Gustafson: Why join the human race?

Britta Gustafson

“Wow Mommy look, there’s a hawk up in that tree, can we watch him?” I waver on Owl Creek road, splashing my cold coffee on my coat collar, trying to catch a glimpse of the magical moment my children are having from the back seat, ever so present as young children are. No luck and I can’t stop now, I’m in the race … the human race.

I’m not sure when I officially joined the pack, perhaps I’ve always been drafting with the herd. Though, now that my oldest daughter is in elementary school, I have started to realize I just can’t keep in tempo with the peloton of parents who seem to be ever striving (in the field sprint) to push their kids in for a breakaway, even willing and sometimes able to throw a few hooks at anyone who gets too close.

When did parenting become a competitive sport? Is this just an exceptionally competitive town? Are we just a culture functioning at an accelerated pace?

And if there is a human race, I’m not sure there can actually be a winner. I used to honestly believe it takes a village, until the day my daughter, at age 2, was spinning too fast on a twirling playground piece at Wagner Park in Aspen. She cried out for my help, and clutching my infant son I tried to dash to her rescue, but couldn’t reach her in time. She was flung off within arms reach of a couple, who stood by watching as if it were a YouTube video. With the wind-knocked out of her, my daughter was still crying in my arms when the woman bystander called to her son to let him know that the twirler was now available if he wanted a turn.

Maybe it’s just as easy to drop off from the pack, pull out of the race. But, sometimes it is tempting to keep hurtling on as this valley offers a bountiful and endless array of opportunities. According to some of my parent-peers the “doors start closing early” on certain brain-based stimuli like musical instruments and language skills. So if your goal is for your children to excel in the future, they had better jump the gun and get in the race ASAP.

Ski, skate, hockey, gymnastics, ballet, violin, Mandarin, theatre, art, choir, swimming, climbing, riding, karate, coding, oh yes, your 5-year-old should be learning to code, now. And that’s just some of the many after-school activities we have available. As soon as the after-school bell rings, frenzied parents and kids, lugging duffel bags, cross-country skis, painting easels and guitar cases race to the parking lot and in and out of the ARC, Red Brick and CMC between extracurriculars.

And right now, I’ve been told summer schedules are filling up, enrollment started for some camps in January! I remember how endless the summers once seemed, playing for what felt like days in the woods, oh so lazy and laid-back. If we are lucky we might remember to schedule in some “down time” these days.

I’m grateful that I live in a place that puts so much emphasis on healthy lifestyles, but I feel stressed keeping cadence with my peers, and that may be anything but healthy. Where’s my broom wagon?

It sometimes seems that we are becoming an over-stimulated culture, so many choices in the palm of our hand. There can become such a sprint through each day that I recently heard excuses being made for texting while driving.

We can feel tempted to do it all in this valley. Often we seem to have too many jobs, too many hobbies, too many commitments. While striving to stay here and enjoy it all — the qualities that make this a vacation paradise — the effort to make ends meet leaves us, at times, missing out on the very experiences we are here to enjoy; the fresh air and country living.

Maybe I was meant to fall back; it helps finding yourself behind to put the race in perspective. I’m tired of having to bark “hurry” to my kids every morning. I’d prefer to stop and breath, but then again the guilt that comes with parenting stretches us thin, after all the bell does ring at 8:05.

I press on, if I can just keep tempo. I’m not striving for the podium after all and I don’t plan to turn my kids into flyers. I just don’t want to get dropped off the back or bonk out completely.

Suddenly it hits me, if I go too fast I will miss everything as it flashes by. After all I’m not in a race, I’m not racing my friends, or my sisters, or any of the other parents. I’m not racing the clock and most of all I can not race myself. It’s OK to be in the back of the pack.

I pull over and we watch quietly, the morning sun sending a hued-pink glow over the glistening snow covered meadow, thawing the cold landscape. The horses huddled close and raised their heads to welcome the warmth.

There it is in the tree nearest the barn, the hawk so calm and focused seems aware of us now, cocks its head and tips its wings into a steep dive. We all hold our breath and watch it plunging across the road heading for the ground. It swoops down and gracefully back up, gliding once again with something dangling from its talons. “Breakfast,” my son blurts out, and we all laugh. I take a deep cleansing breath, and start up the engine. Far in the distance the school bell rings.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at


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