My husband and I have just returned from 5 days of helping take up some of the slack for our daughter-in-law, whose husband – our son – has been away for three weeks counting birds in the Arctic. Whenever we visit and help with activities like mealtimes and day care drop-off and pick-up, we are impressed anew with the commitment throughout their neighbourhood to an active lifestyle.
Their neighbourhood is a fairly self-contained village within a large metropolitan area, complete with convenient and well-utilized public transit, extensive bike and jogging trails, mixed density housing, and an attractive and comprehensive main street that offers every kind of shop, restaurant, and community service. There’s even a beach. Most places of employment are within 15-30 minutes by bike, bus or car.
What fun to observe the morning activity when taking the kids to day care. There is a nice mix of demographics: young families getting kids off to school and day care as they head off to work themselves, young single people and older people, all making their way to their appointed rounds. And the number who are walking, cycling, or heading to the bus stop is striking. Daddies and Mommies cycle with one kid in a tot trailer and another alongside on her own small two-wheeler. The occasional parent even jogs with a kid in a jogging stroller, then heads for the bus and a shower at work. Everyone is wearing a backpack, sometimes over a suit jacket. When we get to the day care, which is attached to an elementary school, the fence near the school door is decorated with small bikes and tot trailers locked to it, waiting for the parent to return from work on his or her bike or on foot and for the family to make their way home.
At first blush, this scene conveys a sense of a carefree pace of life, where deadlines are not the underlying driver that we all feel. But that’s only at first blush. These people all have times by which they need to be at work. They all have gone through the typical “give and take” involved in getting small children ready to leave the house in the morning. Not stress-free, not at all. Someone doesn’t want to wear what has been selected. Someone else is suspicious that his breakfast offering may not be what it seems. Maybe the fruit in his cereal isn’t cut right, or some other tragedy. Someone else just remembered that she needs to take something to school that nobody has seen. I needn’t remind you of the drama that can ensue from such seemingly trivial concerns, but they happen each morning – in every household. How tempting it must be just to jam everyone in the car, drop off the kids, and keep going, especially if it is raining or cold. But this neighbourhood is filled with believers. We’re impressed.
As for breakfast, we have all been told – often – that the best way to ensure a good day is to start with a good breakfast. An additional dictum that has crept into the nutrition lore of late is the importance of fibre. I’m not sure if the concern about fibre is mostly for older people (speaking as one) or whether it includes children, but I know I can take comfort in my granddaughter’s approach to breakfast. One of her favourites is a large bowl filled with multi-grain Shreddies, multi-grain cheerios, sticks (Fibre First multi-bran cereal shaped like little twigs) and balls (bran buds), all mixed together. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know what will – and she actually eats it because she likes it! One just hopes there is no such thing as fibre overdose.
In keeping with the active lifestyle philosophy, snacks at this house are good for you. Choices include fruit, another kind of fruit, a third kind of fruit, milk, water, or maybe a piece of cheese or a cracker; the selection is made with care and enthusiasm – well, usually. Cookies are rare treats, which is a policy Grandma and Grandpa should consider when we are back home.
When we went up for this visit I got the idea that it would be fun to share my new awareness of yoga poses with them. It turns out that they have day care yoga; they could have been teaching me all along. When I mentioned the Tree pose, they both exclaimed, “I can do a Tree,” and immediately shifted to one foot. I’m not sure that they have completely conquered the mindfulness component of yoga practice, or absorbed its supposed calming influence, but they sure had fun standing on one foot with their hand over their heads.
And, finally, active lifestyle for families includes limiting TV and Internet and instead concentrating their free time on unstructured play, creative activity, and reading. This is a much preferred and positive approach, but it requires a lot more of a parent’s time, involvement, and patience. It has to be tempting to turn on the TV or fire up the iPad and let them stare at a screen, bringing peace and quiet. But this group is committed to taking the path they believe in, which is often not the easiest path. We are impressed.