Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Birthday Suits and Cowboy Boots

“I love my eyes. I love my mouth. I love my belly. Oh yeah…and I love my heart too.” Helen Barker

The last time I did a triathlon was in 2001. I did a half Ironman in Florida. I hope to return to the sport this summer with attempts at a few events around the nation.

Returning to the sport after a 9 year reprieve is something akin to getting re-married…except this time I’m nine years older. My body is also nine years older. That precarious balance between committing to it and giving it all I’ve got while also gently carrying my older body, my experience and more years of life through the training is just that…a precarious and interesting balance for me to try and achieve. There is a comfort in my skin this go ‘round that I lacked back in 2001. My participation in the event this year is connected to something richer, deeper and more meaningful.

Last week I made a surprise visit to a fabulous little girl named Aislinn. Aislinn had to do a project on a notable Tarheel (North Carolinian for those of you who don’t know what a Tarheel is) and she chose to do her project on me. Her mom, her Girls on the Run coach, her teacher, our council director in her area, and I were all in cahoots with one another…planning the fun surprise visit. (Here’s a picture of me with Aislinn and her wonderful mom Beth!)

I’m just like a big kid. I looked forward to visiting her school as much as I know she enjoyed my being there. I spent an hour or so with her fourth grade class. We laughed. We talked. We played.

During that hour together I learned a lot of amazing things.

Faith: “Being comfortable in your skin means just being yourself.”

Ben: “Saying thank you when someone compliments you is showing confidence in yourself.”

Jake: “It’s always more meaningful to show what you feel through your actions rather than telling what you feel with your words.”

Aislinn: “Running showed me that if I set my mind to something I can do just about anything else I set my mind to do.”

Thomas: “Never give up.”

Rosie: “I love space. One day I will be an astronaut.”

Madison: “I cry because I worry a lot. Running helps me not worry as much.”

Maddy: “I don’t run to cross the finish line. I run because its fun and I see things I haven’t seen before.”

Many of you have seen me speak to kids. My heart sings when I am with them. I feel a bit like the Pied Piper of running or the Art Linkletter (showing my age here) of sports. I am in my element there, maybe because I am nothing more than a big kid at heart, in mind and in spirit!

I kicked off my time with Aislinn by sharing a fabulous, and very entertaining, story (if you are 9 years old) about my daughter Helen. The story goes like this.

One summer day I was getting ready to run. It was very hot outside and my kids were hanging out inside the comfort of our home, alongside their Dad.

“Alright, guys. I’ll see ya later. I’m headed out for my run. Back in about an hour.”
When I returned, James, my children’s father, was out in the yard cutting the grass. The engine of the lawnmower was rumbling and so I yelled loudly so I could be heard. “James, where are the kids?”

He yelled back. “They’re in the house!”

Ringing wet with sweat I walked into the house and made a beeline for the linen closet, grabbed a towel and came back out to the den.

Hank was just four years old and comfortably lounging in the biggest lazy boy chair you can imagine…or at least it appeared so with his little 4 year old body nestled down inside the comfortable cushions. He was watching television and sipping on an apple juice. His feet were propped up. He was, after all, master of the universe.
“Hey bud.” I’m now toweling off and cooling down. “Where’s Helen?”

In the fabulous way that all masters of the universe respond, his gaze never left the television and he responded in that amazing master of the universe (MOU) nonchalant way…”I dunno.”

“Alright,” I replied. I go to the fridge, grab a bottle of water, continue to towel off and start looking for Helen.

Helen was about 14 months old at the time. She was definitely walking by then…or more like toddling.

“Helen, where are you? Are you hiding from Mommy?”
I’m walking through the house.

No response other than the quiet voice of “mother-angst” beginning to speak. I cannot locate my daughter.

I walk rapidly back outside. “James, where’s Helen?” This time my voice is firm, loud and demanding.

The lawnmower is still running. “She’s in the house,” he shouts.

I now rush back in, toss the towel to the floor, throw the water in the sink and begin searching high and low for the girl. I’m looking under the sink, behind the shower curtain, in closets, under the bed. She is nowhere to be found.
The mother-angst has now turned into full-blown panic.

I stand directly in front of the master of the universe, purposefully blocking his view of the television and emphatically ask, “Hank. Where is Helen?”

MOU looks up at my face and shrugs his shoulders.

I run to the telephone, place my right hand on the phone, lift the receiver and am proceeding to dial 9-1-1 with my left, when I take a glance out our front den window.

I see something…off in the distance. About half the length of a football field away, she is found. I drop the phone, pull open the front door and run in her direction.

As I approach, the mommy angst begins to drift a bit and the mommy belly laugh begins to emerge. Each step closer, the girl…MY girl…comes into greater focus. I’m not sure if it’s the diaper at the end of our driveway, the hot pink cowboy boots on her chubby little toddler legs or the naked butt cheeks that first bring it up…but without warning the belly laugh erupts. It is loud, relieved and downright “tickled.”

Helen is walking down the street, completely naked, decked out in nothing but her “fave” hot pink cowboy boots. She is on a mission. To where? I have no idea…but she is hell-bent on getting there. She is waving as cars slowly go by. She is purposeful, driven and clearly headed to a destination that only she knows.
I run to her, scold her for fleeing our home (in that futile way that mothers do when they are laughing at the same time). I grab her free hand. We wave to the passing cars together on our way back home.

Today I will run six miles, lift some weights and hit the pool this evening. I don’t plan on doing any of it too fast. But it will be purposeful. While I won’t be wearing my pink cowboy boots, I will be decked out in my own body, celebrating it all along the way. (With clothes on I might add!)

I realize that my return to the sport is a way to honor the progress I’ve made in my own woman-evolution. I am purposeful with no REAL destination other than just moving along, waving at folks along the way, seeing what’s out there and being present with it all. I wonder what I will learn and feel and what will reveal itself over the course of the next several weeks. I look forward to being as Helen was, comfortable in my skin. To, as Maddy so eloquently put it, “not run to cross the finish line…but run because its fun and I see things I haven’t seen before.”

I wonder what will show up this time. What have you learned by participating in an endurance event? Let me know by commenting below.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Girl's Liberation, Girls on the Run Style!

“People think I’m trying to make a fashion statement because I never wear a bra. It’s really that I’m a tomboy at heart.” Cameron Diaz

Even as young as age 8, girls begin to label emotions as good or bad. Unfortunately this perception can lead to their future attempts at avoiding those they consider bad. “Bad” emotions are generally those that make us feel less comfortable…such as fear, anxiety, anger, frustration and boredom. “Good” emotions tend to fall on the “more comfortable” side of feeling…joy, happiness, excitement, peace.

Lesson five in our Girls on the Run curriculum provides an experience for the girls to reframe the words they use to describe the emotional spectrum. The words bad and good are virtually eliminated as descriptors for emotions and the words “comfortable” and “uncomfortable” become their replacements.

I won’t ever forget Emily. Emily was in fourth grade when I met her. Emily had strawberry blonde hair that cascaded in ringlets to below her shoulders. She had the fairest of skin, pink cheeks, noticeably blonde eyelashes and a spunky little spirit that was as bouncy as her hair!
We had just completed the warm-up. The group had decided, thanks to some fabulous insight and processing on their part, that emotions were not good or bad, but simply comfortable or uncomfortable. Learning to deal with our uncomfortable emotions was what growing up was all about! “I may not have it figured out yet, but as I get older, I’ll bet I get more comfortable with the emotions that, right now, feel uncomfortable to me.”

Each girl is given a bingo card with 12 different emotions typed into each of the 12 boxes. When one of the girls completes a lap, the coach gives her an “emotion” that she then marks off the card. The object of the workout is for each girl to run laps, learn what constitutes an emotion and in the process get as many bingos as she possibly can!

About five minutes into the workout, Emily walked up to me.

“Coach Molly. I’m not feeling very comfortable.”

“Okay, Emily. I hear ya, girl. What’s up? Are you feeling an uncomfortable emotion?” I had naturally assumed that her use of the word uncomfortable was connected to how we had used it only moments ago, within the context of the lesson.

“Well,” she replied completely exasperated. “I forgot my jog bra…and well… you know.” She pointed down to what would be breasts, if she had them and nodded her head. “Running without it, is just..kinda…actually a lotta…uncomfortable.”

It was hard for me to not chuckle. Emily was in fourth grade. The girl wasn’t showing any signs of puberty. There were no buds, no curvature of hips, no signs of anything other than being the fabulous fourth grade, free-spirited, spunky, straight-waisted girl who stood before me.

I had, however, noticed earlier during the lesson, that Emily was sporting a brand new “cuppy bra.” A cuppy bra is what many stores are now selling to girls, at an age long before they need it, to create the look of real breasts. They come in a variety of sizes, but suffice it to say…they are soft molded shells that basically house nothing but empty space when worn!

“Oh Emily, sister. I totally get it! I know how that is. I know how uncomfortable it is to run without my running bra. So girl, I can only imagine. You just feel free to walk today. Okay? No problemo! You just walk on with your fabulicious self!”

She smiled at me. We were bonding. We were having a woman-to-woman, heart-to-heart conversation about womanhood, our changing bodies and all the trials and tribulations of growing up and out!

I’ll never forget watching her walk away from me on her way to her next lap. Her step was bouncy. Her hair was bouncy. Her spirit was bouncy. And unfortunately so too was her cuppy bra. With nothing underneath to hold it in place, the darn thing kept sliding upward. Walking was bad enough, but my guess is that running would have brought that stinkin’ bra all the way up and out of her shirt collar. Eventually the uncomfortable device would be wrapped around the top of her head with the straps tangled up in the sleeves of her tank shirt. No wonder the girl couldn’t run! Her breasts (or molded cups) would have ended up on her eyes!

The lesson continued. Girls were laughing, giggling and running by me securing new “emotions” and filling in the squares on their bingo card. Spring was here. The sun was bright. Our spirits were bubbly, our energy was high and the mood was celebratory; but poor Emily was confined to walk…strapped in by her new cuppy bra and her first try at “being grown up.” Her step wasn’t bouncy anymore. It seemed that even her hair was less so.

Fifteen minutes later, Emily had only done two laps. “Come on Emily.” The girls were asking her. What’s up? You normally are running like everyone else. What’s going on? Why won’t you run?”

I could see the novelty of the once fabulous and mysterious cuppy bra wearing off. She had tried running again, but was SO distracted by needing to hold the stupid thing in place, that running now became an impossible feat.

“Whoohooo! Good job girls.” My assistant coach and I were cheering on the girls as they progressed around the track and I monetarily lost focus on Emily and her plight. I patted a girl on the back as she passed me by and turned to look across the track to see how Emily was doing. There she was, standing perfectly still and looking quite wonder-woman-esque. Her arms by her side, her eyes and face upward toward some distant (and very dramatic) horizon. She was still, silent, strong and weirdly (humorously) stoic.

(Insert long dramatic pause here and some really powerful instrumental music. Follow it by a small drum roll and continue reading.) And then the girl, with rapid-fire motion threw her right arm up into the air, statue of liberty-like-ish and began to run. Waving in the wind of her forward movement and bubbling up like the fire within our very own Lady Liberty’s torch, was the cuppy bra, grasped tightly in the hand of that uplifted arm.

Emily was leaping, running, twisting, turning, running backwards, forewords, sideways and everyways in between. When Emily made it around to me, with that cuppy bra lifted high above her head, she said with a fierce determination and a no-nonsense tone of voice, “Free at last. I am free at last.”

And I’ll be darned if she wasn’t right on! She WAS Free at last. Free of the cuppy bra. Free of the need to be something she really wasn’t, at least not yet anyway. Free to be the goofy, wacky, spring-haired, bouncy Emily she was meant to be. No wires, no straps, no objects were going to restrain or limit this girl. NO WAY, NO HOW!!!! Just try her!

She tucked that bra into her book bag, kicked into high gear and proceeded to run around that track like there was no tomorrow.

As I fondly remember this day in Emily’s life, I am reminded of many in mine. The coming and going, the in and out, the wish for and rejection of the Girl Box’s power. As I write to you now, I take this moment to celebrate Emily and her willingness to assume the lead role in her own life’s story. I marvel at her ability to intentionally take risks, step out and test the waters of womanhood. I honor her zeal to learn from her mistakes, missteps and miscalculations. I am grateful for Emily who reminds me of the precious, innocent and vulnerable 9 year old Molly…you know, the one who always did her very best. The one who hit a few bumps, scraped a few knees and fell down a few times as she stumbled along the challenging path of growing up; the evolving Molly I am now, who tries so hard to be strong; to stand up for herself; to remain alive, real and herself while exploring the unchartered waters of relationships, motherhood, and her future.

I yearn to, as Emily (and many other well-known leaders) so succinctly put it, “be free at last.” Free at last to be, to love and to live! To remove the fears and facades of the restraining Girl Box, tuck them peacefully into the book bag of my past and run, uninhibited, free and like there is no tomorrow!!!!

What messages/elements/thought processes of the Girl Box, still linger (or distract you) in your life as you evolve, learn and “grow up”?