I went along with a friend on a cycle up one of Cape Town’s esteemed beautiful mountain passes, Chapman’s Peak. I’m no great cyclist nor particularly fit but I knew if I needed to could climb off the bicycle and walk. It was a chance to exercise in a beautiful place outdoors so why not?
It is a long slope that climbs up the mountain and becomes steeper as it goes. I was in the lowest gear pretty much from the get-go and my focus was set intently the top of that hill (aka mountain! What was I thinking?!) I really pushed myself – to the point that I had fleeting worries it might be the last thing I do – but I was all psyched up for that top and kept on pushing.
So much for exercising in beautiful surroundings – I was completely unaware of the beauty all around me. I was focused only on getting air into my straining, burning lungs and using all the mental tricks I could imagine to keeping my burning, shaking legs pushing the pedals. I pictured cool water in my veins, I noticed the cool breeze on my face, I concentrated on the pulling up action in my legs for a while then on the pushing down, using different muscle groups… I thought I was being very clever – and I was, I suppose. It really was not easy for me – even though I surprisingly didn’t actually die on the way up. Bright red, burning face, puffing and panting like an asthmatic without an inhaler I slowly, slowly drew nearer to the top. I was intensely focused on getting there to that top. Dead or alive.
As I finally triumphantly inched my way to my goal – seriously I think a snail could have overtaken me at that point – I got to the magical corner that I thought was the top and the end of my torture, only to find that around that corner the hill continued as far as my eye could see. What’s more, it became even steeper as it rose up! My heart, jaw and bicycle dropped. A whole lot of dropping happened in that moment.
Needless to say I pushed my bike the rest of the way uphill, weaving drunkenly on my jelly legs. I was completely finished and very disheartened.
Unwilling to remain defeated – or maybe just for my sins – I tried that same hill again another time. This time I rode with a friend who was also not so fit. He suggested, “Start in a low gear and just mosey your way up slowly, slowly”. This time I was ready. I knew I had to think of this as a marathon and not as a sprint. The going was much easier. I pedaled while I looked at the stunning view. I felt the fresh air on my face and was present. I made it to the real top this time, walking in parts and cycling in others. I can’t know for sure but I suspect I cycled more of the uphill than the previous time though. I was no more fit than before but the experience and my ability were very different.
Parenting often reminds me of that experience. We are so focused on what we think is the top of the hill – that she stops wetting the bed, that he passes maths or whatever issue you hope will make things alright – yet when we get there, wherever we think ‘there’ is, we see there is still a whole mountain ahead and who knows what beyond that.
Parenting, like life, is a marathon not a sprint. Stop pushing yourself to ‘get there’. That is not what will make everything alright. There is no ‘there’, there is only ‘here and now’; and it’s already alright just as it is. Settle into a comfortable pace, in a comfortable gear and enjoy the sights and experiences on the way.