children

Wake-up Call

My son knows how to swim.

Three weeks after moving to Texas, where we had a pool in our backyard, my son Adam — then 4 — learned to swim. That was three years ago. Throughout that first summer, my husband and I would often remark about how well Adam could swim. He seemed to be a “natural.” We even entertained the idea of signing him up for a swim team so he could develop competitive skills. Our family waterbug, he was always in the water.

We now live in my hometown of Lake George, New York. Having grown up on this lake, I feel it’s a part of me. Not only have I been swimming in this lake since birth, but I’ve boated, sailed, jet-skied, water-skied, canoed, kayaked, paddle-boarded…you name it. This lake is so important to me that my husband and I joke that if he (having grown up by the ocean) didn’t like Lake George, it would’ve been a deal-breaker. Yes, the word “comfortable” doesn’t quite cut it when describing Lake George. “Home” comes closer.

But here I sit at 3am, unable to sleep for what happened ten hours ago in that lake. Out the window, I can see its movement as the moonlight washes over it, ticking its way to the mountains. This lake has always brought me peace.

We are having a busy, fun-filled summer. One that brings me back to my childhood. Last week, we had the privilege of a beach vacation. My boys did wonderfully. My oldest thrived on his boogie board while my youngest understood his limits near the surf. Adam discovered his love for bobbing in the ocean waves. The bigger the wave, the bigger his smile. This week, we’ve been to 2 pool parties. Adam discovered his love for cannon-balling off the diving board. Watching him play in the water has brought me as much joy as he’s been having, I’m sure of it.

Yesterday, we arrived at Elizabeth Island on Lake George, where my parents have a cabin. Almost immediately, the boys wanted to swim. On with our suits and out to the dock. My youngest does not yet swim, so I made sure he wore his puddle-jumper and safely set him in the shallow part. My oldest wasted no time in swimming to the infamous rock — a generous platform about fifty yards from the dock. Adam went in too. I stood by watching, waiting to feel hot enough to take the plunge.

“Come on, Adam, let’s swim to the rock!” my oldest called.

Adam hesitated.

Here’s where my teacher instinct kicked in. “You can do it, Adam!” I cheered. And I know he could. He can. He had done it last year (maybe with a little help?). He’s been in the water almost every day this summer. He can do it. He just needed a little encouragement.

My husband and I have always been sensitive to our middle child, making sure he doesn’t feel overshadowed by his ambitious big brother. We always try to give him the encouragement he needs. In this case, as in many others over the years, I assumed this was what he needed.

But he still hesitated.

“I’ll go with you.” Was my solution.

Adam came onto the dock with me. We would jump in together (his favorite part) and swim *together* out to the rock. I felt confident in our plan.

My youngest began crying as soon as I began to swim. (He didn’t want me to swim away from him.) In typical 3 y/o-fashion, he wailed loud and long, taking up valuable space in my eardrums. Ashamed to admit, I ignored his crying, knowing he was safe. And we had a plan — Adam and me — and by golly, I was determined to finish it.

I could just picture us on standing on the rock together, fists to the sky, cheering for ourselves. This would be good for him. I was sure of it.

But then, halfway to the rock, I looked behind me. Adam had turned back.

No.

No, don’t do that.

I hadn’t found the rock yet, but that’s not what made my heart pound.

Adam had gotten nervous and turned around.

No, don’t do that. The trip is that much longer when you turn around like that. Could he handle it? Is it now too far for him?

My youngest continued to cry, so loudly I could not hear Adam whimpering. I could not hear Adam calling me for help. (Was he calling me for help? I can only imagine he was.)

My feet still had not found that sturdy platform — the rock — from which I imagined launching to save my child. But any rock would do. I dove back toward the dock, kicking my way as fast as my legs would take me.

I told myself it was my youngest I was going back to help. He was the one crying. In retrospect, I think I didn’t want to admit Adam was in need of help. He could swim! He’s an excellent swimmer!

But my chest was tight with panic. Something was not right.

In no time at all, I could see that Adam had safely made it to the dock. In less than five seconds, I was holding my youngest, comforting him, stopping his tears. But my eyes were on Adam.

“You okay?” I said to him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t want to swim to the rock.”

“Okay. You don’t have to.”

That was it. It was over. Everyone was safe. Everyone went back to laughing and cannon-balling and smacking each other with noodles. (Why didn’t we have those earlier?)

But I remained shaken. Even after my brother and his wife arrived from Canada. Even after a cold Sam Adams by the firepit. Even after a comfort-food dinner of chicken and dumplings. Even after snuggling with my boys watching The Lorax in lieu of the fireworks. Even now, at three in the morning.

It’s a mother’s plight, I suppose. Imagining the what-ifs. Playing out different scenarios in your mind. Kicking yourself for those close calls that should’ve been avoided. Crafting emergency plans just in case. Worrying. Worrying. Worrying.

Had he been in trouble? Honestly, I don’t know.

But, as his mother, it’s my job to know.

This lake will always be part of our lives. We will continue to swim and fish and boat and cannon-ball. But I will never let my guard down, ever, when it comes to my kids and water. As much as it’s a source of comfort, I cannot forget it can be dangerous. My beloved lake. My comfort. My peace.

That’s nothing.

If we talk about “home”?

My kids.

My kids.

 

Marriage is a Marathon

This past Monday (4/21/14) my husband, Anthony, ran the Boston Marathon for Team MR8 in honor of Martin Richard—the boy who was killed during last year’s finish-line explosion.

We learned our friends were directly affected by the explosion the morning after it happened, and Anthony immediately rerouted his travel plans for work to get to Boston—even though he knew it was unlikely he would be able to help or even see Bill. In the weeks that followed, we never left Boston (the place we’ve always considered home) in spirit. It was this tragedy that pulled us home, and we soon solidified plans to relocate back East from our then-residence outside of Dallas. Almost immediately after our move, Anthony announced he would run his first-ever marathon. Not just any marathon. The 118th Boston Marathon, 2014. For Martin.

Bill and Denise Richard have been good friends of ours for years. Since Anthony and Bill met in grad school at Suffolk University, we have shared much together. They traveled to upstate New York for our wedding. We’ve gone Christmas caroling together. They came to our housewarming party in Newburyport, MA even though Denise was days away from delivering Martin. Denise was the one to tell me Pirate’s Booty was a “kid’s favorite”…and shared other tricks to feed a picky eater. Our son AJ and Martin used to play together. I remember Martin scraped his elbow at a playground one day and Denise pulled a Band-Aid out of thin air to stop his tears.

In just a few months, Anthony raised over $25K for the Martin W. Richard Foundation. Thoughts of Martin fueled his training through a brutal winter in the Adirondacks…and it also helped Anthony put one foot in front of the other the day of the marathon, at Heartbreak Hill and the three grueling hills that followed when he had nothing left in the tank. Written in black Sharpie on Anthony’s legs were our boys’ names—as well as Martin’s.

There was no question in my mind I would be there, in the crowd, to cheer on my husband as he ran. Some asked if I were nervous about another attack, if I felt any hesitation due to the extra security precautions or the anticipated record number of spectators. But to me, it wasn’t an option. I would be there no matter what.

We drove into Boston together early on Monday so Anthony could catch the 8:45am bus to the starting line in Hopkinton. After seeing him off, I trekked to Equinox Fitness Club to drop off a Spongebob backpack so Anthony could shower and change after the race. From there, I hopped on the commuter rail to Needham to meet up with my friend Carrie. After a quick stop to Staples and an even faster poster design at Carrie’s house, we picked up her kids from a playdate and headed to a home in Wellesley that hosted Team MR8 supporters. It was approximately at the half-marathon point. According to my mobile app, Anthony had just finished the 10-K.

They say marriage is like a marathon. It involves a roller-coaster of emotion, physical and mental trials, and no matter how much “training” you do, there are bound to be surprises. Waiting there at the half for Anthony reminded me that we are in the middle of our own “marathon marriage,” and I contemplated how to describe the stage we’re in. In 10+ years of marriage, we have 3 beautiful boys, completed 3 inter-state moves, purchased 3 homes—and we’re not yet “settled” and, spiritually, I’m not sure we will ever want to be…

The Saturday before the marathon, Carrie and I had the honor of running the BAA 5-K for Team MR8. The bright morning sun warmed the pavement at our feet as Pharrell crooned “Happy” from the loudspeakers. The energy, if not happy, certainly was optimistic. We were humbled and touched to run not only for Martin, but alongside Bill, Denise, and little Henry. Each step of the 5-K was charged with meaning, as it is traditionally the first official race to “test run” the last loop of the marathon route.

carrie5k

At one point during the race, Bill was right in front of us, jogging backwards—scanning the crowd behind us.

To maintain the good vibes that we were all feeling, I cheered: “All right, Bill! Let’s go! You got your tape on, let’s do it!”

And he said with a smile, “I’m just looking for Denise.”

Denise had been in front of us for the last half-mile, so we quickly pointed him in the right direction. Off he went, jogging energetically to his bride.

If I hadn’t been running, I could’ve cried right then. I was so touched by the simple gesture of caring and affection between this husband and wife who had been through unthinkable tragedy over the past year. I felt the love between them, and I carried it with me for the rest of the race.

“I’m thankful for my healthy kids,” Carrie said aloud as we crossed the official Boston Marathon finish line—a sentiment I certainly felt too, thinking of my three boys as we crossed that famous blue and yellow paint on Boylston Street thousands of marathoners that would also cross in just two days. And when the day did come, I was grateful to have Carrie and her sweet kids with me as I waited for Anthony at the half.

Aside from the obvious meaning this marathon held for so many, the emotion I felt as I waited to see Anthony among the thousands of runners was profound. I could not relax. My breathing was staggered, as if I’d forgotten how to take in air. I obsessively checked the Marathon app on my phone. I fiddled with my poster, asking Carrie and her kids incessantly if it was legible and clear enough, if the message was too hokey or uninspiring. Carrie, the amazing friend she is, never once made me feel foolish—only smiled and assured me my poster was “perfect” and “we won’t miss him” and “it’s completely understandable to feel anxious.” But after realizing the updates we were getting from my mobile app had a significant delay, Carrie enlisted her husband Doug, who was at work, to track Anthony on the computer.

poster

Regardless of who it was, I didn’t let a Team MR8 shirt pass without screaming my lungs out and reaching for a sweaty high-five.

Then news came from Doug. Anthony was only a half-mile away. “Get your poster ready,” Carrie said.

I held that poster up and whooped at the runners who passed. I held that poster up, high above my head. I held that poster and hopped up and down, feeling a rush of limitless energy that convinced me I could’ve joined the stream of runners and finished the race with them. I held that poster up. And held it.

And held it.

My arms started to burn.

Is he coming? Is he close? Where is he?

Suddenly, there were no other runners. My eyes were lasers, zoning in on those bright yellow MR8 shirts. I couldn’t miss him. He couldn’t miss me. It was impossible. Right?

Where is he? Is he close? Is he coming?

here he is

And then. There he was.

If I hadn’t been screaming and jumping before, I certainly was when I finally spotted him. A surge of affection and pride overcame me, and I lost all sense of decorum. His smile was huge as he met me at the roadside and after Carrie snapped a picture, I handed her the poster and ran with him to the traffic light just a block up on the race route. I beamed at him, told him how proud I was of him, told him how strong he looked for the remaining miles. I yelled to the crowds that lined the streets: “This guy’s a rock star!”

I told him I loved him a dozen times, insisted on a kiss, and then turned off at the light—feeling on top of the world. So, so lucky.

so so lucky

Anthony’s training for the marathon coincided with one of our cross-country moves—which included acclimating our boys to new schools and a colder climate. Anthony’s training also overlapped with the launch of my debut novel. Anthony fit in his training while at the same time adjusting to demands of a new, high-level job with a new company—which involved Monday through Friday travel, forcing him to fit in his long runs on precious, short weekends. All the while, Anthony maintained balance—spending quality time with me and the boys. Not once did he bring stress into our home, though I know he was feeling it. I witnessed impressive dedication to his training routine, which included readings from a daily devotional bookmarked with a picture of Martin from his Memorial Service at St. Ann’s in Boston last June.

Of course, when I think of Martin, I think of my three boys. There is a reason this post is not about my own children. I cannot attempt to put to words the gripping fear and terrifying images that keep me up at night when I imagine what Denise is going through. I cannot. Even. Begin.

But our journey—where this past Boston Marathon was just a stepping stone—began with us, Anthony and me. Standing at the sidelines, bubbling over with pride, I could not help but be inspired. Not just because he was running 26.2 miles. What he’s done for the Richard family is just one example of what he is capable of. I’m inspired by him to be a better person myself, every day. Don’t get me wrong. We have our share of arguments. We drive each other crazy at times. But when it comes to the important stuff: What would Anthony do? has become my mantra.

After nearly 11 years, we’ve built a solid foundation while managing to hold onto those fragile, ephemeral butterflies. The bumps in the road have strengthened our bond. Our shared value to make our family top priority gives us perspective in every situation. Our drive to live life with integrity and kindness and enthusiasm gifts us endless adventures. And the adventures continue…

Wherever this journey will take us, I’m in.

Let’s do this.