The Climb

I am at the top of the seven-mile climb and have already paused my watch, have my phone in hand and am ready to record the view, vastly different from yesterday’s downhill meandering. At that exact moment, my oldest calls me from 1200 miles away, tears caught in her throat before she can fully say hello.

There I stand, at the top of the bike path as cyclists whiz past, waving, acknowledging, or ignoring my very private conversation, completely unaware of the pain that crosses the miles.

I just wanted a picture. A moment to myself. That ever-satisfactory moment of redemption only a cyclist can truly appreciate. Because unlike hiking up to the top of a mountain where the downhill return can be just as challenging, unlike the easy ride of a chairlift to a blustery peak followed by a set of skis pointed downhill, there is a deep-rooted satisfaction in your quads building, your breath running out, your energy sapped, your pedals pushing, that will soon be released into a rush of downhill glory once you have reached the top of that hill.

 

I have made the climb, and now I must make the talk. It isn’t easy. It never is. Not when they’re two days old and won’t wake up or won’t stop crying, not when they’re two years old and won’t listen, not when they’re twelve and won’t do anything with you anymore, not when they’re seventeen and still need your advice no matter how far they’ve flown.

And so I stop. I listen. I console. I advise. I calm her.

And I click into my pedals and head back down the other end of this glorious hill for the glorious downhill home, the view, the path, the beating sun, the other cyclists, the climb behind me.

Knowing that there will be another path to take tomorrow. Another strenuous climb or an easy meandering jaunt. Knowing that she may call, that my boy may cry, that my youngest might resent me for always forgetting her, my middle child will likely toss her snarkiness my way, that there will be a million more incidents like the call I just took at the top of that hill.

Knowing that I can still have my moment because this, THIS is my moment. Being their mom. Whether I’m pedaling up or clicking back in for the thrill-ride down, they are with me.

They are part of the climb, the downhill, the wind blowing at my back or in my face, the muscles I build and the pain and joy and exhilaration and love that is cycling.

They are this picture from the top of every hill, blue and perfect, clouds waiting. Life.

They are my life.

 

Road Trip 2020, Day Seven

there is no escape here.

only evasion.

it’s up this curvy road packed with hill after horse-country hill,

packed with perfect fences and horses whipping their tails,

with cars zooming past, some honking at my hugging-the-shoulder presence as i pedal

pedal

pedal

past these race-won mansions,

these stacked-limestone walls that can’t trap me in or out,

into the sunny, humid heat of midday Kentucky,

so far from home, so far from home,

so near to everything that is hard and easy, up and down these endless hills

in a circle that isn’t a circle.

Road Trip 2020, Day Five

if only these pics were perfect

as perfectly peaceful as they appear

and no one lost a phone (and all the love attached) to a lake

and no one said they hated each other

and no one lied to their mother

and no one cried.

but life isn’t this lake

this quiet Kentucky fishing lake that we ruined with six screaming kids and one barking dog

this peaceful lake for paddling or praying or both

this swimmable, all-ours, wake-free lake.

Life is this lake, isn’t it?

Perfect and not so perfect.

Coronatine, Day Seventy-one (Breaking of the Fast)

Just before the rain, we finished planting all the seeds. Pumpkin and yellow squash, red peppers and zucchini, cucumbers and cilantro.

I am so grateful for this downpour because it’s been a dry month, in more ways than one, for me. A year ago, when Muslim students spilled into my room at lunch to be far away from food during Ramadan, I decided to fast with them. I never told them that I rose before dawn to scarf down overnight oatmeal, avocados, and watermelon, that I drank two giant glasses of water to sustain myself for a busy day at school. I never told them, and they never asked, why I wasn’t eating either. But they would sit in my room and talk about the special meals their mothers would be preparing for that night’s Iftar. They would chat with each other, asking about when the next prayer time would be or what math homework they needed to do before that evening’s visit to the mosque.

There was a safety in that space, my classroom at lunch, the lights off, the sun streaming in through the cracks of the shades. There was no space for judgment or smells of others’ meals, and we were like friends, my students and me.

I cannot replicate it now, and I will never be a religious person, and quarantine is hard enough, but I decided to fast for the thirty days of Ramadan this year anyway. Why would I put myself through such torture when no one in my house would, when we’re already giving up so much right now, when I’m surrounded by a kitchen and pantry packed with food?

And what would anyone think, really, this stupid white girl appropriating another’s culture?

I didn’t talk about it with anyone outside of my family, really.  A couple of friends. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything at all, out of respect, but I saw this article in the Washington Post and I felt better, six days into my decision.

Being at home has its benefits. I burn so many more calories at school, walking from desk to desk, from my classroom to the printer to the copier, to the bathroom, to the office for meetings, to chat with colleagues in other rooms. At home, I can sit on my couch with my puppy and listen to an audiobook and cross-stitch for hours. A few times I even took a nap, though I’m terrible at taking naps.

I barely slept for the past thirty days. Too much goes on in my house that is difficult for me to control right now. Everyone is in one mode or another of depression and anxiety because of this virus that is a weight on all of our lives, because of not wanting to or feeling comfortable about being at home with each other (rather than friends), because I was so stressed about my husband losing his job, and even once he miraculously got a new job in the midst of a pandemic, there was a lingering sense of remorse for all the worry I had wasted for three months.

So rising at 4:30 with my alarm barely happened. Most of the time my eyes popped open around 4:00, just when the birds started their pre-dawn chatter. My puppy thought I was so crazy that he didn’t even beg for bits of food or lick my plate, but rather sullenly remained sleeping on the couch until I roused him for our singular long walk, the only time I would have enough energy to walk 2-3 miles.

Because one thing I have learned about not eating or drinking even a sip of water for 14-15 hours is that it is the most exhausting thing I can imagine experiencing. By 6:00pm, I’d be shaky and loopy, trying to fix dinner with one of the kids. By 7:00, I’d be shaky and loopy with anticipation, so excited for the sweet taste of juice that I rarely drink but have enjoyed for the past month, for whatever concoction we were throwing together for that night’s meal, whether it simply be hot dogs and broccoli or fried chicken and fries.

It’s incredible how amazingly cool and refreshing that first sip of ice-cold juice is, that first bite of food that you want to hold in your mouth and allow your whole body to feel its nourishment. And after a few drinks and a few sips, despite being so starving, I’d feel full, yet still so exhausted that it wouldn’t be long before I’d crawl into bed, ready to begin again tomorrow.

It’s funny how the body works. How the mind works. How hard it was, day after day, wishing it would be over, wishing the new moon would come in its crescent beauty, wondering why I would choose to do this.

I saw so many perfect sunrises.

I spoke to my children with tears in my eyes and a shaky voice many times. There was a weakness there, an inability to scream or argue, that didn’t exist before.

I thought about my Muslim students, so isolated, not in my classroom avoiding the cafeteria, but at home in crowded apartments and small houses, avoiding the world.

I slowed down. For me, this was the hardest part. Giving up food and water was nothing compared to not being able to pull every weed, plant every seed, ride my bike up and down every last hill, walk the dog until blisters appeared on my toes. But sometimes it’s better to just stop for a moment, to let the world continue its craziness around you, to rest your eyes and your heart, trying to see the spinning from a place that is still.

Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, I made it through thirty of seventy-one days of quarantine without food or drink. And last night’s enchiladas and Libyan honeycomb bread, this morning’s strawberry-rhubarb pie and ice cream, this afternoon’s bike ride with my boys…

They tasted sweeter than you could ever imagine. Like winning the lottery of luck that is my life (because it is). Like putting that first bite in your mouth after a month of fasting, only that bite is Pure. Gratitude.

Because nothing in this life is more precious than what we love, what we long for. A taste. A drink. A relationship with our students, our families, our friends.

And in thirty days, you can truly taste how much joy longing can bring.