Let’s Get Physical!

Ever since I started writing this blog, people have been asking, “when do you find the time to write?” I don’t have a great answer for them; somehow I just find the time. It’s never the “perfect time,” mind you. It’s any little bit I can steal from any little place.

When one of my very physically fit friends recently asked me this, I replied, ”I don’t know. Probably the same way you find time to exercise, right?”

“Oh, but I need to exercise,” she said. “When I’m having a bad day, I know if I just get out there and start running, I’ll feel better. So that’s what I do– I run and I tell myself, ‘Jesus loves me! Jesus loves me!’ and boom, I feel better.”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed and laughed. Not because it’s not true (of course Jesus loves you!) but because I just couldn’t imagine doing that. When I run, I’m also thinking about Jesus, but more in a Taking The Lord’s Name In Vain sort of way, because damn, running is hard.

Then we started talking about this a little deeper. Maybe some people are more physically based and some live in their heads more naturally? Maybe we all have these inclinations. How do we fight them? Should we fight them?

I am definitely most comfortable in my head, using my brains over my brawn. I never met a problem I didn’t want to stop and think about, ruminate over, write about or talk about.  And then, I married a man who thinks the answer to every problem is: “maybe you should go exercise.”

And it really works for that superfit bastard. Exercise works for my friend whom Jesus loves so much, too. I wish I could make it work for me. I wish I could turn to exercise when feeling tired, stressed or sad. Instead, I creep ever deeper into my mind. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily; it’s just that I tend to feel out of balance when I keep choosing the same coping skills over and over.

My husband has the opposite coping skills as me. The other day he came in from working in his garden, dirty and sweaty. He looked down at himself and said, “well, I guess since I’m already sweaty I may as well go for a run.”

What? My version of the same scenario would be something like, “Ewwww, I’m all dirty and sweaty. Can you get me some bubbly water with a splash of grapefruit juice while I go and take a shower? And then, I’m going to lie down and read for a little bit afterwards, so can you just bring it upstairs?”

Recently, my husband and I escaped to the city by ourselves for our anniversary. It was a gorgeous weekend in Chicago and we went for long walks along the lakefront every morning and walked from our hotel to restaurants and rooftop bars and back again. Everywhere we went, we saw people out running, walking, swimming, kayaking, biking. I was sort of mesmerized. This is what we used to do, Pre-K (pre-kids)! We were so active!

So when did I stop being that active person? I allowed other things to take up my extra time. Pregnancies, babies, busy kids. And then, the big one: these damn Chicago winters. Every year, I tell myself that this time it’ll be different; I’ll keep up my walking, running, yoga– all winter long! And each winter, I hibernate. Not completely, but just enough to make me feel sluggish by the time spring rolls around. But oh, the writing I do in the winter! The reading! The practicing! The thinking.

Thinking of all this scared the crap out of me while we were in the city, surrounded by people who were out there exercising; I understand the concept of “use it or lose it.” So how do I make that transition? And really: how do I make that transition when, truthfully, I’d much rather take a nap or read a book than go for a run?

During our weekend away, we decided to rent stand-up paddleboards (SUP) to take out onto the lake. Over our fancy dinner in a fancy restaurant with even fancier drinks that evening, we talked about trying it the next morning. We wondered if maybe we needed lessons first? It would double the cost but…probably necessary, right?

“Nah!” said the Prosecco. “You young ‘uns don’t need lessons! You’re amazing! Fit! Beautiful! And you both know everything and are already experts at it without ever even trying it once!”

Well, that settled it then. We decided on the spot to just YouTube a lesson over our morning coffee before heading down to the beach the next day. Great idea!

That next morning, we sat outside a café in a leafy park with our lattes and had our “lesson.” Sometimes it was hard to see the screen of my iPhone because of all the croissant crumbs that kept falling and covering it, but I would dutifully wipe them away so we could get a better look. I am an amazing student like that.

We laughed and laughed at some of the cheesy videos and then…we oohed and ahhhed in wonder when we came upon the superhuman surfer and paddleboarder Laird Hamilton. Him, we listened to. Holy crap, his body! That guy doesn’t sit around for hours on end writing in his journal, coming up with blog posts or practicing scales, I can tell you that much right now.

Our new friend Laird really motivated us. We felt ready to try—no, not try—to conquer paddleboarding! Where does he live again? We should totally vacation there. Maybe look him up? Hang out and SUP with him and his family? Do our kids match up in age? We could totally take family adventure vacations together! And on and on it went, as we walked to the beach.

My husband also gave me lots of tips, because you know, he was already an expert from everything he learned on YouTube. “Now, honey,” he mansplained, “it’s going to take a lot of core strength to pull yourself up onto the board. A lot of core strength.” Uh oh.

I’m not exactly known for my core strength. Maybe if bearing all of my husband’s enormous babies hadn’t killed my core, I’d be able to hop up on a board like Laird. I mentally deflated a little thinking about my core.

“And then, you might find it kind of hard to do the paddling,” he said, offering me his flexed biceps to hold onto as we crossed the street. “It’s all about arm strength,” said the man beside me, known for his huge muscles.

I’m not exactly known for my arm strength. I’m known for my noodly musician arms. Once, we went on a carribean vacation (Pre-K) with my husband’s best friend and his wife.  Scott is a blond version of my husband. Scott’s wife never ever tried to keep up with them; sadly, I did.

We were out on a boat ride, one with a tall mast and a rope swing that hung overboard. My husband and Scott thought it’d be great if we went to the top of the ship, grabbed the rope and swung on out over the ocean and jumped off from there.

“Great idea!” my Carribean Rum Punch said.

Scott went first, grabbing the rope, his muscles bulging as he swung back and forth, everyone on the boat cheering. He made one final swing and cannonballed into the ocean. Of course my husband, who never missed an invitation to compete, did it next and did it bigger, swingier and splashier. The boat went wild. My turn: I grabbed the rope and…slid right down, rope-burning my hands and thighs all the way—splish, right into the water, with nary a stop. There was no cheering from the boat. There was, however, lots and lots of laughing.

I came back to the present moment with a shake of my head, swinging my limp noodle arms by my side. Oh, no. I won’t be able to do this SUP either and I’ll feel old, weak, unathletic and then, not even Jesus will love me when he sees me flailing all over the lake. Maybe we shouldn’t do this? But we were already at the rental shack on the beach and I heard my husband saying, “just the rental, no we don’t need lessons, yes, we’ve done this before,” giving me a wink, a nudge and a snicker.

Time to get fitted for the lifejacket. I’m not sure if you know this or not, but women have breasts. The vest handed to me, a size small, wouldn’t snap closed over my chest. I had to ask for the bigger size. This shouldn’t have embarrassed me because I know lots of women who pay good money for this problem, but in a shack full of skinny hippies, it did. I got the next size and squeezed the buckles closed, barely. I looked—and felt– like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

“Awww…it’s okay, honey,” said my husband-turned-into-Laird Hamilton, adjusting his vest. “It’s tight across my chest, too–where all my muscles are!” He threw his head back and laughed and in my minds eye he turned into a red devil with horns, smoke, a pitchfork and tail– the works. My imagination is really a wonderful thing.

I picked my confidence and self-esteem up off the dirty floor where they were being trampled, dusted them off and away we went. We paddled out from shore on our knees and I was very nervous, feeling so physically insecure. It was an awful feeling, like I was old before my time. Being even slightly out of shape sucks and I vowed to myself right then and there that I would focus more on my physical body in the future, so I would never feel this imbalanced again.

Speaking of balance, it was time to stand up. Of course, my husband Laird did it first. “You can do it,” he called to me. “Just really focus on your core muscles and push up using your legs!” He paddled away.

I was sweating inside my smelly, tight lifejacket, not from the heat of the day or exertion, but from fear. What if I couldn’t keep up with Laird over there? I would be so embarrassed to fall off my board. With knees knocking, I pulled myself up. I stood straight and tall and started paddling out past the buoys, where my husband was showing off.

Suddenly, I heard a great big splash. I looked up from my board, where I had been staring, trying to focus, and saw my husband’s empty board but no sign of him. Wait, there he was, shaking water from his eyes like a great big dog. “Woo-whee, that’s some cold water!”

I had to look away not because I didn’t want to watch him struggle back up onto his board (because I really, really did), but because I was scared of falling off myself and I needed to concentrate, hard.

“Hey babe,” he called across the water to me, “just so you know, it’s really hard to pull yourself up out of the water and back onto your board.  I can come over and help you back up when you fall, okay?”

I couldn’t answer because I was focusing on my balance so intently. My feet were aching from planting them so forcefully on the board. Or maybe it was because I was wearing ridiculously high heels all weekend? Either way, I tried to relax, do my yoga breathing and loosen up while balancing.

Splash! Laird was overboard again, for the second time. “I got it!” He called from the lake. “I’m ok! I guess I just slipped is all.”

I kept paddling, getting the motion and finally relaxing and looking around, taking in our gorgeous city.

Splash! Down Laird went again, for the third time. But, really, who’s counting? I mean, what kind of a spouse would keep track of how many times their partner fell off of their stand-up paddleboard?

Me. I’m totally that kind of spouse, apparently.

Splash! Four. Splash! Five.

By this time, half an hour into it, I was laughing, smiling, waving to passing boaters. By the time Laird’s sixth splash happened, I was really belly laughing. I saw a guy in a near-by kayak trying his best not to smile.

“Hey!” I called out to him. “It’s okay, you can laugh! It’s awesome, isn’t it? He just keeps falling off!” Laird fell off again (seven) and the kayaker joined me in laughing.

Finally, I realized: it’s the yoga! I can balance! Laird may have strength, muscles, a washboard core, biceps…but I have balance! Ha! I relaxed in the smugness of my yoga practice that gave me this advantage over Mr. Muscles, who was currently splashing around in Lake Michigan.

“Actually,” he called out from the water, “this feels really good. You look hot and sweaty. I’m nice and cool. You should just let go and come in for a dip.”

“Oh, no you don’t!” I shouted. “Get behind me, Satan! You’re trying to tempt me. Too late, Bub, because now– it’s on: I will not fall off this damn thing, you hear me?”

Back on his board, he ignored me as he became obsessed with a floating plastic bottle in the lake. He cannot abide by something not being recycled. He really has a strong inner Al Gore and in this one circumstance, Al Gore whipped Laird Hamilton’s ass. Laird tried to stand tall and paddle, but Al Gore just would not quit reaching for that bottle, so splash– eighth time into the lake.

He came up from underwater holding the plastic bottle triumphantly, as if he had just single-handedly stopped global warming in its tracks. Up he went, back onto his board, and he tucked the bottle into his lifejacket.

I was hot and sweaty and I would’ve loved to jump into the lake– he was right about that. But now I was manically focused on staying upright at whatever cost to myself, even as the sweat pooled inside my sticky lifejacket. Nothing was going to knock me off my board. (Have I mentioned how much we enjoy a friendly competition now and again? Hey! I was finally feeling confident in my physical self!)

Suddenly, the plastic bottle came loose from my husband’s lifejacket and landed with a whack onto the board. Al Gore just couldn’t help himself. With the paddle in one hand, he reached down with the other to grab it. He got off balance and quickly reshuffled his feet, soft-shoe style, to stay upright.

The board bucked and heaved and his soft-shoe turned into tap dance. Then, his size 14 feet moved even faster, until it was somewhere between modern jazz and Irish clog dancing. I started laughing so hard — so very, very hard — that my own board started to wobble.

When his feet went full-on Road Runner and were just a blur a motion, he finally flipped over and splash! Into the drink for the ninth (9th) time. I lost it, laughing hysterically. I was bent over, holding my stomach and my paddle. My board started rocking. OH, HELL NO.

I stood upright and braced myself. Thanks to my cat-like reflexes, I managed to not fall off, but I was still belly laughing so hard I was crying. Something had to give. And then, just like that, I was peeing. And not just a little bit either.

“Oh my gosh, you’re peeing! I can see it!” He was back on his board, pointing at me. At this point I figured, ah well, I’m in a bathing suit, I’m exhausted from an hour standing up on this damn board and ohmygosh his feet! He fell off again. I laughed even harder which meant I peed even more.

“Yeah, well, maybe you didn’t fall,” he said, from Lake Michigan, “but you’re standing in a puddle of your own pee right now, so there.” He was trying to embarrass me. But he should know by now that I don’t embarrass, which is why I’m telling the whole world how I peed myself while on a SUP.

“Ha!” I crowed, triumphantly. “Jokes on you! All I have to do is splash some nice cool water on my feet and on the board and look, no more pee!”

Yes, I was covered in my own urine, but I was triumphant. Laird heaved himself out of the water one more time, back onto his board. We started paddling for shore, our hour up and my laughter, borderline hysterical. I paddled that puppy right onto shore where I was able to walk right off of it and onto the warm sand.

After taking that nasty lifejacket off, we got a Frisbee for our efforts from the hippies, which we took with us right back into the lake. And finally, finally: I let myself slip into the cool and refreshing water. If only every day could be a test of physical wills with my husband, I’d be in the best shape of my life.

 

 

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