On a recent Sunday, as I was lying in bed (still half asleep), a light drizzle showered the orange tree outside my window. I stared at the ceiling, feeling awfully lazy. Suddenly, I heard the thundering footsteps of my 4-year-old, Hank, rushing toward my door.
The door burst open. “Dad! Wake up!” he yelled, yanking me from my haze. He spotted a couple of my wife Kate’s 3-pound weights. He strutted across the room, grabbed the weights and started to lift. “Hey, Dad, check it out. Am I strong?” The weights were about an inch above his head – a modified shoulder press. “Dad, am I working out?”
“Yes, you are, my boy!” I said, though his form was terrible and I could sense an injury approaching. That got me out of bed.
As parents of young children, it’s difficult for us to find time to get fit. And kids tempt us with their hankering for candy, Happy Meals and non-stop pizza/birthday cake parties.
Still, the citizens of L.A. have a reputation for being incredibly health-and-fitness conscious. This is especially true of those on the younger side, like Kate and me. In this arena, the L.A. parent is constantly met with challenges:
1. You have to work to live in this expensive town.
2. You spend a lot of time on your behind, commuting in traffic or at a desk or at a café gossiping.
3. You are the parent of small children, and all the coffee in Colombia can’t keep you from feeling exhausted all the time.
4. Your kids have no interest in your health or any heart-rate-raising activities that you want to do, unless you are the rare savvy fitness-craving parent who can find the sweet spot that makes you and your kids happy.
On that Sunday that Hank dragged me out of bed, L.A. was engaging in its quarterly celebration of communal outdoorsy fun: the urban bike fest known as CicLAvia. So, my family and I tried something different. You might recall I had taken little Hank on a child’s bike seat years prior. Now, Hank can ride his own bike and our 2-year-old, Leo, can chill in the bike seat. Meanwhile, Kate and I got a nice workout in. Try biking down Venice Boulevard with an extra 40 pounds holding onto your shoulders, or biking with one hand as you direct your 4-year-old not to bike into teams of helmetless hipsters. Fun was had by all, and that laziness I had been feeling earlier drifted off with the morning drizzle. Too bad CicLAvia only happens a few times a year.
Some fit-frenzied parents get their workouts more frequently by banking on the fact that their kids love to be driven, pushed, pulled and mobilized. They place their small children into some sort of receptacle, strap them in and go. I’ve tried this as well, driving down to Santa Monica, putting Hank into a jogger and pushing him down the beach path as I jogged in relative peace. Satisfying. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel some guilt. What is Hank getting out of this? The morning sun keeps flashing in his eyes, and all he can see are runners bouncing and bikes zooming by. This same thing happened on a recent hike. If you enjoy hiking, one of L.A.’s great recreational selling points, you should stop reading now.
Last year, we received one of those “double joggers,” a stroller that allows us to pull and push both boys up trails. We tried it at Franklin Canyon Park, which boasts a short network of trails surrounding a small lake between Beverly Hills and Sherman Oaks. The boys were tightly buckled in, and Kate and I started marching up the trail. But our exercise mission was swiftly thwarted as the boys began to whimper and squirm. “I want to get out!” yelled Hank. “I want that,” Leo said, pointing at the sagebrush. We got maybe a quarter of a mile in before we had to let Hank out. In his adventures, our little explorer found a kingsnake. This made his day, but Kate was frustrated. “I wanted to work out!” she wailed.
Meanwhile, Leo continued to squirm and I let him out. After a bit, we attempted to get both boys back into the jogger, but they weren’t having it. Instead, Kate went running and I stayed and explored with the boys. Sometimes, it takes teamwork to get your exercise in. Since that day, we’ve traded off having our workouts with keeping the boys entertained. One of us plays with the boys at Rustic Canyon Park in Pacific Palisades, while the other runs up and down the stairs, and then we switch. At Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Kate takes the boys through the interpretive center and natural gardens while I jog up an 800-foot hill. We switch and repeat, and I suppose everyone’s needs are met. u
Isaac Parfrey is a writer, composer and L.A. native who enjoys roaming Southern California with his wife, Kate, and sons, Hank and Leo. Follow him on Twitter @IsaacParfrey.