My list is up to three reasons: side ache, big toenail on the right side is too long, and I didn't sleep well last night.
They're the reasons I'm collecting as the miles tick by too slowly on my morning run—reasons I should call it a day. The double stroller feels heavier with every footfall, and my ambitions are looking less enticing. If I stop I can sit down, just there under that tree or by that bench, let my heart rate come down, drink some water.
Reason number four: I'm thirsty.
Then I see her, and I'm looking in a mirror and it makes me smile—not a toothy grin but a strangled half-moon of recognition. She's pushing her own stroller, also sweat-shined, eyebrows drawn together, lips flattened between forceful breaths. Her eyes catch mine and we share the runner-to-runner ritual of greeting: a slight smile.
When I started running five years ago, I wished I could give everyone I passed on the green belt a high-five. LOOK AT US, I'd think when I saw another runner, WE'RE DOING IT. And once in a while, I'd try it, even saying something out loud like, "Good job!" People would usually give me a confused smile or laugh and say thanks. But as I began to push myself toward longer distances and faster paces, I ran out of energy to spend on anything besides putting feet in front of each other. I still smiled when other runners passed me—especially other parents with beat-up jogging strollers—but I'd stopped wasting precious breath on words.
That's when I started noticing it: the runner's smile. Now it's something I look forward to on every run. Not everyone does it: some runners are too focused, headphones in, eyes ahead, legs aching. Many do, though, and I love it. It's this tiny, nearly imperceptible simper wreathed with understanding and encouragement. It says the same thing I used to want to shout; LOOK AT US, WE'RE USING OUR BODIES, WE'RE DOING IT. But the runner's smile doesn't need overambitious bursts of energy to communicate its message.
On a run in July, I realized writing is like that. I've been in a creative slump for months now—maybe over a year, if you can draw a circle around something so fuzzy and hard to define—and sometimes, there are things I want to shout. My writing is how I tell other people in the trenches of motherhood, writing, working, and evolving I see them. LOOK AT US, I want to say to the mom holding a baby and wrangling a toddler. I want to shout to the person wrestling with their faith and searching for meaning: WE'RE DOING IT. But more often than not, especially over the last 18 months, I haven't had any energy for the shouting.
But just because I can't shout doesn't mean I can't say it another way. My writing might not always be a boisterous high-five of pithy statements and exuberance. I can offer a strangled smile, though. And because you and I relate—we're fellow runners in motherhood and tiredness and faith and life—I don't have to say much more for you to understand. We can encourage each other with simple words.
I'm trying to remember that while I struggle with where my writing is going. I'm sorting through purpose and direction and plans that make it feel like I'm pushing a big weight on this path, and sometimes it makes me slow down or even stop. Other writers are the ones who've come alongside me. In fact, I feel like everything I read lately has been a nudge that this time of diapers and sleep loss isn't forever, and I'll write more again soon (such as Ann Swindell's piece on stewarding your passions while mothering young kids and Katie Carper's guest post on Amber Salhus's blog). They're reminding me that even if a book-length project seems gargantuan and exhausting and impossible right now, I can type out a few words here and maybe help one other person today. I may not have my vision and blog all tidy and in order, but I can write what's on my mind for my Instagram friends.
It doesn't have to be a shout and a high-five. This blog, for now, is my runner's smile to you. Look at us, friend. We're doing it. And hey, after this, let's meet up for a beer. We earned it.