Now that my girls are both gone at school all day, Elizabeth in first grade and Caroline in Kindergarten, things have changed. At times it’s as if our John is an only child. I suppose he is for those seven hours they are away. While we miss the girls and their abundant energy, John and I are discovering that we also get to have a lot of fun together, just the two of us!
I must admit it is very tempting to use that time with only one child in tow to squeeze in all my errands; the weekly Target run, a stop at the grocery store, a quick peek in a couple of my favorite shops in town. After all, these tasks are much less complicated without trips to the potty (John’s still in diapers), children bickering over who’s turn it is to carry the Elsa doll or arguing about who gets to ride on the end of the shopping cart. That’s not to say that John is easy. He now knows how to unbuckle the belt in the stroller and if I turn away for thirty seconds he is standing in it with a “nana nana boo boo” grin on his face. Then, he’s running away and I’m chasing after him shouting out bribes that almost always end with me buying candy or cake pops at Starbucks on the way home. I once left a store carrying him barefoot under my arm like a football, almost in tears myself, swearing I would never return.
Well, today after John’s swimming lesson (where I had all the instructors at Goldfish laughing at me as I tried to get John to stop crying by showing him how to float on the raft and instead I fell off rather ungracefully), I was planning to fit in some unnecessary errands. Maybe a quick run in Heinen’s for a loaf of bread and coffee, a pop-in to the book store for the new cookbook I’ve been wanting, or a speedy drive thru the car wash to clean up the mud still left on my car from the county fair. But today, something kept me from making any of those turns even though I passed right by each of these establishments.
As I got closer to home I approached one of the Metroparks trails we have driven by hundreds of times and never stopped to show the kids. I thought of my run through that park the week before when I was caught off guard by it’s beauty. The car then seemed to almost turn into the lot on it’s own. We parked there at Jackson Field, just a half mile down our street, but soon it felt as if we were on an adventure far away.
The sights and sounds of the late summer morning surrounded us. We stopped “shhh” and listened to the singing of the cicadas, the chirping of the crickets, and the funny squawk of an unfamiliar bird. The fields of goldenrods were ablaze with color. John galloped threw the wet, freshly plowed grass path heading toward the river, as the gold finches danced past us and the dragonflies flitted by.
Suddenly, there was no place on Earth I’d rather be than in that unexpected moment. With my not-so-baby boy by my side, we were explorers, adventurers. We approached a fork in the trail. “Which way should we go?” I asked John. I knew the river lay just a short distance ahead and I was hoping we could find a clear path through the tall grass to see it. In his typical, confident voice he pointed, “That way!” The mosquitos were biting, so we were tempted to turn back. But, then we heard the trickle of water and we knew we were close. After a few more turns we were able to see it just barely through the trees, the Chagrin River, our final destination. Chagrin River – so close that it’s also the name of our street, but today we were far away on a long journey. With John on my hip, we stopped to admire the sunlight twinkling on the water as it flowed over rocks and fallen limbs. That’s when the mosquitos had us running toward home.
When my children complain when it rains, I tell them that the rainy days help us appreciate the sunny days even more. If every day were sunny, we might begin to take them for granted. Similarly, not every day can or should be full of adventure and fun. We all have responsibilities; work, school, chores, workouts and even errands. There’s often not time to stop at the playground, sit down and color, play a game, or go explore the park you’ve never stopped at before. I am a huge proponent of making time in our busy lives for the things WE love. It makes us better people and better parents to be fulfilled and happy. I also think there is value in your child having to go on errands and learning that life is not always about them. But, some days, on this particular day, I wanted it to be about him… and me, together, just the two of us.
As I was logging eight miles on a longer run recently, I was thinking how parenthood is comparable in some ways to running a marathon. I’ve only run half marathons, but I know how I feel by mile 13 so I can imagine how one feels during miles 14 through 26.2. Like parenthood, you start out the race very enthusiastic, a little nervous and overwhelmed, but confident that you will give it your all, energized by the excitement and anticipation. The first couple of miles (or weeks and months in the parenthood metaphor) you play mind games with yourself as you think, “If it is this tough so early on, how am I going to make it the whole way?” Yet you keep on. About 5 or 6 miles (or 5 or 6 months) in you begin to get into a zone, where you know what to expect, sort of. You just keep putting one foot in front the other. Some miles (days) are really challenging, in fact, some totally suck. You manage some rolling hills (sleepless nights) and tackle some steep climbs (the “terrible twos”), and you feel very tired. At times, you think, “I am no good at this!” You look around the others who seem to really know what they are doing. You feel discouraged. But then you finally reach the top of a summit or maybe the bottom of a hill. Or you experience an unexpected moment of motherly pride, fulfillment and bliss and it’s as if you are on top of the world.
I love to run, but I don’t love every minute while I’m running. Likewise, I can’t say that I enjoy every minute of parenthood. But the little nuggets of unexpected greatness like John and I happened upon today (that top of the summit feeling) are what make the rainy days, the challenging miles worthwhile. Today was a good reminder that perhaps more often I should resist the temptation to spend that free hour or two checking items off my to do list. After all, I can’t experience the euphoria of that moment at the top of the hill in my race called parenthood, if I’m at Nordstrom expecting my child to sit quietly and watch me try on shoes. I can’t help my children appreciate the gift of a sunny day if I’m wasting it inside a big box store. Even if presented with just a quick thirty minutes to spare, I challenge myself to stop at that park, walk the trail, find the river, make a memory. The adventure John and I created today is one I will always remember. I am certain a trip to Target would likely have ended with some tantrums and poor behavior (his and mine) I’d prefer to forget.