Knowing when to quit

I just finished a 6 day biking trip through the hilliest parts of Illinois (Right, but it's still quite a feat. Not the White Mountains which I did at 15 but now I'm 53!). Although I ride my bike, I don't always understand what I have beneath me which is this case turned out to be a great bike sans the lowest gears which bikers not-too-kindly refer to as "Granny gears". These are the gears you can use when you have come to a complete standstill on a hill. They may or may not get you past that point but it's usually nice to know you have them. So, I made it up all the hills except a small part of the dreaded "Blackjack" which leads out of Galena at a 15% grade (I have no idea what that means) and one other endless, nasty one that came towards the end of the whole trip when I was tired.

The great ride took place going into Galena when the weather started to go insane with torrential downpours and lightening and swooshing downhills. People were sensibly getting sagged in but I did not want to quit. I felt good, I was already soaking and frankly, I wanted to not be someone sitting in a car but the crazy, wet woman who was griping her handle bars and pushing her limited gears up the next hill. I had an equally crazy companion which helped a great deal. We were able to stop, laugh and be assured that if the worst happened, someone would call an ambulance. It was a terrific feeling to stand dripping wet outside of the hotel and realize I had finished.

In my last weeks of pregnancy in London, the doctor turned Luke in my stomach because he had suddenly stood up. He pushed him down and turned him around. Nothing has ever felt stranger. Kevin was watching on the ultrasound and asked the technician, "What is that?" and the guy responded, "Oh, those are her kidneys."

However, Luke's head wasn't positioned correctly and what ensued was 72 hours of back labor. We went to our hospital, took many walks including one that put us outside the gates of where I had been bullied in 5Th grade and spent months staring at a brick, trying not to cry. This English hospital was famous for water births and non-invasive deliveries. My obstetrician, Yehudi Gordon, believed in yoga and birth as something that had no business being treated as a medical condition. So I labored, walked around, ate, yelled at my ex-husband, waited, suffered, wept and finally, finally at 2pm on Thursday, October 28th, I stood up and delivered Luke Joseph Moynahan Helliker without a single stitch or forceps. I was exhilarated and returned to my room to consume truffles and call the US while Kevin, his father, lay face down on the bed completely exhausted. However, after days of attempting to breast feed my warrior boy, I told the midwife to give him a bottle while I pumped breast milk. He didn't want to nurse and that was that. He was not going to spend his first days on earth feeling hungry and unloved. His father became one of his primary comforters and I believe this was the best gift I gave both of them. A c-section never would have represented defeat but somehow I knew we were united, we were getting born together. While the breast feeding was all about my ego and that was something that needed to disappear when I became the mother of the mighty boy.

After two of my novels were published, I couldn't sell a book. I worked on a movie in London and then was replaced/fired/ whatever. I entered many film scripts in contests, had meetings, came close, won nothing. I wrote two novels that went nowhere. I wrote another and sent it out without my agent and had it returned so swiftly I imagined myself tossing it over a wall and someone catching it and tossing it right back. I kept writing. I moved to Chicago, go divorced, started teaching high school English and kept writing. Finally, my agent sold STONE GARDEN at an auction with several publishers hoping to buy the Ms. It had been 13 years without a bite. My ex-husband said, "You never gave up." And I thought, "Huh?" I mean, who gives up something no one cares about? Would it make even a ripple in the cosmos if I ceased putting words together?

Just before we divorced, my ex-husband and me did the full length Chicago Triathlon. I don't remember why. It seemed like a good idea at the time, i guess. When i emerged from the 1 mile swim people were gaping and eating ice cream. "Clap for us," I yelled. They clapped. I got on my hybrid bike and began the 25 mile ride. It was fine except people seemed amused by my bike. The 10K run was really, really hard. I'm not a runner, I hadn't eaten since 5am that morning and they had rerouted the course under Wacker drive because Al Gore was visiting. Homeless people were watching us, many of them, smoking, drinking beer and eating Frito's. I did not demand applause. As I started up the ramp my legs were cement blocks. I had written on the back of my t-shirt-Luke's Mom. People started shouting that and so I kept moving. All I thought was, "don't walk." And I didn't. Kevin was eating a Pirogi when I crossed the finish line. I fainted on the bike path on the way home. But I didn't walk.

In my first teaching job for Chicago Public Schools I took over a class of warehoused students, gang bangers and emigrants whose teacher had MS and since they were considered "retreads" who would not graduate, no one intervened. I arrived after a blizzard kept their wheelchair bound teacher at home and I didn't leave until they graduated. I turned their chaotic, filthy classroom into a place they could learn and I pushed, cajoled, begged, threatened and bribed them into reading JANE EYRE, THE PEARL and other books, to write about them and discuss their thoughts. one day one of the students, an active member of the Chicago gang the Latin Kings, jumped to his feet and said, "You keep teaching! You teach and teach and teach and you don't give up. You're crazy! Why don't you stop?" I didn't know the answer. It seemed like a silly question. Why would I give up? How could I give up?

So, admitting defeat is never shameful. You need to know when it is time to let go and move on. I'm willing to admit that I'm unable to solve many problems. I couldn't learn Excell or make a marriage work. When I tried to use clip-ons with my bike I nearly died on the Chicago bike path. I don't know how to communicate with my sister. I can't divide fractions or roller blade. I didn't learn how to dance the two-step, speak French or read a map. I haven't mastered phyllo dough although that's my intention. I'm a terrible dieter and I probably shouldn't sing.


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