As I drive by her, I see her ponytail swinging with every step she takes.
I see her hand balancing on the jogging stroller, her stride slow and steady as she pushes herself and 50 pounds of crabby baby up that hill.
I notice her toddler bundled up with a blanket around his legs and holding a sippy cup he’ll inevitably throw out of the stroller no less than 15 times on her run.
I see the determined look on her face, mixed with exhaustion and sweat, a look that says she moved heaven and earth to lace up her shoes for 30 minutes of time to take care of herself.
I recognize her because I was her, many years ago.
When my babies were small, I nearly lost my mind from the tedium of nap time, never-ending laundry, and tantrums. Being the stay-at-home parent, I took the brunt of the heavy lifting that comes with raising children day to day. My husband did what he could when he got home, but on most days, I’d fall onto the couch in a haze of exhaustion with a throbbing head. I’d mindlessly watch television until my husband would nudge me and tell me it was time for bed. I’d get a few hours of sleep and then do it all over the next day.
There was never time for me. There was never time to attend a yoga class to clear my head, and chasing a toddler, while exhausting, did little to slim my large mom hips and C-section battle scars. I was in my late 20s, but I felt old and haggard. Often, I was winded as I’d climb the stairs to change a diaper or when I’d play with my son at the park.
But, I was a mom. I signed on for putting myself last, right?
A friend thought otherwise and told me as much. She coaxed me to join her one balmy summer evening to run on the quiet streets of our suburban neighborhood. Dubious and skeptical, I agreed, but only because she promised we could have a glass of wine when we finished.
That run was a disaster. I huffed, I puffed, and I swore obscenities as I lagged behind my friend who was in much better shape. When we were finished, she grinned at me, her cheeks flushed from exertion, and said, “Didn’t that feel amazing?”
I rolled my eyes, and as I limped in the door, I realized that my husband had taken care of bedtime in my absence.
Perhaps running did have its benefits after all.
For the rest of that summer, I made a concerted effort to carve time out for myself. I became that mom with the ponytail swinging as I trudged behind a jogging stroller.
I became the mom who packed snacks and sippy cups along with water bottles and energy gels. I became the mom who had to stop on the side of the road to deal with tantrums, dropped toys, and lost sippy cups.
I became the mom who stood at busy intersections and wondered why drivers weren’t more considerate of a mother trying to run safely. I was the mom who cursed hills as I put every ounce I had into climbing the hill as my toddler screamed that he wanted to go home “nooow.”
Mostly, I became the mom who realized that the world wouldn’t end if I took some time to fill my soul and nourish my body with much-needed exercise.
And so, as I drive by the mom on the side of the road, in her brightly patterned running tights with her running cap firmly on her head, I want her to know that I see her struggle.
I see how hard it was to get her toddler’s pants on and to find his shoes as he protested about wanting to watch Sesame Street. I see how she fought against a squirming bundle of boy as she strapped him into his jogging stroller while he loudly demanded to be allowed to push the stroller himself.
I see that first mile, the one where the stroller feels like a wheelbarrow of bricks, and I know that she considered going home because sitting on the couch is easier than propelling a protesting toddler down car-lined streets.
I can feel the soft grip of the stroller handle and feel the bouncing as she navigates potholes, rocks, and other road debris.
I see how a downhill slope feels like a treat, gravity taking the brunt of the burden that comes with pushing a stroller laden with diapers, board books, and security blankets.
Mostly, I see how badass she looks, and I smile as I slowly pass her.
And when I look in the rearview mirror, I see the contented look on her face. It’s a look that says she knows she’s a badass — because she is.