I've convinced two of my boys that waking up early and running a 5K is a fun way to spend a morning. Before you imagine happy-faced kids motivated by fitness and together-time with Mom, forget it: I buy them a half-dozen doughnuts on the way home. Every time.
Even though just about every race is a way to raise funds and awareness for certain causes, we often forget about that and focus on who will beat whom, the weather, pollen count, aching quads or the Dunkin' Donuts flavor of the month. I bet they'd struggle to name more than two organizations benefiting from the dozens of 5Ks we've run.
This past weekend we were among the 15,000 participants in the Sandy Hook Run for the Families. Seeing so many people running in honor of their neighbors, friends, family members and teachers made it impossible to forget why we were there. T-shirts and signs featuring pictures and names of the 26 victims of the Newtown school shooting were everywhere.
Our usual pre-race competitiveness and energy weren't there. Although we didn't verbalize it, we didn't quite know how to act. And it seemed that others had the same experience. This was not a celebration of those who have survived an illness or a push to raise money to find a cure. This was different.
Sure, there was some laughter and lots of hugs, but for a crowd of thousands we were relatively quiet. The eye contact exchanges with other runners and spectators leaving our cars and making our way to the start line conveyed all sorts of messages, but mostly: I'm sorry if you're hurting.
In the back of my mind I kept considering why, exactly, we were there.
Just before the start of the race, we listened as children sang and community leaders offered thanks and encouragement. But it was the sound of a bell ringing slowly —- 26 times —- that I found especially emotional.
As many people likely did, I pictured sweet first grade faces and beautiful teachers with each ring of the bell. With my arms wrapped around my 11-year-old's skinny frame and my chin resting on his head, I stared into the blue sky, oddly emptying itself of snowflakes on a sunny day.
A young woman beside me, probably 25 years my junior, happened to glance at me just as I turned in her direction. With no hesitation or words, she quickly pulled a napkin from her pocket so I could wipe my eyes. Such a simple gesture, but so sincere. She didn't know me, but she wanted to take care of me, a mom standing in the middle of a street, crying.
And I suppose that's why I had felt compelled to bring my boys to this event: It's a way of showing that we care about each other. We don't always know how to express that, so we run races and organize concerts and collect money.
We runners, walkers and ringers of the cowbell at the finish line want the Sandy Hook community to know that we think about you every day. We don't know you, but we love you.
Teresa M. Pelham is co-blogger for the Courant's "Mommy Minute" parenting blog. A freelance writer based in Farmington, Teresa is the author of "Roxy's Forever Home," a children's book benefiting dog rescue. Visit www.roxysforeverhome.com for more information.