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.

family

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? 

 

family

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.

charity · family

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

competition · family · Guest Post · race report · racing · running

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.