The African proverb reads: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I learnt something of what that meant last week. As I am on my five/five fitness drive I have been reflecting on times when I was fitter than I am now.
Those periods were almost entirely before my children came on the scene. Subtle excuses for why I was not fit grew from this fact. I had come to realise my children were to blame as they were stealers of my time and drainers of my energy. If I were to be less resentful the excuse would be
‘how could I selfishly exercise whilst they needed me?’ Whatever the excuse the conclusion was the same. It was the kids fault I was getting fatter.
Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with my poor bedtime routine. Surely, it couldn’t be late night food fiestas? I tended not to think about the food I ate allowing my salty or sweet receptors do the work for me. It had nothing at all to do with me choosing the most sedentary modes of transport, did it? (tongue firmly in cheek)
Unwittingly I had outsourced the responsibility of my fitness to my kids. This was harder to maintain when my wife took the children away for a day or two and I maintained the self same habits, bad ones, without the children to blame. Nonetheless I persisted with my conviction.
You’ll be delighted to learn I am learning and there is progress.
Last week was a step forward, it took coordination but it worked, and it could work again. It was school half-term break and my wife was away and I had the care of two children on the day Susan Hodgson personal trainer extraordinaire, would possibly take me for a training session and set up my new batch of exercises.
Susan had her own child in tow but felt she could incorporate her child, whereas with me I had always thought a child in the mix would have been the reason to postpone. I would have given me the excuse:
‘No, lets wait until they are back at school.’
I would use my child as a human shield against my better intentions. Do we ever do that? In my congregation a retired teacher called Judith heard my wife was away and asked if she could help.
I asked her if she could look after one of my children, and also Susan’s I added quietly, and Judith she agreed without hesitation.
I contacted a neighbour and asked if my other child, who is a lively soul, could go to her house for a play date for an hour with her child. She agreed without an ounce of worry. So it was that four children in various spaces with various trusted adults received fun and care, and Susan and I were released from parental responsibilities to focus on training and fitness.
I noticed my reluctance to mention to Judith or the parent, who gave the play date, that I was using the time not to shop, or cook, or catch up on work, or even pray, but to train. Why did I feel somehow selfish? I think in part it’s because at times I can see my children as a burden which I cannot share. To my delight, those looking after our children described the children as a blessing, and they were enriched by the encounter.
Jesus says the yoke he gives us is easy and his burden is light. Could that be the yoke becomes easier and the burden lighter if we share it with others? Might it be that we can all get the time, energy we need. Might it be that my children are enabling me to get out of myself by forcing me to acknowledge my limits, and respecting my weakness, and asking for help?
Might our time and energy be multiplied if we both take stock of the ways we numbly lose and waste our finite resources and also by reaching out, requesting and receiving the gift of the time and energy of others. If we adults are village elders, it takes a child to raise us to the levels of maturity needed to in turn raise them. I am grateful to my village here in Teddington. We are not meant to do this alone.