(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.

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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 😉