obstacles, or: well begun is half done

I was at the gym the other day, surveying the abundant types of equipment. The kids had ventured to the babysitting room, so I stood in the doorway feeling carefree. I must have looked helpful—the broad smile of a mother who relinquished care of her children for an hour—because an older woman walked right up to me.

“Where have all the Stairmasters gone?” she asked, puzzled.

“They retired in the ‘90s?” I offered, smiling. She did not smile. I don’t make a lot of friends at the gym. In fact, I probably usually give off a don’t-talk-to-me vibe. I insert my earbuds and listen to the newest podcasts I’ve downloaded to my old iPod shuffle.

(Now you twenty-somethings are going to tell me I could listen to podcasts on my iPhone. Hush now, baby steps. It wasn’t that long ago I ignored the podcast evangelists, but now I’m a born-again listener. If you’re not converted yet, I predict you will be among the faithful audience soon.)

The last time I exercised, I listened to a recent This American Life. The theme was “a front,” and stories were fascinating but frustrating—an apt TAL tagline, if there ever was. The first story, “WTF, ATF?,” was as alarming as it was informative. While I am a registered Democrat, I do not accept the label that I am overly trusting of the Federal government. I believe in a healthy dose of skepticism and transparency. Being on the level is not just a legal imperative but a moral one as well.

My favorite was Act 2, “The Border between America and America,” which delved into the troubles with border checkpoints. [Aside: On this topic, I am in agreement with the Democratic Party that “illegal immigration is tied to the broken legal immigration system, not necessarily security.” I question whether we should spend the BILLIONS of dollars we do on border security rather than fix that broken system, which is why I support President Obama’s attempt to make repairs.]

In any case, these complicated stories got me thinking about obstacles. I am experiencing one of my own obstacles at the moment. As I type this piece, I am stopping to put a bag of peas on my face to reduce swelling from the gum graft I had this morning. It was a scheduled standard procedure, nothing major and certainly not an emergency. But it rattled me to sit in that chair this morning, listening to all the scraping and cutting sounds (one thing’s for sure, I’ll be listening to a podcast next time). And the results have got me feeling worse than I expected, which always takes me by surprise.

When my activity level grinds to a halt, I am humbled to have to ask for help. But on the other hand, I am thankful to have a husband willing and able to step in and take over. If obstacles like my mouth surgery have an upside, it’s to remind me of how lucky I am to live most of my life impediment-free. Self-pity can make it difficult for me to see my own obstacles in this way, but I’m grateful for reminders—like the mine field of Christmas decorations in my foyer or the email from my aunt telling me my grandmother is back in the hospital again—to ground me in the awareness of my good fortune. Today as I step over the garland that’s waiting for me to wrap it around the banister on my way to replenish my frozen pea packs, I can’t help but smile (or rather, half-smile like Popeye).

On another positive note, we did lots of the decorating over the weekend, so it looks pretty good even in its current state of chaos. Well begun is half done, as Mary Poppins says. Speaking of Mary Poppins, I’ve been using her aphorisms (like Daniel Tiger) to help my first grader through some struggles; her maxims are fresh on our mind because we just saw the film again at a local sing-along screening. Violin and first grade are both tough, and Vivi also seems to be going through both a growth and developmental spurt as she approaches seven years old—“Life in a minor key,” as Ames refers to seven. It’s full of capital ESS Sulking, this age.

We talk about how Mary Poppins distinguishes between firm and unkind as a way to help her through her feeling of being picked on. There are so many great lessons to be learned from that story; what a character the dad is. As I said to Nate, I never thought I’d identify with that father character, but now I do! Ultimately, Vivi’s ability to overcome challenges, heaped on both outside the home and in, is admirable with or without the Poppins pep talks. She inspires me to challenge myself as I step out of my comfort zone in my writing. Writing requires a leap of faith that I have difficulty making, but Vivi takes that leap every day and gives me strength to do the same.

Nate bought the t-shirt version of this someecard. Some people just don’t get it, but I think it’s hilarious and great for tension relief! It’s become an inside joke for one of us to say to the other in an anxious moment, “Remember that you’re going to die some day!”


So how about you? Do you have a distractor like podcasts that gets you through the obstacles you face? And if you’re a podcast listener, tell me: what are your favorites?


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