It happens like a whisper, like a sunrise, like that instant between the moment your head was resting on your pillow, thinking about the rigors of the next day and the moment the thought went from practical plan to dreamy catharsis. That is how slowly, yet suddenly, I go from leading my children through some adventure or task, to following behind them as they gallop off to something that is theirs alone to experience.
Lately I’ve asked myself whether or not this is truly the end, as it would often seem to be, of the most essential, and banal, tasks of parenting. If I were raising polar bear cubs, for instance, we would have parted ways long ago, but thankfully, they need much more from me and I have much more to give. And yet the shift, or the idea of the shift, is difficult in that I am left mystified by the subtlety of time and the amazing changes that it produces with unnoticeable effort.
Not all that long ago, Nora Ruth was attending school and Alliene and Thomas were small enough to fit in my tandem stroller, and I could go for my morning run without giving much thought to how any of them were going to participate. Of all the things I expected to change once I started homeschooling Nora Ruth, my exercise regiment was something that I totally overlooked. I fretted and complained that I had lost this time for myself until my husband sat me down and asked why I thought I no longer had time for exercise. Very reasonably, I explained that it took too much time away from “school time” and that I felt guilty about dragging the kids through my thirty-minute exercise routine.
I have a knack for allowing my determination to wrap itself entirely around my head, becoming effective blinders for dealing with anything that appears contrary to my goal, and that is exactly what I had done. Clif explained to me, quite patiently, that exercise was good for our kids and part and parcel of both a balanced life and education. And so began a new exercise regiment which probably had its greatest effect on my patience and ability to cope with the non-stop, all-day, Scott children.
I ran, they rode, three laps around the rv park making a 3 mile trek amongst pretty forgiving traffic. It has also been nice to be back in north Orlando these past several weeks where we can exercise on the North Orange Trail. We’ve had our ups and downs- Alliene was working with a bike that was really too small to keep up the pace so we had to upgrade her and Thomas has recently become adverse to being pushed along on his scooter and would rather take a more horizontal position in the stroller- but our exercise is something we all generally enjoy.
In November, I challenged Nora Ruth to run a 5k with me for the prize of getting her ears pierced. If she was tough enough to work towards and meet that goal, her daddy and I would allow her to partake in this especially feminine rite of passage. Her good days were great but her bad days were horrible. Imagine one of those days when you really don’t feel excited about it, but as you slog through your run anyway you’re constantly thinking about how you can’t make it or don’t feel up to it. Now imagine how a seven-year old handles that head game. I often joked with friends and family members who asked about our progress that I used to feel sorry for myself for having to put up with the whining and the fighting and the excuses on what should have been a pleasant, peaceful run. Now, running with my teammate, Nora Ruth, I had to put up with all of the above at a 15min-mile pace.
In spite of all the slow-mo tantrums, I really did enjoy running more than I ever have before, running with my eldest child, pushing my youngest on his scooter, and chasing my middle child on her bike. Nora Ruth and I ran our 5K in February, both of us finishing before we even realized that the race was over. Her enthusiasm for running has waned since then and she prefers to ride her bike when we exercise but she’s maintained her strength and her endurance, both a trophy of her hard-won goal and a blessing of youth. I hope we will be running partners again, one day.
Until then, I’m content to be in the way, way back, watching her pedal furiously to blast ahead, stand up on both pedals or let go of a handle bar to test her balance, or even stop far ahead on the side of the trail to examine some creature. For several months, I had Alliene to encourage or chat with as her little legs weren’t capable of outdistancing me, even on two wheels. When Nora Ruth started running with me, Alliene assumed the lead and we began calling her “our pacer”. Only a few months ago she had lagged behind (especially on her smaller bike) or managed to stay just a hair’s breadth from the front toe of my sneakers as I urged her to “keep it up!”. Suddenly she was charged with counting laps and keeping up our momentum. As we came down the home stretch one day, a neighbor remarked that “one of them” was getting away from me. I laughed and replied that she was our “pacer”. He shrugged and said, “Well, it looks like she has outpaced you and she’s just winning.” And just like that, she wasn’t riding to keep up with me anymore.