This afternoon on my run in the park, I ended up trailing a mom jogging with her daughter. The fit, toned woman was decked out in cute activewear, and the little girl - who was probably about 7 or 8 – was dressed up just like her mom. They stopped every couple of feet to do some stretching and laughing and dancing around, and they both looked like they were having the time of their lives.
I couldn’t help but feel a pang of resentment. Although I no longer blame my parents for the poor choices I consciously made as an adult that led to my morbid obesity, I can’t look at a family kicking a soccer ball around in the park or going for a bike ride through town without wondering why nobody ever tried to do that with me.
I realize that my food issues run deep – as do my parents’ issues, and their parents’ issues – but I can’t help but wonder what my life might have been like if mom or dad had encouraged me to step away from the television and go for a walk or play catch once in awhile. Maybe if I had begun to develop an appreciation of physical activity when I was younger, I just might have been able to keep my head out of the refrigerator and my weight under control.
I participated in several dance classes and recreational sports throughout elementary school, but I ultimately gave up on all of them when the teasing that was going on in the classroom began rearing its ugly head at the dance studio and on the basketball court. I didn’t want to give these kids any additional opportunities to humiliate me about my weight, so I convinced myself that I wasn’t “good” enough to play on their team anyway.
In gym class, I spent all of my energy trying to hide from the gym teacher’s line of vision. I was always picked last, and knew I’d be ridiculed for botching a volleyball serve or missing a foul shot, so I essentially just kept benching myself. I earned straight-As in all of my academic courses throughout high school…but ended up with a C in gym class my junior year. Pretty pathetic.
When I was younger, I remember hosting impromptu dance recitals on the front lawn and playing countless rounds of kickball and wiffleball with the neighborhood kids, but once we started to grow out of such activities, I decided that I wasn’t “meant” to play sports or dance or be active – so I didn’t bother any more.
As a middle schooler, I adhered to the following sedentary schedule: I went to school, came home, had a snack, took a nap, did my homework, gabbed on the phone, ate dinner, and went to bed.
As you may have guessed, my parents also have weight issues, and neither has ever participated in sports – in fact, my father is the only man I know who has absolutely no interest in watching sports on television (other than the “Indy 500″). I suppose it never crossed their mind to encourage their child to be physically active. It’s almost like they didn’t know any better. They saw me getting bigger and bigger, but by the time they realized I had a problem, it was too late.
I’m going to be a different kind of parent. I vow to be like the mom I saw in the park today. Not only am I going to do everything in my power to prepare healthy meals and teach my kids the delicate balance between junk food and nutritional fare, but I’m going to make an effort to engage them in all the physical activities that I never had a chance to experience.
These days, nothing makes me feel more energized, more empowered, and truly happy than a long, sweaty run or a brisk bike ride…and I have every intention of sharing that joy with my future family.
It’s too late for me to grab a mitt and try out for the middle school girl’s softball team, but if my daughter ever wants to play, then I’m going to be the one out there with her running laps and practicing her pitching. I’d be proud to become the proverbial “soccer mom” if it means that my kids are choosing to be outside playing sports instead of inside with the latest video game system.
I know it’s easier said than done, but I’m going to go out of my way to make exercise something that my family does together. I never, ever want my children to go through what I did, and I think that if more parents took their kids jogging with them - or even on a simple walk around the block every so often - we wouldn’t be in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic.
The cycle of obesity in my family is going to end with me.