Summer running can be summed up in one word – disgusting. I have never been a dedicated summer runner and so it took a great amount of effort to get myself out the door one recent morning. I stalled. I scrolled through my Facebook feed. In an act of desperation, I even unloaded the dishwasher. But I needed to go, to get outside, to take better care of myself. So eventually, I laced up my shoes and started running.
The sun was hot in the mid morning sky. Its invisible rays burned down on me. As I plodded along, my skin grew damp with a film of sweat. Drops poured down my face and painted my azure shirt a few shades darker. I trotted onward in the stifling heat. My breathing became labored and I quickly grew miserable in my effort. Sometimes running is just about getting through it. Today would be one of those days.
I was going three short miles through downtown Salem. I turned up Broad Street, wandered through Roanoke College’s campus and then headed back home. As I turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue I was in the home stretch. “Just get to the corner,” I coaxed myself. I wouldn’t quite make it there.
As my feet pounded over sidewalk cracks sprouting grassy tufts, past old Victorians and wrought iron fences, I found myself overtaken by a pocket of cool, crisp shade. Above me, outstretched limbs from towering oak trees offered a reprieve from the blazing sun. I stopped mid stride, placed my hands on my hips and paced along the sidewalk below their cover for several minutes while my lungs drank in the cold refreshment. The heat rising from my damp skin cooled a few degrees, my breathing slowed down, and the treachery of the last mile diminished. It struck me that sometimes a bit of shade is all we need to gather ourselves so that we may finish what we started. We know that all the hard stuff is still out there waiting on us, that just beyond the trees the sun will envelop us again. But a short break from the heat gives us the boost we need to bravely march forward.
For years, I’ve struggled to recognize when I am in need of shade. It used to come more easily, but I suspect that some time after becoming a Mother, bits of myself began to fade away. I intend to consistently carve out time for me, but after kids are cared for, errands are run, a house cleaning is futility attempted, and food is prepared, there are only a few scraps of time left, and those are often used to collapse in an exhausted heap on the couch. Besides, a good Mother takes care of everyone selflessly, right? A good Mother puts her kids before herself, right? And a good Mother does all of this without complaint, right? I began confusing the person I think I should be with the person that actually does exist, and in doing so, I have become somewhat neglectful. I’m starting to realize I’ve been out in the sun for far too long; my skin is red and tender. I suspect I’m not the only one falling prey to the heat.
I’m learning to rethink what it means to be a good Mother. I’m learning where to find my own shade. In this stage of life it often comes in the form of alone time, of quiet space to think or write. But it’s other places too. It’s chatting with a friend over dinner and drinks, it’s a blissful hour of yoga, it’s heading to the lake with my boys. A bit of time in the shade keeps me sane, it helps me be more patient and less anxious; it may be the most important thing that a good Mother takes time to do.
After leaving the shade behind me that morning, I walked up and up and up the long hill below our house, through intermittent patches of light and shade, thinking of all that overwhelms me and all the places I find solace.
Just as I reached my house a neighbor waved and asked if I’d like to join her on the back deck for some coffee. We sat in the heat of July under a canopy of leaves and chatted about dogs and kids and gardens, and I recognized it was a gift, a reprieve from my normal chaos. I was happily engaged in an adult conversation with no small people to mind, no “nos” to dish out, no knees to protect, no sibling fights to untangle. My scattered mind rejoiced there in the shade. I sipped my coffee, I watched the wind rustle the leaves, and I decided that a good Mother nurtures the lives in her home – each and every one of them, including her own.