Heartbreak Hill

Sludge. It’s a good word. Satisfying. And it sounds like what it is. You know. Onomatopoeia. And right now, while I don’t think I could pronounce onomatopoeia (or anything much over two syllables), sludge works fine for me. It describes the sensation of my brain function, not to mention the manner in which I am moving through this day.

And it’s to be expected.

After a marathon of 40 hours awake and busy, this morning, even with seven hours of sleep, I’m not exactly at peak functioning.

I took care of business: made my son’s lunch, drove him to school, filled the fridge, bought more coffee – which we wiped out in the past two days.

But beyond that? All I can say is that 48 hours are a blur. Yet isn’t that always how it is when you’ve faced an endurance race, and regardless of the outcome – you’ve succeeded at making it over Heartbreak Hill?

During the all-nighter my son and I shared, he was trying to complete a digital portfolio, a complex online application process, a number of essays – not to mention a project. I was there to keep him awake and on point. That’s part of my job as a parent.

His job? To get everything done to the best of his ability under the circumstances.

Running the race

Of course it was a  marathon – with periods of clarity alternating with a state of fuzziness. And then, if you’re lucky, you hit the “zone” – you cease to feel much of anything but you maintain your pace even if you’re distanced from your motions, your words, your thoughts.

Then there’s Heartbreak Hill. There’s always a Heartbreak Hill, isn’t there? When you’re processing a profound loss. When you’re battling a health problem, a crisis of conscience, or a professional challenge that may seem gargantuan.

Don’t we face unexpected obstacles as well as those we see coming? As parents, don’t we try to run interference for our children when we can? But we can’t always do that –  and nor should we – walking the fine line of modeling how to meet challenges.

Their experience of dealing with them serves to teach persistence, creative problem solving, and also – how to manage disappointment.

Rising to the challenge

Our estimated 13 to 18 hour task the other night ended up stretching into 30 hours. Murphy stopped by early and stayed late, his Law intact – and my credit card is bearing the brunt of his visit (CDs that wouldn’t burn, CDs that wouldn’t open, computer keyboards that froze, printer ink that ran out, printer mechanical problems).

But here’s the incredible reality of the Blanche DuBois School of Life: sometimes, when the world seems most bleak, strangers surprise you with their sudden appearance, their time, their generosity, their skills, and their good humor. And you realize everything that is going right far outweighs what is going wrong.

As for the deadline – we met it, with 10 minutes to spare. And last night, my son said to me: “You did good.”

My response? We did good. And that “we” includes a number of people my son will never even know about.


Today – it’s brain sludge for both of us – that feeling of being hungover – physically and emotionally. Often, what follows running the race is a period of inevitable downtime.

Neither of us has time for that, but we will nonetheless recognize that we are trudging along at a somewhat slower pace, and our normal “capacities” are sticky, muddy and a bit bogged down. I am struggling to string together thoughts – and words. I’m guessing my son is having a tough time today as well. But we’ll plug away at what needs to be addressed, and know that the fog will lift tomorrow. We’ll meet the next sprint or marathon as necessary.

I cannot honestly say I enjoyed the past 48 hours. I know my son certainly didn’t. But when you’re running a race or facing  a challenge of any sort – doing so in tandem is a great deal better than going it alone. It makes Heartbreak Hill that much less agonizing, and the satisfaction of crossing the finish line so much sweeter.

© D A Wolf