Old News: Past Blog Posts

Saturday, September 19, 2015

So Glad They Told Me to Wear Running Shoes

NOTE: When your submission for an anthology is not accepted for publication, the silver lining is the fact that your long-silent blog suddenly gets to speak again. And perhaps I will even muster the energy to write sometime again before Christmas. Maybe

I was a ragamuffin grade schooler with long, thick ponytails, under-appreciated homemade dresses, and a deep desire to please my teachers. I read paperback fiction under my desk during math class and loathed the two days a year when the federal government mandated that I run a mile as part of the Presidential Fitness Testing. 

Somewhere along the way, in spite of my early aversion to running, I became a passable athlete. By high school, I competed on school teams and a traveling volleyball team and in college, I found myself voluntarily visiting the gym regularly and suddenly not hating the sensation of repeatedly bounding from one foot to the next. 

Running soon became an integral part of the tedious task to shed the 30 lbs I had gained since freshman year and by graduate school, I was routinely hammering out five or six miles before classes started each morning. Physical therapy students tend to be among the most enthusiastic exercisers, so I was in good company and quickly learned the joy of running with friends. In the spring of my first year of PT school, I decided on a whim to run a half marathon, and I was suddenly smitten with the idea of distance running. 

And so, the little girl who had loathed the idea of relying on her feet to carry her just one mile was suddenly handing over precious money (borrowed, as I basically lived entirely on student loans at this point) to cover 26.2 miles. On foot. On purpose. 

Six years after completing my first marathon, I was still running regularly and was now married and pregnant with my first baby. Eleven weeks into the pregnancy, I shuffled through a half marathon (with the blessing of my OB) and went 'facebook official' with the big news later that same day. I kept right on running and working out regularly -- albeit with a little less gusto than usual -- until the day my water broke, nine weeks before my due date. This happened no thanks to what turned out to be an unfortunate combination of a chronically weak cervix and an uncooperative and irritable uterus. Twenty hours after my membranes ruptured, the tiny little stinker kicked his way out from his breech in utero position in a very quick, very dramatic, very unmedicated vaginal delivery. It was not how I expected to enter motherhood, but it did the trick.

Once the shock wore off and the elated new-mom smell set in (that smell, if you're curious, is a putrid combo of poop, spit up, and the inability find time to shower) I found myself running again. Only now, the running wasn't just a few mornings a week. It was every minute of Every. Stinking. Day. 

The race began between our house and the NICU. Within a week, the course expanded to include work (thanks to a job without PTO) and the pace picked up. Six weeks later, we were discharged and the running was concentrated to the confines of our house for a few months. During this period, my speed slowed to a manageable trot and I caught my breath a bit. Then, work resumed and I was forced to push the pace again.

Over the next three years -- in a move that might have me mistaken for a more devout Catholic than I really am -- our family grew twice more, adding two more preemie boys to the chaos of our little three ring circus. 

If Motherhood has taught me anything, it's that there is nothing that moves fast enough in this universe to keep up with three boys under three years apart.  

The gun goes off between 4 and 6am with feeding the baby and/or pumping a bottle so I can squeeze in a workout. I sprint through the first leg of the course: showering (but only when totally necessary), clothing myself and the little guys, serving breakfasts, negotiating temper tantrums and herding cats, I mean, toddlers into car seats, out of car seats, then pumping breast milk on my way to work. 

The second leg happens at work and productivity expectations generally necessitate maintaining the cruising speed I initially generated chasing toddlers out the door. 

My favorite leg is the third. I arrive home to be bowled over by enthusiastic smiles bouncing and teetering towards me at full speed, as well as a home-cooked meal prepared by my unquestionably better half. I try to enjoy a few quality moments with the little monsters before bedtime routines kick into full swing and they are sprawled out and snoring to the whooshing of sound machines. 

My day ends with a sprint through the logistical necessities of being an adult; emptying and filling the dishwasher, replying to emails, taking the trash out, watering flowers, paying the phone bill, and engaging in the ultimate Möbius strip of household duties: folding and putting away laundry. All those menial tasks didn't previously seem so daunting and tiresome, but now they're done under complete duress and with a total lack of enthusiasm. 

You might imagine that army-crawling, exhausted and disheveled into bed and burying my face in a pillow for the five seconds it takes me to fall asleep my would be my version of crossing the finish line, but it's really just the beginning of the final leg of the 24-hour loop. The baby is not yet six months old, but has already discovered that his only chance at some quality one-on-one mommy time is between 10pm and 5am. A sticky and persistent mucus presence in recent weeks has only made the nighttime snuggles more necessary and more frequent. I love the baby, but do not care for the mucus.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

So you get the metaphor. Life. Rat race. Etcetera. Etcetera. It's a tired metaphor really, overused and predictable. But it fits the bill so perfectly it's difficult to ignore.

Almost every other day, someone (usually over the age of 50) reminds me how quickly life moves when you're a parent. You've heard the sentiment: 'They grow up so fast!' Well sure. How could they not? We are essentially sprinting our way through life right now. At this rate, my boys will be smelly teenagers by the time I get my next water break. 

And yes, I am terrified that by the time I stop long enough to catch my breath, they'll all be off someplace working in middle management and paying mortgages while their father and I sit around listening to Harry Chapin and watching the clock tick until 5pm when we feel it's safe to call and bother them. Then, I'll be the one stopping young mothers in the grocery check out line, telling them to cherish every moment. 

Yes. Motherhood is a race. (Have we established that yet? Have I beat that poor dead horse long enough?) It is a distance course complicated by Pinterest and social media, which demand that everyone dress in coordinating outfits, while munching on organic peanut butter sandwiches shaped like minions, and working our way through the list of Ten Awesome Ways to Use an Empty Paper Towel Roll. These demands make parenting feel even more like an impossible competition. Now we are expected to run like hell so we can be crowned the winner. Yup. The prize is an uninterrupted eight hour stretch of sleep and an all-expenses-paid trip to the inpatient mental health facility of your choice.

I always knew that parenting was tough business. I guess I didn't realize that all those miles I ran in my 20s were actually training runs for motherhood. 

So, how do we manage the rugged race course without letting the whole experience get away from us completely? People, that is the million dollar question. 

I had this one running buddy in PT school who I regrettably haven't stayed close with, but whom I think of often. She always had this contented smile on her face that just radiated an air of satisfaction, but not in a 'bitchy' way. She wore it whether she was sitting poolside or in anatomy class. It was there at 6am cramming sessions on the day of an exam and at mile 18 of a marathon training run. I remembered her once droning on and on about how beautiful the rolling woods were during a particularly challenging trail run. In that moment, I was half annoyed because her lungs were clearly handling the terrain much better than mine were if she was able to take the time to enjoy the scenery. Graduate school was no cake walk, as we went to one of the most demanding programs in the country.  I have classmates who still talk about how miserable it was. If she could do it all with a satisfied smile and a deep appreciation for the scenery, what's stopping me from appreciating the beauty of motherhood? 

The other day, when hustling my children into the car, my three-year-old dragged me by the hand over to our neighbor's recently bloomed bright pink peonies and gestured to them dramatically, smell mommy! We were already running late and I was annoyed by the delay tactic, but his dimpled cheeks are my Achilles heel so I sighed, bent down, and put my nose against a bloom. The aroma stunned me a little. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, my son had literally just made me stop to smell the flowers. It's almost too sappy and cliche to even wrap my brain around. 

As young parents, there is great temptation to roll our eyes at the generation of mothers and dads who keep pestering us to stop and smell the peonies. But you can't very well ignore a little hand dragging you over to them. 

Any runner will tell you that the 'runner's high' is a real thing, but it is evasive and infrequent. We chase after it, often coming up short, but we relish it when it happens. The high doesn't usually come when you're running at full speed, but instead when you settle into a strong, comfortable pace. 

Isn't that true of motherhood too? Somewhere between time outs and potty training and 2am feedings, there really is beauty in this thing, sometimes you just have to slow down a little to notice it. 

I am still learning to do this. I allow my boys to drag me under blanket forts and into their playhouse. I gaze at them in those rare, quiet moments when they sit and flip through books with their brows furrowed solemnly like they vaguely disapprove of the primitive plot lines or underdeveloped characters. I watch their eyes widen above giant smiles and their bodies bounce happily over the mere suggestion of bubbles. I swoon over baby giggles and grins, burying my face in his round belly to coax his chirpy laugh, marveling at his emerging personality, expressive little face, and gummy smile. When baby falls asleep in my arms, I breathe in that soft, milky baby scent and chuckle at his tiny gaping mouth and squishy nose. There's something magical and mesmerizing about a baby. I didn't realize that until I had my own; and I almost missed it because I get so focused on the illusion of a finish line. 

Motherhood is tedious; trudging through the triage stage of parenting infants and toddlers in particular. I salute that pig-tailed little girl who thought running was stupid and unnecessarily hard, but I also carry with me my old friend who could find beauty in the last few miles of a marathon. And the next time a grandmother smiles at me as I stand helplessly over a screaming 3-year-old, with a grinning 1-year-old on my hip and a hungry and fussy baby in my shopping cart, I think maybe I will smile back and tell her that yes, I know these days will soon be gone and yes, I am trying to love as many minutes of them as I can.