My parents live in a quiet neighborhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia, in the only home I had ever known as a child and where they have lived for over 30 years. It’s a small home, cozy and comfortable and awesome.
I love spending time there, not only because my parents are amazing and hands-on and enjoy playing with my three kids, but also because every time I return, it’s a chance for me to reconnect with my childhood. It is a chance for me to breathe.
Sure, the house has been remodeled and (slightly) enlarged; there’s a new bathroom (finally!), and where our backyard swimming pool once stood now sits a gorgeous gazebo. The home itself looks different, but I still love it. It anchors me to the neighborhood, the streets, the roads, the parks, the schools, the ball fields–my life.
As one whose always been a runner–not a competitive runner but what I consider a sanity runner–I’ve always jogged, run,–even sprinted some days–to keep my sanity. To level my thoughts and to make sense of my world. To calm my spirits when my Irish blood makes me want to yell and scream and fight. No Walkman, no iPod, no music. Just me and my sneaks and a headband and the street.
So when I am able, on my increasingly infrequent trips back to the Keystone state, I throw my running shoes in my bag and pray I find time for a run. Because what I’ve found is that even when life seems crazy for me here in the DC Metro area, when I feel like I’m at my wit’s end trying to juggle three kids and a husband, my work, family, and friends, a run around my old ‘hood is usually what I need to catch my breath and really breathe.
When I jog past my neighbors’ homes–the neighbors who bought my fundraising candy bars and Girl Scout cookies and who gave me Halloween candy for years and years and years, I can breathe. When I give myself time to take a run past the home of my sixth grade English teacher’s house, the one who for the first time gave me choices, treated me like an adult and made me realize that I was a strong writer, I can breathe. When I run through the apartment complex, where I had my first ‘real’ job as a lifeguard and where I spent three full summers, I can breathe. When I see the homes of a boy I went to Kindergarten with who is now a successful restaurant owner, I can breathe.
When I jog the route I walked to my elementary school or the crosswalk where I was hit by a car back in second grade, I can breathe. When I move past the city pool where I lifeguarded–of course to be closer to my then-boyfriend’s private pool, I can breathe. When I see the parks where I cheered for knee-high football games, parks where I organized crafts for summertime camps, parks where I learned how to ride my bike, parks where I held hands with boys who made me blush, I can breathe. When I run the very same routes I ran years ago, when I was struggling with friendships, figuring out next steps, or crying through breakups, I can breathe.
When I run the same streets I ran with best friends, my boyfriend, and my dad, I can breathe.
When I run past buildings and homes that have changed but some that have stayed exactly the same, I can breathe. When I see the church where I plodded through years of CCD classes, where I walked through the sacraments, where I walked down the aisle and into a new chapter of my life, I can breathe. When I jump the bumps and twisted roots and try to keep my balance on the same sidewalks I walked my babies to sleep in their strollers, I can breathe.
I can breathe.
I can breathe and my mind clears and my heart opens and my smile returns. Because running these streets that tell the story of my life reminds me that I’ll be okay. No matter what, I will be okay, and we’ll all be okay. Running these streets where so much has changed and where so much has stayed the same reminds me that though I may feel like I can’t get through the throes of parenting right now, that I can–and I will.
I will always be a small-town girl with big dreams, but I’ve come pretty far. I’ve worked through some serious peaks and valleys. Running these streets reminds me of that. And it helps me to breathe.
When Amy M. isn’t breathing deeply or pounding the pavement, she can be found over at teach mama, where she shares the ways she creates a lifestyle of learning for her family. She’s also always hanging with the cool cats at we teach, a group that she created where parents and teachers can share ideas, learn from each other, and grow as educators for their children.