I keep trying to get my kids to love running like I do. It’s not going well. I see my primary job as a parent as knowing and loving my kids exactly as they are. I delight in them. They amaze me, entertain me, challenge me. They are flawed and perfect. Despite this, the thought persists. Surely somewhere within them must be a glimmer of the part of me that loves running, that finds it sustaining and essential. Shouldn’t I keep introducing running to them until they realize (with joy and gratitude, obviously) that they love it, too?
They’ve tried cross-country and running clubs. They get started, attend a few times—and then they quit. It’s not fun, they’re too hungry, too hot, too bored; they want to read, they want to go home.
This summer, I heard about something new: a kids half marathon challenge. They’d commit to running 13.1 miles over the month of September. Given past experience I knew I was imagining something that was unrealistic, and yet I saw it this way: Us going for every-other-daily one-mile runs in the crisp morning air, starting with run/walk combos, chatting happily. With practice we’d go a little faster, returning home elated and breathless. They’d learn in elementary school what I didn’t discover until college: Running is the best! With their okay, I signed up my two daughters, ages 7 and 9.
We started strong, jogging with occasional walk breaks for two separate 1-mile outings. Then, we hit a snag: My 7-year-old was OVER IT. It turns out she’d only agreed to this whole thing because I’d misspoken and said every finisher would receive a trophy. (Note: evidently, a medal is an infinitely lesser object.) She slowed to a statement-making walk that said, “You have betrayed me, and this whole thing is dumb.”
And then, the wildfire smoke arrived. For 10 days, running outside was off the table. Our next “3 miles” were 1) running, walking, and jump roping in the house, 2) a mile’s worth of dancing, as best as my Garmin could guestimate, and 3) lots of jumping on the trampoline.
At that point, the smoke cleared, but the truth was obvious: Running wasn’t happening. We casually walked the rest of our miles.
Running has made me stronger, eased my anxiety, shown me beautiful things. But running also reminds me what every parent needs to hear sometimes: My kids are not me. And thank goodness for that. My kids love to dance. They love to jump. They’re obsessed with swimming. They circle around and around our living room, leaping from dilapidated couch cushion to wobbly Ikea coffee table. They dash to the neighbor’s tree swing during breaks from virtual learning. They sprint across my bedroom and launch into diving somersaults across the bed. They already know, by instinct, what their bodies love.
During our less-than-perfect half-marathon, we discovered that a tree we’ve been passing by for years is ideal for climbing. Even now that September has ended, we’ve walked there together. My girls have learned to navigate its angled trunk and sturdy branches. I’ve listened to their triumphant whoops and cheerful shrieks as they plot how to climb the highest they’ve ever been and bicker over who gets to sit where. Sometimes I wander near the trunk bored, wishing I’d brought a book. Tree-climbing isn’t something I especially enjoy. But it reminds me of another important thing: Our incredible good fortune. My kids are happy, healthy, and wholly themselves. What else, really, is there?