Once upon a time, there was a girl. OK, a woman. She was almost 30, but she still thought of herself as a girl.
One day that girl received a card. A real card in a stamped envelope. A 30th birthday card from her college roommate. A card that encouraged her to make this a year of taking chances and pushing limits. And she put that card away in a drawer, but the girl took that message to heart.
Because she was struggling.
So immersed and in love with her two little boys that they had become her identity.
Lonely and missing her husband, who worked two jobs so she could be home with their kids.
Shaken by the news that her father had cancer.
So she bought her first pair of running shoes. Which, for her, was taking a very big chance. Because the girl was an athlete, but never a runner.
Those shoes were good to her. Together the girl and her shoes jogged through the neighborhood. They ran before dawn because the girl was aware of the extra weight she carried from having birthed two children. She preferred the cover of darkness to hide a body that she was ashamed of.
She didn’t find running fun. But the girl stuck with it.
She remembered the card and its message she’d taken to heart. She said to the shoes, “Today we are pushing limits and heading out of the neighborhood!” So they did. And it was hard. Leaving the neighborhood had seemed like an impossible goal, but she’d believed that she could do it, and she did.
She looked in the mirror after that run and saw the girl looking back at her…not just the Mom. And she sparkled just a little bit.
When she came home from her runs to find goldfish crackers ground into the carpet and permanent marker on the walls, she shrugged. The girl slipped off her running shoes. She embraced her babies and said, “It’s OK. Mommy’s here.” And it was OK. Because the running made little things like crumbs and stains seem like they weren’t such a big deal after all.
One day her brother joined her for a run. And that felt like a big deal. Because he had run marathons, and she had only just left the neighborhood. She wondered why he would want to run with her when he could run so much farther and faster on his own.
But it soon became clear. The laughter. The companionship. The consistency. The encouragement. The trust. The vulnerability. They shared it all. While the rest of the town lie sleeping in their beds, the girl and her brother cemented their friendship as running partners.
One day her brother encouraged the girl to register for a 10 mile race. That idea scared her, but she thought of the birthday card. This was her year for taking chances! And she liked that feeling of sparkling. She was feeling more and more like the girl and not just the Mom. And, it may sound crazy, but that made her a better Mom. A patient Mom. A happy Mom.
The girl and her brother trained all summer for that race. On race day, they decorated their shirts with the words, “Every step is for you, Dad.” And their father, whose body was fatigued from having the cancer burned out of it, looked humbly at them through blue eyes that shone bright with tears of pride.
The girl was very excited about the race. She’d bought a brand new pair of shorts for the occasion! Shorts that she’d never run in before.
One mile in, the girl realized her mistake. “These shorts are hurting my legs,” she told her brother. Two miles in, her legs began bleeding. Three miles in, the girl said, “Five is all I have today.” She walked off the course at the five mile point while her brother ran on to finish alone. When the girl saw the letters DNF next to her name after the race, she immediately vowed that there would be another race.
Then she tossed those stupid shorts into the trash where they belonged.
There would be another race. But there would be no brand new shorts.
Before another race, there was another baby. A third boy, and the happiest of her children.
His smile warmed the girl to her toes. But carrying that boy had been hard on the girl. She waited until he was six weeks old before she laced up her running shoes. So enormous were her boobs that she needed three bras…yes, three!…worn one on top of the other, to get through that run. And it hurt. And the girl cried as she ran. She cried for the pain. For deep in her uterus it hurt. She cried for how much fitness she’d lost through that pregnancy. She cried for the pounds, all sixty of them, that she’d gained. She cried for the effort it took to run with those pounds on a frame not designed to carry so much weight. She cried because, as much as she tried to deny it, the girl was suffering from postpartum depression. She felt dull and hopeless…like she would never sparkle again.
To keep the walls from closing in on her, the girl put her faith in those shoes and continued to run. She ran through the pain. She ran through the tears. She believed if she kept running, maybe she wouldn’t feel so burdened. The girl was so many things to so many people. All she wanted was to feel just a touch lighter. “Really, is that so much to ask?” the girl wondered.
When the third boy was five months old, the girl’s brother said, “I’m going to run that 10 mile race again.” Her brother-in-law said, “I’m going to join you.” And the girl remembered the card that still sat in a drawer. It had been several years since she’d first opened that card, but its message had remained her companion. She felt tired, heavy, and overwhelmed. Not at all ready to push her limits. The girl said, “I don’t think I’m ready, but I’d like to give it a try.”
She’d graduated from running with three bras to running with only two bras. The girl strapped on those bras and slipped into the most comfortable shorts she owned, old ones that she’d run in many times before, and she joined her brother and brother-in-law at the start. They ran slowly. And they stuck together. After five miles, her brother turned to the girl and said, “Five is as far as I go today.” And it was he who walked off the course that race. The girl looked at her brother-in-law, whom she loved. Even without the running, theirs was such an easy friendship. “I’m going for it. Are you coming?” he asked. And the girl felt OK. So she continued to run.
The brother-in-law stayed with the girl for three more miles. Three very slow and painful miles. He regaled her with stories to keep her spirits up. But the girl was falling apart and holding him back. So she thanked him for getting her this far and urged him to run his race. And off he went.
By then it was only the girl and her shoes. The girl said to the shoes, “No matter what, we are not walking!” And those shoes were good to the girl. Which was no easy feat. Because the girl and her shoes were running on sand! The girl wanted to quit, but the shoes propelled her forward. Everything hurt, inside and out. So the girl thought of things that made her heart sing…the ocean beside her, the angelic faces of her children while they slept, how protected she felt in the arms of her husband, the outside shower she would take after the race, and the cold beer she would enjoy before bed.
And the girl found the resolve to cross that finish line. Accompanied only by her running shoes. Who hadn’t stopped to walk even once.
The girl bid the ocean good night. She planted soft kisses on her children’s heads as they slept. She savored the heat of the shower on her aching muscles. She found she was too exhausted for that beer after all. She crawled into the arms of her husband with a smile on her face. The girl had felt the shift. The weight was lifting. She knew it wouldn’t be long before she began to sparkle again.
Years went by, and would you believe that girl went and had another baby?
Yep…a boy! Her fourth.
And when the girl was 39, she found herself struggling again. “I think it’s time,” the girl thought, “to take another chance.” And the girl and her running shoes landed in a city far from home on a relay team with a group of runners. Runners who were different from the girl, yet mostly the same. All girls. Girls who’d known joy, pain, fear, frustration, and the aching exhaustion of sleepless nights. They were kindred spirits. A resilient group. For they were all Moms. Special Moms. The kind of Moms who celebrate and support one another. The girl and her teammates got very fancy for the occasion and donned pink tutus. The girl couldn’t forget about her beloved shoes, which’d always been so good to her, so she tied glow rings to their laces to match her tutu. And the girl delighted in every minute of their adventure.
It was on this team that the girl befriended a woman…a Pixie of sorts. The Pixie was the tiniest woman the girl had ever met. But her size didn’t fool the girl. For as small as her frame was, the girl recognized that the Pixie had a spirit as tall as the biggest evergreen and a heart as warm as the sunniest August day. Color, hope, quirkiness, kindness…the Pixie was a rare and beautiful collage of them all. As the sun set on the first day they’d spent together, the girl sat on the grass and watched as the Pixie strung lights through her tutu. The girl smiled as she thought, “Now her skirt glows as bright as her spirit.”
The Pixie sat down and looked earnestly at the girl. “Sweet girl, I see your struggle,” the Pixie said,”and the struggle is in your head. I promise, if you lead with your heart, it will never steer you wrong.” And the girl felt released. Like all at once like she might laugh and cry. And the Pixie’s advice has since become a mantra for the girl.
When she came home from that race to find dishes in the sink and laundry that needed folding, she shrugged. The girl slipped off her running shoes. She embraced her children and said, “It’s OK. Mom’s here.” And it was OK. Because the running made little things like dishes and laundry seem like they weren’t such a big deal after all.
Nearly ten years have passed since the girl opened that card. A card that encouraged her to push limits. A card that prompted her to take chances. A card that led her to take a chance on her very first pair of running shoes.
In that time, the girl has run alongside women who have imprinted themselves on the fabric of her heart. From soul stirring laughter to confidences that will never be broken, the girl and these women share moments that will endear them forever.
The girl, this lucky girl, has known the unparalleled thrill of running alongside her son. And she was nearly blinded by how brightly he shines.
The girl has experienced more life in those shoes than she’d ever imagined possible. She’s nurtured her spirit. She’s abandoned judgment. She’s found love for herself when she thought she’d given it all away. She’s forgiven herself for the times she’s been too weak to muster strength. The girl celebrates her body, worn and weathered from growing and sustaining life, for the beautiful and unique gift that it is.
She is inspired by the people she’s met on her journey.
She feels grateful for all she’s accomplished with her feet in these treasured shoes.
For in these shoes, the girl slayed her dragons.
There is a girl. OK a woman. She is almost 40, but she still thinks of herself as a girl.
She’s not afraid to take chances.
She’s likely to push limits.
More often than not, she leads with her heart.
The girl is a runner.
Some days she sparkles.
And everyone deserves a chance to sparkle, don’t they?
The girl is not upset that she’ll soon be 40.
Maybe, just maybe, she’ll receive a card. A real card in a stamped envelope. A 40th birthday card from her college roommate.
The girl can’t wait to read what it says.
Disclaimer: The girl does not endorse running in the same pair of shoes for thousands of miles. For the sake of the story, and out of respect for her first pair of running shoes, she didn’t introduce a new pair in this essay. In real life, she replaces her running shoes every 400 miles. Or whenever she can afford it. Because feeding four boys gets expensive.