Latest in fitness: Grandchildren

March 04, 1994|By Gail Lewis Tubbs

MY SHOULDERS ache," observed my 50-something TC colleague one Monday morning. "I wonder if it's because I arm-walked the monkey bars at the playground with Jane on Saturday." Jane is her 5-year-old granddaughter, the sister of 2-year-old Peter, with whom my friend reported crawling on the living room rug playing "trucks" on another recent weekend.

As we bring the 20th century to a close, a new breed of grandparents is evolving: the Physically Fit. These folks are not confined to the traditional image of gentle, sweet-voiced, sweater-knitting, cookie-baking, chair-rocking icons, although they may be or do any of those things; rather they are playmates, of both imagination and stamina, to their grandchildren, able not only to sew the number on the baseball shirt, but to dirty it in a third-base slide. Second childhood, for this group of grandparents, is becoming a virtual reality.

When you think about it, how could it not have happened? Ours is the generation that grew up in the '50s and '60s and suddenly discovered -- oh, at about 35 -- that mini-skirts and pony tails, or sandals and --ikis, took years off our image. At 40 we bought new 18-speed bikes, and at 45 we joined a fitness center.

We began weight training and power walking. We take vitamins, do yoga and run up and down stairs, eschewing the elevator. We are more apt to be found wearing sneakers than sturdy brown oxfords. Semi-secure in our illusion of youth, we are startled to look around and discover one or more short people tugging at our shirt sleeves and referring to us as "Nana" or "Grandpa," or even, in the case of one particularly accommodating acquaintance, "Bubba."

After the initial shock wears off, it turns out that grandchildren can become a handy addition to the overall fitness program. Weekends and holidays -- for nowadays most new grandparents are years away from retirement -- become occasions for active companionship between the generations. When children are quite young, they can be convinced, for example, that raking leaves or picking beans, or even weeding, is fun. Long walks through the local arboretum, or down a country lane, or in a city park serve the cardiovascular system at the same time that they forge relationships and make good memories. Regularly, I see lithe-looking grandpeople biking past my house, with smaller versions of themselves peddling cheerily along beside.

I think back to my own grandparents, and, though my memories of them are happy, I don't remember playing with them. In my mind's eye they are sitting, maybe reading to me, or, at most, walking slowly as we head for a movie theater. In fairness, theirs had been a harder life; the Depression did not invite a youthful outlook, let alone afford opportunities to stave off encroaching age. And our parents entered adulthood readily, the men pulling on their long pants and the women their hats and gloves. Life was uncertain; seriousness and dignity provided a hedge against its capriciousness.

It was left to us, as Americans growing up in the second half of the 20th century, to experience the world, not as a completely carefree place where we were invited to remain children forever, but as expansive enough to accommodate self-interest, including the search for good health and intellectual, emotional and physical pleasure.

Balanced against those churlish companions of our post-modern era, angst and depression, has been our determination to learn and apply what we can about taking care of mind, body and spirit, at the root of which, in the best-case scenario, lies a reverence for life. Our enjoyment of our grandchildren, undeterred by premature limitations, is the fortunate legacy.

It carries with it gratitude to those who preceded us and helped to make the world in which we flourish.

Gail Lewis Tubbs teaches in the Writing Program at Washington College in Chestertown.

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