Friday, August 29, 2014

I should have done more

Yesterday I wrote about all of the fun we had at the Minnesota State Fair. Today I'll write about the part that continues to make me sick to my stomach.

We were walking down the midway after Elliot and Audrey put on their game faces and tried the roller coaster. Isaac was looking for a ride that better suited his disposition and had settled on bumper boats. No twists, turns, or unexpected whirling. As we walked I noticed a woman ahead of us and about eight feet behind her trailed a little boy. She was walking in a way that suggested too much alcohol or some sort of physical disability. Her gait was awkward enough to catch my eye, but what she did next kept me glued to her.

She whirled around to face the little boy, jean shorts, t-shirt, brown hair, and only 4 or 5 years old and sneered at him as her arms flailed, "You. Ruin. Everything." She didn't shout it or scream uncontrollably, but somehow her controlled voice and obvious disgust made her wretched words even more difficult to hear. As an innocent bystander I was horrified that she would say that to this boy and couldn't imagine the pain he felt. Or maybe he'd heard it, or something like it, so often that it didn't register anymore unless it got even worse.

I was so upset by this that I followed along behind them. She alternated between walking too fast for him to catch up and walking back to drag him along. The fear he felt at her hands on his arms was obvious. I didn't know what to do. So I just kept following. I could never hear what she said, but I could read disgust and hate in her face and hear it in her voice.

We got to the bumper boats and Isaac, Audrey, and Jim got on. By now the woman and small boy had turned back and were headed back toward the roller coaster. She was dragging him along again, his little feet struggling to catch up and his hands trying to get away. I was holding Asher and told Elliot to come with me. At this point she left the fairgrounds by walking out between two of the rides and the boy was following her a few steps behind. I noticed two men watching her as well and when I got closer I realized that they were State Fair employees. I asked if they were monitoring this situation and told them what I had seen. They were concerned that she might be drunk or high on drugs and that they were heading toward a busy intersection. I asked if they could use their walkie talkies to call for police help because that boy needed help. One of the men started following her off of the grounds and used his walkie talkie to call for more help.

Then I left.

I left for two reasons. 1-I wanted to get back to enjoy the fair as a family and to watch Isaac and Audrey enjoy the end of their ride. 2-I didn't want to be there if the police couldn't stop her. I didn't think I could handle seeing that boy leave with her.

What I wanted to do was get the little boy to bring him home and love him forever. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but no one, I repeat no one, deserves to be talked to in that manner even once, but it was obvious that this boy heard this and a whole lot more every day. And that's not even considering the physical abuse I'm almost certain he endures.

I'm still angry that anyone thinks it's okay to treat a child this way. I still cry thinking about this. I still cry for that little boy and the pain and fear he feels at the hands of someone that should make him feel loved and protected.

I don't know if I am a coward for not confronting her. I don't know if it would have been safe to do it with my kids present. I don't know if that's what I tell myself to let myself think I did enough for a little boy who needs people on his side to step up and protect him from the woman who should be the one doing the protecting. I don't know.

I wish I'd done more. I wish I'd call the police myself and stayed to see what happened. I wish I could change a piece of his story. Catch his eye and tell him he's someone special. There are so many things I wish.

But I just don't know.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

vini, vidi, vici. *

* We came. We saw. We conquered.

OK, it wasn't quite as dramatic as a Julius Caesar victory, but it is a victory nonetheless when you spend a day at the Minnesota State Fair with four kids and no kids get lost, no tantrums are thrown, no one gets sick, and everyone has a great time. That, my friends, is a victory! I'm ignoring the part where Elliot got bored waiting for me to feed Asher and found a few pebbles to throw at a building. That is normal, bored kid behavior which was quickly nixed and we carried on with our long, fun day at the fair. Oh, I should also mention that I didn't lose any kids, but I did lose Jim. And, surprise, surprise, I didn't have my cell phone with me. Long, frustrating story, but we found each other again. It's not the fair without a little craziness.

Since we are moving, we decided we definitely needed one last trip to the State Fair, especially because Asher had never been before and it is a total Minnesota thing to do. We packed up the stroller and the necessary gear to keep baby, kids, and parents happy and headed out on a stunningly beautiful, 75 degree, sunny, breezy day. Really, we couldn't have asked for better weather.

We had a list of things we wanted to try to do and while we didn't get everything done, we did knock quite a few off of the list and we found out that it takes a long time to navigate the fair with so many small people and one big stroller. Luckily we have been practicing our flexibility, not a natural strong suit in a few of my children, and they handled it like champs.

It's the end of August. The end of summer. The frogs are out in full force. I hear the crickets chirping away. There is dew on the grass in the mornings and a chill in the air. Summer is on its way out once again and going to the fair really closes the book on summer. Gosh. How did that happen so quickly. I told Jim today that I'm going to really freak out when I turn the page in my planner and it says September. What a summer it has been.

Here's our day in photos.
Audrey and Isaac prepare for the giant slide

Here comes Isaac

Asher's first ride. He liked it more than his unimpressed face indicates

And Elliot liked it less than his beautiful smile indicates

Isaac tackles the rope course

And down he comes

Audrey was terrified, but she powered through. I was so proud of her

And down she comes for a big hug and pep talk

Best corn on the planet!

four fun kids and one full stroller

The gang's all here!

Ready to head into the Fun House

Elliot's first roller coaster. He said he would have liked it if he didn't think it was going to fall off and it went slower and we didn't spin around. I suggested that maybe he just didn't like it. He thought I was probably right.

Jim school the little kids at this game

So he got the giraffe. :)

At the top of the DNR Fire Tower

checking out the livestock

Asher loooooved the Fair

Thanks for the memories!
 Do you have a special event in your family or in your community that signifies the end of summer?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Finding your tribe

Last night we had our Moms on the Run End of Season Banquet to celebrate a wonderful summer of running and friendship. I have had the privilege of being part of Blaine Moms on the Run for the past five years, first as a runner, then as a volunteer coach, an injured coach, a pregnant coach, and finally a head coach. What a ride it has been! Banquet night is always an emotional night as we celebrate the strength, determination, and achievements of women who step out of their comfort zone and push themselves to new limits, but last night was especially emotional because it is nearing time to say "goodbye," or rather "see you later," to people I love dearly.

I joined the group to try to fit exercise into my busy, stay at home to three kids ages 1, 3, and 5 life. I never expected the way it would change my life or the friendships I would make or how strong I could feel. I never expected that someday I would have to say goodbye to this group and it would kind of break my heart.

I asked if I could speak for a couple of minutes at the banquet to say goodbye and to let each person in the room know just what this group has meant to me. I stood up in front of that room of 500 women and I almost couldn't speak. I thought, "Oh crap. I'm just going to stand up here for three minutes crying and then they'll finally ask me to go back to my seat." Thankfully I pulled myself together enough to talk through the tears. Here's what I said:

I feel like I’m standing up here in front of my people. My tribe. I know I don’t know all of you, but I feel like I know you in the most important ways. I know that you take a really busy schedule and squeeze and tug and stretch it until there are a few little spaces in it that allow time to run. I know you probably don’t stretch as long as you should because as soon as you get home there are 3,001 things to do. I know that if you have kids you want them to see an active, happy, healthy, whole mama and hope they’ll follow in your running footsteps. I know that if we went for a run together, when our watches beeped at mile 1 (because we’d both be wearing our watches, obviously), we’d have laughed together or cried together or both and we’d probably be trying to squeeze and tug and stretch our schedules a little more to find time to run together again.

I love all of you like runners do, but can I just talk to my Blaine people for a minute. You guys. You have no idea what you have meant to me. When marriages hit a rough patch and ACLs are torn and babies are born and kids are sick and all the other pieces of life that overwhelm, you have been there for me in all the ways that matter most. You reminded me of the simple, yet transformative, power found in putting one foot in front of the other, even when it’s really hard. Because sometimes it’s really hard when we’re running and sometimes it’s really hard when we’re navigating our way through the world. You have been the lighthouse signaling safety in the midst of a raging sea. Maybe you didn’t know that. I want you to know now. I could never ever thank you enough. Saying goodbye to you just absolutely sucks.

This world is so overwhelmingly horrible and so shockingly beautiful. There is suicide and Ferguson and the Ukraine and Iraq. There is so much. Becoming a runner and being a part of this group has shown me just how beautiful and good people can be. Thank you to Karissa for taking a few friends in Forest Lake and creating this beautiful lighthouse in the Twin Cities and now across the country. Thank you to all of you for joining. For some it was an easy decision. For others it was a huge leap out of your comfort zone. But look. You’re doing it. We’re all doing it. We’re getting stronger and making friends and accomplishing things in running and life that we didn’t know we could.

So you see, my inspirational story is a little different. It’s an affirmation or a reminder, or maybe you’re hearing it for the first time, that you are an inspiration. You and you and you and you. All of you. Because you show up, even when it’s hard. Because in a culture that says women tear each other down to lift themselves up, you know that together we go higher and faster and farther.

So keep showing up. Keep being a friend. Keep laughing and crying together. Keep believing in yourself enough to take chances. Keep believing in the friend next to you because the time will come when she’s injured or having a streak of bad runs or life is kicking her while she’s down and she won’t remember how strong and worthy she is and how grand life can be. Remind her. And in a few weeks or a few months or maybe years, she’ll remind you, too.

Keep inspiring your friend and your co-worker who says he would only run if a zombie was chasing him and your spouse or partner and your aunt who says you’re ruining your knees and your kids who look at you and see a happy, smiling, sweaty, beautiful, whole mama and realize they want to be just like you.

And if you ever find yourself in the Denver area and don’t call me to go running, may you get just a touch of altitude sickness as punishment and as a reminder that DeNae misses you. Because I will miss all of you and this community of strong, beautiful runners so very much.

Thank you. For everything.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Asher turns one tomorrow. Cuatro es uno.

I'm shaking my head and asking the question all the mothers before me have asked on the eve of the baby's first birthday. How in the sam hill did we get here? I was pregnant. I remember that. The baby was born. I remember that, too. Then things get fuzzy and begin traveling at warp speed. But here we are. One year later. Sigh. Why does it always have to go so quickly?

I've been a mama for 10 1/2 years now. That, too, is impossible. I remember being one baby's mama. Isaac luxuriated in the bath while Jim and I watched his every beautiful move. He had set naptimes and a bedtime. We read an endless amount of books before bed. We snuggled on the couch for hours.

I see other families with one baby and I remember that time with him.

Asher's life is different. He often bathes with siblings and there's not much luxuriating and never both parents present. He catches sleep when he is good and ready to, which is not nearly often enough. We read a few books before bed. There are no hours spent on the couch, but he gets lots of snuggles from being carried to and fro throughout the day.

I also have enough experience in the mama department to know that this is the easy part. Yes, his sleep could improve. (FYI: I am employing the use of an understatement in my writing there.) Yes, everything takes longer with a baby in the house. Yes, I was this close to all kids getting their winter woolens on without help and sitting down for a few minutes at the beach while they swam.

But when Asher trips while speed crawling, he looks to me with only trust in his eyes, knowing I will help him and make him feel better because I've been able to in every situation of his little, big life. He's never cried because a friend hurt his feelings. He's never been so hurt that I couldn't swoop him up and hold him tight and make it all better. He's never missed out on something really important to him. He's never made a really horrible choice.

He's smiles so big his cheeks swallow his eyes and grunts, baby signs and cries, love in a pint sized, ample thighed, 8 toothered baby boy.

We didn't expect a cuatro baby, but he has added so much to my life and our family.

It is chaos. It is love.

It is harder than I expected. It is better than I expected.

Here's what I said to God tonight as I nursed Asher to sleep, his fingers in my nostrils.

"Thank you for this gift."

This fingers in my nostril, never get any dang sleep, ooh ooh ah ahing like a monkey, silly smile, bath splashing, Goodnight Moon loving, has his siblings wrapped around his little finger, chubby Chooch, baby cuatro, Asher boy, gift.

I don't know why I get to be mama to these four kids who teach me and make me laugh and drive me bonkers and love me every single day. I don't know why we got the happy surprise of Asher Michael.

But thank you. Thank you, God, for this gift. We are so fortunate, happy, blessed. Which is pretty perfect since Asher means fortunate, happy, and blessed.

So, in 29 minutes he's one. He'll wake me up plenty of times throughout the night for us to celebrate. I'll rock him and nurse him and wish he slept better and cherish the way his chubby, dimpled fingers grasp my index finger and his eyes that are brown or green or hazel or we don't know yet sparkle as the swift passage of time threatens to steal this baby away from me and plop a toddler in my lap. But, one or four or ten or 14 or 38 or 99, he'll be my baby and I'll love him.

Happy birthday, Asher boy. Mama loves you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A crash course on the definition of bittersweet

I drove home from Moms on the Run on Sunday evening after coaching at a different location. I was within a mile of Jenna's house. I felt a physical pull and need to drive past her house. There is a big purple bow on the light by her front door. There were signs of construction in the driveway. Life going on. It was a cloudy, muggy evening. She should have been in the backyard playing with her son. Instead I was driving past a house, talking to a friend who can't answer back because she's in heaven.

Life has been stressful lately. I know we all have times like that. In addition to the regular stresses I've been going through, I get these whispers that turn into roars that I'm a fraud and my words are stupid and I don't deserve anything good and all the good that I have is a fluke. So I curl up in the sometimes metaphorical and sometimes literal fetal position and wait it out.

Driving past Jenna's house helped. I thanked her for the lessons she taught me on living fearlessly and then dying fearlessly, with love and joy and hope on her lips and in her heart and on display for all to see until the very end. I felt a peace I haven't felt in weeks. The things I am worrying about didn't go away, but my attitude changed. That changes so much.

I drove past her house one more time and then headed for home with tears in my eyes and calm in my heart.

I was on Main Street when my cell phone rang. It was in the exact spot that I had to pull over six years ago because I was having a really tough contraction and I realized that I probably really was in labor with the baby we now know as Elliot. That spot is good stuff for me.

On Sunday that spot gave me more big news. We received an offer on Saturday morning that we countered that they countered that we countered that they accepted on Sunday evening while I was running with Moms on the Run and talking with Jenna.

The kids and I were screaming in excitement for all of us and relief for me. No more showings. No more worrying about how the house looked. What would make it more likely to sell. If we should sign up for fall church/sports/lessons/etc. or assume it would sell soon. And all of the little things that I thought I was handling pretty well that maybe I wasn't handling so well that, poof, went out the window with that one phone call.

There is so much sweet. I will live in the same state as my mom for the first time since I was 18 and my kids will be near their nana and babu for the first time ever. We will be near the mountains for hiking and biking and skiing and snowboarding. I will reconnect with some friends from high school and a few cousins who live there. We will enjoy all of the seasons without quite so much of the horrendously cold nonsense. We will be closer to new landmarks and areas of the country to explore. We will gladly say adios to months of mosquitoes. So very sweet.

There is so much bitter. We will miss day trips to Lake Superior. We will miss being so close to my brother and dad and their families, plus my grandparents. We will miss being a one day drive away from our Michigan family. I will miss my Moms on the Run friends. We will miss our friends from co-op. We will miss our church and my book club. We will miss our neighbors and friends and the people here we love like family. I will miss the kids' pediatrician who is so much more than their doctor. We will miss the lush green of spring and summer. We will miss the community of people who surround us and lift us up in love. So very bitter.

I am not at all attached to things. Leaving this house will not be hard. I could walk away today. Leaving the people here will cut deep. I could stay forever.

There is so much to consider. Yesterday we drove to Lake Superior and spent the day hiking. We needed one day to just be excited and not start planning and stressing about all of the next steps. Because there are a lot of next steps.

First it's the inspection this week packing and getting all the stuff loaded up and the planning and paperwork involved in moving halfway across the country in about five weeks. Then, to complicate matters, we'll make a long pit stop in Nebraska. Jim has a big job in Omaha, NE, so once we close on this house we will rent a place there for a few months. Then we will head to Colorado and rent there for a year while we decide on the community that we want to call home. Then we'll buy a home. So, for those of you keeping score, that's four moves with four kids in less than a year and a half.


So, we're learning about bittersweet. And flexibility. And that we won't know where lots of our stuff is for a while, but that home is wherever I am with these four kids and this husband.

Maybe that's a furnished rental apartment in NE or a house in the outer suburbs of Denver or a hotel room for a week at a time. We don't know all of the details just yet, but we know it'll be good. Most of the time it'll be great and sometimes we'll be cranky and sometimes we'll want our own dang space again and sometimes we'll revel in the adventure and chance to explore new wonders.

Life is big and beautiful and uncertain and crazy and tragic and too much good and too much ugly. Thanks to all of you for reading a little more about my crazy ride and for subtracting from the ugly and adding to the good.