Find the happy, goddammit.

I went to spin yesterday. I hate spinning. There is not a moment– from the time I start pedaling until the last stretch on that godforsaken bike– that I am not miserable and angry. It’s just one of those things. I’ve tried the FlyWheels and the SoulCycles, the local places, and the classes at fancy gyms and shitty gyms. It’s not a class issue, it’s a sitting on a bike issue. It uses all the parts of my body that I try to keep still. I hate it so much. Just talking about it makes me more hateful. But I go. (Occasionally.) I went yesterday.

For a couple of weeks now, maybe bleeding into months, I’ve been… unsettled. I’ve been impatient and frustrated. I feel angry and constricted by simple things. I’m easily overwhelmed and anxious. I’ve gone from taking a Xanax once a month to taking one just to get into the car and make the drive to work. Traffic makes me insane. I keep thinking I need to do something, but I don’t know what. Maybe my medication needs to be looked at, maybe the weather needs to start behaving, maybe I need to change my diet– I’ve gone through all the possibilities in my head, and I keep coming back to the same thing. This is life. This is what it’s like (for me) to be 32, a mother, a full-time employee, a wife, a person who recently really hates cooking dinner. The older I get, the more knowledge I have and instead of being set free by all the knowledge, I’m crippled by it. I know too much about savings and retirement, interest rates, education, natural disasters (NEVER MOVING TO OREGON), job security, the vague possibility that my child will be killed by 100,000,000 random and statistically insignificant incidences. I spend so much time trying to look breezy and carefree when what I want to do is crawl in bed and eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch out of the box. (Because THAT is a fucking life plan.)

Don’t even get me started on getting old. I see the writing on the wall. Our society does not care about old people. We are scared and burdened by old people. Unless you have a private– fully paid for– private island or a couple million dollars in the bank, good luck getting old. I could stay in bed for six weeks just obsessing about how terrible it is going to be to be 65-years-old and still working full time because there is no way I can ever retire. EVER. (Cue screaming.) I could depend on my son to care for me in my old age, except for two things. 1. I don’t believe in burdening your children with your winter years 2. There’s just no guarantee I’m going to want to spend my last good years in the basement of my son’s house. What if he lives in a hovel and I hate his wife? (Or husband.)

But what now? How do you take a deep breath, close your eyes, and tell all your knowledge-based anxiety to fuck off? How do you live in the moment and not allow the creeping weight of death and responsibility to give you a panic attack in the shower? Being present is so fucking hard. It’s scary. But it’s also the only thing there actually is. Aut is only 2.75. He is not 3 or 7 or 35. He is only 2.75. And that will pass, but it will pass as quickly and as slowly as everything else. Because time only has one pace. Time is a bitch, but she’s fair. Almost to a fault.

So we’re back at spin. I forgot my shoes and there was a sub and because I’ve turned into an anxious time bomb, those things were enough to put me into a tailspin. The teacher was talking about beach bodies and pedaling so we can eat whatever we want and I’m getting angrier and angrier. I’m anxious and angry and annoyed and my shoes are wrong and this woman will not stop talking about bikini bodies, which is so far from my reality that I want to throw my $4 Starbucks bottled water at her face. But I keep pedaling. And I try to “find the happy.” (I’m actually on my bike, my body vibrating because the music is SO LOUD, and saying aloud “find the happy, Caroline. Find the fucking happy.”) And then it hit a boiling point. I looked at the clock and it wasn’t even halfway through class. I was going to die and explode and I hadn’t even made it halfway through class.

I slowed my pedaling and took a deep breath and asked myself (again, outloud), “what, Caroline? What is the big problem?” And the tiny voice in my head was sad and scared and she said “I don’t know. That’s the problem. I don’t know.” And then I started to cry. And cry. And cry.

I pedaled and cried and pedaled and cried. I climbed the hills and cried a little harder (because it was both self pity crying and just general crying). I cried because I felt so relieved and so silly and so annoyed and free. And then class ended.

If this story were about a different person, I’d be like “and then I walked outside and the sun was shining and I took a deep breath and felt completely renewed.” But it’s not. And when I walked outside it was raining and the barista at Starbucks fucked up my tea. So there was that reality. (Which I realize is nothing like, say, a third world or Syrian refugee reality.)

Here’s what did happen, though. I went to spin. And I finished. And I cried. And then I drove home and I started dinner. (I even cared enough to text a friend about how to cook my fish properly.) I still wanted to go to bed at 8PM, but I didn’t. (I waited until like 10:30.) I got out of my own way and my own head for a few hours and tried to enjoy myself. I made an effort. It wasn’t an overwhelming success, but, like spin class, it was an effort. Which is a start.

And nothing can begin that was never begun. Or something to that effect.

 

 

Tiny Velociraptors

Aut bit the shit out of the husband yesterday. Not like a precious 2-year-old love bite, but a full on, Hannibal Lector bite. On the tit. Through two layers of clothing. Flesh was affected. It was an ugly scene.

Biting does crazy things to people. It’s not like tickling or foot touching. No one likes to be bitten (sexual exploits aside; no judgments). If you want to watch a nice person turn like a junkyard dog, bite them. I once bit this guy at a gay bar. One minute we were drinking cheap Pinot Grigio and dancing to Cher videos and the next I was being escorted to the exit while a Nathan Lane-esque fat man was held back by two waif-like Twinks wearing eye shadow. It seemed fun and playful at the time. He disagreed.

Biting hurts. Even fleshy gay men. Lesson learned.

Biting is also a game ender– and that’s why it’s so tough to get biters to stop biting. Whomever finally caves and bites the shit out of the other person wins. Kid at daycare steal your truck? Bite him. It’s swift corporal punishment and it achieves everything that could otherwise take years of trust and relationship building. Want to be feared? Bite. (Full grown men are afraid of being bitten by three-year-old girls. They’re like lock-jawed, unpredictable piranhas.)  Some bitchy six-year-old block the slide? Bite her. She loses control of her faculties, slides down the slide, and TADA! it’s your turn.

But here’s what tiny biters don’t fully understand. When you’re on the receiving end of a bite, there is ZERO reaction predictability. Which means that if you bite a 34-year-old man on the tit, there is no guarantee that he will not “accidentally” throw your tiny body across the room with the strength of ten men. He doesn’t want to paralyze you for life in his fit of rage, but he’s in the middle of a post-bite seizure. He’s unpredictable, essentially blacked out. The most primal human instincts kick in when your brain realizes you’re being bitten. I’m no scientist, but I’m certain there is science to support my theory that the fight or flight instinct that governs biting actually can’t–in the moment– decipher whether it’s shark, bear, or tiny human. Jaw clamps, adrenaline kicks in, and bitee immediately starts poking at eyeballs and using stupid strength to survive. It’s only in the aftermath, when you’re toddler is laying slack jawed on the carpet, that you realize your mistake.

Oh fuck. You’re not a bear. 

And then there’s the parenting part. The part of you that knows you need to breathe, walk away, and then calmly reapproach the bear to teach a lesson about pain and biting. But what you want to do is rip your shirt open to reveal your tender and bleeding tit and make him understand on a deep and mature level what a irreversible human wrong he has committed. Your parenting brain is like heistwoheistwoheistwo and your human brain is like I don’t fucking care if he’s six months old. MY TIT IS BLEEDING. OFF WITH HIS HEAD. 

But what really kicks you in the dick is when your reaction to being bitten is so severe, like in the case of the husband and the bleeding tit, that your child falls into an uncontrollable and hysterical fit.  As if, for the first time, he realizes his father is not a human at all, but a North Korean dictator. And then, whilst clutching your tender, eviscerated breast you have to console the child.

And at some level, that’s kind of what parenting is. Having your tits ruined and then apologizing.

 

A small boy and a marathon.

Yesterday around three o’clock I heard two cannons go off. It was Marathon Monday and the finish line is just a few blocks from our apartment, so it made perfect sense to me that someone would be firing off celebratory cannons. (I recognize that in the aftermath of the last 24 hours you could be wondering what special breed of idiot I am to think that, but in my defense, it’s a historic city and for some reasons I always associate cannons with something exciting happening.) 

But then things got weird. Through the open windows that welcome the sounds of the south-side of the city, came sounds like thundering cattle. Within ten minutes I could detect a concerning number of ambulances and sirens. My cannon theory was coming unraveled. Then the hubs texted, “Caroline. Turn on the news.”

Definitely not celebratory cannons. 

I’m not here to wax poetic or compare tragedies, but I will say this: the last time that someone said those exact words to me I was a senior in high school. My dad walked into my bedroom early on a September morning, pulled the covers back from my head, and said, “Caroline. Turn on the news.” 

There were no celebratory cannons that day either. 

In 2001 I lived so far away from New York that my mourning was little more than shock-induced patriotism. To this day I do not think any of us can fathom what truly took place on those city streets except those who were there. Then it was 3500 miles away. Yesterday it was three blocks. The tragedies incomparable, but the understanding that one brings to the other is invaluable. 

Twelve years later and I’m almost thirty. I’m five months pregnant with a small boy. Another small boy, an eight year old, is killed three blocks from my house while cheering on his dad at the Boston Marathon. My small boy is snug as a bug in a uterus, bouncing up and down on my bladder like it’s a trampoline. Another small boy was waving a sign and bouncing up and down to get a glimpse of the finish over the taller crowd. My small boy is just learning how to live. Another small boy is dead. 

The hubs texts again. This time it’s an expected stage of disbelief and grief. “Who the fuck sets off a bomb at the marathon?” I don’t have an answer. Then it’s his first paternal declaration, “Our small boy is never going to a public event. Ever.” Again, I don’t have an answer. 

But I do have an answer. Our small boy will go. Because fear of tragedy will only breed in him a fear of life. 

I don’t know how to raise a small boy into a grown man. I haven’t been given my parental membership card and I’m fairly certain that whomever is responsible for issuing them realizes I probably don’t deserve one. But I know that our small boy has to be given a chance to see the world as good, even if we’re standing in the wings, sick with worry. When he asks to climb higher, I know we need to respond with an emphatic “yes!” and try not to follow it up with a million caveats.

“Climb higher, small boy, and tell us what you see.” 

And one day, a day I know will come sooner than it should, something terrible will happen. A single moment of bad will create a thick cloud of uncertainty and our small boy will look to us to tell him what it means. And while we may not be card-carrying parents, I know we have a responsibility to give him an answer. And though we’ll remember other small boys, like the one who died cheering on his dad at the marathon, we’ll also remember the grown men who rushed forward to right all the wrong, to clear the cloud of uncertainty. 

“It’s a reminder that bad things happen. And then good things kick their asses.”