This past weekend, I ran my first 5K race. For me, this is a big deal. It’s part of my “discover new things about myself and try new things that I haven’t ‘had the time’ for” quest. It also ticks a box on my “let’s not fall apart just because we’ve got a little mileage on the ol’ undercarriage” quest.

During my (admittedly sporadic) training for this race, I discovered a few things about my body. Mostly, that my knees and ankles are much less stable than I previously believed. But I also discovered that I can still open up and go full-tilt without exploding like a LEGO minifig into a million little parts that hurt your feet when you step on them in the middle of the night. In the course of pushing myself, and sometimes chickening out on pushing myself, I learned a few things:

  • My body has limits, but that those limits are as fluid as the stuff in my joints
  • My body has a language that will tell me where those limits exist well before I reach them
  • But only if I pay attention to what my body is telling me, and can recognize that voice from the one where Fear speaks

I set myself out to do this thing (way too early in the morning, on a cold-ass day, downtown where I had to fight for, then pay for, parking, and schlep the entire family along for the ride) because this was all about my daughter. She enrolled in a running group of girls her age, they committed to running the race, and there was no way I was going to miss out on supporting my brave, tough, Free-Range Girl (self-christened, because she is not one to let anyone else define her).

Now, I am not always the Great Communicator with Free-Range Girl. We fight like mother and daughter who are way too alike. At the same time, our differences are vast enough to give me parental vertigo. While we were running together, my natural encouragement and positivity–a guaranteed hit with the general attitude of the whole race–fell flat. I got glares and mutters, along with the occasional cross-armed eye roll. And…the LOOK (you know the one I’m talking about).

What I only realized, after Epic Dad pointed it out, was that my brand of encouragement, like the all-out push I do sometimes to my body, only works up to a point. I learned to listen to the stress language of my body–to recognize when it was physical weariness talking and when it was just fear of pushing myself. What I failed to do was listen to the stress language of Free-Range Girl.

Free-Range Girl and I are different. When I feel stress, I push out. I create an external shield that widens the space around me and fills it with the fluff of positivity, the carefully-chosen language of motivation and intent, the insulation of having given name to what threatens me, and thereby claiming its power for my own. But Free-Range Girl has not yet come into that (and maybe never will). Free-Range Girl goes camo. She becomes quiet and still, burying herself in a thick blanket of silent observation that nevertheless opens up to absorb every iota of stimulation while she processes what’s stressing her. She shies away from words and hardens against fluidity–she does not seek shifting perspective, but rather a firm foundation in the view from where she currently stands.

Greeting her quiet camouflage with my own articulate fluidity created chaos. I should have recognized that earlier, but sometimes we have blinders on when it comes to our own. It’s not an easy lesson for a parent to learn–to listen to what their child’s stress-language is saying, but it’s a lesson I’m grateful to have learned, and one I shall take to heart.

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