Blogging about Beats, tween fiction, parenting tweens, rebels, rule breakers, historical 1950s fiction and an 11-year-old who wants to meet Jack Kerouac.
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Saturday, March 12, 2016
What I Wish For Your Daughter: Girls and Physical Activity
It would be an understatement to say athletics was not
important in my family, especially for girls. Beyond watching football games on
TV, there was not much going on physically.
My father had been a runner in high school and
junior high, bequeathing his medals first to me and then his grandson (and yes,
we still have them). I liked running too as a child, but some kind of
exercise-related asthma meant I could never go the distance as I would have
wanted to do.
My mother moved not at all, unless it was to
participate in everyday activities that wouldn’t get your heart pumping, let
alone racing. So when it came to games like softball at camp, I was always the
last one picked for the team.
Looking back now, I agree I was not what you’d want
behind a baseball bat. I absolutely stunk at softball. But I loved games like
soccer (which I discovered in junior high) because I had really strong legs.
And what twelve-year-old in her right mind wouldn’t welcome the chance to kick
something really hard?
What I wish I could have told my parents was that
physical activity isn’t just important for both genders—it’s essential. Working in a care community for older
adults I see all sorts of problems people are having physically. I can’t help
but wonder if some of them could have been mitigated if we'd all known more about exercise.
It wasn’t until I became a mom that I started
integrating exercise into my life in a real way. Before that, I was not doing
much beyond walking—though I luckily lived in New York for a while and pretty
much walked everywhere.
But when our family moved to Minnesota and my son
was born, I started taking him on walks along the river and when he got a
little older, put him a trailer and pulled him on my bike. I found the time I
spent doing this cleared my head in ways nothing else could.
When his dad and I divorced, I found a part-time
job at a non-profit called Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health, named for
woman to run an Olympic marathon. It was founded by a woman named Judy
Mahle Lutter, who started running when her kids were small, just to get out of
the house when her husband came home from his
I don’t want to say working at Melpomene changed my
life, but it changed my life. The eight-person office was run entirely by women
and everyone was active to some degree—regardless of weight, interests or
ability. Some were all-out athletes and others book-loving armchair dwellers, but
everyone found some kind of physical activity they enjoyed and was doing it.
About a year or so after I started working at Melpomene,
I remarried, moved again, and joined a gym. I had always thought of gyms as places where Rocky Balboa worked out
and guys oiled their muscles incessantly. The gym I found was an all-woman
fitness facility that offered personal training and was full of women just like
What I found there, for the first time in my life,
was what it felt like to have a body. I know that sounds weird because everyone
has a body, but when you are raised never to think about it (beyond how you
might look in a bikini), being IN that body is a pretty
What I learned, ultimately, was I had muscles
that were alive and that could bring me from point A to point Z if I needed
them to; that my legs had an elasticity that could be exhilarating; that each
one of my arms could actually lift a 12 pound weight and get used to doing
that; and that I was alive from head to toe, not just head to neck.
It was like waking up after a long, long nap—if you
happen to be Rip Van Winkle.
These days, a full-time job and too many
commitments are keeping me from getting to the gym every other day. I do still
walk on weekends and use the weights I have at home; but winters are long and I
find myself desperately looking forward to spring because an exercycle in my
living room just doesn’t cut it.
And from time to time, I think about those
twelve-year-old gym days on a soccer field. I fantasize about joining or
creating a neighborhood soccer team where we play other teams every couple
weeks and practice weekly.
I don’t know if this will ever happen or how I
could even make it happen. But I’m thinking about it. I’m also thinking about
how it was to be twelve, on the cusp of a world of adolescent angst with no
real physical outlet.
Being the mother of a son, I saw him work through a
lot of frustrations through sports and I also saw how much joy it gave him. If
I ever had a daughter, I would want her to have the same thing.
I’m pleased to see that girls are encouraged to
participate in sports and physical activity as much as boys now. But if you
have a daughter who hangs back, or is the last person to be picked for her
team, what can you do?
If it were my daughter, I would talk to her. Ask
what she likes to do and if she doesn’t know, ask if she wants to find out.
Because physical activity doesn’t have to be softball or boxing or even soccer.
It can be dancing, and I don’t just mean ballet or jazz. It can be something
like middle-eastern dance too.
Physical activity can also involve swimming or
weight lifting or walking or even juggling. What you’re looking for, mainly, is
a way to be in your body instead of just “of” it. And (as you already know) that's not about how you look; it’s about how you feel, how you deal with
stress, and about living a healthy life with less illness and downtime.
Because we all deserve that, don’t we? Including
you. Including me.