Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Breaking News: Tragically unphotogenic suburban mom raises $12k+ for diabetes research

In May 2013, while sitting at a stoplight on my way to pick up my daughter from school, I got bitten by something. I had been thinking about raising money for Type 1 diabetes research, and I wanted to take on some kind of physical challenge to build it around. After considering my options for three or four seconds, I thought, I'll try to raise $10,000 over the course of a year, and during that year I'll run 12 half-marathons and use those as my pushes for donations. I guess it's a little odd that I concocted this scheme before ever having run a single half-marathon in all of my life. And also maybe a little odd since I knew (know) that asking people for money is not a strength of mine. But whatever. Once the idea was in my head, I started getting all obsessy and excited and thinking about it nonstop, and before I ever told another soul about it I knew I was committed. (And when I did tell other souls about it, starting with my husband and then on to parents and siblings, pretty much everyone was like oh for god's sake, we KNEW that time she fell off the bed as an infant and bounced on her skull was going to come back around and wreck her brain at some point.) (True story.)

The final statistics are these:
$12,432.23 raised
I'm putting that number in big red type because YOU KNOW WHAT I'M PRETTY FLIPPING PLEASED ABOUT IT. My family, friends, and friends of friends and family donated more than $12,000 to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation by mid-May 2014, so you met (and zipped past) my fundraising goal within the timeline I'd set.

In mid-May 2014 I ran my 11th half-marathon. I did not run the 12th one until October 19, 2014, so I did not do all the races I'd intended to do in within the timeline I'd set.

This person is doing a very unconvincing
simulation of running.
There were a couple of reasons I missed the race goal. One was that I'd started to have problems with my Achilles tendons. After a race I did in March, they were very tender and I didn't feel up to doing another race the following month. I managed to do one in May, but it was painful and I felt like my body was begging me to listen. That combined with the fact that the race schedule is all but bare in this region of the country in June, July and August (because of the heat) and the fact that starting in early June Brandon began traveling for work every week (so I was chasing the kids from 5:30am until 8pm every day without a break, freelancing after that, and averaging around 5 hours of sleep per night ... pretty intense exhaustion, and I didn't have the support system to mind the kids while I did longer training runs) meant I had to release my grip a bit and just ... accept. I was still proud of the fact that I'd done 11 races in 12 months, but I knew I had to do the 12th one before I could crow out loud that I DID IT.

So people: I DID IT. (Sort of.)

But here is why this post has taken me a dreadfully, soul-suckingly, lay-awake-in-bed-at-night-and-feel-like-a-failure long time to write: What was, to me, an important part of my accomplishment has become a ghost. My personal fundraising page -- which shows how much I raised and all the people who donated and all the incredibly, humblingly kind and supportive words they lofted and which was basically my own little cave of joy -- is gone. JDRF changed the host for their online fundraisers, and when they did that they deleted all the existing fundraising pages. They sent out a single email announcing the change 10 days before they enacted it, but the way it was worded I didn't understand that it pertained to me (and in any case the email did not explain what you should do if you had an ongoing -- versus a single-event -- fundraising challenge and wanted to preserve your page).

I'm keeping my hands folded in my lap and my face neutral while I share this info. (How is she typing with her hands folded in her lap? What are her toes doing?) It is between me and my ego whether I am going to be dragged down by the fact that I cannot prove to anyone else that I did it. I got the JDRF folks to send me an Excel spreadsheet that shows all my donations and who they came from, but the personal notes are gone and the little essay I'd written about what I was doing and why is gone. When I discovered that my page no longer existed, I was dragged down for sure. Devastated actually. At first it really and truly felt like my accomplishment had been taken away from me, like all the work I'd put into this idea and the ring of people who I felt were holding my hands and cheering me on (AND, most importantly, showing me that they too think the world would be a better place without Type 1 diabetes) had been detonated. I didn't sleep that night. My chest was a hot tangled mess of sadness and fury.

But I have taken some deep breaths and regained my composure. I am hoping that all you heart-swellingly, mind-bogglingly generous people who donated to my fundraiser know how important this effort was to me and how much your show of support made me feel like a huge balloon full of sweet air bobbing around over the treetops. There is not an absolutely logical connection between your donations and my conviction that this disease will someday become extinct, but somehow one deepened the other. Every day, hopefully each of us does at least one or two nice things that we maybe don't ponder too much (holding a door, smiling at a stranger, picking up something they've dropped) and we don't necessarily ever know whether the gesture created a ripple. I don't know how much time any of you put into deciding whether to donate when I asked, but you made very big ripples, lots of them, and they gave me that light, bobbing feeling again and again for a whole year. If I could walk without limping right now, I'd probably be entertaining the idea of doing the whole thing all over again.

I look vaguely like I'm trying to scare someone - ?
A few words about my final race: It completely chewed me up and spat me out. It is the only one in which I ever slowed down. Both of my Achilles (or the muscles surrounding them) cramped up repeatedly, and at 12.5 miles my left one seized so badly I couldn't even move myself out of the way of the other no doubt irritated runners. I was frozen, doubled over, clutching my leg and feeling frantic when a hero cop came over, helped me to the curb, and stretched me for several minutes. I managed to run (it may have been a bit of a mincing stride) the final .6 mile, crossed the finish, and was shocked to see that my time was still decent by my standards. If not for the stop, this would have been a personal best by at least a couple minutes. I had had this idea that for my 12th race I wanted an "I DID IT!" photo as I finished ... and what you see here is what I got. It slays me. I am such. such. such a dork. I wanted to look cute and joyful. I look awkward and ... just sort of weird. The Real Me simply will not be subdued.

So I am closing this little chapter. It was such an exciting and rewarding one for me, and joyous in that I owe any feelings of success to the support of other people, some of whom are within my tighter rings of community and some of whom came from further away. I know I and all those people have helped nudge science a little closer to a cure and prevention for Type 1 diabetes.

Now for tomorrow's stoplight.

Monday, April 14, 2014

How I Became the Perfect Parent

If you have come here looking for information about donating to the JDRF in support of my fundraising campaign, please click here, and if you want to read my manifesto about why I'm running 12 half-marathons in 12 months, click here. For those of you who are wondering, I have only two races left to run, and I am embarrassed to have fallen woefully behind on blogging about my races. To be blunt, my brain has been a little preoccupied by my family recently -- hence, the following post.  Thanks for reading, and donating if you have or will! 

In general, I am a fan of being a parent. It is absolutely common for me to gaze at my children and feel as though I am floating weightless in a garden-scented bubble bath while angels are plopping toasted marshmallows into my mouth and fairies are massaging my toes. They fill me with that much joy.

It's a hot mess of perfection around here.

Except lately, when I have had a six-year-old. We are starting to hear rumblings of the kind of girl-on-girl psychotic social behavior that we foolishly thought we had another half-decade to prepare for. We are starting to feel shriveled and foul-smelling under the weight of a disdainful brown-eyed gaze that burrrns. We are starting to hear a patronizing tone of voice and a level of resistance to our wisdom that is so convincing, even I am being won over to the idea that I am an idiot.

Where did I go wrong? I'm not going to be one of those moms who blames everyone else for my child's misdeeds; I'm here to take responsibility and figure out how I can improve. But the confusing thing is, I'm pretty sure I'm a perfect parent. I'm not just making it up as I go along -- I've done my research. I've read a good number of parenting books and a really outlandish number of highly opinionated blogs in my quest to not ever use my common sense as a parenting tool. I know all these other people can tell me how to parent. I've listened. Which is why it's everyone else's fault if I've done anything wrong.

Through all my reading, I have become enlightened to quite a lot of things. For instance, one of the biggest faults of American parents is that we are too permissive. We don't set enough guidelines for our children, we let them get away with murder, we don't take a stand against reckless, irresponsible behavior and disrespectful attitudes. Those are some of the reasons why our kids are so screwed up. They also are totally screwed up because we drive them too hard, we "helicopter parent," we don't give them enough free time and freedom to make decisions and mistakes, and we don't give them enough time and space to just be children. Because I have taken all that wisdom to heart, I know exactly what to do. Or not to do. The best solution seems to be to not do a thing, because one thing is certain: American parents are doing everything wrong.

I have also learned that I must give my children plenty of positive reinforcement. Praise, praise, praise when they make the right decision, because negative discipline (time-outs, lecturing, scolding, expressing any form of disapproval when they royally blow it) is not only ineffective but will also quickly harden my child's wiring into that of a serial killer. Except that I must be careful not to praise too much. I praise Elaine as sparingly as possible, ideally not at all, because I know that overpraising will make my kid a clingy, unable-to-self-direct, unimaginative follower. It's better to merely observe and reflect upon what she's doing, so she can form her own judgments and confidence about her accomplishments. So when my daughter paints a heart-melting portrait of my family holding hands in front of a white-fence house with a smiling sun overhead, I DO NOT do what is natural, including and especially if my impulses guide me to say something stupid such as, "Oh what a beautiful painting! I'm going to hang it up." I merely glance at it briefly and make a neutral comment such as, "That house has four windows," or "You drew something." This is crucial in my crusade to demonstrate for my child that humans do not naturally admire things or experience positive feelings of any sort.

I am extraordinarily careful not to comment on my daughter's appearance, since I know this will drill into her head that people are interested in her only if she's considered attractive, and also models for her that the best way to judge someone is based on their appearance. I will admit that this got a touch awkward recently when she tried on a dress I sewed for her (no small accomplishment; I am not a naturally gifted seamstress). As she twirled in front of me, I stared blankly until she finally said, "I think it fits ...?" and I replied "Good, then" before stalking off in silence, content in the knowledge that I had again masterfully navigated parenting.

It wasn't all that hard for me to withhold excitement about the dress, though, thanks to the fact that Elaine had chosen for it a fabric that was very pink-intensive. I am well aware that I must resist my daughter's impulses to surround herself with pink. She doesn't know (but I do) that pink, objectively speaking, is for weak-minded females who are waiting around for someone to do their thinking for them. If I allow her to wear pink all the time, play with pink toys, color with pink crayons, I'm obviously dooming her to an accomplishment-free existence. In order to make it clear to her that she must think for herself, I ignore her tastes and preferences, and I do not buy anything pink.

I feel like this is the right place to point out that I have selflessly stopped grooming adopted a very natural beauty routine as part of my campaign to demonstrate that it's what's on the inside that counts. I haven't blown my hair dry in years. I haul out my mascara not more than a couple times a week. My lipstick hardens and starts to smell weird before I ever use up a tube. My nails are chipped and my cuticles are like gravel. Inspired, my daughter races home from school every day and tears her clothes off on her way upstairs. Within 32 seconds or so, she'll be happily teetering around on one of my pairs of stilettos (she is forever unearthing ones I forgot I had), glamorously bedecked in one of a large number of shimmery dress-up frocks of hers. She is so cosmetics-obsessed that she has been known to compose entire songs whose lyrics consisted only of the word "makeup" repeated over and over. Determined to prevail on this one, I have stopped wearing clothes and shoes altogether.

One of the very first things I learned about parenting is that giving kids choices is the only sure way to get them to cooperate. Giving them choices lets them feel empowered and confident. It is a great way to manipulate them into doing what you want, without issuing threats. E.g., instead of saying "Wash your hands and sit down for dinner or I will dismember this dolly," you can say, "Would you prefer to wash your hands and sit down for dinner, or have me put your favorite dolly down the garbage disposal?" No threats, just a choice. Thankfully, my children are brilliant enough to detect the nuances of this method; they are able to differentiate the empowerment of having chosen not to watch a dolly get butchered from the belittlement of being threatened by the prospect of doll butchering.

I have also learned that if you are not wearing your baby/toddler, or did not wear him or her, you've missed an unrecoverable bonding opportunity, which will leave the two of you permanently emotionally estranged. But, and this part is important, if you use(d) a Baby Bjorn to do your baby-wearing, you have done even worse. You tortured your baby. You dangled them by their crotch, in abject pain and facilitating permanent hip damage, while you toodled about not giving a thought in the world to anyone but yourself, which is what all mothers are doing basically all the time. I was dismayed to learn this last part after both my kids had outgrown our Bjorn, which is stained and threadbare thanks to the countless hours my cooing or snoring infants spent in it.

Most importantly, I know that it is very important to teach your children to be self-sufficient. That is why I have empowered them to use the remote control unassisted, microwave themselves mugs of boiling water to make herbal tea, and hoist themselves onto the counter to get the chips and cookies on top of the fridge. This gives them a great sense of independent achievement and, conveniently, leaves me free to spend all day learning how to be a perfect parent (thanks, Internet!) and, of course, blogging and Facebooking so that everyone else also knows how perfect I am. You're welcome.