Lessons from my son: Fidget more, Sit Less

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I’m consistently awed by the wisdom I have gained from my child. And this past week, I can add more of that to the list, where his instincts were on target to solve one of my problems, while my preconceived ideas fell short.

From the moment Brett pulled himself up for the first time at the age of one, he was on the move. He has many amazing qualities, but his inability to sit still?  That is not one of them.

Or so I thought.

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just like Brett on his ball…1-2-3, 4-2,3-6-0, 2 1/2, 0

We were first alerted to his fidgety tendencies in Pre-k. He was constantly swaying into people’s space. Not quite able to keep in that single file line. And always a bit out of step in the circle. He reminded me a bit of Tacky the Penguin, have you ever read that book? Unlike all his penguin friends, Tacky marched to his own drum.

Brett is in third grade now, and has definitely improved. My theory is he spends all the energy he can muster during the school day trying to do the right thing, but once home, he is all over the place.

At mealtime, it’s always a challenge.

We have an open living room, dining room setup. And so when it’s time for us to sit down to eat, he’ll show up for a bite, then he’s gone the next, launching himself off the couch or scooting across the room. A few years ago I bought him a product called a disc-o-sit (nicknamed the wiggle cushion) hoping this might keep him in his chair so he could at least move and sit at the same time, and it did help for a few years until it was replaced by something even more fabulous in his eyes.

When Brett was about 6, My brother Greg visited. At the time, he recommended I learn to use an exercise ball. Inspired, I went out and purchased my own big red stability ball. But once Greg left, I didn’t really know what to do with it, and it seemed too big for me.  It promptly went downstairs out of sight, out of mind.

A few months later, I purchased a new exercise program and received a blue stability ball as a bonus.

Oh great I thought, just what we need, two stability balls taking up space downstairs!

The blue one was smaller than the red one, and Brett took one look, one jump on this thing, and the two were inseparable. Until that is, a week later he happened to bounce on the ball while holding a bamboo skewer, pointed down. In a matter of seconds, the blue ball was no more…

Brett was horrified; he ran downstairs, found the underutilized big red ball, that was actually a little smaller now, deflated from inactivity. And this has been his savior ever since, and a permanent fixture in our living room. He rolls the red ball to the table, next to his chair, while eating. He bounces or lays on it, or sways back and forth. He’ll stretch forward or hang backward. He bounces while watching movies, just hanging out talking and while listening at family read time before he goes to bed.

When friends and family come to visit, they think this is odd.

a little balancing practice...

a little balancing practice…

Why is he not able to sit in his chair?

At meals, kids should sit. When you are reading together, kids should sit and listen.

When watching a movie, shouldn’t he be sitting on a couch?

Why do you let him do this?

You must be pushover parents…

Brett and his intense need to move around and fidget are on my mind this week, as I try to solve a similar problem of my own.

Newly-inspired by the goals I set a few weeks ago, I’m finding in reality, a few of my goals cancel each other out. Here’s the dilemma: I just don’t know how to live an active lifestyle if I’m on my rear-end writing. Or learning to paint. Or learning a new language.

When I sit for long periods of time, I think about Brett and his need to move.  This must be how he feels every day: restless, uncomfortable, trapped. I feel if I sit for as long as I need to write something, or research, or study, I’ll grow roots! My legs and rear-end begin to numb. I can feel my thighs expand, soften, as I sink further and further into that chair…

Thinking it through this week, I realize there are two separate issues to address:

1) I need to maximize time spent off the chair, ensuring I’m getting the extra movement I need to balance out those big blocks of inactivity.

2) And I need to see if there are workstation options that may help me not feel so awful when I do sit down for long periods of time.

I started my search for answers, realizing immediately there’s no shortage of media coverage on the topic of sitting. I learned through many sources that sitting too much makes you die sooner, and that it is also considered by some as “the new smoking.

Then I saw an article in the Daily Beast that actually got me thinking about combating issue #1. The article recommends people incorporate a variety of squats at random times throughout the day. For example, instead of sitting around on the couch watching commercials during a TV show, get up and squat. Or take a 10 minute break at work, to get in a few more. And perhaps while waiting for a train, you might try a few more. In no time, taking advantage of these breaks can add up to a substantial amount of activity.

There is one part of the article I don’t agree with, and that is the assumption these movements can replace formal exercise: for me, that wouldn’t work. But the wheels started spinning, and I began to experiment. Not just with squats, but with lunges, and stretches and balance moves…

Here were a few places I started to add activity:

  • Lunge or Squat while folding laundry
  • Plie squat and hold while blow drying my hair
  • Random kicks while standing around thinking. That one worked well except for the time when I clipped my dog in the jaw –oops! Note to self for next time? Watch for family members before trying…
  • One legged balance poses and wall squats.
  • Squat while emptying the dishwasher.
  • Squats in the kitchen while waiting for my pan to heat up.
  • And of course, lots of static and ballistic stretches while standing.

Awesome, this will work! Now onto issue #2, assessing my workstation…

As I researched different chair and desk options, I came across the term Active Sitting.

According to Wikipedia:

Active sitting occurs when seating allows or encourages the seated occupant to move. Also referred to as dynamic sitting, the concept is that flexibility and movement while sitting can be beneficial to the human body and make some seated tasks easier to perform.

I found a variety of chairs designed for active sitters, how does one even choose? But then I came across this article in the New York Times , and had to laugh that the possible answer could be staring me right in the face.

I looked up from the computer, scanned the room until I located it off in the corner. The big red ball.

I walked over, rolled it back to my computer and was about to take a seat to test it out by my computer.

Brett caught me in the act.

Are you going to sit on my ball?

Embarrassed, I said no. Pushed the ball back over to him, and took my regular seat in the dining room chair.

I thought about the old wiggle-cushion. And the red ball. And how we used to try so hard to make Brett sit in his chair until finally giving in because we just didn’t want to fight it anymore. How is it that my kid knew he need to move, or fidget, to restore his active/sitting balance throughout the day, and was drawn to Active Sitting all along.  He found his answer instinctively, where we adults have to research at length to find the answer from supposed experts.

Adults have been making fidgety, active kids feel bad for not being able to conform to the right way, the expected way of sitting properly, when repeated evidence shows the right,  proper and expected  way, over time, is really very wrong.

Get a load of this quote I found about fidgeters, also from Wikipedia:

Fidgeting is considered a nervous habit, though it does have some underlying benefits. People who fidget regularly tend to weigh less than people who do not fidget because they burn more calories than those who remain still. It has been reported that fidgeting burns around an extra 350 calories a day.

I don’t know anyone who would mind burning 350 additional calories just by some extra movement, do you?

Perhaps it’ll look funny for all of us to be moving, lunging, squatting, standing, kicking, fidgeting, and balancing all around the house, but I think it’s a good plan to set in motion, starting now.

My son has proved to me yet again, his instincts are spot-on.

And we will once again become a household with two big stability balls floating around the living room.

Only this time we’ll know what to do with them!

How do you combat inactivity throughout the day? Are you a fidgeter? Or too sedentary? What types of lessons have you learned from your children?

I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts and please share this post. Once you are done with that, get up, stretch, and 10 Squats please!

Don’t Call Them Resolutions

SONY DSCOnly 1 more day!

Last year I set a goal to write two posts each month, and as of 12/30/2013, I’m on the verge of not meeting my target.

Any person with a blog will tell you two posts a month isn’t exactly a strong showing. I had to alter this goal a bit too, originally I had this set at every-other-week, but unable to achieve the pace, I didn’t abandon it altogether, but changed it to two per month instead.

Next year, perhaps the goal will be 3?

I have lots of excuses this month, primarily the fact that December happened, where we all tend to get sucked into the holiday void: end-of-school year events, holiday shopping, spending time with visiting relatives. The kid is home from school, and just being  “off” the typical schedule does it every time.

But the clock is ticking…and I want to end the year on plan!

Setting goals, or Resolutions, at the New Year.

We all love to do this, don’t we?

I personally like the term goal setting,  because a goal sounds like something you can work towards. Where a Resolution sounds much more definite. To resolve something. To be resolute. I tend to shy away from any declaration of intent without wiggle-room. Nothing in my life ever seems to get resolved. And even if it did, some new problem would likely unravel in its place. Because that’s what the life of an adult, a parent is all about. For instance, you won’t find me saying something like I WILL exercise every day for ONE hour. Or I WILL NOT drink wine during the work week, or I WILL drink eight glasses of water each day. Or I WILL sleep 8 hours each night.

While these are all admirable changes people make to live a healthier life, this wish list is one bound to fail very, very quickly…

Because sometimes I only have 30 minutes for a workout.

And sometimes I just want a glass of wine on a Monday night.

And honestly, I find it painful to drink that much water and I’m too lazy to keep track anyway.

And it’s really hard to go to bed early every night when my child doesn’t even get to bed until 9. We all need time to ourselves.

Nobody is perfect. According to Journal of Clinical Psychology Study, only 8% of New Years Resolutions are actually achieved.

By setting goals to work towards, I can feel confident even if it takes awhile, I’ll achieve some level of benefit along the way, just by trying, and by declaring very publicly, to all of you, this is my intent. But because I don’t expect 100% resolution, I won’t feel the need to abandon them in disgust when I can’t keep up….

So here’s what I’m thinking for 2014 :

For my Health: Continue to make formal exercise part of each day, but focus on quality rather than time spent. I feel like I have been on auto-pilot these past 6 months with exercise, and have experienced a bit of an off-season. But I have a new fitness challenge (p90x3) that I can do at home, is not time-consuming but should keep me moving every day and interested because it’s something different and should be a challenge.

Where I really need improvement is sleep. I don’t get enough. At least a few nights per week, when my husband decides he wants to turn on a war movie or some uninspiring TV show where I know I’ll fall asleep on the couch, or be compelled to play online Scrabble throughout, I’ll pro-actively go to bed instead.

And sadly, I have enough evidence that sugar after dinner interrupts my sleep, so dessert will be the exception, not the rule in the coming year.

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As Chief Health Officer of the family, need to keep him active…

I’ll also keep up my role of Chief Health Officer on the family level, ensuring everyone else stays active and eats well most of the time. I do need to work on honing my skills as a cheerleader, but without being too preachy.

For my Family: Over Thanksgiving, when we were visiting my brother and sister-in-law and niece and nephew, we tried one little experiment: on Thanksgiving day, devices had to be put away. From the second we woke up, until about 11 am, we spent most of our time answering questions about what was allowed and what wasn’t. We finally just gave up; at least the kids were actively engaging with each other while on their devices…

I’ll have to get buy-in from my husband on this, but while home, I have noticed we aren’t much better. We need to set some device limits to get the attention back on each other. Tom, if you are reading this? We can talk about it tonight…

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Couldn’t resist putting in this photo from last week…bonding time w/devices!

For my extended Family: Be a better Sister, Aunt and Daughter. I thought when I stopped working outside the home I’d miraculously get better at correspondence. But guess what? I’m still horrible with remembering birthdays and calling and keeping in touch. It’s because I’m disorganized with basically everything except my workouts and my son, and I am not much of a phone talker. But this year, I will set up a reminder system and you will all see an improvement!

For my Girlfriends: Where are all of you??! We are all stuck in a void, being moms and prioritizing everything else.

But making time for each other? That’s what keeps us sane. I have been thinking a lot about the Four-burner stove story detailed by David Sedaris. Where each burner represents a priority.

And how so many of us turn off that friendship burner in lieu of everything else. Thanks Jen at and yadda yadda yadda..I made alliyah, for alerting me to this concept earlier this year. I’m here if you are, and maybe I won’t chat for hours on the phone, but will be in touch and hope to see you all in person this year! I want to keep that burner going for years and years and years…

For Personal Improvement: A few years ago, I went on this kick where I forced myself to try activities I thought I would always dislike. I wrote about that here.  This was a great motivator, because I found out I truly didn’t dislike many of these activities, I was just either too lazy or unmotivated to work at learning something new. Over the last few months I took my eye off this target, but want to bring it back.

I’m going to start by taking my friend Lynn’s watercolor class, anyone want to join me?

I’m going to ski more with my son this winter.

And after visiting with my step-daughter Brooke and her husband Wilson, I realized I really should learn Spanish. Wilson is from Ecuador, and while I don’t think I need to be fluent, there is no reason in the world that I should not at least attempt to learn some of the language. I stopped myself mid-sentence as I explained “But I don’t speak Spanish…” and thought to myself, this excuse does not fly, it’s never too late to learn…

Writing has been great for me, and I’m proud even if I’m not as prolific with my posts as others, this has been a great discipline to keep me focused throughout the year. Being “fit” to me does not just define what physical shape I’m in. It defines whether I’m a fit parent. A fit friend. Being fit can define happiness, and satisfaction. It’s a general state of being. And reflecting here every few weeks helps me see if I’m on the right track.

Whether I can make it to 3 posts per month next year? I’ll think about it…

Goal setting experts will probably say there are way too many items on this list.

But I’ll keep them all there anyway, because they are all items I aspire to achieve.

I’m not expecting 100%, just progress…

Because these are goals remember, do not call them Resolutions!

And by the way, writing this post? I just met my 2013 target…

Do you set goals each year? How do you judge success? Do you have a tough time keeping them top-of-mind? Would love to hear your stories and input!  And Happy New Year!