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The Same But Different

with Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner is a freelance writer and editor, an avid runner and a mom of two boys. She's tentatively navigating the teen years with her oldest son, who has ADHD and an anxiety disorder (because puberty isn't hard enough already). [Insert blog name here] chronicles her efforts to balance science homework, basketball practice and panic attacks without completely losing her mind. Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram (@workingcloset) and at her personal blog, The Working Closet

Constructive Procrastination

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I’m running a half marathon on Sunday. I really shouldn’t be; I haven’t trained for it, and the weather forecast is horrible (hot, humid, windy, rainy). And yet, I am stupidly excited about the whole idea of getting up at 4:00 am to run 13.1 miles, including a long painful uphill stretch that will most likely be straight into a driving headwind.

Also? There’s a chance of thunderstorms. And yet, I’m still excited. Which probably says something about how things have been going around here.

This has been a hard school year, for a lot of reasons, and the worst part fell just as I was starting to train for this race. A stretch of terrible polar vortex-induced weather kept me off the roads and on the treadmill, which is frustrating because I’m not someone who can run long miles on the treadmill. But at least I was running. That is, until I wasn’t.

See, the treadmill is at my gym. On the days when everyone went to school, I would stop on the way home and run. But we had a lot of days this winter where Henry didn’t make it to school, and leaving him home alone to go work out just wasn’t an option.

(When I say that Henry “didn’t make it to school” I mean exactly that: He was completely unable to get himself together to go to school. If you don’t have a child like Henry, you are probably shaking your head in bafflement at this point — and also maybe judging me a little — because why can’t the boy go to school? Just make him go to school! I can’t explain it; some days, he just cannot find it in him to get dressed and show up for class. Of course, if you are raising your own Henry, you read that and started nodding your head and looking for my email address so you could reach out and say GOD YES! US TOO! SOLIDARITY, SISTER!)

So between the weather (stressful) and the boy (more stressful), I essentially stopped running. Instead of logging my usual 30ish miles a week, I was down to 10. Or 5. Or, in one particularly bad week, 0. It was awful.

The awful took on a lot of forms. I felt physically terrible, both because I wasn’t getting enough exercise and because running is how I manage my anxiety. Not running meant that I was also not sleeping, which meant that I was exhausted. On top of all that, I was fighting a nearly constant feeling of dread in my stomach because things were going so very wrong so much of the time.

Not running meant that there was no block of time each day that was not focused on my kids or my job. I got up in the morning, got everyone out of bed and fed and dressed and off to school (God willing) and then came home and worked until it was time to pick the kids up. After school was a blur of sports practices and homework, until I fell into bed and slept like the dead.

But only for a couple of hours. Then I was awake worrying about everything.

I was constantly behind at work, because on the days that Henry didn’t go to school, it was hard to stay focused and get things done. And of course the days he stayed home were the nice weather days, when it would have been easy to run outside. When he would go back to school, the weather would turn or work would pile up and taking the time to run would just be impractical. Or I would be so exhausted from not sleeping that going for a run would seem foolish.

Running started to seem frivolous; it felt like an excuse to procrastinate the things I needed to get done, rather than something important in its own right. I needed to work; I needed to get Charlie to practice; I needed to help Henry navigate the world. I don’t need to run.

At the same time, we were wrestling with Henry’s propensity to procrastinate anything and everything that is stressful for him — in this case, his homework, particularly big projects. And there are a lot of big projects in middle school, let me tell you.

In my effort to model good time management for my kid who has no sense of how to manage his time, I let go of the one thing that helps me to use my own time efficiently. When I stopped running, everything else fell apart for me. Getting back the hour and a half or so each day that my run takes didn’t free up an extra 90 minutes for other things; it slowed me down so much that nothing got done. And on top of that, I was constantly resentful of every demand on my time and energy.

It was so ugly, you all. And so miserable.

A few weeks ago, the weather finally took a turn for the spring-like and I started running outside again. A friend who was training for Sunday’s half marathon started bugging me about coming back to our running group. Two weeks ago, I ran 13 miles with her; last week, I ran 10 on my own.

Henry had two papers to write this week; both had been assigned months ago, and he left both until the last minute. He finished one and is turning the other in next week, for a late grade. I’m a little sad about that, not because his grade will be lower but because I feel like I dropped the ball on this assignment by not staying on top of his due date and working with him to get it done.

I’m back to my 30+ miles per week, which is 30+ hours away from all the other things on my to do list. I’m still having days where I scramble to get things done and nights where I don’t sleep well, but I’m less resentful when Henry — or anyone else in my house — needs my attention or my help.

Sunday’s run will be brutal. But it can’t be worse than the last few months have been here. Maybe that’s why I’m so excited.

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