Family Ties

Shhhh. My family are sleeping. Andrew, my husband of 20 years, and our three progeny. All asleep in their beds. My family.

I caught up with more of my family last night. My siblings. My older sister, my older brother, and my younger brother. We do this occasionally, just us. No partners. It was pleasant. We have long abandoned childhood hierarchy and now meet as equals. Well mostly equals! We laughed and talked, caught up on each other’s news. We had fun. My brothers both surprised me with gifts for my birthday. I obviously have a drinking problem being given two large coffee cups (that’s morning drinks) and a bottle of gin (evenings sorted!)

We were acknowledging our mother’s birthday this coming Saturday. She died shortly after turning 70, almost 11 years ago.

Across this city are more members of my family. Dad lives with his girlfriend, the younger woman. I jest. Dad will be 88 in August. Noeline is a month younger. We are happy he has found someone to live with since Mum.

My mother in law has been a widow for almost 15 years. She had heart surgery last week following a heart attack a month ago. For the past five days she has been “imprisoned” in a rest home convalescing. Today her family are busting her out. She is going home. She can do this because if her family’s willingness to support her.

My brother-in-law will drive her to her appointments. My daughter will move in from today for at least two weeks, to sleep over and be there as company and in case of emergency. Other members of the family will help out as well.

One of my sisters-in-law has told my mother-in-law she cannot rely on her family for ever. Pam knows this. But apart from weakness from being unwell preceding her heart op, she is fine. She can tend to her own personal hygiene needs. Arrangements have been made to deliver a daily hot meal and for someone to vacuum, clean the bathroom, and change the bed.

The shortfall will be picked up by her family. Because they want to help her. Because she was miserable in her rest home box. Because even though it would have been better if she had moved out of the four bedroom rambling family home 10 years ago, she didn’t. It is still her home. And she wants to live there as long as she can.

It will make more work for us. It won’t be forever.

Family. Everyone has a family. You cannot be born without a mother or a father contributing those first cells. My family is very traditional. Mum. Dad. Kids. Other families are made up of different combinations. Most are connected by genetic make-up. But not all.

I may not always like my family, but I am glad to have one. To be the middle child in the middle generation. To know I have history behind me and the future ahead.

So let’s drink to family. Cheers!

(It is early morning as I write this, so I raise my coffee cup!)

Love is …..

What is love?

Apparently that is one of the most searched questions on Google. I know I have asked it myself.

Love is an emotion I am not sure I feel or receive.

Odd, isn’t it. I am married to my best friend. I have three kids. I know I probably do love them, but identifying that emotion is beyond me.

I know when I am cold. I know when I am hot. Happy. Sad. Hungry. In pain.

But I struggle to identify love.

Yes, I say I love things. Chocolate. Coffee. This book. That movie.

I don’t tell people I love them. Even when alone in the middle of the night, sitting with my dying mother, I found it hard to utter those three words. Eventually I did. Maybe she had been waiting for them all her life too, she died two hours later.

No-one told me they loved me when I was growing up. It was not the done thing.

I have lived most of my life struggling to even like myself, let alone love me. I took it as read that perhaps I was not very loveable. Even Andrew doesn’t really declare his emotions for me. The language of love in our family is a strong dialect of sarcasm. My kids are incredibly fluent. Though Robbie checks in with a touch on the shoulder as he passes. Jonny steals my glasses as he goes by. Juliet talks to me these days – high praise indeed. Andrew says, if he doesn’t add “you stupid bitch” to the end of his sentence, that is good enough.

But last night I felt something which I assume was love. For a person. Luckily it was my husband. He has been particularly supportive as I wrestle with a problem. I looked at his face. And this huge wave of warmth and emotion swept through my body.

Love.

Wow. I love my husband!!

Did I say it? Nope. Too chicken.

Maybe when he wakes up. Though the emotion I feel towards his snoring is definitely not love!

PS: Some of you might poo-poo the sentiments expressed above. Please remember this is what I feel, not what you perceive me to be or feel. My journey of healing through counselling has reinforced the importance of owning my feelings and emotions. No one has the right to judge me on those.

I know I have warped views on some things – love, sex, body image. I am working on them in my own time.

Celebrations

Happy birthday.

Two little words which say so much and so little.

My birthday is very soon. It is a “big one”. For a number of years peer pressure has been on. “What are you doing for your 50th? You have to have a party.”

Well, actually, I don’t. And I am not.

I am not worried about turning 50. In reality I will be one day older than the previous day, an experience I have coped with every day since the first morning after my birth in 1964. I am really looking forward to being in a new age group for running. Fist pump!!

I am worried about the birthday rituals.

Growing up birthdays were big. One of my early memories is standing on a chair in the kitchen beside mum. She was mixing a cake. For me. For my third birthday. We were talking. I remember happiness.

I remember turning five and going to visit Granny, a little wizened body in a bed. I showed her my new school suitcase. It was brown. It was a Sunday. I started school the next day with two others. I was only in that class for three weeks, getting fast tracked through the primers.

I had a party at seven. Again at 10. I remember my friend giving me a card telling me how great it was to be in “double number digits” – I remember her getting the words muddled. I was also one of the last in my school year to hit the double digits. Only Rachel was younger and she was a Seventh Day Adventist so they didn’t even have birthdays. I remember being horrified at that thought.

I quite like the idea now.

I had my 19th birthday in London, accidentally finding a gay bar in Hampstead. My 23rd birthday in Vancouver, almost getting arrested for drinking on the beach. My 24th birthday in the Sinai, riding a camel with no steering!

My 30th was set in 1964 – ladies a plate, men a crate. My 40th was a girls’ own karaoke party. And a big family dinner.

I like birthdays. But recently not my own.

Is it the advent of FB where your worth is measured by the number of people listed as friends. Where you post your birthday openly. And total random strangers wish you a happy day. My birthday is not listed. The people who matter to me know when it is.

So the big five oh. A couple of years ago I said to Andrew I didn’t want a party. But I wanted to acknowledge it in a big way. Like doing the Coast to Coast. Not Ironman, too cliched. He vetoed that idea. Put me on a lifetime ban. Too expensive to enter. To expensive to outfit yourself. Too much time/money to be spent in training. I acquiesced.

The Big Five marathon in Africa? Nope too expensive for us both to go. I wanted to share such an occasion with someone.

He said he would take me away for a week in the sun. I chose northern Queensland. He would organise it. Time ran out. He had no passport. No flights booked. Nothing. I offered him an out and said what the hell. Let’s go to Queenstown.

But less than three weeks out, I cannot trust him to have done anything. With three children, a business, his mother having a heart attack, I can see my birthday just slipping down the priority list.

I wish it would just slip off the radar completely.

Because honestly, I would rather not have it. Then I cannot feel disappointed.

But it is not presents I crave, but presence. It is not a FB reminder to post something inane on my wall, it is knowing that someone thought of me and what would make me smile and feel loved. Any day. Everyday. Not just one day.

I am over birthdays. I think we should celebrate our love for people every and any day. I am part of this initiative called paying it forward, where you randomly give or do something for someone because you have been thinking of them.

It has been fun. A dinner voucher emailed to a friend in the US for her local restaurant. Flowers to cheer up a friend having a bad day/week/life at work. And the smiles on three friend’s faces when I gave them little brooches I had made (pretty badly) celebrating their unique careers – priceless.

I like birthdays. I like presents. I like cake. I like parties. I’m just not that keen on my own. Unfortunately, the alternative is death!

Happy birthday. So cliched. Here’s to celebrating Happy random thinking of a special person day.

The title picture is from Mick Inkpen’s storybook, Kipper’s Birthday. About a dog who invites all his friends over for a birthday party “tomorrow” but forgets to deliver the invitations. Consequently he celebrates alone, feels unloved. But the next day, his friends turn up with things for a party. Kipper is a much loved character to my kids.

Winning is everything!

My feet ache. My legs twitch. My belly demands feeding, again, as I look at the empty bowl next to me. My butt feels tight as, or should I say tight ass! And my arms are tired. How can my arms be tired?

This morning I ran 30 odd kilometres, 22 of those being part of a race. The Sri Chinmoy Waimairi Beach challenge. I was aiming to run at tempo, come in the top three women. And tack on an extra eight to fulfil my Jantastic long run. I had raced a pretty speedy off road 4k yesterday.

I woke early. It is a big day today. Later this afternoon we have the “grandparents” coming for afternoon tea. At 6am I got up and made scones, and mashed eggs ready for sandwiches. By 7am I was in the car heading east to Waimairi beach.

It was very dark. And a thick sea fog covered the slumbering city. This was good. This meant no easterly wind.

I warmed up with a 2k jog along the track, and then my routine of lunges, leg swings, hacky sacks, single skips. It works for me. I registered. Checked out the entry list. Very few women. No names I recognised.

I talked to one younger woman. This was her longest run. Ever. Sweet. Crossed her off of my list of threats. Then this uber fit skinny bitch bounced up. All muscle and speed. Top three, Robyn. I had already discarded any momentary thought that this was not a race. It was on.

It is the usual practice at Sri Chinmoy races to have a moment of reflection. I used this moment to rub my hands up and down my thighs, to feel the muscle bound by compression shorts, to focus on their strength. My mantra today would be strong. Vajin sounded the hooter and we were racing.

It was still. It was foggy. There was no colour. Grey sand. Grey cloud. Grey sea.

A wee dot of a thing headed to the front of the women. She was wearing a lot of colour – bright blue shorts and a red cotton Sri Chinmoy tee shirt. She was determined to stay ahead of me. I was sitting on her shoulder. When I went ahead a bit she sped up to catch me and stay just ahead. This went on for 2k. I was thinking, dumb move. My legs must be eight inches longer than yours, you are breathing heavily wasting all this mental and physical energy surging. I am a nasty mean cat toying with a weak mouse.

To my left I see the skinny bitch, all in blue bound alongside me. Wee dot pulled right back. I think she realised she was up against the big guns. Skinny bitch and I ran side by side for about 3k. The tide was out and there was a wide expanse of hard, fast sand. And pure luxury, no easterly headwind.

I could tell Skinny was determined. But so was I. Was I prepared to battle this out for 17 more kilometres, she was breathing heavier than I was but I was being made to work.

The beach calms me. I love the waves and I am sure the positive ionic energy created by the breaking water breathes new life into me. I thought of my mother. Part of my therapy to deal with depression involved me coming to the beach and having an out loud conversation with my mother. Yeah, I felt like an idiot but I found it helpful.

Today I heard the gentle ching ching of the two stone hearts my mother gave me as they tapped together. I focussed on mum. Come on, it is your time to help me. I changed my mantra to “give me wings, and make me fly.”

And fly I did. I subconsciously kicked it up a gear. Very soon Skinny was behind me. I felt strong. I was tearing north along that beach.

Ahead of me I could see just one other runner, a black silhouette. I knew he was third male. I was fourth overall, and now leading woman. I felt strong. I felt invincible. By golly, I must be Helen Reddy!

My pace was pretty steady half marathon pace, 4:35ish. Everything felt good. My Garmin was burring kilometre markings frequently. It seemed like no time until I could see more disturbed sea as the great Waimakariri river, which has come from deep in the mountains, meets the Pacific Ocean.

Cones marked our change of direction. And also change of surface. Farewell hard flat and fast sand. Hello marshmallow. Instantly we were on a rough beach track. The sand was incredibly dry and soft. My legs which for the previous 55 minutes had been pounding out speedy ks suddenly had the brakes slammed on. Every foot placement slid or sunk. It was hard. And slow. My pace dropped to about 5:40 but my effortometre was heading to a high nine out of 10. I knew we had a good five to seven ks of this. I dreaded being caught by someone else. Oh the horror if Skinny chased me down. I kept pushing through the thickness.

With relentless forward progress you do eventually reach your destination, or at least a marker in the journey. As we neared Spencer Park more people-traffic had hardened the track. And coming out of Spencer Park I know the track well. There are five little dune climbs, but the rest is hard and fast multi-use track. Which meant, of course, that there were mountain bikers, and men with dogs, and baby buggies the size of a small RV, and couples taking their Sunday constitutional. I was still asking for wings. I had picked up speed. I was flying again. My final kilometres were at 4:30 pace.

There were the flags. There was the finish line. If there is one thing I do, it is a strong sprint finish. I crossed that line, 1:47:05 after I had started. I don’t know the exact mileage, but it was pretty close to 22k, either up or down. I kept my Garmin running and went for a slow jog cool down to get my final kilometres in for Jantastic.

There might not have been many people in this event, maybe 40. There were only five or six women. But I gave it everything I had. I won it fair and square. More than the medal, though, I won the feeling that the training is going well. I feel confident heading into Rotorua in just under five weeks.

I ache, but it was worth it.

Beach runner photo

My final Jantastic score was 99.6%
Skinny finished about five minutes behind me.
Wee Dot came in about 2:15