There were a LOT of other people there. More than we've seen before, but it's a new year and resolutions have been made. Kudos to all of us, I thought, as I laced up my shoes.
I reminded the Reds of the rules:
Run on the outside lane only,
Gently call out "Pass!" if someone's not aware that you're there.
Be aware of where others are around you,
Walk on the inside track only,
They were off like shots, grinning their adorable freckled faces off. I set off a light slog, determined to keep a slow and steady pace. Determined not to die, frankly.
I watched their progress around the track. Yes, they were passing people, but did so respectfully, on the left. Yes, they were passing people, period. They're children. They're young. They're fast.
Every once in awhile Matthew or Luke (or both) would catch up to me ( or I'd catch up to them) and we'd walk a bit together, holding hands. We stopped a few times for water, but in the overall, spent a good 20 minutes sweating happily, going around and around and around.
As I turned into one stretch, I spied some staff members talking to the Reds. They'd been pulled from the track and were peering rather anxiously down the track, looking for me. I picked up my pace and then came to a halt, breathing fast:
"It's OK," I gasped, grimace/smiling, "They're not up here alone. I'm here. They're just faster."
The Staff Member smiled uncomfortably. "I know you're up here, but we just had someone at the desk concerned that might trip and hurt themselves or someone else. They'll have to run with you."
I looked down at the Reds, at their crestfallen, scared little faces. Sighed. "But they're faster than me. And they really weren't doing any harm..." I trailed off, aware that many around us were listening, walkers and runners slowing as they passed.
Took the boys aside and tried to explain the situation, assured them that they weren't in any trouble but that the rule was that they had to stay with me. Matthew, in particular, was very unhappy with this news, more so because there were other children running and THEY hadn't been singled out.
"Why did the lady complain about only us, Mummy? Why do only me and Luke have to run with you? Those other kids should have to run with their mummy, too. Tell them, Mummy!"
It's one thing to explain "unofficial" rules to small children whose days revolve around so many of them - school rules, home rules, bath rules, car rules, bedtime rules - but another thing entirely to explain the concept of doing the right thing and getting treated unfairly anyways.
I sputtered and fumbled, but Matthew was undeterred. "Mummy! You SAID to pass on the left so we did. We didn't even touch anybody. Nobody tripped. It's not FAIR!"
He was right. It WASN'T fair and I struggled to find the words that would make it so, found none. Then, a runner stopped and smiled at them, at me: "They really were fine," she said.
And then she extended her hand to Matthew, "Would you like to run with me? I'll try to keep up. My name is Julie!"
At Matthew's questioning look, I nodded and off the two of them went, laughing.
Another runner stopped - a man this time - and urged Luke onto the track and the two of THEM tore around the track while I stood at the edge of it, trying to catch my breath and feeling so grateful for these perfect strangers and their random acts of kindness.
In the end, I spoke to the Staff Member at the desk, who admitted that there is no official rule about kids on the track, but that she'd been at a loss. I nodded, understanding, but took her boss's business card anyways - perhaps this incident will spur someone into creating some signs and posting them for all to see. Mine are not the only children who love to run and who love seeing their mama out there, huffing and puffing her way to healthy.
In the meantime, the Reds and I will return and I will try to keep up with them. If not, I hope that there are some more kind souls there who can...and will.
* * *
UPDATE: The centre rang and the woman I spoke to was forthright and apologetic and funny. She assured me that the Reds are welcome to run for as long and as quickly as they'd like. Signs are in transit already, they're working on a response to offer staff should (when) this situation come up again. And - in an unexpected and delightful bonus - she gave us passes for the pool. All's well that ends well, eh?