Skin-the-Cats and the Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies-Run

In our house massacring zombies has been the main form of physical activity for my 12 year old son. Until recently that is.

Our kids are growing up in a world where “go play outside” means moving your Minecraft character from the underground tunnels of your fortress to a field of oddly cube-shaped cows.

Last year, in an effort to encourage more time with his imagination and less time with flame throwers and machine guns, I hauled my son off to Exclusive Books. He interpreted my instruction to “pick a book” a little more loosely than I’d planned and chose an audio book. For the next few weeks he prowled the landscape of X Box Live hunting for the living dead while listening to detailed instructions of how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

So you can understand that if getting him out of the bedroom was and into the real world was a battle, getting him onto a sports’ field was an impossibility!

Argh! The soccer ball! It burns!

My son hates sport with as much passion as he hates losing his last life to the lurching dead. Maybe even more, because there are no power-ups out there on the field. Out there it’s just you against the blistering sun, a vicious expanse of knee-grating grass and a coach who trained in a Russian labour camp.

As someone who spent my childhood hidden in books, I felt his pain. But as a mother I also felt it was my duty to inspire/coerce/cajole/bribe/threaten him into some kind of physical activity.

Working your thumbs doesn’t qualify as sport

Then came CrossFit Kids! I watched in amazement as my son – who apparently lacks the flexibility to bend down and pick up his dirty clothes – hung upside down from the rings, legs stretched backwards over his head, performing a very beautiful “skin-the-cat”. There was my little zombie slayer, hanging and squatting and running and jumping and rolling. And it wasn’t even because he was fleeing a marauding bloodless horde with automatic weapons. He was doing it because he liked it. Because it felt good! Because it was fun!

 Which is of course why he continues to head off to CrossFit Kids Jozi week after week, with a kind of enthusiasm that was once reserved for placing land mines and using invincibility cheats.

Catch me if you can

And that I think is the key to getting kids to exercise: give them the kinds of things they love doing naturally. The kinds of things they did spontaneously when they were little. Because those things feel like fun, not work. And those are the movements their bodies instinctively want to do; need  to do.

So they go from hanging upside down on the jungle gym to doing it on the rings. From hopping over puddles and up stairs to jumping onto boxes. From hurling Teddy around to swinging a kettle bell. From tumbling on the grass to doing forward rolls.

And if there is a Zombie Apocalypse my CrossFit kid is going to be well prepared. His head is crammed with vital information … that zombies can’t jump, for example. Which means a quick pull up onto the garage beam followed by an inchworm crawl across to our emergency supplies is all we need to survive.

Yup, that’s us, killing zombies one skin-the-cat at a time!

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Winners Come Last

On Wednesday Llewellyn came last in the 1200 m race at school. Dead last. Ok, 2nd last if you also count the girls. He calls it his “Amazing Athletic Achievement”. It was the greatest sporting moment of his 11-year-old life.

Until Tuesday Llewellyn had only barely ever made it around the field twice. So my advice as the day of the big race dawned with pleas to turn my writing talents to sick notes with exotic sounding diseases hinting at quarantine was this: just walk it. I did when I was in school and any mental scars I have, have nothing to do with strolling along at a leisurely pace chatting to Cheryl as we were lapped by the runners in the next race. And the one after that.

Drawing the blank stare that I’ve come to understand is the  body-language equivalent for “I hear you but I’m ignoring you” or maybe even “Dear lord please don’t let me have inherited her genes”; I delivered the advice repeatedly in the car. At an escalating volume. Llew responded by gleaning wisdom from Eminem. Also at escalating volume.

And so it was that when he finally took to the field, hopped on the truck load of sugar I only ever supply when he’s in someone else’s care for the day, he did so without a thought to anything I’d said. As he explained afterwards; “I went in with a strategy.” The first part of the strategy was this: “I decided I wouldn’t run fast.” Sure, not common racing practice, but Llewellyn knew he wouldn’t come first; so he set his sights on finishing. It’s that decision that inspired the second part of his strategy: “I just found a pace and I stuck to it till the very end.”

And that is Llewellyn’s “Amazing Athletic Achievement”; he persevered until he reached his goal; one that for him seemed out of reach until the moment he crossed the finish line.

As I listened to him recounting his victory again last night I thought of a shirt my CrossFit coach Imtiaz wears, on the back it says “ME VS ME”. I needed a shirt to tell me something Llew knows instinctively; that it’s never about how far ahead of the pack I am. It’s not about where my career is compared to everyone else, how much higher my child’s marks are at school; how good my bank account looks relative to my friends’. It’s about whether or not I’m moving towards the finish line, one step at a time, at my own pace, celebrating my Amazing Achievements every step of the way.

I doubt Llewellyn even knows who came first in the race. But he knows how it feels to win it. In fact he even has it as his BBM status: “I finished my 1200m race yesterday.” Which is why, for the past 2 nights, when I’ve tucked him into bed, I havent heard the quiet ramblings of a Zombie Killer, but the whispered musings of a champion.

That’s my little boy; he’s my hero.

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