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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Photograph by Getty Images

Every morning it’s the same thing: Should I stay or should I go? This debate is about my running, but it’s not a question of do or don’t. I’ve been a dedicated runner for many years now, so there’s no wrangle around that. Come rain, shine or wretched wind chill, I will be hitting the open road and putting in my mile time. The choice factor has to do with another title I hold around here: mother.

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My son is 5, and he’s grown up seeing his mama put on her tights (and hat and gloves and neck gaiter and breathable layers — listen, this is New England) and going for a run. And I like that. I like that he sees his mom being active and agile, committed to things outside of being his mother. The “issue” arrises when he wakes up in the morning and I’m not there. He does not like that, and he’s not shy about voicing his displeasure. “You’re not supposed to be wearing those run clothes, mom! You’re supposed to be still in pajamas!” How dare I make such bold moves?

The thing is, in the mornings — we’re talking respectable, like 7 a.m. — my kid likes to toddle out of his bed and crawl into ours to snuggle with mommy. Of course I absolutely love this. But 7 a.m. (or just before it) is also the best time to hit the road for my run workouts, to get it out of the way. It's a time to sort through my thoughts for the writing day ahead.

So it comes down to a choice for me: stay in bed and snuggle, which means postponing my run and typically my day until later, or go and just tell that young’un to kick rocks. I’m joking here, but really it’s often a tough choice for me.

Moms across the board are faced with so many of these small daily choices ... all mounting up and leaving us in a state of chronic guilt and stress.

On the one hand, running brings benefits to my life and work, and I’m proud that my young son knows, Mommy is a runner. Plus, having a firm work (and workout) ethic is important to me. On the other hand, I want to continue to nurture the bond I have with this youngster. We spend that snuggle time talking about so many wonderful, curious, sweet things. And on the mornings when I choose running and the little guy doesn’t find me there when he wakes up, sometimes it throws him off and makes him a little cranky at the start of the day. He turns his mood around quickly enough, but there are times when his crabbiness lingers and, worse, the residue of it settles on me and my morning. It usually leaves me wondering if staying would be not necessarily better, but just easier.

On the weekends, my long runs take up at least an hour in the morning — that’s on top of waking up early! When I'm done with the run, I’m kind of done, spent, tired. But then I have Family Action Jackson Saturday to consider, which means errands, birthday parties, park visits, house cleaning, laundry, and we haven’t even touch on any “me time” stuff that I might try to squeeze in on the corners.

This whole juggling act means that I'm constantly making choices. Where will I put in the time? How will I balance wanting to do this, but also wanting to do that as well? And this leads to trying to reconcile how I feel about the choice that I’ve made.

I know that this doesn’t fall into the category of Rock-and-Hard Place decisions, but that shouldn’t diminish the fact that moms across the board are faced with so many of these small daily choices, quandaries piled atop other small choices and quandaries, all mounting up and leaving us in a state of chronic guilt and stress. We’re always turning over these questions in our minds — even when we should really be asleep at night: Should I do this or that? Should I stay or go? It’s tiring and totally not helpful.

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Something’s got to give, even a little. Nike famously said, “Just Do It.” Yes, but we must realize that this approach also entails accepting that sometimes you probably won’t do it. You might miss the birthday party and the pedicure and the snuggle time in the warm bed ... this week. Next time, maybe do things the other way.

That’s what I’ve come to see as the finer point here: In choice, there’s choice. And I’m choosing not to feel guilty or stressed about any of it. Instead, it can be as simple as this: Should I have the chocolate cupcake or the vanilla? Both are good, and the other one will be just as delicious the next time.

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