Mothering Heights


My Own Race to Nowhere

I just realized there’s a paperclip in my hand. In fact, it’s probably been there for the last 10 minutes. The question is why? Where was I going with it? I’m currently amid a painful organization phase, going through five stacks of paperwork, determined to finish in one day. Ridiculous, I know.

After retracing my steps, I determine that the paperclip was in my underwear drawer (don’t ask) and was headed for the junk drawer (another disaster). I decided to bag the whole paperwork thing and go work on my muffin top with a lap swim.

While there, I ran into my girlfriend Laura, whom I hadn’t seen since a screening of “Race To Nowhere,” a documentary movie about our culture’s obsession with children being at the top of their class, attending the most prestigious university and surpassing our own success. This pressure is causing kids to cheat more, have stress-related illnesses and, in a few tragic situations, commit suicide. It’s a powerful movie that jolted me into examining my own parenting expectations.

“I’ve decided to make every Thursday a fun day,” I shared with Laura. “Playtime in the park, frozen yogurt and a visit to some place we’ve never been.”

“I’m thinking about doing that with Fridays,” she said. “I just have to stop being manic mommy. If I never stop moving, what am I teaching my kids?”

“Wow,” was all I could say, as I had an epiphany half-naked in the middle of the locker room. If I never sit my butt down, how are my kids going to learn the importance of taking time to rest and relax?

That afternoon, I observed myself. Not only do I keep moving, I expect my kids to always be doing something:  homework, chores, reading, an art project, and so the list goes.  I put on some music and sat down to read the paper.

“Mommy, what are you doing?” my oldest daughter asked, truly dumbfounded.

“I’ve never seen you listen to classical music and read the paper on the couch.”

I smiled, trying for ‘this-is-the-new-me’ look, but frankly it was painful. With so many things to do, how could I read the paper? But, I did. And I even started to enjoy it. For a moment, I stopped participating in my own “race to nowhere.”

And then Halloween season arrived and the booing (the ritual of leaving treats at the doorstep, ringing the bell and running away) began. I became obsessed with creating unusual boo items–eyeballs floating in a jar, pumpkins with masks, or large, scary spiders. During my lunch hour at work, I would race from store to store. Exhausted, a few rubber eyeballs rolling at the bottom of a jar was as far as I got.

Then came costume shopping. My children begged me to stop being Super Girl for what would be my fifth year. Could this be a metaphor for an end to super mommy? After contemplating Candy Corn and Queen of Hearts, I settled on a Pumpkin. No more superheroes for me, just a simple fruit with a bright orange wig.

While my kids’ “race to nowhere” is worth examining, I’m working first on my own. I need to sit in my pumpkin patch and contemplate things much more enjoyable than the arrival of a paper clip in my sweaty, fisted palm.


The PTA Coffee Break will screen “Race to Nowhere” on Thursday, Dec.  2 at 7 p.m. Check for location information.


Author and filmmaker Christine Fugate teaches film at Chapman University.

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