Fantastic Friday: A New Pair of Shoes

My son turned one recently, which is a big milestone. I’ve been selling many of the baby things, clearing out space in the house, and reclaiming time for myself as he sleeps longer through the nights (though not straight through just yet…).

The hardest years of my life were the two years when my children were infants. Being sleep-deprived is no joke, and when lack of sleep impedes the body’s ability to heal, things like illness and weight gain become a reality in addition to an inability to concentrate or process everyday thoughts and functions. Nutrition goes out the window, and any down time is dedicated to catching up on essentials (i.e., laundry, piles of dishes and bottle/pumping supplies) rather than only sort-of essentials (showering, finding an outfit that matches).

And even well-intentioned people, trying to be funny, have a way of making things harder. Sometimes a simple comment of “Bet you don’t have time to write much anymore with the baby, huh?”, even if said with a chuckle, stings more than the speaker could imagine.

It’s hard to explain what it feels like to lose the “self,” to spend one year, and then a second, with the primary task of keeping a small child alive. Things that used to stress me out about my full-time job seemed irrelevant, but a high fever could sweep me off my feet with worry like no meeting or deadline ever had. At the same time, things that used to give me purpose, like writing and running, also took a back seat. I was more of a function than a human.

Now that I am actively writing and running again, I feel that my soul and body are reconnected.

I have been thinking about how our society in general doesn’t offer much support to new mothers. It’s always been asserted that moms are superheroes, able to do amazing things non-moms could not imagine. I see how this is true, not because moms are stronger than others, but because we are simply pushed to our limits the way many don’t have to be.

I bought my husband a pair of running shoes for his birthday. The kids ended up falling asleep on the way to the running store, so I sent him in to a running specialty store with a list of possible candidates for running shoes while I waited in the car with the nappers. I considered waking the kids—I really wanted to look around in the store—but anyone with kids knows…let a sleeping baby/toddler nap.

My husband returned with an awesome pair, telling me that the sales clerk said “your wife knows her shoes.” The smile that brought to my face was surprising. The “runner” me existed in high school and college. That was the me that would consume stories in Runner’s World and track the progress of famous runners as they trained for big events. That part of me had been dormant for years. Why did a compliment from a stranger bring such joy?

“You should get a pair,” my husband said.

My current pair of running shoes was from the clearance rack of Kohls. They’re okay, but they’re nothing special. The “runner me” in high school would never have bought them to train in. I thought about what I would tell the sales clerk if I did go into that specialty store. “I used to run a lot, but now I’m mostly stuck behind a double stroller. So I don’t really need speed. Or performance. Or stability. I guess I’ll just stick with my old pair and save the money for daycare.”

I shrugged it off until I read a heartening story.  It’s from Runner’s World, and it’s about a woman named Lyndy Davis, who battled post-partum depression by returning to running with the goal of breaking the Guinness World Record for fastest half marathon with a child in tow. Her result is pending approval, but she ended up smashing her goal, running a half marathon at a 6:13 per mile pace.

6:13 per mile. Pulling a child.

She noted in an interview that her son was often up every night, every hour, on the hour, making her delirious with sleep deprivation.

I’ve been there.

Reclaiming running and merging her role as mother with her love of running brought her back.

Then I read about another woman, Cynthia Arnold, who ran a full marathon at a sub-7:20 per mile pace while pushing three kids—185 pounds of kids and stroller—the entire time. Her race is also a pending Guinness Record.

I share these stories because I’ve seen so many people wallowing in sorrow or self-pity. Those things are contagious. They are easy to spread. But so is positivity.

Seeing these women run with their children, after battling the same challenges of sleep deprivation that I’ve faced, was heartening to me. Most striking, perhaps, was Davis’s quote in a social media post about how running with her kids, she wasn’t even nervous about the race anymore, the way she used to be.

And it’s true. Having kids is the biggest challenge of my life. But it has made me stronger. Things that used to take up all my brain space with worry and anxiety and no big deal anymore. Kids have made me see what’s truly a priority. They’ve also made me prioritize, be more efficient.

As I think of these two women running faster than I probably ever care to again, I return to my husband’s offer for a new pair of running shoes. I think I’ll focus on cushion and bounce, something that’s good for jogging uphill behind a double stroller. But something with good response as well—for when I decide to smash my past few years of 5K times.

Besides, I always do my best brainstorming for novels when I’m out for a run.

 

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