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Gwendolyn J – SuperMom

Movement, Motherhood, and Choosing the Best 

My life has changed immensely since I began running over 28 years ago, but one thing has remained the same—the importance of movement in my life. Movement and family have been linked together for me since I was little. Some of my happiest memories are of the family hikes we took on Sunday afternoons while I was growing up. When I was about 12, my dad caught the running bug, and soon Saturday morning 5ks were a regular family affair, with Mom watching my baby brother and cheering for me, my dad, and my older brother and sister as we ran. And soon after, I fell in love with running. Running became something that defined me. I ran both cross-country and track in middle school and high school, and then ran some marathons during college. After a few babies, I wanted a new challenge and tried triathlons. I’ve always been a middle-of-the-packer, but running allows me to be competitive with myself, to push myself to do more and to run faster.

More than anything else, running keeps me grounded. In college, I ran the trails for hours in the nature preserve by myself, connecting with both nature and my inner struggles and thoughts. I ran while studying at a university in Mexico, and it empowered me; it made me feel strong and unconquerable as a woman in a culture and land full of machismo. And while dating my husband, we ran and hiked together frequently. Our shared love of exercise connected us, and it laid the foundation for the habit of being active together that is still important for keeping us connected 18 years later.  During my pregnancies, running, walking, and lifting weights kept me fit and strong for birthing my babies, and made for easier recoveries afterwards. As our family has grown, we have kept on running and walking with our kids, adding more jogging strollers as the babies have arrived.

Now, I didn’t set out to be a mom of 10 kids. I always knew I wanted to be a mom and when we got married, my husband and I decided that four kids would be a perfect  number for us: a “big” family, but not TOO big. The funny thing is, once we had four, it didn’t seem right to stop! So we decided we would welcome however many kids the Lord would bless us with…and we have been greatly blessed with 7 sons and 3 daughters. And now, more than ever, movement is essential. It helps keep me sane in the midst of the chaos that is my life as the mom of a large homeschooling family.

I am often asked how I do it all, and the simple answer is: I don’t. I have the same number of minutes in the day as everyone else (but there are never enough!), and I simply can not do it all. That is difficult for me to accept sometimes, because I want to be a superwoman and do it all! But daily I fail to be superwoman, and it is a reminder to me that I need to look to God to give me the strength to make it through each day. I am so thankful for a husband who supports and encourages me when I feel like I am failing at everything! Since I know I can’t do it all, I have had to relax my standards, let go of some of my expectations, and drop the good things in favor of the best.

Relaxing my standards is a daily struggle, because it means that I have to fight the perfectionism that comes naturally to me. It means that I am trying to love my body how it looks right now, after carrying and birthing my babies, instead of longing for the super fit body I used to have. It means that a 2 mile walk with slow-pokey little people is “good enough” for exercise instead of the 4 mile run that I had planned.

Letting go of expectations means that I’ve had to adjust my thinking about what I can reasonably accomplish in a day–we just can’t do the same things we used to do when we had fewer kids. Having a large family is a lot of work…cooking and cleaning and laundry for 12 people are all big, time consuming tasks, and I can’t do it all (and I don’t—my kids are huge helpers when it comes to housework!). Sometimes just getting everyone out the door, on time, with shoes on their feet, feels like a huge accomplishment! I have also had to let go of my expectations for myself when it comes to racing. Having 10 babies born in the past 16 years means that I have spent the majority of the time either pregnant or breastfeeding, which can make training and competing a logistical challenge, to say the least. I remember at one triathlon trying to fit in nursing the baby between setting up my gear and warming up for the race, but not doing it too early so baby wouldn’t get hungry before I finished! After signing up for races months in advance, I’ve ended up pregnant by race day, so I have had to adjust my race goals or skip the race altogether for the health of my baby.

Choosing to drop what is good for what is best can be a difficult process as I am forced to evaluate my priorities. Our first three boys loved playing soccer, but it became a logistical nightmare once we had 3 kids in soccer, a husband who worked long hours, a toddler, a baby, and another baby on the way. So we chose to drop a good thing–organized sports–and focus on the best for our family—physical activity that we could do together. Hiking and running are activities that we love to do together with the kids. It strengthens both our relationships and our bodies and it defines who we are as a family. We also have a huge jungle gym in the back yard for all sorts of climbing and playing on together—moving that feels more like play and less like exercise. How we spend our time reveals our true priorities and I want my kids to remember that I spent time with them: looking at nature outside, reading them books, and talking and walking with them.

These days, I walk more often than I run. It is my daily escape for an hour from the noise and chaos of my kids. I use the time to think, to plan for school, and to pray for each of my children. When my legs are moving, my mind can work without distraction. If I try to do these things at home, I inevitably will be distracted by a million things that ought to be done, or the baby will be crying, or I will fall asleep from exhaustion. I am a better mom because I make it a priority to move. Someday soon I hope to be able to be competitive again with my running and triathlons, but the the time for that is not now. It is dropping the good—the joy of pushing my limits and the exhilaration of competing, for the best–my family.