family · fitness · injury

How was your weekend?

Selfie of Sam with white bike helmet and her Sweet Ride Cycling bike jersey.

I’m not training for anything these days. I’ve got the one day version of the bike rally that I’m still hoping I can do. Please, please sponsor me here! But really my main goal is staying active while managing my knee issues, avoiding pain and surgery.

This means that my workouts look like a little haphazard. They’re more like active lifestyle than anything you’d call exercising or working out. It’s definitely not training. I’m still having fun.

Catherine’s post on Sunday really resonated with me.

This weekend I logged two workouts over the weekend in the 218 in 2018 group I’m part of.

97. Short hike through fields and meadows, lots of moving things around, mini archery lesson.

My son Gavin got a new bow and we took it to Sarah’s family farm so he could practise shooting into balloons, hay bales, and dirt piles.

98. Bike 30 km to cheer Tracy in her Guelph 10 km running race. Great to have her in my new town. A group of us got together for brunch after.

How about you? What did you get up to this weekend?

A picture of Sam trying out her son’s new bow. She’s wearing wide leg blue pants. There’s a backhoe in the background.
family · fitness

Moving at a family pace– lessons in easing up

This week was family celebration and vacation time for me. My nephew Graham graduated from high school, and the next day my sister and her kids and some of their friends and I decamped for the beach in South Carolina. The weather was perfect: 80s (27–30C), and sunny every day.  The water there is warm (78–80F, 25–26C), great for swimming and splashing around.

Being active with a bunch of kids of different ages and interests is fun, but involves compromise, patience and improvisational skills. I don’t have kids, and am used to doing my own thing or joining a group of adult friends for active vigorous fun. Every time I get together with niece and nephews I have to remind myself that the cadence of activity will be different. And with them growing and changing, each time is different from the last.

This week, I rented beach cruiser bikes for everyone, which were a huge hit. We rode them everywhere– to the beach, on the beach, around the area we were staying, and on a local bikeway to a marsh area and the next town over from where we were staying. My sister said to me, “I’ve never ridden a bike to another town before”.

My sister and some of the kids, posing before departure.
My sister and some of the kids, posing before departure.

The bikeway is a 6-mile section of a proposed 17-mile paved path in the woods. It’s lovely.

The pace was leisurely, with several stops for water and regrouping. There was picture-taking and laughing and chatting. It was the sort of bike ride I take only with family or kids.  Hmmm– why is that?

Me with my beach cruiser at a marsh near the bikeway.
Me looking very happy, with my beach cruiser at a marsh near the bikeway.

We also rode bikes on the beach, tides permitting. Again, we didn’t cover lots of ground, but had loads of fun. I even staged a family race, in which no one cooperated and everyone was laughing and riding in all directions.

The place where we stayed had a mini water park, with lazy river and various water features, along with pools and hot tubs. My nephew Gray and I were the most ambitious about trying out everything.

My nephew and I being deluge by a bucket of water pouring on us at the water park.
My nephew and me, being deluged by a bucket of water pouring on us at the water park.
My nephew and me, getting drenched again by a barrelful of water.
My nephew and me, getting drenched again by a barrelful of water.

Of course we walked on the beach, too, and swam in the pools and in the ocean, and walked and biked all around the area where we were staying. There was lots of activity, and everyone slept soundly at night.

I’ve been writing a lot on this blog about my attempts to deal with my decreased fitness, feelings of loss about past fitness, and also about what moving through those feelings is like. Well, this week I found that I was able to take a vacation from those feelings. I simply had fun moving around in all the ways I described. Swimming, walking, cycling, playing, drifting in a lazy river, jumping in waves– all of these were pure pleasure. It certainly helped that I had a 12-year-old at my side for virtually all of this (thanks, Gray!), but it occurs to me that maybe I can do this at home too.

Easing up– on myself, on my cadence– that seems like a good idea.





family · fitness

Fa la la! Exercise isn’t always what you think

Singing in a choir could be a new form of exercise. See here.

Exercise is one of the few activities in life that is indisputably good for us,” writes Daniel H. Pink in his new book, “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” “Choral singing might be the new exercise.”

“Choral singing calms the heart and boosts endorphin levels. It improves lung function. It increases pain thresholds and reduces the need for pain medication,” Pink claims, citing research published in Evolution and Human Behavior. It also seems to improve your outlook, boosting mood and self-esteem while alleviating feelings of stress and depression.

These aren’t simply effects of singing. “People who sing in a group report far higher well-being than those who sing solo,” he notes. It’s about synchronizing with others. Rowers and dancers have similarly shown a greater capacity to endure pain when performing in time with others.

That’s good news for the young people in my family, two of whom sing in choirs.

Mallory’s next concert is a 100 voice mass choir at Wesley Knox United Church in London, Ontario: MISSA GAIA/EARTH MASS, SATURDAY, APRIL 21, 2018, 8 PM.

Gavin’s next concert is a week later, April 28, the day of our book launch.


Dad strength? Is there a mom version?

My son spends a lot of time at the gym strength training, building muscles. He’s got a schedule, theories about nutrition, and a plan for spring. But he’s part of a young men’s gym culture that cares more about looks than about function, I’d say. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

That came home the other night when we were all carrying stuff from the house to a trailer to take it to our storage locker. Our house is going to be for sale soon and we’re moving out half the stuff. Don’t talk to me about staging. I’m annoyed and stressed.

Back to the carrying heavy household things…

My partner in parenting doesn’t lift weights. He’s in his fifties like me but he doesn’t go to the gym. So my son and I made a comment about being impressed with how easily he picked up stuff as he carried it out of the house. We’re talking big stuff like appliances and church pews. Family legends tell stories of him moving hot tubs, pianos, and dryers out of tight basement spaces.

My son said, yeah, that’s dad strength for you.

What’s dad strength, I asked.

Just check out his forearms. You get forearms like that from actually doing stuff, not from lifting weights at the gym. He’s got muscular hands and lots of grip strength.

And it’s true Jeff does a lot around the house. He does home renos, builds things, and lifts household objects. He also works on his boat. Last summer he hauled the motor with Sarah and the two of them worked on rebuilding it. That’s demanding too.

So the contrast seems to be between gym strength (bicep curls, bench press, etc) and dad strength (firm grip and strong forearms). I get it.

But it also got me wondering if there’s a mom equivalent, a contrast between gym fit and mom fit? (I’ve wondered that before about mom bods. See The dad bod? Fine. But what about the mom bod?)

Sure she can do the eagle pose in yoga, but can she wrestle a struggling toddler into a snowsuit? Yes, she can swing a 30 lb kettle bell but can she carry a heavy infant in a car seat and an arm load of groceries at the same time.

It’s not just wrangling children, of course. It’s also lifting bags of cat litter at Costco. It’s about shoveling snow. It’s about planting shrubs in your backyard. Like dads, moms do lots of heavy lifting. It’s not gym strength. It’s mom strength.

Personally I’m not much of a mom. I’m more of a parent. I prefer my parenting to be gender neutral.

But I like the idea of mom strength. Do you have any examples of mom strength at work?

A white woman with brown hair in a ponytail, wearing a green and white stripey sundress is holding a toddler in a pink hat. She's standing between two cars, one red and one green. Year? 1950-something?
Photo from Unsplash, A white woman with brown hair in a ponytail, wearing a green and white stripey sundress is holding a toddler in a pink hat. She’s standing between two cars, one red and one green. Year? 1950-something?
family · gender policing · injury

Would you let this kid jump?: Gender, the play gap, and the protection paradox

This video came across my newsfeed recently. It’s a little girl  kid (I’m not sure if they’re a boy or a girl–see the reader’s comment below) attempting and failing a box jump. The ponytail made me think girl. Watch til the end!


What’s striking about it is that their dad doesn’t stop them. Instead, he encourages the child to keep trying? How about you? What would you have done? I confess I fretted a bit. “Don’t hurt yourself!” Does it make a difference to you if it’s a boy or a girl jumping?

And then I got thinking about it in terms of my work on the “play gap” between boys and girls and between men and women.

Canadian kids don’t move a lot. Very few get enough daily movement.

The grim facts are that Canada’s children just got a D- in physical fitness for the third year in a row. Just 9% of Canada’s children between the ages of 9 and 15 meet the recommended guideline of one hour of activity per day. Experts are blaming the dismal showing on the so-called “protection paradox.” Parents try to keep children safe by not allowing them to move freely between home and school, or engage in active, outdoor play, but as a result our children are leading increasingly sedentary lives. See here.

But of course it’s not just that kids don’t get enough movement. It’s also the case that girls move less than boys. More on that in another post. I promise!

If the protection paradox is indeed part of the story about kids’ increasingly sedentary lives, we might wonder if the protection offered is gendered.

Do we stop girls but not boys from risky physical behavior? I bet we do. I’m still thinking about this and welcome your thoughts and ideas.




eating · eating disorders · family

Eat me, drink me: Philosophical reflections on our attitudes about children and food*

*That’s the title of a talk I have a few years ago at the Vermont Food Ethics Workshop.

Recently I started thinking again about children and diets, in light of the whole “summer Weight Watchers for free” thing. I blogged first about what’s awful about that idea and then about what we might do if not Weight Watchers.

But I’m also interested, as a philosopher who writes about children, in our cultural ideas about children and food. I’m interested in our romantic ideas of children as “natural eaters,” on the one hand, and as out of control eaters, wantons, on the other. Think Cookie Monster! We project a lot of our ideas about childhood onto child aged eaters.

(Jenn Epp and I wrote a paper on similar themes about children and sexuality. Again children are cast as either out of control, sexually depraved creatures who need to be watched and patrolled or they’re perfectly innocent and naive and in need of our protection. )

In the context of food and dieting, our fear of childhood obesity makes us want to control childhood eating because of this idea children have no willpower and at the same time there’s this popular parenting idea that if we left children alone to graze, they’d make nutritious choices and never eat too much. Both ideas, I argued, in the talk I gave at Vermont are mistaken.

As usual the truth is somewhere in between. As is often the case popular views about children aren’t really about children. They’re about adult preoccupations and fears that we project onto children. We either idealize them or make them int our worst fears. Nowhere are contemporary parenting debates more fraught than in arguments about what and when to feed children. My kids mostly missed the great juice box wars but I don’t envy today’s parents.

Children aren’t that different from adults. It’s not that we corrupt them and that they start out as natural intuitive eaters. Children prefer sugar, fat, salt when given healthy and unhealthy choices to choose from, and will not choose healthy foods automatically. Given healthy food choices they are pretty good at moderating amounts.

Many people swear by Ellyn Satler’s moderate advice to parents which involves a division of responsibility between parents and children. Parents are responsible for choosing what foods to offer and children choose how much and whether to eat.

On her view, the parents are responsible for providing regular (healthy) meals and snacks, cooking and preparing the food for young children, serving it to children, and making the family eating experience pleasant. Children are responsible for deciding WHAT they want to eat on their plates, HOW MUCH they eat, and WHETHER THEY EAT at all.

My worst time as a parent worrying about food was when I had one child who was significantly underweight and another who was significantly overweight. I actually had a family doctor suggest that I prepare the kids different meals. You know, skim milk for one kid and whole milk for the other. He even suggested that I send the overweight child to bed early and offer the underweight child cookies and ice cream while watching videos. I looked at him asked, do you even have children?

Instead, I continued (mostly) preparing family meals and letting the kids choose what they ate. In their teens one pursued ballet and modern dance, the other rugby and football. You can guess which one did which. Today, in their early twenties they are both of normal weight though at the opposite end of the range.  But even if one did end up “too thin” and one “too fat,” I hope I’d have the peace of mind and commonsense to recognize that bodies come in lots of different shapes and sizes. They’re my children after all.

I want to tell my friends with young children to relax. Children aren’t perfectly pure creatures that you need to worry about spoiling but neither are they monsters who you have to control.

Are you a parent of young children? What’s your approach to feeding children? Do you worry about their food choices? 



Life stages and no more teenagers

Adorable husky for no reason, photo from Unsplash

My youngest turned 20 on Saturday.

I’ve been a bit weepy lately about kids and parents, life stages, and all that. Maybe it’s menopause, maybe it’s moving, maybe it’s my knee, maybe it’s all these things

If you have sons and you’re worried about their futures, and their relationship with one another, go read Brother by David Chariandry. Brother is a stunning novel, beautiful and heart breaking, but it might make you cry. I’m crying anyway so it’s okay.

Also, the audio book is wonderful.

Of course 20, like 50, is just a number but it means I’m no longer the parent of teenagers. That’s been a huge part of my identity.

I’ve loved parenting teenagers. It’s been the hardest and most rewarding part of parenting. During the best/worst of it I once posted to Facebook about thinking there ought to be parental leave for parents of teenagers. Turns out I’m not the first person to have this idea. See here.

It’s all of the ‘meaning of life’ stuff and the navigating first serious adult relationships that was challenging. Add to that first jobs, learning to drive, and school getting serious. Oh, and sprinkle it all with experiments involving drugs and alcohol. So not easy.

Mostly I think of parenting as a gender neutral thing but sometimes I’ve felt like the ‘mother of teenagers’ like the ‘mother of dragons.’ Teenagers are a lot like dragons.

I terrified friends with babies and toddlers by offering to swap for some weekends. I looked fondly back on the years when their needs were simple and obvious: food, books, hugs, sleep, etc.

But I also loved having a full house of their friends… the ballet dancers, the football players, the various choirs. We could never decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing that the hot tub served as a teenager magnet. Mostly though I liked having them at home.

I know I’m not going straight into the empty nest years. One of the twenty somethings still lives at home and another is just away at university. And we’re planning active summer holidays together. Weekends with canoes, bikes, and hiking/camping.

But life with teenagers is over and I’m sad about that.