When I was a girl, my younger brother, Jim frequently rode our bikes. I remember the pumping my legs furiously so that I could coast along for awhile without having to do anything to propel myself. It was exhilarating going down hills and on the flat, it created joyful stretches of ease, moments of effortlessness.

Being a healthy person, having a healthy marriage, and being a good parent are all “works in progress”. When John and I saw a psychologist for marital therapy years ago prompted by family planning issues, I asked her sincerely, “When is the time when we get to coast in marriage?” She promptly responded, “Never.” I remember my shock at her response at the time. It’s kind of funny looking back at my thoughts at that time. I do know that I was quite overwhelmed by my life and about to enter my second episode of major depression. It was a fantasy I had that after all of the hard work I had done in my life, that I would be able to coast. I would have an easy time as a wife, parenting  would get easy.

I was reminded of my wish to coast recently when I realized that after all of my hard work, I had strayed off of Weightwatchers and begun to gain weight. I didn’t gain a lot of weight and I’ve started losing again. It may not seem to be a big deal to you but I have gained and lost weight many times since I was 14 years old. And as I have mentioned, the last two periods of weight gain had put me into the clinically obese range. My breast cancer was highly responsive to estrogen and progesterone. Our adipose tissue (fat and other stuff) has glandular function and increases female hormone production. I know it is important for me to exercise and eat right. I am very lucky to not have physical issues that would interfere with my ability to exercise and to have a life situation that makes it possible for me to work part time. But even knowing these things, my weight has crept up in the past when I stopped paying attention to my habits, when I tried to coast in my life.

I have lived a good bit of my life working at capacity and feeling fairly stressed out. At these times, I have thoughts like, “It will be SO much easier, when ____________” This blank has been completed in many different ways over the years, “when I finish school”, “after the baby starts sleeping through the night”, “after my career is established”, “after my daughter is grown”, “when my husband’s job situation improves”, “after my cancer treatment is done”, “after my energy returns”, “after I start working full time again.”

But the truth of the matter is that although stress ebbs and flows throughout out lives, we are never done with it. And there are always unknowns and unexpected challenges that loom on the horizon.

In my work, I specialize in what for most children are chronic difficulties. And although many of them have loving and very skilled parents, even the most loving and skilled of the parents gets exhausted with the extra work their child or children require. There is also a period of adjustment after diagnosis that can take anywhere from weeks to more regularly, years, and sometimes, never. It is the adjustment to the idea that there will be no coasting as a parent and that one’s children will likely need more support and over a longer number of years, than other children.

I sometimes use an analogy with parents. I tell them, “Raising a child with these challenges is like running a marathon of unknown length and unpredictable terrain, with uphill, downhill, and stretches of flat. It is important to take the cups of water whenever you can.”

If I really think about it, coasting on a bike only lasted so long before I either had to brake because I was going too fast or start pumping my legs again so I could keep going. I have been working hard to take care of myself but also to nurture my relationships and carry out my responsibilities. I will keep working on the rhythm of knowing when to pump and when I can coast so I can keep moving forward and maintain my balance. And if if that little cup of water looks too small to last a lifetime, I will take them when they are offered.