Yesterday all four of us headed to the park. The plan was that I would run three miles while my husband played on the playground with the kids. Next my husband would run four miles while I played with the kids. Our plan was a good one, but sometimes plans need altered.
When we got to the park I optimistically started stretching and got ready to hit the trail. My son’s eyes were on me. I could almost hear them saying, But I don’t want you to run. I want to run with you. In the past I would have sternly told him that he could not run with me because I liked being alone while I ran.
He soon verbalized what I knew he was thinking. I hesitated, then changed my mind about doing what I always do and telling him no. Maybe it has something to do with my realization that Kindergarten is right around the corner and we’ll be spending less time together, but primarily I think it was because I am feeling better and I am able to attend to him with more care than I have been able to lately.
The healthier I feel the more I realize that, in the past, I have overcompensated for my mental illness by controlling and perfecting other aspects of my life — running being one of them.
Once I decided to throw my three-mile-run-in-solitude plan to the wayside, my whole outlook changed. My husband wandered off after my daughter who headed to the play ground on her tricycle, and my son and I set off down the trail to attempt a one-mile run together.
Instantly I could see how hard he was trying to run because he wanted to go at my pace. Of course, I knew he’d never sustain my pace or be able to run a whole mile without a few breaks.
With newfound happiness, I altered my expectation for the days exercise plan. I taught him how to pump his arms and extend his stride. I taught him how important it is to pace himself during his one-mile attempt with me. I coached him on looking ahead and not behind himself when he ran.
Time became elusive and it was only him and I on the trail, connecting and enjoying fresh air and sun. After awhile he tired and said he needed to walk. So we did. We chatted about the corn fields, filled with dead, brown hay, and how throughout the spring we could watch the fields turn green together and watch for the first sprouts. During the summer we could watch the stalks grow tall and look for the corn. He asked me questions about when we could pick it, and I explained to him that the fields belonged to a farmer, but that we could buy it at a roadside stand.
Before long he was running again, and I was patiently in stride next to him trying to let him set the pace this time. He was getting the hang of it, but I knew he’d need to walk again. As he slowed down he told me he needed to stretch “just like I do.” I humored him and we stretched near a bench, then sat down on the pavement and I taught him a few leg stretches. I felt more connected to him, locking eyes as we talked, than I have in a long time, and it was sweet to share this time with him instead of pounding the pavement alone trying to sort out my troubled mind.
As we stretched, he opened up to me about how he was feeling at swimming lessons. Even though he had experienced some success last week by swimming five feet by himself, he told me that he was afraid that this week the instructor would ask him to do something he didn’t know how to do. I talked to him about how learning to swim takes time and that the instructor will be able to know when he is ready to learn the next step. I told him that it takes lots of practice.
We got up and almost finished our run before we saw my husband and daughter headed our way. Feeling fulfilled by our run, he joined them and I did saunter off by myself for one uninterrupted, solo mile. I know I could have run another mile or two, but instead, once I met up with my family again I decided to do some interval running with both the kids.
My husband took off for his run, and the kids and I eventually headed back to the playground. I watched them play, get dirty in a sandbox, shoot a Nerf gun together, and occasionally bicker. We ate apples and oranges together on a bench in the sun.
I thought to myself, Wow this feel so good. I didn’t run my typical disciplined three-mile weekend run, but today’s exercise has rewarded me. I was present.
After my husband finished his run, we all walked back to the car together feeling happy-tired. I kept waiting for something bad to happen to me, like stepping in a pile of dog crap or something, just because I was feeling so amazing. I’m not used to feeling good without assuming that I’ll eventually be punished for it. (Or so my mind has told me).
Some days are just good.