6:15am. I wake up easily to the alarm, much more easily than usual. I head downstairs to start the coffee pot that I had prepped the night before, a rare accomplishment. I shower and dress, finding something to wear among the piles of clean laundry with little trouble. As 7am roles around, I kiss my slowly waking wife and head out the door. Wait, water bottle, can’t forget that. Ok, now it’s time to go.
NPR plays as I navigate the early morning suburbs to downtown traffic. The curse words that normally pop out every few miles are nowhere to be found, my fellow citizens seemingly on their best driving behavior. Thirty minutes and twenty miles later, I reach my target.
He is not happy to see me. No smile or hello is offered. I give a cheery good morning, then resign myself to riding in a silence that belies his loquacious nature. I’m surprised to find that my feelings are not hurt and my resolve is not shaken. NPR and I head back toward the suburbs, silent pre-teen in tow.
I spot the runners as we enter the park. The car is barely in park before I jump out of the car to meet the coach. Before I exit, the boy reveals his initial assessment of the group before us: “Well, I’m the smallest.” And the fastest, the eternally optimistic and encouraging mom in me can’t help but to reply. His pre-teen, positivity-deflectors firmly in place, the un-optimistic, un-encouraged boy follows, a mix of tiredness and embarrassment making him appear even smaller than usual.
I chat briefly with the coach, reminding him of my earlier email and re-capping the boy’s running career to date. Quickly, an awkward stand-off ensues. I notice that I am the only parent around, most kids hopping out of cars or off of bikes when they arrive. They all seem to know one another and none makes any effort to acknowledge his presence. I think the boy has noticed too. I look at his face for some cue about what he would like me to do and get nothing but a look of abject misery. Oh well. I walk back to the car and settle in, reminding myself that I have done my best. And pre-teens are weird.
My how the tables have turned. Was it really more than twenty years ago when that face of abject misery was mine?
I’ve often wondered during my adult years why my dad put up with my childhood antics. I begged for opportunities and activities, then whined when they took the least bit of effort on my part. All the while, he was waking up early, driving hundreds of miles and generally putting up with my teenage angst to get me to where I said I wanted to be.
It’s a strange thing, parenting. A tiny person says one tiny thing – “The 3000m is the best race!” – and it’s like nothing else exists. When they declare where they want to be, we are spurred into action. But not just any action – we do things that we wouldn’t do for ourselves, like 6am alarms and rush hour traffic (I’ve designed my work schedule to avoid both). It must be some combination of excitement about their knowledge of self and relief that they finally have a knowledge of self that drives us forward. It’s relief that seems to warrant more than a sigh. “I have raised a human child who can and does consider his own needs and wants and has determined how to meet those needs and achieve those wants on his own.”
Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Yeah, it’s definitely an exaggeration. But you know what I mean, right? Like, the same child who can’t walk up stairs in his own home without injuring himself, who can’t decide between tater tots and fries without your considered opinion, who still calls upon your mommy magic to cure his random pains – that kid knows what he wants. And it’s not because Cartoon Network or some YouTube “celebrity” told him to like it. Your kid had an organic desire, recognized it, put it into words, and communicated it to you.
The boy was much more himself after practice. The coach was nice, the other kids were cool, and yes, he was the fastest. And beneath the pre-teen façade trying to convince me that he’s so bored and my questions are so annoying, I think I detected a hint of a smile.
Bring on 6am.