Friday, August 28, 2009
Knowing when to say when
Just before dinner on a warm evening last week, I laced my sneakers, set my stopwatch and headed out for a run. It’s not an unusual sequence for me, but this time it felt different. For the previous 732 days, my 10-year-old son Tim had gone through these same motions in tandem with me. But not today. After two years plus one day of putting in his daily mile, Tim had made the decision to end his running streak.
In some respects, I was sad to be heading out for a run without him. In August of 2007, intent on finding a way to bond with my then 8-year-old son over a common interest, I drew upon the expertise I’d gathered while researching an article on so-called streak runners (which are not the same as streakers; they run daily, not naked). “Want to try running a mile together every day for a year?” I asked Tim, believing that unless I developed a sudden interest in either Star Wars or Xbox 360, the situation was only going to worsen as far as our having any common interests. A boy who likes a challenge, Tim agreed to try it out.
And so we did it: for one full year and then for a second full year. Early in the morning; mid-afternoon; as dinner was in the oven; after homework; we found all kinds of ways to fit in our daily mile. We gradually increased our distance all the way up to the occasional five or even six miles, though Tim’s favorite runs are in the one to three mile range. We took part in four races during that first year and three the second; Tim ran his last five-mile race in just over 40 minutes.
When you’re growing up in a small town and have the dual blessing-and-curse of a mom who regularly records family events in essays that appear in your local newspaper, it’s easy to feel famous fast. Tim began to perceive himself as the kid who was known for running a mile every day. As our number of consecutive daily runs grew into the hundreds, more and more people – classmates, teachers, adults around town – commented on his running streak. People would call out to us from passing cars. One acquaintance demonstrated her impressive ability to project her voice all the way from the north end of the Ferns parking lot to the corner of School Street as she shouted “Way to go, Tim!!!” across the rotary (Mrs. Nash, we mean you). And as his interest in increasing mileage waned, it became apparent to me that he was possibly more invested in being “the kid who runs a mile every single day” than in expanding his prowess as a long-distance runner.
That was one reason that I wasn’t more disappointed early in the summer when Tim started making casual comments to the effect that he might decide to end his streak. The small amount of fame he’d accrued was enticing, but it wasn’t addictive, I discovered. He was fine with giving it up. And that seemed to me like an encouraging overall statement about his personality: someone who responds to affirmative attention but doesn’t require it as a lifeblood. Although I miss running together, I also recognize that character trait as a positive thing.
Even though he started talking about ending the streak in June, he hung in there until August 15th, determined to reach our second anniversary. On the 16th, he played baseball and went for a bike ride, but didn’t go running – for the first time in 732 days.
When we started our running streak, a lot of justifiably concerned adults asked me whether I worried that he felt pressured to do this. Some even accused me of fostering an unhealthy obsession. But Tim’s decision this summer proved to me that I had nothing to worry about on that front. “Maybe he’s doing it just to please you,” skeptics had suggested in the beginning. I had to laugh, thinking that if Tim were to do anything just for the sake of pleasing mom, I wished he’d start with clearing his plate after dinner and doing his homework without being reminded. I knew my son, and didn’t really believe he would run every day just to please me.
But now that he’s stopped, I know for sure. During the two years of daily running together, I felt proud of his sense of commitment, his diligence, even the time-management skills that developed as he learned to look at the day ahead and figure out when to carve out 20 minutes for a run. But in a way, I’m even more proud now, because he’s demonstrated something even better than time management: autonomy. Knowing how much I loved our daily running habit, he was nonetheless resolute in saying enough was enough.
So for now, I’m doing my daily mile-or-more alone, and that’s fine too. Maybe Tim will join me again; maybe he won’t; maybe I’ll eventually decide to stop.
Or maybe my seven-year-old daughter will be the family’s next streak runner. I’d love to see her develop a passion for something other than messy crafts projects and American Idol. Give us a couple more years and I’ll see if I can get her out there with me. ∆
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito