Archives for category: Essays

terminatorThe first time that our family was invaded by lice, I discovered it after finishing our cross country road trip to see my in-laws. My kid kept complaining about an itchy head, but kids complain about EVERYTHING when they’re in a car for 8 hours a day, so it didn’t stop me from letting them try on every single cowboy hat across the southwest prairie. (Sorry about that, Oklahoma.)

There is nothing that sends me over the edge faster and with more force than lice. After that particular trip, when I had figured out that I had it too (there might have been some crying in a shower), I made my husband (Think: advertising executive, not hair stylist) cut my hair. Hearing somewhere that lice hate processed hair, I then dyed it purple. Picture it: I was a crying, neurotic 41 year old woman that looked like she had gone to the Hair School for the Blind for a makeover. Now, three years and several more lice invasions later, you can see why telling my lice story to anyone who will listen is not such an insane concept.

Our daughter Merry (grade 3) will receive her 6th lice treatment of this school year today. (Sounds like quite the accomplishment—like getting a black belt or 1st chair in the orchestra—but we Cooks are achievers of a different nature.) After finding lice on her on last week, I had a new nervous breakdown of a supernatural kind. In addition to treating us all AGAIN, and washing everything that was ever touched by human hands in my house AGAIN, and sending Mr. Snuggles and friends to go live in solitary confinement in the garage with the termites and black widows AGAIN, and then texting every girl mom that I had a phone number for in the 3rd grade AGAIN… I then made some phone calls and had some meetings. I have met with our principal and our school nurse. I spoke on the phone with the Director of Health Services for our school district, and the nurse for communicable diseases at the Department of Public Health. (Ok, so maybe I was a little more than just crazed. Perhaps neurotic to the point of mental illness might be more accurate. But a GOOD mental illness, right?)

Here is what I have learned…

WHAT ARE LICE:

how to get rid of head lice?Lice are insects that live in human hair (head, pubic region and… hold on to your lunch… even eyebrows) and are considered a transmittable parasite, but lice do not classify as a disease since they do not spread illness. A child can get an infection from scratching, but lice do not carry bacteria or viruses (like how ticks carry lyme disease) and are therefore not prioritized as dangerous by either the school district or the Dept. of Public Health. As I was told, “It is just the creep factor.”

Live juvenile and adult lice cannot live without food (human blood) for more than two days. If a live louse leaves the host, it will die in that time frame without food. 

Nits are the eggs of lice. A live adult can produce as many as 10 nits a day. Nits take one week to hatch. These nits are stuck with the equivalent of lice superglue to individual hair shafts. They are about the size of a strawberry seed, are wheat colored and are located on the shaft somewhat close to the scalp. Yes, they do look exactly like the pounds of sand already found in our children’s hair, but if you poke it with your finger or blow on it, it will not move. The only way to get a nit off of a hair is to scrape it between your fingernails, comb with the metal lice comb or use a special chemical. Truly gross.

Lice do not jump, run or fly (so I’m told, though I’m pretty sure no one is holding an Olympics of Lice) so the only way that they can get from one person to another is through contact. That’s right, all of that hugging, cuddling, sharing (brushes, hats, hair bands, helmets, pillows, stuffed animals, blankets, shirts, jackets, etc.) are how our children spread their love and bug infestation! (And don’t forget selfies!)

Lice can hold their breath for an insanely long period of time. They don’t care if your child spends hours in the ocean, they will find a way to make it work. You cannot drown lice. Period. They love clean hair, but they are bugs and not really all that choosy, so if you think that your little sand crab is safe, you are mistaken.

HOW TO FIND THE BUGGERS

Itching always seems to be the big indicator, but my niece had a full blown infestation and she never had one itch. If your kid isn’t scratching, they could just be numb in the head. (Totally kidding. Fairly sure your kid can feel things. You’ll quickly see when you use the lice comb!) However, if you have a kid who won’t leave his head alone… start looking.

Look for redness on the scalp in the hairline at the base of the neck and behind the ears. Again, some kids have eczema or bad dry scalp, so this might not be a definitive answer. And, if your kid does have a super dry scalp or eczema, they can still have lice. So sorry for that kid.

The best way I’ve found to see if your kid has lice is in the shower. Once they have showered and theoretically washed their hair with shampoo, pour in a TON of conditioner in and lather it generously about. Then take a comb with the smallest teeth possible (lice combs are best) and start combing out the conditioner. Start at the base of the neck and behind the ears. As globs of conditioner gather on the comb, spread them out onto a tissue or paper towel. Only the lice comb will produce nits, but a comb with small tines can generally pull out the live lice as they get stuck in the conditioner. And use your reading glasses! Live lice are about the size of sesame seeds. No one has arms long enough to see that.

Once you find them you must dispose of them carefully. Put the paper towels into a bag, tie it and dispose of it. Soak that comb in bleach and hot water (after you’re done using it on the kid, of course). And keep washing your hands. Lice are a live, moving target and the nits are a bomb waiting to go off in a week! This takes some special tactical maneuvers and even, yes, a bit of neurosis.

HOW TO GET RID OF THEM:

(Ok, so you are trying to hold down your last meal because you’ve found an insect walking around in your child’s hair. Breathe. It is going to be ok. Take a sip of something calming. I like to lock myself in the bathroom for a tick or two. Once you’ve called forth your strength and put on your Thunderwear, it is time to get to work.)

The Host: Sadly, your child’s world is about to rain down with everything a kid can’t stand—hygiene. Even sadder is that you must now treat everyone in the home. Don’t think so? I have a friend whose kids had lice treatments three times over the course of four months. They just couldn’t get rid of it. Then the mom figured out that SHE WAS THE ONE THAT KEPT GIVING EVERYONE LICE.

TREATMENTS THAT WORKED FOR ME:

DIY 

Cetaphil treatment – This treatment is exhausting but works and way less expensive in money, but high cost in time. You put Cetaphil in dry hair (combing out nits and lice as you go) and then blow the hair completely dry. This takes close to an hour on short hair. The idea is that the Cetaphil dries and shrink wraps the live lice suffocating them. This does not kill the nits, so you have to do the entire treatment over again in a week. And, you get to walk around with hair that looks like you’ve used salad dressing to wash it. Bonus.

Quit Nits – This is a homeopathic treatment that does not use harsh chemicals. You put the solution into dry hair and let it sit for 4-8 hours, then wash it out. The idea is that it dehydrates the critters. This treatment does claim to kill the nits. (I think this is true.) It also claims that no combing is necessary. (I think this is stupid.) You can get Quit Nits from Whole Foods and generally any other natural grocery store as well as the Internet. A kit costs around $17 and comes with a bottle of cream solution (one bottle will get you two treatments for short hair, one treatment for thick long hair), a plastic comb (doesn’t work) and a small bottle of preventative spray (maybe works). You should know that most places sell out quickly.

**UPDATE: Two VERY important things to note. I wrote this piece two years ago so pricing has changed. Today a complete Quit Nits lice kit costs $69.95 on Amazon. Second, after about the 9th treatment on Merry that year (there were 10 in all), I realized that Quit Nits no longer worked. Seems the lice strain at our school had evolved beyond. See “Lice Whisperers” paragraph below for the actual result producing effort.

Rid – This is the old school, buy it at Walgreen’s treatment. Rid has one of the best lice combs: red handle, metal teeth. The comb used to come with the kit, but I don’t think that it does anymore. The Rid solution goes into dry hair (see the pattern forming?) for 10 minutes, and as the box says “no longer”. (Of course, I was busy washing every sheet in the house so my girls may have had it on for a little longer… like half an hour. They seem normal enough now though, right?) You then rinse it out in the shower. It lists itself as a “shampoo and conditioner”. Shockingly good curl enhancer.

**THE TREATMENT I USE TODAY – OIL AND COMB

 combLice Comb – I cannot stress enough how important this comb is. If you were Luke Skywalker this would be your lightsaber. If you were Indiana Jones, this is your whip. 

The best and only surefire way to get rid of lice is to remove them personally with that comb. Yes, it takes hours. Yes, the comb hurts (especially on old lady hair), but it works and they are gone. Even after you treat the hair, there is no guarantee that you covered every single egg, every single bug with the treatment. If even only ONE egg or bug is still alive, you will have another infestation sometime around the end of next week. The only way to get rid of lice from a person completely is to comb and then comb again. 

My recommendation for the BEST is the Nit Free Terminator lice comb. It is stainless steel (yup, you can boil and bleach the bejesus out of it) and has tiny grooves in the super tight tines. Available on Amazon for $10.30 (not inc. shipping, 2017 prices.) 

Again, there are other metal lice combs that are out there (like the metal comb in the Rid kit), but this is the one that has worked best for me. A lot of the kits come with a small tined plastic comb. These can help you search the hair for live lice when you use conditioner, but don’t bother trying to clear the nits out. Useless.

Herbal Oil –  I now create my own proprietary blend of herbal oils after experiencing years of chemical testing. Don’t get me wrong, the chemicals can work (and I’d venture to guess more so in geographical locations that have cold seasons than in places like Southern California where all our critters are bionic), but if you’re ready to put in the time with that comb, this is the tried and true method. In addition to combing through the head meticulously, I wrap the head in a bandana and leave the oil on overnight. If the bugs can’t grab onto the hair, the eggs have no hope.

OIL: (A spray bottle works best.) Blend with almond oil any combination of the following: clove, rosemary, eucalyptus, frankincense, cedarwood, cinnamon. I like to make two different versions so my kids experience the illusion of choice.

METHOD – If you love to Zentangle, this might be your new jam. Prep your kid with the most engrossing, stay-in-your-seat activity you can find. This is NOT the time to make them do homework or read. This is the good side of digital devices.

You’ll Need: a bowl of water, paper towels, lice comb, lice oil, hair clips

Section off all the hair so that you’re only working in 1” sections. 

Spray the oil into the hair at the scalp for the first section only.

Insert the tines of the comb where the 1” section meets the scalp and draw the comb slowly out of the hair. Expect the comb to move jaggedly and catch on the hairs a bit because the tines are so tight. Buckle in for LOTS of shouting.

After you’ve pulled the comb through, dip it in water and then wipe across the paper towel. You are looking for adult lice (the biggest and easiest to see), juveniles (smaller) and nits (tiny strawberry seed-sized spots). 

Now comb through the same section from underneath. Do it again from the side. Do it again from the other side. Think of this as a “Lice Doe-See-Doe”. Do it all again until that comb comes out clean.

Take that method, do the entire head and kiss goodbye to the next two hours of your life.

Do this treatment again in 7-10 days if you want to guarantee the infected is absolutely clean.

CALLING IN BACK UP

The Lice Whisperers – (UPDATED VERSION) At the time of the writing of this doc, Merry was still infested. It actually took 10 treatments to rid our house of lice. The final treatment was professional help to the tune of $265, one hour of my child sobbing in a chair in front of a stranger and $35 for a good bottle of red wine for myself. These organizations are a franchise that hire contractors to come to your house and comb your kid’s hair out while you pretend you can’t hear the screaming from the other room. So fun. They use a ‘proprietary blend’ oil in the hair and the Terminator comb. They also recommend a return visit in 7-10 days to guarantee their work. 

TREATMENTS THAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME:

Nix – Nix is another one of the buy-at-any-grocery-store toxic kits. This stuff is crap. My first clue was that you could put the solution onto damp hair. Warning. The second was that after washing it out (10 minutes later?) and combing through Merry’s hair there were still live lice walking around. If you find anything alive after a treatment IT DID NOT WORK. Of course at this point, she had already had enough toxicity on her head to melt crayons, so I couldn’t exactly make her sit through another treatment… which meant she and all of us went to bed knowing we still had lice… in the house… until the next day. That doesn’t screw with your sleep at all.

I have heard of many other treatments (the Vinegar/Oil Treatment, Something from Somewhere in Mexico Treatment) but I haven’t tried them. I’m not saying that there aren’t others that are effective out there, I’m sure there are. The good news is, that if this problem keeps up, we’ll get our chance to try all of them!

Speaking of which, here is the #1 way to get rid of lice at school. Ready? Really easy and extremely important…

Tell the school. What I learned from our principal, from the nurse, from Health Services and from Public Health is that because no one is telling the school that they have a confirmed case of lice, the school doesn’t realize that there is a problem and can’t deal with it. If the school doesn’t know, then parents don’t know and no one is looking for it. As soon as you find it, call your school nurse and tell him/her. Every school has a different policy on lice when it comes to when kids are allowed in school (A ‘no lice’ policy means a kid can return when no live lice are found in the hair. A ‘no nit’ policy means a kid can return when nothing is found in the hair.) and how many reported infestations it takes before a notice is sent home. Be clear and ask what your school’s policies are. If you don’t like them, work to change them. 

Tell everyone. I don’t mean call up your husband’s boss and set her ear on fire, but do send a lovely little note to everyone who’s house your kid visited in the last two weeks, the babysitter that snuggled on the couch with her, the mom of the kid that is her seat partner, the coach at the gymnastics facility… anyone who could help stop the spread of this infernal annoyance. Even the families of your child’s sibling friends. No one will think less of you and actually will most likely want to help you. You have no idea the amount of wine I’ve been offered when people find out we have lice.

Ok, so about now your kid is doused in some form of poison solution and eating up battery life on a digital device while waiting for the bugs to cook. Time to hit your house.

LICE REMOVAL IN THE HOME:

This is actually the part of lice removal that snaps the even-keeled, totally chill me into a raging psycho banshee from hell. It cannot be stated enough: Lice are a time bomb waiting to go off over and over again. In order to completely eradicate them, you must clean/dry/disinfect EVERYTHING.

The Bedding: All sheets, blankets, and comforters need to be washed in hot water and dried on high heat. When you take them off of the bed, fold them carefully and place them into a garbage bag for transport. (These little stinkers can’t fly, but they can fall. You lose a few live ones onto the carpet and your kid lays on their bedroom floor… boom. You’ve got lice again.) Pillows that can’t be washed can be thrown into the dryer on high heat for 40 minutes. And guess what? You have to do this to EVERY BED IN THE HOUSE. I like to do the big wash the first day, then just toss the child in quarantine’s bed things into the dryer on high every day for the next week.

The Toys: Mr. Snuggles has two choices: into the dryer on high for 40 minutes or into the garage in a plastic bag for two weeks. And all of his friends go with him. My girls love to keep mountains of stuffed animals on their beds. I cringe every time they get another one for the collection, because guess what—that fennec fox is awfully soft and cuddly when he comes home from the store, but one tour in the dryer and Foxy looks like she has the mange. Don’t let stuffed animals out of the house… don’t let other kids’ animals into the house. And those cute little ones hanging off of backpacks? Lice hand grenades.

The Carpets: Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. Every day. Period. Once you vacuum, get rid of the bag. You can either dispose of it or you can spray inside with an insecticide—but I totally don’t recommend that because then you are just filtering toxic chemicals throughout the house every time you turn the thing on. Get those filthy buggers off of the floor.

The Furniture: Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. The couch, the chairs, anything with fabric upholstery. If you can wash pillow covers, now is a great time to do so. If not, into the dryer with them. We’ve done this so much, I have the pattern from the inside of our dryer burned onto the surface of one of my couch cushions.

The Linens: Bath towels, bath mats, washcloths, hand towels, dish towels… toss all of it into the wash. Bath towel hanging on the wall next to the other towels? Wash them all. That towel that your infected kid just used after getting the treatment? Wash it. That hoodie that your infected kid just dropped onto the vacuumed couch… then walked off with and dropped into that clean basket of laundry you just folded? WASH IT. WASH AND VACUUM ALL OF IT AGAIN. 

(Incidentally, this is the part where my husband takes me by the arm and marches me into the bedroom, closes the door and speaks to me in hushed tones. All of my friends who’ve had lice get this little quiet talking to from their husbands. It will happen to you too. Welcome to our club. Just listen to what he says, nod in solemn agreement, then go disinfect his pillow when he isn’t looking.)

The Clothes and Accessories: Any article of clothing that your child has been wearing or anything that has been touched by something that he/she has been wearing needs to be washed and/or thrown into the dryer on high. (Think: hoodie hanging with the other coats on the coat rack—everything into the laundry). This includes (but is not limited to): jackets, pajamas, hats, scarves, backpacks, bandanas, headbands, hair ribbons, hair clips… the list is endless. I take a pillowcase and dump every hair accessory into it that could have possibly touched their head or touched something that touched their head and run it through the dryer. Lost an entire package of headbands that way. Try to remember that plastic melts at high heat.

Brushes and Combs: Anything you use to comb hair (yours and theirs) soak in boiling water and/or bleach. Before that lice comb touches another head in the house, bleach it and/or toss in boiling water and do it again in between each combing. (In my earlier days I was so wary of chemicals that I would boil water and pour it over the combs and brushes. Cracked my porcelain bathroom sink that way. Bleach works, just remember that it also corrodes. So I like to alternate between the two. And I use a metal bowl for the boiling treatments.)

The Car: If you have fabric upholstery (and yes, fabric on carseats most definitely counts) you are driving around in a lice mobile. Great news! If you live in cold weather, you’re probably safe and don’t need to do more than a quick vacuum of your seats. If like me your temperature rarely drops below 65 degrees, you’ve got some work to do. Vacuum everything and either wrap your newly treated kid’s head before getting back into the car or vacuum again tomorrow and the next day and the next day…. ad infinitum.

If your head isn’t spinning by now, you really aren’t taking this seriously enough. Sure you can get away with just treating your kid and washing a pillowcase or two, but sit with the idea for a moment that after taking those limited steps, that sometime later next week… right between the soccer tournament and the birthday party… you’re going to figure out that your kid still has lice… and so does his or her brother or sister. And so do you. Is it worth that risk?

KEEPING THEM OUT: 

Ok, so now your children are treated, you are treated, and maybe you’re still trying to convince your husband that he needs to be treated, but anyhow it is time to lock down your squeaky clean house (it never looked so good!) and try your hardest not to let them back in.

Here’s how:

Comb daily. Before this year, I rarely did lice checks on my kids. Then it hit school and just kept making the rounds through the classrooms and on my kids’ head. I started checking every week and am now going to do it daily. I’m sure that once the amounts of cases reported drops I can go back to once a week and maybe even fewer in the summer, but for now, the sooner you catch the problem, the easier it is to deal with. 

Vacuum daily. If you have carpets, you need to vacuum. And if you don’t have a vacuum, borrow one. (Incidentally, how do you have carpets and no vacuum?)

Preventative lice shampoo: Some people swear by the stuff. Since September my kids have been using a rosemary and tea tree oil shampoo. When Merry started bringing home lice, I upped my arsenal to Fairy Tales Lice Shampoo. She still gets lice. 

Preventative lice conditioning spray: For a while I was using a leave-in conditioning spray in their hair that I got from our natural food store. It sort of worked. While one kid had lice the other didn’t seem to have it so maybe that was why it didn’t spread… that time anyway. Once this year got really bad, I invested (oh it ain’t cheap!) in the Fairy Tales Lice Conditioning Spray and threatened my kids with making them drink it if they didn’t use it every day. They do. And they still get lice.

Everyone in the house gets their own hair brush: This also has the added benefit of you being able to check who actually is brushing their hair (brush with lots of hair) and who does not (other brush hidden under the bathroom sink behind the toilet bowl cleaner.)

Ponytails, Pigtails, Braids and Hats: If you have a sweet little girl with long blond hair (Hello California!) then now is the time to master that Elsa from Frozen hairstyle. Spray it down and then tie it up. Lice are less likely to enter into a locked down situation. If you have boys, and you are positive they don’t have lice, send them to school with a hat they won’t take off. The school nurse is very wary of hats and rightfully so. She is concerned that if your kid has lice, wears a hat and then removes hat or shares hat it is a spreading situation. True. But if your kid is lice-free then throw the equivalent of the Great Wall of China on their head.

Take a break from play dates and sleepovers: Totally sounds harsh and it kind of is, but your kid is a gift that keeps on giving, in all of the good ways and one very very bad way. Just until the kid is absolutely all clear (no nits or lice), how about avoiding play dates and sleepovers. What a great time for you to bond with your kid and to brush up on those Minecraft skills you’ve always wanted to master?

ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY DO NOT DO THIS:

Panic. You are not alone. Much like jury duty and termites, almost everyone has experienced this and if they haven’t then just wait. Lice does not mean you are a bad parent. Lice does not mean that you have dirty children. Lice happens. I’m surprised that hasn’t been made into a bumper sticker already.

Hide. Please, please, please do not hide the fact that your kid has lice. Call school and tell them. Call other parents and tell them. I have heard horror stories about people anonymously calling a school to tell them that their kid has lice but refusing to tell them who their kid is. That is so not helpful. We won’t lock you up in stocks we set up in the courtyard or mock you behind your back if your kid has lice. Promise. However if we DO find out that you hid the fact that your kid has lice, we will find you and we will be sure the punishment is swift, severe and appropriate. Like giving you bed bugs!

Blame. Clearly your kid got lice from someone else’s kid. And your kid most likely gave lice to another kid (and his sister and his brother and you, etc. etc.). When it comes to transmission this is no different than a cold or a stomach bug. You aren’t about to punch out the person that gave your kid a cold, so it is best to be equally as calm about this. And just think… their house is in as much chaos as yours is right now. The one truism of lice: We’re all in this together!

Punish Your Kid: Not their fault. Even if they tried on every hat at school, they really have no idea. After our first bout, my kids became so afraid of my wrath that THEY ACTUALLY LIED ABOUT NOT HAVING IT AGAIN. And to this day, as soon as Merry knows I’ve found lice, she slumps down into the shower and sobs because of how crazy I can be. Worst parent fail ever. Learn from my parenting mistakes. Make my insanity your Mother/Father-of-the-Year moment.

ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY DO THIS:

Laugh: Sounds insane, but this is your only saving grace. YouTube the South Park episode on lice. Call a girlfriend who’s been there/done that. There really is something magically surreal about this experience, so rather than let it bring you down, try to step aside and find the hilarity in the insane.

Let It Go: Fingers crossed you won’t get it again… but you might. Try not to obsess over who your kid is hanging out with, staring at them when they scratch their head, interrogating them about their seat partner. Yes, I’ve done all of these things and it doesn’t help. When asked what’s Mom’s signature saying, my kids respond, “Does your head itch?” not “I love you so much.” I know. Gross.

Best of luck. Know that you are in a special club now, and we’ve been waiting for you. Before you pick up that comb, give us a call. We’ve got some stories and a special etched wine glass just for you.

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Two families wait

A mom in her 30’s cradles her son
Two elementary school girls sit by her side
Silent on the concrete bench
Hair pulled back tight
Pale pink lace dresses, two pairs of new sandals
One red, one white
A miniature white button-down man shirt on the baby
Tucked into pint-sized pressed navy shorts

Baby boy bounces from knee to knee
Tiny fingers pop bits of cereal into hungry mouths
Immaculate, contained, quiet

Greying father and mother sit in the front
Two pre-teen girls sit with their chocolate puppy behind
Parked at the curb in their restored vintage van
Hair wet and stringy tossed everywhere
Damp bathing suit underneath a faded junior lifeguard sweatshirt
A cat t-shirt stained with spots of paint and food
Over outgrown blue shorts
Hand-me-down flip flops, bare feet

Dog wrestles in the back seat
Hands shove sandwiches dripping with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise into uninterested mouths
Relaxed, loud, bored

Both families wait for permission slips to roam over borders and return home

Numbers are called
One family enters
One walks away
One White
One Latino

Which is which?

Grandpa Joe, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only Grandma Gracie

Grandpa, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only “Gram”, Florida, 1983

My grandmother, my dad’s mother, was a fierce Italian woman who hugged too tightly and never hesitated to tell you what was on her mind. She fed us too well and despite the fact that she was only 4′ 11″, her footsteps were like that of an elephant’s (she was always in heels), and I swear that they based that TV commercial on how she would call my brother in for dinner (“Annnthony!”). She passed away last October, five days before I left for Nepal. I returned to NY to celebrate her life and then boarded the plane for a journey that would change my own.

In my backpack, I carried two of her prayer cards: a laminated version with a picture of the Blessed Mother looking down with love upon three children, and a paper one with a solitary image of the Virgin Mary. Mary was my grandmother’s lodestar, her namesake, and in her final years, who she remembered her own mother to be. It is because of my grandmother that my daughter carries the same name.

Two days after my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crouching on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, the gateway to The Beyond for the Hindu community in Nepal. A continuous stream of funeral pyres burn here, releasing into the waters the remnants of the dead, and are then re-lit over and over again, burning at the base of the Shree Pashupatinath Temple. In my hand was the paper prayer card, Mary looking out into an unseen distance. I thanked my grandmother for her love and devotion. I promised to always remember that “blood is thicker than water”, and to keep my eyes out for a “decent” girlfriend for my single brother—and then I let the card be carried away with the ashes of so many others in the waters of the Bagmati.

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015 – photo credit: Sahadev Panday

Despite the fact that I was able to perform my good-bye ceremony in one of the most sacred places on the planet, it wasn’t until I was hiking through the foothills of the Himalayas that I encountered my grandmother in the afterlife. As we marched through one tiny village after another, we came across so many lovely, yet somewhat solemn individuals. Always smiling, they kept mostly to themselves, a resultance of not speaking our language I’d assumed. But rounding the corner one warm morning, we came across an ardent, ageless crone who we heard before we saw. We met what could only be described as my Nepali grandmother.

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

Also a nonagenarian, this woman called us over to show us her broken eyeglasses. Her fingers, bent by time and arthritis, pointed at each of us with aggression, while she animatedly explained to our guide that her daughter had left to go breed a bull in another village and she needed new glasses. She was hard of hearing, but sharp as a tack and had something to say about each of us. She had the same demanding attitude, the same crooked fingers, the same “what in the Hell do you know!” gestures as she waved us away, annoyed that we didn’t have any glasses to give her. I quietly sidled up to her and held her hand as she talked, expecting her to impart some wisdom or have a spark of recognition for me—for clearly she was my grandmother in another time and a very faraway place—but there was none. She took no notice of me and barely registered that I was touching her at all. I was okay with that. I had received far more than I ever expected and was grateful for the opportunity to see that my grandmother could live on in unexpected ways.

This past week, my grandmother’s cousin and her closest friend, also passed away. It was no surprise when I received the call. Nonina, as she was known in the family, was as fierce and Italian as Grandma, and together they had so much deliciousness to offer the world, and a lot to say about it too. Where Grandma held expertise in food (though Nonina was no slouch), Nonina knew her fashion, and thanks to her, as a kid I was dressed in the very best chiffons and polyesters that the 70’s had to offer. Her children were her life, as she would tell you over and over again, and there was not an award, a performance or a Halloween costume that would pass without her inspection. Now that she is gone, the world is a little dimmer, but I can only imagine the party happening now that she is home.

After Nepal, I am excited to see how Nonina will show up again. I look forward to the unexpected moment when I hear two older ladies arguing and instantly think of Grandma and Nonina. And I’m curious to see where I’ll encounter someone who refers to me as, “Doll”. While I miss them both very much, I can’t wait until they visit me once again.

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002 – photo credit: Joseph Schuyler

 

 

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

(Two weeks have passed and I finally feel as if my brain cells are lining up again. At least, in a more American, Pacific Standard Time, conventional way. I have been feeling as if I were driving in the fast lane with everyone shooting past at 75mph, my gear shift broken off in second and I’m left maxing out at 30mph. After stumbling around wondering what day it was, and mumbling “amazing” over and over again like a mantra, I am starting to feel as if I am rising from the depths of another world, still somewhat floating and disconnected, but surfacing back into familiar territory. 

This is my attempt to put into words what there may be no words for. This is my leap at calling back a part of myself that will always remain behind.)

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Maybe it was for the best that the trip started out in the most populated and crushingly chaotic city in Nepal. Maybe it was no accident that after a red-eye flight to NY, three non-stop swirling days of intense emotions and conversations with the ghosts of my childhood while I helped bury my grandmother, followed by a layover in a surreal landscape with red chalky dust sprinkled over sparkling silver buildings and a lashing Arabic tongue, that I am dropped onto the bustling streets of Kathmandu. I am met with a city piled high with neatly stacked textiles and copper pots, rows of marigold necklaces and strewn rotting garbage.

 

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

The air is thick with diesel fumes, alluring spices, burning garbage and the occasional assaulting whiff of sewage. Any residual melancholic thoughts that I have are shoved to the back of my being as car horns, the melodic caterwauling of music and police whistles jab their way in. It is the morning of our first day in Nepal and tomorrow is Dipawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In addition to the standard flood of tourists, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, cows, dogs, monkeys (monkeys?!?) and chickens making their way along the streets, extended family members are returning home, and everyone must stop to pick up festival supplies. Colors bleed out of the stalls and doorways. Rickshaws, scooters and mopeds ding, beep and honk as they whiz past close enough for me to feel a breeze on my skin. Kathmandu is a white water stream of demented consciousness and I am riding its mind.

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

We start at the Bazaar in the center of Kathmandu in order to get the full-frontal of what a city enmeshed in festival furor looks like. Movement in this city, whether it is the constant parade of people on the streets and in the alleys, or the transports that cough their way around town, is a study in controlled chaos. As far as I can tell there are no street signs, no traffic lights and yet everyone makes their way to their destination. It reminds me of standing on a bridge as a child and tossing sticks and leaves into the torrent of a bursting springtime creek below. Unseen currents carry the objects here and there, with some getting caught in invisible whirlpools in the center, but eventually everything makes its way downstream.

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

We meander and pick our way past open stalls that spill out wares, as shopkeepers cautiously eye the passersby. Some sellers are engrossed in stitching together flower necklaces for the festival, while others are hawking their best deals. Saris and traditional Nepali menswear hang from intricately carved entranceways, along with fleece pants decorated in Western world cartoon characters, t-shirts that say ‘I (heart) Nepal’ and hilariously misspelled American knockoffs such as “Galvin Klein.”  I try my best to pay attention to my group so that I don’t get lost, but I can’t help but wander around gaping wide-mouthed at the spectacle before me.

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our guide Sahadev (“Dave”) gathers us like the flock of chickens we are and directs us into a curved archway sandwiched between a mountain of copper pots and a curtain of spangly saris. We emerge through the darkened portal blinking with wonder at a spectacular hand-carved Buddhist pagoda-style temple looming above us, a handful of worshippers circling the sanctuary, and a stone-laid ground awash in the constant ebbing tide of a sea of pigeons.

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Having lived in both Boston and NYC, I’ve strolled down many alleyways and through my fair share of random doorways, but this hidden celestial outpost was a shock to my urban consciousness. How can Buddha just pop up any old place? Just feet from a man prostrate before a statue of the Buddha is another hawking plastic necklaces. But isn’t that the lesson? Doesn’t The Divine exist everywhere and shouldn’t we be looking in all the old familiar places?

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

(‘What is the name of this magical temple?’ you must be wondering. And here we have the conundrum of the hosted overseas tour. I spent so much time trying to absorb and photograph, taking for granted the luxury of roaming place to place without having to research or map anything, that I barely ever took notes. Now, weeks later, I can remember the feel of the hand-carved prayer wheel beneath my fingers as I made my way in reflective circumference, but I have no name, no dates, nothing in terms of recorded knowledge that will help me share anything but the ethereal with you. And maybe that is the only way Nepal can be shared.)

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

From the Bazaar we move on to Durbar Square and Hanuman City, the location of the old royal palace and two large temples in tribute to Hindu deities, Durga and Hanuman. As we stop every few feet to discuss architecture, art or the reality TV-like history of the last royal family in power (disgruntled children, illicit love affairs, murderous family members… watch for it to hit cable soon), I notice well-dressed men on their knees in the square, digging out the cracked and crumbling mortar between tiles, their hands, resembling crows feet, curled around tiny sticks, work diligently, reverently to restore what was deteriorating. I try to remember when the last time was that I saw anyone using such crude tools to complete such an enormous task by hand. Or dressed so formally for such a dirty and unassuming chore. I cannot.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourists trickle into the square stumbling about like foreign and confused paparazzi. They mostly stare at the workmen dangling precariously on handmade bamboo scaffolding 30 feet up in the air. One woman, standing almost dead center in the square, digs out her recent purchase: a Nepali singing bowl, an instrument designed to produce vibrations meant to soothe and heal the human spirit. With the plastic shopping bag tucked under her arm, she cradles the bowl in one hand, the striking mallet in the other. Tapping the bowl over and over again, a look of wonder comes over her face and she becomes absorbed in the vibration. Despite the fact that she is standing in a public square, surrounded by a slew of people, this seems to be the most natural and expected thing to do. I stand as close to her as I can get without invading her privacy and seeming like I am about to mug her. I close my eyes and soak up the moment… the sound, the light, the energy of the square… like a sponge. (I’m grateful there is no picture of my face in that moment.)

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

From Durbar Square we move onwards to lunch in a restaurant and B&B tucked back off of some alleyway that I try to memorize but fear I shall never see again. At the head of the alley, a group of men of varying ages stand around a cascading tangle of electric wires, some with exposed ends, watching one individual as he picks up one and touches it to others. Rather than a property of science, electricity still seems to be a matter of alchemy in Nepal. Electric power is illusive. There is no system determining when it is available and when it is not, or even where it can be accessed regularly. In addition to a lack of consistency, there seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Why the Hell Not” as the configuration of wires about the city is reminiscent of abandoned ice picks on the side of Everest.

As we pass, a couple of the members of our traveling group, specifically a retired engineer and a retired director of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), briefly pause to watch… fascinated and horrified.

Lunch is an assortment of traditional Nepali light fare—momos (similar to Japanese shumai or Chinese potstickers, are stuffed with a ground chicken, heavy on the cilantro and a ‘momo masala spice’, served with a tomato-based sauce featuring cumin and ginger), noodles with vegetables and a sampler platter of tastes of Nepal, including a vegetable curry, rice and a mint sauce.

This is the first real exposure to a Nepali meal for my lifelong friend and now foreign traveling companion Elena and myself. The Cliff Bars and tea the night before and the 12′ resort breakfast buffet that morning (featuring everything from yak cheese to waffles) really didn’t count. Prior to that we’d had a questionable experience with lamb wraps on our Fly Dubai flight into Kathmandu (Eating lamb should have been my first warning sign for how out of my mind I was. For a woman who barely eats anything that walks, especially if she hasn’t vetted the farmer first, this was a bold move on my part. Something about the cardboard standup signs set on the seats of the first row of the plane charging $35 to ride in their “first class” section said to me, “You go right ahead and enjoy that tasty adventure!”) and were now ready to take on some authentic food. So, we did what any overzealous and excessive American would do… we order it all.

Lunch is an awkward hour of trying to consume an irrational amount of food for two people in a land where food is lacking, while simultaneously presenting ourselves to our trip-mates, none of whom grossly over-ordered as we had. Faced with the notion of wasting food in a developing country, we force ourselves to finish it all (damn those lamb wraps!) and even sample the bowls of red condiment left on our table. (We quickly realize that this was ketchup and completely irrelevant to any of the food that has been served. The only reason it is there? We’re Americans.)

The whirl of recent events, moving physically across space and time to get to the other side of the globe, the frenetic nature of my surroundings and now the unreasonable amount of food in my stomach is getting to me. I’m losing the ability to move logically from one moment to the next. Our guide gathers us again. Time to go to Patan City.

 

lifevest

(Journal Entry from October 17, 2014)

My mother-in-law once told me that when you pray for patience, you don’t actually get patience. Instead what you get are experiences that workout your “patience muscles”, helping to expand your ability to remain calm and endure.

I pray. I pray a lot. Every morning I stand at my little makeshift altar…

(Side Note: To the best of my knowledge, there is no “Altars for Dummies” book, so I just made up what sits on mine. It lives right inside our front entranceway. So if you see a candle burning next to a chocolate chip cookie please don’t assume that we pray to the Keebler elves.)

…and I say thanks for all that is in my life. Sometimes I tick off the big ticket items, sometimes I just stand there and wrap myself in a feeling of gratitude. I send blessings to those that I love, those that need assistance and generally all that exist across time and space (didn’t know that you were prayed for every day, did you?). I don’t usually ask for anything specific, mostly just a general, “Hey, thanks for keeping me from doing anything monumentally stupid lately” kind of a prayer, but there is one thing I do pray for, every morning and every night before I go to sleep. I pray that I live a higher life, one that brings me closer to enlightenment (whatever that means), where I live mindfully and in a spirit of abundant love. I pray that I become more aware or “awake” to what is truly unfolding before us, and to have the wisdom and the strength to live in a place of presence and light, so that my light might shine and reveal the way for others.

I really should rethink that prayer and start asking for a road bike or something.

I am currently sitting on an Emirates flight to Dubai, where in another four hours I will get on a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. Yesterday, I was back in NY with my family, burying my grandmother, the matriarch of our family. The past two months of my life have read like the script to a Malick film. I have been consciously breathing through weeks of watching The Universe lay before me life event after life event, one more breathtaking after another, some filled with joy, others with heartbreak, and all filled with grace. I am utterly exhausted and shell shocked, as these events are the kinds that grab you by the collar, shake you back and forth and shout in your face, “Wake the fuck up!”. And now I’m on my way to one of the most sacred and spiritual places on the planet, without my husband or children, but a friend of twenty years, one that has known me through two decades of relationships, bad decisions, and realized dreams. She is on her own quest, which is crazy and inspiring since 15 years ago (almost to the day) she and I were simultaneously in the biggest upheavals of our then just forming adult lives. And here we are again feeling vulnerable and raw and trying hard to stop our knees from knocking as we stand here ready to take whatever comes next.

This is going to be one hell of a trip.

loveletter

We all walk a path. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can see the path shining before us, riddled with potholes and muddy puddles that give us some indication that the going will be slow and arduous, but not impossible. (There are also rainbow bridges attended by handsome Cosmic guides handing out maps, along with soothing cups of mint tea on the path, but we gave up trying to look for them sometime after our college years.)

Then there are the days when everything feels dark and suffocating, and we aren’t even sure the path is in front of us anymore. Hell, we can’t even feel our feet.

It is these times, when we are desperately clawing into the pitch black reaching out to touch anything that will give context and meaning to what we are spiraling through, that we can feel God reaching back. I believe that if we pay close attention, and work hard not to drink in the fear, we can feel Her putting a gentle hand on our head, wiping our tears with Her sleeve and whispering, “Shhh. Take a deep breath. I’m still right here.”

Recently, I was in that sinking hole. I knew that the path was there, but my feet could not stay underneath me, and over and over again I found myself crashing through the air and landing hard on my ass, knocking the breath from my lungs and making my head crackle with fear. And when that happened, I saw stars.

There were the two stars that slipped me unexpected notes filled with love, reminding me that I am brave and strong.

There were the stars that dropped off food for my family as I left them unattended to bury my grandmother, then journey across the globe.

There was the star that took the time to help me get my possessions safely home, at a time when I was having difficulty trying to remember who I was and where I lived.

And there were the stars that called me, one from so very far away, during my darkest hours, just to tell me that they loved me, to hang in there and “You’ve got this.”

There were so many that together these stars carried me out of the darkness. Like the lights on a darkened theatre aisle, I just followed one to the other until I was able to make my way back into the light. Their small moments of kindness rippled my world back towards positivity, and for that I can never repay them. But now that I’m back in the world of “seeing”, I can collect the light, and shine it back for others.

Thank you my stars. Thank you for shining the light of Her grace upon me. Thank you for returning me home.

 

fiercetrilove

As my daughter and I got ready for the swim around the pier, the final test prior to graduation from the Junior Lifeguard program, she confessed to me that she was terrified. “Please Mom, don’t leave me,” she begged as we walked with 50 others into the shore break. I promised that I would not, that I would never.

As we crossed the surf and started kicking through our first 100 yards, she started shouting encouragement.

“Come on, Mom! You can do this! Just imagine we’re dolphins and this is where we live.”

I’ve never smiled through a swim workout, but I did that day.

Afterwards, I thanked her for her inspiration and told her it was the best part of the entire experience. I then asked her why she decided to cheer me on for the entire swim.

“Did it help you feel less afraid if you concentrated on cheering me on?”

“No, I just wanted to help you make it through to the end.”

“But I was fine. I wasn’t in trouble, that’s just how I swim”

“Sorry Mom, but you swim like you’re in trouble.”

Three weeks later, and a week after the triathlon, I was in the emergency room waiting for the results from the first of two chest xrays. Seems eating garlic, breathing in the equivalent of an entire eucalyptus tree and imbibing in every other natural remedy under the sun will never prevent what is meant to be. The day of the tri, I had a full blown chest cold where I sounded like someone unwrapping candy from a cellophane wrapper every time I breathed in. But I had come too far and tried too hard. I was fine, it was all fine, I could do this.

My daughter came to me the night before the race, and declared herself able and ready to participate. Despite the fact that I was fully prepared to race solo, she felt compelled to be by my side, to not let me go it alone. She wanted to take care of me. I was so proud.

The only reason that I finished is because my daughter helped me to do so. During the swim, the fluid in my chest overcame me and it was all I could do to take a single breath. My confident and incredibly brave 10 year old talked me through all 500 yards, shouting encouragement and guiding me when I was swimming off course, since I had to resort to swimming on my back. Her spirit buoyed me physically as well as mentally.

The rest of the race was a celebration of us. We sang as we biked up hills, high-fived the traffic cops and shouted, “We’re doing a triathlon!” as we zipped past racing down the other side. We talked about life as we walked the final two miles, even though I kept secretly trying to get us into a jog, because yes, I’m just that insane. And we sprinted across the finish line, crossing it together.

I have learned so much from this experience of pushing myself beyond my boundaries and trying to take my child along on my journey with me. I learned that I should always examine my motives and then let it all go and just do what is right for me… maybe others will follow suit, maybe they won’t, but in the end if I do it for myself then I will never be disappointed. I learned that maybe we just look like we’re struggling, but really that is how we get ourselves to the next point, and rather than needing someone to swoop in and save us, all we need is a little encouragement.

I was sick with a respiratory infection for four weeks after the triathlon that kept me from taking even as much as a long walk. The first day I was able to exercise I tried to take a little jog, just one mile. I couldn’t even make a half mile, gasping for breath with aching legs, it was as if the four months of training never existed. I was back to square one. I was overcome with disappointment but I kept at it, and over the next several weeks I was back to running two miles again, shopping for a real road bike and researching upcoming sprint triathlons. You know that indelible spirit of my daughter’s? I think I know where she gets it.

Recently, a friend asked me, “Why do YOU want to do this challenge?”. Initially, I agreed to participate in this triathlon in order to prepare myself for an epic journey that I will be taking in the fall. This adventure is going to challenge me both physically as well as mentally, so jumping in and accepting this challenge seemed like the promise at gunpoint I needed to make myself actually get off of my ass and do something. Not one to ever feel comfortable wasting money, once I paid my $100+ registration fee, that was it; the deed had been done.

In thinking about her question, I realize that there is so more…

1. I am becoming addicted to being uncomfortable. Sounds totally odd, I know, but I had this realization while pushing out 15 miles on the bike the other day. Moving to California turned our worlds upside down. Plucked from our cozy little farm life in upstate NY, and a lifetime spent on the east coast, we flung ourselves across the country from everyone we knew, and plopped ourselves into a time zone, culture and surroundings that we had very little knowledge or experience with. After the shock and adjustment period was over, we looked around and felt like superheroes. We had done it! We took on Goliath and kicked his ass. We steamrolled over our fears and are now doing the Rocky dance on city hall’s steps. If you have ever attempted rising above a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and find yourself the victor, then you know the feeling of euphoria and immortality that just such an experience casts off. That feeling is addictive, and I wanted more. I wanted another adventure that scared the crap out of me, one that made me feel alive (like I was DOING something) and would push me to see the world differently, awaken me to new perspectives, conquer more of my inner darkness. (A part of that darkness is the ego boost that comes with telling people, “I’m doing [insert exciting adventure here] ,” or bitching about something that makes me seem big and important, and the illumination of how addictive that boost can be. Still working on that one.) I have learned so much more about myself when I was uncomfortable, freaked out and just plain terrified, and from those places I have found more strength, discovered more abilities, and enjoyed more inner peace. Let’s just say that I like pushing out of the cocoon only to learn that I can fly.

2. I want my girls to know that they can conquer anything, and the only way to teach that principle is to live it. I want my girls to grow up saying, “I’ll try”, rather than, “I can’t”. And so, for them, I’m going to push myself to do things I’ve been scared of my entire life and I’m going to be honest about it with them. Essentially, I’m tri’ing.

3. When I was enjoying a recent lament over the training (with a heaping dose of sarcasm, ego and some humor) another friend reminded me that it isn’t that I “have to” do this, it is that I “GET to” do this, and she is right. When I’m out there sucking wind, what an awesome reminder it is that I am blessed enough with the health, the means and the opportunity to challenge myself in this very friendly, easy way. I now carry that gratitude with me and send it back out into the world as best as I can.

4. I’m ready. It is hilarious and pungently ironic for me to type this as the race is 4 days away and I’m ingesting every cold remedy known to man in order to prevent the inevitable race day wake up with blown out sinuses, but I am, I’m ready. I feel that I have finally arrived at a point in my life, where I have acquired the confidence, insight and tools that help me to conquer just about anything tossed my way, and the realization that I can do it with a smile. Doesn’t mean I’m going to LIKE whatever it is that I’m up against, but I highly doubt that it would break me, as it could have or even possibly has in the past. I decide what it means to be in this triathlon, and I’m not only going to rock it, but I’ll be the one sporting Sharpie marker tattoos and glitter from her kids, singing and smiling all the way.

The other day, while on a training ride, I ended up biking amidst runners completing a marathon. At first, I didn’t say anything, and just rode past, handing out the occasional smile but not wanting to intrude on their concentration. Yet it seemed just too serendipitous that I was put in the midst of all of these people pushing themselves to live better lives and not help them along, so I started cheering them on, shouting out, “You go, Ladies!” or “Keep going! You’ve got this!” as I pedaled. Not annoyance, but gratitude is what I got in return, time and time again. After I left them, I continued to shout greetings to the workers in the fields, who all happily replied in turn.

And in that moment, I knew what I would say as I cross the finish line this weekend, and yelled it above the traffic on the highway as I peddled,

 

YAWP!

 

trainingcruise

Let’s get one thing clear about me training for a triathlon: you are witnessing a cosmic anomaly. Think of the Northern Lights or Hale Bop…you aren’t going to see this every day. I have run in exactly two 5k’s in my life and one of those was because I was just trying to keep my marathon-running boyfriend from breaking up with me. Aside from that, the grandest bit of public competition I have ever participated in was the Filene’s Basement Bridal Sale… and even that was 15 years ago.

Let’s also clear up another misconstrued notion: this is not a real triathlon. This is what the athletes call a “super sprint”: 500 yard swim, 6 mile bike ride, 2 mile run. I’m guessing the ‘sprint’ in the title is because there will be people going all out to finish this as fast as possible. Those people. The reason I was able to sign up for this without doing a shot of tequila first was because there is actually a parent child category, and I figured that if I was unable to get myself through the water, I could always use a passing child as flotation device.

Training Day 23: 

Waking up at 7am on a Saturday wasn’t that difficult, it was getting out of the bed that was sucking the happy out of my soul. Visions of me getting passed by 7 and 8 year olds as I puffed and wheezed my way through the running portion of the triathlon pushed me out of bed and got me dressed. I was going to kick some elementary school ass if it was the last thing that I did.

When I opened the garage door, I growled. My bike was in the shop after spokes began to spontaneously burst off of the rim. (I’d like to say it was because of the comet like speed that I had been generating, but upon my first “long” ride, I nailed a curb and possibly a parked car… I was too busy licking the ground to pay attention.) The bike that I was riding in the tri was a 24 speed hybrid, not the optimal bike for that type of race, but since this is only a 6 mile ride (and possibly one with a child tagging along) I felt that it would be fine. However, now with it in the shop, and time marching ever closer to race day, I had to take my beach cruiser.

If you do not live near the sea, as was once my case, then you might not be familiar with the common mode of transportation known as “the beach cruiser”. Beach cruisers come with names like ‘Low Rider’ and ‘Lil’ Betty’, wide handle bars and cup holders made out of coconut shells. Mine came from a school auction that we accidentally won after too many Moscow mules. There were no flame jobs, but a sassy bell and banana seat. And now here I was, trying to crank out a speedy six only to jump off and then run two miles… the “brick workout”. I wished that I had one of those cyclist outfits on to make this expedition truly complete.

As I happily peddled along, I imagined myself in the triathlon, smiling and waving to the people walking with their morning coffee. Bling bling! I bet they’re all looking at me and thinking, “Wow, is she training for a triathlon?” I spy an older gentleman with a crooked baseball cap riding up ahead of me, a bag of McDonald’s breakfast in his basket, so I nominate him as my official pace setter. I roll up behind him and think about how ridiculous this entire endeavor is, how if I had to plan a triathlon, we’d all go for a lovely 500 yard swim/float, get out and shower, have a nice breakfast, then a quick 6 mile bike to a vineyard where there would be a wine tasting waiting for us. Finally we’d walk through a magical set of Italian gardens 2 miles long only to be greeted with a fantastic lunch. That’s a triathlon, right?

I found myself getting bored as I rode, so I made a game out of swerving to miss tiny dogs, but not the ones with sparkly collars. I thought about all of the people that were rooting me on; my friend in NY that despite not having run in a year, went out for a 3 mile jog with me and pasted an ironman number leftover from the previous weekend’s race to my shirt; my sister-in-law who would sit and listen intently to all that I had (or more accurately had not) done to train, with tips, clothing and bike at the ready to hand over to me; my sister who sent me a package containing an article about an ironman competition that I would not only never attempt, but secretly loathe as I was accidentally present to it on my 40th birthday and might have something to do with me forcing this upon myself now. And my husband, and my children, and more and more and more. I realized that I wasn’t the only one swimming/biking/running this race. Apparently trying to kill yourself also takes a village.

As I pulled back into the driveway, I leapt from my bike, trying to obtain the most accurate re-creation of the transition that happens in the race. Of course, my ear buds were stuck in my helmet, then I accidentally shut off my music, and my husband had locked the garage so I couldn’t put the bike away… and 10 minutes later I was off and running. Well, less like running and more like a zombie rising from the grave and trying to flee after their decayed feet have fallen off. Oh, I get it—brick workout. My mind immediately calls roll on every reason why this is a bad idea, and my anxieties are jumping up and down with their hands raised and shouting, “Present!” I slow down to a discernible crawl, but keep moving. I chastise myself for not being able to run. I realize I’m not very kind to myself, remember that I’m not sprinting I’m just finishing, and still keep going, and when I can, I run some more. I feel tired but stronger, sore but proud. Just get to the corner. Just make it through this song. Walk three steps, run four. And breathe… and breathe… and breathe. At least I’m moving forward.

In the weeks that followed my brick workout, I have increased my bike speed by 10 minutes, can run two miles non-stop, and can swim twice the distance required. I feel stronger physically, as well as mentally. I have learned that having to slow down to a float/coast/crawl just means experiencing the world on my terms. I have learned that coffee and wine are like drinking sand when it comes to hydration. I have learned that my mind is the Fox News of my physical capabilities, and I just have to change the channel to Discovery.  I have learned that all of those words of encouragement that I tell my daughters every day, phrases such as “believe in yourself” and “you are strong” and “you can do anything” aren’t just cookies that you hand out to satisfy a craving, they are the meat and potatoes of our soul, sustaining us, growing us, guiding us.

I know now that I can do this, and because of that, I can do anything.

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I had it all figured out. Add the fun into the training and she wouldn’t even know that we were working out. I could even incorporate the 7 year old and by the end of the run, we’d all be laughing, holding hands, eating ice cream and planning our outfits for our first Ironman.

I am a dumbass.

My first attempt to try to get us out training for the run part of the triathlon was disguised as a quick explore around the neighborhood. The littlest one took her scooter, and me and the 10 YO would just walk… maybe even do a little warm up jog. I figured we could try some chasing/racing games that would get us running but not Running… you know? The 10 YO was skeptical, as she usually is, but the 7 YO was totally on board. As we headed out, I even tried to inspire us with Pharrell William’s song “Happy”… but that was about the last time we heard the word that day.

Immediately, there was pouting, stomping and whining. The 7 YO, finally feeling faster, shot off like a rocket. I tried to increase our pace to keep up. The 10 YO decided to teach me a lesson, and also in a fit of pre-adolescent rebellion, ran off as fast as she could. “Great! I can use this!” I thought. Except she got about 3 car lengths before she stopped, defeated and even more angry. I tried to coach her into pacing herself, how to slow her breathing down, how to make her steps count… blah, blah, blah. “Why can’t I ride the scooter?” she whined. I was frustrated, tired of the whining, feeling like I was pushing a broken school bus with flat tires up a hill, and all of it vaguely familiar. “Fine!” I shouted and made the 7 YO hop off of the scooter and handed it over. We hadn’t gone one driveway length before the 7 YO, in a text book little sister move, sidled up  next to me and started to jog. And then I did the second most idiotic thing since signing us up for the triathlon. I fell, deep and instantaneously, into the trap that is my ego and crushed my daughter in the process.

So happy to finally have someone eager to participate and actually listening to me, I said these horrible words,

“Great job, Dew! Maybe you will want to do this triathlon instead.”

You know that moment, right after you’ve climbed the biggest hill on a roller coaster, just as you hit the peak and you’re done looking at how wonderful the scenery is, and my aren’t all those people so tiny down there, and you eventually realize how horrifying the drop is and that there is no other way down? That same moment when your stomach is clenching so hard because it knows it is about to end up in your shoes? Yup, that moment.

And… cue the 10 YO tears. Many, many tears. So many tears in fact that we had to sit down curbside because she could no longer see to scooter. She didn’t want to run, and she certainly didn’t want to do this triathlon, but most of all, she didn’t want to disappoint me. She was devastated that I would so easily toss her aside for her little sister. She was trying, but she just didn’t like this at all. How could I have said such a thing? And who was this evil little creature that would just throw her under the bus like that and push herself into my good graces?

I sat there feeling like Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot, Lando Calrissian and every horrible traitor in history. How could I have just committed the crime that I found most vile and had raged a war against FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE?!?  I wanted to crumble into ash and be blown away with the wind.

And then, the 7YO started to cry.

“Wait! Why are YOU crying?!?”

I just sat on the curb, a girl sobbing on each side, and took it all in. What happened? How did I get us all here? I knew that this was another one of those AFGO (another fucking growth opportunity) moments that The Universe loved to shove at me… and, admittedly, I actually ask for from time to time, in order to better myself and the world around me, but COME ON! Why can’t I just be handed with misplacing a winning lottery ticket? Why must I foul up so badly that I scar my children for life?

I took a deep breath and grounded myself. Again. I released a lot of energy that I had been holding onto around wanting this to work, my relationship to being fit, my needing a fit daughter, my issues with my own childhood… as much as I could figure out to release. Then I asked to release that which I wasn’t even consciously aware of, but was holding me back. I took a couple more breaths, then moved on.

“Alright, everyone up. If we’re all going to cry, we might as well walk while we do it.”

Together, we cried and walked. I apologized to both of them for trying to force my version of this experience on them, rather then let them participate. I apologized for making the 10 YO feel inadequate and less than her sister. I apologized to the 7 YO for putting her in that position. Both said that they accepted my apology, but were still shooting anger arrows at each other… which really were meant for me. I made them walk together to work it out, holding hands. They still had a lot of anger that they didn’t know how to get rid of, so they just kept fueling each other’s fire. I walked ahead telling them to work it out, not wanting to sit in their stew (because it hurt more knowing I caused it).

Listening to them still stabbing at each other with their words, I stopped, turned myself to face a field of flowers and closed my eyes. I breathed in deeply again, feeling sadness and helplessness. I could hear the girls watching me. I opened my eyes and started picking flowers.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m picking flowers.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t know what else to do.”

So we started off training for a triathlon, and ended up crying and picking flowers. They stopped hurting each other, and the tears stopped too, until the littlest one got bitten by ants…  but up until that point, it finally became a lovely, if not difficult, experience.

I know that I’m training. I just think that the triathlon is the least of my worries.

****POSTSCRIPT****

You might have noticed that this post initially started out “My first attempt…”. Yeah, you would have thought that I would have learned my lesson… but I didn’t. If incorporating games and a little sister with a scooter didn’t work SURELY adding in a public run with an outfit theme and cousins would certainly work this time! Rather than drag you through our pain let me sum up:

1. Outfits matter enough to get us into trouble, but not enough to get us out of it. The “fun run” invited everyone to wear neon. The 7 YO, so obsessed with matching, insisted on wearing a pair of neon running shoes that were a size too big. At the start of the race, she almost took a header and ended up crying and walking the entire run.

2. No matter how much “fun” they promise, no amount of music, balloons, costumes and kid’s snacks turn uninterested kids into running fanatics. The amount of whining increased (although it was slightly less pronounced since neither kid wanted anyone to notice them) and the amount of “I hate this” only diminished because they were busy shoveling tiny Cliff bars into their mouths.

3. Apparently it takes a public shaming event to get it through my thick skull that this isn’t happening. Both girls ended up crying and walking over the finish line. Ok, I get it, we’re done. A few days later, my sad and apprehensive 10 YO came to me and hesitantly told me that she didn’t want to do the triathlon. She confessed that she was scared to tell me because she didn’t want to let me down or have to do it alone. I promised her that I was ok with whatever she decided, and that she didn’t even have to decide now if she didn’t want to (she still had 3 weeks of Jr. Lifeguard training to endure and I was hoping (Really? Still?) that she would change her mind). She looked as if I had dug a mountain off of her back.

Perhaps now would be a good time to take a long look at why I REALLY want her to do this triathlon. You think?