Sunday, November 20, 2011

My heart, my son, races

Finishing my first 5K race this weekend was exhilarating, but more exciting than that was the fact that my nine-year-old son, also finished his first footrace that day, the JUST RUN Just Kids 3K Race, another event during the Big Sur Half Marathon weekend

The race was something Nico set out to do completely on his own. After seeing the race website when I was researching it on my computer, Nico asked me a few questions about the kids' race event and then seemingly moved on. On the day of the race, though, he said he wanted to participate. My husband and I tried to talk him out of it since Nico hadn't trained and we hadn't planned on him taking part in the event. He would have to run it alone. 

He said he wanted to do it. So he did.

I registered Nico for the race about an hour before it started. His event took place on the same course as mine, only his was shorter (3K instead of 5K) and started 30 minutes later. I didn't get to see him start and was worried about how nervous he might be without me or my husband there to calm his nerves. Luckily, my sister was there to keep him company.

During my 5K, I was running toward the finish line as Nico was running toward his turnaround. Seeing him across the path, both of us running, was among the most glorious parenting moments I've had. 

I had been on the lookout for him once I made the turnaround. Initially, I  thought Nico would be toward the end of the pack, but knowing that he hadn't trained for the race and didn't know how to pace himself, I kept an eye out for him as soon as I saw the first kids approaching. 

Sure enough, I soon spotted a boy with floppy, dark brown hair, wearing black and red windpants. I shouted and waved my arms. Nico was running fast and looked amazing. When I finally got his attention, he beamed at me as we ran in opposite directions. My heart nearly burst with joy.

Seeing Nico cross the finish line and get awarded his finisher's medal was a proud mom moment for me on a few levels. I was proud of him for finishing the race, of course, but I was amazed that he even started it. It took courage, determination, stamina - mentally and physically. This, from the boy I butt heads with on a daily basis. This, from the child who consistently finds a way to outsmart me on School Picture Day, declares a "We Hate Mommy" day and puts himself up for sale when he's upset with me.

This weekend's race finishes marked a milestone for us. In training for my 5K, my first-born child accompanied me - on foot, scooter or bike - nearly every step of the way for the past three months. He has been my coach. He has been my partner. He gives me a run for my money and keeps me on my toes - literally. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mission accomplished: first 5K race

Pacific Grove Lighthouse 5KToday, I ran my first 5K race!

It was quite an accomplishment for me as I am 41 years old and have been out of shape for years. This morning, though, I felt like a legitimate runner upon crossing the finish line of the Pacific Grove Lighthouse 5K, a part of the Big Sur Half Marathon weekend. It was the culmination of completing the Couch to 5K program.

It was a glorious experience. Despite rainy weather last night, this morning was sunny and comfortable - around 45 degrees at the start of the race and warmer by the end. Anticipating cooler weather, I brought gloves but ended up not needing them. 

Before the race started, I checked in and received my race bib, which had my race number and first name printed on it. Looking around to see what others did with their bibs, I pinned mine to the front of my jacket. Then, I made my way to the starting line. 

I queued up with the other runners and made my way to the end of the pack, away from the fast runners. Experienced runner friends had advised me to do this so I wouldn't a) get discouraged by all the people blazing past me and/or b) mess up my pace. Sizing up the other runners, I positioned myself behind the people who looked like serious athletes but ahead of the parents with strollers.

While I was lined up, I noticed that nearly everyone had orange plastic ribbon loops on their shoes. It was a D-Tag that would allow the race officials to track my pace and finish time. Cool! I located mine on my race bib and attached it to my right shoe. 

When the starting gun sounded, I bolted down the street before I remembered to heed the advice everyone had given me: Take it slow and steady. It was probably 100 yards just to get to the official start line so I slowed down, lest I burn myself out before even starting! I crossed the starting line to the sound of loudspeakers blaring the Psychedelic Furs' song "Pretty in Pink." Sweet - I was wearing a pink running jacket. 

It took several seconds for the throng of 700 people to find their place in the race. The fastest runners took off and then the rest of us settled into our spots. Since I was running alone, I looked for a gap to sneak into. 

It was awe-inspiring to be surrounded by so many other runners of all ages and sizes. There were runners in their 20s, seniors, married couples, mother-baby duos, buddies and groups of people wearing matching t-shirts. Throughout the race, I started to recognize a few people after passing them and/or being passed by them. One of my favorite running teams was the Asian father-daughter pair. The daughter looked to be in her mid-20s; when her father spoke to her in his native language, she answered in English. It made me think about my dad.

The race course was incredible. For my first race, I had intentionally set out to find a memorable route. This course was mostly flat, first winding through downtown Pacific Grove, California and then following the Pacific Ocean coastline. 

Running down Lighthouse Avenue was fun, but making the turn to the ocean was amazing. The view was breathtakingly gorgeous, with ocean waves just a few feet away and mountains in the distance. At times, I could hear the roar of waves crashing against rocks and smell the ocean (not always a good thing). It was awesome to see surfers riding the swells.

Along the course, a lot of people offered encouragement, including a few guys dressed up as vegetables. I remember the corn and asparagus guys, particularly, as they cheered me on. "Thanks, veggies!", I said to them as I ran by. There were also course marshals throughout the route, including students from the nearby Naval Postgraduate School riding on bicycles.

I did have some pace issues during the race and had to slow down after both shins and then my right knee and hip started aching. I took a walk break to drink some water after the 1-mile marker and one more at around the 2-mile mark to take a few photos with my iPhone. I had debated doing so, but in the end, I decided it was more important to me to capture the beauty of the route than get a faster race time.

Toward the end of the route, I heard my name. My sister and her girlfriend were waiting for me around the last quarter mile and it was such a boost to see them cheering for me! I smiled the rest of the race.

It was such a fantastic feeling to hear strangers clapping and cheering as I approached the finish line. Crossing the finish line was a little overwhelming. I missed hearing my time as people I didn't know shouted, "Go Lisa!" I thought it was my family and was confused when I didn't see them anywhere. How did these strangers know my name? Oh, right - my race bib has my name on it.

A man at the finish line called out my name and high-fived me as I continued to look for my family. Someone gave me a medal and I walked over to the water table. My sister and her girlfriend found me and we hugged and laughed. A few minutes later, my husband and younger son joined us.

There were a few things I'm a little disappointed about, but I'll know better next time. The biggest is that I didn't affix my D-tag properly and lost it somewhere along the route. I noticed it was gone before I hit the one-mile marker but couldn't find it anywhere nearby. It was a bummer since I really wanted to track my pace and get an official race time.

In a way, it reminded me of my labor and birth experience with my first child. I had hoped for a drug-free birth and ended up with an emergency c-section with multiple medical interventions. In both cases, I set out with an ideal in mind and things didn't happen exactly the way I wanted. On the other hand, in both cases, I ended up with happy outcomes: I gave birth to a gorgeous baby boy and I ran a race that three months ago, I never would have believed I could finish.

Speaking of that gorgeous baby boy, the best part of the day was seeing him, now 9 years old, cross the finish line too. While I ran the 5K event, he ran the 3K kids event. We both competed in our first races!   It was a wonderful experience for us to share. After our races, my husband and our younger son joined us and we all celebrated with brunch and a day of adventure in Monterey.

Next steps: finding a new race!

Friday, November 18, 2011

C25K graduate!

I finished the Couch to 5K (C25K) program last month and will be running my first 5K race tomorrow!

C25k W1D1
When I first set out to do this, the thought of running even one mile seemed out of bounds. After being inspired by so many friends who are runners (including marathoners and ultra-runners), though, I thought I would give it a try.

I was looking for a way to get in shape that wouldn't require a gym membership or much hassle and expense. The C25K program fits those criteria and it is effective. It gets you off the couch and able to run 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in nine weeks. I downloaded the app onto my iPhone in August and set out to improve my cardiovascular fitness, little by little, three days a week. The program starts out gently, with more walking than running. By the end of it, though, you will be able to run 30 minutes straight. 

I was cautiously optimistic about the program. Worried that I wouldn't be able to complete it, I didn't tell too many people I had started it. Following the program faithfully, I didn't miss any workouts. For the first time in a long time, I was able to run without being sidelined by shin splints and other injuries. 

My first workouts were painful, not so much physically but emotionally. The first week was especially embarrassing. I was ashamed of letting myself get so out of shape. I hated hearing the sound of my labored breathing and heavy footfall. I imagined how I looked lumbering down the street.

Throughout the program, my nine-year-old son, Nico, accompanied me during my workouts. In the first week, he joined me on his scooter; after that, he rode along on his bike. 

Starting the program, I was deeply self-conscious so I opted to run at night. It was peaceful then, since we live in a quiet, safe neighborhood that basically shuts down at 8 p.m. We outfitted my son with an orange safety vest and equipped his bike with front and back lights. This made me feel even more self-conscious as I set out. Great! Now we looked like a parade.

After just a few workouts, though, I started to gain confidence. I fine-tuned playlists for my iPhone - lots of  80s and hip hop tunes - and made sure I had good running shoes and gear. Finding inspiring music was key. It's amazing how fast time passes when you are listening to songs you love.

There were times when I wanted to quit my workouts, but I always found ways to keep going. Having my son next to me was a big motivator. It would be one thing to let myself down, but I wanted to keep moving for him. I wanted to be an example to him in not quitting or giving up. Sometimes, I would set mini-goals for myself: Just run to the next light post. Just run to the end of the street. Just run to the park sign.

The program brought me closer to my son. Nico doesn't often share his feelings with me but during our C25K workouts, he opened up and shared details about his life, what happened in school that day, how he was feeling about our move from Ohio this summer, what his hopes were for our life in California.

Nico was a great coach throughout the program. His sense of direction is way better than mine so he charted our training routes and always made sure we found our way home. He would provide encouragement ("I think you're running way faster than before, Mom!") and help me log notes for each workout. 

Soon, I began looking forward to my runs. Even though they were sometimes tough, I loved being connected to Nico and having special one-on-one time with him. I loved how I felt after each workout: sweaty and happy! I loved taking a bath afterward and thinking about my progress.

I never thought I'd be someone who would enjoy running, but now I am. Growing up, I loved sports but hated running. The only time I enjoyed running was when chasing a ball. Running on its own was boring, tedious, pointless. These days, I appreciate the rhythm of running. I like running to think about things; I like running to not think about things.

At this point, I am still a very slow runner but seeing how far I've come from a few months ago, I know I can change. I know I can set a goal and achieve it. 

Right now, I am looking forward to tomorrow's challenge: the Pacific Grove Lighthouse 5K!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Unhappy Valley: raw thoughts from a Big Ten alum and mom

The child sex abuse scandal rocking Penn State and Happy Valley this week hits home on many levels - as a mother of young boys, as a Big Ten alumnus raised in the Midwest, as a former university communications director.

Even though one man, Jerry Sandusky, stands accused of the sexual assault charges, along the way, too many people looked the other way or stayed silent. The situation is a web of complex relationships. It is about influential men taking advantage of voiceless boys. It is about a large college football program protecting its assets. It is about power, money, hypocrisy and secrecy. It is outrageous, shameful, disgusting, unforgivable. 

As a mother of two young children, it breaks my heart to learn that the boys who were assaulted had no advocates fighting for them. Reading the Grand Jury report took my breath away as I learned the ages of the boys involved - too close.

When I sat down to begin writing this post, I did so as my older son, a fourth-grader, attended his weekly Cub Scout den meeting. New to scouting this year, my husband and I were surprised to open the Boy Scouts of America handbook and find that it begins with a 24-page pull-out booklet entitled "How to Protect Your Children From Child Abuse: A Parent's Guide". It was important to discuss this topic with our son, but initiating that first conversation was difficult. The hardest part was answering his questions: "But why would anyone want to hurt me like that? Why would someone I trust do that?" 

I look at my two boys, both growing and developing every day, and still see them as babies. The other day, I noticed, with alarm, that my older son smelled like a teenager and was showing the faintest shadow of a mustache (I guess his father's Italian genes are kicking in). Already? How could this be? My younger son, now four years old, somehow seems frozen in my mind as a two-year-old. I carry and cuddle him even though he is perfectly capable of running around on his own. I obsess over the banal details of their lives - meal preparation, homework assignments, play dates. I overshare details of our middle-class, suburban life on this blog.

In contrast, the boys who were abused generally came from disadvantaged backgrounds and unstable households. This adds another layer of injustice to the situation to see that some sick, but privileged man, preyed on these children who had so little. Somehow, it reminded me of Cleveland's Imperial Avenue murders that took place for years without anyone noticing or caring enough to investigate. Whether it is impoverished boys or drug-addicted women, our society allowed monsters to prey on our most vulnerable. 

In the Penn State case, the abuse took place in places that are essentially off-limits to mothers: men's locker rooms, showers, wrestling mats. In reading the Grand Jury report, I was particularly struck by the way one woman learned how her child was violated. She asked her son, who had just returned from a outing with Sandusky, why his hair was wet. She found out that her child showered with this predator. That detail - so visual, so concrete - stings as I contrast it with the thousands of times I've nagged my fourth-grader: Get in the shower! Use soap! Wash your hair! Brush your teeth! 

Beyond my reaction as a mom, I've also been thinking about the situation as a Big Ten alumnus raised in the Midwest. Much of the news coverage of this sordid story came from sportswriters. My own first response, when I heard the initial reports, concerned legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. "No way," I exclaimed. "Not JoePa!" I believed that Paterno had nothing to do with the abuse, and I was deeply disappointed to learn that he did know something and didn't do enough. For some reason, like many others, I confused success on the field with integrity off the field. If he's a good coach, he must be a good person, right?

We want to believe in heroes. When it comes to professional sports, we want our athletes to shine and when they do, we love them, we worship them. Growing up in Ohio as a long-suffering Cleveland sports fan, I know all too well the agony and the ecstasy of winning and losing (well, mostly losing). Most Clevelanders I know are sports historians who can recite our most ignominious sports moments (The Drive, The Fumble and The Decision, to name a few) like the letters in the alphabet. 

Football, I think, has the deepest hold on us, though. When I went to graduate school at Ohio State University, I was already a huge sports fan but I was unprepared for the overwhelming Big Ten football culture that surrounded me. I was stunned when my classmates convinced a sociology professor to rearrange the syllabus: "We can't have a test that Monday - it's Michigan weekend!" On Saturday afternoons in October, I sometimes headed to the main library, knowing it would be all mine, practically empty. And then there were the games against That Team Up North. Win or lose, those were the nights it was best to stay inside, away from the drunks, tear gas, overturned cars.

Recently, OSU President Gordon Gee was asked if he was considering firing then-football coach Jim Tressel. His notorious response: "I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me." Big Ten football = Big Money

The other part about this Penn State scandal that has been nagging at me is the crisis communications aspect. For eight years, up until this past June, I worked at Case Western Reserve University in marketing and communications. As a former media relations director, I thought about what the Penn State communications team must be dealing with: talking points, prepared statements, a torrent of media inquiries. There would be worry about protecting the Penn State brand, implications on student recruitment, fundraising. I hope that through it all there was concern about the victims.

In the media frenzy surrounding this story, the former journalist in me was curious about the details involved in the case. As I learned more, though, I wished I could unlearn it. Presumably, more information will come to light in the next several weeks.  But I don't think I want to know any more.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

One peanut butter-filled pretzel nugget = one overnight hospital stay

Noli in ambulance
Food allergies can be life threatening
My four-year-old son had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) yesterday after eating a single peanut butter-filled pretzel nugget. It resulted in several hours at an urgent care center, an ambulance ride to an ER and an overnight stay at a hospital. We were discharged this afternoon, about 24 hours after we arrived at the urgent care facility.

Here's what went down:

Yesterday, Nolan was offered a few snacks, including the pretzel nugget, while I was preoccupied during a yoga class. I glanced over and nodded my approval but I did not inspect the snacks closely. It was only after Nolan said his lips were burning that I realized something was wrong. His lips had been chapped so at first I thought he had merely peeled off some loose skin that left his lip feeling raw. He said he didn't feel well, though, so I gave him some Benadryl and we drove home. 

In the car, he threw up multiple times. At home, I gave him a bath and while cleaning up the vomit, I detected the smell of peanuts. 

We have known since Nolan was nine months old that he has a serious peanut allergy. When he was a baby, my dad ate a peanut butter sandwich near him and it triggered a major allergic reaction. Nolan's entire body was covered in hives and his face turned red and puffy. Since then, we have maintained a nut-free household and carry Benadryl and epinephrine pens everywhere we go.

At the end of his bath, Nolan threw up again. I gave him some more Benadryl, loaded him and his brother in the car, and drove to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Mountain View Urgent Care Center. 

When we arrived, Nolan was not exhibiting any signs of an allergic reaction. The Benadryl had taken effect and he looked normal. We waited for the doctor and I called my husband to tell him where we were and what was going on. I said it would be good if he could leave work to come over but that everything was under control. 

Nico, my nine-year-old son, was amazing throughout the ordeal. He busted out his homework and kept himself busy through all the chaos. He didn't even flinch when his brother vomited inches away from his backpack. 

The doctor ordered an oral steroid medicine for Nolan and by the time he drank it, the Benadryl had started to wear off. The nurse helping us told us he had seen children deteriorate suddenly and severely with allergic reactions and that it was important to keep vigilant. Pretty much right after he said that, Nolan projectile vomited the medicine. Things went downhill rapidly. 

The next few hours were a blur. Vic arrived in the midst of the drama and was stunned at what he saw, particularly since the last words I had said to him were, "Things are under control." At some point, we moved from an exam room to a space directly in front of the nurses' station. It looked like a hospital room. Nolan was administered a steroid injection in his right thigh and an epinephrine injection in his left thigh. He started to develop tiny circular hives, first on his stomach, then on his neck, then everywhere. Then, the hives transformed. They were no longer circles but long, wide and thick raised welts covering him from head to toe. His body looked like a topographic map. He was given a second epinephrine injection and he vomited violently again. Nolan's blood pressure dropped and he became drowsy. An IV was administered. As the needle went into his arm, he woke up and screamed, "All of you are mean! Leave me alone!" The medical team seemed relieved (and amused) that he was so feisty. 

Around 7 p.m., an ambulance crew was summoned to take Nolan to an area emergency department. Our hospital was over capacity so we went to Stanford Hospital. I rode along with Nolan. Nico wailed, "Luuuucky!"

At the emergency department, we were greeted by a team of medical doctors, nurses, assistants, students. By now, Nolan was stable. His blood pressure was back to normal and his hives had disappeared. We had to wait as they determined which area of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital we would be admitted to. Apparently, when a patient is given two epinephrine injections, it basically guarantees an overnight stay. 

I spent the night with Nolan in his hospital room, while Vic and Nico went home. Nolan was hungry and thirsty but he was not permitted to eat or drink anything for several more hours. Eventually, he was allowed to drink apple juice. The saving grace was that he was able to watch movies on the hospital TV in his room. I knew he was back to his normal self when he asked to watch a cooking show. So we watched "Cupcake Wars". By this time, things were stable. Nolan and I settled to sleep on his bed, me still wearing my yoga clothes from this afternoon - now stiff from dried vomit. 

In the morning, Nolan was ecstatic when he was cleared to eat food again. He devoured a huge breakfast of turkey sausage, hash browns, wheat toast, raisin bran cereal, fruit cocktail, rice milk and apple juice. 

I was impressed with the medical staff throughout the experience. The doctors, nurses and students were all quite knowledgeable, caring, empathetic and helpful. Also, every person who left our hospital room asked, "Is there anything else I can help with?" before they departed. It was pretty amazing.

The attending physician told me her daughter also has a peanut allergy and that they have trained her to be extremely careful when eating new foods, accepting food from people outside her family, etc. Our pediatrician called to check on Nolan and said she also has a daughter with a peanut allergy. She shared an experience where her daughter ate a dessert that had nuts buried underneath whipped cream, even though they had specified "no nuts" when they ordered the dish. It's amazing how prevalent peanut allergies are these days.

So after a long scary afternoon and evening, Nolan was discharged from the hospital this afternoon. Everything turned out just fine, but it has been an eye-opening experience. I used to be squeamish about using the epi-pen but I am not any more. Our family now has first-hand experience that food allergies can be life-threatening.