Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ditching the Naughty and Nice List: A Faith Perspective

I imagine this post isn't going to be popular. In fact, I'll be ducking to avoid getting hit with tomatoes from the moment I hit publish.

Last year I wrote about our approach to Santa Claus. Basically, we enjoy the fun Santa traditions with the knowledge that it's all pretend. Don't worry, my kids have awesome imaginations so instead of being deprived, they are let in on an exciting game of make-believe that we all play together. We are continuing with this approach this year while reminding our almost five year old son to not ruin the game for anyone else, because we respect how other people choose to celebrate.

 This year I was struck by another reason why we don't do Santa in the way some families choose. Without getting into all of the history of Santa, Christmas, and the like, the popular Santa tradition is that Santa keeps a list of naughty and nice children all year in order to bring the nice children gifts on Christmas morning. This lends itself as a convenient tool for parents to encourage good behavior in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  In the words of the popular Christmas song,

You better watch out! 
You better not cry 
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town 
It doesn't stop there. Parents and the people who sell things to them are taking it to new heights. While I was aware of it last year, this year the Elf on the Shelf is quickly gaining popularity.
Each Elf on the Shelf package contains an Elf that your family gets to name along with a storybook explaining how the elves watch little boys and girls to report back to Santa nightly on their behavior. There are instructions to move the elf around each night so it adds to the idea that the elf is coming and going each night.
Similar to many Santa traditions I enjoy, I think the story of the elf is cute, and I love the idea of moving it around each night so the kids could excitedly wake to see where it is each morning. I also know how much we'd all like to ensure the best of behavior from our children to make life a little less stressful during a particularly harried time of year.

But, in the end, I have a problem with the very idea of naughty and nice list. I'm not a fan of labeling kids good or bad. I'm not a fan of threatening kids. I don't think manipulating kids is a healthy parenting approach. Not to mention, threats aside, it's a rare parent that would actually follow through by withholding Christmas presents to a child. It's not to say that in a fit of frustration and bad parenting, I didn't tell my kids the other day that I would return all their Christmas presents. I'm not perfect. I apologized to them and reality checked myself. I sincerely get the allure.

For us as a family of Christian faith, we celebrate Christmas because our faith celebrates the birth of Jesus on that day, the most magnificent gift we could be given. We give gifts to people we love and care about on that day in celebration of the gift we received in Jesus. We didn't receive the gift of Jesus because we were on the nice list.

In the same way, I strive to practice unconditional parenting because it's the example we've been given in faith, I also strive to celebrate Christmas with my family in a no-strings attached celebration of the gift we've received and a sharing of the unconditional love we've been given kind of way. With my kids and my family, there will be no naughty or nice list. Instead, we will give and receive gifts not because we deserve them or because we've earned them, but because we are sharing the joy of the most wonderfully undeserved gift we could ever receive. Jesus.

This year, I'm even more confident of our approach to Santa. While I can't wait to take a train ride with Santa and leave him milk & cookies, I'm hoping to ground our experience of the Christmas season in faith and giving. By the grace of God, we will celebrate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where Nothing Else Matters

Last night at yoga, there was a moment where I joyously realized nothing else mattered. In that moment, it didn't matter what I hadn't gotten done that day or what needed to be done the next day. The stress didn't matter. The depression didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Not the the kids' bickering, nor the bills that needed to be paid.

Since I'm suck at am still perfecting my meditation, my mind wandered. I thought about running, and how I love running for the same reason. When I am running nothing else matters. I don't need to fill water bottles, make snacks, or juggle more balls than a circus act. When I am running, the only thing that matters is me - my foot steps, my breathing, my body. A lot of of runners talk about all the things they think about while they are running. Out there by yourself for more than hour at a time, you'd think a lot of thinking would get done. For some people it does. I realized on my 9 miler on Sunday that I did very little thinking, and I loved that. It was all about falling into a mindless rhythm, putting one foot in front of the other.

I love yoga and running because when I am doing those activities, I am able to fully engage. I am connected - mind, body, and spirit. I am present in that moment and nothing else matters.

I think we all need moments in our days where we can be fully present without working for it. Where we unexpectedly realize we are completely immersed in what is happening at that very moment. Some describe it as a state of flow. Some activities lend themselves to that type of state for certain people, like yoga and running for me. For others it could writing, cooking, painting, or just about anything. (Notice most of my examples are solo activities or ones you do alongside others but still on your own, yes, that's the introvert in me. Others experience flow when leading large groups or other extroverted things I can't imagine.)

Once you realize where you most often experience flow, you can almost go looking for it. That has its benefits, but on the flip side, I love when those moments of full engagement and stress-free presence sneak up on me like when I am tickling a little boy who should be going to sleep but is feeling a little silly or when I am snuggled in the mess of warm bodies in our family bed but instead of wondering whose foot is in my back all I can do is soak in the smell of a toddler's freshly washed hair and the steady rhythm of breaths surrounding me. In that moment, nothing else matters.

Have you experienced a state of flow? Where do you find those moments?

Friday, November 18, 2011

I will not be afraid.

It's been a long time since I've posted about depression. Yesterday, I shared a link on facebook to a post titled I'm not a Bad Mom Because of Mental Illness. The post resonated with me, and I quickly realized from private messages, a few likes, and a comment that it resonated with others as well. I want to join the author in saying, I'm not a bad mom because of mental illness, and let me add, neither are you.

I've been avoiding this topic for all sorts of reasons, but what they all come down is that I've been afraid. Gulp. I've been afraid of the stigma that comes with mental illness. I know I shouldn't be. I know I've said I won't be. But to be completely honest, I have been. 
Via pinterest
I was grateful for the support readers offered as I wrote about my depression, but I began to feel that if I kept writing it, if I couldn't write the champion's story who had won the battle, that it would get old. Who wants to read about someone else's misery? If I was the girl who was ungracefully living with depression instead of the girl who kicked its butt, wasn't I just trying to throw a pity party?

It's one thing to write about your journey with depression once you've overcome it, once you're on the other side. In that space, you can be honest and yet positive. You can talk about the hell you've been through, but put a rainbow-out-of-the-rain kind of ending on it. You can be the strong person who has beat mental illness instead the one that appears weak as they suffer. 
Via Pinterest
But here's me being honest. I haven't won this battle. I've had ups and downs, successes and failures. The truth is I can learn to manage this chronic illness with tools and skills, but I will most likely never be cured. This will always be a part of who I am. Honestly, that terrifies me. It's hard enough to think about getting through today, tomorrow, this week, or this month. It's hard enough to try to do the work to make things better, to make things manageable. When I start to think that I will have to do this work for the rest of my life, well that gets scary. I try not to think about that because I don't need scary.

I'm done being afraid. That's not me. I'm kind of the girl who stands up for who she is and what she believes. I'm the kind of the girl who will shout things from the mountaintop and who laughs in the face of obsacles. I'm the girl who skipped my senior year of high school, finished college in 3.5 years, and who wrote a Masters thesis with a newborn. In one year I went from not being able to run a mile to running 13.1 miles. After a frustrating hospital birth with my first child, I educated and prepared myself to have the best birth I could (which was a blessed and empowering homebirth). I am strong, and I don't shy away from a challenge. I will not hide my journey. I will not be afraid of saying boldly, I'm not a bad mom, I'm not a bad wife, and I am not bad person because of mental illness.

Via Pinterest
This is an illness. I am not this way to some fault of my own or anyone else's. Don't treat me any differently that you would anyone else struggling with a chronic illness. I have good days and bad days. I work really hard to be the mom and wife that I am while trying to take care of myself. You may not be able to see it, but rest assured, I am using every ounce of energy, oomph, and spirit I have to fight this. Sometimes I'm successful and you'd never know how hard I had to work to get to that point. Other times, I'm not successful and you might have a hard time believing that I am even trying from the way I am acting. Regardless, I assure I am giving this everything I've got because I deserve it, my husband deserves the best me I can give, and my kids deserve the best mom I can be.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back to the mat.

Yesterday I found my way back to yoga after months of absence. I spent weeks telling myself that this would be the week I'd start attending regular classes.  It didn't happen. I wanted to go, but I didn't want to have to go to that first class. I didn't want to hear the "oh where have you been? we missed you" line from my instructors and classmates. I didn't want to hear the moans and groans from my body saying the exact same thing. I didn't want to feel the guilt of not having made this a priority.
Via Pinterest

Despite scheduling mishaps, emotional breakdowns, and all of life getting very much in the way, I went yesterday morning. I'd say I was welcomed back with open arms, but it was even more than that. It was like I'd never left.

I parked in my usual parking spot, took the walk through downtown, put my keys on a hook and signed in. I said quiet hellos to the other students and the instructor while setting up my mat and blankets for class. There was no where have you been. There was no we missed you. As we chatted, I found myself spewing excuses as to why I hadn't been there until I realized they didn't care. They didn't care because they weren't looking to judge my absence, but instead they were there to just be there with me, to enter into our practices together.

Via Pinterest
In that space with those people, there is no judgment and no expectations. There are no mirrors to show me that I don't look nearly as graceful as I feel. There is nothing but acceptance. Acceptance for who we are and where we are. There's no success or failure.

If I took months off of running and tried to run my regular route, I would be met with screaming lungs and an angry body. I wouldn't be able to finish. I love to run, but there is something about yoga that feels like a warm blanket wrapping my body in the comfort of itself. Settling my mind, I can listen to my body. I can feel that hamstring I tweaked on my long run, but it doesn't scream. It doesn't keep me from my practice, instead it brings intention to it. Whether it's a good day or a bad day, in yoga my body and my mind are able to find each other. On the mat, it's not about what I can or cannot do. It's simply about being there.

And that is why I'll be working to make yoga as intentional a part of my training and my life as running.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's official. I'm marathon training.

First off, I promise non-running posts are coming this week, but first because this is kind of a big deal, ya know?

It's official. I took advantage of a discount on Friday 11/11, and registered for the Rock 'n' Roll USA Nation's Capital Marathon in Washington, D.C. on March 17, 2012.  I'm going to run a marathon! Eeeek!

The folks at Rock 'n' Roll confirmed my registration and left me with the lovely sentiment, "Good luck with your training!". Training? Oh yes, I better get to it. On Monday of last week, I threw myself into developing a training plan. It looked something like this.

Ridiculousness really. I looked through a ton of plans, talked to some smart folks, and finally settled on a plan. Then I continued in typical Type A-ness, and made a journal to record my training and thoughts. I have daily sheets and weekly recaps. Finally, I decided if I was going to create all this awesomeness, I would have it bound. So here is my kickin' training journal!

Training journal
  It opens up to an inspirational collage and my overall training plan.
Training Plan
 My journal has daily pages, weekly re-caps, and a race day prep to finish it all off. It's not perfect. I've already discovered some things that I wish I'd put on it, but it allows me to record gear that's working, aches and pains, and how my training is going over all.
 One week of training down! Less than 18 weeks of training left. I ran 22 miles this week which is nothing compared to what is coming, but it's more than I've ran since I finished half marathon training. Eight hilly miles were crazy hard today, but that's understandable considering I ran 5 hilly yesterday with 3 at race pace AND then I hiked 2 miles up a mountain (and then back down) with my 2 1/2 year old on my back! My legs are totally trashed, but hey, it was good practice running on tired legs.

So all this is to say it's on... 26.2 here I come.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Run the Bridge 10K 2012 and... what's next?!

The short recap: I blew my goals and expectations out of the water!  If you don't want to read the nitty gritty recap, at least skip to the end for the announcement I'm scared to death to be making (which is why I'm giving myself an out still...).

Last year, I ran my first 10K! It was a big deal. I ran with my friend Kristie for the first time (ha, we had no idea what that was the start of at the time!). I proudly finished in 1:07:44.
Mile 3 of the Run the Bridge 10K 2011
Since then I've done a lot of running of course. I was excited to run this race again. I hadn't put in a lot of runs since my half marathon at the beginning of October. At the same time, I knew I was a lot faster and stronger than last year. I knew I could PR, but I wasn't sure by how much. Considering my lack of training, I tentatively set an A goal of coming in under 1:02 minutes which would breaking a 10 minute mile. Big dream. More realistically though still seeming like a reach, my B goal was around 1:03:19 based on the McMillan Running Calculator and my September 5K. Meanwhile, my C goal was simply to beat my time of 1:07:44 from last year.

Things got a little more complicated when I got sick over the weekend. I had absolutely no voice, sore throat, and lots of congestion. I visited some friends in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, and I went back and forth about whether running on Sunday was even a good idea. In the end, I decided to run it. I figured I'd show up at the start, go out at a race pace of about 10:30 (knowing the the first part is uphill over the bridge) and speed up from there if I could and if not, I could slow down and just run it as a training run.

It was cloudy and chilly in the morning but turned out to be a beautiful day to run the Ben Franklin Bridge! Kristie and Mike who ran with me last year were running again. Kristie decided to race it (and she runs a lot faster than me), so we lined up, I set up my music (one earbud in, one out so I can still enjoy race atmosphere and camaraderie) and got ready to go with no idea of what my real plan was. Kristie and Mike took off fast, and I set off on my own. I was closer to the starting line than I should have been so I was getting passed by lots of people in the beginning, and I was also running faster than I should have been up the hill on the bridge. I was hurting pretty bad right from the start. Glancing at my Garmin, I saw I was running my planned pace of 10:30 but hurting a lot more than I wanted to be so I expected to have to dial back due to being sick.

The entire race was just surreal. I kept pushing myself up the bridge knowing I'd have the downhill to recover. I hit mile one on the downhill and say my split time on my watch, 10:06. Wow, that's kind of fast. I was plowing down the downhill. I grabbed water at the bottom of the bridge before turning around to head back over it. The uphill was hard, but I was just trying to get up it knowing I could recover on the downhill again. I hit mile 2 and saw my split time again, 9:21. What?! Um, I don't run miles at 9:21. At this point, I am convinced I am totally screwed having gone out faster than a 5K in this 10K race.

I try to slow down. I feel like I'm slowing down. I'm hurting, and yet when I'm looking at the Garmin my pace is always sub 10. I seriously began to wonder if my watch was broke. Then I hit mile 3 right as we were coming off the bridge. The race clock time said 29 something. I was in shock. I watched my Garmin to hit 3.10 miles, a 5K, to see my time. It was 29:46. That's 43 seconds faster than my 5K PR from September. At this point, I am both psyched I ran so darn fast, but kicking myself because I know there is no way I can hold onto this pace. You are just not supposed to run your best ever 5K during a 10K race.

At this point, all I could do was hold on for the ride and see how far my body would take. It was really strange. I kept looking around at the crowd and wondering to myself why it hadn't thinned out more when it was because I was running a much faster pace than I usually do. I also kept seeing people around me and thinking "you are definitely faster than me, why I am still running near you". It's hard to explain but you kind of get to know what your pace group looks and acts like, and the people around me were definitely not my usual crowd.

I hit mile 4 and saw a clock time of under 40 minutes. Shocked. I just kept on trucking. Somewhere in here, we ran along the river and the battleship. I knew a few hills were coming up so I was ready for them. I was hurting but just kept on pushing. When I hit mile 5 and the clock said 48 minutes, I almost laughed at loud. What was going on?! Shortly after that I saw Mike ahead. He'd slow down and I'd think I could catch him and then he'd take off. Around 5.5 miles, I finally caught up and grunted a hello. He said he'd run me in since usually that's Kristie's job and she was kicking butt running her own race. He kept talking to me but I couldn't hear much as he was on the side my earbud in. He was asking my goal, and I was looking at the clock thinking between 60 and 62 not knowing how much I could hold onto this pace.
Finishing in under 60
The last .75 miles hurt, but I just kept on pushing knowing I was almost there and I just couldn't slow down. I didn't know it at the time but my 6th mile split was a 9:05 - WOW!, and the last .2 miles were at an 8:28 pace. In the last couple of tenths, I was letting out a little moan or cry as I tried to push with everything I had left. I crossed the finish with whatever I had left in under 60 minutes! Official time: 59:07 which is a 9:33 average pace.
That's me in a world of hurt. Nice face, huh?
I'm still in shock. That's faster than the 5K pace that brought me an awesome PR in September. I am proud of myself for pushing. I am realizing I've got some speed hiding somewhere in this body of mine. I really felt like I just had to mentally hold on for the wild ride my legs were taking me on! I am totally amazed at my capabilities.

Thanks to Mike for running me in, I'll see what I can do about my end of the deal I didn't know I was making, ha.

Thanks to Kristie for being an awesome friend and my favorite running coach. And congrats on your fantastic race, too!

And now drum roll please for my next big goal..... 

That would be the Rock 'n' Roll Washington, D.C Marathon (previously the National Marathon). March 17, 2012. I'm not 100%, but more about like 95%. I'm looking up training plans and going to start training this week since the race is a mere 19 weeks away, but I won't register for another week or two to make sure the crazy doesn't wear off. If I come to my senses, I might change my mind. 26.2 miles, seriously?!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

*that* mom's bookshelf - November 2011 Edition

This edition of *that* mom's bookshelf has been a long time coming, but every time I think about posting I tell myself I'll just finish the next book first. The next book always takes far longer than I expected, so here we are.

 According to Amazon, I bought this book in January, 2004 which made me smile. That was when I first began to consider running. It was that June that I ran my first ever 5K and then two more in the year that followed. Now that I am back to running, I saw this on the bookshelf with a bookmark in the second chapter and figured I should give it a second try. I enjoyed it in that it captures so many of the reasons why I run, the reasons that I don't mind be slow or that I will never win a race. I found it hard to read at a few points because it all felt very quotable, like I should be highlighting or underlining every sentence for what it said. Some parts I skimmed as they talked about the very beginning of starting to run and the logistics of that, while other parts I ate up every word as he talked about life after that first year of running, when every race is no longer a PR and you are discovering running as a lifestyle after the pure joy of realizing you can in fact run. I loved his description of listening to where you are on any given day and asking what your body needs to run and what your heart needs to run. It's easy to get wrapped up in a training plan, but today, for instance, my heart just couldn't run. My body is ready to go, but my heart just said no, I need a day off. I ran a quarter mile and turned around. That was okay. It's about more than the miles on the plan or the immediate goal. This is a lifestyle, and it's about giving my heart and body what it needs which is sometimes a break.

Parenting Simplicity lines up with so much of what we strive for and struggle with in our parenting and our home. I loved that this book really took it step by step with concrete ways to simplify your home, life, parenting. I loved the discussion of rhythm and routine and its importance to children. We have a lot of work to do in this area, but I feel like I have a better direction to move that way. It is about so much more than stuff, though that matters too and the book reminded me all the reasons that mattered. It is about the total environment our children are exposed to from information to scheduling and more.

I love the Free Range Kids blog, and I thought it was about time I read the book. I liked it but was not wowed. I think that is because I am already a believer and follow the blog. It was set up in a useful way with tips on how to take everything from baby steps to giant leaps into a more free-range parenting style. I disagreed with some elements including her dismissal of the chemical BPA in plastics and other concerns in our child's life. I don't think removing such things from their lives is helicoptering but instead creating a safe environment so they can be as free range as possible. For me that's about minimizing the risks I can without encroaching on their freedom, and BPA is certainly one that is easy for me to do. That's just one example - there are a few things like that. But overall, I love Lenore Skenazy and if you are new to her ideas I would suggest the book.

I had high hopes for this book as I've been listening to Dimity and Sarah's podcast and reading their blog for a few months now. They are pretty hardcore runners, but they are funny and real. I was not disappointed with their book. I found the tone very familiar after listening to their podcast and blog for sometime. The book covered everything from the basics of starting out running to marathon running. I think that it might be intimidating or fail to connect with someone brand new to running. It could go one of two ways. It would inspire them to really dive into running to reap the benefits Dimity and Sarah write about, or it would lead them to think that they are not cut out for it because these people love running and are talking half marathons, marathons, training, etc. That being said as a runner who has run two half marathons and is in love with it, it was great. Some of the information was more geared for beginners but other pieces were really helpful. More than anything else, I felt this camaraderie with other mother runners and was reminded of all the things running gives to me. I might have been inspired to start thinking about a full marathon. I would highly recommend it if you are a mother runner or aspiring to be one, just don't take in stride if it seems a little intense. The information is valuable!
I have a high needs spirited child, and we reached to this book for some tools. I both loved the book and was disappointed with it. I agree and understand the pieces of the book. It emphasizes connection, setting the child up for success, and collaborative problem solving as a way to help not only minimize explosions but teach skills to cope with life. I appreciated the reminders that my child is not choosing to explode but instead lacking the necessary skills to deal with the problem in front of him. I think this book would be helpful for most parents, because while my child may be a slightly more severe situation at times, all children need and deserve collaborative problem solving. Parents need to be reminded that their child is not being manipulative and is not "out to get you". That said, while I found some helpful reminders in this book, I didn't feel I got as much new information and tools as I was hoping. However, I think that may be because this way of thinking lines up closely with our parenting approach. It was definitely worth the read, and I would recommend to anyone frustrated with a child's needs, demands, and tantrums regardless of their severity.

This is usually where bloggers disclose that they have amazon affiliate links in the post above and earn a small commission. I want to assure you I am not avoiding disclosure because I have no affiliate links. It's just one of my preferred places to buy books for the great prices and quick shipping! :)