All you need is … what I got

Standing with 5,700 others in garish spandex, listening to an opera star sing the Star-Spangled Banner in the pre-dawn darkness, with Mardi Gras harlequin masks strapped to my helmet and beads around my neck, the 2014 Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) got off to a totally normal start.

Totally. Normal.

Mercifully, the first little bit is a slight downhill before we hit the hilliest sections of the ride, all of which come in the first few several many miles of the first day, as did much of the rain. We went slower in the rain, more cautious on the downhills, wary of the painted stripes and reflectors, which are like ice and moguls in the rain.

Like the hills, the rain came and went, soaking us and then letting us dry out, but never really making us cold. We put our heads down when the rain came and rode on, watching out for each other and calling out warnings to one another. When the clouds parted, we lifted our heads and continued talking and laughing, giving thanks and high fives to the many who lined the route, throughout the day and throughout the rain. All of them had been touched by cancer, so it would take more than a little rain to dampen their spirits.

Lunch was a mercifully dry spot, where I was able to grab a selfie with Billy Starr, the founder of the PMC, responsible for over $450 million in donations to cancer research and patient care.

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After that, we rolled onto the Pedal Partner waterstop. Pedal Partners are kids–pediatric cancer patients–who are in treatment, recovery, remission or who are cured, who are partnered with PMC teams. The teams support the kids by visiting with them during the year, as possible, sending them messages, etc., and the kids definitely motivate us during the year. This year my team’s Pedal Partner, Kira, wasn’t at the waterstop, but I spent a long time visiting with VampBoy, who has a spectacular smile and a wonderful little sister.

I was talking with his mom about the standard challenges of parenting elementary school and preschool kids when she told a story that stuck with me. It was about a time when VampBoy was trying to be in charge and control his little sister–stop me if you’ve heard this story before–when a squabble broke out, because, guess what, she didn’t want to be controlled. She’s now old enough to do everything herself, of course.

VampMama listened to VampBoy insist that VampGirl had to do it the right way, and to VampGirl explain why she could do it her way, then asked them, “What’s the most important thing?”

“Love,” they both replied.

Wow, I said.

I’m articulate like that, especially after 80 miles on a bike.

That’s amazing, I told VampMama. You definitely got that part of parenting right if that was their answer.

That seemingly simple exchange has stuck with me ever since. When I’m agitated, upset with someone or find myself in a power struggle with the kids, I wonder to myself, “What’s the most important thing?”

And if I look around and I don’t find love with us in that moment, I take a pause. Because really, what’s more important?

OK, so a little bit past that waterstop, love plus appropriate layers would be important, but in that moment, all I needed was a reminder of what I got.