Better & Bolder, the Blog

Skin

belly up


I am sitting on the deck of the pool, adjusting my goggles and getting the music started on my MP3 player. I am giddy: the next moment is so delicious. I slide into the pool, push off, and glide forward into the cool water. My skin is alive with the sensation. I have left gravity behind.

I am slowly moving from DNGAF to Actually, I do care. But I don’t care about what I used to care about. I used to care if someone saw my belly. Now I care about the feeling of sun and air on my skin when I wear a bra top and leave the tank at home.

The first day I tried this, I felt apologetic. I’m sorry, random stranger, that you must bear witness to my bare and imperfect belly. I had to really steel myself: this is okay. I am outside on a walk with my dog, and there are no laws that say I must cover my belly. Then I put the responsibility back where it belongs: on the random stranger. If that person is bothered, that’s their issue, not mine. It’s – what? five seconds of their life at the most? Yeah, they’ll get over it.

I used to care if my hair looked all right. I had a kind of narrow idea of what alright looked like. Now I’m letting my curls get a little wild. It suits me.

Sometimes I get home and look in the mirror and think, whoa, that’s what my hair has looked like for the past few hours? I DNGAF and no one else did either. Really. No one is paying that much attention. I feel proud of myself for finally running out of fucks to give to something that doesn’t matter at all. 

I wear a two piece bathing suit to swim laps at the outdoor pool. It feels good. Every now and then I think about what I might look like to other people but most of the time, I don’t think about it. Because I’m not looking in a mirror. I’m not checking myself out. I’m just wearing what I’m wearing. I’m thinking about swimming and whether I’ll get a lane all to myself. I’m thinking about the music I’ll be listening to and what it will feel like, those first few seconds when I glide into the pool.

The moments are delicious when I’ve gotten out of the pool and I lay down to dry off. The sun hits my skin, and slowly I warm up again all over.

Independence Day (the Magic Years)

IMG_1998


I went to bed last Monday night feeling a bit sad. After watching American Ninja Warrior with his dad, our son Ailin packed up some more of his stuff and headed to his new home. This is the first time he has lived anywhere except here. Here. At my house. My house. Okay, of course, it’s the family house, and, of course, Hugh and I live here together. Oh, but still. I went to bed a bit sad and a bit afloat. Am I really ready to be this next version of me in the next stage of life?

HELL TO THE YEAH I AM.  I woke early on Tuesday. Was it Christmas morning? No, it was Independence Day. This was my house. Let’s pound some tunes before 8 am. I felt energized in a way I hadn’t for months, ready to get my body and spirit moving.

Having my adult children here simply felt wrong. It was past due, over ripe. I haven't stopped                          worrying about them. I continue to support them. I’m still Mama. But there isn’t a constant reminder of their needs when they’re living somewhere else as there is when they’re here in my space. I won’t have that tick tick tick in my brain, wondering if they’re on time for work in the morning or why aren’t they home late at night. There’s just so much more room to not give a fuck.

And that’s a mighty fine place to be. I looked in the mirror this morning at my funky curls and I thought, I’m liking my funky curls. Go, Funky. Go, Curly. I have held onto a longtime dissatisfaction with my looks; I am not a beautiful woman. I’m not ugly, either, and I am feeling much better about not caring about my looks because TBH no one else does. Everyone looks more beautiful with a smile, so, you know, just have more to smile about.

Such as, BEING ALONE IN MY HOUSE. Cleaning out the cabinets. I’m cleaning out the pantry. I like having so much space and extra room.

Siobhan says my dog Zee is my Empty Nest baby. Could be. I chased her outside this morning: go play. Mama’s gonna clean up in here.

I had a blast in my 40s, raising kids into teens. Maybe I’ll look back and say, yes, that was the best time in my life. Maybe nothing again will feel as connected and vital, as surprising and nurturing. I’m so much stronger now, though. My compassion for others is stronger, my patience is stronger, my ability to stay calm is stronger. None of those are easy for me, but I’m getting better and those qualities make my life both richer and easier. The way I feel today, maybe the 50s will turn out to be my best time of life.

Or it could be the 60s, when I’m even stronger, when my boundaries are firmer and my giving-a-fucks have faded more. Then again, how sweet might the 70s be. I imagine I could grow more detached from work. I could become more appreciative of what I can do rather than constantly, always whipping myself for what I cannot and do not do.

The 50s, 60s, 70s -- this post-menopausal, post-production time is fertile for exploration, travel, creativity, all the things that can happen when we are less tied to the chores of growing a family. I don’t have to make space for two other large, hormonal young humans who are still messily figuring stuff out. What’s the name for this part of life? Empty Nest? Hell no. Mama’s still feathering this nest because it’s my nest.

Maybe I’ll come up with some great name later, but for now I’m going to call these the Magic Years. Magic happens when there’s intention, experience, skill, and wisdom and when there’s not a ton of attachment to outcome. Magic happens all the time, and these years are a wonderful time to notice magic more. Having grown two humans, now I can go grow something else – or not – maybe I just rest a while. Or maybe I make magic happen, sparking it from my fingertips as I dance, sharing it in my prayers as I run, dreaming of it at night. Maybe I make magic happen, breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out.

 

 

Letting Go


blue steel


It is 4:30 am. For reasons I don’t know, my daughter came home with a friend around 4. Our dog Zee had a fit. I was already awake, having transferred to the couch downstairs when my dear husband’s snoring proved twice as strong as my earplugs. I shouted at the dog to quiet.  My son woke up and shouted at Zee. Eventually the dog quieted. My daughter did whatever she came for and left.  

That’s the last time.

Tomorrow night, sometime after Game of Thrones ends its first episode of the season, my daughter and her brother will go home to their own place.

I have been waiting for this day for four years. When my daughter packed up for a year of college in Santa Cruz, I was excited for her. DH (dear husband, dear heart) and I flew with her to California to set her up in her dorm room. For those few days, I contemplated my age and my choices. Surfers surfed, and I watched them, mesmerized by their skill and audacity.  I would never have that. I had made different choices with my youth. I had applied and been accepted to UCSC but chose a college back East instead. It’s cold in Massachusetts – what the hell was I thinking? I wanted a good school, a name school, one that would be impressive. I thought that was important. I didn’t know I hated the cold. I didn’t know how depressed I would become – dreaming of walking barefoot out in the snow.

One of the best choices I ever made was marrying my DH and having these two kids with him. Another of my best choices was settling in Albuquerque in this house on the bosque. Third great choice was my career as a teacher, which I love and which I believe is who I am: at my core, I am a teacher.

I’m not a surfer. I tried it once, finally, a year and a half ago in Panama where we went so I could lead, with my daughter, a Nia and Yoga retreat. We visited a friend I have known since I was five; we grew up together in Southern California. In all those years in So Cal, I never learned to surf. But on retreat, with an excellent teacher, our entire group tried it out. I wasn’t bad, though the rest of my family were all much more confident and skilled. I’d get scared and instead of embracing the ride, I’d back off. Basically, the idea is that we do out in the ocean is what we do in life. There’s some truth to that but some bullshit, too. There’s plenty I have risked and dared: there’s no way to commit to a spouse and raise a family without being willing to take a long, long ride.

We were surfing in the white water, and it was more shallow than I’d realized. As I lost my balance, I threw myself off the board into the water. I hit my tail hard on the bottom. I was sore for days. I felt so stupid. I had over-reacted. I do not have what it takes to be adventurous. I never backpacked in the Himalayas. It’s looking very likely, here at 54, that I will not become a surfer or a backpacker or a hundred other choices.

I keep looking back. What kind of runner could I have been in my 20s or 30s? How strong might I have become if I’d been weight lifting then? I keep looking back even five years ago, when my kids were in high school and one of my jobs was being their mom and we were a unit, a family of four.  

When we said our goodbyes and left our daughter in Santa Cruz, I was bereft. I sobbed on the floor of our hotel room. We flew home, away from the captivating surf, and it was just the three of us, my husband, son, and I. I knew the four of us would be together again, obviously, but not  as we had been. That stage of life was over. I passed her empty room and sobbed before dragging myself to bed.

Then I was fine. No, really. The next morning, I woke up and felt clear, steady. I didn’t need to cry anymore. I missed my daughter but I was busy with my life, and the guys and I settled into our own rhythm. It was kind of nice. I knew at some point both kids would be gone, and I was even starting to look forward to that. Since then, Siobhan has come home, left for Amsterdam, come home, left for New Orleans, and come home again. She plans to leave again.

I thought I’d taken care of myself after hitting my tail in Panama, but my body must have held on to that injury. Whatever back and hip and nerve injury has kept me limping this past month has now mutated. Saturday morning I woke up, feeling better and more stable, but then I tried to dance. Nerve pain shot from my back down my leg. Sciatica. That’s a new one for me. It hurts. I am guessing it is not a coincidence that this developed on the morning my kids signed a lease together to rent a house.

No more a coincidence than my leg giving out on the morning before I took my mother to meet with her surgeon to plan how to deal with her aggressive uterine cancer. The surgeon did a great job, and my mom did great. There’s no way, faced with this kind of thing, not to think about death, though. When our parents have gone – and DH’s parents have both passed – we know: we’re next in line. Our kids are becoming adults. We’re getting old. At some point, the getting old interferes with the fun stuff in life, like having the energy to stay out past midnight or the ability to recover well from a long, hard run.

It’s 5:30 am. I see the sky turning from night to early morning blue. Some of the runners are already powering up with coffee, planning to meet up with friends soon, racing the sun. I won’t be joining them, of course, and I wonder if I ever will again. I need a lot of hours awake and moving before I’m ready to roll. I can’t do what those young people do without consequences. I like to imagine I am so tough and so strong that I can train the way other women do. But I’m not. I’m not a surfer. I’m not a Himalayan backpacker. Given ten alternative life lines, I imagine in some I might have chosen UCSC over Williams College, or maybe I would have settled in New York or California instead of New Mexico. Maybe. Maybe. But I never would have become the adventurous surfer chick or the outdoorswoman. It’s not who I am. And truthfully? I like to imagine given 10 alternative life times, I would have chosen this man, this home, and this life raising these kids every time.

DH and I are excited to have so much room in our house. I love to sleep with my husband, of course, but he snores, or wakes up and can’t go back to sleep and wants to read. He goes to bed earlier or later than I do, and we don’t wake at the same time either. With my daughter gone, there’s a whole other room in which to sleep. At our age, sleep is hard-won and heavily prized. Just as exciting as getting an additional sleep room, DH’s art room will be transformed as our son will take his weights with him to his new house.  DH is a sculptor. He’s an artist; it’s who he is. Sometime, coming soon, he’ll retire from a job that is not who he is and spend his time making art. DH doesn’t seem to mind slowing down as much as I have minded. He will not cry when the kids leave. He will not feel what I feel, which is a grand psychic shift, the shudder as my life purpose – grow children! – is complete.

Raising kids is 20 years out of a lifetime. How did those 20 years become my definition and purpose? What’s next?

For a while, I think I was letting running define me. It’s not really who I am, though. I’m a mover. I love to run, and I love to walk and dance and swim and hike. I will never be excellent at any of those things. I’m not hardcore. I’m going to be a lot happier when I stop comparing myself to other women, the ones I believe are more hardcore than I. Statistics say I’m going to be a lot happier with an empty nest, too. There’s less stress, fewer responsibilities. More space.

I do not have a plan for what’s next. I do not have a vision. I don’t have a bucket list. When my daughter moves away again, I’ll go visit her wherever she is, and I’m looking forward to that. I like the weight and strength of our tether and knowing she gets to lead and I get to follow. DH and I will find other places to explore, just the two of us, maybe Yellowstone or Vancouver some day.

Most days, we’ll just be home. Because that’s who I am, a homebody. It’s not exciting or adventurous or badass or hardcore. The sooner I get okay with that, the happier I will be. I think, once the kids are gone, I can help DH organize his art space, maybe find him a good sturdy work table that will go right where our son’s weights used to be. Next, I’ll clean out the pantry. Then I’ll start on the closets.

I’ll just let stuff go.  

What I do when I’m not training


Arch sky

Really? It’s been nearly a full year since I last posted here. Damn. 

Here’s what happened. I got tired and I got shy. Everything I wrote felt banal. What used to feel important just felt not worth anyone’s time. 

Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s all just blah blah blah my life blah blah blah insert universal point here. Or maybe I was thinking too much and not letting the juicy stuff flow. Whichever it is, I figured I ought give this another try. I’ll post at least once a week for…well, for a while, and I’ll see how that feels. 


I started this summer with plans to compete in a difficult trail race in August. I was looking forward to the challenge. 

I can pinpoint the 6 mile trail run that did me in. It didn’t seem that way at the time. But, walking in New Orleans in the days following that run, I could feel my leg just — stop — just give out and I thought, wow, my quads are tight. They were, but it was more than that. I kept walking and running and sometimes it felt okay, even the day I ran a hard 4 miles up hill and up trail and then 4 miles back down. The runs after that stopped feeling okay, but I still got up early one morning to join friends for a cement road run. When I got out of the car, that was it: my left leg was not connected. I used my hands to lift my leg out of the car and limped hard through the next few weeks. 

Because I couldn’t walk or run, I got into the pool. Blessed be and holy wow, I am so grateful that I learned to swim as a kid. 

I swam a bit after college and on and off when my kids were young, and I’d taught myself how to breathe out of both sides during freestyle laps. It was difficult for me the first few times in the pool not to compare swimming to running. There’s no comparison. 

The first few swims, I counted my laps. Then I looked online to see equivalents: one mile of swimming is equivalent to how much running. Obsessively for three days, I read reviews of swimming watches so I could find one that would help me measure both distance and time in the pool. I thought about what I would need to do to go farther and faster. I was going to turn swimming into running. I’d work out X hard for Y amount of time. 

One day in the pool, I noticed I was starting to feel tired. I’d lost count of the laps. I wasn’t sure I had done enough or that my workout was sufficiently hard. But I was sure that my body had gotten tired and felt ready to stop. So I chose to push just a bit beyond that first signal and told myself to swim five more laps. Then I stopped. I’d measured my swim by  my body.  

I found an outdoor pool, and I discovered how much fun it is to swim with fins. Knowing my arms and shoulders needed to build up strength, I crept up from swimming twice a week to three times and now I’m at four times, including some speed laps. I am beginning to feel stronger. And more alive in the water. 

Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, more than a month, I took my dog Zee for a walk. I went super slowly. I stopped often to stretch. I danced some of the steps, or walked backwards, or walked wide stance, whatever I could to reduce the intensity of step-step-step. Walking hurts more than anything else right now (I’m not even trying to run). Swimming feels good, and I always feel better after dancing Nia. This was the first time I walked and didn’t feel worse afterwards. 

I’m excited that some day — will it take another month? — I’ll walk without pain, and my dog and I can wander for an hour or two. 

Because I am not entirely bat-shit crazy, I know I’ve got to take it slowly when I’m strong enough to return to running. I can do a mix of running/walking and I can try pool running. I like the idea of running two or three times a week, out on the bosque trails with my dog who needs to run, maybe 4 or 5 or 6 miles. Just to run. 

When I started competing in races, I didn’t realize how much this would change my perspective on movement, exercise, and training. I began to see a five mile run as kind of nothing. It wasn’t a hard workout. Doesn’t every athlete put in two hours a day? My Nia classes weren’t always intense, so, sure, I can run in the morning and dance in the afternoon. Teaching a Nia class became my rest day. There were no days off. I didn’t want days off. 

I added in weight training not because it’s fun and intrinsically motivating but because I was supposed to (it’s encouraged for post-menopausal women) and, well, it would make me a stronger runner. Some of the training is fun, sure, and I’ve learned a lot. But given a choice of dancing, running, walking, hiking, biking, or swimming, strength & weight training comes in last. A friend challenged me - why was I doing this thing if it’s not about the joy of movement? 

Training to compete can take up a lot of energy and time. Everything in life – what we eat, what we do when we’re not training – becomes a part of training. Even at my level (a million miles away from professionals and pre-professionals), training took up lots of mental and physical energy that was no longer available for other things. It was fun, and it became part of my identity. But it also came at a cost. 

Part of my identity – I’m strong! I love going fast and hard and working out several times a day! – has been challenged by my injuries. Am I not that strong? Do I really want to work out that often and that hard? Is competition important to me? If it is, why? What do I get out of training? What do I get out of the medal around my neck after a race?

At first, the idea of not training and competing hit me hard – a loss. Not only that – fear. Would I completely fall apart physically if I’m not pushing myself that hard? Will I become ordinary? Will I become unable to push fast and hard anymore? I don’t want to lose that ability to go turbo. 

I love running. I love training, too, though sometimes training is not about the joy of movement. I don’t know how I feel about that. Most athletes just take it — sure, sometimes it’s painful but you just suck it up and do it. There is a great sense of accomplishment in pushing hard, especially on a day when maybe we didn’t think we wanted to work out at all. 

Last year I ran 1200 miles. I know because I logged almost all of my miles on Strava (a miles counting app for cycling and running). In November when I saw how close I was to 1200, I pushed to make that number. But you know what? Nobody cares. It’s just a number. It doesn’t define me. This year will be far fewer miles, and I didn’t stop being Beth or stop having worth. 

Here’s the other thing. Now that I think about it, I can’t remember if it was 1000 or 1100 or 1200. I think it was 1200. (I could check; all my numbers are waiting for me on Strava.) 

I’ve worked hard to run personal best times (PRs) in races but I don’t remember those numbers either. I trained for months, ran my best, earned a PR, and, yeah, I do not remember my time or how I placed. Nobody will ask me; nobody will care. 

The value in training to compete is whatever we learn and experience as we train. Race day is just one day. Somehow I have been defining myself by this training and those numbers, but I don’t exactly know what are those numbers. 

This spring, I gave up my scale. I decided it did not actually matter what I weighed. Seeing the number wasn’t helpful and sometimes was harmful. I felt happy or less happy depending on the number, which is seriously messed up.  

And how different was that from running? From being happy or not with a run depending on how far or fast I went? 

After giving up the scale, I gave up my running watch. Man, I loved that watch. I loved those numbers. Yet I also was valuing my run at least in part on distance and speed. The joy of movement isn’t quantifiable. If I’m not training, I do not need to know how far or fast I’m going. 

 A decision about whether I define myself as an athlete or not and whether I will continue to compete or not is not a permanent decision. It’s also not separate from my self-identity and lifestyle. What will I make room for in my life when I’m not training to race? Where will all that energy go when it’s not going toward training?

 I’m enjoying myself in ways I have not in long while. I jump into that pool with no expectations beyond feeling better when I get out. I sit outside for hours in the evening, reading mostly but also watching the sun go down and the stars come out. 

No one will give me a medal for being in the moment. It’s how I will remember this summer, at least in part. Being in the water. Being in the sun. Being in that chair with my feet up and a book in my hands.