There was a fundraiser held at my daughters’ school last week. The kids were supposed to run around a track with their classmates, trying to get in as many laps as they could within a certain period of time, essentially “earning” the money that their sponsors had donated to the school in support of them. We parents stood beside the track yelling “Mush! Mush!” in their faces in order to get them to go faster.
No, I’m just kidding at that last part. We didn’t heckle them. This was a school-sanctioned event, after all. No, we cheered like good parents, and distributed water ice as a reward (cotton candy flavor! Swedish fish flavor! Mango flavor, but who wants orange fruit when you can have COTTON CANDY!) and took their pictures and told them what a good job they did. Sheesh.
Saoirse was so excited for race day–she loves to run, and this fundraiser is one of the big events the school kids get to do for fun each spring. For them, it’s basically 45 minutes of happy running followed by dessert (“Mom! The cotton candy flavor was BLUE!”), lunch, and a movie in the classroom. Quinlan, as a preschooler, was slotted for a 15-minute run. She was excited, too, at first.
Until that morning, that is, when we were in the bathroom, where I was trying to wrangle the bird’s nest of curls on her head, and all of a sudden Quinn burst into tears. “I don’t want to do the race,” she said. “I’m scared. I don’t want to.” And I felt terrible–Quinn is not a joiner. She’s super shy, and her first instinct is to say no to anything out of the ordinary. She’s a lot like me–she gets intrigued by an idea, then that voice in her head speaks up and shuts down the excitement faster than you can say “insecurity.” I never wanted my kids to be like that: I always wanted them to jump at safe, fun opportunities. But you can’t change a child’s personality–especially if she got it from you. So I told her not to worry. She didn’t have to do the race if she didn’t want to.
And then I thought about it.
And then I thought about it some more.
And then I realized that I needed to be more tough mom than soft mom. I hate it when that happens.
On the way to school, Quinn stayed curled up in her car seat, sucking her thumb (an old habit that’s come back in recent months, much to the glee of her future orthodontist). And I told her that she would have to do the race. I told her that family members had donated money for her school because she was running, and that she had to follow through on her end of the bargain. I told her that she would probably like it, because she loves to run, too (and she’s actually really, really, fast, which sort of makes me crazy in that parent way that happens when your kid has a gift and doesn’t want to use it they way you–cough–want them to). I told her she needed to give it a try. That we would be there to cheer for her, that she would even get to have a treat afterward, but she had to try.
More tears. Not just mine, either. I don’t know why this was such a tough one, this lesson, but it was.
As it happened, at race time, Quinn was ahead of the line, expected to lead her class in their first lap around the track. With twenty kids following closely behind her, Quinn started walking so slowly that her classmates were actually bumping up into a pile behind her. Her thumb went to her mouth. She looked at me with the set jaw and eyes she has when she’s trying desperately not to cry in public. So I went to soft mom again. I went up to the track and took Q’s hand and helped her around the first lap. After that, I walked away. After I walked away, Quinn started sobbing. After Quinn started sobbing, David shot me that full-of-love husband look that looks a lot like rolled eyes and a telepathic what the hell were you bloody thinking?!. Thankfully her teacher stepped in, took her hand, and off they went, the two of them, around the track. They managed six laps in ten minutes. Quinlan started smiling. I shot David my own telepathic message, something that rhymes with I told you so!. We watched our daughter laugh as she rounded the bends. She refused to let go of her teacher’s hand, but later I heard that she insisted that they go faster, run harder.
That’s my girl.
That night, as we were tucking the girls into bed, I asked them to tell me their favorite parts of the day. Quinn broke into a huge, tired grin, and told me that the race was her absolute favorite part. “I loved the race,” she said. “I can’t wait to do it again. When can I do it again?” There was much talk about cotton candy water ice (“IT’S BLUE!”), but more about the actual running.
And then she said this:
“I’m glad I did it. It was fun.” She had that satisfied demeanor kiddos get after a really, really good day.
I struggle, too, with fear of change–I want new experiences, I search for them, but when one is finally right up against me, like all those kids piled up against Quinlan’s back, I panic and start running in the other direction. It’s a true gauge of my confidence these days–I’m almost there, but…sigh. Just not yet.
Now, when I think back to that day last week, I’m reminded of how David and I want to raise our family. We want to tell them: Be brave, my kids. Run that race. Look for help if you need it, but no matter what, run.
We’ll be waiting with the water ice when you finish.