We left a party early on a recent Friday night to beat the storm.
When we got home, we decided to sit on the front porch, under a small awning, blankets on our laps, glasses of wine in hand, Reina del Cid playing as the sky lit up before us, over and over in streaks and flashes.
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“The Fall” was playing:
I have no use for lots of money
don't need no mansion in the hills
just so the river ain't too muddy
we can drink and get our fill
just want you and me, sweet simplicity
We sat there for so long my playlist of two albums and a few singles began to repeat itself, the rain was hitting our legs and the “Welcome spring” clapboard sign hanging on the side of the house had begun to bang against the siding and fall apart from the wind.
“Take that thing down,” Patrick said. “It’s about to become a projectile.”
We did, sat outside for a bit longer, fell asleep to Cat Power and woke up to Lydia Loveless.
The perfect summer storm was the beginning of the perfect summer weekend. We did all the normal things – mowed the lawn, sprayed for mosquitos, swept garage stalls and patios and porches, made sangria and Korean barbecued tempeh wraps. Laid 13 bikes in the grass and rearranged enough to make room for them.
I continued to complain about my broken wrist and strained calf. I watched my Facebook feed fill with friends running and winning in road races, trail races and triathlons from here to Wyoming. It was hard to watch, that mixture of joy and jealousy fighting inside me.
I spent part of the weekend at a backyard birthday party for my son’s best friend, eating popcorn and gossiping about the neighborhood.
Having and raising kids has as many upsides as downsides, and anyone who tells you differently is presenting only the part of themselves they share in Facebook posts. Parenthood isn’t glamorous or always joyful, and I would argue motherhood is even less so.
My kids haven’t quite figured out what it is they’re passionate about – besides reading, with books piled up at the kitchen table, beside their beds, in the back of the car and thrown on the bathroom floor. I tell myself it’s OK – they’re 7 and 9, and there’s no need to rush them into some traveling sport or wildly expensive club. It’s fine that they love playing Barbies or riding their bikes or coloring with the neighbors. They’re kids, not college essays.
Or maybe this is what I tell myself when I feel guilty they aren’t part of something bigger than just growing up.
So when Patrick came home on Saturday and said he had something for Jack, I was interested. Turns out, he had borrowed his nephew’s old BMX bike for Jack to try. We’ve long thought he would flourish in the motocross or BMX or skateboard communities – full of kids doing their own thing with other sort of misfit kids, and I mean that in the most loving and honest way possible. There’s a place in this world for quirky kids, and Jack will find his. Maybe BMX is it.
He’s loved riding his bike since I put him on a balance bike at age 3. I’ve run next to him while he rides, ridden next to him and watched him enter a few cyclocross races. He can ride and ride, and spends his weekends taking his bike apart and putting it back together. This is how you learn – you figure out pretty quickly that you better tighten the seat post or wait until the spray paint on your pedals dries (after you figure out you can spray paint just about anything).
We headed out to the skate park on Sunday morning, strapped the kneepads and elbow pads on, and I briefly wondered why we didn’t have wrist guards as I sat myself on a bench to see what Jack would do when faced with a concrete park full of ramps and possibility.
He did a few figure eights. He rolled halfway up a ramp, jumped off before he slid down, hauled the heavy BMX bike to the top.
“Can I go down it?” he asked.
“Go ahead,” we said.
He hesitated, asked a few more questions, dipped down and made another figure eight. He figured out he can ride a little circuit – up this, crest that, roll down and sweep around to do it again. This is what it looks like when you learn what momentum is. Don’t let anyone tell you kids don’t love science – they do, and ask about it and try to understand it every day, they just don’t know that’s what physics is.
We spent about an hour there, and a few times when Jack rode by me, he yelled, “Yeah, BMX!”
We got home and shared a few photos, and friends who ride came out of the woodwork to offer to show Jack how to do tricks. It was a pretty awesome outpouring from the community.
But this is how it is – in BMX, or trail running or ultra running or steeplechase or whatever it is that you love. When you find others who are interested, who need it, really need it like maybe you did when you were a kid or a grown-up or post-partum or getting divorced or feeling alone or whatever it is – you pull them in with you. Welcome, you say, we’re glad you’re here.
That’s what I want for Jack, for all of us, that warm welcome to wherever you belong.
“If I could find something he really loves, I’d spend all my money and time on it,” I told Patrick as the wind blew and a teenage girl tried to practice her derby moves on the halfpipe.
We headed home, and the day unfolded like a typical June Sunday.
I did laundry. Considered going to the grocery store, and then reconsidered. Decided I could figure it out for a few more days with what I have.
“We were going to go have dinner,” Patrick said.
“Let’s go run,” I replied. “I may not make it very far.”
We did. I’ve been going to physical therapy for my calf, and it’s been going really well. An errant step at Newton Hills last week set me back further than I’d like to admit, and I keep watching my summer plans slip away as I try to just get better. I won’t lie – my tolerance for things going wrong is pretty low right now. I broke the yolks on my eggs this morning and almost dumped the pans and all right into the garbage and suggested a trip downtown for breakfast or else starvation for all, equally fine options to me at that point. Flipping eggs and hash browns with your non-dominant hand is maddening.
For 20 minutes, I ran. Until I felt a hitch in my step and my calf tightening up. We walked a few minutes, and then ran the rest of the way home. I logged it around 3 miles in 30 minutes. Followed it with physical therapy exercise, foam rolling and general frustration.
Then we climbed on a borrowed tandem and rode a mile to dinner, and then just tooled around the neighborhood before settling back in for the evening. Patrick looked at triathlons to register for. I looked at signing up for the Sioux Falls Area Running Club trail race series, thought about the BMX videos I could show Jack, wondered if Viv would like it, too.
“Mom, did you do BMX,” Jack asked.
“Buddy, I didn’t even know that was a thing girls could do,” I told him.
A girlfriend of mine recently took a job with the ACLU and gave me a stack of pins, including one that says, “Women’s rights are civil rights,” and I couldn’t love it more. I think all the time of what Viv needs to know is available to her that I just never even knew. And at the same time not shame her if playing Barbies is what she loves (I did, too).
As a parent, you pour yourself into what they love, but as a person, you have to pour it into what you love, too.
Sometimes that’s the deck. The lights. Reina del Cid singing to us,
Since these days of mine are numbered
I like to spend them here with you
find a tree to lie down under
watch the sun sink out of view
won't ever wanna go
but if I hold you close against the coming night
it seems to feel alright
and oh I hope you know
I will be falling for the rest of my life
Falling for this life, whatever it is, with these kids, whoever they end up being, with this running, however it plays out, with your career and your friends and your entirety and all the years stretching ahead. There’s that line in a Samantha Hunt book about facing “all the things we think of as the night,” but here’s the thing: It’s not always as dark as the dark. Sometimes it’s just unknown.
And that doesn’t have to be terrifying at all. Think of the possibility, the blank canvas covered in stars that can be whatever you want it to be.
I don’t know what I want, or what the kids want, or if we’ll ever get it anyway. But we’ll keep falling, keep going, keep stepping out into the darkness, and back into the light.
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 every other Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.