Body Dysmorphia and Young Men

No fat swimmers allowed!Let me preface this blog by stating the following: I am woefully ignorant about the sport of swimming. I don’t know if there are weight classes and I don’t know what the age divisions are. All I know is that skinny, though usually muscular in the upper-body, people, do things in the water that my frame was not designed for.

Yesterday as I was changing clothes in the locker room at my local L.A. Fitness  (folks, have you ever heard of cleaning the carpets and deodorizers?), there was a group of boys from a local high school in there. As I listened to them talk, it became apparent they were on some local swimming team and one of them was even wearing spandex shorts, which I didn’t know was standard swimming attire, but hey…different strokes for different folks. The boys appeared to range in age from 13 to perhaps 16. The youngest was a tiny little fellow who couldn’t have been more than 4’ 7”. There was another boy in there who was probably 14 or 15 and he was pretty thin and close to my own height of 5′ 8″. Like I said, he was skinny; there were no telltale love handles…nothing to indicate that he was overweight in the slightest.

As I was changing, each of these boys hopped up on the scales (one of the worst indicators of true health if I ever saw one) and when this one skinny kid got up there, he yelled out, “125 lbs!?”  Then, all his friends started jabbing him about his weight. One even went so far as to run back in the shower area blurting it out.

Now as I mentioned, I’m no expert on anything related to swimming, but I am pretty smart when it comes to boys’ and mens’ health. I know for instance, that at 14 or 15 years of age, the male body is starting to put on weight in the form of increased bone density as it prepares for the onslaught of male hormones that will significantly increase the boy’s muscle mass. And I know that in order for any of this to happen as it should, the body needs energy. And unless there’s a new form of energy out there that I don’t know about, food is the only way for that energy to be made available to said young boy’s body. I also happen to know that swimming, especially when not combined with an adequate weight training program, can actually have an adverse effect on the body. Water is the closest simulation that normally people have to being in space, and when in space, the body loses both muscle mass and bone density due to the lack of demands on it. This combination of lack of adequate caloric intake, coupled with an activity that burns whatever energy is available to it, and which does not stimulate lower-body musculature, is a recipe for disaster in teenagers.

Now, I know that girls have been told for years to stay thin and the media haven’t helped that, but truthfully, a young girl’s body doesn’t require the same caloric intake that a boy’s does (if you wanna argue this with me, just look up the caloric requirements of boys and girls of the same age).

So I say all of this only to point out to parents that we need to make sure that we keep an eye on our sons as much as we do our daughters. Fathers especially tend to dote on their daughters while allowing their sons to just “be”, assuming they’ll take care of themselves. But I would say that the pressure to win and to look good (at any cost) is especially prevalent in teens and it’s important that we set the right attitude about nutrition and health when they are young.

Then, when they are older and decide to ruin their joints with weight training (like I have), it’ll be their own decision and they’ll at least have a solid foundation to start from.

Things you’d say if you could to the ones that you love

I’m a sucker for a good sappy movie. Not the chick-flick kind where Hugh Grant plays some poor sot whose girlfriend dumped him and then comes running back. No, the kinds of movies I fall for are the ones that tug at the familial heartstrings. For instance, the movie Jerry McGuire always brings me to tears at the end. I know it’s the butt of many “you complete me” jokes, but there were some really great performances in that movie, once you quite seeing Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch in the back of your head.

Another one that I am a sucker for, is “The Family Man,” with Nicolas Cage and Téa Leoni. If you haven’t seen it (and shame on you), it’s about a successful financial whiz (Cage) who is given a “glimpse” of what life could have been like had he not moved to Europe and become a wealthy banker, and instead stayed home and married his college sweetheart (Leoni). In this glimpse, he lives in a typical suburban rancher with his two kids. He’s a moderately successful tire company executive and his wife is a pro-bono lawyer. By the end of the movie, he’s acclimated to his new life and when it comes time for him to resume his old life as a wealthy playboy, he doesn’t want to go back. Back in his real life, he meets Leoni at the airport and convinces her to stay and talk to him about “what might have been” and they spend the night in the hotel coffee shop reminiscing and catching up.

The obvious point here is that we never know what life would be like had we made different choices. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made a lot of choices in my life that have dramatically affected the way it’s turned out. For one, I joined the military instead of going to college first, no doubt changing the direction of my career. Another big decision of mine was leaving a girl I was engaged to (OK, she actually broke off the engagement first, but we kept seeing each other until I finally walked away). And of course the big one all of us married couples made, is the decision to get married. In this regard, I’ve often wondered about the big “what if.”

What if I’d never gotten married? What if I didn’t have these children that I complain about so much? This is where the movie “The Family Man” comes in. In it I see the possibilities of my life. Not that I would be even remotely as successful as Cage is in the movie, but I wonder where I would be and more importantly, if I’d be happy.

But then even as I watch it, I remember CareerMom and my first date. I remember how much I couldn’t wait to see her again. I remember the times that I’ve been sick or in the hospital and she’s been there to take care of me when none of my family could be bothered. Then I remember our children. I remember how, just when I didn’t think I could take any more crying or dirty diapers, my son looked up at me and smiled and snuggled his head against my chest. I remember how when he fell down the stairs under my watchful eye, I moved faster than any human could possibly move under his own power (actually beating him down the stairs), catching him just as his head would have hit the wood floor and I remember how, panicked, I held and rocked him until he stopped crying.

I remember all of these things and I realize that this is my glimpse. My real life is the life I used to dream of before I had it. Sure, I didn’t have a few of the facts down, like the lack of sleep or how my free time would suffer, but overall it’s just as I dreamt it.

And I wouldn’t trade it for all the Quan in the world.

The $400 Health Club

There are things that I love about the holidays; the cool weather, the food, the jolly mood everyone is in, and then there are things that I really don’t like; sweating over what to get the nine (yes, nine) people/couples in my life (not including the Secret Santa gift and the sibling gift on my wife’s side). With kids now, there are even more things to love and/or hate about the holidays.

For instance, our kids’ daycare is closed for all major holidays. In the case of Thanksgiving, they were closed understandably on Thursday and Friday, but of course we still have to pay for a full week. Regardless, this means that instead of the kids playing for nine hours with their friends at daycare, they are either strapped in a car on a long trip or stuck in a boring house with people they don’t know and only a handful of toys carefully selected for both portability and creativity, and unable to generally get out and burn off all that energy that keeps them the sane lovable children we all hope they are come the weekend.

As my friend pointed out over at Pantsfreesia, by Sunday afternoon I’ve got that twitchy eye thing going and if the weather is nice, my wife is urging me to get out-of-doors and go do something that doesn’t involve kids. So, long holiday weekends, such as what we just had for Thanksgiving, are especially trying for me even though I love my children with all my heart.

I love em; I just don’t wanna play with them for 96 hours. And it’s not just the playing either. When my oldest son doesn’t go to daycare and burn off steam, he’s a different person. He talks back, he whines over piddly stuff and he just generally isn’t as well behaved as he is when he gets tons of exercise. And for whatever reason, riding bicycles and hitting the ball are poor substitutes for chasing each other around the playground pretending you’re Spider Man trying to knock down the Red Power Ranger. I know this because I played it for ten minutes and I was done, both because it’s physically demanding, and because it’s a tad humiliating for people to see you imitating a three year old making noises that you haven’t made since you were, well, three years old.

And no, I never bought into that whole, “Dance as if no one were watching” idea. I mean, someone is always watching and even if they’re your parents, in the back of their head, behind the part of their brain that’s saying, “What a good father,” they are also thinking, “My goodness he looks like a total goober.”

Welcome to parenting.

Beach Trip Deja vu

So my son and I are here on the outskirts of the country’s most popular destination spot—Pigeon Forge, TN. The house is a huge, three-level affair perched precariously (I’m seriously here) on the side of a mountain. The grade is so steep in fact, that halfway below the bottom floor of each house, and the ground, which falls off dramatically, is a catwalk for maintenance people to use to get to the electrical closet located in what might generously be called a basement.

At any rate, the original plan was for my family to spend the night at my mom’s house a mere 20 miles away, but since it’s only my oldest son and I, my mom made such a fuss about our staying for the night that we did. However, this meant that we got last dibs on sleeping arrangements. In this case, last dibs included the top floor, loft area consisting of two twin beds in a “we’ve been married for 15 years and no longer want to be sleeping in the same room” kind of set up. Also sharing this loft is my aunt, and my niece, and then over a half wall is a bedroom where my cousin and her husband are sleeping. So basically, there are six of us sleeping in a loft together.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that the house is made of all wood. I mean, there isn’t a stick of sheetrock anywhere. The walls are wood, the floor is wood and the ceilings are wood. What this amounts to is one giant cavernous noise funnel up to the top floor where we are all sleeping. Last night, when one of us turned over in our noisy bed, the rest of us heard it and were similarly disturbed.

Tonight, despite any arguments to the contrary, my son and I are making the twisty, turny trip over the mountain to my mom’s house where I will sleep in a queen bed, as will my son. We will walk around the house in near-nudity since we won’t have to worry about offending aunts and/or cousins, and we will not worry about snoring or tooting in our sleep, lest we offend those who might be offended.

And then tomorrow morning, we may or may not come back—perhaps opting to rather say goodbye via telephone and loiter around Townsend, TN checking out the Apple Barn and the little train museum. And then, hopefully having worn out my son, I’ll strap him in the car and we’ll hit the road on the way home.

Or, I might freeze my butt off in Gatlinburg tonight looking at the lights cuz I was too stupid to bring a coat. We’ll see.