Running is Cheaper than Therapy: Here She Comes to Save the Day

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…Do the thing you think you cannot do”. Eleanor Roosevelt

A magnet with that quote hangs on my fridge. A magnet I bought shortly after my first 5k. The race I thought I could not do. The race I feared. The race I proved to myself that I could do it. The race that turned me into a total 5k addict.

HalfwayAfter that first 5k, I spent “every other weekend” running races. It no longer bothered me that I had to show up alone. I loved them! I loved everything about them. The crowd. The energy. The excitement. But mostly the competitiveness. Not against the other runners, but against myself. I was constantly trying to prove to myself that I could do better than I did the last time. There were weekends I would sign up for three races just to try and beat my time from the day before. I was a complete and total race junkie….

Then there was the other “every other weekend”. The weekend I had children. I was completely and totally overwhelmed by being a single parent of two toddlers. Please don’t misunderstand, I love my children with every ounce of my soul, but there is a reason it takes TWO people to make a child. Its because it takes 2 to care for one. And if you have two kids, really, it takes 4 people…just saying. Trying to keep up with the house, the yard, the kids, the laundry, the groceries, cooking, cleaning, repairs, etc by myself was more than I could handle. Oh, and my mother, (Did I mention my elderly mother with severe dementia lives with me and I am also her sole care taker?) I was drowning.

My sister whom I no longer speak to (I shall save that story for my next blog, “Why you should never buy an investment property with a family member who is a self-centered, selfish b*tch with no morals”) suggested I get an Au-Pair to help me with the kids. An au-pair? Yeah right, Do I look rich? I don’t think so. Au-pairs are for rich people. Everybody knows that! She suggested I at least look into it, so I did.

Turns out, the cost of having a young girl from another country come live in your home for a year to care for you children costs less than the cost of most daycares…and they take care of BOTH kids for that price. And they cook. And they clean! And they bathe them. And they can drive them to activities.. Basically they can help with anything that is child related. Oh, and did mention they clean??? Sign me up. No really…sign me up!

The interview process is lengthy, as well it should be. After all, I was looking for somebody in which to entrust my most precious possessions, my kids. And she would be living in my home, so it needed to be a good fit. I was also mindful that there was a parent someplace across the globe that was entrusting ME, with their most precious possession, their daughter. This was an important decision for all of us.

There are literally 1000’s of young women (and men) who want to be Au-pairs. They dream of coming to the USA to live and work for a year to experience American culture. Apparently it is quite a privilege to be chosen, but I had no idea how to choose. Until I found her. When I read her profile, I could just feel that she was “The One”. Sandy was a nutrition major (I was a Health Education major in college). Sandy loved to go to the gym and exercise (me too!). She loved kids (how could she not love mine?). She loved American music (we both loved the same artists!). It had never occurred to me that in my search for the perfect person to care for my kids, I might find a companion of my own. My house was awfully lonely “every other weekend” and perhaps this young Swedish girl could fill that void.

And that she did. From the day Sandy arrived in the USA she was a perfect fit for our family. I will never forget the day she stepped off the bus. My two kids and I anxiously awaited to meet our new addition, as were dozens of other families when the bus pulled into Boston. One by one, a young girl, so far from home, would step off the bus and look around nervously for the new family she would be spending the next year of her life with. As they stepped off the bus, they would each search the crowd for a familiar face they had seen in a photograph, or sign that read her name. They would anxiously go over to their new “host family” and shake hands or bow in some cases. There was an awkwardness when the families would meet their new caretaker for the first time, not to mention a language barrier in some cases. We waited and waited and I began to get nervous as I watched other families unite with their new Au-pair. What was I doing? Did I really want a stranger caring for my kids? And living in my home? For a moment I wanted to pack my kids back in the car and head back home. This had been a bad idea.

And then there she was. Sandy stepped off the bus, second to last. With a giant blue and yellow (the Swedish colors) foam #1 hand, like you see at sporting events. She recognized the kids and I immediately and came barreling towards us, full speed, huge grin on her face and embraced the three of us as if she’d know us her whole life. No awkwardness. No strangeness. Just a perfect fit to our family puzzle.

Having Sandy around was a life saver. It was like a giant weight had been lifted. The kids absolutely adored her and so did I. She was even wonderful taking care of my mom, who can be quite, ummm….difficult to say the least. She was just a ball of energy and was happy to help all of us in anyway she could. It still amazes how one 19 year old girl from across the world could change our lives. But she did.

It was Fall, so I was picking and choosing the races I would do on my “off weekends”, when it occurred to me that I could technically do a race on my “on weekends” if Sandy cared for my kids. So I signed up for the “Half way to St. Patty’s Day” race I’d heard such good things about, and had asked Sandy to watch them. She then had the brilliant idea that she could bring them and they would all cheer me on. What? My very own cheering section? I loved the idea more than life itself.

Having Sandy and the kids there when I finished the race was a feeling I cannot adequately describe in words. By this point I had completed at least a dozen races, never once having a familiar face at the finish. And there they were. The two loves of my life and this sweet wonderful girl I was beginning to love like a sister (and NOT like the real sister I have,,,). They were clapping and cheering and jumping up and down. They high fived me at the end. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t caught my breath or had time to drink my water or that my 2 year old wanted me to pick her up immediately. I had a cheering section. And it was awesome.

When we got home that evening, Sandy asked me when my next race was. It was the following weekend of course, after all, it was the Fall and races are a dime a dozen. She asked me if she could do it with me. Wait a minute…I could actually have a running partner? It was too good to be true! That day had been a dream come true to have my very own spectators, but to have an actual running buddy? Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!!

Sandy was nervous the day of the race. She had never done one before. This particular race benefited breast cancer and distributed “goody bags” which Sandy was head over heels excited about. She put her new T-shirt on immediately. She was even more excited about her first bib. I had to help her pin it because she was shaking so badly. She kind of reminded me of somebody I used to know 🙂 I showed her how to stretch and we warmed up a bit before finding our way to the start line. We stood their together, holding hands until the gun sounded. And then we were off…

We both ran great that day. Sandy was inspired from the energy that came from a race and I was thrilled to finally have a “running friend”. Afterwards, we talked about the race in full detail, everything we were thinking and feeling during the course. We analyzed the hills and our pace. It was great having somebody to “debrief” with. We spent the day walking and talking and laughing. We were all sweaty, but proudly sporting our new race t-shirts . I treated her to lunch and we walked in and out of little shops in the downtown area, where I bought the magnet that still proudly sits on my fridge. I will never forget that day.

Before that day, I knew I loved racing. But having somebody to do it with changed everything. Sandy and I entered many more races together. We didn’t always make a full day out if it, like we did on our first race, but we always had each other to talk to about what went well and what didn’t. We would compare times and encourage each other. Having somebody to share it with made the experience so much more rewarding. Its ironic. What had begun as a way to run away from my life, had become a part of my life I couldn’t live without.

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