Growing up, I didn’t like to run. When required by our middle school physical education instructor, my girlfriends and I would sullenly walk around the school track, gossiping and giggling without breaking a sweat. That all changed when I got to college where running was part of the student culture. Meeting up for a run was a way of being together, like getting coffee.
I came to treasure early morning sweat sessions in the California foothills with a friend by my side or my trusty disc-man on my hip. Even when I did not have a running partner, it was far from a solitary activity. Along with students (and sometimes professors or staff) enjoying the undulating running trails behind campus there were locals from the wider Bay Area who would drive to exercise there.
No matter what time of day I was running – dawn, before lunch, twilight, or anything in between – I was sure to encounter several women running with strollers up and down the punishing hills. They would be resolutely pushing their strollers up an incline as I sprinted past, or pausing to give their fussy toddler more cheerios. Sometimes we would be coming from opposite directions and there would be a fleeting moment of connection, a grin and nod as our sneakers carried us closer and then further apart from each other. I felt envy in their tired smiles. “Oh, to be young and free,” I imagined these mothers thinking, “if only I could go back to my college days.” I felt sorry for them.
Seeing those mothers on the running trails was a near-daily reminder that I was living the best days of my life. I ran faster, worked harder, and dreamed bigger knowing that I too might one day be weighted down with a stroller and all that came with it.
Fast forward some years and three thousand miles east and today I am experiencing an astonishing role reversal. There is a gorgeous, tree-lined running track behind my suburban home where I run a few times a week (when the weather approximates that of my native California). As I push my (double) stroller, I often jog past college students from the nearby university. We grin and nod. Sometimes I detect a glimmer of pity in their eyes as they scan my tiny (usually dirty, sometimes whining) passengers.
I try to flash them a genuine smile, as if to tell the students: “Don’t feel bad for me, you have no idea how good I have it. I would not trade places with you for anything. I found my soul mate, I have held three dream jobs, I am financially stable and emotionally secure. My children have brought color to a world I did not realize I was living in black and white. These are not the best days of your life. Enjoy them, but know that true happiness lies ahead.”
I honestly believe that these, right now, are the best years of my life. Both my children and my parents are happy and healthy. I have succeeded in one career and am just starting out in another. I have everything I need and want. And yet, when I jog past older couples strolling hand in hand along the creek, I wonder if they are watching me run past and thinking: “Look at that tired, overworked young mother, she doesn’t know how much better things are going to get.”