Our family is a Track and Field family. We run, we jump. This is because we're often not super coordinated and to add an unstable factor into the equation like a ball that will bounce, roll, or get swiped by the opponent may flummox us into a face plant. Oddly, we can hurdle, which makes no sense, but there you are. Probably fits in with the whole "we can jump" part of it. At any rate, for this reason, I have been to many, MANY track meets. I love them. There's always something going on, something to cheer for, all kinds of events to interest anyone.
Except for one. There is one event at your average high school track meet that even the competitors don't like: the Two Mile. It's EIGHT laps around the track. The kids who run this are generally the same kids who run Cross Country in the fall and are used to road running, scenery, SOMETHING to concentrate on other than running in endless circles! More than once, I've seen a poor kid lose count and think they were done a lap too soon. It's awful. This happens because there are so many laps, the fast kids always lap the others at least once. Sometimes twice. And the real heroes of this race, in my opinion, are the slow kids who know they are slow and know they are going to get lapped repeatedly, but they STILL RUN. And I would cheer them more enthusiastically if they didn't take a friggin' half hour to finish! This race will be run TWICE in any meet because there's one race for the girls and one for the boys. And it's usually raining.
It is this race, however, that holds a great analogy (I tried to type anomaly there, probably also fitting) for me today. The Two Mile is not pretty, not exciting (except on rare occasions during the last 100 meters), and not fun. It is, however, the Mother of All Races. This is the one only the bravest (or the completely unaware and uninitiated) will willingly sign up for. It is also the perfect comparison to parenting. And I am on the Sixth Lap.
Here's the breakdown. As I describe the laps, apply these descriptions to the different stages of parenting. You will be both amazed and despondent. Keep the chocolate close.
First Lap -- first lap is always rough and exciting at the same time. Everyone is getting their pace down, waiting for their body to get its running rhythm going, getting over the First Wind, and waiting for that Second Wind to kick in. Everyone is excited and destinies are far from decided. Anything could happen!
Second/Third Lap -- Mid-first mile is great! You're feeling good, you've still got gas in the tank, your pace is feeling solid, things are looking awesome, nothing serious is happening here. Lots of potential still. Many often make the mistake here of thinking they really are Superman and somehow their unknown potential is going to sparkle forth today! They daringly take the lead and stride out confidently, wantonly passing the runner expected to win. The greatest mistake made here is thinking the race is "about half way over, with the hardest part done." Trust me, young runner, you will be dreaming of returning to these laps ere another few laps pass by.
Fourth/Fifth Lap -- Life is starting to get really painful around the end of the first mile, start of the second mile. You've been running for awhile now, solidly into the race, outcomes are beginning to be determined. The legs are definitely starting to feel the strain, the laps have really blurred together, you may have been lapped by this point by the stupid prodigy you so carelessly passed a couple laps ago. But you're still feeling pretty solid and hanging in there. Reality is setting in.
Then comes the Sixth Lap -- Reality has settled and is hogging the couch. You've been running forever, you still have forever to go. The two (or is it three? Maybe it's only one? Hopefully?) remaining laps might as well be miles instead of laps. Even though the end is approaching, it's still far enough away to be depressing. Your legs are tired. Your lungs are struggling. You haven't dropped dead, but the prospect sounds pleasant. Your pace is set but slagging, your will is definitely drooping. Why on earth did you sign up for this? This is just self-imposed torture. There's no law that says you have to run. And yet you signed up WILLINGLY for this. Maybe you should have a CAT scan when the race is over. If it ever is over.
Seventh Lap is the deceptive Lap. This is where all too often a runner thinks they are done, that they are on the Eighth Lap. They sprint too soon for the finish, only to realize they have another entire lap to go. This is the greatest of all deceptions. Wise runners have paced themselves, watched the lap numbers (unless they got caught in the tangle of running along side runners on different laps when they all passed the lap number sign. Ugh.) and saved a little gas for the end. Either way, everyone is hurting.
The Eighth Lap is the end and it couldn't have come one second sooner. Even the winner, who has trained, has the raw talent, and has competitiveness oozing from every pore, is spent. And possibly puking by the sidelines. No matter what your time is or what place you end up with, you are DONE. You have never been so grateful for gravity as you lay on the grass trying to remember how to breathe like a normal human while your coach hollers at you to get up and keeping walking. This suggestion seems about the same as telling you to get up and do a gymnastics routine down the field. It. Ain't. Happening. At least not yet. You will get up eventually, but just to lay here on the grass just a few minutes more is pure heaven.
Then the best part hits like a wave of Caribbean ocean water: you did it. You did something difficult and you finished. You went the whole distance. Maybe it wasn't pretty and no one should really sweat like this, but even by finishing, you succeeded where others failed to even show up for the race.
Here are the bits you will want to remember as you compare the race to parenting. The Eighth Lap is NOT high school graduation. That happens around Lap Five/Six. Sorry, if this comes as a depressing realization. If you have an adorable, drooling cherub bouncing around your home, enjoy every moment, but know the end of the race is decades (plural, several plurals) away. Pace yourself!
Also, it's important to always listen to your coach -- your own parents, your spiritual leaders, your friends. They are there for your success. They have nothing invested in this race, they have experience, and they have objectivity. They might be super annoying and you might not actually like them very much from time to time. But they are there for your success. When they say "Slow a bit," do it. When they say, "Dig deeper," do it. When they say, "Get up and walk," do it.
So anyway, as I work on my Sixth Lap (I'd like to think it was Lap Seven, but I know it isn't), having parented for 24 years now, with four kiddos still at home, and looking at a solid decade before they're all simply out of high school, I will continue to munch on my peanut butter M&Ms (which really don't help with actual running at all, sadly) and be grateful for chocolate as I jog along. As I try to find enthusiasm for my twentieth-fourth year of figuring out Halloween costumes for the sake of my youngest two, who haven't done this 24 times, I will remember it really won't be too long before I'm laying on the grass being grateful the race is over, but even more grateful that I ran!
But I might need to puke first. Just sayin'.