Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hypocrisy and Physical Fitness

I have always prided myself on my parenting, but recently realized that I am not quite as good as I thought I was. See, kids learn more by what you do than what you say. I have been a total hypocrite in one area of my life with them. I have told them over and over again how important it is to have balance in their lives. Yes, academics are important, but so are friends. Yes, you can enjoy life, but you must work hard too. Yes you are kids, but you are learning to be adults. I think that I have done okay with those things, but there is one area that I have really literally fallen down on the job.

What area is that you ask? I can feel you preparing to defend me by saying, “Now Sheri, you can’t be that bad, calling yourself a hypocrite is a little harsh, don’t you think?” My answer to you on that particular question is no. I am not being too harsh. The area that I am talking about is physical fitness. If you don’t take care of your body everything else suffers. You can develop everything from obesity to depression, heart disease to general malaise and everything in between. Studies about physical activity have been linked to better sleep, better thinking, better moods, better appetites and better sex.

I have always thought the life of the mind is very important. Reading books, figuring out problems, asking questions, exploring different ways of being. I am happiest in the classroom, particularly a classroom set up using a Socratic method of teaching. Questions being answered, open discussion. I love it. Equally important however, is the life of the body. If you take care of your body you are rewarded with a clear mind that is well rested and prepared to take on the tasks you and others present it with.

Being remiss in my duties to take care of my body is tantamount to being completely unbalanced in my life. I see the results of not taking care of myself and so do my kids. There is a history in my family of obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease and high blood pressure. So far the only issues I have had to deal with is depression and obesity (as if that’s not bad enough).
I have tried to motivate myself to address the problem and so far have failed miserably. I have tried jogging, swimming, walking, calisthenics, yoga and some hiking. It’s incredible to me that at one time in my life I was an aerobics instructor. True it was many, many years ago, but still. I was in good shape at one time in my life. And I wish I could blame my current lack of physical fitness on having babies but I cannot. I was out of shape before I had them and lost all the baby weight I gained during pregnancy within six months. I credit breastfeeding my children with that as there was nothing else significantly different in my life at the time.

I tell my children all the time that it is easier to stay in shape than it is to get into shape. This is what I say to them when they want to quit karate or some other sport that they are involved with. I want them to stay physically fit and not have the uphill battle I have. I have used the current state of my body as an object lesson for them on numerous occasions.

As my children grow they have begun to ask me why I am not doing the physical things that they are. I don’t really have a good reason to give them. I could tell them that it is just so gosh darned hard to keep going when one has the weight on that I do, but so what? Shouldn’t I power through the tough part to get into shape? Of course I should. My kids’ karate instructor tells them all the time that it’s supposed to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt a little then you aren’t doing anything meaningful to improve your body. I agree with him. I’m just not so good at applying the knowledge. Why is that? I suppose “pain compliance” is one answer. I don’t like pain, plain and simple. Trying to get into shape from the condition I am in hurts…and I don’t want to hurt…therefore, I avoid it.

I’m soft. Too soft. For a while I was doing karate with my daughter’s class. I had an incident where I got dizzy and almost passed out. I haven’t been back since. She keeps asking me when I will be back to class. I have taken to telling her when I lose 20 lbs. I want to take off some weight first before trying the karate class again. I do too. I want to take off a bit of weight before I go back. I think that I am not prepared for some of the workouts that we do in class and it’s embarrassing to not be able to keep up.

But worse than being embarrassed is watching my daughter lose her confidence in herself. I feel that my example is a strong lesson in giving up and that is definitely NOT a lesson I want my daughter to learn. When the going gets tough you give up? I don’t think so. She has been talking lately about how she doesn’t really like class and she isn’t really that good anyway. I think that it is a direct result of my example. Sure, there are other factors, but my example of giving up has green-lighted her to give up as well.

I don’t want that for her or any of my children. So how can I walk the walk and not just talk the talk? How can I overcome my desire to avoid pain, my embarrassment and the number of other things that get in my way when it comes to being physically fit? I wish I could say that I was going to, as the Nike commercials say “Just Do It.” That is not realistic for me. I think I will have to take it at the one-class-at-a-time approach. Maybe I can “Just Do It” one time and build on that. You know, like they always say in sports interviews, “I’m going to take this one workout class at a time, I’m not going to look forward. I am just going to focus on this one work out.” Maybe then I can give my kids an example I will be proud of.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Can You Be Tough AND Tender?

Three days ago my youngest child Daniel got a bloody nose while sparring at karate. He happened to be sparring with his older brother Christopher. Christopher threw a roundhouse kick that was supposed to land on Daniel’s helmet. Unfortunately for Daniel Christopher’s aim was a bit off and it landed instead on Daniel’s nose. I didn’t see it happen so I was unsure of how hard Daniel had been hit. What I saw was one little boy whose face had crumpled in tears and a lot of blood. It was the first time this has happened to him so it was a bit dramatic. There were tears both shed and unshed (shed by him, not shed by me) and some blood. At first I thought his mouth was bleeding – his mouth guard (which he was wearing thank goodness) was filled with blood, but there turned out to be no injury to his mouth.

While I was cleaning him up his karate instructor John ran over with a camera and took some snapshots. He said something like, “Excellent. Rite of passage. Now you belong here!” After briefly looking for an ice pack that turned out not to be available, John was back in class. Before he re-entered the dojo he said, “Make sure Daniel leans forward while pinching his nose. You don’t want him to choke on it.”

At first my reaction inside was, “What the hell? Didn’t he belong before?” I was on the cusp of losing my temper, overprotective Mama Bear that I am. But I thought about what John was saying, I looked at my son. I thought, “Daniel seems to be okay. He definitely had his bell rung, but there don’t seem to be a lot of injuries.” While I was definitely absorbed in making sure my little boy was okay, I began to think about how he would be affected by my reaction to what happened. If I overreacted to what happened he would never get back in class.
It was important that he go back to class. We can’t let the things that hurt us and try to tear us down stop us from accomplishing our goals. I had an opportunity to teach Daniel something about resiliency and I wasn’t going to miss it.

With all of the wonderful lessons to be learned by this teachable moment you would think that both Daniel and I left Friday’s karate class feeling on top of the world. The truth is, I feel very conflicted by what happened. Part of me is so proud of my boy because he was able to pull himself together. After stopping the bleeding and cleaning up his face and neck, Daniel re-entered class and continued on business as usual.

What bothers me is that there were no life lessons learned by my other son, Christopher, about empathy and caring for those you love. Not once did he come over to see if Daniel was alright. There were no questions about Daniel and his well-being. Was that because he didn’t care or because he knew we (myself, John and a couple of mothers there) were already taking care of things?

Mental toughness and physical toughness are important things to cultivate in our children. Our children need to learn that adversity will not crush them and that they can choose to learn from life’s bumps and bruises. Christopher impressed me this morning by making the observation that losing is sometimes better than winning because you learn more from losing than you do from winning. This is something that his karate instructors have discussed in the past and it was nice to see that Christopher had internalized that learning.

But what about being kind? Tender? Sensitive? These are things that should be equally valuable in the world. Unfortunately we do not seem to value these characteristics in our children. We tell them to “Man up” or “stop being a baby” when they cry. What about recognizing that there are things that are going to make us cry or bring us to our knees? What about honoring these tender places in our children and teaching them that tenderness or sensitivity doesn’t have to equal defeat?