Showing up…because I can

Showing up…because I can

Woody Allen said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.” For me that couldn’t have been more true than this past weekend. On my training schedule for Saturday was a 5k race. The River Edge Run. I had run the race 10 times in the past. Its a course on which I have two of my five fastest 5k times. Saturday? Not so much. One of my slowest. But in the Female 50-54 age group, my time was good enough for third place! On Sunday, I had six miles on the schedule; my last long run before next week’s New Jersey Half Marathon – my goal race of the spring season. Since I had to do six miles anyway, I figured why not donate to a local cause, have support on the course, and get a tee shirt! I signed up on race morning for the Thunderbird Run 10k. And, you guessed it, won 3rd place in my age group – again! And actually went home with the 2nd place medal since the fastest in my age group was fast enough for 3rd overall.

I have to confess that I was three out of three on Sunday. Only three woman between the ages of 50 and 54 got out of bed and participated in the 10k. Technically, you could say I finished last!  My time was far from my best and far from my 10k times from just a year or two ago.  I don’t feel totally deserving of a medal for that.  But I showed up! I got out of bed before 6 a.m. on a cold Sunday morning and put shorts on. And I ran…for six miles! And I feel damn good about that! So yeah, I took the medal and added it to my collection. Because I can. I run because I can.

There is a peace to be found pushing against pain, thirst and an ongoing mental conversation with yourself about “why the heck am I running 26.2 miles?”

The answer is: Because I can.

– Alfred P. Doblin,  Tom Fleming: a champion I would have liked to meet.  Read the full article.

I was saddened to learn last week of the death of Tom Fleming. I had the good fortune of meeting Tom a couple times over the years. I remember being inspired by someone so passionate about and dedicated to the sport – and in awe of his accomplishments. Especially in a local guy.  Tom was a New Jersey native who had won the New York City Marathon twice, was a runner up at Boston (twice) and winner of several other Marathons.  While most of us will never be the kind of athlete Tom was (or subscribe to his 150 miles a week marathon training regime), we understand his love of running and competing, and why he loved coaching kids and introducing so many to the sport.

The New Jersey Half Marathon is only five days away. I didn’t keep up with the training enough for a time goal, but I did do enough training to be fit, and to finish. And that’s satisfying enough. While I said I wanted to ramp up to run a fast Half, my heart wasn’t really in it. So I changed my goal. I wanted to run races with my boyfriend, and check off a few “bucket list” races; do some sightseeing and train just to cover the distances. And maybe sign up for more races than seem reasonable.

The New York Times wrote about Tom Fleming, “In 1973, during his senior year in college, he competed in a track meet on a Saturday, then ran the Boston Marathon two days later, finishing second.” So maybe we are following Tom’s example when we sign up for more than one race on the same weekend. And maybe in his death, Tom is a reminder that we should seize the moment. Run whenever we can. As runners we are  not invincible. And we are certainly not immortal.  So show up to everything for which you are able to show up! Don’t take for granted the opportunities you have before you – right in this moment. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll bring home a medal.

IMG_6296A stark reminder of the fragility of life seen on my run. A tribute to 2016 graduate, Sam Berman. Ramsey High School. April 2017.

 

Put your oxygen mask on first

Put your oxygen mask on first

This is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s post. That post, shared on our town’s Moms FaceBook page garnered the most views for anything I’ve posted for this blog. I am grateful for that. Thank you for sharing. When I started writing about mental health about a year after my husband’s death, it was my desire to help open more eyes and ears to something that deserves so much more attention.

Another post in the last week on that moms page which got a lot of attention got me thinking about how the standards to which we hold ourselves and each other can be quite harmful to our mental health. The post (for those of you not following along) was from a mom of younger – I assumed elementary school-age children – who was fed-up with the speed at which one particular teenager was driving down her residential street.  This of course would be a concern to any mom whether coming from the perspective of a parent of small children whose safety was in jeopardy or the parent of the teenager who may be speeding. Had that post stated the issue and then maybe something along the lines of if any knows who this is, please tell them to slow down, the safety of all our children is at stake! the response probably would have been all positive. Instead the post was addressed to “the parents of the teen” and concluded with the line Get your kid under control!!!!

The blame evoked in that post got under my skin. And instead of leaving well-enough alone I responded; I believe, as diplomatically as possible.  I said something like, I understand your concern, no one should be speeding on any street in our town, but to hold the parents of  a “child” of driving age responsible is wrong. There comes a time when young adults need to take responsibility for their own actions and at that age, parents have little control over what their teens do. To this she called me a failure as a parent. And I told her we should plan to chat again when her children were teenagers. The thread continued with many other moms weighing in. I can’t tell you anything that was said exactly because the original post and long thread of comments that followed has since been removed. Yes, it got that bad.

Let’s first talk about the expectation we – mothers – set for ourselves. We want to do everything right for our kids and if we perceive that they are falling short somewhere along the way, we often take the blame. We put enormous pressure on ourselves.  At the same time we are trying to raise our children to become successful adults, we are also trying to have satisfying marriages, running a household, managing the care of aging parents, and maybe even trying to balance a successful career. That’s a lot. And when a number of those areas aren’t working out quite as well as we planned. It gets frustrating. And depressing. Our mental health is in jeopardy. We need to give ourselves – and each other – a break and stop blaming, criticizing, and judging, or allowing ourselves to be.

That’s why I couldn’t leave well enough alone and not respond to that post. I was thinking about moms who were dealing with things far worse than speeding, and not wanting them to feel that in anyway they were to blame, As the parent of a 17-year-old, I now conclude that how our children turn out has as much to do with luck as great parenting. Like we can only take so much credit for the success of our children, we can only accept so much of the blame. 

I didn’t always see it that way though. I remember how not long ago I was that mom – the mom of a 11 year-old with good grades and perfect attendance, who loved school, was interested in attending Princeton or Yale, and was a finalist in the DARE essay contest. I was certain I knew how to raise a child; thought I’d have those teenage years covered and my kid – through my example and exemplary parenting skills – would be perfect.  I secretly judged other parents who were struggling, and imagined what they must be doing wrong. But before my husband and I could finish patting ourselves on the back, life quickly changed.  Seventh grade happened. And I began to learn that 1) these kids have free will, 2) we only have so much control, and 3) we can’t protect them from everything. And that’s okay.

As our children grow up, our perspective as parents change. Everything I experienced as a cancer survivor and losing my husband to suicide changed my perspective too. I don’t judge the way I used to. I now understand that everyone is dealing with challenges in their own homes and in their own bodies and in their own minds that the rest of us know nothing about. And sometimes we are simply ignorant, unable to see beyond our own perspective at that moment. I have learned as a coach that we are all – our children included – naturally creative, resourceful and whole. We’ll figure this out.

But let’s take care of ourselves – our own mental health – first. It’s like they say during the flight safety demonstration, ” If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” Especially as parents, we are no good to our children if we don’t first take care of ourselves – eat right, exercise, de-stress as much as possible. That way we have as much energy and as much mental capacity to deal with everything the kids are going to throw at us. Sometimes even still, that’s a tall order. 

We’ve heard it a million times, parenting is the most difficult job we will ever have — and we often have to do it while we deal with our own insecurities, limited perspective, other stressors coming at us from several different directions. All while under the watchful gaze of other parents who think they can do it better. Have you ever looked through a bookstore for a parenting book? Have you seen the number of often contradictory subjects? Do you know why this is? Because we are all unique. Every parent. Every child. There is no one size fits all solution that will work for everyone. We have to find what works best for us.

Remember in my last post when I said, “as if parenting wasn’t a gray hair creating, anxiety producing fiasco that constantly left me in a state of self-doubt already”? Well, I (we all!) don’t need other parents adding to that self-doubt. We need to support one another. We need to approach our relationships with other parents from the perspective of a coach – that everyone is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. Sure we need to look out for each others kids, and talk amongst ourselves to solve problems and discover solutions when there are issues facing our community or our children. But we must work together. Blame, criticism, judgement, and unsolicited advice doesn’t help anyone. 

Most importantly, take care of yourself. We all have the strength we need within ourselves. To find the answers that are right for you and your family, look no further than yourself. Stop listening to everyone else. Trust your instincts, your intuition, yourself. And a journey of self-discovery starts with a clear head. When you’re feeling the heat; get out of the kitchen. Walk away. Get off FaceBook. Meditate. Go for a run. Walk in the woods. Make an appointment with a therapist. Hire a coach. Practice the self-care that works for you. Solving the mental health crisis that I spoke about last week starts with us.

IMG_6338Ramapo Valley County Reservation. Mahwah, New Jersey. April 2017

Driving Talk

Driving Talk

Yesterday my daughter celebrated her 17th birthday. She took – and passed! – her drivers test and is now a licensed driver (as if parenting wasn’t a gray hair creating, anxiety producing fiasco that constantly left me in a state of self-doubt already). She took a friend out to dinner last night – under her own power. This morning she drove herself to lacrosse practice (while I got to sleep in a little longer!). Mom is no longer needed for drop offs or pick-ups. So here I am somewhere between enjoying  my own freedom, and missing her; being happy for her because I remember the new life that suddenly enveloped me as a driver; and yet being worried because I remember, too.  We hope, as parents, that we have given our children all the tools and skills they need to survive in the wild alone, understanding that there comes a time when they are responsible for themselves and we can’t possibly protect them any more from the mistakes they will make. We hope – we pray – that those mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth, not pathways to tragedy.

My daughter’s new freedom came just a few days after she told me they had announced that another graduate of her high school lost his battle with heroin addiction. This young man, who just a short year ago walked the same halls as my daughter, was now a statistic in this tragic epidemic that has engulfed New Jersey. My heart broke for the boy’s parents. Having lived through the loss of both of my parents, other close friends and relatives, and even my husband, I still can’t begin to imagine the depths of despair that one could feel by the loss of a child.

This finally stopped me in my tracks. Maybe it hit closer to home – literally and in its timing. This is not the first tragedy like this to touch our small town. I have cried for other parents before. A local parent wrote a book in 2014 about her son’s death from a heroin overdose at his home not far from us. My friend is involved in supporting an organization, Michael’s Voice, whose mission is to educate, give hope and remove the shame and stigma from people affected by opiate addiction. She has shared their information on FaceBook; but until now, I never visited their website. Today, I can see so clearly the link between suicide – which touched my life personally – and addiction. And how we are missing the point as a community and letting our kids down.

On the Michael’s Voice website, Michael’s mother writes, “It was an accident. Lured, by a cunning drug that destroys impulse control and crushed, under the shame and stigma of being addicted…..He used alone and died.” She understands the “stigma of being an addict.” Addiction is a mental health issue, not a crime. We teach our kids in the 5th grade about drug and alcohol resistance, by telling them that drugs and alcohol are bad. By high school that “education” no longer matters and too many kids who don’t possess the skills to cope with the increased stress of acedemia or athletic performance, turn to drugs. What teenager cares about what a police officer told them in a 5th Grade DARE program at that point?

The “War on Drugs” has failed. There are countless statistics showing that treating drug addiction as a crime, isn’t working.  Google it and you’ll find a plethora of articles backing up that statement. Here’s one that provides a good summary: Why the ‘war on drugs’ isn’t working. And I could write an entire book on children as collateral damage in the “war on drugs” because of the results of having a parent in prison due to a drug offense. But those aren’t our kids, right? So let’s keep the discussion on “our kids.” The majority of heroin related deaths in New Jersey are now people under the age of 30; the number of heroin users seeking treatment in New Jersey who are white has increased 20% in recent years (Herointown, N.J.: The state’s heroin crisis in 9 startling statistics, NJ.com). While New Jersey is (thankfully?) ranked among the lowest states for suicides in the United States, suicide is a leading cause of death for individuals ages 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34. We don’t have a drug abuse problem, or a suicide problem. What we have collectively is a mental health problem. In the article about the young man’s death this week, they quoted his last Tweet, “There has to be somewhere better than here.”

Our communities continue to pour money into an ineffective program and ‘crime prevention,” while a huge stigma still exists around mental heath; while our kids lack the tools to cope with life in an increasingly stressful world. I am not going to pretend that I have done anything right, or that my child doesn’t have the potential to be a statistic. We can’t judge other parents, or say “not my kid.” I know all too well, as a cancer survivor and suicide loss survivor, that yes, the unthinkable does happen – in our towns, and in our own homes. Fostering open and honest, non-judgmental, communications with our kids, is probably the most important method, but we can’t do it alone. And lessoning the stigma around mental health issues – including addiction – is a necessary component to healing and reducing these statistics.  We must start talking about that in our communities.

Since one size doesn’t fit all, there has to be a whole bunch of programs and the schools and other community organizations need to get behind them. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am volunteering with the Let Me Run program for elementary and middle school boys (similar to Girls on the Run). Some of the objectives of the program include “being able to identify and express a wide range of emotions; learning to be a better friend and identifying true friends; defining success and competition in healthy ways, expanding knowledge on various topics so they can make better physical, emotional and mental health choices” – essentially giving these boys the tools they need to cope with life as it becomes increasingly challenging and stressful. If I hadn’t volunteered to be one of two necessary coaches for the Wednesday/Friday session or if the local Lutheran Church hadn’t agreed to lend some indoor space (for inclement weather), this program simply wouldn’t have happened. When the lead volunteer coach who founded our program approached the schools some months back, she was told that a classroom could be rented at $75 a day! The program doesn’t have that kind of a budget. I just don’t understand why the schools wouldn’t want to fully embrace a program like this.

When my daughter was in the 6th grade, having enjoyed the DARE program the year before, she wanted to participate in the “DARE Club.” She was told they couldn’t accept her unless I was willing to volunteer with the program. I couldn’t. I was working full-time in New York City. So she missed out. I don’t know that it ultimately made a difference, since that program has been deemed so ineffective, but we should not be denying our children opportunities to participate in programs that can potentially provide them the tools and skills they need. And most of all, we need to start letting our kids know that it’s okay to talk about what’s going on in their heads, what to do when something doesn’t feel right – to us, to their teachers, to their friends. We need to create a culture where their voice will not be met with judgement. We need to demand from our government that financial issues aren’t an impediment to getting the help anyone needs.

The high school provides a driver’s education class as part of the health curriculum sophomore year. In order to get a learner’s permit at 16, the State of New Jersey requires six hours of behind the wheel education with an accredited driving school. There are countless hours of practice driving with an adult, and then the requirement of passing the road test before being issued a probationary license. They are very well prepared – equipped with the tools and skills they need – to be competent drivers when they pull out of the driveway for that first time alone. And just in case, we put them in the safest cars the auto industry has ever produced, with all-wheel drive, anti-lock breaks, and airbags, and we require them by law to wear a seatbelt. Yet, mental health issues – addiction and suicide – continue to be a leading cause of death for our children that we don’t even want to talk about. Let’s start talking!

IMG_6211My car. Without me. On the road beyond my driveway. Ramsey, New Jersey. April, 2017.