No one is better equipped to talk about my 8 week online program, Sanctuary, than the women who have actually completed the program. Click the video below to hear why they joined and what they got out of it.
Three life lessons from a tumultuous last decade.
1. Self care is no joke.
For a long time I believed that rest was for wimps. In college, I attended class all day, headed to a grueling three hour gymnastics practice, then studied at the library well into the night. I’d wake up for my eight o’clock classes and start all over again. It wasn’t that I was a human machine - one of my professors even called my gymnastics coach because I was constantly falling asleep in class. I simply would not acknowledge that I needed rest. After college, I kept this familiar schedule, working all day and coaching at night. Looking back now, I was running on fumes of anxiety. Down time terrified me. The expectations I put on myself were crushing and no amount of studying was enough.
It took having kids and leaving a job in academia after almost a decade to help me understand that this pace was unsustainable. It wasn’t one moment or even several, but a slow realization that I because I was not taking good care of myself I was not showing up as the person I wanted to be in the world. I had an extremely short fuse, lots of simmering anger, and I didn’t have any clue about experiencing the present moment. I had one speed - GO.
Gradually, I made big shifts in my life. I quit my job that had me commuting over an hour each way (with kids, full time). I started a new job from home. I went to therapy for the first time. I began my writing practice. More recently, after my migraines started significantly impacting my quality of life, I decided to try to get eight hours of sleep each night. I finally figured out how to nap.
I did these things over the course of about five years. There was surely no magic bullet. But I can honestly say that most days I feel really good about what I’m doing with my time and how I am progressing as a person. I have so much room to grow, but I’m also really proud of the choices I’ve made to get myself to this place.
2. Most of the small stuff doesn’t matter. Really.
Not long after my husband and I moved into our first home, a poorly built condo for which we paid way too much at the height of the real estate market before the recession, we had a toilet break. My parents were visiting. All of a sudden water starting coming through the ceiling where the chandelier was hung over the dining room table. I completely lost it. I was screaming at my family as if it was somehow their fault. I couldn’t calm myself down. My dad finally suggested I go out for a walk to cool down. This was my thing - get really mad, really quickly. Why was I so quick to boil over? Who did this anger serve? I guess I got a release and adrenaline rush when I let that anger go by yelling, but this was something I was not proud of.
For me, it took experiencing significant life challenges to fully understand and agree with the idea that most minor annoyances of daily life are not a big deal. When you say goodbye to your newborn, delivered into the world just hours earlier, and watch him wheeled away to undergo a cardiac catheterization under general anesthesia; well, traffic and picky eating and email just seem like ridiculous things to be worried about. Practicing being grateful has helped me too. When I’m struggling mightily with being a caregiver for my mom with advanced dementia I try to recall how grateful I am that my sister and I are a team, almost always aligned in decision-making and having each other’s backs for support. Facing this disease without my sister is unthinkable.
I lose sight of this one routinely, but I think I’m getting quicker in my recovery and I know my anger has decreased significantly. Just recently I arrived at the pool with the kids and noticed a hissing sound when I get out of the car. Turns out there was a screw in my tire. Instead of losing my cool, I thought about how fortunate it was that I noticed it and I quickly got the car back home before the tire was entirely flat. No biggie.
3. Your story really is your strength.
Like lots of new moms, I joined a baby group when my eldest was a newborn. There were probably 20 mom/baby pairs in this group led by a breastfeeding expert. I remember watching with a kind of horrified fascination as all the moms laid out their adorable teal and white chevron baby blankets, placed their baby upon them, and then actually sat back and participated in the discussion. My own dear baby (the one who’s now 10), screamed bloody murder if you dared try to leave her on the floor by herself. She was usually screaming anyway, but the volume was somewhat decreased if she was attached in some way to me. I can’t recall a single positive moment from that group and I think I may have stopped going, unable to handle the feelings of defeat that came in waves as I tried to get through those sessions. My early motherhood was filled with these moments of feeling alone, separate from the other moms, aside from my closest of friends.
We've since learned that this little baby, my daughter, Carly, experiences the world differently than most people you know. When she was a toddler she would often tell me she wished she was still inside my belly. The world was too much for her to bear. She needed parents who could let that be ok. Parents who could handle huge emotional hurricanes that roared through her little body. We were not those parents. Slowly, over the course of several long years, we changed the story of the parents we thought we were to become the parents Carly needed us to be.
Back then I couldn’t have imagined how Carly would have changed my outlook on life, but now I see how she has rewired my entire brain. The experience of feeling isolated as an outsider was new to me and brought along a new perspective, a new compassion for other people and for myself. Seeing my own child struggle in every possible way and trying for many years to help without seeing much success also made me a more empathetic person with a capacity for holding space for heaviness, discomfort, and loss.
This very thing I resisted, the ability to sit with the most challenging of emotions without changing or avoiding or shoving them behind the curtain, is the exact thing I bring to the women I work with in my business. It’s what I am teaching them to do with their own stories; look at the darkest of times square in the face and see the beauty in what you’ve become because you found your way through.
Written by Alison R.
As I pass by the open door, I can hear the muffled, tense voices again – anger, betrayal, sadness…fear, even. I take a deep breath, knowing I should move on, keep walking, ignore the drama unfolding. Try as I might, I’m drawn to the door and to her. I hug the doorway frame and strain to hear the details, knowing full well I won’t understand it all but curious if it could have something to do with me. I wonder when they will ever realize that their muffled tones can still be heard. We hear them every time. Greater still the silence and chasm between the two most important people in my life speaks volumes more than the constant arguing.
“Is she there again” I ask myself, “the little girl?" In her pigtails with the cute pink eyeglass barrettes holding her brunette hair back and the freckles accentuating her innocent blue eyes, she looks brave but she's trembling inside. She always goes there when it starts and quietly yet carefully chooses her spot, close enough to the door to slip away quickly but far enough down the steps so the voices easily convey up the L shaped stairwell.
As I crack the door ever so silently I see her once again.
“Oh, Alison,” I whisper, “not again with this. Come back up.”
“No,” she defiantly shoots back, “I don’t want to leave her.”
And she remained. She remained every time, despite my attempts to get through to her. She stayed there until the day he left and left them a new normal. A normal permanently scarred.
I look back on that time and talk to myself, a part of me forever stuck at seven years old, in that moment. Time and peace and introspection have illuminated what I could not process when I was that little girl.
It was their story; not mine. I have my own story to write.
Every moment has a lesson; the lessons are the gifts; learn.
Pain is not the destination; acknowledge it and pass through.
Look for the joy in the tiniest moment.
Protect my heart; be open but protect from harm.
(The title of the article is such a mouthful - that’s why you need to watch the video so I can break it down to you). New research on how the stories we tell affect our well-being!
On Easter Sunday I found myself on a 4+ hour flight, squished into the middle seat, next to my daughter, Carly, at the window and a 6 foot hefty guy at the aisle. Carly could not get comfortable. I wish I could show you all the positions she tried; head on the tray, legs up on the seat in front of her, sprawled on me, turned around backward. She did not stop wiggling for the entire flight.
For a while, it made me tense. Ironically enough, I was watching the documentary Heal while all this movement was happening next to me. One of the central tenets of the movie is that being in fight or flight activated response is not good for your well-being. As I was observing Carly I could sense my anxieties flaring and, possibly because of the show I was watching, was able to calm myself down. The women in front of us probably wanted to wring my kid's neck, but would she be ok other than feeling annoyed? Yes. Ok, breathe.
Getting myself in a stable state allowed me to look at Carly with more compassion. She was distressed. Dysregulated, for those of you familiar with the mental health term. She needed to move, to run, to be distracted from having to sit for so long. And these things were pretty much impossible 31,000 feet in the air.
Simply by me having compassion for her in the moment, the energy between us toned down a notch and she was able to sit with the discomfort and get through the flight. I was able to speak to her in a normal tone and not get angry or raise my voice.
You guys, this is HUGE! This is such an accomplishment for me! Certain things we do to improve our well-being like weight loss or working out, are easily measured. You lost 10 pounds - yay! You ran a 5k for the first time - congrats! When it comes to mental health though, how do you measure it? Deepak Chopra is not going to pop into the aisle when the plane lands and say - look at you! You practiced breathing and compassion!
It's up to us. If we let these plane moments pass us by without acknowledging them, we may feel like we're not getting anywhere. We may feel stuck. Let's instead make a decision to celebrate these wins, to take pride in finding presence or our breath. Seeing these moments as wins will propel us forward and energize us to keep up the work.
How about this as a writing prompt: What small win on the path to personal growth have you experienced within the last seven days? Have an everyday win you'd like to share? Hit reply and let me know. You're doing a great job.
What a treat to have the pleasure of meeting author Dani Shapiro several weeks ago when she was in town to promote her new memoir, Inheritance. I’ve loved all of Dani’s books because she dives headfirst into the pain and shows us how crafting a narrative helps to get to the other side.
Inheritance is fantastic for me because there’s a lot about genetics and ethics in the book, along with some big philosophical questions like Who am I? In this video I explain the genetics behind how it was determined that Dani’s half sister was not actually her half sister. Plus I get into the Who am I question and how it might prompt some exploration in you.
If you are considering at home DNA testing for health, ancestry or any other reason it would behoove you to meet with a genetic counselor first. Find someone here. If you have specific questions about your test results, check out my friend Brianne’s site, Watershed DNA. She’s the absolute expert and my go-to for all of this.
Underwent testing and now have a story like Dani’s to tell? Reach out to me - I’d love to help you find meaning in the experience as you weave your new identify into your life.
I’ll be back next week with my second video on Inheritance .
Me with Dani Shapiro in Reston, VA. (queue heart eye emoji!)
However you visualize your Heroine's Journey, (I've found it to be a helpful way to put things in perspective) the Dark Night of the Soul, aka the Messy Middle, is part of it. It's a human experience shared by all of us. In my role as a caregiver for my mom with dementia, I am smack dab in this place. It's kinda a tough spot. In case any of you are also here with me, I thought I'd share some things I've been thinking about.
Awhile ago I listened to an interview with Britta Bushnell, PhD on the Atomic Moms podcast. She talked about confronting the unknown by drawing upon the mythical story of Inanna, the Sumerian mother goddess of Heaven and Earth. It's essentially another version of the Hero's Journey, with a goddess as our guide. The messy middle is a big part of this story. Being in this place is critical to transformation. Eventually we will emerge as a beautiful butterfly. For right now though,
🦋 The length of time is unpredictable.
🦋 We are patient.
🦋 We surrender to the process.
Asking for help
For many of us, it's sooo hard to ask for help. Why? For me I think it's the fear of hearing "no" in response. Guess what? People do say "no". The kind-hearted, "Let me know how I can help!" people. Our brains like to turn this into a big deal: why should anyone help you? you're never going to get this worked out, you might as well give up. everyone is too busy to care about your problems. Sound familiar? The flipside is that if you get the courage to keep asking, there are people who say "Yes!" with the most generous, beautiful, compassion. Just last week I had a friend say no and a friend say yes. The yes was a big one - our neighbors used their airline miles to purchase flights for our family (!!). Still, my brain keeps returning to the no. We have to remind ourselves of the good around us, redirect our minds to focus on the positive.
This little nugget popped into my head last week and I've been trying to keep it in the front of my mind:
Let me hold your story for awhile so you can rest.
Doesn't that feel like fresh air? We can think of "me" as G-d or the Universe or the Divine or a friend, but I don't think it has to be a person. We all need the opportunity to set aside our burdens for a moment to catch our breath and look around.
I opened the email and scrolled. Here's what you should do. Here's why that's not the right decision. Here's where you should look and who you should talk to.
When I first started getting these emails from people who do care about me and my family a couple of years ago, I would feel the need to consider and explore all the options presented. I didn't want to overlook something important or fail to consider an option.
Over the years, I've gotten much more clear about who has a say in the decisions I make for my family. Instead of "Thanks for your input!", I'm turning to "Thanks, but this is a personal decision and we are not looking for outside opinions."
I know some of you reading this today are in the middle of a big decision. If not a decision, perhaps a time of transition or a time of hardship/messiness/distress. Everyone and their mother wants to give you advice about what to do. Does this ring true?
I've made several huge, even life or death decisions for my family, and I'm currently in the middle of another big family decision. I thought I would share what I've learned in the event that you too feel like a sailing ship at the mercy of the waves and weather.
1. Who's on your team? You know, the decision-making team. It should be people you trust 100% without a single ounce of doubt. All other voices get shut out. Be ruthless. My therapist taught me a visualization where you picture a safe. Open up the safe, put all of those outside opinions in there, close it and LOCK IT.
2. There isn't a right decision. I mean, maybe sometimes there is, but in my experience, there is often not a perfect solution or an obvious right one. You are not allowed to beat yourself up for making the "wrong" decision later. I've been stuck in this trap before and it can lead to dark places that are hard to pull out of. I continue to work on untangling myself from the idea of a right or wrong decision.
3. Make peace with yourself and let go of the outcome. Even when we do all of the research and have the absolute best of intentions, sometimes it doesn't work out the way we want it to. Sometimes the decisions we make go against the wishes of the person we are making them for. Your job is to look at the absolute biggest picture, the eagle's view, and ask yourself no matter what the outcome is, will I be able to live with this decision?
I hope this brings you a little bit of comfort. I'm over here, in your corner.
The first topic in my summer series is Separation and Divorce. I'm looking at each of these topics through the lens of how the story you tell yourself about the experience can affect your well-being. I've found some interesting research to share about when it is helpful to write your story of separation and when it may not be the right time. I'm sharing resources and advice from experts. If this topic speaks to you, I invite you to sign up for my newsletter to learn more.
Today on my walk I was listening to two of my fave podcasters/female entrepreneurs, Amy Porterfield and Rachel Hollis. You should seriously listen to this episode on Dais. How amazing is it that we can gain wisdom from these women who build hugely profitable businesses online?!
Rachel said, "...step outside of regularly scheduled programming" and I stopped in my tracks on the sidewalk, opened my iphone notes and typed it in.
There are so many reasons NOT to go outside of what's typical for our days and schedules. Kids, work commitments, and dinner on the table to name a few. Yet, almost every time I choose to get myself out into the world and try something new, I am rewarded.
Over the weekend I attended my first entrepreneurship conference, WEX, and fell in love. I just couldn't stop looking all around me at the beautiful mix of women in the conference rooms. It was super inspiring to connect with and learn from these women.
I know it's not easy to get outside your comfort zone. I attended the conference alone which is challenging for an introvert like me who prefers the comfort of her dining table, laptop and 12 year old rescue dog. I had a migraine the next day.
Still, it was worth it.
Starting in April I would walk out to my rhododendron and stare. This winter has been weird, I would think. The spring has been awfully cold. Are they going to bloom? The calendar turned to May, the month that the blooms typically arrive, but the buds were giving no sign of opening up.
Finally, in the week leading up to Mother's Day, when I was doing my series on co-authors in motherhood, the purple started peeking out. The full bloom image above was taken on Mother's Day itself.
This flowering bush seemed to be sending me a message. I was impatient with it, checking and re-checking every day, doubting its ability to bloom, wondering if it would reach its potential, and prematurely lamenting that the blooms only stick around for a short time.
Sound familiar? I couldn't ignore the similarities with motherhood. We want to be a perfectly formed mother immediately, as soon as we're bringing baby home from the hospital. We get impatient with ourselves as we make mistakes in mothering. After a hard day with yelling and dirty dishes and toothpaste all over the sink we wonder whether we will ever flower into the mother we thought we would be.
You have to give yourself time. You have to be patient and work with the process instead of trying to speed it along. (Right?) Not just in motherhood, but in whatever your struggle might be. You need water and sunlight and food. The beautiful bloom is there inside of you. It will emerge when its ready. Then the process will start all over again.
I'm honoring Rev. Julia Jarvis on Day #5 of my co-authors in mothering.
I first met Rev Julia, as she is affectionately known by her community, when I was pregnant with my son. My daughter was just over one year old and I was trying to grapple with the diagnosis of congenital heart disease in my unborn baby. If this wasn't divine timing to be introduced to the most welcoming spiritual community, the Interfaith Families Project (IFFP), of which Rev Julia is the spiritual director, then I don't know what is.
We had been floundering around, looking for a spiritual home, for a couple years at that point. The churches and synagogues we visited didn't sit quite right and we weren't interested in the shame game that many of them played when viewing Interfaith couples like us. I first came across IFFP in a Washington Post article and it felt a little too good to be true.
It wasn't. I knew from the first five minutes of attending the first time that we had found the place we belonged. The years of wringing our hands and trying to pick one or the other religion simply melted away when we discovered IFFP. This may sound a little extreme, but if you spent time with Rev Julia you would get where I am coming from.
Every sermon she gave during my pregnancy with Griffin brought tears to my eyes. I was in a delicate place, yes, but I was also legitimately moved by her words. She was speaking directly to my most fragile place. She saw it and didn't turn away. I felt that in the presence of this wise woman, everything would somehow be ok. There were not many other instances during my pregnancy when I remember feeling that kind of clarity.
For years and years growing up, I attending the same mass at the same time every week. The priest never knew my name. Rev Julia learned our names that first time we visited and has embraced me and called me by name every week since. This image is a little snapshot of what this woman is made of. She collected over 100 of these aspen leaves on a trip to New Mexico, brought them home to Maryland and created these touching "We are all in this together" keepsakes for each IFFP family.
For Day 4 of my co-authors in mothering we have the origin story of Orchid Story! Back when I stumbled into David Dobbs's article in the Atlantic, I had absolutely no clue that I would go on to start my own business. In fact, I probably would have looked at you as if you had three heads if you suggested it. It did happen, about five years later, and the name of my business came from this article and scientific work.
What struck me when I did find this article on the orchid theory was the science to back up my personal experience. Which, interestingly enough, is exactly what happened with Orchid Story the business. This is why I love science so much - it can often demonstrate the validity of our personal experience on a greater scale with actual study participants and data. With the piece in the Atlantic, much of the focus was on genetics, which, as a genetic counselor, is near to my heart. David Dobbs was speaking my language on many levels.
What the orchid theory proposes is that some of us are susceptible, based on our genetics, to behaviors that can be self-destructive. If raised in a non-supportive environment, these children can find themselves with serious mental health concerns, substance abuse issues and trouble with the law. If raised in a supportive environment with an eye to their sensitivities, these "orchid" children can flourish, blossoming into the brightest and most beautiful flowers in the garden.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the dandelion children, who are born with a genetic profile that allows them to grow under almost any circumstance, regardless of environment. A recent image on my Instagram of a dandelion that popped up after six inches of late winter snow is the perfect example.
Can you see why finding this was like stumbling upon a parenting holy grail? Here was scientific evidence of a couple things that had been previously causing me significant anxiety:
1. Genetics plays a role. This was helpful in helping me untangle the chance that my bad mothering was the sole cause of the concerns in my daughter. This may sound extreme, but the idea that I had an "attachment issue" with Carly was thrown around many times by the professionals we consulted. These theory seemed to defy of that possibility. At least in my head it did and that's where things needed to change.
2. There is an upside to these less than stellar genes. Sure, she didn't exactly win the genetics lottery. But this science showed that sometimes, if properly fed, watered, and cared for, these orchid children could be among the most successful adults. One thing I was seriously lacking during those days was hope and this idea provided it to me.
3. It just fit. I felt in my gut, my heart, my intuition - all of it - that this was a possible explanation to an out of control situation in my life. Yes, I may have been blindly searching for some semblance of certainty and control. So what? If this was something that helped rewrite my story, it was well worth it.
Every time I see an orchid, every time I blog, every time I tell someone the name of my business, I am reminded of the possibility that lies inside my girl. What a gift to have found this article.
Is it ok to call out your therapist on the Internet? For Day 3 of the co-authors of my mothering story I'm doing just that. Megan Fiore was the first therapist I had ever seen. I didn't know what to expect, but by the time I arrived in her office I had a three year old with whom I could not connect, a one year old with serious congenital heart disease and possible surgery on the horizon, and a father who had died suddenly within the past year. I think my back may have been horizontal with the ground from all of the weight on it as I walked into Megan's office.
Preparing for this post today I went back into my email to check dates, conversations and such. This is something I ask my students to do - get curious about your experience and do a little research on yourself. I remind them that while doing this is helpful in placing yourself back in the situation, it can also be painful. I was acutely reminded of this when I delved into my email today. What I read took my breath away and gave me a big achy pit in my stomach.
We had reached out to Megan in the early days of seeing her to ask about how to handle our toddler's habit of not telling the truth. The example we gave was a time when our daughter, Carly, was having a tantrum and arguing with me. She then went to her dad in the next room and told him that I had hit her and pushed her down.
I feel like I could write a book on how this type of behavior affected me and what I know it says now about the pain Carly was in. But, this is a post about Megan and her supreme therapy skills. Megan was able to walk a fine line between making me feel heard and also getting me to see that it would behoove me to start looking at my situation differently. If I wanted Carly to change, I would also need to change. Megan made me feel like I wasn't a failure of a mother who couldn't handle her kid. These were real issues and not just made up in my head like I sometimes questioned.
One tactic we employed for years after starting to see Megan was the concept of Special Time. If you read about my co-author from yesterday, this is also a technique endorsed by Hand in Hand. We did Special Time for years with Carly. Many days I counted down the time until the timer rang, signaling it was over, even when it was just five minutes. But we stuck to it, every single day of our lives. It's something tangible that I think really did have a positive impact on my relationship with Carly.
I don't see Megan anymore, but she will always play an extremely important role in my story. She also introduced me to the world of therapy and though I probably could have redone my kitchen by now with the money we've poured into it, I truly believe that nothing is more important than my family's mental health. I have Megan to thank for showing me that therapy can yield real results.
For Day Two of honoring the co-authors of my mothering experience, I have chosen Patty Wipfler of Hand in Hand. I found Hand in Hand, a non-profit that teaches and supports parents, about seven years ago. I signed up for their newsletter and hungrily read and listened to anything I could get my hands on. The content was exactly what I needed - their method teaches a mix of warmth and limits - but perhaps even more important for me was the style of founder Patty Wipfler. Her calm voice and the rhythmic cadence of her speech was like a balm to my flaming and fiery being. I remember listening to her in the car and feeling like she fully understood both my parenting experience and the experience of being my child. I've never met Patty, but I am so grateful to her organization for giving me what I needed at a crucial time in my life.
Up until the actual delivery of my first child, I was convinced I would take to mothering like a fish to water. It didn’t take long though to understand how far I was out of my league. The thing was - I actually did navigate the tasks and logistics pretty well. What I didn’t understand was my daughter herself. I could do nothing to make her happy as an infant. And believe me, I tried and tried. In many ways, nine years later, I am still trying.
For a while I mostly floundered on my own. I got support from my husband and family. But other babies did not act like mine. Going to my new moms group was painful. Like going to the dentist painful but of the emotional variety. Going anywhere was pretty painful. It took awhile, but I came to realize I was going to need help. Like, a lot of it. This meant all sort of things - I was going to have to admit I needed this help to myself and others and then ask for it. Slowly, over time I did just that.
This week I’m reflecting on those helpers. These are the people who co-authored my story of becoming a mother. I see now there is no way I would have made it through without them. There are many co-authors and I’ve chosen just seven to highlight this week. Some are people I know, others I’ve never met but their work has profoundly impacted my mothering experience and changed me as a person. For the better, I’d like to think.
I will be always grateful to everyone who has written this story with me. I hope seeing my co-authors inspires you to reach out to your own. I’d love to hear about them.
First up is my girlfriend Dawn. Never patronizing me with "it's just a stage" or "she'll grow out of it", Dawn was able to see the big picture. She knew my Carly was different and loved her all the same. She loved both of us, even during the times when I couldn't muster love for either one of us (myself or baby). She knew Carly was rough on the outside, but that a beautiful diamond shone underneath. To put it simply: she got it. For a mother with a child who struggles with behavioral and emotional challenges - this was/is everything.
On April 16th my husband, Curt, ran the Boston Marathon. Throughout the entire training process, every time I talked about the marathon I said "we," as in both Curt and me, as if I was running the marathon too. It just came out. I am not a runner and in fact I can't quite stand running. I think it's because when our partners decide to commit to something big, we feel a stake in it too. We want it badly for the person we love and we often have a significant shift in our daily schedules too.
Because he was running for a charity, Team Frannie of the Ethan Lindberg Foundation, this added to my feelings of connectedness to the race. I wanted to give back to this organization that had been alongside us since my son Griffin was diagnosed in utero with congenital heart disease (CHD) seven years ago.
Also, the lives of several children who had died of CHD were integrally woven into this race: Ari, Chase, Ethan, Frannie. Their moms, dads, and siblings would all be present on race day.
On race day, Curt got up early and headed out. The weather was as bad as predicted. The kids and I sat in the hotel restaurant watching the elite runners and wheelchair athletes at the starting line. The rain was already gushing in torrents over the hotel entrance, soaking passersby. I was anxious about Curt having to stand in the wet and cold for hours before he started. I was anxious about all of the runners having trained so intensely to show up for this weather. Then they did a tribute on tv to the five year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and my kids starting asking what had happened. Yes, I was anxious about that too.
We headed up to the hotel pool and I watched Carly and Griffin play. My heart was hurting, confused and joyful. Hurting for the pain that CHD has caused these families and my own. Confused about how some kids make it and other kids don't. Joyful that we had the once in a lifetime opportunity to be in Boston that day and participate, in our own way, in the race.
A little while later, we arrived downtown. We stepped out of the uber and within ten second we were drenched. The kids starting complaining immediately but we went up to Beacon St. to watch the elite women pass. At mile 25, they were almost done.
We stayed inside for a while, keeping warm. But, I had only one chance to see Curt and I didn't want to miss him. So, the Team Frannie crew headed out to Beacon St. Again, fully drenched within seconds. The rain was coming in sheets, sideways. By now the runners were slowing down. Many were walking. Several were already wrapped in the silver thermal blankets they normally receive at the end. Some were in between two runners who had their arms wrapped around the middle runner, almost carrying the person along. A double amputee made his way by on his prosthetics. I could see the pain in his clenched face.
About 15 minutes before we expected Curt, I took my hand out of my glove and held my phone, with the camera open. I wanted to capture the moment on video. This meant that my hand and arm were sopping wet and frozen and that I couldn't follow Curt on the tracker app because I wanted to keep the camera ready.
The 15 minutes came and went. By this time Griffin was crying hysterically. He was freezing and wanted to go inside. Carly was ready to give up on seeing Daddy too. I couldn't hug them because we were too wet and I was holding an umbrella and the Team Frannie sign we made and the phone. I tried picking Griffin up and putting the umbrella down but that made things worse.
I needed to make a decision and quick. Should I let them go inside and get warm? My mother's instinct said yes, especially for Griffin whose health could really be affected by this weather. But my human instinct said no. Their dad had undergone a grueling training for this day. The families standing next to me had undergone weeks and months of hospitals stays for their sick children. And, even if they didn't feel it right then, my kids would always want to have the memory of seeing their dad at mile 25 of the Boston Marathon. So we stayed out.
I started wondering if we missed him. What is he wearing? the Team Frannie supporters wanted to know. I didn't know or couldn't remember, the anxiety getting the best of me by this point. Is Griffin ok? they asked. I wasn't sure.
Finally, we spotted him through the driving rain. He looked fantastic - a big smile on his face and a great energy in his stride. I instantly felt ten pounds lighter. The kids switched from crying to cheering. I pushed the red video button on my outstretched hand.
He gave us a each a kiss and then he was gone. I looked at my phone and realized it hadn't recorded the moment. I tried again as he ran off towards Boylston St, the final stretch the runners dream of.
All the struggle and pain and beauty and transformation of life was happening right in front of us that day. Feeling so many emotions at the same time IS life. I was filled with pride and love as I watched Curt run past. Then I turned to take the kids in and caught the eye of my friend Jessica, mom of Ethan, and became filled with sadness for the loss of his life.
Life is not black and white. It's not either or. It's messy and gray, confused and beautiful. I'm lucky to be here, right in the middle of it.