This is the second time my son has left me behind in a race, but the first time my shame was captured in the local paper. When he pulled ahead at the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, there were only a few friends in the immediate vicinity to witness my lameness. This time, my lameness was featured in a slideshow.
We’ve been running Seattle’s St. Pat’s Dash as an annual tradition since my son was born. Well, before that actually. My husband and I ran this race together before we were even dating and have been running it every year since.
We ran the race in the early days of our relationship when, despite our different running paces, we ran side by side and crossed the finish line together. We ran the race later too, when our relationship didn’t require the same level of coddling and could sustain an honest revelation of one partner’s superior running ability.
There was the year I felt dizzy the whole race and couldn’t figure out why I was so winded. Turns out, I was growing a human. We count that as our son’s first 5K.
Since then, we’ve run the race pushing strollers of the single and double variety; carried toddlers; and coaxed kindergarteners from the start line to the finish.
The race is a marker in our year—a chance to reflect on where we were at the same time in years past.
This year marks the year I was left behind by my husband and my son. I adjusted to my husband’s superiority years ago, but being beat by a first grader was hard on my ego.
Somewhere in the final third of the race, my son kicked up his heels and began to weave through the crowd without so much as glance over his shoulder to check on me. As his lead grew and my hope of catching him diminished, I mentally flipped through the images of the journey to this winded moment.
I saw my son’s first steps toward my outstretched arms that were tense and ready to swoop in at the first sign of falling. I watched a slow motion clip of his drunken toddler run that was really just a prolonged version of tipping over—with his feet trying frantically to keep up with an out of scale head that insisted on leading the way to every destination. I saw picture after picture of his giant smile, ruddy cheeks, and sparkling eyes at various finish lines of rigged races on the sidewalk outside our home where, against all odds, the grown-ups always came last.
But now, the faking was over. This grown-up wasn’t pretending to lose. She was losing. She was trying her best. She was sweating. She was huffing and puffing. And, she was still losing.
When did it turn from pretending to struggle to keep up to actually struggling to keep up?
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Or, was it?
Sometimes, when I see my kids take a big developmental leap forward, my first instinct is to wince a little. There is pain associated with their transformation from dependence to independence. Cutting ties is emotional surgery and it leaves tender places. So, I wince.
But then, I smile because I know that these are the moments that say I’m doing it right. Moments of successful independence in my children are the equivalent of a positive performance evaluation. Moments of growth and achievement mean I did what I set out to do. I taught my kid what he needed to know, encouraged him to grow his skills, and set him on a path to do things better than I did.
And, it worked.
Somewhere between the mental film montage of precious childhood moments and the finish line, I understood Emelina’s words from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams just a little better: “It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn’t.”
I found my radiant son at the finish line, congratulated him on his achievement, and gratefully accepted the bottle of water he offered. I congratulated myself (silently) for accepting defeat with humility.
I really thought I had.
Until the next day, when my colleague sent me a link to local coverage of the event—complete with pictures. The picture that caught her eye was the one where a photographer captured the very moment my son began to leave me in the dust.
Am I proud of my son? Yes.
Do I realize there will be many more of these moments? Yes.
Do I hope this is the last of such moments memorialized on film? Yes.
Photo By JOSHUA TRUJILLO/SEATTLEPI.COM