Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Unintended Lessons Parents Teach

When our family set out to run 26.2 miles over a nine week period, I knew this would be a great opportunity to begin instilling in my young children's minds ideas like endurance, persistence, and healthy living.

This program would show them that not just mommy needed to daily exercise and make healthy choices to take care of the body God gave us.

I expected our running would lead to lengthy exchanges about choosing foods that would benefit our bodies and give us the right kind of energy.  I expected to teach them about how to breathe properly, how to keep their eyes on the path ahead, how to pace themselves. 

On the "reality check" side, I also anticipated all the whining, fussing, complaining, and laziness that is characteristic of typical four and six year old children.  I even envisioned many days when I would have to push, drag, carry, or roll reluctant children outside into the typical colder temperatures of November, December, and January.

What I didn't expect was how many obstacles our family would need to overcome just to finish a simple race.
Until the first of January, we trained through head colds, chest colds, stomach flu, salmonella poisoning, and "just a virus."  Then, when everyone was finally well, an unusual monsoon season set in, our state seeing over an inch of rain a day for the first two weeks in January.  At that point, our mile-long daily races resembled cross country training, with each of us dodging deep puddles and jumping over small "creeks" that meandered across our path.

Despite the unexpected, last Saturday, the children and I finished the last mile.  As a mother, I was so proud of them.  We had finished what, at times, I thought was an impossible goal.  Yet, in their eyes, it wasn't over until they had the "big race."
Today, our family drove into the concrete jungle to run the final 1.2 mile leg of the marathon alongside a couple hundred other children and their parents.  This was it--the day they would see how the weeks of training had prepared their muscles for the "big race."  I was as excited as they were.

Then, mere minutes before the race started, Amelia tripped on the unfamiliar concrete.  Of course, there was a trace blood on her finger, so I picked her up and tried to stop her wailing.  The crowd kept moving forward toward the starting line, and so did I.  As I wondered how I was going to get her calm enough to run in a few seconds, the unthinkable happened.

Husband's size 13 sneaker caught my heel, and I tumbled forward.  I was going down.  My left arm held tighter to my daughter, my only thought being, "Oh no.  She's going to get hurt.  We'll never finish this race."

To the horror of those around me, both my knees slammed into the hard concrete as the rest of my body kept flying forward.  I put out my right wrist, then rolled involuntarily with Amelia's weight, my left arm still cushioning her so that when we both came to a rest, her head barely hit the ground. 

Had I been at home, I would have put myself on injured reserve for the rest of the day, iced my knees, and turned on the television.  But this was the big race.  And so, even as the blood kept sticking to the inside of my black racing pants, I stood up, wiped the grit off my knees, and took my daughter's hand.

Together, we ran.  Together, we heard the encouraging cheers of strangers on the roadside.  It was truly magical.

Wyatt finished his 1.2 mile jaunt in twelve minutes, Emerson in a little over thirteen.  And Amelia and I came in at sixteen minutes--not fast enough to win anything, for sure, but her best time ever.
We laughed, hugged, cheered, and celebrated our new medals.  I knew they had taken to heart some of the lessons I had been teaching when everyone started asking the same question--"When's the next race?"
Later that night, Amelia sat by the tub and watched as I tended to my war wounds.  My right knee was black, now swollen to the the size of a softball.  My left was still oozing blood, bright red and raw like a mangled piece of beef.  I couldn't help but flinch as I re-cleaned and bandaged the wound.

"You got hurt because you didn't let me get hurt," she said, spouting wisdom well beyond her years.

"Yes, dear," I responded.  "My knees and hands got hurt because I was protecting you so you wouldn't get hurt."

She smiled and went on.

This.  This was not a lesson I consciously thought about teaching her today.  It just happened.  It's just what mothers do out of instinct.

Yet, what I'm learning is that my children take to heart those unintended lessons sometimes more than the intended ones. And in this case?  It was a beautiful one.

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