A Short Conversation With My Mother

I had a short conversation with my mother today. It was short, not necessarily because she’s been dead since 1994, but because I finally got fed up with her negative comments as they re-played in my head this afternoon.

Some people just make better parents than others. I realize that now. And, while I’ve made peace with my demons…every now and then, at the most inopportune time, they regurgitate themselves like bad bile, leaving a sour taste in my mouth and heaviness in my heart.

It happened today during my very first ride on my beautiful new road bike. I was struggling to learn coordination and balance while clipping my bike shoes into the bike’s pedals – all new for me. I knew I’d need to practice and had already prepared myself for the probability of falling — and I did! My left foot was firmly clipped but I was struggling to get my right foot into the cleat when I wobbled and lost my balance. Being left handed, my instinct was to put down my left foot — except it was still attached to the pedal — and down I went.

It was a moderately easy fall – some road rash, a broken blood vessel – not nearly as bad as it could have been, but a fall nontheless. I sat on the ground a moment, assessing myself and thinking, “OK, that’s what it feels like…all good…let’s get up and go again…”

But before I could push to my feet another voice popped into my head. It belonged to my mother. “I’ve told you over and over again…I should have named you Grace, because at least then you’d have had some. You are the clumsiest person ever born on this earth.”

Years ago, she’d tell that to a gawky child many times a week. She’d say that (and other mean things) to a girl who was very uncomfortable with her body. As a result, I constantly felt unworthy of love. Without remorse, she’d watch my eyes fill with stinging, hot tears. Often times, she’d make fun of my sensitivity. She’d mimic my crying as I slunk away to lick my wounds alone in my bedroom. Food became a good friend, never talking back, always accepting me. No wonder I was overweight.

Now, as a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine treating my children or grandchildren that way.

The thing is, in public, she treated me so differently that even people who knew us well never saw that side of her. She saved the ridicule for our ‘alone’ time. I was an only child and my dad was an over-the-road truck driver, so there was no lack of that.

So, today, at 58, well into my fitness journey and training to become a triathlete, she came calling. I’m sure that some psychologist could give me a wealth of theories why it happened. The truth is, it took me by surprise. I certainly didn’t expect it. But, what’s cool is how I responded. Because, without even thinking, I told my mother something I never would have said to her while she was alive. “Mom, shut the hell up,” I said. And she did.

I got up, brushed off the gravel and sand from my legs and mounted my beautiful bike. Without giving her another thought, I clipped in my left foot, pushed off and cleated my right foot perfectly. The wind caressed my face. There were no tears, no gawkiness. I may have fallen, but it wasn’t due to clumsiness. I’m merely learning. I may fall again – in fact, I probably will. But I don’t expect to hear that comment again. It has lost its sting.


Locker Room Etiquette

They are called ‘Private Parts’ for a reason. Fact is, I don’t want (or need) to see them. And, even if they were extremely special (which they aren’t), I don’t want to see you lathering them up and rinsing them off. It’s just plain wrong.

Close the damn shower curtain. CLOSE THE CURTAIN. Is that so difficult?

…so, at this point you may being asking, ‘Something bothering you?’ Yes, my perceptive grasshoppers. Yes, indeed. It’s been festering for weeks – since I joined the Y, as a matter of fact. Since the first time I wrapped a towel around myself before stepping out of the shower stall and came face to face with a middle aged woman in the stall across from mine vigorously soaping and stroking herself with the shower curtain wide open.

It was not a pretty sight. I walked out and past her silently, wondering if she was claustrophobic or otherwise physically/emotionally limited so that she could not shut that curtain. I’ve tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. But after watching and listening to her over time, I don’t think there’s anything stopping her from pulling that curtain closed. She can do it. She just chooses not to.

And therein lies the rub (no pun intended).

I don’t like it. I shouldn’t have to see her private stuff, or how she handles it. I shouldn’t be able to tell someone whether or not she’s got a Brazilian or abdominal scars. I don’t want to know, yet, when I open my shower curtain and she’s standing there in full view, less than 5 feet in front of me, it’s hard to miss.

To be clear, the Y has a well equipped women’s locker room with two rows of nice, private shower stalls with curtains. Women don’t have to shower in a common area. It’s nice. Really nice.

Yet, still, there are those who feel the need to just bare it all. I don’t get it. (And I don’t want to).

So, I recently started giving some signals of my displeasure. Last week when I opened the shower curtain and saw her, she looked right at me. I gave her my most disgusted look and shook my head with (I thought) complete disdain. I can tell you this – if I’d done that to my kids, they would have definitely known they’d crossed the line. I have a good ‘look’. It gets the message across.

But this week, I heard her start the water in the stall across from me and could tell that, once again, she was up to her old tricks. I steeled myself against the sight. I knew I had to ramp it up…and I did. When I opened the curtain and saw her, I walked out, saying, “Jeez, seriously? Shut the frickin’ curtain!”

I know she heard me (how could she NOT?) and I fully expected her to approach me as I dressed, but she didn’t. She went to her locker and acted as though nothing had happened, having an ongoing conversation with another woman (who was showering at the same time in another stall with the curtain closed: i.e., normal).

I don’t know what next week will bring but I’m hoping for a lot less exposure.
None would be nice.

A Gesture of Honesty

In early December, a Spanish athlete by the name of Iván Fernández Anaya did something worth talking about during a cross country race. Approaching the finish line in a distant second place, he saw London bronze medalist Abel Mutai pull up 10 meters short of the finish line. Rather than speeding past Mutai and grabbing an upset win, he used gestures to communicate what had happened to the Kenyan racer and followed him across the finish line for a 2nd place finish.

Anaya’s explanation afterwards was simple. “I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him.”

His coach is 1995 World Marathon Champion Martin Fiz and he views it a bit differently. “The gesture has made him a better person but not a better athlete. He has wasted an occasion. Winning always makes you more of an athlete. You have to go out to win.” Fiz went on to say if he had been in that race, he would have taken advantage of the situation to capture the win.

Let me clarify that this was not a high profile race – nothing major was at stake. The difference between first and second place was simply that – one place. And Anaya said that if a European medal was at up for grabs he would have pushed past him and “exploited him for the win.” But on that day in that place, the bragger’s rights would simply have been to say he beat a Kenyan who made a mistake and Anaya just didn’t think it was right to do that. In the giant scheme of things, he made a choice that was right for him.

I think he was right. I think he’s the type of person that can and should be a role model for our youth. I think he needs to find a new coach.

Anyone who has ever made an effort to do anything can find a connection here. You don’t have to be an athlete or even a runner. This cuts to the heart of who you are. It’s a matter of right vs. wrong. It is (once again) a matter of perspective and attitude.

Let me break it down a little. Think back to when you were a child. You were in a store and wanted that candy/toy/whatever but you were told you couldn’t have it (or you didn’t have enough money in your pocket). You wanted it SO badly…and you took it without paying for it. Perhaps you got caught; or you may have gotten away with it. Regardless, you remember it to this day and you remember the feelings that came with it. It may have defined how you went through life after that and who you are today. If you were not caught and felt a sense of victory, you may have gone through school and life cheating on tests, taking shortcuts and riding on others’ coattails. Yet, today, you may feel you ‘deserve’ it because you worked hard to take those risks and, hey, if no one caught you, shame on them. After all, isn’t that what society, politics and sports today is all about? Or, you may have been ashamed, vowed never to feel that way again and live your life accordingly. Of course, there’s a gamut of variations in between.

This past summer we were at a rodeo when they announced an event for children in the crowd. All the kids were invited to participate. They had to take off their shoes, which were put in a pile in the center of the arena. The kids lined up inside the corral at one end. The goal was to race to the middle, find your shoes in the pile, put them on and race back to the fence. Fastest winners would get McDonalds gift certificates.

It had rained almost constantly over preceding days and the arena was pure muck – at least 6″ in most spots. Those kids struggled to get to the middle and back, sinking knee (or thigh) deep into it. Their facial expressions were priceless. The crowd loved it and parents were coaxing their progeny from the stands and fence line. We laughed as one girl went to lift her little leg out of the mud and it came up without her shoe – it was stuck in the muck! Mud spattered everywhere and kids had a great time.

But I noticed something sad as it all played out. One little boy had lined up without shoes. None of the officials really noticed – it was tough to get organized with over 40 kids. Then, when they raced to the center, the boy’s father walked up to the fence and slipped a pair of shoes inside the fence for him. They boy ran to the center and then back as fast as he could (although still behind some of the others because he was smaller than they were). He quickly put on those shoes and became one of the ‘winners.’

He jumped up and down with delight as he collected his certificate. His father cheered from the sideline. It was nothing major – no Tour de France, Olympic event or major exam. Yet, they felt they had to cheat. I felt so sorry for them.

I think about that boy and his role model father every now and then and wonder how their lives will play out. I have to say, my thoughts are not good ones.

I’m participating in a virtual marathon right now. We have approximately 2 weeks to log our mileage and earn a finisher’s medal. It’s on the honor system and the race director accepts what we tell him. I could easily add a few miles in here or there to reach that magic 26.2 mile marker easier and faster. I could, but I won’t. It’s not who I am. To me, it would only cheapen the prize and every time I’d look at that medal (and at myself in the mirror), I’d know I really didn’t earn it.

When I race, I’m part of a group, to be sure, but, no matter where I finish, I’m racing against myself – to achieve more, to be stronger, faster, better. I think Anaya has the same attitude.

Anaya’s coach called his actions “a very good gesture of honesty.” The way he said it, honesty isn’t important.

I think we all know better. But, if you think that’s true, tell that to Lance Armstrong this week.