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Taking Chances

Finally, she mused 
that human existence 
is as brief as the life of autumn grass, 

So what was there to fear 
from taking chances with your life?

Mo Yan, Red Sorghum

I do my best thinking while blow drying my hair each day. Some people take long drives to contemplate a situation. Some meditate. Some spend hours in a therapist’s office hoping to find clarity. I however ponder life, weigh out my life scenarios, and even make my most important decisions while using a ridiculously large round brush and an 1800-watt hair dryer. 

Often I find myself overthinking a situation (I know this may shock some loyal Kiki followers – insert your snarky laugh here) and weighing in with 8,789 reasons why I should or should not do something. These last few years though I have shed these doubts and bouts with overthinking simply because I realize that life is short. Just do it as the Nike ad suggests. There are a million sayings that can fit this notion of “It’s Now or Never” – hell even Elvis sang about it and made millions with this approach. How did I get here though? 

Years of vulnerability and wanting to feel safe kept me in a very stable bubble. If I kept status quo and average, I would never rock the boat and life would be good. There would be no anxiety. No worry. No reason to get upset because everything was just the way it was supposed to be. 

Or was it? 

Certainly, my fitness journey gave me the confidence I lacked or shoved below sea level for years. I finally surfaced and declared…yes declared that I would no longer accept average in my life. I started to take chances that I never thought possible. Always outgoing I became fearless at work, became a master problem solver with a take no prisoners type attitude, and did not stop until I figured out any problem placed before me. At home, I was now handling situations with the kids with zero worry. Looking forward and not back was much more fulfilling than wallowing in the past and letting my feet remain stuck in the mud. 

Are there days when I am stuck in the war of the “what ifs”? You bet. I was just discussing this the other night and admitted that I sometimes allow the what ifs to rule me. I was reminded that practicing “mindfulness” and dealing with the right here and now would be the key. I am now soaking up as much of this practice as I can. Kiki promise to blog about this in the hopefully near future. Now back to my point about taking chances. 

The fitness thing led to Spartan which led to well…the key to everything I had been looking for even when I did not know I was looking. Every damn thing on that course from the rocks, the mud (that goddamn thigh high mud), obstacles, elevation, the comradery, random conversations, and finally – jumping fire represents life. Each race I have run has taught me more about me than any amount of therapy ever could. There was one race though that stands out as my signature race. I think about it every damn day (and not just when I am drying my hair). Tuxedo 2018. My third time on that mountain. I ran alone. Well, I was not alone – in Spartan, you are never alone. You are with thousands of fellow racers all there with the same purpose. Nevertheless, this day, I ran happy and was so at peace. I emerged from each part of the trail truly renewed. I came up with new mental strategies to prepare myself for the next leg. I was smiling more than I ever did in a race. I was so alive. There are other races when I can feel myself approaching the finish line. You can hear the music from the festival area pumping. You can feel the energy from the crowds and the surge of adrenaline from the last obstacles. But mostly for me…you can smell the fire. I can feel it in my bones. It NEVER signifies the finish for me. It is a symbol of taking chances and a leap of faith. There are some races when I am only physically able to hop over the line of fire. Not this time. I turned the corner to find the final rig obstacle. I nailed it (yay me) and looked ahead at the line of flames and the finish line beyond them. Yes, I could have hopped over as before and race towards the medal. I could have accepted this because it is what I normally did. But no. I train every night (yes every night) to no longer accept average. As my friend, Scott tells me “You must train with the single purpose to reach that finish line”. And so I sprinted. I sprinted as if I was running to catch the last plane off the burning planet. That is when it happened. I lept. Sailed over those flames. I landed with my hands in the air and tears streaming down my cheeks. The medal was soon around my neck and I was at peace. Really…what was to fear from taking chances? 

I will no longer be rooted and stuck in fear of taking chances and stepping outside of my comfort zone. I realize that it will be tough. I will still have days peppered with anxiety but I look back and realize it is a far worse life if I never take these chances. As Mo Yan says…our human existence is as brief as the autumn grass. 

Let go. Leap. Take chances. 

Live. 

 

Every.Damn.Day.

We dropped to the ground for push-ups I said to Shari, “Do you remember wearing that shirt for the first time?” Shari smiled and said, “To this day that day will always be one of my best accomplishments”. We were both beaming and I said “You did it!”. Shari wore her Be1st tank to her first Spartan race in June 2016. As we moved to the next Boot Camp station I was overwhelmed with emotion thinking about Shari and a few others in the gym that day that bring me to tears. Right before we picked up the Battle Ropes I hugged Shari and said “I am so happy to know you girl.” We chatted a little bit more as we slammed those damn ropes and Shari said, “I love what you do. The writing. The workouts.” I simply replied “We do what we have to do….every damn day.” 

It hit me. 

Every.Damn.Day. I get up every single day and wonder what will come my way and I smile. Really, smile. There were days a little under five years ago when my feet would hit the floor and simultaneously I would say “Ugh”. I would slither through the morning routine and out the door to work with a scowl on my face. I was not miserable. I think I was just going through the motions and waiting to climb back into bed and arise for the next morning’s ugh. 

By now, you have been following me and know that so much of me has changed since 2014. The ripple effect of my transformations have turned into a tidal wave in some arenas which have caused an upheaval of sorts. Life changes are coming that I just know will bring a slew of opportunities. Instead of trudging out of bed, I fly to the Keurig (which is now known as “Nancy” since Siri recently changed my Keurig to Kerrigan. See? Little silly things like this make me giggle and look at things differently) and create caffeine gold which perks me up in no time. I come alive in the few hours before I leave for work. I can truly say that I hit the ground running each day. 

There are days when I complain and complain LOUDLY. The traffic is bad. Long Island is turning. No one knows how to drive. I am hungry. I need more coffee. Why does my foot hurt? Damn it, my foot really does hurt. Then I remember….just breathe. Let us take it all in. Think of how lucky you really are. You live on Long Island – still a great place. You are driving to work – be happy you have a career you love. You have food to eat and there is a Starbucks on every corner. I even remind myself that I have feet – some do not. Shut up and breathe Kiki. Let’s tackle this day and slay it. 

Work is forever busy. They say a busy mind will never allow you to truly grow old. If that is the case, I may be walking this earth until I am 127. Not likely but the Kiki math makes it fun to think about. I come home each day to unwind and then change for the gym. It is a nightly ritual. I leave the house and set up my playlist for the 20-minute drive to Westbury. I sing at the top of my lungs. Lately I have been belting out tunes from the Mean Girls Broadway soundtrack. I am getting better actually. I may consider auditioning. You never know. They may need an understudy someday and I’m just the girl for the job. But I digress. 

I pull into the gym and I’m flanked by my circle. We are all part of this crazy world. We have each other. We have made each other strong. We are all raising kids. Survived 9/11. Losing a spouse and trying to raise a family without losing a step. Running marathons. Raising a child with a disability. We are all different yet we are the same. We all have goals, needs, wants, and dreams. My girls and I text about anything from typos in the supermarket to sex to what we would do with the gazillions of Powerball dollars we are going to win one day. I cannot make it through life without my crew. I am humbled by them and their experiences and hardships. I am reminded that we all have struggles but we just keep going. If you stop…you are idle and you will be pushed to the side of the road waiting for repairs. So let’s just keep going. Let’s welcome the world and everything it brings the minute our feet hit the ground. Every. Damn. Day. 

 

 

“OMG..it’s Karen!’”

As Parents Weekend at Julia’s school comes to a slow crawl (currently stuck in an hour long traffic jam) I’m drifting back to yesterdays events. Spending the day with Jules on my old stomping grounds was a gift. Another moment though stole my heart yesterday and hurled me back some 17 years ago. Let me explain.

While sitting in the lounge enjoying my Starbucks I heard “omg it’s you Karen..Hiiiii Karen”. I turned to find our Reed running towards me and hugging me. Oh wow. It was Reed – Jakes first friend ever. Reed is a College of Saint Rose student too. Right behind him arms outstretched is his mom…my Brenda.

Jake and Reed met in preschool September 2001. Both had recently been diagnosed with Autism. Two weeks after they started school I found myself sitting in a parent support group in the schools gym. I sat there with a cold cup of coffee with bags under my eyes hoping no one could see that I’d been crying every day for a month. I was silent only responding if directly asked a question.

Across from me sat this vision of a mom. Perfect hair, makeup that was air brushed, pearls, loafers, and a killer look from Banana Republic. I didn’t know if I should hate her or ask if she wanted to go shopping. She told us her name was Brenda and that she was an attorney. I thought oh my God this one is so good at this. She’s handling this like a champ. I’m sitting here weeping like child and she’s so snappy. Look at her. We made eye contact and I smiled. That was it. Brenda drew me in.

We met every week at our group and never stopped talking. Conversations turned into every day phone calls, play dates with the kids, double dates with the guys, family parties, and endless school events.

I learned that Brenda has many of the same struggles I had with the kids but just had a different outlook on things. Together we used our different strategies to help each other get through the day to day. Brenda has a knack for looking to the future with the most realistic and positive outlook I will never forget. I was worried about making it through dinner that night and Brenda was researching drivers licenses for the boys.

Years went by and the boys matured in ways we hoped for but just couldn’t imagine. Life stepped in. It got busy. We’d go for months without talking but we never ever lost sight of each other. One day we received the most beautiful invitation in the mail to Reeds Bar Mitzvah. I dropped the invite on the table and burst into tears. Reed was making his Bar Mitzvah. My God.

Months later I walked into Temple and saw looked up to see Brenda in front of me looking gorgeous as ever. We didn’t say anything. We just stared at each other. The tears came quickly for both of us and we held each other for a long time. I just looked at her and said “We made it my friend”. I then looked at Reed and thought..life really is good. This boy who we loved for so many years was now a man. Reed aced his ceremony. The next day we enjoyed Reeds celebration without a care in the world. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house that day despite us dancing the day away!

Flash forward to yesterday when we giggled and reminisced over the coffee listening to Reed and Jake now 20 years old talk to each other like long lost pals. I turned to Brenda and said I love you. What I really wanted to say was thank you. Thank you for holding my hand and pulling me through those early years that I thought I’d never get through. I hope she knows that I’ve got her back until we leave this earth.

I’m a firm believer that people are placed on your path for specific reasons. They are meant to be here with you on your journey. I don’t wish Autism on anyone but I do wish you a Brenda. Your life will be changed forever. Mine was.

Thank you my friend.

Hey Jules..

Hey Jules,

Zoom in on the Madre sitting cross legged in your room armed with a trash bag. I’m trying to make a path to your closet so that I can start the big purge of clothing that hasn’t graced your back since you were a Freshman in Bethpage.

It’s been ten days since we dropped you off at Saint Rose. I’ve actually been pretty good with tears. That is until today. I’m Still in my gym clothes from Boot Camp trying to muscle through this room and the memories you have been growing in here since you care home from the hospital.

A conversation I had with your Uncle Mike (and Aunt Di) just came to mind. He talked about it being his greatest accomplishment to raise his kids to be good people – really awesome humans who when ready could head out into this world and fly. I’ll never ever forget that intense conversation with Uncle Mike. It left a mark on me and now here I am watching your new life begin. It’s happening right before my very eyes.

I’m making progress… I stacked your Harry Potter books in the bookcase remembering how you devoured these books one by one. I would find you up late just reading. I never scolded you for that – you always did have our love for reading. Never lose that! Reading as you know can bring you to incredible places…

I just found a box that you decorated with “Beautiful – the Carole King Musical” signs. We told you you could see the show if you save your money. You always have done everything with a dramatic flair! Well you got there not once but you’ve seen the show three times. You don’t know that we put that money back in your box after you bought your first set of tickets.

This room is still loaded with Hamilton memories. Remember our Hamilton craze? All those days leading up to April 26, 2016 when we witnessed magic! That show with you was nothing short of wizardry. You know how I feel about Lin’s views but that man is a lyrical genius. Thank you for introducing me to music that I still belt out every single day on the way to Starbucks after a stressful day at work.

Your jazz/show shoes just peeked out from under your dresser. My goodness they put in some stage miles haven’t they? How I’ll miss watching you in the BHS Masquers Guild productions. The afternoons of picking you up from rehearsals and listening to your rants about the producers, cast shenanigans, and the fun you were having. I would watch the energy surround you as you spoke. It was absolutely electrifying. All of those talks would stay with me as you took the stage every night during show week. I couldn’t have written a better script for you.

All of your handwritten scripts are in the trundle under your bed. Your creations are legendary. You caught the theater writing bug early. Wasn’t it after I gave you the Grimmary– the backstage creation story of Wicked? I’m convinced you can write a story or musical about anything! Please don’t stop writing Jules! You have a gift for others to open with your stories.

You have certainly filled this room with memories. I’m proud to have been a part of so many of them – if only as a guide at times. I’m sure your dorm room is starting to collect new memories and experiences. You are in an amazing school and community of people who will change your life forever.

I’ve reached the closet. Time to see what waits for me on the other side of the store. If it’s anything like what I’ve just been through this past hour well then I never want to leave. Your world is exciting to me – so happy to be a part of you and all that lies ahead.

Love you,

Momsy

Finish What You Started

It has been months since my last Blog. I have no reason for the lapse other than sheer procrastination. I think. When thinking of what to write I thought you have to finish what you started as it was one of my last year’s suggestions to write/blog on a regular basis.

Finishing things was always somewhat of an issue when I was growing up. My Mom always said that I had good intentions…and then would trail off. I let other things cloud my goals and yes, that damn procrastination took over and I allowed plans to stall or just plain fizzle. I settled and let it happen. Situations changed when I had kids because well, you just cannot let things ride when you have kids. Goals with the kids were always met except for maybe putting my foot down about cooking four separate meals while they were growing up. That my friends is a completely different blog. My business world is full of deadlines which I meet easily (although some days I am kicking and screaming all the way to the last day) and my life outside of work in let’s say PTA was successful in that I was able to collaborate with my boards to complete piles of projects and plans. Yes, I can do things well when I put my mind to it. We all can. It is just a matter of drive and the basic question of “How bad do you want it?”

2017 – My second Spartan season. I was certainly more confident than my first season. I doubled up on my training and committed to running my races. I became more involved in the Spartan community and started to learn that my new passion is something that I truly cannot and will not live without. The principles I have learned in this world have spilled into my personal life. I will talk about this extensively in future blogs and if you happen to catch me in conversation about this topic. For this and a million other reasons, I realized after my summer race in Boston that I needed to finish what I started and grab my Trifecta by the end of the year.

Things had really changed last season. My outlook on life was completely altered since my maiden season when I first jumped fire at Tuxedo in 2016. I realized that I could do ANYTHING if I really planned for it. Gifts arrived in my life last year that showed me that I was indeed on the right path. They have strengthened me and shown me that my life is on course and is headed towards what I really want – to be me…and my best me at that. Again. Mom was right. Be yourself but be your best self.

In September, I knew I had to register for my last race of the season in order to complete the Trifecta. It would be a Beast, which to my non-Spartan friends means a Spartan race that is 12-15 miles long filled with 8 billion obstacles. My first thought was to register for Dallas but after researching the course and consulting with my personal Spartan guru, I decided that the final race would be in Florida. The issue was then getting there. I knew at this point that I would be travelling and racing alone. That to me was huge. As many of you know, I am a social beast. I do everything with my friends and enjoy life to the fullest when I am with them. This would be different. I planned it out during my trip to Boot Camp every single night and finally announced that I would fly into Florida on 12/8, race 12/9, and return home on 12/10. There was no question. I could not let the Trifecta go. I worked too hard in Boot Camp and in Planet Fitness to not grab what I wanted. I needed to jump fire and wear that green medal. I could taste it.

I announced the plans that I would be running Florida. I knew that my friends in Spartan 4-0 would be with me on the course. In Spartan, you are never ever alone. You can be on that course and look at someone and they will help. I have written about my Spartan angels in past blogs. They are real. They are everywhere on (and off) that course. Before I knew it, I was sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight to Tampa. I struck up a conversation with someone on the plane who when they heard I was running a race in Florida said…”I admire you doing this at your age”. I cannot say that I am sorry for bopping them in the head when I pulled out my bag from the overhead compartment and beating them off the plane. At my age. As if. I would like to see you try to climb a wall or slog through mud and barbed wire lady. I digress. The drive from Tampa to Lakeland was flawless and somewhat liberating. I was alone. I was doing this for me. I thought…in 24 hours, I will wear that green medal and hopefully be diving into a very large bottle of wine.

The night before the race was nerve wracking. No. It was not nerve-wracking. It was terrifying. It rained all night long. I thought about what the rain was doing to the course. It did not matter. We literally ran through a hurricane during our Boston race. I made it through that. I was not going to let more mud and rain get to me. I did not get much sleep between the storm and the nerves. Before I knew it though I was sitting at breakfast with my 4-0 pals laughing and taking selfies. After breakfast, I geared up and put my game face on. I piled it all into my UPGRADE rental (everyone deserves a very large upgrade in life) and headed for the race. On the final approach into the lot, I found myself singing “Mas Tequila” by Sammy Hagar at the top of my lungs. I was relaxed. It was still raining. In true Spartan fashion, I parked about a mile from the entrance. It is the Spartan way because you cannot run 12-15 miles and then just get into your car. That isn’t enough. You need to hobble another 1.6 miles back to your car.

On the way to the start corral, I found my pals Ray and Rob who helped me with my hydration pack which was now hemorrhaging Gatorade. I needed my fuel for the race but there was really nothing I could do about it. I am not allowed water breaks in Hell Boot Camp so what difference did it make. I took my place in the corral and met so many familiar Spartan 4-0 faces that I see every day on Facebook and Instagram. It was time to shout “I am a Spartan” right before we take off. It gets me every time and I cry. Not shocking really considering how sentimental I am. I ran the first mile at a good pace. I was beaming because if you know the real me…I loathe running. I hit the Hay Bale obstacle and pulled myself over with zero issue. I literally turned around to look what I had done. In other races, I need a boost and my Nicole to rip the arm out of my socket to get me over. Hmm I thought…let’s keep going. I hit the next one or two obstacles and thought my God Kiki you are on a roll here. By the time I got to my nemesis “The Bucket Brigade” I thought…just get in there girl. I boxed jumped to the top of the rock pile. HUGE feat. I do not box jump. I step. Somehow, though I found the adrenaline to do it. The rest of the obstacles were challenging and very hard but I got through it one at a time. Except the rope. I will not get that rope no matter how hard I try. You just have to finish. One foot in front of the other.

The course was long and I decided early on that I would think. Really think about things while I ran or walked. I had three topics two of which were Jake and Julia. I thought about how far these angels have come in life and how my life would never be what it is without them.  I would not be on a Spartan course working my ass off if it wasn’t for what I am trying to teach them. Never give up on your goals and what you want for anybody, any reason, or anything. Keep pushing yourself even when things get in your way or seem as if they will never get better. Never settle or accept average for that is not what will get you through life. Hard work and determination will get you through any situation placed before you.  Passion about what you love will get you through hell. You just have to want it bad enough.

I got to mile 12 and someone mentioned the time. I had been on the course for over 4 hours but that was where I wanted to be pace wise. The 2016 Beast had me on the course for 8 ½ hours. I was almost done and it was nearly 4 ½ hours. My goal was in reach. By the time I reached the Dunk Wall, I was giddy. Giddy or getting punch drunk with adrenaline. My hydration pack was toast so I literally tossed it to a spectator and said please trash this. I could see the finish line and smell the fire ahead of me. In typical Spartan fashion, the course creators kicked us back into the trails for another 3-mile hike and final 4 obstacles. The end was indeed near but it would need to wait. I spent the last few miles climbing and clawing through thoughts and obstacles. I was back in the trails and back into deep thoughts. I thought of Julia. Her last year in school. Her college choices. Her relationship with me and how much fun we have together. Yes, I am a very strong disciplinarian but we have an incredible bond. We giggle and we binge-watch Friends together laughing like village idiots over the characters. I tell Jules every day that you cannot give up on yourself. Always plug away. Always go for what you want in life even if you do not think the outcome will go as planned. I found myself smiling as I came up to the last two obstacles. I could hear the DJ and you will not believe what was playing…it was the theme from Friends “I’ll Be There for You”. I could not believe it. It was truly a sign that I was not alone. Jules got my message and was with me. Jake was with me. I found my strength at the Hercules Hoist (my fave obstacle) and hoisted that damn red sandbag with one hand. I was pumped and I was singing along. Then it happened. I jumped over that damn fire. The final obstacle. I crossed the finish line ALONE. There was no one to greet me. There was no one to high five me. I collected my banana and Finisher shirt wearing my green medal ALONE. I did it. I came to run this race and prove to myself and myself only that I could do this. Walking back to the car, I heard my medal clink that distinctive Spartan sound….clink clink clink clink clink as it banged against my chest. I heard the cry “I am a Spartan” that we screamed at the beginning. I had earned my Trifecta and most importantly,…I finished what I had started.