Favorite School Story Ever

Liam is wrapping up his last week of preschool. Over the last few weeks, they have been watching the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies. Yesterday was the day they let the butterflies go. The morning class let out two of the three remaining butterflies. Liam's afternoon class let out the last one.

As the teacher was letting the last little butterfly go free, in her sweetest preschool teacher voice she said, "Good-bye little butterfly. Have a nice life!"

All the kids watched as the butterfly spread his tiny wings and flew up into the air where a bird immediately swooped down and ate the butterfly right in front of their innocent, watchful faces.

Seriously. Or, as his teacher said: Way bad timing bird! It's like the preschool version of Animal Kingdom only better. All week they have been talking about graduating from preschool and going off to their big, new schools where they can spread their wings and have a nice life.....

Welcome to the real world, kids. Oh and have fun in Kindergarten. (Just watch out for the birds. They're everywhere!)


And then, as if on cue, this morning I looked over and saw the cat flinging something around in the dining room. Liam walked out of the bathroom just in time to see the drama unfold:

Remind me to get a new rug for our dining room!

"Mom? Is that a bird?" he asked.

"Yes, Liam," I said as I threw the cat in the sunroom and then scooped the dead bird into a dust pan.

"Is it dead?" he asked.

"Yes, Liam," I answered, throwing the bird into the trash can in the garage.

"Did the cat eat it?" he asked.

"No, but he would have liked to," I said.

And THAT, Liam, is called predation, part of the continuous cycle of predator kills prey that you started learning about yesterday. Wanna know who's gonna kill the cat?!


The Quirky Little Chicken

Here's what I learned yesterday about chickens while visiting Gale Woods Farm with Liam's preschool class:

Try to get close to a chicken freely roaming in the outdoors and it will about kill itself trying to prevent you from getting too close. 

Place that same chicken in a coop, open the door and it will come right up to you, even let you pet it, in attempt to try to escape. It's the only prey animal I can think of that would probably approach a lion if the lion opened the coop's door! Silly chicken!

Hey you, wanna fight?
This hen was giving me the evil eye,  trying to stare me down into letting her out.  
Anyway, this post is not going to be about the farm (which Liam and I so very loved). Nor will it be about chickens. This is going to be a long and overdue update on Liam. So, if you can honestly say that you don't give a chicken poo about Quirky Little Liam, you can stop reading now. Just don't let the coop door hit you on the way out! (And good luck with the lion!)

Many of you know that since the day Liam was born he has had plenty of difficulties. First it was poor growth finally labeled as failure to thrive. Then there was severely delayed development pretty much across the board. But while he failed to meet milestones and expectations, he certainly made up for it with his gigantic personality. He could brighten the day of the gloomiest of Eeyores. His sweetness is so magically delicious that he could charm Lucky right off of his cereal box! His bubbling enthusiasm for all things under the sun has oft been paraded around schools and doctors offices in attempt to spread cheer and happiness, and the contagious smile plastered to his face wins the heart of just about any innocent bystander. He is truly a special little boy.

He has made so much progress in his special education classes that they started struggling with what goals to give him this year. He was discharged from PT and OT earlier in the school year and his speech therapist has only kept him on because he still gets so excited that his rapid fire talking can be difficult to understand. So, I must admit that it came as a little bit of a surprise that at his 5 year check up his doctor really felt we should reevaluate him, mostly due to his continued communication delays and microcephaly (a.k.a. a very cute little head) but also for some of his peculiarities.

In March, we met with the developmental pediatrician's nurse practitioner who felt that although Liam has certainly made some huge gains, we should really go revisit all the specialists we have already seen, and a couple we have not: the Geneticist, Neurologist, Psychologist, Audiologist and Endocrinologist.

I was super excited because I wasn't sure how else to fill all our free time right smack dab in the middle of marathon training....ahem....

So, I made phone calls, talked to intake people, made appointments, called insurance, got price quotes, and all that other fun stuff. And here is how it has played out thus far:

Geneticist: Apparently his genes have not changed one bit. Crazy, right? ;) She reviewed the history, did her exam, loved his willingness to participate, took some blood from both of us and told us she really thought we should get in to the endocrinologist as well as have a psych evaluation, confirming the other recommendations. (And just for the record, Liam must be the BEST five year old who ever had blood drawn, and I mean EVER! It so didn't faze him that he thanked the lady on the way out!)

Audiologist: He still has perfect hearing, that is, when he shuts up enough to listen.

Neurologist: Yep,  Liam still has a small head. The Neurologist confirmed it. He was the most warm and caring doctor I think we have ever seen. He was like a grandpa bear, full of sweetness in his voice and wisdom and knowledge in his thoughts. He basically said there wasn't anything he wanted to do at this time. Liam still has microcephaly, but is just barely under the second percentile. He has not regressed in any development, which is a huge plus. He has made big strides in learning and has proven to be a pretty intelligent little lad. I asked about repeating the MRI and he said that he was fairly certain that his brain was still the same as it was three years ago, just a little bigger but not as big as it should be. He did confirm what we already heard, that at the first MRI not only was his brain small but his midline cerebellum (or whatever it is that controls coordination, balance etc.) was even smaller than the size of his brain which of course is why we have seen such delay in his motor development. But, it won't prevent him from being functional in the world. After all, when was the last time you had to hop on one foot?

The Neurologist's basic assessment was that whatever is going on with Liam is very much a part of his brain development but that we will probably never know what exactly that is, or what caused it. He believes it was just the way he was made and that we just need to keep working with what we have. So, he recommended that we keep doing what we are doing and get in to see the endocrinologist.

Psychologists: It was quite a nightmare trying to figure out the behavioral health piece. We don't have behavioral health covered under our insurance, we got denied for coverage when we applied, the hospitals in the area offer no out of pocket discount, the places that do offer discounts book 5-7 months out or not at all! It was crazy. So, we went ahead with the Children's Hospital where he was already in the system. When we got there, an intern came out and introduced herself. Red flags went up. I was very disappointed because Liam is not an easy kid to figure out. He has all sorts of quirkiness but he is also super social and extroverted. He laughs a lot, he looks you in the eyes, he can calmly play with certain things for an hour or he can have trouble sitting still long enough to eat one bite of food. (I can't understand why the poor growth!) I was not comfortable with someone fresh out of school doing the evaluation for this. Maybe she'd be just fine but I still felt that years and years of experience would help with a child like Liam. But, we were there so off to her office we went. Liam tried to grab her hand on the way to the room but she did not see it, so I thought, so he just followed behind her. Turns out, she had seen him reach for her hand and just denied him. Seriously. Now, I get it that if he were 15 or 17 or an adult that perhaps you would cold shoulder that attempt, but a cute little 5 year old? Sheesh.

The rest of the appointment went something like that. Liam played with blocks but instead of building, he recreated a soccer game: blue squares were the LA Galaxy, yellow triangles were the home team, there were two couches set up for the goals and he used purple cylinders to keep score. It was already two to one when he interrupted to tell us about it.

"Does he ever just play with the blocks?" the intern asked.

"Define play," I stubbornly requested.

"Well, does he ever play with blocks like other kids would play with blocks or is he always recreating something he has seen before?"

Uh, isn't that what other kids do with blocks too? Recreate things they have seen? They build a house. They build a castle. They build a box, a road, a tower.....all things they have probably seen before, yes? The only difference I can see is that Liam was being pretty damn creative in what he was building! But then, that is defensive mom coming out.

"Um, I don't know," I said honestly. It had been a long time since he played with blocks actually.

After an hour of answering her questions, we made an appointment for his 3 hour eval and went home.

I was very unhappy with the intern's mannerisms and didn't really have much faith in her evaluation. She was cold and treated him like a specimen to be studied, not a human being. Never once did I meet the supervising psychologist. Maybe that would have changed things. Maybe not. But as luck would have it, the day before we were supposed to go back for the full eval, one of the highly regarded behavioral assessment places in the area partnered with one of Liam's preschools and we were able to secure the very first opening they made available. That evaluation took place just this week.

I first spoke with the psychologist on the phone. She and her partner would be coming out to his preschool and doing the full three hour evaluation right there on site. They had both worked with this group for over a decade and after just a few minutes on the phone, I knew this would be a good match, that Liam would be well cared for while alone with the practitioner.

When we were walking into the room, I noticed that Liam still had fried egg yoke around his mouth. I grabbed a damp paper towel and cleaned off his face. Now, most kids don't like their faces to be cleaned off. But for Liam, it is downright hysteria. He has such sensory issues around his head and face that even a little wiping of the mouth sends him into an absolute fit. And thus began their note-taking!

After a few hours with us they said that without a doubt they felt Liam was on the Autism Spectrum. The practitioner told a story of her time with Liam. Apparently, she showed him a picture of a picnic table with a family eating around it. She asked Liam to tell about the picture.

"They are eating," he said, turning the paper over to see what was on the back. "But look! A TWO! There's a 2 on the back! What's the 2 there for? Do you see the 2?" And so on and so forth.

"Yes, that's a two," she said, turning the paper back over. "Tell me more about the picture."

"They are still eating," he said, turning it back to the other side. "Loook! The 2 is still there! See it? See the 2? It's a 2!"

And so it went with every. picture. she. showed. him. (He must have been in heaven with the plethora of numbers to look at!) But, they nailed him. That is him. He has very specific interests, he doesn't deviate easily from them, he is distracted by them and nothing else will do. And fortunately for us, he finds everything to be so joyful that even a number two can cause the entire room to smile.

They explained the three currently recognized diagnoses and told me that the one they felt best fit him was Aspergers Syndrome. They actually called it Atypical Aspergers because kids with Aspergers do not usually have early speech delay. But, there are apparently enough kids in this group that there is ample material out there referring to High Functioning Autism (basically Aspergers with speech delay.) The psychologists told me that it was all about to change this month with the new DSM when it would simply be ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) scaled for severity. I am assuming Liam will be considered mild on the severity scale. He is very functional, has good foundational social skills and makes consistent progress. As an enthusiastic extrovert, he is not the picture most people conjure up in their minds of someone on the spectrum. As a matter of fact, it's only been a couple days and I am already fielding the question: Oh really? So, what's his special gift? (Uh, loving stupid people?)

Seriously people, the majority of autistic kids are not savants. Rainman was a fantastic movie but only a very rare example of what's considered ASD. (That said, I am hoping Liam picks up piano with lightening speed and precision! No pressure kid.....)

But of course, this is still only a piece of the puzzle. It doesn't explain everything, it just gives us a better roadmap for how Liam learns about, relates to, experiences and interacts with the world. As the practitioners put it, if you are driving through Iowa with a roadmap of Nebraska, you are likely to be extremely frustrated and not get very far. When you have the correct map, your chances of successfully navigating the roads go up drastically. (Unless you are my father, then all bets are off!)

I asked some fairly blunt questions about this diagnosis, about whether they freely hand out such a diagnosis to most people being evaluated. They assured me that any more, with the huge increase in autism awareness, that they actually find they are giving the diagnosis to less and less of those they evaluate. They assured me that when people come in with a kid who has a quirk or two, they are very honest with them about whether that is just a quirky kid or a quirky kid on the spectrum. Apparently Liam made the team!

I was so appreciative and relieved to finally have a name for what we saw, to finally have something to look into and focus on that I don't think the practitioners knew what hit them. Who sits there enthusiastically thanking the people who have just given what could be fairly upsetting news. I do! (And Liam does, too. Although I think he was just thankful to be done!)

Endocrinologist: I made the initial call to Children's Pediatric Endocrinologist in mid-March. They told me the doctor would review Liam's chart and then get back to me to set up our appointment because they saw patients based on level of emergency. It had been two months so I called back. The woman on the other end of the line said, "Oh, gee, I am so sorry no one called you back! The doctor reviewed the chart two months ago and decided there was no reason to see your son."

Really? No reason to see him? It doesn't matter that FOUR OTHER doctors and/or practitioners think he needs to be seen by an Endocrinologist? Really?

"So, they just won't see him?" I asked, obviously angry.

"No, the doctor does not think there is any reason to at this time," she said. "You can try again in a couple of years."

"Thank you but we will find someone else who will see him now," I said too loudly, jamming my finger into the off button. (It so does not have the same impact as being able to slam the phone into a cradle....darn modern technology!)

I was livid. So much so that I started choking up when I called to vent to Kurt. After getting my emotions in check, I relied on Google to refer me to another doctor. Within ten minutes, Liam had an appointment with the competing hospital's pediatric endocrinology group.

So THERE Children's Hospitals of MN! Say goodbye to the most engaging patient you will NEVER MEET! You have no idea what you just missed out on....with his special gift he would have LOVED YOU!

But, no hard feelings of course.

At any rate, this is not the end of Liam's story. It is simply a stepping stone along the way. Each time we turn a page, we are not getting closer to a monster at the end of the book (unless Solomon happens to be there) but closer to the sweet, lovable, quirky little boy who lights up a room, touching hearts and brightening up people's lives like he was created to do.

Have a fantastic weekend!

A Little Levity

Because some kids are like this:

What we heard:

"Hey, hey! I up here!"

What we saw:

What we heard:

Bang, crash, strum, strum, strum......

What we saw:

What we heard:

Mumble, mumble, hum, hum, "Need new diaper.....Tinkle, tinkle, little star....."

What we saw:

The new normal bedtime routine (A.K.A. The "Solly! Stay in your fricking room!" Plan)......

......Because some kids are like that......
And some parents are too lazy to change the door handle to a locked knob.....(which would be totally against fire safety code.....unlike this contraption which clearly is not.....)


The Most Awesome (LAST) Garage Sale I Will Ever Have

Perhaps you recall the garage sale I participated in a few years back....the one I lost money on because I spent more than we made buying the neighbor's junk....yeah, apparently I didn't remember it either because last week I participated in the neighborhood garage sale....again.

It went something like this:
7:30 a.m. - I start dragging all our stuff out to the driveway.

7:45 a.m. - I notice the sprinklers are on......the driveway is getting drenched. Huffing and mumbling I give Kurt an earful. He switches the cycle around so that the sprinklers directly affecting the driveway go on immediately. Great. That's so much better.

He and Aidan leave on their way to Chicago for the weekend.

8:00 a.m. - Apparently people take garage-saling very seriously here. (Yes, that is in fact a verb here in MN.....you don't go to garage sales, you garage sale....."We went garage saling yesterday." No, I am not kidding.) As if a switch goes on, cars start flooding the street. People are walking through the area, already stopping in as I struggle to get all the baby clothes put out nicely on a sheet spread out over the wet driveway.

8:30 a.m. - I have already talked two people out of buying our popcorn maker, giving them expert tips (that I learned just last week) on how to make it on their stove with minimal clean up compared to this fantastic machine that I am getting rid of for a reason.

9:00 a.m. - Two sisters come up, one is celebrating her birthday, probably mid to late 50s, and they are celebrating by coming two hours into the cities to garage sale. We spend the next ten minutes laughing and making fun of my terrible sales skills. I love them already. And then I talk yet another person out of the popcorn maker, offering to pay him to take it. I am laughing so hard at this point, tears are running down my cheeks (he walks quickly away). The Birthday Lady tells me I am the worst sales person ever. And she means it. I offer to give her all of Solomon's clothes for her grandson for free, if she will just give me a few hours as I will have to go upstairs and pull them from his drawers. She asks if Solly might need them for the summer. I assure her he prefers the buff anyway, plus IT'S HER BIRTHDAY! We exchange cell phone numbers and they leave.

9:30 a.m. - A young mom comes up ready to check out with a huge pile of stuff.

"Hmmm, how about $1?" I suggest.

"What? Really?" she asks, surprised.

"Oh, no, never mind. Just take it! It's free!" I tell her. She immediately hands me a dollar and thanks me thoroughly.

10:00 a.m. - I accidentally knock over the damn popcorn maker and break a piece off the top. I lower the price (that I won't let people pay anyway).

10:30 a.m. - I am getting really bored. The stir crazy has begun and I pull out the yard waste can and begin weeding the landscaping.

11:00 a.m. - A few people offer to buy the cat. Apparently he is on his friendliest behavior (suckers) and I have to stop myself from giving him and all his stuff away.

11:30 a.m. - Some random lady comes up and starts petting the cat. He rolls onto his back and I warn her: "Don't pet his belly because he doesn't like it and will attack you."

She says, "Oh, I have one just like him," and immediately starts scratching his belly with rough enthusiasm, babbling in baby-speak all the while. He starts biting and kicking. Obviously irritated, she walks away to look at my stuff. A minute later, when she is entirely not expecting it, he runs around the corner and jumps up her leg, kicking and biting at her jeans.

Um, I told you so.

I give the cat a treat and scratch him between the ears ("Good boy!") before throwing him inside where he is safe from stupid people.

Noon - Liam and I settle in for popchips and trail mix as we watch people come in and out not buying anything. He asks me a million questions about each and every person. I tell him to just keep eating.

12:45 p.m. - I abandon my garage sale for twenty minutes to take Liam to school. If anything was stolen, I neither know it nor care. In retrospect, I should have just put a big FREE sign in the yard while I was gone and saved myself a few hours.

1:30 p.m. - A nice mom with two little ones come to check things out. She is a new neighbor from down the road and a pediatrician (originally from Jamaica but most recently from Boston where I believe she went to school.) We have a lovely conversation about being a transplant in MN and when she picks up her baby's pacifier from the ground and sticks it in her pocket, I tell her I am surprised she didn't just put it back in her kid's mouth, after all, a little dirt goes a long way these days. She tells me she would if she were at home but doesn't in public because of the judgement from other parents. I assured her she would get no judgement from me unless she failed to give it back to her baby right this very minute. She did. I invite her to be my new best friend and let her toddler use my bathroom and then give her free toys.

By the end of the nine hour day, after subtracting out what I paid a babysitter and what I will send a friend whose toddler bed I sold, I made a little over $18. I figure at this rate I can feed my family every Thursday, exactly one time. And I'm thinking maybe I'll hit a sweat shop for my next gig....but maybe not because I just don't know what I would do with all that extra money!

6:00 p.m. - I have packed up the garage sale stuff and a friend comes over for dinner. We had just poured a glass of wine when the Birthday Lady and her sister call to see if now would be a good time to stop by. When they arrive, I insist that they come in for a drink before they get on the road, after all, it's her birthday.

Upon entering the house, Birthday Lady asks: "Wow, are you like minimalists or something?"

I promise her my last born child (seriously, please take him!) and ask her to please move next door so that we can be best friends forever. For two hours, we laugh about everything under the sun. At one point, the kids come up from their movie and ask who these strange people are in our house. I told them I had no flipping clue but that they've been here over an hour so I think they're okay.  When they have to leave, I give Birthday Lady a bag of Solomon's clothes. I try to slip him inside too but apparently she isn't interested in parenting someone else's monster.

She is the best best-friend-forever-that-I-will-never-see-again. No drama. No sharing of silly life details and hopes and dreams and such. Just a stinkin' good buddy who mistakenly thinks for all of two hours that I AM A MINIMALIST. God I'll miss her.


Boston Marathon: AB

Before I begin this section, I have to back track. Three weeks before the marathon, when I had to start tapering because I was having issues with my non-injured knee/leg, I was completely panicking about what to do. (I know, totally unlike me....) My insane iron-man triathlete orthopedist had said if I was having issues two weeks prior to race day, she would give me shots to get me through the race and then "fix me later." At the time, I thought she was an angel. But I had always assumed that that was just her way of reassuring me and had never thought I would take her up on it.

As the race loomed near however, and I was having to throw my training schedule out the window and only run every other day and only very short distances, I started wondering if maybe I needed to reconsider her offer. One day, as I read on the treadmill and was pondering what to do, I came across this passage in Isaiah (40:31):

But those who wait on the lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not be faint.

I about stopped in my tracks as the verse jumped up off the page and struck me square in the forehead. I needed that. I needed help with my decision. I needed renewed hope. And so, during the course of the marathon weekend, the race itself and whenever I started doubting myself and my decision to forgo meds, it was this passage I repeated in my head, over and over and over. Clearly, I needed to be able to feel pain if something should come up.  I needed to know if there was a reason to stop. And I needed to trust that things would play out ok. And that I wouldn't die.

So, back to the story. I had just met up with Kurt, just found our friends in the hotel lobby, had already spoken to or texted my parents, had changed into dry clothes and refilled my water several times and was already feeling disappointment at running three seconds/mile slower than my goal pace when I got a frantic voicemail from my mom wanting to know if we were okay.

I thought she had finally lost it. Why on earth would we not be okay when she knew I was done and okay? But her message ended with something about bombs at the finish line....and then we saw what the world saw as runners and spectators in the bar and lobby swarmed to the only TV to watch the dreadful scene play out. We were right around the corner. But in all our enthusiastic conversing, in the safety and comfort of the hotel, we did not see or hear a thing. The room, once full of life and celebration went into a somber quiet, a hushed buzz. We were as helpless as those watching half way around the world. We saw the desperation of families outside in the meeting area, as the runners stopped flowing freely to them. We sat with a woman whose husband had been running and she had no way to contact him and no way to know if he was okay. Cell phones went down as they turned off the cell towers. I was bombarded with texts: "Are you ok?" everyone wanted to know. It then occurred to Kurt, if I could receive texts, maybe I could get online and find out if her husband had finished. Sure enough, I was able to pull up his time and saw that he finished only minutes behind me. It was something to grasp onto although not the same as having him walk safely through the door.

I prayed quietly. I clung to my mantra, repeating the verse from Isaiah, praying that the responders would have renewed strength and save as many people as possible, that the bystanders would mount up on wings like eagles, running to help without growing weary and walking without being faint. I prayed for the victims, those killed or injured as well as those left stranded, heartbroken, on the course. I prayed for the people of Boston and for all of us. And I prayed for whoever had done such a heinous thing because surely there was something very, very wrong with them.

As we watched the story unfold, I told Kurt how hopeful I felt that even in the midst of such a tragedy, there is so much goodness in the world. I pointed out the video clips that showed people actually running toward where the bombs had gone off, possibly risking their own lives to help save the lives of others. It was horrific and yet.....in the midst of such horror was a sliver of tender, vulnerable beauty. There were amazing rescues, incredible courage, humbling love for one another. Where two people had caused such chaos and destruction, literally tearing families and people apart, heroes were created, and goodness shone through however faintly it seemed at the time.

Pretty soon, there was talk that they were going to lockdown or evacuate the city. Kurt and I decided we needed to get out before that happened. And I have to sheepishly admit, in that moment I was so very thankful that out hotel was 40 minutes out. (Good thinking, Kurt!) We quickly made our way outside into the frantic energy and commotion as they told people to get off the streets. Everyone was moving quickly, well, as quickly as you can after running 26.2 miles anyway. And after getting our car and weaving our way through the streets of Boston, noting the streets lined with ambulances and other emergency vehicles at the ready, we were back on the highway. Various squads, maybe FBI or bomb squads or more military or homeland security or whoever else, passed us as they raced into the city. And pretty soon, we were back in Westborough and back in our hotel. We were actually the first runners/spectators back and the faces of hotel staff told us that they had never been more relieved to see people returning to their hotel; truly a sentiment felt by us all!


Boston Marathon: BB (Part 1:B)

Sunday arrived and so did a sense of calm. Well, kind of. I had reached a new normal. It felt kind of like the best milestone parenting books never tell you about: the first time your kid can make it to the toilet to puke. It is a fantastic moment, them hugging the toilet while you simply watch from the sidelines knowing the only real cleanup can happen with a quick flush. On the other hand, it still kind of sucks that they are so sick.

It was that kind of milestone for me, being able to talk myself down from the approach anxiety and simply move through the motions of the day before the race, keeping the craziness all to myself as I silently counted down the hours: 24 hours from now I will be in the starting corral, 22 hours from now I should be over half done, 20 hours from now I will be finished, and so on. But it still kind of stunk not to freely enjoy the moment. Yet, I was determined not to disturb Kurt's relaxing vacation.

The day went something like this:
*Late breakfast
*2 mile shake out run (I didn't die, a big plus in the anxiety relieving department.)
*Coffee and reading at the Red Barn Coffee Roasters
*Lunch at Harry's (where we had been eating breakfast most mornings but man, those sweet potato fries were so worth doing lunch there....I even had them the next morning with my omelet!)
*Pick up dessert at the little Italian Bakery (or was that the day before....hmmmm)
*Watch TV and decide on dinner
*Dinner at Ted's Steakhouse (for the second time because MMMMM! Best Bison Burger ever! Yum!)

You may notice that the majority of the day focused on eating.....whenever I wonder why I run so much, it all comes back to a love of fries. At least, that's how I justify it.

And then it was time for bed. After telling Kurt I was really sorry if I died the next day because a marathon was really not worth it, and after he assured me I would be fine, I did not sleep. one. wink. Seriously. I tried. I got still. I didn't toss and turn. I just focused on my breathing and then watched TV and then read my book, went to the bathroom, read marathon tips and course overviews online, and then did it all over again. Maybe, maybe I fell asleep around 5 a.m. Wake up call was before 6!

And then it was showtime. The very familiarity of race day morning was terrifically calming. All my stuff was laid out and ready. We grabbed bagels and bananas downstairs, a couple espresso shots from a local Starbucks and then Kurt dropped me off on the outskirts of Hopkinton where I caught a school bus to Athletes Village. We were so early I was the only runner on the bus. It was awesome, you know, in a hyper-punctual nerdy kind of way.

I wasn't alone on arrival though! Here I am, drinking some coffee after my massage and looking rather manly with my running shorts bunched up under my pants.....hee hee hee, seriously, that is disturbing....and yet very funny that I just made you look....
And then, after failing to meet up with one of my blog reader friends who was also running this year, it was time to get to the starting corrals, 3/4 a mile away. Yes, we walked almost a mile to get to the starting line (I know right? What's with that, Boston?!). And I timed it perfectly because as soon as I entered my second wave corral, the gun went off and we started moving.....you know, 2 minutes later. 

26.2 miles is a long way. So here is my mile by mile account:

Mile 1: JUST KIDDING! I am not going to bore you with each and every mile! However, I will say that the first mile of Boston descends 130 feet. The difficulty lies in not going too fast. People often think running downhill should make it super easy but in actuality, downhill is really hard on your legs, especially quads and knees. My fear was that going out too fast would aggravate my injury on the downhills. For the first couple of miles, I tried to hold back. In retrospect, I probably didn't need to hold back so much but I wanted to play it safe so as to make it all the way through. 

By Mile 11, it felt like someone had taken daggers and stripped my quads into shreds. This is a daunting feeling when you haven't even reached the half way mark or the four major hills of a rolling course. I tried distracting myself by talking to other runners (runners just LOVE a jibber jabberer next to them....). But eventually, I had to be quiet. My thoughts turned to Kurt, he was going to be waiting at mile 16.5, right after the first big hill, the only time I would see him, so I focused on getting there so that I could tag him "it". And then I got lost in my head, as I usually do eventually. 

I pray a lot during a marathon. For this course, I made it a point to thank all the military along the way and to say a prayer for peace in the world and safety for our troops overseas every time I passed them. I tried to thank the police presence whenever I saw them as well. I said prayers for the handicapped runners and running teams pushing wheelchairs and adult jogging strollers. I teared up every time I passed an assisted runner, usually runners with down syndrome or autism. It is remarkable what humans are capable of even under the most difficult of circumstances, as we would see again later in the day. 

And I was brutally aware of every descent as my quads screamed bloody murder anytime the road dipped. And the relief I felt as we would start up a hill was so welcoming that by the time I hit Heartbreak Hill (a half mile incline starting around mile 20 or so), I was smack talking the course. I got to the top where everyone was screaming and congratulating runners for making it up and all I could think was, "THAT was the hill everyone dreads? Really? That's all you got Boston?" Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a cakewalk but it wasn't any worse than the last few hills so I wasn't sure what all the fear mongering was about. And my legs felt GREAT (read: the adrenaline was going strong). So much so that I let myself go on the way down and even ran over to the crowds and started slapping hands as I went by. (Sorry little girl who took a diamond in her palm!) I regretted it a little bit later as I hit the final 5k and wanted to take off and realized my legs felt more like molten lead than bones and muscles and such. At that point I drew upon all the people I knew who were cheering me on and holding me up in prayer from a distance: family, friends, church, kids' teachers, Liam's speech therapist, so many of the staff at my PT's office and on and on.....and I started chanting Dory's chant, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, whatcha gonna do, you're gonna swim, swim, swim" and started concentrating on my arms and willing them to move as quickly as possible so that my legs would have to follow suit. It worked....or maybe the last Sports Gu kicked in, whichever.  

As I rounded the corner onto Boylston street and could see the end, that "the finish is near" lump came up into my throat. I get this every time. It's as if all the pent up emotion, anxiety and relief just lodges there and I start half laughing in that maniacal sort of way, sweat and tears mixing making me look like a wild woman during my final sprint. And then there was the finish line and it was over. Three hours twenty-four minutes and fifty-nine seconds of pure adrenaline. A new personal best.

The post-race walk is surreal. Everyone just staggers along gathering post-race stuff: water, bag of goodies, foil blanket, recovery bar, medal; and then there are all those smiling faces, herding you on, reminding you to keep moving, congratulating you. At one point a fellow runner dropped his bag of goodies. Everyone in a ten foot circle just stopped and stared, laughing in horror: who was going to pick that up?! The poor guy was over 6 feet tall and we all cringed as he slowly stooped down to get it. 

Finally we got to the bag busses. Each school bus (think dozens upon dozens upon dozens of busses) was assigned a grouping of bib numbers. Bib numbers are given based on qualifying times so the majority of people with bags on any given bus all arrive there to collect their stuff at the exact same time. As luck would have it, the woman on our bus trying to find numbers was horribly overwhelmed with the crowd of runners outside and became totally incapacitated, at least it seemed so. Fifteen brutal minutes later they shuffled us out onto the streets of Boston where I fumbled to find my phone while trying to find my way back to the family meeting area.

After about half an hour, I reunited with Kurt and we headed inside the Back Bay Hotel lobby to meet up with friends, discuss the race, rejoice together and simply sit still. And then I paused just long enough to realize that I hadn't quite met my goal time.....and started contemplating doing it all over again next year....because um, I love french fries....and because clearly I have a problem.

And then there were bombs.....


Boston Marathon: BB (Part 1:A)

Some people like to classify runners into two categories: professionals (or the elites, as we like to call all the freakishly fast people whether they get paid for it or not) and recreational runners (where the majority of us fall). I, however, think there is a better way to categorize runners: people who run, crazy runners, and crazy people who run. (If you run only when your life depends on it, best of luck to you but we aren't talking about you here.) Don't get me wrong, you can find yourself treading the fine lines between these categories, but if you run at all, you are sure to fit in there somewhere.

In case you weren't sure, I fall into that third category. I wasn't 100% certain until this marathon but now.....well....(Stop shaking your head as if you already knew this....) You see, the average person who runs doesn't do a whole lot of marathons, but when they do, they really look forward to the pre-race taper. They enjoy the taper experience as if they were sitting on the beach with a cold drink in one hand, the soothing ocean breeze in their face and the tranquil tide whispering sweet nothings in their ears. It's as if everything they have done until this point is completely satisfied by simply tapering. Race? What race?

The crazy runners do far more racing and set bigger running goals. They often think about running, plan much of their lives around training and when they get to the end of their training cycle, they frequently suffer what is known as Taper Madness. They become irritable and a little very jumpy. They are not typically fun to be around during this period but most often they are able to channel that energy into other things, get through it okay and then forget about it entirely when going into the next training cycle. (Kind of like how women often forget the pain of labor and delivery....kind of.)

Then there are those of us who are complete nut jobs. Those of us who are just plain crazy (running or not) get anxious about the taper before it even begins. The very idea of Taper Madness begins to haunt us as we look ahead in our training schedule and see the miles winding down in the near future. We recall the jitters of the preceding tapers, conjure up feelings of desperation, swear off running races ever again and oh, the nightmares! And the taper is still a month away!

Enter Boston.

Kurt and I had decided to leave our kids behind and make it a relaxing get-away weekend. (Yeah, yeah, hindsight is 20/20, I would laugh, too.) Anyway, we were scheduled to fly out on the Thursday before the race. Early that week, Liam came down with a cold and cough which is when I graciously welcomed back my dear friend Anxiety Ann and began to drown myself in EmergenC, the vitamin C supplement drink that supposedly helps ward off illness. The box says to take one pack a day, but determined to make it through Marathon Monday healthy, I was drinking four. Looking back, I am surprised I didn't pull out a disposable respirator or surgical mask as well....(note to self....)

By Thursday, a snowstorm came pummeling through Minnesota: my chest began to tighten and I began to draw inward, unable to control the spiraling thoughts, doubts and fear in which I was frantically swimming. Not even a glass of wine AFTER BREAKFAST eased my discomfort. The combination of leaving all my kids, flying out in a snowstorm, a race looming before me, an unresolved injury that forced me to start my taper a week early (heaven forbid!) and having overdosed on vitamin C was nearly disastrous. By the time we got to Boston, got our rental car and made it to the hotel, 40 minutes outside the city, I wanted nothing more than to hide in a closet until it was all over.

Thus began our "get-away" weekend. Now, before I forget to mention it, Kurt was trying desperately to make this a great weekend. He upgraded us to first class where we could stretch our legs and enjoy a nice hot meal and superb in-air service. I must admit, a girl could get used to that pretty easily! For a brief two hours, I was able to settle down, breath easy and maintain some sanity.

But, once we arrived at the hotel (did I mention it was 40 minutes outside of the city?! Oh. But did I mention my panic about the fact that it was 40 minutes outside the city?) the real insanity began. I went into my personal version of radio silence. No really, I was very quiet....you know, for me. I began to dig deep, trying to produce positive self-talk and when I tried deep breathing to calm my nerves I noticed the left side of my chest was burning....like, on fire burning, like, HOLY BUCKETS, I'M FRICKIN' HAVING A CARDIAC EPISODE OR A PULMONARY EMBOLISM OR BOTH burning. Hello Anxiety's twin sisters, Loopy Lilah and Batty Babs. Thank you for joining the party!

I did my best to quiet the voices inside screaming at me that I was going to die if I tried to run this marathon and I ignored the party in my head while we visited the Expo on Friday, picked up my cool race gear, purchased a few things (like a hat and jacket) to ensure that my ego would force me to the starting line and then made our way BACK OUT TO THE LOONY BOONIES!

By that night, with Kurt sound asleep, I looked up the local hospital, certain that I was running to my death if I did not get my heart and lungs checked out. The burning was now on both lung tips (I am sure that is a technical medical term, like, sirloin tips or wing tips.....) but somehow it was reassuring that it was not isolated to my left side anymore. And that is how I convinced myself to put my neurosis on hold and go to sleep.

After spending a slow day Saturday visiting our new favorite diner (Harry's), drinking coffee at the Red Barn Coffee Roasters, lounging around reading and then eating a fairly huge dinner at a nice steakhouse, I recalled that my physician father was in NYC visiting my sister and her new baby. (Originally, we had planned to go see them that Saturday but after spending 40 MINUTES IN THE CAR TO GET TO THE HOTEL my legs ached and we decided it was too much before a marathon to drive 4 hours to NYC and 4 hours back in one day.) So, I opted to get ahold of him and see what he had to say about my impending doom.

The text conversation late that night and into the wee hours of Sunday morning went something like this:

Me: Dad I think I'm dying, should I go to the hospital before running this marathon?
Dad (after asking many doctor-ish questions): You are an idiot anxious hypochondriac who took too much Vitamin C and has disrupted the lining of your esophagus. Go to sleep.
Me: Ok, but if you're wrong, I want you to know I'll be looking down on you saying, "I told you so!" from the other side!

Ok, well, that is the shortened version of the hour long conversation where he talked me down off the ledge of my panic attack. Call me crazy (like 100%+) but I'm beginning to wonder here if this marathon thing is worth it!

(This ends Part 1 (a) of the Marathon experience [BB]......sooooo, I lied when I said I had to break it into two parts, more like three, or more......)