To My Sweat Sisters

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To Allison and April, who first showed me that running for fun was a thing.

To Diana, who challenged me to try it for myself and gave me something to aim for.

To Jen and Katrina and Ana who acted like it was no big thang to keep their legs moving for hours at a time—and took it for granted that I would learn to do it too.

To Christy and Suzie and Mara and Marin, who imparted more wisdom and strength to me on a handful of 3-milers than I had learned in the decade before I met them.

To Carrie, who put a marathon on my radar when it was the last thing I thought I could do.

To Shiloh and Valerie and Valerie and Heather and Elizabeth (and the menfolk, of course) for being my Ragnar team—where I learned, for real, that I could actually run.

To Abby, who inspired me with her determination to keep finish her first marathon, even when every part of her was saying, quite distinctly, “NO.”

To Becca, who is not ashamed to commiserate with me over the messy parts of running.IMG_5825

To Kathleen and Emily and Noelle, whose quick “Hi!” as we pass each other in the park often left me smiling for miles.

To Ashley, who keeps me running, even if it is only to see how many miles I can do in a month.

To Heather and Rachel, who took me in and cheered me on in Boston.

To Madison and Sharra, who made miles and miles in 20 degree weather not only manageable, but fun—and kept my mood high and bright all of last year’s long, cruel winter.

Ladies, if I had my druthers, every meeting between friends would include a run—a time and a place to move together, think together, to share a conversation or share the scenery in silence. It’s work, but it’s play, too. It knocks down walls and narrows your focus to what is right in front of you. It tunes you into the same wavelength and gives you an opportunity share laughter and tears without the awkwardness of eye contact. It can clear the air and cleanse your soul.

Wish we could meet up for a lap at Prospect Park tomorrow. But since we can’t, I’ll just say that I’m glad we’ve had a chance to share the road.

love,

lizzie.

Sisters Tell Stories

You know that the best part of any girls’ night is the loads and loads of stories that come spilling out of everyone’s mouths. One minute you’ll be laughing so hard you can’t breathe and then suddenly you’ll be crying for real as you make an emotional 180.

As much as I love hanging out with friends, cracking jokes and musing about nothing, it’s really in the storytelling that friends become sisters.
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Last night I listened as two wonderful sisters-from-church talked about their experience with divorce — shared their stories of heartache, loneliness, redemption, fulfillment. I knew these women before, had talked with them, had a sense of their strength and depth. But hearing their stories colored in the lines.

They talked about how much hearing other women’s stories helped them through their own difficulties. We have sisters all over the place, we just don’t know it until we hear their stories, or tell them ours.

“Story of my life!” and “I love that story!” one of my sisters-in-law always says.

Stories are our lives, and I hope that we love the stories we live, whether they are happy or sad, tearful or fearful. And I hope, too, that we share them with our sisters to strengthen and support them — to help them color in the lines of their own lives, of their own stories.

Sisters in Beauty

I get a little bit annoyed sometimes at how focused we are on beauty. I mean, can’t we go a little deeper than that? Can’t we get beyond appearances to the meat of who people actually are? But then again, I am as much a sucker as anybody for someone telling me I’m pretty or that they like what I’m wearing or that my hair looks nice.

As much as I hate to admit it, it matters. It really does.

And I got to see why yesterday when I went to Dove’s Self-Esteem Weekend kick-off. I listened to teenage girls from the Girl Scouts, from Girls Inc. and from The Boys and Girls Club talk about beauty and confidence and how they can influence each other to feel good about themselves. Dove’s focus this year is on your beauty legacy — how others feel about themselves because of you.

I know that I have a lot of responsibility for my kids (and for my daughter especially), but one of the things that stood out to me was the sisterhood of the whole endeavor. “Confident people encourage others” was one of the takeaways of the event. Once you get to a place where you are happy with yourself — with who you are and what you can do — you are not threatened by others. You can bring out the best in them because you recognize the best in you.

Too often girls (and women) are so catty because they feel like if anybody is pretty or smart or talented, it means they are less pretty or smart or talented. (Guilty as charged!) And we bring each other down when we could be moving up and beyond the basics and actually getting stuff done.

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And that, I suppose, is as good a reason as any to focus on beauty. Because maybe if we master it in ourselves, we can help our sisters find it in themselves. And then maybe we can relax a little bit and see what we really have to offer.

Sister Saviors: Guest Post by Livia Taylor

Babies babies babies. So much joy! So much pain! And so much we get to discover the hard way. But having sisters around to lead, guide, walk beside—and give the baby a bottle while we regain some sanity—can bring some order to the emotional/physical/mental chaos that is the postpartum period. Amiright? My friend Livia Taylor wrote up this story of how her little sister stepped up and saved the day (or many of them) after she had her second baby a few months ago. Thanks Livia!

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Being six years apart, my younger sister and I didn’t have much in common for a long time. I moved out for college by the time she may have been considered old enough to become my friend. There were a couple of sporadic visits over the years when I was across the country in school, but we didn’t connect very deeply.

She eventually moved to the same state as me to attend school herself, and we started seeing each other on major holidays, when I hosted family and friends at my home to celebrate. When my daughter was born, my sister spent the weekend at my house and helped me pull myself back together as I dealt with postpartum. The first week I was home from the hospital, my sister called me every day to make sure I was alright.

In the four years since my daughter was born, my relationship with my sister has grown into more than just sisterhood; we’re friends. She has since served a mission and done a study abroad while finishing up school, but her influence is often felt in our home even when she’s gone.

I had my son about four months ago, and I was very nervous throughout my whole pregnancy that I’d have a difficult postpartum again. My depression flares up when I’m sleep-deprived and hormonal after childbirth, and it was scary for me to consider having another when I knew he’d be born while my sister was out of the country.

But then my sister gave me the greatest gift; she sent me an email letting me know she was rescheduling her flights back to America so she could make a pit-stop at my house before finishing her summer vacation with our parents in Maine. She ended up staying four days, and it was such a relief to me to have her help while I recovered from the chaos of hosting my son’s blessing and my daughter’s fourth birthday that weekend. I couldn’t have “caught up” on sleep (all parents know that’s not really possible, but you know what I mean!) without her.

My sister will thaw breast milk without being asked and feed my baby while I sleep. She knows how to wrap him tightly and rock him until he’s ready for bed. She can negotiate with my feisty toddler and tolerate her tantrums without skipping a beat. She insists on babysitting so my husband and I can have a date every couple of months. She helps with meals when she stays at my house and cleans up without being asked. She has made it possible for me to cope with having two kids while struggling with managing my depression. Just when I think I can’t do it any longer, my sister will take a break from her life at school and visit me, giving me the boost I need to be a better mom and wife.

I’m so grateful that my relationship with my sister has evolved to this. Our family has been through so much that could have turned us against one another, and I consider it such a blessing we have become real friends. My sister is an example to me of hard work and selflessness, and I hope I can someday return the favor if she chooses to have a family of her own (hopefully by then my baby will be sleeping as well as my toddler so I’ll have the energy to do so :) ).

Also, I feel like I owe her for all the times I’ve borrowed her clothes without asking while she was out of the country.

photo credit Mary Oveson

What To Do When Your Sister Is Kind of a Jerk

Yes, back in the day my sisters and I had plenty of sit-on-each other moments. Probably some hair-pulling. Maybe some name-calling.

I probably got what I deserved. I was super stingy with sharing whatever clothes happened to be exclusively mine (there really weren’t many) and didn’t do much to get out of their hair. Instead, I was the pesky tag-a-long sister who really doesn’t see that an age gap is much cooler for the younger kid who gets to hang out with the older ones than the other way around.

In fact, as a teenager, I wanted very little more than to distinguish myself in some way. To be different. To have my own clothes and my own room and my own identity. I didn’t want to drive my siblings around, I didn’t want to play the same instruments, I didn’t want to be part of the pack.

And then there was that one time when it seemed as though all my hopes and dreams had been rudely snatched from my hands. Life can be beastly at times, and the beast reared its head at the end of my senior year when school acceptances and scholarship notifications were making their way to many of my friends’ mailboxes. Mine, too. Only when I opened what I expected to be a happy letter turned out to be a strangely harsh one that left me questioning all my hopes and dreams.

I cried for days. And days. And days. I made it through school in a haze and went home and cried some more.

One day, there was a knock at my bedroom door. I opened it to find a plate of freshly baked cookies and a note from my sisters letting me know they loved me and wanted me to be happy.

I don’t know if that was a turning point, exactly, but it helped. (As did a letter my mom wrote which led to the discovery that my application had been misfiled and that everything was coming up roses after all . . . . )

I kind of think that experience is emblematic of what sisterhood is. Yeah, sure, you’re kind of a jerk and pretty imperfect. But sisters are willing to cut you some slack and pass you the chocolate chip cookies.

Gotta love them.

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Sisterhood in Motherhood

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I have four biological sisters. Eight sisters-in-law. A handful of friends who have honorary sister-status in my mind and heart. And dozens and dozens of others who are my sisters in motherhood.

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We have cried and fought, borrowed clothes and lent baby supplies, shared secrets and shames. We’ve looked after each other’s kids, spent hours talking on the phone, stayed up too late laughing, and then brushed it off to spend another day doing laundry, making meals, cheering for first steps, and teaching to read.

 

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These are women who have my back, whose advice and judgment I trust, who are beyond mom-shaming and cat fighting.

This month I’m celebrating sisterhood here on Mother Runner—from the big ways my sisters in motherhood have supported and inspired me to the day-to-day words and acts that sometimes get me to bedtime without breaking down.

 

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Some of these relationships have grown and matured over decades (my sister no longer sits on me and demands that I name the top 10 cutest boys in my class) while others, though younger, skipped the superficial stages of friendship and went straight to the heart sisterhood from our very first meeting.

 

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I would love to spend the next month in a weeks-long Girls Night Out with all my girls (or GNOFF—pronounced “guh-noff” as my sisters and I call it) reminiscing and recounting and eating too much chocolate, but I can’t. Everyone has too much to do. Kids and husbands and life and all.

But I’m pretty sure that sister month on Mother Runner is the next best thing. Or close enough, anyway.

 

If you have a story about sisterhood to share, let me know! lizzie@motherrunner.com

Commentary, Here and Elsewhere

I honestly didn’t know when I wrote my last post that I would be “expanding my reach” so soon. I pitched Motherlode a month ago and had been thinking it was time to move on and shop my essay around elsewhere when I found out they wanted to run it. You can read it here. Along with the commentary. Oh, yes, the commentary!

That’s something I’m learning to deal with. The questions. The insinuations. The declarations of disgust. Not just on my writing, but on my life in general. I admit that I bring it on myself because I do live my life relatively publicly—via my writing and my cycling/running/walking. I—and my family—are often out in the open. We’re not cocooned in a car with the radio turned up, deaf to whatever anyone else may be saying about us. It’s hard for me to not want to respond to everybody. I really want to get the last word, to clear up misconceptions, to give the whole story, not just the little bit I am able to share in 750-1000 words.

Mostly, I don’t read the comments on my essays. Mostly. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hear what people say. Today, as I loaded up the bike with all my purchases from Costco (yes, I rode my bike to Costco), some lady walked by mumbling something about the crazy lady with her bike. Mumbling about me. Just loud enough for me to hear her. Some other women had walked by earlier and mentioned how brave I was. I know the line between ‘brave’ and ‘crazy’ is sometimes a thin one, and it’s probably true that I am often dancing all over it. I don’t mind. I think other people are crazy and/or brave for the way they choose to live their lives, too. So I tried to shrug it off as I rode steadily and surely back home.

Which, I suppose, is the best anyone can do in the face of criticism, whether thoughtful or off-the-cuff. Sift out the bad and hold onto the good. It’s clearly something on my mind because last week when my friend Koseli asked me to contribute to her new blog, Bored Moms, the best thing I could come up with was this: that it’s worth dealing with the criticism to be part of the community—and I mean both the physical community we encounter riding around on a bike and the virtual community we encounter when I share my experiences online.

I hope that the net result of sharing, of being seen, of living my life authentically and boldly, is positive. For me and my family, of course, but for those who take the time to notice and engage and comment, too.

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Second Guessing

So, this aired today:

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(It looks like it got cut off. Sorry about that!)

You know, I thought I knew what I wanted. I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought I wanted to be a mom who taught her kids, who gave them opportunities to learn and grow. I hope that by doing so, they’ll become strong, self-reliant, capable adults.

And I also thought I wanted to be a writer. I thought I wanted to write about life and motherhood and marriage, about continually finding happiness and joy in the most mundane and repetitive of circumstances.

But experiences like this bring all things into question. Like, am I raising my kids well? Am I endangering them by either giving them too much freedom, or by writing about them, or by not giving them as much credit and responsibility as they can handle?

Obviously, having people question my parenting choices would cause me to question them as well. I think that’s a good thing to do. I hope that I am always looking for ways to improve, looking for holes I didn’t see, looking for paths and tools and ideas for how to help my kids become the best they can be. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to get too comfortable in my motherhood, to think that I know anything. I want to be teachable and to be open to the idea that there are better ways that I currently know.

So that’s that. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to be part of this discussion. I hope it has been as enriching for others as it has been for me.

On the other hand, I’ve also had to question whether or not what I really want is to sit quietly and write about my life as a wife and mother. So I’ve questioned it and decided that it is what I really want in life. Really and truly. I find a lot of joy and value in it. And it seemed a good fit for me. I’ve joked that I have a face for radio and a voice for print, so writing is probably where I belong.

But then, I never expected to have the opportunity to try anything else out —to actually do live radio or live television, to speak on camera without a script. I can hardly say what I’m thinking in a normal conversation, so why would I even consider one in which I was sitting under stage lights, wearing a mic, with cameras rolling?

But I had the chance to consider it. To try it out. To do it. And now that I’ve done it, I feel like maybe I should question that, too. Just to see if maybe there is another way for me to say the things I want to say.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get there again, if I’ll ever be able to do anything but peck at a keyboard. But at least now I know that the keyboard isn’t my only tool. If I want to, I can reach for something else.

My Cup Runneth Over

20140912-232146-84106104.jpgEverything is a song these days. And we’re singing it out. Whether it’s “Can You Hear the People Sing” from Les Mis or the cheer the boys came up with to celebrate the occasion of finding a license plate from one of their favorite states (Ohio!), we’re belting it out and it makes my heart sing right along with them. Even after hours. Sometimes, after we’ve put the kids to bed, we hear what sounds like Manchild singing the triumphant national anthem of a distant country. Where did he learn that? Oh, right. It’s the national anthem of Paraparaparaparafeetland, a strange and funny country which Micah has been telling the boys about at random times over the past few months. Each addition to the story leaves Manchild red in the face and nearly doubled over with laughter. Micah knows just what buttons to push to get that kid rolling in the aisles — or singing in the top bunk. Neither of which are bad places to be.

But if we’re not singing, we’re talking. Mostly Little Miss, who seems determined to get this speaking thing down. She follows along when I read stories to her, saying what I say, testing out the words. Micah and I can’t help but say what she says right back at her. Her little voice is irresistible and begs to be heard again and again — even if our efforts are a poor imitation. It’s especially amusing to hear her talk about Pokemon or Shaun the Sheep — two of her brother’s favorite things. Sure, they fight and argue and wrestle and drive me nuts, but they are also really happy to be together and share things with each other.
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With school starting, however, Little Miss is a bit on the outs. Sometimes she cries when the boys leave in the morning without her. But she and I have been spending more time together and that’s a treat. We’re learning the ABCs, matching mama animals to their babies, and chanting, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” (well, she chants, I man the controls) as we ride the bike to pick the boys up after school. And at pickup she isn’t afraid to lay her claim: last week she practically chased Squish’s class down and invited herself to be part of it. Squish held her hand as the class walked down the ramp to the meeting spot. Heart bursting

The start of school also means more running. The kids and I managed to get out about once a week during the summer: Little Miss and Squish rode along in the stroller, Manchild pedaled his own bike. We stopped at playgrounds and took water breaks. It was hot and hard and slow and not frequent enough for me. But it worked for the summer, and now it’s just me and Little Miss, cruising around almost as much as I please. We can get more miles in and do it faster and I’m starting to feel like running is part of my life again after a 3-month lull.

And here’s one last thing to share before I wish you a happy weekend: I loved this story by Peter Sagal about what to do if you’re going through hell. Give it a listen. I think there’s something to it. ;)

Collecting My Kids, Collecting Myself

Just the other day I was riding the kids around on the bike. All day long. Picking up shoes and socks for soccer practice after school. Rushing Squish across the bridge to get to kindergarten on time. Pedaling all three back to Brooklyn in the blazing heat — and wondering why some random guy decided he needed to pick on me and call me a “f#*%ing whore” several times. Apparently having kids on my bike was extremely offensive to him.

It was lonely work. I was so focused on getting to our first day of soccer on time that I didn’t hear a single thing the kids said the whole trip. Well, right up until Squish wondered why we were in the park instead of at home and I just about died because hadn’t I already told them half a dozen times that we were on our way to soccer practice?! And then after soccer we were back on the bike, slugging through the heat and up yet another hill.

I had thought that the loneliest years of motherhood were the early ones, the ones in which you spend all day waiting for a baby who can’t speak to wake up so you can go outside and make sure the world is still spinning. It felt very lonely for me, anyway. I imagined that once the kids got older, learned to speak, and were more mobile I’d have plenty of company.

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But I was wrong. Or maybe I’m doing it wrong? I’ve just noticed so many times lately that I’m on the outs, not able to join in the fun. Micah and the kids will be watching a show, playing a game, relaxing. And I’m making dinner, catching up on e-mails, rushing around, hovering on the outskirts — not really there.

It’s tricky though. I mean, we do need to eat. Chores need to be done. When I see a little block of time in which nobody is going to climb into my lap and steal my pen or co-opt my phone or keyboard, I have a hard time not taking advantage of it. I’m almost always planning events, checking schedules, putting the stars in alignment — and then moving on to the next thing while the plans go off without me. There’s not a moment to lose, after all, when I’m managing everybody else’s life as well as my own. It’s hard not to feel detached and unconnected at times like that. Like Mom is always around, but she’s never really there.

A few weeks ago I read a great book, Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The authors talk about why it’s important to build a strong relationship with your kids — so that you are the person they are attaching to and trying to be like — and how to do it. One of the simplest things to do is to “collect” your kids after you have been apart, like when they wake up or get home from school or even when they’ve been angry with you and you’ve been emotionally distanced. I’ve been working on it: giving my kids hugs, looking in their faces, getting them to smile or interact with me for just a second.

Another time to “collect” is when you are pulling them away from something else. Moving them from reading to dinner, from tv to homework. Instead of calling from the other room to tell them dinner is ready, you go and sit next to them, figure out what is going on, engage them in what they are doing before telling them it’s time to do something else. I’ve been working on that, too, and I’ve noticed a difference in how responsive they are when I come to them first, before asking them to come with me.

As I’ve taken those few moments to “collect” the kids — to sit down with them and watch the show while sitting next to them, rather than from behind them while I make dinner, or to get them to smile first thing in the morning — I have felt a difference in how smoothly these transitions go, and how responsive they are when I ask them to do something.

But as important as these little “collections” are to keep them attached to me, I think they may be even more important for me to be attached to them. When I sit down and watch the show for a minute, when I step into their world instead of acting so much like the puppet master — distant, alone, unable to see things from their perspective — I’m not so lonely any more. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on all the fun, or that I have to be the responsible one while everybody else gets to play. I’m part of the team again, out on the field, seeing what they see and enjoying it.

Last week, as we finally pulled up to our building after riding around the brutally humid streets of New York, I was in that lonely, separate place. We hadn’t even discussed the mean man who had cussed me out on the bridge and I wondered if the kids had noticed. What I really wanted, if I was going to feel so lonely, was to actually be alone. To read a book, to do what I wanted to do without having to take care of everybody — or anybody — else. But then I saw the ice cream truck and thought that if there was ever a time to chase him down and make memories, now was it. I signaled the driver and he pulled over. Three cherry dipped cones, please, and then we sat on the steps — together — and licked and dripped and followed Micah’s progress on my phone as he rode home from work.

I didn’t sit back and watch them. I didn’t retreat a few steps up to observe. I was on their level, engaged in what was happening, excited about what they were excited about. I even licked their cones when they were about to drip so no calories were wasted.

It worked. I wasn’t lonely any more, and I didn’t want to be alone. I was with my people. I’d collected them. Or maybe they’d collected me.

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