Most of the people who know me in real life can be divided into two categories. Group A met me Before Motherhood (or BM, slightly unfortunate), while Group B met me During Motherhood (DM). I was going to say After Motherhood, but there’s no real “after” in motherhood. Except death, I guess. When you can actually lie down, undisturbed for all eternity (bliss!). I like to think that there aren’t too many differences between BM Carly and DM Carly, except maybe a larger sleep debt and less time spent writing bad poetry on LiveJournal (now it’s on WordPress!).
The major difference between these two groups of friends is that when I mention something about exercising and/or training for a race, Group B doesn’t bat an eye, while Group A dies from laughter induced asphyxiation. (RIP Group A.) Since having M, I’ve run a few 5Ks, and a half marathon. I worship at the altar of Jillian Michaels’ DVDs, and even asked for kettle bells and weights for my birthday one year. Group B knows me as the “Carly Who Occasionally Does Active Type Things.” I go through periods of inactivity, sure, but overall I’m fairly fit and even (gasp!) enjoy working out.
My pre-children athleticism however, was non-exist at best, vomit-inducing at worst. Literally. I would throw up almost every single time I was required to run a mile or more in PE. (Bonus points/puke for having to run immediately after eating lunch.) I don’t even think I owned a sports bra until I was 23 years old.
During my brief foray into post-High School academia, I was asked to relate the story of a defining moment in my life. (Before any of you ask, it was an acting class, because of course I took acting classes.) As everyone went around the room, I heard stories of suicide attempts, car crashes, death, adoptions…very intense and moving. As for me, the moment that was rattling around in my soul, strangling all other memories, was the moment I finished an excruciatingly long bike ride in southern France when I was 16 years old. I felt like an ass for even considering telling such a benign, frankly boring story after these people bared their freaking souls in front of a group of people who were essentially strangers. I stuck with it though, not really understanding why. I get it now.
When I was 16, I started my downward descent into over a decade long struggle with depression. I had no idea at the time, and frankly it could have been written off as your typical teenage angst were it not for the glorious telescopic lens that is hindsight. I had incredibly low self esteem. I was tired and sad and angry and indifferent all at the same time, and thought my self worth was intrinsically tied with the approval of others.
On a school trip to France (I know, fuck me, right?), our group decided that we would bike from Arles to Nimes to Aiges-Mort over the course of three days. According to Google maps, this is about 150 miles. In incredibly strong headwinds. On shitty, half broken rental bikes. (For those folks thinking, “50 miles a day on a bike isn’t so bad!”, please remember the barfing anecdote. kthxbai.)
There were cars, of course, to transport our luggage and whomever found themselves unable to ride. To be quite honest with you, I don’t remember most of the trip. I’m pretty sure my brain blocked it out. I do, however, remember very clearly being told I should quit and take the car the rest of the way. I was almost always last, sobbing as my comically ineffective leg muscles cramped and shuddered with every push of the pedal. (I also remember eating an entire large pizza by myself when we stopped for lunch that day, because it was the best goddamn pizza I’ve ever had.) I was a wreck. It would take 20 minutes for me to get enough feeling in my legs to stand up and walk back to the bike whenever we stopped to rest. And every day multiple people said it was ok to stop and get in the car. But I never did. I will never forget getting off that bike when we reached our destination. Even the teacher came over to me and gave me one of his strange little bows.
I did something over the course of those three days that I hardly thought I was capable of. I didn’t do it for my friends, nor my teacher, nor for bragging rights, I just did it. It sucked. I felt broken. But that moment I stepped off the bike, I felt this wave of appreciation for my body and my brain that I had never felt before. “I JUST EFFING DID THAT!” my muscles wheezed, before I collapsed to the ground like a liquified Alex Mack. No help, no shortcuts, no quitting. It was my Andy Dufresne emerging from the sewer moment. There are very few times in my life that I have felt that same sense of pride and gratitude. There are some that come close, most of which are connected to feats of strength or endurance, physical and/or psychological.
So what I’m trying to say is, Group A and Group B? You both know the same Carly.
One just happens to have kids.
***Special shout out to my dear friend Brian for helping me remember the names of the towns, and for being my Google slave. He’s also an incredibly talented (and hilarious) author, you can check out his blog here.