Sunday Morning ~ Mothers With Sons Who Run
Cikumbutsa nkhwangwa mdi cisanu. ~ It is the cold that reminds us of the axe.
~ Chewa proverb
May 10, 2020
My five children all arrived into a changing family dynamic with unique reactions to our family events. Child rearing often blindsided us while their accomplishments delighted us. They quickly taught me the vision I had for them had nothing to do with the one they had for themselves. Some hard times were easier to roll with than others, I guess stemming from my own experiences as a child. I never wanted my offspring to experience the painful parts of my childhood and naively thought I was more enlightened and therefore more capable of protecting them than my parents were. I thought I’d be more on top of things. It didn’t take long for that comeuppance to hit home.
It was my mother who noticed one of my children spent an inordinate amount of time running in circles. I hadn’t noticed it as there were always kids running around in the house. I ignored the activity until someone fell or broke something. My mother asked, “What’s the matter with this kid he keeps running in circles?” as if he were poking needles in his own eye. I snapped back at her, “Why do you care? Is he hurting you?” always sensitive to her criticism. But after that comment I did start watching more closely and he did run in circles. Huh. It started looking strange to me and I started thinking it did sorta look like something was wrong. I pointed it out to my husband and asked, “Do you think this is a sign of some problem?” He brushed it off as if I were overreacting. I focused on other issues. But then I’d watch his little red jacket going by in the woods when I looked out the kitchen window. I thought it was great he was playing in the woods but one day I went out there and could see a deep track he had made by running in the same circle over and over. He was a loner and had more trouble socially than any of my other kids. He ran in circles in the woods, he ran circles in the house, rerouting if something blocked his way. He seemed to meditate and self soothe that way. It seemed a good coping mechanism for him. I tried not to make an issue of it.
In elementary school he was bullied and it left scars. He was getting in fights and I worried constantly about him. He ran cross country and did well and I’d hoped that would boost his self-esteem. It was a positive thing but he still struggled. High school was different. Track, specifically running the mile, became an event that would alter his life. He’d been training for this since he could walk. He was good. His coach, who to this day I credit for the positive pivot my son’s life took, cared about him. I’d stand at the chain link fence and watch him giving my son feedback. I watched my son listen and nod his head. I was grateful this coach knew how to connect with this running son of mine. It was crazy exciting to watch him run the mile. I’d barely breathe for the four minutes and thirty-eight seconds it took. By the end I was screaming and flailing my arms to the point I had to warn people sitting near me. He’d start out at the back of the pack and slowly move up lap after lap, his ponytail flying out behind him. He reminded me of a pony set free, graceful and fluid. Awkward in many other aspects of life, he would glide over the track with some combination of God given talent, dedicated coaching, and pent up angry energy at how his world treated him. He often won the race in the final few feet. I loved being his mom. I loved sitting in the stands hearing parents from other towns say, “Watch this kid, he’s amazing.” I’d think, “Yes, that’s my son. He’s amazing.”
I was never a runner but he made me want to be. I asked him to help me train to run a half marathon for my fiftieth birthday. He agreed. He’d say things like, “Remember, there is never a day when you don’t run.” and I’d absorb that like a sponge. I have no idea where he got this or if he made it up, but every time I didn’t want to run I would think of him saying that sentence and would force myself to run. I wanted to honor him. Running saved him and I wanted it to save me, too. I became stronger and started liking it more. I realized I don’t like the first two miles but after that I felt good. I stuck with it because it was running that changed my kid’s life and I wanted to understand the experience. We’ve run a marathon together. (Well, it was the same marathon but I was no where near him after the first two seconds. We didn’t actually run it together.) I think often that my child’s life was saved by running. But today I can’t stop thinking of another mother’s son, taken by running because of the color of his skin. I can’t stop thinking about her. I wonder if she cheered him on during races? Was he a high school star? I wonder if she felt that running changed or saved his life? I wonder if she were grateful to his coaches for helping him? It’s her first Mother’s Day without him and I don’t know how she can she bear it. I want to reach inside her and help carry her grief. I want her to know I am sorry for the burden she carries. I worried about my kids for all sorts of reasons but never worried they’d be shot while running. I always felt that if my son were running he’d be ok. I wonder if she felt that way? As long as he was running, everything would be ok.
Mother’s Day is hard for so many. For every mother who has lost a child, I am sorry. None of it is fair.
Love to all,