The search for self-compassion

Toren has been crying non-stop all morning and insists that he be allowed to watch me cook from the top of a stool where he will surely burn himself. Avery, for some reason, has been eating a craft stick and her hands and mouth are covered in blue dye. Eirik must have procured my car key the last time he was on the countertop because the car has auto-started and all the lights are flashing. 

Every object we own is on the floor. I sling breakfast as quickly as I can; using my hip to check Toren out of the way while I flip pancakes. We are all tired today, which means that the kids are hurting each other, and I am emotionally thin.

Pancakes are served. I wait to see if a hush will befall the room as kids shovel food into their mouths; or if the food will be rejected and thrown on the floor. Reception is not exactly arbitrary – some pancakes are better than others – but I can’t always predict what will happen.

They eat. Briefly. Then Avery starts kicking the cabinet. I ask her to stop. Nothing. I tell her that she needs to stop if she wants to continue eating breakfast. Kick. Kick. Kick. I remove her from the table – roughly and by the arm. I return just in time to see Toren hauling Eirik away from the table – roughly and by the arm. Ugh.

The gift I most want to give my children is that of my own varsity-level self-regulation. I want this for their benefit but also for the sanity of our family. My kids do what I do far more often than they do what I say.

Knowing how to self-regulate means that you can deliberately get yourself out of fight-flight-freeze and bring higher-order brain functions, like language and empathy, back online when you need them. It means that even when you are flooded with emotion, you can re-center and respond to the situation from a place that aligns with your values, rather than freaking the f%*$ out.

Self-regulation doesn’t come easily to me. As a seven-year-old I received the grade N in “demonstrates self control,” which is basically an F for first-graders. What were my crimes, exactly? I don’t know. At school I mostly talked too much; but at home I definitely yelled, hit, and threw occasional tantrums. It was all normal kid stuff, I think. Never did an adult suggest a healthier way of working through my anger, anxiety, or fear. We didn’t talk about emotions back then. It was the 1980s. A kid out of line could shape up or ship out.

Thirty years later, I brought twin baby boys home and my husband went back to work in a different town. Avery, age 3, suddenly had to share me with not one but two babies and she was jealous. She bit them, and would sometimes finger-pop the corner of Eirik’s mouth to make him bleed. If one baby needed a diaper change, I took both of them to the bathroom. I had no idea what to do with my big kid or her impulses.

I talked to friends. I did some reading and podcasting. Everyone said the same thing: Your big kid needs love. Once she knows she hasn’t lost you, she’ll come around.

Having one of your kids hurt another one of your kids is the worst. For three months, I took a course in Peaceful Parenting, and earned a star on the calendar every day that I managed not to react to Avery in anger. I reframed my perspective to see what a hard time she was having. I found that the vacuum breathing I did for the separated muscles of my core also helped me to calm down. I breathed like that all of the time. The best apology is to change one’s behavior.

For a while, things got better. I became more skillful, and Avery outgrew the wilderness of toddlerhood. But then the babies turned into toddlers and it all became too much again. At present I feel all of my effort at peaceful parenting being swept away.

The calendar fell off the wall today and I looked back through the months. In May, when Avery was in school half-time and the twins were epic nappers, I had 15-hours a week to myself. There were notes in those margins – grocery lists, meal plans, and ideas for writing projects. As long as I kept moving everything got done, and I had a fairly good time doing it.

Nothing has been written on the calendar since June. Even if I had a thought, I wouldn’t be able to find a pen.

My poor body is pumped so full of cortisol that I don’t sleep and I rarely feel hungry. I can’t poop unless all of the children are sleeping. I forget when I last showered; so I shave my armpits each time as a sort of timer. Whenever I see that I’ve grown a full chia pet, I get in.

According to doctors’ recommendations, I should reduce my stress, sleep more, eat better, exercise (at all), re-claim my creative outlets, and meditate; but I don’t have time for any of that. As another twin mom told me, “I have to find a way to take care of myself so I can keep doing this.”

Let’s be clear: In most moments of most days, my kids are lucky to have me as a mother. They come to me when they are hurt, scared, proud, sad, tired, or hungry. They see my shining eyes. They feel loved.

My anger is never about one thing. It is forged out of a steady accumulation of incidents – small and large – all day, every day. Tantrums eventually end, and that knowledge is enough to get me through. What wears me down is the perpetual chaos, and knowing that it’s up to me to move our family through the mess, without ever giving in to my own pain and frustration. Nine tantrums this morning; that’s what I’m up against.

Parenting isn’t the hardest job you’ll ever love; it’s the hardest job, period. Do your best to love it.

In the not-so-distant past, I didn’t understand ‘mom guilt’. I patted myself on the back, thinking myself immune to this all-consuming maternal emotion. But then I learned that guilt is inversely proportional to shame. When shit goes wrong, a person either thinks “I did something bad,” which is guilt, or “I am bad” which is shame. You either have one or the other. Ugh.

I am grateful for people who speak openly about how frequently (constantly) parenting is hard; rather than implying that hard times come as isolated incidents, involving one child, and wrap up with a big red bow. Overwhelm is a perpetual, impossible dance. I am forever trying my best, falling short, noticing I’m still the only adult around, and getting back up to dance some more. I would much prefer to lock myself in a dark room and make love to my phone.

Research shows that shaming ourselves when we miss the mark is a good way to ensure more poor behavior in the future. This makes sense: When I flog myself internally, shame tenses my neck and worries my mind. I am all the more coiled; all the more tired and burned-out; all the more likely to snap.

Shame hisses: Are you sssssure you want to talk about thissss?

Yes. The more personal a story, the more universal it is. Shame only exists in secrecy. Casting stories into the light transmutes their power from isolation into connection.

If you want to love children in their worst moments, then you must first extend that warmth to yourself. I did some reading and podcasting, and learned that without self-compassion, a person cannot be fully compassionate with others. You can’t give what you don’t have.

When I am unkind and impatient, I feel anxious. Regrets cycle around, and I have a hard time clearing them from my mind. How am I supposed to move from this into a place of self-compassion?

It’s hard to accept others in their mistakes when you haven’t experienced that way of being for yourself. I took a quiz and learned that self-compassion does not come easily to me. It seemed the closer I got to an antidote, the farther it moved out of reach.

What I need, is an imaginary, ideal mother. I render a Mother Earth figure in flowing white clothing. When I mess up or the cyclic thoughts spring up, she opens her arms wide. Come to me, my child, she says. You’ve treated someone poorly. I will help you feel better so that you can do better.

One of the best tools I have found when my kids get out of control is the pause. I don’t always know what to do from there. I am still looking for the right magic words to convince my body that there is no threat – only the children who grew inside of me and whom I love with every fiber of my being – but the pause is the right place to start. If I can stop myself from reacting for even a moment, the situation becomes far less important. This is not an emergency.

It’s very hard on me that I don’t always get this right. The ideal mother touches me on the shoulder. It’s okay, she says. You messed up, but we all mess up. You’re learning, and I know you will do better next time. I love you, just as you are.

When I succeed in getting grounded, I teach my children that mama is someone to trust; rather than someone to fear. You feel mixed up and scared but you’re safe, I say. I am here. You don’t have to be calm; because I am calm. Let me take care of you.

I may never figure out how to prevent myself from being tipped off-balance, but when I pause, I can sometimes regain my center quickly enough that my children never need know that I left it.

My kids are fast and curious. If a mess can be made, they will make it. If an object can be broken, they will break it. Still, each of them deserves a childhood of exquisite tenderness.

I invented the ideal mother as someone to call on in difficult moments. I am surprised to find that she also comes in wonderful moments. When I am cuddled up with my kids and reading; when we are riding bikes in the driveway, when I hold their hands for a dinner breath before a meal, when I get them out of the bath and find a way to gently brush their teeth even though they don’t want me to. She’s there, smiling upon me. Great job, she says.

Something else happens that initial morning after breakfast. I think Eirik dumped something out of the spice cabinet. As I run to him, Avery yells, “Mom! Don’t get angry!”

I pause.

I’m not proud that my five-year-old feels the need to help with my self-regulation, but it was super helpful. I pick Eirik up and start into my arsenal of mantras; You’re safe, I tell him.

But something strange happens when I say those words out loud — it is as if I am saying them to myself. I feel instantly better. Of course. You’re safe. These are the magic words.

Pushing myself to unearth unconditional love for children pushes me to love and care for myself. You are worthy of love and belonging, I say. Nothing you could ever do would make me stop loving you. Through self-compassion, I am becoming my own ideal mother.

***

Mothers and mountains

I am eager to get back to the mountains. The Chugach range – the wild spine behind Alaska’s urban center – is the place where my heart lives and where my feet long to go. The tundra is open, and I need no map.

Strangely, I haven’t been able to see myself in the city work-week hustle so I haven’t lived in Anchorage for a long time even though I love to recreate there. Instead, I make my home in quiet, rainy Southeast Alaska. There’s a ridge race in Juneau I want to win someday. I’ve competed in but never won anything like this before. Not even close. Now, after a decade of pregnancies, walking flatlands, swinging in hammocks, and preschooler-paced bike rides, the odds may be tipping in my favor.

Antidotal evidence suggests that a woman becomes a stronger mountain runner after she’s had a baby. I naïvely thought this was because of the challenge of childbirth. Perhaps, I thought, the reservoir of strength she discovers in those wee hours before her baby’s first cry might later be used to push her up and over mountains.

Giving birth is heroic – it is nothing less. But a mother’s courage doesn’t come suddenly as she opens and passes a baby into the world through the portal called cesarean surgery or the ring of fire. Her running prowess isn’t earned by carrying an additional 30-lbs on her back for a couple of years or the return to racing in an older age bracket. What makes a mother into a mountain runner is not the sprint of birth, but the parenting marathon.

Parenting is the perfect training ground for a runner. It teaches a determination that grows more tenacious with exhaustion. As a mother I have grown my children but also my patience, resourcefulness, and perserverance. I have learned to take myself more lightly and appreciate every day, no matter the weather.

In youth I found myself in the mountains by default. Friends took me blueberry picking… first as a sixth grader and then as a 16-year-old looking for a reason to sneak out at night. If I make it back it will be through a series of intentional acts.

I never was as fast as my friends. But that was before it made sense to me to wipe snotty noses with my fingers. Before it would’ve occurred to me to pick up a piece of poop off the floor with my bare hands before anyone could step in it. Before all of my babies got the flu and the best solution I could come up with was to catch as much throw-up as possible on the front of my shirt each time they vomited.

If I hadn’t had kids, I never would have known what I am made of.

Parenting isn’t the hardest job you’ll ever love – it’s the hardest job, period. Do your best to love it.

Healthy or sick, fast or slow, gentle or mean, respectful or disrespectful, intrigued or bored, picky or flexible, charismatic or awkward, popular or excluded. Kids go through seasons while, like contortionists high-stepping through training routines, parents run alongside and figure out how to get through it. These are fairly run-of-the-mill life challenges. You can always level up.

I look forward to simpler days. Like when I can set a breakfast table without the silverware turning into an involved geometric design that I am not allowed to disassemble. For now, I get out for a walk by myself whenever possible. Put on shoes. Open door. Close door. Continue in straight line. Turn when you want to. It’s nice to do something that makes sense for a change. Maybe after this, mountain running could be easy, too.

Working out once took very little initiative. Now I have to coordinate childcare with my partner, plan dinner, promise to be home before bedtime, and deal with the guilt of missing a family evening.

Exercise is precious. I can’t believe that for a long time I expected a 90-minute workout every day. When my first job out of college didn’t get me out of the office in time to run in what little daylight February has to offer, I almost quit. Then daylight savings-time happened, and everything was fine.

Sometimes my children feel like energy vampires. They take everything I have, until I am a dry husk of a woman. Workouts, by comparison, are such a concise and reciprocal effort. I invest time and sweat, and in exchange I am given hunger, thirst, muscle, and endorphins. Beginnings and endings are clear. I am not left to chug along endlessly.

Parenting is the first job I’ve had that I can’t quit. Late at night when my husband gets frustrated, he hands the crying baby back to me. I stay as long as it takes. The buck stops here.

Mountain running will be a lot harder on my body than it was in my 20s but mentally I’ve never been stronger. Willingness to do hard physical labor for sport might depend on the same parts of the brain used for cuddling, teaching kids to share, and not getting pissed when the children think mama scrubbing on hands and knees is a good time for a horsey ride.

The kids eat five times a day; so I spend all of my time cooking only to spend the rest of my time cleaning food off of the floor. I throw a few lunges in while I’m down there so it’s not a total loss.

This practice of cooking food only to clean it up reminds me of a few weeks when I lived in an ashram in India. We meditated, practiced yoga, sang kirtan, and cleaned toilets. Chores were meant to diminish the ego – I knew what I was paying for. But when a man who grew up in the ashram sat and read the newspaper every day while guests cleaned I could not handle it. The sight of him lounging filled me with rage. I am sure he did it on purpose – to teach us that opportunities for spiritual growth come in many forms. Only, did he have to enjoy it so much?

I am without yoga these days. I need to stretch but I can’t remember how to begin. In my mom life, where every minute is filled by the needs of others, I dream of going on retreat. One day I will return to the ashrams, temples, yoga camps, and meditation centers to sit among beautiful people, wise teachers, and singing birds. Canyons of calm will open within my being. There will be no anger based on who is, or is not, scrubbing toilets. I will already have done my work.

When the pandemic started I had a little girl and was pregnant with twins. For two years I have been a full-on, full-time mom wondering

What is life driving me toward?

Into calm. Into perspective. Into family. I dare say I barely enjoyed my 20s for fear that I would never have a family of my own. My husband and kids filled a deep and pressing need. Now, with sense of purpose and belonging more than covered, I find myself emotionally free to explore the world but practically as tied down as a damsel on a railway track.

How much time before my children grow into happy, functional, resilient, carefree, and contributing people?

I want to bicycle across Southeast Asia eating Pad Thai from every street vendor I pass. I want to speak Spanish fluently and teach in a foreign country. I want to write books, and read books, and learn to tango with a single, red rose clutched in my teeth. I want all of these mountains and more.

What do you long for?

I don’t know why there’s so much rattling around in our brains that we don’t speak about. It seems silly to me. I’m lucky that I got the family I wanted. But when all is said and done, I can’t help feeling that there is too little of me left for me.

Are we more afraid that wishes spoken aloud won’t come true or that they will?

It’s hard to understand which dreams should be left for dead and which could still be realized if I just wait five years… ten years… twenty years. Maybe the dreams could be worth pursuing in the future even though the longing is pointless.

Is it possible to hold space for dreaming and let go of longing?

I imagine other lives but I have never imagined myself out there doing something else and longing for the life I have.

Looking at the front of my body is like reading a river. The skin of my breasts and belly flows downhill and parts ways at the boulder of my belly button.

I have been many places.

Once, I had a childhood. It happened, and without announcement, it ended. I cannot pinpoint the day. Then, I had an adulthood; complete with good friends, achievements, regrets, and everything in between.

Adulthood ended with the arrival of my children; but I didn’t know it was over until my dog died and youth became a memory. Childhood belongs to my kids now – but I get something too: parenthood. Instead of comparing what I have with my adult life before children, these years get to be their own special thing. An experience. For me. This changes everything.

I have a friend who did well in mountain races. If I close my eyes I can see her thin frame jogging away from me; high school ponytail keeping time with the rhythm of her pounding feet along a dirt trail. Twenty years later, after everything non-essential was stripped away, she is a mother. The determination that once carried her up and over mountains pours into the basic tasks that fill every minute of every day. Instead of the freedom of the hills, she lives for love of family and commitment to her higher purpose. Once one who ran up and over mountains, she has become the mountain.

Parenthood re-orients my perceptions. I find solace in the slow, sweet cultivation of things. A great day is not about mileage but about time spent outside, watching kids grow, and teaching them to love adventure. When I get back out there I will want summits. Even when I don’t make it to the top of those mountains, I hope that I will be happy. Because I am, and it is good.

***

How can I help?

Our family attracts a lot of attention when we travel. My husband usually boards an airplane first, carrying Eirik. As he walks down the aisle I hear passengers murmur… How sweet… How cute. They are charmed to see dad carrying our baby instead of mom. Then Avery passes by, and me, and finally Toren on my back. The ripple shifts to surprise… Oh! they say. There are two!

We are a family of unicorns. This is what I call, showing off just by showing up.

Can I help? The simple answer is, Yes, of course. But it’s not that simple.

I often need five minutes of help; like getting through airport security, running late, with one baby in a carrier on my front, the other on my back, and all of the important documents in my four-year-old’s backpack. I would gladly materialize another adult out of thin air in these moments if I could but I can’t. Hopefully the TSA agents are feeling friendly.

Many strangers have seen me coming and offered to help me make it from point A to point B. I understand: I look like this and you are a good person. In one way, I have an extreme set of life’s circumstances. In another way, I got this. I don’t need you to bump our luggage cart over the curb. And to the airport stranger, who picked up my wallet and coffee from where I set them while I strapped a baby onto my back, I hate to be unpleasant, but stop that. Often, the times when I look like a walking train wreck are the times I most want to be left alone.

If my kids are about to run into traffic then please scoop them up and out of harm’s way. But if our greatest danger is a toddler kicking off his boots, then thank-you for asking, but no. There’s nothing you can do.

Everyone has an invisible struggle; yet it’s hard to know what any of us can do for another. Small tasks done reliably are always good. Empathy, or a well-timed “me too” are always good. Little cards are always good. Childcare is always good.

I am stubborn but I ask for help all the time. My parents hosted us for months while we waited for the twins to be born. A stranger held Eirik as a lap baby on a 30-minute flight to save me the price of another fare. Grandma took the twins every afternoon for a month so I could teach Avery to swim.

Sometimes help shows up in unexpected ways. During the first year of my twins’ lives a friend sent flat-rate boxes of individually wrapped books for Avery to earn. My co-mama homeschooled my daughter with her child during the second year of Covid. Someone gave me a double stroller worth as much as my first car. People I barely know have covered bases I didn’t know I had.

Even when I know I need help I don’t necessarily understand what to ask for. One long, hard day, when the twins were a few months old, Avery was in a mood and dumped a blender full of wild strawberry purée into the dog bowl and my patience ran out. My brain flatlined; I couldn’t remember how to sooth children. I no longer cared to know.

I yelled until all three kids were crying then I put Avery down for a nap. I rocked the babies in their car seats until they fell asleep, and then I sat down on the kitchen floor and asked myself, What do I need right now? Who can I call?

I didn’t want someone to talk to because I couldn’t explain. I needed someone to sit with me – in silence if need be – without thinking me fragile or unfit. Someone who would believe in me, care for me, hold me accountable as I got through this day, and then never bring it up again.

A person finally came to mind whose footsteps steady the wobbling Earth. She knows hardship but makes a point of light-heartedness. She refrains from gossip. She brought me dinner a few times when my husband was out of town. So I called her.

Just having a witness helped. When Avery woke up I apologized and set her up with a cartoon and snacks. I cleaned the house. My friend arrived and we sat on the floor until everything was okay again.

I do more than one person should; I keep the balls in the air but only just. The question of help triggers a deep current of vulnerability in me because I can’t afford momentary lapses in vigilance. People look out for me – I can catch a break now and then – but I almost prefer not to. When I sit down, it is very hard to get back up again.

Theoretically, I would welcome a second adult soul with whom to tag team and share all of this with but I don’t have time for it. My walk yesterday with two other women was cut short because of a twin throw-down. I left half-running down the trail while they wailed.

Alone, I can feed and diaper two babies, throw in a load of laundry, and make a muffin. I can play with my kids or spend the hour more interested in a podcast and that is fine. Isolation is how I do it all. I’m happy to see you, but when you come around I get behind on podcasting. My chores linger and I forget to prep dinner. I semi-ignore my children, and they act accordingly. No one gets what they need.

When you’re here, I feel pressured to be the kind of good mom who cares for others to her own detriment. I guess I rather like pulling all the shifts. In this role, where I give everything I have and expect nothing in return, I am enough.

I know this isn’t healthy. I want to let go a little, let other people into our life, and make some friends before I become a dried-up husk of a woman.

It’s just that adults come with their own needs. There exists a standard for adult company whereby the house is clean, there’s something real for dinner, and crying is quickly and easily solved. Even my husband’s comings and goings must be accommodated. By myself, I just roll with the kiddies.

I like the idea of teamwork, but in practice roles are rarely well defined and it is almost impossible to carry out without things getting lopsided.

Say I’m with a high-achiever. She slings snacks and deep-cleans the kitchen while the kids fold origami. She works like the children are paying her and never stops to do anything for herself. There is an air of superiority about her as she judges my housekeeping failures. She is more than happy to help, but loath to receive help on her own behalf. Indeed my acceptance of help proves my weakness to both of us. I get a little depressed. As Ellen DeGeneres says, help “is the sunny-side of control.”

In the best case scenario, extra adults distract me with wine and interesting conversation. In the worst case scenario, responsibilities diffuse until supervision becomes paper-thin. Let’s say someone is in the living room with the kids while I’m cooking dinner. I think he is paying attention to them, but actually he’s on his phone. The kids are unsupervised but I don’t know that until I hear the sound of breaking glass.

I’m looking for another type of teamwork; one cut from a fabric of patience and sewn together with an unspoken understanding that these little kids have us maxed out. Everyone is doing their best.

My husband usually builds houses and earns a paycheck while I teach our children to share and take turns. Our life functions well enough but my brains are turning into peanut butter and jelly while M doesn’t get enough opportunity to know his kids. At least he rarely has time to notice what he’s missing.

Every so often I get a real-life glimpse of the family fantasy. This weekend, M slowed down and built a birthday piñata with Avery. Then she broke a string on our mini-blind and he calmly got a zip tie and fixed it; including her in the repair. “You know,” he said. “I think I’m getting better at being present with the kids.”

In the evening, M makes a quick meal while I run emotional interference for the kids. After dinner, I look at my husband through tired eyes. “I’ll clean up tomorrow,” I say. He doesn’t object.

Without speaking we both know what needs to happen next. I get everyone into pajamas and diapers while he pours milk into three cups with tippy lids. I lay down on the bed and he lays down next to me. Our children tackle us, and for a few minutes we lay there in a happy heap.

Parenting is often lonely. The help I need most is usually simple validation and friendship. A companion who isn’t trying to fix me or my family; someone who falls in line with my rhythms instead of jerking us into his. Someone who makes life more fun by virtue of his company.

Thanks,” I say to my husband. “It’s really nice to have you here.”

***

Letter to Ali Wong

Some days I just need a good laugh. If you are a parent (or a woman…or a human…) who has not yet seen Ali Wong’s Netflix specials, Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife, you probably should. These “momedies” tell what it’s really like to have a baby in your life. They are a little bit over-the-top raunchy, but then again so is motherhood.

Here is the letter I wrote Ali Wong in my head after I saw her shows. It comes off a little bit like a letter to Dear Abby:

Dear Ali – My husband is well-intentioned, but since I had a baby he always says the wrong thing about my body.

I once made the mistake of cupping my breast up to its old height and letting it fall in front of him. “Once these were round,” I said. Now, they’re U-shaped.”

“Are those ever going to go back?” He asked.

“No, darling,” I said. “Those are never going back.”

My husband recently googled something like, Why does a woman lose her sex drive post-partum? He told me that there are four reasons:

1. She is exhausted.

2. She doesn’t feel sexy or she is self-conscious about her body.

3. A baby has been climbing on her all day; she does not want you to climb on her.

4. She has no time for herself, so she has many other things she wants to do besides you with her precious sleeping-baby minutes.

My empathetic husband relayed these results to me in all seriousness. It’s ok honey. This is just something women go through.

Yeah, I told him. No shit.

I am 100% certain that all of these “results” have been relayed to my husband in the past year via my words. In his defense, my comments sounded more like:

1. “I’m just really tired.”

2. “I just want to keep my clothes on.”

3. “I just nursed the baby for an hour.”

4. “I just want to read my book.”

I try to say how I feel, but clearly there is room for improvement because he has no recollection of the aforementioned conversations. Maybe I stuttered. Maybe I spoke when I should have replied in print.

Or maybe my husband is just male.

Thank you, Google, for speaking his language.

My husband’s heart is in the right place. He not only wants to have more sex, he also wants me to enjoy sex again. I can tell he’s taking the post-partum libido issue seriously because I see him trying to help. He’s been giving me more breaks from parenting, and he’s started to help with the bedtime routine. And just the other day he turned to me, that old thoughtful look in his eye, and said –

“You know; if you ever wanted a tummy tuck, I’d pay for it.”

*

2018 Olympic Winter Games heart highlights

Is it just me, or were have the 2018 Winter Games been amazing?  Here are the love warrior heart highlights:

Men’s figure skating never looked so good as Adam Rippon (USA). Watch his short performance here.

The internet populi agree with me that he went under appreciated (He was robbed!) having left with a team bronze. But judging for figure skating changed recently and I was not in charge. The rules favor those who attempt the most technical leaps, with only a slight deduction if a guy should botch the landing (like the gold and silver medalists did). Adam Rippon’s skated clean, and apparently no bonus points are awarded to a skater who becomes a pure expression of radiant light. While Adam did not attempt any quadruple spins (not the technical term) he did land back-to-back triples. We all won that event just by watching him compete.

Confession: I am a sucker for figure skating. I mean, why does figure skating even exist? Ballet got too easy? Someone dared the dancers to take it to the rink? In pairs figure skating the gold medal went to Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot (Germany), who earned the highest score ever recorded in the pairs free skate in Olympic history. While we went to our jobs, chopped onions for dinner, picked up the mail, Savchenko and Massot made this. Kind of makes you feel proud to be a human.

What else? The U.S. women’s hockey team defeated Canada 3-2 in an overtime shootout after a 20-years without a gold medal. Watch the shootout here.

Shaun White (USA) competed in his fourth Olympics and won his third halfpipe gold medal to become the most successful Olympic snowboarder of all time. This was medal #100 for the USA in these games. Watch his epic run to the finish line.

Here’s a name you should know: Ester Ledecka (Czech Republic), the first woman in Olympic history to win gold medals in two different sportsin the same year. She came out of nowhere to take the gold in the women’s Alpine skiing super-G, and for a few days I couldn’t really find Ester Ledecka on the internet.

All googling re-directed me to videos of skier Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): Mikaela lifting weights, in her in her home, skiing gates, footage of her parents… No Ester anywhere. But then Ester won another gold medal, in snowboarding, and suddenly the girl’s got a wikipedia page, glamour shots, you name it. It took two Olympic golds for this chic to prove to the world that she is a big deal. Fun fact: For some reason Ester was missing her skis on race day and won on a pair borrowed from Mikaela. Weird.

Best for last! A fabulous win in women’s cross-country skiing by Kikkan Randall and  Jess Diggins (USA).

Team USA’s gold in the Women’s Freestyle relay is the first ever U.S. medal in women’s nordic skiing and the first medal for men or women since Bill Koch won silver in 1976.  If you look closely as Jess Diggins rounds the final corner into the stadium to pass the skiers from Sweden and Norway she grows slightly larger, and her muscles become more pronounced under her clothing, like the incredible hulk. The announcer is amazing; he actually predicts this win twice during the race – I have no idea why, but he’s with them, every stroke, and absolutely loses his mind at the finish line. Watch the photo finish here.

There’s a lot to be taken away from an Olympics like these. Everyone of these athletes has had setbacks – injuries, losses. We can find lots of inspiration on how to show up, fail well, try again… but for me, these 2018 Winter Games have been about something else. It’s nice to know, on your average Tuesday night, that all these badasses are out there, playing their hearts out, giving the rest of us something to cheer for. Olympics like these show us who the heroes are.