Motherhood and Running – Perfectly Imperfect Together

Perfect.  I’ve come to really dislike that word.

I was the perfect child.  Rarely, if ever, in trouble, straight A’s all the way through grad school.  Did as I was told and had the world at my doorstep.  Career planned out.  Oh I was going places. And those places would, no doubt, be perfect.

Then I became a mother.  Of three boys.  I imagined raising young boys of impeccable manners, eager to clean their rooms, help their mom and never say an unkind word to anyone, not even each other. 

I was going to have perfect children.  Just like me.

Well, children have a way of throwing all those visions out the window into a big steaming heap.  My sons are well mannered for the most part, but will eagerly laugh hysterically at the slightest hint of a burp or, as regularly happens in our house of 4 males, wind from the other end.  My goal of 3 well dressed boys in khakis and collared shirts?  I’m lucky if they have anything that isn’t stained or ripped.  And right now with the growth rates we are experiencing, a pair of pants that isn’t 3 inches above their ankles.

I’ve scaled back my expectations, and I’ve realized that that is a good thing.  My kids are happy and well adjusted, for the most part anyway. And the stress – though still there – has been reduced as I realize that my kids are their own selves and with a little guidance from hubby and me, will turn out just fine. Forget perfection.

Then last year I decided to take up running.  I’ve never been athletic but I decided I wanted to run.  I wasn’t going to start at a short 5k (though I ran one – but it wasn’t timed, so in my mind, it didn’t count.)  Heck no.  I was going for a race with the word “marathon” in it.

And I was going to be the perfect runner, gosh darn it.  Just like I was going to be the perfect mother.

I did pretty well for my very first athletic accomplishment. I finished the half marathon in 2:23.  I was quite proud of myself for my first “official” race.  But I needed to go further.  I signed up for a marathon.  26.2 miles.

And I was going to run the perfect newbie marathon.  I had the shoes, the running skirt, the support of family and friends, and I’d done the training.  But it took me a long time.  A realllyyyy long time.  5 hours and 28 minutes.  I thought I could finish in less than 5, perhaps even 4:30, based on some of my better training runs.  But 26.2 miles is a heck of a long way, especially in bright 70 degree sunshine.  I did well for the first half but at about mile 21 I bonked and half walked/ran the rest of the way.  But I crossed the finish line upright and smiling.

I was proud of myself – but disappointed too.  I didn’t run my “perfect” marathon – perfect by my standards any way.  I had different expectations for how I would feel at the end.  I was laughed at by someone who thought my time was slow, and told I was selfish for training for such a long time.  After all it took time away from my family – as if that was my only reason for existence, thank you very much.  I had great support from the Run Like a Mother community which made me feel so much better.  But still, part of me felt like I had failed.

Just like there are days when I feel like am failing as a mother.  You know those days, when the only way you can survive is to park the kids in front of the goggle box and lay on the couch.  Those days when you can not deal with one more argument, fight, spilled glass of milk, load of laundry or toilet to clean.

But running has put this whole experience in perspective.  When you run, you put one foot in front of the other and keep going.  There are days when you are slow, and days when you are fast.  There are days when you can’t drag yourself out of bed and there are days when you hop out of bed and go straight to your happy place while putting on your running shoes.

Just like there are days when you can’t stand motherhood, and then days when your kids tell you that you are beautiful and the best mom in the world.  You just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep on going, avoiding the legos strewn across the floor, of course.

So my visions of being the perfect mother, the perfect runner?  Replaced by visions – and reality – of being a mother runner who is doing her best.  Putting one foot in front of the other, the best – and only – way I can.

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