A Beautiful Work in Progress, Mirna Valerio

I love my children. I love being a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend. I love that I have so many people who surround me with their love and their support. I love that as much as I lean on them, they also need me.

But. I’m also an introvert. I gain clarity, strength, and patience from being on my own. I get giddy when the door closes and I find myself alone in my own home, or sitting quietly at my computer in a coffee shop surrounded by others who are happy to be together but separate, or standing in the predawn light with my running shoes on and a playlist queued up.

511rwxq1f7l-_sy344_bo1204203200_At this particular point in my life, none of those things happen. I have a baby who refuses to take a bottle (completely unlike my first kid, who couldn’t have cared less where his meal came from as long as it was efficiently provided), which means the only time I’m physically alone is on the rare drive over to the recycling center five minutes away. (If you were going to suggest “the bathroom,” well, you’ll have to excuse me while I die laughing along with just about every mother in the history of mothers.) Five months in with baby number two, and I’m ready for a return to a little much-needed mental and physical personal space. For me, it’s a matter of self-care, and recognizing how difficult it is not to have that right now is one of the things that keeps me sane.

I’m not looking for a vacation from my life. My people are a special and loved part of who I am, but I can tell I’m becoming less of my best self because I don’t have that time away from doing for and listening to and being present for others. I especially miss my morning runs. Those workouts used to be the cornerstone of my mental health, not because I’m a gifted runner, but because they required a certain joyful grit to accomplish.

We have a saying in the world of education, more specifically in the area of diversity, inclusion, and equity. It’s an axiom to live by. With it, we will be able to weather many things—inconveniences, moments of shame, those times when we make huge mistakes, when we drop the ball, when our kids embarrass us (or we them), when some occurrence forces us far from our own personal boxes of emotional comfort and safety.

Lean into the discomfort.

To my diversity brain, the phrase means to embrace what is difficult so that you may progress. Welcome what makes you frightened and what makes your heart rate rise. Greet that sense of uncertainty into your life so that you may explore yourself more deeply.

Lean into the discomfort.

To my long-distance runner’s ears, this axiom means embrace the suck. A lot of long-distance running sucks. But what sustains runners are those moments of beauty, those instances where you feel weightless and unencumbered. We embrace the suck so that we can fully embrace what doesn’t suck, to fully receive it. (pg 286)

Finding this book (recommended to me by my mother after I mentioned how out of shape and frustrated I was feeling) has been a godsend. I wasn’t familiar with Mirna Valerio before reading it, although I know now that she has a popular blog (which I’m now getting caught up on) and has been featured in publications like Runner’s World. I honestly can’t believe I didn’t know about her before this. A plus-sized black ultra runner? She’s definitely an outlier in her field, but as a woman who doesn’t fit the lean, long-legged stereotype of a traditional runner, her memoir inspired me deeply.

It filled a void I didn’t realize existed. To read about a woman who doesn’t run to lose weight, but for the sheer joy of covering huge distances over difficult terrain – it was exactly what I needed as I try to map out the next few months of my life, as I shake off the exhaustion and excuses of the newborn haze and kick myself back in gear.

Of course, it’s easy to read a book like this one, to pore over it each evening as the baby is falling asleep in my arms and the toddler is talking himself down in the next room, and to feel that burst of energy that comes from getting out on the road. It’s another to actually do it. I can feel myself stuttering and shying away from how hard it will be to coordinate, to regain strength, distance, and speed, and to learn a new skill (running with a stroller – another experience my eldest child had zero interest in trying). I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to get back to where I was, or to get to someplace better, and that’s frustrating. I want to have a plan in place, but I’m feeling out this new territory one day, one step, at a time. At least now, I can imagine Valerio, out on a treacherous trail in the dark of night, doing the same thing. One foot, then another.

What we are now is not what we were. Where we are now is not where we will be, unless we want to continue existing in the same reality over and over again. (p 299)