Time to be That Mom

There’s a literary device where a character is killed off once his usefulness has been tapped out. (Spoiler: Dumbledore). The less dramatic version is when they move to a new town or perhaps do a sabbatical year in Norway. And then the other characters have to figure it out, use what they learned and win the day on their own.

I lucked into two different “mom” groups as my kids have grown from itty-bitty to big, and now the moms who recruited me out of my hermitage in the first place have left.

I tried an official MOMS group, and found two of my tribe amongst them. The MOMS group was a dud, but the three us made our own group and bonded while our kids played next to each other in my dirt pile. When those two left, one for Canada and one for Puerto Rico, in the same month, I was bereft. From a distance, they are still teaching me about patience, presence and perseverance.

When my son was a few months old, a family friend asked me to welcome a new mom to town, so I crawled out of my cave and tried. And then she was the one who brought me to a Mom and Baby club before moving back east. I walked into this house up the street from me, called the mom who would become a personal safety net the wrong name, and I was in.

The moms and kiddos I met that day are still the backbone of my Madison community. Our kids have grown up together. The mom-est mom of that group is the one everyone counted on for emergency babysitting, fruit drop-offs, school snacks, play dates, beach parties, hot meals and everything else. She made my kids eat vegetables and go grocery shopping and be responsible and kind. She got me to join Facebook. Aaaand…She moved away this summer. Because this is a town of transients and jetsetters. It shouldn’t be a surprise any longer that people who come here often move on, but it still stings. I still almost let myself into her old house to use the bathroom or get some chocolate on a run. One of her many ‘jobs’ was spending quality time at the school and sending fresh snacks. I feel as though someone has to step up and do the things she did.

When my daughter went through her unsleeping phase, we bonded with the owls in the neighborhood. We’d be up and hear barred and Great Horned owls night after night. She wanted so badly to hold an owl chick. So I found that great class at Aldo Leopold and she imitated an owl horking up pellets for ages after and all was well.

Another great class at Aldo Leopold Nature Center was all about scat and tracking animals. With no preamble, the teacher sat down and read the greatest book I’ve ever come across, “The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit” (Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlfrbruch). Poor mole comes out and something craps on his head. He wanders around with this turd hat asking WHO DID THIS?!? And each animal he comes across says “Not me. Mine looks like this…” I won’t give away the end, but Mole gets some help from a couple friends, solves the mystery and gets revenge. Sorry, I gave it away after all! Brilliant. And I look over to see four bored moms and one woman who is crying with laughter. She couldn’t even stand up straight, and I thought “AHA. A tribe member.”

the Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit
You will never regret buying yourself and everyone you know a copy of this masterpiece.

This was another in a long line of moms, who made my life richer, easier and better. Amongst her many redeeming qualities, she would come over on cold, dark mornings and tell me it was time to go running. She’s a joiner and got me involved in official school activities. She too, brought in snacks and volunteered at school and made things better. She introduced me to people and made my circle bigger and better. Aaaaand…..she’s gone for the year doing quiet things with her kids and long runs in mountains.

Time to step up. Time for me to buy snacks and be there and do the things and make things better. It’s been a challenge. Truth be told, I’m still a homebody. I loathe field trips. My kids are weird about bringing in snacks. And I can’t do the PTA meetings. I just can’t. I went for years, not because it is the responsible, connected, involved thing to do, but because sometimes you just need to show up for a friend. Welp, that friend is out of the country and I’m done being talked over and down to and I can.not.do.a mock code red drill for parents. Hooray for Safety Night: A special PTA meeting wherein you get to have questions go unanswered, be told you’re concerns are invalid, AND find out precisely what your kids will be told in an active shooter situation. Hard pass.

But I can buy snacks and hassle my kids to bring them in. And I can sit on a bus with a horde of shrieking germ vectors. I can help with math and I can reshelve books. And I will. Because my mom friends taught me how.

On Endurance

There’s a new employee at the cat store. She doesn’t yet know that I’m there every three weeks to buy lots of food and even more litter. She stood there, a little slack-jawed when I scooped up two 50-pound bags and walked out. “You’re stronger than you look!”

Uh. Oh.

With the post-race blues I sometimes get, Tuesday I got run over with the twin semis of “Not Enough” and “TOO DAMN MUCH”. I don’t usually pay any heed to those messages, like it’s a weird radio station and I can just change the channel, but this time the words stuck.

I planned ahead this fall. I planned to be BUSY. On purpose. So, I had two sprint triathlons on the schedule in September and October. I scheduled all the dentist and check-up appointments and flu shots. I even got to add a mammogram to the mix! Hello 40! I volunteered to chaperone ALL the fall field trips. I made meal plans and stocked the cupboards. I made weekend plans of Ironman WI volunteering, Forced Family Fun time trips to the orchard and camping and mud runs. I signed up for a trial fitness sampler and tried out boxing (NOPE), a rave/cycling class (more NOPE), and yoga in a new studio (eh, if it’s not Ruthie, it’s not Ruthie.) I helped build the school playground and went kayaking and found the one Chinese bakery in town and actually bought moon cakes in time for the Harvest Moon festival.

Moon cakes
It only took four years of poor planning to find moon cakes in town. Thank you Asian Sweet Bakery!

Yesterday was the day I ran out of stuff. My races are over, and I’ve slowed my half-marathon training to head off injury. So….that unsettling emptiness finally caught up to me. There’s nothing on the schedule but absorbing more of the news. The stuff we’re all inundated with that is all so disgusting and terrible and haunting and disappointing.

Honestly, my heart is still broken from the first day I dropped my son off at 4K. It never healed. Back-to-school open house was last night and we walked through his fifth-grade classroom, then caught his kindergarten teachers in the hall. And he got a hug from them. I didn’t know he still wanted hugs from Mrs. B and Ms. F. Oh, my heart.

Fifth grade sucks, guys. State capitals are okay, but learning division amidst a bunch of turd blossoms is exhausting. And, one of his classmates put another in a headlock in P.E. yesterday, and while I admire her spirit, more than one kid was scared to go to school today for fear they would be next. There were tears last night and this morning from my son, saying fifth grade has pushed him too far, and can we have a serious discussion about homeschooling.

There were tears at bedtime from my daughter wondering if she’s always going to be in pain, if she’s always going to be sick. That black hole in my heart is now so deep it’s no longer a separate entity.

This is our standard. I miss them terribly and they don’t want to go. The needle is still tipping to public school, but goddamn it for being so stressful.

And my old cat, my first true love, is getting, well, older. He’s getting thinner and pretty ratty looking. His face is shrinking away from his eyes and his fur has stopped growing in. In his heart, he is wild, and once he escapes the house, he’s in the wind. Two nights ago I made the half-hearted attempt to call him in at dark, knowing I’d either hear from him at three in the morning when he ‘sings the song of his people’ at the patio door, or two days from now. BUT he came. He slowly walked out the bushes and into the house. My son witnessed this and said solemnly, “Stuart has retired.” oh, Stuart.

Do you have a list of what you’re handling at the moment? And is some or most of that list things you can’t actually talk about? And it’s not the real thing, but the last thing that gets you?

For example, I could tell you that Infinity War broke me. I got into Marvel heros just two years ago, and mainlined them, and then curled up in a ball and sobbed in my theater lounger last spring. All seven of us who were in there sat, and sniffled and walked out, absolutely shattered. Screw you, Marvel. We’re done here.

Three times this week, someone has asked me what to do now. As if I know. I had to pull over and throw up while listening to Dr. Ford’s testimony. I meant to sign up for a Mindfulness in Motion class, but by the time I remembered AND found my password, I had lost my debit card. I was dressed like a teenage slob when I went to my mammogram last week. There was a piece of foam pipe insulation by the front door for a week before I realized it was actually cat shit.


I have been reading books about endurance. It started with “Born to Run”, and then “Natural Born Heroes”(both by Christopher McDougall). Then a post by The Oatmeal that drove a sad, yet hopeful spike into my heart, then “Life’s Too Short to go so Fucking Slow,” (Susan Lacke), “RUN! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss” and “Ultramarthon Man” (both by Dean Karnazes) and finally, “Eat and Run” by Scott Jurek. I find it compelling to know not why people do amazing feats of endurance, but how.

Because I’d sure like to know.

There are lots of reasons I do sprint tris, most which I can’t even articulate, but the one I’ve been thinking about most lately is that it’s good practice for the everyday. And I need the practice. You work hard. You put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes you just do things. You wanted a challenge. No one said it would be easy…. You get the idea.

I don’t know what your list is right now, but I hope you’re enduring.

Me? I’m going to take a shower, go to a going-away party, collect my kids from the bus stop in the hopes that no one got put in a headlock or had their soul crushed or feels terrible, and keep going.

I’m also going to refill the calendar with fuel for the perpetual motion machine of coping. Other ideas:

*Offer to do dishes or laundry for a new mom, but don’t be upset if she wants you to hold the baby instead,

*Walk your dog, or someone else’s,

*Get a kitten,

*Cut up and roast the damn vegetables already and eat like a grownup already,

*Go for a run,

*Volunteer at the polls, or for Meals on Wheels, or in your local school library, or at the next local event,

*Call my dad. Or your dad, but my dad is pretty great,

*Watch Trevor Noah, or The Good Place, or Superstore or The House,

*Drink something warm, or at least hold something warm in your hands, like a kitten. Or a baby.

*Sign up for ice skating or ukelele or bike maintenance lessons to fill November and December and beyond with,

*Hug your kids. Play their games, let them put up garbage decorations, read them the Winnie-the-Pooh story where Owl contemplates pushing Rabbit off a branch, put together puzzles, build a fort,

*and remember what Tom Hanks once said, about waking up each day and reminding yourself to breath in and out until you don’t have to remind yourself anymore.

You might just be stronger than you look.