So I was thinking about the triple jump the other morning, awakened extra early by my 21-month-old (again) after a not-very-restful night (again). I realized, with a bit of a shock, that I was feeling pretty blasé about the sleep deprivation, about starting another day of tending to my two boys headache-y tired. I used to get so distraught when the dawn’s light began to seep out from behind the blackout curtains in my littlest’s bedroom after a long night of interrupted sleep. I’d stumble out to the kitchen and blearily begin the coffee-making process, knowing it was only a matter of time before my oldest awoke, before I began being pulled in different directions à la the mom in the Incredibles. I’d feel like I’d been pushed to my absolute limit, panicking not a little: “Aack! How am I going to get through the day? I CAN’T DO THIS!” But then I’d get through that day and the next day that started off similarly and the next, as well. Now I roll out of bed after another bout with nightwaking and though I’m not a pretty sight I’m also not a panicky mess. I guess motherhood has provided me with enough pushed-to-my-limits moments that I’ve had to realize that my limits aren’t the immovable absolutes I’d thought them to be.
I helped coach a season of track and field at my alma mater about ten years ago, mostly to log some hours working with kids so that I could apply to a teaching credential program. The head coach, himself pulled in too many directions, asked me to take over the jumping events so that he could focus on the rest. I’d been a long-distance runner when I’d been on the team — and not a very fast one at that — so I knew bupkis about coaching the long jump and the triple jump. I drove around the county to different branches of our public library, amassing as much material as I could find on the topic of training jumpers. I read books and watched videos and attended coaching workshops, concentrating on committing the proper technique to memory so that I could pass it along to my track kids. I was totally over-preparing because I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. There was a reason I’d only been a runner when I was in high school; I have a hard enough time getting my own (often laughably uncoordinated) body to do what I want it to without the added pressure of concerning myself with a dozen or so pubescent adolescents’ bodies. Three months later, we ended the season with smiles and big hugs rather than an array of medals and ribbons, but that was OK. I’d done my best and so had the kids and we’d had fun and enjoyed popsicles together in the process. More than a decade later, I still think back upon my brief career coaching track and field, especially when I’m feeling pushed to my (maybe not-so-set-in-stone) limits.
Though many of my track kids started out the season wanting to compete in both the long jump and the triple jump, very few ended up doing so. The triple jump just proved too tricky for most of them. It wasn’t that they weren’t physically capable of performing it; it was that it posed too much of a psychological challenge. You run as fast as you can down a runway, aiming for a painted line from which you hurl your body in a calculated “hop,” barely landing before you “step” and then finally “jump” into a sand-filled pit. The point is to carry as much of the momentum you gained sprinting down the runway with you as hop, step and jump your body towards the pit. The problem is that it feels really weird to do so. Your brain keeps saying, “Wait! Catch your balance! You’re going to fall!” Time after time, I’d watch a kid sprint down the runway, take off beautifully and then bail out somewhere between the leap and the jump. I could see the story unfold on each kid’s face: confident while sprinting, determined while taking off, feeling good while hopping and then “AAAAAAACK!” At the time, young and unsure of myself, I didn’t know how to tackle these crises of confidence. I just commiserated with the kids. I knew a lot about faltering and not finishing, about losing faith.
I used to approach Life like it was the triple jump. I’d go charging towards a challenge, throw myself at it, then bail out the minute I started to feel uncomfortable. Learning how to ride a bike, studying for big exams, learning how to drive a car, writing important papers in college, finishing college, finding jobs… The list goes on. Even with small stuff like knitting and cooking and learning how to play the guitar: same story. Hop, leap, AACK! Pushing through, past my comfort zone, took so much effort that I usually lost faith in myself and just gave up. I was three months shy of thirty when I became a mom, and my past was littered with never-completed attempts at careers, projects, hobbies, even friendships.
Here’s the thing about motherhood, though: it’s pretty much always pushing you past your limits, out of your comfort zone. The sleepless nights, yes, but also the engorged breasts shooting breast milk into your screaming infant’s face and the poop explosions and the crazy hormonal mood swings and then the temper tantrums and the toddler-getting-into-EVERYTHING messes and the “No!”s and then the back talk and the meltdowns and then the fevers and the infections and the broken bones. And every single time I’ve thought to myself, “Nope. I can’t do this. NO NO NO NO NO. I CANNOT DO THIS!” it’s gotten better. Every single time. Every time I’ve “woken up” after barely sleeping and wondered, “How am I going to get through the day?” I’ve gotten through the day. Every time one child or another has been screaming at the top of the his lungs for one reason or another and I’ve thought, “That’s it. I give up. This is TOO MUCH!” the crisis has passed. So I’m starting to realize now, after more than six and a half years of motherhood–after more than six and a half years of being pushed past my limits–that what I think are my limits are actually not. And that that feeling–that “AACK!” feeling–is only a feeling and a fleeting one at that. It passes and then Life doesn’t seem so impossible anymore.
So that’s why I was thinking about the triple jump the other morning, on my way to my cherished French press. I think maybe I’m finally learning the lesson it was trying to teach me ten years ago. I also think that I’d probably be a much better track coach now that I’m a mom. I’d watch the kids faltering in the middle of the triple jump, I’d see them start to feel uncomfortable and lose confidence, and I’d say, “Push through, past what you think you can do. You can do so much more. Push through. It gets easier. Believe me, I know.”
Back in the ‘burbs after living in the Caribbean for more than half a decade, I’m a widowed mom of two young boys. I do my best to practice attachment parenting and peaceful parenting, to live mindfully and holistically; sometimes, though, this roller coaster called Life derails my good intentions. Above all else, I strive to be happy and grateful for each day as it unfolds.