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“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”

– J.M. BARRIE, Peter Pan

A few months ago I found a trapeze class for two offered on Dealpalooza, and I asked my mom if she would be interested in some mother-daughter bonding in the bright skies of Escondido, CA. She was. My moderate fear of heights? All the more reason to buy the deal and slay it. I get a little woozy in the Disneyland rockets, my friends. Climbing ladders: a little shaky. But after ziplining in Hawaii over a forest on the side of the extinct Kohala volcano two years ago and having an amazing time of it, I figured this quasi-phobia is one that just creeps up on me and needs consistent taming until it no longer bothers me.

Besides, any time we put ourselves in a situation where we have the chance to feel fear and to smack it down, we grow and start to become better masters over ourselves. Our minds habituate to what they practice, so it is up to us to train them well.

Thus off we went this afternoon to Trapeze High. My dad watched my kiddos, who were there to observe. To give them the chance to see the adults in their lives trying new skills is to give them hope for what their lives could become. They can learn, and do, almost anything, even if (especially if) struggle takes place. I want them never to feel limited by age, gender, or the labels they might internalize about themselves. The world is open, and they are free.

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Dave taught our class, which had six other members besides my mom and me. The first station (pictured) was practice in basic trapeze form and how to swing: big time shoulder engagement and lots of leg and butt muscles. Since I am not even tall enough to reach this practice trapeze, this was my first official “uh oh” moment; but in a Shakespearean “though she be but little, she is fierce” moment,  I just gritted my teeth and made a jump for it. First hurdle cleared.

After that, we practiced readying ourselves and jumping onto mats still low to the ground. I flubbed the jump technique twice just a bit, but was deemed “safe enough”…so okay, whatever. Might as well try to perfect the jump 23 feet in the air, right? Right.

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Right here is the moment of my biggest fear. The first jump and swing. As I approached the edge of the platform, knowing I would have to let go of the pole to grip the bar with both hands and prepare to fly, I could feel the fear creeping up. It was such a zen moment, though. Running has trained my mind so well. The fear came, but I could feel my mind actually bounce it away, without even thinking too much about it, like I was watching the fear move away from me. Bounce, bounce, bounce…like a red ball that went past me and off to my right hand side and into the sky over there. It was almost a visual and a sensation all in one, very synesthetic in its way. At that moment my mind lasered itself on one thought, which was, “You will do this.” And it all felt very calm, as if my mind already knew I would do it…

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…and then I did.

But that was just the first swing. I imagined immediately following this that we would probably be practicing only this all class session. This, and the dismounting. Oh, but no.

After everyone in the class had a turn, Dave climbed the ladder to the platform and showed us the first trick we would be expected to accomplish. All I could think standing on the ground was, “What the heck?!? I am supposed to do THAT?”

He took us over to the training bar we used to learn the basics of the swing, and walked/talked us through the motions of the stunt.

Swing. Loop both legs around the bar and grip with the knees. Let go of our hands and arch. Return hands to the bar. Dismount with…a backflip.

He showed me the steps, and I got my turn to go through them once on the practice bar. Then we were sent back to the ladder. It wasn’t so much fear that got me on my walk over to the ladder as it was the thought, “There is NO way. I am going to fall off and laugh at myself, and it will be fine…but how will my body ever do this?”

Going up the ladder, my mind recalibrated itself: “You will absolutely do this stunt, and you will not be falling off. You will take each movement as it comes, and you will use the momentum and physics of the trapeze to assist you. You will not overthink it. You will be present.”

Turns out, the trapeze has the meditative and zenlike potential that distance running has. Believe me when I say, I left class today fantasizing about my own trapeze in my backyard.

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So I did the stunt. I did it twice. I kept thinking about how it was possible to do the stunt because of how connected my body was to the physical parameters of this planet (gravity, momentum, etc), and how beautiful it is to achieve physical and mental freedom through physics. Through physics, through the swing of the trapeze, my body was able to bend itself and do some maneuvers that, to my limited imagination, did not seem likely. It almost felt Matrix-y: like, if I could just situate my body and mind enough within the mathematics of this world, then there are new ways of moving, new levels of freedom, new sensations. There is flight.

Those who achieved the first stunt were then given a second stunt. I am not even sure how I can describe it, except to say that it involved splits and that military-man Kevin absolutely was the standard-bearer for the splits and for this trick in general. I am not the most flexible person, actually, but I performed the stunt decently, twice.

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Walking through the stunt once on the lower bar

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Performing the trick

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My mom flies through the air (there are more pics of her work and of the day in general on Facebook).

Someone asked me earlier today if the trapeze was challenging. I would say this: outside of needing some basic to intermediate levels of fitness, the trapeze was not so much physically challenging as it was mentally challenging, in my opinion. The students who were most successful at this class seemed to deal with fear handily.  There was one gal who was terrified when she got to the top (in fact, she started the almost-crying tone while saying “I can’t! I can’t!”), and to watch her process throughout the class was fascinating, because she did conquer herself ultimately. Another woman finally conquered the first trick by the end of the class, too, because she would not give up even though the fear kept getting to her in the clutch. We all cheered for her! The 14-year-old gymnast was delightful to watch, as well, because she was quite good right away and wanted to perfect her first trick before moving on to the second, even though she had done it competently after her second go-round. She was diligent and methodical, and reminded me why I LOVED my high school students. A camaraderie developed fairly quickly, because we were all so mentally bare and we could see each other working through the various tasks. My teacher side came out, in the sense that I (normally very quiet in most social situations) found myself yelling out encouragement to people I did not even know because I felt this little glowing orb in my chest that just wanted, wanted, wanted them each to succeed so badly. I feel unbridled joy when I get to witness people achieving what they might think they cannot. That is one of my driving passions in life, actually.

So this was definitely another adventure today. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I thought our instructors were awesome in that they were both precise and laid-back.

There is so much in this life that I want to try!

“You keep alive a moment at a time/But still inside a whisper to a riot/…I’m dancing on my grave/I’m running through the fire/Forever, whatever/I never wanna die/I never wanna leave/I’ll never say goodbye…” FOO FIGHTERS

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Valentine’s Day 2014 began with a 3 mi run along a favorite route, followed by bike intervals directed by my husband (20 secs anaerobic sprints with 10 sec recovery repeated for several minutes—killer!) and weight training. Then it was breakfast time for my kiddos, so I made something thematic:

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I took an hour or so to do a couple of errands, including picking up some fresh fruit for our dessert tonight and a couple additional items for the picnic the kiddos and I had planned. Bill stayed with our children, and what a treat it was to run into a former student and to browse leisurely at the corner market.

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Katie and I were finishing up a math lesson, and Eric was helping me to pack for the picnic…when Bill returned home from his errands with a dozen red roses. We are not traditionally a flower couple, so this was such a beautiful surprise! Thank you, sweetheart!

We finished up a bit of schooling and then Katie, Eric, and I headed out for a two mile walk to a park that is lovely but which we don’t often use. The kiddos have been logging some good miles, though, and our range is expanding. We walked for quite a while, telling stories, being present, and taking in the day. Katie and I talked (after she asked a few times when we would be there) about remaining in the present, how we had nowhere we have to be, how we can simply enjoy the day, how I chose a destination that would take us a long time on purpose—so that we would have more time just to be with each other and to celebrate the love among the three of us. (It was also a gift of some silence and alone time for Bill for several hours. We are planning a family Valentine’s Day excursion this weekend, but today I wanted to give him the gift of decompression).

When we eventually arrived at the park, we chose a shady spot under a pine tree, set up our towels, opened our basket, and dined on yellow lentil hummus, string cheese, raw trail mix, blueberries, and strawberry-banana smoothies, among a couple of other items. Katie made friends with some girls near her age, and Eric and I played spaceship and planetary explorers. My little people are so much fun for me. I was also able to fit in some extra exercise: my sit-ups, arm work, etc.

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We then walked the two miles home, and got home right in time to start setting our dessert table and to make dinner and our Valentine’s Day treat. The kiddos played with their daddy while I set up our table:

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They had heart shaped pizza with red bell pepper hearts, pineapple, and olives; kale and shaved Brussels sprouts salad, potato soup, and Cupid arrow fruit salad:

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My parents came over for dessert night, although my mom is finishing up a four day cleanse and exhibited the kind of willpower I very much respect and did not have a piece so that she could really know she did the cleanse completely without cheating herself.

I made my version of boccone dolce (“sweet mouthful” in Italian). It’s three layers of baked meringue, and each disc is spread with melted chocolate (we only use dark over here, as dark as we can get it at times) and a bit of whipped cream. Traditionally, only strawberries are used, but I wanted strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries in mine (I also garnished with tiny grapes and mint). The top is decorated and then hit with drizzles of the chocolate. YUM! I don’t make treats like this much anymore at ALL (and I used to, all the time—I really love to bake/cook , actually), so this was especially delicious tonight!

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When I served Eric his piece, he exclaimed, “Oh mercy!” LOL.

So it was a day of unusual treats here and there, but a day full of solid exercise for all of us, too….so it balanced out, and we were responsible about it.

I am excited for the rest of the long weekend! Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

649.6 miles in 86 hours since September 1st until now. Since September, these neon blue and bright orange Asics have traveled up and down the hills of Temecula, fought for the distance of my first half marathon in Long Beach, pounded the washboard trail to a second place women’s finish in a local 5K, bounced along as I fought for PRs in my training, and have forever become part of the longest and most important journey I will ever take toward full knowledge of myself. Never has a pair of shoes been more significant to me. After a last 5 mile run in them today (and it was beyond time), I am retiring them.

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It is an emotional retirement, moreso than when I retired my first official pair of running shoes, and the what-the-heck-was-I-thinking-running-in-old-shoes pair I first had when I began. I have done more mileage in them than I should have, because I just couldn’t quite part with them yet. Those 86 hours we spent together continued to forge me  in ways I both expected and did not expect: I am even hungrier for reaching my potential now than I was when I first laced them up for their inaugural seven miler.

Eighty-six hours of making my health a priority, so that I can give authentically of myself to others

Eighty-six hours of struggle, bravery, strength, overcoming of pain/frustration, determination

Eighty-six hours of training and disciplining the mind

Eighty-six hours of time to think, to breathe in the glorious sky, to feel like the wind

Eighty-six hours of chasing my freedom and the mirth of being alive

Eighty-six hours of changing seasons

Eighty-six hours of fighting for, and achieving, personal records

Eighty-six hours of generating self-worth

Eighty-six hours of converting stress into patience and mellowness

Eighty-six hours of building confidence

Eighty-six hours of racing to the other side of fear and cultivating true peace

Eighty-six hours of melting fat (my GPS app reports a burn of over 62,000 calories during those 86 hours) and building muscle

Eighty-six hours of enlarging my lungs and strengthening my heart

Eighty-six hours of exploring my city

Eighty-six hours of my favorite music

Eighty-six hours seeing the sunrise (or, on the weekends, the early morning sun)

And eighty-six hours of living fully in the present. My favorite day to run is Sunday, because I am one of the only runners on the road, and the world has a sense of solitariness about it. I often play Roxy Music’s “More Than This” on my long Sunday runs:

I could feel at the time

There was no way of knowing

Fallen leaves in the night

Who can say where they’re blowing

As free as the wind 

And hopefully learning….

More than this, there is nothing

More than this, tell me one thing

More than this, there is nothing

This is our time, right here. We have to leave it all here before we take our final exit. We have to be everything we’re going to be. We have to fight to achieve everything we hope to achieve. The beauty is in being present. Sometimes when I am running, the colors of the world around me fill me with awe, and chills go through my entire body that we are all here, now, able to experience this life. Or I feel my body wake up right as the sun bursts up into our sky. My ragged breath up the toughest hill reminds me of our delicate,  yet hearty, biology, the result of millions of years of adaptations. I am reminded every single day I run—through the sublime and beautiful, through weakness and strength, through pain and endorphins—how glorious we are, how abundant the world, how much more living there is left to do. I feel both my limitlessness and the limited nature of time and flesh. To run, for me, is to cultivate a profound thankfulness for getting to be alive at all and for the time I have left to explore and to keep learning and gaining knowledge.

Those shoes up in that first picture are a symbol of all of that understanding, for me.

Here are my new shoes:

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They take their first trot tomorrow morning, exactly (to the day) 1 year and 8 months since I became a runner. Same style as my blue ones, but I deliberately chose a new color. I had the choice to choose the blue ones again, and boy, was that a moment in the store! Should I? Shouldn’t I? In the end, I chose to keep the blue ones special, not to hang on to the past, and to acknowledge that I was going to be moving on to my next phase in these shoes.

I am now coached fully by my husband. He took a step back for a few weeks in January, letting me go rogue with the Spartan. But from here on out, no more rogue. I see how many gains I can make under his coaching and how I do not reach my goals as quickly when I am training myself. Like I said, I am just getting hungrier for finding my best. He has me cross-training with intervals on the bike a few days a week, in addition to my five runs, and occasionally he sends me to the track. I also weight train and walk with our kiddos. Our bike intervals are 20 seconds of anaerobic sprint with a 10 second rest in between, repeated for several minutes. But as I told him, though, I don’t care what I have to do…I will do it. However early I have to get up, however much I have to feel lactic acid at the track, whatever the distance, the pace…I will do it.

This week on Monday, under his direction, I was able to achieve a 10K at a 7:15 pace, followed the next day by the conquering of a HUGE goal I have had for months. He told me to run 8, having planted it in my head the day before that with a 10K at that pace, I should be able to achieve 8 in an hour or less…which has been a goal for some time. I think he knew when he assigned it that I would absolutely go for it come hell or high-water . He didn’t tell me to aim for an hour or less, but he knew that left to my own devices, I would push extra hard to achieve it that day. He’s got me figured out. On Tuesday, I finally ran 8 miles in 59:31. This included several miles of elevation, stoplights (I don’t have a watch, just a GPS app on my phone, so I never stop time), and two unleashed dogs that chased me across a street. So it was a MAJOR win for me. It is making that 15K race I have in a few weeks look fairly promising, if all goes well.

He had me do a 4-miler yesterday, and a 5-miler today. Tomorrow will be an easy three, Saturday is rest, and Sunday he wants 10. What is funny is that each night when I get my assignment, I have predicted exactly what he is going to say, but left to my own coaching I have a tendency to over-train.

The 8 miles in 59:31 was an over-the-moon morning for me. One of the aspects I love most about running is that it is a sport that completely rewards hard, consistent, and disciplined work and that it has absolutely nothing to do with what other runners are running. It is all about competing with just myself, and I am my own best competitor because I am tough with myself every time. Each personal record/achievement in the past few months has reconnected me with the psychological necessity of goal-setting and attacking those goals. I knew this in high school, and very well, but I guess I grew a bit too content or complacent. I will never forget again that my self-worth (for me) derives completely from challenging myself to become better in all areas of my life. If I am not challenging myself to work my hardest and best, I am not fully me.

Bill found a entry from Facebook that I wrote on June 14, 2012. I was a couple of weeks into my calorie counting life change, and had just completed my first run:

Just ran 1.2 miles in 13:30. Slow and hard, but done. First run/jog I’ve taken in a decade. Very inspired by my dad who recently became a runner. 

Reading that tonight again after being a runner now for one year and eight months, I actually teared up. My pace back then was 11:15 per mile. I remember what a struggle that first run/jog was. I remember how hard it was to breathe. How heavy my legs felt. How impossible it felt to move my extra 60 pounds.

It’s been a long journey.

For the first year of my running, I carried nothing with me. I did not have a smart phone, or any apps, or a watch, or anything like that. I wish I had all of that data now… I have my records starting from June 29, 2013, which is the first run I took after I got my iPhone.

Most of the rest of this post is going to be numbers, just playing fair with you. As a runner I find these numbers fascinating as I look back on my progress, and Bill is the consummate husband because he loves them, too, and every morning listens tirelessly to my splits. Runner talk: the talk of love. Right, honey? I am nothing if not productively obsessed with my running performances, and fortunately I married someone who is equally stoked about numbers, particularly when it comes to anything having to do with track and field/running.

If anything, these numbers show how powerful hard work can be, and  how powerful it is never to give up on yourself. Progress will come if you give your best and push.

July 13, 2013 to August 13, 2013: I ran 117.4 miles that month. It took 17 hours and 33 minutes. My average pace was a 9 minute mile.

August 13, 2013 to September 13, 2013: I ran 122.2 miles in 17 hours and 46 minutes. My average pace was an 8:42 mile.

September 13, 2013 to October 13, 2013: I ran 122.9 miles in 16 hours and 43 minutes. My average pace was an 8:12 mile.

October 13, 2013 to November 13, 2013: I ran 127.0 miles in 17 hours and 10 minutes. My average pace was a 7:54 mile. Finally broke 8:00 m/mi this month!

November 13, 2013 to December 13, 2013: I ran 124.7 miles in 16 hours and 27 minutes. My average pace was a 7:54 mile. No progress in the training pace.

December 13, 2013 to January 13, 2014: I ran 140.6 miles in 18 hours and 10 minutes. My average pace was a 7:48 mile.

January 13, 2014 to February 13, 2014: I ran 117.7 miles in 14 hours and 55 minutes. My training pace was a 7:36 mile.

We’ll see how the rest of this month plays out, but my pace lately has been consistently above a 7:30 in training. My body has certainly grown stronger and better at this sport, but my mind is much more trained, too, at this point. I know a good pace for a run starts in Mile 1. If I wait for my kick at the end, or think too much about the endgame early on, I will be held back. It is this weird (and really cool) duality of being aware of the end of the run and what time I am hoping for (like an hour for 8) but telling the mind to be fully present in the mile I happen to be on and how my body feels striding along. The biggest challenge with running is not psyching out, but giving your best when you can give it with each step.

So goodnight, blue shoes with orange laces. You have changed me. I have changed myself in you. I am partly scared to let you go, not for superstitious reasons, but because it means I am going forward and am not sure what I will find in this new phase of really attacking my sport methodically. I am excited, but nervous, too. The adrenaline is surging. Guess I need my run tomorrow!

Eric had just carried his Kleenex-mailbox full of valentines from our large cadre of homeschooling buddies down to the field this afternoon. He wanted to sit with his sister and her friends and sort valentines, eat lollipops, and watch the family nearby who were shooting off air rockets into the wide open spring sky.

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Shortly after he sat down with his box, he jumped up with a sucker for me to open. All of our friends were exuberant, making the joyful movements that free and happy children make on a day such as this. One little girl was headed back to the circle and, as things happen, accidentally knocked Eric’s box with her foot. All of his valentines plowed their way out.

It could have been a meltdown. I braced myself. We have those. We had one today in the market in front of EVERYONE, in fact, but I’m no snitch. It is part of the territory of being a mama to littles, though, right? But what happened next completely stunned me and reminded me how little I know about the power of tiny humans.

Glorious in her nature, the little girl (younger even than Katie) quickly and sincerely turned and said, “I am sorry for knocking your box over. I didn’t mean to.” Whoa. Unprompted, beautiful, amazing.

And then, as if this were a fantasy scene written by some hopeful parent, Eric responded to her in his sweet baby voice: “Sometimes it just happens.”

Sometimes it just happens.

I wish I could claim this ethos and centered view of life were all mine, but they aren’t. If you want the truth, this kind of sentiment and sanguine way of looking at life originates with Nana, my Grandma Mitchell. I cannot begin to count the number of times over the years when we have broken, spilled, stained, torn, or done any number of things that children do that Nana has given us the gift of not judging, guilting, or badgering us about our accidents. Of all the words I use to describe Nana—loving, motherly, wry, cheerful, gentle—the single word that I associate most with her is adaptable. Even when faced with the most heart-destroying of losses, her heart is never destroyed. She maintains her optimism and eyes turned toward whatever is good.

If I tend to be like this in any way, it is part DNA and part practice and intentionality of habit. As optimistic and grateful and joyful as I can be, I also have fought at various phases in my life cynicism, anxiety, perfectionism, anger, and impatience. I still work on these traits and acknowledge my dual-nature, and like the Transcendentalists believe that I can work hard to better myself through cultivating my self-reliance, my connection with nature and the oneness of all things, and my expressions of gratitude.

If Eric gets the idea from me now that “Sometimes things just happen,” then we have Nana to thank for being an example enough times that it finally became my inheritance to pass along to him and to Katie.

Because the night before he was born, it was not part of my inheritance, not fully if still sometimes…not yet. The night before he was born, I had been out all that afternoon taking Bill to have the tires changed on his car. We’d eaten a greasy meal for dinner (before either of us cared about that kind of thing). I had every feeling our son was coming that weekend, but his due date was weeks away. We got home, and Katie bounced around on the couch and broke a lamp. I sobbed, I remonstrated, I am sure I probably raised my voice. I think I used the word “careless.” I am certain she felt burdened by my disproportionate negativity about the whole thing. I am certain she felt the weight on her heart of someone who was so wrapped up in managing everyone but herself. As if the lamp was somehow an antique heirloom from the reign of a French king and not found instead on the shelf in housewares at Target. As if each of us have not been careless many times in our lives. As if material objects are more important than hearts.

The powerful thing about getting control over my health and myself is that I feel so much less of a need to spend time trying to exert ownership over other people now that I exert full ownership over myself.

Most of Eric’s life at this point has been spent with a mother who has her business together, who has less and less frequent lapses in losing perspective at times. I still certainly do make mountains out of molehills, because it is my nature to take small occurrences and to overanalyze them grossly: If my child does action x, does this mean he or she will grow up to do action y? What does this event say about his/her chances for happiness later in life? If he/she says this, does that mean he/she will not be a hard worker as an adult? And on and on. Katie is going to remember me, though, at my most anxious and self-doubting, my most stressed…which created a climate of stress for her in ways I did not even intend or realize that I was doing at the time, especially since I felt I was directing that stress/anxiety so much inwardly at myself and actually trying to hold the majority of it away from her. It’s been revelatory how the more I get myself together, the less frequently she exhibits stress and anxiety of her own. I hope she will be able to forgive me some day, for that. Part of me knows she will. But I know I also have to earn it from her. The lot of the firstborn is that he or she often has to go with us on so much more of our journey as people/parents than the ensuing children do, and in different ways and to different intensities.

But that’s all part of this parenthood journey, isn’t it? When we know better, we have to do better.

So now both kiddos hear, “Sometimes it just happens.” Spilled your orange juice—twice in one morning? Sometimes it just happens. Knocked over my tea and stained part of the carpet? I should not have left it on the windowsill, and that was my part of it. Sometimes it just happens. Ran over my foot with your scooter? Please be more careful and watch for others, but sometimes it just happens. 

And you know what? It’s true. Sometimes in life, things just happen. For no discernible reason. If there is a cause, we might not know it, and we are tempted to write our narratives without realizing that, like all writers, we are rendering them artfully and not always accurately. We are governed in a large part by probabilities meeting with possibilities. We can do everything right, and mathematically we can still be subjected to whatever is an outlier. We have to learn to smile and laugh and say, “Oh well, sometimes it just happens. Let’s pick up/clean up/pull ourselves up and go forward to the next adventure.”

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My other favorite line this year has been, “I love you more than…”

Exhibit A: a Williams-Sonoma spoon, which met with Eric’s percussionist ambitions.

He looked at me with wide eyes when it broke. He knew he might be in trouble. I just shook my head and sighed and said, “Eric, I love you more than I love my spoon.” He knows what that means. Yes, I am bummed. No, it is not a good turn of events. But letting them know they are loved is more important than a scolding for what they already know to have been an unfortunate accident. They know: Mommy loves us first and foremost, even if she is unhappy with something we did.

I have even tried it this way, “I love you more than I love being on time” (since I am a stickler for being on-the-dot, this is true unconditional love right here, folks, ha ha)!

My other go-to expressions:

1. “I am so glad to see you!” (Even when I might have wanted a few more minutes to read my news and drink tea alone early in the morning….no scratch that. ESPECIALLY when I wanted that. That’s the most important time to deploy such a line, I find).

2. “I need you, too.”

3. “I am so thankful you were born.”

4. “How can I help you solve this?”

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And perhaps the most important statement I have learned to make in these past two years:

I am so thankful you are here on Earth with me, and I have so much joy when I see your face, but you are never responsible for me.

You are never responsible for making me happy. You are never responsible for the times when I might feel sad. You are never responsible for my health or lack thereof. You are never responsible for my use or misuse of time. It’s all on me, kiddos, it’s all on me. Your being born has only added to my joy.

Weigh anchor, and we were cast upon the blue suede of the Pacific, rolling and bumping our way out of the harbor off the coast of San Diego last week for a whale watching trip.

On an ocean so vast and incomprehensible, I thought of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure….Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?”

How willing are we to dig beneath our own surface to find our most inscrutable parts, and are we fearless enough to stand and hold what we find there and turn it around in our mind’s eye without flinching?

About six months before I began my journey to reunite with the most essential parts of my character—a journey that began in June 2012—a friend of mine and I were talking on the phone. She had already begun the journey to find the peace on the other side of the fear. She asked me what I was afraid of finding if I walked directly toward my fear instead of avoiding looking at myself more closely, of staying close to my surface. It was the artful way S.J.Q. asked this question that made me remember who I had been at sixteen and seventeen when I thought possibility and wonder and ambition bubbled over and out of this container called Life, without limit. I remembered that self. She was hungry for all of it, set goals for achievements that mattered, and often laughed while walking along the paths of her life sheerly out of inexplicable moments of mirth at just being alive. I was content at 32, but was contentment passable? Or is it necessary to have a bit of hunger, too? In elementary school teachers sometimes selected “Character of the Week” awards. The two I received were “Contentment” and “Eagerness.” In my adult life, I had been fostering my contentment, but where had my eagerness gone?  It would be another six months or so, or even a year, before I would connect my friend’s question with the necessity of my transformation. At this point, my journey has become so much more than one about my weight, or even my running.

What makes me the most afraid? It used to be a fear of failure and a fear of disappointing others in my life whose respect I wanted. But you know what I have learned out there on the pavement? That I am dependent on only myself for my fire. There is no perfection in running. We have PRs one day, and a sucky run the next. We hate that hill, and we want to walk, but that’s the moment we decide to push harder. It will never be easy. My stride might never be perfect. On really bad miles, I am practically a crazy person running down the street and coaching herself out loud, “Fight for IT! Get up there. Go. Fight!” It’s that fight inside that makes it possible to let go of fear. And if I fail to achieve what I am hoping for on a run? Well, tomorrow is a new day, a new fight. Just like all of life. You learn how to roll along. To ride the waves. To look at yourself without anxiety and say: Try again tomorrow. Tomorrow you will give your best again. 

As I have learned to tell my kiddos when they are having a hard day: life is full of up-bumps and down-bumps. It is only ourselves we need to please, ultimately. We earn our own respect for ourselves, and yes, while it is a gift of life to be admired by people we cherish and admire in turn, what matters most is living in accordance with our ideals.

My new favorite Disney character, Elsa the Snow Queen, captures my inner voice lately in the best song from a Disney film, arguably, since Ariel’s “Part of Your World” in 1989:

“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know…

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free…

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone…”

And she concludes by standing in the light of day and letting her storm rage on, without fearing it and seeking instead merely to understand all the power beneath her surface, all that almost-unknowable magic.

We have to dive into that unfathomable sea; to climb that snow-capped mountain; to run wild in the morning dawn and sail with the wind; to drink life to the lees.

Who knows where our inner light might lead? Does it do to stay contented on the docile earth? What lies beneath the surface always calls, until we pursue it.

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We often celebrate contentment; at least, I do. Like standing on the shore, however, and never plunging into the water, contentment alone may not be enough. Perhaps we need a keen craving, as well: an eagerness to explore and turn ourselves inside out, to pursue novelty and experience, and to challenge ourselves to become more than we are.

In December of 1997, we were several months into our senior year of high school. We were writing college applications, putting together our case for the Mock Trial team, studying hard for Academic Decathlon, and looking at a June graduation that still seemed far enough away to permit only of excitement and none of the pain (yet) of difficult goodbyes and postponements. In short, we didn’t know what we were getting into, really, as we hurtled toward college and lives and responsibilities. We knew only that everything waited for us somewhere: love, families, fulfillment, and success by various subjective measures.

Near, far, wherever you are/I believe that the heart does go on…

And a large group of us went to see the biggest movie of the year, the biggest movie in any year close to it, the movie that defined my senior year: Titanic.

Love can touch us one time/And last for a lifetime/And never let go until we’re gone…

By the end, when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson is freezing to death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic (spoiler alert), my 18-year-old heart throbbed with the sublime pleasure-pain of one on the cusp of experiencing first love (my first love would happen in April of ’98) and one whose poetry poured out the pangs of unrequited love, love separated, and love as savior. In short: the binder poetry of an English-loving teenage girl obsessed with the Romantic poets, who had experienced plenty of infatuation and nothing yet of love, and who still believed in the cliche of the other half, the rescuer. That was simply far too much burden to put on the seventeen-year-old male who would become my first love a few months before graduation, but teenage love is experimental and tempestuous by nature. I had shown some promise years before in choosing Jane Eyre as my standard bearer: in the end it is Jane who both rescues herself and becomes the balm and equal of Rochester. Yet as Rose whispered, “I’ll never let go, Jack, I’ll never let go”  it seemed evident to me that the drowning of DiCaprio was absolutely the most tragic event of all time, and I had never seen anything more sad or horrifying than the separation of these two lovers, and how on Earth was she supposed to go on? I am pretty sure there was wholesale weeping in the theater. Just the opening strings of Celine Dion’s ballad in all the months that followed could choke me up to tears. And when I said goodbye to my boyfriend as we left for separate universities the next fall, it seemed as tragic and epic as that night Rose clutched Jack’s hand in the frigid sea. Oh young and teenage love, what do you ever, ever know?

I happened to see part of the film again the other night (disclosure: I do own it and still love it, more for its reminder of who I was than for who I am now), and that viewing inspired some of the thoughts that have led to this particular writing.

As I observed myself watching the film, I realized that I no longer bawl when DiCaprio’s character dies; however, I start tearing up when we see all the pictures of Rose at the end in her cabin room. These framed pictures show her horseback riding, catching a huge fish, flying a plane, and living her full life with curiosity, passion, and fire. These pictures reveal the courage she had to write her own narrative, an authorship she began to take symbolically and practically when she reported her name as “Rose Dawson” on the rescue ship. Her selection of a new moniker, and the creation of a new character that it represents, reminds me of Gatsby’s self-renaming. Rose’s story ultimately is one of a woman asserting the claims of authorship over her own narrative, no longer trapped by society or the roles expected of her. We assume—at least, I do—that she pursued her education, enlivened her mind, and sought out adventure. The fact that she essentially narrates the bulk of the movie reaffirms her role as author/creator. In fact, she admits that there is no record of Jack other than her oral account at the moment of the film: she has the power to make anything of her past, and whether or not he existed is almost beside the point.

Still, I find myself troubled when the older Rose explains about Jack: “…he saved me in every way that a person can be saved.” I remember thinking how romantic that sounded at age eighteen. But even Jack, more worldly than Rose at the time they met, cautions Rose about his role as savior of her life when he tells her, “Only you can do that.” Why the film wants to position Jack as Rose’s saving grace, despite his own character’s assertion, continues to puzzle me now, at age thirty-four. Certainly love can be transformative for the better: we see this quite literally in Beauty and the Beast. And certainly a love between equals inspires each person to become better and stronger.

But no one can save another human being. And that’s not romantic. At least, it isn’t romantic in my opinion…not anymore. A love between equals means that I come to you without dependency, knowing I am in charge of my own feelings, failures, and triumphs. I want to save myself, so that when I look in your eyes you will see no fear of life in their glowing light. I want to save myself, because I have the education, curiosity, and vitality to do it. I want to save myself, so that you never need to know a moment of worry about my well-being should something ever happen to you. Love me because I am strong and have taken the time to know myself, not because I require saving. As the female heroine of my own life, this is how I would write romance at this point in my life. In all that I have learned from having Bill as my husband, having him look upon me as an absolute equal and also expecting my independence, vitality, and evolution are the two most significant hallmarks of our relationship. Never once has he broadcast that he wants to “save me”—thank goodness. Protect who I am? Yes. Protection and salvation are not the same thing. Leave my own salvation to me: I will pound it out on the pavement, or write it out in the dead of night, or cry it out in the shower. Protect my worth, but let me find it through my own hard work. No one can save a person if she can’t save herself.

DiCaprio had to drown. He knew it, too. And what he represented—romantic love as salvation—also had to drown with him, so that Rose could come into her own full power. The movie almost gets there, but falls a bit short really. It still wants to credit Jack Dawson with Rose’s authorial agency to some extent. I wish the film had made a bigger leap, although at eighteen it would have been lost on me: a person who still viewed love as a state of co-dependence, which is not at all how I currently view the purpose of love or the purest expression of love.

Bill is the only person I know—truly, the only one I know—who has not seen the 1997 Titanic. We joke about it now and then, in fact. I tease him that one day I will randomly put it on when he is out in the family room and that he will not be able to escape at least seeing a few seconds of it. But, of course, I won’t. He has no desire to view it, and for the purposes of my life narrative, that works out quite well. Bill is, in many ways, the kind of character that Titanic wishes Jack Dawson could be, were he fully realized and not subjected at the last minute to the archetypal role of savior. No one encourages me to live fully more than Bill does, and I feel with him that I have all the choices in the world—and that he will embrace each of my choices as if they were as dear to him as his own.

His love says always, “Live and create yourself, and I will protect the person you are.” That sentiment was in the vows he wrote for me, and he has never broken it.

We went to Santa Monica last week for a Google Glass meeting/shindig Bill had at the Google building in Venice. I had never taken myself to the pier, and I loved every second of it. Windy, cold, and breathtaking on the Pacific Wheel.

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Katie and Eric loved the adventure, too, and as always were adaptable and eager travelers. Katie basks in novelty, and Eric made friends with the pigeons at lunch (especially his friend he calls “One-Toey”). We rode the carousel, indulged in ice cream sodas, and had a classic time of it.

Live and explore, he says. And so, we do.