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Mother’s Day All May: My Athletic Dreams vs. My Daughter’s Unicorn Dreams

athletic dreams

by Elizabeth Waterstraat

Welcome to Mother's Day All May, an essay series for May that explores the intersection of parenting and running. Enjoy!

My six-year old daughter dislikes running.

She also dislikes ponytails, sporty clothes, gym class or anything that doesn’t involve tulle, sparkles, JoJo bows, or unicorns. As someone who lives in a ponytail, sporty clothes, and would love to go back to gym class, part of me really wishes she would love running.

But then I remind myself: my mother made me a runner without ever having been a runner herself.

Growing up, my mother tossed me into everything; art, music, gymnastics, soccer, tennis, dance. And while I learned that I wasn’t good at everything, I developed something more important: the courage and fearlessness to try anything. To know I didn’t have to be the best or achieve mastery – that I could dabble, learn, and grow.

Years later, I found myself wanting a high school sports jacket, knowing the only way to get one was to do a sport. The confidence gained from of trying all things nudged me to try track. The next season, I tried cross country. I got the jacket, wore it proudly as a display not of my run speed but of something better – the boldness to try.

As an adult, I tried a triathlon, duathlon, even mountain biking. Though I breaststroked through my first triathlon and walked most hills in my first mountain bike race, I felt a rush of achievement, overcoming challenge, discomfort, at times myself. A door opened – if I can do this, what can I do next? Those first steps up to a start line ultimately led to years of athletic adventures, accomplishments, even starting my own business. 

athletic dreams

My daughter walks around with 8 different layers of nail polish, some actually on her nails, most very glittery, a flowery dress, and a notebook where she draws pictures of unicorns with flittery eyelashes and rainbow tails. I love her passion for pink, her flare for drama, and her unabashed femininity. I love that she doesn’t love running because it’s not her thing. Hand on her tilted hip, she wastes no time telling me so.  

My mom didn’t set out to make me a runner. Nor a biker, swimmer, not even an athlete. She encouraged me to be curious and confident, open to experiences, and always learning. Running is my expression of all of those things.

Sometimes when I’m running, I think to myself: Gee, it would be nice if one day my daughter would run with me, maybe even try a triathlon! But I realize that is my dream, not her dream. She needs the freedom to explore and live her own dreams. One day, like me when considering my first triathlon in 1999, my hope is she will find herself staring at a sign that advertises some crazy new thing (a triathlon?), think for a moment and say why not try it?

So, I take a page from my mother’s book of parenting: present opportunities for my own daughter to develop the skill set, willingness, and curiosity to try anything and the confidence to settle into that thing.

My daughter dislikes running but does like a lot of things; playing the piano, rollerblading, beating her older brother at Minecraft, ballet, and skiing. She is open to trying anything*.

And while none of her interests involve running, perhaps as she watches me lace up my running shoes, set out the door, and return an hour later, satisfied and sweaty, she’ll soak up the confidence and joy, the exhilaration that comes from finding her own thing.

*Except show choir which she defiantly refuses because I told her she would be good at it. I laugh, and think to myself, "I created this."

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