Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Gifts

My grandfather, who had a flair for the dramatic and a penchant for martyrdom, spent the last 15 years of his life wondering out loud if "this would be the last Christmas/birthday/Easter/random Sunday" he would live to see. I have this clear memory of him, sitting in the overstuffed chair in our living room, unwrapping his Christmas gifts (almost always beige socks and Old Spice shaving cream), sighing deeply and sucking his teeth about it. The rest of us would usually roll our eyes at each other and chuckle.

It seems, however, that the older I get, the more I am understanding my late grandfather. I wonder how many more Christmases I will have surrounded by Everyone. Every One. We have had the same little family of people doing the same little family traditions since I was a baby. With a few wonderful additions (the husbands, the children, the in-laws), it's been the same dysfunctional happy bunch for all 38 years of my life. Every Christmas Eve, we've dressed up and eaten Mami's pork. Every Christmas morning, we've gathered in her living room, each one of us taking turns opening gifts as the rest of us oooooh and ahhhhh and call out "Who's that from?" or "Wow, that's nice!"

Not one year...not even once...not because of work or illnesses or death or better plans have any of Us not been there.

* * *

Now, I can admit that I like the material part of Christmas. Always have. My parents were really good about getting me what I wanted (Baby Alive!), and now Hubby is so good at shopping for me that I'm seriously considering just giving him money and sending him off to shop for me all year long. So yes, I like the presents. They're fun.

But even when I was little, I understood that there was a real joy, a true gift, in being able to sit around the tree, my dad's Elvis Christmas album playing for the millionth time, laughing and eating and opening gifts with family. Now, having children of my own, seeing my parents aging more each day, understanding that life really does sometimes hand out senseless tragedies, I appreciate the normalcy, the simplicity, the predictability of having Everyone there.

I've always been big on Christmas. I loved the magic and the frivolity and the sparkle of it all. I was lucky to have grown up in a house where it was a month-long celebration of tinsel and merriment and yes, that Elvis album. But today, as I watched My Boys all building and assembling and playing, as I ate my mom's leftover pork from Christmas Eve, as I started (already) to store away some of the decorations, I realized I have an even stronger sense of immeasurable gratitude for the Christmases past...for the Gift of having Every One there, every year.

Merry Christmas, Grandpa...sorry 'bout the eye rolling.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Running Like a Mom: Party of One

I ran for two hours the other day.

It wasn't the amount of time that was the major accomplishment, however. It was the fact that I did it Alone. Up until that day, I had never run for an extended period of time by myself. And up until that day, I wasn't even sure I'd be able to do it.

I like to run. I do. But the whole doing-something-for-a-couple-of-hours-straight? Well, let's just say that my attention span isn't so great. I start counting down the minutes left. I start thinking about all the other things I could be doing. I start obsessing over how the inseam of my sock is rubbing my pinkie toe. I get bored. I get antsy. I get tired. I lose my mojo.
When I trained for my previous half-marathons, I always had Hubby as a running partner. We had just started dating when I started training for my first one, and back then, the idea of running for over an hour seemed, to me, like an absolutely impossible feat. So...there we were, two twenty-somethings with not much to do and lots of time on our he ran with me. Being a bit of an extreme athlete (mountain biking, off-road triathlons, 3-day-expedition races) a little half marathon training wasn't such a stretch for him, so he became my official Support Crew. He carried my water, paced my time, handed me jelly beans, cheered me along when I'd hit the wall...and on race day? He did all of that AND ran ahead every so often to take pictures of me. No joke. (A few times, he even ran off the race course and stood along the sidelines with the other spectators to literally cheer me on and make me laugh a bit.)

Fast forward one decade and 2 kids later...if I want to train for any kind of event, it's gonna have to be on my own, because we just don't have that kind of time these days. When I tackled the idea of this race, one of the motivating factors for me was that I wanted to do something scary again, and as uncomfortable and downright painful as this training and the 13.1 race day miles is going to be, I wouldn't qualify it as scary. I've done this twice. I know I can complete the event. But what does scare the hell out of me is having to do this all on my own.

Today I went out for 2 hours and 10 minutes. I had to pack my own stuff, plan my own route, carry my own water. When I got tired and thought I was going to have to lie down, right there on the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk, it was only my own voice telling me I could do this, telling me to keep going, reminding me that during long runs it's gonna hurt but I will finish.

I realize that for many people out there, doing something like running by yourself (especially if it's something you've done for a long time) is not such a major personal accomplishment. But you have to understand, I crossed my first busy street when I was 21. Yes. You read that right. 21 years old. I was on vacation in New York and my ex-boyfriend wanted to take a picture of me in front of a restaurant. I looked for traffic, ran across, and smiled "Cheeeeese!". It dawned on me immediately that I had never actually walked around amidst traffic before. (I know...WTF?!?) I've mentioned before that I was brought up extremely sheltered. Pair that with a childhood and adolescence in a city where no one walks anywhere, and you have yourself an adult who had never had to cross a street alone before.

So now you have this 38-year-old mommy of two who finds it incredibly monumental that in a couple of months she will be waking up at 3:00 a.m., lacing up her sneakers, pinning on her race number, figuring out exactly where the hell one carries a disposable camera and some jelly beans for 13 miles, and getting on a Disney bus that will take her to the start of a long distance event...all by herself. This time around, it will be Just Me. I am the only one pushing Me to train, to run, to go. I am relying only on Myself. That's a pretty cool thing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where, oh where, did my little blog go?

I was never a daily "post-er."
But I would get in here...two, three times a week. My mind was often on my blog: What will I write next? Oooh, that will be a good one! I've got to get that one done tonight.
Lately, I have nearly abandoned it.
It's not that I don't have material. It's not that I don't want to write.
In fact, I post almost my own head.
I "write" posts in the shower, on my runs, on my drive to work, while I'm loading the dishwasher. They are usually incredibly spot-on, full of insight, poignancy, wit, and honesty.
But...they rarely make it online anymore. They only exist in my head.
Here's the thing: when I can finally get to that post, that idea that has been born inside my head, that fleeting moment of inspiration is gone. Poof. It went down the tub with the boys' bath water, or it fell out of my head as I stretched post-run, or, more often than not, it just doesn't seem that important later on.
The truth is that most nights, there's a full-out fight: at 9:00, after I've been up since 5:00 a.m., after I've spent the day teaching 53 fourth-graders, after I've helped Ben with his Letter Of The Week Homework, after I've packed my gym bag for the next day, and searched for "just one more" thing in the latest I Spy book, it comes down to..."Do I blog or do I sleep?" And, as evidenced by my recent absence, sleep usually wins.
It's just easier to snuggle under the covers (especially on these frigid South Florida nights of 50 degree weather...what can I say?...I'm a true beach bum) with a book and dim lighting...or curl up on the sofa as Hubby watches the Heat game and rubs my feet...or literally just crash and be sound asleep by 9:01.
Perhaps this is all proof that I never really was meant to be a "real writer." I mean, a writer should have the constant need to write, right? A writer must actually write...Monday through Friday...a real job. It seems that as my blog now nears its 2nd anniversary, the drive in me is slightly lessened: "It's okay...I'll write that one tomorrow." But lately, it turns into tomorrow, and my bed or my sofa beckons yet again.
Sweet dreams.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Routine Life: Six Word Friday

Routine. For me, it brings on
Dread and Calm. Resentment and Certainty.

Routine allows for Life to be

Still. Easy. Expected. Smooth. Contained. Controlled.

But along with routine, comes the

Boredom. Restlessness. Tedium. Complacency. Stagnancy. Depression.

Routine has become almost a requirement.

Without it, the day to day

Becomes unmanageable. I lose my grip.

And so, Life becomes a series

Of rushed timelines, deadlines, and bedtimes.

Within these tight constraints of Life

I've realized the necessity, the power

Of veering away. Defying the restrictions.

A spontaneous night with wine, conversation

Becomes almost like a rebellion against

What Life has required of Us.

An occasional alarm clock ignored becomes

A snub at responsibility and reality.

The routine, I've realized, is only

Effective when I'm willing to bend.

Break away, every now and then,

And remember what my Life is

And who I am without routine.

What does the word "routine" evoke in you? Join Six Word Fridays at Making Things Up!