Mo and Me

The Olympics are over and Mo Farah and I are tired.  For two straight weeks I was up late watching people win medals. 

I am spent. 

I was full-on invested in the London Olympics this year, A to Zed.   Could not resist the media pull, and it was Ryan Seacrest, for goodness’ sake—I watched anyway.  I was cheering for Phelps.  I was sad for Jordan, elated for Gabby.  Loved the bit when that little Katie Ledecky started the 800 meters “too quickly” according to those close-talking announcers.  Missy Franklin, Serena-all-giddy, Allyson Felix.  David Boudia out-of-nowhere.   It was fun.  But there was a lot of water polo.  And if I hadn’t caught the opening and closing ceremonies, NBC would have had me believing that the Olympic participants were all US residents.

Maybe that’s why I liked the Mohamed Farah story so much: British Somali, crazy fast at the finish, wins at home in front of a princess, his big-disbelieving eyes, trademark move—arms in the shape of an “M” on the top of his head.  The fact that Rupp, his training partner and friend, won silver in the 10,000 meters was icing.  And at the end, on the track, when Mo hugged his daughter.  Come on. 

Before the race I said, “Wow!  10,000 meters.” 

Caroline said, “What?” 

I said, “They’re gonna be running for a while.” 

Lexi asked, “What time are they going to go home?”

I thought, they’ll certainly be going home a lot sooner than I would be going home if I were running this race.

 But it didn’t come to me until after Farah’s victory that a 10,000 meter race is, well, a 10K, and I sometimes run 10Ks.  In fact, I had fairly recently run one on June 2–the Zooma in Annapolis. 

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There were stark differences between the Olympic 10K and mine. 

Mo and his pals were running quickly.   His race began.  There was a commercial break.  Then three laps left. 

If my Zooma had been televised, there would have been pledge breaks for fundraising purposes, a 1-800 number flashing on the bottom of the tv screen, Ed Asner and Gavin McCloud cameo appearances.

While I did technically “train” for my run, much of the race-day preparation involved creating an iPod mix featuring 34 songs.  The average American song length is 4-minutes, so I was comfortable entering the “race” with 136 minutes of fresh music to get me through.  The first song?  I kid you not, Linkin Park: “Waiting for the end to come, wishing I had strength to stand”… spinning guitar, teasing piano, pounding drum, driving. me. methodically. forward.

It seemed like it took all morning.  This was my day’s event.  I got there at 7 a.m., and afterwards, it was lunch-time.  My husband and daughters met me at the finish like I’d been abroad. 

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I was at my in-law’s last weekend.  The Olympics were still pulling us all in, but I managed to get out for a jog.  I felt I had barely exercised since June 2—my summer opening ceremony—and now the closing, a few laps around the local track. 

I couldn’t help but think of Mo.  I couldn’t help but be him.  Nearby workmen painting a shed didn’t seem to notice my speed but I was fast. 

I’d actually spent more time untangling my iPod earbuds than I did running, but I finished.  I walked a victory lap.  I tested out trademark moves:  an “M” for Mommy on top of my head?  Usain’s lightning bolt? 

Lexi had come downstairs that morning, her hair freshly combed, a clean dress on, and I noticed as I followed her into the kitchen that she was slowing down a bit.  She looked away from her dad and grandma who were seated at the breakfast table.  She pushed her hair behind her ear, smiled slightly, poking her tongue to the side of her cheek.  Then she made her entrance.

That’s her trademark move, I thought.  Of course.  She’s been looking for Princess Kate on the telly for a fortnight.  She’s got this.  She can’t help but be the princess.

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The London Olympics, the first my girls will remember—upon reflection, that is why I’ve been so invested this year.  Criticism and cynicism aside.  It’s been an experience watching talented kids compete, with great success or not, with my own girls, developing interests, asking questions, processing,  sitting right there on the couch beside me. 

I had missed what Bob Costas said about Phelps not marching in the Opening Ceremony.  Lexi explained,   “Because he’s swimming with his friends tomorrow and he doesn’t want to be sleepy.”

One morning at their Grandma’s the girls woke up kind of late and groggy.  Caroline whispered to Lexi, “Let’s play the Quiet Game—you’re the United States of America and I’m Maryland.” 

We worked through that one….quietly; she decided on USA vs. Russia. 

Still deciding on our trademark moves.


Jogging Memories

I could do this with my eyes closed, this jog around Wayne, Pennsylvania, though I’ve lived away from here half of my life. A step onto the front porch, and it could be any year, the trees are lush and big; the June heat thumps, even early in the morning. The two dogwoods in the front are gone, due to a recent storm. A burly maple fell from across the street, sparing my dad’s house by inches, but the front hedges and the dogwoods did not fare as well. There are no bushes on the side either to separate our lawn from the lawn of my dad’s “new” neighbors, who’ve been there at least five years. We needed those bushes when we were growing up next to “Ginny,” the old lady who threatened to shoot our golden retriever if he crossed onto her property, which he did often. Dan and Matt would play football in the front and purposefully toss the ball over the hedges, then make diving catches through them. It was not the dog that Ginny had to worry about—but she knew that; for some reason she just couldn’t threaten to kill the boys. We had a lot of action in the backyard, too, but the front seems a more poignant place, I think, as I stretch to touch my fingers to my toes: the place of prom picture posing, of chats with neighbors. It’s where I would sit to see my brothers coming home from big league baseball games, to see my dad coming home from work. It’s where my college-graduate sister stood, carrying a backpack bigger than she, before leaving for Europe. When my mom was home with hospice care before she was completely bed-ridden, she asked me to lead her to the front door. She sat there in her wheelchair, quietly taking in the view.

Sidewalks are a little worn, though that crack at the foot of our driveway—the one that would get skateboards airborne—has long since been repaired. A turn left would lead me up a small hill to the old bus stop; but a turn right is the running route, and my feet start mechanically in that direction. Two houses down from Dad’s is the big tree carved into a bear, the tree which was just a tree when I was growing up, but is now a 15-foot Flyers fan—an orange hat perched on its head—and a big favorite of the Lenehan girls when we take walks around Pop Pop’s neighborhood. The teenager who lives there now mows my father’s lawn every Tuesday. The teenager, Tommy Walters, who lived there before him also used to mow my dad’s lawn. Tommy was a quiet kid with a quiet father and a lovely, loving mom, and on Mother’s Day years ago, he called home from a pay phone as he was dying from a knife wound.

Lisa lived across the way, and when we were growing up, we were rarely separated. I’m not sure what I contributed to the relationship, but she had a Barbie and a three-speed bike. We often swapped bikes: hers for my single-speed, which by now may be en vogue, but back then, at least for me, having more of anything was better than having less. As I run by the military academy parking lot, I see the small wall I flipped over while road-testing Lisa’s three-speed. I may have totaled her bike, but I’m sure at the time the focus was on me and the “calamity” involving the “great wall”—at least that’s where I would have demanded the focus to be. My brothers called me “Bratty” for substantiated reasons.

I am heading towards the middle school, across Lancaster Avenue towards Aberdeen, the road to freedom, the road to Mary Kate’s house. We gossiped, spent our parents’ money tying up phone lines. We passed notes in homeroom. It was all wonderfully safe and cliché. Matt had a nickname for her as well, and as I was sifting through old letters in my childhood room, I found written in my brother’s scrawl on a scrap piece of paper a phone number next to the name “Mary Brat.” The school is unrecognizably new—no more roofed walkway attaching two aged buildings. Once when I was an 8th grader I was waiting for the bus outside of the main building when I saw a girl I thought to be my friend Sandra nearing the annex. I yelled something sassy about her questionable choice in outfit (maybe it was a dress-up day?) and realized only when she turned around looking bothered that it was not Sandra. That may have been an initial moment of adult awareness: I should keep some thoughts to myself…and get my eyes checked.

The public library across from the middle school looks the same on the outside; though built in the 1970’s, the building is still too modern a place to be attractive. I remember a summer reading contest when I just bled books. If I could have spent my middle school years in the library or at the piano, I would have. But the mean-girl stuff was an ever-present concern, and I was not always at the receiving end, I’m afraid. I was a worrier, a bit of a follower, some of the things I’d like my Caroline and Lexi never to be. I remember success in the classroom, though—a project in math involving a slab of wood, nails set in a geometric pattern, and colored yarn. Of course English: I spent hours working on one of Mrs. Santee’s projects, sitting in our backyard sketching a robin, observing blades of grass, identifying cumulus clouds, writing poetry. It is no wonder Thoreau struck a chord in college. It is a wonder listening to Caroline repeat Shel Silverstein’s “Sleeping Sardines” by heart and seeing Lexi at work on “Melinda Mae.”

I’m circling the town of Wayne, rather than heading into its hub. I like the perimeter. There were kids who’d hang out in town, but I always went there with purpose: for slices at Real Pizza, for a movie at Anthony Wayne, to Kaleidoscope to buy stationery or the Paisley Shop to buy post earrings. WaWa is now so close I can smell the Amoroso rolls, as I again approach Lancaster, heading back towards North Wayne. I am stopping to pick up coffee for Dave and me, so once I cross the street, I’m free to walk, but I sprint to the finish in case there are any old boyfriends around. I leave WaWa, a sweaty mess balancing two massive cups of caffeine in a 4-cup carry tray.

The last time I was in the Baskin Robbins to my left was when cancer had destroyed much of Mom’s appetite, but in true Regan form, she still loved her ice cream. We left the house for a root beer float and then a pedicure, and we happened to see Mrs. Walters at the nail salon. I’d not seen her in years. She looked older and sadder, but then again, so did I. I felt like since we used to go to her Christmas party each year, since I used to babysit her kids, that I should explain to her why my mom was now so thin. I should tell her how sorry I was about Tommy. But the moments passed, and she left, and Mom and I came home from the last outing we ever had together.

True Value, next to Baskin and Robbins, is now South Moon Under, but the hardware store served a higher purpose by connecting me with my future husband. I worked there half a summer in college, inventorying paint among other things, and a neighbor of mine walked in one day to buy a gallon of Smoky Mauve exterior. He told me I could make a dollar more an hour painting houses and that’s all he needed to say. I quit before we completed our conversation and was enjoying prime tanning, listening to WMMR, and taking long lunch breaks before I could say “Phillips Head or Flat Blade?” The only person obstructing my way to a stress-free summer was the foreman, Dave Lenehan, that guy from my swim club and church who had attended a neighboring high school. Mom said something about him having a nice family because she played tennis with a friend of his mom’s, but Dave was a tad too attentive to his job to get a lot of attention from me. He was not unfriendly and kind of cute, so I married him 15 years later.

He must be in desperate need of coffee by now, I think as I cross North Wayne Avenue for the sidewalk under the train tracks. The walls beneath the tracks are smooth and black like tar; I’d forgotten. The thought of touching them was always slightly alluring, and when I did, I found them to be dry and cool, not slimy like they looked. When I was feeling brave as a child, I would avoid the street altogether, opting for the tunnel path underneath the tracks. Rumors of dead-people buried, smells of urine, darkness, and sounds of approaching trains all triggered imagination, which would without fail, cause me to quicken my pace when I took the tunnel. I am close now: past John’s Market, where hoagies flow; past the big evergreen where neighbors would gather to sing Christmas carols; up the street that winds with the crooked creek. Two more blocks to Dad’s, and the coffee’s still warm.

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As we leave to return to Annapolis, Caroline walks off of the front porch slowly. She and Lexi had collected leaves and pinecones for Pop Pop and left them in a pile on the porch. She eyes them now then turns around and raises those blue eyes up to scan the house before her. She grabs my hand: “Oh, Mommy, this is such a beautiful home. Why does Pop Pop live here all alone?”

When my mother was first gone, I shared the same concern, but I feel differently today. There was nothing solitary about my morning run. I had plenty of company. My dad reads the paper; he goes to work; he cooks a pork chop; he watches the Phillies; and I’m sure there are moments when he feels alone, possibly lonely, but I understand why he stays put. He’s easy to locate on Woodland Avenue. Memories know just where to find him.