Running a Marathon With a Daughter to Cheer Me on

This post was originally published on this site

I’ve had the vision in my head for years: I’m running the New York City Marathon and I find my daughter, Bee, in the crowd. It’s a simple moment, but one I’ve wanted so badly for so long, I get choked up just thinking about it.

On Sunday, if all goes well, my vision will be realized. I’ll be on the course for the first time in more than a decade — and the first since becoming a mother. That’s what makes this one special for me. It’s not just a race. It’s a celebration of how far my family has come.

Before I had Bee seven years ago, I ran the marathon three times. After giving birth, just getting out of bed was a challenge. I was blindsided by postpartum depression. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a failure. I was convinced that when Bee looked at me, she saw the same.

Thanks to a combination of time, therapy, serious efforts at emotional healing and a husband with limitless patience, I’ve come light years from where I began with motherhood. Challenges remain, of course, but joy is abundant and assurance has eclipsed doubt. The same is true of my return to running. It’s been a long, tough, infinitely rewarding road I’ve had to travel one step at a time. Walk a block. Jog a mile, then two, then five.

Around Bee’s first birthday, the vision formed. I was nowhere near prepared to run a marathon, but I could imagine it — and that was big. As Bee got older and our bond grew deeper, I kept imagining it, wanting it more. I didn’t know whether I’d ever get there, but slowly, incrementally, my body got stronger. My mind adjusted, surprising and delighting me, as it broadened the spectrum of what was possible.

The marathon is possibility in motion. For friends going through hardship or recovering from loss, it’s offered a singular way to heal. For me, it’s been a way to mark and rejoice in progress. That’s what my vision is. Not crossing the finish line or having a medal placed around my neck. I’m shedding an old skin. Seizing an opportunity for Bee to see me as, in our early days, I never thought she would — and, more important, to plant the seed of how I hope she’ll see herself.

Bee is almost 7. It’s a great age, a sweet spot between toddler and tween. She’s over princesses and purple, but still gets wide-eyed at a flurry of bubbles. She doesn’t need me or her dad to spot her on the playground anymore, but still likes us to tuck her in at night.

I treasure this time because I know it’s fleeting. Before long, like most girls, she’ll probably go inward. Become quiet and reserved, awkward and distant. There’s a lot going on in those preadolescent years. Cliques, crushes, stuff on the internet I don’t even want to think about.

My fellow mom friends and I have been talking lately about how we can instill confidence in our young daughters, arm them with the tools they’ll need to combat the forces of evil — human, digital and otherwise — that will threaten to undercut their self-respect.

I can’t prevent Bee from crossing paths with mean kids or having days when nothing she says, does or wears feels right. I can’t hide every screen and fashion magazine. One thing I can do is expose her to experiences that may fortify and inspire her.

The marathon is one of those experiences. My husband and I take Bee out to watch the race every year. She cheers as the runners stream by, and I tell her how extraordinary they are. All these men and women of different ages, sizes and abilities, who’ve put in the effort to do something challenging, demanding and kind of crazy.

As much as I believe in teaching Bee about perseverance through others’ achievements, it’s equally important to show her through my own example. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Action is character.” In other words, it’s not what a person says, but what she does that tells you who she is. I know I have nothing to prove to Bee. She doesn’t remember my struggles when she was an infant or expect any sort of maternal restitution. Still, for her — for us — I want to walk the walk. Or run the run.

Let me be clear: I don’t care whether my child ever runs a single mile. The marathon is just one of many chances to imprint upon a young mind a beautiful display of human potential. Whatever Bee’s marathon turns out to be — leading expeditions to find dinosaur bones or searching for new planets in the night sky — I want her to have memories that spark encouragement, a ready reservoir of hope.

After a long stretch of happy marathon spectating, something changed for me at last year’s race. As we stood at Mile 24 in Central Park, the runners trampling discarded paper cups and decapitated gel packs, I took a video with my iPhone and said aloud to myself, “Just do it.”

That is, after all, what the marathon comes down to. Committing. Putting one foot in front of the other a whole lot of times. It took almost seven years, but the switch finally flipped. I was in.

As much as I wanted to follow that famous Nike mantra, I had to be smart. I’d seen too many athletes done in by recklessness and ego. So I made a deal with myself. Start with a half-marathon in the spring. If that was a success, I’d keep going.

Before my first long training run, I asked Bee which route I should take — harder or easier. She told me to do it the hard way. “You’re powerful,” she said.

So are you, baby girl. See you out there.