The Fourth of July is a big deal here. Like many neighborhoods across America, there’s a big parade and big barbecues and big fireworks. And in our neighborhood, the whole thing starts with a big race.
It’s a remarkable moment where it seems the entire community comes together in a Coca-Cola commercial kind of way, but the truth is, the whole day is a grind. I mean, the prepping of snacks and slathering of sunscreen, the dragging of children to and fro, dealing with lines and crowds and heat and ugh, port-o-potties…
My husband and I always end up having an argument on July Fourth.
This year I thought it would be fun to run the race as a family. Push Vivi in the stroller. All of us run at Pearl’s pace. We’d be together, we’d have a shared sense of accomplishment. Cool idea.
Jonathan is a runner. He runs regularly. Sometimes he even does sprints on the high school track. Like every year, he was looking forward to running this race solo. Yet he happily agreed to my proposal. The family thing.
But the morning of, I decided it wasn’t such a good idea. I was still jet-lagged from our trip to Hawaii. I had gone to a comedy show with a friend the night before. Waking up at 6:30 to run as a pack had lost it’s appeal. I hadn’t pre-registered us like I said I would anyway. My head in the pillow, my hand on the snooze button, I called it off.
Now none of us were running in the race, and I had sabotaged my husband’s chance to run in the race by himself. Oops.
We made it down in time for the kids to run in the 1K Fun Run, which was good. Again, it was emotional. I wrote about last year’s event and how hard it was watching my children run away from me. But I do love seeing their faces at the finish line.
But back to this year. Jonathan was pissed.
After the race, we sat on the grass and had a “meaningful conversation” about how the morning played out while the kids ate frozen yogurt. After we got past a few minutes of “expressing ourselves” I came to a realization: while my plan to run as a family was a good one, I am also completely jealous of my husband’s relationship to exercise. I subconsciously sabotaged his chance to run the race because I did not want to be alone.
My relationship to exercise is this: Sid and Nancy. Dysfunctional. One week I’m in hot yoga every day, then I’m off for four months. It’s a constant struggle to find balance. I have a part-time nanny, it’s not like I couldn’t create the time to exercise. Yet, still, I struggle.
As for not wanting him to have the enjoyment of running, like I said, Sid and Nancy.
Then, as we were walking home, a friend appeared amongst the streamers and fold out chairs on Sunset Boulevard.
Laura. My angel in red, white and blue.
“Can the girls come over and play with Zoe? We have nothing to do until the parade starts.” She was asking if she could take our children home with her. And keep them there. For three hours.
Have I mentioned that this was also our anniversary weekend? That we had spent our anniversary in Maui with the kids, had a great time, but were never alone?
Laura walked away with our kids and I looked at Jonathan. We smooched.
This was my opportunity to make it up to him. “Let’s exercise.”
There is a beautiful public staircase behind a church. The few times I’ve exercised there, I’ve never seen anyone else. This day however, there was another couple there. An elderly couple. The woman was wearing a powder blue sweater (which reminded me of my grandmother who wore a silk suit to our wedding even though it was 100 degrees. Which reminded me of my grandpa who took care of my grandma until she passed.) This woman was not walking up and down the flights but standing at the top, leaning into her walker, waiting. Waiting patiently for her husband while he did the flights. Slowly. Step by step.
Jonathan and I zipped past doing I dunno— our own CrossFit whatever, 2 steps at a time, 3 steps at a time, grapevining, backvining… and each time we reached the top the lady would give a thumbs up, or clap or smile. She was our personal cheerleader.
Then, at the height of my cardiac workout, I started crying. Not because I was in pain. Not because I hate exercise. But because I looked at that sweet old woman who was standing there watching her husband plod up and down those steps so he could be healthy and I realized that sometimes you run and sometimes you cheer. Because marriage, like these steps, has it’s ups and downs. Because it takes patience and willingness to change and lots of deep breaths. Our meeting this couple was no accident.
Yes, I also made the connection that we were behind a church.
As we were leaving, the old man was still at it. “Slow and steady wins the race,” I said. I hoped I didn’t come off as smug. I just meant, well…
“Yes it does.” He said.