Running Lessons

I recently bought new running shoes. I knew mine were old because I had no memory of buying shoes after we moved from North Carolina, and we did that in late 2003. But then I looked under the tongue and saw that my shoes had, in fact, been manufactured in October 2002.


I had been wearing—and trying to run in—nearly thirteen-year-old running shoes.

As my daughter noted, “Those shoes are older than me, Mommy!”

So, I bought new running shoes from a very competent salesman who I suspect was closer in age to my shoes than he was to my own age.

These new running shoes feel like a miracle.

Oh, my! The cushioning! The support!

I love to run in them, and so I’ve been running in them two or three times a week just because I love to run in them and because running in them means that I’m not responsible to anyone else for a half-hour or more at a stretch (I’m mapping longer and longer runs every time I go out).

In all of this running, I’ve noticed a curious thing. Our neighborhood is hilly, and when I’m running on a flat stretch or a slight decline, I think, “Man! I could run forever! I am so fit!” And when I’m running on an incline, I think, “Oh, no! I am so out of shape! Why am I even running right now?”

It feels harder to run uphill, so I must be less fit. It feels easier to run a little downhill (although not a lot downhill), so I must be more fit.

Of course, whether the road goes uphill or down does not at all influence my level of fitness, but that’s the first place my brain goes: it judges me based on external circumstances.

I wonder when else I’ve judged myself based on external factors, and because it’s what I do 24 hours a day, my thoughts inevitably turn to parenting.

I think about the time I was leading a La Leche League meeting about Gentle Guidance, and my three-year-old simply would not mind me at all. She was a holy terror, in fact, and although I was hugely pregnant—which is the only way I know how to be pregnant—I cut myself no slack. If I couldn’t get her to mind, I was apparently not qualified to speak about Gentle Guidance.

I think about the multiple times—the most recent just this morning—when my homeschooling session with my son has involved him refusing to even try to subtract nine from any other number and then bursting into tears and my barely avoiding (and sometimes not at all avoiding) yelling at him, because for Pete’s sake, I know he knows this. Why isn’t he even trying? And because I’m nearly yelling or actually yelling I think, “I totally suck at this. Why am I homeschooling my kids? What made me think I was qualified to do this?”

But now I’m thinking that each of these instances—and many others like them—are the parenting equivalent to running uphill. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, I wonder if I’ll make it. But how difficult it feels at that moment has practically no relation to how fit I am to do it.

Because today at Trader Joe’s, two women went out of their way to tell me how delightful my children are and how clearly they love one another and what a great job I’m doing.

Because yesterday when we were having dinner, my son declared to all assembled that he LOVES math, and when we were doing his facts practice sheet today—subtracting nines—he said, “I’m flying through these like they’re nothing!”

Those are the downhill moments, and they say just as much about how fit I am as a parent as the uphill moments, but they’re a heck of a lot more encouraging.

Back in my La Leche League days, I had a co-leader whose mantra was, “Never quit on your worst day.” I’ve heard many criticisms of this idea, but it continues to work for me. If things aren’t working, they won’t work on our best day. But even if we have a horrible day, that doesn’t mean things aren’t working overall. It just means we’re having a horrible day. Things may well work just fine tomorrow, but I’ll never find that out if I quit on the worst day.

So, although I’m years past my La Leche League days, I still take this lesson to heart. It keeps me running up those hills, smiling all the way at that voice that tries to convince me that because it’s difficult, I shouldn’t be doing it.

When do you hear that voice that tells you to throw in the towel because you’re just not good enough? Do you listen to the voice, or do you laugh at it and keep on keeping on?

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