“Mommy, is it time to get up yet?” Julia yodeled from her room.
“No,” I yelled and lowered my sleeping mask back into position. The sky had just began its morning blush over the grey shadow of trees in the park. But I knew it was brutally early without checking the time. Julia wakes up the birds up that wake up the rest of us.
After thirty minutes more of listening to her sing and converse with herself, I pealed back the silky mask and rechecked the horizon. It held a slit of sunlight. The air pushing through the window smelled like hope. The clock read 6:33.
I jumped out of bed, and headed into Julia’s room. “Pick up your room and get dressed, We’re going running.”
“Whatttttttt? I’m not going to school?”
“Sure, after we run.”
I jumped into my clothes and then jumped her into hers.
“But I’m hungry Mommy,” she said as I slid the first sneaker onto her foot.
“I’ll get you a banana. Eat it on the way,” I said determined as MacArthur was to take Normandy.
One of the great challenges to motherhood has been maintain my running. All my life I’ve lived to run, high school track and 5Ks and 8Ks in adulthood. When one of my best friends, Beryl, gave me a Bob’s Revolution Jogging Stroller for my baby shower, I choked back tears when the beast arrived in the mail.
” Of course I bought that for you, ” she said, “you’re one of my oldest friends.”
The beast cost $450 bucks. The stroller known among the mommy set as the SUV of strollers was one large, expensive piece of equipment, one that I didn’t mind taking up room in the apartment.
And that stroller saved me mentally, for the first few years. But by the age of three, when Julia would announce “ Mommy why did you stop running?” every time I took a break on a rocky hill, or at a red light, or when I paused to change the song on my iPod, she sounded more and more like Coach Smith, my high school track taskmaster. So, I decided it was time to let go of the stroller. Besides, at 42 pounds it was getting to be a tight fit for Julia.
After that I ran sporadically and hated myself for it. I grabbed a sitter here and there and did a half-ass job of maintaining my running through the fall. Then the Snownado of 2015 hit the eastern seaboard.Then my life revolved around red wine, pasta Bolognese, and Babar books. During the last weeks March and the first signs of Spring were even more welcoming, more alluring. By mid April just the sight of a jogger either brought envy to my heart, or tears to my eyes.
“ Just take her with you,” Beryl said at dinner a week later. “I used to go ice skating with my mom and I loved it.”
“ I really prefer to run alone,” I said, “ but I guess running with Julia is better than not running at all. Two weeks ago, she and I did a loop of the bridle path in Central Park, me on my legs, she on her scooter. But because of the rocky parts and inclines she produced more tears than scooting time.”
“Try it again,” she said.” Without the scooter.”
I ached to run. So on Thursday April 30th I decided to put an end to the ache.
Julia and I exited our building. The air was cool and silky. I love the smell of sunlight in the morning. I’d forgotten how beautiful the world looks before you start hustling through your day. We crossed the street and strolled into Central Park. Julia munched her starter breakfast, while looking around puzzled at the emptiness of the typically bustling playground we favored, at the massive number of adults running and biking.
“Why are there so many grown ups in the park and no kids?” she asked.
“This is the time adults play, before work.”
And with that, she finished off her banana and tossed the peal in the trash receptacle. We headed up the bridle path toward the loop of the reservoir. A quarter of the way around the 1.6 miles, Julia, a child who runs like freed slave every time she hits New York City pavement, lodged her first complaint.
“Mommy. my legs are tired,” she moaned.
“Okay, let’s take a rest and headed into walking,” I answered somewhat annoyed.
When I started jogging again. She seemed pleased. Then Julia kicked up her heels and zoomed past me. Surprisingly. I liked it.
A mid thirties woman jogging towards us looked down at Julia and then yelled out, “She’s fast!”
“Did you hear that Mommy?!” Julia said. “She said I was fast! Then she kicked into another gear.
I studied Julia striding beside and in front of me, her long yet tiny legs, her Ethiopian-ness in full view. Images of the last top ten finishers of the NYC Marathon, a healthy mix of Ethiopians present danced in my head. For a moment I could see my daugher crossing the finish line, the tape breaking across her chest, me there, waiting and cheering, bathed in tears. She would take a bow, a victory lap then head back to her studies at Yale Medical School.
The dream set, I got back to the job at hand. That morning my goal was to get back to a sport I love, at the time of day I love, by any means necessary. What I had not planned on was the pride I’d feel watching my daughter run in the sun beside me, and how each moment she passed me, her legs pumping away, her heels high, that joy grew and speed, and broke, to begin again. How I’d wear the glowing smiles that other runners cast other at us like garland throughout the day. That I would watch my daughter dash under the sun, taking the bend of the track just above the dark stones where the white cranes nest during their season, and box turtles sun themselves, and think this is how a love affair begins.