In 1998 my 8th grade class voted me Biggest Klutz. It was the stuff of middle school nightmares. As a sort of weak consolation, they also named me Most Humorous, but that only served to make the situation more pitiful. I was well aware of my tendency to trip. Before too long you tend to notice falling on your face with an audience of leering peers. So I made jokes to distract from my deep 12 year-old’s mortification. I knew I could get a laugh as much as I knew I would never see a flying ball that didn’t startle me or a sports field that didn’t make me hopelessly bored.
No one has ever accused me of being athletic.
Sure, I swam competitively, but I wasn’t particularly stellar. Fine, I like to practice yoga, but in a family of athletes a solid downward dog hardly stands out. My favorite marathons involve Netflix. Can Starbucks count as a sports drink?
And then I met my son. All 19 pounds of him. My arms, which had withered in the glare of too many sweltering desert afternoons and too many skipped lunches as I hustled at work, these arms were not ready. But he needed them. That scared and beautiful six month-old baby boy, with rolls for days and blue eyes that would break your heart, he was frightened to leave the only family he’d ever known. He wanted to be held. Around the clock. For three days straight. That’s 72 hours of carrying nearly 20 pounds by arms that had previously only bested large novels.
At the halfway mark, my own mile 13, I laid him in his little bed and I laid on the floor and cried. My arms were hard and cramping. My feet were swollen. Muscles all over my body ached. My son’s cry interrupted me, not five minutes after I laid him down. He needed to be held again. My body was being called upon to bear his weight: my arms had to hold his chubby body close, my legs had to walk our hall, my back had to sway and sway and sway. With great protest from my every cell and nearly a roar from my throat I peeled myself off the floor and jogged to his bedside. I lifted him again. An athlete was born.
Till my dying day those three days and nights will remain one of my greatest physical achievements. And it was just the beginning.
Motherhood makes sports stars of us all.
We wake up not with the sun or the alarm but with the sound of a cry that can come at any time. Give us seven, five, two hours of sleep, even none, and we still have our cleats on the ground ready to get the job done.
We lift strollers, all hot metal and awkward straps, wheels whirling in the wind, up over our heads and into cars full of screaming fans.
We wrangle toddlers with eight pounds of baby in our bellies. Our spines twist under tables to swipe up a mountain of crumbs in a single motion. You oughta see us at bath time! We are an amphibious breed. With soapy, fragrance free bath water saturating our pants, sometimes the closest thing we’ve had to a shower in days, we are washing hair and singing songs and stretching our fingers a mile wide across foreheads to ensure not a single drop reaches tender eyes. All the while our knees are grinding into the unforgiving tile beneath us. We don’t even flinch. We leave it all on the field.
Our eyes are magnificent, but our ears are the real wonder. Put ten of us in a room and we’ll know our baby’s cry from the rest. We can even tell you what it means. And don’t worry if it’s the hungry cry because this whole time we’ve been talking, our bodies were making milk. Yeah, we do that too. And if we’re not making it we’re packing it. We are lugging bags that weigh more than Labrador Retrievers. We’ve got everything: extra pacifiers, squeeze pouches with organic butternut squash, two changes of clothes, a blanket, a travel thermometer. Oops, it started to rain. Don’t worry, there’s an Elmo umbrella in here too. We are Mary Poppins on steroids. After all, who isn’t on the juice these days?
We are capable of a gold medal performance, anytime, anywhere.
A few months back I couldn’t sit up in bed without wondering if half my body was being chewed on by a shark. Having a baby hurts any way you slice it (too soon?). Because my abs were out of the question for the purpose of getting me upright, and my legs couldn’t offer more than moral support, I relied on my arms. My once scrawny arms that two decades ago served only to keep my face from hitting the concrete when I inevitably fell. They aren’t scrawny anymore. For three days they were refined in a 19 pound fire. For a year and a half they have been doing countless reps every day, lifting and carrying my blond haired kettle ball. Those arms, braced against a hospital bed and a wheel chair and a recliner at home, they pushed up most of my body weight and got me to my girl.
I will never catch the winning touchdown. I will never get my man on 3rd to slide home. But I learned a little saying from years in the stands watching my brother play football. Scoreboard. Yeah, the opposing team may have gained some yards, the penalty may have been on us, but, um, look at the scoreboard. We’re still ahead.
I fell a lot when I was going through puberty. It made an uncomfortable season about 100 billion times worse. Kids laughed at my ungraceful gangliness. My body wasn’t my friend. My body, though, was and is an incredible creation. It hustles. It runs and crawls and bends and reaches and laughs and aches more in a day than any middle schooler could dream of.
Scoreboard. My body allows me to care for my babies every second they need me. Rain or shine, under a table at Chipotle, up the stairs at church, in the middle of the night and again an hour later, this body hasn’t failed me. With a baby in each arm, I’ve never been more steady on my feet.