Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Biker Chick

Tonight I got back on the bike. You know, the one without the pedals. Yep. Not up to pedal speed just yet. But I did make it outside onto the pavement this time. I would call that a step up from the hallway intro to biking of my first lesson.

This was biking 201. We went outside to experience the raw biker experience: traffic, speedbumps and hills. I can say I was a little less scared and a heck of a lot more confident that I wouldn't hit or get hit by a car. The speedbumps surprisingly were not so comfortable but the real wind in my hair---priceless.

I was able to lift my feet off the ground for a time and was told that I was actually advancing. Some might even call it riding a bike. I am hopeful that my next lesson will include both the great outdoors and pedals. Perhaps I will wear a black leather jacket and a studded necklace and become a biker chick. I guess anything is possible.

With my ongoing biking experiment and the month of October approaching, I realized that it is time to start planning ahead for my next adventure. So while the world of the bicycle will continue, its on to my fear of heights for the month of October. I have been scoping out some potential locations for my rise in altitude. I feel ready to conquer this fear as I feel like it places so many limitations on my activities. Ski lifts, roller coasters and snow shoeing are just a few of the high-life activities that interest me. I am a fan of climbing trees and a zip line sounds cool. Who doesn't want to become their own Tarzan or Jane and swing on a vine? I am not talking bungee jumping or sky diving. Sky diving, by the way, is something my husband did to celebrate graduating from medical school. I was five months pregnant with baby number 1 and I took him as a present. A present, might I add, that he had been dreaming of since we met 10 years ago.

Now its my turn to face the fear. I will keep you all updated when I secure a location and someone crazy enough to join with me on my climb. How else am I going to have a photo of my ascent to a high place? Until then however, I suppose it will be life on the ground for the next few weeks while I plan this stage of facing my fear of heights. So lay low and stay tuned.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Day of Atonement

The Jewish high holidays always make me think of the year that has passed and the one that lies ahead. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the new year. We eat round challah bread and dip apples in honey for a sweet new year. On Yom Kippor, the Day of Atonement, we reflect on all of the mistakes we have made in the past year and ask for forgiveness from those we hurt, from ourselves and from G-d.

This year over the high holidays, I have been thinking very seriously about my new start to my thirty-second year. The goals I have set before me are great. Not just in selecting twelve meaningful projects that I have passed over throughout the years. But also, to listen to the voice inside me and hear what it has been saying. How do I select the tasks that will steer this year in the right direction? How do I choose from amongst all of my goals and fears and decide which ones to tackle?

Should these projects have to do with my mom and accomplishing dreams of hers she never had the chance to tackle? While I have to admit, I find that path very tempting, I know now after all of these years, I have to live for myself, for my family, for my children. I have to answer to all the hopes and dreams within my own self and my own life before I can come to terms with what it means to live for another person. My mom, may she rest in peace, went to college, became a teacher and later a stay at home mom to her three gifts in this world. She was living out her dreams. And somewhere deep down inside, I know she would want me to live for myself, continue to develop my inner voice and challenge myself in a way that brings inner peace to my year of introspection.

So, already, I have cleared the path around my project to require that these projects be about me. To make a list of goals and fears I want to accomplish despite the tempting nature to live out the hopes of other people. This year is about me growing closer to the person I am inside and there is only one way to achieve that outcome---I have to make the path for myself, one stone at a time.

Some ideas such as learning to riding a bike or overcoming my fear of heights came to my mind almost immediately when launching this project. I knew riding a bike was something I needed to master as I began watching my three year old ride her tricycle around our neighborhood. If you can't learn to ride a bike in your thirties, when can you? It's one of those things I feel like I have to accomplish alongside my children.

As an environmentalist and an avid hiker, overcoming my fear of heights seemed inevitable. How could I, the tree-hugger from New England, not learn how to climb a tree or complete a ropes course? I do hike and I do ski but the hiking is very low-grade. No rock climbing or snowshoeing over here. Just a casual walk through national parks or around a waterfall or two. I like cross-country skiing, not just because it includes quiet walks through the forest in the winter, but because it excludes the ski lifts. I have gone a few times up proper mountains, but I certainly would not say I did it with ease.

I mentioned public speaking as it seems like something I have tried to tackle on a number of occasions. Sure who hasn't tried to run for student council in high school or given a presentation during a college class? These required speeches in small settings drove me nuts. The night before a talk, I would be up all night pacing, practicing my words, worried I would trip up the stairs. You know, the typical "night before a speech" mind games. I need something bigger, something more challenging to push me. Perhaps my talk will take place at my synagogue as an end of the year review. I certainly don't expect Oprah or Ellen to call me up to visit their shows. (Please note: If they did, I would bite the bullet and run with it). So talking in front of a large group of people, publicizing my efforts, reflecting on my accomplishments and elevating my mom's spirit... definitely a must on this list.

A few other ideas I have in mind include: working in a flower shop, whitewater rafting and taking ballroom dance classes with my husband. The flower shop has always been a place of happiness for me. Growing up in the suburbs outside of Boston, I loved visiting the plant stores and nurseries around town. I loved shopping for flowers before a big dance at school or planning for the bouquets for my wedding. Something about the arrangements and colors always attracted me to flowers. First I fell in love with peach roses, then calla lilies, then gerbera daisies. Now I am in love with orchids. I had one once but they are so delicate to care for, it didn't survive a trip I took to Denver. I guess a call to a local flower shop is in order to see if they want a volunteer some time this year.

Rafting stems from my love of nature and obsession with water. I love, love, love the rain. John Cusack in Say Anything standing in the rain with the radio blasting "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel is the quintessential romantic moment of all 80's movies, if you ask me. In fact, it poured rain on my wedding day and despite our plan for a calm, outdoor ceremony, I was internally thrilled that it was raining. When other people go inside and shut the blinds during a storm, I put on my raincoat, rain hat, grab an umbrella and take a walk. I like boats and boat houses... and I love the City of Seattle and anything that has to do with it. Sleepless in Seattle is another favorite of mine. At the same time, I am afraid of little boats. Cruise ships don't phase me. But paddle boats, canoes and certainly anything inflated, is on my "fears of all time" list. So rafting makes the grade.

My last idea, which brings me to number six if you're counting, is ballroom dance. Sure I was in a few musicals and show choir (think Glee) in high school. But ballroom dancing with someone always seemed like a fun but difficult feat. I do like Dancing with the Stars and I admit to watching Dirty Dancing as a child and practicing some of the moves in my living room--- But to dance with my husband, that will be the challenge. To learn the steps, dance to the beat and then have to practice those moves relying on another person to lead, that sounds like a crazy task to me. Let alone the task of trying to plan around my husband's residency schedule which reads like a law review. It is so complicated, I wonder sometimes if he knows when he is supposed to be "on" at the hospital. I think sometimes people in his program must just show up at shift change times just to cover their bases in case they were scheduled. (Don't tell him I said that)!

So there we have it. A holiday weekend behind me and six tasks for the taking. The question arises... will I complete each of these tasks in order? I need to think about how to plan this year. Surely some tasks are seasonal. Bike riding, climbing and rafting are all spring/summer projects. While public speaking, ballroom dancing and flower shop work can be done year-round. So perhaps I will leave these for the winter. I have already declared September as bike riding month so at least I am safe for now. But October is right around the corner.... I guess I better get cracking to line up the next task and do some research for the months ahead to find a flower shop nearby and locate a dance class.

Still six more projects to select and which ones will I choose? Hopefully more dreams will come to me. Maybe once I complete a task, something else will pop up in its place. The truth is, I find that the more people I tell about this project, the more others share their goals and fears with me. People share tasks still incomplete in their lives and dreams they left on the shelf for another day. If I have learned nothing else two weeks into my thirty-second year, it is that one is never too old to learn, just sometimes a little too unwilling to listen to oneself.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My 32nd Year Begins

So here it is at the end of my birthday and already I feel like a different person. Older, yes. Tired, yes. Frightened, ok. But invigorated too. The outpouring of support I have encountered since launching this project has been tremendous. And to all of you who have shared your thoughts, personal stories of struggle and fears of bicycles... thank you for putting your trust and your faith in me.

Ok, enough sappy stuff. Lets talk bikes.

I think that I mentioned before that I am not into bike riding. Not that I'm against it. Its just I haven't exactly had the most positive experience balancing my whole body on two wheels. Why is it that they don't make bikes with training wheels for adults? Because adults are too embarrassed to admit they don't know how to ride? I can't possibly be the only one out there...

So where do you go when you're turning 32 and you still can't ride a bike? You go to my friend Jason. To say he likes bikes is an understatement. He channels bikes in everything he does. Every Facebook post he makes. And certainly, when the Tour de France season comes around, you better watch out because the man is a living spokesperson for the race. Anyone local to the DC area knows exactly who I am talking about. When I approached him with my year long project, he sighed, took one look at me and said, "Ok Jen, I guess I will teach you how to ride a bike!" Wahoo!

So here we are in September with project one: Learning to Ride a Bike

Me being me, I did a little bit of research before my first lesson cause that's what I know how to do: research. Anytime I am preparing for something I know little to nothing about, I try to do a little bit of background research. I guess it makes me feel more in control of situations that make me anxious. Who knew I would find a treasure trove of information with instructions and how-to videos on the Web. Here is one Wiki site that I found with a basic step by step: http://www.wikihow.com/Ride-Bicycle. After reviewing this material, I started to mentally prepare for the big day.

Today was the first day since I was in elementary school that I sat on a non-stationary bicycle. No training wheels and no pedals (we will get to that in a minute) and certainly no pretty basket with flowers. This was a big, adult size bike with two wheels bigger than me. Day one's lesson started with seat and height adjustments to the bike and the addition of the wheels. See, I told you this guy was a serious biker. Next, I learned how to balance myself on said bike without falling over. In fact, we had the lesson indoors on a carpeted hallway to start me off on the right foot. The pedal-less concept is Jason's. He takes the pedals off the bike so you can just focus on balancing without attempting to "ride." I would say it was a scary, yet exhilarating feeling walking myself down the hallway on my two wheeled mobile. I do think the seats could be a whole lot more comfortable though. Who would design a seat so small which you can barely sit on? If I were spending hours riding a bike, I would want the Lazy Boy version of a bike seat. I don't need a recline function but some padding and pillow top would be a nice addition.

Nevertheless, I am happy to say that I survived my first bike lesson unscathed and even a bit empowered. Perhaps I am not to old after all to learn new tricks. I did realize though that one doesn't simply sit on a bike and ride. I sure have a long way to go before cruising down Sligo Creek on my new set of wheels but I am proud to have taken the first step. Stay tuned for photos from my first lesson and look out for a thirty something on wheels coming soon to a park near you.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Taking the Plunge

I am just a week shy of turning 32 and I am officially having a midlife crisis. This is the birthday that as a child, I grew to fear over the years. I am a mom to an almost three year old girl who is going on her teenage years and a six month old boy who is starting to crawl. My husband is in his second of a four year medical residency that often leaves me feeling like I am inside one of those gerbil wheels going around and around without end. I work part time in environmental policy but have been on maternity leave since my son was born. Part of me wishes to stay home full time, while the other realizes that my salary is paramount to the financial survival of our family these days and I do have a fabulous and flexible job. With my birthday looming over me like a cat pawing at a piece of string, I have been searching for a way to come to terms with my year ahead and hope that I live to tell the tale when I am 33.

I guess I should start off my saying that my mom passed away at the age of 32 when I was only fourteen months old. My wonderful father raised my then eight year old sister, six year old brother and me along with the help of his mother in law, my nana. I never knew what it was like to see my mom, hear her voice, or watch my parents together. All my memories of her are saved in a few photo albums and some sections of my mind where I keep the stories I have been told over the years. I remember what it was like to discover boxes of old super 8 movies when I was snooping around in my dad’s closet as a kid and to finally see those movies burned onto dvd years later. It was the first time I had ever seen my mom move. There are no sounds on these videos so I cannot hear her voice but seeing her move meant everything to me. She died of brain cancer which was discovered shortly after she gave birth to me, despite expressing symptoms throughout the pregnancy. While I never officially mourned for my mom, I think it may be the true source of my postpartum depression that I faced so painfully after my daughter’s birth.

How does one come to the age when their mother passed away and survive? How do they learn to be a good wife or a mother for the first time without that mother figure to guide them? In my mind, I have been saving up all of these thoughts and goals to accomplish when I get older and yet a part of me never believed I would live beyond the age of 32. I guess I sort of saw my mom’s death as a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. When I acknowledged my postpartum depression, I signed myself up for an MRI of my brain to once and for all prove to myself that I did not in fact have an undiscovered brain tumor like my mom. After the doctor gave me the free and clear, I went back to rebuilding my life and reinventing myself as a wife and a new mom.

Thus, the birth of this project. One night a few months ago, I realized that my birthday was just around the corner and that I had two paths to take. I could fall slowly but surely into a year long depression waiting for the bad news to come and mourning once again the loss of my mom. Or, I could turn this year into a project, a year of goals where I seek to accomplish something each month and achieve goals my mother never had the chance to achieve. I guess it is sort of like living through her but in my own way. I decided it was time to stop living in fear of dying and at the same time, stop living in what felt like the shadow of my husband’s career and my children’s nap schedule.

There is no better time for me to pencil myself into my weekly calendar than now. So I have decided to make a list of all the things I have wanted to do, fears to overcome, tasks to accomplish, and select one “project” per month to tackle during my 32nd year. These goals will help me look forward to the year to come and keep reminding myself that I am here for the long haul. I have started compiling a list of fears to overcome such as speaking in front of crowds as well as mundane dreams of mine such as volunteering at a flower shop. Also, I never learned to ride a bike. My brother once tried to teach me but I rode into a parked car at the elementary school behind my house growing up and that was it. If it’s not stationary, I don’t ride it.

I am sure there are many more large scale dreams of mine I would like to achieve such as backpacking in Australia and New Zealand or getting glammed up and attending the Oscars but for a young mom of two with a husband who works over 90 hours a week, I am trying to be realistic and accomplish the little things on my list this year. Perhaps I will overcome my fear of heights through a ropes course or experience a new side of nature while whitewater rafting. Or perhaps this year will be about ME experiencing ME, uncovering MY lost voice and flipping this midlife crisis on its back. This will surely be an adventure of a lifetime. I just hope I am brave enough to come along for the ride.