Someone asked me a question about my kids the other day.
“Do you think they understand exercise makes them healthy?”
I thought about it. I don’t think that. It’s not that they don’t understand taking care of themselves, they do, as much as any 7 and 9 year old do, in a house that serves milk with dinner and then dumps a pile of Hershey’s syrup into it, chases every evening meal with ice cream.
We’re a normal people.
But they don’t think of exercise as healthy. They don’t think of any of it as exercise. They see a mom who runs, a family that rides bikes to the library, to the pool, to the park, to get slushies. A son who now has winter goggles to go over his bike helmet so he can keep riding around the block as it gets colder. Santa is seriously considering kid snowshoes.
We spent several weekends this year at bike races and road races, trail races.
So I didn’t know how to answer it. Do they know it makes them healthy? They could probably answer it like they would parrot back anything from school. Sure. But what I love is they don’t think of it as exercise. They think of it as life, and this is how we live it.
I’m teaching them a lot, I know that, and forgetting to teach them even more. And they’re learning things from me I didn’t intend for them to learn, those lessons you remember when you’re 15 or 25 and remind yourself to never do that, just don’t. At 40 they all make sense again.
This past weekend I was at the library – on my bike because it was the kind of weekend where you have to be outside, no matter what – and I saw a girlfriend of mine. She had walked there and had three of her kids with her – on a bike, a scooter and a Big Wheel. I’m not sure how far she lives from there, but I guarantee it took her longer to get to the library this way than it would have to drive.
But you can’t pass it up, not when the day presents itself.
Earlier in the week, I watched the forecast and saw how beautiful it would be. I kept adding to my list of things I wanted to do, and it was all wants and no needs. I didn’t want to go to the grocery store or clean the bathrooms in preparation for a house full of people descending for the holiday. I just wanted to play, and I was lucky enough to be able to rearrange to do that.
Friday night, we headed out and did the bulk of our Christmas shopping, stopped for dinner and drinks. That opened up my Saturday, and I chose to sleep in (there are some benefits to shared custody, after all) and go to the 605 Running Co. morning run, where I spent 7 miles having a very detailed conversation on domestic life with someone I’ve never met before. This is the glory of the group run: Meeting someone new and then spending the next hour finding out more about him than you probably know about most of your coworkers.
Toward the end, we saw another woman standing on the path and she stopped us as we came by.
“Look,” she said, and pointed to a ledge across the Big Sioux River. I looked, and there was a huge bald eagle just sitting there. “I waited for you. I wanted you to see it.”
She flagged down another person on the bike path, and we all stood there in awe, watched it swoop down over the river and fly up to the top of a hotel, sitting up there, bigger than I realized, and incongruous against the building.
After the run, I went over to WoodGrain to take Jeri’s yoga class. She teaches every Wednesday at 605, but I haven’t been able to get there for months. I set my mat next to the bar and hoped I wasn’t too close to ram my arms into it when I was supposed to be gently twisting or swandiving down. The class filled with 20 women I’ve never seen before – it always amazes me how big and small this town is at the same time.
I don’t know what happened, but part way through the class, I just felt completely overwhelmed, and by the end, the tears coursed down my face as I laid my palms against my hips while Jeri talked us through the end of class. When I finally sat up, I held my headband from Zumbro over my eyes and tried to be as quiet as possible while everything just exploded and imploded at the same time.
The next day, we drove to Newton Hills and I met my friend Nancy out there. We ran for two hours, watched the hoarfrost slowly fade on the trees as the sun rose higher. Her dog, Sydney, ran ahead of us the entire time, chasing whatever looked good out in the woods. My friend Kelly was out there, too, running her own route. Patrick was on his bike, tooling around the trails.
We saw two bowhunters, heard someone else fire off a shotgun.
That was it. The park was ours. And it was the kind of day where I felt like I could spend all day doing this – it was beautiful and it was the rare time I wore the exact right clothes, with nothing too hot and nothing too cold. I hiked up the hills, ran down them.
“I can’t stop smiling,” Nancy said. “I just love this so much.”
Me, too, I thought.
So when I was asked if my kids know that exercise is good for them, I thought: They know this. They know it makes you laugh, and it makes you cry, and it makes you feel better, and sometimes it makes you feel worse. It’s every reaction and equal and opposite reaction. And it’s the constant we have in our lives, this movement, the friends we’ve made and lost, the trails and trees and trips to the library. The bikes leaned against a bench outside a gas station you just realized has a soft-serve ice cream machine.
Is it exercise? I don’t know. Kind of.
It’s also just life, and I hope I’m showing them how to live it.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.
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