One of the things I like best about running, I tell people, is that all I need is a pair of shoes. I don’t need to pay for a gym membership, I don’t need to buy cute work-out clothes; all I need is a good pair of shoes. Before I had children, I could run any time of day. But now as a mother, I can go early in the morning when it is still dark and only a few houses are lit from the inside. I run softly along the dark streets of our neighborhood, under the light of the fading moon, and watch as sleepy strangers shuffle outside in their robes to pick up the paper on the still-wet lawn.
Now that Reid has arrived, I can also run when the boys are at school, pushing the baby jogger. Monday through Friday I walk the boys to school and then after kisses and waves of goodbye, run behind the jogger through our neighborhood.
This morning I started slowly. Reid had woken up twice to nurse, and I’d finally had a good night’s sleep. I felt awake for the first time in days and wanted to sing with joy. It was a perfect morning for a run; the air was crisp and clear and it was not too cold or too hot. But I felt shaky as I rounded the corner on Rebellion Drive and so I stopped to stretch at the spot by the creek. It was high tide and the water from the creek leading to the Intracoastal reached the top of the marsh grass, and shimmered under the morning sun. As I leaned my head down to stretch my legs, I thought about how I hadn’t had a good, strong run since I found out I was pregnant, almost a year ago. I was anxious to get back to the kind of running I loved — on days like this with the breeze in my face when it felt like I was flying.
I started running the year I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was 14 years old and living away from home at a private school. My field hockey coach had been surprised when she saw me running on a Sunday afternoon, our day off. I’d always complained when she made us go for a run around campus, and had been caught taking the shortcut more than once. That year she gave me a “Most Unlikely Runner” gag award at the end of our season, but I could tell that she was proud. I was proud. Running was teaching me to see my body as healthy rather than sick. With my running shoes on I was strong and steady, not the girl with the chronic disease. Running began as a way to tame my blood sugars, but over the years it has become a necessary rhythm in my life. As the mother of three boys under ten, running every morning keeps me calm and steady in the middle of the motherhood storm.
Ever since Reid was born I’d been having a hard time managing my morning blood sugars. Twice, after dropping the boys at school and heading out for a run, my blood sugar plummeted. One morning, I’d been a mile from home when it hit me, and I frantically searched the basket of the jogger for the candy I was always supposed to have with me. I’d always been good about having sugar with me, whether it was a piece of fruit or a bag of Skittles or a granola bar. That morning I was sure I’d put a granola bar in the jogger the day before, but then I remembered that Miles had eaten it on our way home from school and I’d forgotten to replace it. That meant I had nothing.
I began to walk. I looked around at the houses I passed and imagined myself knocking on the door to ask for help. I imagined the conversation I would have, how I would explain that I had diabetes and needed sugar. I imagined how the person answering the door would look at my baby asleep in the jogger and worry for his safety. My doctor lived in the neighborhood and I thought about knocking on her door, but hesitated. I didn’t want to bother her, I didn’t want to have to ask for help. I kept walking.
The closer I got to home, the worse I felt. It was becoming hard to pick my feet up off the ground; they shuffled and dragged along the pavement like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz when the monkeys took his straw. I tightened my grasp on the handlebar of the jogger with both hands, afraid to let go. Pushing it out in front of me, I leaned forward and knew that I resembled my grandfather pushing his walker. I stared at the last stretch of sidewalk. We’re almost there, I said to Reid. I can make it. My vision began to blur and flash. I couldn’t see my feet. Almost there. I stopped the jogger at our front door and began to cry with relief. Leaving Reid in the jogger, scared to lift him, I pushed open the kitchen door, opened the fridge, and guzzled orange juice from the carton. My hands shook and the juice spilled out of the corners of my mouth and down my shirt. Slowly, I could see.
This morning I was low again. I didn’t want to be. I stretched and then reached for my meter. I pricked my calloused finger and squeezed a drop of blood onto the strip. I waited. Don’t be low. The meter read 68 mg/dl. I couldn’t run when I was 68. I turned away from the water and the view of the marsh and headed home. I pulled the bag of candy corn from the basket under the jogger and slipped a few of the orange and yellow triangles into my mouth, defeated. My eyes began to water and my throat burned. I didn’t want to be in a bad mood; it was such a beautiful day! And I’d finally gotten a good night’s sleep! I hated this disease. All I wanted was a good run.
It makes me angry that I have to bring candy corn with me on my runs. I want to grab my shoes and head out the door. I don’t want to carry candy corn. I don’t want to hold onto the handlebars of the jogger and stumble home. Feeling frustrated and out of control scares me. Managing my disease feels like too much work and I want to give up. But I can’t. I have no choice but to keep going. If I give up I will suffer, my boys will suffer, and my husband will suffer. I don’t know what to do with those feelings.
As I walked toward home chewing candy corn I noticed a woman walking a spirited puppy. He was pulling her in all directions. I got closer and she raised her hand in a wave; it was my doctor.
“I thought that was you, but you aren’t running. Is everything okay?”
I wanted to cry.
“I’m cursing my diabetes,” I said. My voice wavered. “I need to come in and see you.” She nodded as the puppy pulled her in the opposite direction.
“How about tomorrow afternoon?” She said.
I nodded, and let out a deep breath. “Thanks.” I smiled. I continued walking toward home.
All I had to do was ask.