- Vivian Chang Freiheit
Out of the Woods
This season, I find myself running around at the Cross Country meets, trying to catch sight of my boys at different arrival points along their race. It has turned out to be not so easy. I have one kid who is consistently at the front of the pack and another who I wait to cheer on before moving on myself. Inevitably, in making sure I always see the slower kid, I have consistently missed the faster one at the finish line. In previous years I would have wondered, is this right? Shouldn't I be at the finish line for my faster kid, too? My older son has been running cross country for years, but this season is his little brother's first time. What an eye opening perspective it has been for me on the idea of "equal," a concept I have struggled with since the day I became a mom of two very different boys.
Little did I fully realize until this season, that the coaches are essentially following 4-5 of the fastest runners on the team at the races; older son luckily gets a lot of attention and coaching every step of the way and a pretty sizable audience, too, when you look around. For those years when he ran alone, he also had my complete attention when I got to the races. With the arrival of younger brother on the team, I now witness a wholly different kind of runner's experience. At the first meet, I cheered as my older son ran by, 3rd or 4th on his new school team I noticed. Normally, I would have walked easily over to the next viewing point and made small talk with other parents along the way. Instead, I quietly waited for my younger son to pass, hoping he was doing okay. A hundred boys ran by as the audience eventually disappeared, and then I must have cheered on a dozen kids by myself, "looking good!" "great job!" "you've got this!" until I finally saw my son in the far distance, running sure and steady, and quite solidly in last place. By the time the finish line was in view for him, at least one girl from the race 10 minutes behind him had finished. The other boys had all long crossed. But there he was, my boy! Emerging from the woods, still running, surely exhausted but not stopping! Loud and proud I was as his coaches came running over to cheer him on with me.
At a subsequent meet, younger son threw up as he was running and then again, after crossing the finish line. It was so hot and humid, a lot of athletes had gotten sick, but he was a little weepy and stressed even as we reassured him and encouraged him to hydrate. It's hard, understandably, for someone who is not a natural athlete and petite and underweight. Because of another medical condition we were also advised for years to not encourage activities that would put undue stress on his heart, and so 6 weeks ago when he joined the Cross Country team, he had barely enough stamina to run not even a mile. But you know what happened, yesterday? The most amazing thing happened...!
Both boys ran at the meet. Older son ran fairly fast as usual (21:20) and my younger one - I had seen earlier - was doing better. But then, suddenly, younger son emerged from the woods - this kid who has come a million miles since his birth - he emerged from the woods, and the coaches and I were all laughing with surprise and delight to see him so soon and we began screaming his name, GO! GO....! RUN FAST! SPRINT NOW! He made it across the finish line at 27 minutes. TWENTY-SEVEN MINUTES. The coaches shook their heads and chuckled in disbelief at the minutes he has managed to shed with his every run and I wiped my eyes. "I know you work with everyone," I told the coaches before I ran off to hug my son, "but thank you! Obviously this is a huge victory for him!"
I am grateful to my older son who if asked his opinion, would tell me to go cheer his brother on. He's a really thoughtful and compassionate kid, and such a strong role model for his brother. And I am just so proud of my younger son for always trying. He could give up so easily and most people might not even blame him. As he signed off on one of his movies "Never Give Up!"