Today is Father’s Day in many places around the world. In the US we are also celebrating Juneteenth, which is now a federal holiday and in many states (including mine– MA). Here is some information about Juneteenth, from this NYT article:
Juneteenth, an annual commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States after the Civil War, has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s.
President Biden signed legislation [in 2021] that made Juneteenth, which falls on June 19, a federal holiday, after interest in the day was renewed during the summer of 2020 and the nationwide protests that followed the police killings of Black Americans including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
On June 19, 1865, … Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. [This] put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued almost 2 1/2 years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.
Early celebrations involved prayer and family gatherings, and later included annual pilgrimages to Galveston by former enslaved people and their families, according to Juneteenth.com.
Today, while some celebrations take place among families in backyards where food is an integral element, some cities, like Atlanta and Washington, hold larger events, including parades and festivals.
What better way for the blog to commemorate this double holiday than to celebrate black fathers and daughters? So, let’s look at some father-daughter teams that celebrate family strength, grace, power and speed of movement.
“The Greatest” Muhammed Ali and his daughter, boxing star and champion Laila Ali. In an interview not long after her father’s death in 2016, Laila Ali said this about him:
“Not too long ago, I said, ‘Mom, you know, do you really think daddy was really, really proud of me? Or do you think he was just trying to make me feel good, like, girl, you’re bad and all that kind of stuff?’ She’s like, ‘No. Your dad really was proud of you.’ She’s like, ‘You changed his mind about boxing and women in sports.’ And then she’s, like, ‘That was big because you know your father, he’s very hard headed.’ And I was like, ‘You’re right. I did. You’re right. I won that battle against Muhammad Ali.'”
Pro tennis star Sloan Steady, daughter of NFL running back, the late John Stephens. They were not in contact with each other until Steady was 13. They stayed in touch until his death in a car accident when she was 16. You can read more about their relationship and her growth as a top-level tennis player here.
Venus and Serena Williams and their dad, Richard Williams. There is a lot written and broadcast about the tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams and their father’s role in developing and supporting their tennis careers which I won’t try to summarize here. I like the hugging, though.
Finally, here’s former NFL offensive lineman Bubba Paris and his daughter, pro and Olympic and college basketball powerhouse Courtney Paris. Bubba helped the San Francisco 49ers clobber the Denver Broncos in the Superbowl, 55-10. Ouch.
Courtney is the only player in NCAA history, male or female, to have 700 points, 500 rebounds, and 100 blocks in a season. She was a star player for Oklahoma, an Olympian, and then played for the WNBA, leading the league in rebounds two years in a row. She’s now an assistant coach back at Oklahoma. Courtney’s dad isn’t at all surprised at her success. Below is from a 2004 interview, when she was still in college:
“I knew at an early age that basketball wasn’t for me,” Bubba said. Courtney Paris put her father’s hoops skills plainly: “He’s a horrible basketball player!”
On the other hand, “Courtney is so gifted; she has the ability to be the next Michael Jordan, the female version,” Bubba Paris said. “She has a mental toughness she is prepared to face anything.”
To all the fathers and daughters (including my own late father Billy Womack, who was an amateur golf champion), I wish you a happy Father’s Day. And to all of us in the US, Happy Juneteenth!
Yes, you read that right. After two plus years of pandemic and nearly two years of life with a little one, we are going on holiday. As in, travelling somewhere that’s not to see our family, or visit friends (we are, in fact, going to visit friends on the way, but we’re also going to be on our own for a bit).
We’ve rented a camper van and will be cruising around Dutch campsites. We’re taking our bikes (the adults) and trailer (the toddler), in the hopes that it will stop raining for long enough that we can do some cycling tours through very flat landscapes. This may not sound very adventurous, but right now I think it’s going to hit the sweet spot of being active but not overexerting ourselves, and fun for everyone in the family. We also have a kite, beach toys, and swimwear – not that we’re planning the brave the North Sea (though who knows?!), but the weather forecast really isn’t great, so if it won’t stop raining, at least we can go to the indoor pool.
When you read this, we will actually already be on our way back, but I’m writing this post before we even leave, since I don’t know how much Internet we’ll have along the way (the campsites all promise wifi but I also honestly don’t know how much I’ll feel like posting when the alternative is frolicking around a campsite or the beach!
What better place is there for a sunny and warm US Memorial Day holiday than the water? That’s just what I thought, so I went paddling with friends Deb and Tim and their teenagers Mari, Leah and Jacob (who actually just turned 20, but who I’ll refer to as teen for the purposes of this blog post), as well as their dog Ruby, who is turning 7 soon.
It was Tim’s birthday, so he planned a group paddle trip with the current down the Concord River in Massachusetts. We left cars at put-in and planned take-out spots, and then launched a) two inflatable tandem kayaks; b) one inflatable rowboat; and c) my sleek lightweight zippy carbon/kevlar 13′ kayak. Off we went.
There was paddling. There were hijinks. There were photo ops. There were snacks.
Ruby the dog liked to keep herself moving, preferably between boats. She moved nimbly, but sometimes resorted to swimming (with her doggie life vest). My narrow boat was a no-go. That didn’t stop her from trying, though.
About an hour or so into the trip, though, the teens began to tire. Admittedly, wrangling the inflatable kayaks is difficult– they simply aren’t made for speed or distance, and they’re difficult to steer, too. And the inflatable rowboat? Fugetaboutit.
I had an idea: I’d practiced towing another kayak in a Maine weekend course. But I didn’t have a tow line. Rats! Luckily, Tim came prepared with lots of rope. So we tied one kayak to the stern of mine, and I began paddling. Turns out it was way easier than I thought. Yay! And, it was much easier to paddle in a straight line while towing than not while towing. Great!
We tried rotating the kids into different boats to take breaks. Deb hosted her son Jacob, who was in turn hosting Ruby in one of the inflatables.
Then, about 30–40 minutes later, more teens got tired and our pace slowed to a crawl. The charm of the wildly careening inflatables was wearing off, and the kids just wanted to head down the river. No amount of snack application was working. Fair enough. So, Tim once again dug into his backpack of treasures and came up with more rope, this time tying the rowboat to the kayak (which was tied to my kayak). I restarted paddling.
This time it was harder, and I made very slow progress. But it was forward motion and it was sustainable over the next couple of hours. Check out the picture below for verifiation.
Tim and I decided it was best to take out at the next big landing. We arrived, and some of us stayed with the gear while others took an Uber to get the other car at the desired but un-reached take out spot. Hey, it happens, right? (Raise your hand or comment below if you’ve had this experience.)
We all made it home, considerably later and considerably hungrier than we expected, but none the worse for wear. It was a really fun time, with lots of laughs, some snacks, great weather, serious energy output, and some lessons learned. Here are my takeaways:
I can paddle for longer than I thought, even when it’s not as fun and I’m going slowly. This lesson may be applicable to other areas of my life, maybe…
I’m getting a tow line for my next trip– you wear it around your waist so you can attach and detach yourself from the line.
Slowing down the process of getting into my kayak worked very well. I kinda wish I had done the same with the getting-out process; I might’ve ended up less wet and smelly. Duly noted.
Bringing in-case gear, especially since it’ll fit in my boat’s rear hatch, is a good thing. I’ll be bringing extra rope and bungee cording, a knife, bug spray, headlamp, extra snacks, space blanket, an extra-extra bottle of water, and probably a few other things for all my kayak trips.
Every active trip I take– by land, sea or air– is going to be am opportunity for learning something new. Janet suggested I document my kayak outings with what happened, how it went, and what I learned. Imma do that.
I’ll bring a map next time. And the time after that. and so on.
Hey readers: any anecdotes about over- or under-shooting pickup or car locations during hikes, paddles, etc.? I bet you’ve got some good stories, which I’d love to hear about.
When Elan posted her story of a stormy Guelph to Goderich ride, it made me think, as summer approaches, that it might be nice to have a summary post–which we can update from time to time–which lists local biking trails we like. The conditions are that they are dedicated trails–bike only, or multi-use–and that they’re in this region of Ontario. Oh, also they are wide and not particularly technical, best for gravel bikes or hybrids but no mountain bike, or mtb skills needed. With the pandemic I did a lot more trail riding than usual. I liked that it was local and also safer than road cycling.
Advice: The website makes it sound like this is doable in a day or 2. Maybe if you’re going fast and not carrying gear. We say, take your time and stop at some of the communities along the way. I loved my avocado and grilled sandwich at Em’s cafe and also homemade butter tarts at farmer’s stand en route. We also want to recommend Chef Bill in Midland, of Chef Bill Presents, who cooked up dinners to go for us to eat in the park. Thanks Sarah and Bill!
Highlights: The Tiny Trail and all the food along the way.
How about you? Which trails in Toronto have you ridden? Which do you recommend?
Well this is not the post I expected to write this month! A few months back I wrote Sam that I had been exploring and really enjoying exercise and would like to regularly blog about aquafit. At that time, I’d been going to the pool two to three times per week for a few months. It was a habit and it felt good. I also had started really enjoying the feeling of getting a good cardio workout. That itself felt like a minor miracle.
I wrote my introductory post and looked forward to seeing what was coming on my journey of digging into exercise. It turns out what was awaiting me the last month was a lot of frustration and not getting to exercise! This is not new – many people struggle to get to their gym or their exercise. Women especially are conditioned to put our needs after others. In my case, historically it’s been really easy to distract me from exercise because honestly, I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to do it.
This is different though. I want to get there. Apparently though, wanting isn’t always enough. I’ve only been to the pool a couple of times since mid-April. And it shows. It shows in my mindset, which is more easily frustrated. It shows in my aching hips that don’t want to sit for hours while I teach and grade. It shows in my own disappointment too.
Now I have good reasons for not getting to the gym. I’m on a job search that is going s.l.o.w.l.y. (I teach college on contract and I want a permanent, student-facing job!). My husband is on sabbatical in Italy for the month of May. He’s working hard too and I’m happy to support him, but oh boy, I didn’t anticipate how many things would go sideways at home with our kids while he was away, or how much of our lives relate to getting our kids to places. I am struggling between my kids’ needs and my own, and my own have been losing out.
In truth, all reasons for not exercising are “good” reasons. Our reasons can be legitimate even when they are frustrating or disappointing. Canadian society seems to have a fixation with connecting fitness with guilt and judgement (as anyone who knows this blog knows). The last thing I want to do in writing today is to contribute a sense of judgment of people’s choices. What I do want to acknowledge (mainly mainly to myself) is that for the first time I really miss exercising. That makes this post another in my posts celebrating my journey toward enjoying and, I would say, reclaiming my body as my own for my own use. THAT feels pretty good to say.
So since I’m missing activity, and my growing strength and confidence as (dare I say it?) an athlete, it seems that my next challenge is to actually get back in the pool, and doing some late spring hiking. I can see I need to re-establish my routines and make space for myself in my life. I’m working on that now. So far the best I can do is get out each day to walk my dog. It’s a start – I’ll let you know in a month how it went!
Joanne Tarvit has grown up curling competitively, just like Dale Curtis, her mother. This interview shares what it’s like for them to curl together as a family, what curling teaches kids, and how women can thrive in curling at any stage of life. The full recorded interview is below the edited transcript.
Would you describe how long you’ve curled and your greatest curling accomplishment?
Dale Curtis: I’m not sure I want to say! It’s probably been 55 years. I think I only missed one season when I was living down in the United States. My greatest accomplishment in curling would be when I went to senior women’s nationals in Ottawa as skip.
Joanne Tarvit: I’ve been curling for 28 years. Mom had me on the ice when I was about 5 and I don’t think I’ve missed a season. My greatest accomplishment in my curling career would be winning back-to-back silver medals at the Canadian National Championship with a group of girls from Brock. They’re a great team.
How long have you curled together, and when did you start?
Joanne: This is our fourth season playing together weekly at the St Thomas Curling Club, but we’ve been playing bonspiels together for 20 years.
Dale: I introduced Jo to curling when she was 3 or 4 years of age. My brother David, her uncle, was Icemaker at two different clubs in Brampton and we lived close together. The ice was installed in September or early October, and I would often help because it can be a 24-hour job. Jo would come with me. David would actually sit her on the rocks and push so she could ride them down the ice!
Then we got Jo on the ice at 5, and I was an instructor in the Little Rocks program. The rocks the children use are about half the size and weight of the regular rocks that adults throw. It was a bit later, when she was skipping a team of kids at 9 or 10, and was handling the pressure of it all, that I thought, oh she can really do this!
Joanne: At our home curling club in Brampton, it was my mom, uncle, and grandparents as well! I felt a lot of pride knowing that my family was curling there and now, it was my turn. So I absolutely loved it as a kid. I was so lucky that mom was willing to come out, not just for those two hours on a Sunday afternoon for the Little Rocks but really anytime. I would want to go throw and she’d be like, yep let’s go and practice. I had a parent who not only loved the game but was really good at the instruction side of it as well when I was young.
As I got more into the competitive side of the game, around 12 and 13, I started to feel a little more pressure, but only because our whole family has many provincial championship banners hanging out at the club. It was a constant reminder. At one point in our life we had three generations, all playing on the same team in a bonspiel, so those are some really special memories for us.
What does curling teach kids like Joanne who play at a young age?
Dale: A curling team is only four players, so the team dynamics are much different than hockey teams or basketball teams. Curling teaches kids about their responsibility to the team, to the importance of committing for the season.
The game itself is played over at least two hours, so patience is involved, too. When the game is not going your way, you have to learn to control yourself emotionally, to set little goals for yourself. Emotional control is so important because the game is not over until it’s over. Kids have to learn that their body language on the ice affects their teammates. It teaches young people about sportsmanship. So I think curling really does teach a lot of life skill lessons for young people.
Joanne: I will add there is kind of a leadership element to it as well, one that doesn’t necessarily have to come solely from the skill position, like a captain. Every player in curling has a unique role, so they need to be able to bring positivity to their position. Curling has really helped me in many aspects in life, knowing that I can bring something positive to a team or group of friends, or just collaborate well with whoever I work with.
Is it challenging for kids to acquire those self-regulation and interpersonal skills in curling?
Dale: Yes, and you see it in the youngsters when they’re first starting out. We have a lot of broom banging when kids don’t make their shots or the game isn’t going their way. I think that’s why Jo likes the sweeping aspect to the game rather skip because sweeping offers an emotional release.
Joanne: Absolutely I was a broom slammer. I’ve slowly moved away from it, but every now and then I’ll still let one slip. So self awareness and being able to use strategies to work through that frustration, because you still got another rock to throw or you’ve got six other rocks that you have to have to play. You have to learn to be able to forget quickly. Curling has been the catalyst that has helped me learn that whenever I am stressed or any kind of anxiety comes up, my best release is any kind of physical activity.
Now that you are both adults, what is it like curling on the same team?
Joanne: We have been able to play together since I was 10. And now into my 30s being able to do that still and at a fairly good level has been a ton of fun. We could be continuing to do this for the next 20 years if mom wants to. It’s creating memories. We talk about bonspiels and events all the time around the dinner table. I think one thing we do have to be careful is that not everyone in the family curls so not that our dinners shouldn’t be solely about curling, but it does tend to happen.
One thing that’s unique about playing together is that we’ve watched each other play, well, for my entire life, at least, and so we know what it looks like when each other has a really good throw. We are able to provide that deep level of feedback.
Dale: For me, there’s not too many people that I would even ask about how I’m throwing. Jo’s coaching and training has given her as much of a critical eye as I have, I would say. So I trust the feedback I’m getting from her, probably more than anybody else in the club.
When I’m skipping and Jo’s throwing I trying to give her feedback as to what I’m seeing. I can be far more direct with Jo, and possibly not always as positive, in part because most other people are not curling at the same level that Jo is. So I think, maybe that comes with the territory—the higher elite curlers want more direct feedback.
Joanne: Once in awhile it’d be nice to know that I’m doing something right, mom! [laughs]
But, yeah, every game we play is an opportunity to practice and to learn. Mom has a very important competition coming up, so I have been trying to use these games to remind her of habits for keeping sharp. It’s a long season, and you can get what we call “lazy on technique.” So, I help to support her competitive game when we play.
Are there advantages or disadvantages playing together as mother and daughter?
Joanne: Like any kind of teammate, any relationship dynamic, you’re going to have good days and you’re going to have your bad days. There’s the odd day that we’re really not on the same page, and there’s frustration there. But I think, because we’re family, it rolls off the shoulder, so we’re like, “All right well, love ya.”
Having played with mom and watching her, I know her body language and style of strategy. When it comes to calling shots not a whole lot has to be said at times. But I’m also really comfortable at letting her know when I don’t think that’s the call here, and we should go with something else.
Dale: We know each other so well that I think that, at times, our emotions aren’t as much in check with each other as they would be with another teammate. We can be more raw with each other. If I’m in a bad mood, Joanne’s going to know about it, whereas if it was another teammate they may not know that I was in a bad mood as much.
Why is curling a good sport for fitness and health?
Dale: Curling is a wonderful sport to get involved in from a social aspect and from a fitness aspect. It is something you can do at any time during your life that you know we can adapt body types, to the skill at any at any age.
Joanne: Yes, the incredible thing about it is that you can start when you’re five or you can start when you’re 60. It’s a welcoming sport—there’s a spot for everybody in curling. And it’s more of a workout than most people think actually! I know when I come up from sweeping I’m usually huffing and puffing and working to get my heart rate back down.
The amount of empowerment that really comes with playing as a female I think is a ton of fun, because we can play the game right alongside the men, right alongside anybody. It really doesn’t really make a difference who you are in this sport. Everyone can play.
How important are role models for women who curl?
Joanne: Growing up as a young female we always were able to watch the Scotties, which is the national curling event. It always had air time and it was on every single year, and I think that’s unique when it comes to women in sport. For young girls who are playing hockey, I feel like the only time they get to see their idols play is every four years of the Olympics. So I felt very fortunate that I got to watch my idols every year compete at the Scotties and they’ve just constantly been adding women’s events to slams. Today, it seems like once a month you’re watching women on TV play. Other women play on TV, so I had something to watch and strive for.
Dale: I sort of went through the same thing when I was growing up. My mother ran the junior program at our club. I played with my mother in a regular league at the club for many, many years, and we did bonspiels together. It’s part of our family tradition that we’ve grown up with, and I’ve learned that nothing has to stop curling! I remember when my brother and I would miss our family Christmas dinners because we’d be playing or training and it was never really questioned. We were supported.
No matter what your life situation is, you should still be able to play. I curled when I was pregnant. As long as you’re healthy, you can just modify your delivery a bit so there’s no issue. I mean your body balance is actually lower as you go through your pregnancy, so it makes it quite easy really as long as you’re healthy and can keep your leg strength up. It’s great!
Joanne: Yeah I blame mum for my cold hands and feet, nowadays, because she played so long into her pregnancy with me that I was so close to the ice all the time!
What’s one piece of advice you have for each other about curling?
Dale: I just hope that if Jo wants to continue her competitive path that she’s able to find a team that can showcase her talent, whether she makes it to the Scotties or whatever. I hope she continues to love the game and pursue what she loves. Whether it takes her to a high competitive area, or to continue doing club curling, she should do what she is passionate about.
Joanne: For mom’s upcoming competition, I’d say just soak up the experience! I know how competitive my mom is because I get it from her. So I say enjoy it and not worry too much about the wins and losses. They’re going to come either way because it’s sport and it happens. You’re playing on a world stage, so make memories and enjoy every single moment of fun.
Oh, and have a good sharp release every time.
See the full video recording of our interview [32:50].
There are lots of things I could write about today. I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering my choice of topics.
I was going to write about my annual thyroid cancer check up. It’s today. And if all goes well it’s my last annual check up. (Fingers crossed.) After today they’re every five years. My birthday last week was also mammogram day. It’s as if September weren’t a busy enough month for an academic. It’s also cancer screening season for me.
I thought about writing whether Tracy and I want to write a turning 60 book, to follow up our turning 50 project, Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. We’re having dinner together tonight and no doubt the subject will come up
Let’s see. It’s also blog birthday season. As Tracy posted, happy 9th birthday blog! We’re nearly at 5000 posts too. That’s hard to believe. This post is 4990!
And the blog’s birthday and my birthday, not surprisingly given how the blog got started, are pretty close together. Another possible topic, what does 57 mean anyway?
Here’s a photo from my birthday bike ride!
At this time of year I often write about back to school and trying to stay physically active as work gets busier and busier. This year, unlike last, I’m back in my office. I’m not yet back at the gym.
I’m having big busy days filled with work and people. So many people! I gave a lecture to O-Week students (photo on the right) and hung out with incoming College of Arts students at our Food Truck lunch meet and greet (photo on the left.)
I also biked around meeting parents and students on move-in day. (Round photo at the bottom.)
I’m back in the office now, wearing (mostly) real clothes. I looked at my clothes the other day and wondered why there were so many pairs of yoga pants. Who needs five pairs of yoga pants? Oh right, work from home and the pandemic. I could write about wearing clothes again. I’m working my way back to real shoes but I am not there yet.
In recent years I’ve been suffering a bit from seasonal sadness and trying to tell myself new stories about fall and winter, leaning into the time of cold and dark. I’ve been trying to extend outdoor activities into the fall. We’re going canoe camping again one more time this fall. And we are also looking at more fall gravel riding plans. So there’s that.
I’m a bit nervous that the no travel thing is continuing and it looks like this will be another year in which I don’t get to go somewhere warm with my bike for the winter. I miss the southern US! I miss Florida and Arizona for winter cycling.
In the end, I just want to let you know how much we’ve been enjoying our time in Prince Edward County and likely will continue that into the autumn too.
How’s your September starting out as we move into the fall?
I’ve always owned a bike and I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike but most of my extensive riding was when I was a kid.
Since then, I’ve never really done enough cycling to build skill, strength, or any sort of endurance.
I think the issue started when I graduated to a bike with gears. I could never quite grasp how to use them properly. The knowledge that the gears were supposed to be useful but I couldn’t use them well was frustrating and I got out of the habit of going any real distance.
This is an ADHD-related issue for me – this kind of thinking crops up for me again and again. I have to keep reminding myself of the issue that Geraint Evans describes so succinctly below.
If I add the frustration with gears to the effort required to get out on my bike and then add those things to my ADHD-fuelled notions that a) I needed long rides in order to get good at cycling and b) that once I had the skills I would have to either head out on steep bumpy trails or head out into traffic (neither of which is a burning desire for me), you can see why my desire to ride didn’t add up to much actual riding.
You can, of course, see the flaws in my (previously unexamined) thinking. But I didn’t even realize that I was working from those assumptions and frustrations until recently when my husband has gotten back into cycling.
I really admire the way that Steve gets into new (or renewed) fitness things. He does enough research to ensure some base knowledge and his safety and then he just gets started.
He doesn’t have to make a big plan, he doesn’t generally have a clearly defined end goal. He just gets started and works in small sessions until he feels an improvement and then he increases the challenge in some way.
This is a stark contrast to the way my brain wants to approach any fitness plan. I want a clear plan with fixed time intervals and incremental milestones…
…and then I probably won’t follow it because it is too rigid and doesn’t allow for the way my life works.
So, as Steve has been getting back into cycling, he has been heading out for short jaunts on the side roads and paved trails near our house. Sometimes he is gone for 10 minutes, sometimes it is half an hour or more, depending on his capacity that day.
I’ve decided to copy his approach.
And I’ve decided that I never have to go on a busy road or a bumpy trail if I don’t feel inclined to.*
Taking those possible end points out of consideration made things a lot easier for me.
The other night Steve and I dragged my bike out of the shed, checked it over, and then I took a little spin around the cul-de-sac. Since I only had a few minutes right then, I would have normally just put the bike back in the shed until I had time for a ride.
But because I am employing the Steve method, I went out for a few minutes. Obviously, not a skill-building ride but it was fun to spend even that little bit of time on my bike.
And while I was riding I had a lightbulb moment.
Not only can I ride in small bursts of time but I have the perfect practice spot nearby.
There are two empty-for-the-summer schools just minutes from my house. One of them even has a significant slope down from the road so I can get better at hills (a necessity in this province!) It won’t be an exciting place ride but it will be a safe and useful one.
So, you may never see me on a road with traffic and I may never go on a bumpy trail, but this will be the summer that I finally use my bike as much as I would like to.
Thanks for inspiring me to rethink things, Steve! 💚
* The bumpy trails may become a possibility, the busy roads are extremely unlikely. My particular manifestation of ADHD makes riding very complex, adding traffic into the mix means waaaaaaay too many things to pay attention to at once. Perhaps that will change as my skills with the bike improve but it’s not even on the table as of now.
I just got back from a 2 1/2 week trip to South Carolina to see my family. It was the first time in 17 months that I was able to hug my mother and aunts. What a wonderful feeling!
My trip was also an occasion for a complete change of scene, change of companions, and change of activities. This is always welcome, but doubly so at this stage of the pandemic. It definitely felt like stepping outside of my cocoon, into a much more interesting world than the narrow one I was living in for the past 15 months.
The trip itself was your garden-variety family visit: my niece was graduating from high school; I spent a few days at the beach with my sister and her kids; I hung out with my mom and aunts; and I visited a friend and her family. Ordinary stuff.
But, it felt more extraordinary than ordinary to me. All the activities felt more fun than usual:
dog walking with my aunt Cathy and her elderly statesman dog Baxter;
swimming and wave jumping in the ocean with my sister and the kids;
walking on the beach;
doing a bit of yoga with my aunt or niece;
attempting to play volleyball on the beach with the kids;
pool swimming with sister and kids;
walking with family around neighborhoods.
Was it the energizing influence of some place different? YES
Was it the company of my family, who I was able to be close to again? YES
Was it the impetus to emerge from my pandemic-influenced lethargy? YES
Readers, what are your summer attitude/latitude adjustment plans? I’d love to hear from you.
The other day, famous children’s book author Eric Carle passed away. I was a bit sad, since The very hungry Caterpillar is a firm favourite in this house at the moment (picture proof below). The tiny human is still too small to understand the text, but he loves looking at the pictures and sticking his tiny fingers into the holes the caterpillar makes into the different foods it eats.
The Internet was awash with lovely stories about Eric Carle, like this one about how he helped a woman find her missing cat. So the story of an interview he gave TheParis Review about getting into a fight with his publisher over the hungry caterpillar’s diet fit right in: apparently, Carle had not wanted the caterpillar to have a tummy ache after its epic binge fest just before its metamorphosis, but his publisher insisted that the consumption of that much (and, on top of that, unhealthy) food be followed by some kind of punishment.
The only problem: the interview was quickly debunked as a parody. It was part of an April Fool’s issue of The Paris Review. Like many others, I was sad to hear that. Which begs the question: why? Why did it get so much traction in the first place?
I mean, I get it. Even before reading this, I’d alwaysfelt a bit sad the caterpillar doesn’t get away with just enjoying its feast. But I hadn’t given that feeling any conscious thought. Now I want to explore it. I’ve done much less structured thinking than my fellow bloggers on here on the issue of weight stigma, body shaming, and how these link with eating, so I’m a bit worried I won’t find the right words here. But let me try.
I think it has to do with an underlying awareness that our relationship with food and eating is fraught, and a wish that it weren’t so. Shouldn’t innocent children be entitled to a story in which a caterpillar gets to give in to its instinct of eating? After all, it needs to, so it can transform into a beautiful butterfly. Instead, our poor caterpillar is loaded with all the fraught feelings adults have around “overeating” and food, and the twisted ways in which we project these feelings onto our kids. Sam has written about this onnumerousoccasions.
The issue of the fake interview and the reactions it got perfectly illustrates what Sam calls “our romantic ideas of children as ‘natural eaters,’ on the one hand, and as out of control eaters, wantons, on the other” (here). On the one hand, we think the idea of a caterpillar overindulging in a range of foods including cherry pie and a lollipop – like a child might – is cute. On the other, there has to be a teaching moment in this, because we don’t want our children to “overindulge” (and become overweight). And at the same time, the idea that the author himself did not want to include the punishment, but was forced to do so by the publisher, reinforces exactly that dichotomy: wouldn’t it be nice if food were innocent for children? Oh no, but it can’t be! There has to be a punishment! Because what if The very hungry Caterpillar ends up encouraging kids to engage in unhealthy overeating, contributing to what is often framed as an ‘obesity pandemic’? We can’t have that! Somebody (the publisher) has to play the bad cop and stop it (but what a spoilsport).
In this narrative, Eric Carle, the beloved author, takes the side of the “innocent” children, the strict publisher the role of a disciplinarian imposing an unwanted but necessary consequence. Just like with food. Ugh. It’s all quite twisted and there’s a lot of projecting and wishing things were different and we all had a more “innocent” and “childlike” relationship with food.
But the whole thing only goes to show that in our society, food is anything but innocent or something to be enjoyed freely. It has to be regulated and judged. That makes me sad too, and I almost want to change the story for my son before he is old enough to read it himself and demand the “correct” version. Maybe next time, I’m going to tell the part following the caterpillar’s dinner party like this: “That night, he felt quite full. The next day was a Sunday again, and the caterpillar was a little hungry again. He wanted a small snack, so he ate through one nice, green leaf. After that, he wasn’t hungry anymore.” Sound good?