It goes like this.
An inch of snow the consistency of a Slurpee. A 6.5 mile loop from the house. Two dogs. A running stroller loaded with thirty-three pounds of inquisitive man-cub. And the desperate need to run.
To say that I’ve logged the majority of my paltry mileage over the last few years while behind a stroller; it’s no exaggeration. Between developing chronic tendinosis in my Achilles, the pursuit of writing, and the endless flail that is trying to strike a balance between fatherhood/husband-ing/work, my fitness has fallen to the point of convenience. It shows around my middle, ten pounds tacked to my last marathon race weight. And in my temperament.
When I do get in a run, I feel an obligation to bring Finn with me for some fresh air and get the dogs exercise as well. An hour run turns into an hour and half, what with the prep of wrangling the dogs, getting Finn on the toilet, and wrestling him into clothes before restraining him in the stroller. And all this says nothing about the attempt to reach emotional buy-in from a toddler regarding his being strapped into a buggy for an hour or more.
Gone are the days of lacing up and strolling out the door maybe now, maybe later, maybe after I feel fully hydrated. Maybe when it’s warmer/colder/just right. Nope. The choice is now/never.
Huff huff INHALE “Yes?” huff
Huff “What?” huff
“What’s that [insert unintelligible thing or whatever he sees but can’t describe]?”
Huff “Dada.” huff “can’t.” huff “talk.”
[pause for a few seconds]
“Dada, what’s that?”
huff huff huff
In the good old days, when he weighed seven or eight pounds, and was in perpetual oscillation between either sleeping a little or crying a lot, taking Finn for a run was a welcome reprieve for both Jen and I. Fitter then, pushing the light-as-air stroller we paid out the nose for, I could log ten, eleven miles. I’d come back crowing about how he slept the whole time I bounced along at a 7:30 pace. Jen got a break, I got a run. Win-win.
Now: see above for the work required. And that’s best-case, assuming no meltdowns, or as I discovered on a recent trip to tow him on a cross-country ski — I don’t do something boneheaded like somehow bring two left foot ski boots.
Taking Finn on a run or ski is like having the exercise partner who won’t stop talking. Except, the beauty of an adult running partner who talks for an hour straight is that they usually don’t expect a response. Finn is a toddling interrogator, and if he doesn’t get an answer, or understand it, well, he’ll just ask again. And again. And again. It would try the patience of a seasoned extrovert, let alone a self-absorbed narcissist who does best left alone (that’s me in case you’re wondering.)
I’ve been told that a big part of active parenting is lowering expectations, and in my experience, it couldn’t be more true. Maybe that six mile run needs to be just three. Maybe plan on stopping if the route passes a park. Maybe slow down so you have the breath to explain something. Maybe plan on skiing for fifteen minutes before heading inside for forty-five. Because — and here’s the kicker — if you make the kiddo hate the activity, that’s going to stick with them for the lifetime.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Last summer, Finn asked to “run like Dada” every time we went out. I let him out near home, maybe a half mile to go, and was tickled when he managed to keep up a ten minute pace for several blocks. Of course, there were some really interesting leaves/rocks/branches/dirt/concrete/street signs/air/just about everything that simply had to be investigated at that very moment. But he was running. And this winter, I built a little snow hill off the backyard deck. Finn just learned to make it down the hill on skis without falling, and the smile on his face was worth all the hot chocolate bribery of last winter.
So, hang in there. What you once were, is still who you are. The cool part is letting that thing that made you who you were, evolve as you become who you are.