Friday Five: Tips For Active Family Living

If you’ve spent any time on this blog at all, you’ll have notice that our family life is an active one.  We run races (with a Chariot stroller) as a family.  We take ski vacations, as a family (yes, toddlers on skis).  Triathlons and duathlons are not just for adults.  Bike rides, cross-country skiing with both kids in tow.  One of my earliest posts (and one of my favourites) is about combining training time with family time - that might be one of the central themes of the Iron Rogue Blog in its entire 7 year history.  I say all this in the preface, so you’ll take me at my word when I say might know a thing or two about keeping whole family moving.

I was inspired to write this post after a crazy weekend in Collingwood full of skiing (downhill and cross-country),  and swimming too.  It took some time for me to crystalize the most important things I’ve learned into a list of 5 lessons, but here goes.

  1. Leave it to the last minute.

This one sounds counter-intuitive, as planning and organization are the keys to stress-free living, right?  And when it comes to races (and booking travel, etc.) earlier means cheaper.  Still, nothing is more expensive than paying for an event you can’t attend at all.  I once DNS’ed (did not start) the Bracebridge Triathlon because the Lightning Kid got sick.  This year, we wanted to go to Collingwood for a weekend, and I wanted to do the Tubbs Romp 2 Stomp snowshoe race, but with it being a brutal winter (that might make the drive difficult, or be too cold for outdoor fun), with a brutal cold/flu season to go with it, we knew it might not happen, so we waited till a couple of days before where it seemed like it was going to be OK to leave home, then we booked the hotel and I registered at the race site (online registration was already closed) and hoped for the best (see #4).
  1. Be Flexible (WYCWYC*)

Why are you out there?  Fresh air, fun, and exercise.  Those are the reasons, those are the goals, and the actual activity/sport you are trying to do are just the means to an end.  When we put the Lightning Kid on skis, we only hope he’ll try to move his feet a little, or if we’re at the hill, one single run (him riding between my legs) is a victory. (WYCWYC=What You Can, When You Can)

My wife and I used to volunteer with the Ontario Track 3 Ski program for children with special needs (everything from cognitive/developmental delays like autism to physical impairments like cerebral palsy), and the motto was always “first safety, then fun, then learning.”  While we ostensibly there to teach the kids to ski, sometimes you couldn't really get that far with them, and if rolling down a snowbank was what they wanted to do, then that’s what would take place that day.  You would be connecting with them, and they with physical activity in the outdoors, and sometimes that would lead to better chances at learning the actual sport later on.  It’s not really different for any children, especially when they’re very young.  You have to take what you can get today, and hope it pays off tomorrow, which brings me to point #3...
  1. Consider the Long Game

I've taken the Lightning Kid out in the Kayak, and traversed a total distance of about 200m.  It was still worth it, because he got exposed to boating, and I got a little, tiny bit of exercise.

When we went cross-country skiing last year, we had some outings where the time spent on skis was all of 30 minutes, and that’s with about 90 minutes of driving each way; I don’t even want to get into the time spent packing the car, unpacking at the trail-head, re-packing at the trail-head, and unpacking at home.  This year, though, we’re lasting longer (especially Shark Boy who’s gotten faster and stronger, completing some 2 km trails himself).

At very young ages, it’s hard to know how much they remember, but somehow the routine of getting out of the regular routine pays dividends and sticks into their character makeup later on.  

It goes for more than just the kids, it goes for you too.  It takes a second to lose your patience; how long does it take to find your patience.  Fairly long, I’ll bet.  Being patient has never been a strong suit of mine, and when I found out one of my children was going to have special needs, it became a real fear that my lack of patience would keep me from being a good father to him.  I honestly think I’m getting better at waiting for the kids to learn what I’m trying to teach (manners, reading, physical education).  You just have to believe that it will pay off; you have to...

  1. Use Your Optimism Muscle

This past weekend, I had to take care of both boys myself.  Well, like any red-blooded adult who is in control of their life, I ran to my mother for help.  We went to her place on Saturday afternoon and spent the night as well as all day Sunday there.  There are two ways I can relate the events of the weekend.


While the weekend doesn't typify one of our family outdoor adventures (we only got outside long enough to shovel her driveway), it's a good demonstration of how your attitude re-frames the experience.
  1. Sacrifice

There have been many times we've come back from an outing, tuckered out, and the day waning, and I've thought: “I guess I’m not going to clean the garage again”, or whatever random task I've equated with being a real adult who is in control of their life.  On balance, though, those tasks are unlikely to cause me any deathbed regrets.  Taking care of yourself, getting outside and spending time with your family are the things you’ll regret not doing.  And again, this is a two way street - your kids might not make it to that classmate’s birthday party that they were invited to, because they were out with you.  It might not have been their first choice to go out biking/skiing/spelunking with you, but as parents, we make healthier choices for their diets, activities (both mental and physical), and everything else; what are they going to remember more fondly on their deathbed (sorry to be morbid... let’s just say they live to be 999), fun times in the great outdoors, moving their young, healthy bodies with loved ones, or a bunch of cake and wrapping paper to spoil a classmate whose name they won’t remember anyway.

Between increases in youth obesity, and wanting to limit ‘screen time’, many families are looking to make fitness a family affair, as Victoria Freile writes.  As I discussed the topic of this post with my wife, she pointed out how much more we have to learn; smart cookie.  Forging an active family life is an on-going, iterative process.  Some, like Katie Arnold of Outside Magazine’s column Raising Rippers are at the more extreme end of the spectrum, while some families would probably be happy to take regular family walks.  When you start early with your children, they absorb it easily and fitness becomes part of their lifestyle; inactive adults need to learn this like a new skill.  While how well my pants fit has fluctuated, I’m lucky in that I never had to figure out how to get active.  I was raised in such a way that exercise was as natural a habit as washing.  It’s a gift I hope to pass on to my kids, and hopefully the generations that come after I’m long gone.

Hopefully, some of you reading this will be able to use it to make your family life more active, and then I’ll have passed on the gift even further.

How does your family get active together today?  Are you looking to do better?

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