10,000 stumbles

The other day my husband forgot his beloved pedometer on the bathroom counter when he left for work. For the last month, he’s been tracking his activity with this wicked little wristband. He fawns over his daily, weekly and monthly step charts like a newlywed fawns over her wedding photos. He’s become even more proud of his unbroken record of 10,000 steps per day than his ability to grow a formidable ‘vacation beard’ each summer. (Men are weird.)

I noticed his prized pedometer on the counter when I woke (much later than he) and thought little of it. I’m even less inclined to become obsessed with steps per day than I am to appreciate good facial growth. But then I had a thought. How hard is it to reach 10,000 steps per day? I’m a busy person. I’ve always thought that my days are more active than not. My daily routine must reach at least 10,000 steps. Easy.

So I put it on. My husband was all for it, since my sub-in might maintain his perfect record. The little display on the wristband gave an encouraging blink of light and I was on my way. By one o’clock, I had walked to the bus stop, strolled the aisles of the grocery store, picked up my daughter from Kindergarten and taken the stairs more than 20 times. And I was less (much less) than half-way to 10,000 steps. Even more to my surprise, I had zero active minutes.

I made a decision. I plunked my two youngest girls in the jogging stroller and strapped a helmet on my five-year-old. Even though it was a blistering 30+ degrees Celsius outside, we went for a run. My oldest girl peddled ahead on her bike. About half-way into our jog, we sought some shade to picnic and rehydrate. While my two little ones sipped, I asked my oldest daughter how she was doing.

Earlier that day, she had greeted me at the double doors of school after class with a flushed red face and a breathless message: “My teacher wants to talk to you.” (Like me, my daughter doesn’t just blush when she’s embarrassed, her capillaries actually burst into flames. I used to hate the crimson colour of shame that would creep upon my cheeks, but on my daughter I find it endearing.) The teacher eventually found me to say that my daughter was a little too chatty in class. I nodded and offered my most serious parenting face and thanked the teacher for letting me know.

Sometimes it’s hard to notice your kids growing up while it’s happening. It’s almost always a realization in retrospect, like “When did you get so big?” But during these last few weeks of our daughter’s formative first year of school, we’ve witnessed weekly (almost daily) growth in our oldest girl. And we couldn’t be more proud. This has been a big year, and June is a tough month. My daughter is tackling a cruel schedule of year-end activities, tempting summer weather and a big dump of schoolwork that must be completed by the end of the year. She’s growing out of her clothes and some of her child-like comforts. On top of that, her many friendships are changing. Some are blossoming while others buckle.

So sitting there in the shade we chatted about how this all feels. It wasn’t a long conversation, and I left the ‘advice’ to my husband when he eventually tucked our girl in later that night. (He borrowed a nugget of wisdom from his dear, departed Nan, who used to tell him, “You aren’t the first Cleary to get in trouble at school. And you won’t be the last.”)

When my husband got home from work I tossed him his pedometer in a dramatic “Be gone with you!” gesture of my arms. That was enough fitness tracking for me. But I do wish there was a way to track our parenting steps (and missteps), so we could gauge, adjust and (hopefully) fawn over our successes in a neat little chart. (And use it as quantitative evidence of our parenting skills when our children turn on us in their teens.)

I suppose that’s not how it works. Nothing is ever that easy. And I’m not sure if our little chat helped my daughter in any big way, but at least our jog together got us talking. It also got me to 10,000 steps. So I guess that’s something.

Finding your active voice

I remember a few years ago I watched a family of four bike by my idling car beside our favourite park. I was sitting in the driver’s seat, sipping my latte and stealing a few extra minutes of calm before unloading the kids from their car seats for a quickie park visit. This fit family strolled by, smiling and peddling in total tandem. They looked like a happy, healthy bunch. Obviously, my first thought was: barf.

But not-so-deep down, I was envious. I had just delivered my third baby in less than five years and my body was a total wreckage. The thought of getting the kids (and myself) in gear for a bike ride, or any sort of coordinated family physical activity, seemed totally impossible. And by impossible, I mean totally not worth the energy.

Our kids love being outside: biking, walking, scooting, sledding. Our house is within throwing distance of a baseball diamond, soccer pitch, sledding hill, jogging path, playgrounds and an open, inviting green space. These ‘backyard’ amenities are the reason we built where we did in southeast Calgary. I love watching my kids soak in the sun (while amply protected from the rays) and inhale the fresh mountain air just beyond their back door. But that’s just it, most of the time I’m watching.

Many of our outdoor activities are left to my husband. He also loves being outside, and somehow musters the energy and patience to take the kids into the great outdoors almost every day. I’m not always an active participant. In fact, I see their excursions as opportunities for me to be left alone. I know this seems silly, and maybe even sad, but sometimes being left out is what I think I need. A break from the kids and a chance to be alone with my thoughts, books and mind-numbing TV shows.

So on Sunday, when my husband was switching our two-year-old’s sneakers to the correct feet and hunting through the mitten bin for a long-lost hat, I was already imagining myself standing in the pantry of our empty house eating handfuls of gummy bears and contemplating life. I was asked, as I always am, to join them. My husband could see that my eyes had already glazed over as I was entering my meditative state, but to his surprise (and mine) I said, “Yes.”

Before I could stop myself, I ran upstairs and changed into my running gear and was ready in time for the first of several attempts to leave (extra sweater, water bottle, bathroom break) and then we were off.

My husband ran and pushed our double stroller with the two littlest ones and our dog in tow, while I jogged behind. Our oldest daughter rode her bike in the increasing distance between my husband and I as we made our way around the neighbourhood. I noticed that as our little convoy passed people on the street, they all smiled and nodded approvingly. We weren’t as coordinated as the family of four who lapped me years before (in fact, we looked more like misfits chasing an ice cream truck than a cover photo of a MEC catalogue) but we were a happy, healthy bunch. I felt included, and it was exactly what I needed.

And maybe, just maybe, another family looked at us smiling and strolling by and thought to themselves: barf.

Like daughter, like mother

This was an incredible weekend, and not just because it was Mother’s Day. (Although I loved being presented with three beautiful cards, homemade by little hands and all the glitter glue in the galaxy.) This weekend was also jam-packed with two huge events: my daughter’s highland dance competition and my first 5k run of the season.

My oldest daughter and I left town on Friday afternoon and headed south to Lethbridge for her second ever dance competition. I’m sure the hotel waterslide was the main source of her excitement, but I was razor-focused on the Saturday morning comp. Watching my kids perform – whether it’s a dance competition, piano recital, or simply just ordering their own meal at a restaurant – makes me disproportionately, excruciatingly anxious.

I try to hide my jitters from my kids, but the jitters still simmer under my skin along with a quickened pulse, gargling gut and shallow breaths. I often focus on the tasks leading up to these big moments as a distraction to the actual event. Hotel check-in – check. Pool time – check. Dinner – check. By ten o’clock my daughter was sleeping peacefully while I was running through the directions to the school in my head like a bobsledder visualizing a track for an Olympic trial run. I didn’t sleep.

My chipper girl was up and at ‘em early Saturday morning, and even mildly compliant as her semi-competent mother styled her hair into an acceptably smooth bun. We arrived at the school early (and in Olympic qualifying time because of my direction prep) and she reveled in the atmosphere of young dancers milling about in their kilts and ghillies. After hours of practice and one competition experience already under her belt, I knew she was ready to perform whatever the result.

And she was. Before the competition even began, she totally blew me away. On the suggestion of her instructor, my daughter took the stage with fifty other tiny dancers for a non-compulsory warm-up ‘Fling,’ and even though she missed some (all) of the unfamiliar steps and fell down just before the big bow, she bravely finished the dance despite her bruised knees and ego. She went on to perform above and beyond expectations in both her categories and we took away so much more from the entire experience than just her fifth and third place medals.

So, when the time came for my Sunday run, for which I had done much less prepping and about the same amount of fretting, I was challenged to be brave like my five-year-old daughter. There was a small part of me (all of me) that was rehearsing excuses for bowing out of the early-morning race, but there was a larger part of me (my husband) who said, “Let’s do this!” So we did.

I didn’t run as fast as I wanted, but I ran faster than I expected. My husband and I crossed the finished line of the race together (which was, cruelly, 5.4 kms as opposed to an even 5.0 kms, but who’s counting…) and it felt great.

I learned today I was 88/408 in my category, which doesn’t really mean much to me other than the fact that there were about four hundred other women in their thirties pounding the pavement alongside of me. And because it was a special Mother’s Day run, I wonder how many of those ladies were also inspired by their brave, bold daughters. I know I was.

The running gloom

Weekend mornings are meant for sleeping in. No screeching alarms, no scrambling for the bus, no morning commute. On Saturdays and Sundays, my hard-working husband and I are afforded the freedom of a few extra minutes of slumber. In theory.

In reality, we usually wake up with a toddler-sleep-schedule hangover and long list of events and errands that make our weekdays seem like siestas.

My first waking thoughts of the weekend usually go like this: It’s Saturday. No school today! I can sleep in. The only thing on the docket is that birthday party this afternoon. The gift is wrapped and it’s a drop-off party! Yes. Oh, doesn’t my husband have that coaching kick-off for both girls’ soccer teams? But that’s not until 10. There’s time for coffee. Oooh, I didn’t get groceries yesterday. I’ll have to grab groceries. And dry-cleaning. And the specialty dog food I can only get at the vet, which closes at noon on Saturdays. And the Mother’s Day Run is just two weeks away, I absolutely have to run today. What time is it? It’s 7:30?! Dammit. I’m late. 

Almost every day, but especially during those precious weekend hours, I have to mine through my list of things-to-do and determine the tasks that really need doing, and those that I could probably do without. Usually, running is all too easily cut from the list. (The other day I actually chose to go to Costco in southwest Calgary on a Saturday instead of tackling my scheduled 5k, which means I’m not just lazy but totally insane.)

I approach the ‘obligation’ to run like a petulant child, as if I’ve just been told to clean my messy room. (Which reminds me, I really need to tell my daughter to clean her messy room.)

Sometimes, the weather is just too nice to run a five-kilometer circle around my friendly neighborhood. It’s just too invigorating to run my personal best. My thoughts are just too uninterrupted. My playlist is just too funky. (If you don’t have Dolly Parton and The Weeknd on your running playlist, you’re doing it wrong.)

I’m not sure why I have such a poor attitude towards something that no one is forcing me to do, and something that actually makes me feel terrific, but this is my process. I don’t always make sense. (Let it go, darling husband.)

I also hate to complain about how demanding our schedule is: birthday parties, soccer practice, gargantuan packs of paper towel sold in bulk, poor me. Believe me, I know we’re lucky. We have our challenges, and while finding some leisure time for running seems very much like a luxury, it’s also an important part of our self-care.

So I did get out for a run this weekend. There may have been pouting and stomping as I warmed up my weary legs. I may have cursed the chilly north winds for winding their way down my running jacket. I may have mourned for the minutes lost to running that I could have used for a more productive task. But I did it. I ran. And it felt great.

I’ll just have to pick up the dry-cleaning another day.

Fool me once, thank you.

Whenever I don’t want to do something I probably should (exercise) I usually enter into a game of self-deception.

I’m a master at self-deception. It’s a survival skill, actually, like making fire or navigating the grocery store on time, on budget and without losing more than one kid in the candy aisle.

When life’s events get a little sticky, my inner dialogue adopts a very self-serving and self-soothing tone in an effort to make it all manageable.

Example:

“OMG! Was that peppercorn stuck my teeth during the entire parent / teacher meeting?”

“No, no. And even so, Ms. Smith wouldn’t have noticed, anyway. You’re perfect. Nice ass.”

I know that exercise is good for me. It makes me feel strong, proud and free, like how I imagine most Americans must feel. It’s my Fourth of July.

But those rewards come only after the experience of exercising. Beforehand, I feel cynical, petulant and utterly resentful.

(Who decided physical activity was good for you, anyway? Damn you, Hal and Joanne.)

But it’s something I must do for my health, my sanity and my street cred (as a Suburbanite). So when it’s time to get off my tush and go for a light run, I play a little mind game with myself.

I’ll just put on these running pants because they’re comfortable. I’m not going running, just making an innocent wardrobe choice.

Oh, look. My iPod is charged. I’ll just clip this to my running jacket, for the hell of it.

Hmmm, I wonder if my running shoes still fit. Let’s just try them on and see.

Ok, I’m just going outside to do nothing in particular. I may or may not be gone for precisely 30 minutes.

Once I’m in motion, I always enjoy myself. I’m not training for a marathon, here, but the fact that I can tackle 5K every now and then is a huge (and recent) accomplishment for me.

So I’m going to keep on manipulating myself for the good of myself.

Besides, it feels good to know that I actually have some influence on a member of my household, even if that person is… me.

Let me eat cake.

Over Christmas, I allowed myself to indulge. In fact, I revelled in it.

I spent the month of November training and toning and tallying my calories (to a certain extent) in preparation for an all-out, guilt-free Christmas and New Years carb fest extravaganza. When I made it to first week of January with minimal damage to my waistline, I had my pre-Christmas diligence to thank.

However. New Years turned into long weekends turned into Super Bowl turned into Valentine’s Day and now, sitting beside me as I type is a seductive vanilla buttercream birthday cake.

I knew I was losing my grip last night when I said to my husband, “Would a two-year-old even know there was a piece missing from her cake when she blows out the candles?”

It’s not that I’m scared of a small piece of birthday cake. I’m happy with the balance my husband and I have struck with our eating, exercising and indulging. We’ve adjusted our lives in the last year so that we can guiltlessly enjoy birthday cake or pizza or wine on occasion, while eating balanced meals and regularly exercising the remainder of the time.

But when you’ve lost a considerable amount of weight, saying yes to a small piece of cake can be terrifying. Because sometimes I don’t want just a small piece of cake. I want the entire thing.

What worries me more than an expanding waistline (which by all accounts is in my head and not evident on my scale) is the roller-coaster of emotions associated with eating “bad.”

I don’t want to think about eating “good” or “bad” and I don’t want my precious daughters – who will never have any body issues if I have to throw myself in front of a train to make God damned sure of that – to see me struggle.

So when my two-year-old blows out her candles this afternoon I will savour every delicious bite. I’ve earned that and it means more to my family that we all enjoy this birthday together than for me to concern myself with a couple extra calories.

And I’ll also submit that registration for a 5K in May.

As Oscar Wilde may or may not have said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation. And buttercream.”

Hope

Like many others, my family has been affected by breast cancer. We have participated in the CIBC Run for the Cure almost every other year since 2000. It’s an emotional, inspiring day and this year was my first year as a runner.

In the past, I chose to walk the race route along with my siblings, cousins, husband and friends. After our very first event in 2000, we gathered at our uncle’s house for pizza and beer to honour his dearly missed wife, my mother’s youngest sister.

Since her passing, my father lost his mother to breast cancer in 2004 and his only sister in 2006. My sister-in-law has been in remission for over five years. My aunt for over twelve years. My husband’s aunt for almost two.

What this day means to everyone involved would be impossible for me to articulate, so I won’t even try. My younger sister and I ran alongside each other, weaving through bibs decorated with the names of mothers, grandmothers, daughters, wives, sisters and friends.

When I crossed the finish line after my first 5k ‘race’ ever, my husband and three daughters were cheering in the crowd.

It was surreal, not only to have come so far with my own health but to celebrate it at an event like the Run for the Cure.

It was a good day.