The wisdom of youth

When I was young, I thought my parents knew it all. But now that I am a parent, I am discovering that my children are infinitely wiser than I.

Could it be that the wisdom gene skipped a generation? (Surely not!) Or possibly that my parents didn’t know it all after all, and that wisdom should not be associated with age, but rather with the innocence and clarity of youth?

Last week, a simple discussion about a school sports day quite literally left me questioning my personal motivation for running.

This is how it unfolded:

Megan (age 10), commenting on the school’s up-coming sports day: “I put my hand up to run the 800m – it’s much further than I thought, and I’m not one of the fast ones. I’m definitely not going to win.”

Me: “You know, I’m not going to win the New York marathon either.”

I thought that was pretty quick thinking, especially as I was simultaneously negotiating Joburg rush-hour traffic. My kids always, always ask the Cycling Husband and I where we came in our various races. The Cycling Husband can actually answer with some form of confidence, as it’s quite often in the top ten (Yes, in his age group. But still.).

I, on the other hand, can pretty confidently say that I came nowhere, which is to say that I did come somewhere, but I have a feeling my children might not be impressed with 5 034. Yes, in my age group.

Anyway, in typical child-fashion, the conversation did not end there:

Megan: “Sooo, if you aren’t trying to win, then why are you running?”

Me (clearly on a roll): “Sometimes, it’s not about winning; the goal is to get to the finish line.”

Deep. Very deep. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Especially given my naturally competitive genes. I was already mentally patting myself on the back, picturing how I would share this conversation with the Cycling Husband, and equate it with how we are building emotionally-mature and resilient children, who care more about reaching the finish line than they do about winning the race, when my thoughts were rudely interrupted once again:

Megan’s friend Heather, a pretty deep thinker herself, looks at me with her head cocked to the side, one eyebrow up: “So are you just running for fun then? My mom and dad say sports should be about fun.”

(Smart mom and dad, those!)

Me: “Um, to be honest Heath, I’m not sure it’s going to be that much fun either!”

Megan: “Then why are you running?”

Shit. Shit. Shit.

This is the reason the standard parental answer is “Because I said so” or “Just Because”.

Because children should not be allowed to unravel their parents’ carefully-thought out reasoning with three unassuming questions.

As I sneakily avoided the last question by turning up the volume on the radio, I tried to figure out for myself why I was running.

There’s the existential “Because it’s there”. And the competitive “Because I want to beat the Cycling Husband” (which isn’t going to happen anyway). There’s the motivational “Because I set a goal and I want to reach it”; and the oh-so-adult “Because I want to know that I can”; and the less-adult-but-probably-more-truthful “Because I want everybody else to know that I can”. There’s also the I’ve-been-injured-but-now-am-cured (for now) “Because I can”. Truth be told, it’s probably a mix of all of these.

And then it came to me.

Why am I running a marathon? Really, truly?

Because everyone told me that I can’t. That I shouldn’t, and I mustn’t, and I wouldn’t, and I couldn’t. (Also, I have a large fondness for those Woolies chicken and avo baguettes. And KitKat. And running a marathon means I need to eat a lot in order to train for said marathon.)

I guess that wisdom gene really did skip a generation.

Don’t tell my children.

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