Fly, Bella, fly…Oh, goddang, I swallowed a fly

This weekend held three firsts for me.  One was my first at-speed insect-swallowing incident while out bike riding.

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Ew.  A protein shake would have sufficed.  Nearly had a sting in the ear too.  Perhaps these mishaps go along with my second first: cycling on a road bike. A bright yellow one at that.  Check out my gratefully borrowed steed:

Road bike

 

 

 

 

 

 

I announced the intention to do a triathlon on my blog last summer.  I haven’t talked about it much on here since – other people’s exercise is pretty dull, really – but I can’t help myself today, because of my third first: feeling officially excited about doing it.

I’ve spent the winter steeling myself for road rides on my sluggish mountain bike, and doggedly trudging to the local pool twice a week, alternating struggling for breath with struggling against my inner giver-upper: “Why the hell did I take this on, why can’t I just stop, I’m never going to be able to do this, why am I so crap.”

Copyright memoirsofagrasshopper.blogspot.com

Copyright memoirsofagrasshopper.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But this weekend I told the gremlin where to go.  Flying along like a yellow she-devil knocked down the last-but-one hurdle to feeling like the event is do-able.  Cycling on roads CAN be fun and I CAN go fast. I nearly laughed aloud with glee at the difference this skinny whippet of a bike made.  It was like swapping a 2CV pulling a tractor for a Ferrari.  Well, maybe that’s stretching it, but you get my drift.

But what was the final hurdle you might wonder.  A very female one, I’m embarrassed to admit: what to wear.

I’ve been having mild what-to-wear panic attacks as I’ve started to think through the practicalities of the event.  Wear a sports bra under my swim suit and then add cycling shorts over the top?  Could that look any less attractive?  Short and crop top combo?  Not for this Mummy-tummy.

triathlon suitI solved the problem this weekend.  I succumbed to my first tri-specific kit purchase, a tri-suit.  This one here, in fact, at a vastly reduced rate I couldn’t possibly turn down.  Yes, it means I’ll be in all-in-one lycra (time to ease up on the cakes and pies), but at least I don’t have to worry about silly combinations or changing clothes.

 

The trouble is, each of these advances limit my ability to excuse a poor show on the day.  I have kit that shouldn’t take me too long to transition between the three disciplines, I have a bike that shouldn’t hold me up.  Goddamn, it’s all down to me and my mental battles in training and on the day.  The giver-upper gremlin’s perfect hunting ground.

The gremlin has been with me throughout my life, particularly for physical challenges.  I like exercising, but only to a point.  If it ever gets beyond that point and actually gets hard, the gremlin wakes up and spends really quite a lot of energy trying to convince me to stop.  Is it just me that does this?  I hope not.  I risked sharing this weirdness with a friend and she told me her husband has a similar gremlin, which made me feel a bit better.  Weirdness shared is weirdness halved and all that.

In learning to swim front crawl for this event, I’ve realised it’s a really, really long time since I put myself in a situation where I genuinely can’t do something and struggle hugely to learn.  It’s not easy.  Duh.  Statement of the obvious.  But experiencing in practice what you intellectually know in theory still feels revelationary, even at nearly forty years old.

Do children feel a similar way about all the things they learn from scratch?  It’s so easy as an adult to avoid situations that truly push you. You almost need to seek them out – life can get stuck in a comfortable groove very easily, which feels, well, comfortable.

For children, by contrast, doing and learning new things is life.  How brilliant is that – new experiences and discoveries being your daily life.  We adults could learn from that.  Maybe one New Year’s resolution each year to do a completely new, out of comfort zone thing would do it.

I read an article in Red magazine recently about a well-being theory called ‘flourishing’ from an eminent psychologist, Martin Seligman (apparently he’s a positive psychology guru).  He thinks it’s no longer enough just to consider human happiness, we need to consider four other dimensions to life fulfillment and wellbeing on top of positive feelings: our engagement with the people and world around us (our flow), the quality of our relationships, finding meaning and purpose in our lives and accomplishment of goals we set ourselves.  Each element has to satisfy three criteria: it contributes to wellbeing; many people pursue it for its own sake (not just in pursuit of other elements); and it can be defined and measured independently of the others.

I like this idea – fulfillment and life satisfaction is about more than feeling happy.  Do I feel happy when I go swimming? No, mostly not, I still find it hard work and nowhere near as pleasurable as running or cycling, but it is satisfying because it contributes to achieving a goal and makes me feel proud of myself for doing something hard.

Making choices I can feel proud of, doing hard things, positive interactions with people, helping a friend, being a good parent and a good partner – these are things that make me happy with who I am.  I know it’s a teeny tiny small thing next to the realities so many people face in the world, but taking on this triathlon is contributing to my ‘flourishing’.

Of course I haven’t actually completed the event yet, nor indeed the training, so the gremlin has plenty of time to do its worst.  It’s a tad late for a New Year’s resolution, but, nonetheless, I think mine is to build an enormous mental mallet that bashes the hell out of the gremlin as soon as it appears.  Without it on my shoulder who knows what I could be capable of.

Ps If you’re interested in the theory of flourishing, check out Martin Seligman’s talk about it on The RSA , or this Guardian article,  or this excerpt from his book. . Or buy the June issue of the UK’s Red magazine.

Bad habits die hard

In July, I posted about doing my first triathlon next year, and since then I’ve been learning to swim front crawl.  Boy is it slow going.  But today I had a second swimming lesson, with a new teacher.  It was great, but it seems I have already picked up quite a few bad habits – legs, arms, breathing. Trying to correct them was hard.  And that was only the start of the journey.

Four recollections floated into my brain while ruminating on my lesson.

The first one was: Yesterday was our school parents evening (aka afternoon – in no-one’s book but a teacher’s is 3-6pm evening). I noticed the new Early Years curriculum for 0-5 year olds included being aware of and able to articulate one’s own strengths, and recognising those of others.  How much have I talked to 3.5 year old Littlest H about his strengths?

The second was a conversation with my daughter at bedtime yesterday, the eve of her 6th birthday.  I told her how much I loved her and what a good and lovely person she is.  She paused and said “Not always, Mummy.”  I wasn’t sure if she meant I don’t always love her or she’s not always good, and as we cuddled and I said I always love her, she clarified “Yes Mummy, but I’m not always good.” (No-one is, I replied)

The third was a recent occasion when I heard her refer to herself as being useless at something she was trying to do.  And the final one was another conversation we had yesterday when I asked her if her friends had noticed her ‘I’m 6’ badge at school.  She said “Yes, even XXX in Apple class. You know, Mummy, XXX isn’t very nice to me.  At lunchtime she is rude to me and laughs when I hold my knife and fork a different way round to everyone else.”

What do these have to do with either bad habits dying hard, or my swimming lesson, you may ask.  Well, as I went to bed last night, I found myself wondering if I spend enough time telling my children what amazing people they are – their characters, not just their achievements.  Do I do enough to build their self-esteem and self-worth, and to help them be strong enough to feel that being different is okay?

And following from that, am I in the habit of giving my children the best of myself, or do they more often get what’s left of myself?  Do I treat them with respect and kindness as the default, do I use language that builds their self-worth, even when managing their behaviour, and do I role-model the way to treat other people, including those you love?  I wonder.  Sometimes I feel the worst of myself comes out with those with whom I am closest.

I recently posted about ambition vs happiness, saying that striving to be a good parent is a given once you are one, not an ambition.  Yet, with an ambition I have set for myself like learning to swim front crawl, I prioritise practising, I pay for an expert to watch me and offer me ways to improve, I am patient with myself as I know it will take time and effort and I won’t be great to start with and maybe not at all.  When I have a bad session, I try not to give up, I shake myself off and say, well Annabel, you still went and you’ll just have to try again next time.

Oh to apply that process to parenting.  There is no teacher or learning environment, only real life doing, supplemented by watching others and occasional reading of parenting books, usually when things have gone seriously awry.   Parenting can’t be separated from rest of life and put in a box to pull out and ‘practise’ at certain times.  And yet, as a person who has always responded best to learning in learning environments, that is what I could do with.  Constantly evaluating and thinking about how I am parenting when I am in the thick of it is tough.  And yet responses to situations quickly become habit.   Often in fact, a bad habit that I know will die hard.  To kill it off properly will take the same, or more, mental and physical effort as I’m applying to learning to swim.

So how can I work harder at parenting and while I’m doing it, arm our kids with a thick enough hide and strong sense of self-worth so they can handle being picked on?

As with so much in life, to some extent they just have to experience it and grow in their confidence to take teasing or jibes in their stride.  But I also think as a parent I can help.  Having an open ear to hear when they are telling me something where I can help reinforce a strong sense of self. Asking questions about how they think they handle situations and helping them develop different strategies.  Gently teasing them to build their resilience. Telling them not just how much we love them, but why we do – what about them and their characters.  Not using damaging language in anger, frustration or impatience that make a specific instance of behaviour sound like a damning character flaw – “You’re so clumsy”, “You never think” “Why are you always so impatient”.  Ensuring I’m careful with how I talk about myself – not saying I’m useless at things in a typically self-deprecating English middle class way.

The past couple of days have not just included parents evening and a swimming lesson, but also a first physio session for a hip injury and a specialist dentist appointment about my gums (nothing like getting old, is there).  All have resulted in exercises that require me to learn new habits and break old ones.  Perhaps while I’m at it I should throw in a few parenting / personal bad habits, just to get my brain fully engaged.  You never know, some of it might just stick.

A tale of unanticipated consequences

A proud school mum shows off her tandem skydive photo, a tick on her 40th year to do list.   I think: “what a good idea, a 40th year to do list.” I turn and ask a dad-friend if he’s ever fancied having a go at triathlon.

While slightly hysterically laughing about sudden triathlon suggestion, an intensely active, just-done-a-marathon dad expresses interest in joining in.

One week later

Wife of marathon man tells me he is pestering her to find out which triathlon.  Gulp.

Two weeks later

Little H and I attend Olympics.  I get fired up about sport, trying new things, the reward of effort, leading by example.  Manage to commit to triathlon goal on blog (see here if you missed post ‘I don’t want to be in Olympics’).  Now public. Double gulp.

Two weeks later

Arrive on holiday to discover French gite hosts are triathletes, indeed one is a coach and ex-pro, no less.  Watch them disappear off for daily bike rides, swims, runs.  Feel a teensy bit envious of lifestyle, bodies.

One week later

Husband asks casually over wine and cheese if I’m serious about triathlon.  I (deep breath, big glug) nod yes.  Husband calls my bluff. Offers early Christmas present of coaching by ex-pro triathlete.  Gulps so big just manage not to choke on wine.

Spend hour with pro talking goals, training plans, races, kit.  Express concern re swimming – never learnt front crawl. Bravado surfaces – maybe I could do or watch a race this season to get a feel for it.  Shopping list grows; from goggles to road bike to gym membership to swim lessons.  Realisation of extent of challenge deepens.  Feel excited, apprehensive, a bit gung-ho.

Last night of holiday

Have swimming lesson in small gite pool. Have to stop, gasping for breath after one length of 5 metres. All bravado deflated to fear.  The reality of racing a 400m swim hits.  Coach suggests how exciting it is to be starting right at the beginning.  Decoded: Wow, she really wasn’t joking when she said she couldn’t do front crawl.

Kit list gets longer.  Many swim aids required, starting with swimsuit.  Coach, husband and I agree halter neck, boy short tankini not really appropriate.

Two days later

On return home, training time negotiations and kit shopping begin.  Whenever brain idle, thoughts turn to triathlon.  Mix of excitement (Cool – a new, difficult challenge! A chance to be properly fit! Professional help to do my best and not just ‘enjoy the experience and not embarrass myself’!), nerves (Can I conquer front crawl – being forced to control breathing when working hard in particular. Will I have the mental strength for proper training that hurts and takes sustained commitment) and wondering about all the unknowns (How does it feel to swim with loads of other people? Will I ride and run in a swim/wetsuit? How much will it hurt not to have crotch padding for a 20km bike ride?  Is the transition from bike to run as hard as everyone says?  Will this take over my life completely or just mostly? Will I want to do another one?  Will all this cost and effort and using up of husband support points be worth it?).

5.40am Monday morning after holiday

Out for a run before Mr H off to work.   And so the journey begins.