A Stairwell in Suburbia

Museum stairs: challenging to some, not to others…

At times it’s tough to get back into the health mindset on a Monday, but after a road trip, a reality-check from my mother-in-law, and a stairwell, today I’m actually kind of inspired to get started.

This newfound enthusiasm, after a weekend of poor eating choices, isn’t coming from some magazine cover telling me I can “Melt off 10 lbs!” just from reading this issue. Or from my junk email inbox with a message screaming “Want to Rock that Bikini Body this Summer…here’s how!??!”. Umm, yeah, I just got that one a few minutes ago…and it’s not from looking at photos Jillian Michaels looking perfect, although I do think she’s awesome, I’m guessing the photo is airbrushed and I’ll never actually look like her no matter what I try…

Do quick fix strategies and images of perfect people, keep me inspired? Not really…at least in the long-term

Nope. These don’t do it for me, at all.  These messages may cause short-term guilt and negativity to jump-start a little action, but they don’t keep me going long-term.

What is keeping me going this week? Some observations from a family trip to suburbia, in a town outside of Rochester, New York.

In contrast to where I live in Vermont, where we have two country stores, a library and little else, this town is all about big-box stores and chain restaurants. And we needed those stores because we had to purchase computer supplies for my 86-year-old mother in law. We spent the morning accomplishing our mission, but when we were ready to have lunch, hmmm, tough choices for those hoping to eat something relatively healthy. No quaint little cafe exists in this town, serving organic, local, grass-fed foods with right-size portions. The options: Fast Food? Ick. Hot Dogs? Apparently something super-popular in the Rochester area. No thanks. Applebees? I have a son with food allergies and I hear they aren’t great with that. Red Robin–oh, yeah, I heard they are a chain that gets the allergy thing. So that’s where we went.

My cute little "non-suburb" town...

My cute little “non-suburb” town…

Looking over the menu, it looked to me like the best non-salad choice was the fish sandwich, so I ordered that with sweet potato fries, thinking to myself, I don’t do this very often, It’s great to have a splurge meal every once in a while. Oh, and a margarita, I forgot I had one of those too! Yes, a splurge. I sat back, happy, relaxed, and took in the atmosphere, my eyes landing on the people at the tables around us.

A woman in her eighties eating a gigantic ice-cream sundae, probably bigger than her head, dining with what looked like her extended family. A couple, in their twenties, dressed all in black with matching dyed black hair, hamburgers oozing, soda-slurping. A table of middle-aged women with frizzy hair, laughing and talking and gesturing wildly, probably on their lunch break from work. And everyone eating way, way, way too much food. But having fun.

Can't we go here for lunch? Not in the Suburbs....

Can’t we go here for lunch? Not in the Suburbs….

I wonder if these folks are “regulars” and eat like this all the time, or are like me, on a once-in-a-while splurge?

Sadly, most looked like they did eat there everyday.

After lunch, it was time to do something fun so we set out to find the Science Museum.  In the car, my thoughts started to turn on me, like they usually do, from happy and relaxed to scorn. Why did you have to eat so many fries? Were they really that good, they really weren’t. Did you really need to eat every little drop of it? I put the negative thoughts on hold at the museum, where once inside, my husband and son ran off and started climbing four floors of open stairs to the top floor, while my mother-in-law and I tried unsuccessfully to catch them. As we were climbing, I looked down at her. She was a little slow, but I have to tell you, she was doing just fine with those stairs.

She didn’t complain. She didn’t ask me to find an elevator instead.

Mother-in-law Dorothy w/her granddaughter Brooke...

Mother-in-law Dorothy w/her granddaughter Brooke…

How many 86-year-olds do you know who can do that?

She and I decided to check out an exhibit on Native American villages, something most dinosaur-and-fossil-seeking kids had no interest in, so we had this whole quiet wing of museum to ourselves for a little while. I asked her whether or not she might come back to this museum with friends, since it’s so close to where she lives, and so beautiful. She would love to, she said, but basically none of her friends could walk around the way she does. The conversation drifted from the museum, to the fact that she is at this age where she is losing the people around her more and more. She became a widow about 8 years ago, but most recently this winter, she lost her best friend.

Later, back at her house, I started thinking about her lifestyle and pieced together some of the other conversations we had that weekend. My mother-in-law has a high-strung dog who needs to walk a few times a day. When I tried to help her bring sheets down to the laundry area, she said, oh no… she deliberately bought the house she is in now because it has stairs, so she could keep moving, and she will strip the beds and do the laundry herself. No problem. She drives everywhere, even in snow. After a few scares on black ice, I avoid driving in snow at all costs. When I mentioned that she just shrugged and said, “well, I need to do what I need to do, the store, lunch, class, so I drive”. She takes exercise classes a few times a week at the Y, that include weights and stretching and all sorts of movements. She, ironically, is a caregiver/companion to her daughter who has limited mobility from back surgeries, and to another younger friend each week.

I am thoroughly in awe of this woman. She makes me think a lot about my two grandmothers, both died a few years ago, but lived similarly active lives and were independent and happy and fun and young until the end. And to my dad, who I lost way too early, who was always on his bike rides and stretching and moving and still happily doing financial consulting and keeping his brain exercised, where others his age were slowing down.

This weekend was just a great reminder to me about why I want to always keep activity and health top of mind. Sure, it’s great to look good, “have Rock-hard Abs!” and “a bikini body by summer!!!”, like the women’s magazines like to remind us, but honestly, I think this message is all wrong. Inspiration to make changes, and to keep us focused on what is important doesn’t come from looking at perfect photos of models, we all know that isn’t attainable for most of us. Long-term inspiration comes from real people who live real lives. We see these people all around us, and make the decision about who we want to emulate, and the reverse, who we don’t.

I want to climb those stairs when I’m 86.

And I want to be confident to drive in snowstorms in Rochester.

And I want to have a yippy dog I still need to chase and bend down to pick up, and be able to do these things myself.

I hope I’m not the last healthy one left, as my mother-in-law seems to be, so will try to inspire my family and friends to keep their health top-of-mind as well.

Yes, we can sit back in the booth at Red Robin, and have a margarita and endless fries and whatever, and that’s ok once in a while. What isn’t ok, is getting mad at ourselves for living life a little when we need to, and then giving up on our health goals when we don’t think we have measured up… we need to be off as much as on, or at least I do, to stay committed for the long-haul. The chain restaurant staff won’t start singing “Here comes a Regular…” next time I walk in for lunch…

So it’s Monday, and I overindulged this weekend. But my mind is back where it needs to be, thanks to my mother-in-law, and I’m ready for the ebb and flow of the good and bad, and the careful balance it’s going to take to manage my healthy, active future.

How about you? Do you have role-models who keep you motivated? Would love to hear your stories…

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16 thoughts on “A Stairwell in Suburbia

  1. Enjoyed this read Robin. You are absolutely correct in the real reasons we want to remain committed to this healthy lifestyle. Your mother-in-law sounds much like mine, always on the go and still able to put many miles in a day. Like you, I still have work to do when it comes simply enjoying the moments I do indulge instead of beating myself up over it. I have to learn to accept that if I live well for 90% of the time, then I need to be able to forgive myself for the other 10% and just ENJOY. Being stressed & feeling guilty about having eaten something I consider a poor choice is probably doing more harm to my health than the actual eating of those foods. It’s ongoing, but educating ourselves is really the key and your proved it when you made the best “health -conscious” choice you could given your options, and for that, you should be very pleased.

    • thanks Silvana for a great comment. I think we are so much alike! As much as I know what to do, and what is ok, I still give myself a hard time about it…I guess it’s habit? I don’t know, but all we can do is keep talking ourselves out of that nonsense 🙂

  2. Your “why” is my “why”. I really want to enjoy the rest of my years in good physical health and plan to be active in my eighties and beyond. If my motivation were to have a bikini body I would have hung the towel up a long time ago. That kind of perfection does not exist in my world and is unattainable for me. So the quest is to be as good as I can be through wholesome eating and daily physical activity. Great post.

  3. I knew Dorothy when I was growing up with her son, Tom. Wonderful and inspiring that she is still clear and active these days. Please convey my best to her (and your fine husband).

    • Brian! So great to hear from you–thanks for your message and I relayed it to Tom. He has told us stories about you and Insects in the past, to make my son laugh 🙂

  4. I love this. I just got back from a trip too and had similar thoughts and met people of similar vintage that are still fit. A great inspiration and I too hate the glossy mags. Will try to be eloquent about it in my own blog.

    • Thanks so much! You know the one men’s magazine I love is Men’s Journal…do you get that in the UK? It seem to showcase kind of rugged guys, people you can relate to, but those who actually have substance…. and actually I get more inspiration from that than I do the women’s pubs! WIsh there was a similar version for women, but all they seem to want to showcase is physical beauty…

  5. Great post, Robin. Now that I am past 40 and starting to experience aches and pains in my knees, neck, shoulders, etc. that do sometimes prevent me from doing the active things I love doing, I also have begun to realize how amazing it is that elderly relatives are so active. My dad is the perfect example. His lungs are shot, but it he does whatever he can within his limits. Without pain or discomfort? Probably not…and therein lies the key, I think. Rather than focusing on what you can no longer do, or letting that niggling knee pain keep you from hiking, I think you need to just DO it (Nike has it right), and appreciate what you CAN do. I am in the middle of this transition…

    Oh, the great American diet…blech. Eating out in suburbia is truly nauseating. Robin, you NEED to visit us in Japan!

    • Brad! I should have mentioned your Dad! He is amazing–when I saw him in January, I couldn’t believe how fit he was, and works hard to be….and looks nothing near 72! Oh wow, would love to go to Japan! I hope someday!

  6. I live in an apartment building where many people are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and older….the woman at the end of the hallway moved in at 95 and died recently at 99. Many of them are active, outdoors, fit and in good shape. It’s really helpful to have older people around who are enjoying their lives, as role models.

    • So true! thanks for your note! Where I live you rarely see people like that, maybe they just give up because living in the country is too hard (even people my age sometimes look beat) …but I had 2 Grandma’s who were so wonderful, fit, etc…both totally different. One was crazy, and fun and beautiful and daring that worked for her. The other, slow and steady and meticulous. And she made it until 95. Love to have role models like this–it’s great you can see this every day. Helps keep you going…This reminds me I was going to write about the 2 of them some day soon…

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