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Monday, March 16, 2015

Runner's Guide to Parenting: The Playlist

Everything is Awesome (after a run)

Below is a list of ten songs that make an excellent soundtrack for your next run or the rest of your life as a parent.

  1. Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" just reminds me of all of the gaping holes in my memory that have developed since becoming a parent, when I actually remember that I have forgotten things. 
  2. "All of the Lights" by Kanye is perfect when I have to go around the house and turn of ALL OF THE LIGHTS that the kids leave on. Every day. In broad daylight.  
  3. My kids could sing "That's Not My Name" if they wanted to get sarcastic every time I can't remember their names. It's so weird when I forget their names, because I named my children. But it seems I can't remember the names I picked. (See #1.)
  4. The Kooks offer a great beat in "Bad Habit" and when this comes on during a run I think of all the bad habits my children like to pull out in public. Like nose-picking. And eating it. Don't claim your kid never did it.
  5. Nothing describes parenting better than "Where Do I Begin" by the Chemical Brothers. The husky voice of Beth Orton perfectly describes those days of zombie parenthood that follow nights without enough sleep. 
  6. Gnarls Barkley kind of nailed how I felt as a new mom with "Crazy." Can't tell you how many times I've asked myself why I think I'm in control. Also, I feel parents are the masters of rhetorical questions that make up this song.
  7. I'm pretty sure Usher didn't write "More" with a toddler having a temper tantrum in mind. But if you listen to the lyrics really carefully you can hear him egging on your impatient kid to "scream it out louder."
  8. Ever tried to use the bathroom alone? Or sneak into the closet to eat chocolate without sharing? The Fugees capture that exact moment when your child realizes you're missing in "Ready or Not." You can't hide. 
  9. Kids don't care that you have a race tomorrow. "No Sleep 'til Brooklyn" is their anthem. The Beastie Boys is also a great moniker for my boys when they get up early on weekends and eat candy for breakfast. 
  10. Running is not always going to be easy. And it's not always going to perfect. Neither is parenting. But they aren't all bad, either. There are some amazing moments of pride and happiness when you're both a runner and a parent. And you know what? You can do it. You can be a great mom, or a great dad, and a great runner. You can do this. "Carry On," friends. Have some Fun. 
What would you add to this playlist?

Review: First Day Back Podcast


I've been listening to a few podcasts lately and have found some I really enjoy. Some of my favorites are Sawbones, The Sporkful, Another Mother Runner and BookRiot.  They all cover topics I'm interested in: health, eating, running and reading. 

But about a week ago, a friend from my college years (we didn't actually go to college together, he went to school with my husband, but we did attend a rave and several Terps basketball games together) sent me a podcast recommendation. I started listening to First Day Back today and it already has my brain working on overdrive. In fact, something in the second episode quite literally made me stand stock still in shock.

The narrator of First Day Back is Tally, a mom and freelance filmmaker. In the podcast, she very honestly shares her struggles with being a woman with children in today's society, how we define and value work, what is expected of mothers and what mothers expect of ourselves. Since she's not an American woman, she clearly explains her "mat leave" was a year long.

A year long. 

What was that like? For my first child I had a luxurious six weeks of unpaid leave. Then my baby son, like so many other American babies, started daycare. My husband and I were lucky to have the opportunity to each stay home with him one day a week. We worked from home, but at least we were home with him. He went full time to daycare when the second baby arrived, and again we stayed home with Baby #2 for two days a week. By the time Baby #3 arrived, we could not stay home two days a week. When Baby #3 was a year old, I quit my full time job and became a freelancer. 

Back to Tally. She says she didn't plan to stay home with her kids, it just happened. But her boys are now 6 and 3 (I believe) and she's trying to get back to work. Her podcast covers the anxiety of submitting a grant proposal and her idea for a new documentary film. 

But she also interviews family and friends about their views of motherhood. Sometimes I feel like she's trying to justify her own views, sometimes I think she's looking for new ways to view motherhood and womanhood. 

She covers the topics many mothers are familiar with: why is only work outside the home referred to as work? Why do more women stay home than men? Do men ever worry about the schedules and tasks as much as women? 


In addition to those questions, since Tally is a freelancer like me, she thinks about things I do. She worries about the momentum that seems to be required for freelancer success. If you disappear from 'the game' because of maternity leave, is that a less valid reason to be gone than traveling the world?

I recently struggled with a decision to reduce a certain kind of freelance work because I wanted to free up more time for my own fiction writing. But right now my fiction writing doesn't pay. But I wasn't enjoying the client work at all. Was it selfish of me to just stop doing paying work because I didn't enjoy it? Did choosing to work on writing that didn't pay (now) mean I wasn't really a freelancer? It's hard to validate your efforts to be a writer when none of your fiction work is published yet. 

Those are some of my personal struggles. But like I said, in the second podcast, I heard something that truly shocked me into a standstill. 

One of Tally's friends, a single mom, said something that made me freeze and thorough search my brain.  This mom told her nine year-old daughter that she cannot have a successful career and a family.

Here's a pretty close transcript of the mom's quote:
"It's not equal. Just so you know from the beginning, you can have a career and have a family, but you can't have it all...You may have to make a choice between having a super career and having a super family."

She tells her daughter this. Her nine year-old daughter. I can't imagine ever saying this to my children. Is it because I have boys? Is it because I'm a freelancer and I'm not a single mom that has to rely on my own income? Am I deluding my children? Am I not expecting them to face the same family and career challenges that girls and women will face? Am I deluding myself that I somehow have both the career I want (or almost have it) and a successful family?

This statement threw me for a serious, serious loop. I can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop wondering if I am living in an ignorant, delusional bubble about either my career or my family. Because I feel very happy right now with both, but I'm wondering if other people would look at me and say, "You've done a fine job with the family, but let's face it, your career isn't worth much right now. It's more like a hobby."

There. That's it. I've admitted it. I'm worried people will think I write as a hobby and not as a career because I haven't reached some arbitrary level of income that proves this is a real career. 

Is it weird I'm worried that I'm less successful as a writer than as a mother? Is this mother-hubris?

I fully intend to be a writer for as long as I am able. The line between career, calling and activity I love is so blurred. What is that income level that validates my career choice? If I took on a different job that paid a little better than my current writing income I still wouldn't identify that job as my career. 

Tally's podcast is often about motherhood, but it's really about identity. I love podcasts, books, articles and conversations that make me think. And I'm looking forward to future episodes and to standing perfectly still thinking about something shocking and profound. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Orange and the Power of Optimism

To my son, this orange belt symbolizes learning a series of Tae Kwon Do moves. To me, it symbolizes him learning a new approach to life.

My middle son tends to do a lot of negative self-talk. He's in second grade and that means more challenging reading, tackling some tough math concepts like fractions and estimating, and of course spelling counts.

While we try very hard to focus on praising his effort as opposed to his grades, he's old enough now to understand if he has a high score or a low score on schoolwork. He's not a little kid anymore and he has expectations for himself when it comes to art projects and building Legos. High expectations. And he gets very, very frustrated when he doesn't meet those expectations.

Backyard soccer games often ended in loud, wailing sobs of despair. A recent art project (actually an ambitious three part depiction of a dragon in flight) wasn't coming together as he envisioned and he flung himself upstairs in dejection.

We've known for awhile he's not one of those rubber band kids who bounce back easily from mistakes or failures. While I love his passion and high standards, I really felt he needed to learn how to coach himself when things got tough.

So I tried to model how to handle failing to meet expectations (like when we fail ourselves). But my husband and I also worked on modeling positive self-talk. For a few months now, we have suggested and encouraged him to change how he talks to himself when he confronts something tough. We've shared how we talk to ourselves and what helps us handle problems and obstacles.

I can see it's starting to sink in because he came home from school and told me there was a tough math problem that day, and he felt like he couldn't do it. Then he said, "But I told myself, 'come on, you can do this!' and I did it, Mom!" Right then and there I sat down and praised my son for choosing positive self-talk. I didn't focus on whether he had done the problem correctly. I focused on how he made a decision to think positively and encourage himself. It was a great moment for both of us.

And to reinforce this great moment, Highlights just shared a brief summary of the power of optimism for kids!

Tae Kwon Do is a new sport for my middle guy. It's not something my husband or I ever did, and it's not something his older brother has done. He can really forge his own path here and I think that is really helpful for his personality. Instead of scoring goals, the measure of success in this sport is memorizing a series of movements called the "form." He had two forms to learn to move from white belt to orange.

As he practiced his form for Tae Kwon Do, he often forgot the moves. But as he practiced at home, he shared with me how he was encouraging himself in his mind, reminding himself to focus and that he could do it. I know he felt good every time he did the form correctly. And I praised him for developing this habit.

At the end of February, my son stepped on to the mat at his Tae Kwon Do school and ran through his forms several times. I could see him smiling and nodding when he completed the moves correctly. When he forgot a move, he would laugh a little to himself and start over. There were no tears, no pounding the floor in frustration, no fear of failure.

I admit I was worried, not that he would fail. I think it's good for kids to lose games and make mistakes. Those are huge opportunities for learning. But I was really worried HOW he would handle it if he failed. Would he crumble and collapse? Erupt and let the tears and fury flow? I don't actually know how he would have handled a failure, because he passed.

He's now an orange belt. It's a good color for him. Orange represents some powerful emotions, if you believe this sort of thing. According to "Color Wheel Pro:"
Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy, sunshine, and the tropics. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation. 
To the human eye, orange is a very hot color, so it gives the sensation of heat. Nevertheless, orange is not as aggressive as red. Orange increases oxygen supply to the brain, produces an invigorating effect, and stimulates mental activity. It is highly accepted among young people. As a citrus color, orange is associated with healthy food and stimulates appetite. Orange is the color of fall and harvest. In heraldry, orange is symbolic of strength and endurance. 
Orange has very high visibility, so you can use it to catch attention and highlight the most important elements of your design. Orange is very effective for promoting food products and toys.

He did all of his moves with the best strength and precision a seven year-old could offer. He used a confident voice and showed focus and respect. Even though I'm biased as his mom, I really believe he earned his orange belt. And I believe he learned more than just his form.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

National Craft Month is March

March is National Craft Month! And St. Patrick's Day is a week away, so I thought I'd share a fun little craft project I made for my kids.

I'm going to warn you, it's nothing fancy. It's nothing elaborate. You can make it fancy or you can keep it simple.

I love trying new crafts. I even love doing crafts with my kids. I love working with my hands, to a point. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit my projects are not expert-level quality. I start with the best of intentions, but I do get distracted. And sometimes I don't have all the skills needed for a project. Or supplies. So while I'm not a total disaster, I have definitely produced my share of Pinterest-fail level projects.

Sometimes I actually do ok.

Wait, you want to hear about some of my failed crafts? OK, here's a cereal pinecone that didn't go so well.

The original looks so cool. You can see it on my Crafts I wish I Could Do board. And even though I kind of screwed up a knitting project, it actually turned out to be a success. But these little beads made from leftover glowstick parts and duct tape came out ok!And as you all know, kids love to copy parents. My middle son loves doing crafts, too, and has some simple instructions on a craft featuring underwear.

Ok on to the simple St. Patrick's Day craft. We're going to make a shamrock! The supplies you need are: green chenille stems. We called them pipe cleaners growing up, but the modern term is chenille stems.

Step one: Start with a green chenille stem.

Step 2: Make a circle at one end.

Step three: Wrap the long end around again and make another circle. If the first loop is too big, you can fix it! Just start over and curve it smaller!

Step four: Use the long end and wrap it around and make a third circle. It's hard to describe but you might have to do some intertwining and twisting around to secure the chenille stem in place.

If the stem is too long, you can wrap it around inside the center circle again to tighten things up. BUT:
If you leave the stem long, you can curve it into a spiral and make a shamrock pencil topper. You can also use a long stem to make a ring and wear this little shamrock on your finger.

Good luck with this simple craft.

Friday, March 13, 2015

My Guardian Hawk

Have I told you about my guardian hawk? When I leave my house to go for a run or do an errand, it's pretty likely I'll spot the hawk gliding through the air, wings gripping some invisible air current.

Sometimes I see the hawk resting on tree branches. The other day I opened the front door and there she was on the bare limbs of the huge old tree directly across the street from my front door. I felt like she was watching to make sure I headed out to enjoy the good weather.

But the most magical time for me might have been the day I arrived home and found her perched on the tree house in our backyard. I'm sure it was a good spot for her to look for tasty chipmunk nibbles but I also felt she was reminding me to pay attention to her and notice her.

I love this hawk. My children know about the hawk, and they love it, too. And my good friend's children now know about my hawk guardian! She's become a symbol for me that all's right in the world.

I remember the first time I read My Side of the Mountain (Puffin Modern Classics)and imagined having a hawk of my own. My guardian hawk is probably as close as I'll get to actually owning a hawk, but I'm good with that. I prefer to see her flying free.

My boys love the idea that I have a special bond with this bird and have decided they have special birds, too. My middle son told me that whenever I see a blackbird, then I should think of him. And my youngest said that his guardian bird is a blue jay. My mom told the boys that whenever they see a cardinal, it's their great-grandfather visiting them. And the oldest boy somehow got assigned a duck.

I'm not sure the hawk is my spirit animal, but if it were, what would that mean? I took at look at
The hawk can soar high and reach the heavens effortlessly. As most bird totems, this power animal is often considered as a messenger who brings messages from the spirit world and the unseen.
When the hawk appears in your life, it’s perhaps time to be less distracted by the details and focus on the higher perspective. Relying on the hawk power, you can see what’s ahead clearly and defy any obstacles that may be on your way. 
This works for me. I'm much better at higher level perspective than down in the details. And I like to overcome obstacles. Like when I learned to ride a bike with shoes that clip in and the time I was scared to swim in open water I cried in my goggles.
The hawk is also a bird of prey. Having this animal as a spirit guide emphasizes your ability to lead and influence others.
I think I'm a pretty good leader, but I've been avoiding this position in many of my activities lately. It's nice to step back sometimes and learn from others.
When you have the hawk as a spirit animal, you may have a natural inclination to receive visions, either in dreams or awake. Your extra sensory abilities and intuition are supported by the power of this animal. The hawk totem is strongly connected to the spiritual realms. 
I dream in vivid detail. I remember my dreams. Almost every single night.

Thank you, Guardian Hawk.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Hardest Part of Running

What do you think is the hardest part of running? For beginning runners, I often hear that people struggle to just keep going. Usually that means they've started too fast. When I talk to more experienced runners, the hardest part of running might be dealing with overuse injuries that inevitable pop up at the worst times, like right before your big race. For moms like me, the hardest part of running could be finding the time to fit in a good long run! Especially during the winter when it gets dark early and the roads are icy, fitting my run into my daily schedule is tough.

Those are all hard parts of running. But we get by them and keep putting one foot in front of the other. And we keep signing up for races and setting new goals.

In one month, I'll be running - hopefully racing - one of my most favorite races of all time, the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. I can't wait! I love this race!! And I am so excited because this year, my training is going very smooth and I've managed to keep my schedule balanced. And (knock on wood) I'm injury free.

So now we come to what is really the hardest part of running: asking people for donations to support our chosen charities.

Running for ourselves is good. But running for others is great. Pushing yourself to go a little harder, a little faster, a little longer can happen when you think about the struggles other people face.

I like to push myself. So I set a higher fundraising goal than last year. It's an ambitious goal, but I believe I can do it. And just like I rely on my friends to help me run, I need your help to help me reach this goal.

I have 30 days to raise $1100. That's a little more than $36 a day. But if two people donate, that's less than $20 a donation per day! Easy, right?

I'm not going to ask you to run 10 miles with me. I'm not even going to ask you to do 10 push-ups. But I am going to ask you to donate $10.

Donate to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. Make a donation for all the times running was hard but you did it anyway. Make a donation for a child you love. Make a donation for all of the families that are facing much harder things and don't have the option to slow down, pull over and take a rest. Because no matter how hard running is, the things they are facing are harder.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why I Decided to Have Surgery for Stress Urinary Incontinence

It's been four years since I had surgery to repair stress urinary incontinence that I lived with from 2005-2010. And while I've written before about how it was one of the best decisions I ever made and how my life changed for the better after having the surgery, I haven't actually shared some of the details that informed my decision to go through with the surgery. 

If you have stress urinary incontinence and you're reading this, I hope you seriously consider getting the surgery. My specific surgery was the midurethral sling.

There are many commercials and advertisements that warn women against getting this surgery. Most commercials refer to the surgery vaguely as "mesh implants" and highlight the pain or discomfort they (may) cause. I realize I'm only one person, but I truthfully haven't had a single problem. Life has only gotten better for me since the surgery. At my most recent visit to my OB I emphasized how happy I was. 

She then confided in me how frustrated she was with other patients who would be good candidates but believed commercials on television more than they trusted her. had a frank talk about how many of her patients choose to believe lawyers on television who warn about the dangers of the surgery as opposed to listening to her informed medical opinion. 

My stress urinary incontinence developed after the birth of my first son in 2005 who was 9 lbs 2 oz. A big kid! While I had a very healthy pregnancy and basically normal vaginal delivery, I wasn't prepared for a lot of the post-pregnancy side effects. 

I knew diastasis rectis was a possibility, and stretch marks. I knew about hemorrhoids in theory but I don't really remember getting any info on how painful they actually were. I remember crying to my mom "I know these never truly go away but how to people walk around like this?" eventually, with treatment, they can return to a manageable state and now don't affect me at all.

And I really don't remember anyone telling me about stress urinary incontinence. Many people encouraged me to perform Kegels before and after pregnancy, which I did. I love working out, and doing Kegels was easy for me to do anywhere. 

But when my son was four months old I remember heading out in the warm spring air to try out a jump rope workout. But I found I couldn't stop wetting myself. I ran into the bathroom, came back out and kept wetting myself! I finished every run with soaked underwear and shorts. And then it started happening when I coughed, laughed, sneezed or lifted things at work and at home. 

I did those Kegels. Believe me I did. And they did nothing. Then I had another son in 2007, this time 8 lbs, 10 oz. And a third son arrived in 2010 at 9 lbs 5 oz, the biggest yet!

During this five years when I was having kids and dealing with stress urinary incontinence, I learned I could run as long as I wore a giant pad. I also needed a pad to get through the ordinary day.

I wanted to change things. I wanted to fix things. I read about the surgery online. But I was nervous. And it was a conversation with another woman who had also had the surgery that helped me have my first conversation with my OB. She was all for it and encouraged me to meet with a urologist who had performed this surgery on many women.

That first meeting didn't go well. The urologist felt I would be a good candidate but he stated he would not perform the surgery on me unless my husband also got a vasectomy.

In 2010, I was only 35. It was definitely possible for me to have more children, even though I didn't want to have more children. I didn't want to use an IUD or birth control pills and I didn't see how a procedure on my husband should be a prerequisite for a surgery I wanted and needed. That felt like an outdated and unfair condition to me.

So I got a second opinion from a different urologist who said current research showed that while pregnancy could weaken the repair, it was no longer viewed as serious problem. More importantly, he said he would perform the surgery because it was what I wanted and had nothing to do with any procedures my husband did or didn't want to have. Exactly.

In December of 2010, I checked into West Penn Hospital and by that afternoon I was home. I think the worst part for me was getting the anesthesia out of my system. I believe it made me really grumpy and affected my mood. But once that wore off, my life changed for the better. Much, much better!