Saturday, October 30, 2010

I'm Starting With the (Wo)man in the Mirror

Sometime between the ninth Iron Man passing by and the appearance of my son, dressed as Michael Jackson but more closely resembling Weird Al dressed as Michael Jackson, I whipped my left arm out of my jacket, flexed, and said to the woman sitting next to me, "Does this look bulky to you?"

Women and their "I don't want to get too bulky."

I lift the heaviest weight I can for most exercises and am not bulky, despite what my children say. Genetics play a part in how any of us look, of course, as does the amount of fat masking the muscle. But if the fat is there, it generally will look better with a little muscle providing what is often called tone. And if the muscle is there, and you pay attention to nutrition, you'll burn the fat more easily, and fight off the effects of aging and osteoporosis and all sorts of things women worry about.

Writers are told to pare down their pitches to an "elevator speech," a brief explanation able to be eeked out between floors. This is my Elementary School Halloween Parade speech on women and weights. The science behind male and female muscle fibers is obviously more complicated than my summary here, and other knowledgeable people have addressed the bulkiness issue more thoroughly.

But after I'd finished bullying the woman into looking at my arm, I had to say something. She'd just finished telling me she exercises four times a week, but during the strength training portion of her workouts she "doesn't feel like anything is happening."

That's putting a lot of work into little results. I'm hoping that at the very least, women like my friend here are reaping the other social and psychological benefits of exercising with others. And that she'll consider making a change.

"I never see you do cardio," a women said to me the other day at the gym. "How do you stay skinny?"

I pointed to the bench where I had just been doing dumbbell presses with 45 pounds in each hand. "Did you see me over there?" I asked her, huffing and puffing. "For me, eight reps was like running a mile."

I'll often follow up talk like this with some complaints about my knees, and protestations that I jump rope at home and live on the rowing machine. I'll also point out that I lost 50 pounds by almost exclusively lifting weights.

I like efficiency. I like results. Michael Jackson put it best: Don't stop 'til you get enough.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Breathing: It's Overrated

Monday night, following heavy sets with both barbell and dumbbells on the flat bench, I had the distinct sensation that my ribs were poking through my heart, and that my lungs, in solidarity, had ceased all major operations. Greg says this is my punishment for having another man spot me on the dumbbell press, but my feeling is he shouldn't be spiteful when I'm here knocking on death's door.

Reactions have been mixed. Regular folk are alarmed upon hearing phrases such as "I can't breathe," whereas powerlifters are like, "Go stretch. You'll be fine." I must admit that stretching has done nada; only time is taking away the feeling that the 45-pound dumbbell is sitting on my chest. I figure by next Saturday's meet, I'll either be really strong from carrying this imaginary weight around, or I'll pass out from the lack of breathing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Puppies and Kitties

Of the four bench press competitions I've been involved in, two have been held at my local Y, and the others at farther away locations.

For those far away I've had to mail in my registrations. When I do, I like to use mailing labels with puppies

and also kitties.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Good Grief

Recently I began the process of writing a 504 plan for Theo's diabetes care at school.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides protection against discrimination for children with disabilities, including those with diabetes. I'm writing a comprehensive plan of care to be followed by school staff in order to keep the disease managed with as little disruption to Theo's day as possible.

My preparations include reading a brochure called "Your School and Your Rights," written by the American Diabetes Association, where I found these words:

To qualify for protection under Section 504, a child must have a physical and mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities... In making this determination, a person with diabetes is viewed as he or she would be without the help of mitigating measures such as insulin.

Without the help of mitigating measures such as insulin.
It hit me: Theo can do anything, go anywhere, be anybody, but...he can't do it without carrying medication. Something will always hold him back.

The tears came again. I've told you about the tears. I called it grief, this working through the early stages of a diagnosis for my youngest son. When I use this term, people nod their heads in agreement. Yes, you're grieving the loss of your hopes and dreams. Yes, you're in early mourning for the forecast of future complications. Yes, they nod.

But I'm not entirely convinced of this.

Certainly, these tears are for Theo. I grieve for Theo. And for Greg and me, who have mountains of paperwork and prescriptions to manage. And Simon, who is asked to curb his eating because his brother can't have seconds.

But these things are not always on my mind. So the tears...the tears are also for something more, I've come to see.

They're grateful tears for love in a time of loss.

When I tell people about moments like reading the ADA brochure, they weep with me. They ask me to tell them what they can do. Sure, some people don't know what to say. Some shrug it off like it's no big deal, and that can be refreshing at times, and annoying at others. Then there's the kid in Theo's class who announced, "I know why they call it DIE-abetes."

But most people are kind. They try to reach out, best they can. And it's this care, this nurture from friends, doctors, social workers and strangers, that can bring on the tears. And a weeping for something more: for what should be, and should always be, mitigating factors aside. In one of my first blog posts here, I wrote that I wish everybody, always, would show others such care.

This past weekend, my family and I were at a friend's 40th birthday party. People of all ages wandered around talking and eating until a loud crash brought all to the main floor. A heavy three-paneled folding wooden door had fallen flat. It had fallen just inches from a toddling baby.

We're always somewhere between love and loss. We must recognize this and speak and weep accordingly.

a poetic way to say all this

Friday, October 22, 2010


Big guy at the gym is taking four 45-pound plates off the bar at the incline chest press.

"For all I know you didn't lift that," I say, teasingly. "You put them on there to look like you did, just to impress us."

"Yeah, and I sprayed myself with water to look like I'm sweating."

I put the key in the 190-pound slot for close-grip pull-downs. "Running out of weight here," I yell.

"Sometimes we're trying to impress ourselves, right?" Big Guy says. "If you're in here, you're not satisfied. You keep topping your last weight. You keep going, because it's never enough."

"And you hope that discipline translates over to real life," I say.

"I just turned 40," he says, "It all starts quitting on you when you turn 40. You gotta push yourself, but you gotta accept what you're given, too."

"40's in a few weeks for me," I say. "I've realized that this is it--this is all I've got, and it's about half over."

"Accept it," he says, "and keep pushing."

I nod and head back over to my pulldowns. I try 200 for eight reps, which is easy. I could move up 10, 20 pounds, but there's nowhere to go after 200, so I've done all I can do.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


About sports, friends, school and life, Simon is ambivalent.

But ask him about LEGOs.

Ask any ten-year-old boy about LEGOs. Have you ever asked a ten-year-old boy about LEGOs? Watch as unbridled prepubescent devotion is channeled into small, colorful bits of plastic. No need to ask how or why; the heart goes where it will. To there: to LEGOs.

Not long ago we were in a store browsing the LEGO section. A boy approaches. He's short, on the pudgy side, with auburn hair. He's standing at the end of the aisle listening as we wonder aloud if we should buy a particular police wagon set.

He's quivering. And then he speaks:


The words come in small bursts. It's as if his head is a balloon and someone's letting out the air every few seconds.

"Oh yeah?" I ask. "How come?"

"It's," he says, breathless. "The mini-figure...he fits in there, can close the door,'s"

I carried the boy off to a lab and asked that they bottle him. Actually, I paid for the LEGO set, took it and my kids home, and watched as Simon assembled the pieces only to announce, ""

Passion. Last night, my friend Jill and I watched the film Eat Pray Love, based on Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling book. Gilbert had trekked the world because she had lost her zeal and passion.

"I used to have an appetite for life, but now it is gone," she says. "I want to go someplace where I can marvel at something."

This weekend, our local ToysRUs will hold its annual LEGO Bricktober event. Last year at this time, I walked the kids into the store towards large boxes filled with LEGOs, where they and a handful of other ten-year-old boys built vehicles to be raced down a nearby makeshift ramp.

When parents urged kids to finish up, the children meekly held out their creations, this borrowed bliss, back to the employees.

"Keep 'em--they're yours," said a blue-shirted ToysRUs man.

The group fell silent. Eyes grew wide, and their thought processes, I imagine, went something like this:

--If I can keep this
--I can keep anything I make
--Therefore I should make something bigger.

Suddenly, eight-wheeled cars began appearing on the racetrack. Double-decker buses. As high as you could make a car and still call it a car, these boys did it.

Right here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, far from Bali and Naples and the other scenic locations Gilbert visited, passion was born, and I marveled at the sight.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fashion Sense and Sensibility

In my house, stuff isn't often new. It's borrowed (from the library), used (from a thrift store), or donated (from a friend). The day we gave Theo a white sheet of paper to draw on, he flipped it over and exclaimed, "There's no writing on the other side!"

When friends with good fashion sense gave us some clothes for the boys, we were grateful. Simon especially liked this shirt

...and on Sunday, wore it to church. He's a handsome boy, and he looked quite good in the shirt, what with all the hand-stitched, asymmetrically hip designs.

But sometime during the chorus of "Take Me As I Am," I looked over at his right sleeve and saw this:

Now I'm all for celebrating the body, and this mermaid's v-taper certainly is cause for a party. But seeing as the pastor had just concluded a sermon on being stewards of the inner life, I rolled up my son's sleeve and got to work on just that.


D-Mom Blog

The D-Mom blog is a great resource for parents of children with type 1 diabetes, and I'm happy to have been added to their blogroll. Now I'm thinking I need an avatar, too. Who out there can draw?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eight Seconds

Simon is standing. I'm behind him cutting the back of his hair. He's talking. We're laughing. "Mom?" he asks, and leans forward. Mmm, I say, holding my scissors back. The lean becomes a fall. His face hits the door frame. His head rebounds off the sink. His body crumples to the floor, eyes are open, staring upward. I'm screaming. He won't talk. I won't leave him. I have to help him. I don't know what to do; I don't know what to do.

Then: He talks. He's fine. Why is Mom asking me my name? It's not a second son with diabetes; he just fainted. After his bike ride. That's all. Just an eight-second reminder to love the ones you're with.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Man On Wire

On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit strung 200 kilos of cable between the tops of New York's Twin Towers and walked, knelt, lain, and danced across it. He and his cohorts spent the previous night juggling the logistics of this criminal act of poetry in the sky, which lasted 45 minutes to an hour, six or eight crossings between.

Friends on the ground alerted crowds to the dancing speck in the sky. In a time before cell phones, without the means to broadcast the news to anyone not in the immediate vicinity, people looked up. A photograph shows faces angled upward, arms hanging slack, lips parting.

Police gathered on the tower roofs; Petit laughed and ran to the middle of the wire. Ran: how would they follow? When he eventually gave in, the elegant act was traded for the violence of arrest, of handcuffs and the danger of a steep stairwell. Some friends would deny they knew him, pretending instead to be journalists. The police report would accuse him of "intent to cause public inconvenience...which served no legitimate purpose."

Why did he do it? "Why? There is no why," he said, directly following his arrest. Later he'd say the towers beckoned him, that "when I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk."

Don't ask him if he is a daredevil, he told reporters. He'd rather describe his "elation at reaching the clouds and surprising the sky." Not a death wish--a "life wish."

Petit's friend, actress Debra Winger, has said that would Petit host a reality show or wear a swoosh on his shirt, he'd fund his dream walk across the Grand Canyon. But selling out doesn't suit this wirewalker, magician, juggler, 18th century post and beam carpenter, bullfighter, lockpicker and author of a book on pickpocketing (in the New York precinct, he escaped his handcuffs, swiped a policeman's hat, balanced it on his nose, and recuffed himself before the laughs subsided).

In 2007 Petit told Psychology Today that poetry and rebellion are words that help comprise his self-portrait. Focus, tenacity, and passion, too. "When I talk about my life, I use the word 'fighting' very often. There is my intention to create and the world is against it."

Life is an adventure--or, if not, a life of fighting for adventure, safety net foregone.

the book.
the movie.

Saturday, October 2, 2010