Lately, as part of her ongoing metamorphosis into a person with an even more complicated life -- and schedule -- my daughter has taken up running for her school. Her first meet is this coming Wednesday and she is both excited and nervous about it. I told her that, from a psychological perspective, it's not that different from a live theatrical or musical performance, which she knows how to do very well. But the fact that she still feels like the proverbial fish out of water with the sporty girls socially is surely amping up her anxiety, since the desire to do well in the race is only part of the pressure she is feeling.
Since she has never done this sort of thing before -- unless you count her single jujitsu competition, when an older boy who was a wrestler thrashed her badly -- I'm not sure what to expect. I do hope it goes well, or at least well enough, though, because she has serious talent. She has always had the long-build that's suited for distance running, but lacked the fitness or the will to put her physical advantages to use. Now, in the wake of the Olympics and her summer of constant exercise, she has both in abundance.
It's both thrilling and a little scary for me. My deeply ingrained habit is to not let myself dream big or even, in recent years, at all. Passed down from my mother in particular, this accession to the reality principle has the merit of warding off future disappointment. Yet as I'm starting to realize, though, the price is often disappointment, though smaller in scope, in the present and an evasion of challenges that ultimately leaves me even more disappointed than if I had tried something and failed. That's why I'm making every effort not to inflict this burden on my daughter. She is a dreamer, but also very determined, and deserves every opportunity to achieve her goals.
Mind you, those goals are frequently the sort that I would have ruled out for myself at her age, much less now. To give the most extreme illustration, she has said that her goal as a runner is to make an Olympic team. That sounds extraordinarily improbable, given the odds and her late start at serious athletic pursuits. Still, although I did tell her that making the team in four years, for Rio, is not very realistic, I also didn't tell her to aim lower.
Maybe if she didn't have the ability I would have thought it an act of kindness to do so. But given the improvements she has already made in her times for the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 meters and how fast she is currently running -- far faster than any just-started-running-track thirteen-year-old girl should be, by rights -- there's a chance, however slight, that she actually will achieve her goal. And the only way for her to do that is to keep it in front of her as a long-term goal, even if proves to be a mirage shimmering on the horizon in the end.
The more I consider the state of my own life, how hard things have been over the past five years, the more apparent it becomes that one of my biggest problems, if not the very biggest, is my failure to set those sort of goals for myself. When friends ask me where I see myself "down the road," I hem and haw about not being able to see the forest for the branches in my face. But the truth is that I've practically lost the ability to even imagine the forest or at least the sort of forest that I can travel through to a place I really want to be. I'm ever so grateful that the experience of spending time with my big-dreaming daughyter is helping me to see how badly I need a heading if I am to reach that clearing I clearly need to find.