We have a new tradition in our little house.
On Monday evenings, Jack, 8, and Viv, 6, and I sit on the couch and watch regular people try to make their dreams come true on “American Ninja Warrior.” It’s a show I’ve watched here and there over the years, but never regularly.
I’ve been trying to think of something we could do together, just easy and fun. With Netflix and all the other ways to watch television now, there’s not the same fanfare I remember as a kid, with the family sitting down when a show is on. We don’t have cable, and our options are limited. The kids scroll through Amazon Prime or Netflix to find shows they like, and we watch movies together on the weekends.
As they get older, the things we can do together is changing. We can watch a family friendly show during prime time, and they can stay up late enough to see the end. It’s fun to watch our life evolve and to create new memories that are ours alone. It would be easy to just wait and watch the show when it’s available on the app a week later (no cable in this house, sadly), but we’ve made it a point to hurry through dinner and showers on Mondays so we can be parked on the couch together right at 7 p.m.
I love how excited they are for it – they still think it’s cool to sit with mom and hang out. I know that won’t last. I can’t believe it’s lasted this long – frankly they’re both cooler than I’ll ever be already.
The first night, they were rapt. It’s a fairly simple concept of a show, but Viv loved all the stories about the competitors and was so hopeful with each one. “Mom, he had cancer. He was so sick. I hope he makes it,” she said.
Jack was quieter about the storylines but would yell every time someone cleared an obstacle.
Maybe this is what it’s like if you love to follow professional sports. I have friends whose entire families are obsessed with hockey or football, their kids wearing jerseys. I know Jack and Viv probably see a fair amount of baseball when they’re with their dad. I don’t follow anything, really – a hometown pride for all teams Cleveland, but I only know how they’re doing if someone tells me. I know that means I miss out on some collective groaning, or celebrating.
We sat there together, and I watched the kids watch the show – sometimes experiencing something through someone else is the best way.
“Mom, that girl is so strong. She’s way stronger than you,” Viv said.
“That guy delivers sandwiches and just did that! I’m getting all my sandwiches from him,” Jack yelled.
“Whoa, that guy has abs,” Viv said. “And I don’t even know what that means.”
I laugh, and they laugh, and we talk about how hard the obstacles are. Jack has a hundred engineering questions I can’t answer and is always trying to figure out if you can game it somehow, so you can continue on, even if you touch the water. Viv is just hopeful and wants every girl to win. I can get behind that.
On a recent Monday, we watched the show, and I got them into bed after, and then I stood in my family room, debating between throwing in another load of laundry, endless laundry, or going to the kitchen to catch up on work. But I kept stopping to stare out the sliding doors – it was a clear, cool summer evening. I wanted to be out there, and not in the usual way for me – writing on the deck with a glass of wine.
I texted the teenage babysitter across the street, and she said she’d be over in 5 minutes, enough time for me to change into running clothes. I’ve always been an early morning runner, but I’ve adjusted and do a fair amount in the evenings now, when that’s the only time that works. It’s harder for me to get up before dawn and face the treadmill. And I know soon enough the kids will be old enough for me to leave them at home alone for an hour while I run, but we’re not there yet.
Laura showed up, and I stepped outside into the evening. Heading out at 8:30 seemed late, but it also relieved some guilt – the kids were asleep, so I wasn’t missing precious time with them. The work I had to do could wait until I got back, and the evening was too beautiful to not be a part of.
I ran about 6 miles in a big square with my house as the center, on mostly main roads because I didn’t feel like thinking about the route, just wanted something easy and mindless. I ran without headphones and just my thoughts. Earlier in the week, I ran 8 miles at Sertoma, looping in and out of the trees with two Bob Dylan albums on shuffle, thinking about lyrics as stories and songwriting as art and his recent Nobel prize.
Not this night. I thought about the kids. I thought about how fun it was to sit with them on the couch and create our own community around a TV show. I thought about the Afton 25K, which I’m scheduled to run for the third year in a row this weekend, yet another of my woefully undertrained and long ago signed up for events. It will be fine, it always is. I climbed the short hill up the bridge on 57th Street and thought about all the noon runs with the running club, and their tradition of walking over the bridge at Cherry Rock. I missed some of those folks and the chance to get in more miles over my lunch break, an opportunity that helped me build my weeks in ways I didn’t appreciate at the time.
And then a random Ani DiFranco song came into my head, and I ran through the lyrics as I came to the light at Cliff Avenue. I loved her in college – and even though she’s a bit dated and dates me when I say that, I won’t apologize for it. I loved her. Every once in a while, when the kids are gone and I’m cleaning the house, I’ll turn her up full bore and just sing my college heart out, remembering watching her open for Bob Dylan one year in Cleveland, or play a parking lot in Columbus another.
Is it great writing? I don’t know. Sometimes I can’t think critically about something I love too much – my view is romantic, not classic, and I can’t separate my emotions and memories of those years from it. I could pull up old reviews of her work, but it wouldn’t change how I feel about it. If anything, I would just feel like an idiot if she was much hated.
“I think it’s absurd that you think I’m the derelict daughter,” she sings in “Willing to Fight.” That sounds about right for this year.
Instead, I just took it for what it was, an entire song I could remember in my head, word for word, step for step, and as I got to the end of it, I realized why maybe it had been rolling around in my brain anyway: “You’ve got your whole life to do something, and that’s not that long.”
It’s not. My whole life is half over, probably more when you consider crappy genes, and what have I done. Sometimes you think that while you survey the wreckage and wring your hands, “What have I done?” Everyone has that. I joked to a friend the other day that I need my lonely cup of coffee every morning to review my regrets and face the day. It was a joke, a play on the lyrics to “Coffee and cigarettes,” but there’s some truth to taking stock every day.
But on that Monday evening, as I came around 49th Street and watched a woman work in her garden and felt the sun setting behind me and passed the apartments where my kids spend half their time with their dad, by the library Jack is old enough to ride his bike to, the playground where Viv finally figured out that she actually can ride her bike, and I’ll be right next to her, and she won’t crash, my what have I done turned to “Look what I’ve done.”
I’ve raised this small family, keep raising it. I’ve run these miles and keep running them. I’ve stared at these cups of coffee or glasses of wine or out the window in my kitchen, one foot tucked into my knee in the flamingo pose I remember my mom standing in, and surveyed my life.
It’s a good one.
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 email@example.com. Story ideas are encouraged