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Freedom is Not Free

April 26, 2010

What liberation looks like.

Scene: Denver Airport, headed to Florida for spring break. (Yes, this post is over a month late.)

Seat assignments: In a crowded plane that had 5 seats across, we had two + two, with an aisle in between.

The amazing thing that happened: The kids, ages 3 and 6, sat by themselves!

I’ll repeat that in case it didn’t sink it: They sat by themselves.

Granted, Grant and I were just across the foot-wide aisle from them, and they chanted, “Mom, I need…” or “Mom, can you…” or “Mom, I’m hungry…” or “Mom, I spilled…” every 90 seconds without fail. But the facts remains: We didn’t have to carry on a car seat. I didn’t have a child on my lap. I wasn’t parked between them. I wasn’t constantly picking up toys or holding their legs down so they wouldn’t kick the seat in front of them. I actually read a few pages of my own book (and reread them and reread them because I kept getting interrupted). I tasted, for the first time, in almost seven years, what it feels like to be an autonomous adult while still traveling as a family.

The liberation didn’t end when we touched down in the Sunshine State. In mid-March, the temperatures were cool–there were days on our vacation when it was warmer in Denver than it was in the so-called tropics–so I wasn’t super psyched to go in the chilly Gulf of Mexico or slightly more temperate pool. As Juney B. Jones always says, guess what? I didn’t have to. I waded up to my knees or so in the Gulf, and my body never touched the chlorine-soaked waters. Amelia was intent on mastering backwards somersaults, and Ben, with his floaties on, was fine tooling around the shallow end. I read (and reread and reread) a couple more pages of my book, keeping one eye on them. The first time ever, in nearly 84 months, I haven’t had a child clinging to me, unknowingly pulling down my suit to expose my sad, sagging tube socks– I mean my chest.

And on it went: they made sand castles and friends by themselves. They went lizard hunting just outside the house solo. They could run a spatula down to the BBQ pit for Poppy by themselves. At times, I almost felt like an accessory.

As amazing I thought feeling unnecessary would feel–Lord knows, I’ve waited for this day for almost 2,100 days –it also made me feel surprisingly empty. I wasn’t sure what do to with myself. Paint my toes? Read a magazine? Fold the laundry? Make a key lime pie? Dream about having another baby? So used to being their life jacket, transporter, entertainment and a gazillion other roles, when they emerged from the shadow I cast over them 24/7, I was thrilled–and saddened–to see two semi-independent kids that will only grow stronger and more capable every day.

I remember I felt this way after both my marathons. All I did was look forward to the Liberation Day: the day–and weeks–after the race when I’d sleep in and cook leisurely dinners and drink too many beers on a Friday night because Saturday morning was F.R.E.E.! and finally be able to stay up for and comprehend Lost. Then I crossed the finish line, and I enjoyed my freedom for a week or so–or until my quads were no longer sore. Soon enough, though, I was restless and missing the routine. I knew I wasn’t ready to train seriously again, but I’d spend way too much time combing the Internet, wondering what challenge I was poised to take on next. I know I don’t need another 26.2, just like we don’t need another kid. But I do need the possibility.

As we flew home from Florida, we had the same arrangement: two kids on one side of the aisle, two parents on the other. As they drifted off (predictably, 30 minutes before we landed) and drooled all over themselves, I closed my eyes too. I wanted to process the vacation, to make sense of why, when I finally arrive at a day I’ve been wishing for, it can feel so bare.

All I could come up with was this: maybe the structure of training and demands of parenting that I often feel stifle me–they seem so mandatory, so inflexible, so mundane, so out of my control–are actually far from stifling. Maybe they give me the feeling of being needed, important, loved and confident. Maybe they’re actually the best part of my life.

And maybe I need to remember that when I hear, “Mom, can you…” at least fourteen times before school drop-off tomorrow.

P.S. #1: If you’re in Colorado, or will be coming to the Zooma race in Colorado Springs on July 17th, and want to be a part of our Zooma Run Team (bonuses include a 10% discount to the race and lots of support as you train), send me an e-mail at runmother at gmail dot com. I’m going to organize the group and put up training plans and have group runs and all that, and I’m hoping to kick it off May 3rd, so let me know if you’re interested.

P.S. #2: A great Ma’s Day gift to give  yourself: Skirt Sports, original creator of the great trend, is giving away four Mother Running packages: A swishy athletic skirt + A copy of Run Like a Mother. Enter here.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessica permalink
    April 26, 2010 7:42 am

    Just what I needed after a long night of crying, feeding (7 mos) and bed wetting (3.5y), followed by a pittiful run on the treadmill in the basement at 5Am! Just the kick in the butt my grumpy needed this morning.

  2. April 26, 2010 7:59 am

    Amen! I have two girls, ages 4 and 6. Everything is getting easier. It’s hard to believe some days. I can read a book while they play outside. We can go to to the pool, and I don’t have to be in the water (but of course I’m still watching!). We can go to a restaurant, and I don’t need diapers or a high chair or sippy cups or toys. No more naps to plan around. Life is suddenly easy (or *easier* at least because some days the constant whining and endless requests still do drive me up a wall)! And I don’t appreciate it either. 😉 We are getting a dog, I think. We just fostered one from a shelter for two weeks (and the first few days I actually said to my husband, “Why did we have to go and do this dog thing just when life was getting easier? What do I have against EASY?” The dog had to go back because she was aggressive with strangers (bad combination with kids in the house), but we are trying again. I need to feel like someone NEEDS me. Not sure why I can’t just kick back with a margarita and call it a day!

  3. OtheJulie permalink
    April 26, 2010 8:44 am

    “Vacation is just reality in another location.”

  4. BigDogMom permalink
    April 26, 2010 8:45 am

    The kids still need you….just in a very different way! I felt the same way after my marathon….I likened it to preganacy and childbirth. Before you start training (trying) you read all there is to read and research all you can to make sure you know what you are getting into (even though you never really now). Then you start. You make the choice. You make the commitment. The work begins. You start training and you continue to prepare…reading everything, going to doctors, taking care of yourself better than you ever have before. As the day approaches, you get nervous and excited…the fear of the unknown sets in and you wonder if you are really ready for it all. Then it happens! Race day! Birth Day! Your main event! It happens so fast you rarely have time to process it all until much later. So many people are there and things happen that you do not remember until looking at photos later. The days after, you start to think about what happened. Your body lets you know you have been through something major yet you feel more alive than ever! As time goes on and the pain wears off, you wonder what happened. You feel like a different person…changed forever. The routine is different and frightening. you have to develop new routines and ways to go about your everyday. This continues throughout training, running and being a mom….we are always changing. Always adapting. Always becoming better moms and better runners!

  5. April 26, 2010 9:02 am

    LOVED this article. It is so true! I just found your site and I love it. As a fellow blogger, and a newly minted “mom runner” – a runner for the first time in my life – I feel so encouraged by your posts. This one about parenting is such a great metaphor. Thank you!

  6. April 26, 2010 11:34 am

    My kids are going to be 16 and 18 this year. They grow up way too fast. Each stage of their lives has brought new challenges and new accomplishments. One thing is certain, they need me as much now as they did when they were toddlers–just in a very different way.

    GREAT post.

  7. April 26, 2010 11:55 am

    Very well said!! I often feel like that when my kids are making me nutso, that there is “soon” going to be a day when they are not making me nutso, or soon there will be a day when a Hug can’t fix everything that is wrong with their world, and I had better relish in it now.

    I need to apply this to running…Great Post! Thought provoking!

  8. Jane Winslow permalink
    April 26, 2010 12:21 pm

    Great article. My three boys are grown now, but your musings were reminiscent of my “tan only from the waist up years” spending every day in our Florida backyard pool catching small children mid- flight, judging who made the biggest splash, while listening to “Hey mom, watch this – wait, can you catch me first?”
    As far as reading books, collections of short stories were the logical choice. I could, after countless interruptions, get through a few of them and actually benefit from the experience. Whew.
    The one who made the biggest splash ran the Chicago Marathon with his mom a few years ago, and now calls to tell me what he has been reading about in law school lately. Every age has countless joys with your children, and you will remember the good things – and some of those things you get through and gladly don’t miss.

  9. Liz Brownlie permalink
    April 26, 2010 1:44 pm

    You captured everything I have been feeling for the last year or so. Wonderful and sad at the same time to see our babies not “need us anymore”.

    When my youngest could turn on Saturday morning cartoons by herself , I had a 24 hour depression – the daily morning snuggles are a thing of the past. Thankfully, she (and either one of her older siblings) will oblige me every once in a while.

  10. April 27, 2010 5:42 am

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Training and racing–living from one challenge to the next–was so ingrained in me before having kids that, especially when motherhood is my challenge, as opposed to a long race, I sort of thrive on the difficulty (in a sick, 0nly-an-endurance-athlete-could sort of way). And therein explains our fourth child…

  11. TTT permalink
    April 30, 2010 5:54 am

    Hi Dim – loved this post. Have been there, and you capture it all so well! Keep your seatbelt fastened, there’s a whole ‘nother level of this when they hit the next level of independence. Now if someone could figure THAT one out for me….. 🙂 Tracy

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