A few weeks ago I had my annual checkup with my cardiologist. I like my cardiologist, largely because he seems like the “Joe Cool” of doctors. He is well-tanned and well-coifed, and his gleaming white teeth can surely be used to guide home ships astray in a nighttime storm. He exudes confidence and is never at a loss for words.
At one point during my exam he asked, “Are you exercising?”
I quickly thought about how to answer this before saying, “Unintentionally, yes.”
This response ever so briefly knocked my perfect doctor off his stride. He looked at me with one eyebrow raised.
“Well, I have a six-year-old and three-year-old son at home and spend most of my time when I’m not at work trying to keep up with them.”
“Ah, I see. Say no more,” he said, smiling his blinding smile and getting on with the exam.
While my response to my doctor may have been delivered in my usual smartass fashion, it was nothing but the truth. The fact of the matter is that I have gotten more exercise in the past six years of my life than I have in the previous 37. Not that that’s saying much, because physical fitness has never really been my thing. The closest I ever got to a regular exercise routine was when I was in a Thursday night bowling league for three months in my senior year of college. Of course whatever little exercise I got from that was likely cancelled out by the free-flowing beer that accompanied this activity.
But when I had kids (although I guess technically it was my wife who had them—I shouldn’t take credit for the “having” part) daily workouts suddenly became routine. It began with weightlifting. I found myself lifting up a seven pound weight 40 to 50 times per day. Sometimes the weight would be carried over my shoulder to get it to go back to sleep; sometimes it would be repeatedly lifted high in the air to get it to smile; and sometimes it would be lifted onto a changing table where the weight would try to pee in my face, which led to some aerobic exercise while I dodged the oncoming stream. In no time at all the weight increased to eight pounds, then nine, then ten. In a couple of months’ time I noticed that my previously scrawny biceps were now thick and hard, and I could suddenly open pickle jars without my wife’s help.
After a few months of weightlifting, the speed and agility conditioning began to kick in. Once your kid starts crawling you have to be lightning quick, because within seconds of putting them down on the floor they can be on top of the entertainment center with a snow globe sticking out of their mouth. You’re sprinting, you’re diving, you’re doing moves that would make a seasoned ninja jealous. And of course, once they start walking it only increases your need to perform Matrix-like maneuvers to keep your kids out of harm’s way.
Eventually your exercise to avert danger is supplanted by more conventional exercise—running, playing catch, making believe you’re Magneto while Wolverine beats you about the face and neck with a throw pillow. It’s all fabulous fun, but it’s all very exhausting.
So when my wife and I decided to get our six-year-old a bicycle and our three-year-old a tricycle for Christmas, I mistakenly thought that this would give me a bit of a break from the exercise routine. I figured while they were riding their Radio Flyer’s I’d be lying back reading Archie Comics and sipping a chocolate malted.
Of course, I hadn’t thought this through. You can’t just hand your Kindergartner a bike and your pre-schooler a trike and let them ride off into the sunset. You have to follow them around the block to make sure they’re safe. And wouldn’t it be my luck that within a scant 24 hours my six-year-old had become so confident on the bike that he was tooling around at a clip fast enough to qualify him for the Tour de France, forcing me to sprint after him with every ounce of speed my legs could muster?
So my unintentional exercise routine continues. I see a soccer team in my future…and karate lessons…and a basketball hoop in the driveway. I just can’t wait until they’re old enough to join a bowling league, because I could really use the beer.