My regular gentle readers will know how committed--"obsessed" is such an ugly word--I am to running. I love my running buddies; I love the fact that my risk of dropping dead of heart disease is reduced as a result of our early morning workouts; I love the fact that every now and again someone says something so precious that the words resonate and are worthy of this very column.
Although the fact is that we get a true gem only every several thousand miles or so.* More on this ratio later.
Asking in advance for your patience and forgiveness--sign here; initial here; and here--and in the spirit of "you had to be there," here are two of my favorite running stories:
1) My buddy Daniel--a professor, but otherwise a pleasant enough guy--was saying hello to pretty much everyone whom we trotted past on the track one early morning. "Pedro, how's the family?" "Nice to see you, Tim." "Vilma, you look strong."
I told him that he was so popular and personable that he should run for mayor. Focusing on his workout and without missing a step Daniel furrowed his brow and replied, "How far is it?"
2) This next vignette does better in the first person: "Grete Waitz won the New York Marathon nine times and earned a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She and I were within a hundred yards of one another for 45 minutes in the Miami Marathon.
Then the race started.**
OK, that's pretty much all I've got after 30 years of running and enough miles to have run around the earth at the equator. Let's take the conversation back to parenting, an equally sweaty occupation, but, unlike running, one about which you never get to say, "It feels so good to stop."
In order for there to be special moments, there have to be a lot of un-special moments. A boat load of un-special moments by my count.
That happy family where the kids take out the trash without being asked? The one where the adolescents make dinner and say thank you to their parents for working so hard? The one where the kids read books and eschew violent video games?
Along with working shepherds and successful athletes who don't practice, I hear about such families more often than I meet with them. Remember the Walton Family? Sure you do. Because they were a TV show. "Little House on the Prairie"? Also fiction. And a previous and therefore easy to romanticize century.
In real life, you get to have that occasional, touching, important conversation with your adolescent child BECAUSE the moment is so rare. If you have the "respect women" talk with your teenage son more than once a year, then by definition, you're nagging. (Recommendation: have the talk about reproductive biology in the car while you're driving 70 miles per hour on the Interstate. If you have the sex talk while you're only driving 40 miles per hour, you run the risk that your child will hurl himself out of the car window.)
What's the take away for parents trying to raise healthy kids in a culture seemingly designed to make our children entitled, addicted, snarky, and oppositional?
The teachable moments come occasionally. Like those six a.m. Matheson Hammock runs, it's rare to see something extraordinary. Here's the score card:
Six a.m. runs during which we saw no animal bigger than a mosquito: 512
Six a.m. runs during which we saw two black, bottle-nosed dolphins cavorting only a few feet from shore: 1
Like Stephen Breyer says about getting appointed to the Supreme Court, "It's important to be on the corner when the bus goes by." The more time you spend with your kids just talking about nothing, the more open they will be to listen when you have something important to say.
And what could be more special than that?
* For the truly math-y, here's the arithmetic: Twenty miles per week times 50 weeks per year times 30 years equals 30,000 miles. I remember about a dozen clever remarks of which the two above are--arguably--worth repeating.
** I ran pretty well that day. Grete beat me by barely over an hour.