Thursday, 11 August 2016

More than a catch phrase: why real inclusion matters.

"Can I help you with something?" 

I wouldn't have said anything, but I spotted your friend pulling a face before you whipped around to stare at my son for the second time. The tone of my voice was far more reasoned than if you had not been a child. Had you not been a child you may have heard the anger in my heart. But you were only about 12, if that. It really was all I could do to smile, but I didn't want to frighten you. I wanted to educate you.

Pretty sure I failed.

You nervously shook your head, your eyes wide open, realizing you'd been caught out.

"Is there a reason why you're staring?" says I. Same tone. Same smile.

Same response. Then you turned back around and finished your lunch, the table quieter around you now. No more faces, no more words, no questions, no head shaking, nothing. Maybe it surprised you that another demographic who's perennially jeered was standing up to you. This redheaded mom and her boy with Down's syndrome. No, honey. We don't just take it, we address it. So sorry to burst your bully bubble.

I looked down at Rukai. My sweet, innocent little boy, just having something to eat on a sunny summer afternoon. And you had to go and bring in those clouds. I look at him and see only a child; one who is loved by everyone who has the fortune to spend any time with him. A child with quirks, with needs, with emotions (yes, some being anger and frustration). With hopes and disappointments just like any other kid. But you, and so many others like you choose only to see (worse, to define him with) a genetic condition which only makes him learn a bit slower.

This happened a few weeks ago but is still very much on my mind today. I wonder where you go to school. I wonder who your classmates are. Do you have any kids with special needs in your class? In your school? Anywhere you've ever been? Your reaction tells me not many, if at all. What a shame. What a loss. What a missed opportunity.

And here you've been on earth a fair few years. Here you should have had many a chance - like Rukai's preschool mates have had - to interact with a child who learns differently, who moves differently, who acts differently. To engage with him and only know him as Rukai. Because he is Rukai. He is not someone for people to toy with. He is a human being and he has a name. He is Rukai.

I wish you would have replied when I asked you those questions, I really do. I wish you would have actually wanted to know, to understand. But your fear and your reluctance told me otherwise and really made me sad. Because that fear and reluctance would not have existed had you not been mocking him. I know this because there have been so many other kids your age who've approached him, waved and smiled, fist bumped, high-fived, you name it. Those kids get it. Because those kids are not being ripped off by society - those kids are lucky to have inclusion as standard, in their schools, in their clubs, in their neighborhoods, maybe even in their families. They know kids like Rukai because they have been allowed to know kids like Rukai.

And although many in this very strange and skewed world would look at us and feel pity - they of the downward-angled smiles and furrowed brows which say more than their words could possibly define - it is you for whom I feel pity. You are being denied by society the most beautiful of freedoms which is to live and let live. Get to know one another. Share ideas. Share joy. Share love. Grow.

You whipped your head around to stare and as I was reacting I thought of all those who haven't. The restaurant server who brought Rukai an early bowl of chips before a late meal because she didn't want him to be hungry much longer. The retired doctor who stopped for a high five as we were checking out of a hotel, then offered to return our luggage cart so we could be on our way quicker. The little girl your age who stopped to play with him in the sand pit, returning later to introduce him to her friends. The dozens of people in dozens of other restaurants on dozens of other days saying hello, smiling, enjoying his very existence.

I chose to remember them.

I once thought reactions like yours would be in the majority. Ah, but they aren't. And this gives me hope that maybe - just maybe - all the advocacy out in the world is starting to chip away. It's like digging the Channel Tunnel with a teaspoon but we keep on digging. With bloodied knuckles and throats ragged from the constant dust, we keep on digging.

I am so sorry you haven't been given what those other folks have. I hope as you get older you don't continue to be stripped of that opportunity and instead you are allowed to live in the world as it is, rather than the world as it is imagined. Because that ableist, virtual reality where people with disabilities are locked away as something to hide, as someone to fear, is not Truth.

We don't hide around here. And we are certainly not afraid.

I hope that one day inclusion becomes more than a catch phrase.

I hope that one day disabled people no longer have to scratch and claw for equal opportunities to access education. To access all of life, not merely what they are allowed to access by those who choose to live in darkness and pretend we are not a society of mixed ability on every level.

I hope that one day you tell your friend to stop pulling faces. Tell him that we are all different and that bullying is evidence of a dark heart. I hope that you don't whip your head around to stare but you turn around to smile.

And when someone asks if they can help you with something, I hope you say "yes. Educate me."

Saturday, 16 July 2016

It's time to go.

60 minutes. One hour. A solid hour. How can something so solid be made of sand?

There was focus and intent.
There were teeth grinding and spoons and buckets and scooping and pouring. For sixty minutes.

I nearly keeled over.

I knew he loved the sand. I mean, I'd seen a bit of it - we'd bought one of those tables but it kept getting drowned by that weather event they call 'UK Summer' (which looks more to me like pissing down rain, but beggars can't be choosers). That sand was played in, but not like this. Nothing remotely like this.

A fair few months ago yet another woman entered our lives for a different purpose altogether and with no business nor qualification suggested we go test for ADHD because Rukai was 'a bit whiny' compared to his peers and didn't focus well on tasks. But wot hey last time I checked, no child with an attention deficit could sit and engage himself with sand for an hour. So there there lovey, off you go, you of the silly person brigade. Take your suggestion, crumple it up with a slab of toilet roll and flush it away, along with my opinion of you (if it can catch up, because that's long gone).

You, too, were wrong. I see a pattern forming here.

But back to today.

Sixty minutes. I may as well have been invisible. He's never sat in solo attention to anything off screen for so long, always wanting to hang out with me, clinging, looking for direction, for suggestion, for a march or a dance or a different episode of Mister Tumble on the box. And as much as I treasure my time with him, my heart has been desperately seeking evidence of his imagination brewing. Great savory chunks of that magical 'pretend play' have eluded us for so long.

But as the time ticked away, me sat there watching him shine, beneath a golden ball doing the same, high above us, here in this thing they call 'Summer' sure as caterpillars eventually grow wings, he sprouted a pair all his own. They were electric, and glittering and too bright to watch but I stared anyway. Gods be damned, I stared and stared.

I imprinted that slap bang on to my retinas so I could pack away that memory beside the rest.
Those memories which explain 'yes I watch me.'
'Yes I can. Yes I am. Yes I will.'

You watch me.

Sixty precious minutes in another one of these fleeting days. These days which are all shockingly short. These days which are dwindling here within that final countdown to 'Big School'.

There is no one ready for that around here.

My heart is in my throat and at the same time below my feet. I trample it daily. I am so afraid for him, for us - that he is not totally ready, that he may be treated badly, that he may be squashed into a corral when he should instead be set free across a wild, grassy range. That he may be marginalized and underestimated and limited. My son is going to start school in under two months. And here I'm only recently elated he's sat for an hour to play in the sand. I'm elated that I've seen his pretend play hit stellar heights all in the space of a few days. From a stint on a local 'beach' earlier this week to this morning's amazing bit of longer play in a half-assed sand pit before brain said 'holy shit, go get a better one, stat - this is important. Just WATCH him think...'

So we went.
And we bought it.
And we set it up.
And he played for an hour.

Why have I only just jigged this?

What else have I missed?
What else will THEY miss?
How in the hell am I going to keep all the communication open enough to enable identification of the passion points? To know where he wants to go...

...if he still cannot speak?

It is on this point which my heart is skewered, every. single. day.

We came in from the sun to dinner. He ate with fervor and there was his favorite show before him. To entertain while I got some head space. Screen time is a necessity in this house. Some lives must have that offer of head space. No shame in this house. Think otherwise? You try living here.

Then the table is pushed away, and now cleared up he takes my hand. No words, but pulling me to the giant drawing pad he's set on the floor. Looking in earnest at the box of pens, I pull it out and he roots around. We work the cap off together and here I draw a circle. This is maybe replay number three of the circle-drawing thing but it hasn't dulled the shine because we are so very much just getting started. He takes the marker off me, touches it to the paper and then he's off.

Round and round and round. That IS the circle of life. That IS everything.

He's done it before but I'm blown away at the fact that I'm seeing him remember that it's something we've done before...I'm seeing depth of understanding and the attribution of purpose to what he is doing.

And I haven't said a damn thing. I just drew a circle.

But there is meaning. This is not scribble.
There is intellect. This is not clueless.
There is ability. This is not hopeless.

There is Rukai. This is not Down's syndrome.

This is Rukai. Drawing me some circles.

So many suggested he wouldn't.
I want to bring him to face them with a pen, to circle them as if with shame.
Look at me! Look what I KNOW! Look what I can DO! Look who I AM!

Shut up and LOOK.

My mind today, too, is racing in those circles. Round and round.

School coming.
Late milestones.
So much to plan.
So little time left to be 'just us'.
My heart is breaking yet my heart is soaring.
I don't want the time to take my little boy from me, but then again it's not really time taking him away, it's HIM taking himself away. Ahead. Forward. Upward. Onward. I am just a conduit.

And these feelings, like all those other deep emotional experiences I've lived in these short four point five years, these too are just like everyone else's.

A child is born to a mother.
There is love.
A child grows and develops and learns and thrives.
There is love.
A child becomes. A child exists. A child IS.
There is love.

There are so many wishes I have for my son as these days dwindle and our last summer as 'just us' moves further behind before it eventually drops away.

"It's time to go." They said it at the end of the Night Garden show and I burst into tears.

"It's time to go."

So my son, go. But please always make sure I know where you are, and remember I am always here.
Even one day when I am not.
I am always here.

Rukai, I hope that your life is kinder than the world is.
I hope the goodness in you draws goodness TO you.
I hope you know you are my world.
I hope the world knows you ARE.

And you are Rukai.
In sand and in circles and in my heart.
My son. My every wish. My pride and my morning and night and the flame that lights up my soul.

Fly, little man. You go on and soar. Dream big.
I could not - in any plane of existence - be more proud of you.


Brilliant blog posts on

Monday, 11 July 2016

From that wound, red.

In 1955 there was a bus. And a woman named Rosa Parks. 1955. 61 years ago. There was a bus and a woman who said "stuff your stupidity, I'm tired, and I'm sitting here, and I'm not moving."

Someone put her in jail. For sitting in a seat. Someone forgot that we all bleed red.

In 1963 there was a man named Martin. Martin may have been a white man's name but not this Martin. No. This Martin was a black man with an enormous and beautiful dream. Of equality and brotherhood and peace. A huge loud dream. A simple quiet dream.

Someone was so afraid of equality that they shot him dead for his beliefs.
From that wound, red.

We all bleed red.

A hundred years prior there was a man named Abraham, like that name from the Bible, that great text held up before us as the word of God, the code, the creed to which we should all operate. But this Abraham was called Lincoln, he of the stovepipe hat and the original, yet now dead lost, Republican party. This Abraham said that all men would be equal. That all men should be made free. This Abraham believed too that we all bleed red.

Someone was so afraid of equality that they shot him dead for his beliefs.
From that wound, red.

Those men and those women, they bled.
Those men and those women, they fought for that freedom.
Those men and those women, they rose up and they built lives on the back of oppression. They built lives on the back of hatred and stupidity and cruelty and ignorance.

Those men and those women, they are all my brothers and sisters because we all bleed red.

One of those men became my president.
One of those men has retained his dignity in the face of eight years of abuse.
They call it 'hopey changey stuff'.

He hoped. He tried to change.

But someone was so afraid of equality that they killed his beliefs.
Yet he still believes.
And I'd elect him again if I could.

I am born of white privilege.
I am born of ableist privilege.
I am a woman. With an opinion. With a big mouth, bigger ideas and an even bigger idealism.
I have no room in my life nor my heart for hate.

I too bleed red.
As does my Asian husband.
As does my disabled son.

All red.

And we all weep salt water. Like the oceans between all our hearts and beliefs and fears and disappointments. Salty seas.

But hope floats.

Equality is only a word. Yet some people in this very mixed up, very sad, very traumatized society choose to tangle that word in animosity and scrape it against hope like sandpaper, shredding serenity, scarring righteousness. Without reason, destroying progress.

But still we all bleed red.
Let them feel what they will, and they may never understand anything more than their own hatred and angst.
Born of fear.
Born of self-entitlement.
Born of inability to see the opposite side of the coin and all the red blood flowing through the veins of the world.

There is no cure for the hatred in this world but tolerance.
There is no room for name calling and accusation and hypocrisy. For negativity and pessimism and talk of the sky falling. Unless you see space junk making a beeline for your forehead, the sky is not falling.

Your sensibility is.

We are better than this. Than all of this.
In that there is a need to say 'we must control these weapons because too many innocent people are dying'.
In that there is a need to say 'black lives matter'. Despite our pitiful history, was there ever a doubt? I am so disgusted that there are people on this earth who feel they have to explain their worth. You are my brothers and sisters and on behalf of every white face on this godforsaken blue ball I am so fucking sorry. I wish we could all do so much better.

Some doubt the relevance of that phrase, they try to dilute it with excuses, and that is so pitiful.
Black lives matter. Of course they do. Keep saying it until people get it.
Disabled lives matter. Of course they do. Keep saying it, too, until people get it.
Women's lives matter. Of course they do. Say it. Speak loudly. Roar.


There is no cure for the inequality in this world but for people to strip themselves bare of beliefs.
Why does it matter the color of someone's skin?

We all bleed red.

Why does it matter the depth of intellect? The number of limbs? A person's mobility?

We all bleed red.

Man or woman?
Man who becomes woman?
Woman who loves woman?
Man who loves man?


I don't care what toilet you use.
I don't care what God you love.
I don't care whether you wear a bra or a shotgun or steel toed work boots.

I may not agree with you but that doesn't mean you are wrong.
Unless you hate.
Then you are wrong.

Because we all bleed red.

I feel like that Leelu in Fifth Element when I watch the news. The pace, the anger, the horror, the disgust, the fear, the danger, the crisis, the death, the sorrow, it leans and presses and burns and rages and destroys every last bit of serenity I have in my heart. I can't bear to watch the news.

If that's just me, what has it done to you? To us all?

In 1863 an unchaining.
In 1955 a bus.
In 1963 a dream.
In 2008 hope.

In 2016 -


We all bleed red.


Monday, 4 July 2016

Up the hill and into the wind.

As a mother there is probably nothing worse than the fear that you are outright shit at it. I know that fear well. I'm pretty consistently envious of those people who seem to have a special 'mommy' gift - those who instinctively know how to fix everything with a stick of gum, three peppercorns and a paperclip, like MacGyver with mammaries. The ones who make their own paint and teach their kids origami by age 2. The ones whose kids know how to paint the kitchen by 4 and the fecking Sistine Chapel by 6. The theatre-goers, the kite flyers, the lesson driving and duck feeding and paper boat making kind of moms. Not me, I'm pretty sure I'm utter cack at the mom thing. Like I've fallen from the Titanic and just about doggy paddling. But I seem to have on a wet suit so at least I won't freeze. And hell yes, I've got a child to 4.5 without great trauma but...

Then we started potty training.

You can almost hear the game show wah wah wah wahhhhhhhhh sound they save for the big loser. Then again, who's the loser - me or my living room floor? Now endlessly damp and trodden on from me racing to and fro, pottty chair aloft, trying not to spill, racing down the hall to dump it out and back in time with hopes he really WAS finished when he stood up and not just overeager to hit the 436th rendition of the dance routine from the Chessington Penguins of Madagascar Cheesy Dibbles show, all with his bits wafting in the breeze like the day he was born. If I hear 'keep your eyes on the prize' once more I may have to pack out my ears with what's left of the toilet wipes. Then too, if I ever see another toilet wipe again I'll be glad...largely because I keep flinging them to the side like the tape during a Christmas wrapping sesh and can never find the damn things when I need them. And why in the HELL can I not pull one out at a time? It's always a clump of four. And then I tear the packet so it doesn't close properly leaving the next blob of four slightly dried out and useless. I swear someone's hidden a camera somewhere and we're headed for next week's You've Been Framed.

This is entirely for the birds. And there really IS not enough wine.

And there we have young son, that fantastic champion of inclusion and all things equal, who is so utterly typical in this situation it makes me want to cry. And he actually DID make me cry yesterday. But only after he showed he knew he needed a wee, then proceeded to set up the potty, position himself...and piss on my rug. Wa-hey, the glamour is endless! The excitement unstoppable!

The stains, semi-permanent.

But come on now! For the love of all that is good and holy, I've run a bloody marathon! I've done some amazing charitable fundraising. I've been a proud voice for Down's syndrome awareness and disability rights, and equality and progress, yet here I am stagnating on wee. Ah this life, this life this glorious life. This typical life.

Life 1, mommy 0. Life wins. Always, life wins.

I'm knackered just thinking about it. I'm knackered because I've been battling that 'I am utter crap' fear for what feels like forever - that fear which camps out in your head, builds a giant fire pit and starts burning all your achievements, then smears ash about your face and prances around like Keith Lemon taking the piss out of Fearne Cotton. But I stop and look at it and realize I'm not crap. Crap is crap. And everything I am experiencing here is shared, and normal, and typical and every mom from every corner of the world has done this thing...when their kids do their thing.

Aside from feeling like I'm a candystriper who's drawn the short straw and with it, bedpan duty, it's all part of the journey as an old friend once said. The road is truly long and we all share it. Sometimes it's streaming with wee and we can do little but clear up the mess but there we all go forth and by God, we live. We all live the same.

The other day I was out for a run, chugging up a particularly challenging slow incline. I set my tempo and pushed forward, all while pondering this behemoth potty training challenge, and before it the diagnosis challenge, and the family challenge, and my long-ago bullying challenge and all those life challenges that had brought me to that very hill, in that very place on that very day. Those rolling hills, those peaks and troughs, just like life. All of life. I realized that in any life worth living we are always headed up the hill and into the wind. And never will we see what's on the other side unless we dare to make the climb.

Progress. Baby steps. Climb baby climb. But first pass me another packet of wipes, will you?

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


In case you've been living in a shoe with umpteen children with whom you didn't know what to do over the past five days or so, you will know that people across the world are up in arms over the Cincinnati Zoo shooting of an endangered gorilla after a toddler fell into its enclosure. It is a 'damn fool shame' as they say in the old south, that this glorious beast was exterminated so quickly. And it was quick. And it was a shame. Let us begin with that.

But only after a child was tossed around like a ragdoll in its enclosure, twice at that, pushed over, head underwater, permanently traumatized. And judging by the very clear video it sure looked to this parental eye like said toddler was about to get throttled and finished off by a gorilla. That boy will never be the same. Seriously, who gives a rat's gnarled ass about what his mother did or did not do? What the zoo did or did not do?

I care about that boy. He was four. Or three. Believe whichever paper you read.

Sue the zoo! Says the mom.
Stupid mom! Say the detractors.
Did what we had to! Says the zoo.

Believe whichever paper you read.

Who to believe? Expert A or B? The lady or the tiger?

As the mother of a four year old, all I believe is that this doesn't remotely register in my 'things that are ok' file. I believe the right decision was made at the right time by the zoo. The mom made a dreadful mistake in thinking her child was actually listening to her, and the world lost one of fewer than eight hundred members of an endangered species as a result.

(Enter screeching brakes sound effect...)

Now stop. "Now hold it now," as my Pops would've said.

Here's the real problem I have with all of this. The thing that doesn't register and why I have such a rigid and furious opinion about it all. And knowing that I don't bloody write about gorillas you may be ready to hear this. If not, sit down, buckle up and listen.

The outcry includes statistics about said endangered status of these silverback gorillas and how the world is minus one more due to the circumstances surrounding the situation. There could very well be half a million people upset by it all. Maybe more. Upset enough to argue. To 'unfriend'. To be hateful and spiteful and...just 'shouty'. About a gorilla.

Hold that there.
Put it in your cookie jar, your bum bag, your kitchen sink to soak. With the forks and the cake tins and the soggy, greasy old sponges. Soak it up.
Hold it.

Now turn around with me and look outside the Cinci gorilla moat back into the real world.

Come on in. Here is the story you should be shaking your fists about. And shrieking and arguing and unfriending. And if you're not, I am the first one to say shame the hell on you.

If you read me, you know my son Rukai has Down's syndrome. You know he is Rukai first, he is not a diagnosis, he is nothing to fear, to be ashamed of, to challenge, to question, to discard.

He is Rukai. He is a boy. He bleeds red. He feels, he learns, he lives, he loves. He is no cabbage.

Nor am I. Nor are you. In fact he bests me because he tries harder. At everything. And I sit back in awe and in some form of shame.

Yet there exists a new, non-invasive 'supersafe!' pre-natal pregnancy test about to be rolled out in the UK (has been around for zonks elsewhere) which is meant to detect Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) minus the great big scary (risky!) needle prod to the guts. There are all kinds of shiny happy fluffy names for this test which have to do with harmony, serenity, inner peace, om shanti om-ness, you name it. 'This will make you feel glad you won't have anything other than a perfect child!' kind of juju.

'Fill our coffers with your purchase and we'll prevent your fear!! Terminations R Us!!'

I don't believe in the power society gives to statistics so I won't quote percentages (that's what Google is for) but there are plenty of them dotted about, outlining what this means, those stats and papers and talking heads and all such things which will tell you - by any stretch of the imagination - that this will undoubtedly one day entirely eradicate Down's syndrome.

The NHS - funded in part by my tax money - wants to roll out a global test to eradicate people like my son. This test is already being used as standard in other countries around the world, including my home country the USA.

And you are cheesed off about a gorilla?


My own are an abyss and they are all called Rukai. My views have changed since he came along. Before him, I was ridiculous. I was society.

But society is clueless and society is wrong.

That is a bold thing to say but I am bold now because I know my son.
I know 800 gorillas is a shame but 0 Rukais is a tragedy.
This I know.

There is a test.
People are investing huge sums of money into this test.
Uninformed women are desperate to have this test because they are being poisoned by fear.
Private clinics and manufacturers are counting pound signs for offering this test.
Doctors are recommending this test.
To kill off people who have the same condition as my son.

Because they supposedly have no value.

And the only people upset about it are the select few who know what a steaming pile of fearmongering feces it is. There are more people upset about the shooting of a gorilla than there are who care that people like my son are poised to be erased from humanity.

That they are not valued as human.
That they are not expected to contribute to society. Nothing. Not a dot.
That they have such low expectations shackled upon them they are merely boxed into statistics formed back when the "best solution" for people with this condition was institutionalization.

Because they supposedly have no value.

And they are not bloody THEY. They are Karen Gaffney and Oliver Hellowell and Chris Burke and Madeline Stuart and Sarah Gordy and Pablo Pineda. And how long have you got?

Oh they all have value. What have you achieved today? How high have you reached? Top shelf of the fridge?

Never underestimate the power of the human spirit. That doesn't require a chromosome count, my friends.

For so many, my son's life and contribution to the world is worth less than that of a gorilla. You want to free the gorilla and deny others like my son the very right to exist.

You want to light me up? That there is rocket fuel.

Society has a hell of a lot to answer for. Google the meaning of 'Harambe' and you'll see how utterly ridiculous this all is.

Imagine the doctor looking you square in the eye and insinuating that your firstborn will amount to nothing.

Then see what you do about it.

Just imagine.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Relentless. Forward. Progress.


I've been having a whale of a time starting this story and worse giving it some type of order because I am now absolutely certain that there really is no clear starting point and in my head it is not remotely linear. This is attempt number seven. Maybe I'll reach the end this time.

Better still, let's start from the end.

I DO know I've finished a marathon. A MARATHON. My God. ME. 26.2 miles. I've flitted between so many emotions in the past few days I cannot pin down which lingers but pride is usually on top. Close second is pain or maybe irritation. I'll get to that.

I am one in a million (or maybe one in the next million if that's how it pans out). That is no small feat and I feel an entire new shade of technicolor coursing through my veins for that and that alone. What a huge achievement. There aren't words.

No. Bullshit - there are too many goddamn words. Maybe that's been the problem. How to be succinct when you are trying to describe something that really and truly does mean everything to you? When you want to describe every second because you dare not let any of them escape your heart? I want to hold them all. I don't ever want to forget any of them. I want to feel them and live every minute as I lived those six hours nine minutes and eight seconds. Even the pain and the irritation.

Even that.

There aren't words and there are too many words. Which to choose? I will try and only begin with what I know.

I have finished a marathon.
I know there is a man who fell trying to do the same. I know this has made my own story feel so small and I thought about not telling it.
I know when I can run again, I will honor his memory by running 3.2 miles in tribute.
I know that is all I can do.

I know I still want to tell this story because it had a beginning and it had a middle so it has to have an end.

So here is that end. But you know it will only be another beginning. Still. Turn and turn. Skate and loop and begin like spring begins. New life from a void.

I know barring the finish, my favorite moment of that race was rounding the corner somewhere around mile 12 and seeing that beautiful Tower Bridge, clasping my Chicago-flag-covered-head with my hands and saying 'Oh my God, this is so f-ing amazing' the entire way across. I know I kept that up til the bitter(sweet) end.

I know I felt honored and moved for the full 26.2 miles last Sunday. From the minute I woke up, those steps through Greenwich with all the other foot soldiers ready to go to personal war on those streets. From the reception afterwards, the warmth from fellow charity runners and employee friends, gratitude for the fundraising when it is I who am most grateful for the opportunity. The chance of a lifetime to have the time of my life.

To support that charity with those words ringing through my head for the duration - speak of power and intensity and something that drives your feet forward and I will share with you that story. "Tell it right. Damn it, tell it RIGHT". Once I wept when those words came to my thoughts, and then the glory of the moment captured me again and with that renewed purpose sent my feet soaring along down the next curve.

I know the closer I got to the finish, the more my body weakened yet oddly my mind grew stronger and my will more purposed. It was the damnedest thing to actually feel personal power and mental endurance rising. It's as if every footfall was a power charge, revving up my mind for the rest of the battle.

I know I wrote on my arm that day what a dear runner friend suggested I remember: Relentless. Forward. Progress. And I know I had to ponder it well over a dozen times.

And I know just how much those three words helped me.

I know I wanted to stop cold and lie on the floor. Often.
I know I did not.

I know when I finally made that finish line I cried floods of tears in relief for all those days and months I'd feared I'd not make the start, but more so for all the hours in the midst of that 26.2 miles when I feared I'd not make the finish.

I know I did make the finish.

But let's back up.

I know I found an American quarter in my bag the night before and was thereafter without question that my Spirit Pops would run it with me. I know that moment cleared my entire body of tears and I found it hard to stop them falling.
I know hearing Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' over the PA next to the bag check took my breath away and nearly made me lose it again. Dad's all time favorite song then? There? You cannot be serious.
I know I ignored a call from the last possible person on the planet I wanted to talk to the night before my first marathon. I know how glad I am that I did.

I know I screwed up my taper by accepting the offer of a TV interview that never materialized - that full day's worth of house cleaning, on my feet instead of feet up.
I know I'm still livid about that. I know I will probably always be livid about that.
I know me.

(Relentless. Forward. Progress.)

I know I further screwed up my taper by dragging luggage half a mile to and from a hotel the night before and morning of the race.

I know that may have been the proverbial straw. Pop goes the calf at mile 20. Game over?


Relentless. Forward. Progress.

I know I finished that race with a seriously strained calf which felt like two ticks away from a serious tear every time I tried to keep running. I didn't want to lose London but I sure as hell wasn't going to risk losing Chicago. I hated that I had to walk the final six miles.

I do NOT know how I kept going. But walking didn't hurt as much so I did.
Even with the double vision that kicked in, I kept going.
As you do.
I was surrounded by people in worse shape who were still moving.
Such collective power at the back of the pack.
Such human dignity back there.
Such intensity and strength and conviction.
I know I was on my feet three times as long as the guy who won the race.
I may be slow but how bloody tough am I.

I know Blackeyed Peas 'Boom Boom Pow', Coldplay's 'Clocks' and Charlotte Churches 'Crazy Chick' are damn fine power walking songs. Even when you put them on repeat 17 times apiece.
I know I had a perfectly paced top 19 miles until that injury took over and that fills me with ridiculous pride and confidence that my training wasn't wrong. I lost five weeks and I was still well on pace for my original target til the calf went boom.

I know seeing that 'on a yard' sign and receiving those magnificent Realbuzzer hugs below it at mile 22 was nearly as beautiful as the sight of Tower Bridge ten miles prior.

So I finished.
Me and that injury, we made it home. I'd called it cramp but knew it was worse. But worse may have made me stop. Cramp is treatable mid-race. Lies lies and damned lies.

(What if I can't finish?)
That started building in my head.

I required a St John's Ambulance stop, a vicious calf massage and a 20 minute mile. All those people tracking me wondering why I had stopped moving.
(What if I can't finish?)
I required a stern talking to myself.
(What if I can't finish?)
I required angry lip syncing while power walking.
(What if I can't finish?)
I required a whopping motherload of gels.

I am deeply pissed off about all of that.
Because although I had been saying 'I just want to finish, that will be good enough.'
It's just...not. It's nowhere near good enough. I wanted more. I trained for more.
I bloody EARNED more.

(Relentless. Forward. Progress.)

I gritted my teeth and kept moving.
I never did recognize a 'wall'. I may have smashed it to crumbs with anger. Maybe I didn't see it through my double vision.
And the kettle boiled and the steam built up until there appeared an angel tapping me on the shoulder on the Embankment. My fellow Team 21-er, who had also worried in the dark of winter that she too would not make the start due to injury. We'd promised one another we'd walk together if we needed to.

We needed to.

She saved me from my own head and we laughed our asses off all the way down the Embankment. When all else fails, throw jazz hands. Stop and photobomb at six hundred metres.

And then we were at Point-Two where we agreed we'd run. Even that was excruciating.
And we crossed the line side by side. Two in a million. My hands shot up into the air and I threw my head back thinking I did it! I did it! Pops, I did it! I bloody DID it!!
Out of my throat comes this glorious tribal whooping and wahoooing, wild as the crowd at a Blackhawks game, every last ounce of joy escaping before I nearly suffocated on my sobs. Two million more tears.
Never such joy.
Never such pain.
The Yin and Yang of the journey returns for a curtain call at the most perfect of moments.

I will never again have a first marathon and I loved it all. Even the parts I hated - which was only the pain, because I really loved it ALL.

My mind has been a blank sheet for days. I am utterly spent.

I know this all happened but it feels like a dream.
I know I now have a grudge match with 26.2 miles.
I know I will now heal and train even harder for Chicago.
I will figure out what went wrong and banish it forever.
I will run in my home town this fall with pride beyond imagination.
I will run better because I will prepare better.
I will prepare smarter.

(Relentless. Forward. Progress.)

I know I am today equally proud and equally disappointed.

I know I am today a marathoner.
I know I will never be the same.
I know beyond the fundraising, that those two things are exactly what I was after.

Who says you have to descend the mountain once you've reached the pinnacle? I think I'll find a higher mountain and keep on climbing. With Relentless. Forward. Progress.

Like I do everything else.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

And so it begins.


I said it aloud as I exited today's London Marathon Expo, but I wasn't entirely convinced it was an accurate statement.

"And so it begins."

It. It, being the final journey to that start line and that grand tour of this big, beautiful, old city, on foot. For 26.2 miles.

It, being the first time I've road tested this ridiculous mental iron that has somehow built up inside my head. But I've now thought it through and 'It' didn't actually begin at today's expo. 'It' began in October.

Not the most recent one with those base training miles, either. This particular October happened in 1971.

My mom says I was the loudest baby in the hospital nursery. Yeah, I can see that. I can hear that. It comes out of the mouth of my son when he's on Captain Crabbo mode. For me, that noise has materialized in a fair few different ways over the years. In performing on stage as a kid, those dancing days. In my university degree art classes, just empty the noise in my head, spill feelings from guts on to page and it's *out there* and you can move on from it. Noise, noise, everywhere noise. I revel in expelling noise from my head.

Sorry to all you quiet folks out there.

In the absence of ballet, I silenced that noise with golf for a while. That's some sport, golf. I found it strangely similar to ballet - dead quiet internally, focused on one miniscule thing at a time, and that exasperating ball which never seemed to fly far enough. I kept smacking the crap out of it, had one hell of a drive at one point too. The golfing days.

Still those stopped and that silence was grating. As if someone had taped my soul closed and the noise was about to blow. And the purpose which didn't exist. But the purpose returned and with it came running. Years upon years upon years led to that first run, that first race, that first medal. It's not on display because it's saved with the 'Dad things'. I have a box of those, three years plus on from the day he left us, and I still can't bear to open it. I can't sort through it.

But Dad runs with me. From 'up THERE' he runs. We talk. He's a good running companion, my Spirit Pops, the best there ever was. I picture him hanging out with everyone else I've cared about and lost - family, old friends, ex boyfriends even. They're all there every time I crest this one hill. Sitting at some heavenly bar, Sinatra on the juke box, or maybe Barry White, shot-and-a-beer at the ready, the shot always Ketel One, the beer, if he's thinking of me, Old Style. Gnat piss of a beer to coin the phrase of a great Realbuzzer, but it's Chicago fizz and that's my original home town and so it always appears in this story.

So there I feel them all hanging out, watching, urging me onwards, urging me across the line, raising arms victorious with me, together we rise, we rise, we rise.

We all go on and rise. Life turns.

That life which is a funny old story. Every time you think you know where you will end up you round that last corner and find you are only at another beginning. This beginning says I am four days away from my latest goal, that first marathon.

That first MARATHON. Oh my lord, when, where, how did we get to MARATHON. Pride is a vice but damn it, I am proud. I am proud of myself for not only surviving the journey but embracing it. Enjoying it. Running with a smile on my face. Looking forward to all those miles which hurt but if they didn't make me so much better a human being for having endured them, well then I am a flat out liar and you may slap me around the head with a frozen trout.

I am proud of having those five weeks off ill and charging back into a return long run of 10 miles, two longer than I had planned. Start as you mean to go on. And man alive, so I did. Just like I did in that nursery in that 70s October, screaming until I couldn't scream anymore.

I started loud and I'll finish proud.

Proud of myself, indeed, but mostly proud of the boy for whom I am running. My son Rukai. This wonder of creation who is becoming such a magnificently independent, fierce, extraordinary human being. He came into this life screaming without sound, yet his voice is growing louder each day. I run every single inch for that child. I do not know how I came to be lucky enough to become his mother but my God, aren't I the lucky one.

My Rukai roars, and so too will I come Sunday.

Lace 'em up.
Eyes on the prize.
Dig. Dig. Dig.

And so it begins.