2019-02-01 / Family Matters

Head up. Wings out. Fly.

There are a million clichÉs telling us to live fully: embrace life, live life to the fullest, take risks, live for the moment, life is an adventure... I suppose there are so many of these sayings because they are all true, and we need to hear them. But the problem with clichés is that we eventually stop hearing them. They are like that pop song that intrigues us with the first beat, but when it’s broadcast every hour, we tune it out. I like to think that the older I get, the more I push myself to grow. I know from experience that many of my proudest moments occur when I’m out of my comfort zone. One of the ways I push myself is through running.

Half marathons are a challenge for me, but I usually tackle one each year. There’s a lot to like about the atmosphere of a race: wild cheering from spectators, high-fives from strangers and clever signs penned by non-runners. My most recent half marathon took place in December in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Among the 3,000 runners was a masked and fully costumed werewolf, who, at one point, broke off from the pack, ran into the woods and started snapping branches from small trees. He carried these with him for the rest of the race. Two runners shared the same sweater throughout the race, and there was a shirtless viking running in only his helmet and shorts. I saw the typical, humorous signs: “Hurry Up; My Arms Hurt” and “Worst Parade Ever.” But one sign struck me. It read: “Head Up. Wings Out. Fly.” Maybe it was because I was struggling through the 10th mile of a tough run, but I found it inspiring. And not inspiring in a “you can do this, run faster!” kind of way. Actually, it made me think about what I want for my children.

I want my kids to walk with their heads up. It’s important for them to be seen and to see others. Middle schoolers sometimes have trouble holding their heads high — and not just because they are often staring at their cellphones. They are so self-conscious and fearful of appearing exactly the way they feel: vulnerable. If they only knew that we all feel that way, and age only changes its manifestation. Hold your head high, regardless, I want to say. So you can see the world, and it can see you.

If holding one’s head up is the first step to interacting with the world, wings out is the second. After my children begin seeing what’s available, it’s time to discover what they have to offer. I want to know they are ready to embrace a challenge. Whether this means joining the track team without ever having run a mile or signing up for guitar lessons, wings will need to be outstretched. Vulnerability will be necessary, and others will likely see them fail — repeatedly. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s necessary.

It would be easy to equate flying with realizing our childhood dreams or making it big (whatever that means). But I think it’s more about spending time immersed in our passions. When my 12-year-old turns 22, discovers the joy of working with children and pursues a teaching career, I’ll be celebrating alongside her. When my 14-year-old comes to the realization that he is energized by engineering and embraces that endeavor, fantastic. I’ll count that as taking flight.

During a race, I try to sink into the rhythm of the run. I let my mind wander, and in that particular half marathon, I spent the last 3 miles wondering how I could help my children keep their heads up, wings out and, eventually, fly. I don’t know how much power I have over their decisions to play it safe or take risks in life. It’s ultimately up to them. But I do know that we learn best from watching others. So maybe all I can do is show them how I continue to take risks, be vulnerable, fail and, sometimes, fly. •SCM

With a sports-obsessed 14-year-old son, a spirited 12-year-old daughter and a goldendoodle who looks like a muppet, teacher David Rockower has a lot to write about.

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