My husband Peter is a runner. Five miles is a short run. He runs half marathons. He's training for some ungodly number of miles on sand later in the summer. He does a grueling track workout once a week. He loves running. And he generally runs at a pace of 7 minutes per mile or so.
I am not a runner. Three miles is about what I can handle, and it takes me about 35 minutes (almost, but not quite, twice as long as my husband). I love being outside and moving my body, but the thought of pushing it the way Peter does is hard to fathom.
Much as I wish I were as fast and disciplined and delighted to run as Peter is, I've also been grateful for my slow pace. Because lately, running has helped me understand Penny.
I've mentioned that Penny has trouble "controlling her hands" in school. And at home. And at church. She also has trouble listening. Peter and I were discussing these issues the other day and he asked, "Can she do it? Seriously. Are we asking too much of her? Is she able to listen and do what we say?"
"Of course she is," I replied, without hesitation. She hears what we're saying. She understands it. And as long as she isn't tired or distracted or hungry, well, then she usually, but not always, does what we ask.
At school, they've started breaking the day into 7 parts and giving Penny stickers every time she behaves as expected for one of those segments. Every morning she tells me, "Mom, I'm going to get stickers today!" There was one day when she got 6 stickers, but most days involve 1 or 2.
I know she can do it. I know she wants to do it. And yet it is really really hard.
Which brings me back to running. If someone were to ask me and Peter to run a 10-minute mile right now, both of us could do it. For me, it would take every ounce of will to keep going. I would have to be prepared with rest and proper nourishment and determination. For him, it would be easy to do in street clothes. He might not even break a sweat. A hard workout for me would be a light jog for him.
I think it's the same for Penny when it comes to controlling her hands and listening. She can do it. She wants to do it. But it takes a tremendous amount of effort and preparation. And between now and then all of us in her life–parents, teachers, therapists, friends, relatives–stand as coaches, discerning when to push and when to let it go. In time, she'll get into shape, so to speak. It will become easier, more natural for her. But no matter what happens, whether there are stickers at school or not, whether an afternoon at home involves a series of time outs or a series of high fives for good listening–no matter what happens, I will stand on the sidelines and cheer her on.