When I’m not running myself, I go out to cheer on as many half-marathons and marathons as I can. While I am amazed by the leaders of the pack, and their admirable speed, it is the recreational runners who really make an impact on me. I am inspired by the average person who has trained and committed to run a 21.1 km or 42.2 km race – for charity, for their health, or to tick a lifelong goal off their bucket list.
Two of my friends just ran their first marathon in Toronto. My kids and I planted ourselves at the 35 km mark (7.2km away from the finish line). The 35 km mark is where – for many marathoners – the wheels come off. Some people hit the wall. The mind says yes, but the legs say no. Or the legs say this will hurt tomorrow, and the mind says enough is enough. This last stretch of the marathon is difficult, mentally and physically.
I have run four marathons, and I know that the people I encounter on the sidelines around the 35 km mark are crucial.
Things that people say can make all the difference between walking the rest of the way (or even walking off the course) or digging deep down into your physical and mental energy stores to keep yourself going. A positive thought. A clap. A cheer. A word of encouragement. When you feel depleted and start to doubt your ability to finish, these things can make all the difference. Locking eyes with someone as they say, “you can do it,” can give you the push you need to get through the rest of the run.
As my kids and I stood on side of the race route -- cheering on my friends and hundreds of strangers -- it occurred to me that on some days motherhood is a lot like a marathon. There are the times when you say "brush your teeth", but the kids say "no". There are times when you hit the wall, when it’s all a bit too much, when you wish you could just walk off the course. And a kind gesture, a simple smile of acknowledgement, a locking of eyes that say “I see you, I get it” can give you the push to get to your finish line that day.
There have been many times in the past five years since becoming a mother when strangers have shown me unexpected kindness. Whether it has been the opening of a door, lifting a stroller, holding my coffee while I held a baby and a burp cloth, a look of understanding that says, “I’ve been there and this too shall pass” when a trip to the grocery store gets cut short unexpectedly, or simply a smile of recognition, I recognize that these strangers are cheering along the sidelines of parenthood.
At one point, my five-year-old daughter asked me why we were still cheering for people long after my friends had run by and we had shouted encouragement as they passed. I said, because sometimes all runners need a little support or encouragement. And it doesn’t have to come only from friends or family.
And although raising kids is a far longer commitment than running a marathon, sometimes knowing that you have the support of others can make all the difference.
Have you had a moment when a stranger on the sidelines has helped you through a marathon day of motherhood?
“I’ll finally be happy when… [I have a little more this…a little more that…a little more time…more sleep…more energy…more money…more room in my kitchen…more freedom…more help…more vacation…more love…more clothes…more wisdom…more coffee…more support…more experience…more understanding…more chocolate…more car…more peace…] When I have a little more (insert word here), then…yes, THEN, I’ll finally be happy.”
We’ve all said it. Or some variation of it.
When I was in my mid-20s I was convinced that if I found a little more love, if I made a little more money, and lost a little more weight – all of these things held the promise of happily ever after.
I put my energy into making them happen. And they did. I fell madly in love, I turned 30, I made more money, and I lost more weight. I got engaged. I got a book deal. And happiness? It was there, certainly. In fits and starts. But it didn’t provide the sense of peace I yearned for. In fact, it seemed that there was always something more to seek. Always something more to strive for. As if one promise of happiness was fulfilled and then immediately replaced by another thing to get a little more of.
And so life went on. I got pregnant. My husband and I moved. We made sure we had all the gadgets and the baby things that everybody said we needed. And then my daughter was born. There was so much that I hadn’t anticipated. More sleepless nights, more diapers, more worries and more life lessons than I could ever have imagined. But later in that first year of her life, when I was too exhausted to focus on getting more of anything other than making it through each moment, each day, each week, a strange contentment settled in.
Within my daughter’s laugh, within the calm beauty of her body curled in on herself while she slept, within the wave of her hand as she mimicked the leaves on the trees, there was so much more to be happy about. A different kind of “more.” And this contentment, this deep peace remained present. There have been many changes since then – life, work, the birth of our son, and the continual rollercoaster that young children take you on in their first few years of life.
I have had many moments of wishing for more of this or more of that. But at the very core of me, what I have learned is this: getting a little more doesn’t mean more of what’s next or what’s new or what we can get or what we can have. It’s not about things to come and it’s not dependent on “when such-and-such happens”.
Getting a little more in my world means turning my attention to the here, the right now, and getting as much as I can out of this moment.
Look up, look around, look within. Breathe deeply, open your arms, and love – and you will always get a little more. Because it really is all right here. In this moment.