08 March 2012

International Women's Day, or how to I raise my girls to be strong women?

There's something I've been thinking about a lot of late. Every Saturday morning, in fact, as I watch my eldest play basketball in her school's intramural program. International Women's Day seems as good a day as any to muse aloud about it.

I was an extremely sedentary child. I did not enjoy P.E. because I was not good at most of it. I rarely play team sports, and when I did I tended to favor positions that were more about standing my ground than about running after something or someone. I was quite good at digging in as defense, actually. I can remember shocking opponents, usually boys, in soccer when I would take a soccer ball to the chest or head, without flinching, and deflect it off to a teammate. They tended to assume simply kicking it at me, hard, would cause me to duck. Not so much.

I was lucky in my metabolism, and my general body build, and therefore stayed slim despite my essential lack of activity. It also helped that I ate well, thanks to my mom — we ate food, not too much, and a good amount of it was plants. I walked to school throughout elementary school, would occasionally walk some longer distance or ride my bike some, or play in the park across the road from my house. I was far more often curled up with a book, inside or outside. It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s that my low activity level started to have the normal impact on my weight.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I ponder how to best help my girls to be healthy in both mind and body. Actually, I think we're doing a pretty good job with raising them to be strong-minded (funny how some folks see that as an insult when applied to women...), to be confident in themselves and in their ability to think well and make good decisions. I especially worry about my eldest. You see, she's just like me in her lack of interest in being physically active but with a different body build. She's always been my little Amazon, taller than average and solidly built. She's just no more interested in running and being active than I was — tho she is just as good at being stubborn.

We eat pretty well these days, much better than a decade or so ago. When you have four kids, three of whom are too old to eat off mom or dad's plate, eating out gets to be a real luxury. That's not a bad thing, as it's way easier to eat healthy when eating at home. The kids tend to resist the plant foods, some more than others. The eldest resists the most, but then she also experienced the most eating out as a young child, and therefore was the least acclimated to fruits and veggies before she knew any different. We're learning not to nag about what she eats, restricting ourselves to correcting table manners only, and she's showing signs of learning to eat a more balanced diet.

So, how do I help her learn to be active? How do I help her want to be more active? Want it in a way that it causes her go out and get it? I don't know where to start even, I never knew where to start for myself either. I'm willing to work with her — it would be good for me, I know. I just don't even know where or how to begin…

I didn't discover a physical activity I liked until my mid-30s, when I decided to try to ease my way into being more active via a yoga class. It really was love-at-first-sight. I feel indescribably better when I am regularly attending my weekly yoga class. I dream of having enough time to do yoga daily, or at least three or four times a week. After yoga, I found Pilates. Another form of exercise that I instantly enjoyed, despite how hard it was for me at first, how truly and awfully bad I was at it. I loved feeling my body become stronger, better able to support me in all the rest of my life. I really got why being physically fit is better for the first time in my life, not as a theoretical idea that I agreed with but as something I felt. I was just starting to think about finding a cardio exercise I would enjoy when I got pregnant with Jack and all that went out the window. (Side note: each time I've started to get into a good routine with exercise, I've found myself pregnant. Odd coincidence, that...)

I really feel like in the same way that not everyone can sing, or play the drums well, or play this instrument or that one, but most people are good at some kind of musicality, individuals are going to find some types of physical exercise more appealing than others. So far I've been trying to help Mairi try different sports, different activities, and thereby give her the chance to find what she likes. It's not soccer. It's not ballet. Swimming is something she quite likes; I failed to get the girls into the first swim session for this semester, but plan to do better with the next sign up. Basketball she likes, except ... Well, she hasn't developed a whole lot of stamina, so she has trouble running and keeping up with the other girls, and that makes the whole thing a lot less attractive to her. It's this vicious cycle, where she's not able to run long so nothing is appealing so she doesn't get much exercise so she can't run long ... Anyone with any ideas how to help a child break that cycle, I'd love to hear 'em!

In the end, I know it will be her decision to make as far as how active she will be. We're raising all our kids with that firmly in mind — in the end it will be up to each of them to decide how they want live their lives. I'm just tring to stack the deck in favor of them making good decisions. :)

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