Monday, June 14, 2010


It's November, 1998. I'm about to run what could be my final high school cross country race. I toe the line, wait for the gun. My heart is already hammering at race pace but I'm standing stock still, poised. The gun pops and my muscles shoot into motion. I go out hard – who cares if it's too hard – and fix my gaze on the soles of the fast girl's feet. She pulls me over those proving grounds. Somehow I hang on. And on. 

My mind goes to sleep, lulled by the white noise of my breath crashing in waves against the insides of my ears. I see only Fast Girl's feet and hear only my own breath until I round the corner into the final loop of the course. I lift my eyes up and to the right – slowly, as if my sockets are pockets of wet sand. I see my mom. She's cheering and I notice her face seems kind of stricken. Huh. I must look terrible, my lethargic brain concludes. 

Then, the finish line. It's done. Third place – good enough to advance to the State Meet. I'm almost too spent to feel proud. But I do. I really do. 


Flash forward nearly 12 years – I'm standing here with the pre-race jitters but there is no starting line. I haven't raced in years. And this isn't even my event. 

At the back of a full auditorium, I wait for my five-year-old daughter to take the stage wearing a bright pink tutu. My heart hammers like that empty stage is waiting for me. Somehow, this thing that has really nothing to do with me has me all wrapped up in knots, so nervous I could puke. And then the beat begins and Chipette voices squeak through the sound system, singing a song months of watching from the other room have grooved into my subconscious mind. 

And – there she is! My kid! Tapping a routine I was almost sure they'd all forget but pull of with classic cuteness. My grin is goofy and my eyes are starting to mist and there's a living lump in my throat. I'm not a very weepy person so this surprises me, but only for a moment. Suddenly I realize that this is how my parents must have felt, watching me run my way to the Big Meet and a million other times they told me they were proud of me. I always heard them, I thought I understood, but only now do I really get it. I feel the pride threatening to burst through my chest for this person who has belonged to me ever since she first kicked my ribs from the inside but every day proves that she really belongs to herself. Then all at once I'm imagining the many milestones left for this daughter to meet – achievements, successes, graduations, transitions – a lifetime of proud moments. I'm really almost crying now. 

The dance is done and I'm trying to clap around the baby on my hip. I swallow the lump and try not to look stricken as I hurry to catch her off the stage and say my congratulations. She hears me, but there's no way she really knows. Not yet.