“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and rouuuunnd,” sings a tiny little voice belonging to the happy two-something-year-old perched on a stool at the kitchen counter. She fidgets and smiles and is briefly fascinated by an avalanche of frozen berries, which steam as I pour them into a hot pot of oatmeal. It’s just after 6:30 in the morning and two dear friends and their young daughter are visiting for the next few days. I’m jet-lagged on central European time, returned the night before from a race trip in Germany and France. At this hour I’m feeling great, and ready for this babysitting adventure. Her parents have borrowed bikes from the garage and are out on a dawn-patrol escape. I’m on breakfast duty.
I’ve made this breakfast a lot. Steel cut oats with eggs and other accouterment. And cardamom. It’s nothing special at all, but it’s been part of the special routine. For a moment it brings my mind back forty-eight hours to France. It’s the morning of a bike race, just another bike race, just another one as in the way another pot of good breakfast is nourishing and a good way to start the day. But this race has been on my mind literally or imaginatively in a way no pot of oatmeal has ever been. If everything could come together, an extraordinarily good performance would mean that I preserve this Olympic campaign. Zika virus and debauched Olympic establishments be damned, a ticket to Rio and fulfillment of a boyhood dream might still be possible. Possible if I could just take all of the last four or eight years’ worth of oatmeal and training days and race beyond perfect. It’s always been a long shot, but I know I have what it takes. I wouldn’t have come this far if that wasn’t the case. Stirring the pot, I contemplate that perfect race that didn’t happen, and the perfect outcome that won’t.
“Yesterday we went to the zooooo,” says the little one, “and we saw a dragonnn!” she says in a snarling tone with big eyes, making claws with her fingers. Maybe she’s referring to an actual Komodo dragon someone showed her at the Woodland Park Zoo, or she’s just mixing up something she was shown in a storybook. Either way, my brooding over youthful athletic fantasy fades and I slide her a little bowl of breakfast. Watching her smack it down and play with the glob of banana that falls off her spoon, I think about how we all have big imaginations and that young and old, we still get confused by things that don’t necessarily exist in the world the same as they do in our own minds. For kids, I guess it’s things like monsters and dragons, and for adults, it’s notions like chasing perfection in the pursuits we care about. All of these things exist in some form or another, those monsters and dragons and perfect jobs and perfect training regimens and perfect performances. But the reality is that these things only exist in very discrete ways, in little fleeting bits along the way. None exist completely or absolutely. Is part of growing up being able to comprehend that there isn’t actually an implicit contract that yields complete fantasy outcomes proportional to the energy you put towards achieving them?
“What should we do today?” I ask when I notice she’s finished her bowl of oats. “Fish!” she exclaims. I laugh at the random idea, and am still thinking about how this little two-year-old has inadvertently rebalanced me by reminding me the difference between what really exists in front of me and what exists between my ears. I start to clean up.
“A, B, C, D, E, F, Geeeee,” she starts to sing, reciting the entire alphabet perfectly, even holding a tune while doing so. Somebody taught her that and she’ll turn it into so much more. Reading books and writing papers and designing her own life full of adventures and professions and chasing the odd dragon. I ponder what it means to put energy into things that grow; kids, careers, personal ambitions. Inputs that equal something greater than the sum of their parts, creating something whose energy goes beyond you and keeps giving. That’s a good growth trajectory, isn’t it? If I hadn’t chased this Olympic dragon, I can’t even imagine how much growing I’d have missed out on myself.
“I want some moorrre!” she says.
‘Me, too,’ I think to myself. ‘Me, too.’