Sunday, July 26, 2015

If I'd Known Then What I Know Now

Thanks to a phone call from a dear friend asking for help with our local running group, I have stepped back into the role as a volunteer coach for the new running season.  Prior to the call, I had no races on my calendar and no real plans to do anything significant this season.  Because of another friend's wedding scheduled for race day, I won't be able to attend the Houston marathon at all.  Nevertheless, since I will now be following a half marathon training schedule for the next few months, I might as well sign up for a few races so the effort doesn't go to waste.  My thoughts keep drifting back to the season of my very first marathon many moons ago.  The drive to get over that first finish line was nearly overshadowed by the extreme anxiety I felt.  If I could go back in time and give advice to my rookie runner self, there is a lot of wisdom I would share with her to help her get over the hump.  Frankly, I'd tell her just to get over herself.

Dear "Rookie" Akilah,

Good for you for signing up for your first marathon.  Just don't beat everyone over the head with it, especially your now-boyfriend/future-husband.  Yeah it's a big deal in your world, but you are not the first human to ever run 26.2 miles.  Be careful not to get all pissy with him when your carefully planned schedule gets off track.  Don't turn into a complete douche by yelling at him when your race performance turns sour.  Keep in mind he will be your biggest fan and support system for just about everything you attempt in your future running years, no matter how bad it gets.  Even after you guys get married and have kids, keep running.  There will be two younger sets of eyes watching and looking up to you every time you bring home a finishers medal.  They will never know how slow you run or how ugly you look at the finish line.  They will only know that you set a big goal and followed through.

If you are going to commit to the physical training, partner it with a healthy diet.  You have a youthful trim figure now, but your sugar intake is going to blow up one day and you'll wonder where your waistline went.  That fit figure will fade into oblivion quicker than '80s shoulder pads if you don't watch it.  Give up the junk food in favor of some veggie goodness and you might actually achieve that finish time you are aiming for.  You won't bonk out at mile 20, trying to make a deal with God to carry your pitiful self over the final 6.2 miles of agony.  Oh yeah, and those Friday night margaritas with the girls do not count as carb loading no matter how scientifically you break down the ingredients.  The only reason you are getting away with it now is because youth is on your side.  It won't last.  Once you hit 30 and then 40, those margarita and wine treats will beat you over the head like a bulldozer and make your Saturday morning runs feel like a death march under a hot wet blanket.  Cut back on them now so you can stop the bad habit before it grows.

When you show up to group runs, don't be afraid to unplug by leaving the headphones and music at home.  Actually talk to the other homo sapiens around you.  You'll show up alone, but will make some pretty cool friends before you leave.   You'll have plenty of opportunities to run solo and be to yourself, but the group runs are meant to be social.  Don't worry how you measure up to the "real" runners with their Boston qualifying goals.  There will be just as many regular folks that just want a running buddy and will care less about how green you are and fast you are not.  The running community you are so intimidated by is large enough for all kinds and you'll fit right in.  Travel to races in new locations and soak up the change of scenery.  Invest in good running shoes, regular massages, and lots of sleep.  Stick with the strength training once or twice a week and get your lazy tail to the track for some speed work regularly.  Track workouts suck and you will never ever learn to like them, but they will give the biggest payoff of anything else you'll incorporate into your workout routine.

Lastly, remember you are not a quitter.  You will fall, you will get injured and you'll even finish dead last.  But not giving up and always following through on a goal will become your proudest accomplishment.  You will lose count of your races and maybe gain a bunion or two.  You'll have surgeries and set backs, but you will also have some great stories to share with newbies one day.  This marathon thing that your family is already labeling as a passing phase will become a part of you that will get you excited at the start of every season, eager to begin another journey of countless miles on foot.  Race morning will always feel magical and crossing the finish line will always feel equally miraculous.  Twenty years from now, you will still be an active runner looking for the next shiny new racing adventure.  You won't have the same anxiety you feel now, but you will never lose the pull of chasing a PR goal.  Just keep running, moving forward and you'll surely figure it all out along the way.

Your Older, Wiser (Chubbier) Self

Saturday, July 18, 2015

An Exercise In Control

In all our years together, my husband has lectured, preached and bored me with endless tips about healthy eating.  He's had health issues since childhood, so I guess this was always his way to tackle the problem the best way he could.  He gets this ridiculous high from eating right and working out regularly.  He is freakin' annoying!  However, for the first time, he said something that actually stuck with me.  It goes with the whole concept that weight loss is 80% diet and 20% workout.  Yes, we've heard this before.  But he went on to say that even if you don't have time to dedicate to your workouts, you are still in control of your diet.  You have complete control over everything that goes into your mouth.  No one can force you to eat crappy food.  You control the choice of what to eat every time you sit down for a meal.

That one word, "control", resonated with me above and beyond everything I've ever learned about health and fitness.  Over the last couple of years, I had lost control of my eating and desperately wanted it back.  To do that, I had to face my dietary vices head on.  One by one, I needed a plan to regain control.  Here they are listed below and how I have been dealing with them for now:

  • Starbucks:  My occasional Starbucks treat turned into a daily routine.  I never ordered just regular brewed coffee either.  My pallet craved flavors like cinnamon dolce and white mocha.  Even when I held back on the whip cream and substituted soy or almond milk, I still ended up with a 300+ calorie drink, swimming in 50 grams of sugar before I touched any ounce of real food for the day.  To fix this, I either have regular brewed coffee or the skinny versions of my fave Starbucks treats once a week.
  • Energy:  I wholeheartedly recommend for anyone that is going through their own slump to find a natural energy booster.  For me, that is baby spinach.  Within a day of adding this food into the rotation, I get my mojo back and have enough energy to maintain my early morning workout routine.
  • Snacking:  My weak time of the day is late afternoon, which begins at work and continues even after I arrive at home.  Salty snacks are what I normally reach for, which includes things like popcorn or tortilla chips with guacamole.  These snacks aren't 100% horrible, but they are if I eat half the bag in one sitting.  Now, I plan ahead to have 2 cups of air popped popcorn with a little sea salt and it gives me the fix I need.
  • Breakfast:  It has always been my favorite meal of the day, but I wouldn't actually eat it until a good three hours after my morning workout.  No doubt, this probably brought my metabolic caloric burn to screeching halt.  Add on top of that, the first thing in my mouth was a sugary Starbucks drink and you can begin to see how the pounds packed on.  I used to blame not having enough time in the mornings, but that was bull and I knew it.  Now I simply knock back a protein shake right after working out, and it buys me a little time until I can sit down for some oatmeal a little later.
  • Protein:  I have been happily content as a vegetarian for years.  However, I admit that I needed to make some changes if wanted to step up my protein content.  Drinking more protein shakes and increasing my bean product intake just wasn't enough to keep me interested.  So, the happy vegetarian has added fish into the diet and she hasn't died yet.  No, I am still not all that interested in chicken, beef or pork.  Trust me when I say that I've tried, but they just don't do it for me.  Oh well.
  • Meal Prepping:  I've done the meal prep thing in various ways many times before.  I would buy all my favorite healthy foods and pack my cooler the night before work.  However, I never put much effort into planning an entire week in advance.  Now I am going that extra step and packing each meal into its own container, so I have a full week of meals stocked in my refrigerator.  It has made all the difference in the world in keeping me from reaching for other processed convenience foods.

None of these changes are earth shattering and you surely have heard of them countless times from other weight loss stories.  It just happens to be the combination of things that are working for me at the moment.  In the past month, I have lost a modest 6 pounds.  It is no biggie because I have lost and gained the same 5 or 6 pounds before, only to have one margarita too many and gain it right back.  I don't have the usual feelings of anxiety about getting the weight off this time.  Reminding myself that I am fully in control of the process has made all the difference.  

Don't tell my hubby that I actually listened to him this time.  All the running, all the kickboxing and all the yoga in the world will do absolutely nothing for my body if I don't fuel it properly.  I am living proof of this.  In spite of the fact that have a consistent workout routine, I have still managed to eat my way back up to what I weighed when I was 9 months pregnant with each of my boys.  But I won't be here for long.  Being back in control of my diet is an addictive feeling that I won't let go of any time soon.  Looks like being a control freak finally turned into something positive this time.  My hubby might agree with the control freak part of that statement.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Money Man

You've heard already how much I gush over my kids.  They are respectful, get good grades and are overall decent human beings.  Even if they weren't all those things, I would still love them terribly.  However, it doesn't stop me from wanting to throat-punch my oldest son on occasion.  Too harsh?  Then let me set the stage for this story and you might be inclined to agree.  He starts middle school next year, which is completely uncharted territory for this family.   I am scared sh*tless of all the new things he will be faced with that I probably haven't sufficiently prepared him for.  My hubby and I are used to being in the loop on just about everything he does, but even we recognize that his interests and awareness are quickly slipping beyond our reach.  In addition to this, his preteen attitude is about to get him booted from this house quicker than a carton of spoiled milk on a hot summer day.  I'm kidding of course (not really!).

Surely you are familiar with our scenario.  You work hard to provide your kids with everything they need and want, because it is your way of showing how much you care about them.  You don't want your kid to go without, because maybe you came from a less fortunate background and vowed your kid would never have to go without anything like you did as a child.  After a few years of providing a plentiful and loving environment for your kid, you realize you have actually created a monster.  The plan backfires and they develop a sense of entitlement, because you have not only given them everything they wanted, but you failed to make them understand the value of any of it.  They don't know or care that you had to work for it or even show up on your sick days for it.  They don't care that you had to skip buying that cool thing for yourself, so you could buy an even cooler thing for them.  They just know whatever they want magically appears without any energy or effort spent on their behalf.

This is my situation right now.  My oldest son is a rich kid, or so he thinks he is a rich kid.  In his mind, he can get his clothes from any high end store and can order from any side of the restaurant menu, just because he is his wonderful self.  Money is no object and he deserves whatever he wants because he got a good report card.  *Sigh!*  True, he did get a great report card, but that can be his get-out-of-jail calling card only a limited number of times.  We still have a lot of work to do on his attitude, his smart mouth and the fact that he is waaaay more mature than most of his school friends.  "They are so immature, mom!", he says over and over again.

As a result, we decided to give him a project.  He and my youngest son have been sharing a room their entire existence.  They are so close in age that it has never been a problem until this year.  Big boy's rapid decent into his preteen years has made this year more challenging and my baby boy has been left in the dust.  There is a mere 18-month difference in their ages, but it feels more like 18 years these days.  Add in the fact that their interests are at opposite ends of the spectrum and you get a situation where these once very close siblings fight like dogs and bigger dogs.  So now, big boy is about to get his own room.  Our guest bedroom furniture will now become his and our former "music room" will become his domain.

But in true "rich kid" fashion, just having his own room is not good enough.  He has to go all HGTV on us and ask that he be allowed to decorate it, too.  Once we told him he was getting his own room, he started barking out all the changes he wants to paint, new linens, new rugs, etc.  My first reaction was to give him a "Hell NO!", but I thought twice about it.  Instead, I turned it into a learning opportunity.  He will be allowed to decorate his room with anything he wants as long as he earns the money to buy it for himself.  Last summer, both boys started cutting the yards of a few neighbors and their grandparents to earn a little extra cash.  It was an okay experiment, but I don't know if they really learned anything from the experience.  They had no real goals and no real pay off in the end.  It was just something to do to relieve the summer boredom.

With the number of yards they plan to cut this summer and the amount of money they anticipate earning, we had big boy create a budget.  He will use this money to purchase items for his new bedroom.  He will have a grand total of around $200.  He was pumped when he came to this total, confirming in his mind that he was indeed "rich".  I gave him the task of making a list of items he wanted to buy and allowing him to go to any online store to price the items on his wish list.  He went to Pottery Barn, Pier One and other similarly priced stores.  I noticed his enthusiasm shift a little as he quickly realized that $200 wasn't going to carry his shopping adventure very far.  I was tempted to swoop in and save him, by telling him I would help him if he didn't have enough money.  But I didn't.  I resisted.  I left him alone for a few hours and waited.  I was beating myself up for the bad parent I was.  When he resurfaced, he had created a new shopping list with items from Walmart and Target.  His spirit was quite broken, too.  You hate to see that light in your kid's eyes dim.  Your first reaction is to jump in and make it better.  You want to give them a big hug, tell them everything will be okay and that you will handle it for them.  AND...knowing my kid, he probably expected me to do this.

However, I was the one with the a-ha moment this time.  I remembered that this was the whole point of the project.  He was supposed to learn the value of a dollar and I was supposed to shut up and let it happen.  I was supposed to step back and let him deal with whatever was to become of his hard earned money and let him live with the consequences.  I reluctantly took him to Target and watched silently as he priced items with his shopping list and calculator in hand.  Twice now, we have walked out of the store empty handed, because his taste out-priced his budget.  I am sure other parents have done similar things with their kids, but this is my first time in this arena.  I have no clue if he will learn anything from it or not.  He is after all, my first born.  Everything that happens to him is our first time experiencing it as parents.  With him, it is constant on the job training.  If this experiment works, then I will pat myself on the back long enough to brace for the next high anxiety teachable moment to happen.  He may emerge from this without a single scratch, but I will learn how to step out of the way and let him experience more ups and downs for himself.  He won't always need a superhero to fly in and save the day, but he will need my love and support.  Lucky for him, that will forever be available at no charge.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Some Kids, But Not My Kid

My oldest kid is really scaring me.  What is he doing that is so scary, you ask?  He is growing up, a little, but growing up nevertheless.  We have reached the glorious pre-teen years, but he is every bit of moody as a full blown teenager.  With every passing day, a small piece of his little boy innocence falls away.  His smart mouth and sarcasm are growing issues to be dealt with, but I know that is as much my fault as it is his.  He is one full inch taller than me and doesn't want to hang around me as much as he used to.  Nowadays, his cell phone holds all his attention and he remains engrossed in it far more than I would like.  But he is a good kid.  If his round-the-clock texting and selfie photography are the worst things I have to deal with, then I should be grateful.

It is because he is an overall good kid that I was forced to keep a promise to him.  We made a deal that if his grades stayed up and the conduct stayed pretty good, then he could create a profile on the social media platform of his choice.  Are you rolling your eyes yet and wondering what is the big deal?  The big deal is that although I am a fan of social media, I never allowed my kid to use it up to this point.  I simply didn't think he was mature enough to handle it responsibly.  I check his text messages and his downloaded apps most days.   I also check the search and browsing history on his computer.  I also check how often he clears his browsing history.  Too much?  I think not.  Call me old fashioned, but my son had to "suffer" not having an online profile while his friends had a little more freedom to roam around online.  I had my reasons for taking this stance, though it might surprise you how I got to this point.

A few years ago I actually used to do some consulting work, guiding school districts on ways to deal with the growing problems of cyberbullying and internet safety.  I enjoyed the work immensely, but the demand died down over time and I walked away with some great life lessons.   One of those lessons being that is okay to be the uncool parent that doesn't let their kid follow every trend.  Sometimes, they really are too young to do some things, even if some friends still get to do those some things anyway.  See what I did there?  Some kids might be ready for that type of exposure, but my kids were not.  So I exercised my parental power of "no" until I felt he was ready.  That doesn't mean he didn't try to slip a few things by me.  There were a few covert attempts to create secret accounts without my knowledge.  However, those efforts were shut down pretty well, thanks to a strong network of friends, teachers and other parents doing as much snooping as I was.

However, over the last few months, we have tested his level of responsibility and maturity.  He has indeed kept up his grades, with an upcoming all "A" report card as proof.  His reward of his choosing was to finally have an Instagram account.  I figured he should go ahead and activate the account now so he can share the news with his classmates before they separate for summer vacation.  He was happy, and I would like to believe it was partially because he was able to successfully work towards a goal and see it realized.  Maybe not, but he is my kid and a mom can hope.  Right?

We set up his profile together and made sure the privacy settings were in place.  When he questioned the need for being so strict with the privacy settings, I gave him a thorough lesson on the ugliness involved with having any online existence.  We talked about everything from cyberbullying to cyberstalking and child predators that cruise online sites looking for impressionable young kids to connect with.  Slowly I saw the excitement of having his first account dwindle to confusion, and then fear.  While sharing all my reasons for parental paranoia, this conversation further stripped away his remaining childhood innocence that I was trying to protect.  Now I feel like a dope for doing this to him.  Maybe it was me that wasn't ready and I got a little overly zealous in justifying my reasons for holding him back a little.  By unloading my fears onto him, I didn't make him more knowledgeable and competent.  I just forced him to grow up even more than I wanted  him to in the first place.  It's all down hill from here.  We start middle school next year and I am definitely not remotely ready for that.  Heaven only knows what other adventures await us there.  If you find me hyperventilating while curled up in a corner any time soon, you will know why.  Just pass me a paper bag to breathe into and wish us luck.