Everything hurt. I walked out the door with the baby on my hip, wincing as I hitched him up higher.
“Wait Mom!” I called out to my mother-in-law. She had already closed the car door, so I waved emphatically until she saw me.
“Oh Honey,” She said slowly getting out of the car, “I’m so sorry. I’ve been flying around at a million miles an hour.”
“I just wanted to say Hi and Bye,” I said. I knew she stopped by earlier to drop off some more of her mother’s things in our storage unit. Now that her mother, my husband’s YiaYia (Greek for “Grandma”) had moved into a graduated care facility, she had been working overtime at the old house, packing up boxes and finding new homes for the things YiaYia didn’t need anymore.
I hugged her tight with one arm. She hugged me tight too. Pulling away, I expected her to coo at the baby in my other arm. She always does. He is, after all, her most recent grandbaby. Lucky number ten, actually. But she looked straight at me instead, with sparkling eyes, and took a deep breath.
“How was your mud run?” She asked. It took my brain a minute to compute. Oh yeah! The mud run! I had forgotten it was just yesterday. Visions flooded back of mud pits, sunny trees, slippery steep terrain, and my soul sister friend trotting beside me on the trail. Yesterday’s smile rose to my cheeks again.
“It was SUCH fun.” I beamed. It was the God’s honest truth. There was something about running through the forest, climbing over crazy obstacles, and doing it all with one of my best friends. We chatted about mommy things while walking. We made up our own super-hero identities for next year’s run. We wise-cracked about everything along the trail. I chatted up the volunteers manning the obstacles, offering to shake their hand with a palm-full of mud. I felt like a goofball. It seemed like I hadn’t felt like that since I was a kid. At one point I turned to my friend and exclaimed, ‘Oh yeah! I can have fun! Life can be fun for me too, huh? I’m not just forever responsible for little people and taking care of business. How great!’
But afterwards, I had to rush home. One, because my milk was coming in, and I needed the baby, and he needed me. It was the longest time I had been away from him yet. Almost 3 hours. But two, because my husband, who had been watching the kids, had a promise to keep. He would meet up with his brother to help their mom haul more of YiaYia’s things. It was the only day they could all together. Caring for YiaYia in this new life-transition was totally a family affair. So I came home to the girls just finishing a movie, still in their pj’s, and the baby just having cried himself to sleep. My husband held down the fort like a champ, walking and rocking the baby, doing his best to be a mama substitute. He briefed me on things at home, then kissed me, and headed out the door. I hopped in the shower to scrub off any poison oak I may have brushed on the trail. After that, the baby woke up, and I clocked in. Making lunch. Nursing. Changing diapers. Breaking up fights. Making dinner. Doing dishes. Packing lunches. You know, my job. I’m so used to it, it just comes automatically these days. I forget there is much else outside of my circuit.
Then I go and do a crazy thing like this. Which felt like a total imposition on my family. I signed up for this run month ago. But, now, it couldn’t be a worst time: the baby wasn’t as old and independent as I thought he would be, our family was working hard to tie up YiaYia’s affairs, and in the course of mommy life, I had done ZERO training for this run. Bad, bad, bad idea. But, the $75 entry fee won out. So I donned my old sneakers, fastened on my industrial-grade sports bra, and pinned the race bib to my shirt. The whole drive there I waffled between fretting over the baby, and yelling into the wind of the rolled-down window how crazy this was. People don’t do this! I don’t do this. Do I? Well, apparently I was doing it. But what was I doing? And on it went.
“Oh honey,” my mother-in-law interrupted my thoughts, “Good. That’s so good! You did a Stephanie-thing!” She squeezed my shoulders.
A slow realization spread through my head. She wasn’t upset. She, being the matriarch of our family since Gabe’s dad had passed on – she, being the linch-pin of her mother’s move, wasn’t upset that I took half of the day away from her son’s availability to help with the move. She was glad for me. I did something that was totally unhelpful, totally ludicrous, and she was glad for me. Not that I was expecting her to be mean. We have a loving relationship, my mother-in-law and I. But I just didn’t know what to expect, this mud run being so SO out of the box – even more so during such a busy time.
“Yeah, thanks! It was just… so fun!” I just repeated myself. Which, in the relentless slog of motherhood, feel like forbidden, or forgotten words. But I discovered that day that mommy CAN have fun. There is room in her world for fun. But afterwards, where she used to be able to relax the rest of the day, and meet up with friends over beers to re-live the highlights, now she has to come home, and take care of children again. But this time, with a bit more of a smile on her face, and the knowledge that there is, in fact, much more out there. There is, in fact, more fun to be had, as ludicrous as it may be.