I was really bad at running cross country at school. It made me sick with anxiety. It was a cruel thing to do to kids; make them leave the warmth of the classroom where they were learning good lessons about the placement of the apostrophe and ‘it’s’ vs ‘its’, to go out into the bush in the cold, cold air and run. Teachers held clipboards and wore warm coats and scarves, standing like wardens at checkpoints, making you run if you were walking, until you were crippled with a stitch under your ribs and you thought the cold air was going to freeze the moisture in your lungs.
In the week leading up to the annual event, I’d buddy up with one or two of the other girls in my class that I knew wouldn’t be able to run the whole course. Then on the day, my close girlfriends would speed out of sight in their Adidas Campus sneakers and I’d jog as far as I could but then walk the rest of the course with my new friend (except past the teachers in their gloves).
This week in the lead up to Elsie’s cross country event, I waited for her to say that she wasn’t looking forward to it. She hopped off the bus earlier in the week and showed me both knees and one hand that were grazed and bloody from a knock on the bitumen. I wanted to scoop her up and say, ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to go in the cross country on Friday.’ But she didn’t mention it.
Every time she cleared her throat this week, I wanted to say, ‘That sounds like croup. You’d better not go in the cross country on Friday.’
Every time she yawned, I wanted to say, ‘I think you should have the day off on Friday.’
But I learned a good lesson this week. She was excited: “The whole school is getting a bus to the cross country.” “If you get tired, you’re allowed to jog or walk,” she told me. (Jog? If you get tired? Pfft…)
She ran the last couple of metres of that 1km course like she’d just entered the stadium at the Olympics.
I snapped photos through tears and wondered if you ever stop crying at your children’s resilience, enthusiasm and innocence. Proud of myself that I didn’t ruin it for her with my tarnished memories but so proud of her and every kid that was there participating. Thanks Elsie for teaching me another lesson.