Embracing the role of Auntie

cate and smithAs this posts, I will be in the air, on my 10th trip to Uganda since 2008.  A decade ago, I accidentally ended up one of the volunteer directors of a learning and development program called Nikibasika, for kids and youth with no family support.  Now, I’m part of a tiny group that raises all the funds and supports this group of kids as they transition through post-secondary school and into adulthood and community leadership.  This picture is of me, with Smith, one of my favourite people in the world.  He’s studying to be a public health officer and he’s curious, kind, warm, caring and so smart and committed to changing his world.  I love him.

Nikibasika is a long and involved story of its own — a book, really — but what I want to focus on here is the identity that’s emerged for me doing this work over the past 10 years — Auntie.

I never really had much of an identity related to the fact that I don’t have kids.  I never really yearned to be a mom, but I didn’t deliberately “choose” not to be one either.  I’ve noticed the emergence over the past couple of decades of women who actively identify as “childfree,” a “movement” of women redefining femaleness without the expectation of kids. That’s all great and interesting — but I can’t relate to it.  I assumed I would have some kids, I happened to be with someone who didn’t want kids during prime kid-having years, that was okay.  It didn’t have a big impact on my sense of self.

Then Nikibasika found me, in a culture where women who are mom-age in any nurturing role are called Auntie.  Around the same time, my sister had her first daughter. So as I entered my 40s, the role of Auntie found me.  At first, it was just an affectionate title.  But as I’ve gone through my 40s and into my 50s, it’s actually become a central element of my sense of who I am.

It’s pretty well understood that being an Auntie can be a special role, the one who gets to do fun things with the kids, “hand them back when they’re crying,” be the safe space for the conversations adolescents can’t have with their parents.  Community and family advocate Mia Birdsong has said that aunties “expand children’s internal and external boundaries,” and I like to hope that that’s what I do with the people I’m auntie to — at least some of the time.

I took my 12 year niece to London for a few days over Easter, and the time inhabiting each other’s space had a unique intimacy to it. She sent me a handwritten thank you letter that said “London is awesome and I’m so glad I got to share my first time going with you.”  I’m grateful for what I got from her in those five days too.

I have an Auntie role with some of my friends’ kids too, especially my friend Jessica’s. I was there at the beginning of her precipitous and early labour, I drove her and her partner back and forth to the NICU while the twins baked into humanness, I drove their tiny selves home from the hospital for the first time. In February, I got to spend a few days with Ivan and Felix (and their parents) in Barbados, introducing them to the sea.

Why am I writing about this in a fitness blog?  Like many of the regulars on this blog, I have written a few times about how community and family are an important part of self-care, and important part of balanced health. The extension of that for me, particularly as I’ve gotten older, is a really explicit need to live with a sense of meaning.

A few years ago, I was in a hotel room in Rwanda reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Committed, and serendipitously came across her musing on the need for aunties: “It’s as though, as a species, we need an abundance of responsible, compassionate, childless women to support the wider community in various ways.”   Right that moment, I understood that even though I hadn’t set out to “be Auntie” to the kids of Nikibasika, it isn’t just “a thing I do,” but one of the ways I get to live into the person I most aspire to be.

For me, Auntie is one of the ways that I’m living this stage of my life in a generative way, to use Erik Erikson’s phrasing for the 7th psychosocial stage of development. Erikson’s theory was that mid-life can either be a time of stagnation and self-absorption, or  it can be a time of “generativity” — i.e., working to creating a better world.  “Auntie” captures that perfectly.

I didn’t set out to make a 15 year commitment to a group of kids and young adults in a country I had no ties in.  Running an NGO in another country as volunteer isn’t for the faint of heart, and the fundraising and operations can get extremely wearying. But like everything that makes me more of who I am — whether it’s riding my bike really far, my work that challenges me, or improvising my way through this project, the day to day discomfort, pain and difficult moments fade into the background. What rises up is the purpose — the moments of profound connection, seeing the young adults who had no family support graduate from university, start businesses, get married, start volunteer projects in their own communities.

Over the next 10 days, I’ll be continuing to improv my way through this project.  I’ll be hot, and a little sick, and jet-lagged — and I’ll be fully in my grateful Auntie glory.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto where she works as an educator and strategic change consultant in academic healthcare and other socially accountable spaces. She blogs here on the second Friday of every month. If you have a few dollars to support Nikibasika, you’ll get a tax receipt in Canada, and knowledge that it’s going straight to an amazing group of young adults:  donation link

Miranda’s first 10 km! (Guest Post)

On April 30th, I ran my first 10K. I run with some frequency, although I haven’t run in an organized race in years (okay, in decades). I decided to run in the Forest City Road Races 10K for a variety of reasons, but mostly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

I’d like to go on to describe my strenuous training schedule, to explain, in detail, that I ran diligently three to four times a week, adding in longer runs and building up my stamina, and that I did strength training to protect all the muscle groups in my body.

But I can’t write that. You see, I have a full-time job and three young children (ages 10, 7, and 4). Running is definitely something I do for myself. It is “me time.” It’s the one activity that I do on my own, no matter what. I don’t even bring my dogs with me. That said, it’s also an activity that gets dropped when other things come up. If I were writing this post for a women’s magazine, this is where I’d make some profound statement about work-life balance and how women can—and must—balance their work-lives and their home-lives, ensuring that they devote precisely X number of minutes to themselves each day (I’ve found the number varies from magazine to magazine). Thankfully, this isn’t a women’s magazine, and I can be honest: I think the whole notion of work-life balance is bullshit.

Balance is a myth. Scheduling, time management, and, frankly, sacrifice are all real. There I said it. For me to run, I have to schedule it, and I don’t mean schedule it in the “I wake up in the morning and decide, Oh, it’s a lovely day, I think I’ll go for a run this afternoon.” I mean, I have to enter any run on our family calendar. My runs have to work around my teaching and writing schedule, around my partner’s teaching and writing schedule, around both of our seemingly endless meetings, around our children’s school schedules and their various activities, and around any community commitments we may have. Often running is the first thing to go on a really busy day. Some weeks it was easy for me to run three or four times for 45 or 60 minutes. Lots of weeks, most in fact, I was lucky to get in two 30-minute runs. In fact, between January (when I registered for the race) and April, I only managed to run ten kilometers twice. Most of my runs were between five and six kilometers, although I did get in about ten runs that were seven to eight kilometers long.

So when I woke up on the morning of my 10K, I was nervous. I knew I could finish it, but I was nervous about how long it would take me. Plus, the weather was less than desirable—cold, windy, and a bit drizzly. I decided that I would be happy if I finished in 70 minutes. This was a calculated decision on my part. I can, and usually do, run a five to six minute kilometer. But I also struggle with pacing myself, so by the time I get to the eighth kilometer, I’m tired. For this race, I gave myself permission to go slow.

As I ran, I consciously chose to run near people whom I knew were running a bit slower than my normal pace, and I slowly picked up my pace. I used my FitBit’s exercise feature to help me keep track of my time, so I knew my pace for each mile (my FitBit tracks in miles, not kilometers, and I haven’t had the patience to reset it). I ran the first through fourth miles between 9.36 and 9.39. I had to stop for a pee break during the fifth mile (three kids, remember?), so it was a just bit slower, 9.59 (again, three kids, so I am accustomed to peeing fast). By the start of the sixth mile, I felt good, and I realized I had a real shot at finishing in under an hour. So I picked up the pace. I ran the last mile in 9.04, and I finished my first 10K in 59.09, a time I am really proud of. I also felt like I could have kept running, which tells me that I am capable of going longer distances.

After the race, my family found me, and my middle child hugged me hard and said, “Mama, I’m so proud of you. I want to run a race now too.” That made me as happy as my time. You see, another key reason that I run and exercise is to encourage my children to do so, to teach them that it is important for everyone to do something physical that they love. Hearing my kid say that reaffirmed that this message is getting through.

My oldest child asked if I plan on running another race. Without hesitating, I answered, “Yes.” And I do. I taught myself that I can do it. I also learned that I enjoy it. So, yes, I will do it again, hectic schedule be damned.

 

Miranda Green-Barteet is a teacher, a feminist, a parent, a writer, and a runner. She also plays soccer and occasionally manages to read a book just for fun.

My mother the cyclist!

Regular readers of the blog know that I’m part of a family of cyclists. My daughter Mallory and I ride together a lot. See here for our most recent adventure. But I didn’t know that my mother, Kathleen Brennan, rode a bike as a child.

It’s not that she’s never ridden a bike. She did ride my old bike for awhile as a grandmother caring for grandchildren when my sons were riding bikes to school and needed accompaniment. My mum took care our kids while Jeff and I both worked from the time our third child was born. So I have seen her on a bike. It’s just that I’ve never thought of her as having a bike riding past.

I made the discovery about my mother’s bike riding past this week when we had a basement flood. Boxes of old family photos were in the basement and Facebook friends know that we’ve been traveling down memory lane a bit. I keep taking pictures of photos and sharing them in Facebook albums (with family members’ permission, of course) before they dry all curled up. Our houses are interesting places to be right now as the old photos are being laid out on all flat surfaces everywhere to dry.

It turns out that my mum got her bike Christmas when she was 10. She lived in small town northern England, in Lancashire that’s part of a cluster of connected towns and communities–Colne, Nelson, Barrowford, Brierfield, and Burnley.

The photo below is from her school’s Bike Safety Rally in 1954 when she was 12. Notice the lack of helmets. But I love the smiling faces and her basket!

That’s my mother, Kathleen, on the far left.

I asked her some questions about riding a bike: Did she remember riding? Did she like it? Was safety a big deal for kids who ride the way it is now? Why did she stop?

Here are some of her replies, “Yes, I remember riding my bike. It gave me a certain amount of freedom. It was a big deal when I got the bike as it was new, a Christmas present. I remember being so excited as there wasn’t any snow and I could use it that day. No, I don’t think safety was as big an issue. We had the safety rally at school but I don’t remember getting much in the way of advice from parents as neither of them rode a bike that I know. Also, we never really had to use the main road, so many small local streets you could get into Nelson easily. I used to go to the library for me and Dad. I think there was equal riding for both girls and boys. I loved riding and for a while went to work by bike then I changed jobs and went by bus. I think I stopped riding when your Dad came on the scene. He had a motor cross motor bike and we used to go to rallies.”

Thanks Mum!

A love letter to my bike, and others

Sam gave it away on Facebook this week: today’s post is about my time at bike camp in Table Rock State Park, South Carolina. We got back a week ago today, and man, do I ever wish I was still there.

fullsizeoutput_144c

A view of the southern Appalachians from the top of Caesar’s Head in South Carolina. The skies are unsettled, cloudy and grey; the mountains are blue-grey. There is a lookout and a tree in the near right distance.

The riding was really hard and really fun, and as I predicted in my post last month, I was ready and managed some (for me) good finishes. I’ve got goals for next year, and absolutely, I’m already planning to head back (maybe even in the fall, by myself… stay tuned).

Susan reminded us recently, though, that the bunch of us who contribute regularly in this space have a tendency to toot the old horn. Not that this is a problem – women, own your awesomeness, PLEASE! – but it is sometimes, I suspect, a bit much. Maybe a little bit smug. Because fitness and athletics is all about failure, as well as success. You can’t have one without the other.

I didn’t have any epic fails at camp, but I did have a few moments when I got hit, hard, with the reminder that being on my bike is not about anything more than being on my bike. That’s enough. And women, is it ever glorious and powerful! Just to be able to do this wonderful thing called riding my bike when I want to.

I wanted to share three of these small, but precious, moments with you.

On our first day, my group (“B”) rode up Paris mountain, near Traveller’s Rest (a groovy suburb of Greenville. GOOD COFFEE!). It was my first mountain ride in a while – even though by mountain standards Paris is a bit small (20 minutes to the top, give or take). But on this day, the snow had fallen early in the morning, and it was still clinging to the branches at the upper elevations as I rode into the clouds. Blossoms and snow… it reminded me of time I spent in Japan, and felt quiet and magical as I moved through it. I stopped breathing heavily; I slowed my pace a bit so my heart rate could catch up with the scenery. I wished I could stop to take a photo but was pretty sure that would mean I couldn’t start up again… so I just drank it in. That was, I think, the right call – even though we didn’t get the chance for snaps at the top because The Law was chasing us down… apparently, at the summit, we were trespassing on state property!

19728161

This photo shows the sun shining through evergreens, which sport snow on their branches. It’s from Paris Mountain, but I did not take it. 

On day three, we all did the Caesar’s Head climb. Caesar’s is the big challenge in the area, and I was geared up for it. My time was 48:02 according to Strava – maybe a little slower than I’d dreamed, but better than I’d hoped. We stopped for photos at the top this time (state park! Public access!), and enjoyed the accomplishment and the view.

That evening, I got a text from my ex husband and still very close friend, J. His step-mom had died while we were climbing. We were prepared for this, but the timing was a painful gift. As I was celebrating my strength – my love of my bike, and all the things I can do with my powerfully-aging, middle-aged body – she was slipping away.

I knew then that I needed to enjoy every minute on my bike from now on, and love it more than ever.

On our last day we climbed to the eastern continental divide, before getting packed up and heading home. I was, I confess, anxious to get on the road; we had 12+ hours of driving ahead of us and I really, really wanted to get back for Saturday, to clean the house, shop for groceries… Until I started climbing and swooping past the small communities on our way.

This was another magical climb: through clusters of trailers, shacks, and other makeshift spaces built into the mountains and valleys, every inch cozy homes. I slowed to enjoy them. I sped up to catch the others in my group. Then I slowed again, just taking the stillness, the loveliness, all in. Eventually Amy, one of my occasional riding friends from LonON, caught up to me; she’s a stellar athlete and climber. We chatted; I then pulled ahead to catch another rider, Derek, who was driving home with me. When we reached the divide, I was sure I’d posted a solid time.

fullsizeoutput_14a1

This photo shows me next to the sign that reads “Eastern Continental Divide: elevation 2694 feet”. I am wearing a pink Castelli riding cap, my riding glasses, and my green helmet. I am sort-of-smiling; when I take selfies I always think I am smiling but that’s not always actually true.

I was wrong. My continental divide climb was objectively terrible; I was near the bottom, on Strava, on all the segments. UGH!

But subjectively – for me – it was glorious. Some of it hurt, but mostly it was magical (like Paris), a ride through a dream of quiet, utterly spellbinding landscapes. So I’ve decided not to care at all that Strava tells me I did shit on this particular ride. Because what I felt on this ride Strava cannot capture. And because what I did on this ride was not for Strava, anyway.

It was for Norma, god bless her, and her loving family.

It was for Ruby, my beloved bike and constant companion.

It was for me.

Peace,

Kim

Children and Changing Sleep Patterns, or Confessions of a Former Morning Person

I used to be a morning person.

Image result for hitting snooze

When I was riding and racing my bike in an organized fashion, I even had alarms that began with 4. Why? Because I rode to the start of training, which started at 6 am, and it was 20 km away, and I had to have breakfast first. Ditto when I swam with the triathlon club at the university. I had to be on the pool deck at 6 am ready to go. But again I was riding my bike to campus first and then there’s breakfast and so the need for an alarm before 5 am.

And while some days that involved snoozing the alarm clock, or hoping for rain, most days I was okay with it.

Image result for snooze

When your life is like that you go to bed at 9 and you’re asleep, for sure, by 10 pm.

Now part of the reason that worked was that years of parenting small children had me wired for early rising. There’s no sleeping in with toddlers. And even slightly older children have morning activities that require parents getting out of bed quite early. I’m still the person in the house who wakes up first, makes coffee, and who yells at, pokes, and prods others to get them to work and school on time.

There was a golden period of parental sleep. That was when the kids first started sleeping in and my partner and I were still on the early rising schedule. We could get up, ride our bikes and be home before they were even awake. That felt like stolen time. Of course the reason it worked is that they weren’t going out at night. The teens stayed up late but they stayed up late playing games or watching movies at home. That didn’t last and it was followed by the years of night time worrying.

If you’re a regular reader you know I don’t have small children any more. There are large dependent adults sharing my house, all over the age of 18. And this fall for the first time, just one them.The other two are off at college, setting their own alarms, and making their own coffee.

The remaining teenager at home is 18. He’s out late a lot. He works late too. He goes to the gym in the evenings. And I don’t sleep very well these days. Partly because I worry. I’m practically a professional worrier. But also because there’s lots going on in my life and in the world that’s affecting my sleep.

So I’m now an evening exerciser. Like him. It’s a bit of an adjustment.

My emerging schedule seems to be in bed by eleven, alarm set for 7. My day begins with coffee and dog walking. More formal sorts of exercise happens at night. I’m going to the gym to lift weights tonight at 7 pm.

I’m not sure where I’ll land once there aren’t any kids living at home. My schedule so far has been driven by other people. I’m curious whether I’ll revert to my preference for very early morning exercise. For now though, I’m going with the flow and working out at night.

You? When’s your best time of day to fit fitness in?

Image result for stupid o clock

 

 

 

 

Mother Daughter Biking Once More 

grey rental bikes leaning against rock wall

Sam and her daughter Mallory, selfie, big smiles, wearing matching red rental helmets

Mallory stopped on her bike, looking back, curved bike path, cliffs on one side, rocks on the other View of Vancouver harbour with ships

My daughter Mallory and I bike together a lot. We’ve done some Quebec trail trails twice. We’ve ridden the Central Otago Rail Trail on the South island of New Zealand. We’ve biked to the Pinery Provincial Park and to United Church family camp many times.

So no surprise when I visited her in her new city of Vancouver this past weekend that we went out and rented bikes together. A large frame for her and a small frame for me. We had a fun ride around Stanley Park. We had to watch out for people who had rented bikes but who clearly hadn’t ridden since they were kids. We had fun watching all the shipping traffic and the rowing shells and recreational sailboats and ferries negotiating the shared space in the harbour.

I miss her while she’s living in another city but it was fun to reconnect on bikes!

Mommy and Me: Childcare as an Access Issue (Guest Post)

Sometime in the hazy overnight hours of my son’s first weeks of life, I decided to become a runner. I place the blame squarely on postpartum hormones that conjured up the words “role model” and sent me into a life-changing panic. I chose running because I bought into the dominant narrative of fitness that includes running as an Acceptable Aerobic Activity for Ladies. But that’s a post for another day.

Prior to this moment, my fitness experiences were limited to a few years trying to make a roller derby team, a handful of fitness videos, paying for gym memberships that I didn’t use, and a brief stint with a boot camp program. In other words, if I wanted to commit to lasting change in order to model a fit life for my son, I had to start from scratch. I Googled “exercise after pregnancy” and “fitness tips for new parents.” Advice ranged from “hire a personal trainer” to “take advantage of post-partum exercise videos.” One article suggested that I could walk up and down the stairs during “those precious 20-minute nap times.” Other articles suggested exercising with my baby by taking him out for a walk around the neighborhood or following along one of many “mommy and me” workout tutorials available on YouTube.

In the beginning, I considered this sound counsel and happily packed up the stroller for our daily walk around the neighborhood. I made a habit of wearing him in a sling while I did my powerwalking video to lull him into an afternoon nap. I congratulated myself for such efficient multitasking. When I was ready, I borrowed a jogging stroller and added running intervals to our walks. I joined a gym with complimentary childcare so I could add strength training to my routine. When I learned about a beginner’s running program sponsored by my local running club, I had to make sure my husband was free to mind the baby before I signed up. It was during one of my first training runs that I realized how privileged I was to have this time to myself, and that time alone to exercise should not be a privilege.

It is well documented that women bear an unfair burden when it comes to childcare responsibilities, and I definitely felt the pressure. None of the articles I read about exercise and new moms included advice like “find out if your gym offers childcare” or “schedule time to exercise when a family member or friend is available to care for your baby.” Consider the answer to the question “What are some ways to start exercising?” from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “When you are ready to start exercising, walking is a great way to get back in shape. Walking outside has an added bonus because you can push your baby in a stroller.” As pragmatic and useful as this advice might be, it assumes that mom is already caring for the baby, and that incorporating an infant into your (perhaps new) exercise routine is a desirable default.*

In some cases, including mine, taking a stroll with the baby in those first weeks can offer additional benefits (like battling boredom) and is likely less effort than finding a babysitter to take a walk. But as my son grew, it became more difficult to include him in my workout plans even though I was still responsible for coming up with a solution and making concessions. I felt frustrated with the few options I had. Do I take him with me on a training run even though it will slow me down? Should I try to organize a childcare co-op with other running moms? Which is worse—the logistical nightmare of taking a squirmy toddler to an early morning race, or the guilt of depriving him of time with me, the fresh spring morning air, and a chance to see a squirrel? Childcare became an issue of putting aside what I needed from a workout (focus, adult conversation, and/or SILENCE) or dealing with additional pressure rather than a choice between equitable solutions.

Certainly, modeling an active lifestyle by bringing my son to exercise events when I can has its benefits, but despite my best intentions, not all gyms have childcare, not all races are stroller-friendly, and weekday evening group training runs always conflict with bedtime. My son is now an active preschooler, which makes it more difficult to include him in my fitness plans. In part, this difficulty comes from his limited attention span and desire to do anything other than sit in the stroller for an hour. Still, it warms my heart when he gets excited about a kids’ fun run, or says he wants to “look for our running friends” when we drive near our familiar park trail route. It seems that my efforts have yielded some positive outcomes for his perception of how exercise contributes to our quality of life, but I wish the decisions on when and how to include him were easier to make.

There are no easy solutions given the wide range of variables that make exercise and childcare a complex personal issue, but I think that it is important to acknowledge that childcare can be a legitimate (and often unfairly gendered) access barrier in our fitness communities. Parents who want to incorporate exercise into their lives can benefit from being supported by having fair choices about if, how, and when to make fitness a family affair.

 

*The “walk outside” advice also makes a lot of other assumptions like, 1) you have a stroller, sling, etc., 2) you have access to a safe outdoor space with sidewalks or paved paths, 3) you are able to walk when another activity would be more suitable for your health needs, and 4) etc etc etc. There are many more intersectional access issues to consider when talking about childcare and exercise.

A child wearing sunglasses in a stroller with snacks, a water bottle, and a book.

How my son gets ready for a 5K

Kate Browne is less than 200 days away from defending her dissertation on Foucauldian notions of subjectivity in weight loss memoir. She runs slow, lifts heavy, and owns a tri singlet. You can find Kate at her online fitness home Ramp and Stair Exercise Club.