Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Want To Be A Princess

In the final paragraph of The New Yorker profile of Rita Jenrette, a Texan who married a prince and became Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, writer Ariel Levy ends with the idea that could the Principessa visit her younger self, much suffering would be spared. She'd tell her, "You're going to be a princess."

Royalty can't travel back in time, however, and all any of us can do is look back. The long view of where life went when we were busy living it--this can be reassuring. Sometimes it's not.

Three years ago, when I volunteered for the Obama campaign, which met up in a boxing gym, you couldn't have told me that I'd be up in that ring sparring. As I waited for instructions, I looked around and thought, Wow! A boxing gym. Pretty cool. Then I took off with my assigned partner and hung election day reminders on the broken down doors of the nearby neighborhood.

Three years ago, while I tried to survive an aerobic kickboxing class, I would have laughed if you'd told me I'd be teaching something similar. And that laugh would have taken the oxygen I needed to keep up with a 70-year-old next to me.

These are minor achievements, yet they're markers I can track from very specific moments in time. They teach me that if I keep moving forward, keep listening and growing, life might just give me a royal surprise.

Has life handed you some welcome surprises?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Larry, George, and Janet

Next month I need to take an exam for work. It's a three-part test: multiple choice questions on exercise and physiological processes; essays on case studies; training my boss who will pretend to be one of the case studies.

We were given a preview of the case studies. We're to pick two, but three of them appealed to me.

George, who is 40, wants to lose some pounds before a trip next spring. He doesn't like to exercise. Janet is a mom in her 30s and an aerobic queen. She wants to tone the back of her arms, etc. Larry, in his 20s, wants to reduce his body fat from 18% to 14%. He knows his way around the weight room, but never stays consistent in his routine.

That night I woke up thinking of Larry. His BMI, that is--and I worried for him. He's healthy! Why is he obsessing over his body fat percentage? Larry was upsetting me. I knew I'd have to choose him.

And George. He'd be a nice challenge. I like that he used to play on a basketball rec league--I'd sneak in some basketball moves to help him find enjoyment in exercise. Maybe after a few weeks with me, he could even get off those beta blockers!

But Janet, well, she lost my empathy. At first I wanted to meet with her to set her straight on this spot-reducing business--not possible--but then she just annoyed me. I pictured her in her matching exercise clothes and sporty cap and just knew we wouldn't get along.

Larry, George and Janet exist only on paper. But I swear I met up with Larry yesterday in the weight room. He was hopping from one thing to the next with no real purpose, and eventually, on the bench press, got in trouble. I rescued him from under his bar and tried to make light of it, knowing that no guy really wants a girl saving him from heavy weight. I was kind, because I cared.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It Was A Good Day

My boxing gym won five trophies last night at a local club show. Five wins, five completely different styles: a heavyweight who moved well; a hundred-pounder who danced more than he punched; a young man nobody believed had never fought before; a deaf state champion against a man with arms longer than should be allowable; and a guy who stood looking with me at the bout list, plotting when and how he could get to Burger King and back in time for his turn. I'm pretty sure he was serious.

Way to go, MLK!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Oh No

The uniform reaction of all mothers looking in on the final wrestling practice was this: "Ewww."

The boys, every last one of them, had their shirts off. They played a kind of flag football with their tops hanging from their bottoms, and it would be the last wrestling activity my son, Simon, would try.

Simon is tall, and lining him up according to height for a sparring showdown showed no deference to his lack of athleticism. He stood dangerously close in line to Jack, a 12-year-old who tips the scale past 180; the boy he did end up wrestling the last day, a kid about his height but with something of a gut, proved too heavy. Simon gave him a good fight but a short one, and that was that. He comes by his fear of the sport honestly.

Though his group would go on to compete in duals, we didn't push him to do so, as the compromise to try this new sport was taxing enough.

On all of us. Mainly me.

"I'll follow your exercise plan, Mom," he told me. He figures I'll let him out of a sport or class if he promises to obey a routine I write up. But his father and I know better. This "routine" will require Mom to stand guard for an hour over Simon's bad posture and form, with the result that no one's happy.

"You'd be crying to go back to wrestling," I said. Five minutes on the rowing machine last week proved this to be true--the crying part, at least.

So here we are again, back to square one, where Mom stands wondering how to help her kid through adolescence. Lord knows I try. I model everything possible--regular exercise, reading, charitable works, good hygiene.

Yet the deodorant stands at full height, and no one wants to sweat. Only the reading has stuck.

The other week, I took my kids to the boxing gym on sparring night thinking they'd enjoy being close to the action. (I'm not convinced this is the sport for them, by the way; I'd rather be the one taking the punches.)

They brought their books.

They're ringside, literally within spitting distance, sweat flying their way, boxers on the ropes just a foot from their faces, and they, the children I bore, opened their books.

From ewww to ohhhh. Oh, what to do?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Rules of Sustenance

Head over to The Other Journal, of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, to read my essay The Rules of Sustenance. It's a story from my time on staff at a homeless shelter, and one you haven't read here on my blog. Enjoy it, leave lots of comments, and browse the rest of their thoughtful site.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier was felled by a short bout with liver cancer.

Not by the violence of the heavyweight rounds, the kidney punches, or left hooks to the head. Cancer is what took him down.

You never know what's gonna get you. In the end, the obvious danger may not be the worst.

I've pasted a letter above my desk. It begins, "Your follow-up mammography examination showed an area that we believe is probably benign (not cancer)."


You never know what's gonna get you. So what do we do?

Step into the ring. Keep fighting.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Getting Rid Of The Children's Pets, One Lonely Creature At A Time (The Video)

Theo, age 8, spent the summer collecting frogs and tadpoles from a nearby creek. With the help of his friend Ethan, who is 9 and can answer any and all questions on amphibians, Theo learned to distinguish leopard frogs from tree frogs, and studied their development daily on our back deck.

Theo was so enamored with the whole operation that he wanted to purchase some more exotic strains. We visited a Pets Mart and hovered near a tank until a saleswoman came by.

The right saleswoman, I should say; with disheveled hair and wire-frame glasses favoring one ear, this woman was all about the frogs. She hunched forward as if to let out a call that might travel the road back to our creek.

My main concern was the amount of upkeep these $30 pets would require. "What do these frogs need, because our frogs from the creek...," I started to say, and immediately realized I had violated a sacred rule: removing the animal from its natural habitat.

I tried to play it off. So did she--at first.

"Well, first you'd need a tank, which I assume you already have," she said. I nodded.

"Then you'll need a water filtration system. I'm sure you already have one, because I'm sure you realize that frogs can't live in tap water."

Here I stuttered. And lied just a little. "Uh, creek water, is what we've been using," I said, angling for her good graces. Kill two birds with one big stone: get the water right (though we had added some from the tap) and make the new habitat fairly close to the original one from which we yanked these poor creatures, causing them untold mental anguish.

Creek water appeased her, but only slightly.

"And you'll need to feed them. I'm sure you're buying frog food already."

"Mosquitoes!" Theo chimed in. At this point I believe the two of them had a bit of a tiff on the dietary requirements of respective breeds. I diverted the conversation with a quick thank you and a "Oh, look at the birds!"

We made no purchase that day, yet somehow, the tadpoles turned to froglets without a filtration system, and the frogs survived without vitamin-packed food pellets. And yet, just as with the bunny, after a while there were creatures in our care getting ignored and making me feel guilty.

I mean, they're just sitting there all day. What kind of life is that? I'd wonder from my computer chair.

So once again, I pulled out the ol' "They'll have a better life somewhere else" line, and once again I meant it. The weather was turning, and I didn't want frozen frogs on my deck; already I had dried frogs imprinted, like fossils, on the wood, from when Theo lined up some that didn't exactly take to tap water.

We released them to the creek to do whatever it is that frogs do to stay warm (note to self: ask Ethan).

Theo seemed pleased that the frogs hung out on nearby rocks as he carried out this process, feeling a sense of satisfaction of having raised them and let them go for nature to do as she will.

Note to fish and sea monkeys: You're next.

Be sure to read the heartless story of giving away my son's bunny and also how I killed off all the ants on the farm.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


While my son stood next to me, a wad of bloody tissue up one nostril, the wrestling coach said, "There's something about facing a kid your size and, even if you lose or get hurt, knowing you can take it."

Simon, whose nose was now 1.5 times its normal width, wasn't feeling the love. But I understood.

I have come to understand that my week doesn't begin until I've been boxing. I need to wrestle--box--my demons before I feel I've earned my self-esteem for the week. Or maybe I need to be knocked out of my head, both literally and metaphorically, in order to relax and enjoy life. Either way, it works for me.

As soon as I can get my knee healed up, I'll be sparring again, because I miss that day-after, on-top-of-the-world sensation. I'm thinking of bringing Simon along so he can see what his mom is made of. All my push toward sports hasn't added up to much, so, as they say in writing, "Show, don't tell."