The Sandlot

Sadly, field hockey season has ended. We finished 6-1-3. Not too bad for our first year! I really am so happy with how it went, overall. This felt like my first real team, and it was a big team – 23 girls – with a real mix of skill level. It was challenging in so many ways, but also way more fulfilling than my past coaching positions.

Here’s what I learned:

Coaching is way more fun – and almost seems easy – when you’re winning.

Our first loss doesn’t come until the end of the season, and it’s a loss in the worst kind of way. Not only do we lose by a lot – 5-0 – it’s also to a team we had beaten the first time around.

Yea. It’s awful. I actually want to cry when the game ends. Instead, I call Courtney to tell her how much coaching sucks when you lose. I truly feel like a loser. When I tell her we had way more corners and way more shots on goal, she assures me there was nothing else I could have done. Thank God. She knew I needed to hear that. To talk me off the ledge.

We exchange stories, which is really just a vent session, and I hang up the phone, feeling a little less terrible.

With a team of 23 girls (that’s a lot of girls) at very varying degrees of skill level, I really, really need a full-time assistant.

First, let me say that I have an awesome assistant, Coach Seymour. Unfortunately for me, she’s only part-time, because she has her own middle school team to coach. I only have her two days a week.

There are many reasons why an assistant is so important. With an assistant, I can split the team into two groups. This way, everyone is moving, everyone is playing more. Also, I can split them up by skill level, so I can teach basics to the newbies and more in-depth concepts to the veterans (I use that term very loosely). I can also have my assistant work with the goalie, because that’s a weak point of mine. I also don’t have to do every single drill to cage, because I don’t want my goalkeeper sitting around doing nothing. I can also split the team into offense and defense, so players can work on things that make sense for their position.

But the most important reason I need a full-time assistant, which I don’t realize until the very end, is simply, support. When I have Coach Seymour, she supports everything I do, everything I say. When she’s not there, I’m on my own. Me against the entire team, and sometimes it gets overwhelming.

I get so stressed out all the time. I want to rip my hair out. I feel crazy. Then, when I see Coach Seymour, and tell her about it, she always responds with a clear, level head, that I’m doing it right. Actually, she thinks I should be way harder on them.

Coach Seymour reminds me of how I was right out of college – taking no shit and no excuses. I have tried all season to find a happy medium, but have second guessed every decision that I’ve made.

Appreciate the good attitudes, and don’t focus on the bad ones.

It’s so easy to get flustered when players just don’t care, but most of them do. Really, they all do care, but there are moments. I take it so personally, and get so pissed off, when what I need to do, is look at all these other respectful and committed players who truly want to learn and understand the game, and be appreciative. I’m lucky that I have so many of these players, at every practice. I honestly do not have a single player on this team who is disrespectful. They might have disrespectful moments, but they’re not disrespectful girls.

Next year, next year, next year.

That’s what I have to keep telling myself. Next year will be different. Next year, they run more. Next year, I only allow players to be on the team who can fully commit. Next year, there’s no such thing as equal playing time. Playing time is earned through attendance, effort, and good attitude. Next year, practice is more important than games. Next year, I have a full-time assistant!

Individual improvements are nothing short of awesome.

So, so many moments. My favorites occur after a player does something awesome, and she stands up straight and looks at me – either like, ‘Did you just see that?’ or like, ‘Did I just do that?’ And it actually sends chills through me. It’s so exciting. 

The girls’ mental health is important above all else.

More than ever, this season has taught me that field hockey should not be a stress motivator, but a stress reliever. These girls have so much stress, and so much anxiety, and so many other things going on in their lives, and I find myself really trying to be present and in the moment when I look into their eyes, and ask if everything is OK. They seem programmed to say yes, everything is fine, and they really can handle a lot, but I’m trying to be more sensitive and understanding to everything outside of field hockey. It’s not easy, and it’s not what I’m used to, but when I think about the big picture, I would much rather these girls have a better and more realistic perspective on life, than get a field hockey scholarship to college (but that would be awesome, too).

Whip It

I’m at work Sunday afternoon, setting up the patio. The tables and chairs aren’t exactly heavy but my neck and back have been especially hurting this week, so I must be making some weird movements to stretch and relieve the pain. Caitlin sees me from inside and walks out, laughing. “Are you OK??”

I’m slightly embarrassed because I know what I must look like. The pain has gradually gotten worse over the past ten years. I’ve always thought it was strictly anxiety, but now I just think it’s a sort of constant, with varying degrees of pain. It started mostly in my neck. I’d try to make it feel better by tilting my head from front-to-back and side-to-side. I didn’t even realize I did it so much, until Lmonny pointed it out. She was basically acknowledging that she knew I did it because my neck hurts, but I remember feeling a little embarrassed because I didn’t realize how noticeable it was. I also wasn’t aware that I was doing it so much.

I thought I found my relief with bikram yoga. All the poses stretch my spine and make it feel so good when I’m doing it consistently. I can feel the difference. But lately, I’ve been doing yoga at least five days a week. Mostly it’s on my own, so it’s not in the scorching hot studio, and I’m not doing all the poses, but still, I’m stretching my spine almost every day and the pain is not subsiding.

I tell Caitlin a little about it. She has multiple sclerosis, so she really experiences pain in the spine. She swears by this chiropractor in town.

I’ve always had mixed thoughts on whether or not to see a chiropractor. Some people swear by them and some people swear them off. At one point when I was having some pretty bad pain while living in LA, someone referred me to a doctor in Santa Monica. I spoke with him on the phone and really liked him, but ended up chickening out because I was too scared, and I’m sure I decided that the pain wasn’t so bad that it was worth the money.

Now, Caitlin is talking this doctor up, and I’m hesitant. She tells me a story of when she was younger and her Mom fell pretty bad and went to see a chiropractor. He completely messed her up and made everything worse, so it was a very long time before Caitlin decided to go to a chiropractor. And now she can’t stop raving about him.

I look him up. Not only is he a chiropractor, he does acupuncture and massage as well. I figure I’ll give it a shot. Maybe he’ll decide that I don’t need any cracking. Maybe I just need some needles. Either way, I need something. Yoga and my acupuncture mat are just not cutting it.

I call to make the appointment. His receptionist answers the phone. “Good afternoon, this is Linda, it’s a beautiful day at Dr. Peter’s office, how can I help you?”

I’m not sure if this is awesome or super weird but I decide that it’s awesome, for now, and book my appointment.

Linda greets me when I walk through the door. She’s a sweet, older lady with thin-rimmed glasses. Very grandmotherly. She shakes my hand and introduces herself. Goes over my paperwork that I’ve already filled out. “Oh, a field hockey coach. That’s fun. Not only a coach, but field hockey.”

I fill out some more paperwork, then Linda takes my blood pressure. She smiles at me. “Are you a Charlotte Roller Girl?”

I laugh, surprised by the question. No. (Apparently, Charlotte has a roller derby team.)

“I only ask because all the girls on the team have very muscular arms. And you have very muscular arms.”

I laugh again as I look at the wall to see two Charlotte Roller Derby Girl posters.

“Dr. Peters is a sponsor for the team.”

Oh, that’s cool. I continue looking around the tiny office. There is a framed picture of a guy with a mullet, and another certificate-looking-thing that also seems to recognize mullets.

What’s with the mullets?

Linda takes her time. “Have you met Dr. Peters yet?”

No.

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

I have no idea what this means. Linda takes my blood pressure, which for my whole life has always been great. Not good; great. It’s weird how people always seem surprised when they take it, like, ‘Oh, very good.’ Linda takes it one step further. “It’s perfect!” She turns the screen to show me, as if the numbers mean anything to me. “Really, it’s perfect!”

Linda says I can pay now. It’s weird to pay before the appointment, but I go with it. As I’m paying, a man walks through the door. Average to short height, dark tan skin and jet-black messy surfer hair under a baseball cap, sporting shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers. He starts moving a heavy box just inside the office door and I think maybe he’s a physical labor worker for the company.

Linda says hello to him and then to me, “Here’s Dr. Peters.” I haven’t seen his face yet, but now he turns to me and immediately extends his hand; big, charming smile on his face. “Hey…. Tony.”

Hello. I shake his hand, firm and warm. He continues lugging the box – I can see what it is now; a mini refrigerator – into his office. He explains. His son splits time with him and his ex-wife. He lives there with his two step-brothers and they’re always stealing his food – he likes the healthy stuff – so he asked his Dad to get him his own fridge for his bedroom. Totally understandable. (But if I know how siblings are, he might want a lock for that fridge, too.)

Dr. Peters – or I guess I should call him Tony – leads me into his office. I make it very clear that I’m nervous about seeing a chiropractor, so we first talk to go over my history and points of pain.

Then we get right to it. Tony explains that acupuncture is great, but he always likes to be hands-on for at least the first two visits, to loosen up the muscles and tissues, making it easier for the needles to do the work. “More bang for your buck,” he says.

Fine by me. I lay on my stomach first. I’m a little surprised when he starts at my calves, but I guess it’s all connected. It’s not a massage and it’s not a crack fest – although some parts do feel good like a massage and there definitely are some cracks – it’s more applying pressure and rubbing the same spots over and over – “loosening up the fascia.” Some of it hurts, some of it feels good. Tony does a great job of communicating what he’s doing, keeping me in the know. I appreciate it. A lot of spots are trigger points, and can send sensations to other parts of the body. He asks me if I feel it anywhere else. Sometimes no, it’s just the spot where he’s pushing, but some spots, I can feel it start to tingle all the way through to my pinky finger.

Tony finds some really tight spots – one in my mid-back, close to my spine on the left side, but most in my neck. Once I flip onto my back, he finds a lot of these spots on the front of my neck. Everywhere he presses on my neck hurts, but kind of feels good at the same time, like I know it’s relieving future pain.

I also tell him about my ribs. No one ever has any idea what I’m talking about when I say I have pain under my ribs. It’s on the sides, and when I push in, there’s a sharp pain. He touches the spots, and it feels tender. He says he can do work on them, but I’m already going to be pretty sore from everywhere else. For some reason, I’m more hesitant about my ribs than anywhere else. I think I’m afraid that it’s really going to hurt, so we decide to save that for next time.

Then he comes around to the top of my head and picks it up with both hands so that his fingertips are at the base of my neck. As if reading my mind, he tells me, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to crack your neck, just going to stretch it.”

When he presses on my face – near my sinuses, my cheeks, temples, jaw line – I’m surprised how much it hurts. I thought it would feel good, but again, he’s not massaging. He’s pressing. Apparently, these are major trigger points, and because I clench my jaw at night, all those muscles in my face are overworked.

When it’s all over, there’s very good news – my spine looks OK and I’m able to move easily. It seems like whatever is wrong is totally fixable. I’m relieved.

Tony tells me to do a little yoga today, and to keep using my acupuncture mat. He knows I work with Caitlin at a wine bar, so he lets me know that red wine would be good for me, too. You know, all those anti-oxidants, and of course it’s a relaxant. “Maybe not a whole bottle, but a glass or two is OK.”

I really like this doctor.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

It’s amazing how much coaching a field hockey team has changed in the last five years. Back in my day, coaches and players did not text each other. It was inappropriate – and weird. Now, coaches HAVE to text players. We use an app, so it’s not regular text, but still, it’s texting. I can’t get used to it. I try to be as direct as possible, but I would much rather talk to them face-to-face.

Funnily enough, what I do remember when I played high school field hockey, were the sleepovers at the coach’s house. Once a season, Ms. Decker would have the entire Varsity team sleep over her house. We’d have pizza and soda, do Circle of Love (where everybody tells you what they love about you and most of the team cries), then stay up late talking and messing around and laughing and having the best time ever while the coaches hid upstairs away from us doing who knows what (…).

THAT was normal. And here’s the kicker – they still do it! So, sleepover at the coach’s house is normal but texting is not. It doesn’t make much sense, but this is my reality.

Anna Rose suggests that I have the entire team sleep over. I picture it: 23 girls in our loft apartment, pizza boxes stacked on the kitchen counter, sleeping bags strewn on the floor, and Steve, uncomfortably standing by.

Obviously, Steve would not be there. He’d have to spend the night somewhere else for the night, but it is a funny picture. What the heck would I do with 23 high school girls in my apartment for the night? It seems ridiculous.

Regardless of texting and sleepovers, I’m constantly trying to put myself back into my high school self and see things from a player’s perspective. But it’s just so different now. My coaches were tough and (sometimes) mean and practices were always hard. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I thrived in a strict environment of competitiveness and doing whatever I could do to make my coach proud. Do you think I liked sprints? No, of course not, but did I try to win every single sprint just because I wanted to win? Yup.

Just because I did well in high school with tough coaches doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have succeeded with another type of coach. I always thought that I liked to be pushed by coaches with negative reinforcement and people always getting on me to do better. But maybe it would have been nice to have some straight-up kind, encouraging words. It would have been nice to have been asked how I was feeling. It would have been nice if coaches were happy for me to go on a nice summer vacation with my family.

Right out of college, I found myself coaching other people the way I was coached. Because I knew it worked, or at least it worked for me. But I don’t think so anymore.

I definitely struggle with finding the balance between being stern and being kind. I want to instill discipline, commitment, accountability, competitiveness, drive, time management, and a love for the game, but I also want field hockey to be a place of fun and release. I want it to be a safe environment where players feel like they can talk to me about anything. I want them to want to be at practice every day.

As soon as practice starts, I am all field hockey and I don’t want to hear about their daily lives (sometimes they need to be reminded of this when they’re talking about school in the middle of a drill). But before and after practice, I listen and learn. It’s not much, but if you want to have a conversation with a high school girl, you might want to know the following:

1. Your “Ship” Name

This stands for your “relationship” name. A la Brangelina. The girls talk about their Ship name like they care more about the name than the actual person they’re dating. When I ask what Steve and my Ship name would be, one of my players, Morgan, thinks for a moment.

“Leve.”

I scrunch up my face. That’s a terrible name.

“Yea… they’re not always good.”

2. The way a person asks you to the dance is more fun than the actual dance

Just as the Ship name is key to a successful relationship, the proposal is all that matters for the Homecoming dance. I thought asking a person to a dance was hard, anyway, but now, it’s an event. Guys seek out girls to make a grand gesture. It’s usually a surprise, posters and puns are involved, and it’s always caught on camera for the world to see. 

3. Parking Lot Security Guards take their job very seriously

I didn’t grow up with any kind of security in the parking lot, so this is completely bizarre to me.

Only a few days into school, one of my players storms onto the field, ready to tell a story to her teammates. I can’t do it justice through writing, but every time she imitates the security guy, she makes her voice very deep, and it’s hilarious.

“I already have something to complain about. I got my parking space suspended for a week.”

Why?

“Because my music was too loud.”

WHAT?!

“Yea, this big man walks out to my car and he’s like, in his walkie-talkie like, ‘Sh, 3-6-3, we’ve got a situation here.’ And he walks up and knocks on my window like, ‘Roll it down.’ So I roll it down and I’m like, Hi, sir, is there something wrong? And he’s like, ‘Yes, your music is way too loud! That’s a violation! Your parking spot is suspended for a week!’

ARE YOU SERIOUS?

“Yes! And I didn’t even have all my windows down! And there was no profanity or anything!

That’s ridiculous!

“Yea… His teeth were all jacked up and yellow so he probably just hates his life.”

Amelie

Coffee: America’s favorite drug.

According to WebMD, “drinking coffee throughout the day seems to increase mental alertness and clear thinking.”

Duh, that’s why we love it, but, “Coffee can cause insomnia, nervousness and restlessness, stomach upset, nausea and vomiting, increased heart and breathing rate. Consuming large amounts of coffee might also cause headache, anxiety, agitation, ringing in the ears, and irregular heartbeats.”

I’m doing a no-coffee experiment for seven days. I’ve done no coffee before but only to substitute it for green tea. This time, I’m really trying to cut out the caffeine. Why? Because of sleep and anxiety. It’s frustrating because I like the pick-me-up effect of coffee, but not the neck pain/struggle-to-catch-my-breath effect of coffee. Also, maybe it’s effecting my ability to fall asleep at night.

The reason I have not been able to try this in the past, is because it’s not like coffee is bad for me. Coffee is good as long as you don’t put a bunch of sugar and cream in it. I’ll either drink regular coffee or espresso, both with almond milk. I look forward to it every morning. With my coffee in hand, I can start the day and get right to my writing.

Day 3.

As usual, with an experiment, it feels like I’ve already done this for five days. I feel sleepy and I really want something to wake me up. Instead, I drink water with apple cider vinegar, or a glass of grapefruit juice, or a La Croix (because they’re all the rage).

After I write my pages on the balcony this morning (the weather has been absolutely gorgeous in Charlotte and I want to take advantage of as much time outside as I can), I come inside and immediately lay down on the couch with a blanket. Steve asks me what I’m doing and I tell him simply, I’m tired.

“Maybe this isn’t a good experiment.”

It’s only five minutes before I’m up and we’re making breakfast (fried egg on toast) together, and I’m defiant.

It’s fine. I just laid down for a minute. The food will give me energy.

To be fair, I did completely mess up the experiment yesterday. The night before, I decide to take one of my sleeping pills. I haven’t touched the things in over five months, but for some reason, I think I need it. I’m not thinking about my no-coffee morning. Idiot.

Even though the pill is only supposed to last eight hours, I’m a zombie for pretty much the whole day AND I have a terrible headache during my entire field hockey game.  

On the plus side, even after being so tired all day and taking an hour afternoon nap, I still fall asleep fairly easily at night. 

I wake up today feeling great, but now as I sit here writing, sleepiness falls over me. If only I had some coffee to give me a little kick.

Day 4.

Steve and I wait for the elevator with our new neighbor, Aaron. Nice guy. He asks us what we do. Steve and I look at each other, and Steve tells me to go first. I find myself embarrassed as I say, “I’m a field hockey coach. And a writer.” Like I’m a fraud or something. Like I have no business saying I’m a writer.

Steve notices and we talk about it in the car. He tries to make me feel better, telling me that once field hockey season ends, I’ll have more time for writing, but I am feeling absolutely horrible about myself in this moment. I hate feeling this way. Sorry for myself, stuck, in a rut, like I’m not good enough, like I’m not doing enough, like I’m a hack. I try to get over it, but the feeling lingers.

Day 5.

This has definitely been more of a struggle than I thought. I thought that I’d miss the taste and the smell and the simple act of drinking the delicious hot beverage. But more than that, I really do miss the energy it gives me. How in the world do people get energy without caffeine?

I was really hoping that the feeling coffee gives me would be mostly in my head. Like when I think, ‘I need some coffee,’ that in reality, I don’t, and I just like the idea of something giving me energy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I have wanted to take a nap every single day this week. No joke. I’ve only actually taken a nap twice, but I wasn’t happy about it. I don’t want to take a nap a few hours after I wake up. I want to be getting shit done.

Thankfully, I have field hockey every day, so no matter how tired I am in the morning and afternoon, I am brought back to life at 4pm. Being outside and coaching never fails to wake me up.

Also, I have been falling asleep at night more easily (not staying asleep, but falling asleep). 

Usually, Steve doesn’t understand it. We’ll be downstairs watching TV and I’ll be so, so tired. We decide to go to bed, and as soon as I’m upstairs, I’m giggly and wired and want to play. Steve is bewildered. “You were just so tired!”

Day 6

The past three days, I’ve been having some aches and pains in my upper legs, hips, and lower back. It hasn’t prevented me from doing anything, except relax and sleep. If I’m moving, they don’t bother me, but as soon as I stop, it’s like this weird pressure and achy feeling and the only things that feel good are stretching, massage, or any kind of pressure at all. The first night it was really bad, and I couldn’t sleep. I found myself trying to lay with my legs bent underneath me, in a way that stretched my quads to the max. That was ridiculous; I couldn’t stay in that position because that hurt, too.

For my birthday, Steve got me this acupuncture mat. It’s so cool. I lay on it sometimes before I go to bed. It covers my entire back and it’s covered in sharp, needly points. It makes my body very warm and gets the blood circulation going.

At 5:30am, when I can’t take it anymore, I decide to try the acupuncture mat on my legs. I lay the mat on the bed and lay my butt and thighs on top of it. The sensation of the needles in my legs quickly takes over the aches and pains and soon, I’m fast asleep.

Yesterday I feel fine in the morning, but by the afternoon, I feel the aches creeping back in, and by the time I get home from practice, the pain is back in full effect. I fall asleep on the acupuncture mat this time, but at some point during the night, I remove it. By the early morning, I’m tossing and turning again because I’m so uncomfortable.

Steve is worried about me. I tell him it’s fine and I’m sure it will just go away on its own, but he always worries because I still don’t have health insurance (I missed the deadline so I have to wait until the new year).

Later I work on my blog and do some more research on coffee.

Dr. Michael Traub, a past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, says “Quitting coffee “cold turkey” can cause mild to severe headaches as well as nausea, anxiety, fatigue and depression, lasting for several days.”

Oh… Could there be a correlation between my leg pain and coffee withdrawal? Is that considered fatigue? Also, maybe this has to do with why I got so down on myself the other day, which is kind of how I’ve been feeling about myself all week! AND why I had such a terrible headache the other day and I thought it was just because I took a sleeping pill the night before.

I share this with Steve. He looks like he wants to pour coffee down my throat right this minute.

“Well, babe, maybe you should drink some fuckin’ coffee.”

I love when Steve curses. It’s adorable. I laugh and tell him I still have two more days. His shoulders slump a little. “You did the experiment, and you’ve seen the effects.”

I know, but I have been able to fall asleep easier, too.

Steve reminds me that ever since we started waking up earlier, I have been a little better about falling asleep, so that could also be a contributing factor.

He’s right, but I still want to see it through. I actually feel a lot better after reading this. I AM a writer! I just got a little depressed because I didn’t drink my coffee!

Day 7

You’d think I’d be fine on the last day, but I want coffee more than ever, especially because I work all day at the restaurant. Even after going to a yoga class in the morning, I still get terrible anxiety during work and my neck and back are killing me by the end of my shift. (My legs feel better, though!)

Day 8

What have I taken from this experience?

  1. Coffee works. Caffeine is real, and I enjoy it. 
  2. I have bad anxiety with or without coffee, but coffee might make it a little worse. Sometimes.
  3. Coffee doesn’t actually give you energy; it just tricks your brain into thinking you have energy (which is fine by me).
  4. If anyone is trying to quit coffee but still wants the energy, one healthy substitution might be Ashwandagha tincture, an herb that can “help alleviate symptoms [of stress, fatigue, lack of energy, and difficulty concentrating].” (Let me know if you try it.)
  5. Moving forward, I will try to wait until I’m actually feeling tired before I automatically start drinking coffee because mmm coffee. Also, I will try to keep my coffee drinking to the am hours, so that it doesn’t effect my sleep.
  6.  Right now, I am drinking my first cup of coffee after seven days without it, and I feel GREAT.

Finding Nemo

I have to go to the dentist. I hate the dentist. I try to get sympathy from a co-worker – Caitlin. I expect her to say, ‘Yea, me too’, but no.

“Oh my God, I love the dentist. I would go every day if I could.”

Are you kidding me? Who says that?

“Why do you hate the dentist?” Because it hurts.

“Do you floss?” No, but I brush my teeth three times a day!

Caitlin stares at me, dumbfounded. (She also gives me a look that tells me I’m a complete moron, but I don’t take it personally because she looks at most people this way.)

“Brushing your teeth doesn’t do anything. You need to floss.” But my gums bleed! It hurts.

“Yea. Your gums are going to bleed. You need to floss every day. I love flossing my teeth.”

Of course you do.

I call to make my appointment, hoping they won’t be able to fit me in for another month or so. Unfortunately, there’s an available appointment in one week. Shit. I need to start flossing yesterday. I hang up the phone and promise myself to floss every single day leading up to my appointment.

Before, when my gums would bleed while flossing, I’d think that was a bad thing, but this time, as they start to bleed, I realize that it’s a good thing. Don’t ask me what changed, except Caitlin telling me that, “Of course they’re going to bleed. They’re not healthy.”

But the more I floss, the stronger they’ll be, and the less I’ll bleed. By the third day, I’m actually enjoying it. I like seeing the blood. It’s working! By the last day, they’re still bleeding – not nearly as much – AND they’re not nearly as sensitive as they were a week ago.

Still, I haven’t been to the dentist in 10 freakin’ years. One week of flossing and Listerine is not going to make up for all that time. And the fact is, my gums are still bleeding, my one tooth in the back hurts, and I’ve chipped my front teeth from clenching my jaw too hard.

The dentist is 20 minutes away and as I’m driving there, every time I remember where I’m going, my stomach drops. I really hate the dentist.

I fill out all the paperwork. I don’t have a history of anything bad, but when I come to the bottom of the page, I find myself checking the “yes” box for a lot of bad things: Do your gums bleed when you floss? Do your gums bleed when you brush your teeth? Do you have pain in your mouth? Do you grind your teeth?

Can’t be a good sign. 

The girl at reception is very friendly – it’s called Friendly Dental, after all – and goes over the different options for paying without insurance. I’ll think about this when I know what I actually have to pay for.

Another young woman retrieves me from the waiting area. Brianna makes me feel very at ease, complimenting my glasses and asking where I got them. We then talk on and on about glasses and Warby Parker and how she finally got a really nice pair of purple Gucci frames, only to have someone steal them out of her car. That’s just mean.

When she then asks me what’s going on, I easily launch into my fear of the dentist and my TMJ. According to WebMD, “TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint: a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. It lets you move your jaw up and down and side to side, so you can talk, chew, and yawn.”

I’m sure that I have TMJ because I clench my jaw during sleep. Every time I open my mouth wide, it clicks on both sides. It doesn’t exactly hurt, but it feels sore and makes my head hurt if I chew a lot – that’s why I stopped chewing gum. I don’t think I have ever had lock-jaw – but I do have a fear of it (naturally). Sometimes I actually think that it has happened before, because I’ve dreamt it so often.

A lot of people with TMJ get headaches often. I do not, but I do have awful neck and shoulder pain that I have always attributed to stress/anxiety. Now I’m rethinking this, because it says that other symptoms include neck and upper shoulder aches.

Brianna takes my X-rays. Everything is so different from the last time I was at the dentist. Times have changed. This room is open and airy with lots of windows and a radio station playing catchy songs of the 2000’s with Brianna singing along. The last dentist’s office I was in was like a windowless closet, and the only sound was the hum of an air conditioner and the air-sucky thing in my mouth.

Next, the hygienist comes in, her face covered in one of those masks so I can only see her eyes. Instead of saying hi, she just says, “OK, we’re going to do some poking and prodding.” Oh, great. I can’t wait. Before she goes in, I feel my whole body tense up, bracing for impact. Courtney must sense my apprehension. “Don’t worry. I have a soft touch.” Brianna then lets me know, “We’re looking for 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s.”

I have no idea what this means. Courtney dives in, going from tooth to tooth, each time saying three numbers. “2-1-2, 2-2-2, 5-3-3, 3-4-3.” I catch on. 4’s and 5’s are bad. All around, my numbers aren’t too too high, but’s I’ve heard enough 4’s and 5’s to worry me. I still have no idea what she just did. All I know is, she had a sharp metal thing on my teeth and gums, and it didn’t hurt, so this is going swimmingly. Also, she knows I have TMJ, so she didn’t make me open my mouth too wide. Dentist’s in the past have not cared in the slightest about my TMJ or pain in my jaw (or maybe that’s just how I prefer to remember it).

Next up, the actual dentist, Lynette. I met Lynette, waiting on her at the restaurant where I work. She’s a little older and very pretty – with very nice teeth. We get to talking about yoga and realize we go to the same studio. I soon find out that she’s also a dentist.

I just so happen to be looking for a dentist. Do you have a card?

She gives me one. I haven’t been able to figure out where I want to go or how to pick a dentist – there are so many – but I like this lady. It makes my decision easy.

I book an appointment at Friendly Dental and request Lynette as my dentist. When she walks in, I immediately remind her of who I am – I’ve only waited on her twice. Whether or not she remembers me, she goes with it, and soon we’re back to yoga. Then we get down to business.

I tell her about everything. My TMJ, my 10-year hiatus, my new love of floss and bleeding gums. She takes a look at my teeth. “Well, for not being here in 10 years, you look pretty good.”

I have two cavities. Not too bad! And everything else seems to be OK. Today is supposed to be X-rays and a cleaning, but it’s decided that before the regular cleaning, I need something called a Full Mouth Debridement: “the removal of plaque and tartar that is so prominent in the mouth that removing it will take a considerable amount more effort and time than in a typical cleaning.” Basically, my mouth is disgusting, and they need to remove some plaque and stains immediately. By all means, please, go ahead.

So today, pre-clean. Next appointment, three chipped teeth in front and the regular cleaning. The following appointment, both cavities, and take impressions to fit me for a night guard (to prevent grinding my teeth).

This is the real reason I haven’t been to the dentist in ten years. Who can afford it?? But that’s why I’m here. I finally can afford it. (And by afford it, I mean put it on my credit card and pay it off later.)

Morning Glory

The Early Morning Wake Up Experiment

It was Steve’s idea, but I’m so on board. We agree on a 7am wake up call for one week. (Steve sets his alarm for 6:57am and immediately jumps out of bed to shower. I set my alarm for 7am and hit the snooze until 7:10am, then slowly roll out of bed, put my glasses on, and continue to wear my pajamas.)

I realize that 7am isn’t exactly early for most people. But it is for me. I’ve worked nights my entire adult life. I’m not even home yet from work when most people are going to sleep. Now that I’m only working at the restaurant on the weekends, it’s still hard to wake up early during the week, just because I’m not used to it. Also, it’s really easy to sleep in when you don’t have to be up for anything. 

We start on a Wednesday and head to bed relatively early on the Tuesday before. Since going to bed early and actually sleeping have little to do with each other, I fall asleep after midnight. 

Steve and I live on the 11th floor of our building. There’s free coffee on the 8th floor Monday-Friday from 6-9am, so usually what happens is, Steve sets his alarm for 8:45am and goes down to get us coffee before it closes. After he comes back, I eventually wake up to enjoy my double espresso (I fill the rest of the cup with almond milk because they don’t have any on the 8th floor).

This week is different. By the time Steve showers and I put clothes on, we’re ready to head down together at 7:30am. There’s a lot of stuff on the 8th floor besides the coffee bar. Outside is the pool, tennis/basketball court, ping pong table, grills, and a bunch of outdoor seating. Inside are multiple areas for lounging and doing work, a couple pool tables, shuffleboard, a computer room, and a fitness center.

As we head to the coffee bar, a few people dressed in sweaty workout clothes get on the elevator. I turn to Steve.

Oh my God, those people already worked out. Steve can’t help but roll his eyes. “Yea, most people have to go to work.”

I know. It’s crazy.

We order our drinks and find a place to sit. It’s quiet. If any people are here, they’re sitting at the coffee bar. We sit away from the bar, by the window. I write morning pages in my notebook while Steve reads a book on his kindle. After about an hour, we refill our coffee and head back up to the apartment. I can’t believe how much we’ve done and it’s only 8:30am!

Day 2, when I wake up at 7am, I find it very hard to believe that it’s only Day 2. Haven’t we been waking up this early for at least four days?? Weird.

We didn’t give ourselves any restrictions on drinking this week, but we’d be fools to get carried away when we know we have to get up early. So we opt out completely on Wednesday and Thursday.

Today is Friday. I wish I had something to motivate me to get up as soon as my alarm goes off. Something to look forward to. It can’t be coffee because coffee is available until 9am. Maybe just the feeling of being up early. There’s something about it that I like. It’s quieter. The sun shines differently. It’s the start of the day and anything’s possible.

I never wake up immediately. Brushing my teeth and putting on fresh clothes helps a little. Opening the blinds is a big one. All I need is sunshine. When it hits my eyes, I’m awake, and I wonder how it’s ever difficult to wake up.

I’d say 8:30am is my typical wake-up time. Or maybe 9am. Or 9:30am. But I’m liking this 7am thing. I get more writing done in the morning. I feel more accomplished by the afternoon, and I’m actually tired by 10pm – something I’m definitely not used to. I’m still having trouble falling asleep, which is annoying because I’m so tired and I know that I have to wake up by 7, but still, I’m getting at least six hours of sleep. 

The weekends are always more difficult because of work. Steve knew I’d have a long night at work on Saturday, so he encourages me to sleep in a little. I don’t want to cop out of the experiment, but it’s very easy to be persuaded to go back to sleep in the morning when I’m only half-awake, so I drift off until 8:15am. We go for a very long walk at 11:30 – we must walk for almost two hours. It’s a gorgeous day, and we love to enjoy the nice weather, but I am so exhausted when we get home. 

By the time I get home from work around midnight, my feet and shins are killing me. Steve is ready for bed, but there’s no way I can go to sleep right now. I’m hungry and I want to wind down, i.e. wine and TV. I wish I’m not so hungry when I get home and I wish I’m not so wired. But I am. I drink two glasses of wine, eat salami and crackers followed by Cheez-its, and watch the first episode of West World. I go to bed just before 2am.

This was not part of the plan. I’m disappointed in myself. I wake up Sunday at 9am. Head to a 10:30 hot yoga class. It feels amazing and I feel so much better. If only I didn’t eat and drink late, and then sleep late. I try not to beat myself up. Working nights at a restaurant is so detrimental to my healthy habits. It’s not an excuse; it’s just something I need to work on.

I work from 1:30-9:30pm, get home around 10. Again, I’m hungry and want to wind down. It’s a little earlier than the night before, so I at least have that going for me. I eat some leftover vegetable lasagna – not too much – and drink two glasses of wine while Steve and I watch a documentary.

We head to bed around midnight. I think I’ll listen to my book, but when I snuggle up to Steve to say goodnight, I end up falling asleep in his arms, with the lights on.

Monday morning, Steve’s alarm goes off at 7am. I can tell that it’s going to be easier for me to get up this morning – not as easy as Steve, of course. He gets our coffee, and I’m up before 7:30. Not too bad. I’m happy with it and I love being up this early. 

It’s going to rain all day. All field hockey games are canceled, which means our practice is canceled. Hurricane Irma is coming through. And by coming through, I mean some heavy rain and light wind. Good thing everybody in Charlotte stocked up on cases upon cases of bottled water (insert eye roll here).

Tuesday is the final day of the experiment. I guess this was more of a true experiment for Steve. He stuck with a strict 7am wake-up time for seven days. I kind of just got up earlier every day. Still, it was great. We both loved our productivity in the morning and going to bed early.

Moving forward, no more 8:30am alarms. It’s 7am Monday through Friday (which for me, really means setting my alarm for 7 and getting up at 7:30). On Saturday and Sunday, I’ll give myself little more leniency. I used to like working nights because I have always hated getting up early. School was the absolute worst. But now I’m really looking forward to the day when I don’t have to work nights as all. Because mornings are lovely.

The Mighty Ducks

We’re a couple weeks into the season and won our first game, 4-1. What a rush. I am so incredibly pumped. Every day I come home from practice and Steve asks me how it went. I launch into it, talking his ear off about the girls, my struggles, little victories, and everything else in between. I’m already starting to see little improvements with a lot of the players, and that feels so good. We have a long way to go, but I feel so lucky to be coaching this team.

The more the season goes on, the more coaching feels like a part of my being. It feels right. I agonize over what to teach them at practice and how to make practice run smoothly. I take forever to figure out which position each player should be playing and what makes the best fit for us to be successful as a whole. Sometimes, it’s too much. Just a touch too much OCD and trying to plan every single move. Because it doesn’t always go to plan. In fact, it mostly never goes to plan.

Today is our second game. The weather is not looking good. It’s raining when I wake up in the morning, which is fine, but it says it’s supposed to thunderstorm all afternoon and evening. Rain is fine to play in. Thunderstorms are not. Terry sends out a message to all us coaches that the games are on. If you see lightning, call it on site. Otherwise, we are good to play.

Steve joins me for the game. (He came to the first game, too, and since we won, the girls have decided he’s good luck and should be at every game. One of my junior captains, Berkley, even told Steve that he should sit on our side by the bench during games.) He’s such a great sport. Even in the pouring rain, he wants to come out and support.

We arrive 15 minutes early. No one is out on the fields. It’s dark and pouring. People sit in their cars, deciding when and if they should bother getting out. I told the girls to be here at 3:30, one hour before game time, so at 3:30, I get out of the car.

As I’m walking to the field, my phone rings. It’s Terry. She’s calling to let me know that the team we’re playing – Hough High School – can’t make it because they’re stuck in really bad traffic and don’t know when they can get here. I have no idea how far any of these schools are from us, but I’m surprised. If anything is going to stop this game, I thought it would be the weather.

Terry puts us on a three-way call with the other coach. By this time, my team has started to gather around me. I don’t want to have a win because of a forfeit, but you better believe I will take a win because of a forfeit. My girls are here. They’re ready. But, of course, yes, if we can reschedule, let’s do that.

The other coach hangs up, and Terry lets me know that if we want to stay and use the field to practice, we’re more than welcome to. I almost laugh. Yea, right, like my girls are going to want to stay and play in the rain when there’s not even a game.

When I hang up the phone, I let the girls know the situation. One of my sophomores, Clare, isn’t ready to leave. “Can we just hit around, since we’re here?”

Ummm, yes. Yes, you can. You want to stay and play, even though we have no one to play against. Yes, yes, yes, we can stay and hit around. I’m floored. It’s not that I thought my team didn’t love field hockey. It’s just that, given the circumstances, I thought that everyone would want to go home. But they don’t.

We walk out to the field with a bucket of balls, and the girls mess around, shooting at the cage. I can hear them talking about reverse chips and lifts and I can’t help but tell them, how about you work on your forward drives first? You know, the ones you actually use in the games, all the time? I try to remind myself that they are out here of their own free will, and to just let them have fun. But I really want to teach them the basics, always. Get good at that first. And then, when you’re good at the basics, get great at the basics. And then, way down the line, fine, work on stupid reverse chips. I get it, they’re fun. They look cool when you do them well. But scoring and winning is way better than one cool hit.

Another team has been here for about the same amount of time as us. The coaches are hanging out under a gazebo while the players warm up. I jog over to the coach – Sarah – who I’ve coached with previously at camps. I suggest that if their opponent doesn’t show up, we scrimmage each other. I start to walk back over to my team, but they’re all heading off the field, towards me.

Apparently, someone yelled at them to get off the field. I’m sorry, what? Who? Where? A couple of referees in yellow jerseys. Sarah jogs over to speak to them. They are soccer referees, officiating the game on the next field over, and they heard thunder. Fortunately, we don’t have to get off the field for thunder – only lightning – and anyway, they have no business telling us what to do.

Another team starts to slowly trickle in – the opponent for Sarah’s team. OK, that’s it. Time to make moves. All my girls are here. No one has tried to leave, and there has been no lightning. I start splitting them up into two groups. I told all of them to bring their practice pinnies, so when I tell some of them to “go white” and at least five of them don’t have their pinnies, I’m pissed.

I give them some grief about it, but I have to let it go. Fine. Who doesn’t have a pinny? OK, you’re all in black. I continue to divide up the girls until I have two teams. We are going to scrimmage full field with each other, 9v9. If anyone needs a sub, Steve will come in for you (I know he’d love to play).

We jog out to the field. God it feels good to be on a real turf field, with real goal cages, and field hockey lines. It’s a rainy dream. I blow the whistle, and it’s on.

I don’t even realize that as we’re playing, both of the other teams leave. Why? I have no idea. And I don’t care. I’m immersed in the scrimmage in front of me. Also, a small crowd has started to form. I assume my players’ parents – I’ve met some of them but not all. We’ve got a real game going here!

Yesterday’s practice was a bumpy one. I was on my own, and had been very excited about working on corners. But, as it sometimes go, things did not go to plan, and everything I was hoping for, was not what I was getting. I was a little disheartened coming into this game today. But now, watching the girls play, I can see so much individual improvement, so much more aggressiveness and confidence that I haven’t yet seen in some players, and most importantly, a real sense of team. They’re really playing together, or at least, trying to. They’re on their way.

After about 20 minutes, I call them in. It’s a downpour, and I’m wondering if we should leave or stay. I put it to the girls. It’s up to you guys. Do you want to go for a little longer or be done? It’s an overwhelming response of, ‘Let’s keep playing.’

So we do.