I just stepped on the scale and discovered that I’ve lost five pounds this summer.
It wasn’t from the latest fad diet. I’ve been watching what I eat, but I’ve also indulged in my fair share of s’mores, hot dogs, and gelato. I also haven’t been sweating it out in $30 fitness classes or climbing ropes and swinging chains over my head in Crossfit — I haven’t even been to yoga since May. The way I lost weight is a bit more unexpected. It was from playing with my daughter.
It started around Mother’s Day when my daughter’s preschool class had all of the kids answer a set of sweet, funny questions about their moms. My little girl said that she thought I looked pretty when I wore makeup and that mommy was happy when the house was clean, but when I read the last question, my heart shattered.
“I like it most when my mommy _____.”
My daughter had completed the sentence with “plays with me.”
I knew I hadn’t been doing that enough. Every time she asked me to play with her, I made excuses: it was too hot; I was tired; I had work to do; something to cook, clean, or fix. Sure, I’d take her to the park or the pool, but I’d sit on the sidelines while she played and swam, because that was my break time when I thought I didn’t have to entertain her. What I finally understood though, was that she wasn’t looking for me to “entertain” her. My daughter wanted to connect with me.
This summer, I vowed I would give her that as much as she wanted. She’s a very physical child. Every emotion is expressed through her body. She talks with her hands, dances when she tastes something delicious, stomps her feet when she’s furious. Her experience of the world is shaped by movement, lots of it, and I admit that most of the time it’s hard for me to keep up, but I knew that if I were to truly give her the connection she craved, I’d have to get off my butt and start moving, too. It was time to put down the iPhone and learn how to play a rough game of tag for the first time since I was 10.
For the past two months, we’ve been taking a lot of long walks. We count the number of rabbits we see each night as we stroll through the neighborhood after dinner. During the days, we walk to the park and I leave the bench vacant. Now we’re flying down twisty slides together, swinging (even though it makes me so nauseous) and attempting to fling ourselves across the monkey bars. The other day, to my daughter’s delight, I managed to pull off a very impressive “skin the cat” without ending up in the hospital. The last time I did that I was in elementary school, and the week before, I even rode a plasma car (that was made for a 5-year-old but whatever) around the playground with her. I’m sure the other moms thought I’d lost my mind, but it was really cool.
At the pool I rediscovered the joys of a finely executed cannonball. I braved cold water and found myself practicing handstands in the shallow end, and I genuinely liked doing all of this. My daughter has taught me that being physical is fun. Somewhere along the timeline between childhood and adulthood, I’d forgotten that grownups can play, too.
All these years I’ve been telling everyone that I just wasn’t athletic, that I hated the gym (still do), and that I’d only run if someone was chasing me with an ax. But what I realized this summer is that none of that is actually true. I simply don’t like the intense, overly serious workouts — the kind that come with a barking trainer, aching muscles, and dehydration — that I’d come to associate with exercising. I can’t stick with any of that stuff (as in, I can’t even make it through a single spin class in one piece) because I’m not having a good time, but if I’m outside, laughing, playing chase with my little one, I can, apparently, run miles. And swim, and climb, and hike, and take meandering walks beneath fiery sunsets in search of bunnies.
The exercise has done wonders for me. I feel healthier and more energetic. I sleep better and I’m glad about the weight loss, but those things aren’t the most important benefits of my newfound activity level, by far. When I gave my daughter the best parts of me, and really took the time to connect and play with her in the way that she needed, I saw her blossom, too. She became more affectionate, confident, and secure than I’d ever seen her. I can’t even remember the last time she had a tantrum, and she seems better able to handle stressful situations without melting down. For that matter, so do I, and I’m thankful that this summer I abandoned my park bench and left my iPhone in my purse.
School starts in a few weeks, but I don’t plan to slow down. I’m already imagining our romps in the pumpkin patch and races through the corn maze.More On