My daughter’s homework this week is to paint a picture using the Victorian water colour techniques they had been learning about at school.
They were asked to do a portrait of someone who is important to them – a family member, a hero or a friend.
“I’m going to paint you Mummy because you’re my family member and you’re my hero,” she told me before I’d even had the chance to ask her who her subject would be.
My heart was ready to burst with love at that point.
There are days when I feel like the worst mummy in the world. When I’m distracted by work or grown up issues and not fully present with my children. When I’m tired or stressed and lose my temper with them. When I feed them beige freezer food for the third night in a row because I haven’t got the energy to cook the kind of nutritious homemade meals I would much rather them be eating.
Then there are days when my children call me the worst mummy in the world. Usually because I won’t buy them something “everyone else” has; or I tell them they can’t watch TV because they need to tidy their rooms or do their homework; or that they can’t go somewhere because we can’t afford it.
I have a lot of insecurities as a parent. I’m always questioning whether I’m doing things in the best way. I don’t always get it right. I don’t always know what to do. Despite almost nine years of parenting experience, and being a mum to three children, new challenges arise all the time and I’m very much still learning on the job. Winging it an awful lot of the time.
So the fact my daughter classes me as someone to admire means so much.
I asked her why she saw me as her hero. It’s not like I’ve saved hundreds of lives, or fought for our country, or cured cancer. I don’t sing in a pop band or play football or rugby for my country, like a lot of children’s first heroes.
“Because you make us lots of nice food and buy us nice things,” she said, paintbrush in hand.
“And because you ran a half marathon and showed me anything is possible if you try. You couldn’t even run 5K in January but you carried on running and training and you actually did it.”
My eyes were filled with tears by this point.
Because even though I never said it to them, that’s exactly what I wanted to show them by running my first half marathon.
I want them to grow up knowing they can achieve great things if they put their mind to it. I want them to know dedication and hard work can bring great results. I want them to know that things they once thought impossible can indeed be possible.
Of course, I tell them this all the time. But seeing it for themselves is another matter entirely.
My daughter gets frustrated with her piano practice. She wants to be able to do it all ‘now’ and says that certain tunes are too hard. I tell her how important regular practice is and that a few minutes every day will get her there.
My seven year old son is the same with his reading. He sees his bookworm sister whizzing through her books and gets angry when he stumbles over a particular word. Again, I tell him it’s all about practicing and it doesn’t matter if he gets it wrong as long as he is trying his best. He will get there if he keeps on trying.
But sometimes children need to see things to truly believe it.
As the famous mantra goes, children learn from example and not from being told. They see what we do – our good traits and our bad – and they imitate.
When a couple of my running friends first suggested to me that I should sign up for the Cardiff Half my initial reaction was “there’s no way I could do that”. But the more I thought about it the more I realised that I’d never know if I could do it or not if I didn’t even try. What kind of impression would it give to my children to instantly dismiss it or to show such little faith in myself when I’m always telling them it’s the taking part that counts and that as long as they do their best we’ll be proud of them?
As it happens I loved my first half marathon and did better than I’d ever imagined. I completed it in 2 hours, 6 minutes and 4 seconds – around 20 minutes faster than I’d thought I’d be able to run. Seeing their excited faces and the posters they had made as I ran past them on the course is a moment I will never forget.
I cried as I crossed that finishing line because I achieved something I didn’t think I could.
I’m so proud that my children recognise my achievement and that they also recognise the hard work it took for me to get there.
And if it inspires them to work towards and achieve something, and gives them confidence and self-belief, then that means more to me than any medal or personal best ever could.