I was looking for my son. We had decided--or, I had said I thought it was a good idea--to run a 10K, since he is showing great interest in a relatively organized sport for the first time in his life. He's been training for an annual local event, his second 5K race, with his team at school, after making it in in about 24 minutes in his first.
This is the child who started barking like a seal before he could talk. It wasn't bronchitis, the pediatrician told me; it was asthma, a bronchiospastic cough. I spent countless hours on the phone in the middle of the night with pediatric nurses, who coached me through multiple breathing treatments that made my baby boy's little heart pound like a rabbit's after escaping the wolves. I would have made a deal with the Devil himself to take it from his chest to my own.
The year he turned four, on too many days I would take him to preschool and cross my fingers when I dropped him off. Later in the morning my office phone would ring and his dear teacher, in tears, would ask me to come and get him. "He has hardly stopped coughing." I was obviously A Bad Mommy. Then would have to leave a meeting early and worry about how it would count against me when the lawyers I worked for all had stay-at-home wives and full-time nannies to boot. They looked at one another, gentlemen all, and said it was fine. But I wondered what they said about my commitment when I left. What would they say when I left?
This week we had unseasonably warm weather, and the general population started sneezing. My son, blessedly prescription-free for nearly a year ("He's done so well, I so hope he can do it without the medicine," the doctor who'd met him at two days old said) had started a bit of a cough. We'd gotten out the over the counter allergy stuff, and it was starting to work. But I wasn't sure about the run. Maybe this would be too much.
Still, the morning was gorgeous and ridiculously warm for January, and he said, "No, I'm fine!" as he popped out of bed at 7 on a Sunday. We stepped up to the start line with another hundred or so hardy souls, and set off. A mile and a half in, my son said he had a stitch. We walked for a bit. Then we ran again, and he said he thought it might be too far. "Go ahead, Mom." I hesitated, but then thought, he has to run his own race. The cough was there. I heard his father's voice telling me I was once again doing something for me without consideration for anyone else.
I trucked along at a hesitant pace and tried to enjoy the sunshine. Talked to a couple of other runners and said a bright hello to those who acknowledged me on their way back along the loop. But I looked behind me and didn't see him. As I finally rounded the last corner to the last .2 miles, I saw the truck with the race marshalls from the far end of the loop coming in. Would they have picked him up? The race clock said 1:02, so I certainly hadn't beaten my hour limit. But not bad, given that I hadn't raced this distance since 1993. I crossed the line and walked towards the pavillion where people had gathered post-event. There was my son, sitting at a picnic table, munching on a cookie.
"Hey. I was wondering when you'd get in." He'd finished in 53 minutes, fully kicking his old mom's butt. "Can we go? I've been in for a while, and I'm getting cold. That was fun." So we headed back towards the car and to his sister, who was ready to go to our favorite breakfast place. We ate bagels and told her all about the fat guy in shorts and no shirt in 50-degree weather. The guy who brought his dog, who barked and pooped all along the course. "It really was fun," he said. And then I felt like a pretty good mommy.