Seeing light through others’ eyes

It’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that our country is in a state of unrest. It saddens me to see all the racial hatred that exists, from the recent police brutality situations to the most recent horrible tragedy in Charleston. While we seem to take several steps forward with progress toward the LGBTQ community, we can’t help but to beckon the days of segregation with acts like those of the Charleston shooter, the policy in McKinney, Texas, and other situations. While I never have all the facts, and in some cases I think there is probably more than what the media portrays, I just wish people could be people no matter their skin color or sexual orientation, and we could look past it. Just as I can’t help but be a white female, African-Americans and homosexuals are the same way. They are my friends and no different than any of my white, heterosexual friends. I just don’t understand why we can’t live in harmony.

But today’s blog isn’t about the injustice of the world, as much as it is the ability I had to capture some innocence and forget about all the evil that exists. In my own backyard, I felt something special today. I saw life through my child’s eyes, and it was beautiful and bright.

For years we’ve had a PlayNation playset sitting under our work shed in the back yard. We dismantled it from a friend years ago and were waiting until our son was old enough to enjoy it. Our family friend gave it to us for a deal if we took it down from his back yard (he bought a house with a set that he didn’t want). So lo and behold, my husband and I jumped on the $3500 set for a fraction of the cost and some old fashioned elbow grease.

Fast-forward a few years later and we knew with our son’s 4th birthday around the corner, this would be a perfect birthday gift. It so happened to be Father’s Day weekend and my husband and I thought how nice it would be to have his brothers over for some extra muscle and his father to help guide the swing-set rebuild. See, there were no instructions or even a photo to go off of, so reverse-engineering was crucial. All five Clark men ascended to the yard to have some bonding time and build our boy a playground of his own.

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I peaked outside a few times to capture the progress on camera and could tell boys were enjoying themselves. It’s not everyday you can get these guys together and out at 8 a.m. on a Saturday to start building something they will never use. So I cannot say how much I appreciated them. I gave them all some sandwiches and lots of hugs and thank yous, but the real joy came when Cohen saw it for the first time.

I had grand ideas of keeping it under a tarp and displaying once his birthday rolled around, but that’s 30 days from now and not practical. So we gave it to him today, allowing the builders to also reap the benefit. To see Cohen’s eyes light up, and his voice shriek with excitement as he went down the slide was worth every penny.

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Afterward we had a big swim party with the rest of the Clark men and their wives and kids and such. For a few hours it was just a nice day of relaxing and enjoying family. I didn’t have to think of the unjust world outside my yard’s perimeter. I didn’t have to worry about protecting my child or trying to affect change. I got to see things through his chlorine-filled eyes, and I loved it. I know one day he’ll know the violence that exists, the bullying, the hatred, the struggle that our world faces everyday. But today, he was surrounded by love, positive reinforcement, gratitude and joy.

As we swung together after everyone left, I couldn’t help but feel I’d achieved the American Dream. Some may say it’s dead, but I think I got it. I try hard to not just depend on God in times of need, but rather, always be gracious for what I’ve been given. Today, I must have said thanks a million times. For a beautiful home, family, job I love, friends and health, I don’t think things could be any better.

Now if we can just get everyone else in the world under my same spell, maybe we’ll see some brighter days.

Finally, again, I’m a triathlete!

IMG_3413I did my first triathlon in 2006 after many years of being unhealthy, overweight, totally inactive and somewhat depressed. It was for sure, an act of God that I even signed up for it. My coworkers at the time thought I was kinda crazy and my boyfriend (now husband) supported me from afar. But really, it was just something I decided to do. It was as outlandish as the average person saying they wanted to do a marathon or something. Now, granted, it was a sprint triathlon, but still, it was 3 sports at once.

I definitely kind of got the bug and went on to do 3 more after that. None of them were my forte by any means, and each goal was always to finish, have fun and give it 100 percent. Growing up athletic but slow, meant that my goals were always to try my best and beat my own records. If I did that, then I won the approval of my parents and ultimately, myself. If I beat anyone else at the same time, then great. But overall I just like to be able to tell myself I did my best.

So after seven years, I had a couple of kids, got hitched, started a new job and settled into that wonderfully sublime part of marriage where you think your husband loves you for you, and you’re comfortable. Then kids happen (with great joy I must add) and those nights of cooking for one, having all the time in the world to meal plan and work out and train seem to dissolve before your very eyes. How wonderfully bliss those days were. I wanted more and yet today, I yearn for that simplicity. I see my sister having Dateline (TV show) marathons on Saturday afternoons, nursing a hangover and yearn for that time I could just lay on the couch in my PJs and hang around until time to go back out and party again. Instead, I have a 9 month old who needs bottles, baby food, constant stimulation, rocking before naps, toys, games, loving, kisses, etc. I have a almost-four-year old who wants me to get his favorite movie queued up, fix the right kind of cheese crackers (not the generic mommy!!) and make sure his straw fits perfectly into the cup that has a pre-built straw. It is beyond exhausting. Of course, I would never trade it. But sometimes it’s hard to imagine I could have ever been as exhausted in my single days as I am now.

Needless to say, as a working mother, something gets sacrificed and most often, it is myself. My days are filled with getting kids up and ready for school, and if I’m lucky enough to shower in the morning, I go to work with air-dried hair. Hopefully my sons’ outfits match and I have the right shoes on them, but my breakfasts tend to be whatever I can eat and drive with at the same time. I look at their nice breakfasts my husband makes them while I’m getting them dressed, and I smile knowing we have a beautifully balanced role, yet I’m a little jealous that my fiber bar will not be near as good as the turkey sausage, banana muffins, orange juice and yogurt my son has (for breakfast number 1 I might add; he gets another at school) . Yet I continue on.

See, in these years, your choices are to put your kids before yourself, your job before your own well-being, your husband before yourself and well, yourself last. I’m guessing many other women are in this same predicament, or have been, and we quite often find ourselves forgetting to wear make up or look as good as we want to; not because our husbands make us or we feel like we have to, but just for the sole reason that we WANT to. And so sadly, we are often forgotten. We obligingly put everyone else before ourselves. Maybe that’s the sign of a good wife or mother, but it’s also probably a check on a list of things that can cause women to go crazy years from now.

So in January, I decided to revisit my triathlon days and sign up for another one. I figured why not have something looming over my head like a freaking triathlon to motivate me. I knew I would probably wait until the last few months to really give it the old college try but I also knew, come hell or high water I would do it.

But this time I wanted to get my sister involved. She’s always been the person I look out for most and I knew she wouldn’t ever do one alone, but because I know she’s hard-working, I thought this could be a new role for her to try with my guidance. I was hoping to have a training partner and such. So I paid for her entry and lo and behold we signed up together.

For months, I trained. Every Tues I committed to doing long bike rides after work, which meant I missed my son’s gymnastics. Granted, most nights were quite the same routines and so I prob didn’ t miss much. But due to the hills on the bike route, I would many time have given anything to be at gymnastics over that damn bike

But I decided somewhere between Feb and March that it was finally time to take back some time for me. And what better way to do so than with some healthy training for a big race. I use the term race lightly bc no part of me was racing. But there ARE some people who take these things seriously. There may even be cash prizes, I’m not sure.

I know my work friends and Facebook friends and real-life friends were sick of hearing about it, but I must admit, the only reason I talked about the triathlon so much was it was my way of reminding myself it was real. See, I’ve gained some weight since getting married and so I knew no part of this would be easy. And by mentioning the words TRI-ATH-LON every chance I could, I knew that enough people would hear about it and therefore, I would be held responsible. Was I scared about the bike? Hell yea! Did I think I could do it? Not sure. There was a 2-hour cutoff that I’d never endured before and on each test run I was coming in reallllly close to the 2-hour mark

The hardest part about training though was the time it meant away from my family. I must give my husband the biggest shout out bc of how amazing he is. He more than took one for the team, he took over. Nights and weekends of meal prep and putting kids to bed and just being an amazing father, my husband was my biggest cheerleader. He, has expressed that he would like me to be the healthiest version of myself as I can be, so he didn’t mind being mom and dad at times if it meant I was out training and preparing.

Race day finally came and the 4:45 wake-up call was a bit brutal. Having two kids who sleep through the night, I haven’t woken up that early in a while. Especially on a Saturday. My nerves were surprisingly pretty calm, but my sister was feeling them so I vicariously became a little jittered. Still, the thought of finishing in 2 hours was something that went through my head over and over again. I researched the slowest people’s times from the year before and there was one woman, Alice, who came in last and had about 8 minutes to spare.

As my sister and I lined up our bikes I started having this weird sense of de ja vu. I felt like it was my first triathlon all over again. She mentioned how amateur we looked in our non-sponsored tri gear. She on a hybrid bike and in a bathing suit, looked out of place compared to the professionals with their $10,000 bikes. But we settled into our bike rack with other slow pokes and I immediately met Alice. She told me she wasn’t sure if she was ready to give up her last-place spot after I told her I’d probably come in last. I immediately liked her.

Steph (my sister) and I checked out the transition area (what was up with the hike down the hill from the pool to the bike!) and made mental notes of what all to do when. I giggled a little when she realized that you don’t really dry off after the bike, but rather just get on and go. Yep, wet, and gross! But I was so glad to have her with me and to know we were doing this together.

We waited for our swim time to start and made friends with Alice and some other ladies. But finally it was our time and we took off. I was thrilled with my swim (it’s the only thing I’m really decent at) and felt strong the whole way through. Gearing up for the bike, I knew it was “go” time. See, the bike was the hardest part for me. I’d trained and each time it had gotten easier, but it was still a beast of a ride. I only felt validated with an acquaintance of mine who does the real IRONMAN distance told me how much she hated this bike route as well.

Steph and I were neck and neck during the bike and passed one another a few times. I mainly just wanted to check in with her and make sure she was having fun or okay. She had a sweet friend who came to cheer us on at every turn. One of my favorite things about triathlons is the comraderie (after you move through the elite people) that you feel. As people pass you, they say “great job,” or “keep going.” Even as people passed me, I felt a need to tell them great job. Because I knew they were working extra hard to peddle or run faster to pass me. It’s not a competitive feeling but rather one where we’re all out there celebrating the fact that we’re completely insane to be doing this. One time during the bike I heard from behind “passing on the left Jennifer!” I looked and it was Alice passing me. I felt so happy for her, even though it meant I was probably coming in last. But for her, knowing she was trying to beat her goal of being last, last year, I was excited for her.

I finally made it through the bike in about 45 minutes, which was 15 minutes under my envisioned time and figured I’d be great on the run. I got off and started jogging when I immediately had a paralyzing cramp. My left calf collapsed and shot pain up my leg leaving me to limp. A man next to me had the same thing and we talked each other through it. For 5 minutes it felt as though I’d been shot in the leg. Finally, it passed, and I was able to start jogging. Once again, everyone that passed me had a big smile and congratulated me. And I tried to do the same for them.

About half way into my run, a friend of mine who wasn’t doing the race popped up to say hi and bring me water. It was so sweet. She, being an avid biker and runner, was there to help me break or meet my goal time, and kept me moving quickly. We checked my pace against the clock and she encouraged me to push a little harder. I’d lost my sister because she kept going ahead of me when I had to stop for the cramp (she didn’t know I was having one, in her defense).

Finally, I came into the home stretch of the run and could see the finish line. Most people had packed up their transition area. Some had showered and gone home and come back for the awards, and others were celebrating with their families. I had hoped my boys would all be there but I found out afterward my oldest son was sick. Thankfully my sister and friends were cheering for me and I ran the last quarter mile or so as fast as I could at that point. I ran through the finish line and a sense of pride shot over me like that cramp had gone through my leg. It was over. I was once again a triathlete.

Alice came in a little after me and once we compared times, it turns out she had shaved 8 minutes off her time last year and had in fact beaten me. I did not; however, come in last and I had more than 15 minutes to spare before the cutoff. Mission accomplished. One New Years Resolution I had stuck with and met! And I’d be lying if I haven’t already looked at a few others in the coming months! J

I hope anyone reading this will take away that setting a goal that seems and feels completely outlandish or unattainable is doable with the right mindset. It’s really mind over matter and about 60% physical and 40% mental. I would love to encourage my mother or father even to try a tri! Anything is possible!