Here’s where I share my hatred of long distance running and the gap I discovered between being an adult and being a parent. Enjoy.
If you’re not in New Zealand you may not know about cross-country. Sometimes I wonder if it even exists in the rest of the world, or if it’s just one of those atrocious cultural things cooked up by teachers so they can take a long lunch.
Basically the cross-country involves forcing defenseless kids to run en masse, non-stop for about 6kms through the local farms and reserves. It doesn’t sound so bad on the page, but let me assure you, cross-country is where urban myths like: “She vomited on the headmaster’s shoes” or “He fell over and bit his tongue off” ACTUALLY HAPPEN. It’s a dastardly thing, a cruel punishment, and every year as our boys set off, I wince and seriously consider offering a sick-note.
Because I think cross-country is the primary-school version of the office fun-run. No one really wants to do it, IT’S NOT FUN but we’re all sort of forced to, because of an outdated expectation that New Zealanders are strapping, sporty, types. When the truth is, most of us would rather sit down with a nice cuppa and a biscuit.
And although my years of cross-country torture are behind me, I can safely predict that the 2013 track will offer the following delights for our children:
1. A field of cutty grass.
2. Some orange wasps.
3. Nine ideal spots to sprain an ankle.
4. A slick patch of yellow vomit.
5. One annoying girl faking a faint.
6. Two real asthma attacks.
7. A brutal pain in the side. (Teachers will casually refer to this as ‘the stitch’)
8. The lonely, wild despair of being in the midst of a field of diving magpies with no choice but to take your chances and run through anyway.
But despite my feelings about this atrocious cross-country bullshit, our oldest lad loves it. Maybe it’s a boy thing, this crazy desire to reach beyond one’s physical capabilities for a chance at glory? Suffice to say I think he’s crazy. But the night before the big race, as we lay talking, and I tickled his back, he was like a small wolf, coiled and ready to spring.
I knew he was nervous so the best thing I could offer was a strategy. I told him that cross-country is a bit like the Hunger Games. To survive, a boy must keep pace but reserve his precious energy and then pick off the other competitors ruthlessly, one at a time. I told him about trailing the pack and about the final lung-ripping sprint, and then I told him that whatever happens, I think he’s a legend.
It was one of those rare moments where I felt uniquely qualified to be his step-mum. Like I was in exactly the right place at the right time for him. And the cool thing was, he really took on my feedback. The boywolf ran his heart out. With the force of a million burgeoning testosterone molecules he came in 24th against 130 tougher, bigger kids.
Bless his cotton socks.
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