Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Longest Run (part 1)


Last week, I ran a marathon.



I wrote a (too) long post with the play-by-play that I will put up later, but for now, I just need to put it out in the universe in writing.  I haven't processed it yet.  It doesn't feel real to me.

Maybe there were too many emotions, too many highs and lows, to put into words?

Maybe I can't believe that I voluntarily put myself through that much pain?

Maybe I can't accept that,  hard as it was, as long and difficult as the training was, that it's all over?




So much preparation, anticipation, eagerness/dread, Gus and sunblock, sweat and tears, worn down shoes, and so, so many early mornings... all in the past now.  My first marathon.  I'll never get it back.

(Typing this, I realize it sounds like I lost my virginity. Funny, since during the race I couldn't stop comparing the mental game and various unpleasant physical sensations to childbirth).

Six days later and I can finally walk down the stairs normally. I still have a sharp pain in my right foot now and then, but it is fading every day. I have slept 8-9 hours every night this week, a rarity for me.  And I have been eating, everything, like it's my job.  Life goes on.  I am recovering.



I am thinking a lot, too. Thinking about that 240lb girl who, just 9 years ago, would get winded walking across the parking lot. So many years spent miserable, misdirecting my energy, filling voids with food, not realizing that feeling good in your body means much more than a pair of jeans that fit. It means nourishing yourself, not feeding yourself.  It means activity, not exercise. Doing what you love, not what you are obligated to do. Turning your passion and pain and energy into forward motion instead of standing still and letting it burn you up from within.



I did not discover these things through running. Knowledge and a willingness to change led me to running, and running has taught me to embrace all the best parts of myself.

My mantra over the last 6 miles:  Fearless. Free. Grateful.


Floating!!  And passing the guys, because I can   :)






Always grateful


Friday, October 10, 2014

One more hill to climb



I'm back.  I'm here.  I'm rounding the final turn towards the finish line of my summer-long work/school/run/move quadrathlon, and I am more than ready to collect my medal, collapse on the couch, and drink a tall glass of chocolate milk.

Anyway.  It is hard to get back to writing when you haven't done it in a while, you know?  I had a good rhythm going before my hiatus, all the ideas in my head easily coursed down my arms and out through my typing fingers. That part of me has been shut down, turned off, since July out of necessity. You cannot crank out page after page of case analyses riddled with corporate jargon and acronyms while also trying to harness your creative thoughts.  They are not compatible pursuits for me, they are separate lives of mine that fight over my body and time.  School is over now, though, and since one advanced degree is all I aspire to attain in this life, I am officially turning off the lights and hanging up the "closed" sign.  My formal education is complete.  I am free.

Forgive me if I'm rusty and appear to be chasing my tail here for a while.  I need to remember how to use this space the way I used to, the way that fortifies my soul and help me process life and connect and all those glorious things.  I'll get there.

For now I am focused on the last big event lined up for my summer: the Long Beach Marathon on Sunday, 10/12.  Training for a marathon initially seemed like a crazy decision.  When I started a new job and found out I would have to take two classes over the summer, it seemed like a downright stupid decision.  I plowed ahead anyway, and looking back, I accept that it was the best decision I could have made.  There were days when the 5am wakeups and long runs in the summer heat sucked, but there were many more days when the endorphin rush and sense of accomplishment after a hard effort were all that stood between me and complete stress-induced meltdown.

I'll be back next week with a race report, and hopefully with regular new content and a fresh blog design going forward.  Until then, go check out Mixed Space, a blog created by the Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC).  I'm honored to have one of my posts up on their site.

Till next time, friends.

What have you been up to this summer?  Anything new and exciting to share?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On taking responsibility for my happiness.

 ***Originally posted on 05/08/2013***

For the next few weeks, while I'm finishing school and settling into various other changes in my life, I will be revisiting some older posts that you may or may not have seen in the archives. I hope to be back soon with new content. In the meantime, enjoy! And feel free to find me on Instagram, @kathleenojo.  

Tea farm in Limuru, Kenya

I've been cranky lately.  Moody.  Stressed.  Mostly overwhelmed.  And I'm tired of it - life is too short and too wonderous to wallow in the negative. 
 
I've always been the kind of person who loves responsibility.  I take pride in being loyal and reliable, in keeping mine and everyone else's lives in order.  I come home from work and generally don't sit down until dinner is made, dishes are done, workout and shower are complete... and when I do sit down I pay bills, work on assignments for grad school, or blog (hi!).  I am not a person who enjoys relaxation on a daily basis.  Sitting on the couch and mindlessly watching TV stresses me out and makes me unhappy.

With a baby in the mix now, I find my energy levels are completely off the charts.  I'm doing what I've always done, but now I have the added responsibility of feeding her, the bedtime routine, prepping her food and supplies for daycare... then getting up super early to get her dressed and ready for the day (and yes, my husband is willing to assist with all these things... but what can I say?  Efficiency is my forte.  I do these things because I do them well).
 
Most of the time I get everything done, still have some time to devote to my personal interests, and end the day feeling on top of it all.... but sometimes, I get burnt out.  It's been happening more often lately; I've been constantly sick since Amaliya started daycare, and trying to go go go 16 hours a day when I really just need to lay on the couch is breaking me down.  I feel like every day is spent preparing for the next day, and I never get a second to sit down and breathe.
 
I know I need a reset, to refresh my mind and spirit.  Nobody is going to step in, force me to sit down, take away my responsibilities.  Nobody is going to go to work for me, finish my classes for me.  I don't expect the world to cut me any slack, and I don't really need it anyway - I've got this.  I just need to figure how to pause from day-to-day and smell the proverbial roses.  I need to take responsibility for my own happiness, for my own benefit and for my family, because they deserve the best of me all the time.  I've figured out a few things that work for me:

1.  Find inspiration.  TED talks on YouTube, really motivating music, poetry, people watching at the coffee shop.... all these things really give me energy and get my creative and intellectual juices flowing.  It's easy to get in a rut and simply survive day-to-day when there's so much on your plate.  Sometimes I feel like a pack mule, like I only exist to work.  When I feel inspired, I'm reminded that I have more to offer the world than wage labor.

2. Sweat.  I go for a run, I take a class, even just a long walk helps me to turn my head around.  Endorphins are my friend.  A good workout helps me stop dwelling on the past and worrying about the future, and enables me to just be in my body, fully present in the moment.
3. Ignore the messes. This is a hard one.  I like a clean house.  I can't STAND waking up to dishes in the sink.  I scoffed at everyone who told me that my place would always be a mess after having a baby.  And it's true, it IS possible to have a very clean house and a baby simultaneously, even while working - the cost is your sanity.  I've realized that to be happy, sometimes I have to let go and embrace the chaos.  Sometimes, an evening on the couch is more important than filing, dusting, or scrubbing the shower.

4. Take a sanity day.  I took one of these today!  If you're lucky enough to have paid time off of work, well, use it people!  And use it in a way that's going to make you feel fantastic.  For me, that means dropping the baby at daycare, making an enormous list of projects that I want to tackle, and knocking them out.  For you, that might mean a morning with a good book and an afternoon pedicure.  If you don't work, or can't take time off, try and carve out a couple hours here and there to focus on you, and doing something that fortifies your soul.  No guilt allowed - a happy you makes a better world.

5.  Get help.  Now, asking for help is definitely not something I'm good at, but I am working on it.  Every time I start feeling resentful about my workload, I consciously pause and think, "did I ask for help?"  I never do, I just expect my husband to be a mind-reader, sense when I'm feeling frazzled, and do exactly what I need him to.  That isn't realistic.  I have to ask him for his help.  And you know what?  He has never once refused or even complained.  He is more than willing to assist with anything if I ask nicely instead of just expecting him to share my priorities.  Bottling things up, working myself to exhaustion, then unleashing all my frustrations on him solves nothing and just makes both of us feel crappy.

Life really is too short to be unhappy.

Did I miss anything?  What do you do when you need a mental reset?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Self(ish)lessness - Why I'm glad to be a working mother

***Originally published on 02/24/2013***

For the next few weeks, while I'm finishing school and settling into various other changes in my life, I will be revisiting some older posts that you may or may not have seen in the archives. I hope to be back soon with new content. In the meantime, enjoy! And feel free to find me on Instagram, @kathleenojo.   



Taking care of a baby all day is no trifling task.  On the surface they are not complicated creatures - keep them fed, dry, rested, and entertained - but oh!  The physical, but more importantly, the mental energy it takes to do this day-in day-out should not be underestimated.  Your child is just discovering the world, and can spend 20 minutes smiling at a red coffee cup.  You'd think this would be a great opportunity for us adults to cast aside our cynicism and world-weariness, rediscover our childlike sense of wonder, and delight along with our babies at all the mundane details of life. 

Sometimes it happens that way.  But let's be real - more often than not, I am not content to spend my afternoon holding up a spatula for my little one to marvel at.  I'm guilty of sneaking Facebook time on my phone while "playing" on the floor with my daughter.  I find myself occasionally hurrying through the bedtime ritual in order to get to the wine, novel, and couch waiting for me on the other side.  

Do I feel bad about this?  Sometimes.  Not too often.  I am doing my best, and I really do find myself pausing numerous times a day to be in the moment with my daughter. I see the world through her eyes, hold her close and smell her, and let my heart balloon with gratitude.


I am also happy to disengage now and then.  The 40-hour work week is taxing, but sometimes I enjoy being able to throw myself into the work that crosses my desk.  I love my family so much that when I am home, I am emotionally switched on, all the time.  It's sweet and intense and very, very draining.  It's a relief to pack my heart away for a little while every day, to engage in activities that come from a place of intellect or routine rather than love and dedication and selflessness. 

Selflessness?  Well.  That might be somewhat of an exaggeration.  There is so much pressure on a woman to be selfless - as a daughter, as a wife, as a mother.  Men are born free and live free until the day they decide to take on the responsibility of a family, and even then, their roles are clearly defined.  Men do what men are supposed to do, like ships that sail from port to port, one mission at a time.  And women?  We're the water, flowing in and around, filling in all the gaps and keeping everything afloat.  I don't feel remotely bad for casting off this role now and then and living just for me.   


It hasn't been easy to balance, for sure.  I will certainly not be running any more half marathons soon - after working all week, I have no desire to leave my baby for 4 hours on a Sunday to get a long run in.  The work day is draining, not only because of the work, but because my breaks are spent pumping breastmilk in a storage room, and my lunches, rushing home or to daycare to feed my daughter and trying to make it back in under 45 minutes.  I refuse to let dad take over the bedtime ritual so that I can make it to a class at the gym (besides breastfeeding, it's the only quality time we have together some days, and I regard that time as sacred), so between doing what I need to do for class and prepping everything for the next day, I often don't have time to exercise in the evenings.

And yes, I have had several crises of confidence since returning to work.  Especially when I have to leave Amaliya at daycare, instead of at home with her daddy or grandma.  Truth - I still fight tears every time I leave the infant room at daycare, and I reward myself with a Stell coffee each time I make it out without leaking a tear. Why do I have to leave my daughter with strangers?  Why do I have to be the one to work full time while my husband works part time?  Why can't we be financially stable enough for me to stay home with her?  Why why why....

Traumatized daycare face.  "Mama don't leave meeeee!"

The whining and fist-shaking doesn't last long though.  Because here's the straight-up truth, and what I believe many women feel but are not allowed to say:  I am selfish, and glad that I'm selfish.  I unapologetically put my happiness first, before that of my family.  And I know in my core that we are all better off for it.  I need to embrace, every day, that part of me that is not defined by the love of my family.  It makes me a better person, a better mother, more patient and gentle and present with my daughter and husband.  This is not to say there are not sacrifices - there have been sleepless nights comforting a sick baby, days where I'm so busy taking care of her that I forget to eat, and if it ever came down to a choice, my life for hers, I wouldn't hesitate.  But I am still a human, still a woman with an identity of my own, and just because my daughter is worth the absolute best that life has to offer, doesn't mean that I am worth any less.

So, I work.  I run.  I cook, clean, occasionally find time to blog, read books that are not even remotely related to babies or children, and indulge in a glass (or two) of wine in the evening while simultaneously patting myself on the back and congratulating myself on keeping it all together.  I don't do everything, and what I DO, I don't always do well.  But I do my best, my family is loved, and I am happy.

My teeny tiny 1-month old
 I'm ready for you, Monday...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Adjustment

***Originally posted on 12/12/2012***

For the next few weeks, while I'm finishing school and settling into various other changes in my life, I will be revisiting some older posts that you may or may not have seen in the archives. I hope to be back soon with new content. In the meantime, enjoy! And feel free to find me on Instagram, @kathleenojo.  


Amaliya,

I've written you letters before but none have been typed, or put out there for the Internet to read.  This one is, because to be perfectly honest.... I'm a mess, and I need an outlet. I had everything so together for the first four months of your life.  My hormones were stable, my stress was managed, I felt like a rockstar most of the time for taking care of a you, and your dad, and a house, and training for races, and going to grad school.

Then work happened - 40 hours a week that I have to be away from you.  House guests (your grandparents) arrived at about the same time.  Three classes remained to be completed.  And you, my dear sweet girl, you who were sleeping 8-9 hours at a stretch from your second week on earth, you have stopped sleeping.  Not entirely, of course, but you are waking up every 2-3 hours all night long. My foundation is starting to crack.

I am not taking great care of myself right now, I'll admit.  I'm still running many, many miles each week -  it's not optional, my mental health depends on it -  but I don't have time for the complementary stuff like weights and stretching that enable my body to run long and feel good.  I'm not drinking enough water to compensate for running and breastfeeding, but water consumption cuts into coffee consumption and, sadly, coffee triumphs most of the time.  I either don't eat enough, or I eat way too much of all the wrong things.  I can't nap when you nap, because I'm too anxious about everything that's not being done.

I often find myself angry - inexplicably angry at just about everything. Angry at our financial situation that demands that I have to work a full-time job (and likely always will); Angry that our guests have taken over your room so you have to sleep in the pack and play in our walk-in closet;  Angry that I have to come home from work and make dinner for a bunch of people instead of spending alone time with you; Angry that my breaks at work and rare free moments at home are spent hooked up to a breast pump like a dairy cow;  Angry that I have to take herbal supplements just to be able to produce enough milk to keep up, and they make me feel bloated and nauseous;  Angry that I ran a half marathon two weeks ago but have been too tired and busy taking care of everyone that I can't feel any joy in the accomplishment;  Angry that I have to share you with anyone, even your father and loving grandparents.

Angry that, what was one of the best periods of my life, has become one of the worst seemingly overnight.

Except, of course, that it's not the worst.  Not even close.  I am writing this lying on my side, with you tucked into my right arm, tummy to tummy. You are passed out, milk-drunk, mouth open, gently breathing.  I came home on my lunch break just to have this moment with you, to suck up your love and warmth and baby smell. I try and steal moments like this with you a few times a day.  Sometimes they come at 5am, when you wake up far too early but oh-so-happy, and I bring you into bed with us.  You squeak and squirm until you catch sight of the alarm clock and stare at it - motionless, transfixed - while I doze, until it goes off at 5:42.

Sometimes they come at 3am, when I hear you crying in the closet and go in to pick you up.  You're not really awake, not particularly hungry, but you want to nurse and cuddle and be wrapped up in arms for a while, just because.  It's like you want to be sure I'm still there, and of course I am and always will be.

Sometimes they come when I get home from work, snatch you from your grandma, and retreat to the bedroom to spend a few minutes alone with you.  I hold you up high and walk around so you can see the artwork on the walls.  Occasionally I dance with you and sing you all my favorite Broadway songs with some of the words changed ("Don't Cry For Me, Amaliya").  Lately we lay on our backs, side by side, while I try and convince you to roll over.  You try so hard, and get so frustrated, until you catch my eye and we smile at each other.  Rolling over is important, no doubt, but no need to rush these milestones; they're piling up too fast as it is.

Mothering is hard.  Trying to do it all, be it all, have it all, fulfill multiple conflicting roles without losing myself or a single moment with you is.... impossible?  Maybe.  I guess I want to write you this letter because you might be in a similar position one day.  Feeling despair.  Trying your best and coming up short.  Angry at the world for making your best efforts seem like a waste.  You'll likely be in good company - women have faced this issue for hundreds of years and likely will for hundreds more.  I want you to know that you'll be okay.  I'll be okay too.

And I will try to be less angry, because anger interferes with my overwhelming sense of gratitude for your presence in my life.  When I embrace the gratitude, and dismiss the anger, I am happy that I have a good job to go to.  Proud that I can demonstrate for you that a woman can express herself through a career and other passions without sacrificing her identity as wife and mother.  I'm more than happy to stuff myself with fenugreek and lock myself in a dusty storage room to pump breastmilk for you, because being able to bond with you through breastfeeding is a privilege that I do not take for granted.  I am glad that your grandparents have been able to spend time with you, and that I haven't had to deposit you into the arms of strangers at daycare just yet.  I don't mind at all when my evenings are spent cooking and doing laundry and endlessly ENDLESSLY washing bottles and pumping supplies, because it's all part of keeping our household together and our family strong, and you deserve to grow up in a stable, functional, loving environment.  The night-wakings, the hysterical overtired screams, the soul-crushing exhaustion... it's all fleeting, and none of it matters too much.  Soon these bad times will be in the past, and so will the days of you gnawing on my shoulder and sweetly sleeping on my chest.

I can't be mad that life continues to intrude on our time together.  This IS our life.  It's going to be messy, fractured, full of missed opportunities and lost moments and bittersweet feelings.  What matters is the love that is the reason for our struggles.  Your dad and I love you enough to make any sacrifice necessary; you love us enough to forgive us for all our many failings.  As for the rest, it's all a matter of embracing, adjusting, and moving forward.

Love, Mama

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A weighty issue.

***Originally published May 02, 2012***

For the next few weeks, while I'm finishing school and settling into various other changes in my life, I will be revisiting some older posts that you may or may not have seen in the archives. I hope to be back soon with new content. In the meantime, enjoy! And feel free to find me on Instagram, @kathleenojo. 



One of the most interesting, yet frustrating, aspects of pregnancy so far has been how my body has changed - and with it, my body image and confidence.  Before getting pregnant, I always thought I would be this super confident glowing pregnant goddess who proudly displayed my bump for all to see.  Naive much?

Reality is... it's been an adjustment.  I love myself and have a fairly healthy body image, but that hasn't always been the case.  My level of comfort in my own skin has grown gradually over the last 7 years as I've watched the scale numbers go down, muscles tone up, and learned to harness my energy and emotions through physical activity.  I learned that, not only are eating well and challenging myself physically good for my body, but they are essential to my sanity and peace of mind.  When life gets chaotic and nothing seems to go my way, I can always throw some shoes on and go for a run;  I can be proud of myself for completing an exceptionally heavy clean-and-press;  I can take comfort in the fact that I am filling my body with the best and most nutritious foods possible.

And then I got pregnant.  Food hasn't been much of an issue (not counting that couple weeks in the first trimester when I lived on hummus-and-egg sandwiches).  I'm eating only slightly more than before, mostly whole and healthy foods, and I've actually cut way back on meat consumption.  I'm trying to stay active - Body Pump once or twice a week, yoga at least once, and I walk anywhere between 5-8 miles weekly.  All my labs have shown that my nutrition is spot-on, no deficiencies (which I was worried about, especially with Celiac disease).  I feel great - well hydrated, not much back pain, absolutely no swelling, skin is clear.  I'm the picture of perfect pregnant health.

EXCEPT when I visit the stupid pregnancy websites with their stupid pregnancy weight gain calculators.  Exhibit A:


Sorry for the poor quality picture.  So that line at the bottom is the minimum amount of weight I should gain.  The line at the top is the maximum.  And that green dot waaaaaay up at the top there?  That's me!  I've hit my pregnancy weight gain ceiling, a full 12 weeks early.  Sad face.

But after feeling bad about this fact for a few weeks, I put on my big girl panties and got over it.  The reality is, the scale may tell me I'm doing something wrong, but I KNOW instinctively that I'm not.  I'm not gaining weight at a rapid rate.  I have put on about a pound a week (a little less lately, actually), I've just been putting on that weight since the beginning of my pregnancy.  Some people get nauseous, can't eat, and end up losing weight during the first trimester. I, on the other hand, felt my appetite increase twofold and absolutely had to eat every two hours to avoid feeling dizzy/sick/exhausted.  My body told me what it needed, and I listened.

I have my glucose tolerance test this Tuesday to rule out gestational diabetes, and I plan to talk to my midwife about the weight issue then.  Frankly, as long as I don't have GD and continue to feel good and am able to stay active, I am prepared to ignore the scale for the rest of this pregnancy.  I will NOT let some generic medical guidelines determine what is best for my body.  Pregnancy sits differently on every woman, and really, we're all just doing the best we can in the moment to take care of ourselves, our babies, and prepare for a massive life-changing event.  So eff you, medical establishment.  I run this body, and I will not steep myself in guilt because my "numbers" aren't "ideal."


*steps off soapbox*


Friday, August 8, 2014

Let it go.

If you burst into song when you read this post title, well, you probably have kids and must understand me on a deep, primal level.

You will understand, then, why I need to back away from this space for a little while.



When I set out my goals for 2014, I decided to be humble.  Conservative.  I spent the previous year aiming high and heaping the pressure on myself, only to end up constantly disappointed.  This year I made a conscious decision to relax, stop stressing about all that I "need to be," and enjoy a steady, slow-paced year.

HA.



Somewhere along the way, I also decided to stop worrying about what others think, stop doubting myself, and start acting without over-thinking.  I decided to do the things that scare me.  Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, but.... when I started taking charge of my life, instead of letting life happen to me... things started happening.  In a big way.



Training for a half-marathon, my most ambitious running goal of the year, was amazing.  Not to be cliche, but I learned so much about myself through those training runs - how I love the discipline of a plan, how I can do whatever it takes to pursue a goal if I am intrinsically motivated to do so, that I am never more at peace when I am alone with my thoughts in the hills of South Redlands.  I ran the half marathon, but I couldn't stop there.  I couldn't stand the thought of not going harder, longer, pushing myself further than I reasonably think I can go.  In June, I started a marathon training plan.



Earlier in the year, I did one of the most impulsive and brave things of my life.  I went up to a near-stranger and told him, "I want to work for you.  How can I make that happen?"  This began a process that culminated last week, when I started a new job.  A "big-girl" job.  A corporate-charge-card-holding, checking-emails-at-8pm, getting-on-the-occasional-airplane kind of job.  Any change,  even good, exciting change, can be overwhelming.  I am happy.  I am loving what I do.  I also feel like I'm struggling to keep my head above water.

Add to this the fact that I'm in the middle of my last semester of grad school, we are hoping to move to a new apartment in the next 6 weeks, and the daily ups and downs of family life with an likewise ambitious husband and stubborn two-year-old, and well.... something has to give.



This space has meant so much to me over the years.  It has been my haven, the place where I sort my thoughts and record some of the most important moments in my life.  I will be back in October, hopefully writing weekly updates on the crazy/mundane (crundane?) happenings in my life.  For now, though, I need to step back.  For a little while at least, I am letting this go.

I'll have some recycled posts up to fill the space until I return.  Until then, friends, stay well and keep in touch - I'll be present as ever on my other social media outlets.



Love,  Kathleen