Monthly Archives: February 2013

Running for My Marriage

Photo by Christine Hochkeppel
Photo by Christine Hochkeppel

Getting through 13.1 miles is a challenge in and of itself. Getting through 13.1 miles in a February race on Cape Cod complete with soaking and torrential rains, wind gusts topping 25 MPH, and temps below 40 degrees? A whole different ballgame.

Some people use music to pass the time and keep them invigorated. That doesn’t work so well for me as I’ve found my times suffer and I get even more bored. Others use newfangled GPS technology to upload the course map and track every second of their run so they know exactly how far they’ve run and in what time. I used to do this, but found if I was getting behind I’d get discouraged and then say “screw it.” So that was out too.

Considering the horrendous weather conditions, I took a different path. I had no iPod. I had no cell phone playing music or virtual trainer telling me how far I’ve run every few minutes. I knew with all the rain making things miserable, I had to think of something truly meaningful to keep my legs pumping. So I did.

I put it in my head that if I didn’t finish this race, my marriage wouldn’t last.

MJ and I have been stressed to the max lately. This pregnancy has been far from smooth and it seems we’re constantly sweating test result after test result. That kind of unrelenting stress takes a toll on even the best marriages, and ours has been no exception. And after it culminated in a blow-up on Friday night, suddenly the race became more important than ever. With more pressure than ever.

You might be thinking this is silly. I don’t blame you. I guess in a way it is. After all, even if I won the damn race (I didn’t…I really didn’t) that wouldn’t suddenly fix everything. But somewhere between Mile 4 and 5 we began the stretch of the race along the ocean. The winds began whipping into a frenzy, the temperature fell, and the rain began beating down relentlessly. The coastal roads were partially flooded which means huge puddles were unavoidable, and slightly wet feet became absolutely doused with water. From that point on it was like running in a puddle, with my shoes making that suction-ey, squishy sound as water leaks out with every step.

But worse than that was my socks. When you get to the point you can wring water out of them, socks tend to bunch up as you move. The long and short of it is I felt like I was running on knots of rope, which caused half-dollar sized blisters on both feet. Every step was painful. Every. Single. One.

And I still had more than half the race left.

All I could think about was quitting. I didn’t want to be out there anymore. I was being tossed around like a rag doll by the wind, I was miserable, cold and tired. Hell, a shit ton of people didn’t even come out to run and a bunch more quit mid-race, so no one would blame me for giving up in tough conditions. It’s no big deal. It’s just a race. It’s…

A perfect metaphor for my marriage.

MJ has had to go through so much the last few years. And she’s still going through it. Don’t get me wrong, we both are. But in the end, she has to physically endure the miscarriages, the losses, and the multiple D&C procedures. Compared to that hell on Earth, if I couldn’t finish a race with some wind, rain and cold then what does that say about me? What does it say about my devotion?

After all, I signed up for the race. I knew it was being held in New England in February and that I’d have to weather certain challenges. If I wasn’t up for those difficulties, I shouldn’t have vowed to do it. But I did sign up for it because I do want it. Because I know that just past all the hardships is a payoff that’s wonderful beyond measure. And the suffering and pain is an endurance test — and a tough one at that — but the juice is worth the squeeze. If you can hack it.

I didn’t get there quickly. In fact, I placed 2,187th out of 2,368 runners. And it was a full 20 minutes slower than my first half marathon last June. But none of that mattered when I saw MJ and Will at the finish line. Because I did finish. I finished when I was hurt, when Nature and everything else was working against me, and when I didn’t think I had anything left. I finished because I said I would, and sometimes perseverance and promises are more important than anything else.

But most of all, I finished for her. Because she’s my life and despite all the fucked up bullshit, we’ll always go to the mat for each other. All the way to the finish line.

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The Most Important Thing?

work_life“Is this the most important and impactful thing I can be doing right now?”

That’s the fundamental question we all ask ourselves at my day job to figure out which projects should be prioritized. There are lots of things that need doing, but working on a little bit here and a little bit there leaves us scattered and unfocused. So whenever we get spread too thin we stop, ask that question, and then get back to work on the most important thing.

Unfortunately it’s not so clear-cut when you’re a parent — especially a working parent.

An average day for me consists of leaving the house at 7 a.m. just after my son wakes up, and getting back around 6:30-7 p.m. which is an hour before he goes to bed at 8. That’s thanks to long hours and a really shitty commute that averages roughly 80-90 minutes — each way. And I really love my job. I do. And not just because the salary I derive from it keeps our family afloat. I love the people I work with, I get to write and edit every day, I’ve learned countless new skills switching from print to digital and I’ve grown personally and professionally because of it. I hope to stay and thrive there for many years and I enjoy immense satisfaction from almost every part of it.

And yet as much as I love work, there’s a little voice chirping in the back of my head: “Is this the most important thing I can be doing?”

I come home and I see arts and crafts projects MJ and Will have done together during the day. I see Facebook pictures throughout the day of places they go and things they do. And when I get home I listen to them talk, close as can be with inside jokes and things that can only be had from spending all that time together. MJ knows the intricate details of what’s happening on a daily basis at preschool, which friends Will is having a problem with at the moment, whether Batman, Power Rangers or Transformers is currently his Favorite. Thing. Ever.

These things might seem insignificant, but they’re not. In fact, I think these little nuggets are the things that really make parenting worth it. They are quite literally the most important thing a parent can be doing.

Working parents know this. We do. We know we’re missing out on so much good stuff, and yet there’s almost nothing we can do about it. Because the simple fact of the matter is our salaries from our jobs keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Sure we can try to work from home or cut back our hours, but that comes with risks too. Fair or not, the truth is people (men especially) are punished for missing work, and often thought of as lazy for asking for leave or time off related to family.

Being a working dad is a constant battle for me. I’m trying to advance my career so I can better provide for my family, while also remaining present enough as a husband so my wife doesn’t feel like a single parent, and as a good enough dad so my kid still remembers who I am and doesn’t see me as a novelty.

It’s an absolutely exhausting tightrope walk in hurricane force winds, and all too often you end up feeling like you have one foot in each world and you’re not performing well in either role.

While I’m not sure if I could hack being a stay-at-home parent, I do envy them in one big way. I really do believe that while their job is immeasurably difficult, they can comfort themselves with the knowledge that they are absolutely doing the most important thing they can be doing by raising a quality human being every single day. It doesn’t make the work itself any easier, but the peace of mind that comes with it has to be a relief.

Meanwhile working parents are left with a paycheck that never seems to cover all the self-doubt when trying to figure out if we’re doing the most important thing.

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Preschool Massage

massageThe good news is Will has quite a way with the ladies. The bad news is Will has quite a way with the ladies.

This double-edged sword has never been brandished more openly than earlier this week when I picked Will up from preschool on my day off. I walked into the room full of swirling preschoolers engaging in cyclonic activity expecting to see my son blurring by me engaged in some game, but I didn’t see him. I peeked left around the corner, but nothing. Curious, I tried the one secluded corner off to the right. That’s where I found him. Or, more accurately, I found THEM.

Will has a girlfriend. Actually he’s got several of them, but only one can be his “official” girlfriend at a time. Whichever one that happens to be is completely dependent on the day of the week. On Monday, it was “Jessica” (name changed), a very adorable little girl a few months older than Will. And apparently wiser.

When I saw them, Jessica was laying down on her stomach facing away from me. My son was partially draped across her so their bodies were making a “T.” And he had both of his hands firmly on her shoulders, contentedly rubbing away like a seasoned masseuse.

I just stood there for a second, neither one of them noticing me. Finally I cleared my throat and when Will saw me he looked remarkably like my dog after I catch her shitting on the carpet. I firmly said “time to go…NOW!” at which point we went and got his coat in the other room where MJ — who saw none of this — was standing. Once we were away from everyone, I started grilling him. The ensuing conversation was equal parts horrific and hysterical.

Me: “Will, what exactly were you doing to Jessica?”
Will: “I…I was giving her a massage,” he said with trepidation.
Me: “Wow. OK. Well first of all, how do you even know what a massage is??”
Will: “I didn’t. Jessica showed — I mean, told me.”
Me: “Which is it? Did she SHOW you or TELL you?”
Will: (sheepishly) “She showed me Dada.”
Me: “How did she show you? Did she touch you?”
Will: “Yes.”
Me: “Where did she touch you?”

Here’s the part where MJ and I swallowed our hearts.

Will: (getting flustered) “I get confused Dad. I think it’s hips. Or shoulders.”
Me: “What?? Point. Point to where she touched you!”
Will: “Shoulders! Shoulders!”
MJ: “And then what happened?”
Will: “I told her I didn’t want to be touched because it’s against the rules. But then I said OK.”
MJ: “If you didn’t want to be touched, then why did you let her touch you?”

Wait for it…

Will: “Because…because…she’s pretty!”
MJ: “So if a pretty girl tells you to do something then you just do it no questions asked?!”
Will: (crying) “YES!!”
Me: “To be fair, he sees me get steamrolled by a pretty girl every single day so we really can’t blame him.”
MJ: “My God. He’s like a pathetic little clone of you.”

We had a long talk with him about keeping hands to yourself and not touching people in school (or anywhere else for that matter). I know it’s a serious topic and he could get in trouble for it at school, but I have two counterarguments to that: 1) Teachers need to either pay more attention or change the name of the place to Happy Endings Preschool, and 2) it’s funny.

When I got Will alone I told him I was disappointed he broke the rules, but that it was a mistake and I understood what it’s like when a pretty girl is talking to you. Then I asked him if he liked it when she rubbed his shoulders. His answer?

“Well, it wasn’t what I expected. I wish she gives me a massage and I don’t have to give her one.”

Preaching to the choir son. Preaching to the choir.

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