New Frontiers

So what does the insecure and reserved goody-two-shoes do when she hits her mid-life crisis? If she’s anything like me, she throws caution to the wind and signs up to do something totally radical and unheard of. Cutting edge, daring, spontaneous, illogical. Playing in a badminton tournament so her company will keep their participation points. Talk about walking on the wild side.

Thanks to our strong turn-out in the 5K portion of this inter-company competition, our company was leading the way in participation points. That 5K race, by the way, was another notable example of my new daring approach to life. I began running a few months ago and finished my first race at 32:49. I kept an even maintainable pace and then, following my nine year old son’s sage advice, sprinted to the finish line as if I were in competition for something more than kudos from my kids.

This may not sound like much to those readers more adventurous than I, but for me, running in that race was terrifying. I barely slept the night before. I had no expectation of winning. That’s not what scared me. What scared me was the thought of trying and failing. Perfectionism is the antithesis of adventure.

However, the sky didn’t fall. I didn’t fail. My kids were proud of me. I succeeded. I felt good about myself.

So… when the email arrived from the 5K coach that the badminton team needed another female participant in order to retain all the participation points, I called my husband and asked if he thought I was crazy. Amazingly, the calendar was open the night of the tournament.

I reminded him that I hadn’t actually played badminton since ninth grade PE. He said he didn’t think recreational badminton would be all that tough and I should go for it if I wanted to. So I did. Completely out of character.

We had a practice a few days before the big event. Four of the six team members showed up. We attempted to play outside with a strong wind. It was quickly apparent that we were unlikely to earn anything more than those precious participation points. But at least I learned how to do the more sophisticated backhand serve – thanks to the teammate who had watched some YouTube videos of Olympic competitors.

When we arrived at the venue and began to walk from our car, I saw a man carrying a bag with racquets and shuttlecocks. Wow. I thought. He must be serious. Our coach had purchased a kit. Between him and the YouTube lady, we had enough racquets to go around.

I signed in and led my family into the gym. Our jaws dropped. Those birdies were flying hard from racquet to racquet. Rapid fire between the players warming up. People darting back and forth. It was intense. Even the competitors’ children were impressive, batting back and forth between the courts during warm-up.

“Dude,” my husband said. “You are totally going to get creamed.”

And he was right. A teammate would later comment that this was nothing like he was used to playing at barbeques. That teammate, and another one, actually took a birdie in the face because they were hit too fast to get out of the way.

My husband chuckled through a good portion of my first game. I was playing mixed with an overweight, middle-aged man who was fortunately pretty good. He somehow dove for a birdie and got it over the net in our first game. Neither one of us were rocking but we had a good time playing with each other. We were even leading during much of both matches in our loser’s bracket game. We might have won if we had been playing to 15 instead of 21.

The handful of coworkers that knew what I was doing had teased me about playing badminton. You could tell by their tone that they considered it a joke, a non-sport. Never mind that my muscles were still sore from the practice session. Never mind that I was sweaty and exhausted by the time the night was over. Never mind that they were likely sitting on the couch watching TV while I put my lack of talent on display. They still found it laughable.

That night taught me many things. First, what is a joke to some people is serious business to others. My team comprised most, if not all, of the white people in the room. The other competitors were overwhelmingly of Asian or Eastern Indian descent. And they were good. Really good. This sport was a big deal to them and, watching them play, it was unquestionably a sport. My coworkers had no room to laugh.

Second, I didn’t have to be the best, or even necessarily good, at something to have fun. We knew why we were there. We improved. We pulled off some good volleys and saves. We learned. We laughed. We had fun. It was a night well spent.

Third, it was rewarding to move out of my comfort zone. There was no risk. No downside. Why should I care what my non-adventurous coworkers thought? They were laughing but that was all they were doing. I was experiencing. I was living. I was learning. I was growing.

So maybe running races and competing in a sport you’ve never really played before doesn’t count as a mid-life crisis. Maybe it’d be more accurate to call it growing up. Finally.

What No One Talks About

There are certain aspects of motherhood that no one tells you about ahead of time. I’m not sure why. Maybe they are too busy being a mommy. Maybe they are too embarrassed. Maybe they forget. I’m not sure. All I know is that some of them were quite upsetting to me when I thought I was the only one experiencing them. I’ve made it a small mission to make sure Jane knows what may be in store for her.

No one warns you that you might start growing little black chin hairs as you age. This one isn’t related to motherhood, just advancing age. I found this mortifying until I found the courage to whisper it to some people and discover that I’m not the only one with tweezers in my purse for something other than extracting splinters from children’s fingers.

They also never tell you that if you have too many children, the skin on your stomach might just give up and decide to stay that way, no matter how much weight you lose. How many is too many surely varies from woman to woman. For me, the number is three. Hal, I paid a heavy price for you. I hope you appreciate it.

I remember asking my doctor when my stomach was going to finish contracting a few months after he was born. She looked me in the eye and said matter-of-factly, “It’s probably not going to. Just remember you’ve got three beautiful babies to show for it.” Thanks.

The single worst effect of childbirth however, is unquestionably the loss of bladder control. The first time I wet my pants when I sneezed, I was shocked. What just happened?! I soon learned how to discretely cross my legs – sometimes even while walking – when I felt a sneeze coming on. Certain activities were immediately off my can-do list: jump roping and trampoline jumping being at the top.

I suffered in silence for awhile before looking up at a kid’s birthday party being held at a gymnastics gym and noticing one of the other moms was missing. I had seen her jumping on the trampoline with one of her children just a few minutes earlier. When I asked someone where she was, she leaned in and whispered, “She had to run home and change clothes.”

“Why?” I asked.

She looked at me like I was a fool. “She peed in her pants jumping on the trampoline.”

“Really?! It’s not just me? That’s why I didn’t dare get on it. Has it ever happened to you?”

I got the you’re-a-fool look again. After that, I started paying attention and dropping comments. I soon found that many – not all, but many women have the same problem. It can be minimized with targeted exercises, but only if you remember to do them and do lots of them. I was a busy mom and couldn’t seem to remember. So I continued to eschew trampolines and jump ropes while perfecting my sneezing/laughing leg cross.

And life went on. Until now. I got it into my head to try the Couch-to-5K program. I knew my walking regimen had stagnated. I needed to ratchet up my exercising. This seemed like just the thing. The first day on the treadmill, I realized my problem. The jarring motion of running was remarkably similar to jumping. I stopped the treadmill and took a potty break. After that, I made sure I used the bathroom immediately before starting my exercises and all was good.

So good, in fact, that I kind of forgot that it had been a problem. When I agreed to run in a 5K race recently, the team captain offered the opportunity for people to show up at the local track and run a mile to get our pacing times and a work-out plan. I had focused on staying hydrated all day at work and then used the bathroom just before I left. But then I had to drive to the track and go through preliminary instructions and warm-ups. It was probably close to an hour since I had used the bathroom and I had been drinking a lot of water that afternoon. I registered the fact that I needed to pee but since there were no facilities available, I put it out of my mind.

About a fourth of the way along the first lap, it started. Every foot fall. Ok, you can’t cross your legs while you run. I’ve become quite gifted at doing it while walking, but only for one step. What was I to do? If I stop, besides looking like an incapable wuss (in my mind), I won’t get the pace time and targeted workout. There was nothing to do but keep running. And get wet. Very wet.

I tried to take comfort in the fact that I was wearing black shorts, so no one would be able to tell they were wet. That anything visible could be passed off as sweat. I tried to ignore it. The run was brutal. It was my first time to run outside and it was summertime in Texas. It was hot, I was tired and winded, and I had to contend with wet clothes sagging down uncomfortably. But I finished the four laps. And even participated in the stretches. Then whispered my situation to my husband, who looked at me with a shocked look on his face. “Really?!”

Yes, really. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go home. Jane would be back from summer camp within a half hour. So we drove to the church and I changed back into my jeans from work. Commando style. Pretty sure that was a first for me and it just felt weird.

When Jane climbed out of the van, she ran to me and embraced me in a hug. I returned the hug tightly, leaned in close to her ear and whispered, “Do you have any clean underwear and shorts in your suitcase?”

She tried to pull away to look at me but I held tight. “I have clean underwear,” she responded.

“Yes! Excellent!”

Again she tried to pull away. “Um, why?”

“Because I ran this afternoon and completely wet myself. I mean, like running down my leg. My sock’s even wet.” She started to laugh. “I’m not wearing any underwear and it’s really uncomfortable.” Her laugh became a loud cackle. “And you had better not speak a word of this to anyone, especially your friends.”

So why am I writing about it? Well, first off, it’s a really funny story. And I’ve told embarrassing stories about my kids here. How hypocritical is it to refuse to shine that spotlight on myself? But mostly, it’s because it’s a reality that many, many women live with. And we all hide it. And many of us think we are alone. Well, we aren’t. The event became so preposterous because I wasn’t willing to let it stop me from doing what I set out to do. But I am sincerely hoping that it will help me remember to do those darn exercises. Maybe it does happen to a lot of women, but I think I’m ready to see if I can stop being one of them.

apple?

I attended an informational meeting at work recently about running in a 5K race. The meeting was intended to be a “brown bag” lunch, meaning it was during the lunch period and you were encouraged to bring your lunch and eat it during the presentation.

My lunch that day was left-over pizza. I got hungry a little early and didn’t really want to look like some sort of bad-nutrition loser to all the fitness freaks I imagined being there so I ate before I went. I took the deception a bit further by toting an apple with me to the meeting. Look what healthy choices I make!

I never felt comfortable crunching noisily on the apple, however, so it sat undisturbed for the duration of the meeting. Afterwards, I carried it with me when I walked up front to ask the presenter some questions. We ended up talking for some time and even practiced some new stretching techniques before I headed back to my desk.

Once there, I started craving something sweet – a common occurence after lunch. As I thought about getting some chocolate or maybe an ice cream sandwich out of the freezer, I remembered my apple. Sweet and healthy!

And not present. Where is my apple?

I replayed events through my head. I definitely picked it up from the table when the presentation was over. I walked straight back so no opportunity for losing it on the way. Oh… I bet I set it down when we did those stretches. Darnit. Suddenly, nothing sounded as good as eating that crisp, sweet apple.

I decided to send an email to the organizer of the meeting since I would be in her building later that afternoon. Maybe I’d be lucky and she picked it up and took it to her desk. I entitled the email “apple?” and sent the following:

I think I left my apple sitting up front while I was talking to Amanda [the presenter]. If you happened to have been the person that picked it up, can I maybe grab it when I come by this afternoon? ๐Ÿ™‚

Her reply was remarkably formal and had me laughing. I wasn’t wanting to make a big deal out of it.

Hi S,

Please email Amanda about the apple.

Thank you,
Wendee

To be extra helpful, she copied Amanda on the email, who in turn managed to respond before I could.

Hi S,

It is on the podium in the meeting room. Unless someone picked it up after I walked out.

Regards, Amanda

As I contemplated whether I wanted the apple enough to walk back down to that building, Wendee responded:

S,

The meeting room is locked. I can go and get it for you.

Wendee

Oh, my. I’m not even sure it’s worth my effort! Much less someone else’s! So I replied:

Wendee, it’s really not a big deal. I mean, it is just an apple. I’d hate for it to rot in there and make a mess though. If you do happen to stop by and get it sometime before 2:00, then great, I’ll pick it up from you. If not, I’ll just eat some ice cream and call it good. (just kidding)

She didn’t respond and I knew. I knew why. She had stopped what she was doing and jumped up to go retrieve my precious apple. I was really starting to feel bad. About ten minutes later, she wrote back one last time.

LOL!! Snacks are very important! I have your apple pleasantly hanging out on my desk in my office. You better come before 3pm or I will eat it! ๐Ÿ™‚

Wendee

So, I stopped by and picked up my apple. And made sure I ate it. If the fitness guru went to so much effort to return it to me, the least I could do was eat it instead of the ice cream sandwich.