Monday my baby started kindergarten. In that moment I felt as though I was watching a piece of my heart walk away from me, and yet at the same time felt reborn as I started the new life of a business woman, seven solid work hours, no more desperate struggling and scrambling as the norm.
It was time for phase two of my parenting life.
That evening while the kids crashed on the couch, exhausted from their first day of school, I went for the week five-day three run of the couch to 5K program. The program began with a five minute warm-up walk, but then moved into a twenty minute run, the first extended run in the program. Prior to Monday the longest I had run was eight minutes, and my ability to get through that requirement truly shocked me. But I did it. I stepped outside, ready to face twenty minutes of running without stopping and began to say over and over again in my head, “There is no can’t. There is only won’t.”
Could I do it? Would I do it?
Twenty-five minutes later I slowed to a walk for the first time and nearly collapsed in tears. The feeling was pure elation. I walked into the house feeling triumphant. Again, feeling reborn. Who had I become this summer? Who was this woman, this strong person with defined muscles, a smaller waist, cheekbones (who knew!?), energy to spare? I showered and took the kids out for their back-to-school dinner at their favorite restaurant, and I didn’t stop smiling once the entire evening. In fact, I occasionally giggled for no reason. Absolute joy. I looked across the table and saw a proud husband. I looked at the faces of my children and saw happiness, comfort in the new routine. Life is beautiful and good.
Yesterday I walked the kids to the bus for their third day of school with my running shoes on and my downloaded running music in my hand. The plan was to put them on the bus and begin my day with 30 minutes of alone time. There would be no emails or texts to respond to. No list of tasks looking up at me from my desk. My body pulsed with excitement knowing that before sitting down to work for seven hours at a computer, I would first enjoy the amazing feeling of retreating into my thoughts, music, a gentle morning breeze, the trees, the solitude of running. The temperature was perfect. The sky an amazing and clear blue.
I ran. I walked. I followed the program. I felt energized. Everything seemed fine. And then I returned home, broken.
There have been moments in the last eight years when I have felt so betrayed by my body that I could not believe it was my own. The twenty-five year old crumpled into a ball on the floor of the bathroom begging for mercy in any form seemed a lifetime away from the five year old in Wonder Woman Underroos in the backyard, besting her big brother at chin-up contests on the maple tree. The young mother with the body too weak to push the stroller around the block wholly unfamiliar to the fierce twenty-one year old biking over a mountain then dancing all night in the streets of Dublin.
Something happened this summer, and every moment felt like it was years coming, like it was owed to me somehow after the months of sickness, after the weakness that made me feel less whole, less complete.
The pants so loose that they fell to the floor, the muscles rippling across my back, the shoulders that rounded and curved in, the long-awaited realization of the physical potential of that strong little girl, that sister to the athlete, that granddaughter of the farmer, the strong woman finally appearing after years of waiting patiently for her turn.
But what I forgot in my triumph was the ramifications of those moments that came before, that brought me to my knees and shook me to the core. The effects of a traumatic childbirth are long-lasting, and they, too, were waiting patiently to return. Just as my body was changing on the outside, unbeknownst to me my body was changing on the inside as well. And now I’m facing a horrible irony, that just as my body becomes strong and unstoppable in many ways, in others it has chosen to give up and give in, unable to tolerate the new paces that it has been put through. Without knowing it, while building my body back up I was at the same time breaking it down.
So here I am broken. Just as I began to embrace and enjoy this new identity, began to believe that I could be that person who runs her first 5K, moves on to her next, aims for the goal of a sprint triathlon by next year, I am grounded. And I wait. Broken.