Thirteen lessons I learned in absentia

*ahem*

[taps microphone] Is this thing on?

Time sure does fly, doesn’t it? By my count, it’s been approximately 452 days since my last dispatch on this here blog. But despite all that, it’s frequently in my mind, particularly in the weeks and months since the last piece I posted. I do check back in from time to time, to make sure nobody’s reset the password and commandeered this here site for the purposes of selling cheap sunglasses or something, or worse: that I’ve posted a bunch of stuff that I don’t remember writing. But I digress.

Obviously I left you, o faithful reader, with a cliffhanger: that we were expecting our first child in the Spring of 2020. As you’re probably well aware, the Spring of 2020 was quite a while ago, and quite a lot has happened in the interim, in every facet of the world.

So as you can imagine, between new parenthood, new pandemic-hood and navigating all of the associated changes life has thrown our way in the past 452 days, there have been approximately 550,883 lessons learned. So what better way to commemorate 13 months of “not updating the blog” than to talk about 13 of those lessons, one per month?

March 2020: How To Adapt

Well, we all know what happened in March 2020. The world turned on its head around mid-month as a global pandemic set in. The weirdest part of it all, looking back, was that there were at least two weeks where life was almost completely “normal,” or what we’ve come to fondly remember as such. During the first week of March I was in Indianapolis on a work trip, doing regular work-trip stuff like “sitting around a conference table in meetings within spitting distance of a dozen people” and “going to dinner at loud bars packed with people.”

By the second week of the month, it was clear something was going to have to happen with all of that. My boss wasn’t exactly racing to have us all work from home, but when the 10th rolled around, everything hit the fan and we haven’t been back to the office in an official capacity since. I spent the rest of March and most of April working at the kitchen table, with all other excursions outside of the house — everything from the bar to the gym — canceled.

April 2020: How To Pass The Time

As April rolled around, I transitioned from one team to another within Finish Line, but due to the uncertain world around us, the company had frozen hiring. That meant nobody was coming to replace me on my old team, so I continued to do my old job as well as my new job.

That kept me occupied for 10 or more hours a day, as I fell into a deep routine of “wake at 7, stumble to the kitchen table, work til 5.” Weekdays weren’t so bad because at least I had work to keep me busy, while the newly out-of-work Alex had to make her own fun, but once Friday afternoon hit, it was like “…what the hell do we do now?” There’s only so much TV you can watch, and at that stage it was difficult to know what was safe to do outside of the confines of the apartment. Can we take a walk? Is it okay to be outside?

Turns out the most common time-killer was “doing the dishes.” When you go from eating once a day at home to eating all three meals there, the dishwasher and sink fill up approximately 400 times faster. That’s science.

May 2020: How To Survive

It was one thing to figure out the best way to take care of ourselves when the city shut down around us (figuratively) but it was a whole ‘nother ballgame when we added a small human to the mix. Marley June Crawford joined the world on April 29, and we brought her home from hospital on May 1. Once we got her here, we thought, “…what the hell do we do now?”

We had gone from having all the spare time in the world to having the most fragile of life forms to take care of and keep alive, and in case you were wondering, there’s absolutely no instruction manual. With the beauty of hindsight we can say that the first month wasn’t the most challenging from a practical standpoint, but we literally didn’t know what to do or how to do it. Thankfully I had four weeks off work and during that time we managed to find ourselves a little bit of a rhythm.

June 2020: How To Stand Up

Over the summer, tensions reached a boiling point in the United States after the latest senseless killing of an unarmed Black man by police officers. George Floyd’s killing sparked demonstrations in Minnesota and then around the country as people around the nation stood up and exercised their constitutional right to protest.

Here in Denver, folks took to the streets in protest of police brutality and systemic racism, risking their own lives amid the ongoing pandemic to stand up and have their voices heard. The night before I went back to work after paternity leave, police tactical units fired pepper spray bullets at protestors on the street outside our windows, and we could taste it six floors up.

Had things been different and we hadn’t had a baby to take care of, I would have been out there with them in some capacity. Ultimately all we could do was stay in and stay safe, while protests and police countermeasures rung out through the night around the Colorado Capitol, mere blocks from our apartment. Our other assumed responsibility was to explain to those who didn’t understand — family, friends, others — the message behind the movement and why it wasn’t “a riot” or why police weren’t the victims but the instigators.

July 2020: How To Balance

At some point, between civil uprisings and global pandemics and new parenthood, something’s gotta give. Something that Alex and I have tried to be really good about is making sure we set aside some time for ourselves as individual people outside of “just being a parent.”

One day at the height of the summer, Alex told me I should go for a walk after I was done with work for the day. After having started the year with early-morning workouts before heading to the office, I’d slipped into absolute stagnancy once the world changed, and apart from a couple rounds of golf, I was barely moving at all, let alone leaving the apartment.

So I did just that. I laced ’em up, threw on a podcast I’d been meaning to listen to, and I headed out for a walk. That might have been in mid-June, but by July I was making sure I was getting out every single day for a half-hour or 45 minutes, moving my legs and raising a sweat, so that my whole day wasn’t defined by work or diaper changes.

August 2020: How To Run

I’ve never been much of a cardio guy. High-impact exercise played havoc on my lower back for years, so unless I was in a real pinch, I’ve avoided running like the plague. But eventually I found that those afternoon walks I’d started taking weren’t helping me meet my daily Apple Watch activity goals, so I started pushing myself a little harder. Then I started jogging. Then I tried to run.

It wasn’t great, and it still hurt my back and my knees, and those are two regions of my body I had started to use a lot more when bending into the crib to pick up the baby (who I thought was heavy at the time? I had no idea what was coming.) So I made an appointment with a physical therapist, mostly to get some treatment on my ailments. What she did instead was ask me how I was exercising, and then gave me some pointers on running form, and told me to come back in two weeks and let her know how I felt.

The day after that appointment, I put her techniques into practice, and broke the 30-minute barrier over a 5K distance for the first time, something I couldn’t have dreamed of doing even weeks earlier. I was hooked.

September 2020: How To Make The Most Of It

If you’ve been reading this blog for any great length of time, you may remember that the highlight of my year is always the Rhode Island Seafood Festival every September. Obviously a pandemic makes it difficult to hold an event for thousands of people safely, legally or in good conscience, so we conceded to inviting four local food trucks to India Point Park and advertising their presence as kind of a drive-thru seafood festival.

I had to err on the side of caution and opted not to attend for the first time since 2012, which was especially disheartening because the 2020 edition would’ve been the 10th annual event. While it obviously wasn’t the way we wanted to celebrate the milestone, the other guys still managed to hang out in the park, have a few beers and have some semblance of the festival.

Since I had already booked vacation time from work for that weekend and the following week, Alex and I decided we’d do something for ourselves and get out of town for a little while as well. We hit the road and drove out to Palisade, on Colorado’s Western Slope, and enjoyed some time in the state’s wine country before heading into the mountains to Telluride for a couple of days. It was still a pandemic, and we were still learning how best to travel with baby girl, but we still managed to make some fun memories along the way.

October 2020: How To Celebrate Things

After almost six months of pandemic life, with so many people around the country and the world struggling, it felt strange to share bits of personal good news for fear of being seen as gloating or insensitive. I chewed on the idea for a while, not really sure how to put together a platform where people could do that, because I (and seemingly so many other folks) wanted to celebrate other people’s good news.

So eventually, that’s how Pour Me A Story came about. It’s a weekly newsletter whose core theme was a replica of the conversations I’d have with people from behind the bar when I would work the Saturday morning brunch shift once a week before the pandemic hit. Those conversations would often see those guests sharing the good, the bad, the wild or the mild things that happened to them since last I saw them.

November 2020: How To Be Creative Again

You may be surprised to learn that the aforementioned newsletter continues to go out every Friday, with the only gap being Christmas Day, and honestly nobody needs to read my brand of bullshit on Jesus’s birthday.

At some point, my mother told me she was impressed at “all the interesting people” I know whom I had interviewed as the weeks rolled on, and at that point the crux of the publication shifted a little bit. Now I spend a little more time focusing on getting to know the truly diverse and interesting array of folks I’ve crossed paths with over the course of my almost-eight years in the U.S. and my broader adult life.

I’m not gonna lie: I get to Thursday every week and think “goddamnit, I gotta do another newsletter,” and it’s inevitably a last-minute scramble before bed to get it written, but I’ve had plenty of positive responses and that makes it all worthwhile. Oh, and you can check out the archives and subscribe right here.

December 2020: How To Road Trip, Part 2

Remember like five years ago I wrote about how “the Great American Road Trip” is something of a fantasy that doesn’t always live up to the rosy mental image of what a road trip should be? Well, if I thought driving from Maine to New Orleans to South Florida was a challenge, I had no idea what was in store for me over my 35th Christmas break.

Due to our strong desire not to fly, as well as wanting to be able to introduce baby Marley to Alex’s family, we rented a minivan, packed it with enough stuff to entertain an army platoon, then set off on the 2,400-mile round trip from Denver to Cincinnati for the holidays. We managed to squeeze in some stuff to entertain mom and dad too, like an overnight stopover in St. Louis at a hotel overlooking the Gateway Arch, and ate Kansas City barbecue in the back of a minivan in a parking lot on the way home.

Again it had a solid learning curve, but with the benefit of a few months’ extra age and experience, we had some smoother sailing than our September getaway and made it back in one piece.

January 2021: How To Commit

Throughout all those months since August, I had continued to run for fitness and to push the limits of my own endurance and mental stamina. I competed in my first organized race in October, a 5K, and recorded a personal record, then completed a 10K training program in November and December during which I clocked another PR across the 6-mile distance. So what’s next?

After a couple of casual workouts in Cincinnati over Christmas, I decided to push all my chips into the middle and signed up for a half-marathon in the new year. I started a training program on New Year’s Eve and averaged around 20 miles a week in preparation for the event. It got tough at parts, and Denver’s winter weather got in the way more than once, but I was determined to see it to the bitter end.

February 2021: How To Be A Dad

This one seems obvious, and something that I shouldn’t have waited to start doing until month nine of fatherhood, but perhaps I’m framing it disingenuously. I definitely did my fair share of parenting since baby Marley came along, but it wasn’t until the past couple of months that she started growing into her personality and becoming not just a baby who needed taking care of, but a bonafide little girl.

As she grows up, she’s developed a sense of humor and we have little games that make the both of us laugh. It certainly hasn’t always been easy, and it ain’t all fun and games, but we laugh together every day and more and more I understand the fun side of parenting. Still scary as shit, don’t get me wrong, but we have fun too.

March 2021: How to Measure Success Differently

Remember that half-marathon I mentioned? Well, it was last Sunday, March 7. I was working on an 11-week program that would take me all the way to race day and presumably deliver me to the starting line in the right mental and physical shape to take on 13.1 miles.

Four weeks ago, on Feb. 12, I ran the whole distance in training on a below-freezing Friday evening, and I was elated to have proven to myself that I could do it. That weekend it was bitterly cold in Denver and I didn’t move my body enough, nor did I stretch adequately, and by Tuesday I found myself with a hamstring strain after a half-mile of what was meant to be an easy recovery run. The same thing happened Thursday.

With less than three weeks until the race, I was dejected and sure I had trained for nothing. I begrudgingly booked massages and stretching services to try and help my legs recover, but I did that at the expense of actual running. My fitness took a hit, and that showed on race day when I battled through exhaustion during the last five miles before the finish.

But here’s the thing: I finished. I was disappointed in my times and my mile paces, and I’ve spent the past week feeling like I was hit by a train. But I’ve been looking at it differently. I finished a half-marathon. I only started running properly seven months ago, and I managed to complete 13.1 miles in one go. That’s pretty badass for an old guy with a bad back. That’s how I learned that success isn’t necessarily about the numbers or the times or whatever. There are a lot of different ways to measure it.

3 thoughts on “Thirteen lessons I learned in absentia

  1. What a wonderful surprise to get an email from you after all this time.
    So happy for you both on the arrival of baby Marley, who is the image of Dad I must add.
    Congrats on your 1/2 marathon.
    Being in Australia and in MelBourne we have had it tough with lockdown that went forever, but gradually , very gradually life is resuming , miss being able to travel soooo much. Envy you your road trip, even now people are reluctant to travel interstate because so many have been caught when snap lockdowns were imposed by other states, creating trauma and financial hardship
    Good thing is we’ve all pulled together, respected each other, and helped each other.
    I don’t know if you have this over there, but quietly, anonymously ,
    surprising me for one, in a bakery when I went to pay, was told it had already been paid for.
    people are paying it forward, paying for someone’s coffee
    is popular, groceries, petrol. . I am sure that there is more. You don’t hear about it on the news, just word of mouth
    Isn’t life amazing.
    So having followed your life since you migrated to America,, so young, it’s such a joy to be in touch again.

  2. Adrian:
    It was great seeing you posting again.
    Yuppers dude, it’s been quite the year for everyone.
    Congrats on the little one. Alex did all the work 🙂
    and I can see by your words how much Marley means to you both.

    Old guy? Try being 68 and overweight doing 2 miles a day on an elliptical machine.
    But I keep on keeping on because that’s what I have to do. Now after reading this I’m going to step up my routine, little by slowly (as we say heah in Maine) to improve my distance.
    Continued blessings on you and the family.
    Be safe

    John

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