Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sweaty Betty

Some gifts come wrapped up in beautiful packages. Other presents come enveloped in the tiny hands of giggling boys. Still other so called "gifts" that you receive for a birthday catch you unaware and make you wonder how you're ever going to find the receipt and unload that gift. I believe I unknowingly acquired a doozy of a surprise when I turned 36 - an increased ability to perspire.

As a kid I knew people with chronic B.O. I have at times gaped in horror at those with tremendous pit circles or oceans of back sweat. I feel bad for singers on American Idol or dancers on So You Think You Can Dance that sweat profusely and nobody will hand them a towel. But I think I may have become a Sweaty Betty myself. I used to say, "I don't really sweat that much." Now I pack an extra shirt just in case. I used to perspire a few droplets I could gently wipe away from my forehead. Now my friend Mary has a blackmail photo from our blueberry picking adventure with the kids where I have sweated through two cotton tank tops and am sporting a wet circle the size of my entire torso. Oh yes! I used to work out and my hair might be a touch damp. Now I get off the treadmill after running a few miles to find my clothing and hair soaked. No really, I have to bag the clothes separately so they don't drip on the whole backpack. I might as well have showered in them. And to add insult to injury I keep sweating for at least 30 minutes. And sometimes I even start sweating again as soon as I get out of the shower.

Is it my age? Is it over-hydration? Is it living in Texas in the inescapable heat and humidity? Is it the sprint triathlon training? Have my sweat glands sprung a leak? Or am I now and forevermore going to be Sweaty Betty?

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Anyone who know me knows I am not an athlete. I'm the girl that covers her head and squeals when a stray volleyball or basketball heads in her direction. I have been known to shower fellow travelers down the main staircase at school with Diet Coke due to a poorly timed misstep. It has also been noted that I am to be put in the back of any step aerobics class in order to avoid confusion for the newbies, and on the end if possible since I have been known to fly up and over my step in my calorie-burning fervor and could take someone down with me. Once, I attended a boot camp class and when we set off for our run I went out the back door with everyone, but headed right back in the front door as we passed it, grabbed my stuff and my 6 week old baby and went home.

I have always wanted to be a runner. I have dreams about running long distances with the wind in my hair and there's not even an axe murderer chasing behind me. In the dream my legs are strong and no part of my body is flopping, jiggling or slapping together. I go for miles and miles and am sad when I have to stop. This dream has been recurring since I was a little kid and every time I have it, I wake up euphorically happy. The fittest people I know run. I envy people who say they're going out for a quick run. But my earliest memories of actual running all include episodes of hyperventilating, feelings of faint, the need to vomit and utter uncontrolled loathing for whoever it was that made me run. So, I've always said, "I'm just not a runner."

There is something about being on the back side of thirty that has every woman I know reevaluating their lives and amping up their workouts to keep up with the downhill slide our butts and boobs are on. I've always walked or practiced yoga two or three times a week, but never took it very seriously. As I was working on the final writing project of the year with my 8th graders we came across some quotations that prompted me to think about how I view myself. The first quote by Gail Sheehy says, "If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow then we aren't really living." Hmmm. I hate to admit it, but it's been a long time since I seriously considered changing much of anything in my life. The second quote by Les Brown says, "Life has no limitations except the ones we make." I realized that I had been limiting myself and that some of my old mindsets needed to change.

So about two weeks ago, I embarked on a training regimen to start running, swimming and cycling. My first goal is to be able to run a 5K. Thank goodness there are some other non-runners like me who have this same goal, so my best friend from high school got me hooked up with a gradually increasing running program complete with gadgets. I'll be honest, financial investment and gadgets are highly motivational to me. I have podcasts to accompany my run and take my mind off the feelings of exhaustion and whatever is going on with the "junk in my trunk" behind me. I have a lima bean shaped sensor in my shoe that records my run distance, pace and calories burned. I actually look forward to my next run.

I'm not going to set the marathon world on fire any time soon (unless that friction created by my running shorts creates a spark and a freak accident ensues), but I'm breaking down mental limitations I've held for a very long time. And the best part is that Brendan, my nine year old, is my training partner. Nothing, I mean nothing, is more motivational than seeing some punk kid bang out two miles, turn around and ask you, "how far have you gone?" I like to say I'm not competitive, but it's on, little man...

Monday, April 27, 2009

The "Great Job" Generation

When an adult today saw one of Bryant's drawings (which was a fairly adorable tree in a rainstorm) she said, "Great job!" Instead of beaming with pride I flinched and grimaced. Not because the picture was ugly or that I have any negative feelings toward this woman, but because I got the distinct impression that she would have given him the same praise if he'd brought in a squished cockroach. The phrase "Great job!" used to mean something, but it has been overused to the point where it is utterly devoid of meaning.

There is a whole generation of kids who have been raised to believe that everyone is equal, everyone gets a trophy and everyone did a great job - whether they actually did or not. This mentality is probably harmless for a kid's first season of t-ball or soccer or for the annual Easter egg hunt where it would be ridiculous for one kid to have two eggs and another to have forty-two. Truthfully, what mother in her right mind wants to drag home a kid who has had that much candy?

As a teacher of middle school students, I get to see the ugly side of the equality doctrine as misinterpreted by teens. The early trophies and gold stars for everyone reinforce the idea that they don't have to stand out or try hard or really do much of anything to receive a reward. Natural consequences are replaced by artificial ones and reality gets skewed. What was meant as a method of preserving self-esteem until children are mature enough to handle competition and disappointment has led to a generation of kids who feel they deserve to be rewarded for taking up space in my classroom. While I have some amazing, intrinsically motivated, independent learners in my classes, I also have kids who want a trophy for continuing to breathe unassisted. News flash - school is hard, work is hard and tests are hard!

I guess you could say I'm tough on my kids, but when they bring me the drawing of who-knows-what, instead of saying the automatic "Great job!" I ask what on earth I'm looking at and get some pretty funny answers and some windows into their creativity that would have been lost with a vacuous piece of flippant praise. I am not Mom-of-the-Year or Teacher-of-the-Year, but I want the kids around me to know that when they hear praise from me it is a direct result of hard work or inventive thinking or unique insight.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Watch Where You Step!

On the way to drop the kids off at school this morning I saw an image that has been with me all day. A lady on her morning jog past our neighborhood elementary school abruptly broke stride before crossing the street. Although I'm not a runner myself it seemed a little odd to me that she just stopped. It seemed even stranger when she crossed the street and made a beeline for the nearest leftover sprinkler puddle and began furiously scraping her feet. My eyes darted to the other side of the street where the telltale pile of puppy poop cleared up the mystery. When I looked back over she was still shuffling away in the nearly nonexistent source of water.

This image succinctly portrays how I feel about agreeing to do some of the jobs in my life. Once I consent to do a seemingly effortless task I manage to plant my foot firmly in the nearest turd and spend an unfathomable amount of time trying unsuccessfully to remove it from my shoe. Last night, Brendan needed to look up how to wear a toga. No, I'm not sending my nine year old to frat parties. It was Olympics Day at school. But the point is that a five minute Google search tuned into a three hour download of Internet security software that I had to babysit along with the three boys in my life, our weeks worth of laundry and the night before school scuffle complete with tears and bloodshed (strawberry, knife, 3rd grader - you get the picture).

At work, I got suckered into being Team Leader for one more year under the assumption that I've done it for two years and could use the lesson plans I already have. Come to find out the state has changed what we have to teach and our district has decided this is a good year to go in a different direction. What is that smell? I'm pretty sure it's more doodoo on my shoe and there is no puddle in sight.

This is not to say that I tromp around with metaphorical poo on my shoes all the time. Things do go right, more often than not, but there are some people in our lives who just love mucking up the sidewalk for their own entertainment. To them I would like to say, keep your steaming landmines to yourself, I manage to step in my fair share without any help.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

School Pictures

There are two times every year when moms get an undeniable reality check. A barometer by which to gauge whether they have too much on that proverbial plate. In the midst of the madness moms may not realize they are overstressed or letting things slide, but school pictures don’t lie.

There are two ends of this spectrum. You have the days mom was coherent enough to realize it was school picture day and chose an appropriate outfit and spiked the bangs and slicked down the cowlicks of the darling boys. Then you have the other days. You know the ones. The ones we all have stashed away in the photo albums. The ones where your kid looks like he was raised by wolves and like those wolves combed his hair with a fried pork chop before chasing him to school. The ones where people at school smirk and say witty things like, “Oooh. That’ll be a good story for the scrapbook.” After the urge to let the wolves raising your kids loose on them passes, you nod and smile and keep walking.

Parents don’t send their kids to school on picture day looking like ragamuffins on purpose. It’s just one more thing that gets lost in the shuffle of over scheduled lives. But what do you cut out? The full time job? Not in this economy. Sports? Hello – obesity is epidemic in this country. Church? I’m not really up for a lightning strike from heaven right now.

My decision – abstain from cleaning the house. It is troublesome, time consuming and I really don’t like it. Never mind that if you walk in my house right now you might think I’ve been robbed at gunpoint. I think it’s a good way to start restoring some balance to my hectic existence.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

25 Things About Me...

My friends on Facebook have been tagging me on their lists of 25 things about themselves. I got to thinking about which 25 things I would tell friends or perfect strangers about me. People who know me often utter the letters "TMI", as in too much information, when I get going - so beware. But here are the 25 things I chose:

1. I realize a little more every day that Steve is the PERFECT spouse for me. We both lean heavily to the odd side.

2. People who bash public schools, yet have never taught in one, make me mad.

3. I love reading and watching movies, probably because escapism is my coping mechanism for stress.

4. I start every day with a giant cup of strongly brewed Starbuck's Italian Roast Coffee with two tablespoons of Fat Free Hazelnut creamer. I thrive on routine and I have this pesky little stomach issue that makes it necessary...

5. I blog, but really want to write a novel and have some pretty good ideas for one or two.

6. I use ellipses (...) way too much in my writing.

7. I can make fun of my family, but I don't recommend anybody else doing it in my hearing range.

8. I love yoga and my favorite pose is crow - balancing your entire body on your arms between the elbow and armpit is quite a rush.

9. Drama makes me gag and I have very little patience for it.

10. I've been to Mexico, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Israel, Brazil, and Venezuela and feel like a complete homebody compared to my hubby who travels the world for business and is on his 3rd set of passport page inserts.

11. I get to go to France and Belize this year. France with Steve and Brendan and Belize with our youth group. For the first time, I am going someplace Steve has never been.

12. I love my job - teaching literature and writing to 13 and 14 year olds - who, by the way, are fabulous human beings. If you cringe at the word "teenager" you might want to try spending some time with one. They don't bite and are actually quite entertaining.

13. I've become obsessed with planning my funeral lately. I have a few pictures chosen since I want to be cremated so nobody will stare at my formaldehyde pumped corpse (plus Pippin Galloway is the only person I would trust to pick out my outfit and on the off chance she isn't available, I'll avoid the scenario completely). And I think I've decided on whoopie cushions as party favors.

14. If you fart, talk about poop or make a comment that could be taken another way, I will giggle, laugh or blow snot out of my nose trying not to.

15. I can eat an entire jar of olives and then drink the juice. Then see #14...

16. I am the oldest sibling and I have two sisters and a brother. I am the only one who lives more than 10 miles away from my parents. Make that 300 miles.

17. I think my children are brilliant and adorable and I would appreciate it if everyone else nodded and smiled when I talk about them even if they disagree.

18. I am a horrible photographer, but I love to scrapbook so I take lots of pictures to make up for the quality of them.

19. I love to cook, but mainly to watch other people enjoying what I made. If all three of my boys like dinner, I am a happy girl - even if it looks like a tsunami is going to be the only way to get the kitchen clean.

20. People who are uneducated by choice make me furious. You don't have to be a rocket scientist, but watch the news or crack open a newspaper every once in a while.

21. I have the most amazing group of friends who are truly like family to me since I am away from my own. I need more than 2 hands to count the number of people I could call in the middle of the night in an emergency. And I hope they know they can call me too!

22. I hate that Christians sometimes give God a bad name. At our best we are only a poor reflection of his glory.

23. I'm a big picture girl, so I have a hard time getting caught up in the little everyday details which sometimes makes me seem calloused, uncaring or unconcerned. When really, I'm just waiting for the big picture to unfold so I can see how all the little stuff really fits in.

24. I think cancer sucks.

25. I went to 4 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and 2 high schools and I really hope I don't have to do that to my kids, because it was really hard for me. But I understand why my parents had to and I can see blessings along the way.

Wake up. Sponge the drool off of your keyboard and scrape the sleep crust from your eyes. It was cathartic for me...

Friday, January 23, 2009


When faced with our own mortality, we all choose to cope differently. My mom quilts any piece of fabric that is not nailed down. My father polishes the earth and everything in it to a spic-and-span, Clorox bleach scented state of cleanliness. I grocery shop and cook. Chopping vegetables is what coaxes me off of the mental ledge. Maybe because there's a goal. Maybe because you can see progress being made. Or maybe because once in a while Bryant grins over the dinner table and says, "Mommy, you're the best cooker EVER!" Never mind that Brendan is right beside him dissecting dinner within an inch of its life, as if I secretly placed treasure or a turd in his pot roast or something.

We learned about death early in our family. My grandfather died of pancreatic cancer when I was nine. I remember seeing him shrivel up and turn a bilious shade of green while connected to all manner of tubing. He would say things to me like, "Kid, nobody should have to watch an old man die like this." This was the guy who watched The Three Stooges every morning and took the first kid up to Dunkin' Donuts with him. This was the guy who supervised the renovation of the Texas State Capitol Building. This was the guy who raised my mom. From my childish mind it seems that his presence was large, his illness was short, but his absence is monumental.

My grandmother, having lived through the Great Depression, held on to all things that might have a future use. She was green before it was the cause du jour. She kept TV dinner trays and coffee cans. Once she retired coupon clipping and bargain hunting were her full time job. She was not one to be sentimental about things and DID NOT want anybody fighting over her stuff when she died. So, even before she got sick she was in the habit of passing out strips of masking tape and telling us to put our names on things we wanted when she was gone. She too was diagnosed with cancer and fought bravely for a long time. She spent her final days at home with us. In fact, she died in our home and if I close my eyes I can see her taking her final breath. My masking taped inheritance included a black wool coat, a pink bathrobe, and a 1915 dresser. When she died my mother found her stash of toilet paper that lasted our family of six for over two years.

My family, while normal on the surface, has a veritable bucketload of idiosyncrasies, quirks and downright oddities, but one thing you can say about the McHenry clan is that we're good in a crisis. So, once again, we face cancer with Neal's wife, Leah. Not grandparents who have worked, raised, families, retired and then fallen ill, but a 30-year old mom of four. I do not doubt that God can miraculously save her, but I struggle with the knowledge that he doesn't always choose to. And none of the crap about everything happening for a reason is going to make any of this sit any better or keep Susan from quilting, Jay from cleaning, Neal from crying, or Leah from dying and leaving those four precious babies and my brother behind.

I have begun lately to think about when it's my time to go. I've chosen pictures for the funeral. I've recently started looking for a collection of little boxes. You see, I want to be cremated and my ashes spread all over the globe - Egypt, Israel, Brazil, Austria - all the places I've been to and loved or someday hope to see. And being transported all over the globe in a snack-size baggie is just not going to work for me. I've also been scrapbooking like a mad woman to leave a legacy for my kids. The boys have strict instructions that these albums are never to be thrown away and any wife who even thinks about it will be haunted by me for all eternity. Morbid thinking? Maybe, but we all cope with mortality in our own ways.