On Kids and Fitness and What Fitness Is

photo-5It took me a second to notice that I didn’t just set my drink down on a coffee table. It was my daughter’s head. She had petrified into furniture. Across the room, inside my son’s gaping mouth was a spider’s web and — yes — drool, too, to a puddle on the floor, which the industrious spider had grown accustomed to using for a place to swim and bathe. A tumbleweed blew through the living room. The tumbleweed commanded my attention, because it was an indication of activity. Activity. Liveliness. Something that occurs, a happening.

Okay, enough. My kids are lazy. There. I said it. I know it’s a 21st c. parenting sin to apply an adjective to your kids that has negative connotations, lest it contribute to the unruly specter of low self-esteem (cold wind, chilled bones, a phantom shrieks), but, hey, we can’t fix a problem before it’s identified. So here we go. My daughter is a piece of furniture. My son’s mouth is a spider’s den.

But why blame the kids when we, the parents, are almost always enthusiastic volunteers who accept all the guilt and responsibility for any form of maladjustment in our children? I admit it. I’ve been a really hands-off parent. I mean, Let it Be is the jam — whisper words of wisdom and so on, bridges instead of motor boats, shrug, I don’t care, go with the flow. You don’t have to yell at flowers to boss them into blooming, you know? So I guess I thought that, the more space I gave my kids, the more room they’d have to spontaneously emerge into individual luminescent beings — the beacons of light they were destined to become, shine, glow, sparkle, etc.

But they emerged into inactive layabouts.

And here’s where I begin to question my values on activity and fitness and my right to thrust them on my children. First of all, the dichotomy between physical people and mental people is a false one. There’s some really cool mystical insights that apprehend the body and mind as the same thing, but there’s no space here to undo 2000 years of ontological entrapment in a false distinction. However, I think we could maybe possibly (maybe not) agree that a steadfast commitment to the health of both the body and the mind (the same thing) would yield a greater sense of wholeness in an individual. Or, if you don’t like abstract notions like ‘wholeness,’ perhaps you might concede that there’s a middle ground, a happy medium between the meathead at the gym and the physically challenged intellectual.

Now both my kids are smart as whips and that’s not just proud parent hoo-ha; if they were dumb, I’d tell you. And then some of you would be appalled because I used the word ‘dumb,’ but I would just invite you to insert your own word for ‘dumb.’ Anyway, they’re not dumb or any synonyms of dumb. But they don’t move. Do you understand? They don’t move or find pleasure in movement or the simple pleasure inherent in being a body. So what concerns me is that they might be heading down a path toward merely being minds, thoughts, abstractions, completely detached from the physical experience of being bodies in a world.

And, to reveal a perhaps improper fear, honestly? I don’t want my kids to do absolutely nothing until they’re obese. Now wait. Stop right there. If you — you there — are currently obese, I’m not attacking you. Settle down. I don’t even know you, the causes or conditions that led to and perpetuate your obesity, or if you either accept or are proud of your obesity. Whisper words of wisdom. All I’m doing, right here, is worrying about the health of my children, the possibility of them becoming obese, and, ultimately, how much of a right I have to shroud them in my values, and make them exercise.

But then it occurred to me, after my daughter became a coffee table, and I set my drink on her that if I’m genuinely concerned about my kids’ health, then — yeah — I have every right to abandon my Let it Be parenting style and make them exercise. Why? Simply because kids don’t know what’s best for them and that’s WHY they have parents. For instance, when my son used to break into a sprint (back when he exercised) toward the road, did I just kick back and let him be who he needed to be? Absolutely not. I chased him down, tackled him, and screamed DON’T YOU EVER! THE ROAD YOU COULD! I THOUGHT! DON’T YOU! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME, YOUNG MAN!

So now, when it comes to their bodies and what they do with them, there’s no reason for me to leave it entirely up to them. Darn it, we’re going running! In fact, we’ve already conquered the mile and, soon, we’re going to squeak out 20 minutes. No one died or complained too much, but no one loved it either. I’m doing my best to seek out the delicate balance between making them run and pushing them too hard into hating to run. And, maybe, with some luck, after a few outings, after some fitness develops, maybe the illusory distinction of their minds apart from their bodies will dissolve into pure expressions of joyous thinking muscles that ache and sing in a world that, itself not apart, embraces them as happy little running mystics. Sounds better than coffee tables and spider dens.

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