By Lauren Gonzalez
I’ve always considered myself a fairly strong person, physically speaking. While I’ve never lifted weights, tried Crossfit, or counted calories, I have logged thousands of hours on the track. I fell in love with running at age thirteen when, in a last-ditch effort to escape the social mortification of Physical Education class, I signed myself up for the Cross Country team.
Despite my coach’s best efforts, I was an awful competitor. For me, running was never about winning. I never bothered with “personal best” time counts, or envisioned the trophies and glory. My focus wasn’t on getting better, or moving faster. Running was simply an outlet for me, a place to be alone with my thoughts, work out my problems, and get my endorphins flowing. My feet carried me from Point A to Point B at a snail’s pace, but the repetition and rhythm of it felt comforting, almost effortless.
I can map my most difficult life memories by the runs on which I embarked to help me cope. I remember the feel of the pavement beneath my feet and the scent of eucalyptus trees lining the road as I ran in the pouring rain the day that my first college boyfriend broke up with me. And it was to running that I turned when I encountered difficulty getting pregnant with my first child. All of the stress, the anger, fear, and worry poured out of me on the road, and ultimately made my body better, faster, and stronger.
My mind, on the other hand, never got the same opportunities to stretch and strengthen. If a class, job or relationship got too hard, if I couldn’t put in the work required to succeed, I quit and took another direction. I considered myself a highly disciplined, organized person, but that’s only because I pursued things I enjoyed. If something didn’t come easily, it wasn’t meant to be – that’s how I lived my day-to-day, and it was a charmed life.
Until my children arrived. From day one, nothing went “as expected,” and nothing was “easy.” Accustomed to sleeping well and often, and ordering my day as I pleased, my kids busted through my comfort zones, plowed right over my personal boundary lines, and sucked away all of my spare time. And the hardest part wasn’t the adjustment to a newborn (although that was incredibly difficult), as much as the panicked realization that the ENTIRETY of raising children is an uphill climb. It’s like jumping on a treadmill and clicking the speed and incline up to full blast, only to discover that it gets faster and steeper from there. And I can’t seem to find the Emergency OFF switch…
I’d imagined the hardest part of having children to be physical – the birth (obviously), lack of sleep, breastfeeding, carrying, and cuddling. But the most difficult aspect, at least for me, is the mental drain, the constant second-guessing of how to engage with my kids, and discipline them. Both are reaching ages where their physical independence is growing, and what they need most is emotional support, clear boundaries, and opportunities to work out their energy. They are loud, wild, and (suddenly) opinionated, and it’s a total mind f*ck. I walk around feeling as though I’ve been slapped across the face all day long (so please excuse my dead eyes and lifeless smile when you see me in public).
For the first time in my whole life, I am stuck in the middle of a situation that is immensely difficult, with sky-high stakes, and I cannot run, hide, or quit. Some days, I honestly feel like I may not make it out of this alive, and I’ll admit that I’ve wasted a great deal of time whining, feeling sorry for myself, and blaming my poor quality of life on my decision to procreate.
But last Sunday, I went for a run – my first in a long while – and I realized something big: raising kids is very much like running, or lifting weights. It isn’t easy, a lot of the time it hurts, and it’s 98 percent a mental game. Every time my son begins a new developmental phase, it dials up the incline on my metaphorical treadmill, and pushes me up to the next weight class. It sucks, it’s exhausting, it hurts, but I’m learning to push through the painful parts, breathe during the all-too-brief breaks, and hold fast to the belief that it will get easier, and somehow more manageable (please, somebody, tell me it gets better!)
My kids have taught me some of the biggest lessons in my life, the most important of which is to live my life on purpose. I don’t naturally find joy in motherhood – many days, I have to intentionally look for it. And, I have to proactively make choices that prioritize the things that matter most, like sleep, exercise, and relationships. I go to bed by 10:00 p.m., some nights even earlier, and I block out specific windows of time for friends, meals, and of course, running. I struggle to break the habits that don’t serve me, stay on top of my negative thinking, and constantly function in training mode, so that I am strong enough to manage that next level incline. Because it’s coming, and dammit, I plan to give this thing all that I’ve got.
Lauren Elizabeth Gonzalez is a Missoula-based writer and blogger whose kids provide ample inspiration for her short stories, social media posts and articles on motherhood. Drawing on her master’s degree and background in conflict and dispute resolution, Lauren is also working on a series of how-to guides to enable parenting partners to build a stronger, more connected team dynamic. Find out more at www.LaurenTheFreeMom.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter for a daily peek inside the head of a nutty gal just free mommin’ it.