Week 1

 

I’m struggling with feelings of shame around not doing enough. This is a constant for me – and for many, though I think working parents deal with particularly pernicious flavors of it – and it’s exacerbated by the burning need to DO SOMETHING in response to the election.

How do I get outside my bubble (workplace, profession, neighborhood, city, friend group) to be a part of change? How can I engage with things outside my bubble authentically, without constantly feeling like (or being) a white savior? How can I be active in helping prevent (or undo) the damage that has been wrought by millions of people like me and voted in support of things I find horrifying and incomprehensible?

I can speak out about the things that I know personally, but that isn’t enough, not now. Reproductive rights, women’s rights – these are small but important pieces of all of the things that are at stake. There are many more things that I care about than am knowledgeable about – social justice, access to education, the nuances of healthcare policy – and many, many more beyond that.

But then I also have a family and a job. A little son who demands my attention from the moment we wake until I leave for work, and from the moment I walk in the door until he goes to sleep. 3-4 hours/day with my child. 9-10 hours/day at work and commuting. 1-2 hours/day with my partner. An hour or so for exercise and self-care. Sleep, still broken by a child who wakes up 3-5 times/night needing my comforting attention. But everyone has these things, some with more support and flexibility, many with less.

I don’t know. I’m anxious and afraid. I need help getting outside my shell and my bubble. I’m working on figuring out what in my life can go – for now, for awhile, for a long time – to make room for what needs to happen. I need help giving myself permission to do what I can, knowing that there will always be more to be done.

Day 2

Today I did concrete things. I set up monthly donations. I signed petitions.

I read a lot of things that made my blood chill. This thread is a very good example.

Many years ago, my life was very different – probably unrecognizable to many who know me now. I was a very different person in a very different relationship. The people that surrounded me were more diverse than those around me now in ways that I didn’t recognize then, but that feel very important now.

In the days since the election, I have yet to encounter any of the nastiness or hate that is clearly happening all over the country. The people in my social circles are angry, devastated, sad, and scared – but they are rising up with nearly one voice to express the desire to move forward, to love and care for each other, and to be the light in the darkness, both now and in the days to come. And this is a wonderful thing.

But it also means that I am acutely aware that I’m in a bubble, and I’m not sure how to get outside of it, particularly when what’s outside the bubble is terrifying.

I remember what it felt like to be in conversations about guns and the government, and to wonder what circumstances resulted in these otherwise lovely people prioritizing the rights granted in one particular amendment over the rights granted in all the others. I remember what it felt for casual racism and misogyny to be the norm. I remember what it felt like when my body was more valuable than my brain. And I remember, later, and then over and over and over, realizing how narrow my understanding of the world had been.

But I fled one bubble for another. And now I find myself wondering – how do we bridge these huge gaps in order to understand each other? Especially when the rhetoric of Tuesday’s winners is laced with hate? Are respect, listening, and engagement really even on the table? I want to believe that they are, but I really don’t know.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A month ago today, I emerged from the finisher’s area of my first marathon in a daze. I squatted down next to a vehicle and had an ugly, jagged, rough cry. The race had taken everything out of me, particularly the last five miles, and the tears of pain and exhaustion and depletion came from some place raw and hidden, a secret store of emotions that I didn’t know I contained.

I imagine that’s what a lot of us felt like last night, as the forecasts and our associated hopes fell through the floor, or this morning, as we woke to the reality of an America all too familiar to many.

I laid in bed this morning between my partner and our son, tears streaming down my face as I remembered the optimism and energy of the previous day, the overwhelming hope embodied in the wave of posts to Pantsuit Nation. People voting for the first time or the last.People casting votes alongside adult children or ailing parents. People flying home from all over to vote because absentee ballots didn’t arrive in time.  People casting votes they never anticipated, either due to the impossibility of a serious female candidate, or because that candidate represented a party whose values were so far off from those the voter previously held. People voting for inclusion, for tolerance, for progress, for unity, for a better country – or even just for a less bad one.

We didn’t get that.

This morning I wiped away my tears, and then I read my son the book about seeds that he requested upon waking. I made coffee. I did the dishes and put away the laundry. I put on makeup. I went to work and facilitated a meeting about statistics. I took down signs advertising events in the past. These were things I could do.

I don’t have to take a quiz to know that my love language is acts of service. But in the face of this, it’s hard to know what to do. I’m so small. I’m only one person. It’s a very familiar feeling.

So many of us are feeling so much fear and uncertainty today – for ourselves, for our loved ones, for those with less privilege or power, for our country. For women and minorities, for immigrants and the disabled, for those who rely on social programs that could be eliminated, for those whose families could no longer be recognized, for operation of a free press, for the right to practice any religion, for the health of our planet. My family has much less to fear than many, and so we owe it to others to do more, share more, help more, understand more, love more – I just don’t know where to start.

I want to challenge you to do as I’m doing right now – to list one concrete thing you can do to keep our country, your state, your city, your neighborhood, your street, your family, and yourself moving forward. And then let’s keep each other accountable, just as we’ll work together to keep our new government accountable.

My Marathon Year

When you’ve been running long enough, or have run enough races, people start asking when you’re going to do a marathon. For me, the questions started after I ran my second half, in the fall of 2011. Riding high on the euphoria of finishing Detroit, I decided I wanted to run a marathon.

13.1! Space Blanket! Medal!
Detroit half marathon finisher, October 2011

So I registered for Chicago in 2012. And then I thought about it, and then I thought better of it. I sold my bib, and then I broke my arm, so running the marathon became a moot point – though I did end up running a portion of the marathon with a dear friend as she finished her second. The experience of running her through the hardest 8 miles of the race was so powerful – and the rush of the finish so intoxicating – that I decided (again) that I wanted to run a marathon.

And then I thought about it again, and decided it wasn’t for me again. And so it went for another year, where I ran seven half marathons in four cities and two states. I joined an informal running group. I started doing speedwork. I got more serious about my diet. I got fast(er). And then the marathon bug bit again, and I started telling people: this is my marathon year.

And literally the next day, I found out I was pregnant. I watched the 2014 Chicago marathon from my chair, nursing my two week old baby as the elite runners passed through our neighborhood. Not my marathon year – not that kind of marathon, anyway.

And then 2015 wasn’t my year either. The baby continued to breastfeed enthusiastically and sleep erratically, both of which wreaked havoc on my well-being. I agreed to wait a year, and then made sure I was out of town on marathon day.

So in March of this year, I entered the Chicago marathon lottery, and in April, I got in. A week after I received my acceptance, I ran one of the most difficult races I’ve completed and wondered what in the world I’d gotten myself into.

Post-race face
Portrait of the artist as a water-logged half marathoner, April 2016

And so the summer passed with nearly every lunch hour spent on increasingly sweaty runs, and with nearly every weekend seeing me nudging my “longest run ever” record a little bit further. The last five miles of my 14 miler featured thunder and lightning, a torrential downpour, and standing water on the trail. It was so humid for my 15 miler that by mile 11, my shoes and socks were squishing with every step. My 16 miler was a dream. My 17 miler was painful at every turn. My 20 miler was spontaneously pushed to a Friday morning and culminated in a freak storm.

I ran before dawn. I ran most of the Lakefront Path, and literally all around Antwerp. I listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts. I didn’t do as much strength or cross training as I should have. I was constantly hungry. I got to a point where I was just so sick of running that I couldn’t wait for it to be done.

View from mile 3/17 at 6am.
Sunrise at Navy Pier

All of this prepared me for the marathon itself – and none of it prepared me for the marathon itself.

I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings that I experienced in the week leading up to the race. Everything felt incredibly emotional especially – my last long run, walking into the race expo, and picking up my bib.

I'm not crying; you're crying.
Race expo

I felt stressed and anxious when people asked me how I was expecting to do, or what time I expected to be by a certain location – as if I was going to let them down if I wasn’t there on time. I experienced a lot of impostor syndrome – I’m not a marathoner, I’m not an athlete. I felt the need to downplay what I was about to do, and wished I hadn’t told as many people – even as I couldn’t stop talking about it.

I worried about food all week – what should I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? What should I eat the day of? What is going to work with my stomach? And then an infected insect bite sent me to the emergency room three days out, and massive doses of antibiotics gave me all new worries.

I spent the night before the race at my parents’ hotel, where my mom’s mention of the race when making her reservation resulted in a surprise package waiting for me in the room.

Happy marathon eve to me.
Happy marathon eve to me

The morning of the race was everything I expected it to be. I jogged to the course, the streets filling up around me with marathoners and their loved ones. I watched the sun rise over Buckingham Fountain as I stretched. I ran into members of my running group – all first time marathoners – with enough time to snap a photo before we had to head to our corrals.

Team Noon Recess All Stars is ready to go!
Team Noon Recess All Stars

And then it was go time.

Here we go!
This view!

I want to remember how strong and steady I felt crossing the starting line. I want to remember those first miles, the sidewalks crowded with spectators, excitedly anticipating seeing my parents between miles 3 and 4. I want to remember running through Lincoln Park, a river of people rushing northward. I want to remember turning onto Addison at the northernmost part of the course, scanning the crowd for the previous night’s Lyft driver, whose wife had run the race before and who said he’d keep an eye out for me at that turn.

I want to remember the blinding sunlight through Boystown, and then the wave of emotions as I passed Neo, and then the beautiful scenery on Sedgwick as we headed back south. I want to remember checking my splits, mile after mile, and finding myself exactly on target mile after mile. I want to remember crossing the river back into downtown and texting the friends and family who were waiting for me to the west.

I want to remember the halfway point, my feet sticking to the pavement from all of the energy chews, my heart full of pride at what I’d already accomplished. I want to remember Annette and her family in the West Loop, her running out to join me for a few blocks. I want to remember accepting red licorice from someone in the crowd. I want to remember jumping up and down as I saw Karen at the western most point of the course.

Mile 15
Mile 15, photograph by Karen

I want to remember that it started getting hard after that, and that by the time I saw Alisa on Taylor Street, I was starting to struggle. I want to remember turning south to Pilsen, and wondering if I was going to finish, but holding it together because I knew I’d see my family soon. I want to remember digging into my reserve so that they would see me smiling. I want to remember the hurried hugs and kisses – and the toddler so overwhelmed by everything that he turned away.

And then I want to remember turning the corner at mile 20 and everything falling apart. I want to remember the last 10K taking everything I had – and taking it all out of me. I want to remember crying as I limped down Halsted, pulling it together to run through Chinatown, then falling apart again. I want to remember how sweet that grape popsicle tasted in mile 24. I want to remember counting down the blocks until I saw Michelle who lifted my spirits by running the last few blocks of Michigan along with me.

And then I want to remember the end, pulling out all stops to get up Roosevelt, summoning some secret reserve of energy to call out THIS IS IT as I rounded the corner into Grant Park and saw the finish line.

I ran a fucking marathon
I ran an effing marathon.

And then after – the shuffle through the finisher’s area, getting my medal and my space blanket and my banana. Collapsing on the ground for an ugly cry before I could return any of the texts or emails or social media love that had been blowing up my phone for hours. Finding my way out and meeting Michelle somewhere on Michigan and her getting me home. Painfully climbing the two flights of stairs to my proud family. Sitting on the floor to stretch without any certainty I could get back up. Devouring a caramel apple cupcake despite having no interest in food whatsoever. A celebratory meal with family and dear friends. Walking slowly around the Arboretum the next day rather than sitting at my desk and cramping up. Trying to make sense of the surprising pains and emotions that emerged in the days that followed.

So, I ran a marathon. Maybe someday I’ll run another one. How do I feel about it? I feel everything about it.

I want to talk about this first.

I ran my first marathon yesterday. And I want to tell you about it, but I want to talk about this first.

I took this photo because I liked my pre-race layers – the Divvy shirt was going to be tossed before the race started – but when I looked at the photo on my phone, I wasn’t happy with it because I didn’t like how my belly looked.

Let that sink in for a minute. I was an hour away from the start of my first marathon, an accomplishment preceded by months of training and hundreds of miles logged on calloused feet and strong legs, all of which was done while working full time and with a toddler who still nurses nearly as much as he did at 9 months. And in that moment, I was upset at the shape of my belly.

I don’t remember when I first internalized that I was bigger, or that my weight was something I needed to be concerned about. Certainly by the time I was 12-13, I believed it to be true. I don’t know when I started understanding that my body had value, or that the value of my body to some might exceed the value of the heart and mind that it contained. But there were certainly long years where that felt true, and unlearning that truth was costly.

Whenever I run a race and see little girls watching and cheering, I think about how important it is for girls in particular to see women of all shapes and sizes doing hard and amazing things that aren’t limited to the traditional confines of gender. Every time I accept a high five from a little girl on the course, I hope that it’s a meaningful moment for her, that my imperfect body will be added to the many many messages she’ll receive about who and what she can be, that she’ll understand that she doesn’t have to have a perfect body to be amazing.

Before We Go

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Our three weeks in Antwerp have come to an end. Three weeks is a long time, long enough to feel settled, to establish routines, to start feeling at home. Long enough to have specific, tangible things from daily life that you will miss when you leave.

As we get ready to go home, a few things about our life here that I will miss:

  • Drinking several small cups of coffee throughout the day instead of one big cup in the morning.
  • Walking everywhere (though I’m looking forward to a few days of NOT walking everywhere, and also to not walking the Langeleemstraat).
  • Fresh bread from various bakeries nearly every day – and walking to the bakery with the toddler while he narrates all of the trucks, trains, cars, bikes, trees, and basically everything else along the way.
  • Being outside most of the day – an artifact of being on vacation more than of Antwerp.
  • Mornings and afternoons and evenings in the garden with the family and all of the cats.
  • Coherent meals, often with multiple courses. Fish, veggies, dessert. Wine or a pintje, coffee. Dinner that takes as long to eat as to prepare.
  • Olives or other salty snacks served with drinks. Speculaas or other small sweets served with coffee.
  • Bikes everywhere all the time.
  • The toddler asking for his grandma, his uncle, and other people who were strangers when we arrived, but are now essential parts of his daily life.

So here we are. It’s good to go home. It’s hard to go home. It’s good to know we’ll be back. It’s hard to not know when we’ll be back. It’s terribly sad to know the toddler doesn’t understand that we’re leaving, and that the bedtime goodbyes will have to last us for a long time.

Antwerp v. Chicago, pt. 2

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Beer: Also should be the subject of its own post. Whenever we go to Champaign, we stop at the Esquire for beers and marvel at how cheap they are compared to Chicago. $3 for a Blue Moon? I’ll take it! Beer here is like that, except that we’re drinking world class beers for a couple of euros.

Bedding: The pillows in Belgium are fine if you want a fluffy square but not if you want actual neck support. On the other hand, some duvet covers have a thing that you tuck in (instead of buttons or snaps) in which can also be used to tuck the duvet itself under the mattress, thus solving two persistent problems in our sleeping situation: the tucked in vs not complex, and rampant blanket displacement/theft.

Fancy ice cream desserts: Something of an edge to Belgium for having a suite of ice cream desserts like the Dame Blanche. Sure, it’s just vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream, but they’re all the real thing, or you’re not really eating a Dame Blanche. Also all ice cream trucks sell ice cream by the scoop, not just the prepackaged novelties.

After hours health care: We all got food poisoning during the second week of our trip. When the toddler hadn’t kept anything but breastmilk and coconut water down for 2 days, we were encouraged to go to the doctor. At 7pm. On a Friday night. In the States, and with my insurance, that would have meant driving 7 miles to Hyde Park to pay a $75 copay to be seen at the ER. The last time we did this, we waited 3 hours and left without being seen. In Antwerp, we walked 10 minutes to a neighborhood clinic. We were seen by a kind and professional doctor who spoke both English and Dutch, and were on our way home in under an hour. With no insurance, and as non-residents, and after hours on a weekend, we paid €29, or less than half of what we would have paid in the States. No healthcare system is perfect, but this was dramatically better than most of our recent experiences back home.

Parks (pt 2): We miss the sponges surface from playgrounds in Chicago – the sand from Antwerp’s speelpleinen gets EVERYWHERE. And while I’ve enjoyed running the trails in the wooded parks, I miss the many drinking fountains on the lakefront path.

Bottled water: OH GOD THIS IS A TOUGH ONE. Bottled water is a thing here. No one drinks tap water, even though the tap water is clean and good. If you want water when you go out to eat, a small bottle of Spa or Chaudfontaine will cost you at least €2. While I agree that bottled water sometimes tastes better than water from the tap, and while I love me some fizzy water, I loathe buying bottled water and am frustrated by the unnecessary waste generated so that we can avoid drinking the perfectly fine water from the tap. We’re not in Flint. We’re not even in Chicago, where I agreed to buy and install a reverse osmosis system because of the old infrastructure delivering water to our home. While there are many, many, many examples of American excess, the bottled water habit in Belgium is its own kind of excess.

Things falling from trees: In Chicago, we have acorns. Antwerp has chestnuts that fall with an audible thud. They’re more dangerous, but also more delicious. Advantage: Antwerp.