Wednesday, March 21, 2018

I Was a Runner...Once

I am a firm believer that all it takes to be a "real" runner is to lace up your shoes and get out there. I wrote a blog about this complicated formula to being a real runner nearly five years ago. Although I'm nowhere close to being a competitive runner, I've spent the last 12 years logging regular miles and changing who I am by becoming a runner.

In the last eight months I've begun to question whether I'm still a runner.  After a serious few years of speedy races, 2017 was a disappointment. I ran the Detroit Half Marathon in October of 2016 and ended up in the hospital the next week with a serious abscess. It sidelined my running for months. Finally last summer I ended my running drought by running three 5ks in July. They weren't my fastest or best work, but I was feeling like myself again.

After the third 5k in as many weeks I tweaked my knee but thought it was no big deal. In August I found I was unable to run at all. And then after a few months of physical therapy I found out I had a torn meniscus that required surgery. 

I did not run a single step from August until February. I felt my body start to change. I didn't really gain weight, but I didn't feel as strong. I didn't feel as focused. I lost my favorite form of exercise and my best (and in some cases only) meditative time. My meniscus was repaired uneventfully in November, and I thought I'd be running again in four to six weeks. Part of my knee surgery also involved removing torn cartilage from under my kneecap which delayed my recovery a few more weeks.

The last six weeks I've been running once, maybe twice a week if I'm lucky. It's been slow. It's been ugly. It has made me worry that I'm no longer a runner. I can scarcely remember the Saturday mornings where I got up and headed to an early race or logged a lot of miles, returning home exhausted and satisfied. 

Last weekend I decided to run a 5k on St. Patrick's Day. I am really not even in 5k shape right now, and when Saturday morning came around I considered canceling. I wasn't in the mood to run, and I was questioning my ability as a runner. Was I still a runner?

The course was an out and back at Lansing's Hawk Island Park, a course I've run a million times. The morning was colder than I expected, and I was stoic at the start. I was nervous at a 5k start for the first time in years. I had no idea how fast I was going, but all I focused on was putting one foot in front of the other. I focused on my breath. I focused on my overworked muscles screaming at a mere 3.1 miles when a few years ago I could effortlessly run three times that amount.

Okay so I wasn't THAT stoic.

I wanted to run the 5k in less than 30 minutes, and I had zero expectations. I finished in a respectable (for me) 27:24. But my time didn't matter. I was reminded of the most important thing about running: it is nearly all mental. That 5k was a reset for me. It was a reminder that I love running. It was a reminder that I'm stronger than I think I am. It was a reminder that I am still a runner.

I'm baaaaaaack!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Expectations, Hope and Love

I've never had a child biologically, so I can't compare my experience to those who have. All I know is our situation: three years of trying to get pregnant, deciding to adopt and waiting three years for the birth of our son with what I call our false start in the middle (a birth mom who changed her mind once the baby was born). It was laborious (no pun intended), emotionally draining, and given the amazing outcome, I wouldn't change a minute of it.

At one point all of the starts and stops made me lose hope. I thought it would be easy. I thought we'd get married, I'd get pregnant, and that would be it. I remember shopping with a girlfriend during the throes of Clomid, daily temps and sex on command. I tried on a cute pair of shorts and shirt, and I hesitated. I told her, "What if I buy this and I get pregnant?" Without a beat she answered, "What if you don't?" I remember being so hurt. I remember thinking how dare she? It was definitely going to happen for me. And then it didn't. Month after month, it didn't happen. 

Then we decided to adopt, and I threw myself into that process with a vigor and renewed energy. And then we waited. Eighteen months in we were chosen by a birth mom, and we were having a daughter! I folded pink onesies and we named her. She was our daughter, and then her mother decided to parent her. And just like that she wasn't ours. With each disappointment my heart broke, and I lost hope.

I didn't read parenting books. I began to wonder if we'd ever be parents, and then we were. Will arrived on a beautiful December afternoon, and I was a mom. My heart exploded with the love of this perfect child that was ours. He was OUR boy, and all at once I had hope again.

The last three years have been a whirlwind of awesome, hard and magical. This son of ours makes my heart explode every day, even in the throes of having a threenager. And despite my thinking a decade ago when we got married that we would have lots of children, he's it for us. We're at a point in our life as a family and as professionals where our family of three is perfect. 

Now that I have settled into parenthood, I occasionally read books that impact parenting. I hesitate to call them parenting books, preferring to think of them as books about another's experience that I turn into parenting advice. 

Ron Fournier's Love That Boy is one of these books. It's brilliant. Heart wrenching. Ron's son Tyler has Asberger's, and the book is an exploration of parenthood through the imperfect eyes of Tyler's father. I use the word 'imperfect' intentionally because I am so inspired by Ron and Lori Fournier. We're all imperfect as parents, and if we pretend otherwise we're kidding ourselves. The book is a remarkable look at these parents tackling a complicated syndrome head on. And it turns into (either intentionally or unintentionally) a parenting treatise that brought me to tears repeatedly. 

I am late to the Fournier fan girl train. I attended a banquet for the Conference of Western Wayne about a year and a half ago where he was the moderator. He had just returned to Detroit after decades of covering politics in Arkansas and Washington. I saw him present to the Lansing Economic Club in December, and I sat there with tears in my eyes as he relayed poltiical and parenting anecdotes in a way that made it hard for me to determine which was which. 

The book hit a nerve with me. Fournier talks about the expectations of parents and what that does to children. It made me think of my expectations for my son. And honestly, maybe naively, it also made me wonder what expectations I have for him. Sure, like Fournier notes, everyone wants their kid to be "happy" (whatever that means). And of course I want Will to be happy.

But I want him to have structure. I want him to have rules. I want him to feel safe. I want him to feel like he can do whatever he wants whether that's being a fireman (his current life goal), a mechanic, a chef, or a stay-at-home dad. I want my son to be fulfilled in his life choices. I want him to like his parents. Loving us is probably easier, but I want him to like us. And Fournier talks about how most kids are average and parents have these expectations that are out of control.

Earlier this month. Next stop...Harvard?
Like a lot of parents I think my kid is pretty brilliant. Actually I think he's hilarious, so let's add comedian to the list of things that may fulfill him. But I know I (we) will screw him up throughout the next few decades. This is my second solo parenting weekend in a row, and the days are long. I feel so guilty putting on PBS again just to have a minute. Or 30 minutes. I've watched Cars 3 today for probably the 50th time, and I felt guilty that I wasn't more engaged with my kid. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but it's worth it. The hard moments, the easy moments, the snuggles and the toddler tantrums. But the snuggling is pretty legit.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Have You Thanked a Teacher Today?

I have an insatiable desire to learn and have ever since I was a kid. Being a perfectionist means I'm always harder on myself than anyone else could be, and I expect myself to learn a lot. I recall being in first grade and completing a worksheet. My paper had been xeroxed wrong, and it was missing the reverse side of the sheet (and back in the mid-80s still smelled like the copy machine. I loved that smell). When I realized I had a worksheet that wasn't complete I had a total meltdown. It was easily fixable, but I hated not excelling. 

I don't know if I've ever, at any level of school (to include law school and the Bar exam) been the second person to finish my work. I've almost always finished first, and on the rare occasion where someone beat me, I was totally stressed out.

I've always needed a lot of challenges to keep from getting bored. I realize this probably made me a difficult student in a lot of ways. I got detention once in my life: for talking in class (I was done with my work). My uncle taught my world history class in high school, and I always kept a novel on my lap to read during class. He loved to try to trip me up and call on me, but I always knew the answers. It wasn't because I was so smart; it was because I was prepared. He will now say, "What was I supposed to do? Yell at you for reading too much?"

As an adult I think back on school fondly, and I had several teachers who were instrumental in making me who I am today. I've worked in politics for over a decade, and I understand the union/management struggles that seem to permeate public employment these days. What I will never understand is this anti-teacher sentiment that has become such a staple of politics. I am watching social media where my friends and teachers in West Virginia are protesting low pay and expensive benefits. The vitriol toward teachers is astonishing. 

I get it: not everyone is great at their job. I've had a bad teachers. I won't get into detail because I'm from a small town, and everyone would know to whom I am referring. I will say that I had one teacher in high school who everyone knew didn't want to be there. He would ask us to outline chapters, and if you included the first and last sentence of every paragraph of a chapter in your outline you got an A. It was the same when I was there and both of my brothers who followed me (one nine years later). Like any profession not every teacher is great at his or her job.

The difference is that those who are great are REALLY great. One of the absolute best is Carol Roberts. Carol taught me in 6th, 7th and 8th grade. She challenged me in a way that other teachers had not yet done. I was a sassy pre-teen, and she met me every step of the way. I did my first public speaking competition in 7th grade, and Carol listened to me practice over and over. She told me to slow down 100 times (and it may disappoint her to know that despite her best efforts I never have.) Her patience and constructive criticism stick in my mind to this day, 25 years later. Once I started public speaking in high school she was still there mentoring me. She is a women who dedicated her life to the students in my hometown for decades. She faced personal challenges with a grace that inspires me every day. I am who I am in large part because of her influence in my life, and I'm sure there are hundreds of former students who would say the same thing.

In high school I joined FFA (yes, Future Farmers of America). I wanted to continue public speaking, and that was the only real opportunity. Virgil Wilkins was one of the top FFA advisors in the country despite hailing from a tiny school of less than 150 students. His enthusiasm, while often something students joked about, was contagious. I've heard "Gosh Samantha, you're super fantastic" 100 times from Mr. Wilkins. I loved it every time. At my dad's funeral two years ago he emphatically told my husband I was a "powerhouse". I like to regularly remind my husband that he is fortunate to live with a powerhouse. Under Mr. Wilkins's guidance I won four state FFA championships: parliamentary procedure, extemporaneous speaking, prepared public speaking and meat judging. I learned to paint my nails in the spring so you couldn't tell my nails were stained from working in the greenhouse. I will never forget Mr. Wilkins teaching us how to shake hands: firmly, with eye contact. He said not to trust people who had limp handshakes. I still don't. He taught the boys how to tie a tie. He is absolutely super fantastic, and was (and is) such a force in my life.

I loved to read and write, and I wanted to be a journalist from the time I was a kid. I never wanted to do anything else. I headed off to West Virginia University as a Broadcasting major. I loaded up on classes and jumped into it. I took intro to Political Science because it was a requirement. I took classes in college almost solely because they fit into the schedule I wanted. Instead of taking the giant Political Science class in a lecture hall with several hundred students taught by the renowned Doctors DiClerico and Hammock (aka the Silver Fox) I took PoliSci with Lyn Dotson. Dotson worked at the WVU Foundation and taught a smaller version of the class. Going in I knew nothing about political science, and after just a few classes I was hooked. He was one of the best professors I had in college. I decided to double major in Broadcasting and PoliSci, and after my junior year switched solely to Political Science.  Lyn Dotson is solely responsible for my falling in love with political science. He was my professor for a semester, and I'm sure has no idea that my path would've been very different without him. That's the power of a good teacher.

I've had so many great teachers, and this blog would be 100 pages if I went on to talk about them all. When I look at the political rhetoric around teachers it makes my heart hurt. If there are policy makers whose lives haven't been drastically altered by a teacher, I feel sorry for them. I am grateful for those who impacted my life and helped shape me as a person. Thank you for your selfless dedication to me and so many others. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Accountability...and the Guilt

I've been a super active person my entire life. Fitness isn't something I intended to take seriously; it simply became a part of who I am. It makes sense that I started distance running a dozen years ago as the next step in my fitness evolution.

I have never had serious fitness motivation problems. Even after my month-long hospital stay in 2014 I was ready to start running again a few months later. This last year, however, has been different. For the first time in my entire life I'm having serious motivation issues. There are legit health reasons for them, but that doesn't change the fact that they exist. And it's not the first time I've been sidelined by my health. This time it's just been harder to come back.

The timeline is brutal. Abscess in October 2016 (a week after the Detroit Half Marathon, my last half). That abscess drained for ten months until the drain was removed in August of last year. It definitely affected my running. I spent a week in the hospital last February for a bowel obstruction. I started lacing up my shoes again in the summer only to tear my meniscus and be sidelined by surgery. I promised myself by January 1 I'd be back to working out at least 5-6 days a week.

The problem is that I'm not. I. Am. Exhausted. I'm working more hours in the day than I'm not. I'm not complaining; I absolutely love my job. For the first time in my career I have the trifecta: I believe 150 percent in what I'm doing, I work for someone who wholeheartedly supports and respects me, and I get to improve my city. It's a dream.  But I'm having a really hard time waking up early to work out, my best time. And at this point my work/life schedule does not allow me to work out at any other time than 5:15 a.m. If it doesn't happen then, it won't happen.

I decided that on February 1 things would change. I would post a blog and tell all of you in the blogosphere and social media that enough is enough. I will start working out again. I'll actually start training for the three races I'm running the first weekend in May. I will find myself again, and it will be glorious.

February 1 was last Friday, and over the weekend I was going to get serious. I was going to log some miles and do some cross training. No more excuses. Saturday I went to breakfast followed by grocery shopping with my boys. I came home and walked the dog and did a super intense core workout. Saturday mission accomplished.

All day Saturday I was starving. Sometimes this happens when I'm having a bit of a difficult Crohn's day (which I was), so I didn't think much of it. After dinner (and way too much pasta) I realized what I'd missed: I had a bowel obstruction.

To that point I'd had three bowel obstructions. One in 2012 resolved itself (after an overnight hospital stay). One in 2014 required surgery. One last year required seven days in the hospital with an NG tube sucking the grossness out of my stomach to resolve. An obstruction is no joke. 

I crawled into bed (and I do mean crawled...I was in so much pain I couldn't stand upright) at 8 p.m. I tried to downplay my stress, but I was freaking out. I fell into a fitful half sleep waking up regularly by the severe stomach pain (an eight on a scale of one to ten). I knew it was an obstruction. The pain is very specific. I woke up at 1 a.m. and watched an episode of This is Us. (I freaking love that show). It didn't distract me. At 2 a.m. I was anxiously looking at my calendar, my boss's State of the City looming on Wednesday, and wondering if I could go to the hospital and be home for the speech. I was panicked.

Finally, around 4 a.m. the situation sort of resolved itself. But bowel obstructions are tricky. It can be a full or partial obstruction given the symptoms, and at that point I wasn't sure it wasn't still a partial obstruction.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling like I had been punched in the stomach all night. I was feeling somewhat better but still not myself. On Monday I went to work sporting a big puffy midi-skirt to hide my insanely swollen stomach. Today the swelling has mostly gone down, and the pain level is a manageable three or four. I called my doctor today and he told me to go to the ER. I chose to ignore it and am typing this blog instead.

Am I an idiot? Yes, of course I am. But here's the thing with chronic illness: I know how the story ends. I go to the ER, I wait forever, get some narcotics, get a CT scan, blood work, and at this point, given my symptoms, probably get sent home on an easier diet. It's not my first rodeo. I am pretty sure the obstruction has cleared, and I do not have time for this shit (literally).

Then there's the pervasive guilt: the mom guilt, the wife guilt, the work guilt. Taking time work out instead of spending time with my child feels terribly selfish given how much I'm working. If I don't take care of myself, I can't handle all of it. If I am too careful, I can't handle all of it. So I live somewhere in this middle ground of trying to determine how much I can push myself and still be the mom boss I want to be.

Evening speech writing last week
So right now working out is at the bottom of the list. I hate it. I need an outlet, and I need a way to work out the stress. The State of the City is today, and after that I will refocus. I will start working out again. I will start running. I won't post a before picture of myself before my exercise refocus because for real...nobody wants to see it. (The stomach swelling has not entirely abated). But it's a precarious balance, you know? Exercise will make its way back into my priorities in place of sleep. Until then I'll try to enjoy the extra z's and give myself a break. Or I'll feel super guilty constantly that my dresses don't fit. Probably the latter. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I Can Definitely Have it All

Nearly five years ago I wrote a post about whether or not women can have it all. This was before I had a child, and I had a lot of preconceived notions about what would happen once a child joined my life. And you know what? My opinions haven't changed. I've decided that I can indeed have it all. 

Tonight I re-read that blog post, titled I Don't Know How She Does It. Nearly five years later, post having a child, I can affirmatively say that it is possible to have it all. It means being exhausted and constantly feeling like you're off balance, but it's possible.

When I wrote the blog five years ago I assumed my life would change once I had a child. It did, but not in the way I expected. I'm still as anal as I was five years ago. My house is tidy. My laundry doesn't pile up. I push myself to the limits, and my schedule is out of control. The major challenges have been 1) lack of sleep; 2) lack of time to myself and 3) inability to exercise like I used to.

I love running first thing in the morning. My son has always been an early riser. If he sleeps until 6 am we consider it a victory. Given that I'm used to running early in the morning it's made running difficult. I feel guilty leaving my son every morning to run. Couple that with my Crohn's issues and torn meniscus in the last year, and running has taken a back seat. 

Last week, on my last day of physical therapy, I ran for the first time in five months. It felt amazing. I've run twice this week. I'm so slow, and I'm only running a few miles. But I'm finding that thing that distracts me and lets me blow off steam. Running is the key to this whole thing. Running will help me keep it together.

I am attending the US Conference of Mayors this week in DC, and I met another Chief of Staff of a large city who has a four-year-old daughter (and had her while she was COS). We immediately started comparing mom of toddler notes, and I am inspired by her. My days are crazy. Someone asked me last week how many hours a day I work, and I estimated 15-16. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to work. It's not because I want to; it's because my brain does not stop working. 

Early morning run in the District
My BFF's mom is a kick ass mom of five and has an amazing career. She told my BFF that women can have it all; we just can't have it all at once. I agree with that to some extent, but I now I think it's possible. My husband has stepped up in an amazing way to make sure everything is done. That doesn't alleviate my mom guilt for the hours I'm not home and the work he's doing that I used to do, but I have a phenomenal partner in figuring out my COS/mom/wife balance.

I don't have it all figured out, but I'm starting to think I can have it all at once. Having it all means I'm stressed and busy and running at 150 mph at all times, but it's doable. I love my son and husband more than anything in this world. I also love my job, and I shouldn't have to choose. Men get to be powerful businessmen, and nobody bats an eye. It may mean I lose sleep, but I can help run a city and be a great mom. The key is running. Running will help me keep it all together. I am my best self when I have an outlet for stress. Running helps me be me. After all...who needs sleep?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

I Survived Wearing Flats for 60 Days

It was touch and go for a while. I found myself wearing flat, black Puma shoes...half sneaker; half flat. I reasoned that flats are so terrible it didn't matter what I was wearing. And I found myself not caring about my shoes for the first time in my professional career. They were dark days indeed.

Seventy days ago I had surgery to repair my torn meniscus. I'm a runner. I also love heels. Going without these two things left me with an extraordinary identity crisis. People began to realize that I was only 5'4" tall instead of 5'7". I began to enjoy walking quickly and my feet feeling comfortable. Who was I without running? Who was I without the shoes?

On New Years Day I began wearing heels again. It was inauguration day for Lansing's new mayor (aka my boss). I wore my favorite three inch booties all day. My knee actually felt okay. In the coming days I've been back to myself culminating in wearing my favorite leopard print wedges today. I am back.

Inauguration day: wearing 3 inch heels and holding a sleeping toddler. Boom.
It was touch and go there for a while. Tonight at the end of four very long days of work, my knee is sore. I've taken more Ibuprofen than is recommended...particularly considering the glass of wine I'm currently enjoying. But even though I'm really exhausted, I feel like me again. I've begun working out again, and I'm hoping to talk my physical therapist into a run on the treadmill tomorrow at PT.

I am registered for a 5k, 10k and half marathon the first weekend in May. That's only three and a half short months away. My body is skinny (thanks not having time to eat!), but I don't feel strong. I will be starting nearly from scratch as a runner, and it's going to be scary.

But just like wearing heels again my body will adjust. I can't wait to feel strong once again. Wearing heels is the first step to being me. I am once again amazed at the resiliency of the human body. I'm working more hours a day than I'm not, and I am waking up on the middle of the night to do work because neither my mind nor my body will take a rest. Yet in this chaos I'm finding myself again. One heel inch at a time.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

To Those Who Believe

I never believed in Santa Claus. My parents didn't tell us he wasn't real, but Santa wasn't a big focus in our house. As a logical child I never found the idea plausible: a lone man flying all the way around the world in his flying sleigh leaving presents for all the children? Gimme a break.

That doesn't mean I didn't love Christmas or experience the joy and wonder of the season.  I would go with my dad to Joliff's Nursery to pick out our Christmas tree. Each year we'd try to get one bigger and better than the last. The biggest I remember had to have a rope tied around it and nailed to the wall to keep it upright. Classic Jones Christmas. My dad always decorated the tree with way too many icicles, and as a cat-loving family we'd often have cats regurgitating foil into the new year. 

I remember lying in bed on Christmas Eve, my eyes wide open and heart pounding, certain I'd never fall asleep. I'd wake with a start early in the morning and bound out of bed. We always celebrated Christmas absurdly early in my house. My parents were wonderful to indulge us at some ungodly hour, like 3 or 4 am, to open presents. My family wasn't rich, but I never remember wanting for anything on Christmas morning. 

Having a small child brings back that childlike Christmas joy. Will loves the trees and the decorations. Tonight on the way home from school he was quietly singing Jingle Bells in the back of the car. He has so many questions about Santa, and decided recently to change the gift he originally requested of Santa (naturally after "Santa" has ordered it and had it shipped to Grandma's for Christmas). 

Here with the big guy
Even with my son's Christmas spirit I've found the season whirling past me as it does in the busyness of adulthood. When my husband and I got married in December nine years ago, it never occurred to me that having a Christmas time wedding anniversary would skew the season. Couple that with my son's birthday on the same date, and I don't start really thinking of Christmas until the middle of the month. Add to that this year a new job, mayoral transition and inauguration looming on New Years Day, and I've still not finished shopping less than a week before the big day.

I found myself in the holiday spirit really early this year, but as the season got into full swing I've had a harder time keeping my grasp on the magic. I've let life and busy push away the holiday cheer despite my best efforts to hold on.

I've always been an early riser, and I remember as a kid sitting in our living room before the sun came up with only the tree lit. I've always loved that quiet time when it feels like I have the world to myself. When my son was two weeks old I sat by the tree with him, exhausted, elated, and grateful. In the three Christmases since I've not slowed down enough to do it. Here I am, a mere six days from Christmas, and the season is slipping away.

Yet six days is enough time. There's still enough time to have a glass of wine by the light of the tree. On Thursday we head to spend Christmas with my mom, my siblings and their kids. Will is thrilled to spend the holiday with his cousins. I can't wait to see him make cookies with my mom like we did. It appears likely that we will have a white Christmas.

I've never believed in Santa, but I believe in the magic. I believe that Christmas is an enchanting time that awakes the child in all of us. For the next six days I will listen for the bells. I will sing carols, wrap presents, and take in the silence by the light of my beautiful tree. I will believe.