I didn’t set out to be a fit parent. I just wanted to lose the baby weight. The 40 pounds that had accumulated on my 5’6″ small-boned frame didn’t sit well with me or my jeans. I joined Weight Watchers and went back to the gym. A year later I was in the best shape of my life. Take that no muscle-tone, size 5 and 25 year-old self!
In the beginning I just wanted to fit in my old clothes and get back to doing what I did before I had TD. I did the Avon Walk twice before her and after too. I hit the gym regularly, enjoying the child-free time and clarity that only sweating or yoga can give me.
I didn’t see what I was doing as a real and tangible example of how to be healthy. After my second child, The Comedian, was born it became harder to stay fit. I had to find new inspiration and a deeper reason than fitting into an old pair of jeans. It came in the form of running and a shared passion for fitness as a parent with a group called The Shredheads. In all my time at the gym I never felt such a connection or sense of community and heartfelt attitude as I did with them. It pushed me to enter my first race, a 5K that I completed in June 2009 with Bill from The Shredheads. I never thought I would or could run a race and from there I just kept going. I did a 10k in December 2009 with Bill again and I swear I would not have made it at the end if he hadn’t come back and run with me as I crossed the finish line.
As the girls have grown and we have added a third child, another girl, I have come to realize just how important this whole body image and health issue can weigh on me. No pun intended. I want my girls to feel strong, be healthy and know that from a lifetime of movement can come great joy. The time I spend in the gym does give me child-free moments but the sweat-inducing workouts that help my mind as much as my body and some days one more than the other. The full impact of this example hit me not on those many early morning runs I did this past spring as I trained for my first half-marathon and the girls would yell, “Have a good run, Mommy!”. No, it was just last week as we left the house for the gym yet again and TD said to me, “Look Mom, our neighbors are all leaving too. They must be headed to the gym just like us!”
The schedule of get up, eat, work out and then start the day has been ingrained my girls since they were being carried to the gym daycare in their car seat carriers. The fact that children in the 70′s weighed five pounds less than kids today and spent almost three hours more outside each week than now blows my mind. When I wince about paying for soccer and dance classes I think about how much more screen time would be spent in front of the tv, a computer or handheld gaming device versus being active. Then I dutifully hand over the check and set out to buy another new pair of cleats or leotard.
It is clear that our kids need more. They need to see us being active as well. They learn by example and lead by it too. But who are their leaders? We are, their parents, their first giant examples of how to live life on this earth. We teach them to dress and be polite. We teach them how to read and do long division. We take them for well baby visits and then what? We hand them fruit gummies and a cookie that has grown an inch per decade to fill out their waistline? It’s absurd! It’s unhealthy and to a degree downright negligent. Do we expect our kids to suddenly get healthy as adults only? We are kidding ourselves in such a sad, sick way if we think they can be fully productive leaders for our country when their examples can’t even be bothered with a family walk.
The end of that conversation with TD wasn’t pretty. It made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to give her the impression that people who try to stay fit and healthy are better than those who don’t but I wanted her to understand what happens when you don’t even try. I explained that no, not everyone was off to the gym. In fact, we were the only ones that day and not everyone went to a gym. I told her that some people work out at home and others outside by playing sports. Then there are others that don’t do anything at all. She looked surprised and asked about the repercussions of not exercising. I tried my best to explain it all simply and stated, “Lots of things. You are tired more often, you get out of breath going up the stairs to your own house. You don’t sleep as well and you get sick more. You can’t play as hard with your kids even if you want to and you gain weight and lose muscle.” I told her that I enjoy exercise in many forms because it helps me with all those things. That I want to be around for her and her sisters as long as possible and if working out helps with that then I am all for it. I explained that it also makes me happier and a better Mom too.
TD’s conclusion was simple. She is six after all. She said, ”Mom, I see a lot of people who must have a hard time going up their stairs and playing with their kids. They musn’t be very happy.” That right there is why I will never see exercise as a four letter word or something that has negative connotations just because it might seem hard or initially scary.
It goes beyond wanting healthy kids. It is teaching the lesson that being fit is fun. It is good for the entire self and for the family as a whole. We are the leaders today. We must remember that we are creating the leaders of tomorrow and it is about so much more than just teaching them math, science and history.