Saturday, May 26, 2012

Three Wishes

In just seven days, I will join you--five extraordinary, amazing, hilarious and determined little girls--in toeing up at the starting line for your first 5k race.  You'll be jittery and excited.  You may feel a little unsure whether you'll succeed. You're going to be surrounded by hundreds of other little girls, some of whom will have come from very different--very privileged--neighborhoods.  But we'll do our best to focus, and when we hear the word "Go!" we'll dig down deep inside and draw on twelve weeks of practicing.  I have every confidence you are all going to make it across the finish line (and that I will be crying).  But the fact is, that tape really marks a beginning.  Because all of you are poised to start another kind of race, too: the race against uncertainty, against assaults on your confidence, and against all the odds that teen aged girls in one of DC's poorest neighborhoods are going to have to confront. 

If I could have just three wishes for you as you get started on that marathon, this is what they would be:

  1. Stay Strong. When we started our twice-a-week sessions last March, you couldn't even comprehend a 3.1 mile race.  We did a few laps around the confines of your school yard and you begged to rest.  But week after week, we ran.  When our legs hurt, we ran.  When our chests heaved, we ran.  And at one point, much to your surprise, we did a full three miles just to prove we could.  Each and every one of you has had an afternoon when you wanted to just stop moving, but you didn't.  We put our hands on our hearts, and we caught our breath, and we kept running (left, right, left, right) and somehow we found the strength to get it done.  Remember that feeling.  When people are cruel, when the work becomes hard, and when all you want to do is lie down and quit, you remember just how strong you are.  Feel your heart beating, take a deep breath, find your strength and keep on moving.
  2. Stay Beautiful. We are short, and we are tall.  We have braids, and we do not. Our skin is every hue.  Frequently, our socks don't match.  When we run, we grin and we laugh. We jump and we skip. We nourish ourselves with healthy food (well, mostly, though we do have a penchant for Jolly Rancher candies).  We feel the power in our legs. We pump our arms up and down. We feel the energy emanating off of us.  We are happy in our bodies. Hold onto that joy. Keep that pride in the connection between your body and your mind.  If the world tells you that you are too dark/heavy/short/tall or that you should be blonder/skinnier/curvier to be "pretty," you remember all the incredible and beautiful things that your body can do, then use your powerful legs to move away from that narrow thinking. You are luminous.
  3. Stay Together. There are so many things our society somehow neglected to provide for you: plentiful and warm clothing, access to fresh food, ample housing for you and your siblings, safe streets.  Right under the noses of our national leaders, you are starting your race having to hurtle over joblessness, little access to health care, low graduation rates and high rates of substance abuse. And you know what, it is absolutely not fair and we have failed you. But you do have parents who love you, and siblings to help you. Your teachers are there for you, as are your coaches. Most importantly, you have each other. During our season you argued, and sometimes you disappointed each other; but you also talked it out, supported each other, and hugged each other in the end.  You are each others' secret weapon, and together you are unstoppable.   
I'm not going to lie to you, being a teen aged girl can be really hard. Really hard. But you've already shown that you can do "the impossible." You've proven to yourself and the rest of the world that you are tough, and smart, and determined. You are a Girl on the Run getting ready for the starter's gun to go off, and there is no stopping you. And you can be sure that I am always cheering you on.  You can do this. On your marks, get set.....GO!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Learning New Tricks from an Old Dog

Out of necessity we developed a puppy peeing protocol pretty quickly.  As soon as the alarm went off, one person was positioned next to the dog’s crate in the bedroom, gently assuring her she was going to be able to go outside in just a moment.  The other was at the ready at the front door; hand on the door-knob ready to throw it open.  After shouting confirmations across the apartment, both doors were released and both humans cried, “Go! Go! Go!”  Molly—little more than an orange blur through the bedroom, then the hallway, and finally the living room—would typically make it until she reached the front doorstep, at which point she would abandon her self-control.  A pitcher of water was ceremoniously dumped on the porch, and we would pat ourselves on the back for coming one step closer to house-breaking our beloved dog.

The walk itself was an exercise in physical and mental fortitude.  Her powerful chest strained against her harness as she lunged down the sidewalk, while her human companion flexed legs, back and shoulders to keep her in check. Peripheral vision was critical in order to spot squirrels in advance of the puppy noticing them; one had only nanoseconds to prepare or run the risk of a dislocated shoulder or skinned knee.

As a puppy, Molly taught us patience, unconditional love, and the value of owning a steam cleaner.

These days she groggily meanders from her bed (memory foam, covered with synthetic sheepskin and her name embroidered on it, naturally) into the living room, usually around the time that both her humans are well into their first cup of coffee.  She nods to us, allows us to scratch her ears, and then settles onto the couch to drift back to sleep.  Some time later we gently wake her, and suggest that if she’s amenable perhaps she would enjoy a walk? Whereas she once forged ahead, dragging her human behind like some sort of flailing animated anchor, she’s now often bringing up the rear.  If she used to require at least a quarter of a mile between her and her house to even consider taking her poop, she’s now frequently happy to go no further than the front yard. And yet, all these years later she continues to teach me valuable life lessons.

When you’re moving slowly you have the chance to really pay attention to your surroundings. On our strolls I have learned the call and response of our local birds and can follow the progress of hawk hatchlings by the change in their cries. I know precisely when the frogs start singing, and on occasion catch a glimpse of deer leaping through the underbrush. I now recognize subtle differences in the sound of my own footsteps; there is a distinction between the way that twigs crackle underfoot on the dirt path, the murmur of shoes on fine cinder paths, and the robust crunch of walking on gravel.   
I watch fiddlehead ferns unfurl and tiny yellow flowers bloom on the forest floor. I examine home renovations in the neighborhood and assess their aesthetic value like some sort of architectural peeping tom.

I’ve also learned interpersonal skills.  Molly has shown me that if you are feeling tired or overwhelmed, slowing down and visiting with people is both a chance to rest and to broaden your social circle.  Taking the same route each day is not a reflection of being stuck in a rut, but an opportunity to see familiar faces and to check in with acquaintances.  And if you approach a person eagerly with a broad smile, they will more than likely stop to talk to you and possibly even share a biscuit from their pocket. 

And sometimes leaving home isn’t even the cure for whatever ails you.  Sometimes what you really need is to roll around in the grass and enjoy the sunshine on your belly.

Thanks, Molly, for giving me the chance for lifelong learning.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


In going over the stats for this month's Monthly Report, I realized that I was sick pretty much all month long. And do you know who I blame? I blame Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, one of those meddlesome 19th century lady busybodies, and her partner in crime, First Lady Helen Herron Taft.  Because of these two, Washington D.C. is virtually crawling with cherry blossom trees and I spent pretty much all of April sneezing my brains out.  Way to go, ladies.  Couldn't you have just built a goddamn school or started a book club like all the other "civic improvement" types?

Anyhoo, here you have it:  running the numbers for my April.  WARNING:  There is some math involved.