Tap tap tap, is this thing still on?
I’m sitting in my living room, hacked into my neighbor’s wifi and using my TV as a computer monitor. All I can think is, “write something… just keep putting words on the page and don’t think about them.” So here we are; now you’re sitting in my living room too.
My daughter is furiously scribbling and erasing on the white board next to me and that seems like a fitting way to start: with haphazard bursts and then erasure. With surety and then censorship.
I want to tell you a love story, and it isn’t easy to figure out where it begins and where it ends because love, unlike math, is not linear. There should be an equation, right? Because that’s what makes it fair? But if motherhood has taught us nothing else, it’s that the chances we take are not linear and the answers we’re given don’t always add up. Sometimes you put everything you have into becoming a parent, and you add up all the right steps and inexplicably come out with zero. Sometimes you do everything wrong and hit enter and find yourself with exactly the right amount.
This is not your typical love story.
It’s about a girl who was in love with herself; a girl who slept til noon and drank margaritas because they were a pretty color. This girl read poetry, real poetry by celebrated authors. and then she felt inspired, so she wrote some too. Her boobs were fabulous by the way, totally perky and skeeved out by the mere thought of revealing them in public for the mundanity of feeding an infant. This girl had interests and hobbies and she was fascinating to talk to, believe it or not.
And then she became a mom.
When faced with the task of describing herself on social media she was stymied. “Wife” she started with, and then “mother” and then… ? who was she without those things? It probably didn’t matter anymore, right?
Yesterday, I got my first DNF. For those of you who haven’t attained that particular failure, it stands for “Did Not Finish.” I attempted to run an ultramarathon, a 50K race, and had to drop out at just over 20 miles. Today, I’m nursing a stress fracture in my left tibia and a pretty nasty grudge. I knew at mile 7 I wasn’t going to finish the race. The terrain was so much more technical than I expected and to be honest I was also severely under-trained. At mile 14 I felt a very weird sort of rush of coldness in my left shin, almost like I’d gotten an injection of cold water in my bone, and although I marveled at the fact that it didn’t hurt, I had the sneaking suspicion that it would later. Badly. I pressed onward through another 800ft of vertical elevation and 6 miles before I realized that even if I finished the last two loops, my time would disqualify me. I briefly considered cutting the course before I realized that if i did, although i’d get to brag about being an ultramarathoner on social media, I knew I wouldn’t feel like one.
Those last six miles I did a lot of thinking. I thought about all the things I haven’t been able to finish because of motherhood. There is nothing I love more than my two kids. They are my magnum opus. My raison d’être.
But for women giving birth creates a life chasm; a before and after that is sometimes uncrossable.
Most women, if you ask them, will tell you about the thing they didn’t finish because they had a child. For some it’s the masters degree they were a few credits away from, for others it’s the olympic try-out they missed because of a toddler with a fever. Sometimes it’s nothing extraordinary: a blog you started, a room that is waiting to be painted, a pair of 5 inch stilettos that cost $1200 that you know you will never wear again.
I will never be the athlete I could be because although motherhood opens many emotional doors, it slams shut every single physical door in the entire goddamn Chrysler Building. I feel things I never imagined possible when I was in love with just myself, but I don’t own my body anymore. I will never sleep like the dead or run for hours through a trail with no cell service. That’s a fact.
Some love stories have happy endings, but most don’t. We don’t tend to tell those because we’re embarrassed or because we don’t know where to begin or because we’re strong women and we don’t make excuses.
So here is this strong woman’s list of excuses:
- I ran a marathon in mid-march and tried to parlay it into training for an impromptu ultramarathon. In chicago. During an endless winter.
- I’m a single mom and I work 7 (SEVEN!) days a week
- In the last 30 days my children and I have been in the ER three times: for strep A, an allergic reaction to amoxicillin, and mono
- I am really fucking tired
As a culture, we spend an obscene amount of time waxing philosophically about “the one that got away.” But where is the love for the wanton that got away? The women we were before? We have loose ends with her. We’re here in the middle of the night wondering what she’d be doing, what she might have accomplished. Forget about the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, can we talk for a minute about the fact that I haven’t written a blog post in a full calendar year? I’m the one that got away. I got away from myself.
So here it is moms, our swan song. Our love story for the things that we will never finish. Sure, life is long and my children are very young, but running will physically never be as easy on my body as it is in my thirties. So I just have to make peace with this DNF and finish the things I can, the things I have time for, my second best choices.
There are always second acts in every romantic dramatization and so I will always hold out hope that one day I will have time, enough time, endless amounts of time and energy to pursue my passion. I see my son writing his very first story in the same zealous frantic way I wrote my first stories and I know that one day he’ll ask me for help and maybe we’ll work on something together. I see my daughter running block after block with me, refusing to sit in the stroller and insisting she’s a runner too. One day we’ll run a marathon together.
Perhaps that’s the second act; finding the people they’ll grow into and rediscovering the things I first loved alone but now can enjoy as a team. Becoming a guide instead of a trail-blazer, a hand instead of a leg-up, a person who also happens to be someone’s mom. This is what I comfort myself with when I’m grappling with the disappointing sting of things that can’t be finished right now. And although there is an inherent mourning to being a parent, it can be a sort of balm to see your talents reborn in a smaller version of yourself and hold out hope that the sacrifices you make will evolve into something beautiful.
“The thing about stress fractures,” the doctor explained, “is that they don’t need a cast most of the time. It’s not like a broken bone we can set that will heal up clean. It’s a tiny fissure that just takes time. It’ll be tender, you just have to be easy on yourself and give it time.”
Maybe it isn’t a chasm. Maybe it’s just a stress fracture. Maybe, with time and tenderness, you won’t feel the space between it at all.