Rethinking Running

“It doesn’t have to be running,” the midwife reminded me cheerfully. “It can be any kind of exercise you like.”

But that’s the point. There is no kind of exercise I like. It turned out my resting pulse was a little high, and anyway, I’d been fighting the conviction for awhile. And so running it is.

Running, at least, has the nontrivial advantages of frugality and efficiency. I don’t have to drive anywhere or buy a membership. I just barrel out the back door, wheeze a ways, and wheeze back.

I had done this all once, maybe twice, before: once during a busy semester in college when the doctor listened to my pulse, sent me to the cardiologist, and put me on a stationery bike; once when I was working part-time before kids and trying to keep the crazy at bay. (I’m not counting the three weeks I ran in preparation for the Dales Way, newly pregnant with Pippin, until the time I threw up in my hair and gave up on exercise for the duration.)

A turning point this time was coming to grips with the idea that for me, running is not ever probably going to be “me time.” I get up while it’s still dark, when I don’t have to, and I put on clothes that are hard to put on with sleep-clumsy hands, and maybe sometimes the sun rises beautifully over reddening trees, and maybe sometimes I see a deer, and maybe sometimes I enjoy my audiobook, but mostly, I grit my teeth and do my 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back.

I was slipping into the vocal registers that are not OK, especially with my most threesome three-year-old, and I had done all the self-care measures I actually like, the carving out time for reading and getting extra sleep. I know running helps me to be less anxious, and anxiety and impatience were ruling my day, at least at high-friction times of the day like getting out the door, and the lead-up to nap time. I had apologized to my son enough, and it was time to try something else.

And so I run, and I don’t think of it as me time, or self-care, or all the other things exercise is supposed to be for women like me. I think of it as medicine. I think of it as penance. It is what I am doing to be a better mother, a better wife, a happier human. On those mornings, I am letting go of all the times I’ve failed to be those things, forgiving myself, having already asked forgiveness of those I’ve hurt. And I’m running toward a kinder, gentler future, one grudging run at a time.

At confession, recently, I shared my theory of running as penance with my confessor, who to my surprised relief didn’t immediately dismiss it. “Well, I mean, historically penance has been physical. It’s been bodily. It’s only lately that it’s all prayers.”

Huh. Fair enough. Maybe my Nikes are my hair shirt, my morning jogs a modern-day pilgrimage. A prayer with my body, for calm, for peace.

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Update on NO YELLING

So, I decided this year for Lent I’d give up yelling. I never fast from a food when I’m pregnant or nursing, and as I’ve been one of those every Lent since, um, 2012, I’m trying to get creative in finding disciplines and areas that will help me grow in my faith.

And let me tell you, this Lent’s fast has been really, really hard. The thing I like about fasting from a food, or TV, or whatever, is either you do it or you don’t. There’s a little room for interpretation — is an Instagram video TV? Is eating a chocolate cookie to be polite breaking your fast or not? — but it’s pretty clear cut. I am a girl who likes to get the gold star, to check things off neatly in a box.

So deciding whether my tone is contemptuous, if I’m raising my voice to be heard or in anger, if I’m extra angry (and yelly) because I’m not cutting myself enough slack, or if that’s a total copout and I need to try harder…it’s a slow, discouraging slog.

There’s been some progress. Right around Lent the kids went and got themselves slap cheek and in the sort of unfolding of events that never happens, suddenly started sleeping way, way better. The illness exhausted them, but the new sleep habits lingered even after their lurid cheeks had faded to normal human complexion. And you know, sleeping better did help morale around here, for all of us.

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THE ONE SIMPLE TRICK FOR GETTING YOUR KIDS TO SLEEP BETTER: It’s Fifth Disease.

But there are still so many times I’m distracted or overambitious and so completely overwhelmed. I gueeeessss there’s been an overall decrease in yelling around here, but not nearly what I would hope for.  And in the meantime Pippin has started saying both “crap” and “dammit” and if there was any doubt who taught him that, my sharp CRAP DAMMIT when the paper bag broke as I unloaded it from the car last week eliminated any uncertainty. (Related: Please let my potty-mouthed child still play with yours. We are really, really working on it.)

In the midst of it all, Pippin is doing this thing that is just wonderful and horrible. He’ll say, “I’m sorry” for his millionth tiny infraction and one of us will say, “It’s OK, bud,” half-listening, and he’ll answer with a furrowed brow, “Well, it’s not OK. But you forgive me.” There’s something so raw and humbling about coming right out and saying it like that. But I forgive him. Of course. And I hope to heaven he’s forgiving me.

I’ve got a lifetime of impatience and perfectionist impulses to war against, and there is no 40-day solution that I know of. But I’m trying, and falling back on forgiveness, and I guess that’s Lent.

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But will Pip ever forgive me for this?