Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christmas Agonizing

I’ve been thinking alot about Christmas traditions and family gatherings in the past few weeks. J and I are non-religious, and perhaps rigidly so, but I have so many warm memories of feeling like Christmas was magical. Yes, it was a blow to find out about Santa, but hey, it seemed more like the kid telling me was blowing it, rather than the adults who perpetuated the mythology. J hates the idea of lying to Q, which I understand, and I don’t really like the idea either, but to grow up never having believed in Santa? That seems, well, unkind.

Today I put up some of our Christmas lights: red dangly stars (thanks Ikea!) and a wreath of lights (thanks Ikea!) and decorated the ficus tree with hearts I made last year (felt). J has made a little wooden tree which he wrapped with colored lights and is planning to hang in the living room (it’s cute, sort of a skeleton version of a Christmas tree, but without the grim connotation that just evoked). I’m envisioning hanging the few large ornaments we have from the ceiling in front of the windows (but not low enough to be grabbed by Q). I hung Q’s stocking from our ‘mantel’ (the corner cupboard) and made a mental note to see if the toy store has more, since it’s pretty and unusual and since we have another kid coming we’ll need two stockings next year. (Not that my role as a youngest sibling made me overtly aware of things I missed out on or anything.)

But we’re avoiding one of the big traditional battles of our marriage: the Christmas tree. I like them. I loved lying on the floor looking up at all the lights. I loved my mother telling me about the ones from her childhood. The ‘icicles’ which were glass or metal and simply little spikes on hooks. I loved the old fashioned shaped lights we had for a while (only one string). I wished I could sleep on the floor in front of the tree, with the colors washing over the world like a stained glass window.

I have, to this point, been conceding the tree battle to J. They do seem a bit silly, lots of work, mess, waste of a healthy tree etc. But Q is now old enough to notice trees in all the stores and get excited about them. He likes the specialness of decorations, and the trees inside seem to especially tickle his fancy. Yes, we can go to Grandma’s for a tree. But it’s something I want to give Q. Like a love for reading, and kisses goodnight. There are some things you hope to get from your parents.

I’m gearing up for the battle. I’ve decided an artificial tree would be fine. We can buy scented candles for ‘pine’ scent. I don’t mind if, for a few years, we get a relatively small tree and put only non breakable ornaments on it. I do mind if there is a bad attitude. I do mind if it actually undermines the goal of creating a cozy, magical Christmas feeling. I know I have to trod carefully here, but I’m wondering if Q has already won the battle for me, it’s just a question of articulating it gently to J and figuring out the delicate path between creating magic for our child through gentle pretend and selling out to the aspects of Christmas we dislike.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Adult Onset Athleticism: Part Two

My first roadrace was a spontaneous decision. Our small Massachusetts town arranged a kids' fun run. What I didn't know when I started running it, was that I suck at running. My clearest memory is of the police car escort, the traditional last place prize. The indignity was evident, even to me.

Following that revelatory run, I did as little running as possible until high school. Then, desperate to take off some weight, I began running. To ease the humiliation, I ran at night, so no one could see my thighs slapping together. I layered on clothing. I listened to music, attempting to fool myself into ignoring the physical exertion. I ran once around the block, and then would sit and pant in front of the house. I lost some weight, but every ounce hurt as it peeled off.

I picked up running again in college, while rowing crew. I jogged from campus down to the boathouse, about two miles, nearly all downhill, on Summit Avenue, lined with old mansions, trees and colleges. It was criminal not to at least enjoy the scenery, and I gave running some grudging respect. Later in the fall, I watched hordes of runners heading up this same hill, headed for finish line of the Twin Cities Marathon. The fast runners didn't impress me. It was the back pack who held my interest. These runners were defying their physical destiny. They were not natural jocks. They were fighting their way up the hill. They looked like me, and when I cheered them on, they grinned.

My boyfriend and future husband had been a runner, and when I started running again after a lapse, he ran too. His stride was much longer than mine, but we worked out a deal to warm up together. He'd then run at his own pace, and meet me for a cool down. He gave me running advice, took me to my first 5k, talked me into the wisdom of a digital running watch, and when his recurring injuries sidelined his running, never discouraged me from running. Discussing marathons, he casually said, "That kind of running is crazy." But when he realized I was actually considering running a marathon, he looked me straight in the eye and told me he didn't think running one marathon was crazy. I did run a marathon (some might question whether one can call it 'running'), and he rode his bike beside us for the entire second half.

These days, my most regular running buddy is my son. When I can talk him into a morning run, he points out the sites: a waterfall, a chicken, a dog. Despite his occasional reluctance to be packed into the jogger, if I take him out and just walk, he'll start requesting more speed, "Run? Run?"

The more I think about running, the more I realize it has entertwined itself into my life and my personality in a way I cannot easily explain or understand. I don't know why I think it's cool to run in a 5k when I still haven't broken 30 minutes and I don't know anyone at the race other than my family. What I know is that I am addicted to the simplicity of lacing up my shoes and walking out the door. The smell of autumn leaves in the sun. Greeting early morning dog walkers.

I may be outpaced by speedwalkers. I may hibernate through the winter months. I may be unable to admit I am a runner. But running is mine.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Adult Onset Athleticism: Part One

I would like to submit Exhibit 1: Gone With the Wind, as the first example from my childhood of my father's unrealistic expectations of my muscular abilities and athletic training. We can place this incident within the 6 week block of time when I was 4 years old and my mother was in London, doing her student teaching. For those people who know that my parents (not actually Luddites) revile television watching and do not own a television, this is also the brief period of time between the purchase of their first and only television and its demise, about a year after this incident.

Dad, in charge of three children for six weeks, is watching Gone With the Wind, being aired specially on television. I request a drink of milk. He tells me I'm big enough to get my own drink of milk. This may, in fact, be true. It is not, however, true that I can pour a glass successfully from a full gallon of milk. It's a shame we didn't have cats. I figure the cleanup should have been enough to teach Dad a lesson regarding unfair expectations, but evidence indicates nothing was learned.

Exhibits 2-500 include the cross country skiing trip where I had inadequate body mass to stay warm, the biking trip on Martha's Vineyard when I was so out of shape that I could keep up with the pregnant (but fit!) woman in our group, and numerous incidents in which I was so much smaller and less capable than my siblings that giving up was the only realistic option. I can still hear his disgusted disappointment, "Terry". My father believed disapproval was more motivating than encouragement. (He still grates his teeth remembering these trips.)

I took up running regularly after college. Bike riding didn't provide the exercise I needed. Rowing was a complicated endeavor involving socializing I was uninterested in. Running had never been enjoyable, but it was efficient for my needs. Slowly my addiction to running grew into an affection for distance. I think I wanted to prove to myself that despite my pudginess, I was as dogged as I thought I was. Running for distance is not a remarkably good tool for weight loss, but it gives you some serious bitching rights. Blackened toenails, chafed skin, heat stroke... My college rowing training had awakened a masochistic gene, and now I could feed it without 8 other rowers and an expensive boat! I was hooked.

The first time I recall attempting to go out for a run with my father was after I'd moved to rural (perhaps redundant?) New Hampshire. Across the street from our house was a rail trail and my father and I went for an out and back run. Almost a tunnel through the woods, the trail burrows under the pine trees, crossing gorges on narrow bridges, persistently pushing you ahead. The trail beneath our feet was padded with layers of needles and the late September trees were turning. We were going to run a marathon the next day, and I was not confident I could finish it. I had visions of myself, gritty with sweat, bent with pain, unable to take another step.

A deer darted across our path, and my father reached over and touched my arm, "Oh look, Terry!"

In that moment, I lost my fear of failing him.