Every school year I start some sort of exercise regimen in the fall with the kids, convincing myself it’s going to be our routine for the rest of the year. Then I give up somewhere around the second or third session. I think it’s because I’m Type A about my exercise. I need focus, and kids are my anti-focus. But—and this is how I know I’m not a true pessimist, even though my husband has his doubts—every year I think, It’s going to be different this year. They are older…They like doing my yoga videos with me…They’ve got a little more stamina because of soccer practice that spring, oh, a year ago… I come up with a plethora of reasons why it’s going to work this year.
“Today we’re going on a walk,” I tell them. I’m starting simple—no major overhaul of the system. I’m not setting myself up for disappointment by expecting that brisk jog I tried for last year on the first day. We stretch and everyone grabs a coat for the blustery day.
My kids know me. They know I can’t stand to be bothered when I’m exercising. And this turns them into the Anti-Focus Brigade.
“Move it!” I bark, circling around the loping culprit who isn’t keeping pace.
“My side hurts.”
“That’s because you’re not breathing in correctly! Remember to breathe into your belly. Lift your arms up. Breathe in deep—Don’t stop! Keep moving!”
“Mom, can you carry my water bottle?”
“Yeah, hand it to me. You don’t need to stop to give it to me—I’m right beside you!”
My son likes to walk ahead and slow down like that annoying driver who speeds up and lets off the pedal right when you set the cruise.
I threaten, “I’m going to step on the back of your sneakers if you slow down in front of me again.” He knows I’ll do it.
“My legs hurt.”
“Hurt like a tingling burn? Right here?” I point to my calf as I walk.
“That’s good. That means you’re strengthening your muscles. Keep going: one, two, one, two, one, two…” I begin the mantra because they’re getting restless. I can tell it by the way my son is sticking his finger in his sister’s ear for a reaction.
“Mom! He just—!”
“Keep moving!” I turn to my son and warn, “And, boy, I’m gonna make you run, if you don’t quit aggravating your sister.” He knows I’ll do it because I’m getting restless, too. We’ve made it seven minutes into the walk—a perfect warm up. I have the urge to pick it up, but I tell myself not to overdo on the first day. The goal is just a brisk walk…just a brisk walk.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m holding all but one of the water bottles and everybody’s coat. One child is sprawled out on the grass convinced her leg will fall off if she moves; another is investigating a dead armadillo while unscrewing the lid of his water bottle. (I assume to pour water on the carcass? I dunno… Honestly, who knows what goes on in that kid’s head?) I call in the last straggler, and we go home. I consider this day a winner: I was even able to burst into a jog for a whole two minutes!
On the way home, I say, “Who wants to play basketball?”
Mom’s approval rating shoots through the roof. The kid with the leg injury is miraculously healed. We play a game of Horse. I lose. Then we play for points for a bit longer than I’d intended and come inside.
Within seconds, a child approaches me as the spokesperson for the Committee for Funner P.E. with Mom. She is holding a schedule. “Mom, tomorrow we’ll go for a walk with you (emphasis on ‘you’—this child is a born diplomat), and then we’ll play balley ball. The next day is football, then soccer, then baseball…”
“What’s balley ball?” I ask.
“It’s like volley ball, only we don’t have a net.”
“So…wanna do this?” She hands me the list of activities. Soccer is spelled ‘socker.’
I nod. “Let’s try it.”
We played them all this year. We also added Ultimate Frisbee (there were three injuries, so it merits the “ultimate” title) and a riveting version of Four-Square. Soccer was especially fun. My son decided to slide through my legs for the ball—at least I think that’s what he was doing. I tripped over him and came down on my head. I heard something crunch in the back of my neck.
When my vision returned, all three of my kids were bent over me, their faces peering into mine.
“Gimme a minute; I’m seeing stars.”
Kid 1: “Really? What do they look like?”
Kid 2: “Like real stars?”
Kid 3 looked up at the sky. “There aren’t any stars.”
As I tried to sit up, I mumbled, “I’m getting too old for this.”
“You’re not old, Mom! Come on, can’t you play just a little bit more?”
Flattery works every time.
We have nine days of school left, and I’m going to huff and puff through them like The Little Engine That Could. After that, my plan is to lie on the couch like a slug and forget what the word ‘focus’ means.