My husband planned an impromptu trip to the mountains last week. This was the same week we already had scheduled a weekend trip to Nashville. When my husband shared the news, I tried not to panic thinking about all of the things I had planned on accomplishing during the two days we’d unexpectedly be away. I did a pretty good job of it (or at least I faked cool with my inner thespian; remember I minored in theatre and almost found at the Tisch School of Arts). Really, I never ended up being too frazzled despite having to pack for another trip this Friday. Two trips in one week with four littles is quite the feat. This week has been another story. I keep making mental gaffes. The clutter is driving me crazy. I’m reading The Dirty Life for book club, and I remember my husband’s short-lived leave-it-all-behind fantasy of buying a chunk of land and becoming completely self-sufficient and how I thought well, maybe our big brood could handle a farm. If my husband were to bring up the thought right now, I’d probably screech, “I can’t even get my kids to put their dirty clothes in the hamper or to put their shoes in their designated shoe baskets and you think they will help us till the land?”
Maybe this is precisely why I needed some mountain air.
The weather was perfect and before too long Georgia will be enveloped in unbearable heat and humidity. I’ll take the nice days when I can.
Plus, my husband, who has recently taken up fly fishing, caught his biggest trout yet. It’s a beauty, no? My 8-year-old helped reel it in, and the other girls had a chance to “pet” the fish before my husband returned it to its watery world.
As for my baby boy, well, he’s growing up.
He probably looks ages older to any of my readers who have stuck around despite the dearth of posts. Cutting back on blogging has been a blessing overall, but I do miss all the friends I “met” in cyberspace as well as the friends who used to pop in to regularly say hi. My regular readership has shrunk dramatically. I don’t know this for sure. I stopped checking any sort of stats long ago, but I base it on the fact that my mom and good friend Kris are usually the only folks who comment. I’m okay with that. Today I was reading a new blog I love – The Hungry Runner Girl (more on running in a bit) – and discovered a “how to” blogging post that talked about how she devotes 25 hours a week to blogging, which has become an income source for her. Her blog is very popular, so I believe it. After my infamous extended breastfeeding post, my traffic exploded. That’s when the burnout really started creeping in because I felt like I couldn’t keep up with the sheer volume of emails I was receiving. Sometimes I’m not sure how I had anytime to blog or be online much. My days are jam-packed, and sometimes just keeping up with email (and I get significantly less these days; most of it is from personal friends, family, or contacts related to my kids’ activities or education) is really difficult.
We’d been trucking along quite well with homeschooling, but we’ve fallen behind just a bit. However, I read a great tweet from Teaching Your Child that put my mind at ease (at least for the time being): “To homeschool or to unschool??? That is the question… Both, is a sufficient answer.” So lately we’ve been doing a little more “unschooling” than my Type A self typically allows. And you know what? Two out of four kids can still read. Oldest hasn’t forgotten how to do math. Preschooler still doesn’t recognize all her letters but whatever. Life is rich and good. (That’s exactly how I was feeling when I first drafted this post, but then it sat in my “draft” folder and I had “one of those days” and contacted the local parochial school about openings for next year. Sheesh.)
And that’s really the point of this post. Not homeschooling or blogging. Or big fish stories. Or babies growing up too quickly. It’s about living a rich, good, deep, and meaningful life. I feel like I’m doing just that right now. Our family has had a lot of death to deal with this year. I’m not going to get all maudlin on you or share all the sad details, but we’ve lost three family members (including a father of four and a teenager) and a friend of the family in the past year. It hasn’t been easy. In some ways, I’ve been detached from some of it simply because the funerals were out of town and I was unable to make two out of three of the family ones. But one of the loved ones we lost had a favorite mantra that he embraced well before his pancreatic cancer diagnosis: Every day is a gift.
This was the mantra of a brilliant man. Seriously. He was a card-carrying Mensa Member. But he found joy in the simplest of truths: Every day we are blessed with in this broken world with our broken selves is indeed a gift.
I’ve decided to start living my life like I believe this.
I started running again this past summer after a looonnnng break – like I didn’t run more than a sluggish mile here and there for almost 7ish years. I still was exercising because I enjoy it and make it a priority so I’ll be healthy and strong enough to rise up to the exhausting task of being a mom to little ones. But running? Nope. It seemed like a relic of my past that would never again be unearthed.
In my pre-mom days, I regularly logged in 30 miles a week. Running graced my body and soul with health. Then an injury happened. It wouldn’t go away. And then I got pregnant. And then I got pregnant again and…well, you know. So I decided running just wasn’t something for me. But last spring a friend invited my two older girls and me to run in a fundraising fun run for her kids’ school. I ran a mile fun run beside my girls. My then 5-year-old fell into a quick rhythm. I kept telling her she could slow down; this only made her go faster. She ended up winning first place for her age group. I was impressed. I was also invigorated. It felt great to run again even if it was just for one mile. I thought about taking up running again right then and there, but I was afraid. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid I’d be as slow as a slug when I used to be fairly fast. I was afraid it was impossible to even think about training for a big race (and that’s what I really wanted to do was to run a half marathon or maybe even a marathon again) when I was a busy wife and mom for four. So I never bought new running shoes. I continued to go on walks or listen to Jillian Michael bark orders at me during her 30-Day Shred (great, effective, and quick workouts, by the way, for busy moms). Then I met Katie. She was new to my neighborhood and a former runner, too, although she had kept up with running more than I had. Somehow it came up that I missed running and wanted to get back into it. She was excited. She wanted to run more again and was looking for a running buddy, so we made plans to meet bright and early the next week for a slow 3-miler. I owe my newfound happiness to this dear friend. I really do. She got me running and talking and believing that it was okay to do something just for myself as a mom. She also was crazy enough to get up at 5 am to meet me for 5:30 runs even in the rain. She pushes me, too. She recently was the first place female finisher in a local 5K.
Then came Rachel. Katie met her through a mutual friend. We all ran a long run one weekend and another running partnership and friendship were cemented. Rachel brought Lyndie into our herd. It’s not always the four of us running together, but sometimes it is. It depends on the day and whether or not one of our kids spent the day puking from a bug, but we’re a loyal, tight group. We stick together. We each bring our own running strengths as well as weaknesses to the pavement. We support each other, and we problem-solve. Just how do you deal with an irrational but extremely stubborn preschooler anyway?
Ever since that first (and scary) 3 miles back in the summer, I’ve been running. I do a few solo runs here and there, but mostly I’m with my girls. I’ve also been solidifying close relationships with fellow running moms. Rachel, who ran Boston in 2011, has helped me train the right way. She also hooked me up with the right gear and let me borrow her arm sleeves for race day. She invited me to run a memorial run for Boston. She makes me want to be a better runner, a better person. Katie, like I said, is the one who gave me the courage to lace up my running shoes again after a terribly long hiatus. She’s the kind of friend whom I could call in a parenthing pinch, and she’d be there (yes, she’d run to my side to help). She has even watched three of my kids, so I could find a cloister of calm at the grocery store. Lyndie is one of those women you meet who possesses a quiet strength. She’s got your back even if you don’t hear her yakking or pounding the pavement. Her peaceful presence conveys that she knows that in and with God she is enough. Lyndie and all the girls patiently listen to my rambling. I’m the big talker in the group. Running incites verbal diarrhea in me. It’s even worse than blogging. Seriously, the things that come out of my mouth.
This past Saturday I wasn’t talking much though. I was quiet and reflecting running through a total monsoon in the St. Jude’s Country Music Marathon in Nashville. This was my first big race other than a local 10K since I started running again. The weather was lousy and my feet resembled raisins after the race, but my spirits were high and I was happy with my run. I’ve got the itch again and have already signed up for another half in October with plans to run another one in December. My husband is the real one who rocked the rainy race day though. He juggled four kids in a torrential downpour. Oh, and did I mention my 57ish (not sure of his exact age) uncle ran the full marathon on Saturday? So did a mama-friend from my Bradley Birthing class I took when I was pregnant with my first, and someone I met at the Edith Stein Conference at Notre Dame back in February ran the half as well. Running brings people together.
Following the Boston bombings, my running fever heightened. It’s like the tweet that went viral said: “If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, runners are the wrong group to target.” One of the biggest Google trends after the bombings was “qualify for Boston.” I was one of those crazy hopefuls who Googled just that. Yup, I’ve added “qualify for Boston” to my bucket list. We’ll see how that goes, but a meaningful life seems to find its roots in simply attempting to try difficult things and then going to the next hard thing regardless of outcome. Cue Journey now: Don’t stop believin’. You know you’re hearing it in your head right now.
This poignant essay written in the aftermath of the Boston says it best:
When despair is overwhelming, what do we do? Go for a run. When stress is oppressive, what do we do? Go for a run. When hope is gone and all seems lost, what do we do? Go for a run.
A run can turn the worst day into the best day; it can bring us from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. I ran after September 11, I ran after the deaths of my grandparents, and I run whenever things aren’t going my way. It never fails.
If the perpetrators wanted to inflict lasting devastation, they could not have picked a worse target. Running defies destruction.
To run is to live. Running nourishes our muscles and nurtures our minds. It induces clarity of thought, vitality of physiology, and tranquility of emotion. It demands complete unity of body and spirit, it requires your legs, your lungs, your heart, your mind, but rewards all those parts too. It’s in this harmonious holism that we come to understand our true identities, our authentic selves. The universe’s uncertainty is distilled into a singularity: We exist in and of the moment. In the midst of entropy, serene bliss. In the midst of confusion, clarity. Surrounded by constraints, we are freed. Running creates.
But running is more than the antithesis of terror; it is also the antidote. Just as a vaccine implicates pestilence in its own defense, running takes pain as a template and produces something beautiful.
Terror holds no more power over running than wind over wildfire. Runners do not avoid suffering, they embrace it. Pain is merely the pathway to our potential. From the depths of agony rise meaning and purpose.
I could launch into a well-worn metaphorical analysis of how running a marathon is like natural childbirth – taking pain as a template and producing something beautiful – or how it mirrors the Christian life – how we’re not supposed to avoid suffering but to embrace it, to unite our wounds with Christ. All of this is true for me, but I’ll spare you the navel-gazing. After all, I know a lot of you probably aren’t runners. Likewise, if it seems like I’m going all OCD on running, it’s probably because I am just a little bit. But the truth is, I’ve never felt better mentally or physically. I’ve stopped weighing myself, but I’m pretty sure those last 7 to 10 pounds are still lingering, but that’s okay. I’m a nursing mama. I probably need a little extra padding. My husband has been incredibly supportive of my running renaissance. He even bought me a super-cool Garmin to help me with my training. He never really got on board with the blogging thing. He appreciated the additional income it and other writing pursuits provided when we needed it, but he felt like it sometimes drained me emotionally and resulted in me being too tethered to technology since I felt like I owed other bloggers comments and had an obligation to respond to every note, email, or comment I received in response to my own blog. His protector instinct also was wary of TMI floating around there. But running, he’s seen that it’s made me feel less lonely because of those awesome mothers and friends I’m honored to run with as well as taken some of my blues away. I didn’t even realize I was blue until those long-run endorphins starting flowing through my body again.
I am first and foremost a wife and mother. No personal record at a race will ever overshadow my greatest accomplishments: My four lovely children (and those babies I never got to hold and cuddle with on this earth). But running again has reminded me that I can have other identities, too. I can be a running mama.
Everyone is always telling me how quickly my children are going to grow up. This is true, and maybe it’s because of this truth that all of moms need to cultivate something that isn’t inextricably linked to our maternity. When those babies are all grown up and moving out, God-willing and body-willing, I can still hit the pavement with a good pair of running shoes and a couple of true friends and run. Maybe the empty nest won’t feel quite so gapingly empty then.
What is your passion? What did you do in your pre-mom days that you’d like to do again? Yes, we find ourselves through a gift of self, but this doesn’t mean we have to pull the martyr card and assume we don’t have time to nurture any talents that may or may not be related to motherhood.
So if anyone has been wondering where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to since stepping away from the online world, I’ve been getting my groove back. I’ve been pulling a Forest Gump and letting my feet take me places – some of them physical, some intellectual, and some even spiritual.
I’m not sure the future of this blog. I’ve been toying with different ideas: stop blogging completely and then on the other side of the spectrum, start writing more posts about how busy moms – especially those with several kiddos – can still make time for fitness. We’ll see. I hope some of you might stay along with me for the journey.
Now a random photo dump from the last week: