Single Motherhood chips away at the edges of a lot of little things that, if you had another adult in the house, you might not ever think of. Frances spends a lot of time playing by herself while I cook, clean, do homework, or sometimes sit in a semi-catatonic state on the couch; it's making her more independent, I think, which is one of those mixed blessings that she'll have to talk over with a therapist one day. Recently, another activity has moved from the "only after she goes to bed" list to the "as long as we're in the same room" list: free weights workouts.
I can make a lot of justifications for this: she'll see me exercising, so it'll be positive role-modeling; she'll learn about exercise and that it's ok for women to be strong; I'll be right there and freeweights are not a continuous activity, so I can easily help her with things and talk to her; but the fact is simply that I have too many activities that wait for her to get into bed and gradually they are all migrating to the other list simply so that I can occasionally get to sleep before midnight.
She loves it.
Who saw that coming?
It's fascinating to her. Mummy comes downstairs in her exercising clothes and begins to do strange things with those weird pieces of metal sitting under the window in the dining room.
I am not one for barbie weights. My weights are not coated in brightly coloured plastic, and they are not counted in single digits. Unless you have been specifically directed by a doctor or medical professional to use a light weight for therapeutic reasons, barbie weights are practically useless. I do have 3-lb and 5-lb dumbells which actually were Erik's for after his shoulder dislocated, thus falling into the "specifically directed by a medical professional category." Actually, it's funny: when we were splitting up he'd forgotten that the little weights were his and the big weights were mine, and he'd gone and sold off the big weights before the move, and then had to buy them back. Anyway. I have two sets of light weights, 3-lbs and 5-lbs, that sit on the windowsill; the rest, which are 10-25 lbs +, sit on the floor beneath.
There I am, huffing my way through a set of lunges or squats or rows, with Frances staring at me. "It's good to exercise every day," she says. "That will make you strong."
"Umm, no, actually," I say (huffing). "You need to take a day off in the middle. This kind of exercising makes a lot of really tiny tears in your muscles. Lots and lots of little ones. And if you work out every day, the tears get bigger and bigger and then you get owwies."
"That's why you can't run every day," says Frances.
"No no," I say. "Running is ok. Running and walking and skipping and hopping and, oh, I don't know..."
"Jumping! And walking like this." She walks on her heels.
"Yes. That kind of exercising. You can do that almost every day, it doesn't make little tears in your muscles. It's just when you use weights, like these."
Frances nods. "When you use weights, it makes tears in your muscles."
"And if you do it every day you will get owwies."
"Are your muscles bigger yet?"
"Umm...you mean since I started a few minutes ago? No, sweetie, it doesn't work like that."
"Well, see," I say, floundering and trying not to show it. Whoever thought I'd be having this conversation with my kindergartener? "For one thing, it's on the days off that your muscles get bigger. The days off are when all the little rips get fixed, and when they get fixed they get even stronger than they were. Does that make sense? It's kind of complicated."
"It's not complicated to me."
"Oh, ok then. So, my muscles will get stronger tomorrow, not today. But even then, it would be hard to see. It takes a long time, a few months, to actually get stronger enough to see."
"I'm not sure, sweetie. It just does."
"Oh." Frances walks over to the windowsill and picks up a 3-lb weight. I should have seen that coming, shouldn't I? It was inevitable. I stop my overhead presses and show her how to hold them properly and teach her how to do a dumbell curl. And there she is, my 34" 25-lb bunny, doing dumbell curls with a 3-lb handweight. This is how I found myself setting out a list of rules for Frances's use of free weights:
1. Only when Mummy is in the room.
2. Never above your shoulders. I don't want you dropping one of these on your head.
3. Slowly and carefully and always in running shoes, not sock feet, because I don't want you slipping.
4. Do it the way I show you so that you don't hurt yourself.
"I am making lots of tiny rips in my muscles!" said Frances. "That will make me stronger!"
While this was unexpected, I'm actually happy about it. My mother has been working out since she was twelve, and since her retirement last year has become certified as a personal trainer (she taught aerobics when I was little, so this isn't new) to help her income while she gets her landscaping business started. But while I benefited from her example, and her library of fitness books and magazines and workout tapes and equipment and weights, I didn't really benefit from her knowledge because it was always something she did by herself in the basement. Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticizing her for this. As it was, I picked up a good habit (it goes underground sometimes, but it doesn't stay there) that's based on scientific information.
Still, I have to think that if Frances sees this as an important priority, as something that her Mummy makes time to do even when she is swamped with other things, that it will help her make it a habit too; and that if she can learn from me too, how to do it properly and safely, that can only be a good thing.
(Sort-of aside: In addition to making you physically stronger, weight-bearing activity has been shown to reduce the instance of osteoporosis and aid in genetic rejuvenation, meaning that you are genetically younger when your muscles are strong. Also, physical activity including weights keeps your brain healthier, increasing blood penetration in your brain and scores on memory and cognition tests, and reduces the risk of alzheimer's, stroke and age-related dementia by at least 50%. Plus its protective effects for mental illnesses such as depression, reduction in risks for cancer and circulatory diseases. Screw weight loss. That is the least of the benefits of regular exercise.)
It's good for girls to be strong.
So long as she doesn't drop it on her head. Frances had better follow those rules.