Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Best Cup of Tea

In the past two years I have slowly watched the life leaving my grandparents eyes. This has not been an easy time for anyone in my family. As a matter of fact, they have been that to every member of my family throughout their years together. When I mindfully recall memories of my grandparents, it undoubtedly involves the drinking of tea. From a very young age, whenever there was time for conversation, time for relaxing, or a stressful situation, a cup of tea was always, without fail, a part of it all.

My first poignant memory of drinking tea with Gram(my grandmother) was during one of the many sleepovers I had at her home. I was about 6 years old and I was staying over without my older brother. He is only 18 months older so we usually were sent on sleepovers together. But, that particular night he had something fun of his own to do, so I was rewarded with my own night with my grandparents. Every time we stayed over, which was usually a Saturday night, we watched The Lawrence Welk Show, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island, in that order. Being that we were never allowed to stay up that late at home, this was a bona fide treat. As tradition would have it, that night was no different. After sitting together and laughing at Tatoo say "Look da plane boss, da plane", and wishing I had hair like Barbie Benton, I was tucked into bed. She sang the closing song from the Lawrence Welk Show(Goodnight, Sleeptight) to me, as she did everytime she tucked me or my brother into bed. My bedroom was my Uncle Joe's old room. It was the size of a walk in closet, with a large, old wooden trunk, a dresser and single bed with a trains on the bed spread(no comforters or duvet covers at that time). Several animal and decorative pillows that matched the bedspread were lined against the wall and corner into which the bed was crammed. I loved that room, so you can imagine my disappointment when I became sick all over my favorite animal pillows and the bedspread. I had only been asleep a few hours when I woke up and tried to run into the bathroom across the hall to vomit. I had the flu, on the night of my special sleepover. I thought my Gram would be mad at the mess I had made of the bed, of course I was wrong. She could have cared less about the bed, she only cared about me. Being sick at Gram's house turned out to be a much better time than being sick at home. Gram was a natural at making me feel safe and cared for that night, something that my mother never did when my brother or I got sick. I must have gotten my "nursing" genes from my Gram because my Mother has no such genes.

After my horrible retching had subsided, my Gram took me downstairs to wipe off my mouth, and wash my hair, which had been a casualty of my battle with the toilet. She always washed her hair in the kitchen sink, so that night my hair was washed in the kitchen sink. The kitchen was an extremely tiny room. I still find it unbelievable the meals she was able to create and serve in that tiny space. There was a table set up against the wall with three chairs, if anyone wanted to open the oven or the refrigerator, you had to move from your chair. However, the important and memorable moment was the cup of tea she served me. I will never forget that night. I was a big girl, having a cup of tea with my Gram in the middle of the night. I felt like I had grown up in one day. That night I night I drank my best cup of tea with my Gram.

Ever since that time in my Gram's kitchen, every significant time in my life revolved around a cup of tea. The tea is never anything fancy, usually Lipton, Red Rose, or Tetley. For anyone who drinks Red Rose Tea, they know how there are little ceramic figurines in ever box. A permanent reminder of all the tea I have drank can be found in an old printer's box that hangs in my powder room. Most of the shelves are filled with the figures from the Red Rose Tea boxes of my past.

Tea was and is always served with milk and sugar, although, the sweetener has changed through the years. My Gram and my Mum were, and still are, always on a diet, so the sweetening changed from saccharine to Sweetnlow to the present day Splenda. I have broke the mold by moving into sugar in the raw. I figure anything that carries the warning: causes cancer in rats, is not a good thing when there is a perfectly natural substance that will sweeten just as well, if not better. If you come to my house and you are offered a cup of tea, that is how it will be served.

My children have embraced the cup of tea with the same enthusiasm that I did when I was their age. They have learned to find comfort and conversation in a cup of tea; they drink it after school, on weekend mornings, or when they relax with a book. Recently, I woke up to find my 6 year old daughter, watching the birds in the bird feeder, while curled up under a blanket, in a wing back chair, beside the burning fireplace, and sipping a cup of tea. She even made the tea in a fancy teacup from my collection of china teacups. I do not know if that was her best cup of tea, but it will certainly be a cup of tea I never forget. It will be a marker in my life of the day she became a big girl, just like that night I slept over my grandparent's house.

Living life with small rituals, like drinking a cup of tea, can make the mundane, otherwise forgettable moments, memorable.

What was your most memorable cup of coffee or tea?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bitter Sweet Marathon

On Sunday, I ran my second marathon. The bitter part was the actual run. The sweet part was the extraordinary group of friends and family who came to race and to watch. Two years ago, I started this journey of endurance races. Up until then, I was simply surviving the daily rigmarole of parenting toddlers, and had no time or energy for any selfish pursuits. When I was in my early thirties, I told myself that I would be in the best shape of my life by age forty. The requirements for completion of my goal had to include: one marathon and one triathlon. The last thing I expected find on this adventure was a great group of friends, but unexpectedly, that is what I found.

Whether you are raising babies and toddlers now, or have ever done so, there is a time in your life when the people you socialize with are chosen for you. Your child meets a friend on the playground and de facto, their parents become your peer. I say peer and not friend, because a friend is someone you chose to spend your precious time with. A peer is like a prison cell mate, someone you are stuck with. They are not the mold of your previous friends, or any friends you ever had. However, they serve their purpose, at a time in which making friends is virtually impossible. You begin to question if you will ever make a good friend again. Ultimately, you just survive and socialize with who you need to, for the happiness of your kids. It can be a great time of introspection and contemplation about what a friend really is; if only for sanity's sake. In high school and college, making friends is easy. Everyone is the same age, single, and interested in the same social life. As an adult, the parents are as varied as a multi-colored quilt. Finding a friend becomes like dating, only it is no longer a man you are seeking.

There were times I would think I found someone who fit the friend mold. I would flirt with the idea that we could be friends. Then I would find out they were crazy. Like the time that my friend (my peer) failed to invite me to a party that a real friend would have invited me to. It became a break up predicated on our children's friendship. Our kids were not invited to the kid party, er go, I was not invited to the adult part. I learned a valuable lesson. Just because my kids have friends does not mean their parents are my friends. I had to start all over again, with the intimidating thought, that I would never find a friend that would replicate the timeless friendships I found in college.

Running is a solo sport, and not one I meant to encourage friendship. I started running, not to find friendship, but to find myself. Running distance can be very lonely being on the road for hours at a time. Running enables the opportunity for self introspection. At the time, I was a neophyte with respect to elite performance training. I could not distinguish between a pedantic pain and an injurious pain. A professional, who could make sense of it all for me, would be priceless. Throughout my training I had a plethora of injuries that required some time in physical therapy. That is where my friendships began. Lori, my physical therapist, asked me to join her and another woman for their Sunday morning runs. The runs were always 8 miles or more, and included inclines so steep that a Granny could pass you in her wheelchair sitting still. Warily, I met Tracy and Lori one Sunday morning and we all hit it off perfectly. At the same time, I met a woman(who had previously run a marathon) and was having a difficult time adjusting to a move to a new city with three kids. I told her to join us and so she met me on a Sunday morning. Alicia was not happy about being up early and never liked running in a group, so I forcefully told her to "suck it up and get the f#$@ out of the car and run". She practically cried getting out of the car but in the end, she loved it. Her first time with us, going up the treacherous billy goat hill, she broke out singing the theme song to Rocky. Ironically, she now shows up more often on Sunday mornings than I do. She is like the perfect pair of shoes that make an outfit. Our outfit became complete that day.

A Catholic, two Jews, and a Protestant.......this is not the beginning of a bad joke, this is my running and partying posse. We run hard and workout strong, but when we let our hair down, we do it with the same enthusiasm. At last weeks marathon my new posse showed up in full force. Lori and Tracey were running the half, so we all started together. Alicia was not competing, but running with me from mile marker 20 to 26.2. She was my secret weapon to keep me strong through the finish. The marathon started off great. My aunt and cousin were walking the half and Lori and Tracey were running to mile 11 with me. I felt great the whole first half with a time of 2 hours and 6 minutes. I was on target to finish in 4 hours, hoping for a negative split during the second half. I had spent an infinite amount of hours training each day before the marathon, so I thought I had it in the bag. When I reached the sixth and last bridge, I saw my Dad on the side line. He was full of motivational words and told me how great I was doing. I gave him a kiss and kept on running like Forrest Gump. The next three miles were fine, although I felt a few shooting pains down my right leg, but I figured it would be fine. Then as I approach mile 17, I saw my husband, 3 girls, my Mum and my step dad. This could not have been better timing. My leg was really hurting, so seeing their faces made me suck it up and keep moving. When I saw them, I wanted to cry because of the pain, but I persevered. Then in the next 50 feet, I saw my neighbor Gail and her daughter Mona(my favorite teenager ever) whom I consider part of my family. They were there to cheer for me. Again, I gave out some kisses and continued, knowing Alicia was only 2 miles away.

Those next two miles were the absolute worst. My right quadricep was cramping up so badly that it was all I could do to pick my leg up. As fate would have it that day, during this painful moment, I saw Chris(a running coach), from my church. He instructed me to keep stretching it out as much as I could over the last 6 miles and walk it out. "God damn it! I do not want to walk it out, I want to finish in 4 hours". This is when I realized my goal had changed. I would be lucky to finish. The only thing that kept me moving was knowing Alicia was waiting for me.

Finally, mile marker 20 appears after what felt like an eternity. I am barely moving at this point. When Alicia saw me, she bounced out beside me and thought she was going to be flying to the finish. Once she saw my tears, she knew she had a bigger job to do. Her words were the support I desperately needed. She coached and motivated me for 6.2 miles of tears and pain. I pushed to the finish, barely running and sort of walking. As I gimped toward the finish, feeling and looking like I had gone through a battle, Alicia turned to me and said , "the crowd loves to see someone in pain finish, you are like Rocky, JUST RUN!". Alicia and her Rocky comparisons, obviously this movie is a favorite of hers. Her timing was impeccable, because at that moment, as I am laughing at her Rocky story, I look over and see my aunt, uncle and cousin cheering and they see me smiling. I make my way to the finish with a ridiculous time of 5 hours and 4 minutes. The piece de resistance was when I looked out and saw my family. My girls saw me in pain but they saw me finish. The feelings of defeat left as I realized how blessed I was to have so many loved ones there to see me run a marathon.

From the onset of my training, I unexpectedly discovered the support of friends. Friendship was not the purpose of my training, but it was what I found. I learned that sometimes when you are trying so hard to find something like friendship, it conceals itself. It is when you change your focus, that the lens becomes clearer, and what we are looking for is staring right back at us, as if it were there the whole time. Life is full of brief moments that can go unrecognized, but sometimes these brief moments are the ones that create memories that last a life time. The 5 hours and 4 minutes I ran, are only a blip in time. In 26.2 miles I came to realize that I had unexpectedly discovered friendship. Sometimes, the greatest miracles are found in the unexpected moments.