“Are you sure you want to do this by yourself?” my husband asked as he stuffed an extra pair of shorts into his already bulging suitcase. “Because, I could …”
But I'd made up my mind, and I didn't need him to talk me out of it.
All by myself I had brought a newborn infant and a talkative toddler on a six-hour journey to Maine in stop-and-go traffic; I had managed to get one kid to baseball and the other to basketball almost simultaneously; I had juggled dance class and theater practices and an untold number of playdates with minimal fuss; and I've successfully navigated at least 300 children through a total of 18 birthday parties during the past 11 years.
I would manage.
I didn't need him to change his plans. It was settled: He would be away for the weekend on business, and I would be running a 5K with our seven-year-old son. What could go wrong?
“Well ... For one thing, you will probably be WALKING the 5K,” he laughed as he zipped the case and started to haul it to the door.
“That would be OK,” I said. To which he responded with a single, raised eyebrow.
He was right. I was deluded.
For weeks, the boy had done nothing but talk about how he wanted to run with his mother, and I believed him.
I believed it was more than just words.
He had even become teary whenever I walked through the door on Saturday mornings, already sweaty and tired from my long-run, before he'd had time to rub the sleep out of his eyes.
“I wanted to go with you,” he'd lament.
“Tomorrow,” I would say, negotiating a two-mile out-and-back before breakfast.
Of course, tomorrow would come and the mother-son run we'd planned inevitably would be postponed.
Maybe it was rained out. More likely it was preempted by some other thing that caught his attention, like Minecraft or a second bowl of Apple Dapples.
“There's always next weekend ...”
But eventually "next weekend" rolled right into race day. And neither of us had changed our minds.
I imagined my son, with his non-stop energy, would be able to run the race twice.
He agreed, but more than likely imagined three miles to be the distance between our front porch and the mailbox.
My husband, turns out, isn't the only one who worried about our sanity. Several people became suddenly silent after they asked about how we trained for this milestone and I just shrugged my shoulders.
"Well ... Good luck."
Even so, I hadn't been worried until the sound of the airhorn, when the crowd started to lurch toward the starting line.
“Are you sure we won't be trampled,” asked the boy as he grabbed for my hand.
“I am sure,” I answered as we started to jog. “Runners are some of the nicest people on earth. They won't run you over. ... Just remember not to run too fast. You want to pace yourself.”
The novelty of running with a pack kept him steady for at least seven mailbox lengths. And then the Are We There Yets began.
“When is this over? You're going too fast. I can't keep up. Can we walk now?”
And so … we walked. And it occurred to me that we were walking more slowly than we have ever walked before.
“You know this is a race … even when you walk, you're supposed to walk fast.”
He just scowled and walked slower, kicking dust up with each belabored step. No manner of cajoling on my part could get him to even pretend there was a clock ticking.
I realized at this pace my wits would meet their end long before we reached the finish.
Luckily, there are always saintly souls in any 5K race. And in our case, these beatific angels were wearing pink shirts with the word “Boobies” across the front.
“I'm going to win,” the lady on the left to my son. “I'm getting ready to pass you just around this bend,” said her friend on the right.
And off he went. I had to sprint to catch up.
The challenge was leveled and accepted at regular intervals until we all crossed the finish line.
As I thanked our pace angels for helping us through, I thought about all the people who ever held a door … or an elevator … or just a pat on the back after I'd bitten off more than I could chew. And it occurred to me, I've never really been alone. Not when I have the kindness of strangers.