Goodbye, childhood

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While browsing through my songs on my iPod tonight, I came across a song that instantly brought me back to a time in college when I listened to the song quite often after a particularly hard break up with the guy I thought I would marry at the time. Like only music can do, a flood of emotions rushed through me as I was instantly brought back to my old apartment, my cheap, vintage green college furniture, the off-white comforter with dark purple flowers, and me, listening to this song. I spent a lot of time that semester growing up. I spent a lot of time figuring out the type of guy I did and didn’t want to marry. I spent a lot of time relying on myself, getting to know who I really was without the confines of relationships, romantic ones, platonic ones, child-parent ones, sibling ones. It was, at the time, the hardest thing I’d ever experienced. I was heartbroken, in therapy for anxiety (that I did not know at the time was the beginning of OCD) and an eating disorder, and felt like I was pulling myself out of a swamp while barely surviving at times. I was lonely. I was alone.

That was 8 years ago. Over the years, as I moved on with my life and moved forward, from time to time, I think back to that period in my life because it was so significant. Was it because it was the first time I remember growing and changing who I was as a person? Was it because I discovered myself for the first time, truly – who I was, what I liked/disliked, spiritually, emotionally, etc.?  I relied on God tremendously to help me make it to the next day. And when  I did start to come out of it, after six dark months, I was very happy and content. Probably one of the happiest times of my life. Out of the darkness, I had finally come into light.

As I reminisce on that time now, I am overwhelmed with grief. A deep heaviness settles in my chest. Those years seem so far away, much longer than 8 years ago, like a dream that happened to a different person, not me. In a dark period of my life, I am actually sad that it is over. Not because I want to experience it again, but because I was so young, and so innocent. I was 20 years old. I thought I had life figured out, and I thought that I was experiencing the worst pain possible to man. Little did I know I would go through a lot worse in the coming years, but more than that, I am grieving because my childhood is over. Why at nearly 29 years old I feel that it’s just now coming to a close, I can only guess because having a baby shuts the door on your childhood. It pushes you across an imaginary, but palpable line. Before children, you are separated from those that do. There’s you, the DINK. The one who makes spontaneous Starbucks runs, sleeps in on Saturday mornings, goes on vacations when you want because you can. The one who doesn’t understand why it’s such a fuss to go anywhere with a baby, that rolls her eyes at unruly kids in the grocery stores, that is – naturally – the perfect parent, full of I totally wills and I’ll never do thats….because I don’t have kids so I am, of course, totally knowledgeable about what works and what doesn’t work with babies.

Childhood ends once you cross that line. When you are childless, you are still someone else’s kid. There is still some mystery that exists between you and your parents because you can’t fully understand or appreciate what they went through as parents while raising you. You are still separate. The mystery still remains.

The innocence is still there. The inability to understand what it’s like to have your heart live outside of your body (or so I hear…), to not understand the pain of motherhood. To not propel yourself closer to death by choosing to bear life.  Which is part of the beauty of being in your early 20s. You have no clue about life, and you don’t really care, because you’re living in the moment and don’t really give a crap about what’s happening a year from now, where you’ll be in six months or how you’ll make it there and what you’ll do once you get there.

Today I was watching a movie on TV called Dear John. It’s based off of a Nicholas Sparks novel which means I will absolutely hate it, because it’s so far off from how reality and relationships really are.  And of course, I hated it because it’s sad and unrealistic at the same time, but mostly I found myself feeling that pit in my stomach and the heaviness in my chest because I remember a time in my life when I thought life would be like the movies.  I thought love and relationships were like that, the heavy breathing, the constant longing, that it wasn’t real love unless you were separated by some dramatic and tragic unforeseen circumstance. In thinking about my college days and all the guys I dated or wanted to date or thought I would marry or thought that we were destined to have a great love story…..mostly this sadness that resides deep within me is because I have said goodbye to all those things. Goodbye to the time when when the world was full of possibilities and I didn’t give a fuck about where I was going or how I was going to get there.

Times when I had $50 to my name, times that I stayed up until 3 a.m. for a 7:50 a.m. class, flying by the seat of my pants, and most of all, never worrying about it. Never being anxious about next paychecks or wondering how the hell I would get up in the morning when I’d been up all night thinking about life and how every second, I’m closer to death.

I’ve never written about this because it’s not exactly something I like to think about.

But listen. Childhood is over. It is over. It’s over.

And the grief settles within me.


Am I worth something even if I never have kids?

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For over four years,  I’ve dodged questions about when my husband and I are going to have kids. I feel that’s a pretty bold question to ask someone. I don’t really go around asking my work colleagues their fertility plans, so just because we’re family doesn’t mean that I’m apt to sharing when I plan on going off of birth control or when my husband and I are going to do the deed next.

Over the years, this has built up into a sort of rebellious attitude whenever someone makes comments about when they feel my husband and I should start our family. It’s an insanely personal decision (although that’s a little hypocritical to say, given the entire idea behind this blog…), but I’ve built up an almost instant negative reaction when people ask me. Mainly because when they did start asking me, I was years away from even thinking about it. And as time got closer and apparently my biological clock was ticking (according to others), I reacted negatively because deciding to bring a baby into this world is a big deal. IT’S A BIG DEAL. I wasn’t about to decide on a whim to procreate without some serious thought and mental and emotional preparation behind it. Do you have to raise the baby? No.  So I am not going to have a baby just to make you happy.

About a year and 8 months ago, my brother and sister in law announced they were having a baby. Given that it was the first grandchild  for both sets of parents, this was an exciting time -expectedly. For all the reasons I struggled with the pregnancy, I was mostly bothered by the fact that anything I accomplished personally or professionally paled in comparison to the miracle that was about to occur.

I had lost 80 lbs and had completed my first half marathon about 1-2 months after my niece was born. I set PRs, I was healthy, I was pursuing and was hired in a new career in the defense industry. Now that I look back on it, 2010 was an amazing year for me in so many ways. And all of that, I felt, didn’t hold a candle to the fact that a new baby had entered the world. I struggled with feeling inadequate to those around me and feeling that my accomplishments weren’t worth much because I didn’t pop out a baby during that amazing and life changing year.

I feel like there is so much focus on having babies for the grandparents or for other people that I often feel they overlook the fact that *I* will be raising the baby so it’s not exactly a decision we are taking lightly. I sometimes feel like -at least in my immediate circle – that everything accomplished is not as great as having a kid. I have worked really hard to get where I’m at in my career, I take a lot of pride in what I have accomplished over the past few years, and I just wish someone would say “you are great, with or without kids.”

And I guess I don’t feel like it’s just limited to my immediate family… I feel in society at times that I don’t “have it all” unless I throw kids into the mix. That if I chose a career over kids, then I must be barren and unfulfilled… that if I chose kids over a career then I must be stuck in the dark ages.

I have asked my husband once or twice what he thought people would say if we told them we decided never to have kids. I often wonder if people would be hurt or feel betrayed and that our lives are not as worthwhile because so much emphasis is placed on having a family some day. What I’m saying is that deep down, I wish someone would say to me “you’re still awesome, even if you never have kids.”  You’re still alright, even if you decided to be child-free.

I have a feeling that I would be much less resistant if I felt accepted for who I was, regardless of my fertility plans.

A test changes everything

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Tuesday morning, with sleepy eyes, I looked at my phone and noticed a text from my brother. It had a picture and text that said “Laura’s (my sister in law) Valentine’s Day gift…” with a picture of a box of cookies and a positive pregnancy test. Yep, I’m going to be an auntie again this year! Did I mention my niece is 11 months old? I made sure to mention to my brother once or twice that he’s going to have two under 2. Because you can’t be a little sister without bringing up the annoyingly obvious. 🙂

Anyway, that sleepy Tuesday morning, I felt green. Green as in jealous. As in hey, isn’t it our turn? I said something incoherent to my husband about feeling like it was a little…unfair. Sad that it wasn’t us. He mentioned that if I’d just go off the pill, it could be us – which is true. I have my physical on Monday so by the end of next week I should know just exactly how well exercising and lose 80 lbs has helped me. But up until Tuesday morning, I’d spent a lot of time focusing on all the things I’d be giving up by being pregnant and having a baby.

It  was just a few weeks ago that I admitted to my husband that I was having a hard time – a really hard time, in fact – with the thought of giving up my body for 9+ months. It is hard for me to accept gaining weight, even if it’s for a good reason. Yes, there are fears about not having enough time or energy to exercise, but I know that if I make it a priority, I can make it happen.  Lately, it’s more so about gaining weight, and that’s hard for me to really accept. As someone who has spent the majority of my life overweight, ranging from slightly chubby to moderately obese, I kept feeling like I just didn’t have enough time. Not enough time to be thin, to enjoy being thin, to reap the benefits of being thin.

On the heels of that great article in Runner’s World about being formerly overweight and a runner, I finally realized something on Tuesday:

Being who I am, and my lifelong struggle with being overweight, there will never be enough time in the world for me to enjoy being thin. Period.

I could be this weight for the rest of my life, and I’d never look in the mirror and say “yep, I’ve had enough time being thin so that I feel ok gaining weight for something.” A year from now or five years  or 20 years from now, I’d still feel like I wouldn’t have enough time. When you are overweight for the majority of your life, every day you’re thin is a tremendous gift.

With that realization, I can’t keep holding myself back from change because of the fear of change – including changes to what the scale may say.


Training your mind

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Right before my first half marathon, one of my favorite fellow Coloradan runners (who was running a different marathon, and ended up qualifying for Boston with her time) wrote about training your mind for such a challenging task. Not only do you put your body through a lot of hell when training for distance races, but at some point or other, your mind’s going to give you one hell of a fight. When I first read what Michael Bane had to say about training your mind (via Men’s Fitness, circa 1999), I was struck by how, well, dead on he was about the mind aspect of running long distance races. In fact, I’d say 80% of the race is mental.  One mantra I tend to use is that unless I’m falling down because my legs are giving out from underneath me, I can keep running…despite what my mind might tell me.

Here’s what Bane said about the mental preparation for a marathon:

  • Accept that a portion of your race will be run on a mental panorama, and that it can be a scary place. It’s a landscape littered with your own failures and successes, your pains and your losses. It’s home to mythical creatures and places of legend, and your journey will be uniquely your own.
  • Understand that you may be beset by storms of powerful emotions – exhilaration, despair, fury. But like storms, these spikes of emotion pass and have no meaning. I once ran alongside a woman who described how she planned to kill her new husband, because she hated the bastard so much. I don’t think she talked like that when she wasn’t running.
  • Never question your goal. The completion of a marathon is more than an objective. It’s a summit, like a beautiful mountain peak, and has the power to capture and hold a person’s imagination. A trick I use is to “table” the mental discussion of whether this particular event was a good or a bad idea; I set it aside to deal with later. Then I focus on why this particular summit seemed so interesting.
  • Let go of judgments. While your mind is bouncing hither and yon, sooner or later it’s going to land on the “Why am I running so badly today?” square. Rather than expend that mental energy on judging my performance, I repeat one of my favorite mantras: “Nothing proves anything.”
  • Negotiate with your body. Crazy as it sounds, I carry on a mental conversation with my body. Before the race, I explain what is expected and acknowledge that it’s going to hurt. I apologize in advance and promise that I’ll make it up to my body somehow. Amazingly, my body continues to believe me.
  • Finally, what do you do if you hit the Wall, when you meet your dragon? Why, nothing, of course. Keep running, that’s all.

During my first 13.1 miles, I absolutely went through all of these points – the point where I thought that I wouldn’t finish, the point where my thoughts wandered back to how far I had come in just a little over a year’s time, how I should be proud of myself for overcoming the fear of success, the  fear of failure, and everything in between. And like Bane predicted, I would be beset by a storm of powerful emotions. When you ask your body – and every aspect of your body, including your mind – to do something so outrageous as to run a ridiculously long distance, it’s no surprise that a part of your body responds with a flood of emotions – emotions that are good, bad, scary, pleasing, exhilarating…peace. It’s almost as if the body is saying, look, I’m giving all I can physically…I have no other way to express the physical anguish you’re putting me through than to tell you through emotions.

It’s quite an experience, to say the least.

I was struck with these same words, this same harrowing process, after my husband and I decided that we wanted to start a family.  Surely, surely there are and will be times I question my goal. Why do I want this? Why did I decide that I could handle this? I’m not afraid to think that, to feel that way. To know that there will be times that I am overcome with powerful emotions  – fear of change, anxiety over becoming a new mom, confusion, excitement – knowing in the end that the difficult transition is rewarded with something inexplicable.  And negotiating with my body? Knowing the sacrifices my body will make…well, that’s an entirely different issue.

Words from a wise woman

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One of my favorite people (someone I consider vital in helping me through life’s transitions) sent me this quote yesterday regarding the dividing line between youth and adulthood – a line I have struggled to put into words.

A pregnancy was the dividing line, no matter how old you were when it happened, between youth and something else. The unborn got born and turned into children, and therefore your days of lying on a musty bedspread in somebody else’s house and kissing all afternoon were over forever, as were the days when you could stay in bed on rainy mornings entangled with your lover. Lovers turned into husbands, who then turned into fathers, and those rainy days would begin at six o’clock in the morning with baby shrieks or child demands, and one’s thoughts would revolve around such things as diapers or play dates or pediatric visits. It was definitely the end of something and the beginning of something else.

— Laurie Colwin, A Big Storm Knocked It Over

It is so hard to put into words exactly what it is that makes motherhood such a “dividing line” between childhood and adulthood. By every stretch of the imagination, I am an adult. But without a baby, I can still close my eyes and pretend I am not growing older, and the people around me are not growing older, and the world is still as unchanged today as it’s always been. Having a baby pushes me into the ultimate realm of adulthood – one where I can’t shut my eyes and pretend it’s not happening.

Out with the old

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February 9th, 2009.

I was severely overweight and had just returned from my grandfather’s funeral in Texas. He was 85 years old when he died. And Texas, for all intents and purposes, represented a big chunk of my childhood. I’d spent many summers and Christmas breaks in west Texas, playing with my cousins, smelling the familiar smells and taking in the familiar sights of the town where my grandparents lived.

But back to February 9th, 2009.

I remember this day clearly – I also remember the stench of a stale gym sweat, the hundred or so other people who were trying to make good on  New Year’s resolutions, just like me. I warmed up for five minutes on the treadmill, and cranked the speed up to something slow and took off.  On that day, I took my first steps as a runner. I ran in one minute run/two minute walk intervals for 30 minutes, and when I finished, I marveled in bewilderment,  awe, pride… here I was, 80 pounds overweight, and I had run more  in 30 minutes than I had in the prior 15 years when I was forced to run during freshman gym class.  Where would this newfound freedom take me?  Was I capable of such a feat – of slogging my obese body through the discipline and courage it took to become a runner? The possibilities seemed endless, and yet, seemed so impossible at the same time. It would take commitment. It would take a complete turnaround of my lifestyle – of not being active, of eating whatever I wanted, of letting my life slip by instead of taking control of the gifts that were presented before me. Suffice to say…it was a life changing day.

Several days ago, I told my husband that I was ready to have a baby. It was also a life changing day for me.

Only unlike that day when I took my first steps as a runner, I felt scared…terrified, even. This would change my life. It would change our lives, forever, in so many was we couldn’t even begin to imagine. Were we ready for this? For the responsibility? Was I courageous enough? Can I do this?

I tend to be someone who takes transitions hard, to put it lightly. When my life changes, I become very anxious. I’m sure it’s because I’m a major control freak. Even when changes are good, I’m pretty weak-kneed and unwilling and resistant. But when I have pushed through the fear, I am rewarded in unimaginable ways – a wonderful marriage, a great house with the best neighbors, a rewarding job that I enjoy. But the process is always profound, and it doesn’t come easy. Sometimes I hate it, and it usually involves grief, agony, and pain. Much like learning to become a runner.

I am training for two back-to-back half marathons, and starting a family at the same time. This….is scary.