Standing in the narrow alley beside my house, I look down at my son, phone timer in hand. “OK buddy, ready, set, go!” He scoots off down the lane toward the sidewalk, careens around the raised concrete planter, pushes back up the hill, squeezing past the steps, back down the alley and reaches for the gate to our backyard. “I won! How fast did I go this time, Daddy?” Desperately wanting both of us to be in bed, I whimper, “Really fast! Let’s see how fast we can get upstairs for a bath!”
After a winter of school viruses, stockpiles of tissues and an abundance of medicine, I was depleted. The couch and I had formed a comfortable bond. I ride transit to work and take the elevator far more often than the stairs. I sit in front of a computer all day. My yoga mat gathers dust, I sleep in too long, and having missed a few weekly hockey skates, I was falling apart and achy. I looked outside at my rusting bike and thought those tires could use some air and the tire around my waist could use a tune-up.
If we’re not taking care of ourselves, how can we possibly take care of our children? Kids learn more from our actions than our words. They need to know health is a top priority; they need to see us striving for a life-work balance. Driving them to their activities, watching from the stands then driving them home doesn’t work. They need to see us in action, and we need to make time for it. I felt a desperate need to get back into shape so I could play trains and not watch another episode of Paw Patrol. I needed to make a change and turn my potato self into a dad version of Ryder.
What I thought would be a long, uphill battle was actually just baby steps toward the toy box.
Trying to find a way to kick-start my health, I started listening to podcasts, reading articles and following healthy Instagrammers. To ease into it, I thought I’d start with meditation—I’ll think myself into health. All these health resources told me to meditate before anyone else is awake. Who is the last one awake in my house? Me. And when I set my alarm, my pillow rang louder.
So I borrowed my sister-in-law’s alarm clock that mimics the sunrise and went to bed earlier. I still slept in. After about a week of failing, it was sheer willpower that got me up. Day one: I put my shirt on inside out, my headphones were tangled and I hurt myself with my zipper. But I got up, and one week in, things got easier. I started setting my alarm earlier so I could do some yoga post meditation. After reading a blog post about challenging yourself to something for 30 days, I made it a mission to follow this morning routine for a month. I’m proud to say I actually did it, and it was the push I needed for a positive health and fitness routine.
The ripple effect was real, too. Because I had established my own routine, it became much easier to get my son moving. We created a chart for all the things he had to do in the morning, and because I was already showered and dressed, getting him to do the same became a breeze.
When the meditation and yoga started to feel easy, I added in a run. I downloaded the Couch to 5K app, which slowly introduced me to running, three days a week for 30 minutes. Though I’ve never been a runner, it actually worked. It was like having a personal coach in my pocket, and before I knew it, I could sustain a distance run for the first time in my life.
We all have the same amount of time, we all need to sleep, we all work, and while it feels like you have no time, when you really look, there are lots of pockets. I’ve started to run during nap times, birthday parties (when the parents encourage a drop-off), swim lessons and gymnastics classes—all these blips of time are available to me, just for myself. After two weeks, I was planning for it, ensuring I was ready for my own activity. Where before I just scrolled through Instagram, liking pictures of parents taking pictures of their kids in activities, I grab these moments for myself. I’m now happier and more engaged with my kids.
Looking back, it’s about the little steps to make a big change. Had I looked at the big picture and taken on all these new activities at once, I believe I’d have failed. By adopting tiny changes, creating mini habits, it easily added up to success. My son wants to learn to ride a bike, and instead of complaining that he can’t do it, he practises a little bit every day to get it right. I’m even thinking I’ll invite him into my morning routine. I want my kids to know I’m there for them, encouraging them to take care of themselves, just like Daddy.