Monday, October 15, 2012

We Brethren, Are


Tuesday morning, 6am.  My son woke me up and asked me to help him find a poem.  He had to memorize something for his English class, due today.  I went downstairs and got on the laptop. 

Of course, the poem he had to memorize was entitled, “Truth.”  Have you ever tried to do a search on one word?  I asked him the author (he forgot her name).  I asked him for the first line of the poem (he hadn’t memorized it yet, remember?).  I asked him for any identifying information, anything he could remember about the poem that might help me find it (the author was the first black woman poet named in the library of congress). 

Was any of this helpful?  NO.  After ten minutes, I took the computer into the kitchen so we could look for the poem while he ate breakfast.  We finally found this site: http://www.americanpoems.com/search/s._truth.   I was able to skim over the title and first line of exactly ten poems.  When I hit number eleven, I could no longer resist and I clicked the link, knowing this was not the poem we were looking for.  This was the poem I clicked:

 I Died for Beauty, by Emily Dickinson

I died for Beauty -- but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb,
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly "Why I failed”?
"For Beauty", I replied.
"And I,  for Truth -- Themself are One.
We Brethren, are.” He said.

And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night
We talked between the Rooms
Until the Moss had reached our lips
And covered up -- our names.

I had to read those words a second time, just to make sure I’d read what I thought I’d read.  By the third reading, tears were streaming down my face and dripping off my chin. I promise you, I was not pre-menstrual.  This is just the way it is.  By the fourth reading, I was committing it to memory.

In the meantime my son was looking at me like I was a lunatic and, regrettably, my husband came downstairs hoping for some breakfast.  Sometime after that third reading he picked a bagel out of the trash and asked why I had thrown it away (It was moldy, but I couldn’t speak). 

Since I didn’t answer, he looked over at me and, being too wise to ask, silently handed me a napkin.  Then he went back to investigating the bagel.  After looking a bit more closely, he found the mold, held it up and asked if I thought he could still eat it.

“Don’t ask me about bagels when I’m reading poetry.”  I sobbed. 
“You’re so much deeper than me.”  He answered, throwing the bagel back in the trash.
“My heart is breaking,” I whispered.
“Is there any cereal left?” 

“No.”  I swallowed.  “Listen.  Let me read you this. ‘ I died… ‘”
Before I could go on, my son, who was reading the poem over my shoulder, stopped me and said, “Mom, that’s not the right poem.  Can we move on?” 
“No,” I squeaked.  ‘I died for beauty…”  I tried to say more, but my face was now a swampland of tears and phlegm and my napkin was soaked.  I choked up before I could get to the next words.

Bill mumbled something about people who are left-handed and gave me another napkin.
Matt said, “Mom, I have a bus to catch.”

I swallowed hard, minimized the page and kept looking.  We finally found Matt’s poem.  It’s not bad, but I won’t be memorizing it. http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poem/242240 The poem is

Truth, by Gwendolyn Brook

And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?
Shall we not dread him,
Shall we not fear him

After so lengthy a
Session with shade?

Though we have wept for him,
Though we have prayed
All through the night-years—

What if we wake one shimmering morning to
Hear the fierce hammering
Of his firm knuckles
Hard on the door?

Shall we not shudder?—
Shall we not flee
Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter
Of the familiar
Propitious haze?

Sweet is it, sweet is it
To sleep in the coolness
Of snug unawareness.

The dark hangs heavily
Over the eyes.

I offered to send the link to his phone, but he said he couldn’t read his phone in school because the teachers would think he was texting.  As I took the computer back to my office and connected it to the printer, we talked a little about the poem’s meaning.  Matt wasn’t convinced it was, “relevant to his daily life.”  However, I thought that second to last stanza was an almost complete description of his daily life.  I went a step further and suggested that we tape a copy of that stanza to the television where he plays the X Box, just so he could marvel in its relevance on a day to day basis. 

The printer coughed up the poem and I handed the paper to Matt.  He thanked me and five minutes later, he was in the yellow bus, on his way to school.  I started getting breakfast for the next set of children, all the while repeating the poem to myself and trying to figure out why a line like, “'Themself are One,--  We Brethren, are,' He said.” was still causing my eyes to swell with tears.
 
Ten minutes later, Bill came downstairs.  Matt had left his paper copy of the poem on the kitchen table.  Bill took the printout and copied/texted the whole poem to Matt so he could copy it onto a piece of paper and memorize it before English class.  I was too annoyed with him to suggest texting the link. 

Neither one of them ever asked about that first poem.  I suppose in the end, I’m grateful that Matt is memorizing Gwendolyn Brook’s Truth rather than Emily Dickinson’s.  Despite my melancholy streak, I’d much rather bash him for ignoring truth than mourn him for dying over it. 

Later that day, I was in the car with Reilly, my 11 year old.   She was stuck with me, so I told her to listen carefully and I recited the first poem.  After I got through it, congratulating myself that I was only slightly tearful, she said, “I hate it when you say things I don’t understand.”   So, I explained it to her as much as I could and, being a practical minded eleven year old, she said, “doesn’t that lady know that dead people can’t talk to each other?   How can she write a poem about truth and beauty if it includes talking dead people?”

Of course she was right about this, and I told her so.  I also told her that we don’t have to talk about poetry anymore.   

I’d planned on cleaning the bathrooms on Tuesday.   Instead, I ended up memorizing poetry alongside my son.  He got an “A.”  I got a red nose and further confirmation that yes, I am living in a house with seven other right-handed, left-brained people.   In case there was any doubt, I had my husband read this blog draft Tuesday evening.  When I asked for feedback he messed with his hair a little and then headed for the exit.  He stopped just outside the doorway and said, “Well, …I cleaned the toilet in the upstairs bathroom earlier.  The day wasn’t a complete loss.” 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Paper Chase


So, obviously, there was a gap my blog posting.  You might think that my problem with blogging is that we have six kids and things are busy here, but that is not really the issue.  The problem is that we are adopting again and adoption involves a ton of paperwork.  Only a government agent could grasp just how much paperwork we are talking about here—gazillions of pieces of paper full of nit-picky details that have to be just right.  There is no fudging anything.   This is a bad medium for me. 

If it seems like I’m exaggerating with that gazillion, trust me, I am not.  Among other things, we’ve had to hand over all of our legal certificates (birth, marriage, former adoptions, etc.), all our financial information (income, out-go, two years of w-2’s, tax returns, car/house payments, investments, deeds, etc.), our driving records, our medical records, proof of life/medical/dental insurance,  two sets of fingerprints, a criminal record check for every state we have lived in since we were eighteen and a copy of our dog's license and vaccine record.  The checklist for our US homestudy was seventy items.  The checklist for the China study is fifteen SETS of documents, and I don’t have patience to figure out how many that is in total. 

Here is the story of just one set of forms.  I want to make sure everyone knows how much I am suffering here, even though this is not my fault (mostly).  I am not making any of this up. 

We started thinking about adopting sometime in December 2011.  I found a child sometime the next month-- January, found a homestudy agency in February, started the interviews in March and started the paperwork in April. 

There were two sets of physical exam forms that we needed to have filled out by our doctor.  One set for our US homestudy agency and one set for our dossier that will go to China.  They were essentially the same forms, both involving a general physical exam, blood work and a urine sample.   The exception was that the China form required extra blood tests and notarized signatures.   Bill and I went to our doctors office on separate days, with both forms in hand, so the doctors could fill out the forms and get the blood work started.  I miraculously found a date in April that all four of us could meet (me, Bill, the doctor and our notary, who is now like a member of the family).   By that time, I thought  the results of the blood work would be in and we could complete all four forms in that one day. 

Visit Number One:  All four of us met at the doctor’s office.  The two physicals for the US homestudy were completed, the blood work results filled in and the doctor handed them over.  This is an entire box checked, which is no small feat.   We started on the papers for China, only to find that Bill’s entire China form was missing.   He had left his forms with the doctor, while I had taken my forms home so I could keep them safe.  We can call Bill’s China Forms: Missing Papers Number One

There was a scramble in the doctor’s office as three nurses and two office managers searched high and low looking for the missing form.  I noticed that they focused specifically on a letter size wire basket in the front office, painstakingly looking at every paper in the basket.   No form.   I did not want to arrange another meeting.  So, I was about to call the Chinese agency to see if they could fax a blank copy, when the doctor found Bill’s form.  It had already been electronically downloaded into their medical records system.  We printed a copy of Bill’s China Form and as they were filling out the blood work portion, the doctor realized that Bill and I needed extra blood tests for the China forms.   Bill and I gave another vial of blood, the missing tests were ordered, and we all agreed that the easiest thing to do was to notarize the doctors signatures now* and then fill in the results for the missing blood tests when they arrived. 

Visit Number Two (Still in April):  The blood work returned, the forms were completed.  The receptionist retrieved them from the wire basket with what I now consider remarkable ease and I sent them off to our Chinese adoption agency along with a two inch pile of papers to be added into our dossier headed for China.   I naively checked off another box.

Visit Number Three (Sometime in May):  I got an  e-mail from our China coordinator that said this:  “I just received your Mailer 1.  The only concern I have is on the medical forms. The HbsAG test is not circled on your form or Bill’s form- negative/positive. Your form is also missing the liver function test- normal/abnormal. In order to avoid having to redo and re-notarize the forms, can you have the doctors write up a letter stating these tests were completed and the outcome? They can scan and e-mail the letter to me or fax it.”  (NOTE TO THE READER:  you must not fault my doctor for this.  That form is endless and unorganized, with check boxes everywhere.)

It would have been so easy if I could just forward this e-mail to my doctor, but they protect his e-mail like it’s the recipe for Coca-Cola.  I left a few messages with the receptionists, but I never got a call back and after a few attempts, it looked like I was going to actually have to make an appointment to get these three letters.  Thanks be to God, sometime in June, I actually saw the doctor at our local pool.   He is an outgoing, friendly sort and I was able to walk straight up to him and explain the situation.  He asked me to print out the e-mail (WHY did I never think of this?), drop it off and  he would write up what I needed. 

Visit Number Four (Sometime in June):  I got a call.  The letters were done.  I couldn’t get to the office before closing, so they decided to put the letters in an envelope and tape it to a back door for me to pick up over the weekend.   I’m not really sure why we didn’t just use the USPS, but for some reason,  the plan was that I would pick up the letters at the office.  Of course, I didn’t get to this over the weekend, and it actually wasn’t until Tuesday that I was able to stop by the office.  I checked the back door.  The papers were not there.  I asked at the front desk and the receptionist went to that same wire basket.  She did a quick glance through the papers. And when she didn’t find any letters, she grabbed a bar stool and got comfortable.  Then she painstakingly looked over every paper, taking them out one by one and making a pile next to the basket.  While she was looking we chatted a little about her family.  Her dog didn’t seem to be doing well and they were about to hold a yard sale.  Her daughter was leaving for college in August.  She finally got to the end of the basket and came up empty handed.  She checked a few more spots, then admitted defeat.  We’ll call these letters Missing Papers Number Two.   The receptionist said they would have to print up some new letters.

About this time, Bill joined some sort of company wellness program and needed proof of a recent physical.  Bill handed over the form and asked me to drop it by the doctor’s office.  Bill was essentially in the dark about what was happening with the adoption paperwork.  I told him I’d get to it, but the truth is there was no way I was going to complicate things by adding another form into the mix.  I kept it in the car. 

Visit Number Five (Also in June):  I got a call.  The letters were done.  The receptionist walked over to the wire basket, picked up a stack of three letters and handed them to me.  Everything would have ended right there, but I made a tragic mistake.  I thought the liver function letter was for Bill.   Something about his liver is always screwing up blood tests (he can’t give blood) and I stupidly thought we needed a liver letter for him.  So, I left my liver function test letter with the receptionist and asked her to make a copy for Bill, sending us ALL back into the frying pan.

Visit Number Six (Also in June):  I sheepishly stopped by the office a few days later.  By now I’d figured out that I didn’t need a letter for Bill, but hoped I could just pick up the two letters and no one would ever know.  Of course, when I saw the receptionist, she walked over to the fickle wire basket and took out one sheet of paper that was on top of the pile.  It was the liver function test letter for Bill that we never really needed.   I asked her if she still had the liver letter for me, but sadly, I’d said that it wasn’t necessary and they had shredded it.  I now had to admit my mistake and ask the doctor to write up a THIRD liver function test letter for me.  I was so embarrassed, I got out of there as quickly as possible.  I forgot to ask about the dog.  

Visit Number Seven (Now it’s July):  The receptionist saw me walk into the office and headed straight for the wire basket.   After the customary glance through the pile, she reached over and grabbed the bar stool.   While she was looking, we chatted about her daughter, her still ailing dog and the sale of her family car.  We were just about to enter the realm of her husband’s upcoming operation when she hit the bottom of the wire basket.   She didn’t find the third liver function test letter for me, but, she did find an envelope at the very bottom of the basket.  She smiled, walked back to the glass window and gleefully handed me the original envelope, with the tape still on it, that was  waiting for me at their back door sometime in June.  Missing Papers Number Two had been found.

Now that I had all the letters I needed for China, I went back to the car and got out the Employee Physical Form for Bill from the glove compartment and I handed it to the receptionist.  I explained what we needed and, by force of habit, agreed to pick up the forms in a few days. 

Visit Number Eight (still in July):  I stopped by the office to grab the Employee Physical Form for Bill.  The receptionist went to her perch next to the wire basket (the stool was already in place) and started going through the papers.  In case  you are wondering, her family was fine, but the dog had died.  Well toward the bottom of the stack, she looked up at me, smiled and walked back to the window.   She triumphantly handed me a form with Bill’s name right at the top.  It was the medical form for China that had been missing since that first meeting back in April.  I am not making this up. Missing Papers Number One had been found.   

I thanked her and explained that, while this was very helpful, what I really needed was the Employee Physical Form, a different form, a green form, that I’d dropped off a few days ago.  She looked around a few more places in the office and finally decided the form was missing.  She would talk to the doctor and give me a call. 

Visit Number Nine (the end of July):  I got a call.  The form was found and ready.   The receptionist saw me walk into the office and headed straight for the wire basket.  I remembered not to ask about her dog.  She grabbed a form at the top of the pile and handed it over to me.  It was the Employee Physical.  I smiled, thanked the receptionist for her help and gave her a warm handshake.  We both knew that this meant goodbye for a while, at least until flu season. 

This is why I haven’t been blogging.  Adoption paperwork is always like this.  The thought of putting words on a page was enough to make me vomit.  Think of it as a type of paperwork induced morning sickness.  It’s almost as annoying as pregnancy and it certainly takes longer.  Nevertheless, we got all our paperwork done last month and sent everything into the INS in early September.  And now we wait.

 

*NOTE: a notary doesn’t verify that anything on a form is true or false.  A notary just verifies a signature—that the person signing the form is writing his true name. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Baby Left Me

My first born son, Matt, turned 15 the other day.  This is a picture of him taken last week, when he was about four years old and more or less cooperating with me in the whole aging thing. 
 
 
 
Cute, right?   ...Lately, he’s been absolutely incorrigible.   He not only turned 15 without my permission, he also grew about seven inches overnight (he’s as tall as Bill now, plus or minus that ½ inch that kicks in when one of them remembers to stand up straight) and he can do more pull-ups than me. 

Besides the physical aging, he’s been regularly ticking off the family “rites of passage” with annoying efficiency.  He acquired a stinging sense of humor over the summer,  a love for books that hit him on a slightly deeper level than Harry Potter, a desire to discuss them, and a knack for one of my new favorite games, “Find the Heresy!” in whatever sermon, lesson or song we are listening to together. 

I’ve been homeschooling him for the past three years for his sixth, seventh and eigth grades.  I do this because middle school is miserable, and as a friend of mine pointed out once, “I want my kid to be in a safe place for a few more years.”   …Yup.  Besides, I enjoy my kids.  We laugh together all the time.  They are every bit as fun as the people I knew in college with an additional bonus; I can send them to time-out if they get annoying. 

Homeschooling is so much fun, as a matter of fact, that when I realized middle school was over and I was about to send my baby into packs of howling wolves, I tried to talk him into hanging with me for a while longer.  I told him what he was about to face: early mornings, bus rides, annoying teachers, belittling peers, etc. etc.  Then I made my pitch and said, “So, I could always homeschool you for a few more years.  There’s no reason to rush things!”  He merely paused the video game, turned toward me and said, “A person can only take so much of you, mother.” 

I’m going to miss him! 

I realized though, that, since I was about to send him into a cess-pool of danger and sin, I needed to prepare him for what awaits.  After the self defense courses, installation of the iris-cam, and memorizing the Bible from cover to cover, my next step was to give him an article from The Art of Manliness (love that blog) about how to make conversation.  


Matt is a clone of his father and his father is an engineer.  They don’t actually talk to people.  Both of them are so quiet that I believe on an average day they exchange more X box controllers than syllables.  Matt read the article through the same day I gave it to him, thanked me three times over that week for telling him to read it, asked why I hadn’t given it to him SOONER (it was just published last month), and keeps coming home from school telling me how he used principles from the article to make new friends.   Thank you God!  Occasionally, we hit the nail on the head.

The next step was to introduce him to a book I’ve been reading called, “Women in the Middle Ages,” published in 1978.  I know it sounds unpromising as parent/teen reading, but I have found it to be both informative and quotable. 

For example, apparently, there was a problem with monasteries/convents co-existing in the middle ages.   At first, the Catholic Church insisted that women’s convents could not exist except as chapters of male monasteries.  After all, one must have a priest in order to give confession.  However, some church leaders feared that the situation would impede the sister’s chastity.  Apparently, there was a debate sometime after 1100 during which Cistercian Bernard of Clarivaux made this point, “to be always with a woman and not have intercourse with her is more difficult than to raise the dead.  You cannot do the less difficult, do you think I will believe that you can do the more difficult?” 

Thus, women were ousted from the monasteries and left to run their convents bereft of male leadership. 
 
Things were relatively quiet until a group of rogue monks calling themselves the Premonstratensians attempted a “fresh version of the double monastery.”  This was short lived. After the death of their founder, they also expelled women from all their mixed settlements. The deciding Abbot wrote: “We and our whole community of cannons, recognizing that the wickedness of women is greater than all the other wickedness of the world, and that there is no anger like that of women, and that the poison of asps and dragons is more curable and less dangerous to men than the familiarity of women, have unanimously decreed, for the safety of our souls, no less than for that of our bodies and goods, that we will on no account receive any more sisters to the increase of our perdition, but will avoid them like poisonous animals.”

I was so enamored with this passage that I showed the whole thing to Matt a few days before 9th grade.  I wanted him to be prepared.  He paused the X-box, read the passages, handed the book back to me and said, “Well, ….I think he’s right about the anger part.” Then, he went back to killing zombies. 

Amen Son!  I told him to memorize it, but he ignored me.  So instead, I just recite key phrases to him every morning while he’s on his way to the bus stop.  If I skip the fluff and start off with “THE WICKEDNESS OF WOMEN IS GREATER THAN ALL THE OTHER WICKEDNESS OF THE WORLD…”  and talk quickly, I can usually get to, “MORE CURABLE AND LESS DANGEROUS TO MEN THAN THE FAMILIARITY OF WOMEN”   by the time he gets to the stop sign.   He never responds, of course.   He just shakes his head quietly, no doubt amazed that he has such a wise and caring mother.  Of course, my other children who are sleeping started to complain about the daily yelling, so lately I’ve been shortening it to, “REMEMBER THE ABBOTS!”  Then I watch him get on the bus and endure the daily stab, knowing that part of my heart has just walked off and is about to disappear around the corner.

So, anyway, “Remember the Abbots!” has become sort of a code for us and I was able to use it just the other day when I took him to the first Young Life meeting for our school.  You can read about Young Life here:  www.younglife.org.  My son was willing to check out a few meetings, but, since he’s been out of the loop and homeschooled for the past three years, he didn’t know anyone at the meeting.  I drove him there myself and was planning to drop him off and scoot, but he asked me to stay for a few minutes.  The meeting was at a local home.  We walked to the back yard together where there were about 25 teens milling about like electrons within a cloud.   It was a little intimidating.  Right away some girls came over and started talking to Matt.  Luckily, he Remembered the Abbots and got involved in a soccer-type game of Frisbee while I started talking to some of the Young Life leaders and tried, as a 46 year old mom, to blend in with 15 to 17 year old high school students. 

When the Frisbee game was over, I tried to leave again, but again, Matt asked me to stay.  All the other kids were clustered around a few tire swings, so I hinted that it was really time for him to saunter over and start to mingle.  When he didn’t go, I suggested that we go together and started walking.  He yelled, “NO!” so loudly, that I believe half the crowd turned to look.  If I was blending in before, it wasn’t happening any longer.   There was nothing to do then but take out my phone and glide silently over to the nearest picnic table while I waved him off. 

He hesitated, then walked, alone, over to the crowd of perfect strangers and started to mingle.  Another family rite of passage.  Not exactly the same thing as killing an animal with a spear, but daunting all the same.   After a while, my presence as a lingering parent became so ridiculous that I found out when to pick him up and walked back to my car.  As I was driving away, I saw the students walking into the house to start the meeting.  I yelled, “Remember the Abbots!”  and waved goodbye.  Then I headed toward home with that nagging sense of emptiness that I always have whenever my kids are more than twenty feet away. 

When I picked up Matt that evening, he nearly talked my ear off, telling me all the details of the night.  He’s been hanging out with some of the rougher kids in the high school.  I told him before he went to school that his purpose was to be “salt and light” and to look for the kids who were usually by themselves because they were the ones who would need friends the most.  Apparently, one of the young life students rides the bus to school with Matt and saw him talking with an undesirable.  That night, she took him aside and told him “You know, you really shouldn’t be talking to that kid.”   Matt told me that he answered, “I know, but how can I be Jesus to him if I don’t talk to him?”  I smiled quietly inside and started mentally ticking off all my fellow Jesus-Freak parents who would be hearing about THAT comment, when Matt gave a little smirk and then he said, “I got her.  Didn’t I mom?” 

Four more years.  I get four more years with him, and then he’ll be going off to college.

I wonder sometimes, if I fully understood how much I was going to love my children, whether I would have been able to muster the courage to have them.

 

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Things You Do For Love


My husband married me under the delusion that I am athletic.  Unfortunately for him, my coordination is terrible, my reflexes are terrible and my eyesight is terrible.  I have no training in any sport except swimming and the only reason I took up swimming is because it requires no talent and it’s impossible to get hurt.  Hear me out.  You just swim back and forth, repeating same motions over and over again for two hours daily, hoping that at some point you can swim in a straight line faster than the other guy.  For this, I was qualified.  There’s NO planning necessary, no strategy, no quick thinking needed as flaming “soft” balls were whipped toward my face. Plus, you can't fall.  Swimming was a good choice for me.

To be fair; the reason my husband was deluded was because I appear athletic.  Parts of my gene pool are made entirely of knuckle-dragging mesomorphs and when we met, I had been swimming for years --"strong as an ox and twice as smart," as my father liked to point out.  Since most of our dating was done long-distance, I really didn't have time to prove that I had no athletic potential. 

The result was that during our first few years of marriage, Bill kept trying to discover some sort of sport we could play together. The first month in, he signed us up to play on a community co-ed softball team.  Bear in mind,  people who have passion for baseball will coach little league as adults.  People who have an obsession with baseball will keep playing long after high school, convinced that if they practice hard enough, their team will make the Amateur Softball Association Playoffs where they will be recognized for their talent and finally get recruited to the minor leagues.  

You might think Bill clued in, when I disclosed that I had never owned a pair of cleats, that softball was a bad fit for me.  Instead, it was just an excuse to buy new equipment: special pants, a new left-handed glove, glove oil, cleats, my own aluminum bat, a batting glove and sixteen brand new softballs.  Nevertheless, I was a liability.  They put me in right field, at the bottom of the lineup and by the end of the season, my social position was lower than tobacco juice.  

After that it was mountain bikes: equipment included helmets, special gloves, new bikes (with Shimano components!), toe things for the pedals, and a book of trails.  I did OK on the paved paths, but I could never really keep up with him on the dirt trails.  He finally found some guys to bike with (Thank You Father) and I was able to give up my strategy of repeatedly sabotaging my own bike chain. 

Next: roller blades: equipment included knee pads, elbow pads, wrist pads, helmets, and two new pairs of in line skates.  Bill is so talented, he would literally skate circles around me -backward.  Meanwhile, I'd be jerking around like an epileptic, with my arms out in every direction at once, just trying to stay vertical.  Never mind forward motion.  It would have been embarrassing, but I had the distinction of being RIGHT on this.  Plus we usually searched out deserted parking lots, so I had no audience. 

Eventually, Bill started to get discouraged.  He went through a few half-hearted stages; there was the lacross phase (sticks, a very hard rubber ball and I’ve heard that more experienced players use helmets) a 5K road race that I finished well after the DJ/announcer turned off the microphone and was onto his second beer (I am not making this up), one dismal attempt at tennis (he actually managed to squeeze in a racquet purchase here), another equally dismal attempt at golfing (too expensive), and then, (thanks be to God), I got pregnant.  How many women are grateful for pregnancy because it means their bodies will catch a break?  Bill cut his losses and took up rose gardening while I hid all the sports equipment in the attic and buried myself under a pile of small children.  

I think he forgot about me, which was really OK.  I hadn't acquired a hefty bruise in years, and we were actually co-existing quite amiably.  Until… twenty years later, when he suddenly remembered that I can swim.

In August of 2009, Bill bought a road bike, and not just any bike, but a Fuji Roubaix.  I don’t know what that means really, but I know it was expensive.   To his credit, Bill rode long and hard and seemed to have found something that he really loved.  He is also very good at it.  

So, if you are a man and you are good at something, the next thing to do is compete and prove you are better than the other guy.  The problem is, there are no “bike only” races in our area.  Bill’s only choice was to do triathlons.  Since he didn’t like to swim or run, he did relays.  Some of his co-workers were willing to swim and run while Bill did the biking.  Everyone was happy until his swimming co-worker dropped out.  Let me remind you; I married an engineer.  They’re not exactly extroverts.  Bill was out of friends.  I was his only choice.  

The first race he roped me into was the summer of 2010, an “International Distance;”  1500 meter swim,  40 kilometer bike and 10 kilometer run.  I had two months to prepare for what amounted to a 1 mile swim.   I really had no interest in swimming for a mile in a public lake surrounded by actual athletes.  I started out pretty grumpy.  But then, in the midst of all my grumbling, a huge blessing.  None of the local indoor pools were affordable and the outdoor pools did not open for lap swimming until June.  I had to train at a local lake.  

I found one that was ½ mile from end to end.  If I swam out and back, I’d have a mile.  The best time to go was in the evening.  So my husband (who couldn’t complain because this was his idea), got two of our kids in a canoe and our oldest two in kayaks and we started my training.  I’d swim the length of the lake and they would keep the boats on either side of me.  Despite the lost evenings, the opaque, green water, the snakes, the duck poop, and River Monsters Amazon Flesheaters commercials that ran the entire month, …I really loved it.  We went two or three times a week, just as the sun was setting over the trees and every time I breathed, I’d get a glimpse of the sunset, or trees, or my kids laughing and playing in their boats.

Two weeks before the race, I took my two oldest boys to Boy Scout camp.  The first night I found the scout leader in charge of their lake.  The only time I could train was 6:30 am, before breakfast, but he was willing to kayak next to me if I was fool enough to swim.  Before I swam as the sun was setting, now I swam as the sun was rising.  

Complain as I might, I look back on those morning swims and think that God, for some reason, was showering me with undeserved blessings.  I was up at the crack of dawn.  I changed alone in my dark tent and walked barefoot down a leaf strewn path to the pond, just as the morning light was starting to filter through the trees.  

The lifeguard was there to meet me every day that week and we generally got right to work.  This lake was smaller, so I had to do three laps (loops) to make 1 mile, but the water was perfect. There was always a light fog just off the surface that I broke as I jumped in.  I can still remember the feeling of jumping into that still, warm water on those quiet mornings.  I really loved it.  By the end of the week, my lifeguard figured I had about a 30 minute mile.  

On the day of the race, I was feeling reasonably confident until my competition started to trickle onto the beach.  Suddenly I was surrounded by underwear models, well below my age and out of my league.  They gave us all different colored caps and we were split into groups according to our gender and age.  All the women over 40 got a blue cap, except for me.  My cap was green.  Just my luck, relay teams were grouped in with the men over 40.  How Rude!  I was one of two women in my group.  The other woman was half my age and twice my size.  My competition flew past me and after a few minutes, all the caps, which had started out so nicely divided, were all mixed together.  I started out in a sea of green bathing caps and ended up in a sea of sour skittles. I was one of the last skittles to float to shore.  I came out of the water into the transition area almost alone and told Bill how sorry I was for being so slow.  He just said, “more people to pass," gave me a huge smile, then took the ankle bracelet with our timer chip and ran with his bike out the chute.  

Bill and Casey were among the fastest biker/runners, and I was among the slowest swimmers.  Despite the fact that I was shooting for 30 minutes and I finished in 28:08.  This is what is so bewildering.  I actually did WELL, yet I was still comparatively slow.  We finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place out of all the relay teams.  I really can’t remember, but I know we had to stay after for the “ceremony.”  God Forbid that we miss out on the inscribed mug/goblet/trivet.  ….Overall, I placed in the bottom third. 

After one year and well over 3,000 miles on his first bike, Bill upgraded in August of 2010 to a Fuji D6.  The bike itself looks like a space ship and when Bill rides, it looks like a space ship with a growth. And, If I thought the old bike was expensive, that is because I was ignorant about how much a bike freak can spend.  The only reason I don’t complain is because he realized after my dismal swim time that he could probably do at least as well on his own.  He resolved to race alone and I was off the hook once again.  

From September to November/December 2010, we were in Ukraine finalizing the adoptions.  As soon as we got home, Bill was training again in earnest.  Sometime during that spring, Bill started hinting about me racing as well.  This was just about the same time I started getting hit with various muscle strains and over exertions from carrying Ruslan all over the place.  I was making regular visits to the chiropractor.  I had a rib that kept pinching and sending shooting pains down my arm. I kept having neck problems. Every morning when I woke up, I felt like a diesel engine had parked on my chest over night.  I was getting less and less fit and feeling more and more aged when Bill took the plunge and registered me, alone, for a sprint triathlon.  After all, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.  He’d already spent the $50 and he knew I was too cheap to waste it.

Once again, we were out buying equipment.  Besides a bunch of biking stuff he’d bought me earlier, he bought a whole slew of NEW equipment.  Starting with an ipod, nifty ipod holder, headphones, new running shoes, a watch with a GPS system (in case I don’t know how far and fast I run/bike every time) AND, a heart monitor that you wear around your chest that syncs with the watch.  I geared up and went out for my first run in about twenty years. I felt great running off the front porch.  I was also feeling fine as I crossed the front yard.  I made it to the end of the block and I was dead.  There is a subdivision entrance a half mile from our house.  I walked the rest of the way and turned around.  Luckily, I’d forgotten to start the watch timer/GPS.  The whole trip took about 20 minutes, so Bill thought I had gone about 3 ½ miles.  I didn’t see any reason to set him straight.

There is a stop sign exactly one mile from our house. It took me about two weeks to work up to trotting the whole distance.  I started joggging out and back without stopping (two miles total) after about a month.  Bill continued under the delusion that I was athletic.  Finally after passing me in his truck one day, Bill rigged me up with the heart monitor and watch and pressed the "start" button HIMSELF.  I ran my best to the stop sign and back.  It took me 22 minutes.  I was running 11 minute miles.  No one could claim I wasn't trying.  My pulse was 180.  Bill put the watch next to the computer (the information transfers wirelessly), tapped the watch a few times, looked at the data again, tapped a few more times and finally said in disbelief, “Are you? ...Are you really that slow?”

The watch is never wrong.  It was time to get serious.  I worked myself up to a three mile run without stopping.  I didn’t feel it was right to leave the kids too long to go biking, so I started a little six mile loop in my neighborhood.  This was hard work as far as I was concerned.  It was uphill both ways.  I got my runs down to a 10 minute mile (far from respectable, but better than 11).  

The week before the race, I caught a cold and kept coughing up yellow-green phlegm.  To make matters worse, Bill decided we should go on vacation.  I spent the week lying around, eating excellent food, coughing mucus and making half-hearted attempts at training  A few days before the race, I tried to do a three mile run and I couldn’t even finish.  I walked about half way home.  Bill, STILL under the delusion that I’m athletic, took an afternoon to practice “transitions.”

The morning of the race, Bill was on cloud nine. He actually brought a video camera to film me “racing.”  I would have objected strongly, but I was busy coughing up buckets of green mucus.  The only small consolation was that this was a “sprint” distance (300 meter swim, 20k bike and 5k run), so the people I was competing against were too well adjusted to look like underwear models.  It was a pool swim, so I told the people behind me to just tap my feet if they needed to pass me and I’d let them go at the next flip turn.  THREE of them passed me.  I felt OK on the bike, but by the time I hit the run, I was DYING.  I practically crawled across the finish line, shook hands with a man handing out plastic necklaces, crawled over to a patch of grass and fell asleep.  We didn't stay for the "ceremony."  Bill, no longer convinced that I was going to place in my age group, finally threw me over his shoulder and hauled me to the car with his tail between his legs.  We haven’t watched the video.  

The next morning, he was online checking the race statistics before I even woke up.  I came in second place in my age group—out of two women.  We should have stayed for the ceremony.  I could have taken home a plastic trophy that said "Second Place: Women 45 to 50 Years Old."  this might sound acceptable written on a plastic trophy but the truth is that with the ages ...it's just not all that encouraging.  By the way; ...Overall, I placed in the bottom third.  

Now that I had "potential to place," Bill found another race at the end of August. He registered both of us, kind of like a long anticipated (dreaded) date.  I got my run up to four miles, three times a week.   I found a ten mile bike loop.  I swam at our local pool all summer.  I took daily multivitamins.  On race day, I felt great. My stats were just as dismal as ever.  Bill finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in his age group.   I really can't remember, but I know we had to stay after for the "ceremony."  He won a painting of the race site, with an inscription. .  …Overall, I placed in the bottom third.  

During the fall of 2011, I stopped communicating with Bill entirely.  This did not help. The first day that registration opened for 2012, he registered me for three triathlons, paid in full.  He also convinced me to see a “personal trainer.” Her name is Nicole.  She seemed normal, until she mentioned that she was training for a marathon and her goal was 3 hours 15 minutes.  

After a few weeks, Bill talked me into attending his strength training classes with her husband, Adam ….weekly  The zinger from Adam came when he mentioned offhand that he had an injury that he was dealing with so he, “shortened his run to six miles."  I'd never even THOUGHT about running six miles before. 

You might think that I am being manipulated here and you would be right.  You have to understand; my husband is extremely charming.  He has this trusting, gentle arm squeeze, hopeful smile routine that I have a really hard time resisting.  Plus, it’s the way he phrases things. He doesn’t say, “do you want to come torture yourself with me at the local gym?”  Oh no.  He says things like this, “You could come to Adam’s class with me on Mondays (establish eye contact).  It’s just for an hour and we could drive over together (gentle arm squeeze).  It would be so much more fun if you came along (hopeful half-smile).”  

How does one say, “No” to this?  
   
I wish I knew. 

Since there is no escape, I figured I might as well go all out.  I tried harder.  I started biking 15 mile loops.  I started doing “bricks” –bike and then run after that, so your legs feel like bricks.  I found a swim coach and took “masters” lessons twice a week.  I actually got my run up to six miles.  AND, at the end of those six miles, I wasn’t dying.  I won’t say I was enjoying myself, but I had NEVER run six miles before.  At 46, I set a new personal record …sort of (I won’t be telling you how long it took, but it was close to Nicole’s marathon time).  I also realized that I hadn’t been to the chiropractor in almost a year.  I felt like one of the geriatrics in “Cocoon” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocoon_%28film%29).  The diesel engine was no longer parking on my chest overnight.  I was hopping out of bed faster in the morning.  I could pick up Ruslan and Will with no problem.  Perhaps there was benefit to this exercise stuff? 

My most recent race was in March.  This was another sprint distance (400 meter swim, 20 k bike and 5 k run).  It was also the first race of 2012 so all the underwear models were out again.  NO matter.  I was training about three times the distance I was when this all started.  I was also attending the swim classes twice a week, strength training classes twice a week, and running farther than ever before.  Plus, I was there with my husband, again (we're bonding).  I took twenty minutes longer than him, so after his race was over, he had a drink, a snack, and a short nap, then he met me for the last half of my run.  

Bill finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in his age group.   I really don't care, but I know we had to stay after for the "ceremony."   He won a (nother) useful trivet.  …Overall, I placed in the bottom third.