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I think of him as Man in the Neon Green Shirt. We often pass with a runner’s wave on opposite sides of the street, though a few times I have seen him up close. Never have we exchanged more than a heavily breathed, “Hi!” or “Good morning!” Mostly he just nods. Man in the Neon Green Shirt must be pushing 80-years-old, perhaps more. He’s lived, that is to say.

He has certain routes he likes. Every once in awhile, he wears a different running outfit, sometimes he adds gloves. He listens to music. He runs several times a week, from what I can tell in the almost-two-years that I have been a runner. We are both morning people, mostly.

Man in the Neon Green Shirt is fierce. Methodical. Has endurance. Has maybe a 14:00 mile. Eats the Temecula hills for breakfast. Enjoys the tradition of Long Run Sunday as much as I do: I will see him at the start of a run, and then I will see him in a completely different area about an hour later. His face is tough, determined. We share something substantial: we are both runners. We know that means pain. We know that means a struggle to master ourselves, mind and body. We know it means we love to be alive.

Nobody and nothing is going to rip him from this world without his fight.

I have a mad respect for Man in the Neon Green Shirt.

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Our neighbor L was out today putting away his garbage cans and checking his mail as the kiddos and I were playing “honey bee” in the yard and then riding our bikes/scooters/tractor. L’s wife R is dying of cancer. Never smoked, not a drinker, a healthy woman until now. Metastasized, from what he has said. I never see her out anymore. Everyday I run past their house and think of them. It’s in her brain now.

L and I wave sometimes, but neither of us usually shoot the breeze. We both know we’re not talkers. He is a mechanical engineer turned professional self-taught musician. I wave when he is walking; sometimes we appear at the coffee shop on the corner at the same time. It was something of a wonder that we managed to talk at length today. When R was well, she was the extravert. Always out. Always bringing together. Now we introverts are left on our own.

I gave L a half dozen eggs. Eric pulled on my shirt, and Katie sang the songs of Elsa. L mentioned how he sees me running. We talked a bit about keeping fit. He asked if I had encountered the man who is older and wears a bright shirt… L is 78-years-old.

Like Buddy the Elf talking about Santa, I exclaimed, “I know him!” The excitement of recognition. Man in the Neon Green Shirt is more exciting to me than seeing a celebrity.

L goes on to talk about how inspirational this man is to him. I am overbubbling with agreement. Age is just a number, I know, but he is the eldest runner I see on the road and yes, that does give him a bit of a bump-up in my book. You don’t see many runners pushing 80 or more, except at races. They are the people I hope to be at that age. Long after they are gone, I am going to remember them and want to be what they were.

But there is a twist. L shares that he was at a Homeowner’s Association meeting recently and that members of the group started disrespecting this man. It was hard for L to hear, partly because of the way older men are so discounted and unseen for the vitality they once had and still have. He told me that one neighbor chortled, “Yeah, he runs as if he is about to die…” followed by laughter in the group and ensuing mean comments. L and I commiserated together at such heartlessness and then our introvert clocks both chimed the hour of needing to retreat into our own havens. I think we had both just reminded each other how sad human nature can sometimes be, for some humans. That usually does it for me, until I get alone space to restore myself.

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Thirty minutes later I was sitting in the outdoor clubhouse my Katie and Eric had fashioned, playing a mash-up of Hundred-Acre-Wood-meets-Frozen-meets-Wonder-Woman. Angry? Disappointed? Or not surprised anymore? Sad. That’s it: sad. Sad sometimes comes out as angry for me, and it took me 32 years to understand that (I am now 34). When I did finally understand that, my life changed. Even now, I have to root down down down to find it and name it when I think I am just angry. Sadness hides deep, you see.

So: to those of you who are mockers, scoffers, lazy cynics, judges, and critics, you make me feel sad. Oh sure, we all have those moments of critique, and the actions we choose over other actions form tacit judgments about behaviors and philosophies. That much is inescapable. But for those out there who take something that is nothing but good and critique it/mock it: what gives you the right? For those out there who produce very little of value, or won’t take a risk to follow a dream, or create not much that is artistic of your own: on what ethical standing do you dare to offer up a criticism of those who do? Where do you get your expertise to be a critic, an eye-roller, a lazy cynic? Since when did detachment and mockery and pronouncements-from-on-high become the standard marker for an educated mind over those who prefer to get messy, involved, sentimental, and sincere?

I want to know why sincerity is thought to be so naive in this modern culture. Why hard work is worthy of derision by those who are not doing it. Why snarkiness is thought to add anything of value to the art of being alive. Why an honest questioning and rooting out of hypocrisy has to take the form of irony and jadedness to be legitimate, versus prioritizing and celebrating an authentic desire to understand and to know and to live with a sense of wonder.

What does it add to make fun of a guy who is doing his best? (And who, incidentally, is lapping everyone on the couch or at the homeowner’s meeting).

Why should anyone care, at all, about the judgments we would be better keeping to ourselves? Are we cynics and mockers in order to get merely a laugh?

Or is it really much more inimical than that? Scoffers of the world, show me something of value. That you have produced. Explain, please, why you insist on casting yourself above us all. Show me how your method is not to be construed as entirely destructive of the human impulse to advance, achieve, succeed, evolve, and thrive. Explain how your mockery of decent people is not a thinly-veiled wish that we all stay in the gutter.

Explain how your mockery/snarkiness/stereotyping/cynicism does not derive directly from jealousy and fear of inferiority. Betcha can’t.

Explain why the producers, doers, and lovers of the world should listen to you say one. more. word.

I hope Man in the Neon Green Shirt never gets wind of you. But something in his face tells me he knows all about you, and years ago, he decided to let you have the world you wish to make and to create instead a world of his own. Something in his face tells me that the mockery you do actually makes him more determined. He has run himself into a will and mind of steel. You may compare and contrast yourself with him, but he will never now be comparing and contrasting himself with you.

As for me, I celebrate this man. I only hope that I am running when I am 80-years-old. No matter how hard a run I have had, or how cold it is, or how mentally floppy I feel on any given day, when I see Man in the Neon Green Shirt, my spirits instantly rise. His very existence reminds me that I can do it. I lose myself and smile in the moment. If I don’t see him for a few days, I wonder about him. One day he won’t be there anymore. What his life represents, however, will endure. His ripples are good ones. Even as I imagine him right now to write these words, that image of him running is allowing me to run my mental conversion program on the negative energy I heard about today. His existence means there is hope for human nature. His existence means the sadness cannot last.

One thing distance runners know how to do extremely well: take pain and utterly transform it.

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After a thoroughly rainy night and a drizzly morning, the Matics-McGaugh clan headed down the road to one of the local wineries for the 27th Annual Run Through the Vineyard. We celebrated the return of my mom to the running world and Katie’s first official race. The family that runs together, stays healthy and fit together!

There were several highlights today, but first, the crew:

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Team Matics-McGaugh out in full force, with Eric, Bill, and Lorraine as our support section. Eric really wanted to run today, but the cut-off age was five. As I told him, the most important help you can give to a runner is the sound of your voice cheering, especially when we’re pushing. My little man is so eager to get into the action, and he trains on the track, too. His first official race is actually scheduled for next month.

So, how did it go? Well, honestly, my coach (who is also my husband) is still trying to talk me down a bit from my unreasonable expectation of getting a PR on this course and the ensuing disappointment in myself. The first question I asked him was what I need to do to perform better, when I realized I had not run my 42:00.0. We have had numerous conversations this afternoon about the variability of courses, setting objective measurements against an unknown, and so forth. How does a determined and driven athlete take a measure of defeat? I just want to work harder, harder, harder. And I have to remember that the only way to measure real improvement is to run the same courses year to year and see improvement on as many of them as possible. I need to hold my head up and focus on what went right about my race.

I ran the 10K. The course was killer: wet from the rain, muddy, sandy, loose, rocky, hilly, and full of washboards and uneven terrain. I did the best I could do on it, and my body is more thrashed right now than even it was after the Carlsbad 5000, which was at a much faster pace. I had set my Garmin to a 6:50 pace, and the only time I broke that decently was mile 3 at 6:44. My overall pace for the 6.2 miles was 7:10. I was trying for a 6:50 pace for the whole thing. The Hot Chocolate 15K had me at a 6:57 pace uphill for a 10K split of 43:27. I at least wanted to beat that, but it was not to be on this course or on this day with my current level of fitness. My time was 44:47.84.

Still, I was the first woman in. That was enough to win the ladies of any age on the 10K. The second woman in was 5+ minutes after me, and my time today would have beat last year’s ladies’ winner as well by about a minute.

I had a 6th place finish, although there was some issue with a person being added to the top 10 who had actually run the 5K, and one man who was missing from the list, so the official papers were up and down…and the officials only had enough information to award the first place medals to the top lady (me) and the top guy (a young man from Oregon, naturally) before having to pause the ceremony for a moment. I don’t even know how many people raced yet, but this was a smaller local race.

I am both happy about my performance (1st place in the women’s 10K! A 5K split that was about 51 seconds faster than the man who won the 5K race today!) but also not (if I were better, gnarly trails would not be as much of a problem and my goals would be more realistic). Always want more of yourself, right? But that duality really sums up my whole existence and approach to life. It is the impulse in me that most corresponds to the mechanism by which I want humanity to survive: no matter how well we do, keep aiming for advancement, achievement, and hard work so that all of humanity will keep thriving and evolving toward greater justice, compassion, and understanding.

Anyway, enough about my race! This was a family shindig!

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Many of us placed today! Katie earned a 3rd place for age and gender in her 2K race, although they didn’t give medals—just dog tags to all the kids. I think kids should earn medals, and also learn how to deal with not earning them this time, but that’s just me. We are in the era of self-esteem production. 🙂 David and Ashley each earned a 2nd place medal for their age/gender divisions in the 5K race. Go, family, go!

 

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I was so flippin’ proud of this girl. She ran the whole way—no stopping, no walking—and even took those hills like medicine. And she felt the sense of accomplishment that comes from holding herself to a goal, as well. When she crossed that line, we hugged and I swung her in my arms a bit. I got so choked up with happiness for her. You rock, Katie!

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Another one who makes me proud! Little brother, big sister? David brought his game to this race, and it is so much fun to be doing events with him and my SIL Ashley. David used to be a fierce XC runner in the day, and he has also trained for triathlons while in college. I think we’re both set on doing Long Beach together this year. Lookin’ good out there, David!

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Katie, before her race. My mom ran the 2K with her, and this marks my mom’s homecoming to the running world. Long before any of us ever conceived of donning our running shoes, my mom ran all over Temecula in the 90s and got fast. A knee injury took her down, but she has continued other forms of cardio and weights all these years, so she is fit. She has been experimenting with running again and her knee is staying pain-free. I hope she is able to continue and do more races. This is the family pastime, and I want her there participating! Very thrilled that she ran today.

 

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Before my race. I was looking at the beautiful morning (although it was cold and quite brisk, especially while waiting around) and centering myself on nature and thinking about how connected life is to itself. I centered my mind on the colors and beauty and just tried to feel my desired pace through my body. I always get nervous! No matter how hard I have tried to work, nothing is ever guaranteed.

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This twelve-year-old boy is amazing, a rabbit. He ran and placed last year, as well, and is part of the running club we want to sign Katie up for next fall. He was out like a rocket and really started our pace at a determined clip. Someday when he is an Olympian, I will say that I tried to race him once. I am digging this picture of my opened-up stride, though! I actually look like I am running!

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Bringing it home… I was able to pick off just one guy right at the 5K mark or so, but the other five men in front of me were untouchable for me, at this point. I don’t mind racing with the boys, though, that’s for sure! Just gotta get better…

 

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The function of a parent: trying to talk reason into a disappointed offspring who is being hard on herself.

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Celebrating Katie June after her race! You did so great, baby girl! I think she’s hooked, by the way…

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Ashley rocks it in! Thanks, Ashley, for being the impetus for all of us to run this as a family event. It was so fun to be here all together! Looking forward to the Disney run, big time!

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Exhausted, concerned, and a little bit pleased after finishing my 10K. Running is every emotion at once—that’s why I love it. Well, one of the many reasons! To run is to live.

So what’s next? Well, I have a charity event next weekend with a friend of mine (a former teacher and also colleague, too). We’re doing a 5K walk with our daughters in San Diego, and we can’t wait to catch up and spend the time chatting. Later in May I have another run with a different friend and our kiddos at a strawberry festival that should be a great time. I also have my first out-of-state race, a well-known one, coming up on our road trip (but for safety reasons won’t be posting any details about that right now online). It’s getting to the point where trips/runs are kinda meant to go together, you know? Anyway, I am terribly excited about it. It’s going to be epic and the field of runners is absolutely going to KICK my little butt. There’s some hardcore runners in those parts…but at least I get to do it!

27th Annual Run Through the Vineyard, thanks for a beautiful morning in my hometown with my family. You were tough. But I won’t ever forget running through those grapevines with the clear Temecula sky overheard and watching my loved ones achieve (comebacks, first timers, etc). You thrashed me, and my legs feel pleasantly worked! See you next year?

Dearest Katie, My Beloved Daughter:

In those wee hours of the morning the day after you were born, I held your baby face close and sang you our special song. It was 2 AM, you had just been released to me from the NICU with your lungs finally clear, I had only the vaguest idea about this mom gig, and I was deeply in love with you. In our first private moments, we talked. I apologized to you in advance for all the mistakes I knew I would make with you, and I cried because I knew right then that no matter how much I ever told you I loved you, you would not truly understand how lasting and deep that love is until you held your own child someday, years and years and years and years away.

I knew being your mother would be pleasurable work. I knew all the ideals and values that Daddy and I discussed teaching you at length before we made you. I knew what I hoped you’d find out about this life, about your life. I knew that I could only be a guide, a cheerleader from the sidelines. I have so many times overstepped my bounds as a guide, but six years in I am finally starting to get that role a little more right.

Like any mother, I worry about you. When you take small things hard. When your mind starts latching on to what is going wrong versus all that is right in life. When you show self-doubt. When it seems you hesitate to believe in yourself. I worry because, when I am gone, I want to know that you can land on your feet, find your way, and be filled with happiness and self-fulfillment. I worry because I do not want you to need me. I want you to know what it means to need only yourself: that no matter what random things life lobs at you, you are strong enough inside to handle it without being crushed, even if you are on your own. I want you to claim full independence. As much as you sometimes argue with me about the small things, I know that form of scrappiness is all bluster; the kind of real fight—real independence—I hope you have inside of you, I have been hoping you will discover.

No one can teach that lion’s roar. You have to delve inside and claim it for yourself. All I could ever do is keep setting you up to find it.

Today you found it. Now grasp onto that roar and never let it go. You are unstoppable. You cannot be crushed. Whatever burdens you will bear, you will be stronger than they are, and you will survive them…if you can stay in touch with that fire inside.

You have been training and training for the 2K you have coming up next weekend. You have met all of your training sessions with a good work ethic and eagerness. I saw your doubts, but we broke the distance into pieces. We have spent quite a bit of time running that track.

Up until now, you have always wanted to break up your five laps into smaller amounts with rests in between. You doubted that you could run all five consecutively without stopping. One day you flat out said, “I can’t” before you even started running. We had a discussion about “I can’t” (and I tried to remember to be a patient guide, even though that phrase drives me crazy and  you know it!). But you powered through that training session, and we celebrated that you got through it.

This afternoon when we were discussing training goals, we talked about your 2K being about one week away. We talked about how a good goal would be to run as many laps as possible without stopping. To tell your body that you are the boss. To prove to yourself that you can do it. To see how far you can go…

My friend Steve just completed the next level of Spartan, an 8+ miler in Vegas. When we talked about his performance, he said his refrain for himself was, “Keep moving forward.” No matter what: keep moving forward. Today I shared Steve’s story with you. We repeated his motto. We talked about how to adjust your pace without stopping and without walking. Slow down if you need to, I coached, but do not stop running. Keep moving forward. You can do it.

I can do it, you said. I can do at least three laps, you said. Great, I said. You’ve got this. I know you can do it. 

You took off from our starting line. I jogged a full lap with your brother, and then he was done. I sprinted to catch up with you, now on your second lap. You put your kick on at the end of that second lap and considered stopping. No, just slow your pace, I said. It is okay to slow your pace, let your body recover. Nice and smooth pacing. You’ve got this third one. We jogged together. Do not put your kick on this next lap. You can do  it. You said you wanted three.

As we were halfway around the third lap, we talked about how if you did one more you would have a full mile. You piped up and said, “And if I did TWO more, I would have my race distance.” I encouraged you. You said, “I can do it.” I told you that you are a fighter. You are doing this for YOU. I told you: “You are not running to prove anything to me. It’s not for Daddy. It’s not for Boppa. This is not for Amie. This is for YOU. You are proving yourself to yourself.”

And then, you had a mental shift. You went from saying, “I can do it” to the golden words of everyone with the heart of a champion fighter: “I will do it.”

You found your ability to will yourself into achievement. For your own sake. For no one’s estimation but your own. You found the power of proving yourself to yourself, of holding yourself to your own high standards, not for any other accolade or fear of punishment. And if you have found that, you have found everything. You have found the secret to having a conscience predicated on the good of all humanity. You have found the fount of self-worth. You have found the place that will allow you to love yourself, and will therefore allow you to love other people as true equals. You have found the ability to repel peer pressure and to be an independent thinker. If you have found your lion’s roar, you have found the source of joy that cannot be destroyed.

Then you went and slaughtered your last two laps. You ran all five, baby. You did not stop. Even when you thought about it. You were stronger. Your fire was stronger.

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This is a picture of you, in jubilation after showing yourself that you can rock your 2K distance. You cheered and celebrated! This is you, after meeting the ultimate training goal of running your race the way you hope to run it next Saturday. This is you, after you learned what it feels like to conquer what you said you would do.

You told me, “I promised myself I would do it.”

And I told you, “Then you have the heart of a runner. You make promises to yourself and you fulfill them. I am so proud you, and I hope you are proud of yourself, too.”

On the way home, you told me how much you like feeling the feeling of achievement. You said how much you love to set goals now. You told me how thrilling it was to realize you could do what you set your mind to do. You had surprised yourself.

But I knew it was in you.

You have discovered the power to hold yourself accountable for your life, for what you do with yourself and to and for others. That is everything.

I am so proud of you. More than that, I am happy for you. I am dancing for you. I celebrate your discovery. You are free and limitless in the glory that is you. Whatever you want to make of your life, you can do it. You found that today, too! When you got home, all you could talk about was how many excited plans you have for your life. You want to be a nurse, and an athlete, and eventually own a bakery. You want to play soccer for always. You love horses and animals. You want to write. You have talked about all of these goals before, but today you were brimming with a new verve in your voice. The difference? In your voice I heard self-knowledge for the first time that you really can be anything you set your mind to be.

You know it now. You ran yourself into the discovery. It doesn’t matter how many times I have told you that it is true: you had to find out for yourself.

I celebrate you, my Katie. Keep exploring that power inside. You will not have to live a life of fear. Whatever comes, you will be able to meet it, because you are independent and strong. You are more sparkly and fierce than you realize!

Love Always,

Your Mommy

“The sky’s awake, so I’m awake…so we have to play!” exclaims young Anna to young Elsa in my favorite film of the year, Frozen. There are so many layers to this film, both historical and literary, and it has become so interwoven into our lives here at the McGaugh house over the past many months. At any rate, the quote above is one of my favorites: I often think of it when I am popping out of bed to run and getting ready to live the day fully.

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to ask my mom if she and my dad had watched their copy of Frozen yet. She said she hadn’t, and that she was hoping it might be a film we watch all together and that she could experience with the kids. We made tentative plans to watch it together…

…and then, in typical overachiever fashion, I decided that I wanted in on some of that awesome Frozen birthday party Pinterest action that has been going on for months. I’d been seeing pins for the most gorgeous birthday parties. Why not a viewing party? I pinned a few inspirations but wanted to tailor our Frozen party to both a more modest budget and, more importantly, to our health. All of those beautiful colored sugar sprinkled marshmallows, snowball cake pops, and teal dipped Oreo cookies are gorgeous works of art, but we needed dinner options that fit the McGaugh lifestyle. What to do?

After looking at pins with Katie, we decided to concoct one dish inspired by each big character and to use what we already had around to decorate. Good thing most of my china is in silver and blue and white patterns (I registered, at the time, for intentionally mismatched sets, but all in the same color palette for an eclectic, modern twist to the formal table).

Throwing a viewing party for a favorite film is a bit of a production, but why not? As the movie asks, “Why have a ballroom with no balls?”—I mean, right? I am a big believer in making magic for magic’s sake. If we have the desire to make the commonplace a little more special for once, I say go for it!

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“There’ll be magic/There’ll be fun…” (For the First Time in Forever)

 

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“Some people are worth melting for.” (Olaf)

 

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With Queen Elsa and ready for our viewing party!

 

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“Here I stand/And here I stay/Let the storm rage on…” (Let it Go)

 

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Kristoff’s blueberry mint fizz: club soda, Gatorade, blueberries, mint

 

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Sven’s carrot, raisin, and apple salad. When it came to the dressing, I thought about carrot cake: it is olive oil, lemon, Vietnamese cinnamon, and freshly ground nutmeg

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Elsa’s icy trifle: Katie and I made vanilla cake and dyed it royal blue. Then we made vanilla pudding and dyed it teal. We layered those two items, then topped it with whipped cream, unsweetened coconut, and blueberries.

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Anna’s frozen hearts, served with Greek yogurt and honey dip

 

 

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“The cold never bothered me anyway!” (Elsa)

 

 

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“Can I just say something crazy?”
“I love crazy!”

(Love is an Open Door)

 

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Olaf’s snowman pizza! I actually made two of these guys.

 

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“Our mental synchronization/Can have but one explanation/You and I were just meant to be…” (Love is an Open Door)

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“Oh, the sky will be blue/And you guys’ll be there, too/When I finally do/What frozen things do in summer…” (In Summer)

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Eric enjoyed his dinner!

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“Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” (Olaf)

After dinner, we all watched the film together in the family room. My parents both enjoyed it, and my mom commented on the powerful love between the two sisters. Frozen has so many beautiful messages an such well-rounded and evolving characters, and every time we watch it, the kiddos and I find something new to discuss about it. Sharing it with two new viewers was fun for us!

As I sit here, quads almost gloriously trashed, listening to 90s music, and sipping my rooibos tea, I think I will let our pictures do most of the narrating this evening. Has there ever been a lovelier springtime?

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Eric climbs Nana’s tree, the same one I used to climb

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Today we took a 3.5 hour hike around the Santa Rosa Plateau to enjoy the meadows and wildflowered hills on our way to see the last of the vernal pools. I got my workout, for sure. Eric hiked most of the mileage in, and then I carried him most of the mileage out.

I had a 7.5 mi run this morning, as well. Yesterday was a fast 5 miler with 3 out 5 miles nicely sub-7:00. Coach-husband had a feeling that if he switched my long run day to Monday this week and gave me low mileage on Long Run Sunday that I would decide to push myself hard on the fiver. He didn’t tell me to do that, but I think he sensed it, whereas I am more hesitant to go at tempo on Mondays after long runs. I miss my 8-10s, but I am already starting to gear up for the April 26th race, and he wants mileage on either side of the 10K without doing a 10K right now.

So among those two runs, the hours of hiking today, and our traditional Sunday walk and picnic yesterday, my quads are feeling amply worked. Tomorrow is my rest day. I used to rue absolutely my rest days, but now I am learning to rest well, which is important. I also find that, if I am working my legs hard enough, they actually crave their rest day.

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‘Tis the season for fun springtime crafts! We used some of our chicken eggs to make natural planting cups for some bean and grass seeds. We will see what happens!

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Eric made his “S is for sheep” page for his alphabet book, and Katie joined in. Who doesn’t love making thumbprints with tempura paint?

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Bubbles at the park during our picnic this week

 

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Fearless explorer Katie

 

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What I look forward to on Sundays… This week, we played the best game of “spaceship.” Their little imaginations are so incredible, and we made up a whole story together on the play structure. We had the engine room, the thrusters… We landed on an alien planet… The story was quite complex. On our way to our second park, we extended the plot to include everything we encountered. It is renewing to get to be a kid again for a few hours, you know?

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Katie threw Eric two un-birthdays this weekend with cakes she invented herself. Yes, we played the appropriate music for it!

 

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Backyard playtime and more bubbles!

 

 

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More art! We made crayon and watercolor resist Easter eggs. Ever notice how relaxing it is to work on a project all together and just create? It is a time for talking, sharing, and experimenting.

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Our most recent addition to our bedtime routine: looking out at the stars and night sky from Eric’s window. We love our bedtime routines and moments, the coziest time of the day. One night we spent close to an hour talking about the cosmos and identifying objects and imagining being in a rocket ship. I remember looking out my nighttime window with my dad a few times when I was young. It is a magical memory with him. The kiddos have been asking to do this every night—except tonight, since they were conked out from the hike (well, Katie made it through two chapters of her book with me, but she was almost conked, and Eric was out for the count).

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And in BIG news this week: Katie won a special award for the story she entered in our charter school’s writing contest! The Imagination Machine picked her story, and some others, to be performed at the assembly. So much fun! I had a story of mine picked for the same thing in 4th grade, and it is so neat to share this with her now. She was so surprised and thrilled (I kept the secret for weeks after admin notified me), and seeing her stand on stage with her award was a big moment for me as a parent, not because it represents any achievement of mine, but because I relished seeing that pride in her face. I want to teach her how to be proud of herself, as well as of others, and I want her to get a taste of this achievement and to hunger for more so that she will push herself from within.

So that’s what we’ve been up to, in part, this week! Our extracurricular classes resumed, and we’re back on our full schedule here.

Hm, somehow my iTunes went from playing 90s music to playing The Nutcracker soundtrack. Love it, but I think this is my cue to call it a night!

The scream was so shrill this morning that, for once, I couldn’t quite tell from which of my children it emanated. I had just stepped around the corner to file a broken fingernail—leaving our gyroscope for a moment in the middle of the floor—when I heard the scream followed by the sound of two pair of feet running one after the other. I came around the corner only to see the drapes fluttering wildly and the lamp behind the wing chair tottering precariously as a child’s body edged past it in a rush.

Evidently the gyroscope (I deduced from the scene) had become an object of competition between my two children. Who would hold it? Whose turn was it? Give it to me. Give it to me. Gimme!

As the parent of siblings, I am in the process of teaching them how consciously not to compete with one another. Not just for my own sanity. And not because I deny the human adaptation mechanism of competition. At its heart, competing with a sibling does not make long term sense, even if we are wired up to do it when we’re young. I explain to our children how our love for them is an infinite resource, how we share most everything together in the house, and so on. There is no reason to compete with each other, and nothing for which competition is required in order to gain. We emphasize their talents, and we teach them to celebrate each other when one accomplishes something. The achievements of one do not diminish the achievements of the other.

If only everyone in the world could understand this, what a better world we could be in.

We are all better off—we, as in the universe, the cosmos understanding itself—are better off when people work hard, are productive, and achieve. We might have to compete for mates, job positions, spots on a college campus, and various other finite resources; yet, sadly, all too often, I see a trend in our culture to compete for those accomplishments which have no bounds. Happiness. Love of children and/or spouse. Health. Laughter. Adventure. All of those qualities are forces that, in my way of thinking, only increase for everyone the more we achieve them. Your happiness makes me happy. The time you spent creating magic makes the universe a better place. That adventure you had? So cool! It inspires me to try that! 

But my children still have the untrained minds of the young. Untrained and unmastered, they are still prone to jealousy. They have no idea how to rule over their competitive natures, or how to master and channel that energy into productive competition with themselves. They have yet to choose which kind of person they will become: 1) the kind of person who becomes bitter, jealous, and insecure at the achievement of others or b) the kind of person who becomes inspired to work harder, to believe more in themselves through seeing what is possible, and who aims at self-improvement by witnessing the achievement of others. At some point, we make a choice. If we don’t actively choose, the default is the juvenile mind.

I’ve always had a tendency to turn my competitive nature more inward anyway (except for in soccer and Mock Trial, activities that channeled competition in a productive way), but an epiphanal point for me had to the the first section of one of the first classes of my freshman year at Stanford. Western Civ. We had hundreds of pages of reading due for that first meeting of section alone, not to mention hundreds for other classes. First up: Virgil’s The Aeneid. It was a Thursday afternoon. We parked our bikes, assembled in the classroom, all of us early (I mean, it’s Stanford, yo). We sat around in parliamentary fashion, all seeing each other. First college section, ever. There were nerves. Except for the young man across the way. He hadn’t even unwrapped his course reader yet. Holy cow, what? He didn’t READ for class?? To put a finer point on it, he starts talking about how he went to a huge party the night before. He hadn’t studied for this section at all. A few follow up questions later, and we learn: oh, The Aeneid. Yeah, I read that in high school. In the original Latin. I’m not worried. Yeah.

You learn fairly quickly in such an environment that there are things people are going to do better than you can, just as there are things you will be able to do better than most others.

And then you learn: it doesn’t matter. Not really. Sure, if you are the kind of person who cares only about grades or how things look, maybe it does, to a point… But I discovered that my love of learning for learning’s sake and for the honor of working hard will almost always outpace a grade monger. Why? Because to work hard for an extrinsic reward, or for any system of rewards and punishments for that matter, is superficial and inauthentic. Extrinsically motivated people usually peter out. People who compete with others instead of with themselves also usually tire out or give up. A person who competes with only herself to be better than she was yesterday works from a powerful place of inner authenticity. She is in touch with, and in tune with, herself. There is no reward big enough to convince her that she has earned the right to stop working; there is no punishment or failure that can truly set her off course. So she keeps going. She does not waste her time, and therefore limit her efficiency and efficacy, considering other people’s success as compared to, or contrasted with, her own. She works for herself. She is the toughest master to please, but the big advantage is also that she does not become distracted and preoccupied with what others think of her. She does her best for the sake of doing her best.

Runners know how to channel the competitive nature. In some ways, I was always meant to be a runner. Bill and I talk often about how I could not have discovered the runner mindset before now. I had the runner’s mindset toward my academic life from an early age—how could I not have gravitated toward distance running? My mind and my life philosophy are made for the sport.

Runners know: we compete with only ourselves. With ourselves, and of course, with Time. Time is the absolute standard. It is why we can be crying tears of joy at coming in 5th: we see our personal record as we cross the finish line, or as it is often called now, our personal best. Personal best. Personal. What is my personal best? In this life bounded by Time, by the clock, what is my personal best? With my husband? For my kiddos? As a daughter? As a teacher? As a runner? As a thinker? As a creator? As a citizen? As a person who is passionately alive?

How will I challenge myself to be better than I was the day before? How will I work harder than I did? How will I wake up today and be a more loving wife? A more engaged and creative mother? A more giving daughter? How will I work better at keeping my house cleaner? What will I do today to inspire myself to work on some tedious chores with a joyful heart? How will I be better in charge of myself? What healthier decisions can I make today?

I never let up. Each day is new. The clock is ticking. What is my personal best? How will I work harder?

Funnily enough, yesterday my dad left a little stack of things that he must have taken out of the cubby hole of his old desk. There was a little paper I had written on in there, along with some other items. I had written, in my elementary school handwriting, “Relaxation is not a sin.” I don’t really use the word “sin” at this point to describe parts of life, but I did do a double take. I am still thinking about this message from my past self.

All I know is that I am obsessed with my best. I am obsessed with achieving honor through hard work for hard work’s sake. Other people are not my competition. The life clock, is.

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When I race, I feel love for the other runners around me. I know what they give, you see. The people that beat me? My heart thrills for them. I feel no rivalry. They are beautiful, in my eyes. It’s me and the clock. Those with trained minds who are self-masters will understand what I mean; anyone else will think I am not telling the truth here. Yet it is the truth: the people ahead of me inspire me. Why? Because they make me feel HOPE. If they can do it, why not me? I don’t feel defeated, bitter, insecure, or jealous. If they can do it, why not me? If I train more, why not me? They show what the body is capable of doing, with hard work.

If Maria Kang can do it, why not me? If amazing Elf on the Shelf mom can do it, why not me? If all those Pinterest moms can do it, why not me? I am just as capable as anyone else. Those kinds of inspirational people give me hope, because I believe fundamentally in my own abilities, too. Human achievement gives me hope. We can only keep making ourselves better, our lives more joyful and abundant.

Right now I am focused on the next phase of my training. I hit my first 40 mile week last week (actually, 40.92, the kind of number that makes a compulsive person like me want to scream), and I did 35 this week. Many marathoners train at much higher mileage, but my first marathon is at least another year or two out. I want to get to the point of being able to run it in 3:00.00 or so. But interesting to note that a marathon is now a foregone conclusion, when for so long I was resisting the bug… I still think I have only one in me, and if so, I want to set performance goals for it that can motivate me to work on speed at lower mileage in the interim. However, I may have more than one in me. I sure would like to see Boston someday… 🙂 The week I did 40.92, my average pace for all those miles would have had me at a 3:13.00 marathon pace; however, I doubt I could quite run that now since I need endurance without rest breaks in between!

Coach-Husband has started me on twice daily runs to ramp up mileage, and I am also routinely running intervals on the yard track locally, both 440s and 220s. Bill has already forewarned that a series of 880s are comin’ my way, but you know, I have really developed a love for the track. My roads will always be my preference, but the track is consistent and predictable and can be a place really to assess and measure progress. The objectivity of track work has me hooked. I do not fear objective measurement, and I have come to believe that objectivity is the key to losing/maintaining weight and making progress athletically.

As far as that goes, my weight and BMI are both in the healthy range (despite what a few well-intentioned friends have expressed concerns about), and in fact, according to stats from Runner’s World as posted online at Let’s Run, I am the average height/weight for world class adult female marathoners. My body found its set point, and although I do vary within about three pounds, I am where I should be. More muscle mass would be nice, but I am definitely lean. I do appreciate the people who have asked about my body image, and I did start to doubt my leanness a bit more in light of their questions…until I went to the Carlsbad 5000 and saw many athletes who look similar to me. But: I eat, I keep all of my food down, I eat with running in mind (not too little, but not overboard either), I am not overly stressed by fluctuation, and I look at long, long term goals. I just look so very different from how I have looked my whole life that I think it takes people aback a bit. My goals are mainly athletic at this point, and I eat what I should in order to be attacking those goals as well as I can. I did eat more the past couple of weeks, and I am in my weight range even after running many more miles than I normally do. My coach is always checking up on me, too, to make sure I am where I should be. I rely on plant-based proteins mainly, as well as eggs, and occasional chicken and fish (I have not had beef since Christmas—it just doesn’t sound appealing at this point). Fuel and training go hand-in-hand. I do inadvertently drop low once in awhile, but I always get my weight back up to where I should be. If I add more weights or harder training, I often have adjustments to make. So I thank the people who have gently and privately inquired about my health: I really am on top of it and have no plans to get carried away with any more weight loss. I have actually maintained my range now since the summer, which has been my plan.

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My coach-husband also recently gave me a Garmin Forerunner 10 as a present, and I think it has enhanced my training substantially. I can now pause at stoplights to get a better read of my time, and the virtual pace setter keeps me on task. I have been seeing more and more sub-7 miles lately, but we have a ways to go before that becomes the norm. Still, I am seeing them. I use both my Garmin and my GPS app on my phone to double-record the data. When I get home, I debrief with Bill before he goes to work and keeps all the data from both devices in a spreadsheet. He uses tables and mathematics to determine my training tasks and intervals. So far, I have been able to do everything he has asked.

There was a really great article about Shalane Flanagan in Runner’s World this month, which came out this week. She will be on 60 Minutes tomorrow night, too. Anyway, this is probably my favorite excerpt from the whole article, and I was quoting parts of it to myself during some challenging track work last week:

The thing about Flanagan is, when she decides what she wants to achieve, she will do whatever he asks of her in order to accomplish it. She does this “as well as anybody in the world,” Schumacher says. “She goes after it, tackling all tasks from point A to point B—completing every step in the process makes her a world-class athlete and helps her to be fulfilled as a person,” he says. “She does everything right. Can you imagine if everybody did their job that way?” 

I loved that Schumacher, her coach, said, “as well as anybody in the world.” Not “better than anybody in the world,” but “as well as.” That’s just exactly my point about the nature of competition. The runner’s mindset is to want everyone to do well, everyone to do his or her best. We want others to do as well as they can possibly do, because that is pure sport. No one loses anything when others achieve, or when others work hard to achieve. In fact, I am so far away from the rivalry mindset in life that I cannot begin to understand it.

These elite runners and these coaches understand that so much of making a life meaningful is about fulfilling oneself as a person…by working hard, and doing one’s own best. What if everyone approached life that way? It is a powerful, and hopefully empowering, thought.

 

“I want to go to Stanford like you, Mommy!” Katie exclaimed in the car this morning on the way to our picnic and springtime photo shoot in a lovely part of town. We had just been talking about the importance of higher education for women, how some through history have tried to block the education of women, the historical witch hunts (oh yes, I went there), the ways in which some groups depend upon women not educating themselves in order to perpetuate themselves, how a woman really can have it all but perhaps not all at the same time, and all other manner of feminism. Yep, I’m one of those. Out of the closet.

I wasn’t always as concerned about the rights of women, figuring that it was all up to the individual to make her way anyway…until I became a mother. Of a daughter. In a culture that STILL questions whether a woman should be educated fully, paid an equal wage, can drive an action film, or carry a Disney film without romantic love (at least that much has been decided this year, thank goodness).

The biggest irony is that I mostly follow a traditional path as a stay-at-home mom. For now. Yet that is only because I view “having it all” as living my life in phases. My academic phase. My pre-children career phase. My children phase. My next career phase. My writing phase. My travel phase. And any self-improvement goals in between times. I am the ultimate rebel: I actually believe I can make myself into almost anything I want to be…and enjoy it. No one defines me, but me. I wasn’t at work, suffering. I am not now at home, suffering. The very act of choosing is the pleasure.

But back to Katie’s declaration today. It is the first time she has articulated such a clear and specific educational goal. I was delighted for two seconds…and then it filled me with dread.

Many people have assumed, as evidenced by things that have been said to me, that I want my children to go to Stanford and that I have set that goal for them as ironclad. I’ve heard of alumni like that. Heck, when I worked in the Office of the University President, I used to read letters from devastated alumni whose offspring did not make the cut…despite millions of dollars of donations. There was a recent article in my alumni magazine about the ways in which alumni handle such news—some cut off ties with the university for years, or eternally. Don’t choose my child, and I will stop choosing you.

Entitled. That’s how I feel about that kind of behavior.

And it is the furthest paradigm from how I view my alma mater, my hopes for my children, or the reasons why we learn and challenge ourselves in the first place.

Even for an applicant with the most glowing set of qualifications, nothing is guaranteed. Stanford just admitted the lowest rate of applicants in years. Even if numbers increase, still nothing would be guaranteed.

The kind of parent who would make a child feel that it is all or nothing riding on the acceptance of a specific university is playing a dangerous game; yet, in my profession I have seen that pressure more than once. Although I am sure any parent just wants to be motivating in a positive way, I will not set my children up to feel like disappointments by playing this game.

So how to respond to Katie? I told her first that I am excited that she is already planning to attend college, and that the thing to do is to potentiate herself for as many colleges as possible. Work hard, find something you love and practice at it until you do it really well, follow your passions in your studying, and above all, and keep your options open. Stay open-minded. Aim as high as you can, and when the time comes, whatever happens will be right. If she chooses Stanford, and Stanford chooses her back, then great. Why? Because Stanford was really fun, to get right down to it. But many places could be the right place. Many paths, even those different from mine, could fulfill her.

I just want her to know that she has a self to fulfill.

As I told her today: Kate, some parents live in fear that their older children will not grow up to be exactly as they are, or think as they do, or believe as they believe. Sure, we hope that you might see some thing the way we see them, but we only want your agreement with us if you have done all the hard work of thinking, questioning, and living first. Right now, you need to obey us for your safety, and we want to teach you how to be of honorable character, but you are free. You belong to yourself. You will have to decide how to live and what to be. You will not disappoint us. I do not care if you go to Stanford, or not.

And it’s true. Some readers may still not believe that, and if not, they will miss entirely and forever the essence of who I really am and what philosophies govern my life and decision-making. Even what I think the purpose is of being alive…

One thing I know for sure is that I want to teach my daughter how to be powerful. My son, too, of course. But I can already tell he is going to be fine. It’s less a gender thing and more of a personality thing. Katie views life with more trepidation, generally, than her brother does. She has always needed more comfort. She talks a big game, but her insides can get swirly and she doesn’t always trust herself. Even her horseback riding teacher has picked up on this and gently reminded Katie that we never say, “I can’t.” Eric is more carefree and willing to laugh at his mistakes; Katie takes every mistake hard. I want to show her how to break free of fear and instead live a life of freedom, and I believe I can.

And so, we run:

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Katie has been doing so well during her training sessions! Sometimes I play various games with her to get her to pick up speed here and there and to stay motivated. 1.25 miles is quite a bit for a 6-year-old. But part of getting in touch with inner power? To have ambition and to set performance goals with respect to any and all parts of life.

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My intelligent, creative, beautiful girl…

 

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These two have such a fun (and often wild) dynamic. They complement each other, and I am so thankful for the pair of them.

In Shipshewana, Indiana—the Amish country home of my Yoder ancestors—all the stores, markets, and restaurants close for Sunday. Visiting for a week last July for a huge Yoder reunion, my family and I packed a picnic lunch during our Sunday there and drove up into Michigan and explored various lakes in the area, spent time together, and…slowed down to enjoy time together.

As a mother of young children, I am often reminded by older mothers to savor the time with my children because the years pass quickly. I always take these words of experience to heart, and I already sense how fleetingly fast the time is passing with my children. We wake up, we live full days, we cuddle, we go to bed, and then we wake up. Some nights I can hardly believe another day is passing us. I am keenly aware of already missing them as the future version of myself. It sounds weird and hokey and I have only ever described this to Bill, but ever since I was a very little girl I have felt a strong connection with myself at various ages, and I still do—both backward and forward in time. Feeling a need to make deliberately magical and passionate present moments is part of that feeling of time-bendedness, as is my constant observation and management of our life narrative. So, I often remind myself to be present with my kiddos, to make a memory on purpose, to take a picture with my mind’s eye, to press them close to my heart. I am very conscious, almost overly so, of the entity of space-time and feel it keenly—to the points of both joy and sorrow, but mostly joy. Of course there are times when I am wishing the time to go a little faster on various errands when their patience might be thin, and there are times I need a stimulus-break for a moment, or even a moment just to use the bathroom privately. Other times days take on their own momentum, we get busy and productive, and we are living on zoom. Those are valuable days, too, but there has to be balance in all things, I believe.

So the past few months I have been taking a cue from my ancestral home and slowing down on Sundays as much as possible with my children. I did have two races back to back weekends recently, but for the most part our Sundays consist of a long run in the morning for me followed by a long walk and picnic with Katie and Eric. We walk together most afternoons, too, when we can, but on Sundays I pick a distant target.

The point is not to get there, although of course we do. We pack our picnic basket, and it is a time to try new tastes and to let healthy food fill our exercised bodies. We walk for miles. I do have the stroller for Eric, and Katie walks the whole way. Sometimes we take the longest paths we can find. We explore, we learn the roads of our town, and we breathe in the natural world. We inhale sunshine and sky. We look at flowers, trees, colors, tracks, anything and everything of interest.

I explain to them that this tradition of ours is one of the many ways I use to communicate to them: I love you, and I want to be with you. I want to present with you, my babies. I want to listen to your voices tell me things—for miles and hours. I want to do nothing all day except savor you, I tell them. I want the day to feel slow, so I can revel in you. This is a memory we are making. The only point is to be together, fully with each other. In a life where days can sometimes go way too fast, this is our way of honoring the entreaties of the older mothers: savor this time. I do. We do.

Because nothing feels longer, or better, than walking slowly for miles with children and having no particular agenda other than to just be. I remember my mom taking my brother and I for walks like this when we were young.

When we get to where we think we are going, we spread out our blanket and unpack our basket.

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Our picnic today

We eat a bit of lunch and then we play. I play, too. I love to play! That playground equipment is fun stuff! We also bring frisbees and a soccer ball and sand toys and whatever else we can squish into the stroller basket.

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Frisbee today: Katie is getting really great at throwing it. I couldn’t quite get it at her age (and evidence of this at the Brownie Olympics unfortunately still exists)!

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We hike around and play “Planet explorers and spaceship” games.

 

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And Katie taught me how to do this today! (Which was randomly exciting! I have never been able to make a bridge out of my body before).

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This trio selfie was taken at our second park of the day, actually. We had walked so long that we made a pit stop at a second park to use the bathroom and wash up and have a snack and play some more before heading on home.

 

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We were gone most of the day, and they conked out.  (I was REALLY gone all day…I woke up at sunrise, went for my 8 mi run, then came home and started getting us ready for picnic day).

You know, these days on the Internet we can run into all sorts of little articles here and there about having children. Most of them, to me, seem so negative on the whole or at the very least, are gripe sessions about how hard it is to have children. Is having children often challenging? Heck yes. But so? Isn’t there ultimate joy in challenge? Didn’t we all know it would be hard work? Aren’t those the kinds of questions most of us discuss with our spouses before we make the choice to have a child? My heart breaks a little every time I read something about how we’re not “supposed” to be all jazzed up about having our kids. So many of these articles are trading on people’s insecurities, which is exploitative, and then calling themselves “real” or “honest.”

You know what is real? I wanted my children. Really, really wanted them. It’s not a cakewalk, but anyone knows that (or should!) going in, and a person makes her choices. We certainly have our imperfect, raw, difficult moments here in the McGaugh house. And for those close to me, truly close to me, I share those moments. But I don’t go posting them all over the Internet where they are cached for, oh, ETERNITY so that one day our kiddos can go back and find it and think, “Wow, my mom was sure complaining about me that day. In public. Forever.”

What is real is that I honor my children. I honor WANTING them. I show respect not just to them, but to the process of making them with my husband, and to the very idea of wanting to create their lives in the first place. Being real does not mean having to lose one’s basic sense of human dignity.

I unapologetically love my children with unabashed enthusiasm and want to be with them. I revel in being with them. Even when it is hard. Except in the bathroom, of course.

That is one life truth of many which I feel my Shipshewana kinfolk still honor and understand: all that we have as treasure on Earth is pure time with one another. Slow, pure time. The kind of time we offer when we look into the eyes of a loved one and say, this time is only for you. This time is for being together, for forgetting our to-do lists, for not needing to go anywhere but where you are. This slow time is for a journey with you.

Let’s make that journey long on purpose.