Running into Forgiveness
I was laying in bed the morning after Halloween listening to my usual playlist trying to rise when my phone chirped. It was a text from Faith…
Healing my inner child by running a marathon with you.
I stared at the text and thought to myself, this must be what her social commentary on running is about. Followed by thoughts like, when will reading or hearing from my kids that they are doing their ‘inner child healing’ not cause me to double take? Twitch a little. Pause and think, wait what?
I ‘hearted’ it knowing Faith's journey to running and my role in it had been a challenging one. Then the next text came in…
The little girl in the pink tutu and a side stitch can stop crying now.
I just stared at the phone. I didn’t know what to say. The memories from that day started coming back in.
This is how it will always be: Regardless of the kind of parent you were or become, eventually you will be the reason your child needs therapy.
That I’ll always need therapy.
I can still hear how hard and harsh my words sounded. I want to write ‘must have sounded’ but I’m not naive to the tone, detachment and edge I presented with as a mother for most of their lives. That day has been locked into memory lane. A defining moment that colored the lens in which Faith saw me and running.
In (m)Other Words is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
10 years ago my kids, team of associates and clients from Teddies for Bettys and I dressed up with thousands of people to enthusiastically celebrate a fight against cancer by walking/running the Komen Breast Cancer 5k.
Except there would be no walking for my kids and I. Or crying. Or complaining.
In my effort to ‘encourage’ my child and push them, I said words that day during the event that not only would I never be able to take back, I witnessed the harm they inflicted and caused. That I caused.
‘You think you’re in paIn? People dying of cancer are out here and are still running. Do you see them? You can push harder for them.’
Faith was 8 years old.
I got up to make coffee and grabbed my computer. Where do I begin? How do I even respond to her text?
Years after that day, Faith shared with me just how bad it had been for her and began processing what a monster of a mother I was.. (can be); how it caused Faith to resent not just me, but running.
Eventually we were able to joke about it. The way you do with your parents when you're reflecting on the painful parts of your shared history and the only way to move through it is to laugh. The truth is, I was grateful that Faith had revealed her experience that day. That running was triggering to her because of me. I fully understood why.
I was mortified with who I was that day and many others when it came to ‘encouraging’ my children. Which led me to stop bringing up or encouraging Faith to run.
Some years later, two to be exact and almost to this very day in November, Faith went for a run. I remember because I was talking about doing a Runner's World challenge and Faith said they might do it. Then she went for a run.
It was everything I had in me not to say, we should do that together; not to ask if they wanted me to come; or randomly run into her on the trail.
But it wasn’t long after that when Faith invited me. I’ll never forget it. I had to contain myself and not express what I was thinking and feeling. We set off on the Pedestrian Bridge, both with music playing in our ears rounding the curve heading east on the trail. It felt like a sprint and I was thinking to myself, there is no way I will be able to keep up. I was also so excited that I just kept going until finally I looked over and casually but totally winded and said, is this your normal pace? Faith, a bit out of breath, no, you?
We started laughing. It turned out we were both feeling the adrenaline of that moment. It was then that we slowed down and set into a new groove altogether.
The relationship we have formed over the last few years running together has bonded us in a way I didn’t know the parent-child could; perhaps even questioned in the past if they ‘should’. But it’s been the marathon training that we started 5 months ago that has been breaking me emotionally, mentally and somewhat physically, that has had me questioning; is this my parenting - child karma?
I poured my coffee into a mug and stood at my island. I took my first sip and stared at the cursor flashing on the screen. I began to conjure more from that day; Faith in her furry pink hat that she wore anywhere and everywhere; the way her cheeks and smile, so round and wide were perfectly encased by it; the way she tried to carry her tired body for 3 miles; the discouragement on her face when I scolded her; the group photo that I sent to my friends and family later that day with pride; the phone call I received from my father telling me to never send him a picture of his grandson in a skirt again; me standing in a different kitchen at an island in disbelief and confusion, tearing up like a child.
It was full circle.
I texted Faith the word fuck. To which they replied with ?
It’s heavy, I said. Then asked, is this what your social commentary on running is about?
While waiting for Faith’s response I found myself thinking about our relationship. Specifically me as a mother in relation to my children. The open dialogue we have. The safe, even if painful space that I’ve tried to create for my kids to air their grievances in. Something I was never afforded. Then there is the space that I impose on them. The one where I come to ‘right a wrong’. To air grievances they may not know they have.
Just last month I was running and listening to Dr Gabor Mate on a podcast discuss his new book, The Myth of Normal.
He talked about Dr Spock who was a child therapist and the leading voice in parenting from the 70’s on. The advice was what I would call detached parenting. Let your child cry it out. If they fall, don’t pick them up. Parenting advice that called for letting your child fend for themselves that today, is in question; what sort of impression was this ‘life’s hard get a helmet’ advice teaching our young?
It taught us that if we express emotions like anger or rage , we get left alone or put in the corner; that we can’t use our voices; that crying is bad and not allowed; that we can’t ask for help.
On a deeper level it informs one's brain that you are alone. Depending on an individual’s internal wiring this could be interpreted as many things.
You’re not normal. Don’t behave like the rest of us, you get cast out. More severely, it can be internalized as being abandoned. The impact this can have on an individual, their self and world view can be very damaging.
I remember a time with Nick when he was a toddler and the words, you want something to cry about came out of my mouth. They pierced so loudly that they brought me into the present moment. I didn’t even know what had been done. I just knew that the words I heard as a child that caused me so much fear and sadness came out of my mouth. I was 22. I never said those words again. When I tell this story to other parents, we laugh. At this moment, it doesn’t feel funny.
I thought of all the long afternoons that I let him cry it out because he didn’t want to take a nap. I didn’t tend to him. I abandoned him. By the time I had my second child, I no longer took this approach. I knew intuitively it was wrong. That said, hearing all of the new research coming out about brain development, trauma and society's beliefs that we should all be operating from some ‘norm’ hit me.
After listening I called Nick. I had this urge to apologize. To tell him everything. I would leave you in your crib to cry yourself to sleep. I feel like a terrible person. I would never do that today. Ever. Maybe you wouldn't bite your nails had I not done that. I was so hard on you about your school work. I’m so sorry. None of that shit mattered. You don’t know, but I bet it’s buried deep on a subconscious level. I fucked up.
My son soothes me. Mom, everything is fine. I love you. I caution him to know this is the ‘stuff’ that may come up if he ever does large doses of mushrooms. Maybe he should talk to our therapist… get ahead of it.
My phone chirps. I grab my coffee and read Faith's message telling me that her commentary on running is about finding community and family through it. The family dinners with my coach.
I respond with Coach Bobby will love that.
I laugh a bit at myself. How her first texts, without any context opened up for me a deep dive into a self assessment. How my children are mirrors of where I am, want to be or believe I need to be. They unknowingly have the ability to - or I use them to- define my worth. Humble myself. To grow, break and repair and heal. I wonder if it’s self indulgent…
When I hear Nick tell me he wouldn’t change me or the life we had for anything. That it made him who he is today, I think of my own mother. I often find myself telling her the same thing. And though I believe it wholeheartedly, I also don’t have the heart to say what’s been buried below the surface for a lifetime. Truth is, I only just admitted to myself recently and it took 40 years to arrive here.
I wonder if he too will one day wake to a different truth? One where he holds love and disappointment at the same time.
I think about my father and stepmother; their harsh words and hands; how their voices were the most dominant in shaping not only how I thought of myself, but in how I reacted as a parent; the contempt I hold for him today that seems to have come out of nowhere. I thought I was over it, but time reveals new layers to be peeled back.
Over long runs I have questioned having a conversation with my dad. What would it serve I wonder? Would he, like me, hear his child and be able to let them have their pain? Or would he believe today what he did then. I play it out mile after mile.
Unresolved, I hold off knowing that I will probably arrive where I began.
When I think of Faith that day, and myself I know how awful it sounded. I wonder what on lookers saw. I think of all the moments before and after.
Now that they are no longer in my day to day, much of our past echoes between these empty walls. It’s not lost on me that much of the forgiveness I want from them is really about self forgiveness.
I bring my coffee to my mouth. It’s cold. I think of sending this to Faith. I know the response. I’m notorious for taking anything they have going on and making it about me. A family joke that is funny because it’s true.
Instead I go to Facebook to find the picture. Fuck is right. It is heavy.
I have my hands on Faith's shoulders. Her sweet face. Everyone is in the shirts I designed and sold on behalf of Komen. My eyes and face are puffy from crying all night over a break up. The hot pink tutu Nick is wearing that triggered my dad to call and hang up on me. It’s been 10 years.
It does cause me to pause; would I change that day? Who I was. How I mothered? Would Faith and I be running all over the world days away from running the NY City Marathon? Low key, I would change being a girl who cried about ‘that’ guy without a doubt. Would I go back and hold Nick to put him down for a nap rather than trying to get things done while he cried it out?
Of course I would.
Can I find room to forgive myself for what I didn't know then? The same way I have been able to be with my own parents? The same way my own children have?
I imagine the answer is a yes, but sometimes we hit a wall. Rather than forcing or pushing through it, I just allow it. The discomfort that comes with acceptance of what happened.That some of what has happened will never be funny. And that’s okay.
I called Faith later in the week. She and her roommate were hanging out in their Brooklyn apartment. Faith started telling us about her running commentary.
Mom! They are going to critique it the day after the marathon. She jokes, if anyone says anything mean, I’m going to tell them I broke my leg running. I mentioned how I thought her original text about healing her inner child and the pink girl in the tutu with the side stitch could stop crying took me on a tangent about being a monster of a mother. I mentioned how I had gone on Facebook and found the picture from that day. Faith interrupted me.
Laura, picture this… I’m 8 and my mom signs us up for a 3 mile run for breast cancer awareness month… Faith and I both start laughing.