Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Golden, CO - Lookout Mountain sits south of Boulder, at the northern outskirts of Golden, and is a short 30min drive from my door. The 4.5-mile climb is notorious among locals as a lunch hour ride when you are short on time, and want to get the most bang for your buck. In takes most cyclists less than 30 minutes to complete, with a 1,228 feet of elevation gain. The route begins with a gradual ascent, so those unfamiliar with the climb often start out much too fast and get smashed in the first five minutes of the race, with no juice left to finish the route.

The last time I did this race – back in 2009 – I had a respectable time of 30:06. I was hoping to better that this year. I have trained on Lookout a lot this season, so I felt good about it headed in to Friday morning. Also, I expect this to be my last race of the season, so I was anxious to finish it with a good result.

I arrived at the start line with a blood glucose of 175, which is perfect for a road race or criterium, but a bit higher than I like to be for a hill climb, and especially one so short. I chose, however, not to correct because I didn’t want to risk going too low during the race, and I still felt pretty good. I got in a 20 minute warm up, and was reay to go.

The race was somewhat predictable for a hill climb. We set a high, but not screaming tempo. One cyclist pulled about ten seconds ahead, obviously assuming that the grade would remain more or less the same. This situation persisted until the grade eased after the first set of switchbacks when a few riders, including one I was marking, attacked. I miscalculated, and didn’t really put in a lot of effort, wanting to save my energy for the seperntines up toward the top. After the second set of switchbacks, there were more riders coming off the back, but a small group was powering their way to the crest of the climb.

There are 200 meters of flat at 500 meters to go, with the final 200 kicking upward again. I tried to use that flat section to catch the group approaching the finish, but I was pretty boxed in. I tried to sprint in the last few meters, but just lacked the reserves to make anything great happen.

My finish time was 31:02, which was a bit disappointing. It was still a good time overall, but certainly slower than my last attempt at this race. My BG was 196 at the finish and trending up, so I corrected with a couple of units of insulin.
Before Henry and Midori, I never thought I could harbor such tenderness and such fierce passion for my children. I had no idea of the power of the emotions that would sweep through me once I became a parent. To say that I love my children, that they are my absolute center in this world, is to say nothing at all of the depth of devotion I feel when looking at their tiny faces.
Of course, that is one part of the story. With all that tenderness and adoration comes the late night exhaustion of caring for sick children, the rivalries that send two tots spinning into tantrums, the phases we’d rather forget – Henry’s prolific biting and Midori’s astute use of curse words. All the moments when I was too rushed, too stressed, too caught in the demands of being a working mother and a wife and a business partner to feel those moments of love, or to offer them in return. The frenzied mornings when Henry would spend an hour trying to tug on his coat and find the right shoes that didn’t scrunch his toes and ask me what kind of ears a person would need to have in order to hear God talking, while his sister perched in the doorway to show me her latest yoga posture and I, all the while, was frantically trying to get them in the car before the start of the school day.
The good news is that children are forgiving. They don’t demand perfection. In fact, they expect it less than we, as women and mothers, presuppose. Our children want our undivided attention in bits and pieces, and then to assert their own independence and autonomy the rest of the day. It is in the apex of that doorway – the one where children trust in the steadfast love of mothering enough to be their own persons – that we can find the balance of living.
Recently, The Atlantic published a piece entitled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  Author Anne-Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning at the State Department under Hillary Rodham Clinton from 2009 to 2011, writes from personal experience about the reasons women can’t juggle both the demands of a high-powered job and being fully present as parents — at least not with the way America’s economy and society are structured today.
Without delving too much in to the socio-economic argument or the cultural stereotypes that drive Slaughter’s piece, I can tell you that I have found a way to create a work-life balance that benefits me and, vicariously, my children. I’ve structured my time in a way that supports their needs and allows me to be a fully engaged parent while still caring for my own emotional and physical health, and providing me the avenues to pursue my passions and pay the bills. And yes, the dishes get done, and the children are bathed and the house is tidy and the lunches neatly packed and the bellies are full of good foods.
For me, the answer is simple: Structure. Not in a rigid sense, filled with charts and chore lists but, rather, in a fluid way that serves as testament to the fulcrums steadying our love for one another.  In our home, we believe that the most basic community is familial, and thus everyone has a role. I make the supper with the help of my children. Midori sets our table, and Henry clears the plates when we have finished eating. My husband does the dishes as I draw the tub and soap the children. The kids ready themselves each morning, and tidy their rooms while my husband prepares their breakfast and I head out on my morning run. When I return, I clean the kitchen and set out the bentos and backpacks, violins and coats. It’s an unspoken contract between us all – that we will help one another in a way that inspires peace and calm each of our days. It’s something of a dance, with everyone knowing their part, assuming their role without question or debate.
This conformity to habit has given my children a sense of predictability in a spontaneous world. At the same time, it has provided my husband and me the freedom to do the things we most love. We make time to exercise, to eat well, to come together at day’s end. Before we became parents, each of us had a life. Though we worked hard, we found ways to relax, to express ourselves, to relieve tension. So many women lament to me the guilt they experience when leaving their children to go to the gym, or to take a long walk. They forget that being a mother does not mean practicing parenthood every moment of every day. We do our children no favors when our lives revolve around only their needs.
My own mother worked in the home, which is to say that she was a “stay at home mother.” She spent every moment tending to her children, through bitterness and exhaustion and resentment. In the process, she became unhealthy, obese, sedentary. By the end of her life, which came much too soon, she was bedridden and unable to be fully present for her children and grandchildren. She missed recitals and graduations, births and deaths, celebrations and accolades because she had forfeited herself to the role of being a parent. I told my husband that I would gladly have traded 20 hours a week with my mother in exchange for 20 years of her living. She never knew she was making that trade. She knew only that she was a wholly devoted parent, and that she never felt the guilt of leaving us with a sitter.
I make time to exercise every single day. My husband also fits a daily workout in to his schedule.  In the process, we model to our kids the value of physical activity, and the need to take time to tend to the personal. When I return to my home after a weekend away, racing my bike, I come back to my children renewed and ready to tackle the exhausting work of parenting.
When we back away from our attempts to be paragons, we give our children an incredible gift.
The idea of “parental perfection” is predicated on the notion that children require constant attention, and that it is the job of the parent – and primarily the mother – to be always available. Children inhale our worry about doing everything the “right” way and, in the process, we deprive children a sense of much needed security. We inadvertently instruct them that they are helpless, incapable, and incompetent. By contrast, when we enlist them as allies, we teach them that they are valued members of a community, and they derive a real sense of esteem from contributing to the running of the home. Chores give kids a meaningful way to demonstrate competency and autonomy while simultaneously easing the burden on overworked parents. In modeling for them how we, their parents, can take time for ourselves to be healthy and distribute the work of running a home, we help our children understand that everyone has value.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I probably have the kind of personality that a diabetic needs: Type A. I'm good with systems, and I create organizational structure in every area of my life. I have a system for making dinner, getting the kids to bed, training on the bike. I have compartmentalized everything in my home, including the refrigerator which clearly bears a label on every shelf so my husband knows where to put the tofu, the bread, the nutritional yeast and the wheat germ. Likewise, I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing my emotions. I keep work at the office, challenges in the home confined to the domain of my relationships therein, schedule my son's autism therapies so they don't intrude on the sanctuary of our living room. In the context of D management, I count carbs with respectable acumen, I check my blood sugar ten, twelve times a day, and the last time I missed a workout was the day of my mother's funeral. So, naturally, I expect that brand of order from everything else in my life...only, it doesn't always work like that. Diabetes, in particular.

Most days, I keep my blood sugar in a nice, even, predictable range. Some days, my body rebels. That was Saturday.

I set out at 6:00 in the morning for an easy roll since I was slated to race Sunday morning. The thing is, I felt GREAT. I got about four miles in, and decided to make it a long ride to Boulder, then circle up the National Forest toward Estes Park. I had a few lows on the way - which is not typical - but plenty of carbs in the pocket of my jersey. Some 60 miles later, I pulled in to the driveway with my last Stinger Waffle in hand. Perfect.

My son ran up to me, bike helmet affixed to his head, yelling "Dad said no media! Let's go to the Farmer's Market." Banned from the computer, Henry had decided to go seek out a veg tamale and the last peaches of the season. My daughter agreed, slapped her helmet to her head, and grabbed her bike. My husband appeared in short order, and the four of us left.

In the back of my mind, I knew I should have eaten before heading out again...but then, I figured I could grab an apple at the market were it necessary. It was a short ride, the kids pedal slow... I didn't even have my meter.

You see where this is going. We decided to ride a bit longer, the kids were having fun, weather was nice...

And then I got caught in the net of a low. The kind of low that keeps you barely docked in the consciousness of the space you occupy at that moment. By the time I felt it, I was creeping too close to chaos for my own comfort.

A few glucose tablets and an emergency apple juice later, I made it home. I sat down, trying to get my bearings again, grabbed my meter...and then? 50. Still low. My four year old looked at the number and, without saying a word, trotted to the pantry and brought me a honey act both awesome and sad all at once.

An hour later, I checked my blood sugar to find myself sitting just under 200. The rest of the day was spent on the roller coaster. I was either high or low, and never managed to find an equilibrium. The whole afternoon was filled with the dust and dryness of fast acting glucose tablets, coating my teeth in a nasty sugary film, or the injecting of insulin to try and bring myself back down to something approaching normal.

It's days like Saturday when, control issues aside, I would gladly cede the responsibility of managing my disease to anyone willing to do it on my behalf. If only I could post an ad on Craigslist, seeking a D Manager or Substitute Pancreas. But it doesn't work like that. Every day, hour upon hour, it's my job. When I eat, sleep, cycle, go to a meeting or take the kids to the pool. There are no sick days or vacation days. So, I do my imperfect best - the best I have in each moment. Most of the time, it's good enough. Some days? It's not.

That's hard for me. It's difficult when my body fails to comply with the plan I have made for it, with the system I have so carefully constructed. It's frustrating and lonely and yes, it pisses me off. And then, at times, my husband will state the obvious: Why didn't you check before we left? Why didn't you stop and eat something before getting back on your bike?

The answer, of course, is that I didn't want to.

Mistakes, miscalculations, missteps happen. To be tasked with doing the body's job every moment of every day - sleeping and waking and working and living - is a heavy burden. Most days, I don't even think about it. I follow the plan, and my body agrees. Some days, the weight of the chore can be measured in glucose tablets and needles and units of Insulin glulisine.

I finally gave up, and spent the rest of Saturday doing this.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Here's the thing about living in Boulder : Everyone looks like they just finished running a marathon, and most of the people here probably did. Road bikes are everywhere, and I'm not talking your average, commuter-friendly recreational cyclist kind of roadie. I'm talking a bike worth more than the BMW to which it is affixed. Of course, you'll find plenty of bikes under people, too. There's even a bike share program, where the Boulder smugness is mandatory but the spandex? Totally optional.

It's kind of surreal, actually.

The point here is that there exists great pressure to be fit when living in Boulder, and greater pressure still when competing on the bike. You have to get up every morning, shove some vitamin A down your gullet, followed by  vitamin D, and maybe some vitamin E, until you've spelled the mnemonic sentence, "A MAN IS BAKED IN YOUR BAD CAB." You have to eat nothing but microgreens and swear off consuming anything white because it will certainly cause death in mere hours. You have to find the discipline and the drive and the inner strength and the sheer GUTS to go procure your human growth hormone, your EPO...

Wait, what???

The aforementioned publication had a nice story about David Anthony, a 41 year old CAT3 cyclist who got popped for doping. He's not from Boulder, by the way. The idea, however, is that his story is probably more common than anyone realizes, and the fact of the matter is that the list of cyclists banned from the sport is filled with names no one would ever know. More Anthonys than Schlecks. Still, it begs the obvious question: Why is a 41 year old CAT3 cyclist such a douche?

Anyway, as a diabetic I have to shoot up enough as it is, and I'm way too poor to shell out the kind of cash required to I'm stuck with the "exercise regimen." If that sounds stuffy and lame - like "meeting agenda" - well, that's because stuffy and lame is what I do best. Ask my trainer. His job is to listen to me complain about exercise, give me a little pep talk, and shoot me with tranquilizer darts if I try to crawl away on my hunger-weak limbs when I hear him say the word, "intervals." I loathe intervals. I know they are supposed to make me stronger and faster...but if I had a gold brick for every time I pleaded with my trainer to skip them, I could build a mighty fortress that would most certainly get ransacked by bandits since gold bricks are bound to attract that kind of criminal element, unless I had ninjas guarding it...ninjas with a fierce loyalty to me who also were willing to accept gold bricks as payment...

I digress.

I'm usually pretty good about avoiding excuses, making time to workout, whatever. But right now, it's a little tougher. Dennis just had major back surgery, and has been laid up for the last week, loopy on all kinds of fun drugs that make him say things he might later regret. The kids are home for two more weeks. Running a business takes up a shit-ton of time. It’s a little like being in school: there’s always something you ought to be doing and, at any given moment, I’m usually not doing most of those things because I’m wasting time or thinking about something else or procrastinating or training. And when I’m not training, I’m sucking up to my kids so they will still speak to me when they are teenagers and will make sure to find a nice, clean nursing facility for me in my old age.

It's making me a bit crazy, honestly, and I've been stress-eating my way through about 8000lbs of Cheezy Kale Chips (made without cheese, by the way) to get through it. Because that's how we roll here in Boulder.

Monday, August 6, 2012

So often, the cure to what ails us is right outside the window.

For most of human history, people were outside chasing things and turning dirt and planting seeds. They took in Vitamin D from the sun, and learned to adapt activity to the changing of the seasons. Now, though, we have almost entirely decoupled ourselves from nature. The price? A third of all American adults are obese. {The French, by contrast, don’t even have a word for "fat," Paul Rudnick mused in a mock-Parisian tone in The New Yorker a few months past. “If a woman is obese,” he wrote, “we simply call her American.”}

Children who play outside are less likely to get sick, to be stressed or become aggressive, and are more adaptable to life’s unpredictable turns. The architecture of the brain is designed to support the kind of experiential learning that happens when kids take to the outdoors. They are also less likely to be fat. There is a direct correlation between the time a child spends indoors, in front of a screen, and the weight of the child.

Unfortunately, we have inadvertently taught our children to fear the outdoors, where there's traffic and strangers. We tell them that they are safest inside (where, air quality can be 10 times worse, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). By 1990, according to one study, the radius of play around a house for a nine-year-old had shrunk to one-ninth of what it was 20 years earlier. This is despite the increase in community parks, greenways, bike trails and walking paths.
With no access to television and closely monitored use of media, my kids have little choice but to make their way out of the house. They gather at the playground across the street, alongside the other children in the neighborhood: Franz and Sophie, Hank and Luna, Oscar and Eloise. They swing from ropes and pedal their bikes and race their scooters. Midori and Sophie dig for worms while the boys jump fences to pick the apples from backyard trees. They make their way to the river, and Franz shows the younger boys how to catch snakes, shoving them in his mother's white pillowcases.
And when I roll up to the driveway after a long day training on the bike, I am always greeted by the same sight...

My daughter. Waiting for me by the gate. She will see me coming down the street, and will run inside to grab her water bottle and an assortment of items for her basket. Her bike laying neatly on the flagstone, her helmet firmly affixed to her head. "I'm ready, mama. I've been waiting for you. Can we go for a ride?" 

Young children have an innate desire to be outside, to engage in unstructured play and to explore their world...yet they are often denied those opportunities. A Hofstra University survey of 800 mothers, with children between the ages of 3 and 12, found that 70 percent of mothers reported playing outdoors every day when they were young, compared with only 31 percent of their children. Also, 56 percent of mothers reported that, when they were children, they remained outdoors for three hours at a time or longer, compared with only 22 percent of their children.

Much of that fault lies with parents, who not only fail to moderate the consumption of technology, but who often advocate it's use because it requires a lower level of parenting. It is, in short, easier to keep watch over a child plugged in to a video game than to chase after a child sprinting about the sidewalk. Parents, too, must be willing to engage with go for a walk down to the river and traipse over a ride a single track and build a snow fort...

And wouldn't it be better for us all if we did.

My happiest moments in life are spent chasing my children through fields and over rocks and hills...riding at their side on our bikes and swapping the stories of our day...hearing what is interesting, important, meaningful to them. Shaking out my jersey pockets at night to find acorns, rocks and leaves shoved in them by two sets of tiny hands...souvenirs of our days together. As much as my daughter waits at the gate for me, I look for her. I always hope that she is there, wanting to go for a slow ride around the block...and I have never declined her invitation.