Monday, January 26, 2009

What I'm Reading -- SV Moms Book Club: Who by Fire by Diana Spechler

Like every parent in the world, I have thought about the horrible "what if" of losing a child. I lock my doors, fear strangers beyond a reasonable level, and tend to have a near cardiac arrest every time the PG&E man appears in my backyard on his way to read the gas meter. And like most parents I know, my internal pendulum swings wildly between my urge to "helicopter parent" and my strong dislike of overparenting. If it's morning, I'll decide to let the kids play in the backyard unsupervised. By afternoon, I'm kicking myself because my 2-year old ends up with a black eye.

I just finished reading the fictional novel "Who by Fire" for the my bloggers book club with SVMoms. I had a hard time putting it down and stayed up way past my bedtime for more nights than I should have. The book has complicated, sarcastic, funny-yet-empathetic characters and a brisk plot. It also touches on themes that strike a chord with me right now: religion, loss, parenting, sexuality, and growing up. It made me ask myself a lot of questions like how would we cope with the loss of a child? What if our little girl got into a stranger's car one day and we never saw her again? What is an appropriate role for religion in our lives? When does fervent religious belief cross the line and become a cult?

Interestingly, the story begins about fifteen years after the tragic kidnapping of the family's youngest daughter. So the horror of that day, and of the months and years that immediately followed are not seen by the reader but they are felt. They have scarred the family members in ways that surprised me. If I think about what would become of me if my own child was kidnapped, I draw a blank. I see a void. I can't begin to imagine how I would carry on or how it would scar, deform or ruin the lives of the rest of my family.

In the book, Ash, the older brother, ends up becoming a devout Jew and joining a Yeshiva in Israel. His sister, Bits, loses herself in risky sex with strangers. The parents divorce. The book moves back and forth between Israel and the United States as well as between the web of relations between the characters, who seem at first to have grown surprisingly distant from each other as they cope in their own unhealthy ways with their loss.

Reading this book reminded me of some important lessons that I seem to learn, and learn and then learn again in my own life. Not to judge. Not to be complacent or take relationships for granted. Get help when you need it. Find the balance between vigilance with your kids and letting them grow up and away from you. In the end, I got a lot more out of this book than mere bedtime reading.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My New (Invisible) Running Partner: Robert

It's a new year and resolutions have been resolved (and even broken, sadly). Mine was to get back into running. After my peak of running the Santa Cruz Wharf to Wharf 10K last summer, my running fell off a cliff. I don't even really know why. Somehow I went from training for a 10K to not running at all, except for the occasional slow plod on the treadmill at the gym while watching the wacky women on The View.

A friend and her sister told me about their new plan to get in shape and lose the last blobs of baby weight. It's called "From Couch Potato to 5K". It's a beginner's training program that has you walk and jog in slow intervals and takes you from doing no exercise to being able to run 3 miles in about 2 months. You can find it on, but even better, you can download a podcast of it on ITunes. I somehow got my better half to agree to try this with me. Luckily, he did the hard technical stuff, like unearthing our Ipod, charging it up again and downloading the Podcasts. A warning to those of you hitting the gym again after a long break: It turns out the Ipod Shuffle is not machine washable! Left mine clipped to my gym clothes and it came out of my washing machine looking shiny, new and totally broken.

The great thing about doing a training program with a podcast playing in your ears is how little you have to think or even wear a watch. Needing a watch to time my workout intervals is tricky since I can never find it. The digital running watch I've had for years recently became part of Boy Wonder's superhero costumes. Ever since he began strapping it onto his wrist to talk to Commission Gordon, I can't find it.

I turn on the Ipod and there's Robert, my mellow 43-year old friend who decided to take up running again on his birthday. Go Robert! He has selected all sorts of dubious techno music snippets that he plays for the right length of time while I run. He usually ends the running intervals with little encouraging words about how great I'm doing. Really? I am? All right then. This all may sound cheezy and simplistic, but you won't know until you try it. It's refreshingly mindless to have someone talking you through a workout, and it even saves me from my own bad workout music mixes. An example: I ended up running Wharf to Wharf alternating between Madonna and the 8 Mile soundtrack.

Time will tell if I can stick to this program. But for ease of use and the slow build-up from lazybones to running wonder, it's hard to beat the couch potato to 5K plan.