As a parent, you know that kids go through stages.
They learn to walk or tell a joke or stand at the bus stop by themselves. They’re all steps toward growing up, incremental and universal and heartbreaking and joyful, all at the same time.
You watch it happen, wait for it, and remember it: Jack’s first word was “happy.” He’s 8 now, almost 9, and every time I sleep-stumbled into his bedroom as an exhausted new mom, I said, “hey buddy, I’m so happy to see you,” because I was. And that’s what he learned to say when he saw me. I’ll take it. I know that kind of unconditional and all-consuming love you feel for your parents is fleeting. Or at least it takes a break when your hormones kick in, comes back when your first child is born.
As a runner, it means I go through stages with them, too.
With Jack, I ran all the way until 34 weeks, was put on bed rest for low amniotic fluid until 37 weeks, and then delivered him. It was a hot summer of running, and I remember my friend Eric waiting for me at the top of 18th Street near Bahnson, as I climbed my way through on summer mornings, sweating and heavy.
Or the hopefuls at Labor Ready, standing on the corner and telling me I was going to “jog that baby right out,” as I went past them, still proud enough to want to turn around and say that I’m a runner, not a jogger, no matter what pace I was going.
I used to race in a shirt that said “Baby on board” on front, and “You just got beat by a pregnant chick” on the back, which allowed for a string of laughs and colorful commentary when I would occasionally pass someone in a race. My favorite was two young guys in the Brookings Half Marathon, who said, “You have to be (family blog!) kidding me,” when I went by.
After Jack was born, we spent many miles together with me pushing the BOB Ironman running stroller. I loved it. Though the first time I took him 10 miles, I got home that night and was folding sheets and couldn’t figure out why it all seemed so insurmountable. Then I realized it was from pushing that jogger from McKennan Park to Falls Park and back again. Who knew it was such a workout?
Soon enough, Genevieve came along. With her, I ran and taught spin until about 26 weeks, when I went into pre-term labor. Then she was born at 36 weeks, for the same reasons that Jack was.
Running with them was never the issue – I loved being a pregnant runner and did so with the full support of my doctor, who encouraged me to do whatever I did before I was pregnant, which was run.
After Viv, I had a double jogger, and we used it all the time. I ran with them to the park, to the bike path, to the farmers market and library, loaded it up with books and a breast pump and a work laptop, blankies and sippy cups and a metric ton of crushed goldfish crackers.
That was the stage we were in. Then I morphed to pulling them in a BOB Burley bike trailer, to all the same places. And then, earlier this summer, I realized I could run on the bike path while Jack rode beside me on his bike. That still meant Viv wasn’t with us, a hitch in the plan that’s needed solving since we became a family of three.
She fell off her bike last summer, going over the handlebars when she steered into the grass just north of Rotary Park, afraid of the little downhill. I watched it happen, nothing I could do as I coasted behind her and she supermanned into the grass. I sat on the side of the path, waiting for another cyclist to take us out, as I held her while she cried, and then tried to figure out how to entice her back on her bike so we could make it home.
It traumatized her for the rest of the summer.
So this year, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get her back on the bike, with the selfish desire of being able to run with them while they ride. I finally remembered that Jack got more comfortable after I took him to a playground, where he could sway side to side and weave circles without having to worry about staying in the lines of the sidewalk or making the sharp turn at the street corner.
We went to Laurel Oaks, and she finally figured out that she could do it. When we got home, she said to me, “Mom, I didn’t want to go, and I threw such a fit, and that was amazing.”
You got it, lady! It was amazing.
It’s tough raising a daughter and wanting to say to her, stop, just stop. Stop saying you can’t do it. Stop making excuses. Stop every single thing that’s anything except you being the outstanding young woman you are, with a messy ponytail and dirty tennis shoes and being the jutted chin equivalent of a walking middle finger, while erupting into laughter every few minutes.
I don’t want to make her self-conscious. I don’t want to make her anything but who she is, and what she is. But I also don’t want her to start making excuses for herself at age 6. I don’t want Jack to do that either. The world will beat you down enough as it is, and maybe this is what everyone means when they talk about coming of age, the age of innocence, of childhood growing shorter and shorter.
I know I did some of that to them already, with the divorce and the months when I stood at the counter, a dead look on my face as Jack said to me, “Mom, let’s practice smiling.” He would force a grin and look hopefully at me, waiting for me to do the same.
I did, and he looked relieved. For a moment, I felt some relief, too.
It was a rough fall, a terrible winter, a coming-to-terms spring.
And this summer has been something else – an awakening of sorts, for me and for them. An acceptance, a joy, letting go of old expectations, wrongs and guilts. A recognition that we get where we are because of who we are and where we came from and sometimes the route doesn’t matter.
I’m glad I’m here. It isn’t where I intended, but it’s what I want.
And last week, I stood in the kitchen and said to the kids, “Hey, after dinner, do you want to ride around the block while I run?”
They said yes, and we finished our chicken and pesto and got ourselves ready. I put on old running shorts and a T-shirt, my shoes, threw my phone into a pouch to see how far it really is around our suburban block.
I ran behind Viv, and Jack did the route the opposite direction.
I only got in 1.5 miles – or twice around the loop – before Jack decided he was done. It doesn’t matter. It all still adds up to the mileage, and I had already gotten in a few hours over the weekend and mornings here and there. The distance didn’t matter. The pace didn’t matter.
None of it did.
What mattered was this stage: The one where it’s me. And them. And we’re all OK as we go lap by lap, loop by loop, waiting for each other at the corner, high-fiving as we pass.
That’s all life is, isn’t it? Those small moments of encouragement -- side by side, one in front, or just in passing.
That moment that says, “I see you, and I always did, and I’m glad to again.”
That’s the stage we’re in, and the one that lasts a lifetime.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.