Turns out, you can lead a girl to a 5k and make her run.
My eight year old spends a lot of time looking in the mirror. She is as girly a girly girl I have ever known (something she doesn’t get from me). Sarah spent much of her early childhood pretending to be a princess. She even once referred to me as her “servant” (once being the key word in that sentence). Even now, she maintains a second residence in Fairy World. While Sarah likes to ride her bike, jump on the trampoline, and swim in the neighborhood pool, she doesn’t like any scheduled or structured sport or exercise time. Sarah has no interest in soccer, softball, basketball, or even swim team. I tried to convince her that swim team would be fun because she could pretend to be a mermaid while racing at swim meets. Mermaids, are her second favorite mythical creatures behind fairies- but mermaids, she tells me, do not race. They frolic. Sarah would rather be doing something, anything, creative. She has already decided that a career in the arts (preferably the performing arts) is in her future. If her dramatic tendencies at home are any indication, I’d say she’s well on her way.
But when Sarah started looking in the mirror and asking if I thought she was fat (I don’t and she’s not), I was concerned. I had heard about Girls in The Run (GOTR), a running group for girls in grades 3-6. In addition to training the girls for a 5k race, they also use part of their meeting time to talk to the girls about decision making, values, body image, and other relevant topics. It seemed like just what Sarah needed, but selling it was going to be hard. When I asked her outright, she said no. When I started dropping the names of the girls from her Brownie Troop who were going to participate, she still wasn’t interested. Finally, I resorted to a bribe. With the promise of a mother/daughter pedicure outing to a “real salon” (told you she was a girly girl), she begrudgingly agreed to complete one season of GOTR.
I know I could have just MADE her do it. I know plenty of kids who are signed up for soccer season after season against their will. But Sarah is already feeling subjected to Hebrew School and she’s in that for the long haul, so I really wanted her to do Girls on the Run on her own volition. Providing someone with the motivation to complete a task, however, does not mean they will enjoy it.
Humor me through a brief but relevant diversion. When I was 13 (you know, that magical age that turns normal kids into snarky space aliens) my parents decided that I needed to revisit piano lessons. I had taken lessons for a couple of years in third and fourth grade, but stopped due to scheduling conflicts. Fast forward four years and my parents had found a piano teacher who could come to our house after school. I was no longer interested in piano lessons and told my parents as much but they insisted that if I didn’t resume lessons I would always regret it as an adult. At that time, I was taking violin lessons, playing in two orchestras, and singing/performing with a show choir. I understood the value of music in my life, just not piano lessons.
I was determined that piano lessons were not going to work out. I didn’t practice, hoping that the teacher would find me not worth his time. When that didn’t work, I took more drastic measures. I would “accidentally” take the wrong bus home from school, getting me as far across town as possible. This would leave me a long enough walk home to allow my allotted lesson time to lapse. When that didn’t work, I would pretend I didn’t hear the doorbell ringing, or once (this was really bad) I had one of my friends answer the door pretending to be a non-English speaking housekeeper (piano lessons, no comprende). I eventually wore my parents down (or maybe the teacher just refused to come back) and I no longer had to take piano lessons.
Back to the present. One morning, I reminded Sarah that she had Girls on The Run after school that day. She responded that she didn’t think she was going to GOTR that day. I quickly vetoed that option, and silently thanked our school district that they do not allow kids to take a different bus home without parental permission and a transportation pass. I was also less than shocked when Sarah came home on the bus that afternoon saying she had “forgotten” about practice. The Orange apparently does not fall far from the tree. Since there was not time to bring her back up to practice, I took Sarah up to the park and had her run laps around the basketball court followed by an obstacle course around the playground equipment. It was, by her own admission, a harder workout than she would have faced at GOTR. She did not “forget” practice anymore after that.
I had really wanted her to love GOTR. I wanted her to find a passion that would help her lead a healthy lifestyle, and an interest she could share with her dad. I wanted her to feel the pride of working towards a goal and then achieving it. Who knows, it could still happen. I’m not holding my breath. Sarah did complete the 5k this past weekend, whining and crying for 3.1 miles. My husband commented to the coaches that he had literally dragged her across the finish line, to which they responded that they had been pulling her around the school track for seven weeks. Surely, I asked Sarah, there was some positive morsel gleaned from this experience. “Yes,” she replied “I got to miss Hebrew school this morning.”
Yesterday, I saw a glimmer of hope. At school, Sarah’s GOTR team got to lead the pledge of allegiance and had a group photo taken wearing their medals. Of all the girls in the photo, Sarah is wearing the biggest smile. Plus, since starting GOTR, she has not once looked in the mirror and asked if she looks fat. Despite all her grumbling, I think she is glad she stuck it out.
P.S.– This morning I walked past our piano and thought maybe it’s not late to take those lessons…