Thursday, May 21, 2015

The thing I don’t want to talk about

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I don’t want to talk about this mysterious and debilitating pain in my joints that has been plaguing me ever since I came down with the flu for the first time in years.

I don’t want to talk about how, in the past week, I’ve barely been able to walk or sit, let alone play with my kids or get outside to run. Heck, I can’t even do yoga.

I don’t want to talk about the guilt from seeing My Guy step in for all the things I can’t do for my family or myself, like getting the girls ready in the morning, making dinner (or breakfast or lunch!), picking them up from school, laundry, dishes, groceries, every *#@&$^@^ thing, although I do want to say just how AMAZING he has been for being there for us every time we’ve needed him.

I don’t want to think about what’s wrong with me, although I can’t help it. Hours of poring over pages and pages on the Internet gave me a Fibromyalgia scare that had me in tears for days. So yeah, not only do I not want to talk about that, I don’t ever want to do that again either because the strain from worrying is bad enough, but the stress from a wrong self-diagnosis was much, much worse. But not knowing? That’s killing me too.

I don’t want to talk about the desperation - and even the betrayal - I feel, not knowing what is happening to my own body. A desperation that has led me to try acupuncture, cupping, and Chinese herbal medicine for the first time because the June 30 appointment with the Rheumatologist seems forever away.

I don’t want to talk about how it feels to see my family bustling around me and I’m helpless to join them. How my heart breaks a little each time I say no to a request to see the fort the girls built, watch the birds with them, tuck them in their beds. Because it physically hurts. And this guilt is emotionally draining.

I don’t want to talk about this crippling fear I get occasionally - what if this never goes away? what if this gets worse? what if...what if...what if <all the worse things that can happen> is happening right now?

I don’t want to talk about how it feels better today than it did yesterday, and I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’ve seen that light before only it was extinguished the next day when the pain didn’t just linger but was magnified.

I don’t want to talk about this hope that appears in and out of focus with each day, depending on what my body has in store for me, and it can get exhausting, trying to lift myself off of my own despair with this hope. Maybe I’m on the mend, maybe it’s a fluke, maybe it’s all going away...

I don’t want to talk about how I’ve been waking up every morning disappointed because well, it still feels like hell, and I have to force myself to painfully endure all the things I love doing and could usually do with ease for another day.

I don’t want to talk about any of the awful stuff, hoping that staying positive will do the trick, hanging on to whatever fucking platitude that will get me through the moment - this too shall pass, we will get through it - but I guess I’m failing spectacularly on that front too, just like the way my body is failing me.

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Don’t be fooled; pain can look like this.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A sad first weekend away from my family

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I don’t know how it happened that before this past weekend, I had never left my family for a trip by myself. It’s not like I’d never felt the need to go away (believe me, that happens once a day at least) but I guess I never made it a priority.

But when you haven’t seen your childhood friend in more than seven years, and she just happened to move one state away from you after living in Malaysia and Australia - really, anywhere but close to me - for so long, I jumped at the chance to meet her halfway in Dallas for a girls’ getaway. Oh the food we would demolish and the conversations we would enjoy together; I just couldn’t wait.

When the day came for me to drive the 200 miles to Dallas however, I woke with chills, aches, and a sore throat. What the what? I couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t just random shitty luck. It’s TOTALLY shitty luck because I never get sick. Okay, almost never. I’m not exaggerating because even my six-year-old Little Miss noticed and commented several weeks ago: “Mama, I’ve seen Pickle sick, I’ve seen daddy sick, and I’ve been sick, but I’ve never seen you sick. Why’s that?”

“Well,” I started smugly, grateful for a teaching moment, “That’s because I work out and I eat healthy and…” Yada yada yada yada. As I miserably fought my symptoms on my way there, I thought back to that moment and leered at myself. Where’s that healthy immunity now, %#@*&#@%*?!

After our gleeful reunion at DFW airport, where my friend landed, and we finally found our way out of the frickin’ airport, which has the worst signage of any airports I’ve visited, by the way, we made our way to our first stop: the Malaysian restaurant. Like that’s a surprise.

Because of my ailment, I could barely eat the food I’d been dying to inhale for the past few months. Even Char Kuey Teow couldn’t get me out of my appetite funk, and that was a sad, sad day.

What’s worse is that after the meal, we went back to the hotel...to take a nap. I don’t know if it’s my sickness or just aging in general, or that we were both weary from travel, but we were perfectly content to rest in a darkened room until our next meal time.

We then explored Lower Greenville with their many trendy restaurants and cocktail bars, and all I could think of was some kind of soup with some kind of noodles. My friend, who had to overcompensate for my underperformance and ate more lunch than she would’ve liked, was craving something much lighter, and sushi sounded great to her. We compromised and went in search for a Japanese place that served both ramen and sushi.


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Once again, when the food arrived, my appetite failed me. In fact, the complex flavors of the broth that often reeled me in actually offended me that evening. I preferred eating the fried chicken gizzards and the agedashi tofu (have I mentioned how much I adore eating with my Malaysian friends?) but the green tea was my favorite part of the meal. Again, what a sad, sad day for this food fanatic.

Pathetic, in fact. Especially when we arrived back at our hotel at 9PM on a Friday night. Oh yeah, we ladies sure knew how to party. I was so grateful for a friend who understood, and who is generally pretty low-key so all this eating and resting didn’t bother her. All wasn’t lost however. Despite my aches and chills, we still managed to catch up on each others’ lives throughout the day and “The Bridget Jones’ Diary” movie that played on the hotel TV kept us entertained that evening.

When I woke the next day with the same dreadful feeling, I knew I had to snap out of my denial and admit that my friend was right - I had all the symptoms of the flu. I was sick and I needed to find a way to get over it. I was just supremely annoyed that it had to happen the one weekend I finally made plans just for myself after what, nearly seven years of planning my life around others’? And since I’d always been the caretaker of the sick bodies at home, it would’ve been nice for the flu to hit when I was actually home, when I could finally claim some payback and be the one who got pampered while the rest of the family scrambled to tend to my every whim and need, like fetch me water, fluff my pillow, feed me soup…hey, one could dream.

And so I begrudgingly made CVS our first stop, took the DayQuil I procured, and made our way to brunch, determined to beat this thing. Drugs are often my last resort, but without my usual arsenal like bedrest, homemade chicken soup or “jook” (Chinese rice porridge) available to me, I had no choice but to choose the alternative.

And voila! It worked.


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Even though I hurt in some places, ate a little less, and walked a little slower, I was well enough to explore Dallas and continue to have deep, long conversations with my friend of 33 years. After all, when you go way back like that with someone, you have plenty to talk about. The memories alone would’ve filled the weekend, but we also opened up about the lives we led apart as well as our current personal challenges.


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Within the pristinely manicured grounds of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, on a stroll in the Uptown neighborhood, during a late-evening trolley ride to Downtown Dallas for cocktails, on a walking tour of the historic West End district where we could see the X that marked the spot where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and during our food truck lunch at the family-friendly Klyde-Warren Park that’s built over an expressway, our conversations flowed, often punctuated by laughter and interrupted by selfies.


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The city we explored felt more like a backdrop to the connection we were both trying to re-establish. It had been years after all, and so much has happened in between.

Can we ever remain the same in some ways to some people? Apparently, this weekend had shown me that it’s possible, and I, for one, am ever so grateful. I’ve lost so much from my past to build my life here in the States; I couldn’t lose this friendship too. Sometimes it feels like the only thing that’s keeping my memories of my school days from fading completely. (Thank you, my sweet friend.)

After goodbyes (and miraculously navigating out of the airport labyrinth on my own), I’d arrived home in one piece, but gladly fell apart at the sight of My Guy. Having had to hold it together all weekend so as not to ruin my friend’s time with me, and having always been the one to care for a sick kid or husband, I just wanted to give myself permission to crumble for a bit.

I think I’ve earned it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Evolve

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“Liepard is the evolved form of Purrloin, mommy,” explains Pickle. “She’s in Team Rocket.” Except from the mouth of my three-year-old, it’s more like “Team Wocket”.

“Oh?” I lean in to see the images she’s pointing to as we flip through the pages of the Pokemon stats and facts book that she had deliberately picked out for herself from her sister’s school book sale.

 

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She goes to bed with it every evening, and since she can’t read, she tries to find pictures of the characters she encounters on the TV show and makes up her own stories, which explains why the book is worn and taped in several spots. When asked to pick a bedtime story, she’d prefer to point at different characters and have me read their specs aloud to her instead, which I do:

“Zorua, Tricky Fox Pokemon, Possible Moves - Scratch, Leer, Pursuit, Fake Tears, Fury Swipes, Feint Attack, Scary Face, Taunt, Foul Play, Torment… Zorua can use the power of illusion to make itself look like a person or a different Pokemon.  It sometimes uses the resulting confusion to flee from a battle. It’s the pre-evolved form of Zoroark.”

I sometimes explain to her what she doesn’t understand, but for the most part, she gets it. She beams at me and shares what she recalls about Zorua, one of her favorite characters, on the show, “One time, Zorua and Ash went to…”

I am thrilled that she’s enthralled by these creatures. For one thing, it’s Goodbye “Frozen”, Hello Pokemon. After a year of constant “Let it Go”’s I’m so relieved that they finally Let. It. Go. I’m also amused to see that she’s rather Pokemon-ish herself - adorable, feisty, and capable of destruction all in one cuddly little package.

My girls’ obsession with Pokemon is a welcome change from many years of overtly didactic, educational PBS shows that teach and entertain kids (the color red, the letter “T”, be kind to your neighbors, etc.).  It reminds me of the cartoons I used to enjoy growing up, like “Voltron”, “He-Man”, “She-Ra”, and “Thundercats”. Sure, kids don’t learn their shapes and alphabets from good versus evil battles, but there’s something to be said about stories of friendship and loyalty.

Besides, how many three-year-olds have a vocabulary that includes “capture”, “strategy”, “transform” and “evolve”, which Pickle has surprisingly used correctly in different contexts? Evolve is an especially great word. I think it’s because it hits so close to home for me these days.

I love seeing this evolved form of Little Miss and Pickle, going from playing Disney’s damsels to powerful Pokemons when they’re together. Adorable little things don’t have to be helpless is a subtle lesson from the show, but an important one nonetheless.

And I like that, after a year in Austin, we have all evolved into slightly different versions of ourselves. The changes are minor, but the effects ripple across our everyday lives.

If you’d told me a year ago that I would spend most of my weekends on yard work, I’d laugh at your face. But here we are, toiling away - weeding, mowing, planting, watering - to do our best to transform (hey, another Pokemon word!) the yard from its dormant state in the winter to a vibrant, productive one in the summer. 


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Last year we inherited a vegetable garden, which we only needed to water before enjoying the fresh tomatoes and peppers that the previous owners had planted. This time, we decided to be more ambitious and went with tomatoes, jalapenos, sweet cherry peppers, sugar snap peas, watermelon, and spaghetti squash, not to mention the myriad herbs that appear in the dishes I make. I know - what happened to baby steps right? We figured hey, if we killed half of it, we’d still have a decent yield. Hah.


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Since a house with a yard this size still feels new to us, we have much to learn, and we recognize that we can’t do that without getting our hands dirty. We spent the year studying what we already have - the grass, the trees, the irrigation, the hedges, the delightful perennials (and the awful ones too), and the beautiful rose bush that continues to wow us, especially when it sprang to life with such gorgeous blooms after the winter, despite the fact that we hardly touched it (maybe that’s the key). Now that we (kinda, sorta) know what we’re dealing with, it’s time for us to add our own touch to it.

 

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The yard feels like it, too, is evolving. To be honest, I’m nervous but also really excited to see what it will become in our hands.

Because of my recent conundrum with running, I’ve also had to evolve in other ways. I surprised myself by becoming the runner I never thought I could be nearly three years ago, but with a busted hip, it may be time for a change again, even if I hate the idea.

As a consolation, my sweet friends reminded me that if I could fall in love with running, I could do the same with another activity - I just need to give something else a shot. And they’re right. My pre-evolved form couldn’t even imagine running a mile, let alone a half-marathon, so why not wrestling? Or rowing? Maybe even Javelin throwing?

As for Little Miss, she started soccer again after a failed attempt at age four, when she hated “all that running” and chose to admire the dandelions in the field instead. Now her burgeoning interest in running is fueling her enjoyment of soccer, and it’s lovely to see her so excited about a sport. Neither My Guy nor I were athletes in school, and it’s easy for us to let that part slide, but I’m realizing that not only is cheering for my girl on the field fun, it’s also thrilling to watch her learn the merits of teamwork and losing graciously, especially since Little Miss had always been a me-me-me girl who couldn’t handle not winning at any game.


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I notice the difference in her: high-fiving with big smiles after a game despite losing terribly, emphasizing on the fun rather than the competition, learning not to boss her teammates around and accepting that the coach is boss, not her. She’s also more likely to get outside and play now, shooting hoops and practicing soccer with her daddy. It’s great to see her evolving into an active little girl, although the moment we get back in the car, she’s back to her usual self again.

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And I’m okay with that too. Naturally.

I believe some things stay the same to keep us grounded. I will never be an extroverted go-getter like My Guy, nor do I want to be. But then again, I had also said I’d never be a runner.

This brings me back to the “Dear Sugar” podcast I heard while running, when Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond both said in their advice to a reader wondering about the state of her relationship that “the years are long” - we are constantly changing, growing, evolving. What we were 10 years ago can be radically different from who we are today. Hell, even a year ago. And I am proof of that.

I’ve written about change before, firmly believing that it’s never too late for any of us to try new things, break old habits, become someone we never thought we could be. It’s this constant evolving that makes every spring so compelling while we watch the natural world come back to life. Some things remain the same, but having survived the harshest parts of winter, they’re also different. Hardier, better.

These were the first perennial I planted last year, and I was pleasantly surprised to see them come back this spring. Not only that, they seem bigger and stronger.


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I am in awe. After years of thinking that all I have are brown thumbs, it’s lovely to discover that there may be a gardener in me after all. What an incredible evolution. I still have a lot to learn, of course, like how I probably shouldn’t be wearing white while doing yard work, for one. But I’m at least ready to see how far I can go with this.



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As I watch my friends share where they were or what they did one, three, five years ago a certain day on Facebook, thanks to its latest feature that prompts users to share a significant moment from a past post, it makes me wonder, where, or more importantly, who will I be one, three, five years from now?

What about you? Who will you be?

 

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“Explore, experiment and evolve your beautiful world.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita

Friday, April 10, 2015

You can’t always get what you want

So what happens when you’re told that something you love is also the same thing that’s hurting you? I know this could be applied to many things, but in my case, it’s running. After enduring a year of nagging hip pain, I finally bit the bullet and went to the doctor with my issues.

The news wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.

“Do you have to run?”
“I don’t have to but I would like to…”

“Then no running on hills and paved roads” was my Physical Therapist’s advice. Which means I pretty much have to kiss neighborhood running goodbye, and that SUCKS because one of my favorite things about running is just lacing up and getting out the door. Plus I really do love my neighborhood and enjoy being able to spot the fall colors and spring blossoms all around me, so having to end this pains me even more than what I feel in my hips. 

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You don’t get these from working out inside a gym…

 

My PT also pointed out that I have no arches in my feet. Flat-footed? Me? How is it that I hadn’t known that all these years? She said it affects the way I run, which must have affected my hips. She hasn’t quite figured out what exactly is wrong with them - we’ve only had three sessions so far - but she warned against continuing as I have because it would mean surgery, and who wants to go down that road?

I took her advice seriously and started to cut down on running and looked to other cardio activities. I tried many group classes at my gym and settled on Zumba (I love dancing; it’s so fun!) and Cardio Combat (makes me feel like a badass!), but when I reported that to my PT, she shook her head: “Nope. These classes have too many repetitive motions that will continue to hurt your hips.”

What. The. Fuck.

How ironic that my quest for better health is actually detrimental to my health. Before I started running, I don’t even remember ever having to go to the doctor for any medical issues. However, I knew the risks of running before I started; it was just wishful thinking that I could avoid them.

I signed up for a 10-mile race back in October, and I informed my PT that it would be my last long-distance run for awhile. It was the Austin 10/20 - 10 miles, 20 bands - and I ran it with a fellow mom who’d been my Sunday morning running partner this past year. I knew I couldn’t push it, but it was also important to me that I finish this race.

I’m glad I did it because it was a really fun race, but that last mile was painful. Literally. My hips started to hurt, then my knees, and finally my ankles. Man did I feel broken. But there was only a mile to go, and I just couldn’t stop then. Having my partner there to cheer me on got me through the finish line (thank you!). You can imagine how fantastic that felt, especially since I wasn’t sure if there would be another like this in my future.

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After 10 days of rest, I ran again yesterday, but I followed my PT’s instructions to find a flat gravel trail and attempted a few slow miles. I drove to a neighborhood park with a small wooded trail and aimed for three miles, but it felt so good that I easily reached four. My hips weren’t crying for help, so perhaps there’s hope yet for keeping running in my life.


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This nagging pain may still be a mystery, but I’m wearing orthotics to fix my flat feet (and secretly thanking the stars that they’re looking more fashionable these days than the old-lady shoes of the past) and I’m (begrudgingly) avoiding hills and paved roads when I do run.

 

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My daily arch-support footwear around the house. Could be worse I suppose.


I haven’t given up on finding something to fill the running void for when I absolutely have to stop, but I’m hoping that that day wouldn’t come either. I can fathom taking a break, especially during the summer when it’s hot all day and night here, but I can’t imagine stopping altogether.

My girls are starting to show interest in running, and I’d like to continue for their sake. I don’t think it’s the only way to get healthy, but to me, running is more than just cardio. It’s the fresh air that fills my lungs, the scenery that both enthralls and surprises me, the solitude as an escape, and even the meditative effect of a long run that, apart from cycling, which isn’t my thing, I just can’t get from other activities.

And that’s why I’m doing what I can to preserve what little I can do because I hate to be told I can’t do something, and I love a challenge. So we’ll see.

I’m just not ready to give up on it yet. I just hope my body doesn’t give up on me first.

Monday, March 23, 2015

One Year in Austin

A year ago today, we arrived in town late in the evening after driving over eight hours on the second leg of our journey here from Chicago. It was nearly 9PM, and the sun had set nearly two hours ago, making it impossible for us to see anything but the road ahead and the neon signs that we occasionally passed.

We found the apartment we would call home for the next two months and set up for the night after some takeout from the nearby Noodles and Company. We were too tired to venture further than what was right by us, and because we were there right at closing, they even offered us free cookies. Bonus!

I’m not sure who was more excited about getting out of the car - the cats or us - but we managed to spend a few more minutes exploring our new fully furnished, very neutral, very brown and beige apartment before succumbing to the fatigue that came with three days of traveling. What an anticlimactic end to six weeks of wild anticipation.

Except I was wrong, wasn’t I? It wasn’t the end; it was only the beginning.

And the thrill and majesty of this beginning didn’t hit us until we decided to go out for breakfast tacos at Torchy’s the next day, a quintessential Austin thing. We took a right on the Capital of Texas Highway, going south, and our jaws dropped at the sight of the hills that lined both sides of the highway. For two people from pancake-flat Chicago, any undulation was a big deal. When we drove here the night before, we couldn’t see any of it - we had no idea we were surrounded by such pretty scenery.

That was the first thing that struck us about Austin - just how green the city is. Between pockets of neighborhoods are large swaths of greenbelts that afford us a quick reprieve from urban life, and I find myself drawn to them despite my city-girl prissiness.

Then it was the tacos. Well, not just tacos, but food in general. This city enjoys its food, but because we have access to year-round growers, there is also plenty of Texas pride in food sourcing.

Speaking of Texas pride, there’s plenty of that going around here, naturally. It’s unnerving to a newcomer like me because what’s so damn great about a state full of guns, Republicans and the religious right? But over time I realized that this pride isn’t just reserved for those people. It’s in how the people in this state preserve nature, bottle their own spirits, build a local business (hello, HEB), grow their own...everything, cook their BBQ, treasure their place in history and pass it down to the next generation - not just the story of Texas but also the pride of belonging.



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It doesn’t get anymore Texas than bluebonnets and UT-Austin
 


For transplants looking to plant roots, there’s just something about it that works for me.

And the weather. Oh the weather. We moved here to get away from the harsh Chicago winters, so we knew to expect a more temperate climate, but what we didn’t expect was just how glorious it would be from Fall to Spring. Sure, we’d have some cold days in the winter, which was perfect for snuggling by the fire, but we’d still experience 60- to 70-degree days every couple of weeks, which was a far cry from always fucking frigid for weeks and weeks at a time for at least four straight months up north.


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Summer can be brutal, but then again, it’s also pool season so who cares?

Today we met with who we jokingly refer to as the Original Friends - the three families we got to know within the first month of our move here - to celebrate our Austiniversary. It was at a restaurant with a playground, where our kids were either playing with each other or with other kids. The grownups sat at two tables outside under a giant oak tree with one eye on the kids while we chatted about our spring break and what not.

Topics ranged from vacations to cars to SXSW to sickness to a Taylor Swift concert road trip (don’t ask) to school to work to the amazing weather. Then we said our goodbyes and made plans to meet at one of the Original Friend’s homes for a BBQ next weekend before rushing home for the bedtime - bath, books and songs - ritual.

While the girls played in the tub, I walked out to my yard and laughed at the sight of the dandelions in my yard that sprouted from this last spell of rain. I never knew they could grow that tall.

Then I turned and spotted our “Yellow Rose of Texas” by our front window and stood there in awe of it - how the plant survived the frosty winter nights and my lack of attention was beyond me. But it’s native to this region; it would naturally make it here.

 

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Unlike us. Even as the movers hauled our belongings into the truck, even as we drove 1,100 miles towards our new life, I wasn’t too confident that this would be the place for us. After all, three out of the four of us had never even been to Austin before we arrived with our worldly possessions.

But despite the brutal summer heat, the minor setbacks, the homesickness for Chicago, the lack of snow, the fact that we’re in Texas (but hey, Austin really isn’t Texas-Texas is it?), the abundance of wildlife just in our neighborhood, let alone the area, we made it.

And we didn’t just survive our first year here, we’re loving it. My girls are blooming where they’re planted, and I feel our roots growing deeper into this once foreign soil with each passing day.

 

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I would’ve stayed outside to enjoy a few more moments of my reverie had it not been for a certain three-year-old who walked out naked in search of her mother. After one last look at the expansive coral tinged Texas sky, I followed her back into the house for the rest of our Sunday evening.

 

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