I sat on the steps in front of our house, the cold bleeding through two layers of running tights, and gingerly peeled off my gloves. Slowly, carefully, I squeezed my hands into fists, willing the feeling back into my fingers. I rubbed my hands together; the aching and frigid numbness made me shutter.
The key to my front door was tucked away inside a tiny, square front pocket of my leggings. The dexterity required to remove the key made it utterly useless as my fingers were stiff and lifeless with cold.
Running a marathon sounds gutsy, but it is brutal and often boring
I was a little more than halfway through my marathon training eleven years ago. The kind of thing that sounds gutsy and impressive in one’s imagination when you’re mostly thinking about running through a finish-line ribbon with your arms raised in victory. Marathon training is brutal, often dull, sometimes lonely, and can land you on your front steps in frozen paralysis.
I would come to think about that particularly frigid day in February in front of our old house in Cincinnati quite often over the years. It took me almost thirty minutes for my hands to thaw enough to dig a finger into that tiny pocket and scoop out my housekey. It was a galvanizing experience. Yet I was willing to endure one more thing to accomplish this goal.
Running 26 miles is about the commitment to doing something hard
Along the way, I learned that running a marathon had little to do with crossing the finish line. That finish-line ribbon was long gone anyway. It was, of course, all about getting there. The commitment to something hard and seeing it through, the pushing myself further than I thought I could go, the inner strength I didn’t know I had. Like so many things in life, the gritty, messy middle shows you who you are — that’s the good stuff.
About the same time of year, eight years later, I sat on our living room couch, an icy fear in the center of my body spreading to my chest, shoulders, and down my arms to the tips of my fingers like frost crawling across a lawn.
Our daughter told us about some terrible experiences she’d had
Our 17-year-old daughter was telling us the horrible things that she had endured over months, most of which we were wholly unaware of. Her sadness, her pain, how she had been coping, what she had considered. Shock spiraled through my body, twisting its way through my veins and synapses so that ice wound like a rope through every part of me.
I was stunned, paralyzed by this new reality.
Later, I would think about these moments in tandem. Watershed moments awakened something in me. Until you’re presented with a situation, how can you be sure how you’ll respond?
When your hands are frozen stiff for half an hour, will you quit…or return three days later and run 10 miles? When your daughter tells you the unimaginable, will you shut down and completely lose it…or will you hold her and tell her that it will be okay?
Will you listen to everything she needs to say and be strong enough to endure it? Will you stay on that couch and binge Lost, put together puzzles, and eat ice cream for a week until you’re both sturdy enough to do the next right thing?
Parenting isn’t running a marathon; it’s training for one
We’ve all heard the tired analogy…parenting is like a marathon (because, you know…it’s not a sprint!) I’m here to tell you that it’s not a marathon; it’s training for a marathon. It’s hard and unappreciated work. It’s when you think you cannot go any further, and then somehow you do. It’s going to bed feeling like the worst version of yourself, waking up the following day, and trying again. It’s saying I’m sorry, asking for help, laughing at yourself, getting rest, and staying hydrated. It’s humbling, soul-crushing, and heartbreaking.
It’s also, quite possibly, the most beautiful experience of your life.
My husband went to three different locations on my race day, threw a party, and ran the last half mile with me while I cried tears I couldn’t shed. The months of training leading up to the race are with me to this day, whispering that I can keep going.
Our daughter is a thriving twenty-year-old studying to be a teacher, lights up every room she enters, and fills our life with joy and laughter. That tender heart of hers that was so broken is resilient and tough. It tells her that she understands the pain and that her deep empathy makes her unique.
The life experiences that bring us to our knees are the important ones
Hundreds of miles, thousands of hours, and endless blood, sweat, and tears go into the parts of our life that truly matter. Mostly unwitnessed, sometimes agonizing, often painful…but always worth it. Because the experiences in life bring us to our knees, the ones that can paralyze us with fear and overwhelm us, those are the moments that matter the most.
Whether motherhood, marathon training, or any other moment that stops you cold, the hard parts bring us to the finish line, they give us the strength to withstand, and they batten down the hatches, pull up our leggings, and whisper to us, “Mama, if you can do this, you can do anything.”
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Heather McGuire is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, child development, and education. With a Master’s in Montessori education, a decade of writing experience, and two teenage daughters, I write about parenting and children, especially adultish children, one of my greatest passions. You can find me here, on LinkedIn, on Facebook and Instagram.