I don’t know what I was thinking—I can barely run a
quarter mile yard, but when my daughter joined her middle school’s cross-country team this year, for some inane benevolent ambiguous reason I volunteered to help out as an assistant coach. My son ran cross-country last year, and I so enjoyed watching the meets that I thought, “Why not get involved?” My legs are now answering that query with a vengeance. They are shrieking at me, begging for mercy. “What the @#*! ever possessed you to enlist for this?” they are crying. “Have you completely lost your mind, woman?”
Turns out, I have.
A typical Tuesday practice, or so I thought—where I am the lucky, lone assistant-in-charge, yes, me, the woman who’s hardly run (unless there's a sale) a stretch of anything in the past twenty years, alone with more than a dozen kids—I tell myself: no big deal, piece of cake, not to worry, I can handle this. (You know I’m being facetious, right? You are feeling my fear. My pain. My utter
helplessness stupidity. I know you are.)
All names have been changed to protect the innocent-- really, the only innocent being me. Why I didn’t change my name, go figure.
(with big smile)
Mrs. Schlott, can we play some football?
Other boys cheer in agreement.
Guys, this is a cross-country practice.
Oh come on! After practice or before, then?
The boys toss the football anyway.
(shouting above the baritone-voiced boys)
Twice around the field guys, warm up and then stretching.
(in unison but David leading)
Aw c’mon, Mrs. S.!
(ignoring David and the rest of the boys)
Here’s our agenda for today: two laps around the field (a hillside, actually) for warm up, and then stretching. We’re going to run a few miles after that. No stopping—so pace yourselves so you don’t need a break. Stop only if it's absolutely necessary.
(jumping up and down)
Mrs. Schlott can I go pee?
(with hands in air)
I have to go too, Mrs. S.
Ok, girls, run inside and go to the bathroom. Hurry up back before we head out for the long run.
Twice around the hillside we go, then the stretch. One of the boys, Cameron, decides to lead the count for each lunge and twist. 1, 2, 3. Only these aren’t one Mississippi counts; no, they are more like race counts 1,2,3,4… where one number blurs the next, without a breath in between.
Legs are flexed, arms circled, backs and necks stretched. The kids are off for the long run before I can say "Wait for Amy and Kelly!" and then all I see is the backside of the their bodies from the point of departure to return. We run up slopes, through narrow, rocky, wet-leaved passages, through tall-grassed fields, down a concrete road to a stop sign and back.
(half-way up the hill)
Mrs. S., I forgot my inhaler. I don’t think I’m going to be able to run today.
(I have water bottles, which is what is usually forgotten, but not the inhaler)
It’s ok Jill, you can walk it, then. Or just meet us by the tree and rest.
(Phoebe has a cramp so she walks, too)
We return to the meeting tree after the run. Bobby has acorns and is flinging them at all the boys. Suddenly, an acorn war. Burnished, pointy-tipped nuggets launched from every angle. Ted has bottled water that is everywhere but in the bottle. Jake has a frog, but I don't know this yet.
Mrs. S., Jake cheated! He cut through a path and went down to the pond.
Jake releases a frog from his hands. Girls—yes, all the girls—scream. The frog leaps and almost hits Amy in the leg. More screams. Jake grabs the frog and brings it over to the edge of the woods and the other boys follow. The girls look at them with disapproval, shake their heads and hiss.
Let’s warm down now, guys. Boys! Yoohoo—over here!
(grabs a substantial stick and chases wandering geese down the hill)
QUA, QUA, QUA!
Where's your whistle, Mom? Why don't you a have a whistle? Mrs. C. always has a Whistle.
I don't answer, I just sport an evil glare. Why don't I have a whistle? What I really need is
a flogging stick drink help.
incredulous slightly irritated but with a smile closed lip grin)
Ok, kids. I think practice is over. Head back to the gym for your bags. Who's going to be at the meet tomorrow?
Hands fly up. All the girls will be there.
And for one reason or another, none of the boys will make it.
This, and my daughter tells me I run with the crampers and asthmatics. Yes, well, I happen to be one of the asthmatics, also. And you, I remind her, were one of the crampers last week.
Once we ran in a massive rainstorm. That was fun.
Nevertheless, I think we're ready for the meet. The girls, that is. At least my little one (she'd better be).