From Streetlamp to Streetlamp

Jennifer - Los Angeles, California
Entered on June 16, 2011

I believe in living from streetlamp to streetlamp.

I’ve never been an athlete. I find a million excuses to avoid the gym, and I ducked out of high school PE classes whenever I could. I’m naturally tall, which helps me hide a few extra pounds. But a few summers ago, when my metabolism ground slowly to a halt, I decided to start walking. I put on my shoes and started walking through my neighborhood. Then I saw a streetlamp ahead and thought, I bet I could run—just to that streetlamp. And I did. I was a little winded (a consequence of being so out of shape) but I walked for a bit, and saw another streetlamp, and challenged myself to run to it. By the end of the summer, I was running five miles a day and had dropped ten pounds—I was healthy, and in the best shape of my life.

What helped me run was not thinking about the five miles ahead, or even the next mile ahead. Instead, I thought only of the next streetlamp—I’ll run to that. And then if I needed to rest or walk, I did. But then I’d see another streetlamp and think—I can make it—that far, anyway.

A few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant, and though I was filled with joy and excitement, the prospect of caring for a tiny human being also filled me with terror. So I tried to apply the same streetlamp philosophy: just figure out this week. Then the next week. Push myself when possible. Rest when needed. When our son was born, I knew I’d have to hang up my running shoes for a while, but the idea of breaking down life’s challenges into manageable chunks continues to serve me well. Never done a diaper change? That’s the next streetlamp. Surviving on just a few patches of sleep? There’s the next streetlamp. Going back to work and balancing teaching full-time with being a mom—I think I see the next streetlamp ahead.

A year later, my son began to walk. He took those early steps with a mix of hesitancy and reckless joy—alternating between tentative starts and confident bursts of energy as he toddled down the same streets of our neighborhood that I used to grace with my running shoes. Now at three, he runs with confidence, challenging me to catch him. And I face new challenges, too: house hunting in an unpredictable market, perhaps having another child, stacks of essays that won’t grade themselves, budget cuts and threats of layoffs at work. When I get overwhelmed, I breathe, and remind myself to take life one streetlamp at a time.

I still haven’t picked up my running shoes, and I haven’t made it back to the gym, but I do enjoy walking around the neighborhood with my son. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence: as we walk and run through our neighborhood, he makes sure to tag every streetlamp.