Or why I can’t let myself slip into old age
I’m lying on the floor. My heart is going thump! thump! Slowly my breathing returns to normal. I heave myself up and drag the exercise bike back to the hall. I’ve done it. My exercise session is over for another day.
Why do I do this to myself? Why can’t I let myself slip into an inactive old age? I have to exercise. I have no choice. I am the mother of teenage children.
I look at Sophie and Gemma-Rose. They run everywhere. “Stop! Walk! Go outside if you want to run,” I shout. So out they go. They charge up and down the garden. Not even a long dress-up gown slows them down. Every game is played at a 100 miles an hour.
I know one day the running will stop. I will no longer have to shout as a girl goes hurtling past me. The problem will be getting my daughters to move, not slowing them down.
We weren’t homeschooling long before I realised there just isn’t enough natural activity in a typical day to give my children adequate exercise.
Years ago, we went to a homeschooling camp and we were given the cabin the greatest distance away from the action. We walked miles that week: up and down to the chapel, the dining room, the football field… By the time we returned home we felt fitter and thinner. And then we slipped back into our usual routine. It doesn’t take much effort to get from a bed to the bathroom to the kitchen table. At least schoolers have to pass through the front door and maybe walk to the bus stop.
So I decided something had to be done. Somehow my children weren’t leading themselves down the self-directed healthy exercise pathway. Can an unschooling mother interfere? Normally maybe not, but I decided to put exercise into the ‘expected’ basket, the same basket as learning and practising the Faith, being a considerate and polite member of the family, being helpful and involved with the family chores… No we aren’t radical unschoolers. There are some things my children are expected to do.
So I thought about the problem of exercise. I imagined saying, “Right, you’ve got to exercise. What are you going to do?” I could just see that bunch of hostile teenagers. They’d probably say, “Do you
exercise?” And then I knew exactly how to encourage my children to start moving: I had to move first.
I think there is a very important principle of bringing up and educating children: I have to be prepared to do anything I want my children to do. I have to lead by example.
So exercise has become a family affair. I often browse the exercise section of the library for new ideas and I share the books with my daughters. We have tried power walking, running (that was hard work!), bushwalking, Pilates, resistance work with hand-weights, the exercise bike… and mini-trampolining.
A few years ago, I picked up a trampolining book (or should I more correctly say, a rebounding book?) in a sale. It is called Starbound
and was written by Michele Wilburn: “Bounce your way to balanced health and beauty. Streamline and strengthen your body.” I’m not sure about all the advice on how to ‘energise and revitalise your whole being’ or ‘boost your immunes’. However, a friend tells me it makes sense so I shall have to go back and reread it. But the book is also packed full of trampoline moves with plenty of diagrams. Soon we’d learnt how to do frog leaps, threading the needle, liquorice twists, heel flaks, the mummy, the injured wallaby… We started with one mini tramp and took turns. Then we bought another and then a third… I found some great free bouncy workout music online which we downloaded.
It is midday. Two teenage girls are in their pink exercise shirts and track pants. They haul their trampolines to their bedroom. The music sounds. The girls bounce slowly for a couple of minutes and then the pace is increased to a jog and then the fun begins:
“The mummy!” shouts Charlotte. Two sets of arms and legs are held stiff and close to the body as the girls bounce in a circle.
“High jump,” yells Imogen as she pulls her legs up and shoots towards the ceiling.
Half an hour later, the girls are dragging their trampolines back to the garage. They see me replacing the exercise bike in the hall.
“Finished, Mum? How did you go?”
“All done. I feel good!” And it’s true. My muscles are satisfyingly warm and tired. I am ready for my lunch.
Slip slowly into old age inactivity? I look at my daughters. I really enjoy sharing exercise with them. I want to be able to keep up with them for a long time yet. No, I am not going to slow down and stop. I still have a lot of living to do.
And of course, Sophie and Gemma-Rose will eventually turn into teenagers too. One day they also might need encouragement to keep moving. I’ve still got a lot of leading by example left to do.