Have Tos and Get Tos

Jen In Rome

Jen In Rome

I start my runs most days at the trail head for a cross country spur that winds along the spine of a mile-long campus. One of the most unexpected joys of campus life is the delightful cacophony of activity. It reminds me of what I have to do and what I get to do.

When I emerge from the treeline and bound down the hill, the lower school students have just arrived and are stowing their bags, greeting their friends, starting another day. Just after drop off, the campus is at its most quiet. But by the time I return, having run north to the convergence of rivers and looping back to the school, kids in bright purple and white dot the playground, as if they’re cheering me on.

I remove an earbud so I can hear them hike the ball, call to friends, laugh and run and play. Remember when you were small and recess was the ultimate liberty? When the teacher finally stopped talking and you ran headlong onto the field, the swings, the monkey bars, happy to fill your lungs with the first fall-tinged air. When play was truly play, performance only mattered to schoolyard pride.

Tuesdays are for track, and after I’ve looped the playground, I head across campus to the field, where a PE class has taken up positions on the hash marks, alternately tossing a softball and spinning wildly off course to the teacher’s chagrin. It’s just too tempting, being out in that wide open space; they don’t want to simply focus on the game at hand. They want to climb the fence and swirl around the uprights. They want to run laps around me. The teacher blares music and their youth and energy keeps me moving as I run my prescribed workout. Today: 3x1k repeats at 5k pace. They are oblivious to paces and distances. They are children in their natural habitat: outside.

Everyone has Have Tos, even kids. They Have To learn to read and write and do math. Adults Have To work and pay taxes and do laundry. Running by these kids reminds me that running is a Get To.

Get Tos happen when the Have Tos are settled. They wiggle into the spaces around laundry and dishes and meetings and appointments. And they are supposed to be, Get Tos, fun. They are supposed to be things we enjoy, that bring us some extra satisfaction that we cannot glean from wrapping up the adult stuff in perfect little bows. Get Tos are privileges, and if they’re not fun, we need to not do them anymore.

When I Get To run by little kids throwing their limbs wildly into the world, filling their lungs and their brains, I can forget the mental drudgery of counting laps and hitting paces. Instead of notice the squishy way the orange track feels on my toes. I see how the light spangles against the diamonds in the fence. I pick up the beat of the music and swing just a little.

Enjoy the Get Tos.