It's only appropriate to begin with a few small doses of reality...
Reality Check #1: I consistently set off the smoke detectors in my house when I cook. I tell myself it’s because of where they are located relative to the kitchen, but let’s be real… that’s not normal. My cooking sucks.
Reality Check #2: As I picked up my four-year-old from her Dad’s house a few weeks ago, she grabbed the screen door and said, “Come on and open up, ya asshole door!” I unsuccessfully bit my lip and tried to find a stern face, but still laughed a good three minutes.
Reality Check #3: The same 4-year-old got so mad at her BFF at their first sleepover together that she refused to look at her or speak to her… for at least half an hour. The other mom texted me at 9pm, asking how she should handle the drama.
Reality Check #4: I was on the phone with the guy I’m dating just a few weeks after we’d met when my six-year-old suddenly ran up to the phone and screamed, “Our Mom is a trainwreck!” That was cool.
Reality Check #5: I thought I was killing it as I bootlegged leftover Halloween candy and six water bottles in my purse through the doors of Frozen 2 with four children in tow. Joke was on my stingy ass when I somehow lost my wallet in the theater. Thank goodness for honest people though – I got it back the next day.
Reality Check #6: I recently transported eight cases of wine from point A to point B for work. But when I opened the back hatch of my SUV, an entire case came crashing out. I cussed as wine seeped out of the broken bottles, through the cardboard and onto the sidewalk in the rain. Then a colleague drove by and whipped out his phone to take a picture and I laughed… because that’s funny!
So before you confuse me with someone who actually has all her shit together, please read all of that again. I'm not writing this from my ivory tower or my soap box or my golden throne.
There was a time not so long ago when those same incidents would have sent me into a spiral. I would have found someone to blame. I would have been mad, negative, even hateful toward some of the people closest to me because something didn’t go my way. I would have let some silly, inconsequential thing ruin my day or week because that’s just how I used to live. But the truth is, I was hurting. I didn’t like who I was, and I was incredibly ashamed by some of the choices I’d made.
There’s that saying, “Hurt people hurt other people.” And it’s so freaking true.
Holidays were the worst. I took out anger and anxiety on people I loved. I took what should have been beautiful days filled with family and memories and I ruined them. Every. Single. Time.
After a while though, I realized that messed up person was neither who I truly am nor who I wanted to be. So I faced that unhappy person head-on. I went to therapy. I put in the work and dealt with the mess that came as side-effects of working through my shit. I sat with the pain and the guilt and the past that once bogged down that miserable girl and simultaneously made her want to take others down with her.
There were also some pretty important steps that I now realize helped me heal, which included holding myself accountable. And even though I didn't have some grand plan or end game in mind, sharing the how is important... because I now realize none of it happened by accident.
I set and accomplished a huge goal.
It’s funny how opportunity often appears at our lowest point. I was a complete mess on my living room couch the night my friend Cindy sent me the text, asking if I would complete a Half Ironman with her. Come to think of it, my emotional state was probably why I said yes without thinking it through. But crossing that finish line nine months later is one of the most prideful moments I’ve had in a very long time.
I looked inward.
My company recently incorporated employee engagement surveys at our corporate office. Some of the feedback suggested I needed to improve my management and leadership skills. Big time. First I cried. Then I got mad. Then I was defensive. But after self-reflection and coaching from people I trust and respect, I owned all of it. I realized much of the feedback was true, and some was simply perception that needed to be addressed. Either way, I had a lot of work to do… on me.
I walked away from a toxic relationship.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in other people that we can’t see how much they’re damaging our soul. But somewhere in the middle of therapy and hundreds of hours of triathlon training and self-reflection, I realized I deserve better. So I blocked someone in my phone. I unfriended and unfollowed them on social media. I stopped talking about them. I took away their power over me and gained so much self-respect.
I focused on my kids.
Last April, I took my kids on a spring break beach vacation. Just the four of us. I booked it, planned it and paid for it myself. I thought we were heading to a tropical location with 80-degree temperatures and sunshine for days. But high temperatures that week were mostly in the 40s and low 50s with lots of rain. I knew the kids would reflect my energy. So I made new plans and changed my expectations. And you know what? My littles had no idea our vacation was supposed to be anything different than what it was. We had the BEST time. That trip became a huge turning point for me when it came to learning how to connect with my kids emotionally.
I put myself first.
I knew if I stood a chance of crossing that Half Ironman finish line, I had to take better care of me. I focused on self-care – including eating better and sleeping more. I also built (or, in some cases rebuilt) positive relationships. I stopped settling and decided to spend my time doing what makes me happy. If a situation doesn’t have a feasible positive end-result or if my gut feels weird, I walk away. I’ve never felt more free
It’s worth noting none of this has been a straight line. It was messy and jagged with high points and super low ones. It also took time – more than 18 months – and a lot of really hard (and heart) work on my end. For real.
At one low point in the past year, I wanted to quit my job.
At another, I cried myself to sleep several nights in a row.
At yet another, I screamed at my mom and accused her of not being there when I needed her most.
And at another, I had a hard conversation with someone I'd hurt. Even though it brought that person intense pain, I was finally able to forgive myself and let go of massive guilt I’d held on to for years. I allowed myself move forward.
Therapy helped me work through all of those "things" from my past. It taught me how to sit with the hard stuff and how to do the heart work - to heal my heart from issues I'd avoided and not dealt with previously.
The heart work included lots of solo time. Instead of going out on empty dates or giving my energy to superficial relationships on weekends I didn't have my kids, I chose to stay home. It wasn't fun, but was what I needed at the time.
I write all of this because I know someone out there needs to read it. If someone you love is going through a hard time, please love them harder. They need you (even if they say they don't).
If you’re at the bottom and you feel alone, sad, scared or just plain pissed off, I get it. Those feelings seem to suck a lot more this time of year, but I promise it gets better. You will feel better and do better and be better and love better. It is possible to become a better version of yourself.
But you have to keep moving forward. You have to be willing to put in the heart work. And you have to know you're worth it.
I’ll never forget that moment: a perfect June morning on the beach at Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor, Michigan. As I stood in a literal sandy sea of some 2,000 people also zipped into full body wetsuits, I breathed it in.
I chatted briefly with a few other athletes, synced my GPS watch with the satellites and anxiously waited my turn to enter a calm, 70-degree Lake Michigan. I also happened to glance up at a handful of dedicated spectators on top of a small nearby sand dune. It was 6:30 in the morning.
Wow, I remember thinking to myself. There are some lucky racers here today, for sure. Their people showed up. They woke up early and clim…
Suddenly, I did a double-take at two people on top of the dune.
I saw my Dad first. How could I miss a 6’4, bald and incredibly pale man wearing a blue polo and shorts? His hands were cupped around his eyes as he scanned the crowd of black wetsuits and pink and green swim caps, trying to find me.
Mom was right next to him, looking determined to keep her balance on the uneven sand while also methodically searching the beach.
I waved my arms a good two minutes, eventually catching their attention. Dad immediately went into photographer mode (one of many traits I inherited, along with the pale white skin gene), snapping several pictures of the crowd and me.
As I inched closer to the rolling start, where race officials allowed four people in the water at a time, every five seconds, Dad made his way across and then down the dune so he could get video of me swimming.
I couldn’t stop smiling. Partly due to confidence in all the work I’d put in leading up to that moment (and partly due to an unbelievably calm lake), but largely because I hadn’t expected to see my parents until much later that afternoon, at the finish line. But there they were. They showed up.
My 70-year-old mom and dad woke up super early that morning, drove an hour to a place they’d never been, parked a mile away, hopped a shuttle and climbed a sand dune. For me.
Approximately 37 minutes later, on my way from the lake to my bike, I saw them again and gave Mom a smile and high-five.
And again, 3 hours after that, as I completed the 56-mile bike to South Haven and back. I cried happy tears the whole ride into the transition area because they were there.
Here’s the deal. Growing up and moving away from home and family to earn a degree and then chase a career was fun and exciting. But it was also incredibly isolating. Raising babies five hours from family is hard. We maybe see each other five or six times a year and the past few were tough as I battled my own demons and worked through deeply painful personal issues.
During that time, I turned against some of the people who wanted to be there for me most – especially my parents.
Things got so bad about a year ago that I told Mom and Dad they shouldn’t even come to South Bend for my 34th birthday because I didn’t want to see them. So they didn’t. They dropped my gifts in the mail and stayed home. I know… it sounds like such a bullshit Millennial thing to do. And in hindsight, it probably was.
But that’s also around the time a friend I knew through my barre studio sent a random text on a weeknight, asking if I would do a Half Ironman with her. I said yes without thinking (because that’s what I do). And somehow, training for that race broke me wide open.
I pushed my body and mind further than I ever thought they could go. I literally cried in the middle of hard bikes and runs. I worked out 12-15 hours a week, which sometimes meant two workouts in one day. It was hard. But I used much of that solo time to reflect on the relationships I’d damaged and to forgive myself for it.
I also started communicating more with my parents. I sent screen shots of 5-hour Saturday morning training sessions, or updated them after a 5am weekday swim. I Face-Timed them immediately after crossing the finish line at my very first triathlon in May (a much shorter distance than the Half Ironman) to tell them I won my age group and was the fourth overall female finisher.
Eventually, I asked if they would come to “the big race” in June.
And then they showed up.
Just like they always had when I played sports or sang at competition or performed in the high school musical, they stood on top of that sand dune. For me.
And they weren’t the only ones.
My loyal friend Nicole popped up around mile 50 of the bike ride and at least 4 times (that I remember) along the run, shouting words of love and encouragement. She’d packed up her two little girls, rescheduled her own 10-mile marathon training run for later in the day, drove an hour and found spots to surprise me along the course. But I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. That’s Nicole. She invited me to Thanksgiving and Christmas with her family when she knew I would otherwise be alone. She checked on me often throughout my training journey and reminded me how strong I am. Of course she showed up on race day.
My best friend Jodie also woke up before sunrise and drove over from Chicago. I first saw her face as I started the 13.1 mile run. Then about an hour later, around the halfway point of the run. She smiled. She asked how I was feeling and told me I’m a badass (even though I tried to shoo her away because I was scared I would be disqualified if she ran next to me). Then again, that’s Jo. She’s there when I need to cry or scream or tell her about something really awesome that happened. We talk several times a week and she’s my voice of reason. She always shows up.
Then there was the last leg of the race. The very end of the run. I’d been walking for a bit. I was tired, extremely dehydrated and hot. I knew I needed to start running again so I could finish strong. But I just couldn’t get myself there mentally.
“Hey!” a woman in shorts, a tank and ball cap yelled.
I didn’t recognize her so I didn’t respond. Instead, I turned around. Surely she was talking to someone behind me.
“Hey! Kelli!” she said. “Kelli! You have a quarter mile left. Let’s go!”
She jogged toward me.
Oh my gosh, Olivia!
Olivia. The friend who had run alongside me three years ago in my first race, ever. During that one – a 10k – she refused to leave, even though I’d begged her to run ahead. We crossed the finish line together.
Olivia is a serial marathon runner and gives me so much training advice. So when she showed up at the tail end of my 70.3 miles, I greeted her properly, saying, “You can’t run next to me. I’ll get disqualified!” (I didn’t know Olivia had checked with the race marshal near that post and cleared it with him ahead of time.)
“Fine,” she replied. “I’ll just run on the sidewalk.”
So she did, yelling, “Everybody! This is Kelli! Cheer for her! She’s worked so hard to get here. Cheer for my friend Kelli!”
Olivia ran with me until I got to my kids, Jodie and, of course, my parents at the finish line. My kids… who spent lots of hours in the gym daycare and with babysitters while I squeezed in training miles. My parents… who spent seven hours on a hot beach cheering for me, tracking me on their phones and waiting for me to finish.
Then I got to my phone (they aren’t allowed on the course) and saw DOZENS of texts and well wishes from others who had also been tracking my progress. I had no idea so many people cared that much.
And that’s what prompted a deep post-race reflection.
I haven’t been great at showing up for other people the past couple years. At times, it was all I could to do be a mom and simply show up to work every day. But after the race, I started thinking about everyone who has shown up for and supported me, despite my efforts to keep many of them at arms’ length.
The people who continued to check in with calls, texts and Facebook messages... even when I didn’t respond.
The people who listened when I needed to vent or cry.
The people who lifted me up when I couldn’t find grace or forgiveness for myself.
The people who came over for my birthday, because they knew I really didn’t want to be alone.
The people who stepped up when I asked for help.
The people who were patient enough to know I needed time and space to get back to myself.
I think my friend Fay Flournoy said it best in a recent Facebook post:
There’s a big difference between our hearts breaking FOR someone and WITH someone.
One is done from a safe distance and the other requires us to get in the middle of the mess.
One is talk and the other is showing up.
In our social media and cell phone driven world, be the someone that shows up (like for real, in person).
At first, I thought the training and triathlons themselves are what caused a massive turning point in my life that led me to the most confident and peaceful existence I’ve ever experienced. But the further I get from that Half Ironman, the more I’ve realized it wasn’t the swim or the bike or the run or even the finish line that helped me heal most.
It was literally the people who showed up.
Ahhhh, Summer. Isn’t it great? Sunshine and warm weather for dayyyyysss. Daylight until 10pm. As a parent of littles, these are some of the times and extra special memories (we hope) they’ll treasure forever.
PLOT TWIST! Summer parenting ain’t easy.
My three littles got out of school a month ago. They don’t go back for another six weeks. And it’s not like they’re bored. Together, their dad and I orchestrated an intricate 12-week summer break – they’re with him a couple days each week, at an in-home daycare or summer camps the other days and weekends are jam-packed with family fun.
But right now, we’re on the damn struggle bus. Like, chaotic, beep beep, save-me-now struggle bus.
The Birthday Surprise
Per the schedule, Justin had the kids the first part of last week. His 40th birthday was Wednesday. Late Tuesday he texted me: One of the kids poured water in my U-Verse box, my ADT box and my WiFi box.
At this stage in the game, it could have been any one of them.
The 7-year-old likes to take things apart and see how they work. Literally, his favorite TV show is How it’s Made. I can envision him pouring water into an electronic device juuuuuust to see what might happen.
The 6-year-old is sweet but clumsy AF. I can see him carrying a cup, tripping over his own feet and accidentally sloshing water somewhere it definitely didn’t belong.
The 4-year-old is hell on wheels. She doesn’t give a shit about consequences and tells us “No” as if it’s a viable option when asked to clean her room or get dressed for the day. Glad to see she inherited some of my best traits.
The next morning, everyone spent some time in Daddy Interrogation.
Then the culprit came forward with the most hilarious confession I've ever heard.
That's an expensive birthday!
It was super cute last summer when I woke up at 5 or 6 in the morning to find Lyla asleep on the couch with the TV blaring – old man style. She was obviously waking up in the middle of the night and turning on Disney Junior.
But that “phase” didn’t go away.
Twelve months later, she continues to struggle with going to bed and staying asleep at night. When we’ve tried cutting naps, she either begs to take one or falls asleep anyway because of her nocturnal partying. When we nap her longer than 45 minutes, she’s literally up until 10:30 at night and dead tired again the next day.
We can’t win.
And a sleep deprived 4-year-old is like a rabid raccoon. Irrational. Emotional. Hangry. Aggressive. Sick. She’s had fevers or a cold at least twice a month since January. We’ve done lab work and been to our doc several times only to be told it’s another virus that needs to run its course.
My colleagues have to be rolling their eyes in disbelief when I say I have to leave work for a “sick kid” AGAIN.
I just want my child to sleep. So I’ve turned to motivational bribery. I told her if she stays in bed every night through the end of the month, I’ll sign her up for dance class.
So far… it’s not working.
Here’s a 90-minute snapshot of the day after the Fourth of July.
“Mommy! Sawyer called me an asshole!” Hudson exclaimed, as he raced down the stairs and into the kitchen where I was making dinner.
“What happened?” I calmly asked.
“He called me a dummy!” Sawyer screamed from the top of the stairs.
Cue me with a straight face, trying not to laugh. Or smile.
I played referee then made them hug it out and eat. To further diffuse the situation, I suggested everyone jump in the bathtub with some new spray foam soap stuff. It worked.
Thank you, Jesus.
But as I got Lyla out and dried her off, I spotted something odd at the bottom of the toilet. Yep, someone tossed my earrings in the loo. I plunged my hand into the water and grabbed them, thankful they hadn’t been flushed.
From there, two kiddos put on jammies, Sawyer pimped out in a bathrobe and we watched a movie together on the couch. Halfway through his popcorn, Sawyer shouted, “Mommy! My tooth!”
Hugh Hefner lost his second tooth eating popcorn. This was definitely worth a celebration, considering he swallowed his first tooth with a chicken nugget earlier this year.
You guys, these kids don’t slow down! And they’re together 24/7. I can appreciate why they think the other kid is an asshole. But also – where in the hell did they learn that word and how to use it in context?
I also understand the holiday crazy – up until midnight for fireworks and then fun at the zoo and pool the next day. But it’s not like we’re ignoring the kids and demanding they fend for themselves. We also try to balance in some playing without constant mommy/daddy interaction… which leads to water in the electronics and other incidents like the baby powder I found all over my nightstand and in my bed last week.
Earlier this summer, I came home from the gym to a sweet as can be babysitter who took a deep breath and told me the kids, "just weren't great' for her. Damn. If a babysitter is saying your kids were bad, that means they were HORRIBLE.
In the midst of the summer crazy, I’ve also noticed seemingly sudden (and small) signs of maturity in my kids
Hudson prefers to read by himself at night, in his own bed, as opposed to reading in my bed with his little brother and sister.
All three of them love to help with small chores around the house such as folding laundry, taking out the trash, watering flowers and emptying the dishwasher.
Also, they’re suddenly obsessed with money… transferring their birthday stashes back and forth between my house and their dad’s in zip lock baggies. I busted Sawyer carrying a wad of his own cash into Wal-Mart last week, on the off chance he could buy something for himself. He also insisted on paying his own admission to the public pool last weekend, because it was “only two dollars.” Plus, they’ve asked how much I paid for my house and out-of-the-blue volunteered how much daddy paid for his new boat. Oops.
The boys can write now and are into making lists of what they want to do – it’s freaking adorable.
And there’s something about Lyla’s sweet confession that helps remind me about the importance of my job as her mom. It’s not my job to judge my kids or scream at them or constantly ride their asses about whatever chore they haven’t done, even though I've asked eight million times. But it is my responsibility to hold them accountable and teach them right from wrong. It is my job to love them fiercely. It is my privilege to help them grow into compassionate, loving humans.. ESPECIALLY when they behave like rabid raccoons.
Also, send vodka. I need it.
Triathlons aren’t funny. Triathlon training is no joke either. Well… it wasn’t supposed to be. But you guys, I’m such an impulsive weirdo that when a friend texted me last September asking if I would do a Half Ironman with her, I said yes before I even knew how far it was. Who does that?
A mere 24 hours later, I decided to ask my other friend, Google, what I’d agreed to do.
And that’s how it went down.
I joined a gym with a pool in October. Then in December I thought I should start looking at bikes. Grab your popcorn because that, my friends, is where the comedy show begins.
Before I tell you about that fateful December day, you should know the only bike I’ve owned as an adult is a $100 mountain bike from Wal-Mart. I drive a “mom car” and I ride a “mom bike”… complete with a sexy baby trailer on the back to haul my little girl and her baby dolls around the neighborhood.
So when I walked into the local bike shop for my fitting appointment with a super sweet dude named Eric, I really had no freaking clue what I was doing.
Eric was very professional and helpful. When I told him I’d “never had a racing bike” or done a triathlon but was signed up for the Steelhead 70.3 the following June, his eyes momentarily got a little big. OK, way big.
“That’s pretty ambitious,” Eric cautiously replied. “But we’ll get you all set up and then the training is up to you. If you train for it, you can do it.”
“Great, thanks,” I said, smiling.
“Soooo bike shorts,” Eric replied. “You’ll need those. But you’ve probably never…”
“Noooope,” I laughed.
Eric walked me over to an array of black spandex shorts. With the straightest look on his face and the most professional tone in his voice, Eric proceeded to show me the gel-filled insides of the padded shorts and talk about the importance of protecting my LADY BITS.
I swear to God he said those exact words. Lady Bits. And then he mentioned my PERINEUM.
I felt like a pubescent teenage boy as I coughed through a snicker in order to prevent full-on laughter.
Eric took his job seriously. He went on to explain how said Lady Bits could actually go numb during a ride if I didn’t have the proper seat or proper fit on my bike.
What in the actual…
He then had me straddle a little contraption and asked me to pull the bar up to my PELVIC FLOOR to get a proper height measurement.
Immaturity at an all-time high.
I was half listening to Eric as he explained how he was using my measurements to set up the special bike that would get my perfect fit. The other half of me was texting Cindy the play-by-play of my gynecological visit to the bike shop.
If he says clitoris, I will die, I thought to myself.
He didn’t. We found a new bike in the shop that met my specs (I wasn’t picky because, again, I had no flipping clue what I was doing). Eric hooked me up with clip-in pedals and special shoes and I was on my way with a giant dent in my wallet. I left the bike at the shop because he needed to install a few things on it and because it was December and I live in Northern Indiana. No need to have that thing taking up space in my garage until spring.
This is about the same time in our great triathlon adventure when Cindy started texting me with her “finds.”
I didn’t even have a bike or a solid training plan and this woman was buying wet suits, biking shorts, biking skirts, classes at Orange Theory, a cell phone holder for her bike and a whole bunch of other triathlon-related shit. I laughed every time she sent me a new text with a new purchase.
I finally got my bike home from the shop in April – a day after my first half marathon of the season and a week after spring break. I’d bought a pair of bike shorts from Eric (per his advice) and thought I was all set to go.
Kid-free and without plans Good Friday, I set out for my first 20-mile ride. That was way out of my comfort zone, by the way, because it entailed clipping into my pedals and riding this super light bike that felt like it could blow over if a gust of wind hit me the wrong way. I pulled on my new spandex and promptly decided the gel padding made it look like I was wearing a diaper.
No biggie, I thought. My booty will be on the bike seat. No one will ever notice.
And that was a fantastic plan. Until I got a flat tire less than 10 minutes into my ride.
There I was, on a busy four-lane highway with my brand new bike, my brand new bike shoes that clip-clop like a horse when I walk, my brand new bike diaper shorts and a (brand new) flat freaking tire. I could try calling friends for help or putting a plea on Facebook, but then I realized I was only about a mile from the bike shop and it was still open. So I started the clippity clop mile walk to the shop, rolling my bike beside me.
I like to refer to it as the diaper-butt walk of shame.
Of course, when I arrived at the shop, my helpful friend Eric was there and very gently asked what my tire pressure was when I left my house.
“Why would I need to know that?” I laughed.
“Ummm because you should check your tire pressure before every ride,” Eric replied, amused, but not smiling.
The learning curve continued. I felt like I should tell him at least my lady bits didn’t hurt!
Eric also showed me how to change the flat – at one point asking, “Did you see what I did there?” when he noticed my face buried in a text message, as I gave Cindy the walk of shame play-by-play.
“Shoot, sorry. Can you please show me again?”
He was very patient, telling me I really needed a spare kit with me at all times and allowing me to put it on an account at the store since I didn’t have any cash or cards with me.
I left that night and enjoyed my 20 miles, laughing about the shorts and the fact that Eric and everyone else at the bike shop must think I’m a gigantic idiot
Then it was May. Two months until the big race and less than two weeks until my first triathlon ever - a sprint distance (500 yd lake swim, 12 mile bike, 3.1 mile run). In the meantime, I’d been following a training plan that had me in the pool two to three times per week. But I knew I had to get out in open water sooner than later.
So Cindy and I got a little mom-wild one chilly Friday evening, squeezing into our new wet suits and doing the damn thing. And we survived. Until we thought the mayfly guy might murder us.
We approached the shoreline at the end of our swim and saw an older gentleman staring at a tree near Cindy’s car.
“Excuse me,” I said, opening the car door to grab my phone. “Do you mind taking our picture, please?”
“Of course not,” the man smiled.
He snapped a few of us standing in the water then went back to the tree. Cindy and I shot each other a puzzled look and shrugged.
As we started to strip our wet suits, he told us he was disappointed.
“You see,” he said. “It’s prime mayfly season and so far I’ve seen none. I’m waiting for the hatch – it should happen any day now. I thought for sure today would be the day.”
Cindy and I looked at each other again, our eyes widening a bit with stifled laughter and a bit of, Oh shit, what’s our safe word to get the eff out of here if things get super weird?
The man went on to explain how thousands of mayflies hatch from the bottom of the lake in mid-May and you can see fish jump for them as the bugs come up out of the water and fly away at dusk.
Keep in mind, we’d just swam 20 minutes in that cold ass lake. At dusk. In May. It was that moment we both wondered exactly how many we'd swallowed during our inaugural dip.
“I want to show you what one of these looks like,” he continued, pawing through the tree branches as we quickly toweled off and pulled on clothes over our bathing suits. “It’s truly fascinating. They have two adult life cycles, but mayflies only live 24 hours and they have to reproduce in that time. Can you even imagine? 24 hours of wild sex and then you die. That’s quite a life!”
By this point, I was quietly but violently shaking with laughter. I also noticed a weird bug clinging to the collar of the man’s shirt. It looked an awful lot like the insect he was describing.
Cindy, on the other hand, was on high stranger danger alert. She quickly gathered her stuff and threw it in the car, glancing nervously at mayfly guy and then back at me.
As we simultaneously opened the driver and passenger doors to book it, we heard him yell, “Found one!”
We humored him, took a quick peek and got out of there. He was probably harmless, but how in the hell does a triathlon training swim turn into THAT!?
Suddenly, it was June. The month of our half Ironman. Shit. That’s a 1.2 mile swim in Lake Michigan, a 56 mile bike on a busy highway and a 13.1 run with very little shade. I'd learned any endurance sport that takes several hours to complete requires proper nutrition. That means keeping up with electrolytes, calories and protein. Many triathletes choose to take in a majority of their nutrition on the bike since that’s the longest part of the race and they’re sitting down.
But clipping into pedals, following traffic laws, doing nutrition and sipping water all while staying upright on a bike isn’t easy! I knew I needed practice.
One Saturday morning, I set out for a 50-mile ride, grabbing a random protein bar from my pantry. Remember, this was purely experimental so I could practice eating on the bike. I shoved the bar into my sports bra with my cell phone, which was playing music, and set out on my way.
By mile 25, I was on a flat, two-lane road somewhere between Elkhart and the Indiana-Michigan state line. I took out the bar and unwrapped a gooey, chocolatey mess.
All good, I’ve got this. Gotta roll with the punches and troubleshoot when necessary.
I took a small bite, licked my fingers and focused on staying on the road. Suddenly, a pack of about 8 middle-aged male bikers pulled out from a side road and were riding directly in front of me.
It all happened really fast.
Do I turn off my music so I can talk to them?
Should I ask to ride with them?
What if they ask me to join?
What’s the flipping etiquette here?
Oh shit, chocolate…
I shoved the partially unwrapped, melted protein bar back down my sports bra, took out my phone and hit pause.
I looked down and saw chocolate smeared all over my chest and hands and I knew it was on my face too. I tried to swipe my mouth with the back of my sweaty hand, then accidentally set my chocolate fingers on my handlebars.
Well this is embarrassing,
The dudes never even acknowledged me. I was literally right behind them, had been moving faster than them, had to slow down for them and they couldn’t even say hello. What was I going to do? Scream “Hiii! Good morning! WHO LIKES CHOCOLATE?” from the back of the pack? Ah, no.
I heard one of them yell, “Right!” to signal a right turn to the group.
That immediately meant my chocolate cleavage and I were going left.
I suppose if I look back laughing, those newbie triathlon training moments couldn’t have been that bad. Right? Plus, having someone to text who was also in the throes of training helped remind me I’m human.
Then there’s that little 70.3 mile Half Ironman thing we finished last weekend.
I’d send Eric a thank-you note from my Lady Bits, but that’s probably not appropriate.
About 14 months ago, a few weeks before our divorce was final, Justin and I sat down on our bed to talk. The kids were asleep and the house was quiet. Too quiet. At some point during that conversation, he calmly launched into an analogy about our marriage. It spoke to me. And it devastated me.
When we first got married, Kelli, I felt like we got into a car, fastened our seat belts and started out on a journey, he began. At first, it was awesome. I really felt like we were on this long journey together. But then I came up behind another car and had to slow down. What do you always tell me to do when that happens? he asked.
Pass it, I said softly, intrigued by where he was going with this.
Pass it, he repeated. Hurry up. Go faster. Pass the next car, you aren’t going fast enough.
I stared at him.
Kelli, you always had to go faster and do more. You wanted the perfect job, you got it. And you were so good at it. Then you wanted a better job, a nicer car, kids, a bigger house… you wanted it all and we got it all. But it wasn’t enough. You kept speeding up. For a while, I thought I could keep up with you and for a while, I really wanted to. But then I got tired, he continued.
I was quietly crying by this point, processing his words.
Kelli, all I wanted was to slow down. I wanted to stop and enjoy the ride. I wanted to sightsee with you. But you never would.
He went on to tell me he was worried I would never slow down. He said he had genuine concerns about how that would affect my relationships with our kids and other people in the future.
That conversation haunts me because, in many ways, he was dead-on. It was also one of the deepest, most sincere talks we’d had during our entire marriage. And it happened much later than it should have.
You see, I have a knack for doing life aggressively. I excel at filling my plate with so much stress, work, stuff and super high expectations that I slip into autopilot. When I’m in “go mode,” I know one speed… running toward everything that keeps my walls high and away from what’s important.
Over the past year, I’ve worked on pumping the brakes and slowing down. But that’s a challenge because when it gets quiet, I’m forced to sit and deal with feelings and emotions I’ve never faced. So then I speed back up, piling on work and stress because there’s comfort in forging ahead. I’ve learned it’s such a dirty little cycle. Can anyone else out there relate?
Exhibit A: Hudson’s birthday party. I’ll preface this by saying the past twelve weeks almost murdered me. Crazy projects at work. Running kids. Trying to get to the gym. Calls (yes, more than one) from the principal’s office. Halloween costume shopping. Delivering dessert to the PTO teacher appreciation luncheon (I caved… the boys are in a new school and we all love it). Saying yes to the occasional date. Forgetting to pay bills (my mortgage in October… whoops). This, my friends, is all things Mom Life.
So for Hudson’s Lego-themed party, I ordered invites, gave Justin a handful then never sent out the rest. Friends and family on my side all got invited via text message. Ugh. (Do I at least get points for it not being a group text?)
But that’s not the worst part.
Our kids live for custom birthday cakes. Over the years, we’ve done fire trucks, garbage trucks, unicorns, baseballs, beach scenes and all sorts of 3-D cakes the kids pick out on Pinterest. It’s our thing and it makes them feel really special.
You’re high, by the way, if you think I made any of those cakes. I’d screw that shit up in the first 30 seconds. We trust and pay the experts. It’s money well spent. For real.
I booked the baker in August. Then closer to the party date, emailed a picture of the cake Hudson wanted… the number 6 with a Lego construction theme all around it. She asked me what number cake pan she should order and I confirmed a 6. Justin offered to get and assemble the Legos, because, well… I suck at that building and engineering business.
But the night before the party, we had a problem.
The baker had emailed a picture to show us how the cake turned out. And it was PERFECT. Except… the bright colored fondant Lego blocks were wrapped around the number 6.
And Hudson was definitely about to turn 7.
Since it was too late to bake a 7, she offered to turn it into a circle. Justin made a few tweaks to the construction site plan and SUCCESS! Hudson never noticed anything was weird. He was enthralled by the Legos and asked if he could keep the giant crane. He loved it. Phew.
That’s the story of my epic cake wreck.
But two days later, the cake wasn’t even a blip on the radar.
Disoriented and in pain, I was walking to an ambulance.
It felt like a dream.
I had my purse. My phone.
Why was my car against a tree? Why were people staring?
As I sat in the ambulance, a paramedic asked if it was OK for him to take my driver’s license out of my wallet.
“Wait, what happened?” I asked, wincing as I sat my hand down on the top of my thigh and felt pain shoot through my leg.
“You were in an accident. We’re headed to the hospital to get you checked out,” he said.
No. It was a great Monday morning. I’d prepped dinner for that evening so I could quickly feed the kids before putting them in the gym daycare and squeezing in a quick workout. I got the boys on the bus, dropped off Lyla, knocked a couple things off my work to-do list for the day and this was all before 8am.
There was no time for an accident.
I still have no memory of what led up to the crash or anything immediately after it. According to the police report though, we both had yellow lights and I turned in front of another car that was going 45 – 50 mph. The impact sent hot coffee flying through my Honda Pilot, deployed airbags down the entire passenger side and totaled both vehicles.
I don’t remember calling Justin from the front seat of my car and asking him to tell the medics not to take me to the hospital. I don’t recall telling them I just needed to sign the paperwork to refuse medical treatment because I had so much to do at work.
I don’t remember refusing to get on the cot when they asked me to… even though I had airbag burns on my hands, a painful bruise on my thigh and a concussion from hitting my head. As my SUV was loaded onto a tow truck, I texted someone from work to come pick me up so I could go home and change clothes before knocking out the rest of my work day.
Not realizing how out of it I was, I pounded on until about 1:30 that afternoon when Justin and I met up to buy new car seats (they’re supposed to be replaced after a significant crash). As we walked into Target, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think you’re OK. If you’re not going to be checked out, I think you should at least consider taking the rest of the day off.”
He was only about the 20th person to say that to me since the crash happened. But I could hear the concern in his voice, saying slow down without using those words at all.
“OK,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders as I took out my phone to email my boss and my team.
That was two weeks ago. And here I am… removed from the cake and car wrecks.
So grateful my babies weren’t with me when the crash happened.
Up to my ears in insurance claims (a first for me).
Navigating the process of buying a new car (also something I’ve never had to do by myself).
Trying to learn from how I once again allowed myself to become so intoxicated and distracted by the chaos of life.
Forcing myself to take a step back.
Finding perspective in a place somewhat foreign to me, as I lean into a strong dose of GRACE… something that was once missing from my life. It’s a word I only ever heard as a little girl in church, or the song Amazing Grace… until someone on my team at work used it about two years ago during a difficult conversation.
“Kelli, please understand what’s happening in my life and why it’s hard,” she’d said. “I don’t handle situations the same way you do and it’s OK that I don’t. It’s OK that we’re different. But I need some grace from you. And I think you should give yourself some too.”
That was a turning point in my relationship with that person, in such a good way. I’ve re-played her words in my head a lot and – in that time – worked to figure out how to find the grace she suggested for me. It’s been a process.
Here’s how my sweet friend (and incredible writer) Mandy recently described it in a Facebook post:
Grace. For myself, for my family, for my friends, for our country. It’s a new concept to my little brain and it’s been life changing. It looks like forgiveness to myself when I’ve said something wrong. Love in the toughest moment. Breathing out instead of yelling. Napping instead of laundry. It’s knowing that people are good and may not feel so good right then. It’s grace. I’m here for it.
I recently bought a little porcelain sign at Hobby Lobby with that word on it. I put it in the giant greenhouse window in my kitchen, where I see it when I walk in to make the kids breakfast each morning and when I flip on the light after coming home from a long day at work.
Grace reminds me I’m human. Grace reminds me I’m never going to be perfect. Grace reminds me to slow down. Grace reminds me I can’t go back and change any of the proverbial “wrecks” in my life (there have been so many), but I can move forward and forgive myself for those mishaps and mistakes.
And you know what? It’s time.
I'm a mom to 3 beautiful, spirited, elementary school-aged humans, I'm addicted to running + strength training, I have no filter & I work full time in the corporate world. But behind the scenes of all that is where it really gets interesting...