Category Archives: gratitude

How We’re Spending Winter Break

I love the school my kids go to, and the teachers are really wonderful and engaged and caring, and they are kind.

One child’s teacher sent him a letter, which arrived today, thanking us for a gift and asking what he’d done over break: Had he traveled? Been to a museum or the movies? She reminded him to be ready to share his vacation fun with his class when he got back to school.

I immediately, defensively, bristled (NOTE: She’d meant the note to get him thinking about what to share about his winter break, certainly not to make us feel like we hadn’t done enough over break!). We’d done none of those things. Max had mostly wanted to stay home, playing with his little brother, especially after Christmas, when they both had exciting new Legos and other things to explore.

Many families at the school are quite wealthy (not us!). Thus we hear about sailboats and ski houses and spring break in Paris and such. When I drop off my kids in my 14-year-old Honda Civic, I am especially careful not the bump the Range Rovers and BMWs parked on either side. The letter made me think maybe every other family was having a winter break filled with travel and culture.

Then I calmed down and decided to talk this over with the boys. How had we spent our winter break?

What we’ve done so far:

1. We hosted Christmas dinner, for one thing, which involved a fair amount of planning, cleaning, shopping, and prep. My mother had come here for a few days, and my boys got to finally see my childhood Christmas ornaments, some of my mother’s childhood Christmas ornaments, plus use my parents’ wedding china and the family silver for the first time. Plus have everyone come to our house for a holiday meal, for the very first time ever. Big doin’s, indeed.

2. We made and delivered little packages of warm new socks, homemade cookies, and a tiny bit of cash (thanks, Mom!) for the people who live under the bridge. No, really. We live at the edge of town, near the subway, and several people live in the underpass. Of our various holiday charity, this was the one thing the kids got into and could relate to, because they actually see these people every time we go to the subway. Kids without toys? My kids don’t really comprehend that, so our Toys for Tots donations were just confusing to them. Warm things and treats for the people under the bridge? Max was on it.

3. We spent a few days in the woods (not continuously!). We spent a few hours with school friends in a local conservation area, and returned a few days later with friends from our old neighborhood to spend even more time exploring the woods and meadows and enjoying a picnic lunch.

4. We went ice-skating. Both boys now want lessons.

5. We went to the New England Aquarium today, an adventure involving one bus ride; six trains; lunch out; and a return to the aquarium after lunch to see the octopus, the penguin feeding, and the seal training session. Several M&Ms were given as bribes and rewards, and I didn’t totally lose my shit when the little one ran his bare hand the entire length of the handrail on both the Blue Line and the Orange Line….and then touched his hand to his face (why oh why had I left all the hand sanitizer at home??). I told him if he touched one more thing, he’d need to get an extra flu shot (yes, I did say that—and yes, it worked).

6. We saw a movie (Planes 2), but we saw it at home (thanks, Redbox!) because we are movie cheapskates and would rather spend $1 and make our own popcorn (and uncork my own wine, thanks!) (though theater movies are certainly fun, and our local ancient theater is really cool).

What’s left to do before school starts again: 

1. New Year’s Eve family party at the neighbors’, which will be an early, fun, low-key, kid-filled affair.

2. New Year’s Day dodgeball party at my friend’s house, which will be full of young childless single hungover mountaineering people and could be a total blast.

3. ?? Who knows? Will the kids go spend the night at their grandmother’s house? Will we all head north for a day of skiing?

We will know by the time the kids return to school, that’s for sure. But even if we stay here, which Max would probably be very happy to do, we’re enjoying our winter break.



Practicing Acts of Kindness

I’ve been working at cafes lately, since working at home doesn’t work out so well. It’s cold, and there’s so much non-paying-work stuff to do, and I get frustrated by our limited snack options.

Cafes help me focus. Plus, they can make for amusing status updates on Facebook, such as the day the cafe owner left to go buy toilet paper. As in, he left. He left me alone at the cafe for a good 15 minutes. (I should have used the time to brew a fresh pot of coffee, since the one he’d served me was tepid.)

Or yesterday, at Starbucks (I know, I know, but I get a lot of work done here). It was crawling with plainclothes detectives taking pictures related to a recent secret-camera-in-the-bathroom incident (sometimes a bathroom flowerpot is so much more than decor!).

Today, back at Starbucks, I noticed an older man picking his nose. With two fingers, even. He was a least using a napkin, but he was piling them up on his table. I posted about this to Facebook, of course.

And then he lifted a bloated, purplish foot and began picking at a bloody toenail, placing the scabs carefully on a napkin on the table.

Yes, I had probably the same reaction you might be having as you read that. Gross! Ewww! Shouldn’t he be kicked out per Board of Health regulations?

Then I noticed that his shoes were flip-flops. It is December in Massachusetts, and it is snowing lightly. An old backpack was on the floor, and a plastic bag overflowing with stuff was parked on the chair.

Again the urgent thought: What should I do?, but not in terms of reporting him to management. I wanted to buy him a cup of coffee, but I didn’t want to be intrusive. I thought about giving him a preloaded Starbucks gift card, so he could buy himself some food or coffee. An online friend suggested I buy him some socks at the nearby CVS, but that felt too obvious, like I was saying, “I saw your feet, and that was gross.”

I deleted my earlier Facebook post. Then I decided to do something I read about once, which can really spare a person’s dignity: As I walked past his chair, I pretended to pick something up off the floor.

“Here, sir, I think you dropped this,” I said, offering a folded bill. His eyes met mine as he reached for it. “It was under your chair. You must have dropped it.” I nodded to confirm this was true. He nodded back. I wished him a good day and returned to my laptop.

He didn’t budge. But about half an hour later, he got up and went to the counter, returning with a hot drink and a breakfast sandwich.

I felt so, so happy.

Even better? About an hour after that, a woman walked up to his table and handed him some money. “Here, please use this to get yourself something to eat today.”

The snow is falling more heavily outside, and he’s dozing in his chair. He may or may not be someone’s brother, father, uncle. He was definitely someone’s child once. He might or might not own warm boots and a nice house; I sure don’t know.

But rather than mock him on Facebook, I found I still have a shred of compassion, and for that I am grateful to him.

So thank you, sir. I hope you have a good day and stay warm.

I’d Like to Thank the Academy…

Yesterday I ran a marathon. The Baystate Marathon. My first or second, depending on how you count. I ran well. I ran hard. I cursed the pacers for running too hard a pace much of the time instead of the pace they were supposed to be running, but whatever. Though they dropped out at mile 20, I felt strong enough to maintain that pace and finish ahead of schedule.

Anyway. I have qualified for Boston* and had my best race ever, beating my goal time by a fair amount. Sure, I get some of the credit, but so do (in order of importance, mostly, but also as I’m thinking of their roles yesterday):

1. My excellent, patient husband. He is not a morning person, yet he’s put up with many, many early mornings of waking alone with the munchkins while I was out running, dealing with their needs and wants and hungers and “Those are the wrong pants!! WAHHHHH” and oatmeal and such, so many days. And he’s been alone every Sunday morning for months and months while I was out for my long run.

2. My friend and running partner Sasha Brown-Worsham. We have been running together since I was pregnant with Max, and we’ve trained for many races together (unfortunately, she couldn’t do the full marathon yesterday but instead did an excellent job in the half). She is a great running partner.

Yeah, I wasn’t having a good hair day. Do I care?

2a. Sasha, again. Months ago, she breezily sent me some Runner’s World marathon training program. It was awful. So much speedwork (seriously, 13 miles of speedwork on a Tuesday? Are you kidding me??). So much mileage. So hardcore. So damn effective!!

3. My friends Lein, Florentein, Andrew, and all the rest of my trail-running group who happily met for 6 a.m. trail runs or joined me for long runs on weekends if Sasha couldn’t.

4. My friend Tom, who always told me that the only way to get faster was by doing speed work. Tom, you were right, of course.

4a. My friend and midwife, Robyn, a champion marathoner and rower. I’ll never be the athlete she is, but the thought of her always inspires me to push myself harder.

5. The guy in the blue shirt (long-sleeved) who was my pacing partner for the early part of the race yesterday. I enjoyed running with you until you popped into that portajohn** RIGHT as I was headed for it, and I was forced to wait my turn. That cost me a minute, dude.

6. The guy in the blue shirt (short-sleeved) who was my pacing partner for mile 20-21. He agreed with me that the pacers had been running us too hard and was happy to slow down and lock it into an 8:20 pace for the next few miles. Except somehow I wasn’t able to keep that pace, because I needed to run faster, and I eventually sped ahead, leaving him behind. Sorry, guy.

7. The woman in the purple shirt and headband who encouraged me to keep running strong and not slow to an 8:20 pace for miles 20-24. She also kept reminding me to run the tangents, right up into the finish line. Chica, you were right on every count.

8. My children, the thought of whom kept me running hard the last six miles because I was very eager to see them. (Ben was freaked out by my space blanket and refused to let me hold him after the race, but Max insisted I carry him clear around the Tsongas Arena.)

When I lugged Max all the way around to the bag check,
some guy clutching a tree glanced at us and muttered,
“I am so embarrassed right now.”
He was struggling to lift each foot
so that his girlfriend could put sweatpants on him.

9. My father, who this week mailed me a loaf of some intense bread called, of course, “Marathon Bread.” It contains all kinds of grains, dried fruits, dried carrots, seeds, nuts, and is topped with meusli. It’s amazing and powerful stuff.

10. My mother, who came up to watch me run. And my brother and his wife and my nephews, who also spent their Sunday morning going to Lowell to watch me finish.

11. My chiropractor, Nina Englander, who periodically realigns my iliosacral joints and such so that I can walk, stand up straight, and run with an even gait instead of “galumph-splat, galumph-splat.”

12. My massage therapist, Raffi, who fixed my chronic hamstring problem in a mere three sessions.

13. My friend Samantha Ainuddin, who made me do that first marathon with her 5 years ago. Sam, we’ll do a marathon together again one of these days.

So. Yeah, I’m the one who trained and woke at 5 a.m. and worked hard, but I couldn’t have done with without the help of all the of above and more. Thanks, everyone.

* Details, details. I finished in 3:36:02. My supreme “wouldn’t it be awesome” goal was 3:38; my actual goal was 3:40; and my “I can live with it” goal was 3:45.

** Hitting the loo might not seem like such a big deal unless you have gels and gu’s and such pinned around your waistband, and every time you pull your shorts down the safety pin rips out of the corner of your race number (bib) and you’ve already ripped it three times already and the timing chip is so close to the edge of the bib that there’s nowhere else to pin it and it’s just such a huge delicate operation to “drop trou” that you can’t risk a hasty pee in the woods.