This struggle is real. There, I’ve said it. I’ve said what mothers aren’t supposed to say about their kids, or about parenting. But I am owning this difficulty. I don’t see being competitive or non-competitive as a failing, I just see them as being un-harmonious exercise partners, and I have reason for my sudden outburst too. We’ve just done a Parkrun with the kids. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a 5km timed, free event, done around the world every Saturday morning. We decided to go and do the one in Stellenbosch where you wind through the vineyards, views of the misty morning mountains in all directions; it’s nothing short of exquisite. Hard to think of something I would enjoy more on my Saturday morning. Couple that with being with my family and I’m thinking this is the best possible start to the weekend. But let’s put that thought on hold.
I worried that Lola wouldn’t want to do it fast, so I said I’d go with her and we could do it at her pace, while Shaun and Lincoln ran ahead. I did N.O.T. realise what I was committing myself to.
The kids are stellar in the mountains, they can climb, they can run, they have endurance, and they usually love our adventures. Sometimes it takes a bit of convincing, but Shaun and I generally know what will get them fired up. Today was a different day – we don’t win every outdoor adventure with the kids.
I have written many articles about the kids and their differing personalities, Lincoln’s double speed, and Lola’s gentle calm nature. I know who she is, but I guess I don’t always know who I am. Sometimes I surprise myself.
I wasn’t always like this you see. If you ask my parents, they will probably paint a very different picture of me as a kid. Fun loving, happy-go-lucky, always up for an adventure, but not if it meant too much effort on my part. I preferred to be the cheerleader at cycling races where my mum and brothers raced competitively, always there to support, but I found the pressure of my racing with the intention to win, too much. Every time I got to a serious level in my sport, I caved. As soon as the pressure was on I stopped enjoying it. I know this about myself, and I recognise this in Lola. Sure, she may only be 7, but some attributes present themselves early, some fights we have already fought. She is sporty, she is a fast runner and she can do anything she puts her mind to. The problem is she doesn’t like putting her mind to it very often. She gets upset if she doesn’t come first so she often opts not to try. This I understand very well, because it is a carbon copy of me. A genetic blue print if you will. It is also why I struggle to parent her through it. I hate that quality about myself, and it has taken me 34 years of growing up to talk myself through it. She on the other hand only has 7 years of growing up behind her, and many frustrating sporting years ahead, learning that failure is normal and nothing to be embarrassed about. If you give it your all, that’s all anyone can ask.
The problem is, after all this time I have come to enjoy healthy competition, and even though I don’t like being beaten, I’m a little more mature about it now. That is, until a middle aged male looking like he hasn’t run further than from his tv to his fridge in the last 30 years shuffles past me, while Lola and I are walking at a snails pace down a flat road because she doesn’t feel like running. That is when maturity and I part ways. It is also when I bend down very calmly and tell Lola that if she doesn’t pick up her pace I am going to leave her behind.
Now if you know Lola, you know this threat would mean nothing, not because I don’t follow through, but because she does nothing unless she wants to do it. Threats are a vapid string of words to her; it’s like whispering into the wind. She will hold her head high, and with the dignity of the queen mother, dare you with her eyes. She has terrified many an adult with this look. It’s a challenge I always feel compelled to accept, the only problem in a situation like this is that I got 100meters down the road and stopped to wait for her because it’s not entirely safe leaving her alone. While I waited for her to catch up, two sweet old ladies walked past talking about her being like a fairy in a forest. Not half a kilometre up the road we had to stop while Lola had a ‘quick’ look in a forest we were walking past. Their description couldn’t have been more prophetic.
While I stood and watched Lola gazing into the forest, I remembered what I had said to her, we could do the race at her pace. What kind of mother am I if I don’t stick to my word? I knew the answer, I didn’t have to think about it. After a few deep breaths, I decided on a new approach. We would actually do the race at her pace. This meant not trying to make her run, not threatening to go ahead if she didn’t run, and not telling her that her brother and dad were probably already finished in the hopes she’d hurry up. None of which are proud parenting moments for me, but sometimes we mothers slip up too.
I am pleased to say that after that point, we skipped, we galloped, we stopped to smell the flowers – literally, and we walked, even when we were the absolute last people on the course. Ok in all honesty, I did do a bit of encouraging to get her to pass another 7 year old boy and his family so we didn’t come absolutely stone last. That, and the smell of the coffee proved too much for me, and I may have dragged her a little on the home stretch so I could drown myself in a large latte for my sins.
It would be an immense exaggeration to say that I enjoyed the race. For the duration of the event that I was ‘racing’ in my head, I was frustrated, annoyed and ready to throw in the towel. With every glimpse of a short cut home I had to practice good parenting and lecture about perseverance and not giving up. I’m not sure if the lecture was for her or for me. But when I changed my intention, and realised if we were going to finish this thing at all, I had to do it the way I told her we would, at her pace, it suddenly became fun and happy time together. It would be grossly misleading of me to tell you I could do this every time though. I enjoy pushing myself, I enjoy taking up a challenge and seeing what I’ve got, and it’s frustrating that I can’t seem to convince Lola that it’ll be fun. I want her to enjoy it like I do. But then I remind myself what I was like as a youngster, and I remember the wise words my mom shared with me after another rant I was having about the kids.
She said, no matter how much I might want to, I cannot wrap up my experience and give it to my children as a gift. They will make their own mistakes.
Who knows, maybe Lola won’t look back with regret; maybe not competing won’t bother her in the slightest. Maybe, like her mother, she will wish she had taken on the challenge a little more. But it is ultimately her path to forge, and her choices to make. All I can do is encourage, offer opportunities, and watch who she becomes. Keeping my competitive nature to myself will be a challenge, but if this race taught me anything, it’s that I had better stick to my word, because telling her we can take it slow while my every intention is to convince her to run, makes for a very unpleasant morning. And if I multiply that out a little, it will make for one unpleasant childhood as well. And that simply, isn’t fair.