Happy birthday to me. I'm 48 today. My sister posted a picture of us on Facebook from 2013. We had just finished a relay run around Seneca Lake as a team of seven runners. We had managed to get picked up as alternates on an already formed team of guys from Rochester. This is one of my favorite runs around, each of us running three ~5k legs, passing by wineries and often overlooking a beautiful body of water.
Her picture made me remember where I was just a few years before that run and the progress I had made to be able to join her in activities like that. Yesterday the New York Times listed a number of prompts for writing. The first on the list is "What challenges have you overcome?" I think an important challenge for me has been to allocate a portion of my time and energy to myself.
Most parents find themselves caught up in the raising of their children. In that time it can be difficult for some (it was for me) to understand the importance of maintaining your own separate identity and instead to sacrifice who you are on the altar of serving your family. When I was in my twenties, I loved to run for fun. I biked hundreds of miles in a weekend. I was never an "athlete", but I was very active. Later, after marriage, I found myself sipping wine and watching TV, attending kid events, and doing anything but spending time engaged in my own interests. It felt selfish to want to spend time alone disengaged from the responsibilities of family life. Couple that lack of self-care with a herniated disc in my lower back (common in my family and likely brought on by a lack of activity), I found myself in a physical slump.
A few years back, my separation from my first wife left me with a lot of anxiety. It also presented me with a physical separation from the day to day responsibilities of maintaining the home and kids. Suddenly how I spent my time was up to me (that sounds crazy as I write it, but it's no less true). I started small, with a walk/jog around the block in Dryden, where I was living in a lousy studio above a local bar. I progressed through side stitches and days of sore back to a few miles, five miles, ten. I started to be able to pick up my pace. I ran through the pair of hand-me-down shoes from my brother in law and bought another pair, consumed them, and then another.
My kids saw bibs accumulate on the fridge. I'd drag them to the track and they'd watch me run in circles, laying themselves down as little human hurdles and laugh as I'd jump over them. They watched me cross the finish line near the church/school where I went to Kindergarten in Utica, NY. They sometimes participated in the kid events before the actual races. I ran with my sister in the relay run in the Finger Lakes, all day in the car with fellow runners.
We extended the physical activity to all weekend hikes in the Adirondacks. Peaks were reached and badges with their names decorated the car on the return trips. I feel more like me when we're doing something outdoors. I like teaching them about the value of perseverance ("One more mile, guys.") and how you can make steady progress and reach a goal if you just keep working at it.
I never was a gym rat. It made me uncomfortable. But I joined a gym and started to learn. I gained some confidence under a barbell and started to train differently. I enjoy sharing with the kids what I did well and where I had a setback. They see that this doesn't all come easy, but that I keep trying to improve. Hopefully they get that this how I enjoy my life, that I need this outlet in order to be sane. I hope they see that it's quite ok to spend time investing in yourself and finding their own groove in their lives.