EDITOR’S NOTE: This month we introduce expanded coverage of fitness among kids and families with kids. In addition to more articles on the topics important to children and parents, we are featuring a first-person column from a young father of three—who, with his professionally fit wife, used to have an exercise routine they could call their own.
Let’s start at the beginning. Newborn beginning. My wife, Julia, and I recently welcomed into the world our third child, a beautiful baby girl. But her new life and the new phase of life that she initiated together create a state of controlled chaos. Our routine and the nice family groove we had established went out the window with her arrival. We are confident that we’ll be able to slip into a new groove in the not-too-distant future (after all, we found a new groove when we jumped to one child and then again to two children). There are basic needs that must be met, processes that are repeated daily (we make sure to consistently feed our dependents and usually ourselves). But for now there’s no longer much in the way of a true routine, and that means there’s no longer dedicated time for exercise.
Julia loves to exercise. LOVES to exercise. Julia is a personal trainer, and very appropriately so. She loves to run (sometimes she drags me along); she loves to swim; she loves almost every form of cardio workout, along with fast-paced weights sessions. The “runner’s high” is Julia’s drug of choice. She has run several half marathons, including a win in the 2009 Austin Women’s Zooma Half Marathon, right in the middle of our one-child groove. Her new goals are to complete a marathon and to foray into triathlons.
Julia doesn’t have to try to make exercise a priority. It already is one. And that wasn’t necessarily a huge deal when there was always plenty of time for a workout before the kids came along. But it definitely matters once the kids arrive and there are several pursuits vying for a much smaller slice of personal time. Julia recognizes not only the incredible health benefits of regular exercise, but also the immense mental and emotional benefits. She knows she needs regular exercise to stay sane. The fact that Julia loves to exercise allows her effectively to prioritize her sanity.
I, on the other hand, only enjoy exercise when there’s a game involved. At the gym, I’ll play basketball alone for a half hour, rationalizing that I can then spend less time on the stationary bike. I like to play tennis. Pre-kids, I would fit in two or more matches a week (either with Julia or a friend). Post-kids, I’m fortunate to get on the court once a week (and Julia and I are never out there at the same time unless my parents or the in-laws are in town holding down the fort during nap time). When we’re in the midst of a family groove, I pretty consistently get some kind of exercise 4 or 5 times a week. But even then it doesn’t occur to me that I need to exercise until my sanity has already begun to crumble.
During this newborn phase, we see yet again that lack of exercise coupled with mild sleep deprivation can very quickly usher our collective sanity out the door. I, for one, get depressed or very short-tempered. But I don’t necessarily know why I’m tanking. That enlightenment often only comes when Julia elbows me out of my funk: “You have got to go get some exercise. I know you’re tired, but get out of here. You’re not doing us any good when you’re acting like that. Just go. We’re fine.”
That kind of blunt communication is vitally important for each of us to get out and get our heart rates up. But even more vital is flexibility—flexibility with our time and flexibility as to what constitutes a workout. One thing we know in our world of three-under-the-age-of-four is that exercise can’t always be a trip to the gym, a run, or a tennis outing. Sometimes other things have to temporarily suffice – like a wrestling smackdown with our two boys in the playroom, or a round of tackle-the-man/boy-with-the-football on the trampoline. Family walks disguised as bear hunts with pop-guns are definitely on that list of new and different workouts. As are family trips to the playground for climbing and games of tag, or to the middle school fields and track to chase scooters and bikes with training wheels or to practice our soccer goal-scoring skills.
These placeholder workouts can be the most gratifying of them all. Our boys need to burn their over-abundance of energy. It’s a bonus if we can get the new little lady outside to soak up some vitamin D and the whole family out of the house to combat the onset of cabin fever.
These alternative forms of exercise help our sanity to remain shakily intact as we try to guide our newest family member from the alien infant phase toward the crazy realm of the toddler, all while seeking to find our new family groove.