He rolls out of bed before me. This is rare. Usually I’m the early riser, eager to jumpstart the day and take advantage of the only few minutes with a quiet house. But today I’m less motivated. I’m not tired (other than the usual mother-of-three hangover that I assume will follow me for years.) I don’t have a big meeting to lead (unless you count the pow wow around the breakfast table when I will be berated with questions about the day’s itinerary only to be told by the board members that the plans are not to their standards. Not sure who is the president here, me or them.) There is only one thing keeping me in bed. And he knows it.
I smell it before I see it. Hot coffee placed at my nose. He knows what he is doing, knows I can’t keep my eyes closed when the coffee is ready and waiting.
He wins. I sit up. But that doesn’t stop me from releasing The Sigh.
"I don’t want to go running today." My children would be proud of that expert whine.
He grins that "I knew you were going to say that" grin.
"It’s still so humid. And I didn’t drink enough water yesterday. And it’s going to be so hilly. And I just haven’t felt strong lately. I don’t see how I can do this."
"It’s just one more mile, babe."
Just one more mile. Same long run as last week plus one extra mile. I’m in the middle of half marathon training and it is starting to mess with my confidence. It’s not my first experience with this distance. But no matter how many times I complete the mileage, it always feels like an impossibility. 13 miles is ridiculous.
"I know. I know. I know." I repeat back to him, eyes rolling, exaggerated sigh again.
Just one more mile. Surely I can do one more mile. I don’t need to think about anything more than that. Just that one mile.
One year ago I greeted my husband at the door bouncing a fussy baby in one arm and shaking a bottle with the other.
"I’m going for a run. Do you think you could handle bedtime?"
We hadn’t tried a bottle with this one yet. He was only 6 weeks, and my body is resistant to pumping so what was the rush? But that day, I felt the rush. Earlier in the afternoon my doctor cleared me to move beyond a walk following the c-section delivery. With previous babies I inaugurated this milestone with a run. I saw no reason why today should be any different.
Except it was different. Three children is VERY different. Three is loud and chaotic and demanding. Two people have a hard enough time staying on top of it all, constantly in the defensive side of the game. It didn’t seem fair to throw him in, solo, without any backup. They could eat him alive!
Which is precisely why I needed to go. I was on day four of the solo parenting of three since he went back to work following family leave. I was done. Every part of my being needed a break. And we both needed to trust it was possible. Me more than him. Confidence comes easier for him, even if it is a front.
"Sure, we got this. Go for your run."
In one swift movement he took bottle and baby into his own hands and pushed me out the door, with what, his third hand? However he did it, he knew if he didn’t move me out quickly enough, I might change my mind. This is why he is good for me. Knows what I need when I don’t know it myself.
I made my way down the front steps, searched deep into the archives for the running playlist, and with a deep breath I began to run.
Running after babies is always the same. It’s sloppy. Every body part, including the internal organs, bounce around, lost, confused, searching for the place they used to be before. None of us are sure if we are in the right place or if we will ever be back where we started.
But I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Not today, I thought. I would run, or fast walk, or wiggle waggle my way down that sidewalk. Whatever it took, I would move. Movement forward was all that was required of me. And movement for no one but myself. There was no race. No destination. Only one foot in front of the other.
Pep talk done, I settled into the run slowly. It was hard to find the familiar when so much of this body still felt foreign. But before long, I sense a smile ease across my face. Maybe it was the Ga Ga song that popped up on my playlist. Or the gradual realization that I was alone for the first time in weeks. Whatever the reason, I was happy. For mingled in the bouncing and shifting of my weak body, there also lies a fragment of hope. To be free again, to move your body for no one but yourself, is a gift you don’t know you have until it is taken from you for 9, 10, 11 months. The return to moving your body again, however messy it might seem, brings overwhelming feelings of gratitude.
After what had to be the longest mile, I came to a stop. I found myself at the beach by the neighborhood lake. To an outsider, to another better runner than I, it could look like I stopped to take in the view. Truthfully, my body could not go any further.
"Enough." I panted to myself. "Enough for today." I lingered a bit by the shore, wanting to stretch my alone time as best I could. And also I couldn’t breath. But the sun was already behind the trees, and I needed to get home. I made the return, adding one more mile to my run, one more sloppy, grateful mile.
"Wait till next year," She told me. She has always been one step ahead of me in the parenting department. Her oldest was nearly a year older to the date. I listen to her like my parenting soothsayer. There is wisdom in that extra year.
While she held my four week old we were chatting about post baby running, another area of guidance she brings me.
"Take this year to just get stronger. Ease in slowly. Just run for fun. You can put a race on the calendar next year when you are out of the thick of it."
So I did.
And here we are, one year later, with a race on the calendar in 6 weeks, and me complaining about my long run.
How easy it is to forget how far I have come since then. As a family, as a mother, as a runner. I didn’t get there by sitting in bed and whining. I got up. I handed off the baby. Or more often than not, brought him along. And I ran.
I didn’t need to be strong on day one. I just needed to move forward. One mile at a time.
One feeding at a time. One nap at a time. One milestone. One tantrum. One mistake. One correction. One patient, or not so patient, learning moment by us all at a time.
That’s mothering. That’s running.
He was right. She was too. I didn’t need to run that half marathon today. Just one more mile. I have been doing it this way for a year now. Getting stronger, one slow and sloppy step at a time
So I pop the headphones on. Head out the door. Take a deep breath. And I run, feeling grateful for partner who can be right sometimes (but never tell him I said that,) a friend with the wisdom of experience, and a body stronger and more capable than it was before.