So, the thing isÖ I ran a race.


I donít know if everyone feels this way but I always have a hard time after the holidays.  I call it Post Show Let Down (PSLD) because when I did theatrical productions, it was a common phenomenon among the performers.  I mean, you rehearse for months Ė you devote your life to the production -- and then the show is over in three days. What do you do then?


I usually feel that way after the holidays, too.  Within the space of a month, we have my husbandís birthday, Christmas, New Yearís and our anniversary Ė and all of the details that accompany all of those things.  By the time we are done, I am sick of shopping, sick of running the three thousand errands, sick of decorating, sick of UN-decorating.  Sick of feeling like I could have done more or done it better or done it in a more timely fashion.  I am sick of my bratty, ungrateful children, (well, except for those few moments when I get to see the wonder of the season reflected in their faces and I remember why we put ourselves through this.)  But I am just in a bad mood.  Even things that normally make me happy, like houseguests and cooking, canít lift me out of my slump.  And, woohoo, thereís always my birthday to look forward to next month.  Sigh.


So, this year, I had it bad.  Post Show Let Down.  I was so cranky, I couldnít even find the motivation to start my New Yearís Resolutions and normally, I just love the beginning of the New Year and that clean slate feeling.  But Iíd been heading for a slump for a while and as soon as the last obligation was discharged, I just got down and wallowed in it.


See, I had this not-very-flattering realization about myself.  Iíve spent the years of my stay-at-home-momhood feeling like I was special in some way.  In Austin, because people want to live here and are willing to be under-employed to do so, you are likely to call a plumber or carpenter who happens to have a PhD in rare linguistics or something.  This is how I felt.  Yes, I was staying home with my children but I was so much more than just a mom.  SO much more.

But I began to see that every woman I met was like that.  Every woman I know has hidden depths.  For example: thereís the mom I met at Anaís school who has a recording business with her husband and was just nominated for several Grammies for a rare blues compilation.  Thereís the mom I was talking to on the playground who said, just out of the blue, ďThis year, I realized that children donít hold grudges.  I mean, my son gets mad and then itís over but when I get mad at him, it takes me a long time to get over it.  So Iím trying to learn that lesson from him.Ē  Thereís my friend Janet, who, in addition to being one of the most creative and patient moms I know, is also one of the smartest women Iíve ever met.


I always say that we women need to stop comparing ourselves to each other but when everyone I meet seems so awesome, itís hard not to feel smaller and smaller.  I felt invisible, really.  I drove carpool in my silver mini-van and realized that every woman at the wheel of every other silver mini-van felt as unique as Iíve always felt.  And probably with more reason.


So, I signed up for this 5K race thinking it might give me the motivation I needed to drag myself out of my blues.  Iíd been running with a running group so I knew I could finish it. But it was the first race Iíve ever run in and youíd think I would have been so excitedÖ I just wasnít in the best frame of mind. 


The night before the race, still punishing myself for not being exceptional, I drank a bunch of wine.  And the next morning, as my husband got our excited kids ready to go see Mama race, I had to take a shower just to wake up.  And then the day was miserable --rainy and cold and I stood amidst the other runners and thought to myself, ďHere you are, one more slightly overweight suburban housewife waiting to run a race you canít win.  What is the point?  What is THE POINT?Ē


The race began and the rain fell harder.  People passed me and I ran past a few.  I got drenched by the rain and stepped in puddles but I just put my head down and ran. 


As I neared the finish line, I heard a familiar small voice, high above the crowd.  ďHi, Mommy!  Go, Mommy!Ē  It was my daughter Ana, standing with her little sister and my husband and they all looked so proud and so excited -- I sprinted the last hundred yards. I was so glad to see those faces and suddenly so honored to think theyíd made the effort to come stand in the rain just to see me run.


I learn the most important lessons at the oddest times.  There I stood, amidst this sea of people on such a nasty day and yet, I could feel the sun coming up inside me.  How arrogant to think that I should be something more than loved by my family!  What would be more than that, anyway??  It is a gift to love and be loved Ė itís bigger than any bricks and mortar achievement.  I truly believe that nothing matters, NOTHING, but our relationships with the people closest to us.  As a barometer of how we are living our lives, I think it is the only accurate measure.  How lucky I am to be important to these unique and wonderful people.


Iím learning that winning the race isnít the point.  Showing up, lacing up those shoes and setting off is the point.  When all is said and done, we either stay on the sidelines or we suit up and get moving.  And if we join the race, itís up to us to go forward, under our own steam or carried by the faith of those who love us. 


And Iím learning to listen to the small voices of my children when Iím cold and itís raining and I can barely see in front of me.


Because their belief in me gives me wings.



ďA hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child....Ē  --- Forest Witcraft



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(c) Barbara Cooper 2003


Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (4.75) and Hurricane Jane (2).  She lives in Austin, Texas and is training for her next race.