A tale of two panties.

October 8, 2010

Recently, I went shopping for new underwear.  I guess it was time to throw in the towel, admit that I needed to rethink the percentage of lycra in my undergarments.  As I recently described, I have this  ongoing tummy issue that has been driving me crazy.  And while I have grand aspirations to complete the 200 sit-up challenge, in the meantime, it was time to call in for reinforcements.

I made a quick (ha!) trip to the mall.  Try shopping for such things with 3 youngsters in tow.  Imagine one child playing hide and seek in the racks of Maidenform and Olga brand items.  (No, Calvin Klein and other hip manufacturers don’t dabble in the over-the belly-button heavy-duty armor, I had to resort to the more matronly section in the back.)  Another child sat in his stroller, tossing Cheerios in the air like New Year’s confetti.  And my dear middle child, pinching his butt-cheeks together with his hand, announcing “I have to go poop!  It’s an emergency!”   (Disclaimer #1:  We don’t say “butt” in our family, excuse me.  I should have said bottom-cheeks.)  (Disclaimer #2:  We do have discussions of what an emergency is in our family.  Primarily when I need to sit and nurse the youngest. I give strict orders to the other 2 to not bother us or barge in unless it’s an emergency.  Running out of Chex Mix is not an emergency.  Bleeding is.  Etc.)

I survived this shopping trip.  And, more notably, my children also survived.  And I arrived home with my purchases and discovered that I had grabbed the wrong size.  Sigh.  There was no way I was going back to the store to get it right.

Fast forward a few days, when my dear mother arrived.   My mother, who visits Younker’s department store regulary, with her Senior Citizen’s discounts and her handful of coupons that they distribute so freely.  Truly, I suspect that when all is said and done, they give her the merchandise and $5 besides, she seems to come out so far ahead.  Shopping for her is not a frantic, sweaty experience like it is for me.  So I asked her a favor.

“Mom, the next time you go to Younker’s, could you see if they have a smaller size of this underwear?  I should have grabbed them instead of this pair.”  And she willingly did so.  (Thank goodness!)

I was feeling pleased, and then returned home later to find things a little off.  My mom told me “Well they didn’t have exactly the same style in your size, so I picked out something else.”  And after she left, I ventured into my room to see what was waiting for me.

Big undies, heavy on the lycra, just like I asked.  However, instead of a neutral shade of black or “nude,”  (???) I discovered that these horrible things actually come in leopard print.

Good.  Lord.

So now I’m faced with some creepy Mrs. Robinson kind of get-up.  Or better yet, think of Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones Diary, when they were building up to…  you know, and he uncovered her big undies:  “Helloooo Mummy!”  That is what I feel like.

And yet, my little pet tummy is being held in place like a well trained puppy, so I can’t exactly take the moral high road and get rid of them.  What a dilemma.

But remember, the title of this piece is a tale of two panties.  That’s just one.

You see, part of my internal horror is the fact that I really had to face the music with these large unders staring me in the face.  And only one other person on earth could share this moment and this realization with me.

I walked through the kitchen to my husband’s bathroom.  (Remind me sometime, this is an entirely different post, the division of bathrooms in our house.) And I knocked on the door cautiously.  (I didn’t really want to walk in on certain types of activities, if you know I mean.  While I’m on the subject, I will pass on the best pre-marriage advice I ever got:  Keep the Bathroom Door Closed.  Seriously.)

I held up the new panties for his inspection.  (Long gone are the days when I would offer to model them for him.)  And I told him “Oh, how far we have come, husband.”

You see, several years ago, when we were newly married and things were fresh and new and exciting, I was feeling a bit adventurous and flirtatious on one of our date nights.  (Remember those?)  After the meal, I had stopped at the restroom, and then while walking to the car together, I made a move to hold his hand (remember that?) and pressed my undies into his hand instead.  Grrowwwl.

And the irony of all this is that those particular panties were the kind that you do model for your husband.  Some dainty, delicate, small bit of fabric.  And, you guessed it, leopard print.

So here I stand, fighting gravity and bulges wearing my large undies.  But at least I have memories of more daring, and taut, days.  And hopefully my patient husband understands that underneath it all I’m still just a little bit adventurous and daring.  Even if I shop in the matronly section.


My glass

October 5, 2010

To be quite honest, I have finally embraced the fact that I am, and probably always have been, a “glass half empty” kind of gal.  Not that I focus on what I don’t have.  Not that I don’t know how blessed I am — because I do know.  I’m not an idiot, after all.  My family is made up of my favorite people ever, hands down.  My husband, my vibrant and effervescent children, my parents, my brothers…  they are all hyper-talented and can make me laugh until my belly hurts and the tears stream down my face.  I don’t have everything I want, but I certainly have everything I need, and that is the right place to be.

This half-glass state of being is more of a day-to-day frame of mind.  So I end up undermining my own accomplishments, minor though they are, because I am wrapped up in all the things I haven’t done, didn’t make time for, didn’t finish, and didn’t do right.

If I were taking the half-full perspective, I would be satisfied with what I do regularly.  It’s a short list, but I think it speaks volume about where my priorities lie.  I exercise every day.  I read to my kids every day.  I do a load of laundry, I put a hot meal (even if it’s simple) in front of my kids.  I eat 5 (well, 4) servings of fruit and veggies.  I drink decaf.  I work very hard at a very busy job.  I talk to my mother.

The list of what I don’t do, however, is bringing me down.  So I’m feeling discouraged these days.  I keep thinking that some day I’ll have time to ______ and yet here I am, facing another birthday and feeling just a little bit uneasy because I’m getting pretty damn old and I still don’t seem to be finding time to catch up.  Curtains and pictures still aren’t up in this house.  My magazines sit unread since Max (now 3 1/2) was born.  The guitar is gathering dust.  My projects sit in their little bags, unfinished.  (Would I even be able to pick them up and them at this point?)  Photos are stored in a plastic bin while the lovely albums are all empty.

Do my friends know that I care about them and think about them daily?  I hope so.  Does a layer of dust on everything hurt anyone?  I hope not. Do Ritz crackers, bananas, and milk count as a decent breakfast?  Arrgghh.

Am I going to be a 70-year-old woman and think I made the right choice, choosing to exercise instead of doing something else with that hour?  That is probably the question I ask more and more these days.  I’ve always believed that getting this fitness in is what makes it possible to do the rest of what I do every day — and it’s a long, long day, just like it is for most parents, especially moms that I know.

These are not inspiring thoughts.  They are gloomy dark questions.  I’m running in place and getting behind.  And there my glass sits on my dusty table, half empty.

Smells like cross-country

August 12, 2010

There was a change in the air recently.  Last week, I clicked the leash around Josie’s neck, stepped outside , and stopped momentarily before shuffling off into the pre-dawn light of the morning for another run.

“Do you smell that, Josie?  It smells like cross-country.  I think practice will be starting soon.”  And it did — practice started on August 9th.

My athletic career, such as it was, started when I was in the third grade.  That was the year my mom signed me up for a community recreation basketball league.  That is when people started to notice that I had some above-average ability on the court.  More true to the point, I believe they just noticed that I had some above average height which, as everyone knows, give a person an advantage in that sport.  My height, my freakishly long arms, and probably my older brothers showing me how to dribble with either hand and how to shoot not like a girl since I was about 4 years old, all came together to provide me some opportunities for some success at an early age.  And so, from that point on, I identified myself as a ball player.

Flash forward just a smidge to the summer before I entered the eighth grade.  I had reached my full height by then, and I towered over most of my classmates.  Things were changing from a puberty standpoint and my center of gravity was getting a bit lower as my curves just started to develop.  I was going away to overnight basketball camps for a week or two that summer.  And I started to run.

I think I can still run my first route in the dark, in my sleep, one hand tied behind my back.  2 miles that I ran faithfully, every day.  And I gradually got faster every week, every month.  And at some point, my older brother Dave suggested I think about going out for cross-country the following year.

Cross-country is a team sport and an individual activity woven into one.  It’s grueling at times — it’s usually the hardest physical thing that a teenager would have done by that stage of his/her life.  In Iowa, the season starts in August, in the crazy heat and humidity, and ends with the State Meet at the very end of October — and at least one year we ran that with snow falling.

I’m a middle aged mother of 3 who has done a lot and endured a lot since my time on the cross-country team, but I remember, as clearly as any memory I have, those early mornings when I got out of bed in the dark morning hours, laced on my shoes, put on a sweatshirt, and jogged a half-mile to practice, to meet my teammates, my coach, and, I guess myself, in a way.

It is difficult for me to try to describe what cross-country did for me.  I have to assume that if you have participated at some point, you get it.  And if you didn’t, well, I don’t think there is much I can say that will resonate with you.

I believe that, as adults, a lot of who were are and how we behave is connected to our experiences as children and as adolescents.  This is a part of getting healthy habits established early, and of having some structure, stability, success, and so on.  Educators and coaches know this, and so do most parents that knock themselves out getting their kids on solid ground with healthy life habits an early age.

As I reflect back on my life and what got me from point A to point B, I have a feeling that being involved in sports in general, and cross-country in particular, continues to be a huge part of who I am today.  I still love to do challenging things.  I love to get up early.  I respect other people who invest themselves to that extreme in the activities they choose to pursue.

There are many things I could write to serve as examples of what it was like, and how transformational it was for me, but I think I will start with just one example:

When I was a freshman, we still had the “junior high” concept instead of the more common “middle school” concept.  This meant I was in school across town, and my mother had to pick me up and drive me to the high school to join practice about 30 minutes after the older girls had started.  There were 2 other girls who also did this, although they came from the other junior high in our town.  I was the only one from my school.

Our coach expected us to complete the same workout as the older girls, even with a late start, and even though we were younger than the rest of the team.  (Would that happen today, in the same circumstances?  We’ll never know.)  And obviously, starting late and running the same workout meant that we were out there about 30 minutes after the rest of the team had called it a day.  (Interestingly enough, it’s just now occurring to me that our coach also had to stay late for us.  That gives me pause.)

Our practice field was a large quasi-squarish/circle-ish half-mile loop around the football practice fields.  (It’s still called The Loop by current team members, and probably always will be.  And grass will never grow again on the well-worth path that countless runners have carved into the packed dirt.)  On the very far end of the loop, opposite of where we started each interval, and where the coach stood with his handful of watches used to time each group, the path dipped down a small hill, and runners disappeared from sight.  And that is where one of the most important events of my life took place.

We were running a set, we 3 youngsters, out past 5 pm, all of our teammates having headed home for the day.  We were having a tough day; it was warm, it was a tough workout, and we were just kind of fed up with being there.

I don’t remember who decided to start cutting corners out there, stepping inside the ring of flags placed there to mark the boundary of the loop.  I hope it wasn’t me, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.  (It was more Jessie’s style, really.)  But I was a follower.  And we started cutting the corner, making it easier on ourselves, cutting down how far we were going.

It wouldn’t have taken a genius for anyone to realize what was going on.  We didn’t look like we were running any harder all of a sudden, but the clock wasn’t lying and it indicated we were faster.  Our coach put it together and started walking out to intercept us.

I have a reputation for being a bit of a goody-two-shoes/teacher’s pet sort of gal.  And I am not embarrassed to say that even now, thinking back on the look of disappointment in my beloved coach’s eyes I can still feel the sting of shame for having let him down.  But he had a choice to make, and I’m grateful now, as an educator myself, as a parent, as a human being, that he chose to teach us right then and there, instead of chewing us out or putting us down.

“Do you know what you’re doing, girls?”  (We looked at our shoes.)  “You are not just letting me down.  You are letting your team down.  And you are letting yourselves down.”  He went on to explain that everyone else had done the whole workout, and since we were a part of the team, we needed to be able to look the others in the eye and know that we had gone through the same hardship they had, and we also came out stronger when it was done.

There was more, undoubtedly.  But at this stage of the game, at this point in my life, the part that stuck with me was his statement that I was letting myself down.  You see, I think that’s what cheating or taking the easy way out in any circumstance does, more than any other form of harm.

If I don’t go the full distance, if I don’t push myself to the very point that I can’t go anymore, then I’ll never really know what I can do.  Maybe I can’t do very much, when it’s all said and done.  But I want to know what my limits are.  I want to give it my best shot and see what an honest effort gets me.   I have never cheated again, since that day on the field.  People who know me know that when I say something, when I do something, I  give the best I have at to offer at the time.

It’s funny.  To this day, when I’m running, I never cut any corners on my own routes.  I don’t stop early, not until I actually reach my house.  That is how I honor my coach and the lesson I learned so many years ago.

A handful

August 5, 2010

I walked into the kitchen with a handful.  Two handfuls, to be more precise.

In one hand I was holding my son, who is now officially a “toddler” because he was able to finally balance that large melon on his wee neck and walk at the same time.  He has been a bit of a tyrant this past few days, plus clearly intends to put himself in harm’s way (I recently turned to discover he was perched on top of his high chair.  Yes, the actual tray part.  Cruising right toward the street.  Outlets.  Toilets.  The usual toddler fare.  He’s safer and I’m saner when I know right where he is.)

In my other hand, I had gathered the evidence to show my husband why I’m feeling a little bit down about my body these days.  Because I was holding a handful of my tummy.

I suppose I can rationalize that there might be very fine and very legitimate reasons that my stomach looks like a little shelf to perch things upon.  Certainly, my son was quite comfortable resting there.   I have 3 children that I grew myself (once the co-creation part was accounted for.)  I had a C-section for one, which essentially means that those stomach muscles were not only stretched, but severed.

I’ve done a fair bit of reading and research about women’s metabolism, the “female fat cell” and so on.  I have many friends that that tell me that they didn’t lose the rest of their post-baby weight until they quit breastfeeding.  And I’m still doing that, so it’s likely my body is listening to its biological programming and making sure that if my personal caveman doesn’t bring home his quota of woolly mammoth meat, or if there’s an ice age or something, I can still feed my offspring.  (So we’re clear: if any famine strikes soon, I’m your gal.  However, if I were to go down in a plane crash on top of a mountain, and the other survivors start picking out the candidates for a tidbit to tide them over until the rescue planes arrive, I’m toast.)

When I look at my silver linings, of which there are too many to list, I know I have nothing to complain about.  I have 3 fantastically robust and healthy children, and I was able to feed their plump faces with my own milk.  In fact, I was able to feed other children too, if I remember correctly from that sleep-deprived time.  I had milk to spare and shared it with the Mother’s Milk Bank at UIHC.

My body has been resilient enough to go through pregnancies and miscarriages and childbirths and injuries and surgeries through the years.  Years I ate poorly.  Years I exercised too much when I should have listened to what my body was telling me.  Years I slept too little.  (Oh wait, that’s still happening, just not nearly the same fun reasons as when I was younger!)

And I know I take it for granted because I dwell on its shortcomings.  The way the back of my arms, which used to be taut, now jiggle a bit.  The way my kids’ Big German Heads seem to correspond perfectly to my Big German Childbearing Hips.  Heavy thighs.  And now, this tummy.

I’m a 40 year old mother of 3, and I’m just not ready to say, “okay, I guess this is good enough.”  I’m eating less and eating better than ever before, but apparently, that’s still not cutting it.  I’m exercising daily, and I know I’m fit, but I guess I need to figure out little ways to burn more calories.  Because even though fad diets come and go, it does still boil down to that simple fact:  consume fewer calories than you expend.  That’s page one of any decent health-related book.

And unfortunately, I know right where I can put that book for the time being.  Sigh.

My Deluxe Summer

July 28, 2010

I have had a very good summer.

I owe this very good summer to something that happened last summer, and last summer is the one that I will always consider to be “My Deluxe Summer.”

My third child, my pork chop, Timothy James, was born in May last year. My daughter was wrapping up her time as a preschooler and beginning the summer before Kindergarten. My second child, Max, had turned 2 in February. My sweet boy, my dear one, had suddenly become my middle child, and I didn’t want him to fall between the cracks of my oldest and my new baby. I didn’t want to let the summer go by without spending special time with my daughter (she was showing the signs of someone who knew that Something Big was about to happen!) And finally, I didn’t want to “disappear up my own bottom” as a dear (and very British) friend of mine once said, stuck in the limbo that can develop when the hormonal waves of post partumdom come crashing in.

My life preserver through that summer was Deluxe Pastries on Summit Ave. Because of the lure of lovely treats made with Real Butter, because of the lovely shop itself all in white and pink paint, because of Evan and Taylor and once in awhile Ms. Jamie herself (I stopped in right after it opened Jamie arrives a bit later I’m told), because of the very best coffee in Iowa City, I was able to muster up the motivation and wherewithall to drag my enormous baby-fat laden bottom up, get 3 children moving, and get loaded into the van to get our day started.

Another few thoughts about Jamie, the shop’s Über-Talented owner. Random thoughts, really. I got to know Jamie prior to the opening of the shop. Before kids. Perhaps we were both adjusting to married life and a bit twitchy to make our mark. Jamie is the closest thing to an It Girl I have ever met. She’s the only one I ever told that I did, in fact, know I was going to have a girl before she was born — and how scared I was to consider having and trying to raise a daughter.

Jamie  has made my daughter’s birthday cakes for her each year, and I hope she continues to do so until she makes her wedding cake someday. She is more cool than I ever was or ever hope to be. She amazes me with her ability to pull together a “look” from items from a second-hand store, her own creations, and things she has on hand. She also amazes me how she speaks to every person in her shop like they are the most important person there — and they are — and still not leave anyone out, and still run a business like the pro she is.

That’s Jamie. And that’s what you would know if you happen to go into the bakery for a treat. (My personal favorite are the butter dunked muffins. My kids pick out a short bread cookie dipped in white chocolate, all in seasonal shapes reflecting a bit of irony and a dash of nostalgia.) But what you wouldn’t know is how I survived my initiation into being the mother of 3 children simply by deciding that I was going to have a Deluxe Summer.

Each morning that we visited the shop, Natalie and Max would select their cookie of the day. The baby would be sleeping in his infant seat. Evan at Deluxe would make sure the decaf was hot and the cream was ready. I got to talk to a grown up. I got to pretend that I was still on top of things, and I wasn’t really freaking out. And with our little pink box in hand (and me with a hot cup of coffee and the baby in hand too — duh, I know, don’t tell me how stupid this was) we all made our way out the door and back into the Real World.

We’d visit a nearby park or playground before it was time to drop off Max at his babysitter and Natalie at Kinderfarm preschool. Since the baby was napping, I got to talk to the bigger 2 about ants and birds and trains and crows … ask them what they thought the clouds looked like … sip my wonderful cup of Joe and brace myself for the rest of the day.

By the time I got myself and the baby back home, it was Mommy Time (aka time for nursing) and so by then I had digested my muffin and it was time to get a little exercise in. I suppose it seems counterproductive to indulge in a goodie and then go run, but I think there is no harm done at that stage of the new mommy game, when fitness is more about getting moving and getting some fresh air than it is about competition (in any form) or dropping pounds. I read somewhere that this motherhood race is a marathon, not a sprint, so we need to pace ourselves.

After all that, it might only have been 11:30 am, but I felt like I could count it as a good day. I was up, I had showered, I had spent quality time with my kiddos. I had made their morning special, and had proven that I had not deserted them now that someone smaller and needier had made his tyrannical appearance. I was in a good place, in that I was forming a good habit of getting some daily fitness in. I could then spend a couple of hours holding my precious newborn in the afternoon, dozing and nursing, waiting for the time to go collect the other 2 who had spent their day having fun and staying on track with their own routines.

As anyone who has brought a baby home might admit, those first few weeks and months are so very hard. (And I’m sure anyone who has gone through every stage after the newborn one will also say that it’s so very hard!) Maybe, someday, I will fess up to the fact that I believe, on some level, I kind of lost my mind after I became a mom for the first time. But I’ll save that for another time.

Because I did something right by the time I brought a third baby home. I didn’t disappear up my own bottom, I got off that ol’ bottom and got out there and felt the sunshine on my face and hear the treasure that was the laughter of my very own kids. And I can thank Jamie and Evan and Taylor and shortbread cookies with white chocolate icing and hot coffee with cream for giving me the first reason to do it.  That was my Deluxe Summer.

Two fears

July 17, 2010

Perhaps it’s the teacher or the mom in me. I feel compelled to address the issue of safety when out running. Except this isn’t really a “how to be safe” kind of message, it is more just an explanation of my own two worst fears.

Bad Dogs
My first worst fear when I’m out for a run is encountering a dog who’s out on the loose. I know in my head that most dogs are friendly, and my own experience has played that out many times. (Too many times, by the way. Please keep your dogs under control! For the dog’s safety, as well as for the safety and emotional well-being of others, particularly children!)

But I guess that I know that there are too many instincts and doggy thoughts that will always remain a mystery, and one really can’t predict what will happen in every setting. I’m out running with a dog — that is interesting to other dogs, plain and simple. Maybe I look tasty, maybe it looks fun, maybe my dog looks particularly lovely that day … Many dogs see us and decide to investigate and try to approach us.

It used to be that I would see a dog, and I would give a nice firm and authoritative “No!” that usually did the trick. I have gone through many obedience classes with my own 3 dogs, and I also went through training to become a puppy class instructor. So I think I’ve been comfortable around dogs and have some basics down on how to get them to behave.

Something pretty scary happened to me a few years ago, and ever since then I am very edgy when I see dogs without leashes or owners in sight. More than 3 years ago, I was 7 months pregnant with my son Max, and I was in the habit of taking my dog Josie, a Brittany spaniel, for a walk in the evening. As you probably can guess, a strange dog approached us, and I gave it my usual “No!” and waited for the dogs to get over their customary sniffing session. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse. Much worse.

This dog, bigger and taller than my sweet Josie, exploded into a fury of teeth. I stood by helpless as this dog pretty much kicked Josie’s ass. I can still hear the sounds of it all — barking, growling, and the yelping, crying, and whimpering of my poor dog.

I’m not sure why this other dog stopped. I believe that I was really expecting it to go on until Josie was dead. And I didn’t know what to do — I was yelling, cursing, and looking around for something, anything to beat that dog senseless, with no luck. But it did stop. And Josie was a complete mess.

Since that time, I know my heart begins to race and I unconsciously veer away from dogs, even those who are confined in a fenced-in yard. And I know that Josie either is picking up on my vibes or has her own issues; she usually moves to the other side of me when a dog barks or approaches. We’re both “nervous Nellies.” Even friendly dog owners who seem inclined to let our dogs “say hello” are not immune from our hang-ups. I make pretty lame excuses for not stopping as well: “She’s protective of the kids,” “She’s getting older and grouchier,” or simply “she’s not friendly with other dogs.” I’m sorry, it’s just that the truth is that our nerves can’t take it.

The Boogey Man
I’m not being sexist when I say that the other fear I have is of a strange man trying to hurt me. Statistically, it’s men who are usually the perpetrators of violence against women. I also know that most men are perfectly safe, and most would actually come to my aid rather than give me any trouble. I’m counting on this.

When I was younger, I suppose I was either quite practical or fairly cavalier in my approach to personal safety. Depending on my living situation, I would either tell someone or leave a written note that briefly explained what time I was leaving for a run, my anticipated route, and a brief description of what I was wearing. I figured if someone needed to file a missing person’s report, or, morbidly, identify the body, this would give them something to go on.

I’m not in the habit of doing this any more. Perhaps I’m being superstitious. Perhaps I can’t quite bring myself to consider this as a possibility any more. And yet it is there, in the back of my mind, as a possibility. Someone might be lurking, and because either as a result of Nature or Nurture, they feel like hurting someone, and I might be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can’t imagine how I would react. Would I fight back? Beg for mercy? I don’t know. All I know is that I hope I can remember the advice I hear over and over again — don’t let a perpetrator take you to a second location. That is what leads to missing persons reports, and that is how families never get closure. I have heard this many time from many different sources, including the Oprah show (So there! That’s as convincing as I get these days.) If they are set on doing harm, well then they should do it here and do it now. And hopefully I will never have to find out what I’m made of.

There are a few tips to follow that do make you less likely to be vulnerable to be victimized, some of which I do adhere to:

1. Run with someone, or run with a dog.
2. Do not run late at night.
3. Do not run with earphones in your ears — you need to be aware of your surroundings.
4. Run on routes that are populated and lit.

The advice I don’t adhere to, but would encourage you to consider:

1. Vary your routes, and vary the time of your run.
2. Run with a cell phone and/or whistle and/or pepper spray. ( I do this if I have a running stroller, but not when I’m just running with my dog.)

I guess this seems like a very depressing topic, but it’s been on my mind, and now I have it out of the way and can get back to more cheerful topics. Some of this will seem like a real inconvenience, but I believe it’s fairly minor compared to any worse-case scenarios. Like we used to tell customers in the bike shop, as a way to encourage them to purchase helmet. “Yes, I suppose that helmets aren’t ‘cool,’ but neither is brain damage.”

Precautions are just that; we are not planning for disasters, we’re just making sure that we can handle whatever comes our way.

Isn’t that just like a mom?

The investment

July 7, 2010

I have been making a tally of all the paraphernalia that we have acquired over the past 6 years that make it possible to incorporate fitness into my life as a wife and working mother of 3 kiddos.  There is a lot of stuff out there, but honestly I think that I have come up with the things that I consider essential.

But before I list these things, I need to add something.  I have figured out what it takes to make it possible for me, and in no way do I think that what works for me would work for anyone.  Moms have it tough, that much is universal.  Finding time when we aren’t primarily responsible for the little darlings is challenging any way you slice it.  I can think of times I have tried to get on the treadmill, just to get moving, just to break a sweat, just to feel a little bit more like myself.  And I have this mental picture of me with two sports bras on, my infant strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn, while my toddler sat nearby armed with a huge bowl of goldfish crackers and 2 sippy cups, watching Disney Princess Singalong DVDs.  Every 5 minutes or so, I had to stop to adjust something or fetch something, but I persevered.  That’s how stubborn I’ve been.

I can go on and on about how to do it, but I know how crazy it will seem at times to go to all the trouble.  Find/make the time, find a way to keep the gang occupied and safe, and get moving, get the heart rate up, sweat.  But I don’t know that I can really explain that  effectively unless I also include an answer to one question:  Why Bother?

I like to run because it has the most “return on my investment.”  In terms of calories burned per unit of time, it’s got the most bang for the buck — better than walking or biking.  It’s a weight-bearing sport (unlike something like swimming) so it’s more likely to burn body fat.  It’s fairly minimalist, in that I don’t need much in the way of equipment other than good running shoes and a good sports bra (or two.)

There are subtle reasons too.  I like runners.  I like being a part of a running community, even though I don’t run with anyone.  I like running with my dog, running outside and seeing the seasons change.  I like the surprises of coming across a fox on the sidewalk in town, or seeing bats flying at dawn.

I like that running is the kind of sport that you can see yourself getting better, faster, leaner as you continue to do it.  I used to be a teacher and a coach, and I was always so glad when someone’s hard work paid off.  Running is like that.  It’s true that there are talented runners and not-so-talented runners, but when it comes down to it, if you keep at it, you will get better, faster, and your body will change.  Run more and it happens faster.  That is cool.

I really want my kids to see that exercise is important to me.  I want them to be a part of it.  And that is where all this paraphernalia comes in.

A glance out in my garage generates the list of gear that I use regularly:

1.  A Bob running stroller, along with rain cover and wind/bug cover, plus a little caddy that attaches to the handle.  In this caddy, I keep pepper spray and my cell phone right in reach.  Also, for chillier weather, I bought one of those sherpa-lined stroller inserts that are kind of like a sleeping bag but with openings for the straps.  Note:  I always, always use the safety strap around my wrist when running with my kids.  I would hate to risk slipping on ice, tripping on something like the dog’s leash or my own huge feet while headed down one of those Iowa City hills and letting my precious passenger careen away from me.

2.  A Chariot carrier — the double one.  Accessories for this include another rain cover, the infant sling, and the attachments that turn this from a running stroller to a bike trailer.  It is super super easy to switch it back and forth.  (Not that I want my patient husband to know that I know how to do this, because it’s so nice to have him do it for me.)

3.  A Trail-a-Bike.  This ups the ante on biking for me, since I can add a lot of resistance to riding (I connect all the pieces together and tow the kids, which means at least 130 pounds of children, plus all the equipment), which in turns makes me stronger.  (and a heck of a lot slower.) 

All together, this means that I can fit in some intentional exercise at a moment’s notice and in most weather conditions.  I can take one or two kids on the run, and all 3 on a ride.  I’m looking forward to the day my daughter can ride her own bike for a few miles, and I’ve told her so.  My corny little dream is going for a run with my boys in the stroller, with my daughter riding along.  I’m not racing these days or breaking any records, so the point is getting active as a family unit and enjoying the view.

It has been an investment, and not one I think we could financially manage all in one shot.  It took several years to acquire this collection.  And I guess I will close these thoughts today with a comment about this investment.  I know women who invest in a gym membership with childcare privileges.  I know women that invest in a babysitter to watch their kids while they work out.  I know women who work together to take turns watching their kids while the other one exercises.  The common theme?  That it takes an investment of one kind or another to make it happen.  It’s not accidental, and at first it’s not easy.  But it’s important, and the dividends it can pay go far beyond just weight loss or fitting into a smaller size jeans.

(But it is nice to wear a smaller size!)