Badass

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My 18 year-old daughter told me a few months ago that when she was in middle school, boys routinely groped and pinched her butt.

Why didn’t you tell me?!

Because I thought that was just the way things are. But don’t worry mama, I’m woke now. I’m a strong independent black woman.**
**inside joke

I stared at this beautiful, strong, young woman in front of me. What else did she have to tolerate? We talk about this often — I’m obsessed with raising badass daughters who will not take shit from men.

Don’t just tell them off. Educate them. And always make them know they can’t fuck with you.

We discuss different ways to explain to men that women are humans not objects. We share ideas on how to get out of shitty situations, how to avoid them, and how to convert their male friends into feminists. Just like their father.

Last year, my 14 year-old goddess stood up to teachers regarding the school dress code, accused them of body-shaming girls and sending conflicting messages. Be strong and confident, they tell girls, but here’s a long list of what you can’t wear. Enforcement is random depending on a girl’s body shape and size. My long-legged goddess got dress-coded many times last year.

If what I wear makes me feel beautiful and proud why do I have to change the way I dress? Why can’t they punish the boys who grope my butt?

Wear whatever the hell you want, my goddess. Be proud.

I usually deftly deflect crude invitations, comments, leers and catcalls. Like a chef wielding a knife. I generally ignore the whistles and kissy sounds, but I can be cruel to the shitheads. I’m never intimidated. My daughters think I’m the #1 badass, and I’m a hard act to follow.

But 30 years ago I was a vulnerable 19 year-old college student half a world away from home. I was very naïve, and it pains me to remember, but it’s important not to forget.

So, my darling daughters, yes, I got roofied. But I was lucky, a friend helped me. I have been mentally and physically abused, and I was sexually assaulted multiple times. All by the same man, and it lasted more than a year. I thought I loved him and believed it was my fault. When it eventually ended, I crawled into a shell to heal. I emerged a few years later wiser, stronger, and opened my heart to true love and friendship. I was stronger and I was ready.

So charge forward my beauties. Put on your armor and build an army. I will join you and never leave. Be strong, calm and forceful with the assholes you will meet — fake it until you feel it. Don’t. Back. Down. And if you feel like crying, do it LATER.

One day, you too will raise badass daughters.

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FORCE FIELD

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My oldest child is leaving me. She’s flying into the future, outside my force field. I won’t be able to protect her. It doesn’t feel natural, but here we are. My herd is shrinking and my heart is breaking.

My mother did it, as did my father, both my brothers, and me. We all traveled thousands of miles from home to learn, to be uncomfortable with change, to sleep in new beds, to make new friends, to walk with strangers, and sometimes to eat dinner alone. Now it’s her turn. She is traveling 378 miles, and my force field can’t reach that far. This is natural, I’m told.

Her departure date is coming fast, and I’m trying to step around this new sadness. When I allow my toes to dip into it, I’m simply overcome. How is this natural?

When I left home 30 years ago, the shock of feeling so alone among hundreds of students lingered for months. I didn’t dare speak much and the loneliness was crippling. Yet somehow, I lived, learned, and discovered. Not all my discoveries were good, some were quite painful. And I had no force field.

She won’t have a force field either. And she may be so lonely, sad, and homesick. Ohhh.

It won’t last, trust me.

But I don’t want her to suffer for one second.

She has to learn.

I have to learn.

Oh, how I love you Saleha Mai. I must let you go, I know. I want you to see the world and meet many people who will open your heart and your mind. I want you to surround yourself with people you respect, who also will help you reach your stars.

Don’t be stingy with love, and try to love yourself as much as others love you. Always be kind and gentle to those who need it, but most of all, be kind and gentle to yourself. And remember, if you build yourself a strong sisterhood, and you will have an army to fight your life battles with you.

And never forget when you have to lick your wounds, heal your heart, or rest your soul, you can always come home to be loved and soothed. My force field will always protect you.

Love

It’s not enough. 

To just love is not enough to raise a happy child.

I am guided by love that allows me to feel her sadness, and to always know where to find that missing shoe. This love also allows me to offer up the last juicy shrimp in my bowl, and to know exactly how much salt to put on her eggs. Every time.

It’s not enough.

My legs and my heart, they’re a little wobbly. It’s getting harder to stand back up when I get knocked down by this growing, beautiful child. Her cold shoulder and harsh words overwhelm me, they make me weak. I should hide so she won’t have a target. Oh my love.

It’s not enough.

I am her ugly monster. The source of her anxiety, her stress, and everything that is wrong with her life. I can’t be spoken to, trusted, or treated like a loved one. But I have so much love.

It’s not enough.

Stay low, move quietly, and avoid direct contact. I need to repair the damage within and protect my fragile, cracking shell. She needs more than love.

It’s not enough.

Listen

In 2015 I approached the start line of my second Marine Corps Marathon convinced I was ready to kick ass. But instead my ass got kicked to the curb. I was not fit enough or ready. I didn’t listen to my body. In fact, I realized I never REALLY listen, and I have never really been honest with what I hear.

Listen2

When I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, I started fixing a few things. I got myself a personal trainer who taught me how to get stronger, leaner and more muscular. He changed the way I looked at food and nutrition. Almost a year later, With my new hardware in place I started running again. And I failed again. Still slow, still hard.

Hire a running coach, the husband said. So I did. And that’s when I learned to listen. And respond honestly.

At my first pre-dawn track workout in years, my first listening lesson began. It was hard to run and listen to my pounding heart and my mind telling me to slow down. I couldn’t silence it. But that morning, the twice-deployed soldier coach asked me if anything hurt. And an honest mental check revealed that nothing did. My exploding heart really wasn’t exploding. My hip, my legs, my knees, my feet, they all actually felt good. But it’s so hard, I said. It’s supposed to be hard he said. Keep going, said the soldier coach. And enjoy the run.

 

It was a fast track workout. And that was the beginning.

No music. Trust your body. 

Then he told me to ditch the music. Listen to your body he said. Don’t rely on music to help you when it gets tough. His instructions for my first 60-minute training run without music: 30 minutes out, and 30 minutes back. And see if you can make the second 30 minutes faster than the first. Oh, and ditch the Garmin too. Just pay attention to how you feel.

That day I listened to my footsteps and my breathing. I listened to my head saying I was tired and uncomfortable when I sped up. I asked my legs if they could go faster.  And I responded as honestly as I could. And my second 30 minutes was faster.

Week 5:

Me: I’m a little scared for Wednesday’s track workout

Soldier coach: LOL. Don’t be scared, I wouldn’t make you do anything you couldn’t do.

Me: I know. That’s what I’m afraid of.

Soldier coach: You should be scared. Scared of not doing it because you know what you can achieve when you do.

I realized then, that I have to silence the negative thoughts. I have to be completely honest with myself. If I don’t, I will fail. Again.

Homework.

For eight weeks leading up to a 10 mile race (my first in 18 months since the failed marathon), my training homework had me running, lifting weights, and paying attention to how I responded to what I heard and felt. Especially when things got tough, like that sucky 9 mile run in week 6.

Soldier coach said to mentally prepare myself and visualize how I’m going to handle it next time, so my mind will be conditioned to combat it (see reference to soldier). And for good measure he told me that if I change the way I think, I will change what I believe I’m capable of. And this is running homework, people.

I listened hard and the honesty paid off. Even during those pre-dawn 800 meter sprints.

Listen4

No, nothing hurts.

This sucks.

Hey, my heart isn’t exploding!

Why can’t I catch up to that old guy.

That felt goooood.  

I hate doing 800s.

WHAT?? I RAN 800 IN 3:50???

 

Race day.

The eternally patient and beloved husband humored my usual race-day neurosis.

No music, no Garmin. Just my watch, some water and a gel. Each mile I checked the official clock and checked in with myself. I listened.

I ran the last mile in a sub-9 pace and felt great. I beat my goal. No fuss, no muss. No music, no Garmin, no salt tabs, no cramps, no drama. Just a good run, and I enjoyed it.

I have more in the tank I texted the soldier coach after I crossed the finish line. That means you low-balled it the soldier coach responded when he saw my time. Yes I did.

So listen. And be very, very honest with how you respond. It can be a little scary, but always revealing. I’m listening to many other things too now. Clearly I didn’t just hire a running coach.

I can’t wait to discover what else I’ll hear this year.

BIG APPLE

All I had to do was take Saleha to New York. Not to Africa. And not to Haiti, where I recently saw firsthand what abject poverty looks like. It was in New York, where she learned that she can help poor and hungry people. It is a big leap for a privileged first-world teenager, who was in New York to celebrate her birthday by eating good food, shopping and sightseeing. A teenager–like thousands of others who walk on this planet in a bubble with their heads bowed to their personal electronic devices.

It started that first night with a full belly when she decided to give her leftovers to the first homeless person she saw. Twenty steps later, a very grateful woman took it, her sign declared she had three hungry children. As we walked away, Saleha declared…

…I feel bad.

Well, do you have money?

Yes.

Why don’t you buy her a meal?

Saleha’s offer was graciously turned down repeatedly. Dejected, she walked away.

One day, several conversations, many meals, and a few leftover packs of food later, I asked what we should do on our last day in New York.

I want to spend my money to buy food and give it to the homeless. And I want to find that woman.

My heart ached and soared. An antidote to the weekend of loud screaming lights, wafts of cloying perfume, hours of shopping, and the constant sightings of posters with half naked bodies promising many things. And a soothing healing balm to my own personal wounds inflicted by the teenage verbal and emotional rocks she sometimes throws at me.

After a gluttonous Sunday brunch, armed with bags of sandwiches, off we went to Central Park to find hungry homeless people.

Food

Some were easy, some were not. And we never found that woman.

This is complicated.

It sometimes is, my love.

 

When we got home, she churned ideas with a friend and they are off to pretty solid start on easy ways for people to donate money to Dimes for Dining. With the cash, they are going to make food, and I will drive them to personally feed hungry people on the street. And maybe it won’t be so complicated for right now.

So it was the big city in America that did it. Not a faraway small city with mountains and rivers of trash. It was in New York that she connected with the hungry and homeless who were surrounded by wealth and obscene overindulgence.

For her, and for now, I guess charity does start at home.

ROCKS.

It’s impossible to prepare for parenthood. Yes you can anticipate the sleepless nights, the constant vigilance on kids as they grow, making sure they are safe, healthy and happy. Easy stuff. But who can honestly anticipate the acute heart break that eventually settles in your soul as these babies turn into little adults, and learn how to navigate the world. It’s the stuff that was written in small print when you bring these wonderful creatures into the world. And you can’t walk away from it.

I give life lessons and love willingly. I also have to be strong enough to receive the mental and verbal rocks that get thrown at me, and have to be resilient enough to either avoid them, or if I’m hit, stand back up and continue giving life lessons and love.

When those rocks come hurtling at me out of nowhere, I have to dig into the recesses of my parenting brain and execute defensive maneuvers. This could include verbal tactics to help illuminate and broaden the small, self-absorbed world of a teen. If the claws come out and further attack ensues, I implement a containment plan: Punishment.  And because their world is so fucking small, their life resumes rather quickly. The rocks get put away, claws retracted. I on the other hand, nurse my wounds for days. My whole body permanently tattooed with more invisible battle scars.

Rinse and repeat.

There’s nothing clinical about this job. It comes with strong emotional and physical bonds. It’s not for the faint of heart. We don’t have armor to be emotionally safe from the havoc of a growing child. The love we feel for these creatures is all consuming. Yesterday I had a fleeting moment of wondering what it would be like to be child-free. Or at the minimum to be free of the anguish, pain and heartache once reserved for the comparatively flighty world of dating.

I need to invest in some serious padding, because I am committed to this job forever. I also need to invest in some self-control because after all, as the husband reminds me, these creatures we love so much are not in control of their emotions. Which makes it all the more important that we stay in control of ours.

And I do so love these creatures.

Party!

Start line party

The aches and pains left my body after four days, the “I did my first marathon” high still comes and goes, and I have not taken down the Marine Corps Marathon course map at my office desk. My racing journey this year was not especially pretty, as much as it was insightful. But at the start line on race day, I was at a ruckus party with 30,000 other people. 26.2 miles? Puh-leez. We all knew how many miles it REALLY took to get to the start line.

I didn’t know if I would get here, but I’m on the other side now, I did it. I persevered through hours of physical stress to achieve this huge endurance goal, and I AM mentally strong enough to lace up my shoes and do it over and over again. Alone. That start line party was my graduation.

Do over please

Did I say it wasn’t pretty? There was pain and cramping during the second part of the race and lots of excuses after. I didn’t focus on strength training, broke my foot 6 months before the race, my training time was short, blah blah blah. But wouldn’t you know it I want to run another marathon—in addition to other 2014 racing goals. But I’m hoping this next journey will be different than the one I started out with this year.

Reminders

Reminders

 In the moment

My 2013 racing journey can be summed up in the two weeks before and after the marathon. My emotional state was that of a caffeine addict deprived of her morning coffee. Every day, for two weeks. At a yoga class during savasana a few days before the race, with tears streaming down my face I apologized to my many hurting body parts. Touching my thighs, hips, and legs, and feet, I asked them to hang tough with me for a few more days. Assuming the same pose on my yoga mat a week after the marathon, I tearfully thanked them for being strong and carrying me—literally—on this journey. Then as the endorphins and chemicals balanced out in my body over the next few weeks, Sarah Lynn aka my favorite yoga instructor, repeated a mantra of hers during class—to be accepting of where we are, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, in the moment we’re in. I finally heard her.

When my body protested with exhaustion during the months of training, and I’d take a 7:30 nap before falling asleep at 9:00, I often asked myself (and the husband) why I often feel compelled to choose the hard road. No answer ever satisfied me. At the end of a rather tumultuous racing year which included letting my body heal, I had these fleeting moments of realizing that it’s okay not to know why, or what my journey is for. Only that I choose to go on it. I have to grab those fleeting moments. Tricky stuff.

 Ohm

So yes, I will be setting goals, and working hard to achieve them. My 2014 journey is to be in the many moments I will find myself in, and be accepting of all the outcomes.  At least that’s the plan.

  • Half Ironman.
  • Marathon #2.
  • Be kind to myself (see first two goals above)
  • Show meaning of true friendship to teen daughter.
  • Lift the clouds away from anxious daughter.
  • Run away with husband more often.

And may the racing goddesses be gentler to me next year.