The perfect storm

I’ve been a parent for 6 years now, so I should have known better than to think that the weekend of my half-marathon, which I had been planning for and training for for months, would go anything but smoothly. The moment you add children into anything that you do, everything is up in the air, a smorgasbord of possibilities, and the one that will land will never be the one you foolishly planned on.

Let’s, of course, back up to the point where the perfect storm of schedule nightmares really began.

My dear Sophie, my sauce-pot of a 6-year old, has never been able to breathe properly through her nose. Ever. If she has a cold, she can’t breathe. If she doesn’t have a cold, she can’t breathe. And when she talks, it sounds like she’s holding her nose. It’s awful. And perpetually boogery. Add in the super attractive snoring and gasping at night, and I figured I should ask our family doctor about it.

The first step was allergy testing, which made complete sense to me. I am allergic to everything with fur, feathers, pollen and dust (yay, me!), and I got my oodles of allergies from my mother’s handful of allergies, so I figured I had given Sophie an infinite number of itchy, sneezy, unhappy genetic gifts. Like the dutiful mother that I am, I took her to the same allergist that did my allergy testing waaaaaay back when I was about Sophie’s age, and discovered that Sophie had ZERO allergies. She was allergic to NOTHING. Which I immediately didn’t believe, because the kid is stuffed up, and itchy if we eat too much dairy, and breaks out into hives if a dog licks her.

The next step on the Sophie’s Nose Exploration was to consult an ENT. The lovely Dr. Zhang listened to Sophie talk for a few moments, asked me questions about Sophie’s sleep habits, her cold history, and agreed that she sounded stuffed up. She said that before she did anything she wanted to send us to a sleep study, since I had mentioned the super awesome jackhammer snoring and the gasping for air.

Have you ever done a sleep study? As an adult? It’s not fun. It’s this insane set-up with a bagillion wires connected to your head, your chest and your legs, and you’re forced to sleep in a bed that’s not yours with the hum of a variety of interesting machines, and then you’re woken up at 5:30 a.m. so you can be out of there by 6 a.m. It’s a couple steps short of torture.

You know what’s WORSE than having a sleep study done to you? Being the parent that gets to sleep beside the KID who’s getting a sleep study. First, you have to hype up this ‘super cool’ sleepover you’re going to. And then you have to get them to agree to sit still while they’re covered with a million wires (I can’t even IMAGINE Lillian having this done…Sophie is so pliable and amenable. Lillian would be like, F%&# YOU!).

My little Frankenstein

My little Frankenstein

And then you get to sleep in the same bed as them while they try to sleep with the crazy wires and noises and unfamiliar bed. And in Sophie’s case, she was sleeping flat, which she never does because of the boogers. She always sleeps propped up on a couple of pillows, but here we tried her lying on just one. Which of course caused her nose to try to kill her and stop her from breathing and she would thrash and cry and try to rip off the wires.

Finally the night end, I’ve not slept more than 1 hour in a row, and Sophie says to me, “That was FUN! Can we sleep here again?!” To which I say, “I hope we never have to do this again.”

At the beginning of April we got the results from our February sleep study, where the nice respirologist (the sleep doctor) explained that Sophie stopped breathing 70 times in a 7-hour period. Then he proceeded to tell me that the average kid stops breathing about once an hour…not 10 times an hour. He said she had moderate to severe sleep apnea, which means it wasn’t emergent, but it wasn’t awesome. It needed to be corrected.

Fast forward a few weeks to the Monday before the half-marathon weekend and Sophie and I were in the ENT’s office again, where she said she needed to stick a camera up Sophie’s nose to see if it was indeed her adenoids or if it was a neurological problem causing her to not breathe properly. Again I can’t imagine doing this with Lillian – first Sophie got a tissue shrinking solution shot up her nostrils, and then she got a camera, attached to a tube the size of really fat spaghetti, shoved up her nose. It was only for a few seconds and Sophie did squirm, but in the end Dr. Zhang got what she needed and declared that Sophie’s adenoids were completely blocking her nasal airway and needed to come out. Then, she was explaining the procedure, the risks, and the fact that with the sleep apnea she would be staying overnight for what is typically a day-sugery so they could monitor her oxygen levels. I found myself listening, nodding, and signing papers for pre-registration, which didn’t seem odd to me until we were at the receptionist’s desk getting an appointment for surgery THAT FRIDAY. As in FOUR days from then. As in TWO days before my half-marathon. As in NOT WEEKS AWAY.

The rest of that day is a blur – I signed Sophie out from school for an extended absence, I notified the parents of the little girl I walk to and from school that we wouldn’t be able to help out the following week, I told the mothers and Ben and anyone else I could think of. I rescheduled Lillian’s deaf school appointments and her speech therapy, and I tried to think of all the things I was probably forgetting, all with the pall of the half-marathon and the 21 km I was scheduled to complete hanging over me. Where I was supposed to be out of town. With an overnight stay. Two days after Sophie’s surgery. I didn’t think I could do both – be a parent at the bedside of my baby AND be a runner completing the longest distance I had ever run. It felt impossible.

Until I talked to Ben that night who said that he felt I should still run the race. That even though he and the kids wouldn’t be there to cheer me on in person, there was no reason why I shouldn’t still go. That unless there was an emergency or some kind of major complication in the surgery, I should go be a runner after I had been the bedside parent.

So I did it.

I hung out with my giant baby, with her long arms and legs, talking her gently through the pre-op process, helping her pick out a new stuffie from the hospital staff, explaining that she would be awake and not asleep for the IV process, telling her she was brave and awesome and that we loved her as she chased bubbles into the operating room, then waiting patiently while she was being put to sleep and cut open, then sitting and waiting patiently in her room while Ben sat with her in recovery (he was to be there when she woke up, I was to sleep overnight with her), then hanging out with a sleepy, sore, incredibly brave Sophie while she asked for a hot dog, her new Fire HD tablet we had got her for her birthday and popsicles, then helping her fall asleep knowing that she would have an accident because she was so worn out and the IV was pumping her full of fluids while she slept, helping her get comfortable and changed after said accident, then helping her eat her hospital breakfast, where the novelty of it outweighed the sad state of it, and finally bringing her home with her Nana to see her family and begin the healing process and week-long vacation from school.

My girl, brave and strong, sleeping after her surgery.

My girl, brave and strong, sleeping after her surgery.

And then, I needed to turn my eyes toward the 21 km prize, because Sophie was a champ and was recovering awesomely. There was nothing for me to stick around and do that Ben could not do on his own. So, I went ahead as planned, with my running buddies Bethany, Andrea, and Toni.

We slept overnight in Mississauga, the city that we were running in, which is about an hour away from our house. This way, we could get up and go to the start line for 7:30 without having to wake up at 3 something and get all of our babies ready and our husbands ready and our cargo ready. We could just wake up, drive 20 minutes, and be there.

The first leg of our race was to get on the shuttle from the parking lot to the starting line. It was cool, but not freezing, meaning it was a good 20 degrees warmer than most of our training runs.

Our fellow runners waiting for the bus

Our fellow runners waiting for the bus. The guy in the ball cap said that it was below zero last year…you know, the last time he ran it.

Andrea looking fresh and excited

Andrea, looking fresh and excited

A pre-running selfie, trying not to freak out too much or feel like the worst mother in the world for abandoning her babies too much.

A pre-running selfie, trying not to freak out too much or feel like the worst mother in the world for abandoning her babies too much.

Bethany doing Toni's hair since it wasn't cooperating. This would be time 1 of 2 that Bethany did her hair.

Bethany doing Toni’s hair since it wasn’t cooperating. This would be time 1 of 2 that Bethany did her hair that morning.

After we got shuttled (and Toni got her hair done again), we caught up with the thousands of other runners who were waiting to complete relays, the half-marathon with us, and the full-marathon like the crazies that they are.

Before the agony of 21 km

Before the agony of 21 km

It was intense standing in the crowd of people, listening to the psych-up music and the announcements from Hurricane Hazel and the organizers of the race. The energy was one of camaraderie (so many runners wished us luck on our first half-marathon, helped us take group pictures, and chatted with us) and endorphins. It was crazy-awesome and, besides the water stations, it was the missing element in our training runs. That energy definitely helped propel us through the race.

Andrea took this picture...if I tried to take an 'in the crowd' picture, it would look like a bunch of t-shirts, no sky and no start-line.

Andrea took this picture…if I tried to take an ‘in the crowd’ picture, it would look like a bunch of t-shirts, no sky and no start-line.

We got to run through some of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in Mississauga. Most streets were tree-lined and crazy giant mansion-lined. It was also spectator-lined, with people shouting encouragement, playing music (both live and speakered), and waving super funny signs, like “This is the worst parade EVER” and “I wouldn’t DRIVE 42.2 km on a Sunday!” I was also passed quite efficiently by an older man whose shirt said, “Running Grandpa 80 81 82 83 84 years young”, who was running the full marathon. I caught up with him in the last few kilometers of my half-marathon. He KICKED MY ASS.

The first 16 km were good – I was strong, it was the distance I had run twice before, and I felt fresh and energized. And then I realized that I still had a 5K to run. Another 40 minutes or so. That’s a hard pill to swallow after 16 km. I dug deep and used the awesome volunteers who cheered and the super nice spectators who were yelling support to get me through the next couple of kilometers. Around the 19 km mark, I really started to feel tired. My feet hurt. My legs were lead. I wanted to lie down and sleep. But I was still so far (SO CLOSE) away. There were a lot of walk breaks in those last kilometers, but as I was passed by an elite marathoner with his bicycle entourage, he said, “Good job” as he essentially sprinted past me. I managed to say it back before he disappeared from earshot and it gave me the oomph to get to the end.

No one from my immediate family was there to cheer me on – Ben and the babies were home with Sophie, waiting for me to get back. I was trying not to think about it as I got near the finish line. And then I didn’t have to think about it any more because Toni was there, SCREAMING her head off for me, and my name was announced as I crossed the finish line with the Boston Marathon qualifiers, and then I saw Bethany and then Andrea, and I was almost weeping – with relief and gratitude and empowerment. Finishing that race was SO hard. The week before it was SO hard. The training leading up to it was COLD and hard. And going from someone who never exercised, who quit gym class in grade 10 because it was no longer ‘required,’ to someone who could run 21 km was AWESOME. I would do it again, now that my feet have stopped throbbing and my legs are almost recovered, and I haven’t run in a week. To feel that again? It would be worth it.

All of us medaled at the end.

All of us medaled at the end.

I might even do the full marathon next time. All 42 km of it. I just have to convince my running buddies they’re as crazy as me…

~ Julia

The long run

Today is the Boston Marathon. It is the oldest marathon and is watched in person by 500,000, run by 30,000, and followed by countless runners, runner-wannabes, and armchair warriors. It’s also the place where horror occurred, killing three people and injuring 264 in 2013.

It is an elite event that you have to qualify for (you can’t just register online and make magic happen). It is on many a-runner’s bucket list. And as my Twitter feed and Facebook timeline fill up with fellow bloggers who are making the trek to actually RUN IN THE RACE, I can’t help but feel nervous for them. A lot nervous for them. My stomach hurts.

And this year, instead of being the runner who can’t even fathom the kind of preparation or stress or effort it requires to train for a marathon, let alone BOSTON, I have a solid understanding of what it takes because I’m DOING IT.

No, not Boston (wouldn’t that be nuts?!). And no, not a marathon (did you know it’s 26.2 miles? That’s 42 kilometers, people!!). But a half-marathon. A full 13.1 miles. A full 21 kilometers. I am going to run one. In two weeks.

Isn’t that nuts?

Yes, yes it is.

It’s an idea that I’ve toyed with in the past. Waaaaaaay back in 2010. I was a new mom to Sophie, I was working, and I remembered, in my foggy-no-sleep-mom-brain that I had loved running once upon a time ago. So I challenged Ben (because I’m crazy that way) to a marathon! Let’s run a marathon TOGETHER. We made up a training schedule and we got excited. Sitting in our house. And then we got worried because the number of weeks from now until the marathon we picked weren’t so many…and the number of times we had run in the past weeks were none. And those two things together made us re-evaluate. We would do a half-marathon together! Shorter training time, shorter distance (by HALF), totally doable. It was done. We were running a half-marathon! And we were still sitting in our house!

We went on some training runs separately (remember that baby that we had?). We skipped some training runs together (remember that baby that we had?). And then I got pregnant. And I had spotting. And I was scared. So I stopped running.

Ben kept going though, and he finished the half-marathon as planned, as Sophie, Ben’s mom Dianne and I ran our own marathon, trying to find Ben on the course and driving around to cheer him on.

The awesome, incredible, finisher. Time? 2:45.

The awesome, incredible finisher. Time? 2:45.

Ben is now officially a footie man and only runs medicinally (when and only when he has to). And I am officially a runner, at heart AND practice (it’s not all talk anymore!). And I’ve decided to run a half-marathon. This time Ben will be the one cheering me on while I run my butt off.

Thankfully, I am not alone in this crazy scheme. I’ve managed to brainwash convince two other school moms, Bethany and Andrea, and Toni to do it with me. And thank goodness for that, because you actually have to TRAIN for a run like this. You can’t just ‘do it’, unless you’re Barney Stinson, but even then karma will balance everything out.

You need to have a plan that lasts for weeks. The one we picked was a 9-week map of how to get to the half-marathon without breaking our legs and dying of exhaustion. Which means, of course, that we started running in January to get ready to start really training in March. And if you haven’t done the math yet, that means runs in -20 degrees C weather…and running in the snow…and running over ice…and jumping snowbanks and skating down hills and landing in slush puddles, all to achieve the illusive stamina to get us to the finish line.

You need to eat right, and when you’re a parent, that sometimes feels like you’re asking to lasso the moon while standing on your head and trying to get your insane child to EAT BREAKFAST ALREADY. It’s near impossible some days. But if you have awesome training partners, there are more Pinterest-hunters, more bakers, more people willing to go the distance to find and make the perfect energy ball to take with you on a run or the perfect post-run smoothie recipe, or the best chocolate dessert to celebrate.

You need to stay motivated and there’s nothing like a frigid wake-up call at 4:45 a.m. so you can go run in the near extreme-cold-weather-alert temperatures, all bundled up and wondering what the hell is wrong with you. Or the long runs at night because you’ve run out of time in the morning to complete them and you find yourself putting your babies to bed and then getting suited up to go run for a couple of hours. For fun. Buddies make these moments easier to swallow and harder to cancel.

Seriously.

Seriously.

You need to do things you’d never in your wildest dreams even entertain in your mind as a possibility. And I’m not just talking about running for an unnaturally long time. I’m talking about other things. Like peeing behind a tree (Toni) or in a field (Andrea) or by a swamp (Bethany). Or pooping near a field (me…yep, Andrea, I am confessing – I pooped before our speed intervals last week…because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the run OR I would have had a huge accident…so, I did it. I pooped. And I had enough tissue in my pocket to wipe well. And I went back and picked it up and threw it away after we got home from the run. And GOOD GOD who would have thought we’d be HERE?!). Because when you’re out running, you have choices. But they’re not easy choices, like walk a few steps and go pee, then come back. Or skip home to poop and then do speed work. They’re gross choices, like I’m a billion kilometers from home, so either it happens now, or I make a mess.

True story.

True story.

And when you get to the end of your training, like we have, you have to complete these insanely long runs that make you question your sanity the entire way. Like this past weekend – we had to do our longest run ever (as in, ever completed by any of us EVER, not just in training), and the longest run we will finish before the BIG ONE, the half-marathon. Saturday morning, Bethany, Andrea and I (Toni was sick with a crappy chest cold) tackled a 17 km run that took us out of our city, through a neighbouring village, and back again in around 2 hours and 42 minutes.

Sunrise near the top of the second giant hill of our run.

Sunrise near the top of the second giant hill of our run.

It was crazy.

It's hard to feel defeated when you're running past scenes like this...and they're REAL.

It’s hard to feel defeated when you’re running past scenes like this…and they’re REAL.

It was awesome.

This is what my long runs look like...Bethany waaaaaay up ahead, Andrea waaaay up ahead, and me waaaaaaaaay behind. I'm slow, but steady. I'll get there, but I'm not winning any land-speed records.

This is what my long runs look like…Bethany waaaaaay up ahead, Andrea waaaay up ahead, and me waaaaaaaaay behind. I’m slow, but steady. I’ll get there, but I’m not winning any land-speed records.

And finishing was all the sweeter because we got to share it and finish it together.

These beautiful ladies totally waited at the top of the last hill so that we could all finish together. They're running soul mates and I'm so glad I found them.

These beautiful ladies totally waited at the top of the last hill so that we could all finish together. They’re running soul mates and I’m so glad I found them.

I’m so nervous for the runners in Boston. I hope they run the race of their lives, whatever that means for them (winning or finishing or achieving a PR).

And I’m so scared I won’t be able to complete the race in two weeks (I’m a professional worrier, remember?). But I do know this one thing: I’ll have my running buddies with me and we’ll do it together.

~ Julia

Sisterhood Spotlight: The Miniaturist

I am a bit of a snobby reader.

I personally blame my education – I have a degree in English, which was a learning path littered with literature and high-brow criticism, and hours upon hours upon hours of reading and dissecting said reading. In the end? I know what I like. I know what I don’t like. And it all comes crashing into the fact that I have very little time to actually read. When I choose a book I am really picky – I need it to be well-written, I need it to grab me, I need it to not be too graphic (or my very impressionable brain will run away with all the gory details), and I need it to be fairly straightforward (Fantasy? Sci-fi? If it’s based in a world like ours, I have a shot…build a completely new world with an entirely new vocabulary to name every piece of it?? Either give me a glossary or you’ll have to wait until I have all my faculties again…which will probably be never).

That’s why I LOVED The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, a debut novelist who wowed me with her prowess, imagination, and finely spun tale.

The story is set in 1686 Amsterdam, where 18-year old Nella is newly married to her wealthy merchant husband. But when she arrives to her new life, where she expects to be the mistress of her domain, she is met with blow after blow, surprise after surprise, and in the midst of it all, a cabinet-sized replica of her new home.

This book pulled me in from the beginning, with writing that was strong, yet clear. Although it is set in the late 1600s, and in a different country, Jessie Burton does a superb job of bringing you right in the middle of the culture and world, without making you feel like you’re playing catch-up the whole time. And even though there is a glossary in the back (THANK YOU), I didn’t have to use it once while reading.

I loved the history, the opulence, the hardship, the class and race clashes, the clandestine love, the unrequited love, and the extraordinary, yet hidden, strength of the main character, Nella.

The writing was gorgeous and the story was thrilling. It was a book that was easy to read, made me never want to put it down, made me want it to end so I could figure out where we were going, yet made me wish it never ended so I didn’t have to leave the world. The last quarter of the book was so tense and emotionally taunt that when I finished reading, I had a lump in my chest that I had carried for days.

I fully recommend this book…and now I need to go write more of my own novel, because Jessie Burton? You’ve inspired me. Thank you.

~ Julia