Friday, April 01, 2016

All about sucking at sports, Owen, licuados, and me


Owen inherited his athleticism from me. In other words, he is a pauper. Are he and I unathletic because we’re uninterested in athletics? Or did we lose interest in athletics because we have no athletic ability? The answers to these questions (with regards to me, anyway) are rooted so deeply in the swampy origins of my narrative that I will never know. I was bad at sports as far back as I can remember and therefore - or because of that -- I found them extraordinarily unpleasant, humiliating, and pointless. Today, I am basically indolent and sedentary and happiest when my life involves moving from the sofa to my bed to the seat of a movie theater, punctuated (maybe) by a gentle evening walk around the neighborhood wearing normal street clothes and cute shoes.

But the medical establishment insists that such a lifestyle leads to illness and premature death, a warning I didn’t take seriously until a few years ago, at which point I started exercising for real. I go to a CrossFit gym. It is a such a bad fit for me. The gym is full of tough, great-looking, gum-cracking mesomorphs who crushed P.E. when they were growing up and went on to play Division One soccer or whatever before becoming stock brokers, unlike, say a yoga studio or a water aerobics class, which is where I really belong. The awesome warrior people at the CF gym are always forking up grass-fed steak salads out of Tupperware and they dissolve protein powder into water. Not milk, water. That’s really hardcore. Meanwhile, after my workout the other day I walked across the parking lot to Walgreen’s and bought up a basketful of half-price Peeps and Cadbury eggs. I felt very proud and rebellious. It’s important to maintain my identity, even if it means I get diabetes.

Anyway, I think the exotic cultural milieu at CF has been part of the draw for me and I've come to really like my coach. There’s a lot to observe and think about and I could probably write a book about what I have seen and thought about over 2+ years at the CF gym. I'm often so busy thinking during my workout that I forget what I’m doing and lose count of burpees or can’t seem to recall how the rowing machine works. You think I'm joking? I wish. Then I wonder if escaping into my head is why I am so bad at athletics or if I escape into my head because I am so bad at athletics.

Unlike his father, who ran cross country in high school and works at a sports web site, Owen has never been into either watching or playing sports. Unlike Isabel, he has never been interested in dance. Owen comes home from school and reads comic books with our elderly cat on his lap and carefully plots his moviegoing for the coming weekend, checking the revival theaters for any stray screenings of The Big Lebowski. He attends to his many collections. He listens to records. He follows a number of TV shows and podcasts. He’s an aficionado of iFunny. He posts reviews on crappy movie sites. He takes very good care of his plants.  


I think he’s adorable and perfect exactly the way he is. 

But I can see that he is gawky and physically uncertain and I understand why a 15-year-old boy might want to make some changes. A few weeks ago, out of the blue, he said he wanted to do CrossFit. I signed him up. He's been twice. Yesterday afternoon, I got there to pick him up as he was running across the parking lot, just like I run across the parking lot, except faster, and he gave me this huge smile as I drove up, like, Isn’t this the stupidest? Oh, I loved him so much just then. As we were driving home he said, “I don’t need to get super-strong or anything, I just don’t want to be a pile of mashed potatoes.” 

I said, “I’d say you’re more like a breadstick.”

He said, “It’s only funny the first time, Mom. Mashed potatoes are funny, but breadstick pushes it too far.” 

I said, “But you look like a breadstick, not a pile of mashed potatoes.”

“You don’t get it, Mom,” he said wearily, so I shut up. 

Back home he stretched Camille-like on his bed with a baggie of ice on his forehead. His emerging post-CF routine involves dramatic languor and requests for exemption from chores, which he does not get. Yesterday, he requested a smoothie. I am anti-smoothie. Smoothies are what people ask for when they want to treat their food as fuel, or a health aid, which bums me out. Smoothies are on the spectrum with protein powder dissolved in water and power bars. My anti-smoothie position is silly and irrational and connected in some way to my lack of athleticism, so don’t get defensive. I am happily married to someone who makes smoothies all the time for himself and our kids. 

Yesterday, because I hate exercise as much as he does and know the toll it takes on body and psyche, I agreed to make Owen a smoothie. As it turned out we didn’t have yogurt or bananas, which are vital smoothie ingredients. We did have strawberries, milk and sugar and I said I’d make him a licuado instead. He was suspicious, but enfeebled enough to agree to a licuado.

Have you ever had a licuado? I first drank one in Costa Rica (though it might have had a different name, I don’t remember) when I was an exchange student in high school and I’ve loved them ever since. I love licuados as much as I dislike smoothies. They are the refreshing and pretty milk-and-fruit shake that you might sip while sitting on a bench in the Zocalo and watching the passerby.You would never add algae or flaxseed meal to a licuado.

Here’s how you make a licuado: Put equal parts ice, cold milk, and fresh, hulled strawberries (or cantaloupe, my favorite) into a blender with sugar to taste. If you’re using a cup of ice, a cup of milk, and a cup of fruit, start with a tablespoon of sugar and see how you like it. You might need more, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Blend until the ice has pulverized and the drink is foamy. Pour into a pint glass.

As it turned out, Owen likes licuados better than smoothies, too. That's my boy. He said, “This should have been in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.” 

It was one of the nicest things he’s ever said to me. I didn’t thank him, because if I had he would have taken it back.

Mark was out of town so after the licuado restored Owen’s strength, he did some homework and then I made grilled cheese sandwiches and we sat on the sofa with the elderly cat between us and watched Daredevil. I pulled out a couple of Cadbury eggs for dessert. Then I went to my room and slogged through a little War and Peace and he went to his room and read comic books. I made him a licuado this morning for breakfast and I’m picking him up from school so we can go straight to a matinee of Batman vs. Superman. After all, we would both agree that there’s no better way to spend a beautiful, sunny April afternoon than in a dark movie theater. I would probably pick a different movie, but one day soon Owen will stop spending time with me and I will happy for him, but also incredibly sad. Meanwhile, I don’t really care that much what movies we see. 


56 comments:

  1. This is just perfect. Every word.

    I wish we could do CrossFit together. We could have fun watching the perfect people. Love from Vermont!

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    1. I wish we could do CF together, too! I need a buddy.

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  2. I have never commented before, but I was so moved by this post, I feel compelled to tell you that I love your blog. It is my very favorite. Even though I was originally drawn to your blog for the cookbook reviews, I love all your posts and hope you never stop writing about whatever is on your mind. (Please don't give up on the cookbook reviews though!)

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  3. yes, my sentiments exactly. I look forward to your posts & save them till the end of the day when I can enjoy your thoughts on anything you choose to write about. thank you!

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  4. Oh. Gollee. So I have one almost out the door (college acceptances/rejections are just winding down; he had some of each, including one acceptance at least with terrific financial aid, so that is good) and one who is 14. He also inherited his hand-eye coordination (so useful for many sports) from me -- that is to say, very little. I run, pretty faithfully, but not fast and running does not require hand-eye coordination. Anyhow, in college I discovered rowing, and the 14-year-old is now trying it out, in a middle school team. I sort of hope it's his milieu, except it costs a bundle. Anyhow, this post resonated with me, even if I don't care much for smoothies or licuados or protein powder or flaxseed. Thanks much. I too will sit through mediocre movies for some love. We are working our way through as many baseball-themed movies as we can find; I had just decided he might be old enough for "Bull Durham" when Susan Sarandon said a bunch of super-idiotic things, and I had to remove her movies from my viewing list. Maybe permanently, I am not yet sure. But for the foreseeable future.

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    1. Yes, Susan Sarandon really put her foot in it.
      I'm so glad (for me) that it's this year and not last year, what with the college acceptance business. I hope it wasn't awful for you and your son. Where is he going?

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  5. Enjoy your boy! Mine is 22 today, and as he's off at college, I miss him terribly. But when we are together we have simply wonderful time, and I have an inkling that you and Owen have a similar bond that will easily survive the teen years.
    And thank you for two posts in two days. I truly enjoy your writing.

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    1. Oh, since I read this comment a couple of days ago it has crossed my mind several times. It gives me hope.

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  6. I loved this! I'm not a mother, but you make it seem like the most exasperating, wonderful, unpredictable thing there is. Bless you and your family!

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    1. Those are three pretty good adjectives for it.

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  7. I love licuados. And Owen sounds a lot like my second child will be in a few years ... this is giving me hope, actually.

    This is a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you.

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  8. Thank you for this. Owen sounds wonderful, and I can tell you feel about him much the same as I do about my kid (14). Which is to say, I think she is wonderful, and it perpetually kills me that her living with me is temporary. I was sick all this past week and she was home with me (spring break and also sick) and I spent the past couple of days crying (to myself, privately!) about the fact that in 3+ years she will be gone off to her own life and I will miss her so, so terribly. Maybe they'll call sometimes? But so many fewer opportunities for an impromptu lunch or movie, or for watching The Great British Baking Show on the couch, or spontaneously deciding to take up Magic the Gathering. There is nothing more bittersweet than this time.

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    1. "There is nothing more bittersweet than this time." Exactly. So well put. And I was unprepared for that bittersweetness.

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  9. This is a truly beautiful piece of writing, straight from your heart. This is why I check every day to see if you have posted something new.

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  10. I suck at sports, too, but I am happy with yoga, pilates and Zumba. It took me a long time to find what I like, and my gym teachers did not foster that journey with their constant disdain for my efforts at running, gymnastics, or team sports. For years, I continued to resist strenuous physical activity simply because they had made me feel like a klutzy failure. It's amazing how much they turned me off exercise.

    It has been interesting to watch how your relationship with Owen has evolved since Isabel left, or he got older, or some other confluence of events. This post was so poignant it made me tear up, Jennifer. It is a masterful description of the conflicting nature of present joy, the knowledge of the changing nature of life, and anticipation of the loss of that joy. Stay in the moment! Stay out of your head as much as possible and revel in joy. Thank you for sharing this!

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    1. It is so true, about those early P.E. teachers. They really drummed it into some of us that we were inept and inadequate. Very withering. And the whole barbaric "picking teams" thing that happened every single day. I just had to suck it up as of age 8 and accept I was always going to second or third to last -- and if two girls whose names I still remember weren't in school that day, LAST. Ugh. I hope things have gotten better.

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    2. Ugh, the P.E. teachers and their public shaming of fat myopic kids like me. I was every stereotype about the kid who really does get smacked in the face or stomach with the ball, first because I couldn't see it and then because I never developed the necessary hand-eye coordination to actually catch the damn thing.

      I wasn't ever actually picked for a team; I was just left over and the last unlucky team was stuck with me. You'd think this wouldn't still bother me, but clearly it does.

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    3. I, too, was always picked last. It still bothers me too.

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    4. I, too, was always picked last. It still bothers me too.

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  11. You're not wrong to think that smoothies are a bad idea. I personally have never felt that ingesting that many calories through a straw was anything resembling healthy for the digestive system, and the combinations I see at the juice bars that dot NYC are ridiculous. Kale, spinach, carrots, bananas, apples, protein powder, orange sherbet, flaxseed, ginger, and beets all in the same glass? Ugh. You wouldn't eat a meal of that, it would be disgusting, so why would you mush it all up and slug it down? Blech. {Spoken like a true food crank -- who is also helpless in the face of half price Easter candy. My downfall is Russell Stover caramel eggs and Lindt chocolate bunnies.}

    On the other hand, licuados are perfect, especially when they're washing down a San Francisco style burrito. The last time I was in the East Bay, my very wealthy hosts told me they would take me anywhere I wanted to go for dinner, sure that I would choose a place like Chez Panisse. I asked for a trip to the little taqueria on the corner of 25th and Mission and ordered a cantaloupe licuado to go with my quesadillas.


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    1. One of the many. many things about Jennifer's blog that I love is finding kindred spirits in the comments section. I am also an anti-smoothie crank (I want to chew my food, dammit) and a lover of licuados -- in addition to the many other commonalities I've found in your comments over the years (!) of reading Tipsy and her readers. Sometimes I think the comments section here is the 21st century equivalent of the 19th century literary salon.

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    2. Blushing. That's so sweet.

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. I never comment here, but really need to this time. Oh my goodness, I don't think I could love this post more! It's absolutely perfect and lovely and wonderful.

    Throughout my life I always thought I could/should be athletic. But whenever I tried something sporty, I'd hurt myself. At 48, I've given up feeling the need to try anymore. I'm at my most comfortable in the kitchen happily cooking and baking away -- or lounging on the couch reading. There are plenty of us out there that feel exactly like you do about such things. Clumsy, unathletic people unite!

    Much love from Chicago!

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    1. Thanks, Joni. Pride in indolence!

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  14. This is fantastically wonderful writing. Owen posts are still my favorite.

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  15. I've read this three times and teared up each time. I love your writing, and I also have a 15 year old son.
    (And I too hate smoothies, mainly because I'm always starving an hour after I drink one, despite ingesting a full meal's calories)

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    1. Thanks, Anne. Smoothies just sharpen my appetite.

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  16. Wonderful piece. thank you

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  17. Here is another problem with smoothies: washing the blessed blender and gooey cups afterwards. The cost-benefit ratio is not great in terms of time to wash and amount of water needed to scrub yogurt of sides of container. In my humble opinion.

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  18. This is exceedingly charming. I'd love to have Owen in one of my classes.

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  19. I ate 3 taquitos in the parking lot of Hmart after Crossfit this morning....Sophie is still holding out on me re: CF but post workout Cadbury eggs could change that.

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  20. my son lost interest in me day after he got his drivers license. I was so excited at never having to drive him anywhere or pick him up again (or my two younger daughters, cause he would go anywhere, anytime to get into the car). I never realised until probably now that, that's the day it all ended. BooHoo. He's going to be 30 friggin 6 soon.

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  21. I too joined a CF place. Well, not on purpose; I started taking classes at a place close to home, and then they became CF certified. Super intimidating. My favorite days are when I'm lifting the PVC pipe as my weights because that's all I can handle, and everyone else is Rxing all the pounds.

    Our kids are 10 and 12. Your blog posts about Owen and Isabelle always hit close to home in a thinking ahead sort of way and stick with me for a long long time. Our family is joining Gaelic Football this year. We are all middle-of-the-road mobile, and joining an obscure sport together seems like a great thing to be able to do while we all can and have the interest in spending time together.

    Thanks so much for continuing to share your thoughts.

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  22. I am so late coming to this because your wonderful blog got lost in the morass of emails I get, and I just found it. You are the BEST WRITER OUT THERE!

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