Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Summer's Sweater

Who wants to wear a sweater in the summer?
Especially if you live anywhere in the South. The only places more terrible than Georgia for summer sweaters is lower Alabama and central Florida. Places near the beach don't count because they have the breezy air that sometimes at night makes a summer sweater kinda nice. But nothing, I mean nothing, is worse than a sweater in the still hot air. It is called waiting on a hurricane air but the hurricane and its wind never comes and neither does the cooler air. Instead you are stuck with a sweater that you don't need or want.

Even as the summer heat begins to dissipate and the threat of hurricanes wane the sweater stays. If only you could return it like you can an impulse buy. But that isn't even a possibility.

I know you Southerners are smart and know exactly what I am talking about but for all you Yankees and cool West Coasters I am talking about humidity. I have decided, after my runs today and yesterday that it isn't the heat that is so terrible about the South--it is the humidity. I hate it the most of all conditions to run in. I am just sharing this with you because I just made my decision about it today and I wanted everyone to know.

Certainly I complain about a lot of things. And yes, I can be a bit of a Goldilocks runner. I do, I'll admit it. Just like how one can be particular about how they like their coffee; I want my running weather just right. And, not to split golden locks here but I am pretty easy when it comes to my coffee: I take it black but will deal with it however it comes: hot, cold, milky, cream, sugar etc. Most importantly I would just like it to be of the caffeinated variety. Similarly when it comes to running-- as I have proven many times over, I will suck it up and deal with whatever weather hand I am dealt as I am just happy that I have the opportunity to run.

Of course, this does not mean that I won't complain about having to suck it up. Just like if you bring me coffee that is tepid I won't be able to help to myself and will point that out. I will admit, that if nothing else, I can be counted on to complain. You know, everyone has at least one constant in their lives and my knack for expressing my disdain at the less than prefect is mine. As Carmella says "What ev's"

However, I just want to make it known, for the record, that I hate the humidity most of all. It tops the list. And sure, it is a long list. What can I say? I know what I like and what I don't like.

All summer I have been kind of blaming the heat--especially for the suckiness on my 3 hours runs in 90 degrees. Around here I have to think a low humidity day would be around 50-60%. Now whether or not that is actually low I can't say. I only think that if the humidity was below 60% it would probably feel pretty darn awesome. But since every time I go for a run--no matter the temperature-- it is never less than 65% and most times is closer to 90% humidity I can only guess that anything less would be fantastic. But no. I don't know for certain.

But you can criss cross bless yourselves that every single time I go out for a run I am thinking about how I wish it was a cool and dry 55 degrees. I do: I try to channel it. Heck, at this point just the suggestion of 65 degrees and for the air to not be out-sweating me keeps me going through all these runs that feel like I have a heavy wet sweater wrapped around my head.

I am going to admit that I was pretty excited that we finally made it into the 70's and out of the high 80's this week. But I have been nothing but disappointed by the 70's (I bet there were a lot of people that said that 30 years ago too).

Let me tell you, in case you aren't lucky enough to experience it for yourselves: 75 degrees and 90% humidity is still kind of crappy. Definitely, no doubt about it, definitely much better than it being really hot and humid but still not good. No where close to even being okay. Never mind ideal.

I don't know. I am just let down, that is all. I was expecting the 70's to be good. (again, 30 years ago--probably the same thing)

I know. I know. I have been told many times that is what expectations do: they disappoint. I'll never learn.

I just want to say here and now that I want summer to take her damn sweater and leave for several months. Because you know what? I want to wear my sweaters and my jackets and my cute boots and blue jeans. I want to run and not be grossed out that yes-- I do really sweat that much. I don't want to have to worry any more that when I pass people on the sidewalk or on the trail that I might be slinging some of my sweat on them. Beause, really, no matter how cute a person is you don't want their sweat on you. Well, okay. Qualifier: you don't want their sweat on you unless you are naked together. But in that case, there is probably a whole bunch of other, er, "human" things you have committed yourself to and swapping a little sweat, I would think: not really a big issue. Might even be a good thing. At least, that is what I hear. --Mom, Dad.

Okay now. Anyway, I am getting myself excited again-- and it has nothing to do with the aforementioned sentences--well, maybe a little. No really. I just checked 10 days out weather forecast and guess what?

That's right: 50's.

The 50's will be invading Hotlanta next week. Sure it is high 50's and yes it still looks kind of humid but you know what?

That's right: People do need a sweater when it gets in the 50's. So it should be good.

Oh, but what will I do if have no weather excuses to complain about and blame my crappy runs on? No worries. I am certain something will come up. . .

So here it is: 18 miles in the humid, misty and rainy 75 degrees yesterday and 12 miles in the stale humid air today. I am looking at similar conditions for my long run and other runs the rest of this week too. And man, it sure does feel like we are waiting on a hurricane-- and at this point I might welcome it because then at least there would be a breeze.

Oh, but next week. It will get me by-- just the promise of it. You know you can always depend on the forecast 10 days out (Sarcasm people. Love it.)
Fall is closing in.
(I hope.)
Bring on the marathons!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Releasing the Clamp

Now, in Vienna there's ten pretty women
There's a shoulder where death comes to cry
There's a lobby with nine hundred windows
There's a tree where the doves go to die
There's a piece that was torn from the morning
And it hangs in the gallery of frost
Ay, ay, ay, ay
Take this waltz, take this waltz
Take this waltz with the clamp on its jaws

--from Take this Waltz by Leonard Cohen

If nothing else I have learned of tragedy is that one never knows what is the right thing to say. Or for that matter what is the right thing to do. So we walk around with clamps on our jaws. Some of us-- and I am talking about me-- puts a clamp on our hearts too.

Of course, generally speaking, I have a lot say. But I have been overwhelmed by it lately. Mostly what I have wanted is for it to go away. It isn't going to go away. I know that. It will just dim but I think it is going to pull at my insides until I unclamp my jaw, my heart.

Last Saturday I did my regular 3 hour run. This is my favorite run of the week usually. I get to spend 3 hours doing what I love to do and listening to my favorite music. Certainly being tired or something hurting or crappy weather can put a kink in my good times but generally if I can find my rhythm and get my head in the right place it all works out. On Saturday, the song Take This Waltz by Leonard Cohen found it's way in my 400 song shuffle. I love this song. It is one of my favorites. Here listen, if you like:
What I love most about the song is the amazing poetry. The song is actually Cohen's very liberal translation of Lorca'spoem Little Viennese Waltz. Straight translations from Spanish to English rarely work so it is hard for me to compare fairly but I actually prefer Cohen's song to the straight English translation of Lorca's poem.

I have long puzzled over the precise meaning of Cohen's lyrics but have mostly assumed it a love song about a passionate and tormented love affair. Basically I have long thought it was just a "smarter" version of this song by James. I like that song a lot too.

But on my run the other day I kept listening to Cohen's song over and over several times, compelled by the complex imagery and metaphor-- wanting to figure its meaning out. I'm a Lit nerd; poetry in particular. I like to do stuff like that. Besides, it certainly made the miles fly by having something to occupy my mind and distract me from how tired and sore my legs were after all my runs earlier in the week. It began to occur to me that perhaps it wasn't a love affair with another person but maybe it was just about life and the struggles we all face there--passion, despair. Certainly, as is the case with many great poems, there can be multiple meanings and only Cohen-- and I guess, ultimately Lorca-- know the true meaning. I just get to have fun trying to figure out the metaphor puzzle but never really get to know the true answer. Huh, just like everything else in life. . .

On Sunday afternoon I came home from a happy afternoon with my family to learn some very tragic news about an old classmate from high school. And ever since then I have grappled with the death of my old friend Spanky. I haven't seen Spanky since high school and had no idea of his struggles. The more I heard from friends who were close to him the more saddened and more horrific the news became. Emails and phone calls have flown back and forth all week. Everyone who knew Spanky is heartbroken for his family. My good friend Dogwood Girl blogged about it too. I will direct you there for specific details as I don't want to repeat what she has already said better than I could.

This morning I woke up, shuffled my kids to school and went straight out to run in the wonderful misty gloom on this eight year anniversary forever and always sad day of September 11th. Today's weather is my favorite kind of weather to run in and you would have thought my heart would be singing with every footfall.

My heart, my mind though were heavy; bereft even and mostly I was just trying to keep it together. I've been running with this despair all week. I've been methodical about it though. Keeping it locked down. I will feel the urge to cry rising and I will think: I will go run 20 miles and that will make me feel better. You know: just shake it off my shoulders; right out of my head. I'll leave it in the sweat; I'll liter it on the side of the road; toss it in the woods and wring it right out of my clothes afterward. However, whatever-- I will rid myself of it.

(I guess I just like to think that I have a better handle on my emotions than other people. And you know, if you've read anything on this blog, that I tend to think that a little running can solve just about every problem. Hence: because I run I've got it all figured out. Completely laughable. Not the running part--the part that I would have anything figured out.)

I didn't want my run to end. I wanted to keep running until I ran myself out and left once and for all this heaviness on the shining wet road. Leave it for the rain and the mist to carry and dissipate. I wanted most of all to find myself a few hours later sweaty, spent and hot in the sun. I wanted to be so exhausted, so bodily wasted that I could no longer cry, be sad or held in this tragedy's embrace. I know. That sounds like a lot to ask from an act as simple as running but sometimes the miles they can do it. It is rare that they have let me down. It is, after all, the thing that I do. Unfortunately I couldn't run myself out of the darkness today. Instead, I had to cut my run short and quickly dress myself for Spanky's funeral.

And I was so grateful that Leigh sat with me at the funeral. I had thought it didn't matter if I didn't have anyone to sit with. I would be okay. Let me just say this--if you go to funerals alone you are an insanely brave person.

I don't get to see Leigh much but she is always a comforting and calm person to be around. Pretty much the antithesis of me. Leigh and I managed to find some of the last seats at Roswell First Presbyterian in the balcony. Below and above it quickly became a standing room only funeral. And to that I can only say that when death finds me I hope the community will rally together for my family as it came together for Spanky's. Roswell has become such a big town but it is nice when you find those small town roots triumphing over the sprawl.

Since Spanky and I were not close and I had thought I had gotten my self purged of tears on my runs this week I thought I would hold it together. Also, admittedly, I do have a hard time keeping my mind focused in church; no matter the occasion. But as soon as the family filed in my stomach started knotting up and I began tying to think of other things to keep it together. It sometimes is easier to put and keep that clamp on when you just read words in an article or think of the tragedy in removed terms.I was no longer removed.

As soon as the readings began I began sniffling. I fanned my eyes with the program. And suddenly, Cohen's song was in my head. I have listened to it so much this week-- trying to divine the precise meaning-- that I am constantly hearing it, even seeing the lyrics. That first stanza in particular read like the scene I was looking at: Except instead of Vienna it was Roswell. And instead of 10 pretty women there was over a hundred women weeping, dotting tissues on the corners of their eyes--leaning on shoulder's, pews. And not quite a lobby with nine hundred windows but a church with many giant windows. And not a tree but a cross. But clearly to me was the piece that was torn from the morning; Spanky and his father. A family torn in half, not just a piece. And there I was with that damn clamp.

Too much. Too much. Understanding suddenly and not understanding it at all. How is that possible? It knocks the breath out of you.

Bless Leigh for passing me that tissue when the jaw, the heart came unclamped. You'd think that I could have at least brought my own tissues with me to a funeral but again, I had thought I would be okay.

Yes. I know I will be okay but I am forever heartbroken that Spanky was so consumed by an addiction and that addiction has irrevocably taken and damaged the lives of the people I know he loved. I am just sad. So sad and I feel terrible that I couldn't stay long after the funeral to say hello to all my old classmates or give proper sympathies to Spanky's family or even really say goodbye. It was just too hard. It was too hard to see so many people I have not seen in a decade or two and smile when I was so crushed; so undone by it all.

I can say no more about this. Cohen is right; it is all that there is.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Underachievers of the World Unite: A New Leader is Found

I imagine that if the underachievers of the world could motivate to get themselves organized and were to set out on a search for their leader as the Buddhists do for the Dalai Lama then I would come home from a run one day and find them all lined up outside my house; ready to administer a series of uncomplicated and incomplete tests on Beau to see if he is indeed the chosen one.

And undoubtedly he would be deemed the chosen one.

After all, I have to think, as the youngest child of parents, both classic underachievers themselves one with ADD (me) and one with Dyslexia (Ryan) it is his destiny. It is Carmella who is the surprise and if she didn't look so much like us I would think there was some kind of mix up at the hospital.

Two months ago I mentioned that I was going to make a "chore chart" and they would have to follow it. Beau's only comment was that the idea was "lame" but Carmella perked right up wanting to know how I was planning on organizing it and could she help? Would it be a big chart or a small chart? And she had lots of ideas of what could go on the chore chart and expressed how much fun it was going to be to have one. And at least once a week she asks me about the chart; when am I going to make it.

And just in case there are any other underachiever parents out there I found this website and the kids can earn points by doing chores and buy clothes for virtual kitties--or something like that. (Sort of like Webkinz world but you don't actually have to buy and populate your house with bazillions of stuffed animals.) I figure, hey, whatever can get Beau to brush his teeth, make his bed and pick up his toys. And yes I think this website is more of a motivator for the already motivated child but I couldn't find a "purchase arms and take over the world" reward chore chart. Weird how they wouldn't make something like that because that would totally motivate Beau.

I know I am being one of those parents who compare their children but really they are so vastly different it completely boggles me. I just don't even understand how I ended up with Carmella. She is an absolute mystery to me (and clearly an example of recessive genes.) I spent my life being threatened with "someday I hope you grow up and have a child just like you!" And then I get Carmella. The joke there isn't on me; it is on Lala. But then I had Beau and the universe evened stuff out and Lala got her karma.

Parenting Beau is like getting to watch a movie of my childhood but to protect my identity the role has been changed to a blond boy instead of a scragally haired spaztic little girl. And as frustrating as it is to deal with Beau at times I will admit there is bit of a comfort zone there for me; I wholly understand the grain from which he is cut.

By far the most frustrating aspect of parenting Beau has involved school. Unless you have a learning disability or you have a child that has a learning disability you can't begin to understand what it is like to have to deal with academic institutions. And, I have to admit that I feel like I am getting the short end of the stick here. I mean, I spent most of my life fighting an uphill battle in the school system because I am not one of those "traditional learners" and now I have to do it all over again with my kid. Big huge sigh.

I have known since Beau was 2 and we first discovered his speech problem (phonological processing disorder) that school was probably not going to be easy for him (or me). Add to that being one of the youngest in the class and you compound the problem. Red shirting him-- as many parents of boys with summer birthdays choose to do-- just wasn't an option since speech therapy was a priority--and academically he was "ready". Even socially, I was told, he was head of the curve.

Just to be clear, I absolutely do not regret sending Beau to kindergarten a few weeks after he turned 5 because we are now able to understand 100% of what he says. He made massive progress last year. More progress than he made in speech the previous 3 years combined. Beau going to kindergarten when he was 5 was the absolute right choice and so far not one single person at that school has told me otherwise.

So, to be clear, Beau's problem is not one of immaturity or not being smart enough and while there may very well be the ADD diagnosis looming in our quickly approaching future his immediate issue is one of compliance. And whether that is an aspect of ADD or just personality the fact of the matter (that I know all too well) is that in the school setting it does not matter. It won't matter if I hold him back a year or send him to a pricey private school or pump him full of Ritalin. He will have to learn to follow the rules.

I know and his teacher knows that he knows what to do; what is expected of him but often flat out chooses not to do it. Absolutely he is a high energy kid but I have seen him sit still; I have seen him listen and follow directions. But for who knows what reason, sometimes he really just doesn't want to do as told and often will expend more energy trying to convince some one else to do it for him or even better; argue why he shouldn't have to do anything at all.

The beginning of every school year is the worst. I view it as Beau's "breaking in period." He is trying to figure out right away what and how much he can get away with. You'd think he would just know that every year the rules are basically the same; i.e: sitting still, following directions, picking up after yourself, doing your work etc. But he just can't help himself and has to try to see how little he can get by with. He even told me the first week of school that "the teachers go easy on the kids the first few weeks. I don't have to try so hard yet."

Every year I warn his teachers about his lack of compliance (along with the potential ADD possibility) and to please be extra strict with him. Boundaries and structure are Beau's best friend (and worst enemy). I warn them that he will try to charm them with kisses and hugs and by being funny. Don't fall for it, I tell them. But mostly importantly I explain: do not laugh or smile if you are cross with him. He reads body language before he hears words so you must not contradict what you say with your face. He will not take you seriously if you are fighting a smile.

I assure them that I will "fight the battles" at home but tell them that they will have to fight the battle at school with him. He isn't a bad kid but he is manipulative and likes to feel he is in control. Some how he figured out early on that just because you have to follow the rules with one person doesn't mean you can't try to do it your way with another.

Nevertheless here we are a month into the new school year and Beau is back to his usual ways. He learned in preschool (and kindergarten) that you can get away with one naughty day a week so long as you are gold the other 5 days. The idea of being golden all 5 days just has never occurred to him. If you can still get rewards on 4 days of good behavior why would you bother to be compliant all 5 days? That's just dumb.

I had to explain this to his teacher when she called me on Tuesday because Beau was on a "4". In his class they have a banana. It moves up and down the tree branches (numbered 1-5)based on their behavior that day. They start out each day at a "2" and if they stay there that means they had a "great" day. If they do something extra special they get to move up to a "1". The teacher explained that "1" is a rarity. Beau has been on "1" once so far. A 3 means they are not making the best choices and is a warning. You can redeem yourself and move back to a 2 by correcting your poor choices. I think most days Beau has to spend some time correcting his choices. A 4 means the choices were not corrected and you miss some of minutes from recess and you will get a note or a phone call home. 5 is just really bad and means a trip to the principals and possible being sent home.

Beau got on 4 the other day because all day he flat out refused to do his work. By the end of the day he knew that he was going to be in trouble when he got home and knew would have extra homework. Being on anything but a 2 means no Nintendo Ds and extra homework. My thinking is that if you are getting in trouble at school then you are not doing work and therefore need to make up for that at home. How much extra homework you have to do depends on how much trouble you got in at school. Beau knew he was looking at a long time of homework. For the record I do not take away playing outside. I think it is important for high energy people to get to run around. Instead I take away the privilege of being able to play with his friends on the days he gets in trouble. Playing alone is punishment for Beau. He loves his little friends.

Anyway, on Tuesday his teacher called me because Beau was very upset by the end of the day because he was still on 4 and knew he was in deep do-do. She explained what happened and even told me that he tried to bribe the student teacher with money to move his banana back up the tree. My first concern was that maybe the work was too hard for him but she assured me it wasn't--that he has been doing fine. I then addressed the ADD angle and that having to sit still can be incredibly difficult for him. She told me that she recognized that and allows him to move around the classroom provided that he is listening and not distracting other children.

So I sighed and apologized for him "taking more than his share of the teacher's attention" and assured her that he and I would be having a conversation. I also told her about his 4 "on" days and one "off" day each week. I told her I didn't support it but that has so far been his credo. And she said she could concede to one bad day a week with Beau. I think that is pretty terrible that Beau has manipulated not only me but also his teacher into accepting that he gets an off day. Do they have military school for six year olds? Cause I think that is what we need.

Well at any rate Beau made it through the rest of last week all on "2" so he was true to form with his one bad day. At dinner on Friday he further supported his "aim low" credo with this conversation:

Ryan, noticing a hand out on the refrigerator about the upcoming CogAT test. "Looks like you are going to have test next week Beau. You better try your best."

Beau, immediately stressed and surprised "What?! I got no test. First graders don't take tests!" hmm maybe he isn't paying attention . . .

Carmella pipes up, "It is for Target. If you do good on it you get to go to Target." Target is the talented and gifted program. A program I was never a part of and yet I am so clearly not only talented but also gifted. Extraordinarily so, I would add. Emphasis on the "extra" not the ordinary.

Beau, wide eyed and about to pee in his pants says, "You mean I get to shoot stuff?"

Carmella starts to explain that you get to go to extra projects and stuff but Ryan, stifling laughter quips "No, it means you have to do more work." Ryan was also not in Target either.

Beau, shrugs and says" Oh, well I am not going to try and do good on that test then."

I'm telling you, it has got to be genetic but I am trying to break the cycle. Granted, not with grand gestures; but baby steps--so to speak. This card carrying lifelong underachiever pushed the envelope with training and finished last week just over 73 miles. For the past six weeks I've been pushing my miles over my "50 miles per week" comfort zone and finally made into the 70's. I've tried the less is more approach to marathoning and now I am giving the more is more approach a try. Whether or not that equates success at Rocket City in December remains to be seen but hey, it is worth a shot. Maybe Beau will adopt a similar attitude. Hopefully it will be sooner for him that it has been for me.