Getting Active

imageI’ve never been a sporty person. I did quite a bit as a kid but only because it was fun. As I got older and busier, exercise and I fell out of company.

I have to admit now, I’ve done next to no exercise since having kids. And not a great deal before that. So, that is well over eight years of doing very little. Although running around after three kids does tend to mean I don’t do a lot of sitting around.

After all that time, I have finally started moving a bit more. Mostly jumping about the living room and a bit of swimming. I am horribly unfit but I’ve already noticed a bit of a difference in fitness in just a few weeks, which is really pleasing. As in, I no longer feel like I’m going to die five minutes in.

The thing about making time for exercise is that you know it makes you feel better (although not always at the time) but getting into the habit of it when all your energy has been sapped by kids is the hardest thing. Having been in a state of permanent exhaustion for years, with broken nights and horribly early mornings, I simply had nothing left to give. Plus, the idea of dragging myself out to a class in the evening, when all I wanted to do was collapse and savour my couple of child-free hours? Well, I simply couldn’t contemplate it.

Before you say anything and tell me how you were out at buggy fit with your three-month old and back to pre-baby weight by six months in, yes, I know it can be done. I am well aware there are Mums out there who put me entirely to shame. I’ve always been cowed by all the bouncy Mums on the school run, in their skin-tight leggings and shiny trainers. I have felt intimidated by their smug fitness for years. Admittedly, most of the exercise-ready Mums don’t have preschoolers kicking off under their arm as they try to extricate themselves from the school playground. Even so, I have always quietly hoped that some of them put on their Lycra just to look impressive, before going home to eat biscuits and watch This Morning. But I doubt it.

I did try to join their ranks a few times over the last couple of years (although without the Lycra). I could only imagine getting fit by going along to a class, with a teacher to help motivate me through my sleep deprived exhaustion. But finding a class at the right time, on the rare occasions that I did have a couple of hours off, was near impossible. And the cost of a class plus childcare for a couple of kids was astronomical. So I gave up.

imageI do have to admit that I gave up pretty easily. I know that if I had been serious about it I could have made it work with an evening or weekend class or two. But I was simply defeated by it before I even began, utterly embarrassed by my own pathetically poor level of fitness, by my ‘mummy tummy’ (a term I hate), wobbly bits and awkwardness. My body image perception was at rock bottom and the thought of tackling what seemed like an impossible task was simply too much for me.

But a few things have changed since then:

A) I am getting sleep. I cannot overstate the importance of this in my ability to do stuff. I feel about 10 years younger than I did this time last year. It is epically awesome and the key factor in making my sudden exercise plan work.

B) The kids are older. Old enough to tolerate being told that Mummy is going to leap about and Zumba her way around the living room for 45 minutes and that they can either join in or get on with something else. (Sadly, the something else is usually squabbling or moaning, but hey, at least I can keep bouncing through that, with the odd yell at them thrown in).

C) I’ve finally worked out that I don’t need to feel jealous of my husband legging it out for a run at the worst point on Sunday afternoon, when the kids are at each other’s throats and my head is close to exploding. I can do the same and go for a swim. An hour of kid-free time by stealth, and he can’t possibly complain, because I am bettering myself, right?

D) I am older. As I creep closer to 40, I suddenly seem to care a bit less about what people think of me and I’m also cutting myself a bit more slack. So what if I have the dreaded ‘mummy tummy’? I’ve had three kids. That’s what happens. So what if I am unfit and not remotely ‘beach body ready’? I am finally doing something to make some small, realistic changes. That should be enough for now. It is certainly a lot better than doing nothing.

So, because of the above and also because some switch seems to have been flicked in my brain, exercise suddenly seems not only possible but also desirable and fun. Yes, fun. Get me! Exercise-phobic for years and now I am actually enjoying it and thinking about when I can fit in my next session.

Yesterday was the first time that I noticed that I was a little less out of breath after my swim. I needed shorter pauses between lengths. And it was the first time after exercise that I didn’t have a thumping headache. Today, I played football in the park with my eldest boy and felt full of energy, rather than giving up after five minutes, feeling breathless and useless.

My long neglected body is an old crock that has been abandoned for years and it has a lot of ground to make up. These are baby steps but, my God, it feels good to know I’ve made any kind of steps at all. I’m not after massive weight loss or extreme fitness. I won’t be training for a marathon any time soon. I just want to feel better. And I already do, even if most of it is psychological.

It was quite a revelation to work out that you don’t need any gear or a class to start making those baby steps in the right direction. I don’t even own a pair of trainers yet. I just bounce about with bare feet to crappy Zumba videos on YouTube. The adverts are actually a welcome breaks; a breather for a bit of wheezing and a swig of water.

So, who knows how long it will last, but something has shifted a bit. Yes, I have even less time now, with another thing to fit into my day (one of the many reasons I’ve been a bit quieter on the blog recently) but it is entirely worth it. I honestly couldn’t imagine ever enjoying exercise again just a few months ago.

Things have come together for me on this, thanks in no small part to a few fellow Mums who I have chatted to and who made me see things in a different light. Thanks to them – and to a few subtle and not so subtle changes in my life and in my head – I think I can see ahead to being a little bit fitter, a little more energetic and, hopefully, a little bit healthier.

Thank you ladies. You know who you are.

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The Measure of Success

imageToday we did something I’ve been wanting to be able do for years: we went to the cinema as a family. All five of us. It was T’s first time and I had no idea how well he would cope with the dark and the whole sitting still for a couple of hours thing. He rarely sits to watch more than a couple of Chuggington episodes at home. However, I do know how much he loves popcorn, so I was quietly optimistic.

T turns three at the end of the month, something I’ve been looking ahead to pretty much since the day he was born. It is a landmark age that I stuck a pin in and said to myself – and to my long-suffering husband, who I had to talk into having a third kid at all – that by this time, things would be very much easier. We would be able to do things like go bowling and on trips to the cinema. Dinner out would be a breeze and we could even leave the house without a buggy and a changing bag (still working on that last one). Oh, just think of the freedom and joy of it all!

“Just wait till he turns three! Think how easy our lives will be!” is something I often sang, somewhat manically, in a frantic attempt to convince the fella, and myself, that all would be fine and dandy just around the corner. This mantra was to be heard regularly during our darker times. I spouted it almost daily when we hit our lowest ebb, with three kids aged five and under and next to no sleep. I feel slightly wobbly thinking about that time actually. So, let’s move on.

Well, the corner has arrived and here we are, about to go around it. And is everything so much easier and carefree? Sort of, yes. I think I can safely say it is the easiest it has been since number three joined the gang. But still harder than two, without a doubt. There is definitely something in the old adage, usually said by annoying smart-arses, that we were supposed to only have two kids because we only have two hands to hold onto them with. With three, one is always a loose canon. I like to think this is character building for them, to build their independence. It can also be plain terrifying as a parent in a busy car park. But I digress.

I decided that we really ought to put this whole turning the corner thing to the test. So, I declared that we should go to the cinema, as a family, just to prove to ourselves that we now can. This suggestion was met with a raised eyebrow and a deep breath from my husband, but swiftly followed by wary agreement, so I think he did pretty well at hiding the fear.

imageWe picked one of those Sunday morning cheap tickets things which got all five of us in for under a tenner. Best not to spend much when we had no idea whether T would sit through it or not. We watched Zootropolis. If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend it, for both kids and adults. It is great story and very funny. The references to Breaking Bad made me snort with laughter. And I found myself lusting after an animated fox. Is that wrong? Well, it isn’t the first time. I had the hots for Disney’s Robin Hood as a kid. But moving on….

We got there and collected tickets, popcorn and booster seats for the little two. You know what I said about having one loose canon kid when you have three of them? Well, at the cinema, when you have to carry a changing bag, booster seats and three bags of popcorn between two of you, all kids become loose canons. They were marauding about at high speed in their excitement, running under people’s legs and disappearing behind the popcorn counter. As if we weren’t making enough to of a spectacle of ourselves at this point, a little yelling from me in a vain attempt to bring them to heel pretty much guaranteed that I grabbed the attention of the entire foyer.

Then we had the escalator to negotiate. This is where their small town upbringing shows. An escalator is big news for country kids. The older two seemed to need to psych themselves up before attempting it, in the style of competitors in Gladiators running up the travelator. They both gripped the handrail for dear life but managed it without assistant. But the bub was entirely thrown by it. I managed to wedge one of the booster seats under my chin so that I could hold his hand while he lept on like a frightened gazelle. He then stuffed his little frowning face into my leg for the duration, only emerging again when prompted to leap off the other end.

We made it into Screen 14, found our seats and H promptly threw half a bag of popcorn all over himself and the floor. Standard. The contents of the remaining two bags were divvied up and we all settled down to watch. T loved the ads and trailers but had a bit of a wobble when the surround sound boom went off and the lights went dark. He rallied quickly though and stuffed his little face with popcorn throughout the film. He laughed at the funny bits and jumped at the (mildly) scary bits without losing his shit. He did develop ants in his pants for the last half hour and ended up squirming about on my lap but, as a first effort for a not-quite-three-year-old, it was pretty impressive.

We bundled out, the older two high on sugar and buzzing, chattering away about the film. T was pretty happy too but mostly talked about not wanting to use the wobbly stairs (escalator) again on the way out. We took the regular stairs down, which he approved of.

imageBack in the car, everyone was sharing their best bits of the film but T was unusually quiet. “Did you have fun at the cinema T?” we asked. He furrowed his little brow, thought about it and said a firm “No”. When quizzed, he insisted he didn’t like the film. He didn’t like the big television. He didn’t like the animals on screen. He did, however, concede to liking the popcorn.

So, just as I was thinking what a success the morning had been, T quite firmly disagreed with me. Despite looking perfectly happy throughout, he insists he didn’t enjoy it at all. Perhaps my measure of success is slightly out of whack with his. Or perhaps he just knows we want him to say he enjoyed it, so is being a bloody-minded little git. I suspect the latter.

Regardless of how well T thinks it went, we did it. And four out of five of us at least had a good time. That said, I don’t think I’ll be attempting it without another adult yet. That might be a bridge too far just now. And bowling may be more of a four-year-old thing, after all.

Bring on the little changes though, I say. Our world is changing, one tiny step at a time, as we leave the baby days behind. And I for one am more than ready for that.

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