by Jordan Sapir
I arrive, and the line is not only around the corner, but two city blocks long.
Wait, I thought, they said the doors open at 9:00! It’s 8:15. There is no way this line is that long. I’ll never get in.
I haven’t seen a line this long since Barney’s Coop had an Everything Must Go Sale in New York. Those were the heydays. Sex in the City and Law and Order used to film constantly on my street. Every day there was a reason for the premiere of some new outfit that I thought was just fabulously New York. Most non-New Yorkers couldn’t tell the difference between me and a native. But those New Yorkers, oh, they knew. They always knew I was an implant. It started with the accent. Although my parents paid good money for my non-regional dialect, I was slightly embarrassed. I couldn’t be located on a map based on my vernacular. But I sure did fit in. I arrived when I was not even old enough to drink. I was still wet behind the ears. Every old-time New Yorker or surrogate city dweller knew, but me, oh, I thought I owned the city. Between castings, bar jobs, workouts and university, my schedule was packed. I didn’t, however, forget to stay on top of my fashion game. I had the latest everything. I was in love with living in the city. I lived in the then very dodgy neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. Oh, it looks like Disneyland now, but then, I worked in a bar on 11th Avenue between 44th and 43rd. I lived at the corner of 44th. When I finished my shift at the Irish Pub, the owner used to stand in front and watch me walk home to make sure that I was safe. It was one city block. That’s just how dangerous it was. Dodgy as it may have been, I loved that neighborhood. It was the only chance for a kid like me to live in the city without going to the Bronx or living in uninhabitable Alphabet City.
I managed to get around the city. I used to cab it, walk it, run it and my favorite, bike it. I loved everything about biking around the city. My adrenaline sky high, I would whip and weave through car upon car upon car upon taxi, give the finger to gutsy pedestrians, dodge potholes, cruise by the Hudson and ride on the coattails of bike messengers. I’d never admit it to my mom, but there may have been the occasional grab and ride on the back of a delivery truck or a semi moving through the city. I had balls of steel and an aluminum frame bike. Fast-forward twenty years (um, eighteen) and I’m still up to the same shenanigans. Waiting in line at a bike Flohmarkt halfway across the Atlantic. My, how things have changed. Aluminum is a thing of the past, my small framed aluminum road bike I used to whip around the city that never sleeps with is now considered vintage. There’s something else that I haven’t been able to replicate: courage.
These days I’m filled with anxiety. As I maneuver my way through the bike flea market with my fellow Über Mom and teammate’s husband, we’re in a total panic. The kids are at home with our respective partners. Asking anyone to look after a three-year-old and a one-year-old is pretty ballsy, which means our time is limited. I have an event following this attempt to purchase a road bike for my upcoming triathlon, so that gives me even less time. We are both searching for opposite bike characteristics, which makes for a competition free experience. I try to decipher the mumbles and groans of a native Australian and scurry around looking for my size bike on a budget. In line (during the two hour wait), I get the opportunity to discuss family life, values, sports, and commitment. It’s rare to be able to discuss the trials and tribulations of parenting with a friend’s partner in a childfree environment. I’m really proud of dads like him. Dads who’d stand in line to make sure their wives got the bike she needs to compete in her first Triathlon. I ask myself if mine would do the same. I am afraid of the answer. I am quickly reassured when he tells me that he really looks up to us Über Moms. I thought that the guys were mostly annoyed by us. Our early morning races and holiday parties, and being forced to socialize with other dads who have no interest in exchanging healthy recipes and cadence tips during the holidays. What he says is a game changer for me. Not only am I doing this for my kids, I’m doing this for my family, my friends, my community, oh, yeah – and me. Tape measure in hand and a new-found gusto, we head out on our mission.
I’m 180cm tall, with long legs and arms and a really short torso. I know I need to look for the biggest ladies’ race bike I can find in my price range. With a quick look at the tag, I find all the information, in German. Now, how to decipher. Okay, price, size, color, (I mentioned I like fashion, right?) brand. I walk swiftly down the aisles ticking the imaginary boxes in my head, trying to think of the brands I know that are well-known in the race bike industry, unsuccessfully trying to find the price range or size I’m looking for. My Aussie friend can’t seem to tick all the boxes either. There are a lot of people there and the bikes are disappearing quickly. It’s like when you watch a movie and the cineaphotrapher paints a picture by making things disappear in slow motion and then speeding up to the end in the last scene, when there’s nothing left but the last guy by the cash register, me standing by myself, checklist still in hand, and bikeless. Well, that can’t happen, because the last time I checked, new road bikes cost upwards of 1000€, and asking my partner for that type of money for a hobby is essentially about as ballsy as the request to keep an eye on the little explorers while I find a bike.
That’s the thing about a momelete. I’m a stay at home mom. If you’ve been following my journey, PC terms annoy me. Let’s call a spade a spade. I am a mom who decided that after being highly educated, well-travelled and ambitious, I wanted to stay home to raise my children. I then found a partner who wanted the same; not a housewife, but a partner. In fact, we’re not married, so you can’t actually use the term housewife, which is why I prefer, for one of the very first times in the history of my self-righteousness, “stay-at-home-mom”. That’s what I am. It doesn’t need a fancy name; let’s be honest, in my opinion, anything else is a bit condescending. I chose to do something that many women and men could or would not. If this seems rehearsed, it’s because I have given this speech countless times from my living room soapbox to said Mr. “Is dinner ready?” Chauvinistic Man. On many levels, it took a tremendous amount of courage and strength that I never thought I had. It’s kind of like this Triathlon goal.
Getting back to sacrifices. I’ve already requested so much from my family to go after a dream, that I can’t take advantage by buying a bike more than our monthly rent. Not that we’re hard up, but I’ve always been thrifty. I can’t help but think just how many organic bananas and peanut butter crackers I could buy. So here I am, bargain hunting, for a bike one-third of market price and discovering, to my dismay, that such a thing does not exist.
On to plan B: raising my budget. My stomach sinks, yet I start finding bikes in my range. Okay, found one, out to the test track. This is Germany, so yes, it is not a plot of land to try out your overpriced bike, it’s an actual test track. The guy at the door clicks his counter and doesn’t break character, sternly pointing me in the direction I need to go, murmurs something inaudible to my expat ear, which I am utterly embarrassingly accustomed to, and I mount my bike.
First thing I notice is that I can’t mount a bike the way I used to. In fact, I can’t ride a bike the way I used to. The saddle seems a lot smaller than they used to be and the pedals seem a lot stiffer. I nearly face-plant just trying the damn thing out. What am I even looking for? Okay, the gears work, it’s purple and yellow, the Über Moms colors, my size; wait, the gears are doing something strange, oh no, it’s a lemon. I shoot the grumpy door attendant a saysomethinabout look and head back inside. As self-fulfilling prophecies usually go, the place is nearly bikeless. I head to the register, and do the very non-German thing of cutting in front of about one hundred hipsters with vintage bikes that are way out of my budget, by rationalizing that my children are waiting for me. Uh oh, self-entitlement and signs of a mid-life crisis. Panic sets in. I’m quickly distracted when my beach-haired comrade flies over with a Ferrari Red Koga Myata with my name written all over it. “Where have you been? Get on this bike and try it out before someone else buys it!” My original plan was to consider this yellow and purple wonder a fixer upper, but this Dutch and Japanese combo blew my lemon out of the water. Too busy to snub the doorman, I whiz out on my future ride. This is it. This is my race bike. I finally found her. I’ll call her Astrid. That sounds very Dutch. With my eyes lit up and a goofy smile, the two of us ride out with the rest of the happy customers; only our bikes have a purpose. We say our goodbyes: I ride out like my life depends on it, and it does. I’m so desperate to achieve my goal, I was willing to go to the “Arsch der Welt”, as they say in German.
We’re all there. The team. We meet at our fearless leader’s house. She doesn’t know it yet, but she has inadvertently become our Über Moms triathletes team captain. Abbie has done so many Ironman competitions that you don’t bat an eye when she sports a hat, water bottle or backpack with a logo that shows that they are all clearly reserved for Ironman finishers. She is the very reason I was inspired to try a Triathlon Sprint. Oh, that and a Runner’s World article where they mentioned runners being the best candidates for the cross-over to Triathlons.
She comes out looking the part, with an effortless bike mount. It looks like we’re saddling up for a Spaghetti Western. Her kids are begging her to stay; we all feel her pain and ride out with the mom guilt overcast, yet the nuggets will be just fine with dad. It a scenario I’ve gotten used to with the training required for a Triathlon.
Not too far into our ride we start chatting and the playing field seems pretty even. We’ve got two Americans, a Czech, an Irishman and an Australian. Well, if it’s one thing we got down, it’s diversity, most likely the largest presence from Munich to Bad Tölz.
We all proode Abbie for tips. “What’s the fastest way out of my shoes at transition?” “What do you do when you have to pee?” “Why do my lady bits hurt so badly on my saddle?” She patiently listens then answers, not at all annoyed that she’s just left her children’s questions behind and is answering a group of middle-aged women’s instead.
Abbie stops to debrief us and paint a picture of the route ahead. The plan is to cycle to Starnberg, ride the forest paths as far as possible, then continue on the highway paths. In Germany, cycling is the norm. Motorists are accustomed to packs of cyclists and the awareness that is required. You could say the same for cyclists. We all have city cycling experience in Munich, but it is the first time cycling so close to motorists on roads bikes for a few of us.
Piece of cake, piece of pie, I think, modesty never being one of my strong suits. I chat with the other girls through the forest. Abbie is giving her best impersonation of a triathlete tour guide.
“Let’s stop here, reconvene and I’ll tell you what’s ahead.” “Just past this ramp is a merging section; just ride on the shoulder and make sure that you’re visible to motorists.”
We ride on in a single file line. Abbie takes the lead, then our Irish teammate on her mountain bike, myself on Astrid, finally, our fun-loving Aussie on her recent gem found by her husband with me at the bike sale.
Just a few moments after reaching the ramp, the terrain changes from gravel to pavement. I look over my shoulder to make sure my teammate is secure, look a bit further on for motorists, and the last thing I remember is my helmet cracking on the ground. I don’t feel anything. At that point I am full of adrenaline. My bike is opposite me, next to oncoming traffic, my teammate moving in rapidly.
My heart is racing, but I seem okay. A quick check over and I’m good to go. We look down at my hand and realize a few layers of my skin are peeled back. More than a few layers, actually. It is down to the bone. It still doesn’t hurt. I do, however, feel dizzy. My teammate is texting the rest of the pack to circle back, “Jordan’s taken a fall—she’s okay. Please turn back.”
Do you have a first aid kit?
No, I don’t. Let me check what I have.
I usually have one on me, but all I have are some bandages, which are too small for the wound.
I’ve got a maxi pad.
That’s gonna have to do then.
Where’s your water?
I’ve taken a sip from mine. It’ll have bacteria in it.
Mine has BCAA’s inside.
Well, we have to clean it out either way.
I take my sleeves off and wrap one around my hand. Everything else seems fine, with the exception of my ankle.
On the Sunday leading to this training session, we had Über Moms Running Team practice. It was the second of our official practices. I decided that I wanted each one to be themed. Last Sunday’s theme was The Sound of Music. I know. How original. Guess what we were doing? Hill work. We were doing hill work. We went to Olympia Park and ran up and down the hill there. Every time I played Do Re Me we had to sprint. On a downhill I rolled on my ankle.
I ride off with my hand wrapped with a maxi pad, covered in a sleeve, and an increasingly throbbing ankle.
We catch up to the other girls. I notice on the ride that my front wheel is off the axle. Abbie notices that my tire is flat. After repairing the flat, we realize it is best to retreat.
While in the mix of the chaos I feel dizzy. Is it the heat, shock, or did I hit my head pretty hard? I don’t make mention of it. I figure it was for the best. Abbie sees me swaying and advises me to eat something.
20k later we arrive. I call my partner.
We’re on our way home. I’ve got good news and bad news. Bad news is that Astrid is in an accident. Good news is that I’m okay. It takes a lot for me not to have my wits about me. A long history of abuse and I can confidently say I’m the queen of redirected pain.
“Is it hospital worthy?”
No, but it is ridiculous. I have fallen off a snowboard, a skateboard, every board imaginable, been punched in the face boxing, and broken many bones, yet I’ve never flown over my handlebars onto the highway and had to ride 10k back.
“Do we need to go to the weekend clinic?”
No, I’ll be fine.
But I’m not fine.
A few hours later and some DIY medical care, there is still gravel in my 2€ coin-sized wound, which is profusely bleeding. I also have a black eye, and my entire right side was scraped and bruised. I’ve seen worse, but I thought it was a good idea to have it cleaned out professionally. I don’t know when there was last a case of gangrene in Munich, but my German partner isn’t willing to find out.
It’s funny how, as parents, you become aware of the risks that would never even have occurred to you as a youth. The reality sinks in once I arrive home and realize that my kids will see me in this state.
The first hospital we went to says that the wait would be 4-6 hrs. I think, I’ve never waited more than an hour in a German equivalent of an emergency room. In disbelief, we take off and go to a weekend clinic. It is a beautiful sunny day, so I send the kids off with dad to get some Q.T. and playtime. It’s bound to take no more than an hour.
Six and a half hours, a few heated discussions, a power outage and a whole lot of years off my life expectancy later, I am able to see a doctor.
Not before an S.O.S call to my partner. The administers ask me what I need and I try my best to explain in German. I just thought the matter wasn’t urgent in medical eyes, so I sit patiently. I see a lot of people enter before me. I ask several times if I would be seen by a doctor. The answer was a repeated, “Please have a seat”. I sometimes wonder, if my German were more natural, would natives be more responsive. Deja vu. My dialect gets me absolutely nowhere. I’m too drained to debate. I haven’t eaten since we headed out in the morning. My hand is still bleeding.
I reach my breaking point and tears flood my eye ducts. The events over the past months just flash before me like an 80’s View Master. Why is this so damn hard? Is this hard for everyone else or just me? It’s like when I see moms who seem to have it all together and I’m the hot mess that rolls in late in my pyjamas. I should just give up! I mean, I am probably about to be told that I can’t swim, bike or run for the next month. I’m just going to throw in the towel now! I mean, I’m bleeding and have been away from my kids longer than I have their entire lives. This is destroying me and my family. If I were home it wouldn’t happen like this. I’d be able to communicate on a certain level and wouldn’t need to call my partner to bail me out.
I’m so sick of being a foreigner in my own home. I’m an athlete who literally feels like a fish out of water! I’m doing everything wrong and am having the worst luck!
At this point I’m hysterical. I’m so wrapped up in my emotions that I must look like a child having a tantrum in the canned food aisle. Tears are flying, snot is flowing, and not even a cookie is going to save my pride at this point. Did I mention I’m still on the phone with my partner in the mix of sobbing and ugly crying? He must feel so helpless. He must think I am weak and dramatic. I’m not.
The thing I have realized whilst trying to face my fears is that I’m afraid of a lot more than I’m willing to admit to. I think a lot of moms are. What if I’m doing it all wrong, what if I fail, what if I’m making the wrong decision to stay in a foreign country with my children, when I feel helpless a majority of the time. I mean I manage, but what if this were one of my kids and not me. What if there were an emergency and my German didn’t cut it. What if there were no one to bail me out.
That’s a horrible feeling as a mom. “I can’t help my children” is a phrase no mother has ever desired to utter.
“I hate it here. I want to go home. I quit. I quit. Damnit, I can’t do this anymore. It is so hard. I can’t do anything right! Damnit. Damnit. I want to go home.”
That’s the first time I’ve ever said any of those statements. I’ve never felt that way as an expat. After living in Israel, France, Italy, China, Spain, Switzerland, I lost track of where home is. I want to go back to my metaphorical safe place. Problem is, I don’t have one.
Frau. Sapir? Frau. Sapir.
Können Sie bitte in Zimmer zwei gehen.
Ja (sniffle, sniffle).
People are always amused with English speakers. After the Trump win, they are especially interested in hearing how Americans feel about politics, generally seen as a cliche topic.
The doctor looks at me, sees that I’m distraught. He tells me that he’s a pediatrician volunteering this Sunday and everything is okay. I need a tetanus shot, some stitches, an MRI and a big cuddle. He goes on to ask me if I have insurance. What a strange question. In Germany, health insurance is obligatory. If you can’t afford health care it is provided by the state. “This may get expensive,” he says. “Just kidding! This isn’t America; everything is going to be alright.” I look up through the last of the tears and give him a chuckle. “It will—thank you. It will.” He goes on with great anecdotes from his time at Berkeley and has a fun-loving spirit and great sense of humor. “We’re not all bad you know,” he utters, after hearing about my pool experience. It’s like the moment your kid realizes it really isn’t worth rolling on the floor for twenty minutes because mom tells you it’s not okay to put every item on the shelves into the grocery cart.
It’s going to be okay. I’m going to keep on Tri(ing). Nothing can break me. I’m a mom, an expat and an athlete.
I hit the metaphoric wall.
“In endurance sports such as cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk is a condition of sudden fatigue and loss of energy which is caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles. Milder instances can be remedied by brief rest and the ingestion of food or drinks containing carbohydrates. The condition can usually be avoided by ensuring that glycogen levels are high when the exercise begins, maintaining glucose levels during exercise by eating or drinking carbohydrate-rich substances, or by reducing exercise intensity.” – Wikipedia
This was the gigantic cookie that I needed.
Kids hit the wall; athletes hit the wall. What no one wants to admit is that Moms hit the wall, too, and need someone to tell them it will all be okay.
“Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.
Got nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.
It’s not love, I’m a running from…” plays in my Spotify playlist on my way to the pool. There’s a woman sitting across from me with a stare that could burn a hole through my temple. Obviously, no one told her not to stare. I think she either knows one of two things: that I’m a foreigner or that I’m not a swimmer. Both are obvious. At least I got one thing straight as I walk into the pool foyer—well, limp in.
To be continued…
Jordan Sapir, mother of two glitter-laden girls, 1 and 4 studied Journalism and International Political Science in NYC, a place she once called home. She can slaughter five languages fluently. She has worked in a newsroom or two, walked a catwalk or three, and is all for an impromptu adventure. Having traded in her Prada for pretzels, the founder of Über Moms lives in Munich, where she is a stay at home mom and studying to become a certified nutritionist. She is a mommy on a mission and wants to help fellow mothers raise healthy happy families, and beat a PR here and there.