I'd push my arm as straight as a I could and bend it as far as I a bit more. That pain taught me something. Sometimes things don't always heal right. We sometimes have to push through more pain and go ahead with things even if they aren't perfect.

When race day came, I was reminded of this again. I knew I could swim and bike strong, but the run seemed so daunting. I haven't been the best runner since starting my training. Maybe it is all in my head, but running feels like pulling a locomotive through a foot of mud. I never felt the freedom and calmness I felt on my bike or while swimming. During that 3.2 miles, my knees and back were whining. But, my mind kept telling me, "finish strong, finish strong." That meant no stopping, running through the frustration, running through the discomfort, running through the self-doubt. Like my stiff elbow, my running "muscle" needed to be pushed and pulled to perform better.

I ended the race with a much better time than I thought I would have — still with room for improvement. The proudest moment was when I finished strong and felt that surge of endorphins from knowing I had put in the time, finished strong and didn't relent when things got tough. Sometimes the hardest things in life are the most rewarding.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Exit Strategy

Yesterday, while sitting in a meeting where a new section in the magazine was being tossed around (not by me), my mind screamed, "get me out of here!" This was the first truly desperate thought I've had in the two years I've worked as the editor/associate publisher. I've always managed to fend off the money-driven sales managers who want to prostitute the content just to make a sale (which usually doesn't happen in the magnitude they predict). Not this time, I guess. I offered a suggestion which would make it a little less shallow. But, the change still feels like a direct hit to the authentic voice I've tried to maintain.

"They" want a special section devoted entirely to stroking the egos of cosmetic surgery doctors and beauty peddlers. I don't want to put my name on it. Women need to feel they are enough without the assistance of a scalpel, injection or tuck. Now, I'm not so self-righteous to be completely opposed to an occasional treatment or service to stay looking your best. I've often gazed longingly at other women's flat tummies and longed to have one for myself. But, I'd rather not promote every procedure under a cosmetic doctor's flaw-seeking eye. 

I came into this job knowing I'd have battles to fight. Several battles have been won — temporarily. I'd like to think I've made a difference in some woman's life from something I've written or had written in the magazine under my charge. But, lately the thought, "what's the use?" has entered my psyche.  Do you ever feel that the battle really isn't worth fighting anymore?

All the fight in me has drained out — at least for this job. I strive to have purpose and passion drive my decisions of what I do in life. My drive to stay now is mostly for sustaining my family. I barely feel as though I'm lifting and inspiring women. I feel more like a glorified order taker. I should just be happy to have a job which allows me the freedom of schedule, right? Well, call me an optimist, but I think something else out there might be just as permissive or more with my schedule as a mom (with it's own set of problems, of course) and not be so limiting in its vision. Is this a case of "the grass is always greener?"

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sick Daddy

My husband is sick. By sick, I mean throwing-up-seven-times-in-one-night sick. I'm not sure what's going on with his health, but he's been sick nearly every two to three months for the last year or more.

I try to do all the things a good wife should do for a sick husband. I tell the kids to be quiet (or take them out) while he sleeps, I pick up Gatorade and crackers (or Nyquil and zinc lozenges) for him at odd times of day (or night), I stroke his forehead, tickle his back and kiss him gently on the cheek. He's no wuss, nor does he act like he has a man cold. But, he is visibly sick.

I don't let myself express how I really feel. I'm worried. I notice, though, that I distance myself emotionally from him when he's sick. Lying in bed next to him as he sleeps, my mind races. Will I be one of those women who have a chronically ill spouse? Is this how it is going to be from now on?  Is he going to die before me? Am I going to have to raise four daughters by myself? Is this all happening because of our age difference (he's 13 years my senior)?

Pushing out fatalistic thoughts gets harder and harder to do...but, I don't want to tell him. My kids say things like, "Why is Daddy sick so much?" and "I bet you wish you'd married someone closer to your age, huh?" How do you respond to that? Am I overreacting? I know he doesn't want people to pity or look at him differently.

My father-in-law had leukemia for twenty years before he died. In that time he lost his strength, shrunk down to 150lbs (at 6'2 he was a stick) and became quiet. My husband says his dad's personality  changed. He used to be strong, husky and a doppleganger for Robert Wagner in his prime. Illness changed him so much that, my husband tells me I "never really knew him."

Is this what I have to look forward to in my marriage? I'm sure plenty of couples deal with this...but, I didn't expect to have to deal with this for another 20 years. How do people handle illness in their marriage without totally losing their sanity? The person they love...robbed of good health. Scary...and sad.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Asking for Help

Six years ago, while I was pregnant with my third daughter, I was the bridesmaid in my friend C's wedding. We weave in and out of the other's life. Our similarities have managed to hold us together — we worked together for about a year and a half, our oldest daughters are the same age and our younger daughter's share the same name (She claims I stole her idea for that name. Whatever.).

Today, she told me she's getting a divorce. She and I haven't talked in months. She moved further away about three years ago and we sort of fell out of our friend rythym. We didn't see each other at our kids' school or run into each other at the grocery store any more.  I had no idea what she had been going through in her marriage for the last year and a half. After talking for nearly an hour, I felt guilty and sad. Regret over how I could have been there for her washed over me.

She had pneumonia last December — I had no idea. When she was hurting over her husband's insensitivity,  I wasn't there. She said she put on a brave face and didn't tell anyone about what she was going through until just recently. I've done the same thing.

Why do we resist asking for help or reaching out for someone to talk to when we're going through pain? Do we think we're better off not sharing with our friends when emotions are too raw? Are we afraid we'll be embarrassed about falling apart in front of others after the fact?

Do I recommit to the friendship and call her like crazy? Do I let her go her own way and call me if she needs me? I feel as though too much contact would just drain me, but not enough will make me feel guilty. Plus, I don't know if she knows what she needs when she's never been through this before. What's the answer?

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