~Before the ride, all smiles.~
There are many sensations competing for my attention, but I am trying to stay focused on the feeling of the cool, salty breeze kissing my face, rather than the increasing fire that is burning in my thighs with each pedal stroke.
I am just at the beginning of a half day of activity and adventure with Water Play Provo that includes a 3 mile bike ride through Provodinciales, Turks and Caicos and a kayak tour through the mangroves. The tour has been arranged by my hosts at the Ocean Club Resorts, and since I am traveling without the kids for the first time in years, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to have an exploration without worrying about anyone else. But, as much as I want to claim to be a free spirit who is up for anything, an overall negative feeling seems to be propelled by the weakness of my body. Blech! I can’t believe how whiny the voices in my head sound. Maybe being without the kids has turned me into one.
~You can't see me. I'm too far away.~
Subconsciously, I position my bike at the back of the pack. It feels instinctive to be in that position. It is certainly where I would ride if the kids were with me, so that I could keep a watchful eye on everyone. It also allows me to coast on my bike for a few feet and gives my legs a moment to recover from the constant churning without fear that any of the other (much more physically fit) riders will see me cheating. I am wishing that I was wearing a T-shirt that says “ This body has given birth four times. Don’t Judge.” Even my whiny self knows that is nothing but excuses.
Before I can spend too much more time I my whine cycle, we arrive and every wailing muscle in my body is relieved. If I am honest, the ride was challenging, but it certainly wasn’t out of my reach. I am actually proud to say that I am better shape than I have been in for a while. Training for a 5k Color Run earlier in the year has actually proved that I can, in fact, run for exercise and enjoyment. My body really is getting stronger, but my brain seems to be lagging behind. The brain seems to be convinced that bicycling is hard, although I wonder if my brain is seeing the difficulty in its true light. I wonder if my wimpy approach to the bicycle ride is influenced by the overall sentiment that everything in life right now-jobs, marriage, and parenting-feels too hard.
~Still smiling, but am I faking it?~
Before I can even unfold my form from the hunched bike riding shape, I have a kayak paddle in my hand and I realize that I am not off the hook. I am just trading one form of exercise for another, only I have zero experience with kayaking. No time to ruminate about my inexperience, though. We are on the water far too quickly.
Despite my lack of experience, and the negative cloud that wants to take up residence in my psyche, I start to feel more and more relaxed as we paddle further away from the shore. I think it is the rhythm and beauty of the ocean, in combination with good old fashioned sweat. I am beginning to believe the adage “The cure for anything is saltwater-sweat, tears, or the sea.” Floating in the sea is a like a salve to my surly spirit, and much like the unseen current, there is a subtle movement happening in my soul. The stirrings are happening so deep that they are almost imperceptible. Besides, I am way too focused on trying not to ram my kayak into the mangroves to focus on existential murmurings. The hour spent on the water passes like sand through my fingers. I feel as far from reality as possible.
Back on the beach, I feel refreshed and relieved that I made it through the morning and I am still standing. Before I can properly congratulate myself, I realize that the experience is far from over. Of course, the only way back to the hotel is another three mile bike ride. A part of me wants to wilt in a heap next to my big-wheeled bike, but the calm spirit that found me while I was kayaking tells that whiny chick to shut-up. I swing my leg confidently onto the bike and set off with a new energy. Instead of whiny voices, I have the “Eye of the Tiger” playing in my head. I spend a minute trying to decide if it is the height of dorkiness that my brain feels the need to create its own soundtrack. Dorky or not, the 80s anthem is stuck, so I embrace the music and ride to the music in my head.
Just a few minutes into the ride, I suddenly feel lighter. It is as if the rhythmic churning of the pedals has flushed away the cluttered thoughts that usually tumble around in my head like clothes in a dryer. My brain feels clear and my body feels strong. This time I am at the front of the line, but it is not subconscious. I want to be at the front. I want to ride with purpose, pushing past any pain that I feel in my body. Sweat is pouring down my arms and beading up on my chest, but it is cooled by the ocean breeze and feels like an important part of the experience. I know that I am pushing my body and each bead of sweat feels hard earned and precious.
My body seems to switch into auto-pilot, and the riding strokes that were so laborious on the first ride feel effortless. For a moment, I am able to breathe in my gorgeous surroundings on the island and relish a moment when 10,000 ‘to-do’ list tasks aren’t jockeying for position in my day. That’s when I notice the unfamiliar feeling of clarity in my brain. It’s like a medal of honor that was worth the sweat, the burning, the self-doubt. If I was looking for anything when I set out to spend five days sans children, it was to find a space to clear my thoughts, so that I could be purposeful in deciding what I wanted in my parenting. I wasn’t expecting to find it on a bicycle ride, but I was grateful to discover the hidden treasure in whatever form it was offered.
Just finding that clarity would have been gift enough, but just as we were riding the last ½ mile, the delightfully empty space in my brain was filled with inspiration. Suddenly, my brain was knitting together a “bicycling as a metaphor for life” story, using my experiences from the morning as the raw materials.
At the beginning of the day, I instinctively withdrew to the back of the line, and took up residence in a place that has become comfortable for me. A decade of mom programming made it easy for me to step to the side. As soon as my first child was born, I began a lifelong metamorphosis that would find me willingly sacrificing every part of myself for my precious children. So complete is this transformation that I have willingly set aside my sleep, my cleanliness, and even my sanity without as much as a second thought. And while this is good and noble, there are times when it is not necessary. What I thought of as selfless surrender had actually become an easy excuse to not fully engage. I have become so accustomed to playing the role of safety net and cruise director that I have ceased to take any chances or forge any paths.
There was a time when having babies naturally removed me from the action as I was the designated baby feeder, changer, wearer, watcher. But time has marched on, and my babies are growing (sniff) and life no longer dictates that I constantly step aside. As my family changes and grows, I have the opportunity-and even the mandate- to evolve, as well.
My kids are not babies anymore and they do not need someone following behind them picking up their dropped toys and cleaning up their messes (emotional or otherwise). They are strong, capable boys on their way to manhood, and as much as I want to stop here and take credit for the work that I have done to help them to become independent, there is still more to do. As hard as it was to get from the baby stage to this stage of independence, the next phase-from childhood to manhood-has even more magnitude. There is no way for me to propel them to the next stage from behind. This is not the time for passivity, and there is certainly no room for whining now. The Mister and I are going to have to lead them to adulthood from the front, allowing them to follow us on a path that we already know until it leads to point where they can travel confidently on their own. Life in the slow lane and the leisurely pace of resting on my haunches is simply going to have to wait a few more years.
~Ocean Club Resort provided my accomodations and bicycling/kayak tour while I was in the Turks and Caicos. They had no idea that they were providing therapy along with a bike ride,and if they had known, they probably wouldn't have invited me.~