Showing Them

I’ve started to work harder and more intentionally at showing my kids how to live in a healthy way. I want them to be healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically, but I have to show them how to do this if they’re going to learn. It’s not easy. I’m not always great at it.

I’ve been talking a lot about my attempts to be brave this year. I’m trying hard to step outside my comfort zone and my routine and do all the things I want my kids to do as they grow up. Some of the things I want to model come more naturally—being thoughtful and caring, eating (mostly) healthy food, listening to each other—these are things that I do, more or less, without thinking about them. And when I don’t, it’s pretty easy to get back on track.

Then there are other things that are a struggle for me—making sure to get regular exercise, using a calm voice rather than yelling when I’m frustrated, being intentional about making time for play—and those things take time and planning and work. I think what I’m learning about myself, as a 36 year old mother, is that while I’m willing to work at emotional things, when it comes to the physical… I’m a lazy ass.

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I guarantee that the people who know me well are dying laughing right now for a number of reasons. I’m sure they could have told me all of this. But somehow, it’s revolutionary to me.

I don’t enjoy exercise. I never have. Even as full-blown athlete in high school—a ballet dancer taking class 6 days a week without fail—even then, I didn’t love the part of exercise that’s work. I like the feeling afterward, and I like the feeling of moving my body, and I like feeling strong… but the rest. Eh.

Since I stopped dancing 16 years ago, I haven’t found another form of exercise that has kept me interested, convinced that the hard work was worth it. I used to walk a lot, and that worked because of necessity, but now I have to actively plan and work hard to find the time and motivation to exercise. And I don’t wanna.

But, I know that I need to show my kids that keeping my body healthy is important. It’s not about weight or appearance or what size my jeans are, it’s about living a healthy life. It’s about being strong. It’s about showing that I value myself and my health.

And so, with a crazy inexpensive coupon, I signed up for 3 months of unlimited hot yoga. I’ve gone twice this week. I am sore as hell. But I know I need this. It feels good to be aware of my body in a positive way again. And there’s something wonderful about my kids asking how yoga went. They can see that I’m interested in keeping my muscles strong. They can hear me saying that my physical and mental health are important.

Speaking of yogic peace… I’ve also been working hard to keep my voice calm when the Smartlings push me to the edge. This is a huge, huge challenge for me. While people used to call me serene, it’s been a while. I come from yellers. I am a yeller. When I’m stressed or pushed to the limit by children and life, I yell. I try not to, but now I’m trying even harder. It takes every last shred of patience I have some days, but it’s working.

That's exactly what I look like when I lose my shit. You, too? (Image Credit: the euskadi 11 via Flickr)

And it’s not that I’ve quit yelling entirely. I haven’t. I’m a human person. And it’s not that the Smartlings no longer push me to the limit. They do. They push me regularly. BUT… I’m working hard at being the grownup. At showing my kids that it is possible to remain calm in the face of chaos. Even if it’s hard. And when I forget and yell anyway, I apologize. I tell them I’m sorry for yelling. That I shouldn’t have yelled. That there are better ways to communicate. And then I hug them and sit with them and do the things I know I’m good at—listening and caring.

Along with this, I’ve realized that because I always have so much to do, I rarely make time for play anymore. When the kids were younger, I knew there wouldn’t be time to do dishes while they were awake, so I would sit on the floor with them and play. I would read book after book to them. I would engage more fully. Now that they’re older and can self-entertain, I don’t make time to play with them in the same way anymore. And between co-op duties and my freelance work and Smarty Mommies and drop-off and pick-up and the house and life (and no childcare)… well. Um.

I realized a few weeks ago that my kids were asking me to engage—to play with them and read to them and be with them—and I kept saying no. A couple times were valid, when I was working or cooking dinner or otherwise occupied with something that couldn’t be abandoned right that second. But the other times… there was no real reason for me to say no. It was just habit. Selfishness. So I’ve been working harder at saying yes. It seems so simple, but when we’re at home, it’s easy to get caught up in all the stuff I have to do. But some of it can wait. A lot of it can wait. I should always have time for a book or a game or an art project together. I can make time for that. Especially because I know that one day soon, they’ll stop asking.

Also, it's FUN to play. Try it. It feels good. (Image Credit: larryfishkorn via Flickr)

AND, it’s important to play for the sake of play. The few times recently that I’ve been happy and free enough to spontaneously play, my kids have been delighted. They remember. Once, while in the Midwest visiting family, I leapt about in the snow (a rarity here in Seattle), dancing and jumping and grinning like a loon. My kids still remember this. About a month ago, I started a race out of nowhere, and we ran down the sidewalk laughing. The kids were surprised and gleeful at these spontaneous bursts of joy. It’s these little moments that stick with us. These tiny snapshots of unbridled happiness that are important. So important. And they’re too rare.

I’m working on all of this because it’s good for me, but also because it’s good for them. As they grow up, I want them to see that I value these things. I want them to value these things. I want them to prioritize their health. I want them to make time for their kids, if they have them. I want them to learn to handle frustration without raising their voices. I want them to play.

A Smarty and good friend of Christina's and mine often says, “Making memories is hard work.” She’s right. Doing the things I need to do and making the kind of memories I want to make takes time and effort and work. I have to be intentional about this. And I will fail sometimes. But it’s going to be worth it. And I think, ultimately, we’re all going to be a lot happier for it.

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