Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Of dogs and marathons



Can the 4th of July really be here and gone already?  The July 4th holiday always feels like the mid-point of summer to me. Time is going too fast! Roxie is a 4th of July baby and we celebrated her birthday with a special pink dog treat and a trip to the dog park for a swim on a hot morning. Roxie is now 12 years old, an old dog by any measure. I told Charlie and Izzy the other day that Roxie was my first baby. They thought that was funny. My life with just Roxie 12 years ago was so very different from what it is now. When I brought Roxie home at 8 weeks old, I had just returned from living in Italy and was settling into a new job in a new city where I knew no one. We navigated St. Louis and then Kansas City together before we expanded our world and made room for our lovely little family. I think we've done pretty well for ourselves. 

I've heard it said that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. In marathon running, you have to be physically prepared, but true success in the race depends on your mental strength and attitude. My mental approach to a marathon involved dividing the 26.2 mile race into smaller segments, usually 4 sections of 6 miles each (the last 2.2 miles you just gut out and get across the finish line however you can). The first 6 miles was always about taking stock, first of my body - checking for any early muscle aches or soreness, determining how well I timed my last ingestion of calories and fluids, assessing whether I wore the right clothes and if I took the correct precautions against chafing - and then of my surroundings – figuring out where the wind was coming from and how the weather might change in the next 4 hours, and checking my pace in that beginning crush of runners. I tried to establish a comfortable pace in those early miles, one I could sustain for the entire race. 

Lately, I've been thinking about the parenting marathon as a 21 year race.  In reality, you attach your race number for the rest of your life, but let's consider just the childhood years for now. I've decided my mental approach to the parenting marathon will be to divide the race into 4 sections of 5 years each (and gut out the last year and get across the finish line anyway I can). I’m coming to the end of my first segment of the parenting marathon right now -  the years before kindergarten starts and the outside influences really creep in. Unlike with my running, I have approached this first leg of the parenting marathon without any training. I suppose training in other aspects of my life could translate to the parenting marathon - like having amazing parents and a loving family, and experiences like marriage and teaching. But definitely not the sport-specific training (i.e. actual parenting!) I prefer. It has been at times chaotic, inspiring, discouraging, rewarding, unexpected, and not without a significant amount of chafing. 

The first segment of a marathon always made me the most apprehensive, not knowing how my body would feel or respond, and not being able to predict all the adversity that might come my way. I had no idea what to expect in my first 5 years of parenting and the not knowing caused me many sleepless nights. I wondered if they would ever sleep through the night and worried about when they would take their first steps or utter their first word. Making sure your child is on pace with major developmental milestones is a lot like monitoring your splits at each mile marker. I'm a scientist. Making it about the numbers is reassuring, calming.

I always knew when I hit the 6 mile mark in the marathon that I would be ok, that I could indeed finish the race. And it was in the second 6 mile segment of the race that I felt the confidence of my training kick in, and when I could finally realize that I was in the middle of an amazing adventure. I knew then that the race would be a test of my will that would only make me stronger. My fears faded and my goals came into view. I focused on running my best race, staying mentally tough, and enjoying the moment. In the second 6 miles I always found my groove. 

In parenting, like running, I know there will be unexpected turns and hills not clearly marked on my race map. But hopefully the first 5 years of parenting – surviving, getting my race number on and to the starting line on time -  will give me confidence going forward. Here’s to finding my groove in the next leg of my parenting marathon. 

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