I meant to write more this week but my wife returned to work from her maternity leave on Monday and by about 1 pm both kids and I were in tears. Where my daughter has always been super chill, independent, and a helluva napper, the new baby is a little more challenging. Plus I’ve got a toddler to keep entertained this time around. I rarely lose my patience with the kids, not because I’m some superhuman saint but because they just don’t happen to be one in the long list of things that annoy me. Unlike shitty drivers, bureaucracy, and poorly run pizza places, they’re small, cute, ignorant, and mostly helpless. Even the teenagers are cute, ignorant, and mostly helpless. I can feel no relief in shaming or losing my temper with them. But this day I was starting to feel frustrated, restless, and panicky, and when lunchtime came and went and little guy was still crying, well, like I’d tell my group later that night: it wasn’t really a craving, but it was definitely going to lead to one.
So I grabbed the stroller, thinking that a ride might put him to sleep and a run around the park might wear her out, tossed them in, and started walking. I was in such a rush that I didn’t even put tights or shoes on the toddler, which I realized when we arrived at the park, a sweaty, panting, half hour later.
“Oops!” I exclaimed, pulling her out of her seat. She was in the same knee-length, rainbow-caped dress and knee socks she’d chosen that morning. “Did you lose your shoes?” I laughed, a little maniacally. “Looks like she kicked her shoes off on the way over!” I said to the grandmother who was sitting watching two little boys play, and certainly hadn’t asked. At least she was wearing socks, I thought, setting her down on the slide. Old ladies go crazy for sockless kids.
We played until the wind kicked up, and then I bundled her back into the stroller, AND THEN SOMETHING MAGICAL HAPPENED: they both fell asleep. I could feel the anxiety ease up just a little so I put on a book, tucked one earbud into my ear, and walked. They kept sleeping, so I kept walking.
We ended up going about 5 miles that day. I stayed out until time to put on some dinner and get ready for my group meeting, I don’t know how long exactly. And when lunchtime came around on Tuesday I took one look at my tired, fussy, crew and headed straight back out. We got about miles in, met up with the wife at home before she had to head back out for a meeting, ate, and then I took them back out to join a 5k jog with a local runners group that I’ve heard a lot of good things about. I went the whole 5k, talked with other adult humans, and won a thin, blue, swimmers towel in the raffle at the end.
“Whaaat?” My counselor said, when I filled her in that night. “You mean that you got to the edge of a craving and did something healthy instead of giving in. And then you talked to people?” She shook her head. “I feel like I don’t even know you right now.”
I laughed. She was right, of course. “Ditto,” I said, but it felt good to be praised for making a good, healthy decision. It felt really good. It occurred to me that that wasn’t something that happens very often in life. We’re quick to point out the shitty decisions people make, but do good and it’s shrug, good for you but isn’t that what you were supposed to be doing all along?
I decided that night that I was going to keep it up, shoot for about five miles a day, and see where it takes me. And I’m happy to say that as of tonight I’ve done it. I’ve logged right at 32 miles for the week, Sunday being the odd day out before I began, even after one frantic morning where I’d misplaced my Fitbit in my sleep-deprived state. That’s 18/31 chapters in the book I started Monday, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Practice of Mussar. That’s between three and nine pounds lost depending on time of day and how recently I’ve eaten. And thanks to the meds I started on last year I’ve certainly got the weight to lose. Next week, starting tomorrow, I’m going to try for six miles a day, or a 42 mile weekly total. After that I think that I might start speeding up my times.
I feel good. My sleep has slowly been improving, and though I’m dead tired and sore right now I feel like there’s good reason for it. I haven’t had a craving yet this year, I’ve simply been too busy to give it thought. I know that this is far from groundbreaking stuff: this just in, exercise helps you feel healthier and less crazy! And I don’t think that I can simply run away from all of my problems, I know that there is still a ton of work to be done. (I’m currently working on writing my life story, for my group meeting. Trust me, I’m well aware right now of how much fucked up shit I’ve got to work through.) I know that I still have a lot of bullshit wrapped up in work, friends, and family relationships to work through. But still, it feels like a revelation when I sit and think about just how much of a difference it seems to be making in me. When I’m out walking/running/jogging I feel more comfortable with my body and emotions, more capable of being “alone” (under-twos don’t count), and more like someone that I can respect and be proud of, than I have in a very, very long time. Troublesome thoughts rise to the surface and I pause my book, pound them out, speed up, let it hurt, and before I know it it’s over. I’ve survived.
Step by step, I’m learning how to survive.