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.

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.

 

Coronatine, Day Sixty-seven (Social Distancing Applied to Poverty)

So we don’t have a beach in Colorado, not a real one anyway. We do have immigrants from a hundred countries and out-of-state transplants from all fifty states who have come to live here for one main reason: to be outside.

It’s true. Colorado has one of the highest rates in the country for outdoor recreation, and in general, physical activity.

So, after more than two months of being trapped indoors, of ski areas being shut down too soon, of gyms being closed, of mandates that tell us we shouldn’t drive more than ten miles to enjoy the outdoors, this happened: a crowd of just-out-of-school teenagers, more than two hundred of them, ignored all social distancing mandates and managed to get all of the state’s beaches closed indefinitely.

Now, I am a high school teacher, AND I have four teenagers in my house. Are they crazy? Yes. Are they self-absorbed? Yes. Are they reckless? Absolutely.

But must we all, all of us outdoor fanatics, suffer a summer without our “beach” because of a crowd of adolescents?

Because let me tell you who is affected by this new mandate. All the poor people everywhere who crowd into Cherry Creek State Park, conveniently located in the center of the city, on any given weekend because you can fill a car full of people to enjoy the water and sun for a measly $11. You can pack a picnic or a barbecue, relax under a cottonwood, dip your toes in the water, and pretend that the world outside of this sanctuary doesn’t exist. For a few hours, a day, you can have a sense of peace.

I have lived within fifteen minutes of this park for most of my life. On summer weekend days, you have to stake out a spot by 10am if you want the perfect combination of shade and sun. And you will see people from all walks of life enjoying its proximity to the city. Every language you can think of, every tone of skin, every belief system, all enjoying the splashes and sun.

And now we’re in a pandemic. And now we’re supposed to stay home. And now we’re social distancing.

Most of us are.

But guess who still gets to enjoy the water at the fourteen parks with closed swim beaches?

People with boats.

Guess who gets to enjoy the lakes and campgrounds owned by counties in northern Colorado? Lakes like Horsetooth Reservoir with its crystalline turquoise water, surrounded by mountains?

People with hard-sided campers that contain their own private bathrooms.

And guess who those people are?

People with money.

So, in the midst of a pandemic, when the privileged are allowed to storm the streets brandishing military-grade weapons because they want everything open, those same things ARE open. To them.

And to those who can just gather up the $11 entrance fee? They can social distance from home. They don’t need to play golf or take out their speedboat or enjoy a luxurious camper that costs more than they’ll ever make in a year. They can go back to their cramped apartments with no yard space while the rich can back their boats into their third garage and pay their gardeners to perfectly maintain the 10,000-square-foot lot that they COULD be enjoying instead.

And no matter what, don’t you ever forget it, this is the Land of the Free.

Free for everyone with a million bucks, and ever-so-costly for those who can just afford $11.

(I will miss those cottonwoods).