This past weekend was, as most of you know, the Philadelphia Marathon. I have always marveled at people who run marathons, as running for 26 miles straight is an extremely impressive feat that I have absolutely no desire to do. I feel about marathoners nearly the same way I feel about people who climb a really huge, dangerous mountain or do 21-day cleanses or tackle some other theoretically good-for-you-but-terribly-difficult thing in order to push themselves to the limit, to prove to themselves that they can, in fact, do this terribly difficult thing. Good for them, I think; for me, no. I do not have that gene. I would no sooner decide to climb Mt. Everest than I would decide to break my own jaw.
I’ll be honest: Sometimes these particular disinclinations makes me feel … I don’t know. Lazy? Unambitious? Incurious about my own abilities? I recently found myself thinking about this — about stamina, and pushing the boundaries of what I think I am capable of doing — in the middle of the night. My child, suffering from the same tummy bug that felled his father, threw up pitifully in his hallway on the way to the bathroom, and then slipped and fell right into it, snow angel-style. I watched the whole thing in slow motion, then died a million tiny deaths as my brain put together what just happened, and who, exactly, was supposed to be in charge of this situation. (Brain: “Wait. Oh, God. It’s me.”)
And then, that thing kicked in — that drive that you hear runners talk about, that feeling like you’re at mile 20, and you still have to keep going or collapse, and so you keep going. You know, a magical, almost out-of-body sense of forward motion that happens in spite of you and your desires and perceived limitations. (A.K.A., motherhood in a nutshell.)
I picked my son up, stripped off his befouled PJs, clucked in sympathy while I carried him into the bathroom to finish barfing, then got him washed and settled back in before scrubbing the floor, gathering and washing the towels, and taking a second pass at the hallway when I realized the baseboards and walls had gotten hit, too. And reader, I didn’t so much as flinch. Me! Lifelong sympathetic vomiter! Not so much as a dry heave. It was nothing short of a parenting miracle.
I should say right now that there are millions of moms out there who do legitimately heroic things for their children every day — mothers who are refugees, mothers whose kids have health issues, moms who overcome real and seemingly impossible obstacles for their kids, who battle way more than just a strong aversion to vom.
But my point here is that parenting small children in general is an almost-daily exercise in showing you that you are capable of more than you ever imagined you could be and in surprising yourself with your own grit. What, you didn’t know you could carry a napper, a backpack, your laptop, a purse, a bag of diapers, a baby, and a stroller onto a Philadelphia bus. (“Ha,” some of you are saying. “I do that every day — with two kids!”) Or that you could function shockingly well on 4.5 hours of sleep for 6 months of your life? Or that, like one friend of mine, you were capable of removing an almost-dead mouse from the trap, killing it, and taking it out to the trash before the children came down and saw it and were forever scarred?
You see what I’m saying, here. It’s basically mini-Mt. Everests day after day. (With less layers and more laundry.)
And anyway, forget the mountaineers — they’re nuts. But I will say congrats to all the marathon runners out there (impressive!), and congrats, too, to all the regular mothers (also impressive!). I consider us all very deserving of cheering sections and people handing us bananas for fuel and also a giant carb-heavy brunches celebrating stamina, commitment and goals met.*
*And you marathon runners who are moms?! They need a special medal just for you.
Photo courtesy: M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia