Sunday, May 29, 2011

The battle of the birds, angry or otherwise

There's a disturbing, salacious temptation I've battled lately as a father.
Part of me wants to let my kids play video games all day.
That's not exactly true of the girls, though they are as quiet as mice, too, when they sit at the computer and play games from online sites like Nick Jr. and Disney Jr.
(The Jr. part strikes me as funny; is there an adult version of the Disney Channel? And does it involve Silvermist, one of Tinker Bell's buddies? Cause I totally have a crush on her.)
But there's no consequence when the girls are told to leave the computer. They go and play, like a 4-year-old should, with Barbies or some plastic crap they got at McDonald's.
Jayden unleashes fury.
Now Jayden is a force of nature anyway. He's a soon-to-be-6-year-old who wears his heart on the outside, usually stitched to a Lighting McQueen shirt. He reacts and overacts, so much so that he should have no problems getting his own news talk show when he's older.
And when I (finally) do put down Angry Birds or Words with Friends and yank him away from the screen, he fusses and fumes and starts hounding us to watch TV. My wife the other day said she wishes he had an off switch.
Only when I suggest that we, say, go for a walk, or go ride our bike on a nature trail outside of Greeley, he always agrees.
Jayden loves the outdoors and nature and animals. He would spend every day at the zoo. Whenever he sees a creek (or a 'crick' as some of you say), he inches forward despite my protests until he's deep in the mud. He's always asking me what kind of bird or bug that is, and when he sees a snake, whether it's at the zoo, in person or in a picture, he says, "Daddy I think you're gonna have to come see this. Look. Your favorite."
He is, in other words, exactly like me.
I struggle to maintain a balance between the electronic and the ethereal, which, in my case, means the outdoors. I love video games too. Technology is great because it's cheap entertainment (Angry Birds: 99 cents), portable and In The Comfort Of Your Own Home! Yet the outdoors renews me in a way that Angry Birds cannot. Those moments when all the pigs die as if I've dropped a hydrogen bomb on their asses are all too fleeting. There are no fleeting moments when I'm running or hiking or biking along the trail. It just IS.
The trouble, of course, is that getting out there takes energy, and that's not only true when you're running or hiking. It takes more energy than ever for two reasons.
The first is these places are harder and harder to find. It's already been written by several million that when I was a kid, we had creeks and woodsy areas within a bullfrog's jump of my backyard. But it's TRUE. It hits me. It hit me when I was reading a simple children's book to Jayden the other night, "Crawdad Creek." The book talks in clover-scented-Lysol language about a place behind a girl's house where wildlife was abundant, where crawdads paddled in creeks and deer frolicked in the meadows (dammit, now I'm doing it). Jayden constantly interrupts me whenever I read it to him, and I think it's because he's fascinated with a place like this. He's never really seen one. He's seen dozens of parks, even special neighborhood ones with neat places to see wildlife, but he's not seen a true, wild place close to his home, where he could go and explore anytime he wanted. They do not exist, at least where I live, and I fear that's not only because of Colorado's arid climate. They're getting swallowed up by us. They're getting fenced and plowed and purchased.
So I have to find these places, or at least places that are (currently) protected, and I have to gather him in a car and get him the right clothes and teach him AGAIN to tie his shoes and wrestle his bike in the back and get him some juice and have a snack ready and put on sunscreen and then watch him constantly (and that's just if it's him and not the girls). And then we have to drive there.
The second reason? Well, I have to initiate it, since he still really can't do a whole lot on his own. He can ride his bike like a champ, probably for 10 miles if I let him, but he can't go 100 yards without me having to remind him to watch where he's going before he runs into a fence post. He can say a river is beautiful, but I have to catch him from leaning too far over the rickety bridge so he doesn't fall in. He can walk 100 miles, but I have to walk 100 more to make sure he's safe.
It's easier to let him spend that time playing Angry Birds. It's fun for me too. I like Angry Birds. And raising the kids takes so much energy. The temptation is there to let him drown in video games. He would if I let him.
Saturday's ride along the trail near Greeley
But that's one world. He deserves both. So do the girls. So do I. And every day, it seems, I'm clawing my way out of the temptation to give in, exhausted but loving the sun when it finally falls on my face.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Grind

Kate left for Vegas Friday, and as I'm sitting here, worn down to my bone marrow, I'm filled with regrets.
Mostly they involve the many times I raised my voice at my three kids today.
Or the times I tuned them out to play with my iPhone.
Or the missed opportunities to play with them.
The thing is, these happen every day. They're unavoidable as a parent with three small children. At least they are with me.
But the regrets are magnified when I'm flying solo with the kids, and especially over an extended period, like when my wife takes her nearly annual vacation to Vegas.
She's earned the trip. That's not what this is about. Any father should watch his kids alone for a few days, for the perspective, the time alone with them and the chance to play both roles of Mommy and Daddy. They're different roles, and you don't realize how important the other role is until it's gone.
I just wish I was better at both.
I was looking forward to this weekend. I really was. I had some activities planned to chew up most of the hours, and they were fun things, like going to the library, eating at Red Robin and going to a state park to see bald eagles. OK, it's not Vegas, but it wasn't like we were going to be cooped up in the house watching  "Wow Wow Wubzy."
But MAN. Holy Cow. Did you ever see "Jon and Kate Plus 8" before they both turned into attention-starved media whores? When they were actually ragged parents wishing they had three arms or maybe a clone (or two) of themselves? That's been me the last couple of days. When you don't have someone else here to cushion the demands, they not only pile up like cinder blocks, they swarm you like an angry cloud of buzzing mosquitoes. And that's appropriate, since my kids really do drain me like those little bloodsuckers. They drain my energy, my desire to keep my patience with them and my resolve to be a good Dad. It is not just the never-ending demands for juice, snacks and entertainment (especially my precious iPhone, my only real sanity from the cacophony), it is the constant pull for my time. I have almost pissed my pants three times in the last two days because I didn't have a moment to relieve myself. And when I'm not cleaning up their aftermaths from their wild adventures tearing up the house or soothing those demands to a dull roar, I'm answering inane questions about why I'm using a blue sponge (and millions others like it) to wipe up their apple juice.
I don't know. I wonder if my kids are wilder than most — I think they do have more energy than most, and they could very well get that from me — or if it's just that having the twins basically hosed us from any prayer for a pinch of peace. It's not so much the number of kids that makes it hard, although that's certainly part of it. It's the INTENSITY. The girls are 4, and Jayden is 5, and though they can do many more things on their own, it's utterly amazing what they still need done. I have to watch them constantly, and there's already been a few times when one's simply disappeared momentarily, leading me to believe that it will be no small feat just to have all three of them here when Kate returns. I don't have to dress them, but I do need to tie their shoes, wipe their asses and mouths and wash their hands. They can't get any food or drinks on their own, and, well, I suppose they COULD, but I'd just be wiping up after that disaster, or bringing in a power hose.
If it sounds exhausting, well, it is. I took them to a state park today to see those eagles, and we got home at 2:30 p.m. I was done. Done. I'd had a great time with them, spent time with them, read them books, showed them birds, challenged them to hike a half-mile each way, made sure they weren't dead and fed them lunch.
Only they aren't my grandkids. They're my kids. It doesn't stop at 2:30 p.m. no matter how bone-weary you are. So when Andie threw a huge-ass fit, I sent her to her room, and when she kept going out, I yelled at her to stay in or she would get a spanking. When Jayden came in and demanded snacks, by the third snack, when I was trying to sit down for a couple minutes, I snapped at him to wait for dinner, and when he started whining, I snarled at him not to test me. When Allie came in seeking comfort because she'd fallen, I briefly kissed her elbow and gave her a quick hug because the movie I was making for Kate, showing her what she'd missed while she was away, apparently was more important.
All of this leads me to believe two things. One, I'm going to be a really KICKASS grandfather.
And two, I'm not a good Dad because I think it affects me more than other parents. I'm an introvert, probably to an extreme level, and as a result, I find people tiring. Exhausting. The only thing that recharges me is time alone. That means I bury myself in my iPhone when my kids are inviting me to play, and it also means my patience is short when they are doing something to try it, which is nearly all of the time.
 I'll probably be on fumes tomorrow morning, too, since Jayden will most likely wake me up at 6 a.m. when he crawls into bed with me and starts thumping me in the ribs with his monster feet (another gift from my genes).
I do not hit my kids, spank my kids or even rarely grab them too hard. I do not scream at them. They are happy, well-adjusted, cute little shits who make me proud. I love them, obviously, because, well, I'm not killing myself like this everyday for a BFF.
But I also wish I wasn't this way. I really do. I wish playtime came naturally for me. I wish I drew energy from my kids the way they draw energy from me. I wish I cherished these times because I know they won't last forever.
They really won't. And I hope, I even pray, that when I look back on them, I remember the good times, without any regret.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Colorado Marathon

 It was 3:45 a.m. Sunday. My nose felt as if it had been stuffed with cotton after a fight. The air nipped at my bare legs. And my stomach had been tied into Boy Scout knots.
"I don't think I've ever been more nervous before a race," I said.
I"m always nervous before a race. I love the way the nerves crackle on my skin. It's delicious. The only thing I do not love is the uncertainty. And if there's one race defined by uncertainty, it's a marathon.
You can train well. You can eat carbs, avoid fatty or fried foods and even avoid sugar. You can sleep like RipVanWinkle. You can lose weight. You can save new shoes and then put just the right amount on them so they're broken in and fresh at the same time. You can taper and rest and avoid injuries.
I did all those things last year.
And it still ended badly.
Given the uncertainty of 26.2 miles, when I would run farther than a few days' worth of my commute to work, you don't want anything to potentially fuck things up. And yet, when you finally allow your body to rest, little tweaks here and there haunt you. Is my ankle hurt? Why does my knee feel that way? My (fill in the blank) never hurt before! And then you begin to notice that your son is sniffling. Is that a sniffle? It's definitely a sniffle. Wait. He's really sniffling now.
Sure enough, four days before the marathon, I came down with a cold.
• • •
When I finished last year's marathon, it was with a mixture of pride, anger and frustration.
I had no idea what to feel in the weeks that followed.
Last year was my first, and I was running a great race until severe cramps hit at mile 20. I had to walk the rest of the course and finished at 4:17.
I knew several things. I knew it was my first marathon and that I finished it. I knew that maybe 1 percent of the population ever finishes a marathon. I knew that I was lucky to be able to finish one, blessed, even, to have recovered in time to have at least finished and to have a body that allows me to do things like marathons in the first place. I even knew that 4:17 was not really that bad of a time, especially for a first.
And all I knew was all that made me feel like a spoiled brat for being disappointed.
I was disappointed. I was crushed, actually. I didn't feel good about the race. I felt stupid, like there was probably something I could have done about those cramps and didn't research enough or pay enough attention to all the advice my knowledgeable friends gave me. I felt embarrassed that everyone was so excited for my first marathon and I turned in such a weird result — a time that required a long explanation about what happened — that it tainted any joy someone would feel for me at a finish. I even felt screwed, yes screwed, that 20 weeks of the hardest training of my life, a body free from injury and a great race up until those 20 miles were being flushed away by some mysterious aliment like cramps.
There really was no one good answer as to why they happened.
And I'd have to wait a year to find out.
Kate wasn't happy, at least not initially, when I told her I was doing the marathon again. Why, she said. I had an answer. I wanted to see if I could do better. I would not chase the perfect marathon as so many runners do, especially those trying to qualify for Boston. But I wanted to try it at least one more time. I wanted to see if I could figure it out.
What I really wanted was another chance. I honestly thought I had a good race in me, that a race without cramps would be something I could be proud of. I knew this because of the utter frustration I felt at the end. When those cramps hit, I wanted to run. I was ready to run. I had the energy, the spirit and the drive. I just didn't have the legs. I hope this doesn't sound naive, or even idiotic, but I felt disabled. When I did run, my legs would seize on me within seconds. It wasn't that I wanted to walk. It was that I had no choice.
• • •
I tried not to think too much as the bus took us up the Poudre Canyon. Thinking, though, is all I do.
It seemed that the medicine was working. My nose felt roto-rootered. I felt like I had some energy. I ate my bagel with peanut butter. I drank my Gatorade. I choked down half a banana.
I joked with my friends. I froze with them as we got dumped off the bus. I waited in line with them for a chance at the port-a-potty. I wished them luck before the start of the race. I gave them all a hug and held them tight.
I told myself it was going to be OK.
I tried to believe it.
• • •
I came into this marathon determined to solve the uncertainty. Most of the plan was to bludgeon it into a mere speck of doubt. Did I cramp because I didn't get enough electrolytes? OK. I would carry a hand bottle, drink two 20oz bottles of Gatorade, take a salt pill once an hour and stop at EVERY aid station and drink at least a cup. I would down nearly another 32oz of water before the bus ride up. I would take two gels, and when I figured two wasn't enough, I searched the road for a third, knowing that a runner probably dropped one along the way. Yep. I snatched it up. Every man for himself. I gobbled a package of Sport Beans as well.
If I had to pee, and I did, three times, I found a tree. This marathon was down a canyon next to a river for 17 miles. It's not an urban race. Peeing in public behind a tree is okay. Even the chicks were doing it.
As the miles flew by — and they really do, it's amazing how time gets away from you when you run and there's a beautiful river gathering its muscle from snowmelt for the coming rafting season and a good metal song is pounding through your eardrums — I constantly evaluated myself.
Why are my legs tired? It's only been 12 miles. Well, you just ran 12 miles. Downhill. At an 8:35 pace. Oh, yeah, I guess that makes sense. And it was about this time, halfway through the marathon, that I began to gain some confidence. I went over the words Kate wrote in a card she left for me before the race. One foot in front of the other. Run hard. You've worked hard for this. You've got it!
Stop being such a PUSSY, Dan. And that's when I knew my old self, the mountaineer, was crawling back. You've got a cold? OK, blow a few snot rockets on the way (just make sure you look over your shoulder first). You're tired? Embrace it. You're hurting? What did you think would happen over 26 miles? A tickle?
We ran out of the canyon and, at mile 17, finally saw spectators. A gentleman popped out his headphones as I passed him and we were about a quarter-mile from the first cheers. Nice day, he said. I agreed. We talked a bit. Then I put in my headphones as we passed through the tunnel of people. Some friends were waiting for me. I refilled my bottle, dumped my gloves and arm warmers (ew, they said, gross) and put on my sunglasses. I was still wary. But I was confident too.
• • •
There's a hill at mile 19. It's a long bitch, a half-mile, and it inspires many runners to walk. I was ready for it. I loved it.
Hill climbing is one of my few strengths. I think it's the only gift mountaineering gave me for running. I look at a hill as an opportunity to pass people. But in this case, it was finally a chance to use a different muscle, and I flew up. I passed a blind runner who I'd been tracking since the race started. Before you think I'm an asshole, I treated him like a competitor. He was fast, just out of reach, and I wanted to see if I could catch him. I did, near the top of the hill. His guide was far away, and he was breathing hard, so I said to him, "this bitch is almost over," and he laughed and said thanks.
As I crested the hill, I looked down at my Garmin and had a decision to make.
My pace flashed 8:01.
I'd backed off the whole day, sticking to my planned pace of 8:30 miles. But I felt so good. It felt easy and natural. And I knew I'd put enough time in the bank that if I had to walk even a tiny bit or slow down at the end, I'd still get under 4 hours, which was my ultimate goal anyway. I'd stashed away a goal of 3:45, but that was on my best day, a perfect day.
The day I was having.
• • •
The next six miles, a 10K, will sound easy. It was not easy. It never is. But when I crossed the spot just before the road ends and the last, final six begins on a bike path, the spot where I cramped up last year, I was pretty sure it wasn't going to happen, and I told myself I would not hit the wall.
Runner's World had an article recently about the wall, and I found one piece of it fascinating. It stated that runners who were worried or thought they might hit the wall did, in fact, hit the wall. What does that tell you? It told me that the wall is a mental barrier, not a physical one, and that if I trained well, ate well and drank enough to pee all over the course, the wall would not exist.
I did not hit the wall as I ran the final six, cheering back at the spectators, running with a friend who met to pace me in. My legs hurt. They hurt today. My toe was purple. I'll probably lose the nail. My breathing was labored. I still sound like an old blues singer, as my throat was rubbed raw by the air.
I was smiling through it all. I was so happy to feel all of that, as I ran, not walked, on legs that wanted to move, baby, move.
I'm still smiling today. 3:43. I honestly don't know if I'll ever stop.