Fourth of July in Frankfort, Michigan is a long-standing tradition for my family. I remember catching candy at the parade and watching the fireworks after a day of swimming even as a very young child. I have watched my nieces and nephews grow up on this tradition. My own children expect that Frankfort is where we will be every Independence Day. In recent years, the newest generation of kiddos – my nieces’ and nephews’ children – have even started to take part. Frankfort is just where my family wants to be on the Fourth. Every other Fourth of July celebration I’ve ever attended absolutely pales in comparison to this experience.
So this year, my little family rented a camping cabin at Betsie River Campsite, a short bike ride away from downtown Frankfort. And here we are.
I’ve read in a hundred different places lately that research in the field of Positive Psychology has proven that our enjoyment of travel and vacations is actually higher during the anticipation phase than during the travel itself. Travel does make us “happier” but mostly because we enjoy the period BEFORE the travel when we get to dream about what that travel is going to be like.
Here was my dream: my kids reading or playing games together or riding their bikes, all in the beautiful fresh air, while my husband and I leisurely drank tea and read our books and talked about life. I, of course, would’ve already written for at least two hours and gone for a long, energizing run and/or possibly even a long, energizing bike ride. Or, maybe I would’ve spent the morning running and swimming along the shore of Elberta Beach. There would, of course, also be plenty of time for my husband to get his run in each day. Then, we’d ride our bikes down to the beach with the kids where they’d play peacefully in the sand and waves. Maybe we’d grab ice cream once or twice throughout the week at Dairy Maid or the Cool Spot and then go watch the sunset on the beach. Of course, there would be a lovely kayaking trip or two; a night at the Drive-In; and dinners, games, talking with our extended family. All the while, obviously, I would be cooking (at our campsite) and eating (lots of vegetables and whole grains and wonderfully perfectly good-for-me foods) with love.
And, to be perfectly honest, for as haywire as things COULD go, we’ve almost stuck to this basic plan. Except, I forgot about Crescent Bakery’s buttery soft pretzels and did not expect them to call to me on my very first morning in town. I also forgot how really amazing a frosty mug of root beer from A&W tastes and underestimated the power of the free Root Beer float coupons my kids got for entering the sandcastle contest. I also forgot that I really do love to drink a bit of beer while I’m hanging out with my family, enjoying, as it turns out, even more amazing food. I forgot that when you go to the Drive-In, there will be Cotton Candy and bugs, and you should really get there early to get a prime set-up or you might spend the entire night desperately trying to hear the faint audio over the obnoxious buzz of the 300-year-old speaker system. Mostly, I forgot that my kids want my constant attention so every dream I had of doing anything – like running, biking, swimming, reading, talking to my husband – uninterrupted and guilt-free was really a very silly dream indeed. And, most of the time, my kids don’t get along – AT ALL. And, most of the time, my son is driving me crazy about something or other. And, most of the time, they are either begging for food – usually ice cream – or whining about something else they want me to buy for them. And, yes, it really is as unpleasant, most of the time, as I’m making it sound. Needless to say, there has only been one cup of tea – my husband made one gallant attempt at the idyllic tea-drinking love-fest he and I, apparently, both had in mind. But the tea got cold amidst having to take the dog to do his business then my daughter to the bathroom, to do hers. And I ended up drinking it in huge freezing cold gulps while I made peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on paper towels, with a flimsy plastic knife.
And, now, it is raining. And though, actually, it’s really sort of beautiful to hear the rain come down on the roof of our cabin and to smell the rain through our cabin windows, I know what this means for our day: no beach, no biking, no parks, no strolling along main street. And though I could still go for a run – I do love to run in the rain – more than five days already of beer and delicious but bad-for-me food does not make this girl want to run. In fact, this girl doesn’t want to do much but sleep and watch TV. And P.S…. there is no TV in this cabin.
But… here’s where I was going with this post, actually: I started this year out with a plan to complete a sprint-distance tri in each of the great lakes this summer. Over the past several months, I have allowed every conceivable thing to distract me from what should have been my training. I am soft. I am not in the least bit ready. I am weak and slow as molasses. I mean, SLOOOOOOOOW – even for me. And, I’ve also really been questioning (read: overthinking) the validity and necessity of “doing races.” Triathlon is the richest, whitest sport ever. I’m one of those (mostly) but far from the other. It is EXPENSIVE to sign up for these damn races. It is time-costly too. Training alone (when I’m really doing it) pulls me away from my family and the things-that-need-doing constantly. What for? I’ve been wondering.
I really started wondering this when I completed my first half-marathon this year. I ran this race by myself. I probably didn’t have to but between feeling like my slow pace is a bother to others and my basic overall insecurity that I’m constantly annoying everyone, I ended up alone. And running 13 miles alone – for me – sucked. And then I thought about how I PAID for that sucky experience. I mean, overall, it wasn’t a “sucky” experience. It was good to run 13 miles. I felt like I had accomplished something in the end – and that was good. But, what was the difference, I asked myself, between just popping in my earbuds and going for a 13 mile run and paying money so that I could run while people were watching?
I started to look at my upcoming summer schedule with a different eye. I’d be spending money on registration, spending money on travel, hauling my kids and my cookies up to Northern Wisconsin and Toronto and Erie, Pennsylvania among other places. All of that would be costly. And, did I really NEED the race? Couldn’t I just do something on my own? And, what about the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to make the one sprint-tri I could find in Superior in July (the only time I will swim in Superior – even in a wetsuit) anyway because my kids have THEIR tri the day before?
Here’s the thing about races: NO ONE cares if I do them except me. No one thinks less of me for cancelling my race plans. No one tells me I SHOULD do them (and if they did, that would make me very mad). No one is waiting expectantly to hear my race results – as, I can tell you right now, they are nothing to write home about (it’s the COMPLETING I’m going for, remember? Not the competing). So, doing a race or not doing a race – that’s a decision that only I can make – and I have to know what I want and what I need REALLY WELL in order to make it.
So, this is what I’ve discovered during these first six days of my perfect-and-yet-totally-imperfect vacation: doing races gives me an excuse to do something by myself and for myself. Without this excuse, the ONLY time I get is if I manage to wake up before the children – the earlier the better. Most of this blog gets written while my children sleep. Most of my workouts take place while my children sleep. Just about the only time my husband and I talk is when our children sleep.
It’s fine, really. It’s probably how it should be. I mean, damn, I HAD these kids – who else do I expect to dote on them every moment of every day? It’s MY responsibility to be with them always and everywhere. I’m not (really) complaining about it – okay, I am – but… it’s just unrealistic to think a person doesn’t need a break every once in a while. Some people need more breaks than others. I need breaks, people. I need a lot of breaks from the sometimes seemingly-constant fighting and whining and needing and needing and needing.
Gratefully, these breaks happen spontaneously and unexpectedly every once-in-a-while in the form of my children actually getting along and laughing together or when they actually both quiet down and engage in some kind of play by themselves AT THE SAME TIME. And there really is a fair amount of family time when we are all happy, doing something we all enjoy. We read together. We bike together. We play games. But these times aren’t breaks entirely – they are just breaks from the general unpleasantness of child-rearing.
Oh, I know, Dear Reader, a mother is NEVER supposed to mention this “general unpleasantness.” A mother is supposed to love every minute of every day she has with her young brood. I know. I get it. To admit that mothering is trying, is sometimes difficult on the nerves, is to basically tell the world one is a bad mother, right? If mothering is unpleasant for me, I’m doing something wrong, right? Okay, whatever. Here’s my firm response to that: people who act like they love parenting every moment of every day are doing just that, acting. And I don’t love my children any less than any mother who “acts” like her kids are perfect or like her life is perfect or like she is perfect. In fact, I would say that when one is able to see and admit REALITY, perhaps one is loving all the more.
But the question remains. While the air has chilled to sweatshirt weather. And the grass and woods around our cabin practically glow in rain-dappled green. And the sun has now completely risen. And there are only mere moments left before my children wake (I hear the older, more surly one rousing now). The question remains. How much money would a mother pay to spend a couple of (sort of) blissfully mind-blank hours swimming, biking and running? Is the excuse racing gives me to spend a bit of time by myself and on myself worth the racing, the time it takes to train, the hauling myself and my family from place to place to make that happen, the money it costs?
At the moment, I’m feeling a resounding HELL YES. Racing and training to race makes me happy. And, as the saying goes, “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” So, a mother’s happiness is worth cultivating and protecting.
The first of my Great Lakes, sprint-distance triathlons is supposed to take place THIS SUNDAY on Huron in Caseville, Michigan. I am not signed up yet. I am waiting for a friend to tell me whether she wants to do it with me or not. If I do it (with or without her), I know I’m going into it less prepared than ever. But I also know, I’ll have an entire morning to be by myself (meaning, without my children), doing some of the things I love to do most, for myself. And the anticipation of those brief hours this Sunday might just make the next onslaught of “CAN-WE-GET-ICE-CREAM????” survivable.
Survive your parenting, with love, parents.
And… if you are a parent who has gotten beyond the “surviving” phase of having young children, please forgive me my momentary short-sightedness. I DO know I will miss every moment I’ve spent with these little nut-jobs once they are no longer in my constant care. I DO respect that, as my mother always told me, “This Too Shall Pass.” And, generally speaking, when it passes, I regret every moment I spent fighting it.
So, are the races part of “fighting it” or are the races that which helps me stop fighting for some time? I’m going to go off into this cold day and think on that.
And (Yes, Mother!), I will “Vaya Con Dios” – okay, already!