November 9, 2010

For the past 7 years, I have accomplished most of my runs by running with some company.  I can’t think of a run that I’ve done without my constant and steadfast companion, my dog Josie.  But at least 65% of my runs over this time period have been run while pushing one or 2 of my 3 children.

I have very strong and powerful memories of running in Cedar Rapids, which will always be a depressing and smelly town from my perspective.  As a new wife and a new mom, I pushed my newborn daughter through the NE side, trying to make sense of the roads, trying to get my bearings in both literal and figurative ways.  We lived near the Mt. Mercy campus, and to this day, I can’t think of more challenging hills than I endured on that small and lovely campus.  Over the course of those early years, Natalie and I talked about everything.  She learned to identify all the sights and sounds of the outside world, and later, I got to listen in as she learned to tell her little stories with her Polly Pocket dolls.  Once I got in good enough shape, I was able to sing with her while running, first the alphabet, but later Old MacDonald — strangely enough, her farms must have resembled some sort of GLBT Puppy Mills, if such things exist.  On and on we’d sing, about Red Dogs, Pink Dogs, Green Dogs, Purple Dogs…  E — I, E — I, Oooooooo.

Even when Max arrived, Natalie remained my running buddy.  I’d time my runs to be post-nursing events, when Max would doze off in my arms, and I could put him down to take a nice long nap.  So Daddy was in charge, but admittedly it was a pretty easy job of mainly making sure that Max was still breathing (“Please check him every 10 minutes!”) and not setting the house on fire.  So Natalie and Josie and I would take off and explore City Park and other routes now that we moved to Iowa City, the college-town dynamic that was more to my liking given where I had grown up.

When I was pregnant with Timothy, and then during maternity leave and beyond, Timothy became my running partner.  Back to the infant accessories and a much lighter load to push up and down the inevitable hills in our neighborhood.  It seemed like a natural transition, and I just took for granted that Natalie and Max were able to entertain themselves with some minimal supervision from my husband, who could keep an eye on things while he read the paper and did his own morning routine.

Lately though, Max has emerged as my Dark Horse, my favorite little man to take along on my runs.  Out of the blue, one morning as I was heading out the front door, after having set the kids up with access to some toys, some soy milk (Natalie) or almond milk (Max) and having pre-selected a show that was in keeping with our family values, Max hurried to me  and declared, “I want to come with you!”

“You do?!?”

“Yes, I want to come with you!”

And so I delayed my own start to get him set up to come along in the newly cool weather, including a drink and a snack, a jacket and hat, and transplanted Timothy from the single running stroller to the double one, and put Max alongside, and put him in charge of handing out snacks to his little brother.

For the next hour, I enjoyed the company of my imaginative and observant 3 1/2 year old, who noticed everything and was thrilled to tell me about all of it.  “Look Mommy, a UPS truck!”  “Look at that crow up there!”  “There’s our church!”

I realized what an excellent memory Max has for things we’ve seen and done in the past.  I noticed how polite he is.  I noticed how UN-demanding he is in comparison to his siblings.

By the end of the run, I felt compelled to just hold Max for a minute after I helped him out of the stroller.  “Thank you Max, for talking to me during my run, it really helped me to have fun with you.”

Since that day, Max has joined me on several other runs.  Our best moment so far was an early morning run during a stretch of time when Max was waking up much earlier than usual.  We had managed glimpses of bats and even a raccoon, but those sightings paled in comparison to a huge owl we happened to notice up in a lone tree set close to the sidewalk near our house.  As we stopped and quietly watched it, it turned its head the impossible distance that only owls can achieve.  A slow blink, and then it spread it wings and silently dropped from the tree, gliding off, nearly effortlessly and motionless, and disappeared into the darkness of the pre-dawn sky.  Max and I didn’t know what else to say, other than “Wow, Max.”  “Wow, Mommy.”

The other day, I was still in the tail end of the funk that had been hanging on for a few days.  I needed some time outside to clear the last of the black thoughts out of my head, and hooked up my dog’s leash and prepared to head out the front door.   I was still having a pity party and wanted to be alone.

“I want to go with you Mommy.”

“No, Max, not today.  Mommy wants to go alone today.”

“But Mommy, I want to go.  I’ll talk to you!”

One guess whether or not I changed my mind.  (It’s the eyelashes.  Max, like many little boys, has those seductive long eyelashes that it seems only boys are blessed with.  Gets me every time.)

I know the days are limited, how long I can push my kids in my stroller before we reach its weight limit, or the limits of my own strength as I try to power them up the hills on my route.  I know I’m much slower when I take them along.  I know I have to plan to take breaks to play at a playground we pass, or to go potty, or to look at something interesting and discuss what it is and what it’s doing.  But these runs with my kids are the best parts of my attempts at fitness.  I get to know them in ways that just wouldn’t be possible any other way.  And perhaps they are getting to know something about me that I can’t just talk to them about, or teach them about in any other way.  I want to move, I want to be outside, and I want to share it with them.

And if someone wants to talk to me while I’m doing it, well, I’m going to listen.


One Response to “Chatterbox.”

  1. Nina Says:

    You ARE a great mom. Your story made me think that maybe running is more than just the next foot fall on the pavement in front of you. Someday you will hear the other side of the story from their point of view. What a wonderful investment!

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