I Think I Can: A Note from the Editor
By Jordan Sapir
I was out with my oldest daughter, teaching her to ride her bike for the first time. It has, surprisingly, more recently become an easier feat, in comparison to the days of removing training wheels and the first layer of knee epidermis.
She’s been riding what we call a Laufrad in Germany (balance bike) since she was one and a half, which makes it easier to learn how to ride. They learn to balance and glide gradually, so that moving to a pedal bike is virtually seamless. As an Über Mom, after a decent 45 minutes of steady riding, I was ready to take her on the road. I didn’t factor in crowded streets, cobble-stoned paths, and, of course, the uphill battle. We hadn’t made it an hour before she wanted to call it quits. She was emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted. She didn’t have the emotional or physical capacity to learn a new skill and immediately put that skill into practice. Instead of thinking in a way which allowed her to slowly progress, I kept pushing her, which, as I know well from my days in Italy, was not the way to go. I could just hear my Italian agent telling me piano, piano, what’s the rush.
I was so proud of my daughter. In my selfish glory, I wanted her to push herself to strive for more. She quickly tired and wanted to return home and throw in the towel. As I knelt there on one knee and looked her in her eye, I explained how difficult it is to learn new things. Instead of comforting her when the tears started rolling down her cheeks. I told her the story of how I learned how to swim and climb up a mountain on my road bike, how it was difficult, but I persevered. In all of my virtuous banter, I had forgotten one of the most important life lessons I could give my child: the ability to know her strengths and embrace her limits.
As mothers, we deal with the challenge of holding our children to our own standards.
I could hear my high school cross country coach yelling at me to get out of bed. His voice was undeniably military and he had the brute of a viking. It was the second time he called to me in my cabin and I knew that if I didn’t get myself into action he’d come and get me personally. I only imagined him shouting at me like a drill sergeant, using my last name and ending with weak maggot. I hopped out of bed and into action. I grabbed my running shoes, stood up dizzy, yet unphased, and joined my teammates in a stretch.
You okay, Daffodil? What took you so long? I’m not feeling good, coach. What’s wrong with you? You dying, Daisy! Those state finals aren’t gonna run themselves. I’ll be fine. Of course you will. If you can walk and talk, you can run. Enough filibustering!
But I couldn’t, I couldn’t run. I had spent the night in cold chills, pulling my thin sheet over me, as my teeth chattered. He gave me an incredulous once over once more.
You got this, cupcake. Piece of cake, pizza pie, coach.
There was no way that I’d miss a run. I’d worked the entire season to make varsity, make it to training camp, and make it to the point where my coach cared whether or not I ran every practice. Not many girls got to be in my place; puke, a swollen ankle, or blackened and falling off toenails wouldn’t stop me. Fevers were lowest on the scale of things that would stop me from treading on; I took off leading the pack to prove that I not only was okay, I was going to fight to the finish.
I was always told that as a black girl I better be smarter, faster, more hard-working, and more resilient than any other girl.
Fast forward twenty years.
Tears were rolling down my face, just to be washed away by wind and rain. My calves burned and I could taste the blood in my throat. If I can get around the next curve, I’m closer to the top. If I can make it around this next turn, I will make it to the top. Is that a man standing there? It’s not. I must be imagining it. Am I hallucinating? I should stop and eat, maybe another drink of electrolytes.
I pulled over to the side of the road. The air was thin and I was light-headed. I was more than light-headed. I was nauseous and in need of a break. The only thing I feared more than a break was quitting. I knew that if I didn’t mount my bike and continue to ascend, I’d quit. That wasn’t an option. I was the only one on my team who didn’t bring dry clothes. About a thousand meters back, it was sweltering hot. We had just crossed over the Italian border from Sterzing and the weather was almost tropical. At one of the only breaks before ascending I decided to take off my rain gear– first mistake. I left it in the rescue vehicle. I won’t be needing this– second mistake. With a suspicious glare from my coach, I unloaded what I felt was unnecessary. I am by no means a veteran cyclist. I should have followed suit. Too late now. After nearly two hours of straight rain, I was ascending upon the summit . Temperatures were falling and I was losing momentum, speed, and will power. I have never in my life experienced this type of defeat. I have never allowed myself to. I know my strengths and have always ignored my limits.
As I looked into my little girl’s eyes, I saw exhaustion, fear, and reluctance. She was tired. The athlete in me wanted her not to give up. The mom in me wanted to teach her a lesson in perseverance, but the rookie cyclist in me thought about my own recent lesson in knowing my limits.
I could hear all the men in my life echoing melodies of strength and courage in pain.
Girls in our family don’t cry; suck it up, buttercup. I’ll give you something to cry about; you’ll be crying when you don’t get that medal you worked so hard for. Winners don’t quit.
I trotted at a dangerously slow pace. I could barely keep my bike in motion. My fingers were freezing. My shoulders were touching my ear lobes. Through the chatter of my teeth and gears shifting I could hear the emergency vehicle. Our aide rolled down the window. “Schaffst du das?”
“‘How much further?” I uttered in the only language I could vocalize.
“Einhundert meter, ungefähr.”
This is my last round. One hundred meters: that’s nothing. I am nearly there. There is no way I’m giving up now, I thought. I wiped off my watch diligently, continuing to spin through the Circle of Death, with the van slowly trudging uphill beside me. It had taken me an hour to ascend the last hundred meters. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. I squinted and peered into the vehicle through the elements and tears. “Do you think I can make it?”
He murmured in a German dialect, “Only you know that.”
“I think I can.”
As I sat in the car, wet, defeated and incredibly angry, I laid my helmet over my knee like a fallen soldier. Through the mist, I saw my coach descending at a dangerously high speed for the conditions. He approached the car and held on in a Tour de France manner. He assessed the situation in one look. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“I didn’t fuel well. I was delirious and hit the wall.”
He paused and wiped off the rain dripping from his helmet. After a few choice words, he looked me in my eye with more forgiveness and understanding than any man in his position in my life has ever given me and said, “If you continued, you would have put the entire group in danger. We are all cold, hungry and we need to descend. As soon as you reach the summit, get your rain gear on and get ready to descend.” He unleashed the window seal, grabbed his handlebars and ascended with speed as he disappeared into the fog with the tenacity of a mountain goat. As he turned around, he looked at my distraught and defeated grimace, as we passed him in the car and shouted. “It’s okay, Sapir, every one conks.”
She couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. I could imagine my step-father telling me to stop the crocodile tears and get back on my bike. I wanted to tell her to get back on and persevere. I wanted to tell her to be a “big girl” and get on with it. If I hadn’t found the strength to give up a hundred meters from my goal, I wouldn’t have known what to do. I was speechless, guilty, and unapologetic, but I picked up ladybug’s bike, swept her into my arms and walked her home, bike in tow.
I’m still learning to deal with the trauma of being pushed to my limits, the satisfaction that accompanies enduring pain in exchange for pride, but what I am learning is to reparent myself. My girls don’t need to know pain. They need to know their strengths and love their limits.
I’m not proud that I quit a hundred meters from the summit of my first two thousand meter climb. I am, however, proud that for the first time in my life, I didn’t will myself into the danger zone.
It’s important for me that my children know when to give up. Quitting isn’t perpetual.
The very next day, I completed Timmelsjoch then went on to the summit of Mendelpass, Andalosattel, with a descent into Gardasee.
There was no medal, no certificate, just bragging rights and a lesson that took me 39 long years to learn.
It’s okay to quit.
Jordan Sapir, mother of two glitter-laden girls, 2 and 5, studied Journalism and International Political Science in NYC, a place she once called home. She can slaughter five languages fluently. She has worked in a newsroom or two, walked a catwalk or three, and is all for an impromptu adventure. Having traded in her Prada for pretzels, the founder of Über Moms lives in Munich, where she is a stay at home mom and studying to become a certified nutritionist. She is a mommy on a mission and wants to help fellow mothers raise healthy happy families, and beat a PR here and there.