I lace up my running shoes before my mom can change her mind. But as I reach for the door handle I turn back and ask, “are you sure you’ll be ok with the kids?”
Placing one hand on my back, she guides me out the door in response. I walk slowly down our driveway, inhaling the quiet cold, before turning right onto the paved road to pick up the pace. Mist tingles on my cheeks as my eyelashes become heavy and dense with condensation. It’s not quite cold enough to create icicles on my lashes, but almost. The blanket of fog wraps around me like a cocoon as I put one foot in front of the other. I pound down the road, soothed by the steady rhythm of my footfalls.
My high school track coach described this kind of easy run as “moving meditation.” As an immature runner I never quite understood what he meant. But in college I discovered the true magic of long distance running, and grasped how meditative and healing it can be. “Focus on your breath,” he would say. “In the final stretch, when your body and mind want to fail you, just breathe. You are always stronger than you think you are.”
As my feet pick up speed, my breathing does too, and my body finds its familiar cadence. My heart beats hard in my chest as I crest the top of the hill, but my legs are strong and steady. I feel my chest expand on an inhale, bringing with it the desire to see just how far I can run at this pace. To run away from home for good. Away from my babies, away from my worries. Far, far away from my exhaustion and anxiety. I exhale hard, my breath coming out in a sharp pant. The harsh sound is startling, amplified by the thick fog. I remind myself to focus, and my next exhale is measured and controlled. With each step the swirling fog in my brain starts to dissipate, leaving me clear headed. Free.
My baby girl isn’t eating. In my mind I keep repeating the phrase: ‘failure to thrive.’ Not an official diagnosis, but it describes the way I feel. I am failing to thrive as a mom of two, as a wife, as an employee, as a business owner, as a friend. I have an ever-present pang of guilt in my stomach for the way I treat my toddler and the lack of consistency in my parenting. My chest is often tight, my breathing restricted and shallow. I am panicky. Unhinged. I feel rejected and unwanted every time she cries and refuses to eat. She screams around the clock and sleeps in fitful 40 minute increments. I wear her and hold her and bounce her and rock her and then hold her some more. I am so tired I’m afraid to drive with the kids in the car anymore, so we just stay home and take turns crying.
Though I can’t see them through the fog, I hear cows sloshing in the creek. A train whistles across the valley, its sound eerie through the mist. This morning the road is slippery and I can barely make out the next telephone pole. As a car comes toward me I remind myself that I shouldn’t have worn white in the fog. They don’t see me until it’s too late to get over and give me room. I exhale as they pass.
I cried to my mom in the kitchen this morning. Deep, heavy sobs. It made her cry, and I felt worse than I had before I started crying. I felt like I was failing to thrive as a daughter. She reminded me we aren’t given more than we can handle and I wanted to call her a liar. This feels like more than I can handle. This feels like drowning.
I am calmer than I have been in weeks as I reach the turnaround point. I wish I had more time. Running toward home, my mental to-do list starts up again: Call to confirm doctor’s appointment on Thursday. Talk to daycare about full day instead of half on Tuesday. Remember to call HVAC and Home Depot on Monday. My left knee throbs a little and I realize I’ve been running in these shoes for over a year. Look for running shoes on sale. Will we have enough money to finish our remodel? I wonder. I start to worry about my daughter again.
My vision blurs and I realize I’m crying again. My pace slows as I draw closer to home, prolonging my freedom. I focus on my breathing, matching the beginning of my three-count inhale to my right footfall, my three-count exhale with my left.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. This rhythm is as familiar to me as my own heartbeat. Listening to the soft, steady drum-beat of my breath has propelled me over finish lines, up mountains, and through labor. I want to believe it will carry me through this hard season too, but my faith is waning. Our mailbox emerges from the fog before I’m ready to be home.
I open the front door to a wall of sound. A baby crying, a toddler demanding, a battery-operated toy somewhere dying. The fog comforter I’ve been snuggled in is ripped away, leaving me shivering and half asleep, unprepared for the day. My mom hands me the baby and asks if I’ve told the doctor something or other, but I’m only half listening. The full bottle on the counter tells me the only thing I care about: the baby hasn’t eaten in my absence. Glancing at the clock, I do quick math to calculate how many hours it’s been. Eleven. Eleven hours since my three month old ate anything, and twelve before that. As I pick up my phone to call the doctor again, I hear the words again in my head: failure to thrive.
The phone rings, and I unconsciously match my breathing to it: inhaling with the sound, exhaling with the pause. Inhale. Exhale. I close my eyes, and listen to the steady rhythm of my breath. I am stronger than I think I am.
Guest post written by Cara Stolen. Cara is a ranch wife and work-at-home mama of two living in rural Washington state. She loves exceptionally early mornings, strong black coffee, and listening to her children giggle. You can find her hiding in her pantry sneaking chocolate chips by the handful, or on Instagram. She also blogs occasionally.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.