I’m writing this evening covered in mushed peas and regurgitated milk. My day consisted of packing a healthy-yet-exciting snack in a pink princess lunchbox, cleaning, feeding a baby, smelling a pile of assorted athletic gear to determine whether it belonged in the closet or washing machine, feeding a baby (again, and again, and again), playing Jenga with dirty diapers in the trashcan, boxing up a dead hamster in an empty Wheat Thins box to return his remains to PetSmart for a refund, cooking, and then cleaning some more.
If you think I’m using this alliteration of events as an excuse for why I haven’t written in nearly a year, you are correct. We welcomed our second daughter, Iris, into the world nine months ago. It’s taken me as long to get my crap together and will myself back to the computer to write.
On the same day as the birth of our daughter, my husband was diagnosed with a broken leg- a circumducting fracture of his left tibia, to be exact. He had been unknowingly running on a stress fracture for a couple of months. Against his better judgement, he raced again despite the pain. This time, it was too much and his leg actually broke.
Sometimes, as a parent, you neglect discomfort (physical or emotional) and common sense because of the need to provide for your family. My husband had raced successfully enough over the previous several months that we were able to buy our first house and move out of the ghetto (the nights are so quiet without the constant whir of police sirens and drunken renditions of “Don’t Stop Believing” on our front lawn). The consequence: he hasn’t raced in 9 months.
While I felt sorry for my husband, I have to admit that there was a part of me that was relieved and, to an extent, selfishly happy about his injury.
I recognize that this admission makes me look like a wretchedly parsimonious human, and I accept that judgement. But to be honest, I felt I had devoted a good portion of my life to being his race crew, sacrificing my weekends, and putting my dreams on hold to help him accomplish his own. I viewed my husband’s injury as a serendipitous event, perfectly timed to the season in which I needed him most.
My husband treated the injury like he did every other challenge he has faced since I met him. He focused on what he could control, internalizing his disappointment with the stoicism and non-reactivity attained through years spent in mountainous solitude.
He loved the time he had to spend with our new baby. He fed me when I was too tired to cook. He did the 4am bottle feeding duty day, after day, after day. He took our 4 year old daughter on long bike rides (rather than long runs) so I could nap. He worked 6 nights a week as waiter, hobbling around in a boot. He did it all happily, but still I could see in his eyes that a part of him was dying, juxtaposed on top of the joy he derived from our growing family.
I missed the ‘old’ him. I missed the determination that seemed to possess him. I missed being motivated by his drive. I missed the unabashed smile (and occasionally, unexplainable tears) he was unable to hide after coming home from a long run in the mountains. I missed waking up to “Gone running- be back in 3-6 hours. Love you”, written on our bathroom mirror. And I’ll concede to the fact that I even missed the spandex.
I once thought I wanted a husband with a “normal” pastime, like Halo 2 or watching “The Game” on Sundays. I quickly came to realize that so much of what I love about him is attributed to being an endurance athlete.
His ability to push himself into realms of discomfort for the chance to make our own lives a little bit more comfortable.
His toned, sexy hot bod (which he managed to maintain, thank Heaven Above.)
Of course I appreciated him being around more, but the consequence of his injury reaffirmed something I had always known but never understood so starkly; relationships thrive and endure when both people are free to realize their individual dreams,whatever they may be.
Sure, there must be give and take- the typical compromise and appreciation that is required in any given relationship. One can’t expect to continue living life exactly as they were before deciding to share it with another human. But being committed to someone doesn’t necessitate relinquishing the dreams and aspirations that make you, you. It only means that you may need to reprioritize, like running 20 miles instead of 23 once in a while and using the extra time and energy to take your special human out to lunch, or to a movie (I know, I know….Sitting still for 2 hours in a rigid chair with insufficient padding for your bony butt. That’s probably the definition of compromise right there.)
The truth is, it is difficult to be true to someone else if you are not first and foremost true to who you are. And if being true to who you are means wearing onesie leotard with a padded bum and shirts with pockets in the back, then more power to you. Don’t ever let anyone take that away from you.
It is a constant balancing act- one that requires selflessly looking at how you can help each other accomplish your respective dreams. Without proper introspection, the balance can easily be tipped to selfishness. Without proper motivation, the dreams become grandiose aspirations of “the good old days”, and lives slip into comfortable mediocrity. The trick is to continually motivate each other toward greatness, without becoming overly consumed in your own endeavors to the point of neglecting your loved one.
My husband’s road to recovery has been rough, with several unforeseen setbacks along the way. But in retrospect, he wouldn’t have changed a thing, and neither would I. It seems trite to say that we grow more from tragedy than triumph, but there is such truth to that cliched saying.
It is in our most humble moments that we truly confront ourselves. It is when we are most broken that we decide what type of person we will become when we rebuild, and who we want to have by our side as we do it.