I changed into my running clothes in a book closet that opens up to my classroom, and arranged for a teacher to cover for me. Slipped out of my class and jogged to my car.
Didn't want to be late to the Jog-a-thon fundraiser at Eli's school. Yeah, I was a bit pumped. Both of us were. Since it is his (our) first year at this school, we didn't know what to expect. I couldn't make out from the flyers that were sent home whether parents would be running with the kids or alone. Either way, we were supposed to get pledges for participating.
"They already have the track ready and the cones set up!" he said the afternoon before the race. "And they're gonna have prizes!"
I pictured Eli and I, running side by side....mother and son. It would be a bonding experience and God only knew we needed as many as those as we could get. Maybe we could start going running together...
The woman getting out of the SUV behind me in the parking lot of the school wore Barbie-pink sweats, the Victoria Secret kind that had some kind of saying on the butt, a slightly less loud pink top, and flip-flops with crystals all over them. Her bleached choppy hair was fastened into two pig-tails that stuck out on either side of her head. She carried a fold up chair in one hand and tried to hook her tiny dog (who wore a pink collar, of course) to a leash.
"Great," she said, "the damn gate is locked. Now we have to go all the way around!"
Pffft...she won't be running any where, I thought.
Once on the field, I started to get even more excited. They had balloons in the school colors all over. It was like a homecoming game! Music was blaring from the sound system and everyone wore the official Jog-a-thon T-Shirt.
I chit-chatted with the few parents I knew.
"Are you running?" I kept asking.
You think their hesitation to answer should have given me a hint right?...
But I shrugged it off. There were plenty of parents dressed like me. Surely I was not the only one who planned on running.
The games were about to begin. The guy with the microphone explained that the outer lane was the walking track and the one next to it was for runners.
I tuned the rest out. That was all I needed to know: where Eli and I would be running. Just then I spotted him out on the field and waved. He jumped up and down, waving back.
The guy was announcing the beginning of the race, but still said nothing about what the parents should do.
I turned to the mom next to me and tried once more, "Has he said if the parents run with the kids, or...?"
She shrugged, annoyed, and got back to taking pictures of her son.
Pictures. I looked around me. There were parents with frickin' tripods and fancy zoom cameras. And of course camcorders.
I hadn't even remembered to bring my camera phone. My focus was on remembering my running shoes.
The whistle blew and they were off! I looked on the running track and spotted Eli, taking off like a bat out of hell. But...there were only kids on the running lane. Parents pushing strollers and fast-walkers trying to get action shots of there kids were on the walking lane.
There! I spotted a woman in the running lane. (Later I would realize she was a teacher running with her class) That was all I needed. I waited for Eli to get close by and then I sprinted until I was running next to him.
"Hey pops!" I said.
"Mommy...nono...you can't be here. Go over there! You're gonna get me in trouble!" He said as he stopped to get his lap card stamped by the official parent "stampers."
I caught up to him. "No, I think it's alright! There are other grown-ups running..."
"You're supposed to go over there and watch me and take pictures!" he said before sprinting off and leaving me in the dust.
I kind of faded into the crowd, not even daring to look up and see if anyone had noticed my wounded heart laying there in kicked up dirt. I backed up, backed up until I was close enough to the school gate and then I made a mad dash to the car.
Hell yeah I was hurt!...especially since he'd insisted I go. That very morning when he was acting up I'd threatened not to go and he'd actually started to cry!
Yeah I felt stupid! I'd concocted this fairytale of running hand in hand with my child like they do in those stupid parenting magazines...of crossing some imaginary finish line together, after which no fights or time-outs or hurt feelings would ever come again.
I imagined he'd be so proud to have me for a mom: "Yeah, my mom's cooking sucks, but this one time we won this race together..." he'd tell his friends.
I decided I wouldn't go back to work with my tail between my legs. I had set out to run laps that morning and damn it, that was what I was gonna do!
I pulled into the nearest park and told myself I couldn't stop until I'd done 5 laps/ lashes. I hadn't noticed earlier how fierce the cold wind cut through me, but no matter. I had a goal to meet.
After three laps my throat started feeling scratchy.
After four, piercing pain in my ear.
The doctor confirmed it today: I have strep throat, a broken heart, and a bruised ego.
I never did find out what the deal was. Were the parents expected to just walk? Did all parents just walk because all the others were walking?
What...you think I would have the guts to ask?