(Not so) Slow and Steady

From the day you became a parent, you’re either waiting for time to speed up (When will they crawl? When will they walk? When will they talk?) or for time to slow down (Stop growing! Stop changing! CRAWL BACK IN MY BELLY!)

The rapid, relentless progression of childhood leaves me breathless. The minute I start to feel comfortable in my parenting role, the ground shifts beneath my feet and I’m behind again. What’s that? It’s fun, you say? You could find it fun, the way a cat finds it fun to chase a laser around the room. In this case I’m the cat, my parenting goals are the laser, and my kids have already moved on from the game while I’m still trying to land on the little red dot.

I couldn’t tell you what has made us so incredibly busy in the last couple months. School, schedules, stomach bugs (enough with the stomach bugs!) plus a myriad of other excitements and challenges. The pages in our full family calendar have flipped by even faster than my daughter grew out of her back-to-school clothes. (Seriously, STOP!) But I can tell you that I’m working very hard to keep up. I haven’t gone for a good long run in a little while, or even a little run in a good long while, but my parenting fitness has been given a strenuous work out lately.

Parenting isn’t a sprint, or even a marathon. It’s psychological Ironman. It’s emotional CrossFit. It’s sometimes, literally, Formula 1. (We’re late for hockey, people!)

And just like my measly 5K performances, I’m actually grateful to hit my less-than-perfect personal best. Which means we’re not first, we’re not last, I’m on the verge of collapse, but we’re happy. Winded, confused, and hungry… but happy.

A year in words

I’m not really one for resolutions, or regrets, or radicchio. (Although I am one for alliteration, at all costs.)

But I can’t help but look back on 2015 and think it was a raging success. I had some ups, some downs, and some life-turned-upside-downs, and (lucky you) they were all documented here for your reading pleasure. Here’s a snapchat:*

This year, I said yes. A lot. Like joining my husband and daughters for a family run instead of standing in my pantry eating handfuls of gummy bears. (I did that, too, and it was amazing.)

I said no. There were times, especially in the last few months, when I felt overwhelmed. On top of stumbling through my day job and dreaming of my dream job, I felt the pressure of the four million other things I should be undertaking. I had to slow down, practice self-care and say no to some less important things, so I could eventually say yes to more important things.

I pushed myself to write. And to call myself a writer. And to share my writing with you and a bunch of discerning five-year-olds. I pushed myself to run. And even though I fell short of a few running goals, and some writing goals, I’m still standing. (Which is the anthesis of running, so that should be obvious.)

I said goodbye. I found myself traveling alone to Nova Scotia twice this year, once to say farewell to a wonderful woman, and once to be together with my parents and siblings at a difficult time. These times were hard, but they made me forever grateful for everything.

I was surrounded by love. Lots of love. So much love. I learned a lot about my daughters, and they learned a little about me. (Mostly good stuff.)

And despite a few close calls, I made it into the New Year without losing a single person. Ok, ok, I did technically lose a person, but she was found relatively quickly and is now tethered to my body with rope and glitter glue. But I can proudly say that I made it into the New Year without losing a single person for a period longer than five minutes.

It was a good year. And I have a feeling 2016 will be even better.

Happy New Year!

*Possible new years resolution: Learn what snapchat is.

Good expectations

People often ask me, “How do you do it?” And although these people are my small children and they’re usually referring to complicated board game instructions, I thought I would take the time to share my recently discovered secret to success: good expectations.

I like to set my sights high-ish. I have goals-ish. My expectations are good, not great. That way, I hardly ever fall short of life’s seemingly endless challenges and spiral down a rabbit hole of failure, fear and regret.

It wasn’t always this way. As a teenager, I had laughable, lofty expectations of life, love and prom. I blame American television shows. But as life, love and prom (and my vocabulary) proved to be a bit less glamorous than that of the sesquipedalian kids of Dawson’s Creek, I adapted.

For example, when I was a new mom at home alone while my entire family lived on the East Coast and my husband travelled for work, my daily expectation for myself was pretty low. The lowest of the low. Did my baby attempt a nap? Yes? Success! Is her belly full of breast milk and her bones still intact? Seemingly so? Success! Did I shower today and remember to rinse the conditioner from my hair? Who can be sure? Success!

Aside from the tears, fears and unsettling hormone imbalance, my year-end parenting performance review was outstanding. (So much so that I promoted myself to mother of two. Then tree. With each new newborn, my expectations lowered even further. Does everyone have a pulse? I think so? Success!)

Now, as my youngest daughter approaches age three and my mind, body and soul emerge from the trenches of tantrums and toddlers, I’m slowly starting to raise my expectations ever so slightly. But there are levels to this sh**. And since you asked I’ll share with you my approach, which involves a tertiary goal system and exactly zero accountability. (You have to find what works for you.)

Level One: Daily life.

While some people might call this category a routine, or universal parenting responsibilities, or simple mindless tasks a monkey could do, I call these goals, simply so I can give myself extra credit when we make it to the bus stop on time or I remember to pack my daughter’s lunch. Bus, lunches, dinner, drop-offs, pick-ups, these are all my daily life goals. (In addition to these daily life goals, there are also what I like to call add-ons, like permission slips, library books and special events. If I can successfully accommodate these add-ons at a frequency of three out of five, I pat myself on the back.)

Level Two: Nice to haves.

These goals are less things I should accomplish and more things I pull off somehow. Like hitting (and surpassing) 100 posts on my blog. Applying successfully to the WGA Mentorship Program. Showing up on time to hockey / piano / dance with equipment / homework / all three children safely in tow. These are nice to haves. Did the sweet teacher receive her gourmet chocolates on the last day of school before Christmas break? No? My daughter forgot them in her backpack? Oh well. No biggie. Appearing as a put-together, appreciative mom of a girl who had a great beginning to the school year was a nice to have. Besides, who doesn’t love getting chocolates in January, four days into their resolutions?

Level Three: A girl can dream.

Here’s where I store the unmentionables. Goals that seem about as achievable to me as winning the lottery. Run five miles. Publish a book. Win the lottery. These are the loftiest of all my goals, so lofty that acknowledging them at all makes them even more elusive, like a birthday wish or another Jays pennant run. Raise three happy, well-adjusted, independent kids. Retire early and travel the world with my husband. Retire at all. Find a job from which I can eventually retire. Have perpetually manicured hands. Overhear my daughters’ friends say, “Your mom is so cool,” and my daughters say, “Yeah, she’s pretty great.” Like I said, a girl can dream.

So there you have it. The anatomy of ‘good expectations’ provided by someone who managed to shower this morning and make the kids lunch. In that order. You’re welcome. And good luck. (Or, should I say, great luck.)

28 days

It’s been 27 days, 12 hours and 49 minutes since I last laced up my running shoes.

Even though it was a foggy Maritime morning, I remember it clearly. (Mainly because its digital memory remains logged in my GPS watch, mocking me with the strength of a thousand satellites.) It was 6am on the day before we left PEI for Nova Scotia and then the airport, and I ran my near personal best. It was humid, smelly (I ran alongside a dairy farm) and wholly satisfying. Even the cows were impressed.

A quick jog in Nova Scotia

And I haven’t run since.

At first, I considered my break a well-deserved hiatus. I’m certainly not fitness-obsessed, so a week or so without running didn’t bug me a bit. It was hardly a thought in my brain. But then another week went by, and it started to nag. Now another has come and gone, and it’s not only a thought in my brain, it’s a twitch in my legs. A fly in my soup. A bee in my bonnet. In other words, it’s starting to really, really bug me.

Now, if the fact that I haven’t gone running lately bugs me, a human adult of my own volition, then why don’t I, aforementioned adult, go running? Good question.

The truth is, I don’t know. Mustering myself up for a run can be the effort equivalent of convincing my kids to floss. Sometimes, it’s just not worth it. (I kid, I kid, they floss…) I’m not very good at reward-based systems when the reward comes afterwards. (Are there many systems where you reap the rewards upfront? Those, I like.)

Sure, maybe there’s an intense sense of accomplishment and boost of adrenaline after I run, and it’s possible that my body feels stronger and my clothes fit better and my life is extended by regular, moderate exercise but what can you do for me now?

The nag of not running has almost completely invaded my headspace. It has escalated into a thing, this question of “Should I run today?” and my mind is just a murmur of opposing thoughts of will she / won’t she and it’s all become very awkward in there.

I’ll probably go for a run. Maybe not this month (certainly not tonight) but soon enough, I’ll go for a run.

So for now, it’s 27 days, 12 hours, 49 minutes and counting…

Good morning, Nova Scotia

We survived the plane ride. We forgot only one, maybe three essential things (which is an improvement). But I did remember my running shoes. My husband and I have snuck in a couple of runs since arriving, and I can think of no better way to start our day than with this view around mile one:

Nova Scotia

Yesterday I ran my personal best, and this morning I beat it. It could have something to do with running at sea level (I consider my tougher runs in Calgary as altitude training). But it’s also because we’re so damn happy to be here, it’s impossible not to have a skip in our step.

Our vacation will be a whirlwind. We plan to squeeze enjoyment out of every humid, happy second we spend on the East Coast. But when you’re in a place this beautiful, it’s impossible not to stop and enjoy the view.

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. (But also the destination)

I should start by saying that at one point, I really did believe I could achieve it. At least, I wanted badly to believe I could achieve it. A year ago, I set my goal: I will run five miles by July 2015.

I’ve wanted to run in the annual 5 Mile Road Race in my rural hometown for years, but this was the summer when the timing, training and intention would all line up. With months to prepare, I could finally get myself into the sort of shape that would carry my 30-something-year-old post-baby body across the finish line (which is traditionally and cruelly half-way up a hill on Main Street). I’ve attended the race before, as part of the small cheering crowd, but this will be the summer that I race. I will run 5 miles.

Wellllll, that’s probably not going to happen. At least not in time for the race, which is just two weeks away.

I started ‘running’ last summer. Before then it had been a very long time since I ran, for exercise, on a regular basis. I had fallen out of favor with ‘health’ and ‘exercise’ and physical ‘well-being’ during my grad school and baby birthing years. I had sporadic bursts of aerobic activity, but overwhelmingly my time was spent wishing I could improve my lifestyle instead of actually doing it. Then, about a year ago, my husband and I fell (pushed ourselves) into a routine of eating food that made us feel better and doing activities that made us feel stronger. Running fit neatly into that lifestyle change, and we’ve been pounding the pavement ever since.

My first big milestone was running 5K. I started running for three minutes, walking for two, for about a half an hour. I adjusted to running four minutes, walking for one just in time for my first 5K race in October of last year. This was huge for me. Even though I had already been running a distance of 5K on some of my training runs, crossing the finish line that day meant the world to me. I ran my next 5K race bedside my husband in May of this year.

My second major milestone was running 5K without stopping to walk. While at dinner with my very dear friend, I was lamenting about my sluggish runs. My friend, who was training for her first full marathon, told me that my barriers were more mental than physical. Just try it, she said. So I did, and that week I ran 5K without stopping. I was pumped. (A side note, she ran 42.2K at a quicker pace than I ran 5K, not just because I’m very slow, but because she’s amazing.)

The natural progression would be to then increase the distance of my runs, which would conveniently coincide with training for, say, a certain 5 Mile Road Race that has been on my radar for years? Yes, some people might think this, but for some reason I’ve chickened out. I let my training slide and allowed the little voice inside my head who said, You can’t, drown out all the other voices who said, Maybe? I dunno. Five miles is kinda far. (I need new voices.)

It’s now two weeks away and I won’t bore you with the list of reasons I’ve cultivated as to why I’m not going to race. (My most altruistic being that I wouldn’t want to pull precious rural resources away from those who truly need it when I require medical attention at about mile three.)

I’m disappointed that my goal won’t be realized this summer, but I can’t be discouraged. The truth is, every time I wanted to stop, collapse and heave violently into a bush during my many runs around our Calgary suburb, I pictured myself crossing that finish line on Main Street in my small hometown. And it kept me going. So I may not be racing this summer, but in some ways I feel like I’ve already won.*

*Ok, ok, I have not technically won. But there’s always next year.

Things that make you say ommm…

Life can be stressful. I’m always searching for new methods for dealing with stress, especially since becoming a parent. Parenting isn’t my only or even biggest source of stress, but when you’re caring for kids, you can’t afford to live in a broody, anxious state all the time. Because when the milk gets spilled and you don’t have balance, you’re probably going to blow.

My first big encounter with being overwhelmed was in university. I can remember my last few weeks of my undergrad like it was exactly 10 years ago. I was over-loaded with exams and assignments and organizing grad week activities for my fellow classmen. I had just been accepted to grad school with no idea how to pay for it, and I was saying goodbye to my roommates and dear friends. At the time, I was big into list-making. It was the best way to help me cope with stress and get things done. I can laugh now at what my seemingly stressful list of tasks must have been:

  1. Hand in final essay
  2. Pack for Cuba
  3. Find a summer job? (Note the question mark. Oh, to be 22 again.)

Flash forward a few years, to my first pregnancy. When I discovered I was pregnant, I had what some might call a mini (mega) meltdown. My new husband and I had just sold our home in Nova Scotia, left our cushy jobs and moved across the country to Calgary. We were still living in a hotel when the little blue line appeared on the stick. I had no career, no permanent place to live and unrelenting nausea. List-making just wouldn’t do.

So I tried yoga. It wasn’t the first time I’d done yoga, but the first time I stuck with it on a consistent basis. Yoga helped me pre and post pregnancies, and even though I deeply disliked pigeon pose I always looked forward to class. Especially Shavasana. (How could you not be relaxed in something called corpse pose?)

Since then I’ve dabbled in all sorts of other stress-relieving activities. Some good (mindfulness, meditation) and some not-so-good (retail therapy, Ben & Jerry’s). Recently, exercise has re-entered my life in a big way as one of my go-to coping methods. Even though I’m usually moving in slow-motion (speed has never been my strength) running is one of the quickest ways for me to get some relief.

Then there’s writing. I write almost every day, and each time it brings me a sense of peace. It’s tempting to think about where my writing might eventually go, but the truth is I’m totally happy to focus on the act for now, as opposed to the outcome. Because it’s just one of many outlets that help me stay balanced and buoyant. And without them, I’d probably be drowning in spilled milk 😉

10,000 stumbles

The other day my husband forgot his beloved pedometer on the bathroom counter when he left for work. For the last month, he’s been tracking his activity with this wicked little wristband. He fawns over his daily, weekly and monthly step charts like a newlywed fawns over her wedding photos. He’s become even more proud of his unbroken record of 10,000 steps per day than his ability to grow a formidable ‘vacation beard’ each summer. (Men are weird.)

I noticed his prized pedometer on the counter when I woke (much later than he) and thought little of it. I’m even less inclined to become obsessed with steps per day than I am to appreciate good facial growth. But then I had a thought. How hard is it to reach 10,000 steps per day? I’m a busy person. I’ve always thought that my days are more active than not. My daily routine must reach at least 10,000 steps. Easy.

So I put it on. My husband was all for it, since my sub-in might maintain his perfect record. The little display on the wristband gave an encouraging blink of light and I was on my way. By one o’clock, I had walked to the bus stop, strolled the aisles of the grocery store, picked up my daughter from Kindergarten and taken the stairs more than 20 times. And I was less (much less) than half-way to 10,000 steps. Even more to my surprise, I had zero active minutes.

I made a decision. I plunked my two youngest girls in the jogging stroller and strapped a helmet on my five-year-old. Even though it was a blistering 30+ degrees Celsius outside, we went for a run. My oldest girl peddled ahead on her bike. About half-way into our jog, we sought some shade to picnic and rehydrate. While my two little ones sipped, I asked my oldest daughter how she was doing.

Earlier that day, she had greeted me at the double doors of school after class with a flushed red face and a breathless message: “My teacher wants to talk to you.” (Like me, my daughter doesn’t just blush when she’s embarrassed, her capillaries actually burst into flames. I used to hate the crimson colour of shame that would creep upon my cheeks, but on my daughter I find it endearing.) The teacher eventually found me to say that my daughter was a little too chatty in class. I nodded and offered my most serious parenting face and thanked the teacher for letting me know.

Sometimes it’s hard to notice your kids growing up while it’s happening. It’s almost always a realization in retrospect, like “When did you get so big?” But during these last few weeks of our daughter’s formative first year of school, we’ve witnessed weekly (almost daily) growth in our oldest girl. And we couldn’t be more proud. This has been a big year, and June is a tough month. My daughter is tackling a cruel schedule of year-end activities, tempting summer weather and a big dump of schoolwork that must be completed by the end of the year. She’s growing out of her clothes and some of her child-like comforts. On top of that, her many friendships are changing. Some are blossoming while others buckle.

So sitting there in the shade we chatted about how this all feels. It wasn’t a long conversation, and I left the ‘advice’ to my husband when he eventually tucked our girl in later that night. (He borrowed a nugget of wisdom from his dear, departed Nan, who used to tell him, “You aren’t the first Cleary to get in trouble at school. And you won’t be the last.”)

When my husband got home from work I tossed him his pedometer in a dramatic “Be gone with you!” gesture of my arms. That was enough fitness tracking for me. But I do wish there was a way to track our parenting steps (and missteps), so we could gauge, adjust and (hopefully) fawn over our successes in a neat little chart. (And use it as quantitative evidence of our parenting skills when our children turn on us in their teens.)

I suppose that’s not how it works. Nothing is ever that easy. And I’m not sure if our little chat helped my daughter in any big way, but at least our jog together got us talking. It also got me to 10,000 steps. So I guess that’s something.

Finding your active voice

I remember a few years ago I watched a family of four bike by my idling car beside our favourite park. I was sitting in the driver’s seat, sipping my latte and stealing a few extra minutes of calm before unloading the kids from their car seats for a quickie park visit. This fit family strolled by, smiling and peddling in total tandem. They looked like a happy, healthy bunch. Obviously, my first thought was: barf.

But not-so-deep down, I was envious. I had just delivered my third baby in less than five years and my body was a total wreckage. The thought of getting the kids (and myself) in gear for a bike ride, or any sort of coordinated family physical activity, seemed totally impossible. And by impossible, I mean totally not worth the energy.

Our kids love being outside: biking, walking, scooting, sledding. Our house is within throwing distance of a baseball diamond, soccer pitch, sledding hill, jogging path, playgrounds and an open, inviting green space. These ‘backyard’ amenities are the reason we built where we did in southeast Calgary. I love watching my kids soak in the sun (while amply protected from the rays) and inhale the fresh mountain air just beyond their back door. But that’s just it, most of the time I’m watching.

Many of our outdoor activities are left to my husband. He also loves being outside, and somehow musters the energy and patience to take the kids into the great outdoors almost every day. I’m not always an active participant. In fact, I see their excursions as opportunities for me to be left alone. I know this seems silly, and maybe even sad, but sometimes being left out is what I think I need. A break from the kids and a chance to be alone with my thoughts, books and mind-numbing TV shows.

So on Sunday, when my husband was switching our two-year-old’s sneakers to the correct feet and hunting through the mitten bin for a long-lost hat, I was already imagining myself standing in the pantry of our empty house eating handfuls of gummy bears and contemplating life. I was asked, as I always am, to join them. My husband could see that my eyes had already glazed over as I was entering my meditative state, but to his surprise (and mine) I said, “Yes.”

Before I could stop myself, I ran upstairs and changed into my running gear and was ready in time for the first of several attempts to leave (extra sweater, water bottle, bathroom break) and then we were off.

My husband ran and pushed our double stroller with the two littlest ones and our dog in tow, while I jogged behind. Our oldest daughter rode her bike in the increasing distance between my husband and I as we made our way around the neighbourhood. I noticed that as our little convoy passed people on the street, they all smiled and nodded approvingly. We weren’t as coordinated as the family of four who lapped me years before (in fact, we looked more like misfits chasing an ice cream truck than a cover photo of a MEC catalogue) but we were a happy, healthy bunch. I felt included, and it was exactly what I needed.

And maybe, just maybe, another family looked at us smiling and strolling by and thought to themselves: barf.

Like daughter, like mother

This was an incredible weekend, and not just because it was Mother’s Day. (Although I loved being presented with three beautiful cards, homemade by little hands and all the glitter glue in the galaxy.) This weekend was also jam-packed with two huge events: my daughter’s highland dance competition and my first 5k run of the season.

My oldest daughter and I left town on Friday afternoon and headed south to Lethbridge for her second ever dance competition. I’m sure the hotel waterslide was the main source of her excitement, but I was razor-focused on the Saturday morning comp. Watching my kids perform – whether it’s a dance competition, piano recital, or simply just ordering their own meal at a restaurant – makes me disproportionately, excruciatingly anxious.

I try to hide my jitters from my kids, but the jitters still simmer under my skin along with a quickened pulse, gargling gut and shallow breaths. I often focus on the tasks leading up to these big moments as a distraction to the actual event. Hotel check-in – check. Pool time – check. Dinner – check. By ten o’clock my daughter was sleeping peacefully while I was running through the directions to the school in my head like a bobsledder visualizing a track for an Olympic trial run. I didn’t sleep.

My chipper girl was up and at ‘em early Saturday morning, and even mildly compliant as her semi-competent mother styled her hair into an acceptably smooth bun. We arrived at the school early (and in Olympic qualifying time because of my direction prep) and she reveled in the atmosphere of young dancers milling about in their kilts and ghillies. After hours of practice and one competition experience already under her belt, I knew she was ready to perform whatever the result.

And she was. Before the competition even began, she totally blew me away. On the suggestion of her instructor, my daughter took the stage with fifty other tiny dancers for a non-compulsory warm-up ‘Fling,’ and even though she missed some (all) of the unfamiliar steps and fell down just before the big bow, she bravely finished the dance despite her bruised knees and ego. She went on to perform above and beyond expectations in both her categories and we took away so much more from the entire experience than just her fifth and third place medals.

So, when the time came for my Sunday run, for which I had done much less prepping and about the same amount of fretting, I was challenged to be brave like my five-year-old daughter. There was a small part of me (all of me) that was rehearsing excuses for bowing out of the early-morning race, but there was a larger part of me (my husband) who said, “Let’s do this!” So we did.

I didn’t run as fast as I wanted, but I ran faster than I expected. My husband and I crossed the finished line of the race together (which was, cruelly, 5.4 kms as opposed to an even 5.0 kms, but who’s counting…) and it felt great.

I learned today I was 88/408 in my category, which doesn’t really mean much to me other than the fact that there were about four hundred other women in their thirties pounding the pavement alongside of me. And because it was a special Mother’s Day run, I wonder how many of those ladies were also inspired by their brave, bold daughters. I know I was.